O'Grady's PowerPage » Jason O’Grady

Gift Guide 2014: AudioEngine B2 Premium Bluetooth Speaker

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Date: Monday, December 15th, 2014, 11:19
Category: Accessory, Bluetooth, Hardware, music, Review

AudioEngine B2 Premium Bluetooth Speaker

If you’re looking for a compact Bluetooth speaker I recommend the AudioEngine B2 ($299). The B2 sounds great and has better range than other speakers I’ve tested because of its antenna and specially tuned transmitter. In a two-story, mostly stucco and brick house my iPhone 6 easily reached the B2 speaker on the second floor when I was on the first.

The B2 includes the aptX audio decoder and a 24-bit digital-to-analog converter (DAC) for a beautiful, warm sound. The hand-built walnut cabinet is luxurious and dual front slots really pump the bass. I just wish that it had a battery so that I could toss it in a bag and drag it to the beach.

You can purchase the B2 Bluetooth Speaker in walnut (pictured), zebrawood or black ash from the AudioEngine website.

[Despite my aforementioned problems with Apple’s Bluetooth stack, I was still able to keep a reliable connection to the B2 speaker for over an hour. And to be clear, I think that that’s Apple’s problem and not AudioEngine’s.]

A picture of the backplane after the jump.

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How Apple blew it with Bluetooth

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Date: Monday, December 15th, 2014, 08:32
Category: Accessory, Bluetooth, iOS 8, iPhone

How Apple blew it with Bluetooth - Jason O'GradyI use Bluetooth every day.

Bluetooth was rock solid on my iPhone 5s running iOS 7.x. I never thought about about it. It just worked. Every day.

Now I hate all of my Bluetooth gear.

Bluetooth is crappy with my iPhone 6 and iOS 8.1.x. Every one of my Bluetooth devices cuts out, drops out or starts warbling within a couple minutes of use.

After upgrading to an iPhone 6 (and iOS 8.1.2):

  • my BT speaker starts cutting out after a minute or two of streaming
  • my BT earbuds drop out after a song or two, or during app switching
  • my BT headset disconnects one minute into every call

While this is my specific story, I’m not alone. Other people are having trouble with Bluetooth as well, especially with the newest iPhone hardware and iOS 8. I don’t use Bluetooth in my vehicle, but that’s another problem spot for iOS 8 users. The Apple discussion forums are littered with complaints about the iOS 8 Bluetooth stack and some users are having trouble with it on Yosemite (OS X 10.10) too.

I was hoping that iOS 8.1.2 would fix things with Bluetooth but the update did nothing to address my specific issues.

I’ve spoken with several OEMs that are patently furious with Apple over the Bluetooth fiasco, but most won’t speak out publicly for fear of losing access, distribution, etc. The hardware vendors probably have Dan Riccio and Craig Federighi on speed dial because Apple’s poor Bluetooth performance is making their products look bad.

Further reading:

(Blue tooth icon: TrySoda)

The sickest drummer in metal right now uses an iPad

Posted by:
Date: Monday, December 8th, 2014, 00:28
Category: iPad, music

You’ve got to check out this video os a sick drum solo by Appleman, a drummer without enough room for a full drum kit in his house. According to the description in his YouTube video, he improvised with a copy of GarageBand ($4.99) running on his iPad. Appleman does his thing on a third generation iPad and GarageBand’s Live Rock Kit. As for the guitar, it’s simply:

GarageBand > Instruments > Smart Guitar > HardRock Guitar sound > AUTOPLAY no.1 for the first four bars and then no.2 for the next four bars, pressing “E” (key E Major/♩=120)

(via Digg)

35 percent off iTunes gift cards – if you act fast

Posted by:
Date: Friday, November 28th, 2014, 14:32
Category: App Store, Apple, Gift card, iTunes, iTunes Store, retail

Heck, I thought getting 20% off iTunes gift cards was a good deal.

Turns out 35% off is a lot better.

Here’s how to get the deal of the year on iTunes gift cards.

25 percent off iTunes gift cards

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Yosemite easter egg: mountain tree spirits

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Date: Wednesday, November 26th, 2014, 15:51
Category: Apple, OS X, Yosemite

Color me skeptical, but this one came to my attention and was too cool not to share.

A PowerPage reader sent along what he believes to be an easter egg hidden in plain sight in one of Mac OS 10.10 (Yosemite’s) default desktop pictures, a.k.a. “wallpaper.” If you’re running Yosemite, open System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver > Desktop, then choose Apple > Desktop Pictures and the third option (the grey and green mountain scene:

Yosemite Mountain Sprits hidden in Desktop Pictures?

Click through for the spooky result…

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How to get 20 percent off everything in the App Store (and iTunes too!)

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Date: Tuesday, November 25th, 2014, 14:50
Category: App Store, Apple, Apps, Deals, iPad, iPhone, iTunes, iTunes Music Store, iTunes Radio, News

iTunes $100 gift card multipackGosh, I love this time of year.

It’s time to be with your family, copious amounts of eating, football and crazy deals on stuff. While everyone’s hunting for that amazing deal on Black Friday (just say no to Thursday shopping though, please) but there’s one deal in particular that I wait for each November: 20 percent off iTunes gift cards.

It should be obvious, but the benefits to iTunes gift cards are that they can be loaded onto your iTunes account and used for everything from apps, to music, to movies, to TV show, and the list goes on.

I spend about $500 per year on iTunes/App Store content, and it rarely goes on sale, so I stock up on enough iTunes gift cards to get me through the year each November during the gift card sale.

How much do you spend annually in iTunes?

Find out how to get 20 percent off iTunes gift cards after the jump…

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Review: SurfacePad for iPhone 6 and iPad

Posted by:
Date: Monday, November 17th, 2014, 08:14
Category: Accessory, Cases, iPad, iPhone, iPhone 6

SurfacePad iPhone 6 - Jason O'GradySome people use cases on their iPhones, some people don’t. If you’re in the second group I’m going to give you reason to consider a case.

While purists don’t want to cover the iPhone 6′s smooth, elegant curves, it’s easy to scratch its beautiful retina display (and aluminum back) while bouncing around in a pocket, bag or purse with a set of keys – and whatever else you might have in there.

What to do?

The good news is that you don’t have to cover your iPhone with a flak jacket or suit of armor to protect your investment, there’s a nice middle ground.

Enter the SurfacePad for iPhone ($49.99) by Twelve South. Its a slim, leather, folio-type case that adds barely any heft and just enough coverage to protect the front and back of your iPhone – without covering its trademark curves.

The SurfacePad sticks to the back of the iPhone 6 with an adhesive that’s removable and reusable. I didn’t stick mine on straight the first time and removed and reapplied it a couple of times before I got it perfect. The flap wraps around to cover the screen of the iPhone and includes pockets for two cards (like a debit card and driver’s license) on the inside front cover.

When combined with Apple Pay SurfacePad makes a compelling case for ditching the bulky, old-school wallet.

The volume buttons (along the left side) are still usable through the soft Napa leather and there’s a notched cutout for the camera lens and flash. The front flap doubles as a stand (for watching slideshows and movies) when flipped around back and the supple leather both looks and feels great. The contrasting stitching adds a touch of style and distinguishes the SurfacePad from all the anonymous cases on the market.

Don’t get complacent though. Front and rear flaps only provide a limited amount of protection, that while helpful, won’t protect your iPhone from impact against a hard surface. That’s the tradeoff with a case like the SurfacePad, it’s so thin that you won’t notice it in your pocket, but it also won’t protect your iPhone’s edges if you drop it on the sidewalk.

I’ve been using the SurfacePad (with debit card and DL) on my iPhone 6 for a week and haven’t needed to reach for my wallet once. SurfacePad is just the excuse I’ve been looking for to dump my bulky leather wallet for good.

SurfacePad is available in black, red, white and my personal favorite, camel for $39.99 (iPhone 6) and $49.99 (iPhone 6 Plus).

Pictures of the SurfacePad for iPhone 6 – and the similarly beautiful SurfacePad for iPad – after the jump.

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Review: mPact Glass Extreme Screen Protection for the iPhone 6

Posted by:
Date: Thursday, November 13th, 2014, 08:19
Category: Accessory, iPhone 6

mPact Glass Extreme Screen Protection for the iPhone 6 - Jason O'Grady

Ever since I can remember I’ve installed a screen film on the front of my iPhone. I’m rough on my electronics and iPhone screens take a lot of abuse.

My iPhone is a tool and I treat it like the utility that it is. While it’s a rather expensive (and fragile) tool, it gets tossed into some of the most treacherous places on the planet (pockets, bags, cup holders) and mine gets handled by one of the most unpredictable forces known to mankind – children.

I’ve always gravitated toward Japanese PET films – made from a PolyEthylene Terephthalate resin – from Zagg, and most recently Power Support, until my colleague Rob Parker (a film and video pro) introduced me to glass screen protectors a few years back. The benefit is that glass screen protection doesn’t affect screen sensitivity nor image quality.

Since that moment I’ve insisted on glass screen protectors and I won’t go back to traditional PET-based films. My new ride is mPact Glass Screen Protection ($59.99), which fits my iPhone 6 perfectly and works like a charm. It doesn’t go all the way to the edge so it won’t interfere with cases and frankly, it can’t because of the iPhone 6′s voluptuous curves.

The mPact glass is 0.4mm thick (about twice as thick as PET films) and is heat and pressure resistant for extreme screen protection. It’s coated with a shatterproof film and is both antibacterial and oleophobic which reduces germs and smudges.

Mine installed easily and has been a great addition to a great iPhone, While it wasn’t inexpensive, neither was the iPhone that it’s protecting.

Oh, and that sweet leather folio case? More on that in another installment.

How to get a free landline phone using Google Voice

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Date: Tuesday, November 11th, 2014, 11:36
Category: Google, VOIP

OBiHai Obi100 VOIP device - Jason O'GradyI’ve previously written about the OBi100 from ObiHai, it’s a cool Voice Over IP (VOIP) device turns your Internet connection into a traditional telephone line, complete with dial tone.

I can almost hear you saying, “I cut the cord a long time ago, what on earth do a I need a landline telephone for?

As it turns out, a wireless phone can come in quite handy some times, especially in places where you spend a lot of time (like your home or office.) For example, I love using a cordless phone (and a corded boom headset, natch) when I’m working around the house, cooking, and making long phone calls to call centers.

Traditional landline phones are also great for when your iPhone battery dies, or you just can’t find it because it’s lost in the couch or a jacket.

What you don’t need is the outrageous monthly fee that the telephone company charges you for the privilege of providing you with dial tone service at your home or office. When I turned off my AT&T home telephone service a couple years ago, it was costing me around $50 per month, which is completely outrageous, of course.

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The Mac mini’s Intel GPU won’t cut it as a 4K media center

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Date: Tuesday, October 28th, 2014, 07:18
Category: 4K, Apple, Hardware, Mac mini, Television, UHD, Yosmite

Yosemite's 4K support is pretty poor - Jason O'Grady

I purchased a Samsung 4K television (a UN65F9000) for our family room and was super-excited to buy a late-2014 Mac mini (Macmini7,1, model A1347) to complete our entertainment center. The problem is that the Mac mini’s anemic GPU can’t drive a 4K display at a fast enough refresh rate to play smooth video, which is a bummer.

I’ve used a Mac mini connected to a 1080p panel in my living room for years, and it’s always worked great. A Mac mini is great in a media center computer, there’s nothing like having a real web browser for watching live streams and video podcasts and VLC media player is the de facto standard for playing every video CODEC known to mankind. (Tons of people also swear by Plex but I haven’t taken the time to set it up.)

I was optimistic that Apple would properly support 4K (UHD, 2160p) after early Yosemite rumors claimed that it would. When connected to my 65-inch Sammy 4K TV, the 2014 Mac mini can only muster a paltry 30 Hertz refresh rate, which is unacceptable for video. It results in choppy, unwatchable playback. The mini’s poor video performance is a result of its underpowered Intel Iris Graphics.

If you’re thinking of connecting a Mac to a 4K panel, beware. The only Macs that will do 4K justice are those that have a discrete graphics card – and you’ll probably need a $3K Mac Pro to do it right.

I connected my MacBook Pro Retina 13-inch to the Samsung F900 panel and it too only supports 30 Hz output, which won’t fly for video playback. The 13-inch rMBP only has Intel Iris 5100 Graphics which isn’t enough to drive a 4K panel at 60 Hz. According to the Apple Discussion Forums:

  • the 15″ rMBP w/NVidia does support 60Hz
  • the 13″ rMBP w/Iris does not support 60 Hz

If you want to drive a 4K monitor at 60Hz from a Mac you’ll need one with a discrete GPU. Boom. Sounds like the best justification I’ve heard to purchase a Mac Pro yet.

What’s your Mac media center setup?