Welcome 2018 – Best of 2017

“Welcome 2018:  Best of 2017”

2017 was a year where we moved more towards mobile, privacy, sharing, and shopping online. The PC is not the primary computer even for many of us with a desktop or a laptop.  Our use of smartphones and tablets is only going to grow in the future.  A troubling trend in 2017 was the threat to our privacy.   The loosening of regulations on internet providers being able to sell our usage history and the end of net neutrality should be two things that we really keep an eye on this year.  While there are some independent internet providers in Connecticut, where most of my customers are based, none can compete with the speed that Frontier and Comcast offer.  That’s too bad because we really need a company in the northeast like Sonic that puts customers and their privacy first.

 

Here are some of my best picks from 2017.

 

Best Bargain Smartphones

I’m going to put the Motorola G Series at the top of my list once again. Their Android based G5 Plus phone can be purchased unlocked from motorola.com for just over $200 (outright no payment plan). It is compatible with all major carriers including Verizon.    I’m going to include the iPhone SE from Apple on this list as well.  While a new model has not been released since March of 2016, Apple doubled the storage on the base model in 2017 and cut the price to $350. This phone is also compatible with all major carriers including Verizon and is best purchased directly from Apple without any need of a payment plan. If you like a smaller 4 inch phone that can fit in a shirt pocket, this is the phone for you.

 

Best Smartphones

I’m going to go with a safe pick on the iPhone side for 2017 and recommend the iPhone 8 Plus.   It has an awesome camera that is truly an improvement over its 2016 predecessor and does not demand the learning curve that the iPhone X requires.  It seems likely that all of our iPhones will not have a home button and will feature face unlocking in the future, but for now I’d like to steer my clients down a familiar path.  

 

On the Android side of things, Google’s second generation Pixel phones were a disappointment because they were plagued with nagging flaws from the time of release. Most of those issues have been fixed with subsequent software updates, however you  don’t always get a second chance to create a first impression.  I’m going to take the go-big-or-go-home approach with Android here. As long as you can tolerate a 6.3 inch diagonal phone, which is almost like a mini tablet, I’m going to call the Samsung Galaxy Note 8  my Android phone of the year.  Expect a refresh on the slightly smaller Galaxy S line in the early spring.

 

Best Laptops

If you have to buy a Mac laptop then go out and buy one but I can’t recommend the 2017 Mac Book Pro models.  While the 2016 lineup was  refreshed quickly in 2017 to fix some reliability concerns, they still feature a keyboard that leaves a lot to be desired.  Furthermore, how can you call it a Pro model  when the only kind of port is the USB Type-C port?  Mac Book Pro users need to buy one or more dongles to connect things like backup hard drives and even their iPhones.  Sadly, I don’t think Apple is going to reverse course and give us a Mac Book Pro like the 2015 model ever again.  The Mac Book Air is still alive and kicking. It received a minor update in 2017, but it is truly not an upgraded model.  It received a small speed increase to its 2015 processor (CPU). I think the Air is dead going forward.  

 

I can enthusiastically recommend business class laptops that are durable and have pleasing keyboard experiences.   My picks for you are the Lenovo Thinkpad T470 (or its slightly slimmer cousin the T470s. Note: The updated T480 line is coming soon.), the Dell Latitude 5480 or Latitude 7480.  These laptops are not sold in stores and are best ordered from Lenovo’s and Dell’s websites.  They generally run about $800 to $1500.  As I mentioned to a client the other night, you can often find a bargain on the aforementioned models in the Dell or Lenovo outlets.  I am talking like $500’s and $600’s, with at least a 1 year warranty on certified refurbished or returned models.  

 

If you are looking for a stylish laptop, like a Mac Book Air with modern innards, you should consider the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon or the Dell XPS 13 or 15.  

 

Best Desktops

There isn’t a lot of innovation in desktops to write home about.  I think a workable hybrid solution is to purchase a laptop, an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse.  When you don’t want to be chained to the desk, you can take the laptop to the couch, coffee shop, or on the road.  I will not deviate from past picks and continue say that the Lenovo ThinkCentre and Dell OptiPlex desktops are solid choices.  These systems are not the same as the Dell and Lenovo PC’s sold in stores.  Apple refreshed its iMac lineup in 2017.  I consider it a top pick in performance and and design.  Just be sure to order it from Apple.com or ask for some help in ordering.  The iMacs sold in stores are the SLOW hard drive models.  You will want a custom order with a solid state drive (SSD).  The Retina 4K 21 inch iMac, with a 256 GB SSD will cost you $1499.  

Looking forward to a great 2018 together!!

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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

Technology Update 12/5/17

Go With a Laptop ? 

Clients often ask if their next computer should be a laptop.   If you like the idea of being portable, then YES, I think it would be a good idea.  If you think you may want a bigger screen at times, you can easily connect a monitor to your laptop.  To keep things on a budget, a 22 or 24 inch monitor from Best Buy or NewEgg will more than serve your purposes.  Those monitors run $150 or less.  It’s much less than buying a separate desktop and laptop. 

A Classic Mouse is Back

1995 is calling and they have brought a great mouse back.   Whether you are working on a desktop or laptop, a functional mouse is a key tool to have.   Microsoft has updated and re-released their IntelliMouse, now called the Microsoft Classic IntelliMouse. It is the ideal WIRED mouse for Windows or Mac.   About $40.  Here is the Amazon link

Mac Security Scare

There was a major security scare in the Mac OS world last week.  Mac users with the latest operating system could have had operations executed on their systems, such as copying / erasing data or installing rogue software, with no password required at all.   Bad actors would have needed physical or remote access to your system to pull this off, but even with that, it means Apple was asleep at the wheel.   Apple pushed out a fix the next day and claimed the fix would automatically install.   Please make a regular habit of clicking on the Apple Menu (top left of screen), clicking on App Store, and then checking for updates. Install all available updates.   Do this right now if you haven’t lately and then check periodically.   Your Mac should install these updates automatically, but I know some of you turn your systems off or delay the updates.  

iOS 11.2

Apple pushed out the latest minor update to their iOS over the weekend.  With it came the roll out of a major new feature — Apple Pay Cash.  Once it is set up, which seems like it could take 15 minutes, iPhone users will be able to send and receive payments to each other through an iMessage (iPhone text message for those of you not up on the lingo).  Watch out Pay Pal?  Maybe so. 

Apple pushes “automatic” fix

For your reading pleasure. See my comments below….

https://www.axios.com/apple-pushes-update-to-macs-to-patch-big-vulnerability-2513548111.html?utm_medium=linkshare&utm_campaign=organic

Make sure your Mac is online. Simply let it go to sleep when you are not using it. They are doing this for only the second time in their history —— reaching into users computers to fix a critical issue. No check of the Mac App Store is required. Just make sure your Mac is not off.

To 4K or Not to 4K

As I walked through Best Buy several times this past weekend, I saw that 4K televisions were the hottest item.  People were scooping up 43 inch models on Friday for less than $300.  These were not the highest quality units available, but that wasn’t stopping anyone.

Fact:  4K is our TV future.  The best models are going to have 4K and a feature known as HDR (high dynamic range).
Should you buy one and can you really benefit now?

1.  A 4K TV will allow you to future proof.
2. However, you may not see any benefit in the present.  There is currently no cable TV (ie. Comcast) transmitted in 4K.  Comcast is rolling out limited trials of cable boxes that will support HDR and eventually 4K programming.
3.  To get meaningful use of 4K today, you need to be a user of streaming video services.  This could be Amazon video, Netflix, Hulu, or Apple TV content.  Some TVs are smart meaning they can play this content already, but many of my clients prefer to use an Apple TV, Roku, or Amazon Fire — which are boxes or little sticks that plug into the TV.   You need to be a streamer to get 4k content.
4.  Finally, you need to have a powerful internet connection.  Most cable connections will suffice.  Fiber optic connections from the phone company may also work.  Basically, you need an internet speed of 25 mbps or higher.  You also need a modern router, capable of transmitting data using the latest protocols.
To 4K or not 4K, that is the question.

Major Mac security flaw found

Reports have come out today stating that a major security bug was found in mac OS High Sierra (version 10.13).  That is the version that many of you have on your systems. It just came out in September.   These reports hit the tech press and also Bloomberg.  I am sure that more mainstream news will pick it up if they haven’t already. 

Take a deep breath, please.  I think nearly all of your or all of you can simply wait a few days until Apple puts out a fix. 

Basically this flaw allows anyone to log into your Mac (running the latest OS) with the user name “root” and no password.   It’s scary and from Apple’s perspective, its very sloppy.

However, some of my Mac clients only use their computers as terminals to surf the web and check e-mail via their browser (Safari, Chrome, Firefox).  They do not store important data on their Macs.   The majority of my Mac clients have a significant amount of personal data on their systems like documents, songs, and photos.   A third, but small, contingent uses their Macs for business purposes. 

What everyone needs to keep in mind is that a bad actor would need access to your Mac to take advantage of this security flaw.   They could do it through remote access or they could have actual physical access.   The chances of this happening to you — until Apple releases a patch — are slim.

Tips to stay safe:   Always be careful when handling attachments sent to you via e-mail.  If you are not expecting an attachment from someone — do not open it.  Be equally cautious when clicking on links in e-mail.  Those links could take you to fake or malicious websites.  Does the e-mail you received pass the smell test?   If you do arrive on a bogus site, close your browser immediately.   Log out of your Mac if you are going to be away from it for long periods of time or make sure that you are prompted to enter a password upon resuming from sleep.

In conclusion, I do not think most of you need to take immediate action on this.  A work around is available if you want to be ultra safe.

What you should do is keep checking the Mac App Store application every day for the next week.  Install all Updates presented to you.  Apple will be fixing this soon.

My iPhone X Notes

I had the opportunity to have some hands on time with the iPhone X.  That experience helped me to overcome my objections to the phone.   Yes, there is no home button.  The home button has been a standard feature on every iPhone since the original back in 2007.   Swiping up from the bottom replaces the functionality of the home button.   The phone gets unlocked by securely scanning your face or typing in a passcode (4 or 6 digits).  I don’t have a major issue with that.  In addition, I have no qualms with the size.  I thought  a 5.8 inch (diagonal) iPhone would be “too big.”  It does not seem that way.   The iPhone X is actually smaller in size than the 5.5 inch iPhone 8 Plus because the 8 Plus has a bezel on the top and bottom.   Both the 8 Plus and the X have OUTSTANDING cameras.  In contrast, the 4.7 inch iPhone 8 sports only minor upgrades from last years iPhone 7.   So the real question is — is the X worth $1000 (which you will likely pay in the form of interest free payments on your cell phone bill)?  Remember, the 8 Plus is going to be $800.  I am going to give you an analogy that I think you can relate to.   You may really like the $50,000 Cadillac.  It may have all of the gadgets, interior comfort, and safety features that the $65,000 Lexus has.   However, you may appreciate the curves on the Lexus more.  It hits your eye in the way that those legacy Cadillac tail lights never could.  You may want the Lexus or not.   That is the difference between the 8 Plus and the X.  On the inside, they are both the best phones that Apple has to offer.  It’s your choice not mine.

Sincerely,

An iPhone SE User