OS X El Capitan Review

The new version of Mac OS X is here!  It’s not a major upgrade; Apple said that they’ve got a big focus on performance this year, just like in iOS 9.  However, there are some new features that are definitely welcome.  Interestingly enough, several of them are features that started on iOS.  I think that says a whole lot about the world we live in now: mobile is becoming more important that desktop.

There’s several apps that I use a lot that have gotten new features, but I want to start with an OS-wide feature: split view.  This is actually similar to the new iPad split view features on iOS.  You can now run two apps next to each other in full screen.  Simply click and hold on the green full screen button on the first app, then drag it to one side.  You’re then presented with thumbnails of your other apps to fill the other side of the screen.  Once you’ve got these two apps open, you can leave them at half and half, or you can drag to give one of them more room.  This is definitely a useful feature (one that I’ve missed since coming to the Mac – Windows added this feature in 2009).

Next up is the mail app.  This one’s short and sweet: you can now swipe left and right on messages to mark them as unread or delete them – just like in iOS.  I use this feature all the time on my iPhone, and I’ve definitely wished I had it on the Mac.  Now I do!

After that comes the app I used more than any other: Safari.  Safari has added a feature called pinned sites.  This allows you to leave certain tabs open in the background, permanently, without them taking up lots of space in your tab bar.  It’s great for sites you use all the time.  I haven’t decided which (if any) sites I’m going to put there, but it’s definitely a cool feature.  Also, Safari has added a way to see which tabs are playing sound and mute them, also helpful!

The last thing I want to talk about it the photos app.  It finally allows you to geotag photos!  Both Photos for Mac and iOS already supported viewing geotags, and the iOS Camera app could geotag its photos, but neither one allowed you to edit or add geotags.  I had an app for this both on the Mac and iOS, but it was a pain.  Now, you can finally do this directly from Photos for Mac.

Even though there aren’t any crazy new features in OS X El Capitan, it’s still a solid update.  I mentioned performance at the beginning but I didn’t really talk about it yet: this update hasn’t made my computer feel any faster or slower (although that SSD I put in last spring helps).  Same as iOS 9, I’d say no change is a good thing (last year’s update definitely made it slower).  So all in all, I’m a happy customer, and I’m feeling good about how long my Mac will last.  That’s definitely a feeling Apple should want to cultivate in their customers.  ••


How I Put an SSD in My MacBook

♦ This post is one of the Best of 2015 ♦

My Mac is three years old.  It’s a 13″ MacBook Pro, the mid-2012 model.  It’s a good computer.  It doesn’t have the retina display that the newer models have, but that’s not that big of a deal.  The only thing I didn’t like about it was that it didn’t have a solid state drive (SSD).  Starting with the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, all MacBook Pros had an SSD and no optical drive.  When I first got the computer, I was glad about that.  I really didn’t fancy only having 128gb of storage on my laptop, so having a 500gb HDD was nice.  I don’t use discs very often, but it was convenient to have the optical drive.

However, as time went on, and especially after OS X Yosemite, my Mac got pretty slow.  It has a 2nd generation i5 processor – not top of the line but more than serviceable – so that shouldn’t be the problem.  I knew it had to be the hard drive. Both my brother and my dad had put SSDs in their computers, and they both got enormous performance boosts.  I was starting to get jealous.

Before I go on, though, I want to talk about what a solid state drive is.  It’s basically a new kind of hard drive.  A traditional hard disc drive (HDD) has a spinning disc that stores data, as well as a read/write head that reads data off of the disc.  This setup looks sort of like an old vinyl record.  As you can image, the read/write head has to move around a lot, and this process is very inefficient.  An SSD is basically just flash memory (what you have inside your phone, camera memory card, etc.), which means that the memory is just a computer chip.  This is much faster.  For a while there, however, it was also very expensive.  Flash memory prices fell years ago, but SSDs took a little longer to come down.  Now, however, you can finally get a good SSD for a decent price.  I went with this PNY one for $89 (after a $10 rebate) from Micro Center.  It’s 240gb, which should be enough for me for a while.  Best of all, I knew this was a quality drive because my brother is running one in his desktop right now, and my dad is running two in his desktop.

Now back to my story.  Several months ago, I did a quick web search for “put an ssd in a macbook pro,” and the first article I got was a great LifeHacker article about replacing your optical drive with an SSD.  This meant that you could still keep your 500gb HDD.  This sounded appealing, but I was a little unsure about opening up my MacBook using only this article and its couple of pictures.  It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I found a fantastic YouTube video showing exactly how to do the mod.  I was hooked.  I wanted to do this so badly.

There were a few things I had to buy first.  As per the recommendation of the YouTube video above, I had to buy a hard drive caddy and a tool kit.  The hard drive caddy is basically an optical drive-shaped hard drive tray.  This allows you to put a hard drive in the optical drive slot.  Both of these items together only cost me $20 on Amazon (with free Prime shipping).  Finally, I picked up the aforementioned drive for $99 at Micro Center (I’ve yet to do the rebate).  After that, I was all set to do the mod.

After reading the LifeHacker article, I learned that it was actually best to put the old HDD in the optical drive slot, since the SSD was going to be the main boot drive.  Fortunately, the same person on YouTube had another great video about replacing the HDD in a MacBook with an SSD.  I opened up the computer and performed this operation first.  It was totally easy.  Take the back off, unplug the battery, take out a few screws holding in the drive, unplug it, and then put the new one in.  Simple.  Replacing the optical drive, on the other hand, was significantly harder.  I first had to unplug a few miscellaneous wires that were in the way, including this tiny, terribly fragile looking wire that apparently connects the camera to the logic board.  I use the camera almost every day, so I really didn’t want to break this.  Fortunately, things went pretty well.  For some reason, the internals of my Mac were a little different from the video I was watching (even though they were supposed to be exactly the same model), but I found another video (much less well done) that got me through that little hiccup.  After I took out the optical drive, I put the old HDD in the caddy and stuck it right back in.  I hooked everything back up, closed the back, and said a prayer or two that the machine would boot up.

Thank goodness it did.  There was a slight delay for some reason when I first started it (resulting in a not-so-slight elevation of my blood pressure), but the thing started.  I then fired up Carbon Copy Cloner, which I had previously downloaded.  This is a paid program, but there’s a 30 day free trial, which is all you need if you’re just cloning over your hard drive (the product is sold as a longer-term backup tool).  The cloning took an hour and a half to two hours (for around 127gb of data).  Cloning is different from just copying your files in Windows Explorer or Finder because it also copies all the data required for the computer to run an operating system off of the drive.  After doing this, all I had to do was select my default boot drive in System Preferences.

So basically, everything’s working great.  I ran an actual hard drive benchmarking program, but those numbers are kind of arbitrary if you don’t know a whole lot about hard drives (I don’t).  Instead of that, then, I’m going to give you my time tests.  With an HDD, starting up my computer from completely off to the lock screen took 1 minute, 51 seconds.  After putting in the password, it took 1:45 to load the desktop and all my apps (to be fair, I have Skype run at startup, which takes forever to load).  After that, it took another 59 seconds for Microsoft Word to load.  This meant that, after waking up in the morning, it took upwards of four and a half minutes for me to boot up my computer and start working on homework.  Ridiculous.  After the SSD, the numbers are stunning.  Completely off to log in screen is 22 seconds.  Logging in to apps loaded is around 15.  And Word only takes 8 seconds to load.  I went from four and a half minutes to 45 seconds!  Insane!

So, needless to say, I’m extraordinarily happy with the mod I’ve done here.  It’s not for everyone; you have to be comfortable inside a computer, willing to void your warranty, and willing to potentially break your machine.  However, if you do your homework, know what you’re doing, and do it slowly and carefully, it can pay off big time.  It sure did for me.  ••

Follow Up for Apple’s “Spring Forward” Event

In case you missed my post last week, Apple had an event last Monday.  We saw a lot of cool things last week, not the least of which was the Apple Watch.  Here’s a rundown of exactly what happened Monday.

I don’t think anyone saw this coming.  Apple lowered the price of the Apple TV (from $99 to $69) and announced an exclusive deal with HBO.  HBO’s new stand-alone streaming service, HBO NOW, will be available only on Apple devices (including the Apple TV) for the first three months.  This is huge.  HBO NOW has enormous potential to disrupt the TV industry, and this deal could really sell some Apple TVs.  Unfortunately, there was no much-need Apple TV update, but the lower price indicates that we might see one next fall.  (Also, the HBO presentation resulted in the most hilarious tweet I saw during the event.)

As I predicted, Apple unveiled the newest version of their MacBook laptop line on Monday.  However, this isn’t technically a new MacBook Air.  Dubbed simply the “MacBook,” this new laptop is super thin and light, and yes, it does have a retina display.  The craziest thing about this laptop, however, is the fact that, aside from the headphone jack, it only has one port.  One.  Basically, in order to get the computer that thin and light, Apple had to remove all connectors except for a single USB-C.  This can be used to power the laptop or attach peripherals.  You can only do both if you buy an adapter (conveniently, Apple sells one for $79).  Apple’s argument here is that most things we connect to a computer can now be wireless, whether its a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard or AirPlay video out.  I’m not sure whether Apple will stick to this story or whether, in a year or two, they’ll figure out how to fit a USB 3.0 port in this thing.

Apple Watch
Obviously, the most important thing discussed at the event was the Apple Watch.  We saw some cool app demos (including Shazam and some connected home stuff), and we also got our answers regarding battery, pricing, and bands.  Before I talk about pricing, let’s cover battery really quickly.  Apple says that, during normal usage, you can expect 18 hours of battery from the Apple Watch.  This fits what they said in September, which was that the Watch would last all day and then you’d charge it every night.  As long as it really lasts all day (and not just barely all day), this should be OK for most people.  Now let’s talk pricing.  First is the Apple Watch Sport.  This model is $349 for the 38mm, and $399 for the 42mm.  It only comes with the rubber sport band, but you can buy the other bands and put them on the Sport.  Thing is, though, the other bands are $149 – $449, depending on which one you get.  The flagship Apple Watch model starts at $549 ($599 for the 42mm), and goes up to $1099, depending on which band you get with the watch.  Again, you can buy additional bands (including the sport one) and switch them out.  Finally, there’s the Apple Watch Edition.  This model starts at $10,000, will have limited quantities, and can only be purchased in certain Apple Stores (which will, I’m sure, provide a high-end jewelry experience).  Also, the Edition’s bands are not interchangeable; you have to pick one and stick with it (hilariously, the rubber sport band is still an option).  If you’re curious as to exactly what each model costs, you can see the full lineup of watches here and the additional bands here.  There’s also this really cool spreadsheet that a guy named Rob Griffiths put together with a bunch of stats (including the price) for each model.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, there were no mention of any iPads at this event.  Even still, this was a huge day for Apple.  I personally can’t afford an Apple Watch, but most everyone on my tech podcasts seem really excited about getting their hands on one.  Maybe in a few years the prices will come down a little and I’ll get one.  Only one other problem remains: I beat the heck out of my watch.  I know these watches are supposed to be sturdy, but I really don’t want to pay upwards of $400 for a watch and then just break it the first time I get a little clumsy.  ••

Customer Service at the Apple Store

Two weeks ago, I finally went down to the Apple store to get a replacement battery for my iPod Touch.  My iPod is two years old, and the battery life had been going downhill for a long time.  I’ve been meaning to take it in for a new battery for a while now, I just didn’t have time until recently.  While I was at the Apple Store, I also brought in my MacBook, since I’d been having problems with the charger.  Sometimes, when I just barely moved the part of the cord that plugs into the laptop, the power cut out.  Sometimes only the little green light on the charger would go out, but other times the computer would lose power as well.  Again, since I was going to the Apple Store anyway, I went ahead and brought it in.

I had called Apple previously to get a price for the iPod battery replacement.  I was told that it would be $79.  This would be the final price – parts and labor included.  After making a Genius Bar appointment on Apple’s website (a process that could stand some simplification), I headed into the store.  I sat down at the Genius Bar and waited a few minutes for someone to come help me.  When he came, I showed him my iPod and explained that I wanted a new battery.  He had me make sure I had backed everything up (I had, to the computer that morning), and had me turn off Find My iPod Touch.  Scrolling through the hardware replacement options on his iPad, he seemed confused.  He said that they didn’t offer iPod Touch battery replacement.  I explained him that I had been told over the phone that they would.  He went and asked another employee, who said that instead they just replaced the entire iPod for the price of the battery.  I was wary.  I’d taken excellent care of that iPod, and I didn’t want some refurb that had been through who-knows-what.  With this apprehension, I asked him in what condition the new iPod would be, and he informed me that it would be brand new.  Well alrighty then, I thought.  Long story short, I got a brand new iPod (which would sell new today for $249) for $79.  Happy customer.

Then I brought out my Mac.  I showed the guy what happened with the charger, and asked if that was normal.  He said no, and went and got another charger.  This one didn’t have the same issue.  In order to be honest, I told him that I had bought the laptop used, and that there was a tiny dent near the charging port.  I explained that I thought maybe it had been dropped at some point.  I thought for sure I would have to pay for a new charger.  For goodness’ sake, the thing was two years old.  I had no warranty, no nothing, and I’d just told the guy I thought someone had dropped the computer.  Despite this, he went and got me a new charger, no payment, no questions asked.  That charger would have cost me $60.

So long story short, I was extremely thrilled with the way they took care of me at the Apple Store, and I would recommend them to anyone.  I essentially paid $80 for over $300 worth of replacements.  Apple has their customer service down here.  I feel great knowing that if something goes wrong with my device, Apple has a good replacement policy.  Goodness knows I paid enough for these things in the first place.  ••

My First Mac

2014 is the 30th anniversary of the Apple Macintosh Computer.  At the beginning of the year, Apple launched an online campaign asking people to tell about their first Mac.  Also on Apple’s website are these really cool stats about how people have used their Macs over the years.  At the beginning of the year, I didn’t have a Mac.  Having recently got one, however, I’d like to tell my story.

I’ve always used Windows PCs, and I’ve always been happy with them.  It wasn’t until last year that I really wanted a Mac.  It started when I wanted to learn how to make iPhone apps.  One internet search later and I discovered… you have to have a Mac in order to make iPhone apps.  I was crushed.  After deciding that I did really want to learn to make iPhone apps, I started to look into the Mac Mini.  Since I already had a desktop, I already had a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and speakers that I could hook up to a Mac Mini.  However, a new Mac Mini starts at $600, and used ones on eBay (at least ones recent enough to get the latest version of OS X) cost upwards of $300.  It was at this point that I realized that even a used Mac Mini would be a somewhat major purchase.

However, there was another thought to consider.  I was going to need a laptop soon; if a new Mac Mini was $600, and a good Windows laptop was $500, should I just buy a MacBook?  This question was answered when a close friend of mine said he was selling his 2012 13″ MacBook Pro.

So long story short, I bought the MacBook Pro from my friend, and it’s worked out really well.  Because it was used, I got a good deal on it, but I didn’t have to deal with any of the risk involved with buying a used computer on eBay.  I’ll be honest: the Mac is really not that different from Windows.  There are no mind-blowing benefits that would make me suggest you all rush out and buy a Mac.  There are, however, many nice little perks.

I’ll start with something the MacBook is known for: weight.  My MacBook weights 4.5 lbs., a full 25% less than my Mom’s Windows laptop (at 6 lbs.).  The Mac’s battery life is also quite impressive.  The advertised battery life is 7 hours, but of course no laptop actually meets its battery life spec in real-world use.  I haven’t run the Mac until it dies to get an official battery life count, but after smaller tests I bet I could easily get 4-5 hours out of it.

Another thing I like about the Mac is the ecosystem.  As someone who already used an iPod Touch and an iPad Mini, the iCloud integration of the Mac is really nice.  It’s great to have a computer with calendar and reminders programs that sync with my iOS devices.  There are also other little iOS-like perks, such as notification center, which conveniently shows all my reminders and emails.

Basically, most things I like about the Mac aren’t big new features, but little things that are just really well thought out (this seems to be one of Apple’s strong suits).

In conclusion, I really like the Mac.  I’m not sure I’m a lifelong convert yet, but who knows?  Maybe I’ll really get used to the perks and not want to go back.  Remember what I said at the end of an old post about using Windows 7?  Looks like that opinion might be changing.  ••