John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Lenovo Yoga L390 mini review

I got the chance to play with this laptop so I put it through it’s paces. I have to say, I’m impressed. With a list price starting from $1143.35 this isn’t a bargain laptop but for what your getting it’s not unreasonably priced IMHO. Personally, I’ve given up on the concept of a two in one Windows machine, Windows just sucks as a tablet without a keyboard/mouse. But the party trick that Yogas have up their sleeve is they come with a pen, and then can be bent around 180 degrees to allow to use them like a tablet. For my day to day use this is just so much better. Not that I am going to be lugging this around a wine tasting taking notes the way I can with my Samsung Tab A, but it’s nice to have the choice to use the pen if I want to.

The specific model I have to play with is 20NT0004US. It’s powered by a Core i5 8265U Quad core hyper threaded processor, 8G DDR4-2666 RAM, and an Intel 620 HD display adapter.

The unit can be max’d out at 32G and has two SODIMM slots with the 8G it ships with occupying one. Upgrading is a little tricky in that you have to remove the back of the laptop to get at it.

This display is 1920×1080 which is ok, and the screen is reasonably bright and vivid. The bezel around the screen is moderately large, particularly on the bottom. The screen is of course a touch screen, personally I can’t imagine buying a laptop today for Win 10 that isn’t a touch screen.

The keyboard as always with Lenovo is excellent, backlit and includes a nice big touchpad as well as the usual touchpoint that I love. It’s great to have both options. Like any corporate workhorse the unit includes a Kensington lock slot.

Size wise it’s 322 x 224.2 x 18.8 (mm) and weighs in at 3.44lbs. Some of the other Yogas are a little lighter.

Port wise this laptop is top notch and includes everything you could ever hope for.
• 2 x USB 3.1 Gen 1** (one Always On)
• 2 x USB 3.1 Gen 1** Type-C (Power Delivery, DisplayPort, Data transfer)
• HDMI 1.4
• 4-in-1 Micro SD card reader
• Mini RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet (Full-sized adapter sold separately)
• standard 3.5mm Headphone/Microphone combination jack

For a device this thin, this is impressive with only the wired Ethernet requiring a proprietary dongle, which can be had quite inexpensively for $24.95, which is the same one from some of the Carbons.

The laptop comes with a PCI-e SSD (you can see it in the above image), and this is the fastest SSD I’ve seen to date. I reran the test to be sure I wasn’t missing something, I wasn’t, blazingly fast. This one was a Writing speed: 512 MByte/s Reading speed: 536 MByte/s, measured using H2TestW. This beats even the Surfacebook I previously tested. It’s a Samsung MZVLB256HAHQ-000L7.

The unit comes with an active pen. The pen slides into the bottom of the laptop and is charged in it’s happy home. By having it’s own home, it’s always with you, I love this design.

If your a corporate warrior your going to love your docking choices. The old days of having a proprietary dock per laptop are long gone, thankfully. These days USB-C is all the rage and is a fantastic evolution of the dock. By removing one cable, your ready to go. Everything connects through the USB-C port. I’ve been raving about USB-C and can’t wait until EVERYONE converts. Yo Apple Wake up and move the iPads/iPhones to USB-C, NOW damnit 🙂 You have lots of choices for USB-C docks, from cheap to … not cheap. I’ve got a simple one I bought off Amazon for $25 that just provides power, USB and HDMI and it works perfectly well.

If you want more functionality you can buy USB-C docks from just about anyone. Lenovo offers a couple including their 40A9 which retails for $231 on Amazon. This one uses displayport rather than HDMI, but with it you can drive three monitors (two external and the built in). Close the display and the internal shuts off and your using just the two externals. Switching from dock to undock while not instantaneous happens quick enough to be usable.

Overall, I have to say, I’m significantly impressed by this laptop. Super quick, super upgradeable, acceptable weight, acceptable price. Lenovo really got this one spot on!

August 15, 2019 Posted by | Windows tablets | Leave a comment

Samsung Tab A 8″ 2019 with S Pen review SM P205

Ya ya … I know, another tablet. My regular readers know I’ve been on a bit of a quest lately. That quest has taken me through a number of great (and not so great) tablets. When I bought the Samsung Tab S3 I had read about the Samsung SM P205 Tab A 2019 with S Pen, an 8″ tablet which sounds like a perfect device, smaller, lighter and just better for my main use. The only reason I didn’t grab one is they were only available in Asia. Well, you make decisions based on the facts on hand, and sometimes you have to reconsider facts, things change. I first found one on eGlobalCentral (I’m absolutely not going to link to them, I just can’t recommend them). The price was too good to be true, and as always is the case, it was too good to be true. What looks like a US company is actually nothing but a false front to a Hong Kong company. There’s no phone number to call, they don’t answer emails … But I thought I’d try it, so I bought one of these. 6 days had passed, the order had not even got past processing, they didn’t respond to emails so I gave up. Fortunately I bought it through PayPal after confirming that I would have protection through PayPal, and contacted PayPal and cancelled the order. I then noticed a few of these showing up on ebay so I snagged one. It came quickly from Florida, and despite my worries it arrived pristine, brand new. Even had a proper North American power outlet!

Specs:
Size wise, repeated from previous artricles:
350g 136x211x7.95 Asus Vivotab Note 8 (560g with the case I use)
478g 240×169.5×7.5 iPad 9.7 6th gen (840g with the case I use)
522g 245x175x8.3 Surface Go 744g with the type cover and 880g with the case I use and no type cover
622g 267x187x8.7mm Surface 3
530g 262x175x8.2 Transformer Mini 798g with keyboard
434g 237×169.0×6.0 mm Samsung Tab S3
325g 201.5×122.4×8.9 Samsung SM P205
As you can see It’s noticeably smaller, lighter, but thicker than the Tab S3.

Display:
2048×1536 iPad
1800×1200 Surface Go
1920×1280 Surface 3
1280×800 Asus Transformer Mini (it shocks me that Asus STILL use displays this low res)
1280×800 Asus Vivotab Note 8
2048×1536 Samsung Tab S3
1920×1200 Samsung SM P205
Really not a bad display, but what is particularly notable is the small size of the bezel on the screen, super small. And the lack of capacitive buttons means the screen is pretty much the size of the tablet. For comparison here is the old Samsung Note 8.

The SM P205 goes back to more of a pencil shape but it now includes a slot to keep the pencil with the tablet at all times. I really like this, and to top it off it is compatible with all the older S-Pens and other Wacom passive pens. Perfect combination. And this time Samsung do not ignore the pen if the one is in the internal slot (for example using a different pen). The Previous Note 8 did and it was annoying.

Button and port wise it’s got the usual, power (although it can be woken by tapping the screen a bunch too), volume, and the USB-C (Yay), standard 3.5mm audio jack (yay) and then a tray that holds both the Nano SIM card and the microSD card. To say using this tray is fidgety is an understatement. and you will need to keep a SIM card remover (or a paper clip) handy to remove it. I’m not a fan of this tray design.

There are no forward, back, or home buttons as mentioned before, and there are zero LEDs either.

To get off and running quickly Samsung include something they call Switch. It attempts to transfer content, apps and settings. I could not for the life of me get this running wirelessly so I gave up and used a USB-C OTG converter (from Amazon) and the original cable and off it went. I’m shocked how well this worked. Almost every app, logon, settings etc were all preserved. Well done Sammy. You can get these OTG on the cheap and I highly recommend one. It can also be used to add a keyboard and mouse to the tablet. Something that works perfectly (unlike on an iPad where never a mouse will be seen).

This is the first tablet where a carrier did not get involved and remove functionality … so this can work as a phone, data device (including bluetooth, and USB tethering as well as hot spot). I hate that past tablet have removed the ability to make phone calls. If I’m in an emergency and want to make a call why is it I can’t? I put a Rogers SIM into it and got full speed LTE!

Processor wise as always Samsung (an others) are playing around with the layout. This time around it’s an octal core, two Cortex-A73 cores clocked at up to 1.8 GHz and six power efficient Cortex-A53 cores at up to 1.6 GHz. This constant churn in processor layout has resulted in it being VERY difficult for consumers to compare tablets processor speeds. The tab S3 used 4 CPUs that can ratchet themselves from 300MHZ all the way to 2.1GHZ. Geekbench can show you the differences in the processor layouts:

P205 processor layout

Tab s3 processor layout


Checking out preformance benchmarks with Geekbench you can see it by default seems to use the slower processors and then brings in the big guns when needed.

P 205 Performance

Tab S3 performance


Benchmarks aside, the tablet seems quite zippy and has noticeably fewer lags compared to the Tab S3. Still not as instantaneous as an iPad but quite good.

This tablet shipped out of the box with Android 9. This is supposed to be the first version of Android that separates the operating system from the Vendor personalizations, it’s called Treble. This is supposed to insure better longevity for the tablet because you shouldn’t be dependent on the vendor (Samsung). Only time will tell if this is a holy grail or a mythical unicorn.

Standby power management is again outstanding on this tablet. In almost 16 hours it dropped a mere 5%, which projects out to over 13 days of standby battery life. Truly outstanding. Charging wise the tablet came with an anemic 5V 1.55A or 7W charger. I tried it with a QC quick charger and it made no difference. On the positive side this means just about any charger from any Android phone in the last 5 yeas, 5V 2A is more than adequate. In 60 mins the charger added 44% to the battery which would project out to a full charge time of a little over 2 hours, which is not too bad.

As with the Tab S3, this tablet does NOT support USB-C Video output. It also does not have Samsung DEX.

Finding a case that has a hand strap, is light, and well made has been an issue with some tablets, but not with this one. I quickly found a Moko case on Amazon that perfectly fits the bill and is reasonably priced. I’ve had good luck with Moko cases in my past tablets.

Size wise the 8″ tablet fits into a nice little niche. It’s the perfect size for writing notes in a cramped busy space as is my primary use case for the tablet. It’s light enough to carry around, works well as a general tablet for things like email, facebook, ebooks (Kindle) etc. The LTE radio on the one I bought makes it super convenient on the go and a great Waze/navigation device in the car. Mounting is quite doable, it fits sideways in a lot of phone car mounts. Browser wise the screen is a little small for a perfect web browser. And of course the browsers are often limited by the web sites detecting your on a mobile device and giving you a different view. In all I quite like this tablet and in so many ways it was exactly what I’ve been on a quest to find. I can only hope that at some point Samsung bring this tablet to Canada/North America. For now … I’ve got mine!

August 7, 2019 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Amazon Kindle

Let’s start out with the simple, what is a Kindle? It is Amazon’s hardware (or software) way of reading their digital books. I bought my daughter a kindle a long time ago. She never really embraced it, preferring hard copy. Books are a LOT cheaper on Kindle for obvious reasons, no printing, no delivering. I’ve resisted the temptation to buy a Kindle device and preferred using the Windows, Android or iOS apps which work fine, the worst of which is the Windows Store one which barely works these days. But then I found myself carrying around a heavier, more expensive tablet that I had to keep charging. A colleague at work showed me his teeny tiny Kobo and thus the spark of discontent was lit. Thanks Greg 😦

Content is king and content owners have lined up under specific platforms Kindle, being one, Kobo being another etc. It is not at all impossible a book you want to read is only available on one platform or another. This sucks but is reality. To think you can buy one device and read any kind of book is just not happening. There is also an industry standard called ePub that is used by lots including some local libraries using an app called Overdrive that lets you digitally sign out a book. Overdrive is NOT compatible with Kindle.

There are apps like Calibre that can even convert between different format books. Books can be downloaded from things like torrents or purchased digitally. Purchasing them digitally is elegant and allows a book to be read on a variety of platforms and some amount of the money goes back to the author. Your progress is kept in sync (assuming the device is online) across these devices. I am most familiar with Kindle so will now shift to talking about Kindles.

Kindles are first and foremost, single function book readers. That’s it.

There are a lot of versions of Kindles, with lots of different features. Common amongst the hardware devices is outstanding battery life (weeks to months), super light and crisp easy to read screens. The screen on a kindle ONLY draws power (for the most part) when a page is being turned. This gives them outstanding standby battery life too. There are lots of ways to get your content (books) onto your device including illegal (read free) ways. If you choose to buy your books they are simply and effortlessly delivered to all of your devices. It really is well done. So much so you wonder why you might bother with other ways. You can make markups of your books, keep notes of what you liked for future reference and the like. Highlights are done using the buttons on the bottom. It works just fine albiet a tad clumsy, something I always like doing. I’ve been a fan of Kindles for quite a while. This isn’t to say Kindle is better than say Kobo, it’s just somehow where I landed. It wasn’t a specific, intentional, or comparison driven choice, it’s just where I ended up and I can’t even say how?

From a hardware point of view there are a dizzying array of models out there. There are TONS available on Kiji and ebay at stupid low prices. So to start out with you need to look at differentiating features, figure out what’s important to you and choose one for the price your willing to pay. Or just say WTF and buy on off Amazon. Really they are so cheap as to say who cares. And when you look at how much cheaper the ebooks are the reader is paid off pretty quickly. Back to features, early kindles had a physical (albeit horrible) keyboard for entering setup data such as wifi.

Amazon pretty soon after realized this was a waste of real estate and eliminated it. I recommend you skip the ones with the keyboard.

Connectivity wise there are two versions, WIFI and 3G. The 3G are marvels in that you pay NO monthly fee and yet from almost anywhere in the world can download an ebook and start reading. This really takes convenience to a whole new level.

Amazon had continued to play with resolutions on the screen but the bigger differentiator is touch screen or not. This is a personal preference as to what you want.

Some kindles can even play back audio books, which takes a lot more storage, although why you’d bother is beyond me, your phone is a MUCH better audio book device.

Up until recently kindles didn’t have back lighting making reading them in the lower light challenging, and impossible in the dark. You could use a standard book light I suppose. If this is important to you, watch for this. Not something I care about, at least for now.

Storage is something that you can watch but frankly ebooks are teeny so who cares? How many books do you have open at any one time? Do you have issues with completing something even as simple as a book 🙂 Storage becomes more important if you decide your going to use it for audio books as that takes a LOT more storage.

As a statement of the obvious these things are black and white and low res compared to say a tablet. So if you thought you were going to use this to read magazines, or comic books your going to be underwhelmed. I’ve also not seen newspapers embrace this space either, leaning more to tablets.

Books can be bought from Amazon when connected on WIFI, or they can be manually downloaded to Kindle by micro USB cable which is also how it’s charged. I love that they stuck with an industry standard. Books can also be emailed to the Kindle but I’d be cautious of this with illegally downloaded books. At some point Amazon is going to do something about this …

So given all this I dove into the used market and looked for something small, cheap and light. Something to fit in my back pocket. For $20 I found a Kindle 4 which can be identified based on a first four digits of 9023. The device I bought is a WIFI only, non touch screen, no keyboard, with no audio support.

Spec wise the one I bought, a Kindle 4, are the following:
6-inch E Ink Pearl screen 16 levels of grayscale (No back light)
800 x 600 pixel resolution
WiFi (802.11 b/g/n)
2GB memory (1.25GB available)
Cloud storage
Micro USB 2.0 port
Battery Life: 3-4 weeks
Supported formats: Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI and PRC
Weight 171g
166 mm x 114 mm x 8.7 mm

If you’ve ever considered buying one of these, there are lots of them on the used market, ebay and kiji for very little money. Grab one, you won’t regret it!

Update: After 11 days of fairly heavy reading, the battery low indicator came on. Outstanding battery life! It took about 1.5 hours to recharge from the warning and drew about 0.5A so you can use just about any USB port/charger.

July 12, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reactine a warning

I’ve been on Reactine for a long time now as an antihistamine for my allergies. I moved to it when Claritin stopped working. It worked ok until a cat moved into my home, then it was not enough. In speaking with my Dr she moved me onto a newer medication called Blexten. After about a month off of reactine I noticed something interesting, I was no longer hitting my high heart rate alarm during mountain biking. I’d added training in heart rate zones because I noticed my heart rate was going well above what I thought was ok. So when I hit the alarm I would use it as a trigger to slow down or rest a bit. So I started scratching things and did some more reading on the side effects of reactine. Now the list of side effects for any drug are pretty much everything under the sun so I have to admit to not paying a lot attention to them … One on the list is fast heart beat. Hmmm so I decided to look at some data, and remember, I only looked at this because there was a noticeable/measurable change. I took a look at two mountain biking rides, at the same place, roughly the same length and compared them, one with reactine in my system for a while and one without reactine (and with Blxxten) and the results are interesting to say the least. Now to say this proof of any kind is a stretch … interesting none the less. So this is the data with the time in zones with and without reactine:

So what you can see is I spent zero time above 180 without, and there is a shift in heart rate numbers and time in zones by roughly 10 bpm. Comparing the ride stats you can see a decrease in the average heart rate of 7 BPM and a decrease in max HR of 9 BPM.

I wasn’t able to see any kind of change to resting heart rate, but this is more about how trapped that data is, too hard to mine.

So all in all, it’s something to be aware of in case you or loved ones are using reactine.

July 8, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 9.7 with S Pen review

Yup, sorry, another tablet review. This time I’m shifting gears and moving over to Android to play with. I haven’t touched Android since Samsung pissed me off enough with the S5 to cause me to go over to an iPhone back in 2016 and haven’t looked back since. Oddly enough the S6 was an excellent phone, but the damage to my patience and loyalty was done.

I still love my iPhone 8 and it’s been one of the most stable phones I’ve ever owned. But my now ancient Samsung Note 8 worked well in it’s day so i thought I’d see what’s changed on the S Pen and in the Android world, and thus you have this review. As always I’m looking for as general purpose tablet as I can get with the specific focus being on taking digital notes by pen, often in crowded environments.

The specific model number of this tablet is the Samsung SM-T820 and it is currently running Android 8.0.0 so Oreo. No firm date when it might get Android 9, with the usual delays coming from Samsung.

Size wise, repeated from previous artricles:
350g 136x211x7.95 Asus Vivotab Note 8 (560g with the case I use)
478g 240×169.5×7.5 iPad 9.7 6th gen (840g with the case I use)
522g 245x175x8.3 Surface Go 744g with the type cover and 880g with the case I use and no type cover
622g 267x187x8.7mm Surface 3
530g 262x175x8.2 Transformer Mini 798g with keyboard
434g 237×169.0x6.0 mm Samsung Tab S3
As you can see the Samsung holds it’s own being the lightest and thinnest in the pile!

Display:
2048×1536 iPad
1800×1200 Surface Go
1920×1280 Surface 3
1280×800 Asus Transformer Mini (it shocks me that Asus STILL use displays this low res)
1280×800 Asus Vivotab Note 8
2048×1536 Samsung Tab S3
Again Samsung holds it’s own matching the best of the pile the iPad which is impressive remembering that there is actually a newer Tab S4. The screen is pretty darn vivid and crisp. Head and shoulders above the Transformer mini.

The tablet itself is really quite nicely made. A huge departure from the older Samsung 10″ tablets that seemed like plasticy cheap devices. This one has metal edges, glass back and and overall nice appearance. The bezels are sill on the larger side, not much to say about that.

Port wise I applaud Samsung for using USB-C which easily allows one port to do faster charging, as well as USB 3 connections. A decision I wish Apple had made on the new iPad mini. There is however a MAJOR flaw in the ointment, according to Samsung they do not support any form of video out from the S3. Now while this is likely RARELY used, rarely doesn’t mean never and I would probably have been one of those that would have. There are comments that it can work with a DisplayLink USB3 video adapter but I can’t confirm that as I dont’ have one 😦 If video out is important to you then you’d be better to step up to the S4, more on that later. There’s also no dock available for the S3, but there is again for the S4. It also has a standard 3.5 mm audio plug which a lot of people will appreciate over having to use converters like you do on iOS devices.

In the Android space companies have continued to play with processor configuration trying to find the balance between performance and battery life. Going from all out quad core devices, to dual quads (often incorrectly referred to as Octo cores) to this processor. I say incorrectly referred to as octo because at any time only 4 of the processors are active at a time. 4 super low power ones when it’s doing nothing and 4 higher performance processors when there’s something to do … In the tab S3 it uses a Qualcom APQ8096 Snapdragon 820. I had read that this had two low power low speed processors and two high speed processors but this is wrong. This has 4 CPUs that can ratchet themselves from 300MHZ all the way to 2.1GHZ as needed. An app like CPU-Z can clearly show the processors properly ratcheting up speed as need be. While I still think the Octo core was a good idea, and yielded some very impressive standby times, it comes at the cost of extra silicon = $$s. Overall performance of the tablet is good with mild delays. I’ve often found this to be Samsung’s customizations although this is anecdotal, but try a Google pixel with similar hardware and no customizations and you will feel what it could be. Nothing ruins ones patience quite like an iPad/iPhone, they just do everything instantaneously and create an level of expectations few can achieve. There is no way this tablet could be mistaken for an iPad from a performance point of view.

As with past Samsungs this tablet is filled with bloatware that can’t be removed. Everything from forced versions of Excel/PowerPoint/Word to Samsung browsers. As in the past these often require updates that chew up even more space and can’t even be hidden/disabled. The fact that this still exists today is ridiculous IMHO. Now I know the iPhone too has programs that can’t be removed, but the sheer number of them is MIND BOGGLING on this tablet. This kind of crap is the kind of thing that irritated me enough to leave Android. Now in reality with 32G of space there’s enough room for this to not be an issue for a while, but still …

Samsung tablets/phones have always been heavily customized with what Samsung refer to now as Samsung Experience (used to be called TouchWiz). It gives Samsung the ability to differentiate themselves from the pack. Like most things a positive has negative side affects. Google releases Android, then Samsung has to redo (if they choose to) Samsung Experience on each device before the end users get their upgrade. This ongoing cycle has left devices in obsolescence long before their time. Now while Android Treble is the fix for this issue, this tablet is unlikely to be new enough for it to be saved by this innovative approach which is very exciting stuff in that it separates the OS from the vendor customizations meaning you are no longer dependent on the vendor to release updates. This could mean your Android device can live longer and still be current!

As always the built in Android find will allow you to find, make sounds and wipe your missing tablet. This is nothing new and has been there for a while.

This tablet includes a fingerprint scanner, but I’ve found it to be particularly hit and miss, virtually useless for me.

It also has a GPS, so if you can find a way to mount it in your car you can use it for navigation like Waze if you tether it for mobile data. As always cross platform tethering is a little more clumsy. The iPad/iPhone played nicely together. Tethering still works it is just more manual on cross platform. And as always don’t forget to tell Android your tethered connection is a metered connection so that it can help preserve your precious data. (Settings, Connections, Data usage).

Startup time from power off is about 1 min 10, so definitely not zippy, as always with Android there is no such concept as suspend or hibernate as there is in Windows.

One place Android and the Snapdragon family of processors really shine is in standby power sipping. With WIFI off I estimate a whopping 19 days of standby power. And even with WIFI on this only drops to 15 days. This is earth shattering by comparison to say the Surface 3’s abysmal two days. Hugely impressive. One of the areas that Android stand out is in the ability for users to automate and customize. Apps like Battery log make short work of coming up with data like this. And apps like Llama automate make it easy to automate functions like turn off WIFI, or mute the audio at a time of day. I’ve missed this type of automation since being on an iPhone.

As always one of the things I harp on is battery recharge. Older Android tablets were so bad you kept them plugged into make sure they never got really low. The default charger that comes with the tablet is a USBC 5V 2A = 10W or 9V 1.67A = 15W adaptive charger. This took the power from 5% to 90% where it levels off in 1 hr 48 mins for a projected full charge in 2.2 hours. This compares to 3 hours for the Surface 3, so faster but not earth shatteringly so. I tried a Lenovo 56W USBC charger and it made no difference at all so don’t bother trying to buy a faster charger. I also bought a USBC to MicroUSB converter and used a standard 2A 5V charger and this performed abysmally, it added 24% in 1 hr 7mins which would project a full charge up to 4.7 hours. So this while possible is dog slow. I also tried a Qualcom 2.0 quick charger and it completely matched the Samsung charger in charge speeds. And this didn’t matter if you used it with a USBC to microUSB converter or a straight USBC cable. A long time ago I bought a Aukey 5 port charger on Amazon and I love it. I never travel without it. It is so flexible all my devices work perfectly with it and when travelling it’s all you need, and work perfectly with the Tab3.

For comparison the Samsung Tab S4 the next generation uses the follow on Snapdragon 835 which includes a number of enhancements including true Octo Core (Vs quad) at speeds up to 2.54GHZ (Vs 2.15). It is also higher res, charges faster and includes DEX support allowing external monitor support. For a list of all differences with the Samsung S4 Vs S3. It also sports a redesigned S Pen.

And finally onto the pen on the S3 … Samsung has been working with Waacom on the S Pen for a very long time at this point. The current generation of the Pen on the S3 is quite nice. Not Surface nice, but nice none the less. It has one button and the button is well placed. The pen feels ok in the hand somewhere between a pencil and pen. Writing on the screen also feels quite good. Palm rejection has always been perfect on android and continues to be so, something Windows still struggles with.

I’ve created a comparison of all of the tablet pen experiences compiled into a table. The Samsung S3 comes in third behind only the Surface 3 and Surface Go.

Replacement pens (non Samsung) can be found on Amazon for $28 or genuine ones from Samsung can also be found ~$80-100. At least you can get them in the tragic event of loosing or breaking one. And since this is a Waacom there are other non samsung pens you can buy that ought to work fine but I’ve not tried any of them.

By going larger than past S Pen’s it feels better in the hand but there is no longer a slot in the tablet to hold the pen. They have included a clip on the pen to hold it in place in your pocket. Something that ought to be obvious (well it is to anyone but Apple). The pen is missing an erase function sadly. Samsung have taken time to design something they call air command. Any time the pen is near the screen it hovers over the screen allowing to quickly and efficiently call up pen related functions. And you can edit this list until your hearts content.

Samsung have also developed their own apps including Sketch/ Screen write, Smart select, etc that all enhance the usability of the pen. None of this is all that new by the way, the series of Note phablets had this as well. The pen by the way is 100% passive so no battery to worry about EVER. I tried pens from a number of Waacom tablets, my Samsung Note 8 , my Lenovo Yoga 12 and they all worked perfectly.

The S4 includes a whole new evolution of S Pen that feels even more like a real pen in the hand, I tried and it worked fine.

There is little to no cross pollination between anything but a Samsung phone/Tablet. I tried in vain to make this work. I downloaded and installed Samsung Side Sync on my PC to discover the Tab S3 does not support SideSync. So then I tried to use Samsung Flow, installed it on my PC only to find out PC to Tablets isn’t supported. And just to make you giggle, both of these were recommended by a rep at the Samsung store when I asked? LMAO. What kind of idiots do you have working here … Only the finest! There’s an hour and a bit of my life I won’t get back, Thanks Sammy!

Using A1SD to benchmark speeds I was able to get 250 MB/s read on the internal storage, and 32MB/s off my microSD card (pretty much the same speed I get off a PC with the same card). Using a USBC to USB3 converter I was able to get 73MB/s off a USB3 flash drive.

So all in all impressive speeds with no bottle necks. Getting data on and off this tablet are impressively well done. After running into no end of bottlenecks with Atom based Windows tablets of days past, this is a refreshing surprise!

The SD card by the way is hidden behind a phone SIM card like tray making it not so easy to change on the go unless you carry a SIM tray remover (or a paper clip or pin) with you. I really dislike this, but it is what it is. One the the wonderful things about Android is you have pretty much free rain to easily manage your space. Create directories, move around files. Download stuff do what you want, the way you want. Try that with an iPad and you will discover the joy of iTunes.

Network wise I was able to connect to my 5GHZ wireless and measure 330Mb/s using HE tools which is comparable to my Lenovo T450s laptop. Impressive for a little tablet!

Using the same USBC to USB3 converter you can also connect keyboards and mice that work flawlessly. Something that still to date is impossible (no mice support) on an iPad although this is supposed to be changing fall 2019.

Samsung have brought about a kind of split screen on this tablet (and honestly have offered it for quite while now). It works ok, frankly with the size of the screen it’s of limited use and a little clumsy. DEX on the S4 works more naturally feeling more like a desktop experience with better multitasking and floating apps. Another thing that iPads are trying to play catchup and will add in the fall of 2019.

Cases are always a challenge and this one is no exception. I bought a case that seemed like it had what I wanted, a little protection, a hand strap for use when writing, off Amazon, but it was poorly made, and felt like rubber in the hand. Very poor quality materials. I did find a TPU case that fits the tablet well and makes it easier to hold again from Amazon.

A list of my favorite apps. I actually had to go back to an old post from 2012 to refresh my memory on the useful apps, and then find the ones that were still around and worked on this tablet.
2x a free RDP client that works great.
Amazon Kindle ebook reader
Battery info a simple battery level widget.
CPU/GPU monitor a good CPU graph for the tray
CPU Z see details about your CPUs
CX File explorer with Network file share support
Microsoft OneNote for taking all my digital notes and keeping cross platform and web accessible at all times!
Sense UI a nice flip clock and weather widget I’ve always liked
Swiftkey a fantastic replacement keyboard. As good as the stock and Samsung ones are, this one is even better. Why Microsoft didn’t just buy the company to resolve the MAJOR issues with windows on screen keyboards is beyond me.
Plex media player
Kodi media player, sadly my digital environment includes both 😦
Weather network
Waze

Games:
Happy color coloring app that works well with the pen
Free cell

So all in all I’m impressed with with the Samsung S3. I made a choice to not go too old as they are likely to end up out of support sooner, and were more plasticy. I think it was a good decision and I like the feel of the S3.

June 25, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tablet Pen comparison

You my regular readers know I’ve been on a bit of journey, exploring pen enabled tablets. I thought I’d take a moment and give you a summary of my findings. In my readings I’ve found it really hard to find reviewers that focus on the pen, and in reality that’s what makes these particular tablets stand out of the crowd (for me). Let’s just start with a table.

It’s worth noting a number of these criteria, if not all, are very subjective. And what’s important to you might not be important to me and vice versa. The place I am using the pen is 100% Microsoft One Note. If you used a different app you might get different results. The reality though is OneNote is cross platform (and Web enabled for that matter), I can’t think of another choice. The number in the brackets is a numerical rating of that criteria for that tablet.

What do the criteria mean (to me):
Feel in the hand: How much does the digital stylus feel like a real pen in the hand?
Button location: Bad button placement can make for a clumsy interaction with the pen as you keep hitting it. No buttons makes overall operations clumsy
Writing feel: As you write does it feel like your writing on paper with a pen?
Palm rejection: When you first place you palm on the screen does it think it’s a finger?
Scroll detection: When you lift up your hand and want to use your finger to scroll does it switch modes quickly/smoothly?
Errant lines: As your writing does there magically appear a line out of nowhere?
OneNote Functionality: The only place OneNote is 100% functionally implemented is Windows 10. Windows 10 S on the Go it slightly less well implemented, and Android and iOS are missing functions. Everything from convert writing to text, convert a graphic to text and templates (as some examples)
Pen battery life: Self explanatory
Ease of erase: Microsoft implemented an eraser on the top of the pen which is brilliant and super convenient.
Pen manufacturer: If you know the manufacturer of the pen, you MAY be able to use other companies pens on your tablet. This is the case with the Surface and Asus transformer being interchangeable.

This tablet covers off ONLY the pen use. There are of course other factors for your choice of tablet, reality is you may want to do something else with the tablet rather than it being a single function device. If one was to weigh this into the discussion the Surface Go would fare MUCH worse, it’s a VERY poor performer, as an example.

Here’s the link to the various reviews:
Asus Vivotab Note 8
Surface Go
Surface 3

Samsung Tab S3
iPad 9.7

June 25, 2019 Posted by | iPhone Stuff, Windows tablets | Leave a comment

Life360 app review

I’m a big fan of Find Friends on Apple but it has limitations, and in some ways Life360 is better, and in others not so much. So let’s get started. Life360 allows you create circles of “related” people. These circles allow everyone within that circle to know a LOT about each other. Licensing of the app is done on a circle basis. You can use the free offering of a circle which limits you to two locations for alerts. One of the missing features IMHO is the ability to temporarily follow someone. Something Find friends can do. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. So what can people in a circle know about each other? Lots … could be scary lots.

First and foremost where they are, and this is a lot more real time than Find friends. In fact if you stay on the individual in the circle it will continually update you on their location, speed and battery status. And if the phone dies or get’s lost or looses connection it remembers your last seen location. Historically you can also see how many Kms they drove, where they drove and the like. You can ask for directions to the person using your preferred app (for me it shows Apple Maps, Google Maps and Waze. What you don’t get is the current distance from you.

You can also add locations such as home and work and then control notifications for the when the individual arrives or leaves those predefined locations. A missing feature is the ability to say notify me when they leave their current location for times when people are not following their usual patterns. There’s also no way to say let me know when they arrive at a location unless it’s a predefined location. The free service as mentioned above only allows two predefined locations for alerting. You can step up to unlimited locations for a subscription based charge of $2.99USD a month. They do offer a free trial …

You can also get alerted when someone in your circle is getting low on battery, not that this is a hugely useful feature. What am I going to do email them some battery charge? 🙂

If you step up to the next level of subscription which is $7.99USD you also get crash detection amongst other features. You can even use this level to keep an eye on your circle members driving behaviour like phone usage, high speed driving rapid braking or acceleration etc. Like I said … maybe even creepy? Ok not maybe but if you have a young driver it might be of interest, but a friend or spouse?

The app can ONLY be used on devices with cell numbers ie no WIFI tablets will work. You can use the life360 web site on a WIFI tablet and see where your circle members are.

The App is cross platform in that your users can be on Android or iOS …

So in the end, I like the app … the price is not outrageous but I wish there was a one off pricing that would allow me the more locations without it having to be a subscription. That would be a no brainer. And unfortunately the subscriptions are auto renewing which is something I’m always leary of …

June 24, 2019 Posted by | Other reviews | Leave a comment

SSDs the best place to spend your upgrade $$s

When it comes to homes, they say you get your best bang for the bucks in kitchens and bathrooms. When it comes to upgrade $$s for an older PC, or a new purchase replacing older spinning drives with an SSD these days is a total no brainer. They are super cheap and have a profound affect on the performance of your PC. This performance boost comes in two forms, first is random access time. On a physical media the drive has to move the heads to the right sector, wait for the right sector of the drive to come under the head then access the drive. The latency on this is killer. A secondary speed boost comes simply from the fact the SSDs are faster. How much faster? Well this depends on the SSD of course but at this point even the cheap ones are way faster. I recently bought a Kingston 240GB A400 for like $45 bucks off Amazon. I used CloneZilla to replicate the drive over to the new one. Once cloned I was able to measure 162/181 MByte/s Write/Read Vs a spinning media of around 45/50 MB/s. So as you can see a HUGE difference. If your low on memory this can help as well because the swap file ends up on the faster SSD.

As additional benefits the SSDs draw less power (and thus less heat), and are completely silent. Going forward I would highly recommend for any device make sure your operating system is on SSD. If you need added space then the cost per bit is still cheaper on spinning media so for bulk storage don’t waste money on SSDs IMHO.

June 20, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Microsoft Surface 3 (Take two)

I seem to find myself in the minority, someone who uses a pen on a tablet to take notes. I say this because of how few tablets support pens, and then how poorly designed the cases for these tablets are for use with the pen. Ever since my Vivotab Note 8 exceeded my patience (due to constant relibaility issues) I’ve been on a bit of a tour around old and new pen enabled tablets. Most recently the epic fail Surface Go, the close but no cigars iPad 9.7 and the also close but no cigars (for different reasons) Transformer mini. So I started navel gazing as to … ok now what? I re perused the existing market place, old and new, for things I hadn’t considered.

I briefly considered the new Apple mini now with pen support. And while this looks like it might be perfect in a lot of ways, size and weight, the price is astronomical. I’d be looking at the $699 cell edition remembering that iPads ONLY have GPS if you get the cell edition. Double checking it seems that the pen is lifted from the iPad 9.7 so some of the imperfections of the pen use in Onenote would likely carry over. And of course the ridiculous power management (or lack there of) of the Apple pencil … I’m also super disappointed that Apple did not use USB-C deciding to opt for the ubiquitous lightning connector making power delivery limit and video options more clumsy. Recently I saw two major announcements on upcoming (this fall) developments for the iPad. First is the addition of mouse support. Why it’s taken this long for Apple to do this is mind boggling. This will open up whole new use cases for the iPad. Of course we have to wait and see what typical Apple behavior we can expect, ie what iPads are included. And secondly, the iPad finally get’s it’s own OS. So this could have some impacts on my future decisions?

I found a brand spanking new tablet that looks perfect, the Samsung P200/P205 although for now it doesn’t seem to be in North America. It looks to be an 8″ tablet with S-Pen support and USB-C. I guess this one is a possibility in the future. Price doesn’t look horrible.

So then I thought … hmm what about the Surface 3 I previously played with? I gave up on it solely because of price. As consumers we are often left trying to find the balance between what something costs and what we are willing to pay for it. In fact the new iPad falls completely into that category? Hmmm So I had a look and found one on kiijii for $260 used including a keyboard (not that I want or need the keyboard). I already have a Surface pen so at least there’s no expense there. I did a quick look around and had trouble, as always, finding a decent case with a hand strap. I almost gave up, and then I remembered … I bought a
generic hand strap for 10″ tablets on Amazonand sure enough it fits!

When dealing with the Surface 3 always remember that there are two versions 2G RAM 64G SSD and 4G RAM 128G SSD (and a third if you include the LTE). The 4G of RAM is pretty important for Win 10. I also noted, this generation of Cherry trail processor and chipset are not supported on Win 8, so don’t even bother trying (I did and got nowhere fast).

Size wise, repeated from previous artricles:
350g 136x211x7.95 Asus Vivotab Note 8 (560g with the case I use)
478g 240×169.5×7.5 iPad 9.7 6th gen (840g with the case I use)
522g 245x175x8.3 Surface Go 744g with the type cover and 880g with the case I use and no type cover
622g 267x187x8.7mm Surface 3
530g 262x175x8.2 Transformer Mini 798g with keyboard

Display:
2048×1536 iPad
1800×1200 Surface Go
1920×1280 Surface 3
1280×800 Asus Transformer Mini (it shocks me that Asus STILL use displays this low res)
1280×800 Asus Vivotab Note 8
So even thought the Surface 3 is an older tablet the high res display is still quite competitive.

Processor wise the Surface 3 uses a Z8700 Vs the Z8350 of the Transformer mini. It’s noticeably faster. It just goes on the other side of the unacceptable line. This chart compares the two processors.

SSD Speeds are 36.8/88.8 MByte/s (Write/Read), good, but not great by todays standards.
WIFI 5G speeds are 346 Mbits/sec which is comparable to a full size laptop.

As in the past connected standby even with WIFI disabled for connected standby varies wildly, I saw numbers from 1.8 to 1.3% per hour, well above the Microsoft specs of less than 1% per hour. This does not bode well for standby times which would be a little over two days. The only saviour would be to enable hibernate after a number of hours but this takes start up time from seconds in connected standby to 25 seconds from hibernate. Time from power off is around 30 seconds. Both are long when these are your only options to keep the battery from being always dead.

The default charger included is 5.2V 2.5A so 13W. This can charge the surface from dead in a little over 3 hours with the charge rate dropping off after 80%. I’m not sure I see any possibilities for quicker charge times, I tried a Qualcom Quick charge and it did no better.

Pen wise the surface’s have always been some of the best. So for now I think the Surface 3 is going to be my tablet of choice.

June 18, 2019 Posted by | Windows tablets | Leave a comment

MacBook Air 2014 review

I had a chance to play with a MacBook Air Early 2014 version recently. I’ve not played with a Mac in a very long time so this was long overdue. My big question was could I live on a Mac 100% and replace my Windows Laptop.

Spec wise it’s Intel Core i5 1.4 with 8G DR3 and a 120GSSD. Display is 1440×900. The display for today’s time is clearly on the lower end of things. But then it is a 5 year old machine so what do you expect. But hot on the heals of the brilliant display on the SurfaceBook this is SUPER noticeable.

Power wise it comes with a 45W, 14.85V 3.05A charger that brings the macbook from dead in a little over an hour. A far cry faster than the Surfacebook that took 5 hours. The battery on the Macbook is 54Wh vs the 69WH of the Surfacebook. Weight wise it’s 2.96 pounds Vs the Surfacebook at 3.48.

Straight off I was handed a machine that had been used by other people so I started out by wiping the Mac from the Recovery Partition and then reinstalling the OS. The machine was on 10.13 High Sierra Vs current which is Mojave 10.14. I could have futzed about with downloading an ISO blah blah but instead I just reinstalled the OS from the recovery Partition and then upgraded it (which is basically a reinstall). So in all I guess I reinstalled the OS twice. All settings and apps I had from 10.13 carried perfectly into 10.14 and was no issue at all. Happily my hardware was supported on the latest version of the OS … yay. Upgrading the OS also upgraded the recovery partition as well.

Once up initial setup was easy and immediately started to see some of the wonderful things you get from being in Apple’s ecosystem. First and foremost is that iMessage now goes seamlessly from my iPhone/iPad and now Mac. How well this works is amazing. The list of cross functional items from your iPhone include:
– iMessage seamlessly
– Find Friends widget on the Mac
– Handoff which allows you to continue working on one device you started on another
– Macs can participate in Airdrops
– Reminders
The iPhone and Mac are just integrated instead of separate devices with lots of cross over! The fact Microsoft was NEVER able to do this is disappointing.

I was quickly able to install Chrome, Plex, OpenVPN and Kodi (from their download sites). Kodi was an unknown publisher so gave me a little grief in terms of having to tell the Mac to install it anyway but once done it’s good to go. OpenVPN was equally trivial and I just downloaded my ovpn file and away it went. Shockingly easy. Chrome syncs nicely so I have complete platform agnostic behavior.

Microsoft RDP and Onenote came out of the App store and work just fine. In fact I love the way the latest version of Microsoft RDP works, it creates a complete desktop space for the connection. You can then easily move between your RDP sessions and your Mac using the three finger swipe that is used for “Mission control” (silly name), however Mission control also allows you to have multiple desktop spaces and quickly move between them allowing better smoother multi tasking.

Using Windows shares is pretty well done on the Mac allowing you to add you favorite servers, favorite shares and have different logons that your signed into account. It seems to work fairly well.I usually sort my photos by copying them off the SD card into a Windows share. While copying them on the Mac was easy, the photo viewer was super clumsy when the files were not local. And locally they have to be imported. I’m sure this is more about learning, but I’ve not found a way to do this well on the Mac.

Power management on the Mac is outstanding. Run time, standby time are all better than comparable on a PC. Resume from suspend is also faster than on a PC. This always amuses me when in reality Macs these days are running for the most part on the same hardware as Windows PCs, and yet they do so much better.

The one place I notice the Mac being quite slow is accessing Windows SMB shares, for example within Kodi. Once the list of files from a large directory is up though, performance is good enough to ensure smooth playback. Being an older Mac, it of course does not support some of the faster WifI modes like MUMIO. Using iPerf I measured only 45Mb/s Vs 329MB/s for my Lenovo T450s. So this is definitely a place where this older Mac is lagging badly.

All in all I’ve enjoyed the Mac and could pretty much live on it Vs a PC. There was one place I struggled, which was in sorting images from cameras. One of the time, in just looking at the pics it reset the dates on all of the images to the date I looked at the images. This is hugely problematic for me. I’m sure this is surmountable.

June 13, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment