This week in tech was a mixed bag. I was enjoying reading about some interesting new products while dealing with some unexpected tech problems.

Being isolated, we’ve become more dependent on TV than ever. But wouldn’t you know that my large screen TV decided to die. While not unexpected – it’s 14 years old – this was not the most opportune time. The Elite model 50-inch Plasma HDTV was purchased from Pioneer when it first came out and offered to members of the press at a 20% discount. It was one of the first premium models, and I paid, as I recall, around $4000. It was huge and heavy compared to today’s sets. It consisted of two parts, a screen and a receiver-sized box with all of the electronics. Unlike other products, such as iPhones, I had little desire to replace it, as it always was sufficient for my needs, and, after all, who enjoys setting up TVs?

Normally I’d spend a lot of time doing research before buying a replacement. I’d peruse the aisles at Best Buy and Costco, read the online reviews and examine each in detail. Instead I checked the websites of these two companies and Amazon to see what was available. 55-inch is the new 50-inch and both are now approximately the same physical size with the latest having very thin bezels. I first determined this size would just fit in my bookcase. The top of line sets use OLED displays costing from $1500 to about $3000. Then there are entry-level LED sets from about $400 from most manufacturers.

I narrowed my search to mid-range models of LED sets from the three major brands, LG, Samsung and Sony, priced at $700 -$1000. Each had models with similar features: 4K resolution, Smart TV capable, and LCD technology with some special feature that improved the display characteristics. I eventually selected a Sony because it was available for next day delivery from Best Buy. Costco had a similar set for $50 less, but delivery was more uncertain. And while Best Buy says they’ll match prices, Costco uses a different model designator for essentially the same set, which is the manufacturer’s way to protect their dealers from the heavy discounters. I paid $749 that included delivery.

I was impressed with Best Buy’s communications, giving me updated info on delivery times using instant messaging and a phone call and links to the setup video for that set. Right on time, two days later, two Geek Squad vans showed up and two employees, and brought the set to my garage. Unfortunately they couldn’t take the old set because of the Covid-19.

While this all occurred, my recently repaired Apple MacBook 12-inch with its new replacement keyboard installed in January failed. The spacebarstoppedworking. It was about 2 weeks before the 90 day warranty would expire, but of course, the Apple stores are all closed.  I called Apple and had to wait on hold for an hour, compared to the usual 3-5 minutes. After having me perform a few tests, Apple said they would extend the warranty until after their stores reopened.

But it was clear it was time to retire this 5 year old computer and look for a replacement. The new MacBook Air is the best candidate, but I may hold off for a few weeks in anticipation of a new MacBook being introduction.  Fortunately both have their new Magic keyboard, which is really their old design that actually works.

 

New Products

Apple has been on a roll, introducing a bunch of significant new products in recent weeks. In addition to the MacBook Air with it’s better keyboard starting at $999, they’ve introduced two expensive add-on keyboards with trackpads for its premium line of iPads. They are designed to make the iPads more computer-like and the initial reviews are excellent. But they are pricey, costing $349-$399, meaning a complete system costs more than the MacBook Air and actually weighs about a pound more.

Apple SE iPhone

The other new product that’s getting rave reviews is the iPhone SE for $399. It looks just like the iPhone 6/7/8, but has their latest microprocessor and a better camera. It’s significant move because for those wanting an iPhone under $500, have had to buy one of their old models or a refurbished unit. Many instead chose an Android, where you can get a decent phone for less than $300. As good as the SE is, it’s big weakness is its wimpy battery that won’t get through a full day for an active user.

Hitch Crossbody Laptop Bag

If you want to dream of getting back on the road you can check out this new Hitch Crossbody Laptop Brief bag from Waterfield. It’s a spacious vertical laptop and tablet bag in a streamlined form that functions as an everyday carry or briefcase. I find vertical bags provide a more compact format that provide easy access than a large shoulder bag.

The product has dual padded compartments that cradle the new Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch with the above noted Magic Keyboard, as well as holding a laptop. The bag comes in two sizes to work with all computers. The Compact size fits the new Apple 13-inch MacBook Air, the anticipated Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro, or 13-inch Surface Pro. The Full size is designed to fit the 16-inch MacBook Pro or 15-inch Surface Pro. Costs $249 and $259. Like all their products, it’s made in San Francisco from great, rugged materials, that never seem to wear out.