You think he'd* be more impressed, Revit 2019 running on a Surface Go!
* Surface Pen and (small) dog for scale
It was more by chance, than planning, that I ended up in Jeff Stewart’s session at Autodesk University 2017 (AU2017) last November. I was talking to some Microsoft representatives in the exhibit hall and they mentioned it was on the following day. Somehow, I had overlooked it while setting up my schedule but that was soon rectified. Jeff started his career as an electrical engineer, in avionics, and is now the Senior Director, Product Line Manager for Surface Book at Microsoft. The chance to learn more about the Surface line was not to be missed!
At work I use a Surface Pro 3 (for mobile/meetings) alongside an HP CAD desktop workstation. I had also recently tested the, mostly impressive, Surface Studio for a week. I had seriously considered buying an earlier Surface Book for home use as it got close to being “My perfect PC”.
I was curious to evaluate the Surface Studio for CAD use as had mostly seen it demonstrated by graphic artists. The screen is gorgeous, both the stunning resolution and the way it glides, at the touch of a finger, between ‘drawing board and upright’ modes.
Surface Studio Photo from Microsoft
However I found even the top spec was a bit underpowered for CAD. It was interesting that it struggled more with AutoCAD (with models, not 2D) more than Revit. I suspect that was down to the comparatively modest, for a desktop, GeForce GTX 980M 4GB graphics. The Surface Studio shared a similar hardware specification to the first-generation Surface book, itself recently subject to a significant update, and really needs a hardware refresh to give it the power to match the stunning display and form factor.
Before AU2017 I stopped by the Las Vegas Microsoft Store, in nearby Fashion Show Mall, to check out the (then) recently released Surface Book 2. It was only just available in the larger 15-inch form factor in the US, a size not released in New Zealand until early 2018.
The Surface Book 2 doesn't look very different from previous versions, retaining the distinctive hinge and detachable clipboard tablet, but is all new. Both the mechanical and digital spec have been greatly refined. The i7 versions have 8th Gen quad-core processors, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 (13.5”)/1060(15”) graphics, a more rigid hinge and screen lock (for the larger screen) and still offer all-day battery life. I seriously considered getting one to take home but concerns about international warranty support and modest, if any with sales tax + duty, cost saving from home meant I didn't bother. A nice machine though!
Surface Book Photo from Microsoft
Although the Surface team make technology Jeff Stewart’s talk was more about how they built the Surface team and design philosophy. Surface has a mandate ‘to innovate [within] or create product categories’ and ‘showcase the best of Microsoft’.
He spoke of the team culture of empathy and trust and how it fostered exploration of design. That results in innovative solutions from the multiple mode interaction (keyboard, touch screen/pad, voice, dial and pen) to hardware configurations like the transforming Surface Studio (desktop to drawing ‘board’) and Surface Pro/Book hybrid devices.
They also explore new materials and manufacturing techniques, like applying the Alcantara® fabric (often used in vehicle interiors) to the keyboard of the Surface Laptop and, recently launched, baby Surface Go keyboard cover.
I was interested to hear the Surface Book form factor was inspired by a paper folio spotted in Japan (photo below) and five years later it became a truly powerful digital folio.
The “Dynamic Fulcrum Hinge” is not just styling. It was created to shift the centre of mass as the top opens to better balance the screen (full of hardware and touch/pen display) in laptop mode. It combines with the “Muscle Wire Lock” to unite the tablet and base into a high-quality laptop.
The hinge/lock is best seen in the original (1 minute) launch video below which showcases some of the engineering common to all Surface Book models. I was glad to see this retained for the updated model as it is a distinctive part of the Surface Book look and function.
The Surface Book 2 built on that adding more power, refined design and USB C support (without losing the SD Card or USB port compatibility). It still charges/connects to docks via a magnetic Surface port, on both base and Clipboard, but can also charge via the USB C port if needed. Video out is from the USB C port rather than the display port other Surface products use. A sign of the future I suspect.
They had a partially dissected Surface Book 2 on display revealing how it packs the primary hardware (processor, memory, integrated graphics, storage and cooling) and about 1/3 of its ~10+ hour battery into the display clipboard/tablet portion. The keyboard base holds the second NVIDIA graphics card (with its own cooling fans) and the balance of the battery. It was interesting to see how much of the screen portion, remembering it’s a powerful i7 PC, is devoted to battery and cooling rather than hardware.
Earlier this year the SB2 15 was released in NZ and I decided it was time to upgrade my 5 year old Samsung ATIV Smart PC which was showing its age. It was a secondary device to a (then) workstation spec desktop machine which itself has had less and less use over the years. I wanted a machine to replace both; something I could use for general computing, blogging (writing & image editing), hobby photographic and design work but also capable of running CAD software if needed. The i7 15” Surface Book 2 fit the bill perfectly and price plus the ability to offload archive storage to OneDrive (1TB thanks to Office 365 Home Sub) meant the 512GB SSD option was sufficient.
I got the pen as use it quite a bit (for notes with MindManager, OneNote and some drawing) and added the Surface Dial as an experiment. The pen has strong magnets to dock it to either side of the screen. I’d like to see another added to allow it to dock up on top as like using the tablet portion in landscape mode. You can flip it ‘upside down’ and dock the pen to the base lock magnets but there is a tendency to knock the power switch (which is now on the bottom) off if you do that.
I expected to use the Dial with creative apps (Corel/Adobe apps now support it) but have found it surprisingly useful for media consumption. If there is no custom Dial function in an app the system Volume, Scroll, Zoom, Undo and Screen Brightness controls are available on the Dial. For scrolling interfaces, like Facebook and Twitter, the dial is a nice alternative to touchpad, keyboard or touch screen.
It feels like a high quality video edit jog dial from the days when I used to edit video. Sadly it lacks a finger dimple on top so you tend to turn it more like a HiFi volume control with two or more fingers.
The machine runs CAD fine (AutoCAD Architecture and Revit in the photo below) within the limitations of 16GB ram. As I would only be working with relatively modest size models, experimenting with Dynamo scripts or building content that is not really a problem. Not sure how earlier versions of CAD would get on with the stunning, but unusual, 3240x2160 3:2 format display which I run at the recommended 200% display scale but 2018+ are fine.
While I don't game much it runs those I have tried ok. I have used it with Flight Simulator X (yes the old one with a Orbix North & South Island NZ scenery pack). One advantage of running old games on such powerful hardware is you can crank all the settings up to max detail and still get good frame rates!
Quite a compliment to Windows 10 that it runs software from about a decade ago!
Even a more modern Formula 1 game (F1 2015) runs fine, the limitation being my driving skill and lack of familiarity with an Xbox controller. I guess you could connect a wheel but it seems a bit overkill for laptop gaming!
I have also tried using it with Windows Mixed Reality using a loan HP Headset and found it performed well with one caveat. You need to use the right adaptor to get video from the USB C video out to the HDMI headset and support the 90hz framerate good VR demands. The official Surface USB-C to HDMI Adapter was fine. In addition to exploring the Windows VR ‘house’, which is pretty impressive in itself, I tried a few other experiences. It was fun to explore Nefertari’s Tomb In VR and I found Google Earth VR impressive, spending over an hour revisiting the Himalayan cycle route I did for real a few years ago. It was an impressive way to relive past adventures.
The screen is lovely, sharp and bright but the best aspect is its ratio (pun intended). It’s more paper proportioned at 3:2 than the 16:9 video format of most laptops. This is far better for both working and reading as you get more vertical workspace in applications, more paper’like display for documents and graphics.
Windows Hello makes a great first impression by unlocking the machine at a glance. Although you can have password or PIN it is hardly ever needed. The keyboard is nice, good key travel and quiet. The glass ‘precision’ trackpad is said to be one of the best Windows ones, even challenging Mac. I don't know about that but it is great to use and does not pick up errant touches while typing. Then you have pen, again improved and very responsive, and Dial input which most other laptops don't support.
Considering the hardware inside the Clipboard/Tablet portion is remarkably light and useable. For reading it is comparable to holding a similar sized glossy magazine.
Given it is a consumer laptop performance is impressive. While dedicated CAD mobile workstations do that better the compromise between power, versatility, style and weight is hard to match. The screen shot below shows about 500MB of Revit and a 5GB Recap Point Cloud file loaded and this file is fine to work in.
Nice touches abound:
After a few months with the Surface Book 2 there are a few changes I would like to see:
If you want to change Graphics settings there is a panel in the Windows 10 Settings but it only offers three basic options. You can force applications to use “High Performance” mode, favouring the GTX 1060 card but that is about it. I guess this reflects the more general audience for the Surface Book.
It wasn't obvious there was more until I saw this post on the Support Forum. For more control go to the old Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > NVIDIA Control Panel. It is still stripped down compared to what I have seen on workstations but has a bit more control which applications use the external card.
Forcing applications to use the GTX card seems to help the occasional tendency for it to disappear. Running un-forced sometimes the GTX card seems to sleep, disappearing and only reappearing if you undock/redock the clipboard. It runs Intel 620 integrated graphics when undocked, itself a surprisingly powerful system and well up to tablet mode use.
Interesting that it seems AutoCAD handles this setup better, locking the tablet as it uses the GTX card. Revit is stroppier sometimes causing the GTX card to disconnect irrespective of the override settings. Seems odd but launching AutoCAD to force the card use, then starting Revit can help with this.
Update: I have found sliding the power mode slider back to “Balanced” (when running on battery) seems to make this more stable.
The clipboard tablet has a useful life of about three or four hours when not docked. That is fine, for reading etc, but the catch is it doesn't recharge from the base until you connect back to mains power. It would be better if the base could boost itself back to maximum from the battery in the base when mains power is not present. However, the system does do a good job of balancing battery use between base and clipboard reporting each capacity separately in the power monitor panel.
The other change I’d like is physical. The trackpad, one of the best I have used, has a bevelled edge on the case to help locate it. I would prefer that bevel to run the full width of the front (red) as find it more comfortable than the square edges. I’m tempted to fix it myself, with a file, but suspect that would void any warranty!
Take that lovely Surface Studio screen and sell it as:
I suspect that second part is harder to achieve but there would be a huge market for that monitor alone.
The Surface Book 2 is not inexpensive but is also good value for money. It does a remarkable job of combining the capability of a power laptop, digital sketch board and tablet in one elegant machine. I’m happy I got one and look forward to seeing what they come up with for Surface Book 3!
Way back in 2009 I wrote a spec for a design PC. It was inspired by the discovery of my 1980s design toolkit in the back of a wardrobe.
Long made obsolete by computers there are still some aspects of these tools I miss. Today Microsoft released a new Surface device which met or (far) exceeded most of those 2009 requirements:
So what is My Perfect PC (for now)?
Based on technology that's available today, or nearly here, I'd like:
- Powerful processor, memory, disk spec for CAD, BIM, Engineering Modelling. [Yes]
- High quality separate graphics [Yes]
- Touch, tablet like pen and voice interface. [Yes, with voice interaction via Cortana]
- Full size keyboard with number pad, touch pad and stick. [Yes, except even I cant think what stick referred to, maybe the IBM/Lenovo Trackpoint?]
- Power for decent mobile use (i.e 8 hours real work) [Yes]
- Not too compact - 17" screen minimum [not quite, but 13.5” is fine and more portable]
- Maybe even Windows 7 [Windows 10 even better!]
Except they'll likely struggle with this requirement, unless lots of people buy them:
- Not too expensive... [probably not this one]
Ok, so it isn’t a new form factor but the Surface Book i7 (with Performance Base) bumps up the specs quite a bit with i7 CPU, up to 1 terabyte of SSD, 16GB RAM and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M 2GB GPU and 30% more battery. It looks like enough grunt to run some reasonably big models and the claimed 16 hour battery should get through a real-world day!
At $4,399-5,999 in the NZ Store it doesn’t quite meet the ‘not too expensive’ requirement though…
This is rather interesting, take a similar hardware spec but make it an elegant 28” all in one PC that converts into a drawing board. The Surface Studio has up to 4GB NVIDIA GeForce GPU, 32GB RAM, 2 Terabytes of storage and i7 CPU. It is not portable, not intended to be, but is a rather elegant design desktop!
In addition to keyboard, mouse, pen, touch and voice (Cortana) there is another new input device. The Surface Dial combines (it is said) rotary input and haptic feedback. It doesn’t just sit by the device, but when placed onscreen it becomes part of the application UI. Interesting to see what developers dream up for this device.
There is no local pricing for Studio yet, but looking at the US prices I’d expect $4,000-8,000 by the time it lands in NZ. I didn’t think I’d ever buy another desktop computer. Microsoft may have changed my mind with this one!
* All photos from microsoft.com/surface website.
Great breakthroughs like Surface Studio take persistence and research. Go back 6 years to this MIX10 keynote on NUI: https://t.co/34k89XtMlp— Tim Sneath (@timsneath) October 27, 2016
And a real user review from an artist with a preview unit:
This quote from Gabe stood out…
“At a distance the screen is beautiful but when you are on top of it drawing, it’s absolutely stunning. Tycho asked me to compare it to my Cintiq, and I told him that drawing on the Cintiq now felt like drawing on a piece of dirty plexiglass hovering over a CRT monitor from 1997.”
Tomorrow is today as the Surface Book is already available for pre-order in New Zealand from $2,749.00 (i5, 128GB SSD, 8GB) to $4,899.00 (i7, 512GB SSD, 16GB) at the Microsoft NZ Store.
“Below is the breakdown of when the devices will be available in each market:
China and Hong Kong availability beginning January 15.
Australia and New Zealand availability beginning January 28.
Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and United Kingdom availability beginning February 18.”
Another year has flown by and it is 2014. Time to look back at 2013 from a bloggy (not just CAD) perspective:
For me the event of the year, blog’wise, was the Revit Technology Conference. It was an inspiring mix of education, inspiration, meeting new folks (many Kiwis from out of town) and reunions. I didn’t get to Autodesk University this year but RTC meant some of the notable AU speakers came to me.
Also notable that it was ‘at home’, Auckland, but also a new experience. The evening dinner was in an Auckland venue I’ve known about all my life but never visited. What was once the 1970s licenced restaurant ‘Fishermans Wharf’ has transformed, after several dubious previous attempts to revive it, into a quality reception venue “The Wharf’. It sits under the harbour bridge I cross on my daily work commute but I’d never been there, or seen Auckland from that point of view, before RTC!
I also attended two other conferences —Skeptics NZ and TEDx Auckland—which were also excellent but haven’t blogged much about them yet!
I found the comments on a post about my Samsung ATIV PC most interesting this year. The initial units had a dock fault and my experience and several readers—as seen in the comments—getting this sorted was interesting. I felt the retail channels handled it well but was totally underwhelmed by the lack of information from Samsung NZ.
It was apparent the retailers were not getting much supporting info, repair status or time, and a direct approach to Samsung NZ (who are literally next door to my work) was a complete waste of time. I wonder if mentioning I was blogging about it would have made any difference but didn’t as wanted to see the consumer experience.
While the issue was eventually resolved (and the hardware has since been fine) I won’t be favouring Samsung when the time comes to replace my PC and phone.
I’ve added a bunch of podcasts to my regular listening this year but one of the best offers a local spin on the world of IT, Tech and gadgets:
NZ Tech Podcast -nztechpodcast.com @nztechpodcast
Gadget and Technology News and Opinions (with a New Zealand flavour)
For a more international flavour the TWiT network podcasts are great with my favourite being:
A weekly look at all things Microsoft, including Windows, Windows Phone, Office, Xbox, and more, from two of the foremost Windows watchers in the world, Paul Thurrott of the Super Site for Windows and Mary Jo Foley of All About Microsoft.
Check out their December “best of 2013” shows for a flavour of these podcasts.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the demise of RSS, or at least my use of it.
While the technology is still a vital part of web services Google killing its Reader portal and, despite some reasonable attempts, the lack of a decent Web, Windows Modern/Metro/Phone reader which could handle the volume of feeds I use has greatly reduced my use.
I still have a desktop reader on my tablet/PC but must admit use it perhaps weekly rather than the previous daily use. My prime replacement for keeping current is Twitter with RSS reading now just a useful backup.
Twitter is instant; both its strength and weakness. If something is happening you’ll see it there but it flashes into history in minutes, even seconds. With a RSS reader you can look at your feeds and review a weeks, months posts at any time. As for Facebook, only really use it to keep up with those people and communities who are only on Facebook.
March was the busiest in a year which was pretty consistent. Posts from March 2013:
Overall traffic was down about 10% but probably because I’ve posted less this year than due to any other factor.
I’ve become even more of a lazy blogger, not posting much, which is something I also mentioned last year.
Some of that has been lack of opportunity to try some great new technologies (some cloud access limitations) but also not making the time to finish an increasing backlog of draft posts.
That quote about ‘my work never being finished, only abandoned’ seemed to happen in the draft stage for many posts this year.
One aspect I’ve refined is use of a Windows Tablet and SkyDrive (replacing Live Mesh) for much of my blogging resources. I also switched to Windows Phone after my old iPhone 3GS finally literally cracked up (from use not abuse).
I haven’t regretted the move to a Microsoft only platform as the iOS apps I used, as opposed to those I had, were available. I think it really is easier to live in one ecosystem no matter which one you choose.
Thanks for visiting, reading and coming back. Lets see what 2014 brings!
UPDATE 03/22/2013: I have my replacement Samsung #ATIV keyboard dock and all is good. No more wobbly power connection so far!
After a couple of weeks with my Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro I have returned it. I hope to get it, or another, back but am currently waiting for ‘the verdict’. After a couple of weeks home use this is how I found life with a Windows 8 hybrid tablet/ultra-book.
The ATIV, and the Windows 8 Modern User Interface (formerly Metro ), worked beautifully as a tablet. Start-up from sleep took only a few seconds (thanks to SSD + i5 I suspect). Windows 8 picture password means you can logon without encountering even an onscreen keyboard (although that option was there too). User accounts allow a tablet to be more than ‘your tablet’.
The powerful hardware (i5) made touch gestures, typing, inking and sketching input very responsive. For “consumption” (aka the iPad role) I found Modern UI/Windows Store applications to do nearly all I wanted. In fact Tweetro+ is the most elegant Twitter application I’ve used on any platform.
In this mode the only thing I didn’t find was a good RSS feed reader which could handle the 1200+ feeds I currently have. At this stage the flexibility of an x86 based system came to the fore as I installed my faithful old RSS Bandit desktop application. I also installed Windows Essentials (mainly for Live Writer), CorelDraw and Office desktop applications for blogging and other work.
The 1980 x 1080 HD widescreen was great for media and allows two Modern apps to be used in split mode. Windows Modern UI handles screen scaling seamlessly but I had to bump up the Windows Desktop font scaling to 150% to see the small text.
It also prompted me to actually get to an optometrist appointment I put off last year. I didn’t factor new glasses into the computer purchase budget but do need them. Strangely it is because my eyes have improved a little. If this trend continues if I live to about 150 I won’t need corrective glasses at all!
The legacy desktop is useable, if not pleasant, in tablet mode but shows why Microsoft HAD to reinvent a touch based UI. The Windows 8 gestures, swiping to flip between apps and bring up the ‘Charms’ menu, soon seem so natural. The context nature of charms in Modern apps — like search/share applying to the app you search from and new ‘send to device’ for print — does take some getting used to but soon become second nature.
Pen input was lovely. The supplied dock-able pen is a little short but inking and sketching was fine. Windows 8 text recognition works really well, either as you input or just for hand writing background search.
I did not miss the Start Button/Menu at all. The Start Screen is far more powerful, in my opinion more useable, with tiles bringing the applications to life. In fact Samsung bundle a “launcher” which seems to be there for Start button devotes, but I turned it off.
Slap the ATIV Tablet into its keyboard dock and you have an acceptable mid range ultra-book. Mechanical (island style) keys are far better than any onscreen keyboard for serious typing. The touchpad does take some getting used to as has the left/right click as part of its surface rather than separate buttons. I had a few miss clicks before turning down the sensitivity a bit.
I questioned the usefulness of a touchpad when you have a touch screen but preferred it for precision tasks in laptop mode. I found myself flipping pages, pinch zooming and changing applications on the touch screen but found precise cursor positioning or drag n drop editing was easier with the touchpad. It was nice to have the choice.
The dock also adds a couple more USB ports although they are 2.0 vs the single 3.0 USB on the tablet. It is pretty solid, but only just balances the 880 gram screen which contains all the hardware and battery. It is a pity they didn’t put extra battery in the keyboard rather than just dead weight. One advantage of having all the hardware (therefore heat) in the screen is you can actually use this unit on your lap without cooking, even warming, it…
Image from Samsung ATIV
I found the battery life pretty good. I didn’t do any timed runs but found the ATIV would easily last a evening of tweeting, blog reading, writing and web browsing. Running heavy apps would drain the battery more rapidly but 5-7 hours mixed use was realistic.
However ‘range anxiety’, to steal an electric car term, isn’t helped by both the Windows 8 Modern UI and ATIV hardware hindering easy monitoring of battery charge/state. When running swiping the charms displays a basic battery charge indicator but it lacks an accurate %’age or estimated time remaining. Bizarrely hovering over the charge indicator on the desktop taskbar reveals this info so the OS knows what the Modern UI doesn’t reveal.
The tablet component of the ATIV has a dedicated micro-plug to connect to the the power supply. As it runs an i5 chip and has pretty hefty battery to charge this requires mains power from a small plug-pack, similar to netbooks, rather than the USB chargers less power hungry tablets use.
The ATIV has a blue LED to indicate it is running but when sleeping gives no indication it is charging or charged. That seems odd especially when my old $400 Samsung Netbook, less than 1/4 the ATIV cost, has a bi-colour red/green charge indicator. You can press the Windows Logo key, the only button on the tablet face, to see a brief indication of the battery state & charge on the display but that’s all.
What makes this charge monitoring worse is the keyboard dock had a problem. When docked the Tablet power input is covered by the hinge/dock. There is another power input on the keyboard which feeds to the tablet via a small multi-pin connector. As there is no battery in the keyboard (a missed opportunity) this connection is vital to run/charge the unit when docked. On the ATIV this docking is locked by two cam-latches and requires a push button to release.
Even when properly docked, and latched, my ATIV proved to be very sensitive and the power randomly disconnected. This was seen as the power plug appears/disappears and when the charge got low you got constant ‘plug in soon’ warnings. Even the vibration from typing, when used on my lap, was enough to cause this.
It appears to be a manufacturing tolerance or design fault as the actual performance of the keyboard and touchpad was fine even as the power disconnected. You can, just, see the mains plug disappearing in this clip I shot before returning the unit. The lack of charge indication (when not running) meant you could not be sure if the docked unit was charging. Touching the screen to display the charge info was likely to disconnect it!
I have found a few references to “keyboard disconnect” on the web, even on the Samsung (US)Website reviews and this Tablet PC forum. It appears most related to early production models and seemed to be a total keyboard disconnect rather than just the wobbly power I experienced.
One thing I must praise is the retailer service. Although I work for a retailer that sells some Samsung product they don’t stock the Smart PC Pro. In fact the stock at those who did was limited, it seems they sell as soon as arrive. I purchased from a specialist computer store, with no mention of the blog or working for a partial competitor, so this is a typical customer experience.
PB Tech were great. They acknowledged the problem, advised that the ‘fix’ might be replacement and I should back up any vital data before returning the unit (also offering to do that for me) and then dealt with Samsung service. They also provided a very clear indication of the assessment process and likely timescale.
I happen to work next door to Samsung New Zealand and did go over to see them before returning the unit. They have only recently moved in and I wondered if the service facility was there. Although it is only a sales/admin office I was a little disappointed nobody, beyond the receptionist who did attempt to find someone for me, was prepared to talk about a product quality question. I can understand not dealing with technical problems but thought someone taking the time to politely ask about a potential fault might get more response.
Anyway, as I write (back on my Samsung Netbook!) I await the verdict. I really liked the ATIV so am hoping it was a problem unit rather than fundamental design fault. I want it back!
Back in 2009 I wrote a post, which also spawned a new category “My Perfect PC”, prompted by the desire for a truly mobile design/drawing/documentation tool:
Recently I was clearing out a closet and found what was, a long time ago, my design tool box:
An A3 board, mechanical/architectural templates plus a handful of drawing instruments meant I could draw pretty much anything...
Later in the article I set out a spec for that device:
Based on technology that's available today, or nearly here, I'd like:
- Powerful processor, memory, disk spec for CAD, BIM, Engineering Modelling.
- High quality separate graphics
- Touch, tablet like pen and voice interface.
- Full size keyboard with number pad, touch pad and stick.
- Power for decent mobile use (i.e 8 hours real work)
- Not too compact - 17" screen minimum
- Maybe even Windows 7
Except they'll likely struggle with this requirement, unless lots of people buy them:
- Not too expensive...
There was nothing really close at the time, and an iPad didn’t cut it for me, so as a gap filler I got a Samsung Netbook. Yes, a netbook.
256GB storage allowed photo/media storage and the keyboard, if not quite full-size, was fine for bashing out a blog post, email or whatever. I was surprised it even coped with some fairly heavy duty photo editing like stitching 6 x 15 megapixel images into a panorama and running Office applications.
What it lacked was performance and screen size. pen, touch and the ability to run CAD to any degree due to limited processor, memory (2GB) and screen resolution.
The iPad transformed mobile computing in a way Microsoft’s Tablet OS failed to do but for me iOS has a couple of fatal flaws:
Besides I had a hunch something better suited to my needs was coming along…
Windows 8 brings iOS’like simplicity to touch operation with a massively powerful desktop application which happens to be what was once known as Windows. It really is two operating systems in one, something many find confusing.
The mix of mobile (8 metro) and PC (8 desktop) is best leveraged with a hybrid hardware capable of touch, keyboard/mouse or pen input. You (well I) can’t type much with an onscreen keyboard, precision pointing with a finger is not realistic, either is sketching with a finger or mouse. There are times when typing is the best input, others when writing on a flat tablet is more appropriate.
Break off the tablet and you have something which can replace an iPad (the big one), slap it in a dock and you have an ultra-book of sorts with SD storage, USB connectivity and HDMI output.
Image from Samsung ATIV
I checked out several but it came down to two options for me: Microsoft Surface Pro or Samsung ATIV Pro. The prime reason was other convertibles either run netbook type chips or are more like notebooks which split, spin or turn.
The Surface & ATIV are more like an iPad with superior keyboard dock and a real operating system. They have almost identical spec but you can’t get any official Microsoft Surface in NZ, even the RT, so that leaves the ATIV. Lets look back at that wish list from a couple of years ago and what the ATIV Smart PC offers:
So that was near enough me to plonk down the credit card…
The Samsung unbox first impression doesn’t exactly match Apple. You get a fairly plain white box, same, with the hardware packed to keep it safe. Under the screen and keyboard was a box with power cord, transformer (nice & small) and a cleaning cloth. Documentation is a Quick Start Guide, Introduction to Windows 8 and Samsung Applications and consumer guarantee info. A bit surprising was a slip-sheet advising running software update before using the keyboard dock (with instructions on how to do that). There are no other adaptors, no mini-HDMI lead or a slip cover.
The packaging doesn’t match Apple and to be honest either does the first impression of build quality (or to be fair the price). The screen unit, which contains all the PC hardware, is plastic —rather than alloy—and sports the obligatory tacky Intel Inside & Windows 8 logo stickers. It is 304 x 190 x 12mm but tapered to about 5mm at the edges so appears thinner. The screen is 1920 x 1080 HD and has ten point touch sensitivity. The back has four surface vents (intake) and one small edge exhaust revealing it runs a chipset which needs cooling.
It is also quite heavy, Samsung quote 888 grams, but again that reflects all the hardware stuffed in there. You need not carry the keyboard if you don’t need it as Windows 8 offers two onscreen keyboards, std & split thumb layouts, and pen input without the dock.
It does get warm, not hot, but the internals are arranged to put the heat generation and exhaust away from where you typically hold it. The lower half is, according to a help diagram, mostly battery and the intakes are placed above where you hold the tablet. There is a bit of fan noise, not annoying though, when the chip is working hard but typical browsing is almost silent.
A couple of subtle grilles, about 3mm wide, on each side of the screen bezel hide stereo speakers capable of pretty decent output. Around the perimeter are ports for power/keyboard dock, USB 3, Mini HDMI,
SD/MicroSD Card, Headphone & external mic and slim push button controls for power, screen rotation lock and volume. Also, hidden in a dock, is a pen with button erase for the Wacom tablet input. The tablet has built in mic and 2 megapixel front, 5 megapixel rear cameras.
Image from Samsung ATIV
The keyboard dock has real keys, with mechanical action, and a multi-touch track pad which allows you to work in true notebook mode if preferred. It has a nice action, familiar layout (from my netbook) and a mechanical latching dock hinge for the screen. One advantage of the ‘all in screen’ hardware is you can comfortably use it on your lap as there is no heat output from the base. Although stable you can tell there is a fair amount of mass in the screen making the balance, say when picking it up, different from a normal ultra book. I think Samsung missed an opportunity not putting an extra battery in the dock, something one Acer model has done. Perhaps they should consider that as a future offer.
The set-up was fairly painless but nearly all the Windows ‘Metro” and Samsung OEM Apps updated. Signing into my existing Microsoft account meant my settings, contacts, accounts and Windows Store apps appeared after a bit of streaming. One thing I discovered is once the SkyDrive Desktop app is installed you can copy the folder content from your other PC to speed the initial sync. This really used to upset Live Mesh but SkyDrive just acknowledged the files were there and synced changes from then on.
Image from Samsung ATIV
A recent blog storm on Microsoft Surface storage (or supposed lack of) questioned the space requirements for Windows 8. It was nicely debunked by Ed Bott but had me wondering about the ATIV. I don’t remember what I started with but have installed:
The result after that space is reported as disk size 116.32 GB, 57.89 GB free and I still have the Samsung Recovery Drive data there. You can clone that off to a USB Drive to free up more storage if things get tight.
For now I’m settling in and the only real concern is a slightly flaky power connection when docked. As a tablet you can plug power directly into the screen but when docked that connector is hidden.
The dock has its own power input but the link to the screen (and therefore battery recharge) seems a bit sensitive and occasionally the power comes & goes. What is odd is there seems to be only one connector and the keyboard command link seems really solid irrespective of the power.
From now on most of what you see here will be authored on the ATIV. Will report back on life with “My (nearly) perfect PC” as I learn more.
UPDATES in Red 02/12/2013: I took the machine back today as appears the power problem is real. Looks like a new dock might be needed. Is it a design fault or just poor Q.A.?
Ok, so 1.2 kg isn’t going to make it an iPad competitor but I don’t want an iPad. So far this is the closest I have seen to my “My Perfect Computer”. You’re not going to do full on design on the road but an i7, decent SSD and the versatile configuration (with digital ink) means it sure looks like a nice mobile design/presentation device.
The Incredible Fusion of Notebook and Tablet
This video shows the potential with design media. I’m the dude with the tube…
UPDATE 2013-01-13: Or, if you don’t need two screens perhaps consider their Transformer book but it appears (by no mention) that ASUS have not included the pressure sensitive pen input seen on the Taichi. That’s a major omission for a full Windows tablet experience
It wasn’t that I waited for the Apple event, but the announcement of the iPhone 4GS (rather than some other sort of device) was part of the decision. I had been thinking about a mobile blogging solution. While you can do a lot with an iPhone, more with an iPad, my blog creation is pretty much all Windows’centric.
I write about Windows apps so grabbing screenshots etc is best done there. I use Live Writer to compose posts locally (rather than TypePad’s web editor), use RSS Bandit Reader (which can sync with Google Reader but I prefer a local app) to follow blogs and rely on ActiveWords to save lots of keystrokes while writing. That’s why an iPad didn’t really cut it for me but I like their long battery life and portability.
The answer came in the form of a little Samsung NC110 Netbook.
I considered an Ultrabook but they are still too expensive and fragile to be thought of as a “use or loose” portable device. It’s going to travel, be it conferences to bike trips, and the thought of stuffing a precious Ultrabook into a backpack horrifies me. I could trash three or four netbooks for the price of one Ultrabook.
I’ve been using Microsoft Live Mesh, before that the Mesh Preview, to compose this blog since 2008. By syncing content it allows the perfection of composing locally, from any Windows device, with the cloud syncing content. Love that I can run heavy CAD/BIM apps on the desktop, grab screenshots there and begin a draft to finish later.
But none of that is the reason I’ll remember buying this machine. On the way back to work I heard the news; the day Steve Jobs died.
I must apologise for initiating HP’s proposed exit from the consumer PC hardware business. You see there is this thing about my selection of hardware and the subsequent future of the manufacturer:
5.) If I purchase a PC from a company they cease trading in New Zealand. Strange thing is all these machines have been faultless and are still operational. I do suggest if you work for a PC company and you like your job it’s not a good idea to sell me a machine!
- CADS – Closed down, admittedly a few years after I got my 486.
- PC Direct – At the time a market leading local assembler. Not long after I got one of their machines they sold out to Gateway.
- Gateway – Soon after I buy one of their machines they quit our market, no longer in NZ.
- The PC Company – Again, once a leading local assembler. I was lucky as think my machine was one of the last out the door before they crashed
Then a couple of weeks back posted this tweet:
It seems fellow CAD Blogger Brian Benton has a similar talent:
This is being written on a two year old PB Tech PC. They seem to be trading well whenever I visit and I hope that continues!
AutoCAD Architecture and Revit running on a Microsoft Surface Studio