5-Year Special: Portable Computing is Mainstream

5 Years Special iconThis is the first of a series of posts to celebrate the last five years of the connected lifestyle which has been covered on this Website.

Laptops

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible Ultrabook

Over the last five years, the 15”-17” clamshell-style laptop computer has overtaken the traditional “tower-style” desktop computer as become the preferred computer style for most households.

There are even users, some of whom I know, who will operate these computers in conjunction with an external screen, keyboard and mouse for their primary office-based computing locations while being able to use just its built-in screen, keyboard and mouse for computing while “on-the-road”. In other cases, the laptop bas brought with it the appeal of the dining table or kitchen bench rather than a home office or a desk in the corner of the family room as a workspace due to the ability to stow it away when you are using that space for other activities like meals.

Dell Precision M2800 Mobile Workstation courtesy of Dell USA

Dell Precision M2800 – an example of a mobile workstation

With this class of computer, there has been the rise of “workstation-grade” and “gamer-grade” laptops that are tuned for increased performance, especially with graphics-intensive tasks or even “full-on” games. This has also displaced the desktop workstation computer or “gaming-rig” for these applications and allowed for increased portability when dealing with CAD, multimedia or games.

Windows 8 with its tile-based “Modern” user interface has legitimised the touchscreen as a control surface for the computer and has opened up a plethora of touchscreen-enabled laptop designs. For example, the Sony VAIO Fit 15a that I reviewed last year underscored the concept of adding touch abilities to a 15” mainstream laptop even as I let a friend who works in enterprise IT play with this machine when I had visited him.

This has also led to the arrival of convertible and detachable computer designs that switch between a traditional laptop design and a tablet design. There are even these convertibles that have 13” or, in some cases, 15” screens which may be considered too large for tablet use by one person but are the right size for creating content. In some cases, this size can appeal to those of us who want to let another person have a look at the same content.

The trend has led to a fusion of regular desktop-style computing and mobile computing with some laptops running Android whether standalone or on a dual-boot method. As well, some small tablets are being sold with Windows 8.1 as an operating system and it is being harder to differentiate between mobile and regular-grade computing capabilities.

Mobile computing

One main trend over the past five years has been the arrival of platform-based mobile computing, which was commercialised by Apple with their iPhone platform.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 press picture courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – an up-and-coming Android smartphone

It is where devices like mobile phones and tablets are built around an operating system which has many third-party programmers writing software for these devices. Typically the software is supplied through “app-stores” operated by the company who develops the mobile-computing platform and these “app-stores” are typically one-touch away from the user. The software, which is referred to as “apps”, typically ranges from productivity software like email clients or note-taking software, through utility programs like calculators or unit converters, and mobile front-ends for online services to games for whiling away those train journeys.

Google Play Android app store

Google Play Android app store

If the programmer wants to monetise their creation, they have the ability to sell it through that app-store which has an integrated e-commerce setup, sell modules for that software through “in-app purchasing” where the user can buy the option within the app’s user interface but via the app-store’s storefront or make use of an in-app display advertising setup.

Some of these app-stores or the apps available in them provide access to content-retail services where you could buy music, audiobooks, e-books and videos to enjoy through your device. For example, the e-book has appealed mainly to women who like to read romance fiction without that “tut-tut-tut” from other people about what they are reading.

The performance calbre of these mobile-computing devices is approaching that of the regular computing devices, especially when it comes to playing hardcore games or watching multimedia content. Here, we are seeing mobile devices being equipped with 64-bit ARM-microarchitecture RISC processor units or some Android devices being equipped with IA-64 microarchitecture chips similar to what most laptops are equipped with.

Smartphones

These devices have changed since the arrival of the iPhone with customers being spoilt for choice in device capabilities, operating systems and even screen sizes.

Firstly, you can purchase smartphones with a screen size of up to 6 inches and these are the same size as an advanced-function pocket calculator such as a scientific or financial type. As well, some of the premium smartphones, especially those from the Samsung stable, even implement the OLED display which is a different self-illuminating display technology to the LCD display which requires LED backlighting to illuminate it.

As well, there are smartphones that run Android or Windows Phone operating systems available from many different manufactures. For that matter, the smartphones that are considered “cream of the crop” nowadays are most of the newer Android phones made by Samsung, Sony or HTC.

Tablets

Toshiba Thrive AT1S0 7" tablet

Toshiba AT1S0 7″ Android tablet

The mobile tablet has been made commercially viable thanks to Apple with their iPad lineup. Here, we are now seeing tablets at various different price ranges and screen sizes courtesy if intense competition. Some of these units, when paired with a Bluetooth or USB keyboard have been able to become a viable alternative to “netbook-size” small laptops.

Firstly, I had seen the arrival of the 7”-8” mini-tablet that could be stuffed in to one’s coat pocket. These have appealed as units that can be useful for reference-type applications when you are out and about and have effectively displaced the e-reader as a device.

Secondly, the 10” tablet has become more of a household content-consumption device especially with video but also has served some basic computing tasks like checking email or Web browsing. Apple and Samsung have raised the bar for this product class by improving the display calibre with the former using a high-resolution “Retina” display on their 3rd-generation iPad lineup and the latter offering an AMOLED display on a 10″ mobile tablet.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10" tablet - Press Photo courtesy of Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10″ tablet

But, as I said earlier, the tablet and laptop are bridging together as a portable computing solution. This has been brought about with the convertible and detachable computers that can be a tablet one moment or a laptop another moment. Similarly, Intel and Microsoft have pushed the classic desktop microarchitecture and Windows 8 in to the field of the small-sized tablets with chipsets optimised for portable computing and the availability of Windows 8.1 for free with small-screen tablets.

Moble-Platform apps

The mobile platforms have seen a cottage industry of developers write programs or “apps” for these devices that can fit in with our lifestyle. Some of these apps have become mobile “on-ramps” to various online content services like social networks. As well, the e-reader has been displaced by the “e-bookstore” apps written for the mobile platforms so one can use a tablet or smartphone for reading whatever they want to read without worrying.

Recent controversies have arisen regarding how these apps are sold such as the issue of “in-app” sales of downloadable content or virtual currency for games that appeal to children or ad-funded apps that may host advertising that “commercialises” childhood like the sale of toys or junk food. As well there have been issues raised about the quality of apps sold through the app stores with computing “old-timers” relating them to the download sites, bulletin boards and magazine-attached disks of yore.

Wi-Fi an important part of the home network

For that matter, the most important feature of any network, including a home network, is a Wi-Fi wireless-network segment. This has enabled us to do more around the house with laptops, tablets and smartphones yet use cost-effective fixed broadband Internet.

These networks have increased in speed and security courtesy of newer technologies like 802.11n, 802.11ac and use of both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The setup procedure has been simplified for these networks courtesy of WPS-PBC “push-to-connect” setup and the upcoming NFC “touch-to-connect” setup technologies.

Increasingly more networked devices are being designed to work primarily or solely with the Wi-Fi network segment because of the “no new wires” concept that this technology provides. This technology also appeals to the mass-market retailer as an easily-saleable “backbone” for the home network even though there are issues with the radio-network performance.

Mi-Fi devices and the portable Wi-Fi network

Another class of device that is becoming popular is the “Mi-Fi” router which is a portable battery-operated Wi-Fi router for a mobile broadband service. These have appealed to those of us who use temporary network setups with Wi-Fi-only tablets and laptops or simply want to run a mobile-only communications setup.

This has also extended to the arrival of portable NAS units that work as extra storage for smartphones, tablets and laptop computers but work as their own access points for these devices. Manufacturers are even pitching them as a way to store video content on the mobile NAS unit and having people like children view the content on their tablets via the small network that is created by these devices.

The next part of this 5th-anniversary series will liook at the concept of “connected” communications and entertainment and how the home network is playing a strong part in these activities.

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Product Review–Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook

Introduction

I am reviewing the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook which is Lenovo’s latest in its lineup of Yoga 360-degree convertible notebooks. This convertible notebook is a 13” portable-typewriter-size unit in a similar vein to the Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible, with the idea of a screen and keyboard that is comfortably large for creating a significant amount of written content but also appeals as a large-screen tablet.

There is a baseline package which comes with the Intel i5 processor, 4Gb RAM, and 128Gb solid-state drive which is packaged in a 1960s-era orange housing (feelin’ groovy), along with a premium package that has an Intel i7 processor, 8Gb RAM and 256Gb solid-state drive which is packaged in a silver-grey housing. These product variants are available through the retail sector. But you purchase a package which has the Intel i7 processor, 8Gb RAM and 256Gb solid-state drive but fashioned in the orange housing directly from Lenovo’s online storefront.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

Price
– this configuration
RRP
Form factor Convertible – 360-degree hinge
Processor Intel i5-4210U CPU extra cost:
Intel i7-4500 CPU
RAM 4Gb RAM
extra cost
8Gb
shared with graphics
Secondary storage 128Gb solid-state drive,
extra cost:
256Gb solid-state drive
SDXC card reader
Display Subsystem Intel HD 4400 integrated display Display memory in discrete options
Screen 13” widescreen touchscreen
(3200×1800)
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD integrated audio
Audio Improvements Dolby Home Theater tuning
Network Wi-Fi 802.11g/n
Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Modems Dial-up or wireless broadband
Connectivity USB 1 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0
High-speed connections eSATA, Thunderbolt, etc
Video Micro HDMI
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Expansion
Authentication and Security Fingerprint readers, TPM
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 8.1
Windows Experience Index – this configuration Overall: Graphics:
Advanced Graphics:
Insert variants with relative price shifts

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook - tablet view

As a tablet

The Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro is a 360-degree convertible notebook that has the keyboard swing behind the screen to become a tablet. This also allows for setups like a “viewer” setup with the screen at a convenient angle but the keyboard not jutting out or even as a “tent” setup with the hinge at the top of the screen like a table tent-card. This mechanism has been able to operate smoothly with the display changing quickly and responsively.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook - image-viewer view

As a viewer

It has the rubberised feel on the outside and on the palm rest with a distinct non-rubber feel for the actual keys and trackpad area. This make the computer so much easier to operate by touch.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook - as a tent card

As a tent card

The base-model Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro comes in that bright orange colour that was a well-favoured colour for cars, appliances, furniture upholstery or interior design through the 1960s “Flower Power” era. The premium model with the higher specifications comes in a silver-grey colour. But people can order a higher-specified model with that bright-orange colour when they buy the computer directly from Lenovo’s online store.

The Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro does keep its cool properly due to a ventilation grille installed between the hinges. This can be uncomfortable to use when you are operating it as a tablet and holding it like a book.

User Interface

Like most computers that have the 13.3” screen size, the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro has a keyboard that is comfortably large for fast touch-typing and creating of large amounts of written content. It does feel shallow but you can still have the proper tactile feedback to adequately touch-type.

The trackpad is still very responsive but could have hardware override especially if you are touch-typing quickly and use the touchscreen and / or an external mouse to navigate the user interface.

All the supplementary controls are located on the right edge of the computer with buttons for just the volume control and to turn the computer on and off as required. Personally, I would like the on-off button to be easier to identify by feel and this could be preferably a larger button.

Audio and Video

The Lenovo Yogo 2 Pro’s display was very responsive and true to colour when watching online videos but the desktop experience on the high resolution display is stymied by the way most current-generation desktop operating systems like Windows handle high-pixel-density displays. This is where they make the text smaller and, in some cases, harder to read.

The sound does come through clearly for most voice based content when you are listening close to the computer but if you want to get more out of the music or good game effects, I would suggest that you use headphones or external speakers.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook Right-hand side - Power switch, Volume buttons, 3.5mm audio jack, USB 2.0 port

Right-hand side – Power switch, Volume buttons, 3.5mm audio jack, USB 2.0 port

There is a USB port on each side of the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro with one of each type allow for a common reality where one could be using a wired mouse and something like a USB external hard disk to offload extra data while travelling.

The model I am reviewing came with 256Gb of solid-state storage which was quick and responsive. The cheapest model has a 128Gb solid-state drive which would work well just for documents that you create but you may have toe eventually need a USB external hard disk. This is augmented by an SD card reader which comes in handy with your digital camera when you want to quickly download your pictures to take them further.

Battery run-time

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook left-hand side - power connection, USB 3.0 port, microHDMI socket, SDXC card reader

Left-hand side – power connection, USB 3.0 port, microHDMI socket, SDXC card reader

For a highly-portable computer, I am able to complete most regular computing tasks like text editing and Web browsing on the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro without finding I am out of “juice”. Some tasks like continual gaming or video watching may place a bit more strain on the batteries here.

Other usage notes

From my observation with different people, the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro has yielded different levels of interest. This ranged from a perception of it being too heavy to something that appeals as a flexible large secondary computer.

For example, it has been seen to be heavier than other devices that some people are used to using as secondary or companion computer devices like the Apple iPad. Conversely, a friend of mine whom I stay with liked the idea of the 13” convertible form-factor with it able to be a large easy-to-see tablet or something to type copy on.

But the Yoga 360-degree convertible design has piqued some curiosity because of the way it operates causing the system to be a tablet or a laptop computer.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

There is always the problem with the 13” ultraportable laptops being a bit too pricey compared to other computers of smaller or larger screen sizes. This is although they are likely to be considered as secondary computers for those of us who use desktops or larger laptops. The Lenovo still doesn’t change the fact here when it comes to the price of these computers.

Lenovo could offer a step-up model with the Intel i5 processor, 4Gb RAM and a 256Gb solid-state drive and / or offer an entry-level model of the Yoga 2 Pro with the Intel i3 processor for those of us who see it more as the secondary portable computer. It could also be the beginning of a run of colourful convertible notebooks that appeal to the idea of a highly personal computing experience.

Conclusion

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook rear view

Rear view – feelin’ groovy orange

The Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro computer would still come in to its own as a valid option for a secondary computer to create content on even though you have a larger “at-home” desktop or laptop computer, or as a large-screen tablet. Even the entry-level model is worth considering for those of us who value them in this way but want to save money.

The 360-degree convertible mechanism would be of value for those of us who value a convertible or detachable computer that is simple and hassle-free to switch between operation modes. This is especially important for those of us with limited dexterity  or are easily confused.

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Intel Broadwell to provide real computing power in the size of an iPad

Article

Intel’s Broadwell Chips Will Make Full-Fledged PCs As Tiny As Tablets | Gizmodo

My Comments

Intel Broadwell chipset compared to current Haswell chipset - Press image courtesy of Intel

Intel Broadwell chipset compared to current Haswell chipset

Intel is marching on with chipsets and processors that effectively put a pint in to a teapot when it comes to computing power.

They had done it with the Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge and Haswell chipsets based around the Core I series of CPUs and are increasing the power density and ability with the Broadwell Core M series of processors. The goal they are achieving now is to work on a 9mm-thick fanless portable computer design that has the lower power needs and the ability to run cool for a long time without needing a fan while also having improved battery runtime. This is without sacrificing real computing power. These goals have been satisfied using a new microarchitecture along with newer manufacturing processes and is although the fanless goal has been achieved with the Bay Trail and other tablet-specific processors.

9mm fanless tablet concept with regular computing power - Press image courtesy of Intel

9mm fanless tablet concept with regular computing power

This activity is shown up with the latest crop of mobile workstations and gaming laptops like the Dell Precision mobile workstations and the Lenovo ThinkPad W Series mobile workstations, or the Razer Blade and the Alienware gaming laptop that can handle intense graphics, multimedia and gaming tasks, that wouldn’t be traditionally associated with a laptop.

This could effectively mainstream the concept of the ultraportable such as the convertible or detachable tablet and have it as being fit for a lot more computing tasks. Even product classes like the larger Adaptive All-In-One tablets can also benefit from having effectively “more grunt” and those portable computers that are engineered from the outset for performance like mobile workstations or gaming laptops may become lighter or be able to run longer on their own batteries.

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Lightweight and gaming agree for a new Alienware gaming laptop

Article

The New Alienware 13-inch Laptop Promises Pro Gaming Without Backache | Gizmodo

My Comments

Quite a few examples of laptops with enough “grunt” to satisfy tasks intended for desktop computers are appearing. These are typically showing up either as “mobile workstations” for serious activity like CAD work or as “gaming laptops” for core game-playing activity. This is also happening in a similar vein with “all-in-one” desktops like the HP Z1 Workstation.

The integrated screens that these computers have appeal to users who want to quickly set up a multi-display arrangement using an external monitor, flat-screen TV or a projector. This plays well with those of us who may want to move between different setups like a desktop setup with an external desktop monitor, a presentation setup with the projector or a quick-to-setup gaming environment in a common lounge area using the flat-screen TV located there.

Some of us may think of a games-focused high-performance computer as being fit for a “starter” workstation for tasks like multimedia creation or may consider a low-tier workstation as being fit for core-level game-play because both these activities demand the use of high-performance computers. The main issue there may be factors like the way the system is physically designed or the choice of graphics chipset which may be optimised to either professional graphics or fast-paced games.

In the gaming sphere, Dell’s Alienware brand is having to face Razer when courting mobile gamers and they have fielded a 13” gaming laptop which is considered lightweight as far as the product class is concerned. Most gamers may consider this a waste because of the small screen but I would see this work well for gamers who would use it for, for example, a dual-screen “regular-computer” gaming scenario in a lounge area like the living room at home or a common room in the college dorm using its screen and the ordinary flat-screen TV in the lounge area.

Like most computers under the Dell umbrella, this will be offered in a highly-customisable form that allows one to effectively tailor it to their needs. It is another example where Dell is attempting to push the boundaries of normal product-class-specific computer design to effectively “fill the holes” left in the marketplace by other computer manufacturers.

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ASUS to launch a Windows detachable laptop with detachable Android smartphone

Article

ASUS Transformer Book V is a Windows hybrid laptop with a detachable Android phone | Engadget

My Comments

There have been various devices that were effectively multiple devices in one package with one device being able to be detached to perform its own function. One of these devices that came to my mind was Hitachi’s TRK-W1 boombox of the early 80s. This was a high-quality radio-cassette unit with two cassette transports but one of the transports in this unit was in fact capable of becoming a cassette Walkman once it was detached from the main unit and effectively combined two portable-audio paradigms that were underscored through that time period.

ASUS has applied this same concept to the Transformer Book V detachable laptop which has a separately-detachable smartphone. Here, you had a 12” detachable “hybrid” laptop running Windows 8.1 which could become a tablet one moment and a laptop the next like with the HP x2 series. But you could clip a supplied 5” Android smartphone in to the back of the tablet to provide for access to the mobile broadband service.

The tablet could run Windows 8.1 or, with the phone attached, could run Android 4.4 KitKat in a “virtual-phone” window or run as a full-on Android tablet / laptop. It has 4Gb RAM and 128Gb solid-state storage but has a 1Tb hard disk in the battery-less keyboard attachment. The phone would have 64Gb of its own storage and 2Gb of its own RAM. But there is a limitation that each operating system can only use its own storage space.

Who knows when ASUS would officially launch it with many people looking at it housed in a glass showcase. As well, who knows if this would he launched to all of the markets but ASUS are showing that a device integrating Windows and Android in all the useable form factors can be made available.

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Product Review–Lenovo ThinkPad G50-70 laptop

Introduction

I am reviewing the Lenovo G50-70 15” laptop which is a model that Lenovo are pitching as an affordable model for families to consider as the household laptop or a student who is wanting one to use for their studies and party life.

There are three different variants of this laptop model with this one offering an Intel i5 processor, 4Gb on the RAM and 500Gb on the hard disk. It also comes with AMD discrete graphics that work alongside the Intel integrated graphics in an “overdrive” fashion.

There is a cheaper variant that uses an Intel i3 processor and integrated graphics only while the premium variant offers an Intel i7 processor, the full discrete graphics treatment along with 8Gb on the RAM and 1Tb on the hard disk.

Lenovo Thinkpad G50-70 Laptop

Price
– this configuration
RRP AUD$699
Form factor Regular laptop
Processor Intel i5-4200U cheaper
Intel i3-4005U
extra cost
Intel i7-4500U
RAM 4 Gb
extra cost:
8 Gb
shared with graphics
Secondary storage 500Gb hard disk
extra cost:
1 Tb hard disk
DVD-RW burner, SDHC card reader
variants available
Display Subsystem AMD Radeon R5 M230 discrete graphics +
Intel HD integrated graphics

cheaper:
Intel HD4400 integrated graphics
2Gb Display memory
Screen 15” widescreen
(1366×768)
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD Audio
Audio Improvements Dolby Digital Plus
Network Wi-Fi 802.11g/n
Ethernet 10/100 Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Modems Dial-up or wireless broadband
Connectivity USB 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0
Video HDMI output, VGA
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack, digital output via HDMI
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 8.1

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

The Lenovo G50-70 Series is a well-built regular laptop with a charcoal grey finish like other products. It also exhibits the same level of durability that is associated with that name.

This unit hasn’t had heat build-up and you may be able to work with it on your knees. As well, I haven’t heard a fan kick in frequently while it is in operation.

User Interface

The Lenovo G50’s keyboard uses a chiclet design but is laid out for accurate touch-typing. It feels responsive and hard this having the proper tactile feedback. The function keys are offered as a default function without you needing to press the Fn key to gain that function – Alt-F4 to close a program is still Alt-F4 rather than Alt-Fn-F4.

The trackpad does its job properly but can, like most trackpads, be susceptible to being triggered accidentally in a bout of touch-typing. Personally, I would have a trackpad ovverride switch for those of us who use mice or do a long bout of touch-typing.

Audio and Video

Lenovo Thinkpd G50 laptop - Left-hand-side view - VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, USB 3.0, USB 2.0

Left-hand-side view – VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, USB 3.0, USB 2.0

Thanks to the use of dedicated graphics infrastructure, I would expect this variant of the Lenovo G50-70 to come up well with multimedia and games and it did so when I ran the DVD to test its battery runtime. Like most consumer laptops, there is the issue of a glossy screen which can perplex some users.

Audio, altuough being equipped with Dolby tuning, is typical for most laptops – small speakers that contest with other circuitry for sounding space.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

Lenovo Thinkpad G50 laptop -Right-hand side view - Audio jack, SD card reader, USB 3.0. DVD burner

Right-hand side view – Audio jack, SD card reader, USB 3.0. DVD burner

The Lenovo G50 comes with 3 USB ports, two ofhich are USB 3.0 ports along with an audio in-out socket. You could connect it to external video displays and projectors using the HDMI or VGA sockets which can also suit use with older monitors and economy data projectors.

For network connectivity, you can connect to a wired Ethernet network using a “clothespeg-style” Ethernet connector similar to what has been used with the HP Envy4 series of computers and the Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider convertible connector. But the wired connection can only go up to 100Mbps which doesn’t allow for today’s next-generation broadband requirements. The Wi-Fi segment is a single-band 802.11g/n setup which will suit most home, work and coffee-shop wireless networks while you have Bluetooth 4.0 Low-Energy (Bluetooth Smart Ready) operation for wireless peripherals.

The 500Gb hard disk has the right capacity for most users and I am pleased that the whole series comes with a DVD burner, something that is starting to disappear in this day and age as far as secondary storage is concerned. Think of kids watching DVDs on the long journey, being able to share data via a very cheap optical disk or even loading some retail-box software like games still delivered on optical disk.

Battery life

The Lenovo G50’s battery life was very typical for most “mainstream” laptops where it could work for a long time on basic tasks but not so well for multimedia tasks. This was aided by the implementation of a dual-graphics setup which can be configured to prefer the integrated graphics for battery use.

I even run this for one and a half hours playing a DVD before the battery gave up the ghost. This was to see how it would handle activities like playing multimedia content while “on the road”.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Lenovo G50 Series could benefit from having a full Gigabit Ethernet port for wired networks while it could have at least dual-band 8802.11n Wi-Fi network abilities which would be now considered for today’s networks with the imminent arrival of next-generation broadband.

As well, for a family laptop, it could benefit from the same keyboard and trackpad design that the Thinkpad laptop range implement due to the ruggedness that was effectively built in to these models. This could be augmented with an override switch so you are not always triggering the trackpad.

Conclusion

Lenovo Thinkpad G50-70 laptop lidview

Unassuming lid view

The Lenovo G50-70 Series is really the laptop equivalent of a middle-of-the-road “family car” like a Ford Falcon or Holden Commodore sedan in Australia and New Zealand.  It is available in a range of models that can “do the job”with one offering baseline functionality, one offering what most people want and a premium model that has “all the fruit”. It is infact one of a few I would recommend for a household to consider as a candidate for the “family laptop” or for someone to consider as a personal “all-purpose” laptop.

Most families and students after this model could get by with the mid-tier package that I reviewed with it being able to do most “across-the-board” computing tasks.Those who are seeking performance or on-board storage capacity may find it better to head for the top-shelf model.

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A convertible or a detachable–It’s Acer’s Switch 10

Articles

Acer announces new devices including new 2-in-1 laptop and 23-inch All-in-Ones | Windows Experience Blog

From the horse’s mouth

Acer

Press Release

Previous Coverage

Convertible Or Detachable – Where To Go?

My Comments

A detachable of the ilk of HP’s x2 Series or ASUS Transformer Prime series is either a conventional laptop when clipped with its keyboard base or a tablet that lies flat on the table or cradled in your hands.

But Acer has changed this view with the Switch 10 detachable tablet. This is one which can be positioned in a manner not dissimilar to most convertibles like the Lenovo Yoga series or the Sony VAIO Fit 13a where you can arrange the screen to be positioned at an angle for convenient touchscreen operation or viewing of pictures and video.

This is implemented with Acer’s Snap Hinge which is a special hinge that clips the keyboard base and tablet together like normal or can simply allow the tablet to be swiveled with the screen facing out. This means that the tablet be in a “tent” mode or an angled display mode as well as the laptop or tablet modes. As well, this 10” detachable runs on an Intel Bay Trail chipset with 2Gb RAM and 64Gb SSD storage and uses Windows 8.1 as its operating system.

But what I see of this is that it could be come a way to present a computer that offers the advantages of a detachable tablet in the form of lightweight operation and a convertible laptop which can be swiveled around for viewing or creating content. It is another way of making sure that the portable computer idea doesn’t forget that the keyboard has relevance for creating content.

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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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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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