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DJI Phantom Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter for GoPro
DJI Phantom Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter for GoPro
Price: $479.00
22 used & new from $423.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It didn't fly away, but it's still in pieces, June 15, 2014
This thing, combined with a GoPro and a gimbal mount, produces astonishingly professional video. It's dead-simple to fly and you rapidly become adept at aiming the camera.

I'm writing this review to warn of a poor design decision, however. The 'turn me off' sequence (both sticks in at a downward angle) takes effect even if the craft is in the air. I accidentally triggered it while attempting to maneuver at 200 feet. The resulting unpowered fall destroyed my Phantom.

This is not a one star review, because it was my fault. It's not a five star review, because the system should never have allowed me to do that.


Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (2nd Edition) (Voices That Matter)
Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (2nd Edition) (Voices That Matter)
by Garr Reynolds
Edition: Paperback
Price: $22.46
133 used & new from $13.45

4.0 out of 5 stars Five stars for the takeaways, two for the length, May 24, 2014
I've of two minds about Presentation Zen. On the one hand, you will learn what it takes to be compelling in front of an audience if you read this book. The takeaways (if you can find them) are worth five stars.

But I'd give it three stars or less for the aggregate. The book is 300 pages long. Those takeaways comprise ten of them; save for the (very useful) before/after slide comparisons to illustrate design, the rest is fluff. And how very odd that is, given the author's repeated emphasis on culling the unnecessary.

There's an undercurrent of another issue only addressed in passing. Let's say you read it and somehow divine the important parts. Can you then give an effective presentation? I'll save the suspense: almost certainly not, no more than you could dance ballet by way of an instruction manual.

Standing before a room of people and talking is a wholly unnatural act. A one-way presentation is no less of a performance than anything on stage or screen. To do it well takes repeated, consistent, and focused practice. It also takes exposure. You can't theorize how you'll respond to the stress; you have to have actually experience it.

If you want to present well, buy the book, read the book, and then join Toastmasters. Toastmasters is a speaking workshop. You learn how to talk, to stand, to move, to emote, and a hundred other things that sum to a good presentation. But the real virtue is that it's an opportunity to square with your fears in a no-stakes environment. There is no better source of preparation for that inevitable day when your communication really matters.

It's a fine start then, this Presentation Zen, however cluttered. But consider it a first step, not an all-encompassing solution.


DPC Outdoor Design Men's MC152 Hat,Brown,L US
DPC Outdoor Design Men's MC152 Hat,Brown,L US
Offered by Shoebuy
Price: $32.95
4 used & new from $29.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific hat, though stitching came loose, May 8, 2014
Pretty much as above. This is a reasonably attractive hat that's crushable and cool. I've posted a picture. I don't feel my head is abnormally large at six feet and change, but I did require an XL with this model.

A small piece of stitching started to unwind on the very top with mine, though it doesn't affect the hat structurally. The brim is also a little floppy in winds over about 15 MPH. This is my traveling hat. At home for yard work, I'm likely to use a straw-style hat with an even wider brim.


SIIG Wired Keyboard (JK-US0412-S1)
SIIG Wired Keyboard (JK-US0412-S1)
Offered by pcrush-outlet
Price: $62.02
71 used & new from $42.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent laptop keyboard in a desktop form factor, May 7, 2014
This SIIG is my new favorite desktop keyboard, except for one thing: the angle. I discovered this model after tapping through thirty alternatives at a local electronics store and doubling back twice when I felt how much better it was. Maybe you'll feel the same, but in truth, keyboard preferences are all over the map.

Some differentiating factors:

- Key pressure
- Key depth
- Crispness of break point
- When key activation is recorded
- Noise
- Size of keys
- Angle of key sides
- Sculpting of keys
- Wireless
- USB hub
- Backlighting
- How the letters are on the keys
- Accessory keys

This keyboard is heavy with a fixed angle brought on a by large plastic hump on the back. There's a USB 2.0 port on each side. The finish is matte aluminum, except for a shiny SIIG logo on one side. It feels like a solid, quality piece, though the soft noise each key generates doesn't have the characteristic heavy resonance of some competing keyboards. For better, I think. The key letters are some kind of low-profile sticker; so not engraved, but still lasting.

The layout is bog-standard for Windows (a good thing), except for the addition of volume and power keys above the number pad. The key action is scissor-style, short travel, moderate pressure, with a crisp break. Each key has a shallow approach angle and a mostly-flat surface, so you can glide from key to key without catching your fingers on the sides. There's no backlighting. It's essentially a high-end laptop keyboard in a desktop form factor.

At around $60, this board begins to compete with low-end `mechanical' keyboards based on Cherry or Alps switches. In most conventional keyboards, each key sits on top of a rubber dome that collapses into a contact board when you type. Cherry-based mechanical boards use plastic switches for every key which are tuned for specific performance characteristics: noise, how pronounced the break is, and how much pressure each key requires. Typists generally favor light, noisy keys with a crisp break (e.g., Cherry Blue) to minimize hand-strain and maximize feedback. Gamers may prefer something else.

In all cases but one, the key is activated when the switch or some portion of it bottoms out. That exception is `buckling spring,' a very old style that originated with IBM POS terminals where the switch in each key collapses sideways into a contact terminal. It offers maximum noise and feedback at the expense of quite heavy weighting. The keys often tend to have sharp approach angles and strong beveling that favor typists with precise technique.

You can get an idea with Youtube videos how these various types compare, particularly in noise. Personally, I wasn't impressed with Cherry mechanical boards. I felt they (Cherry Blue, Cherry Brown) were better than rubber dome keyboards, but I've always favored the short travel and crisp break of scissor-style switches. My unibody MacBook Pro has even less key travel and sharp approach angles, but I still find it very nice to type on. Apple's wireless keyboard was a little too stiff by comparison. My Dell Latitude D620 keyboard is very similar to this SIIG (and excellent for a laptop), but also a bit stiff. The SIIG offers the low actuation pressure of the MacBook with the superior crisp break of the Dell.

My only caveat for this board (besides the excessively shiny SIIG logo that I could do without) is that the keys are set at a rather pronounced angle that you can't adjust. I feel the onset of tendonitis after any extended period with my wrists curled up, so I wasn't initially happy. Now that I've raised the front with furniture feet and begun to use a gel pad under my wrists, I've started to enjoy it quite a lot more. Still, I'd sacrifice the hub for a flatter version of same.


Merkur Long Handled Safety Razor
Merkur Long Handled Safety Razor
Offered by Lock & Mane
Price: $33.25
22 used & new from $32.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughts after a few weeks, April 25, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This was a replacement for a Mach III I'd used for the last decade. I've probably done thirty shaves with it. Here's my take.

* Is it a better shave?

In some ways. The Mach III is extremely fast, contours to your jaw line, makes it very hard to cut yourself, and doesn't make total hash of a sideburn line. The Merkur does none of these things as well. It's still quite fast. I learned how to use exaggerated hand movements and skin-shifting to do my jaw effectively. If I use enough soap, I rarely cut myself. Sideburns are still hit or miss.

There's some measure of satisfaction in the weight of the thing. I've also watched persistent razor burn from the Mach III disappear after a week, but that could also be attributed to the superior soap and rinsing with cold water instead of hot. Overall, I'm pleased with it, but if I had to go back to disposable blades, I wouldn't feel overly traumatized.

* Is it a closer shave?

Maybe. If you haven't warmed your skin, worked the soap to proper lather, and used repeated short strokes, then no. Even if you've done all that, it doesn't do well with contours. You're likely to have rougher patches around your chin even with vigilance, though they won't be visible.

But then again, you might not want a close shave. It's easy to get with any razor: just go against the grain. That's likely to produce more ingrown hairs. I've also found that my stubble looks better on the second day than with the Mach III; that one did poorly on the mustache area, so the shading difference became obvious very quickly.

* Long handle or short handle?

I bought the long and I have large hands. It has slightly more stability and slightly less agility. The agility is important for angling the blade around your chin. You'll be happy with either.

* Is it more economical?

For anyone younger than 60 who shaves more than once a month, yes. Exactly how much more depends on how quickly you go through blades. Single blades last the same as the Mach III blades, so you can compare directly.

Merkur outlay: razor ($35), soap ($10), and badger brush ($15)
Mach III outlay: razor ($5), soap ($5)

Mach III blades are about $2.50 each. Merkur blades are about $0.10. I go through a blade of either about every 10 days, so 35 blades a year. For me, here's how it works out, assuming two soap containers per year:

YR1:
M3: $102.50
M: $65.00

YR2-:
M3: $97.50
M: $23.50

Over ten years, it's $275 vs. $975, or about $700 in savings. There'd be more if you used decent soap with the Mach III. The thing is though, in absolute value terms, shaving is cheap. The Gillette blades are annoying from the value perspective, but I don't know anyone using them that'd go to the poorhouse over $70 a year.

* What should I know about shaving?

To recap from above: this razor is less forgiving than the Mach III. Prep matters more.

1. Shower or heat your face with a hot, wet towel.
2. Use conditioner in the shower or a pre-shave hair softener (optional)
3. Make a big frothy lather in your soap jar with a lot of water and apply with the badger brush. If you can see your face at all or the brush feels stiff, the soap hasn't lathered enough.
3. Use short, quick strokes, flipping and rinsing the blade frequently.
4. Pull your nose up to shave that area. Use exaggerated wrist movement to make the blade follow the contour of your jaw.
5. Rinse with cold water and pat-dry.
6. When you replace blades, grip the razor head from the short sides and keep it stationary. It's very, very easy to cut yourself if you take the liberties the Mach III allows.

I didn't like the Merkur much initially because I wasn't using enough soap and my strokes were too long. I like it now.


ASUS (RT-N16) Wireless-N 300 Maximum Performance single band Gaming Router: Fast Gigabit Ethernet, support USB-Hard Drive and Printer and Open source DDWRT
ASUS (RT-N16) Wireless-N 300 Maximum Performance single band Gaming Router: Fast Gigabit Ethernet, support USB-Hard Drive and Printer and Open source DDWRT
Price: $82.99
100 used & new from $47.90

2.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant for two years. Now my wireless is flaking out., April 24, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
If you'd asked me to review this a year after I got it, I'd say it was a great. Fast and stable, a fine replacement for my WRT-56GL (which never had to be rebooted for reasons unrelated to configuration changes).

Not now. For the last three weeks, I've watched my wireless network sporadically disappear. It's still 'on' in the router firmware, but the light on the front of the router is off and nothing detects it. Power cycling the router sometimes brings it back.

After six years of hands-off satisfaction with the Linksys, this is not an auspicious performance. I never saw more than about 70 Mb/s (~9 MB/s actual speed) in the 802.11 dual-band transfers, so even if it were stable, it'd be overpriced for this level of performance. Buy something else.


Brother HL-2270DW Compact Laser Printer with Wireless Networking and Duplex
Brother HL-2270DW Compact Laser Printer with Wireless Networking and Duplex
Price: $99.99
227 used & new from $65.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excessive fan noise, April 23, 2014
I haven't had this printer for long, but beware: when printing stops, you can expect to hear irritating fan noise for fifteen minutes or more. This occurs even if you set the printer to go to sleep immediately. Brother says it's normal. My 2170W never did this; it's a most unwelcome new 'feature' that almost entirely negates the appeal of this model to me.

Otherwise, it seems solid. It starts printing faster than the 2170W. It's a bit quieter in action. Duplexing works fine. Print quality is par for the course for a black-and-white laser. In every way, it seems like a fine replacement except for the stupid-long fan duration.

There's one oddity: you have two management interfaces. The first is part of the Windows UI. This one has the new addition of 'profiles,' so you can create custom one-click menu options to change a variety of settings all at once.

Start / Devices and Printers / [right-click printer icon] / Printing Preferences

The second interface is in a web browser. Same place, same right-click, but select Properties / Web Services. There's a link that'll let you see the printer status and adjust low-level settings. Unfortunately, the settings on each interface don't always match, so it's hard to tell which one is governing the printer.

My 2270DW is set up with a CAT-5 cable. The first one I received had a broken network component; I never got it to work. The new one, my router discovered immediately. Software installation was a breeze. If you hate the noise and just shut if off immediately after printing, it'll redetect immediately. If the printer is easily accessible, this is one blunt-force solution to the fan problem.


Apple MacBook Pro ME864LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop with Retina Display (NEWEST VERSION)
Apple MacBook Pro ME864LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop with Retina Display (NEWEST VERSION)
11 used & new from $1,100.29

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Twenty years of Windows to this, April 5, 2014
This review has been a long time coming. I've had a succession of premium Windows laptops dating back to Windows 95. The most recent was an HP Spectre 13t Ultrabook with Windows 8.1. I had it for a week alongside this MacBook. I no longer have it. I do not expect to purchase another Windows machine in the indefinite future.

EDIT: I've added some notes on multi-monitor usage below.

I bought this system to edit in Photoshop on the road. My version is 2.4 | 16 GB | 256 GB. Screen quality, size, weight, and build were high priorities. After four months with this system, I believe it is the best mobile laptop available, second only to the Air for folks who don't need the Retina screen or 16GB of RAM.

MAC VS. WINDOWS:

It's hard to evaluate the Mac in isolation, so I'll make a few comparisons to the HP and Windows 8 in general. The Spectre is not the best Windows system available, but a good one similar in focus and class to the rMBP.

* Build. Very stiff, very sleek, and as thin as anything with this solidity. Aesthetically perfect to me. Light (3.5 lbs) unless you're comparing it to recent 2-2.5lb machines. It could be thinner. The narrow bezel could be even more minimalist. That's about it for improvements. The keyboard has good travel and pleasing backlighting. I don't miss keystrokes.

It's not a tank though. I distinguish between build quality (impeccable) and durability (lackluster). The aluminum case scratches and dents easily, especially the sharp edges. I have mine vinyl-wrapped. If you drop it, you may have to replace the entire case. I've seen one person physically bend a MacBook by wedging it offset into their luggage. No system in this size class would do any better, but I do miss the overbuilt chassis and easy parts replacement of my older Latitude. I'm more keenly aware of dangers to this MacBook.

* Screen. Better than anything not in an HP or Dell Precision-class laptop. 1600p, 16:10 aspect, full sRGB gamut, IPS, fairly high brightness, very low dE after after calibration, and low glare. The Spectre had a 16:9, 1440p screen with more glare, less brightness, a slight tint, and somewhat lower gamut. For serious color work, this MacBook is the class of the field.

But that's just the spec. The real advantage is how OS X deals with scaling. Windows HiDPI support is inconsistent outside of the 'Modern' interface. It has somewhat better font rendering relative to the Mac at non-optimal scaling settings, but problems all over the place with UI elements. Some large, some small, most blurry. On the Mac, unoptimized apps just have blocky text. The UI doesn't get smaller. It's so easy for programmers to optimize for Retina that all of my apps have updates available.

Font scaling at non-optimal settings is ever-so-slightly less clear, but I barely notice. The people lamenting that the stock interface approximates a 1280x800 machine do not, to me, have a valid complaint.

This scaling advantage is huge. It's one of the biggest reasons I moved over. I wanted a high-res screen, and Windows 8.1 (and the rest of the Windows app community) just isn't ready. Many Adobe apps are difficult to use at 1440p on a 13" screen and have yet to be updated.

* OS. Another huge element for three reasons: gestures, multiple desktops, and search and organization.

Gestures (particularly with third-party additions like BetterTouchTool) are miles ahead of Windows. They just work and the variety is tremendous. I rapidly got used to sliding between desktops and shuffling windows around. I almost never click the touchpad unless I'm dragging a slider in Photoshop. Instead, I tap and swipe at warp speed. There is no Windows machine from anyone in this ballpark. Windows doesn't do multiple desktops (in the 'classic' interface) natively.

That advantage doesn't matter at home when I've got three large screens and an external mouse and keyboard. But on the road without any of the attachments, and without an external mouse, I'm probably twice as productive on the Mac. Maybe more. I spend far less time with window management. Little things also enable this, like an Alt-Tab function that automatically cycles between two in-use windows, and two-finger scroll that doesn't require a window to be selected.

The other big change is that I spend less time organizing files. On Windows, I spend a lot of time creating folders within subfolders, keeping the hierarchy in my head. Inevitably I fall behind and clutter the Desktop. I spend this time because Windows Search has been terrible since XP. It's never indexed properly for me, so I miss files; it's not universal, in the sense that what you find in a Start Menu search is not what comes up in a Windows Explorer search; and it has a palpable delay before the results appear.

Spotlight has none of these problems. It's so instant that pulling it up with CMD-Space, navigating to a result, and opening it are all part of the same stream of keystrokes. It indexes the entire drive on every log-in. You miss nothing. It's so fast and comprehensive to find documents and change apps that I've turned off the dock entirely. I could duplicate some of this functionality with Everything Search on Windows, but it doesn't integrate as well as Spotlight. This is a definite Mac win.

Also of note: instant resume and multi-user support. No waiting for standby or resume. No sensitivity to when you close the lid. And when you want to change accounts, the switch is immediate after entering a password. No logging out, no loading screens.

* Apps. There's a whole lot of cruft on the Windows side. Not long ago, I was looking for one that would record a video feed from a USB device. Four apps and two wasted hours later, I hadn't gotten anywhere. That functionality is built into OS X. In general, there's less available for OS X, but what is available tends to look and perform better than what's on the Windows side. Gamers may take exception.

* Battery. If I'm just looking at webpages in Safari (Chrome uses more energy) and they're not all flash video, I see 10-13 hours of battery life consistently with middle screen brightness. If I'm cranking away in Photoshop on max bright and Bridge is generating thumbnails in the background, that drops to 4-5 hours.

* Quirks. I don't like the startup sound (you can't permanently disable it, though it'll track the system volume level). I don't like that new windows tend to spawn on top of existing ones rather than in a new desktop. Many animations (e.g., desktop switching, fullscreen) are impossible to disable without third-party software. For my power-user workflow, I rely on at least three apps to improve the experience: BetterTouchTool (gestures), BetterSnapTool (window management), and TotalSpaces (disabling animations better multi-monitor consistency). Some Apple apps prioritize form over function (e.g., Time Machine). A few of the inbuilt office-style apps (e.g., Mail) seem like relics from the mid-2000s.

That's about it.

On the hardware side, every Windows machine seems to have some random thing wrong with it. The HP had high-pitched and frequent fan noise, excessive CPU throttling, and wouldn't let me turn off all the keyboard lights. Other systems have weak keyboards. Still others have no battery life. All of them have, at best, workmanlike touchpads (thanks to Windows and half-baked drivers).

The point of this isn't to rant about Windows, I still use it on every other system I have. But in a mobile machine, it's harder, sometimes impossible, to work around the areas where it falls short.

So what do I miss about Windows?

The Windows 8 task and resource managers are more intuitive and convey more information at a glance. In general, I think the Windows system tools are superior.
The Windows 8.1 'modern' interface (the side you'd see on a Windows phone or a tablet) is superb in a touch environment, and I'd love to have a MacBook/iPad amalgam with similar functionality once the hardware is thin and light enough to make that feasible. (As it is, I don't miss touch at all on this MacBook; touchpad gestures are faster and more capable.)
Office on Windows is a better program. I don't care for the Mac equivalent. The Windows version is sluggish, but acceptable for most uses in Parallels.
Windows runs faster on similar hardware. Animated transitions and scrolling on the rMBP can lag and stutter sometimes with content-heavy pages and programs.
Windows doesn't have a title bar on top. I like my apps to maximize to the top of the screen. Minor point.

That's it. Windows still feels like an old shoe to me, so there's comfort in the familiarity, but really: I don't miss it.

MULTI-DISPLAY SETUPS:

I recently begun to pair my Mac with two 27" 2560x1440 displays. Both are Asus IPS, which cost about half as much as Apple's equivalent. They use DisplayPort; coupled with a cheap adapter, they plug directly into the two Thunderbolt ports.

My initial plan was to use a docking station and a single Thunderbolt port for both, but this is not possible except with an Apple display and a second Apple display daisy-chained to it. Third-party displays each require their own port; no Thunderbolt docking station supports more than one third-party screen at one time.

Connected directly, the internal Iris chip drives both screens *and* the MacBook's own display. Each can have multiple desktops. The animations get a little choppier, but this is still impressive. It's over 11MP of screen. Scaling is perfect and each screen has its own background and color profile. Settings and app locations are, for the most part, maintained between sessions.

The only caveat is that I see inconsistent performance with my Windows 8.1 VM in Parallels. I wanted to run Visio 2013, but ultimately had to revert back to a Windows XP VM with Visio 2010. That one blazes; the 2013 version was occasionally unusable if I was running a lot of other programs. Quad-core MacBooks with a dedicated nVidia graphics chip will fare better.

MAC VS. MAC:

* rMBP 13 vs. Air:

Easy choice. The rMBP has a better screen and supports 16GB of RAM. If you don't need either, buy the Air.

For those advantages, you end up with a thicker chassis that's a half-pound heavier (3 lbs vs 3.5 lbs). You can edit photos and video with the Air, but the gamut isn't wide enough for professional work, and comparatively poor viewing angles make it harder to show your work to others. Speed is otherwise similar, even favoring the Air because it has fewer pixels to push. Still, at any scaling setting, text and graphics look considerably better on the Retina screen.

If you need 16 GB, you know it already. Mavericks does impressive RAM compression, so 8 GB here is more like 11-12 GB on the Windows side. Be aware that while the internal SSD is fast (700 MB/s), it's still miles slower than the RAM, and the system will tank if it has to page the swap file.

* rMBP 13 vs. MBP 13:

Choose the MBP 13 if you want to add cheap 3rd-party RAM and SSD storage. You lose the Retina screen, the thin chassis, and the stellar Haswell idle battery life. If you don't need expandable storage or the Retina screen (or if you're planning to configure the MBP solely from the Apple page), there's almost no reason to prefer it to the Air. And if you're not budget-constrained, there's no reason at all to choose it over the rMBP.

* rMBP 13 vs. rMBP 15:

If you're editing video or doing a lot of time-sensitive processing, choose the 15. It has a quad-core chip that's 50-100% faster than the 13. Same 16 GB RAM cap, and it's a significantly larger and heavier chassis.

The 15 is also smoother in OS X by some margin. It doesn't really gain in multitasking; you can slot windows side-by-side easily with the 13 and multiple desktops make up for the ones you can't.

The 15 is really about speed in processor-limited workflows. With 22MP raw files, ACR adjustments on my 13 are adequately fast. Conversions are a little sluggish, as are some Photoshop functions like Content-aware Fill. I don't object, but it's not lickity-split quick like my home quad-core Windows machine and, to a lesser extent, the rMBP 15.

* Fast CPU vs. Slow CPU:

Slow. The major divide is dual-core vs. quad-core (i.e., rMBP 13 vs. 15). The fastest dual-core is maybe 20% quicker than the slowest. Likewise for the quad chips, but the gulf between dual and quad will be more like 75% for some workloads. Better a slow quad than a fast dual, particularly as Intel's Turbo function makes the quads nearly as good for 1-2 core workloads.

* More SSD vs. Less SSD:

More. 256 GB, 512 GB if possible.

Macs don't (appear to) use a shared DLL folder like Windows machines, so every program packages all of its files with it. This makes uninstalls dead-simple and eradicates file-version conflicts, but also increases the size of every program. A 10 MB Windows program may well be 40 MB on the Mac. I rely a lot on cloud storage, so I haven't felt limited by my 256 GB drive.

SD cards and flash drives can provide more space for content that doesn't need to be immediately accessible. But be aware: only SanDisk Extreme USB 3.0 flash drives (and no SD cards) use a proper SSD-style storage controller. Other USB drives may be speedy for sequential transfers, but will tank on small files and random writes.

I would not choose the 128 GB drive unless you're only using the system as an internet and writing terminal. Any large files will rapidly exhaust your free space. Same comment about 4GB of RAM with more sophisticated programs. You can't expand the RAM or (easily) expand the SSD on these Retina-class Macs.

IN SUM:

I'd rather not have spent as much as I did on this system. It was $500 more than the HP for similar specifications and another 8GB of RAM. But having used it for two months, I don't regret the extra money at all. It is a fully-baked product that doesn't exist on the Windows side. If you're a road warrior and you edit graphics, this is your machine.


Apple MacBook Pro ME866LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop with Retina Display (NEWEST VERSION)
Apple MacBook Pro ME866LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop with Retina Display (NEWEST VERSION)
Price: $1,699.00
21 used & new from $1,480.00

20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Twenty years of Windows to this, April 5, 2014
This review has been a long time coming. I've had a succession of premium Windows laptops dating back to Windows 95. The most recent was an HP Spectre 13t Ultrabook with Windows 8.1. I had it for a week alongside this MacBook. I no longer have it. I do not expect to purchase another Windows machine in the indefinite future.

EDIT: I've added some notes on multi-monitor usage below.

I bought this system to edit in Photoshop on the road. My version is 2.4 | 16 GB | 256 GB. Screen quality, size, weight, and build were high priorities. After four months with this system, I believe it is the best mobile laptop available, second only to the Air for folks who don't need the Retina screen or 16GB of RAM.

MAC VS. WINDOWS:

It's hard to evaluate the Mac in isolation, so I'll make a few comparisons to the HP and Windows 8 in general. The Spectre is not the best Windows system available, but a good one similar in focus and class to the rMBP.

* Build. Very stiff, very sleek, and as thin as anything with this solidity. Aesthetically perfect to me. Light (3.5 lbs) unless you're comparing it to recent 2-2.5lb machines. It could be thinner. The narrow bezel could be even more minimalist. That's about it for improvements. The keyboard has good travel and pleasing backlighting. I don't miss keystrokes.

It's not a tank though. I distinguish between build quality (impeccable) and durability (lackluster). The aluminum case scratches and dents easily, especially the sharp edges. I have mine vinyl-wrapped. If you drop it, you may have to replace the entire case. I've seen one person physically bend a MacBook by wedging it offset into their luggage. No system in this size class would do any better, but I do miss the overbuilt chassis and easy parts replacement of my older Latitude. I'm more keenly aware of dangers to this MacBook.

* Screen. Better than anything not in an HP or Dell Precision-class laptop. 1600p, 16:10 aspect, full sRGB gamut, IPS, fairly high brightness, very low dE after after calibration, and low glare. The Spectre had a 16:9, 1440p screen with more glare, less brightness, a slight tint, and somewhat lower gamut. For serious color work, this MacBook is the class of the field.

But that's just the spec. The real advantage is how OS X deals with scaling. Windows HiDPI support is inconsistent outside of the 'Modern' interface. It has somewhat better font rendering relative to the Mac at non-optimal scaling settings, but problems all over the place with UI elements. Some large, some small, most blurry. On the Mac, unoptimized apps just have blocky text. The UI doesn't get smaller. It's so easy for programmers to optimize for Retina that all of my apps have updates available.

Font scaling at non-optimal settings is ever-so-slightly less clear, but I barely notice. The people lamenting that the stock interface approximates a 1280x800 machine do not, to me, have a valid complaint.

This scaling advantage is huge. It's one of the biggest reasons I moved over. I wanted a high-res screen, and Windows 8.1 (and the rest of the Windows app community) just isn't ready. Many Adobe apps are difficult to use at 1440p on a 13" screen and have yet to be updated.

* OS. Another huge element for three reasons: gestures, multiple desktops, and search and organization.

Gestures (particularly with third-party additions like BetterTouchTool) are miles ahead of Windows. They just work and the variety is tremendous. I rapidly got used to sliding between desktops and shuffling windows around. I almost never click the touchpad unless I'm dragging a slider in Photoshop. Instead, I tap and swipe at warp speed. There is no Windows machine from anyone in this ballpark. Windows doesn't do multiple desktops (in the 'classic' interface) natively.

That advantage doesn't matter at home when I've got three large screens and an external mouse and keyboard. But on the road without any of the attachments, and without an external mouse, I'm probably twice as productive on the Mac. Maybe more. I spend far less time with window management. Little things also enable this, like an Alt-Tab function that automatically cycles between two in-use windows, and two-finger scroll that doesn't require a window to be selected.

The other big change is that I spend less time organizing files. On Windows, I spend a lot of time creating folders within subfolders, keeping the hierarchy in my head. Inevitably I fall behind and clutter the Desktop. I spend this time because Windows Search has been terrible since XP. It's never indexed properly for me, so I miss files; it's not universal, in the sense that what you find in a Start Menu search is not what comes up in a Windows Explorer search; and it has a palpable delay before the results appear.

Spotlight has none of these problems. It's so instant that pulling it up with CMD-Space, navigating to a result, and opening it are all part of the same stream of keystrokes. It indexes the entire drive on every log-in. You miss nothing. It's so fast and comprehensive to find documents and change apps that I've turned off the dock entirely. I could duplicate some of this functionality with Everything Search on Windows, but it doesn't integrate as well as Spotlight. This is a definite Mac win.

Also of note: instant resume and multi-user support. No waiting for standby or resume. No sensitivity to when you close the lid. And when you want to change accounts, the switch is immediate after entering a password. No logging out, no loading screens.

* Apps. There's a whole lot of cruft on the Windows side. Not long ago, I was looking for one that would record a video feed from a USB device. Four apps and two wasted hours later, I hadn't gotten anywhere. That functionality is built into OS X. In general, there's less available for OS X, but what is available tends to look and perform better than what's on the Windows side. Gamers may take exception.

* Battery. If I'm just looking at webpages in Safari (Chrome uses more energy) and they're not all flash video, I see 10-13 hours of battery life consistently with middle screen brightness. If I'm cranking away in Photoshop on max bright and Bridge is generating thumbnails in the background, that drops to 4-5 hours.

* Quirks. I don't like the startup sound (you can't permanently disable it, though it'll track the system volume level). I don't like that new windows tend to spawn on top of existing ones rather than in a new desktop. Many animations (e.g., desktop switching, fullscreen) are impossible to disable without third-party software. For my power-user workflow, I rely on at least three apps to improve the experience: BetterTouchTool (gestures), BetterSnapTool (window management), and TotalSpaces (disabling animations better multi-monitor consistency). Some Apple apps prioritize form over function (e.g., Time Machine). A few of the inbuilt office-style apps (e.g., Mail) seem like relics from the mid-2000s.

That's about it.

On the hardware side, every Windows machine seems to have some random thing wrong with it. The HP had high-pitched and frequent fan noise, excessive CPU throttling, and wouldn't let me turn off all the keyboard lights. Other systems have weak keyboards. Still others have no battery life. All of them have, at best, workmanlike touchpads (thanks to Windows and half-baked drivers).

The point of this isn't to rant about Windows, I still use it on every other system I have. But in a mobile machine, it's harder, sometimes impossible, to work around the areas where it falls short.

So what do I miss about Windows?

The Windows 8 task and resource managers are more intuitive and convey more information at a glance. In general, I think the Windows system tools are superior.
The Windows 8.1 'modern' interface (the side you'd see on a Windows phone or a tablet) is superb in a touch environment, and I'd love to have a MacBook/iPad amalgam with similar functionality once the hardware is thin and light enough to make that feasible. (As it is, I don't miss touch at all on this MacBook; touchpad gestures are faster and more capable.)
Office on Windows is a better program. I don't care for the Mac equivalent. The Windows version is sluggish, but acceptable for most uses in Parallels.
Windows runs faster on similar hardware. Animated transitions and scrolling on the rMBP can lag and stutter sometimes with content-heavy pages and programs.
Windows doesn't have a title bar on top. I like my apps to maximize to the top of the screen. Minor point.

That's it. Windows still feels like an old shoe to me, so there's comfort in the familiarity, but really: I don't miss it.

MULTI-DISPLAY SETUPS:

I recently begun to pair my Mac with two 27" 2560x1440 displays. Both are Asus IPS, which cost about half as much as Apple's equivalent. They use DisplayPort; coupled with a cheap adapter, they plug directly into the two Thunderbolt ports.

My initial plan was to use a docking station and a single Thunderbolt port for both, but this is not possible except with an Apple display and a second Apple display daisy-chained to it. Third-party displays each require their own port; no Thunderbolt docking station supports more than one third-party screen at one time.

Connected directly, the internal Iris chip drives both screens *and* the MacBook's own display. Each can have multiple desktops. The animations get a little choppier, but this is still impressive. It's over 11MP of screen. Scaling is perfect and each screen has its own background and color profile. Settings and app locations are, for the most part, maintained between sessions.

The only caveat is that I see inconsistent performance with my Windows 8.1 VM in Parallels. I wanted to run Visio 2013, but ultimately had to revert back to a Windows XP VM with Visio 2010. That one blazes; the 2013 version was occasionally unusable if I was running a lot of other programs. Quad-core MacBooks with a dedicated nVidia graphics chip will fare better.

MAC VS. MAC:

* rMBP 13 vs. Air:

Easy choice. The rMBP has a better screen and supports 16GB of RAM. If you don't need either, buy the Air.

For those advantages, you end up with a thicker chassis that's a half-pound heavier (3 lbs vs 3.5 lbs). You can edit photos and video with the Air, but the gamut isn't wide enough for professional work, and comparatively poor viewing angles make it harder to show your work to others. Speed is otherwise similar, even favoring the Air because it has fewer pixels to push. Still, at any scaling setting, text and graphics look considerably better on the Retina screen.

If you need 16 GB, you know it already. Mavericks does impressive RAM compression, so 8 GB here is more like 11-12 GB on the Windows side. Be aware that while the internal SSD is fast (700 MB/s), it's still miles slower than the RAM, and the system will tank if it has to page the swap file.

* rMBP 13 vs. MBP 13:

Choose the MBP 13 if you want to add cheap 3rd-party RAM and SSD storage. You lose the Retina screen, the thin chassis, and the stellar Haswell idle battery life. If you don't need expandable storage or the Retina screen (or if you're planning to configure the MBP solely from the Apple page), there's almost no reason to prefer it to the Air. And if you're not budget-constrained, there's no reason at all to choose it over the rMBP.

* rMBP 13 vs. rMBP 15:

If you're editing video or doing a lot of time-sensitive processing, choose the 15. It has a quad-core chip that's 50-100% faster than the 13. Same 16 GB RAM cap, and it's a significantly larger and heavier chassis.

The 15 is also smoother in OS X by some margin. It doesn't really gain in multitasking; you can slot windows side-by-side easily with the 13 and multiple desktops make up for the ones you can't.

The 15 is really about speed in processor-limited workflows. With 22MP raw files, ACR adjustments on my 13 are adequately fast. Conversions are a little sluggish, as are some Photoshop functions like Content-aware Fill. I don't object, but it's not lickity-split quick like my home quad-core Windows machine and, to a lesser extent, the rMBP 15.

* Fast CPU vs. Slow CPU:

Slow. The major divide is dual-core vs. quad-core (i.e., rMBP 13 vs. 15). The fastest dual-core is maybe 20% quicker than the slowest. Likewise for the quad chips, but the gulf between dual and quad will be more like 75% for some workloads. Better a slow quad than a fast dual, particularly as Intel's Turbo function makes the quads nearly as good for 1-2 core workloads.

* More SSD vs. Less SSD:

More. 256 GB, 512 GB if possible.

Macs don't (appear to) use a shared DLL folder like Windows machines, so every program packages all of its files with it. This makes uninstalls dead-simple and eradicates file-version conflicts, but also increases the size of every program. A 10 MB Windows program may well be 40 MB on the Mac. I rely a lot on cloud storage, so I haven't felt limited by my 256 GB drive.

SD cards and flash drives can provide more space for content that doesn't need to be immediately accessible. But be aware: only SanDisk Extreme USB 3.0 flash drives (and no SD cards) use a proper SSD-style storage controller. Other USB drives may be speedy for sequential transfers, but will tank on small files and random writes.

I would not choose the 128 GB drive unless you're only using the system as an internet and writing terminal. Any large files will rapidly exhaust your free space. Same comment about 4GB of RAM with more sophisticated programs. You can't expand the RAM or (easily) expand the SSD on these Retina-class Macs.

IN SUM:

I'd rather not have spent as much as I did on this system. It was $500 more than the HP for similar specifications and another 8GB of RAM. But having used it for two months, I don't regret the extra money at all. It is a fully-baked product that doesn't exist on the Windows side. If you're a road warrior and you edit graphics, this is your machine.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 8, 2014 3:23 AM PDT


Apple MacBook Pro ME865LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop with Retina Display (NEWEST VERSION)
Apple MacBook Pro ME865LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop with Retina Display (NEWEST VERSION)
23 used & new from $1,300.00

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Twenty years of Windows to this, April 5, 2014
This review has been a long time coming. I've had a succession of premium Windows laptops dating back to Windows 95. The most recent was an HP Spectre 13t Ultrabook with Windows 8.1. I had it for a week alongside this MacBook. I no longer have it. I do not expect to purchase another Windows machine in the indefinite future.

EDIT: I've added some notes on multi-monitor usage below.

I bought this system to edit in Photoshop on the road. My version is 2.4 | 16 GB | 256 GB. Screen quality, size, weight, and build were high priorities. After four months with this system, I believe it is the best mobile laptop available, second only to the Air for folks who don't need the Retina screen or 16GB of RAM.

MAC VS. WINDOWS:

It's hard to evaluate the Mac in isolation, so I'll make a few comparisons to the HP and Windows 8 in general. The Spectre is not the best Windows system available, but a good one similar in focus and class to the rMBP.

* Build. Very stiff, very sleek, and as thin as anything with this solidity. Aesthetically perfect to me. Light (3.5 lbs) unless you're comparing it to recent 2-2.5lb machines. It could be thinner. The narrow bezel could be even more minimalist. That's about it for improvements. The keyboard has good travel and pleasing backlighting. I don't miss keystrokes.

It's not a tank though. I distinguish between build quality (impeccable) and durability (lackluster). The aluminum case scratches and dents easily, especially the sharp edges. I have mine vinyl-wrapped. If you drop it, you may have to replace the entire case. I've seen one person physically bend a MacBook by wedging it offset into their luggage. No system in this size class would do any better, but I do miss the overbuilt chassis and easy parts replacement of my older Latitude. I'm more keenly aware of dangers to this MacBook.

* Screen. Better than anything not in an HP or Dell Precision-class laptop. 1600p, 16:10 aspect, full sRGB gamut, IPS, fairly high brightness, very low dE after after calibration, and low glare. The Spectre had a 16:9, 1440p screen with more glare, less brightness, a slight tint, and somewhat lower gamut. For serious color work, this MacBook is the class of the field.

But that's just the spec. The real advantage is how OS X deals with scaling. Windows HiDPI support is inconsistent outside of the 'Modern' interface. It has somewhat better font rendering relative to the Mac at non-optimal scaling settings, but problems all over the place with UI elements. Some large, some small, most blurry. On the Mac, unoptimized apps just have blocky text. The UI doesn't get smaller. It's so easy for programmers to optimize for Retina that all of my apps have updates available.

Font scaling at non-optimal settings is ever-so-slightly less clear, but I barely notice. The people lamenting that the stock interface approximates a 1280x800 machine do not, to me, have a valid complaint.

This scaling advantage is huge. It's one of the biggest reasons I moved over. I wanted a high-res screen, and Windows 8.1 (and the rest of the Windows app community) just isn't ready. Many Adobe apps are difficult to use at 1440p on a 13" screen and have yet to be updated.

* OS. Another huge element for three reasons: gestures, multiple desktops, and search and organization.

Gestures (particularly with third-party additions like BetterTouchTool) are miles ahead of Windows. They just work and the variety is tremendous. I rapidly got used to sliding between desktops and shuffling windows around. I almost never click the touchpad unless I'm dragging a slider in Photoshop. Instead, I tap and swipe at warp speed. There is no Windows machine from anyone in this ballpark. Windows doesn't do multiple desktops (in the 'classic' interface) natively.

That advantage doesn't matter at home when I've got three large screens and an external mouse and keyboard. But on the road without any of the attachments, and without an external mouse, I'm probably twice as productive on the Mac. Maybe more. I spend far less time with window management. Little things also enable this, like an Alt-Tab function that automatically cycles between two in-use windows, and two-finger scroll that doesn't require a window to be selected.

The other big change is that I spend less time organizing files. On Windows, I spend a lot of time creating folders within subfolders, keeping the hierarchy in my head. Inevitably I fall behind and clutter the Desktop. I spend this time because Windows Search has been terrible since XP. It's never indexed properly for me, so I miss files; it's not universal, in the sense that what you find in a Start Menu search is not what comes up in a Windows Explorer search; and it has a palpable delay before the results appear.

Spotlight has none of these problems. It's so instant that pulling it up with CMD-Space, navigating to a result, and opening it are all part of the same stream of keystrokes. It indexes the entire drive on every log-in. You miss nothing. It's so fast and comprehensive to find documents and change apps that I've turned off the dock entirely. I could duplicate some of this functionality with Everything Search on Windows, but it doesn't integrate as well as Spotlight. This is a definite Mac win.

Also of note: instant resume and multi-user support. No waiting for standby or resume. No sensitivity to when you close the lid. And when you want to change accounts, the switch is immediate after entering a password. No logging out, no loading screens.

* Apps. There's a whole lot of cruft on the Windows side. Not long ago, I was looking for one that would record a video feed from a USB device. Four apps and two wasted hours later, I hadn't gotten anywhere. That functionality is built into OS X. In general, there's less available for OS X, but what is available tends to look and perform better than what's on the Windows side. Gamers may take exception.

* Battery. If I'm just looking at webpages in Safari (Chrome uses more energy) and they're not all flash video, I see 10-13 hours of battery life consistently with middle screen brightness. If I'm cranking away in Photoshop on max bright and Bridge is generating thumbnails in the background, that drops to 4-5 hours.

* Quirks. I don't like the startup sound (you can't permanently disable it, though it'll track the system volume level). I don't like that new windows tend to spawn on top of existing ones rather than in a new desktop. Many animations (e.g., desktop switching, fullscreen) are impossible to disable without third-party software. For my power-user workflow, I rely on at least three apps to improve the experience: BetterTouchTool (gestures), BetterSnapTool (window management), and TotalSpaces (disabling animations better multi-monitor consistency). Some Apple apps prioritize form over function (e.g., Time Machine). A few of the inbuilt office-style apps (e.g., Mail) seem like relics from the mid-2000s.

That's about it.

On the hardware side, every Windows machine seems to have some random thing wrong with it. The HP had high-pitched and frequent fan noise, excessive CPU throttling, and wouldn't let me turn off all the keyboard lights. Other systems have weak keyboards. Still others have no battery life. All of them have, at best, workmanlike touchpads (thanks to Windows and half-baked drivers).

The point of this isn't to rant about Windows, I still use it on every other system I have. But in a mobile machine, it's harder, sometimes impossible, to work around the areas where it falls short.

So what do I miss about Windows?

The Windows 8 task and resource managers are more intuitive and convey more information at a glance. In general, I think the Windows system tools are superior.
The Windows 8.1 'modern' interface (the side you'd see on a Windows phone or a tablet) is superb in a touch environment, and I'd love to have a MacBook/iPad amalgam with similar functionality once the hardware is thin and light enough to make that feasible. (As it is, I don't miss touch at all on this MacBook; touchpad gestures are faster and more capable.)
Office on Windows is a better program. I don't care for the Mac equivalent. The Windows version is sluggish, but acceptable for most uses in Parallels.
Windows runs faster on similar hardware. Animated transitions and scrolling on the rMBP can lag and stutter sometimes with content-heavy pages and programs.
Windows doesn't have a title bar on top. I like my apps to maximize to the top of the screen. Minor point.

That's it. Windows still feels like an old shoe to me, so there's comfort in the familiarity, but really: I don't miss it.

MULTI-DISPLAY SETUPS:

I recently begun to pair my Mac with two 27" 2560x1440 displays. Both are Asus IPS, which cost about half as much as Apple's equivalent. They use DisplayPort; coupled with a cheap adapter, they plug directly into the two Thunderbolt ports.

My initial plan was to use a docking station and a single Thunderbolt port for both, but this is not possible except with an Apple display and a second Apple display daisy-chained to it. Third-party displays each require their own port; no Thunderbolt docking station supports more than one third-party screen at one time.

Connected directly, the internal Iris chip drives both screens *and* the MacBook's own display. Each can have multiple desktops. The animations get a little choppier, but this is still impressive. It's over 11MP of screen. Scaling is perfect and each screen has its own background and color profile. Settings and app locations are, for the most part, maintained between sessions.

The only caveat is that I see inconsistent performance with my Windows 8.1 VM in Parallels. I wanted to run Visio 2013, but ultimately had to revert back to a Windows XP VM with Visio 2010. That one blazes; the 2013 version was occasionally unusable if I was running a lot of other programs. Quad-core MacBooks with a dedicated nVidia graphics chip will fare better.

MAC VS. MAC:

* rMBP 13 vs. Air:

Easy choice. The rMBP has a better screen and supports 16GB of RAM. If you don't need either, buy the Air.

For those advantages, you end up with a thicker chassis that's a half-pound heavier (3 lbs vs 3.5 lbs). You can edit photos and video with the Air, but the gamut isn't wide enough for professional work, and comparatively poor viewing angles make it harder to show your work to others. Speed is otherwise similar, even favoring the Air because it has fewer pixels to push. Still, at any scaling setting, text and graphics look considerably better on the Retina screen.

If you need 16 GB, you know it already. Mavericks does impressive RAM compression, so 8 GB here is more like 11-12 GB on the Windows side. Be aware that while the internal SSD is fast (700 MB/s), it's still miles slower than the RAM, and the system will tank if it has to page the swap file.

* rMBP 13 vs. MBP 13:

Choose the MBP 13 if you want to add cheap 3rd-party RAM and SSD storage. You lose the Retina screen, the thin chassis, and the stellar Haswell idle battery life. If you don't need expandable storage or the Retina screen (or if you're planning to configure the MBP solely from the Apple page), there's almost no reason to prefer it to the Air. And if you're not budget-constrained, there's no reason at all to choose it over the rMBP.

* rMBP 13 vs. rMBP 15:

If you're editing video or doing a lot of time-sensitive processing, choose the 15. It has a quad-core chip that's 50-100% faster than the 13. Same 16 GB RAM cap, and it's a significantly larger and heavier chassis.

The 15 is also smoother in OS X by some margin. It doesn't really gain in multitasking; you can slot windows side-by-side easily with the 13 and multiple desktops make up for the ones you can't.

The 15 is really about speed in processor-limited workflows. With 22MP raw files, ACR adjustments on my 13 are adequately fast. Conversions are a little sluggish, as are some Photoshop functions like Content-aware Fill. I don't object, but it's not lickity-split quick like my home quad-core Windows machine and, to a lesser extent, the rMBP 15.

* Fast CPU vs. Slow CPU:

Slow. The major divide is dual-core vs. quad-core (i.e., rMBP 13 vs. 15). The fastest dual-core is maybe 20% quicker than the slowest. Likewise for the quad chips, but the gulf between dual and quad will be more like 75% for some workloads. Better a slow quad than a fast dual, particularly as Intel's Turbo function makes the quads nearly as good for 1-2 core workloads.

* More SSD vs. Less SSD:

More. 256 GB, 512 GB if possible.

Macs don't (appear to) use a shared DLL folder like Windows machines, so every program packages all of its files with it. This makes uninstalls dead-simple and eradicates file-version conflicts, but also increases the size of every program. A 10 MB Windows program may well be 40 MB on the Mac. I rely a lot on cloud storage, so I haven't felt limited by my 256 GB drive.

SD cards and flash drives can provide more space for content that doesn't need to be immediately accessible. But be aware: only SanDisk Extreme USB 3.0 flash drives (and no SD cards) use a proper SSD-style storage controller. Other USB drives may be speedy for sequential transfers, but will tank on small files and random writes.

I would not choose the 128 GB drive unless you're only using the system as an internet and writing terminal. Any large files will rapidly exhaust your free space. Same comment about 4GB of RAM with more sophisticated programs. You can't expand the RAM or (easily) expand the SSD on these Retina-class Macs.

IN SUM:

I'd rather not have spent as much as I did on this system. It was $500 more than the HP for similar specifications and another 8GB of RAM. But having used it for two months, I don't regret the extra money at all. It is a fully-baked product that doesn't exist on the Windows side. If you're a road warrior and you edit graphics, this is your machine.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 12, 2014 10:19 PM PDT


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