Mac vs. PC

How I was ensnared by Apple

By David Holthausen

Apple Products

Let me begin this post by stating that I used to be an absolute Mac hater (Jeff can attest to my disdain towards all things Apple). Since I was a child, we only ever had PCs, usually Dells, in the house, all the way from Dos to Windows 95, ME and XP. When the iPod was all the rage in the early and mid-2000’s, I bought the Creative Zen instead, which were, in fact, awesome MP3 players:

[I thought the click wheel was the dumbest thing ever and was generally enraged by those Justin Long Mac vs. PC commercials.

Yes, PCs do pie charts, but that’s ONE PROGRAM, YOU CAN STILL LISTEN TO MUSIC AND WATCH MOVIES. Clearly, they still make me angry.

Throughout college, I was still vehemently anti-Apple. My trusty Dell laptop lasted solidly all 4 years and still is going strong as a backup computer my parents use, 7 years after I originally purchased it.

At the same time, though, I remember seeing all those shiny aluminum MacBook Pros. Even though I hated Apple, I couldn’t deny that they were very aesthetically pleasing machines–technological eye candy, if you will.

When I decided to enter the world of the smartphone around 2009, I went again against all things Apple and that swanky iPhone and got a Windows Phone with the LG Incite.

It had the worst touchscreen ever, had an awful stylus, and it completely turned me off from touch screen keyboards. When I was due for an upgrade, I went with the Blackberry Torch 9800 with the touch screen, but also the full physical QWERTY keyboard. I really liked that phone; it was a solid performer, and the only really big drawback was the lack of apps. Nonetheless, I really liked that experience.

A couple years later, I was entitled to another phone upgrade and I was excited to get the new Blackberry Bold 9900 on AT&T. However, when it got released on Verizon over the summer, but not on AT&T (and didn’t come out on AT&T until the end of November) I started getting fidgety: I had a “free” upgrade burning a hole in my pocket, and I was yearning for something new and shiny. I was thinking more and more of jumping from the sinking Blackberry boat when I went and had brunch with a buddy of mine. While we were waiting for a table, I decided to try out his iPhone 4.

The UI, the sleekness, the touch screen, all the cool apps–for an Apple basher, it was difficult to come around and see how good of a mobile experience the iPhone 4 provided, but the difference was undeniable. After watching the product unveiling for the 4S, I took a leap to the dark side and decided to see what this Apple thing was all about. I even got up at 3am and pre-ordered it so I would get it on launch day.

The iPhone 4S really washed away my stigma against Apple. It was just so sleek, quick, and easy to use, and I finally saw what people had been saying about the quality of Apple products. Believe it or not, fall 2011 with the iPhone 4S was the first time I had ever used iTunes on my computer. I made the switch and moved everything over from Windows Media Player, which was a worthwhile pain.

As I mentioned earlier, during my undergrad days I used a Dell laptop, with which I had never had any major issues (other than it not being as shiny as a MacBook). Moving from undergrad to grad school, it was time for a new computer, and I made the misstep of moving away from Dell and getting an up-scaled Sony Vaio EA series with Blu-ray drive.

To its credit, the Sony Vaio was a nice computer when I got it, but it just didn’t last (which I have noticed about a great deal of Sony products). The hard drive died within a year (luckily, there was still a week left on the warranty), and over the subsequent 6 months, the screen started getting a loose connection, and the headphone jack and one of the USB ports died as well. So, as my Vaio was slowly making the turn from work computer to being a glorified home backup desktop, I began saving up to invest in a new laptop, one that would hopefully last for more than 2 years without breaking. After having a disk hard drive die I decided I wanted to go solid state; I wanted something light; and since I loved my iPhone so much, I thought it would be wise to complete my turn towards the evil empire and have all of my electronic devices on the same platform and sync seamlessly. Thus, I bought a 2012 MacBook Air.

My biggest concern with going with the Air was the lack of a disc drive; however, thanks to Apple, I can wirelessly use my disc drive on my Vaio if I need to get anything from a disk onto the Mac. Additionally, I thought I would use Boot Camp so I could also run full windows on the Apple hardware, but a year into having this laptop, I haven’t even thought of using Boot Camp, and this laptop is still running as well as the day I got it. And this past Christmas, I completed the Apple trio (actually the quad–I bought an iPod Shuffle for the gym after I got the iPhone) when I received the iPad mini as a present from my parents. (You can read my review of the iPad Mini HERE.)

It may have taken me two years, but I am living proof that it’s possible to go from being an absolute Apple hater to basically running the gamut of Apple devices–and all because AT&T and what used to be RIM were slow in getting the Bold 9900 released.

MacBook Pro or iMac?

My iMac Experience

iMacI’ve been lusting after an iMac for years. As I got to the end of my college career, I began to think that my aging laptop might not necessarily need to be replaced with another laptop, and that a desktop would do just fine. This idea grew into a full-fledged WANT well before I graduated in 2011, but I didn’t actively start saving for a desktop until early 2012.

Part of this desire for an iMac stemmed from the receptionist job I worked in college. Most offices at Boston College (or, at least, the ones I worked in) were equipped with iMacs rather than Windows desktops. The summer before my senior year, one of the offices I worked in underwent a long-overdue hardware update; that fall, the other office I worked in followed. The iMacs we got had been out for a few years, but they were gorgeous, and only cemented my desire for one of my own.

Near the end of 2012, as my savings account neared its goal of $1,750, Apple announced they would have a new iMac out that winter. This model, instead of requiring you to upgrade to a 1TB hard drive (which I had planned to do), would come standard with one. Jackpot! I decided I could wait a few more weeks for the computer to come out.

And so I waited, and I waited, and I waited. There was a two-week period during which I called all of the Apple stores in a 30-mile radius every day, asking if they had any iMacs in stock. I didn’t want to order online for fear that my beautiful new computer would sit on my doorstep all day, easy pickings for the computer-stealers that roam the streets. But finally, I decided I could wait no longer, and ordered my iMac online. (I shipped it to my office so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it sitting on my stoop.)

After six blissful months with my iMac, I have to say that I love it. The display is beautiful. It’s lightning-fast. It runs historically glitchy games like The Sims perfectly (or at least about as well as could be hoped for). I love being able to open a zillion Safari tabs in the huge screen, and I love that the computer is still fast enough to handle it. Looking at photos in all their 21.5” glory is a magical experience.

There are a few imperfections, though they’re minor. First, FaceTime always seems to fail on the first try. Jeff, Alex and I meet monthly over video chat, and when Jeff calls me from his iPad and I answer, it always freezes on the “connecting…” screen for several minutes, prompting me to hang up and call him. But from there, it always works smoothly.

Something else that annoys me, really through no fault of its own, is the battery life of the wireless accessories (trackpad, keyboard). I’d never had a keyboard or trackpad that was powered separately from the computer itself before (previously they’d always either been wired or attached to a laptop), so when my mouse pointer wasn’t responding one day I flat out panicked before realizing, oh, it’s probably the battery. Duh.

Finally, I’m not too crazy about Apple’s suite of office products. However, I haven’t had much use for them yet, so I will save my review of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote for another day once I have used them more intensively.

Here are the specs of my iMac:

PROCESSOR: 2.7GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5
MEMORY: 8GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM-2X4GB
HARD DRIVE: 1TB 5400-rpm Serial ATA Drive
GRAPHICS: NVIDIAGeFrc GT 640M 512M GDDR5
MOUSE: MAGIC TRACKPAD
PAGES: PAGES PREINSTALLED
NUMBERS: NUMBERS PREINSTALLED
KEYNOTE: KEYNOTE PREINSTALLED
APPLE KEYBOARD: Apple WL Kybd (English)+UG
COUNTRY KIT: COUNTRY KIT

Altogether, that added up to about $1,440. It’s not cheap, but for such a gorgeous computer, it was worth every penny.
Buy at Amazon.com (aff)

Should I Trust Mint.com?

Review: Mint.com

When I bought my iPad last October, the first thing I did was explore the App Store. I was dazzled by all of the different “productivity” apps, but pragmatic enough to realize that I probably didn’t need and wouldn’t use the majority of them (after all, I still had a laptop and would have a desktop as well within a few months). But one caught my eye: Mint.com. I’d never heard of Mint before, so I don’t know what made me tap it to read more about it, but I’m glad I did.

Mint.com is something that will make certain people–especially those who have a pathological fear of identity theft–cringe: it’s a free, online software that pulls in all of your bank account data and lets you budget accordingly. As someone who is not burdened with a pathological fear of identity theft (go ahead, identity thieves, take on my $50,000 student loan debt), I immediately thought, “Wow, I need this!” So I downloaded it.

I quickly realized that account setup would be much easier using the actual online software rather than the app, so I did that first, pulling in my Bank of America checking and savings, my external used-to-be-high-yield-but-not-so-much-anymore savings account, my student loans, and my 403(B) from my old job at the American Cancer Society. It works about as you would expect: every time you log in, it refreshes your account information so that it pulls in the most recent transactions. You can label transactions however you want, and can do so in such a way that certain transactions are always given a certain label. For example, Royal Farms is a convenience store/gas station here in Maryland, but my transactions there (I only ever buy gas there, rarely anything else) always showed up as Fast Food. So I made a rule that said any transactions at Royal Farms should be labeled as “Gas & Fuel.” (You can get to this menu by selecting any transaction and then clicking “Edit Details.”)

Mint.com Screenshot

The budget tool is also really useful. It’s mostly useful for me so that I can remind myself how little disposable cash I have at any point in time and prevents me from spending a ton. For example, setting a $50 budget for food for the month (not including groceries) is a good way to make sure I’m not going out to lunch every other day. It also has a cute red-yellow-green feature where your bar is green if you haven’t spent much of your budget, yellow if you’re close to your limit, and red if you go over.

One of the things that was slightly irritating to me was that I couldn’t set budgets for specific spending accounts. It’s not a huge issue, but since my fiancé and I have a joint bank account for bills and rent and whatnot, it would have been nice to have those budgets under my account as well, without messing up my own personal budgets. (Because our joint account is also with Bank of America, when I gave my account number, the joint account info was pulled in as well.) But Mint does have a handy little feature that you can use to hide accounts you don’t want as part of your budget, so that does help.

Something else that is a bit annoying is that Mint seems to have some trouble with Bank of America. A month or so ago, my accounts wouldn’t update and I kept getting an error message telling me that my account info was incorrect even though I knew it wasn’t. It was eventually resolved, and my BoA accounts have been mostly fine since, but every once in a while it seems to glitch up again.

Another great feature is the “Trends” section. You can see pie charts and bar graphs and line graphs tracking your monthly spending over time, your spending breakdown, your net worth over time, and a whole bunch of other cool things. The graphs look fine on a browser, but boy, are they pretty on the iPad app.

 

By the way, don’t judge me for half of the money I spent last month going to “shopping.” It’s mostly because I bought a wedding dress 🙂

Overall, though, Mint.com is almost exactly what I wanted. (In case you’re wondering exactly what I wanted, it’s this: an app that will let me see what my account balance will be on any given day of the month, based on scheduled transactions, billpay, etc. so I can see in advance if that check will overdraw my account if it’s deposited on the wrong day, or if I should pay my student loans a week before they’re due or wait until the due date. So, whoever’s good at app design–get on it! Thanks.)

Pros:
1) Secure and easy to use. Oh, and FREE.
2) Really helpful for OCD people like me to need to check up on their money 10 times a day.
3) Graphs and pie charts make great visual aids for people like me who sometimes have trouble making sense of huge spreadsheets.

Cons:
1) Can’t assign budgets to specific accounts.
2) iPhone and iPad apps are pretty, but much less functional than the actual website.

Yes, Mint.com has its faults, but much fewer than its competitors (trust me, I know–when it was having problems with BoA, I started looking around for alternatives, and discovered that Mint is really in a league of its own). And to be perfectly honest, I’m guessing that most people don’t really care about assigning budgets to specific accounts or that the apps are less functional than the website. The apps are great to get a quick look at your net worth or if you want to spend some time looking at pretty graphs, and I imagine that’s what most people want out of them anyway.

I would absolutely recommend this site to anyone who wants to be able to have all your bank/investment/etc. accounts in one place. As someone who once vowed to never have more than one bank account and now has 3 bank accounts, 2 investment accounts, and a credit card…I’m thrilled that there’s one place that I can look at it all, and look at it all securely.

Should I Upgrade to Windows 8?

Experience from Erin Cummins

Windows 8 ScreenshotYou know that feeling you get when you’re standing on the edge of a cliff? With the wind whipping at your hair and your face, your heart is pounding out a fearful tattoo.  Even so, you slowly, almost against your will, shuffle your feet forward, closer and closer to the edge… because as scared as you are to stand there, there’s a tiny part of you whispering “jump… jump…”  That’s how I felt about switching to Windows 8: I was standing on a frightening but seductive precipice.

Well. I did the perhaps-inadvisable thing and took the leap.  It felt more as if I had been pushed, actually; my previous computer (a Dell) died at an unfortunate moment, and I did not have much time to spend poking around doing more research.  I decided to buy a Samsung laptop that came equipped with Windows 8, and for the past few months I have been playing with it.

So now I, as the unfortunate first penguin who has been pushed into the freezing sea, have the duty to tell the rest of you what’s going on down here in the water.  Is Windows 8 a glorious sea full of tasty fish? Or am I dinner for the killer whales?

Built to accommodate tablets

If you think I’m being a tad dramatic, yeah–I am.  Really, Windows 8 is not so different from Windows 7 (or even Vista, actually).  The biggest difference is in aesthetics; Windows 8 is built to be compatible with touch screens and tablets, so you do not get the classic “desktop” view upon first logging in. Instead, when you log on to your computer you come to the Start page, your home screen full of apps.

Many new PC ultrabooks are coming out with touchscreens, so this new start page is really helpful with that: the icons are large enough to tap with a finger.  I like the apps, even on a non-tablet device; Windows apps have the “live tile” feature and flip with new news and pictures, so you can be caught up without having to actually do anything. I particularly enjoy the Kindle app and Netflix (both of which are free, like many apps).

Getting down to Business (to defeat the Huns)

When it’s time to actually use your computer as a computer (use a browser, write a paper, etc), it’s easy.  Your desktop is an app on the home screen so you can just click on that and you basically have Windows 7 open. You can set things like Microsoft Word or Firefox as apps on the start page as well and those will both take you straight to the desktop.  I haven’t noticed any differences in the way Windows 8 handles these programs; it’s just like any other computer.

Having two different home screens (the start screen and the desktop) is revolutionary; at least in the sense that it means I can basically have two computer wallpapers.  Now my pictures of a saxophone-playing hamster and my head photoshopped onto Dame Maggie Smith’s body can be given equal billing on my computer, as they do in my life.

Navigation

The biggest difference between the desktop app and Windows 7 is the lack of a Start button in the lower left of the page.  But because of the layout of Windows 8, you actually do not need a start button.  If you want to access any program, you can go back to the start page and do it there.  If that other program is not part of the desktop app, you can lock it onto the side of your screen and have two apps open at once on your screen.  If you have a touch screen, doing this is very easy; it’s a bit harder with a mouse, where dragging things around the screen takes a bit more effort.  Luckily, there are plenty of keyboard shortcuts that take the place of the touch screen motions; for example “Windows button + [period]” will automatically snap the app to the side.

Administration

Shutting the computer down is less intuitive.  But once you learn how to do it, it’s not that tough: just use “Windows button + C” and the settings hover on the right of the page. You can then go ahead and click on the power icon, and can choose from the classic options (“shut down”, “sleep”, “restart”).

You can access the task manager the same way you always have been able to- Ctrl+Alt+Delete. Some things never change.  You also still have the Control Panel, which can help you to uninstall programs, connect to the internet, and basically access the behind-the-scenes of your computer.  And if you need to do something with your computer that you can’t figure out easily, there is always Google… just saying.

Downsides (let’s rant)

So far this review has been pretty tame, so I might be accused of being some kind of propagandist spy-blogger if I didn’t tell you about all the things I do not appreciate about Windows 8.  So here’s a list of rants:

1) The Netflix app causes the screen resolution to overload when you are connecting the computer to your TV (or other screen).  WHAT’S THE POINT OF THAT? People often watch Netflix on shared devices… it’s confusing that I would have to use my browser instead of the specially-made app for this. Get yo act together, Netflix.  Inconceivable! Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line!

2) A lot of techy people do not like the fact that there is no Start button.  And yeah, it kind of sucks if you just used the Calculator and have to go all the way back to the apps to open it again, instead of clicking on the recent items in the menu.  But overall, I really don’t think there’s a lot to miss from the Start menu; you still get it all, just in a different place.

3) Internet Troubleshooting.  Over the holidays I went home with all my brothers, sisters, and their significant others–and everyone had a laptop.  My parents’ router just did not have the bandwidth to support all 8 computers at once, so I ran into a lot of issues trying to connect.  At first I thought it was my computer, so I ran a lot of troubleshooting tasks. This was not awesome. It was not-some? Anyway, in Windows 7 you could go to the Network and Sharing Center, click on the globe icon, and Windows would just troubleshoot everything.  Now, I’m sent to the Help section, and given 3 options of different types of problems to troubleshoot. And I’m like… can’t you just run all 3 at once and fix whatever it is? If I knew that the problem was my adapter, I’d just fix that.

4) Windows 8 is clearly engineered for “fun”–in my opinion, this is not a system on which a business computer would thrive.  Apps are largely built for watching shows, reading books, or playing games–nothing that should be done in the office.  Businesspeople will want to go straight to the desktop, and will be frustrated by the new extra step of bypassing the start page.  Then again, I have not tested with any business-y apps, which may be out there and be very helpful. And we have also seen the speed with which companies are making the switch to “keep up with the times”–many business executives have tablets they take on trips with them instead of computers–so it’s not crazy to think that businesspeople could adapt to Windows 8.  And the question remains as well: will they have the choice to stay behind? The worlds of technology and business obey the law of the wild: Evolve or Die.

Ultimately, out of all the operating systems for PC computers, Windows 8 is one of them.  As it was famously said, “we are unable to stem the tide of history.”  Whether we like it or not, Windows 8 is part of the future.  Chances are, if you have a PC, you will use Windows 8.  Even Vista, which is authoritatively regarded as “yucky,” was the primary operating system for years before Windows 7 came out.  Windows 8 is happening: software and apps are being developed for it, and newer computers and tablets will be equipped with it.

To return to my original musings about penguins and cliff-diving (two topics definitely relevant to technology…), the choice is still yours as to whether you are actually going to jump into the ocean.  This penguin survived (and is doing quite well for herself), so it looks like the coast may be clear. Windows 8 is not incredible, but it’s not terrible either, so you need to answer the following questions for yourself: Are you going to stick with previous operating systems as programs are made more and more for Windows 8? Will you spend your days searching for a non-existent start button (“Are you there Start? It’s me, Margaret”)?  If I jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?

My iPad Experience

A Guest Post by Bridget Germain

iPadHi! I’m Bridget, a friend of Jeff’s. I just recently bought an iPad, and Jeff asked me to write a little post about my experiences with it so far. But first, some background on me: I’m a 23-year-old non-profit business professional (I work for Big Brothers Big Sisters doing corporate relations) and I love my gadgets, but know next to nothing about how they work. I’m also an unabashed Apple devotee, and have been lusting after the iPad for a while.

I bought it primarily to use as an e-reader after I discovered that I really liked using iBooks on my iPhone (except for the fact that it was tiny). Now, I know you’re probably going to say that I could have bought a Kindle for $99 instead of the $800 that I spent on the iPad, but I’ve used a Kindle before and didn’t love it (it doesn’t have page numbers! AGH!). Plus, I wanted to use the iPad for other things; namely, as a personal assistant.

No, I don’t use Siri. But when I started my new job, I really wanted something that I could use to schedule all my appointments, something that’s not always easy to do on the iPhone. Plus, I tend to forget to actually add things to my calendar when I just write them down in my notebook, so having the iPad with me at all times has been dandy.

While I have used it mostly for work so far, there are a few apps that have come in really handy for other things. One is the Mint.com app, into which you can import all of your bank accounts, investment accounts, and loans, and budget for just about anything under the sun. As someone who never wanted more than one bank account but somehow ended up with two bank accounts and three investment accounts (yes, really) plus student loans, it comes in pretty handy to see my total cash flow each month. You have to make an account online before using the app, and the website itself is somewhat easier to use than the app, but the app is great to just quickly check up on something. Plus, it uses lots of graphs and charts, and as a visual person, that helps me a lot.

I also blog on WordPress, so I use the WordPress app as well. I’ve never written a post from there, but it’s useful to check page stats and reply to comments when I’m at work and don’t want to log in on my work computer! It’s definitely a LOT better than it used to be, or at least better than the iPhone app used to be. Luckily, both have improved magnificently over the past few updates, so if you do blog using WordPress, I would definitely recommend the app.

Some of the other apps I use are Facebook (obviously), Goodreads (basically a social networking site where you can publicize and keep track of all the books you read), Slate (an online news magazine) and Kindle (because one reading app is obviously not enough).

I’ve been bad and haven’t really worked on keeping my iPad backed up, but I do use iCloud, so there’s that. I’m considering getting a Dropbox account for work, but I haven’t done it yet.

Something I’ve been having trouble with is finding a case. I originally bought a “Smart Case” from the Apple store, but I didn’t like it because it didn’t stand up the way it was supposed to. I’m looking now for a case that will fit in a folio, since I got a branded Big Brothers Big Sisters folio when I started working there. (If anyone has any recommendations, let me know!) So I’ve been pretty undecided so far, but for anyone out there who is also still undecided, just don’t buy a Smart Case.

Finally, I want to give you a quick breakdown of what I spent on the iPad. I had initially planned to get the wireless-only 32GB one ($599) but ended up going with the wireless+3G 16GB one, for $629. (I got it in black to match my iPhone.) I also got AppleCare for $99 (because I tend to be hard on equipment) and a dock for $29. I haven’t used the dock much yet, but plan to use it more once I buy my new iMac (which I imagine I will be writing about once I’ve spent some time with it!) and spend more time at my desk.

All in all, I would definitely recommend the iPad. I love mine, especially for reading using the iBooks and Kindle apps and for my calendar.