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Apple Alternatives

May 2, 2011
By Dave Hecei ( , The Post-Journal

There is no denying Apple is as popular now as it's ever been. Apple's rise started with the original iMac, then the iPod, the iPhone, and now the iPad. All of these products are class leading and innovative. This is not to say that everything Apple makes is ideal. There are excellent alternatives to some Apple products.

Back in the days, quite a few years ago, Apple used to make all kinds of other products. They made CD drives, inkjet and laser printers, digital cameras, web cams, and scanners. Today's Apple is a much more focused company. The products they do make are beautifully designed and yet very functional (sometimes design and function don't mesh). There are alternatives to most everything that Apple makes. While most alternatives are mediocre at best, some alternatives make sense, and can save you quite a bit of cash.

Apple made some fine monitors. Unfortunately, Apple has limited their current monitor choice to just one model, the 27-inch LED Cinema Display. This is an amazing display that can be used with all current Macintosh models - the mini, MacBook laptops, iMac, and Mac Pro tower. It is a very high-resolution model, showing 2560-by-1440 pixels. What makes this model unique is the special cabling system. A single cable contains a USB, Mini DisplayPort, and MagSafe power connector. The later is used for MacBook laptops. The monitor has some nice built-ins - iSight web camera, microphone, USB ports, and 2.1 speaker system. This amazing monitor comes at a high price, $1000.

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If you don't need quite as high resolution, but want a big 27-inch screen, there are some great alternatives. Samsung, LG, and HP all make excellent 27-inch LED backlit LCD monitors. Dell has the Ultra Sharp 27, but that is priced identically to the Apple so why not stick with Apple. These other monitors have an HD resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. They also have something the Apple monitor does not have, essentially HDMI ports. The Samsung is model P2770HD, HP is model 2709M, and the LG is model W2753VC-PF. These models are all priced around $350 to $400. Products do change rapidly so there may be a newer model now available, just make sure it has a sharp screen and wide viewing angles.

Another slightly smaller, if a 24-inch LCD can be considered small, monitor that I really like is the Dell UltraSharp model U2410. This monitor has great color and view-angle. It shows slightly more than HD resolution at 1920 by 1200 pixels. It also has plenty of ports to connect all kinds of sources. It has the standard computer VGA port, plus DVI, HDMI, Composite and component video, 4 USB ports and a media card reader. This allows for easy connection of peripherals like VCRs, DVD players, cameras and game consoles. The Dell UltraSharp 24 is priced around $499.

Another alternative product is a wireless router. Apple makes the Airport Extreme, a nice wireless router that is fairly easy to use, especially since the setup software is built into OS X. The street price for the Extreme is about $180 - a bit on the high side for a wireless router. There are plenty of alternatives that work great with Macs. Some of my favorites are from Linksys, Netgear, and D-Link. You can get an excellent 802.11n WiFi router from these other makers from $30 to $90. While most of these are not designed with Mac software in mind, they can be easily configured using just your web browser. Once configured, the Mac doesn't really care if it's an Airport or not - WiFi is WiFi.

The last alternative is for the Apple Time Capsule. This is a WiFi box that has a large internal hard drive that is used in conjunction with OS X Leopard or Snow Leopard. Starting in OS X Leopard, Apple included a function called Time Machine, an automatic incremental backup system. Time Capsule is essentially a NAS (Network Attached Storage) and WiFi router combined. If you don't have a WiFi router yet, it's not a bad deal at $299 for the 1TB, but at $499 for the 2TB, maybe not.

Buffalo Technologies makes a great little NAS device called the LinkStation Live. This little black box looks like a typical external hard drive, but instead of connecting to your Mac through a USB port there is a Gigabit Ethernet port. You just connect the LinkStation Live to your home network. It comes in 4 sizes 500GB, 1TB, 1.5TB and 2TB with prices starting around $99.

The LinkStation is designed to work directly with Apple computers, something that most NAS units cannot say. Some of the great features found in the LinkStation Live include - Web Access (upload and watch photos and files or listen to music from anywhere you have Internet access), iPhone Support (use your iPhone or iPad to stream and view content), Time Machine (full OS X Time Machine support), iTunes Support (play music from the LinkStation through the iTunes application), DLNA Certified (built-in media server standard), Network Servers (FTP and print server built-in), USB Expansion (USB port to expand storage or to attach a backup drive to run on a schedule), and Direct Copy (plug in a USB drive or camera to quickly offload pictures). As you can see, the LinkStation Live is a very capable device and is designed to work with both Macs and PCs.

These are just a few alternatives for your Apple universe. While nobody would say that a Zune is a better replacement for an iPod or that an Acer can replace a MacBook Pro, there are alternatives to some Apple products. Apple does make great gear, but as you can see, there are alternatives to some Apple products. These can be just as good, or sometimes better (meaning more versatile), and almost always at a lower price.



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