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I Really Want to Go Back to School

Published by on Feb 12th, 2013, No Comments

As a teenager all I ever wanted at school was a locker. There were two reasons for this, firstly so I could have awkward encounters with the pretty girl serendipitously placed next to me and secondly so that I didn’t have to carry all those heavy books around!

Thankfully Core (the distributors of Apple in South Africa) have both solved my historical problems and ruined my serendipity fantasy. Last week the company released ZABooks, a project to get every single South African textbook onto the iPad to get kids learning using digital textbooks.

The concept is simple: you download the ZABooks app onto your iPad (I can see the iPad Mini becoming the de facto choice for schools soon) and then go to the ZABooks website to buy the books you require. You then login to the app on your iPad and you can start downloading books. You can get books from Grade 1 to Grade 12 and at launch there are over 600 textbooks already available. All the major publishers are on board and books are generally at least 25% cheaper than the print editions. I took a random book on the store (Advocates For Change by Moeletsi Mbeki) and while ZABooks charges R180 for it you can get the print edition for R202 on Kalahari.net. That is without shipping (anything over R250 gets free shipping) and Kalahari is generally cheaper than brick and mortar stores so pricing does seem spot on. From a pricing perspective it’s probably going to take a while to amortise the cost of the iPad but in my house we have an upgrade cycle where an “old” iPad is passed down to the younger members of the family meaning that child already had access to an iPad. (more…)

SA Prices for 2012 Macbooks Announced

Published by on Jun 15th, 2012, 13 Comments

Now that the dust has settled since the WWDC keynote, you might be hankering to get the latest Apple Macbook Air or Pro machine. How about the Macbook Pro with Retina display? Good news – Digicape has announced their pricing for the latest Macbooks. Here is a quick rundown of the new range, as well as a few things you should look out for. Our recommendations are in bold. Obviously power users will want to choose the biggest and best they can afford. If your job relies on the speed of rendering things, obviously you can ignore our recommendation. We are merely pointing out the models we feel are better value.

Let’s start with the Macbook Air with Ivy Bridge processor, still available in 11 and 13 inch sizes. Even though it might look the same as before, it now has the latest low voltage Intel processors, USB 3 support, an upgraded camera, and a better Thunderbolt chipset, which should theoretically allow you to connect more Thunderbolt devices. There is also a newer “MagSagfe 2″ plug. For the first time you can now also configure the Macbook Air with 8GB RAM, but that is a special order which will take a few weeks to reach SA. Standard config prices are as follows: (more…)

iPad finally officially available in SA: Should you get it?

Published by on Jan 28th, 2011, 9 Comments

(Update: iPad 2 has been launched in South Africa)

If you are one of the people who have been dying to get an iPad, but somehow did not manage to get one through “unofficial” channels up until now, you are in luck. As of today you can finally buy the Apple iPad in official Apple reseller stores in South Africa. The best part is the price – where SA has traditionally always had ridiculous pricing when it came to Apple products, the iPad prices are actually surprisingly good, as you can see here (Digicape pricing):

Take into account that the cheapest iPad in the US trades for $500, this is not too bad. For way to long Core insisted on taking the US price and just multiplying it by ten. Good for them for changing that (I am not trying to get into another pricing debate here, I am actually complementing them). I still want to see what they charge for accessories as well though.

While its great to finally have the iPad available via official channels, I just have to point out something. It is today also exactly one year after the iPad has been announced in the US, so you might want to ask yourself if you so desperately need the first generation iPad now. My little bit of advice is to wait for the second generation iPad. While everything is just rumours up until now, you can expect a lot of improvements on the next generation model, and possibly even at a lower price point. If history is anything to go by – look at the jump from the first generation iPhone to the iPhone 3G… I think I will do a small experiment the weekend and ask some iStore / Incredible Connection salespeople if they recommend getting the iPad right now…

But all in all – it is wonderful news to finally have the iPad officially here in SA!

If you want to get one, it is available at iStores, Dion Wired, Incredible Connection and of course the best Apple Premium Reseller – Digicape. I recommend you phone ahead if you are driving out to get one. Something tells me it will sell out fast. You can also see where to get the iPad here.

Update: our man on the ground, Seb Stent went to go test out iStore’s salesmen about the iPad. If you want to see if they know their stuff – just click play! Sorry about the dodgy sound!


Intel releases next generation Core processor line up

Published by on Jan 6th, 2011, No Comments

As you have probably noticed, CES is in full swing in Las Vegas, and we have all been bombarded in the tech news by all the wonderful new gizmos. Once again 2011 looks like the year of the tablet. Whereas 2010′s CES had everyone wondering what Apple’s rumoured tablet would be like, this year everyone is also trying to get in on the party. Some are more successful than others however…

Perhaps more importantly, Intel has released the latest version of it’s processor lineup, running on a new chipset, called “Sandy Bridge”. While the same basic model structure is followed as before, the new model names make even less sense. Initial benchmarks look promising, but the jump in performance isnt as game changing as the leap from Core 2 to the Core i3/i5/i7.

Changes are more evolutionary, and Intel seems to have focussed more on graphics and better power efficiency. With Intel’s renewed focus on graphics, they do make some very strange choices. In the latest Sandy Bridge chips, Intel integrates the graphics on the chip, but this time actually integrates the graphics on the same die as the CPU.

Currently Intel is putting two different classes of its graphics processor on the chip – a “2000″ series and “3000″ series. Essentially the biggest difference is the frequencies at which these integrated GPU’s run, but the 3000 GPU does offer much better performance. One problem – currently Intel will only put the 3000 GPU on the top 2 processors, and the people who buy those level of processors will most definately skip the integrated GPU and fit a discrete graphics card. Do not quite know what Intel’s thinking was with this…

The big performance changes with Sandy Bridge comes down to better Turbo Boost functionality and a new video decode/encode accelaration language called “Quick Sync” which fixes Intel graphics apparent lack in this field up until now. So if you have been holding out on a new PC recently, you might want to wait just a little while for the Sandy Bridge chips to arrive on our shores…

Find Intel’s press release below:

Smart Performance, Energy Efficiency and Intelligence Merge The Intel® Core™ i3, i5 and i7 processors also include the enhanced Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0. This feature automatically reallocates processor core and processor graphics resources to accelerate performance, giving users an immediate performance boost when and where it’s needed.

Other new chip features include Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX), Intel® InTru™ 3-D, and Intel® Clear Video Technology HD. Intel InTru 3-D enables immersive stereoscopic 3-D to 3-D-capable HDTVs or monitors via HDMI 1.4, making movie excitement almost come out of the screen.

Intel® AVX increases performance for such demanding visual applications as audio processing and professional video image editing such as stitching together multiple photographs. Intel® Clear Video improves the visual quality and color fidelity during video playback for a spectacular screen experience. To make it easy for users to find a 2nd Generation Intel® Core™-based system that is just right for their particular needs, Intel is also announcing a wide array of SKUs including Intel vPro™-enabled processors.

The chips are made on Intel’s 32nm manufacturing process on the company’s second-generation high-k metal gate transistors. These unique advantages further boost performance; reduce power consumption for better battery life and smaller designs, and lower overall manufacturing costs. Intel announced more than 20 processors, wireless adapters and chipsets, including new Intel® Core™ i7, i5 and i3 processors, Intel® 6 Series Chipsets, and Intel® Centrino® WiFi and WiMAX adapters. More than 500 laptop and desktop PC platform designs are expected from all major computer makers worldwide based on these products. The quad-core-based systems (four processors inside one chip) will be available on Jan. 9 with additional dual-core versions in February. Video, benchmarks, photos and more details are available at www.intel.com/newsroom/CES.

Finally, Mac users can change their Outlook: Review of Office for Mac 2011

Published by on Oct 29th, 2010, 6 Comments

For anybody who purchases a new Mac these days the first question they typically ask is – how do I get Office on to this? And the answer has always been pretty disappointing – Office for Mac was available, and it was a horribly stunted version compared to the Windows counterpart. Office for Mac 2008 was a slow, unintuitive mess, especially after Office 2007 gained its Ribbon interface. In fact, I was pretty sure Microsoft was purposefully making the Office for Mac suite a stunted excuse compared to the Windows version. Who knows?

Office 2010 for Windows was released a few months ago and it is a brilliant version – the user interface is great, the built in tools have been improved and the speed has increased a lot, especially with start up with apps. In fact, after using Office 2010 at work, and then using Office for Mac 2008 at home you realize how slow Office for Mac was.

Luckily that changes with Office for Mac 2011. I have been running the Beta version for quite a while and I eventually also got hold of the final version, and clearly Microsoft’s Mac division has been working hard to fix Office. The interface has been made cleaner, more powerful, and they have finally made it up to scratch with the rest of the Mac experience.

The product range has been simplified – especially compared to the Windows SKU’s. There are only two versions available: Home and Student (single user package, R999; three-user family package R1299, and Home and Business (single user package, R2499; licensed for two machines, R2699). Both  versions include Word 2011, Excel 2001 and Powerpoint 2011. But the Home Business version gains Outlook 2011 as well.

Outlook 2011

Outlook 2011 is significant because it replaces Entourage 2008, which was has always been a very poor mail, contacts and calendar app. I cannot even explain to Windows users how bad Entourage was – even trying to import a Outlook PST file was impossible with Entourage. Outlook 2011 is almost identical to Outlook for Windows, but of course uses the Mac user interface guidelines, so if you are a Mac junkie for years you will be happy.

Switching from PC? PST import is finally here.

Talking about PST files – Outlook 2011 does away with the PST archive system which creates one giant file, and instead stores each message, calendar or contact entry into a separate file (you can still import your PST file over from your PC if you would like). This is primarily to make Outlook easier to use with Apple’s Time Machine backup solution. This way only delta changes to your mail needs to backed up, and Spotlight can quickly index and access these files.

Outlook's Threaded Conversation view

Overall it is very similiar to Windows in terms of features, but there are a few new features as well. Do you like the unified inbox on your iPhone? You can do the same in Outlook 2011. All your account’s inboxes can populate one inbox if you prefer. If you Exchange at work, make sure they are running Exchange server 2007, previous versions are not supported. This is not as devastating as it sounds – your Snow Leopard mail account has the same limitation. So if you can access Exchange through Apple Mail on your Mac, you will be fine… (Thats a subtle tip, you might not need the more expensive version of Office for Mac 2011)

Word 2011

One thing that always bothered me about the Word 2008 for Mac was that it’s files was not perfectly compatible with the Windows version, and vice versa. Often I would try to open a report that had a bit of formatting, only to see it not render correctly. Word 2011 also includes some pretty great templates – and they need to, because Apple’s Pages includes very stylish templates, but Office has the big advantage of being able to use a massive online library of available templates.

But perhaps the most significant improvement is the addition of Visual basic macros which is finally coming to Mac. I tried a few more sophisticated documents from my Windows machine and did not have any problems. Of course the security conscious Protected Mode is also carried over from the Windows version.

Word 2011 also gains the collaborative features from Office 2011, but it requires a file to be stored online using Skydrive, but you can also use Sharepoint if you have that available to you. Of course it requires the latest version of Sharepoint, and I was unable to test this functionality. Skydrive based collaborative editing was not perfectly realtime in my experience, but it was still very useful.

Who needs Publisher when Word 2011 does the job?

Word also sports a new Word Publishing Layout tool which gives you precise publishing tools to quickly design and perfect flyers, banners and page layouts. Publishing view also gives and innovative new way of handling the image ordering – using a 3D stack to move around objects.

Word 2011 Full Screen View takes away distractions

A small, but potentially very powerful feature is the full screen writing mode which take away all distractions, and makes you concentrate on just your writing. Great.

Excel 2011

Once again macro support is back, which is such an essential part of Excel, but was somehow ignored in the previous version. I was once again impressed by the range of templates available out of the box – for example the personal finance calculators. I was also surprised to see that conditional formatting is also finally available – for some reason it was skipped in the 2008 version.

At last your conditional formatting can be carried between platforms...

The graphics portion of Excel is also finally up to par with the Windows version – graphs and SmartArt features look very good. Im not going to pretend to be a big Excel user, but I can honestly say it is finally good enough.

Powerpoint

In 2007 when Microsoft debuted its ribbon interface, it was Powerpoint 2007 that got the biggest overhaul. Powerpoint 2010 on Windows improves even further on that by including very decent graphics tools – which does not require you editing an image outside of Powerpoint and then copying the image back.

You can now stay in Powerpoint if you want to do image tweaks

Similiar to Word, Powerpoint gets the new image ordering tool which shows you in 3D the layers used. This will take a lot of frustration out of image rich slides, especially ones using the new animation effects. MS has clearly taken a few tips from Keynote, because they do look fantastic without taking away the attention of your audience.

Office's new image reordering tool takes away the guessing in image rich slides and documents

Powerpoint 2011 gets all these new editing tools – like the super easy to use background remover, but video editing options is not available in Office for Mac. I guess they realize that Mac’s come with Quicktime X or iMovie, which is plenty good enough right? Some people might say that Apple Keynote is still the best presentation software – which might even be true, but which office runs on Apple’s productivity suite? For me the major reason I ignored Keynote was that its export to Powerpoint functionaility was almost consistently useless. I stick to Powerpoint thanks.

Conclusion

Its sometimes difficult to get excited about something like Microsoft Office, but with Office for Mac 2008 Macheads have always felt a bit shortchanged. In fact Office for Mac was such a poor product for me that I used to use VMWare Fusion and then booted into Windows 7 on my Mac when I wanted to do “real work”. Office for Mac 2008 was that bad.

With Office for Mac 2011 things have changed – now Mac users can use Office without any limitations. The apps launch quickly, they are easier to use and they do not feel like immitations of the “real thing”. Perhaps the best part of Office for Mac 2011 is that Mac users can now also use Outlook 2011, which is still the defacto standard in PIM software out there. Sure, Apple’s Mail and iCal apps work well, but Outlook is still a polished, well rounded, integrated application.

If you are not too bothered about Outlook, the other apps are still great value for money if you take the Home and Student edition. If you are an Office for Mac 2008 user I cannot recommend this upgrade enough. You will be surprised at how good Office on the Mac really can be.

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