Sunday, May 1, 2022

Refurbished MacBook Air M1 is Good

 It's been about two years since the original M1 SoC was introduced to make Apple independent of outside CPU makers.  It's been a success and it's certainly upset Intel.

Having had Apple equipment since 1993, I've gone through the Motorola 680x0 to PowerPC transition, the PowerPC to Intel x86 transition, and now, the Intel to Apple Silicon (ARM) transition.

This is the most difficult transition because developers weren't sure what to do.  After almost two years, there isn't as much native software as I had hoped.  Being that Apple cut off 32-bit software with Catalina, I'm not sure why developers aren't more ready.

Game developers aren't really testing the waters.  The biggest current game I've seen is Life is Strange 2, which was ported by Feral Interactive, and published by Square Enix.  It seems to run well enough to believe that it is M1-compatible, not running through Rosetta 2 emulation.  However, Steam, GOG Galaxy, and Epic Games Launcher all appear to be x86 applications.

Creative software is quite different.  Capture One Pro by Phase One is native and so are Affinity Publisher, Designer, and Photo applications.  HitFilm Express from FXHome seems to not have a problem, though I haven't really tested it.

It looks as though Microsoft Visual Studio is compatible, if not 100% native. 

Bottom to Top, Top to Bottom

I've almost always had top of the line machines, but here I am with a MacBook Air.  Why?

It's powerful at a reasonable price.

Remember when US$1499 bought you a 15.4 MacBook Pro with integrated graphics and a dual-core CPU?  It wasn't that long ago.

I bought a MacBook Air 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 16 GB of RAM, and 1 TB of storage for US$1399, refurbished.

My previous MacBook Pro had a 3rd generation quad-core i7 with 16 GB of RAM and 1 TB of storage.  My Omen by HP had a 7th generation quad-core i7 with 32 GB of RAM and 2 TB of storage and it didn't seem much faster.

While I'm writing this entry, iStatMenus is telling me that the core temperature is 30 degrees C, which is in contrast to 44 degrees C on the Windows machine or 64 degrees C on the old MacBook Pro.  That old MacBook Pro could boil water.  When processing video, it would be at 100 degrees C.

Of course, there are many updates since 2012 besides the CPU and GPU.

The sound is amazing.  The display is so much better than the old 1440x900.  The keyboard is okay.  I liked the PowerBook G4 keyboard and none since have impressed me.

Change is Necessary

I bought a couple of cable adapters and an OmniCase Mini USB-C Storage Docking Station from JSAUX.  The company's products have been as reliable for me as products from Anker have been.

The OmniCase Mini is a unique product.  It has one USB type-C port, two type-A ports, an HDMI port, and slots for microSD and SD cards.  US$34.99 wasn't a lot.  It also comes with a type-C cable, and a few adapters, and a SIM card tool.  Obviously, if you're looking for a full-blown docking station, there are plenty from US$100 to US$500.  If you want an extra type-C port for power pass-through, you'll have to pay more than the US$34.99.

Equally useful and tiny is a Crucial X8 2 TB SSD that I recently bought.  It has a type-C connector, but also has a type-A adapter.

It may help to remember that the original MacBook Air came with one port--for charging, for connecting, for everything that needed a physical port.  The Dongle circus had arrived in town.

With two type-C ports, it's twice as convenient.

 Apple Succeeded

I'm slowly getting everything together, although it's only been about a week.  It took a while with previous machines.  I'm sure I'll be satisfied with this purchase.

Update 2022.05.22: This machine continues to impress.  The operating system is not where it needs to be and neither is vendor support for native applications.

Daily use without the power cable is amazing.  That 3rd generation quad-core i7 with GeForce 650M was constantly sucking power.  It was also a very good heater.

I haven't needed the USB-C hub as much as I expected.  I transferred most of what I needed the first two weeks.

I've tried a few more games, mostly through and GOG.  They work well.  Steam itself is full of glitches, but that was also a problem for the i7 running Catalina.  64-bitness is not something Valve wants to do well.

Update 2022.06.06: The M2 MacBook Air was announced today.  It's more powerful and more expensive.  It can be configured with 24 GB of RAM and 2 TB of storage.  That would be a plus.  In the past, some would complain that the machine they just bought last year was outdated and practically cry that it didn't work correctly any longer.  I don't do that.  This machine is a 2020 model and it's just fine.

I've had the machine over a month now and it took a while to get things in order but it is a wonderful computer that does most everything I want.  I want some good games for it but that will take some time.  Life is Strange 2 is the biggest title I have right now.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

It's been 2+ years with Sprint/T-Mobile and the 2020 iPhone SE

 In 2020, I had completed 20 years with Sprint.  Part of that year, Sprint was part of T-Mobile.

I traded my iPhone 8 for an iPhone SE (2020), which was much the same, but more powerful.  I still have that phone today, and anticipate exchanging it for the 2022 model with 5G capabilities.

T-Mobile took away the best of Sprint's performance to add 5G capabilities.  My 100 Mbps download speed became 45 Mbps or some such.  It has been sufficient.

I recently got a OnePlus 8T and tried Mint Mobile, which is an MVNO using T-Mobile's network.  It works quite well, and at US$20/month for 10 GB, it's a decent deal, especially with 5G included.

I bought the OnePlus 8T to replace a Lenovo tablet with performance equal to my 2012/2013 tablet.  The Snapdragon 865 is much faster than the S4 Pro I had in 2013 and therefore, much faster than that Lenovo tablet with poor 8-core MediaTek processor.  The graphics processor in the Google Nexus 7 tablet from 2013 is the same one that the 2019 Lenovo tablet was using.

In any case, 5G looks good.  I've only tested a couple of times and got one sufficient result and one good result.  If I was paying US$70 per month, I wouldn't bother, but at US$20 per month, it's a good deal.

Update 2022.05.22:

I got the 2022 iPhone SE 5G and it's good, especially for $1.25 per month.  The extra battery life and more powerful processor are somewhat noticeable, while most everything is the same.  The 5G performance is sufficiently good, as it is with the OnePlus 8T.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

2020 iPhone SE on Sprint is here for zero monthly

As I'm in the USA and T-Mobile and Sprint have merged, I got their earliest combined offer--an iPhone SE for zero each month.

This comes as a result of monthly credits, and some accounting magic.  I paid the additional $150 one time for the 256 GB model, so I can have the same capacity as my iPhone 8.  They also waived the activation/upgrade fee, which is okay but I'm not taking it to a store, unless there is some problem.  Since I didn't pay the $27.01 for the iPhone 8 for two months, I'm okay with the extra $150.

Thankfully, my iPhone 7 case will fit just fine, although it has been through four years and two phones.

This was a surprising deal, but the phone is a few hundred less than the next phone and I don't want something huge or something that uses Face ID.  Surprisingly, I'm getting exactly what I want for a price that I really like.  Something must be very wrong.

It's here!  UPS actually left it without a signature--probably something Covid-19 related.  I waited as long as possible before walking to the bus stop and when I was there, I saw the UPS truck leave my street.  I didn't expect the phone to be there.  It's slightly scary that it was.  Someone could have taken it.

Sprint had good instructions on how to activate the phone.  That's just odd that any U.S. carrier has good instructions.  They usually mis-type technical terms.  In any case, I went to their website, signed into their system.  It brought up the old and new phones and I clicked to transfer the activation.  It complained that I hadn't turned off "Find My...", so I went into the phone and took care of that.  Once that was finished, the new phone was activated.

Apparently, the iPhone SE was not on iOS 13.5, so my current backup did not work with a previous operating system.  I updated the operating system slowly.  I figured a fast, new phone wouldn't take quite so long with 13.5.  I was mistaken.

Once that was handled, it allowed me to restore my latest backup onto the phone and began to download every app and install them--in order of most used.  Since I have way too many--222--and 256 GB, it took too long, even with a fast internet connection through Comcast/xFinity.

Restoring movies didn't take too long.  With 256 GB, I can fit my 11 or so digital downloads from when I had the iPhone 5c and could only load one at a time.

The phone doesn't seem all that fast, probably because the iPhone 8 was very fast already.  The display looks better--sharper, with deeper blacks.  There may also be a psychological effect from this "white" version having a black fascia, unlike the iPhone 8.

The logo has slipped further down, so my iPhone 7 case, no longer shows the logo.  There is no "iPhone" on the back, to go along with the logo change.

Since this phone supports many more LTE bands, I'm hoping to see if performance is enhanced because of T-Mobile LTE.  I'm sure T-Mobile users' LTE is enhanced, as Sprint has the best LTE in town.

Considering that this isn't costing me any monthly money, I'm extra pleased to have it--just for the new battery.  I just need to make sure I get the phone back to Sprint as soon as possible, so that there won't be any charges.

Sprint kept bugging me to take their newest protection plan and it does more than just protect, but the price was a bit much.  I went to the Apple Support app and bought AppleCare + for $3.99/month, which is cheaper than what I was paying for the iPhone 8 support at $7.99/month.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Digging up my Mac past

I've been on Windows since spring 2018 and it hasn't been all that great.  It smoothed out until update 1809 and 1909 was even more rocky.  The most recent updates managed to eat my drive data.  Even after a visit to a repair service, I ended up with a reset all the way back to factory.  At this moment, I can't really use the machine and it's a shame with all those games.

For two years, I haven't had my music or a recent backup of my music, which has led me to some frustration.  I also left some projects undone and I just wanted to get an inexpensive Mac that would allow me to revive things.  I've been searching a very long time.

On OfferUp, I wasn't sure whether the machines were stolen or not but the prices weren't all that good for the damged look of some of the machines and the distance I'd have to travel.  Apple, of course, has only machines three years old or newer, which would be too much money for minimum wage me.  Newegg has had machines, but they often have third parties with poor ratings, and I'm not very trusting.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a mid-2012 quad core i7 with a GeForce 650M, almost like mine--one step down.  The price was acceptable, but the 4 GB of RAM left me unsure as to whether it would be able to restore my final backup, although the 500 GB 5400 rpm disk drive was sufficient.

I ordered it on a Sunday night.  By Tuesday, they had finished packaging and its status was "Label created".  It stayed that way, even after it arrived several days later.

The machine looked almost new.  The display hinges are a little weak, but since I've got my (dead) machine, I can probably have those switched.  The machine has only 512 MB of VRAM, in contrast to my machine having 1 GB.  It probably doesn't matter a lot because how many games are available for an 8 year old machine?  GOG has some, though.  What's more important is using that GPU to speed up photo and video processing.

Getting the machine up and running was a struggle.  It complained about the backup being from a newer version of the operating system.  Sadly, the Mac App Store pointed me to the current, rather broken, Catalina/10.15.4.  I didn't realize that it was completely 64-bit, so nothing 32-bit would run.  I complained about Apple not doing this in the past, so it's amusing that it was such a kick in the pants.

Loading Catalina wasn't awful.  The 500 GB hard drive had to be converted from HFS+ to APFS.  It didn't take long to be downloaded.  The installation wasn't horrible, either.  Trying to boot it with a hard drive from 2012 and only 4 GB of RAM was difficult, at best.

Once it was running, I was tossing out software and hoping that upgrades would be simple.  Several upgrades were extremely expensive and I'm considering them still.  Those things purchased through the Mac App Store didn't come with upgrade fees.  However, getting things to run was almost impossible.  Firefox would initially run and would fail, apparently because of the 4 GB of RAM restriction.  It displayed some sort of dialog box, but I couldn't manipulate it to see the contents.

There were some system functions that were running constantly, possibly because the hard drive was converted from HFS+.  It disabled the machine for all intents and purposes, especially with a file system that wasn't happy on a hard drive and a system with a shortage of RAM.

Enhancements Matter

I bought a 1 TB Western Digital SSD (2.5 inch) and 16 GB of RAM.  Considering that eight years have passed, the total for the enhancements was negligible.  I remember that the Other World Computing 6G Extreme SSD was something around US$500 for 480 GB and the RAM might have been about the same price in early 2013.

Just inserting the RAM made a huge difference in performance with macOS Catalina.  I wanted to get an external enclosure in order to clone the drive and the enclosure had not arrived at that time.  I ended up finding a compatible enclosure and macOS did all the cloning, once I could get the SSD partitioned and formatted properly.  There was some error at first, which isn't a surprise with 10.15.4.

Making sure the SSD was set to be APFS made a positive difference.  When I booted from the drive, the previous system tasks from when the hard drive was present were not taking over the system any longer.  The system seemed about as fast as my Windows 10 system with the 7th generation quad-core i7 and 32 GB rather than the Mac from 2012 with a 3rd generation quad-core i7 and 16 GB of RAM, just as my other machine had been.  Obviously the GeForce 1050 GTX versus the GT 650M difference is really displayed in applications which use hardware acceleration.

It's taken some time to update applications to current versions, but everything runs quite well.  Most games are not possible because time has left the 650M with 512 MB in the past, and those games that could run need to be converted to work under 64-bit operation.  I tried to get The Witness to work, but it got just past the graphics settings and died.  The Epic Games Launcher seems flaky.  Steam won't run even though it's the 64-bit version and ran once.  GOG Galaxy 2.0 runs occasionally.  MacGameStore can run.  Obduction runs, if a bit glitchy!  Things are running somewhat better and I've found more games.

Thankfully, the Affinity suite by Serif seems fine, along with Capture One Pro 12, Luminar 2018, Swift Publisher 5 and more.  I was concerned with being able to retrieve projects, photos, and music.  My music is up to date on my phone, but it's been tedious getting Finder (not iTunes) to sync things.  My TV and movie downloads are currently not on the phone because Finder had them removed.

I didn't think that a machine from 2012 would be so useful in 2020, but for graphics work, it seems quite capable.

Update 2020.05.01: Is it sad that a mid-2012 MacBook Pro with flaky 10.5.4 is more stable than a late-2017 Omen by HP laptop computer with the latest Windows 10?

Friday, November 22, 2019

iPhone 8 replacement will probably be available in spring 2020

As with me, a smaller group of people have been uncomfortable with larger and larger phones.  Years ago, the phablet was an unusual item--a phone too big to be considered a phone.  Now, it's commonplace, especially since iPhone X.  Samsung's Galaxy Note has been around for a while, but it still seemed a niche product.

The iPhone 8 has continued but has not truly been updated and of course, there would not be an iPhone 9.  As of the next spring (March/April 2020), there should be a replacement that could be called iPhone SE 2.  Given that the iPhone SE was based on the iPhone 5, but with more advanced internal hardware, it's easy to predict a similar treatment for the iPhone 8.  Whether the name will be used or not doesn't matter.  They could call it the iPhone 11 mini, for all I care.  Having the A13 processor and 3 GB of RAM seems worth the price of US$399/US$499 for 64 GB or 128 GB of storage.

I told Apple that, without a successor to the iPhone 8, I would consider switching back to Android.  There aren't many Android-based phones I like but Razer and Asus have phones strong enough to get my attention.  Whether I'll grind my teeth every time I read some security glitch or not, who knows?  After my Asus/Google Nexus 7 tablet never really was in sync with Android, I didn't feel great about using it and gave it to someone who clamored for a tablet.  He lost it within a month.  I've looked at the Razer Phone 2 for an alternative, if the iPhone 8 replacement doesn't happen.  Of all the Android-based phones, this one seems to come from a company that is enthusiastic about making something interesting.

It's been suggested that the iPhone 8 replacement will not be named SE 2 but iPhone 9.  That would suggest an end to the 4.7 inch display phones.

Update 2020.02.17: My iPhone 8 battery has been beaten regularly by iOS 13--lately 13.1.1--and it isn't recovering.  The battery health states that it the battery is at 83% of new capacity.  That's close to replacement time.  After nearly 2 years, that is understandable. I'm considering a replacement for the battery in my 256 GB over a new, more powerful phone with a new battery.  If they're still US$79, isn't worth the money, especially when no phone payments (one time or monthly) would be necessary for a while.  US$27.09 each month would be good to save.

Hopefully, the rumors are true and that there will be a media event on 31 March and the actual launch on the 3rd of April.

I've seen another rumor that it won't be a 4.7 inch display but a bigger display of over 5 inches.  That might suggest an edge-to-edge display, which isn't likely in a budget phone.

Update 2020.04.15: Tax Day is here and so is the iPhone 8 replacement, the iPhone SE.

US$399, $449, and $549 for 64 GB, 128 GB, and 256 GB isn't too bad, especially since it's got the same processing unit as the iPhone 11.  The camera is somewhat different with some depth (of field) control.  How much is optical and how much is digital remains to be seen.

Considering how warn my battery is, better with 13.4.1 than earlier releases, but losing power quickly, it's probably better to put US$79 toward the $549 model, so I don't have to give up capacity.

Update 2020.05.22: Sprint just offered me a 18 month lease with $0.00 payments.  I ended up with the 256 GB model since I already have an iPhone 8 like that, and it cost me US$150 + tax up front.

This is possibly the first time since September 2000, when I wasn't with Sprint, that they offered me something better than expected.  That time, I got a Motorola StarTac for $9.99.

Not only was the monthly lease payment waived, but so was the $30 upgrade/activation fee.  We'll see what happens when I get the phone.  Still, it's a great deal compared to paying $79 for a battery swap on a two year old phone.  The latest reviews show that the processing power is better than most anything else on the market, expensive or inexpensive.

I posted something on Instagram and someone complained about my buying so much storage, saying that Apple should allow removable storage.  If there was a possibility of that working as well as internal storage, it would be expensive.  I've worked on a number of big iron systems that had something called Single Level Store--every drive was meant to work together as one.  That was the only time I saw a system work well with multiple, different kinds of drives, but they were all similar with a certain hardware interface, and there was no inbuilt, dedicated storage, so everything had to work together well.

I think I will be surprised at how good the new phone will be.

Update 2020.08.05: My iPhone 8 replacement, iPhone SE 2020, has been very good, just like the iPhone 8.  There isn't much difference, except for the processing power.  That is a good thing, and it was also good that I didn't have to replace a battery.  The price made it extra wonderful.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

7artisans 55mm f/1.4 Is Here

After my interesting time with the Zhong Yi Mitakon 25mm f/0.95 for micro Four-Thirds, I didn't think that I would ever pick another Chinese lens.  It seemed that they were more worried about the case than they were the lens.

Flare was a weird problem, and the lens didn't really do better at f/0.95 because, as expected, it was quite weird there.  It worked, and for situations where no other aperture would do, it was capable.

That lens was US$349.00.  Quality control should have been better.  I could not, as others might tell you, focus to Infinity.

So, now I've ordered this 55mm f/1.4 for US$119.99.  I don't expect a Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 for that price, but I hope that the mechanism works better than the Zhong Yi lens did.  I'd only heard of 7artisans a few months ago when I was reading about alternatives to Fujifilm lenses.

It has arrived.

Maybe obviously, the lens isn't very big at all, even for an aperture of f/1.4.  The filter size is 49mm, which seems about right for the 1970s, when most lenses didn't have auto focus or auto exposure or anything more than very, very basic electronics, if any.  This one seems a nice, third-party lens from the 1970s with modern lens coatings.

It feels about the same weight as the Panasonic GM5--the micro micro Four-Thirds body but it's probably heavier.  At least, the weight feels proportional to the size.  The Mitakon 25mm f/0.95 seemed overly heavy, and yes, I know that the optics play a great role, but it was ever so tiny and rather heavy.

This 55mm f/1.4 lens seems geared toward portraiture.  The focus ring moves very little between 5 meters and infinity, making focusing on distant subjects a bit problematic.  Practice will help.  The Panasonic GM5 doesn't have the best of image processors, due to the size, so hopefully, the GH4 will be more helpful.

 Photographing at sunset is a bit difficult and my eyes aren't as good as they might be, especially in the last two weeks, due to heart problems.  Practically everything was registering ISO 2000-ISO 3200.  That doesn't help.

In the afternoon, given that it's about 100 degrees F right now, things are a bit better.  The detent-less aperture ring tends to make things more interesting than they might be but as with everything else about this lens (and most new lenses), it takes time to learn.

I'm mostly pleased with the performance, but focusing to infinity seems to not work correctly.  I pointed at a tree and focus peaking told me that the tree was in focus at the infinity setting, despite it only being about 50 meters away.  Trying to get the moon in clear focus was impossible.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Google Home Mini is a Useful Device

Back in October, Best Buy was having a huge sale on their Insignia speakers with Google Assistant.  I bought one for each of the two people who live in this apartment where I rent a room.

Sometime in December, he opened the package and got the speaker out.  She still has yet to open the box.

Thanksgiving Day, Target, where I work, had Google Home Mini speakers for half price--$24.99--as doorbusters for Black Thursday.  I ordered one and it was waiting for me when I clocked out.

It took a bit of configuring and unfortunately, there is no user-accessible battery unlike the Best Buy Insignia speakers, so if it comes unplugged, it doesn't work.  Thankfully, it retains settings and re-connects to the WiFi connection on its own.

From the beginning, I didn't have much luck with Siri in English (Japanese was better), but Google's speech recognition worked for me.  Google Assistant is fairly useful, but often tells me how it doesn't know how to do something.  What was disturbing is when I asked "Where is my package from Amazon?" and it told me.  When did I connect it to that information?  Who asked me?  How did this happen?  Thankfully, it can't go into my wishlist, but I should investigate all of the connections to the e-mail account.

It is especially interesting considering the effort to get Pandora and Spotify to work.  I haven't done a lot of talking to the speaker, except to start and end the music.  Occasionally, I request a certain playlist that I already added to my account.  Music playback is good, considering $24.99 and the compactness of the device.  In some ways, it reminds me of a Bose Wave Radio in that it can fill the room with music.  Vocals are good enough.  Bass is implied, not implemented.

One thing that would really help would be a connection to iHeartRadio, since I miss various radio stations across the country, especially WDAS 105.3 from Philly.  iHeartRadio is having financial troubles, so I'm not sure how they would make a deal.  (Yes, it can be used as a Bluetooth speaker, but it was a pain when I did that and I don't want to try again.)

I'm not sure that I would ever pay more than $24.99 for a speaker with an assistant.  Obviously, Apple's HomePod is too expensive at $350.00--you might as well just pay for the computer.

Google have changed the name to Nest Mini.  I'm not sure that helps but it does confuse.