A crate of Apples

PENMAN - Butch Dalisay () - December 6, 2010 - 12:00am

Some friends and readers asked me to elaborate on remarks I made in passing in my column on “Family Time” a few weeks ago about the features of the new iPhone 4, so I’m going to devote this week to a roundup of recent Apple offerings. If you want to get yourself or your loved ones a Christmas gift, one or more of these goodies may just be the thing. (I know, I know  more than one friend has told me that I should get paid handsomely by Apple for doing such faithful and free promos for them, and I said yes, I’d be a rich man if I got even one percent of all the Apple products I’ve helped to sell these past many years, but even an Apple T-shirt or umbrella will be much appreciated — Steve, are you listening?)

Let’s begin with the iPhone 4, which is now being offered locally by Globe. I got my IP4 factory-unlocked from the Apple Store in Singapore, but I also got a Globe unit for Beng, under my Globe retention plan. They’re virtually the same, of course, except that the Singapore IP4 has that hideously large UK-type plug, and the Globe IP4 is, not surprisingly, Globe-locked. (Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, the UK, and Canada, among others, sell unlocked iPhones, mainly because of local laws prohibiting network locks.) HK sells the cheapest unlocked IP4s in the world at around US$642 for the 16GB model, with Singapore following closely at $657, but the HK units have been in such great demand that, until Apple began selling the phone officially in China last September, they were being bought up and sold in the mainland for twice the price.

What’s in the IP4 that’s gotten angry mobs pounding the doors of Apple Stores worldwide, for such an expensive chunk of glass and steel that, when it was first launched last June, seemed doomed to fail because of “Antennagate”? (The antenna problem — a reported signal glitch that nobody talks about anymore — didn’t dampen IP4 sales, which hit 1.7 million units in the first three days.)

You’ll find extensive technical reviews all over the Internet, but for me, as a user — and as I noted in my previous column—the IP4’s standout feature is its 5-megapixel camera, which takes outstandingly sharp and clear shots, as well as high-definition video. As a fairly active amateur photographer, I can say that the IP4 is the first phone that’s allowed me to leave my Nikon D90 and Leica D-Lux 3 at home for most shooting situations; it’s that reliable and that good.

The IP4 has two cameras, actually — a smaller one in front can take pictures of yourself and your companion with, but it comes in handier when you use it for what I consider the IP4’s killer app, FaceTime.

To those who’ve done video calls on Skype or Yahoo, FaceTime may seem nothing new, but FaceTime (which works only on wi-fi) is literally a one-click operation from your phone favorites screen, and it’s absolutely free. For Pinoy families separated by an ocean, FaceTime alone could well be worth the price of admission, over the long run. (I watched as my father-in-law spoke to his granddaughter Demi in San Diego, and tears streamed down his cheeks as she greeted him, laughing. As that credit-card commercial might put it, it was “Priceless.” Indeed, I think it was my demonstration of FaceTime that persuaded at least four relatives — my brother-in-law Eddie, my sister-in-law Mimi, and Mimi’s two daughters Gigi and Eia — to switch to IP4s during our recent US visit. I call and see my mother and my sister on Eddie’s phone almost every day, and it’s like they never left.) Apple, by the way, has also released a FaceTime program for Mac desktops and laptops.

And did I say that the iPhone 4 is also, yes, a phone and an iPod? It’s more than capable as a smartphone — you’ll appreciate the threaded messaging — but I have to admit that I still use my BlackBerry as my main business phone, because nothing still handles email and messaging better than a BB, and I still prefer a real keypad to a virtual one. Rather, I use the IP4 more as an iPod, in which case only the iPod Touch might be better for its sleekness. I was never a big iPod user until I began playing poker, where Mahler’s “Adagietto” can be a great help in isolating the table action from everything else that’s going on.

Let’s move on to the iPad, which I also wrote about soon after it came out last April. As of this writing, it has yet to be officially released in the Philippines, although units and accessories abound in the usual corners in Greenhills, as well as on the Internet. After months of using it, I’ve found that the iPad works best — at least for me — as a reader and media viewer. I’ve loaded my syllabus and my semester’s readings on to the iPad, sparing me from having to lug books to class. Of course, I’ve also downloaded dozens of books — most of them free — onto the iBooks app, which also serves as a PDF reader. (For just $1.99, GoodReader is an excellent all-around documents reader and text editor; I save all my important documents like plane tickets as PDF files and store them in GoodReader, which also handles my schoolwork.)

Using a free program called HandBrake, I’ve converted my favorite DVDs (classics like Black Orpheus and Dr. Zhivago) into the iPad-friendly MP4 format and view them with the Videos app, along with TV shows (again, some of them free) like American Pickers and Victory by Design. But I think the iPad works best as a magazine and news-reader (and for younger users, a comic book reader). You have to see apps like Zinio, Flipboard, Press Reader, Pulse News, and Slate to see how technology can affect the presentation of the news. Zinio and Press Reader will give you full downloads of magazines and newspapers (initially for free, then at very competitive prices). Once you begin to use them, and once you see how vivid and sharp the colors are and how easy it is to navigate around, it’s hard to justify newsprint. There’s no better timekiller for those long car rides and airport layovers.

Finally, the new ultralight, ultrathin MacBook Air — specifically the 11-inch model, which Steve Jobs disdains to call a netbook but may well be one on steroids — is, for a footloose writer like me, simply the best writing machine there is. That’s quite a claim to make, but lift that screen and tap those chiclet keys, and tell me if you can’t feel the words just rushing out of your fingertips. Think of this as a sliver of a laptop with a full-sized keyboard, a gorgeously clear screen, and specs to challenge many a bigger brother. I feel a little silly carrying both my iPad and my MBA with me sometimes, but they’re so light that I often have to tap my bag to make sure they’re both there, and I’ve pretty much decided that the MBA is for work, and the iPad is for fun.

Excuses, excuses, but I’m a fictionist, so you’ll excuse me for my extravagance. If only it were limited to words!

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E-mail me at penmanila@yahoo.com and visit my blog at www.penmanila.net.


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