This and That, Part 1: Still lovin’ ‘that Android of mine’; iOS 8; OS X 10.10 Yosemite

Nothing specific to talk about today…just some general thoughts on a few things. (I am working on a new somewhat controversial post…but more on that when it happens.)

First off: The Hisense Sero 7 LT Android tablet. I’m still lovin’ this little guy, but as I’ve added apps, predictably the overall speed has gone down. I’m not one to have more than a few windows open at once anyway, so this isn’t all that big of a deal as far as an adjusment…and I’m also no stranger to waiting for something to open or finish loading. (I suppose this is due to having more than a few older computers–patience, patience!) I have been seriously considering an upgrade to the Hisense Sero 7 Pro with 8GB of RAM (as opposed to the LT’s 4GB), but I’m now way past the date to return the Sero 7 LT, and the only way to obtain a Pro is through online ordering. I’d like to play around with the Pro for a bit first to be sure it’s what I want…as for returning the LT to Fry’s, the reason is simply because I don’t see a need for two of these. At some time there will probably be a “tipping point” where I will have to make a decision to live with the app lagging, or upgrade and have a redundancy of devices–but I’m not there yet.

I know what some of you are thinking: if slowness is a problem, why not just get a Samsung or bigger brand-named device? First reason is cost; then the redundancy factor…then, the bloatware. This machine (I am using the Sero 7 LT to write this post) is remarkably free of junk–usually third-party apps that you can’t remove–known as bloatware. All devices have them–there are a couple on here I could do without–but not nearly as many as some. It’s just a waste of resources.

Next: iOS 8. While I wasn’t plagued by the bugs and inconsistencies that hit this iOS’ early adopters, there’s still been some iPhone reboots (and hey, two or three really isn’t that many–but when compared to the number of reboots to fix iOS 7 issues–ZERO–it is kind of a big deal). While overall I’m pretty happy with this new version, despite its occasional slowness, I do have some concerns as to how I am going to eventually be forced to upgrade to a 64GB iPhone 6 (or 6 Plus).

I had to delete a lot of stuff–stored photos, unused or seldom-used apps–to get enough storage room to even be able to install iOS 8. Clearly, a 16GB model is just not going to cut it any more. It will, I think, become the smartphone model of the classic flip phone that phone makers still produce for those elderly or non-tech-savvy users that just need a phone, period. Like the 8 GB model gave way to the 16…so must 16 give way to the 64. Oh well.

(I just got message on my iPhone that my storage is almost full. Again. Grrrrrr.)

Finally: OS X 10.10 Yosemite. No, that’s not pronounced YO-SEH-MITE. It’s YO-SEM-IT-TEE. And, just as the pronunciation is different, so is this upgrade. The font is different on the desktop, the title bar, everywhere…for the first time that I can remember. It’s bolder and cleaner…missing to is the “shelf” in the Dock the apps used to rest on, now there’s just a long enclosing rectangular strip. Also gone are the 3D effects…like iOS 8, the app icons are flatter in appearance.

BTW, get used to those words…”like iOS 8″. Apple is bringing closer and closer together the Mac and mobile operating systems. For example: you can now make phone calls from your Yosemite-equipped Mac. As my late grandfather (whose usually quiet manner would often be broken by loud outbursts, not unlike an individual whose name was also Yosemite) might snort in derision, “AHHHHHHWWWWWWW!” (Followed by “Well, did you ever…!”)

There’s too much for me to talk about in this post (“JERUSALEM!”)…you can read more about OS X 10.10 Yosemite here and here. The first link is to the UK’s TechRadar site, who had this to say about it:

“Yosemite does make compromises in its quest to integrate further with iOS, but there’s a lot to like here, and some really neat new features.”

I just upgraded, so after I’ve spent some time with it I might have another post later on. For now, though, it would seem that Yosemite is really “THE DEAL!” (as my grandfather would say). So far, I really like it.

Alright, Pap…you can continue on with your eternal rest now…and may God bless you.

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Yes, readers, you read that correctly. I’m going to praise an operating system that I have historically bashed.

And yes, this is a new post. I have returned from wherever I’ve been to write something new for Brood Coffee Talk*. Actually, I’ve been wanting to do just that for quite a while now, but haven’t been able to find the time.

It’s been about a month since I took a day off from work to drive my–for all intents and purposes–wife to the airport, flying back East for her father’s funeral. Soon afterwards I found myself at a nearby Fry’s Electronics, and after taking a few minutes to peruse their newspaper ad (posted on a wall by the entrance), I headed over to the tablet area.

The actual details of how I arrived at the Android tablet I ended up with are best left for another post. Let’s just say that the store was advertising a tablet for $47, were out of that one, and after much deliberation I settled on another that I’m certain was the better choice.

I bought a Hisense Sero 7 (refurbished) for $69. It’s a 7″ Android tablet with 4.2 Jelly Bean…it has a nice bright and sharp 1280×800 display, a mini HDMI port, it accepts a 32GB (maximum) mini-SD card, etc. You can read more about it here.

Anyway, as someone who has used Apple products fairly exclusively (I’ve also owned a BlackBerry 8300 Curve, an HP iPaq x3715, a Handspring Visor, and a Windows Mobile phone), there was a bit of a learning curve. I have friends that have Android devices, and I’ve played around a little with them…but, just in case no one has ever told you, having such a device for your very own is quite a bit different than that. For one thing, you probably won’t have them at your side every minute of every day to answer questions for you. And, believe me, I had a LOT of questions, mostly of the “how-do-you-do-THIS?” variety. Fortunately, it was pretty easy to figure out. It wasn’t long before I had added some of my favorite apps from my iPhone: Dropbox, avast! and Evernote. The tablet has a lot of useful apps already included…I also added ES File Explorer, textPlus and HP ePrint through the Google Play store.

How do I like it? I absolutely love it! While I won’t be trading in my iPhone for an Android one any time soon, I was and remain VERY impressed with the Android experience. (One reason is that there’s too much integration between iOS and OS X for such a switch, which is only going to get better with iOS 8 and OS X 10 [Yosemite]).

I paired it with a low-cost ideaUSA leather-styled clamshell case that includes a built-in mini-USB keyboard…I am using both to compose this WordPress post.

One of the reasons I thought this might be a good idea was an Andy Inhatko column I read about a year and a half ago. He’s an Apple guy, been one for many years. That’s why I was very surprised to hear–in his three-part article–that he preferred an Android phone to his iPhone. I wrote about that here, in this Brood Coffee Talk post.

Inhatko is no dummy. He knows what’s good and what’s…better. And, apparently, isn’t afraid to come right out and say it.

So, I did it. I gave the other side–“the Dark Side”–a try…and, I was very impressed. You Android owners–you’re really on to something, here.

How many of you would join me? Show some, uh, stones and go to the other side…? Hmmm? Try an Apple/iOS product?

You never know, you might actually LIKE it. I know that I did.

*******

*(I suppose at least some of the reason I stopped was in large part due to a certain burnout factor. Those of you that post regularly have my admiration–it’s harder than it looks.)

How-to: Quickly transferring your choice of data from an old Mac to a new one

Not long ago I purchased an older Macintosh computer for use as a desktop machine. I depend on a MacBook Pro for my everyday use, but there are times when I need a second computer, running concurrently with the MBP, for research. I needed to find a relatively fast and easy way to transfer certain files and folders from my workhorse machine to my recently-obtained older one.

I already have two Mac desktops–an iMac Indigo model from early 2001, which has a slower processor (500MHz); and a 2002 iMac G4 (Flat Panel) (the cool looking flatscreen-monitor-on-a-stalk machine known as Sunflower), which has a not-much-faster 800MHz processor.

Let me take a few moments to try and explain why one might have so many computers.

It’s a sad fact of personal computers that a sort of unplanned obsolescence takes place. Moore’s Law–which is really not a law but more of an observation–states that processor speed will double roughly every two years. Since everyone wants the newest and best available and not yesterday’s models, and computer manufacturers don’t design a way to add fasters processors or allow most circuit board components to be upgradeable, these older computers have much in common with the rusted and decaying hulks of metal, glass and plastic that are the abandoned automobiles one often sees in vacant lots grown up with weeds.

The difference is that these computers still function. While older cars possess moving parts that eventually give way and wear out, ending their operational use, computers nearly always still function much the same as new. While the reason for this is obviously that computers have very few moving parts, there is another more important element.

To continue the automobile analogy: it would be as if every other year cars were made to go twice as fast. While this is an interesting idea in itself, further imagine that as this was taking place, both the maximum and minimum speed limits on highways were increased, to coincide with the release of the newer, faster automobiles. This would likely mean changes in the way these roads were built as well, to accommodate the advanced vehicles.

Therefore, a car that was several years old and had a top speed of 70 mph, for instance, would soon be legally unable to even get on the highway once the minimum speed limit was increased to 75.

So it is with personal computers. While all parts might still function as originally intended, software that was once less complex and smaller in data size soon increases in both complexity and relative size to meet the heftier demands of the newer and more powerful machines.

Imagine that you get a raise at work and go out and buy new furniture. Well, the new furniture is bigger and has more pieces that the old, so now you have to move to a new home because you need the extra space. The furniture is that new software that you want to or have to run…your aging computer is your old home.

Simply put–older machines can’t effectively run newer more advanced software as well. They become sluggish and are generally unresponsive–if they are even capable of running it at all.

Sadly, my most recently acquired Mac will eventually fall by the side of the road as well…but for now, it works well and does what I want.

It’s a PowerMac G4 FW800, and the first machine to have a Firewire (FW) 800 port, which allows data transfer of about 800 megabits per second (Mbit/s)–actually 786.432 Mbit/s. This is almost twice as fast as USB 2.0 (at 480 Mbit/s), which up until recently was the data transfer most often used by Windows-based computers.

I tend to be attracted to computers that hold some kind of milestone or signpost in history. The Mirror Drive Door Macs (of which this is one) were only around a short time, but were among the fastest and most powerful of all computers for that span.

Another plus is it is one of the first of the older models that will run OS X 10.5 Leopard, the last OS available for PPC processors (Apple switched to Intel in 2006). I’ve always been fond of this version of the Mac’s operating system.

I wanted to transfer my personal settings, files and folders from the MacBook Pro to this machine. Apple has created an application to do just that, called Migration Assistant.

Migration Assistant’s opening window (click to enlarge). Credit: Apple Inc.

One of the very good reasons to utilize Migration Assistant is that it allows the use of Firewire to transfer data from machine to machine. This Mac has USB 1.1, which is okay for most things…but it has a top speed for data transfer of 12 Mbit/s, and if I used that to transfer the data it would be a long and arduous process…and depending on how much data I have, it could take somewhere on the magnitude of days to complete.

One of the problems with Migration Assistant is that it doesn’t allow you to select individual files or folders. The app’s twin, Setup Assistant–which appears when you first install a new OS or start up a brand new Mac–is great for the initial transfer of information, and works quite well. But it won’t allow you to choose individual files and folders either. Maybe you have an external hard drive filled with hundreds of gigabytes of pictures and family videos. If you wanted to transfer only certain data from that drive, neither Assistant could help you.

Another problem is that Migration Assistant isn’t designed to try and transfer data from a newer OS to an older machine–you’ll get the “There is no version of OS X on this machine” message on the older computer (“this machine” meaning the one with the newer OS).

So, if you’re trying to accomplish what I am–in either or both examples–there has to be another way.

Fortunately, there is. The trick is to allow the app to make the Firewire connection for you…then just transfer the information yourself. If it sounds complicated, it’s not. It’s actually not much harder than copying and pasting from one to the other.

The first thing you’ll want to do is disable FileVault, if you use it. FileVault is a way to keep your Mac’s data more safe and secure, should it fall into the wrong hands. It encrypts that dataconverts it to a special type of code–that makes it extremely difficult for anyone that doesn’t know the code to translate it. Chances are, if you have this you already know about it. It’s a special option and is something that you could not turn on accidentally. If you have questions or need assistance in turning it off or learning more about it, you can find instructions here for OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, or here for 10.7 Lion and 10.8 Mountain Lion.

Next you’ll want to start Migration Assistant on the Destination Mac–the one that will be receiving the information. It’s found in the Applications folder>Utilities subfolder. (Full instructions for using the app can be found here.)

Follow the step by step directions found on the display. Briefly, this is what you’ll do (I would advise reading the instructions found at the above link if you are unfamiliar with the procedure). Click the Continue button on the Destination Mac after each step:

  • Connect the appropriate Firewire cable to both machines (either FW400 or 800–the cables aren’t interchangeable).
  • Set the Source Mac up in Target Disk mode. This essentially involves making it into a giant hard drive.You do this by restarting it and holding down the “T” key as soon as the screen goes black. Continue to hold down the “T” key until you see the big Firewire symbol appear.
  • When the message “Firewire connection established” appears, STOP.
  • You can now minimize the Migration Assistant. We won’t be needing it for the remainder of the transfer, but don’t close it completely or you could disrupt the connection.
  • By now you should have the icon of an orange rectangle bearing the Firewire symbol appearing on the Destination Mac’s display. Its name will be the same as the Source Mac’s hard drive, and is a representation of it. (You might have more than one, depending on how many drives you have in the Source Mac.)
  • Now, all you have to do is double-click on the Source Mac’s drive icon found on the Destination Mac’s display to find what you’d like to transfer, open the Destination Mac’s hard drive icon to locate where you’d like to put it, highlight and drag the files and folders you want from one to the other.
  • It’s important to remember that you’re only copying the files and folders, not actually moving them.
  • This is the easy part–you wait for the transfer to complete.
  • Once you’re done copying all the data you wanted to transfer, highlight the Source Mac’s hard drive icon and drag it to the Destination Mac’s Trash. This ejects the drive.
  • DO NOT DISCONNECT THE FIREWIRE CABLE UNTIL YOU HAVE EJECTED THE DRIVE! It’s possible you could damage the Source Mac’s drive if you don’t eject it first from the Destination Mac’s desktop.
  • Once it no longer appears on the desktop, you can disconnect the Firewire cable from both machines.
  • Restart the Source Mac by pressing the Power button to turn it off. After a few moments, press the button again to start it up.
  • You’re done!

By following these instructions you can enjoy the higher speed of a Firewire data transfer, which is especially good if your machine is otherwise only capable of the snail’s pace slooowwwness of the older USB 1.1 standard.

(Note: it is also possible to connect the computers directly with a short length of ethernet cable, which should provide the same results. While I have not attempted this transfer method, more on it can be found here–almost at the end of the article. Click the link marked Wireless (Wi-Fi) or Ethernet Migration.”)

Future of BlackBerry may hang in balance after today’s Z10 and Q10 launches

Finally, the day is here. The day when we (the public) get to see the new BlackBerry Z10 and Q10. On this day AT&T will begin offering both for sale.

It’s been about a year since a new BlackBerry smartphone running the new BlackBerry 10 was first promised…then, last fall…now, today is the big day.

The Z10 has been discussed before here and here on this weblog. I’ve said that I hope it does well, because I believe that the more manufacturers and devices that do well, the more new ideas in design and its execution we’ll see, which will force other OEMs like Apple and Samsung to at least consider including those ideas or similar ones in their own devices.

There’s a variety of news stories on today’s Z10 launch…here’s an excerpt from the Los Angeles Times:

Friday marks a big day for BlackBerry, the struggling Canadian smartphone maker that is looking for a turnaround amid dwindling market share and intensifying competition from Apple and Samsung.

Its prospects hinge on a successful launch of the Z10 touch-screen-only smartphone running the long-awaited BlackBerry 10 operating system. AT&T Inc. will be the first U.S. wireless carrier to start selling it Friday, followed by T-Mobile on Tuesday and Verizon on Thursday.

Ahead of the all-important launch, The Times spoke with Richard Piasentin, BlackBerry’s U.S. managing director.

BlackBerry 10 was released after more than a year of delays. During that time, rivals stole market share and released cutting-edge phones that made BlackBerrys look outdated. Why the wait?

We made a commitment to our partners and our clients that we would release BlackBerry 10 when it was ready and when it fulfilled the promises we’d made about what the next-generation BlackBerry experience would be like…. That very positive sentiment that we’re seeing from reviewers, users, etc. is validating the decision to make sure we released the product when it was complete. And it really is complete.

Let’s say BlackBerry 10 and the two smartphones that run the operating system, the Z10 and the Q10, fail to catch on. Then what?The last time we spoke, at the International Consumer Electronics Show in January, you mentioned BlackBerry has no Plan B.

We’ve got great confidence in the platform. Failure is not an option in the U.S. market for Blackberry.

Are we going to see BlackBerry’s 6% market share in the U.S. tick back up?

It has been very gratifying to see the response in the 25 countries [where the Z10 has launched]. We are seeing significant adoption by non-BlackBerry people, and that’s a great indicator for us. It bodes well for the success that we will have.

Still, BlackBerry 10 lags behind competitors when it comes to apps. It launched Jan. 30 with 70,000 apps; Apple’s App Store has more than 800,000. How do you make up for that gap?

The good news is when we launch in the U.S. on Friday, we’ll be launching with 100,000 apps. That’s 30,000 apps in less than 60 days…. Our experience and the feedback we’re getting from people is the apps that they want to have are available or are announced to be coming.

There are a lot of new features on BlackBerry 10 — BlackBerry Hub, BlackBerry Flow, an innovative touch-screen, live screen-sharing, better cameras. Do you have a favorite?

I have two favorites, which are related. My favorite feature is Time Shift …. the ability to select the best possible expression on a series of faces [in a photo]. My second favorite is the on-board photo editing.

How would you persuade an iPhone or Android user to switch to a BlackBerry 10 phone?

My assumption is they are somebody who has to get things done and has to keep moving, and we designed BlackBerry 10 to allow people to keep moving. It’s really going back to our heritage, which is saving people time one second at a time. I’m sure in those other platforms, folks have been frustrated at having to move from application to application. Some reviewer mentions BlackBerry 10 is a whiz at multitasking, and it really is. It makes a difference.

Much has been made about the touch-screen on the Z10, which has promised a more accurate typing experience. What do you say to users who refuse to let go of physical keyboards?

The responsiveness of the screen is [such that] you almost forget you’re using a touch-screen; you’re really just interacting with the image. Couple that with the power of the keyboard to learn the way you type and the way you speak. Folks before had to make the decision, “Do I compromise typing accuracy for screen real estate?” They don’t have to make that compromise anymore.

You carry both the Z10 as well as the Q10, the BlackBerry 10 smartphone with a physical keyboard. Be honest: Which do you use more?

I was a die-hard keyboard user. I run both devices, I love both of them. But I’ve come to really appreciate the speed of the on-screen keyboard, the ability to type with one thumb with flicks … I use the Z10 95% of the time, which, if you had asked me six months ago, I would not have predicted that.

When can we expect the Q10 in the U.S.?

My phone is literally ringing off the hook with people saying, “Hey, can you get me a Q10?” We’re very excited about the product. It’ll first be released globally in April, and we’ll be working with our carriers to bring it to the [U.S.] market as quickly as possible.

In January, the company announced it was changing its name from Research in Motion to BlackBerry. What has been the effect?

I’d go to a dinner party and they’d say, “Where do you work?” and I’d say, “RIM,” and they’d say, “What?” For us, it’s recognition of the fact that the company itself has changed. And we are BlackBerry; that’s what we make for people and that’s what they recognize. The changes in the company are comprehensive. We aren’t the company we were before, so it’s a great turning point.

I will be watching these two new phones–how well they are accepted and the news each generates–very closely.

Review: Seven laptop cooling pads from Logitech, Belkin and three others (with revisions)

Sometimes in the course of using your laptop computer it can turn into a miniature heating pad in your lap. Not only can it get uncomfortably hot against your skin, but it’s also not a good thing for your laptop.

The Santa Fe Times reported on a recent user survey of laptops and the heat they can produce:

Laptop users reported that they consistently face issues with the heat generated from their computer. In fact, nearly half (47 percent) of laptop users surveyed have had to temporarily quit using their laptop because the heat became unbearable. Surprisingly, a majority (62 percent) agree that the bottom of their laptop gets so hot that they could fry an egg on it. Desperate solutions that people have tried including a pillow (27 percent), towel (19 percent) and magazine (15 percent)–don’t adequately address the problem.

Computers in general produce a lot of heat, especially when they are hard at work. In the business world, companies that have a lot of computers usually have a “server room” which is full of more computers that the others are connected to. This room is kept very cool–50 degrees Fahrenheit or below–because computers like it much better when the surrounding temperature is approaching freezing. Even for personal use they are better able to meet the high processing demands of watching video or playing graphically-intensive games, for example, even simply writing an email–when they are kept cooler. They run more efficiently and produce faster results.

There are many types of laptop “cooling pads” available that not only keep the laptop’s heat away from your skin, but many also have USB-powered cooling fans built into them to cool down the underside of your computer.

Recently while at a Starbucks I became concerned because my MacBook Pro’s (MBP’s) cooling fans both revved up to 6000 rpm (which is the highest I’ve ever seen them go) with no good reason to do so, other than a slower-than-normal Wifi connection with the store.

I decided to explore which laptop cooling pads were available in the marketplace and what features each offered. I purchased and tested seven of them for suitability. This is what I was looking for:

  • It should be of sturdy construction, but not overly heavy. Plastic is okay, as long as it’s good quality. (All of the ones tested were made of plastic.)
  • It should be comfortable on one’s lap. Isn’t that the whole point?
  • It should not only keep my legs and lap cool by distancing them from the bottom of the laptop, but it must also have a cooling fan or fans to cool it down as well.
  • It should be ergonomic in design–i.e., it should angle the laptop forward (higher in the back than in the front) to help aid in typing/accessing the touchpad.
  • The MBP’s CPU and graphics chip are located just below the 4-5-6-7-8-9 keys on the keyboard. Therefore, a fan that doesn’t properly cool that area–for example, one located in the center of the pad–would not be suitable, unless the pad was contoured in such a way to direct air over that area. Fans at or near the top would probably be better, at least for my needs.
  • It would be great if it offered a pass-through USB port so you aren’t forced to give one up (although small external USB buses offering four more ports are often less than $10, should that become an issue later on.)
  • It should, ideally, offer another power source besides USB. (None of the ones I tested offered this feature, though.)
  • It should offer several fan speeds and even a turnoff switch, for use when your battery starts to get low. (I came to this realization at the end of the testing…and admittedly, just pulling out the USB plug could also function as an OFF switch.)

All of the following were purchased at either my local Fry’s Electronics or a nearby Target store. Why only those two choices? Simply put, Best Buy, Walmart and Office Max each offered a good selection, but most everything was only available online. Considering that I ended up returning all but one of these, buying something online that I could not examine or “test drive”–then possibly return–was not a viable option. I like buying online as much as anyone else, but I still consider it a better option only when you’ve bought the item before and already know what you’ll be getting.

I researched all the models online and found that those two locations had most of what I was looking for in stock. I expected that Fry’s would offer a good in-store selection…but was surprised to see that Target did as well.

I looked at almost every cooling pad available in each location. Many were dismissed immediately…some were given consideration for a few minutes but ultimately returned to the shelf. The list below is made up of the only ones I thought worthy of bringing home and testing.

With that said, here are my cooling pad choices…with pictures, a link to more information, purchase location and the selling price. These are arranged from the least to most suitable. Following that I provide a breakdown of each unit’s good and bad points.

The candidates:

GearHead 2 Fan Black Notebook Cooler CF3200U                                         Fry’s / $14.99

CoolMax NB-410                                                                                               Fry’s  / $14.99

Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand F5L001- White (w/compartment)                        Fry’s / $19.99

Bottom view. Credit: http://www.amazon.com

Belkin “CoolSpot” F5L055                                                                 Target / $29.99

Bottom Lap Pad. Credit: www.coolermaster-usa.com

Bottom Lap Pad. Credit: http://www.coolermaster-usa.com

Removable fan cover. Credit: http://www.coolermaster-usa.com

CoolerMaster LapAir Notebook Cooler R9-NBC-LPAR-GP                              Fry’s / $29.99

Rear view. Credit: http://www.belkin.com

Belkin Cooling Lounge – White F5L041                                                           Target / $37.49

Rear view. Credit: http://www.amazon.com

Detail of three-position switch. Credit: http://www.amazon.com

Logitech N200 Laptop Cooling Pad  (Target’s online price = $33.49)          In-store / $29.69

The breakdown:

Let’s dismiss the first entry right away–the GearHead 2Fan Black Notebook Cooler CF3200U. I had second thoughts about buying it, and I was right. Its plasticky feel makes it seem cheap and flimsy–it reminded me of a child’s toy. The fans were louder than most of the others, and were positioned too far below the MBP’s processors to be of much help. The notebook slid around fairly easily on it…and it also didn’t have good ergonomics–i.e., it didn’t have enough of the elevation from front to back that I was looking for.

The CoolMax NB-410 was a step up–the fans were positioned higher, it was made of a medium-grade plastic so it didn’t feel as unsubstantial as the GearHead unit. Its problem is that it’s completely flat on the bottom, there’s no elevation of the notebook’s keyboard at all. This was a tougher choice to eliminate, but compared to the others it didn’t make the cut.

Belkin‘s Laptop Cooling Pad F5L001 (white) was the first one I liked right away. Belkin has a solid reputation as a maker of quality products, and for the most part this one did not disappoint. The overall construction was sturdy, the design is such that the four corners are elevated above the plane of the rest of the unit, with the area between the top and bottom surfaces dipping into a valley about an inch or two deep. The region between the upper two and lower two corners also dips a bit, so if your notebook can sit on all four corners there’s lots of room underneath for air circulation, no matter where the processors on your computer sits.

As with all the Belkin cooling pads reviewed here, there is just one single fan in the middle of the pad. This particular model was especially noisy, although it did put out more air than most of the others. Sadly I could not test another unit, as this was the only one that Fry’s Electronics had in stock throughout my ten-day testing period.

Which brings me to the sole problem that I found with this cooling pad. The USB cable is stored in a compartment near the uppermost edge of the bottom of the unit. When opened, the compartment’s door is supposed to fold down and serve as a support to elevate the keyboard. This doesn’t work very well. First, the door doesn’t lock into place, so if you push the cooling pad away from you even a few inches the door collapses, so then does your notebook. Now, if the door opened toward the front edge of the unit instead of toward the rear edge (If you can visualize that), then pushing it away from yourself would keep that door open. Instead, the opposite happens, and I’m far more likely to push the notebook away than pull it toward me.

Also, it tended to close when I was trying to use the notebook on my lap–it also felt flimsy, and gave me the impression that it wouldn’t take much to break it off.

The collapsing door is enough for me to say “no” to this choice.

The next offering, Belkin‘s F5L055 (black), is a much better choice in that it doesn’t have the faulty door and compartment. A molded channel serves as a guide to store the USB cable (this feature is used in several other models as well). In place of the door to raise the back section, there’s a flattened arch support made of sturdy plastic, and resembles the wing or fin found on the rear of many sports cars (see photo).

The fan on this model was much quieter than the F5L001, despite its nearly-identical construction. There didn’t seem to be a lesser amount of air despite the quieter fan, however.

The problem comes with that bottom-mounted support. While it’s suitable to use on a table or desktop, it doesn’t work so well on your lap. And, since there’s a good possibility that you’ll be using the cooling pad away from a flat surfaced and on your lap, it should be comfortable and make it easy to use your notebook. The support, while a vast improvement over the hinged door, gets in the way when you are sitting on a chair on sofa. If you sit with your legs together it invariably pushes them apart…if you sit with one leg under the other in a semi-squat position (one foot propped behind the opposing knee), the support kind of pushes its way down into the center of your lap.

This turned out to be a feature I could not live with, especially when I was considering the other options in our list.

Next we have the CoolerMaster LapAir Notebook Cooler R9-NBC-LPAR-GP. I really wanted to keep this one. It’s got a soft foam pad that spans the uppermost third of the base (see photo), which makes using it both on a flat surface and your lap equally pleasant. It fits nicely in or on your lap, depending on how you sit, cross-legged or legs together. This foam pad feature is found on the remaining three models–it was one of the things I was drawn to after my first exposure here.

Another plus was Its removable fan cover, which when detached exposed the fan blades for easy cleaning. And, it had a pass-through USB plug, handy so you don’t lose a port (but I think I said that already).

Its biggest failing was that it was too big. It’s designed for a 17 inch laptop, and I have a 15 inch model. Normally that wouldn’t make a difference, and the MBP had no problem perched atop the pad. But it was too big for my computer bag…in fact, all my computer bags going back 20 years! I couldn’t get it to fit inside either horizontally or vertically. I tried a backpack I used before when my job involved a lot of air travel, but even it couldn’t handle the excess width–I couldn’t zipper it shut.

So, as much as I liked it, and even though I seriously contemplated it, I wasn’t going to go out and purchase a new bigger bag just to accommodate it. I rejected the CoolerMaster LapAir.

The Belkin Cooling Lounge F5L041 (white) is basically just a larger CoolPad. Its top surface doesn’t have the more exaggerated slopes that the F5L001 had, so it didn’t do as good of a job cooling my notebook. And while not as big as the CoolerMaster above, it’s still good-sized and can accommodate a 17 inch laptop.

It too has a large foam pad on its bottom, which was comfortable enough, but its top surface could use more nonslip material. In fact, while all of the Belkins have nonslip rubber pads that span the upper and lower sections of the top surface, there is still nothing to hold the computer on the pad. All the others have some sort of lip–or recessed areas–that would catch the rubber feet of the notebook and help prevent it from possibly slipping off the front.

This wasn’t a bad choice, but I wished I could put the CoolPad and the Cooling Lounge into some sort of a machine and combine them somehow. The CoolPad is nicely sized, but has that annoying support at the bottom. The Cooling Lounge has a nice padded area underneath, but it’s too big and doesn’t have enough nonslip rubber on top to secure the notebook better so it doesn’t slide around when you shift sitting positions.

Finally, we have the Logitech N200 Laptop Cooling Pad. This has most of the features I was looking for…and, some I didn’t realize at the time that I’d like. The only negative could  be a question of availability, which I’ll get to in a minute.

It has a lip or front stop that the notebook fits nicely up against and into. The MBP has a front-loading optical drive, and I had some concern as to whether I’d be able to insert and remove CDs and DVDs with the computer on the pad. Much credit must be given to the Logitech engineers for making the front stop low enough so that the slot would not be blocked.

It has a very quiet cooling fan, located in the center of the grill area…in fact, the MBP fans on highest rpm are much louder than this one. The grill covers almost the entire top surface, and has removable rectangular rubber “feet” (see photo) that you can position most anywhere.

And, this fan is controlled by a three-position slider inline with the USB cord. The choices are 0 (OFF), 1 (LOW) and 2 (HIGH). There is a red status indicator in the slider for OFF, but HIGH and LOW are both marked with the same green color. The switch has good tactile stops so selecting isn’t a problem. I personally have had no need for the middle (LOW) stop, as I keep the pad on HIGH all the time when the notebook is powered on.

The good news is that the fan doesn’t draw much power…the only way I’d turn it off is if I was running low on juice and needed all I could squeeze out of the battery. I’ve closed the MBP’s lid to put it to sleep with the fan on and off, and it hasn’t hampered the process in either case. I’ve even forgotten to turn it off during its sleep, and powering it down later hasn’t caused to computer to awaken.

The channel the USB cord fits into has both a left-hand and right-hand approach, so you can route the cord however you wish for what suits you best. I’ve got two USB ports, one on the right side halfway down and one on the left. I generally plug the external USB RAID enclosure that I use for backups in the right port. The pad’s USB cord can be routed around the back, where it emerges from underneath and can just make it to the left port. The switch is about two inches from the plug and faces down, and even though I can’t see it I can easily go by feel as to its position.

(Update: I’ve discovered that it is possible to remove the grill portion of this unit to access the fan’s blades, allowing both parts to be cleaned. It’s not immediately obvious, but by carefully prying along the top edge using a small blade such as a paring knife the grill portion can be easily pulled apart from the base.)

If you read the reviews on Logitech’s on website they’re almost all bad–complaints that the fan stopped working, the USB cord went bad, and so on. I’ve been using this daily for several hours a day every day and haven’t had any problems. I’ve even transported the computer a few times with no durability issues.

(Also: As of this writing–August 20, 2013–it’s still working fine with none of the apparent problems the other reviewers experienced.)

Target’s website says this isn’t available in stores…but when I went into my local Target there were two. I bought one, as well as the Belkin Comfort Lounge I’ve also reviewed here. When I returned the Belkin later on I went back to the electronics department and saw that there were now three on the shelf.

After careful consideration of the other choices I would recommend the Logitech N200. Despite its bad online reviews I’ve had no problems with it. It has many pluses–it’s made of a durable and sturdy plastic construction, the front lip acts as a stop to keep the computer more securely on its surface, a two-speed adjustable fan–with an “off” setting–is a nice touch, and the soft cushioned pad as a base–all combine to make this a great choice for me.

I hope that this review helps you make a better choice by giving you an idea of what’s available.

(UPDATE: Belkin’s site says that this model is no longer available. If you have an interest in taking a look at this, I’d recommend you go fairly quickly to your nearest Target store and see what’s there. Also, Best Buy’s site says it’s on sale [as of March 2013] for $24.99. Check availability locally at http://bit.ly/XYogmg .)

Former Apple retail chief Browett says he was ousted because he ‘didn’t fit in’

Being selected to the position of overseeing Apple’s retail store operations would be a dream job for many.

The hugely successful concept that is the chain of Apple Stores is something to behold, no matter what you might think of the company. Ron Johnson, formerly of Target and its sister store Mervyn’s, was credited with creating the look and feel of Apple’s retail locations–everything from the minimalist decor to the Genius Bar was his invention.

It’s telling that other tech retailers–like Microsoft–are copying the general look and feel for their own stores. Apple was at first criticized for its design scheme…now the volume of those stores makes up a large portion of Apple’s earnings each quarter.

After almost twelve years Johnson moved to head JCPenney’s retail operations. The chain had lost its identity amongst the Targets and Walmarts of the retail world, and was hoping to attract younger shoppers to its stores.

So, presumably, the hard work of running Apple’s stores was already done. Just keep steering the freakin’ ship and maintain course, and things should run themselves…after all, the model has basically been in place since 2001.

That’s what everyone thought new retail chief John Browett would do. Instead, he was soon laying off staff and cutting store hours. While that might be how it’s done in other retail chains, that didn’t sit well with Apple’s staff, customers or upper management. Soon, Browett was gone. Now, six months later, we are finally learning why.

ArsTechnica has that story…here’s an excerpt:

Former Dixons Retail CEO John Browett, who enjoyed his position at the top of Apple retail for less than a year, has come forward to discuss some of the reasons why he didn’t end up staying at Apple for longer. In an interview during this week’s Retail Week Live conference, Browett said he was ousted from Apple not because of incompetence, but because he “just didn’t fit” with Apple’s culture.

Apple had hired Browett in early 2012 to replace Apple retail brainchild Ron Johnson left to become CEO of JC Penney. The immediate reaction from the public wasn’t exactly a positive one—Dixons’ UK retail stores were known for being cheap, messy, and staffed with clueless salespeople. That was the polar opposite of the image Johnson had curated for Apple’s own retail presence, leaving customers and employees alike confused about where Apple was hoping to take its stores.

But in October of 2012, Apple announced Browett was out after a series of Apple retail stumbles. Now, Browett is reflecting publicly on what happened, attributing the situation to a bad fit rather than his ability to do his job.

“Apple is a truly fantastic business. The people are great, they’ve got great products, it’s got a great culture and I loved working there, it’s a fantastic business,” he said. “The issue there was that I just didn’t fit within the way they run the business. It was one of those things where you’re rejected for fit rather than competency.”

Despite his incompatibility with Apple’s culture, Browett described the post as “probably the best thing that’s ever happened” to him.

This article has a video of his interview.

IDC analyst joins growing number advising Microsoft to ‘ditch Windows RT’

Since the release of Windows RT last fall, many have criticized the OS for its deficiencies, such as its inability to run legacy Windows apps and that further, users can only run apps downloaded from the online Microsoft Store.

Now, tech industry analysts IDC have called on Microsoft to dump it altogether, saying it is too confusing for consumers to have both Windows 8 and Windows RT in the marketplace.

IDC’s research director for tablets Tom Mainelli said the strategy of claiming both OSes are tablet-ready has largely been a failure.

“Two OSes for tablets has resulted in confusion on the consumer side,” Mainelli said recently. “Microsoft has had a difficult time spelling out why consumers would choose Windows RT over iOS or Android.”

Other analysts–such as Forrester Research’s Sarah Rotman Epps–have maintained since its release that Windows RT is a big mistake:

Microsoft will be its own worst enemy in this market. More so than Apple or Google, the worst thing that could happen to Microsoft’s Windows RT tablets is Windows 8 on x86. Selling x86-based tablets in the same retail channels as Windows RT tablets will confuse consumers and sow discontent if consumers buy x86 and think they’re getting something like the iPad. Microsoft and its partners need to articulate a compelling strategy for how they will manage consumer expectations in the channel. Consumers aren’t used to thinking about chipsets. Choice is a key tenet of Windows, but too much choice is overwhelming for consumers. Apple gets this, and limits iPad options to connectivity, storage, and black . . . or white.

IDC has gone a step further and is backing up its stance with sales projections:

According to IDC’s forecast, Windows RT tablets will end 2013 with only a 1.9% share of the year’s shipments, or 3.6 million devices out of total of 190.4 million. That’s not much more than Apple sold in three days after the iPad Mini launch last fall.

In comparison, 93.2 million Android tablets and 87.8 million iOS-powered iPads will ship this year, as Google’s mobile operating system takes the top spot for the first time.

Mainelli has some suggestions for what Microsoft should be doing, in this excerpt from PCWorld.com:

Rather than devote time and energy to Windows RT, Microsoft should put its tablet bet on Windows 8, the full-featured OS. “People may not love Windows 8, but it’s compatible with the software they’ve always run,” Mainelli said. “RT may look like Windows, but in fact it’s not.”

Windows RT devices can run only Windows Store apps, those written for the WinRT API (application programming interface), and cannot run so-called “legacy” software, the kind that users are familiar with and that work in Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7.

Microsoft allows its own Office and Internet Explorer to run on restricted “desktop” on Windows RT, but bars others from doing the same.

Windows 8 tablets will capture 2.8% of the market by the end of 2013, IDC estimated, representing 5.3 million units. But by 2017, when Windows RT still sports a flagging share of 2.7%—9.5 million of the projected 350 million tablets for the year—Windows 8 will have more than doubled its share of the market, climbing to 7.4%, or 25.9 million devices.

In 2017, IDC forecast shipments of 161 million Android tablets and 152.3 million iPads.

Even after five years on the market, IDC expects Windows RT to have just 2.7% of the tablet market, one reason why it encouraged Microsoft to ditch the OS. (Data: IDC.)

Partners bailing

Microsoft’s OEM (original equipment manufacturers) partners have been just as bearish on Windows RT as IDC. In January, Samsung—a key tablet maker—said it wouldn’t release a Windows RT device in the U.S. And earlier this month, the South Korean electronics giant confirmed it was pulling its Windows RT-powered Ativ Tab from European sales channels.

Mainelli stopped short of saying Windows RT was a flop—”It’s not a bad product,” he argued—but said it was clear Microsoft made the wrong design choice, then followed with muddied marketing.

Samsung’s Ativ Tab, powered by Windows RT

“There’s a reason why Apple scaled iOS from the phone to the tablet, why Google scaled Android from the phone to the tablet,” said Mainelli. “That makes a lot of sense, there are synergies there.”

Microsoft famously decided on a different path, instead taking a subset of its Windows desktop operating system, porting it to the ARM processor architecture, and calling it Windows RT.

“Consumers aren’t buying Windows RT’s value proposition, and long term we think Microsoft and its partners would be better served by focusing their attention on improving Windows 8,” said Mainelli in a Tuesday statement accompanying its revised tablet forecast. “Such a focus could drive better share growth in the tablet category down the road.”

He elaborated in the interview.

“As new processors come along, Microsoft should make a big push that Windows 8 is its tablet OS,” said Mainelli. “That has the potential to have legs.”

But Microsoft could take another tack, Mainelli acknowledged, citing the quick shift in tablets to devices with screens 8 inches in size or smaller. This quarter, more than half of all tablets shipped will be of that size.

“We may see Windows RT shifted to tablets of smaller sizes and lower prices,” Mainelli speculated.

(Disclosure: IDC, TechHive, Macworld, and PCWorld are all owned by the International Data Group.)

Microsoft has quietly made its mistakes go away before (remember Windows ME or “Microsoft Bob”?)…so it should do the same with Windows RT.

Let it sleep with the fishes.