I’ve owned and used almost every one of the Samsung Galaxy Note phablets, with the exception of the Note 4 that was released to retail last year in October. The Note 3 was picked up when I renewed my telco subscription plan in December 2013 – so when it was time to renew again 1 year 9 months i.e. this very week – it made no sense to pick up the Note 4 when the Note 5 had also just hit retail.

Interestingly, the Note 5 is less of an evolutionary step from Note 4 than between the latter and Note 3. Gone are the removable batteries and the microSD expansion slot, and what’s taken its place is premium build, though not without its issues. I was frankly – loathe – to trade-in the Note 3, so asked Ling if she’d like to inherit the Note 3. The Xperia Z2 I bought her in March this year is a nifty premium-built phone that we got at a decent bargain, but the additional screen space offered by the Note series is just that useful, not to mention the Super Amoled screen. So, it was goodbye to the Xperia Z2.

And so – my first notes on the Note 5 after several days of use, and especially in comparison against the Note 3.

Stunningly exquisite build. The earlier generations of Notes had been criticized for build qualities and material use that weren’t commensurate with their routinely high asking prices. There were improvements in the Note 3 onwards – aesthetically anyway if not the materials itself – especially in the faux leather shell, but the Note 5 is the first phone in the Note series to feature the new Samsung design language: glass, metal, and density. This is one phone where the photos don’t do it enough justice. Picking up and holding the phone will make you feel as though this is a phone that’s worth its asking price.

Fingerprint unlock. The scanner in the note 5 in my opinion works just as well as the iPad Air 2’s. I noticed that the scanner takes a lot of prints in the initial setup – at least a dozen – and even encourages you to register your fingerprint in different ways.

Near bezel-less display, making the phone very slightly smaller than the Note 3.

Jotting with the stylus is quicker, especially since the phone doesn’t need to be unlocked.

On the other hand:

The thing feels like a bar of soap! A case is a definite must for this, unless you don’t mind risking the Note 5 slipping out of your hand and hitting a possibly concrete floor. The Note 3 had no such issues, since the faux leather shell provided a good tactile grip against the phone slipping out of your hand.

The glass back, stunning as it looks, is a terrible fingerprint magnet. So, unless you don’t mind frequently fishing out a hankie to wipe those printers off, or wiping it against your pants/skirt/shirt, the glass back is likely gonna be covered by a case – which basically defeats the purpose of having that stunning glass back to begin with.

Slightly curved glass screen edges, making it hard to find tempered glass screen protectors that will fit the screen exactly without bubbles inadvertently seeping onto the edges at some point.

Near bezel-less display takes some getting use to, especially when palm rejection isn’t matching it. In the first day of use and while holding the phone, my palm kept accidentally triggering icons placed on the left side of the screen.

Retrieving the stylus is a slower two-step process now, since you need to first eject the stylus off its spring-loaded mechanism, then use your fingernail to pry it out.

No microSD card slot and non-removable battery. The loss of the microSD card doesn’t bother me since I don’t use phones as media consumption devices nor mobile gaming machines. But the non-removable battery has a real impact, and it came out of a design decision I assume was necessary to get the sleek glass/metal body on the new Note. I was able to buy a new Note 3 battery since the old battery had experienced some visible wear and tear (the battery has slightly bloated from thermal expansion I think), and the phone longevity is now as it was 2 years ago. No such possibility with the Note 5 when it goes through the same usage demands in the years to come.


Note 5 (left) and 3.

Note 5 (left) and 3.

The Note 5 is just capable of a tad higher level of brightness (as far as my eyes could tell).

The Note 5 is just capable of a tad higher level of brightness (as far as my eyes could tell).

Very different backs. One is premium-looking but a real fingerprint magnet!

Very different backs. One is premium-looking but a real fingerprint magnet!

Taking a look at their data/charging ports.

Taking a look at their data/charging ports.

The wife was musing that she never gets her own new laptop at home. Oh, her workplace provides her a Fujitsu laptop, but it’s a pretty clunky machine that she doesn’t seem to like bringing to and fro work and home. All the home notebooks she’s used – the Dell XPS 16 (fabulous machine with a beautiful display) and the Macbook Pro Retina – had been hand-me downs. Powerful machines yes, with the latter still the most high-spec laptop I’ve (ever) owned. In any case – probably also in part that it’s a month to her birthday – I went about with the usual vigor to find her one such.

And of requirements: the wife only said she didn’t need it to be mobile. I was already eyeing a beautiful Asus Zenbook UX305, solid unibody construction with a bright and good-contrast matte screen, fitted with a 128GB SSD – and all for just $999… and that option was thrown out of the window.

Her workplace also had a small grant claimable by staff to support them in the purchase of such technological equipment. Since her new notebook was going to mostly sit at home, the other requirements I had in mind were:

14″ to 15.6″ screen. Has to be full HD – none of that 1366×768 resolutions

At least 8 GB of RAM

Preferably non-reflective glossy screen, but even if it’s matte, it needs to offer wide viewing angles

Preferably an SSD drive

At least an i5 processor

Not too cheap looking

Good warranty terms

All for under $1.4K

Of the bunch of requirements, the hardest requirement to meet was really the screen and also the SSD option. Very few notebooks at this price range will offer a large full HD screen with wide viewing angles and an SSD drive to go alongside that. I did think about going for a custom-assembled Aftershock notebook that could had been configured within that budget, but that came sans operating system and would require an additional purchase – an expense I was trying to avoid.

I finally got lucky over the weekend evening when after dinner at Parkway Parade, I chanced across the HP Pavilion 15 at the Best Denki, and of the following specification:

Got it for a lot cheaper than the Recommended Retail Price on the August 2015 HP Retail Guide.

Got it for a lot cheaper than the Recommended Retail Price on the August 2015 HP Retail Guide.

i7 processor – nice. Upgradeable to Windows 10 – check. 8 GB RAM – check. Dedicated if yesteryear generation GPU – don’t need it. 15.6″ screen – check. FHD matte screen with wide viewing angle – all check. And 3 years warranty – nice! I would have likely shortlisted this model for further consideration – but the notebook also was tagged a promotional price of $1099. That sealed the decision pretty much.

After spending a day loading up the usual office productivity software and other applications that Ling typically uses, and forced-upgraded it to Windows 10, what I liked of the new HP Pavilion 15 p257TX:

Full HD screen with a decent viewing angle, and good brightness levels to match. The color gamut isn’t quite as wide as the XPS 16 nor the Retina, but it’s still pretty good for a matte screen.

Comfortably spaced chiclet styled keyboard with a nice tactile and springy touch to its keys.

Properly placed USB ports: the right USB 2.0 port for the mouse, and two USB 3.0 ports on the left.

Large trackpad.

At 2.2 Kg weight, not that heavy for a 15.6″ laptop.

Attractive-looking design. Not a fingerprint magnet.

Dirt cheap for what it’s offering.

And as for the stuff that’s less stellar:

The 1TB 5400 rpm hard disk is slow. Or maybe it’s just that this is my first notebook in 4 years that’s running off a HDD.

Hard disk activity lights situated on the right-hand side and away from immediate view.

Keyboard lid exhibits some flex.

Thick bezel around the screen.

Not a backlit keyboard.

Lots of the usual bloatware, but thankfully – I was able to install all of those I didn’t care for.

Apart from the slow hard disk, pretty minor annoyances, made even more trivial when one considers the low asking price.

The HP Pavilion 15 p257TX.

The HP Pavilion 15 p257TX.

Slightly off-centered keyboard to make way for the numeric keypad.

Slightly off-centered keyboard to make way for the numeric keypad.

Spacious trackpad, though still not with the same tactile feel of a Macbook.

Spacious trackpad, though still not with the same tactile feel of a Macbook.

Two USB ports on the left, alongside a LAN and HDMI port, and air exhaust vents.

Two USB ports on the left, alongside a LAN and HDMI port, and air exhaust vents.

Another USB port, and the optical drive.

Another USB port, and the optical drive.

Attractive if somewhat plasticky chassis.

Attractive if somewhat plasticky chassis.

The Dell XPS 13 is diminutive - while the HP Pavilion 15 is... normal size!

The Dell XPS 13 is diminutive – while the HP Pavilion 15 is… normal size!

More notes to come after extended use!

We’ve been using at home the very office-capable Fuji Xerox M255z printer for more than a year now, and the unit has posed no issues. Of late though, I was tempted to get a personal laser printer to situate at my office. So, the list of possible candidates from Canon, Brother and Fuji got included in a spreadsheet and I started checking out the models in person at the usual electronic and computer accessory shops whenever we were out of home for dinner and outings and the like.

The search for an office laser printer however got a 180 degree change at the start of the week – and largely because we wanted photo printouts of our recent trip to Legoland Malaysia but kept procrastinating in getting them done at the usual photo printer shops, and I figured that that having a second laser printer would be convenient, but would not fundamentally add anything new to what I do at home and in the office. Hannah loves to look at pictures and photos, and I thought why not get something for the home that would enable us to print photos on demand.

I was initially looking at portable photo printers, and learned quickly that there wasn’t a lot of choices there. There was the Canon Selphy C910 that had an attractive price-point for the unit, convenient in usage and using reasonably-priced consumables – but offered only average quality photo prints, and also printed at slightly smaller than 4R sizes. There was also the Epson Picturemate PM245 that was widely appraised to offer better photo prints at the right 4R size, but also slightly more expensive, and harder to find, and let alone the consumables.

So, it was to be typical size inkjet photo printer, and preferably with duplex printing and scanning features. There’s a very large range of photo printers on sale from the major manufacturers which made arriving at the final decision tough. Duplex printing/scanning features weren’t the only considerations though, but also the availability of consumables, same manufacturer photo paper, and also ongoing costs. After a couple of days of exploration, the choices came down to:

Canon Pixma MX727: decently-priced at $259 with a $50 cashback, this printer is fairly short but has a large footprint, and supported duplex printing/scanning. Requires a number of ink cartridges that were fairly expensive. Interesting, one salesperson said that the MX727 is an old model and going to be phased out. Canon consumables are widely available though.

Canon Maxify MB5370: quite a bit more expensive at $459 with a $70 cashback but featuring real office-type functionality, including single pass duplex scanning. Fairly tall unit, using fewer ink cartridges of a different type than the Pixma series that seemed cheaper and also slightly more ink capacity too.

Brother MFC-J2720: average-priced at $368, pretty compact, duplex everywhere, average-priced ink cartridges that were available at stores, capable of printing A3 even. This was initially on the top of my list and I nearly decided on it – but stopped short when I couldn’t readily find manufacturer photo paper for it. Gaah.

Epson L550: average-priced at $359, and after nearly an hour of indecision, that’s what we settled on.

The Epson L550!

The Epson L550!

Why the L550 though? First comments after two evenings of setup and use to print 50+ photos on premium photo paper, and starting off with its limitations and what we didn’t like:

No duplex printing or scanning.

Primitive and ancient-looking 1980s monochrome LCD screen.

Somewhat old model from two years ago.

Does not support borderless printing, or rather, I haven’t found the setting for it. Ling doesn’t mind though and in fact prefers the prints with white borders.

Very slow printer setup. The ink took 20 minutes to initialize, and if that wasn’t bad enough, the excruciatingly slow software installation took another 30 minutes. Or maybe the installation got stuck somewhere without my realization.

Noisy. The L550 printing was like monkeys hammering away on conga drums. Laser printers aren’t noiseless of course, but I guess we’ve been spoiled by the M255z’s relatively silent operation.

And on the other hand:

Stunningly beautiful photo prints, especially at the highest quality settings and using Epson’s best photo paper. Ling took one look at our first A4 photo printouts of Hannah and Peter, and said “Worth every cent!”

Three of our first A4 photo printers. Beautifully rendered colors that look very professionally printed,

Three of our first A4-sized photos. Beautifully rendered colors that look professionally printed.

Very cheap ink. Epson has come up with a clever ink tank system that not only requires just 3 colors (apart from Black), but is refillable at extremely low cost. The printer came bundled with a complete set of fully-filled inks each costing about S$10 for about 70ml volume, and two additional black bottles even – and between them are rated to churn between 4,000-6,000 color pages. That’s cheap ink and able to print a crazy amount of material. In fact, I seriously doubt that we’d ever need to buy ink anymore – the printer will probably die out first LOL.

Cyan ink cartridge. $9.90 and 70ml volume. Cheap!

Cyan ink cartridge. $9.90 and 70ml volume. Cheap!

Recommend that you peel off the protective sticker in a single (slow) motion, unless you want ink on your fingers!

Recommend that you peel off the protective seal in a single (slow) motion, unless you want ink on your fingers!

Affordable manufacturer 4R photo papers. A stack of 30 Premium Semigloss (251g/m²) costs $7.30 and is available at most places – which works out to a competitive price of about 24 cents per print. The A4 photo papers are a little harder to find, so I’ll have to snap them up when I do find them!

A couple of niggling albeit minor issues too that I’ve developed workarounds.

Photoshop Elements/printer driver doesn’t properly switch between landscape and portrait picture orientations. A batch print job comprising a mix of both resulted in printing errors. The temporary workaround was to reset print area whenever switching between orientations.

Out of the 50+ prints I churned out, one print job canceled on its own, ejected the half-printed photo, then re-did the print one more time. Weird.

All, in – this looks like a great purchase, and Hannah is already getting her favorite pictures printed for her own personal 4R photo album that she can bring around to show off.:)

Edit 5 Aug: Good read here about Epson’s EcoTank printers.

The battery cover door of my 2 year old Metz 50AF-1 flashgun broke over the Chinese New Year period – *groan*. The flashgun still otherwise works fine, though it still has that odd quirk about having to dial in a +0.7 to +1.0 EV flash output for me to get the appropriate amount of bounced lighting, but a broken battery door meant a struggle to close the battery compartment each time I had to recharge the batteries. Also, the flashgun was an extremely tight fit into the new LX100’s metallic hotshoe, and in-fact became stuck. I practically had to forcibly pry the flash loose from the hotshoe. Double bummer.

So, looking around for a replacement flashgun that would work for my existing m4/3 bodies and also the LX100, I found a ‘lil flash that looked like it’d meet my lighting needs, and then some too. Below is the Nissin i40, a third party flash unit for m4/3s and also compatible with the LX100. The i40 is sold cheaper here in Singapore than through online stores like Amazon – shocker indeed when the converse is usually more true. The pictures might not convey the real idea of how tiny is this flashgun – but it is. The flash body itself is barely just larger than the battery compartment holding 4 AA batteries!

Unlike the Metz 50AF-1, the i40 is a bit more barebones information screen-wise, featuring two command dials on the rear-panel. On the other hand, unlike the 50AF-1, the i40’s flash head can be reversed to point backwards, and also supports LED video light.

Oh really

Value for money. The package comes with everything: a metallic stand, soft-case, and even a Stofen-styled snap on diffuser. The bounce card and diffuser is built into the flash head.

Oh really

This is how small it is – compared to the Metz 50AF-1 it’s replacing.

Oh really

The Metz was already a little too physically large when sitting on-top of the E-M5, and much more so when mounted on the LX100. The Nissin i40 here is a relatively more balanced fit for the LX100.

Some of our children’s pictures using the Nissin i40. No output compensation required – hooray! All taken with the LX100 + i40.

Hannah on her evening drawing activities. Ikea warm-lights were just above her.

Hannah on her evening drawing activities. Ikea warm-lights were just above her.

Late afternoon shot on our balcony, with the flash gun's output pointing upwards and the bounce card engaged too.

Late afternoon shot on our balcony, with the flash gun’s output pointing upwards and the bounce card engaged too.

Peter's bedtime. Low ceiling, flash gun output upwards - and still correctly exposed!

Peter’s bedtime. Low ceiling, flash gun output upwards – and still correctly exposed!

In all, I’m very happy with this new purchase, and the flash pictures remind me of the kind of exposures I was getting off the old Nikon DSLRs with SB600 flash guns. The only oddity at this point is that the i40 seems a bit finicky with some of the rechargeable batteries I’ve got, and refusing to prime/ready the flash gun for firing unless the set of batteries is fully charged. Something to continue keeping an eye on for sure.

Continuing from my earlier post of what’s working well on the LX100!

The first LX100 that I picked up from the shop tested fine there. But barely 20 minutes later when I’d left the shop and was on my way home, the camera suffered a catastrophic sensor failure – similar to what at last one other Amazon owner had also reported. The shop changed the set immediately without question, thankfully – but that the first unit had failed so quickly left me feeling a little worried if the second one is going to suffer the same fault soon.

Sensor failure. This is what's seen on the viewfinder, and stored when the shutter is released.

Sensor failure. This is what’s seen on the viewfinder, and stored when the shutter is released.

The images the LX100 produces so far are good relative to small sensor compact cameras, but it’s also not near what the E-PL6 and E-M5 can produce, let alone cameras with even larger sensors than that. Not really a negative as I knew what the LX100’s limits are, but still.

Non-articulating and non-touch screen. These two were my biggest limitations of the LX100. I’ll have to count on some other camera for Daddy-Hannah selfie shots, and I’ve been spoiled by touchscreen AF too. I never figured I’d be a fan of touchscreen AF, but it’s incredibly useful on small and light cameras like my E-PL6. Heck – I use touchscreen AF on that more than I use spot or multi-point AF.

Start-up and shutting down is, ugh, s l o w. And the lens barrel protrudes an additional 4cm out as soon as it turns on. Zooming in to the uppermost focal length will extend the barrel by a few more cm.

Customization menus are comprehensive and deep but also perplexing! It’s somewhat better organized and visually more pleasing than Olympus’, but on a couple of occasions, I was scratching my head wondering why options I wanted were disabled. For instance; I was flummoxed why the panorama mode had been greyed out in one of the nested options, and the user manual was no help, nor the built-in help. It was only through checking online with other users who faced the same difficulty did I realize that the camera had been set to RAW, and had to be switched back to JPG before the panorama option would be enabled. Duh.

Alright; couple of pictures.

Hannah is hooked onto Tom & Jerry cartoons while Peter entertains himself.

Hannah is hooked onto Tom & Jerry cartoons while Peter entertains himself.

Peter making faces!

Peter making faces!

Waiting for her morning school bus at 0700 hrs. The bus-stop was actually quite dimly lit, but sufficient facial detail was retrieve through Adobe Camera Raw.

Waiting for her morning school bus at 0655 hrs. The bus-stop was actually quite dimly lit, but sufficient facial detail was retrieved through Adobe Camera Raw.

The Minton at late night. The blog photo here is too small to tell image details, but the shot was dialed at ISO400 and handheld at 1/5s - but the image is still sharp. Incredible optical stabilization at work.

The Minton at late night. The blog photo here is too small to tell image details, but the shot was dialed at ISO400 and handheld at 1/5s – but the image is still sharp. Incredible optical stabilization at work. I did another shot at ISO200 at 1/2s handheld – and it turned out just as great!

A polycarbonate screen is also on the way to protect the LX100’s rear monitor, alongside a cheapo third party lens cap – just so that the original one supplied with the camera can go right back into the box for safekeeping! :)

Almost five months ago I did a post on large-sensor compact cameras. And after a fairly long back-and-forth period of indecision since that point, I finally decided yesterday and picked up the LX100. The contenders alongside the LX100 were the Sony RX100 and Canon G7 X. Briefly:

The RX100 was priced about similarly to the LX100, while the Canon G7 X was much cheaper.

Interestingly, the G7 X scores higher than the LX100 on DXOMark. Not that I read too much into their sensor values though, but still.

Despite all the heaps of criticism laid on the Olympus m4/3 cameras’ menus, I like the large degree of customization possible on those cameras, and wanted the same for whichever camera I decided on. And between the three, the LX100 scores very high here.

It was a toss-up between how compact the camera I would tolerate. I did want it to be pocketable, but not at the expense of it being too small to handle.

Of the bunch of requirements, the LX100 won out in the end though it was really a very marginal win, and I had to give up a couple of features that the LX100 didn’t have by design. I did get a pretty good bargain for the camera though at our local camera stores at USD751 while Amazon is selling it at USD757 – and that’s not counting the large number of freebies that came with it that only further sweetened the deal. I had a friend which picked up the Leica equivalent of the camera – the Leica D-LUX (Typ 109) – but that cost a lot more at USD1,130, and I wasn’t gonna pay that much more for a branded version of it.

The LX100 next to the similarly-sized E-PL6.

The LX100 next to the similarly-sized E-PL6.

The sexy-looking LX100.

Rear view of the LX100.

Rear view of the LX100.

So, about a day after playing around with it; my initial reactions.

The camera feels assuredly dense and well-built. There’s a lot of mass built into the body though and I count it slightly on the heavy side too at 393g. The front and back rubber grips help in guiding your hand to hold it steady, but I’ll still be getting a strap for it soon.

The Exposure Compensation Dial is satisfying click-y when rotated, and pretty useful when the default Multiple Metering has difficulties handling complex lighting situations. On the other hand, the dial is also positioned at the extreme right corner of the top plate, and is at risk getting snagged when I fish it out of the camera bag. Thankfully there’s some resistance on the dial itself, so it won’t turn as perilously easy as the mode dial on the E-PL6. Lost count of the number of times when the E-PL6’s Mode Dial got accidentally rotated from ‘A’ (Aperture-priority) to ‘S’ (Shuttle-priority) without my noticing until I wondered why my first picture taken was all under-exposed LOL.

The EVF is decent, and though not as bright as the E-M5’s, the image view when peering through it looks as big. This is one of the key features over its competitors that swayed me away from the G7 X and RX100. Unfortunately, possibly because of the size of the viewfinder window itself, how thick its rubber-cap is or heck maybe even because I wear glasses, the image does not fully fit within my eye perspective. Which leads to an odd sort of situation where I actually have to pan my eyeball around to get the whole super-imposed image in view.

The battery length’s about average at about 330 according to CIPA tests – but importantly, the package came with an extra battery (alongside a couple of 16GB Class 10 SDCards and a dedicated leather case). The battery normally costs around SGD55, and that the package supplied an extra one was a much appreciated complement!

AF is quick, and from the limited range of shots I’ve taken with the LX100 so far, it’s also been pretty spot-on.

The camera supports 4K resolution, though I don’t see myself recording home videos of our two kids at that setting. The Full HD setting on the other hand is at least producing nicely crisp video, though continuous AF still can’t match that of a dedicated camcorder.

Turning off the AF confirmation beep and also shutter sound, the camera is almost inaudible, only emitting a very quiet and soft ‘click’ (shutter curtain I assume) when the shutter is released. Totally discrete shooting!

Next post on the things that aren’t so great about the LX100.


The Plugable UD3000 arrived from Amazon export sales late last week, just a shade under a fortnight after placement of order. I couldn’t find a local reseller for this (for the most part) well-reviewed USB 3.0 docking station, and the alternatives here weren’t as well-speced nor priced as affordable as this Amazon one, so an overseas order was the only option. Interestingly, the device is sold directly from the manufacturer itself off the Amazon web site, the latter of which I assume took charge of the delivery logistics for it – and just when the item shipped, I’d already received an email from the manufacturer thanking me for the purchase, where to get the most recent drivers for it, and also hinting that they would appreciate feedback of their products.

Briefly again; the specs for this device are:

Two front USB 3.0 ports

Four rear USB 2.0 ports

Front Audio jacks for microphone and headphones

Rear DVI port

Rear Gigabit Ethernet port

The most important thing for me of course is that the device runs off its own AC power and doesn’t rely on the USB 3.0 port off the notebook to drive it. I’ve had enough of those tiny USB 3.0 hubs that claim to be self-sufficient but just aren’t when they are ultimately relying off the notebook’s port. And so, after a couple of days of putting the docking station through its paces:

The device has a bottom sticker that states Made in China.

The device is fairly light, with the exterior case seemingly made of glossy plastic. It’s not flimsy and doesn’t show flex, but it doesn’t exude premium build for those of us caring about these things at this price point.

Plugable UD3000.

Plugable UD3000.

The two small status lights on the front panel are pretty useful, with one indicating that the unit is receiving power, and the other that it’s connected to the USB host.

The powered USB3.0 ports work as advertised in data transfer, and at full-speeds too – or at least as fast as the connected USB device can manage.

The rear DVI port was initially extraneous for my usage, since I typically connect my secondary display via the notebook’s external display port. Curious on how it’ll perform, I gave it a go nonetheless, and it works like a charm. The USB 3.0 hub seems able to keep up with driving a second HD resolution monitor for my work usage. Some of the Amazon reviewers do note the visible lag when the DVI port here is used to drive high-motion visuals (i.e. games). On that regards, I can’t say for certain how it’ll perform as I haven’t done that level of stress testing yet.

The unit generates a small amount of heat but it’s barely noticeable, and really a non-issue, unless you’re in the habit of rubbing the unit’s side panels against your cheeks.:)

All in; it seems a pretty decent device and attractive for its comparatively low asking price. Best of all, it’s workable across other notebooks too. I’ll see how it works further down the road, and report back if something comes up then.


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 for the 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.



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


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.:)