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Bill Bennett

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Tag: hardware

Computers, servers, storage and devices. If you can drop it on your foot, it is hardware.

Thors Magnetic Charging Cable

Thors magnetic charging cable USBThors’ NZ$15 magnetic charging cable can save your precious devices from a early grave.

A magnetic charging cable has two main advantages over an everyday cable.

First, it protects your hardware from being flung across the room if you trip or otherwise yank the cord.

Second, magnets snap connections together fast. Connections are instant, you can do it in the dark. There is no shuffling around making sure things fit. It makes life a lot easy if, say, you have ports hidden on the back of a device in places that you don’t normally see.

Likewise, you can unplug a cable straight away without stressing the connection. This means the cable and, in some cases the ports, last longer.

Have a safe trip

Everyday cables rely on a snug fit between a plug and socket. Give the cable a good tug and you’ll pull the device. Tripping over the cable can break your device, smash the screen and cause other chaos.

I tested two Thors magnetic cables. The USB-C one has two parts. One part is a USB plug. It sticks in the device leaving a small magnetic surface that sticks out about 3mm.

This marries up with a similar magnetic surface that’s mounted on a pivot to give it flexibility. There’s a small blue LED to show when it is connected to a power supply at the other end. In the case of this cable the other end is a USB-3 plug that connects to the power supply brick.

The magnets holding the connection pull apart without needing much force. When the two get close, the connection snaps into place. If you trip on the cable, the inertia of the device means it will not move much, instead the magnets come apart.

Remember Apple MagSafe?

Anyone who owned an older Apple laptop will remember the companies MagSafe connectors. These were standard fare on MacBooks until around five years ago.

It was a bad day when Apple stopped using MagSafe. The technology saved many Apple users from accidentally wrecking MacBooks.

There is something similar on Microsoft Surface devices. Other computer brands can have variations on the theme. Or they did until the industry decided to standardise on USB-C.

Thors has a variety of options. There are one metre and two metre cables, charge cables and data-charge cables. You can buy extra plugs. You’ll find them in computer stores or can buy direct from the Thors website.

How Huawei Matebook 13 compares with MacBook Air

Huawei pitches its 2020 Matebook 13 as an Apple MacBook Air alternative. That’s not my words, this is a quote from Huawei executive who said this at a recent industry function.

Comparisons with Apple are a big deal at Huawei. The company wants to be China’s Apple.

While there are similarities, it’s not a direct comparison. Few people who choose one of the other.

Apart from anything else, Huawei runs Windows 10 and the MacBook Air runs MacOS. Switching between operating systems is not something you’d want to do every upgrade.

Matebook 13 versus MacBook Air

How does the comparison work in practice?

The review Matebook 13 sells for NZ$2200 and uses an Intel i7 processor. It has an Nvidia MX250 graphics processor, 16GB of Ram and 512GB of storage.

The nearest MacBook Air costs NZ$2350, had the same 512GB of storage. You get 8GB of Ram and an i5 processor.

Given the specifications, it is no surprise the Matebook does processor intensive work better than the MacBook Air. To be fair, Apple doesn’t sell the Air for this work, the company points power hungry users at the MacBook Pro models.

In testing the Matebook beat the Apple for video editing. Otherwise there was less difference that you might expect give the different processors.

Simple versus complex

If you use a laptop for simple tasks like, writing or answering emails, then any performance gap between the two is academic. The Matebook 13 does a better job with, say, manipulating large Excel spreadsheets or complex calculations.

The MacBook hard drive is much faster than the Matebook 13’s drive. The MacBook Air could send large files to a server in about half the time it takes on the Matebook 13.

When it comes to graphics, the MacBook Air beats the Matebook 13. The 13.3 inch screen has 2560 by 1600 pixel resolution. The Matebook screen is a fraction smaller at 13 inches and has a 2160 by 1440 resolution. If you compare the two side by side, Apple’s display is far more impressive.

Apple wins by a long margin on battery life. You can work on a MacBook Air for ten hours between charges. In my testing the Matebook 13 ran out of juice a few minutes before the six hour mark.

Huawei Matebook 13

Portability

One strange point of comparison is with weight. Huawei’s specification sheet says 1.3kg. That’s as near as it can be to the MacBook Air which Apple’s tech sheet says weights 1.29kg.

When I picked the two computers up, the Matebook 13 felt heavier than the MacBook Air despite these specifications. I weighted them on our, not accurate but still indicative kitchen scales. The MacBook Air was 1.3kg and the Matebook 13 was 1.4kg.

That goes part way to explaining the practical difference, but not the whole way. The Matebook 13 is smaller than the MacBook Air. It measures 286 by 211 by 14.9 mm. The Air is 304 by 212 by 16 mm. Which means the Huawei computer feels heavier because it is denser.

This could be nitpicking, until you put the two computers in bags and carry them around all day. Both are light and easy to carry. Yet you’ll notice the Matebook 13 a fraction more than you’ll notice the MacBook Air.

Small and neatly formed

Both Apple and Huawei take a pride in build quality. The Matebook 13 almost hits the MacBook Air standard.

There are two places where it fails. First, the power button which doubles as a fingerprint reader. Apple’s square Touch ID sensor sits at the top right of the keyboard. It feels like any other key. Huawei’s round button sits north of the top right of the keyboard and doesn’t feel as solid as Apple’s key. There’s a small amount of wobble here. You can live with it, but it shows Huawei doesn’t have the same attention to detail.

A more obvious annoyance is the Huawei Share sticker on the keyboard’s bottom right. This is next to the as disfiguring and tacky Intel advertising sticker.

It’s amazing, computer makers go to extreme lengths to design sleek, beautiful hardware and then spoil the effect with stickers. Many are needless aesthetic wreckers, the Huawei Share sticker is not. It has a function.

Integration

Huawei Share lets you connect your Matebook 13 to a Huawei phone. The idea is loosely similar to the features that let Mac owners swap files and photos with iPhones or iPads. When you’re working with a Matebook, these Apple-Huawei comparisons are never far away.

Unlike Apple’s phone-computer integration, Huawei Share mirrors your phone’s screen on the laptop screen. I can’t think of why this might be useful, but you might.

It has to be a Huawei phone. That’s an oddity right there. Huawei may be New Zealand’s third favourite phone brand, but it enjoys, at best, a ten percent market share. If you draw a Venn diagram of the New Zealanders who have both a Huawei laptop and phone, it’s unlikely the overlap would be more than a couple of hundred.

A few last comparisons that don’t fit elsewhere. On paper both the Matebook 13 and the MacBook Air have the same Wi-fi specifications. In practice, the MacBook’s Wi-fi works better over longer distances. I connected both to remote servers via home Wi-fi and saw better speeds on the MacBook Air. I can speculate on why this is, but a proper answer is beyond the scope of this review.

Like Apple, maybe because of Apple, Huawei has gone for port minimalism. There are two USB-C ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack. You can only charge the computer using the left-hand USB-C port.

Matebook 13 versus MacBook Air verdict

You get more computer for less money with the Huawei MateBook 13. You’ll be hard pressed to tell the performance apart despite the specifications. That is unless you run demanding apps. If that’s you, then you’ll appreciate the more powerful Matebook.

Apple’s MacBook looks and feels nicer, it has a better screen and way more battery life. Which means if you don’t need more processing grunt, it could be a smarter buy.

And yet few would choose between a Matebook 13 and a MacBook Air on these criteria. If you prefer Windows 10 or have to use it for work, the Matebook 13 gives you the most-MacBook Air-like Windows laptop experience.

D-Link EXO Mesh DIR-X1560 Wi-fi 6 router

D-Link’s NZ$300 DIR-X1560 is an affordable, basic way to upgrade your home wireless network to Wi-Fi 6.

Chances are you use a router supplied by your internet service provider. That means it will be tried and tested, but uninspiring. Moreover, it’s unlikely the router will support Wi-Fi 6.

There are good reasons to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6, but little need to rush. If you are in a hurry, D-Link’s NZ$300 DIR-X1560 is the obvious choice. At the time of writing the alternatives are expensive high-end devices. These would be overkill in a normal home.

D-link dir-x1560 wireless router

Shiny

The DIR-X1560 is a small shiny plastic box. It has four removable and adjustable antennae. There are four LED indicators on the front. They show power status, the internet connection and two wireless network indicators.

On the back there are four Ethernet ports for the local network. There is an incoming Ethernet port that connects to your fibre terminal and a reset button.

The two wireless network indicators tell you what is going on with the routers two radio bands. Like many domestic routers, the DIR-X1560 can operate on the 2.4Ghz and 5GHz bands. More expensive Wi-Fi 6 routers can add a third 160Mhz waveband.

Gigabit wireless speeds

If you can, you’ll want to use the router on 5GHz as much as possible. It’s faster and less prone to interference. In theory you can get speeds of 1.2 Gbps on 5GHz. That’s faster than a gigabit fibre connection. It will pipe data around your house at a breakneck speed.

That’s the theory. In practice Wi-Fi never delivers theoretical speeds. It’s cheeky of router manufacturers to even mention them. The most I could get from the DIR-X1560 was around 600mbps and that was with a device placed a metre from the router.

Mind you, 600mbps is more than enough for every application you are likely to meet.

DIR-X1560 a basic Wi-Fi 6 upgrade

It says at the top of this story that the DIR-X1560 is a basic way to upgrade your home network. Basic because it lacks features you’d find on high-end wireless routers. Parental controls let you block websites and limit the hours your little darlings spend online. There is nothing in the way of malware protection.

Compared with other routers, it is a limited web console. You might view this as restricting your options for tinkering. Or you might see it as less scope to screw things.

You can see the cable and network status. There are all the address numbers. The console will show the number of connected clients. If you wish you can disconnect them. One feature I enjoyed was having a Speedtest run from the router itself. All routers should do this.

Web console

As the screen shot shows, D-Link’s web console struggles with Apple’s Safari browser. The second version shows the same page on Firefox. There’s a neat control that lets you prioritise devices. That way Mum’s home office computer can have priority over junior’s Fortnite session. You can protect bandwidth for work Zoom calls.

Away from the web console, you can manage the DIR-X1560 with a phone app. It is cruder and less comprehensive than the console, but you get the important controls.

And if that isn’t enough, a handful of controls work with Alexa or Google voice commands, if that is your thing. This can be useful if you need to reboot in a hurry.

At this point I should write about installing the router. but I ran into an authentication problem with my ISP that meant I took days to get everything working. It didn’t look like an authentication problem and I didn’t solve it until I called D-link’s support.

DIR-X1560 sterling performance

Compared with the ISP provided Wi-Fi 5 router it replaced the DIR-X1560 did a sterling job. I’m going to stick with this review product.

My testing process was simple enough. I ran Speedtest five times using my ISP provided Wi-Fi 5 router from the desktop iMac. The iMac supports Wi-Fi 5, not Wi-fi 6. Then I did the same again on an iPad Pro located next to the desktop. For the third set of tests I moved the iPad Pro to about 1 metre from the router.

The desktop is about three metres from the router, but the other side of a corridor. There are two walls in the way.

Then I did the same tests using the DIR-X1560 router. In both cases I made sure my devices weren’t running backups or other hidden web applications. I didn’t check to see if Johanna was using her computer, phone or iPad. After all, part of the reason for upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 is to improve throughput when you connect lots of devices.

To keep this simple, I averaged each set of five measurements. This is indicative, not scientific.

 DIR-X1560Wi-Fi 5 ISP supplied router
IMac653 down / 296 up488 down / 417 up
iPad Pro 655 down / 446 up320 down / 267 up

Band choices

Other Wi-Fi routers can allow client devices to choose a 2.4GHz or 5GHz connection.1.

With the DIR-X1560 you can make that decision from the console, not from the device. During testing I found a huge difference in performance between the two wave bands. The difference is larger than you might expect when looking at theoretical top speeds.

None of my devices could get much above 80mbps on 2.4GHz.

I benchmarked everything against an old ISP supplied Wi-Fi 5 router. This beats the DIR-X1560 by miles on 2.4GHz performance. It can reach as high as 200mbps. But the 5GHz is the one that matters.

The old router managed a strong signal in the home office, which is three metres and two walls away. It remains strong in the upstairs bedrooms that are five and seven metres and three or more walls away from the router. Beyond that the signal strength drops fast.

When I compared this with the DIR-X1560, it’s long distance performance was better on both 5GHz and 2.4GHz. In other words, the router has an extended reach. I don’t have the hardware to perform a better test of this, but my suck-it-and-see approach was clear enough for this house. Your mileage may differ.

DIR-X1560 verdict

If you want to get a Wi-Fi 6 network running today, the D-Link EXO Mesh AX1500 Wi-Fi 6 Router (DIR-X1560) is a solid choice. Its 2.4GHz performance is poor, but that’s not always important for everyone. You can get more features and a fancier web console elsewhere. Yet unless you have specialist wireless network needs, the DIR-X1560 ticks all the boxes.


  1. To make life confusing, this is sometimes called 5G Wi-Fi. ↩︎

Wireless charging:  Inefficient, bad for the planet

Wireless charging feels modern. But don’t let clever looking technology fool you. It doesn’t always work as well as promised and it could be terrible for the environment.

“…the slight convenience of juicing up your phone by plopping it onto a pad rather than plugging it in comes with a surprisingly robust environmental cost.

According to new calculations from OneZero and iFixit, wireless charging is drastically less efficient than charging with a cord, so much so that the widespread adoption of this technology could necessitate the construction of dozens of new power plants around the world.”

Source: Here’s Exactly How Inefficient Wireless Charging Is | Eric Ravenscraft | OneZero

Nokia claimed to have the world’s first wireless phone charging in 2012 with the Nokia Lumia 920.

At the time Nokia said its wireless charging was 90 percent efficient. That means the charger wasted 10 percent of energy, turning it into heat.

This doesn’t square with Eric Ravenscraft’s story at OneZero. He says:

“Charging the phone from completely dead to 100 percent using a cable took an average of 14.26 watt-hours (Wh). Using a wireless charger took, on average, 21.01 Wh.

That comes out to slightly more than 47 percent more energy for the convenience of not plugging in a cable. In other words, the phone had to work harder, generate more heat, and suck up more energy when wirelessly charging to fill the same size battery.”

Ravenscraft found how he positions the phone on the charging mat makes a huge difference. And he found it hard to line things up to get the best results.

Wireless charging hit and miss

Wireless charging can be hit and miss. There are mornings when I pick up my phone and discover that it didn’t charge overnight.

The phone only has to move a millimetre or two for that to happen. It is so sensitive that I can open a desk drawer or type on my keyboard and the phone moves away from a charging position.

In his story Ravenscraft reveals a wireless charger consumes a small amount of power when it isn’t charging a device.

All up, wireless chargers waste a lot of power. It may only be a tiny amount per person, per charger, but multiplied by millions of users around the world it adds up to environmental damage.

In my earlier story, I noted that wireless charging is handy, but plugging in a cable is hardly a big deal. You get almost no advantage for what, in aggregate, is a big environmental cost.

How long should you keep a phone?

New phone models arrive all the time. The phone product lines get an annual refresh.

Apple holds its annual iPhone launches all at once. In recent years this has always happened three or four months before Christmas.

Top Android phone makers like Samsung, Huawei and Nokia have more than one product lines. Each line gets its own annual update. The phone makers tend to stagger their launches throughout the year.

Add in the smaller brands and yes, we see a dozen notable phone launches each year.

Goodbye two year phone refresh cycle

Phone makers expect you to hang on to a device for at least two years even if they refresh their model lines every year.

Carriers agree. Their phone plans are two-year contracts. Remember carriers make money when you to buy new phones and roll over two-year contracts. While two-year contracts remain popular, they’re less common today than five years ago.

New Zealand’s Inland Revenue Department depreciates phones at 67 percent a year. That implies a life expectancy of under two years. Depreciation rates are similar in other countries.

We’re holding on to phones for longer

Most of us now hold onto phones for longer than two years. No-one forces us to operate on a fixed timetable.

There’s a noticeable difference between Apple and Android phones. Android phone users tend to keep their phones for a shorter time than iPhone users.

Apple’s sales figures reflect this. iPhone revenues peaked in 2015. Apple now focuses more on selling services to its customers to make up the revenue shortfall.

In 2016 Benedict Evans reported Android users keep phones for under two years. Back then, Apple iPhones stayed in use for more than two years. There are interesting theories about this in the comments on Evans’ post. This also explains why second-hand iPhones hold their value better than Android phones.

One reason people hold on to phones for longer is that upgrades are more incremental than in the past. A few years ago there would be dramatic changes from one year to the next. Now phone makers emphasise cameras and cosmetics.

It’s no accident that phone makers hold launch events that look like fashion shows. They want to create the impression that you need this year’s design. You almost never do.

Phone hardware can live for years

Phones can take a beating. Owners handle them many times each day. They get dropped, knocked, scratched and soaked.

Yet, there are few moving parts to seize up. (Avoid any phone that does include moving parts such as a pop-up camera.)

If you look after your phone and it doesn’t pick up too much moisture, the battery is the first part to wear out. Constant use and charging cycles mean they degrade over time. After about three to four years use they hold as little as half the charge they managed when they were new.

You can replace phone batteries, even those in sealed phones. It can be difficult, there are official repairers and a cottage industry exists.

Although it may look expensive, paying someone NZ$100 to replace a battery is cheaper than a new phone.

Screen life

Screens last three to ten years depending on the technology, build quality and your use. Often the screen backlighting goes first. Again, repairers can fix these problems.

There are times when a new phone model is compelling.

Sometimes moving from one year’s model to the next brings a must-have feature. Even so, you can expect to get at least two years from a device. They should last for three or more. Five years is no longer exceptional.

There are users who give their phones a pounding. If that’s you, or a family member, you have two choices. You could buy a more robust phone model. Or you could opt for a cheaper model that won’t break the bank when replacement time rolls around.

How long should you hold on to a phone?

There’s no simple answer to ‘how long should you hang on to a phone’. What works for one person doesn’t work for another. You should hold on for at least two years. Yet that’s unambitious.

For some people the best time to replace is when the battery life is not enough to get you through the working day. For others it’s when the operating system is no longer supported and there is a security risk. That’s roughly six years for Apple iPhone users.

Apple released iOS 13 in September 2019. It will support the iPhone SE but not the iPhone 5s, 6 or 6 Plus. Apple released the iPhone 5s in 2013, it is now out of support. If you think that is bad, spare a thought for Android users. Six years is more than double the official supported life of Android versions.

Update: If you love Android and worry about phone longevity, chose a Nokia phone. The company has a policy of keeping phone software up to date. It guarantees two years of updates. That’s far less than Apple, but that’s better than rival Android brands.