Blog Archives

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

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.

A half baked release?

It’s official windows 10 is set for July 29 and I’m definitely excited. After months of testing the developing incarnations of the OS my expectations are largely based on personal experience not just reading the thoughts of other tech heads. Since day one I have seen great potential in Microsoft’s latest flagship as it combines the positive aspects of Windows 8 like performance and a touch friendly interface with the usability of Windows 7 by bridging the gap by adding important features like continuum. A fan of Windows 8 from the beta stage I sometimes have been frustrated by the difficulty others have with the duel interface set-up but it does require people to think about how they want to use their computer at any given time while lerning new skills. In theory Windows 10 tries to fix these two issues as the OS seems to be more intuitive with modern apps being able to operate in a traditional windowed layout and the return of the start menu after the charms experiment should make it more accessible for the average user. All this suggests that Microsoft maybe moving in the right direction to leverage their desktop and enterprise dominance to improve their mobile presence.

Except one false start could cost Microsoft the future it has been building towards as the consumer market relies mere on hype and momentum then actual performance. Microsoft has some history failing to capitalise on new products through poor marketing and limited release especially in markets outside the USA. In Australia I know this only to well as I watched the release of the Microsoft Band from across the globe without being able to get my hands on a couple, even the Surface tablets were only released online until poor sales convinced Microsoft of the importance of getting the device in retail stores where people could play with the device. Unfortunately, the news about Windows 10 suggests we might confront similar limitations with possibly missing features at launch and the restriction of Cortana to only a handful of countries. This brings back memories of Windows phone 8.1 and changing my region just to test out Microsoft personal assistant. The absence of headline features at launch is frustrating for consumers like myself and might just prevent Windows 10 from reaching the success that Microsoft dreams of, hopefully they can learn from past mistakes.

Until we learn more,

Jono

Building the future

Hi tech heads, it seems the boys at Redmond have been busy so here is a quick round up of all the news that matters from the build keynote.

Universal apps
We always knew that Microsoft were going to be pushing applications that worked across devices but until now its always been demoed using Microsoft own apps like office. However, now they have taken the next step by creating a version of Visual studios that works in  objective C, Java and C++ coding that will allow developers to easily port thier existing apps to Windows. Microsoft’s demoed version of candy crush from the iOS app store showed the potential of this mentality to finally conquer the app gap. This doesn’t mean that every iOS and Andriod app will be on Windows but with access to the PC marketshare and the Xbox One many develops will be attacted to make the small effort now required.

Continuum
Again this feature was introduced at the Windows event in January as it allows the OS to detect the type of device and change between the touch and desktop interfaces. Using a hybrid device like the Surface Pro this means that it detects when you are using the Keyboard and prompts you to enter desktop mode. The next step was always going to be multiple displays but rather than use a tablet, microsoft showed off how a phone can be used to run a full desktop interface. Its been years of people saying that mobile will kill off the PC but perhaps this new feature will lead to the future were less hardcore uses will only need a phone and a dock.

Microsoft Edge
Project Spartan’s offical name has a bit of a samsung ring to it and as a Halo fan I miss the link to the Master Chief but the times they are a changing. Other than the name the browser didn’t have any new features but did look more polished so I’m looking forward to testing it out in build 10074.

Hololens
Redmond’s new eye candy seems to have come a long way since January. This time the demo showed off a whole new range of apps including the everyday web browser, videos and Skype all of which can be controlled by your voice and resized to fit your walls. Yet, it didn’t stop there as Microsoft obviously wants to highlight the potential for their version of augmented reality in areas like medical education and robotics. If this wasn’t enough thier was something for the real tech nerds as we also learned a bit more about how this new device works and the internal components.

Final thought
I have had a good vibe about Windows 10 for some time but the possibilities show in the keynote suggest a bright future. A universal OS that can port apps from other popular ecosystems and react to way you are using your device may well be the future of mobile.

I would love to get your thoughts on windows 10, even the skeptics.

Cheers
Jono