LOT–Future Apple Offerings for Pros

I’ve written so often about my substantial qualms with Apple’s products that I probably should open a glue factory. The recent stories about Apple’s quasi mea culpa regarding the Mac Pro, and the anticipated new-form-factor iPhone coming this Fall/Winter, however, lead me back to the well yet again.

What is a Pro?

Whistlejacket by George Stubbs editThe rumors that have come out recently about the next generation of iPhone(s) highlight some substantial issues that Apple faces as it tries to bring out “Pro” branded products that are aimed at…well, who are they aimed at, actually?  Because it doesn’t really seem like they’re aimed at a certain class of “Pro.”

The new MacBook Pro, for example, introduces a gimmicky touchbar at the top of the keyboard.  It’s a thin and light computer, sure, but it maxes out at 16GB of RAM.  Which is a lot, but surely there are Pros who wouldn’t mind having more. You can’t have it, though.

The iPad Pros, too, are currently marketed as “Super. Computer. In two sizes.”  Clearly, Apple is feeling some heat from people using Surface (and Surface-clone, such as my Miix 700) devices–and liking them. And so Apple is trying to make the argument that the iPad Pro is the one device you really need.  Yes, they’re pretty tablets, and I know a handful of attorneys who use them, and don’t mind them, but I find them less than optimal. Which I’ll get back to in just a second.

Next Generation iPhone(s)

Every year, at about this time, there’re always rumors of what the next iPhone will look like. For the past 2 years, it’s been pointless to worry about because iPhones 6s and 7 look almost exactly like the iPhone 6, with the exception that the 7 doesn’t have a headphone jack, nor does it have a mechanical home button. Otherwise, they all look the same. Rumor has it that there will essentially be a 7s, which….*yawn*

In addition, though, there will be a special 10th anniversary iPhone …. 8? Who knows? But it will purportedly ditch the home button and side bezels altogether, and switch to an OLED display. Which plenty of Android phones have done already.  But this new iPhone will also apparently have dual front-facing cameras? (Or will all next generation phones have this feature? It’s a little unclear…) Which means better selfies, I guess.

Hardware is Only Part of the Equation

Revamping hardware, and putting in a few extra bells and whistles is all well and good, but at some point, the hardware melts away, and you’re left actually having to use the thing. You can have a Ferrari body, but if you put a Yugo engine in it, no one will want to drive it. To be fair, the processors Apple designs for the iPhones and iPads are not slouches. They are sprightly little things. But the operating system…? Ugh.

And this brings me back to why an iPad Pro (or standard) simply cannot be my “computer.” iOS 11, to be debuted at WWDC in a couple of months, is supposed to introduced a refreshed user interface. The design language we’ve been living with since iOS 7 is, in my opinion, an improvement over the language used through iOS 6. However, there are still a lot of annoyances. Not being able to put icons wherever I want, for example. Or the fact that we’re still using a grid of icons at all.

The issues aren’t just cosmetic. Siri is all but useless, serving mostly to amuse and argue with my kid.  The baked-in mail and calendar apps have improved, but they’re still not great.

File System

The most glaring issue, though, is the lack of an accessible file system.  My electronic file for any random case includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint docs; PDFs; jpgs, gifs, pngs, and tiffs;  and various audio and video formats. They all coexist happily in a special folder on my hard drive, which can be synced to remote storage.  But that folder can also be put on a thumb drive, which can be plugged into my Miix 700, and lo and behold, they’re all right where they’re supposed to be, easily accessible, easily worked with, and easily moved aside. I don’t even need access to the internet to work with them.

“Where are you that you don’t have access to the internet?” you might be asking. Well, courthouses, for example. While the Harris County courts have public wi-fi, it’s not secure, it’s slow, and it isn’t reliable in every courtroom. Montgomery County also has wi-fi, but I’ve had to ask prosecutors to give me their guest passwords to hop on it.

“Well, fine, wi-fi is for losers, LTE is where it’s at, anyway.” Sure. If you’ve sprung for the extra expense of getting the model of your device that includes an LTE chip. And if you’ve paid for the extra line on your phone plan. Even then, when you’re on the 18th floor of the Criminal Courthouse, in the middle of the brick, stone, and metal building, your LTE coverage is going to be unreliable. (This would, admittedly, be less of a hindrance in a place like Montgomery County, where you’re at most three stories in the sky.)

Using your phone as a wireless hotspot, too, would potentially be a solution, but anyone who’s done that can tell you how frustrating that can be.

Still: you can’t tell me it’s more convenient to access files over the internet than it is to simply pop a thumb drive into the side of the device.

Peripherals

The other area where the iPad Pro shows real problems acting as a “computer” is in its support for peripherals. The iPad Pro has one port: the Lightning port at the bottom of the device. My Miix 700 has three: 2 USB and one micro HDMI.  That means that if I want to plug my device into the courtroom’s a/v system (which is based on HDMI in most courtrooms in the Houston area), all I need is this $6.50 cable:

micro HDMI cable
Bog standard $6.50 micro HDMI cable.

By contrast, if I want to do the same with an iPad Pro, I need, at a minimum, Apple’s $50 lightning Digital AV Adapter.  Which, for what it’s worth, has terrible reviews. And you still need to buy an HDMI cable. (Theoretically, perhaps, you could order one of those $20-some-odd cables off Amazon, but they’re pretty skeezy.)  For what it’s worth, the Digital AV Adapter does allow you to charge your device at the same time you’re using video.

Not Trying to Sneer

The point of this post is not to say “neener neener Appl3 1s t3h suxxor” (I’ve written a few of those posts, to be fair). Rather, I’m pretty much stuck using an iPhone for the foreseeable future because it’s the least bad smart phone out there and it handles Exchange reasonably well. Since I’m stuck using it, I’d like to see it, and iOS, become better.

 

LOT-Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700 — One Month Later

Just about exactly one month ago, I purchased an open-box Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700 from Microcenter here in Houston, Texas.  I discussed my initial impressions about the device, which were quite favorable, here.  A month later, how has the device stacked up?  Has it improved my workflow? Have there been any glaring problems? Do I regret the purchase?  Well, let’s dig in.

The Miix 700 is a Good Size

Moving up from the 8-inch Dell Venue 8 Pro to the nearly 13-inch Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700 was a revelation. Five inches is a lot when you’re talking about tablet screens. In fact, the Miix 700 is almost exactly as wide as the V8P is tall.

The Venue 8 Pro is just a smidge taller than the Miix 700 is wide.

The screen is beautifully crisp, colorful, and sharp.  Having a full-HD screen in a relatively small display makes for an incredibly pleasing experience.  While the V8P was serviceable at browsing the web and reading books on the Kindle client, the extra screen real estate means that reading Word documents and PDFs is pleasant, rather than a laborious chore. The small screen of the V8P meant that I was constantly zooming and panning to read documents, which was far from ideal.  That doesn’t happen with the Miix 700.  I can read documents in full-screen mode, and it’s essentially equivalent to reading on a standard sheet of paper.

Read more “LOT-Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700 — One Month Later”

Law Office Technology–Back in the 2-in-1 Game

A medieval scribeWith the official demise of the Venue 8 Pro, I have been keeping my eyes peeled for an intriguing detachable 2-in-1 device with a good stylus.  Also, it needs to be larger than the Venue 8 Pro.  For my purposes, eight inches is too small for note taking.

Obviously, Microsoft’s Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 are the market definers.  Even the Surface Pro 3, though it’s over a year old, has compelling features. The Surface 3 is an interesting option, too, being slightly smaller. From HP, there is the Pavilion x2 Detachable 12-b096ms. Huawei and Samsung have also recently released 2-in-1 devices, the Matebook and Galaxy TabPro S respectively.

From my perspective, though, apart from the Pavilion x2, these things get pretty expensive really quickly. For example, the Surface Book, which thoughtfully includes a keyboard and stylus, starts at $1,349 for a Core i5 with a 128GB SSD and 8GB of RAM. To be honest, that’s probably all the computing power I anticipate needing, for now, but $1,349 is far more than I want to spend.  Especially for a device that’s had a spotty reliability record.  (If you really want to, you can go hog wild and max the thing out with a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD, resulting in a …….  $3,199 price tag. Still cheaper than the gold Apple Watch, though, so…)

2-in-1 Accessories Add Up

The rest of the devices, though? They’re all missing some key accessories.  And they aren’t cheap to acquire.

  • Surface Pro 4 Base Model (Core m3, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM, 12.3″ screen)
    • $899 starting price (oddly enough, the Core i5 model is currently on sale at the Microsoft Store for $849)
    • Stylus (Surface Pen) Included
    • +$130 — Surface Pro 4 Type Cover
    • Real World Total: $1,030
  • Surface Pro 3 Remaining New Model (Core i7, 512 GB, 8 GB RAM, 12″ screen)
    • $1,949 starting price (all other models are out of stock)
    • Surface Pen included
    • +$130 — Surface Type Cover
    • Real World Total: $2,080(!!!)
  • Surface Pro 3 Refurbished Model (Core i7, 512GB, 8GB RAM, 12″ screen)
    • $1,599 starting price (all other models are out of stock)
    • Surface Pen included
    • +$130 — Surface Type Cover
    • Real World Total: $1,730
  • Surface 3 (Atom x7, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM,
    • $599 starting price
    • Office 365 included for one year
    • +$60 Surface Pen
    • +$130 Surface Type Cover
    • Real World Total: $790
  • Pavilion x2 (Core m3, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM, 12″ screen)
    • $449 starting price
    • Keyboard included
    • +$60 Active Pen
    • Real World Total: $509
  • Huawei MateBook (Core m3, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM, 12″ screen)
    • $699 starting price
    • Free Keyboard (limited time offer, normally it’s $129)
    • +$59  MatePen (which includes a laser pointer, so that’s pretty neat)
    • Real World Total: $758
  • Galaxy TabPro S (Core m3, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM, 12″ screen)
    • $749 starting price (currently on sale)
    • Keyboard included
    • $80 Galaxy TabPro Pen
    • Real World Total: $829

By the time I’ve made the device usable for my wants, I will have spent more than I think is warranted.  Except for the HP Pavilion x2.  I think $500 plus change for a detachable 2-in-1 with a good-enough processor (more on that later, but I’m wary of the Atom processors given how sluggish the Venue 8 Pro became once I updated to Windows 10.)

Stylus Technology Matters

But I can’t bring myself to pull the trigger on the Pavilion. It isn’t because it isn’t a really compelling piece of hardware. Yes, maybe it’s slightly heavier and thicker than the other offerings.  And yes, perhaps the speakers on the sides might look a little…wonky. Those factors don’t matter as much to me, though. What I’m most concerned about is the stylus’s digitizing technology.  From what I could gather, it was either home-grown by HP, or used Synaptics technology, which is what Dell used on the V8P.  Given how incredibly unreliable the V8P’s stylus was, I can’t justify spending $500 on something to have it become essentially worthless out of the gate.

Instead, I really wanted something that used N-Trig’s or Wacom’s technology.  They have solid reputations, and aren’t likely to conk out on me while trying to take notes during a client meeting.

Where Are All the 2-in-1 Devices with Stylus Support?

Until this past weekend, which I’ll get to later, a 2-in-1 didn’t seem like something I was going to include in my work routine any time soon.  The utter lack of easily findable information on whether a particular device supports stylus input is another barrier.

The Microsoft Store’s website does a great job of aggregating a nice collection of 2-in-1s which are part of the Signature Edition program. That is, the machines purchased through that program do not have any junk (other than the stuff included as part of Windows 10) preinstalled. What the site utterly fails to do, other than for the Surface line of machines, is tell you whether a given device supports stylus input.  Even Amazon, which has a fine dedicated 2-in-1 section, does not include stylus support as a filter. There are options for operating system (including Windows XP), activity (Gaming, Business, Personal), display size, processor type, RAM size, number of CPU Cores, hard drive size and type, weight, number of USB 3.0 ports, WLAN standard, battery life, graphics type, graphics processor, optical storage, flash storage size, wireless internet connectivity, display technology, brand, display resolution, power consumption, and CPU speed.  But stylus support? Not an option.

It would be nice if there was a repository of which machines have active stylus support, but there really doesn’t seem to be one. Not easily findable at least.  For that, you need to run a Google or Bing search on each individual machine, and hope that the manufacturer’s website tells you the answer. Even then, though, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to learn what digitizer technology is being used. In the end, you have to make do the best you can.

Law Office Technology–Death of the Venue 8 Pro

Here lies the Venue 8 Pro
Imaged sourced from Sb2s3Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44188845

My “venerable” Dell Venue 8 Pro finally gave up the ghost.  It handled the upgrade to Windows 10 well enough, as I’ve mentioned.  Its flaky and unreliable stylus support, though, bounced it squarely in “convenient diversion” territory. I stopped using it for work long ago, and it stuck  around mainly to pass on to my daughter to mess around with.  My thoughts were that she will like it once she doesn’t need the walled playground of the Kindle Fire Kids Edition anymore.  She’s still pretty young, so I hoped it would stick around for at least two or three more years. I think it’s reasonable to assume that a tablet that doesn’t do much other than browse the web and run Twitter would have no real issues staying alive.

As it turns out, though, the wonky micro-USB port–which caused it to be sent back for repair soon after purchasing it–proved to be the Achilles heel; it just never managed to remain firmly attached to the motherboard. I know it wasn’t a terribly expensive device when it debuted, but it’s utterly ridiculous that something that was otherwise quite well-made would have such a fatal fundamental flaw.  That single port was used almost every single day, and it’s just plain mind-boggling that it failed for the sole reason that it needed to be charged.

I don’t suppose the thing needs much of a eulogy. The tech world has come a long way since the day when the Venue 8 Pro seemed to be something of a revelation. And I suppose that’s part of the lesson learned by being something of an early adopter. Still though, it felt nice in the hands as a consumption device, and it worked well enough in that role, so it’s a shame that it could never deliver on my hopes for it.

LOT (Law Office Technology): Microsoft’s Fall 2015 Event

Microsoft unveiled some very attractive hardware this morning in New York City, but that very attractive hardware comes with very premium pricing.

(Though Microsoft discussed it first, I’ll leave off discussing the XBoxOne, since I’m not terribly interested in it, and it doesn’t really fit into the whole how-does-this-piece-of-technology-integrate-into-the-law-office thing I have going here.  And the Hololens was mentioned and demoed, with a dev kit being offered next year for $3,000…..)

Microsoft Band (2.0)

Microsoft then moved on to the new Microsoft Band.  A few weeks ago, some renders leaked which showed a very sleek and rounded band that looks like a glowing bangle. The screen is rounded, but generally looks like a shiny version of the current Microsoft Band.  Microsoft is still calling it the Band (but I’m differentiating it by calling it “2.0”), and it still, unfortunately, looks like a shackle.

New Microsoft Band
The New Microsoft Band, sourced from Microsoft Store.

The clasp is huge and looks cumbersome, and interestingly, the woman discussing the Band on stage had it on with the screen on the inside of her wrist.  (The models on the product page are also wearing the screen on the inside of the wrist.) It looks far more capable than the first generation Band, and certainly less awkward with that weird flat wedge of a screen, but still quite large. Much larger, for example than the FitBit Charge I currently have on my wrist, which I think is already somewhat large and noticeably…dorky.

Nonetheless, I like the commitment to fitness that Microsoft is going for with the Band, with built-in GPS, partnerships already lined up with all sorts of health apps, and guided workouts.  One of the limitations I found when considering the original Band, in addition to the clunky screen, was its inability–apparently–to track steps all day long; it isn’t clear to me that the new Band has constant monitoring. It would make sense to have it, but then again, this thing is trying to do more than just track steps.

Such as being a productivity smart-watch-ish device, too.   Apparently, it will work with iPhones (no surprise considering Microsoft’s best mobile apps appear on iOS first), Androids, and yes, Windows Mobile phones.  You can get emails, text messages, other notifications, and even use Cortana.  Cortana, however, requires a Windows Phone 8.1 or later device.  *sad trombone*

At $249, it is $50 more than the previous model, but $100 less than the entry-level Apple Watch.  It’s an interesting pricing strategy because there is some legitimately interesting stuff in the device, but it’s probably appropriately priced (as far as these things go) as a second-tier device.  Not that I think the Apple Watch is any great shakes, to be honest. I’m not interested in that device in the slightest, as I already have a non-smart watch I like very much thank you.  I am interested in the Band, but not at $249, regardless of the fact they made a curved display.  That helps a lot, but I already found $199 too steep for my interests, and again, it really looks quite bulky.

Lumia 950 and 950XL

 

Lumia 950 and Lumia 950XL
Microsoft’s Lumia 950 and 950XL, sourced from Microsoft.

Anyway, on to the phones.  Not much to say here.  The Lumia 950 and 950XL appear to be flagship devices, and the Continuum features look legitimately impressive.  Being able to hook the phone up to a dock and have it work as a desktop-esque machine is really intriguing.  And the technical specifications are nothing to sneeze at.  Either 5.2″ or 5.7″ AMOLED screens, 20 MP cameras with triple LED flashes and ZEISS lenses (which by all accounts are fantastic), a standard 32GB of storage with a microSD slot, and either a 6-core or 8-core Snapdragon processor, they’re pretty stout phones. (Shoot, they even have liquid cooling, which…what?)  Then there’s the afore-mentioned ability to plug it into a dock and have a functioning desktop experience. It’s creative and progressive, and I genuinely would love to use one.

But.

The apps. Or more accurately, the dearth of apps. And the fact that Windows 10 Mobile is not ready for prime time. There is no way this phone will pass the wife test, and in this BYOD environment, that’s more important to me at this point than the technology. It’s a pity, since they are pretty devices.  And they’re lower-tier priced at $549 and $649 respectively (though, with Google’s release of the Nexus devices last week at lower price points, perhaps Microsoft should knock another hundred bucks or so off each if they actually want anyone to buy them).

Surface Pro 4

Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Microsoft Surface Pro 4, sourced from Microsoft.

Anyway, onto the device that I was most interested in, the Surface Pro 4.  I have made no bones about the fact that I have fallen out of love with my Venue 8 Pro as a productivity device.  I find it too small, and far too unreliable to use it for anything but general leisure-time consumption.  And that makes me somewhat sad because the idea of a tablet running a full operating system with pen input is precisely my perfect law office productivity device.  That’s where the Surface Pro 3, the Surface 3, and now the Surface Pro 4 resonate with me, and Microsoft has really delivered improvements to the Surface Pro line.

The new Surface Pro 4 is thinner, lighter, and purportedly more powerful. The pen has been updated, has an eraser, comes standard, and magnetically attaches to the edge of the device. Microsoft also updated the Type Cover, to include spaces between the keys, a glass trackpad, and a fingerprint scanner.  The screen is very nice, and has a ton of pixels.  It’s got Intel’s latest Core processors in it. All around, it’s a sleek machine, and I want one.

But the price.

It starts at $899, which is $100 more than the Surface Pro 3 started at (and you can currently get one for $699.00).  That *only* gets you a Core M3, 4 GB of RAM, and a decent 128GB SSD.  Opting for a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD increases the price to $1,299.00.  Another 8GB of RAM pumps it to $1,499.00 and maxing the thing out with a Core i7 with 16GB of RAM and 1TB of SSD storage results in a $2,699.00 device.  Add in a $199 dock, and a $129 keyboard… well, it’s not a cheap device.  Which is fine; it’s the standard-bearer for office productivity tablets.  But it’s also a lot of money to pay for a device which will be last year’s model in a year’s time.

Surface Book

Microsoft Surface Book
Microsoft’s new Surface Book, sourced from Microsoft.

And then there’s the Surface Book (they really should have called it something other than “Book”), which was quite unexpected (apart from whimsical musings about what Microsoft could do if it made laptop), and is very innovative. It’s also got to have all of Microsoft’s OEM partners peeved, because now Microsoft is definitely tromping in the devices category.  It’s a 2-in-1 device, where the screen detaches from the keyboard, and the two halves are connected by a really strange looking articulated hinge.

The thing is pretty compelling, packing a 13.3″ (3000 x 2000) touch screen that also accepts pen input.  In fact, it comes with the Surface Pen.  It also, in its base configuration, sports a Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 128GB of SSD storage.  It also starts at $1,499.00, which is firmly high-end territory.  Yes, it detaches and becomes a “clipboard,” which is very cool, but that, again, is a lot of money to spend on a first-gen device.  (Oh, maxing it out with a Core i7, 512 GB of SSD storage, 16GB or RAM, and discrete graphics will run you $2,699.)

Wrap it Up

So, all in all, some pretty interesting devices were debuted by Microsoft today, and it will be absolutely exciting to see if Microsoft’s OEM partners can address the build quality and technological specs with slightly more affordable gear.  Nonetheless, it’s nice to see a lot of innovation coming out in the wake of Windows 10.

AT&T is Doing Apple a Heck of a Solid

Applie 2015 invite, sourced from iMore.com.
Apple 2015 invite, sourced from iMore.com.

The 2015 iPhone event (I mean, what else can it be? It’s September, after all) is less than a week away, and the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus will be unveiled. (Presumably. Maybe there will be a change in the naming convention, but that’s doubtful.)  Most rumors have the phones being the same essential form factors as the current 6 and 6 Plus, though perhaps a tad thicker to accommodate the rumored enhancement to a Force Touch screen and a 12 megapixel rear-facing camera.  (The front-facing camera is also expected to receive a bump up in specs.)  There is also a presumed upgrade in the processor, and all around, it’ll surely be a swift machine.  As usual, macrumors.com has a roundup of the rumors surrounding the upcoming event.  (I’ll link to 9to5mac.com, too, since Mark Gurman digs most of this stuff up, but be warned: the site recently underwent a design change, and I find it…unwieldy.)

Abysmal Base Storage

And, as has long been suspected when Phil Schiller was interviewed at WWDC, the base model of both phones are expected to come with just 16GB of storage, his theory being that “price-conscious buyers” can simply stream content if the base amount is too small.  This is, however, a ludicrously low amount of storage considering the increase in camera size and the ability to shoot 4K video (those files are huge).  There is a bizarre contingent of Apple apologists who get incensed when anyone suggests that the base models should come with 32GB of storage rather than 16GB, stating that 16GB is more than enough, and pointing to the availability of the 64GB model if you need more (for just $100 more).  Fair enough–Apple is a corporation with a duty to its stockholders to increase profitability.  And if Apple can charge a premium on dirt-cheap memory, more power to them. But that doesn’t change the fact that Apple is skewering consumers (and apparently making them feel happy about it) while it does so.

How AT&T is Doing Apple a Solid

Of the four major wireless providers in the United States, AT&T is the last one to still offer contract pricing.  To be sure, it’s web page strongly suggests you take advantage of its Next plan, even going so far as to launch a pop-up that shows how buying an iPhone on contract is a really bad long-term idea if you try to do so.  If AT&T doesn’t really want you hopping on a contract, why, then, does it keep them around?

I suspect it’s to give Apple the ability to do this:

iPhone 6 price comparison, sourced from The Verge's liveblog coverage of the 2014 event.
iPhone 6 price comparison, sourced from The Verge‘s liveblog coverage of the 2014 event.

Those prices are only available at contract prices, and even on Apple’s website, the iPhone 6 is marketed by saying “Starting at $199,” even though AT&T is the only major which offers a contract.  It isn’t until you click through and see the unlocked option that you discover that the phone is $649.00.  The 64GB version is $749.00.  To get a 6 Plus, you tack on an extra $100 to the price. There would arguably be much less enthusiasm for the new iPhones if Apple were forced to display the model lineup with the actual prices.  You can imagine what sort of pundit reaction there would be to a $449 iPhone 5c.

The iPhone is Expensive. Period.

All this is to say, with contracts disappearing, getting the new iPhone is not an inexpensive proposition.  Sure, carriers like T-Mobile and Sprint are offering ways to lease the iPhone so that you can always get the latest version. Which is a pretty good idea in many regards, except for my experience in Houston with those companies’ coverages: neither are reliable.  Otherwise, though, consumers are either going to need to purchase the phones outright (at prices which exceed a Mac Mini, and which potentially can exceed a MacBook Air–yes, yes, miniaturization doesn’t come cheap) or finance them with about a minimum of $20 extra tacked on your cell phone bill each month.  Your cell plan may not involve a contract anymore, but your phone purchase sure does.

All this is to say, and while Apple is not the only manufacturer making really expensive phones (Samsung, too, makes really expensive devices, and the impending Nokia flagships are likely going to be available at roughly the same prices, though they probably shouldn’t be), make sure you tack an extra $450 to the price you see when Apple displays its price lineup.

 

Technology in the Law Office–The Default Method of Installing Windows 10

Three weeks after the launch of Windows 10, my Windows 7 desktop machine finally told me it was okay to upgrade.  (I forced updates on three laptops–I finally did my wife’s after the Windows 7 partition corrupted itself and lost the boot loader–and a Dell Venue 8 Pro mini tablet. But I wanted to leave one computer alone to see how long it would take to get the official “okay” from Microsoft.  Three weeks was the answer, I guess.)

A Rough Start

That does not mean, however, that the upgrade experience was seamless.  Yesterday morning, as I did nearly every morning since launch, I clicked the little Windows icon in the System tray to see whether it said “your reservation is confirmed; we’ll let you know when it’s ready” as it normally does.  Yesterday, however, it said I was ready to upgrade.  It informed me that, if I clicked “Continue” (or whatever it actually said–I probably should have written it down), there would be a 10 second pause, and then it would ask me to review the license, and then I would be able to determine when to actually do the upgrade.  So I clicked to continue, expecting a 10 second pause, and expecting to let it do its thing while I went off to court.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, it gave me the soothing spinning Windows 10 ouroboros circle of balls, and a message that it was “Working on It.”  I let it run for ten minutes before finally needing to trot off to court.

When I got back, the circle was still spinning and it still said it was working on it. This is not an uncommon experience, turns out, and as much as these new error messages are friendlier (“something happened,” “the store has stumbled,” “this is taking longer than expected,” &c), they are not any more helpful than the old technical error messages.

There Are Answers Out There

After trying a couple of suggestions that were offered on Microsoft’s support forums (one of which required running the command prompt, and which seemed to really do nothing), the best suggestion I saw was simply running Windows Update, checking for new updates, and then seeing the option to upgrade to Windows 10 through a dialog box there.  Sure enough, that did the trick. There was about a 10-second pause, the option to accept the license, and then it started downloading the files I would need to upgrade.  As those files were “only” 2.7GB, I wonder if they comprised the cumulative updates that have come out in the past 3 weeks, since the whole point of the reservation process was to allow Microsoft to trickle-distribute the Windows 10 installation files to a hidden folder on the hard drive over the course of weeks so that installation would go faster. (And the reason I suspect they were the updates is because after Windows 10 installed, I didn’t need to thereafter download all the cumulative updates.)

Once those files downloaded, it shut down the computer, and over the next hour or two, Windows 10 installed.

One interesting aspect of upgrading this way, rather than the method I had used with the other computers, is that it did not give me the option to essentially clean install.  Not that I would have necessarily wanted to clean install this machine–this was definitely going to be a simple upgrade which kept documents and applications in place.  But it is interesting nonetheless.

And Then it Was Done

And, at the end of the day, once you get the thing to actually download and update, it’s a pretty mundane experience.  It’ll work just fine and, having tested it across a nice variety of devices–Atom-based tablet, Core i3 laptop, Core i5 laptop, Core i7 laptop, and Core i5 desktop–it seems to have no issues performing well on pretty much anything you might be running. (Seriously–if it can run on an Atom it can probably run on a Celeron…)

That being said, there are a handful of privacy-related issues that I will address in my next post in this series.

Technology in the Law Office–Windows 10 on a Small Tablet

Trying to force an upgrade to Windows 10 on a Dell Venue 8 Pro
Trying to force an upgrade to Windows 10 on a Dell Venue 8 Pro

While the upgrade to Windows 10 has been relatively painless for my laptops, getting my Dell Venue 8 Pro to accept the upgrade has been less than smooth.

Pros and Cons of the V8P

The V8P has been both exhilarating and incredibly frustrating.  (Why I don’t have the same sort of anger toward it as I do my iPhone is something of a mystery, but I suspect it has to do with the fact that it only cost a couple of hundred dollars.) It is exhilarating because, when it works, it shows just how useful it can be. Taking notes with a stylus and then being able to pull up the notes months later with little hassle is fantastically productive.  Having an 8″ device which can function as a fully-capable computer is also quite useful.  It also is fairly responsive and presents an enjoyable reading experience–I read the entirety of Andy Weir’s The Martian through the Kindle App, and my eyes never got tired, and I found the text easy to read.  Browsing the web, so long as you don’t mind using Internet Explorer works just fine 99% of the time.  The microSD slot allows you to expand storage significantly (more on that in a moment, though). It’s a very decent and capable small tablet.

It’s frustrating though, because the stylus and the active digitizer have been fraught with problems from the get-go.  When you’re scrawling on the screen and getting nothing as a result, you don’t know if it’s a computer error, a stylus error, or a dead battery–there’s absolutely no information presented that can help you figure it out.  The micro-USB charging port is also laughably weak.  I’ve already had to send it back to Dell early in its life to fix the thing, and now, about a year later, it’s showing signs of weakness again.  It’s also a bit small for the type of work I want to do on it.  8″ seems like it would be great for taking notes by holding it in your hand, much like a steno pad, but there’s something limiting about having only 8″ to work with.  (The Surface 3 seems like a great size for what I want to do, and maybe someday I’ll get one of those.)  Finally, the 32GB of standard storage is extremely limiting, especially when more than half of it is devoted to the operating system.  Yes, you can expand storage by adding a microSD, but you can’t use that storage for anything but, well, storage.  Store Apps–under Windows 8.1, at least–can’t install in that space, and even if they could, it would probably prove to be too slow to be pleasant.

All in all, while I like it enough, as a Windows 8.1 device, I’d say that I’d recommend it only to people who don’t want to spend too much to have a small tablet, who don’t mind having some frustrating limitations.

All this to say: that’s why I don’t mind sacrificing the V8P to experimentation. If I mess it up, I can (or should be able to) go back to 8.1 without a problem, and it isn’t the end of the world even if I completely kill it. Yes, I’ll be mad that $200 bought me only about 18 months of computing, but it is not a device that I rely on every single day.

Forcing the Upgrade

I am currently on my fourth (yes, yesterday I said second) attempt to get the thing to accept the Windows 10 update. The first three attempts all ended with a dialog box which said something to the effect of “Something Happened; The Update Failed to Initialize.”  I searched for solutions on the web, and came across two solutions.  The first recommended doing a factory reset to give the upgrade files more space to work with (remember, in it’s factory state, the 32GB drive really only has about 12-14GB of usable space) and the other recommended changing Registry permissions to allow access to all users.  Not wanting to wipe the device (even though there was very little that wasn’t saved elsewhere) I tried changing the Registry permissions.  That did nothing.

So this morning, I reset the device, got it to bare-bones status, and then immediately hunted down the upgrade in the manner I detailed in previous posts.

This time, it appears to be working.  I’ve made it through the media download, it’s initialized, it’s checked for updates, and now it’s asking me whether I want to Install Windows 10 Home by keeping personal files and apps.

Making it to the second round with the Windows 10 preview.
Making it to the second round with the Windows 10 installation.

I decided to keep nothing; as I mentioned, very little is actually stored on the c:\ drive (since, well, there’s typically no space), and I want this thing as pristine as possible.  It performed one last check to see if there is enough space, and then it’s off to the races.  In a couple of hours, I’ll see if the thing works or not.  And whether the concern I’ve read about how Windows 10 is great in a traditional desktop environment but not on a tablet is merited.  That’s coming up in the next post in this series.

Technology in the Law Office–Windows 10 is Finally (Officially) Here (Pt. 2)

Now that you’ve run the Windows 10 installer, you get a screen asking “What do you want to do?”  And you have two choices: “Upgrade this PC now” and “Create Installation for another PC.”

Choose whether to upgrade or to create installation media.
Choose whether to upgrade or to create installation media.

I recommend choosing Upgrade this PC now. While you can create an installation USB drive or burn an ISO to a DVD, honestly, the most success I’ve had is with the upgrade-in-place path. My complications involved intentionally/accidentally wiping out the master boot record on my testing laptop, making a bootable USB stick that I couldn’t boot from, burning an ISO to a DVD, and then failing installation when I had to enter a product key because OEM product keys don’t activate (or maybe they do, who knows?) and then digging out old recovery media that was created in 2010–good thing I had it on hand–and reinstalling Windows 7 and upgrading to SP1.  It’s a lot easier to simply select “Upgrade this PC now.”

When you do that, Windows 10 will start downloading.  Feel free to do something else for the time being, because it takes a while.  After all, it’s downloading 4-5GB of data.

You will next have the option of keeping your applications and files or essentially keeping nothing and getting a fresh installation of Windows 10. I’ve done both.  With one of my laptops, I kept all of my files and applications, and with the other–the one I borked–I chose the option to keep nothing.  Both scenarios worked just fine.  In fact, it was impressive just how well the system that had years of applications and files on it handled the upgrade.  Sure, it took a little longer, but I was pleasantly surprised that most things (other than an outdated graphics driver which was easily updated) worked just as they were supposed to. The system which was essentially clean-installed worked just fine, too, other than a problem with its graphics driver, which was a problem that existed throughout the preview period.  A) it doesn’t seem to be a fatal issue, and B) there is apparently no updated driver coming from Intel.  Time will tell, and it doesn’t seem to impact performance.  (It appears that the driver simply relaunches anytime the screen comes back to life after being asleep, but otherwise, no real performance issues.)  I haven’t had the time yet to do a deep dig into that issue, and since I don’t use that laptop for much of anything serious, I’m not worried about it right now.

In any event, after a couple of hours or so–maybe less, maybe more–official Windows 10 is up and running on two of the five machines I encounter regularly.  Given my experience with my testing laptop, I’m hesitant to mess with my wife’s computer, since she is also running the preview.  She is a little less pleased with the preview right now (and it mysteriously uninstalled some printer drivers in the past week), so I’m waiting until I have the time to make sure I don’t mess things up entirely for her.  I’m letting the desktop I use for most of my work go through the Microsoft-intended upgrade path (i.e., simply letting it tell me when it’s okay for me to upgrade) to see how long it takes.

And then there’s the tablet.  Which has not gone smoothly, and which will be the topic of my next post on this subject.

Surface Hub Costs How Much?!?!

Well, I don’t think a Surface Hub is in my future anytime soon…

Today, Microsoft clarified that the 4K, 84-inch version we tried will cost $19,999 and go on sale in July, right around the time Windows 10 comes out. In addition, there will be a smaller, 55-inch version available for a much lower price of $6,999. (For the money, you get 1080p resolution on that one, which is just fine considering how relatively small the screen is.) Both should ship in early September.

(Engadget)

At least one of the offerings is cheaper than an Apple Watch Edition, though, so…