For some of us, music is all we need. My AV system has an iPod dock, but the iPod died in a fluid-related incident, and frankly it’s easiest to have all the music available via Google’s Play cloud service. So, for now, the place of the iPod dock has been taken by Arcam’s miniBlink Bluetooth DAC. It’s £90, which may be a bit on the steep side, but if you want something compact, this pebble-shaped streamer has pretty good quality – though I did experience a few dropouts with one phone – thanks to the aptX codec.Setup is a simply matter of plugging in and pressing a button to pair. And it’s simple enough that friends can easily pair their phones if they can’t stand the music on mine. Easier than having a separate Bluetooth speaker system for parties.Also in the audio-only stakes is the uPlay Stream from QED, which comes in at around £150 – but for the money, you also get support for FLAC and Apple Lossless formats.It’s about twice the size of the miniBlink, and you’ll need to have your music on a server that it can access. It works well with my DiskStation, but I do find the app a little fiddly to use. Thankfully, you can use other DLNA control point apps, such as Skifta or BubbleUpNP, as well.A nice touch – though not one I’ve had a chance to play with, as I only have the one – is the ability for one app to send audio to several uPlays at the same time, for multi-room sound.
Very often these days we want to stream video rather than audio, and that’s perhaps where there’s the biggest contrast between the capabilities of modern devices and those of the old Helios.Diminutive boxes such as the Roku and Apple TV not only pack in a lot more power than older kit, but they’re much more upgradeable. Not just reliant on new firmware from time to time, the ability to add extra apps means that these can give you an excess – even a surfeit – of content to choose from.Much of the latest kit makes even Arcam’s miniBlink look portly. Google’s ChromeCast, Roku’s Streaming Stick and Amazon’s Fire Stick all just plug into a spare HDMI port, cost less than £50, and provide access to a huge amount of streaming media – though these days, the emphasis is far more on remote media via the internet than on content from a home server. UK readers will also have to wait a little longer for the Fire stick, though they can pick up the Fire TV box.To a degree, which of these is right for you may depend on which ecosystem you’ve bought into. If, for example, you’re a big Tesco shopper and a fan of Blinkbox, then you may be best off with a Chromecast, as there’s no Roku app for that service. And Amazon fans will, very likely, prefer that firms box or stick – which does at least also have Netflix as an option.
Product round-up First it was slimline Ultrabooks, then it was convertibles. Now the latest high-tech morsel that PC manufacturers are dangling before us in an attempt to boost their flagging sales is the high-DPI laptop.The information that Microsoft provides for developers refers to high-DPI displays as having a resolution of more than 120dpi, but in general use the term often tends to refer to displays that go beyond the 1920×1080 resolution of a conventional HD display.Apple – surprise, surprise – would probably claim to have pioneered this category with the Retina Display of its MacBook Pro models back 2012. But while Apple’s Retina displays still max out at 2880×1800 resolution, its Windows rivals have taken the lead and gone romping ahead – a trend that recently brought us Toshiba’s P50T-B laptop, which provides a 15.6-inch display with full 4K resolution of 3840×2160.Of course, for most people that sort of display is an unnecessary luxury – unless you’re planning to build yourself a really big spreadsheet, or want to watch House of Cards in 4K on Netflix. There are genuine applications for High-DPI displays, of course, including high-def photo- and video-editing, but for most of us a 4K display is really just eye-candy for its own sake.
And there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s sold plenty of MacBook Pros for Apple, after all – but High-DPI displays do have their drawbacks. The main one is that few third-party applications are designed to support High-DPI displays, and you may find yourself having to lower the resolution of your expensive laptop in order to read application menus or view tiny toolbar icons that were never designed to scale to these ultra-high resolutions.These High-DPI displays can wreak havoc with battery life too, with Toshiba’s 4K laptop petering out at around the three-hour mark. But with Apple recently adding a 5K display to the iMac it’s clear that High-DPI is here to stay, so here’s our roundup of some of the main players in this new category of laptop.With no update to its Retina display in recent years, the 2560×1600 resolution of the 13-inch MacBook Pro now looks relatively modest compared to the 3K and 4K displays offered by some of its Windows rivals.
Apple MacBook Pro With Retina Display (13”, Mid-2014)
Even so, it still works a treat, with an IPS panel that is vividly bright and colourful, and provides excellent viewing angles. Apple also handles the scaling issues of High DPI displays better than most of its Windows rivals, thanks to the looks like option that can scale text and graphics to simulate lower resolutions in order to enhance visibility.
And, just as importantly, what the MacBook Pro lacks in pixels it makes up for in battery life. Our 13-inch MacBook Pro managed to last for a full seven hours and 25 minutes when running the intensive PCMark 8 benchtests, so it’s certainly good for a full day’s work when you’re out of the office.Prices for the 13-inch model start at £999.00, although we tested the top-of-the-range configuration that costs £1,399.00 with 8GB memory and 512GB solid-state storage. That produces scores of 2444 and 2812 in the Home and Work suites on PCMark 8, which are respectable rather than breathtaking. However, the impressive battery life and a weight of just 1.6kg mean that it will really earn its keep when you’re on the move.Some years back, when Microsoft was mired in Windows Vista and open source issues, and web developers were on an accelerating trajectory, a quiet revolution took place.In the corridors and anterooms of tech conferences, scrunched deep into beanbags and huddled next to power outlets developers were at work, nose down, in PowerBooks. It was one of those changes that one day you suddenly just became aware of.Apple laptops had replaced Windows laptops as the code jockey’s steed of choice, with the very act of programming itself having become decoupled from the client’s operating system. It was said, and it was written, how Microsoft had lost a generation of developers.
Today, a new revolution is taking place. PC sales, and even laptops, are down, and manufacturers are pulling out of the market. The future is all about the device.For most, the PC will become a thing that fits in your palm – or, in the case of the iPad, your comically oversized jacket pocket.That’s fine for consuming information. An iPad is a great way to browse the web, check email, stay in touch with friends, and so on. But what does a post-PC world mean for creating things? What does programming in a post-PC world look like?Received wisdom is tablets such as the iPad can’t replace whatever it is that the author does – creatives must switch back to a laptop or desktop with a keyboard. In many cases that’s true, but is it true for programming?The answer is: it depends. It depends what you do and how willing you are to give up your old tools in favour of something new.If you’re writing platform-specific mobile apps in Objective C or Java then no, the iPad alone is not going to cut it. You’ll need some kind of iPad-to-server setup in which your iPad becomes a mythical thin client.
If, however, you’re working with scripting languages such as Python and Ruby or building web-based applications, the iPad is tantalizingly close to being a great development environment.
You’ll need a real keyboard to any serious programming on one of these
Before I dive into the specifics of my setup, I should note that to really get any development done on an iPad you’ll need a real keyboard. Tapping glass is fine for short emails, but will quickly drive you nuts trying to write code. I used an Apple wireless keyboard because I had one, but there are some much slicker options out there that can also act as screen covers and protect your iPad when it’s bouncing around in your bag.Now for the software. What started me on the road of trying to work solely on an iPad was a brand new iOS 8 application, Working Copy, which became the cornerstone to the development environment I managed to create on the iPad.Working Copy is a Git client with support for just about every Git operation you need on a regular basis – cloning, editing, committing and pushing. The app is free to download, so you can test it out, but to push back to the server you’ll need to buy the $9.99 in-app purchase.