iMac

Macs are expensive (sometimes), but not over-priced!

iMacAs a Mac user/evangelist, people often tell me that Macs are over-priced. Those who build their own computers are quick to boast that they could build the same computer for less than Apple charges. I heard this claim so often that I began to believe it. After all, Macs are not known for being budget machines. Then I built a Hackintosh and I was shocked to learn that although Macs are generally more expensive than run-of-the-mill PCs, they’re not really over-priced for what you get.

To prove my point, I’m going to pretend that I want to build a Windows-based computer with components that spec-for-spec as similar to the control iMac as possible. All prices are in Canadian dollars (currently on par with USD).

the iMac

For the sake of this comparison, we’re going with the most expensive 27″ iMac.

  • Processor: 3.2 GHz Core i5 (Ivy Bridge)
  • Memory: 8 GB PC3-12800 SO-DIMM
  • Storage: 1 TB 7200 RPM 3.5″ Hard Drive
  • Graphics: NVidia GeForce 675MX, 1 GB
  • Display: 27″ IPS display @ 2560×1440 pixels
  • Networking: Gigabit, 802.11 N, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Connections: USB 3.0 (4 ea.), Thunderbolt (2 ea.)
  • Audio: Built-in speakers, built-in microphone, Line in
  • Camera: FaceTime HD camera
  • Keyboard & Mouse (Bluetooth)
  • OS: Mac OS X
  • Photo Editor/Organizer: iPhoto
  • Movie Editor/Organizer: iMovie

Cost: $1,999.99 CDN

the PC

All component prices are sourced from Memory Express, a local computer hardware retailer. Most often, I looked for the least expensive equivalent.

Cost: $2019.87 CDN

Conclusions

The iMac was less expensive by $19.88!

Hardened PC advocates may not like to hear it, but Macs are not necessarily over-priced, they’re just not entry-level machines. They’re not built cheap and they’re not priced cheap. No one in their right mind will tell you that a Mac is budget-friendly (or the right choice for everyone), but I hope that this demonstrates that they’re not as grossly over-priced as a lot of people have come to assume.

Final point in favour of the PC: As a Hackintosh user, I like the home brew PC’s ability to add hard drives, extra memory, and expansion cards.

Final point in favour of the Mac: I had to cut some corners to keep the cost of the PC down. With a Mac, I get great performance in a beautifully-designed machine. Also, no Windows 8. ;-)

Poll: Cross-platform chat & text

SMS is an old technology, but the one thing it has going for it is ubiquity. Everyone’s phone (be it smart or dumb) can send and receive simple text messages. These days there are a number of feature-rich texting options available. They piggyback your data connection (no messaging fees), they’re generally faster, and they support cool things like file transfers and group chats. Unfortunately, there’s no de facto standard. BlackBerry has BBM, iPhones have iMessage, Android has Hangouts, Windows Mobile has Skype.

I have a dream that one day we’ll all agree on an improved text messaging platform or standard. In the meantime, I’m interested in knowing which text message program you currently use.

Which messaging service(s) do you use?

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Samsung-Galaxy-S4-white

5-minute review: Samsung Galaxy S4

Samsung-Galaxy-S4-whiteToday, whilst surveying goods at my local Walmart, I came upon a Samsung Galaxy S4 on display. I spent five minutes tinkering and playing with the device. Here are my highly scientific conclusions.

What I Liked

Display. As an iPhone user, I’m used to a sharp screen. At 324 pixels per inch, my phone’s display is nothing to scoff at. When I first heard that Samsung was producing a phone with a pixel density north of 400 ppi, I thought it was ludicrous (441 ppi). After all, there is only so much resolution the human eye can appreciate. Sure enough, when it comes to text, there’s little noticeable difference. However when I pulled up my website and viewed a photo gallery (without zooming in), I was impressed. Facial features in thumbnails were crisper than most printed photographs!

Size. I love the 5″ display! I’m no LeBron James, but I certainly can appreciate a phone that’s bigger than my current iPhone 5. In this situation, bigger is better. In general I find that Android developers don’t take advantage of the larger displays. I’d love to see what iOS app developers could do with a 5″ iPhone!

Design. A lot of people have criticized Samsung for coming out with a phone that is largely similar in appearance to the predecessor, the GS4. I’m not going to parrot that in this review. As an Apple enthusiast, that would make me quite the hypocrite. In my opinion, the Samsung Galaxy S4 isn’t the prettiest android phone, but it is handsome nonetheless.

What I Didn’t Like

Stuttering. For a phone that is supposed to represent the pinnacle of smartphone power, it was surprising to see jittery animations. For something as simple as swiping between home screens, anything less than absolute perfection is unacceptable from a phone of this caliber. Perhaps Samsung’s own skin is slowing things down or maybe the demo unit had too many applications running in the background. Quite frankly, I don’t care. It should just work.

Eye tracking. A lot of hullaballoo has been made of Samsung’s eye tracking features. It didn’t blow me away, to be honest. There are three reasons for my cynicism. 1. It seems like a gimmick; with exception to those situations in which I’m eating chicken wings while reading FlipBoard, it’s less practical than swiping the old fashioned way. 2. I don’t want unnecessary processes running in the background. I don’t want it on my computer and I don’t want it on my phone. 3. It didn’t really work as advertised. I have fairly “big” eyes, but try as I might, I couldn’t make it track my gaze…until I started nodding my head. That seems like head tracking to me.

Web Browser. The iPhone isn’t perfect, but the integration of hardware and software make for a solid browsing experience (despite a diminutive screen). Perhaps you can chalk this complaint up to Android inexperience, but I was not impressed. Rendering speed and link responsiveness were just a few of the quibbles I had.

Samsung Interface. Samsung has worked hard to create a unique software experience for their customers. Sometimes it adds valuable functionality and polish; at other times I’m reminded of why Samsung would be nothing without Google. Apple has been rightly criticized for their skeuomoprhism. Samsung is guilty of the same (e.g., S Cal), but unlike Apple, it looks amateur and generally terrible.

Those are my thoughts. Keep in mind that this is a five minute review not because it takes five minutes to read the article but because I only spent five short minutes with the device.

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Freebie: Canadian Holiday Calendar

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Modern digital calendars are the best (in my opinion)! However, there are a few minor conveniences that they’re missing compared to their old-fashioned paper predecessors. Most important, smartphone calendars don’t typically include statutory holidays and important events like Halloween and Mother’s Day.

That’s why I created this Canadian Holidays Calendar. I’ve done the work so you don’t have to manually enter all the important holidays. Just subscribe using the link below and you should be on your way. Because I’m an Albertan, this calendar doesn’t contain holidays unique to other countries or provinces.

Alberta Canada Holiday Calendar

 

Bump it!

bump_icon_512x512_iOSFor quite some time I’ve use an app called Bump. The app gained fame back in the early days of iOS when developers were just beginning to utilize the iPhone’s accelerometer. By simply tapping two phones together, users were able to transfer files via Bluetooth. It was magic! Or witchcraft. Or perhaps we were just easily amazed back then.

More recently, the folks at Bump added the ability to “bump” phones and computers using www.bu.mp. It’s not widely-known, but it’s fantastic and so I’m bringing it to your attention.

I find it helpful at work where I can quickly transfer images from my phone to my laptop. Why not email them to myself, you ask? Well, in seconds – and without a cable – I can transfer a large dump of photos using Bu.mp. Performing that same task via email takes minutes, far more taps, and a few expletives.

Bump is available for iOS and Android (free).

PS: bu.mp doesn’t seem to work with Internet Explorer right now.
PPS: I’ve had great success using bu.mp with my Mac (home) and my Lenovo notebook (office). However, two of my colleagues have been less successful. Your mileage may vary. Let me know how it works for you and how you use it.

Google Image Search: Track down your photos

knvb

Nothing is safe on the internet. As many celebrities and politicians have learned, it’s impossible to retract a statement or image that has been posted online. Artists and photographers that upload their work soon see it harvested and re-posted elsewhere…usually without proper licencing or credits. I don’t currently make a living off my photos, so I’m flattered when someone thinks my work is good enough to steal.

Over the past few years, one of the most popular file on my site has been a KNVB wallpaper that I made back in 2007. During the 2010 World Cup, it was downloaded hundreds of times (a big deal for this humble site). I imagine the image graced many a Dutchman’s desktop, but I wondered whether it was ever re-posted elsewhere online. I used the following technique to find out.

How-to

  1. Visit Google’s Image Search page
  2. Click the little camera in the search field
  3. Upload your image of choice
  4. Browse your results

Although my image wasn’t as ubiquitous as I might have hoped, it was used as the background to some lady’s about.me profile, a soccer website, and a Heerenveen FC fansite.

If you were able to use this technique, let me know in the comments.

The best Windows laptop: MacBook Pro

2013-04-25_14-15No, you’re not reading that wrong. Since switching to Intel chips back in 2006, Apple notebooks have been recognized for their ability to run Windows better than many of their “PC” counterparts. Even Microsoft has been known to use the enemy’s hardware for their own OS.

Perhaps, then, it should come as no surprise that the MacBook recently topped a list of Windows notebooks compiled by Soluto. Enjoy…with a grain of salt.

NOTE: I should add that this story is coming to you from a guy that uses a PC to run Apple’s operating system.

Lightroom 5 vs Aperture 3: Screen real estate

Lightroom-Logo-1024x1024Adobe announced a public beta of Lightroom 5 today so I decided to take it for a spin. As an Aperture user who once used Lightroom (1.0), there’s one thing that really struck me: Lightroom wastes a lot of screen space! This is no trivial beef as it translates into real-world inefficiencies. With everything a little bigger and a little less efficiently laid out, performing the same tasks requires additional clicks and scrolls. When you’re working on hundreds and thousands of images, that adds up! Here’s what I mean:

the Viewer

I’m a big advocate of a content-first approach. I don’t use a photo management suite to admire the interface. Images are the priority. Aperture simply dedicates more space to the photos. To compare and contrast, I opened up an image in both applications to see how they compared. Both were set to “default” views.

Lightroom 5: 1366 x 720 (983,520 pixels)
Aperture 3: 1588 x 859 (1,364,092 pixels)

In short, Aperture provides 39% more screen space for displaying the images. Of its available space, Lightroom takes advantage of even less. Adobe enthusiasts may downplay the importance of this, but as one from the “other side,” believe me when I say that it’s frustrating.

the Menus

Another shortcoming of Lightroom’s interface is the layout and design of its menus. In comparison to Aperture, everything takes up more space. As a result you have to scroll, scroll, scroll in order to get at the tools and folders you need. In fact, everything is so large and bulky that you’d be forgiven for thinking it was designed for a touch interface. Lightroom features some exceptional editing tools, but it makes you work for them. And for organizing and managing large libraries of images, I’d much rather use Aperture; that aspect seems like an afterthought for Adobe.

The library navigation pane is just one example of the difference between the two applications. On my monitor (1920 x 1080) the default Aperture layout gives me access to 35 “folders” whereas the inefficient Lightroom navigation panel only provides immediate visibility to 13! Granted, there are ways to customize both applications and there’s always the option to use keyboard shortcuts (which I do), but Lightroom has a lot of catching up to do.

 

Conclusion

I don’t hate Lightroom. The quality of its image editing tools are above reproach. But after my experiences today (and in the past), I find it unfortunate that Adobe hasn’t improved the application interface as much as it has the feature set.

Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Our Internet dependence

Internet availability in North America and the “West” is ubiquitous. Where there are humans, you are liable to find some means of connection. Over the past decade we have grown utterly dependent. Even our cars and appliances are plugged in.

Today I was forced to switch my iPhone into airplane mode. It was painful. Since it’s a smartphone, it should come as no surprise that it operates best with an Internet connection. However, it goes beyond mere inconvenience. My poor phone was downright dumb without its beloved internetz.

My curiosity was piqued, so I performed an audit of all the apps on my phone, both optional and pre-installed. There are 138, something shocking in and of itself. I then proceeded to categorize each app into one of four groups:

How many of your apps are useless without dear old mother internet? Let me know in the comments.

A photography site…I think