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  • Experiences With Microsoft Surface RT

    I’ve had a Surface RT for about six months now after a client asked if we could have a chat about the touch devices that are on the market. After that conversation I thought the Surface could be something that would fit in with how my days generally pan out so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

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    As already mentioned I’ve had it for about six months now and I’ve written and scrapped posts on it about five or six times but with the recent Windows 8.1 release and the Surface 2 announcements it’s been at the front of my mind again

    On the whole I’m largely happy it. .

    Battery

    A bit obvious I know but any extended usage on my mobile has me worrying about the battery and while the portable charger I’ve got is great when I’m running low it’s not quite the same as having something that will last all day. It’s great knowing I can take it out fully charged and not have it die on me. Something I can’t say for my laptop either.

    Portability

    Another obvious one and not specific to the Surface I know but this one of the things I wasn’t convinced on as my laptop is pretty light but I’ve found it lives in my bag now and I generally don’t notice I’ve got it with it me.

    Aspect Ratio

    The Surface is more of a rectangle than a square. This is because it’s a widescreen (16:9) device which makes it great for videos and the like. That’s not quite why I like it though. The big thing for me is for when I’m reading web pages, PDFs, blog posts, etc I can turn it on it’s end making the reading experience much much better (less scrolling for one thing!)

    This is particularly useful for documents as the reading experience is very similar to having a printed copy (granted paper is much lighter!)

    Multi-User

    I like the fact I can setup different user profiles. If I wanted to give the Surface to Mrs P or one of the kids they can have their own apps, start screen and be signed into different services. I don’t have to worry about signing out of anything so someone else can use it. i can see how this would be useful in office environments, a meeting room for example could have a device that several users could share.

    Encryption

    A little thing but it’s got a version of BitLocker running on it that means in the event of it getting lost or stolen the data is going to be safe.

    Connectivity

    It’s got a USB port on the side that let’s me plug additional storage or keyboards, mice, etc into it without any need for convertors and adaptors. There is a mini-HDMI port too if you wanted to plug it into a bigger screen. It’ll even let you extend onto that second screen exactly the same way as you would with a desktop/laptop.

    Office

    Yes I know Microsoft are slowly bringing various Office applications to other platforms but having Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote baked in is useful. That familiar feel means not having to worry about working differently just because I’m on a different device. Having Outlook with Windows 8.1 has made a huge difference to me. The mail app was “ok” but as I spend a big chunk of time in Outlook having the same experience for mail, calendars, tasks, contacts is a big plus.

    The Built In Stand

    A very small thing but I lose count of how many times a day I flip the stand down. It’s nice that it’s “just there” and I can prop it up easily. I frequently stand it up on the kitchen table for catching up on the news while I’m drinking that all important first cuppa of the day!

    It’s not all roses though..What isn’t so good

    Internet Explorer

    I don’t know..I don’t mind IE as such. But the performance of it isn’t quite as snappy as I’d like. Sometimes you click a link and when nothing happens you jab it again and before you know it the first link has been dealt with and you’ve unintentionally clicked something on the next page. I’m not sure if the hardware isn’t up to it but IE is mostly the only time I notice a “laggy” experience and I’ve had experiences with some sites that just don’t like it.

    Price and Accessory Slashing.

    I was rather annoyed about this. The covers which double up as keyboards are really interesting and it’s definitely useful to have a keyboard from time to but with the cheapest one adding around £100 to the price I decided it wasn’t that important to me for how often I’d actually need it. About two or three weeks after I got my Surface the prices were dropped AND they were throwing in the cover for free.

    Thanks a lot….

    Apps

    Yeah….the elephant in the room.

    The lack of apps is still THE main thing getting in the way of making this useful to a wider audience.The official Facebook app was only recently available with the 8.1 release and it’s the same problem Microsoft have Windows 8 and Windows Phone. It’s not that there are no apps..just not the wide variety that are available on iOS and Android. It’s a shame Microsoft aren’t developing more of their own apps as well as trying to convince other developers it’s a viable platform.

    It’s not that there aren’t any apps to use. I’ve got Netflix, Twitter, Facebook (finally), Amazon, Skype and Ebay. Lots of things you’d expect. But on the flip side there is no official app for Instagram (the Windows 8 one is imminent) or Vine. I’m a big GoodReads user but the unofficial apps aren’t great and the website is a pain to use with a touch screen. The list of popular apps that are available on other platforms is pretty daunting when you’re comparing devices.

    Also..I’m writing this on my laptop as opposed to my Surface. There is no Windows Live Writer or similar that I can use. My only real option is to use Word as a blogging tool…Bleurgh. When you’ve been using Live Writer for so long going back to Word for blogging? I’ll pass thanks.

    So why Surface RT and not Surface Pro?

    That’s pretty easy

    Cost – I didn’t want a Pro enough to spend that sort of money, especially the launch prices. The plus points of the tablet form factor aren’t worth that much to me. If I need the “full Windows experience” my laptop is fine in those scenarios.

    Battery life – My RT device lasts ages for how I use it. If I take it out on a full charge I don’t have to worry about it running out of juice.

    Office – I know it it largely depends on how you buy Office, (Office 365 Home Premium is up to five devices) but having Office included in the cost of the Surface was a big draw for me. If you have to add the cost of Office on top of the Pro that total price is pretty steep.

    I’m of the opinion that if they’d spent all that money used developing Surface RT into making the Surface Pro cheaper and with a comparable battery life they’d have sold so many they wouldn’t be able to get them out the door quick enough.

    In my experience the Surface is really good at a specific thing for a specific set of people who want a seamless Windows experience using a common set of apps. Those people will get a lot out of it. Outlook and OneNote on a decent screen I can take everywhere is unbelievably useful for me.

    The new Surface 2 model and Windows 8.1 makes lots of incremental improvements to make what’s actually good about the device even better. The two angle stand is a brilliant addition as an example. You’d only really know that after having used the current one though.

    So to finish…(since this post is a little all over the place!)

    Should you buy a Surface RT? It depends…

    If you’ve never owned a tablet and spend a lot of time using other Microsoft products it’s worth looking at.

    If you’re coming from another product, unless there is something you specific want (Office..) then you may not find anything that’s a big pull.

    As always..comments, opinions and questions always welcome!

  • Mobile Phone Decisions–October 2013

    As seems customary now on this blog every time I have a decision to make about a new mobile phone I write about it!

    I think getting it on screen and out of my head certainly helps. Smile

    Two years ago I went with a Samsung Omnia 7 and explained why I chose that over the others.

    The market is certainly different from May 2011 and some of the hardware available is amazing!

    I’m yet to make a decision so I’ll go through my current thought process

    Blackberry

    imageThings are certainly different now from when I last wrote about Blackberry!

    They have launched their much delayed Blackberry 10 operating system, shed a ton of jobs, decided to leave the consumer market to concentrate on the Enterprise side of things and have just been sold off.

    As it stands things are certainly not looking great!

    Even taking all that into consideration this isn’t much that would make me want to jump ship to a Blackberry phone.

     

    Android

    The juggernaut of the mobile space! With the ability to run on a wide variety of devices Android commands a big chunk of the market. it’s popularity has created a well stocked app store that can do just about anything you’d want with a mobile phone!

    I’m very very tempted in all honesty. The Galaxy S4 looks like a seriously good piece of kit that would do pretty much everything i would need. Especially now there is an official OneNote app and QuickOffice is free.

    iPhone

    image

    What more can be said about the iPhone? Even with the success of Android if you mention the word “smartphone” most people automatically assume you’re talking about an iPhone.

    That said I’m personally surprised that Apple haven’t done more. They have made quicker. faster, lighter devices but on the software side of things is there all that much difference over the last few years? iOS 7 is completely new direction in terms of design but is there anything new to get excited about?

    That’s obviously a matter of opinion but it’s not the phone I’m looking for.

     

    Windows Phone  

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    Microsoft are still paying the price for being so late to the party. Windows Phone is a pretty decent operating system but it’s biggest shortcoming is that in can’t compete on the range of apps that are available on the other platforms

    It’s in the horrible chicken and egg scenario where developers aren’t writing apps for it because the phone doesn’t have enough market share but it’s struggling to gain market share because it doesn’t the apps.

    They haven’t done a good enough job on the marketing and awareness front either. Some of the good features it does have people just don’t know about, even people with Windows Phones!

     

    Choices, Choices, Choices

    As it stands for me at the moment it’s a choice between a Windows 8 phone (probably a Lumia 1020) and an Android phone (probably a Galaxy S4).

    Because I’ve been using Windows phone for the last couple of years there are a lot of features I use daily that I’m not sure if I want to give up. However, the lack of apps is getting rather frustrating.

    An Android device would keep me “app happy” but is that enough to make me want to lose the functionality I use every day and I’m perfectly comfortable with?

    I’ve talked before about how I think you should choose a smart phone so I need to figure out what irritates me the least! Smile

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  • Paying For Free Chips

    I had a really weird customer service experience recently and it’s been on my mind ever since so thought it was worth sharing.

    A couple of nights ago I stopped at the chip shop on the way home from work. One of the items I ordered was going to take a few minutes to get ready so I found a wall to lean against and started to read a couple of pages of the book I’ve got currently got on the go on my Kindle.

    Everything was soon ready and the person serving started to ask about salt and vinegar and the like before bagging everything up, handing it over and saying thanks and bye.

    All pretty normal on the face of it.

    I was half way home when I realised I hadn’t paid. He hadn’t asked me for any money and I was that interested in my book and getting home I didn’t notice myself.

    Now my first thought was obviously “free chips!!” but in the interests of supporting a local small business and one I’ve been pretty happy with so far I decided I’d go back and pay. (after going home to eat first of course…I wouldn’t want them to go cold!)

    So I nipped back to the shop and as I approached the counter the person who served me, a young man, about 16-17 and and an older lady were waiting to serve people. She caught my eye first so I started to explain what had happened.

    She was very defensive and the first words that came out of her mouth were

    I didn’t serve you!

    I was a little taken aback as it’s not quite the reaction I was expecting and she then starting shouting at the guy next to her and another teenage boy who was cleaning tables, trying to find out who it was that had served me.

    Eventually, the person who did serve me asked me what I was that I’d ordered and took my money, offering an embarrassed apology and thanking me for coming back.

    As I’m doing this the person who had been cleaning tables seconds before leaned across the counter next to me shouting,

    “What’s happened? What happened?

    As I was leaving I could see in the background the lady explaining to the owner what was going on and pointing fingers at me and the person who’d served me.

    It just all felt a bit odd.

    Is it that bad a place to work that the first reaction of the staff was immediately to make sure it wasn’t them that had been found out making a mistake?

    If that is the case have I gotten that person into trouble?

    I wasn’t expecting them to fall to their knees and worship me like some deity for paying for seven pounds worth of food but what I didn’t expect to happen was for a bunch of adults to behave like children who were scared of getting in trouble with their parents.

    What would you have done in my position?

    If you worked at the shop what would you have done?

    If you were the owner how would you have expected your staff to behave?

  • Sony Vaio TouchPad Not Working

    imageThis has been a bit of a strange problem that I’ve finally got to the bottom of.

    First a bit of backstory.

    A client asked us to get him a laptop with the key requirement based around the weight. He wanted something that would be easier for taking out of the office. So he ended up with a Sony Vaio VPCSA. All seemed ok but a few weeks in we got a call to say he was having trouble with the touchpad not working from time to time. The mouse pointer either wouldn’t move at all or it would be very difficult to drag along the touch surface.

    Plugging a normal usb mouse in was a workaround but not the solution.

    He couldn’t seem to recreate the issue either and neither could we. What didn’t help was it was so intermittent that we couldn’t recreate the problem and when we were looking at the problem we never saw it happen! It was very frustrating for our client so we did our best to figure it out but after checking drivers, mouse software, bios settings and even a full factory reset, we could only surmise it was a hardware issue and it went back to Sony under warranty.

    They sent it back a few days later with the fault report showing they’d changed a part in the mousepad. It went back to client but a few weeks later the problem reared it’s head again.

    It went back to Sony three more times. Each time Sony changed components inside and each time the problem didn’t go away.

    Eventually the client got fed up with the laptop disappearing for weeks on end so asked if he could have a new one or a different model. Sony weren’t interested in this and neither were distribution as we couldn’t consistently reproduce the problem so in the interests of keeping a long time client happy we took the laptop back, got him a new one with the idea being if someone in our office was using it every day we might finally be able to track down what was causing it and then deal with the manufacturer and distributor if needed. Seeing as all happened around the time my house was broken into I was in need of a new laptop so it ended up in my hands and of course I’ve not had any trouble with it since!

    Several months later and I was at home last week and the problem flared up while I was using the laptop and I could confirm how infuriating it was! I once again experimented with software, settings. I even discovered there is a “Function & F1” hotkey for disabling and enabling the touchpad but I still couldn’t find anything that made a difference.

    Until a few days later….

    It was a Friday night and I’d been using my laptop on the kitchen table and the touchpad was working quite happily. The battery was running low so I pulled the charger out of my bag and plugged it in. I sat down to carry on and the mouse had stopped working.

    Realising it had been working quite happily a minute ago and all I’d done was plug the power in I disconnected it and it started working again!

    I now had a reproducible problem. Every time I plugged the power adapter in, the mouse stopped working.

    If you’re following this you’ll probably be thinking,

    ”What’s changed? Surely you’ve used the charger since you’ve had the laptop.”

    Yes, but not this specific charger.

    Last week someone was tidying up a cupboard in the office and came across the original box for the laptop and inside was a spare charger.

    Turns out the client likes to have a charger on his desk and one in his laptop bag as It makes it that bit easier when coming and going. I thought that was a good idea so did the same. The original charger was on my desk. The spare had gone into my bag.

    After a bit of digging it looks like the spare charger isn’t compatible with the laptop I’ve got. However, It still plugs in and charges which is why this never came to light before.

    Once i was in the office the next day I was able to confirm everything works quite happily on the original power adapter!

    This has been bugging me for much longer than it should have. Especially since I’d gone months without seeing the problem! I’m very glad I can put this to bed.