Category: Buying Advice

Mac Books and Their Keyboards

I wanted to revisit a subject that I covered in the near past — current Mac Book Pros and their “wonderful” keyboards.  https://theacronym.com/2018/02/02/ipad-pro-best-mac-laptop/

Apple came out with a substantial redesign of the Mac Book Pro in 2016. These new systems featured a radically different keyboard than the one that Mac laptop users had come to love in the 2015 and many prior generations.  The keyboards were panned by reviewers and users had their troubles as well.  They suffered from an unusually high failure rate.  For what reason?  Apple wanted to shave a couple of millimeters off of the overall thickness!  Apple rushed out an updated model that looked identical in June 2017.  Customers are still having issues with the keyboards in the 2017 models and they cost close to $600 to replace out of warranty. 

I have some Mac clients who will likely be looking for a new laptop this year.  If using an iPad with a keyboard as a laptop is not the right solution, I want to share some honest thoughts. 

I spent more time with a 2017 MacBook Pro and I really wanted to give it an objective try.  The keys do not travel like they do on the laptops that are known for better typing experiences.  However, Apple has offered up a trick and it seems to work. The keys make an unusual clicking sound when I pressed them, giving the allusion that there is more depth than there is in reality.  So, the truth is, I could likely live with the keyboard on a long term basis.  I still have serious doubts about their reliability. 

I think the 2017 Mac Book Air is a better laptop for consumer use than the 2017 Mac Book Pro.  Best Buy was recently selling it for as low as $699.  If you are not married to specific Mac applications, I can think of a couple other Windows laptops that are better than the Mac Book Pro.   

-Lenovo Thinkpad T, Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon

-Dell XPS 13, Dell XPS 15

-Dell Latitude 5000 series, Latitude 7000 series

With all of this cold water being thrown at Mac portables, I still think a custom ordered iMac is one of the best desktops on the market.

Ultimately, I know there are some clients who are joined at the hip with certain Mac apps or have a massive library that has already been organized in Photos.  The Mac Book Air may be discontinued later this year, so the Mac Book Pro could be the only option. You’ll live with the keyboard, but If you buy it, you must get the 3 year, Apple Care warranty.  It is your firewall against expensive repairs due to design flaws. 

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Desktop, Laptop, or Tablet

I was recently asked by a willing buyer, should I get a desktop, laptop, or tablet?

It certainly depends on the user’s habits and preferences.   I think a desktop is wise choice for someone who doesn’t mind doing their work in one place all the time and prefers using a larger screen.   The typical desktop monitor is 22 to 24 inches these days.  The standard high resolution (meaning everything is smaller) can be magnified or scaled up to give you a very comfortable viewing experience. 

Laptops are appropriate for users who want the flexibility to move around a lot (or at least once in a while) and don’t mind a smaller screen.  Some laptops can even be purchased with 17 inch screens, in the Windows world, so there may not even be that much of a compromise.  There is a wide spectrum of quality in the laptop game.  You could pay anywhere from $400 to $2500 for a laptop that works for you.  It simply depends on the purpose and features required.  As a final note on laptops, I will mention that I have had great experiences buying high quality, business class laptops for clients through the Dell and Lenovo outlets over the years.

Tablets (or even Chromebooks) are becoming a more popular choice for a consumer’s computer.  I set up a new iPad for a client over the weekend who will be using her iPad Pro as her primary personal computer.  I worked with a client today who only uses a Chromebook.   With an iPad or Chromebook, you can e-mail, compose documents, share files, edit photos, print (with a compatible printer), shop, do online banking, save files, and organize those files into folders.  Your device will be very SAFE compared to a Windows or Mac system.  However, you may not be able to run your favorite application for X (whatever X is for you).  For example, I like to use a program called The Journal in Windows to write personal journal entries.  I would not be able to use this program on an iPad or a Chromebook.   The greatest benefit to either of these devices is that you can KISS – keep it simple stupid.   As long as you can play within the sandbox, an iPad or Chromebook might just be your future computer.

Recommended Systems–Late May 2017

Recommended Systems (as of May 27, 2017):
VIP Computer Care faithfully recommends……

Mac
Apple iMac (2015 models – HD or Retina — only with upgrade to Flash Storage)
Apple MacBook Pro – 13 and 15 inch (2016 models)
*VIP believes that you should buy  3 year Apple Care Warranty with all Mac computers. 
** Buy Macs with an SSD (Flash Storage) only. 

Windows (current models)

Dell Optiplex desktops
Dell Precision workstation desktops
Dell Latitude (5000, 7000 series)  laptops. 
Dell XPS 13 – 13 inch ultrabook laptop

Lenovo Thinkpad X Series – 12.5 inch laptop
Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon -14 inch ultrabook
Lenovo Thinkpad W – 15 inch workstation laptop
Lenovo Thinkpad T 14 and 15 inch laptops
Lenovo Thinkpad L 14 and 15 inch laptops
Lenovo (desktop) ThinkCentre M series

HP Spectre x360

Microsoft
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 – 12.5 inch
Microsoft Surface Laptop w/ upgrade to Windows 10 Pro
VIP also recommends Microsoft Signature PC’s from the Microsoft Store with at least 4 GB of RAM + Intel Pentium, i3, i5, i7 processors

Windows Update: Lenovo is my new Dell

For years, and years, I recommended Dell as my go to computer brand for those desiring a Windows based PC. Today, I will tell you — NO MORE.

A brief history lesson: Lenovo purchased IBM’s PC business back in 2005. IBM continued to provide design assistance to them for several years after that. Lenovo has taken something great and made it better.

Lenovo has U.S. operations in North Carolina and at some time this year, they will even start building one of their laptops in the U.S.

My endorsement only covers their Think line of products, for example their ThinkPad laptops and ThinkCentre desktops. Lesser Lenovo systems like the Idea Pad and computers simply called Lenovo followed by a model number are pieces of crap. I have been in this business for over 15 years; I’ve earned the right to say that.

Since most people are going laptops these day, you’ll be pleased to know that Lenovo has Thinkpads in every price range.
– smaller ultra portable laptop, 11.6 inches – x131 is $500
– mid-range, well constructed laptop, – the Edge is about $650

– ready for work, durable, a world leader – the T series will run you about $900
– thin, lightweight, Apple-like – X1 Carbon – $1400

These Thinkpads come with a one year warranty. I would encourage all customers to look at Lenovo’s 3 year extended warranty for about $200. They do honor their commitments. However, the choice on the warranty is yours. Please don’t be upset if you get the bad banana in the batch and it dies after a year. FYI, the ThinkCentre desktops start in the $500 range.

Lenovo’s Think products can be ordered at lenovo.com or by calling them. I can also endorse purchasing Windows computers through Microsoft at www.microsoft.com/store

I seek out the best, so you can have the best!

Updated List of Recommended Computers

I want you to have the best when it comes to technology. The best doesn’t always mean spending more but it means you being treated with respect when you need to deal with the manufacturer. I’ve been extremely conservative with the models and makers I’ve suggested over the years and I will continue to be very deliberate before I make additions.

Apple: Let me get the easy part out of the way first. Apple is the only company that makes Macs. The only choice is where to buy yours from. I advise my clients to buy from either B&H Photo Video of NYC www.bhphotovideo.com (an Apple authorized reseller) or the online Apple Store http://store.apple.com

Windows: I’ll stick to laptops here because these are what most of you are buying.

– Lenovo.com: Thinkpad T series, Thinkpad X1 Carbon, Thinkpad X200 series, Thinkpad Edge

– Microsoft Signature PC’s (various manufacturers) from http://store.microsoft.com or Staples.com (most computers from Staples ARE NOT part of the Signature program, check and verify)

– Dell ** I’m still asking you to hold off on considering Dell until their corporate reorganization is complete. There is a chance that warranties many not be honored when the “new Dell” emerges. I hope to be able to faithfully recommend them in the near future.

*** Manufacturer extended warranties with an onsite support (or local drop off – Apple only) option are usually a good bet. Stay away from aftermarket / 3rd party warranties. The only good one I know in the world of electronics is Square Trade, which is offered on most Amazon and eBay purchases.

– If you would like a Desktop recommendation, please ask!
Lenovo ThinkCentre desktops would be a good choice. Check out Lenovo.com

OEM or Replacement Printer Cartridges

Printer ink (or toner) is expensive — there is no way of getting around that.
Typically most residential and home office computer users have one of two types of printers:   a color ink jet (prints color + black and white)   or monochrome laser (prints black and white only).      The printer may be single function — printing only   or multi-function — handling duties such as printing, copying, and scanning.   Some multi-function printers also add a fourth function, faxing.  Just as an example, for the past four years I have used a multi-function printer made that is Dell branded.  (It was actually made by Samsung, but that point is not relevant).  This model is a monochrome laser and prints, copies, scans, and faxes.  I’ve been happy with getting four years out of it; I doubt this printer will make 5 years.

The trend in how these things are sold is troubling.   $80 printers are common, even multi-function models can be had for under $100.  However, the black and color cartridges combined might also cost $80.   Furthermore, these cartridges won’t get you more than a couple hundred prints.   WOW.   For laser printers, the cartridges are referred to as toner cartridges.   They might get you 2000 to 5000 prints, but will cost upwards of $100 or more.

First you should decide — do I need to print in color in a regular basis?   In our family, we decided a long time ago that we don’t.  For the few times a year that we need color, we will gladly print those items out at Kinko’s (Fed Ex Office) or Staples.   Laser printers give you the lowest cost per print.  However, I know many of you like to print an occasional photo, a letter or an invitation with color, etc.   It used to be that the inkjet printers were made for consumers (at a lower cost) and laser printers were made for business.  However, the lines are now blurred.  Inkjet printers generally cost less, but laser printers have also gotten really affordable in recent years.  As with so many consumer decisions, you are going to have choose what works best for you.

I’ve helped clients set up several printers over the past year.  Two that I like over all others are the Brother MFC 7860DW (a multi function monochrome laser)  and the Epson WorkForce 845 (a multi function color inkjet).  Based on Amazon’s prices, they are $250 and $140 respectively.  FYI, there may be newer models of each printer that have been released this year.

HOWEVER — nearly in ALL CASES I never recommend buying replacement (aftermarket)  ink / toner.   Avoid Brand X or store brand re-manufactured cartridges.   They may not work properly and could damage your printer.  The only alternative to OEM branded cartridges that I’ve found remotely legitimate has been CarrotInk(dot)com.   They’ve been serving customers for over 10 years.  Once I had an issue with a laser cartridge I purchase from them and they promptly sent me a new one at no charge.  Still, given that Amazon usually has good pricing on name brand cartridges and free shipping for orders over $25 I hesitate to recommend after market products.

Your Questions Answered

1.  Capturing a screen shot:   sometimes you’ll want to do this.   Perhaps you want to show me whats on your screen in the process of getting help.  You might want to take a screen shot to compare notes with another person, for example if you both have the same program open and they claim you are not seeing the same thing.   Perhaps you want to capture what is on your screen exactly as it looks for some type of evidentiary or archival reason.   This is easy.   I will cover both Windows and Mac scenarios.

Windows:     traditionally on most Windows computers — there has been a Print Screen button on your keyboard.    Press it.  Then open up a program like Microsoft Word (or equivalent) and then   Paste from the Edit menu (or Paste Special).   Your screen image will appear in the document.   You may want to print in Landscape mode (wide) to get the screen shoot to appear all on one page.     In Windows 7, there is a an additional way to capture a screen shot.  On your start menu — look for Snipping Tool.   If it isn’t obviously its in All Programs >> Accessories.    This allows you to drag a window around what you want to capture.  It then saves the image as a picture file on your screen.   You can then save that image and do what you want with it.

 

Mac:   There is a great utility baked into the Mac called Grab.  I use it often; in fact I keep it in my dock for easy access.    To open Grab for the first time, open Finder >> Utilities >> Grab.    Click on the Capture menu at the top and then chose whether you want to capture just a selection (of your choosing), a window (a particular program’s window), or the whole screen.    After the screen shot is taken, a picture file opens on your screen.  From there you can save it, e-mail it or print it.

 

2.   Dealing with a troubling spam e-mail message:    it happens.   Someone told me they received an e-mail telling them they had ordered something and a tracking number was even provided in the e-mail.  It wasn’t even a valid tracking number with the shipper.    So what’s the deal?    The senders of this message are likely located in Jamaica, Nigeria, or perhaps an eastern european country.  They would like nothing more  than for you to engage them in discussion.   DON’T.   Doing so will expose you to financial harm and possibly harassment.    Just as there is troubling postal mail from time to time or chain letters asking for money to be sent to the next link, there are even more sophisticated e-mail scams.   It isn’t a good idea to respond to the postal mail and it isn’t a good idea to respond to the junk e-mail.

 

A couple of tips:   Use one e-mail address for real correspondence and another e-mail address for online shopping, newsletter subscriptions, and other things you sign up for.     It would be wise to use the personal correspondence e-mail for secure things like banking as well.      Your real e-mail account should be one that you pay for or have a high degree of control over.   This could include one connected to your internet service or one that you pay for separately.  If you are looking to establish a new personal (or business) e-mail address that has some accountability associated with it, consider Google Apps ($5 a month / $50 per year) or PoBox.com @ $50 per year.

 

3.    I believe I’ve touched on this once before — but it bears repeating because at different times we are all shopping for something.    THERE IS NO MORE WHITE APPLE MAC BOOK LAPTOP FOR $999.  It’s been off the market for one year.  It came in a “standard” screen size of 13.3 inches and was not some cut rate starter model.  It was a great deal.    Apple phased that out and replaced it with the 11.6 inch Mac Book Air  for $999.       In my opinion, this is more of a toy than any thing else.  It might be a laptop for OCCASIONAL USE but not for getting work done on.   The screen is too small and without a laptop stand there will be some serious neck strain.    So you really have 2 choices for a standard sized Mac laptop — at 13.3 inches:

 

Mac Book Pro   13  – $1199 to $1499

Mac Book Air 13  –  same pricing

 

4.   Apple vs. Samsung lawsuit:     Apple scored a major victory against Samsung on Friday for patent infringement.    Interestingly enough Samsung’s tablets were judged not to have violated patents related to the iPad.     For those of you who are out of the loop on this — Samsung is the #1 seller of Android phones — an iPhone rival.     The lawsuit did not cover Samsung’s latest blockbuster phone – the Galaxy S III  which has sold over 10 million units since it was released in June.    Again for those of you who do not know — Android is the software on the phone and was designed by Google.    The software on an iPhone is called iOS.   Why didn’t Apple sue Google (yet) ?    Google actually provides the software to companies that make Android phones like Motorola, Samsung, and HTC — for FREE.  However, Google does profit from it in other ways.  If you have an older Samsung Android phone — Samsung may be pushing a software update out to you to ensure compliance with patent law.    Do I still think some people should consider an Android phone?   Yes.   Especially if you are connected with many Google services — you will probably like a GOOD Android phone better.   Keep in mind there are many bad Android phones on the market.   If you were the type that liked to tinker with a car in your younger days — you’ll like an Android.   If you want the best deal out of the box with no tinkering — you’ll prefer an iPhone.  If you want a phone with a physical keyboard — you’ll want an Android phone.