The Absolute Best Accessory for Your Apple Laptop

usb1By Tony DePrato | Follow Me on LinkedIn

I am not one to recommend products. However, lately, I have come to realize that since Apple removed all the useful ports on their laptops, I am reliant on a single $2.00 piece of hardware: a USB C-Port Adapter. This little piece of plastic magic makes my workflow work.

This tool is a simple design at a modest price point, yet, it is often the solution that moves a project from idea to reality. I connect dozens of devices using this technology bridge in order to deliver curriculum, podcasts, 3D printed objects, etc.

The most remarkable quality this small island of magic possesses is that is constantly reminds me that we do not need solve problems via upgrades. We should be solving problems with technology and educational technology by tightening our workflows and being resourceful.

There seems to be a constant insistence that X is not fast enough, or Y is not dependable. I constantly hear people state that the equipment they have in 2019 cannot solve a 2001 problem. The issue is rarely the stuff, the issue is usually the workflow.

Try Something New with Something Old

Here is an exercise I would recommend everyone try on their campus. This can be done for fun, as club, or as some type of fun challenge.

Have departments, staff, students, and other community members submit some issues or problems that continue to linger in the classrooms (learning spaces). Appoint a small team to review the problems, and choose one.

Finally, put this problem out to those willing to compete for a solution with the following criteria:

  1. The total budget that can be used to solve the problem must be less than $10.00 (or equivalent)
  2. Solving the problem using used equipment, materials, recyclables, etc. earns teams extra points
  3. Using school owned equipment to plan and produce a solution is required; donations are not allowed

Professionally, I actually try to follow this process all the time. The items above are on a personal check-list. My goal is to model a solution using existing resources.

What if It Works?

Often real solutions arise that are functional, but below standard. That is not a bad thing. The school has empowered a community driven development cycle, and created a working prototype under the umbrella of healthy competition. There are no losers in this game, everyone learns, and everyone wins.

In fact, if a school can continue to improve the process, and raise the standard internally, the outcome would be a community built and maintained solution. Older students can keep the momentum going as long as school mentors and leaders provide regular oversight.

Small Solutions have Real Power

This small solution below, is actually very important to my workflow.

usb2

No one needs to build a Tesla to change the world for the better. It is important to develop a philosophy of empowering students and teachers to create small things that improve daily workflows, increase efficiency, and add comfort and entertainment to the campus.

Start small. Ask questions. Find a problem. Make a prototype. Change the world.

I’m getting a new computer!

Yep, it’s been nearly four years and it is time to make that all important purchase and boy has it been exciting. I haven’t decided yet (but I’m close) and I’d like to share the journey I’ve been on so far.

Right now

A this moment, I am writing on my current machine, a 2013 MacBook Air (not unlike the one pictured above). It’s awesome. I love this computer and it has been my favorite computer since I started buying computers back in 1994. I love the for factor, the weight, the variety of ports, the MagSafe adapter, the battery (holy crap it’s been great). About the only thing I could really wish for is a higher resolution. Even in 2013, this resolution was a little behind the times, so when the end of 2016 started to roll around, I started to look and what I thought would be a simple decision became a little more complicated than I thought.

What I need it to do

This is what I have been asking myself and what anyone who is in the market should ask themselves. You shouldn’t just buy a computer based on its brand, but how it fits into your workflow and your life. At the time my MacBook Air was a perfect fit. It had enough power to do what I needed it to do back in 2013 and in 2017. I needed a computer that could last and it has.

That’s a little vague, so here is a more specific list of requirements.

  1. Light image editing/creation – Basically it should be able to run Photoshop or another image editor like Affinity/Pixelmator.
  2. Light video editing – I enjoy making video tutorials for my students and staff. That’s basically a screen capture program and then basic editing (adding titles, transitions, annotation, music and voice overs).
  3. Blogging – Yeah, that goes without saying.
  4. Decent battery life – In this day and age, it should last more than 9 hours (based on company claims)
  5. Live writing – I teach math and being able to hook it up to a projector and do math problems is very helpful.
  6. Future safe – I didn’t say future proof. I need this thing to be like my Air and last at least four years. I would still be using my Air, but my wife needs a computer for much of the same thing and she is really looking forward to using this thing, so I get a new computer (thanks baby!)
  7. Light weight – I would like it to be around 3.5 pounds or less.
  8. Screen size – I would love for it to be a 13″ screen. Anything more becomes pretty bulky carrying it to and from school.
  9. Resolution – At least 1080p, but with a lot of screens going 4K out there that would be a bonus.

Budget

This of course is important. I’ve got around $1500 with which to work. I can stretch that a little but of course would love to pay less. This is why my decision was so difficult. I was hoping for an upgrade to the MacBook Air and just stick with what I know, but Apple screwed that up for me. Man, how could they be so inconsiderate to me? Tim Cook, I hope you’re reading this 🙂

You see Apple did not update the MacBook Air and only update the MacBook Pros and then gave them a substantial price hike. So I started looking across the pond at Microsoft. This is where my journey began.

Apple Options

My budget is the obvious limiting factor here. My MacBook Air is basically the same spec wise as the one Apple is peddling and they are doing everything they can to keep people from buying it. So this leaves the base model 13″ MacBook Pro ($1500) and the MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar ($1800).

I have a Wacom tablet so even though there is no touch screen I already have a solution, but it still feels like too much money for the same product and then there are the ports. I would need a new dongle in order to read my SD card, connect it to my classroom’s projector or even charge my iPhone. This makes my head hurt.

Windows options

I had a bunch but have narrowed it down considerably to four and they are good choices.

Dell XPS 13″

The price is right, the battery life is exceptional (more than 13 hours) and meets all my requirements. Again, the Wacom tablet I have would allow me to draw on it but Dell does offer a touch screen option that still falls under my $1500 budget. Oh yeah, the screen on this thing has almost no bezel and is re-donk-u-lous.

Lenovo Yoga 910

This is a 2-in–1 computer. Meaning the screen can rotate completely around to become a “tablet.” The screen is great, the hinge is great, the keyboard is OK and it’s a touch screen. It is hard to beat Lenovo’s quality, customer service and customization options. This “laptop” meets all my specifications and is right at my price point. It looks good too boot.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (with touchpad keyboard)

Then there is the Surface Pro 4. This is a very attractive option. The price point is under my budget (even with the keyboard) for what I want. It has a pen that works directly on the screen itself and is actually pretty nice to use. It is crazy light – less than two pounds and just as powerful as most 13″ laptops. The screen is great. It definitely ticks all my boxes (at least most of them). So what’s wrong? The battery isn’t that great and typing on the keyboard feels hollow since it is raised off the surface and I’ve heard it’s a little awkward to have on the lap.

Microsoft Surface Book

This is just like the Surface Pro, but the screen can detach and become a tablet or “Clipboard” as Microsoft calls it. It will have a dedicated GPU (at least the model I’m looking at). It also has a pen, and a dedicated keyboard which will make it much more comfortable on the lap. It’s crazy innovative with a solid battery  but it is definitely higher on the budget coming in around$1800. OUCH!

 

So which to choose? My decision is coming soon. Feel free to vote below.

My Summer with the Surface Pro 4

By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

I rarely do hardware or software reviews. Patrick Cauley, here at IT Babble, is much better at those. However, I did swap my Apple Macbook Retina for a Surface Pro 4 for the summer. After the use and abuse, I can make a firm recommendation for schools thinking about buying these in bulk: Don’t Do It.

I hate saying that. I actually love/d using this machine. It is flexible, and should be the answer to many issues found in the day-to-day life of teachers and students. The model I had, had 4 GB of memory, and 128 GB solid state drive. I also had the keyboard and pen.

Daily performance was great. I had adequate battery life. The speed was good. The pen was extremely useful for me during a two week course I completed. I added a trial of Acrobat Pro, and the combo was outstanding.

I traveled alot. The Surface is so light, you don’t even realise you have it. The hybrid format is awesome from reading portrait style on the Kindle App. In hotel rooms with “smart TVs”, the surface can wirelessly project itself and stream audio. In a classroom, this feature means no wires for doing presentations. Imagine an iPad that actually does something real without 10 apps working in concert.

The Surface used the thunderbolt display, the same as Apple, so my Apple accessories worked seamlessly.

I have an iPad, and I feel the Surface has the same touch responsiveness as the iPad.

So why cannot I not recommend it? After 8 weeks of daily use, the Surface broke. The screen cracked from the inside out. The damage was very strange, and the final cause was attributed to me laying a book on the back cover of the surface. Just a normal book, not a full sized Oxford dictionary. This was a standard item anyone would have on a desk, and possibly place on top of their laptop when packing-up their bag.

The front glass and frame are fairly durable. I know, I dropped it several times. The back, however, is literally a thin [EDIT]thin flexible material shell[EDIT] with nothing to absorb shock or weight. The pressure from the book, and possibly the two items being picked-up at the same time, cracked the screen.

In a school, laptops and devices need to be able to handle the wear and tear of life for at least three years, and unfortunately, I do not think the Surface Pro 4 can make the cut.

As a personal device, I would recommend it. I am tough on equipment due to my rugged life as a commuter in Shanghai. People with a normal transportation plan, and a life void of pushing and shoving, would probably keep a Surface healthy for many years.

EDIT: I used the word “plastic”, but the material is not plastic. However, it is flexible and lacking a decent buffer between the back and the screen.