Monday, January 19, 2015

Macbook Pro 13" (Retina)

I recently changed from a Macbook Air to a Macbook Pro 13” (Retina). I was going to wait for a new chipset release (Broadwell) for better battery life, but for a variety of reasons ended up buying the Haswell version.


Fundamentally the only difference between this notebook and the previous iterations I’ve used is the Retina display (beside the seemingly endless parade of more RAM, bigger and faster SSD and marginally faster CPU).


Is Retina display good on a Macbook ? In a word, yes. Is it worth shelling out for a model specifically for it ? No. Images and text are crisper, it seems less impactful on the eye, and the associated visual “refresh” going from iPhone / iPad Retina to notebook disappears. But, am I planning to replace one or both of my iMac’s to their Retina version because the display is crisper ? Nope. When it comes time to replace them due to age, feature creep or some other reason (oops I dropped it), then its logical to go Retina. Otherwise, save your money.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Long term iPhone 6+ thoughts

I wrote about the iPhone 6+ earlier in the year; at the time, I wasn’t sure if I would like the device and would I actually return it because it was too big.


I’ve now been using the device basically since its launch, and have travelled a reasonable amount with it (South Africa, Dubai, US). In short, I think this is the best iOS phone experience you can have right now. I did try an iPhone 6 for a while, but it felt very much like an incremental upgrade to the 5S, as opposed to the 5S - 6+ upgrade.


If you’re considering it, go get one! You won’t be disappointed. If you’re looking for an Android device, right now I’m a huge fan of the Motorola line (I’ve used the 1st gen X and G). But I only hear good things about the Z3 line from Sony.

Xclaim Xi-3


Enterprise and carrier WiFi have a few, established players with a shopping list of features that are useful;

  • Wireless mesh (don’t need all AP’s wired to each other)
    • Resiliency / self-healing if one or more break and the network re-routes
  • Multiple AP’s presenting a single SSID
    • Roaming between AP’s with no disruption to connectivity
    • Low inter-AP handover latency
  • Service profile / SLA’s per application
  • Rate-limiting (overall, and per application)
  • Usage stats / graphs
  • Multiple SSID’s
  • High-speed / throughput and support for the less congested 5GHz band (either 802.11a, 802.11n or 802.11ac)


Offerings for home use were pretty limited, and consisted primarily of features that were quite unnecessary (SPI firewalls, port forwarding, etc), or plain didn’t work properly (who reading this has ever managed to get a WDS network going between the same manufacturer, never mind a mix of them or generational differences).


Meraki promised some of this at a lower price-point pre acquisition, but Cisco in typical fashion has completely screwed up this SME and/or consumer-orientated acquisition; their price points alone make them a non-contender for anything other than an enterprise (which makes you wonder why they bought them if they’re not busy integrating their controller-less architecture into their incumbent line).


Modern homes need much of the above; the only thing that really radically differs is the number of AP’s. The average home needs less than 5 (note, I said home not ranch); the average enterprise I’d argue needs significantly more. Until recently, I could only wholeheartedly recommend the Open-Mesh range of products because they meet all of the above requirements, and their new software updates bring some truly incredible features to an AP range that is still less than $100 an AP. Facebook social WiFi integration, per application bandwidth reporting across SSID’s and a newly enhanced mobile app make the Open-Mesh ecosystem truly compelling, and hard to beat.


Enter Ruckus Wireless’ attempt, the Xclaim range. A new name and brand, and positioned differently, Xclaim attempts to give customers looking for a solution from a RF-credible provider a lower price-point for some of those features. I ordered 4 of the Xi-3 units, and have also played with a Xi-2 unit (provided by Xclaim); the units differ on their support for 802.11ac. Of the features outlined above, these AP’s do not mesh.


Ruckus is a company I admire; they have great people, their products are liked by serious WiFi deployers for their performance, throughput and manageability and they’re significantly more responsive to their customers and channel. This is the type of vendor I like. But, I’m afraid with the Xclaim range, they released about 6 months too early.


One of the selling points of the Xclaim products is that you configure the AP’s via an iOS or Android app. The app itself, on initial usage, is easy to use and beautiful. And the graphs / usage stats that appear are very pretty and useful for a home or SME. But once you close the app, the wheels fall off the bus. If you launch the app again, the graphs don’t appear (if you can even connect to the AP). If you want to add an AP, its a hit/miss affair. The network settings are tied to that app installation. If you can’t connect to the AP, or you want to add another AP, you have to remove the app from your device, reset the AP, and reconfigure the network (from scratch).


If you want to deploy in another environment / location, you have to remove the app, reinstall it and go again. And if you want to manage your initial / other site ? Reinstall the app, reset the AP(s), rinse, repeat. Another site ? Rinse, repeat. This is a massive fail.


No matter how good the RF performance of these units is (and by all my testing over the last month, it is truly impressive), managing them is a complete nightmare for a single site with a single AP. And for multiple sites and/or multiple AP’s, its completely unusable. Pity. I’m hoping they put the right resources behind this product line and fix it up; right now, its not something I could recommend.

Bose Soundlink on-ear wireless headphones

Soundlink oe headphones bl lg

I’m a fan of Bose products; and having been a happy QC3 owner, I was quite keen to get a slightly cheaper, wireless version. Enter the Soundlink Bluetooth headphones.


Once again, Bose has gotten it right. The headphones use a human-friendly concept of talking you through the Bluetooth-pairing process (something I first experienced with Plantronics headsets).


Audio quality is typical Bose-fair; balanced, good mid-range, possibly a little muddy bass, but overall very pleasant for daily use. Volume levels are lower than I’d like, but probably safer. Battery life is outstanding; I’ve not gotten them below 40% even in all-day use. When the battery does die (apparently it does), you can use the included cord to still use the headphones - very smart and something I wish the QC3’s did.

Better sound unplugged

They come with a carry-case (very useful) and seem quite durable. I’m not convinced on how the headphone foam squishes when in the carry case, but I suppose thats what a manufacturers warranty is for.


Get a pair - that way, you too could be as cool as this stock-image hipster.

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Nexus 6

It was logical when Motorola was bought by Google that they would be heavily influenced (both entities) by design, and the pinnacle of that would be in the Nexus line. Rumors of the Nexus line being replaced seem to be on hold for now; we don’t see anything other than Nexus devices, and maybe Sudar Pichai is a bit busy and doesn’t have time to review this just yet.


It is indeed a pity that Googlerola as a corporate entity seems short-lived, as Motorola were then re-sold (to Lenovo), but the reasons seem fairly sound.


But enter the king and the fruits of this (brief) affair - the Nexus 6.


N6 moreeverything 1600

Google tends to use the Nexus line as a platform to explore their new ideas, and the overriding idea here seems to be expansive real estate. This device is big.


Its very well made; battery life seems decent for a screen this size, and its a pleasure to hold in the hand. Lollipop is a great update, and Material design is actually quite pleasing to the eye. I can say that the gap between iOS and Android is narrowing incredibly quickly. The differences between the two are starting to distill into how flexible, and crucially, predictable you want the experience to be. Android, as you’d expect, is like a teenager wanting to be flexible, free and able to change their look as they see fit, while iOS feels more like a 33 year old hipster trying to stay cool.


Both have their place, and I haven’t yet decided which of the two I prefer more. Thats why, as I have done for the last 5 years or so, I’ll carry both. And if you’re wondering which platform to have in your car, have both - buy a head unit from Parrot.