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Surface Windows 8 Pro 128 GB Review Part 1 – Pre-conceived Notions

Microsoft Surface Pro

The first part of this review are my pre-conceived notions about the Surface Windows 8 Pro 128 GB (from here on out I will call it the Surface Pro) and Windows 8. These are my opinions based on the plethora of blog posts and reviews about the Surface Pro and Microsoft’s latest version of the Windows operating system. I placed my order for the Surface Pro 128 from the Microsoft Online Store in the morning on February 16th and hopefully I get mine the first week in March. To date I have not seen the Surface Pro nor the Surface RT in person and have not yet installed or used Windows 8 (So I’ll really be talking out my ass). The second part of this review will be my opinions after getting the device in my hands and using it for at least a week or two.

I think the Surface is Microsoft’s vision for Windows 8 and has been their vision for computers for well over a decade. The two are inextricably linked. Most reviews of the device and the operating system have centered around the old way of thinking of computers. Tablets versus laptops versus desktops. I think this is wrong and mis-characterizes what this device is.

Let me start with tablets. They are computers but are dumbed down versions that are purposely hobbled. Why else would the iPad or any Android tablet have these awful mobile browsers (of which I ‘ve complained about ad nauseum in different places) that can’t do simple things like view videos from Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Slingbox? There is no good reason. Tablets also won’t run applications and instead run “apps”. Apps are lighter versions of full blown applications that we use everyday in our offices and homes on fully functioning computers (i.e. laptops and desktops). Tablets are essentially giant smart phones without the phone but with the power of a computer.

Laptops and desktops are almost the same device in different clothing these days. I’ve used a laptop as a desktop machine for years until I made the transition from Windows Mobile 6 to the HTC Incredible loaded with FroYo. Why did this have an effect on the type of machines I use? Well with a smart phone I no longer needed to tote a computer around with me. Instead I could purchase less expensive desktop machines and use my smart phone for all the things I used to use my laptop for while going about my day. I could quickly get information online and check my e-mail without having to boot up a machine and without carrying around a 3 lb. beast. The only time I employed the use of a laptop was when travelling because it’s just not practical to lug a desktop machine with you on a plane.

The Surface Pro, in my mind, is finally the melding of the desktop, laptop, and tablet into one device. It is my hope that Microsoft doesn’t stop there and continues this melding of devices right down to the smart phone, whereby, my smart phone then takes the place of a phone, tablet, laptop, and desktop. The Surface Pro is in a category unto itself in that it is the only device that appears to successfully have nailed the form factor. I contend that if one looks at this device as unique then you will find that Microsoft’s claim of computing without comprises holds true. And that’s the main problem with most reviews since the Surface Pro made into people’s hands. They are looking at this device and comparing it to a laptop (which it’s not) and then comparing it to a tablet (which it’s not). Heck, why didn’t they compare it to a desktop and a smart phone too? They may as well since a Surface Pro is neither of those devices either.

So what is a Surface Pro? It’s a new form factor for a computer. The evolution of where computers have been headed for about two decades. It has the power of a desktop machine, the portability of a laptop, and the convenience of a tablet. It has all these things in one. But comparing it to any of them would be like comparing a tablet or laptop to a desktop and vice versa. This device has the potential of being the only computer you need. I say potential because there needs to be a decent docking solution so you can connect it to a full size monitor, keyboard, and mouse. For the first time since IBM created the PC I think a device has been created that actually lives up to the moniker of Personal Computer. And, that’s what the Surface Pro is. It’s the first genuine Personal Computer and it’s the type of device I’ve been waiting to get my hands on since I purchased a Compaq TC1000 about 10 years ago .

I’m sure it has short comings. What device doesn’t. Nothing is perfect. Some faults that already come to mind are the small solid state drive, only 4 GB of RAM, the inability for a user to upgrade the former, and the inability for a user to swap out a battery. One thing I haven’t listed as a fault yet is the reported battery life. If I can get 4 hours of battery life with the Surface Pro I’m sure I’ll be plenty happy. It’s not a tablet so I don’t expect tablet like battery life. But I’ll leave that opinion open to change as it’s not a laptop either and through normal use it may be that it needs a minimum of 6 hours to be useful. I’ll reserve that for later.

I really want Microsoft to succeed with the Surface Pro and I really want them to expand this concept to smaller devices (my belief is that a 5″ to 5.5″ device running full Windows would be just about perfect). I never liked the direction Apple took computers with the iPad and I grudgingly use a Nexus 7. But I’m tired of using these compromised and dumbed down devices and can’t wait to start using a real Personal Computer again.

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Update to My Samsung Galaxy S III Review

Samsung Galaxy S3

I posted a review of the Samsung Galaxy S III a little over a month ago. My initial reaction was that I was fairly impressed but not overwhelmed by anything. Overall I felt it was a good upgrade of hardware and software but not anything spectacular.

What’s changed in a month’s time is my impression after over 30 days of daily use. There are many things that bother me about this phone now that cannot be discovered by just using it for a day.

To start, Samsung’s Touchwiz skin is disappointing compared to HTC Sense. There is much more functionality with Sense. Sense gives me the ability to control any audio that I have playing right from the lock screen. No need to swipe to control. All the player buttons and volume controls just work from the lock screen. Touchwiz requires that I tap to bring the screen to life, swipe to unlock the phone and only then can I access the player to pause. The several seconds this takes doesn’t seem like a lot when you talk about it but try listening to something and have someone walk in your office to talk to you and have to wait 3, 4, or 5 seconds before you can silence the damn phone.

In the first week the Touchwiz skin constantly crashed. It got so bad that I downloaded a new skin just to stop the damn thing from constantly crashing. This shouldn’t happen with any phone especially one that is brand new and literally just out of the box. I don’t know if Samsung pushed an update or not but I reverted back to the Touchwiz skin and the phone no longer crashes like it use to.

There are performance issues that crop up from time to time. When trying to unlock the phone sometimes nothing happens. In the past month this has happened at least a dozen times. I swipe to unlock the phone and nothing happens. No unlock no nothing. Just my lock screen. If I wait 30 seconds to 1 minute the phone catches up to what I’m doing and unlocks like a ghost is fiddling with my phone.

Recently I went to make a phone call using Google Voice. I’ve been using Google Voice on my old HTC Incredible with no trouble that I can recall. On this day I dialed the number and chose to make the call with Google Voice and then nothing. The phone just froze on the dial screen. The call doesn’t go through, it doesn’t drop, it doesn’t do anything. I had to reboot the phone in order to get it to work again.

The sleep/awake button placed exactly opposite the volume rocker remains a problem. I don’t like this button placement. I think it would have been better to put the sleep/awake button on the top of the phone. Far too many times in the last month I’ve totally muted my phone without realizing it. I pull out my phone to check on something and low and behold there are calls and text messages missed.

I don’t know if the software problems with this phone are caused by Samsung or by Google’s Android but regardless of who is responsible the problems are annoying. I tend to lean on the side of Samsung being the culprit. Largely because I also have a Nexus 7 tablet running stock JellyBean and it has been near flawless. I realize these two devices use different versions of the Android OS but the Nexus 7 is not skinned in any way where the Galaxy S III has Samsung splattered all over it.

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Nexus 7 Review

Here’s another review courtesy of your average tech enthusiast. I’ve never liked the iPad. My main reasons are the locked down ecosystem, the size, the weight, and the cost. I don’t understand spending that kind of money for something that isn’t a real computer.

Instead I’ve taken to first using a Nook Color which I rooted and installed Cyanogenmod 7 and then a Nook Tablet that I rooted so I could use GoLauncher. Both of these options allowed me to use Barnes & Noble’s ereader as a 7″ Android tablet. The experiences were not great but good enough given the price that I was paying for the device. I’ve advocated for a 7″ form factor  since before the iPad’s existence. If I want a device that is not my phone and not my laptop why would I want something with a screen nearly the same size as my laptop? Especially because I’m partial to 11.6″ laptop screens (I’ve had one since the early days of the Sony Vaio TR series from almost a decade ago). A 7″ screen is the perfect size and weight for that in between device.

Enter Google’s Nexus 7 tablet manufactured by Asus. It’s a great little tablet. Smaller and lighter than either of my Nooks and runs as smoothly as my wife’s iPad. It’s the first real tablet that is priced correctly for what it is. Personally I believe these devices should be sub $100 but I imagine that will come with time.

Google’s Jelly Bean version of Android, at least to me, is not that much different from any other version of Android post FroYo. There are updates and slight differences in usability as with the app drawer and notifications but nothing I feel worth mentioning. What’s the big deal with being able to flick away a notification? I always look at them, if I act on the notification it goes away, and if I don’t I just clear them out. I can’t think of a single time when I felt the need to leave certain notifications there while clearing away others. These changes are largely eye candy. They’re nice but in the end I don’t care as long as it works.

It’s much easier for me to concentrate on what I don’t like than what I do. I’m a complainer by nature. I’ll start with the sleep/awake button. It’s on the right side of the unit right above the volume rocker switch. Not a bad place for it but not a good one either. Historically, since the first iPods devices have been designed to either have that button on top or right on the front of the screen at the bottom. This and my Samsung Galaxy S III are the only devices I have where the button is in an awkward place. It’s much worse on the S III because it is on the opposite side as the volume rocker so when you’re pushing on one side you end up raising the volume as well. Hardware-wise I believe this is my only complaint. The rest of the hardware on this tablet is excellent. It has a good feel in the hand with a pleasant weight. Not too heavy but not too light with a dimpled back cover that doesn’t show finger prints or smudges.

Most of my issues are software related and I’ll start with the Chrome browser. I will never understand to my dying day why these devices don’t have a full and complete web browser. My tests are always to use the GoToMyPC and Slingbox sites. GoToMyPC, when logged in, will direct you to their Android app which is, of course, not compatible with this version of Android. So, I’m once again forced to use Teamviewer (again I like Teamviewer but it simply is not my preference). Slingbox directs me to their Slingplayer app which cossts $15. Why do I have to pay $15 for something I can do for free in a real browser. I simply won’t do it because it makes no sense. PLEASE GIVE ME REAL BROWSERS ON TABLETS AND PHONES!!!!!

Face to unlock is spotty. It’s supposed to look at your face to unlock the device as a security measure. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. You’re supposed to set it up in different lighting conditions where you are most likely to use the device and I have but it still sometimes does not recognize my face.

The Gallery app oddly does not rotate when you rotate the device. And, some of my pictures will rotate automatically when they are not supposed to. The picture of the Nexus 7 box that is posted along with this review will inexplicably rotate into landscape when the picture was taken in portrait. I don’t get why this app doesn’t work because it works properly on all my other Android devices.

How about a decent music widget? The one that comes with Google Play stinks and so does Amazon’s MP3 widget. With all this screen real estate it would be nice to have a large widget that shows what’s playing or that will allow me to choose something to play without launching an entire music app. This seems like it should be trivial to me but is not present on any Android device that I have. I wonder if there are any 3rd party widgets that will accomplish this. I’ll have to take a look.

Everything else seems to work as advertised. Although I’ve only been using the Nexus 7 less than 24 hours I can tell it’s the best Android tablet out there and really the only tablet you should be buying. No one should pay laptop prices for a tablet especially when they all have dumbed down systems that don’t allow you to do things that you can do on a computer. Not that these devices aren’t powerful enough either it’s just that the features and functionality are taken out to make the devices stupid simple. They’ve been dumbed down too much. People have been using PCs or Macs for decades now and can handle a little complexity.

 

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My Samsung Galaxy S III Review

From Tech Stuff

I’m a technology enthusiast yes, but, not always an early adopter. I just received my Samsung Galaxy S III phone from Verizon after two plus years of using an HTC Incredible. I loved the Incredible. The size of the phone was perfect for my pocket and once the phone was upgraded to FroYo and rooted it did everything I needed it to do. But, as everything with technology, a two year old phone is ancient and as apps upgraded the performance of the Incredible degraded over time. This is why I decided now was the time to switch phones and I chose the Samsung Galaxy SIII.

I’m not a professional tech reviewer (obviously) so these impressions are from purely a users perspective. The first thing is that the S III is HUGE. Compared to my Incredible it’s a giant freaking phone.  But, believe it or not, it feels about the same weight. I thought with such a big phone I would be getting a larger virtual keyboard in portrait mode but was sadly disappointed that it’s not much different than my Incredible. I really hate virtual keyboards because I’m constantly mistyping and the predictive text is never accurate enough for my taste. I always have to go back and re-read what I just wrote to make sure I didn’t type out something stupid. I crave a great design with a real keyboard.

The S III is running Android 4.04 (Ice Cream Sandwich) with plenty of Samsung flavor added on top. I’m use to using HTC Sense (and liked it quite a bit) but I don’t see too much difference here with the exception of some widgets that I like. Over all from the first several hours of use I don’t find ICS much different from FroYo.

The hardware is fast and LTE on Verizon is fast. One of the first things I did was download the Speedtest.net app to see what kind of bandwidth an I was getting 14 mbps down and 5 mbps up. Not too shabby! I also downloaded an app which allows me to use my phone as a wireless hotspot without rooting or signing up for Verizon’s extra fee. I won’t mention what the app is because I don’t want it to be blocked or want it to disappear from the Google Play store. It worked like a charm though.

Bloggers have talked a great deal about the screen on this phone. I find the screen fine but not hand over fist better than my Incredible. Sure the S III screen is more smooth but as long as I can see what I need to see I don’t care much. I’m also one of those people that don’t care for HDTV, Blu-Ray, or “retina” screens. I’m 45 and grew up with analog TV with dials that you had to tune. I’m happy if I have a clear picture and I don’t care if it’s super sharp.

Brief tests of the camera seemed adequate. I’m not a big phone photographer but I do like to take the occasional snapshot. If this camera is fast enough and a great improvement from my Incredible then who knows, I may actually use it. It has a front facing camera to which I can’t see much use. I thought I would be able to sign on to a Google+ Hangout but I don’t see that functionality available in the G+ app. Maybe it will be added later.

I’m a dinosaur in the smartphone world of users. I do use apps but I mainly use my phone for phone calls, text messages, and web browsing. The other functions I use rather sparingly, with the exception of wireless tethering,  as I’m rarely not in reach of a full fledged computer. The one transition I plan to make with this phone is that I am abandoning my Zune media players (yes I have multiple Zunes and I love them) because I’m trying to reduce the number of devices that I carry. I’m in the process of uploading my important music tracks to Google Music (boy are they in need of a better UI for this on the web) and I purchase all my new music from Amazon (which offers unlimited storage for all MP3 purchases) so this will allow me to stream my music collection rather than store it locally on the phone.

The one thing besides a real keyboard that I crave is a full fledged web browser. I’m sick and tired of having a powerful computer in my pocket and not being able to access everything the web has to offer. For example, I use GoToMyPC to connect to various computers remotely for work and this phone is not compatible with the current version of the GoToMyPC app. Even though I’m using the Chrome browser it is not able to use GoToMyPC as I do on my PC. I’m guessing Java doesn’t run properly in the mobile browser. WHY?????  So, I resort to using Teamviewer, which is a great service and mobile app, it’s just not the one I prefer to use and I don’t like having to have multiple remote desktop software running on my PCs if it’s not necessary.

Things I haven’t covered are navigation, maps, and many more functions. I just wanted to blast out on the web the quick and dirty amateur technology enthusiast opinion. If the phone is good I’ll probably use it another two years. If not, it will enter the great tech scrap heap along with other phones I hated like iPhone and Blackberry.

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Why Windows Phone Has No Future

I’m a Windows user and have been since Windows 3.1. I have stayed away from Apple, with the exception of the Newton (go ahead and laugh if you want), in all forms because of one main reason. Lock-in. Apple locks people in to their ecosystem and you have to work hard to get out of it if you don’t like the way some of their systems work. Windows, from a user’s perspective, never locked you in to anything until the development and release of Windows Phone 7. This is a strategy that I can’t get behind and will keep me from buying a Windows Phone in the future.

I’ve owned laptops from Digital Equipment Corporation, Gateway, Dell, Sony, Samsung, and Alienware. I’ve owned desktops from Epson, HP, Packard Bell, IBM, Gateway, Dell, Alienware, and Sony. I’ve used all kinds of software created in all corners of the Earth obtained from mail order and web sites of which most people have never heard. The hardware has come in all shapes and sizes and the software has been everything from easy to use and beautiful looking on screen to unusable and butt ugly. Over the past couple of decades I was able to use and experiment with all kinds of cool stuff thanks to the nature of PC hardware and Windows compatible software.

Apple locks the user in to the Apple universe. If you have an iPhone, iPad, iPod, or one of the few flavors of the Mac then you have the same device as everyone else in that universe. If you want a phone with a bigger screen or keyboard you can’t have one. If you want a Mac that is a different color than silver you have to pay extra to have a company paint it for you. Even then you can’t get a 14″ Macbook Pro if that’s the screen size you’re most comfortable with. The lack of choice in the Apple universe is fine for a great many people. And that’s okay. Not everyone likes to tinker and experiment. A great number of people want their computers to be like toasters where they just use it without having to think about it at all. I’m getting used to the notion of computers for normal people but I haven’t totally accepted it yet.

The difference in the type of customer that exists in the two universes of Apple and Windows is why I think Windows Phone 7 is doomed for failure (or at least it will remain a distant third). People like me that don’t want lock-in will continue to mover towards Android. With Android I have the freedom of using a variety of software to listen to music, watch videos, take and upload pictures and all the rest of the fun things people are doing with their mobile devices. And choice in hardware? Sheesh. Android gives you more choices to find the right device that fits the way you like to use it. For example, I’ve been using an HTC Incredible for the last couple of years. Out of everything that was available to me at the time it fit the way I wanted to use a smart phone.  And let’s not forget price. If Android phones were priced the same as the iPhone we would not have seen the wide adoption of Android that we have. Sure Android has it’s problems. The biggest one is that you have no idea what version of Android you’re using. Google iterates too quickly and the manufacturers and the carriers can’t keep up. Android is also a little rough around the edges. That gets me back to price because if an Android phone costs as much as an iPhone most people would just buy the iPhone because it lacks those rough edges.

The bottom line of all this is that if I want lock-in there is a choice for that. Apple. Their ecosystem is complete and fantastic if you don’t mind being locked-in. If you can’t beef up your ecosystem to match that then don’t lock-in your users because they’ll need to get outside your universe of software and/or services. Windows Phone 7 is going the lock-in route and that’s why it has no future.

I’m hoping Microsoft is not moving in this direction with Windows 8 because if they are then you’re going to watch Microsoft go the way of IBM. They’ll eventually have to leave the consumer space and concentrate solely on the enterprise market.

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Google’s Project Glass Is Freaking Cool

If Google can pull this off this would be incredible. Here are  my initial thoughts after watching the video below:

  • How much would this cost
  • How many people are going to get hit by cars watching the screen in front of their face
  • Obviously it’s bluetooth or something like it otherwise you can’t connect to your phone which must be handling the connection to the web
  • When will the joke pop up of, “It’s like Siri sitting on your face”
  • Can they incorporate this into normal glasses or sunglasses
  • I don’t care about all the thoughts above I WANT IT!

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Can We Trust Bitcasa?

I finally received my invite to join Bitcasa. I couldn’t even remember that I had signed up for the beta. In fact, it has been so long since I signed up that I had to research them to make sure the invitation wasn’t a scam.

If you don’t already know, Bitcasa purports to be a service that will allow users to have unlimited storage space for anything you would save to your computer or mobile device. Their technology somehow allows you to “save” things to a folder or removable drive without limit. I put the word save in quotes because you are not actually saving anything to the folder or removable drive that you designate to use with Bitcasa.  When saving a file Bitcasa puts a shortcut that points to the file that is stored in Bitcasa’s cloud.

Initially this sounds fantastic. No more storage limitations. There is a giant problem though for users with terabytes of storage. For example, I have terabytes of photos, music, and videos. I currently store them on two Drobos with a total of 10 terabytes of capacity. If I wanted to use Bitcasa for these files it would take an enormous amount of time to move those to the cloud. Once it was fully synced to the cloud any new files that I add to those drives would not actually be saved to those drives. Instead it would salve them to the cloud directly and just put shortcuts where the files would normally be. Let’s say I add another terabyte worth of data over the course of a year but then want to leave Bitcasa. I’ll have to download all that data back to my computer and who knows how long that could take.

With services like Dropbox all your files are saved locally AND to the cloud. The storage is not unlimited but it is more distributed. If I choose to leave Dropbox today all I have to do is leave. All my files are already stored on multiple machines. There is no downloading necessary to access them.

The concept of Bitcasa sounds great. Unlimited storage for a small fee.The problem is trust. Do I trust them to be around a year from now? Do I trust them to not lose my data? I just feel very uneasy putting all my stuff in the cloud without a copy held locally too.

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Loyalty Program Via Facebook App – Good or Bad Idea?

is looking to enter the US market with a loyalty program for smaller retailers that’s tied to a customer’s Facebook account. Seems like this is a good idea for Facebook and the retailer but is this is good for the consumer?

The way the system works is this: the online retailer integrates BonusBox’s software-as-a-service tool into their store. That means customers who are buying goods are then asked if they want to join the store’s loyalty scheme. They can only do so with their Facebook login.

Once they’ve installed the BonusBox Facebook app, they can then check it from time to time to see what deals are being offered by the various e-tailers that use the system. Those deals can be targeted by examining what the customer has bought from various stores that use the scheme, and how that tallies with their age or other personal data.

Facebook already has so much of your personal information. They know your friends, family, what you did last week, what you ate for breakfast this morning (if you post this type of detail), and if you sign on to this service they’ll know what you buy and from where. Allowing one company to know so much about you might not be the best thing in the world.

On the other hand, if companies like BonusBox can sign on enough retailers with their app this could be a boon to customers too. If the app is written correctly you’ll get notified of deals and discounts for things and places that you may not have considered before.

Amazon’s recommendation engine kind of stinks. I’ve been an Amazon customer from early on and the only thing Amazon ever recommends to me are things I’ve already purchased or have already examined. I can’t think of a single time their recommendations to me lead me to purchase anything.

Mom and pop stores don’t have the resources to build their own apps and usually don’t have the customer base to get into recommendations other than in face to face interactions. With a service such as BonusBox and their Facebook app a small shop can join and potentially get their products and services in front of people that otherwise wouldn’t know they exist.

If you’re not squeamish about putting more personal information into Facebook then BonusBox might be just what’s needed to help connect people with small retailers. This could keep local economies humming.

Read more via GigaOm