Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mini-review: Tronsmart Dual Quick Charge 3.0 36W wall charger

The idea was originally to review this for AAWP (see link, right), but having examined and tried this neat little Tronsmart gadget, it seems too Quick Charge 3.0-centric for the world of Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile, where 'fast charging' refers to the USB Type C 'Power Delivery' system, i.e. 5V at high current (up to 4A in some cases, but more usually 3A max).

It's true that this Tronsmart Dual Quick Charge 3.0 36W wall charger also outputs up to 2.4A at 5V, so that it's technically compatible with Microsoft Lumias, Google Pixels, Apple iPads, and so on, the majority of the world which doesn't use Quick Charge 2.0 or 3.0. But it's not optimised as such, so the USP here wouldn't be appreciated by users of any of these devices - plus their original 3A chargers would give a faster charge.

However, many of us have multiple device these days, certainly around a family, so a mix of 2015/2016 phones with both 'Power Delivery' and Quick Charge requirements. In which case this gadget is perfect - just plug in any USB cable and let the wall charger work out what voltage to supply and at what current.

The gadget is black, solid and unobtrusive - both ports have the trademark Quick Charge coloured blades and both can supply the same voltage/current combinations - at the same time, hence the overall 36W rating.

There's a green status LED on the top, which lights to let you know that power is being delivered. This is the UK variant, though two pin mains versions are available for other markets.

My only worry is that the charger sticks out quite a way, so you might want to make sure it's not easily knocked or tripped over! And I'd bet that this applies even more to those International two pin variants. Then again, there's a lot of clever circuitry to pack in, and safely too, given the power rating!

At £16 currently, on offer on Amazon UK, this is good value for a trusted charger brand and it's made it's way into my go-everywhere overnight bag.

PS. Here's the original product page on Tronsmart's web site.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Renovating an old, classic Macbook!

At first sight, what I'm doing makes no sense, the 'late 2009' Macbook is now seven years old and should be nigh on unusable, even with the efficiencies of Mac OS.

Yet Apple's design decisions in the Macbook arena as we moved into 2015 and then into 2016 don't really appeal to me at all. I like the Magsafe connector, I like having a charging indicator, I like having an optical drive, I like having a full ethernet port, I like having USB-A ports, I like having a proper keyboard, I even like having a glowing Apple logo on the back.

Money being no object, I guess a 2014-era Macbook Pro would give me all of the above with faster performance, but we're still looking at £1000 or so, which got me thinking...

How could I breathe new life into my much beloved, but ageing, Macbook?

Here's what I did:
  • Had the peeling rubber bottom replaced by Apple (free of charge, it was a design defect)
  • Had the battery replaced by Apple (£80 or so, a year ago)
  • Upgraded the RAM to the maximum of 6GB with an extra 4GB stick, albeit running at the speed of the original 2GB, which has to stay in place for architecture reasons. 6GB seems to be fine, even with the latest Mac OS Sierra though.
  • Put in a new optical SuperDrive last year - this wasn't trivial, but also only took an hour all-in. Cost was about £25. The old SuperDrive had been getting more and more unreliable, possibly due to some orange juice damage early in the Macbook's life (on loan to my daughter!) And yes, I still use DVDs - and I write DVDs and CDs, mainly for my wife and father. Plus occasional offline backups.
  • As just mentioned, the Macbook now runs the very latest Sierra build, so it's bang up to date. I guess my original Snow Leopard install DVD is now a museum piece?(!)
  • Swapped out the 250GB hard disk - this still worked but the Macbook had been getting so slow lately, despite numerous 'First Aid'/permissions repairs and anything else I can think of. Maybe wiping the disk and starting from scratch would help a bit, but it did seem sensible to take the next evolutionary step and move to a Solid State Disk (SSD). I bought this 250GB replacement from Amazon UK after recommendations from others to go with a Samsung disk. The swap was pretty trivial - I used SuperDuper! to copy everything from the old disk to the new one, temporarily plugged in via USB using this cable. Then it was just a case of taking the Macbook's back off (8 screws) and swapping the disks (the SATA connectors and screw-in locators are standard). 

In addition to all this, there are some software tweaks, of course. Nothing drastic, but all aimed at giving me a larger screen than the 13" Macbook initially shipped with. Setting my Mac OS app dock at the side of the screen rather than on the bottom, instantly gaining me some screen real estate for most applications. And, along the same lines, using the little known (and fairly new?) 'System Preferences/General/Automatically hide and show the menu bar' - this gives another centimetre of useable screen height a lot of the time. And finally, yet again improving screen real estate, using the provided 'full screen' option in most applications (e.g. Chrome or Safari), which makes damn sure that all those screen edges are filled with the app's UI. Add these tweaks together and it's astonishing how much more spacious the old screen looks!

Of course, I can't do anything about screen resolution, but then I also can't do anything about my eyesight, which at typical laptop reading distances (about 45cm) can't really tell the 800p screen here from the 'retina' resolutions on the flagships. In which case there's little point in paying for the latter.
Am I being a little perverse in trying to prolong the life of a laptop which should long ago have been gracefully retired? Probably, but it's the sort of tech challenge I relish. I also have a 2006 Windows laptop - so ten years old. This was maxed out when it was bought by a friend (4GB RAM, twin hard disks, etc.) and is now only barely sufficient, but it keeps going well, even on Windows 10.
Happy tech days, eh?