Computing Hardware 2015

Samsung ATIV Book 9 PlusIt seems like I change operating systems like most people change shoes. I’ll go from Windows to various versions of linux on a monthly basis. About 18 months ago, I wrote a post about my computing hardware for 2014. It’s now May of 2015 instead of November of 2013 and I figured its time to update that hardware list again.

The big changes are in my main laptop for personal use, and my mobile phone. I dislike calling it a phone, but that’s what most people still call their mobile devices, so… what the heck, right?

On the laptop front, I’ve gone with a Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus. This model has an Intel Broadwell Core i7, 256GB SSD, and a 3200×1800 touch display. It’s the nicest laptop I’ve ever bought, and it should last for quite some time. Especially considering that my old Sony Vaio is still a viable machine to this day. I’ve updated that Core i3 laptop with a 128GB SSD and have Ubuntu running on that.

Google Nexus 6 UnboxingTowards the end of last year I upgraded my mobile device from a Google Nexus 5 to a Google Nexus 6. Yes, yes, it is big. However, that was what I was looking for in any case. The great thing about these larger format phones (that is, larger than 5″ screens) is that they start to replace smaller tablet devices and thereby reduce the number of devices a person may want to carry. Now, I don’t make a habit of carrying my tablet at the same time as my laptop, but it has happened on rare occasions in the past. Moreover, having that larger screen allows me to see more of a document, email, web page, or video, etc… It makes the device even more usable and functional for me.

HP Chromebook 11Along with the new laptop and mobile, I’m still using my HP Chromebook 11 that I wrote about last time, my Google Nexus 7 (2013) and that Sony Vaio with Ubuntu that I mentioned as well. Each has their uses that highlight their strengths. Sometimes it really is nice to sit back with the Nexus 7 and read a book. That Chromebook is great to toss in a saddlebag of my motorcycle and head out for coffee. Other times, I need the open flexibility of linux, and of course the all around utility and stability of Windows 10 (I’m a geek, so yes I’m a Windows Insider) to do just about everything else.

So there we are, I’m pretty happy with the new Samsung laptop. It’s my first true Ultrabook, and has a lot more power than I expected.

The interesting thing that’s happening at the same time, is the transformation that Microsoft has been going through. Windows 10, even at this pre-release stage, is impressive in its stability and functionality from a long time user standpoint. In addition, Office 365 and the amount of space included for OneDrive makes using Microsoft software services not only viable, but fun again. That is a huge change from even a year ago and makes up a number of reasons why I’m sticking with Windows this time around.

Computing Hardware 2014

HP Chrombook 11Another year is coming to a close.  2013 has been a great year for me as a consultant, with a lot of opportunities for learning and working with new things.

In my professional life I consult with companies to help them build & maintain managed IT services, specifically around Microsoft Windows server and client environments.  It’s a lot of fun, and both large and small clients have unique requirements, technology, and cultures.

On the personal side though, I use a completely different set of technologies.  Every year it seems to morph, usually little bits at a time.  For example, we all have a desktop or laptop that lasts us for years, maybe a printer, WiFi, storage systems, and entertainment of course.  Me too, though the end of this year seems to have taken a bit of a turn for me.

Nexus 7It will be no secret that I’m a heavy Microsoft user, and that I’m also a big consumer of Google services.  During this past year, I’ve found myself almost completely using online services rather than local software.  I do have an Office 365 account for myself, and having Office 2013 is great, but it’s the online portion of that subscription that makes it really usable.

Google Docs is another service I have begun to use much, much more, to the point of rarely actually using MS Office for personal use.  I use Office for work all the time, of course.  Along with Google Docs and Office 365, I use Evernote rather than OneNote, self-hosted WordPress for blogging, all the usual social networks, of course, and several other services as they fit unique needs.

What this means, is that I really don’t need MS Windows for personal use any more.  So here at the end of 2013, I’m changing the computing tools that I use.  Much of this isn’t a surprise, a Nexus 7 (2013, 16GB, WiFi) for a tablet, and a Nexus 5 for phone.  I still have my 3-year-old Sony laptop, but that dual-boots Ubuntu 13.10 and Windows 8.1 (spending most of the time in Ubuntu).  The big change was picking up the Chromebook 11, built by HP and Google.

Nexus 5I’ve been leaning towards a Chromebook for a year or more, but this one checked all the boxes for me.  Small, lightweight, instant on, USB charging (very cool), a great keyboard, very good display (even though resolution is only 1366×768), and stylish.  I can literally do about 99% of what I need from a computer from this Chromebook.  The only thing I can’t is video editing, and that’s mighty rare for me anyway.

The interesting coincidence, is that all three of these new devices have only 16GB of local storage and, of course, rely very heavily on the cloud to function.  For where I live & work, that’s not an issue, so I’ve found a significant boost in personal productivity by having devices that are instantly available, have the same synchronized information a click away, and are in some cases interchangeable. A study source – has proven valuable to me, with so much tech advancement it helps to keep up with the professionals.

So for the next year or more, I’ll be mainly using Google hardware and, for heavy lifting, Ubuntu on my “big” laptop.  As I said earlier, I’ve been heading in this direction for some time.  Now that I’ve moved fully over, I feel more empowered to actually *do* things with the technology I own, rather than having to manage the technology… which is what I do in my professional life.

At least this makes things a little simpler.

The 32GB Sweet Spot

Transformer Prime by John Biehler

‘Transformer Prime’ by John Biehler

I’ve been thinking about mobile devices and storage space recently.  After a great conversation over lunch with @CloudScout last week, I concluded that 32GB is probably the perfect amount of storage space for mobile devices today.

Here’s my thinking:

16GB is just too small, it can’t hold the data we need.  Add a couple dozen tracks, a few hundred pics, and you’re just about there.

64GB on the other hand is overkill.  It’s the initial size for an SSD for a full size computer or laptop.  It does give you room to grow, but by the time you fill it up, you’ll be upgrading devices anyway.  On top of that, you’re going to pay a premium for that storage.

I consider myself to use a bit less local storage than the average person on my mobile devices.  I’m also a techy geek, so I tend to buy devices with more storage than I could possibly need.

In the past 18 months, the two tablets and the two phones I’ve had range wildly on storage.  The Google Nexus One I had only had an 8GB microSD card, and I was constantly around 2GB free.  When I replaced that phone, with the HTC Sensation 4G, I made sure to add a 32GB microSD – which I’ve not used over 18GB of data yet.

My Apple iPad 2 that I bought upon release in 2011 had 16GB, and, while I was always worried of running out of space, I never used more than 12GB.  When I replaced the iPad 2 with the Asus Transformer Prime, opted for the 64GB unit.  Again, I’ve yet to top 20GB of data used so far.

What I see here from my own experiences is that we tend to worry too much about running out of space.  However that limits us from really reaching the full potential of the devices we carry.  Also, in the last 18 months, online storage and the amount of time our mobile devices are constantly connected to the cloud has increased dramatically.

Currently, I can count up to 125GB of free storage space that I have at my disposal between my two mobile devices.  Along with that, the automatic uploads of pics to Google+ (Apple has a similar feature) allows me to not have to think about uploading or syncing pics.   In addition, my Asus tablet has a great feature (Asus bundled software) that allows selected folders to automatically be synced to the cloud.

It’s these new services and features that will reduce our dependence on local storage for mobile devices and allow us to have a much more seamless experience across computing devices.  Bring Google Drive/Docs and Microsoft Skydrive/Office Online into the mix, and you’re quickly covering much of what we need for storage AND productivity.

So if you’re trying to decide between the 16/32/64GB versions of a product, pick the middle option.  32GB is likely to fit your needs quite well.

Thoughts About Microsoft Surface

Microsoft Surface

Microsoft Surface with Black Type Cover

The question in my mind is why Microsoft hadn’t acted on the hardware front earlier.  Yeah, I know all about it’s relationship with it’s hardware vendors.  Sure, it is a threatening move.  Apple stuck with that decision from the beginning.  Of course, they were a hardware company that produced software to help sell the hardware.  Now, of course, they’re an ‘experiences’ company that sells hardware.

The surface is what it is, and we have few real details about quality, feel, and usability to make any kind of good analysis other than how this might impact the marketplace.

In my opinion the x86 market needed a really significant shakeup.  The predictable, mundane hardware advances, and lack of real innovation is screaming for disruption.  Microsoft itself is delivering that disruption – the company who has demonstrated its ability to keep the status quo, and try to accomodate all players and customers for way too long is leading that disruption.

I know that Microsoft’s moves are causing concern for their corporate customers.  It’s causing concern for their developer community and causing some confusion on the consumer side.  Its causing relationship issues with their hardware partners who now feel betrayed, and making some competitors curious of their actions, probably evaluating technology & usability patent infringement issues.  Its causing competitors customers to laugh outright at the wild changes of what “used to be” so predictable – as if Microsoft is simply stabbing in the dark.

Thing is, this move is significant for the technology industry as a whole.  It signals that computing as we’ve known it for 30 years is changing radically.  Quicker than many established companies can adapt.  Take a look at some of the moves in the industry: Nokia and RIM in steep dangerous decline, Palm & it’s tragic demise at the hands of HP, HP itself who has always made great laptops and desktops and servers but can’t understand mobile to save its life, Yahoo which is only now figuring out that it diversify enough in other technologies, IBM selling off it’s PC division back in 2004 (smart move guys), Dell trying all sorts of new things to find something that sticks so it has a place to hang it’s hat in the future.

When you start looking at the larger picture, and I’ve only pointed out a small handful of things, you see how the Surface is both bold & brilliant, while still being a stunning reversal on one of the cornerstones of modern computing.  The Surface will succeed, the definition of success of course is with Microsoft.  It was not designed to be an iPad killer (those headlines are overhyped link bait), it was designed to demonstrate Microsoft’s vision for tablet computing.  Something it knew that its hardware partners were not able to execute on properly without Microsoft demonstrating some of it’s ideas.

Microsoft Surface… I’ll buy one.

Tablets are Productivity Devices

They are.

Although, not for everyone.

You see, the key to any technological device in our modern age, the usefulness depends on the individual as much as the device in question. Not everyone is enamored with smartphones when their only need is to make and receive voice calls. I get that, though I know a lot of people who don’t.

The reality is that our technology is progressing far faster than many people can adapt to it. This reality causes people who don’t utilize as much computing or communications technology a bit of an overwhelming situation. What do you use it all for? Why the overlapping technology in multiple gadgets. If I can get email on my home computer, and maybe on a phone, why do I need a tablet? If I get streaming media on my game console, why would I want it on my phone? Does email I read on my phone still show up on my home computer?  And so on…

Tablets are one of those in-between devices that are, technically, little more than scaled up mobile phones and, software-wise, nowhere near what a desktop or powerful laptop can do. Yet, that’s the interesting part. We’re comparing them to devices we’re familiar with, trying to find the part we’re already comfortable with in order to use it. Recognizing the tablet as a revolutionary computing device that disrupts our concepts of a “PC”, isn’t forefront in our minds.

As a technologist, I get excited by the technical specifications of the devices, and what that bodes for the future. I marvel at the standardization of all the complexities of mobile, connected computing devices in ways the average person doesn’t (FYI – it makes me a nerd). I understand that too – for many people, a device is supposed to accomplish some complex task for them. Quickly, if not more easily. The fast pace of innovation can make even the most ardent tech geek’s head spin at times!

So, back to the point of all this. A lot of people have said that tablets aren’t productivity devices. Other say they really are, and can’t imagine life without them. I think the reality is somewhere in between, and our existing concepts of the traditional PC are already changing.

What will the next evolution of tablets bring to our awareness of technology and computing? Give it a week, maybe two, and let’s ask that question again.

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