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.  ••


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.  ••

Why I Love My LifeTrak Watch

About a month and a half ago, I purchased a LifeTrak Move watch.  I bought this product primarily as a step counter.  I had tried using an iOS app for this, but it drained my battery and it was a pain to have to always have my iPod in my pocket.  I had looked at the FitBit, but I didn’t have a good reason to spend $100 (or more) on a tracking device.  The Move, on the other hand, gave me many good reasons to purchase it.

The first reason is simple.  LifeTrak is a lesser known brand than say, FitBit or Nike, so I was able to get a good deal on eBay.  Obviously, the more popular and well known a product is, the more demand, and the higher the cost (even when purchasing on eBay and not retail).

The second reason is the main thing I love about the Move.  Almost all wristband activity trackers are just that, wristbands.  They have screens, but you usually have to press a button to turn the screen on.  The Move’s screen is different in that instead of being an OLED screen like many trackers have, it’s a small black LCD (like most cheap digital watches have) that’s only backlit when you press a button.  As a person who already wore a watch, I did not want to wear another device.  On the other hand (no pun intended), a device that required me to press a button to see the time was hardly a watch replacement.  The Move’s simple display is always on, so I still have the ability to glance at it and see the time.

This display is the reason behind another strength: battery.  Many activity trackers have rechargeable batteries; the Move uses a simple cell battery.  Supposedly, this battery will last for up to 14 months.  The cost and trouble of replacing the battery less than once a year is well below the trouble of having to charge it.

Of course, so far I’ve talked only of the design.  As far as functionality goes, it seems to count steps accurately enough (I’ve done short counting tests, but I certainly haven’t counted a whole day’s steps to compare!).  The watch gives steps, distance, and calories.  A bar at the top of the screen shows progress towards your goal.  The calorie counter is well thought out, as it adds in your basal caloric burn rate throughout the day, meaning the number on the watch is not just exercise-based calories, but a real-time total.  The watch keeps a 7 day history of all this data.  There is also a “workout” mode – think of it as a trip odometer as opposed to an odometer.

There’s also a few other features that I don’t use much.  The watch can take your heart rate – you just hold the button and it reads the rate from your finger and wrist.  This works OK, sometimes it can’t seem to get a reading.  The instruction manual says it works better if your wrist is slightly wet, after washing your hands, for instance (LifeTrak says the Move is waterproof up to 90ft.), and this seems to be true.  The watch also has Bluetooth, and will sync with the Argus App (another product I’d recommend).

My only complaints are that the watch doesn’t have an alarm (vibrate or otherwise), and that it seems to shortchange me on distance.  Even though the step count seems pretty accurate, when I walk around the block the distance is shorter than what Google says it is.

All in all, I love the watch.  It’s unobtrusive, looks pretty good, and does what it says it will.  Now if only every gadget I had did that…  ••


Love this watch! Definitely recommended.