How-To: Decode Apple’s Tech Specs pages before buying a new Mac (Part 1)

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Buying a Mac is designed to be easy. Apple has a handful of different models, each generally available in good, better, and best configurations. You’re supposed to start with the specific Mac model that fits your needs, pick a configuration that has the price and features you want, and walk away happy with your purchase. (Better yet, do your research online and save money after ordering from Amazon, or use the product guides off to the bottom right of this page.)

One thing Apple tends to downplay are tech specs — important numbers and acronyms that nonetheless confuse many people. Look carefully on Apple’s web site and you’ll find that there’s a Tech Specs page for every Mac Apple sells; they’re the keys to making an informed Mac purchase that will be right for your current and future needs. My latest How-To is here to walk you through each of Apple’s specs with clear explanations, so you can understand what you’re about to buy. This Part 1 discusses the “big 5″ Mac specs you need to know about, and Part 2 tackles the rest

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How-To: Rearrange and hide Apple TV channels to personalize and declutter your home screen

Apple TV home screen
As the current Apple TV continues to add countless new and sometimes unfamiliar channels to the home screen, the out-of-the-box experience grows increasingly complex for new and existing users. The Apple TV home screen consists of colorful rectangles that represent various content providers for serving up entertainment over the Internet to your television, but actually finding something to watch can prove difficult and intimidating for even a seasoned Apple TV owner. Many of the channels require authenticating an active cable or satellite subscription to unlock full access while others are interest-specific likes sports or culture.

Apple TV’s user interface is meant to simulate an iPhone or iPad home screen with apps being channels and the theme optimized for the living room, and you can customize the app arrangement on your Apple TV similarly to your other iOS devices. While you cannot explicitly delete channels from your Apple TV, you can rearrange or even hide all but the very top row of channels in a few short steps provided in this How-To guide. Read more

How-To: Transfer, edit, and share DSLR or point-and-shoot photos using your iPhone or iPad

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Apple’s iPhones became Flickr’s most popular camera phones in 2008 and most popular cameras overall soon thereafter, but even now, iPhones constitute only 9.6% of the photo-sharing site’s userbase. Despite the iPhone’s undeniable popularity, over 90% of photographers are using other cameras: Canon has a 13.4% share, Nikon 9.3%, Samsung 5.6%, and Sony 4.2%, with tons of other brands following close behind. While the cameras in phones continue to improve every year, they’re not the best tools for photography — they’re just the ones most people carry with them all the time.

If you shoot photos with a DSLR or point-and-shoot camera, you probably aren’t sending images directly to the Internet from the camera itself. You probably come back home, transfer your photos to your computer, then edit and share them with Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom or one of Apple’s three photo management apps — iPhoto, Aperture, or the beta version of Photos.

For around $30, your iPhone or iPad can change the way you shoot, edit, and share photos. Using the right accessories and apps, you can easily publish DSLR-quality photos a minute after snapping them. I’ve been doing this for years, and it works incredibly well; today, it’s actually better than at any time in the past, thanks to recent iPhone and iPad hardware improvements. This new How-To guide will walk you through everything you’ll need to know to use your iPhone or iPad as a photo editing and sharing station, looking at photo transferring accessories, editing software, and sharing options…

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How-To: Boost your Mac’s speed and prolong its useful life with easy RAM upgrades

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As I’ve spotlighted over the past month, the best way to dramatically speed up an older Mac is to replace its old hard drive with a new solid state drive (SSD). The process is super-easy on MacBooks and Mac Pros, surprisingly manageable on iMacs, and challenging on Mac minis, yielding 3X to 5X speed boosts. But there’s another option that can speed things up with relatively little effort or expertise: upgrading your Mac’s RAM.

RAM upgrades are easy and cheap. You can expect to pay $90 or less for enough (Mac-safe) RAM to run OS X Yosemite without hiccups, or $180 for enough RAM to guarantee you won’t need more for years. Installing RAM generally doesn’t void your Mac’s warranty, and except for several models, the only tool you’ll need is a small screwdriver. Below, I’ll walk you through your best options.

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iOS 8 How-to: Set up and Use Find My iPhone, iPad and iPod touch

Find My iPhone

Find My iPhone was first released in June 2010 initially for the iPhone. Now, Find My iPhone allows you to track the location of your device, be it an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, in case it gets lost or stolen. This is a great benefit because when you locate your device using Find My iPhone, the device makes noise until it is found and will show you were it is located using Apple Maps. Recently, the police used Find My iPhone to track and save a woman’s life. However, Find My iPhone did require the device to be turned on and connected to the internet in order for it to work completely. New with iOS 8, you have the option to automatically send the location of the device to Apple when the battery is critically low. In this how-to I will discuss how to set up Find My iPhone, and how to use Find My iPhone.

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How-To: Upgrade the SSD in your MacBook Air or Retina MacBook Pro, boosting size & speed

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Over the past two weeks, I’ve written about the (surprisingly easy) process of adding solid state drives (SSDs) to radically speed up older iMacs, and the varied challenge levels of adding SSDs to older Mac Pros, Mac minis, and non-Retina MacBooks. Today’s guide looks at the easiest SSD installations of all: the MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro. A new SSD in one of these machines could have two, four, eight, or sixteen times the original storage, plus two to four times faster speeds.

Apple shipped most MacBook Airs and all Retina MacBook Pros with solid state storage, so upgrading these machines for extra capacity and speed is generally as simple as picking a new drive, then using two special screwdrivers during the installation process. Assuming your MacBook is old enough to be out of warranty — except for a few specific models — you’ll find that pretty much anyone can handle this swap with the right tools. Below, I’m going to show those tools to you, as well as the MacBook-ready SSDs that are worth considering…

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How-To: Update your old MacBook, Mac mini, or Mac Pro hard drive with a fast SSD

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My Mac is now silent. After installing a solid state drive (SSD) with no moving parts, the drone of my iMac’s hard drive and fans has given way to such an absence of sound that I only hear the high-pitched squeal of my office lights.

My Mac is now fast. Even with 400GB of available space, OS X Yosemite’s constant hard drive accessing had brought my quad-core, 3.4GHz Core i7 machine to its knees. Now I’m seeing five times the hard drive speeds, apps are loading instantly, and my iMac feels as responsive as the MacBooks and iPads that beat it to the SSD game.

Last week, buoyed by (finally!) reasonable SSD prices and a desire to try a DIY project, I walked through the steps to replace a prior-generation iMac’s hard drive with an SSD. Similarly excited readers have pointed out that older MacBooks and certain other Macs are also easy to upgrade… but at least one Mac (surprise: the Mac mini) is not. So below, I’ll show you some great SSD options that you can install yourself, ask a tech-savvy friend/repair shop to handle for you, or choose as external solutions.

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How-To: Now’s the right time to swap your old iMac’s hard drive for a fast new SSD

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If you bought your iMac 3-5 years ago, there’s probably nothing so seriously wrong with the hardware that you need to consider replacing the machine. Sure, the new iMac with 5K Retina Display looks a little nicer, but at a steep $2,499 starting point, it’s still a luxury, not a necessity.

Yet there’s something you can do for $200 to $500 that will radically change your iMac’s performance: install a solid state drive (SSD) in addition to or instead of its original hard drive. SSDs use high-speed memory chips rather than the spinning platter mechanisms in traditional hard drives, achieving up to 5X benefits in speed while requiring no moving parts. Five years ago, SSDs were both expensive and limited in capacity, making them unlikely components for most Macs. Today, high-quality, capacious SSDs can be had for reasonable prices, and they’re surprisingly easy to install in iMacs. With limited expertise and only three tools, I swapped out my old hard drive for an SSD in roughly 30 minutes. Here’s how I did it, and – if you’re up for a quick do-it-yourself project – what I’d recommend for you.

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Yosemite & iOS 8 How-to: Set up and use AirDrop

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With Yosemite and iOS 8 you can use AirDrop to share files between your Mac and iOS devices. This is one of the features of Continuity, which further integrates and connects your Mac and iOS devices. Continuity also includes Handoff, Instant Hotspot, iPhone Cellular Calls and SMS Relay.

Initially AirDrop allowed you to share files between two Macs or between two iOS devices. Now, AirDrop allows you to share files and information between Mac and iOS devices. It is a device-to-device transfer that works even when the devices don’t have internet access, although Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have to be turned on. This includes sharing photos, videos, music, iWork documents, notes, contacts, links, directions and location data. Many third-party iOS apps like Dropbox, Runkeeper, eBay, Deliveries, and PDF Expert support AirDrop. Apple just added support to Logic to share files via AirDrop. When receiving a file, the recipient receives a notification, allowing them to download the file.

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Made any tech-related New Year’s resolutions? Here are a few suggested ones

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One week into the new year, and with that post-holiday diet we promised ourselves still hanging in there, I thought it might be interesting to suggest a few tech-related New Year’s resolutions you might like to consider.

Don’t worry, though – it’s not all work and no play. Me being me, I’ve found a way to make a solid case for the new year being the perfect time to treat yourself to a gadget or two …  Read more