Tag Archives: review

Review ~ Kensington SD5000T Thunderbolt 3 has enough ports for any storm


As I have said before, what you do when you get a Mac with only a couple of ports (four on the MacBook Pro 15-inch)? Barely anyone I know finds this enough, and Apple keeps changing ports on us. I’m not about to lambast Apple for this – if we didn’t believe in change, we’d still be using floppy discs and serial ports, and forget about smartphones.
The new USB-C ports on the MacBook are smaller than previous plugs, yet handle almost everything. Once upon a time you needed a Mac with a USB port or two (preferably more), Mini DisplayPort, perhaps HDMI, Thunderbolt, maybe FireWire, and SD card slot … now the confusingly-named Thunderbolt 3/USB-C (it’s the same thing on a MacBook, with the port sharing these duties) does all of those jobs.
But four USB-C ports still isn’t many, and most of us have things we’ve been plugging into our Macs for years already that we still want to plug into whatever new Macs we et. Personally, I have two printers, three hard drives, an extra monitor, a mouse, a wired extended keyboard, an audio interface, a light (I know, that’s just silly) and hey, I like to directly plug in an iPad or iPhone every now and again too, for faster sync and backups and, best f all, faster OS updates (via iTunes).

The Kensington SD5000T Dock is aimed at professional environments and therefore has a Kensington lock slot, plus it has been designed to be mounted to the rear of VESA-compatible displays with a separate bracket accessory as longs as it supports the pretty rare Zero Footprint Mounting system. For this to work, you need a display that includes accessible VESA mounting holes even with the display’s foot attached. Of course, like most docks, the SD5000T will also sit happily on a desk. I guess this means that, mounted onto a monitor and locked with a Kensington lock, it effectively locks up your monitor too, at least against those without the time and tools to remove it from the bracket.
The SD5000T is a serious looking thing, in black and silver, following the convention of two handy ports on the front and all the rest on the back for more sedentary tasks. Left to right, on the front in a sort of indentation on the right, is the more standard USB 3, which is backwards compatible to any older USB plugs that fit it (stepping down to their speeds) but which is not USB 3.1, plus an additional USB-C port (which boasts USB 3.1 speed anyway).


On the back of the Kensington SD5000T (shown above) there is, left to right: Ethernet (I noticed I had to restart my Mac with the Dock plugged into the MacBook Pro to get this connection to work, by the way), USB 3, Audio In, Audio Out, the Kensington lock slot (in the middle), 2xUSB-C (one of these needs to go into your Mac but there’s a pretty short USB-C cable supplied), DisplayPort and the AC power inlet.
Since the USB-C cable can charge up even a MacBook Pro 15-inch (thus releasing another USB-C port on the Mac, which is great), there’s a very large power brick that comes with this Dock – it’s almost the same size as the dock (you can see it below). In other words, the SD5000T dock serves to deal out signal to all these different ports and interfaces while also charging your MacBook, which is a very big tick in favour of USB-C, no?Using USB — The older USB 2.0 standard is capable of a theoretical maximum data transfer rate of 480 megabits per second while USB 3.0 is capable of 5 gigabits per second, or over 10 times faster.
USB 3.0 ports have a blue ‘tongue’ inside the plug. USB 3.1, released in July 2013, can theoretically hit 10Gbps, rivalling the speed of Ethernet and the original Thunderbolt standard – and that’s the same theoretical speed as USB-C, but not many devices ever implemented USB 3.1 whereas the USB-C version, thanks to Apple, is beginning to gain traction.

Actual speeds — Copying a 6.05GB movie file from the very fast internal 1TB SSD in a 2017 MacBook Pro to a USB 3 (traditional, not Solid State) hard drive, in this case a LaCie Rugged plugged into a USB 3 port on the back of a Dell U2715H monitor (which is plugged in, in turn, via an adapter into one of the MacBook’s USB-C ports) took one minute 28 seconds (1:28). I didn’t expect it to make any difference, but I also tried this plugged into the front USB 3 port on the SD5000T. (It’s amazing how quickly you get annoyed at having to get the damn USB 3 plug in the right way up, after just a few days using USB-C!) Sure enough, a virtually similar 1:29 (which means that USB 3 hub on the back of the Dell is better than I thought, anyhow).
As an interesting comparison, I also have at hand an OWC SSD in an external housing – the same 6.05GB movie file copied to this, also over the USB 3 port, in under 20 seconds, or in 22.5% of the time! Almost five times faster.
I also, out of interest, plugged the same USB 3 cable into the USB-C port via a USB-C to USB 3 adapter and got 1:36. This should be distinctly faster through a USB-C cable to a USB-C hard drive. There are a few available already, and I’d love to try one. But suffice to say if you have a faster hard drive, you will get faster performance. Anyway, I figured I’d end up using the LaCie plugged into the Dock, but that’s pointless now as I may as well leave into plugged in the more difficult-to-reach Dell, since it stays mounted.
The Blackmagic Disk Speed tests for these drives, by the way, were 63.9MB/s read and 66.8MB/s write for the 1TB LaCie USB 3 Rugged external drive, 290MB/s read and 420MB/s write for the 512GB OWC Elite mini U3FW. I could not measure my own internal 1TB SSD, but Apple reckons this runs at a blazing 3.1GB/s read and 2.2GB/s write.

Conclusion — A handsome unit with an unexpected design benefit that it quickly becomes a handy receptacle for paperclips and pens as the top has raised edges – it can act as a little tray. This Kensington Thunderbolt 3 dock has a handy (OK, indispensable) array of ports and the fact that it charges even a 2017 MacBook Pro 15-inch is a big positive. I actually have an additional monitor with DisplayPort and getting that was the first time I even saw that type of port, being more used to HDMI and Mini DisplayPort. Unfortunately I don’t have a DisplayPort cable to try it with (I’ve been using the Dell with a DisplayPort to USB-3 cable – the Dell did not come with a DisplayPort cable. But it drives it find with this cable via USB-C.

What’s great — Useful array of ports, attractive and useful design.
What’s not — Expensive compared to other docks but its ‘sensible’ design, plus the possibility to lift it off the desk into the back of the right VESA-compatible monitor plus the Kensington Lock Slot should justify this for enterprise users.
Needs — Anyone with the need for more than four USB-C ports on a new MacBook.Kensington SD5000T Dock, NZ RRP $519.95 (US$349.99)

System — Mac OS, Mac OS 10.5, Mac OS 10.6, Mac OS 10.7, Mac OS 10.8, Mac OS 10.9, Mac OS X 10.10, Mac OS X 10.11, Mac OS Sierra 10.12

More information — Kensington.

Advertisements

Review ~ Cargo VPN


Cargo VPN by Eltima Software

Cargo VPN, left, follows the layout convention used by another VPN service, VPN Unlimited (right – click the image to see it in more detail). Both offer the option to add more service via the apps directly.

More VPN options are coming on stream every week, it seems, while China and Russia move to ban these services. What it VPN? A Virtual Private Network was initially used by companies to keep their internal communications secure. In the age of Wikileaks, voter fraud, hacking and malware, and various agencies tracking searches and information exchanges for political and social reasons, VPN services have become more widely available. Basically, with a VN running, I can sit in Auckland New Zealand but make it seem I am connecting from Sydney, Paris, Singapore … making it hard (or impossible) for anyone to nail down my actual location.
Another benefit is that it allows you to use ‘geolocked’ content. Can’t watch a US hosted video because you are located in New Zealand? Use VPN to connect from Miami or somewhere more hospitable to its geolocation options. Once upon a time, you could get a New Zealand Netflix account but then virtually locate yourself in the US to get a much wider array of content to watch – this became so widespread that Netflix was forced to put a stop to it (dang!).
If you don’t want governmental organisations to collect your data, use a VPN to prevent them from getting your online activities, communications, geographical location, IP address etc.
This bouncing around the world’s servers has a downside of course, and that’s speed, as we found in the review of Norton’s recent VPN offering. The impact can be dramatic, even under ideal conditions (more about this below).

Eltima software has been making handy Mac utilities for a while, like Folx which is a torrent downloader with search with a very usable interface, Commander One (a dual-pane Mac file manager), PhotoBulk resizer and watermarker,  and SyncMate. Now the company has chosen to enter the increasingly crowded VPN market with Cargo. This has a couple of extra features: it can automatically detect when you are connected to an insecure public network and encrypt your traffic.
Cargo VPN opens with a handy overlaid guide to what each option does, to get you up and running (below).

Security — While at home or in the office, like any VPN Cargo guards your privacy for paying bills online, or when you check your account balance, log in to social networks or enter your billing address while shopping online. Based on your location you may notice different prices for airfares, car rentals, software subscriptions and even for online streaming services. Try shopping for these things with different country settings using a VPN service and you may be surprised how dramatically different prices can be depending on your geo location. For example, I have heard that if you use a service like Trivago or Hotels.com, if you go there once to check out a price and then return later, perhaps having made up your mind, the prices will have gone up because they have figured out you are returning. I honestly don’t know if this is true, but if it is, returning with VPN on means you won’t be marked as a return visitor.
There’s only one question I have – can anyone answer it? That’s this: does the VPN provider get to see your activity across their servers? Because if so, and they in turn get hacked … (Eltima reckons no). Speed — As I said, all this bouncing around the world’s servers impacts on connection speed, and how far away the server you end up using is, and traffic and the efficiency of that server all impacts further on speed.. The new Apple TV with 4K requires at least a 15mbps connection. Most broadband is better than that these days, but even 1 Gigabit Fibre can get choked down to near that low level via WiFi with VPN on as well. Quite why you’d want to use an Apple TV under those conditions is anyone’s guess. Streaming video content illegally? Sure. But public WiFi is usually slower than optimum, partly because it’s choked and/or old and partly due to heavy use.
However, Cargo promises access to over 1000 high-speed servers in more than 70 locations across the world, which ensures instant and constant access through Cargo VPN to any website or service from any continent. I tested it with Ookla’s SpeedTest utility. Via ethernet with WiFi turned off, I was getting a ping of 2 (low number is good), download Mbps of 938 (higher numbers are better for these categories – I have Gigabit Fibre through Vodafone, when it’s working) and 472Mbps upload (above image, left).
With Cargo VPN on, I got a very impressive Ping result of 3, but download of 59.1Mbps and upload of 55.5 Mbps (above image, centre). Another VPN I have, VPN Unlimited (I got this service on one of those cut-price online deals a year or so back) had a pretty hefty Ping of 267, download of 56.5 and upload of 54.8 (above page, right) – I hitched them both to servers in France for this test. As as you can see, quite dramatic speed drops, and roughly conversant with each other apart form the Ping, but there are so many variables involved it’s really not that fair to compare them. Internet traffic and conditions varies wildly second by second. At least we can see a rough parallel – using VPN, even over a fast ethernet connection, cuts speed to about a sixth.

Costs — Cargo VPN is a free app in the Mac App Store, (and there’s a version for iDevices) but you pay to add service. As this type of service becomes more commonplace, it has actually got more expensive. This isn’t cheap. On the good side, you could add a month just before that big trip.
A month of Cargo VPN costs (I assume US) $15.99. 1 year $80.99 (or $6.75 a month) and a three-year subscription costs 149.99 9 (or $4.17 a month). But note that one subscription includes up to 5 Macs in one account. Under ‘Additional slots’ you can add in an iPhone for $1.69/month, or 5 additional deices for $499/month, or 10 for 9.49/month, or click Yearly for yearly options. You can also buy a Personal IP (personal static IP) by region (Canada, Germany, France, UK, Bangalore India, Netherlands or USA and, safest of all, the Personal Server option for the Americas, Europe, Asia & Pacific or click the Special Offer button (currently there are deals for London at $52 per month, or $400/year for 1TB space on your own server, plus similar for Bangalore, San Francisco or Seattle).

Extras — One of the extras available that sets this software apart from others is the Censorship Test. Click this button to initiate the test that gathers anonymous stats on web resources to see what’s blocked in different countries, available to see at the Censor Check website. You get a free day of the VPN subscription added to your account for running it – but you can only run it every 7 days. when I did so, 45 locations were returned as a result with no blockages.

Conclusion — Cargo VPN seems a worthy contender in this increasingly busy field, but out on the road, you’re basically paying to have an even slower connection. I’d have to ask myself, how many times have I actually heard of people getting their data hijacked while they’re sitting in internet cafés, airports or hotels? I can’t actually recall any. It makes more sense to use one because you’re exploring the Dark Web, looking at things you shouldn’t be looking at, making statements and/or plans that security services might find interesting or exchanging privileged information. Not just to keep it secure from security agencies, of course, but also from hackers and scammers.
And here’s a sobering thought for you: while it’s true that internet surveillance by various agencies the world over is increasing, and while various agencies and governments are trying to curtail the use of VPNs (thus proving its effectiveness), you can be damned sure that the denizens of those governments and agencies are all using VPN themselves.

What’s great — A solid contender with some nifty extra features.
What’s not — Subscription costs soon mount up.
Needs — International spies and those with more in their bank accounts than me  (actually, anyone with reason to be worried about their online activities and tracking)

Cargo VPN by Eltima Software, free in the Mac App Store and App Store for iPhone/iPad. One month subscription US$15.99, 1 year $80.99 (or $6.75 a month) 3-year subscription 149.99 9 (or $4.17 a month) plus additional services available, explained at the bottom of this page.

More info — Eltima Software.

Review ~ Norton Wi-Fi Privacy


A new entrant into the increasingly busy world of wireless and privacy is this pack by Norton, which promises to secure your wireless connection wherever you may, as of course the beauty of wifi is that you don’t need to plug it in. And it’s almost refreshing to get a pack these days, it’s kinda retro. In this case there’s nothing in it apart from some text telling you what to do and a long Licence Key.
But if you, as I do, imagine a wifi zone as a sort of invisible bubble, about 50 metres across in the case of wifi and about 10 for Bluetooth, within which connections can be made to the ’net, it’s a bit hard to monitor who else is in that zone and what interest they may be taking in your devices.
The way Norton WiFi Privacy does this is by the tried-and-true method of setting up a Virt
ual Private Network, or VPN. This is an arrangement whereby a secure, apparently (ie, virtual) private network is achieved using encryption over a public network like the internet.
Typically, your connection is directed to another server, not the expected one, ghosting across the networks, and most VPN services work on a subscription basis – this is no different, with the pack you can buy set to one year and available to be used on macOS, iOS, and also Android and Windows across five devices. So for a family or business trip somewhere for any length of time, this offers a viable solution.

Installation — Open the pack, visit http://www.norton.com/setup, enter the Licence Key, click Next, follow the on-screen instructions. This process installs the relevant software for whatever device you are on. You (inevitably, these days) have to set up an account, or log in if you already have one, click on Enter a new Product Key, you get asked to set up Automatic Renewal (in other words, it takes money out of your account again in one year) but you can Skip, then click Agree & Download. The disk image with the installer downloads (it’s called NortonWiFiPrivacy.dmg), double-click that, drag the Norton WiFi Privacy.app file into the Applications Folder alias the installer puts in that folder for you (this actually installs the app into your actual Applications folder), drag that off your desktop and voila.
Make sure you remember to eject the virtual disk image just as you would a plugged in additional hard drive or USB thumb drive.

The app — Double-click the app and it will launch, probably asking for your (in this case) Mac password to complete installation, sign in with that Norton’s account you set up online, and voila, like most VPNs I was thrown straight off Netflix, as Netflix is sensitive to VPNs ever since it was discovered people were ghosting their connections as if from America to get a much broader selection of titles. The app is installed into your top-right menu which has the following options: the cogwheel icon that’s shorthand for Settings/Preferences, a silhouette of a person that takes you to your Account Settings, and below that three tabs: WiFi Privacy, Virtual location (where it appears you are connecting from) and Ad Tracking.
The first tab lets you toggle the VPN on or off by clicking the big round graphic in the middle; Virtual Location not only shows you where you auto-ghosted to but lets you pick a virtual location (from almost 30 countries) and Ad Tracking blocking is an extra feature – as most other VPN services don’t offer this.
Another VPN service I have, VPN Unlimited, certainly does not, just quick connections to VPN servers via security profiles in installs into System Settings>Network. This was one I bought for a fixed price for 5 years; in my case it was less than NZ$50 as I waited for a deal to appear.

Some of the VPN services out there look a little shoddy, and you don’t really know what you’re getting. Or who is actually managing your connection and what they can monitor. This is one by one of the most trusted security companies in the world, with a solid reputation. The ability to block Ad Tracking is a plus, but boy, does this slow your Mac’s internet to a crawl! In my case, down to a Ping of 588 milliseconds, download speed of 8.81Mbps and upload of 12.1Mbps over Gigabit Fibre.
Turning it off bounces straight back to a ping of 3 milliseconds, 270Mbps download and 189Mbps upload – dramatically faster (over Ethernet instead of WiFi I get download figures around 920 for download). Using VPN Unlimited instead, I get a Ping of 51milliseconds, download of 21.1Mbps and upload of 32.7 (all a little odd as normally download speeds are far better than upload).
All these speeds vary over time of day, network load etc, so it’s just an indicator.
In other words, over WiFi, Norton WiFi privacy cuts my connection download speed by 96.7%, whereas VPN Unlimited cuts it by 92%. Bouncing your connection around several servers, hundreds if not thousands of kilometres away in the case of New Zealand, is bound to lead to slowdowns. With VPN running over WiFi we’re ending up back at normal pre-Fibre broadband speeds instead of the rocket speeds we have been able to get over Fibre in the last couple of years. Fine for safe email delivery, sure, and logging onto that bank account, but if you were trying to watch a movie in iTunes somewhere in safety, you’d be tearing your hair out.
Just for the sake of argument, VPN Unlimited over Ethernet instead of WiFi gives me a download speed of 35.9 and upload of 57.1. With Norton’s VPN running, this was better: Ping 74, download 120Mbps and upload 117Mbps, so in this case, using it with Ethernet instead of over WiFi is definitely preferable. (As I’ve said before, wired connections will always be faster – however, in hotels etc, and definitely in cafés and airports, you will almost never have access to a wired connection.)

Conclusion — Despite all that potential security and protection, you’d really want to hope Norton can make this faster.

What’s great — A trusted brand
What’s not — Big slowdown once running
Needs — People needing coverage over several different devices (as the single user price is not as cost effective)

Norton WiFi Privacy NZ$139.99 for 5 users (3 users $119.99, 1 user $89.99)

System — Current and previous two versions of macOS and iOS (and Android 4.0.3 or later, Windows 8 to 10)

More info — Norton NZ

Review ~ moshi symbus compact dock for USB-C Macs


If you have a new MacBook or MacBook Pro, you only have USB-C ports which are wonderful in every single way except one: hardly anyone uses them. Ouch. I mean, they’re faster, daisy-chainable, multi-functional … you know what I mean.
So, to get anywhere with these marvellous machines, you need dongles … dongles that basically step down all these marvellous new capabilities to the boring old tech everything else uses: USB, Ethernet, HDMI … but hey, you can go one better.
A Dock – one device, that only uses one of those precious be-all/end-all USB-C (AKA Thunderbolt 3) and parlays it into a veritable party of those old technology connectors so you can run everything you already have while, best of all, leaving three more of those USB-C ports (in the case of the 15-inch MacBook Pro) for newer technology. Once it shows up.
And these marvellous Docks will set you back a few hundred, but they do a lot of work for the money. I hope to look at Belkin’s and Kensington’s Thunderbolt 3 Docks soon (popularity seems to be affecting supply), but in the meantime, let’s assess this little Moshi contender, the symbus.

Small — The symbus is a very compact (by Dock standards) and thence portable (although it needs its own power supply) USB-C hub. It’s only about the size of a packet of cigarettes – remember those?
The symbus is silver and sits on a fairly substantial, non-slip pedestal and has a fixed USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 cable coming out of the back, about 25cm long, which goes into your Mac, and a power-brick with NZ/AU power supply that plugs in. As for ports, it can’t fit as many as a full-size Dock but its array is well considered and, for many, indispensable: 1000mbps Ethernet, HDM for an external monitor or projector, and 2x USB-A 5Gbps ports.
In turn, plugging in the symbus, since it has a power supply of its own, can push up to 65 watts – enough to charge a MacBook or MacBook Pro 13-inch (the MacBook Pro 15-inch with Touch Bar needs 87 watts, so it’s not up to that). But on compatible Macs, that means another port is released for you.
Symbus will provide power delivery up to 65W for laptop charging. This is enough for MacBooks and MacBook Pros up through the 13-inch model from late 2016, but the 15-inch MacBook Pro (late 2016) with Touch Bar requires 87W of power to charge it.
The USB ports carry different power too. The left-hand USB port is high-speed for charging smartphone and tablets (2.1A). This meant it also ran my Zoom UAC-2 Audio Interface; the other port did not, so the right one’s more for mice, keyboards and other low-power requirements.

The symbius has two USB ports on the front, one Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, the fixed USB-C cable out and the power supply-in on the back.

App for that — Although this is a plug-and-play device, moshi has an an app in the Mac App store (free) called the USB-C Dock Utility which adds the features of letting you eject any USB devices plugged into the Dock at once, it indicates Ethernet status and lets you update firmware on the symbus should it be available.
This installs into your more amenable (to customisation) right-side menus at the top of your monitor.

Alternatives — Moshi also makes a USB-C Multiport Adapter, a 3-in-1 hub that supports 1080p and 4K video output to HDMI plus one USB port, with a pass-through USB-C port so it can also be used to charge a MacBook, for NZ$140. https://www.moshi.com/usb-c-multiport-adapter )

Conclusion — A handy compact Dock, in effect, that limits itself to the most useful features in a small form factor (Ethernet, HDMI and two USB ports). However, some devices need the high power port (some audio interfaces) and you’ll need to remember that’s the left-hand-one, not the right-hand-one.

What’s great — Attractive, small, portable, slick and very useful
What’s not — Good luck finding one. Moshi is still setting up retail sales in New Zealand. It’s also expensive for only four ports, it’s getting near the prices of much bigger Docks with 10 ports like the Kensington (NZ$380, but only charges to 60w) or Belkin ($640 but charges to 85w)
Needs — Anyone wanting to free up one or more ports, and those who prefer faster (than wifi) internet access, as I do, with Ethernet.

Left: my wifi speeds over Gigabit fibre; right over Ethernet (higher numbers = faster). Physical wires are always faster than over the air.

Moshi symbus Compact docking station NZ$269.99 (US$124.95)
System — Any USB-C or Thunderbolt 3-equipped laptop – Thunderbolt-3 compatible and 100% plug-n-play, no drivers needed, although firmware updates are available through the free moshi app. HDMI port for adding an external display (4K@30Hz, 1080p@60Hz); Gigabit Ethernet port for wired data transfer up to 1000 Mbps; 2xUSB-A ports for connecting a keyboard, mouse, or hard drive; USB PD function for fast-charging USB-C laptops (up to 50W, which does not include the new 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar) with integrated Smart LED charging indicator (for Macs that are supported)
More information — Moshi

Review ~ 2017 15-inch MacBook Pro


First thoughts — when I first took it out of the box and opened it up, my heart skipped a beat since it looked so much like the 2012 I was replacing – then I realised that of course the Touch Bar (the single biggest difference, visually) wasn’t lit since I hadn’t turned it on. Unlit, it’s easy to miss. And then I noticed the huge trackpad and flatter, even more buttony keys; in fact, they’re so flat they could almost be a decal.
Another decision I’d made had related to this visual trick: I ordered a silver model rather than the rather more sophisticated Space Gray [sic] since I reasoned that everyone would want the grey and if I ordered silver, I might get it quicker. Maybe I was right – it was scheduled for a 20th June delivery and it arrived on the 17th, so maybe this was wise. Also, I had reasoned, it’s not so instantly stealable since at a glance people might assume it’s the older model. So hey, feel free for this advice … you’re welcome.
But hey, good on you, Apple, for the clever cardboard packaging – no polystyrene chips at all. Yet it came all the way from Shanghai in fine condition.

Updates were immediately available — iTunes, GarageBand and the iWork apps – and I installed those and a few other things I’d previously bought. This is a simple matter of opening the Mac App Store and clicking the Purchased tab, and anything you have downloaded before is available free to re-download; I like this feature a lot.
Typing these notes, I realised quickly that I was to be a lover of the new keyboard rather than the opposite. And wow, the touch bar! Stop typing and add a full stop, and ‘The’ comes up as a suggestion. One tap instead of three. Once you get used to a few of these, imagine the little micro-speedups you’re going to get adding tip over your day, and another thing, I’ve never been. Touch typist, so my eyes tend to be on the keypad anyway, making it still handier for me.
I needed dongles almost immediately! Jeeze, only four ports. I mean, they might be daisy-chainable and all that, but I regularly have three other hard drives plugged in, a USB extended keyboard, another monitor, a mouse, Ethernet, an audio interface, another set of speakers (additional to the ones plugged into the audio interface).
Somehow I managed to cope thanks to a Dell monitor that had a USB hub (three connections) in the back, although running that meant two ports gone: one via a dongle to the monitor and another to power the USB hub, but still, that let me plug in another 4-port USB hub that let me plug in almost everything else. The only thing I’m really missing is an ethernet dongle, but I have a couple of Docks coming up to test and both (a Belkin and a Kensington) have that, so I’ll wait. Wifi just isn’t fast enough for me, even hitched to Gigabit fibre.

The Touch Bar — This has been widely criticised. Criticised mostly by people who don’t have MacBook Pros, I suspect, because it’s actually pretty good. I see this as a very smart compromise between the facility of a touch screen, a la iPad/iPhone, and the traditional Mac keyboard. You get touch controls without having to poke at your screen. I totally get this because the last thing I want to do is get smeary fingerprints all over my beautiful, wide-spectrum, colour-balanced Retina Display. Reaching towards the screen, there it is, right at your fingertips. Touch Bar support got added to many Apple apps in October 2016 and third party apps – even Microsoft Office – have been following suit. The right side of the Touch Bar is reserved for the usual brightness, volume etc controls you used to get as actual F-keys (which are still available – just hold down the ‘fn’ key at lower left).
In something like GarageBand or Logic, the Touch Bar is genuinely useful, with one slight qualification. For example, tap the Compression button (for that effect) on the Touch Bar and you get a slider, but dragging the slider does nothing. You have to tap the track either side of the virtual knob on the slider to move it to there. That said, once you get used to it, this is fine, and still a lot more satisfying, somehow, than tying to twirl virtual knobs on screen via a mouse or trackpad.

Touch Bar is pretty nifty in Final Cut Pro X (above), although iMovie’s take on it is disappointingly minimal, with only the basic play/pause/rewind controls and a Split Clip button. This really seems odd considering how fulsome the Touch Bar is for minor apps like Contacts and Calculator. Here’s a post by 9 to 5 Mac showing what apps are supported, with screenshots, and even Nisus Writer Pro has support, with word suggestions coming up.

The way you customise the Touch Bar is via System preferences>Keyboard. This brings up an almost magical interface of available buttons – drag them downwards towards the Touch Bar and they pop into that, from one screen to another, as it were.

Sound — Shockingly good. I mean, still not the kind of bass you can get from external speakers, but clear, sound and well defined, and a definite step up from from the pre-2016 iteration of MacBook Pro.

Speeds — This is one groovy little laptop. It’s faster than the 2016 version, but not much. It will shine more in heavy video editing but for most uses, it’s just a quick laptop and in general computing aspects, little different to the 2016 model. In the version I’m testing, the 4GB video card option certainly makes games beautiful, and speeds up any graphics-intensive operations.
It’s a bit hard for me to quantify against the last 15-inch i7 Apple laptop because I haven’t tested one – the closest that’s been through my hands is the 2016 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. Below, at a glance, the blue is this 2017, the green is the 2016 13-inch MacBook pro with Touch Bar. I didn’t bother showing the Single Core scores as they’re virtually identical, so the left-most group of three shows Multi Core scores from GeekBench – note how both i7s are considerably better than the i5 in the 2016 13-inch.  Surprisingly, the built-in 2016 13-inch graphics look superior to the 2017’s Intel HD. But look at the right-most group – the video card with 4GB RAM really aces the 2012’s, which had 1GB (it didn’t have discrete graphics, which is why the right-most three-group is missing a green) and the yellow is my old 2012 i7.

The other big speedup is the new SSD technology. SSD was so much faster than traditional hard drives already. Five years on, it’s much faster still. The Black Magic disk test shows the evolution, with write-speed figures of 374 for the 2012 SSD, 1288 for the 13-inch and 2018 for the 2017, or in other words, the 2016 is 244% faster than the 2012, and the 2017 is nearly 57% faster than that, or 440% faster than the 2012. Incremental increases in SPU speed don’t really achieve all that much in the real world – the biggest difference in the last six years is the introduction of SSD, meaning an SSD Mac boots up in seconds instead of minutes and loading up apps like Photoshop can happen in under 5 seconds. Video editors will again be happiest, with speedy real-time renders even with big projects.
Other sites have had far more access to models of MacBook Pro to compare, so from MacRumours, from WCCCF Tech, and from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, the whole Mac line-up plus, also from the Primate Labs Geekbench site, the MacBook pro lineup.

Click the image above to enlarge this picture and read the figures properly.

Conclusion — I’ll be a happy man with a new Apple laptop, and to be fair, there was nothing really wrong with my outgoing model except it was five years old. But this is lighter, faster and has Touch Bar.

What’s Great — It has Kaby Lake, it’s lighter and slimmer than the pre-2016 model, and when USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 comes into its own, the outlook is rosier still. The built-in speakers are surprisingly good – I honestly didn’t think that was possible in this form factor.
What’s Not — The massive Trackpad. Why, exactly? To draw on with a stylus. Perhaps? Sure … I’m a fan of the new keyboard, but some people are not.
Needs — A good Dock and/or some adapter dongles, which adds to the already high price point.

What — 2017 MacBook Pro 15-inch in Silver or Space Gray, NZ$5189 as configured – see under System, below. (This range starts at NZ$3999 for the 2.8GHz with 256GB internal storage and 16GB RAM; NZ$4699 for the 2.9GHz with 512GB internal SSD).
Here’s a little tip: if you change out that ‘nz’ between forward slashes in this web address to ‘us’, you will get US prices, to ‘uk’ British, and ‘au’ Australian and so forth.

System — 7th Generation (Kaby Lake) 2.8GHz Intel i7 CPU, 4GB (4096MB) Radeon Pro 560 discrete video/Intel HD Graphics 6030 with 1.5GB RAM for lower-power running on battery, 16GB RAM, 1TB internal SSD.

Available from — Authorised Apple Resellers like iStore in Takapuna, Ubertech in Parnell and the big chains, and from Apple online (which I like as you can trial the configurations and see the price change to reflect. I’m a firm believer in as much RAM as you can afford being better, and more affordable, than a .1 per cent increase in CPU speed, but these all come with a great dollop or RAM anyway.)

Review ~ Norton Security 2017 for Macs and iDevices


Serious protection for Macs and iDevices — How times of changed. Once we used to laugh (well, I did) at all those PC, then Android users constantly beset with viruses, malware, keyloggers (which record and transmit every keystroke you make) and other forms of security breach. We were always as susceptible to spam and phishing attempts, of course: these are usually just emails trying to fool you into going to a dodgy website or worse, to enter credit card details somewhere nefarious. (I’ve said it many times before but it’s worth repeating: New Zealand banks are NOT allowed to contact you via email for account details.)
However, despite stellar efforts by Apple engineers over many years to keep Macs and iDevices safe, Apple’s profile has risen and this makes it a much more attractive target. In fact, I thought the surge in attacks would have started about seven years ago. That it hasn’t is testament to those engineers and Apple’s increasingly powerful security measures, as irksome as all that password and two-factor authentication can be.
But now we’re definitely on the radar, whereas we used to be in the room next door with the flowers and canapés … you will notice Apple patching its system with little updates that seem to increasingly mention not just security, but actual exploits.
Macs are still safer than PCs, but we’re vulnerable now in a way we weren’t even two years ago.

One installation covers everything — Now, thanks to the venerable security company Symantec and its Norton brand, you can get one installation that protects not just a Windows PC with its long-proven susceptibility to malware, but also a Mac (macOS and the previous two versions) along with iPhone (iOS 7 and later) and Android smartphones, all from one pack.. This makes sense since a typical small business or family environment these days may have an iPhone, an Android smartphone, a PC, a Mac and who knows what else? Mixed environments, anyway. Of course, you can also just cover your iMac, MacBook, iPad and two iPhones …
Norton’s latest packs can be bought for one device, three or five, and all come with one-year subscriptions. The Security software defends against viruses, spyware, malware, phishing, software vulnerabilities, and other online threats. It’s a tall order covering the full gamut for PC and Android (hence the one-year subscription to be able to load all the new virus profiles into your defences). Be warned that only two or four Apple-centric ones might appear each year, and most of those are so obscure, many people don’t even hear of them, much less go into those cyber-spaces that might be infectious. From the moment you subscribe, a Norton expert is available to help keep your devices virus-free, or give you a refund. That’s pretty impressive.
More obviously useful, perhaps, is the level of defence to stop people getting into your machine, and/or data. Norton Security Premium works to safeguard your identity and online transactions and helps ensure that email or links actually came from trusted sources.
While most iOS software comes through Apple’s mediated and checked online App Store, Android’s market is much more Wild West. Norton security alerts you about risky Android apps before you download them.
Other features include helping you manage protection for all your devices via a web portal., protects your kids from unsafe content and can even manage and balance your kids’ time online and offline. It also guards against over sharing online.
You should have a 5GB (free) or larger (paid) iCloud subscription, but the five-pack offers 25GB to which you can automatically back up photos, financial files and other personal information in a secure way (iCloud is pretty secure, please note). You can add more storage to this if you need. 
You buy a product key pack, go to the link provided, enter the key code enclosed in the pack, follow the on-screen instructions and voila. You can also just buy the pack online and download all that you need with the product key you are sent.

Console — You can add devices easily from your Mac. The console loads from the top-right menu that installs with your Product Key. So it tends to suit a sort of master security person who then adds others to the system. Under Customize you can turn protection on or off, further configure the Firewall (which stops people infiltrating your device through networks), protect Safari, Firefox and Chrome browsers (includes warnings or blocking harmful websites, Phishing protection presuming you use webmail, and allows you to submit suspicious sites you might find), File Guard (add files to prevent people opening or modifying them), and Activity to show what activities Norton has been dealing with, allowing you to see potential attacks. Each has a little configure button beside it. You can also undertake a quick or deep scan as soon as you install, to deal with anything you may have picked up in the interim.
You can also sign in via this console to your account, where you can turn on or off the automatic subscription renewal (this process takes you to a secure account page at Norton).

Protection for iPhone — The worst thing that can happen with an iPhone is someone stealing it before the screen locks. Even the police have been known to snatch and grab to get access to data. Download Norton Mobile Security onto your iOS device from iTunes App Store, and then sign into your Norton Account to register your device.
Protection for your iDevice is pretty basic compared to all the android hopes it hast jump through what with their open system developments and unverified app stores and what not: it’s just anti-theft and backup (and backup’s already handled by your iCloud account, although this gives you more space). Backup only seems to handle your Contacts, though – important nonetheless. But iCloud securely backs up your list of iTunes-bought bought music, apps and settings.
The anti-theft features are available via web and SMS to find and protect your lost device once you log into Norton’s website with your profile. You can lock your lost device from the Norton Mobile Security website or by sending an SMS; make a voice call over Internet to your iOS device; trigger an audible alarm to find your lost device if it is nearby; and finally locate a lost device on map or receive the location coordinates via SMS. You can also securely delete all your data and personal information on the lost device.
In some regions of the world (I could not ascertain where New Zealand sits in this), you can even take a snapshot using the device’s camera to help find a lost device, but this feature is not available through SMS, only online. However, users can upload and display pictures even when devices are locked.Conclusion — I have trialled security software before, and I always end up uninstalling it as 1/ until recently there have been no real threats, and 2/ I resented the subsequent impact constant scanning and updating had on my system. But I have to say, on my Mac and iPhone 6, I have become aware of no slowdown at all. So that’s a big plus.
But note you’ll be shocked how many – and how many times – what looks like innocuous software on your Mac is accessing the net (pictured above). You get to allow or disallow this activity.
You have to put your faith in Norton. For Symantec to find viruses before they infect you personally is quite a task, but hey, there’s that money-back guarantee. Norton has considerable resources online to help you install, uninstall, problem-solve and learn this software, plus that help line, so that’s all very positive.

What’s great — Protecting an iPhone, iPad and a Mac with one solution is smart.
What’s not — This kind of security does a lot more for a Windows PC, both from need and in features (ie, the Startup Manager and Rootkit Protection, whatever that is), than it will for a Mac.
Needs — People who don’t feel secure enough already; travellers; those with lots of precious data on their devices who don’t want to go through the constantly-evolving procedures to keep them secure on wifi networks etc and, particularly, mixed environments that are more vulnerable than just completely Apple ones.

Norton Security Premium for Five Devices – The five-license version currently costs NZ$134.99 (discounted from $169.99); the three-license pack is $104.99, and for one device $69.99. (If you do the maths, that’s $69.99 to protect one device, but if you buy a five-device pack that’s effectively $27 for each.
Norton Virus Protection Promise offers a 100% refund assurance. If your device gets a virus we can’t remove, you get your money back.

System — Current and previous two versions of macOS X. Password Management feature not supported. iOS 7 or later on iPhone, iPad, and iPod (and Android 2.3 or later, must have Google Play app installed, plus Microsoft Windows XP (all 32-bit versions) with Service Pack 3 (SP 3) or later; Vista (all versions) with Service Pack 1 (SP 1) or later; Windows 7 (all versions) with Service Pack 1 (SP 1) or later; Windows 8/8.1

Available from — retailers including Noel Leeming, or purchased online.

Review ~ Smart, protective keyboard overlays by Editors’ Keys


edkeyslogic

I’ve always been a fan of keyboard overlays. Anything that stops your keyboard getting grubby is fine by me, and splash protection is a bonus. Sneeze on your keyboard with an overlay, you can just take it off, rinse it, shake it out, and it’s dry in a few minutes. Pop it back on.
An additional benefit is the rubberised (OK, silicon) layer between your keys and the screen, on laptops when you fold them, and the suppression of noisy key-clacking.
EditorsKeys from England makes excellent keys with all of the above properties, but there’s more. They have keyboard shortcut overlays for various pro apps like Logic and Final Cut Pro X, pointing out all the handy keyboards you may be using, and definitely should be using if you want to really get to grips with editing, and to speed up your work quite dramatically.

detail

Key points — You see, beyond the obvious like tapping the Spacebar to stop/start play, and the delete key working as you’d expect, and Command X, C, V and Z for Cut, Copy, Paste and Undo, all those keys on your keyboard are only going to be used for typing in words when you name tracks and samples, add notes or retitle things. If you’re not editing text, why not assign functions to them?
So Apple wisely added all sorts of attributes to the other keys for when you’re not actually trying to type in words while editing movies or sound.
There are many key commands and abilities I didn’t even know in Logic and Final Cut, but now they are – quite literally – at my fingertips. These include tapping the T key for instant access to Track Header Tools. Other new faves include Area Focus, smart keys for screen sets and Move to Playhead – but there are a very many more. With an Editors Keys overlay on, you will find yourself discovering all sorts of new possibilities and soon you’ll be working faster and with more precision.

Yet another benefit is that Musical Typing (Command-K to turn your alpha-numeric keyboard into a virtual musical keyboard in case you don’t have your input musical keyboard handy, or just want to add in tome quick notes and/or beats) in Logic or GarageBand is a little more forgiving on your fingers with this thin layer of silicon padding absorbing some of the tap-shock, and perhaps as a result, I found it easier to hit beats on time.

ficut
The overlay for Final Cut Pro X (click the image for a larger view)
Some detail on the Final Cut Pro X version
Some detail on the Final Cut Pro X version

What’s great — Smart, stylish, well-made, protective and very handy. A range available for different Apple keyboards – accessory and built-in – and for different pro apps (not just the Apple ones). (Boy, would I like to try the microphones this company has for sale!)

What’s not — Can take a little getting used to if you’re a look- (rather than a touch-) typist, as although the letters are clear for normal typing, it’s a different look.

Needs — Anyone wanting stylish keyboard protection while easy learning great new skills for editing and creativity.

Editors Keys overlays for Apple Logic Pro X and Final Cut Pro X, US$39.85 (about NZ$55 – some of the MacBook Pro keyboard overlays are only US$29.85) plus shipping from the UK.

System — A variety of keyboards catered for, including laptop and PC.

Contact — Editors Keys.

Review ~ iKlip Grip Pro


grippro5

Most of us have either used a ‘selfie stick’ or laughed at them. However, with cameras getting so good on iPhones, they really have their uses: you can raise your smartphone above a crowd or over a barrier to take a picture, and collapsed down, they form a useful handle for steadier video shooting.

grippro1klamp

IK Multimedia has seen the potential and produced a solid product  that works as a selfie stick, should you wish, while offering other features for even more utility. The Pro has a padded clamp that can expand out to quite firmly hold up to an iPhone 6-6s-7 Plus, and the grip-head swivels 360° and in an arc of left to right across 180°. It holds a smartphone at the angle you choose with the turn of a wing-nut so you can get your viewing aspect just right. Collapsed down and in hand, the iKlip Grip Pro extends about 2cms below and 5cms above your fingers, giving you a very solid grip for video shooting, for example – the Pro is larger and more solid than the slimmer, less rugged iKlip Grip (unlike many of IK’s products, the Grip Pro is actually manufactured in Italy).

But that’s only the start — Holding the head and twisting the body one stage anti-clockwise releases one section of the telescoping boom (pull and get an extension of about 10cm) and another turn unlocks those three hand-grips, which then flare out to be extended into a table-top tripod, which you can use at full extension (although it won’t be as stable as a dedicated tripod, it can fulfil a useful function in good light when a slight unsteadiness is unlikely to matter).
There are four telescoping sections in total, giving you a total reach, with all fully extended and locked, of over half-a-metre. The full extension is 62cm/24.4 inches. You soon get fast at this, twisting, pulling a section out, twisting clockwise to lock and so on, and in the reverse order to collapse.
It’s a little unintuitive to unlock the three tripod legs, by the way. With all the sections telescoped in, it feels like the tripod legs can’t extend. You have to twist-unlock and extend the sections and then legs can be flared out. With all the sections collapsed and locked, the grip/tripod legs lock closed as a stable handgrip.
The Grip Pro clamp will hold any smartphone, and also digital cameras including DSLRs up to 1kg in weight, since the clip unscrews to reveal a typical tripod mount. The included cradle can also be mounted on a standard tripod, by the way, thanks to its 1/4-inch thread mount.

grippro21Remote — One of the best features is the little button control that comes with the Grip Pro. This is black with two red buttons, and can be stored on the handgrip for thumb control while you’re holding it, for one-handed operation, or taken off and kept in the pocket. It’s cleverly hinged so it can swing up when the legs come out without detaching. Detached, you can remote-click your shutter with, say, your iPhone mounted on the tripod a few paces away. The remote has a little switch on the side to turn it one with, and press both buttons together to put the Bluetooth device into Discovery Mode so you can pair it (it appears on your iPhone as ‘Shutter’). Once paired, the larger, lower button triggers the iPhone’s shutter. While this is Bluetooth and thus prone to the connectivity and other vicissitudes of Bluetooth (different iterations/devices can have different experiences) I found this fast and effective with an iPhone 7.
As for triggering the shutter (or start, then stop recording if your iPhone is in video mode), I even managed it 14 paces away and through two walls (the stated range is 10 metres).
Thanks to the remote shutter, the Grip Pro is great for shooting video, even if you have wet-weather/cold weather clothing and gloves on, which are typically tricky situations to try and shoot in, as it’s so easy to lose purchase and control your iPhone in these situations.

grippro33

Conclusion — If you’re keen to shoot great images and videos with your iPhone, this is a very handy thing to have in your selection of handy tools, and it’s well built and well designed. Packed down, it’s very light for travelling, yet feels sturdy in use.

What’s great — Sturdy feeling, good solid hand grip, possible to use with gloves etc thanks to the Remote.

What’s not — Bit fiddly working out how to flare out the tripod legs.

Needs — Those serious about their iPhone photography and videography.

iKlip Grip Pro, €59.99 (should be available soon from NZ retailers; NZ$119.95 in the NZ Apple Store online with 2-3 week ship time)

More Info — IK Multimedia

Review ~ iRig Nano Amp


nano

This new product from IK Multimedia is a little 3 watt amplifier by IK Multimedia of Italy. It’s designed as both a standalone practice amp, as a battery-powered pre-amp for larger systems or as a compliment to the Amplitube series of iOS guitar amp profile apps and other goodies.
Considering most people wouldn’t consider taking the stage with anything under say 70 watts of power (and that’s modest) you get an idea of how loud a 3 watt amp can go, which can be characterised as ‘not very’. Also, anything this little is going to be severely limited by physical speaker size (7.62cm or 3 inches, in this case), as it’s very difficult to get anything like bass tones from little speaker cones – you may have noticed the ‘tweeter’ (high tone) speakers in cabinets are the little ones of any array.
You can run the Nano into headphones, of course, which typically do reproduce better lower-mid and low tones, but this is only an option when you use it as an interface with an iOS device and not as a standalone amp. It’s possible to run the Nano straight into an external cabinet of up to four 12-inch speakers – although I imagine this would suck the power out of those 3 AA batteries pretty fast.

irignanoamp_scheme

Physically — The all-black Nano (there’s a white version available with a black highlights that looks pretty cool, plus one with a red frame) has a speaker face as you’d expect on a bigger combo guitar amp, two large rotary knobs on the top for Volume and Gain with a stereo minipin Device out jack in between, and on the opposite end 1/4-inch jacks for guitar in and speaker cab-out in, plus a stereo mini-pin for headphones/earbuds; the side under the iRig logo is blank (this is the bottom) and on the face opposite to this there are two switches: amp/device, and normal/bright.
irignanoamp_black_kickstandOn the back is the battery compartment, and the little rubberised feet mean you can pop out a little stand so you can set it at tilt. Notice no on-off button: plugging an instrument in turns it on, like some effects pedals.

Amp Mode and Device Mode — Amp Mode is pretty self explanatory: plug in a guitar, play. Device mode is a little less obvious. Plug the guitar into the jack as you’d expect, but the Device connector is at the opposite end, between the Volume and Gain knobs. The device (an iPhone or iPad running an app like Amplitube) takes over all the volume, gain and tone functions.

Soundwise — Tinny, in a word. But this would be as you’d expect, as it’s still so far technically impossible to get good lower tones out of little speakers. But you’ll find that if you’re playing the higher register of a guitar or keyboard it’s surprisingly clear, and certainly better than trying to practice without any amplification at all. The combo of volume and gain means you can up one against the other for traditional effects: high-gain low-volume gives you a kind of overdrive or fuzz, which is pretty scratchy, while the reverse gives you a clear tone, just as on a big guitar amp.
Via my iPhone, admittedly with a bass rather than a guitar, but via a bass head in Amplitube (IK Multimedia’s own product) I had more tone control sure (since the Nano has none apart from the switches Bright or Normal, which could really be labelled Bright and Brighter), and also effects, but I could never get the sort of volume to comfortably belt something out.
As an interface into your Mac to record into, say, GarageBand, it’s fine, you can get a clean sound with a bit of helpful signal boost, but it’s also perfectly fine to plug your guitar straight into your Mac’s audio-in port for GarageBand and use the collection of amp profiles and cabs in there – in either case, you need to have the appropriate adapters.

Conclusion — The iRig Nano Amp is little and suffers accordingly: what makes it compact and portable is what makes it sound slight. If I could just plug a guitar into this and play the Nano as a headphone booster, it would be pretty good, but that’s not the case. The headphones only work when it’s a conduit for an app on an iDevice, although I may have been hampered in my case in needing a minipin to Lightning adapter to use it with an iPhone 7.
As a little amp on speaker, sometimes you can get good tones out of it – surprisingly good – especially if you hit just the right combination of Volume/Gain and you’re playing in the upper register, and it’s certainly better than playing an electric without any kind of amplification. But not very much better, I’m afraid.

What’s great — Well, you can actually hear your guitar.

What’s not — Insufficient volume and definitely insufficient bass, but I’ve never heard of anything this small that can do bass any justice, which leads to: limited use as I couldn’t plug my headphones in directly and use it as a headphone amp, which would have sounded better.

Needs — Guitarist who doesn’t mind buying powerful or rechargeable AA batteries in threes, and who desperately needs a little sound out of their electric guitars.

iRig Nano Amp, RRP€49 (NZ price TBA)
System — iPhone, iPad, iPod touch & Mac plus Android smartphones and tablets (for Android compatibility, the device must support CTIA/AHJ wiring standard; works best with Samsung Pro Audio devices).
More information — IK Multimedia

Review new Apple MacBook Pro 2016 (13-inch)


mbp2016

My now venerable 15-inch MacBook pro of 2012, which has an SSD inside instead of a traditional hard drive, starts up in 21 seconds (when it was new, the startup time was 13 seconds, but there’s a lot more software on it now and it’s been through several major Mac OS updates in that time, all the way to macOS 10.12.1 Sierra).
The 13-inch MacBook Pro starts up in 12.6 seconds, pretty respectable. This is also running macOS 10.12.1 Sierra. Interestingly, there is no obvious startup button any more, you just hold down the rightmost end of the Touch Bar (it has a slight depression so you can find it with a finger tip) for a couple of seconds. You have to put in your passcode, starting up from off, but hereafter you can use a fingertip on this zone (you set this ability when you first set up your machine from new, like you do with an iPhone/iPad) to wake it.

Connections — OK, I have a fairly grungy setup. I need a laptop as I take it to my day job sometimes, and/or present to groups, and I travel … but at home, I want a desktop setup, so when home my MacBook Pro plugs into a Belkin Thunderbolt Dock, which joins it to wired Ethernet, an additional 24-inch monitor, a wired extended keyboard, a wireless mouse (needs a USB 3 port for its transmitter) plus an audio interface, a Thunderbolt external hard drive and 2x USB 3 external hard drives. And then I need to plug in my iPhone sometimes to get the images off (my preferred method: no cloud, no data, fast and reliable) and various other things. This may not be conventional usage for most MacBook owners, but it works a treat. And this is the setup I’d want to replicate, one way or another, once I buy a new MacBook Pro.
And it looks like it will work just as I wish. The multiport Belkin dock, luckily, works with the 13-inch when it’s plugged into Apple’s USB-C to Thunderbolt adapter. This even cheerfully drove the second monitor (plugged into the dock via a Thunderbolt-to-DVI video adapter). The 2016 MacBook Pro even accepted and drove my old Alesis io2 USB audio input via a USB 3 to USB-C adapter; I’ve had this for years and I really like it for recording guitar and vocals.

dongles
So, no problems there, but this does all underscore the fact you’re going to need dongles and adapters for almost anything you want to do beyond quite basic use, until USB-C native devices start to turn up. Good news is, everything I had, I tried and it worked. The other good thing is, I can almost guarantee I’ll try and insert a USB upside-down into a Mac at least two times out of three. I know you can mostly tell the difference, if you look, but still, I do it. The new connectors go in either way up, and this, so far, is my favourite USB-C feature until some devices show up.
Apple’s Extended Keyboard works fine plugged into Apple’s USB-C to USB 3 dongle too, and so did my Logitech wireless mouse (the transponder is in the extended keyboard).
In conclusion, USB-C might be a pain in that, currently, you need adapters, but the fact it can handle almost anything thrown at it, is very fast, can be daisy-chained, supports video, charging and can be plugged in either way up is all very compelling evidence this was a very good decision by Apple, if you ask me. The one thing I did notice is that – at least while this unit is so new – you have to positively push plugs in. A couple of times I plugged cords in and, to my consternation, nothing showed up on the desktop. On closer inspection, I simply hadn’t pushed the USB-C plugs all the way home.

Input: keys, trackpad and Touch Bar — The biggest notable change to the 2016 MacBook Pro is, of course, the Touch Bar. Some people don’t get it, but if you have one of these Macs, you’ll get it pretty quickly, believe me. The Touch Bar allows for direct input, which I think most people will understand. But why? OK, about 75% of my clients still hunt through menus to get anything done. Any serious users learn at least a few commands so that the commonplace things are a super-quick key combo away. As I tell everyone, learning 3-10 commands will change your Mac life (Command P for Print, for example).

tb1
A nice feature is that when you drag or tap the slider, the on-screen round GarageBand ‘pots’ rotate to reflect your settings. This really beats trying to twirl those knobs with a trackpad or mouse!

The Touch Bar is a sort of intermediate step between key-input and menu mining. Want to change the position of the playhead in GarageBand? It’s right there, just drag it – yet no smears on the monitor you’re looking at. Tap a control’s header in the Touch Bar – for example, in the Classic Electric Piano in GarageBand – and you get Level, Bell, Drive, Treble, Bass, Tremolo, Chorus, Ambience and Reverb (above). So many, the panel actually almost runs out, with the last setting half-hidden, but it’s swipeable: swipe it to the left to see the last setting.

tb2

Tapping any one of those headers gives you a slider. Tap anywhere on the slider to set the position there, or drag the slider itself. On the more universal Touch Bar options, like screen brightness or volume, you can also tap the Plus or Minus ends to increment the setting up or down. The surface of the Touch Bar feels like the very lightly textured surface of the trackpad, to the touch.
While some might bemoan the lack of F-Keys, most people simply don’t use them any more. However, tap the ‘fn’ (for Function) button at bottom left of your keypad and they all appear on the Touch Bar, so all you F-Key mavens can rest in peace.
The Touch Bar also lets you wake your Mac, after the first time (on from off still needs your passcode), with a finger touch, which you set up when your first activate your new Mac. I like it, I can really get used to this (especially in Final Cut, being able to locate the playhead on timelines) and I look forward to a plug-in or wifi keyboard being issued with the Touch Bar.
As for the keyboard, as NZ tech blogger Bill Bennett noted in his review of this aspect of the new MacBook Pro, the new keypad on the 2016 models has bigger keys that stick out less and travel less than previous models.
The lower profile allowed a few more points of a millimetre to be shaved off the 2016 MacBook Pro’s thickness when it’s shut, of course, adding to its overall svelte appearance, thus fulfilling Apple’s mantra of ‘slimmer, lighter at any cost’. Despite that lower profile and travel, the keys are physically bigger than on my 2012 MBP. To my measure, they are 17mm across instead of 16mm on the 2012 MBP and just 15 on my extended keyboard. I thought that would be a bit awkward to type on but no, they’re great, apart from they’re a little disconcertingly clicky.
The keys are good and hardly bounce at all, rather they click, but it’s amazing how fast you can type on them without the slight catch you can get sometimes on the more raised keys of other keypads as your fingertips move between them. But I have to wonder how the lack of even the slightest sponginess might make your knuckles feel after extended key-bashing?

The new 2016 MacBook pro has a much larger trackpad than the outgoing model (my 2012 is the same case design as the laid 2016 that the new 2016 replaces)
The new 2016 MacBook Pro has a much larger trackpad than the outgoing model (my 2012 has the same case design as the outgoing mid-2016 that the late 2016 replaces)

The other big change is a very expansive trackpad, allowing more positive gestures and swipes since you don’t have to spend those odd split-seconds locating the ’pad by feel. You tend to just hit the right place, since it’s bigger, and do the right thing, whereas I have long noticed that when I’m concentrating on the screen of my 2012, I will swipe ineffectually and miss.

Speeds — As all pro Mac users know, all of the above is very nice, but what about grunt? Pro users want raw power; the rest is just icing. You may have heard there isn’t much of a speed bump as far as this Skylake series of processors goes – in fact, some models have chips clocked a bit slower than the premium 2015 versions of the MacBook Pro. But these new CPUs do have advantages, since they run colder and don’t get stressed the way previous CPUs do. That means you’ll find your fans spinning up less, resulting in quieter general running and more efficient handling of CPU-heavy tasks.
I managed to run some benchmarks, but note that my comparison machine is my fairly aged (by professional standards, at four years old) 2012 MacBook Pro, although I am still very happy with it as it has the SSD, a solid state chipboard, as main storage instead of a clunky, slow, heavy, hard-to-cool hard drive. (If you find this a baffling concept, SSD is more like the internal storage in an iPhone or iPad as against what is, in effect, a hard drive’s little encased record player with its quick-spinning disk and a read/write head like a tone arm.)
So here’s what my Mac has, internally: 2.6GHz (maxes out at 3.6GHz under load) Intel Core i7 CPU (Ivy Bridge series), 16GB RAM, plus it has internal Intel HD Graphics 4000 for running the screen while on battery power. It also has discrete graphics for running on mains power in the form of the powerful, for its day, NVIDIA GeForce 650M GPU with 1024MB RAM (i.e., 1GB) and internal 512GB SSD storage – I did spec this one up a bit when I ordered it, and I’ve always been a firm believe in more RAM over a slightly faster CPU, as the benefit is much more tangible and better use of your dollar.
By comparison, the 2016 is only a 13-inch so is not fitted with discrete graphics. Its CPU is ‘only’ an i5, but it’s the Skylake series – two series on from the one in my 2012. The late 2016 13-inch uses Intel Iris Graphics 550 which has allocated to it 1536MB RAM. The CPU is a 2.9GHz i5 (Skylake series) that maxes out to 3.3GHz under load – notice the 2012 goes up to 3.6GHz? This slight throttling back of the new series is partly why they run cooler and are more efficient under load. The i5 in this thing is one processor, 2 cores, 4 threads compared to the 4 cores, 8 threads of the i7 – which is the basic difference between the two grades of Intel CPU (5 vs 7). The 13-inch also only has 8GB RAM.
Anyway, how does it fare? Really pretty good, considering it’s not up to the class of CPU and GPU I am used to.

Geekbench scores:

geekbenched
The Multi-Core score is understandable considering the older MacBook Pro has an i7 CPU – this has more cores and supports hyper-threading, unlike the i5.
OpenCL takes the power of graphics processors and makes it available for general-purpose computing, so that OpenCL score is pretty impressive, especially considering the 2016 only has integrated graphics rather than a card to drive the monitor. OpenCL makes it possible for software to access and use the graphics processor and any dedicated video memory for purposes other than just graphics. It’s driving a beautiful built-in Retina display, too, albeit only a 13-inch. Notice also that the 2016 i5 beats the 2012 i7 in Single Core.
The model I got to look at only had 250GB internal storage – I barely cope with 512GB in my own machine, spinning off various large items into various other external hard drives when I’m at home. Take note, people: you can’t store much on these faster SSD drives. But while they typically cost an arm and a leg for a reasonable amount of storage space, the speed benefits of SSD make far more difference than these increasingly slight iterations of CPU boosts.
Cinebench refused to run on the latest macOS I had installed on both machines, unfortunately. That would be a more detailed test of video graphics.
But I could test the speed of the internal storage thanks to the BlackMagic utility. Gosh, SSDs have clearly come a long way in just four years.

blackmagic-speed-15

The model inside my 2012 doesn’t handle Cinema write speeds (above) or support DNG RAW at over 2160p30, or 10 Bit YUV 04 4.2.2 at resolutions over 2K DCI25 … but the 2016 does (below). And it does so at stonking speeds too, as it’s nearly 4 times faster on write speeds (1288.6 write speeds compared to just 340.1 on the 2012).

blackmagicspeed-13-inch

Reading is fast too (above): 2000 MB/s (maybe faster actually, as my BlackMagic utility tops out at 2000) compared to 445.4MB/s on the 2012. And do note, the 2012 still feels really quick to me, especially compared to traditional hard drives, which feel like they’re extracting files through a straw sucking treacle.

In other features — The speakers in this thing are great, really surprisingly loud and with a definite improvement in bottom end, better mid-tone definition and more trebles. This is possibly the first Mac I’ve ever cranked up in sound and not winced at the tone of the built-in speakers – and this is really saying something, because it’s no mean feat to get decent-sounding speakers in a MacBook so slim and light.
The monitor is simply wonderful: Apple claims the Retina display on the new MacBook Pro throws 500 nits of brightness, which is 67% brighter than the previous generation, with 67% more contrast. It looks fantastic. It’s the first Mac notebook display to support ‘wide colour’ which, to the eye, means more detailed palettes of, especially, greens and blues – this is a designer and photographer’s delight. The screen also has more power-efficient LEDs, uses power-saving technologies including a larger pixel aperture and variable refresh rate. As a result, the display consumes 30% less energy than before, for around the same if not slightly better battery life than the outgoing model.
And boy, is this thing light! I put it in my bag the night before to take somewhere. Halfway there the next morning, I decided I’d forgotten it as my bag was so light. But I checked and I hadn’t.

Conclusion — I am impressed, and I need a new Mac myself, but I have decided to try and wait for a MacBook Pro with Kaby Lake CPUs as they do represent quite an important jump. I hope that won’t be too far into 2017 before that’s available, as my 2012 is starting to creak. It’s had a full and interesting life … but time to move on. I look forward to the larger trackpad and the Touch Bar, and the slightly less size and weight (for the 15-inch, in my case).

What’s Great — It may not be a world beater, but it’s a damn fine MacBook Pro if you need a new one. The Touch Bar is actually pretty nifty and I confidently predict everyone will grow to love it.
What’s Not — The newer generation of Intel Kaby Lake processors would have been cool.
Needs — Anyone who needs a great MacBook Pro right now.

13-inch MacBook Pro The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and Touch ID starts at RRP NZD $2999 inc GST, and features a 2.9GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.3 GHz, 8GB of memory and 256GB of flash storage. Ship time is estimated to be two to three weeks.
Skip the Touch Bar and you can get a 2.0GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.1GHz, 8GB of memory and 256GB of flash storage for NZ$2499 (shipping now).
The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar starts at RRP NZD $3999. This features a 2.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.5GHz, 16GB of memory and 256GB of flash storage (estimated ship time: two to three weeks).
• Additional technical specifications, configure-to-order options and accessories are available online.

Review ~ Luminar by MacPhun is comprehensive photo improvement software


luminarinterface

MacPhun seems to have been making Mac image apps for ages, and had a real success with last year’s Aurora HD (which was recently updated in an excellent new version for 2017, available now; I have already reviewed this) but is also known for the very handy Snapheal cloning tool – it has powerful erasing and healing tools for removing things you don’t want in images, as well as standard editing tools.
In the CreativeKit, MacPhun bundles six handy photo apps, including Snapheal and FX Studio Pro … this company knows what it’s doing. (Luminar pretty much has all of these in the one place, though.)

Luminar will be available soon, as it just went on presale, is a non-destructive RAW photo editor, built from the ground up around two things: simplicity and creativity. I’ve been trying software like this for a while, as I resent Adobe’s new subscription policy. If I thought I could replace it with a standalone app that did what I use Photoshop for, I’d get it. So, will this be the one ..?
Luminar is designed to be usable right out of the (virtual) box, without a steep learning curve, but to then adapt as your use becomes more sophisticated to offer more capabilities. Luminar’s user interface adjust to your skill level and preferences: you can use a one-click fix (like the magic wand in Photos) or you can develop away with 35 filters, all with their own settings faders, plus tools, layers, blend modes, brushes, masking and more. Add to that Layers, Custom Textures, Brushes, Masking (including automatic Luminosity, Gradient and Radial Masks), Noise Reduction, a Healing tool, Crop & Transform, History Panel, Selective Top & Bottom adjustments, plug-in support
I used to really like Aperture until Apple killed it off, as its non-destructive tools were excellent. It was better than Photoshop at fixing up scans of old photographs, of which I have quite a collection. And I tried Adobe’s Lightroom but I found it deeply irksome that it followed a darkroom of old as a sort of digital workflow method. This might sound weird coming from a former darkroom technician, but I’d fully embraced digital and I didn’t see the point of going through ‘stages’ of a process artificially to get where I wanted.
Luminar has perhaps the best of both worlds as it it uses workspaces you can tailor to your preference. They can be set up to feature only the tools most suitable for your type of photography, saved into sets of different filters. The defaults are Portrait, Black & White, Landscape and Street. You can add different filters to these workspaces or build your own.

Interface — This looks a lot like Aurora in that the image loads into the large space in the middle to the left edge, with features down the right edge and presets along the bottom. The presets are Clarity Booster, Classic B&W, Detailed, Fix Dark Photo, Foggy Day (adds fog), Foreground Brightener, Gloomy Morning, Image Enhancer, Mid Image Enhancer, Sharp & Crisp, Sky Enhancer, Soft & Airy, Vivid, 60s B&W, Center of Attention (sic), Cold Morning, Enhanced Reality, Noble, Only Yellow, Peruvian desert, Subway, Abandoned Place, Auto Smart Sharpener, Bright Day, Colors of the Fall (sic), Daydreams, Fix Dark Landscape, Misty Land, B&W Fashion Magazine, Enhanced Portrait, Glamour, Mysterious Girl, Noble Beauty, Portrait Soft Glow, Smooth Portrait, Dark Moon, Dull No More, Explore Dark Alleys, Final Frontier, Ghost Ship, Happy Memories, Impressive, Marco Polo, New Discovery, Silver Crystals, Sleepy Valley, Vivid Dreams, Warm Sunset, Artistic Copper Strong, Bloody Mary, Cold Mood, Dramatic Grungy, Dramatic Look, Enigmatic Vision, Film Noir, Lost Soul, Mood Enhancer, Tears in the Rain and Vintage Look. I count 56!
Clicking on any preset resets all the sliders in the tool strip from scratch, and each preset area has its own intensity slider so you can choose how much of the combination of controls you apply. A second or two and the effects are applied to the image so you can see it full screen. Rolling the mouse or stroking your trackpad over the main image zooms it in and out. You can click a little star at lower right of each preset to make it a favourite, which might be a good way to start working out what you’ll want in a customised workspace.

The tools — The tools down the right side have group buttons on the right-most edge: Hand, Brush, Gradient, Radiant Mask, Rectangular Marquee tool, Stamp (clicking on this initiates a 3-second ‘Preparing’ operation), Eraser, Denoise (which immediately zooms in so you can inspect the effect) and Crop (with rule-of-thirds grid). The first four keep the sliders in the rest of the right vertical strip visible, but the next batch of five don’t.
To the left of these, but still in the right vertical strip, there’s Levels at the top, Layers, Filters (click to make a menu appear with 35 filters in it), the Workspace menu (Custom, Clear, Default, B&W, Landscape, Portrait and Street) and then there are different sliders that appear below this section depending on the workspace you choose – for example, under Street there are Colour Temperature sliders and below that Tone (Exposure, Contrast, Smart Tone, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks) and beneath that in turn, Saturation/Vibrance sliders, Clarity, Structure, Soft Focus, Curves, Cross Processing, Texture Overlay, Vignette and Grain. And then, in case that’s not enough, an Add Filter button that shows those above-mentioned 35 filters. Other of these include Bi-Color Toning, Channel Mixer, Foliage Enhancer, and Orton Effect … So do you have plenty of variations available? Goodness yes.
The feature of customisable workspaces means that if you find yourself using specific filters on particular types of photos, you can create a custom Workspace for them. For instance, for landscapes you may want to always use Clarity, Saturation (or Vibrance), Polarizing Filter, Brightness and Contrast.

wiper

But wait, there’s more — There are also options along the top of the work space: from left to right, there’s a folder icon for Open, then Share; plus, minus and the zoom amount is displayed; Quick Preview (click and hold to see the ‘Before’ state of the image); the cool Wiper tool found in Aurora (shown above, where you can also see the intensity slider on the preset itself – click the image for a larger view). With the wiper, turn it on with the upper central button then then drag the vertical line on the image to see Before and After states side by side.
Then there’s Undo, Redo, History, buttons to flip on the Layers vertical right-hand toolbar or the Filters one, and buttons to turn on or off the Prestes strip along the bottom and/or the Tools strip on the right hand side.
A lot of this may strike you as familiar to Aurora, but Luminar is a single-exposure editor and not an HDR editor (like Aurora). Luminar does not have the ability to merge exposure brackets to HDR and then flexibly control those ranges.
Luminar also has Layers, Custom Textures, Brushes and Masking (including automatic Luminosity, Gradient and Radial Masks), Noise Reduction, a Healing tool, a History Panel, Selective Top & Bottom adjustments, supports plug-ins and more. The only thing really missing is the ability to make selections and paths, and that’s a shame, because they’re the only tools I keep having to go back to Photoshop for.

What’s great — The workspaces are all fine, but what’s really great are the image controls which are full featured, very variable and very comprehensive. It’s pretty great you can use it as a plugin for Lightroom, which it installs by default, but I suspect most users will want to add this to Photos.
extensionHere’s how: install Luminar (and/or Aurora), open Photos, select an image, click the Adjustment button at top right (it looks like three sliders), find Extensions at the bottom of the list of adjustment controls (under Retouch), click it’s three dots in a circle icon, choose More then tick Luminar (and/or Aurora). Awesome! Now you can use the magic right from within Photos when its own tools prove insufficient by going into this area (above) to improve a photo.
What’s not — It’s a bit clunky getting though the presets at the bottom as the keyboard arrows don’t do it, there’s no left and right arrow. You can swipe left and right using the trackpad (and some mice) but with some mice, the only way is to grab the little scrollbar at the bottom and drag it left and right. I also had a strange glitch in my pre-release version that let you roll the scroll-wheel to zoom in, but when I hit max zoom, the same motion zoomed out. I really wish there were selection tools like Paths and Feather.
Needs — Anyone for whom Aurora is too specific; also works well as a companion to Aurora.

Luminar pre-order from November 2nd; launch is scheduled for November 17th; US$59 (about NZ$83). If you already own a Macphun app for Mac, you pay only US$49 (about NZ$69) to get Luminar along with some exclusive bonuses.

System — Intel Core 2 Duo from late 2009 or newer; minimum 4GB RAM; OS X 10.10.5 or newer; 2GB free space on hard drive; display resolution 1280 x 800 or higher (Retina displays supported).

More info — MacPhun’s Luminar page.

Review ~ Apple iPhone 7


(Image: Apple Inc)
(Image: Apple Inc)

The first thing you notice abut the iPhone 7 is that you can easily mistake it for an iPhone 6/6s. They share a form factor, hand-feel and (very similar) weights of 143 grams or 192 grams (for iPhone 6s and 6s Plus respectively) compared to the slightly svelter 7’s 138 grams/188. Other dimensions are the same: 138.3mmx67.1 by 7.1mm thick for the 6s/7, and 158.2×77.9 by 7.3mm thick for the 6s Plus and 7 Plus. Both have the same screen dimensions too: 4.7 inches diagonally, and 5.5 inches diagonally for the Plus.

So what’s new? Quite a lot. In fact, as soon as you click the Home button, your 7 will feel different, for it’s not a mechanical (press in and bounce back) button at all, but a pressure-sensitive solid disk that, thanks to ‘haptic feedback, feels as if it ’clicks’. This is typical of Apple – a solid button is less prone to breakdown and easier to keep waterproof, but engineers and designers clearly decided the feel of a click was important enough to retain somehow. So if you’re wondering what Apple was thinking, leaving off the headphone jack, it’s this little trembling motor that explains it, for this bigger ‘Taptic Engine’ overlaps the space where the jack entered the 6 and 6s body. (Yes, the iPhone 6s has a Taptic Engine too; it’s smaller and the new version is more advanced). also, the removal of the jack allowed for a slightly bigger battery.

For further under the hood, Apple has been very busy indeed. For a start, iPhone 7 is the first water resistant iPhone – not full-immersion proof, but rather shower proof. This will lengthen its life while removing some worry from yours.
The Taptic Engine gives feedback for far more than just that faux-click Home Button. In games, tap a blaster and feel its kick. Pistols can have rapid-fire pulses you can feel; strings you play in, say, GarageBand for iOS make the iPhone subtly thrum in your hand. My cheap and cheesy favourite is rolling the onscreen Timer or Alarm time-setting dial in the Clock app, which also triggers an audio ‘click’ to further enhance the feeling. But it also reacts to the 3D Touch feature introduced with iPhone 6s: the harder-press you can do for messages that arrive on the Lock screen to reply, for example, or the press-on attributes of Apps on the Home screen. Expect more apps to take these capabilities on board.

Sight — So at first sight, this might look the same as iPhone 6 and 6s, but it feels different in new and clever ways. It also looks different once you start experiencing this screen. On the 7, the screen is still 1334×750 pixels at the ‘Retina’ resolution of 326ppi (1920×1080 and 401ppi on the Plus) and both have the same contrast ratios of 1400:1 and 1300:1. ‘Retina Display’ means you can’t discern the actual pixels like you can with the naked eye – and believe me, if you never knew you could, look at an iPhone 3 screen or an early iPad. Ouch.
But it’s brighter: maximum brightness is 625cd/m2 compared to 500 cd/m2, and it shows a wider colour gamut. In use, this looks great – it’s slightly warmer, with intense tones and great detail.
Actually, while we’re talking about the way things look, some of the iPhone 7s do stand out at a glance from the 6 range: there are new colour options since there are two black models: the striking, glossy Jet Black (main picture, above) as well as a regular matte Black, joining the existing metallic silver, gold and pink.

Shootin’ match — So the screens are brighter, but the cameras are also higher resolution. The front-facing camera is 12 megapixels; same as for the 6s but the 6 was 8 megapixels. But in the 6s, only the 6s Plus has optical image stabilisation whereas both models of the 7 has it. Be warned that the camera is slightly closer to the outer edge, meaning the camera cut-outs in cases for the 6 range will impede the lens. But the camera is more complex too, with a six-element lens compared to 5, and this 28mm camera has a wider aperture, which means it captures images better in lower light (it’s f1.8 instead of 2.2).

iPhone 6 shot (at MOTAT) – click on the picture to see it in more detail
iPhone 6 shot (at MOTAT) – click on the picture to see it in more detail. This file is 2.3MB
In this complex environment, the iPhone 7 definitely takes a better picture, producing a sharper picture with better exposure processing than my older iPhone 6 (not 6s)
In this complex environment, the iPhone 7 definitely takes a superior picture, producing a sharper image with better exposure processing and less haze than my older iPhone 6 (not 6s). This file is 2.7MB

The bigger 7s has two front-facing cameras: a wide-angle and a telephoto (56mm, f/2.8). Both have digital zoom up to 10 times (the 6s only goes to 5x) but the Plus has Optical Zoom up to 2x, so rather than enlarging the pixels (yes, it looks pretty awful pretty quickly) the 7 Plus actually has moving lens elements to do the first stage of the zoom at full quality, and both models have optical image stabilisation for smoother video recording, and even smoother Live Photos (I still think this is a silly gimmick, but whatever). Also, the lesser camera above the screen, for selfies, FaceTime/Skype etc is 7 megapixels as against 5 for the 6s. And don’t worry, the 7 still uses ‘Backside Illumination’, which is not for that kind of selfie: it’s a built-in digital image sensor that increases the amount of light captured to improve low-light performance. The 7 does do better in low light.

iPhone7 does well at the challenging Black Cat Test (unretouched)
iPhone7 does well at the challenging Black Cat Test (unretouched)

Sounds good — Another thing you’ll notice is that the 7 sounds better. The on-board (internal) speakers are louder and clearer. It also acts in stereo now, if you hold the phone in landscape mode, you should be able to hear separation between the channels since it’s using the top ear-piece speaker (for phone calls) for one channel and the bottom speaker for the other, but they’re so physically close together on iPhone 7 I could barely distinguish any difference except when I created a track in Garageband and panned it hard to one side or the other – maybe it’s more noticeable on the bigger-bodied Plus, but either way, it’s still going to be way better via earbuds or headphones.
airpodscase-pf-open_airpods-pf-float_pr-printBut what about the lack of headphone jack?
You have three ways to listen to music: via a pair of Lightning-compatible headphones (a pair of Lightning EarPods are included in the box), or use a pair of 3.5mm headphones with the included adapter (I find it hard to substitute my snug-fitting Apple In Ear Speakers) or wireless headphones connecting via Bluetooth – Apple’s own version of these will be available soon (left, picture from Apple Inc).
OK, some of you may be able to hear the difference between over-wire and over-the-air audio, but I sure as hell can’t, but I never have been good at hearing what those pro audio people swear is ‘better’, even when my ears were a lot younger. If I get good bass, some definition and some overtones, I’m happy. But if you’re not like me, or at least you like to think you are not like me in this regard, you’ll prefer a physical connection for your audio.
So I’m no authority here – audio sounds fine to me via my In Ear Speakers and the jack to Lightning adapter which Apple includes in the box. In fact, audio site what Hi Fi thinks this solution actually sounds better than the jack of the 6.)

iphone7white

Chips — iPhone 7 has the new 64-bit A10 Fusion chip with an embedded M10 motion coprocessor compared to the 6s A9 with embedded M9 motion coprocessor. This A10 is a quad-core processor with two high-performance cores with two high efficiency cores. This makes the A10 more efficient, delivering the same perceived performance as the A9 while using less power, but able to unleash high-performance cores when pushed. This low-power ability can lead to a full two hours more battery life than the iPhone 6s, and I didn’t test that with a stopwatch but I’m definitely charging it a less than I had to with my trusty old 6.
Mind you, this surprised me – startup speeds: from off to the lock screen, my iPhone 6 took 42 seconds – the iPhone 7 only 16.
Oddly, perhaps, the handy 64GB model is definitely gone from Apple’s options – you can get the 7 in 32, 128 or the pretty massive 256GB, whereas the 6s was 32GB or 128GB.

Conclusion — In use, to be brutally honest, the 7 feels like an incremental change rather than a new model. Just as the 6s is demonstrably better than the 6, this feels like, well, a ‘6ss’. It is definitely better, but it doesn’t feel like a full model change. The rumour mill says Apple will pull out the stops with the 8 (or will it be called the 10?) Since this model, should it appear in 2017 in place of a ‘7s’ will mark the 10th anniversary of the iPhone’s introduction.
I’m not trying to sell it short – it’s a fine phone. If you were going to buy an iPhone tomorrow, you’d be mad to prioritise a 6s over a 7 unless that extra couple of  hundred is just too hard to justify.

What’s great — Water resistance; faster; expanded, more sophisticated Haptics for better feel and response. Great cameras, beautiful screen

What’s not — I could say the lack of jack, but it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. But it might bother you.

Needs — Developers to get on board with the possibilities of that Taptic Engine and Apple’s clever, more powerful A10 processor.

iPhone 7, 32GB, 128GB or 256GB only, starting at NZ$1199 for the 32GB 7, $1399 for the 128GB and $1599 for the 256GB. The 7 Plus is $1429 for the 32GB, $1629 for the 128GB and $1829 for the 256GB. (iPhone 6s starts at NZ$999; $1199 for the 6s Plus).

From — Selected telephone retailers; Apple online.

Apologies this took a while to arrive – it took me a little longer than usual to get my hands on one. 

Review ~ Elmedia Player for Mac


elplayer
Lindybeige is a YouTube channel run by an entertaining and informative English militaria geek.

With the demise of QuickTime Pro (some people still have it, but if you lose it, it’s pretty hard to rediscover) and the migration of QuickTime into ‘just’ a video Player with a few extras like clips copying and pasting (after you choose Show Clips from the View menu) , third parties have come up with other media players for Mac that offer more features.
One of the best of these is Elmedia Player.  This multifunctional free media player for Mac supports a wide range of common (AVI, MOV, MP4, MP3, MPG ) those for Flash (FLV and SWF) plus Windows media (WMV) and not-so-common audio and video formats like DAT, FLAC, M4V, MKV and more.

Playback — For HD (high definition) video, Elmedia Player has hardware accelerated decoding which helps to avoid video slowdown and sound-sync problems. Like QuickTime, the online controls disappear for clutter-free viewing until you put your cursor back over the video (but you can turn this function on and off). You can drag this control around too, for better viewing. An AirPlay icon (Pro version only) lets you direct the video immediately to Apple TV, and Open Online Video lets you watch YouTube videos in player without ads; these abilities are enhanced further in the Pro version (see below).

Extra tools —  Elmedia Player also offers quick aspect ratio change and allows adjusting the speed of playback. The usual controls are there (play, pause, volume) but you can also flip or rotate video, which can be quite a mission in iMovie and even Final Cut. This is available from the View menu.

The Pro version — Paying US$19.95 (about NZ$28) gets you the more sophisticated version which lets you save videos, including RTMP streams, and external resources required by SWF animations.
You can download videos and soundtracks from YouTube, too – Elmedia Player Pro has a built-in web-browser and Open URL option to allow you to watch online videos from within the Player’s app window.

openonlinevid

The Open Online Video option lets you access YouTube, Vimeo and Dailymotion videos directly from the app, meaning you can avoid the ads that plague YouTube these days – just find the video in YouTube (or wherever), copy the link and paste it into the Open Online Video option from the File menu (the shortcut is Command U). Elmedia checks the link and seconds later, the Open button becomes active and the video appears in the Player window. This also bypasses the option of paying for a YouTube Red subscription, which also lets you play videos without ads. There is no obvious way to ‘save’ videos you find online to your Mac, but Elmedia adds them to your Playlist and it stays available here; it’s a sort of transparent saving. To download and keep a video, select the file you want to download from the list under the video, then click Download.
Elmedia can download a video with its subtitles, but it also lets you set up encoding, font, size, font colour, and border colour for them. In case subtitles are not in perfect sync with the video, you can use Increase/Decrease Subtitles Delay. You can load the subtitles file automatically (.srt, .ass, .smil, etc.) or manually with Elmedia, a feature that might be very handy, for example, to educators.
You can grab a still from a video or make a set of images (your Mac has this anyway, of course, with Command-Shift-4)  and convert Projector EXE files into SWF format. It has AirPlay support so you can stream music and videos from Elmedia Player to other devices with AirPlay support and vice versa, and extra Playback options including A-B loop, 10-band audio equalizer with presets (in the Window menu, strangely, rather than the Audio menu), and video and image layout adjustments.
You can run this player in English, Dutch, German, French, Spanish, Czech, Chinese and Russian.

Conclusion — The free Elmedia Player is an attractive, capable video player with some great features, and that’s even in the Free version. For those wanting more, the Pro version gives you extra conversion features making wither one a handy jack of all video trades. It’s also a robust player that runs on most Macs, and it can play most if not all of those weird video formats that strange PC people sometimes send you, or that you find with Eltima’s Folx software that lets you find those things (not strictly legally, sometimes, so don’t take this as an endorsement!).

What’s Great — Even the free version gives you a lot. Nice, smooth, high-definition playback of good-quality video.

What’s Not — A few interface quirks include having some of the audio controls, like the EQ, in the Window menu instead of in the Audio menu.

Needs — Those a bit miffed by the limits of Apple’s gratis QuickTime Player and who want something to dive into fast (i.e., not iMovie) do carry out some quick, effective video tasks.

Elmedia Player by Eltima Software, free or cNZ$28/US$19.95 from Eltima, and the Pro version is currently cheaper in the Mac App Store (NZ$18.99).

System — OS X 10.7+

Contact — Eltima Software.