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Ask TUAW: Choosing an iPhone, used Mac disposal, wake from sleep, podcast software and more


Welcome back to Ask TUAW, our weekly troubleshooting Q&A column. This week we've got questions about getting an iPhone, disposing of old Macs, wake from sleep issues, exchanging a recent Mac purchase, podcast hardware and software, and more.

As always, your suggestions and questions are welcome. Questions for next week should be left in the comments. When asking a question please include which machine you're running and which version of Mac OS X (we'll assume you're running Snow Leopard on an Intel Mac if you don't specify). And now, on to the questions.

Tom asks:

I'm considering an iPhone but want to know what my options are. Is the iPhone the best smartphone if I'm a Mac user?
The short answer to that question is "Yes." The iPhone is the best smartphone for you if you use a Mac. It's designed by Apple to work seamlessly with your Mac and iTunes and for the most part, it does. For Mac users the iPhone offers the best user experience possible and keeps you, at least hardware-wise, entirely in the Apple fold.

That said, the iPhone itself may or may not be the best smartphone for your needs. One drawback is that it's only available if you are an AT&T wireless customer. So, unless you are already an AT&T customer, or are willing to switch, you are out of luck.

Plus, using AT&T on a daily basis can sometimes be challenging as it's network occasionally has issues. Also, the coverage in some areas is not quite as good as other networks such as Verizon -- even in larger cities such as Los Angeles, where I live.

Also, some don't like the iPhone's touch screen and instead swear by something like the Blackberry's keyboard.

As a former Blackberry user I can also tell you that the Blackberry was a great device and the most recent ones are even better. Sure, they may not be quite as pretty as the iPhone, but when it comes to tasks such as email handling, the Blackberry still reigns supreme for many people and also dominates for the business market.

Now that RIM has released updated Desktop Manager software for the Mac, you can sync your contacts, calendars, etc. with the Blackberry much more easily, which was a big deal for me when I was using a Blackberry previously.

In the end what determines the "best" anything is what you want to use it for and what you are willing to do to use it. If your main criteria is seamless integration with your Mac, the iPhone is the clear choice. If you're willing to sacrifice some looks, cutting edge coolness, and the large selection of apps that the iPhone brings, take a look at the Blackberry. You can't really go wrong with either of those choices.

Computergeeksjw asks:

What's the best way to recycle my old Mac?

That's a great question and something we should all be aware of. In the U.S. alone, we discard around 1400 pounds of trash per person every year, which amounts to millions of tons of garbage. With the average person in the U.S. having around 24 electronic devices each, that's a lot of potential electronic waste. So, with all that electronic garbage, what do we do with all of it when we're done with it?

One of the easiest ways is to use Apple's own recycling program. They will take any old computer, monitor, cell phone, iPod or whatever you have and recycle it for you. Just fill out the form and ship your old tech to them and they will take care of the rest.

In some cases, Apple charges a US $30.00 fee for recycling. But in most instances, such as when you buy a new Mac or iPod, Apple will recycle your old one for free. They will also recycle your Mac batteries for free. Just bring them to any Apple retail store location.

You can also head over to the Electronic Industry Alliance's website to find a recycling center near you. Or, if your state doesn't have one, try searching at the National Recycling Coalition website to find alternatives near you.

Another option is to sell or just give away your old Mac. Places such as TechSoup and Recycles Dot Org offer ways to donate your tech to organizations or individuals who need it. Or, there's always eBay.

VegaMachead asks:

I have a MBPro running 10.5.8 that's about a year old. I'm having this weird problem waking my MBPro. When I open the lid I hear the hard drive start, the keyboard lights up, the display even comes on, but all I see is a black screen. No prompt to put in my password. If I hit any keys I heard the "error" sound. At first I could close the lid, let it sleep again then open it up and it would prompt me for my password, now it doesn't even do that. How do I fix it?
There's a couple things to try before taking your Mac into an Apple Store for repair. First, you can try resetting the System Management Controller. Also, and this isn't anything against you, but try turning the brightness up on your screen when you wake the Mac from sleep.

Occasionally, and for no reason anyone at Apple can tell me, the brightness gets turned all the way down during sleep. Your Mac may be awake but the screen just might be dark.

As a last resort, you can archive and install OS X. Many times, issues can be traced to problems in certain software or user accounts so installing a fresh copy of the OS may solve the problem. If all else fails, it's probably time to take it to your local Apple Store.

TheCrusher asks:

Bought the Mac Mini about one week ago (the cheapest one, stock), and I'm considering getting my money back for it and go for the new one. Good idea? The one I've got now is horribly slow, and a bad first-experience of OS X for me. Is this because of the lack of RAM (1GB), or something else?

I like it when we get an easy one around here. The answer to your question is a resounding "Yes!" Return it immediately and get a brand new Mac mini. You'll be glad you did. Also, if you want to enhance your user experience, you may want to consider adding more RAM in the next one. It can't hurt.

Tony asks:

I want to get into podcasting. What's the best application for recording audio on my Mac? Also, do I need any special hardware to do the recording?

We just had a post on this topic; check out Steve Sande's DIY podcasting platform details.

Fortunately, Apple offers a pretty good option right out of the box. GarageBand can record audio from most any source you can plug into your Mac, including the built-in mic. So, it can work for podcasting. However, it's more geared to people who want to record music, so it's vast array of features may be a bit much for what you want to do.

That said, I prefer a piece of software called Sound Studio, which I personally use to record my podcast each week. I like it for it's ease of use and the fact that you can get it going with minimal work and produce some really great results. I'm sure our readers will point out many free or cheaper alternatives to Sound Studio, but I purchased it myself, use it all the time and it works great for me. So, I recommend it.

Another crucial piece of the audio recording toolbox is the microphone. I cannot overstate enough the importance of a good mic. Recording anything through the mic on your Mac that you intend for people to listen to is not something I recommend. Nor should you probably use any of the headphone mics so popular with people who use things like Skype.

For my money, I've had the best luck with a mic called the Blue Snowball. It's easy to use, needs no drivers in OSX and produces great quality sound with minimal effort. Just plug it in to your USB port, select it in System Prefs and in Sound Studio as the audio input source, and you're off. I use this exact mic each week to record my podcast each week. Get one, you won't regret it.

You will also want a good pair of headphones to prevent feedback when you are recording your audio. With headphones, you can listen to what you are saying but you won't hear it back through the speakers on your Mac while you are recording. This is a must for any professional, and professional sounding, podcast recording.

The headphones I use currently are the Sennheiser HD218. For me they offer the best combination of sound quality, weight, comfort, ease of use and price. You can certainly get cheaper but again, these offer the best combo for me and I use them every day so I know they work.

Jenny asks:

I just got a Mac a few months ago and I'm not sure if I'm in love with the keyboard. Is there a better alternative to the Apple "chiclet" keyboard?

Like you, I wasn't in love with the Apple keyboard at first so I tried a whole bunch of different ones form a lot of different sources. I never found a clear winner, at least for me, and over the months I find I tend to use the Apple keyboard most of the time. That said, it certainly isn't for everyone.

For the absolute best keyboard for the Mac, most people would choose the Matias Tactile Pro. It uses old-school mechanical springs and is beefy as heck. It's also really loud. However, it has great feel and really good key response so people tend to find that they are able to type faster and more accurately with it. It also has a handy USB 2.0 dock built into it as well.

Currently, the Matias website lists the Tactile 2.0 as sold out and they are working on version 3.0. However, you can still find it at various online sources, so shop around.

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