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 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.