Macs Only! Blog Archive--December 2008

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Copyright 2008 by Bill Fox All rights reserved.
Last Updated: December 31, 2008

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[12/22] Hands-On Report--Mac OS X 10.5.6, How Fast Is It! Really Good News

This article is a continuation of my series testing the speed of Mac OS X that stretches back to version 10.0. When I got my Dual Quad-core 2.8GHz Mac Pro running Mac OS X 10.5.2 with the upgraded graphics card, an Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT, I was disappointed in its graphics performance relative to my former MacBook Pro with much slower graphics, an Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT. But I was hopeful that a subsequent update of Mac OS X would improve the Mac Pro's graphics performance but it has not happened. In fact, 10.5.5 was significantly slower on several graphics tests.

Apple released Mac OS X 10.5.6 on Monday, 12/15, with new graphics drivers, among other things, so my hope of improved graphics performance was again renewed. I installed Mac OS X 10.5.6 using Software Update on a number of Macs: Mac Pro, MacBook Air, iMac Core 2 Duo, PowerMac G4 Cube and PowerBook G4. Only the iMac had the installer problem noted in this Apple KB article and I fixed it by downloading and using the stand-alone combo installer. I have been using 10.5.6 since, experiencing no problems on any of the computers.

To find out if there are any performance improvements, I ran a graphics-related subset of my speed tests on my dual quad-core 2.8GHz Mac Pro with 6GB of RAM running Mac OS X 10.5.6. Here are the results comparing 10.5.6 with 10.5.5 and 10.5.3:

Speed of Mac OS X 10.5.6 vs 10.5.5 and 10.5.3 (Higher is faster)
Test Mac Pro Mac Pro Mac Pro
MacBook Pro 2.4GHz C2D
Cinebench R10 Rendering (8x)
-OpenGL Hardware Lighting
Xbench 1.3
- Quartz Graphics
- OpenGL Graphics
-User Interface Graphics
Quake III Arena (frames/sec)
Halo 2.0.3 (frames/sec)
Red is faster by 10% or more than in 10.5.5.

Mac OS X 10.5.6 recovers the graphics speed drops that occurred in 10.5.5 (Cinebench OpenGL, Xbench Quartz Graphics and Xbench User Interface Graphics). Best of all, my vastly faster Mac Pro is finally faster at the OpenGL game Halo than my former MacBook Pro--10.5.6 is 70% faster than previous releases of Leopard on my Mac Pro!

Despite this driver progress, there are still even faster graphics cards for Wintels out there like the ATI Radeon HD 4870 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 280--some day I hope they will work on Mac OS X. [Bill Fox]

[12/19] Hands-On Review: My iPhone 3G with new Software v2.2

Facing the Holidays and since Apple released iPhone Software 2.2, I took the plunge and upgraded my original 8GB iPhone to a new 16GB black iPhone 3G. Now, if you look back at my previous posts on the iPhone 3G you will read that the main reason for my upgrading is to be able to pass my iPhone to my spouse to replace her Moto RAZR. She loves her pink RAZR but keeps bugging me about getting my iPhone.

I have resisted upgrading because I am perfectly happy with my original 18-month-old iPhone and because of the increased cost for data/sms ($20 to $35) and issues with the iPhone 3G like a shortened battery life, dropped calls and, with iPhone Software 2.1, problems with Microsoft Exchange. With these issues behind it, my excuses have run out so I spent the $100 credit for the original iPhone on a net $199 (plus taxes and fee) replacement and have been using it for over a week. I also begrudgingly bought a $29 dock since the iPhone 3G does not come with one and a $14.95 package of anti-glare Crystal Film by Power Support to keep the face/screen from getting scratched or nicked.

The best part of upgrading now is that I simply walked into the Apple Store and bought the 16GB black iPhone from the first staff person I encountered--no lines and no waiting for the model I wanted to arrive. The upgrade was quick and easy. Unfortunately, the Apple Store does not handle upgrading my spouse's RAZR with the original iPhone despite it being on the same contract. The staff member advised me to take it to an AT&T store and probably to have a new SIM installed.

The worst part of upgrading now is that I am several months closer to Apple issuing a refreshed model or a price decrease. But I'll heed my own advice to not worry about the inevitable and to enjoy the current model now.

I noticed that the iPhone 3G had older version 2.0.2 of the software installed so, except for my .Mac email account, I waited until I got home to update the software to the latest version 2.2 before trying to get Exchange running or downloading any new applications. Updating the software and syncing my iPhone 3G with iTunes to my music, photos, videos, applications, contacts and email accounts, including Microsoft Exchange, went fine.

Resetting the original iPhone and trying to use iTunes to replace my spouse's RAZR on my AT&T contract and activate it didn't work despite the directions in an AT&T FAQ--it needs to be updated. At the local AT&T store they did replace the iPhone's SIM to activate it. The good news is that the original iPhone's data plan with 200 text messages is still "only" $20 and not the $35 for the new iPhone 3G's plan.

So, how is the new iPhone 3G by comparison? With it's curved plastic back, it fits better in the hand and allows what feels like a safer grip. It also seems slightly lighter but that may be an illusion caused by the plastic. I like the warmer screen colors, the much louder ring and the standard headphone port. There is nothing about the iPhone 3G that I do not like.

Calls on the iPhone 3G are indeed clearer, at least that is my experience so far. I have had none that kind of burble like the original iPhone does with a weak connection.

Battery life is as good or better than the original iPhone although I keep the Wi-Fi and 3G radios turned off when I'm not using them. The comparison is a bit biased, though, by the greater age of the original iPhone. The original iPhone will still go about 2 days with Wi-Fi off and a few short phone calls. I don't live or work on the phone so iPhone battery life has never been an issue with me.

The 3G radio works great as a back up to Wi-Fi when Wi-Fi is not available or is not free or is not already paid. I use Wi-Fi at home, in the office, at Starbucks and at most Airports and hotels. Edge is perfectly good for email and minor Web surfing most of the time so my use of 3G is relatively rare but very welcome when I do use it. Using either Wi-Fi or 3G sucks up battery juice rather quickly but I have had no problems with speed or signal drops when using 3G--these early issues seem to have been fixed.

I really like the iPhone 3G's built-in GPS receiver. I use the Maps application very frequently and GPS capability is vastly superior to the cell tower/Wi-Fi station triangulation method used in the original iPhone, although the latter is not bad at all.

Speaking of iPhone apps, I have accumulated quite a few so that three screens are nearly full--most were free! On the last screen are the Apple-supplied apps that I rarely use, some because there is a better third-party app. Those are: Calculator, iTunes, Notes, Weather and YouTube. Yes, I know the latter dates me but the only things I have ever used YouTube for are listening to videos of various after-market Corvette exhaust systems to decide which tone I liked best or an occasional funny video clip recommended to me by someone with much too much time on their hands.

I think the iPhone App Store is one of Apple's most brilliant ideas despite the grumbling over the degree of control Apple exercises and the length of time it takes a developer to get an update posted. For what it's worth, here's a list of my more useful/interesting downloaded iPhone apps in alphabetical order--don't judge me on the basis of the first few:

  • 5800 Drink & Cocktail Recipes--Best of the free drink recipe apps.
  • Dynolicious--Measures the acceleration parameters of my
  • Easy Wi-Fi for AT&T--The name says it all.
  • Email2SMS--Send text messages without SMS charges.
  • Flashlight--Turns the iPhone into an impromptu flashlight for darkened hotel rooms and other dark places.
  • Flixster--Ratings, info and trailers on movies playing locally.
  • Google Earth--The iPhone app is almost as good as the computer version.
  • Graphing Calculator--A very nice implementation of the Graphing Calculator application for the Mac.
  • iSlots--Very nice slot machine game for passing time on long flights. Used many times, it illustrates how foolish it is to put real money into one at a casino.
  • Lightsaber--A silly app that nevertheless really impresses Star Wars fanatics.
  • Note2Self--Implements voice recording and sends the message by email.
  • Open Table--An excellent implementation of the online restaurant reservation Web site.
  • Remote--Replaces Apple's remote with your iPhone for Apple TV and iTunes on your Mac.
  • Safe Seafood ($0.99)--Combines two recommendation systems for buying or ordering sustainable seafood.
  • Say Who--Voice dialer for the iPhone.
  • Shazam--Determines song title from music playing anywhere.
  • Sol Free--Best free solitaire game for killing time.
  • Texas Hold 'em ($4.99)--Apple's fabulous card game. Great for long flight entertainment.
  • The Weather Channel--Best free weather app.
  • Urbanspoon--Silly random restaurant selector but impressive when demoed to people.
  • VoiceBox--Another voice dialer for the iPhone. I haven't decided yet which is best, Say Who or VoiceBox.

Let me know if you have a favorite iPhone app that I have not listed.

Now, if Apple would only implement real voice dialing and full Bluetooth, the iPhone would be even better than the terrific device that it is today. [Bill Fox]

[12/19] Macworld Expo without Steve Jobs in 2009 and Apple in 2010--My Take

Apple announced this week that Steve Jobs would not be doing his usual keynote at the Macworld Expo 2009 coming this January 5-9 but that Phil Schiller, Apple SVP for Worldwide Product Marketing, would. In addition, Apple announced that it would not be exhibiting at future Macworld Expos.

After going to Macworld Expos in New York and San Francisco for many years, this news is a shock but really not unexpected. I have been one of the Mac minions who have made the journey year after year since the middle 90's to marvel at Steve Jobs' keynote delivery in person, be among the first to get my hands on Apple's newest stuff and see all the Mac third party software and peripherals, much of it new each year. Of course, I did so as the Publisher and Editor in Chief of MacsOnly! when it was a daily news and magazine Web site.

As most macophiles know, Phil Schiller usually joins Steve Jobs on stage and does much of the demo work in the typical Steve Jobs keynote address at the Macworld Expo. He does a great job. Remember all those speed tests he did year after year showing the Mac turning a comparable Windows box into toast? Remember him leaping off a platform holding the first iBook to illustrate how indestructible the clamshell notebook was? While Steve Jobs not doing the keynote address is a significant loss to the relative few who manage to get into the key address, I don't think anyone will be unsatisfied with Phil Schiller's rendition. Still, without the charismatic Steve it won't be the same.

Apple used to use the Macworld Expos as the place to announce and show off its latest and greatest software and hardware. But as Apple developed the Apple Retail Store network and used the Worldwide Developers Conference in Summer and other special events throughout the year to announce new stuff more strategically, it became more difficult to maintain an impact in announcements at an annual event like Macworld Expo. In fact, many wrote about how disappointing the announcements were in recent years, illustrating that this feature of Macworld Expo has already lost its luster. Why support a large expensive trade show booth for a few tens of thousands when millions can see and touch the new stuff at Apple Stores for no additional outlay? While the loss of Steve Jobs as the keynoter will be missed, the loss of once a year seeing new Apple stuff has already basically died a natural death.

Will the loss of Steve Jobs and Apple eventually kill the Macworld Expo in San Francisco as it did on the East Coast? I hope not. The real tangible benefits of the Macworld Expo are its seminars, third party exhibitors and Mac camaraderie. While first as an accepted journalist and later as unaccepted journalist who had to finesse his way into the keynote as IDG dreamed up ways to keep Mac news web sites out, I still think the best parts of the Macworld Expo were the seminars, the show floor's third party exhibitors and Mac camaraderie. Hopefully, Macworld Expo in San Francisco will find a way to persist even though the East Coast version did not.

My 2 cents. [Bill Fox]

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