We Told You What to Dream: The iPad Air 2 Review

Merely the best mainstream tablet.

“What good is an iPhone that can’t make calls and doesn’t fit in your pocket?” That’s what I (and many others in the tech enthusiast community) said upon the announcement of the original iPad back in the far off antebellum past of 2010. The whole idea of an ARM-based tablet running a smartphone OS seemed absurd. Tablets were specialty tools for students and professionals who needed the ability to take notes and annotate presentations on the go in a way that a traditional laptop wouldn’t easily allow. And here comes Apple, trying to suggest they should be mass-media consumption devices. “Harumph,” we said.

How does that old saying go? “Time makes fools of us all.” The iPad was a runaway success that spawned a legion of competitors, and tablets have all but replaced small sub-notebooks and netbooks. Now they even threaten to overtake traditional laptop sales in the coming quarters, though as per usual the market Apple found the ideal time to capitalize upon seems to have run away from them. Once thought to be the new crown jewel in Apple’s mobile empire, the iPad has seen its market share toppled by Google’s Android, while the realities of competing without carrier subsidies have never allowed it to be the cash cow the iPhone has become for Apple. Some speculated after the launch of the iPad Mini in 2012 that Apple might refocus on the more popular sub-8” tablet market and leave the traditional flagship 9.7” iPad to rot. This doom and gloom quickly proved misplaced, however, when the iPad Air launched in 2013. The largest iPad shed substantial weight and girth, slimming down to be lighter than many competing 8” tablets. Then, late last year, it was refreshed again with the predictably-named iPad Air 2. This device was not just thinner and lighter still than its immediate predecessor, it also picked up some new tricks. Externally, the iPad Air 2 picks up a higher-resolution camera sensor and TouchID-enabled home button, but as always it’s what’s on the inside that counts. While the original iPad Air shared the same 1 GB of RAM and A7 system-on-a-chip (SoC) as the iPad Mini and iPhone 5s it debuted alongside, the iPad Air 2 features a specially-designed A8X that brings two things to the table never seen in a previous iOS device, even the new iPhone 6 Plus: a second gigabyte of RAM, and a third processor core. Combined with a monstrously powerful GPU co-designed with Imagination Technologies and a desktop-class 128-bit memory bus, Apple is competing on specs like never before. The message is clear: Apple is through playing second-fiddle in a market they exploded. The king wants his crown back.

Video Review

I’m trying out something new with this device: a ‘brief’ video review. This one has some limitations related to my setup and being my first go at such a task, but it’s definitely a process I want to work on improving and refining for future devices (and possibly even some editorial content). You may notice that content is coming at a faster clip these days, and I fully intend that to be something that continues, with a full review every couple of months and (ideally) one to two shorter news or editorial articles a week. Anyway, the first official Blag-o-nets video review should be embedded here, barring any WordPress-related disasters:

Continue reading “We Told You What to Dream: The iPad Air 2 Review”

Some Quick Thoughts on a Silly MacBook

An expensive, slow, highly compromised, likely very buggy piece of the future.

My initial reaction to Apple’s recently announced MacBook was, like many in the tech enthusiast community, one of visceral rejection. The idea of a machine that scarified performance, keyboard quality, and any expandability whatsoever in the pursuit of being absurdly thin seems at first blush like a fool’s errand. And in many ways, it is – there’s simply no denying that this new MacBook is a severely compromised device. But it isn’t alone among first-generation Apple products in that regard. So having had a few weeks for the news to stew, I thought I would go back and take another look at this latest fruity endeavor. Continue reading “Some Quick Thoughts on a Silly MacBook”

X Marks The Spot

Part Two in an occasional series on terrible puns minimal GNU/Linux distributions

I’ve already gone over the basics of minimal Linux distributions (“distros” henceforth) and what benefits they can impart on older hardware, so let’s just get down to brass tacks. Today we’ll be looking at another lightweight distro running on another old notebook computer. The distro is Xubuntu, a derivative of Canonical, Ltd.’s popular (relatively speaking) Ubuntu Linux and, by extension, another variant of Debian. Xubuntu forgoes Ubuntu’s heavier, “kitchen-sink” Unity desktop environment for the lightweight and highly configurable Xfce. Xubuntu also strips out some of Ubuntu’s meatier packages in favor of lighter-weight alternatives. Despite this, you still get access to the Ubuntu software center and the large selection of semi-curated packages therein, all driven by Debian’s robust APT package management framework.

Continue reading “X Marks The Spot”

Out With A Bang: Breathing Life Into Older Hardware

Part one in an occasional series on minimal GNU/Linux distributions

For years, the typical lifespan of a computer was considered to be about 2-3 years. The rapid development of faster and more efficient processors and graphics cards, the ever-growing amounts of RAM that could be crammed into a single stick (and used up by a single program), and the massive size of mechanical hard drives (and again, the files and programs you would be storing on them) made it a simple matter of practicality: After roughly three years, your old computer simply couldn’t do what you wanted it to anymore. This cadence was also reflected in the release schedule of new operating systems. Microsoft would release a new version of Windows every 2-3 years, and Apple a new version of their Mac OS; in both of these cases it was often most economical to simply buy a whole new computer with up-to-date hardware, rather than pay in excess of $100 to upgrade your operating system to a new version that may not even run very well on your current machine.

Then, in the mid 2000s, something changed. Microsoft released Windows XP in 2001, and in that same year Apple released their completely redesigned Mac OS X. While both of these operating systems had the usual teething problems at launch, each would bring about something unexpected in the following years. Microsoft opted to simply keep the popular XP up to date with free service packs as the development of its successor, then code-named Longhorn, dragged on far past the initially expected release date. Apple, on the other hand, continued to release near-annual $130 updates to Mac OS X, but unlike in the past, these updates had an unexpected effect: Each new version ran better on existing hardware than the one before it, finally making the idea of replacing your hardware for every new OS upgrade obsolete.

Continue reading “Out With A Bang: Breathing Life Into Older Hardware”