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Windows 10 pen and touch improvements presented at Build.

Microsoft Build 2015 starts 29th April

Among the many well-presented and informative sessions at BUILD last week was one on pen and touch input, DirectInk and APIs in Windows 10 that will improve the experience, reduce latency and make it easier for developers to add ‘ink’ capabilities to Windows 10 applications. With around 15 million pen-enabled devices in customers hands and increase in the number of pen-enabled tabletsavailable it currently represents a niche opportunity for developers but with these changes in Windows 10, Microsoft’s acquisition of N-Trig and the low-cost Surface 3 the opportunity could grow significantly.

The session, available hereand worth some of your time if you want to get deeper into the subject, started off with a few slides that show how digital ink can be enhanced by through metadata or conversion into other forms. Microsoft suggest that ink can also increase the personality of an email response or enhance a concierge request for a local restaurant by adding search information, a map and navigation.

Digital ink can be enhanced

Digital ink can be enhanced

 

Digital concierge.

Digital concierge.

Microsoft’s figures show that over the last few years there has been a 50% year-on-year growth in Windows active pen and touch devices sold. 50 million touch enabled devices are now in the market with around 12-15 million of those being pen-enabled Windows devices. The numbers aren’t huge but the growth-rate is significant.

Growth in pen-enabled devices. 50 m devices available today.

 

Ink beautification, pressure and latency play an important role in the inking experience and with pixel density reaching magazine levels of 720 DPI on some tablets the screen hardware for reading and writing is reaching optimal levels. Microsoft are improving the beautification process in Windows 10 with a new ink renderer running through DirectX 12 which removes the distinct points you often saw on Windows 8. Other optimizations have reduced typical latency by 50% from 80-100 ms to 40-50ms. Microsoft says that its research shows that at that level the user can’t detect any latency at all.

The Microsoft Edge browser (formerly project Spartan) is using these enhancements so if you’ve got a Windows tablet you can install Windows 10 (starting with build 10074) and test it out.

Ink latency features addressed in Windows 10

Ink latency features addressed in Windows 10

 

Windows 10 latency vs Windows 8 latency.

Windows 10 latency (bottom)  vs Windows 8 latency (top).

Palm-rejection is another issue and Microsoft say that they have improved in this area too with fewer false-zooming and  palm-trail problems. With Microsoft now controlling the N-Trig hardware Surface tablets could now be at the forefront of improvements.

Overview of inking improvements in Windows 10

Overview of inking improvements in Windows 10

Microsoft have also improved their API for developers. The APIs across phone, PC, Xbox and other devices are now converged and the new DirectInk API aims to make the process of adding touch and pen enhancements to Universal Apps even easier. Again, the Edge browser is the showcase example of that with its annotation capability.

For more information on developer API features the section starting at 26:31 in the presentation is the important bit.

Opinion

It’s called ‘natural input’ but it’s not natural for many in the new generation where emoticons and acronyms rule. It might already be too late for mass pen adoption.

Personally I have other issues too. Since starting to use the Surface Pro 3 stylus I have enjoyed inking a lot more than before but that doesn’t mean I will use it more in the future.  I’m left-handed and have never been a handwriting fan. My terrible handwriting quality certainly isn’t a ‘personality’ I want too many people to see either unless, perhaps, the Windows ink beautifier can be enhanced to post-process a stylish version of my scribbles.

There’s also the issue of cost and pen stowage. Screen DPI is reaching the right levels but there’s still an issue of daylight readability. A 400-nit 11.6-screen can use 3W just for a backlight and it kills battery life and makes thermal design challenging. There are some optimizations being developed [see: assertive display] but it’s not going to bring the experience up to paper levels of sunlight-readability. These barriers won’t help create a solid opportunity for developers; and then there’s the numbers…

The sales numbers sound good but that 50 million device number is cumulative. Year-on-year increases are in the region of just 10-15 million touch-enabled devices sold. That’s not a lot at all compared to Android tablet and iPad tablet sales figures and it’s almost shocking considering that touch-enabled Windows tablets can be had for under $100 and that there are many laptops out there that include touch. If only 20% of those are digitizer-enabled then the economics look even worse for developers unless they are creating innovative pen and touch applications that can be sold at high cost. If Apple decide to include a stylus on an iPad Pro then the Windows pen economy will have another challenge.

A list of pen-capable tablet PCs. (Updated from our database.)

In my opinion the classroom and other vertical markets are still the place to start for developers and with the Surface 3 / Pro 3, N-Trig and Windows 10 combination Microsoft seem to have prepared the ground well for some growth in that area. For the mainstream though, I remain skeptical of the opportunities and take-up.

The Build session can be viewed here: https://channel9.msdn.com/Events/Build/2015/2-681

Related: Universal Stylus Initiative.

2015 Intel NUCs have upgradable lids.

The new range of Intel NUCs, soon to include a Braswell variant, have upgradable lid capability. Yes, you’ll be able to buy different colors but the real attraction is in the data and power headers that have been provided. Intel hope that expansion modules made by third parties will include NFC, wireless charging, enhanced data ports and LTE modules. And why not have a battery pack too? With a USB-powered Displaylink monitor the NUC then becomes a truly mobile solution.

2015 Intel NUCs have replaceable and upgradable lids.

2015 Intel NUCs have replaceable and upgradable lids.

Cosmetic Replaceable Lids are simply shot in different colors or have custom artwork/logos -, without adding features. Functional Replaceable Lids can add features such as more NFC, USB 2.0 ports, VGA, RS232C COM ports, SDXC card reader, 4G/LTE, IoT hub, etc. There is virtually no limit to what can be done with Replaceable Lids.

Headers inside each NUC provide Power (5V out, 12-19V in,) USB 2.0 (x2) and NFC and Intel have even created 3D printing files that you can work with to create your own.

Intel NUC lid headers.

Intel NUC lid headers.

 

More information and 3D printing files can be found here and more information on the NUC lids can be found in this Intel PDF.

The new Intel NUCs come in three flavors:

  • Rock Canyon – NUC5xxRYx (consumer Core. E.g. NUC5i5RYK) [Currently $369 at Amazon – Aff. link.]
  • Maple Canyon – NUC5xxMYxE (high end Core. Eg. NUC5i5MYBE)
  • Pinnacle Canyon – NUC5CPYH, NUC5PPYH (consumer Braswell / Celeron -based.)

Information on the Braswell-based Pinnacle Canyon is difficult to find right now but we’ve tracked some data down and we expect it to make a popular HTPC choice, especially as it has a Toslink digital audio output (possibly on a header.) There’s also an SD card slot. Like the popular N2820/N2830 NUC there’s also a consumer IR receiver built-in. TDP of the CPU is down and the ‘scenario’ design power is 4W which means there’s a high possibility that it will be fanless. [Ed: My Baytrail-M DN2820FYK has a fan but it’s not loud]

NUC5CPYH, NUC5PPYH specificaitons. (Unconfirmed.)

  • Celeron Braswell processor.  (N3000, N3050, N3150)
  • TDP down to 6W from 7.5W but clock rate also down. GPU performance up.
  • 4K support via HDMI
  • Ports: HDMI, VGA, SDXC UHS-I, USB3 (x4), LAN
  • WiFi and Bluetooth included.
  • Consumer IR built-in.
  • 2.5” SATA3 SSD/HDD drive bay
  • TOSLINK/NFC & Aux Power Hdrs/2.5” drive
  • CPU performance will be in the same ballpark as teh existing Baytrail-M models but GPU performance could see a boost. Intel Quick Sync hardware video decoding is built-in.

We’re tracking news on the new NUCs and will bring you an update as soon as we have price and availability for the NUC5CPYH and NUC5PPYH.

In other SFF PC news

Keep an eye out for new ECS Liva models with Core M and Braswell. “The ECS Liva Core, which features an Intel Core M Broadwell processor, and the ECS Liva X², which has a cheaper, lower-performance Intel Braswell chip.” [source: Liliputing.]  Note: These are likely to be based on the Intel Mini Lake design. [Source.]

Intel have updated their Compute Stick information page.

Casting in Windows 10 greatly improved. MS Miracast / Actiontec test.

‘Play-To’ and ‘Project To’ gets a big work-over in Windows 10 with continued focus on Miracast.

miracast

We’ve been tracking wireless display ever since it was an Ultrabook feature. [Sept 2011.] Intel’s WiDI screen casting hardware was always a step ahead of the Miracast implementation it was built around but it was largely irrelevant because Windows 8 only ever supported Miracast. It looks like that performance gap will be closed now though because Microsoft are adding extensions and improvements to Windows 10 Casting (AKA MS Miracast.) The user experience will be better, paring over WiFi Direct will be faster and there’ll be a back-channel for user interface control (touchscreens.) We’ve tested it and it’s true.

Miracast supports up to 1920 x 1200 60 fps source streams transmitted using the (lossy) MPEG2 standard. There’s 2-channel compressed or uncompressed digital audio or Dolby AC3 streams for surround sound. HDCP is supported for content protection. The optional back channel (UIBC) can be used for human-interface devices or for general data, eg. USB. There’s obviously a latency introduced into the stream and we’ve seen that range down to 70ms in the WiDi implementation so this is not for action-gaming.

We tested the latest implementation on Windows 10 (Build 10074) and an Actiontec ScreenBeam Pro with V1.2.7.0 firmware and the results are in a video below. We couldn’t find the beta software mentioned by Microsoft but were impressed at the ease of setup and the very low latency on the mouse movements. Larger screen changes will increase the latency and our test showed around 120 ms in a stopwatch image test.

Miracast on Windows 10 with Actiontec Screenbeam Pro

Miracast on Windows 10 with Actiontec Screenbeam Pro

Demo: MS Miracast in Windows 10 with Actiontec Screenbeam Pro

MS Miracast latency 119ms

MS Miracast latency 119ms

The Actiontec Screenbeam Mini has been available in the USA for $39 but it’s currently $49. Check our Amazon link on the right for the latest US price.

In the presentation at BUILD Microsoft demonstrated direct-casting for media elements which makes the process even simpler. These are being built into the Microsoft Edge browser (was Project Spartan.) Device picker elements are available too. If you’re wondering about Chromecast-style casting where the controller instructs the remote device to run an application (and stream the content directly from the source to the device and not via a screen cast) then you’ll be pleased to know that the DIAL (Discovery and Launch) protocol is being supported. Surely this means that Microsoft will bring out an Xboxcast device to compete with Amazon and Google soon but today it means that you can remotely start the YouTube and Netflix apps on an Xbox One.

media control win 10 2

Demo and overview from BUILD 2015. (Slides and video)

Post-PC, ultra-mobile PC and very, very disruptive. The Windows 10 Continuum demo at BUILD 2015 was mind-blowing.

It took 9 years of waiting and 2.5 hours of keynote to get there. Microsoft just demonstrated the ultimate ultra-mobile, cross-platform PC experience – A combination of Windows 10, Universal Apps and Continuum on a phone running a Universal app that adapts the UI as it moves from phone to big-screen.  One device, one OS, one app, multiple screens. If this strategy works then it’s likely to mean the death of the consumer Windows Desktop and completely change the consumer PC market. It also opens up the desktop screen to ARM-based devices. There’s a lot to think about here.

continuum 4_edited

HDMI-connected screen on a phone…

continuum 6

Desktop screen shows the phone UI and the desktop version of the Universal app.

 

continuum 5

Outlook running on a phone, connected to a big screen.

It’s what ultra-mobile PC fans have always wanted.  When Joe Belfiore announced that “any screen can be your PC” and ran the demo, I was stunned.

Connect a big-screen to your phone, a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and apps will adapt to the big screen – the same apps that you get on the desktop, with the same keyboard and mouse support.

Developers will need to adapt their apps to use the features available in Continuum and the new APIs but given the other announcements today there are likely to be a lot of excited software developers out there ready to dive-in. Those announcements were very significant. Tipping-point significant.

Microsoft expects (correction: “ambition to have 1 billion active Windows 10 devices by FY18″) to see Windows 10 on 1 billion devices in 2-3 years. They also announced that Android code and IOS Objective C code can be pulled into their development tools and adapted to run on Windows, as a Universal App. We saw a demo of an IOS app and an Android app running on Windows 10. The Windows developer economy really did change today.

Here’s the Microsoft press release. Here’s my pick of the sessions at Build. There will be more announcements.
Update: “Welcoming Developers.”  This Microsoft blog has an interesting point: “New Windows Store Affiliate Program.” I’m not aware of an existing app store affiliate program.

IOS app running on Windows 10

IOS app code running on Windows 10

Microsoft demonstrated what they said was “pretty close” to the final UI and we saw the first demos of the latest build on an 8-inch tablet. The home screen looks very tidy. There’s a new lock screen feature too. Spotlight feels a little like an ad slot to me but Microsoft want us to believe that they will use this slot intelligently. That is, if you run Cortana (the assistant) you’ll get ‘relevant’ content highlighted on the lock screen.

continuum 2

 

The big thing to consider here is that this is effectively a ‘Metro’ only experience, an RT application experience if you like. Continuum opens up the desktop to ARM and it’s likely to lead to the complete removal of the desktop from consumer versions of Windows running on either X86 or ARM. Fortunately Microsoft also announced a sandboxing technique for Win32 apps. They’ll need some modding but they too will be able to run in this desktop-less environment. Continuum could change the way consumers buy PCs in the future and open up a new market for ‘laptops’ that simply consist of a screen, keyboard and a USB-C connector.

I think there’s enough here to call what just happened a tipping-point for Windows developers and a game-changer for the PC market.

Microsoft Edge.

Microsoft also revealed the real name for Project Spartan. The new browser is going to be called Edge. There’s pen and Cortana support built-in.

edge

browser1

Microsoft also announced carrier billing for the Windows Store (which includes PCs) and tailored stores for business and education.

 

There’s a huge amount to think about here. Intel will be worried, laptop manufacturers will be worried. ARM will be happy. Google should worry because the non-desktop operating system that we’re looking at here is built with security and services in mind. We need to discuss this now and I look forward to your reaction and ideas in the comments below.

Microsoft BUILD2015 conference schedule: Web apps, ‘Smart’ and Passport among topics.

Microsoft’s BUILD conference starts in a few hours and it’s going to be a biggie. Windows 10 and the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) is the end-game for Microsoft in their push to make Windows 10 a multi-device operating system with apps that work across all screen sizes.  Microsoft will modernize the app model, the security model and most importantly, improve the economics of Windows applications for developers.

Microsoft Build 2015 starts 29th April

Microsoft Build 2015 starts 29th April

I just spent a few hours going through the BUILD schedule to see if I could find any clues about what will be announced. There are a few. I also picked-out some sessions that could directly affect people in the mobile computing world.

The new Windows Store and Windows 10 app model is likely to get a lot of focus at the keynote. We already know that Universal Apps will run across multiple devices (they’re already available for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8.1 Store users) and there are rumors that Microsoft will make it easier to port apps from Android. Quite how far this goes is another question. It could be a set of developer tools or it could combine some AOS runtime elements.

The session list reveals that there’s going to be  a new Web rendering engine that will allow web apps to be placed in the Store. The app model will also expand to support a “broader set of developer scenarios,” whatever that means. Maybe it’s the Android support, maybe it’s the Web rendering engine or maybe they’re referring to new APIs and developer tools.

New and improved APIs to be announced include advertising, gesture, pen and ‘smart’ capabilities (information on ‘smart’ is being held back at this stage,) new background app capabilities, visual layer APIs and other features can be found in the session catalog.

The underlying message here is obviously developer-friendly but will it be enough? Will Microsoft finally reach tipping-point and offer a truly compelling platform for developers with a low barrier to entry and better economics. A free Microsoft Surface 3 for attendees might help sweeten the message!

Expect to hear about Microsoft Passport and Windows Hello. Two-stage authentication and in-cloud key management is a hot and important topic. Microsoft says that the new authentication services are “so inexpensive that there is almost no excuse to not take advantage of it.” In-cloud credential management is likely to be addressed. Do you trust Microsoft to look after all your biometric data? Listen carefully to what Microsoft has to say on this.

Finally we’ll get more information on Project Spartan – the new browser that runs as a Universal app across the new Windows 10 app model. Expect it to have new Javascript features that allow near-native-speed applications. The security model, plugin model, client-side re-rendering (reader mode,) performance and background capabilities (InstantGo) will be interesting to hear about.

I don’t expect to see a new Surface Pro 4 but there’s scope for a big Core M-based ‘surface’ all-in-one in my opinion. 15-inch, sub 2KG? I’m just speculating. Here are some more detailed thoughts on up-coming Surface tablets.

The Microsoft BUILD 2015 schedule is here. I’ve picked out some interesting sessions and listed them below.  I’ll be writing about important and relevant topics in detail over the rest of the week and commenting on Twitter. (@chippy) Don’t forget to join the BUILD2015 keynote livestream and of course, your comments and thoughts are welcome below.

  • DirectInk New APIs in Windows 10 for XAML apps (cross-platform.) (link)
  • Win2D DirectX-powered drawing for XAML apps. Open source! (link)
  • APIs for Input like Pointer, GestureRecognizer, and CoreInput. (link)
  • Adding Smart to Your Applications (No further details revealed.) (link) Update:”Project Oxford.” new information.
  • Windows 10 app model (link) expanding to support a ‘broader set of developer scenarios.’
  • Keynote announcement deep dive. Related to app model. (title withheld.) link. Update: Project Centennial.
  • New background app resource policies. New modes for Universal Apps. (link)
  • Security: Windows Passport and Windows Hello.
  • “Microsoft Passport in Windows 10 delivers the end game solution, one that is easy to deploy, always multi-factor, theft- and phish-proof, interoperable on premise and on the web, and so inexpensive that there is almost no excuse to not take advantage of it. With Windows Hello (biometric authentication which can provide instant access to your Microsoft Passport), Windows 10 will offer a truly seamless experience that is more secure than today’s world of complicated passwords.” (link)
  • “Project Spartan”: Introducing the New Browser and Web App Platform for Windows 10. April 29, 5pm. (link)
  • the New Windows Store and Dev Center. (link)
  • New Visual Layer APIs for UI experiences. (link)
  • Web apps in the Store using the new web rendering engine. (link)
  • Casting to multiple screens. APIs for the Universal Windows Platform. (Bluetooth, Miracast, DIAL etc.) Q. I s DIAL being integrated into Windows 10? (link)
  • Bluetooth triggering. Proximity and broadcast. Windows 10 has a unified Bluetooth API.  (link.)
  • Porting Windows Store apps from Windows Phone Silverlight or 8.1 XAML to the Universal Windows Platform. (link.)
  • Near-native JavaScript apps. (link)
  • A ‘Web of apps.’ App-to-app-via-internet communication tools and services. (link.)
Latest Dell Venue 11 Pro 5150 brings it close to Surface 3. Comparison.

An updated Dell Venue 11 Pro 5150 with a high-end Atom CPU, 64 Bit Windows and Full HD screen has appeared. This is the closest I’ve seen to the Microsoft Surface 3.

Dell Venue 11 Pro 515 with 64-bit Windows

Dell Venue 11 Pro 515 with 64-bit Windows

The high-end Atom CPU is the Z3795 which has Turbo Boost to 2.4 Ghz, just as the Surface 3 does and seeing as the Atom X7 and Z3000 series have similar per-clock CPU power there shouldn’t be much difference in CPU-related benchmarks (<10% based on reports so far.) The X7 will probably pull clear with GPU benchmarks. SSD speeds will be close and there’s even a USB 3.0 port on the Dell. That’s rare for products based on the Z3000-series.

Click for the Dell page (this is not an advert.)

Click for the Dell USA sales page. [This is not an advert.]

64-bit Windows is important because it means the 64-bit bootloader is far more compatible with alternative Linux builds than the Z3xxx series products that only have 32-bit Windows bootloaders. It’s available, with a slim keyboard, for $499 in the USA – the price of the Surface 3 tablet, without keyboard. There’s a similar product available in Europe which also works out cheaper than the Surface 3.

Consider the following before ordering the Dell Venue 11 Pro 5150. Firstly I have requested a review sample of this product (and the Surface 3) so i’ll be able to update you on all the performance figures and answer questions with authority soon. In the meantime, consider the following:

  • 10.8 inch screen on Dell is the same ‘size’ as the Surface 3 but the Surface 3 is a 3:4 ratio screen with 1920 x 1280 resolution. 200 more pixels in the vertical (landscape mode.)
  • Keyboard options on the Dell mean you can get a power-keyboard that is lap-able and includes an extra battery (for about 50% more battery life.) The keyboard weighs as much as the tablet though. The Slim Keyboard option has a fixed angle and no backlight. It weighs 11 ounces taking the total weight of the product to about 2.2 pounds / 1 KG.
  • A docking station option is available for both. A folio case is also available for the Dell.
  • The stylus option for the Dell is cheaper than the stylus option for the Surface 3 but I can’t comment on pen performance as I haven’t tested the Dell stylus.
  • The Dell Venue 11 Pro 5000 has HDMI video output. The Surface 3 uses the DisplayPort standard, which is arguably better for multiple displays (Chaining.)
  • At 1.57 pounds 770 grams the Dell Venue 11 Pro 5000 tablet is much heavier than the Surface 3 and this could be the most important difference between the two. The Surface 3 tablet weighs just 1.37 pounds / 622 grams. You will notice this difference a lot when holding the tablet for long periods.
  • The Dell Venue 11 Pro 5000 does not include a year of Office 365 / 1TB storage upload. The Surface 3 does.
  • No AC Wifi on the Dell. AC Wifi on the Surface 3.
  • Screen quality on the Dell 5130 was reported to be good. It should compete with the good screen quality on the Surface 3.
  • The Dell has an NFC sensor. (The Surface 3 doesn’t.)
  • Graphics performance on the Surface 3 will beat the Dell by an estimated 30-50%.
  • The (removable) battery on the Dell is bigger than that in the Surface 3. (32 Wh vs 27 Wh) This explains a lot of the thickness and weight difference.
  • LTE options available on both Venue and Surface. (Location dependant.)
  • Micro SD card slot on Dell requires a pin to open. (It’s meant to be tidier and slightly more secure.)
Dell Venue 11 Pro and keyboard.

Dell Venue 11 Pro and keyboard.

The difference between the Surface 3 and the Venue 11 Pro 5150 is minimal. I like that there are 2 keyboard options on the Dell and at this point I lean towards the Dell as the better option. But that’s me, what are your thoughts? 3:2 vs 16:9 is a big discussion as is the tablet weight.

My colleagues at Notebookcheck have a full review of an older Dell Venue 11 Pro 5130 here and they are working on a Surface 3 review here (currently in German.)

I urge you to buy a Chromebook; for security’s sake.

padlock-24051_1280

It’s over 9 years since I posted the first set of articles on the Carrypad blog…which became Origamiportal….which became UMPCPortal. I wanted to relay some thoughts on my personal need for a mobile internet device I called the Carrypad. I wrote about 5-7-inch screen sizes, web browsing, operating systems, GPS and use cases: Bed, sofa, toilet, plane, train and ship. I was, even if I do say so myself, spot-on, especially with the toilet! But I didn’t think enough about security.

My first mention of security was when I did a mini review of the Pepperpad 3 in October 2006.

…I was able to check for software listening on IP ports. It all looks pretty clean and with the automatic updates, there should be no need to worry too much about security. Low maintenance is always a good thing.

Admittedly the threat-level was lower 9 years ago but I should have paid more attention to security over the last 9 years and today there’s absolutely no excuse because the Internet is now a messy place.

PC and smartphones operating systems were not built with today’s risks in mind, and they’ve got worse. There’s more code in the operating system now, more 3rd-party applications, more sensors, more connectivity and more people to exploit creating ‘business models’ that were never imaginable.

The next time you join a new WiFi hotspot think about this: Is the site you’re looking at really the site you think it is? Is the DNS server really serving the correct IP addresses? Is the ISP behind the hotspot someone you trust? Do you trust everyone on the network that you’ve just connected to? How many of your apps have access to your location, permission to use your social networks, WiFi, your contact and SMS information and even to an unencrypted version of your internet traffic?

Last December I was teaching journalists about internet security and privacy in Ukraine. As part of a demo I set up a ‘fake Internet’ using about 150 euros of equipment. I served up a router, DHCP, DNS and even faked a Facebook login page. After I had logged into the Facebook page I turned on the projector which was connected to my Linux-box-Internet, did a search on Wireshark and read out my password. It was easy, cheap and effective and that was just in a class of 20 people. Can you imagine what goes on at the CES show in Las Vegas? At every airport in the world? At the cheap cyber café and on that open hotspot you found from your apartment?

If you are about to connect to an unknown hotspot don’t use a Windows PC unless you’re either a) happy with the risks or b) you’ve taken time to harden your PC with the 13-point checklist below. Easy isn’t it? NO IT ISN’T. The checklist is unworkable for most people.

Windows on a public hotspot checklist. (For increased privacy and security.)

  1. If possible, use a PC with an encrypted disk. (Microsoft Bitlocker is available for free on some low-cost Windows devices and on all Windows ‘Pro’ installations. E.g. All Surface Pro devices.)
  2. Turn on SecureBoot in your BIOS if possible and (as a minimum) add a BIOS boot (or BIOS admin) password. Create a long 15+ character Windows password for all accounts.
  3. Install OS updates and reboot.
  4. Check Firewall is on.
  5. Update the anti-virus and run a check.
  6. Run CCleaner (also check and clean the auto-start-up list.) and Spybot.
  7. Create a non-admin account. Log out and log back in as a non-administrator account. For more privacy, don’t log in via a provider account (E.g. Microsoft, Google .)
  8. Use up-to-date Chrome with HTTPS Everywhere, Privacy Badger extensions enabled. Don’t link Chrome to a Google account unless you trust Google. (Run an Incognito browser Window.)
  9. Hardwire your DNS to your ISP. If you trust Google, they have a good DNS service at 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4. (Don’t use the DNS given by the hotspot)
  10. Use the Zenmate extension to tunnel and encrypt web traffic or buy a good VPN to tunnel all traffic. (I’m using HideIPVPN’s UK tunnel.)
  11. Use Startpage.com as search engine if you don’t want Google to store your searches / IP address. Startpage can also be used as a proxy.
  12. Avoid using cellular data if you don’t want to be location tracked. (Turn off A-GPS / location services on phone too.)
  13. Do not leave your PC unattended.

Enjoy your coffee!

Fortunately there are easier ways. You can ignore most of this list (points 1- 7) if you use a Chrome OS device and a Chromebook is probably the cheapest, easiest way to do it. That’s why i’m encouraging you all to think about adding a Chrome OS PC to your PC portfolio. I’m not asking you to replace anything, I’m simply asking you to consider spending $150 on your security.

Acer E11 and Acer CB3

Acer E11 and Acer CB3. Sub $200. The CB3 is your safer bet for a second laptop.

A Chromebook is not 100% secure but it’s probably the cleanest consumer computing device you can buy. Even if you don’t trust Google, a Chromebook is still the cleanest consumer computing device you can buy. When it comes to online security, the Chromebook is the easiest recommendation I can make. Again, if you don’t trust Google, you can still use a Chromebook without a Google account.

ASUS Transformer Book T90 Chi

I want the T90 Chi with Chrome OS dual-boot.

Chrome OS was built from the start with security as a key consideration. Chrome OS is also simple and fast and that’s the bit that makes it so easy to recommend. My only problem with ChromeOS is that I can’t get it as a dual-boot option or on a mini, lightweight 2 in 1 that I can take everywhere. Like the ASUS T90 Chi for example.

The Lenovo N20p [N20p review] is my most-used device at home because it’s a no brainer. Which one of my 10-20 PCs is likely to be the fastest to boot? The Chromebook. Which one is most likely not to have to be rebooted after booting just to get the latest security patches installed? The Chromebook. Which one is not going to take 2 minutes before I can use the full speed of the disk and CPU? The Chromebook. Which one is likely to have some battery life left after a week of not being used? The Chromebook.

Again, a Chromebook is not 100% secure but unless you’re into air-gap computing, sharing files over a temporary Intranet (I find the MiFi with microSD card and no SIM card to be a useful solution in this case,) have dumped your smartphone and are very familiar with the Tails Linux-based distro on a PC where you change the MAC address daily then don’t knock it. The Windows security landscape is terrible in comparison and the average Linux distro is rarely a problem-free experience when installed on a modern laptop. OSX might be a reasonable solution, it’s true, but there’s also a lot of unknown quantities there. [Note: I have never assessed an OSX PC for security and privacy. Your comments are welcome on that topic below.]

For security’s sake, get a Chromebook. Add the HTTPS Everywhere and Privacy Badger plugins. Enable them for guest-mode/incognito mode usage. Consider and research ZenMate as an HTTP VPN and use Startpage.com as your default search engine to avoid Google having a list of searches against your IP address. Get a real VPN solution and learn how to configure it in Guest Mode on ChromeOS. Learn the 60-second Power Wash. Configre DNS to use Google 8.8.8.8 or find and configure your own trusted DNS and you will be in a position to switch-on and go browsing without any significant worry, unless you’re doing something naughty!

Related article: 7-steps to the best Chromebook security.

Chromebookworld.com is where I write about Chromebooks and Chromebooks under 1.3 KG are always listed in the database here at UMPCPortal. Go hereand select the Chrome OS operating system as shown in the image below.

chromebookdatabase

The database at UMPCPortal includes all sub 2.8 pound Chromebooks. Click the image above to access it.

Acer Aspire Switch 11 to get ‘V’ refresh later in 2015

The 11-12 inch screen size is perfect for mobile productivity and with processing power on the rise and design slimming down it gets more interesting every week. Intel’s Core M has a lot to do with the amount of activity in the sector and it might just be responsible for the new Acer Aspire Switch 11 V that got announced today. There aren’t many details available though as Acer only revealed that it would have improved ergonomics and more processing power. There’s one image available too.

Acer Aspire Switch 11V. More details later in Q2 2015.

Acer Aspire Switch 11V. More details later in Q2 2015.

 

Given that the Switch 11 was a product that was offered Intel’s Y-Series Cores it makes sense that it will be upgraded to Core M and will become fanless.  Total weight of the current Switch 11 is 1.5 KG so let’s hope that Acer means ‘improved weight’ when they say ‘improved ergonomics.’

Our list of Core-M based laptops and 2 in 1’s shows only three other Core M products with an 11-inch screen. The Lenovo Yoga 3 11 is a single-unit convertible and the Lenovo Thinkpad Helix 2 and Hp Elite x2 1011 G1 are higher-end models so there’s definitely space for the Acer Aspire Switch 11 with a Core M processor.

An Acer Switch 11 with Core M has already been found by TabTech (German) and it’s almost a certainty that the 11V and the SW5-173 found by Tebtech match up. As you can see from the image the design looks a lot better. We look forward to getting more information on the Switch 11V which, given the timescales, is likely to be formally launched at Computex in June.

Acer updates Aspire Switch 10 range for 2015.

Acer have just launched updated Aspire Switch 10 dockable tablets with  one starting at just $279. The high-end version has a full HD screen, digitizer pen support and gets a Gorilla Glass lid.

The Acer Aspire Switch 10 E (SW5-013) is the entry-level model and will be based on the existing Intel Atom Z3735.  The low pricing means the entry level model will have just 1GB of RAM which means Acer could be looking towards a richer Windows Store environment with and capability with Windows 10. 32 or 64 GB of storage, a 1280×800 resolution and a tablet weight of 630 grams aren’t groundbreaking but there’s a battery life of up to 12 hours and a Gorilla Glass touchscreen. Availability in China starts now with Europe following up in May and North America in June.

Aspire Switch 10 (2015 model)

Aspire Switch 10 (2015 model)

The Acer Aspire Switch 10 2015 (SW5-015) will come with a 1920 x 1200 screen and an unspecified Intel Atom CPU. Availability for Europe (€449) is planned for June with North America ($399) having to wait until August.  2GB of RAM, 32/64GB of storage (with optional hard disk) and USB 2.0 ports are the same as on previous Switch 10 models. Full specifications available in our product database.

Reinforced with an elegant white Gorilla® Glass 3 back cover, the tablet is resilient and the silver gray keyboard dock is an aesthetically appealing match. In addition, customers can purchase the optional Acer Active Pen for this model, which supports both passive and active pen input without requiring a digitizer.

Like the Switch 10 E it weighs 600 grams / 1.2KG but Acer quote a lower battery life: Up to 7 hours from a 22 Wh battery. This is no all-dayer.

Given that the specifications don’t differ much from the previous version of the Switch 10 and that the price is higher it’s difficult to see how Acer can launch this without an Atom X5 or X7 CPU.

All products are eligible for free Windows 10 upgrades.

The microsite for today’s Acer event is here.

iConsole Micro. The $129 Atom-powered Android stick.

ConsoleOS is a tailored build of Android (AOS) for X86 PCs. It’s optimized with features for keyboard and mouse, an anti-virus package and then it’s tailored for use with an expanding list of devices. The company that makes it is about to market ConsoleOS on a tiny X86 HDMI stick called iConsole Micro and it’s one of most interesting ultra mobile PCs I’ve checked out for a long time.

Me and iConsole Micro!

Me and iConsole Micro!

 

 

Give me Android on my TV and a dual-boot capability with KODI or Openelec and I can put 2 systems into one HDMI port on my TV. It might even replace my Fire TV Stick and Chromecast. With the power of the Intel Compute Stick (that iConsole Micro is based on) I should also be able to get some fun Android gaming out of it. I’ve had hands-on, and an ‘unboxing.’ Here’s what I have so far.

iConsole Micro

iConsole Micro

Inside iConsole TV (and all products based on the Intel Compute Stick) is an Atom Z3735F quad-core 1.33-1.8 Ghz Baytrail-T platform the same as you find in a lot of cheap Windows 8.1 tablets. There’s 32GB of storage inside the iConsole Micro and you get a full-size USB 2.0 port, a micro USB port (for power) and there’s WiFi and Bluetooth inside which will allow you to connect to a WiFi hotspot and pair a keyboard and mouse without using the USB port. A Micro SD card slot allows you to expand the internal storage up to 128 GB. The bootloader unlocked but it’s a 32-bit version which isn’t supported well on current 64-bit operating systems. There are ways to get it working though and I hope to see Openelec running on it ASAP! There’s no word on the RAM yet. 1 or 2GB is possible.

The announced price is $129 and availability is planned for summer. I’ve requested an update on that and I’ll update this post when I get the information.

iCOnsole usage ideas

  • iConsole Micro will ship with Android 5.0 which means it’s fully encrypted by default (not the Micro SD) which opens up some interesting data transport options.
  • The processing power should be enough for all Android games.
  • iConsole Micro is an interesting option for a HTPC. The platform can handle 50+ Mbps of H.264 with hardware decoding according to my tests on Windows. hopefully that hardware is supported in Android.
  • With a USB-Gigabit Ethernet port is can be a router or hotspot.
  • Tails or other security-focused Linux builds should work well on this if the 32-bit bootloader is supported.
  • Bluetooth controllers should work with Android.
  • The Amazon store will be included meaning you have access to official apps. Sideloading of apps will be possible. There’s no Google Play system.
  • With no screen this should be easy to power using a power bank or solar panel for headless operations.

One thing to note is that there are Windows tablets available using the same platform, offering the same specifications for the same money and including the screen and a battery. Not all of them have an HDMI output and none of them have a full size USB port meaning that charge+data is a little difficult but that might not be an issue for some people. What’s interesting with iConsole Micro is that you’re getting a fully working Android 5 build on X86 and judging by some of the interest there should be a good community around it.

Update: Liliputing have just published a review of the Intel Compute Stick which will give you some idea of the performance available when using Windows and the problems of loading other operating systems through the 32-bit bootloader.

I interviewed Chris Price at MWC in Feb where we go the first look at iConsole Micro.

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