AirPods third generation quick (but not hot) take

Friday’s run was my first using the new third generation AirPods. I resisted getting the AirPods Pro, even though I lusted for their water resistance for my soggier runs, because every pair of earbuds I’ve tried that feature rubber or silicone tips has never fit well for me, regardless of the material or the size of the tip (keep your minds out of the gutter, people). I just have weird ears, I guess.

On the other hand, the basic AirPods actually fit in my ears securely enough that I can wear them while running and never worry about one popping out (and indeed, this has never happened). When it was confirmed the new AirPods would have water resistance but otherwise use the same style of fit (no tips), I decided to take a chance on them.

After a couple of days of use, including a run and multiple walks, I give them a provisional thumbs up that I suspect will convert to a plain ol’ thumbs up over time.

Good:

  • Pairing with my iPhone was seamless, as expected
  • Fit seems fine, no looseness or jiggle while running. I’ve not yet been concerned one might pop out.
  • Sound is as good as the previous generation. My lab-certified terrible ears can’t really detect anything better about the sound (some people say it has better bass), but maybe I just haven’t listened enough.
  • Water resistance should prove handy when it rains, hooray. This has yet to be tested, but I don’t anticipate any issues.
  • Works with the Find My app if an AirPod does eventually pop out
  • Shorter stems look less silly than previous generation

Not really good but not necessarily bad:

  • Those same shorter stems make these AirPods a bit trickier to put on and to remove from or place back into the case. You have less to hold onto, so it feels like they are easier to drop or lose hold of.
  • Still overpriced, really
  • The touch/squeeze controls seem better-suited to walking than running. I can’t confirm this yet as I haven’t used the controls while running, but I wonder if squeezing the stem to play/pause/skip could lead to accidentally pulling one of the buds out.

I will have further thoughts on these soon, but for now I give them a solid 8 out of 10 boilerplate Tim Cook answers to puffball questions.

Bad Design: Mac bezels (2021)

In which I argue you Apple made the bezels on the new 24″ iMac white for reasons of fashion, not functionality.

Earlier this year Apple revealed their first M1 iMac, a 24″ model that replaced the Intel 21.5″ one. It comes in a bunch of colors. All of them have white bezels, as show in this image from Apple:

Image from Apple

This week, Apple introduced the first M1 MacBook Pro laptops. Here’s an image that I grabbed from the Apple site:

Image carefully pruned by me from Apple

As you can see, the bezels are black. What you can’t see in the shot above is the notch housing the camera that is at the top of the display. Apple is not shy about making it as close to invisible in their promotional shots because secretly they know it looks dumb. Because it’s dumb.

But I’m not here to rage against the notch, I’m here to rage about bezels.

The closest Apple comes to describing the white bezels of the iMac in the initial press release is:

iMac features softer colours and thinner borders on the front to allow users to focus on their content, while the back pops in bold, saturated colour.

Thinner borders, softer colors. To allow users to focus on their content. Remember that.

So why aren’t the bezels on the new MacBook Pros white as well? Shouldn’t white bezels there also allow users to focus on their content? Or is black now a “pro” color?

I believe Apple actually wants people to think that.

The actual reasons for black bezels continuing on the MacBook Pro are more likely:

  • MacBook Pros are used for video and photo editing and white bezels can be distracting, whereas black bezels tend to blend into the background, allowing the user to focus on the content they are editing. Notice that every professional monitor in existence (that I have seen, though I admit I have not seen every single one) has black bezels, including Apple’s own Pro Display XDR. To put it differently, no one ever averts their eyes while shouting, “That black t-shirt is blinding me!”
  • The black bezels are necessary to help hide the notch/camera module as much as possible

Rumors are suggesting the redesign of the M1 MacBook Air will also feature white bezels. If this is true, it further underlines that Apple sees the white bezels as being a “consumer/non-pro” thing.

If true, this is dumb, because the practical arguments on black vs. white bezels stand regardless of how Apple positions its computers. Someone editing photos on an iMac will still notice a white bezel more than a black one. A minor distraction, sure, but still there.

I admit some bias because I think the white bezels look cheap and plastic.

Still, this seems like an affectation and I hate when Apple does this kind of design, because it almost always looks bad.

At least the Mac mini has no bezels.

Apple watch colors and the need for collective guilt

This always happens because people are people.

MacRumors has a story today focusing on the selection of colors available for the cases on the new Apple Watch Series 7 (pre-orders start today): Some Customers Unhappy With Apple Watch Series 7 Color Options

A few observations:

  • It is somewhat odd that Apple dropped the two “standard” neutral tones of silver and space gray (their answer to black)
  • The new colors that are closest are Starlight, a sort of silver/gold mix, and Midnight, which looks black but on close inspection is actually a very dark blue. Neither of these really match the dropped tones.
  • In the grand scheme of things this is not a huge deal because “eh, close enough” and with enough negative feedback Apple might bring the other two tones back–possibly even before the Series 8 that will no doubt launch a year from now
  • The discussion on MacRumors has several people complaining about people complaining about the colors. I am now going to complain about the people complaining about the complainers below.

Here’s one quote from early in the discussion:

Meanwhile some hungry people in Brazil are searching for food on cities landfills.

Author of “You are bad and should feel bad”

Yes, good ol’ moral outrage. How dare you complain about something when hungry people in Brazil are searching landfills for food! Only when all of these people are well-fed will it be deemed okay to offer contrary opinions on mundane things in your life (especially if those opinions are shared on the internet). Wait. No, actually, it won’t be okay, because other people are starving around the world, too, not to mention all the other horrible things happening on this planet:

  • hunger (as mentioned)
  • poverty
  • political oppression and violence
  • war
  • global warming
  • let’s throw in cancer, too

So really, it will never be okay to complain about mundane things, because context doesn’t matter, everything is terrible and be happy with your Starlight Apple Watch, you ungrateful, spoiled consumer!

I mean, yes, it is genuinely bad that people are starving, but reading and posting to a discussion on MacRumors is already self-selecting to a very high degree, and doing so specifically to upbraid people for complaining about anything when there are Serious Issues out there basically makes you look like a self-important asshole who probably doesn’t provide more than lip service to the horrible things you use as examples of things actually worthy of complaint.

This kind of self-righteous stuff has always rankled me, and now I’ve ranted about it, so it shall never be discussed again.

(I’d go for the Midnight, it’s close to enough to black for me.)

Fixing clamshell mode external display issue on an M1 MacBook Air

Here’s my public service for the week. It happened to me, it could happen to you! (If you have the right combo of hardware).

The problem: When putting my M1 MacBook Air into clamshell mode, the 27″ external monitor it was connected to would go blank. The Air was still on and otherwise running, but was not getting a signal from the monitor.

Attempted fixes included:

  • Updating macOS
  • Swapping cables
  • Swapping HDMI ports
  • Cussing randomly

The fix: I found the fix in this Reddit post: https://www.reddit.com/r/mac/comments/knrcof/m1_macbook_air_in_clamshell_mode/

Unlike the author, I believe the issue isn’t related to the cable, just the fact that macOS does not support variable refresh rates and when closing the lid on a monitor with variable refresh rates, it would switch to a rate it didn’t actually support. In my case, I have an Asus VG27A, which has a max (without overclocking) refresh rate of 144Hz. I run it at 60Hz on the MacBook, but when putting it into clamshell mode, it switched to 72Hz, which doesn’t work, causing the display to go blank.

Step-by-step solution

Here’s my step-by-step for the fix in case something happens to the Reddit link:

What this applies to:

  • Any M1 MacBook connecting to an external monitor with a variable refresh rate (typically a monitor with built-in support for G-sync or FreeSync). I can’t verify if this would apply to the same issue on an Intel-based MacBook, but it might.

What you need:

  • M1 MacBook Air or MacBook Pro
  • Another computer (preferably with its own with display), can be Mac or PC
  • Remote desktop software

The steps:

  1. Install the remote desktop software on the MacBook and the other PC. I used TeamViewer, which is free for personal use, but there are lots of options. NOTE: Make sure the remote desktop software has appropriate permissions in the Mac’s security settings. TeamViewer prompts for this, but some software may not.
  2. Set the MacBook to display on the external display, and keep the lid on the MacBook open
  3. Use the remote desktop software to connect to the MacBook and make sure you can control the MacBook
  4. Close the lid on the MacBook. The external display should now go blank, but you should still be able to see the Mac desktop through the remote connection.
  5. From the other computer, go into Displays under the Mac’s System Preferences and change the refresh rate to 60Hz. Once this is done, you should see the external display work again.
  6. Test the new configuration by closing the lid on the MacBook. If the external display remains on, you are done!

Apple is adding variable refresh rate in macOS Monterey, which is due in Fall 2021 (probably a month or so from now as of this writing, but this will likely continue to be an issue on Big Sur. Story on MacRumors

Mac vs. PC, Round 846

I can’t decide!

A comprehensive overview of my thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of both systems coming soon.

In the meantime, an animated image for your enjoyment:

Ghost in the machine: Apple edition

Tonight, the Apple TV turned itself on (technically it woke up, as it actually doesn’t have an actual on/off switch) and started silently streaming music from my music library (the receiver that powers the speakers was off at the time–it does have an on/off switch).

The last time I streamed music on the Apple TV was…I don’t remember when, actually. More than six months ago, I’d guess. Maybe longer. And I’ve done it maybe twice or three times in total.

But there was the Apple TV, doing its thing, unbidden and unwanted.

This happened a few days ago, too, but in that case it didn’t actually do anything, it just sat there until the screensavers kicked in.

A quick search suggested that having Background App Refresh set to ON might be responsible in it waking on its own. That doesn’t explain why it also started running some random app, though.

I updated the software, set Background App Refresh to OFF, then took the most important step:

I unplugged the power cord on the damn thing.

With all the streaming apps on the Xbox One (including Apple TV+, the confusingly named streaming service Apple offers), the Apple TV hardware is redundant. With it also acting squirrelly, it’s now actively annoying.

Having compared the streaming experience between the two platforms, I prefer the Xbox One, anyway. Maybe I’ll use the Apple TV as a very expensive paperweight–it’s actually about the right size and heft for that job.

I’m linking to Jason Snell’s charts because everyone else is

white android tablet turned on displaying a graph

Really, I challenge you to find a Mac or Apple-specific website that hasn’t linked these charts.

I guess that means these are good charts (they are).

Also, Apple made another giant pile of money in the last quarter, thanks to the rush to buy those last few original HomePods.

Just kidding.

I guess they sold a lot of iPhones. Weird, I know.

Jason Snell’s charts for Apple’s record $81 billion third quarter

(Six Colors is also a good Apple site. I adore the way they do tooltips. I know it’s an incredibly odd thing to focus on, but they just look and feel right, sort of like a well-designed Apple product. I want to know how they do them and steal them and use them here.)

Making the Mac tolerable

As an experiment, I decided to try going Mac-only for work, to see what the experience would be like.

Ho ho.

In the end, it worked…surprisingly well!

Here’s the hardware I am using for this:

  • MacBook Air M1 (16GB ram, 512GB SSD)
  • CalDigit 3 Thunderbolt dock
  • CTRL mechanical keyboard
  • Logitech G203 mouse
  • Blue (now owned by Logitech) Yeti microphone
  • Asus VG27A 27” monitor

You may have noticed something about some of the hardware listed, particularly the keyboard and mouse.

Both are wired.

The CTRL keyboard being wired is in a way more convenient than if it was wired. It has two USB-C ports, so to switch from PC to Mac, all I have to do is unplug one cable and plug in the other. Easy.

The G203 mouse I bought on sale—it’s Logitech’s cheapest gaming mouse and doesn’t look freakishly weird like some of their other gaming mice. It uses G HUB software to control its settings and the software works decently, though I had to use the macro function to get the side buttons to work as forward/back in Firefox. The real key here, though, is the mouse is wired and therefore is perfectly stable, working just as I’d expect. It still doesn’t feel quite as good as it would on Windows, but it’s fine. My experience with wireless mice on Macs has been chronicled here before, but suffice to say that even on the M1 chip, wireless mice are garbage—at least every one I have tried. Wireless receivers are incredibly janky and Bluetooth, while better, still feels far from smooth, it just doesn’t have the cursor actively skip and judder across the screen. This was probably the biggest usability fix for the Mac setup.

The next was adding a cheap Dlink switch that let me connect the MacBook to the Ethernet port on the CalDigit dock. The Wi-Fi is not bad, but a wired network connection is far faster and stable. This was big fix #2.

The third was the dock itself—it provides easy access to a bunch of connection types that the MacBook Air lacks, allowing it to act as a desktop, with access to audio, USB-A, DisplayPort for external monitors, and more.

The MacBook Air itself performs like a champ, always humming along efficiently and quietly. It does get warm at times, but I don’t try to minimize the number of apps I’m running, I just run whatever I need. I suspect I could probably push it to throttle if I really tried, but so far that hasn’t been the case.

The only downside right now is a glitch that forces me to keep the lid up while using it with the external monitor. If I close it, the monitor immediately turns the display off—even though the Mac still thinks it’s working. I thought the last update might fix it but no. On the other hand, it does let me use the Air’s display as a second monitor—handy, as the Air doesn’t actually support more than one external monitor.

In terms of software, everything has run without issue. Some apps, like the non-native Signal, are a bit slow to load and don’t look great, but the same can be said of the Windows version here. Almost everything else works great and has been very stable. For work I really only need Firefox and Teams, as almost all the tools I use are web-based, and Firefox is native and runs quite nicely.

The smoothness of this setup has led me to using the Mac more often, even ion the evening, but there are limits.

It still sucks for gaming. Even with Apple Arcade.

As mentioned above, the mouse is fine but still feels better in Windows. The G203 itself is a bit smaller than I’d like and the surface of it is a bit too smooth. On the PC I use the G703 and it has a grippier texture and fits my hand better.

The other issues are endemic to MacOS itself. The window management is shockingly poor for a mature OS. The ubiquitous menu bar feels like a relic on large screen displays. The dock is inferior to the more versatile taskbar in Windows.

But the dynamic desktop backgrounds are snazzy. And I’m writing this on the MacBook Air right now, using Ulysses, so it can’t be that bad.

I probably don’t need a laptop anymore, though. I’m keeping my eye on future Mac minis and the still-rumored larger iMac.

One thing macOS does better, one thing Windows does better

This week I’ve been using the M1 MacBook Air exclusively for work (I’ll post more on the experience soon) and as I’ve grown accustomed to using it for days at a time instead of hours, I’ve come to see how it does some things better than Windows.

But Windows still bests it in certain ways.

Here’s one way each is better than the other, in my opinion, WHICH IS OBJECTIVELY CORRECT.

macOS: Better font rendering. Fonts do not look bad in windows, but they look better on Macs. This is especially noticeable when you get into smaller font sizes or where color contrast is higher. Everything looks a little smoother on a Mac’s screen.

Windows: Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its name, but window management is better on Windows. It has easy to use options for snapping windows in place and resizing them, and has other handy features like window previews on the taskbar and more logical behavior on the taskbar vs. Apple’s dock.

I’ll expand more on which OS does things better in a future post, but I can confidently say that people who tout one being obviously superior to the other (without having some weird edge case or niche use) are big fat liars. For common tasks like browsing the web, listening to music, writing or doodling, they are both fine.

A list of all the things I like about Apple

Time to be positive for a change.

  • The Apple logo is nice
  • The M1 MacBook Air offers excellent performance
  • Apple includes the fast Thunderbolt 3/4 interface on all of its computers–and now on an iPad
  • They seem to be on the right side of user privacy
  • The Apple Watch clocks (ho ho) all other smartwatches in terms of versatility and performance
  • They’ve been around for over 40 years, they can’t be *all* bad
  • My iPhone 12 works as intended
  • My iPad Pro is really pretty good as a drawing tablet
  • Did I mention the logo is nice?

The best (worst) YouTube thumbnail for an M1 iMac review

Macrumors posted this YouTube link for their review of the M1 iMac just released.

Yes, the computer is facing away. It is backwards. It was explained by noting that the orange on the back of the iMac is much more saturated and vivid than the pastel orange found on the front-facing chin, so they wanted to show that.

I’d like to think no one would ever actually set up their iMac this way but…you just never know.

Why are wireless mice so bad on the Mac?

Seriously, this should be a solved problem, but the only way to get consistent performance on a mouse when I’m using any Mac (I have owned three in the past four years) is to use one that plugs in using old-fashioned cables.

Tonight I have been using my MacBook Air with the Logitech Marathon mouse and it started out fine, but over time the mouse cursor starts to become slow and then erratic, glitching across the screen. It improves for a bit, then starts glitching again. If I dig out one of my old wired mice it works just fine, so it seems like there’s something up with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity on Macs.

This never happens in Windows. In fact, I can take this exact same mouse and use it in Windows right now and it will operate perfectly fine. My regular Windows mouse is a Logitech G703 wireless gaming mouse. It works perfectly when untethered.

I just don’t get it. It’s like Apple optimizes the OS to only work with their mice and nothing else. It’s incredibly annoying and reminds me why I never manage to make it long whenever I try using the Mac. For an OS that gets lauded for its stability and design, it has some pretty deep flaws.

At least the keyboard works properly. Oh wait, it’s plugged in. Bleah.

EDIT: Here, have an amusing (?) semi-related gif: