Back on the Upgrade Cycle

19 Aug

 laptop-xps-15-9550-pdp-polaris-02

Once upon a time it was normal for me to upgrade a computer every two years, alternating between my desktop and laptop. As time and circumstances changed, this has fluctuated in recent years. My dates may be a little out here, but in recent years my updates have followed a cycle similar to this:

·        2006 – Convertible (tablet) HP

·        2009 – New desktop PC

·        2010 – New laptop (Acer Aspire)

·        2013 – Surface Pro 2 (October)

So I should be about due for another upgrade, right?

Well the thing is apart from the small screen size I absolutely still love my Surface Pro 2. It’s powerful enough for most of the tasks I throw at it (with the exception of video rendering, which can never be fast enough) it’s lightweight, the pen is awesome, etc. Sure there are plenty of things that were improved in subsequent models, but overall I loved the package. The point is whilst a newer model would be great and provide incremental performance gains, day to day the SP2 is still a fine device.

Apart from the fact that it started producing a lot of noise from the internal fan, and the replacement cost Microsoft quoted me was close to £600.

Dammit.

So whilst the machine is capable enough, I find I can’t use it outside the house without fear of deafening everyone around me. Essentially the SP2 has been kept safely indoors for the last several months.

I took to using my work supplied Dell laptop. A heavy clunky beast, strangely sluggish (for a mid-range machine) with less than stellar battery life. The additional weight meant that more often than not I’d just stick to using my phone and consuming media rather than creating anything.

This was all a little frustrating. My main single part of my commute to work is a 55+ minute train journey between Colchester and London totalling a little shy of two hours where I could potentially be doing something useful… even if only occasionally.

So I started looking around for my next machine. Here was a part of my wish list:

·        Something that sits on my lap better than the kickstand of the Surface Pro machines.

·        More memory, at least 16Gb. If I’m going to use this thing for work I’d like to have that stuff running in a VM and well away from my main system.

·        More storage. The 256Gb SSD of the Pro 2 was slightly constraining (you learn to live with these things), but again having the work VM would require a sizable chunk of storage for duplicate installations such as Office.

·        Bigger screen. The Pro 2 screen is beautiful to watch HD films on, but for using Visual Studio it’s quite restrictive.

·        Pen input would be nice. I used to use this extensively, although not so much in recent months. Having it there as an option is only a bonus though at it’s very useful when you do need it.

·        Touch screen. Once you start using a touch screen it can be really compelling for certain situations, and for mobile development it really gives an edge.

·        Decent trackpad. I guess I never notice this very often with the Pro 2 keyboard as I tend to either have it in tablet mode during travelling (due to that lapability issue) or connected to a mouse when sat at a desk. But on the occasions I do try to use it the touchpad experience on the Surface Pro 2 keyboard only just sufficies.

·        Something not too heavy. One of the reasons I upgraded from the Acer to the Surface was because the Acer was often being left at home due to its weight.

There were other considerations too, but these were the main things on my list.

So what to buy?

After liking my Surface Pro 2 so much and with the noted wish list, the natural contender was a Surface Book. I’ve been looking at these beautiful machines since they were announced and had they arrived on these shores around the same time as the US release I’d probably have snapped one up almost instantly (after all I got my Pro 2 on launch day).

But I’ve got three children now and that price was just too much. Looking at the 512Gb model it had everything I wanted… but at what cost. As for the model with 1Tb of storage….

Then I started looking at the Dell XPS 15. And the more I looked the more I liked:

·        Large (15 inch) 4K touchscreen.

·        Up to 32Gb memory, double the maximum currently available on the Surface Book.

·        1Tb storage with aforementioned 32Gb memory was cheaper than the 512Gb/16Mb Surface Book.

·        Faster than a Surface Book.

·        Better graphics than a Surface Book (that surprised me!)

·        Very good trackpad.

·        More ports, 2 USB 3.0 and one Thunderbolt (also HDMI and full size SD card slot)

·        Much cheaper!

Of course there were downsides too:

·        Heavier than a Surface Book

·        No pen support

·        Worse battery life than the Surface Book.

·        Supplied with Windows 10 Home only, no option to upgrade to Pro (really Dell?!!)

·        Windows install contains a little Dell Crapware (I’m looking at you McAfee) as opposed to the ‘Signature’ installation of a Surface Book.

This was going to be a hard choice… or at least I thought so.

When it came down to it the compromises of the XPS 15 seemed more than acceptable against the advantages, and the machine looked to be a little more future proof too with the additional RAM and storage I could get for the cheaper price.

I love the form factor of the Surface Book, but the Surface Pro 2 is still working should I need to do any Pen development (although I won’t be taking it to any meetings!!!)

So I ordered the Dell. Despite the order status stating the machine wouldn’t arrive for 4 weeks it actually arrived in a little over 2 weeks, not the instant gratification you hope for but not too shoddy either.

The machine actually arrived a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve been on holiday much of the time since then so I’ve only had limited time with it so far. The first thing I did was upgrade the OS to Windows 10 Pro (fortunately I had a spare key) and force installed the anniversary update (1607).

I’ve not reset the machine down to a clean state now, I figured I’d see how I get on with McAfee and the Dell software installed for a while (can I last the first year) and performance seems to be good, but I can’t help wondering how much better it could be if I did this. Start-up times in particular are acceptable, buy not as good as I’d imagined. Also there’s a strange bug where I need to restart the device after initial power on due to the ShellExperienceHost service becoming unstable.

I’ve set up a VM for work and assigned it 16Gb of memory and 4 of the total 8 processor cores, and whilst I’m yet to push it, this also seems very responsive and should be faster than the work supplied laptop without bringing the rest of the system to its knees.

That 4K screen is lovely, but frankly after the WOW moment on seeing the Surface Pro 2 screen all those years ago, it’s clearly better but incrementally so. I’ve not done anything to push it yet, with the exception of the 4K videos shot on my Lumia 950 XL, and these really do look impressive, but that’s expected isn’t it? Perhaps OLED will be my next WOW! Moment?

One bad side is that the screen is such a high resolution that some Desktop applications don’t scale properly. Surprisingly Outlook 2016 (yes, the very latest patched version) has the occasional dialog box that appears corrupt. If Microsoft can’t get its house in order it’s no wonder third party apps also fail in this situation.

Outlook Scaling Issue Example Image

The laptop is heavier than I’d like, but I’ve got used to this to some extent from carting around my work supplied laptop. Either way it’s not ideal, but at the moment I can live with it.

The keyboard, despite reviews and my pre-purchase concerns, seems OK. It’s not the best I’ve ever used, but it’s nearer the top than the bottom. I’m getting on fine with it and as I get more used to it it naturally becomes more comfortable. But then that would be the case with all but the worst keyboards out there.

Surprisingly, even in Desktop mode I used the touch on the Surface more than I’m currently doing with the XPS. I suspect there’s something wired in my brain that says Laptop = no touch, despite the fact I owned a convertible (that was closer to a laptop) back in the Vista days. Partly that may be down to the touchpad though. I’ve never used an Apple touchpad which are supposed to be the gold standard, but this is certainly the best I’ve used, and the ability to scroll using two fingers has meant that I don’t need to reach out to the screen as often as I used to. However, I still do tap the screen on occasion and would definitely choose to have touch available rather than not, that’s no contest.

One other thing I noticed quite quickly is that the matte silver back of the lid seemed to start getting scuffed almost from the first time I put the laptop into my bag. I quickly purchased a sleeve to keep the machine protected during transit so that was £30 I hadn’t counted on, but it does “complete the package” and looks quite smart.

So that’s my initial impressions of the new kit. Not perfect (weight, battery life) but I’m very pleased so far. I guess time will tell how I feel going forward. Overall though, No regrets. I think I made a good decision for my needs.

Next time you get impatient with your phone web browser…

13 May

Lordy!

http://allaboutwindowsphone.com/flow/item/21431_Next_time_you_get_impatient_wi.php

Yesterday I listened in horror as a younger developer at work complained about Outlook not automatically downloading images in an email to “save a few k”.

Of course, whilst this is a side effect it’s not the main reason this is done (it’s to prevent user tracking, I can explain if you want)

Still, it give pause for thought.

Windows on phones is dead…

22 Apr

… or is it the next big thing?

Well, since few people even at Microsoft are using it the outlook does look grim at the moment.

However this article makes a case how Continuum could be the future. Perhaps.

Of course my concern is that I just purchased a display dock to test out Continuum, but I can’t get it to work.

Colour me disappointed.

Aside

David Cutler

22 Apr

A brief interview with a genius.

Read more at http://news.microsoft.com/features/the-engineers-engineer-computer-industry-luminaries-salute-dave-cutlers-five-decade-long-quest-for-quality/#sm.00001mwq8ils3ad4ny3qdf0w01ba7

So I decided…

18 Apr

Well, it did take a bit of soul searching, but eventually heart won out over head.

I went for the Lumia 950XL, finding a refurbished model for £299 online. It arrived quickly and seems perfect so far, so hopefully nothing goes wrong with it going forward.

Price did play a part in my decision. I couldn’t find a Nexus 6P for anywhere near this, which could be a good sign as it may show people are holding on to them or snapping them up quickly when they do come up for resale (which would also push the price up, or hey, they may not be quite as popular as I thought…).

But overall I’m just happy with Windows Mobile. Not having used an Android [mobile] device for a few years now I find Windows Mobile does everything I want. Of course, this may well be a case of not knowing any better.

It also falls into the “justifying my decision” category that we are all unknowingly guilty of. For example, if I made the decision to purchase an Android or iPhone device, I’d be naturally inclined to recommend them, since nobody wants to admit they made a wrong choice unless it’s staring them in the face.

Of course, many will say buying another device on a dead platform is a wrong choice staring me in the face, but I don’t believe this is entirely the case.

A part of me would still like to see Windows Mobile take off, but I realise this is never going to happen, certainly not for the next few years. But I don’t think we’re dead either.  Windows phone is essentially just Windows 10 compiled to ARM with a few phone modifications, and as such it’s relatively simple for Microsoft to continue to support.

More importantly, Microsoft needs to continue this support phones to fully flesh out the “Windows Everywhere” mantra that the company is following for universal applications. Lose phones, lose some of the appeal of keeping developers interested in your entire platform.

And it’s UWP that I believe will keep the platform alive and what, as a traditional PC user, makes it interesting to me. The fact I can buy an application on my phone or PC, and it will provide me with the same application on the other device for no extra charge (as it’s the same app, same code, etc.) is great.

Windows 10 is pushing the quality and quantity UWP applications in the store up gradually, so I hope desktop Windows will essentially keep Windows Mobile viable for the few of us die-hards that remain.

Will this result in an increase in Windows Mobile market share. Possibly, especially in the enterprise, but probably not for consumers (and probably not in the enterprise with DYOD being a huge factor, but it can only help).

The fact that Windows Mobile is not a priority for Microsoft at the moment is totally understandable, but worrying. Still, if UWP lays the groundwork, and they carry on developing the system (and most of that will be down to work being done on the other Windows 10 variants) then there is still something to look forward to, and it lays the groundwork for if Microsoft should ever decide the time is right to make Windows Mobile a priority again.

Remember, Windows Mobile is just Windows now, with just a few minor modifications.

It just remains to be seen if that is enough to keep it going.

In the meantime I’ll just enjoy using my new phone.

Decisions, Decisions…

7 Apr

So I’m very happy with my Lumia 550 purchased at the end of last year…

…but it is starting to feel a little slow and underpowered.

Since it looks like Microsoft won’t be releasing any new Windows Phone hardware this year, it leaves me with a difficult choice:

1. Stay with the L550 for a while
2. Get a 950 XL (shopping around I’ve seen £299)
3. Get a Nexus 6P (more expensive than the L950)

So why option 3?

Well, I like to think Windows phone is hibernating rather than dead, and that once all those lovely UWP apps have built up with the introduction of Windows 10, Microsoft will go full throttle on this great phone OS…

But that’s clearly not going to happen in the near future, if at all.

So that leaves Android as my preferred alternative, and with the recent news around Xamarin, it could be useful to have an Android phone to develop against (and I’ll still have the 550 to test mobile UWP issues)

But then the L950 will let me play with Continuum… and I do love Windows Mobile.

I need more money so I can just by both.

Aside

Microsoft buys Xamarin

25 Feb

About time.

Not just got the technology, but just as much (if not more so) for the awesome staff.

Good move.

So now the bridges really can go both ways.