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Category Archives: Reviews

I believe that to do something well, you must first love what it is that you’re doing. Secondly, and perhaps even more important, you also must be informed and knowledgeable on what you are doing to do it effectively. Working with these two cocepts as I recently sorted through my blog post, I began to realize that there’s a definite trend to the last several posts on this blog — they are all Mac and/or Apple related. I also realized that being a college student doesn’t allow me to do actual technology reviews of hardware products like I would like to do for this blog. Those things, along with my recent full-time switch from Windows to the Mac, is what has lead me to change the content of this blog to Apple content only. Since most of my content has been Mac related, you – the reader – will not notice much difference. However, I plan to really focus solely on the Mac and Apple related content from hardware/software announcements to third party software reviews. So stay tuned and enjoy a future of Apple craziness that I love to write about.

“Show Us Your ‘Wow’” is the marketing slogan used earlier this week as Microsoft unveiled the latest release to its popular Windows operating system, called Windows Vista. Windows Vista is the latest operating system update since Windows XP was released in 2001. It promises many upgrades as well as new features from its predecessor. Though Microsoft has just released its new crown jewel to the public, I have been using test versions of Windows Vista for several months. While what I’ve been using is not the finished product, I can tell you what I do know about Windows Vista and the noteworthy features that it entails.

The first difference you will notice is the change in the overall look and feel to Windows. Don’t worry; there is still a task bar at the bottom and a start button. The difference is quickly seen when you open a window. Instead of the blue, silver, or green themes that users have become accustomed to in XP, Vista sports a new and sleek transparent look. Microsoft is calling this visual feature “Aero Glass.” While it is tough to describe how it looks, it is very sleek. The start menu has also been refreshed; remember the days of ongoing menus that would spawn across your screen the second you clicked on “All Programs” in the start menu? Those days are over; now when you click on “All Programs”, your list of programs is neatly refreshed inside of the start menu. Click “All Programs” again and you return back to your normal Start Menu. On top of the new appearance, Microsoft has added simplicity to the overall system. Changing or altering any aspect of the system is far more seamless than in past versions of Windows. This is just a small piece of the new visual changes that Vista includes.

Windows Vista is more than just a slew of new looks and flashy design. Microsoft has added many new functional features and new bundled software. The first of these new programs that you will see is Windows Sidebar. Windows Sidebar is a program that sits on the very right of your screen and houses ‘mini-programs’ that provide small, yet useful, bits of information at any time you need it. These ‘mini-programs’, or Gadgets as Microsoft has named them, include everything from calendars to the weather, and even the latest news headlines of your choice. This feature alone will dramatically affect how you access information that is important to you. Microsoft is also changing the way you view and manage your digital media such as music, movies and photos. Windows Media Player has been updated, and a new program called Windows DVD Maker has been added, which allows you to create professional looking DVDs. Also added to the mix of media-oriented programs is Windows Photo Gallery. This program allows you to view, manage, and even enhance your digital photos. All of these new programs provide a simple, easy to use interface that still packs in plenty of features.

Despite all of these new sleek and powerful features, Microsoft managed to make Windows Vista very, and I mean very, fast. One of the coolest new performance features in Windows Vista is called ReadyBoost. ReadyBoost allows you to plug in a USB thumb drive and use the memory on the thumb drive to boost your computer’s system memory, increasing speed and performance. This comes at a cost; it has since been learned that only the latest and fastest thumb drives will work. If you want all the bells and whistles that Vista has to offer, you might find yourself needing to upgrade your hardware. Windows Vista demands some steep hardware requirements that include 1GB of memory, and a 128 MB video card.

When Microsoft released Windows XP in 2001, they released two editions, Home and Professional. With Windows Vista, Microsoft is making available four, count them, four different editions: Windows Vista Home Basic, Windows Vista Home Premium, Windows Vista Business, and Windows Vista Ultimate. If you are just checking e-mail, writing papers, and can live without the cool new “Aero Glass” effects then Windows Vista Home Basic will work just fine. In fact, if you own a laptop that is more than a year or two old, then it is more than likely only able to run Windows Vista Home Basic. Aside from casual users or those with older systems, Windows Home Premium will work and will be what most new computers will come installed with. Sticking to its name, Windows Vista Business will appeal to the business sector. Finally, Windows Vista Ultimate will serve as the all encompassing “ultimate” version of Windows that will pack in all the sleek features that Windows Vista has to offer. Pricing starts at $99 just for the Windows Vista Home Basic upgrade and ends at $299 for the full version of Vista Ultimate.

If you have used Windows XP long enough, I am sure you have been annoyed and sometimes haunted by pop-ups, spyware and viruses. Those who have had enough may be wondering if Windows Vista will be as troubled in this area as its predecessor. You may be asking yourself if you should run out and buy Windows Vista or to buy a new PC with Windows Vista preinstalled. I am not sure if any casual user who just wants to use their PC should run out and buy something this new and fresh. While it appears that Microsoft has made some substantial security improvements with Windows Vista, only time will tell after it has been on the market long enough for kinks to be worked out and hackers have had enough time to pound on it.

Regardless of what security issues it may encounter in the weeks ahead, Windows Vista is for sure going to be more stable and secure than Windows XP. The biggest thing about Windows Vista that stands out to me is its ease of use. This is a corner that Microsoft has struggled to turn in the past. As long as they continue to make ease of use and security the focus points, Microsoft is finally headed down the right road.

Volkswagon has long had a slogan that reads “Driver’s Wanted.” If the simplicity and ease of use in Windows Vista continues in future products, Microsoft may finally be able to consider the slogan “Users Wanted” – not “Technicians Wanted.”

After five years and numerous security flaws, Microsoft finally makes the much needed significant update to Internet Explorer. On Thursday, Microsoft formally announced the release of its flagship web browser, Internet Explorer version 7. The new browser brings forth a dramatic change in appearance and usability. But that’s not all, IE7 packs plenty of new features and abilities to its security ravaged predecessor. IE7 brings in support for RSS (Real Simple Syndication) news feeds, and a few helpful anti-phishing and pop-up blocker tools. Most of these tools have already existed in IE’s competition, Firefox and Opera for some time.

However, less than a full day of its released, a Danish security company revealed a security flaw that IE7 has apparently picked up from its predecessor, IE6. Moreover, the security flaw has been considered ‘less critical’ and difficult to exploit.

Now that IE7 has released, I will take many of the new features listed earlier and expand on them and tell how accurate they really are. The big story for IE7 will be how much more secure it can be than IE6. With the added tools, it certainly does look more secure in nature. However, only time will tell; and as for me, I think I will stick with Firefox, version 2 which is primed for release any day now.

Hey everyone, I know it has been forever since i have posted. But, with school starting up, moving into a new dorm and getting used to a new campus, I have been rather busy. Having ear aches in between all of that has not been fun either. Sorry to all of my readers.

For those who don’t know, I am a huge fan of David Pogue, the award-winning technology journalist for the New York Times. He recently wrote his review of LG and Varizon’s largely marketed new phone called Chocolate. You know it can’t be good when an award-winning journalist had this to say about your product:

“Listen up, LG dudes: I’m sorry, but if your primary control system requires seven warnings in your manual, maybe you should reconsider your system.”

It appears that this Chocolate is very un-user-friendly. Check out his full post here and enjoy.

I have been a social networking user for a while now. For much of that time, I found myself frustrated, upset, and driven batty by much of MySpace’s shortcomings. Now, MySpace right now appears to be King in the social networking world and rightfully so — their marketing moves have been brilliant and have drawn more and more users into their service. However, MySpace’s back end – or their database – is built and maintained entirely with .NET, a software and service created and driven by Microsoft. As MySpace users continue to grow daily, it seems that at times, MySpaces reliability weakens. There are many times where I attempt to log on, view a profile or pictures, or send a message to a friend and I am not-so-welcomed with MySpaces “Sorry! We are doing database maintenance on our servers!” There are numerous other things I can speak of for MySpace – both negative and positive. However, this is not a MySpace-bashing post — I’ll save that for a day I really get frustrated. Today, I want to mention a new and upcoming social-networking site called VOX.

The first thing you will notice is that you cannot sign up for VOX right now. Specifically because it is in beta or test mode so they are only allowing a few members via invitation. You will have to give them your email address and when they come down to you on the line, you will then recieve an emial saying that you have been invited. The wait between my email address submit and the invite was barely over 2 weeks or so. As soon as VOX comes out of beta, this will change to where any and everybody can join.

If you check out my VOX page here, you will see really quick that VOX’s whole design theory is different from many other friend oriented sites. VOX provides you with numerous built-in templates that to me seem rather fashionable. Also, in contrast to other comparable sites, your VOX page is more geared toward your blog or online journal, rather than the amount of friends (VOX calls ’em Neighbors), or comments you recieve. You are given the option for one or two side bars, I went with one. In these side bar(s), you are able to list your favorite movies, CDs, books and music and it automatically places the CD, DVD, or book cover that corresponds with your favorites.

One more quick thing that I find neat is that with each blog you post, you can either make it public or private. Hence, you may post one day about an awesome event that you don’t mind the world to read. However, you may have personal information in your life that you want to share with your friends and your friends only. A nice added feature. As you can see, even as VOX is still in test mode, it appears to be very feature-rich. These features are somewhat available for services such as MySpace, but they are not built in and you are forced to go somewhere, copy code you do not understand, and paste it into your ‘About Me’ section. VOX seems to add a lot of those kind of features right at your fingertips in a good looking, very easy to use, user eviornment. You can be sure that once VOX hits the big time this fall, I will have much more to say about it in a more thorough review.

Several months ago, I saved up enough money and along with a nice student discount, was able to purchase a new Fith Generation iPod with video. I went with black because I am one of those who loves to be a bit different than the rest of the crowd. I like the idea of that choice and I really hope Apple keeps that trend going in all of their products.

For those who have never seen or handled one of these new iPods in person, one of the first things you will notice is that the moment you take it out of its packaging and you touch it – your iPod will forever be smudged from that day on. This is something that really plagues the iPod Nano. My suggestion would be to buy a case that you like for the model that you have and as soon as you can, place the iPod in it so that minimal smudging occurs. Widespread rumors have been reported that Apple may soon change the material used to enclose their wildly famous music player.

For me, the iPod proved to be all that it is cracked up to be, and more. Going with the 30GB was more than enough for me, although Apple does offer a model that is 60GB – about the size of most laptop hard drives these days. The weight is just right, and the thin nature of the device is mindblowing when you think of just what it is made to do – and that is even doubles as an external hard drive. This makes it perfect to use the iPod to back up your documents, however, it shouldn’t be purchased to fulfill that exclusive role as a hard drive. It is designed to be a music player first, video player second and hard drive third. Because the iPod with Video contains an actual hard drive, this isn’t a music player for athletes or people constently on the go. The constant motion will take its toll on the device, like any laptop hard drive.

The video quality is quite impressive over all. The screen is pretty small at 2.5” inches; so, having to hold it up to watch video in your room seems kind of odd. Watching your favorite TV shows on your iPod is definately not going to be like watching it on your living room TV, but it is perfect for traveling. The battery life is a bit sub-par for watching movies at around 2 hours of video playback. However, if you are just wanting to watch occasional news clips and sitcoms from the iTunes music store, it will suit you just fine. For music, the iPod will give you about 14 hours of playback time. Apple claims that the 60GB model will give you around 20 hours of music playback.

However, with the idea of Apple soon to release a new video capable iPod, you should really keep in mind what you want the iPod for. If you are primarily wanting a music player and like the idea of watching a show occasionally, it would be what you want. But, if you are wanting a pure hybrid between a iPod music player and an iPod video player, I would hold onto my money and wait and see what Apple reveals this fall. It is rumored that the new iPod will sport a larger screen along with some other great features.

Speaking of the future for the iPod, it appears that Microsoft will be soon entering the ‘iPod Chase’ with its music device to be called ‘Zune.’ Will this be better than the iPod? Technically it could be, however iPod sports such a ‘hip’ factor and has become so popular, and it takes more than pure technology to overcome a ‘coolness’ factor that the iPod holds. One thing is for sure – Microsoft is going to attempt to become a real player in the mobile music market. That will lead to even more and better innovation from Apple.

I am not fortunate enough to land one of these nifty gadgets yet. However, I did find a very positive article written by USA Today’s Edward Baig. Check it out – but be careful, it might make you want one of these kits even more.

Recently, thanks to my school, Berea College, I was handed a new Dell Lattitude D820 laptop. My first impression was – well – impressive. Dell stepped things up a notch in the design department. The laptop showcases a silver matted top cover, similar to the laptop it replaces, but you will quickly notice a nice black trim and a pretty silver latch. Open the lid and you will be amazed to find a silver-trimmed black keyboard all outlined nicely in silver. A very nice two-toned approach that worked well for Dell in this case. The laptop sports a vibrant 15’4” screen fully equipped with ambient lighting technology. Abient technology allows a senor to detect the light in your surroundings and automatically adjust the screen’s brightness. A slick feature, but it can be turned off if you prefer. One should mention that this laptop is no feather by any means; at a whopping 6.5 lbs, it can be a hefty load to carry around campus. Then again, i am a dwarf, so that has it’s effects.

Under the hood, my configuration included one of Intel’s latest Core Duo Processor at 2.0 Ghz. This new core duo technology definately knows how and when to flex its muscle. Despite many reports of other laptops with this chip getting overbearingly hot, this laptop does not seem to do too bad. It is still key to what you can to keep it cool, such as elevate the rear corners of the laptop so that you create airflow below the laptop. My configuration also included 1 GB of RAM; this memory that the computer can quickly access while you are using your computer and is essential for overall speed. Most computers – especially laptops – are still shipping with 512 MB of RAM. If you are just doing the basic emailing, and web surfing, 512 MB would suit you pretty well. The laptop sports a really nice 60 GB hard drive. Now, 60 GB isn’t the most space you can get in a hard drive; however, it is the fastest (at 7,200 RPM) laptop hard drive on the market.

Other key features include both an on-board wireless internet capability and bluetooth – another wireless technology that allows you to use specific bluetooth headsets and mouse to communicate with the computer wirelessly within a short range. Also included is wireless technologies that allow you to connect to Cingular data networks (given that you have a data access plan, of course.) This laptop comes with 4 USB ports for mice and digital cameras as well as Firewire 800 which is great for video importing from that digital camcorder.

All in all, this system is pretty much packed. While the pricetag is not cheap ($1099 base price, my configuration was over $2100) it proves to be a very well suited laptop for students and businesses alike. The weight can be a drag (literally, haha) for those traveling a lot, but if you are a business person willing to sacrifice a pound or two for a powerhouse machine and a 15” screen, it is well worth it. If my school wasn’t so generous in handing these out to all sophmores this year – and if I wasn’t such the Apple freak craving their new MacBook – I would definately consider the Dell Lattitude D820.