Anthony Caruana January 1, 2012
As you bask in the glow of your Mac’s display you’re probably pondering what else you need to get the most out of your investment. Walk into any Apple Store or reseller and you’ll be faced with a plethora of options ranging from the cheap and cheerful to the very expensive.
This month, I’m going to help you wade through the confusing quagmire of peripherals and accessories. The goal is to help you make informed decisions about what you need so that you can plan what you want before you hit the stores and then ask the right questions when you’re making your purchase.
Whether you’re using an iMac or a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, a second display is one of the best productivity boosters you can invest in. Even with a 27in iMac, a second screen offers substantial productivity benefits.
If you’re doing some research, being able to have your information capture tool on the screen at the same time as your browser makes it much easier and faster to copy information – and having your mail open on one screen while using the other for your main work can be helpful.
When buying a display you need to consider size and resolution. A 23in and a 27in display both running at 1920 x 1080 will show the same amount of content but the larger screen will make everything look bigger. If you’re buying a second screen for an iMac, I’d suggest matching the resolution of the second screen with the iMac so that objects don’t change size as they move between displays.
Finally, don’t forget the connectivity options. Look for displays with at least two connectivity options so you can use one input for your Mac and another for Blu-ray player without the need to fiddle with cables.
If you want to go all Apple then the 27in Cinema Display or Thunderbolt Display is a beautifully designed adjunct to your Mac. Running at 2560 x 1440, the cinema display offers crisp, clear images and also acts as a docking device for a portable Mac by offering three extra USB ports as well as speakers and a MagSafe power connector. In other words, you can increase productivity without adding desktop clutter.
NEC’s focus, when it comes to displays, is on high quality image reproduction. The 27in MultiSync PA271W-BK is designed for professionals seeking excellence in colour reproduction and performance. Operating at 2560 x 1440, it can handle full 1080p HD video without fi lling the entire screen. Also, the display can be rotated 90 degrees so that it can be used in both portrait and landscape orientations – that’s a great benefi t for page layout work.
Displays around the 22-23in size offer sensational bang for buck and the BenQ GL2240M is no exception. The 1920 x 1080 resolution is fine for HD movies and the shiny black bezel and base look very attractive. There are integrated speakers and two connectivity options – DVI and VGA making it a good option for connecting to your Mac. We’d see the BenQ GL2240M as a great option for the home or office for viewing photos, working on documents and web browsing.
Again proving that there’s great value for your dollar if you stay away from the largest displays, the 24in Asus PA246Q delivers 1920 x 1200 resolution with HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI and VGA as well as USB connectivity that adds two more USB ports to your Mac as well as a card reader and speakers. In other words, it’s a great option as a docking station for your portable Mac. Given the price and feature set, this isn’t a bad compromise if an Apple display is out of your budget.
Most users will be considering one of two types of printer – inkjet or laser. For the office, it might pay to have a workhorse mono laser for most of your printing, as that’s typically the cheapest to operate. For Mac users, it’s worth looking for printers that also support AirPrint in case you want to print from your iPad or iPhone.
For colour printing, you can choose from a colour laser or inkjet. In general terms, if you’re planning on printing business documents that need to be in colour, I’d suggest looking at colour lasers. If you plan to do a lot of photo printing, then it’s likely that an inkjet will be a better match.
If you’ve got more than one computer in the home or offi ce then I’d strongly advise looking at network-connectable printers. These make the task of sharing printers much easier than sharing standalone printers and don’t require that you leave a Mac running for others to print.
If you need a portable printer there aren’t too many options. They are much dearer than their desktop counterparts so you’ll be paying for the convenience. The main things to consider are the weight of a power pack and print quality.
Fuji Xerox has abandoned the laser and embraced the LED as the heat source for fusing the toner to the page. This means the printer runs cooler than similar lasers and uses less power. The Docuprint CP105b is an entry-level device that only prints single-sided and requires a USB connection. It’s well-suited to individuals who only print a small number of pages per month. However, as a bonus it’s also a colour printer – making it one of the first colour lasers that can compete with inkjets.
If you don’t need colour then HP’s M1536dnf might make a good candidate for a small office or home workhorse. It’s a multi-function device that supports printing, scanning, copying and faxing. As a bonus, once you update its firmware, it’s also AirPrint capable so it can be used to print from an iOS device. It can be connected to a network via Ethernet – there’s no wireless – and supports duplexing and has two paper-feeds.
Most homes and small offices could find a place for the MG5250. As well as its USB connection, it also boasts Wi-Fi so it can be placed wherever it’s convenient rather than remaining tethered to a Mac. It supports duplexing and has five ink tanks – two black plus cyan, magenta and yellow – so that running out of one colour doesn’t mean losing the others – something to watch out for in cheaper inkjets.
Larger workgroups, printing thousands of pages per month, need to look beyond consumer models for hardware that’s designed for higher volumes. Lexmark’s C792DE is fast and delivers colour, duplexed printing over USB or Gigabit Ethernet. Busy offices can choose either the regular 6000-page cartridges or high-yield 20,000-page toner. The touchscreen on the front makes it easy to configure and monitor the C792DE. And once it’s running, it can print at close to a page-per-second so you won’t be left waiting.
EPSON STYLUS NX420
The Stylus NX420 is designed for individuals and small groups with a modest budget who can live with slower performance. It includes wireless connectivity – a bonus at this price – and a small LCD that is used for configuration and previewing images that can be printed directly from memory cards using slots that support Memory Stick, SD, xD and most of the different variants of those formats. Also, unlike many cheaper inkjets, it has separate tanks for each of the four colours.
Portable Macs are great-looking devices. Unlike many PC notebooks, all of Apple’s portables are made with solid, aluminium cases and boast a simple, elegant, industrial look. So it makes sense to protect those devices so that they look good and aren’t subjected to the bumps and scrapes of everyday use.
When shopping for a bag there are two main options to consider – backpacks or satchels/messenger bags. Regardless of what bag you’re considering, ensure that the base is well-padded. When you put the bag down, it’s the bottom where most of the impact will be felt. Although Macs are well-made, it’s not hard to damage a hard drive or display.
With backpacks, make sure they offer protection for your Mac and room for the power pack and other accessories. Also, load it up and try it on before buying. Many backpacks look like they’ll be comfortable but are found wanting when loaded. Waist and chest straps mightn’t look fashionable but they will reduce the stress on your shoulders and back by distributing the load.
Satchels and messenger bags aren’t made to carry as much as backpacks can. While a large bag might seem like a good idea, make sure you don’t plan to carry too much. Again, try before you buy is the best advice I can offer.
Price: from $80
One of the problems with most laptop bags is that they look like laptop bags. Targus has created a range of business bags with compartments for your MacBook and accompanying accessories. There are seven bags in the range, each coming with different colour options, strap types and styles. The great thing about this is that there’s a range of options to suit most needs and preferences. Hopefully, this level of class will rub off on some of the gear being offered for the rest of the population. The 16in Targus Annette Laptop Bag (pictured; $69.95) is a stylish option for women carting their Mac from A to B.
If you’re looking for something a little different to the norm then Haul offers some great gear made from recycled materials. The LABOURER Satchel Bag is made from old truck tyre inner tubes. The LABOURER Satchel Bag is designed for notebooks up to 13in in size. For larger MacBook Pro models, look at the FOREMAN for an extra $10. The bag has one large compartment so you’ll probably want some other sleeve for your MacBook, but otherwise it’s a solid bag that will outlast your Mac.
The current iteration of the Revolution refl ects many years of experience in meeting the needs of digital natives. There are lots of compartments, including a padded section for a MacBook Pro. There are two versions of the Revolution – for notebooks up to 13in and a larger one for 15in units. Build quality is excellent with STM offering a lifetime warranty. If you’re on the go and get caught in rain, there’s a waterproof cover concealed under the base so that your gear is kept protected.
Designed for the 15in MacBook Pro, the Pinnacle of Horror (Crumpler’s naming system is perhaps the most amusing of any product line) has two large internal compartments: one is padded for your MacBook Pro and the other can be used for papers and other bits and pieces. Crumpler bags are always well-made. The stitching is robust and zippers are strong. The Pinnacle’s flap has both a clasp and a zip. Use the clasp when you need fast access and the zipper when you want your gear more secure.
The Incase Nylon Backpack is made of weather-proof nylon. The laptop compartment can hold up to a 17in MacBook Pro and is lined with faux fur so that the aluminium case isn’t scratched. There’s a spot for your iPad and iPhone, plus room for other accessories and papers. There are also additional external compartments for quickly stashing accessories. The shoulder straps and rear panel are padded so that the backpack remains comfortable even when fully laden.
Staying in touch when you’re on the go is a must in the Internet Age. Although you can use your iPhone in Personal Hotspot mode, a portable 3G capable router offers the benefi t of being able to create a true network that supports sharing resources such as folders and printers.
There are two options if you’re looking for a portable router – buy an unlocked drive and then purchase a 3G service from a carrier, or go straight to the carrier and buy an off-the-shelf solution. If you need a portable network but don’t want the monthly commitment, all the carriers now offer pre-paid data services.
Once you get past the somewhat confusing array of plans and options, it’s great to see that Telstra has reduced pricing so that it is competitive with the other carriers. For several years, Telstra offered lower download allowances at higher costs but that has changed. It’s also worth noting that Telstra’s network is the most pervasive and fastest of the local carriers.
If you’re after a pre-paid arrangement, I’d suggest that the $150 pre-paid is a good option as it includes 10GB of traffic and a long expiry time of 365 days. Although that won’t go far if you’re a voracious YouTube and iTunes Store user, it’s plenty for email and general web browsing while you’re on the go.
There are cheaper options, starting with the $20 recharge that includes 250MB with a 21-day expiry that might be more suitable if you’re only an occasional user. If you don’t have your own 3G capable router, Telstra offers several options. The Telstra Elite Wi-Fi modem lets you connect up to five devices to the internet for up to four hours on a charge.
The second largest mobile network, Optus offers a number of plans that offer good value. If you don’t need coverage in rural areas and can live with slightly slower performance, then Optus is generally a little cheaper than Telstra.
For $120 Optus offers 8GB of data with a six-month expiry. If your needs are more modest, $15 will buy you 500MB for 15 days. However, you’ll need to factor in the cost of the initial SIM card purchase. That costs a further $30 and includes 1GB of data.
If you need a portable network the Mini WiFi Modem Starter Kit includes a 3G router with 8GB of data that’s valid for six months. There’s an upfront cost of $99.
It’s fair to say that Vodafone has had a tough year or so. Its mobile network suffered from some significant issues and it has responded by working to improve coverage and reliability while maintaining some aggressive pricing.
Vodafone offers the broadest range of mobile broadband options. Start with the mobile broadband modem for $99 with 6GB of data that lasts 94 days. If you’re a heavy mobile internet user, $300 will buy you 30GB of data with a year’s expiry. For $19 you can grab 500MB.
If you bring your own modem, $29 will buy you 5GB of data and a 30-day expiry. This includes the cost of a SIM card.