Category Archives: Microsoft

Venturer BravoWin Hybrid Notebook Review



Venturer LogoMicrosoft and small Windows devices are in a difficult space. There’s no doubt that for serious work, a full desktop or laptop is needed, whether based on an Apple or Microsoft OS. When it comes to tablets and phones, Windows is away in the distance behind iOS and Android.

Into this place comes the Venturer 2-in-1 Mini Windows Notebooks, consisting of the BravoWin 10KT at GB£149 and the EliteWin 11KT at £199. These are hybrid devices, capable of switching between tablet and notebook mode by detaching the keyboard. The main difference between the two models is the screen size (10.1″ 1280×800 v. 11.6″ 1366×768) and here we have the little brother, the BravoWin. I’d never heard of Venturer before but they’re a Hong Kong-based outfit so let’s take a look.

BravoWin Tablet

As a hybrid, the BravoWin comes in two pieces, namely the screen and the keyboard, which come together by slotting the screen into a hinge on the keyboard. The overall dimensions are roughly 26.6 cm by 16.8 cm by 2.4 cm when closed up with a bit of an air gap between the keyboard and screen, though it tapers towards the front. The tablet itself is 1 cm thick.

Opening the BravoWin as a notebook, the hinge rotates downwards to raise the rear of the keyboard up for a slight slope. A soft felt pad along the hinge protects the surface and while the keys on the keyboard are quite small, they do travel nicely. There’s a small button-less touchpad at the front too where double tapping on the left and right side of the keyboard simulates the mouse buttons.

BravoWin Hybrid Tablet

While beauty might be in the eye of the beholder, the BravoWin is no looker. It’s two tone plastic, part dark gray, part silver with buttons, speaker grilles and ports all over the place. Well, not quite everywhere; most are located on one end of the tablet. There’s an HDMI mini, micro SD slot, DC power in, micro USB port, 3.5mm earphone, power on/off button, USB 2 port and Windows button. The BravoWin can be charged both via the micro USB and the DC power in, with a PSU supplied in the box. On the back of the tablet, there’s volume up / down controls and reset button. There’s nothing on the keyboard which is a pity as an extra USB port or two would have been handy.

Edge of BravoWin

In terms of build quality, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The keyboard and keyboard hinge seem quite sturdy. The tablet itself is plastic and it creaks a little in use. It’s not flimsy but it’s not tremendously reassuring either. Having said that, the promotional material extols the BravoWin’s drop resistance, claiming that it’ll survive a drop from 1.2 m. I didn’t test this…..

BravoWin Hinge

The 10.1″ 1280×800 screen is perfectly acceptable and possibly quite a bit better than some I’ve seen recently. It does suffer a little from backlight bleeding around some of the edges, but it’s most noticeable around the hinge when the notebook is booting and the screen is black. It’s not something I’d worry about in day-to-day use, though. In terms of touch, I found the screen responsive and at times, I ended up using the touchscreen more than the touchpad.

The processor is an Intel Atom Z3735F quad-core clocked at 1.3 GHz (boosts to 1.8 GHz) with 2 GB RAM and 32 GB (28 GB reported) of storage and there’s around 16 GB of space free so the micro SD slot is going to come in useful – it will take cards up to 64 GB. Windows 10 Home is installed, though it’s only the 32bit version despite the 64-bit processor. There’s 11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth too.

Performance is perfectly adequate for what you might call undemanding tasks – surfing the web, watching YouTube, playing Cut The Rope – and you can have a few apps open before switching apps slows it down. Obviously this depends on the apps you are using and the BravoWin is no Surface Pro 4, so adjust expectations accordingly. Regardless, I found it very usable. Battery life is rated at 8 hours and I got over six hours one day without completely exhausting the battery.

BravoWin Back

The 2 MP cameras are a bit disappointing (tablet cameras usually are) and I couldn’t get the front-facing camera to work in the standard Camera app – the app kept crashing. It did work fine in Skype so it’s not a hardware problem in itself. Cortana wasn’t very happy with the microphone either, complaining about low volume. The microphone is positioned on the end of the tablet along with the ports and wasn’t very good at picking up sound unless you were quite close to the mic.

My biggest problem though was with the keyboard and touchpad, and while this sounds like a break-up letter, the problem was me. I’m a man with big hands and I really did not get on with this keyboard. Technically it worked fine but I was constantly pressing the wrong keys, hitting the touchpad when I didn’t mean to and so on. Probably a better choice for children or people with smaller hands than mine.

The BravoWin is the first tablet I’ve used with Windows 10 and it’s certainly much better than its OS predecessors. I still get frustrated at the hybrid nature of Windows 10 at times, with it seemly unable to decide whether it’s a desktop or tablet operating system. Still, this is hardly the fault of the BravoWin so we’ll move on.

Coming to the end of the review, it’s difficult to place the Venturer BravoWin in the marketplace. It’s competing both against Windows laptops and notebooks, and against Android and Apple tablets. It’s not easy to pigeonhole the BravoWin and identify the best use cases, though the obvious ones are people who need Windows on a device strong enough to throw in a bag without worrying. Sounds like a student to me.

Let’s state this plainly: the BravoWin is a cheap small robust hybrid notebook running Microsoft Windows 10. If that’s what you need and you don’t have much cash, then take a look as it fits the bill nicely. People with large hands might want to check out the bigger EliteWin.

Both the BravoWin and the EliteWin are available from Amazon and other good retailers with an RRP of GB£149 and £199 respectively.

Thanks to Venturer for the loan of the BravoWin and if you like the wallpaper, check out Smashing Magazine’s monthly selection.


Windows 10 Update takes down professional gamer live on Twitch



Microsoft logoA lot has been made about Microsoft’s latest operating system Windows 10. Many people prefer it over the operating system it replaced, though that isn’t necessarily saying much. The big problem people have with this latest platform is how much Microsoft is pushing it, and doing so hard.

The latest problem that Microsoft’s relentless pushing has caused happened to professional gamer Erik Flom, and it was live on the game streaming site Twitch.

This isn’t the first time such an incident has occurred, we recently saw during a TV news broadcast when the weather map was suddenly overlaid by a prompt to upgrade to Windows 10. While that incident was taken good-naturedly by the meteorologist, this one did not meet with the same reaction. There was cursing involved and video of the whole incident has gone viral thanks to Reddit.

In this case, it was not a message prompting the upgrade, Flom already was using the OS. But getting it doesn’t solve the problem of Microsoft inserting itself into people’s lives. Updates to Windows 10 can also be forced. There’s an obvious reason for that — security vulnerabilities.

But as security firm Sophos points out “Unfortunately, cyberattackers don’t need to rely on zero-days, where a security patch isn’t available, because so many users remain unprotected against security bugs with fixes that are available – and have been for weeks, months, or even years”.

While Microsoft pushing these updates can be looked at as a good thing, perhaps there could be a better way, such as doing so when a PC is inactive.


Xbox One Consoles Getting Full Development Kit Support



xbox one controllerDeveloping new games for Microsoft’s Xbox One console is about to get much easier. During today’s Build 16 conference, Microsoft announced it will soon offer a software update that will turn any Xbox One into a full development kit. Previously, dev-ready Xbox Ones were provided on a limited basis. This change will make the full Xbox One development kit available to all Xbox One owners.

This move is taking place as part of Microsoft’s strategy to bring Windows 10 to multiple platforms, including computers, tablets, phones, and Xbox consoles. Dev kits are already made easily available for these other platforms, so it seemed like the right time for the Xbox One to fall in line.

This change should give a real boost to independent game developers. Under the limited distribution system previously offered by Microsoft, some Xbox One developer kits were made available to independent developers. But kits were usually made more readily available to larger AAA-level game developers. Turning all Xbox Ones into dev-ready kits levels the playing field and also opens up the process to hobbyists and others who want to learn more about game development. (It was possible to unlock some of the Xbox One developer kit prior to this update. That process wasn’t officially supported by Microsoft and it didn’t grant access to the full kit.)

The new Xbox One development kit is currently available as a free preview. It will be officially released this summer and will require a $19 fee along with a Microsoft Dev Center account.


Surface Pro 3 Update



SurfaceIt’s been going on about three months since buying a Surface Pro 3 tablet with a 256 gigabyte SSD, an I-5 processor, and Windows 10 preinstalled, so I figure it’s time for a bit of an update.

Since getting the device, there has been one major Windows 10 update, along with countless small spyware and virus updates for Windows Defender, which is built in to Windows 10.

So far, between the hardware and the operating system, there have been zero hiccups. Windows 10 has been absolutely rock solid. I am still really enjoying the Windows 10 experience. The one area lacking with the Windows 10 tablet experience has been the lack tablet mode apps from the Windows App Store. Many types of apps are just non-existent, or as in the case of the Windows Facebook app, are barely adequate but obviously lacking in up-to-date Facebook features present in the Android and iOS counterpart apps. I am willing to overlook this poor Windows app experience because I can easily just go to the various websites and get the full website experience if I need to. Also, my Galaxy Note 4 phone is where I end up running most of the standard apps anyway, so when it comes right down to it I don’t need them on a large-screen tablet device anyway.

I also purchased the older generation Microsoft Keyboard. Additionally for a paltry $15.99 I purchased the Fintie Surface Pro 3 Case Folio Slim-fit Leather Stand Cover with Stylus Holder from Amazon. The version I got was navy blue, but it comes in a very wide variety of colors and print designs. Fintie also sells an updated version of the case for the Surface Pro 4 for $13.99. Both products are highly rated. The case does an excellent job of protecting the unit and gives me a very secure loop along the top of the screen to insert the Microsoft Pen stylus that came packaged with the unit.

Of course the big advantage of the Surface Pro line is that it packs a full, powerful PC into a thin tablet form factor combined with an amazing high-resolution screen.

I spend weeks at a time traveling and living in a very compact area. The less bulky stuff I can carry with me, the better. The Surface Pro 3 completely covers my mobile computing needs. I was able to delete an entire laptop bag from the stuff I carry around with me, which included an old white plastic MacBook and an old Asus netbook.

I still listen to a number of popular Apple-centric podcasts, and I am beginning to hear the frustrations I suffered with for at least the past year when I was trying to decide what to do in order to update my computing hardware. I thought about newer MacBooks, but because they forced newer versions of OS/X, they wouldn’t run the aging media creation software I wanted to run. The iPad experience is great for media consumption, but is absolutely painful for even the most minimal productivity tasks including writing articles and media creation.

The Surface Pro 3 has solved my problem. I am confident to travel just with it, since it is more than capable of handling all the tasks I need it to handle. I feel a bit sorry for the people who are trapped in the Apple-only mentality. Fortunately, even though I bought my fair share of Apple products in the past 10 years, I wasn’t trapped and could easily switch back to Windows once Microsoft corrected its terrible operating system mistakes (namely Vista and Windows 8) with the release of Windows 10.

I hear people use the phrase “living in the future.” For me, the future is here and I am already enjoying it as never before. I have a super-high-quality, unbelievably fast touchscreen tablet that also happens to be a full PC that can handle everything I throw at it.


Huion Digital Artist’s Glove



Huion Digital Artist GloveI recently purchased a Huion brand Digital Artist Glove for Drawing Tablet via Amazon for use when drawing and painting with my Surface Pro 3 using the Microsoft Pen digital stylus. The idea of a digital artist’s glove is to electrically isolate the parts of one’s hand that would normally rest on the surface of a glass capacitive touchscreen when drawing or painting. This allows the same relaxed natural hand posture that is used when writing or drawing directly on paper, allowing the side of the hand to rest directly on the surface of the glass without interfering at all with the drawing or painting process with the digital stylus.

I find that the Huion Artist Glove for Drawing Tablet works perfectly to isolate the side of my hand from a glass capacitive touchscreen such as on my Surface Pro 3 and also my iPad Air. It provides a very natural, relaxed drawing experience. Normally one must hold one’s hand in a rather unnatural hovering position when drawing or writing with a stylus on a touchscreen surface. An artist’s glove neatly solves this problem. The Huion Artist Glove for Drawing Tablet seems to be made of some sort of stretchy, smooth lycra material.

However, trying the same glove on my Lenovo C40 all-in-one touchscreen computer, curiously the glove does not work at all to isolate. I don’t know this to be a fact, however I suspect that the Lenovo C40 touchscreen is made out of some sort of plastic conductive material and not true glass. Tapping lightly on the Lenovo C40 touchscreen to my ears sounds more like tapping on a plastic material than it does tapping on true glass. If you decide to get one of these artist’s gloves, make sure that the capacitive touchscreen you intend to use it on is made out of glass and not a form of plastic material.

The Huion Artist Glove for Drawing Tablet seems to be sized a bit small. Reading the Amazon reviews ahead of time, I ordered the large size. I’m glad I did. The glove fits my hand just fine, but it is certainly not what I would in any way consider a loose fit.

The Huion Artist Glove for Drawing Tablet is constructed in such a way that it can fit either the right or the left hand. It completely covers the wrist, the little finger and the figner next to it; leaving the middle finger, index finger and thumb completely exposed since those are the fingers we typically use to hold a pen or pencil.

Even though my Surface Pro 3 has great palm rejection with included Microsoft applications such as OneNote, the palm rejection feature does not function in every application, especially third party drawing and painting applications such as Adobe Photoshop Elements. Using the digital artist’s glove gives me complete freedom to rest my hand on the screen as much as I want, especially useful when making delicate interactions with the stylus on the screen.

I suspect one using an iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil stylus would enjoy similar benefits.

The Huion Artist Glove for Drawing Tablet sells for $17.99 and is an Amazon Prime item. I highly recommend it to anyone that draws even casually on a glass capacitive touchscreen device. I would suggest going ahead and ordering the large size.

 


Microsoft Office 365 reveals new communication enhancements for business



MicrosoftMicrosoft Office 365 is for home user and businesses. In the former case it’s a good deal providing the software for five computers in the customer’s home for a monthly or annual fee. The deal for business is tiered, depending on size, but that’s Microsoft’s biggest customers and it aims to keep them.

To that end, the company is unveiling new enhancements to communications within Office 365. Vice president of Microsoft Office Kirk Koenigsbauer reveals the news in some detail. Also being annouced are some new security features that Microsoft says will add “significant new security and analytics capabilities aimed at dramatically improving our customers’ ability to protect their organizations and glean insights from data”.

Much of the communications is built on Skype, which Koenigsbauer points out has become a verb in today’s world. That’s true, it joins the realm of things like Xerox, Google and Kleenex.

Added are PSTN conferencing which allows people to dial into a meeting from a handset, Skype Meeting broadcast allowing for up to 10,000 attendees and cloud PBX which hopes to let business drop the traditional systems.

On the security side, there is the new Delve Analytics that claims to provide better management of time and relationships. There’s also Customer Lockbox, which Microsoft says will “Give customers new approval rights, transparency and control over their data in the cloud”. Finally there’s Advanced Threat Protection to try and keep people safe from malware and viruses using behavioral analysis.

That should be enough to keep Microsoft’s biggest customers happy for a little while.


Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse



Touchpads and touchscreens are great, but sometimes you just need the ultimate precision of a mouse.Microsoft Arc Mouse Bluetooth

Microsoft has always made great computer mice. The Microsoft Mouse has never tried to pretend to be a fashion computing accessory. It’s always been a reliable workhorse that feels great in the hand, does what it is supposed to do, but otherwise just gets out of the way.

Modern portable computing is all about compactness. A traditional mouse shape isn’t ideal for a portable computer accessory.

I was recently looking for a new portable wireless mouse, and I came across the Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse.

The Ark Touch Mouse consists of a clever arcing design. The arc snaps into the flat position for storage, and into the raised arc position when in use. Cleverly the arc/flat position also serves as the on/off switch – arced is on, and flat is off.

It uses BlueTrack technology that works precisely on virtually any surface, including reflective surfaces such as glass or rough surfaces such as wood or even carpet. I can confirm this claim – it works precisely on every surface I’ve tried, making it extremely useful for portable computing situations.

It has physical left and right mouse buttons, but in the center it has a narrow touch surface that functions as a virtual scroll wheel. The touch surface simulates a scroll wheel with the use of an integrated vibrator that does a pretty good job of mimicking the feel of its physical counterpart. The center touch surface also has an accelerated scrolling function that responds to faster up and down finger motions for fast window scrolling. The palm portion of the mouse is constructed of a smooth rubber material that has a velvety feel that offers a good gripping surface. The mouse runs on two AAA batteries, which are included.

The basic Microsoft Arc Mouse comes in two versions – one with a tiny nano-sized USB dongle that is cleverly magnetized and sticks to the back of the mouse for storage, and the other version with integrated Bluetooth for a few dollars more. On Amazon the Arc Touch Mouse dongle version is currently selling for $39.93 and the Arc Touch Bluetooth Mouse is selling at Amazon for $44.30.

There is also a new Microsoft Arc Touch Arc Mouse Surface Edition that Amazon sells at $58.57 that uses Bluetooth 4.0 that will work with compatible “SmartReady” PC’s and tablets.

The dongle version Arc Touch Mouse is Mac OS/X compatible.

For the Bluetooth versions I would make sure to research specific devices to make certain they can recognize and work with the mouse.

I don’t need the mouse for every task because my Surface Pro 3 type cover has an integrated touchpad that works fine for many jobs. For tasks such as precision video editing, the mouse is easy to pull out of the storage bag, plug the USB dongle in, snap the mouse into the arced “on” position, and it’s ready to go.

If you are looking for a very capable mouse that is easy to store in a flattened state and will work precisely on virtually every surface portable computing situations might force you to encounter, the Arc Touch Mouse is a mouse to consider.


Computers Re-thought



Ergonomics plays a large role in how appealing and useful we find electronic devices, thus ergonomics ends up affecting out behavior more than we realize.Lenovo C40

Like many people back in the 1990’s I was heavily into building my own computers, typically using the ever-popular tower case to house things in. The basic machine included a tower, a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse. We figured out ways of placing the various elements to make using these machines as comfortable as possible, and this basic configuration is still dominant today in most offices.

Over the years, especially early on, I was able to sell many of my old cast-off machines when I would get new equipment. By the time the 2000’s came, computers had saturated the market and older machines weren’t as easily gotten rid of. So, thus began somewhat of a psychological barrier to remain on the upgrade path.

Also at some point I felt that performance had gotten good enough that it really wasn’t as necessary to continually change out the hardware. I ended up keeping machines longer, and they sort of morphed into appliances. I bought a few Macs and they are all still hanging around, including two Mac Minis. Mac Minis, though they are small, still follow the same familiar tower-monitor-keyboard-mouse paradigm.

My recent purchase of a Surface Pro 3 256 did something I didn’t think was possible. It got me excited over the possibilities of an all-in-one touch form factor running Windows 10.

As a result, I’ve been looking at all-in-one desktop touch computers from companies such as HP, Dell, Acer, Asus, Lenovo and Samsung. I developed a bit of a feel for features versus price in the current all-in-one market.

For $449 dollars at my local Office Depot store, I ended up buying a Lenovo C40 series machine with an AMD processor, 8 gigs of RAM expandable to 16, Windows 10 preinstalled, 3 USB 2.0’s, 2 USB 3.0’s, 2 HDMI’s out, a 1920 x 1080 21.5” inch capacitive touch display, integrated CD/DVD writer, Bluetooth 4.0, SD card reader, wired USB keyboard, wired USB mouse, and a one terabyte hard drive. The display machine set up in the store also passed my cursory performance tests, which include how fast menus snap open, as well as how quickly the machine can reboot.

I am enjoying the all-in-one form factor even more than I thought I would. A large portion of the enjoyment surprisingly comes from the ergonomics afforded by the all-in-one form itself. This particular Lenovo model on its stand sits about 4 inches above the surface of the desk. This gets it up high enough that it becomes easier to look at. Also, the USB ports on the side are extremely handy – no fumbling around on the floor behind a machine to try to plug in a USB memory key or SD card – the USB 3.0 ports and SD card reader are conveniently located along the left side of the machine as you are facing it thus placing the ports right where in my case plenty of light falls on them making using them a snap.

Another aspect is that it is easy to bring the entire machine forward far enough that I can encourage myself to keep good posture as opposed to realizing that I’ve unconsciously hunched over into an uncomfortable position.

As noted above the memory can be boosted to 16 gigabytes and the hard drive is also accessible. Rudimentary instructions are included on how the machine comes apart to get at these items.

Despite the fact that the machine is quick and responsive even with video editing, certain processor-intensive tasks such as video rendering are not as fast as the performance one would get out of an Intel i5 or i7. The slow video rendering is likely exposing one of the key weaknesses of the AMD A6-7310 processor. Nonetheless, for basic everyday tasks this model is snappy enough.

The all-in-one touchscreen computer does seem to be catching on with consumers. Windows 10 is the right operating system at the right time. Millions of people have grown quite comfortable with the touchscreen experience and an entire new generation of kids that were born after the advent of the modern capacitive touchscreen are simply expecting it.


Outlook for IOS – My First Look



Screen shot 2015-10-29 at 10.18.28 AMOutlook for iOS has been out awhile, but this is my first look. 

Since I made the switch from Microsoft products to “other” products in 2008 or so, I haven’t looked back…. Until now.  

My wife started a new job and received a Microsoft Surface (Not sure exactly what model) as her work machine.  It came with Windows 8.1 which I wasn’t really impressed with.  When windows 10 came out, I upgraded it for her.  What a world of difference!  I have to say, windows just became usable again.  I have one older laptop that I upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 10 and it works great for what little I use it for. I’m not switching back from Apple for my desktop anytime soon, but I am impressed.

That being said, I notice that Microsoft is now putting out new office apps for iOS and Mac.  I decided I would try Outlook for iOS for email.

I use gmail for my main email and my work email.  I also have an icloud email account.  I figured I would give it a full test and put all 3 in it.  It was really easy, no server addresses, no SSL selections, it just worked (when is the last time you said that about a Microsoft Product?).

Outlook for IOS organizes things a lot like Gmail does.  In threads.  You can turn that off if you want.  It also handles “priority inbox” in Gmail in what is called “Focused Inbox”.   All in all, it’s a great email app and I’m 90% sure I’m going to dump Gmail for IOS as my go-to mobile email app.

Outlook also picked up my calendars from both iCloud and Google. The good thing is it didn’t make dupes like some calendar apps do.  I’m thinking if Microsoft keeps making good stuff like this, they may convert some of the die-hard Apple Fanboys.  

To check out Outlook for IOS, see it in the Apple App Store 


Pickup Trucks



When the late Steve Jobs introduced the iPad a few years ago, he made the analogy comparing the iPad to cars and conventional computers to trucks.

h3tAt its essence it is a good analogy. Cars provide comfortable transportation for a limited number of passengers. Trucks can haul massive payloads. There are a myriad of vehicle sizes in between that serve many different functions. Overall in this blend, there are more cars on the road than trucks, but there are plenty of vehicles that fall into the hybrid category.

What would happen if we press the analogy farther? Where do vehicles such as pickup trucks and the ever-popular SUV variants fit in to Jobs’ vision? Vehicles of different sizes perform different functions

Modern computers also come in many different shapes and sizes. We started out with massive mainframes in corporate and government computing centers, and we have ended up with extremely powerful miniaturized computers that are so inexpensive and useful they are virtually everywhere.

If smartphones could be considered the computer equivalent of the chopped-off looking “Smart” two passenger car, and iPads and other tablets could be considered normal four and five passenger sedans, while desktop and laptop computers are trucks, then where does the ever-popular pickup truck fit in?

Enter the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and 4 tablets that are also powerful PC’s in their own right. After buying and using a Surface Pro 3 for a variety of computing tasks, I’m sold on the Surface Pro 3 form factor. This category of computer – the convertible – has legs.

The Surface Pro 3 and 4 could be considered pickup trucks in Steve Jobs’ analogy. It functions well as a capacitive touchscreen tablet media consumption device, but it also is a full-fledged, no compromises PC that can handle real-world productivity tasks. This is the computer I’ve been looking for since becoming intimately familiar with my first iPad.

I feel the need to reiterate once again that I am a fan of technology. I own many Apple devices as well as Windows and Android devices – I feel no monolithic loyalty to any of them. Setting aside irrational emotional reactions for or against companies or operating systems, the convertible tablet PC is a fantastic computing concept that through blood, sweat and tears Microsoft has made into a reality.

Will the convertible tablet PC catch on? My prediction is yes. Will Apple produce the Mac OS/X version of the Microsoft Surface Pro? Again, my prediction is yes, though they may stubbornly resist for a while the same way they resisted producing larger-screen iPhones — they pivoted when they realized they were leaving money and mindshare on the table.