August 9, 2010

Otterbox Defender case for iPhone 4

It is worth stressing that anyone with an iPhone should have a case of some sort, the day this case arrived in the mail here, that very morning I dropped my iPhone 4 for the first time, and all I could do was watch in horror as it fell to the floor, my muscles frozen, unable even to move my foot to brace the phone's fall. Think of all the times your phone is out, you tapping the screen, holding it up for friends, taking pictures. Sooner or later, it's going to drop.

That said, I'm extremely happy to have my new iPhone 4 wrapped in the Otterbox Defender case, and as usual they've done an outstanding job with this version.

The shape of the new iPhone 4 has let them come up with what I think is a much more user friendly case. The feel of this case is much nicer than that Defender cases for prior generations of iPhone, which were themselves darned good. The silicone exterior is textured, providing for an excellent grip, without being too tacky to the touch. It slides in and out of my pocket far better than prior models, which I generally would never use without the included holster. Having used my iPhone 4 without a case for a few weeks, I had become accustomed to sliding it into my pocket, and discovered that this new case supported that habit quite well. The downside though is that the case isn't quite as grippy on flat surfaces, quite often I would have my phone charging in my car, and have the case resting on the armrest between the front seats. Prior cases would stay put around corners and hard braking, this new case has a harder time staying put, but overall this is, to me, an acceptable trade off.

The included holster has also been redesigned, the original iPhone version had the phone sliding straight down into the holster, the 3G version had the bottom of the phone sliding in at a slight angle, then the rest of the phone clicking into place. The iPhone 4 version requires that one edge of the phone slide into place, then the other edge snaps in. This has the advantage of the phone screen either facing the inner part of the holster, totally protected, or unprotected and exposed, but viewable to the wearer. I actually prefer the screen facing outwards, as it makes it easy to see who is calling, quickly check the time, read a text message, etc. The holster now also doubles as a stand, which has come in very handy for my wife and I to watch baseball games via the MLB At Bat app while dining out.

The case's built in screen protector has also been redesigned, incorporating a textured surface on the inside that eliminates any bubbling, but does not interfere in any way with the touch screen operation.

The Defender case, like prior models, is a multipart design. It includes an inner polycarbonate shell, which includes the protective screen cover, and a silicone skin which goes over the hard shell. The ports on the phone are well protected from dust and accidental exposure, small flaps easily peel back to expose the dock connector, headphone jack, and mute switch. The volume buttons on the phone are also easily accessible through the case.

As usual, Otterbox also has the Commuter and Impact series cases available for the iPhone 4, which offer less extreme protection for those who already pamper their phones, these models do not include a holster, but are still fairly rugged. All models are currently only available in black. Full details on these and other offerings can be found at

In summary, I think that every minor complaint I may have had regarding prior models have been addressed with this case; it works great with and without the holster, the mute switch is accessible, the phone can fit into the holster with the screen facing outwards, and the fit of the phone within the holster is excellent.

Posted by Jim at 3:17 PM | TrackBack

April 7, 2010

Thermaltake Mobile Fan II

Recently I had to add a second external hard drive to the web server here to get a clone of the main drive to work with on another machine. The web server is a Mac Mini, with data cloned nightly to an external 2.5" hard drive via FireWire. I plugged in another 2.5" drive, after hooking up an old FireWire hub, and got the clone started, then promptly forgot about it. A day or so later I remembered, did another clone to catch any updates, and went to unplug the drive, and about burned my hand the enclosure was so hot. It was at this point that I realized that my original drive was no longer online, after some testing it appeared that the heat had caused it to shut down. Not good! So the search was on to find a way to keep the drives cool, should I ever need to stack them again in the future.

After some searching, I found a number of fans that connected via USB, a perfect way to add a small fan to get some air moving around the drives. One model stuck out because of the name, Thermaltake, well known for their cooling products. So I headed down to the local comp-u-mart, and picked up the Thermaltake Mobile Fan II

Before hooking it up, I thought it best to take a few temperature readings. Ambient Temp was 79.3F, Drive Enclosure 1 Temp read 109.0F, with the second drive having been disconnected the night before. I fired up the second drive, and watched the enclosure temp climb past 118F within just a few minutes, and this was simply with the drives powered up and spinning, no drive activity to speak of. Now, I knew that the drive enclosures had little airflow through them, but the aluminum cases had ventilation holes front and rear, and this apparently was simply for aesthetics, any cooling provided is certainly minimal. Time to fire up the fan!

The Mobile Fan II plugs in via USB, using an included retractable cable, keeping cable clutter to a minimum. The fan end of the cable uses a custom connector for fan power, which the fan then plugs into. It would have been nice if the fan itself had a standard USB jack, allowing for a standard USB cable to be used, but the retractable cable seems relatively sturdy and should not present any issues.

I set the fan to its lowest speed setting using the built in knob, according to the spec sheet this should have been about 1300 RPM, which, again according to the specs, should have a noise level of 17 dBA. Unless I had my ear right against the fan, I couldn't hear a bit of noise coming from it over the whirring of the drives. I placed the fan, still on low, next to the drives, and saw the temperature drop rapidly from the 122F that it had reached, dropping down to 114F in under a minute, and under 100F after a few more.

At the highest setting, the fan is capable of moving 47.28 cubic feet per minute of air, which is quite a lot for such a small fan, obviously the lower speeds will move much less.

There are a number of novelty fans that plug into the USB ports on the computer for keeping the user 'cool', but having seen these in action, their gentle breeze wasn't all that appealing for serious cooling, and I knew the Thermaltake brand wouldn't disappoint, and it didn't.

It is a great fan for notebooks, which aren't known for having large fans, or can be used anywhere you have a USB port and need some air moving, external drives are a great place for such a fan, if you have drives that don't include fans in their enclosures. Larger 3.5" drives especially would be great candidates for a fan like this.

I paid $14 for mine locally, a quick Google has these anywhere from $8 - $22 at a number of retailers.

Posted by Jim at 8:22 PM | TrackBack

December 19, 2008

Otterbox Impact case for iPhone 3G

The great folks at Otterbox have been kind enough to send over a sample of their latest case for the iPhone 3G, the iPhone 3G Impact Case. Not having a 3G iPhone (yet!) myself, I've asked my good friend Tre to lend a hand with this review. What follows is his report.

I have been testing the OtterBox case for the iPhone 3G for the past month or so, and have found it to be very sturdy and protective of the phone itelf. The case is made out of a single piece of silicone rubber that you stretch over the iPhone. The case fits relatively snugly, although the long vertical sides feel like they aren't as firm, but that may be from continual removal and reinsertion of the phone during the testing.

The case feels extremely solid, and I have taken to being a lot less careful with my phone, and will toss it on the desk as opposed to placing it down. Granted, 4 inches of toss isn't a lot, but with one broken glass face in my iPhone career, this says a lot about the comfort I have in its ability to protect the iPhone.

The corners and back of the case are thicker, ostensibly because those are the points that are most likely to cause the most damage if it drops, but because of the way that it's designed, it makes it much easier to grasp than the naked iPhone. I have found it much easier to hold the phone, especially for long calls without worrying about it slipping at all. On the inside of the case on the corners, the rubber is sort of corrugated, which allows it to absorb some of the shock of a drop of the phone at those points. This works well; I have found myself playing with the phone and bouncing it on the corners as I'm sitting at my desk.

All of the ports are fully accessible, and I had no problems plugging anything in. Because of the case design, I find myself holding the phone in a more consistent manner, and don't have to continually adjust the phone location to get the earpiece lined up with my ear (as I do with a non-encased iPhone). I do however, have a gripe with the thickness of the case around the ringer silence switch- if you don't have fingernails, you are fighting a battle to get your finger through the thickness to turn it on or off. Less thickness near the switch would be a better design choice, IMHO.

I like this case a lot, but will probably not continue to use it, just because of the way that I carry my phone: in my pants pocket. The rubber case is awesome in its protection capabilities, and unfortunately also in its ability to cause high amounts of friction when I try to either put it in or pull it out. And when I'm driving, the last thing I want to be worried about is fighting my pocket when I'm pulling this out to answer a call (California headset laws notwithstanding). I'm torn if using another material for the case would be a good thing, as the shock absorption properties are one of the biggest benefits of the Otterbox case, but something that's a little less grabby would be appreciated. For someone that has a purse or carries it in a jacket, this probably wouldn't be as big a concern as it was for me.

Bottom line: if you're a person that likes an industrial-style case that offers industrial-strength support, this would be a hard case to beat.

Pros: one piece construction, additional rubber support on the corners, easy access to the ports

Cons: ringer switch not easy to access, rubber casing grabs on cloth pockets

Posted by Jim at 7:38 PM | TrackBack

August 20, 2008

iPhone Defender Series Strength Case Review

Last month, I wrote that Otterbox had a new color in their Defender line of cases, Pink. And while this is not normally a color I would be interested in, my wife, on the other hand, absolutely adores it, and so I wasted no time in upgrading her from her old and busted Case-Mate case to the latest offering from Otterbox.

My original review of the Otterbox Defender gave the case very high marks. Basically an identical design, the pink version fared equally well, and more importantly, earned high marks from my wife.

Upon opening the package and checking all the parts to note differences from the original, I noticed a very slight alignment issue with how the two halves of the shell snapped together, some of the catches didn't quite line up, but with some firm pressure, they did fall into place. After assembly, I noticed that the new case wasn't quite as snug in the holster as the original version, the total thickness (plastic shell and outer skin) was just slightly slimmer, but this did not present any issue with the phone being secure in the holster. I had confirmed with Otterbox that they are using a new mold manufacturer for these, and I'm confident that any similar issues are being addressed.

For a few days, we had a minor annoyance with the screen protector, it was sticking slightly to the screen, and was having a bubbling effect as a result. After disassembling the case and removing the phone, I discovered that I hadn't cleaned the iPhone screen quite as well as I should have before putting it in the case, and after a good wipe down with some glass cleaner, and a similar cleaning of the underside of the screen protector, the bubbling issue was gone. Chalk that one up to user error...

As I did, my wife lamented not having the mute switch available, but quickly adapted to simply lowering the ringer volume instead. She rarely has pockets to slip her phone into, and has found the holster to be almost indispensable, and is extremely happy with how securely it attaches to whatever she clips it to.

Also very popular is the circular opening in the back allowing the iPhone's silver Apple log to show through, so that there is no doubt when she answers the phone in front of her friends and coworkers exactly what kind of phone she is using.

About the only negative comment she had was that she wished the holster had been available in a clear version so that it would coordinate better with her attire. I've officially passed along that suggestion to Otterbox.

The word 'Strength' in the product name is quite appropriate, the case is feminine, yet tough, both stylish and functional. Quite possibly the perfect accessory for any woman's iPhone, and as if that weren't enough, 10% of the purchase price is being donated to the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, a truly worthy cause. Not yet available for the iPhone 3G, watch the site for more details.

Posted by Jim at 10:17 PM | TrackBack

July 23, 2008

Case-Mate iPhone case review updated

Just a note that I've made what is likely my final update to my previously published
Case-Mate Signature Leather iPhone case review. Sad state of affairs there...

Posted by Jim at 6:27 PM | TrackBack

January 15, 2008

Case-Mate Signature Leather iPhone case

For Christmas, I purchased a Case-Mate Signature Leather iPhone Case for my wife's new iPhone, in Pink, of course. Being the popular item that it was, it was backordered, but at last arrived just prior to Christmas. She's been using the case for a while, so I'm here to report back on this one.

The case is made of handcrafted Napa leather, which is made from sheep skin. The leather is then apparently coated with the appropriate color, after being molded to the shape of the phone. Case-Mate's site indicates that a plastic shell is used for impact protection, I am assuming that this is between the layers of leather. My wife refused to let me disassemble her case... :)

The case does gap slightly around the top where the phone slides in, but this isn't that noticeable. The case has a nice feel in the hand, a slight give, and the phone fits snugly, it won't accidentally slide out of the case.

The iPhone's controls are easily accessible, volume, mute, home, and an opening in the back for the camera lens.

A separate holster is available ($24.95), and is not included, which is unfortunate considering the $34.95 price of the case. The case is designed to slide into the holster and be removed easily, there is no unsightly clip permanently attached to the back of the case.

My wife's observations in using this case is that it is a bit bulky when slid into a pocket, but otherwise works well in protecting the phone. But the lack of an included holster is definitely a sore point with her, so I'll likely be ordering one of those in the near future.

Update: 2/1/08

This case has developed a cosmetic issue, the pink coating on the leather has begun flaking off, revealing a grey undercoat, presumably a primer of some sort to bond to the leather. A call in to Case-Mate indicates that this is a rare, but not unheard of issue, and they have given me instructions on returning the unit for exchange. Unfortunately, they can not just send out a replacement, they need the old one back first, so my wife will be temporarily using my old Speck case.

I'm getting a discount on the holster though, $10 off, so I'm ordering that in for her.

Update: 2/23/08

Holster arrived a few days ago, replacement case now in hand. The holster has a tight fit on the case, the case slides straight down into the holster, curved plastic on both sides of the phone hug it securely, and a bottom lip holds the bottom of the phone in place.

Removing the phone from the holster is fairly easy, but is still very secure, there doesn't seem to be much chance of the phone accidentally being dislodged from the holster.

Update: 3/30/08

Not having a great track record on quality, after a month of use, the holster has broke, the metal spring in the belt clip apparently became unglued and went flying. Simply pressing it back into place isn't working, time for an RMA.

Update: 4/7/08

Replacement holster received, my wife is happy again.

Update: 7/22/08

Was happy. Replacement holder has also broken in exactly the same way. Likewise, the replacement case has had its coating flake off, also in exactly the same way.

Contacting customer service at Case-Mate to resolve the repeat issue has hit a dead end, their claim that their warranty only covered the original purchase, not the replacement items, putting us well out of the warranty period. They deny strongly that they have seen repeat issues such as this, yet still refuse to provide any sort of replacement, despite the fact that the prices on these items have been cut about 75% since these were received here.

Based on the shoddy construction and poor customer service, I would highly advise steering clear of any Case-Mate products.

Posted by Jim at 12:49 PM | TrackBack

December 8, 2007

Otterbox Defender Review

Earlier this week, I received the Otterbox Defender iPhone case, a water resistant hard shell case with an outer silicone skin. I've taken my time checking this one out, read on for the pros and cons.

The polycarbonate shell has three catches that can be released with a small screwdriver, the iPhone pops in, then the case snaps shut around it. This shell (available in either a stylish yellow, or basic black) gets wrapped in a silicone skin, which then slides into the included holster.

I've not really been a fan of hard cases in the past, but having the flexible outer skin on this one gives it a great feeling, solid, yet slightly giving to the touch. My phone felt better in my hand than if I were holding it without any case at all.

The hard shell protects the phone very well, and the silicone skin has snap openings for the headphone and dock connections, keeping dust and moisture out of those sensitive areas. The volume buttons, power button, and home button are also skinned over, providing barriers for these openings as well. The camera lens is not covered, nor is the Apple logo on the back, nicely sized circular openings in the case allow these to show through.

For those of you paying attention, note that I made no mention of the side switch to enable vibrate mode, turning off the internal speaker. This switch is unfortunately completely covered by the hard shell case. Word from the manufacturer is that because of the size of that switch (and it is a small one!), even had there been an opening for it, it would have been impossible to activate by hand. The workaround for this is simply to use the volume controls to lower the volume to its lowest level. Note that this will not completely silence the phone, but even in a quiet room, the minimum volume can barely be heard.

The holster is likewise a very nice piece, the phone slides in easily, and can be removed very quickly as well. That is, as long as you slide the phone in with the screen facing inwards. I'm used to having my screen face outward, and didn't realize that it wasn't supposed to work that way.

If you insist on having the screen face outward, here's what you will face. If you slide the phone in bottom first, the home button may trigger as it slides into the case. Minor annoyance, the phone will go back to standby in a few moments. Sliding the phone in top first, through, is a different story.

The hard shell has a notch on either side, that will mate with ridges inside the holster, giving a very solid fit. If the case goes in top first, these parts don't line up, and the phone tends to stick in the holster. This makes it slightly difficult to remove, but not terribly bad. The more annoying thing is that the volume up/down buttons will be triggered as the phone slides into the case. If the phone is in standby, this isn't an issue, but if the phone is still active, you will note the volume level will jitter, as the up/down buttons fight for control. You may also note that the screen may blank, which the phone will do if both buttons are held down long enough (no idea why).

As much as I had been used to having my phone facing outwards so that I could simply glance at the display to see if I needed to take the call, having it facing inwards hasn't been that bad, and since it slides out so easily, I've adapted rather well to this way of doing things.

Those of you with a Dremel that really want your phone to go in facing out can probably grind down the case just slightly to avoid the issues mentioned above. I do have a Dremel, and I love hacking things (regular readers will know this), but at this point I'm not going to mess with a good thing.

The hard shell of the case includes a built in screen protector, a nice feature. The protector doesn't interfere with normal operations of the phone, finger taps and slides work just fine. But since the protector is part of the shell and not actually affixed to the display, there is a very tiny gap, and this does slow the response slightly. I have a tetris-type game installed, and have found that I can't tap quite as quickly through the screen protector. But for normal use, as I said, this isn't an issue.

The Speck iPhone case I reviewed recently had a rather disappointing clip on its holster, very loose. The clip on the Otterbox case is very solid, and not prone to opening up when it isn't supposed to, it has a very tight spring and holds where it is supposed to. My only comment on the design is that the clip's hinge is too close to the edge, making it slightly difficult to release, having a bit more room to press down on the hinge would have been nice, but it still isn't that bad.

I will say this, in the week I've been using this case, I have not once had the phone slip out of the holster. This combination is very good at what it is designed for, it will protect your phone and keep it secure. It feels great, and it looks sharp too.

If you need a case with a holster, then this is a fantastic one to try out. If you're just looking for a nice hard shell case without a holster, then this is still a fantastic one to try out. The case works great without the holster, slip it into a pocket, pouch, or purse, whatever you've got. Use it with the holster and clip it to your pocket, belt, etc. Either way, this unit works great.

Update: 6/30/08

This case still continues to be my favorite, over the months since this review I've talked with a number of other vendors and inspected their wares, and most weren't even worth picking up off the tables.

This case, despite the use it has seen (throwing into the passenger seat, drops, moisture (including a visit to Niagara Falls!), loose change, keys, etc), there are no marks or scratches at all, it looks as good now as the day I pulled it from the box. There has been no distortion of the material, the shape has held, no gaps, etc.

Posted by Jim at 6:03 PM | TrackBack

November 7, 2007

Linksys WRTSL54GS Review

I've been running the Linksys WRTSL54GS router here for a few months now, and figured it was time to write up a review on this unit. This is only a review of the hardware, though, as I've completely replaced the software.

Routers for home networks have come a long way in the last few years, and the demands placed on them have driven the market to produce models with the speed and features to keep up with the power users out there. But often, the built in software may not always be up to the tasks users demand.

When I began my search, I discovered early on that my configuration needs would be best served by a 3rd party software package called OpenWRT, and the Table Of Hardware at their site made for a great read in researching a unit that would fit my needs. I had heard good things about the Linksys brand overall, and the WRTSL54GS seemed to be at the top of the heap as far as performance and expandability. In fact, the only thing that was missing (since I'd be using a 3rd party firmware) was a serial console interface, which with some research, I was able to rectify.

The information on the OpenWRT site was very helpful, as most manufacturers do not publish information on the processor in their router, the amount of RAM it contains, or the size of the Flash RAM, a necessary bit of info when running 3rd party firmware. Obviously the processor speed will have the greatest impact on performance, and more RAM means that the system will operate efficiently. With 64Mb RAM, and a 266MHz processor, this little guy is comparable to desktop systems of just a few years ago. And the 4Mb Flash capacity meant that I'd be able to load up a new firmware with all the features I'd need here.

In running this router the last few months, I've not once had to reboot it due to any failure. A number of other routers that I've read of folks using seemed to experience freezes, slowdowns, or other failures at fairly frequent intervals, even when running factory firmware. Reliability is of prime importance, especially when the router is handling traffic for mail and web servers, and this unit hasn't let me down yet.

The unit also includes an 802.11g access point, the range of this compared favorably with my Apple AirPort Extreme base station, and the performance was every bit as good as 802.11g allows. The only downside that most folks might run into on this unit is that the antenna is not replaceable with a higher gain model, but the enterprising hacker can find ways around this. The antenna cable can be easily desoldered from the logic board, and a connector for a better antenna can be modded to the case without too much difficulty.

The 4-port switch in the unit is fantastic. Most folks probably wouldn't get that worked up over a switch, but the chipset used, along with the OpenWRT software allow for each port on the switch to actually act as a separate VLAN (Virtual Local Area Network), allowing for even more complex network setups.

A single USB port on the back allows for further expansion, a USB flash drive or hard drive can be attached for network storage, and with OpenWrt other devices such as USB cameras, GPS, BlueTooth, or even a USB VGA interface can be attached.

I'd definitely recommend a Linksys router to anyone looking for one, from my reading online, their quality is much better than most of the brands out there. A few dollars more spent for a better model is usually money well spent in terms of usability and reliability, not to mention saving headaches from performance issues or other downtime. Even using the stock firmware, this is a really great unit, and should be flexible enough for most power users at home without having to look at a 3rd party firmware.

Posted by Jim at 12:44 PM | TrackBack

August 16, 2007

Speck iPhone ToughSkin

I recently picked up a Speck ToughSkin case for my iPhone, there are a growing number of cases available now, and I just couldn't stand having the phone in my pocket one more day...

A trip to the local Apple store only turned up a few varieties, and after scouring a number of sites for information, decided to order the ToughSkin.

The case itself looks great, from the pictures and information I could find, the case seemed like it was made of a fairly hard rubber or plastic material, and I expected it to be fairly rigid. Actually, it's a fairly flexible rubber, but is thick enough to provide ample cushioning which, it turns out, is a good thing.

The holster for the phone is nice, overall, and has a clip that can be locked in place to act as a stand, so that the phone can stand on a desk in either landscape or portrait mode, so you can surf or watch a movie easily. In fact, the clip is the best, and worst, feature of the case...

What I do not like about the clip is its total lack of clippiness. The amount of tension keeping the clip closed is negligible, the lightest touch can open the clip, which means that the simple act of bumping the phone can cause the clip to open, and in some cases cause the phone to drop to the floor. In the week that I've been wearing this, my phone, clip holster and all, have dropped to the floor twice. But, thanks to the nice rubber enclosure, has survived nicely.

My phone also dropped a third time when it became separated from the holster. This was likely partly my own fault, for not having the phone pressed into the holster properly. There are two tabs on either side of the phone case that fit into openings on either side of the holster, if you aren't careful, and do not have both of these firmly seated, the phone can pop out rather easily.

If you have no interest in a holster, this is definitely a nice case, it is available in both black and clear, I bought the black one and I think it looks very sharp. And as long as you can be careful, the holster isn't that bad, but as I'm always on the go, this may not be the optimal holster for my needs.

Posted by Jim at 9:03 PM | TrackBack

August 7, 2007


A bit late, thanks to some vacation time last month, but as promised here is my review of the APC Back-UPS ES USB 650.

I've got this unit sitting under my desk at work, my primary system there is an older PowerMac G4, and as I mentioned previously, we've had a bit of a thunderstorm problem this summer, and power had been dropping on a regular basis. Not great for productivity. I'm happy to say that with this little guy under the desk, my desktop didn't lose power once while I was on the road. But, this unit also has a dark side...

To put it mildly, the software sucks. Big time. Yes, in my original just having opened the box report, I did say I liked the software. I still would, if it actually worked as it is supposed to.

When I first powered everything up, the software reported that the unit had a bit over half a charge, after running for a while, this number creeped up to 100%, but the 'time remaining' until full charge, a month later, is still unknown.

The software installs into the Energy Saver panel, which is cool, and lets all the power management settings be set there. A nice bar graph showing the power level is also displayed, but unfortunately clicking in the bar graph will actually let you move the bar, which serves no purpose that I can tell, since it is supposed to be reading the charge on the battery. This, with the unknown time to full, basically means that I can't trust the numbers being reported, and I really have no idea how much power the battery has.

Options are available to shut down the computer after the UPS has been on battery power for up to 15 minutes, or shut down the computer when a certain amount of battery power remains. Since the software can't seem to read the battery properly, I've left these off.

As I noted in my first report, there does not appear to be a way to silence the audible alarms using the Mac software. Apparently, the Windows version can do this, but for some bizarre reason the Mac version wasn't written with this capability.

Of course, the Mac software team at APC seems to be out to lunch, the software available via their web site indicates that it will work with Mac OS X 10.3.9 thru 10.4.1, and is dated over two years ago. Silly me, wanting to run this under 10.4.10! A call to APC indicated that the software 'might' work with 10.4.5. Lovely.

I installed a system using 10.4.1, installed their software, and of course it didn't perform any better, or offer any additional features. Their support person I reached on the phone said that I should be able to control the audible alerts from the Mac, but info in their support forum confirmed my findings, that this isn't possible.

The hardware isn't bad, but the software stinks, if you happen to pick up one of these, avoid the software at all costs until APC updates is.

Posted by Jim at 11:48 PM | TrackBack

May 26, 2007

FireExpress Triplet Enclosure review

At long last, I've finally managed to lay my hands on this beastie... Depending on where you find it, it might be known as FireXpress Triplet 3-in-1 FireWire USB to SATA Dual Drive Enclosure FX2U2S-EB2-35L (this is the one I picked up), or a CSS-35SSA2X (the one was originally wanting to review here). From looking at the online docs and the received product, these are in fact the same unit, but marketed under two separate brand names, the box itself gives no clue as to the actual manufacturer.

My ongoing quest for drive enclosures that support Spread Spectrum Clocking (SSC) on SATA drives continues with a review of this stylish enclosure.

As you can see from the photo of the unit, it is styled similarly to the PowerMac G5/Mac Pro systems, and will compliment them well. The unit features aluminum construction, which is great for dissipating the heat generated by the two SATA hard drives. A built in fan (extremely quiet) in the rear of the enclosure keeps air moving past the drives, resulting in little noticable heat while the drives are running. USB 2.0, FireWire 400, and FireWire 800 ports are available.

Included with the enclosure is an external power supply, a FireWire 800 cable (9 pin to 9 pin), a FireWire 400 cable (6 pin to 6 pin), and a USB 2.0A to mini-B cable (for attaching to your standard USB 2.0 port. A FireWire 800 to 400 cable would have been a nice addition, but was not included, as a FireWire 400 port is included on the unit itself.

The controller uses the Oxford 924 chipset, which fully supports SATA I and SATA II standards, and supports RAID 0 (Striping or Spanning), or can allow each drive to been seen separately. RAID 0 Striping was set (via an internal jumper) by default, and as the drive I was installing were identical (500Gb each) I left this setting unchanged. The controller type is a very important choice when considering an enclosure, older version of the Oxford chipset (922, etc) did not fully support SATA II, and non-Oxford chipsets to my knowledge do not currently support this standard either, so be sure to check this when looking at other enclosures you are considering.

OS X had no problems dealing with this drive or the RAID configuration, after plugging it in and turning it on, I immediately saw a message that the drive needed to be initialized, and Disk Utility made quick work of it, giving a total of 931.4 Gb usable space after formatting. My test system was lacking a FireWire 800 port, but tests using FireWire 400 and USB 2.0 showed that there were no problems in maximizing the available connection speed. As with any other similar device, running the connection through a hub rather than a dedicated port may result in slower than optimal throughput.

The unit includes an aluminum 'base', two separate brackets that attach on opposite sides of the drive in either a horizontal or vertical configuration. I use the term 'attach' loosely here, as the drive enclosure just sits on top of these brackets. There is a small rubbery pad at each end that at first I thought might have a removable film covering a sticky pad, but this was not the case. If the unit is going to be sitting flat and undisturbed, I'm sure that this will work fine. Four small rubber feet were also included, which might work better for some, I just left both of these off. The drive is currently sitting behind my LCD display, so the looks aren't all that important at this point. What I was expecting was that the aluminum brackets would use screws to attach, a bit of careful work with a drill and some self tapping screws would do the job nicely, if you were so inclined.

As I mentioned earlier, the enclosure will definitely handle drives using Spread Spectrum Clocking (SSC), an increasingly common feature that helps reduce electromagnetic interference, especially between drives in close proximity with each others, such as you might have in a RAID setup, so that is a definite plus here.

Most serious computer users will eventually run out of drive space, requiring internal drive upgrades and/or external storage. Having an enclosure available that will let you continue to use your original drive after an upgrade is a great thing to have, and with SATA drives becomming the standard on most systems, this enclosure would be a great one to consider. Or if you come across some bargain drives, setting up your own RAID is a snap, since there really is no such thing as having too much storage.

Posted by Jim at 10:59 PM | TrackBack

November 13, 2006

Or maybe not...

I'm apparently having some issue getting the review unit from CoolDrives as promised here. Two emails and a phone call all promised a unit to be shipped for review in a few weeks, but well over a month has passed with nothing showing up to review.

Pity, as I've got a pair of 500Gb drives just itching for an enclosure to test out...

Posted by Jim at 3:26 PM | TrackBack

September 25, 2006

CoolGear SATA PRO-35AXC Enclosure

As promised, what follows is my review of the CoolGear eSATA HDD Enclosure (3.5"), not a terribly snappy name, but relatively descriptive. The drive is available from as well as, and possibly other resellers, is apparently CoolGear's own retail site from what I can tell, and they do offer the drive at a slightly lower price, though CoolDrives' site has prettier pictures.

This enclosure uses the newer Oxford 924 chipset, most other SATA drive enclosures that I found were based on the older 922 chipset, or even older versions. The specifications indicated that it supported both SATA I and SATA II drives up to 750Gb capacity, most other enclosures I had checked out seemed to top out at about 500Gb, so this one definitely seems a bit more cutting edge than the others, so playing a hunch, I gave it a whirl.

As I had mentioned previously, my main goal was to find an enclosure that, when attached to a system via USB 2.0 or Firewire, would properly recognize a Spread Spectrum Clocking (SSC) enabled hard drive, this type of drive most commonly used in RAID arrays or multi drive systems. The SSC functions primarily to reduce EMF emmissions, and is almost a requirement for densely packed drive arrays, and it just happens that the drives commonly found in Apple's Xserves will typically have SSC enabled, and unfortunately it is not possible to disable this setting. Occasionally I have a need to transfer data from one of these drives to another system, perform data recovery, or other functions requiring that the hard drive be accessed via another system, and I generally don't keep spare Xserves sitting at my desk waiting for such moments to occur. Hence, my desire for a suitable external enclosure that could attach to most any other system.

And boy, does this enclosure have options for attaching. It includes a USB 2.0 port, dual FireWire 800 (1394b) ports, and an eSATA port for direct connection to a SATA controller card. Now, if your system only has the older FireWire 400 (1394a) ports, don't despair, as FireWire 800 can in fact attach directly to the slower FireWire 400 ports (with appropriate cable) and work without problems, though of course at the slower speed. The USB 2.0 port is actually a mini-B connector, like that found on most newer digital cameras, rather than the usual 'B' connector found on printers and such. However, don't let any of that bother you, because this drive comes with all the cables you could possibly need.

Included are the external power supply (of course), a full FireWire 800 cable (9 pin to 9 pin), a FireWire 800 to 400 cable (9 pin to 6 pin), a USB 2.0A to mini-B cable (for attaching to your standard USB 2.0 port, and of course, an eSATA to eSATA (Type 'I' connectors) cable for attaching directly to an SATA controller card (not included).

Three screws hold the back of the enclosure on, you'll need a very small phillips screwdriver (specifically a size 00 would be ideal), removing these allows the drive sled to slide out from the top housing. Shock mounts are on all four points where the drive attaches to the case to prevent vibration, a green LED on the front indicates power, this switches to red to indicate drive activity.

The aluminum construction is very solid feeling, not like aluminum looking plastic enclosures many manufacturers are making. The back of the drive has a very clean layout, the ports nicely spaced to allow cables to plug in. The only thing that actually felt wrong was the rocker switch for power seemed like it was recessed just a tad too far into the case, but my unit looks exactly as the web site says it should, and the switch works as you'd expect, but it feels slightly cheap, lacking a nice, crisp click when switching positions. A very minor nit to pick, really, since you're not likely to be turning the drive off and on all day long, and mine will only be powered down when I unplug the power cable anyway...

System Profiler gives some details on the enclosure, as well as the 400Gb drive I used for testing. Again, this model is using Oxford's 924 chipset, supports SATA I and II drives, including Spread Spectrum Clocking enabled drives, includes two FireWire 800 ports, a USB 2.0 port, and a eSATA port, and supports drive sizes up to 750Gb.

The bottom of the enclosure is vented to allow some airflow into the case, but are no other vents elsewhere to help heat escape. Despite that, even after running for several hours, the top of the case was warm, but not exceptionally so, and the sides (all part of the same aluminum piece) were still fairly cool. A small fan would have been a nice addition, but considering the small dimentions of the enclosure, even fitting a 20mm square fan would be a challenge.

Performance of the drive is excellent, attached to my desktop system (PowerMac G4 Quicksilver) at home via FireWire 400 (supporting speeds up to 40MB/s), and going through a Belkin FireWire hub at that, the drive was still able to copy a 300Gb disk image to an ATA drive on the internal 133Mhz bus faster than I could copy between ATA drives, one on the internal 133Mhz bus, and the other on the internal 100Mhz bus. USB 2.0 speeds are generally 48MB/s, and FireWire 800 speeds can reach 80Mb/s, so the faster your available ports, the better performance you'll see. Anyone with a SATA card in their machines can attach the drive directly via the eSATA port, and see performance up to 300MB/s for SATA II, or 150MB/s for SATA I.

All in all, this is definitely a great enclosure, it looks sharp, and is a fantastic addition for any system, be it as a permanent addition, or just temporary storage.

Posted by Jim at 9:46 PM | TrackBack

November 20, 2005

Evolution TV Review

EvolutionTV is a PVR (Personal Video Recorder) for the Mac. It allowed the user to view and record TV, as well as pause/rewind live TV.

The unit features a USB 2.0 interface for bringing the audio/video into the Mac, which can leave some older systems out in the cold. A USB 2.0 PCI card can add this functionality to most systems that meet the speed requirements of the software (PowerMac G4/1Ghz or better), which would let most supported Macs but the iMac join the fun.

The unit is very stylish, with the brushed aluminum case providing looks as well as dissipating what little heat is produced. The one drawback was the lack of a stand for positioning the unit vertically, a nice feature for a cramped desktop. The back of the unit includes the coax input for TV, but also includes composite and s-video inputs, as well as stereo audio, so video from older sources (VCR or camcorders) can be imported easily.

The software provides several encoding options for optimizing video quality, or minimizing file size, and the built in iMovie integration allows recorded video to be edited and burned to DVD from within iMovie. Integration with TitanTV or (tvtv for European users) allows convenient scheduling of recordings, and integration with iCal provides yet another option for keeping track of your viewing schedule. And don't worry if your Mac is asleep or powered off, the software can automatically wake or boot the Mac in plenty of time to catch the next recording.

The one problem I had with the software (but not something that was claimed to be possible), was that it did not provide a complete one-stop solution for viewing/recording/scheduling, so it's no TiVo replacement just yet, but as the name implies, the software is continuing to evolve, the most recent version having gained the ability to pause/rewind live TV. So it is certainly possible that a future version may include such increased functionality.

Miglia also provides great support. When the package was first opened, a slight rattle was heard from the power adapter, apparently from a small bit of metal that had sheared off during manufacture. Though still functional, the adapter was quickly replaced. Later in my testing I downloaded a new version of the EvolutionTV software when setting this up on another system, and was not able to properly view video, a support ticket went in and it was quickly revealed that this software update was problematic with NTSC video, and a revision was quickly posted.

All in all, the Evolution TV is a fine product, and one that should continue to improve over time. The evolutionTV is available from many online retailers or direct from Miglia's online store, and has a suggested retail price of $279.

Posted by Jim at 3:13 PM | TrackBack

August 10, 2005

Keyspan USB Print Server

About a week ago, my doorbell rings, and before I can get to the door I can hear a large truck driving off, and on the doorstep is a small box. It really irks me when delivery drivers just drop stuff on the porch, but when I found out it was a new goodie to review, I quickly forgot all about that and tore into the packaging.

Behold, the Keyspan PS-4A USB Print Server! Not to be confused with the older US-4A model, which looks identical, the new PS-4A model is bi-directional (printers that can report back ink/paper status can now do so), and includes full USB 2.0 connectivity.

So, just what is a USB print server, exactly? Basically, this will turn your USB based printer into a networkable TCP/IP based printer, sharable to every computer on your network. I know, some of you are probably thinking, hey, I've got a Mac, I can share my printer already. And of course, I was thinking the same thing, until I decided to take this little box for a spin.

The first thing I thought that would be handy is that you wouldn't need to leave a system running to keep your printer shared. The second thing I thought of was that you could print to your printer from an entirely different network over IP, either from a separate subnet in a corporate environment, or to your home system from elsewhere through your home router, something that Rendezvous, er, Bonjour, doesn't do. So, I set about to set things up and see how it all worked.

The box included a CD with software that installed easily on my Mac, and basically this will let you configure your Print Server, set it up with a static IP or use DHCP addressing, etc, etc, and will essentially make it appear to be a separate USB port on your Mac. A connected printer will immediately pop up in your Printer Setup Utility as an available printer with no configuration necessary, assuming you have the necessary drivers already installed for that model, very nice.

The PS-4A directly supports attaching 4 USB devices, but according to the documentation devices that happen to supply extra USB ports for pass-through (internal hubs) will let it chain up to 8 devices total off the one server. Personally, I don't see folks having that many USB printers all in the same spot, but still, nice to be expandable.

First thing I tested was a HP Deskjet 5550 at the office, plugged everything in per the directions, installed the software, and after launching their config utility, sure enough, the printer popped right up. One thing that I didn't care for was that the default setup must have the user 'connect' to their printer in this utility to make it available for use (basically make it unavailable to other users), they can then print, and finally free it up for others to use. Didn't seem very Mac-like, must be a Windows thing. Fortunately, they also include an auto-connect option, which just as it sounds, lets the Mac connect on the fly without checking out the printer first, and releases it once finished.

The big advantage of the new model printer server is that it is bi-directional, meaning that the printer can communicate back to the Mac, for things like paper and ink status. I was able to use HP's utility to get the status of my ink levels and other info, worked just like it was there on the USB bus.

I tested with a few other model printers at the office, several HP models, both Inkjet and a Laser, all worked as expected. So, I packed up my trusty HP 5550 and the PS-4A and brought them home, hooked it all up here, installed the software, and again things worked as expected. I then set up my router's firewall to port forward the particular port I had assigned the print server to the print server's IP address. I connected back to my work system, entered the IP address of where the print server was now located, and in a few moments had again established a connection to the server, but this time across the internet from my office to my home, through my router, and finally to the print server. As before, the HP 5550 popped right up, and another print job came through just fine.

This last test wasm for me, the most impressive. My particular router doesn't like my IP printer at home, or probably any standard IP printer. The router included an option on some models to hook a parallel printer up and print to it via IP, my model didn't include this port, but the router still hogged that port assignment just the same, making printing to a standard IP printer impossible through the router, so I could never print to my home printer from the office before. At last, I was able to send jobs through to a printer here, basically because the Keyspan server uses a non-standard port (reassignable by the user) for printing.

All in all, I was very pleased with this product. In addition to supporting printers, it also supports scanners, multi-function printers, storage devices, PDAs, digital cameras, etc., but no audio/video type devices. I hope to get my hands on one of the newer HP multifunction printers soon and give that a try with this server, HP sells ethernet adapters for several of their printers, but the price on those is much higher than the cost of this little box, and if it works just as well, why spend the money?

Keyspan is well known for their great products, and this looks like another winner for them.

Posted by Jim at 4:17 PM | TrackBack

July 28, 2004

Office Series 750VA Review

A few weeks back, the folks at Belkin were nice enough to send over one of their new Office Series 750VA Uninterruptible Power Supplies for me to review. After having had a chance to spend some time with the unit, I'm finally ready to publish my notes.

I should add here that both Tripp-Lite and APC were contacted regarding doing a comparison of their equivalent units (despite Tripp-Lite not having a Mac version of their UPS software), but neither company chose to participate.

As most of you are probably aware, power failures can be a major headache to computer users, resulting in anything from losing unsaved documents, to corrupted files, to damaged hardware. Case in point, while I was out on vacation in July, a power glitch at the office fried the hard drive in my main desktop system, not only damaging my drive, but causing an automated backup I have scheduled to copy over the corrupted data, essentially losing everything permanently. Obviously not what I wanted to come back from vacation to.

Back at home, the same storm that tore through the area apparently dropped power while I was gone, I was greeted with flashing alarm clocks and my VCRs blinking 12:00 at me. But my web/mail server didn't miss a beat, and more importantly, my cable modem was still up and running, thanks to the Belkin UPS.

My cable modem seems to be especially picky when power drops for brief moments then comes back, my CPU will restart all by itself, but the cable modem, even though it has power, will stubbornly sit there with all lights off until unplugged for a full 10 seconds before power is restored. To say the least, a major pain.

To the rescue comes the Belkin Office Series 750VA, rated at a battery capacity of 750 volt/amps, and able to power a 400watt load, this little unit now protects my web server, cable modem, and router from power failures. In fact, as I write this, the system is on battery power with the AC cord dangling off the edge of my desk.

My G4 for the site is an older model (rated at 200 watts), and does draw less power than the later G4 models, and certainly less than the G5 systems. With the router and cable modem I figure I'm pulling no more than 250 watts max, this puts about a 16% load on the UPS while in operation. Obviously if a user were to run their display through the UPS, this would cause a much larger drain on the available power, depending on the display type, but for my use, this isn't really needed.

Belkin offers several different models in the Office Series, with varying battery capacities, and some additional features like broadband protection (to keep spikes from your cable connection away from your router). For some folks, just having a few extra moments to do a proper shut down can be a lifesaver, for others, being able to keep a system up for an hour or more without power may be critical.

For my particular setup, I was able to run without power for 30 minutes, and had only run the battery down to about 50%, so I should be able to get close to an hours use out of this particular model during a power failure.

As you can see from the picture of the unit here and on Belkin's web site, it's a very stylish design, not the ugly brick of UPSs from years past. It would look just fine sitting on top of your desk, or alongside your computer. There are six outlets on top, four are battery backed, the other two are surge protected only.

The USB cable includes with the unit plugs directly into one of your Mac or PCs available USB ports (or through a hub, but if it's powered, be sure to put that on the UPS too!), and communicates to a software package called Bulldog.

Bulldog is pretty slick, there's a bar meter showing the current battery and loading level, and two other analog meters showing a number of other indicators selected via a pull-down menu, including battery, input, and output voltage, input or output frequency, and battery and output loading.

The software allows the scheduling of short and long UPS tests, as well as scheduled shutdowns and restarts. The software can automatically shut down your system after a power failure, or can even wait until the battery has run down and given a battery low warning, giving you every last bit of power remaining and still shutting your system down properly. The software will even let you set the UPS itself to power off after your CPU has shut down, to keep the battery from draining further..

For anyone that's ever lost a piece of electronic equipment to an electrical storm, you'll be happy to hear that a $75,000 connected equipment warranty is included.

The battery in the unit is replaceable, and the Bulldog software can even be set to give a battery replacement notification for some date in the future. Unfortunately, no information on the battery or with the unit indicates when the battery should be replaced, and Belkin's web site does not currently give any information on how a replacement battery for the Office Series of UPSs can be ordered.

The UPS itself retails for $109.99, but a quick search around the net found prices all the way down to $66.14.

As I was beginning this review, some questions arose that I submitted to Belkin's Tech Support staff, specifically the battery life/replacement date, availability of replacement batteries, and an updated version of the Bulldog software that might be more compatible with MacOS 10.3.4. After receiving their automated reply, nothing further was heard. More than two weeks later, a followup email was sent, which also went unanswered. My recommendation here is to call and reach a live person, as their email support is definitely lacking.

A 10.3 compatible version of Bulldog was found online, but it was problematic, with intermittent connectivity to the UPS, failure to show available gauges, and other problems I believe caused by their low level routines that monitor UPS activity. As the monitoring software is definitely not a requirement, I didn't weigh this terribly heavily.

All in all, I would highly recommend this unit, and Belkin's other models in the Office Series, for any user needing reliable short term power and peace of mind.

Posted by Jim at 12:22 AM | TrackBack

June 24, 2004

Plantronics M3000 headset review

I've been using the Plantronics M3000 bluetooth headset for a while, and though slightly late to the party, I've finally had a chance to write up my review on it.

I got one of these shortly after they first came on the market, so I've had plenty of time to work with it. My primary goal in picking up a headset for use with my Nokia 3650 was that it have Bluetooth capability, be somewhat stylish, and also be very light.

I was originally looking at their M1000, apparently no longer made, it was a boom style affair with the microphone right up by your mouth, and was very light, but unfortunately supported an older Bluetooth profile not used on my newer phone, and so back it went.

The M3000 seemed to be what I needed, with a weight of only 30 grams, and a very long (advertised 8 hours) talk time, and a reasonably attactive look. After having had some real world experience with it, I'd like to share my thoughts.

First, the headset looks like something out of Star Trek, my wife always calls me Uhura when I forget to take it off after getting home. I've had a number of folks ask me about it both at work and while out in public, reactions are almost always very positive. Wireless headsets are a new concept to most folks, and I think that folks really can appreciate not having all those wires running down from your ear to wherever you keep your phone.

The range on the headset is also pretty good. Normally, my phone is worn on a belt clip, but I've also answered my phone from across the room, or sometimes left the phone at my desk accidentally while walking to another part of my office, and don't notice the phone's not with me till I'm at least 30 feet away or more (30 feet is the advertised limit, and is also the limit definied in the Bluetooth specs, and this may vary depending on your phone).

Battery life is impressive, the advertised specs are 8 hours of talk time, and 200 hours (about 8 days) of standby time. I've never once had the battery go dead, but I normally turn the unit off when not in use (evenings/nights), and only charge it about once every 3-4 weeks, or whenever it occurs to me that I haven't charged it in a while. Seriously, why would you leave the headset turned on when you're sleeping?

The controls on the headset are conveniently placed, answering and disconnecting is accomplished by pressing the large button in the center of the headset, volume up/down are along the top edge, and the power on/off/mute button is right next to the volume buttons.

The one feature I'm not crazy about is that while on mute, the headset will produce a tone about every 30 seconds to remind you that you're on mute. This wouldn't be so bad if the tone were a bit softer, and it also interrupts the call you're listening to, rather than just beeping in the background, so you may miss bits of conversation, which can be quite annoying.

The noise cancelling microphone is very good, the audio quality is equal to that of my Nokia 3650, people I've asked can't tell if I'm using a headset versus the cell phone itself, which is good. Wind is probably the worst problem, but my cell phone has the same problem. I've found that while in the car, I'll need to turn down the blower and roll up the windows to cut down on wind noise, but again this is no different than what I'd do with my cell phone anyway.

My one major complain is with the plastic ear loop included with the headset. The earloops included are reversible for left/right ear, and come in two sizes, a large and a small, to better fit your ear. I've found the plastic loops to be rather stiff and uncomfortable when worn for long periods, but the fact that I also wear glasses may also be a large factor here. Plantronics does however offer what they describe as 'extra comfort ear loops' for an additional charge, but my feeling is that these should have been included with the headset from the beginning. I've always found Plantronics headsets to be very comfortable to wear (I used to have one on my desk phone at work), and would have thought that the more comfortable ear loops should have been standard. This extra set though does include a third, medium size earloop, so you're almost guaranteed to have an excellent fit between those available choices.

The M3000 has a suggested retail price of $139.95, but a quick web search has found prices as low as $61.77 currently.

Recently Plantronics has begun shipping the new M3500 headset, an identical form factor, but with improved noice cancellation and audio fidelity thanks to digital signal processing circuitry. Battery time has been reduced greatly (3.5 hours talk, 76 hours standby), but this model does include the extra comfort ear loops, a car lighter charging cable, and a form fitting pouch for when you're not wearing the headset. This unit retails for $169.95, and can be found online for as low as $85. For my money, I'd go with the M3500 over the M3000, the improved ear loops alone make it money well spent.

Posted by Jim at 10:04 PM | TrackBack

May 14, 2004

Spell Catcher X 10.1.2

For quite some time, most major word processing application shave included their own spell checking facility, it's just one of those huge convenience features that most folks have come to expect. If you're a long time computer user, I'm sure that you, like me, remember the old days before some modern conveniences as spell checking, page formatting, fonts, or even lower case characters. But I digress...

It didn't take too long after folks got comfortable with spell checking to discover that this convenience was needed in other applications too, email (bulletin boards in the early days), databases, virtually any application that might require text input could probably benefit from a spell checker. Thus was born on the Macintosh an application named Thunder, a power spell checker that would work with most any application on your system. In fact, I'm typing this entry via Safari, my web browser of choice. Who would have though that a web browser needed a spell checker? These folks have been ahead of the game for years...

The latest version of this application is called Spell Catcher X, the latest version is 10.1.2. Rewritten from the ground up in version 10.0 for Mac OS X, a steady stream of updates has continued to add features and improve the user experience, culminating in this latest release.

In addition to spell checking, it also includes an extensive dictionary and thesaurus. Included dictionaries even include medical, legal, scientific and technical terms, as well as dictionaries for German, French, Italian, British English, Canadian French, Spanish, Swedish, Swiss German.

Spell Catcher is able to catch a variety of errors both spelling and punctuation as you're typing, or by checking a selection of text. Additional words can be added to your own custom dictionary, and you can even build short cuts, abbreviations that can expand out to several lines for commonly used phrases, email signatures, or whatever else you can think to use them for.

New in version 10.1.2 is speech recognition, adding the ability to make corrections, change languages, ignore or learn words, create shorthands and more all without typing a thing. Also new is the Instantaneous Correction feature available under MacOS 10.3 or later. This allows virtually instant corrections to text without the use of backspacing over an entry and 'retyping' it that was used previously for corrections. The backspacing thing was actually kind of cool (especially when you were using a shortcut that expanded out to several lines of text), but seeing things instantly transform is even cooler.

For years, I've relied on Spell Catcher in almost all of my writing. No matter how good a writer you are, it's nice to have Spell Catcher looking over your shoulder to catch typos and other errors, and have it ready and waiting to look up the spelling of seldom used words, or offer alternatives through its thesaurus for those over used words.

A free trial of the software is available through Rainmaker's web site, you can also purchase the software online for only $39.95, volume licensing is also available.

Posted by Jim at 5:32 PM | TrackBack

April 22, 2004

Of Macs and PocketPCs...

Life isn't easy for a Mac user with a PocketPC. They just weren't made to work together, situation normal for Windows systems, I suppose. However, the situation isn't entirely hopeless.

There are two software packages on the market for the Mac designed to ease the connectivity issues with PocketPCs, namely The Missing Sync and PocketMac Pro. Read on for more information on how they stack up.

Both applications boast a similar feature set; iCal and Address book sychronization, integration with iPhoto and iTunes, the ability to share your Mac's internet connection with the PDA, etc. PocketMac goes a bit further and also offers sync with Entourage, NOW Contact, and Mail. And both allow for installing PocketPC applications onto the PDA. The PocketMac software currently includes an added bonus of a PocketPC Theme that when installed gives the PocketPC a look very similar to a Mac running OS X, which is a nice bonus.

So, how do they compare then? For basic synchronization with iCal and Address book, both apps did a good job, transferring data in about the same amount of time, both integrate with iSync for facilitating this. iPhoto and iTunes syncing involves adding a plugin to both apps to allow syncing, but again these functions seem very well thought out, and work well in both products.

For me, the big difference was noticed when trying to install applications onto the PocketPC. The PocketPC uses a file format called .CAB, similar to the Mac's .pkg file, it's a self contained format that includes everything needed for the app to run. If the app you want to install is available in a .CAB file, then you're usually in good shape on the Mac. Should you not see this format available where you download the software, check with the author to see if this file format is available, usually it is.

With the Missing Sync software, installing items was as simple as clicking the Install File button in the application, the file is automatically transferred to the PocketPC, and if additional installation is necessary, the PocketPC pops up a window walking you through the steps.

With the PocketMac software, a nice feature has been included that actually will look into a .exe file (the format most PocketPC software is distributed in) and will attempt to extract the .CAB files burried in the .exe. I say 'try to', because of about 6 different apps I tried this on, not one of these was able to be installed. To be fair, the application does caution that it may not work with all files, either I had incredibly bad luck, or this feature isn't quite ready for prime time just yet. Installing a straight .CAB file worked much better, but oddly these files took a very long time to transfer, much longer than it took for the Missing Sync software.

Now, let's take a look at the two companies. I initially contacted both companies about reviewing their software for my office, I received an almost immediate response from the folks at Mark/Space, makers of Missing Sync. In fact, I received the software even before my PocketPC arrived. I received absolutely no response from PocketMac, even after a second request was made for an evaluation copy. After some wheeling and dealing, I was able to procure a copy of PocketMac from a gentleman who was selling his PDA and including the PocketMac software, and it turned out the buyer wasn't a Mac guy, and he sent me the included CD at no cost. So, just to keep the record clear, both of these are official registered copies of the applications.

One thing that can really set apart one company over another is their support after the sale, assisting users in resolving their issues. The more complicated the software, the more important support should be in considering a purchase. Im the case of these two apps, I had minor problems that I needed assistance with once I had things up and running, so again both companies were contacted for assistance.

As before with Mark/Space, I received a quick answer to my issue, which turned out to be the need for a newer release of their software (I was having slow internet access when using the internet sharing feature), and that fixed me up nicely. With the PocketMac folks, my issue was in registering the software I'd gotten second hand in my name. Also as before, repeated contacts yielded absolutely no response. Almost a month later, I still have an open case with PocketMac that hasn't been updated by any of their support staff since the nice but unhelpful woman I spoke with on the phone entered the notes into their system.

So, all things considered, my own opinion is that the Missing Sync software wins this one hands down. It's a tightly integrated package, supported by what seem to be a great bunch of folks. With a retail price of $39.95 (Download version), it's money well spent.

Posted by Jim at 10:38 PM | TrackBack

April 10, 2004

Dark Horizons

I've been playing Dark Horizons - Lore since the first public call for beta testers went out several months ago. My main interest at the time was that, as a Mac users, I thought it was a fantastic opportunity to help not only with the development of a new Mac game, but a game that was to be simultaneously available on both Mac and Windows platforms at release!

So often Mac users end up getting ports of cool games that had been available to Windows users for a year or more, by which point all of the excitement of those games has drifted away and focused on the next big release, and then developers conclude that there is no Mac market for games.

Let me tell you, the folks at Max Gaming have really done an outstanding job in creating a wonderful game, and in fostering a growing user community. The gameplay is fast paced, but also requires a certain amount of strategy. The upcoming war should prove quite interesting, with a persistent universe that will play out over time, with changing battlefields and objectives for the players. And to keep things interesting, the upcoming expansion packs will I'm sure add new and exciting twists to the game.

If you haven't played an online game, this one is really a treat. Kicking a computer player's butt on your own desktop is OK, but actually playing in real time with other players across the globe is totally amazing.

The game is value priced at only $24.95, I can't remember the last time I paid this little for a game I enjoyed so much.

Posted by Jim at 9:52 PM | TrackBack