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New MacBook Pros Provide More Speed and RAM, plus a Quieter Keyboard and Hey Siri

As students prepare to head off to college, Apple has updated the Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro line to provide even more powerful options for students and professionals alike. The changes are primarily under the hood, focusing on faster performance, more RAM, and larger SSD-based storage, but there are a few modest physical changes too, including a quieter keyboard and a True Tone display. Despite these improvements, pricing remains the same as for last year’s models. The 13-inch MacBook Pro that has function keys instead of a Touch Bar remains the same, as do the 12-inch MacBook and 13-inch MacBook Air.

Performance Boosts

The new MacBook Pros move to Intel’s 8th-generation Core i7 and Core i9 processors. Previously, the 13-inch MacBook Pro used dual-core CPUs, but they now get quad-core chips. And the 15-inch models jump from quad-core chips to processors sporting 6 cores. More cores are better because more tasks can be split up between them, preventing one processor-intensive task from bogging down others. Processing power is just one aspect of overall performance. If your Mac doesn’t have enough RAM for the apps you’re using, it has to fall back on much slower virtual memory. For those who use memory-intensive apps, the new 15-inch MacBook can now take up to 32 GB of RAM, up from a maximum of 16 GB. RAM in the 15-inch models is also DDR4, which is faster and uses less power than the DDR3 RAM used before. Finally, if you don’t have enough fast SSD storage in a MacBook Pro, you may be forced to store large items like your Photos library and Parallels Desktop virtual machines on a slow external hard disk. The new MacBook Pros can have a lot more built-in SSD storage, but it’s pricey. The 13-inch models max out at 2 TB, which will add $1400 to your bill, and the 15-inch models can go to 4 TB, assuming you have $3400 to spare. The 512 GB ($200) and 1 TB ($600) upgrades are more reasonably priced.

Physical Changes

Apple continues to tweak the controversial butterfly-switch keyboard. Some people haven’t liked the shallow key travel and how much noise it makes, and its keys have a tendency to stick. The new MacBook Pros feature a keyboard that’s quieter and hopefully more reliable. You’ll also notice the new Retina displays with True Tone. First introduced with the iPad Pro and added to the iPhone in 2017, True Tone adjusts the white balance of the screen based on ambient light to make the screen more comfortable to view. It should be particularly appreciated by students working late into the night.

Other Improvements

You know how you can issue commands to Apple’s virtual assistant on your iPhone or iPad by saying “Hey Siri”? That’s possible in the new MacBook Pros also, thanks to the inclusion of Apple’s new T2 chip. The T2 also manages the Touch Bar, facilitates a secure boot feature, and encrypts files on the fly to increase security. These MacBook Pros are the first to support Bluetooth 5.0, which is backward compatible with Bluetooth 4.2. As Bluetooth 5.0 peripherals become more widespread, they’ll be able to communicate with the MacBook Pro at higher data rates and longer ranges—think of Bluetooth working across your entire house, rather than being limited to a single room.

Price and Availability

The entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1799, and the 15-inch model at $2399. With both models, you can choose between silver and space gray, and they’re available now. Our take is that, like most of Apple’s speed-bump upgrades, these new MacBook Pros are simply better than the previous models—who turns down better performance for the same price? The True Tone display is also welcome, as is the quieter keyboard. And it’s nice that we can finally talk to Siri without having to hold down a key or click a button.


Tired of “Sent from my iPhone” as Your Email Signature?

When you use Apple’s Mail app on your iPhone to send email, the default signature is “Sent from my iPhone.” If you’d rather not advertise that fact with every email, or would prefer to change it to something more personal, don’t bother poking around in the Mail app itself. Instead, go to Settings > Mail > Signature, where you can change the signature to anything you like or delete it entirely. If you have multiple email accounts configured, such as one for work and one for home, you can also set a different signature for each.


Have Your Online Passwords Been Stolen? Here’s How to Find Out.

Data breaches have become commonplace, with online thieves constantly breaking into corporate and government servers and making off with millions—or even hundreds of millions!—of email addresses, often along with other personal information like names, physical address, and passwords. It would be nice to think that all companies properly encrypt their password databases, but the sad reality is that many have poor data security practices. As a result, passwords gathered in a breach are often easily cracked, enabling the bad guys to log in to your accounts. That may not seem like a big deal—who cares if someone reads the local newspaper under your name? But since many people reuse passwords across multiple sites, once one password associated with an email address is known, attackers use automated software to test that combination against many other sites. This is why we keep beating the drum for password managers like 1Password and LastPass. They make it easy to create and enter a different random password for every Web site, which protects you in two ways.

  • Because password managers can create passwords of any length, you don’t have to rely on short passwords that you can remember and type easily. The longer the password, the harder it is to crack. A password of 16–20 characters is generally considered safe; never use anything shorter than 13 characters.
  • Even if one of your passwords was compromised, having a different password for every site ensures that the attackers can’t break into any of your other accounts.
But password security hasn’t always been a big deal on the Internet, and many people reused passwords regularly in the past. Wouldn’t it be nice to know if any of your information was included in a data breach, so you’d know which passwords to change? A free service called Have I Been Pwned does just this (“pwned” is hacker-speak for “owned” or “dominated by”—it rhymes with “owned”). Run by Troy Hunt, Have I Been Pwned gathers the email addresses associated with data breaches and lets you search to see if your address was stolen in any of the archived data breaches. Even better, you can subscribe to have the service notify you if your address shows up in any future breaches. Needless to say, you’ll want to change your password on any site that has suffered a data breach, and if you reused that password on any other sites, give them new, unique passwords as well. That may seem like a daunting task, and we won’t pretend that it isn’t a fair amount of work, but both 1Password and LastPass offer features to help. In 1Password, look in the sidebar for Watchtower, which provides several lists, including accounts where the password may have been compromised in a known breach, passwords that are known to have been compromised, passwords that you reused across sites, and weak passwords. LastPass provide essentially the same information through its Security Challenge and rates your overall security in comparison with other LastPass users. It suggests a series of steps for improving your passwords; the only problem is that you need to restart the Security Challenge if you don’t have time to fix all the passwords at once. Regardless of which password manager you use, take some time to check for and update compromised, vulnerable, and weak passwords. Start with more important sites, and, as time permits, move on to accounts that don’t contain confidential information.


How to Make the Most of Apple’s New AirPlay 2

For many years now, Apple’s AirPlay feature has made it possible to stream audio from an iOS device or Mac to an AirPlay-enabled speaker, AirPort Express base station, or most recently, a HomePod. Because AirPlay transfers sound over a Wi-Fi network, it eliminates the need for stereo wires and lets you put your speakers where you want them. In June 2017, Apple threw back the curtains on AirPlay 2, saying it would play the same song on multiple speakers (with AirPlay 1, this is possible only in iTunes) or play different songs on different speakers. Subsequently, Apple released the HomePod, promising to add multi-room audio and stereo sound with linked HomePods in the future. Apple recently released three updates—iOS 11.4, tvOS 11.4, and HomePod 11.4—with an eye toward delivering AirPlay 2 and these promised features. Once you’ve installed these updates, here’s how to start enjoying AirPlay 2’s improvements.

AirPlay 2 in iOS

To take advantage of the multi-room audio capabilities in iOS, start playing some audio. Then open Control Center, press the audio card to expand it, and tap the AirPlay  button in the upper right. You see a list of available output devices; those that support AirPlay 2 have a circle to the right of the name. Tap one or more of those circles to send the audio to that speaker. If an app has its own AirPlay button, you can also tap that to access the same controls. The iPhone can’t play audio simultaneously with an AirPlay 2 speaker, which is why there’s no circle next to iPhone in the image above. Although AirPlay 1 devices—such as the AirPort Express base station (Speaker Express above)—still work singly, they can’t be included in a multi-room set.

AirPlay 2 in tvOS

Once your Apple TV is running tvOS 11.4, it can become an AirPlay 2 speaker, sending audio through your TV, soundbar, or home theater system. It can also broadcast its own audio to other AirPlay 2 speakers. To enable an Apple TV for AirPlay 2, go to Settings > AirPlay > Room, and bring your iPhone or iPad close to the Apple TV. Accept the prompt that appears on the iPhone or iPad, and the Apple TV joins other AirPlay 2 devices associated with your Apple ID. Once it’s set up, you can send audio from the Apple TV to different speakers. In a video app, swipe down from the top of the Siri Remote, select Audio, and then select one or more speakers (not all video apps offer this feature). For music, the steps are a little different. Start playing some music and then, from the Music app’s Now Playing screen, swipe up and to the left to highlight the AirPlay  button (if no icons are showing at the top of the screen, press the Menu button to display them). Or—this is much easier!—just press and hold the Play/Pause  button on the Siri Remote. Then, as in iOS, select the desired AirPlay 2 speakers with circles to the right of their names by swiping down and clicking the touchpad. You can also send all Apple TV audio to AirPlay 2 speakers by going to Settings > Video and Audio > Audio Output and selecting the desired speakers.

Other AirPlay 2 Improvements

AirPlay 2 includes a few welcome performance improvements. A larger streaming buffer makes for fewer audio drops, and tighter device syncing provides a faster response when you play or pause the music. Another plus for iOS users is that taking a phone call or playing a game won’t interrupt playback. Siri works better with streaming audio as well. You can specify which speaker Siri should play through, as in “play David Bowie’s Hunky Dory on Dining Room,” and play the same music through all your speakers with a command like “play the Brandenburg Concertos everywhere.” You can even move audio from one speaker to another—try asking your HomePod to “move the music to the Apple TV.” AirPlay 2 speakers are now HomeKit accessories, so you can start and stop them in the Home app. That’s about it for now, but we hope a future update will let us integrate audio into HomeKit scenes and automations, so your HomePod could automatically start playing soft jazz when you walk in the door from work. Finally, although it’s unclear whether this feature is part of AirPlay 2, a pair of HomePods can now act as stereo speakers. Once each HomePod is running 11.4, a new option to pair them appears in the HomePod settings in the Home app. Select the HomePods, assign them to the left and right sides, and you can enjoy true stereo music. It may sound as though all AirPlay 2-compatible speakers come from Apple, but in fact, a wide range of speaker manufacturers—including names like Bang & Olufsen, Bose, Denon, Marantz, Polk, and Sonos—have committed to supporting AirPlay 2, either with updates to existing products or in new speakers. Look for such products later in 2018, and, in the meantime, we hope you enjoy using AirPlay 2 with HomePods and Apple TVs.


Invoke Special Views and Features on your Mac with a Flick of Your Wrist

Most Macs are busy places, with oodles of open windows cluttering the screen. If you want to look at the Desktop or do something different, you may find yourself clicking around or using keyboard shortcuts, but did you know that you can access many of the Mac’s special views with just a flick of your wrist? A little-known feature called Hot Corners makes this possible. The key to unlocking Hot Corners is in System Preferences, in either the Desktop & Screen Saver pane or the Mission Control pane. In either pane, click the Hot Corners button to set up your hot corners. The Hot Corners dialog displays a pop-up menu for each of the four corners of your screen. Choose an action in one of those menus, and that’s what happens when you move your pointer to that corner. A hyphen, the default, means nothing happens. Here’s the scoop on each action.

Start Screen Saver

With today’s flat-panel LCD screens, a screen saver isn’t needed to prevent image burn-in, but it does hide the contents of your screen and personalize your Mac. The Start Screen Saver hot corner shows the screen saver immediately, overriding the setting for how long the Mac must sit idle before the screen saver turns on (in System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver > Screen Saver, in the Start After pop-up menu).

Disable Screen Saver

If you normally have your screen saver set to turn on automatically, it may come on when you would prefer it didn’t, such as when you are thinking about what to write in a tough email. To prevent the screen saver from coming on temporarily, use a Disable Screen Saver hot corner.

Mission Control

Once you’re in this bird’s-eye view of all your Mac’s open windows, you can switch to any window by clicking it. You can also set up spaces in Mission Control—a space is a view that contains only windows from the apps that are assigned to that space. Click the plus sign in the top-right corner and then drag windows up into the new space. Switch to a space by clicking it in the top bar.

Application Windows

For an overview of all open windows for a particular app, use a hot corner to invoke Application Windows. This view displays thumbnails of all open windows in the current app. For some apps, you’ll also see thumbnails of recently opened documents at the bottom of the view. Click any thumbnail to switch to it.

Desktop

If you like storing documents for in-progress projects on your Desktop, you’ll love the hot corner that invokes Desktop view. It moves all open windows aside, letting you focus on the icons on the Desktop. The windows return when you switch to an app.

Dashboard

Dashboard contains a few rudimentary widgets, like a clock and a calculator. Apple hasn’t updated Dashboard in years, and developers don’t create Dashboard widgets anymore, so it’s not worth learning—or using via a hot corner—if you don’t already rely on it.

Notification Center

Since you can so easily click the Notification Center icon in the far right of your menu bar, it’s seldom worth wasting a hot corner on it. Notification Center has two views: Today and Notifications. Today shows status information and is easily customized; click the Edit button at its bottom. To display an app’s notifications in Notifications, go to System Preferences > Notifications, select the app, and then select the Show in Notification Center checkbox.

Launchpad

If you like using iOS, giving Launchpad a hot corner might make opening apps on your Mac easier. It’s designed to look and work like the Home screen on an iPad or iPhone—just click an app to launch it. To see more apps, scroll horizontally—with a trackpad, swipe with two fingers; with a Magic Mouse, scroll by swiping with one finger on the mouse surface.

Put Display to Sleep

Those who are concerned about energy usage might appreciate this option. Toss your pointer in the associated hot corner, and your screen goes to sleep immediately, consuming less power than a screen saver. It lets you override the “Turn display off after” slider in System Preferences > Energy Saver. To exit these special views, switch to another app, press the Escape key, put the pointer back in the hot corner again, or just move the mouse. If you find yourself triggering a hot corner accidentally, try adding a modifier key so its action activates only when the pointer is in the corner and the key is pressed. To set this up, open the Hot Corners dialog, open the corner’s pop-up menu, and press a key (Shift, Control, Option, or Command). The key’s symbol appears in the menu. Keep the key down and choose the desired action. The best way to set up your hot corners depends on how you use your Mac, of course. Our favorites are Start Screen Saver because it’s a quick override of the screen saver settings and Desktop because it removes screen clutter that gets in the way of using the Desktop.