Design - A Tablet and a Notebook
For the last 30 days or so, I have been using both Microsoft's new Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 as every day computing devices. The goal was to review these items from not just a handful of days of testing and benchmarking, but with some lengthy time under my belt utilizing both products in a real-world environment. The following is my review with that premise. Enjoy!
A lot has already been said about the design and style of both the updated Surface Pro 4 and the new Surface Book. Let’s start with the Surface Pro 4 as it sees the least dramatic changes from previous product.
The Surface Pro 4 uses the same kickstand tablet design that made the Surface brand so memorable as well as functional. Many different OEMs are starting to copy the design style because it has a lot of positive merits to it. For instance, it allows viewing angles from nearly 90 degree to flat. The Surface Pro 4 is a tablet in its purest form, though. It doesn’t have a keyboard or trackpad standard – you’ll have purchase the optional Type Cover. It’s only 8.5mm thick and weighs in at 1.73 lbs, without the added keyboard.
The kickstand works exceptionally, with unlimited positions between the starting and stop point of the hinge, and it allows smooth movement between them. It’s strong enough to stand up when being slid around on the tablet or desk. The biggest concern I have with the kickstand is that using it on your lap (or on an airplane tray table) is difficult to impossible, depending on the exact configuration or your legs / tray. Because the hinged kickstand needs a surface to make contact with, pushing the Surface Pro back on your legs where the hinged portion extends past your knees won’t work.
From a design and style perspective, I still think the Surface products are among the best that exist on the market today. The magnesium body is sleek and the angles are both professional and aggressive. Even when coupled with the magnetic Type Cover, it won’t look like a toy at the office or on the road.
The new Surface Book is a completely different beast – a unique design and a new product. I am sure that there are some people that simply won’t like the way the notebook looks, but I am not one of them. Though it is technically a tablet and a keyboard dock, the Surface Book only ships as a complete unit so calling this a notebook or a 2-in-1 convertible feels more accurate than calling it a tablet. It has a larger and more pronounced 13.5-in screen than the Pro, which makes it larger, heavier and bulkier in your bag as well. The magnesium body shares a lot of design cues with the Pro 4, but it’s the hinge on the Book that really makes it different than any notebook I have used.
Subject: General Tech | December 16, 2015 - 06:20 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10
A new build is available for Windows 10 at the Insider Fast update level. This one is numbered 11082, and it is the first one on the “Redstone” track. Users will probably not notice any changes, beyond the bugs, because the modifications are all under-the-hood. They are working on the core of the operating system, called “OneCore,” to restructure it better for the wide variety of hardware that it's designed for.
This raises the question: Why now? It's odd that they would release a public preview that seemingly adds nothing, just before the holidays when the engineers will be unavailable to fix it. That feels like replacing the first floor of a building from wood to maybe-not-quite-set concrete, then hopping on a plane for a few weeks. Of course, this is not a bad thing. This is what some Insiders want to experience, and those who don't can drop down to Slow (or leave Insider).
Also, Microsoft sort-of explained why they did this. First, they intend to get down to business on features and upgrades in January. Basically, they structured their work such that pre-Holiday tasks built the infrastructure for post-Holiday creations (as I mentioned in the first paragraph). Big development tasks are often done on branches of a canonical product that are merged when complete. Merging a branch back into the trunk is easier when the trunk is designed more modularly, etc. In that context, it makes sense to see how it reacts in a large sample of configurations just before you start pushing big feature payloads into it. The second explanation is that Microsoft intends to speed up Insider previews in general.
If you're interested, WinBeta has a video “walking through” the features, although they basically just read the announcement. They also checked to see whether Microsoft Edge changed to add extensions, and it didn't.
A list of known issues is also available in the Insider Hub app post. Basically, Language packs and "Features on Demand" will not install. File progress dialogues will not show (even though the actual copy / move / delete will work without issue). Finally, some default apps will be incorrectly reset.
It is available through Windows Update for Fast Insiders.
Subject: General Tech | December 16, 2015 - 07:20 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, Windows 8.1, windows 8, Windows 7, windows 10, microsoft
Last week, Microsoft announced that the Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows now supports Windows 7 and 8.x. Previously, the dongle would only work on Windows 10, which meant that other operating systems required Xbox One controllers to be wired.
This does not mean that all functionality will be available on Windows 7 and 8.x, though. The Xbox Accessories app is required to manage profiles and update firmware without an Xbox One console. As far as I can tell, that will continue to be the case. If you have an Xbox One console, and don't mind managing the controllers there, then this wireless adapter might be for you. If you have don't have an Xbox One console, Windows 10, or an existing Xbox One controller, then you may want to reconsider getting an Xbox One controller at all. If you do, then you can turn it wireless, now even on Windows 7 and 8.x.
The Xbox One Wireless Adapter for Windows has been out for a couple of months.
Subject: General Tech | December 14, 2015 - 12:22 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: microsoft, Surface Pro, surface book
Along with the apology and reversal of their OneDrive policy, Microsoft has also apologized to customers about several issues that many have experienced with their new Surface Pro and Surface Books. The complaints started on a forum, as usual, with several users encountering screen flickering when using the devices. However the complaints quickly spread and even an interim firmware update was unable to resolve the issue. On Friday Microsoft officially apologized for the ongoing issue which has persisted through numerous updates and promise to have more updates available soon, hopefully one of which will permanently resolve the issue. The Register also mentions several other issues which users have experienced in their article this morning.
"Buyers have complained on Microsoft user forums about several faults with the machines since their launch earlier this year, including a "weird screen flicker", slowness in waking from sleep mode and worse than expected battery life. Surface Book"
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Adobe: We locked our customers in the cloud and out poured money @ The Register
- FAA: Small Drones Must Be Registered By February @ Slashdot
- Micron to acquire Inotera remaining shares @ DigiTimes
- Asustek, Gigabyte motherboard shipments to drop 10% in 2015 @ DigiTimes
- Sphero Star Wars BB-8 Super Cute Droid Review @ Madshrimps
Subject: General Tech | December 12, 2015 - 09:54 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, onedrive
A month and a half ago, Microsoft announced that they would roll back OneDrive storage plans. Subscription OneDrive storage would return to 1TB, down from unlimited. Free OneDrive was hit, too. The service offered 15GB (with a bonus 15GB for using Camera Roll). That was also scheduled to be reduced to 5GB, with no Camera Roll bonus. Users were naturally upset at having their free storage reduced by a factor of 6.
These changes will still take effect in early 2016, but not for everyone. If you are a current user with 15GB base storage, you can opt-in to being grandfathered by clicking a link. You will apparently also retain your 15GB camera roll bonus, if applicable, too. This will not be available for new customers, although there might be still time to sneak in, especially if you have a Hotmail / Microsoft Account / .NET / Passport / Passport Network / Live ID / Microsoft Account (again) / whatever they call it now account. Wouldn't hurt to check what OneDrive offers you today, and try to lock it in.
The Ars Technica article is a bit ambiguous about current Unlimited users. I mean, I guess it won't hurt to try. Be sure to let us know if you're successful. It sounds like it only applies to free tiers, though.
I guess it's nice that Microsoft allows users to be retain their settings. It's interesting that they require opt-in, though. This satisfies the users who are most likely to object, but it directs future users to subscribe. You know, unless they find old news posts on Google.
Subject: General Tech | November 23, 2015 - 08:15 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft
UPDATE (Nov 24th, 8pm ET): As I was informed, both on Twitter and in the comments, the update has been restored. Apparently the issue was that this tool, when upgrading Windows 10 to Windows 10 1511, accidentally reset four privacy settings to default. They also happened to be four of the less-severe ones, such as whether to allow apps to run in the background and whether settings should sync between devices. It has apparently been fixed and the tool will install the latest version of Windows 10 once more.
Source: Ars Technica
Regardless of your opinion about Windows 10, I'm glad that Microsoft has once again provided a way to force a specific version on your device. Their recent statement, telling users that Windows Update will give them the correct build eventually, is not comforting if someone is failing to receive the update. Is it coming? Or did it block for some reason? I also wonder if the 30-day policy would still be enforced, making clean installs that much more annoying. Turns out it was all hypothetical, and Microsoft was planning on reinstating it instantly, though.
This is a bit surprising and disappointing. When the November 2015 update for Windows 10 went live, existing users could upgrade with Windows Update (if it let them) and the rest could force an in-place upgrade from Windows 7, 8.x, and earlier builds of Windows 10 using the tool. The latter method has apparently been reverted to the original Windows 10 build from July 2015.
This image is getting a lot more use than I intended.
Why? Who knows. They are still offering the update through Windows Update, and Microsoft claims that they have no intention of pulling it. This concerns me, because there are a few situations where Windows 10 updates will get stuck, such as if you get it through Windows Update then uninstall it. I have not seen any report cover the official procedure for this issue. Also, I wonder if there's a way to get past Microsoft's 30-day no-update policy.
According to WinBeta, Microsoft's official statement contains the following: “Microsoft has not pulled the Windows 10 November 10 update. The company is rolling out the November update over time – if you don’t see it in Windows Update, you will see it soon.” (Emphasis not mine.)
We'll probably hear more about this as the week goes on.
Subject: General Tech | November 17, 2015 - 08:55 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: windows 10, Privacy, microsoft
UPDATE (Nov 19th, 12pm EST): Ed Bott emailed me to clarify a few points. First, PINs for BitLocker are not required and will not be backed up to OneDrive. I knew that PINs were not required, but I was trying to say "would there be a way that a user could use BitLocker without giving all the necessary bits to OneDrive". Apparently, using PINs is one of those ways. He also claims that you can manage your own keys by changing them and storing them locally.
He also commented on the HIPAA remark. He claims that Windows 10 is HIPAA compliant, and the reason why it was not included in the statement is because the question wasn't asked. Again, if applicable, check with your vendors and other support.
Okay so one of the major concerns with Windows 10 is how it handles your private data. I gave my thoughts on the topic a couple of weeks ago, which was a bit critical of Microsoft. I said that there are definite concerns that should be disclosed, but it is not enough of a concern to stop using it and switch to Linux or something. At least, not yet.
Image Credit: Wikipedia
The foremost change is that Microsoft specified that only OneDrive, Outlook, and Skype files and content, private or public, are subject to disclosure to law enforcement. The previous wording looked like it applied to all files on Windows 10. Full access to all files sounds like something the law enforcement would want, but Windows 10 does not provide it.
Another change involves BitLocker. Recovery keys are synchronized to OneDrive “to allow recovery on personal devices”. I am not sure if this also includes PINs, for devices configured to use those, but it would be crappy if it did. Regardless, the privacy statement now says “Microsoft doesn't use your individual recovery keys for any purpose.” This raises two concerns: Why did they specify “Microsoft” and why did they qualify “recovery keys” with “individual”? My assumption is that this is just an awkward trait of the English language, but it could exempt sending batches of keys to third parties, such as governments, especially if it counts as a OneDrive personal file. Again, it is probably just an awkward wording though.
A final point for me is that Telemetry, when set to “Basic”, satisfies FINRA, SEC, and FTC regulations. Oddly they don't specify HIPAA, but you probably shouldn't be listening to tech reporters (yes including me) for advice about securing health insurance and patient data. You should have more reliable channels for that sort of inquiry.
Subject: General Tech | November 17, 2015 - 12:37 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10
Scott covered a lot of what to expect from Threshold 2, the November update for Windows 10 but today we received another tidbit of information about the new release. When you first upgraded to Windows 10 you probably noticed that your Win7/8 license was not honoured if you tried to do a fresh install after the upgrade. As well, if you used software to determine the new license code, it was also not recognized for a fresh install and your only option to reinstall was to use the process found within Windows 10. That will change with the arrival of the new update according to what The Inquirer was told, as long as you have record of your old Win7 or Win8 key you will be able to do a fresh new installation of Windows 10, presumably on the same hardware. They also provided an estimate of how long the installation of this update will take, about one hour depending on the speed of your internet.
"That means if you start with a clean slate, your Windows 7 or 8 licence key just wouldn't work. The good news is that this problem has been fixed with the arrival of Threshold 2, and you can now use an old licence key to do a fresh installation."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- X-Gene 3 in 2016 – no, not a superhero movie. It's a 16nm FinFET 64-bit ARM chip for servers @ The Register
- Phoronix Test Suite 6.0 Delivers New Result/Phoromatic UI, New Modules
- More POS malware, just in time for Christmas @ The Register
- Vertagear SL4000 Gaming Chair @ Kitguru
- NYT Quietly Pulls Article Blaming Encryption In Paris Attacks @ Slashdot
Skylake Architecture Comes Through
When Intel finally revealed the details surrounding it's latest Skylake architecture design back in August at IDF, we learned for the first time about a new technology called Intel Speed Shift. A feature that moves some of the control of CPU clock speed and ramp up away from the operating system and into hardware gives more control to the processor itself, making it less dependent on Windows (and presumably in the future, other operating systems). This allows the clock speed of a Skylake processor to get higher, faster, allowing for better user responsiveness.
It's pretty clear that Intel is targeting this feature addition for tablets and 2-in-1s where the finger/pen to screen interaction is highly reliant on immediate performance to enable improved user experiences. It has long been known that one of the biggest performance deltas between iOS from Apple and Android from Google centers on the ability for the machine to FEEL faster when doing direct interaction, regardless of how fast the background rendering of an application or web browser actually is. Intel has been on a quest to fix this problem for Android for some time, where it has the ability to influence software development, and now they are bringing that emphasis to Windows 10.
With the most recent Windows 10 update, to build v10586, Intel Speed Shift has finally been enabled for Skylake users. And since you cannot disable the feature once it's installed, this is the one and only time we'll be able to measure performance in our test systems. So let's see if Intel's claims of improved user experiences stand up to our scrutiny.
Subject: General Tech | November 15, 2015 - 10:58 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: xbox one, chatpad, microsoft
Microsoft released the Xbox One chatpad on Thursday, making it easier to chat with friends and browse the internet thanks to the full QWERTY keyboard. The pad plugs into the bottom of the controller using both the proprietary connector and the 3.5mm audio jack. The chatpad then provides its own audio jack to plug a chat headset into.
The chatpad keyboard is back-lit features dedicated buttons to control the volume level, game and voice chat volume mix, and a microphone mute. it also has two user programmable keys (X1 and X2) that are usable only on the Xbox One although that functionality will not be available until "mid 2016" according to Microsoft. Currently, pressing the X1 and X2 function keys will take a screenshot and save the last 30 seconds of game play as a video clip respectively.
The chatpad is compatible with all Xbox One controllers provided they are running the latest firmware. It can be used with both the Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. Note that the Xbox One must be running the NXOE (New Xbox One Experience) update and Windows 10 must be updated to the November Update. Function keys only work with the Xbox One.
The chatpad and chat headset are available now from Amazon for $34.99.