It has been an interesting couple of days around the house as far as technology is concerned and I thought I’d take a couple of minutes to let my incredible readership know what’s going on!
First was the purchase of yet another Sony BluRay disc player; the BDP-BX57, which is actually a Costco-specific device. The only difference between it and the standard unit sold in retailers elsewhere is the inclusion of a HDMI cable and a better price. We purchased one for the main household television around the middle of last year, but seeing how my wife and I will be separating and divorcing sometime during 2011 or 2012 I thought it reasonable to purchase one for myself while I could!
What I like about this particular model is how it comes pre-loaded with a number of widgets for accessing (via wired or wireless networks – I’m using the wireless one) Internet-based streaming services. Sony does make another player which doesn’t come with a built-in wireless transceiver, but the cost of adding the additional accessories makes it more expensive than buying it built-in.
Thanks to the widgets and wireless connectivity we joined Netflix and receive our one-disc at a time as well as all the streaming we can handle. Oddly one must setup the streaming que online at the Netflix site and cannot search and add content via the widget, yet one can delete a selected movie from the que via the widget. Still, I guess it’s easier to use one’s computer to type and search than a remote control.
I also have and use when online Pandora and Slacker streaming music accounts. The services are alright (great when you consider they’re free), but there is a weirdness involved when you move away from streaming via a web browser on your computer. When you stream via another type of device (a smartphone, like my iPhone, or, in my instance, a BluRay player with appropriate widget) the bit rate for streaming drops to 64kbps, which is pretty low. I’m not certain why streaming to devices is different than to a web browser, but it is. Still, the sound quality is actually better than I would have thought, especially for when just listening to music in the background.
In further technology news we have replaced our Netgear wireless router and returned the warm embrace of Cicso Linksys. The Netgear began to misbehave about four months ago and would require being reset (unplugged and plugged back in) maybe every other or third day. Then, for about a month, it was fine. And then it started all over again. I was rather disappointed based upon both Netgears general reputation as well as the fact we purchased it only 13 months before it started to act up: just outside the warranty.
And so I opted to return to Cisco, whose Linksys products had always graced our house in the past. However, this time I did something unusual: I purchased an expensive product. There are plenty of less expensive wireless routers ranging from about $50 to $90, but this time I had something specific in mind and I opted to go for the brand-spanking-new Linksys E4200. Simultaneous dual-band, A/B/G & N, and with a USB connection for a NAS or printer. I like this additional capability because I’m anticipating the purchase of a new dedicated photo printer in March and I’d like to set it up to print wirelessly even though it doesn’t come that way. I can plug the printer into the Linksys router and print to it via the router, which will be great seeing how I don’t have space near the computer for the printer. Problem solved.
I concede the idea of spending $150 (on sale at Best Buy – better price than anywhere else I found) had me choking a bit, but as we’ve long had some issues with our wireless router reach in our two-story home, I figured my desire for the USB port, greater coverage and the N-standard (which my iMac has) made it worth the extra price.
As an aside, I had read a few reviews stating the included installation/set-up software was pretty horrible, but I beg to differ. I found it to be quick and easy to work with. Perhaps those reviewers had very specific plans for their set-up, but if you’re just looking to do the basics and aren’t worried about a lot of extra security issues, the basic install covers everything very well.
In addition to these things I purchased a new laptop. Well.. two actually, but let’s handle this one at a time.
My just over three-year old HP laptop has, in a manner of speaking, come to an end. It’s a shame as for what I need and want to do with it on a daily basis it’s still a fine laptop. And until very recently the only problem with the laptop was that the AC adapter had begun to act up in that the cord coming out of it (the attached cord) had to be in a certain position to continue supplying juice to my battery. The battery, of course, only held about a 5-minute charge, but this wasn’t a big deal as I really didn’t mind dragging the cord around the house. But when the cord began to be problematic I looked for solutions.
HP’s website showed me $200 to replace both the battery and AC adapter or $80 for the adapter alone. Pretty steep for a 3-year old $550 laptop. So I tried the cheaper Amazon.com route and purchased third party items only to have each delivered and each be defective/non-functioning. Joy. And so began the hunt for a replacement laptop.
After about two months of reading, researching and re-reading I settled upon yet another HP laptop: the dv6t. I’ve always owned HP laptops (my dying one being my third) and while I would never say they were the greatest I’ve been generally pleased. But this was the first time I purchased one from Costco and I’m glad I did, which we’ll get to in a minute. The dv6t is pretty basic with an i3 Core chip clocked at 2.4GHz for $550. It’s 15.6-inch screen is nice enough. And because it came from Costco it was loaded with 6GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive instead of the typical retailer’s 4GB and 320GB respectively. Plus Costco offers a 90-day return policy, plus a second year of warranty coverage at no charge. Aces for Costco. However, this laptop is going back.
While it is a very competent computer for my everyday laptop needs it has two issues, one of which is a deal breaker. First, the keyboard, while not so bad in terms of how the keys respond to being struck, includes a column of keys on both the left and right side of the main keys. This causes a bit of confusion when trying to drop one’s hands onto the keyboard to start typing. I’m certain it is something to which I would grow accustomed in short order, but the other issue kills any reason to keep this device.
The trackpad is a disaster. It’s a new design from HP and is spread across all their lines save their entry level one. It’s a single pad, not unlike the one found on Apple Macbooks, but there the similarity ends. The left and right clicks require an extraordinary amount of pressure. Perhaps this would loosen with time, but I’m not interested in waiting to find out, especially if I find it doesn’t get easier to push. In addition, the right-click requires I press the very far right-hand edge otherwise it registers as a left-click, which is useless. The trackpads sensitivity is all over the place as well. Sometimes a single touch (for tap-to-click) is sufficient. Sometimes I must press repeatedly. Other times the slightest brush of my finger will act as a click. Infuriating.
But the single worst offence of this trackpad is how the left- and right-click buttons are actually part of the trackpad. What I mean is that when you place your finger on either the designated left or right click areas you’re still on the trackpad and therefore can move the pointer on the screen of the computer. Sometimes your finger will move just enough as it’s pressing down on the pad that it moves the pointer off whatever it is your trying to click. It’s simply infuriating beyond all believe. Granted, the Apple Magic Trackpad and trackpad on their MacBook line behave the same way, but the difference there is that the Apple products push down with a reasonable amount of pressure as opposed to the all-to unreasonable amount needed for the HP. Combined with the unreliable nature of the pads sensitivity when it comes to tap-to-click I just felt I couldn’t work with this HP product. Or, for that matter, any HP laptop with this sort of trackpad, which is pretty much all of them.
Gutted I am.
And now I’m basically out my two months of reading and research, except that I did have something of a backup plan and I sort of implemented it yesterday.
While I much prefer the 15.6-inch sized laptop my first laptop was only 13-inches and I had no real complaints about it. Certainly the extra screen real estate is nice, but it’s not technically necessary for the sort of things I do on a daily basis with my laptop. And so it was I began to think about looking back over the 13- and 14-inch laptops I had decided against when I opted for this HP which is going back.
One problem with the smaller laptops is there is always a premium price associated with them. Spec for spec they tend to be about 50% more expensive and I know the reasons why, but that doesn’t make it easier on the wallet. But so it was I began to look at my options and I found both a Sony and Toshiba which seemed to meet my needs, while being smaller in size. The Toshiba, the M645 series, was $750 and offered plenty of what I wanted and needed, but, I confess, came in a rather unappealing package as far as I was concerned. It looks cheap in my opinion. Too cheap for $750, but I was ok with this as I’m not wrapped up in how gorgeous is my laptop. If I were I never would have bought HPs in the first place!
The Sony, who’s model line escapes me right now, hit the $850 mark and for the extra $100 had some things which appealed to me, including a better and backlit keyboard, as well as a much nicer overall design and appearance. But the problem was that I had also looked over the more entry-level Apple products and I was having a hard time walking away.
I really like my iMac purchased two years back. I’m not as smitten with it as I thought I might be, but that may have been because my Windows-running desktop was a home built affair. It was made with rock solid components and didn’t have any software installed that I didn’t put there. It’s not fair to compare it to a store-bought HP, Compaq, etc. because it was simply better. I think if I had been coming from a manufactured desktop the leap to the iMac would have been much greater.
And so it was I looked over the Toshiba, the Sony and a 13-inch Macbook Pro (entry level version). Certainly the Toshiba and Sony were less expensive (the Apple being $1,200), but damn if I didn’t like the idea of working on an iMac in my lap. My experience with Windows 7 on this HP which is going back suggests 7 is pretty decent, but I’m still really enjoying Snow Leopard so much more. And the trackpad on the Apple is out of this world. I have very much enjoyed the purchase of my Apple Magic Trackpad for the iMac and the notion of having it on a laptop was impossible to ignore.
And so it was that even at a higher price and with lower specs I went for the MacBook Pro.
A lot of my reading and research suggested something to me: Apple products, by and large, last longer both physically and in terms of keeping up with advances in software, than do Windows-based computers. And my personal experience with HP laptops suggest three years is about the maximum amount of time I can expect them to work before they have to be replaced. (since the AC adapter going bad the optical drive has stopped working too, which is what killed my first HP laptop). So I sold myself on the idea of spending $350-$450 more for the Apple on the assumption I should, if my reading and research hold true, be able to get four to five or more years of service from the MacBook.
Or think of it this way: if I can get two more years of service that would be a a 66% increase in typical lifespan for a laptop in my service. This means I would recoup 66% of the additional cost of the Apple over the Toshiba or Sony at which point I’m much closer to breaking even (as I would have to replace either the Sony or Toshiba in 3-years and spend yet another $750 to $850). So actually I could come out ahead over five four or five years and I can live with that.
The only downside to this purchase was that I couldn’t make it from the same store I purchased my iMac, a local Apple reseller. The iMac was purchased for cash via a income tax refund, but that’s not happening this year. As such I need time to pay for it and Best Buy has the 18-months same as cash option. I won’t need that long to pay it off, but I needed some time and the Apple reseller could only offer 3-months. I have no problem buying from Best Buy as I’ve had a long-running and very happy relationship with them, but I feel guilty I couldn’t give some of my business, especially my Apple business, to the reseller. Sorry guys.
And so there we are. New stuff. Old stuff. Interesting stuff.
Update: I’ve had my new MacBook Pro on and being used without the power cord attached for the past 2-hours. I’ve only used approximately 22% of my battery. Wow. Even brand new my old HP would be within 30-45 minutes of death by now. And this MacBook Pro has a backlit keyboard! Damn impressive.