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.

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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.

Technology in the Law Office–Windows 10 on a Small Tablet (Pt. 2)

Windows 10 on the Dell Venue 8 Pro
Windows 10 on the Dell Venue 8 Pro

And there it is.  Windows 10 is on the Venue 8 Pro. Once I reset it and gave it plenty of room to install, it upgraded like a breeze.

I’m just getting started playing with it, but these are 10 of my quick thoughts.

  1. It takes up even more space than Windows 8.1.  Prior to installing it, I had about 12.9GB available on c:\ drive.  Now, only 9.3GB.  I’m not sure if that will improve after the 30-day free-reversion period ends.
  2. It automatically installed with rotation lock enabled, which makes no sense.
  3. The Metro/Start/Universal version of OneNote is simultaneously better and worse than the version available on Windows 8.1.  For example, the radial menu on the previous version was incredibly convenient for choosing pen colors and line thickness.  Those options are relegated to menu items, and I haven’t been able to find a way to change line thickness. Yet. I only played with it for a moment.
  4. Speaking of OneNote, the stylus worked just fine for writing. Certainly no worse than on 8.1.
  5. Still speaking of OneNote, I understand now why some people lament the loss of the Charms swipe-in.  To get to OneNote’s settings, you have to push a back button, and then look at the bottom of the sidebar to find the settings cog; from there, you can make changes to the App’s settings, but it wasn’t as easy as simply sliding in from the side.
  6. Having Candy Crush Saga pre-installed is the answer to all my dreams.
  7. Sorry, being able to uninstall the pre-installed Candy Crush Saga is the answer to all my dreams.  (Seriously, being able to uninstall almost all Apps I don’t want really is a nice thing. (Looking at you, Apple Music app, Apple Watch app, Apple Stocks app, Apple Newsstand App…))
  8. Finding File Explorer is a little more difficult than it probably should be in Tablet/Continuum mode; I had to long press the Start icon and select file explorer.  I can probably pin a link somewhere, though.
  9. It certainly doesn’t run any worse than 8.1, and perhaps feels even a little more responsive.
  10. Still, I’d like to know what is taking up so much space…

I’m really looking forward to messing with it some more once I have a little more free time.

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.

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.


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

Law Office Technology–Hold Out a Little Longer

IMG_4409I spend a lot of time thinking about office technology, and how the advances in computing will impact my ability to practice law more effectively. Though I am apparently in the popular minority when it comes to making active stylus support a mandatory consideration when it comes to tablets, the promise of being able to take notes on my computer by hand while talking to a client and having those notes being accessible at any time is something I have been wanting since the earliest Tablet PC days in the first part of this millennium.

When the first iPad came out, I was deeply disappointed that it did not support an active stylus because it appeared to be ideally suited for people who still rely greatly on handwriting for work: namely, attorneys and doctors.  It was about the size of a legal pad, and could easily fit in the crook of your arm.

Perhaps the heft of the original iPad made it, in actuality, prohibitive to be a killer note-taker (Microsoft’s original Surface Pro, weighing in at a couple of pounds, would tend to suggest that is the case), but the substantial strides in making computing thinner and lighter suggests that those constraints no longer apply.  Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, for example, has been surprisingly popular (relatively speaking), and the 8″ mini tablets (like the Dell Venue 8 Pro) have been very intriguing as well.  (With the most recent stylus offered by Dell, my DV8P is a very nice note-taking productivity machine. Finally. For now. Until it stops working again.)

Which is perhaps why rumors abound that Apple is finally getting on the active stylus bandwagon.  I don’t expect Apple to suddenly make a tablet that also runs a full-blown OS X after spending a few years criticizing Microsoft for cramming two operating systems into one device, but it simply makes sense for an iPad “Pro” to at least offer the possibility of supporting an active stylus.

All this is to say, there are a lot of changes coming to computing this year, and I will be talking on this page about some of those changes from time to time. One thing appears to be certain: with so many changes in the pipeline, right now is probably not the best time to purchase computing equipment unless it’s on sale.

Dell Venue 8 Pro–Four Months On

While plenty of people seem think that we are in a post-tablet era (meaning that pretty much everything we need to do can be done on a phone), I happen to think that tablets still make sense, with some caveats.  I do tend to agree that for the vast majority of the marketplace, a tablet probably doesn’t make a ton of sense.  Lots of websites, including this one, are based on responsive design, and so they scale well to the smaller screen of a smartphone. As screens get larger (as the iPhone 6’s rumored larger sizes suggests) it will be even easier to read content on those screens.  Written communication is easy enough to accomplish with a smartphone, and indeed, is faster than using a tablet because the throws are so much longer on a tablet. It may not be as fast as typing (in other words, I wouldn’t want to necessarily write a 600 word blog post on a phone) but it gets the job done.  You don’t need a tablet for that sort of stuff.  Streaming content is just as easily consumed on a smartphone as it is on a tablet, and if you hold your screen close enough to your face, it seems like a bigger screen anyway.

Tablets are useful, though, especially for taking notes with a stylus, and honestly, a tablet that doesn’t at least offer the option for stylus input is a non-starter to me, and doesn’t to my mind, make a lot of sense. First, psychological science will tell you, taking notes by hand leads to better retention than taking notes by keyboard. Second, I find the sound of typing to be distracting to the person telling his story, so whipping out a keyboard at an initial client meeting is a no-go.  The screen, too, creates a barrier to a freer flow of conversation.  And trying to take notes on a smartphone…? Yeah, that doesn’t work too well.

I have a tablet, the Dell Venue 8 Pro, and I like it. A lot. Does it have limitations? Absolutely. Does it replace a laptop or desktop? Not a chance. Has it been problem-free? Nope.  (I just got it back from the repair center because the stupid micro-USB port came loose in its housing, which meant that it couldn’t charge. Luckily, it was under warranty and Dell fixed it for me.) But it works quite well for what it’s really designed to be: a low-powered note taker. And at that, despite a ton of hiccups for early adopters, it is excellent.

I have been able to interview clients and take notes with the stylus, while looking up information about their cases. Rather than having a stack of documents sprawled out in front of me while discussing a case, I have a little tablet. It’s very convenient. And the handwriting recognition is amazing. Somehow, Windows is able to decipher my chicken-scratch and I can find information across notebooks using search queries.  For a guy whose first computer was an Apple IIe back in the 1980s, and played the original Test Drive on a green-screen 8088 PC, it’s mind-boggling that technology has progressed to the point that this stuff is possible. And for less than $200 in a lot of places.

Would I rather have a Surface Pro 3? Maybe. It’s much more powerful. It’s also much, much more expensive, and while it’s true that it could potentially replace a laptop, I’m not sure what I would think about it trying to replace the functionality of my desktop setup. It probably wouldn’t excel in that arrangement. (Though it does have that fancy dock, so maybe that helps…)

Over time, I’ll continue to look at using technology in the law office, and I’ll post things like this as a way to add my two cents to the conversation.