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Cool Hardware

Review: Olala 10,000mAh Power Bank

For those not aware, I have something of an addiction to portable power packs—with two kids and who knows how many devices, it seems someone somewhere is always out of power.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been testing an addition to our stable of such products: Olala’s $32 10,000mAh Power Bank.1I received the Power Bank at a greatly reduced cost, but my review is based solely on its performance and my impressions of its build quality.

This shiny piano black unit looks great (though that shiny finish is a fingerprint magnet), and its smooth surface means it easily slides into a pocket in a backpack. Four blue LEDs let you know how much juice you have left. Unlike some battery packs, this one is Apple MFi Certified, meaning Olala has gone through the necessary steps to certify that their device meets Apple’s standards. (You can search for MFi certified devices in case you’re ever curious about a given accessory developer.)

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Fujitsu ScanSnap software and the 64-bit-only future

A fair number of my apps are still 32-bit—see how many you still have—though many I don’t really care about all that much. But there’s one suite of apps that I use every day, usually multiple times a day: Fujitsu’s ScanSnap apps. This is the software bundled with the ScanSnap ix500 scanner.

While Fujitsu has been good about updating their software in the past, I was a bit concerned about the upcoming 64-bit transition. So I both tweeted at them and sent them an email. I haven’t seen a reply on Twitter, but a (clearly form letter) reply to my email is at least somewhat encouraging:

There is no problem in the behavior of the application or the OS concerned. The message is only inform that the application needs to be modified for compatibility with next-generation macOS (which should be available near the end of the year). PFU is going to resolve this, but the resolution date is not set yet. In the meantime, please continue using the latest version of the software available.

This blurb was obviously prepared as a response to those complaining about the new 32-bit warning dialog in macOS 10.13.4, but it does seem to address the longer-term question: Fujitsu is planning to “resolve this,” which hopefully implies 64-bit versions are in our future, though at some not-yet-disclosed date.

There are very few things in my workflow that I couldn’t replace…but replacing my ScanSnap and everything it does for me would be quite difficult. Hopefully we’ll see a 64-bit ScanSnap suite before this fall’s deadline.

6,399 reasons why I haven’t yet replaced my iMac

My main machine is a late 2014 27″ iMac with a 4GHz Core i7 CPU, 24GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD (plus a big external RAID for most of my files). While it runs fine, I would like something with Thunderbolt 3 support, with faster graphics for X-Plane, and with more computing power for ripping Blu-Ray discs. It’s also beyond AppleCare age, and if something fails, it will be expensive and time consuming to repair.

When the iMac Pro came out, I was intrigued, but the price point is scary high and there was the “new new” Mac Pro on the horizon—potentially a cheaper alternative, given the display wouldn’t have to be bundled (and upgradeability is a good thing). I was hoping for an update on that machine at WWDC this June. Instead, we got the update much earlier, though it’s not was I was hoping to hear: The new new Mac Pro won’t be released in 2018.

As a result, if I want to replace my iMac this year, I have only two choices: A new iMac non-pro, or a new iMac Pro. (In theory, I could look at a MacBook Pro with an eGPU for graphics, but I despise the Touch Bar, and that’s the only way to get the highest-spec MacBook Pro. But I really want a desktop Mac, not a laptop-as-desktop Mac.)

So just what would I be getting for my money with either machine? And how do those machines compare with the Frankenmac homebuilt I put together last year? And perhaps more intriguingly, how do they compare with the 2013 “new” Mac Pro that Apple still sells today?

To answer those questions, I turned to the Geekbench 4 benchmark app, which includes both CPU and graphics (they call it Compute) benchmark tools.

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Review: Olala SG1 Bluetooth earbuds

Recently, Olala sent me a set of their SG1 Bluetooth wireless earbuds to review.1I received the SG1s for free, but my review is based solely on their performance and my impressions of their build quality. While I listen to music in a number of ways, none of them currently include wireless earbuds, so I was interested in seeing how the SG1s performed. These earbuds are also very reasonably priced—only $32 at Amazon as I write this today.

And for that $32, you get a very complete setup: The earbuds on about a two-foot cable, three sizes of ear cushions, a complete (though tiny) instruction manual, a shirt clip, a cable separator, and a leather-look carrying case.

(Also included, but not shown in the photo, is a USB charging cable.)

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My initial impressions after briefly using the iPhone X

No, I didn’t buy one. (Though I could have; the nearby Apple store has had them in stock each day.) But I did spend about 20 minutes playing with one, just to compare it to my 8 Plus. Here then are my thoughts after that extensive hands-on period…

The Good Stuff
  • The screen is lovely (most of the time; see below). Very high pixel density makes for incredibly crisp text, and the OLED tech means blacks are black, and colors in images look stunning.

  • The 120Hz sample rate on the touchscreen makes for very snappy interactions.

  • Compared to my 8 Plus, the narrower iPhone X feels nicely sized in my hand.

  • I don’t think it would take too long to get used to the gesture-based interface; I already find myself wishing that the “short drag up” to activate the app switcher worked on my iPhone 8 Plus.

  • Face ID is very easy to set up, much more so than Touch ID. (The store phones have a demo setup so you can see how it works and test it, but not really apply it as you would on your own iPhone.)

There’s more, of course, but they’re things that apply to the iPhone 8/8 Plus, too: The glass design feels good in the hand, much improved cameras, speedy CPU, etc. The X has all of that, though with an even better camera, thanks to stabilization on the zoom lens, too.

So much for the good…

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Sony MDR-100ABN wireless noise cancelling headphones

Almost exactly two years ago, I bought my first pair of Bluetooth headphones—Sentey Bluetooth headphones which were amazingly cheap and worked quite well. They worked great, right up until the charging port broke and I could find no way to fix it—this was about two months ago. Not bad for $50.

When it came time to replace them, I wasn’t quite sure what to get—I didn’t want to spend a lot on headphones. But while browsing Costco, I came across the Sony MDR-100ABN noise canceling wireless headphones, set up in a “try before you buy” display.

I tried them on, and found them comfortable—and the sound was quite good to my ear. I also checked the Amazon reviews, which were quite positive. The Costco price (login required) was $200, anywhere from $29 to $148 cheaper than on Amazon. (Why the broad range? Costco only sells the black colored headphones; Amazon has all the colors Sony offers, and they range from $229 to $348.)

So I splurged and bought them. And I’m glad I did—these are not only great wireless headphones, they’re great headphones in general. Here’s why I really like these headphones…

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My thoughts on the new Apple Watch, Apple TV, and iPhones…

In their September 2017 keynote, Apple launched the Apple Watch Series 3, the Apple TV 4K HDR, and three new iPhones—the 8 and the 8 Plus, and the X.

Here are my quick thoughts on each, and my buying plans…

Apple Watch Series 3

This is a nice evolution of the watch. The LTE doesn’t really interest me, as I’m sure it’ll require another $5 or $10 a month to my wireless carrier, and I almost always want my phone with me. (If I swam regularly, I might feel differently about that.) The much-faster CPU would be a nice upgrade over my original-generation watch, but the Series 3 is nearly a full millimeter thicker than the original…and honestly, I think the first version was already borderline too thick.

Will I buy? At this time, the outlook is doubtful; my watch is working fine, and a faster CPU isn’t worth the added thickness and $359 of my money.

Apple TV 4K HDR

Support for 4K is welcome, and long overdue. I’m not so sure about HDR; sometimes I find HDR images tend to look artificial, and I don’t know if I’d find the same issue in moving images. A real added bonus was Apple’s decision to provide the 4K version of movies you’ve purchased for free—this from a company that charged us to upgrade the quality of our music files a few years back.

I wish Apple wasn’t so damn set on streaming everything, though—I would much prefer to store movies directly on the device, to make it more portable and not subject to the vagaries of wifi, device positioning, and network load. Those times are gone, though, so now the only choice is whether or not to spend $20 more for the 64GB version.

Will I buy? Yes, and I’ll spend the extra $20 for the extra 32GB. I’ve been moving an Xbox One back and forth from the game TV to our 4K TV to watch 4K content, so this will be a simpler solution.

iPhone 8 and 8 Plus and iPhone X

Let me get this out of the way: I do not like the iPhone X. Well, that’s not true. I think almost all of it is absolutely stunning, and I really want one. Unfortunately, that’s “almost all,” and there are two things that aren’t perfect that will keep me from buying this phone…

The Notch. I absolutely, positively hate the cutout at the top of the phone for the sensors. In case you (somehow) missed it, this is the notch…

I would have much preferred if Apple just blacked out that entire region, giving up that marginally-usable pixel space for a cleaner appearance. I understand that videos can play cropped, so as to not be “notched,” but it’s the presence of the notch in other normal views that really gets to me. It’s everywhere.

Many people won’t notice, or won’t care about the notch. I wish I could be one of those people, but I can’t. During the keynote, all I could focus on whenever the phone appeared was the stupid notch. It simply grabs my eye, and I cannot unsee it when it’s there. (Maybe a future software update will stop drawing the desktop up there, which would make it look much nicer to my eye.)

Face ID. Apple has told us facial recognition is more secure, and I have no reason to doubt them. They also told us it’s fast, and it seemed to be in the demo. But secure and fast can’t override the absolute convenience of Touch ID. I can use Touch ID as I remove my phone from my pocket (press plus press-click), and it’s ready to go as soon as it’s out of my pocket. I don’t have to look at my phone unless I want to; if I have to look at my phone every time I want to unlock it, that’s going to get annoying. Very quickly.

Apple Pay is even worse. Today’s system is as near-magic as any tech I’ve ever used: Hold the phone near the register, rest finger on the home button, and you’re done. With Face ID, it appears (based on the demo in the keynote), I’ll have to both double-tap the side button and look at the phone to use Apple Pay. Ugh.

There are also some security considerations with Face ID, as pointed out by Ian Schray. The police cannot compel you to put your finger on your phone without a warrant…but can they compel you to simply look at your phone?

Other than these two no-go items, I really like everything else about the iPhone X. It’s only marginally larger (.20 inches taller, .15 inches wider) than an iPhone 7, yet has a screen that’s 30% larger and has more pixels than the gigantic Plus model phones. It also has the double cameras, which I would love to have on my next phone.

While you may not consider the notch and Face ID as deal breakers, they really are for me. I’ll go look at one in person, of course, but I simply cannot unsee the notch, and I hate the idea of having to look at my phone to unlock it, and taking more steps (and time) for Apple Pay.

So that leaves me with the 8/8 Plus versus my current 7. I think the new CPU, faster Apple-developed GPU, better cameras and sensors, 240fps slow-mo 1080p video, wireless charging, and the glass design make the iPhone 8 a compelling upgrade. As noted, I’d love to have the dual cameras to work with, but I think the Plus-size phone is just too big for daily use, so I think that’s out of the question. (I will visit the Apple Store again to see the 7 Plus before I decide for sure.)

Will I buy? As of now, yes, I plan on buying an iPhone 8, and hoping that…somehow…Touch ID survives for a long time to come, lest that iPhone 8 be my last new iPhone.

Kwikset’s smart lock may require another purchase

Just a heads-up for anyone thinking of installing the well-reviewed Kwikset SmartCode 916 Touchscreen Electronic Deadbolt (and probably other similar Kwikset locks): Check your current deadbolt installation to see if you actually need more than what’s included in the box.

In the box is one deadbolt (the “A” in the image at right), which assumes your deadbolt screws into a chiseled cutout in the edge of the door. But if—like me—your deadbolt isn’t screwed into the door but just inserted in place, you need “A2,” a drive-in deadbolt. This part isn’t in the $190 lock kit, nor is it sold (best as I could tell) at Home Depot or Lowes or Ace Hardware.

Check your door before you order your lock, so you can add on a drive-in deadbolt if your door is non-chiseled. Me, because I didn’t know about this, I didn’t check. So I made a 40-mile round trip to Home Depot for a chisel set, then spent an hour chiseling out the door so the included deadbolt would fit.

Mission accomplished, but I think it’s pretty dang cheap of Kwikset to not include both deadbolt styles in a $190 lock kit! (Or perhaps even better, they should design a deadbolt with a removable screw-in plate, then one deadbolt would serve all customers.) So, yea, I had a frustrating Sunday morning!

Frankenmac 2017: The Beginnings

It’s been almost exactly nine years (wow!) since I last ventured into the land of Hackintoshes, or homebuilt PCs that can run macOS.

Back then, I built and used one, then wrote about the machine for Macworld, and they even lab tested it, where it held its own against real Macs costing much more.

Fast forward to 2017, and I’ve decided to tackle the project again. Why? Oddly, because there is a new Mac Pro coming, but it’s a ways away. I want something I can use in the interim, without spending a huge amount of money on. When the new Mac Pro ships—assuming it’s not an enhanced trash can design—I plan on upgrading, and the homebuilt Mac will become a gaming PC.

As I’m not writing about the project for Macworld this time around, I’m going to document things here on the blog as I go along. In today’s installment, I cover the first steps in the process: online resources and parts decisions.

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The magic corner cabinet

As yesterday was a cabinet-related post, I thought I’d stick with a theme and share this one I saw in a friend’s home a while back. It’s the perfect solution for those useless corner cabinets where most people stick a lazy susan, thus giving up on a bunch of storage space.

If we ever move and I have a chance to specify the cabinet hardware, I’m making sure one of these things goes into the corner cabinet!

(Don’t worry, this isn’t turning into a home remodeling blog; tech tips and stories return tomorrow.)

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