Category Archives: Microsoft

Fact Check: Surface Pro Review

via Review: Microsoft Surface Pro | Creative Bloq

Rob Carney presents a mostly positive review of the new Surface Pro making special mention of the devices new kick stand, improved pen and extra battery life. Regardless of his positivity his article put me off from the beginning as he poses the question whether the new Surface can rival the iPad Pro for creatives. This one statement suggests a limited understand of the needs of serious creative professionals as the Surface Pro allows for the use of the full Adobe suite compared to iOS apps, this is a point Carney makes but he does not take it to the logical conclusion that creatives who use an iPad Pro would likely need a second device compared to Surface owners. In addition, the implication that the Surface Pro needs to rival the iPad Pro seems to suggest that the iPad is the leader in this convertible category rather than the imitation. Since it was Apple which copied Microsoft in developing a larger tablet with a fold out keyboard and pen input to revitalize its declining tablet sales. In fact, the two devices in some ways shouldn’t even be considered in the same category as the Surface is a true 2 in 1, laptop replacement compared to the iPad which is still a tablet courtesy of iOS.

macbook-pro-and-microsoft-surface-book-are-giving-each-other-a-tough-competition

Regardless of this I may have been able to overlook this ridiculous statement if it had not been later followed by another serious of simplified and flawed comparison. His assertion when you look at it on face value has merit hat for the price of a Surface $2699 USD + another $159 USD for the keyboard and $99 USD for the pen you could buy both the $1899 USD touch bar 13-inch Macbook pro and the 12-inch iPad Pro at $799 + another $99 pencil and $169 for the keyboard stand. However, once you look deeper it is quickly clear that you are getting more for the price with a Surface Pro as it firstly comes with a four core i7 processor with significant advantages in clock speed and cache memory before even considering hyper threading when compare to the MacBook’s duel core i5. In addition, the Surface comes with 16Gb of RAM, 1TB SSD hard drive and a screen with 267 pixels per inch compared to the Macbook’s 8GB of RAM, 512 GB SSD hard drive and a Retina display with a pixel density of 227 per inch but this isn’t even the whole story as Apple does allow uses to customise the top end 13-inch Mac to bring it in line with the Surface specs of course this option increase the cost to $2709 USD which means your no longer getting that iPad. Considering that the fact that the Surface still has the clear advantage over the Mac through form factor it represents better value for money even with the $250 for accessories. On the other side if we wanted to bring the Surface Specs down to match the Mac for an i5 processor with 8GB of RAM and sacrificing a little on the hard drive at 256 GB it only costs $1299, a good $600 less than the Mac. My point in giving all these numbers is to emphasis that price is relative and isn’t the clean comparison that Carney suggests simply you get what you pay for.

My final criticism of Carney’s review is he states that the Surface Pro  doesn’t have enough flexibility in its ports (there’s only one USB, a MicroSD slot and a Mini DisplayPort” in comparison to top of the range Macbook Pro which is a bit ridiculous considering the Macbook doesn’t have any flexibility. The newest Macbook Pro famously only comes with 3 Thunder bolt USB C ports which granted are the newest technology but it means that users need dongles for everything, even connecting you iPhone to your Laptop. In addition, it is unwise for people to play down the importance of a SD card slots since as it is the primary method of data storage for photographers and I believe it has been a gross oversite of Macs for some time to fail to include one. Still using my own Surface Pro 1 at home I have found the use of MicroSD’s has replaced my use of USB storage devices as I can easily transfer data from my desktop PC which has memory card slot to my Surface and then using an adapter which normally comes with the SD card insert it back into my Nikon D3200 but I guess I can always spend another $49 dollars on an adapter I only need if I brought a Mac which is more expensive than a USB hub for $30 that I could easily add to my surface if I needed more than one port. Granted the newest surface should have included a USB C connection since it is the future but it is hardly the deal breaker that Carney suggests it is since as at least for now nearly all accessories still require a normal USB port, even devices that have adapted USB C like my Galaxy 8 still use the old connection on the other end of the cord. This isn’t even considering an iPad which does not give consumers any form of USB connections to remain thin regardless of the fact that it has hampered its ability to become a Laptop replacement or an SD card slot since it would provide an option for people to expand the memory without paying more on the purchase price. Either Apple device Carney wants to compare the Surface to it is clearly a bad joke to suggest that they offer more port flexibility for the price.

Perhaps what is off putting is that from the opening it seems like another Apple fan is trying to seem un biased by writing a mostly positive review of a competitor’s product but ultimately it falls flat through his laughable attempts to dodge simple facts.

 

The hypocrisy surrounding Windows 10 S

On May the second Microsoft unveiled it’s new stream lined operating system aimed at the education market which requires more cost effective ICT solutions. The plan was obviously to create a product that could provide customers with the same experience as Windows 10 Pro but is capable of operating on devices with limited processing power and memory and therefore keep the cost down for the consumer. This consistency of performance has always been a problem for Microsoft as OEM’s have been making low cost laptops and more recently tablets running Windows with the minimum requirements further slowed by useless blotware for years. It is a problem that Google has avoid with Chrome OS and it’s reliance on web apps along with Apple whose clearly defined walled garden allows it to control the user experience yet Microsoft has to position Windows to compete at both ends of the spectrum. The release of the Surface Pro, Surface Book and Surface Studio has show that Redmond can mix it with Apple at the premium end but has done nothing to halt the advance of Chrome books in schools. The answer; Windows 10 S promises to open up the second front on the low cost end of the spectrum by primarily restricting third party applications that impact the overall performance of the operating system. Controversially the operating system achieves this by limiting the user to applications downloaded from the Windows Store similar to iOS.

1

It was a move Microsoft needed to make according to the analysts due to the success of Chromebooks in US schools and had the potential for leveraging a popular operating system in Windows 10 to break into a different market. Unfortunately, most of the media coverage seems to attack Microsoft for their approach to the problem and the limitation they have placed on the installation of apps. Typically  everyone wants the result but don’t want to face the consequences and seemingly expect nothing to be taken away in order to facilitate the necessary improvements to performance. Yet, as anyone with some experience with PC’s knows the major factor impacting performance is third party applications or related processes running in the background. Unbeknownst to the everyday user popular applications like the Adobe suite, Dropbox and Google Drive have several processes that run at start up by default and continue to draw processing power away from the user. These can easily be disabled in Windows 10 but most PC users in my experience teaching IT at a secondary school and provided ongoing support to colleagues and family this is beyond the average user. While limiting the installation of apps to the Windows store does not necessarily eliminate background processes it does provide a level of oversight missing from the web and prevents third party updates which are one of the major culprits of draining processing power.

Instead of focusing on these facts the Media have instead tried to suggest that Windows 10 S is the second coming of Windows RT except there are important differences for instance RT could not run legacy  or Win32 applications and was made specifically to run on ARM based devices. In addition Windows RT was released at the same time as Windows 8 which was a completely revamped operating system that meet with a range of criticism and limited adoption. This ultimately impacted the development of apps for the Windows 8 store and doomed Windows RT. However neither of these apply to Windows 10 S as it not only does run Win32 applications but  it is also being introduced after the successful  uptake of Windows 10 this simple fact means that the Store is already more useable than the variant available to Windows RT. In addition, last year Microsoft made an important step in the right direction by making sure Win32 apps run on ARM devices this decision in an of itself shows a progress from the days of Windows RT that has been ignored by so called exports and provides the new operating system a real chance of competing with Chrome Books.

Possible the largest noise surrounding Windows 10 S is the suggestion that it limits users to Microsoft own web browser Edge and prevents them from using Google Chrome. This is a matter of perspective as Windows 10 S does not prevent the user from installing a different browser and setting it to default it just requires the browser to be downloaded from the Store like iOS. It is as much Google’s decision to not support the Windows Store even though it doesn’t require them to write a new version of Chrome rather tweak the existing application and submit it to the store. The same could be said for Mozilla and Opera but no doubt as the Windows 10 Store continues to mature the will eventually appear, especially if the media puts pressure on them instead of Microsoft since Windows 10 S is the solution they have been asking for. Until than users may actually learn that Microsoft Edge isn’t useless since it now supports extensions, has a reading mode and renders Java script better than Chrome which still maintains an overall lead in performance with HTML 5. It is a competitive browser even without the unique ink mode which has the potential to really come into it’s own in an education setting with inexpensive tablet PCs, I can imagine teaching students to annotate opinion articles straight from the net or show them how to the can highlight while doing research for an assignment, even sending it easily to friends doing a group task. All it needs is someone with a little understanding and imagination to use the tools that Microsoft have tried to make available for education.

My final frustration is the reception of Microsoft newest member of the surface family, the Surface Laptop. The hardware itself has been well received but as usual the tech media can be positive with presenting a negative. In this case you guessed it the focus on Windows 10 S as most exports don’t really understand while Microsoft first Laptop comes preinstalled with the slimed down version of the operating system. This is obviously more of a marketing opportunity as the Surface Laptop tries to convince people of the value of the new operating system with the lore of attractive hardware. Even if people aren’t happy with Windows 10 S the consumer can easily upgrade to Pro for $49 considering the entryy model comes with an i5 processes the device is configured to run Microsoft’s full OS without any drop in proformance The other area that has been a point of contention is the price point starting at $999 US or $1499 AUS it can hardly be called a budget device which seems counter productive considering the purpose of Windows 10 S to compete at the lower end of the market. However, this follows the same principal that Microsoft have followed with the Surface Pro building premium hardware to lead it’s OEMs to start investing more in design and providing them with the opportunity to under cut their prices and offer consumers a cheaper option. This has been successful with the 2 in 1 market as the Surface Pro is viewed as the premium device and has inspired numerous knock offs from Lenovo, Dell, and Samsung among others. It doesn’t really matter for Microsoft which option the consumer buys since their all running Windows 10 ultimately bringing people to the ecosystem which in turn helps Microsoft encourage developers. The same principal is behind the pricing of the Surface Laptop as it still positions Microsoft as a premium hardware manufacturer and will no doubt inspire OEM’s to improve the quality of their low cost laptops to prevent consumer’s from shelling out a little more for a better product. Again either way Microsoft wins.

surface-laptop

It’s about time the tech media started playing fair with the truth and compared apples to apples rather than making connections that don’t make sense based on the changing landscape.

 

 

MWC A Windows rebirth

Samsung and LG may have captured the attention of most the tech world at the start of MWC but they weren’t on their own. The HP Elite X3 made more than a few people take notice thanks to its high-end specs and the decision to embrace Microsoft’s unpopular mobile OS. It was undoubtedly a headline act of a successful show for the boys at Redmond with more phone makers jumping on board the 2 in 1 train, some specialised heavy-duty devices and even a nice shiny reward.

HP Elite X3

The stats on HP’s first foray into the phone market for two years match anything offered by Android manufacturing. A snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB of RAM, expandable memory, 16 megapixel camera, 2HD 5.96 inch display and water resistance maintains the same standard set by Samsung and LG. Yet the Elite also packs in a massive 4150mAh battery which even outpaces the G5 with the additional modal and an iris scanner for windows hello.

The numbers are impressive but what makes the Elite x3 standout is the Continuum feature of Windows 10. This allows the phone to act as a desktop PC with mouse and keyboard support with the help of the HP Desk Dock which also provides USB, HDMI and Ethernet ports. Microsoft’s own Lumia 950 and 950xl have shown of this versatility before but HP have taken it a step further with Mobile Extender which turns the phone into a laptop. Using the power of Windows 10 HP have created a phone which could conceivably replace your computer, at least in a casual sense. Unsurprisingly the Elite x3 is aimed at enterprise but hopefully we will see a commercial release as it appears to be the high-end flagship that Windows Mobile has been screaming but is it enough. Check out the hands on from Techradar from the show floor and make up your own mind.

Huawei Matebook

The other major Windows 10 hardware announcement was a portable 2 in 1 Surface inspired PC from this notable phone manufacturer. Huawei is not the first to jump from the unprofitable and bleak pack of Android tablets as Samsung announced the Galaxy Tab Pro S last month at CES. If anything was obvious at MWC it’s that the future of tablets is the PC and consumers will see more competition between phone makers and traditional OEM’s.

As you might expect the MateBook is a 12 inch tablet with detachable keyboard and stylus in keeping with the Surface formula. Users have a choice of Intel processors up to the m7 and 4 or 8 GB of RAM with a whole day of battery life. This makes it slightly less expensive option compared to the Surface Pro but the MateBook doesn’t offer the same performance as the more expensive Pro 4 configurations and is probably more suited to casual PC uses. Looking at the price breakdown in this Gizmodo review it seems that Huawei may have got ahead of themselves as the Matebook doesn’t come in too much below the entry-level Surfaces but we will just have to wait and see.

Best of the rest

These two announcements may have stolen the spotlight for any other windows announcements but they weren’t the only things on offer. Vaio showed off the 5.5 inch Phone Biz handset hat also supports desktop like functionality through Continuum but with a snapdragon 617 processor and 3 GB of RAM it’s more of a mid range option. Unlikely to be seen in western markets the Phone Biz is a well put together and sleek device joining the Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL and Acer Jade Primo announced at CES showing support for Microsoft’s mobile platform. The guys from Redmond weren’t to be left out announcing the budget Lumia 650 which has a more premium look than other Lumia handset but with low end specs is only meant to be an affordable option.

Similarly the MateBook was not the only windows 10 tablet announced at MWC with Alcatel adding to its Windows lineup with the Plus 10, a 10 inch tablet with 4G LTE keyboard. These Surface like combinations are starting flood the market but the Alcatel is a little unusual as it has 4G connectivity built into the keyboard alongside extra battery life rather than the tablet itself. Personally this seems a little odd as the ideal time to rely on 4G would be when using the device as a tablet without the keyboard. Even so if priced right LTE connectivity is a rarity on windows tablets and it might bring strong interest. Another unusual device obviously designed for a niche market is the Panasonic Tough Pad FZ-F1 which is a 4.7 inch phone like tablet meant for heavy-duty environments. It’s a device created with a single focus in mind to replace the bulky hand help PDA used by postal workers and the like. A more mainstream announcement was the raft of yoga transformers from Lenovo which is using so many different numbers to distinguish the line it’s starting to have an identity crisis.

The icing on the cake

The highlight of Microsoft’s MWC may have been more symbolic as the Surface Pro went back to back winning the award for best mobile tablet and beating out all its fiercest rivals including the iPad Pro. It’s more than this victory however as it is clear that the slate has changed the consumer perception of what a tablet should be since everyone is coping the formula. Microsoft will be hoping that this success might be able to filter into mobile with new exciting hardware in the Elite X3 to get consumers interested. Who knows? Maybe the boys at Redmond might give us another surprise at Build which is now only about a month away.

Here’s hoping,
Jono

All the best apps on my iPhone are made by Google and Microsoft

http://www.appy-geek.com/Web/ArticleWeb.aspx?regionid=3&articleid=57861628&source=wordpress

Zach Epstein’s article for BGR puts some perspective on the Smartphone market which no doubt is starting to feel all to familiar for Apple. I remember other commentators making similar observations after Microsoft bought the calander app Sunrise but it is probably becoming an even greater reality as the guys from Redmond are still buying up popular mobile applications like Groove (Ziker variety) and SwiftKey.

Epstein points out that the majority of apps he uses on his iPhone like Google Maps, Skype, Snapseed, Outlook, Google photos and Xbox One Smartglass to name a few are all made by Apple’s major competitors. In contrast the only in built options he uses are generally out of convenience like the camera app or because he sacrifices some useability for features in respect to Apple Music. Neither reason is something that would make software developers really happy. It does highlight Apple’s weakness that while they make great hardware they have never really deliverd the best services.

We don’t need to look far to see a pattern since even the most devoted Apple fan uses Microsoft Office on their Mac. However Apple’s problem goes beyond the failings of the iWorks suite as Safari is usef often just to download another browser like Chrome, Firefox or even Opera. Not to mention more specialised software like Skype, VLC and Adobe which pop up on most Mac’s despite Apple’s own offerings. Even when Apple has experienced success like iTunes it is normally out of necessity due to the popularity of the iPod and iPhone yet it made the simplest task to backup your phone and transfer files into a convoluted mess of wasted time.

The closed system of iOS and Microsoft’s previous strategy in mobile allowed Apple to protect it’s ecosystems from a similar fate for some time. Satya Nadella’s rise to the top job and his mobile first, cloud first made an instant impact with the release of Office for iPad. Their continued development of apps and recent purchaseing frenzy has only continued this momentum. Meanwhile other developers have given into Apple’s constraints and now offer their own services on iOS like Chrome and Firefox so that uses can injoy the same experience on their phone and computer.

It looks like Apple is just going to have to except that their ecosystem is never going to stop making money for their competitors.

Windows tablets rose 11%

http://www.appy-geek.com/Web/ArticleWeb.aspx?regionid=3&articleid=57674357&source=wordpress

I thought this was the perfect follow up to my last post about the tech worlds presentation of iPad Pro sales and market share. The main difference here is that the comparison isn’t based on hardware but software. This takes into account all of Apple’s hardware devices since they run iOS and recognises that Microsoft’s priority is Windows of which the Surface line is only one flagship device. It’s a comparison that is seen in the mobile market with iPhones (iOS) compared with all Andriod devices rather than just Samsung.

Personally I feel this is a more realistic measure of trends in the market place since it recognises both companies different strategies. Don’t just believe my opinion however read the article on slashgear and give it some serious thought. Especially since numbers can be used to say just about anything.

Jono

Debunking Tech Spin – Apple fans beware

If you are a tech nerd like myself or an Apple fan boy you have no doubt seen today the latest sale figures of the iPad Pro in comparison to Microsoft’s Surface Pro. While the fan boys are busy celebrating the English teacher in me thought it was about time to give a lesson about how to debunk the tech and for that matter the business worlds continual desire to distort figures and create false perception. Just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about here are a few links to 9to5 Mac, softpedia’s and business insiders take on the latest sales news.

ipad-pro-vs-surface-pro-4

When creating market perceptions the best course of action is always to use statistics from a reliable source which these examples like others have done clearly by quoting IDC’s estimate of “2 million” iPad Pro sales compared to “1.6 million” sales of the entire surface line. Taken at face value this is easy to understand and is a clear win for Apple but the art of spin is about not giving context. Business insider is slightly different in this regard as it states that the iPad Pro was not available until the 11th of November, however again this is selective information. In this instance the information necessary to make an informed judgement is left out, for example that the iPad Pro is available in 40 countries compared to approximately 25 on last count for the Surface line up. These reports also don’t mention the very different retail presence of both Microsoft and Apple which undoubtedly impacted the availability of the newest Surface Pro 4 in many countries. It’s common knowledge that Apple has a well-established retail strategy with 481 stores in 18 countries meanwhile Microsoft has 116 stores in four countries including only 10 outside the US. The result of this disparity is that Microsoft either has to rely on their online store or secondary retail stores like JB Hi-Fi in Australia. My personal observation at several such stores in Melbourne has revealed that most didn’t release the Pro 4 until December and the Surface Book until January. In Australia, much like I’m sure other countries, it is common to get new technology significantly behind the US that is except Apple products which are conveniently available on a global launch day. Given this context the statistics emphasised in these articles has a slightly less impressive and clear conclusion. It is possible to ask why with a larger distribution and stronger retail presence Apple has only out sold Microsoft by 400,000?

Another technique used by spin doctors is to establish credibility by seemingly providing some form of positive information against their established contention in this instance that most of the Microsoft sales were the more expensive Surface Pro models or that the guys at Redman have experienced ‘29% year-over-year growth’. Notice none of this information detracts from the idea that Apple has sold more at least not without further data and analysis but does help to present the writers of the articles in question as unbiased and reliable sources. Unsurprisingly they do not expand too much on the price of the more expensive Surface Pro tablets as it could easily explain the disparity between the sales figures and offer more comfort for windows fans. In Australia the Surface Pro 4 retails from between $1348 ($899 USD) to $3398 ($2199 USD) depending on the hard drive, memory and processor while the Surface Book starts at $2297 ($1499 USD) and increases to a whopping $4197 ($2699 USD) with a dedicated graphics card while the iPad Pro is more affordable in the $1248 ($799 USD) to $1698 ($1079 USD) bracket. This brings up two very interesting points to consider when thinking about the basic economics of supply and demand since demand will be greater in general for cheaper products yet companies will only be able to set high prices if there is sufficient market willing to pay otherwise they risk creating a surplus of stock, Microsoft found this out the hard way with the original surface running Windows RT. Overall this means that 1.6 million Surface sales has likely created more revenue (not necessarily profit as the overhead for both products isn’t actually known) than the iPad. It is also possible to conclude that consumers are willing to pay more for a Surface Pro rather than settle for a less powerful device in the Surface 3. Not only does this additional detail help explain the sales figures but it also raises a question about their actual importance especially since as all the article have had to admit the overall iPad shipments have fallen by 24.8% from last year.

Possibly the most obvious attempt at miss direction is the reliance of weighted comparisons that do not fairly represent similar products. Most people would not try to compare apples to oranges but in the tech world this seems to be common practice as to attack Microsoft’s significance digital trends compares the Surface line to more affordable tablets like the Amazon fire $115 ($50 USD) that can only do a small fraction of the tasks of a traditional laptop. Unfortunately, this is not a onetime phenomenon as 9to5 Mac also highlight a table showing tablet market share this is incredibly rich since they quote IDC’s comments about transitioning to “detachable tablets” and has little relevance on their actual contention about the iPad Pro as it uses existing iPads to inflate market share and utilised the plethora of chip Android tablets to push Microsoft off the list. Unsurprisingly these articles also fail to mention that most market research firms like Gartner don’t actually categorise the Surface Pro let alone Surface Book as a tablet instead it is often labelled a hybrid or ultramobile and counted in the PC numbers. In this context what would be relevant would be a comparison between high end ‘detachable tablets’ or hybrids although an argument could easily be made that the iPad Pro does not belong in this category since most reviews agree that it can’t replace a laptop due to the limitations of iOS.

I hope a few of you have found this a little bit of a learning experience and maybe it transported you back to an English class at school were some teacher was prattling on about persuasive techniques (some of mine are a bit obvious). These types of tech articles are just a perfect example of how we experience subtle manipulation on a daily basis and just proves one of my favourite sayings, knowledge is power. My point although it may not seem like it is not to persuade nor even inform but to encourage you all to think critically and make your own judgement as unfortunately sometimes it’s about choosing which ‘truth’ you want to believe.

Cheers,

Jono

 

Microsoft brings the Thunder part 2

It’s been nearly 3 years since Microsoft first released the Surface Pro to champion it’s new look OS Windows 8 and it was meet by ridicule, scepticism and projected failure, who can forget Apple’s fridge and toaster analogy. The tech media was a bit more reserved with most pleased at the overall performance but critical of the poor battery life, weight and extra cost for the type/touch cover. Then came the $900 million write down for the Surface RT and many were ready to forget about the potential of its more powerful younger brother. Not one to follow trends I was never really a fan of early tablets due to their inability to run any of the software I used on a daily basis so I jumped on board once Microsoft changed their strategy in Australian and released it through retail stores. Ever since then I have never regretted a second as for the last few years it has been my major computing device alongside my desktop, I even convinced my Dad, Girlfriend and some random at Harvey Norman to buy one. Sure the battery life still sucks but the pen input was a revelation for teaching whether taking notes or modelling annotation skills while it also allowed me to keep my excel student planner close at hand. This is all ancient history but it’s worth remembering the humble beginnings of the Surface Line as the idea has always remains the same, a tablet that could replace your laptop, we just needed technology to catch up before it became a reality with the Surface Pro 3. The new design increased the screen size but made the tablet lighter and more streamed line with improved battery life yet still a significant power boost. Finally, people started taking notice from students to enterprise Surface Pro become the ultimate hybrid device and turns into a neat $1b profit making machine. That’s enough for the industry to take notice and even Apple was quick to try and copy this new formula in the iPad Pro but without the silver bullet, a desktop experience. So this brings us to today and the 4th generation.

Surface Pro 4

As it was expected the latest version of Microsoft’s innovative hybrid was all about refinement. The slate boasts a slightly larger 12.3″ screen with an impressive 267 ppi and Microsoft’s new PixelSense technology to take advantage of o.4mm thick cover screen to bring improved contrast. For the most part the SP4 keeps the same dimensions as the SP3 to maintain backwards compatibility with existing accessorises. Even so the tablet is a little bit thinner and lighter while still maintaining all the necessary ports. The main improvement is under the hood with Intel’s 6th generation Skylake processors giving a significant power boost that really put the spring in Panos Panay’s step as he could brag about a 30% increase and a 50% advantage over the MacBook Air. It was hard to remove the smile from his face as he joked about the fridge and toaster analogy or alluded to competitors making tablets with larger screens.

To read an in depth comparison between the SP3 and 4 click here.

It wasn’t just the tablet itself that got an upgrade as the new Type Cover offers an improved typing experience with an island style layout and increased depth similar to what is found on most laptops. A new glass trackpad offers five touch points and should provide a smooth experience while an optional finger print scanner will give SP3 users with access to Windows Hello. Likewise, the Pen has been given the once over as well increasing to 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity to further push the boundaries between computer experience and writing on paper. In addition, the top of the pen acts as an eraser something normally, associated with a pencil, which adapts to applications while still providing a quick launch button for OneNote and Cortana. If that wasn’t enough Microsoft have also introduced a range of colours and interchangeable tips so uses can adapt their experience. Finally, Microsoft has gone back to the original design of the Surface Pen by providing a magnet dock on the side of the tablet, at least this time it doesn’t cover the charging port.

Overall the SP4 is a noticeable improvement and gives fans what they wanted faster performance and a more elegant user experience. It has definitely been worth holding off upgrading if only for the boost from the 6th generation Skylake processor. In terms of the competition the iPad Pro can’t measure up as it still lacks the proper experience to replace your Laptop and for the price is an expensive secondary device. Meanwhile the MacBook Air which Panay admits is a great product has an outdated processor and lacks the same convertible experience. However, Apple is not the only copycat trying to capitalise on the Surface design with other PC makers implementing kickstands, removable keyboards and pen input in an effort to keep up but the SP4 which just raised the bar again. It will be interesting to see in the next few weeks with Microsoft’s major OEM’S also hosting device announcements if they can follow the standard that’s just been set.

Stacking up against the competition: MacBook Air or iPad Pro

Surface Book

Microsoft’s big surprise came with only the slightest gossip in the lead up to the event with rumours of a Laptop or a larger Surface but no specs, renders or patients. The Laptop is elegantly designed with a unique look due to the visible gap between the keyboard and screen. The way this comes together reminds me of an empty folder and fits well with the name. The soon to be iconic hinge is where the Surface Book’s design really captures everyone’s attention. It runs out like a carpet to extend the base and give the device balance while the contrast between the magnesium and aluminium gives it a distinct shine that catches the eye. You might think that it’s a bit sad that the tech world has gone into overload over a fulcrum hinge but it truly is a master stroke of engineering. It solves the ever present weight distribution problem with this type of device and allows the two parts to meet perfectly to give the unique shape.

Check out Mashable’s inside with Panay and design chief Ralf Groene about the development of Microsoft’s first Laptop.

Beyond the design the Surface Book boost a 3000 x 2000 13.5″ PixelSense display which means it shares the same 267ppi as the SP4, more than the retina display found on the MacBook Pro. At the entry level the laptop packs a 6th generation i5 processor and 8GB of RAM but at the top end it is a beast which is why Microsoft has labelled it the ultimate laptop. The addition of a dedicated NVidia GPU makes it easily beat out the competition available in comparable form factors and will allow professionals and gamers to render complex 3D imaging more familiar to desktop PC’s and larger laptops. In addition, the ability to upgrade to an i7 and 16GB of RAM makes the top end configuration an expensive yet enticing proposition. Like the Surface Pro’s new type cover the keyboard has been carefully engineered to provide the best typing experience possible. Running Windows 10 the Surface Book performs as you would expect any high powered PC being able to easily run demanding applications like the Adobe suite with no troubles.

It wasn’t all specs however as Microsoft engaged in its own brand of theatre with Panay directing his audience to re-watch the opening promo in order to give us one more thing …

The screen detaches and it becomes a full Surface tablet, surprise. Just at that moment Panay must have been on cloud nine as the crowed whooped and gave a standing ovation. After all he says this is Surface, this is innovation. Now some people might be thinking what’s the big deal there have been 2 in 1 devices that have a detachable keyboard since Windows 8. If you watch the demo its clear Surface Book is different as it is first and for most a laptop and the muscle wire mechanism is nearly as well conceived as the hinge. Relying on a metal that contracts when placed under current it secures the two sections so that Panay is confident waving the laptop around by the screen. Personally the other similar form factors I have played with in stores seem flimsy and didn’t inspire me with a lot of confidence so this is a big change.

Practically the Surface Book provides three possible uses the laptop, tablet or “clipboard” and the canvas. All provide uses with different possibilities to be productive. The “clipboard” is not marketed as a standalone tablet but a portable extension that could be removed when you need to show something to a few colleagues to pass around or take a work through the factory. In addition thanks to the hinge (Simpsons moment of the rod) the screen is able to reverse and lay down over the keyboard to provide a tilted experience for writing and drawing which has access to the GPU and 8 hours of battery life stored in the base. This flexibility alone regardless of any power advantage provides a clear source of difference from the competition which shouldn’t be ignored.

By the end of Microsoft’s event it was clear that they have stopped following with HoloLens, Surface Pro and Surface Book their ready to return to the lead. The company not only has built serious momentum this year through a series of announcements including backwards compatibility for the Xbox One but they now have a confident swagger brought about by a clear vision thanks to Satya Nadella. Unfortunately, this has left me with an annoying problem, which do I purchase they Pro 4 or the Surface Book. Price might have a lot to do with it as here in Australia it seems that the major tech companies feel like we should pay more meaning the top end Surface Book comes in at $4100 while the i7 SP4 is a bit more affordable at $2700. If only money grew on trees and I could get both.

Check out the full Surface announcement here.

cheers,
Jono

 

Microsoft brings the Thunder part 1

Microsoft’s long awaited Windows 10 devices launch did not fail to impress. The software giant rolled out a raft of devices from phones to wearables as expected with predictable specs but managed to still give us a few surprises.  In every way possible the team nailed this recent set of announcements in order to maintain the positive coverage from the tech world which is always ready to label the company irrelevant.  So lets break it down …

Microsoft Band 2

The companies first wearable had a very limited availability, limited to the US and UK but from all reports the performance was never really the issue. Made as a fitness tracker and not a watch the band was always designed to be warn with the screen facing in for more natural experience while working out. To achieve this the original hardware squeezed 10 sense s into a clumsy design which people never felt very comfortable wearing. Obviously satisfied by the performance of version 1 the new and improved Band 2 seems like it has received a little more love with a rounded and premium design with a streamlined metal body, curved display and flexible straps. In addition the team has some how managed to include a new elevation sensor to help those who train at different altitudes. Finally, the Band 2 retains the best part of the original device as it is cross – compatible with iOS and Android and is therefore not necessarily tied to the fate of Windows Mobile. The Band has to date been the only wearable that has really caught my attention as it aims to serve a specific purpose but provides more functionality then other fitness trackers like Fitbit. At the same time it doesn’t try to become a fashion accessory,  personally I’m sticking with my Armani to give me that added flare. Now that they have refined the design I’m definitely still keen if it lands in Oz soon.

New and improved the Band 2

HoloLens

By now we are pretty used to Microsoft showing off mind blowing HoloLens demos but lets face it, we shouldn’t complain. This time the show focused on Multi-reality gaming with Project X-Ray where your entire house can become your new battle ground. Personally this is where the untethered nature of HoloLens really has an advantage over virtual reality headsets as you can more easily move into different rooms and interact unrestricted with the experience.  The gameplay itself is pretty straight forward but is definitely cool,  robots burst through the walls and hide behind your couch before you blast them in to holographic pieces. It really has me thinking about the possibilities, a police raid in your own house or a personalised hostage situation. More importantly, Microsoft finally gave us some release details with the developer kit available in the first quarter next year for $3000. It’s not cheap but since Google Glass was $1500 and that was nowhere near the level of HoloLens so I won’t be surprised if developers jump on board.

Lumia 950 and 950XL

Unsurprisingly the specs for these new Lumia Flagships like the new design for the Microsoft Band 2 had already spread all over the Internet but it always helps to get things confirmed. The 950 has an hexacore snapdragon 808 processor, and a 5.2 WQHD OLED display while the XL comes with an octacore processor, 5.7 display and liquid cooling. In addition both phones have a 20 megapixel PureView camera with optical stabilization,  USB – C connections, 3 GB of Ram, wireless charging, Windows Hello facial recognition, duel adaptive antennas and 32 GB expandable memory. None of these specs seem ground-breaking on their own but as International Business Times points out they still slightly edge out the competition from Apple and Samsung. Even so some other media reports are disappointed expecting a killer feature and a ‘premium’ Surface like design rather then the continued use of polycarbonate.

Firstly, I see the duel antenna as a welcome addition if it successfully works to improve signal quality as I have always felt that it is a annoying weakness of modern smartphones that it was easier to have a conversation with someone over a phone call 15 years ago. Personally the killer feature of these phones comes from the software as Continuum allows both handsets to connect with a keyboard and mouse through the dock and drive a desktop experience through Windows 10, but every other phone on the market can do this right?. Technically this means that with the right app you can edit, print or easily manipulate photos and documents without syncing your devices.  Now you can be “productive like a Boss where ever you are”, at least that’s the idea. Unfortunately,  most people probably only want to use their phone as a phone so I don’t know how much traction it will get in the consumer market but it is definitely great for the enterprise sector.

I find the second criticism ridiculous and largely perpetrated by those people who have never used a Lumia device beyond a review unit, having owned a HTC Mozart, Lumia 610, Lumia 920 and a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge I still consider the polycarbonate 920 my favourite. Mainly because of the solid build quality as regardless of how many times I dropped it over the 3 or so years with out any form of case the 920 still works fine if only  for the aging specs. Meanwhile the HTC lasted just over a year before a fall from a coffee table shattered the screen and made it unusable similarly one fall from a car door has left my Galaxy 6 edge with clear blemish to it’s stunning screen. This is not to mention the fact that my Galaxy like most other phones is kept neatly covered by a case so I can preserve the “premium” design, something I never even considered with my Lumia. Now don’t get me wrong the Galaxy S6 is a fantastic phone and I don’t have any regrets but I’m using it to make a point that the Lumia Line has a well know track record for taking a beating which I think is more important. After all if your buying a phone for the looks you probably don’t know anything about performance and are too concerned with your own status unfortunately this probably includes a good portion of the mobile marketplace.  Sorry for the rant but every time I hear or read comments about premium materials and beautiful shiny designs I can’t help getting angry at people’s stupidity as I am a very practical person.

Admittedly apps still remain a problem for Microsoft’s mobile strategy and it’s not TV surprising that they find themselves at something of a cross roads.  Both realising the importance of getting  their services onto other ecosystems while trying to use the universal capacity of Windows 10 to breath some life into their own platform. The word out of Microsoft is that they aren’t expecting much from the new handsets but it allows them to create a bundle for enterprise customers interested in the surface line. We shall have to wait and see over the next couple of months but they will continue to make little progress if they can’t get Google, carriers and OEM’s on board in order to encourage developers. Hopefully the new tools to port Android and iOS apps to Windows will help as I think consumer’s will benefit from increased competition if Microsoft can start gaining even a little bit of traction in mobile.

I always seem to go into way too much detail, but stay tuned for part 2 as I look at the Surface announcements from Microsoft’s event.

Till then,

Jono

Windows 10: A varied experience

D-Day has been and gone for Microsoft’s latest operating system and so far with around 75 million downloads in the first month it appears to be a resounding success, obviously the free upgrade has helped to boost early adaptation. In fact Microsoft’s reservation system most likely tempered the initial rush as the process has deliberately delayed access in stages to prevent over extending their serves. Although the delay makes sense it didn’t take long for me to get annoyed with waiting and use the insider media creation tool to upgrade all my computers as I’m certain others have been doing since the 29th of July. Across my devices I have had a varied experience, including a few little teething problems, yet overall I’m impressed with how the OS has developed from early builds and the new developments that Windows 10 has brought to the PC.

DELL Studio – Intel Core Duo

My old laptop has taken a beating over the years and has been relegated to a portable DVD player over the last year but it has been useful to test out the preview builds of Windows 10. Over the last few months I’ve seen the changes Microsoft has brought to the task screen, notifications and settings all of which work towards making it easier for uses to access information. Many of these elements may have gone unnoticed after the return of the start menu but they more subtly blend elements from Windows 8 and introduce new features like multiple desktops to the Windows ecosystem. The start menu does definitely make the OS more easily adaptable to existing Windows 7 users but I personally feel that its  actually the ability of opening new Modern apps in a traditional windowed UI that makes Windows 10 a massive improvement as a desktop OS, after all who needs a 15″ calculator. The implementation of these developments alongside the noticeable improvements in speed and performance have resurrected my old laptop as if it was almost a new machine, it has even been brought off the bench and used properly for the first time in over a year.

Surface Pro 1 – Intel Core i5

Frustratingly, this has been the device I’ve had the most trouble with since upgrading which considering how much I use it at work has been a little inconvenient. Immediately after the upgrade I was having battery life problems, especially after any substantial period not in use, unfortunately the computer hasn’t been hibernating properly and randomly wakes up inside my case. However, this has been easily solved by shutting down which has only been a minor unconvinced especially since the surface boots so quickly. In addition,  the touch cover sometimes  remains active when flipped back behind the tablet and the screen’s touch points seemed to be less sensitive. Eventually this issues reached a tipping point and I choose to do a clean install using the reset feature built into windows. Despite the added hassle of re-installing all my important apps this has helped to clear the unwanted trash from my surface, freeing up space while solving all my problems.

Regardless of these little headaches I have been generally impressed with Windows 10’s changes to the modern UI introduced with Windows 8 as subtle developments make it blend more seamlessly with the desktop mode. The removal of the maligned charms bar is just the beginning as the desktop like taskbar and vertical scrolling also serve to tie in the start screen with the desktop interface and the revamped start menu. In the same way the notifications centre and task button new across the operating systems remains the same in both interfaces, these element make Windows 10 feel more cohesive and less the Jekyll and Hyde of its  predecessor. Beyond the look of the OS one of Microsoft’s biggest new features, Continuum really comes into its own on this type of hybrid device as it detects the presence of my type cover and changes the interface accordingly. The other major development that has improved usability is the opening of traditional windows applications in a full screen mode rather then automatically kicking the user into the desktop mode. These improvements are more then enough for anyone using a hybrid or touch device to take advantage of the free upgrade and leave Windows 8 behind.

Dell Inspiration 2310 All In One

In recent months my Dell all in one has been struggling so the upgrade to Windows 10 provided an ideal opportunity to do a clean install. Once I finished the upgrade my experience on the desktop has been very similar to my old laptop with a noticeable improvement in performance. The main feature of windows 10 I wanted to test out on the desktop was Xbox streaming which works exceptionally well depending on your home network. Originally, after connecting to my Xbox One and performing a test my network did not even support the minimum requirements. Much to my surprise this did not prevent me from streaming as it was still possible to play the original Perfect Dark thanks to Rare Replay with some shuttering. This was never going to satisfy me, so after a quick network upgrade I was glade to find my system now capable of the achieving the extra high resolute introduced in Microsoft’s update.

Final Thoughts

These are not the only new features and changes with Windows 10 as their is the introduction of a new browser in Microsoft Edge which is a clear improvement on Internet Explorer and just needs to be updated to allow extension as well as the Mac like inclusion of multiple desktops. Additionally, you might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana since it has been one of the major developments implanted in Windows 10. Unfortunately, as some of you might know on launch Cortana was limited to just 4 countries and Australia was one of many to miss out. Microsoft have promised to start rolling out the service to more uses later this year with the promise that Cortana will be individual to each culture, hopefully that will mean a digital assistant that can understand the Auzzie accent.  Regardless of these features and the slight disappointment of our Halo themed friend I can confidently recommend an upgrade, just think about talking the extra time to do a clean install.

GamesCom 2015: Continuing momentum

It’s been a couple of weeks since GamesCom wrapt up in Germany and the question that remains is whether Sony’s decision to opt out of the convention could prove costly in the lead up to the Holiday period because Microsoft continued to build momentum. Not only did the Xbox team give us more information about their E3 announcements but they had a few new surprises and a couple of exclusives to get excited about. So lets break it down…

Backwards Compatibility

The big announcement out of E3 got everyone talking and speculating on the impact of this exciting feature on the ongoing console wars. Xbox preview members like myself have already had access for a month but for most it has been a painful wait. It doesn’t put people out of their misery but at least now Microsoft have given us a timeline, 3 months. It might seem far away but come November backwards compatibility will become a reality alongside the Windows 10 update and new dashboard interface. Some analysts are already suggesting that backwards compatibility has had an impact on 360 game sales but we will probably have to wait till after November to find out the impact of this new feature on sales.

TV DVR

GamesCom didn’t just give us news about Microsoft previous announcements as they confirmed the long rumoured TV DVR feature coming to the Xbox One in 2016. This had always been a likely development due to the HDMI through functionality and the release of the digital TV tuner in the US and Canada. Next year users will be able to record TV to a hard drive connected to their console and stream it to other Windows 10 devices.  Unfortunately, at launch the feature will only be available in the US, UK and Canada with no word as yet on expanding support to other regions. Personally I’d like Microsoft to include some ability to record from a streaming TV service e.g. Foxtel play here in Aus, mainly for sport that doesn’t go onto catch up but I’m sure there are a few legal problems in that one, but maybe one day.

Games

The expo gave us a few new glimpses of titles shown off earlier this year at E3 including Halo 5 but Microsoft made sure we had a few more things to think about.

Scalebound

The concept behind this action RPG has a lot of people excited, who doesn’t want team up with a dragon. However, it’s clear from the game play reveal that it still needs work, especially the dialogue which is currently very corny. Like other games in the genre, game play combines melee and ranged combat with a series of special abilities and items. This one definitely has potential and with a 2016 release has plenty of time to develop into everything we hope it can be.

Quantum Break

The makers of Max Payne and Alan Wake take their time slowing game play from its humble beginning as bullet time to a new level where it becomes a weapon. In development for a few years now Quantum Break finally has a release date on the 5th of April 2016 and with a new look at game play it was definitely one of the highlights of Microsoft’s conference. Besides the actual game play,one of the unique and compelling features of Quantum Break is the development of a full TV series imbedded in the game that responds to your decisions which has me intrigued. This one is definitely on my list for next year.

Crackdown 3

A lot of the news out of GamesCom was about Microsoft’s latest instalment in the popular open world third person shooter. Crackdown 3 promises a unque gameplay experience as developers have used the power of Microsoft’s Azure platform to simulate real world physics. This extra computing power far beyound the capabilities of any stand alone console allow the creation of completely destructible environment. I’m glad to see developers looking at the potential of the cloud.

Halo Wars 2

The one more thing behind Microsoft’s conference was the announcement to a follow up statergy game based on the Halo universe. Until 2009 the RTS genre on a console was a dangours propasition but Halo Wars demonstated the possibilities when done right. Its taken a while but we are finally going to see if this potential with it’s symplified controls can develop into a top class RTS. Personally, I can’t wait for any expansion of the halo verse so this one goes straight to my waitlist.