Sunday, August 26, 2007

iPhone: Fake it, until you can make it

Iphone

So you didn't get an iPhone? Sorry. Maybe it was the cost. Maybe it was your cell phone contract. Maybe it's AT&T's coverage where you live. Or maybe you just don't like buying a 1.0 version of anything. For me, it's all the above.

However, with all those smug people walking around with their $600 Newton 3.0's you can one-up them. What you have right now can be better than an iPhone. Yes I said it--you're better than they are. At least my therapist is telling me to deal with my jealously by saying this.


Let's start with the iPod. How can you extend the capabilities of your iPod to compete with the iPhone? Yeah, you'll need to carry your phone and iPod around, but if you drop your iPod or your phone you're still out much less money. Unlike your cell phone, the iPhone doesn't come with accidental damage insurance like other cell phones. For a few bucks a month and a fifty dollar deductible, I'm back in business after a date with the pavement.

Don't forget that the iPhone holds much less music than your standard iPod. A four gig iPhone isn't going to carry much stuff, but a well configured iPod has music, podcasts, videos, and more. Size is an issue! What's the point of a iPhone if it neuters your digital lifestyle?

With all that extra space on your full iPod what can you put on it? Want to watch YouTube videos on your iPod? No problem, Jax by Joesoft (a division of Prosoft Engineering) does that! It installs into iTunes and allows you to easily transfer videos to your iPod. Not only will it do that, but it will synchronize your Apple Mail, Word Documents, and PDFs. Heck, it will even download weather forecasts, driving directions, gas prices, movie showtimes, and stock quotes. Apparently the 3.0 version will tell you the next president, but Joesoft is working out the bugs on that (just kidding...maybe). Oh, and Jax works with an iPhone too, but that's kind of redundant. While Jax's content can't be updated live, that's fine....you've got your mobile phone for that. Be sure to check out Andy Inkahto's "iPod Fully Loaded" which will help you get even more out of your iPod.

Flipping over to the phone side, most modern mobile phones have the ability to surf the web and that ability will close the gap for live content for when you haven't synced with Jax. Google is the leader in mobile content. Point your cell phone browser to http://m.google.com to access most of Google's content in a format easy to read on most devices. This means that you not only can you do searches, but you can access your email, calender, driving directions, movie times and even live YouTube videos. Be sure to use Spanning Sync to sync your iCal with your Google calendar so you have your iCal on both the phone and the iPod. This all sounds very iPhonish to me--without buying anything new. More advanced phones that support J2ME can download Google apps to give a complete Google experience on the phone. Who needs Safari if you can access all of Google? Things don't look pretty on your average mobile phone...but considering the iPhone is using previous generation data speeds, using your Razr on a 3G network phone means you can't read the New York Times as pretty as on an iPhone, but you'll be done reading in half the time!

What about some of the cool features like visual voice mail that lets you pick out individual voicemails to listen to? Not a problem. Sign up with GotVoice at http://www.gotvoice.com. This service in both free and paid versions will retrieve your cell phone voice mails and put them in MP3 format to download. After signing up go to http://m.gotvoice.com and pick and choose which mp3 to listen to. Can't listen to mp3s on your cell phone? No problem, just use http://www.simulscribe.com and Simulscribe will transcribe your voicemails and send them to you in SMS format. With the iPhone you can only read who sent you the message, with Simulscribe you can actually read the message. iPhone...do you need a hanky...are you actually crying?

Ah, but what about when Steve Jobs showed off finding Calamari in San Francisco (yuck, calamari). He searched for "seafood". No problem. Send an SMS message to 46645 with the parameters "seafood restaurant, San Fransisco" and get a Google listing back with local places. Ironically, when I did this the top result was Farallon, which any Mac historian can tell you happens to be the name of a very famous Mac company that invented the PhoneNet connectors and Timbuktu Pro - which became part of Netopia and now Motorola, which is a cell phone company!

With a few key websites and pieces of software, you can simulate much of the iPhone experience without having to trade in either your phone or iPod. Want both at the same time? Superglue and Velcro are possible options, but do that at your own risk. That hybrid , though, still probably weighs less than the iPhone. Be proud you aren't burdened with the limitations of an iPhone...until your cell phone contract runs out at least. Then feel free to look down upon the rest of us with your new iPhone!

Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Marware Protection Pack Plus

Marware

Marware's Protection Pack Plus really fills the bill. Like Microsoft Office, the pack has three useful and unique products in the box. First is the cloth sleeve that protects and helps clean the outside of your Macbook. This should not be a primary form of protection like the typical padded notebook sleeves. It is designed only to protect the cosmetics of the computer. That's fine with me because it easily coordinates with almost any other protection strategy. Oddly and not surprising, the more I used it, the cleaner the exterior of my Macbook got. When I'd pull it out, it would gently polish the exterior of my Macbook. Also, don't forget Macs are about style. I did feel like some kind of celebrity pulling out my Macbook from it's secondary protective sleeve, as if it were the Hope Diamond or the prized knife of a Food Network star (I have one of those knives, but that's a whole other story).


In addition to the sleeve is a cloth screen protector. While I was never particularly concerned about the transfer of oils from the keyboard to the screen, the Macbook's glossy screen is impossible to clean, even with Meridrew's iKlean. However, like the notebook sleeve, my Macbook actually got cleaner the more I opened and closed the case. When a spot would show on my screen, the screen protector acted as a buffing cloth to quickly remove the scratches. Neat! (pun intended)


Finally are the wrist protectors. That part of my Mac would get the dirtiest. I'll use my Mac for hours and the oils from my wrists would look gross on my Macbook and also get transferred to the screen. Yuck. Here's the funny thing, though. I was accidentally sent the kit for the white macbook instead of the black. I was going to contact the company, but didn't want to look a gift horse in the mouth. Ironically, it looks really cool. The Black and the White living in harmony. My only complaint is the lack of instructions. I had real trouble placing the wrist protector correctly, but that's my own lack of manual dexterity and the fact mom never let me play video games when I was a kid.


The kit does not include a trackpad protector, but other companies make trackpad protectors. Or maybe Marware thought that if they included that, they'd be too much like your grandmother's plastic slipcovers that covered everything.


Pros: Protects and enhances the cosmetics of your Mac

Cons: A bit tricky to place and lack of trackpad support.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

MacBackup by MacXware

MacBackup

MacBackup is one of the backup programs sold at most Apple stores in spite of the fact it competes with Apple's own Backup software. Even though Retrospect was the industry leader, it's showing it's age since it was bought by EMC and never made the transition to the Intel Platform. Ironically, though, neither did MacBackup. It still runs in Rosetta, which concerns me regarding its long term viability on the Mac platform. A backup is only as good as your ability to restore it. If you can't read your backups, then they are no good. That happened to me with my old FastBack backups!

Unfortunately, MacBackup uses a proprietary backup format. In my book, that automatically marks it down one peg. If my computer dies, I don't want to have to use any particular software program to do the restore. I want it to be software independent! However, most backup programs do that, so let's not single out MacBackup.

MacBackup is extremely easy for non-technical people. The Easy Backup function lets you choose from Photos or Music and Movies. That's a bit too easy. Advanced includes the Address Book, Mail and Settings, Documents, Folders and Files, System Settings, and Other Items. For it to recognize your mail, it must be either Entourage or Apple Mail. It didn't pick up the fact I used Eudora, but hey who uses Eudora today? The searching for Photos, Music and Movies was very slow, as it had to search my entire hard drive. An option just to backup iPhoto would have made more sense, but some users don't always store things in the proper places, so that's both a bug and a feature in my book. One of the unique features of MacBackup is it's ability to backup to an FTP server. This is great for someone who might have a server at another location, or even use space on their ISP's server. FTP allows easy offsite backups which is always a good thing. Like all good backup programs, you can schedule backups on a repeating schedule.

Restoring files was just as easy as backing them up. Straightfoward, easy and generally worked. The Advanced function allowed you to choose which files to restore and where. That's important, because as stated earlier, if you can't restore, you are out of luck. If you do use MacBackup, be sure to make a copy of the program anywhere you store the backups, because you won't be able to restore without it.

The interface of the program was rough as it was clearly a Windows program rewritten for the Mac. Not a fatal flaw but a chip in the armor. That may also explain general buginess of the program. Buttons didn't always draw properly, forcing you to resize windows or quit the programs. Sometimes a function would take a few times before it would work - annoying at the very least. The latest update, version 1.2, was a bug fix that came out in April of 2006. No updates have been provided since then and it's still not Universal, which could cause issues on Intel based Macs.

Generally the program is better than not backing up at all, and considering it's sold at the Apple store, it's an easy purchase for people who don't use .mac. For the $30 price tag, it's easy on the pocketbook as well. Cheaper and easier to use than most of it's competitors but serious users might want to spend the extra money and get a program that is a bit more reliable and supported by its developer.

Pros: Generally easy to use, support for FTP backups
Cons: Unreliable interface, not updated for Intel Macs, backup format can't be read by other programs.

2 out of 5 dogcows