Another independent ISP provides broadband into rural UK communities

Article

County Broadband Bring 1Gbps FTTP Network to Rural Homes in Broughton | ISP Review

From the horse’s mouth

County Broadband

Home Page

Broughton Fibre FTTP Project

Home Page

Press Release

My Comments

County Broadband are a wireless ISP who are offering improved Internet service across most of rural Cambridgeshire and East Anglia in the UK. But they have decided to run a 1Gbps fibre-to-the-premises service in Broughton, Cambridgeshire as a proving ground for deploying this technology in rural villages.

This is similar to the efforts that Gigaclear, B4RN and other small-time rural ISPs are undertaking to enable real broadband expectations in other parts of rural England. In this case it is to provide a viable alternative to substandard ADSL service that may not have a chance of hitting the headline 2Mbps speed thanks to the typically decrepit telephony infrastructure that these areas end up with.

They are announcing the impending arrival of this service through a village hall meeting for the townsfolk on the 4th of August 2017. The ISPReview article raised issues about poor-quality service with BT Openreach saying on their Website that the local street cabinet was mad ready for fibre but this installation was found to be located 3 miles or 4.828 km away from Broughton, without the likelihood of delivering high-speed broadband to that town.

That article also said that, like what has happened in other British rural areas, larger companies would “wake up and smell the bacon” with the intent to service those areas because of the small-time operators offering next-generation Internet in to those areas thus leading to infrastructure-level competition. Of course, there is also the fact that as the town grows, more retail-level ISPs could be offering to use the infrastructure to service that neighbourhood along with mobile telephony providers using the same infrastructure to provide an improved cellular mobile telephony service for that area.

But I also see this as being of benefit to the householders and businesses who want to benefit from what a high-speed Internet connection offers. This is more so where small businesses see the cloud as a way of allowing them to grow up such as for a shop to move from the old cash register towards a fully-electronic POS system as part of “growing up”, or for the hospitality trade to benefit from offering high-speed Wi-Fi Internet as a marketable amenity.

For County Broadband to provide the FTTP fibre-optic infrastructure to Broughton as a proving ground could lead them to better paths for rural broadband improvement. This could mean something like more villages and small towns in East Anglia being wired for next-generation future-proof Internet and perhaps making that area an extension of the Silicon Fen.

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Controlled folder access to come to Windows 10 soon

Articles 

Windows 10 preview build protects your files from ransomware | Engadget

Windows 10 will hide your important files from ransomware soon | The Verge

Microsoft previews new ransomware protection feature | Bit-Tech

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft

Windows Experience blog post

My Comments

If you have heard the news over the last few month, you will have heard about ransomware activity in the form of the WannaCry and Petya ransomware variants getting at major installations including the NHS and the Victorian traffic-camera infrastructure.

But Microsoft has attacked this problem in a different way by providing application-level control for the next major update for Windows 10 – the Fall Creator’s Update. It is part of refining the Windows Defender security software that is part of the operating system for improved business-tier data security.

It is a very similar process to what Android and iOS do in relation to allowing the user to control what apps have access to what resources and features on their smartphone or tablet. It is also in contrast to how regular-computer operating systems work when it comes to controlling the level of access granted to a computer’s file system, where users or groups of users are typically granted particular levels of access to folders or files.

Here, once you enable the Controlled Folder Access function, applications can’t add, modify or delete files in folders where this control exists unless the app is part of a user-defined whitelist.  The routine for adding an app to the whitelist will be very similar to what you do on your iPhone or Android phone when it comes to allowing that app you newly downloaded to have access to a particular resource on your smartphone and could occur during installation or when you first use that app after enabling Controlled Folders.

By default, this feature would be enabled for the Documents, Desktop, Pictures and Videos folder trees but you can enable this feature for other folders such as “ad-hoc” work folders created on the system disk or other fixed storage on your system. I am not sure is this is also to apply to removable storage like USB hard disks, USB memory keys or SD cards, or whether this can also apply to network and online storage like your NAS shares or your Dropbox folder.

A question that can also be raised is whether the Controlled Folder feature will also provide a way to limit access to other system resources by apps. Here, it could range from access to network and Internet resources to prevent spyware from “phoning home” or to limit access to your computer’s Webcam and microphone to limit use of these resources as a surveillance tool.

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AVM adds distributed Wi-Fi functionality to the Fritz!Box

Article – German language / Deutsche Sprache

Fritz!Box: Auch AVM setzt auf Mesh-WLAN | Netzwelt.de

From the horse’s mouth

AVM

AVM FRITZ!Box 3490 - Press photo courtesy AVM

AVM Fritz!Box – the first Wi-Fi device range to implement distributed Wi-Fi through a software upgrade

FRITZ! Labor für WLAN Mesh (Product Details)

My Comments

A major trend affecting the home network is the rise of distributed Wi-Fi systems which are simple-to-setup Wi-Fi networks that use a mesh-based or “repeater-extender” Wi-Fi wireless backbone. Some ISPs are even offering these kind of systems as an added-value option that customers can “buy on” or product differentiator for their top-shelf packages.

But AVM, a network-technology company based in Berlin, Germany, and known for its Fritz!Box routers have taken a different approach to this situation. This is in addition to being the first home-network hardware  Here, they are offering this functionality in the form of a user-deployed software upgrade just released in Germany for some of their devices, namely the Fritz!Box 7490, 7580 and 7590 modem routers and the Fritz!WLAN Repeater 1750E Wi-Fi repeater and Fritz!Powerline 1240E HomePlug access point.

Here, AVM has done away with the need for households to replace their equipment to head towards the mesh-driven Wi-Fi home network.They just have to download the newer firmware updates from AVM’s Website and apply them to the Fritz!Box modem router. Then they take advantage of a firmware-hosted “Home Network Overview” (Heimnetzübersicht) dashboard to roll out the “over-the-air” firmware updates to any compatible Fritz!WLAN repeater or Fritz!Powerline access point to have them part of the mesh. Of course, it also facilitates one-touch configuration of the network with each wireless node in the meh being part of the proper “extended service set” with the same ESSID and security parameters.

The question here is whether AVM will implement just the wireless backbone for their mesh or have it support a wired (Ethernet or HomePlug AV2) backbone as well. Here, supporting a wired backbone as well as the wireless backbone can cater towards difficult network setups like stone buildings or multiple-building properties.

What do I see of this? Personally I would see the European network-hardware vendors implement a fully software-driven approach towards the advanced Wi-Fi setup. It would then lead to ISPs in highly-competitive markets like France rolling out this kind of functionality simply through a software functionality update for their customer-premises equipment.

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Amazon gives Alexa intercom abilities for their Echo devices

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

The Amazon Echo to replace that intercom you bought from Radio Shack

Amazon is turning every Echo device into an intercom | Engadget

Your Amazon Echo-Filled House Now has an Alexa Intercom System | Droid Life

Amazon wants the Echo to replace your home intercom | VentureBeat

My Comments

As the battle heats up between Amazon, Google and, very soon, Apple and Microsoft for the voice-driven home assistant platform, there is a strong likelihood that these platforms will acquire new features “out of the box” at a regular pace without the need to add a “skill” or app.

Initially Amazon added a telephony function to their Alexa platform with video telephony for the Echo Show videophone device.  Now they are introducing an intercom function for their Echo devices. It is due to the fact that a lot of the households that buy Amazon Echo devices will end up equipping their home with many of these devices, such as to kit out a pair of computer speakers or old boombox with an Echo Dot.

This may be similar to an intercom system that you may have used in your home, be it that little portable box that plugs in to the wall and uses your AC wiring as a communications path or that fancy radio-intercom setup integrated in your home with one of the units having an integrated radio tuner.

Here, you have to name each Echo device with a room-unique name when you set it up or revise its settings. Then you have to enable the “drop-in” functionality on the Alexa app, whereupon you can tell Alexa to call a specific device. You can set up the “drop-in” functionality to monitor a particular room such as to monitor a sleeping baby or hear if your older parent is calling out.

The system even works across the Internet rather than just your home network, which can come in handy with families and neighbours who want to keep in touch with each other in the same community.

You can upgrade your existing Amazon Echo equipment towards this functionality by simply updating the software in the Echo devices and the Alexa app to the latest version. But I wouldn’t put it past Amazon to roll this function out to other devices that are based on the Alexa platform or to work out ways to improve on it. Similarly, I wouldn’t put it past Google, Apple and Microsoft to answer Amazon with an intercom feature of their own.

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Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop–now refreshed

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Dell

Product Page

TV commercial – click or tap to play

Previous Coverage

Product Review of previous-generation unit

My Comments

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptopSometime during March this year, I reviewed the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming laptop, simply known as the Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop, which was based on the 6th-generation Intel Core i7 CPU with a cheaper option for an Intel Core i5 CPU. Here, this high-performance computer was positioned as a gaming laptop that doesn’t show the aggressive looks of computers destined at this kind of user, rather it conveys a style similar to the typical 15” mainstream laptop. It was also kitted out with 8Gb RAM and a 1Tb hard disk for the cheaper i5 variant and 16Gb RAM, 128Gb solid-state disk and 1Tb hard disk for the more expensive i7 variant. This is also in conjunction with NVIDIA dedicated graphics that has 4Gb display memory and Optimus automatic switching between dedicated and integrated graphics.

In the review, I had positioned the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming product range at those of us who are chasing performance in a portable form. This was ranging from someone who wants something that can be quickly put away after use, or someone who is living a relatively nomadic lifestyle like one who works in the merchant navy or doing business placements around the world. I also exposed it towards students studying courses involving advanced graphics or people dabbling with photos, video or animation as a hobby or small-time business effort but don’t want to follow the Apple path.

But just lately, Dell refreshed the Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming series of high-performance laptop computers with the 7th Generation Intel processors, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 series dedicated graphics with the Ti variant being a product differentiator, The cheaper machines come with a 256Gb SSD while the premium model comes with a 1Tb hard disk as well. This is a process that happens with all of the computers that become available where a manufacturer will issue a newer model that is simply equipped with newer and better silicon but is like the model that was released prior when it comes to form, function and product positioning.

The entry-level configuration costs AUD$1399 and comes with Intel i5 horsepower, 8Gb RAM, 256Gb solid-state drive, and NVIDIA GTX 1050 graphics, The step-up model which costs AUD$1499 comes with the same specs as the entry-level model but uses the NVIDIA GTX 1050Ti which offers a level of better graphics performance. Then the premium model which costs AUD$1599 comes with the Intel i7 horsepower, 16Gb RAM, 1Tb hard disk and 256Gb SSD as secondary storage along with the NVIDIA GTX1050Ti graphics.

But Dell are riding on the Spider-Man Homecoming movie just about to be released in to Australian cinemas for the Australian winter school holidays by running a TV commercial themed around this movie that is now on your TV. I have watched this ad a few times and see it not just as a “games during class” concept but also the fact that these computers can be relevant with advanced graphics as part of a STEM or media-focused study curriculum.

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What is G.Fast all about?

Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router press picture courtesy of Telstra

G.Fast could be the next step for DSL-based fibre-copper broadband setups

There is a newer iteration of the DSL physical-loop network connection standards that has shown up on the scene lately. It is known as G.Fast and is intended for fibre-copper layouts that encompass a longer fibre run from the exchange or central office.

This is an improvement over the VDSL2 family of standards currently used for fibre-copper setups where there is a longer copper run, such as “fibre-to-the-node” or “fibre-to-the-cabinet” setups. What it is capable of is a bandwidth up to a Gigabit / second over a 500 metre copper run.

House

It could be about fibre to the front yard here

What has happened lately is that a compatibility-testing regime for this standard has been launched thanks to a number of laboratories who are undertaking these tests. As well, it is being put on the map as far as a copper-based last-mile communications standard goes.

Yarra's Edge apartment blocks

or high-speed fibre to the basement in these apartment blocks

There is interest in this technology for use as part of next-generation broadband setups where fibre and copper are used in the link, but it is targeted towards relatively-short copper runs.

Examples of these are:

  • fibre-to-the-distribution-point / fibre-to-the-curb – where the DSLAM modem is installed in a distribution point or frame that serves a street and, perhaps, some cul-de-sac courts
  • fibre-to-the-front-yard / fibre-to-the-frontage – where the DSLAM modem is located outside a single-occupancy property and just serves that property, or a DSLAM is set up to serve a small group of terrace houses or a small strip of shops.
  • fibre-to-the-building / fibre-to-the-basement – a setup used with multiple-occupancy buildings with the DSLAM equipment installed in a wiring closet or equipment room within the building and telephone cabling used between the equipment room and the individual premises.

Some of these deployments that serve few premises permit the use of a single-premises DSLAM box that is the size of a shoehox or, more realistically, one of those “shoebox-form” cassette recorders prevalent through the 1970s as an entry-level cassette recorder. This can be installed in an access pit or attached to a telegraph pole and could be “reverse powered” by the subscriber’s modem or a power injector installed on the subscriber’s premises.

The advantage being pitched is that a subscriber can head to “next-generation” Internet even if they are in a predicament that restricts or prohibits the deployment of new street-premises wiring infrastructure. This could range from brick or stone houses where it is costly in time and money to pull new wiring, through the desire to preserve a carefully-landscaped garden, to tenants who have to seek their landlord’s permission to install infrastructure, along with being sure someone is home to supervise the technicians installing the infrastructure.

Let’s not forget that a fibre-to-the-distribution-point setup or a fibre-to-the-building setup can also be ready for Gigabit broadband once G.Fast is implemented. There may also be the idea of using these DSLAMs as part of level-based telecommunications infrastructure in the high-rise buildings to assure high bandwidth across the development.

At the moment, G.Fast service customers will need to be supplied with a G.Fast DSL modem which they connect to their broadband router’s Ethernet WAN socket and the telephone line. This will happen as part of signing up to these next-generation Internet services that use that technology. But very soon it will lead towards the arrival of a subsequent generation of DSL modem routers that are equipped with a G.Fast / VDSL2+ / ADSL2+ modem as a WAN (Internet) connection option.

G.Fast will end up being suitable for population-dense urban areas being served by a fibre-optic next-generation broadband service as long as the copper cable run goes as far as the street.

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Full-fibre ISPs are calling for action to qualify next-generation broadband service in the UK

Article

Fibre optic cable trench in village lane - press picture courtesy of Gigaclear

Fibre to the premises courtesy of Gigaclear

“Full Fibre” ISPs Call on ASA to Stop Misleading UK “Fibre Broadband” Adverts | ISP Review

My Comments

While the NBN are taking things slowly to roll out next-generation broadband Internet in to Australian communities and providing most with a fibre-copper service, the UK are facing a similar problem.

Most of urban Britain are being provisioned with similar fibre-copper next-generation broadband service, typically “fibre-to-the-cabinet” with a copper VDSL2 link between the street cabinet and the customer’s door. This is while a handful of ISPs and infrastructure providers like Gigaclear, Cityfibre and Hyperoptic are running fibre-to-the-premises next-generation broadband infrastructure, whether to country properties or large urban developments.

But a lot of telcos and ISPs are using the word “fibre” as part of hawking their next-generation broadband Internet product, while it is seen as a keyword by the marketers to say that the service will provide higher bandwidth to the customer than what was normally expected. This is although they are running a fibre-copper Internet service in most of their territories.

What is being raised is how should a broadband service be qualified in relationship to its infrastructure when the service is advertised to the public. It isn’t just about whether a service implements fibre to the premises or not, but how much of the run between the exchange or head-end and the customer’s premises is being covered by a fibre link.

There has to be distinct keywords to say that a service is being provided “fibre-to-the-premises”, a “majority-fibre” service like fibre-to-the-building or fibre-to-the-distribution-point, or a “minority-fibre” service like fibre-to-the-cabinet. Other issues that need to be raised is whether a service is being delivered with symmetrical (upload / download) bandwidth or is an “exclusive bandwidth” service like active fibre where each customer gets the full contracted bandwidth rather than facing bandwidth contention.

What Gigaclear and co are raising is that customers need to know what they are able to get when they sign up for a next-generation broadband Internet service or other advanced telecommunications service.

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Spotify now ported for the Windows 10 Store

Articles

Spotify Windows 10 Store port

Spotify – now fully part of Windows 10

Spotify is now available in the Windows Store – The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Spotify

Press Release

Microsoft

Windows Blog post

Get Spotify from Microsoft Store for your Windows 10 computer

My Comments

One of the first Windows apps to be ported to the Windows 10 Store as a “Universal Windows Platform” app is Spotify. This port, facilitated with the Centennial “desktop-to-UWP” toolkit, is primarily to have it available for computers running the Windows 10 S variant of the Windows 10 operating system, which can’t accept anything other than what is available at the Windows Store.

Another feature that will also be par for the course will be that the Spotify Windows 10 client will be updated through Windows Store rather than always polling Spotify’s servers for software updates. But further versions of this client could exploit Windows 10’s features like using a Live Tile or showing notifications in the Action Center. As well, when Microsoft opens up more relevant API hooks in subsequent major Windows 10 updates that opens up newer functionality, it will be easier for the Spotify developers to take advantage of it.

I installed the port on my desktop computer which is running Windows 10 and found that this was a simplified installation routine which carried my Spotify account and other details across. It was really a simplified installation process for a crossgrade from the standalone package that Spotify offered.

Some reviewers had criticised some other Windows Store ports of existing Windows programs due to them enforcing the installation of the new software alongside the extant software or requiring the user to re-establish themselves with the services the software was a part of. But they appreciated the “one-touch” deployment process when drawing it down from the Windows Store whether this was a new installation or to upgrade the existing client.

What is being called out by Spotify is how a software developer can make a program available via the Microsoft Store for Windows 10 computers but cater to those users who have an existing desktop version of the program but want to take advantage of the new port.

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Product Review–Dell Inspiron 13 2-in-1 laptop

Introduction

I am reviewing Dell’s attempt to achieve a popularly-priced large 2-in-1 laptop that can appeal to all users. There is the Del Inspiron 13 5000 variant of this 2-in-1 which omits the USB-C and Intel RealSense camera and is sold for $200 cheaper normally. It is a system that reminds me of the first 13″ Dell Inspiron laptop that I had reviewed where there was a sense of value for money along with the durability in that product.

The model I am reviewing is equipped with the Intel 6th Generation Core processor which is the previous generation CPU. You may be coming across these computers through the sales and may want to see this as a chance to assess the bargain that is being offered. But I have quoted prices for the newer models that have been refreshed with the 7th generation (Kaby Lake) hardware.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 laptop at Rydges Melbourne hotel

Price
– this configuration
Current generation:
AUD$1699 (Intel i5)
AUD$1899 (Intel i7)
Market Positioning Mainstream consumer laptop
Form Factor Convertible laptop
Processor Previous Generation
Intel Core i7-6500U
Current Generation
similar option:
Intel Core i7-7500U
cheaper option
Intel Core i5-7200U
RAM 8 GB
better option:
12 Gb
Secondary storage Previous Generation
256 GB SSD
similar option:
256 Gb SSD
better option:
512 Gb SSD
SDXC card reader
Display Subsystem Intel HD Graphics 620
Screen 13” widescreen touch display (Full HD) LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Realtek HD Audio
Audio Improvements MaxxAudio
Network Wi-Fi 802.11ac dual band
Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.1
Modems
Connectivity USB and Thunderbolt 3 1 x USB-C with Power Delivery
1 x USB 3.0 with Sleep and Charge
1 x USB 2.0
Video DisplayPort via USB-C
HDMI 1.4
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Authentication and Security RealSense camera
Operating System in supplied configuration Windows 10 Home

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 laptop in presentation-viewer mode at Rydges Hotel MelbourneI have found that the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 convertible laptop is well built and uses an aluminium keyboard surround and palmrest that feels cool to the touch.

It has the similar weight to the typical recent-issue 13” mainstream laptop computer thus not being too heavy to carry around. To convert it between a tablet or laptop setup, I have found that it requires the right amount of effort for this process and it works smoothly. The experience would be similar to opening or closing most of the conventional laptops.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 laptop in tablet modeAn issue that I keep an eye out for with laptops is how they keep their cool. Here, the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 uses vents located near the hinges to disperse waste heat. Here, it also allows the computer to be comfortable to use in all modes. As well, I had not noticed that there was excessive overheating even with playing video content through the computer.

User Interface

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 laptop in tent modeThe Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1’s keyboard is easy to work with even if you are touch-typing. This illuminated keyboard has the right spacing but also has just enough tactile feedback so you can type quickly. But some users may find that they have to have the illuminated keyboard on to make it easy to see the letters.

The multi-touch trackpad works as expected and isn’t prone to being hair-trigger. Let’s not forget that the touchscreen works properly although it is glossy like on other consumer laptops.

Audio / Video

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 laptop - Left-hand side - Power, USB-C, HDMI video, USB 3.0, 3.5mm audio jack

Left-hand side – Power, USB-C, HDMI video, USB 3.0, 3.5mm audio jack

The Intel integrated video system even could handle video playback from something like a Facebook home video without underperforming. This was even with the Dell 2-in-1 laptop running on its own batteries and sipping the current.

Although this laptop implements the Waves MaxxAudio sound tuning, the sound quality is very typical of most computers of its size. Here, it would be good enough for personal content viewing but don’t expect much especially if you want good-quality music playback whereupon I would prefer to use it with external sound systems.

Connectivity, Storage And Expansion

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 laptop - Right-hand side - USB 2.0, SD card reader

Right-hand side – USB 2.0, SD card reader

The complement of connections on this computer allows for it to be future proof without requiring you to buy extra accessories.

Here, all the variants of the Dell Inspiron 13 2-in-1 have a USB-C socket with Power Delivery both ways, but I would like to see a top-shelf variant of this model offering the Thunderbolt 3 connection rather than the standard USB-C connection. It would then open up the path towards external graphics modules and similar devices as a performance-improvement path. Of course there is the support for connecting monitors using this connection thanks to the DisplayPort alt support the connection has.

This is in addition to a standard HDMI port along with two USB Type-A connections – one being a 3.0 variant for external hard disks and the like and another for larger keyboards and mice. Dell still offers a USB-C expansion module that adds on another HDMI port, a VGA port for that old data projector they continue to use, a Gigabit Ethernet port that can work if your place is wired for Ethernet or with a HomePlug powerline network and a spare USB 3.0 port. This is something I would consider if I was valuing extra connectivity and can be tucked in to your backpack or messenger bag.

The Dell Inspiron 13 2-in-1s offer the right mix of RAM and storage even in their baseline variants. This would be 256Gb for SSD storage and 8Gb RAM which means that you aren’t being starved when it comes to performance and data storage. Here, the SSD on the review sample had lived up to its performance expectations.

For those of you who have digital cameras, the Dell Inspiron 13 2-in-1 comes with an SD card reader so you can easily and quickly download your pictures or footage on to the computer’s storage.

Battery Life

In most situations, the battery was able to last a day of regular computing without the need for me to have the power adaptor connected to the computer.

Other Usage Notes

Most people impressed by the Dell Inspiron 13 2-in-1 as being a representative of the convertible 2-in-1 class of computer.  This is although these computers are not often purchased and once someone buys a touchscreen laptop or a 2-in-1, they will miss these features when they go back to a traditional design.

There are some users, typically those who moved to the Apple environment, who expressed worry about the keyboard on these computers ending up being damaged if the computer is used as a tablet or presentation-viewer setup. It typically represents a staid expectation amongst users when it comes to mobile personal computing where they are comfortable with a traditional clamshell laptop and a mobile-platform tablet.

Personally, I found that if I wanted to browse the Web at a table, I could simply have the computer in the “presentation—viewer” mode so that I am not taking up much room on the table.

I showed the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 computer to a representative from InfoXchange who visited the Melbourne Men’s Shed as part of a digital-literacy survey amongst its members. Here, they were impressed by the touchscreen in the context of older computer users and the use of a tablet as a personal computing device for this user class but liked the idea of the detachable form factor for those who have back issues. She  tried the fold-over aspect but may not have noticed it as offering the same advantage. They appreciated the idea of a keyboard so that these users can also do document-creation work but also liked the idea of the tablet or presentation-viewer modes being suitable for Web browsing or video viewing (think Netflix or catch-up TV).

Subsequently I met up with a new friend of mine who is of an older age group and they were impressed with the Dell Inspiron 13 2-in-1’s form factor including the touchscreen. Here, one of the features that intrigued them was the ability to zoom in to text with their fingers, something that appealed to them as they didn’t have the full vision that we take for granted.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

One way that Dell could improve on the Inspiron 13 2-in-1 family would be to offer a Thunderbolt 3 connection as an option for the premium variants like the 7000 Series. This is while they use a USB-C with full Power Delivery for the affordable variants like the 5000 Series. It is alongside maintaining the commonly-used connections like the USB 3.0 connections or the HDMI video connection.

But I would still want to see Dell keep the Inspiron 13 2-in-1 family as a value-priced “Yoga-class” convertible computer with the right mix of features that pitches towards what most people want. Here, they need to focus on a well-built affordable machine that can survive a lot of use but can appeal to most people without being the ultra-cool computer that answers Apple’s products.

Conclusion

A well-built 13″ 2-in-1 convertible notebook that represents value for money

Like I have seen with most of the Dell Inspiron laptop computer lineup, I have found that the Dell Inspiron 13 2-in-1 convertible laptops have represented something that offers value for money in its product class.

This is something that is durable but is light enough to carry and is priced in a manner to have you think of it as a main or sole computing device which you can purpose as a large-screen tablet. The RAM and storage capacity offered in the available configurations underscore something that befits this use case whether you choose to run with the package based on the value-priced Intel i5 processor or the one based on the performance Intel i7 variant.

If more of those apps that appear on most iPads could be ported to Windows 10 and made available on the Windows Store, then the 2-in-1s like this Dell could be a viable alternative to the iPad that is kept at home.

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A four-horse race for voice-driven home assistants

Articles

Apple Homepod smart speaker press picture courtesy of Apple Inc.

Apple Homepod smart speaker – a competitor to Amazon, Google and Microsoft

Apple readying Siri-powered home assistant: report | Yaho 7 News

From the horse’s mouth

Apple

Press Release

My Comments

The voice-driven home assistant has approached a point of competition where there are four different actors involved.

This class of computing device is based around a speakerphone-type device that can respond to your voice by answering questions you put to it cause certain actions to occur at your command. It was initially brought on by Amazon with their Echo speaker and Alexa voice assistant, but was subsequently answered by Google with their Home speaker based on their Google Now platform.

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

The Amazon Alexa platform now faces some healthy competition from Apple as well

Very recently Microsoft touted one of these speakers that is based on the Cortana voice-driven personal assistant platform. Not to be outdone, Apple just announced a smart speaker and voice-driven home assistant based on their Siri voice-driven personal assistant.

All of these companies have positioned themselves in a highly-competitive manner by using the same approach to how they present their devices. Here, they allow independent hardware vendors to license these technologies to use in their own “smart-speaker” or similar products. In the case of Amazon Alexa and Microsoft Cortana, these systems can even show information in a visual manner on screen-equipped devices, whether that be in the form of a listing or a graphical “at-a-glance” display.

Harman Invoke Cortana-driven smart speaker press picture courtesy of Harman International

Harman Invoke Cortana-driven smart speaker

Similarly, they have extended their voice-driven assistant platforms by allowing third parties to add “skills” to them whether in the near term or later. These are additional abilities that users can add to their voice-driven assistant to make it perform additional tasks or interface with other devices. It also underscores the activity that these platform vendors are undertaking to integrated their voice-driven home assistant with home-automation and allied devices, allowing for things like dimming the lights or adjusting the heating at your command.

Let’s not forget that Amazon, Microsoft and Apple have over-the-top communications platforms equipped with videocall and messaging abilities that either are or will be integrated to their voice-driven home-assistant platforms. Amazon created their Alexa-based IP-telephony platform from scratch, adding it to the crowded sea of IP-communications platforms so it can tie in with their Alexa home-assistant platform. It could allow for you to ask Alexa, Cortana or Siri to immediately “drop a line” to someone using Alexa Messaging, Skype or iMessage / Facetime respectively. You could even use this to instantiate a videocall between yourself and your correspondent if both of you are using suitable equipment.

What do I see of this? Personally, I would find that hardware manufacturers such as the respected audio-equipment names may offer smart speakers and similar equipment that works across multiple platforms, requiring the user to determine which platform they want to use during setup or at a later time. Similar software developers who write interfaces for online service may be required to write “skills” for each of the platforms.

I also see it as being very similar to 1989 when there were multiple graphic-user-interfaces on the market with each computer platform having its own mouse-driven interface. Hello to “Hey Siri”, “Hi Cortana”, “OK Google” or “Alexa” to dim those lights, close that garage, start Spotify or whatever as you talk to that speaker.

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