Wednesday, January 16, 2008

MacBook Air: How Incomplete is It?

The list of features missing from Apple's wafer-thin laptop is almost as long as the list of what it's got.

Steve Jobs is, among many other things, the great denier. Second mouse buttons, floppy drives, 56-kbps modems--for decades, he's been perfectly willing to release producrs that lack one or more features that are standard equipment on everyone else's computers if he thinks they're unnecessary or offend his design principles or aesthetic sense.

Usually, the news that a new Mac is missing a feature is met by yelps of protest. But then, sooner or later, the rest of the industry follows his lead. (Okay, usually--I haven't seen any one-button mouses on PCs lately.) Jobs, in other words, tends to figure out that we can live without something before the rest of the world does.

I'm not sure if he's ever denied Apple customers as many features as he will with the MacBook Air, the super-thin notebook that he unveiled at this morning's Macworld Expo keynote. In introducing the Air, Jobs said that manufacturers of other thin-and-light laptops made too many compromises to make their machines sleek, like using small keyboards and screens and wimpy CPUs. But nobody else in the industry would dream of making some of the compromises that the Air makes.

So what's missing? And how big a deal is it?

An optical drive
Mildly annoying omission

This is the one thing everybody assumed the Air would leave out, although I was holding out hope that Apple would take its cue from Toshiba's optical-bearing featherweight Portege 500. There's a long history of subnotebooks skipping the optical drive to shave weight and space, so the Air doing so won't strike anyone as shocking. And Jobs is right that a lot of things people do with optical drives-such as watch movies and install software-can be done these days without one. (Apple's new Remote Disc feature will help in the latter instance.)

Me, I mostly use my MacBook's Superdrive for two things: ripping CDs into MP3s and making data CDs and DVDs to distribute files to friends and colleagues. I guess I could do the former on another computer and then move the MP3s to an Air-sorry, Steve, I'm not ready to buy all my music from iTunes. And cheap thumb drives can probably do most of the work of letting me hand out copies of files. Still, if I were to buy an Air, I suspect I'd spring for the $99 external Superdrive.

Seriously annoying omission

In the old days, no notebook had built-in Ethernet; you had to futz with external adapters. Then it became standard equipment. The fact that the Air lacks it makes the machine a throwback.

Jobs spoke of the Air being a machine built to be used wirelessly. But most of the hotels I stay in assume my computer has Ethernet. It's also damn handy at work. I can't imagine there are that many people who can spring for a $1799 Air who won't need Ethernet at least from time to time. Apple sells an external adapter, but If I traveled with an Air, I'd probably just toss my Airport Express travel router in my briefcase, giving me a form of Ethernet compatibility that doesn't actually make me plug an Ethernet cable into the Air.

Multiple USB ports
Mildly annoying omission

I'm not sure when I last owned a computer with only one USB port, but it's been a very, very long time. On the other hand, it's rare that I want to plug two USB devices into my MacBook at once, and at least one of the ones I use (a SanDisk MicroMate card reader) blocks access to both of the MacBooks ports when I use it anyhow. So I wouldn't not buy an Air because of its solo USB.

More AWOL Features

Significant omission for some folks

If you have scads of Firewire peripherals, or a DV camera that only does Firewire,, get ready to replace them if you make an Air your primary machine. If you don't, count yourself as lucky. I think Apple probably made the right decision when it removed Firewire from the Air...but then again, I speak as someone who doesn't own any Firewire-based accessories.

Big hard drives
Majorly annoying omission

I like the fact that Apple was clever enough to use a 1.8-inch hard drive to keep the Air trim, but it's only offering an 80GB configuration, and that's just not enough space if you have a lot of media and like to install lots of applications, or want to install Windows for use with Boot Camp or Parallels or VMWare Fusion. There's a 160GB iPod Classic; I'm not sure why the drives inside those aren't being used in Airs, too.

Large RAM capacity
Not really annoying at all, at least to me

The Air has 2GB of RAM standard. And for most of us, that's enough. So I'm not traumatized by the fact there's no way to increase its capacity.

Removable battery
Potentially crippling omission

If Steve Jobs ran the world, there'd apparently be no such thing as a battery you could remove-or at least that's what you might suspect given that the Air is joining all iPods and the iPhone as Apple Products That Don't Have Batteries You Can Take Out.

For many people, I think, that'll be a deal breaker. If the Air really gets five hours on a charge, it helps--that's enough for a cross-country flight. But I've bought a second battery for most of the notebooks I've ever owned, and used it from time to time. And I'd worry about the Air's battery losing its charge over time and wanting to be replaced, and that being a hassle. (Big question: Will Apple Stores be able to do battery swaps quickly, on site?)

(And random related thought: If all airlines did what Virgin America for one has done and put power jacks at every seat, would that make most of us a lot less obssessive about needing to be able to remove a laptop's battery?)

I love small, light notebooks. I admire great industrial design and clever engineering. And I've carried Mac portables as my primary notebooks for about four years now. So in theory, I should be a candidate to become a MacBook Air owner.

Would I buy one for myself, based on what we know about the machine?

No-for two main reasons. Reason one is the hard drive. Eighty gigs is just too small; it would severely limit my ability to enjoy using the Air. If Apple announces a 160GB Air, that concern would disappear instantly. But reason two is the fixed battery, and I doubt we'll see an Air anytime soon that lets you remove the battery.

But I'll sure be watching this machine closely. I can't quite tell whether it's likely to be an influential hit or a Cube-like dead end...but it'll be fun to find out.,141407-c,thinandlightnotebooks/article.html

MacBook Air Versus PC Ultraportable Laptops

The MacBook Air is a stunner, no doubt, but it's going to be up against stiff challenges from PC notebook makers. Here are a few of the top ones.

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The Ultraportable Challengers

The MacBook Air is Apple's first foray into a crowded ultraportable market that has seen its share of very light, very capable products from companies including Sony, Lenovo, and Fujitsu, among others. Here's a fast look at how they stack up.

Toshiba Slashes HD DVD Prices

With only two major studios left in the HD DVD camp, Toshiba is slashing prices on its players and ramping up its marketing.

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - More than a week after being dealt a potentially mortal blow by the defection of Warner Home Video to the Blu-ray Disc camp, HD DVD developer Toshiba is striking back.

The company, left with just two major studios supporting its vision of next-generation technology, said Monday that it is stepping up its marketing campaign to boost the HD DVD format.

But with the centerpiece of this campaign consisting of across-the-board player price cuts -- prices for the two cheapest players are being halved, to $150 and $200 -- observers wonder if Toshiba isn't merely engaging in a fire sale, blowing out its HD DVD machines and pitching them to consumers as a way to get their existing DVD libraries to look better. (Read PC World Senior Products Editor Melissa Perenson's blog for another opinion.)

Furthering these sentiments are Toshiba's stated goal to spotlight not just the superior benefits of HD DVD but also "the benefits HD DVD brings to a consumer's current DVD library by upconverting standard DVDs via the HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) output to near-high-definition picture quality."

"It seems like a smart strategy to note that there's value in an HD DVD player even though there is a reduced amount of content available for it," said analyst Tom Adams, president of Adams Media Research. "That's smart both for existing buyers, with whom they have a potential problem, and for purposes of continuing to sell players, where for $150 it's a heck of a DVD player."

Toshiba is slashing the suggested retail price of its entry-level HD-A3 player from $299.99 to $149.99. (This is the same player that was widely available at Wal-Mart and other discount chains just before the holidays for less than $100.)

The midrange HD-A30, with true HD (1080p) output, now retails for $199.99, down from $399.99. And the high-end HD-A35 goes from $499.99 to $299.99.

Yoshi Uchiyama, group VP at Toshiba's digital A/V group, said the company is aiming for the mass market, which he feels is put off by the higher prices for Blu-ray Disc machines ($300 and up).

"While price is one of the consideration elements for the early adopter, it is a deal-breaker for the mainstream consumer," Uchiyama said. "Consumer sales this holiday season have proven that consumer awareness of the HD DVD format has been elevated, and pricing is the most critical determinant in consumer purchase decisions of the next-generation HD DVD technology."

Toshiba also plans an extended advertising campaign involving television, print and online media channels. Also in the works are joint marketing and promotional initiatives with retailers and studios. One such initiative already in play is "The Perfect HD Offer," in which consumers who buy any Toshiba HD DVD player get five free HD DVD movies from a selection of 15.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

Copyright 2007 Reuters. Click for Restrictions.,141374-c,dvdtechnology/article.html#

Sony KDL-40D3500 Review

Sony KDL-40D3000

40in LCD
Peerless HD performance tempered by slightly disappointing SD pictures.
HD Ready: yes
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Rating: 89%

Reviewed: 16 January 2007


The KDL-40D3500 is the embodiment of Sony's design philosophy with a chic matte black understated presence that simply oozes class. Build quality is back to its very best with the Sony looking like it could have been sculpted from a solid block of metal.


A change in model number from 3000 to 3500 would suggest that the KDL-40D3500 represented a relatively minor upgrade from its predecessor the KDL-40D3000. However, the changes in specification are more wide ranging than you would imagine.

Screen: 40in 16:9
Sound System: Nicam
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Contrast Ratio: 1800:1 (16,000 dynamic)
Brightness: 450cd/m2
Other Features: Bravia Picture Processing Engine, Live Colour Creation, 24p True Cinema.
Sockets: 2 HDMI, 2 SCART, Component Video, Composite Video, PC input.

To begin with, the 40D3500 gains a Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution which can potentially give a marked improvement in the display of sources such as Sky Tv (1080i). The 1080 lines of resolution match the resolution of the screen negating the need for any picture scaling to fit. If you have a device which outputs pictures in the superior 1080p (e.g. Sony's PlayStation 3) the 3500 can accept those pictures in their full glory.

'Motionflow +100Hz' technology (featured on the 40D3000) which doubles the number of frames shown from 50 to 100 by interpolating an extra frame in between each source frame does not feature on the 40D3500.

With 2 HDMI inputs, the 3500 has one less than the 3000 model. Otherwise, the specification of both screens are largely similar.

The Sony 40D3500 is equipped with '24p True Cinema' which enables the panel to display films at their intended 24fps (frames per second).

Alongside 24p True Cinema is Sony's 'Theatre Mode' technology which adjusts colour, contrast and brightness settings to makes movies look as authentic as the original.

It is worth mentioning that the 24p mode comes into its own with High Definition (Blu-ray or HD DVD) players which allow you to play movies at their original speed. The original 'cine' film is generally recorded at 24 frames per second, which in the absence of '24p True Cinema' is speeded up to 25 (standard for most TV's) frames per second with an accompanying increase in audio pitch.

Colour reproduction on the KDL40D3500 should offer smoother transitions than previous Sony LCD's with a new 10-bit panel offering 1024 shades of gradation.

Theatre Sync, which is Sony's name for CEC (Consumer Electronic Control), is a control standard that functions over HDMI 1.3. The technology facilitates one-touch control over compatible devices and in practice means that if you fire up your compatible DVD player, the all connected devices such as your LCD TV will also spring into life.

Sonically, the KDL-40D3500 comes equipped with Sony's S-Force Front Surround which is their latest virtual surround sound technology.


Although specification has changed considerably between the 3500 and 3000 models, performance comparisons reveal a not so dramatically differing performance.

As with the previous model, High Definition (HD) is where the Sony KDL-40D3500 excels. Hook up a 1080p capable source however, and you have even more pristine pictures. The KDL-40D3500 displays a clarity and sharpness that make you want to reach out and touch objects or people as they glide across the screen. Colours are wonderfully vibrant and reach a level of authentic realism to match any LCD.

Although black levels are still behind the best that plasma can offer, the KDL-40D3500 has made great strides in this area from previous Sony's. Shadow detailing now takes on a subtlety which is a match for any 40in LCD currently out there.

Again, Standard Definition (SD) performance suffers to a degree from some of the inconsistencies that creep into a picture as a result of the conversion of a 576p source to an HD ready screen configuration.

The effectiveness of Sony's Motionflow +100Hz has always been open to question, and the fact that the 40D3500 does not seem to suffer too much from its departure suggests that this technology is not quite the complete article as yet. There was some evidence of a little more motion blur and shimmering than on the 3000, and the picture did appear to be very slightly 'grainy', but not to any great degree. The picture quality is still pretty good, but you'll have a hard time shifting down from HD because the picture is so outstanding in this respect.

Finally, if there is a 40in LCD TV out there with a richer or more precise colour palette, we have yet to see it. The range, depth and subtlety in this respect is simply outstanding. The most intricate of detailing such as skin tone is realised with class leading performance.


The Sony KDL-40D3500 is a highly accomplished performer when it comes to High Definition material. However, if SD viewing is just as important there are better performers out there.

Instant Boot-Up

A Silicon Valley startup bypasses Windows to start computers faster, getting people online in seconds.

Surfing in seconds: This screenshot is an example of what Splashtop users could see seconds after they turn on their computers. From here, they can choose to boot the original operating system, edit the settings for the software that initiates the operating system (the BIOS), or shut off the computer.
Credit: DeviceVM
See screenshots of how Splashtop works.

Many office workers have the same morning routine: turn on the computer, then grab coffee, catch up with coworkers, or look at paperwork while Windows boots up. Others save time, but waste energy, by keeping their machines on all the time.

Now Device VM, a startup based in Silicon Valley, has a product that circumvents the everlasting boot-up. The company has recently released a tiny piece of software that, when integrated with common computer hardware, gives users the option to boot either Windows or a faster, less-complex operating system called Splashtop. Depending on the hardware and Splashtop settings, a person using the software--which is based on the open-source operating system Linux--can start surfing the Web or watching a DVD in less than 20 seconds, and, in some cases, in less than five.

DeviceVM has formed partnerships with several hardware manufacturers, and Splashtop is already available on hardware from Asus, a manufacturer of motherboards, the main circuit boards inside computers. Within the next couple of months, desktops and laptops with Splashtop-enabled hardware will be available to consumers, says David Speiser, director of business development at DeviceVM.

Lengthy boot-ups on Windows machines occur for a number of reasons, explains Ben Chong, senior architect at DeviceVM. "First of all," he says, "Windows is pretty big." This means that it has megabytes of instructions to follow--from opening up applications to checking what's in memory. Most computers also come with extra software that Windows automatically loads at startup. "In many cases, Windows PC comes with a whole bunch of stuff you don't need," Chong says. "Starting all of the programs takes a lot of time." (Microsoft wasn't able to comment on Windows' startup times before this article went up.)

Hitting the power button on any computer loads software called the basic input-output system, or BIOS, which is often stored in flash memory. The BIOS checks for hardware drivers and sets up the operating system. Splashtop is embedded in the BIOS, so it starts before the operating system is up and running. The user sees a screen with a simple interface offering a handful of options, including launching the Firefox Web browser, a media player, Skype, or an instant-messaging program, or allowing Windows to boot. The applications are stored in a flash-memory chip on the motherboard, so they can be quickly accessed--even if the hard drive fails, Speiser notes.

DeviceVM is not alone in its effort to give people a way to bypass Windows. Phoenix Technologies, a company that develops BIOSes that run on many computers, recently announced a technology called HyperSpace, a lightweight operating system that launches at the same time Windows does. (DeviceVM is also developing a version of Splashtop that can boot alongside Windows.) HyperSpace is expected to be available in laptops in the second half of this year.

For its part, Intel is developing both hardware and software that will shorten boot times. "We see boot time as something in which there is room for improvement," says Steve Grobman, director of Intel's business-client architecture group. Intel is currently shipping Intel Turbo Memory, which boots Windows faster by caching data in flash memory instead of on the hard drive. It also consumes less power, which is a concern in mobile devices. Grobman says that Turbo Memory works in conjunction with software coming from Microsoft, called ReadyDrive and ReadyBoost.

Grobman adds that Splashtop also resembles the lightweight operating systems found on some mobile devices, which allow access to only a few applications at a time. "I think Splashtop's capability is the same concept, but it's making it a little bit more general purpose," since it works on desktop and laptop machines, Grobman says. "It's a positive development in that it's making the PC easier to use in certain circumstances."