Category: Laptops

Technology Update 9/4/18

New iPhones For Real – VIP Service
Apple’s iPhone event will be held on Sept 12th.  I believe pre-orders will start that Friday and shipments will commence a week later.  I mentioned the three sizes of the new phones in my last update — think small, medium and LARGE — with the medium being the least expensive.  I expect pricing to be somewhere along the lines of $700, $900, and $1100.  If its been many years since you’ve purchased an iPhone, you could buy the phone outright but what I think 90% of customers do is take advantage of the interest free financing with your cell phone carrier or Apple.  Take the phone price, divide by 24, and that’s your monthly cost.   I will offer my iPhone Ordering Service to you once again.  If you are going to have me set up your iPhone, I will order it for you over the phone at no extra charge.   I look forward to helping you get your new device.
 
Upgrading Computers
One of the nice things about 2012 (and earlier) Mac Book Pros and MOST Windows computers is that the hardware can be upgraded.  The hard drive can be replaced to give you more and faster storage.  Memory (RAM) can often be increased to allow smoother moment to moment operations.  Sold state hard drives (SSDs) are cheaper than ever before.  Contact me to find out if its possible / worth it to perform an upgrade to your existing machine and what the costs would be.  I will take great care to back up your data and then give you a “clean install” of the Mac / Windows operating system.  If you’ve had your computer for at least three years and want to keep it going, it’s just what the Doctor ordered.
Remote Support
I want to make clients, especially those new to the VIP family, aware that I offer remote support for simple Windows and Mac issues that may not require in in-person visit.  With Windows 10, I make use of the built in Quick Assist application.  With Mac users, I utilize Skype.  Do not worry, I’m not interested in seeing your beautiful face after you had a night of poor sleep.  I strictly use the screen sharing Skype feature.  For remote appointments, I bill in half hour increments. I will ask you to pay at the end of the session by directing you to my payment page or taking a credit /debit card from you over the phone.    Other remote services I have offered for clients in the past include comprehensive research and answering of questions in report style format, constructing / editing simple websites and social media profiles, and document / image conversion.
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Technology Update 8/21/18

Windows – Version 1809
Microsoft is in the process of finalizing yet ANOTHER version of Windows called Windows 10 1809.  This is the second new version of Windows to come across our desks this year. (Enough is enough right?) Some of you haven’t even received the previous version yet, 1803.  If you set the 120 day delay, as I instructed before, 1803 should get pushed out to you soon.  By keeping that delay in place, you will get version 1809 sometime in late 2018 / early 2019.   I think Microsoft is learning something from these upgrades.  Don’t worry, even if you are still on 1803 (or the previous 1709 for the time being), you will continue to get routine monthly security updates.    (Note:  I’m trying to delineate the language I use with you.  I’m using the word “update” to refer to minor patches or fixes and “upgrade” to refer to new versions.)
New Macs for Us
I’ve deciphered yesterday’s news from Bloomberg and the corresponding commentary.  It looks like some consumer focused Macs are coming our way soon.  By soon, I mean between any day now and October.   First I want to share that a new Mac Mini should be available in the near future.  It’s about time.  Apple hasn’t released a new Mini since October 2014.  The Mac Mini was the gateway into the Mac family.  It was sold as a small desktop computer only, about the size of a cigar box.  Customers could then plug in any keyboard, mouse, and monitor they wish.  An overpriced monitor from the Apple store was not required.  A $150 monitor from Amazon or a big box store was perfect companion.  It’s great to read that the legacy of the Mac Mini is continuing.  I doubt that the pricing will be as low as the previous generation ($499 to start), but even in the $700-999 range it will be aimed squarely at the typical client that I serve.  More importantly, it seems that Apple is going to keep the Mac Book Air line going.  I honestly think that the Air (which hasn’t changed in design since 2010) is the greatest laptop of the past 10 years (with the Lenovo Thinkpad T being a close second).  According to Bloomberg, it will continue to be 13 inches and will sport slimmer bezels.  It should be a big hit for Apple.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it starts at $999.  I think it would be a very appropriate choice for my clients.  I will provide more information down the road.
Managing Photos – iPhone and Windows
(Hope this doesn’t read like one of those “Chose Your Adventure” books.)   I have a good number of clients who are Apple all the way.  If that is you, you probably allow the iPhone to automatically upload your photos to iCloud.  Then you manage your photos in the Photos app on the Mac (while certainly using the iPhone or iPad for smaller management tasks).  A few may still choose to do things the long way, connecting your iPhone (or camera) with a cable to your Mac and then importing them into Photos or the photo manager of your choice.  The same can be done in Windows, into the photo manager of your choice as Photos is a Mac only app.  Windows and Mac users may also choose to back up their photos in duplicate to Google Photos or Amazon’s Prime Photos.   Both of these options are automatic and free with the proper apps installed.  Having an additional copy of those previous memories is never a bad idea.   However, you may wonder — what is the easiest way to manage and share my photos if I am an iPhone and Windows user?
Naturally, you could do some of this from the iPhone itself.  However, you will inevitably want to do some management tasks on the computer.  If you are backing up those photos to iCloud  Photo Library (the default option), you can best access those images at iCloud.com in your browser.  That should be your go to interface.   Of course, everyone’s use case is different.  Not all of my clients use iCloud Photo Library and I am flexible enough to support clients with varying “what works best” scenarios.
Happy computing!!

The Joy of Mice

I’ll briefly touch on Apple vs. Google for a moment.  At times we only see the world and the world of technology from our American perspective.  In the U.S., Apple makes itself out to be the fearless defender of our privacy.   The iPhone is totally encrypted.  iMessages are encrypted.  (iCloud backups?  Another topic for another time.)  Apple stood behind its principles of privacy so strongly that they would not unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooters.  We view Google on the other hand with some skepticism.  Search for free.  Gmail for free.  Can it really be free?  How much of my data are they harvesting in exchange for free services? Putting on my international thinking cap, until yesterday, I had a different take.  Apple recently started putting iCloud data from Chinese customers on servers in China, per a request from the Chinese government.  Apple will take apps out of the App Store that offend Beijing.  Google on the other hand did not give in.  They did not bend to censorship.  Until now.  This article https://theintercept.com/2018/08/01/google-china-search-engine-censorship/  claims that Google is developing a search engine with China’s blessing that filters out terms such as human rights or Tienanmen Square 1989, for example.   The ethics of technology…… food for thought!
The Joy of Mice
Desktop users have no choice, but I frequently recommend that my laptop toting clients use a mouse as well.  Laptop trackpads can be inconsistent.  MacBooks are generally the best in that regard and while Windows laptops have come a long way, they are still in second place.  I realized this week that using a good mouse with a laptop can restore a sense of confidence while operating a portable computer.  I literally dusted off my Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic mouse (circa 2014) and began using it.  It restored a sense of joy in computing.  How is your mouse?  Do you need a new one?  Do you want to make your laptop or desktop experience better?  Do you want to go laptop but fear the trackpad?  Here are some mice to consider with Amazon links.
Classic Intellimouse – This is Microsoft’s classic wired mouse that was recently re-released as a new product.  It is WIRED and is Mac and Windows compatible.  It has a hand friendly curved shape.   On sale now.  https://amzn.to/2O4PkgT
Sculpt Ergonomic — This is a wireless Microsoft mouse.  It could work on either Mac or Windows, but is more geared toward desktop use.  It is a large mouse and seems to fit my hand so well.    I have been told by friends this week, “I want that mouse.”  https://amzn.to/2vbC96S
Vertical — This is a newer design that makes you grip the mouse in the “handshake position.”   Proponents of the concept claim it significantly reduces hand strain.  The best of the bunch seems to be made by Anker.  Mac and Windows compatible. It’s priced to sell.  https://amzn.to/2LKkgX2
Trackball — They say once you go trackball, you never go back.  I have met people who swear by them.  The mouse does not move around on your desk.  You roll the ball to move the cursor and then click on the buttons to make your selection.  Check out the Kensington Expert (Mac + Windows, wired or wireless) https://amzn.to/2vc1bTv  or the Logitech M570 (Mac + Windows, wireless) https://amzn.to/2v9qaqG

Weekly Technology Update

A. Privacy:  GDPR and Oath.   You may have received a bunch of notices recently detailing the updated privacy policies of various services that you use.  The European Union’s new privacy laws take effect on May 25th.  These regulations are known as GDPR.   They are taking customers’ data a lot more seriously than we are on this side of the pond.  International companies such as Facebook and Google are adhering to these standards even for their American customers.  It’s a solid business practice.  Did you know that you can download all of your Facebook (or Google) data in a single file?  Did you know that you can control how Facebook advertises to you?   GDPR = Good.   To find out more http://money.cnn.com/2018/05/21/technology/gdpr-explained-europe-privacy/index.html

Additionally, some of you who have a Yahoo or AOL account may have received notices about policies from an organization known as Oath.  (My joke is — “zero authorization to violate your privacy,” but I’ll get back on topic.).  Oath is a division of Verizon that oversees both Yahoo and AOL.   Yahoo users may have even been asked to accept the new terms.  You really don’t have a choice if you want to keep using the account.   As a quick primer for those new to the VIP Computer Care family — my favorite free e-mail accounts are Google and Outlook.com.   Customers may choose a paid e-mail account if they want to get actual customer support.  My favorite choices  here are Fastmail ($20 per year), G (G Suite a paid Google account, $5 per month), or Office 365 (a paid e-mail account from Microsoft, $5 per month).

B.  Windows:   I’m still compiling reports of horror stories from users that had bad experiences with the latest version of Windows 10 (version 1803), released on April 30th.  Whenever possible, I have set your Windows computers to a 120 day delay schedule.   Unfortunately, I had to help a customer last weekend who couldn’t delay Windows version upgrades.  He purchased a consumer grade Windows desktop.  I offered the next best thing.  I managed the upgrade for him.  It took 2 hours, which is about what I expected.  With fingers crossed, there were no hiccups.  I am not recommending that I do this proactively for others, at this time, if you have already been set up for a delay.  Ultimately, Microsoft will iron out the wrinkles.  After all, hundreds of millions of business customers rely on Windows.   Version 1803 should be ready for prime time in a few months.  In August, lets talk about upgrading your computer. 

C.  Mac:  Apple’s big annual event, the WWDC, is happening on June 4th.  While it’s not specifically a new hardware event, Apple has been known to release new Macs at this event.   We can only hope that they offer a mea culpa on the Mac Book Pro and their awful keyboards.  At the very least, they could update the Mac Book Air with 2018 innards.  (The 2017 Air, while still my #1 choice at this date and time, features 2015-era parts.)   Additionally, the Mac Mini needs a major refresh.  It has not been updated since October 2014.  Apple needs to keep a $500-600 Mac on the market to welcome new customers into the family. 

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. 

Technology Update 12/12/17

As the year draws to a close, I start thinking about best and worst experiences with technology.

Laptop Mag is a website that puts out in depth reviews of laptops all year.  Just this week, they published an article on the best laptop keyboards of 2017.  Some of you need to type a lot of documents or emails on your laptop.  You may not use your laptop so much for media consumption, but see it as a productivity device.  For you the keyboard is going to be very important.   Laptop Mag did not try all of the laptops on the market, but they have seen enough of them to make some serious recommendations at various price points should the keyboard be a deciding factor.  It’s no surprise that Lenovo’s Thinkpad T series comes in at #1.  The Thinkpad line is put out by IBM’s former business computer division which is based in North Carolina.  Their keyboards are a typist’s dream.    A $299 Chromebook also makes the list.   While Dell’s business class Latitude 5000 and 7000 series laptops are not included, I would definitely move them to the front row of the class.   Interestingly enough, Apple’s 2017 Mac Book Pros are not on here.  Apple did make minor improvements to the keyboards this year compared to their pitiful 2016 cousins, but they cannot compare to the typing experience of the 2009 – 2015 Mac Book Pros or even the Mac Book Air — which is still being sold.  Check out the article for yourself for the complete survey. https://www.laptopmag.com/articles/best-laptop-keyboards

It is going to be a “worst experience” for you if your computer crashes and you don’t have a proper backup of your data.  In addition to online backup and sync services that you may use, an external hard drive is an essential component of your backup scheme.  How usable is your data if your backup drive is no good?   Therefore, if your drive is more than 3 years old, you need to buy a new one.  While there are other brands I can recommend, you really can’t go wrong with a WD My Passport.  They are easy to buy and priced right.   A 1 or 2 TB model should serve most of your needs.  Here are the Amazon links for easy purchasing. 

Windows formatted:  http://amzn.to/2z5BCGb

Mac formatted:   http://amzn.to/2yk9Xh6

No long longer recommending Apple computers

This may be something you never thought you’d hear from me.   I’ve used a Mac since 2004, recommended them to you since 2005.  I will recommend them no more!  I will still support customers with them and all makes – of course.  Granted, I only make money by providing services.  My clients / computer students are free to buy whatever computer systems they want.   When I recommend Windows based computer systems — I recommend those that are of equal build quality and similar (though usually slightly less) in price to Apple’s products.  What customers have been the best clients (meaning repeat visits) over the years?   Those buying deeply discounted, poorly made computers from big box stores.  They run well for about 2 years.   If I was really about drumming up as much business as I could for myself  — I would tell everyone to buy Best Buy’s $429 weekly deal all the time.  I don’t.

In full objectivity — I am typing this statement now prior to Apple’s decision to act or not to act on my proposed resolution to a pending technical support matter I have with them.  Even if they resolve this matter to my full satisfaction — that does not change my message here.  I am not including Apple’s iOS devices in this bulletin (iPhone + iPad) so long as a local Verizon or ATT store can provide repair services on them independent of Apple – inside THEIR stores.  I cannot confirm at this time that this is true.  To be fair, I cannot easily say there is better customer service from other phone brands.

I just want to lay out general points here, without bringing up my personal situation:

– Nearly all of us are buying laptops as our primary computers.  They’re portable, just as powerful as traditional desktops.   Costs are not that much more.   Need to plug into a keyboard mouse and monitor for desk use?  Super easy.
– Laptops generate a lot of heat.  When using your laptop on a desk or table for any length of time — you should be using it on an elevated stand to promote air circulation.  It would be nice if this stand had cooling fans built into it.   If you use a lap desk — ideally it should elevate / cool your laptop as well.
– I’m not trying to dig up computing dinosaurs here, but since 2006, Apple’s laptops have had major problems with heat.  Except for that small strip adjacent to the screen hinge — there are no air vents built into the body of the laptop.  Quite commonly — the better Windows laptops have 3 or 4 and also better air intake and fans.
– The cooler your laptop runs, the longer its battery will last and the longer the laptop will last in general.
– Computer manufacturers require that in-warranty laptop repair be done by them or their authorized representatives.  You’ll never find an independent technician like me attempting REPAIR on a laptop under warranty.  However, items like RAM or hard drive upgrades / replacement are not considered repairs and can be replaced by the customer or an independent tech without voiding the warranty.
– Truth be told:  the Apple Stores in Connecticut (WestFarms, New Haven, Stamford, Greenwich, and Danbury) and around the country are becoming the primary places where Apple computers are repaired under warranty.  3rd party shops that do warranty work for Apple are becoming scarce.
– There is no warranty option — where you can pay $100 extra and have someone come to you and do the repair for in-warranty Macs.  By and large, you are at the mercy of the Apple Store, when they get to it, per their secretive culture, and circus environment.
– I’ve stated before that the Dell Latitude E6430 and Lenovo Thinkpad T430 are outstanding business class laptops.   They are not sold in stores.   They are generally built as well or better than Apple’s MacBooks and cost about the same or slightly less.
With either the Lenovo or the Dell, you can choose a warranty option at the time of purchase for on-site service.  This means at your home, business, hotel room, etc.   This service is provided next business day and covers hardware issues.
– There is no mall crowd, no being made to feel like some tool with a number.
– Lenovo, Dell, and Apple laptops are made in China.  A lot of people like to criticize Lenovo for being a Chinese company.  They purchased IBM’s PC business in 2005, though Big Blue continued to provide design insight to them for several more years.  However, Lenovo has its U.S. support operations in North Carolina.  Last week they announced they would start building some of their laptops and desktops in N.C. next year.

I’m going to rest my case there.  I have not gotten into the in-warranty repair nightmare I have experienced with Apple over the past week.  It really doesn’t matter at this point.   I’m putting myself in your shoes when you might need hardware repair on a computer system.  When you have a hardware failure on a computer under warranty — I want someone to come to you and fix it.  This person won’t be me, but they will be good, and that visit will be covered.  You can’t get THAT level of service from Apple.