Friday, September 19, 2014

iPhone 6 Plus Unboxing


Here you all go. More to come.

Follow the changes in tech and my life @maxbleich.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

An In-Depth Look At OS X Yosemite Beta (10.10)

DISCLAIMER: DO NOT INSTALL THIS ON YOUR MAIN MACHINE UNLESS YOU HAVE EXPERIENCE WORKING WITH BETA SOFTWARE, OS X LIBRARIES, DARWIN, OR UNIX. THIS IS AN EXPERIMENTAL OPERATING SYSTEM AND IS NOT MEANT FOR DAILY USE UNTIL FINAL RELEASE IN THE FALL. 

Mac OS X was released on March 24th, 2001 to Apple customers running PowerPC Macintosh computers in a world before 9/11 occurred, or a war on terror, or iPhones and iPods even existed. Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah was perhaps the most advanced Operating System to ever erupt from a company- way bigger, more intuitive, and much more beautiful than Microsoft's Windows XP, also released August that year. It was the first Apple OS to include protective memory, preemptive multitasking, a UNIX-based kernel, and the ubiquitous and delicious "Aqua" user interface. Here's a picture of what it looked like, compliments of Wikipedia.


As you can see, Mac OS X was beautiful back then. And it's beautiful today too. Here's a picture I just took from my MacBook Air, now running OS X 10.10 Yosemite Beta.


What a difference, looking at OS X (no longer Mac OS X) running on a modern laptop. Here's the difference between these images in terms of computer hardware:
  • Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah required a 233 MHz PowerPC CPU
  • Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah required 128 MB of RAM (256 recommended)
  • OS X 10.10 Yosemite requires an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU or later
  • OS X 10.10 Yosemite requires 2 GB of RAM
For the fun of it, I ran Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah on my old green iMac G3 with a 333 MHz PowerPC G3 CPU and 192 MB of RAM. Surprisingly, it ran quite well- no hiccups anywhere. So, being the jackass I am, I tried Mac OS X 10.1 (not to be confused with 10.10) Puma on the same Mac. Still no issues. But, when I installed Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar (again, I'm a jackass) on the machine, it crashed like nobody's business. It was slower than molasses, difficult to operate most apps without lag, and just an ugly mess for everyone involved.

As you can see, Mac OS X was growing up inside a world when computer specifications began to double, and with it, the OS capabilities were quadrupling. Running a modern operating system is not an easy task for a low level machine. 

Fourteen years later, OS X requires 2 GB of RAM and an Intel Core 2 Duo processor to run. Let me tell you, I tested OS X 10.10 Yosemite on a unit with these very specifications. Not to mention, there was no solid state drive, instead, there was a full-blown hard disk drive. It was a nightmare.

There simply is not enough RAM to run OS X Yosemite in the base specifications. It runs, but there are too many slow downs and too many issues to run it comfortably. 4 GB is actually just enough for even a power user, and gets the job done without any hiccups. 

I ran OS X Yosemite on two machines. The low end, and the latest. For the low end, a 2009 MacBook with a 2.2 GHz  Intel Core 2 Duo, 2 GB of DDR2 SDRAM clocked at 667 MHz, and a 180 GB HDD. And for the high end, a MacBook Air with a 1.4 GHz Intel Core i5 (turbo boost to 2.7 GHz), 4 GB of 1600 MHz DDR3 SDRAM, and a 128 GB Solid State Drive.

Let's first talk about the low end. OS X Yosemite likes RAM, needs RAM to operate comfortably. The Finder works just fine, with very little issues, as does Safari, and Mail in conjunction. However, if you run just about any other app alongside these three, you will have issues. Not to mention if the Dock is on magnification. Then it's just a mess and the whole thing falls apart and one app is bound to crash. I won't even go into any details, because the CPU had to work very hard, to the point of the machine heating up significantly enough to shut it down, that OS X Yosemite is not recommended for the low end, if you can help it.

To run OS X comfortably, you need a Core i5 at least, and 4 GB of RAM unless you want issues. This being said, the low end unit I tested it on was pretty old for any computer. You're supposed to upgrade every three or four years. That unit, from 2009, is five years old. I forgive Apple for allowing OS X Yosemite to run so terribly on an old machine- they don't want you to run it on there anyway.

Now let's break away and discuss running OS X Yosemite on a high end Macintosh.

It fucking rocks.

Yeah, it's that nice. With the MacBook Air, I never find myself needing or wanting more power, and OS X runs really well. I'm going to talk about ten new features that I have enjoyed in OS X Yosemite, and leave everything else for my final review in the fall.

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1) New Look

OS X Yosemite features a brand new iOS 7-inspired look and feel. The menu bar is much flatter and cleaner- obviously inspired by the information bar in iOS 7. Apple has switched to a new font- from Lucida Grande (first featured in Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah) to Helvetica Neue. This is the same system font found in iOS 7, and really streamlines the appearance of both operating systems. Despite being an OS X user since the very beginning, I feel more at home on the Mac now that it more closely resembles my iPhone 5S. 

Along with the new font, Apple carried flatter- almost cartoonish- icon design from iOS to OS X. Let me tell you, it looks gorgeous. There is really something to be said about this new design from Apple, and it's nice to see them ditch the "material design" (take that, Google!) found in previous versions of OS X. Thank god Scott Forestall is out and Craig Federighi is back in. 

The other welcome addition is the new title bars for windows and apps. They're smoother and much more comfortable than the one found in previous versions of OS X. Also for the first time, when you click the green button on a title bar, the window you're in actually becomes full screen- something we have all been waiting a long time for. Over all, the new flatter design is a welcome addition, and something I hope other app developers bring to their icon design and apps as well.

2) New Safari

If you've been an OS X / iOS user for the past few years, you know just how incredible Safari has become. Say what you will about Chrome's ability to sync across devices, Safari is a much faster, more reliable, and battery-saving browser. Since iOS 7, I just don't see a need for Google Chrome anymore. I hope I'm not alone. 

The new Safari looks a lot like its brother on iOS, and is just as sleek and fast. The new title bar is streamlined to include a much smaller address bar than found in OS X Mavericks, which is much cleaner and more familiar for me, considering my iPhone 5S is my real workhorse throughout the day. The buttons are also cleaner and smaller, and overall Safari feels much more in tune with iOS. 

My personal favorite new feature of Safari is the new placement of favorites, which now appear in the address bar if you click on it. It's a much cleaner way to browse, and focuses more on web content... as it should. 

Along with the new look comes much faster performance and more security features- including the option to make private browsing windows instead of forcing the whole browser to be private at one time. It's a much better way to browse. 



3) New Messages

While I intend on talking about the new look of messages, I will not include screenshots, as I am too lazy and I'm not about to reveal my private conversations to anyone. But let me tell you- if you like Messages on iOS, you'll love it on OS X Yosemite. It's just as fast, with the same clean interface found in iOS 7, and its definitely a welcome upgrade, albeit not as different as it could have been. 

With iOS 8 working with OS X Yosemite, users will finally be able to receive text messages on their Mac- so even those inferior green bubble friends have a place in Messages. 

Another new feature that is also coming to iOS 8 is called Soundbite, which lets you record an audio clip to send like a message. This is similar to the feature in WhatsApp. 

Probably the coolest new feature deals with group messages. No longer do you have to deal with the same annoying messages being sent- you can now opt out of conversations or remove others from them. Finally a way to chat that is more exclusive.

4) New Spotlight

Depending on how productive you are with your Mac, you most likely use spotlight. If you've also been the same with your iOS device, the experience is not much different. Much like the spotlight before it, and the old Sherlock (remember, Sherlock?) you can search your Mac, iCloud, and the Web for any information you may be seeking. You can search for locations in Maps as well- something that is actually quite helpful and a lot easier to access than Google Maps or MapQuest. Here's an example of what it's like to look up a restaurant:


5) iCloud Drive

If you're a Chromebook user, you know that having your computer integrated with the cloud is a super ideal way to work. iCloud Drive is the same- everything you do on your iOS 8-powered device is synced and ready to go. And since upgrading cloud storage is so cheap on Apple's end ($20/year for 10 GB which is all you need), iCloud Drive is a great service and finally an easy way to access folders and documents shared between OS X and iOS.

6) Handoff

It's a common problem actually: you start an email on your desktop/notebook and you have to go- so you pick it up on your phone. But in the past, doing this hasn't been so simple. Now, because of Bluetooth technologies integrated into OS X, users can handoff tasks between their computer and their smartphone and tablet or vice versa. It's a really productive way to work and perhaps the most important component of Apple's new Continuity focus on iOS and OS X.

7) Instant Hotspot

I hate when there's no WiFi in the area and I'm on my laptop. So usually to compensate, I connect my machine to my iPhone's hotspot. Except, this isn't as instant as it could be. With OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, it finally is. Just having one device in range while the other isn't connected will automatically connect them both. It's a very useful function and a much needed addition for users of iOS and OS X.

8) New Mail

So, you're trying to show somebody something through Email: maybe it's a picture of you with a black eye you're trying to point out. A new feature called "Markup" allows you to draw over photos to do just that- and it's really easy to do. Other than that, Mail also accepts and allows you to send larger files than ever before. Thanks to MailDrop, you can drop files up to 5 GB in iCloud and then drop them into an email. No more issues sending big collections of pictures or movies to friends.



9) New iTunes

The twelfth incarnation of iTunes is a big one. Finally, users are able to browse music in a truly streamlined way. Also, signing in and out of user accounts is much easier to do- something that was quite difficult in iTunes 11. Accessing your content is much easier to do with the smaller, more intuitive icons found in the upper left hand corner of the app. Unfortunately, accessing the miniPlayer isn't so obvious, and has to be done through the Window menu. Also, where as the player used to be integrated with the window, it is now a separate entity. 


10) Notification Center

I feel that with making this the final feature in this review, I'm doing justice to one of OS X's most powerful features. Don't get me wrong, I appreciated Notification Center in OS X Lion, but nothing ever came close to the speed and versatility of the software in iOS. Finally, this isn't true. Both versions are on par with each other, and receiving notifications, as well as navigating through your day, is amazingly easy and attractive. I really like being able to see the weather, my schedule for the day, stock prices, and my schedule for the next day. Not to mention that notifications on iOS and OS X compliment each other: if one is read on one device, it disappears on the other. It's a much better way to deal with notifications.

Conclusion

OS X has seen many changes in the past 13 years, and 15 years since development began. There is no operating system more robust, intuitive, or attractive as Apple's OS X. I really don't see myself using another pair of OS, desktop and mobile, than Apple's current offering. The integration is incredible, and the devices they run on are state of the art in every way possible. Call me a fanboy, but Apple's future is really set with OS X Yosemite, and whatever is in the pipeline for the next few years.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

re/code: iPhone 6 To Be Announced September 9


In a not-so-surprising turn of events,  re/code is reporting that Apple will host an iPhone 6 event is September 9. This is a big deal, as the iPhone 6 is reported to bring a new, larger 4.7" display, new A8 CPU, sapphire crystal display, and iOS 8. The new device will be an incredible update to the existing iPhone 5S, and will likely be another best seller for Apple.

Stay tuned for more details.

Source: re/code

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Using Mac OS 9 For A Week



Nearly fourteen years ago Apple refreshed the iBook line of clamshell-style consumer notebooks with a more streamlined, white, rectangular design. What came of that was the 12 inch "Snow" iBook, which eventually grew up to become the iBook G4 and the MacBook.

Around this time, Apple was just getting its feet wet with Mac OS X, and using OS 9 was still a viable option. Sure, it didn't have protected memory or preemptive multitasking, or that delicious aqua UI, but it runs really well on 300+ MHz processors and 64+ MB of RAM. So, for the sake of seeing how well OS 9 runs on higher end hardware, I decided to do a test.

In 2002, Apple refreshed the Snow iBook G3 with high speed processors, 128 MB of RAM, and 16 MB of VRAM. These things were screamers. And with 5 hour battery life, and AirPort wireless, they were the ideal mobile computers for students and consumers alike.

For my purposes, I did this test on a 700 MHz Snow iBook G3 with 384 MB of RAM, 16 MB of VRAM, a DVD/CD-RW combo drive, AirPort wireless, and Mac OS 9.2.2. This is the last known iBook able to boot into straight OS 9 without the need for OS X and a classic environment. For my tests, it was perfect.

So the question arises, what in the hell is it like to run solely on Mac OS 9, an OS that hasn't been supported for over 12 years, in the insane internet world of today?

Not too shabby, actually.

Mind you, I still used my iPhone 5S for a lot of things, but this holds true most often anyways. In today's world, the mobile phone is pretty much everybody's workhorse, regardless. So, although I didn't live the 99' lifestyle in full, I still experienced mostly OS 9.2.2, and that's all that really counts- right?

Let me quickly name some helpful apps I found useful during my experience:

Classilla- web browser with modern capabilities- no WebKit, but still functional  for most mobile webpages. 

iTunes 2.0.4- just no frills iTunes for some jukebox action while working

Microsoft Office 98- this actually ran really well on my iBook, and I never found myself needing any of the newer features office has to offer. 

Marathon Trilogy- because hey, a boys gotta have fun, right? 

Simple Edit- text editor bundled with OS 9. Nothing much else to report here. 

Outlook Express 5.0.6- for email. Runs really well. Doesn't manage images as well as one would hope, but it's sufficient for basic emailing. 

So a week out, what did I find? You really can't live within a pre-post PC computer in a post-PC world. The internet is vastly different from what it was in 2002, when Apple terminated support for OS 9. As a result, while OS 9 screams on a 700 MHz processor and 384 MB of RAM, it totally falls apart with even the most basic modern internet tasks. 

Don't try this at home. R.I.P. Classic Macs. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Why 7 Inch Tablets Will Eventually Be Extinct


I was always really interested in tablet computing. When the first iPad came out, I bought it. But then I gave it to my sister since I rarely used it. When the Asus Nexus 7 came out, I bought it. But then I sold it to my friend since I rarely used it. More recently, I was given an iPad mini. I wanted to give tablets one more fair shake before I cast them off for good. And I did. And I sold it and bought one of the newer Chromebooks.

Here's the thing: I have two devices that pretty much "do it" for me. I have an iPhone 5S, and I have a Dell Inspiron 5447 with a Core i7 and 8 GB of RAM under the hood running Ubuntu like a champ. Along with those two, I have an Acer C720 Chromebook with 4 GB of RAM and a Haswell Celeron.

I'm not saying tablets are useless, but honestly, small ones are.

With everything a smartphone can do now, and with larger phones becoming a reality, there doesn't seem to be a use-case for smaller tablets. The extra screen real estate is welcome, but not a major requirement.

As for larger tablets, I fully understand why some people might find them to be useful. But for me, an up and coming Electrical Engineering student at the #hottestcollegeinamerica, I don't need a tablet at all. A notebook computer, no, TWO notebook computers and a fast 64-bit smartphone are satisfying. Games are bright and incredible on both, and when all is said and done, if I don't want to lug around either of my notebooks, I can bring my bluetooth keyboard with me and I can type on my phone. It's not completely ideal, but it works, and I have a feeling someone will come up with a laptop that relies on smartphones to power it sometime soon.

If the latest Apple rumors are true, there are two new iPhones coming out: a 4.7 inch device, and a Galaxy Note-like 5.5 inch device. I'm gonna be blunt, if you have a 5.5 inch phone, ya don't need a 7 inch tablet. The size difference just isn't significant enough to justify adding a secondary device. Even so, 4.7 inch displays are quite large and are still great for all sorts of applications, including media watching.

There's a reason Steve Jobs condemned the production of sub-10-inch tablets: they aren't productive. They're toys that do little more than a smartphone. The beauty of the iPhone in its current shape and design is its comfort as a pocket device as well as a beautiful media player. I've found my iPhone has become my go-to device for everything, even productivity uses. And if I had to write a paper on something, I went to my notebook, NOT my tablet. I assume most people will and do do the same thing.

Before you go out and buy a 7 inch tablet, think about it. Do you already have a notebook AND a good smartphone? What will you use it for? Isn't Netflix better on a bigger screen anyhow? Boom, Apple TV. Chromecast. Roku. We have cheaper devices that solve this issue. And if you really must have a great display on the go for watching movies and other content, shell out the cash for a larger, 10 inch device. You'll thank yourself for it later.

Monday, June 23, 2014

I'm Back! + Review of JLabs J5 JBuds


Welcome back to the land of the living my friend.
You have slept for quite some time. 

After a 4+ month hiatus, I have returned! However, unlike previous departures/returns of mine in the technology world, there will be no changes to this site. It will remain a weekly-entry blog with editorials every Sunday night. However, because I miss writing for this site, there will be two long-form entries this week, one coming very soon, and another on the weekly schedule. These entries will be my take on changes in the tech world, new products, reviews, and the like.

After such a long time away from this website, it excites me to return. Only this time I hope I have some extra insight to provide to the table. And now, for your reading pleasure, I present to you my first review in over four months. Enjoy!

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The biggest problem it seems with budget-friendly headphones and earbuds is that the build quality and sound quality is significantly worse than competing, high-end audio equipment.

The best example I could think of is the original Apple earbuds, which have since been replaced by the EarPods, a new-ish product that was rolled out a few years ago with the iPhone 5 and since has been bundled with every new iPhone and iPod. The buds are very nice in terms of build quality and sound, and blow the original units out of the water without even being in-ear earbuds. However, the highs are way too muted, and the bass just isn't as strong as it could be, even for $30 buds.

Another example I can't help but mention is the ever popular JVC Gumy earbuds, which are usually found for about $10 at most stores and have just pitiful sound. The treble is completely lost in the bass, and the quality of the buds are so poor that in many cases these units give up in about two months and break.

While talking high-end, one cannot forget to mention Beats by Dre. The problem with Beats lies in really one basic factor: price. They are way too expensive to be even consider for most low-end consumers, which is really too bad because the quality of the devices are really good. That being said, there are some inherent sound issues with Beats, but that will be left for a later review.

So the question becomes this: where do I find inexpensive earbuds that have great sound quality?

I think I may have found the answer, and they're called JBuds.

No that isn't some silly marijuana reference. They come from a company called JLabs, and they have surprisingly great build quality for an affordable price and come in many different varieties.

However, for this review, I chose the J5. Why? Because they can be found right now for $9.99, marked down from a list price of $59.99 on Amazon. Does that sound like a good enough deal? Good.

The JBuds come in a beautiful anodized aluminum housing. You can feel the strength in the construction the minute you touch them. inside the bud is a small, but powerful speaker that is capable of sounds that I found comparable to a pair of Beats Tour Earbuds. Although the bass is not up to par, the treble is noticeably similar. It would take an audiophile's ear to tell the difference. But to the end consumer, they're almost the same. The buds come with four pairs of flange tips, whereas most earbuds come packaged with three. This gives a wider variety of fits for the consumer, and I found that the second-smallest tips were most comfortable. The cable is thin but it feels a lot stronger than Apple and JVC's buds, which should hopefully stand the test of time.

Now, lets talk sound. The quality on these buds is nothing short of amazing for the price, and really provide the sound that most consumers expect out of their devices. If you're an audio aficionado, you'll know these aren't the top devices you could or should get. But if you're like any old consumer, you'll be pretty happy with these. I really love music and I enjoy these a lot. I spent some time with some really bumping albums to see just how well they hold up to sound, and was quite pleased with how well they worked with deadmau5's new album while(1<2) as well as Eminem's Marshall Mathers LP 2. But what really surprised me, was how great Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon sounded.

I feel confident in recommending these buds to anyone, especially for the price. Go get them while they're hot. I give JLabs J5 JBuds a BleichScore of 9/10.


Friday, February 21, 2014

My Take on Wearable Computing


A little watch history: In 1983, Casio developed the G-Shock in an attempt to ruggedize the wristwatch for rougher environments.

Today, G-Shocks run anywhere from $60-$1700, and have a variety of high-tech features. The latest G-Shock features a low-powered bluetooth chip allowing two-way communication with an iPhone and a select number of Android phones, allowing users to receive calls and play music.

The G-Shock is transforming from a watch into a wearable computer. And Casio is not the only company exploring this middle ground.

Pebble and Samsung have released true multi-purpose wristwatches, more affectionately named smartwatches. Apple is rumored to be releasing their own unit within the year. Google is on a fast-track to releasing its own wearable computer: Glass, which rests on the head instead of the wrist. Many more companies are rumored to be working on devices users can wear to connect to a smartphone.

In fact, the smartwatch could be thought of as the next generation of smartphone, but smaller and worn on the wrist. Users can get messages, notifications from social networking apps, emails, pictures, or play videos and music from a music library.

Unlike a smartphone, however, smartwatches can’t do everything. Games on smartwatches don’t work quite as well yet, and most third-party apps (except for on the Pebble) aren’t commercially viable yet.

However, there is something very promising about the concept of the wearable device. Seamless notification delivery allows users to always stay connected to their device and control apps within their phone.


I took a few weeks to sit down and experience the Pebble, which is the most popular smartwatch on the market, stealing sales from Samsung’s product, the Galaxy Gear, which was a complete commercial flop. I had some personal time with both devices, and I spoke with other users of each product.

I found the Pebble to be the easier device to use. Most of the functions of a wearable computer are meant to be accomplished in a small amount of time, sometimes even instantly. The Pebble delivers in this case, where the Galaxy Gear was a nightmare. Menus in the Pebble are simple to navigate, allowing users to get stuff done in seconds. The Gear, on the other hand, was like navigating a maze of maize: it was almost impossible to get through tasks without something confusing popping up in one menu or another.

One of the deal breakers for many people when it comes to wearable devices is visual appeal. The classic Pebble falls short in this respect. It’s nothing more than a hunk of plastic on your wrist, and leaves something to be desired. However, there is another solution: the recently-released Pebble Steel, which incorporates metallic accents and a steel enclosure instead of the classic plastic design.

While smartwatches like the Pebble have become an affordable reality, products like Google Glass are gaining national attention as alternative communication devices. Google Glass is unique in that it sits on your face the same way one would wear glasses, acting as a heads-up display.

This method of computing has, in the past two years, gained huge interest in the consumer electronics industry. Since Google’s reveal of the project over a year ago, hundreds of eager developers and regular folk have opted into Google’s Explorer program, paying $1500 to obtain a Glass unit.

I find the Pebble to be extremely useful and at least for my needs, it delivers. On the other hand, if you’re looking for something more seamless, keep your eyes peeled for Google’s Glass coming this year. And, finally, if you’re just into a watch with a little extra tech, check out one of Casio’s G-Shocks. Who knows? Maybe you’ll like the Galaxy Gear. I just know I didn’t