It has been way too long since my last tech post, but there has been a lot happening in my personal and work life that has made following the mobile tech scene very difficult, and then posting articles about it even more difficult.
Back in April, when I started tech blogging again, I thought I 1) had the desire to throw myself back in to it, 2) had the energy, and 3) had the bandwidth. Over time, though, I found myself developing unhealthy habits that are necessary in following tech news, writing worthy material, and thus developing a loyal readership. I let it encroach on my family time, my work time, and start taking me away from the first things in my life.
It has been close to two months since I last posted a technology article. This time-gap was a blessing that God created, in that He allowed me to see where He wanted me to focus my time, my writing, and the passions He has called me to. During the last several months, I’ve done a lot of thinking and praying about what God would have me do with regards to technology writing, and I’ve decided to let it go in order to focus my energies in other areas. Technology will always excite me (I live in this world 8 – 5), but I no longer desire to follow it daily, write about it, offer up reviews, and put in the personal time that readers expect and deserve.
Going forward, the writing you will see on RobBushway.com will mostly be about stuff going on in my personal life – the kind of writing that was here before: stuff about my walk with Christ, essays, my struggles, my family, grace, and the gospel. If that stuff interests you, then stick around. If it doesn’t, then I still invite you to stick around. I can’t promise an article every day or even every week, but when I have something stirring within my heart that needs to get out, I’ll be working it out here.
I appreciate you allowing me the opportunity to dip my toe back in the tech writing arena for the past four months. A special thank you to Steve Seto who has been doing some great guest-posting the past several months.
This week will mark the three-month anniversary of my Fujitsu Stylistic Q550 slate tablet, and after three months of usage I must confess that I still have very mixed emotions about this device. I might feel a bit better about the whole thing if it weren’t for the fact that I continue to compare and contrast the Q with three other slates; my venerable HP Compaq TC1100, my so-so HP Slate 500 and my stellar Asus EP121. The root problem is that each of these competitors offers marginally-to-dramatically better operating performance than the Q, and the last three months have demonstrated to me that good operating performance is a very important characteristic to me!
However, let me state up front that other characteristics of the Q have proven their enduring desirablity. The Q’s form factor has really grown on me. The thin, light shape with the grippy coating on the back is so appealing that, after trying the Fujitsu silicon sleeve folio for a couple of weeks, I removed the Q and returned to using it bare, unencumbered with bulky extras. The large, bright screen is another feature that appeals to me as much now as when I first reviewed the Q. Actually, I usually find the screen to be too bright and I typically turn it down a bit, but it’s nice to have some extra brightness in reserve (even if I seldom use it!). Battery life is another strong point, but the clear recognition that it comes as the result of significantly hobbled performance makes this a good news – bad news attribute.
And that brings us to the Q’s real-time operating performance, which is clearly its Achilles’ heel. When I reviewed the Q in mid-July, I focused mostly on singular events; opening an application or a website, starting up or shutting down. All of my testing was done near my main computer (and wireless router) location. In the cases that I looked at, I saw little or no difference between the Q and the HP Slate, minor differences between the Q and the TC1100 and, of course, the EP121 just mopped the floor with the Q as one would pretty much expect. After all these comparisons, my opinion was that the Q was clearly sluggish, but with fine-tuning it looked to be an acceptable compromise between performance and battery life.
But then I started to use it while roaming, and quickly discovered an additional factor, the Q’s weak WiFi performance. In other parts of our house, the Q’s indicated WiFi signal strength was noticably lower than my more expensive tablets, and the Q’s connectivity suffered accordingly. In our familiy room, where no other tablet had ever shown a problem, the Q was hard put to stay connected. Combined with the laggy processor performance, surfing became an exercise in either patience or frustration, depending upon (seemingly) the phase of the Moon or some other esoteric effect. Recent video and WLAN updates did little to improve matters. Ironically, the “stronger” radio performance in the TC1100 gave it a clear advantage in roaming situations over the Q. The Slate also seemed to enjoy better radio performance that also tipped the scales somewhat in its favor. I’m not going to comment on the EP121 because that would just be unfair!
So, as matters stand today, I continue to give the Q a recommendation, but reluctantly. Where it shines, it shines brightly: form factor, construction durability, weight, screen performance and battery operating life. However, the sluggish processor performance combined with the weak WiFi performance is just a constant drag on the ownership experience. It’s not hopeless, but during almost every session I find myself thinking about my XT2 (which is a top WiFi performer) or my EP121, and wishing that the Q was just a little bit faster. OK, maybe a lot faster! I don’t know anymore if Fujitsu has access to a driver or software update that could fix this (at the cost of battery operating life, of course), but I sure wish that they would give us that option…
Last night, a few disparate blog discussions caused me to have an interesting thought: Is it possible that Turkey could be the catalyst that will cause Microsoft to finally get tablets right…?
In order to understand where I’m coming from, consider the following recent discussions.
<> Sales figures are never very easy to track down, but one recent website pegged the number of iPads sold as of early June, 2011, at ~25 million. ( See: http://ipadinsight.com/ipad-news/apple-announces-more-than-25-million-ipads-sold-since-launch )
<> There’s been a lot of discussion in recent months that Microsoft really has to get the tablet features of Windows 8 right. After years of talking the tabletPC talk but treating tablet features as a stepchild add-on to the basic Windows code (or pretty much ignoring it altogether; I’m looking at you, Office Team!), the iPad’s marketplace success has put the ball firmly back in Microsoft’s court. It’s time to walk the tabletPC walk… or concede the leadership to Apple and be a minor player forever. An interesting Ars Technica article about this was brought to light by JustAnotherDave in the Asus / EP121 Slate forum at TabletPCReview. (See: http://arstechnica.com/microsoft/news/2011/08/a-sort-of-pc-how-windows-8-will-invade-tablets-and-why-it-might-work.ars/1 )
<> Finally, Engadget recently reported that Turkey might issue an invitation for Apple and Microsoft to bid on an order for 15 Million tablets for Turkey’s educational system! I find this mind-boggling on a number of levels. First, the sheer size of this possible order. Second, kudos to Turkey for putting this kind of emphasis on the value of education to their citizens. We all know that fancy electronics alone are no guarantee of scholastic excellence, but if Turkey can provide the right kind of supporting environment, their nation may reap a huge benefit. (See: http://www.engadget.com/2011/08/20/apple-microsoft-meet-with-turkish-minister-may-bid-to-supply-1/ )
Hmmm. So what am I thinking?
Just this: Assuming that Turkey decides to place this order, whoever wins it will instantly capture a huge share of the tablet market. If it turns out to be Apple, they will dominate the tablet marketplace in the same way that Microsoft used to dominate the computer marketplace. However, if it is Microsoft, they will instantly achieve near-parity with Apple! Something that it would otherwise take them years to achieve! My question is: “What might Microsoft be motivated to do to achieve such a result?”
In order to win, Microsoft is going to have to offer a tablet that beats the iPad on its own terms. Is it possible that Microsoft might finally bite the bullet and seriously undertake the overhaul of Windows’ and Office’s tablet features that we’ve all been begging for? Incorporate the Intel shell software that allows iPad-like responsiveness? Pair this with a properly-designed hardware platform that complements the new software features? In short, is it possible that this order might cause Microsoft to finally, seriously, design the tablet that they’ve always talked about? I think the possibilities here might be huge, but only time will tell.
What do you think..???
Dell’s next-gen convertible Tablet, the Latitude XT3 has gone on sale at the company’s website. The XT3 breaks with the form factor used for the XT and XT2 and is a new design based on common parts and features from the Latitude line. For example, the XT3 features a docking connector that is compatible with the docking base that all other Latitude models use. Similarly, batteries, optical drive modules and other parts will also be common. In doing this, Dell has clearly designed the XT3 as a true business / enterprise machine, completely in keeping with the rest of the Latitude line.
Because it shares this parts lineage, the XT3 is also significantly bigger than the previous XT models. It now sports a 13.3″ screen, which would have been 8-1/2″ by 11″ paper-sized if it weren’t for the 1366 x 768 HD aspect ratio. It also features an N-trig DuoSense pen and touch digitizer, which is likely to be an issue for some potential buyers. Because first deliveries of the XT3 are scheduled for mid- to late-September, I speculate that the XT3 many feature N-trig’s Gen 4 hardware set (current Gen is 3.5). The new hardware may have improved resistance to electro-magnetic interference and what some users have called “ghost touches.” We shall see. What we do know is that the XT3 will feature a new design of N-trig battery-powered Digital Pencil. The new design will be longer than the current DPs and, like the HTC Flyer DP, it will feature two side buttons.
Unfortunately, another consequence of the XT3′s enterprise heritage is its price. The baseline model, which features only an i3 (2310M) processor is $1789. Wow! Using the customizing options, I configured an XT3 with an i7 and a 128 GB SSD whose price ballooned to ~ $3032, a price that I consider to be pretty ridiculous in today’s tablet environment. Of course, I paid almost $4000 for my XT, but that was years ago… for a new-concept machine that not only offered combined pen and touch, but that Michael Dell himself declared would be “obsolescence-proof.” Although we all know that it didn’t turn out so well (until the end), at the time it seemed like something worth the price. Today, I simply can’t see how the XT3′s price can be rationalized.
You can find the gory details at the order page: http://www.dell.com/us/business/p/latitude-xt3/pd
So you spend a Sunday afternoon carefully crafting a product review and that should be it, right?
Except that Sunday evening you suddenly realize that you’ve neglected to document one of the most important features of that product, namely output voltage control! Wow. Major oversight! But there’s a perfectly logical reason why this feature was forgotten…
On the 3450i, the output voltage is not controlled by the tip (as is the case on the Electrovaya PowerPad 95). Instead, the output voltage is manually set with a small DIP (Dual In-Line Package) switch that is under a rubber cover on the bottom of the battery (see area circled in yellow in image at left; DIP switch is revealed under rubber cover in image at right):
As the left-hand image shows, the 3450i features output voltages from 5.0 V to 19 V in 16 discrete steps (5.0, 5.5, 6.0, 6.5, 7.5, 8.4, 9.0, 10.0, 11.0, 12.0, 13.0, 14.0, 15.0, 16.0, 18.0 and 19.0 V). The desired voltage is set by pulling up the rubber cover (circled in yellow) and setting each of the four individual switches on the DIP switch as required. In my case, ALL of my tablets require the same input voltage, 19 V. (Actually, the XT and the XT2 use 19.5 V and the TC1100 uses 18.5 V, but the 0.5 volt difference isn’t significant, so 19 V serves perfectly well for all!) So when I first received my 3450i, I set it accordingly and I haven’t touched the voltage setting since; that’s why it didn’t come to mind when I was writing yesterday’s review.
For some users, manually setting the output will seem like a burden, while other users will appreciate the added degree of control that this approach provides. Clearly, Tekkeon assumes that users who buy this battery are more likely to be in the latter group. My only complaint about the voltage selector is that I would have liked to see settings for 20 V and 24 V (and fewer low voltage settings). If the 3450i is an “instrument” battery, then it should feature a wider range of output voltages for maximum flexibility!
I think that should wrap it up. Again.
Tekkeon’s myPower All Plus, MP3450i R2 “instrument” battery is a compact and nicely built device. About the size of an average paperback book, but an inch or so longer, the $200 device is rated at 58 WH. Tekkeon advertises that the MP3450i uses industrial lithium polymer cells, so one would suppose that the battery will feature better durability and more consistent performance over its lifetime than an external battery made from “lesser” commercial cells. The 3450i (for short) comes with an AC adapter for charging the battery, a two foot connector cable and five assorted DC tips, selected, according to Tekkeon, to fit the majority of DC input jacks. One of the particularly appealing aspects of this product is that Tekkeon backs it up with a LARGE assortment of additional tips, most at the very reasonable price of $2.95, but with some ranging up to $4.95 – $7.95. (If you’ve looked at a Radio Shack Adaptaplug lately, you’ll realize what a bargain this is!) Longer 46″ and shorter 9″ connector cables are also available, as are AC and car recharger adapters. If Tekkeon doesn’t make a DC adapter tip for your portable computer or device, it probably doesn’t need to be powered by a battery anyway!
The “top” of the 3450i features, left to right, a special input jack that permits an additional MP3450-10 battery to be connected to the 3450i in parallel, thus doubling the overall capacity of the resulting pack. The special input jack also accommodates solar power (!!) recharging inputs. Next is the battery on-off switch, then the main power output connector, a convenient USB power port and finally the recharging jack and indicator LED (red-orange for charging, green for completely charged).
On the upper side of the 3450i there is a line of 8 blue status LEDs to indicate level of charge. Below the LEDs is a “push to status” button that briefly illuminates the LEDs so you can assess the battery state; this button also lights up when the battery is switched on.
I’ve spent considerable time using my 3450i, and I can verify that it works as advertised. Many battery OEMs advise their users to cycle new batteries three or four times between full charge and, say, 5% charge to help the battery pack develop its optimum capacity and performance. Tekkeon’s Tech Support advises that this is not necessary with the 3450i, but I performed this very time-consuming procedure anyway. During this process, the 3450i went from zero indicated charge to full charge in about 3:50 – 4:00 hours:minutes. During this time, the battery absorbed between 60 and 80 WH. Considering the various efficiencies involved, this indicates that the 3450i is probably charging to at least its rated capacity.
I used the 3450i with my HP / Compaq TC1100, my Dell XT2 and my Asus EP121. Rather than quote running times, which are subject to a variety of factors including power management setting, number and type of background processes, and my personal use profile (which is probably quite different from yours), I’ll simply say that the battery performed as I would expect, providing hours of additional running time. In particular, I was impressed at how well the accessory adapter tips fit the various tablets. The PA-L30 tip for the EP121 is an exact fit. Surprisingly, the PA-N11 tip for the XT2 not only fit well, it apparently also provides the compatibility code to the XT2 so that the XT2 recognizes it as a valid power source and will both run and charge its battery (NO error messages!). One issue worth noting is that the 8-LED status indicator appears to be very nonlinear. Based on my experience to date, it looks like the highest two LEDs represent the first 50% of battery capacity and the other six represent the remaining 50% of battery capacity. Thus, the user has to be careful not to over-estimate the amount of capacity left while the battery is in use. Also, the light from adjacent LEDs bleeds over from a lit LED to one that is not. So sometimes it’s hard to immediately see if you have, say, four LEDs of charge status or really only three. In the big picture, these status indicator issues just take some getting used to, but one would have hoped that Tekkeon could have done a better job with this essential battery feature!
Note that if you absolutely must know how much additional operating time 58 WH is likely to provide, you can use the power consumption numbers in my “TabletPCs and Power” posting (below) to make a rough estimate. The Slate 500 and the Q550 are indicative of netbook-like power consumptions and the XT2 and the EP121 are indicative of middle-level dual-core power consumptions. Just divide (58 * 0.95 =) 55 WH by the appropriate “Play Video” power consumption number to get the additional running time in decimal hours…
Overall, I consider the Tekkeon MP3450i R2 to be a very good investment and a very good addition to my mobility toolkit, and I’m looking forward to many hours of working off the Grid with it. Recommended!
(Below, some of the tips. Top row, the PA-L30 (EP121), the PA-N01 (TC1100), the PA-L5F (Q550) and the PA-N11 (XT, XT2). Bottom row, the five tips included with the MP3450i R2. See the Tekkeon website for more details.)
How much power do recent and current tabletPCs draw during operation? As part of my external battery testing, I found it necessary to do some power consumption measurements on some of the tabletPCs that I happen to have on hand. The results, shown in the table below, were interesting.
In order to make these measurements, I used a precision meter to measure voltage, current, wattage and power factor through the AC adapter for each tablet. Prior to measuring, I made sure that each internal battery was fully charged, so that power effects due to battery charging were negligible. Once the tablet was turned on, I waited until the desktop appeared and the background processes settled down; that is, with the processor(s) idling and only showing the occasional activity spike. I call this the Stable Desktop. This measurement represents the low end of power consumption during tablet operation.
Many users report that playing videos is a stressful activity for a tablet, occasionally accompanied by high case temperatures and shortened battery operating times. Virus scans have also been identified in similar terms. I therefore decided to make measurements during both operations since they likely define the high end of power consumption during typical use. I streamed a specific video, played with Windows Media Player and observed the power fluctuations over a period of time. This is the Play Video entry. I played the same video on all five tablets. The quality of playback varied considerably. The Q550 was probably the worst of the lot; its playback was very choppy and pretty much unsatisfactory for viewing. Next was the Slate 500; its playback was less choppy, but still not very satisfactory for viewing. The TC1100 showed very little chop; for an old tablet, it performed pretty well. The EP121 also had very occasional light chop but was satisfactory. The XT2 performed best; it showed no observable chop and was easily the most viewable presentation of the video. Interestingly, these results also track the power consumption observed. Coincidence? I don’t think so!
Finally, I started a virus scan and repeated the timed observation; this is the Virus Scan entry. All five tablets used Microsoft Security Essentials. Note that the virus scan was generally less demanding than the video (except for the EP121)
All of the tablets were running Windows 7, but two used Ultimate, two used Professional and one used Home. All of the tablets were set to Balanced power management mode. Each tablet had a unique software load, so the number of processes running in the background varied. Four of the five had Office 2010 installed.
Considering all the variables involved, the measurements shown here should be regarded as approximate, at best. Still, my observation is that current (Intel-based) hardware and software appear to demand about 20 W or more of power to deliver what I would consider to be a “satisfactory” computing experience. Less than that, and I felt like the tablet was lagging or sluggish. As the power diminished, the experience worsened. Sometimes, you just can’t beat the physics!
PS: Keep this table in mind; we’re going to refer back to it when we talk about the external batteries!
Like Rob, I’ve been off the grid a bit lately, both figuratively and literally. A few weeks ago, I was blessed with the near-simultaneous delivery of two external batteries! One was an elusive Electrovaya PowerPad95. The new-old-stock battery represents the original design, with the percentage charge and SOH (State of Health) displays. It’s about a year old, but unused; its SOH is 100%. The battery was sold to me by a fellow tablet enthusiast when he found out that Electrovaya didn’t make an adapter tip for his particular tablet. That’s not a problem for me since I can make any kind of adapter cable that I need (and that’s what I’m doing now).
The other battery is a Tekkeon myPowerALL 3450i R2, literally just off the boat from overseas. I happened to be on the phone with the Tekkeon rep when the crate was delivered and ordered one on the spot. Kismet? Maybe.
However, this coincidence had a consequence; prepping a battery and testing its endurance in an operational setting takes a LONG time. Doing it for two batteries takes more than twice the time! The good news (for me!) is that I’m finally getting close to the point where I can compose my user reviews. Both batteries work well with the Electrovaya making a particularly good impression. If only PowerPads were available!
Anyway, stay tuned; there’s more to come…!
PS: Yes, the PowerPad is a peculiar shade of blue. But it grows on you.
Sorry for the quietness the past few weeks. There’s been stuff going on at home, and I’ve been heads down on an important project. Except for spending a little time in Google+, I have not been following the mobile tech news closely. About the only thing that has caught my eye of late was reading how Microsoft viewed the tablet as a PC and would not be coming out with tablet version of Windows Phone 7. Some things never change, do they?
I start my new job with the NJCAA on August 1 and am trying to get a lot of stuff done between now and then. In the mean time, bare with me, and I’ll pick up posting again in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, if you want to follow me on Google +, head over and add me to your favorite circle.