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Review: MacBook Air (mid-2014)

The MacBook Air has really come into its own with later revisions and price cuts, which is why, despite being an amazing computer, it’s mildly disappointing that the mid-2014 model is a very minor refresh, with just two significant changes. The processors are a mere 0.1GHz faster: now 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 CPUs are used throughout the range, replacing the 1.3GHz chips inside the mid-2013 models.

Perhaps more significantly, the prices are down by $100 across the range, including both the entry-level 11-inch and 13-inch models, and the high-end versions that boast 256GB of storage. Everything else about them is the same, but since they were already outstanding, and the price drop brings the entire range below $1,200, this is hardly an indictment.

Macbookair2014 620

As you’d expect, benchmark results are barely changed from last year. Testing the higher-end models in each of the screen sizes, we found our Cinebench rendering tests crept ahead by a few points and battery life was 20-35 minutes longer. Whatever the model, you can still use an Air all day on a single charge.

While the current MacBook Air is undoubtedly excellent, rumor has it a new Retina version is coming soon. Could it make more sense to wait for that, even though it’s likely to be more expensive? Or maybe look for a clearance model from the 2013 range, which is likely to be even cheaper than the price-dropped 2014 line, and only marginally slower? Whichever you buy, you’re getting an incredible machine.

The bottom line. The MacBook Air gives amazing portability and all-day battery without compromising on power.

Review Synopsis

Product: 

MacBook Air (mid-2014)

Company: 

Apple, Inc.

Contact: 

Price: 

$1099 (11-inch), $1199 (13-inch)

Positives: 

Outstanding battery life. Extremely portable. This 2014 release gets a price cut.

Negatives: 

Is a Retina model coming soon that could render this one obsolete?


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Morning Report: iPhone 6 Could Improve Apple Logo, iTunes 11.3.1 Update

Iphone 6 Apple Logo Liquidmetal 620px

The so-called iPhone 6 is back in the news today, thanks to some lovingly detailed photo leaks from a luxury device supplier more than happy to show off just a few of the changes Apple may have in store for us next month. Readers can also kick off the weekend with a big App Store sale on productivity titles, along with a minor iTunes update that stomps out a few podcast bugs — it's all in this edition of the MacLife.com Morning Report!

Latest iPhone 6 Leak Reveals Scratch-Resistant Apple Logo

With Apple's next media event widely expected only a month from now, the iPhone 6 leaks appear to be ramping up once again. MacRumors reported Thursday that luxury iPhone vendor Feld & Volk have gotten their hands on what appears to be a completed rear shell for the 4.7-inch iPhone 6, revealing recessed volume buttons and a curious improvement to the Apple logo embedded on the back of the device.

Feld & Volk claims this year's iPhone will feature an Apple logo made of "very extraordinary" metal reportedly far more resistant to scratches. The report immediately raises the possibility of the logo being made from Liquidmetal, an alloy Apple has been toying with, but has yet to implement in Cupertino's mobile devices.

Also on display from Feld & Volk is the device's external camera ring, a 6.66 mm diameter circle that protrudes slightly, rather than lying flush with the exterior shell as previous models. The larger 5.5-inch iPhone 6 has been widely believed to feature just such a camera ring, but this marks the first time it's appeared on the 4.7-inch model.

Apple Squashes Podcast Bugs with iTunes 11.3.1 Update

Have you noticed iTunes 11.3 failing to update subscribed podcasts with new episodes, or worse yet, freeze up entirely when browsing lists of podcast episodes? If so, you'll want to run, not walk, to the Mac App Store and download iTunes 11.3.1, a minor update released Thursday that aims to squash those very bugs, in addition to all the goodies included with iTunes 11.3, such as iTunes Extras for HD movies.

"iTunes 11.3.1 addresses a problem where subscribed podcasts may stop updating with new episodes and resolves an issue where iTunes may become unresponsive while browsing your podcasts episodes in a list," Apple's release notes read. (The update is also available direct from Apple's website.)

App Store Launches Big Sale on Popular Productivity Apps

We'd all like to stay productive, but it gets expensive buying all of the apps necessary to make that dream a reality. If you've been waiting for a sale on popular apps such as Fantastical 2, Clear, Scanbot, PDF Expert 5, iTranslate Voice, or Launch Center Pro, now is your chance, thanks to Apple's "Amazing Productivity Apps" sale on the App Store, with prices as low as 99 cents and topping out at $6.99. Writer Pro receives one of the most steep discounts, from $19.99 to $4.99, but most of the others are at least 50 percent off, but only for a limited time. (At least one developer has confirmed the sale ends August 14th, but Apple isn't saying for sure.)

Follow this article’s author, J.R. Bookwalter on Twitter

(Image courtesy of MacRumors and Feld & Volk)

 


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Deals: Become a Master iPhone Photographer with these Awesome Accessories

[This is an advertorial. Maclife gets a portion of each unit sold.]

The iPhone has become a capable replacement for stand alone cameras. There's no need to lug around another device when you can snap gorgeous shots on the phone that is already in your pocket. But if you want to become a real iPhone photographer, you need the right accessories to get the pictures you want. We have a bunch of must have tools for your mobile portraits. Check out the offers available now in our Deals tab.

Iphonelenskit

You can turn your iPhone into the ideal option for capturing any moment with the 3-in-1 Lens Kit. It features a lens ideal for up close photos, images in the distance, and wider landscapes. Get all three to add to your photography arsenal for just $23.99.

Istabilizer

If you're in rough terrain or just need a little extra support to get the image you want, use the iStabilizer and keep the camera rolling. It's the ideal accessory for capturing amazing, cinematic videos. You'll get smooth, tracking shots that will look great. It can be yours for just $38.99.

Kick

Kick packs in about as much power as you could ever need into one small package. Though it's small, Kick can push out 400 lumens of light, making it twice as bright as most police flashlights. Keep Kick in your back pocket for just $149.


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Market Wrap: Stocks Slip as Oil Slump Slaps Energy Companies

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Oleksiy Maksymenko/AlamyMichael Kors had the worst day of any stock in the S&P 500 index Tuesday. The maker of luxury handbags, shoes and other accessories fell 8.4 percent.
By STEVE ROTHWELL

NEW YORK -- The ongoing slump in oil prices weighed on stocks again on Tuesday, pushing energy companies to another day of big losses. Disappointing earnings outlooks from a range of companies, including Priceline (PCLN) and Michael Kors (KORS) also sent the market lower.

Oil has fallen sharply in recent weeks as global supplies rise while demand for fuel trails expectations. The latest decline was prompted by reports that Saudi Arabia is cutting the price of oil that it supplies to the U.S. as it attempts to maintain its market share as U.S. production booms.

The drop in oil prices has hit energy stocks hard, driving them into negative territory for the year. It has also helped push the stock market back from the record levels that it reached last week.

"It's a case of sell first, ask questions later, for anything oil-related," said Quincy Krosby, a market strategist at Prudential Financial.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) fell 5.71 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,012.10. The Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 15.27 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,623.64. The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) bucked the trend, edging up 17.60 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,383.84.

While energy stocks are suffering, many analysts and investors predict that the U.S. economy will benefit in the long run from lower energy prices. Lower gas prices will put more money in consumers' pockets, giving them more spending power.

Airline stocks were among the winners Tuesday as energy prices fell. Fuel is their single largest operating cost and lower prices should mean higher profits if demand for air travel stays strong. Delta Airlines (DAL) surged $1.71, or 4.2 percent, to $42.32. United Continental (UAL), Jet Blue (JBLU) and Southwest Airlines (LUV) also logged big gains.

Investors were also keeping an eye on third quarter earnings reports.

Michael Kors fell the most in the S&P 500 index.

The maker of luxury handbags, shoes and other accessories gave an outlook for the fourth quarter that disappointed investors. The stock fell $6.57, or 8.4 percent, to $71.42.

Priceline also slumped. The online travel booking company dropped $100.82, or 8.4 percent, to $1,097.70 after the company hinted that the weak economic backdrop in Europe would hurt its earnings in the current quarter. The booking company reported that its earnings rose 28 percent in the third quarter, but its outlook for the current quarter fell short of analysts' projections.

Investors will also be following the outcome of the midterm elections. Polling across the board gives Republicans well over a 50 percent chance of turning out at least six incumbent Senate Democrats or capturing seats left vacant by Democrat retirements, an outcome that would put the opposition in charge of both houses of Congress in the final two years of Obama's second White House term.

Some strategists say that even if Republicans win both houses, it will likely have little impact on the direction of the stock market in coming months.

"The reality is that you're still going to have a Democratic president, and very little is going to get done in the last two years of his term," said David Lafferty, chief market strategist at Natixis Global Asset Management. "When elections really begin to matter is probably going to be in the next cycle."

The news from overseas may also have discouraged buyers.

The European Union cut its already low economic growth forecasts further on Tuesday, indicating the recovery will remain sluggish amid problems for the biggest economies, particularly France and Germany. The official forecast for growth this year in the 18-country eurozone was cut to 0.8 percent from a prediction of 1.2 percent made in the spring. The institution also cut its forecast for next year.

Germany's DAX dropped 0.9 percent to 9,169 while France's CAC-40 fell 1.5 percent to 4,129. The FTSE 100 of leading British shares fell 0.5 percent to 6,453.

The dollar's surge against the yen abated Tuesday, a day after the U.S. currency rose to its highest point in almost seven years. The dollar was flat at 113.51 yen. It fell against the euro, trading at $1.2550. U.S. government bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.32 percent.

In currency trading, the dollar's surge against the yen abated after the U.S. currency rose to its highest point in almost seven years on Monday. The dollar traded flat at 113.51 yen. It fell against the euro, trading at $1.2550. U.S. government bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.32 percent.

In metals trading, silver for December delivery slumped 25 cents, or 1.5 percent, to 15.95 an ounce. Gold for the same month dropped $2.10, or 0.2 percent, to $1,167.70 an ounce. Gold is now trading at a four-year low.

Copper for December slipped 4.7 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $3.02 per pound.

What to Watch Wednesday:
  • Payroll-processor ADP (ADP) reports private-sector hiring for October at 8:15 a.m. Eastern time.
  • The Institute for Supply Management releases its index of business conditions within the service sector for October at 10 a.m.
  • The Energy Information Administration releases its weekly petroleum inventory report at 10:30 am.
These selected companies are scheduled to report quarterly financial results:
  • Actavis (ACT)
  • Ashland (ASH)
  • CBS (CBS)
  • Chesapeake Energy (CHK)
  • Duke Energy (DUK)
  • Dynegy (DYN)
  • Genworth Financial (GNW)
  • Level 3 Communications (LVLT)
  • Mondelez International (MDLZ)
  • News Corp. (NWSA) (NWS)
  • NRG Energy (NRG)
  • Prudential Financial (PRU)
  • Qualcomm (QCOM)
  • Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. (SMG)
  • SolarCity (SCTY)
  • Spectra Energy (SE)
  • Sun Life Financial (SLF)
  • Symantec (SYMC)
  • Tesla Motors (TSLA)
  • Tim Hortons (THI)
  • Time Warner (TWX)
  • Towers Watson (TW)
  • Toyota Motor (TM)
  • Voya Financial (VOYA)
  • Whole Foods Market (WFM)
  • Zillow (Z)

 

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Money-Saving Travel Hacks -- Savings Experiment

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An ordinary travel mug isn't just good for your tea and coffee. It's also a great place to hide valuables in your hotel room since it's fairly inconspicuous, and an unlikely target for thieves. Here are a few more travel hacks that will make your trip easier and save you a few dollars, too.

First and foremost, scan or photograph your passport and ID. Then email the images to yourself. This way, you'll always have a digital copy handy in case of loss or theft.

Next, if your clothes always seem to be taking up too much luggage space, try rolling them up instead of folding them. This will open up a lot of room, which can sometimes save you from paying extra baggage fees.

Packing an empty water bottle will also help you squeeze a few more dollars out of your budget. Just fill it up once you get through security, and you won't have to buy overpriced airport water ever again. You can also re-use the bottle throughout your trip to save even more money.

Lastly, if you happen to forget the wall plug-in for your phone charger, check the back of your hotel TV. A lot of the newer models will have a USB port where you can recharge your phone without spending more for a new charger.

Give these travel hacks a try on your next trip. Not only will you lower your expenses, but you'll avoid a few headaches, too.

View Poll

 

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Why Her Emergency Money Backup Plan Is a Credit Union Visa

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Since I was hired at the financial empowerment website MagnifyMoney six months ago, I've spent my workdays looking at the best (and worst) balance transfer deals, rewards credit cards, checking accounts, savings accounts and personal loans. But in a prime example of inertia, I've been slow to change my financial products, even after spending half a year being inundated with hard evidence that many of my money-related decisions were inferior.

Finally, I Joined a Credit Union

My decision to join a credit union wasn't actually based in a desire to use it as my primary bank.

Credit unions should be lauded for their ability to offer Americans an alternatives to the mega banks. They work solely to serve their members, who are also the owners (to join a credit union, you buy a share). Big banks, by contrast, often serve their shareholders at the expense of their customers, which is why customers are served up high overdraft fees and maintenance fees on one side, and infinitesimally low interest rates on their savings accounts on the other.

However, most credit unions still feature brick-and-mortar branches, where they need to keep the lights on. While their fees are less than those of the big banks, those fees do exist.

The reason I decided to join a credit union wasn't to escape the clutches of a monolithic bank (I'd already opted into Internet-only banking) but rather, to get a credit card.

Why Get a Credit Card from a Credit Union?

I'm a millennial anomaly. I've never carried debt. No auto loans. No mortgages. No student loans. No personal loans. No interest ever paid to a bank or lender. None. (Note: I don't consider using a credit card being in debt if you pay off your entire bill on time and in full each month, because if you do that, you pay no interest.)

I have a sizable emergency fund, money invested in non-retirement accounts that could be liquidated if I needed to and a savings account. Should an emergency befall me tomorrow, I'm theoretically prepared.

Despite all this, I decided to get the Promise Visa (V) Card from Pentagon Federal Credit Union to put in my safety deposit box, in case of emergencies. The Promise Visa offers a 9.99 percent annual percentage rate and no penalty APR. This APR is subject to change with the market based on prime rate, but it will likely stay significantly lower than competing credit cards.

In Case of Emergency, Break Plastic

Let's say a series of unfortunate events occur, and I suddenly need $7,000 to cover emergency bills.

Perhaps I don't feel comfortable draining my emergency fund to zero or liquidating an investment. Even worse, what if I get hit by a bunch of issues all at once, my emergency fund has already taken a hit, and I can't afford to pay so much in one fell swoop.

The Promise Visa provides an option to avoid predatory lenders. At a 9.99 percent APR, I could take on the debt at a relatively low interest rate. I could always elect to do a balance transfer later or shop around for a personal loan at a lower interest rate -- once matters had calmed down.

Credit cards are not the ideal way to manage your debt. Their interest rates are often higher than personal loans or a personal line of credit -- assuming you have an excellent credit score. Anything less than an excellent credit score often leads to loan interest rates in the double digits. But sometimes you need to make a payment quickly, and don't have time to shop around for the cheapest alternative.

Personally, I view this type of credit card as a fire extinguisher housed in a glass case. You don't want to break that glass unless you really, really need it. But you do want the fire extinguisher to be there.

Why the PenFed Promise Visa?

I did my due diligence. As of this writing, PenFed is unbeatable in terms of APR, and it has no hidden traps, no fees and -- perhaps even best -- simplicity. Recently, MagnifyMoney.com (as mentioned before, my employer) awarded the PenFed Promise Visa our first A+ transparency score. The Promise Visa only has one page of terms and conditions, no penalty APR and no annual fee.

You do need to be a member of PenFed to apply, so if you aren't already a member it will cost $20 to join -- $5 to keep in an active savings account and $15 one-time donation. However, PenFed also offers incredibly low interest rates on mortgages and auto loans, so it's a shrewd move to become a member.

The Best vs. the Worst

Let's compare this A+ credit card to one of the worst one the market today.

PenFed Promise Visa offers no annual fee; introductory APR of 7.49 percent for 36 months, then a set 9.99 percent; no penalty APR; and credit limit ranging up to $50,000.

First Premier Bank -- America's 10th largest issuer of Visa and MasterCard (MA) -- offers what can only be described as an F-level credit card. Potential cardholders need to pay a $95 processing fee to even apply for the card. Once approved, they'll owe a $75 annual fee. In year two, the annual fee is $45, but cardholders have to pay an additional monthly servicing fee, which costs $6.25 a month (or $75 annually). To top it all off, First Premier Bank charges a 36 percent APR and includes heaps of fine print, including disclosure that the credit limits are $300. Customers would need to spend $170 for a $300 credit limit.

Diversification is Key

Diversification is a fundamental concept for anyone learning about personal finance. However, while must discussions on the topic rightly focus on diversifying your investments, a similar case can be made for financial products. Savvy consumers should always be on the hunt for the best deals and integrating them into their financial portfolio. Even if you've covered the bases on emergency planning, it's smart to include some diversity and redundancy in your financial arsenal.

Erin Lowry writes for DailyFinance on issues relating to millennials, money and personal finance. She's also the blogger behind Broke Millennial, where her sarcastic sense of humor entertains and educates her peers. She is also the brand and content manager of MagnifyMoney.

 

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