Sunday, December 26, 2010

Consumer Guide: Where to buy a new Mac

In this Gigaom article I discuss the various places to buy a new Mac and the benefits and drawbacks of each choice.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Book Review: iPad Portable Genius

The "Portable Genius" line by Wiley is a relatively new series by them primarily designed to take advantage of Apple's unique meaning of the word "Genius." Primarily, they compete with the Peachpit Visual Quickstart guides. Using copious screenshots and short explanations of popular concepts, Portable Genius covers that 20% of features you'll use 80% of the time.

Both the table of contents and the index allow readers to hone in on the key functions which interest them. Concepts are well explained in a "how do I?" and a "can I?" format instead of a feature- or app-based approach. New iPad users will find this presentation more approachable.

Unfortunately iPad Portable Genius suffered from some poor editing in which too often the author didn't update the iOS steps that differ for an iPad and an iPhone or iPod Touch. On rare occasions, the advice given is controversial. For example, the author suggests if you can't sync all your content to your iPad you should consider deleting some content from your main computer. That is just irresponsible! Additionally the steps and screenshots in the book are primarily Macintosh based so Windows users might be a bit confused.

Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right

Overall this is a competent and quality beginners guide to the iPad and a welcome addition to the existing guides available

Pros: functional approach with concepts well explained and easy to find
Cons: assumes end user has a Mac, some errors and confusing passages

3 out of 5 Dogcows

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Disclosure and Review Policy

Title: Disclosure and Review Policy

As a responsible and ethical blogger who believes in transparency and authenticity, this is my disclosure regarding my review process and any potential bias and conflict of interest. Of course, this is due to the FTC guidelines, but my policy also serves as a general resources for readers, publications, and vendors

1) Generally all products reviewed were provided at no charge by the manufacturer or the manufacturer representative. This is a common industry practice Some companies allow the reviewer to keep the product while others ask for it in return. As a blogger, I don't know whether the product will be asked for in return.

2) Unsolicited products are occasionally sent to me. This is not due to any existing relationship with the company nor is it payment for any previous, current or future reviews. If I receive such items I may choose to review or decline to review. That is my choice. Due to the time constraints, I cannot tract down unsolicited items to return them. It's the responsibility of the sender to provide return instructions if they wish to receive it back.

3) Under no circumstances will I agree to review an item in exchange for direct or indirect compensation. A key example of this quid pro quo arrangement is "You must agree to review the product in exchange for a review copy of the product." That creates a conflict of interest that is unacceptable. Providing a product for review in no way obligates me to review the product and I as the reviewer will determine the timetable for review. Of course, the provider of the product may ask for it back at any time.

4) Under no circumstances will I accept compensation for a review. This includes reimbursement for buying the product or accessories as well any "gift" for reviewing the product. An unsolicited product is not a gift.

5) Any item reviewed has actually been used by me, often for an extended period of time. I do not "review by press release." Any books reviewed were actually read by me. Occasionally I will read other reviews of products for ideas of features to look for or consider in the review.

6) On occasion, for items I enthusiastically enjoy, I might continue use past the review date. Since the item is a review, most manufacturers can't accept payment for an item nor will they accept an item back that has been used. If I continue to use the product after a review, I will update or provide a new review if I find a major defect that would impact the original review.

7) Any products received by me are never sold to a third party, but they may occasionally be donated or gifted. Frequently, I give these as raffle items for the Lawrence Apple Users group. I might donate these items to non-profits or given to friends in need. Items at end of life are always recycled responsibility.

8) Reviews I write may be quoted as testimonials, but I do request notification of that fact. In spite of a product being given for review, these should not be considered paid testimonials nor endorsements.

9) All NDA's and embargoes are completely respected and adhered to. I use reasonable measures to protect against such disclosures, but with the nature of the Internet of course, email is not a fully secure method of transmission.

10) As someone with over 30 years experience in the technical industry, I develop a wide variety of industry contacts and relationships. While these relationships may bring certain items to my attention, I will decline to review or report on anything that may cause me a conflict of interest with those people or I think the review and the relationship may suffer because of it. Generally these contacts provide me unique industry insights and perspectives, but all the guidelines above apply. That includes such mundane things as a "dinner" thanking me for review or covering a story.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hardware Review: Otterbox Defender for iPhone 4

The Otterbox Defender series of iPhone cases has gotten a just reputation over the past couple years as the Cadillac (or should that be M1-A1 tank?) of iPhone protection. Consisting of several separate and integrated layers of protection designed to secure and protect the phone from whatever shock and awe gets thrown its way, the Defender is the iPhone case you’d go to war with. Does the new Defender for the iPhone 4 meets it predecessor’s lofty reputation or are there some chinks in the armor?

Like earlier iterations, the Defender package contains and inner core of shock-resistant plastic, with a felt liner on the interior to protect the phone. A screen protector is integrated to the plastic and cannot be removed (no bubbles!) Wrapping around the exterior of the device is a thick rubberized shell (available in red, blue, or black), protecting all sides of the device from impact, and including retractable flaps over the dock connector, headphone jack (which houses the moisture sensor) and mute button ports. Only the speakers remain “open” to the elements.

All this protection nearly doubles the thickness and heft of the phone, and the thick rubber covers over the buttons and ports take some getting used to, and can be annoying if you have to frequently mute and unmute the phone for whatever reason. For someone who wants this level of protection, these are minor annoyances only. The Defender is a tank, and really protects the phone. I have no qualms taking my phone into humid environments or using it in a light rain shower with this case on (although keep in mind it is NOT waterproof!)

The screen protector is excellent, and bubble free, and I like the fact that it protects the screen without having to actually be stuck on. Dirty fingers are no problem here! Note that sometimes the inside of the screen protector may adhere slightly to the screen. Ironically the secret is to make sure there are some fingerprints on the screen before you put it in the case.

The case can take a ton pf physical abuse as well. The Defender is the case that you can see in videos of iPhones being tossed around against brick walls and cement floors. I wasn’t about to replicate this with my own personal iPhone, but I feel quite confident that it will simply shrug off drops onto hard floors or parking lots from ordinary heights. Based on my experience with the Defender 3G/3GS case, it takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’ (or rockin’ or talkin’ as the case may be.)

The Defender comes with a belt clip which doubles as a stand for watching multimedia on the phone. I don’t like belt clips and would not use it, but for those who use these things, it is an effective and very sturdy clip which adds additional protection to the phone. The design is much different than the previous versions. The clip holds the phone horizontal instead of vertical in theory making it less susceptible to disengagement while siting down or bending over. You could literally roll around on concrete with the clip and and the phone would be fine. Without a doubt, the Defender is the most sturdy iPhone protective case on the market. It is the armored vehicle of iPhone cases and will defend your phone from the slings and arrows of daily life.

My only caveat with fully recommending the iPhone 4 Defender case to everyone is the fact that some accessories have trouble working with the phone while in its case. In particular, devices that rely on the dock connector or the headphone jack sometimes had problems. Removing the iPhone 4 from the Defender case takes time as you have to remove each layer of protection. This was an annoyance inherited from previous versions, but the occasional incompatibly is minor compared to having to pay for a iPhone glass replacement, or worse a new iPhone.

Until Otterbox came out with an iPhone 4 Defender case, I wasn’t one of those buying a phone on day one. I trust my iPhone to no other case but the Defender. My numerous near misses with my iPhone 3G and 3GS made me a believer and the iPhone 4 Defender case inherited all the qualities of its predecessor with a few extra bells and whistles.

Pros: Strong, reliable protection for every aspect of the iPhone 4
Cons: Does add bulk, some accessories have problems working with the case

5 out of 5 Dogcows

Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Hardware Review: Otterbox Commuter for iPhone 4

iPhone cases seem to come in two different varieties: fashionable lightweights which look nice but provide poor protection and larger cases that add protection along with bulk. Personally I prefer function over form (Otterbox Defender!) but the Commuter is an excellent compromise that adds style and protection without a great deal of bulk.

Unlike it's beefier sibling, the Commuter's rubber sleeve is is banded by a smooth plastic shell, which allows the
Commuter to easily slide in and out of one's pocket. The case is actually two parts, a thin rubber piece which wraps over most of the
phone, providing shock protection, and then the aforementioned plastic piece, which slides over the back of the phone vertically as a band, providing further protection. Finally, there is a screen protector, which must be manually applied and is prone to bubbling. All together, these provide three layers of protection.

In daily use, the case provides fine protection against the usual hazards of iPhone ownership, such as pocket junk, random banging
against other objects, and sliding across tables, and it's dual layer protection is superior to the high fashion cases. Although, I didn't actually test intentionally dropping the phone, based on the construction of the case, I am pretty confident it would survive a short fall onto a hard surface unless you got unlucky enough to have something impact the front glass. I had enough close encounters with my iPhone 3GS and Commuter to trust Otterbox's design.

What are the downsides of the Commuter? Well, just like the Model T, you can have the Commuter in any color you like, as long as it is
black. I was disappointed in the lack of any color options, but this may not be a big deal to many people and I'm sure Otterbox will develop more colors later on. Another negative was the slim flap which protects the dock connection; although a good idea in
theory, the flap often comes loose and ends up just being annoying. Finally, the areas where the edges of the rubber of the case touched
the phone (such as around the screen and the mute switch) seemed to become dust magnets, although to be fair, many rubber cases have the same issue.

Overall, the Commuter is a great balance of protection in a lightweight design that easily slides in and out of your pocket. For my spouse the protection the Commuter offers is "just right" - more protection than the "free cases" Apple offered, with a minimal amount of bulk. If the Otterbox iPhone 4 case was a car, the Commuter would be the luxury sedan while the Defender is a tank. Not everyone wants to drive a tank to work.

Pros: A perfect balance of form and function and superior 3-layer protection
Cons: Lack of color choices, average manual screen protection

Rating: 4 out of 5 Dogcows

Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right