Posts Tagged ‘Macbook’

The new MacBook is undoubtably the most portable MacBook Apple have ever made. But this ultra portability comes with a price – the shedding of almost every port bar one: the USB-C port. For the first time, the Universal Serial Bus is truly deserving of its name. USB-C has power rails both ways, allowing charging of a laptop while simultaneously providing power to charge peripherals over USB 3.0. It can also drive a 4K display (or two 1080p displays) over HDMI and still have spare bandwidth for things like Gigabit Ethernet.

Of course, it is a major pain that there’s only a single USB-C on the MacBook. Let’s get one thing out of the way – two would’ve been so much better. Apple apologists may argue that we need to adapt and move with the times now that this holy grail of ports has been released. They are wrong. I could live with a single port for all I/O if there was a dedicated power port as well, preferably MagSafe. One port though is a massive pain.  Despite the relatively long 10-hour battery life, you will still need to charge your MacBook sometimes and that means unplugging peripherals to do so.

This is the main drawback for many people when deciding if this is the laptop for them. Even if they decide that they can live with the inconvenience, there is another contentious issue – adapters are needed for almost everything. Want to connect your iPhone directly? Your existing lightning cables won’t work, but Apple will sell you a Lightning to USB-C cable for £25. Want to connect to a TV or second monitor? Apple have you covered with the Digital AV to USB-C adaptor for £60. It all adds up, and many are left wondering just how portable the machine really is when you have to carry around 3 or 4 adaptors as well. I agree with that line of thought. I’d rather the MacBook was 2mm thicker and retained a single USB 3.0 type-A socket for existing peripherals.

There were very vocal criticisms over the MacBook’s single USB-C port when it first launched in 2015 but Apple obviously disagreed and decided to stick with the single port  on the revamped 2016 model. If I know Apple as well as I think I do, there’s very little chance of a change of heart in the future. Whether you view this as a mistake, arrogance or sheer stupidity, it won’t matter. When asked by a member of original Mac development team if they should run something by a focus group, Steve Jobs famously replied “No, because  people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”. This mantra has helped Apple lead the pack over the years with groundbreaking products like the iPod and iPhone. But you could argue that it also applies to more mundane things like the shedding of legacy ports. Floppy drives, SCSI, ADB, Serial ports, Optical Drives have all been ditched in pursuit of newer technology, often many years before the general public are ready for it.

The fact is that this single USB-C port setup doesn’t appear to be an experiment – it’s here to stay. It appears like a cavalier attitude  right now but in a few years time when the world has moved to USB-C for everything else, no doubt people will look back and say it was ‘bold’ and ‘genius’.

Solutions

There are workarounds to the lack of ports  available right now in the form of USB-C port replicators. These vary in functionality and size but all provide the same basic promise – to add ports while allowing you to charge your MacBook at the same time.

We have three port replicators for review today:

The KADi Port, The HooToo HT-UC001 and the Minix Neo-C. We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get on with it:

KADi Port:

The Kadi Port from Kadi Creative is the smallest and lightest of the three. It is also unique in its design:

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Preferring a device that is contoured to the shape of the MacBook body and using a stubby USB-C connector over a cable, KADi has created by far the neatest device of the three. It’s also the only one which has a USB-C out in addition to the standard USB-C power in to allow daisy chaining of USB-C devices. The KADi Port also provides a single USB 3.0 port and HDMI out.

There is one drawback to the KADi Port and that is it’s inability to charge the MacBook from a standard USB outlet. Plug the MacBook itself into any 2A USB outlet using a USB-C to USB-A cable and you can charge with no problems. This allows the MacBook to charge from standard USB battery packs and is such a useful feature if you get caught out with a dying battery.

We reached out to Sam at KADi Creative about this and he said:

“[The KADi Port] has been designed to only be charged via USB 3.1 (C-C). When designing the KADi Port: We used a USB C-C power charging chip over the Legacy cable (A-C) chip for the following reasons:

When a hub is connected, you will notice passthrough charging is not as fast as directly inputting your C-C charging cable (on any hub device). This slowing rate of charge hardly affects a C-C charge but quite drastically effects an A-C charging cable. As you will know, A-C cables @ 2A is the only level of charge that can sustain and increase the Macbook’s power when plugged in directly, however most standard USB A ports are 0.5-1.5A.”

To keep the KADi Port size minimal, we opted for the smaller C-C chip for this reason.

It does not need the official Adapter 29W Adapter, It is universal to any C-C AC Adapter.”

So there you have it. Sam is correct, if you connect the MacBook directly to a USB charger with less than a 2A output using an A-C cable, it just slows the rate of battery drain if the machine is powered up. I have however been caught out at a hotel with only my Apple Watch charger and a USB A-C cable. With the MacBook powered off, I managed to get from 12% charge to 65% overnight. It’s a cool feature, but Sam is right to point out than in most use cases, the advantages of the A-C charging circuitry are largely moot.

Features: 6/10
Portability: 9/10
Price (£40): 9/10

8/10

Minix Neo-C

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The Minix Neo-C has HDMI capable of supporting 4K, a CF/SD Slot, Micro SD slot, 2x USB 3.0 ports and a Gigabit Ethernet RJ45 port. It’s the most feature-rich device of the three units we have on test as well as boasting the best build quality with its full aluminium body. I have to say, I think they’ve made the wrong choice on this for a number of reasons:

1.) It weighs a ton (metaphorically) or 100 grams (if you want facts). Honestly, it’s way too heavy for an accessory to the most portable of all ultraportable laptops.

2.) It gets hot. Very hot. It’s hard to describe but my colleague summed it up nicely when he placed his hand on top of it, quickly recoiled, and stated that he could fry an egg  on it.

Minix’s John Scutt has been quoted as saying “The power delivery protocol is comprised of exceptionally complicated logic. Our software engineers have spent months testing and fine-tuning the firmware to ensure that the end result is a product that exceeds expectations and guarantees seamless integration with Apple’s hardware.”.

This circuitry and associated logic is one of the reasons that the Minix will allow you to charge your MacBook from any USB cable, unlike the KADi Port.

Ethernet works as expected and is true Gigabit. It even works with VMware Fusion as a true Windows device thanks to the supplied Windows drivers. I can force the device into full duplex 1000Mbit mode and it’s lightning quick.

Features: 10/10
Portability: 6/10
Price (£69): 7/10

7/10

HooToo HT-UC001

The HooToo HT-UC001 is a step up in terms of features from the KADi Port, but then it is around twice the size. Adding a further two USB 3.0 Ports and CF/SD card slot certainly make the device a lot more attractive as a full and compact port replicator. With the same A-C charging circuitry as the Neo-C, the HooToo has all of the same associated benefits – passthrough A-C charging even from a USB battery pack and the ability to charge USB devices without even being plugged into the MacBook, essentially turning it into powered USB hub (but only on one port marked with a lightning bolt).

Build quality is good – the body of the HooToo is made from plastic, which is a good choice for a number of reasons. Firstly, heat dissipation – with the same charging circuitry as the Neo-C, you would expect the HooToo to get very hot as well but it’s just not the case. Tepid I’d say… Secondly, it keeps weight down. Plastic is never going to be seen as a ‘premium’ material but the HooToo is solid and light. When most people who purchase the MacBook are already feeling cheated by Apple for their connectivity difficulties, the last thing they want it to have to lug around a heavy replicator. HooToo have absolutely made the right choice here.

It’s also worth pointing out that the unit has a very cool glowing HooToo logo when powered up. It may be irritating for some if using it in the bedroom though as it is quite bright. In the office though, it looks great.

Features: 8/10
Portability: 8/10
Price (£40): 9/10

9/10

Final thoughts

The Minix NEO-C is contrary to the whole idea of ultraportables. Having said that, Minix could well market the Neo-C as a device that you leave in the office and it would suit that very well. I am always concerned about how hot it gets though.

 

Runner up

As the MacBook is all about portability, the KADi Port may well be the answer for most people. I highly recommend it due to its simplicity, aesthetics and weigh (or lack of). I’m almost certain that it’s the only port replicator of the three that most people would be happy taking with them everywhere. The trade-off of course its single USB type-A port.

WINNER

There can be only one, and the HooToo for me just edges it. It’s the perfect all rounder, with all the features of the NEO-C except the Ethernet port, but it’s lighter, runs cooler and is a LOT cheaper.

Get one, you won’t be disappointed.

As we know, Apple make products beautifully simple that just work.

It doesn’t matter how many times Android, Microsoft or any of its competitors point out Apple’s weaknesses, you still just feel better with an iPhone in hand or a MacBook Air on your lap, even if isn’t the fastest on the market at the time.

Few products manage to capture the simplicity of design and still remain fully functional like Apple. But over the last few years, we have started to see some crowdfunded projects which follow the same line as this tech giant to great effect.

Premium One is a modular designed dock which can not only hold your Apple Watch, but the creators have also thought of those people who have the whole Apple Family of devices.

Made from aircraft grade aluminium, the dock looks like it could have been made by Apple themselves. Coming in 3 CNC precision drilled models, they look cool and hide all cables from sight as they charge the devices.

Premium One – Takes one Apple Watch – The watch is charged via the same MagSafe charger employed by Apple.

watch dock

Premium One W2 – Takes one Apple Watch and one iPhone

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Premium One W3 – takes one Apple Watch, either one iPhone 6 or 6 plus or any 5 series model, and in addition your iPad Mini or Air/Air 2.

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What we love about this product is not only the design and simplicity, but its modular design, and how it can be expanded in future. Once again it looks like something Apple would sell on its shelves in the Apple Store so would look more than at home providing charge on your bedside table.

Coming in black, silver and a bi-colour mahogany this product looks great. Starting at $55 for the W1, $89 for W2 and then finally $129 for the W3, we think this has been well priced comparing it to others in the market place.

Already fully pledged on Kickstarter, head on over and get yourself one before it goes!

It seems like not a day passes where another Apple compatible product is released, as companies scramble to profit from the design savvy consumer Apple  produces for.

Logitech are pretty much ahead in this arena, but I have to admit they are on fire at the moment with some of the products they are releasing and seem to have their finger on the pulse.

Bring on the Logitech Z600. The sleek, Apple-esque, wireless stereo speakers for your desktop. These cool units house three drivers each and can hook up to smartphones, tablets or laptops over a Bluetooth connection. Logitech have kindly included a Bluetooth dongle for those who do not have this built-in to the electronic device they are using.

The speakers allow for 3 simultaneous connections to your devices and can easily switch between them when the command is sent. Volume is controlled via the right speaker with a touch panel at the top which allows you to glide your finger iPod style and a 3.5mm jack is housed at the rear for those devices without the ability to connect wirelessly. Along the back of the right speaker, you can also find the power and pairing button which are hidden nicely.

These speakers will not look out-of-place and are at the right size to sit on your desktop and look pretty cool. You may want to think of these as a cheap alternative to a multiroom system as they are cheap enough to buy and place in every room and then just stream music from your smart phone and confidently fill most rooms with good sound.

Released in August with a RRP of £129.99 in the UK.

Z600

 

In a conference with Goldman Sachs this week, Tim Cook, Apples CEO said “The only thing we’ll never do is make a crappy product…. That’s the only religion that we have. We must do something great, something bold, something ambitious.” and it is this ethos that makes them great.

When you see Apple’s products, you want to touch them, and better still, own them. Although Apple’s products are far from unique, once you have it, you feel special, almost like you are in a club and we all love showing them off in our homes. So why then do we connect them to such dull cables, USB keys and storage devices?

The new Kickstarter project ZenDock promises to push the design even further, creating a dock to connect all cables to your MacBook, but keeping with the brushed aluminium theme. The dock is CNC milled from a solid block of T6061 aluminium and is bead blasted and anodised to capture Apple’s true style.

The ZenDocks aim is to create a clean working space, removing those annoying cables from all over your desk. It easily connects one block to the side of your MacBook and all cables you would like to attach to the Mac are connected to the other end of the dock which can be concealed (or even wall mounted) out of sight. It is even created as a non-blocking device, so that other ports can be accessed easily while it is attached.

Both versions give you three USB 3.0 ports, mic & speaker connections and a mini display outlet. The Pro version allows for the connection of ethernet and firewire while the Retina version has a Thunderbolt pass-through.

The ZenDock has just under 2 weeks to go and is already fully funded, so you are pretty much guaranteed to get a product. Starting now at $179 with $19 shipping to the UK, the company is aiming for a October 2013 delivery.

This is a wonderful addition for any true Apple fanboys out there who own a MacBook and want to organise their desk Apple-style.

Zendock

 

Think how much you’d lose if your Mac was stolen? Photos, work, contacts, memories – the list is endless.” is the statement made by the creators of Hidden, a seriously cool Mac protection app.

We all hate the idea of our MacBooks being stolen, shelling out lots of cash for the portal to our digital lives, just for some idiot to take it away from us.

Hidden is a clever little app that does exactly that, stays hidden in the background, updates itself and sits ready for when it is activated. Once turned on, access can be gained from the web and you can now track your MacBook and see exactly what the thief is doing with your system.

The app will also take pictures of the thief and upload them to your account, so not only can you give the authorities the location of your device, but now also the identity of the person.

Hidden starts at $15 per year for 1 device and includes theft recovery assistance, automatic updates and instant tracking. After the recent well publicised recovery of some MacBooks with this type of app (one even turning up in Iran) we think this is a small price to pay.

hidden

Logitech Keyboard Folio

 

Launched today, the Logitech iPad keyboard with tons of personality.

Logitech are known for great products, with well thought out premises and even better support, the Keyboard Folio is next in line with today’s launch. The keyboard, with rechargeable battery connects to your iPad via Bluetooth and sports full-size keys that make it feel more like a Macbook Air. The keyboard is recharged with the supplied mini-USB cable and apparently lasts up to 3 months.

Logitech have really thought about the design of this, as it is not only a keyboard, but also a stand and Folio-style protective case. The outer case uses magnets to stay securely closed and also works to wake the iPad when it is opened just like Apple’s very own Smart Cover. Once opened, the case serves to stand the iPad like a laptop for hands-free viewing.

The fabric outer case comes in either pink or black and serves to protect your iPad’s screen, the Keyboard folio can be preordered direct from Logitech at £89.99 and also is sold for iPad Mini.