Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My take on the new Macs

Surprise, surprise. For the "benefit" of everyone who has bought a new Mac in the last month, Apple today released new iMacs, a new version of the polycarbonate $999 MacBook, and a new mouse.

The cheaper iMac ($1199) is 21.5", with a resolution of 1920 x 1080, the same as HDTV. This means you have a pixel-by-pixel display that perfectly matches the HDTV that a video will be shown on. There are going to be a lot of videos produced as a result of this machine. Buy the $1499 model and you get Apple's fastest processor, a 1Tb drive, and higher-end graphics processor. Spend $1699 and move up to a 27" model with Apple's fastest processor and 2560 x 1440 resolution, the same as their 30" Cinema Display. The most expensive model, $1999, actually offers a less powerful processor but the most powerful graphics chips available. Professional graphics people will not be unsatisfied with either of these models, if you can believe the specifications.

All iMacs come with wireless mouse and keyboard. I think this is a bad idea for reasons I have stated before: Certain repair and maintenance operations (such as zapping the PRAM) do not work with wireless keyboards because they lose their connection to the Mac. Therefore I recommend everyone who gets one of these also buy a cheap keyboard and mouse to keep in a closet until they are needed.

Apple proved they are still committed to offering a low-priced laptop by making a major design improvement in the case. It's lighter than the old one, faster, and has a better battery that gets as much as 7 hours on a charge. Expect less if you watch YouTube videos, play DVDs or other processor-intensive activities.

Down side: Once again they have dropped the FireWire port. It has but two USB ports, an audio in-and-out port, and a mini DisplayPort for an external monitor. Call me old-fashioned, but I insist that FireWire is vastly superior to USB-2 and would not have any Mac without it. Still, since Intel Macs can boot off of a USB-2 backup drive, new owners can get by without FireWire. Just bear that in mind.

The mouse LOOKS amazing. No buttons (of course; Jobs hates buttons) but the entire surface is touch-sensitive and supports multi-finger gestures like the trackpads do, and also can track correctly on glass or solid-color surfaces, not possible with older laser mice.

If you ordered but did not yet receive a new Mac that has been replaced by these models, call and immediately cancel, or verify that your order will be changed to the new model at a matching price. Apple usually allows that, but may not extend the service to all Mac dealers not actually owned by Apple. Those older models should still be available for a while at a reduced price.

See the whole mess at Apple's site.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Brother printer setup nightmare

For the last few years I have been recommending Brother laser printers, based on the reports of owners rather than personal experience. When my Apple LW 630 became obsolete due to the end of AppleTalk in Snow Leopard, I decided to take my own advice and went to Fry's to get one.

They had two models in the 2100 series: USB-only and USB/Ethernet/Wireless. I got the wireless one for $149 (same cost as at Staples) and then set about on a nightmare of phone calls and retries with their tech support.

First the "wizard" failed. It installed the drivers, but was not able to connect to the wireless router. It worked with USB, but I found out that, unlike most every printer on the market, it did not work with USB hubs, powered or unpowered. I don't have enough ports on my MacBook Pro to permanently dedicate to a printer, and although wired Ethernet was an option, I wanted to be able to print from anywhere in the house.

Call #1 to their tech support, the only number available, led to a 19-minute wait and a series of dumb questions from the robot before I got a human. It took another ten minutes for him to determine I had to talk to the Mac specialist. He would transfer me. Was there a direct number to him? He knew of no other number to call and could not transfer me to a supervisor who did.

He switched me to that department, which resulted in a robot that told me that I had called after hours (in reality, they did not close for another half-hour) and left me no transfer or leave-message options. It just hung up. A second attempt, informing the first guy what happened when he transferred me, wound up with the same results. I gave up. Time on phone to accomplish nothing: 1:15.

The next day, after 20 minutes of robot time I got the same place and same results, with the same series of dumb robot questions. The guy transferred me but this time I got someone who at least was there and answered the phone. He had a different series of setup steps from the ones in the documentation but again the same results. No wireless connection but a dozen pages wasted every time I would reset the printer and get the desired page that told me the connection had failed. It was data on the 3rd page I needed. Was there a way to get only that page? Nope.

He told me to double-check what kind of security I had on the wireless router (WPA2) and try again. He emailed me a link to the document that outlined the same set of steps we had tried. Twice more I tried and both times I failed; it would not connect to the router.

The 3rd or 4th callback led to them kicking me upstairs to a "product specialist" who would call me back. He did not call that day. Could I be simply transferred to him? No, they had to send in my request via internal email.

He called the next morning, Thursday (I had started this process on Monday) and I told him the history and we tried again. I told him, screw it, what would happen if I just gave up and unsecured my wifi connection? Go ahead, he said. Another eight test pages later it finally worked! It was never able to store and use the network password, but it was able to successfully establish a connection to the router and has worked ever since. If I want security now I simply have to turn off the router when I am not using it.

If I had been billing myself for the time invested in this setup it would have been over $300 for a $149 printer. I will no longer be recommending this series of Brother printers without including this warning.