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Intel Compute Stick as a low-cost web-working solution.

At $149 (trending down) this is an interesting Windows 8.1 PC but when you know it weighs just 54 grams /  0.116 pounds it becomes a bit of an eye opener. The Intel Compute Stick, and its branded variants, are starting to become available in the market and I’ve had one for testing (from Intel) for the last two weeks. It’s not a tablet and it’s not a desktop. It’s not even a mini PC. This is a PC sealed inside a pocketable stick that can be plugged into an HDMI port on your monitor, powered by USB and used with a keyboard and mouse. It runs Windows 8.1 and can be upgraded to Windows 10. You will not find anything with this flexibility at this price, but is it powerful enough? I’ve been running tests on the Compute Stick and wanted to focus on one aspect that will interest a lot of people – web working.

Intel Compute Stick - 56 grams of PC.

Intel Compute Stick – 56 grams of PC.

If you’re familiar with 8-inch Windows 8 tablets the Intel Compute Stick is exactly that but without the screen and battery. There’s a micro SD slot, micro USB and, sticking out of the end, a full-size HDMI connector. Importantly there’s an extra, full-size USB 2.0 port. It’s important because it supports USB data + power, unlike all the cheap Windows tablets which use one micro USB port for either power OR data (*1.) Inside the Compute Stick there’s a quad-core Baytrail-T (Z3735F) processor, 32GB RAM and 2GB memory. WiFi-N and Bluetooth 4.0 are included. You won’t find any audio ports so you’ll need to use HDMI, Miracast or Bluetooth connectivity for that. There’s a tiny fan inside.

In total, including power supply, HDMI and USB charging cable it weighs 183 grams / 0.4 pounds – as much as some smartphones, without their USB charger.

Given the lack of battery and screen it’s obviously not a smartphone or a mobile PC although one could argue that it can be powered by a USB power-pack and accessed remotely. Intel provides a remote keyboard/mouse application for Android and IOS and you’ll be able to screencast to it from other devices via DLNA. Come Windows 10 you’ll be able to remotely start applications using the DIAL protocol too. (think about PowerPoint presentations, Netflix, Groove Music and the like.) No, it’s not really a mobile PC, it’s a portable PC and one you might just want to put in that box of adaptors you take with you all the time.

I’ve been thinking about hotel and hot-desking scenarios – situations where screens are often available and all you need is a keyboard and mouse. I’m using a cheap Logitech K400 keyboard with integrated mouse and the total cost is about $180.

Intel Compute Stick with Logitech K400 USB keyboard.

Intel Compute Stick with Logitech K400 USB keyboard.

 

Web-workers tend to keep their data in the ‘cloud’ and use web-based applications. Web working is good way of being mobile, clean, secure and ready to work anywhere and the Compute Stick offers that ability but, unlike a Chrome OS device (like the ASUS Chromebit for example) gives you a vast range of truly local, offline applications, a choice of browsers and deep integration with a Microsoft account, if that’s the way you choose to work. Batch photo processing, local image administration and even a bit of video editing are possible.

Back to Web-working and it has to be said that you’ll need to do some preparation before you use an Intel Compute Stick on the road. This applies to all low-end Windows tablets too because the eMMC storage, relatively slow processor and ‘old’ Windows 8.1 build means updates, indexing and anti-virus checks seem to take forever. Updates will take days to filter through and this kills the Windows experience. Make sure you’ve run the stick for a few days, for many hours, before you take it on the road.

Comparing the Stick with the SP3.

The Surface Pro 3 is a tablet PC I regard as having barrier-free Web-working capabilities. The Ultrabook-style architecture includes strong WiFi-AC, there’s 4GB of RAM, a strong CPU and good connectivity. The Compute Stick doesn’t have anywhere near the processing capability of the SP3 so it’s not a fair competition between the two but the SP3 serves as a very good benchmark that a lot of people have experienced and that’s why I’m testing against it.

The full-size USB 2.0 port opens up possibilities.

The full-size USB 2.0 port opens up possibilities.

One of the big issues with the Compute Stick is the WiFi. It’s not a dual-band, dual channel WiFi AC module as on the Surface Pro 3. Working with 2.4Ghz and a 150 Mbps connection means you’ll have to be careful to get a good strong signal. A busy WiFi environment will quickly kill the web experience as will a wall. The reception quality on the Stick is basic; probably in the lower 30% of devices I’ve tested recently. Adding a good quality USB WiFi stick could really help but in order to take the network out of the equation in the tests I also ran some tests using a USB 2.0 Gigabit Ethernet adapter.

Web performance results.

I tested three different Web page load times using the Surface Pro 3 and the Intel Compute Stick. I was connected to an in-room hotspot with strong up/down speeds, AC capability and just a few other users.

  • Page A – a lightweight news page.
  • Page B – an ad and tracker-heavy article.
  • Page C – was an ad-free Google Sheets application.

Times in seconds. Average over 3 non-chached page loads. Chrome pre-caching disabled. The Surface Pro 3 was only tested using WiFi-AC.

Test Surface Pro 3
(Always WiFi AC)
Compute
Stick
X
Page A via WiFi 5.4 8.7 1.61 
Page A via USB Gig E 5.4 (WiFi) 7.0 1.29
Page B via WiFi 5.4 12.1 2.20
Page B via USB Gig E 5.4 (WiFi) 8.8 1.63
Page B with Ad Block WiFi 3.9 8.56 2.19
Page B with Ad Block Gig E 3.9 (WiFi) 8.26 2.11
Page C via WiFi 6.8 15.36 2.25
Page C via USB Gig E 6.8 (WiFi) 15.6 2.29

 

Average time taken for the Intel Compute Stick over all tests: 194% more than the SP3. (Compute Stick requires 1.94 X the time that the Surface Pro 3 needs)

Page C, the web application page, with low data volume, no ads but high javascript level was the worst performing of the three tests, and did not improve with an increases in Internet connection speed or ad blocking. At 2.29 X loading time it’s much slower than what is acceptable for long-term use. It’s a good example of why processing power is important for online applications and given the single-threaded nature of javascript, probably not the best test for a low-power quad-core CPU.

Ad-heavy sites will need to be ad-blocked. In the ad-heavy page B test the load-time was reduced by 30%. Increasing the bandwidth didn’t help much though.

For simple web pages there’s little to be gained from adding a Gigbit Ethernet port, but it doesn’t hurt. Just remember that you only have one USB port.

In terms of performance per dollar, there’s an argument to be made for the Intel Compute Stick. If you’re not ploughing through hundreds of web pages per day and are just using a few web applications for data input then the Compute Stick could be OK but anything that requires a lot of client-side javascript processing is going to feel very slow and there’s no way round that. Web application start-up is always a heavyweight operations requiring good quality CPU power.

The Intel Compute Stick as a web-working solution.

The Compute Stick, as with other quad-core / Baytrail-T Windows devices, isn’t a good solution for productive online applications usage. A dual-core Baytrail-M Chromebook is likely to out-perform the Compute Stick in this scenario and offer better default security and privacy, assuming you trust Google. Before you decide that the ASUS Chromebit is a better solution, consider that it’s likely to run a quad-core Rockchip CPU and not a dual-Core Intel Baytrail-M CPU. Performance in web-working scenarios may suffer.

When dealing with ad-heavy pages the Compute Stick struggles but an ad blocker helps. I used Ad Block (not Ad Block Plus, whose business model I don’t support) in this scenario. If you’re reading long-form content I recommend using Metro IE / (Edge in Windows 10) and its reader function. Apps like Flipboard, Bing News and Nextgen Reader might help any might even work offline.

For simple websites the Intel Compute Stick is more than enough and one must consider that although it can be slow, it will deliver the full Web experience. Pretending to be a mobile browser can help with speed, layout and can drastically reduce data requirements which helps the Compute Stick on every level. I re-tested site A, a fast, simple page, using the Chrome UA Spoofer extension set to Android KitKat alongside the Ad Block extension and saw page load times reduce to 1/3rd of what  I could achieve over Gigabit Ethernet. For content reading this is the answer. For web applications, it’s not such a great solution but might help in some cases where applications are well optimized for mobile browsers.

One last thing you can do to help your experience, especially with large, image-heavy sites is to use the Google Data Saver extension which will proxy all traffic through its servers doing compression on the way. This won’t help much for mobile sites but on desktop sites you’ll save a significant amount of data. Data Saver (and similar compressing proxy services) could help to overcome a weak WiFi signal and could, depending on the speed of Google’s servers, save time. Don’t use this solution for web applications or sensitive data.

Other web performance figures: Intel Compute Stick

  • Sunspider: 850ms (best)
  • Octane V2: 5980 (best)
  • Peacekeeper: 895 (best)
Intel Compute Stick Octane V2 score: 5980

Intel Compute Stick Octane V2 score: 5980

How many tabs? (Memory limit.)

I opened Google News and started loading the pages as they appeared on the News site. Opening multiple pages concurrently brings the CPU to its knees but after a while I managed to get 10 tabs open before the performance monitor indicated some disk and paging activity. After the 12th tab loaded I tried to open Google Music – an online application that can take a lot of memory. I was surprised that it opened but there was clear paging activity which indicates the end-of-the-road for PC performance. After this point things don’t get any better at all and in general, unusable.

pagefile 12 tabs and music  perf1 12 tabs and music

Screenshot (3)

When the disk is taking 2 seconds to respond you know you’ve reached the limits of your PC!

Web Working Security.

The Windows tablet PC security guide here will help you with security and privacy. One point to note here though is that the Compute Stick does not support OS-based Bitlocker file encryption. Most other Baytrail-T / Windows 8 PCs  support Bitlocker but the TPM module is missing from the Stick hardware. It might be possible to implement Bitlocker under Windows 10 using virtual TPM but details are not readily available at this time.

Intel Compute Stick _6_

Round-Up.

The Intel Compute Stick supports Web-working but not in the way that a productive office worker might expect. The Stick takes 2 times as long to load a web page on average and has limits to the amount of concurrent pages that can be opened. There’s no disk-based encryption. For the average user it’s just not fast enough to use on a daily basis.

The Intel Compute Stick is not a self-contained PC either. You’ll need a keyboard-video-mouse solution to use it just like you would any standalone PC so considering that some 10-inch low-cost Windows tablet solutions offer everything that the Compute Stick does, for just $50-$80 more with a screen, battery and even a keyboard in some cases there’s another limitation. But try and find a sub-400 gram solution with HDMI, USB and power. In most cases there’s no HDMI port and in nearly all there’s a USB port that is also used for charging. You’ll need to move up to the 10-inch Windows tablet group before you find a self-contained unit with the same port/power capability as the Stick and then you’re looking at something that weighs 10 times the weight of the Stick.

The Stick is currently $149 but Archos have already announced a similar product that will retail for much less than that and when we reach $99 it becomes slightly more interesting as a back-up solution, as long as you’re happy with the data and physical security.

Where the Intel Compute Stick could shine is in developing markets. A fully-licensed Windows PC at this price and size is unique. The Stick performs as well as a four year old laptop and much better than the netbooks of 5+ years ago. The Stick can run for hours, possibly days on a backup power supply and you have complete flexibility to build a workstation with a Gigabit Ethernet adaptor, external hard drive and even add a 3G stick for internet connectivity. I’m thinking about journalists I met in Ukraine last year as one of the perfect customers for the Compute Stick. [Journalist without Euros.] The Compute Stick could have a place in developing education markets as a web-computer too. Think outside the web-working scenario and you have disaster recovery, signing and advertising, data collection and lots more that I haven’t covered in this article.

For the lucky ones among us, the Compute Stick is a fun building-block and the lightest backup PC ever but for those with reduced budgets this could be much safer, much more efficient and much faster than second-hand PC solutions in web-working scenarios. Think, too, about low-cost educational software, written for Windows 10 Mobile, running on a desktop screen.

If you’re assessing the Compute Stick, or a variant of the Compute Stick for education, developing markets or other scenarios I’d love to hear from you. I’m sure everyone else would too so please take a moment to let us know what you’re working on in the comments below. Thanks!

*1 – You can buy special power-injectors for some Windows 8 tablet solutions.

Lenovo Thinkpad 8 (Z3795) testing update

I bought a Thinkpad 8 last week. Why? This high-end Windows 8 tablet with LTE and 4GB got an update to the Z3795 CPU, has much improved performance over the original and was retailing in the UK for an absolute bargain price. Since I bought it I’ve done a lot of testing and a lot of travelling with it. I’ve also treated it to a hard case and a USB 3.0 OTG adaptor which says a lot about how I plan to use it.

Ivso hard case / stand for Lenovo Thinkpad 8

Ivso hard case / stand for Lenovo Thinkpad 8

Performance is very impressive. (Here are my early test results, more in the images below.) I’ve just tested the Intel Compute Stick with Cinebench and the Thinkpad, with the same Atom-series CPU, is turning in 50% better CPU performance scores.

Cinebench only multi cpu caused occasional throttling lenovo thinkpad 8 z3795 Sunspider 1.0.2 IE desktop Cinebench 11.5

In a subsequent Cinebench run I saw a multi-CPU score of 1.56 which is nearly up to some Ivy Bridge Ultrabook scores of 2012. It’s 15% better than the scores from an early Thinkpad 8 I tested.

More importantly it feels smooth to use. Like a Dell Venue 11 Pro (with Z3795 CPU) I tested recently there’s a feeling that you could use this for web working without hitting barriers. It’s got enough power to drive some very productive computing.

In a quick web-test with a big-screen (via HDMI) and a USB keyboard and mouse I had no problems at all but you’ll have to be aware that if you want to charge it while you use it in this scenario you need to use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. The power takes away the USB data port.

To try to solve that power-data over USB problem I’ve ordered the official Lenovo Y cable. It’s not cheap and it’s going to take a few weeks to get here but I’ve read about successes from other users. The cheap USB 3.0 OTG cable I bought doesn’t even enable USB 3.0 operation of accessories and won’t connect correctly to my DisplayLink docking station. Beware!

Battery life is average (about 5 hrs web-working) but Connected Standby is good. LTE works although my mid-day city-center up/download test wasn’t that fast. I’ll test that again to see what maximum speeds I can get.

The next step is to test Windows 10. I’m reluctant to dive into that now though as the Thinkpad 8 is working so well with Windows 8 but I want to make sure it works so I’ll dive into that at some point next week. I’m still testing the Intel Compute Stick and the Ainol Mini PC so there’s a lot to get through!

If you have any questions about the Lenovo Thinkpad 8 LTE (Z3795) then let me know below

Intel Compute Stick and Ainol Mini PC compared

I’m testing the Intel Compute Stick and the Ainol Mini PC. These two ultramobile PCs have exactly the same processing platform but completely different use cases. My analysis and video follows.

Intel Compute Stick and Ainol Mini PC. Same CPU, different markets.

Intel Compute Stick and Ainol Mini PC. Same CPU, different markets.

Intel Compute Stick.

Intel Compute Stick

Intel Compute Stick

It’s a PC dongle! Plug this into the HDMI port on your monitor and power it via USB and you’ll see Windows 8.1 boot up before your eyes. Plug in a USB keyboard and mouse and that’s it. You’ve got a quad-core Atom-based processor with 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage, WiFi, Bluetooth a microSD card and lots of possibilities. Processsing and graphics power won’t be enough for a daily office environment but as a home PC this will sit quietly in standby and be available in a second or two when you need it. Run the Weather and News apps and they will be continuously up to date when you turn on the screen. Alternatively, use it as a music streaming device, a Web browser, a full HD video player or twitter wall. There are a number of business scenarios too as you can run Remote Desktop, add a 3G dongle (turn it into a 3G router), turn it into a data collection device, run it from a solar panel or use it as part of a home automation system. It could be interesting as an advertising display system too. Run a slideshow of images from a synchronised OneDrive folder and you can control the content remotely.

There are a few things to note about the Compute Stick. It costs just $129 but you’ll probably see that drop to $99 soon as competition heats up. Archos have already announced a $99 model, for example.  Unbelievably there’s a fan inside the Intel Compute Stick which means you might hear a mosquito-like noise occasionally. The fan in put and output grills mean it should be protected from dust-ingress too so if you’ve got cats or dogs…

There’s no TPM module inside the Intel Compute Stick which might sound irrelevant but Atom-based Windows PCs running Windows 8.1, using a Microsoft account, having Secure Boot enabled and including a TPM module inside is the magic recipe for free Bitlocker disk encryption. It’s a good way to keep data secure if you lose the stick. It’s a shame because it would have been a nice way for users to stay data-safe and, as this interests me, for journalists to do secure data ‘drops’ with informants.

There’s no battery inside the Compute Stick so you’ll have to take care to keep it powered. The USB on a TV will not be powerful enough to run this but if you’re turning the included PSU off and on at the plug (as many do with switched wall plugs or power-saving auto-switches) you risk corrupting the disk. eMMC drives are resilient, but I would recommend care.

Note that the system supports Connected Standby which means it will go into a very, very low power state but stay connected to WiFi and update apps as required (unless you disable ‘WiFi in standby’ – coming on Windows 10.) Connected Standby will disable the screen but I can’t tell you if it supports HDMI CEC which would electronically turn the TV off too. Most TVs will detect the loss of signal and power-down anyway so this shouldn’t be a problem. As for control, and this also applies to the Ainol mini PC (below,) look to use something like the Logitech K400 with built-in trackpad.

The Intel Compute Stick supports Windows 10 upgrade (free) and I’ll start looking at that in the coming week but one thing is for sure – DIAL is something you need to be aware of because it will enable remote control of DIAL-enabled apps from a separate Windows 10 device. This isn’t Miracast (a WiFi-based screen casting protocol – which is also possible) this is pure app control as you see on Chromecast. It means that you could control Netflix on your Compute Stick via your tablet or laptop without having to leave the laptop or tablet turned on. Windows 10 brings some other casting and streaming features too.

Ainol Mini PC.

Ainol Mini PC

Ainol Mini PC

Much of what is said about the Compute Stick applies to the Ainol Mini PC. This is a Chinese import PC that costs $99. [Gearchecksent it over, I am not obliged to return it. I paid about 40 Euros in import and processing costs.] The main differences between this and the Compute Stick are the size, the additional ports and an internal battery.

It’s many times bigger than the Intel Compute Stick and weighs as much as a Windows tablet so there’s a question to be asked here. Why not buy a cheap Windows tablet? Ports. The Ainol Mini PC has two full-size USB 2.0 ports, a Mini HDMI port, a Micro SD slot, Micro USB port and a charging port. It’s difficult to find a cheap tablet that can offer so many ports and given that most tablets charge through their only USB port, one that can be powered and docked with a connected USB keyboard and mouse. The Intel Compute Stick offers a similar docking experience but lacks the multiple USB port.

The Ainol Mini PC is silent. There’s no fan inside and that’s because of the larger case volume. No fan means no fan-ports and less chance of dust problems. The aluminium casing adds to the ruggedness.

There’s a TPM module inside which enables Bitlocker disk encryption under the conditions mentioned above. As a secure, portable, dockable PC this is looking good. Connected Standby is also supported.

One of the problems of importing PCs from China is the risk of unlicensed software. I’m happy to report that the pre-installed Windows 8.1 OS passed the online Windows authentication test and looks to be complete and without additional software – always a risk when buying from a low-cost supplier. The only problem is that the OS is a Chinese version and despite an English language build and language install a lot of strange characters can be seen at boot-up. Luckily the UEFI/BIOS settings are in English, and extensive with options.

The Ainol Mini PC can be hidden behind a monitor as well as the Compute Stick, the NUC and many other mini pcs are the same in that scenario so you don’t need to worry about the size there but the real advantage is the internal 17 Wh battery. While the Intel Compute Stick requires constant power, the Ainol Mini PC doesn’t and that makes it very interesting for locations where plug-in power is limited. The Ainol can run well as a home theater PC but it could really shine in locations where power is limited.  Think about solar charging. Think about education in developing countries where a standalone PC and a cellular USB dongle could connect a whole village. The Ainol isn’t targeted at these markets but that’s exactly the scenario where it fits.

Video: Three Mini PCs compared.

I’ve put the Intel Compute Stick and the Ainol together with the Intel NUC in this video. The Intel NUC is in the same price bracket and offers desktop style expansibility, but it doesn’t come with RAM, storage or any operating system so bear that in mind. It can be used with a cheap memory module and run as a home video solution from a USB stick without internal storage but that, again, is a different usage model.

Enjoy the video and please leave your comments below.

 

My Co-Working Desk

I’ve been co-working since late last year and it’s been a great boost to my ultramobile life, both in, and out of the computing sphere. Cycling to work means I need to keep the weight down and when I take the bus I’m often encouraged to get off a few stops early and try a different walk-through which means I get to know my town a bit more intimately. My Lumia 830 is rarely out of my hand as I walk.

WP_20150707_13_54_32_Pro

The core of my co-working desk is a USB 3.0 DisplayLink hub from Belkin. It includes a DisplayLink adaptor (ad, right) which connects to my monitor and lets me plug any Windows PC into the hub and get to work instantly with Gigabit Ethernet, keyboard and mouse. I often leave a USB drive in the hub too and it gets used as a Windows History destination, tracking file changes on multiple devices as I work.

My main PC is a Surface Pro 3 (left of main screen, on the USB dock) but as I test devices (the area on the right is usually for my review devices) then I swap them in and out of the dock. Right now I’m testing the Thinkpad 8 (Z3795, LTE) and the Acer Switch 10E. I’m loving the former but not loving the latter. More on that soon!

Obviously power isn’t a major concern here and with AC WiFi or Gigabit Ethernet and a symmetrical 50 Mb/s Internet connection I’m good for data without having to worry about 3G or LTE but the bus and walk home needs some cellular love, mainly for local cameraphone photography. I rarely use my smartphone as a hotspot though, especially at the end of a working day so LTE on the Thinkpad 8 is perfect for that.

The point here is that you don’t need a desktop PC. Ultrabooks and high-end tablets will serve you well all the way up to full HD video editing, tens of tabs on your browser and high-speed connectivity. A USB 3.0 docking station gives you docking flexibility and if all your PCs are ultramobile, you can carry them everywhere.

  • Co-working is a great way to test mobile devices and mobile internet.
  • The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is the perfect hot-desking PC, if you’ve got a USB docking station.
  • A USB 3.0 DisplayLink docking station is a flexible way to manage multiple Windows or OS X PCs on a single desk position.

I’d love to hear about your working environments. Do you BYO to work? Do you have a big ‘studio’ setup at your home office or are you a co-working fan like me?

Acer Switch 10 detachable available for $220

A touchscreen detachable for $220! Amazon have an offer on the Acer Aspire Switch 10 right now, just as the Switch 10E is feeding into retail channels. I’m testing one of those right now and wondering why you would buy one when the original Switch 10, a device I’ve also tested in-depth, is available for such a good price. You can even get the 64 GB version for $270. Amazon also have global shipping available on this product.

Acer Aspire Switch 10 on offer at Amazon.com

Acer Aspire Switch 10 on offer at Amazon.com

One thing you’ll need to do is to think about Windows 10 before you buy. There have been some successes and some issues reported by existing Switch 10 users when upgrading to Windows 10 but if you’re not worried about Windows 10 then the Switch 10 is immediately a good deal for this price.

Buy the Switch 10 at Amazon.com 

The screen is a 1280 x 800 resolution model but still has wide viewing angles. 32 GB storage is enough for a good range of Windows Store applications and this tablet will also give you HDMI output, supports Miracast and comes with a one-year Office 365 license.

I tested the Switch 10 for Notebookcheck last year.

I tested the Switch 10 for Notebookcheck last year.

Battery life is in the 5 – 6 hours range for ‘WiFi-on Web’ and there’s a reasonably good keyboard. Some users have ha issues with the trackpad but I didn’t experience it in my testing. Overall it’s a good package.

Average rating at Amazon is 3.8 out of 5 stars with 385 reviews. It’s been a popular buy and it’s been the #1 product in the database for months. (Currently #2 in our popularity Top 10)

If you have any (short) questions I’ll be happy to help you over the next 48 hours so leave your comments below. You can view some dollar pricing on 10-inch detachables in this list where you’ll find the HP Pavilion X2 10as an option for a similar price.

Buy the Switch 10 at Amazon.com  Full specifications, links, gallery in the database here.

The BBC Micro:Bit just launched. Lucky UK kids! Video, details.

The Micro:Bit has officially launched in the UK.  It’s about as minimalist as you can make a computing device, including the cost which is so low that 1 million of them are being given to UK school children as part of a BBC-run project. The CPU uses an ARM architecture and there are sensors on board, digital and analogue ports, a 25 LED matrix, two programmable buttons, microSD port and Bluetooth LE. It’s so small that you can wear it as a badge. How cool is that! Check out the video below.

BBC MicroBit

BBC Micro:Bit

BBC MicroBit

BBC Micro:Bit

From the press release:

  • 25 red LEDs to light up, flash messages, create games and invent digital stories
  • Two programmable buttons activated when pressed. Use the micro:bit as a games controller. Pause or skip songs on a playlist.
  • On-board motion detector or ‘accelerometer’ that can detect movement and tell other devices you’re on the go. Featured actions include shake, tilt and freefall. Turn the micro:bit into a spirit level. Light it up when something is moved. Use it for motion-activated games.
  • A built-in compass or ‘magnetometer’ to sense which direction you’re facing, your movement in degrees, and where you are. Includes an in-built magnet, and can sense certain types of metal.
  • Bluetooth Smart Technology to connect to the internet and interact with the world around you. Connect the micro:bit to other micro:bits, devices, kits, phones, tablets, cameras and everyday objects all around. Share creations or join forces to create multi-micro:bit masterpieces. Take a selfie. Pause a DVD or control your playlist.
  • Five Input and Output (I/O) rings to connect the micro:bit to devices or sensors using crocodile clips or 4mm banana plugs. Use the micro:bit to send commands to and from the rings, to power devices like robots and motors.

The CPU is based on ARM Mbedhardware and software which is free for commercial use. Freescale provide the sensors and micro-USB controller, Lancaster University wrote the runtime OS and Microsoft have created a tailored TouchDevelop web application and hosting service (IDE.) Nordic Semiconductor are supplying the Bluetooth chip and Samsung are involved with creating mobile apps for the Micro:Bit. Element14 are in charge of manufacturing, ScienceScope are handling the distribution to schools and the Wellcome Trust are running the educational content around the Micro:Bit. There are other partners too (29 in total.)

The web-based IDE will go live at microbit.co.uk later this summer and it will give the 11-12 year olds (and probably a lot of parents) the chance to create projects, run a simulator and program the Micro:Bit.

Will it be available to buy? Well the BBC have said that they will open-source the Micro:Bit but it’s not quite clear how ‘open source’ the hardware is yet, despite the ‘free to use’ Mbit core. We’ll work on getting that information, along with more technical details, as the launch progresses.

The Micro:Bit might not be an ultramobile PC as we see it here at UMPCPortal but it’s definitely worthy of a mention and indicative of the way that computing devices will shrink even more over time.

CJTQU8-WsAAEtlf

Micro:Bit rear, populated.

Voyo V2 Mini PC coming with battery, storage options.

Mini PCs with built-in batteries are cool. I’m currently testing the Ainol Mini PC and it’s very inspiring from a ‘project’ point of view, especially when you can run it wirelessly and knowing that Windows 10 will have some nice casting features. The Voyo V2 is coming soon though and it includes a battery and extra storage option.

Voyo V2 Mini PC

Voyo V2 Mini PC

For $134 you can get a Voyo V2 mini PC with an Intel Atom Z3735F quad-core, 2 GB RAM and 32 GB eMMC. You’ll find similar specs in the Intel Compute Stick and the Ainol Mini PC. There’s a 17 Wh battery inside and an additional 64 GB ‘SSD.’ The Voyo V2 has and HDMI port, analogue audio port, microSD port and full-size USB 2.0 port. There’s a Gigabit Ethernet port too which makes it a little more interesting as a home-theatre box that streams from network-attached storage.

The ‘SSD’ is not defined so we could be talking about something as simple as an internal USB stick or SD card but if it’s an mSATA or M.2 interface it becomes quite interesting for upgrading.

If you don’t want the extra 64 GB of storage you can opt for an 8000 mah (30 Wh) battery pack which should keep the unit running for 10 hours or more. As a radio streamer or local audio player it could run in Connected Standby mode for days!

It’s a shame that we’re not seeing the new mini PCs with a full 64-bit X5 or X7 processor but they still have enough power to do some impressive computing and should get a boost with Windows 10. I’ll be looking in depth at some of the BIOS and security features of these devices soon so if you’ve got questions about Linux booting or disk encryption, let me know below. If you have any ideas as to how you’d use a mini PC, especially one with a built-in battery, let us know in the comments below.

Source: CNX Software. Gearbest.

Dell Venue 10 7000 – Good reviews. Bad Price.

At 1063 grams, including keyboard, the Dell Venue 10 7000 is another Android 2-in-1 to consider for mobile productivity, if you can justify the price.

tablet-venue-10-pdp-love-module-2

Back in 2010 I tried to put together a 1KG ‘rig’ that would serve mobile computing duties and in the test I had one of the first Android-based ‘smartbooks.’ The Toshiba AC100 was a really interesting product let down by an operating system and apps that didn’t support the laptop style of working. Move on to 2015 and we now have two good Android-based offerings and a range of Windows-based offerings. The choice has never been better. Unfortunately, while the Dell Venue 10 7000 is an extremely smart-looking dockable tablet, it costs $629.

Reviews have been favourable so far for the Dell Venue 10 7000 and it’s clear that Android 5 is better at supporting these form-factors than before. Some apps still don’t understand the concept of landscape mode but if we see more keyboard-based Android products in the future developers will be forced to move from portrait-only.

One of the key features of the Dell Venue 10 7000 is the screen. If it’s anything like the Dell Venue 8 7000, 2560 x 1600 OLEDs should really make a punch and bring some reasonable outdoor capabilities, which would be nicer if there was an LTE option. I agree that most of us can use our phones as temporary hotspots but if you want to be productive and independent of a smartphone battery (i.e. be able to work after 3pm without any worries!) then you need built-in cellular data capability; that’s what makes the Xperia Z4 Tablet so interesting.

The keyboard is getting praise. “Dell has taken the same build quality we saw last year and extended it to a modular design to support one of the best keyboards you can buy for an Android device today.” (Androidcentral) although it’s obviously more cramped than anything you’ll get on an 11.6-inch device.

Dell Venue 10 7000 keyboard.

Dell Venue 10 7000 keyboard.

Battery life looks to be around 6 hours which isn’t great for the weight and screen size. The similar, but Windows-based, Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 10 offers more life from a charge and it only costs $349. If you really want a 2-in-1 tablet bargain, the original Acer Aspire Switch 10 is available for $219, which again highlights the big issue here. Dell need to knock the price down to $399 before the Venue 10 7000 gets really interesting. A $499 version with 64 GB and LTE would make it ultramobile. As it is, $629 is your starting price for this tablet and keyboard combo.

I’ve added the review links into the product database.

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