Category Archives: 3rd Party Hardware

Apple, the Touch Is Gone. Third Party Rescue?

Apple has claimed for years now that a touch screen has no place as part of a laptop or desktop setup. In the last updates for the Apple laptop line, this denial of touch seems to be lessening with the inclusion of a “Touch Bar” to the high-end MacBook Pro models.

The Touch Bar, however seems to be more of a gimmick that falls far short of the “Touch” experience the customer wants.

In a recent post on my TechnoBabble blog,  I lamented the failure of Apple to maintain it’s position as “King of Touch”; a prominent position it pioneered with the introduction of the iPhone and iPad. Even I abandoned the Apple brand this Christmas with the purchase of a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. Thanks Santa!

Now a 3rd-party solution appears to be filling the gap. The AirBar may find a welcoming customer pool for we Mac owners desiring the Touch experience.  I await the availability of the 13.3″ AirBar to support my MacBook Air.

But this does not let Apple off the hotseat. The company needs to realize that the iPad Pro is a poor substitute for a 2-in-1 experience like the Surface Pro.  I would prefer an iPad-like device with true productivity features; USB, microSD card and mini DisplayPort support.

Will it ever happen? Not with the current attitude at the top of Apple. Maybe after a few quarters of falling profits the message may sink in as in “consider the customer. Thinner and lighter can only go so far”.

New use for Zagg Auto Fit Keyboard

zagg autofit 10A few weeks ago, I purchased the ZAGG Auto Fit 10” keyboard folio to replace the dreadful keyboard supplied with the ASUS Transformer Book T100. The ASUS tablet popped right into place and I have been using the keyboard with the Windows tablet ever since.

On a lark, I tried to insert my iPad 3rd generation into the keyboard enclosure, but the form factor was too tall.

In the intervening weeks, I shipped the iPad 3 off to Gazelle. On Saturday. en email from Best Buy arrived in my inbox. In it was a trade-in offer for the iPad 2 I had purchased some three years ago. I took the iPad 2 to my local Best Buy and walked out with a new iPad Air 2.

I looked at the iPad Air 2 and noted the sleek lines when compared to my iPad 3. I picked up the ZAGG keyboard and popped the ASUS tablet out and popped the iPad Air 2 in. Well, by gosh and by golly (pardon my language) the new iPad fit very nicely. The new iPad is clad in a thin TPU case. I positioned the tablet with a slight bias to the right to clear the “Volume Up” button.

I haven’t paired the iPad and ZAGG keyboard yet. That will be the next step in the process. The iPad may be compatible with the keyboard in fit alone, but I am hopeful of more.

 

A New Life for my Mac Pro

Mac Pro Tower
Mac Pro Tower

Back in 2006, I purchased my Mac Pro 1,1. Over the years, it has served me well. Starting with OS X Tiger (10.4) to OS X Lion (10.7), I added upgrades to my system; additional RAM, more hard disks and, in anticipation of OS X 10.8, a new ATI Radeon 5770 HD graphics upgrade.

Well, I was a little more than disappointed when I learned that Apple was abandoning support for my Mac Pro at the shores of OS X Lion. The 10.8 ship sailed and my Mac Pro wasn’t on it.

When OS X Mavericks was announced, I hoped against hope that Apple would rescue my Mac Pro and bring it back into the fold. This was not to be. Instead, I updated my MacBook Air 2013 to the new OS and relegated my Mac Pro to “ride the bench”.

In the past few weeks, I started to consider my technical life after the Mac Pro. My Air was playing the role of a desktop, but I really wanted a true desktop for my office. What would it be; a Mac Mini, iMac or perhaps, the new Mac Pro 2013? Also, what would I do with my old Mac Pro. Maybe sell it on eBay…

My old Mac Pro had enough of this sort of talk. “I can still do the job! Give me a chance!”. I looked at my Mac Pro, considered it for a moment and then decided to give it one more upgrade.

With the help of this website, and a new SSD drive, I now introduce my “new” Mac Pro running OS X Mavericks 10.9.1.

My "new" Mac Pro
My “new” Mac Pro

I think my Mac Pro is smiling at me.

 

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In Search Of … a Better Keyboard

In my last two posts, I reported on my progress in fielding my new MacBook Air 2013 as a desktop machine. One of the challenges I encountered was the selection of a keyboard. For a period of time, my desk was cluttered with two keyboards; one for the MacBook Air (Apple Wireless) and one (Logitech K750) for my previous desktop (2006 Mac Pro).

The use of two separate keyboards was less than ideal. It soon dropped to one keyboard. My daughter had a need for a keyboard so off went my trusty Apple Wireless.

I then used the K750 for both desktops by switching the wireless USB dongle from one desktop to the other. This worked, but it was less than ideal. Who am I kidding? I was looking for a reason to buy a new keyboard.

In stepped the Logitech K811 Easy Switch Bluetooth keyboard. The keyboard provides the ability to pair with up to three separate devices and provides a set of three buttons to quickly select the device. The K811 form factor was similar to  the Apple Wireless and supports both Mac and Apple iOS. Logitech has a similar model for those Windows users as well. The Mac version provides the standard set of Mac/iOS keys. The typing experience is excellent. I also appreciate the black chiclet style keys with white lettering (easier for me to find a not often used key).

The best thing is that the keyboard supports three devices. I am using only 2/3 of the keyboard’s potential.  Hmmm… perhaps another desktop.

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MacBook Air Desktop; the Final Piece

LandingzoneProA few days ago, I posted an article relating my efforts to transform my 2013 MacBook Air into my new desktop. At the time of the post, I was waiting on the final piece of the puzzle; the LandingZone 2.0 Pro dock.

As fate would have it, the dock arrived the next day. I unboxed the item and made the connections to my external monitor and an external USB 3.0 drive.

My impressions:

Overall, the dock seems to be a well constructed product. One shortcoming was the hinged handle in the back of the unit. My natural tendency was to use this handle to close the device. Thankfully, I did a quick read of the user guide which dutifully informed me that this is a NO NO. The handle is used only to release the laptop from the unit when undocking.  Perhaps I am the only person that made this assumption, but some labeling on the hinge might prove beneficial.

From a usage point of view, I have some difficulty in mating the USB and DisplayPort components of the dock with the physical connections on the sides of the MacBook Air. After a little jockeying for position, the plugs line up and the two end close up to secure the MBA in place.

Once secure, the dock provides everything I need:

  • four powered USB 3.0 ports
  • a Gigabit Ethernet Port (need to download and install a driver)
  • a mini DisplayPort connection

What I appreciate about the dock is the ability to open the MBA when needed to access the laptop (keyboard, trackpad, etc) without having to undock. This was a feature that the different vertical docking solutions did not provide.

Though a little pricey at $199, I am more than satisfied with the LandingZone 2.0 Pro Dock for my MacBook Air.

 

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2013 MacBook Air as new Desktop

MacBook Air 11.6" mid 2013
MacBook Air 11.6″ mid 2013 (Photo credit: Moridin_)

In early July, I purchased the new 13″ MacBook Air to replace my 2008 unibody MacBook. The MacBook, as have other Mac laptops in that past, had migrated to a family member to replace a failed Windows machine (BTW, all the Apple laptops are still functioning; even a 2005 iBook).

As I had done in the past, I put the new Air in my laptop bag. If my usage patterns remained the same, it would see the light of day on an infrequent basis. It was my “I can’t get to my desktop” machine. You know, the family comes for a visit. My office turns into a bedroom. I can’t get the my trusty Mac Pro (2006 edition) and the iPad is just not quite enough.

But, there was something different. This was my first introduction to a PC equipped with a solid state drive (SSD) and the battery life was amazing to say the least. Not to mention that I could take advantage of Mac OS X Mountain Lion. Alas, the powers at Apple determined that my Mac Pro needed to be marrooned at Mac OS X 10.7 Lion. Still a touchy subject with me. The Air provides the promise of future compatibility with later versions of the Mac OS.

However, my vision limitations still requires the use of an external monitor for  longer sessions. I can use the small laptop screen in tandem with Mac OS X accessibility features for a short time, but long sessions necessitate the external monitor.

Well, I am attempting to cultivate the MacBook Air into my new desktop machine. My intended setup includes:

  • the MacBook Air (kinda seems an important part)
  • mini DisplayPort to HDMI cable (happened to have one handy)
  • Gateway 24″ LCD monitor. Getting “long in the tooth”. I want to replace it with a new LED monitor at some point.
  • Apple Magic Mouse (again; had one gathering dust in my desk drawer). I use the Magic TrackPad for the MacPro. If all goes well, I will switch them around.
  • Logitech K750 Solar keyboard. Right now, I am “sharing” the keyboard between the Mac Pro and Air by switching the wireless uSB receiver. I am considering purchasing the Logitech Easy-Switch Bluetooth keyboard for a multi-link capability, but I like the full sized keyboard with the numeric keypad. Yes, I had tried Bluetooth keypads, but never had much luck with them.

My new desktop is up and functioning, but I am lacking USB expansion. It’s also a little inconvenient to plug everything up to use and unplug everything to go mobile.

Now enters the next piece of the puzzle; the LandingZone 2.0 Pro Dock for the MacBook Air. It’s supposed to arrive on Tuesday. Looks promising. The LandingZone dock provides a dedicated mini DisplayPort connection, Gigabit Ethernet and a powered USB 3.0 hub. Just line the MBA up and snap it in place. There were other docking solutions that I considered, but most required you to stand the Air on it’s side pointing vertically toward the ceiling. Not much help if I wanted to open up the lid to activate the onboard display, keyboard or touchpad.

 

 

 

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The Continuing iPad Keyboard Chase

I had been hearing of the upcoming release of a new iPad Bluetooth keyboard from Logitech. This, of course, peaked my internal craving for new technologies which is clearly evident when in comes to iPad related accessories.

On Saturday, I was strolling through the various displays at my local Best Buy store when I turned a corner and there it was; a cardboard stand adorned with FabricSkin keyboards.

I am certainly aware of my continuous battle between “Want” and “Need” in the realm of technology and the great tendency for “Wants” to masquerade as “Needs”.

At the time, I was ocillating between the use of the Logitech UltraThin  keyboard and the Apple Wireless keyboard/Incase Origami combination. Both are good solutions, but each lacked something. The Logitech ultraThin lacked the protection I wanted for my iPad. The Apple/Incase combo allowed me to use a separate protective case for the iPad, but lacked some basic function. Most notably was a simple On/Off switch for the keyboard. It’s somewhat embarrassing when a cool tune starts playing from your briefcase when the Apple keyboard’s media button gets bumped because the keyboard wasn’t officially “off”.

Well, “Want” kicked “Need” out the door today when I walked out of the Best Buy with the FabricSkin tucked under my arm (after I paid for it, of course). The case paired easily with the iPad; no “pin” was requested. The case is currently sitting next to me charging up; getting ready for it’s debut at work in the morning.

The case addresses the two basic issues noted above. The FabricSkin is a case completely enclosing the iPad. Like the Apple wireless keyboard, it doesn’t have an On/Off switch, but it has something better. When the iPad is placed in “typing” position, magnets within the case detect the positioning and the keyboard is turned on. When the iPad is moved from the “typing” position, the keyboard is turned off; kind of a “set it and forget it” operating mode.

My test typing at Best Buy and here at home seem fine, but the true test is typing notes during my day-to-day use of the iPad at work. Will I have to search for keys more than I touch type? Time will tell.

The one downside currently is the price. At $149.99, the case seems a little overpriced. But “Want” didn’t care about that.

 

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Amazon Is Waiting for the Shoe

The long anticipated refresh of the Amazon Kindle lineup has finally been announced.  Amazon is venturing further into the Tablet Universe with the increased offerings in the Kindle Fire selection.

The original Kindle Fire has undergone a small refresh and a price drop from the $199 price point to $159.

The Kingle Fire HD has been added to the mix with both a 7″ and 8.9″ form factor. In a fashion similar to iPad, there are multiple configurations available.

Kindle Fire Model Price Point Description
Kindle Fire (Original) $159 Price drop from $199
Kindle Fire HD 7″ $199 16 GB
$299 32 GB
Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ $299 16 GB
$359 32 GB
$499 32 GB with LTE
$599 64 GB with LTE

Amazon is aggressively pricing the AT&T LTE with a 12-month service offering for $50 which provides a 250 MB/month data plan. Apple, please make a note of this.

The original Kindle Fire was not marketed as a direct competitor for the iPad, but the new Kindle Fire HD is. In fact, the Amazon site provides a price comparison between the LTE-capable Kindles and the iPad 3.

But, there is still a shoe out there looming over the new Kindles in the form of the rumored iPad mini which is “scheduled” for an announcement  perhaps as early as October of this year.

The fear is that an aggressively priced iPad Mini may suck all the air out of the room. But, both the iPad and iPad Mini may need to consider the AT&T LTE plans offered with the Kindle Fire HD. Amazon appears to have a shoe of it’s own.

Only time will tell. The Kindle Fire HD is a real product. The iPad mini is still just a rumored glint in the eye of Apple.

 

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iPad Keyboarding With A Twist

I’ve searched the world over for the perfect iPad keyboard. Turns out that it’s like most things in life. It was in front of me all the time.

Since my first iPad (April, 2010), I have been searching for a external keyboard solution that provided both a great typing experience and a simple and elegant usage model.

ZAGGmate Case + Keyboard for iPad

For the original iPad, I settled on the ZAGGmate Keyboard/Case combo. It worked well, but I never considered it a case. The inset keyboard seemed to be somewhat confining when typing. I don’t know how much the “confined” feeling was actual or perceived due to the shape of the enclosure.

When I purchased the iPad 2, my first keyboard was the iPad 2 version of the ZAGGmate (actually manufactured by Logitech). It still had a “confined” feel to it, but it served me well.

Staying with the ZAGG family of keyboards, I moved to the ZAGGKeys Solo

ZAGGKeys SOLO

keyboard. This keyboard lacked the confining enclosure. The keyboard provided a flat typing surface with chiclet key spacing.  A good keyboard, but like all the other ZAGG models, there was no slant to the typing surface.

All these keyboards have moved on and found homes with other iPad users.

Logitech Wireless Keyboard for iPad

My next keyboard candidate was the Logitech Wireless Keyboard for iPad. This keyboard, unlike the others, provided a typing slant. The keyboard had a nice feel to it. No complaints for the keyboard. The one complaint I had was the companion case. The case  was somewhat cumbersome to deploy. The case provides a  flip-out, plastic  connector that snaps in place. The snapping into place activity and the unsnapping to close operations were not enjoyable. I always had a fear of breaking the plastic clasp.

Now we come to the latest, and best, keyboard I have used with my iPad; the Apple Wireless Keyboard. I recently “retired” my Apple Wireless Keyboard for use with my desktop for the full-sized Logitech Solar Keyboard K750. This left

Incase Origami Workstation

my Apple keyboard on the sidelines. While strolling through a local Apple Store, I noticed the Incase Origami Workstation keyboard case. The case is designed to work explicitly with the Apple Wireless Keyboard. The case provides two velcro straps. Using the straps and the “origami” folding action of the case, the Apple keyboard can be quickly and EASILY deployed or placed back in the stowed position.

Now my favorite keyboard and favorite device are paired. It just took that Origami “twist” to bring them together.

 

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Apple vs Logitech…Keys to Victory

Best Buy

As I often do, I made a quick reconnaissance tour through the local Best Buy store this afternoon. As I turned the corner at the Apple Kiosk, I noticed a new stack of accessories; the Logitech Wireless Keyboard for Mac K750.

This full-sized keyboard sports a solar panel across the top which supplies the power to charge the onboard batteries. There is also a neat little app (SolarApp) available from the Mac App Store that can be used to track the battery level and the charge rate available from the surrounding ambient lighting. Begin a Mac keyboard, all the Mac keys are there.

 

With Father’s Day approaching, I decided to give the keyboard a try. I have been using the AppleWireless Keyboard for quite a while and it is perhaps the best keyboard I have used. Good, but not perfect. One thing the Apple keyboard lacks is a numeric keypad. One difficulty I have is typing a correct series of numbers and notation when filling out numerical amounts. I inevitably miss the correct keys and enter amount that are too small or too large.  Not a good thing when paying bills online.

I have tried a Bluetooth keypad, but the device was flakey; not always detected by the Mac. Due to this hit or miss behavior, I abandoned the keypad (Read my review).

As with all other “wireless” keyboards I have used from Logitech, the “wireless” is accomplished by means of a Logitech USB dongle that syncs to the keyboard. No Bluetooth here so be sure you have a spare USB port.

The keyboard itself is very thin, about 1/3″. The keyboard is wider (front to back) than a standard keyboard. The additional width is used to accomodate the embedded solar panel.

The keyboard also features an on-board “Check Light” button. The button is used to determine if the keyboard is receiving sufficient light to charge the device. If the SolarApp is installed, pressing the key brings up the app which displays a Lux gauge and a battery level. I was surprised to note that the ambient light in my office was more than sufficient to operate the device.

The construction appears to be solid; not quite the feel of the Apple Wireless Keyboard, but a good, solid typing experience.  One skeptical feature was a pair of flip-out legs used to provide a typing tilt. I’ve been using the keyboard all evening with absolutely no complaints and no numerical entry errors now that I have access to a full keypad.

At $59.95, the keyboard seems worth the price. If the Logitech continues to perform, the Apple Keyboard may be re-tasked for use with my iPad.

 

 

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