First in a series. My preference is to write about tech that I use -- an attitude shared among BetaNews reporters. We like to get hands-on and write with authority, from experience. That's one reason I write so little about Microsoft now, not being immersed in the company's products. Lately, mine is the Google lifestyle.
But yesterday I started using the original Surface -- the one frequently maligned by critics for so-called limitations associated with Windows RT. This is my first experience with the tab, although I reviewed and frankly loved Surface Pro. Out-of-the-box impressions are great. This is a hugely satisfying tablet, and surely the experience is better with its successor. I was right to ask 5 days ago: "Why not Surface 2?"
Colleague Wayne Williams is right to call out Surface Pro 3 hidden costs necessary to make a reasonable laptop replacement. There is another choice, which geeks often overlook. Surface 2 is a great value for the price, and everyone considering Apple iPad Air as a laptop replacement should look to Microsoft's tab first.
Before explaining, I start a diatribe that will continue to future posts. Geek reviewers hung up on specs and the fanciest features missing what matters more: Benefits -- to whom they are important and in what circumstances. Not everyone needs the fastest, coolest thing, or can afford it. Lower-cost is a benefit, too, and it's one too often ignored by fanboys and tech reviewers. Wayne gets it. So should you.
Let me start by thanking HP public relations for quickly responding to my information request, even after my warning the story would likely be ugly -- and it is. Today, the company unveiled a new Chromebook 11 model that is less than the original. As widely-rumored last month, the beautiful, 300-nit, IPS display with wide viewing angles is gone. "It’s an 11.6-inch screen with standard display technology", according to HP. That means dimmer and duller.
HP designed the first Chromebook 11 "With Google", which is branding appearing on the computer's underside. The laptop without Google matches the look of the 14-inch model, adopts similar fantastic keyboard, reduces display quality, and keeps the same aged ARM chip and puny 2GB of memory. The panel and processor choices perplex. If I had to choose between the original, which I reviewed in October, and its successor the choice is simple: Last year's model, which debuted at $279 and is available from Amazon for $225. The newer Chromebook 11 lists for $279 and sales start next month. Even if priced the same, I would choose the original.
As the American tech press turns to San Francisco and Apple's developer conference, the real world looks to Taipei and Computex. There you see the Android Army's march against iOS. ASUS announces new Android tabs, HP takes the wraps off a laptop running the operating system, and Samsung serves up a phablet so large it crosses category boundaries. In literature, they would call this foreshadowing. Do you see how this story will unfold -- as Android manufacturers and Apple engage like factions from the Divergent series.
Android accounted for 39.7 percent of device shipments -- hybrids, PCs, phones, and tablets -- during 2013, according to Gartner. Apple's iOS and OS X: 10.4 percent. Forecast for this year puts Android at 47.2 percent and the fruit-logo platforms at 11.5 percent. That's context for today's announcements from the East and West. As I write, Apple's announcements dribble (iOS 8 and OS X 10.10) out of Worldwide Developer Conference 2014, so this post focuses on what the Android news means.
The more I ponder Apple's Beats acquisition, the less sense it makes. Buying big well-known brands that compete with yours is usually a bad idea -- worse when the acquirer owns no foreign brands. Extinguishing the big name, as Microsoft does with Nokia, is marketing murder. There's no place for the Beats brand in the Apple lexicon. The gun is drawn and ready to fire.
What I do see is another sign that Apple has lost its way. Tim Cook is a very able CEO, but as stated previously he is Star Trek's Spock without Captain Kirk (Steve Jobs). Cook's approach to business logistics, while brilliant, unmakes Apple. Beats is an acquisition that is off-key -- out of tune with the culture that made the fruit-logo company great. As such, on this Thursday in May, comes my confession. I was wrong five years ago in post "Why Apple succeeds, and always will". That company is gone.
Colleague Alan Buckingham is on a summer sojourn using HP Chromebook 11. I took similar journey during August and September 2011, but the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook -- much as I liked the overall user experience -- couldn't satisfy my needs. In May 2012, with Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550's release, all changed. I started down a permanent path, looking back once for a few weeks. I am a Chromebook convert and eagerly watch to see where Alan will be when the summer sun fades to autumn colors.
"Can I use Chromebook as my primary PC?" It's a question I see often across the Interwebs. The answer is different: You can use Chromebook as your only computer. The only PCs in my home are Chromebooks. There are no Macs or Windows machines doing double duty. Chromebook is more than good enough. Most people will be surprised just how satisfying Chromebook can be -- and how affordable. For 96 cents more than the cost of one entry-level MacBook Air, you can buy from Amazon four HP Chromebook 11s -- the model Alan uses now. User benefits are surprisingly similar.
I learned about the change yesterday, unhappily. File this story under "read the fineprint department". Since Apple introduced its extended warranty plan, I have praised the benefits and plucked down the extra $99 for every new iOS device. AppleCare+ extends standard repair coverage to two years and offers fairly affordable replacement -- up to two times. Somehow I missed that Apple raised replacement price to $79 from $49 for iPhone.
The saga started around the midday meal. My daughter expressed amazement how last week her iPhone 5s popped out of her jeans and fell from a third-story balcony. No damage. Twenty-minutes later, while we sorted clothes for the thrift store in the garage, she fumbled the device, which fell face flat onto the cement -- shattering the screen. No words can describe either of our reactions. The irony was so thick my eyeglasses fogged.
Goldilocks knocks on Apple's door looking for the right mobile device. She first picks up iPad Air, which with 9.7-inch screen is too big. Then she tries 4-inch iPhone 5s, but it's too small. Finally she grabs iPad mini, thinking the 7.9-inch display is just right. But unlike the fairy tale, Goldilocks is disappointed. She drops the tablet, goes next door to Samsung's house, and takes the Galaxy Note 3, which at 5.7 inches -- and with stylus -- is just right.
There's a gaping hole in Apple's product line -- and one CEO Tim Cook better quickly fix. Through it sales leak to competitors, but into a category where Apple doesn't compete. Tech-Thoughts analyst Sameer Singh observes about first calendar quarter global handsets: "As of now, we can assume that ~20 percent of all smartphones shipped have screen sizes large enough to become acceptable substitutes for tablet computing tasks".
As the Net neutrality debate rages and feels fresh, it's easy to forget just how long this thing has been raging. While searching for a post over at my personal website I stumbled onto a forgotten analysis from April 2006, when I lived on the East Coast and had Verizon FiOS.
Critics complain the Federal Communications Commission seeks to create two Internet Information Highways -- one fast lane and the other slow. But something I identified 7 years ago is still relevant today.
If you believe the rumors -- and I rarely do, unsubstantiated -- Google+ and Nexus are over. Gossipers claim the social network will lose identity and prominence, while the Nexus 6 smartphone is no more than dust in the wind. Who is writing the script here? George R. R. Martin? Because the Google killing-spree has a "Game of Thrones" (aka Song of Ice and Fire) feel to it -- you don't know which product will be killed next. For sure, the death count is mighty since Larry Page's return as CEO three years ago.
But Google will make a huge mistake if it backs off Plus, or worse, puts Nexus to the sword. These assets' value is immeasurable. Enthusiasts are any company's best marketers, and these products command large and vocal fan bases. Enthusiasts are crucial to Google gaining and maintaining brand charm, particularly as government overlords answer competitor complaints: "Antitrust! Antitrust!" Fans aren't just good marketers, they are foot soldiers rallying against invaders, like European or U.S. trustbusters.
Today's Moto E announcement demonstrates exactly what Lenovo sees in Motorola and illuminates one major reason why purchasing the cellular device company makes so much sense. The affordable phone, at $129 unlocked, targets people who have yet to buy smartphones, but own so-called dumb ones. They make up a huge market, much of it in Lenovo's backyard and largely ignored by Apple.
Smartphones accounted for 62.7 percent of mobile handset shipments during first quarter, up from 50.7 percent a year earlier, according to IDC. But as sales shift to smartphones they also slow in many mature markets, such as the United States where the install base nips 50 percent. Looking ahead, the higher-hanging sales will be the lowest-cost phones, where unlocked matters in many emerging markets, particularly Asia.
PC manufacturers' priorities baffle me. For years I bitched about OEMs shipping laptops with low-resolution screens -- even Apple. Sony is, or was, the exception but offering the feature for a price premium. My first 13.3-inch notebook with HD resolution (1600 by 900) was a VAIO. In 2006! Apple only followed the Japanese company six years later. The screen is the gateway to your computer, so why do so many OEMs ship cheap displays? For Macs and many Windows PCs, panels are brighter, if not higher-res, today. But not Chromebooks, even as prices push against the $299 threshold and pop above it.
Yesterday's Intel-Google event was an eye opener, or perhaps eye-strainer for anyone looking for Chromebooks with better screens. During the Q&A, PC execs dodged a couple questions about the displays, the majority of which are 1366 x 768 resolution and dim 200-nit brightness. Resolution matters less when panels are bright and deliver consistent color and contrast from wide viewing angles. Chromebooks consistently ship with the best keyboards on any laptop for any price, and the trackpads are exceptional, too. The displays suck. Only two models are good enough. Most newer models change nothing.
In San Francisco, Google and Intel kick off a special event for Chrome OS, which I assert is come of age with the matchup. Ahead of the 1 pm Eastern start time, Lenovo announced new Chromebooks and Google unveiled "Classroom", preview of a new education app.
Unquestionably, Chrome OS-devices are primed for the education market, and many of the newest Chromebooks are directly marketed for schools, students, or teachers. Dell jumped ahead of today's event touting Chromebook 11 adoption in schools.
Today's Google-Intel event is a turning point for Chrome OS. The matchup is more magnanimous than Apple shipping the first x86 Macs eight years ago. Intel is after all the other half of Wintel, and the company's coming out for Chrome OS endorses the browser-based operating system as mainstream -- as do a rash of new Chromebooks announced or released over the past month by Acer, Dell, Lenovo, and Samsung.
Chrome OS has huge momentum in the education market, for example. There are news stories about school conversions nearly every week. Those are sales taken away from Apple or Microsoft platforms. Success is shocking, because every new operating system directly competing with Windows has failed since release of version 3.1 two decades ago. The Microsoft monopoly is insurmountable, or was until Google's entrance.
Chromebook represents a philosophical change -- a quiet revolution -- in personal computing, where relevance moves from hardware and software to electrical service-like cloud utility. In this brave new world, Chromebook is an appliance meeting most desktop needs, and pricing is closer to microwave ovens than to traditional PCs.
Nowhere is there more receptiveness to adaptation, or willingness to lead technological revolution, than the education market. There is historical precedent and fortunate timing: Chromebook fits neatly. Cost is low, utility is high, and familiarity is great. What is more natural to Millennial students than the web browser? They are accustomed to breathing the cloud's rarefied air and enjoying the benefits of anytime, anywhere computing -- freedom to float. Dell Chromebook 11 is primed for educational use while, unlike Lenovo's model, being easily purchased by anyone. This review addresses the computer's suitability for students, teachers, or you.