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Archive for the ‘Hardware’ Category

March-16-11

iPad 2–Part 2

Posted by Robert Alonso under Hardware, Opinions

In a previous post, I wrote about the deficiencies that I discovered in the iPad 2. I also admitted that I would be a lemming and purchase one on March 11th. I am pleased to publicly announce that, at least in this instance, I resisted the urge to buy anything Apple puts out and calls “amazing.” Let’s face it, the iPad 2 is not amazing. It is just a minor improvement over its predecessor and not worthy of my hard earned cash. I will be holding out for the iPad 3 or 4. Maybe Steve Jobs will relent and provide an SD slot, a micro-USB connector and Flash support. Until then, that cash looks great in my account.

My advice to you is to do the same. Don’t buy this minor update and if you really want an iPad, buy the previous version which is selling at a $100 discount.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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March-4-11

iPad 2–The Missing Features

Posted by Robert Alonso under Hardware, Opinions

I like what I have heard about the Apple iPad 2. I like that it is 33% thinner and supposedly much faster without losing battery life. I will be one of the multitudes who will be buying it on March 11th, 2011. However, that has not blinded me to the fact that the media is completely crazy about anything Apple does. There is such a lack of unbiased and clear-headed reporting that someone has to point out that the emperor (Apple or Steve Jobs) is missing some clothes.

I have yet to read in any newspaper, magazine or web-based news site what the specs are on the new cameras that are built into the iPad 2. How many megapixels do they feature? Do they have optical zoom? Is there a built-in flash? Good luck finding any of this without without some very determined sleuthing. The only number I have been able to find is that the rear facing camera can shoot video at 720P. This would put the camera in the paltry .92 megapixel range. This is not exactly state-of-the-art nor is it up to par with the 5 megapixel camera in the iPhone 4.

So now that we know why Steve Jobs did not say, “The camera is just amazing!” during his presentation, let’s examine some other deficiencies. The iPad 2 does not have a built-in SD card slot nor a standard micro-USB port. These two would make the device ideal for photographers who want to see their photos on a large screen while they are out in the field taking photos. Apple charges $29 for the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit which includes an SD card and USB adapter that plugs into the the Apple dock port. I think these should be designed into the iPad 2. I would gladly pay more for the iPad 2 if these were accessible on the edge of the device.

The bottom line is don’t drink the Apple Kool-Aid. Look at each new device they release with a critical eye and decide for yourself if it really meets your needs.

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June-7-10

Amazon Opens Wireless Store

Posted by Robert Alonso under Advice, Hardware

I have to confess that I am a major fan of Amazon. They have consistently delivered on time and provided me with exceptional customer service. Whenever I have complained about anything, they have immediately taken action and not tried to blame UPS or some other third party. This is in sharp contrast with Borders. I recently ordered a book from them and was informed that it was on back order. After two months of waiting, I still had not received the book. When I complained and told them that I was cancelling the order the operator said she had to e-mail the warehouse and that I would get a confirmation once it was cancelled. No apology was offered and I also had to wait 10 days to get the credit back on a mailed gift card since the original order had been placed on a card. This is horrible! I expected to be credited immediately so that I could buy an alternate book that I wanted. Instead, I purchased that book and four others from Amazon. Amazon delivered the books the next day even though I was only eligible for two day free shipping. That is what I call service. I think in the world of ecommerce, Borders is doomed and should give up now.

The fact that Amazon is so good with books, computer parts and computers has gotten me excited about a new web site that they have put up for selling wireless phones and service plans. You can get to it by clicking here. I recently purchased a Mi-Fi router for my iPad through Amazon and can tell you that I was very satisfied with the transaction. It cost me $.01 with a two year plan. This was cheaper than the price on Verizon’s web site. You can get any of the following popular phones for $.01:

Motorola Backflip Android Phone Blackberry Bold 9700 HTC Tilt 2 Windows Phone Palm Pre Plus Phone
Samsung Mythic a897 LG Shine II GD710 Samsung Convoy U640 BlackBerry Bold 9000

If instead you want the Motorola Droid or HTC HD2 Windows phone, you can get the Droid for $19.99 as of this writing and with HD2 for $99.99.

Motorola Droid A855    

HTC HD2 Windows Phone

Happy shopping!

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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May-7-10

iPad is Awesome! (and fast too!)

Posted by Robert Alonso under Hardware, Software

On April 5th, 2010, I was one of those so called “early adopters” who went to a BestBuy early in the morning to buy an Apple iPad. It is bad enough that I woke up early on a Saturday to do this, but I also had to endure a great deal of sales incompetence at the BestBuy, a long line and product shortages that cleared up as I made the line to make my purchase. (Supposedly, a truck pulled in with more units while I was on line.) News reports have indicated that 300,000 iPads were sold that day. I purchased two of them, a 64GB and a 16GB WiFi models. The latest sales numbers that Apple has released show that over 1 million iPads have been sold in one month.

The iPad is a device that I have wanted for over two years. I own Sony’s e-reader, but have always been disappointed by the black and white screen and speed. I wanted a supercharged e-book reader that could also be used for other purposes. In my opinion, the iPad was a dream device. I envisioned it as a large iPod Touch or iPhone and in many ways it is. There is one way, however, in which it is drastically different—it is blazingly fast. Yes, super fast. The new processor that Apple designed and put in the device is super charged. When you move your finger across the screen, it responds instantly. This makes the iPad a joy to work and play with.

Much has been made about the 150,000 iPhone apps that are available. The iPad will let you run these, but they look horrible. Apple doubles every color dot on the screen to make it bigger on the iPad screen. The graphics and letters look terrible in this mode. Fortunately, there is a mode that lets you run these apps in the original size. This gives you an app centered in the iPad screen with a huge black border. This being said, I do not think that this is a major problem for Apple or for iPad buyers. The reason I don’t think so is that there is so much money to be made in making iPad-specific applications, that many developers are hard at work on these. Some of the early iPad apps that I have tested are elegant and useful, others are just spectacular. I recommend GoodReader for storing documents, photos, PDFs, ZIP files and any other type of data that you want on the iPad and need to have password protected. GoodReader does an excellent job at file management and at connecting to a variety of servers using a multiple protocols. It is $.99 well spent. Two free apps that are spectacular are Yahoo! Entertainment and ABC Player. These are just beautiful apps that can be used for obtaining entertainment information or watching ABC shows in gorgeous quality.

If these first apps are any indication, the iPad will have hundreds or thousands of applications that will make the device even more useful over time. I am so convinced of this that I have created a new company called, AirSplash, Inc. just for the development of applications for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. You can visit the web site at http://www.airsplash.com. This is a preliminary web site that will be enhanced over time. Our first application for the iPad is out in the App Store now. It is a simple, easy-to-use and graphically stunning calculator. (Yes, it is weird that Apple chose not to include one with the iPad.) It has been on sale for four days so far and the sales results are encouraging. You can view it (or buy it for $.99) by clicking here.

AirCalc by AirSplash, Inc. - buy it for under a dollar AirCalc iPad Calculator Portrait AirCalc iPad Calculator Landscape

 
We are working on many more apps. This one was our way of testing the market.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting &
AirSplash, Inc.

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I have not written about Windows 7 Phone because I have been contemplating its implication to the advancement of computing, telephony and gadgetry in general. Microsoft wiped the slate clean with Windows Phone 7 and acknowledged that its previous offerings were less than stellar. I never thought that the Windows Mobile platform was undesirable, it had just become very dated compared to offerings from Apple, Sony, Nokia and Google. Windows Phone 7 may just be Microsoft’s lucky seven that wins back some of the phone users that have moved on. It may also lure in a new set of consumers. I can easily see it as very appealing to two sets of customers—the very young, hip social crowd and the serious business user. You may not think that this is possible, but it is because of the magnificent user interface that Microsoft has designed (and is still improving).

The user interface is no longer an underpowered version of the Windows desktop with a “Start” button and menu system. Instead, it is a series of large colorful tiles that expand into spaces. Each of these spaces is a window into a large pane that is full of information. Some of these spaces are dedicated to People, Music & Videos, and Pictures. Others are more business oriented like e-mail, search and office connectivity. The People space includes information gleaned from Facebook and presents a constantly updated view of your friend’s updates and profile pictures. This will attract the socially voracious younger crowd. The Xbox Live platform that is integrated into the device will also appeal to the younger user. Everyone loves Music, Videos and Pictures so these spaces will have broad appeal and are so well designed and tightly integrated with the phone that they surpass the iPhone. The business oriented space contains sophisticated Outlook-like e-mail that is constantly synchronized with Exchange server. It also synchronizes with Microsoft Office OneNote and SharePoint Server. These business functions put it ahead of all other phones and makes the Microsoft server offerings even more appealing.

The hardware that is planned for the Windows Phone 7 must adhere to a hardware specification that Microsoft has created. All the phones must have multi-touch screens, a powerful processor and three buttons for navigation. This is a departure from Microsoft’s laissez faire attitude from the past. Fortunately, it should help create a Windows Phone 7 experience that rivals Apple’s iPhone experience. The viewing spaces are all larger than the viewing area of the screen and are navigated by dragging them across the viewing area with your finger. Responsive hardware is critical to making the Windows Phone 7 navigation work well and feel like a quality product.

I am excited about Windows Phone 7, but not because it is a new generation device that integrates personal and business information seamlessly. I am excited about it because it is a new software platform that demonstrates Microsoft can still be creative when challenged. It has the potential to be much more than a phone platform. I believe that Microsoft could use it as a new tablet operating system. I can see it being more useful on a tablet form factor than the iPhone (or iPod Touch) operating system. It is more intuitive, more beautiful and encompasses everything that the vast majority of people would want to do on a tablet. I also think it is better than having Windows 7 on a tablet. It is perfectly geared for touch computing. I give Microsoft an A+ for Windows Phone 7 and for the potential that it has on other form factors.

To see demos of the user interface: http://www.windowsphone7series.com/

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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February-22-10

CardScan 800c = Excellent Support

Posted by Robert Alonso under Advice, Hardware, Opinions, Software

I purchased a CardScan 800c based on a recommendation from a colleague. I saw him scanning a stack of business cards effortlessly and asked him what he was using. He told me that he was using a scanner called “CardScan Executive.” He stressed the “Executive” part because he said that he had purchased a lower end unit from the company that he did not like. The “Executive” version is also known as the CardScan 800c.

The scanner is extremely easy to use. You connect it to your computer, load the software and start placing your business cards into it one by one. The unit will scan the card, save the image of the card and then recognize the relevant company, address, phone, fax, web site and e-mail fields. The data is automatically entered into the included organizer software. You can then verify that it has obtained the correct data by looking at it and the image of the card on the screen. From experience, I can say that it is over 90% accurate. It sometimes gets confused with elaborate logos that are placed on cards in lieu of the spelled out company name.

Once the data is in the organizer software you can have it synchronize with Outlook manually or automatically. This is a great feature and a time saver. I have it set up to automatically sync with

Outlook. Since I have my iPhone automatically synchronizing with my Outlook contacts, all it takes a simple and quick scan of a card to get all its data into my iPhone. This is how gadgets should work.

I am very happy with the scanner and with the results. I am even happier with the customer service that the company provides. Dymo is the company that sells the CardScan. My unit would not work after an upgrade to Windows 7 on my machine. I am not sure what happened to it, but after suggesting I try a new driver, reinstalling the USB cable and other things that I had already tried (I am a computer consultant.), the customer service representative thought that it might be a hardware failure. He sent me an RMA number so that I could return it to the company. Being without the unit for a few days and having to pack it up and send it were not an exciting prospect for me. However, the next day I was pleasantly surprised to receive a box from the company with a replacement unit and a prepaid Fedex slip to use for sending the defective one back. I unpacked the new unit, plugged it in and it has been working perfectly. I sent the other one back in the new unit’s box. That is what I call excellent service. I will buy products from Dymo before I ever buy from a competitor based on this excellent experience. Kudos to Dymo!

I wholeheartedly recommend this product.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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January-28-10

iPad? Does Apple Marketing Employ Any Women?

Posted by Robert Alonso under Hardware, Software

After waiting more than a year for Apple’s entry into tablet computing, I was not disappointed or surprised by the device. It is simply a larger form factor iPod Touch or iPhone without the phone functionality. Apple took existing technology and made it bigger and in many cases better. The only aspect of the device that is puzzling is the name. I understand the connection between iPad and iPod, but why did Apple executives not realize that the first thing that came to mind to three women that I spoke to is a feminine hygiene product. I’m sure that this is not exactly the association that Apple wanted for this product.

Despite the strange name, the device is desirable. It comes with a 9.7 inch screen, runs all existing iPhone applications and comes with direct iTunes and App Store access. Even more exciting is the iBook application that allows the reading of books in ePub format and that integrates into a new on-line book store. The application looks very polished and easy to use. It even has animated page flipping and a book shelve for the books that you have already purchased. You control it using the multi-touch technology. Slide your finger across the screen and you are on the next page. Take that Kindle and Sony Reader.

The iPad is half an inch think and weighs 1.5 pounds. It runs up to 10 hours on a charge and can be purchased with a case that doubles as a stand. Also available as an option is a stand that includes a keyboard. The hardware and software looks very slick and will probably draw a lot of attention from gadget lovers as well as productivity seeking executives. Apple will also release $9.99 versions of the applications in iWork. You will be able to create documents with the word processor, spreadsheet or presentation application without having to take a laptop on your trip or without using a desktop computer. It also has a slick version of the Safari web browser that is a larger version of the one in the iPhone. Unfortunately, it still does not have support for Flash.

During the introduction, Steve Jobs showed off mapping, video playback and a new slick iLife-inspired photography application. You can now see albums easily and group them according to people, events or even locations. You can show the photos off in slideshow mode and can even use the iPad as a photo frame when it is not being used for some other productive task. Since I am an amateur photographer, I loved this functionality. I also have to admit that I saw great promise in the e-mail, calendar and contact applications. I can see this becoming my primary computing device around the house and on trips.

The iPad will be available in 60 to 90 days. The Wi-Fi only version will come out first with a price of $499 for the 16GB version, $599 for the 32GB version and $699 for the 64GB one. The Wi-Fi and 3G (unlocked) version arrives thirty days later and costs $130 more for any of the memory configurations. The plans are through AT&T and require no contract. They are $14.99 for 250MB or $29.99 for unlimited data. Plans include free AT&T Wi-Fi and are activated directly from the iPad.

That’s it for now. I’ll tell you more once I buy one in 60 days…

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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There are many reports that Microsoft and HP will introduce a tablet PC way ahead of Apple’s rumored iSlate. If the reports are correct, then Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, will use his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) tonight to make the announcement. The current thinking is that the device will be much like the Courier prototype that was leaked to the press a few months ago. You can see a video of it in a previous entry to this blog.

Once the announcement is made tonight, I will report the details here.

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December-17-09

SkyGrabber – Satellite Stream Capture Software

Posted by Robert Alonso under Hardware, Opinions, Software

It was reported today that the Taliban in Afghanistan are using inexpensive software to view video from United States drone airplanes. The software is called “SkyGrabber.” It can capture picture, video and audio streams that are downloaded from satellite Internet connections. You do not even need an Internet connection to have this work for you. All you need a satellite dish. The software can then let you select what you want to capture. You can do it by by file type, IP address, by the hardware MAC address of the source, or by send or receive port. You can download the software from http://www.skygrabber.com.

You would think that the United States military would be smarter than sending live video streams from multi-million dollar aircraft without encryption. Unfortunately, they are not. You can see the unencrypted, live feeds using this inexpensive software.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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November-10-09

Upgrading the Memory on an Apple Mac Mini in 26 Steps

Posted by Robert Alonso under Advice, Hardware

The Apple Mac Mini comes in a variety of configurations and price points. If you buy the base model, it typically does not have enough memory to handle the Adobe Creative Suite. You will definitely want to upgrade it. Although it It is relatively easy to upgrade the memory, it looks daunting when you look at the Mac Mini case. The case looks like a solid piece of plastic with no screws or openings. The trick is to pry the upper portion of the case off the body. The upper portion is the section of the Mac Mini that has the Apple logo on it.

I am providing 26 easy steps to upgrading your Mac Mini. I hope this helps you. Please remember to be careful and gentle. The case is delicate and it is better to spend a little extra time to get it right than to damage your case.

Step 1. Buy Memory and get a spatula, small flat head screwdriver screwdriver and kitchen knife. One of the technicians her at Alonso Consulting was able to forgo using a spatula. However, I think it is easier with a small, sturdy spatula. Before you proceed, unplug all cords from the Mac Mini and place everything on a padded surface. You can use cloth for this purpose.

1. Memory & Apple Mac Mini

Step 2. Start opening case by prying it open with spatula or kitchen knife. Be careful and take your time. You do not want to break any of the plastic tabs that grip into the sides of the Mac Mini case.

2. Apple Mac Mini Case Opening 1
Step 3. Use hands to pry the case off once you have popped off the sides.

3 . Apple Mac Mini Case Opening 2

Step 4. You can also use the small screwdriver to hold a side up so that it does not clip back into place as you work around the case.

4. Apple Mac Mini Case Opening 3

Step 5. You will start to see the bottom separating from the top of the unit.

5. Apple Mac Mini Case Opening 4 
Step 6. Continue to move around the case until you pry it apart completely. Apply pressure away from the upper section with your fingers. Be gentle.

6. Apple Mac Mini Case Opening 5

Step 7. Once this is done, you can  lift the bottom section off the top and see the insides of the Mac Mini.

7. Apple Mac Mini Inside 1

Step 8. You can place the bottom of the unit which contains the electronics on a flat padded surface.

8. Apple Mac Mini Inside 2

Step 9.  Locate the wireless antenna. It is in one of the corners. Remove it gently without separating the cable from the rest of the unit.

9. Apple Mac Mini Wireless Card

Step 10.  Remove screws that are found on each corner. Be careful about placing these somewhere in the order that they were removed. They are not all the same length.

10. Apple Mac Mini - Remove Screws

Step 11.  Now lift the electronics off the bottom plastic very gently.

11. Apple Mac Mini Lift Motherboard 3

Step 12. You can lift from the side using your thumbs.

12. Apple Mac Mini Lift Motherboard 4

Step 13. As you lift, you will see the memory sockets. There are two SODIMM sockets.

13. Apple Mac Mini Lift Motherboard 5

Step 14. Here is a better look at the memory.

14. Apple Mac Mini Memory Area 1

Step 15. Remove the installed memory and replace it with your two SODIMMS.

15. Apple Mac Mini Memory Area 2

Step 16. You should buy memory that will max out your Mac Mini so that you will not have to do this again. I installed two 2 GB memory modules for a total of 4 GB on my Mac Mini. Please note in the picture that the modules were inserted sideways under the electronics with a lot of gentle care.

16. Apple Mac Mini Insert Memory 1

Step 17. Here is a closer look at the memory modules in their slots.

17. Apple Mac Mini Insert Memory 2 
Step 18. In this step, the technician is putting firm pressure on the two memory chips so that they snap in place. You will hear a slight click.

18. Apple Mac Mini Insert Memory 3

Step 19. Set the electronics back into place in the plastic case.

19. Apple Mac Mini Closing Up 1

Step 20. Replace the screws that you removed earlier.

20. Apple Mac Mini Closing Up 2 
Step 21. Replace the wireless card that you removed. Make sure that it clips into place and is not sticking out. If it is, then you will have problems putting on the cover or getting wireless networking to work.

21. Apple Mac Mini Closing Up 3 Wireless 
Step 22. Here is a picture of the Mac Mini electronics ready to be put back together with the upper portion of the plastic Apple cover.

22. Apple Mac Mini Closing Up 4

Step 23. Start by placing the electronics into the case as pictured. Make sure you line up the back potion with the cable ports correctly. You will not be able to close the case any other way, so this should be intuitive.

23. Apple Mac Mini Closing Up Case 1

Step 24. Apply gentle, but firm pressure all around the case. Please note that a padded surface was used to avoid scratches on the case.

24. Apple Mac Mini Closing Up Case 2

Step 25. For the final steps, squeeze the upper portion of the case down around the back with the connectors. For some reason, this section required more pressure.

25. Apple Mac Mini Closing Up Case 3
Step 26. You are done. Relax, plug in your Mac and watch a nice movie on it from iTunes.

26. Apple Mac Mini Upgraded

The same steps can be used to replace the hard drive. It is located behind the memory in the electronic core. I hope this has been helpful.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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