This handy little (59x99x16mm) unit from the Apple-friendly US-based Sonnet supports an additional two 4K (up to 4096×2160 pixels) 60Hz displays via separate DisplayPort cables or one 5K (5120×2880 pixels) 60Hz display using both, adapting them into one of those USB-C (Thunderbolt 3) ports on a Mac.
The Sonnet Thunderbolt 3 to DisplayPort adapter runs at 40Gbps and supports audio over DisplayPort and gets its power from the built-in USB-C connector, plus it’s backwards compatible with lower-resolution displays down to 1080p, and other types of monitors and projectors can be plugged in also, including projectors, via adapters for HDMI, DVI and VGA (there’s a list of compatible devices, apparently, at the Sonnet site).
I love how these things ‘just work’ on Macs, don’t you? The instructions for Mac are basically plug it in since macOS already has integral drivers (then launch System Preferences, choose Displays and configure). For Windows, it’s update your BIOS to the latest version, update to the latest Thunderbolt version, confirm it’s running the latest Windows and if not update that too, connect the adapter with your computer turned on and then tell it to approve’ the device. Yikes. I don’t even know what a BIOS is (don’t worry, I don’t really want to, either). Besides, not all Thunderbolt 3 Windows PCs support dual displays or 60Hz refresh rates – who knew? Also, this Sonnet display adapter is not compatible with USB-C-only ports. (I didn’t realise these existed either.)
Conclusion — There’s not much to say about this really, it’s plug-and-play, works perfectly and doesn’t even need a power supply. Sonnet always makes good stuff.
Sonnet Thunderbolt 3 to Dual DisplayPort adapter,NZ$195 (US$79)
From Toronto Canada, these smart light panel kits vended here in NZ by MacGear let you integrate the system into Apple HomeKit or just run them from your iPhone or iPad.
Featuring an interlocking PCB electrical tab that lets you quickly attach any of the three sides to another panel, and then the power supply to any spare slot, this 9-panel Smarter Kit lets you create several shapes from the get-go.
Virtually ‘paint’ individual panels or let effects sweep through, and of course brighten and dim, these can be oh-so-subtle or party-garish at the touch on the free iOS app interface.
You’d think this could be gimmicky, but no. Because you can configure them several different ways and because you can get the Aurora panels to play subtle effects and also dim them almost to nothing, seamlessly, they’re refreshingly sophisticated and effective in many situations. They can display over 16 million colours.
Each panel is 24cm in length and 24cm high, and weighs just 210 grams thanks to a braced plastic structure on the back (above – all the tech specs are online).
Mounting — If I had any issues with these at all, it would be wall mounting. In the kit, the only option is 3M sticky tabs, although Nanoleaf has been generous, providing 28 (plus an extra PDB connector). The black sides will stick forever to the back; the red side goes n your wall, and is supposed to be removable, but in my experience, this can remove paint. Here’s a great tip, though – you will really need to get it properly lined up on the wall. Since there’s a level in your iPhone already, try that (just open the Compass app and swipe to the side).
To mount the Aurora panels properly on a wall in a placement you want to keep for any length of time, MacGear has various accessories available like the mounting kit with thumb tacks (NZ$60) which has 12 screw mounts, 12 wall anchors, 12 steel screws and four flex-linkers. These sturdier anchors would be preferable for many walls and for many applications once you are sure you have the configuration and placement you want. You could even mount them on come ceilings. The flex-linkers are also available separately (NZ$40 for 9) – with these you can mount the panels so they go around corners, for example. Also available are more of the straight PCB tabs, a panel expansion kit (3 panels and tabs for $120 – the supplied power supply can handle up to 30 panels!) and the $100 Nanoleaf Aurora Rhythm Module with gets the panels pulsing to sound – how’s that for party coolness? I’d really like to try that.
Another issue for some might be that the white of the plastic the panels are mounted in might clash or just look wrong with some darker wall colours.
The app or not — The power module plugs into the normal wall power outlet. Current gets daisy-chained through all the panels via the connector tabs, and you can pull out a panel and plug it in somewhere else while it’s on. Even without an app to control it with, you can use the Aurora – the power module has an On/Off switch on it plus another that initiates preset lighting programs through the panels – it cycles through the presets with subsequent presses.
However, the app (it’s free, of course) lets you dim the lights and this is a good thing, as they can verge on harshly bright to look at, evenings. Fifty-percent is nice and ambient, but right down to 10% can be effective in a dark hallway or even a child’s bedroom as a night-light.
Beyond that, thanks to HomeKit support, you can add in other products like Phillips’ Hue lightbulbs and change their colour along with the Aurora, should you want all these to be doing the same thing.
But you can also get pretty creative with the app, painting individual panels with colour, or creating your own light transformation effects. You can change the speed of transitions. You can also set a time for them to come on, to automatically light a hallway from 7.30pm.
Voice Control — You can also set a voice control to turn them on via Siri. Power to the panels must always be on for voice or app control to work, then turn the lights off likewise – ie, not with the power button. This will avoid the need for the panels to search for and rejoin the wifi hub (which you set up easily via the app when you first load it up – it’s the most painless Wifi setup I’ve ever used). This has to be done each time the Aurora loses power.
Room and individual light names are set by you within the Nanoleaf app. This must be done before using voice control, or else Siri won’t really understand what you want it to do. Nanoleaf has a list of commands you can use.
Power — These aren’t going to suck your house dry of power. The most all panels together will draw is 20 watts (.5-2W per panel depending on brightness and 2W for the controller module, and up to 60W with the 30 panels that the one power module can control. They’re rated for 25,000 hours of use.
Conclusion —They’re great, I love them! Consider this for the home, but also for effective controllable lighting in commercial applications like bars, cafés and shops for flashy pizazz right down to subtle ambience. I think the price is pretty reasonable, too, considering how configurable they are. And here’s an additional benefit: shifting lights against your windows and curtains can look like someone’s home and doing stuff.
What’s great —Subtle or flashy, very controllable, this is effective, easy to use and configurable. The accessories already available add a lot more to the equation.
What’s not — Getting your configuration right, in the right place, can be a test. But since the 9 panels come with protective paper between them, these come in handy for practicing layouts with Blu-Tac for example.
Needs — Those with sophisticated, malleable lighting needs.
System — any place with mains power. The app is for iOS, and it has HomeKit and Siri support too (you can turn it on and off by voice.) I feel it’s almost hard to describe in words and pictures but there are some good videos online, and I suggest you check them out: Here’s Nanoleaf’s, Apple has posted one, and here’s 5 Minutes for Mom’s.
Listening to the bay of the docks has brought me to a third example, by Belkin, this time in a more traditional silver. This is like previous Belkin iterations, and has a curvy aspect almost all over – it’s in the same case as Belkin’s Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 docks. Four rubberised low-profile feet stop it sliding across your desk.
This also has two practical ports on the front, including a USB 3, but unlike the Kensington, the partner to this is audio stereo minipin rather than another USB-C – dual in-out stereo minipin.
Across the back, this has left to right: Gigabit Ethernet, Audio out, 2x USB 3, 2x Thunderbolt 3 (but not USB-C, note, although they have the same form factor), DisplayPort and the DC power inlet.
Like the Kensington SD5000T, the single USB-C cable that carries all this data and parcels it out through the dock can also carry enough charge (85w) to charge up a MacBook Pro. The cable to connect it to your Mac is supplied (this one a handy 1 metre in length). Of course, this takes up one of the two Thunderbolt 3 ports, leaving only one spare (and three on the 15-inch MacBook Pro, in my case).
Unlike the Kensington and Moshi (left), this can’t as-quickly charge up an iPhone or iPad via USB, but its three USB 3 ports do, of course, support most keyboards, mice, Flash drives and hard drives.
Video-wise, like the Kensington, this support a single 5K display via the DisplayPort or dual displays at up to 4K resolution – on plugged into the other Thunderbolt 3 port with the right adapter, and the other into the DisplayPort.
Speeds — Copying the same 6.05GB movie file I used for the test with the Kensington dock from the very fast internal 1TB SSD in a 2017 MacBook Pro to a USB 3 (traditional, not Solid State) hard drive, took one minute 36 seconds (the Kensington was 1:28). Once again, the real test would be to a USB-C hard drive, unfortunately I don’t have one.
Conclusion — This is another useful configuration for users of MacBooks with USB-C-only ports. It’s a nice shape and the silver goes with some of the MacBook Pros, although I’m guessing the new Space Gray model is the more popular, in which case the Kensington is a better visual match. I’m a little surprised the Belkin is more expensive than the Kensington dock I reviewed last week, since it has one less USB-C port, since this is the way all these devices are headed, but having three (versus the Kensington’s 2) might support people better if they have more legacy USB 3 devices. Being able to charge up to a 15-inch MacBook is a definite plus. But to my eyes, the Kensington, with its possibility of VESA mounting and a lock-slot, is better value. The difference in price is virtually enough to get a decent USB 3 hub if you really need more USB 3 ports. However, Belkin is a very reliable brand too, with a long relationship with Apple.
What’s great — The familiar Belkin look, useful ports
What’s not — Another USB-C port might be handier. Price – it’s possible you may be able to find this cheaper than list after a month or two.
Needs — Anyone with a USB-C Mac right up to the power-sucking 15-inch, especially should you want to use superior Ethernet which is often 3x faster than WiFi.
Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Express Dock HD, NZ RRP $579.95 (US$349)
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 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)
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)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Remote — 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.
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.
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.
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. On 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
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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 ProThe 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.