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Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2: Where have you been all my life?

For quite some time I have been on a quest to find a good tablet device. For me, “good” includes the following features:

  • Long battery life so I can get through a day of taking notes successfully
  • Full use of OneNote for typing notes, inking notes, and recording audio at meetings
  • Touch friendly email client
  • Touch friendly twitter client
  • Touch friendly news reader

Devices I’ve tried for this include:

HP Slate 2

Dell Latitude ST Tablet

Surface RT

Each of these devices failed to live up to what I truly need. The Slate 2 did not successfully run Windows 8 very well, and so was not a very touch friendly device. The Latitude ST was okay, but its CPU is laggy and the inking experience was pretty poor. The Surface RT is actually not too bad, but doesn’t support inking in OneNote and (surprisingly) doesn’t support recording audio directly in OneNote, either.

For a while I had heard good things about the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2. I finally got around to trying one out at the Microsoft store, and I was impressed. The inking experience seemed pretty good. I got one in July, and my first opportunity to use it in an all day inking scenario was last week.

The device performed flawlessly. I was able to  take notes all day long without battery issues.  I was also able to access my email, my newsreader, and my twitter client easily. The device is lightweight, and comes with a cover that protects the screen yet easily opens up for use. I was able to carry the tablet in my purse but access it when I needed it.

I haven’t yet tried recording audio in a real-world scenario (typically I would do that at a client meeting not a conference), but I’m relatively confident that will work well, too.

There are a few minor problems I’ve experienced with it:

  • It isn’t clear when the device is turned off if it is correctly plugged in for charging. if it is on you can easily tell by looking at the battery indicator on screen.
  • For some reason, my battery only wants to charge to 56% initially. If I unplug in the charger, wait a minute or so and plug it in again, it finishes charging. Other owners appear to have this problem too. I hope a firmware update solves this.
  • The cover that comes with it turns into a stand for the device, but it puts it at a fairly poor viewing angle for me. I need it more reclined. I’m fairly short, so this probably is an issue for most people using it.

Overall, I’m very happy with my Thinkpad Tablet 2 purchase. It is not a cheap tablet (around $600), but since cheaper devices didn’t meet my needs I’m not complaining. All the other tablets are piled in a corner now – the Thinkpad Tablet 2 is my tablet of choice.

Posted by Avonelle on Sunday, August 18, 2013. There are 0 Comments.

Hands on Surface RT: Initial Thoughts

Yes, I broke down and got a Surface RT today. I wasn’t sure I wanted one – my Dell Latitude ST has been serving me well as a Windows 8 tablet device. But it is a bit bulky, and the call of a tablet with a convenient keyboard was just too great. Also I want to evaluate if I think it will be a successful platform for application development. (Please forgive my blurry cell phone pictures – photography is definitely not one of my skills!)

Purchase experience

Before I discuss the device, I want to first describe the buying experience at the store, because that was not very much fun. I decided not to buy on online because I wanted to actually experience both the touch and type keyboards before selecting one. When I first arrived at the store, there was a line around the corner so I immediately got in line. Then I learned the line was for purchasing the Surface only so I went into the store to look at the device and try out the keyboards. That’s when I learned that purchasing the device could take a while. Not only did I have to wait for everyone in front of me, but they were walking each user through setting up a Microsoft account and setting up their device! I asked ‘isn’t there a special line for people who can do that themselves and just want to swipe their credit card?” “No.”

When I got back in line, I realized it wasn’t really moving at all. The line sat in the same place for more than 30 minutes. Only when people started complaining did it start moving. My personal view is that this whole approach was setup to generate hype. Wow – people are standing in a huge line, it must be for something good. Even if it wasn’t for nefarious purposes, it was shameful how long it took before it was moving. Perhaps it was a training issue for Microsoft staff. Once I got to the front of the line the person who actually took my card seemed fairly slow at walking through the purchasing software.

I don’t mind waiting in line for my turn. But when your line isn’t moving in a normal timeframe, you need to assume that something is broken. Employees at the store ranged from sympathetic (“I’m very sorry – I think this is lame too but corporate is making us do it this way”) to complete useless (“this is the process we have selected and I’m sorry it upsets you.”) Nice non-apology there, lady. You should go into politics.

They plied me with Microsoft store gift cards during at the end of the purchasing process to soften the experience, but since it appears they can only be used in a Microsoft retail store I can’t imagine taking advantage of them. Why would I ever want to go back?

In my opinion, Microsoft doesn’t understand how to properly run a retail store. That’s okay if their stores are just about promoting Windows and Office with third party hardware. But if they actually want to sell their own devices, they need to get their act together.

Packaging

The packaging for the device is attractive. I got the 32gb touch keyboard bundle, so it was all in one box. There was what appeared to be scotch tape in a few places that looked a bit odd, but overall it was pretty.

Surface box

Setup

Setup was pretty straightforward, especially having been through the Windows 8 installation experience before. Harder to say how it will be for others. I already had a Microsoft account, so I knew which email account I wanted to connect it to.

Surface Getting Ready

Scary moment

At one point shortly after set-up I got the blue frowny-face of doom – the Windows 8 version of the “blue screen of death”. Yikes!

Surface Blue Frownie Face

I’m not sure what happened there, but I will say that during setup I wasn’t in a spot that had the best connectivity. Still, I wouldn’t have expected this type of fatal error for something like that. I haven’t seen one since, but it was a bit disconcerting!

Touch keyboard

Honestly: the keyboard feels *weird*. All the keys are in the right place, but it will definitely take some getting used to. In the store I had very little trouble typing with minimal errors. In regular use I’m finding that more challenging but it is getting better. I tried using it in the dark this morning – that was pretty much a fail. Perhaps as I get better that will be possible. I’m a touch typist so if I can get my fingers in the right stop I’m usually okay. I seem to be having the most problems with the space bar, but that seems to be improving slowly. Online reports suggest it takes 4-5 days to get comfortable. We’ll see. In the store it was clear that the “type” keyboard had a superior typing experience, but since it added weight I decided to go with the touch keyboard.

The keyboard has a built-in track pad so you don’t have to touch the display for navigation if you don’t want to. That was a pleasant surprise to me – there are times (especially when using something like Microsoft Word) that navigating via touch works less well.

The keyboard has buttons on it for the Search, Share, Devices and Settings charms, but not for the charms bar itself. Frankly I don’t see a lot of point to the Devices and Share buttons – I never use them.

Lap use

One of the questions in my mind was “can I use this device with the keyboard but without a tabletop?” the answer is: possibly. I’m tying this from bed, with the kickstand out and leaning on my legs. I also had it working in my lap last night while watching TV, but the kickstand gave out on me once and the device fell over. Oops.

Built-in apps

In addition to the standard Windows 8 apps available on install, the device comes with preview versions of Office 2013. To be honest, this was one of the biggest disappointments to me. The version of OneNote that is installed doesn’t include voice recording. I use OneNote all the time. On my desktop I use my keyboard but when in meetings I typically use a pen and record the audio. The Surface RT doesn’t come with a pen (the display does not include an active digitizer) and the OneNote 2013 Preview doesn’t have the ability to record audio. This makes it less than ideal for one of the primary use scenarios for me for a mobile device.

I thought the lack of an ability to record audio within OneNote was simply a limitation of the preview (to be fixed later) or perhaps that it was a limitation of the student/home version. However, it appears to me that this isn’t something that can be changed. It says this in the online information about OneNote 2013 RT:

1. Audio and video recording

Recording audio/video notes from inside OneNote 2013 RT is not supported. Instead, you can record audio or video with other software, then insert it through Insert → File to add onto the OneNote page.

One of the lovely features of OneNote 2010 is that if you are recording audio AND taking notes simultaneously, when you playback you can see what notes you were writing for each section of the playback. Recording the audio separately and then inserting it into OneNote won’t give you that capability. Very disappointing.

App store

A lot has been made in the press about a lack of Surface RT apps. Certainly I haven’t found every type of app that I’m looking for. For example: I haven’t yet found a good tool for blogging. I expect that will improve over time. It is an opportunity for developers if the platform takes off. Will it? My guess is that it will be successful enough, but only time will tell.

Comparison

Is it better than the iPad? Well, it is a different device, best used in different usage scenarios. The iPad is great for consuming content – reading your email, surfing the internet, watching video. It does less well at creating content. Firing off a short email is okay, but otherwise the on screen keyboard is painful. Surface RT is better for people trying to create content, especially text-based content like documents and emails. I even prefer it for reading blog posts – I use Google Reader for reading blog posts and I prefer navigation via the keyboard shortcuts. It makes me crazy to use a device without a keyboard for that. But YMMV on that one. It is also lovely to be able to pop in a USB stick.

Still it is too early to say if I will want to use it for all my mobile computing. If I was spending a few hours in a coffee shop doing some read/writing, then the Surface RT would be great. But for taking notes during meetings, I may still carry my Dell Latitude ST running Windows 8. It is a bit bulky, but I can use a full version of OneNote that allows me to record audio and take notes via pen input. 

Bottom line

If you are looking for a mobile device that allows you to do more than just consume content, then the Surface might be a good choice for you. Before you buy, however, spend some time thinking about your typical mobile usage scenarios.

Posted by Avonelle on Saturday, October 27, 2012. There are 0 Comments.

Awesome script for shrinking a SQL 2008 database log

Posted by Avonelle on Tuesday, May 25, 2010. There are 0 Comments.

Christmas Gadgets

Since our family is filled with technologists (one programmer, one technology strategist, one IT worker and podcaster, and one online video performer), it can be a bit interesting to see what everyone gets for Christmas. We’ve had our share of cell phones and laptops, plus lots of technology peripherals in our holiday festivities. Usually I’m less likely to get a gadget than the rest of the family, but this year I received two tech gadgets from Loren for Christmas. The first is a new Garmin nüvi 1200 GPS. I’ve never had my own GPS before, but I’ve used Loren’s a few times very successfully. We are big fans of Garmin, and this looks like another winner.

The second gadget was something I had never heard of before. It is a Parrot Minikit Slim. What is it, you ask? First, some back story:

I used to own a Palm Treo, which I was relatively happy with. I used a wired headset with it for hands-free driving, which I really liked. I had tried a Bluetooth headset, but I often heard that the sound quality wasn’t that good, so I ignored it in favor of the wired headset.

A while back, I upgraded to a Palm Treo Pro. Unfortunately, my wired headset no longer worked, because they switched to a 3.5mm headphone jack instead of the previous 2.5mm jack. Ugh. I looked but hadn’t been successful in finding a new wired headset with the correct size, and was unenthusiastic about returning to a Bluetooth headset.

Enter the Parrot Minikit Slim. The device is a Bluetooth hands free car kit that provides built-in voice dialing and a high quality speaker phone. I was skeptical about the sound quality, as I drive a Honda Element which is not a quiet vehicle. But my preliminary tests allowed me to successfully voice dial, and Loren said the sound quality on the speaker phone was pretty good.

I’m looking forward to getting a lot of use out of it. The big problem I find with it right now: it is too easy to accidentally call a wrong number because I can’t remember how to use it. It basically has 2 buttons and a jog wheel, which sounds easy but isn’t really, since the buttons mean different things depending on the context. But I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it eventually.

Did you get anything cool for Christmas?

Posted by Avonelle on Tuesday, December 29, 2009. There are 0 Comments.

Laptop is not really the right word for it

STA60021I just have to share a picture of the Lenovo w700ds that Loren was working on this week for a customer. “Laptop” isn’t really the right word, as it seems unlikely that most people will try to balance this 11 pound monstrosity on their laps. It does sport an interesting auxiliary display, but good gracious this thing is gi-normous!

I hope the recipient of this laptop gets a rolling bag for it. I don’t think she’ll want to sling it over her shoulder. This assumes she is planning on taking it places; and of course if she isn’t, the big question is: why bother getting a laptop, when a desktop computer would have been more affordable?

Posted by Avonelle on Tuesday, November 24, 2009. There are 0 Comments.

Some initial thoughts on the Kindle

I love to read. I like all sorts of books – both fiction and non-fiction. On the fiction side of things, I’m a big fan of several different classics (Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte are some of my favorite authors), plus more modern authors like John Grisham and Tom Clancy. On the non-fiction side of things, I get a kick out of programming books, plus historical books and biographies.

Unfortunately I’ve never been disciplined enough to make good use of our local library, so the books are piling up around here. And I hate to get rid of books – I often re-read books I truly love. If things keeping going as they are, pretty soon the books will take over the house!

So it will be no surprise that I’ve had a lot of interest in the Kindle. Last week I finally took the plunge and purchased a one. (At least I waited until the price was under $300.) I also purchased my first book for it, and grabbed several free books. Here are some initial thoughts, in no particular order:

  • The text is easy to read, but I’m glad I have the ability to change the font size.
  • The user interface is pretty good. It is rare that I can’t figure out what to do.
  • Text to speech is a nice novelty feature, but I doubt I’ll use it much.
  • It doesn’t seem to like connecting to my Vista 64x desktop machine. It connects fine to my Vista 32x laptop though.
  • Every time I run into a book I can’t get on the Kindle I am annoyed.
  • Every time I run into a book that is more than $10 on the Kindle I am sad.
  • Being able to zoom in on tables and images is a good feature, but it doesn’t do enough. So far in my experience, even with the zoom feature I still can’t read the text in most tables. That sucks. It also may limit the usefulness of the Kindle for technical books.
  • There should be a Kindle reader for my computer. That would help me work around the tables/figures zoom problem.
  • After working with OneNote and a tablet PC for several years, it is painful to add notes/annotations via the cursor/keyboard interface on the Kindle instead of via a pen. I doubt I’ll use that feature much at all (which is too bad).
  • It is really easy to order a books directly from the Kindle. Almost too easy. (Clearly they’ve spent more time on the UI to spend more money than on other features.)
  • It should have come with some kind of cover, even a cheap one. I won’t be putting it into any bags until after I’ve got something to protect it.
  • I’ll bet is great when you travel. It makes me almost wish I traveled more.
  • Pay to subscribe to blogs?! Uh, no thank you.

You might be surprised that I don’t really have a strong opinion about the latest Kindle controversy, where users who purchased a book from Amazon eventually had the book removed from their Kindles with the purchase price refunded. The concern by many is the notion that Amazon shouldn’t have the right to delete content from a person’s Kindle. (As it turned out, the content in this case should never have been sold; the publisher did not have the rights to publish the material.) I’m not particularly worried about this issue, because I seriously doubt that it will happen again due to the negative publicity. And even if it did, my guess is that it would be a fairly rare occurrence.

Overall I’m finding my Kindle experience to be fun and interesting.

Posted by Avonelle on Tuesday, July 21, 2009. There are 1 Comments.

Access-like Reporting in .NET

I’m working on a project that involves converting an Access application to .NET. For the reporting piece of the application I’ve selected ComponentOne’s Report for WinForms Designer Edition, as I need to both convert several existing reports and provide an environment for users to create their own reports.

It is too early to say whether or not end-users will be satisfied with the results; I haven’t yet delivered that part of the project. I can say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the Access Report Import capability. While it isn’t perfect, it has been doing a reasonable job of importing the existing reports and converting them to the new format. I still have to do some clean-up work for things like specialized phone number formatting logic, but otherwise it hasn’t been too painful.

I have run into a few problems I haven’t quite figured out yet, but I’m relatively confident that I’ll be able to address most of them. The big question is: will my customer’s users find it as easy to work with the new application as they were with Microsoft Access? I hope so.

I’m starting to wonder if I should focus more on reporting services. I have experience with ActiveReports, SQL Server Reporting Services, and now ComponentOne’s tool. I have also worked with Crystal Reports, but that experience is almost ten years old. (Geez, how time flies!)

I actually enjoy creating more sophisticated reports. I wouldn’t want to do it full-time, but non-trivial reports can be interesting, and it is great to see people actually use all that data that they’ve entered.

Posted by Avonelle on Saturday, March 28, 2009. There are 2 Comments.

Using OneNote 2007 for Interactive Meetings

One of my goals is to be more effective in client design meetings. For some of my customers we have whiteboard sessions where we sketch out a potential user interface for a new feature or function. In the past my process has been to go to the whiteboard, sketch the UI and any notes as we discuss it, adding and removing things as we decide on better approaches. When we are satisfied with the results, I use a camera to take a picture, and I erase the board so that we can move on to the next page or feature. This has a few limitations:

  • A pain to move things around – you basically have to erase the section and recreate it.
  • If you want to refer back to it during the same meeting, you are out of luck, except to have someone run and print copies from your camera’s memory card.
  • There is always a fear that the camera didn’t capture the photo sufficiently. The tiny digital screen on my camera doesn’t really clearly show the results. However, I’ve never had a problem with the actual picture once I transferred it to a computer. It is a somewhat irrational anxiety.

Over the weekend, Loren and I did some experimenting with OneNote. While I use OneNote 2007 for simple note taking during meetings, I rarely take advantage of some of its many features. In fact, I occasionally abandon OneNote in some scenarios. The above design situation is one. Another is when I am doing some kind of software demo or presentation and I need to take notes on the feedback I get. In this situation I usually revert back to paper.

As we experimented with the projector and the laptop, here are some tips we came up with.

  • Set up the project to extend the desktop. In that way, you can display things that everyone can see, and also have a private area for note taking.
  • Switch the laptop to tablet mode so that you can continue to take notes via handwriting.
  • Bring an external mouse and keyboard for controlling the demo software, since you won’t have easy access to your touch pad/keyboard in tablet mode. Loren has a small wireless mouse and a very compact wired keyboard that worked very well in our experiments. (Don’t plug them in at the exact same time; give the computer a bit of time to recognize the first one before plugging in the second one.)
  • For the interactive sketching I described above, we stumbled onto something pretty cool. I created a new OneNote side note, and moved the side note onto the projector’s display. Then I opened the side note within the full OneNote software. I could edit the side note within OneNote, and it automatically updated the display for my users. That way, if I wanted to also take some notes that were private, I could just switch to a different note within OneNote, and they wouldn’t see what I was writing (because the projector would still be showing the side note.)
  • Record the sessions within OneNote. There is no reason not to – it is easy to do, and you never know when you might need it.

Something else we experimented with was resizing the sketches. Our idea was that you could sketch something, then grab the entire sketch and make it smaller and move it to a corner on the page – available but out of the way. We had mixed results with this. Sometimes it would work and sometimes it would jumble the various components of the sketch. I haven’t quite figured out how to best address this, but one thing is certain: use the lasso tool for selecting the items. Most of the time it seemed to work when I tried that.

If you know of any other tips for using OneNote while presenting, please add a comment!

Posted by Avonelle on Monday, March 23, 2009. There are 0 Comments.

Oh, so that’s why I can’t find that menu!

I was skimming Chris Pratley’s top 15 OneNote tips, and I realized that his first tip includes the reason why I don’t see the OneNote printer driver on my desktop machine. Apparently it is not supported on 64-bit Windows. Blech.

This post explains why, and includes a lot of unhappy comments from 64-bit users. I can’t say that I blame them. It really sucks (although the notion that this makes OneNote “unusable” or “broken” is a bit far-fetched.) Suggested workaround posted here.

Posted by Avonelle on Wednesday, March 11, 2009. There are 0 Comments.

Desktop beautifier Fences is lovely

Last week I installed Fences and I’m just loving it. I had already created a desktop background for organizing my desktop documents and shortcuts, but Fences helps maintain that structure, and it keeps the icon all nice and straight. Plus I do love free stuff.

Posted by Avonelle on Tuesday, February 17, 2009. There are 0 Comments.

Improving Software Development Through Virtualization

This piece at www.cio.com covers the benefits of virtualization to developers fairly well, which doesn’t always get discussed in the focus on server virtualization.

The one thing I don’t think they covered is an infrequent but substantial: migrating to a new development computer is a lot easier. In the past when I upgraded my main development computer, it took days to get all the software installed and then all the configuration for each project set-up properly. That’s a lot of time of lost productivity. When I moved from my previous computer to my Mac Pro, it took me just a few hours. We installed the operating system and a few key pieces of software like VMware Workstation. Then I just copied my virtual machines to my new hard drive, and I was good to go.

Posted by Avonelle on Thursday, February 12, 2009. There are 0 Comments.

When did the Invirtus VM Optimizer tool disappear?

I've been a big fan of the Invirtus Virtual Machine Optimizer tool that can recover space in virtual machines and make them run faster. I knew they were purchased by Visioncore (or were somehow merged with them) but I hadn't really paid much attention to the product in the last year or two since my copy worked great. But recently I tried to optimize my Windows 7 beta VM, and it occurred to me that there might be a new version I should check out. Instead, I've discovered that on Visioncore's site only vOptimizer Pro is mentioned, which only supports VMware ESX Server, and not VMware Workstation. They apparently still "support" vOptimizer as it is listed in the support area, but other than documentation there aren't any other files available.

So what happened? Did they just give up on the product? What a bummer. So far I haven't found anything comparable.

Posted by Avonelle on Sunday, January 18, 2009. There are 0 Comments.

Checking out Windows Live Writer with Sitefinity

sunset_resized Ever since I upgraded the site, I’ve been looking for an easier way to post than to use the built-in Sitefinity blog administration tool. It is better than the old system, but was still not optimal – I must still be online to create the posts, and the interface is a bit clunky.

Since I’ve read lots of positive feedback about Windows Live Writer, I’m trying it out now. I can already see why it would be more enjoyable to use, given the on-the-fly spell-checking that I’m already used to.  The ability to save drafts is another advantage.

So, this post is my first attempt at using Windows Live Writer to post. Of course it includes a picture so that I can figure out how it handles images.

Update: Does it create new post or update the existing one when I edit and republish? Answer: Edits the existing one. Cool!

Posted by Avonelle on Friday, November 14, 2008. There are 2 Comments.

Virtualization on my cell phone?

I see that VMware announced on Monday that they are moving into the mobile phone market. The idea is that virtualization could benefit both vendors (who have to deal with multiple chipsets operating systems and device drivers) as well as consumers (who could use virtualization to establish multiple phone profiles (to separate their business from their personal) for example. According to this article, Gartner predicts that over half of all smartphones being shipped will be virtualized.

It is an interesting idea, and I'm glad that VMware is taking the lead. I'm not sure I believe Gartner's prediction - most phones will need to ship with a lot more memory than they do right now. I also think that there are better virtualization uses on mobile phones than multiple profiles. (I can't imagine that most people will be able to easily separate their business and personal phone use like that, making for a lot of duplicate data.) What is more interesting to me is the idea that I could run, for example, the iPhone user interface on my Treo. Or, I could use the new Windows Mobile version, instead of worrying about whether or not the manufacturer will provide a supported update.

 

Posted by Avonelle on Wednesday, November 12, 2008. There are 0 Comments.

Windows Activation, Round Two

In addition to this activation problem, I also was getting an activation error on a new Windows Server 2008. In this case, it appears the problem is because by default the MSDN subscription version of Windows Server 2008 expects to use the Key Management Service instead of Multiple Activation Key. This thread explains the solution.

Posted by Avonelle on Sunday, November 09, 2008. There are 0 Comments.

Getting started with SQL Server 2008 Spatial Data

John Paul Cook has a great post on how to get started with spatial data in SQL Server 2008. I especially liked that he included a picture of the spatial results tab. Definitely of use if you are looking for a reason to switch to SQL 2008.

Posted by Avonelle on Saturday, October 18, 2008. There are 0 Comments.

A quick way to sync folders between computers

I do most of my work on a desktop computer, but ocassionally I work on my tablet pc. In those instances, it can be a pain to copy files back and forth onto a USB drive. In fact, I'm not very good at it at all - which means I will often have an out of date version of the file somewhere.

FolderShare is a nice solution to this problem. It will sync folders that you select between multiple computers. (It does this using a secure peer-to-peer network, so your files aren't actually stored on a third party computer.)  So far, it has worked great for me for little effort.

 

Posted by Avonelle on Tuesday, September 16, 2008. There are 0 Comments.

Great Tablet PC Deal

I found this really sweet tablet PC for a steal! It is an HP Compaq 2710p Tablet, with a Core 2 Duo processor, 80 GB hard drive, and only 3.7 lbs. It came with 1 GB of ram, but it can handle up to 4 GB, so I'll be able to run virtual machines without a problem. I'm so excited!  Guess how much I paid? $800. Yes, it is refurbished, but when I looked before we purchased it, even refurbished models were going for significantly more.

Posted by Avonelle on Tuesday, August 26, 2008. There are 0 Comments.