Late-2016 MacBook Pro – long term review

For the last few years, I’ve been wondering what would be the best laptop for my needs. I’ve gone through a number of macihnes – the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 had a good crack at the whip, for example.

In November 2016, I went ahead and ordered a 15″ MacBook Pro. My old 2012 MacBook Pro had done many miles and was barely alive, and whilst I didn’t love the new MBP, it seemed like the best of what was out there.

To add to this, my first MBP was a lemon that crashed constantly, and before the end of 2016, Apple had replaced the machine. It hadn’t exactly built my confidence, and many reviewers were calling the new MacBook Pro as a poor machine – not good enough for pros.

6 months later, I’ve put in many hours, and the MBP has travelled with me over 200,000 miles… and here’s the kicker: I love it. It’s the best laptop I’ve ever had and I wouldn’t switch it for anything. Here’s why:

It’s powerful enough for anything

It doesn’t matter if I’m moving 10,000 emails around or doing complex business intelligence analysis, the MBP has plenty of power for anything I throw at it. I’ve never had a machine this fast, and for most things I run, it never breaks a sweat. Occasionally it will get warm, with heavy use, and when it does, it doesn’t crash. Ever.

The LG UltraFine 5k display is out of this world

One of my jobs is to run our global forecast, and I regularly need to see spreadsheets with 50 columns and 100 rows. Enter the LG 5k display. It has perfect colors, it’s 27″ huge. It’s the best screen ever made, and it was available at a 25% discount.

USB-C is the new black

A lot of people have been complaining about USB-C, but I love it. Here’s what’s in my laptop cable pouch:

  • Apple 85W USB-C Charger with 2m USB-C – USB-C cable
  • 1m USB-C – Lightening Cable
  • 0.5m USB-C – Micro-USB Cable
  • USB-C – HDMI Cable
  • USB/USB-C Memory Key

That’s it. Sometimes I use the Mac as a charging station (it has 4 USB-C ports) and sometimes I use the Apple charger just to charge a phone.

You have a 15″ laptop without the weight

In my line of work, you need to be able to work wherever needed. My eyes aren’t as young as they used to be, and the 15″ screen really helps when working on complex tasks. And because the MBP is so light, there’s no downside to carrying a big screen.

Battery Life

My first MacBook Pro had terrible battery life, but the second one, following a few updates from Apple, is perfect. I’ve flown from New York to Phoenix, 5 hours, and had 40% left. What more do you need?

Final Words

A lot of blogs on the MacBook Pro have been complaining about the lack of it being a “Pro” machine. As someone who drives a laptop hard, I’m struggling to see that.

A laptop has to balance battery life, screen size, weight, and power. Given the current technology limitations, these are a set of levers, which can be pulled. More power, less battery life. Bigger screen size, more weight. To me, the 2016 MacBook Pro is the perfect balance, given what the engineers had to work with.

P.S. I don’t get the point of the Touch Bar. It’s a gimmick, so far.

Review: Gate8 Trifold Cabin Bag – Part 2

For a long time I’ve struggled to look past the SwissGear and the Wenger kit for my choice of bag. From laptop bags to backpacks and on to rollaboards I’ve found them to be robust, well build and very capable of fulfilling my needs – except for one – carrying suits. Discussing (debating really) with John one evening he suggested I try the Gate8 Trifold Cabin Bag to see if it would work for my needs.

Once I got it I could see immediately that the key plus with this bag is its ability to fit my clothes for an entire week including spare suits and all while fitting in main cabin storage on every domestic flight. I travel to a number of remote regional airports and frequently find myself on puddle jumpers where anything bigger than a back-pack ends up valet checked at the gate (adding 10-15 mins to your wait at the destination gate).

Gate8 Fits easily on all planes

Gate8 Fits easily on all planes

The Gate8 Trifold is perfect for these scenarios and I’ve not had a single gate-check since I started using it.

Packing the Gate8 Trifold Cabin Bag

Packing this thing wasn’t easy the first few times and perhaps I was missing some key instruction cards that John forgot to pass on but in the end I figured it out and wow was I impressed. Take next week as an example, I’ll fit 3 x suits, 5 shirts, spare shoes and various other small bits into the bag which kit me out perfectly for a week at TechEd 2016. All told I can fit all the clothes I would need for 5 days at a customer site with very little problem. It takes a few tries to get used to but now that I have my system worked out I am incredibly comfortable packing for a week including spare suits, evening-ware and of course gym kit.

The Laptop Case

The Gate8 Trifold gets two negative marks from me, some issues around the handles as you’ll see later and the laptop bag. The accompanying laptop bag is a big let down in a lot of ways. Firstly it is designed to zip onto the front of the bag to create one unit. Since I got the bag I have NEVER used this feature for a number of reasons:

  • I normally use my laptop and charger etc. in-flight so having it attached to the bag in the overhead bin is not necessary. I prefer to place it at my feet as it takes up little/no space and can be placed upright between the floor and seat leaving ample legroom.
  • When full with a spare suit, shirts, spare shoes etc. the main bag becomes a bit bulky with the front becoming slightly bow shaped so that getting the laptop bag onto the main bag is nearly impossible to do easily. I prefer to carry the laptop bag on top of the main bag latched onto the telescopic handle.

Secondly I have found the laptop bag to be a disappointment for me in general. Don’t get me wrong, it works and I have been using it but you could change a little to make it a LOT better. Take for example the front area for smaller items. What I look for in a bag is smaller individual compartments to hold items such as:

  • Passport
  • Business Cards
  • Headphones
  • USB storage keys

I’m probably a bit picky on this but if a laptop bag is going to carry my day’s worth of kit (laptop, charger, notebook and other smaller bits) I need it to have a bit more structure and have something similar to the Wenger laptop briefcases. The search for a combined laptop bag and main tri-fold has very clearly led to trade-offs in the laptop bag and creating an underwhelming experience.

Build Quality

For the most part I can’t fault the build quality of the Gate8 TriFold with a single exception. Unfortunately the leather-like handles of both the bag itself and the accompanying laptop bag began to flake and fall apart after using the bag for just 5 weeks straight and now, almost 3 months later, there is no coating left on the handles.

Handle Issue with Gate8

This isn’t the end of the world as the bag itself is so good in other ways however its very annoying to be carrying the bag and then look down to find pieces of the handle covering your hands – not good and easily fixed I would think. Otherwise it is well build and I haven’t seen any other problems.


As John mentioned in his post, the bag comes with a number of accessories such as the 3-1-1 bag which is excellent as well as triangle zip holders which fit excellently into the main area of the bag for carrying socks and other things. I haven’t got the shirt holder yet but I’m certain an investment in that area will be happening in the future.


In all honesty, the only thing I can say about the main bag is that I love it – I only have the two negatives I mentioned above as my bug-bears. For the laptop bag I can see myself replacing it with another of my laptop bags in the near future. I’ve forced myself to use the one that came with it until now but realistically it’s just not for me. On the handle front, I’ll have to look at my options to get those replaced if I’m going to continue to use the bag.

The Gate8 Trifold is perhaps the best bag I’ve used to date when it comes to traveling for work for 3-5 days. Its size, functionality and overall design make it my go-to bag for weekly travel and I can’t see that changing. A big thumbs up to the guys at Gate8 for creating this well thought out bag.

My parting suggestion for the future though – don’t try to be all things to all people. I would give up the laptop bag aspect of the design and concentrate on it being an awesome consultants dream-bag for living away from home for 3-5 days a week.

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 🙂 ), 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.

Review: Gate8 Trifold Cabin Bag – Part 1

Everyone has to have a hobby, and one of mine is bags: I’ve got a cupboard-full of different bags for different travel occasions. So when the Chief Bag Carrier from GATE8, Alaister, got in touch and offered me up a bag in exchange for a review, I happily accepted.

Yes – for full disclosure, this bag was provided free of charge, and GATE8 didn’t pay me anything for my review, or indeed ask for editorial rights.

I’ve immediately got a soft spot for GATE8, because they are a small UK-based company, and their story on their website reads “Gate8 began when a British IT consultant got tired of wasting time in airport queues and spending money on excess baggage fees on business trips”. By the way, they seem to interchangeably use GATE8 and Gate8. They do have a distribution center in the USA, and they offer free 5-day Group Shipping.

Shipping and Unpacking

The bag got a tracking number and arrived 24h later from their distribution center in New Jersey. It was very well packed in a cardboard box, and I’m not much of an amateur photographer so here’s a photo of what it looks like from their website:

Gate8 Trifol

The thing you don’t get from the photos on the website: this is a big bag! You can easily pack a week’s worth of clothes in the bag, including an extra suit and dress shoes.

If you want lots of photos, and a great detailed review, head over to arjunrc’s review on FlyerTalk. It’s a great read.

Use Case

The use case for the Gate8 TriFold is quite straightforward: you travel for business, want/need to carry a suit or jacket, don’t much like a separate laptop bag (maybe you’re worried about losing it), and hate to check luggage.

What sets this bag aside is that it will fit in ANY plane. Not just the regular Boeing 737s and Airbus A321s, but all the less pleasant options. Even the hated Canadair CRJ-200, which we affectionately call Flying Sewage Barges or FSBs. You might need to unzip the laptop bag when you get in, if you overpacked the TriFold, but it will fit in.

What’s more, if you’re traveling in Europe/Asia, this bag not only fits the hand luggage requirements on size, but since the laptop bag is zipped on, fits the requirements of only having a single bag. Then you can get to your hotel, hang your suit, unzip the bag and go to your meetings.

This bag serves a very specific use case, and if you fit this, you will probably love it.

Build Quality

This is really only something you can figure as a factor of time, but the build looks pretty good. This is the second generation bag, and they have clearly taken into account the feedback from the first generation. The nylon is good quality and looks durable, and the telescopic pole looks nice and solid. I’m sure this bag will last well, and Gate8 are well known for having great customer service if you have any issues.

The laptop bag is pretty big, taking a 17″ laptop and swallowing my 15″ MacBook Pro whole. It’s a bigger bag than I’d choose, but then it spends much of its time zipped on, which is very convenient.


This bag comes fully loaded, which is pretty convenient. It comes with a suit carrier including a hanging system which means you can pull the suit out, and hang it immediately. It’s not as elegant as Lat56’s Suit Protection System, but it’s nice enough.

It also includes some little bags, including a neat clear 3-1-1 bag that you can use for your toiletries. Since it comes with a laptop bag, this is really a neat bag for all your flying needs.

In use

On a Sunday night, I typically look at the week ahead, and decide what bag I’m going to carry. If I’m spending 3 days at one customer, I will need 2 suits and 3 shirts, whilst if I’m going to California, I might just need a spare pair of jeans and a few T-shirts. Different trips require different luggage.

That’s where I found out that the Gate8 TriFold isn’t for me. I tried packing it a few times on a Sunday, and I found it was just too much bag for my needs. Many of my trips are 1-2 nights, and this is a 3-4 night trip bag. I’ve had the bag for 4 weeks and haven’t found the right trip for it yet.

I’d strongly encourage you don’t take this as indicative, because I’m a super-light packer who takes the bare minimum and who is most often only away for 2 nights at a time.


I work for a global consultancy, and I have a lot of consultants who travel with 22″ carry-ons and a big laptop bag. Quite often, I tease them as I slide through the airport with my much lighter luggage. They tease me for my bag habit. That’s just how it goes.

Truth be told, a full-size 22″ carry-on is too much luggage. I can pack for 2 weeks in my Tumi International Carry-On. I actually usually check it, since I’m traveling with family when I’m going for that long. Yet many consultants and road warriors continue to fill up planes with oversized carry-ons.

And so I spoke to one of my consulting leads, Brenton, last week when he was in Philly. We were out to dinner, and I said hey Brenton I’ve got a gift for you, the gift of a new bag. I’m not sure he was thrilled that he was now carrying a full-size carry-on, a laptop bag AND the Gate8 TriFold back to Boston at 6am the next morning, but I’m sure he’ll survive.

Gate8 Trifold

So this is where this review ends… for now. The Trifold has left my care and Brenton will be seeing how it suits his needs (no pun intended). I’m pretty certain he’s going to love it, because he predominately travels to a single customer for 3-4 nights, and this is the perfect bag for this use case.

One thing we both struggled with was how to fit both a spare pair of dress shoes, and gym shoes. If you’ve done this in the Trifold, do share how it’s possible!

In short, the Trifold isn’t the right bag for an ultra-light traveler, but if you leave home every Monday morning and land home on a Thursday night, and need an extra suit, jacket and laptop, I’m pretty certain you’ll find this bag is perfect for you. Just imagine if everyone did this, how much space there would be left in the planes, and how much faster we’d board!

Let’s give Brenton a few weeks… he has his own blog, but I’m planning to convince him to write a guest post here… Part 2.

Happy Traveling!

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 4 – The Return

I’ve been using the Surface Pro 4 as a primary machine for the last 3 weeks. A week of that was spent in a bag, because I got fed up with it crashing, and was especially annoyed to find it had run out of battery between being put into sleep at full power, and getting it out on a flight some hours later.

You can read part 1 and part 2 of my review, if you so wish.

A week later, I was ready to give it a last try, and put some power into it, and saw it installed yet another round of updates. To my surprise, it has since stopped crashing on resume.

Windows Hello

I didn’t see Windows Hello earlier (maybe it wasn’t enabled for the SP4?), but it prompted me to configure it this week. It’s a fantastic and simple feature which (assuming it works) dramatically improves device security.

Basically it uses facial recognition to unlock your device, which means you can have a long backup password just in case, and not suffer any inconvenience when logging on. It works in extremely low light and takes just a few seconds – a fantastic feature. And it works every time.

I haven’t tested how it performs with a picture of me; that is a concern, but this is definitely an example of Microsoft being ahead of Apple. Bravo.

Also, Bitlocker Drive Encryption is enabled by default, which makes me very happy. My customers have to be able to trust my ability to keep their information safe, so I am always impressed with devices that feature good security.

Battery Life (or lack thereof)

Now my device can come in and out of sleep reliably, it has revealed a new problem, which is the SP4 has a terrible sleep function. My MacBook Pro, which has 3-year-older Intel hardware, can happily sleep with no discernable drop in battery life, and it supports Power Nap, which means my email stays up to date even when the Mac is sleeping.

The SP4 by comparison drops at least 10% an hour, which makes it basically useless for business travel. Tomorrow morning, I’ll leave home at 5am and get to my first meeting around 11am. The SP4 cannot handle 3 hours of sleep and 3 hours of work on the flight and taxis, and that makes it basically useless.

Folks on Reddit also complain about bad battery (3-4h) and Windows Central have reported that Microsoft are working on a fix.

Keyboard / palmrest issues

The other issue I’m plagued with is the keyboard. When using it, as I am right now, as a laptop, with the keyboard on my upper thighs, you have to be very careful how much pressure you put on the palmrest. If you put too much, it starts doing weird things, like clicking the right mouse button with no finger on the trackpad.

I also had problems typing this article on Microsoft Edge – it was very slow to type, and just switched to Google Chrome, where I found the issue went away. That’s a shame, because I’ve generally been impressed with the Microsoft Edge browser.

Wireless issues

The wireless is problematic too – many of the public wireless networks I used didn’t work. It won’t tether to my iPhone, for example, and it took 5-10 minutes to connect to GoGo on a flight, and I couldn’t get it to connect to a few public hot spots at all. So unless I’m at home, I have to operate off-line much of the time.

Can I survive with the Surface Pro 4?

In short… No. Microsoft have decided to release a potentially amazing device which isn’t fit for purpose. They failed to address the basics and focused on making an amazing piece of hardware.

To Microsoft’s credit, they know about the issues and have openly issued an apology. I understand the sleep issues are hard to fix and will take some time. But in my opinion these issues are so basic that they should have delayed the product launch, rather than try to get a spike in holiday sales.

As for my SP4, it’s going back to the store that it came from. Edit: I found a workaround for the power issue on Paul Thurrott’s site, which is to change sleep to hibernate. The SP4 is quite fast (7 seconds) to turn on from hibernate, so this is workable for me. I’ll give it one more week and see if it’s now usable.

P.S. Shane recommended I try out the Surface app. I’m not sure what it does on the Surface Pro 3, but on the SP4 it has only three options. You can adjust the pen pressure sensitivity, you can do an ink test, and you can provide feedback to Microsoft. I’m just about to do the third.

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?