I mentioned recently that I had ordered a new 14-inch MacBook Pro computer, and although it took me just a few hours after orders started to be accepted on the Apple website, my delivery slipped by around a month from the starting delivery dates, so it arrived last week, at the start of December 2021, and today I’m going to share my thoughts on this new workhorse of a computer. My old 13″ MacBook Pro has served me well. I used it for five years, and it’s been around the world with me multiple times, so I was sad to package it off to Apple in part-exchange for my new MacBook Pro, but the $400 or so that they paid me for it is very welcome to help offset the ridiculously high price of the new computer, especially as I have bought this with my own savings this time, as opposed to using funds in my company. It’s a company purchase, but Martin Bailey Photography K.K. now owes me the money for this new computer.
Anyway, let’s start with some general information and observations. If you are a Mac user you’ll probably already have most of this information, so I’m not going to provide a full rundown of all there is to know about these new computers, but I will talk about the things that I have found interesting, starting with the look of the new MacBook Pro. There is a lot of power in the new Pro series, so I wasn’t surprised to find that it’s a little bit chunkier than the recent MacBook Pro releases. There is almost a retro-feel, as it reminds me more of my old 15-inch MacBook Pro from 2012 even more than my 2016 13-inch model, which was much thinner. Having said that, it’s still a relatively sleek machine, and with the power packed inside of it, I certainly don’t mind the slightly thicker design.
The extra diagonal inch of the screen size has increased the size slightly over my 13-Inch MacBook Pro, but it’s not a one-to-one increase, as the screen is now almost edge-to-edge filling the top panel of the computer. One surprise, that I could have guessed would be the case but didn’t, is that the new MacBook Pro has a notch, like those seen on the top of the iPhone screens.
As the top toolbar is often black, it’s easy to miss the notch completely, but as you can see in this photo of my MacBook Pro with Capture One Pro open, there is a gap in the menu as the Mac OS automatically shifts the menu items across to avoid them being hidden by the notch. This is a pretty sleek way of dealing with the gap in screen real estate, although a few times I have been caught by my computer user muscle-memory as I’ve instinctively looked for the second menu from the right, and didn’t find what I was looking for, because I was actually looking at the second menu from the left of the notch, and there were more menus on the right side of the notch.
Apart from that though, I haven’t really been bothered by the notch, and Apple has done a pretty good job of hiding its presence. When you go fullscreen in an application, for example, the full screen that you see will be moved down to avoid the notch, unless you reach up for the menu which is automatically hidden in fullscreen, but then the menu appears around the notch, rather than taking up a part of the fullscreen, so although in reality, the application you are running in fullscreen is not true full screen, in practice you hardly notice it, and it’s nice that menus appear without eating into what you were fooled into believing was your fullscreen.
If you look at these two screenshots, you’ll see that although on the actual screen you don’t see the black bar hiding the notch, in a screenshot, its presence is pretty easy to detect. You can also see that if it wasn’t for the notch and the hiding of it, full-screen images would actually be true fullscreen, but when you are viewing the screen with its black frame, again, it’s really hard to notice any of these problems. It certainly hasn’t bothered me over the last week of pretty heavy use of the new MacBook Pro.
Liquid Retina XDR
The color reproduction of the new Liquid Retina XDR screen is also something of beauty. Apple says that the new screen is “The best display ever in a notebook [and it] features Extreme Dynamic Range and a million to one contrast ratio.” I have still to calibrate my new display, but out of the box, it really is stunning to look at. It’s not as big a jump as when we first got Retina screens, but it’s a nice jump in the evolution of the hardware. Spec-wise it weighs in at 3024 by 1964 pixels, which makes it just shy of six megapixels and has a resolution of 254 Pixels Per Inch.
I also found it interesting that Apple chose to add a very nice deeply engraved logo on the underside of the new MacBook Pro, which again, feels somewhat retro, but I thought this was a nice touch, although obviously purely cosmetic. Notice too that there is no grill or any holes on the underside to act as cooling vents. The two dark lines on either side, and I believe also along the back edge is where the MacBook Pro spits out its warm air, and despite its much higher spec, it generally runs much cooler than my 2016 13-inch MacBook Pro, which generated a lot of heat which was always noticeable when sitting the computer on your lap.
Another very welcome change is the increased battery life. I generally work in my studio until 7 pm then after dinner, from around 7:30 pm until after midnight I work with my laptop on the sofa. My 13-inch MacBook Pro had a practical battery life of around 3 hours, so I would often find myself having to plugin it in just for the last 10 to 15 minutes before going to bed. If I attached an external Solid State Drive to my old MacBook Pro I could expect the battery to run down in just over an hour.
The specs for the 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro have a battery life of 17 hours for video playback and 11 hours for wireless web browsing. In practice, I’ve so far been able to use it unplugged for eight to nine hours, and there was still around a third of the battery life left, so I’m pretty confident that the specs are not far out. I’ve also spent an evening with an SSD attached working on photos, and the battery life was fine, so this is all very welcome.
Missing Touch Bar
My 2016 MacBook Pro was the first line in which Apple introduced the Touch Bar, and I did select that option, as I wanted to see how it would change my use of the computer. The Touch Bar came with mixed reactions, and many people complained about the lack of the physical escape key. Personally, although I quite liked the Touch Bar, I have to admit, I think the idea was better than the practical uses that the Touch Bar brought. Even though many companies did integrate their software with the Touch Bar, I found that I continued to do most of my interaction with the computer through the keyboard and mouse, and rarely reached for the touch-bar. It just never really caught my attention enough to use.
Even in applications like Apple Photos where you could scroll through images with the Touch Bar, I rarely used it, so I wasn’t overly saddened by what appears to be a decision by Apple to discontinue the Touch Bar. There are no Touch Bar options with this recent release of the MacBook Pro and the word online seems to be indicating that Apple has abandoned the Touch Bar and will not be including it in future models.
The Magic Keyboard
Another very welcome design change comes in the form of the Magic Keyboard. My old MacBook Pro was one of the first to use what Apple called the Butterfly Keyboard, which sounded like a good idea, and I didn’t dislike the action. The keys didn’t move far, but there was enough feedback to make using the keyboard a relatively good experience. My problem with the Butterfly Keyboard came after two years of heavy use because certain keys started to repeat themselves when pressed and sometimes just didn’t enter the character pressed. I found myself making more typos than usual, and after struggling for a few months with it, I had to send the computer in for repair. I then found that two years on, after similar usage, over the last few months I noticed a few more repeated and dropped keystrokes.
This was one of the major reasons that I decided to jump on this release, as my Apple Care ran out two years ago too, and I didn’t think it would be worth throwing more money at my 13-inch MacBook Pro, knowing that anything I did now would still only have a shelf-life of two years. The new Magic Keyboard has great keys though. They feel nice to type with, and I’m relatively confident from the feel of the hardware that this keyboard isn’t going to break after just two years of use.
Also, don’t let those thin strips of speaker holes in the 2021 MacBook Pro fool you into thinking that this machine has small, tinny-sounding speakers. I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the sound that this little machine can boom out. Until now, when I was making music, I would often create something in my living room using my headphones, and then play it to my wife but be disappointed by the lack of depth in the sound. When I really wanted her to hear something properly, I’d have her also use the headphones. With the new MacBook Pro though that’s no longer necessary. The sound from the six speakers with four force-canceling woofers provide 80 percent more bass than previous systems and half an octave lower bass.
MagSafe 3 Power and Thunderbolt 4
Apple has also backtracked with the power for the 2021 MacBook Pros. My previous MacBook Pro had four Thunderbolt 3 ports and a headphone jack, which I was happy with, including powering the computer via one of the four ports. Apple has though now gone back to the magnetic connection with the MagSafe 3 power port and I have to admit it’s nice to have that back. That reassuring snap and the little green light, or the orange light to let you know that the computer is charging, is really nice. It’s also better if you should catch the cable, as the MagSafe port will pull away from the computer more easily than trying to pull out a cable, especially if you pull it sideways. You’d be more likely to pull the computer off the surface it’s sitting on than pull out the cable, but that’s no longer the case with the return of the MagSafe port.
The headphone jack has moved from the right to the left edge of the computer, and on the right side, we now have just one Thunderbolt 4 port and an SDXC card slot. Like Canon omitting the GPS unit from all of the cameras that I buy, I seem to be missing the usefulness of the SD card slot on Apple Computers as well. When I had an SD slot in the past, I was using CF Cards. For two years while I had my 13-inch MacBook Pro with no SD card slot, I was actually using SD cards in my EOS R cameras, but now that the SD card slot is back, I’m now using CFexpress cards in my Canon EOS R5, so from my perspective it has no use. I might buy one of those memory cards that sit flush to the edge of the computer if I start to run short of internal storage, but I splurged on the 4TB SSD option for my new computer, so I probably won’t even need the SD card slot for external storage.
There is a new HDMI port as well which is welcome. I use HDMI quite often to connect to projectors, and I can also get great image quality on my 60-inch 4K TV over HDMI, so I was happy to see this additional port.
SSD Speed Tests
While we’re on the subject, that internal SSD is another very sweet piece of engineering. The SSD in these new MacBook Pro is marketed as supporting up to 7.4GB/s read speeds, which is absolutely insane! Using the Blackmagicdesign Disk Speed Test we can see that the read speeds are more than double my five-year-old MacBook Pro and the write speeds are more than three times faster!
M1 Max Chip is Off the Charts
I decided to go for the higher-end Apple M1 Max chip over the still amazing M1 Pro because it doubles the amount of memory you can use from 32GB to 64GB, and the memory bandwidth also doubles from 200GB/s to 400GB/s. The GPU also sports 32-cores in the M1 Max over 16-cores in the M1 Pro. Keeping this in perspective, the M1 Pro is also an amazing piece of engineering and definitely no slouch, but I figured I’d go for the best available in the hope that I can get a few more years out of this computer, while, of course, increasing its computing power to perform my daily tasks faster.
In Capture One Pro for example, even with my images on an external, although very fast SSD, the images appear on the screen instantly as I move between shots. There is no lag as the images res-in, they are just there straight after the switch. In music applications, my old 13-inch MacBook Pro would often stutter and sometimes become unusable with some software instruments, but with the 10 cores and processing power of the new MacBook Pro, it never misses a beat.
Geekbench Benchmark Results
We won’t geek out on the results of the Geebbench benchmark tests that I ran, but here is a 9 screen-shot merge to show the results for the CPU tests for my 13-inch MacBook Pro on the left, my Late 2017 iMac Pro in the middle, and my 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro on the right. This was unfortunately downsized by WordPress when I uploaded it, so the fine details will be difficult to see, but if you click on it to open the image in the lightbox on the blog, you can click to zoom in and read the small text. Besides, even just looking at the overall score you can see that the 14-inch MacBook Pro is close to double the power of even the iMac Pro, which is amazing!
No Face Recognition
There is just one area where I think Apple completely dropped the ball with this latest line of MacBook Pro computers, and that is the continued addition of the fingerprint reader on the power button instead of moving to Face Recognition-based security. My fingerprint changes with the seasons and I have never been able to use my fingerprint for more than a couple of months before I have to rescan it on any of my Apple devices, be it a MacBook Pro or my iPhones. Seriously, I scanned my fingerprint when the 14-inch MacBook Pro arrived and in less than a week my fingerprint is no longer recognized.
Maybe I’m deformed, and have unusually non-descript fingerprints, probably from too much typing! But I am absolutely tired of scanning and rescanning my fingerprints almost constantly throughout the year. If Apple had included the same Face Recognition technology that my three-year-old iPhone has in my brand new MacBook Pro, I would have been the happiest Apple user on the planet. As it stands, I’m probably not that far down the list of happy users, because everything else about the 14-inch MacBook Pro is absolutely amazing!
I do need to get more than four to five years of use out of this machine though for the price, but I’m relatively confident that the technology will deliver the performance I need to do my work for at least the foreseeable future. I’m happy with my purchase, and I hope you found my observations useful.
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When I bought my iMac Pro four years ago, I seriously considered buying a VESA Mount adapter with it, so that I could mount the iMac on a flexible arm, but at the time, all of the arms I could find that would support the iMac Pro were around $200 and so with the mount adapter, I was looking at around $300 so I decided to pass on this option. Since then, my eyesight has changed slightly, as presbyopia sets in, and I’ve found that the distance to my iMac was just at the point where my short distance glasses were not helping, and my long-distance glasses didn’t help either. I also developed some pain over the last few weeks as I spent way too much time sitting at the computer in an awkward position, so I decided to check on the price of the adjustable arms again, to see if there was anything more reasonably priced that would do the job.
To my pleasant surprise, I found a brand called Huanuo that made a number of stands that would be perfect for what I wanted to do, and the price was so low that I almost felt guilty paying so little, but I found the engineering quality and usability of the two stands that I bought to be excellent, so I figured I’d share my findings with you today, and I’ll include a few photos of the various positions in which I am now using my dual-display setup, with both of the displays on adjustable arms.
Stepping back in time a little, I’d actually always been slightly disappointed that the iMac comes with a stand that does not allow the adjustment of the height of the display. It always seems slightly low to me. I also like to use my displays vertically sometimes, like when viewing lots of portrait orientation images, or investigating problems in programming language code, but there is no easy way to flip the iMac up on its side with the stand that comes with it. Once you change this for the VESA mount though, you can easily rotate the display, and I will also share the keys that you need to press to actually see the rotation options in the Display Preferences, as these are not visible by default.
So, the two adjustable arms that I bought for my iMac and my second display are the Huanuo Single Monitor Stand HNSS8 (https://amzn.to/3sfOFgp) which supports holding a hair under 20lbs, so I’ve used this for my 32 inch BenQ display, and the HNSS12 (https://amzn.to/2RnkN4U) which holds up to 26.4lbs, making it compatible with the slightly heavier iMac Pro. Although the lamp and mic stand that are also attached to the back of my desk make this somewhat difficult to understand what’s happening, here is a photo of the back of my iMac and my second display on the stands, so that you can see what I’m talking about.
The two stands together only cost me around $70 on Amazon here in Japan, and ironically that is about the same price as the iMac Pro VESA Mount Adapter Kit from Apple. The BenQ display comes with the screw holes to attach the VESA Mount without any adapters, as you can see in the above photo, but the iMac comes with a stand that has to be removed and a plate affixed to the back to take the screws that fix it all together.
Attaching the iMac Pro VESA Mount Adapter
I found the whole process pretty fascinating, so I shot a few images as I replaced the iMac Pro stand for the VESA Mount Adapter. First of all, here are the kit components, out of the box, ready to use. As you’d expect, they’re well-engineered and match the dark grey of the iMac Pro.
To remove the stand that comes with the iMac you have to slide that credit-card-sized piece of plastic into the slot that the stand is fixed into and move it around until the stand is released slightly allowing you to push it down to reveal the line of screws along the top, as you can see in this next image.
You can then unscrew the default stand screws with the driver that comes in the VESA Mount Adapter kit and apply the base for the adapter as you see here.
Then you can attach the VESA Mount base plate with the four corner screws at 10 centimeter spacing ready to attach the third party mount.
And here is the mount that came with the Huanuo adjustable arm that I bought to support my iMac Pro.
After that, I attached the adjustable arms to the back of my desk, and attached both my iMac Pro and BenQ 32 inch displays, and started to play with the positioning. I won’t go into detail on the actual process of putting the adjustable arms together, but I will say that it was again a relatively easy process. The only thing that you have to really be careful of is the arm springing open as you undo the locking strap. There is a lot of pressure stored in these arms and you could easily hurt yourself when they spring open if you rush the process. Thankfully there are plenty of warnings in the instructions so you have to ensure that you read the manual rather than getting stuck straight in.
Regular Landscape Orientation Dual Monitors
I’ve found the freedom to move the two displays around quite liberating over the last few weeks since I installed these adjustable stands, so I’ve shot a few images to show you the variations I’m using, and easily switching between, because the stands just support the displays wherever you move them to. First up, here is just a regular landscape orientation dual monitor setup.
Even this is better with the adjustable arm stands though, because I can easily bring the displays towards me more, which helps me to see the screens properly without using my short distance or long distance glasses. Also, because the displays are free-floating now, I don’t have to worry about all of the other things on my desk.
iMac Pro in Portrait Orientation
Probably one of the most useful setups I’ve started using is the one you see in the next photo, with the iMac Pro rotated 90 degrees into portrait orientation. Although I could always easily rotate the BenQ display on its stand, I find that the 32 inch display is slightly too large to be useful in portrait orientation. The slightly smaller 27-inch screen of the iMac Pro on the other hand is a good size to use in portrait orientation, and is, of course, great for viewing portrait orientation images without compromise.
Here also is a photo of a dual display setup in Capture One Pro still with the portrait orientation iMac and the Viewer filling the screen with a portrait image. Of course, you can save your workspace so it’s easy to recall the various positioning of the Browser and Viewer etc. as you move between screen layouts.
This would also be great for a tethered shoot with portrait orientation images of a model being streamed back to the iMac and displayed instantly as you shoot.
Rotating the Screen on a Mac
You may notice that the option to rotate the display on the iMac is hidden by default, probably because the vast majority of people just use them on the default stand that doesn’t allow for portrait positioning. To show the Rotation option when using an adjustable arm mount like this, press the COMMAND and OPTION keys together while selecting Displays from the System Preferences, and you should then see a Rotation option. If it doesn’t show straight away, try a few times. The timing can be a bit finicky. Luckily, once you have the display rotated, you don’t have to press this key combination every time you open the preferences.
Impressive Swing Range
As an added bonus, I’m even now able to swing my BenQ display out so far to the right that I can use it directly while playing my keyboards making music as well. Because my keyboards have all the buttons required for me to select instruments, record, stop and undo my recordings it’s actually really easy to work on music even with the display off to the side like this, so this is a liberating new change as well.
As I mentioned, I’d developed a bit of pain in my shoulders and right arm as I worked too long in the same position, and I’ve found that since I added these adjustable arms it’s gotten much better. It’s easier to adjust the height, and having both screens at a comfortable viewing distance has made a huge difference too. I also bought a stand for my MacBook Pro so that I can get it up to eye level when working at my dining table downstairs, and that has also helped as I’m not sitting with hunched shoulders to look at the small screen.
OK, so not directly photography related, but we pretty much all use computers, and also if you are a Windows user you can use these adjustable arms as well, so it’s not just about Macs either, and therefore should be useful to at least some of you.
Last week I took delivery of a shiny new 27″ iMac, and having just about got it set up how I want it, I wanted to relay my thinking behind the purchase, and a few important things that I’ve learned from a Photographer’s perspective, especially with regards to the quality of the screen, which has in short blown me away.
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First a little background; I was a Windows user since 1994, but I’ve also been using Macs since college here in Japan from 1995, and bought a Mac mini back in 2006 to enable me to create this Podcast in the Enhanced Podcast format. I actually replaced that Mac mini as the old one became slow, and then in January 2011, almost three years ago now, having become somewhat annoyed with Windows for a number of reasons, such as no native 16bit printing, and the lack of ability to put USB hard drives to sleep among other things, so I decided to jump ship completely to the Mac platform.
I bought a MacBook Pro, and told myself I’d give it a year, and if I was still happy with the decision, I would buy a Mac Pro to live permanently in my office/studio. At the time I was thinking of the Mac Pro that was a tower style Mac that looked similar to a lot of Windows based tower style desktop computers. It didn’t take me a year to decide whether or not Mac was for me. I knew before very long at all that I was never going back to Windows.
iMac in a Box (Top View)
It’s not that I’ve got anything against Windows really, I am just happier with the Mac hardware and Mac OS than I ever really felt I was with Windows. The only thing I missed was the Accounting module that tells me exactly how much each print I make with my iPF6350 large format printer costs, and I also cannot access my business account Internet banking with anything other than Internet Explorer. To overcome both of these problems I use Parallels, and I start it solely for these two reasons, and nothing else.
So, why didn’t I buy a Mac Pro after the first year? Well, basically, for much of what I do, the MacBook Pro and now the MacBook Pro Retina do pretty much everything I want. I have a tendency to max-out new computers I buy, especially now that the MacBook Pros can’t be upgraded, so my powerful Retina laptop has been great, and even encodes video pretty fast, but there was one problem with my setup that has needed a solution since I switched to Mac.
I had been using my MacBook Pros with my external Eizo display when in my office, but the laptop screen was always so far away that I had to move my windows to the Eizo to do pretty much everything, and after switching from the 17″ MacBook Pro to the smaller 15″ Retina screen, this started to become a real problem. By this point I was using my first MacBook Pro as a server in my office, backing up to Backblaze etc. but continued to plug my Eizo into my main Retina computer to do work in the office, and there are times when I need to leave it all connected to do jobs like copying my entire image library from one drive to another or rebuilding all of my Lightroom Previews, so this, coupled with the not ideal display situation, meant that I needed to make some changes.
As with camera equipment, I don’t buy anything new unless the upgrade or new addition to my kit enables me to solve a problem. I now had two main problems to overcome with my office computer situation. I needed a second large screen, and I needed second powerful machine for the jobs that caused me to have to leave my MacBook Pro in the studio overnight, or for multiple days sometimes.
With my office/studio being on the 3rd floor of our apartment, I generally start work answering email etc. while still at the dining table after breakfast, and I come up to the office at around 9am. Then after dinner at 7pm, unless I need to come back upstairs for a meeting or to finish something off, I stay downstairs, and work from the sofa. That keeps me close to my wife but I can still get stuff done, which means having to leave my computer in the office was a problem.
My Options and Thinking
So, I have been weighing up my options slowly over the last few years, then more seriously this year since I got the MacBook Pro Retina with the smaller screen, and here is what I was comparing. First, I had to decide which Mac desktop I would buy. The Mac Pro hadn’t been given a major upgrade for years, so it was obviously ready. I waited for this for a while, but nothing surfaced until a few months ago when Apple announced the upgraded Mac Pro that we’ll see start to hit the stores in a few weeks time. This is a monster of a machine, a black cylinder basically that can be packed with a huge amount of computing power as well as 4k monitor support.
As I said, I tend to try to max specs out when I buy a new computer, but maxing out a new Mac Pro would probably make too big a dent in my bank balance, and frankly, I’m already close to being happy with the amount of computing power I have, so I could not warrant the expense of a mid to high end spec Mac Pro when they become available.
The other option of course, was buying a second external display, and plugging that into my MacBook Pro along with my current Eizo monitor. That of course only solves half of my problem, in that I’d still not have a reasonably powerful computer in the office, plus, a 27″ Eizo CX model would cost me around $1,200 or $1,800 if I went for the CG model with the hardware calibration, but I probably wouldn’t do that, as I don’t think it’s worth the additional cost.
Now, I seriously considered this option. I love Eizo displays, and have been very happy with my current 24″ display for more than 5 years now. But, that’s a lot of money to spend when you consider that it only solves half of my problem. So, I kept thinking that the iMac would be a great compromise.
It has a beautiful screen, and a pretty powerful computer built right in! The problem for me, for the longest time, was the glossy screen. My first MacBook Pro had the matte screen, and I liked it a lot. The Retina screen on my current MacBook Pro is glossy, and although it’s a beautiful screen, you have to be careful where you sit, or the reflection can be very distracting.
In my office I sit to the right of the window, so there are no light sources behind me but I do have a plastic covered first-surface mirror leaning against the wall behind me that is very reflective, especially when the sun comes out, so the glossy iMac screen would have been a problem, until now. When the new iMac was announced, I was really happy to see Apple singing the praises of a new 75% reduced reflection screen. I didn’t have time to go into town to actually take a look, but from what I read online, this looked to be the real-deal.
Mac in a Box
After a little more serious consideration, I decided to go for the new 27″ iMac. I almost maxed out the specs, so it has a 3.5GHz Quad-core Intel i7 CPU, that boosts up to 3.9GHz, and 32GB of RAM. I didn’t go for the SSD drive, because $1,000 for a 1GB drive just didn’t seem worth it, especially when you consider the other option of a 3TB Fusion Drive for an extra $350. I didn’t know the size of the SSD component in the Fusion Drive when I ordered this, but a closer look through the system information app shows me that it contains a 128GB SSD drive and a 3TB hard drive. Data that you use a lot is automatically stored on the SSD drive to speed up the entire system, and the hard drive used for slower storage.
I also maxed out the video card, going for the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M with 4GB of GDDR5 memory which cost an extra $150.00. Remember that some graphics related applications like Photoshop and Premiere Pro now make good use of the Graphics Processor to accelerate processing, so having a lot of video RAM is no longer just to make games run faster and smoother. Note too while we’re at it, that I install the NVIDIA CUDA Driver to give Premiere Pro access to the full power of the Graphics Processor.
Set up from Scratch
When you buy an Apple computer here in Japan, if you customize it, it seems they are assembled in Shanghai, and shipped across. I ordered my new iMac on October 31, a Thursday and it arrived exactly a week later, on November 7. I decided not to migrate my data from my MacBook Pro because there are a few things broken that I didn’t want to chance being copied to my new iMac.
There was only one negative experience as I set up my new iMac and that was that for the first few days I experienced a lot of mini-freezes. The mouse would lock up, and sometimes I actually had to do a force reboot to get the system working again. After a bit of trial and error, I’ve come to the conclusion that this was probably due to my old Drobo initially being connected via Firewire, going into the iMac via my Belkin Thunderbolt hub, which has a Firewire port.
I switched the Drobo over to USB, and I haven’t had any more problems over the last few days, so I think that was the cause. My Drobo 5D of course is still connected via Thunderbolt, going directly into the back of the iMac, and I have my external Eizo monitor connected via the extra Thunderbolt port on the Belkin hub.
Eizo vs iMac Screen
OK, so let’s also touch on the quality of the Eizo display compared to the new iMac screen. I have been a huge Eizo fan since my first 17″ Eizo screen that I bought some 12 years ago. I tell you, I almost cried when I first saw my photos on an Eizo screen, the quality was that good. Eizo have continued to improve their screens of course, and my current 24″ wide screen Eizo display, although now some five years old, or maybe even a little more, is still very nice, but it is getting a bit long in the tooth.
I say this, kind of out of loyalty to Eizo though, because the 27″ screen on the new iMac actually beats the Eizo. I honestly didn’t expect this, and I’d love to compare the iMac to a new Eizo, and I’d also like to compare the last generation of iMac screens with my old Eizo, but with what I currently have available to me, the iMac screen wins.
It’s going to be difficult to appreciate the subtle differences in this image, but here you can see the iMac screen on the left and the Eizo screen on the right. They have both been calibrated with the X-Rite i1Pro 2, and you can perhaps make out with this photo on the desktops, that the iMac has slightly more vivid colors, and is more punchy.
iMac to Eizo Comparison
Now, punchy isn’t always a good thing, especially if that punchiness is not there in your original images. Straight out of the box, the iMac was actually a little over the top for my liking, and calibration brought that down and under control. The colors are now very similar to the Eizo, but the main thing that impressed me, was the iMac screen’s ability to display rich texture and detail.
Think of the punchiness out of the box as the difference between a consumer print and a fine art print. Most printers and printing services aimed at the consumer do all sorts of nasty automated enhancements to images as they print them, so that your average happy snapper gets images back that make them go “wow!”. Us photographers on the other hand either add the “wow” when we shoot, or in post processing, so we don’t need any arbitrary enhancements during the print process. It’s the same thing with most computer displays out of the box, and this is one of the main reasons we need to calibrate them.
Back to the Eizo comparison though–my first MacBook Pro screen always seemed nice, but it definitely paled next to the Eizo. I could see much more detail and texture in photos on my Eizo screen, so I’d kind of come to think of the Apple displays as being inferior. The Retina screen on my current MacBook Pro changed that of course. The Retina screen is incredible, and shows much more texture and better gradations, and although I wasn’t expecting the iMac display this much detail and beat the Eizo, it does.
In this next photo, I brought up a Snow Monkey shot from 2012, because my old MacBook Pro never really showed the fine gradations in the snow in the background of this shot, but as you can see here, the Retina and iMac displays both show the shot very similarly.
iMac, Retina and Eizo Comparison
If you open up your browser window and click on the image to view it as large as possible, you will probably also notice that the Eizo display has lighter shadow areas. This is great for seeing detail in areas that might otherwise be a little on the dark side, but they don’t print. When I print, the shadows will plug up a little, and actually look more like what we see here on the Retina and iMac displays, so I think the days of me using my Eizo display as my final soft-proofing screen before I print may be coming to an end.
Don’t worry about the difference in color temperature between these example images by the way. I’ve shot these images at various times while setting up the iMac, some with the sun shining into my studio, and other while it was overcast, so the wall behind my displays varies quite a lot, but they are correctly white balanced.
This photo also of course gives you an idea of the difference in screen real-estate that I now have. Basically, the Retina display and my Eizo was my old configuration, with the Retina a little bit further back on my desk. I would do most of my work on the Eizo, so I was always sitting at an angle, which I didn’t like, but now, I can sit straight on, and the iMac display is so large that I can have multiple application windows open at one time and not even have to switch between them. I’m currently writing my third Craft & Vision ebook, and I can’t wait to start writing again as soon as I have released this week’s Podcast episode.
Lightroom is Lightening Fast!
So, as photographers, one of the major jobs we need to do on our computers is processing large batches of images. As software gets more advanced and more resource intensive, we start to notice it slowing down, and this is one of the main reasons we end up having to upgrade our computers every three or four years, but most of us at some point, have had to run our workhorse applications like Lightroom on slow machines, and this can be incredibly frustrating.
Earlier, I said that I didn’t really need the power of the Mac Pro, especially when I considered that I was already happy with my MacBook Pro for most of the stuff I do. Still though, I didn’t want to buy something new, that I will have to keep for probably four years, only to find that it was a little bit sluggish. I didn’t expect it to be, but I was blown away by the speed at which I can work through large batches of images in Lightroom.
When I moved my Lightroom catalog to the iMac, I deliberately didn’t copy my Previews folder over, as I wanted to create this again on the iMac, but I also wanted to do some speed tests, and not having any previews makes that easier. This isn’t a scientific test, but here are my findings.
When I had already had Lightroom create standard previews for the images in a folder, I can navigate through images full screen in the Library module without the “Loading” message displaying at the bottom of the screen for the majority of the images. For a few, the Loading message displays for about half a second. The image is either there in full resolution from the start, or the quality snaps in after that half a second.
If I’m in the Develop module, which always creates a new Preview unless you’ve just created one, the Loading message displays for a fraction of a second longer, but still under a second. That in itself is very impressive, but what’s even more impressive, is when I view images in a folder that I have not yet created any previews for, literally, with gray thumbnails instead of images, it only takes a fraction of a second longer. In the Library module, we’re probably talking one second, and in the Develop module, we’re talking maybe a fraction over a second, and even for 120MB TIFF files, it doesn’t go over 1.5 seconds.
We’re talking basically stress-free image editing here, and if you are wondering, yes, I already have all the other software that I need installed, so my machine is no longer a fresh install. My MacBook Pro Retina is fast, and that is running on an SSD, but it still takes about three seconds for the images to res-in in the Library module. It’s actually faster in the Develop module on my MacBook Pro for some reason, usually taking just over a second, so still no complaints, but the iMac just doesn’t make you feel as though there is any wait at all.
Widescreen Lightroom Rocks!
Another thing that I really like but wasn’t quite expecting, is how incredibly comfortable Lightroom feels on the not only large, but wide aspect screen. With a 27″ display sitting on a desk, the chances are you are sitting pretty close to it, so although images look spectacular full-screen, you don’t feel as though you are missing much by having some of the Lightroom menus showing. I’m always quick to hit SHIFT+TAB to get rid of all of my menus on a smaller screen, but on the iMac screen, as you can see in this screenshot, it’s really not a pain at all to have some menus showing.
Widescreen Lightroom Rocks!
Also, because the screen is a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio, with the two side menus and the top menu the image fits perfectly in the space left over. In fact, with the 27″ monitor being this high quality, and images in this view being roughly the same physical size as an image displayed full screen on my Eizo 24″ display, I’m quickly finding that when going through images in Lightroom I don’t really need the second screen, so it’s becoming more useful when doing other tasks like having multiple Web browsers open as well as Excel and email etc.
Syncing Email with ChronoSync
On the subject of email, there was always one problem that I wanted to avoid and was partly a reason for me sticking with one main computer for a while, and that is the syncing of data between the two computers, especially email, as I’m using that on both computers, switching at least twice each day. This is not a problem is you use IMAP for all of your email, but I have a lot of locally archived email, so I need to copy this between computers to stay in sync.
You might recall that I use an application called ChronoSync to synchronize my images with my external hard disks, so I was happy to see an article from the people at Econ Technologies, the makers of ChronoSync, when I searched for ways to synchronize email between two Macs. I won’t go into detail here, although I will link to the article, but basically, you have to create a few synchronization jobs, then a container to run all of these jobs with one click, and then launch that container to sync your email every time you switch computers.
This may seem like a bit of a pain, but I’ve been doing this for a few days now, and I’m pretty happy with this method, at least until I find a totally automated method. Basically all I have to do is run the synchronization job after breakfast, before I come upstairs, and then run it again when I go back downstairs in the evening. It takes about a minute and a half to run, and that’s to sync the difference between a bunch of mailboxes total 17GB. I know, I should clear out my mailboxes.
Lightening Fast Wake-up Speed
Another thing that I really like about the new iMac is that it wakes up from Sleep mode in just a few seconds. It goes to sleep when the monitor goes off, and I have my system setup to turn off the display when I move the mouse to the bottom right hand corner of the screen or after 10 minutes of inactivity using the Hot Corners feature. Then when I come back to the computer, I tap the space bar on my keyboard, and it wakes up and displays the login screen in just a few seconds. It also wakes up over the network just as quickly, so I can do those email syncs without having to come up to the studio to physically wake up the iMac.
My two connected Drobos and Time Machine backup hard drive go to sleep with the computer too, but then also wake up very quickly, so as long as I don’t power the computer down totally, I can access my images on the Drobo over the nextwork from anywhere in the house. Note too that while I am doing a Backblaze backup of all of my images from a trip, that can take a few days, I just select not to put the computer to sleep with the display in the system preferences.
And on that note, I switched my Backblaze backup from my old MacBook Pro to the iMac by selecting to Transfer the Backup State from the Backblaze menu. It took just under two days for Backblaze to run through the 5.2TB of data that I have backed up and confirmed that they were the same files from my old system, and then backup the new stuff from the new iMac as well. Now that I’m fully backed up, I’m allowing the iMac to sleep when I’m not using it.
The last thing that I wanted to note is that despite the iMac containing a very powerful computer, it has generally been very quite so far. The fan has so far only kicked in once, when the mouse had frozen and something was obviously putting a lot of load on the CPU. When it did kick in, it was quite loud, so I’m hoping this doesn’t happen a lot, but so far, even when flicking through image after image in Lightroom, the fans stay off and you can’t hear any noise from the iMac at all. In fact, it’s really hard to believe that there’s even a computer inside there at all.
In fact, before we finish, I should also touch on expandability. I mentioned earlier that I have a bunch of stuff connected via the USB 3.0 ports and Thunderbolt. Although it’s difficult to actually change out parts yourself with an iMac, this is really the reason I max these computers out when I buy them. That way, I can get the maximum life out of them. Pretty much everything else that I need is already connected via USB and Thunderbolt, and these offer virtually limitless expandability.
I know that the new Mac Pro will have Thunderbolt2 instead of plain old Thunderbolt, but I’m happy enough with what I have here. It’s going to take a few years for companies to really maximize the benefits that Thunderbolt 2 brings, and I don’t mind hankering after the next best thing for a few more years after that, while I get my four years out of this iMac. If I can get four years out of a desktop style computer, I’m happy, and so is my tax accountant.
All in all, I can say without a doubt that it’s a big thumbs-up all round for the Apple 27″ iMac. I knew I was going to love this computer, but I didn’t know I was going to love it this much. The new low reflectivity screen has certainly been worth waiting for, and all the power under the hood, or more to the point, hidden conspicuously behind this incredible display, makes it the perfect computer for someone that needs power, but not necessary a Ferrari.
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Firstly, I really need to apologize for the hiatus since the last Podcast episode was released on January 25, over a month ago. I know that some of you have probably been concerned that I’d given up altogether, but that certainly isn’t the case. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll know that I have been up to Hokkaido on a reconnaissance trip for a possible new tour in 2012, where we’d visit landscape locations and travel along the west coast up to the northern most tip of Hokkaido, visiting fishing villages and the like. I’ll be doing a Podcast on the resulting images and new locations found very soon, so stay tuned for that if you are interested.
I had hoped to get a quick episode out in the four days that I was back from Hokkaido, before I left for my Winter Wonderland Workshop, but unfortunately I put my back out towards the end of my reconnaissance trip, and ended up spending most of my four days just trying to get better! Anyway, I was fine for my Workshop from Februrary 13 to 24, and it was the best ever. I’ll also be reporting on this very soon too.
My plan right now is to try and push as many Podcasts out in the next two weeks as possible, as I will be leaving for another month after that, for my Antarctica Expedition with David Burren. I believe there are still a few places left on this tour too, so although there’s not much time left to arrange it, do take a look at the LuminOdyssey Web site at luminodyssey.com if you’d like to join us. Also note that today we’ve announced details of a shorter trip with an early return option, for those that are interested but couldn’t make a full month to do so. The shorter option is just two weeks, and you can find details here: http://luminodyssey.com/ant2011a
Anyway, on to today’s episode – I know I’m going to upset some Windows users with this, but believe me, I have used and loved Windows for more than 15 years, so I’m going to try to make this as objective as possible, but I have decided to jump ship to Mac. I bought a MacBook Pro in January and have spent the last six weeks or so using it as my main machine, and getting used to it. Today I’m going to tell you why I have made this decision and let you know what I like about my new Mac.
Firstly, let’s get the tough bit out of the way quickly. Here are my reasons for leaving Windows.
Probably the most frustrating thing from a productivity perspective is the slow startup of my Windows machines – I have a 2.66GHz quad core CPU and 8GB of RAM in my old main computer, and when I first loaded Windows 7 it was like a rocket. Much better than Vista, although Vista also ran very fast for a while after a clean installation of the OS, but therein lies the main problem. It’s great for a while, but then as you load your production software, your Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite software, and all of the other applications that you need to actually use your computer, it starts to slow down.
Sure, my new MacBook Pro boots much slower too now that I have these applications installed. When I first got it, it turned on in 11 seconds from cold to having a usable desktop. Now that takes just over 40 seconds from a cold boot. My Windows machine took almost a minute to boot when it was just installed, and although I don’t recall exactly how long, it took probably around two minutes to boot as I installed my applications. The bigger problem though is that despite the fact that all I did was continue to use it, in the months following that clean install, it got gradually slower and slower. I am no sloth with a PC, and I know how to keep them tweaked for optimal performance, but still, it really became such a drag as I continued to use it.
This was the same for my main Windows machine and my Dual-Core Notebook PC. It got so bad that I literally had to go upstairs to my office and turn my Windows machine on before breakfast, just so that I could use it more quickly after breakfast as I started my workday.
To compound this problem, the hibernation function of my Windows machines broke after I installed Windows 7 and I was never able to fix it on my main PC. This means that whenever I turned off my PC, I had to totally shut it down. Had I been returning from hibernation, this would have been much quicker, but that just wasn’t possible.
No Native 16 Bit Printing on Windows
Another big factor for me was that there is no native 16bit printing on Windows. Since buying my Canon imagePROGRAF iPF6350 large format printer, with the ability to print in 16bit, I have been forced to use Photoshop for printing in 16bit, because Canon only produced a print plug-in with 16bit output for Photoshop, and there’s nothing for Lightroom. Furthermore, the plug-in only works with 32bit Photoshop, so I wasn’t even able to print from 64bit Photoshop, which introduces further restrictions on the size of the files you can create and print.
In Lightroom, I can save print presets that include paper size, margin sizes and my printer profiles etc. In Photoshop I have to set this up afresh every time I change my settings. I could have printed in 8bit from Lightroom on my Windows machine, but that is really dumbing down my printer, and I don’t want to do that. Lightroom on the Mac on the other hand, has 16bit printing built-in, because the Mac OS supports 16bit printing natively, and Adobe simply tap into that, totally solving the problem.
No Sleep for USB Hard Disks
Another thing that had become a bit of a bugbear for me was that Windows will not put external USB hard disks to sleep. I have a couple of external hard drives that I wanted to make use of, but when I plugged them into my Windows machine they were spun-up all the time, until I turned them off. This puts way too much stress on the external hard drives, and I really wouldn’t like to trust my data on a drive that is spun up all the time the computer is turned on, even though I do make regular backups. I tried my external USB drives on my Mac Mini though, and it puts them to sleep when they are not in use, which is exactly what I wanted Windows to do, but it won’t do this.
One of the reasons that I didn’t switch to Mac earlier was actually similar to the reason why most people stick with the same camera system. With a camera system, we generally have a large investment in lenses, which make it impractical to change bodies, which can be thought of as the platform or at least the base of the ‘system’.
With Windows, I’ve got a lot of small application that I have invested in, which all mount up to a fair amount, but by far the largest investment in software for me is the Adobe CS5 Master Collection. I figured that buying a brand new license of the Master Collection at almost $2,400 was just too much, but then I did a bit of research online and found that Adobe will allow you to switch platforms, if you complete an online digital signature process promising to uninstall the software on the platform you have, and destroy the media, and not resell it etc. The process as far as I’m aware, totally invalidates the license numbers that you originally bought, so really, don’t do this if you intend to try to cheat the system. I don’t think it will work.
Because I actually bought my CS5 Master Collection from B&H, but I don’t have a US Adobe Store account, it was really complicated to switch. I spent a total of about six hours on the phone, and although I came across or probably created some very confused individuals, all but one of them were very patient and professional, and we got the switch done. All it cost me was $6 in postage fees for them to send me the Mac version, and they even put a 2011 table calendar in the box, which I’d have paid $6 for anyway, so all in all I’m incredibly happy with Adobe’s handling of the switch and their flexibility.
Reasons for Liking My New MacBook Pro
Let’s move on now to talk about some of the reasons why I’m really enjoying my new MacBook Pro. Some of these are simply a retort to the problems that I was having with Windows, but others are things that I was not aware of until I switched, and I’m pleasantly surprised by.
Fast Boot and Wake-up
As I mentioned earlier, even now my Mac has all of my production software installed, it still boots in around 40 seconds from a cold start. The other thing that I was really looking forward to though, and was not disappointed with, is that when I’m done with my Mac, I simply close the lid, and this puts it into a very low level sleep mode in just a few seconds. You can leave it like this for a few days if necessary, but then when you want to use it again, you just open the lid, and the desktop is there, instantly. There’s no waiting for the BIOS to run checks, no time for the data to be read in from the hard disk, nothing. It’s just on, waiting to be used. This is the biggest frustration fixed right there.
Multi-Touch “Magic” Trackpad
I am really enjoying the Multi-Touch Trackpad on the MacBook Pro. So much so, I actually bought the stand-alone “Magic” Trackpad instead of a mouse for when I’m using my Mac at my desk. It takes a bit of getting used to, and I believe that this technology is not just Apple specific, but it’s certainly new to me. Basically there are things like being able to swipe with two fingers to scroll horizontally or vertically, three finger swipes move you back and forward in browsers or through thumbnails in Lightroom. Four finger swipes switch you between applications and you can even pinch to zoom or rotate images etc. in some applications. Lightroom for one responds to zoom-in and zoom-out pinch actions.
Slick Multiscreen Management
The OS management of multiple screens is very slick. Even if you leave application windows on a second screen, the OS brings them back to the main screen when you unplug the second screen, so there’s no need to plug the second screen back in to find your applications, like I used to have to do in Windows. I’ve not had to use it yet, but there’s also a button in the display properties to “gather windows”, which I imagine you need to use if the automatic gathering of windows doesn’t work.
Problems No More
Of course, being able to print in 16bit directly from Lightroom is bliss, and I am also now using my external hard drives without worrying about them being spun-up all the time. Now, when I’m not accessing data on these external drives, I’m very happy to see them spin-down and go to sleep, saving energy and wear and tear on the disks.
What Don’t I Like About My New Mac?
OK, so what don’t I like about my new Mac? It’s ironic, but the worst part about my new Mac so far is Microsoft Office. Yes, as I needed to work with Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, I decided to buy Microsoft Office for the Mac. I could have managed with some Apple software, but I could not find a good way to migrate all of my Outlook mail from Windows to the Apple Mail application. I found an application that supposedly converts Windows Outlook databases to mbox files for import into Apple Mail, but this failed to export large chunks of my mail database files, and pretty much all of my Japanese mail was corrupted in the export, basically leaving me without a solution.
MS Outlook for Mac is a Piece of Crap!
Unfortunately though, Outlook for the Mac is a big piece of crap. Microsoft should be seriously ashamed of this app. You think they’d invest more R&D dollars into this app than most of the other stuff they work on, trying to win over the Mac users, but I guess they figure that the only people that need their applications on Mac are people like me that they’ve already lost anyway. They didn’t bother to try to get any kind of functionality parity between the two platforms. The Mac version feels like something that a bunch of students threw together on the weekend over beer and pizza. I found a number of ways to crash it without fail, within a few days of starting to use it. It really is abysmal.
Now I’m actually only using Outlook on the Mac to access my mail Archives, which I could not import into Apple Mail. I’m using Apple Mail as my default mail client now, and I’ve set up my mail accounts as IMAP, so that everything I do in Mail gets picked up by Outlook when I do have to open it. Once I can figure out how to import my old Windows Outlook mail into Apple Mail, I’ll remove Outlook from the system.
MS Word for Mac is Much Better
Word is actually a lot better. Microsoft obviously thinks they have a chance of winning some customers with this one, and I must admit, I do like the functionality of Word, even on the Mac. There are some critical problems too though. Sometimes, and I’ve still to figure out when or why, but command C and V don’t copy and paste all the time. When it’s not available, even the shortcut keys don’t appear in the Edit menu, and this is a real pain.
Excel works but is very clunky. You also can’t do the final paste of a cell with the enter key and you can’t paste the same data to multiple cells at the same time, like you can in Windows. PowerPoint isn’t all that bad either, although I haven’t really used it all that much yet, but for what I have done with it, it seems OK.
Other Idiosyncrasies, but Generally Great!
Other than that though, I really can’t think of anything that I don’t like about the Mac. There are things that took a bit of getting used to. The print dialogs for example are very different to Windows. You have to use a pull down in the middle of the dialog to switch between the Page Layout and other dialogs for example, but once I figured out what I had to do, it’s really not a big deal. Also, the printer drivers have an option to simply use the last settings used again, and this seems to work between applications too, which is really useful.
Most Applications Available…
Most of the applications that I relied on in Windows are available for Mac too. Dropbox and Evernote for example, both have Mac Clients. FileZilla, my favorite FTP client, and SplashID, that I use to save all my passwords are also available, and of course Firefox is available for the Mac, so I was able to sync all of my passwords and bookmarks from Windows using Firefox Sync.
ProShow Producer, the application that I use on Windows to make photo and video slideshows is not available for the Mac, which I knew, but is still a little disappointing. I would really like to keep all of my applications on one platform and not have to start windows for anything like this, but my Internet Banking also requires Windows, so it seems my Windows machines will not be retired for a while yet. I imagine I’ll end up using some sort of virtual Windows solutions at some point, but for now, I’ll keep my Windows boxes handy.
Another thing that has taken a bit of getting used to, but more because I’ve moved from a desktop to a laptop as my main machine, is that I only have 500GB internal storage on the MacBook Pro. Although that’s enough for a few week’s of heavy wildlife shooting, it means that I can’t keep a copy of all of my image archive and documents on the machine all the time.
I’ve now set it up so that my archives are on those external USB drives which now sleep when not being accessed, and I have bare drives that I drop into an external bay to make a second backup to. These second backups will be my off-site backups as soon as I figure out where to do that, now that I don’t have the office from my old day-job to put the disks in.
I might just post them back to my brother in the UK for now, and always keep a second and third copy of the current year in my bag when travelling. Then, at the end of 2011, I will buy two more large drives, backup all of my photos and data to them, and send a fresh copy back to my brother. This will probably be cheaper than signing up for a dedicated service, but that would mean of course that I’d need a third copy locally to protect against multiple drive failures, but I need to figure this stuff out anyway. The biggest thing is that I have to connect drives to see my archives now, and that’s new for me, but I’m getting used to it.
When I first got my iPad, I found that it was giving me more time with my wife, because I started to be able to do so much more, like reading magazines and mail, right there from the sofa, next to my wife, rather than having to go upstairs to my studio office. This has continued now that I have a laptop powerful enough to do everything that I want, again, right there next to her, or at least in the living room, sitting at our dining table. I had a Windows laptop too, but because of the start-up times, there was a greater hurdle to actually picking it up and using it. Now that this hurdle is gone, I can literally do pretty much anything I want, anywhere I want. It’s still necessary to put myself in my studio when I need some block time, but I’m able to be downstairs with my wife so much more now than before, which is really nice.
In conclusion, although I am in some ways sad to move away from Windows as my main platform, I’m really happy with my decision to move to Mac fulltime. Like the iPhone and iPad, there’s something about Apple Hardware and the Apple experience that sets it apart from others. In some areas, there are quantifiable benefits, but in others, it simply feels better. Now, I’d better sign off for today before I start to sound too much like the Mac Fan-Boy that I never wanted to become.