Saturday, March 4, 2017

The gadget itch strikes again - Samsung Chromebook Plus!


I couldn't help myself. Actually, what happened is that I've been using an older Thinkpad Tablet 2 as my studio tablet for a few months and I'm always impressed with how buttery smooth the inking is. Not even my fancy Surface Book is so smooth. Why? Because the Thinkpad uses Wacom's older, batteryless EMR technology. The Surface Book is using N-trig's latest and greatest (which they now own), but it's just not the same. Even Wacom's newer AES solution, which is similar in that the pen requires a battery, is not quite up to the smoothness of the older EMR setup.

It looked like EMR was basically dead though with Microsoft invested in N-trig's technology and most other tablets using Wacom's AES pens (or the less idea Synaptics active pen). But then Samsung announced the Galaxy Book line with S-pens. Samsung's S-pen (the little toothpick stylus that comes in the Galaxy Note phone line) is basically a Wacom EMR digitizer!

That got me all interested again and I remembered I had an older Galaxy Note 8 hiding under a pile of stuff on a desk. I had been using that as my studio tablet, but the digitizer was going bad and had a dead spot right where I most needed to write stuff. It hadn't been charged in months. Whatever was going on with the digitizer seems to have magically fixed itself while the tablet was dead, but now the battery is shot and runs down normally to about half then just jumps quickly down to empty. I might replace it if I'm feeling project-y in the future.

Then I remembered I don't even have to wait for the Galaxy Book to come out. Samsung's Chromebook Plus also has an S-pen, access to the Google Play store on Chrome OS, and a beautiful 12.3" 2400x1600 screen. I had forgotten about it as it's been so long since it was announced.

Here it is next to the similarly sized Chuwi Hi12 and the slightly larger Surface Book:


It looks bigger than the Chuwi because it has a much larger chin (the bezel under the screen) which makes it sit up higher.

I just finished the set up and installed a few Android apps and set it aside to charge while I get this typed out, but so far I'm very impressed. It's thin and light with a great screen. The pen is fluid in everything I've tried so far and my comfy older Thinkpad stylus works and feels much better than the toothpick that comes in the machine. But the fact that the S-pen is in the machine at all is huge. If I forget the bigger pen, I've always got one built in. Both One Note and Mobile Sheets Pro work smoothly, which means this machine has potential in the studio and at gigs, although a fold around convertible is less ideal on a music stand versus a slate tablet.

I'm looking forward to seeing what this platform can do also. I haven't really used a chromebook in a long time. I was lucky enough to get a Cr-48 from Google back in the day, but that was years and years ago. I think I started it up a year (or more?) ago to see what ChromeOS was up to, and while it updated to the latest build, it was not a pleasant experience. But I remember being so much more productive when using the Chromebook back in the day. There's something to be said about the simplicity of the set up. I wonder if it will still feel that way with access to the Google play store making it as much of a potential distraction factory as my phone.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

I finally got a Surface Book

Thanks to the magic of craigslist, I found a well loved base model at a price I was willing to pay. I've been so tempted by these for so long I'm very happy to finally have one. It's a fantastic laptop, but the real fun is using the 13.5" screen for music. It made its Pops debut this weekend:


Bonus! The magnetic surface pen sticks to the stand. The extra height vs a 4:3 screen doesn't look super useful on this page as it's cropped short, but many pages come out taller than 4:3 and are rendered narrower on the screen to fit height. At 3:2, you get room for tools and information bars at the top and bottom and all pages take full advantage of the width of the screen.

My biggest reservations about using the Surface Book's clipboard (the detachable screen/tablet part) were about having something so pricey on my stand and the potential battery life issues since most reviews pegged the clipboard at only about 4 hours. The price issue was mitigated by the craigslist deal as I'm into this Surface Book for less than an iPad Pro and Pencil and there are two of those at the Pops too. Also, I realize I've never actually had anything bad happen to any of my machines at any gig in the many years I've been doing this now. I mean, it only takes once, but so far, I've never even had a close call.

The battery life issue is a bit more of an actual issue. In addition to looking for a cheap deal, I really did not want an i7 due to the fact that it scored about 30 minutes less in most battery drain tests. The difference between 4 hours on the i5 and 3.5 hours for an i7 is kind of a big deal in a 3 hour rehearsal. Sure enough, my range anxiety ramped up to 11 when battery bar turned red in the last 10 minutes of rehearsal. It says 50 minutes remaining, but turning red is not reassuring.


Luckily it made it through a 45 minute sound check and then a 2 hour concert only barely going yellow. I know I can always throw it on the base, but that's a less ideal solution compared to how beautifully thin the clipboard is on its own.

I did have to use it in draw mode (turned backwards and folded down over the base) when I used it to take notes at an all day bow workshop. It lasted through the morning session on its own and I added the base through the afternoon.


I'm also really enjoying it as my primary computer. I'm excited to see where Microsoft will go with this form factor and what other manufacturers might jump on this larger detachable size.