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Hello? Nice… but is it worth the money

imageMicrosoft has, over the last few versions of the client, made it much easier to log on to Windows.  By introducing PINs, Picture Passwords, integrating logons with Microsoft Accounts they have given us a lot more freedom, while taking security quite seriously.  I honestly think it is harder to hack into someone’s personal computer today than it was five years ago – at least, when users use the new options and do not store their passwords and PINs on sticky-notes.

When Microsoft introduced Windows Hello in Windows 10 I paid very little attention to it.  Firstly, I am no longer with the company; secondly, I am no longer a Microsoft MVP, and so am not invited to share in the information ahead of time; and lastly, I was just too busy with other things… and frankly I think all of the years of living on the bleeding edge had gotten to me.  I did install Windows 10 as an early adopter… but not as a very early adopter.

Even when I did move to Windows 10, back in the summer of 2015, Windows Hello was not a feature I was going to pay much attention to.  My Surface Pro 3 was a spectacular device, and I was not planning on trading it in, or buying an external camera just so that I could be logged in by facial recognition.

What is it?

Okay, so let’s back up a little.  Windows Hello is a new feature of Windows 10 that allows you to log on to your computer simply by being in front of it… but there is enough security that it has to be you sitting in front of it.  It cannot be someone who looks a bit like you, and it cannot be someone who has a picture of you.  In order to ensure this, the feature works only with Depth Cameras.  According to Windows IT Pro Magazine:

A regular webcam will not work with Windows Hello. Windows 10 features Windows Hello, which provides new ways to authentication using biometrics including facial recognition.  Since this is essentially 3-d detection,  a camera with a specialized illuminated infrared camera is required.

These cameras are not available in most devices… in fact, according to PC Magazine, most of these cameras are simply too expensive to include in lower end laptops. (See article).

So when, several months after the release of Windows 10, I traded up to a new Surface Pro 4, I did not even remember that the feature was called Windows Hello (in the article I refer to it as “the new high-res camera logon”).  It would be another month before I actually did get around to trying it.

So what do I think?  I like it… It is easier than ever to log on.  I sit down, my computer sees me, and it says “Welcome Mitch Garvis!”

Now here’s the issue… Yes, it is cool, and yes it is easier; but I have never in my life complained about having to type in a password.  I have never complained about password complexity.  I know that when I sit down at a computer I have to type in my password.  Is that gone now that I have Windows Hello?  NO! I use several computers, and most of them do not have Depth Cameras.  I am going to have to type passwords on most of the computers I work with for the foreseeable future.

Still and all, it is a great feature.  Would I have spent the money for it?  No.  However it is a ‘nice to have’ feature of Windows 10 with the Surface Pro 4.

If you do have a compatible camera, all you have to do is open the Accounts – Sign-In Options in your settings, and click on Configure Windows Hello.  Nothing too technical about it.  Good luck!

Why I chose the Pro.

I walked into the Microsoft Store in Yorkdale on a Wednesday evening with money to spend, and I was going to walk out with a new device.  The question was… which one?

A couple of months ago Microsoft announced two new devices: The Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book.  The Pro4 looks a lot like its predecessor the Surface Pro 3, and while it has the next generation Intel CPU and the higher resolution camera, the truth is it was not significantly different from the 3.  Yes, it is a slightly nicer machine, but nobody who does not work in marketing at Microsoft would call the SP4 a revolutionary change, something monumentally different and better than the SP4.

The Surface Book, on the other hand… that was something new.  Unlike the Surface Pro (which is a tablet hybrid), the Surface Book is a true laptop… that can convert seamlessly into a tablet.  Batteries on both sides, a cool hinge, and when you press the button and the light goes green, you can pull the screen away from the keyboard and use it like a tablet.

Very nice.

When I walked into the store I had not quite made up my mind… but then I did not really have a lot of experience with either device.  So I asked the very helpful staff to show me the new devices.

I liked the Surface Pro 4 for many reasons, not the least of which was comfort.  I had gotten used to the Pro 3 over the last eighteen months, and the 4 was just an improvement on that platform.

We went over to look at the Surface Book, and a couple of things bothered me about it.  Yes, it has the SD Card slot to expand your storage… but that slot is in the keyboard, which means that once you disconnect, you have to stick to your hard disk.  The USB slots were the same… okay, I suppose it makes sense – when in Tablet Mode you shouldn’t really need the vast storage and expansion devices… except, when I download movies and music and books to my device they go on the SD Card because that is how I like to keep things organized.

In truth, that wasn’t that big a hit against the device… even with that knowledge I was still thinking about it.  And then…

Sticker Shock.

My Surface Pro 4, with the Intel Core i7 CPU and the 256GB of storage (with 8GB of RAM) runs about $2,099 (Canadian Dollars).  That is a lot of money, and if I did not need the horsepower I would never have spent it.  The base model of the Surface Book (with the Core i5 CPU and 128GB of storage) starts at $1,949… $150 less.  Of course, when you consider you have to add another $179 for the keyboard for the Surface Pro, it is actually $329 less than the Surface Pro 4.

But that is the base model.  The comparable model Surface Book (with the Core i7 and the 256 GB storage) costs $2,799 – a little over $500 more than what I spent (including the keyboard).  Now, I am sure there are benefits to the more expensive machine… but the costs for me would not stop there.  I would have to replace my docking station ($250 or so), and all of my accessories (chargers, etc… that I have from the Pro 3 that I can use with the Pro 4).  It just wasn’t worth the cost to me.

Let me be clear: I am not writing a review of the Surface Book; I have not spent enough time using it to do that.  I am just enumerating the reasons why I made the decision that I did – the Surface Pro 4 is a great device, and while I would have liked to have more memory (the 16GB version with the same storage and CPU is only $400 more than mine, but I did not want to spend the money), what I have is enough… for me.  For now. 

Now, if my next contract requires that I have the larger memory and storage capacity, then who am I to refuse?  For what I do today and for what I envision needing the system for going forward, I envision being quite content with this device for at least the next eighteen months (which, if you look at my history, is how long I should expect to be using it).

What are your thoughts?  I would love to hear them!

Surface Pro 4: First impressions

I must be mellowing as I get older.

When I got my Surface Pro (was it really only February of 2013 that they came out?) I was still working with Microsoft, and a colleague at the Microsoft Store in Toronto (back then there was only the one) arranged for me to get in early so that I could open the first device sold in Canada, and of course I recorded it.

When I upgraded to the Surface Pro 2 a year later (February 13, 2014) I was heading out of town from Ttve igioronto to to Quebec; there was no way I would get all the way to Chateau Frontenac with the new device in the car, so I stopped off for lunch and recorded my unboxing video at a rest area off Highway 401.  That video did not turn out well, but it was recorded.

It was only five months later (July 3, 2014) that I traded in the Pro 2 for my first Surface Pro 3… This would be the first Surface that would be my primary PC.  My family was out of town (visiting Grandma for the Fourth of July no doubt) so I was able to rush right home, set up my video camera and tripod, and record the unboxing video from my dining room table.  While I would go through a slew of them (there were several flaws in the original Surface Pro 3 so I had to return it a few times to get a good one) it (and they) would be my primary PC for over a year.  I say they because when I went back to work for Rakuten in January, 2015 they provided me a corporate laptop which was also a Surface Pro 3.  Once they got it right, they were pretty rugged machines.  Unfortunately shortly before my recent trip to Japan I well and truly Claused the device, when my Rakuten Surface was knocked out of my hands and made its way to the bottom of Lake Ontario.  We will give the device a pass though… that was slightly abnormal use, and it was the one thing that I found could not be recovered from.

And then, on December 9, 2015, nearly a year and a half after the Surface Pro 3 came into my life, I traded up again.  I picked up my Surface Pro 4 (this time with an Intel Core i7 CPU and 256 GB of storage) from the Microsoft Store.  However rather than running home to open it, I called my girlfriend and went over to spend some time with her.  The conversation did not revolve around how excited I was to have my new device; in fact it didn’t revolve around computers at all.  We had a nice evening, and after a few hours I took my leave.


…and THEN I went home to record the unboxing video!

Watch the Unboxing Video here…

I have now recorded five unboxing videos (two were not good enough quality to share).  I don’t think I did too bad this time, but you can be the judge.

While recording the video I had the two devices side by each, and was able to make a couple of comparisons between the 3 and the 4.  However it was only after I shut off the camera that I started to see some of the great differences.  On camera I mention that the keyboard magnet seems to be stronger than the old one; I had forgotten that the stylus now connects to the side of the device magnetically as well, and my first impression is that the magnet there is quite strong as well.  I never used the magnetic corner of the SP3 because I did not want to have to replace my lost stylus; I am not at all worried that this one will be lost… although time will tell.

I was disappointed that my Juiced Systems 4-in-1 adapter does not fit while the power supply is connected.  While I was not prepared for that, I consider it a minor nuisance, especially because of the better battery life we have been promised.  I already knew that my new device would not fit into my old docking station – I have to decide now whether to pick up a new dock, or just order the compatibility shim that Microsoft has created.  We’ll see.

Isn’t that one of the bigger issues we have when we replace laptops and tablets… we have to start our collection of toys from scratch?  Fortunately this is not entirely the case with this device.  The leather folio folder that I picked up last year for the Pro 3 fits my Pro 4 perfectly… That was a relief, as I really like the folder.  I am also thrilled that I don’t have to throw out my extra chargers – those are the same too, a relief knowing what I paid for them.

I spent an hour installing software before heading off to bed.  No, I have not tried the new high-res camera logon yet but I will, don’t worry.  I have written this article on the Pro 4 on the train into the office, and I cannot say enough about the improved keyboard design.  It is a much easier typing experience.  I know there is also a keyboard with a fingerprint reader, but one thing at a time.

No real complaints yet, although I am sure there will be a pet peeve or two.  Stay tuned to find out what.  In my next article, find out why I opted for the Surface Pro 4 over the Surface Book!

I’m Juiced… Because My Surface Pro 3 Got Juiced!

Ok, the title might sound a little bit cryptic… let me explain.

A few weeks ago I was listening to a podcast that I enjoy called Surface Smiths (www.surfacesmiths.com).  It was Episode 11, and the product they were reviewing was called the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 – 4 In 1 USB 3.0 Adapter from Juiced Systems.  They had a contest, and all you needed to do to enter was retweet something.  I did, and I found out a few days later that I won.  I was happy, but I forgot about it… life just gets in the way sometimes.

Life can be rather amusing sometimes… Just Friday I was lamenting that I was going away for a few days, and I would only have my Surface Pro 3 with its single USB port because I was not bringing a docking station with me.  And then when I got home, what was in my mailbox, but a package containing the prize – a 4-in-1 adapter that is custom fitted to the Surface Pro 3.  It has two USB 3.0 ports, an SD Card reader (Great because I take a lot of pictures), and a Micro-SD Card reader (Great to transfer files to and from my HP Pro Tablet 408 which I use for videos).

The best part of it all is that it does not interfere with any of the other ports on my device.  This was something I was worried about, because the USB port and the Mini-Display Port are so close to each other.  While that means nothing to me on a short trip like this one, when I go to Japan later in the month it will be crucial.

So I got to my hotel room in Ottawa Monday afternoon, and I was really excited about the new add-on to my Laptop Kit.  However the excitement had little to do with the USB ports… Seldom do I travel with a bunch of USB devices when I am only gone for a few days.  But not only did I spend the weekend in Montreal taking pictures, but Sunday night was the Super Moon Eclipse.  So I got some great pictures, and I was thrilled that rather than having to transfer them onto a USB key from another computer, I could just plug my SanDisk SD Card into my Surface directly using the new Juiced Systems adapter!

The device retails for $29.50, so it was not a major prize… but it was one worth having for sure!

Just so that you can all see what gets me so excited, here are a few of my pictures from Sunday.  If you think getting close up to butterflies is easy, or that shooting a Lunar Eclipse is simple, I challenge you to show me what you can do! Smile

Blue Butterfly 10

Butterflies on Mount Royal

Yellow Butterfly 14

Butterflies on Mount Royal

Ducks 45

Ducks on the Pond in Beaver Lake, Mount Royal


St. Joseph’s Oratory, from Beaver Lake, Mount Royal

Eclipse Minute 28

Minute 28 of the Lunar Eclipse (9:43pm) from Westmount LookoutEclipse Minute 62

Minute 62 of the Lunar Eclipse (10:23pm) from Westmount Lookout

(Note: All pictures taken with a Nikon D5200 camera with a 70-300mm VR lens. Night time pictures also used a Nikon SpeedLight SB-700 flash)

Apple Dongles… Dangling functionality in front of you!

“Just remember Mitch… you are coming into an environment where people love their Macs and their Linux.  As long as you don’t come in and try to convert them, you will do well here.”

Yes, when I had my initial conversation with the leadership at Kobo I was told something very much like that.  Obviously with my history as a Microsoft Evangelist that could be a concern, and I was glad to reassure him that I was not coming in to change anyone… at least, not on the desktop side.

Funny enough, the only reason I was excited that head office had assigned me a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 was because I would be able to carry it in my messenger bag, and would not need to start carrying a larger bag.  Yay.

Apple DongleOn my first day in the office we realized I was missing a couple of things, all of which might be easily resolved.  For one, I needed a USB Ethernet dongle to connect to the corporate network.  The only problem: they were out of Windows-compatible dongles… all they had left were a few white ones with Apple logos on it.  We tried it out, and sure enough… nothing.  Windows did not even detect it.

There was a time when that would have been the end of it; however as hardware becomes more and more compatible between the two platforms, I decided to see if there was a solution to be found.

It didn’t take long to realize I was not the first person to encounter this issue, and there was a known solution: Boot Camp.

Five years ago I bought a MacBook Pro, and I wrote a series of articles on installing Windows 7 on the device.  The best solution at the time was a piece of software called Boot Camp, which allowed you to create a dual-boot partition, and then install Windows. 

The relevant part of the discussion is that the Boot Camp Support Software (a free download at http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1638) includes all of the drivers necessary to run Apple hardware from within Windows (because it is obviously not included in the default Windows 8 installation).

It was different five years ago, but with today’s smaller computers (including the MacBook Air) dongles are a big part of day to day functionality.  While the Boot Camp support software assumes you will be running Windows on Mac hardware, all it really knows is that you are running Windows and need a driver for the dongles.

So we downloaded the support files (currently version 5.0.5033), and then followed the following steps:

  1. We extracted the Boot Camp package on the Surface Pro 3;
  2. We navigated to the directory <root>\BootCamp5.0.5033\BootCamp\Drivers\Asix
  3. We executed the package AsixSetup64.exe.

It took less than a minute, and it worked! 


When I first got my Surface Pro 3 (mine, not the corporate device) I was told that I needed to buy all of the Surface branded dongles.  Before I spent the money I tried out a few of my own dongles (some Lenovo branded, others generic) and was delighted to see that they worked.  It was not a stretch to assume that the Apple dongle would work too, but since Apple very often uses their own proprietary hardware, it stands to reason that you would have to download a driver.  I am glad that the two platforms work, and I can use the dongle as hoped… and who cares if it is white? Smile

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.

(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!


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!🙂

Surface Pro 3 and Windows 8: Not everybody’s cup of tea

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I do like my Surface Pro 3.  With that being said, I know everyone has different tastes, and some people are not going to like it.  A couple of months ago my sister, a long time Mac user (and Apple Fanboi) told me that her new job would be giving her a Pro 3, and asked what I thought of it.  I told her – it predated my realizing the extent of the network issues – that I loved it, and expected she would too.

Last week she e-mailed me to tell me that she really hated it.  It crashed a number of times in the first week, and she does not have the patience for these errors – she said her Macs (all of them) just work, and don’t have blue screens of death or other issues.

Now to be fair to the Surface team, a lot of the issues she outlined had to do with Windows 8.1, Microsoft Office, OneDrive, and the Microsoft Account.  I understand her frustration – if you take the device out of the equation, those are four different products from four different teams that are all supposed to work together seamlessly… but don’t.  I respect that Microsoft has a lot of different products, but if you are going to stop talking about products and start talking about solutions then you should make sure your teams work together a lot closer to make sure that seamless really is seamless.

I probably know Windows better than 99.5% of the population, and work very fluently across these four products… but one of the reasons for that is because I have come to understand that sometimes the seams between them are going to show, and like a Quebec driver I have learned better than most to navigate the potholes.  However if Microsoft really wants to stay at the top in an era where customers do want things to just work, they had better get off their butts, come down off their high horses, and start making sure that seamless really is just that.

I want to be clear… I am not trading in my devices for Macs (or Linux).  While I do have an iPhone (See article) I would just as soon have an Android or a Windows phone.  I love Windows 8.1, and even now at my office I cringe at having to work with Windows 7 (Ok, cringe is a strong word… I just wish it was Windows 8.1!).  However I have worked with iPads, Androids, Macs, and more, and I know that those solutions do make for a better experience with regard to some features than the Microsoft ecosystem.  I hope that under Satya things get better… but nearly a year into his tenure and I don’t see much progress.

In the meantime I am strongly considering going to open an account at one of the banks that is currently offering free iPad Minis to new account holders!

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