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Asus Transformer Book T100 Chi review round-up: 78.5% average.

The review scentists at Notebookcheck finished their ASUS T100 Chi review last month and I’ve just read through it and compared it, virtually, with the Surface 3 and the Dell Venue 10 Pro I reviewed last week. Other reviews are out too and in summary it looks very good indeed for the T100 Chi despite it not having an Atom X7 CPU. There are a few issues to think about though.

A T100 Chi review is available at Notebookcheck

A T100 Chi review is available at Notebookcheck

I have a feeling we’ll see an updated T90 Chi at Computex next week so if you’re looking for the ultimate in portable productivity you might want to wait but consider this: With a 1.1KG total weight and a great Full HD screen, a digitizer layer, USB 3.0, high-end Z3775 CPU and a lot of style – for just $399 – the T100 Chi is a leading option in the ultra-mobile PC space.

ASUS Transformer Book T100 Chi with keyboard for $399

The tablet weighs just 590 grams which is lighter than the Surface 3 but also a bit smaller. 10.1 inches compared to 10.8 inches on the Surface 3. The keyboard is chicklet-style which means overall thickness is greater than with a Surface 3 and Type Cover keyboard but then you’re paying a lot more for the Surface 3 and the keyboard on that isn’t what a lot of people would hope for.

Taking a look at the performance it looks like the Atom Z3775 CPU keeps up with the Atom X7 on the Surface 3 but falls behind in graphics performance. For those of you thinking about Minecraft on the go you need to be looking at Atom X5 and X7 because the Baytrail-M GPU just isn’t up to anything more than Windows Store gaming. In general usage the T100 Chi should feel quite snappy up until the 2 GB RAM is used up and it starts to use a disk-based Pagefile. At that point you will need to close down apps / tabs or background processes. This 2 GB limit is, as with most of the low-cost consumer Windows tablets, something to consider if you’re looking at barrier-free office usage.

See the Top 10 mobile PCs here.

eMMC storage speeds are a bit lower than I would have liked to see although it’s not clear from the reviews if Bitlocker was turned on. That can affect some sequential r/w speeds. Even so, a 5K write speed of around 5 MB/s isn’t high-end. (I like to see 10 MB/s or more for this test.)

Battery life reports seem to be good with web-browsing figures coming in at over 9 hours. That’s good for a 30 Wh battery but do note that the screen has a high maximum backlight brightness. While that’s generally good, it does mean you can run the battery down quickly if you’re turned of adaptive brightness settings and are running with high brightness. 5-6 hours productivity looks easily possible.

The ASUS Transformer Book T100 Chi doesn’t have AC WiFi or a keyboard backlight and there are no connections on the Bluetooth keyboard. You’ll also have to charge the keyboard separately from the tablet which I’m sure will catch a few people out. There’s no stand either so you can’t separate the keyboard and tablet like you can with the Acer Switch 12. It runs a 32-bit version of Windows (which indicates a 32-bit bootloader that won’t work well with many Linux distro’s) and there’s no 4GB RAM option as on the Surface 3. It’s these limitations that you’ll have to remember as you excite yourself over the $399 price but in the 10-inch detachable  space it’s up there are my number 1 choice right now.

ASUS Transformer Book T100 Chi review ratings:

You can find links to more reviews, specifications, pricing and alternatives on the ASUS Transformer Book T100 Chi information page. Feel free to add your experiences in the comments section there too.

Lenovo S21e – YALCNB to compete with the HP Stream 11

The Lenovo S21e 11.6-inch Windows laptop has popped up in locations across the globe and it’s yet another low-cost notebook. It’s almost the Flex 3 11 without the flex!

Lenovo S21e

Lenovo S21e

The design is similar to the Lenovo N20 Chromebook and it has very similar specifications, presumably to keep the price as near as possible to Chromebooks. A 32GB eMMC isn’t the best starting point for a Windows laptop and a micro-HDMI and micro-SD won’t help either but there’s a USB 3.0 port, USB 2.0 port and a 2-core N2840 inside. There’s a very small 23 Wh battery inside but at least it keeps the weight down. 1.15 KG is 2.53 pounds. The screen is, you guessed it, 1366 x 768.

64-bit Windows means there’s a 64-bit bootloader so you’ll have better Linux compatibility than the ASUS X205 which focuses on long battery life by using a Baytrail-T processor instead of the Baytrail-M inside the Lenovo S21e.

lenovo_s21e_20_1000_03 lenovo_s21e_20_1000_01

The Lenovo S21e will go up against the HP Stream 11 and Acer E11 but there’s nothing in the specifications that sets the Lenovo apart. The keyboard could be good and there could be a SATA header and RAM module inside but I haven’t been able to find that information out yet. It doesn’t look like there’s any Office service included but some retailers are indicating 100 GB of free One Drive storage. Again, unconfirmed.

One retailer has a 64 GB version of the Lenovo S21e available for $219 so if other retailers drop the 32GB model below $200 and put the 64GB model in at this price then that’s going to be the selling point. Lenovo USA has that model listed for $399 which is completely over-priced and, in my opinion, highly likely to become a ‘50% off’ offer soon, especially if manufacturers launch Braswell-based laptopsat Computex.

Hat tip: Evozero

Macbook. No Touch = No Go.

Laptopmag published an interesting article about touchscreen laptops last week. “Why you shouldn’t buy a touchscreen laptop.” I strongly disagreed, along with others, on a Facebook comment thread.  Touch can be extremely useful, productive and fun if you commit to it but if you’re not feeling adventurous then yes, touchscreens may be a disadvantage for you. The 1-2mm thickness, 100 grams and, usually, $100 is a waste. Me, I need touch badly, as I found out at the weekend when testing out a Macbook.

Macbook. No touchscreen.

Macbook. No touchscreen.

The Macbookis a gorgeously finished ultra-light PC with a great screen, an amazing trackpad and, for me, a nice keyboard. That keyboard might be a little too low-profile for some so try before you buy.

It was the screen that caught me out though. It took me at least 5 seconds to realize there was no touchscreen as I poked the URL bar on Safari. I’m so used to doing it on my own touchscreen laptops and convertibles that when it’s not there I not only miss it but I waste time too.

Scrolling and zooming, selecting and dragging are often harder and slower with a touchpad and simple things like annotating a Snipping Tool grab or adjusting the screen brightness and volume are faster and more accurate when the touchscreen and touch UI are in place. Of course OS X isn’t built for touch so there’s no reason for touch here but the experience confirmed to me just how much I rely on a touch layer and touch UI. The Macbook is a no-go for me.

You can find all the lightweight touchscreen laptops here in the database.

I realize I am probably in the minority as a touch laptop fan so feel free to voice your opinion below. Do you think the number of touchscreen laptops available is going to increase or decrease? Will Windows 10 improve or degrade the laptop touch experience?

Dell Venue 10 Pro summary review.

I’ve just completed a full in-depth review of the Dell Venue 10 Pro for Notebookcheck. You’ll find thousands of words, lots of pics and many test results herebut if you’re looking for my a summary opinion on the Dell Venue 10 Pro, read on.

Dell Venue 10 Pro 5055

Dell Venue 10 Pro 5055

The Venue 10 Pro 2-in-1 is available as a 1366 x 768 tablet but I reviewed the more interesting full HD version with docking keyboard and was very impressed with the build quality and features. It’s clearly for business and education and sacrifices some style to provide a full size USB port, 32 Wh battery and a rubber surround on the casing. The keyboard is great (no battery in this one) and the screen brightness is impressive. I also tested a rubber case for the tablet which gave the device more bulk but increased ruggedness and grip.

The Dell Venue 10 Pro has some issues though and the one you just can’t ignore is the 1.5 year old Atom CPU design. Dell didn’t even chose the high-end version of the CPU – the Z3795 – that you find in other business focused offerings like the HP Elitepad, Fujitsu Stylistic, Lenovo Thinkpad and even the Dell Venue 11 Pro. Instead you get the common-or-garden Z3735 which didn’t even outperform a 2014 Lenovo Miix 2 10 that I’ve had for a while. The Z3795 is not only more powerful (with similar CPU performance to the new Surface 3) but it also enables 64-bit operating systems which helps IT departments keep images down to a minimum and enables a range of Linux-based OS alternatives.

Venue 10 Pro tablet, keyboard and cover.

Venue 10 Pro tablet, keyboard and cover.

There are some good security option on the Dell Venue 10 Pro though. I enabled Bitlocker file encryption by using a Microsoft account and noticed that there are BIOS options to disable ports, cameras and features. Where businesses are looking for a data-collection device to use with in-house software, the Dell Venue 10 Pro could be a good value option.  Security, screen and ruggedness are top-notch for the price.

Total weight is a little on the heavy side and the ‘docked’ thickness is way more than you’ll get with even a Surface Pro 3 and keyboard but you do get a nice keyboard and touchpad and it’s no bigger than a netbook from a few years ago. The 32 Wh battery is worth having too although my review device had lost 16% of its capacity already. Watch out for battery wear if you buy a Venue 10 Pro and return it if you reach 10% wear in 6 months.

If Dell upgrade the Venue 10 Pro with an Atom X7 CPU and a slightly faster eMMC disk then we’ve got a winner on our hands but in its current form it’s a product for vertical markets. Maybe that’s why we’re not seeing it in retail channels yet.

The full review is here.

 

New ultra-mobile PCs – April 2015

Here’s a round-up of the ultra mobile PCs that we added to the database in April 2015. Click the links to access the detailed specifications, gallery, information links and alternatives.

The 2015 Acer Aspire Switch 10 E was launched in April. It’s a colorful, light and low-priced 2-in-1 with a freshly designed Snap Hinge 2. We’re waiting for the full specifications to be confirmed but we’ve added all the details we can find to the database.

 Acer’s Switch 11 V could be a hit if the price is right. A Core M processor and full HD display along with a stylish 2 in 1 design at a good price is exactly what the market needs now that the Surface 3 is available. Acer could deliver. We’re waiting for the full specifications to be confirmed but check the datasheet for what we have so far.

The Acer Switch 10 (SW5-015) was refreshed for 2015 but not by much. There’s a new Gorilla Glass rear on the screen, an improved hinge mechanism. Acer haven’t yet revealed the processor so we’re expecting an update to Atom X5 or X7 there.

Dell Venue 10 Pro. This 10.1 inch pro-focused Windows 8.1 tablet from Dell is using an Atom processor. There’s a nice docking keyboard, full HD screen option (with very high brightness) and a full USB 2.0 port. Performance isn’t up to the sam standard as the Surface 3 but it’s a well-built 2-in-1 that could suit business and educational scenarios well.

 The Acer Aspire V 11 Touch features the smart new FlowCurve design – somewhat different from traditional notebooks, in profile at least. No fans so its whisper-quiet and runs cool. Claimed 7 hours of battery life.

The Haier Chromebook 11 has a claimed boot time of up 8 seconds and battery life of 10 hours. It’s light at just over 1kg. Unusually for a laptop a quad-core Rockchip processor (Cortex A17) is employed. The Haier is aimed at a very low-cost market with its $149 price tag.

Ultimaker 2 3D printer: What the professionals need to know
The Ultimaker 2 desktop 3D printer for small businesses, artists, and hobbyists, is well-designed and simple, but not quite ready to outmuscle the big players.
Tracking saves the day. $3000 of equipment, and thief, found!

I wrote last Thursday about how my old technology would be useful while I was away on a weekender but something happened during my weekend in Holland that puts another angle on the tactic. Perhaps an expensive smartphone is worth taking with you because we had over $3000 of smartphones and laptops stolen from a holiday home at the weekend and because one of the stolen items had GPS tracking enabled we were able, with the help of local police, to find the equipment and thief in under 2 hours.

WP_20150509_11_28_35_Rich

‘Headless’ friends in Holland wish to remain anonymous.

We have worked out that at around 8:00 PM on Saturday evening someone walked into the open patio door of the holiday home on the left (just out of picture – we had two houses for 10 people,) picked up whatever they could easily lay their hands-on and walked out of the house within a minute or two, while we were just meters away eating our dinner. As one of our group went back inside the house what must have been just minutes later they noticed an upside down bag…and a missing smartphone…and another missing smartphone…and two missing laptops. Yes, we should have taken more care. Fortunately my equipment was in the other, occupied, house.

Find My iPhone example

Find My iPhone example

The exciting bit starts when we find out that one of the smartphones, an iPhone 6, has roaming data enabled (we’re out of our home country) and is configured for tracking.  We used the Find My iPhone app on another iPhone to track the lost phone and within 30 minutes the police were using the information to track the thief, who hadn’t thought to turn the phone off. According to the police report and a news item in the local newspaper the 23-year old thief was found getting off a bus in a nearby town where they dumped the bag and were quickly arrested and taken to the police station. He spent the night in the cells and after 4 hours of paperwork we got everything back except 70 Euros that had been taken and was never found.

Police direction using iPhone tracking.

As it happened: Police using iPhone tracking, directing colleagues in a nearby town.

I’ve learnt a number of things from the experience that I want to share:

  • GPS tracking is worth having. Old hardware may not be easily trackable.  I also suggest that local police will react more quickly to a location on a moving map than other methods of tracking that require time, paperwork or higher-level approval. The live information we gave to the police prompted an instant reaction.
  • People have different values associated with their equipment and data. PC and phone hardware has a value, regardless of the data that’s on it and each person, depending on insurance and finances, will value their hardware differently. I was prepared to lose the old Acer W510 I had with me. A friend of mine was not ready to lose his Macbook.
  • Local data storage was a real worry for the owner of one of the laptops. They had a backup system, but weren’t sure if it was recent.
  • Misuse of personal data and accounts on devices was a worry for everyone. Data encryption, good passwords and strong boot-up security (secure boot, BIOS password) can help here. At least one person in our group has now turned on Bitlocker on their Windows Pro operating system.
  • I’ve enabled and tested tracking on my Lumia 830 now although I’m still considering the privacy risks of leaving location on for all applications. [I suspect if I turn location off that ‘find my phone’ will not be as accurate but I’m not sure if ‘find my phone’ overrides location settings.] I also like that it can use SMS because that works in roaming situations where data is disabled.

I don’t use any Apple hardware but I will be looking into accurate Windows PC location tracking with the HP Stream 8 (includes free roaming data that could help in tracking activities, even across borders.) For Windows Phone, the Find My Phone service can be found under Devices in your online Microsoft Account here. You must also enable it in the settings on your phone. Location tracking of events on Windows 8.1 (for laptops and tablets) is also available if you use a Microsoft account as a login. See the Activity option under Security and Privacy in your Microsoft account here.

Microsoft Find my Phone feature.

Microsoft Find my Phone feature. It’s correctly located my phone as I am connected and have Location enabled.

 

On behalf of all of our group I would like to thank the police in Zandvoort and Haarlem for their support and skills.

Have you had a smartphone or laptop stolen recently? If so, let us know how you dealt with the situation.

And finally…don’t try and recover a stolen phone without police help.

Tech classics for a ‘boys weekend.’

WP_20150507_17_01_27_ProWeekends away with friends should happen without distraction from smartphones, tablets and laptops, games and social media. Not for me. Tomorrow I leave for what you might call a ‘boys weekend’ and it requires a very special blend of classic tech. I need to cover all angles while staying light, rugged, offline and making sure that if something gets broken, lost or stolen that I’m not looking at a huge bill. I’m talking about music, videos, navigation, maps and evening photography and for that task I’ve chosen the classic Nokia N8 and Acer W510.

Update: Nokia N8 is now in bits. See below.

What an amazing phone the Nokia N8 (still) is. It was launched in October 2010 and although it didn’t have a big app store or CPU power to make it a true Web-capable smartphone it had some brilliant features, some of which continued into the Lumia line.

Nokia Maps, something I got hooked-on with the Nokia N82, is still updated and still works offline with the N8. That’s a real bonus when you’re in a new town and will help with navigation on the way.

WP_20150507_17_00_46_Pro WP_20150507_17_04_54_Pro

It’s compact, even with a protective case on and that’s a bonus when you’re out and about on those typical boys nights out. Speaking of that, it has the xenon flash and is still a very capable 12 MP camera. Gotcha!

I’ve put a 32GB micro SD card inside, loaded it with music and will take two important cables. 1 – Mini HDMI adaptor 2 – USB OTG adaptor. These two cables enable transfer of files (music, photo and video) with standard cables from other devices for large-screen review – generally over breakfast on the morning after.

 

WP_20150507_16_59_46_ProWP_20150507_16_59_11_Pro

WP_20150507_16_58_52_ProWP_20150507_16_58_23_Pro

 

I’ll drop down to 2G no-data while I’m away which means I wont get distracted by social media (did anyone ever get distracted by social media on the Nokia N8!) and won’t have to charge the battery all weekend.  With a headphone cable and a set of portable speakers, I’m ready to party with the Nokia N8.

Update: Shortly after posting this I wanted to check that a SIM card works so I slipped in a micro to mini SIM adaptor frame. That was a very bad move that has ultimately results in a bag of N8 bits. Never, ever attempt to use do what I just did. Of course a SIM card adaptor frame, without the SIM card, is going to get caught on the pins in the SIM holder and pulling the card out will damage the pins. I realised that when it got stuck in there so tried to take the N8 apart. It turns out that the N8 is the worst phone for taking apart, in the world, ever and there’s no easy way to access and open the SIM card holder. I broke it! The N8 is in bits and there’s no way I can get it all back together without a few hours work, a large magnifying glass and patience that I just do not have for a phone that will never ever take a SIM card again. If anyone needs an N8 screen assembly, let me know. Apologies to Nokia who gave me this phone as a loaner 4-5 years ago. Most of all apologies to my son who had been using it as his music player, Angry Birds player and camera. I’ve tried fixing the faulty headphone port on my Nokia 808 too but that’s not working either. It looks like i’ll be taking the Lumia 830 and leaving HDMI / USB duties to the Acer W510…

The second blast from the past that I’ll be taking is the Acer Iconia Tab W510. This ‘clovertrail’ 2-in-1 from 2012 has a dual battery, runs Windows 8.1 and is small and light enough to throw into my bag for the unexpected moment when I need to do something on my server and as another micro SD card ‘player.’ It will play back music in InstantGo mode for days! The keyboard can act as a USB charger there’s a micro-HDMI port and it can work as a hub for collecting photos from the group. I’ve written about the W510 as a holiday PC before and I haven’t really found anything that replaces it for long battery life and flexibility although a bit more processing speed would be nice. The Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 10 and ASUS Transformer Book T90 Chi would be good options but I don’t see either of them being ‘classics’ that I’ll keep for another 4 year span. Maybe the Atom X5 and X7 era will bring us another W510.

2013-08-06-3133

I guess the only thing missing is a 3G hotspot. You’ll see a MiFi unit in the image above so I’m tempted to pull the HP Datapass SIM card from the HP Stream 8 to see if it works in the MiFi. If it does I’ve got cheap and easy roaming.

All bases covered? I think so but I’m sure you’ve got suggestions.  What low-cost ‘classics’ would you take with you for a social weekend away?

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Unbox, first impressions

The Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 10 is a product I’ve been close to buying more than once. I love the stand, the battery capacity, the screen and the design but because it’s ‘just’ a Baytrail-T Atom tablet and I’ve still got the Lenovo Miix 2 10 this just isn’t enough of an upgrade for me. Some of you might be thinking about this as a cheaper alternative to the Surface 3 though so I’m happy to have had Garry Clark, gadget fan and blogger, send me his thoughts. He’s unboxed it, photographed it and written his first impressions for us. Over to you Garry.

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 10 with Windows.

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 10 with Windows.

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 unboxing and first impressions.

By Garry Clark.

I have been looking for a lightweight but portable and productive tablet for nearly 6 months. I have been testing various different tablets from a range of manufacturers including Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 and Google’s Nexus 9 as you can probably tell from the above machine choices I am not scared to dabble in either Windows 8 or Android as they both have their benefits and both have their weakness’s respectively. The most important thing for me really is that I can type at a reasonable speed on the keyboard and that the battery life is going to get me through a work day. The Surface Pro 3 is an awesome machine no doubt but i found that when I was using it intensively for posting articles I was struggling through the day and by about 2pm I was having to go hunting for a power source. The Nexus 9 on the other hand was great for it portability and it would last the whole day on battery but the keyboard they offered with it was a hateful experience for any one with hands bigger than a 10-year-old girl. Another thing that I need is a back-lit keyboard and I am now discovering that this is something that I need to push down my list of requirements for potential devices. This is annoying as I have to do a lot of my writing in dark environments be it in a press event under dimmed lights or in my living room while me and the wife are watching TV.

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 (9)Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 (10)

I had been keeping an eye on the Yoga Tablet 2 10″ Windows version and after watching several reviews on-line and having a brief play with one at Mobile World Congress, I decided I would take the plunge.

Here we have the Lenovo Yoga tablet 2 10″ Windows, the specs are below

  • Intel Atom Quad Core 3745
  • 1920 x 1200 IPS panel with 10 point multitouch
  • 32gb eMMC
  • 2GB DDR3 RAM
  • Wifi ABGN and BT 4.0
  • Micro USB 2, Micro SD up to 64GB, Micro HDMI
  • Wolfson Speakers supported by Dolby Audio
  • 15 hours Runtime from ???? Battery
  • Office 365 license for 1 year
  • Windows 8.1 with Bing (free upgrade to Windows 10 upon release)

I gave the Yoga Tablet 2 a quick unboxing as soon as I wrestled it off the courier – the device was bought from Amazon UK for £299.99 including Prime delivery.

Here is the unboxing video.

I really like the feel of this tablet-come-mini-laptop. It feels great in the hand and is so light that I can use it comfortably for a decent amount of time without it becoming a burden. This is due to the large cylindrical hinge on the side which houses that massive battery. Since I unboxed it yesterday I have been using it lightly for web browsing, email, some light YouTube streaming and to write this article and I am still to charge it.

35.5 Wh battery is impressive for this tablet weight.

35.5 Wh battery is impressive for this tablet weight.

The Bluetooth keyboard that comes in the box is a real surprise as I feared it was going to be a horrible experience to type on. It is truly very pleasant as far as a small keyboard goes. Admittedly there have been some compromises made in order to get it down to the 10.1 form factor that the tablet adopts but it has good travel on the keys and it doesn’t flex too much. While it will take some time to adapt to typing on a small board like this you will up and running very quickly. Well done Lenovo.

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 keyboard.

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 keyboard.

Unfortunately the same can not be said of the trackpad as it is not a nice experience at all. Lenovo have done several things wrong here. Firstly they have covered the surface of it in a leather effect which makes it hard to distinguish the trackpad from the surrounding area. It also very tricky to use given its proximity to the edge of the keyboard. Fortunately the touchscreen is awesome so you shouldn’t need to rely on the trackpad all the time. The last bugbear I have about the keyboard cover is the front where the chrome strip is very sharp. After using for an extended period of time my palm even felt sore. I am hoping that this is just a manufacturing issue and that it doesn’t affect all the units out there.

 

The perfect kitchen PC?

The perfect kitchen PC?

Overall I am very happy with the device and I will be putting it through its paces more in the course of the next few days. Keep it here for more on this little pocket rocket.

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 (1)Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 (3)

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 (4)Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 (5)

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 (7)Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2

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.

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