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iPad (4) Retina

I had a Windows Live Messenging conversation with the wife yesterday afternoon, and it went like this.

“Dear, I have a confession to make.”

“I know. You bought yourself a new toy?”

“!!! Dear, you’re so clever.:)”

“When you have a confession, it’s usually some purchase involving a certain sum of $$.”

I blame this entirely on our Ang mo bud actually. He bought along his iPad Retina when he came to Singapore to visit in June this year and I got tempted LOL. Despite my dislike for the fruit company – the moreso now with its troll patent suits – Apple does continue to produce amazing tablet hardware. I’m less tempted with their phones, but the reality remains that the real Android equivalents of the recent iPad tablets simply aren’t available in Singapore for them to be a viable alternative. I’ve had the Motorola Xoom for several months now, and while it works great as a media playback device (especially videos for Hannah to watch), it’s general sluggishness and frequent browser crashes have made the tablet tiresome to use.


The new tablet is a pretty recent refresh of the earlier iPad Retina released this year, but with bumped up specifications – it’s reportedly twice as fast as the earlier one – a slightly longer-lasting battery, and using a different power and data connector. Pundits are calling this the “iPad 4”. Hannah’s certainly thrilled, because all her favorite games are on the iPad.

As slick and smooth though as iOS6 is, the interface honestly looks real dated compared to the Android equivalent. And why I have to go through iTunes to transfer Hannah’s videos onto the tablet is still beyond me. And while iOS maps look nice, I’m not going to trust directions on it, though what little I’ve seen from the Singapore maps seem about right.

Ling wasn’t in the bit surprised of course. She chuckled: “iPad is still better right? Admit it.”

MacBook Pro Retina

The MacBook Pro Retina (rMBP) arrived on Tuesday afternoon, about 8 days after placing an order for it. The notebook configuration I chose wasn’t the base configuration. Given that the new series of rMBPs can’t be user-upgraded later after it leaves the assembly plant, I went with a 16 GB RAM upgrade, judging that storage is going to be less of an issue with portable harddrives as opposed to onboard system memory. The custom configuration must have factored in the slightly longer time it took for Apple to complete assembly, since some buyers have reported receiving their notebooks quicker than I did.

I’ve posted earlier before of Apple’s streamlined and iconic packaging. The rMBP is no different, coming in the usual white box, black in-trays, the notebook, a small instructional booklet, power adapter and sockets.


Packaging for the MacBook Pro Retina

After spending two days using the new notebook, my feelings are mixed, even though Apple fanboys still tout this as the best notebook yet. The plus points include:

Classy build. No loose parts, no awkward or sharp corners, no question about it. The MBPs’ aluminum unibody chassis helps the notebook cool down when not in use.

Light and slim. After lugging around the 6.3 lbs of Dell every day to and from work, the 4.5 lbs weight of the rMBP makes this feather weight.

Super-high resolution Retina-class screen. It’s a stunning screen alright. With less glare than the Dell XPS.

Very fast SSD storage. Several times faster than the entry-level SSDs I’ve got installed on my home PC and Dell XPS.

But then again:

Super-high resolution Retina-class screen. Outside the couple of browsers and OS 10.8, everything else looks terrible, including Windows and everything else running on it. It’s tolerable once I bring the LCD resolution down to 1920×1200 pixels, but text in turn now looks rather blurry.

Less contrasting screen compared to the Dell. Sorry fanboys but the Dell XPS 16’s RGBLED screen surpasses the rMBP’s Retina screen. Hannah looked better on the Dell.

Windows 7 takes forever to load. The Dell XPS takes about 14 seconds to load up Windows, despite its slower SSD. The rMBP takes nearly a minute with Bootcamp despite its faster SSD. Bleh.

Keyboard is a little fiddly. It displays absolutely no flex (compared to the very slight flex I got on the Dell), but it simply felt better typing on the Dell with its better key travel than the rMBP. I’ll probably get used to speed typing on the rMBP soon though.

Only two USB ports. Gaaah. But at least it’s on opposite sides of the notebook now, compared to the old 13 inch MBP which placed the two ports side by side.

The last two evenings have been spent configuring the rMBP to work with three operating systems: WIndows 7, Mac OS 10.8, and a Linux build that I have been tinkering around. Once I’m fully satisfied that all my work related files and settings have been correctly replicated on rMBP, I’ll be wiping my Dell XPS (*sniff*) and configuring it for Ling to use.

OK; the usual pictures!


From left to right; the Dell XPS 16 (love this machine), the new rMBP, and my workplace’s MBP.


The rMBP is just a wee bit smaller width-wise compared to the Dell XPS 16.


On the other hand, it’s loads thinner! The Dell XPS 16 looks like a 10,000 pound Elephant here.


It’s also thinner than my work MBP too.

Fruit Parcels

One thing that Apple prides itself is in its product packaging, so much so that the iconic boxes that are used to pack its iPhone even features in the current lawsuit they’ve piled on Samsung.

One change that has issued from the new MacBook Pro Retina – which incidentally just cleared Singapore customs (finally) a few minutes ago – is its new power adapter. The new adapter design though has also rendered unusable all the old MacBook adapters, which again brought about hollers from MacBook owners of how high-handed the company has become in product redesigns.

I picked up a converter that would enable the old adapters to work with the new one. The parcel arrived well ahead of the laptop itself, since the parcel’s origin is right here in Singapore. Here’s what the parcel looked like:


Don’t see anything wrong with this picture yet?

It’s the relative sizes. The converter is just over a centimeter wide. And it got packed into a box that measures 6.5 X 8 cm, and that got in turn packed into a DHL delivery box that measures 16 x 14.5 cm! OK, so I shouldn’t complain since the converter was nicely secure in its bubble-wrap, but I chuckled upon seeing how a small device has got packed into a comparatively huge box just for it.

The MacBook should be delivered sometime later today. More notes to come soon!

“It just works…?” Not!!

I’ve had the iPad 2 for just over 2 months now. Never jailbroke it (it became possible just a few days ago). Never installed anything that didn’t come off the iTunes store on it. Never used it for anything other than its intended use.

So, I decided to hook it up to iTunes this morning to see if there were any OS updates… and the iPad promptly crashed. Wouldn’t even boot up. And the only option iTunes offered was to reset it back using Factory Restore. I lost all my applications and data, including an entire library of applications that I’ve collected for Hannah.


And that wasn’t the end of it. The Factory Restore failed the first two times even. And just when I was about to throw the iPad out of the window, the Factory Restore finally worked on the third try, inexplicably.

Apple’s favorite mantra “It just works”?

What crock.


Two colleagues of mine – both Apple fans – and I were talking about the MacBooks and iPhones yesterday afternoon. One was surprised, like my Kumamoto colleagues last year during the teaching trip, that I used my MacBook Pro primarily to run Windows 7 and not the Apple OS. As I explained to them: I like the MacBook Pro’s hardware design and form factor, but I dislike their OS. Once the other notebook manufacturers catch up in terms of notebook build (HP’s Envy series sure looks close in addition to Sony’s overpriced Vaios), I’ll likely go back to using a dedicated Wintel notebook.

The mobile phone and techforums are yet again abuzz with the latest installment of the newest Apple debacle over signal loss in the iPhone 4G if you hold that phone in a certain way. Shockingly, Bloomberg uncovered information that suggests Apple was actually already aware of this a year ago when their senior antenna expert pointed out that the 4G phone’s design was going to lead to signal loss.

Apparently, Steve Jobs not only did not apologize for the 4G design flaw that’s led to owners experiencing signal loss and even reception disconnections, he’s even all but claimed “but hey, every other phone has the same problem as ours”, and dragged in Samsung, HTC, Nokia and RIM, manufacturers of the Blackberry devices.


One’s never certain what’s going on in Jobs’ head, given the enigma he is. But one thing’s for sure: in the last 12 months, it’s been one PR Fail after another for Apple. First, it was the employee suicides from Foxconn, the company that pundits call the slave labor camps for Apple and a bunch of other computer hardware manufacturers. Then there was the shocking police raid on Gizmodo’s editor’s home after he did a world scoop on the insides of the then-yet to be released iPhone 4G. And now finally, this.

Not surprisingly, Nokia and RIM isn’t taking Jobs’ latest tirade lying down. But Nokia’s certainly a lot more polite. They said in their press statement:

“Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying human behavior, including how people hold their phones for calls, music playing, web browsing and so on. As you would expect from a company focused on connecting people, we prioritize antenna performance over physical design if they are ever in conflict.”

They didn’t mention Apple and Jobs’ attack on (their) mobile phones, but there’s no mistaking that their response was directly specifically at the 4G’s antenna design issues.

The RIM co-CEOs however, practically snarled back at Jobs when they issued the press statement below: (formatted for easier reading):

“Apple’s attempt to draw RIM into Apple’s self-made debacle is unacceptable. Apple’s claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation. RIM is a global leader in antenna design and has been successfully designing industry-leading wireless data products with efficient and effective radio performance for over 20 years. During that time, RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage.

One thing is for certain, RIM’s customers don’t need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity. Apple clearly made certain design decisions and it should take responsibility for these decisions rather than trying to draw RIM and others into a situation that relates specifically to Apple.”

OUCH LOL. The online forums are a hilarious read right now with many pointing out that this is the equivalent of RIM’s response to Apple to go *(expletive)* themselves for dragging them into their own cesspool of a mess.

In moments like these, I sure am glad again that I dumped the iPhone. It’s hard to support a company that displays this level of arrogance.

Much Ado About iPhones

The Internet-tech world is abuzz with the iPhone 4G Loser controversy right now – which really is more the irony that the news sort of replaces the screaming headline news of the recently released iPads earlier this month, and how local retailers here are selling their units for twice the retail price.

As the story goes: someone who was working on the iPhone 4G accidentally left it behind at a bar. The unit gets picked up by someone else who initially intended to return it to the owner, but upon realizing that the unit was the top-secret iPhone 4G, had a change of heart and instead put it up for bidding. Popular news site Gizmodo apparently paid an princely sum involving four-digit figures to pick up the device, which they next proceeded to dissect – and then determine that yep, it’s the real thing. Apple, not surprisingly, now wants their toy back, and there’s talk of law suits coming down Gizmodo’s direction.

Opinion sure is divided whether the leak is deliberate on Apple’s part. On the one hand, some think it’s inconceivable that Apple would knowingly leak out what is a bonafide prototype of a hot product, knowing their penchant for jealously guarding product secrets (and people have committed suicide apparently out of terror of what Apple would do if you bloop there). On the other hand, others are saying this must be one of Apple’s cleverest ‘gotcha’ tricks they’re playing – they’ve deliberately let out the leak just to generate free publicity for their next big toy.

Either way, I’m tempted to just dump the Apple iPhone when the thing wears out and just go for an Android phone next. The phone’s got a fatal defect now – at least two or three times a day, it’ll state dumbly “No SIM card installed”. And everytime that happens, instead of an iPhone I’ve got an iBrick.

“I was busy looking for a ‘explode macbook’ button.”

Well, no one can now say – hopefully – that I didn’t give MacBooks a chance. My NEC Versa E6310 has undergone abuse. It’s switched on at least 10 hours a day, everyday at work for 2 years now, it goes with me whenever I do a public presentation or talk, and I use it as a scratch notebook i.e. I use the notebook to try out all kinds of demo ware that I wouldn’t dare try on my home PC. The screen has now lost perhaps about a quarter of its brightness, and the track pad has a mind of its own i.e. it never does anything I want it to.

I was initially intending to get another Wintel notebook – one of those 11.6” LCD CULV netbooks in fact – soon to replace the aging Versa when a revelation struck me. Why was I coughing up more money to buy another Windows notebook, when I could use that money to buy something that could at least also provide me some learning value? I mean, for all purposes, my productivity level on a Windows machine is operating at peak relative to my ability to work the machine, and as useful as another Windows notebook would be, I wasn’t going to learn anything new with it by way of working in new operating environments.

blog-macbook That’s essentially the reason why I ordered a MacBook Pro late last night, and am expecting delivery of the unit later today or tomorrow. There’re two 13” MacBooks that are priced quite affordably. One’s simply called the MacBook, the other the MacBook Pro. The former is their cheapest Apple OS notebook now, and in terms of computing specification is equivalent to, and in one spot at least, better than its more expensive by $400 brethren. However, the MacBook has a cheaper body – which doesn’t bother me – and a poorer screen – which I disliked after checking it out at Compass Point’s Denki. The limited color gamut and lower contrast doesn’t matter if you don’t do photo-editing, but I do a lot of that. So, I went with the cheapest MacBook Pro model listed.

It’s interesting now to see my friends, colleagues and students respond to my Facebook status update. I meant it when I reflected in February this year a sentiment that exists among many of us who’re (supposedly?) experts in the use of technology – that many of us dislike Apple OSes as it forces a person to operate at a level of abstraction that, frankly, is both limiting and mildly condescending. For all the hardware weaknesses, vulnerabilities and general all-round ugliness of Windows up to Vista, there’s a lot more potential by way of software range, hardware variety, and enterprise-level development tools that we use that’s only available for Windows machines and not Apple OS ones, bootcamp or virtualization not withstanding.

And many of us have learned to work round the many Windows flaws. Viruses on Windows? I’ve rarely had anything more serious than a virus warning popping up on my Windows notebooks when I stick one of my student’s thumb drives in, and that’s because I know how to arm and properly defend my Windows environment. And it’s far less of a hassle than the Apple faithful would insist – I actually like the sense of empowerment and ability to install, tweak, and customize all those tools. And between a sanitized environment with a limited outlay of toys versus a sandbox with some risk but I have access to a far greater array of toys that can provide better learning opportunities albeit amidst adversity, I’d always prefer the latter.

That’s basically why I can empathize with some of my colleagues when they write a comment that’s the title of this post. They don’t like Macs. Me though, with this purchase of a MacBook – no one can say I didn’t at least try. I’m pretty certain I’ll like its colorful and unified interface a lot at least. As for productivity, I’m not so sure.

Either way, I can still always leave the MacBook at home to keep Ling occupied while I go back to my NEC Versa dinosaur – which while is rapidly losing its color and is getting crankier by the day from overuse, I still can get it to dance a trick and do what I ultimately need it to help me do – i.e. be more productive.)

Operating System Malfunctions

One thing about end user computing that’s taken some getting used to has been the transition from text-based to graphical operating systems. For the first initial years up till Windows 98 at least, I found I could get system-centric tasks done far faster from a DOS prompt than using a GUI.

That’s probably one reason why I never took to the Apple OS in the pre-Win95 days. Heck. The persons around me in the computer engineering faculty… few of them liked the OS even, the hysteric and rabid fandom that Steve Jobs commanded even back then not withstanding. For us, it was always about the platform that offered the most across a range of criteria beyond just aesthetics and ‘ease-of-use’: the criteria included availability of software, accessibility of support, and hardware available to extend the capabilities of the platform. And that stuff in the 90s about the Apple OS being a more stable platform – erm… right, because the Mac workstations in the labs crashed as often as the Windows ones when we subjected it to similar degrees of hardware and driver switcheroos.

This doesn’t mean that Windows is a great operating system. The first release of Windows as a ‘complete’ OS – Win 95 – that didn’t need DOS in the background wrestled with a ton of device driver issues and BSODs. The next 12 years saw incremental improvements in stability and usability, and with the impending Windows 7 later this year, the aesthetics and stability gap between competing OSes have finally narrowed to a negligible point.


That said though, installing and refreshing a Windows operating system is still always a fun and occasionally exasperating challenge. I picked up a new Seagate 1.5 TB harddrive (alongside a few more sticks of RAM) at Sim Lim over the weekend to replace the most aging of my three hard drives. I had a copy of Windows Vista Ultimate, compliments of Microsoft, sitting on the shelf for some months now, so took the opportunity to try installing the 64 bit version of the OS as well.

Wow, and what an effort it took… if only because I completely overlooked one little thing. The damn thing just refused to boot up initially even though the memory diagnostics showed up no errors. Until I remembered to update the motherboard BIOS. Thereafter installation finally proceed speedily.

I’m tempted to pick up Windows 7 later this year; the beta version that I installed on the MSI Wind has worked amazingly well. Thing is though W7 doesn’t really offer me any real advantages apart from speed and a really nifty UI.

But still… I’ll see. Ling’s using non-Aero version of Vista that came with the Acer PC I bought her 1.5 years ago, and she occasionally looks onto my PC with envy. I could always pass her Vista Home Premium later this year.:)

Picture from Mac vs Windows.