Hello Mac. Oh, and good riddance, USB and 3.5mm connector 

Apple is expected to launch the next generation of Mac computers at the Oct. 27 event that lots of users were waiting. The PostPC era has clearly eroded the relevance of these machines, but users still need a PC or a laptop to perform their work on a daily basis.

It was about time, of course: users and critics were claiming for the renewal of several Mac computers, so the new models are expected to attract lots of interested buyers in the holiday season.

Apple will probably take advantage of new Intel’s Kaby Lake processors, and besides some gimmicks —we’ll see if that OLED row everyone is talking about in the new MacBook Pro is really worth it— there’s one thing that could stand out on these new machines: the lack of traditional USB ports.

Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C ports will reportedly be part of the new machines, which won’t have “normal” USB ports. There are rumors that seem to confirm too that the traditional 3.5mm jack will also dissapear on these designs, something that makes even more sense on those laptops after watching how the iPhone 7/Plus chaos wasn’t that chaotic at all for the ones that have bought those devices.

That will be an event to watch, for sure. Stay tuned.

The 3.5 mm unnecessary goodbye

I’m sure you’ve already heard that the new Moto Z has no headphone jack. The well-known 3.5-mm minijack has said goodbye in this device that detonated back the debate about that future in which both Lightning -for iPhone users- and USB-C -in other platforms- will be the ports we’ll connect our headphones to.

This is not a typical post from and old user protesting for a change that he did not ask. It’s an open letter to all who advocate change for the sake of change without the right reasons. Without assessing the consequences that this change will have.

It is true that some technologies must die. There are others that are just better and allow progress and improve upon them. It happened when Apple got rid of the floppy drive and even the optical drive, and when we stopped using the IDE interface to jump to a SATA interface that is now cornered by the M.2 standard on SSDs. And so is the case with a lot of technological goodbyes that make sense because as I say they bring many advantages and only one disadvantage: that the old thing no longer works with these formats or those standards. And if it works, it is through bulky and cumbersome adapters that one is forced to use during the stages of transition to ABetterEra ™.

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That’s not the case with the headphone jack because this standard had no fundamental problem. As explained in XDA Developers, when you connect your headset to a phone you do to get the sound through two components: the DAC/AMP couple. Audio crash course on mobile devices:

The Amplifier, AMP for short, simply amplifies the audio signals that are generated by the DAC or Digital Analog Converter. All music and sounds on your device are stored digitally (1’s and 0’s) and in order to hear them you need it to be converted to Analog which is where the DAC works its magic. From this point all the headphones need to do is carry the signal to the speakers and your ears, most have no need for converters or amplifiers in the headphones themselves.

No mystery here. Our phones (and any other device with a headphone jack, such as our laptops or PCs) have their DAC and AMP, and this is where some phone makers invest more (HTC 10 LG V10) and other less (almost all the rest), with specialized DACs/AMPs that give more power and sound quality and act in the same way camera sensors act in our phones. There are decent ones and there are good ones. If you want great pictures with your phone forget about decent sensors, because you will get pictures that will simply look … decent (surprise).

Saying goodbye to the headphone jack will cause the AMP/DAC couple to be no longer part of the smartphone, but part of the headphones themselves, which will integrate the electronic and will theoretically perform better than many current devices. They will at least if you pay the (higher) price of these USB-C or Lightning headphones with good quality DACs and AMPs. True, you can reuse these headphones with any mobile device and get the same quality audio from all of them (the device will only store zeros and ones), but I doubt that the price reduction on the smartphones -if any- will be in the same range that the price rise we’ll see on those future headphones.

The funny thing is that the idea to remove the 3.5 mm jack isn’t that new, and in fact there are products such as the AudioQuest Dragonly Black that allow to get a specialized DAC/AMP for your (mobile) device easily and with a fair price ($99 on Amazon) Apparently this little module makes your phone sound a lot better -forget about the HTC 10- and you can combine it with whatever device (laptop, phone, tablet, whatever) and headphones you like.

Who are this good news for? I’d say these are good news for handset and headphones manufacturers, which will follow this new trend madly. This will allow them to sell better, more expensive sound with a better connector thanks to ANewEra ™ of acoustic sensations.

That’s a big lie.

You could get the same performance with a good DAC / AMP in your current device. Manufacturers simply want to take away that option from production costs in their smartphones and increase that costs (exponentially) in future USB-C and Lightning headphones. Which believe me, will be considerably more expensive both on the hign and the low-end for. This will mean that you’ll pay pretty more for the same sound you already get on your smartphone with some decent headphones like the astonishing Xiaomi Piston 3 ($19.99 on Amazon) that I’m enjoying wight now.

I totally agree with certain technological farewells. Saying goodbye to standards and specifications that are obsolete and have newer, better alternatives is perfectly valid.

This is not one of those cases.

The new MacBook is a new test to our patience

Apple has just announced the new MacBook (2016), a refresh that comes short of what we were expecting in almost everyway. The design is unchanged except for the new rose gold color option, and on the inside we’ve got some shy improvements.

Yes, there is new Core m3, m5 and m7 processors with new integrated GPU (25% faster according to Apple’s data), a somewhat faster memory and PCIe flash storage and one hour of extra battery life.

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These are nice but expected improvements, but what was most expected was the changes to its design: one unique USB-C port. Again. Doubling this would allow us to connect more than one device at a time without further peripherals or even give us access to Thunderbolt 3 devices. That’s extremely weird considering that Apple was a bit supporter of this technology back in the day. This move from Apple only serves to give more credit to the new HP Spectre.

Dissapointing. What’s the reason behind this stingy upgrade? Does Apple want us to buy the iPad Pro instead? Or is a new superpowered Retina MacBook Air (I’m dreaming now) coming at WWDC?

We’ll have to be patient.

Again.

I want to be able to play in my laptop

I don’t play videogames as much as I used to, but that doesn’t mean that from time to time I don’t want to play them.

Unfortunately that’s the usual situation in my case: I’ve got a Dell XPS 13 (9343). A great machine for almost everything, but not for gaming. No laptop is suitable for this, in fact. Convertibles, Ultrabooks and even more resourceful notebooks can’t cope with really demanding games, and in this cases if you don’t have a good discrete GPU you’ll suffer a mediocre experience.

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So if you want to really enjoy the gaming experience in a PC, you’re out of luck: you must have a desktop computer with a great discrete GPU, because even gaming laptops are not meant to enjoy the same visual detail and frame rates that a full desktop PC can.

We had a pretty inspiring view at the future of this market last CES in Las Vegas. Razer launched there its Razer Core external GPU enclosure, and the smart use of Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C connector allowed its new Ultrabook -the Racer Stealth- to become a chamaleonic machine: one that could work as a conventional ultrathin laptop but also as a full-fledged gaming PC when needed.

The idea seems to have inspired AMD as well: one of their marketing directors, Robert Hallock, mentioned a few days ago how this kind of solution could be the future for many users:

Gaming notebooks are great for gaming, but nobody in their right mind wants to carry one all the time. Ultrathin notebooks are awesome to carry, but nobody in their right mind would confuse one for a gaming notebook.
But there’s still a HUGE appetite for thin notebooks that can game.

External GPUs are the answer. External GPUs with standardized connectors, cables, drivers, plug’n’play, OS support, etc.

AMD is bound to try to democratize these kind of solutions, but once again hurdles will have to be avoided. Will AMD adopt Thunderbolt 3, a standard created by its arch rival? Will it work with NVIDIA in order to set a really universal standard? Will prices make us think this is a better solution than a full gaming PC?

I hope their answer is the right one. We’ll probably have more information in the next few days: GDC 2016 starts March 14th, and I’m pretty sure AMD will talk about this on that event. The PostPC era could open a new chapter after all.

Oh, and don’t forget: this systems will allow us to enjoy virtual reality experiences in laptops, something not possible (in almost all cases) nowadays according to requirements published by Oculus and HTC.

That’s what I would call an interesting turn of events for the demise of the desktop PC.

Update (10/03/2016): AMD XConnect has just been announced with the collaboration of Razer and the Intel Thunderbolt group. Promising. Very.

This is what we expect from the Samsung Galaxy S7

Expectations are dangerous. They indeed were before Galaxy S6 launch a year ago, because we had been talking for months about the company’s Project Zero and its ambitious plan to reveal devices that really pushed the boundaries that previous models had reach.

Those expectations are again really high this year. Next February 21st we’ll know finally what Samsung is planning to maintain the high-end throne in the Android market. According to several leaks and rumors, Samsung will be present at the Mobile World Congress to launch two new smartphones: the Galaxy S7 and the Galaxy S7 Edge, which will be based in Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

This will be, according to famous @evleaks the final design of the new Samsung Galaxy S7 / Edge / Edge+.

Both of them will maintain the QHD (1440p) 5.1-inch display we saw on last year models, but the S7 Edge will feature a curved display. Those curves will be present too (and more pronounced according to recent leaked renders and images) on the edges. There have been some suggestions about it being IP68 certified -a feature that was available on the S5 generation- but that feature hasn’t been so appealing since Sony itself had problems managing expectations on this area. It looks like Samsung could surprise us with a rival to Apple’s Force Touch technology -maybe with a license to use Synaptic’s ClearForce– on those devices as well, but the fact that Google must support this throughout Android makes that feature difficult and risky to implement right now.

One of the biggest changes we’ll see comes from S7’s camera. According to several leakers, Samsung will take advantage of a BRITECELL 12 megapixels sensor with an impressive f/1.7 aperture. The new sensor promises better pictures on low light conditions, and we really hope it can at least match what Samsung did on the S6/Edge and their 16 megapixels sensors. The integration of the new sensor will have another collateral effect: the hump will go from 1.7mm (S6) to 0.8mm according to latest sources.

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There will be also variants in the processor area: the devices will be offered with both the Exynos 8890 and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 depending on the region, and will be accompanied by 4GB of RAM. The battery could see a little bump and reach a capacity of 3,000 mAh and could also be specially efficient according to Eldar Murtazin, who published a screenshot showing two days of battery life on a Galaxy S7. By the way: a USB-C port will be used for the first time on the Galaxy S family of smartphones, according to The Wall Street Journal, but we’ll have to wait for the confirmation to get more info on what’s behind this port (USB 3.0 Gen 1, maybe Gen 2?).

There will be good news for lots of users who complained last year about some features missing from the S5. Besides the chance to see a dust and waterproof smartphone, the most important will be the comeback of the microSD slot, which will allow users to expand storage with up to 200GB.

This are devices that again generate great expectations: we’ll see if they can live up to the hype.

 

 

OnePlus, Apple, cables and book covers

These days there have been reports on two sides of the same product: cables and power adapters, often dismissed by users, are more important that it may seem.

On one end we’ve got OnePlus, who has been victim of a detailed analysis by a Google Engineer. He found that this maker should be using 56kΩ resistors on their OnePlus 2 power adapter, but instead they’re using 10kΩ resistors.

As Ars Technica explains, these adapters are suitable for OnePlus smartphones, for sure, but you shouldn’t use it on other USB-C connector devices such as the Nexus 5X/6P or the Chromebook Pixel.

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Apple charger (left) vs imitation charger (right)

And then we’ve got another detailed analysis, this time exploring the inside of a MacBook Power Adapter. The result, as the text itself, is surprising, and the expert reviewing it calls it “an impressive piece of engineering

We usually criticize Apple and other makers for selling us expensive cables. Sometimes we can be right, sure, but others it seems quite clear that an expensive cable or power adapter has a reason to be that expensive.

Not in the case of HDMI cables, by the way. Don’t buy expensive ones.

9 reasons why the new iMacs are a disappointment

Yesterday Apple renewed their iMacs and peripherals with the traditional fanfare. The company masters product placement and their media coverage is astounding. In fact, most media seems to just believe the exact same message Apple sends on their press releases, and it’s difficult to find proper insight that goes beyond what Apple wants us to talk about.

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Prepare your wallet. This will hurt.

That’s what we’re here, of course. Since The Unshut is about talk freely and openly about all kind of things tech related, let’s talk about what Apple didn’t say on this particular occasion. The announcement speaks about stunning new Retina displays: we’ve got now a 4K 21.5” option on the smaller iMac, and the Retina 5K display is present on all the 27” iMacs. The new machines come with new peripherals too: the Magic Keyboard (as The Verge notes, the keyboard is magic now: it was just wireless before) , Magic Mouse 2 and Magic Trackpad 2 are also a matter of debate.

Here are 9 reasons why the new iMacs and their new peripherals are a (big?) disappointment.

  1. No Target Display Mode: you won’t be able to use the new Retina Displays to connect your console, a MacBook or Windows laptop, or a tablet, for that matter.
  2. Broadwell on the 21.5 inches iMac: Apple has decided to use the old Broadwell family of processors, and for a good reason: they’re integrating the latest SocS from this 5th generation because they include Iris Pro integrated graphics. That’s reasonable now that there is a 4K display with many pixels to move arround, but there are absences as well: no discrete graphics option on the 21.5 inches models. I could talk about memory too: no DDR4 support even on the new, Skylake 27” models. That’s not very important (benefits aren’t that amazing), but we’ve got again big costs for memory upgrades: $200 for each additional 8 GBs, when you could by for example a nice set of 16 GB (2x8GB) Crucial Ballistix Sport for $75 at Amazon.
  3. Hard drives. 5400 RPM: In 2015? Seriously? With products that cost a minimum of $1,100? This is even harder to believe on the 27 inches models, that start with 1TB hard drives (7200 RPM, miraculous) for $1,799. You’ve got to be kidding me.
  4. Fusion Drive with 24 GB of Flash: hybrid storage devices from Apple combine traditional hard drives with Flash memory, but on the 1TB base model you will have only 24 GB of Flash, when previous models had 128 GB (on 2TB and 3TB versions the drives actually include 128GB of Flash storage, you’ll have to pay $100 for each additional TB).
  5. Magic Keyboard isn’t magic: no backlightning, no numeric keypad. This is a desktop keyboard, why is Apple so obsessive with getting a keyboard as small as possible? The rechargeable battery is nice, even though you’ll have to use wires from time to time. $99 dollars for this, a non-mechanical keyboard, seems overpriced to me.
  6. Magic price for the Magic TrackPad 2: this is a good peripheral with a good feature -Force Touch is a more than welcome addition- but the price ($129) isn’t right again. Logitech T650 (true, no Force Touch there) is $40 at Amazon.
  7. Not much magic on the Magic Mouse 2 either: the big change here is the rechargeable battery and the Lightning port. That’s it. No Force touch (would have been nice), and that super flat design. Again, not very affordable at $79.
  8. No Thunderbolt 3, no USB-C: Apple continues to support Lightning above all the alternatives -not on the MacBook though, wonder why- and doesn’t take advantage of the new Thunderbolt 3 spec with the USB-C ports. I wonder if this is a limitation of the new motherboards in the iMacs.
  9. No Thunderbolt Displays: there was no news for Mac Pro -two years now without a big refresh- but the thing is even worse when Thunderbolt Displays are now 4 years old. It’s ironic: we’ve got 27 inch 5K Retina displays, but we haven’t got that on an independent display. I’d love to check that screens. 5K seems to me a bigger deal (1440p on perfect scale) than current 4K/UHD offers.

I don’t know about you, but for me the new iMacs are pretty much a fraud. I would only consider them if I really would take advantage of the new, promising screens and that gorgeous resolution. No gaming here (even on the $2,549 27 inch model with a Radeon M395X), the only real reason to upgrade is… none.

This is an adaptation of the original post, in Spanish, at Incognitosis.