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 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!

 

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.:)

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 arrived at our door-step WEDS yesterday evening. Pretty quick. The Microsoft point of distribution was in Shenzhen China. The order was placed on Sunday evening, processed the following afternoon by DHL, picked-up by the courier company the next afternoon on TUES, and arrived in Singapore proper just before noon time yesterday. A quick call to DHL customer service got me the delivery time I wanted – evening since we would be out of home until then – and the item arrived on the dot.

surfacepro3-delivery

Alongside the main Surface Pro 3 (short formed to this post to just SP3) unit was also a tempered glass screen protector. I figured that the latter was a must-have, given the fact that I intended to use the stylus a lot with the tablet/ultrabook/hybrid thingie, and also that the packaged Surface Type Cover’s keys would be coming into close contact with the display screen each time the keyboard flap was closed. There were of course cheaper films available for screen protections, but I’ve always found those things pretty difficult for amateurs like myself to apply, while tempered glass protectors are just so much easier to lay on the screen and achieve a seamless fit on the screen.

Random impressions after about a day of use of the SP3 and also Windows 8.1.

The build quality of the SP3 is attractive, and its matte-styled back case won’t be picking up finger-prints. It doesn’t quite provide the same premium feel as say the aluminum Unibody case you find on Macbooks, but it’s still decent.

The screen provides decent viewing angles and brightness levels that’s good for normal indoor use, though outdoor use would be a real challenge. There’s some obvious light-bleeding and unevenness when the screen is blacked out and thus mildly depressing, though once the Windows desktop boots up, it’s no longer a visible issue.

My i5 4GB RAM unit is the entry-level i5 unit and adequate for browsing and most office productivity work. Trying out a couple of flash-based 3D content though clearly was gonna push the unit, as there as some noticeable lag where the integrated Intel Integrated HD 4400 graphics unit was trying very hard to cope, alongside the semi-limited amount of working RAM.

No problems balancing on my legs in a seating posture the SP3 with the kick-stand extended and typing on the the type cover. Typing on the latter isn’t the most stable platform to while balancing it on legs, as the entire contraption jiggles a little as you type away.

The high-resolution screen is indeed helpful but also challenging when hooked up to external monitors. My workplace monitor is a Dell 27″ that produces lovely colors but also at a relatively low 1920×1080 resolution. The final text scaling factor I used to balance between avoiding overly small fonts on the SP3 and not overly large fonts on the much larger monitor was 135%.

The device’s power connection plug is just a tad loose. Not enough for it to fall off on its own thankfully, but stronger magnets between the power plug and the device would have provided for assurances that a good power connection has been made.

The i5 and i7 units according to reviews seem to have challenges in easy heat dissipation. I haven’t stretched my own SP3 unit very much at this juncture, but the unit’s fan kicked in – quite audibly – while downloading and processing the whole bunch of software and firmware updates when it was first hooked up online.

And as for Windows 8.1 – ugh. I dislike it, and spent the better part of an hour trying as hard as I could to make Windows look and work like Windows 7! My biggest peeve is the need to integrate the SP3’s account login to my Microsoft account just so that I can get Onedrive to work properly.

A call to Dell to find out the status of my order of the XPS 13 revealed that parts shortage at the assembly plant meant that there might be some delays to my actually receiving the notebook. Gah. Hopefully not too long, but in the worse case, at least there’s the SP3 that I can use now.:)

The SP3 with red Type Cover.

The SP3 with red Type Cover.

 

It wasn’t easy deciding on my Macbook Pro Retina replacement, on account that no matter what I might think of the general reliability of their MBPs, they do produce lovely machines (externally at least), decent specifications, and as an educator, I would also enjoy some nice discounts on Apple products.

As in many other gadgets and toys I buy, the proverbial spreadsheets got created listing the various models in consideration along price, configuration, dimensions, weight, hardware included, warranty etc. It was a bit more tricky this time round as I was also opened to smaller form factor devices as workhorse notebook replacements. For the last couple of years, I’ve picked up large screen monitors as a secondary display for work, so while the size and quality of the primary display (on the notebook) are still important, it’s no longer as critical for work use as it once was.

Other considerations included:

Storage type. I scrupulously avoided notebook options that did not offer SSDs as their primary storage medium. Interestingly, a lot of mainstream notebooks, including very svelte business replacement types, are still including harddrives in their default configurations. A couple do not even allow for SSD options as drive replacements.

Display resolution. Windows 7 has serious issues providing different display resolutions and text sizing if you use more than one monitor at a time. Windows 8 does slightly better, but not by much. A lot of notebook manufacturers are on the craze to provide very high display resolutions of 4K, but that kind of resolution is pointless on small screens.

RAM. I used to get quite hung up on having gobs of RAM in previous notebook purchases, but looking at my pattern of use, I determined that 8GB was going to be sufficient this time round (the Macbook Pro Retina had 16GB).

GPU. A couple of machines I shortlisted were true desktop replacements offering high-performance graphics processors. A fast graphics component is pretty useful and I do need something that can run 3D content reasonably well for work. But high-performance graphics processors would invariably mean a minimal size of the notebook, and I had to take on board my new found interest in…

Portability. The MBP is light for its class of usage, but I was genuinely interested also in the convertible notebook types this time round. Basically, something that can also be used tablet style if possible, and better still, stylus functionality too.

So, after about a week of searching, the shortlist of notebooks narrowed down to a few models:

HP Omen. Beautiful build, lovely screen, desktop-replacement. Not quite so portable, and fairly expensive. There was a demo unit at an electronics store at Serangoon Nex, and I liked what I tried out.

Aftershock S15. Top-end specifications, super-configurable, very cheap for its specifications, desktop-replacement. On the other hand, the build for the unit isn’t quite so premium compared to the HP Omen or MBP.

Lenovo Yoga Pro 3. Very light and ultrabook-like, and able to (somewhat) operate as a heavy tablet. Lovely screen, reasonable bundled warranty. Somewhat short battery life for its type though. No stylus feature too.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Tablet-ultrabook hybrid. Very portable, and with a digitizer screen supporting stylus input. Reasonably priced for its base-model but gets more expensive once you add in the must-have accessories for it to be really functional. Tough to be a real desktop replacement in view of its small screen.

After a week of fact-finding, reading and exploration, I leaned towards the Yoga Pro and Surface Pro, and finally decided to go with the Yoga. Funnily though and just when I was about to commit to its purchase, I stumbled upon a just announced Dell ultrabook – and specifically a refreshed model from its XPS 13 line. The XPS 13 (2015) seemed to be priced cheaper than the Yoga Pro for about equivalent specifications, and had a couple of additional benefits to boot: ridiculously long battery life, very small form factor while retaining a reasonably-sized class-leading screen, great build – but it couldn’t be used as a tablet.

Still, that was the one I ended up finally ordering a week ago – the XPS 13 (2015) with its 4K screen, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, fitted with a two year complete care package (learned my lesson from the MBP experience!).

The story doesn’t here though. Because of how much I wanted Windows tablet and stylus functionality, a couple of days after putting in an order for the XPS, I made a second purchase – an entry model for the Surface Pro 3 as a portable Windows device. My first in years after going full-board on Android and iOS mobile devices.

The new Dell XPS 13 (2015) with a near bezel-ess display.

The new Dell XPS 13 (2015) with a near bezel-ess display.

The Lenovo Yoga Pro 3, widely on display everywhere in local electronic stores.

Lenovo Yoga Pro 3, widely on display everywhere in local electronic stores.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3, and the included stylus.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3, and the included stylus.

More notes to come on either and both machine – when they actually do arrive!

 

As (bad) luck would have it, barely two days after writing my year-end notes of 2014, the Macbook Pro Retina – my daily-use computer at work – started failing spectacularly.

The machine is just a shade under 2.5 years old, and had previously gone through a major repair job when the notebook failed barely just a year after purchase. In that instance, the unit required a motherboard replacement, a job that typically costs more than a thousand moola in repair and replacement charges. As the notebook then was barely just out of its one year warranty – after some begging/pleading, Apple consented to replace the motherboard out of goodwill and without charge.

Skip ahead by another year and a half, and the machine is failing again. I’ve lost count of the number of times the Macbook simply refused to start, or just flat-lined BSODed (blue-screen-of-death for the non-tech persons). After a lot of fault-finding involving disk wipes, re-installation of operating system, different driver versions, many visits to Boot Camp, my educated guess was that the fault laid in the failing graphics processing unit component. Basically, the notebook runs fine, but the component providing graphics acceleration is kaput.

Now, that might not seem like a serious thing; but failure of that component not only means no graphics acceleration (i.e. anything on the web using video acceleration, Youtube videos, runs like a dog now) and Windows display refreshes are maddeningly slow – all disabilities I can live with. But the one I couldn’t go without was the corresponding loss of external video projection – something that’s integral at work. Basically, the Macbook Pro cannot project onto an external screen.

To be fair, as lovely as the exterior chassis and the build of the Macbook Pros are, my particular unit has had numerous oddities. The screen display as I found out was from a particular batch of monitors that suffered from temporary screen ghosting. And for some reason, the notebook often ran hot even when doing routine work. And I’d neglected to purchase Apple’s Complete Care package.

In comparison; the more than 4 year old Dell XPS 16 is still for the most part working fine. Who would have believed it!

In summary; no more Macbook Pros for me, or at least not without also forking out the additional money for Complete Care. More in the next post!

 

Another year, and time for my annual year-end post on our big decisions of 2014 – what went well and what didn’t!

Choice of Interior Designer – Win: Our renovation project took a good part of all our free time in the first four months of the year, and it was a tough decision shortlisting from 13 IDs we checked out to 2, and then finally deciding on who to go with. Our renovation project was of course a culmination of many activities – the main renovation, the individual furnishing items, choice of decorations, the other subcontractors we enlisted to do other parts of the house etc. On the overall and briefly; our renovation project went on balance very well, though 8 months into the fact, we’re starting to regret our choice of LED lights. Oh well – lesson learned.

Selling The Rivervale – Win: Another tough and significant decision we made this year; whether to sell away or rent out our old Rivervale home, and which estate agent to go with. We’re still not absolutely certain that selling our old home was the best financial decision long-term, but we did benefit from a great estate agent who was accessible, and got us a selling price that we were comfortable, and an easy and fast sales transaction to boot too.

Koh Phangan and Santhiya – Mix: Peter’s first vacation out, and the entire experienced gave us mixed feelings. The resort was nice enough and holiday unrushed and quite laid back. But it was also a pretty expensive holiday and the overall resort package wasn’t matching to the premium price charged for the stay, Peter wasn’t on his best behavior, and both the men of the household fell ill.

iPad Mini Retina – Win: The first of two iPads I picked up during the year. This was to replace the Google Nexus 7 – whose screen I had to squint at from deteriorating eyesight. The tablet is perfect in size, pocketable though screen wise it’s not quite up to what the Air 2 below is capable of. I’m still figuring out which will be my go-to tablet long-term; this one or the Air 2.

iPad Air 2 – Win: Came with a mobile broadband bundle I signed up for late in the year. Lovely screen, quick performance, thin and light if almost also a little fragile; but if only the form factor was just a little smaller. This one can’t fit into my bermuda pockets!

Logitech Ultimate Ears Boom – Win: I picked this portable Bluetooth speaker at the start of the year for use during my classes, given the number of videos I use for teaching purposes. The speaker is stylish, loud, has a battery that charges quickly and runs forever – though ironically, the speaker doesn’t pair very well Bluetooth-wise with my Macbook Pro, and I end up using the old analog 3.5mm audio jack LOL.

Sony Walkman NWZ-F886 and Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear – Win: The audio quality of the Walkman isn’t as warm as the Cowon it replaced, but the pair is now my music companion whenever I’m on the treadmill.

Novita 611-I Air Purifier – Lose: We bought this for the impending haze, and it turned out to be a white elephant when the haze didn’t return much for this year.

2015 ought to be an interesting year; since our mobile phone plans are both up for renewal (new smartphones in other words), the Panasonic TM700 Camcorder will be five years old and approaching end-of-life, and the Macbook Pro Retina will be three years old – the typical point where notebooks in general start getting wonky!