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–Miix 700 Whack-a-Mole Keyboard Fix

Image courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net, under a CC 1.0 license

I’ve mentioned before that the keyboard on the Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700 frustratingly cuts out while typing, which sharply reduces the utility of the keyboard while in laptop mode. It was an irritating problem that I nonetheless shrugged through because laptop mode is not the main reason I got the device. I got the device because I wanted a reliable and relatively powerful tablet.  So far, it has proven to fulfill that role quite well.

Still, the keyboard issues vexed me, so, while waiting for a verdict in a trial last week (we got a mistrial, which–given the circumstances–was a good thing), I started poking around on Lenovo’s website to see if there was a driver fix for the keyboard. At the time, I couldn’t find one. But that’s because I was a couple of days early.

On October 22, 2016, Lenovo released a fix which can be found here. And, lo and behold, it works. Every keystroke is registered, and typing is much more enjoyable.

Lament the Trackpad

But, there’s a downside. The trackpad doesn’t work anymore. Which seems to be something Lenovo anticipated since the second step of the instructions to install the keyboard fix is to install trackpad drivers. Here’s the problem: the trackpad driver didn’t work.  It installed just fine, and when you look at the properties for the device, there are no reported problems.  But it doesn’t respond to touch. Comparatively speaking, I’d rather have a functioning keyboard than a functioning keyboard, since I have found I use the trackpad a lot less with the touchscreen (and hey, iPad Pro users don’t have the option for one at all), sometimes it’s nice to have the relative precision it can provide.  So, the next time I get some free time, I guess I’ll track down what’s going on with that.

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”

LOT–Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700 First Impressions

The Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700 comes in a nice enough box which includes the tablet, the keyboard, the charging block and cable, and a small instruction sheet.  The first thing I noticed was the oddly shaped plug on the charging cable.

Miix 700 Charging Cable
The oddly shaped charging cable.

See that little notch there? It fits into the USB 2.0 port on the left/bottom side of the tablet for charging. I suspect that means normal USB 2.0 cables don’t work for charging purposes.  Which is a bummer.  Proprietary cables are a pain.

Read more “LOT–Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700 First Impressions”

Law Office Technology–Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700

Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700
Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700

I mentioned yesterday that I was in the market for a 2-in-1 to replace the dead Venue 8 Pro.  Though I mentioned a lot of options conveniently found at the Microsoft Store, I left a different device off the list: the Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700.  This is largely because it debuted in September of 2015, and really didn’t make much of a splash. (Not that any PCs have made much of a splash in recent years…)

A Blessed Surface (Pro) Clone

Microsoft created the Surface line to show OEMs what a 2-in-1 is supposed to be, and has seemingly given its blessing to devices which essentially copy the Surface look and feel. Obviously, there is only so much an OEM can do to differentiate its devices–at the end of the day, you’re basically looking at a rectangle with a keyboard.  Corners may or may not be rounded, and the devices will vary by a few millimeters and grams here and there.  But, for the most part, a rectangle is a rectangle is a rectangle.

When it debuted, the Miix 700–which looks and acts almost exactly like Microsoft’s Surface offerings–fell somewhere in between the Surface 3 and the Surface Pro 3 in terms of price and features.

Surface 3 Lenovo Miix 700 Surface Pro 3
Starting Price: $499 Starting Price: $749 (?) Starting Price: $799
  • 10.8″ screen (1920×1280)
  • 3:2 aspect ratio
  • Atom x7-Z8700
  • 2GB RAM (up to 4GB)
  • 64GB SSD (up to 128GB)
  • Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0; LTE available
  • 1 USB 3.0 port
  • Mini display port
  • microSD card port (up to 128GB)
  • Micro USB port (for charging)
  • Cover port
  • Headset jack
  • 3.5MP front camera; 8 MP rear camera
  • Microphone
  • Stereo Speakers
  • Ambient light sensor, Proximity sensor, Accelerometer,  Gyroscope,  Magnetometer
  • Keyboard extra
  • Stylus extra
  • Integrated kickstand with 3 positions
  • 12″ screen (2160×1440)
  • 3:2 aspect ratio
  • Core m3-6Y30 (up to Core m7)
  • 4GB RAM (up to 8GB)
  • 64GB SSD (up to 256GB)
  • Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0; LTE available (maybe?)
  • 1 USB 3.0 port
  • Mini display port
  • microSD card port (up to 2TB)
  • USB 2.0 / charging port
  • Headset jack
  • 5MP front camera; 5 MP rear camera (up to 2MP Intel RealSense 3D)
  • Microphone
  • Stereo Speakers
  • Ambient light sensor, G-Sensor, Hall sensor (magnetometer)
  • Keyboard included
  • Stylus extra
  • Integrated “continuous” kickstand with 0-160° of rotation.
  • 12″ screen (2160×1440)
  •  3:2 aspect ratio
  • Core i3 (4th Gen) (up to Core i7 (4th Gen)
  • 4GB RAM (up to 8GB RAM)
  • 64GB SSD (up to 512GB)
  • WiFi; Bluetooth 4.0; LTE not available
  • 1 USB 3.0 port
  • Mini display port
  • microSD card port (up to 128GB)
  • Cover port
  • Charging port
  • Headset jack
  • 5MP front and rear cameras
  • Front and rear microphones
  • Stereo speakers
  • Ambient light sensor, Proximity sensor, Accelerometer,  Gyroscope,  Magnetometer
  • Keyboard extra
  • Stylus included
  • Integrated “continuous” kickstand with 0-150° of rotation.

(These were the best specs and prices I could determine based on the respective manufacturer’s websites. If they’re inaccurate, I apologize. Things in RED are an advantage, and things in GREEN are a slight advantage.)

I Found a Bargain on the Miix 700

Brand new, the Ideapad Miix 700 is a strong competitor, price-wise, but ends up being on my but-I-really-don’t-want-to-spend-that-much-on-this-thing list.  For a lot less, I could get HP’s Pavilion x2, accepting its slower processor and taking a gamble on the stylus.  Or, honestly, just leaving the whole thing alone until a new generation of devices comes out.

But last weekend, I decided to finally go visit Houston’s new Microcenter store. (It used to be on the West Loop, which was a traffic nightmare. Now it’s moved to South Rice Avenue, which is slightly less of a traffic nightmare.) I needed to get some toner and photo paper, but ended up discovering that there was an Open-Box special on a Miix 700, which put the price at roughly 40% off. In other words, it was less expensive than the Pavilion x2, including the Active Pen (only $34 on Amazon).

Gut-Check Time.

I had a decision to make. I’m wary of deals that are too good to be true (which this seemed to be). And Open-Box specials can be concerning–was there a specific reason this came back to the store? (The sales associate said that it was returned because it was unwanted, not because it was malfunctioning.) Why was there another Open-Box special for a couple hundred bucks more? (Sales associate did not know.) The manufacturer’s warranty (1 year) still applied, and there was a fifteen-day Microcenter return policy on all open-box items.  So I bit the bullet, bought it, and ordered the active pen after I got home.

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.

Law Office Technology–Surface 3 Benchmarks

I have previously described how Microsoft has announced the Surface 3, which is a scaled-down, more affordable version of the Surface Pro 3.  Tech writer Paul Thurrott did some benchmark testing on the Surface 3 yesterday, and posted the results on Twitter:

He compared them to benchmarks for the Surface Pro 3 with the Core i5 processor:

That isn’t bad, and it bears out what Microsoft has announced regarding Surface 3’s performance: that it would perform at about 74% the level of the Surface Pro 3.

He also ran graphics benchmark tests, and to be blunt, the Surface 3 benchmarks show it getting hammered by the Surface Pro 3; it is, apparently, only marginally better than the Surface 2. Not Surface Pro 2, but Surface 2. Which runs an ARM chip.

That’s largely okay, though. I don’t think anyone buys a machine with an Atom chip (regardless of whether Intel has zinged up the name by calling it “x7”) expecting a graphical powerhouse. At least, no one should buy a machine with an Atom chip expecting a graphical powerhouse.  But Thurott’s benchmarking made me wonder how those numbers compare to, say, the Core i5-2300 Windows 7 machine I’m running at work with 6 GB of RAM, which was purchased in May of 2011.  So I went to futuremark.com, which makes PCMark8–the software Thurrott used–and waited for the 2.8 GB file to download.

Three or Four Hours Later, Finally a Benchmark

After two hours, the software downloaded, and an hour after unzipping and installing it, I was finally able to run PCMark8 and I chose the Work Conventional setting. My score was 2631, which, frankly, surprises me.

2011 Desktop Benchmarks
Benchmark score for Work-related tasks on 2011 desktop.

I realize that there is a big difference between desktop- and laptop-class processors, and having a dedicated video card probably helps things, but I really thought that the Surface Pro 3, running a processor that it is at least 3 years younger than the one in the desktop, would be more competitive, especially considering it isn’t running two screens, presumably didn’t have two instances of Windows Explorer, Firefox with 7 open tabs, Chrome with three open tabs, OneNote, and Outlook going. And the Surface Pro 3 also has an SSD while the HDD on the desktop is a bog-standard 1TB drive, albeit one spinning at 7,200 RPM.

I also ran the home test, since that way I could compare oranges to oranges. Adding in some gaming and picture editing tasks brought the benchmarks down a little to 2339, but still quite a bit higher than the Surface Pro 3’s benchmarks.

2011 Home Benchmarks
Benchmark score for home-usage tasks on a 2011 desktop machine.

No Space on the Venue 8 Pro to Compare Benchmarks

The size of the PCMark8 file meant that I wouldn’t be able to install it on my 16GB Venue 8 Pro.  While there are almost no Store apps installed on it, updates to Windows 8.1 and Office 2013 have gobbled up a ton of the usable space on the device.  This is a real limitation of the small form factor tablets, and it means that I really can’t recommend a Windows-based tablet with anything less than 32GB standard going forward. Yes, you can use the microSD slot for storage of documents and files, but that expansion capability doesn’t translate well to installing applications.  When I have a little more free time, I’ll see if I can find a way to cram PCMark8 onto the V8P, because I’d like to see just how much improvement there is between last year’s Atom chip and this year’s version.  Additionally, the V8P is swift for the limited functionality that it provides, and it presents a feeling of minor marvel that a fully functioning PC can be held in one’s hands.  When you look at the device rationally, however, and you don’t forgive its limitations, it really is a laggy machine.  Everything from webpages to applications to text-input boxes features the same “touch, wait wait wait, load” delay.  Once the app or webpage is loaded, things function fine, but there’s still noticeable lag.

All  this means is that: if the benchmarks for the V8P and the Surface 3 are similar, that means the Surface 3 may not present a long-term enjoyable solution.  It’s one thing to spend roughly $250 on a device, cover (without a keyboard), and stylus that doesn’t perform like a champion; quite another to spend upwards of $680. Speaking of prices, apparently Costco is selling a Surface 3 bundle which includes the keyboard cover and stylus for essentially $80 off the full price. That might be worth checking out for Costco members. (Costco is also reportedly running a sale on the Surface Pro 3.)

Benchmarks Aren’t Everything

Of course benchmarks aren’t everything. Some tech followers like to boast how Android phone benchmarks are outrageously higher than the iPhone’s benchmarks, as seen in computerbase.de‘s (German language) information.  But the iPhone 6 isn’t a dramatically slow phone thanks to UI and UX optimization.  A lower-scored machine can run as smoothly as a higher-scored machine if the operating system is more efficient.  Nonetheless, cramming PCMark8 onto the Venue 8 Pro has taken on new urgency, and I hope to be able to do a test in the near future.

Law Office Technology — Surface 3

Microsoft Surface 3
Image from microsoft.com.

Well, this comes out of absolutely nowhere, but Microsoft has just announced the Surface 3.  Not the Surface Pro 3, but the Surface 3, and it could very well solve a lot of problems and could be hugely successful. It also could make OEMs such as Dell very upset.

The Surface Pro 3 is an eminently capable device, running a Core i3 at a minimum. Starting at $799, though, without a keyboard, it isn’t an insignificant technology purchasing decision.

Surface 3 Price and Specs

The Surface 3, however, starts at $499, and while it doesn’t have a 12″ screen, it is nonetheless a very tempting device that will probably cover everything a tablet user needs to be productive.  It has a 10.8″ screen, has a 1920 x 1280 display (9:6 aspect ratio), and uses Intel’s latest Cherry Trail-based Atom processor (x7-Z8700) instead of a Core.  The base model has 64GB of storage and 2GB of RAM, and for $100 more, you can get 128GB of storage and 4GB of RAM.  It has a USB 3.0 port, as well as a micro SD slot and a mini display port.  And, for a limited time, it includes a free 1-year subscription to Office 365 Personal, which is an interesting decision, considering that it was believed that only devices 8 inches and smaller would get the one-year-free Office 365 license.  (I’m of two minds about the Office 365 scheme. On one hand, it’s not a bad value in general, and the argument has always been that buying Office 2013 outright will cost approximately $300 anyway, and you’ll just have to do that again when Office 2016 comes out–you’re just spreading the cost out on a yearly basis.  But there’s something that rubs me wrong about the free one-year license; it isn’t as good a value as I got when I got my Venue 8 Pro last year and it came with the full version of Office 2013, no subscription required.)

The tempting price comes with some caveats: just like with the Surface Pro 3, you will need to buy the Type Pad ($130) separately.  More vexing is the fact that you also need to by the stylus separately ($50), which was also a requirement with my Venue 8 Pro, but it comes standard with the Surface Pro 3 (of course, the SP3 doesn’t come with Office, so there are always tradeoffs). It’s obvious at this point that I think that a stylus is essential, so the price of this device should really be thought of as $549 and $649.  At these price points, while they are a titch higher than ideal, they are still intriguing when compared to similarly spec’d iPads.

Surface 3 Compared to Other Options

Dell makes the Venue 11 Pro, which, unless a hardware update is in the works, uses last year’s Bay Trail Atom chips. It also has a lower resolution screen (1366×768), and starts at $429 with less available storage (32GB) though upgrading to 64GB is a minor cost bump (it’s an extra $30).  Getting a full-HD screen brings the price up to $499, but it does come with 64GB of storage in that configuration.  There’s really no reason to buy the Venue 11 Pro, though, when the Surface comes with a newer processor, and the Microsoft stylus is in my opinion quite a bit better than the Dell Active Stylus. (They’ve made a lot of improvements to the pen, and are now on Rev. A03.  It’s perfectly usable now, but it still isn’t quite as nice as Microsoft’s stylus.)

ASUS has announced the Transformer Chi line of devices.  The Chi t100 is a 10.1″ device, and starts at $399, which makes it an intriguing option.  Like the Dell Venue 11 Pro, however, it sports last year’s Atom chips, and it includes only 32GB of storage.  A 64GB option starts at $449.  However, while the active stylus (which, in screen shots appears identical to Dell’s stylus) is sold separately, it includes a keyboard, which is a nice touch. The screen resolution is also quite stout at the price point, coming in at 1920×1200.  If you’re looking instead at machines in the 12.5″ range, Asus also makes the Chi t300 which starts at $699 running the new CoreM processor.

All in all, though, the Surface 3 is a strong competitor to this segment, which may ruffle some OEM feathers.  Nonetheless, it is a very welcome surprise.  Preorders will start shipping in May, and it will be interesting to see if this summer brings a Surface Pro 4 to the table.

Law Office Technology–Value Propositions Pt. 3

Sourced from wikimedia, By dnm (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Sourced from wikimedia, By dnm (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I’ve said it a lot, and I’ll maintain it here, that waiting until this fall is probably a better time to buy a new computer, when Windows 10 is supposed to be released (though the pace of TP releases admittedly causes a little concern) and when even newer, more efficient processors are available. That being said, it makes sense to start thinking about things right now to get a feel for what you’re really comparing.

The past couple of posts in this series have focused on the “Apple tax” and this post continues the trend. For this exercise’s purpose, I’m going to look at machines in the so-called Ultrabook class, which are light-weight, decently powerful laptops with 11-13″ screens.  Full disclosure, I’m using a table to do this, and I fully expect it to wreck formatting for people on smaller screens. I’m sorry, but I don’t really know how else to organize a comparison of 6 different devices.  I’m also going to limit myself to off-the-shelf configurations. As I showed in the last post in this series, configuring something as limited as a MacBook Air leads to a lot of expensive variance.

To make sure the comparisons are accurate, I will only choose Core i5 configurations with SSDs, and the computers I am going to compare are: the Microsoft Surface Pro 3;  Dell XPS 13; HP Spectre x360; Acer s7; MacBook; MacBook Air 11″; and MacBook Pro 13″.

 MS Surface Pro 3 Dell XPS13 HP Spectre x360 Acer s7-392-5410  MacBook Air 11″ MacBook Pro 13″
 Price $999 / $1130 with Type Cover  $899  $899  $1199  $899  $1299
 Processor Core i5 (4th Gen) 1.9GHz  Core i5 (4th Gen) 1.7GHz  Core i5 (5th Gen) 2.2GHz  Core i5 (4th Gen) 1.7GHz  Core i5 (5th Gen) 1.6GHz  Core i5 (5th Gen) 2.7GHz
 Memory 4GB  8GB  4GB  8GB  4GB  8GB
 HDD 128GB SSD  128GB SSD  128GB SSD  256GB SSD  128GB SSD  128GB SSD
 Screen 12″ (2160 x 1440) (touch)  13.3″ (1920 x 1080) (touch)  13.3″ (1920 x 1080) (touch)  13.3″ (1920 x 1080) (touch)  11.6″ (1366 x 768)  13.3″ (2560 x 1600)
 Ports 1 USB 3.0, microSD reader, Mini DisplayPort  2 USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort  3 USB 3.0, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, SD reader  2 USB 3.0, SD reader, HDMI  2 USD 3.0, Thunderbolt 2  2 Thunderbolt 2, 2 USB 3.0, HDMI, SDXC reader
Battery Life Up to 9 hours  Up to 11 hours Up to 12.5 hours   Up to 7.5 hours  Up to 10 hours  Up to 12 hours
Stylus Input  Yes  No  Yes1  No  No  No
Weight 1.76 lbs (without cover), 2.42 lbs(with cover)  3.07 lbs  3.26 lbs  2.87 lbs  2.38 lbs  3.48 lbs

Clearly, the price that Apple charges for its products is largely in line with the prices charged by other PC manufacturers, if perhaps a tad more expensive. This means that when it comes down to the technology you are going to purchase, it really comes down more to the OS environment you want to work in, more so than the price of the hardware. That will be subject of the next entry in this series.

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1This is based on reports I have read; I can’t see anything on HP’s website that confirms this.