So Apple have been busy: Skinny iMacs, Retina MacBooks and the fun-sized iPad Mini

There was a great article in Ars Technica about the problem’s Apple have been having with their once legendary secrecy, with their every expanding supply chain creating holes in their airtight veil of mystery. I know the feeling. There was a genuine excitement to Apple launches of yesteryear, where new products would be a genuine surprise and the big reveal of “one more thing” could send bloggers into a flurry.

However the before and after from last night’s “a little more to show you event” is pretty much identical. I had the same complaint after last month’s iPhone 5 announcement. Nevertheless, whilst Apple might be slipping in terms of security, their engineering game is still pretty tight.

iMac
I’m writing this on what is now the old 27″ iMac and boy does it look chunky. Once (about 14 hours ago) it was a svelte dream-machine and the cornerstone of my home office, it has now been rudely superseded by the ridiculously thin new iMacs, which are 80% thinner than the flabby beast before me. The screen is also directly bonded to the underlying IPS panel, with less bezel and less glare, as well as less weight (I had to carry an old iMac through Stratford in the middle of the London Olympics so I can appreciate this the most). There’s also a cool new Fusion Drive that combines solid state and spinning hard drive technology, monitoring usage to make sure your resources are appropriately managed.

Mac Mini
I have a hard-working Mac Mini stowed under my TV, working it’s little socks off as a media server, with SickBeard, SABnzb and Plex all playing nicely together to deliver a futuristic viewing experience. Last night’s update crams the baby Mac with 2.5GHz dual-core Intel Ivy Bridge i5 with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive, or a 2.3GHz quad-core Ivy Bridge i7 with 4GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive. Faster ram, more CPU and more storage are all welcome additions and now Mac Minis are packing Ivy Bridge there is the welcome addition of USB3.0 and Thunderbolt. Pricing remains remarkably cheap for a Mac.

MacBook
The 15″ Retina MacBook Pro was an instant object of desire when it was unveiled in June and now those of us with slightly smaller backpacks can join the Retina party. The 13″ Retina MacBook Pro also gets some Ivy Bridge love and an all-around spec bump, with its connectivity options (USB3, thunderbolt etc), brought well and truly into the modern age.

iPad
Have a “new” iPad? Not anymore as the iPad 3 has been upgraded 6 months in with a faster A6X processor, annoying (yet ultimately useful) Lightening port, and an upgraded LTE chip that should be compatible with more networks.

iPad mini
Of course the star of the show was the iPad mini, Apple’s take on the mini tablet. Apple aren’t the first company to enter this space, but to be fair, they are never the first company to enter pretty much any arena, instead carefully biding their time, before swooping in. If only people had saved their “just a big iPhone” snipes for the iPad Mini it might have been more apropos. Using a 7.9 inch display the iPad Mini is cleverly sized so that existing iPad apps can run without stretching and so that the there is a little bit more room on the screen than it’s 7″ Android competitors. It’s obviously smaller and lighter than the regular iPad and should be able to be comfortably held with one hand. The internals feature slightly older tech – the chipset matches the iPhone 4S and the iPad 2 – and there’s an HD camera on the front for FaceTime and a 5 MP camera on the back for God knows what. Apple are promising the same 10 hour battery life found on full-sized iPads.

You’ll be hearing far more about all these devices over the coming months.

Colourful & classy cases for MacBook Pro, Air and iPad

It’s that time of year when we start thinking about what we might ask Santa for, and pretty high on my list is a new case for my MacBook Pro. Now I’m not normally one to get too excited about things like laptop bags, but I will make an exception for the Black Raspberry range from be.ez.

LA-black-raspberry

A new addition to the Black Addict range, the Black Raspberry looks pretty ordinary from the outside, but open it up and you’ll be stunned by the fabulous shocking raspberry-coloured interior.

The LA robe sleeve for the MacBook Air 13in, MacBook 13in and MacBook Pro 15in are made from black jersey fabric surrounding be.ez’s low resilience polyurethane and 5in memory foam, which regains its shape if it is knocked or bumped. There is also a laptop bag, and prices start at £22.99 from www.be-ez.com/where.html

BoomCan

If you want some sounds on the move, how about the Scosche boomCan, which is about the size of a film canister (remember those?). For those who don’t, the speaker is less than 2.5inches tall and not quite 2 inches wide, yet it can pump out the sound thanks to a 40mm driver.

If you want audio when watching movies, listening to music or playing games on your portable media player, the boomCan plugs into any 3.5mm audio jack and has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that offers up to seven hours of power. It is also possible to daisychain together several of the speakers to create your own sound system.

The price of this mini marvel? £19.99 from Square Group retail stores.

Pippetto

And finally if Santa has been kind enough to give you an iPad2, I personally don’t think you deserve anything else unless you have been exceptionally good. But if you have excelled yourself this year, why not ask him for a Pipetto Classic iPad case?

These luxurious cases are made from Italian leather and come in elegant finishes including patent, rocker black, vintage black or khaki brown. Close the cover and the iPad automatically reverts to ‘sleep’ mode.

A small back pocket can to be used to hold paperwork or cables.

Style and elegance doesn’t come cheap though – the Pipetto iPad2 case comes in at £99.99 from www.pipetto.co.uk.

Henge Docks for MacBooks review

Making a MacBook dock is a difficult task – how do you complement Apple’s design perfection without adding a premium price? Henge Docks thinks it has the answer with a new range of 13″, 15″ and 17″ MacBook compatible accessories.

Henge-Dock

If you have an Apple machine from late 2008 (when the MacBooks got a shade slimmer) onwards, you’ll be able to use a Henge Dock on either your 13, 15 or 17″ MacBook.

The dock itself comes in four incarnations. The entry-level is compatible with the old plastic models, while there are three more versions for the Macbook/Pro unibody at 13-inch, 15-inch and 17-inch models.

Unfortunately, none of the docks are compatible with each other, so you’ll need to buy a new one for each model should you choose to update.

The Henge Dock is basically a finely sculpted piece of plastic that snuggly holds your MacBook closed and upright, allowing air to flow around the machine and keep it cool for intense processes.

It comes with a series of holes which you can pin cables to – such as your Macbook charger, a mini DVI-out or any other post you’ll find on the left-hand side of the laptop.

With these cables plugged in (including USB extensions), you can then use your MacBook as desktop system and easily pull it out when you need to get moving – it’s pretty simple and works well.

Once connected, your laptop feels snug and secure – there’s no need to worry about it accidentally toppling over.

The problem we found, however, is that the white-plastic looks a bit tacky compared with the smooth aluminium finish of the Apple products.

Our other issue is the price – it’s not the cheapest – £59 – for the 13″ version, and if you’ve already forked out for 17″ MacBook Pro, you’ll be looking at £79. Ouch.

Dell XPS 15z: Cheaper MacBook Pro alternative?

Dell laptops are well known for their high quality performance and stylish designs and the American multinational information technology corporation is intent on maintaining its pole-position in being one of the world’s leaders in producing top-notch laptops.

Dell-XPS

Possessing an incredibly slim exterior it is hard to imagine that a laptop could be so ‘media rich’, and according to Dell, who advertise their new XPS 15z as being “one of the thinnest 15” PCs in the world”, ‘less mass’ means ‘more appeal’.

Being the first in a series of new-thin and powerful laptops from Dell this year, the new XPS 15z laptop combines cutting-edge technology with an eye-catching and elegant design to cater for all the needs of every modern laptop consumer.

Talking of its apparently ‘superior capabilities’, Sam Burd, vice president of Dell’s Consumer and Small/Medium Business product group, said:

“The XPS 15z delivers uncompromising performance in our most beautifully designed laptop yet. It delivers all the must-have features – from next-generation Intel Core i processors for incredible performance to optional full HD screens that are up to 50 per cent brighter than standard displays – all in a stunning form factor that makes it one of the thinnest 15-inch PC on the planet.”

Although not everyone is as ‘ecstatic’ about Dell’s ‘innovative new form factor’ as Dell itself. According to Engadget, Dell, in its description of the SPS 15z, failed to mention that its ‘most beautifully designed laptop yet’, looked uncannily similar to the MacBook Pro. Engadget’s thoughts on the size of the XPS 15x, also diverged considerably to those of Dell.

“We’re sorry to say it’s not as thin-and-light – it’s actually a few hairs thinker than a 15inch Macbook Pro, wider, and at 5.54 pounds, it weighs practically the same,” Dell enthusiastically extorted.

Although despite Engadget’s clear refute of the XPS 15z’s aesthetical resemblance to the Macbook Pro, the multilingual technology weblog and podcast had to admit that the Dell XPS 15z also sports the “same exacting attention to detail”, as the Macbook Pro.

One of the XPS 15z’s favourable ‘attention to detail’ must be its mighty battery life. By including NVIDIA discrete graphics with Optimus technology that automatically switches to power-saving integrated graphics under reduced workloads, the XPS 15z boasts a lusciously long battery life for those movie marathon demands on Atlantic-long flights.

In short, despite Engadget’s obvious disdain for Dell’s latest laptop creation being ‘uncomfortably’ close to the MacBook Pro, you would have to pay –according to Yahoo Answers – $1999 (that’s starting from) for a MacBook Pro 15”, whilst a Dell XPS 15z costs a comparatively meagre $999 (starting from). I’d say the Dell XPS 15z is therefore a bit of a bargain!

Is the iPad a viable alternative to the MacBook?

Firstly, in the interests of full disclosure, I’ve become some what of an Apple ‘fan boy’ over the last few years. In my growing stable of all things Apple I can now count two iPhones (technically one belongs to work), Apple TV and a MacBook Pro. So it will come as no surprise that when I decided to look for an ultra-light laptop, it quickly came down to a choice between the MacBook Air and the iPad.

Having done some browsing, I started to favour the idea of going for the iPad as it appeared to cover most of what I required. One key factor was the availability of iPad versions of the main business software I normally use on my Mac; Pages, Numbers and Keynote. So I decided to throw caution to the wind and headed down to my local Apple Store and purchased a 16GB iPad. The sales guy seemed a bit unfamiliar with some of its features and also gave me the impression (at first) that the iPad would come with the business apps preloaded.

After turning on my new shiny iPad for the first time, one of the things that immediately struck me was the video playback function. Also the way it handles purchased video content from the iTunes store was mostly smooth, apart from a few impulse purchases which somehow ended up in ‘no man’s land’, neither in iTunes or the iPod area. This was quickly fixed by syncing with the Mac, but slightly annoying on the road. Nevertheless, going back and trying to watch a video on my iPhone (which I’d previously thought was more than adequate) now pales in comparison.

However, as you may remember, the main intention of getting a light weight device was to enable me to carry on working while on the road. Unfortunately my experience here wasn’t quite as positive as my video watching! Whilst it’s easy to use, in terms of text input, some of the applications take some serious getting used to. For example, with Numbers it took some time to discover all of the functions – all of which were very different from its desktop big brother (give example here?).

Furthermore, native applications are limited (there isn’t even a calculator, and Apple never includes “To Do” applications) which lowers the iPad’s “out of the box” usefulness. When you do buy apps that are “full function”, some important business features (such as track changes in word processing) are still not available. I also found the need to invest in a Bluetooth keyboard as it enabled me to use the less cluttered full screen view and improved the functionality of most apps.

As large web browser, book reader, or portable media player the iPad gets my thumbs up. However, as a full functioning business tool, the iPad has been less fulfilling and not, for me at least, a viable alternative to a laptop. In summary, the iPad should be seen as a unique device, as many app developers are doing, rather than a replacement for any other device.