Category Archives: netbook

Device Wars



surface-bookAs technology relentlessly moves forward, functions continually consolidate and devices get smaller as capabilities increase. This march forward has caused form factors to shift. The first desktop computers were relatively large and boxy and certainly not portable. Over time as laptop computers improved, desktop sales began to fall.

Imagine the succession of devices you have gone through over a long period of time. They start out as clunky and single purpose, and over time as the tech improves they get smaller and some of them are simply absorbed such as camcorder and point-and-shoot cameras. Imagine them endlessly changing and continually morphing as your expectations changed over long periods of time. There is an ongoing war not only between devices, their capabilities and their form factors, but there is also a war going on inside of each end user of these devices as to which one is better and performing specific tasks.

The first mobile phones were large and clunky. Mobile phones went through a long progression over time of getting smaller as capability increased and eventually turned into the ubiquitous smartphones we know and love today.
The ongoing warfront is now between smartphones, tablets running apps such as the iPad, and conventional laptop computers. Which one is better at performing what task?

Up until about 2011, I did all of my mobile computing on laptop machines. I got an iPad 2 in 2011. I found the iPad 2 to be a great media consumption device, so between the iPad 2 and my Android phone, I gradually stopped using my laptops for all but real productivity tasks, where the iPad and other tablets really seem to fall flat.

In 2013, I bought an iPad Air. In retrospect, I justified the purchase to myself thinking that the faster processor in the iPad air might enable me to move completely away from laptop computers altogether. Sadly, this was not the case. The iPad remains a great media consumption device, but as a productivity device it is still quite lacking.

My primary use for computers includes writing articles, editing video, editing my websites, and recording and publishing audio podcasts. While it is possible to do all of these tasks on an iPad or an Android tablet, it’s an unnecessarily painful, slow experience necessitating jumping through multiple hoops.

I believe many people did exactly the same thing I did, trying to turn the iPad into a small ultraportable laptop. The iPad makes a lousy laptop. There is no mouse, and though the iOS apps are great for media consumption, the apps make lousy productivity impostors. The iPad makes a poor netbook. I believe that is why Apple forbids the iPad from using a mouse.
The conventional laptop makes an inferior media consumption device.

Beginning in May of 2014, a new entrant entered the ongoing device war. I believe a significant portion of the future of computing resides in the so-called 2 in 1’s. I don’t believe that conventional laptops or tablets running apps will go away, but I believe the 2 in 1’s such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and above will eat into laptop and tablet sales. Apple has yet to enter this 2 in 1 market, despite the recently-announced iPad Pro. The iPad Pro running iOS apps will be a bigger iPad and thus a bigger media consumption device that can’t run genuine productivity software.

I personally see a future for myself with a large screen smartphone, and a 2 in 1 tablet/computer, with some room left over for inexpensive mid-sized tablets that function as media consumption devices and offer mapping and GPS functions. I will allow my conventional desktop and laptop computers, the majority of them now-older out-of-date Macs, die of attrition as they inevitably quit working over time.


GoNote unveils 7-inch Android netbook



Netbooks are essentially dead, but GoNote apparently has other ideas. At this week’s Gadget Show Live in Birmingham, U.K. the company unveiled a netbook with a different look and purpose. The company is billing the tiny device as “your child’s first computer”.

The 7-inch computer also does not run Windows — not even the basic starter edition that many past devices like this used as an operating system. Nor is it running Chrome OS or Linux. No, the GoNote Mini actually runs Android. “GoNote is one of the first Android products specifically designed to help school-children get access to the best Learning Apps & Games, while becoming familiar with a ‘notebook’ form factor”, the company said in its announcement.

GoNote mini

It has a 7-inch capacitive touchscreen, a “child friendly” QWERTY keyboard, 802.11 b/g/n, supports up to 1920 x 1080 HD video, 16:9 Widescreen Aspect Ratio, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, 1.2GHz ARM Allwinner A10 CPU and 1 GB of DDR 3 RAM.

The GoNote Mini will be become available towards the middle of this month and retail for $99, but will be in the U.K. market, so if you want one in the U.S. you will need to pay a fair amount for shipping.


Are netbooks truly dead in 2013?



Many websites have been parroting a recent report from Digitimes which is ready to call a “time of death” for netbooks, but are they really going the way of the dinosaur? Yes, it is true that Asus is killing its Eee PC line and Acer may follow suit with its line, but it certainly does not ring a death knell for an entire industry.

In fact, I would argue that the platform is alive and well, but only transforming. After all, we just got brand new Chromebooks from both Samsung and Acer, which could very easily be classified as the next generation in this product line.

Larger Front

Let’s face it — the world is still hungry for affordable computers and the attempt to force us to move to overpriced “ultrabooks” is certainly not cutting it with the average consumer.

In short, I find this entire report to be overblown rubbish. It looks at one thing and ignores several others in order to draw a questionable conclusion for sensationalism. Then again, I expect no less from many sites — page views are money and I get that. But, look at the big picture. The market is constantly evolving. The new netbook may well be the Chromebook, which Acer themselves produce. The form factor and price fit the bill. Only the name has changed.


Vivick Anti-Theft Backpack Debuts at CES



Vivick LogoThe theft of mobile electronic devices has become increasingly attractive as the value of gadgets rises and the economy falls. A particularly easy way to steal is to simply open likely-looking backpacks and rucksacks while they’re being worn and remove the gadgetry without the owner noticing. Sometimes the pack can be unzipped quietly, other times it’s cut open with a knife or scissors. A skilled thief can do this while someone is walking along but more commonly it happens on trains and buses.

To defend against this thievery, Canadian firm Vivick will debut their new line of anti-theft backpacks at CES in January, comprising three bags constructed from an anti-slash military-grade gauge nylon with a combination lock built into the zipper tab. Each model is designed to look good while being sturdy and durable, and the carry straps are also strengthened.

Rifling through my satchel this morning, I found a laptop, a tablet, an MP3 player and a somewhat old smartphone (Palm Treo Pro). Even with this last item, the total value of the technology exceeds £1000 (or $1500), so this isn’t a purely theoretical risk.

Vivick is known for its professional electronic designs, having worked for Apple, Sony, Samsung and Dell to create accessories for their own product lines. Vivick has also worked with Aston Martin and Ferrari on interior automotive accessories. Based on these credentials, I’ll be very interested to see what they come up with at CES.


Transit Case/Keypad for iPad



A couple of weeks ago I finally bought an iPad. At the time of purchase, I also bought a inexpensive Griffin iPad case. For about $90, I could have bought a case that came with an integrated Bluetooth keyboard, but I thought that was a bit much for something I really didn’t need considering I’ve got laptop computers coming out my ears.

I was eating in a Flying J truck stop a couple of evenings ago and when I came out of the Denny’s restaurant and into the truck stop’s convenience store area I happened to notice they had a table set up with marked-down items. They had a small quantity of Bluetooth Case/Keypads that also came bundled with a 12-volt USB charging port and AC USB adapter port with the Micro USB charging cable (“Transit” brand model #11017), marked down to $15.

For $15, I figured I couldn’t go wrong!

It turns out that I ended up with a tremendous bargain. The keyboard painlessly paired up with the iPad Bluetooth, and to my surprise the case is for an iPad 2 so I can use the iPad’s built-in cameras. I was even more surprised to discover that when folded up, it is engineered to automatically put the iPad to sleep and also automatically wakes it back up when it is unfolded just like the Apple smart covers. When folded, it isn’t much thicker than the typical third party cushioned iPad case, and when unfolded props the iPad screen up in a vertical laptop-style position. The iPad fits securely in position in the sleeve, yet is easily removable.

As I expected, the 45-hour charge silicone rubber keyboard does not offer the greatest typing experience in the world, but it’s a million times better than trying to touch-type on glass. The typing experience is very similar to typing on the typical netbook keyboard.

For $15 dollars, I am in geek heaven.


Day 3 – A week Using Google Chrome OS




I learned today that making usable audio on Chrome OS is impossible. I tried several times to make a short voice recording and each time it came out really noisy. The built in Mic is not of high quality on the CR48. So my next try was to record with my Sony IC Recorder. The recording turned out great, but the OS wouldn’t recognize the recorder when I plugged it in. It also would not recognize my USB thumb drive. Not sure if that’s an OS thing or a hardware thing. The device does have a SD Card slot so if you had a recorder that used SD Cards, you might be able to go that way with audio (or video for that matter). I am able to do a complete podcast recording, upload to my server and post it using just my Android Phone. So, maybe there is a way with Chrome that I haven’t found yet.

I’ve been doing a lot of typing on the netbook this week and I have to say I’m getting used to the keyboard. The trick is to keep your thumbs up when not using the spacebar. If you don’t, the curser will jump when you are not looking at the screen and then you are inserting text in another part of your document. I guess this is good for better posture but it does take a while to get the hang of. On my Macbook, I don’t have this problem.

I decided to give it the acid test to see if it was ready for prime-time. I let my wife use it. She had no problem creating an account using her Google account login. Step one went well. Let me tell you a bit about my wife. She is NOT a techie person. She uses computers at work because she has to and is very good at what she has to do but doesn’t tweak things. At home, she uses a Mac desktop to play facebook games and keep up with her friends. She also does some light email and web browsing. That’s about it. I gave her the CR48 to use for a while tonight and she picked it right up. Had no trouble playing the flash games she likes (Restaurant City and Hotel City on facebook) She commented on how fast she thought it was compared to her Mac. I found that part strange as I always thought her Mac was quite fast. Anyway, she used it for an hour or so and said “Nice Laptop” and then she asked me “Why did Google send you this for free?” I think she still doesn’t believe me ;) After I’m done testing this thing, I think I might have found a home for it next to the couch.

For Day 4, I’m going to take the CR48 in the field. I want to try out the free 3G from Verizon and how well it connects to public Wifi.


GammaTech DuraBook Rugged Notebook



Paul Kim, VP of Marketing for GammTech demonstrates his rugged laptop to Esby and Jeffrey by giving it some abuse – you’ll have to watch the video to see what he does.

The new D12C is a 12″ convertible, being able to switch between a tablet and notebook configuration. It’s A10F-spec graded withstanding a 3ft drop and spill-resistant – it even has drainplug so that liquid can be let out of the bottom. The exterior of the case is a magnesium alloy.

GammaTech sells plenty of these to the military and the emergency services but they’re also available to consumers via BestBuy and other major stores.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of The Geekazine Podcast and Esbjorn Larsen of MrNetCast.com.

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Other World Computing SSDs



Solid-State Drives (SSDs) haven’t ousted spinning hard drives from the average PC, but they have made significant inroads in the netbook market where the performance of the SSD compensates for the weaker performance of the CPU. Andy McCaskey talks to Larry O’Connor, founder and CEO of Other World Computing (OWC) on how OWC got started, what makes OWC special and why OWC SSDs are the best in class.

If you’re not familiar with SSDs and their features, such as wear-levelling, this video covers much of the technology behind the devices and gives some insight into what to look for when choosing an SSD.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News.

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Cost of PC = Cost of Accessories



That’s a bit harder to answer.

Well, if you’re Jane or Joe Average, you’ll have probably spent pretty much the same again on stuff to enhance your PC, from anti-virus software to graphics card upgrades.  IDC have been looking at the “beyond-the-box” purchases and for every dollar spent on the PC, you spent $1.05 on extra bits’n’bobs in 2009.

This is up from only $0.87 per dollar in 2008, partly due to the fall in price of PCs but overall the market is worth $28.6 billion, which is pretty healthy, regardless.

IDC also said, “PC users have moved en masse toward a Web-centric environment, and cloud-based activities are on the rise. In contrast, productivity-based activities have become a secondary focus among consumers.”  I’m not 100% sure what this means but I think it’s saying that PC use is moving away from writing letters and balancing bank accounts and into entertainment from YouTube, Facebook and Spotify.  No surprises there then.

The Research Director, David Daoud, went on to say, “With the trend of a multi-PC per user environment, the accessories market will play a growing role in insuring seamless integration of all the devices in businesses and households. The need for solutions to enhance user experience, improve productivity, and secure users’ computing environment mean that the accessories market will continue to expand going forward.”

Translating…as people increasingly have more than one computer, e.g. a PC and a netbook, they’re having to spend more money making everything work together.  Absolutely true.  They’ll need a Wi-fi access point for the netbook, a NAS to share files, a printer with a print server and external HDDs for backup (yeah, right).

So, the next time you are budgeting for a PC, think of a number and double it.


HP Mini 110 Netbook – Mini Review



HP Mini 110 NetbookNetbooks seems to be one of the biggest “old” technologies for 2009. I say old technology because it doesn’t seem to really offer anything that hasn’t been offered before, except in a smaller size. Under-powered machines have been around since PCs came on the scene back in 1981 (and before).

With that said, I been using one for a couple weeks and find I really enjoy it. So what’s changed? I think it comes down to having the right product at the right time. The right time being the ability to take advantage of the Internet with built-in wi-fi and internet browser.

I think another reason for the popularity of netbooks is that they are not trying to position themselves as your main machine. They are really intended as a secondary machine that you would use around the house or office or to take when you travel.

I’ve been using the HP Mini 110 netbook with Windows 7 Starter edition. I’ve been using Windows 7 on my other machines and decided if I was to get a netbook, it should have Windows 7 and not XP that is offered on some machines. (The HP Mini 110 does come with XP and you can add Windows 7 for about $30 extra).

Here are the main features of my Mini 110:

  • 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N270 Processor
  • 1 GB DRAM
  • 10.1″ WVGA display
  • 160 GB Hard Drive
  • Wi-Fi and RJ-45 Ethernet
  • Webcam with built-in mic
  • 5-in-1 Digital Media Reader
  • 3 USB Ports
  • External VGA Port

I have both Mac and Windows machines (desktops and notebooks) that I use on a daily basis so why do I need “another” computer? There is something wonderful when you get a new computer. It’s so fresh and new and fast. (Fast is not something I would associate with my netbook, but its not that slow). The key is managing its use and the programs I don’t put on it. From my experience machines slow down from “program bloat” — installing too many programs on a machine. These programs take up disk space, desktop space (icon shortcuts), and each one wants to hack away at your registry. All the things that cause the machine to slow down over time. I know there are things you can do to clean up your system, but it’s never the same as a new machine (or reformatted hard drive).

I plan to take a “less is better” attitude to what goes on my netbook. I use it for Internet browsing, Skype and general note taking. I have installed a few utility programs that I can use to remotely manage my client’s websites but I don’t plan to burden it with Photoshop (Elements), Word, or anything else that will bring it to its knees.

So far I’ve enjoyed the experience. From time to time I check in on a number of live video sites, TWIT and Geek News Central, and find the netbook is perfect for that. I can open a session and take the netbook with me as I go to different parts of the house and not miss a beat. If I keep it in the kitchen, it’s there if I need to do a quick Google search and doesn’t take up much counter space. (I don’t need a memory, I have Google :) )

After a few weeks, here are my pros and cons of the netbook:

Pros:
– Lots of built-in features: 3 USB ports, VGA port, SD card reader, RJ-45 jack, wi-fi, web cam.
– Long battery life: about 6 hours
– Nice keyboard
– Small size

Cons:
– Speaker sounds tinny. (I use a small portable speaker system when I need better sound.)
– Display is only  1024 x 576 pixels. The 1024 width is fine but the 576 height is a little short for some programs that assume a taller display. I have some programs that don’t resize and I can’t access buttons at the bottom of the screen.

I don’t think the netbook is for everyone and I wouldn’t recommend it as your only computer, but I think it does have it place.  So far this netbook will stay a part of my toolkit and I’ll keep you informed as I use it more.

Happy New Years to all!

73’s
Tom