Hardware

Every time I hear about a new Used electronics seller offering to buy my old electronics, I check them out and usually find their prices are not very good. I knew the parts alone for my old iPhone were worth more than the pittance they offered over a year ago. The screen alone is worth about $50, and they offered less than that for the entire device with everything but the shrink-wrap. Instead of selling it, I offered it up on Craigslist. It didn’t sell, despite its great condition. So, I held on to it.

About 9 months later my girlfriend’s Blackberry Storm—which was buggy and unusable as a smartphone as hell for the 3 months she had it—decided to take a swim by falling out of her pocket in the restroom after a movie we went to on her birthday. After her friend’s quick thinking, we managed to “save” it using a combination of rice, a blowdryer and the Bernoulli principle. (Though it took an argument where a guy that works with lasers, asserted that because of his laser expertise there was no way someone could use a hairdryer effectively—basically calling me a liar—for me to realize that was why I was taught to aim the air stream over the surface of the submerged device.) Anyway, in the 3 days we let the device dry out in rice after the Blackberry’s styling, I lent her my old iPhone.

She initially purchased the Blackberry Storm because it had a keyboard and she said she always seemed to have problems getting touch screens to recognize her touches. I jokingly told her that’s because you need a soul for the capacitance to be disrupted on the screen. That and most touch screens she tried were probably the old resistive type that mis-registers frequently.

After using the iPhone for a few weeks, and finding the Storm’s touchscreen less responsive (there was a pinhead sized water bubble that managed to survive the 3 day dry off on the screen), she stayed with the iPhone, despite its slower Edge (2.5G) performance. We dubbed the Blackberry Storm “The Toilet Phone”—fitting because it always crashed during web browser usage, even after applying several updates. Though my own codename for it is “Crapberry.” It crashed so often, she gave up trying to use the web browser almost completely eliminating the whole point of a smartphone. At least the slow and pokey Edge network eventually might load if you stood still and sacrificed a few bits and time to the radio frequency gods that control Edge’s band frequencies.

Then the phone finally, after a good 3 years of heavy service, it died a noble death—or so we thought. She called me from her work’s landline, to tell me the touchscreen started glitching out, its home button became non-responsive and then would no longer power up. Because she was very dependent on having a working phone for work, I lent her my iPhone 4 that night and temporarily had all calls forward to it. The next day (December 31), we walking into an AT&T store and devised a plan that got her a new 4S and consolidated phone plans. She was going to just get a 3GS, but I told her friends don’t let friends buy soon-to-be-obsolete (unsupported) tech. I paid for the price differential, and told her to consider it a New Year’s or a Hanukah super 7 day “we don’t need no stink in’ new socks” gift. “Hell, toss in Winter solstice, Kwanza and Flying Spaghetti Monster day while we’re at it,” I told her. A few days after New Year’s, the old iPhone booted up just fine and wanted to know where its sim card was. We hadn’t the heart to tell it it had been retired. Not bad for a 4.5 year old phone.

The point? Well, I have found I get more “value” out of old electronics by handing them down and keeping them as backups. Something has to keel over before I toss it. and even then I might keep it for parts. I hand down my laptops, amps and other devices to my relatives that could use them. Currently, I am trying to find a way to afford a new MBP with a processor that I can’t peg for an hours at a CPU 12.x load (yes, I know I need more RAM). I wasn’t planning on upgrading this year, but my girlfriend’s HP netbook is a flaming pile of slow, buggy and intrusive crap that I keep offering to overhaul. She practically broke out into loud obscenities at the library a few days back when she thought it crashed. It eventually force quit a program, and she lost a few paragraphs of a missive she was working on. Meanwhile, I sat across from her and stared at my CPU’s load hoping it could finish the large audio processing job I gave it before the meter ran out and we had to move the car to avoid a parking ticket.

Incidentally, library WiFi kicks much ass in my experience. At my local library, I had a 1MB/s upload speed and a 200KB/s download speed. Weird, but whatever. I am going there anytime I need to upload a few dozen gigs from now on. Screw fighting for low latency to play an OLRPG at Starbuck’s! “Damn YouTube Hipsters! Soaking up all the bandwidth!” is the new “Hey you kids, get off my digital lawn!” war cry for me. Now If you’ll excuse me I think I see a high gain antenna sticking out of a car crawling by my place… “Slackers!” {ref: Back to the Future 2} It’s not easy living in the future and commuting to the past. ;) Until next rant, may all your bits be in parity.

The third generation iPad was unveiled today, and being the semi-anonymous person I am, I did not get an invite. So I did the next best thing: I followed the event on Ars Technica. I was going to follow on other outlets as well but their coverage was spotty.

Aside from the conspicuous absence of a number, most of the specs of the new mobile computer have been tweeted and blogged like crazy. So by now, you know the third iPad’s specs, 9–10 hour battery life, a Retina display, A5X dual-core CPU and quad-core graphics, 5MP camera with 1080HD video, AirPlay video streaming to Apple TV (3rd generation) at up to 1080p, and—most important to investors and pundits—4G LTE. Oh, and what no one mentioned: BlueTooth 4.0 whose inclusion is probably more important than faster internet over the communications carriers networks. But let’s look at what it doesn’t have? Thunderbolt, any new interfaces such as an SDXC slot, and a lack any new accessibility features for my friends that do not have full mobility. As some of you know, I have been trying for months to find supported devices for non-physical for Siri activation.

But does the lack of any of these things matter? Not to most people, and certainly not to investors. Immediately after the event, the Apple Store was mostly unreachable for at least an hour unless you got lucky. Most people I talked to that pre-ordered one after the event had to try at least 4 times before being able to place their order. I have a few people asking me about it as well. The question is not “Should I get one?” but “which model should I get?” Before diving into that, let’s look at what was said try to use that to forecast Apple’s future a bit.

Apple will probably continue the trend of taking last year’s iOS models and discounting the price on the base model and offering that for budget customers from now on as with the 3GS and iPhone 4. That will address their lack of product offerings and price complaints that many pundits use to ding Apple. Apple still thinks 16GB is a good entry point, unfortunately. Interconnectivity is now embedded in their DNA: all the new features emphasize wireless sharing between your other iOS devices, Macs or PCs. Apple realizes that they have to synchronize their iOS and OS X offerings by migrating applications and features between the two, but still change the UI to match the use context paradigm. Finally, Apple is not about to rest on its laurels. Android is racing to catch up, and Windows 8 is just around the corner. It will use the same strategy that revived the Mac business: build on standards, continue to vertically integrate an expanded their lineup of interconnected devices, innovate and not compromise quality for the sake of market share. Also, most importantly, not be afraid to cannibalize their own market share. So, that should put to rest the constant low-price Mac or iPhone rumors. Next year’s low cost iOS device is last year’s ground breaking device. Remember that if you can’t afford this year’s hot iOS offering and can wait a year.

If you cannot wait, read on. To decide what model to get, you can do what I do: take your current needs, add 20%-30% head room for 3+ years growth and go from there. To assess your current needs, take your most demanding use of your computers: audio/video creation, large movie or audio libraries, etc. and figure out how much storage you use and how fast it is growing. Unfortunately, my laptop drive is packed with full bit-rate audio ripped from my CD collection, so it made more sense to join iTunes Match than to buy a 64GB model. (For the $100 difference* I can pay for 4 years of iTunes match and have all my ~140GB of music in reach.) However, since I discovered AppAdvice.coms AppsGoneFree, my application footprint on my iPhone has gone from 2–3GBs to just over 10GB in about 6 months. So, it looks like the 32GB model will be my buy-in point. However if it wasn’t for the apps,  there are now WiFi friendly portable Hard drives that can add additional video or audio storage as long as you have a WiFi connection. (Coincidentally, the WiFi Drive nullifies the need for any storage expansion slots.)

Speaking of networking, let’s look at 4G LTE and AT&T vs. Verizon. I am not a cheapskate (or else I would probably only be using the triple-boot PC I built myself 5 years ago), but I am frugal. I realize that if I buy into a carrier by chosing either the Verizon or the AT&T model, they have the leverage and can hike prices leaving me with no recourse. So I will forego the 4G LTE models entirely, get the WiFi only model and then purchase a hotspot so I can use all my iDevices and my laptop anywhere there is coverage. T-Mobile offers a no contract month-to-month 5GB/$50 hotspot plan, but I have not checked how their coverage is in my region nor their data rate and latency. But that’s what suits me.

If you want simplicity, have a small media collection and will probably not download a ton of apps—even if they are free—then you might be better served with a less expensive model. If you are just using your computer for email, web browsing, music and video streaming at home and have no interest in content creation, faster 3D games, full 1080p streaming to your TV via a third generation AppleTV, or a higher resolution display, then an iPad2 might suit you until you discover other uses. $400 for an entry-level—yet still snappy—iPad2 is fine. It’s still a good machine.

Also, I realize I am biased when it comes to iOS/OS X. I have been using Macs since the 128K Macintosh. My loyalty is not to Apple, but the most reliable and time-efficient platform. In every company I have worked for I noticed the Windows machines required around thrice the support resources, no matter how responsive and proactive the IT department. If you are a true gearhead like some of my friends, want to be able to hack freely and can solve technical glitches yourself, then stick with Android and Linux. I hear that the new Android 4.0 ICS is pretty good. But if you want to save money in the long run, the upfront costs are the least of your considerations. That’s why I recommend iPads to first time tablet buyers.