The Dash MacBook Sleeve

With my super-slim new MacBook, I’ve been looking for a good sleeve to hold it, particularly when I throw it in a larger bag or am running into a tea shop for a break and don’t want to carry the full bag.

I’ve bought so many bags from WaterField over the years that I should have started my search there. Eventually, I did find myself on the WaterField website and ended up with the 12” Dash Sleeve. 

The Dash Sleeve is exactly what I was looking for in terms of minimalist design and quality materials. Despite its slim design, there is compression foam padding and soft liner fabric to protect my MacBook.

Rather than deal with a lid or flap, the Dash Sleeve has a wide elastic band that slides over the end.There’s also a mesh pocket big enough to hold my iPad Air. WaterField makes several sizes of the Dash Sleeve ranging from the 12” MacBook all the way up to the 15” MacBook Pro. I’d recommend it for any Apple laptop.

24 Hours with the iPhone 6s Plus

I have now been officially using my new iPhone for 24 hours. I spent a lot of time peeking, poking and otherwise kicking the tires. Here are some initial thoughts:

6s vs. 6s Plus

There was much gnashing of teeth last year over whether to get the big one or the small one. I too was flummoxed. Never have I had so much trouble deciding between two products. Initially I bought the big one and then I traded it in for the little one. When the iBooks Store began supporting my iBooks Author books on the phone, I bought a used 6 Plus so I could test and make sure the books looked okay on it. I had intended to sell the used phone back but in the meantime my wife fell in love with my iPhone 6 and I found myself with little choice but to keep the 6 Plus. So last year I ended up spending eight months with the small phone and four months with the big phone. After all that time, I realize that there really isn’t that much difference. With the bigger phone, it’s a little more difficult to carry in your pocket and with the little phone you get slightly less battery life and the text is smaller. This time I didn’t sweat it. I just ordered the big one.

Buying Options

The new variable in the mix this year is exactly how you buy the new phone. Carriers are no longer interested in contracts and there are several options for purchase from a variety of sources. I’ve been happy with my service from AT&T throughout my iPhone ownership but at the same time I’m not all that eager to get in long-term relationships with them. So I decided to buy it from Apple. In that case I had two options: either buy it outright or buy it on on the Apple upgrade plan. Since the upgrade plan price was the same (I was going to add AppleCare plus regardless) I ended up on the Apple upgrade plan. This gives me the option to upgrade it next year if I want, although I probably won’t. (In my family I hand down the phone every year to one of my daughters.) So I bought a space gray 6s Plus with 128 GB. The storage size may raise some eyebrows but I put a lot of media, photos, and video on my phone and (in my mind at least) it’s cheaper to pay an extra hundred dollars to avoid screwing with storage allocation for the next year.

3D Touch

I’ve heard from several sources that Apple spent years perfecting this feature before adding it to the phone. That shows. It was remarkable to me how quickly peeking and poking became second nature. Using 3D Touch in mail seemed like a gimmick until I tried it. Now it is a “thing” for me. If I see a mail in my inbox and I’m not sure what it is, I peek at it. An interesting feature is the ability to apply the swipe gestures while peeking at an email. It depends on your settings but for me swiping to the left deletes the email and swiping to the right allows me to move it to a different mailbox.

3D touching app icons to get immediate access to specific features and makes performing common tasks in your favorite apps easier than ever. It’s the most significant addition to spring board since the arrival of folders. I’ve now put my camera back on my home screen because it’s so easy to hard press on it and then select whether I’m shooting a movie, selfie, or traditional photo. It’s definitely faster than opening the app and swiping around to the appropriate camera.

One more example of 3D touch that still make me giggle like a school-boy is on the iPhone keyboard. If you press it hard and start moving your finger around, it moves the cursor as if you are on a trackpad. Press just a little bit harder and begin selecting text. Do this once and you will never be able to go back to the old way of selecting text. (It’s going to kill me that I don’t have this on my iPad.)

Live Photos

Live photos are strange feature. I’ve taken a bunch of live photos at this point and while they are fun, I wonder if they are a novelty. I do, however, like the idea of looking back at some of these pictures in a few years to catch just a few seconds of my daughters being silly while I took their picture and wish I had something like this of them when they were younger. An interesting notes is that you can send live photos to other iPhones (I tested it with my daughters 5s) and they display with a long tap.

The implementation is a little spotty. When viewing a live photo with a hard press, the screen goes blurry and then start showing the video. The delay and blur feel pretty odd. Likewise, the quality of the images in the video are not particularly good. I found it hard to keep things in focus even while resting the phone on a stable surface while taking the live photo.

My wife, who is not a nerd, loves live photos and has been using it nonstop since she got her phone. I think it is her big thing with the new phone. That makes me wonder that maybe I’m reading this wrong and non-nerds will really embrace live photos. If they do, I hope they are doing so on something bigger than the 16 GB entry-level iPhones.

Touch ID

I’m more impressed than I expected to be with the new Touch ID speed. It is so fast that I barely see the lock screen. When I wanted to test a live photo as my lock screen wallpaper, I couldn’t get to the lock screen because Touch ID was unlocking the phone so quickly. Instead I had to use the sleep-wake button on the side.

The New Camera

Every year the iPhone camera gets iteratively better. With the big move from 8 to 12 megapixels this year, I feel a lot more comfortable taking wide shots with the knowledge that I can zoom in on them later without losing too much image integrity. The camera quality of the iPhone 6 was pretty good to begin with. Taking pictures outdoors with good light, I couldn’t see much difference between the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6s. In low light however, the difference was noticeable. While the iPhone still is not going to replace your SLR or mirrorless camera, as a carry around camera, it’s pretty amazing. The below gallery shows some images I took last night at Disneyland with the new camera and some comparison shots with the iPhone 6 Plus camera. All images are not edited.

Comparison of the new front facing “selfie” camera isn’t fair. The new camera is far superior with the 5 megapixel sensor. The screen-as-flash feature really works and doesn’t make you look blown  out.

I did some tests for the amount of time it takes to take a photograph. I saw no noticeable difference between the 6 and 6s. However, the 3D Touch interface does let me get to the appropriate camera much faster than the old iPhone did.


Between the RAM (iPhone now has 2 gigabytes of RAM) and the A9 processor upgrades, the iPhone 6s is a screamer. I’ve only began to scratch the surface on this but I can already see that jumping through multiple tabs in Safari, downloading and updating a large OmniFocus database, and making alterations to photos are all noticeably snappier on the new phone. 

The most interesting story about the performance improvements for me is not what I can do today but what will happen tomorrow. With mobile devices approaching “desktop class” processing speeds, how much more awesome can app developers make the mobile devices. The powerful apps demonstrated by Adobe and Microsoft at the Apple event are just the tip of the iceberg. I expect in a couple years we are going to have a lot more “power” mobile apps available to us. 

There still are a lot of questions about how developers can create that market in the current “race to the bottom” pricing wars but there is no question the hardware and evolving touch interface can support a more advanced class of software. I can’t wait to see how this turns out.


One of my daughters is currently rocking her iPhone 5S and doing just fine with it. Nevertheless, every year the iPhone evolves and gets a little better. This year’s iteration feels like it has evolved a bit more than iPhones in the past. If your current iPhone does not support 3D Touch, you’re missing out. That doesn’t mean you have to upgrade though. Using a three-year-old iPhone is perfectly adequate and fully supported by the current iOS 9 software. All that said, with their own upgrade plan, Apple has made it easier than ever to get into the new iPhone and I expect a lot of people will be doing just that.

Saying “No” to the Master

Over the years I’ve got very adept at using the trackpad. The clincher for me was when Apple started introducing multitouch gestures. Whether I’m at my MacBook or iMac, as I go through the day I do flicks, swipes, and other gestures that make my computer dance for me. Once I mastered the built-in multitouch features, I downloaded Better Touch Tool and took the trackpad interface even further. At this point I’ve mastered the trackpad and using it feels a little bit more like playing the piano than a computer interface.

Nevertheless, I’m always interested in how things are going on the other side. Recently, I heard Myke Hurley talking about his brand-new Logitech MX Master mouse (Logitech) (Amazon). Myke loves it. With this mouse, Logitech has combined a weighty, ergonomic mouse with multiple buttons and inputs. Myke, for example, was able to drastically reduce the amount of time it takes him to edit a podcast using the programmable features of the MX Master.

This got me interested so I picked one up at the local Best Buy, keeping mindful of their two-week return policy. Myke was right. This is a remarkable mouse. It’s been years since I used a mouse and the ergonomics of the MX Master are better than any mouse I ever recall using. (They are definitely better than the Apple Magic mouse.) Likewise, just about every surface on this mouse has something you can press to make stuff happen on your Mac. In addition to the two buttons, there is a rolling wheel that can be switched between a ratcheting click or a flywheel inspired free roll. There’s also a separate scroller under your thumb and several additional buttons. The Logitech software loaded on my El Capitan Mac without breaking anything and the mouse performed without flaw for two weeks. I was able to program in many of the functions I pull off now with my trackpad using mouse buttons. The only real criticism I have is that it uses a USB dongle instead of natively pairing with the Mac through Bluetooth.

Nevertheless, I took it back. The problem was that I never truly warmed up to the mouse. If I had used it another month or two, the button layout probably would’ve become second nature just as the trackpad has for me. However, in my case, I’ve moved on. I am able to make a trackpad do a lot for me and it doesn’t move around the table, bumping into my glass of water or papers on my desk. Because I have my trackpad set up to click on tap (yes, I am one of those people), it requires virtually no force to click on my trackpad. Indeed as I go throughout the day, if one finger starts feeling a little stiff, I use a different finger for taps. While I was able to replicate many of the gestures I do with a trackpad on this super mouse, I was not able to replicate them all. Better Touch Tool gives you a seemingly infinite number of potential inputs on the trackpad. For instance, one of mine is to rest my third, fourth, and fifth fingers on the trackpad and tap with my index finger. Complex gesture like this simply are not possible with a mouse.

Finally, the biggest advantage of a mouse over a trackpad, more precise movement, didn’t really pay off for me. The mouse may have been slightly faster for some tasks, but I didn’t feel it or appreciate it enough to want to trade in my trackpad for mouse.

Now I know that some anarchists like to use both the trackpad and the mouse at the same time. If I were to go that route, I would just use an existing Magic mouse from a drawer rather than spend $100 on the souped up MX Master.

In summary, if you are mouse person, I’m not sure you could do any better than the MX Master. If you’re a trackpad person, you’re probably fine sticking to your guns.

Review: Inateck Aluminum Unibody USB-C 3 Port USB and Ethernet Hub

With the inclusion of the USB-C port, the new MacBook is more friendly to third party parts manufacturers than it has been in a long time. There’s already a long list of established accessory makers and upstart Kickstarters all cooking up ideas to take advantage of this new port. 

One of the first arrivals in my bag is the Inateck Unibody USB Hub (Product Page) (Amazon). This travel-friendly device features three bus powered USB 3.0 ports and an Gigabit Ethernet port. This is all in a small package less than 4 inches long and 1 inch wide. It has a 1 foot USB-C cable attached for plugging into your MacBook. I’ve been testing the Inatech against the Apple USB to USB-C adapter and find no discernable difference in data transfer speeds. While about $10 more than the Apple adapter, I think the Inatech’s two additional USB ports and Gigabit Ethernet make it the better value.

I like this device because it has a nice aluminum design that is befitting the new MacBook and gives me a lot of flexibility for just a little room in my bag.

The New MacBook Review


For the last week and a half, I’ve been doing a lot of my work on the new MacBook. I bought this computer as an experiment with the intention to return it unless I felt it was good enough to replace my existing 15″ MacBook Pro. Here’s my story.

The new MacBook is not for everybody. This is a the newest Apple ultralight, built around portability more than anything else.

Up until a few months ago, the 15″ MacBook Pro was the perfect laptop for me. I drove into my office everyday and used it at my desk. The retina screen is sharp (and big) and despite being a few years old, that computer is still a screamer. There is something to be said for having a laptop that you know can handle any computing task you throw at it. 

Then I went out as an indie lawyer and suddenly found myself spending a lot more time doing my big-boy work in front of my retina iMac in my home office. I no longer need a laptop 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. I do need one when I go out to do meetings and conferences. Sometimes I need a laptop just to be able to get away for a few hours. The trouble is, a 15″ MacBook Pro isn’t ideal for something to throw into your bag and hit the bricks. In fact, it’s such a pain to carry that I frequently find myself avoiding bringing it altogether. 

No longer do I need a powerful laptop. Instead, I need a portable laptop. I need something that can serve the role of “second” computer.

I have always had an obsession with ultralight laptops. When Apple first release the 11 inch MacBook Air, it took all of my will power not to get one. I just love the idea of being able to go anywhere with a Mac. A few years ago I was telling a friend of mine about my unquenched lust for the 11 inch MacBook Air. It just so happened that she had an 11 inch MacBook Air she wasn’t using and let me borrow it for awhile. I was thinking I’d give it a spin and make her an offer but by then I already had a retina MacBook Pro and it ruined me for non-retina screens. I could not stand to look at that screen. 

So I watched the rumors about the rumored 12″ retina MacBook with some interest and when Apple announced the new MacBook, I took note. Once the new MacBooks landed in the Apple Stores, I found excuses to stop by several times and play with the new machines. I was interested in the new machine as a replacement for my big laptop. I ordered one with the idea that I’d try it for a week or so and then decide whether I keep it and sell the MacBook Pro or return it and stick with my existing laptop. I bought the second tier model with the 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 8GB of Ram and 512GB SSD in space gray. It’s been a lot of fun kicking the tires.

The Screen

When it comes to retina screens, I am that guy. I love clear, sharp text on my screen and once I got used to a retina screen, I knew I’d never buy another computer without one. The new MacBook screen lives up to the hype. It’s gorgeous and bright.

There are a few settings to increase (or decrease) the amount of screen real estate. I tried them all and they all look fine. When you have pixels this small, you can fudge in ways that were not possible with bigger pixels and the human eye will be none the wiser. In the end, I found I preferred the default size and haven’t thought about it since.

Build Quality

Apple is so good at manufacturing computers. This new MacBook is no different. It is so small yet feels so solid. The lid opens with just the right amount of resistance. Moreover, the plastic hinge that we see on the currently shipping MacBook Air lineup has been banished for an aluminum one. I really like feel of this computer.


As part of my big life changes, I’ve discovered that I use a laptop on my lap these days a lot more frequently than I ever did before. When I had a 9 to 5 job, the laptop was always on my desk. Now it is just as likely to be on my lap in the park. With this transition I discovered that my 15 inch retina MacBook Pro gets pretty hot. Uncomfortably so. The new MacBook doesn’t work as hard and it doesn’t get as hot. I’d also speculate heat isn’t as much of a problem because the logic board is so small. While the new MacBook does get warm on the bottom, the heat is nowhere near what I experienced with the MacBook Pro. The fact that the machine doesn’t get as hot is just one more reason why am more likely to take it with me on the road.


Compared to my older MacBook Pro, this new computer is underpowered. The older computer has more processing power, an actual discrete graphics card, and more RAM. If you compared specs between the two computers, the spreadsheet would not be kind to the new MacBook.

All that said, at no point during the experiment did I find myself waiting on the new MacBook. I used it for all of the things I do on a laptop and it performed like a champ. This is not the computer I’d use to edit video screencasts or build iBooks Author books but looking back over the last few years, I’ve never really done those things on my MacBook Pro either. For the type of work I tend to do on a laptop, the new MacBook is just fine.


The new MacBook is like the Red October. It runs silent. I love that I never hear the sound of fans spinning up. An added benefit is that because there are no fans, there are also no ventilation ports. I can rest this computer on any surface and not worry about blocking ventilation. 

The Port

The new MacBook has just one USB type C port. I think this is the most talked about limitation of this computer. Because this is a new USB standard, there aren’t many cables available for it. Moreover, because the computer also charges through the single port, you cannot simultaneously charge it and run an external device at the same time without an adapter or hub. At no point has this caused me any frustration. This laptop is a second computer for me and I don’t need a lot of ports. If this were my only computer, it would be a problem. I did purchase the USB adapter and tested it with my portable hard drives. It worked fine. The only time I’ve really needed it so far was when my Wi-Fi printer decided to stop cooperating.

Because this new port is a USB standard, it’s inevitable that there will be a parade of adapters and cables in the not so distant future. I’ve got a speaking gig in a couple months and I’m waiting until it’s closer before deciding which projector adapter I will buy. I’m hoping some third-party will come in with a solution cheaper than Apple’s.

One final comment on the single port is that it takes a significant amount of force to remove the cable from the port. We’ve all lamented the end of MagSafe. I can confirm it truly is dead with the new MacBook because if someone trips over your charging cable while plugged into this new computer, your MacBook will magically and literally be transformed into a MacBook Air.

The Battery

I’m averaging about 7 hours per charge. I’ve done better and I’ve done worse depending on how hard I’m pushing it but if you need the new MacBook to keep working beyond that, you are going to need to pack your charger.

Interestingly, because it charges through USB, I decided to try a little experiment with my iPhone external charger. In order to do so, I had to order a standard USB male connector to USB type C cable off Amazon. It costs $7. The question in my mind was when I hooked up the iPhone charger, would the laptop recharge the iPhone charger or the iPhone charger recharge the laptop. For this experiment I was using an Anker Astro 3 12800mAh charger. When I plugged it in, the MacBook made the little charging sound and the menubar battery icon showed the familiar lightening bolt icon to indicate my new laptop was receiving a charge.

The laptop certainly doesn’t charge as fast through the Anker battery as it does when I plug it into the wall but it does charge. I found that using the Anker battery, I could add about 5 hours of battery life. In another experiment I ran the laptop battery down to 10% and then plugged in the fully-charged Anker and went to bed. When I woke up the next morning, the Anker battery was bone dry and the laptop had an 85% charge. The ability to carry and use this relatively small battery on days when I may need extra juice is actually pretty handy.

The Trackpad

Having used the new trackpad a lot, I’m convinced it is better than the old trackpad. I can tap it anywhere, including near the top, which was difficult with older trackpads because of the increased leverage needed the closer you got to the hinge.

Developers are still figuring out what to do with the force sensitive trackpad and I expect some very interesting user interface improvements based on this technology soon.

Perhaps my best compliment for the new trackpad is how I just don’t think about it at all. It just works. If only I could say that about the keyboard.


This was my biggest concern about this new MacBook and justifiably so. The keyboard is different. The keys are bigger, which I liked. There is less key travel, which I didn’t like. Apple has spent a lot of time talking up the new switches and while they most likely are superior to the old switches, that doesn’t overcome the lack of travel in these keys. I don’t know if there’s ever been a computer with a physical keyboard that had so little travel in the keys. Typing on it is strange, and not in a good way. 

If you are used to mashing keys, this keyboard will be difficult for you. It requires more of a light touch. If you try to press through the keys, you’re just going to add strain to your fingers because the keys aren’t going to go any further. On the flip side, if your touch gets too light, you won’t sufficiently depress keys and miss letters. You’ve got to find the sweet spot.

After having use this keyboard nearly exclusively through this test, it’s my opinion that the new keyboard is inferior to the standard chicklet-style keyboard on other currently shipping Macs. I’ve found that sweet spot and am able to type on it just fine but it still feels foreign to me. While I am still not entirely used to the keyboard, I don’t find myself thinking about it as much now either. I’m not going to say it is growing on me but it is not bothering me that much either. If I had to choose between a keyboard with more travel but a non-retina screen or the new MacBook, in my mind it’s not a contest. I’d take the new MacBook. Keyboards can be a very personal thing, especially for touch typists, but in my case the new keyboard is not a deal breaker for this computer.


As I got serious about making a decision about whether or not to keep the new MacBook, I also considered returning it to buy a different laptop.

Why Not a Tricked Out 11 or 13 inch MacBook Air?

I will never buy another computer without a retina screen. Just last night I was doing some maintenance on my daughter’s MacBook Air. That screen bothers me way more the the new MacBook’s keyboard does.

Why Not a 13 inch MacBook Pro?

In a lot of ways, I think the 13 inch MacBook Pro is the best laptop that Apple currently makes. It has plenty under the hood along with a retina screen and is more mobile than the 15 inch MacBook Pro. My wife has a 13 inch MacBook Pro and I’ve spent plenty of time using it. However, that machine still comes with many of the same issues I experience with its bigger sibling, including weight and heat.


The new MacBook isn’t for everybody. Indeed, I’d argue it’s not for most people. There are a lot of compromises involved but in exchange you get a Mac that can go just about anywhere with you. The compromises required for that portability, in my case, are worth it. Since getting the new MacBook, I’ve found that I can work just about anywhere and I like that. Earlier this week I had lunch with my wife at Disneyland and then spent several hours doing legal work on the laptop while watching the Mark Twain steamship paddle down the Rivers of America. How many people can have that view from their office? On balance, the new MacBook is a good fit for me. I’m keeping it.


Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 7.39.54 AM.png

Don Southard is a really clever guy. He comes up with some amazing little solutions for getting more done on your Mac and he’s also a really fine writer with his pieces over at MacStories. Don just recently released a new application for the Mac, Watermarker. I like it. It’s a simple application that consistently applies watermarks to images. My wife is using it every day right now as she writes her ongoing series about Christmas ornaments. If you want an easy way to watermark photographs and want to support a standup guy, check out Watermarker.

OmniOutliner for iPad Review

The day the Omni Group releases a new iPad app always feels a little bit like productivity-nerd Christmas. There is always a lot of anticipation leading up to the event and, despite having spent far too much time thinking about how the Omni UI wizards will go about it, you always find a few unexpected surprises. With today’s release of OmniOutliner for iPad ($20), the Christmas metaphor holds up.

Last year, no sooner did we get OmniFocus installed than we all immediately started clamoring for OmniOutliner. So now it is here. How does OmniOutliner stack up against are expectations? I’ve been using the app through the beta and report the Omni Group delivered, again.

Interface and Iteration

What puts the Omni Group applications above others is their unwillingness to accept “good enough.” The Omni Group spends a lot of time getting the touch interface right. With each new iPad app, they realize they are blazing a trail. They generally throw out all the assumptions made with building an interface for a traditional keyboard and mouse and start over. OmniOutliner is not a simple port of the Mac OS X app. Instead, it is a ground up, outlining application built around the iPad’s strengths (and weaknesses).


Outlining real simple. Type an entry and then use the arrow icon buttons at the bottom of the screen to promote or demote entries. For speed outlining, that is it. No magic incantations or multiple button taps. Type the words. Set the level. Move on.

To type on a line, double tap it. A curser drops in and the iPad on-screen keyboard jumps to life. Once done editing, tap the row handle to the left and OmniOutliner exits edit mode. The row handles also include icons to display row level. Any rows without children appear as a dot. Rows with children have an oversized disclosure triangle. Tapping the triangle will collapse and expand the children points below it. OmniOutliner also includes the ability to add notes in an option text field below individual entries. This is one of the Mac OS X features that came over to iPad and it is damn useful.

Tapping the Edit button brings up a series of editing tools to move, group, and delete individual entries. Even easier though is grabbing and moving the row handles and moving manually.

Columns and Customization

It wouldn’t be OmniOutliner without columns and the iPad iteration delivers. You can add columns of various formats including text, numbers, date, duration, pop-up list, and checkboxes. Everything is intuitive and creating and styling new columns is easy. With certain formats, like numbers, OmniOutliner will optionally perform a math functions providing totals, averages, minimum and maximum values, and additional functions.

There is a lot of customization available under the hood. Tapping the Tools icon button opens a popover that lets you set styles and view for the entire document or the current selection. You can also create custom styles for certain outline levels. The screenshot, for instance set a tan background, bold typeface, and numbering for the level one entries.

One of the many nice touches are the built in color schemes. The color picker includes a series of custom palettes. These are the same color options available in the iPad OmniGraffle app and much better than those available in the Mac OS X color picker.

Document Management

Document management is handled in the document view. This app feels a lot like Apple’s iWork apps in this regard. You flick between documents and tap one to open it. There are also options to open documents from iDisk or a WebDAV server. There is no Dropbox access. The Omni Group explained that they are still exploring ways to make online sync better. However, if you really need that Dropbox sync, you can use a DropDAV account and access your Dropbox files via WebDAV. You can also export outlines to iDisk, WebDAV, and iTunes or send them as a mail attachment. Export options include the OmniOutliner format, HTML (both simple and dynamic), plain text, and my beloved OPML.


When the iPad was first announced, OmniOutliner was one of those apps that I thought would be perfect for it. I often use outlines for brainstorming and organizing thoughts. I also use OmniOutliner to take depositions and prepare witness examinations. Furthermore, every one of the last fifty episodes of the Mac Power Users started life as an OmniOutline. I miss the templates available in OmniOutliner Pro on my Mac and native Dropbox support would have been nice but I’ve been using the iPad OmniOutliner exclusively for a month and the iPad has supplanted my Mac as my “go to” outlining device. Like mind mapping, outlining really lends itself to the touch interface. The Omni Group just “gets” the iPad and it is no surprise that they nailed it again with OmniOutliner for iPad.

Tom Bihn Ristretto for 13″ MacBook Air Review

Over the past year, I’ve changed up my mobile gear. I got my beloved iPad and sold my once mighty MacBook Pro in exchange for an underpowered 13” MacBook Air, which I adore.

Leading up to Macworld, I decided I was going to spoil myself with a fancy-pants case for the MacBook Air. I ended up with a nice leather bag that gave me that perfect hipster look necessary for a trip to San Francisco. The trouble is, my bag had a lousy strap and it was uncomfortable carrying it around all day. I toyed with the idea of doing some surgery on the strap to install my Tom Bihn Absolute Strap but there was really no way to do it right. So I sat there looking at my Tom Bihn Ristretto iPad case and thought it sure would be nice if it held my MacBook. After that obvious revelation, a quick trip to Tom Bihn’s site revealed that, indeed, Tom Bihn does make such a bag, the Ristretto for the 13” MacBook/MacBook Air.

The Ristretto is a vertical messenger bag, letting you slide your MacBook Air down inside sideways. Both sides of the laptop compartment are padded but only one has the nice soft nylon material (the other side is a relatively soft canvas) so you need to give some thought as to how you align the MacBook when you slide it in. The compartment easily holds both the 13” MacBook, 13” MacBook Pro, and their thinner sibling, the 13” MacBook Air. Ideally there would be some more foam padding in the bottom of the laptop compartment since one very likely damage vector comes from dropping the bag and it landing on its bottom. I cut a length of stiff packing foam and dropped it in mine. With that slight modification, I’m satisfied with the protection this bag affords my MacBook Air.

There is a second large compartment next to the laptop sleeve that works great for holding my iPad. There is also a zippered compartment (nice for holding my wallet and other important bits and pieces) and several other small sewn compartments that hold pens, Field Notes, a USB hard drive, and a few cables. Interestingly, I don’t normally carry my AC Power adapter. Instead I leave it in the car since I so rarely need it when out and about.

There are also three o-rings, letting you attach keys, pouches, and other items. Tom Bihn sells several accessories for the bag so you can trick it out as you please. One of the o-rings includes and 8” key strap. The back of the Ristretto has a slanted, open-top pocket great for holding the mail or other random papers.

The bag ships with removable waist straps helpful to secure the bag to your body if you are active. The straps unclip easily so you don’t have them hanging on when not needed. There are multiple color schemes available. I went with black and steel.

The Ristretto ships with a nice wide shoulder strap but for more comfort, pay the extra $20 for the Absolute Shoulder Strap. This strap includes a soft neoprene pad. It is both light and comfortable. It is the nicest strap I’ve ever used on a bag. It is so nice that I attach it to any bag I use. Also, it appears they’ve nailed the problem with the strap squeaking that I had when I looked at the iPad Ristretto bag.

At $140 (including the Absolute Strap), the Tom Bihn Ristretto for 13” MacBook is no small investment but I believe it is worth it. This is a well crafted bag, made in the USA, that I plan to use for years to come.

Kensington Presenter Pro Review

My beloved remote has failed me. I’ve been using it for at least 6 years without a hitch and suddenly (despite new batteries, cleaning the contacts, and a few kindly whacks) it has stopped advancing slides. So time for a new one and I took advantage of Macworld Expo to do some shopping.

For me the perfect remote has four buttons: advance, backward, dark screen, and laser. I don’t want extra bells and whistles that I will start pressing in nervous fits. So that was my shopping list, a Mac friendly remote with just the right number of buttons. I found my new remote on the expo floor, the Kensington Presenter Pro with Green Laser and Memory.

The Kensington Presenter Pro ($99) (find the manual here) fits nicely in my hand and features four buttons: slide advance, slide back, laser, and dark screen. It includes a dongle that stores inside the remote. The device works on a 2.4 GHz wireless signal that worked for me up to about 100 feet. Everything just works on the Mac. What really makes this remote shine however are the little details

The Laser

The Kensington Presenter Pro uses a green laser. While green lasers aren’t as unique as they used to be, they are still a lot more rare than red lasers, which is great. When I’m speaking, my green laser looks different, and that’s good. People know when I point.
There is also some science involved. Green light is right in the middle of the visible spectrum where red light is on the edge (meaning less visible). So it has a bright shiny laser with a different color. That’s a plus.

The Thumb Drive

The USB key does more than talk to the remote. It also has 2 GB of onboard storage and a micro SD slot supporting cards up to 32 GB. That means you can put a copy of your Keynote right on the thumb stick as a last ditch back up in case everything else goes wrong. It also means you could conceivably walk in a room with a remote only, plug it in to a Mac and start talking.

The Power Switch

Another nice touch is the inclusion of a sliding power switch. My old remote didn’t have one and it made me crazy. You never knew when the laser might get accidentally pressed in my bag and I’d get to my location to find the batteries dead. As a result, I still have this manic desire to carry extra AAAs whenever I speak.

The Case

The Presenter Pro also includes a zippered case form fitted to hold your remote. It fits nicely in my bag without a big footprint.

Overall, the new remote is a winner.

Audioengine P4 Passive Speakers

Audioengine, the company that melds a former Apple designer with a speaker guru has, for several years, released some very powerful bookshelf sized powered speakers for all of your iDevices. Recently, however, the company started selling a new line of passive speakers, the Audioengine P4.

Until now, if you wanted to hook up Audioengine speakers to your existing receiver, you were out of luck. All of Audioengine’s speapers before the P4 included their own powered amplifier, which was great for plugging into iDevices but no fun if you wanted to plug them into your existing amplifiers or surround-sound receivers. The P4 solves this problem removing the amplifier.

The speakers have the standard 2 wire connections and include threaded inserts for attaching to stands, walls, and ceiling bracket systems. Despite, their small size, they are beefy and well-built. The speakers are 9 inches tall by 5.5 inches wide by 6.5 inches deep and ship in cloth sacks that would get the approval of Steve Jobs.

But how do they sound?

The AP4s sound great. I’ve always been happy with the sound output from the relatively small bookshelf sized Audioengine speakers. You can crank them up and get a minimum of distortion. The company cut its teeth in the speaker business engineering high performance studio monitors, those speakers musicians use when recording. I’ve spent my fair share of time with studio monitors in my musician days. The best ones have to be rugged and able to play loud enough to give you the mix back despite all the other noise. This pedigree comes out in the Audioengine speakers.

The speakers include several features common with Audioengine’s other speakers including hand-built cabinets, 5-way gold-plated binding posts, silk dome tweeters and kevlar woofers, and they are magnetically shielded.

All of the Audioengine products share the same tuning so they work great together. I’m using my existing P4s to replace my two primary speakers on my stereo but considering buying two additional P4s to replace my surround speakers so everything is tuned together.

Whenever I can find the time, I enjoy butchering Thelonious Monk and Oscar Peterson songs on my Midi keyboard. While this is just a dull memory of my past degree of music nerdiness, sound is important to me and the Audioengine products suit very nicely indeed.

Pricing starts at $249. Audioengine contiues to offer its 30 day audition. If you purchase the speakers from Audioengine’s online store and are not satisfied, you can return them in the original packaging in like-new, undamaged condition within 30 days of purchase and get a full refund of your purchase price.