Category Archives: Technology

iPad Pro in the Enterprise: 9.7 observations after 9.7 weeks

I’ve owned the iPad Pro for around 9.7 weeks now (nearer to 12 weeks, but whatever ūüôā ), and one of my co-workers asked me if I still love it. It seemed like it would be a good time to write a mid-term review, so here’s ten observations.

1) It’s a scalpel, not a Swiss Army Knife

The iPad Pro has a very specific use case for me, and I don’t find it’s a general purpose device like my MacBook Pro. For instance, it excels on a day like today, where I have a 3.5h journey each way to a 2h meeting. I’ll be back home within 8h, and I want to travel light.

Out comes the iPad Pro, which fits in a tiny bag which my coworkers call a Murse and my other half calls a Purse. Still, it flies through security and the only other things in it are a few business cards, a spare battery for my iPhone, wallet, and keys.

2) It’s great for times you don’t want a laptop

Unlike previous iPads, the iPad Pro is fully functional enough to use for 90% of my tasks. I’m going on vacation at the end of July, and I definitely will not be taking a laptop with me, and I won’t miss it. The iPad Pro is just as good for browsing, email and chat, and much better for books and movies.

What’s more, when I’m at home on the sofa, or on vacation, it’s a much less intrusive device: I can get a few emails done without intruding on our personal time.

3) It’s not at all oversold

My memories of the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 were marred by the fact that the sales literature was total BS, and it didn’t live up to the promises, especially on battery life. I don’t know if the iPad Pro meets the battery claims to the minute, but I can tell you that even with a very tough day, I have battery left at the end. There is absolutely no need to bring an additional charger for a day trip. The keyboard is better than I expected for a compact keyboard and I get 70-80% of my laptop typing speed.

The performance stats claim it’s as fast as a Mac or and iPad Pro, and I feel that might be stretching it, but I never really run out of steam.

4) It has the best screen, ever

I have to specifically call out the screen. I can go and lie in the sun and read a book, and it is plenty bright enough (and the battery will still last a day). The person next to me right now is using an iPad 3, and it’s like night and day. The iPad 3 is dull and hard to read.

5) Optimized apps are good…

I had a revelation the other day when using the eBay app to sell a few items: apps designed for the iPad Pro can be flawless. You use the keyboard to type the description, use the camera, which is as good as a compact camera, to snap photos of the items directly within the app, and post. You can post an item end-end in just a few minutes without transferring pictures a between devices or tapping on a screen.

6) … And can be even better

eBay is an example of an app that has it just right… But there aren’t enough of these yet. The WordPress app that I’m using right now has not been optimized for the iPad Pro, which is a shame, because WordPress is a perfect use case for the iPad Pro. Medium have done a slightly better job.

This gets better all the time, and Microsoft have done a great job with the Office suite, which also integrates with Dropbox on the iPad for an immersive user experience that allows access to all your business files on Dropbox. It also works with Two Factor Authentication (2FA), which is critical to me.

7) It’s not a laptop replacement

I’m very happy with the iPad Pro’s place in my life, but it’s not a laptop replacement. I do however find my laptop spends more of its time on my desk, where I do things like prepare forecasts, presentations, business plans, CRM and analytics. The iPad Pro doesn’t shine when you need to move quickly between multiple apps, copy and pasting data and doing complex functions.

8) Security appears excellent

With a mix of our primary bussiness cloud-based software like Office 365, Dropbox and Slack, all of which support two factor authentication (2FA), and the Touch ID on the iPad Pro, combined with a very complex passcode and Find My iPad, I feel very confident that the iPad provides great security on the move.

If someone steals it, I can find it, they won’t be able to get into it, and it is easily remote wiped, and the apps are easily disabled. Nothing is perfect, but Apple’s attitude towards security with the recent FBI hacks makes me feel very comfortable that customers trusting their confidential information with me are safe.

9) It’s the perfect device on the move

A few things add up to this. First, the on-board LTE and SIM mean that it’s always on. No need to teteher to an iPhone or WiFi hotspot, no messing around. Just pull it open, and it’s always ready for you within a few seconds.

Second, it’s very compact and… TSA compliant. You don’t have to take it out your bag at security checkpoints in the US, and you can use it on planes during take off and approach – both from an airline perspective, and from a space/usability perspective.

Final Words

I really love my iPad Pro. Do I use it every day? No. But that’s not really the point of it. It’s a scalpel, not a Swiss Army Knife, after all. And it’s one of the few devices you could use to write and finish a blog like this on a 45 minute flight.

Even a few months in, I still struggle with the cost, but since there’s nothing like it, I had better stop complaining about that!

The search for a companion device: Apple iPad Air 9.7″

You may have been following my series of blog posts, in search of an excellent companion device, which last finished up with my returning my Microsoft Surface Pro 4. Since January, I’ve been back to using my 2012 MacBook Pro 15″ as my only device, and it’s still going strong.

I believe that Apple will release an extraordinary replacement to the MacBook Pro this year – a laptop which will shake up the industry once again. It will have been 4 years in the making.

That said, a lot of the time, I’m left finding that I don’t need that much of a machine. When Apple released the 13″ iPad Air, I took a close look, and it’s quite an amazing device… But I don’t get it. Just last week, I saw the passenger next to me on a flight using one, and it has a spectacular screen. He didn’t have the keyboard, but was happily tapping around – watching a movie, whilst doing some email and reading the Wall Street Journal in full size. Some while later into the flight, he extracted a MacBook Air from his bag.

I asked what he thought to owning both the iPad Pro and the MacBook Air, what with them having similar form factors, and he responded that one was a personal device and one was business, and he then conceded that they were basically the same weight and size and do the same thing. I think I’ll pass on that.

So when Apple released the 9.7″ iPad Air, I sat up. Now it’s true that the smaller sister of the 13″ iPad doesn’t have the same power – it’s got a slower CPU and Graphics… But it makes up for that with a spectacular true-tone screen which is easier on the eyes and antireflective. The keyboard is a little cramped – reminiscent of the Netbooks from the mid-2000s, rather than a full sized laptop.

Finding the 9.7″ keyboard was difficult due to stock availability, but some careful browsing of Apple’s website found one that was a short drive away, so I ordered online for in-store pickup. Apple make spending your money a very frictionless process, using your existing Apple ID and credit card.

The Price

As someone who regularly has to clean space out of a base MacBook Pro, I’m wary of buying the base Apple device, so I upgraded to the 128GB version, and to the Cellular variant. This sets you back a pretty $879, before you start adding accessories.

Add the Smart Keyboard ($149), Pencil ($99) and AppleCare+ ($99), and not to mention sales tax ($85) and you’re up to a mind boggling $1310. You can buy a base iPad Air for $399 now, or for $1300 you have the choice of a full-fat Surface Pro 4, or a Lenovo Yoga. Or a MacBook. We’re talking about serious money.

The Keyboard

In use, this thing is pretty nice. After a little while, the odd offset on the keyboard becomes second nature and the ZX-Spectrum style keys are surprisingly nimble. I’d say I’m around 80% of the speed of a great keyboard like the MacBook Pro. That’s an amazing achievement.

What’s more, the keyboard has context-sensitive shortcuts – just hold down the Apple cmd button, and it will tell you what it can do right now. You can tab between apps, create new emails, and many other things. Then there’s the fact that you can move up and down emails with the cursor keys: this is a device which allows you to move very quickly. I remember that, from the days of pairing an Apple Keyboard with an iPad. But by the time you’re carrying around an Apple Keyboard, you may as well take a laptop!

Note: the Apple Store employees are not well trained on the iPad Pro yet: I asked them a bunch of questions and they had no idea about how to pair the pencil, or use keyboard shortcuts, or how to activate the cellular option. I’m sure that will get fixed with time, but in the meantime, invest a few minutes learning about the iPad Pro online. There are productivity tips that will help a LOT.

The Mouse (or lack thereof)

I liked the trackpad on the Surface Pro 4, but it was not the best trackpad. Apple has chosen to forgo mediocrity, and in my view that has worked pretty well. The keyboard is so close to the screen that you can easily reach up to use it as a trackpad when you need it.

That said, I think they have some work to do on the shortcuts – cmd-D, for example, doesn’t return you to the home screen. You have to hit the home button, which is a serious First World Problem.

Likewise, I miss the wonderful Windows Hello, and pressing the home button with your thumb feels so… 2015.

The Apple Pencil

I’m in two minds with the Apple Pencil. It lacks the feel-good feeling of the Surface Pen, and doesn’t have a clip, so I’m constantly in fear of losing it. What’s more, it doesn’t attach anywhere to the iPad, so it’s just sort of floating around. In the Apple Store, they have little trays so they don’t get lost, and security guards to hunt you down if you try to lift one!

The charging is super-neat on it, just plug it into the iPad Lightning connector for 30 seconds.

The App ecosystem hasn’t yet caught up with the Apple Pencil, and I didn’t yet find a killer app for me. I’m not much of an artist, and if I was, the 13″ iPad Pro is a much better system, so this is around taking notes, sharing a screen Etc. On the Surface, there were some decent apps like OneNote, which had good support for the (free) Surface Pen. This is a lot to swallow for an additional $99,

In Use

I’m really impressed so far. The iOS Split Screen function means that I’m doing some research on Safari whilst writing this blog post; the lack of this capability was a key issue for earlier iPads.

What’s more, we use Dropbox and Office 365 as our productivity apps, and these integrate beautifully, so I can review proposals on the go. Dropbox really needs the ability to synchronize entire folders on the Pro, rather than individual files, but that will come in time.

It has the usual 10 hour battery life, which is awesome. Given that it has the same CPU performance as a Surface Pro 4 (which lasted 3… sometimes 4 hours), that’s fantastic.

Is it a laptop replacement?

Definitely not, and that’s not why I bought it. If you’re a business user and wanting to replace your laptop with a tablet, this is not the right device for you.

As I see it now, the iPad Pro will have a pretty specific set of use cases in my life:

First, it’s great for day trips and flights, where a smaller device is worth the trade-off for weight and convenience, plus it’s small enough to be used as a personal device during take-off and landing.

Second, it’s good enough to take as the primary device on vacation, and I’ll be really pleased not to be lugging my MacBook across the world and back.

Third, it’s a perfect machine for the weekend. I try to have a rule not to get my laptop out from Friday night until Monday morning, and this means I can type the occasional blog and do some browsing online.

Final Words

It’s early days, and I loved the Surface Pro 4 in the first few days too. I’m also really struggling with the price. There’s no way the iPad Pro has the functionality of a laptop, but it has the price tag of a laptop.

Apple has a 14-day return policy (be careful, this includes the day of purchase), so I don’t have long to decide if I love or hate it. I’m pondering making it my primary device for those two weeks, just to see what it’s capable of.

On returning my Microsoft Surface Pro 4

I’m finally returning my Microsoft Surface Pro 4. I’ve been traveling for a few weeks out the country and so it hasn’t been possible, but now it’s time.

It’s also definitely mixed feelings; I’ve come to almost like the little beastie.

The Surface Pen, and OneNote

The pen on the SP4 is a little glimpse into the future. A few weeks ago, I needed to run a customer workshop at short notice, and I used OneNote to draw on a screen 1300 miles away.

You could do this with a tablet on any machine, sure, but the SP4 was very elegant: I flipped the kick stand and used it like a notebook.

There are frustrations with OneNote, like the SP4 version doesn’t do handwriting recognition, but drawing on the screen brought the meeting alive.

Windows Apps

As a Mac user, you’re a second class citizen when it comes to Microsoft products, and Windows 10 with Office 2016 provides a better experience, especially for search. 

Oddly though I didn’t find myself installing a lot of apps on the Surface, partially because it is a high definition screen and apps often come up shrunk on it. Microsoft still haven’t done a good job of scaling most 3rd party apps.

That Screen

I was doing a remote workshop this week and we used one Dell laptop for the video conference, and the SP4 for sharing PowerPoint.

Wow, the Surface screen is amazing. It’s so clear and sharp and the colors pop. I’d go as far as to say that it’s better than my MacBook Pro screen, although that one is nearly 4 years old…

Windows Hello

Is also amazing. It recognizes me every time, even in low light, and unlocks in a snap.

The only annoyance is I frequently lock my machine and without the keyboard attached that isn’t as easy as it should be, plus Windows Hello will immediately unlock unless you walk away. Grr!

The SP4 is a 21st century device

I’ve got to admit, my MacBook Pro feels like a last-generation device now I go back to it. To be fair, it is a mid-2012 model, but the current model for sale in 2016 is almost identical.

But… The Stability still sucks

It still has stability problems and crashes frequently. I had to disable Sleep because that made it even worse, so you have to wait for it to come out of hibernate to use it.

Honestly that is what makes the SP4 a deal breaker.

I spoke to a coworker who was sent a Surface Book, and it is sat in its box, eschewed by a Lenovo Yoga. For anyone in the market for a convertible, the Lenovo Yoga Pro is a sweet device.

In conclusion

The SP4 feels like a window into the devices of the future, just as the MacBook Pro is a rear-view mirror into the past.

But the key is, I will always prioritize a device I can trust for my primary work device, and I can’t trust the SP4, so it has to go. It’s that simple.

The question is… What’s next? I find myself increasingly using my iPhone 6S Plus (this blog was written on it), and I just purchased a 12″ MacBook for my other half, and it is amazing. Plus there is the iPad Pro, the forthcoming 2016 MacBook Pro, or even a Lenovo Yoga, which I loved when I had one on loan.

One thing is for sure, 2016 will be an amazing year for computing. Happy New Year!

10 tips to make the most out of the Microsoft Surface Pro 4

There are two things that have amazed me about using Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4. First, Microsoft didn’t set a bunch of settings which should have been done by default – or as part of the installation process. Second, the seasoned tech bloggers who write about the Surface don’t have a good understanding on how enterprise customers would use such devices.

With that in mind, here’s my list of SP4 tips.

Get the keyboard and dock

The $130 SP4 keyboard is pretty decent, and don’t bother buying the fingerprint version, it’s a waste of $30 (read below to understand why). It also (if you set it up right, read below) allows your SP4 to switch automatically between tablet mode and PC mode. Neat.

The $188 Surface Dock is compatible with Surface Pro 3 and 4 and supports up to two 4K screens. Microsoft’s documentation isn’t great but I believe they can only be driven at 30Hz, not 60Hz, despite the fact that the Intel Iris graphics card in the i7 Surface Pro 4 supports 4K at 60Hz. Still, that’s pretty decent.

Enable Microsoft Hello

For reasons unknown to me, the biometric login of Microsoft Hello isn’t enabled by default. This enables password-less login using a 3D thermal image of your face, and is amazing. Because it’s infra-red, it works in extremely low light.

You go to Start -> Settings -> Accounts -> Sign-In Options and enable Windows Hello from there. Make sure you use the “Improve Recognition” button a few times to get a great picture of your face.

Setup Cortana

Like Hello, Microsoft’s personal assistant, Cortana, is not properly configured out the box. This means it doesn’t know who you are, or recognize your preferences. Thankfully, Microsoft made this pretty easy to configure.

Select the round dot next to “Ask me anything” on the task bar and the Cortana preferences will come up. You select the second icon down, which is the Cortana Notebook, and make your way through each of the settings. This massively improves the experience.

Install all the updates

Unfortunately my SP4 came with very out of date software. It took 10+ restarts to get all the updates in, and firmware updates for the SP4 come every week that make things better.

In the latest update, battery life finally got better, up to ~6-7 hours, which is a huge improvement. I don’t get anywhere near the claimed 9 hours, but such is life.

If you don’t want to support Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 beta testing program (irony intended), then hold off buying the SP4 for a few months. They are ironing out bugs continuously.

Disable Sleep and Enable Hibernate

Sleep doesn’t work right on the SP4; instead, if you put it to sleep, the battery will drain. Microsoft are supposedly working on a fix, but in the meantime, you can (fairly) easily disable sleep.

Go to Start -> Settings -> System -> Power & Sleep -> Additional Power Settings -> Choose What the Power Buttons do, and change all of them to Hibernate from Sleep. Now, your SP4 will Hibernate instead of Sleep.

This isn’t as annoying as it sounds, because the SP4 wakes from hibernate in 5-10 seconds.

Enable Automatic Tablet Mode

Again (see a theme here?), Microsoft didn’t enable automatic tablet mode. The SP4 can be configured so it knows when you are using it as a tablet or PC. Flip the keyboard over and it can turn into tablet-enhanced mode, which is great.

Go to Settings -> System -> Tablet Mode and change the “When this device automatically switches tablet mode on or off” to “Don’t ask me and always switch”. Yay!

Use Battery Saver Mode

Battery saver mode seems to make the CPU a little less hungry and dims the display a little. If you are on a plane, you can use this and squeeze out 25% more battery with very little downside.

Plus, the SP4 is well over-powered for most of my use cases, so whatever performance degradation the battery saver mode brings, doesn’t hurt me too much.

Use the SP4 on take-off

One of the best things about the SP4 is that unlike a full laptop, you can flip the keyboard over and use it as a tablet during take-off and landing. The FAA rules on this aren’t exactly clear (they state small handheld electronic devices), but I have not been asked to put the SP4 away yet.

Once up in the air, you flip the keyboard over and turn on the kick-stand, and work as a regular laptop. Some airlines like Southwest, and the new American Airlines planes, offer WiFi from gate to gate, so you don’t even need to stop talking to the team online. Even when you lose 15 minutes of connectivity at either end of the flight, you still win ~30 minutes of work back in the day.

Configure the Surface App

The surface app is a bit short on features (more come with each release), but it allows you to configure the pen sensitivity to your liking, and configure the pen as a remote. This allows you to get better handwriting and is pretty neat.

Use OneNote for remote collaboration

I’ve got a workshop on Monday morning and won’t be able to make it in person due to other conflicts. I’ll pull open OneNote tablet version and share my screen with them across the country and start to white board.

Once the meeting is complete, you can switch to the full OneNote desktop version (yeah, there’s work for Microsoft to do to integrate the two versions) and use handwriting recognition to turn your notes into text.

Final Words

I’m still going to be returning the SP4, but won’t manage to get to the store before January due to travel commitments, so I’m going to be using it for a few more weeks.

What’s interesting is that as Microsoft slowly solves the glitches in the hardware and software, it becomes a much more usable device. There are still several serious glitches, but I’ve managed to work around most of them so I have a device which I can make do with. Will I be a convert in the next 3 weeks before the returns period expires?

Either way, I hope these practical tips help you configure your SP4 to be a more useful device. Did I miss any?

 

Gifts for Business Travelers in 2015

Last year, I wrote a post¬†Ten Best Gifts for Business Travelers 2014, and it seemed appropriate to follow up this year with some of the things I’ve seen or purchased to make travel a little easier. So here are my recommendations for gifts for business travelers in 2015

If you have a loved one that you don’t see often enough, feel free to put one of these in their stocking this year!

iPhone 6S Plus

The Apple iPhone 6S Plus is the true business traveler’s companion. It has an all-day battery, is quick as anything, has a great big screen, which means I’ve re-gifted my iPad Mini, and takes AMAZING photos. To add to this, the iPhone 6S Plus is reportedly ruggedized, and can take some beating!

No longer is there a need for an external battery pack, I get a full day of charge with no stress. Plus, Apple have the iPhone upgrade program¬†which gets you AppleCare, and a new phone once a year. It’s awesome.

Bedtime Bliss Sleep Mask

Thanks to Lloyd for this tip, the Bedtime Bliss Sleep Mask is a great $12 gift. It’s the best night’s sleep you will get on a plane and I carry it even for small trips, as it’s great in hotels that don’t have good black-out blinds.

The key with this mask is it’s contoured so it doesn’t touch or bother your eyes, plus it folds up into a tiny package. It comes with some earplugs, but I prefer noise-cancelling headphones personally.

Bose QuietComfort 20i

The Bose QuietComfort 20i headphones are great in-ear headphones for travel. I have the QuietComfort 25, but they turn out to be quite bulky to travel with. In retrospect I wish I had bought the QC20i, which are much smaller.

That said, I’m hoping Bose shortly comes out with a new, improved version of the aging QC20i, which might support Bluetooth? That would be awesome.

Lat56 Red-Eye Garment Bag

I bought the Lat56 Red-Eye a few months back and whilst I don’t carry it every week, it’s awesome when I need it. It measures a diminutive 22″x10″x10″ and I can carry a spare suit, 2 shirts, jeans, 2 t-shirts, spare shoes, gym kit and underwear and come in under 10lb total.

Everyone asks what it is, and I get comments between gun cases and musical instruments, which is a great talking point. This isn’t a bag for everyone, but it has a specific used case – which is the amazing roll-up suit carrier that sits inside it, and allows a suit to come out unwrinkled. Perfect for 3-4 day trips.

Calvin Klein Air FX underwear

Last year I also recommended Calvin Klein underwear, but they have come out with a new Air FX line this year which is an air mesh, and dries faster. This is awesome. They wash and dry quickly in a sink, and pack away tiny.

CK also have a line of other things in underwear, including T-Shirts.

Perry Ellis socks

I don’t rate the CK socks as high, and the Perry Ellis ones from Macy’s are my pick for travel. They wash and dry easily and you can use a hairdryer to dry them if you’re in a rush (put the clean wet sock over the hairdryer and turn on COLD). Don’t ever use the heat, I melted one sock this way…

Adidas Adizero Boston Boost

You may wonder how I pack gym gear into such a small bag, and these Adidas sneakers are part of the reason. They weigh a mere 8.4oz each, and pack down into almost nothing. Despite this, I can run a good distance because of the amazing cushioning that Adidas have.

Note that the Boston is a neutral shoe and your running style may require something different. Please get advice and gait analysis from your local running store before buying sneakers!

Pocket Monkey

This awesome little friend packs a bunch of things into the size of a credit card. I leave it in my laptop bag (or did, until someone stole it!) and it’s super-handy for tightening glasses, opening a bottle, or fixing/cutting stuff.

It’s TSA-compliant so no worries about getting extra searches during your travel!

Travel-size containers

One thing you will realize when traveling is that you don’t need full-size containers. I can travel for 2 weeks just with a 1 quart 3-1-1 bag from Tom Bihn. But don’t waste your money on travel-size cosmetics.

Instead, buy small containers like these for hand creams, hair gels and pills and spray containers like these for deodorant and starch. Buy them in bulk because they break periodically and need replacing.

iClever USB Wall Charger

Hotels never have enough power¬†connectors, and the iClever USB Wall Charger¬†gives a full 2×2.4A charge to two phones or tablets. With the iPhone 6S Plus, you’ll appreciate the speed it charges with.

Also it’s nice for in the office, so someone else can share a port, when you steal the last charging spot in the room!

Final Words

If you’re buying for a business traveler, don’t just buy them some junk that will add to the weight in their bag. Most blogs on this subject recommend things that are pretty much useless, because they add weight and bulk. Most of us that travel daily want to carry the bare minimum.

If you can find a little gold for people that allows them to carry less, or substitute two things for one, it will make a huge difference to them.

Things which cut the weight of clothes, or like the iPhone 6S Plus mean they don’t carry an extra battery, or combine chargers… these are all amazing gifts for someone who carries 20-30lb around every day of the year.

Happy Holidays!

Microsoft Surface Pro IV – A New Hope

I’ve now been using the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 as my primary system for 6 days, and whilst my first impressions weren’t good,¬†I have to say it is warming on me. Along the way, I’ve come to understand that there’s some fascinating things to be learnt.

Reviewers don’t represent the needs of the enterprise user

Paul Thurrott is a smart guy, but reading his review of the SP4 leaves me thinking how little what he does on a daily basis must have in common with me. Paul is right: the SP4 is a nicely designed device, and a generational improvement over the SP3 (from what I can read, though I never owned one).

I’m not really interested in features and functions though, I’m interested in pure productivity, and that’s where the SP4 caused me problems. Shane commented in my first blog that these were probably Windows 10 problems. Actually, they appear to be a combination of Intel graphics, Microsoft firmware, and Microsoft Windows 10 problems. More on that later, because the SP4 has had significant updates to these in the 6 days I’ve owned it.

The SP4 is a fabulously engineered device…

I love well engineered devices, and the SP4 has a number of engineering miracles. The kick stand is one such miracle – from the tiny but super-stiff hinges to the machined aluminum kick stand, which is machined so there is a rubber insert, which provides a non-slip effect.

Then there’s the keyboard, which looks like a floppy piece of rubber, but is actually remarkably stiff and allows near-laptop speed typing. I’m typing it on this right now, and it’s pretty amazing. The key offsets mean that my left hand is slightly cramped, so I would have concerns about it being my full-time device.

I’d also call out the Surface Connector cable, which is a magnetic power connector which can be connected either way around. What Microsoft have done that trumps Apple, is to combine this with a dock cable, so you can have a screen and keyboard at home or in the office, place your Surface Pro 4 on the desk, plug in one cable and have a full

… but it’s not design engineered like¬†Apple

The pen attaches to the side of the screen via a magnet, which is very elegant, but when it is attached, it blocks the machined cut-out which you can put your fingernail in to pull out the kick stand. So you have to remove the pen, or use the other side.

Also all LCD screens have a polarizing filter attached and the SP4 has its configured so the screen turns black in its default orientation if you are outside and wearing polarized lens glasses. You either have to take the eye glasses off, or turn the display 90 degrees.

Then there’s the fact that the keyboard doesn’t have a magnet to keep it shut, it just flaps around, and when you turn the keyboard over, it doesn’t enable tablet mode. These are minor design flaws which Apple would have ironed out the production process and if Microsoft really wants to play in this market, then it needs to work harder.

Updates are coming thick and fast

It seems clear to me that Microsoft knows that both the SP4 hardware and the Windows 10 software were released too early, because the updates are coming thick and fast. I’ve rebooted the SP4 at least 20 times in the last week, which has been exhausting.

I judge Microsoft for this, because if I wanted to be a beta tester, I would have joined the Microsoft Insider program. Microsoft have an extremely mature development and test management organization and they will have known the maturity of the SP4 before they released it. They knew it wasn’t ready. But…

The latest updates seem to make a big difference

There are two key updates which have been installed in the last 24h. First, is the 1511 (November 2015) release of Windows 10. Microsoft have copied SAP in using the two digits of the year and two digits of the month to determine the release name, which is a sensible naming convention.

The 1511 release is what I would have called a RTM release: it contains a huge 1816 fixes over the Windows 10 initial release. Wow. It seems to have solved a lot of the annoyances of Windows 10, like the unpredictable on-screen keyboard or the general usability. Everything feels better. This is the release which Windows 10 should have been.

The second was a barrage of firmware updates which all got installed at the same time. Thurrott discusses these in detail in his blog, but in short, they seem to improve reliability and help with the power on/off issues that I had previously.

But we’re not done yet

Since starting to write this morning, I’ve had to do two hard resets on the SP4. It seems to happen after it goes to sleep, and I leave it for a while. If I come back to it quickly then it’s less likely to happen. Not being able to reliably power on a device after sleep is a deal breaker.

I’ve been using the Microsoft Answer service to try to get this fixed¬†– it has techs that you can chat to online, and share your screen. They have poked around and changed some settings, but that hasn’t fixed it.

On further investigation, I found that it is caused by the display card, which is a problem experienced by a lot of other people. Microsoft claim to have fixed it, but that isn’t the case for me, and now the Surface Pro 4 has started freezing sporadically.

Final Words

The latest updates have definitely improved the Surface, but in the end, how long will it be before I get fed up with having to hard-reset the device 5 times a day, and return it?

It also reminds me that for me, computers are like sausages. I like them, but I don’t want to visit the sausage factory. I don’t want to be applying tons of updates a week and fiddling with obscure settings, and that seems to be what Microsoft expects of you.

Might be time to return this one and wait for the Surface Pro 5?

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 First Glance – a heart breaker and a deal breaker

As those that know me will know, I’m a big fan of Apple products. Some call me a fanboy – but my view is that I like them because they work. I’ve owned my Mid-2012 MacBook Pro 15″ since… Mid-2012, and have barely lost a day of productivity. The last time the MBP was out of action was when I dropped it on the corner onto granite, and dented it. Apple took it in and replaced nearly everything, a process which took a few days.

That said, 3 years is a long time in technology, and the MBP has seen better days. It’s out of warranty and some of the connectors have stopped working, and it’s getting a bit slow. It’s time for a replacement and the rumors are that Apple will have a new machine in Q1 of 2016.

And here it is that I find myself browsing the world of computers.

Why not the iPad Pro or MacBook?

I love the new MacBook, it looks great. But, for me it is underpowered and the keyboard is a little cramped, and I’m certain that it’s not well built enough to survive the pounding that anything I own will go through. I went through 3 MacBook Airs before I was smart enough to move to the Pro, and those light machines can’t handle it.

As for the iPad Pro… it’s just a big iPad. That will suit some people, and the screen and battery life are glorious, but I can’t download 20GB of email from Office 365 locally, or curate complex documents. A few of the reviews have said the same – the iPad Pro is an awesome consumer device, but it’s no laptop replacement.

A Mid-2015 MacBook Pro isn’t an option – it’s way too incremental an improvement over what I’ve already got. So Apple… you’re out!

Then it must be the Microsoft Surface Book?

The next logical device is the Microsoft Surface Book. On paper, it looks like it’s the ultimate laptop convertible. There seems to be no downside to this thing!¬†It’s a laptop… it’s a tablet… with 12h battery life and no downside.

My take on the Surface Book is that it’s very much a first generation device. Is it the future of computing? Hard to tell. Certainly, it appears to offer the best of both worlds, but the battery as a tablet is very limited, for example, and it can’t charge from base station to tablet – you have to be plugged in. I also heard various problems with docking and undocking the base.

I walked into Best Buy and they admitted that whilst they did have Surface Books in stock, I couldn’t see one because their demo device didn’t power on any more and they were awaiting a replacement from Microsoft. That sealed the deal.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

And so it is that I find myself writing this on a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. I’m sat on the sofa, tapping away on the keyboard on my lap, with the kick stand propping up the screen. The keyboard case is remarkably stiff and I find myself typing remarkably quickly, though I’m still not quite used to the offset keyboard, so accuracy is off.

For the last week I’ve been traveling with both my SP4 and my trusty MacBook Pro, so I can be sure not to lose productivity. I’m not ready to make a final conclusion yet but I think you’ll find the initial findings interesting.

It is conceptually amazing

The concept of the SP4 is amazing. It’s light, it’s a tablet, and it has a detachable keyboard. It claims a 9 hour battery life and Windows 10 is convertible-friendly, so you can switch in between use cases on a dime.

The screen is fantastic – detailed and crisp with great colors, and the kick stand means you can get comfortable on any surface. Microsoft Edge is a good browser and is quite effective in tablet mode, which is very nice browsing on the sofa, where you can detach the keyboard and save all that weight.

I’ve got the i5 version so it’s not got the raw power of a MacBook Pro, but I find it responsive and speedy enough for my needs. I figured the i5 version would have better battery life, and it’s far less expensive. Office 2016 is also awesome, and can be downloaded via your Office 365 subscription.

It excels at some things

The SP4 absolutely excels at some things. For example I just ran an off-site, and I used OneNote with the pen to take notes, taking pictures of white boards with the camera, and it was awesome.

Same with being used for email in a caf√© or train station – you can pull it out, and the keyboard is remarkably good to get out content quickly. I used the iPad Pro keyboard and was much less impressed. It can’t match a full size keyboard like the MacBook Pro, but it’s not far off.

It misses the mark in the real world

I’ve been trying to work with the SP4, but so far it’s not met my expectations. See, there are deal breakers.

First, the Wi-Fi is flakey. This is well documented on the web, and running all the updates in (which takes 4 reboots and over an hour) helps. But I still can’t access my iPhone hotspot, which means I get no internet on the go.

Second, the claimed 9 hour battery life is simply not true. In very modest use, it’s 3-4 hours of browsing and email. I don’t understand how a consumer product company is allowed to make statements like this. I guess you might be able to get 9 hours of video playback with the screen turned off.

Third, the usability is off. I put the SP4 down and then pick it up some while later and open the keyboard flap. It doesn’t turn on, you have to press the button for this. And depending on how deep it has gone to sleep, you have to wait several minutes for it to come to life. Or sometimes it doesn’t come to life at all and you have to hard reset.

I’ve taken a hard line – I must try to use the SP4 first, and use the MBP as a backup device, but too many times I’ve got frustrated with the SP4 because I had actual work to do, and pulled out the MacBook Pro.

Fourth, the tablet mode isn’t quite right. I had a Lenovo Yoga, and that converted automatically between tablet and PC mode when you flipped the keyboard. Not so with the SP4, you have to manually switch, which is frustrating. What’s more, many apps (Slack, for instance) aren’t tablet-enabled, so they aren’t responsive and the on-screen keyboard gets in the way. Slack is my primary messaging tool, so that’s another deal breaker.

And last, the so-called lapability factor of the SP4 is off. The kick stand means that the keyboard is 3″ closer to you than in the MacBook Pro, which means that the SP4 is horribly uncomfortable on an airplane or train, and because it doesn’t have a hinge, the keyboard and screen don’t support each other. On a flat surface, it’s awesome, but elsewhere, it’s really unpleasant.

Final Words

I’ll be traveling with the MBP and SP4 over the next few weeks and I’m hoping I come to like the SP4 more. Perhaps it will come into its own in situations I haven’t encountered yet.

But for a fourth generation device, the SP4 has too many deal breakers.

The ten reasons I still hate Microsoft Lync

Around two years ago, I wrote The ten reasons I hate Microsoft Lync the most. It’s either¬†a sad reflection of my blog, or a sad reflection about what people think of Lync, but it’s the most popular article on here. Either way, I read a marketing blog on the SAP website about Lync¬†and figured it was time to update this.

1) No improvements

In the last 2 years, there has¬†been no discernible innovation in Lync. Microsoft released Lync 2013, but it didn’t make anything work any better. Despite the cries for help from customers, Microsoft haven’t done anything measurable to fix the product. Instead, they seem to have invested R&D in extending the product to create more broken features. Great.

2) Mobile is still unusable

In the last 2 years, mobile devices have become pervasive – I don’t know about you, but I do around 50% of my work on a tablet or smartphone. I did try installing Lync 2013 on my iPad and iPhone, but it’s unusable. In a world where the tiny startup Viber has produced an app that works on all my devices on any network, the fact that Microsoft can’t do the basics in mobile is sad.

3) Messages don’t sync across devices

When I get a Viber message, it appears on whatever device I’m on. When I read the message, it appears read on all devices, obviously. Not so with Lync. If I am desperate enough to sign into Lync on my iPad, I inevitably end up with a pile of messages that I find a few weeks later.

4) Notifications don’t work

Notifications don’t even work, either on Mac, iPad or iPhone, losing yet more messages. And whilst we’re there, if Lync signs you out, which happens every time you lose network connection, then it closes all the windows and you lose the messages.

5) Screen sharing and sending of files don’t work

I have a high-resolution screen, and Lync 2013 doesn’t scale, so if I can get screen sharing to work, I have to sit and squint at my screen to see what’s going on. Maybe Microsoft can make a line of magnifying glasses to hold in front of your screen? But then 2 minutes into the call, you lose screen sharing anyhow, and that’s the end of that. My solution – a join.me subscription, which works great on any device and network.

6) Call quality

I’ve used plenty of other systems, and phone quality is never a problem. But with Lync it’s usually a problem. The most reliable way is to setup a call, and then dial in from my cellphone, but this has a lot of background noise. I’m unable to reliably join on a PC¬†connection, despite having excellent Verizon FIOS internet at home. But I regularly talk to colleagues and friends in Europe and Asia on Viber and FaceTime Audio – even when driving on a cellphone.

7) Lync doesn’t work at all on Mac OS X Yosemite

Yeah, it just crashes.

8) No chat rooms

You can argue that Viber is a consumer app, but they have a tiny R&D budget and they have innovated way beyond what Microsoft has done. Probably my favorite feature of Viber (WhatsApp have this too) is the ability to create rooms, which work across devices. For projects this is great – we add a bunch of people to a Viber chat room, and everyone is up to date. And I just checked, and managed to send a picture just fine with Viber.

9) The increasing pervasiveness of Lync

Despite the user experience, Lync seems to be gaining ground in the market. This is horrible because it means that I get and send Lync meeting requests from other companies. Since it doesn’t work in my organization, the idea that joining meetings from other companies is¬†comic.

10) The comments on my last blog

One of the things that disappointed me were the comments on my last blog. On the one hand, it was nice to know I wasn’t alone with Lync misery, but the sad things were the comments from what appear to be Lync administrators – mostly telling me that my company was doing it all wrong, some being plain abusive. But we have a pretty good IT team, and we employed a specialist consultancy for the implementation, and we’ve had it reviewed. I don’t believe it’s our implementation that’s the problem.

Final Words

It’s sad that two years on, Microsoft have done nothing to address any of the concerns I wrote about before, and it’s clear that many people feel the same way that I do – the comments below are testimony to this.

The only people that seem to think that Lync works well are the people who install and configure it. Many of them feel passionately that Lync is a good solution. To them, I suggest they listen to feedback from the people who use it.

Lync sucks.

Does Verizon Fios Quantum 300MB really exist?

I’ve had the need to download a large volume of data over this last week. I¬†had the Verizon FIOS 50/25 service, which is now quite outdated and has been replaced by a 75/75 service for the same price. So, I thought I’d get upgraded.

As it turns out, the Motorola wall box that Verizon¬†provided 5 years ago doesn’t support this, so Verizon kindly offered to upgrade me to a new wall box free of charge, the next working day (it normally costs $100 but they waived it, presumably due to being a long term customer). They also said they had to upgrade me to 300/300 and then downgrade me back to 75/75.

300/300 costs over $200/month, but I thought it would be fun to test: do¬†you REALLY get 300/300 or is it just “theoretical”. What does $200/month get you?

Step 1 – 90Mbit

Two friendly Verizon engineers¬†came by this morning to do the upgrade (precisely on schedule), and 60 minutes of downtime later, I went and retested the internet. I got 90Mbit both on wired and wireless connection. That’s a bit too convenient, and I suspected there might be a problem in the long wire that went from my Apple Time Capsule (3rd Generation) to the Verizon wall box.

So I moved the Time Capsule to a short 3m cable next to the Verizon box, in the hope it might get a Gigabit Ethernet connection.

Step 2 – 180Mbit

This made a dramatic difference, and even with the old Time Capsule I got 180Mbit wireless networking, which is quite amazing. At this point, my ThunderBolt Gigabit Ethernet adapter blew up, so I wasn’t able to test wired networking.

I also knew the Time Capsule was on its way out – it’s 3 years old and has a hard drive inside and gets extremely hot. Some redundancy is good at home so I thought I’d go and buy a new AirPort Extreme. Don’t bother with the Time Capsule… just attach a hard disk to the Airport and save $100.

Step 3 – 320-350Mbit

After I replaced the Time Capsule (802.11n) with the Airport Extreme (802.11ac) I now get the full 300-350Mbit, and it is more reliable with the ThunderBolt Gigabit Ethernet adapter (thanks to Apple for replacing this free of charge).

What’s real world performance like?

It’s pretty amazing. I’m getting a comfortable 60GB/hour of downloads going on, which I happen to need for a work project I’m working on under deadline. Ping time to Google.com is just 4ms and we can all browse the internet and watch movies even whilst downloading several threads at 60GB/hour.

Would I pay $200/month for the pleasure? No, I’m sorry but this is an excessive luxury that I can’t afford and don’t need. But, I am thinking of downgrading to the $129/month 150/150 rather than the $89/month 75/75.

Final Words

Just because you buy 300/300 internet, it doesn’t mean you will get it. You need devices, wireless adapters and wireless routers that can shift that sort of bandwidth and may have to invest some additional dollars to get what you paid for. And if you really want super-reliable internet, you do need to move to a wired connection – it reduces latency and improves browsing performance.

Either way, kudos to Verizon and Apple for awesome customer service and good quality products.

Now, I just need to find a database big enough to load the 18TB of data I just downloaded. More on that later!

Review: Bose QuietComfort 25 – The Silence is Deafening

It seems odd that there are no good reviews of the new Bose Quiet Comfort 25, or QC25, out there. I hope this helps you – I bought these on the first day they came out and have been living with them for a short while now.

I’ve always been an audio fanatic, right from my childhood. The audio world has changed enormously in the last 15 years. Gone are the days when I would frequently sit at a desk at home with a CD player and listen to music on wired headphones. Gone are the days when I frequently sit at a desk at home listening to music!

These days, I mostly listen to music when traveling, in inhospitable locations and carrying a heavy load. Back in 1998 I bought a pair of Sennheiser HD-600¬†headphones, which have exquisite sound quality. They’re useless¬†in this post-modern age of commuter flights because they are open backed, which means your music leaks, and the world leaks into your ears.

My last pair of noise canceling headphones were lost and so in early September 2014, I walked through an airport terminal and spotted the QC25 on a shelf. They are understated, subtle, and very compact. I was immediately drawn to them.

QC25

 

Noise Canceling

I headed over to try them on and was somewhat underwhelmed Рthen I realize that the Active Noise Canceling (ANC) was switched off. I hit the switch and the world turned off. Gone was the loud terminal noise, and I was in a small quiet world of my own. Incredible. I listened to a few tracks of music and realized these would make my long weeks of travel much more pleasurable.

For¬†that is where the QC25 excels: commuters, in planes and trains. It completely destroys hums and groans and aircraft engines and air conditioners. For people and voices, it’s not as strong, but no ANC headphone is. But it is better than any other headphone on the market at ANC. The silence is deafening.

Sound

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Bose sound and the QuietComfort25 is no surprise here. The music is “OK” – the saxophone on Dire Straits’ Your Latest Trick comes out nicely, and the coins clink melodically in Pink Floyd’s Money. Turn up the bass a little with Faithless’ God is a DJ and the Bose is in its comfort zone: HiFi, this is not.

But then you sit down in a seat of a plane and flip the switch, and the world turns off again. In that moment, you forgive the slightly brash mid-tones and slightly wooly base. This is a world of trade-offs and the QC25 delivers a wonderful balance.

The crucial point is because it is so quiet in your cocoon, you can turn the music down and hear details that you never hear from regular headphones. They sound much better than they have any right to sound when you are in a public place.

Living with the QC25

The packaging is exceptionally easy to live with, they fit into an 8.25″x5.75″x2″ box which fits nicely in a laptop bag, and it fits an airplane adapter and a spare AAA battery. Bose say it lasts 35 hours, but I’m not counting. One spare battery is¬†enough for a week away from home.

The fit is sublime with a¬†“protein leather” (an artificial, leather-like material that absorbs some sweat) covering. The 6.9oz cans fit comfortably on the head for long periods of time – say a 3-4 hour flight, or a noisy office day.

There’s a replaceable 4’8″ cable with a microphone for phone calls and a volume/call switch, which is useful if you want to listen to music on your iPhone and don’t want to switch cables when a call comes in. You can turn off the ANC during phone calls so your voice doesn’t sound weird.

Bose make a big deal about this because the headphone continues to run even after you run out of battery (unlike the QuietComfort15) but the audio kinda sucks without the ANC, so I’m not so certain how useful that is (unless you want to make a call!).

QuietComfort 15 Owners

I suspect a lot of people who own QC15s are wondering if they should upgrade. I’ve used both headphones – a lot of airlines provide QC15s on long haul flights, and they are most excellent. The QC25s are easier to live with – they are smaller and more comfortable – but if I had spent good money on QC15s, the difference between the two models is not worth the price of a new pair.

Negatives

One negative I found was that sometimes the headphone can motorboat – it starts to make a weird noise in the right ear. This must be an unintentional side-effect of the ANC technology, and may be a teething problem with the first few pairs. If it continues, I’ll call Bose.

There’s also a slight air pressure thing going on when you wear them. ANC headphones change the air pressure around your ears, and that can be bothersome.

Conclusions

If you are a traveler, commuter, spend time on a plane, or in a loud office, or outside, then go and try these out. They are the gold standard in Noise Canceling Headphones. They trash Sennheiser, Beats (yuck), Parrot and everyone else in this respect.

You pay for that luxury¬†with a slightly mediocre audio experience. But when you are basking in the silence that envelops you with the QC25 on your head, in your own private world where nothing can disturb you, you’ll put up with an average sound. Besides, I don’t know about you but I listen to music on an iPhone, not a $1000 CD player.

But if you listen to music in a quiet place and want audiophile¬†quality headphones, then don’t waste your money on the Bose QuietComfort 25. They’re not for you.