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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It automatically installed with rotation lock enabled, which makes no sense.
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.
Speaking of OneNote, the stylus worked just fine for writing. Certainly no worse than on 8.1.
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.
Having Candy Crush Saga pre-installed is the answer to all my dreams.
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…))
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.
It certainly doesn’t run any worse than 8.1, and perhaps feels even a little more responsive.
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.
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.
I 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.
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.