Personal Technology–Garmin Forerunner 35 Part 1

Garmin Forerunner 35
Garmin Forerunner 35

When I was a kid, I used my asthma an excuse to avoid running. I had no problem hiking for hours and miles on end, but running bedeviled me.  Like most kids, I played soccer, but it was the free-substitution variety.  Meaning that we substituted in and out for oranges and gatorade whenever we got tired or winded. The only seasons I played entire games were those seasons I played goalie. Free substitution and goalie: that’s how I managed to play soccer for 10 years and still avoid a ton of running.

In middle school, my PE coaches–having failed at recruiting me for football–tried to recruit me to try out for track.  They saw me as a person who could throw the shotput and discus (which I was good at).  But, I declined because, you guessed it: everyone on the track team had to run, even if you were not in a running event.

Just Try It

Years and years later, after squandering the hidden secret that I was actually a very fast runner in bursts when I was a kid, my asthma pretty much disappeared, and I was encouraged by some colleagues to give running a taste.

And so I did. And I liked it! I worked my way up to, first, an uninterrupted mile.  And then, an uninterrupted 5k.  And finally, a nearly-uninterrupted trail 10k. It was amazing, and I loved it. I ran two races: the Rodeo Run 5k and the Hog Hunt 10k. I got nowhere close to winning, but at least I wasn’t anywhere close to finishing dead last, either.

And Then it Ended

But, then, I had kids. And having very young kids means that you don’t have a ton of time to indulge yourself, nor do you have a ton of energy in reserve to expend it by pounding the pavement. I found other ways to stay in shape (HIIT and eating right, for example) but I’ve always missed the feeling of getting out and running.

Now that the kids are a little older, though, I’ve decided to take another stab at running. And using some gift cards I got from Amazon and by using Bing instead of Google (Bing Rewards points are good for more than free OneDrive storage, y’all), I bought myself a Garmin Forerunner 35.

Get Back at It

When I make the decision to get into shape, I become extremely focused on data.  What am I eating? How many calories is that? What is the nutritional breakdown? What is my weight this morning?  How many calories did I burn? What’s my max heart rate? How has it improved? How many steps did I take? Smart phones and wearables make a lot of this stuff easy to track.

When I was doing HIIT, I’d work out with the Polar FT7 heart rate monitor. It’s a watch that connects to an included strap-based heart rate monitor. It worked great, and gave me a lot of very specific data, and helped encourage me to work out harder.

It’s not a perfect all-around device, though. Wearing a chest strap all day to monitor my heart rate is a non-starter, regardless of whether the watch is attractive or not. (And it really isn’t.) It also didn’t sync data with My Fitness Pal seamlessly.  Finally, the heart-strap that comes with the FT7 is proprietary and only works with that watch. (More on that later.)

After ending the HIIT program, but still wanting to keep an eye on my fitness data, I got a FitBit Charge. It was…fine. It had a week-long battery life. It measured steps. It counted flights of stairs. It (occasionally) sent phone call notices to my wrist. It told me that I took 26,425 steps on July 23, 2015. It synced with My Fitness Pal pretty well.

It also had a problem with falling apart, and I didn’t like that it didn’t have a heart rate monitor, that it didn’t have GPS, that it didn’t even have the capability of notifying me of anything other than phone calls (and, as I mentioned, that was spotty at best). The iOS App was very slow to sync with the device, and it didn’t have the ability to bug me about getting up and moving. I also felt that it might have been overcounting steps. In short, I wasn’t going to get another Charge.

What to Get, What to Get

Aside from being somewhat obsessed with tracking fitness data, I also rarely buy technology without researching the hell out of it first. For example, I’ve documented some of what went into buying my Miix 700 here.  And when I bought the Charge, it was widely considered the best of those types of devices in that category at that price point. That is, roughly $100, with visual stats, and syncs with things like My Fitness Pal.

Since the Charge first came out a few years ago, wearable technology has improved and advanced considerably. Wrist-based heart-rate sensors, for example, are pretty common–there’s even a version of the Charge with a heart-rate sensor. Microsoft’s Band and Band 2.0 have tons of other sensors.  So-called smart watches–like the Apple Watch, Moto360 Sport, LG Sport–are festooned with all sorts of sensors. In other words, in many respects, there are endless options for a fitness-oriented wearable.

How I went about my decision-making process is detailed in my next post. See you there

 

 

Note: I have not received any promotional consideration from any company named in this posting.

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.

Technology in the Law Office–Artificial Assistance

The new shiny-shiny right now is artificial intelligence, and how that can be implemented in the devices we use on a daily basis to help us Get Things Done.  Google, for example, showed off it’s new messaging platform Allo at I/O a couple of weeks ago. Part of the gist of that platform is that you would be have a text conversation with a friend, and one of you would say, “I’d like some pizza.” In would pop Google to say “hey, here are some places that serve pizza. Would you like a reservation?”  Useful, perhaps, but a little surprising considering the lack of love for Clippy.

Clippy
Sourced from Mother Jones.

Google Now

Nonetheless, artificial assistance through bots, cards, banners, notifications, gadgets and all manner of similar preemptive technology is where the industry is headed.  Of the three major tech platforms (Apple, Google, and Microsoft), Google is reputationally the furthest along in getting information in front of your face before you know you need it. Arriving at the airport? Google Now has already prepared your boarding pass in a Card. Wondering where your package is?  Google Now has already told you. That’s the theory, anyway, and by all accounts, it works pretty well.

Cortana

Microsoft, too, has gotten into the digital assistant game with Cortana, which comes baked into Windows 10.  (It’s the circle in your task bar.)

Cortana
Cortana Help Screen

You can also install Cortana on your iPhone or Android phone, and you can talk to it.  It will respond, like Siri and Google Now. But Cortana also suggests things for you to read, and will pop toast notifications into the bottom right of your screen, as well, with calendar notices, reminders, and traffic information when you have an off-site appointment.  It… has gotten better since it launched.

Siri

Apple was aware of the need to have Siri do more than tell you it’s raining and cracking stupid jokes.  So  “proactive” features were added to Siri to give you, for example, traffic alerts for when you need to leave for an appointment, and to bring back the left page of the home screen, giving you suggestions on who to contact, and which apps to launch.  Apple’s claimed insistence on protecting user privacy, along with its notoriously cludgy cloud offerings, however, means that Apple tries to do most things on-device. This is alarming to some, such as Marco Arment, who caused a stir a couple of weeks ago with his article, “If Google’s right about AI, that’s a problem for Apple.”

Apple is Doomed

Of course, the past decade has been rife with stories about how Apple is doomed, and all that has happened is astonishing profitability. It doesn’t matter that OS X’s marketshare is lower than that of Chromebooks, and it doesn’t matter that Android devices far outnumber iOS devices–people have purchased enough Apple products to make it the most valuable company in the world right now.  So, yeah, Apple’s probably not terribly worried about this latest problem.

Siri Could Be A Lot Smarter

That being said, Siri is pretty awful, and part of that is likely due to an issue Arment pointed out in a footnote:

“Privacy” isn’t a very good excuse. It’s possible to build tons of useful services and smarts by just using public data, like the web, mapping databases, business directories, etc., without any access to or involvement from the user’s private data. Even more enhanced functionality can be done with the limited set of personal data that Siri already uses, such as location and contacts. Google and others do these sorts of non-creepy or less-creepy services far better than Apple, too — not just the creepy ones.

The other day, I got a Cortana notification on my desktop telling me that to get to court in time, I needed to leave within the next 15 minutes.  It even included a little map that I could click and it would show me my route.  That in itself isn’t what was neat. After all, Siri tells me when I get in my car that it will take about an hour to get to work or home, since it has figured out those locations.

What was neat, however, is that Cortana was able to tell me that I needed to leave even though the only information I put in the “location” field when I added the setting to my calendar was: “56th District Court–Galveston County.” Siri, on the other hand, did not give me a notification, and has never given me leave-now notifications for calendar settings unless I enter an exact address for the location. What Cortana was able to do, and what Siri should be able to do, was figure out that the 56th District Court in Galveston County is at a specific location and give me the leave-now notification.

Admittedly, leave-now notifications are mostly useless to me. I know when I need to leave for appointments,

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.

Technology in the Law Office–Windows 10 on a Small Tablet (pt. 3)

OneNote Windows 10
OneNote in Windows 10 with on screen keyboard.

Now that I have been using Windows 10 on my Venue 8 Pro for a week or two, I can say unequivocally that Windows 10 can work on a small tablet. Microsoft’s Continuum efforts are paying off, and it is definitely possible for an operating system to be desktop-oriented and then switch to tablet mode without too many issues.

Windows 10 Issues on the Venue 8 Pro

There are issues, however. The following are my top six thoughts regarding the past couple of weeks:

  1. The on-screen keyboard during log-in has lately stopped reflecting on the keyboard itself that a key has been pressed.  (i.e., there is no momentary flash of highlighting to reflect a key press.)  I don’t know why it does this, because this wasn’t a problem upon initial installation. It still works, and it doesn’t seem to be a problem in other apps, but having some sort of visual confirmation that a key-press has been registered is fairly desirable.
  2. The WiFi connection decided to stop working randomly one day, and troubleshooting did nothing to resolve the problem.  There were no issues with the driver, and the router was working fine.  It just…stopped behaving. And then it fixed itself.  Which is great and all, but unreliable WiFi is discomforting, especially for a device so heavily reliant on having a constant WiFi connection.
  3. Likewise, using the stylus continues to be a hit-or-miss proposition.  I will say, the Dell Active Stylus appears to be smoother and more responsive than it was under Windows 8.x.  But, it still works only to the level of “more often than not.”  Which is mostly okay.  Except when you’re really trying to take notes on it and it stops registering input.  The Windows 10 settings page for connected devices does not present options for pens or styli, and searching for pen settings will launch the legacy settings interface underneath the full-screen interface.  When you finally find them, you discover that A) Windows 10 thinks that touch and pen input are not enabled on the device and I need to contact my device maker, and B) that you can calibrate a pen regardless. Perhaps that interface is keyed to the old Tablet PC form factor with different touch and pen technology, and I’m seeing it because I forced Windows 10 onto the device rather than letting Dell handle it for me.  I don’t know.
  4. Closely related, and lots of people said this would happen, but not having the swipe-in from the right launch the charms bar is taking some getting used to. It’s not so much that the Charms bar was particularly great, in of itself, but at least it was easy to find where the app-specific settings were.  Without the Charms bar, you need to either swipe in from the top or the bottom and hope that you find them.
  5. The new OneNote that comes with Windows 10 is just not as pleasant as the Modern version that was in Windows 8.x, the one with the radial menu.
  6. Eight inches really is probably too small for long-term handwritten note-taking.

To Mars and Beyond

All in all, despite the gripes, it’s fine.  It’s the stuff in this list, though, which really show just how rushed Windows 10 was.  At about the time Microsoft announced that Windows 10 would launch on July 29, it became very clear that Windows 8.x was the spaceship that Microsoft had wanted to take to Mars after finally getting into orbit, but that they expected to be able to build it as they rocketed there.    In other words Microsoft slammed a nice new kernel in the Windows 7 frame, gave it some outrageous styling and controls, left the dated upholstery inside, and launched it into orbit.  It got to about the level of the ISS before the pilot said “I will turn this spaceship around and go home if you don’t give me a fully functioning desktop interface,” and Microsoft had to acquiesce.  In the process, Microsoft removed the weird styling they had given their spaceship, slapped a fresh coat of paint on it, gave it some additional functionality, and called it Windows 10, leaving the ratty old interior intact.  They’re still going to Mars (and maybe even further) after a quick pit stop, but I hope they still plan on continually building the thing as they head there.

WWDC 15 and Windows 10 Build 10130

Inaccessible_Boot_Device
Image sourced from LegitReviews.com

The other day I griped hard on Apple and its dubious tagline “the Epicenter of Change” for WWDC 15.  And while the keynote devolved into a jumbled mess about the new Apple Music service, the rest of the keynote highlighted very few earthquake-metaphor-worthy elements. (Yes, this post is about Windows 10, too.)

Not Much Change to See Here

As I alluded, I recognize that this cycle of OS updates are more geared toward fit-and-finish and stability improvements–which are definitely necessary–but the features highlighted in the keynote are features already available on other platforms.  The Notes App now allows handwriting? Okay, Evernote and OneNote have done that for years.  (Also, doesn’t this pretty much guarantee a fully-implemented stylus input system, which was heavily resisted–and mocked–by Apple for a long time?)  The Notes App now allows to-do lists and picture embedding?  Okay, again, that’s been available on other platforms for years. Side-by-side multitasking on iPad Air 2 devices?  Okay, that’s been a feature of Windows 8.x since its launch in 2012 (and it’s in Android, too) and you don’t need a $500 minimum device to use it. “Slide Over” to bring up a recently used app?  Again, see Windows 8.x. Picture-in-Picture as a floating window on tablets? Okay, that’s somewhat newish, though Windows 10 allows Start Apps to run in windows even on tablets.  Siri might become useful for something other than eliciting stupid-silly responses from a machine, a la Dr. Sbaitso?  Okay, see Google Now and Cortana.  There’s a new News App that aggregates your news interests?  Okay, again, not new.  Safari on OS X El Capitan now tells you which tab is making noise and allows you to pin sites?  See Chrome and IE11 respectively.  Apple Music is a streaming service that costs $9.99 a month for an individual, or $15.99 for a family of six?  Well, I guess they needed to make one to compete, and there’s human curation, but at the end of the day, it’s a music streaming service like Spotify, XBox Music, Google Play Music, Tidal…. (And to think of how much has changed since 1994, compare these pictures:

Reznor Then and Now
(Images sourced from some random Pinterest user, and from The Verge’s Matthew Panzarino.)

…and then think about the weirdness that he became an exec at a tech company who was the punchline to a hurr-hurr joke: “Trent’s my vocal coach.” Okay, so, yeah, that’s a pretty big change.)

In any event, like I said, fixing the underpinnings to iOS is incredibly important and will hopefully make using the iPhone a less-frustrating experience.  And the implementation of features that have been around for a long time will make the iPad a more compelling consideration for business users (though you still have the problem that getting documents and files on the device requires so many pointless and frustrating hurdles that could be easily addressed by having a USB or microSD slot).  But this event was hardly anything approaching “change.”  (And now that I think about it, for a revision cycle largely focusing on stability, why would you reference earthquakes and change…?)

Speaking of Frustrating

Windows Technical Preview Build 10130 is the most-recent build officially available for people in the Insider Program, and while I got it up and running on my laptop (albeit with quasi-crashy Intel video drivers which may or may not continue to be supported in the future), getting it to install on my wife’s laptop has been an exercise in frustration.

The easy way to do the upgrade is to allow it to download through Windows Update and install itself.  This it would not do. Download progress would get to 22-25% and then fail unexpectedly.  The second easiest way is to download the ISO (which has finally been made available) and put it on a bootable USB drive, which is how I installed the TP on her machine in the first place.  Recall that that process was a breeze.  Not so this time around.  Putting the ISO on the drive was simple, but trying to boot from the USB created a boot failure right out of the gate.

Fine enough, I tried booting into Windows 10 and then upgrading from the USB.  That process worked fairly well, until it got about 70% of the way completed, and then it all failed.  Again, boot failures cropped up.  Fine. I looked up the error code, saw that it had something to do with failed boots due to the presence of a USB device in a USB slot, and could see no way to install from a USB drive without having the drive in the slot. (Yes, I even tried copying the drive to the hard drive and installing from there, but unsurprisingly, that didn’t work.)

Well, great, I’ll just create a bootable DVD.  That went fine for a while, until, again, about 70% of the way through the process, it gave up and reverted. Same boot failure, same error code, but this time, empty USB slots.  Whatever. I gave up. I had already spent three evenings trying to install the dang thing, and the final version is supposedly coming in exactly 7 weeks.

Which, when you think about it: if Build 10130 is the most stable version Microsoft is willing to let us use, and it’s been 9 or 10 days since it came out (I know, I know), and it’s still not really a coherent product… Well, I just hope that Build 10500 (or whatever will be the final release) is secretly amazing. Because the last thing anyone in Redmond wants is a bunch of people asking “what the heck does Inaccessible_Boot_Device mean?!?!!?”)

That being said, I do think it’s notable that my wife would still rather use Build 10074 with it’s cludgy interface and super-crashy Project Spartan–declining to instal Chrome or Firefox as well–than use the Windows 7 partition. Windows 10 really is much faster, cleaner, and though the interface is somewhat different, it’s familiar enough for most uses.  And that’s definitely saying something.

WWDC and Apple Developments

WWDC 2015
WWDC logo sourced from: WWDC Conference site.

WWDC 15 kicks off with the rather dubious tagline: “The Epicenter of Change.”  The logo looks like a bunch of Apple Watch bodies and some circles splooshed together to make a colorful flower, and it’s all very friendly.  Apple fans are super mondo excited about the conference, as we’ll all be getting details on iOS 9 and OS X 10.11.  (That is, unless Apple decides not to do what they do every year during WWDC, and instead decides to go less generational this year.)

I’m, of course, intrigued about what will be announced today, but it’s not because I love Apple products.  I obviously have spent a lot of time talking about Windows 10 on this blog, and with good reason, in my opinion–it’s genuinely exciting! I like how it’s coming along, though I have no idea how Microsoft is actually going to ship something that doesn’t look like a cludgy mess by July 29.  Admittedly, it’s by and large much better to use than Windows 8.x (which is exhausting to use because you have to pay so much attention to what you’re doing and remembering where to swipe, and which settings to use in which context…).  But we’ll see!

Rather, I’m intrigued by what will be announced today because I hate my iPhone, and desperately want things to improve.  I hate my iPhone not because it’s nearing three years of age.  I hate it because it’s boring, frustrating, inconsistent, mediocre, and uninspiring.  I hate the way Messages works, where it’s difficult to tell when you’re sending a message to an individual or a group (yes, the 6+ has convenient icons which ameliorate that, but I see no reason why that can’t be applied to less-than-huge form factors).  I hate how Messages sometimes associates my messages with my phone number, and sometimes with my email address.  For no apparent reason.  I hate how sometimes that back button is on the bottom of the screen, and how it’s sometimes at the top of the screen, and how the close-window button isn’t in the same place across apps. I hate how this supposedly premium hardware had a power button stop working within less than a year of owning it, and while, yes, it’s subject to recall, it requires going to an Apple Store and giving up my phone for a while.  I hate how taking screenshots is wedded to that stupid power button.  I hate how the home screen is just a bunch of boring icons in a grid and that I can’t move them about the screen freely.  I hate how the icons don’t tell me anything about why there’s a little red circle with a number in it.  I hate how the notifications don’t really do anything useful, and how they persist even after the email that triggered the notification has long since been dealt with.  I hate how Siri’s voice dictation is a garbled mess if I’m connected to a BlueTooth device, and I hate how there’s a 3-second delay streaming audio from my phone to my car’s stereo (that may be a car problem, though, as my BlueTooth speakers don’t seem to have the same delay). I hate having to use iTunes to backup my phone, and iTunes is an abysmal experience.  I hate how difficult it is to put something as simple as a PDF on the device to show it to someone later.  I could keep going, but this post is terrible enough as it is.  But that’s just a sampling of how little I like using the iPhone.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, it’s the least worst choice among smartphone platforms.  I had an Evo 4G about 5 years ago, back when Android was on Gingerbread.  It. Was. Terrible. I detested that thing, and regretted getting it.  I recognize that Android has vastly improved since then, now that it’s on Lollipop and soon to be on Macadamia Nut Cookie.  Unfortunately for Android users, though, good luck getting an update to your operating system through your carrier!!! According to Android’s own developer portal, only 11.6% of Android users are currently using an OS that was released a year ago; almost half as many are still on Gingerbread, which was four generations ago.

Android Adoption Chart
Chart Showing Android Adoption, sourced from developer.android.com.

Nearly 80% of devices are not running the most current software.  And then there’s the whole Google thing that you have to deal with when using an Android device, and despite having its tentacles wrapped around everything that passes through my various Google accounts, Google services still thinks I’m currently in Dallas for some reason, even though I haven’t passed through there since I went to Oklahoma City 18 months ago. Despite having hardware makers which are pushing out some legitimately interesting devices with aggressive specs, at the end of the day, Android is a battery-guzzling hog (much like the Chrome browser).  At Google I/O this year, noises were made that a lot of hard work was going to happen which would fix that in Android M(acadamia Nut Cookie).  We’ll see.

I’d love to use a Windows Phone. Absolutely, I would. I love the live tile functionality.  I like that they can be resized.  I like the cameras in last year’s flagship Lumias.  I like the way things flow.  I get the operating system, and now that Microsoft realizes that it entirely missed the boat by ignoring business customers in Windows Phone 7.x and had to catch up to reintegrate something as vital as Exchange, the phones can be legitimately be used for my job.  I’m excited what Windows 10 can mean with Continuum and having a phone that can produce a desktop environment when docked to a keyboard and mouse.  I like Cortana and how useful it can be. Using Cortana on Windows 10 has been really interesting, and surprisingly useful.

 

Windows 10 Mobile
Windows 10 (mobile)” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

But, man, there is no way I can get a Windows Phone.  The App situation is a joke, and developers have been abandoning ship for months.  Shoot, when even banks start pulling their apps from your store, you don’t have platform adoption at a rate that signals long-term success.  Maybe that’ll change with Windows 10, but let’s be honest: probably not.  I also don’t think I could convince my wife to switch over to a Lumia or something similar because she’s too familiar with the iPhone ecosystem. Also, see: lack of Apps.  I mean, Skype could stand in for FaceTime and Messages, but… there’s a lot of other things she does with her phone than call and chat with me.  Additionally, if there was a flagship Lumia worth buying right now that would be intriguing, but there isn’t.  They’re all running last year’s technology, and the new phones coming out are all mid-range with subpar cameras; excellent picture quality is an essential part of my buying decision when it comes to a phone.

And so I’m stuck using an iPhone, and I’m not happy about it. Maybe today’s keynote will introduce something truly interesting, but it sounds like not much truly groundbreaking is expected.  iTunes may get revamped and/or replaced by “Music.” Apple may announce a Snow Leopard-esque cooling off to retool and polish iOS and OS X. But, unless they announce that the grid-of-snapped-icons look is going away and being replaced by an interactive interface, it’s really just more of the same.  Epicenter of Change?  Eh, we’ll see.

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.