It could be touch-to-connect for Wi-Fi devices very soon

Article

WiFi Alliance adds support for NFC | NFC World

My Comments

Two “quick-setup” features that I have liked are coming together very shortly for wireless routers and network-enabled devices. These features are being exploited by device manufacturers who want to be part of the level playing field and desire to see innovation.

One of these features is the WPS-PBC “push-to-connect” functionality where you invoke a WPS setup option on a client device you want to enrol then press the WPS button on your wireless router to “enrol” your client device in to your home network’s Wi-Fi segment. This feature has made it easier to bring new Windows  7/8 computers, Android mobile devices amongst most other Wi-Fi-capable devices in to a home network without having to transcribe in long WPA-PSK passphrases. I even set up one multiple-access-point network to allow this to happen on both access-point devices when I was fixing up network-connectivity issues. Similarly, I was pleased with a TP-Link TL-WPA4220 HomePlug wireless access point that used “Wi-Fi Clone” to learn network parameters from an existing Wi-Fi network segment at the push of a WPS button so it can be quickly set up as an extension access point.

Another feature that I am pleased about is NFC-based Bluetooth pairing. This is primarily used on most Sony Bluetooth-capable devices but other manufacturers are increasingly enabling it. It allows you to touch your phone or computer to the Bluetooth-capable device to instantly pair and connect both these devices. When I bought the Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headset adaptor with FM radio, it didn’t take me long to “get going” with this device because I simply touched my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 Android phone to it to achieve this goal.

Now the Wi-Fi Alliance have merged both technologies and defined NFC “touch-and-go” setup as part of WPS-based wireless network setup standards. This functionality was seen as part of a “long-tail” vision for the WPS secure-network-setup standards with routers having to support the PIN-based and “push-to-go” methods. They defined a framework based around certain access-point and client chipsets including the Google Nexus 10 Android tablet. For that matter, Android, Linux and Windows 7/8 users could find this functionality either as a small app or “baked in” to an operating-system update.

This is another innovative step that will assure quick setup for Windows and Android devices with small-network Wi-Fi segments especially as most of the recent crop of these devices are equipped with NFC “touch-and-go” functionality and Wi-Fi connectivity.

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Macintosh users–keeping your computer secure

Article

Apple users: Try these five tips for better Mac security | Naked Security

My Comments

Just lately, I have heard over the dinner table that a few Apple Macintosh computer users have been facing issues with malware and other software with questionable behaviour. Some of these attacks were mainly “overlay attacks” that worked with the user’s Web experience.

What previously used to happen was that Windows computers were the target for viruses, worms, Trojans and similar malware due to them having a stronger installed base compared to the Apple Macintosh platform. This caused some people to switch to the Apple Macintosh platform because of less malware threats occurring on that platform.

But even in 1989 when I was made aware of the virus issue, the awareness about viruses and similar malware was targeted across all personal-computing platforms that were in operation through that year i.e. the MS-DOS-based IBM PC, the Macintosh, the Commodore Amiga and the Apple II amongst others. At that time, there was awareness about keeping a “clean” system and keeping control over how you shared your files.

Similarly, we started to see the arrival of signature-driven anti-virus programs that could scan hard disks or removable “floppy disks” for viruses. Some of these initially scanned the boot sector but moved towards checking files for these viruses. They became a very important part of every computer user’s software toolkit as the virus activity increased. But through the 1990s as the Internet came on the scene, the malware activity was more focused on the MS-DOS / Windows platform with Apple Macintosh users not having as much of that activity. At that time, the MS-DOS / Windows platform was effectively the computing platform for most personal and business computing applications including gaming with the Macintosh being used by creative types due to its inherent prowess with multimedia.

This lead to a sense of complacency concerning secure computing for the Macintosh platform on both Apple’s and their users’ part. Microsoft took proper steps in updating and patching the Windows computing platform since 2001 with the arrival of Windows XP and hardening that platform with the arrival of Windows Vista and 7. Similarly, Windows users jumped over to the Macintosh platform for their home computing because they saw Windows as being slow and virus-ridden; and also due to the arrival of Apple’s iPod and iPhone products.

Lately, the Apple Macintosh has become the target for various malware campaigns including “write-once run-anyone” attacks based on Adobe Flash and Java software platforms. This is due to the increased new-found popularity that the Macintosh has acquired and, in another context, activities involving the Internet, networks or removeable media are still being seen as vectors where the Mac can share Windows-targeted malware.

Upgrade to Mavericks if you can

To stay secure, Apple Macintosh users need to upgrade to the 10.9.2 Mavericks version of MacOS X, with this version being equipped with various security improvements in a similar way to what Microsoft did with Windows 7. This can be done with newer Macintosh computers and for free with Macs running Lion or Mountain Lion versions.

Keep the operating system and software up-to-date

As well, as part of proper computer housekeeping, it is important to keep the Mac “lock-step” with the latest operating-system updates. Here, you can use the Apple-Menu / System Preferences / App Store option to have the Mac check for and download the updates from Apple by itself; or go to the Apple-Menu / Software Update menu to cause it to check for updates. The latter option can be of use with a MacBook that is used “on-the-road” and you are able to check in at a Wi-Fi hotspot or other Wi-Fi network.

Similarly, keep Adobe Flash and Oracle Java up-to-date by using options in the Apple-Menu / System Preferences menu to check for automatic or manual updating for these programs. If any other “write-once run-anywhere” software-development platforms show up on the Macintosh platform, treat these like you would with Adobe Flash – they can become a path for distributing malware that “hits across all platforms”.

This also applies to the application software and utilities you also run on your Mac and, here, you go to whatever software-option menu there is to check for software updates or cause automatic software updating to occur.

Don’t enable Java if you don’t need it.

As for Java which appeals as a “write once run anywhere” coding system, don’t enable it unless you are intending to run a known trusted program that uses this language or are developing Java software. OS X Mavericks comes with this deactivated by default but you can deactivate this in your Web-browser option menus.

Take advantage of full-disk encryption if you have confidential data

Another practice you could use for all computer platforms is to take advantage of full-disk encryption. Most operating systems provide this as a function that you can use with MacOS X providing it “across the board” for recent iterations in the form of FileVault. Similarly, a commercial or open-source third-party full-disk-encryption tool can do the job better than what the operating system provides.

These tools encrypt and decrypt on an “on-the-fly” basis and mainly protect the local volumes on the computer with some business-tier USB memory keys providing a similar full-disk encryption for their own volumes.

Use a good anti-malware or desktop security program for the Macintosh

Check for and use a good anti-malware program for the Mac platform like Kaspersky, Sophos, AVG or ClamXav . As well, keep the anti-malware program that you run on automatic update in order to keep them ahead of the malware game.

It is also worth noting that the good programs in this field can also keep the Macintosh from being a conduit for spreading Windows-based malware around the Windows platform. This is whether the files are passed through email, message-based file transfers, network-hosted / Internet-hosted file sharing points or removeable media.

Another sign of a good anti-malware program is the ability for it to scan your computer’s primary storage (RAM and paging files) to protect against malware that works on data being held in this space. This is because most data normially encrypted on a secondary storage or in transit is kept “in the clear” in the RAM and is vulnerable to RAM-scraping malware.

Keep stock of what is installed on your Mac

Another way malware gets on to computers is when you load software “in a hurry”. Typically what can happen with some freeware tools is that they can “push” browser extensions and toolbars or utilities of doubtful provenance on to a computer. This can lead to it underperforming or malware creeping in and taking over the system.

If you download from the Mac App Store or similar download locations, check for the app’s reputation by looking at comments, star-ratings and the like. This is something I have raised previously in relation to app stores for mobile-computing platforms along with the newer App stores that are opening up for regular computers and dedicated-purpose devices.

With your browsers and other applications, keep tabs on what plugins, extensions, toolbars and other add-on modules are running and if you notice something being awry about the module since you installed, don’t hesitate to remove it. A good article on this topic concerning uninstalling applications on the Mac is this one on MacRumors.com which highlights that dragging an application bundle to the Trash may not be the only method available.

Conclusion

The main issue here is that the Apple Macintosh is a computing platform vulnerable to malware and will become more so as it be becomes more popular as a mainstream computing platform. So you would need to continue with proper computer-housekeeping practices to keep your Mac from these threats.

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Convertible or detachable–where to go?

You are not really keen on keeping a separate laptop for creating content and a separate tablet for casual browsing. But there are portable computers that can become a regular clamshell-style laptop; or a touchscreen tablet at a moment’s notice.

Typically these will run the “open-frame” operating systems such as Microsoft Windows 8 or, in the case of most smaller 10” variants, Android with some newer varieties moving towards being able to boot from either operating system or run Android as a separate virtual machine..

Why own a convertible or detachable?

HP Envy X2 detachable-screen hybrid tablet-notebook computer

One of the HP X2 series detachable-screen hybrid tablet-notebook computers

These portable computers are optimised for both content consumption and creation. Here, they work as a tablet to use for reading in bed or on the couch, or they can become a laptop for frequent text-entry work such as using Google / Bing frequently to look for concepts, creating emails of any length, or amending notes for your speech, typing up documents “on the go”.

A person who values the idea of separate devices may stand for the idea of particular screen sizes and operating platforms being perfect for particular tasks. For example, a 10” tablet such as the popular Apple iPad family may work well for reading while a 13”-15” laptop may work well for writing up material and performing “larger tasks”.

Some people even couple a tablet with a USB or Bluetooth accessory keyboard typically in the form of a device cover that has an integrated keyboard and works as a stand for the device. This is seen as a cheaper path to a “combined-device” concept and may be seen as whether it is the path to go for your portable computing needs.

Screen sizes and what they are good for

HP X2 detachable tablet as a tablet

HP X2 detachable tablet as a tablet

Most manufacturers have units with either 10”-11” screens or 13”-14” screens in their convertible and detachable product lineups with most of these products with the 10”-11” screens.

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible notebook

The 10”-11″ units will work well for short bursts of text entry such as searching for information, short email replies, a few Social Web entries at a time, or amending speech notes before / after your speech. This is while they work well as a tablet screen size that suits most users. Some of you may value these units if you are typing up notes during a presentation because they don’t cramp you in between the seating rows.

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet - Right-hand-side view - 2 USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI port

Sony VAIO Duo 11 as a tablet

The 13″-14″ units work better for longer periods of text entry such as creating documents or writing down heaps of notes. The larger screen can also earn its keep if you are browsing Web sites, or viewing pictures and videos alongside someone else like your significant other frequently.

15” convertibles like the Acer Aspire R7 or the Sony VAIO Fit 13a may also appeal to those of us who like the large screen for both typing up content and browsing. This may also allow you to see the detail more easily but they won’t be as portable as the 13”-14” varieties.

Detachable tablets

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

Sony VAIO Fit 13a 13″ convertible laptop

These computers like the HP x2 family, the ASUS Transformer family and Microsoft’s Surface family, also known as hybrid tablets, have a keyboard that unclips from the tablet itself.

The computing power, memory and main secondary storage  in these detachables is housed within the tablet like what is expected for a typical tablet. But the detachable keyboards contain some extra functions like supplementary storage space, a high-capacity battery and extra connections like more USB ports. Some of these computers may use a microSD card slot in the tablet itself and a standard SD card slot in the keyboard and this would require you to use the keyboard if you are “developing” those pictures from your digital camera’s “film roll” on your detachable tablet.

They appeal to those of us who value carrying around the lightweight tablet and reading material from it more.

Convertible notebooks

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Yoga convertible notebooks

The convertible notebooks have a mechanical arrangement where you can fold, swivel or slide the screen to switch between a tablet computer or a clamshell-style laptop computer.

These would appeal to those of us who want a readily-accessible keyboard and don’t place emphasis on the lightweight tablet. Like the regular laptop, they have their connectivity, functionality and battery runtime as a known quantity and there is less of a likelihood of you losing the detachable keyboard.

Different convertible styles

Sliders

These computers, like the Sony VAIO Duo family, have the keyboard slide out from behind the screen with the screen coming up at a particular angle.

Typically most of these work at a fixed angle when they become a laptop and are worth their salt if you value a computer that, when used as a laptop, doesn’t have a larger footprint.

Swivel-head

Lenovo ThinkPad Twist convertible notebook courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo ThinkPad Twist convertible notebook

This type of convertible computer was considered the “original” convertible laptop when Microsoft launched Windows XP Tablet Edition and brought on the idea of pen-based computing for the Windows platform. They have the screen swivel 180 degrees vertically to become a laptop or tablet. A current example of this is the Lenovo ThinkPad Twist which is pitched at the business user.

Flip-screen

This style has the screen flipping horizontally between a front view or a rear view with the display rotated accordingly. These will have the screen either on a small hinged support like the Sony VAIO Fit 13a or the Acer Aspire R7; or in a frame like the Dell XPS 12.

360-degree hinged lid

Another type of convertible notebook, popularised by Lenovo under the Yoga name, is the 360-degree hinged lid. These computers which are like regular laptops have the lid swing from a closed position to the back of the computer’s case. Once you have folded the lid out all of the way, you turn the computer over for it to become a tablet.

The disadvantage with this style is that the keyboard is exposed to dirt when the computer is set up as a tablet, which can limit its useful as a tablet in areas where you may be eating or drinking.

Choosing the right convertible style

Each convertible style suits particular users and scenarios. These depend on how easy they are to switch between the different setups, what usage environment they work well with

The swivel-head, flip-screen or 360-degree lid may appeal to those of us who want to place the screen at an angle for viewing photos and videos when the machine is resting on a table. A swivel-head or 360-degree lid may appeal to those of you who may have dexterity problems or find operating some mechanisms difficult.

A slider unit or some flip-screens like the Acer Aspire R7 may appeal to those of us who want to expose the keyboard without taking up too much room when you do this. An example of this may be a public speaker who needs to quickly amend notes for their speech at the lectern using the regular keyboard rather than picking around on the touch keyboard.

Conclusion

If you are thinking of having one touch-enabled portable computer to use as a tablet or a laptop / notebook computer, I would suggest that a detachable would work well for those of you who value the lightweight tablet or a convertible for most usage scenarios.

It is also worth considering the convertible notebook or detachable-keyboard tablet as a valid option for your portable-computing needs especially if you see yourself typing up material.

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Dell brings in another cost-effective mobile workstation

Article

Dell thuds down low-cost lap workstation for cheap frugal creatives or engineers | The Register

From the horse’s mouth

Dell USA

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Dell Precision M2800 Mobile Workstation courtesy of Dell USAThere have been a few Windows-based laptop-style workstation-grade computers that have been released over the past few years, especially by HP and Dell. But Dell have been pushing the price of this class of computer downwards but kept the performance up.

The Dell Precision M2800 is a 15” mobile workstation that uses Intel i5 or i7 horsepower but implements AMD FirePro W4170M graphics circuitry with 2Gb display RAM. It could come with up to 16Gb RAM and 1Tb hard disk capacity in the inimitable way that Dell allows you to customise your computer to suit your needs. Of course there is the multi-monitor support where you could jack in an extra screen on the side for that true multi-screen look.

The workstation starts at a cost of US$1199 and is one that could be suitable as a “work-home” unit for the engineer, architect or content-creator who wants to work on their project at home or the office. Similarly, this price point and form factor could also appeal to students and others who are starting out in the trades that call for workstation-class computing especially where one’s own space may not be all that big.

Could we still see the “mobile workstation” still appear as a viable computer class even though there is work towards virtualising high-performance workstations using server capacity? I would see this class of computer appeal to freelancers who want to have control over their data and be able to take it between their office, their home and on the road.

Oh yeah, could I also see these Dell Precision workstations also appeal to the “core” gamers who would like to see the idea of playing the big games wherever they can play them?

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Coming to your TV screens soon: A Microsoft ad pitching the Adaptive All-In-One at women

Article

Microsoft: Finally, a PC for All Your Lady Stuff (Weddings, Pinterest) | Gizmodo

YouTube clip of commercial (click to play)

My Comments

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer

Sony VAIO Tap 20 – an example of an “Adaptive All-In-One” computer

Microsoft is becoming more aggressive at pitching the Windows-capable touchscreen-enabled computer at more user types. One user class that is being pitched at is the woman who is planning for that big occasion and they were pitching HP’s Envy Rove as an alternative to the Apple computing platform.

The HP Envy Rove is HP’s equivalent of the Sony VAIO Tap 20 which I previously reviewed and Microsoft pitched the large touchscreen size that this computer and its peers offer. This is more as being suitable for showing images amongst a group of friends who are sitting on the sofa, and the touch ability allows for that “pinch-to-zoom” gesture that allows one to detail in on an aspect.

This was similar through my experience with the VAIO Tap 20 when I was showing it to a close friend of mine and she liked “messing around” with the Google Earth view in front of me. It is more or less showing the different form factors that are being made available to Windows 8.1 users along with the fact that there is an increased likelihood of these computers having touch abilities/

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Philips to present Android all-in-one touchscreen displays

Article

Philips Launches Two Smart All-In-One Displays | TechPowerUp

Philips Smart All-in-One Android-Displays mit Touchsteuerung | Gizmodo.de (German language / Deutschesprache)

From the horse’s mouth

Philips

Product Page

S221C4AFD 21” variant

S231C4AFD 23” variant

My Comments

Philips S221C4AFD Smart All-In-One Monitor - press image courtesy of PhilipsAfter the Consumer Electronics Show 2014 had passed, it was for sure that Android was to step up to the plate as a desktop operating system and the classes of personal computing equipment were to be blurred. One class of equipment that was being premiered was a monitor that was an Android-driven “all-in-one” computer that that was being showcased running one of the Angry Birds games.

Philips was no further from the truth when they launched a pair of Android-powered Full-HD “smart monitors”. These monitors are able to work as primary or secondary displays for Windows computers but also work in their own right as the equivalent of a recent Android 4.2-powered tablet.

They are available as a 21” (S221C4AFD) or 23” (S231C4AFD) variant with full access to the Google Play store (and such goodies as Instagram, Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga and the like). Here they run this software using NVIDIA Tegra 1.6GHz horsepower and work with 2Gb RAM and 8Gb flash storage. They also can mount an SDHC card for your digital camera’s photos or other “offloading” storage requirements and connect to your home network using 802.11g/n Wi-Fi.

Some of us could see these as “toys” but they could be purposed not just as secondary monitors for your propped-up laptop. There is the ability to use these as task-focused computers like digital signage / electronic picture frames, kiosks, POS terminals and the like when it comes to work use or they could be used in the same vein as the Sony VAIO Tap 20 and its ilk where they end up on that ottoman so that two kids play air-hockey or similar multiplayer games.

At the moment. they are being sold in Europe for €440 (21” model) or €470 (23” model). This is a symptom of what will be happening with Windows and Android being the mainstream operating systems for both regular and mobile computing needs.

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Product Review–Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook

Introduction

I am reviewing the Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook which converts between a 13” “portable-typewriter” notebook computer and a 13” tablet, which is something I am starting to see for this class of computer.

It is one of the few 13” highly-portable notebooks that is in a convertible form-factor where it can become a large tablet or media viewer. Here the screen folds over a hinge that is positioned in the middle of the lid to convert to these different form factors – as a laptop, tablet or a presentation viewer with a kickstand.

Some of you may find that a 13” tablet device as being too unwieldy when used in that form but I usually think of these devices as being the size of an A4/Letter-sized notepad or notebook or a placemat and still easy to stow in that shoulder bag. For example, the large screen area comes in to its own when viewing photos or videos or simply lounging on the couch browsing Facebook. In some cases, this large size also appeals to “head-to-head” situations where two people are viewing something on that screen like some photos or social-media chatter.

Of course, these convertible notebooks still earn their keep when you are typing up those notes in that “second-office” café while the barista is making that latte or cappucino on the espresso machine or as you type up that magnum-opus while you are on that long flight with it sitting on that economy-class tray table.

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

Price
– this configuration
RRP: AUD$1699
Form factor Convertible tablet
Processor Intel Core i5-4200U processor cheaper – other options
extra cost – other options
RAM 4Gb shared with graphics
Secondary storage 128Gb solid-state drive SDXC card reader
Display Subsystem Intel HD 4400 integrated graphics
Screen 13” touchscreen
(Full HD)
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD Audio
Audio Improvements All audio tuning available
Network Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n dual-band dual-stream
Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Connectivity USB 3.0 x 2
Video HDMI
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Authentication and Security TPM
Sensors NFC, Accelerometer, Gyro sensor, Digital compass
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 8
Windows Experience Index – this configuration Overall: Graphics:
Advanced Graphics:

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Sony VAIO 13a convertible Ultrabook as a tablet

Set up as a tablet

The Sony VAIO Fit 13a is a well-built convertible notebook but for first-time users, the method to convert between notebook and tablet use can be daunting. Here, you have to flick the RELEASE-LOCK lever under the screen to the left and twist the screen at the top with both hands to make it become a tablet. Then you have to pull the screen up at the top to fold it to a conventional notebook.

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook as an image viewer

Set up as an image viewer

Even though I had used this on light tasks, there wasn’t any overheating going on with the VAIO Fit 13a although it felt warm underneath during some network video watching. There is some venting on the left side of the keyboard and any unoccupied sockets are forced in to service as vents. Personally, I would have some perforation underneath the keyboard to improve the ability for the notebook to cool itself. As well, the use of an all-aluminium lid and aluminium all over the keyboard surface also allows for better temperature control.

User Interface

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook

As a laptop conducive to typing

The keyboard is a full-width illuminated keyboard that is conducive to touch-typing. It has a proper feedback that makes you feel sure that you are typing the right characters and your hands aren’t “crunched in” which works well when typing up a large amount of content.

The trackpad works as expected and I haven’t even noticed it “jump around” when doing a lot of typing and can serve its role as a fine-level navigation tool while the touchscreen works well for coarse navigation and quick function access with recent software.

The NFC sensor is at the foot of the trackpad which is at the right place for sharing contact detail or Web links between your Android smartphone and the VAIO Tap 13a. This is also conducive for touch-and-go paring of small Bluetooth accessories like headsets but may be too awkward for pairing to larger equipment that implements “touch-and-go” Bluetooth setup like most of Sony’s newer audio equipment.

Audio and Video

The Sony VAIO Fit 13a’s display was very responsive both with regular computer work as well with multimedia activity such as watching online video from SBS Australia. There is still the issue with the display being glossy which may annoy some users and is common with most consumer-targeted portable computers.

The audio subsystem is typical for most laptops where you don’t have the ability to hear the full range from the sound. This may be good enough when you are close to the screen but wouldn’t be good enough to fill a room. I still would recommend using a pair of headphones or external speakers when you are after the good sound.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook Right-hand side view - 2 USB 3.0 ports, SDXC card slot and HDMI output port

Right-hand side view – 2 USB 3.0 ports, SDXC card slot and HDMI output port

The Sony VAIO Fit 13a has 128Gb of solid-state storage which would be enough for “second-office” work or short trips and may satisfy longer trips when you use auxiliary storage like a NAS or USB hard disk. It is still very quick and responsive but the capacity wouldn’t have me use it as a main or sole computer.

This is augmented by an SDXC card slot which comes in to its own when you “develop” your digital pictures from your digital camera or camcorder or show these pictures to a group of people.

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook left hand side with power and audio sockets

Left hand side with power and audio sockets

There are two USB 3.0 peripheral sockets along with a headset jack and ah HDMI port for connecting external devices. It also connects to your network using 802.11a/g/n dual-band Wi-Fi technology, but you would need to use a USB Ethernet network adaptor if you are connecting to an Ethernet or HomePlug segment.

It also has Bluetooth with NFC functionality for “quick pair-up” with some newer  devices or transfer of data like contact details or Web links to and from newer Android and Windows phones.

Battery life

I could use the Sony VAIO Fit 13a for a long time on most regular computing activities and even watching a 45-minute online video show from SBS Online had the battery to 50% capacity from full charging. This means that the VAIO is taking advantage of the current generation of Intel chipsets to work properly as a portable computer.

Other usage notes

Other people who have seen the Sony VAIO Fit 13a in action have been impressed with certain features like the convertible form-factor and the large-screen tablet size. This is more so with people who are used to ordinary 10” tablets like the Apple iPad or not seeing much of the touch-enabled convertible notebooks.

For example, a waitress who works at a downtown (CBD) hotel restaurant which is used regularly as a “second office” during the day was impressed with the VAIO’s convertible design. This is something she doesn’t come across as often – she mostly sees the typical laptop or iPad-style tablet used by customers using the restaurant and bar as that “second office”.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Sony could offer a premium variant with an Intel i7 processor, 8Gb RAM and/or 256Gb solid-state drive as a deal-making option, especially if they want to use this model to court those of us who live out of our suitcases.

As well, the VAIO Fit 13a could be delivered with Windows 8.1 out of the box rather than users having to download the updates to bring it up to date to the newer Windows version. I would also look at improving the DC socket so it feels less fragile to use when connecting your charger to the VAIO.

The NFC chipset could be duplicated at the top edge of the keyboard to cater for “pairing up” with fixed equipment like Bluetooth speakers or stereo equipment whether the VAIO is set up as a tablet or a laptop.

Conclusion

I see the Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible notebook as a viable contender to the market when it comes to the so-called “traveller’s computer” or “second-office computer”. This is more so in both these cases when you you want to view or show video or photo material on the go such as showing that presentation to the client over that latte or viewing that movie on the plane. It is more augmented by the fact that this computer works with a median performance requirement such as an Intel i5 processor and 4Gb of RAM.

It would also work well for those of us who like the idea of the tablet but want the proper full-size keyboard offered by the 13”-14” “portable-typewriter” notebook that is conducive to comfortable touch-typing for creating plenty of text-based content.

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The classes of computers to be blurred–is this the trend?

Article

A dual Windows-Android machine: PC industry savior or non-starter? | Mobile – CNET News

My Comments

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

A computer that slides to become a tablet or laptop

Previously, a computer with a screen greater than 11”, having a physical QWERTY keyboard and running a desktop operating system like Windows, MacOS X or Linux was a separate class of computer from something that had a smaller screen, no physical keyboard and running a mobile operating system.

Now we are starting to see these classes become blurred by the arrival of 7” and 10” tablets running Windows 8.1 on Intel x86 microarchitecture, along with a plethora of ultra-portable laptops with integrated physical keyboards that convert to tablets whether by folding the keyboard under the screen or detaching the keyboard. This is now augmented with a new trend where computers can boot between Windows 8.1 and Android or run both operating systems concurrently; and Android is being ported to work on the classic Intel microarchitecture.

HP Envy X2 Detachable-Keyboard Hybrid Tablet

The HP X2 family – showcasing the trend for a detachable-keyboard tablet computer

What is happening for both consumers and business users is that they will find it hard to determine which kind of computer is exactly the right one for them to use for their needs. Operating systems and baseline hardware configurations may lose their position as a factor for determining a computer’s suitability to a particular task.

Rather I see factors like the screen size which typically affects the computer’s size and form factor; the graphics or audio chipsets; the existence of a physical keyboard and its actual size; as well as the unit’s connectivity, primary RAM and secondary-storage capacity along with the presence and runtime of an integrated battery being what determines the computer’s suitability for particular tasks and operating conditions that a user may put it to.

Sony VAIO Fit 15e on dining table

The 15″ mainstream laptop will still earn its keep as an option for one’s “digital hub”

For example, if you are creating a lot of documents and other textual content, a full-sized physical keyboard would be considered important. Similarly the size of the screen along with the computer’s form factor and the battery integrated in the computer would also affect its portability and suitability to certain tasks.

In a lot of cases, you may end up with multiple devices where each device suits a particular task or activity. For example a 7”-8” tablet that you can stuff in to a coat pocket may come in to its own when you want something that has material you refer to when you are on the road. This is while you keep a 10”-14” ultraportable computer for when you are “doing a bit more” like taking notes or creating content “on the road”; or you may keep a 15”-17” laptop or a larger-screen desktop computer as your “main digital hub”.

Desktops of a sessile nature like traditional 3-piece desktops and “all-in-one” desktops will typically end up just for applications where the computer is used in one place only. Whereas the “adaptive all-in-one” computers of the Sony VAIO Tap 20 ilk, along with 15”-17” high-end laptops will end up for those situations where the computer will be shifted as required.

What will become of this is to look at particular features and the size and form-factor of a computer to rate its suitability for a task you are targeting it at rather than thinking that one computer would suit all your needs.

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Lenovo has just released laptops pitched at high-school student use

Article

Lenovo Aims New Rugged ThinkPad 11e Laptops at Students | Tom’s Hardware

From the horse’s mouth

Lenovo

Press Release

My Comments

Lenovo who are well known for their highly-durable ThinkPad business laptops have taken this class of computer to the student user-base. Typically the student is more likely to take these computers through a rough lifespan as they make their way to and from school and friends’ houses and some of this rough-handling can cause problems in the computer’s life.

What they have done is to release a quartet of 11-inch notebooks with rubber bumpers, reinforced ports and strengthened hinges to handle this rough activity. There is the ThinkPad 11e which runs Windows 8 along with a ThinkPad Yoga 11e convertible also running Windows 8. But Lenovo also offered these as Chromebooks that run Google’s Chrome operating system. For the Windows-based models, I am not sure what RAM and storage capacity they have but would need to cater for a reality with students using them for more than school life.

It is a step in the right direction for companies like Lenovo to create highly-durable portable computers not just for big business but for school life, “first cars first friends” and eventually startup and small business life.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2014–Part 2 (Your computer, smartphone, tablet and network)

The second part of this series is about computing devices both for desktop use and for mobile use in all of the form factors along with the new equipment that you can use to buid out our home or other small network.

Computers and Mobile Devices

Previously, I used to see mobile computing devices like tablets and smartphones as their own device class but the situation is changing for this class of device.

This has been brought on with use of Windows 8.1 in smaller tablets that have lightweight and low-energy processors that implement the orthodox Intel microarchitecture used in regular-computers along with these regular computer products running the Android mobile operating system as a standalone operating system or in a dual-boot configuration.

This has caused us to blur the lines between the orthodox “regular” desktop or laptop computer that uses IA-32 or IA-64 microarchitecture rather than ARM RISC microarchitecture and running a desktop operating system like Windows or desktop Linux; and the primarily-battery-operated mobile computers like the smartphones and tablets that use ARM RISC microarchitecture and  use a mobile operating system like Android.

Computer devices that boot between Windows 8.1 and Android

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

This class of computer may be either running Windows or Android very soon

Intel and AMD have established computer reference designs that allow for switching between Windows 8.1 or Android 4.4 operating systems even when they are fully operational. This is to capitalise on the 7”-10” tablets appearing on the market that are running Windows 8.1 along with the desire for us to run Android programs on our regular laptops and Ultrabooks.

A clear example of this is ASUS’s Transformer Book Duet detachable tablet which has a hardware switch that allows you to switch between Windows 8.1 and Android. Think of this – on a long journey, switch to Windows to make some headway on a document you are creating with Microsoft Word, then, to while the time away on that journey after that, switch to Android to play Plants Versus Zombies, Candy Crush Saga or whatever is the latest mobile time-waster game.

Android and Chrome OS gain a foothold on the regular computer

Previously, we thought of Windows as the only open-frame operating system that runs on a “regular computer” i.e. a desktop or laptop. Now Google have pushed forward Chrome OS which is a cloud-based operating system along with Android with these kind of computers.

Nearly every laptop vendor, save for Sony, Panasonic and a few others are putting forward at least one “Chromebook” which are notebooks that run the Chrome OS environment. LG even premiered a “Chromebase” which is an all-in-one desktop computer that runs the Google Chrome OS. This implements Intel Celeron horsepower along with the Chrome OS specification for RAM and secondary storage (2Gb RAM, 16Gb SSD). These may have limited appeal due to software only available through Google and an always-online operation and may just work as Web terminals.

For Android, HP put up the Slate 21 Pro 21” tablet that runs on this operating system thus bringing the adaptive all-in-one to this operating system especially in the workplace. Similarly, Lenovo had launched a 19” all-in-one PC that runs Android and has an appealing price of US$450 along with the ThinkVision 28 which is a 28” 4K monitor that is an Android all-in-one PC. This is alongside HP also running with a Slate Pro all-in-one that runs Android and appeals to the business. Some of these computers are being pitched as inexpensive kiosk computers or communications terminals that go hand in glove with Viber, Skype, Facebook and the like.

Business-grade computing appears at CES 2014

Not often have I seen any of the Consumer Electronics Shows or similar consumer-electronics trade fairs become a platform to launch computer hardware pitched at business users. This year, HP, Lenovo and a few others are launching smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops pitch at this user class with the expected features like security, management abilities and system durability.

Could this be a sign that “business-targeted” computing trade fairs like CEBit and Interop start to focus on a narrower class of “big-business” computing equipment like large-scale servers and networking equipment while small-business office and computing equipment ends up being exhibited at consumer-focused computing and electronics trade fairs? Or could this be answering a reality where business computing equipment are working also as home computing equipment as in the typical “work-home” laptop that is used for personal and business computing tasks? As well, could this be in response to the so-called “BYOD” trend where employees are buying their own devices, perhaps with their employer subsidising the purchase and running costs of these devices, and using them at work?

This is augmented with Samsung, Lenovo and HP launching business-grade tablets and smartphones and operating environments that cater to the business’s operating needs.

HP even used this show to launch the 300 series 14” and 15” laptops that have hardware credentials for a business laptop like spill-resistant keyboards, anti-glare displays and fingerprint readers but don’t come with business-tier manageability software. These machines start from US$399 upwards. This is more about offering appropriate computer hardware for small businesses and community organisations at a price they can afford without the hard-to-understand “big-business” security and manageability software that can daunt operators who are effectively their organisation’s “chief cook and bottle-washer”.

They also released the Pro One 400 and HP205 all-in-one desktops and issued the second generation of the Z1 all-in-one desktop workstation which can he shoehorned as you see fit.

Newer hardware technologies

One key hardware technology that is being put forward is the arrival of highly-powerful ARM-based chips that are pitched for mobile computing. One trend has been the arrival of the 64-bit ARM mobile processor which was augmented by Samsung with their Exynos range. The other was NVIDIA who were putting up the Tegra K1 processor family that had 192 cores and the VCM variant being targeted at vehicle applications. The graphics capacity is about achieving smooth realistic rendering which comes in thandy for games and similar graphics-intensive applications that will be expected of the Android platform. This is an example of a high-power ARM processor that is being pitched across the board not just for the tablets but for the Android-driven computers, the smart TVs as well as the cars.

Similarly, Intel premiered the Edison microcomputer which is the same size as the standard SD memory card. This has a two-core microprocessor with a 400MHz primary core and a 50-200MHz secondary core along with 500Mb RAM and integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth interfaces. Here, they are pitching it at wearable application such as smartwatches but I would see a greater potential for this application.

As for memory, the magnetoresistive RAM and resistive RAM technologies have been premiered at this show. It s a non-volatile RAM technology that can lead to the creation of memory that isn’t just for primary on-hand storage or secondary long-term storage. The obvious applications that are being called include quick-start portable computers that don’t need to store their current state to secondary storage. But I see this likely to appear in devices like printers and faxes for power-safe job-queue handling.

As well, the IEEE 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless-network technology is appearing in a lot more as a client interface in this newly-released equipment. There has to be work on making sure that there are options for reduced-battery-load for smartphones and small tablets that are primarily battery-operated and these may stay on N technology at the moment.

Smartphones and Tablets

One major trend for smartphones and tablets is for the market to be full of affordable Android devices especially those that are positioned at the “value” segment where you gain best bang for your buck. Similarly, a lot more of these devices are being pitched at the business user with the necessary manageability features appearing.

Samsung have launched the Galaxy Note Pro range of Android tablets with some of these at 12”. Similarly, we are seeing Lenovo run a range of smartphones like the Vibe Z phablet along with a smartphone that has an 802.11ac wireless-network interface. They are even running an 8” business-grade tablet known as the ThinkPad 8 which runs Windows 8.1 and has Intel Bay Trail small-device horsepower.

Asus have previously run their Padfone range of smartphones which dock in to an accompanying tablet and are furthering this with the Padfone Mini 7 “coat-pocket” tablet / smartphone combo. They are also running the Zenfone range of standalone Android smartphones.They also premiered the VivoTAB Note 8 which is an 8” coat-pocket tablet with stylus that runs Win8.1 and uses Intel Atom horsepower.

Acer are even launching some more of the Iconia Windows and Android tablet range along with a budget-range phablet smartphone. At the same time, Polaroid have put their name to an affordable 8” Android tablet in the form of the Q8.

Panasonic is not left lying down when it comes to tablets with a ToughPad 7” tablet being premiered at this show.

Laptops, Ultrabooks and similar computers

This year has seen a great influx of detachable and convertible Ultrabooks with, for example HP bolstering their x2 family.This is brought in to affordable territory with the Pavilion x2 range being a “foot-in-the-door” and running on cheaper AMD or Intel Bay Trail horsepower. This is augmented with the Pro x2 which is pitched at business users and is powered by Intel Core i3 or i5 processors.

Lenovo have premiered their MIIX 2 detachable tablets which run Windows 8.1 with the 10” variant running an Intel Atom processor and the 11.6” variant running an Intel Core i5 processor. They also launched the latest iteration of the X1 Carbon Ultrabook which is finished in a carbon-fibre material.

LG has answered the slider convertible trend started with the Sony VAIO Duo 11 and released the Tab Book 2 slider convertible. Sony are still keeping on with their convertible notebooks with the new VAIO Fit 11a and Flip PC 13, 14 and 15 convertible notebooks and the latest iteration of the VAIO Duo 13 slider convertible along with the VAIO Tap 11 detachable tablet. Sony has also taken the time to refresh the VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one and sell it as the VAIO Tap 21.

Samsung have released the ATIV Book 9 which is a 15” Ultrabook that owes its small size to a very narrow screen bezel, making it look less like a regular 15” laptop. Toshiba has broken through the mould by offering the first laptop with a 4K resolution screen as well as a shape-shifting concept for a convertible portable computer.

The home or other small network

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show has become a time to show that 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking has matured ant to premiere the HomePlug AV2 MIMO Gigabit powerline network technology. It also has been a chance for network hardware vendors to showcase some of the small business / contractor network hardware alongside consumer network hardware so as to expose this kind of hardware to the small-business and startup users.

802.11ac wireless network hardware

One major trend that is affecting equipment for the small network is the increased availability of 802.11ac Wi-Fi network connectivity equipment, especially now that the standard has been officially ratified and published by the IEEE. Here we are dealing with Wi-Fi wireless-network segments established in the 5GHz band and capable of operating at Gigabit speeds. Broadcom have come up with newer 802.11ac chipsets that improve wireless-network experience including one that has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and improved radio amplification in the same packaging.

The main class of devices offered here are routers or range extenders where some of the range extenders can work as client bridges for these networks. Examples of these include TrendNet’s newer AC1900 router and the ASUS RT-AC87U broadband router that has 1.7Gbps on 5GHz and 600Mbps on 2.4GHz using 4 x 4 MIMO and support for multiuser MIMO functionality. The old Linksys WRT54G with its distinctive style and user-evolvable open-source firmware has been released as a new iteration but equipped with 802.11ac wireless and Gigabit Ethernet network abilities and USB connectivity.

Even Engenius offered the ESR-2300 which is a 4 x 4 AC2300 wireless broadband router that is the first device of its type to offer “box-to-box” VPN endpoint functionality. NETGEAR also offered DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem routers with one of these having an 802.11ac 1700 wireless network segment.

Netgear’s latest 802.11ac wireless routers also have a firmware option for small businesses to turn their premises in to Wi-Fi hotspots using the Facebook Wi-Fi service. This is where clients who have Facebook presence can “check in” using Facebook to gain free Wi-Fi access but there is also an option to skip this requirement and use password-protected sign-up.

There are also the range extenders that perform their range-extending trick on an 802.11ac network and are available as wall-plugged or standalone units.

TrendNet amongst a few others are premiering business / contractor-grade wireless-networking hardware, especially access points for integrated installation. Some of these units also work with management software to allow you to have control over your Wi-Fi segment. TP-Link even offer the EAP-320 dual-band AC1750 Wi-Fi access point (enterprise grade) which has Power-Over-Ethernet, hotspot-style captive portal authentication and rogue access-point detection.

TrendNet also used this show to premiere a USB-connected high-gain 802.11ac wireless network adaptor so you can bridge existing computer equipment to a new 802.11ac wireless-network segment.

HomePlug AV2 MIMO Gigabit power-line network hardware launched

This show also has seen TP-Link and TrendNet launch HomePlug adaptors that embody the latest iteration of the HomePlug AV2 specification. Initially there were plenty of the HomePlug AV2 devices that didn’t exploit the MIMO abilities of the specification allowing for Gigabit data-transfer speeds but the two latest devices do implement these speeds using all three AC wires.

As far as this standard is concerned, there haven’t been any other HomePlug AV2 devices in other form factors launched or premiered at this show. Of course, TrendNet and TP-Link have been able to premiere HomePlug AV500 Wi-Fi N300 access points as an alternative to using range extenders to build out 802.11n wireless-network segments.

IP-based video surveillance

Most of these manufacturers are offering IP-based video-surveillance cameras with some that even work on 802.11ac Wi-Fi. D-Link even issues one of these as a “baby monitor camera” which measures room temperature and plays soothing lullabies while TP-Link offers an N300 Wi-Fi cloud camera that also doubles as a range extender and can shoot at 720p.

D-Link and Buffalo both offer network video recorder devices that interlink with certain IP cameras and record on a stand-alone basis with these cameras.

NAS units

QNAP and Synology have used the Consumer Electronics Shows to premiere their small-business network-attached storage devices and Synology has used this year’s show to launch the DiskStation Manager 5 operating system which is their latest iteration of the Linux-based operating system. This one has both home and business capabilities like the ability to link with online storage and social-network services along with centralised management and scaled-out storage for evolving businesses. Now Thecus are using this year’s show to premiere their small-business NAS devices.

Lenovo also made this show the chance to offer their first consumer network-attached storage device which can also serve as a USB external hard disk or show multimedia on TV using its HDMI output. This is although they have taken over Iomega and rebranded it as Lenovo EMC to cover this product class and focus on small-business NAS units.

Buffalo even offers a wireless mobile NAS which has the DLNA media-server functionality which can come in handy with Internet radios or other DLNA-capable media players. This is alongside some increasingly-capable DiskStation single-disk and duel-disk NAS units.

Conclusion

Next I will be looking at a major trend that is captivating the Consumer Electronics Show 2014 in the form of the “wearables”, brought on by the arrival of Bluetooth 4.0

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