Tuesday, November 17, 2015

RANT TIME - Microsoft What Are You Thinking?

Microsoft - You Are on The Verge of a Fanboy Revolt

Are we really paying attention to what is happening around here? Yes, the Surface Book is new and cutting edge, but the failures and work-arounds are outrageous. And the Surface Pro is #4 - this is inexcusable. Wireless still wonky - and that STARTED with Surface Pro and keeps happening with every new model. Display drivers - ALWAYS a problem. And don't even get me started on (dis)connected standby - "I close it and I save every bit of battery life; no drain... " is NOT true...

I love my Surface Pro 3, but it has been 12 months of continuous tinkering, tweaking, and wholesale restores to get there. And the list of "always expected errors" never changes from model year to model year: bad display drivers; bad wireless; (dis)connected standby. Release after release (from Surface Pro to date) the SAME problems occur - wonky video, wifi, and battery drain in connected standby, and it is an AGONIZING 6-12 months of firmware and driver updates to make it stable. QUIT RELEASING HALF-BAKED SOFTWARE & HARDWARE - maybe you need to move to a two year release cycle - one to design and build, the second year to TEST IT. I'm tired, as an evangelist, of making excuses to my friends and associates as to why they should buy devices that take months of PUBLIC beta testing before they get stable - "just wait, they'll fix that."

Fix it already - and don't let it out of the lab until you can sell a functioning products. Yes, this is a rant, and I am off the reservation, but as a group we are more experienced, more adventurous, and basically evangelists for the platform - and even we are having nightmares...what does that portend for the average joe...if Microsoft cannot produce a stable platform with its own OS, drivers and custom designed hardware - the other OEM's don't have a snowball's chance in hell.

And don't even get me started on the mess called EDGE. At times it is rocket fast, then all of a sudden the cursor won't even move and text won't input - they need to re-brand it "Bleeding Edge."

Top this all off with the debacle called OneDrive - sorry, "No unlimited storage for you!" after making that your hallmark for selling it. Doesn't really matter, since it has never been stable or reliable either (feeling a common thread yet) - and I doubt I would ever use the full 1 TB online anyway, but to blame it on a very small number of users "abusing" the service by uploading 75 TB or more - does that not sound mysteriously like AT&T and Verizon choking "unlimited" data accounts by merely claiming they didn't mean unlimited as in "without limits."

Yep, somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed (grave) this morning - but if they can piss off thirty year veterans - what's the hope in transforming the current generation? Surprisingly they won't be prying my SP3 from my cold dead hands (unless I punt it to eBay heaven to "upgrade" to a SP4) - but I can see a lot of those iPad XL's getting into the hands of unsuspecting users because Microsoft has no toes left...and they deserve the great platform Surface should be - not an iPad XL.

My point is plain and simple - I've owned the Surface Pro, Surface Pro 2, and now Surface Pro 3 - EVERY ONE came out of the box with wireless network issues (thank you Marvel), display quirks and failures (thank you Intel), and connected standby that still cannot do what a MacBook Air can - close the lid and it powers down with no battery drain (thank you Intel/Microsoft); all problems continuing in the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4. This is 2015 and we are long past the days when vendors can just point fingers around the room at one another saying its a hardware-firmware-driver-software issue.

And worst still, most of us are the fanboy/evangelists for the new Microsoft - which is just turning out to be the old Microsoft in hipper (untucked shirts) clothing. If they lose the evangelists, they have truly lost the war, because if we give up on driver installs, registry workarounds, and system restores, what is the hope for the average consumer?

I realize these devices are aspirational devices, but when you claim they are the tablet that replace your laptop, they have to deliver. I'm with you; only the tech savvy need venture here (to Microsoft).

AND yet I still love my Surface Pro 3 (loud fan and all) I psychotic - DON'T ANSWER THAT...

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Take the Thunder - or Stick With the Existing Storm...

"The Surface Pro 4 is about bringing the thunder..."

Go for the THUNDER (or stick with the original STORM if you have one)...

The public experience with the Surface Book has been a real let down so far. Flickering screens; random freezes; and failed connected standby. We experienced some of these this past week. I'll skip the little stuff, (color shift, random keyboard disconnects), but the random freezes are more than just a PITA - you lose stuff you are working on, besides not being able to run the thing reliably. The screen and freezes should be fixed shortly, but I am really getting tired of first release Surface devices ALWAYS having connected standby failures - for ours, when closed, the system gets hot on top and bottom and burns through 14-15% per hour while in "sleep" as if it were running a video game. But then again, how many updates have we suffered through these last 16 months to get to the stable SP3 I'm using now.

Any V1 device should be suspect, and you should realize that going in. But this one was supposed to be a top notch competitor for the MacBook Pro coming out of the gate. It is just not ready for prime time, and I would expect a $3000 device (with taxes) to at least be usable, much less Panos' "I close it and I save every bit of battery life; no drain..." - I'm sorry, but that's just not the case. I've told him to go back and exchange it for a Surface Pro 4. If he had been a Surface Pro 3 user, I would have told him to stay put.

I love the Surface ecosystem. I love the screen, design, fit, finish, and concept of the Surface Book. The Surface Pro 4 is a great evolution of the Surface Pro 3 and the design and build quality is exceptional. However, the Surface Book looks like it needed more time in the oven. I don't know how widespread these snafus are, but they just shouldn't be happening like this unless it's really not stable, Soooooooo....

If you have an SP3, stand pat for a while (GET THE NEW KEYBOARD)...

If you have to be in the market, go SP4 and get the thunder he brung ya...

PS - I am going to keep plugging the new Type Cover 4 until I am blue in the face - it is as great an improvement over the Type Cover 3 as the original Type Cover 1 was over Touch Cover 1. It is extraordinary; you will enjoy the typing experiences and you will love the fingerprint reader.

If you don't have a dock, get the new dock NOW - it is effortless expansion and convenience. If you have the old one, but want to be able to keep your Surface Pro in a note taking position, get the replacement.

As for the pen...hmmmmmmmm...tough call. The on screen feel is a lot better, but I just don't see any difference in latency, hover distance, or inking (other than that nib) - I'd stay with the original (which I am) and wait it out for your next Surface Pro experience.

Friday, October 30, 2015

I Love My "New" Surface Pro 3!

YES, you read it right - I love my NEW, or more accurate "Renewed" Surface Pro 3. After a lot of soul searching (and technolust suppression), I decided not to upgrade from the SP3 to an SP4. The lack of fan sound and i7 Iris Graphics would be nice improvements, but not anywhere near compelling.

ON THE OTHER HAND - the accessories are good to great improvements, and have truly renewed my nearly 16 month old SP3.

The BEST of the new accessories is the new keyboard with fingerprint reader. In a nutshell it is as good as almost any laptop except for the very best (ThinkPad, MacBook, and maybe HP x360).  The fingerprint reader is near perfect - accurate and nearly as fast as my iPhone 6s Plus (and faster than my wife's iPhone 6). Security is now a pleasure, not a curse. 

The dock is my next new best friend. I can now adjust my SP3 to any angle (particularly valuable for note taking); takes up a lot less space, and gives me TWO min-DP outputs - no more daisy chaining. Don't get me wrong, I have loved the ability  to daisy chain and use two monitors - BUT - once or twice a week Windows goes brain dead - can't see the daisy chain, and I have to start all over identifying and resetting monitor placement.

Last, but not least, the new pen. The pros - it is heftier and better balanced, pen nib really gives extremely better feel to writing. Cons: no real change in hover distance or inking accuracy (parallax and lag). Without a doubt, if I could get the new nib in the old pen I'd stay with the original. The eraser works well, BUT - since I've retrained myself from my Wacom days to use the second button and erase with the pen tip - I no longer want to waste time turning it over to erase.

With all the reports of hardware glitches in the new Surface Book, and the fact the SP4 is not a significant upgrade over the SP3, I am loving my "new" SP3. And, a recent quote from Paul Thurrott on Windows Weekly is ringing in my ears (and my wallet) - If you want to see the Surface Pro 5, add a couple of USB 3-Type C (or Thunderbolt) ports and more battery to the SB Clipboard - and you have it. I think he's right, and THAT is something worth saving the shekels for.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Are You "Tablet" or "Laptop" First?

It may look like a heavy weight title fight all in the same camp - Surface Pro 4 vs. Surface Book, but from my vantage point (the cheap seats) it is already shaping up as an easy decision tree, but with THREE obvious choices. I have read far too many "hands on previews" (what exactly can you garner form a 15 minute play session) and my own fondling of the Surface Pro 4 at Best Buy, but all told it comes down to a fairly simple proposition to me:

It all begins with whether you are "tablet first" or "laptop first." You know who you are.
  • Go Surface Proif you want the smallest, lightest, most portable package, and are more than happy with a dock for desktop class performance - then you are "tablet first" and you are squarely in the Surface Pro Camp. 
  • Go Surface Book if: 
    • You really use your laptop "in your lap" a large part of the time, and can't ever see yourself without all the ports and power you can carry, then you are "laptop first" and you should race to a Surface Book preorder, or
    • You need the "biggest screened tablet" you can get.
*You may have noticed I said "Surface Pro" above for a very good reason. That's why we have door number three. If you don't now own a Surface Pro 3: 
  • Go Surface Pro 4 (that includes you dude in the back with a Surface Pro or Pro 2). Do not scrimp by thinking you will be happy getting the (several hundred dollar) lower price Surface Pro 3. The screen technology, SkyLake benefits, and slightly thinner/sleeker package warrant that purchase, HOWEVER:
  • Go Surface Pro 3 if you already own one (especially a higher end model) and sit this one out. Better still, buy the new Type Cover with fingerprint reader, dock, and pen, and upgrade your experience across the board without a significant loss caused by the sale of the old Pro 3 and purchase of the new shiny Pro 4. There is just not enough of a value proposition, UNLESS you need one or more of the following:
    • more SSD storage (up to 1TB now), 
    • the hover distance and pressure sensitivity of the new screen are game changers (I just don't see that for note takers only, but hey...), or 
    • the Iris Graphics in the i7 540 is a big step up for your graphics/gaming needs.
There is one more caveat: the Surface Book GPU - the unknown power of the new custom GPU in the Surface Book, which if truly a graphics game changer, could tilt the entire "simple" analysis above in favor of the Surface Book. If it is as amazing as Panos' demo showed, and you are willing to use it in convertible tablet mode to give you the GPU power while you draw (just like Panos did when drawing the plates on the back of the T-Rex), then go for it.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

First Thoughts on the Surface Pro 4

I've managed to log 15-20 minutes of Surface Pro 4 playtime at Best Buy, and have the following first look observations - from the perspective of a one year Surface Pro 3 owner:
  • It is indeed thinner and a bit lighter. I kind of dissed this in my first five minute look, and it is just not a great savings. It is thinner by about the thickness of the backplate portion of the SPro 2 (if you could imagine the depth of your SPro 3 ending at the end of the venting slots, that's all the thinness you gain). The weight difference is truly negligible.
  • The screen is larger, but again there is just not a very significant difference between 12.0" and 12.3". It does seem a bit brighter, and the text is sharp and crisp, a little more so than the SPro 3, but again, is that really a game changer?
  • Inking does seem better - but mostly because of the newer pen nibs, eraser, and hover/palm rejection, The pen does work well on the SPro 3, and the nib friction is great, but not a major improvement in inking like you see on the SPro 4 (except for the eraser, which as a Wacom devotee I really relish).
  • It does seem quieter, with no fan noise, but this is not an i7 like my SPro 3 where fan noise is consistent(ly a PAIN).
  • The keyboard is a mandatory update for SPro 3 users - although it still has some bounce, it is not as bad as the SPro 3 cover (which was a great improvement for its time), it doesn't flex at all when hammering the keys; key spacing is excellent; the trackpad is truly WORTHY of being called a trackpad.
All in all, a nice evolution for first time buyers, but by no means a necessary (or even recommended) upgrade for an SPro 3 owner unless:
  • You need more storage (there's now an i5/16gb/512gb SKU - YES! and a blow it out i7/16gb/1tb SKU)
  • Inking (especially art work) is critical. For me, I turn off pressure in OneNote just to keep OneNote files manageable when sharing - otherwise they are huge. Just don't see this as a significant break through for note takers.
  • The IRIS graphics in the high end i7 is valuable to you.
Gadget freak here just doesn't get worked up about this model. The i7/16gb/1tb with IRIS graphics holds some interest, but not enough for the $2700 upcharge. I'll reserve my technolust for the Surface Book. I want to see if the 3200x2000 screen is as eye-bleeding as the 3200x1800 on my wife's XPS 15 - we have it blown out to 250% scaling because so many programs (looking at you Adobe) still scale miserably on the desktop. Remember, I returned the Dell XPS 13 Infinity for the same reason. Text is to INSANELY tiny.

For now I have ordered the new keyboard, dock*, and pen for my SPro 3 (its an i7/8gb/512gb
model), and I'm waiting to see if Surface Book turns my head (which I believe it may, just because of the stunning design - but oh my lord, a rumored $3199 for the i7/16gb/1tb "unannounced" MODEL? That fingerprint reader on the Type Cover is to die for...

*About that dock - they don't have one on display, but I'm all in on it. It is so much more versatile than the upright dock - I can now set my SPro 3 at any angle while docked, and it could even come with me for extended stints away from the office. Thank you Panos for that little gem.

It is still way too early in this ballgame, but this very satisfied SPro 3 owner may hold out for the next models with Thunderbolt 3 expand-ability (heavens, it looks like all of the SPro 4 competitors have already adopted at lest one, if not more, Thunderbolt ports). Maybe that's a concession to its OEM's so they don't completely freak about Microsoft entering the laptop market. I can't imagine they are pulling an IBM micro-channel stubborness over their proprietary docking port.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Microsoft Pulls Off an Apple Event

Microsoft scheduled a release event yesterday.....and Apple showed up.

For me, it was an Apple fanboy-like experience, and over at Tablet PC Review I opined that we saw the "birth of the next Apple." If you haven't seen it, watch for the "reveal of the Surface Book" at the very end of Panos' one more thing moment. Perfect showmanship befitting the king of the reality distortion field. 

After a little overnight reflection, I wanted to take a minute for a more serious thought about why I didn't pre-order yesterday, for the benefit of any newbies and lurkers who are hanging around here. 

Readers Digest version:

  1. Surface Book is stunning, but truly geared for those who crave a great laptop experience with occasional tablet functionality
  2. Surface Pro 4 - a nice evolution of the Surface Pro series, with great additions of 16gb RAM and 1tb SSD options, near perfect for first time buyers wanting a tablet that can stand in (pun intended) for an ultrabook
  3. Current Surface Pro 3 owners - not much reason to upgrade to SP4, especially if you have a higher end SP3 SKU (i5/8/256 or i7/8/512)
The details:

Microsoft held an Apple-like presentation yesterday and wowed the tech universe.

The "big surprise" and the star of the show was the Surface Book. The design is gorgeous; the specs are top of the line; the tablet alone is groundbreaking and adding the keyboard/base with discrete GPU is just brilliant. All of the specs and goodies of MacBook Pro, with touch, pen, and tablet built in. Apple has to be reeling a bit, especially the MacBook Pro team.

The Surface Pro 4 is a very good evolution of the Surface Pro line, especially the new top end SKU's (16gb RAM and 1tb SSD). A bit thinner, a bit lighter, and it looks to have much better cooling system between the fans and liquid cooling. Surprisingly, battery life is about the same as the SP3. The new "cabled" docking solution is a godsend, and it looks (and from reviewers, sounds) like it may be the best tablet keyboard ever. It is a great successor to the brand, but I just don't feel it is a compelling upgrade for SP3 users, unless you crave silence or more RAM/SSD space.


  • Microsoft NOT specifying the CPU's and GPU's it is using, nor the benchmarks or other standards for their hyperbole - ripped directly from the Apple playbook
  • No smart frame (guess we were all chasing ghosts)
  • SP4 screen size is less than 1/2" bigger, but has even smaller pixels (old eyes say "enough already")
  • No USB 3 Type C (really - there is plenty of room)*
  • No Thunderbolt 3 (the shame, the shame)
  • No optional LTE (really?)
The biggest downer was not replacing the mini-DP port with either a single Type C or Thunderbolt 3 port. Either could provide high quality external video PLUS a higher speed data connection. This is particularly a failure in the Surface Book where there is more than enough space for additional small ports. In fact, even Panos admitted that the SP4 was as thick as it is only for the need to keep a USB 3 port. I agree with that decision, but that doesn't excuse the absence of the better port - but his comment may be a mini-leak in itself that SP5 will be thinner because it can use thinner ports. Hope springs eternal.

The Net Result:

I stick by my emotional outbursts yesterday - we have witnessed the birth of the next Apple, but I am going to stand pat for now. 

With the exception of the phones, the product line is the highest quality, best made, visually stunning, and highly functional Windows product line out there - every bit as compelling as the apple lineup. Hopefully they will announce a Surface phone in the near future to complete the circle. Here's also hoping next year's event brings Smart Frame (especially with a 15" version of the Surface Book) and Thunderbolt 3 (maybe they are just going to skip Type C altogether).

For me, on paper (on screen?) the SP4 is not enough of an upgrade to warrant dealing with eBay for now. I have ordered the new Type Cover, dock, and pen, but it is likely the pen will go back if it just duplicates the SP3 pen on our older tablet. For me, I love the thinness of the SP line over the thicker SB package. However, it is still the Surface Book that holds the most attraction - it's design aesthetic; great keyboard (according to every reviewer I've seen); discrete GPU; and split personality.

Later this week I'll grade my predictions (with the exception of the missing smart frame, I think I may have gotten a B).

Monday, October 5, 2015

Final Prediction Time - What Will October 6 Bring? (UPDATED)


Steve S over at Tablet PC Review had a genius idea. What if the new Surface Pro 4 comes in two flavors - lowered priced SKU with no Smart Frame and an upper priced SKU with a nearly 13.5" totally bezel-less Smart Frame. Solves the "mystery" about Microsoft's two displays (12" and 14"); they both fit in the same chassis and all the same accessories. Just think

Surface Pro 4 - i3, 4-8gb, 128gb SSD, current 12" screen (fanless?)

Surface Pro 4 XL - i5/i7, 8gb-16gb, 256gb-1tb, 13.5" Smart Frame

Frankly, I would endorse this whole-heartedly over my predictions below.

Benedict Evans made a great (and sad) analysis of Microsoft's decline since the release of the original iPhone - the total market has turned to smartphones and tablets vs the traditional personal computing market before June 2007. Of course, when they are selling "billions" of smartphones between Apple and Android, this is definitely skewed (face facts, everyone over the age of 14 on the planet has a smartphone). It ignores the fact that Microsoft Windows still owns the desktop/laptop market, but it is clear that "mobile" is the space to be in.

Tomorrow will begin the return of Microsoft's relevance - here are my predictions.

Surface Pro

  • No more numbering of models (see below to see why)
  • SkyLake Core i3-i7 (sorry, no Core M)
  • Smart Frame - 13"(laptop) and 12"(tablet) mode screen - no 4k but a few more pixels for width
  • 4gb-8gb RAM options
  • 64gb- 512gb SSD options
  • Thunderbolt 3 replaces current mini-DP (not for power)
  • Optional LTE
  • Not changing
    • No change in dimensions
    • Still using fans (hopefully tuned to be quieter)
    • Still includes USB 3 port
    • No additional battery
    • No different pen, other than being "better tuned" for pressure/lag

Surface Pro XL (The Big Surprise)
  • 14" 4k display - with Smart Frame technology
  • SkyLake i5-i7
  • 8gb-16gb RAM
  • 256gb-1tb SSD
  • Two Thunderbolt 3 ports and 1 USB 3 port
  • System powered through the Thunderbolt 3 port
  • $149 Type Cover and $249 solid based "real" laptop keyboard (with additional battery)
  • Thinner than Surface Pro (0.30" or less), and with new keyboard under 0.7" and sub-3 pounds
  • Limited availability until Q1 2016

Lumia Smartphones
  • No need to comment here - Microsoft already leaked everything, but -
    • Will release with Windows Phone 10 - not 8.1 with "promise" of free upgrade
    • Will have same "meh" reception with journalists and public alike
  • Surprise Number 2, and bad news for Lumia - they will "preview" next Spring's Surface Phone (Behance concept phone at right - perhaps more wishful thinking on my part)
Band 2
  • Thinner, lighter, curved display (already pretty much leaked)
  • Better battery life
  • Better health related sensors
The Rest (Snooze Time)
  • Limited release Hololens support in the next Xbox - but VERY EXPENSIVE ($800 +/-)
  • Windows 10 Threshold
  • Windows Phone 10 release

Friday, October 2, 2015

What is the "Surprise" Coming on October 6?

Mary Jo Foley, among many others, has been reporting that her sources say there is a "surprise" in store at Tuesday's big reveal, beyond the "known" release of the Surface Pro 4, the leaked Lumias (950 and 950XL), and the Band II. My money's on a near bezel-free screen on the Surface Pro 4. WinBeta's mock-up is at the right, that shifts to bezels when in tablet mode (Smart Frame from the North Cape Prototype).

There are others who are betting on a 14" model with a more laptop-like removable keyboard for the full ultrabook experience. I have real doubts about Microsoft wanting to compete with its OEM's bread and butter devices. Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba, Acer all make high quality 14-15" devices, including the upcoming Dell XPS 15 Infinity. That's why I think squeezing a 13"-13.3" screen in that same Surface Pro 3 shell.

Xbox - nah...more Hololens news - nah nah. My dark horse for the surprise is a Surface Phone - a truly Surface inspired Windows 10 Phone bringing Continuity goodness to Windows Phone fans. I have real doubts about this - it would crush sales of the new Lumias, but in the same breath, how pissed off would you be if you bought a Lumia 950 XL and next spring Microsoft releases this:

Check out the concept designer's site at Surface Phone. That design and feature set would push the iPhone 6s Plus out of my death grip, even if I have to give up my music collection and FaceTime with the family. Still, my money is on the Smart Frame addition to the Surface Pro 4 as our "surprise of the day.".

Surface Pro 4 - Is a "Smart Frame" in Our Future?

The rumors are running rampant that the Surface Pro 4 will come with near bezel-less borders, in something they describe as "Smart Frame" which enables larger bezels when disconnected from the keyboard or dock. CAN YOU SAY HALLELUJAH! 

WinBeta citing W4pHub (be sure to translate the later site). The mock up at the left is here for your enjoyment, but I have to smile about my speculation about this, based upon the Intel North Cape prototype from CES 2013 that I discussed in an earlier post. Obviously the WinBeta folks haven't seen that, as they feel it is technologically impossible, but of course Intel already proved feasibility two years ago. I just sure hope this is for real, and not based upon rank rumor and speculation.

Anyway, this would not only be a game changer, it would solidify my comments about Microsoft 
dropping the hammer and running up the score. Only the most staunch Apple sycophants could continue the gibberish about the superiority of the iPad XL design, and pity the poor fools who fall for the Pixel C. Here's hoping that October 6 is a kick-ass day for Microsoft (and us users).

One more thought - Mary Jo Foley, on Windows Weekly yesterday, reiterated that her sources say there is one more "big" surprise coming on October 6, and I think this is it; at least I sure hope so...

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Time for Microsoft to Run Up The Score!

This video explains EVERYTHING - Apple fanboyism; tech journalist adoration for Apple; tech journalist excuse-making for Apple; the routine reaction that "Apple invented ________" or "Apple made the first true usable _________." The current gaga over the iPad XL just continues the insanity. 

If Jobs taught us nothing else, it was that perception is even more important than reality. This is the case with every Apple "re-invention" where whatever they copy and modify becomes "the best" in the public's mind regardless the reality. In fact, MP3 players did not exist before iPod (Rio?); there were no smartphones until the iPhone (poor poor Treo); tablets sprung fully formed from the iPad (sorry Microsoft); no ultrabooks until Microsoft Air (Toshiba Portege anyone); and now it is the hybrid device category with a blatant Surface rip-off called iPad XL and it's $99 pencil (for shame they admit it is a pen or stylus).

Microsoft needs to crush it on October 6. WE all know (and in their hearts, all the reviewers know) the iPad XL and Pixel C can't even match the Surface 3, much less the Pro model. But for Microsoft to win the battle, they need to win by more than a couple of touchdowns - they need a blowout, where the only thing the critics can hang their hats on will be "gee, it sure is expensive."

This is no time for little league mercy rules - run up the score and smile big while you do it. Especially against the iPad XL, which is aimed at only two fields, one of which Microsoft will never win, artistic designers, and the other, enterprise, which Microsoft needs to continue to own. You've got a lead now Microsoft...slam dunk the damn ball!