That grinding against wood and dirt you hear is the sound of Steve Jobs rolling over in his grave. Microsoft is back! And badass! Today's Surface event in New York City outclasses Apple by every measure that matters: Aspiration, innovation, presentation, and promotional marketing. Microsoft proves that it can build end-to-end solutions—hardware, software, and services—as good as, and better than, the company cofounded by Jobs. Even more importantly: Present the new wares well. Today's event was exceptional.
But there is a shadow looming in the brightness that will matter to some Microsoft customers and not to others: Cost. Surface Book, for all its seeming greatness, is a budget-busting laptop for the majority of potential buyers. The low-cost config, at $1,499, comes with 6th-gen Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, and 128GB storage. To get the discreet graphics demoed today, with i7 chip, 8GB memory, and 256 SSD, you will spend $2,099. Doubling RAM and storage raises the price to $2,699.
If you are thinking about buying a new iPhone to get Apple Watch, reconsider. Hard. There's a new Android Wear timepiece that is just as stylish, if not more, but costs much less. If Huawei Watch isn't the Apple Watch killer, it foreshadows what could be.
For the comparison today, my quick review focuses on the two smartwatches that I purchased, with which materials and attractive designs are most similar (other than their shapes—squairsh vs circular). To reiterate: I paid for both devices. Neither manufacturer sent a loaner for review. The one came from Apple Store and the other from Amazon.
This week, I had opportunity to use Apple Watch, making it third of the modern smart variety that I have experienced (the others being LG Urbane and Moto 360). The differences between the platforms are quite startling and worth highlighting. They begin with diverging design ethics derived from the fruit-logo company's app-centric heritage and Google's place in the cloud.
For people who use either Android handset or iPhone, existing device really determines what watch platform you choose, if any—that is for now. Down the path you go. But where it leads is somewhere else, not the same destination. One platform is more responsive to you in varying contextual situations. The other requires more direct interaction, but gives other benefits.
I love my Nexus 6. This morning, while waking to the rush of caffeine from steaming coffee, I read headlines on the device. "I’m Phed Up With Phablets: They're too big to prevail" caught my attention. The short commentary, by Brian Rubin for ReadWrite, rails against the bigger-is-better-smartphone trend. Screen on my cellular is massive: 6 inches, and I forever promised myself to never use a phone so large -- until I did and converted. Much as I enjoy using the N6, for which I can still manage many operations one-handed, smaller would be my preference. Perhaps yours, too.
Here at BetaNews, we first raised doubts about ever-expanding screens four years ago. I still remember the discussion about the story, and more importantly the headline, before Ed Oswald wrote "Is that the Samsung Galaxy S II in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" In 2015, what seemed large then -- a 4.3-inch screen -- is puny. Even iPhones are bigger. Rubin rightly raises alarm about choice: "The real problem isn’t so much that there are too many phablets, but that there aren’t enough non-phablets these days -- at least none that are truly interesting".
Late yesterday I posted my review of Chromebook Pixel LS, which Google released in early March. The write-up is purposely rah-rah to impose the importance of embracing contextual cloud computing and to shakeup preconceptions about Macs being the tools of the creative elite. I also call "dumb" developers who may receive free Pixels during Google I/O later this month only to then sell them online.
One reader comment, from SmallSherm caught my attention, for accusing me of calling him (or her) stupid and for insulting other readers. After writing my response, I wondered how few people would ever see the interaction, which I regard as being quite valuable. So in the interest of fostering further discussion, I present our two comments for your Tuesday thought train.
Mark the date with an alarm. Around May 28, 2015, sellers likely will fill eBay and Craigslist with spanking new Chromebook Pixels, available for bargain prices—if anything less than $999 or $1,299 could be considered a deal. Google's developer conference commences that day, when I expect many attendees will receive and quickly dispatch shiny, new laptops. Big G gave away the pricey Pixel two years ago, and it's good guess will do so again. Smart developers will keep the machines; many will not. Dumb move, but who am I to judge, eh? Pixel rests at the precipice of future computing, for those open-minded enough to welcome it. They are few.
If you are among those who get the Chromebook concept, who thinks about purchasing the laptop, but waffles indecision, watch for short-term selling prices that could meet what your sensibilities and spending budget can tolerate. It's good background for me to finally review the higher-end of the two costliest Chromebook configurations. My primer can help you decide whether or not to bother, either for full price now or for the chance of less later. Why wait? I wouldn't and didn't. I received my Pixel in March, on Friday the 13th, ordered two days earlier from Google. I use no other computer. It's more than my primary PC and could be yours, too.
When isn't a cell phone too big? The Motorola-made, Google-branded phablet answers that question for me, and may very well for you. From Samsung's introduction of the original Note, I scoffed at large-screen smartphones—and, honestly, the seemingly stereotypical gadget geeks using them. But big is better, and my arrogant attitude about phablets and the people buying them was unwarranted.
Simply stated: Nexus 6 is the best handset I have ever used. The experience is so fresh and delightful, the emotional reaction reminds of using the original iPhone that I purchased on launch day in June 2007. N6 shatters my negative preconception about phablets, particularly unwieldiness when used daily. That said, I made some lifestyle changes, including choice of clothing, to accommodate the mobile's massive size.
Over the holiday weekend, I started using the Moto 360, which user experience is way better than anticipated. For all the nutcases calling Apple Watch innovative and revolutionary—without there even being a device for them to test—Android Wear is, ah, timely. Google gives great utility that will be difficult for the fruit-logo company to match. Reasons are simple: Context, search, sync, UI design, and Google Now.
I resisted the smartwatch concept for having been there before. Few of the gadget geeks gushing about wearables are old enough to remember Microsoft SPOT. Mid-last decade, the company partnered with real watchmakers (Fossil, Suunto, and Swatch); the devices were as much jewelry as functional timepieces; FM radio delivered appointments, news, weather, and other alerts independent of cell phones; and battery life lasted three days or more (which wasn't enough). By these measures, SPOT watches were so much more and still failed. Hence, these are reasons why in past analyses I called the decade-later attempt dumb. But I was wrong.
Three weeks ago I asked "What tech changed your life in 2014?" You answered here and on Google+. As the new year starts, I wonder what will make all our lives better. Apple Watch? I doubt it. Shake me awake from the nightmare if the wearable isn't the most successful flop of 2015. Windows 10? Skipping nine is a good sign, but is giving users more of what they don't want to let go life changing? Eh, no.
At the precipice of looking ahead, this is a last look behind. Once Consumer Electronics Show leaks and early announcements rush the InterWebs, all eyes will turn forward -- blind to what many people have, focusing on what they want instead. That's because "aspiration" is the defining word of the technology era, and the promise if you buy newfangled This or That your life will be better for it. Sometimes the promise is true, but too often not, which is why I asked the important question three weeks ago.
Looking back on this last day of the year, I wonder how my daily tech changed so much since the first. On Jan. 1, 2014, my core computing comprised Chromebook, Nexus tablet, and Nexus smartphone. Midyear, I switched out to all Microsoft—buying Surface Pro 3 and Nokia Lumia Icon. While commendable the effort, Windows poorly fit my lifestyle. Today, I'm all Apple—13-inch MacBook Pro Retina Display with 512GB SSD, iPhone 6 128GB, and iPad Air 128GB. I can't imagine using anything else.
Following the lead of my BetaNews colleagues Mihaita Bamburic, Ian Barker, Alan Buckingham, Brian Fagioli, and Wayne Williams, I review my year in tech, and unlike 2013 focus on products that released during the year. I present my 2014 personal tech alphabetically, from company name, rather than order of importance—because they all matter. Note: While the list looks like four, it's five because the first is two combined.
The Internet is buzzing about celebrity nude photos pilfered from iCloud. The problem is bigger than Apple's security, if breached, which I doubt. Behavior is the larger concern, and how people adapt during the contextual cloud computing era. If your phone automatically syncs pictures or videos to any cloud service -- Google Photos, iCloud, OneDrive, or another -- you must assume that nothing is private.
That personal nude video you shoot on the HandyCam is very different from the one taken on Galaxy S5, iPhone 5s, or another device. I should be stating the obvious, but given pervasive attitudes about the Internet -- where people feel safe browsing in the sanctity of their domicile or WiFi coffee shop -- carelessness must be the presumption. These leaked celeb nudes, if real rather than Photoshopped, are good example. Simple rule: Don't shoot any photos or videos on a cloud-connected device you don't want everyone to see.
Sixth in a series. On July 1, I officially started my "Microsoft All-In" summer sojourn. Surface Pro 3 is my PC and Nokia Lumia Icon my smartphone for the next couple of months. Google gets the boot -- at least for awhile. I now largely use Microsoft products and services and third-party apps available for the company's platforms. Many commenters wonder why, so let me explain.
I last used Windows as my primary platform in 2010 -- never for Windows Phone. Like other BetaNews reporters, I tend to write about products used regularly. Writing is more authoritative from experience, and often only long-time use reveals hidden problems or benefits. The reality, and it's something obviously seen in comments: Microsoft platform users largely make up BetaNews readership.
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 spent time with the Ghost blogging platform today. I am intrigued by the visuals and promised simplicity. But I don't see the latter. At this stage, I just see complexity. Yet the whole premise is stripping back to basic blogging, rather than managing content as WordPress increasingly demands.
This month I put up a website for my personal independent publishing brand, and there are few posts, making it a good test case for migration. I easily used the WordPress plugin for exporting posts in Ghost format and imported them just fine. But I see too much trouble adapting themes, most of which look fabulous, BTW, or prepping other basic features.
Early this evening, I exchanged emails with someone writing a blog post about Chromebook. He seeks sales numbers that I doubt are available. Success is a difficult measure despite the hype. In January post "The trouble with new Chromebooks" here and "Twenty-Fourteen isn't Year of the Chromebook" on my personal site, I raise questions about the computer's future.
I extend reservations in the text of my email reply, which follows.