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Product Review: Seagate Slim Mac portable drive

It’s been a long time since I’ve had the pleasure of being introduced to a consumer device that was 100% brain dead easy to use. This review is on the Seagate Slim Mac 500GB USB 3.0 portable external hard drive and is intended to compliment existing reviews that go into all the technical details. This drive is extremely portable in the sense that it’s just a little bit smaller length-wise than a typical smartphone and about the same thickness.

Full disclosure: I have not received anything from Seagate for this endorsement. Which is too bad actually because I really like the Slim Mac so far.

Testing machine specs. I tested it on Mid 2012 Macbook Pro Retina running OS X 10.8.5 and the factory SSD.

  • 2.6 GHz i7
  • 16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3
  • 512 GB SSD

Type of drive. It’s a hard drive not a solid state drive (SSD). So it has a spinning disk inside and those are inherently slower than SSDs although they are also less expensive for now. Just glancing around I didn’t see any read/write performance specs on the drive. So, maybe my real-world tests below will give some indication of what it’s really capable of as compared to the theoretical performance of USB 3.

Why only 500GB? On a dollar-per-gigabyte scale it is typically more economical to by a 1-terabyte drive. However, I chose a smaller capacity drive for two reasons. First, I wanted something very portable and light. Slim Mac meets that criterion hands down. Second, I plan to only use it for emergencies like when I accidentally loose a file or my main hard drive completely fails so I don’t really need a full terabyte.

First time usage was like a dream. Here’s how easy it was to use this device.

  1. Plugged the device into my Mac.
  2. Instantly I got the Time Machine window.
  3. I selected the Seagate Drive as my target
  4. I selected the option to start backing up.

Elapsed time to complete those four steps was around 15 – 20 seconds.  Yep, you heard that right.

Actual Time Machine Performance. Important note: your mileage may vary (YMMV) in that every machine will back up differently. My initial full backup size was 41 Gigabytes. In an unscientific eyeballing, it took roughly 35 minutes for this to complete. But I figured since it was a real life backup scenario that the numbers would be fairly reflective of what others could expect on a similar machine. As far as I could tell there was no compression on the disk as the physical size of the back on disk was 40.71 GB. This works out to 1.17 Gigabytes per minute. More on this speed below.

Copy-and-Paste Performance. For comparison, I took an application directory that was 3.61 GB and 25,195 files then copied that from my Mac to the Seagate. I ran the test twice and disconnected the USB cable in between tests. This took approximately 47 seconds both times.  That works out to about 0.0768 Gigabytes/sec, or roughly 4.608 Gigabytes per minute, which is nowhere near the USB 3 spec but probably realistic for most real-world copy-paste usage scenarios that you might run into. Without getting too much into the details, read and write speeds vary by the number, physical size and types of files being copied such as images versus executables versus text files.

Packaging.  Cardboard box with an easy to open plastic clamshell inside that held the drive and the USB cable. I simply cut the security seal and had the drive in my hand in about 15 seconds. There was no futzing around to get it out of the clamshell. For some unknown reason, some small portable drives come in what appears to be ballistic plastic that would survive a full-on zombie assault during World War Z. Not this drive, it was well packaged and a breeze to remove.

Casing and smudges. The top of the drive appears to be brushed aluminum and the bottom portion is encased in black plastic. I tried to smudge it up with peanut butter laden fingers which I had from eating my lunch. But the peanut butter wiped right off and the aluminum hid the smudges fairly well. I even tried to scratch it up with my finger nail and wasn’t able to make any permanent marks.

Size and Weight. It fits nicely in the palm of your hand. Dimensions are 0.38 inches thick which is about as tall as a AAA battery. It’s 2.99 inches wide and 4.47 inches long. So, it’s just a little bit longer than 2 AAA batteries stack end-to-end. It weighs a tiny 5.28 ounces, or a little over one quarter can of beer (or soda!). It’s roughly the same width and thickness of my Android Nexus 4, and about 3/4 of an inch shorter. So, if you like packing ultra-light this drive shouldn’t be a problem.

Seagate Slim Mac

Interface. SuperSpeed USB 3.0 spec’d at a “theoretical” 5 Gigabits/sec (not Gigabyte!) and is USB 2.0 compatible at a reduced speed.

  • 5 Gigabits/sec = 0.5821 Gigabytes/sec
  • 34.926 Gigabytes per minute

Okay, now that that’s out of the way you will probably never see these speeds when backing up your data or copying and pasting in real life so don’t get too excited. Real life usage will be much less due to data transmission overhead, USB cable issues, USB hardware, computer bus, hard drive and/or operating system. Different laptops will see different speeds. I also read there have been complaints that USB 3 drives often experience USB 2 speeds. Like I said before: YMMV.

So-so. The drive uses a female USB 3 “Micro-B” connector. The included cable has a USB 2-style connector on one end and a Micro-B connector on the other. So, if your go-bag is filled with old USB micro cables none of those will work on this drive without an adapter. But, I suppose that’s the price to pay to use USB 3. My suggestion is to rubber band the cable around the drive when you are traveling with it.

Furthermore, the adaptor cable that comes with it is short. I measured it at roughly 16.5 inches. If you need a longer cable you’ll have to buy one separately or use a USB 2.0-style extender cable if you already have one.

USB 3 Micro B

References:

Seagate

USB 3.0

Wikipedia USB 3

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Why does anyone still need a desktop computer?

Who are these people that are still buying desktop computers? You would think this is a moot point in the year 2013. The writing has been on the wall for several years now that laptop prices have made them significantly more affordable. Modern laptops are powerful, light-weight and best of all portable. Tablets are running a close second to laptops.

But, I do know some folks (who have requested to remain anonymous at risk of being made fun of) who insist that a desktop is the only way to go. Yes you may be shocked and surprised to learn that many non-geeks don’t have the latest, fastest, sleekest, quietest, thinnest, greenest, most powerful, highest resolution, lightest devices. I know that’s crazy, right? Yet, these people do actually exist. So over the last six months I’ve compiled a list of the desktop crowds desires:

  1. Need a larger screen
  2. Need the full-size keyboard
  3. Need a larger hard drive
  4. Need more power for processing images and videos
  5. Corporate security reasons where they don’t want laptops leaving the building
  6. Laptops are significantly more fragile and don’t last as long.

Now let me briefly present some corresponding counter-arguments suggestions.

  1. You can always hook up an external monitor to a laptop or some tablets.
  2. There are also external USB keyboards that rock.
  3. External storage is awesome these days. There are high-performance 128GB thumb drives, for example and even multiple terabyte external drives.
  4. Number 4 above might be the only reason for making a concession towards using a desktop. If you are professional or graphic artist that has video or image processing jobs that take currently many hours on a high-performance quad-core desktop, then you might not want to heat up your laptop to that extreme. For everyone else doing Facebook processing there are definitely some high-powered laptops that can crank on image processing.
  5. You could always use a permanent security cable like I’ve seen at some hotels and airport lounges.
  6. One of the most common causes of laptop death is failure to keep it cool. Make sure it sits on a hard surface like a table and not on top of your puffy down comforter all night. If you have a problem with dropping your laptop get it a protective case.

In conclusion, there are very few reasons where a desktop computer is the only solution. The next question you ask me should be “so, what type of laptop or tablet do you recommend?”!

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Review of the iPad 3 by an Android fanboy

These are my impressions of the iPad 3. I think it’s officially called the iPad with Retina Display and mine is Model MC733LL. Those who work with me know I’m, shall we say, impartial to Apple’s products. Prior to several months ago, I’ve never used an iPad other than giving a couple demos here and there. Now I have one that I’ve been using one somewhat extensively. So, I thought it would be fun to do a write-up and rate what I see as the key characteristics to me, as a consumer. Full disclosure: I am a strong user (and software developer) of Android-based products even with all their warts and inconsistencies, and this is also the first time I’ve rated a tablet. 

  1. Criteria: Native browser performance. Rating: 2.5 (out of 5) I’ve come to expect mobile web browsers to be snappy. The iPad 3 browser in my opinion is not speedy even with its dual-core A5X with quad-core graphics. I’m comparing this to my recent experience with the latest generation Android phones such as the Samsung Galaxy III S. If you don’t believe me on this rating, simply try visiting just about any image laden news site on an iPad 3. For example, I read a lot of NBA-related web pages and I’m usually one full paragraph into my reading before the article’s main image has finished loading. The page also typically jumps up and down as it loads making it hard to read, and forcing me to scroll up and down, until the page is fully loaded. And perhaps related to the poor browser performance, I thought the transitions between applications seem a bit sluggish. It’s not clear if this is a design aspect of the software, or because the hardware is chugging hard behind the scenes. Either way, whether the hardware or the browser I always felt like things were lagging just enough to be noticeable and slightly annoying.
  2. Criteria: Screen. Rating: 5 (out of 5) I like to be able to use the device in full sunlight as well as in darkened conference halls. iPad shines on all fronts. I can’t speak to previous models of iPad but version number three does an awesome job. I’m not even going to say much about the 2048×1536 (264ppi) HD screen quality other than to say it’s outstanding. Besides, most of you reading this already knew that.
  3. Criteria: Battery life. Rating: 4.5 (out of 5) Now this will vary for everyone based on “how” you use it. With my usage patterns of brief but intense sessions lasting four to five minutes three or four times a day using WiFi, the battery can last up to a week. Using cellular it unscientifically seems to last about 1/3 less. It’s easy to make a comparison against my Android phone which barely lasts 8 hours under similar conditions.
  4. Criteria: Weight. Rating: 4 (out of 5) The iPad I’m using has both WiFi and cellular. With the cover and according my to home digital scale it weighs in at one pound twelve ounces (793.79g). My guess is that the majority of the weight is taken up by the battery. Certainly that’s much lighter than my hulking laptop. However, if you plan to use it for anything lengthy such as using the eReader while sitting on a plane, then your arms can get pretty tired if you feel the urge to bring it closer to your eyes. If you want to recline while using it you’re better off either using your phone or getting a dedicated ultra-light eReader.
  5. Criteria: Charging time. Rating: 2.5 (out of 5) I expected the 10 Watt iPad charger to work significantly faster, but it usually takes hours to get a full charge when the battery is nearly empty. I can’t expect to slap on the charger and get a quick juice up with this device. It’s going to sit on the charger for at least a few hours if I want it to comfortably last any significant amount of time. I suspect the slow charging time is because Apple wanted to have a small, stylish (and less amperage) charger even though the iPad’s battery is huge. I can’t imagine Apple using something like the large laptop charger bricks on something as elegant as the iPad. The tradeoff is slooow charging times.
  6. Criteria: Look and feel. Rating: 4.9 (out of 5) We all know Apple does an amazing job with this. There’s no argument with this fact. You end up with essentially a piece of art. However, I only give it a 4.9 because with artistic license also comes compromises on maintainability. For example, you’ll (gasp!) never see a battery door on an iPad. Apple assumes that clutters the design or you’ll simply upgrade your device before or after the battery wears out. Apple has conditioned users that your battery should be an afterthought. Should the battery ever wear out you simply drop it off at the dealership and pay to get it fixed. Sniff. Sniff.
  7. Criteria: Finger-print resistance Rating: 5 (out of 5) The oleophobic coating does an outstanding job of this. In regular lighting I rarely noticed fingerprints. Under dim lighting I could occasionally see smudges that blurred the screen a tiny bit. I’ve noticed that the latest generation of glass and glass coatings on both iPad and Android really minimized the effects of finger smudges when the device is on. Now, the screen may still look like it was handled by a class full of sticky fingered kindergartners when the screen is off, but what really matters is what it looks like when it’s turned on.
  8. Criteria: Camera Rating: 3 (out of 5) I really struggled about including this because short of scientific analysis, everyone uses the camera differently. The camera on this device is simply okay. If picture size and resolution is your thing, it’s at least 3 mega-pixels fewer than the most advanced smartphones. It doesn’t have a flash so short range low light pictures are challenging. And, simply because of its size most of my use cases are work related. I wouldn’t take it to a basketball game and hold it up to take pictures. Besides the people behind me might just take it away from me if I did it often enough because it blocks their view and it looks dorky when you do it.
  9. Criteria: On screen keypad Rating: 4.5 (out of 5) Possibly because of its size of the buttons, the space separating them and my hand size makes it so I find typing on the iPad easy. The “.com” key is perfect for saving a few extra key strokes although there are many more legal aliases these days such as “.net”. I give it a 4.5 because the caps lock is not intuitive and the letters on the keys are always displayed as capital letters. This is confusing because I expected the letters to be lower case when not it caps lock mode and you have to rely on whether or not the arrow inside the caps lock button is blue or not.
  10. Criteria: SD Card compatible Rating: 2 (out of 5) Ah perhaps I saved the most controversial for last as the move to the cloud has many people gushing about how easy their data storage needs are. However, there are some use cases where SD Cards make things so much easier. For example, if you ever want to augment the on-device storage you are outta’ luck. If you ever have a need to simply want to hand over your data on a thumb-nail size SD Card to a friend or colleague then you will have to take a few extra steps and use someone’s laptop to pass the data over. If you have a need to work off-line with large data sets you’ll have to manually load them up onto the iPad before going off-line. Because of these use cases and the inconvenience and time associated with the extra steps I’m down rating this criteria to a 2. You can sort of work around this limitation otherwise I would have given this a big fat zero.

And with that I get an average rating of 3.79 out of 5. This seems to be a decent number even though it’s not  drop dead amazing. The iPad obviously works just fine for the majority of consumer use cases and does it an okay job within its limitations, or you work around them as I suspect most people do and just ignore the hassle. And like all electronic and mechanical devices it could always use some improvements that we can look forward to in future releases.

So this is all and well, but as I’ve mentioned before what I’d really like to see now is some revolutionary improvements in tablets and smartphones. I believe we’ve reached the current level of major innovations for a while and it will be some time, perhaps years, before we see the next big leap in capabilities such as vastly improved battery life. Until then we will need to be happy with the incremental improvements and listening to TV ads espousing some new minor feature that makes that device the one to buy now.

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