Beef stew slow roasted italian 4 blogOf all the beef stew recipes I have tried over the past few years, none of them consistently results in moist, tender beef with a reasonably full-bodied broth.

I tried using both chuck tender cuts and stew meat cuts for the stew. Results were hit-or-miss kinda thing and most of the time I  ended up serving dry meats. I almost wanted to give up until I chanced upon a lovely food blog which featured their Italian beef stew.

Although red wine is found in the recipe, using red grape juice as substitute can still produces a yummy stew that is worthy to be served to guests. Yang is a teetotaler and I don’t drink wine as a beverage at home. Hence, not having to add wine to the stew is a big plus.

Now, the recipe still uses chuck tender cuts and I decided to try out a different cut, shin of beef, after reading up on Delia’s recommendation based on her mom’s recipe and knowing my MIL’s preferred cut for her Chinese-styled beef soup. So, gotta listen to your mothers. LOL :)

Finally, I’m so glad to see that tomatoes have no place in the broth. Me thinks the taste of tomato complicates the taste of a hearty beef stew.

At last, moist, tender beef cubes in delicious broth! Ahhh, my search has come to an end. I have a beef stew which I could call my own and feel like a great cook whenever this dish is served.

Credits must go to Donna and Chad from The Slow Roasted Italian for sharing the recipe with the world. :D Below is the recipe modified to suit our family’s tastebuds. It’s a perfect one-dish meal served with steamed white Jasmine rice.

Ingredients (serves 2 adults & 2 toddlers)
• 450 g beef shin – trim fats, sinews/silvery white outer layer, cut into 1.5” cubes
• 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
• ½ tsp paprika
• ½ tsp coarse ground black pepper
• 1 tsp salt, divided (to taste)
• 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• 1 tbsp unsalted butter
• 1 shallot, diced
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 2 cups home-cooked chicken stock (unsalted)
• 1/2 cup red grape juice
• 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
• ½ tsp dried Italian herbs seasoning (I think this is important to the overall taste)
• 4 large carrots, peeled and chopped into chunks (becos’ there’s a rabbit in Yang. JK. Seriously, forget about potatoes. Carrots complement this dish better.)
• fresh parsley to garish, optional

Method
1. Trim hard fat (which does not melt during the cooking process) and silver skin (white and silvery looking) from beef shin and cut into 1.5″ cubes. It takes about 5 minutes, but don’t skip this step. It is so worth it.

2. Combine flour, paprika, pepper and ½ tsp salt in a medium ziplock bag. Seal and shake to combine. Add beef and shake until well coated.

3. Warm olive oil in a French oven over medium low heat (to avoid burnt meat), once you can feel warmth when holding your hand 6 inches from the pot, add butter.

4. Once butter has melted, remove beef from flour and shake gently to remove loose flour. Place coated beef in the French oven, one piece at a time and then brown on all sides. Cook in two batches. Turn pieces until all sides are browned and remove them and set aside in a bowl. Once the first batch is cooked, add the second batch and repeat. Remember, watch the heat. Don’t let the meat burn as the French oven can heat up quickly.

5. Meanwhile, prepare shallot and garlic. Shallot should be diced and garlic minced. Set aside.

6. Once all beef is browned and removed, add shallots and garlic. Cook until translucent. Add grape juice and deglaze by scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the oven. Add chicken stock, Worchestershire and Italian seasoning. Stir to combine. Return beef to the pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to simmer and cover. Allow soup to simmer for 1.5 hours.

7. Meanwhile, prepare carrots and set aside.

8. After about 1.5 hr of simmering, add carrots. Stir to coat vegetables and cover. Cook for another 30 minutes or until carrots are fork tender. Taste broth. If necessary, add additional salt to taste (mine needed ½ tsp).

About done :D

About done :D

9. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired. Serve hot with steamed white Jasmine rice. Bon appétit! :D

Tuck in!

Tuck in!

p.s. French oven is preferred for its even heat distribution.

It’s just past a full year since our Minton renovation project ended, and I thought it’d be fun to do a retrospective review of how the new home has been since it’s now lived-in for a year. Most things and design decisions have worked very well – surprisingly! – but there’s been a couple of others that with the benefit of hindsight, haven’t worked as well. Long post, so split into a couple of parts – and starting off with the things that have worked well.

Fans: One big difference between our old Rivervale home against our Minton place now is in our type of fans. Our current place is already a little more airy than the Rivervale one – though this is also seasonal – but after the frequent tripping over of electrical cables lying about on the floor from standing fans in our old home, we went all-out for ceiling fans in the Minton a year ago. The Crestar fans in the Living, Master and Children’s rooms are still working as well as they did when first installed and providing plenty of air circulation. The Fanco 36″ in the Workroom remains under-powered – a mistake in choice back then that’s necessitate turning on the air-conditioning a little more frequently there just to keep things comfortable in the room. The fans do occasionally make a bit more din when our part-time cleaners clean the fan-blades, but they’re not causing enough ruckus at this point to bother us – thankfully!

Clotheslines: A year ago we were wondering if this was way-overkill to install eight ceiling clotheslines in the yard balcony on top of the clothes rack we got from Ikea, but they have turned out to be tremendously useful, given the amount of laundry we do. We also realized how lucky we were to have purchased a unit with a yard balcony of decent length which could be our dedicated laundry area.

Two stacks of four tiered clotheslines - not counting the

Two stacks of four tiered clotheslines – not counting the rack below it.

Work Room Tables: This was another risky design requirement we made last year – how and if we should squeeze 3 of us in a room to do actual work. At the moment, the configuration has worked well enough, and we removed the rollers on our work room chairs too so there’s no chance of chairs slamming into each other. Hannah also seems versatile enough to do her homework anywhere in the house.

Invisible Grills: The grills have also been as they were a year ago; the cables still seem tense, and no signs of rust (yet?) too. We did hear of a neighbor going with the same grill vendor who didn’t have as much luck though – the grills showed signs of corrosion. The one gripe we have is pretty minor – the plastic caps to cover holes along the grill frames have been dropping off, like this:

Cap gone - duh.

Cap gone – duh.

Solar Film: Food for thought though: whether Films are of any real perceptible benefit might come down to whether you’ve experienced the house without Solar Films installed first. We did for a couple of months last year and can say with certainty that the Films will help. That said, we were never under any illusions that the films all around the house were gonna turn an apartment experiencing afternoon heat into a chilled igloo. At this time of the year now, the afternoon sun is shining directly into the wide part of the house, heating up the children’s bedroom (below), the workroom and to a lesser degree, the Master room. The films do help by bringing the general temperature a couple of degrees down – though it’s still not enough to make the rooms bearable for working and living in the afternoon heat without turning on additional air-conditioning.

The children's room on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with the full 1600 hrs sun blasting into the room.

The children’s room on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with the full 1600 hrs sun blasting into the room.

Front Balcony: We had grand and lofty ideas about how to use the fairly large front balcony space before moving in – and that included a general lounging around area and also children’s play area. But given the general humidity of the island in general, the Front Balcony has turned into our little stretch of green for Ling’s plants, and also for drying items that need direct sunlight (the yard balcony where the laundry normally goes does not experience direct sunlight for the most part).

Multi-function balcony LOL.

Multi-function balcony LOL.

More notes in the next post, soon.:)

Another two months have gone past since I did a post of our kids! Work has kept both of us pretty busy, and activities at home have mostly settled into a tidy routine. Hannah is just as chirpy as ever, and now takes weekly swimming lessons at her school and was ‘promoted’ to the next level at her ballet class with corresponding changes to class timings on the weekend too.

Peter though is still a huge handful, and is showing inclinations to throw tantrums (basically bawling) when he doesn’t get his way. We’ve been starting to discipline him – or actually slightly more so from the daddy than mommy – but it sure is a battle of wills, and he’s still not at the age where he recognizes that he can’t always get his way. Sigh. Ling was wondering if her consumption of coffee during Peter’s pregnancy has anything to do with him being more hyper and emo, compared to his easy-going and affable big sister. When she was carrying Hannah, she went with all the old wife tales and cautions about not consuming certain types of foods, but with Peter, it was no holds barred LOL.

Peter has learned how to handle eating utensils.

Peter has learned how to handle eating utensils.

I've been finding games where the two of them can play together. One such first moments.

I’ve been finding games where the two of them can play together. One such first moments.

Hannah showing how she does her Chinese homework - with one leg up!

Hannah showing how she does her Chinese homework – with one leg up!

Peter making faces. Is that one of horror, or grimace?

Peter making faces. Is that one of horror, or grimace?

There's a small kid's animal zoo near Jalan Kayu that we swung by over the weekend. Hannah is deciding whom among the three gets the last bird seed, while Peter seemed unnerved!

There’s a small kid’s animal zoo near Jalan Kayu that we swung by over the weekend. Hannah is deciding whom among the three gets the last bird seed, while Peter seemed unnerved!

Hannah making new friends.

Hannah making new friends.

On the toys and gadgets on the home-front. Oddly, the Macbook Pro that spectacularly failed early this year resulting in the purchase of two laptops decided to work properly again. Now between us we’ve got five personal laptops. Oh well. Plenty of second hand equipment to foist onto Hannah when she starts schooling and needing to use computers. The Panasonic LX100 has been serving us wonderfully well too, and alongside the Nissin i40 pocket flashgun, has pretty much taken over photographic duties from the full m4/3s cameras. Center sharpness for most images remain an issue, and subject isolation is less attractive than the primes I’ve been shooting with before picking up the LX100, but it sure is a lot more versatile and portable than carrying two camera bodies fitted with primes.

We’ll also be picking up our new ride in a few days’ time. More to come on that soon.:)

Our best bud and family friend was going to be in the region for a tech event, so took the opportunity to visit and stay with us. This is his fifth visit to Singapore (2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2015) after his promise the last time round that he’d be in Singapore for SG50, and his first stay at Minton too. The period of travel while about the same as it would had been for most times of the year, would had been even better if it’d coincided with the children’s/Ling’s March school break, but oh well.

The stay at Minton this time round required a bit more logistics and planning, on account that despite the floor area of our Minton unit being significantly more than Rivervale’s, the bedrooms aren’t bigger. The +1 (study) room that is currently Peter’s room wouldn’t fit the mattress, and even if we could find a thin enough one, the door wouldn’t close. So, Peter retained his room, and we asked Hannah if she could relinquish her room for “Uncle Matt” – to which she happily consented. Not that it mattered very much, since she still waltzes into the room like it’s still her own!.

The arrival at Changi Airport was also smooth (though Matt will relate the story of pandemonium at the neighbouring gate at Houston International which he jokingly quipped that the pilot had called in sick), and touched down in Singapore from Moscow early even, and he settled in easily on early Saturday morning in time for us to bring Hannah for her weekend ballet classes, and Matt’s first roti-pratas for his stay. Hannah was like BFFs with Matt from the get-go, which is probably testament to our girl’s easily all-round affable nature.

Selected pictures from the first four days!

Settling into his room, with his two self-invited roommates!

Settling into his room, with his two self-invited roommates!

Pratas at Prata Raya @ Ang Mo Kio. Curry's pretty good but pratas-wise, we prefer the fare at Prata Wala.

Pratas at Prata Raya @ Ang Mo Kio. Curry’s pretty good but pratas-wise, we prefer the fare at Prata Wala.

Noon-time swim in the Minton pool. Weather was scorching hot - but nothing that a cool swim can't help.

Noon-time swim in the Minton pool. Weather was scorching hot – but perfect for a cooling swim.

Debating over the finer points of cuisine (maybe?) at Dian Xiao Er @ Nex.

Debating over the finer points of cuisine (maybe?) at Dian Xiao Er @ Nex.

Too much food - again - at Ichiban Sushi @ Hougang Mall.

Too much food – again – at Ichiban Sushi @ Hougang Mall.

Cosy fit in our Nissan Latio for our three rear-seat passengers.

Cosy fit in our Nissan Latio for our three rear-seat passengers.

Checking the city views at the top of The Pinnacle @ Duxton yesterday morning.

Checking the city views at the top of The Pinnacle @ Duxton yesterday morning.

And oh yeah. We’re putting together broad plans to reciprocate with a visit to the midwest, maybe around 2016-2017 when Peter’s a little older. And our Ang Mo friend’s first reaction was: “Why…? There’s nothing in St. Louis worth seeing!” LOL.

2015 is one of those lucky years when the Lunar New Year falls just before the weekend, and extending the long holiday weekend for us too, and we got to enjoy a good 4.5 day stretch. Last year‘s family pictures taken over the festive season didn’t look so good on account that Peter was suffering from a bout of mosquitoes bites. We did better this year, since Peter was (slightly) more able to listen to instructions to look good for pictures, though not by too much still!

The Foo clan, 2015. Everybody in our small family was present this year.

The Foo clan, 2015. Everybody in our small family was present this year.

Us!

Us! Don’t mind the plant watering bottle on the top left corner LOL.

Lighting was a bit off for the first picture above – you can see that the right side of the frame looks a bit darker than the rest of the picture. The Metz flashgun wasn’t producing sufficient output. I guess that was because the flash head had not been fully turned to point upwards but at a slight off-angle, and that might have caused the flash gun to misunderstand how much light was required. The first picture had to be post-processed from the RAW file as a result. The flashgun was correctly adjusted for the second picture of the four of us at home, as it was taken an hour later.

One thing’s for sure. My next camera is gonna feature built-in wireless control capability. I’ve had enough mucking around with third party wireless remote-controllers for the old Nikon DSLRs and for the current Olympus E-M5. The wireless remote controller for the latter almost didn’t work on this occasion (I had to furiously jiggle the batteries a little). Otherwise, I would have been forced to use self-timers for the family pictures.

At play at our parents' home.

At play at our parents’ home.

Despite having a runny nose, Hannah is chirpy - as usual.

Despite having a runny nose, Hannah is chirpy – as usual.

The sippy cup is more tasty than water.

The sippy cup is more tasty than water.

Olympus has just released the next iteration of the E-M5, nearly named the Mark II of the model. The new E-M5 II is a little better-specced for the most part, including providing support for a very high-resolution mode, and an improved IBIS (In-body image stabilization) that now offers up to 5 buffer stops for sloppy handholding technique LOL. Unfortunately, the continuous AF support from the more professional but also older E-M1 model did not go over, which makes it a little harder for enthusiasts deciding between the two which to go for. Decisions to make, maybe later this year!

Monsoon has passed since the last week. The weather has been gradually warming up during the day alongside rain becoming an infrequent occurrence. And while nights remained quite cooling, it won’t be long before the island creeps into daily temperature highs of 33°C and beyond. The transition in weather has also made our two kids more vulnerable, and Peter experienced mild-temperatures on and off in the last fortnight, and Hannah is just recovering from a week long bout with skin rashes, possibly an allergic reaction to seafood at a family dinner we had a fortnight ago.

Ling was remarking that Peter doesn’t look like his age at all. At past 19 months now, he still has a baby-ish look about himself and were it not for the fact that he has a healthy pair of legs that let him run around, could be mistaken for an infant that’s just a year old. While he’s unable to say words beyond “jie jie” (“big sister”) and “daddy” and loud Homer Simpon-like “DOHs”, he’s better able to understand simple instructions we give him. Like:

“Peter, put that toy back on the table.”

“Peter, go to your jie jie.”; and of course…

“Peter, get your bu** over here NOW!!!”

He’s also less clingy to Mommy now too, after Daddy made a concerted effort to bond better with him, and will happily follow after me when he’s called to without the accompanying hollers and screaming from a couple months ago.

But then again, he’s also been doing quite a few stunts that’s been making us tear our hair out, including:

Upsetting Ling’s plants, and eating the soil that spill out.

Taking Hannah’s hair-clips and dropping them into the toilet bowl.

Taking an entire toilet roll, and also dropping it into the toilet bowl.

Taking Ling’s NASA stress ball, and biting pieces off it.

Ling was especially furious about the last one, since the stress ball was a beloved memento. We’re of course not to the point where we’ll punish Peter for misbehaving since he’s not fully cognizant of his actions, but it won’t be long now before he gets introduced to ‘time-outs’ for bad behavior.

All this said, Hannah has been a real help. As Ling put it on Facebook:

God gave us a healthy son albeit a very lively one. Sometimes I do fret over the stressful situations his liveliness brings and forget that he is a blessing. Over a peaceful dinner at home just now made me realised this and that God has also blessed us with a wonderful daughter who helped to keep Peter occupied so that the adults could eat ‘in peace’. Let me not forget that and be thankful!

Pictures.:)

Peter has de-stressed by taking out on the stress ball.

Peter has de-stressed by taking out on the stress ball.

Helping us keep an eye on Peter. After weekend brunch at Coffee Bean @ Greenwich Village.

Helping us keep an eye on Peter. After weekend brunch at Coffee Bean @ Greenwich Village.

Driving home at weekday's end. We love watching kids sleep; so peaceful and in their own world.

Driving home at weekday’s end. We love watching kids sleep; so peaceful and in their own world.

She doodles at least 2 pictures each 20 minute session on the SP3.

She doodles at least 2 pictures each 20 minute session on the SP3.

Hannah @ 5 years 8 months old, but looking older.:)

Hannah @ 5 years 8 months old, but looking older.:)

Looking cute now - but not so cute at home!

Looking cute now – but not so cute at home!

 

My follow-up post to the SP3 and XPS13 after having put both through two and one weeks of respective use.

My initial intentions for both devices were to leave the SP3 at home and for the XPS13 to be the workhorse replacement to replace the now kaput-ed Macbook Pro. Funnily, both devices are now getting trafficked to work everyday in my haversack. The XPS13 is the heavy duty work machine, even if the keyboard and touchpad isn’t as nice to use or that the overall unit isn’t as lighting quick  compared to the MBP – but the SP3 is just so much fun to use. I’ve always enjoyed scribbling on the Samsung Note 3, and the SP3 takes it to a whole new level with a more natural-sized pen and larger canvas to work with. It’s also become a diagramming tool I use for teaching, and also to take copious notes during meetings.

And Hannah loves drawing on the SP3. Quite a welcomed change for us parents, because she’d normally just draw them on pieces of art paper and leave them lying around the house!

Hannah's creation on Microsoft's Fresh Paint app!

Hannah’s creation on Microsoft’s Fresh Paint app!

Battery-life wise on the XPS13 – it’s nowhere near Dell’s initial claim of 12 hours at January 2015’s CES, not at least if you intend to do use the XPS13 for anything apart from just keeping a static screen on with minimal brightness. Using the XPS13 to do a slightly-over two hour class that used Powerpoint that also included several high-resolution videos, set on near maximum brightness with Wifi + Bluetooh on, the XPS13 showed about 65% battery life remaining. Plenty enough more to run for quite a bit longer. In such usage, I’ll put the XPS13’s battery life to about 5.5-6 hours. The SP3 seems to run for about the same length of time too.

Mobility-wise; both devices are in the same ballpark weight though I feel less nervous carrying the SP3. The latter’s type-covers provides a nice friction grip when it’s hand-carried or cradled underneath my arm, while the XPS13’s aluminum body is so smooth that I fear it falling off my hands. The SP3’s exterior is also very cool and pleasant to the touch – pretty much like the Macbook’s unibody exterior.

The mini-Display port sits on different sides of both machines too. It’s the right side for the SP3, and left for the XPS13. This is a very individual thing, but all my secondary displays at work and home are always on the right-side of the principal machine. So, in my case, the SP3’s mini-Display port is a more natural orientation to the secondary display than the XPS13 – which requires the display cable to run behind the machine’s width, and hence a little messier.

The near bezel-ess display on the XPS13 is just lovely, and you’ll be continuing to marvel at the engineering feat to make it possible. That said (and apart from the light-leakage there), it also requires a bit more effort to swipe on the right-side to bring up Windows Charms. The screen also presents significantly more reflective glare than the MBP – and it doesn’t help that the maximum brightness isn’t that high to begin with. The SP3’s display is less striking, and the screen’s thicker bezel makes it look unappealing. The very slightly odd tint on the screen there too has been improved somewhat after reading a post on Surface Forums.net on how to correct that color idiosyncrasy. The screen still doesn’t produce whites as pure as that of the MBP or XPS13, but it’s an improvement now.

Both the typecover and the XPS13’s keyboard are backilt – particularly useful in the SP3’s case, since the unit is used a lot in dim bedroom light.

I have mixed feelings about the XPS13’s weaved-patterned palm rest. It’s scratch-resistant and looks premium, but I prefer the metallic-alloy feel off the MBPs, or the rougher-textured rests off the SP3. Minor thing though. As for the keyboards on both; the SP3 provides a more tactile if noisier experience, while the XPS13 is very quiet but also mushy. Given a choice, I prefer the former.

The XPS13's palmrest.

The XPS13’s palmrest.

SP3's.

SP3’s.

That’s it for the week-usage notes. More to come – maybe!

 

Incredibly; more than 3 months have whizzed past since I last did a photo post on our two kids!

Hannah has been growing both in understanding the world around her and also in her sense of independence and decision-making. We’ve successfully taught her to shower on her own now since last month/year, though she still needs the occasional help bringing down the showerhead from its holder, or hanging up her wet towel in the yard. She also can easily find things on her own to entertain herself with, and – nicely too and something we observed from young about her – isn’t obsessed with TV or electronic gadgets. She’ll, very occasionally, ask if she can watch TV for instance (her current favorite are Tom & Jerry cartoons, no doubt a consequence of having watched tons of it over Cartoon Network while in Koh Phangan) or play her Mickey Mouse Clubhouse games on the iPad, but doesn’t mind if she can’t.

Peter on the other is quickly turning into more than four handfuls. At his age of 19 months now, we’ve concluded that the amount of care and labor that goes into managing him has long surpassed what Hannah required at the same age and even younger. Peter is a fussy eater (vomits food that he doesn’t like), doesn’t easily go to bed for naps or overnight, and gets into baby tantrums at the slightest unhappiness. Ling in fact quipped yesterday that the effort to take care Peter is easily twice that of Hanny. The difference between baby girls and baby boys – until this point we’d never realized how true such differences can be.

Kids @ Mcdonald's at the newly opened Paya Lebar Square. Nothing much in this mall (the neighboring One KM mall is much more exciting).

Kids @ Mcdonald’s at the newly opened Paya Lebar Square. Nothing much in this mall (the neighboring One KM mall is much more exciting).

Very inquisitive. Anything within his arm radius is likely to go missing.

Very inquisitive. Anything within his arm radius is likely to go missing.

Kids at home on weekends. The two of them play a lot together, though Peter often seems contend to follow his sister's lead.

Kids at home on weekends. The two of them play a lot together, though Peter often seems contend to follow his sister’s lead.

Hannah loves to look good and dress up whenever we head out - even if it's just for casual breakfast at a coffee shop!

Hannah loves to look good and dress up whenever we head out – even if it’s just for casual breakfast at a coffee shop!

Playing catch at the lift lobby - we were just about to head out for Hannah's weekend ballet classes.

Playing catch at the lift lobby – we were just about to head out for Hannah’s weekend ballet classes.

Hannah is already a little tall for her age. Almost too heavy for us to carry now too.

Hannah is already a little tall for her age. Almost too heavy for us to carry now too.

 

The Dell XPS 13 (2015) finally arrived yesterday afternoon – 2 days after the initial projected delivery date. I’m not absolutely certain of the reason for the delay in assembly, but from what I’m reading on online forums about others around the world who’ve also been waiting for their units that deliveries of the new XPS for many would only be starting from next week onwards. Not pleasing at all, though to Dell’s credit they expedited the delivery of the new notebook from Shanghai (?) to Malaysia and then finally to Singapore, even if it took three emails and phone-calls to get that.

From the get-go, it’s obvious that Dell has pull out all stops to present the new XPS 13 as a premium, luxury product. The cardboard delivery box was oversized but in-it was compacted foam to cushion a much smaller XPS box. The box is just slightly larger than the notebook, with the power adapter and cord packed separately in the delivery box.

After 2 days and loading up a whole bunch of stuff onto the XPS and doing some light productivity work on it – my notes on the Dell XPS13-9343. I went with the upper tier option of the i7-5500U, 8 GB RAM and Samsung 256 GB M1 SSD, and QHD+ infinity touch-screen.

The exterior aluminum chassis is great and tough-enough, though if you depress it hard, it’ll still exhibit just the slightest flex. In other words, not as rigid as the Macbook Pros. Interestingly, the aluminum cover on my Asus UX31E is even tougher still compared to the MBP.

The entire unit is lovey, and you’ll feel you’ve purchased a high quality product – despite its relatively modest asking prices for the base configurations (the upper tier configuration e.g. what I got is very slightly less so). Size-wise; the Dell XPS 13 has a slightly larger footprint-wise than the Surface Pro 3, and when the latter has the typecover on, the thicknesses are about the same. Weight-wise, the XPS is heavier but still easily light-enough to be carried around without feeling its weight.

The accompanying power adapter and cord is about the same size as the SP3’s – i.e. tiny! Slightly heavier than the SP3’s but nothing like the usual large power bricks and adapters in other notebooks. I’ll probably be picking up a second adapter for use in the office.

The screen seems brighter than my SP3 and with truer whites – the SP3 in contrast displays an odd very slightly yellowish tint outside the highest brightness levels. Unfortunately, my unit also showed visible light leakage along the left and right sides of the screen. Not sure if I should kick up a fuss about it – it’s visible enough under normal use if I consciously look for it. No issues at all on the Dell XPS 13’s viewing angles, and I think this screen’s on-par quality wise with my MBP Retina.

The carbon fiber layer on the keyboard rest feels svelte, but I would have preferred it to be made of the same alloy as the rest of the chassis.

The Dell XPS 13’s touchpad is large and works well-enough, though it’s still not as velvety smooth nor responsive as the MBP’s. I read that Microsoft is trying hard to rein in the widely varying trackpad implementations from notebook manufacturers, and Dell has been working with them on the XPS 13’s – but from the latter, there is still a long way to go.

The keyboard is… adequate. The key travel is good and provides sufficient feedback, but the the keys themselves also present slightly more resistance than what I like. The Macbooks still set the gold standard when it comes to great keyboards, and funnily, despite the SP3’s noisy clackety type cover, my typing speed is quicker on it than on this Dell. Oh well – something to get used to.

Under normal use (e.g. office productivity, browsing), the XPS 13 stays silent and the fan doesn’t kick in, and even if it does, it’s not audible. But downloading updates and running intensive 3D content on it, it will, with the notebook bottom heating up quite a bit.

The widely-reported 10+ hour of spectacular battery life seems obtainable only if you’re just letting it sit pretty, browsing and not doing serious work on it. I haven’t given it the full battery run-down, but I suspect it’ll still run for a minimal of 5 hours or more of actual productive work before cashing out.

Battery charging using the supplied AC adapter seems brisk. Not scientific, but it took less than 2 hours to get from 10% battery remaining to about 90%.

The right USB 3.0 port sits a little too close to the SD Card slot. Not a biggie, but it means if you’ve got a USB device hooked up to that side, extracting a SD Card out from that slot will require a bit of finger-jiggling.

On the overall, I’m pretty happy with it – barring the light-leak annoyances (gonna think about this), and that the keyboard/touchpad combo on Macbook Pros are still ahead of this new Dell. More notes might come after I’ve given it more use!

 

Unboxing the Dell XPS.

The Dell XPS 13 (2015).

The Dell XPS 13 (2015).

The power adapter and cord. Small!

The power adapter and cord. Small!

Footprint-wise, the Dell XPS is just very slightly wider than the SP3

Footprint-wise, the Dell XPS is just very slightly wider than the SP3

Measuring the thickness of the two notebooks.

Measuring the thickness of the two notebooks.

Glowing light just below the lid shows that that the AC is charging the battery.

Glowing light just below the lid shows that that the AC is charging the battery.

The near bezeless display of the XPS 13 makes the SP3 look fat!

The near bezeless display of the XPS 13 makes the SP3 look fat!

It seems that my new Dell XPS 13 (2015) will take longer to get delivered now. Several days ago, the online status of the unit inexplicably changed backwards from “Work in Progress” to “Order Received” – the latter state of which is what you get right after you place an order. A call to Dell’s customer care and after being routed through different persons a little revealed that parts shortage was holding up the processing of the Dell XPS, and the customer service offer explained quite bluntly that the delivery of the order might get delayed.

This is the fourth Dell I’ve ordered and the first time an order has got delayed. Even less pleasing was that the officer did not seem to care that delays like these are inconveniencing the customer. The order status reverted back to “Work in Progress” shortly after the call, but I’m not confident if the notebook now is gonna get here in the next 2 days now.

Back to "Work in progress".

Back to “Work in Progress”.

Still, the SP3 has settled nicely into my bring-everywhere Windows 8.1 device. I was initially worried that the soft svelte type cover would pick up all kinds of dust, hair and skin pieces and what not. And it still just might, given the texture of the cover, but dang – the material does feel beautiful to touch.

I picked up the Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Bluetooth mouse alongside the SP3 too. The mouse I normally use (and for years now) is the very affordable Microsoft Mobile Mouse 1000 which connects using a tiny USB dongle, but I could ill afford using the SP3’s one USB port for the mouse. The Sculpt Comfort is quite a bit larger and heavier than the Mobile Mouse, but its buttons and ridged scroll wheel are even nicer and quieter.

The Sculpt Comfort. A little larger and heavier than the mouse I'm used to.

The Sculpt Comfort. A little larger and heavier than the mouse I’m used to.

I needed more than just one USB port too, given the number of devices that get connected to my work notebooks. The SP3 also has its own dedicated docking station that’s sold by Microsoft for a hefty S$288. The station is well-reviewed online and seems worth the expense if the SP3’s your primary workhorse computer at work. But it’s just not in my case, since the SP3 is gonna be used mostly at home once the XPS 13 finally arrives at some point. So, over the weekend, I scouted around intently for a universal docking station that would have:

At least four USB ports, at least two of which would be USB 3.0;

A Gigabit Ethernet port;

Not burn the bank if I bought it.

There are lots of USB 3.0 hubs feature four ports out there, but many of them draw power only from the connecting USB port, and simply don’t offer enough juice to drive older devices, multiple connected devices, or devices with heavier power draws (e.g. optical drives). That basically meant that the USB hub or docking station would need to be independently powered by AC. A check online of models carried by the Sim Lim Square shops revealed that very few sell universal docking stations, apart from the Toshiba Dynadock v3.0 that was cheap enough but didn’t have the Ethernet port.

Expanding the search online turned up a lot of models (which again begs the question: why aren’t these devices available in Singapore?!), of which the Plugable UD-3000 Universal Docking Station seemed to meet my needs, though it didn’t include a built-in SD Card slot – which would had been really helpful. Amazon UK was offering the version of the Station that would be immediately compatible with our local power sockets, but it also cost a lot more than the Amazon US version, and not mentioning the fact that I would have had to go through a parcel forwarder to get it here.

So, the US version of the Station it was, ordered through Amazon – and hopefully to arrive in a fortnight’s time. A review of the device to come then.:)