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We love the device… the only complaint we have is that the battery doesn’t last very long.

That quote is from Theresa, and the device she is referring to is her new HP Stream 7 that I picked up for her and our younger son (see article).  I was surprised, because the promotional material for the Stream boasts up to 8 hours of battery.  I was also getting more than enough from mine… I unplugged it in the morning, watched videos on the train on my way to the office, and then again on the train on the way home.  I plugged it back in, and poof, the day was done.

hp_stream_7

One day, however, I used the device during the day.  My regular lunch companions were in a meeting, so I watched a video at lunch.  Knowing that I was doing this, I started downloading another video to watch on the train.  When I was finished with my lunch I closed the cover (as I do to put my Surface Pro to sleep) and put it aside.  When I got onto the train home I tried to boot it up to watch my videos, and the battery was dead.

Crap.

Okay, there are a few things you need to know about the Stream.  The first is that, unlike the Surface Pro, it is a pure tablet device and not a hybrid.  Whereas the type cover to the Surface is actually connected electronically to the device so it senses that it is closed, the cover for the HP is just a cover.  The second thing is that, like every other computer in the world, the more it is doing, the shorter the battery life will be.  So the action of downloading the new video (which I usually do when it is plugged in at home), coupled with the fact that the tablet was on all afternoon, drained the battery.

So what can I do to conserve my device’s battery?  Here are a few tips.

While I am writing it specifically about the HP Stream, the following tips will work to extend the battery life of any portable computer.

  1. Choose the power plan that is best for you.  A lot of people think they need full power all the time on their device, and it is possible that you do.  However Windows has several Power Plans that you can use to conserve power, and you can access these by clicking on the battery icon in the task bar.  These power plans include different settings for ‘On battery’ versus ‘Plugged in’, so when I am at home downloading my videos, I can set the download working and walk away without worrying that my tablet will go to sleep and interrupt the download.  However when it is NOT plugged in, I now have the ‘Put the computer to sleep’ option set to 4 minutes, so I won’t close the cover and drain the battery.
  2. Lower the brightness.  This is part of the power plan as well, but is also easy to adjust.  On a bright sunny day on the train I do need the screen to be brighter, but I have to remember that the brighter it is, the more battery it consumes.  Lower the brightness when you don’t need it.
  3. Turn off what you don’t need!  Most devices these days have Bluetooth and WiFi built in, and that is great… but they also consume resources.  If you don’t need the Bluetooth on a regular basis, turn it off.  However Windows includes a great ‘catch-all’ for transmitting and receiving functions… Enabling Airplane Mode disables them all with one button, and then re-enables them when you disable it.  in Windows 8 swipe from the right, click Settings, click on the network option (this may be renamed after your wireless network) and switch it on.
  4. Processes running in the background consume resources.  Open your Task Manager and see what is running… and then turn off what you don’t need.

None of these tips are really all that new, but since the concept of using a device all day without plugging it in probably is to most of us, following these simple tips can help extend the life of your battery.  There are probably many more which I haven’t mentioned… I would love for you to put them in to the Comments section!

Stream-lining: A review of my new companion device.

I have always had a deal with the companies that have supported me over the years: If you give me a product to test and I like it, I will write about it. If I don’t like it, I will not write about it. That is why there are so few negative reviews on my site. It has always been a workable arrangement that has allowed me to showcase positive technologies for them. There are plenty of sites out there who are all too happy to write the negatives.

I say this because three years ago my friends at HP gave me a device that I did not like. To date I think it is the only HP device that they have given me that I did not like, and I never wrote about it. It was a tablet device that I think was still running Windows 7. It was just not my cup of tea.

So when my friends at the Microsoft Store showed me a new 7” HP tablet a few weeks ago I was hesitant. I know, it runs Windows 8.1, and only weighs a little less than a pound… but would I really use it? I mean, I have a Surface Pro 3 as my corporate device, and another Surface Pro 3 for my personal stuff, and between the two of them I am more than covered. I was afraid the ship had likely sailed on my becoming enamoured with HP tablets.

Enter my son.

No, not Aaron. My 17 year old has a Surface RT as a companion device to his HP EliteBook laptop. He treats them both with the respect that his mother and I have taught him.

Gilad, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. Our 5 year old is a rambunctious little guy, and it is not hard to see that he is his father’s son. For those of you who know me when I was much younger, that is a very scary thought. He has the temper and the attitude and the tantrums and the lack of control that he comes by honestly. Only when I was of that age, home computers did not get dropped… because they had not been invented yet, and when they did come around they were expensive and heavy and cumbersome. In this day and age where almost all computers are portable and tablet computers weigh a pound, it is easy to forget that they break. Add to that games which require the player to hold the tablet up to steer, and the dangers are real.

“Mitch, Gilad dropped the Surface one too many times last week, and the screen broke and it is now unusable.”

The fact that it took as long as it did for me to hear that was a bit surprising, but that is that call I got last week. My mind immediately went to the $99 HP Stream 7 that my friend showed me, and I promised Theresa that I would pick one up for her, and that is what I did on Wednesday. I spent the extra money on the screen protector and case/stand, and it cost me, all told, $150.

Stream 7

Over the next few days I gave it a lot of thought… I commute into Toronto 4 days a week, spending nearly an hour on the train each way. What I have been doing is downloading my TV shows onto my personal Surface Pro, and I would watch them on the train. It is a great solution, but it also means I am carrying a $1500 tablet around. Yes, it has the Complete Care warranty in case I drop it, but what if it gets stolen? I decided that for what I do on the train, I was going to take the plunge.

I picked up the HP Stream 7 on Monday. I got the same package as I had bought for Theresa, except in lieu of her light blue cover I opted for the black. I was ambivalent because it only had 32gb of storage, 1gb of RAM, and an ATOM processor… but even with that it runs the full Windows (not Windows RT), and for what I need it for, that should really be enough. In fact, it might be considered overkill J

Two Ports, Three Buttons.

Stream 7 CornerI believe in the KISS principle… but I cannot think of any device I have ever owned that had less to it: a micro-USB port (which, from what I can tell, is only meant to charge the device) and a headset port (which was not a deal breaker, since otherwise I would have bought Bluetooth headphones); it has a power button, an up-volume and a down-volume button… and that’s it. I did not think it possible to have a fully functional device with less buttons than my iPhone, but there is was. Okay, I suppose the Windows logo could be considered a button, so it is actually tied with the iPhone. No matter, it works.

The first problem I encountered was file transmission speed… traditionally I download my TV shows on my Surface Pro (the personal one, in case anyone at Rakuten is reading this). For the first few days I would then transfer them to the HP. Unfortunately transferring a low-res one-hour TV show over wifi seemed to take a long time… 8 minutes. Wow, there has to be a better way…

…and there it was! In a very under-promoted feat of innovation, if you pop the back cover off the device with your fingernail, there is a Micro-SD card slot! Woohoo! Increased storage, here I come!

Stream 7 BackThen it occurred to me… why take all of these extra (and probably unnecessary) steps? I will now just download my shows onto the tablet, and skip the middle-man (not to mention free up my SP3 for more important duties).

I went looking for other problems… but so far I haven’t found any. There’s no external display port. Who cares, it’s a companion device! It doesn’t have a USB port. Who cares, it’s a companion device! There’s no stylus, and if you want to attach a mouse or keyboard you have to do it over Bluetooth. Who the heck cares, it’s a companion device!

So let’s review… For $99 (plus the cost of the screen protector and case) I picked up a tablet with 32gb of storage that is expandable to 160gb, has a gigabyte of RAM, runs all of my applications that I need, has front and rear-facing cameras, and fits in my back pocket, lets me watch movies and listen to music on the go, and Oh, by the way, for the price also comes with a year subscription to Microsoft Office 365, AND came with a $25 voucher for the Windows Store. Add to that the Bitlocker encryption on the hard drive, and a 5-point touch screen, and this device that actually does fit into my back pocket is a better computer than my first laptop… and probably my second and third one now that I think of it…

I should mention that it is now the only device I have that runs the 32-bit version of Windows. Who cares, it’s a companion device! I keep saying that because really, it does everything I need. I wouldn’t replace my primary systems with it, and I wouldn’t dream of trying to run Photoshop on it. But for years I have talked about The Best Tool for the Job, and for what I will be using it for, the HP Stream 7 really does seem to be that.

Of course, it does run Windows, so I will be adding it to my Windows Intune account for anti-malware and management. Intune has never led me astray, so the fact that it is able to manage my tablet without mucking about with APNS Certificates made my life easier.

Earlier this week I was sitting in the lunch room on my break, watching a movie. Someone came up and asked me about the device, and of course I showed him my new toy. He then asked me ‘So why did you pick this and not an iPad?’ I had a few answers for him… yes, I used to be a Microsoftie, and yes, I am a big fan of Windows 8.1, and of course I know the OS much better than I know iOS… but the bottom line is that the least expensive iPad costs about $300; that is not unreasonable, but it is also not an impulse purchase. At $99 the HP Stream 7 was exactly that; I was at the Microsoft Store for another reason, I looked at it, and I decided to buy it. I had not walked in with the intention of walking out with one, but there it was. It costs one third what the iPad would cost me, and the only thing that I know of that it does not do is Facetime. Fortunately the entire world also has Skype, so I won’t really suffer.

Let me be clear: This is not simply a rewired and rebranded HP Slate 2. This is a spectacular and fully functional device that is not trying to be all things to all people, but instead does what it is meant to do really well.

Overall, it gets a huge thumbs up from this user… and unlike many of the devices I have discussed in the past I paid full boat for this. Nonetheless, thanks HP!

Surface Pro 3: Two weeks later

Are there problems with it?  Yes.

Do I absolutely love it? I love my kids and my dogs… but I suppose I do like it as much as I have ever liked a laptop or tablet… and I have had quite a few of them over the years!

What are the problems? There is really only one that you should be aware of if you are thinking of going out to buy one.  It’s the patches and the battery.

How, you may ask, do patches and batteries wind their way into a single problem?  Simple… as you probably know, everything in computers is managed by software drivers… and that includes the battery to some extent.  When you buy the device (or any device) you are prompted to apply patches, and at this point a couple of them for the Surface Pro 3 are firmware updates.  You apply the first one, and then you have a problem…

…Windows tells you there is no battery detected.  Worse, if you unplug the device it shuts off immediately.  The firmware update actually tells the computer that there is no battery installed.

BUT THERE IS! Wait a minute!  I was using it unplugged just a few minutes ago!  Where did it go?  Oh… I get it!  The pesky firmware is what screwed me up.  Let’s check to see if there is ANOTHER firmware update.  Plug it in, connect to the Internet, run Windows Update… By Jove, there it is!  Install it, and presto changeo, there’s my battery!

…and what a battery it is!  My original Surface Pro probably gave me 3 hours of battery (with Hyper-V and a bunch of other things draining it).  The Surface Pro 2 was probably closer to 5.  The Pro 3? I haven’t had it run dry on me yet… for the first time in my laptop-owning life I am not afraid to leave the house in the morning without the charger.

THE SCREEN BOSS, THE SCREEN!
(Imagine the voice of Hervé Villechaize if you would…)

Yes, there are a lot of improvements over the Surface Pro 2, but wow I never would have imaginged that the 1.4″ difference in screen size (12″ over 10.6″) would make that much of a difference.  As I told you recently I have an external 16″ screen that I keep in the trunk of my car so that I can have the dual screen experience on the go.  I don’t know that I have pulled it out once since I got the Pro 3… the combination of the slightly bigger screen and the much improved screen resolution make the extra screen redundant… at least when I am on the go.

Don’t get me wrong… the day the Pro 3 docking station is available I am buying it – I have pre-ordered it from the Microsoft Store, and I have the voucher for it (from something else I returned).  All I need is the e-mail saying it is in… and I expect that to be around the same time the remaining Surface Pro 3 models (with the Intel i3 and i7 CPUs) are released, sometime in August.  When I am at home (or an office) I will still want the multi-screen experience.  On the go?  Not necessary anymore.

A lot of people are saying I should have waited for the Intel i7 version, but the reality is I have not found myself lacking.  The Surface Pro 3 runs everything I need it to with 8GB of RAM and the Intel Core i5 CPU, and frankly I don’t want to spend the extra money (the i7 version will come in two models – 256GB storage for $1,599, and the 512GB model for $1,999.  Too rich for my blood, but thanks!

Conclusion

I am asked pretty often (including 3 minutes ago, as I sit at the Microsoft Store in Square One Mall blogging) whether the Surface Pro 3 is really a laptop replacement.  The answer, as with everything, is that it depends.  I would think that for the vast majority of people the answer is yes.  If you are a true hard-core gamer? Maybe not; there are some gamers who need more than 8gb of RAM.  If you are a coder? I have a friend who is a programmer who needs to run virtual machines running more than 8gb of RAM at all times.  (Did I mention that I LOVE the fact that it runs Hyper-V?  Well I do…). Aside from them?  I don’t know too many users – even power users – who need more than 8gb of RAM ever, not even occasionally.  For them (like myself) I would say that this is the device for you.

If you are in the Greater Toronto Area come down to the Microsoft Store at Square One or Yorkdale Malls to check it out! :)

Battery Up: Windows 8.1 on the Surface Pro 2

IMG_0031I have already bragged about the Surface Pro 2, and I still love it and that has not changed.  It took a lot for it to supplant my Lenovo X1 Carbon as my primary device (my original Surface Pro was always simply a companion device).  The device rocks, simply put.

One thing that I don’t particularly care for (and this is an issue with Windows and not with the Surface) is that the battery life indicator is wonky.  For example, a few minutes ago it told me that I have 10% of my battery left, or 25 minutes.  By that simple math, the theory is that the battery is good for 250 minutes – or a little under five hours.

IMG_0088That means I’ve already gotten five hours out of it, and there’s a bit under 30 minutes to go.  By my math that’s 5.5 hours right there.  I also know that I used it last night for an hour and did not charge it since… that makes 6.5 hours, not to mention that I have also used it today to charge my smartphone as well as my Kobo book reader.

I did not list my X1 Carbon for sale on eBay because I don’t like it… I really do, it is a spectacular device.  (If you would like to buy it by all means the bidding is open! http://www.ebay.com/itm/201053760576?ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1555.l2649)  I am selling it because I do not need two nearly identical devices (as far as specs go).  The Lenovo has a 14″ multi-touch screen, and the keyboard does not detach.  I have the docking station for the Surface Pro, and when I am at my home office it automatically connects to two 21″ monitors.  When I am on the road (I am almost ALWAYS on the road) it is still a comfortable high-definition screen that will double as a tablet when I detach the keyboard.

My Lenovo came along with me wherever I went… along with it came whatever else I would pack into my Briggs and Riley rolling laptop bag… my ultrabook that weighs less than 4lbs ended up weighing in at 25-30lbs on a regular basis, just for what went with it.  My Surface, on the other hand, goes into a much smaller messenger bag, which in turn weighs less than 10lbs when completely filled… and carries everything that I need, rather than everything I think I might need.  Smaller bag, less weight, better on the back.

Add to that the battery life of over six hours, and that it runs Windows 8.1 with Hyper-V and all that entails, and I don’t see the need for another device… at least not now.  I am sticking with the Surface Pro, and hope to recuperate the entire price of the device when I sell off the Lenovo!

A Thumbs-Up for Windows 8

James Kendrick writes for ZDNet, and has been a tablet-fanatic for years.  So when I read his article lauding Windows 8 on the right hardware platform I was happy… I happen to like my Surface Pro, but it took the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 for James to truly see the value of Windows 8 on a tablet.  Check out his article here:

http://www.zdnet.com/epiphany-windows-8-is-a-very-good-tablet-os-7000019601/?s_cid=e539&ttag=e539

Converting an SD Card to Permanent Storage in Windows Devices

So as you know I was all excited to buy the very first Microsoft Surface Pro.  I bought the 128 GB model because I knew that despite the fact that I have all sorts of external hard drives I was even likely to ax out 128 GB pretty quick.  Fortunately between Cloud-based storage (SkyDrive for my personal stuff, SkyDrive Pro for my business files) and the ability to add a micro-SD card I would be fine.

I arrived at my hotel in Redmond and the package from my Amazon.com seller was there; I excitedly ripped it open and inserted the 64 GB card into the Surface Pro, reformatted it with NTFS, and installed the SkyDrive Desktop Client on Windows 8 (which allows me to synchronize my SkyDrive files onto my device’s hard drive or, in this case, its SD card.

imageWow… ‘Your SkyDrive folder cannot be created in the location you selected.’ This was really disappointing, because that was exactly what I wanted to use my SD Card for… along with my Document, Picture, and Music Libraries.  I will be honest, it never occurred to me that I could not map these to external drives, although it does make sense.  However I was planning on making this SD Card a permanent drive in my Surface Pro, so I needed to find a way to do it.

\I did a little research and discovered that indeed there was a way… or rather a workaround that would work perfectly.  Here’s what I did:

1) I created a directory on my C Drive called c:\SD Card.

2) I opened Disk Manager in Windows – you can either do that by right-clicking on the bottom-left corner of your screen and selecting Disk Management. If you are on a tablet and have no mouse, you could alternately pull up that menu by clicking Winkey-X.

3) Right-click on your SD Card and click Change Drive Letter and Paths…

4) Click Add…

5) In the Add a new drive letter or path for X: (Where X is the drive letter represented by your SD Card) select the radio Mount in the following empty NTFS folder:

6) Click Browse…and navigate to the directory that you created.  Click OK.

You should now be ready to proceed.  To be sure, right-click on your SD card again and click Change Drive Letter and Paths… Your window should look like this:

image

The SD Card has both a drive letter and the mount point on the C drive.  If this is what you see then you are ready to proceed.  Cancel out of this window and close the Disk Management console.

I started the SkyDrive desktop app again and instead of mapping my SkyDrive folder to D: I mapped it to C:\SD Card\.

image

That looked a lot better.  I was able to proceed and my SkyDrive files are now synchronizing properly.

imageNow that my SkyDrive was done I decided to go the next step and map some of my Libraries to the SD Card as well.  This was easy at this point… I simply opened the File Explorer and created a new directory on the SD Card called d:\Pictures. I then right-clicked on the Pictures library that I wanted to redirect (in the Navigation Pane) and clicked Properties.  I clicked Add… and in the Browse window I selected the new directory (c:\SD Card) and clicked Include.  Back in the Properties box I clicked Set save location.  I also dragged it to the top of the list.  So now my Properties window looks like this:

Notice that the Pictures (C:\SD Card) is at the top of the list, and has a check mark next to it.  That means that when I start saving pictures (or decide to import them from another profile) they will go onto the SD card and not onto the internal drive.

All of these steps will work for tablets but also for hybrids, laptops, and even desktops.  It is a simple mechanism to convert external storage to internal storage.  The mount point on the C drive is used as a hard link to the SD card, and nothing stored in that directory is actually on the C drive… it just looks that way to ‘fool’ Windows into doing what you want to do.

Good luck!

How Surface changed my thinking… and helped my shoulder

I travel heavy.  When going through airport security it is not uncommon for me to pull three or four laptops out of two laptop bags.  In addition to that I will have external hard drives, a plethora of cables, and all sorts of other junk.  It has resulted in very strong – albeit often aching – shoulders to be sure.  It is a habit I have been in for a couple of years because of the way I work.  When touring for IT Camps I often have to add two seventeen inch laptops weighing in at over ten pounds each (plus the power bricks for same, a network switch and such), that I take with me in a roller-board suitcase.

I never gave much thought to how heavy my laptop bag really was because I didn’t really have a choice.  It’s just the way things were – a reality of life.

Last week I wrote that I picked up my new Surface Pro tablet.  I was excited that I would be taking it with me for my first business trip of the year – a couple of days in Edmonton for an IT Camp followed by a week in Redmond for MVP Summit.  As I prepared for the trip I grabbed my backpack, filled it with my usual kit PLUS my two Surfaces.  As usual I decided I needed a second laptop bag; I transferred my HP EliteBook tablet to that bag, and added whatever else I needed.  I then thought to myself that my Surface Pro was almost as powerful as the EliteBook, and with my recent back and shoulder issues (resulting from a recent motor vehicle accident) I decided to leave the EliteBook (plus its cables) behind.  I saved nearly nine pounds when you count the cables and docking station that I always take for trips of over three nights.

On the way to Edmonton I started writing a review of the Surface Pro, but had a lot of trouble doing so.  Why?  Over the course of my career in IT I have gone through a series of laptops of increasing power and performance as my needs increased and the prices dropped.  Although I have always had and used a number of them simultaneously I have always had one that was my primary – the most recent of which was my HP EliteBook 2740p.  It has 8GB RAM, an Intel Core i7 CPU, and a 256GB solid state drive.  The best compliment that I can give the Surface Pro is that it has thus far adequately replaced that device for all but my most intensive needs – tasks for which I need more than 4GB RAM.  The device is comfortable and easy to use.  For a hardcore user like myself the greatest compliment I can give it is that it is adequate to my needs, thank you very much.  So much of the failed piece I wrote was about the size, and how it lightened my load… somewhat.

Sitting in my hotel room that night I looked at the two bags as I rubbed analgesic gel into my shoulder.  One of my bags was lighter… I decided to try an experiment.  I emptied both laptop bags onto the desk, making sure all that was left in either of them was a pile of business cards.  I examined the contents, and then went to work.  I started by putting the Surface Pro into its individual case and stopped… the case has weight, and the Surface is well protected in the bag anyways.  Of course the power adapter went with it, followed by a 4-port USB hub, an external hard drive (1.5TB – I could have saved a few ounces by downsizing to a 500GB… a thought for when I get home).  I then put in my video dongles – DV to VGA, DV to HDMI – and my Jabra Puck (because I watch a lot of movies in hotels).  An external mouse – not necessary but certainly makes life more comfortable, but I removed the wireless notebook presenter mouse and replaced it with a lighter Microsoft Arc Mouse Touch which folds flat.  I will only use it when I have the USB hub plugged in because if the dongle – I wish it was Bluetooth!  My sunglasses, an eyeglass cloth (great for glasses AND touch screens!) and that was it.  I put everything else (including the Surface RT in the case) into my backpack, which I left in the hotel when I went into the office the next day.

At the airport check-in counter this morning I decided to weigh the two bags.

Brenthaven briefcase with the essentials: 7lbs.

Ogio backpack with the extraneous: 14lbs.

Could I really cut my travel load by 20lbs by swapping out my HP for the Surface and then eliminating the extras? I was shocked… and thrilled!  The Surface might really save my shoulders and back.

Of course there will still be times when I will have to take my heavier laptops with me… I am not retiring the roller board just yet because sometimes it really is needed.  However by cutting the waste I will have an easier time getting to – and through and from – the airport, office, and so on.

A few years ago I wrote an article detailing what I carried in my laptop bag at the time (http://garvis.ca/2009/07/20/what%e2%80%99s-in-your-laptop-bag/).  Looking back at what I carried then versus what I carry today is amazing.  I only wish I had weighed that bag so I could see a real comparison with my new lightened load.  I never realized it, but I was carrying a load equivalent to a toddler everywhere I went.  Now my bag weighs the same as a newborn… only nowhere near as cute Smile

The Surface made me sit down and evaluate needs versus wants and nice-to-haves.  It is probably a good idea to do that every few months – you never know how much you can save!

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