Thule Vectros Hard Shell Case for MacBooks

Thule Vectros Case For MacBook Air
Thule Vectros Case For MacBook Air

Anyone who travels with A laptop spends time worrying about the safety of their computer on the road. When that computer is expensive, and the lynchpin of your business. It becomes critical to protect it at any cost.

Protecting your work computer is vital

My recent purchase of a MacBook Air to replace a five year old ASUS Zenbook was a big investment. I do not change computers frequently, so protecting the asset became an immediate priority.

I purchased the Thule Vectros 13″ bumper case. This is a black hard shell polycarbonate bumper that fits top and bottom with an inner component that is ribbed silicone. It provides a substantial thickness of padding around the outside, but is open in the center, with optional clear inserts to protect the top and bottom. I left the bottom skin off, swapping scratch protection for better cooling.

The bumper design provides a “lip” around the outside of the device that allows a good grip on the hard polycarbonate exterior. It is designed to survive a one meter (3’3″) drop with no damage. The web site provides a graphic comparison video of a Mac being dropped onto a corner with and without the case. I recommend a look at the video, if you have doubts.

Thule Vectros Case For MacBook Air

The inner, soft silicon insert protrudes to provide four sturdy soft feet that give a good grip on any surface.

The case has very positive locking lugs to keep it attached to the computer. Make no mistake, installing and removing this case is an exercise in fear. It must be installed exactly according to the instructions. It will not fly off when the case is dropped. It has a positive latch on the lid, so it will not open when dropped. The top and bottom shells transmit pressure around the case, protecting the computer. I suspect it will protect from a significant amount of pressure, even someone inadvertently sitting on a backpack or case with a laptop inside. I do not suggest trying it, but this is one very tough bumper case.

The Thule Vectors Case is no compromise protection

My only problem was that the case does not provide holes for the dual microphones on the left side of the 2015 MacBook Air. I had to drill through the case in two spots, and then remove the soft silicone material from the inside with a scalpel.

I loved this case, but adds 401 grams or 6.6 ounces to the weight of the laptop. It increases the height of the closed MacBook Air to 2.6 cm or 1 inch. This is a significant addition. The case cannot be added and removed. Once on, it takes five minutes of careful work to get it off without damaging the MacBook. It is all or nothing.

Thule Vectros Case For MacBook Air

If I were permanently on the road, the Thule Vectros bumper case would be my constant companion. I really do like it! The engineering and manufacture are second to none. It fits perfectly and looks great. It also makes the laptop stand out in a coffee shop or shared workspace. No-one is going to walk off with this computer un-noticed.

Another side effect of the shell is that if you want to anonymise your computer, it is easy to insert a photo, or otherwise cover the Apple logo on the lid. The case disguises the distinctive MacBook shape, making it less of a target for theft.

If you are looking for a sleeve rather than a case, I recommend the Thule Gauntlet zip up sleeve. It is cheaper, lighter, and offers good protection, including a waterproof zipper. It can be found here:  Thule Gauntlet TAS-113 13.3″ MacBook Pro and Retina Display Sleeve (Black)

Why Retail Sales of Chromebooks are Doomed

The HP Chromebook 11
The HP Chromebook 11

Recently a friend visited to ask my advice on a chromebook for his father.

He had visited Harvey Norman, A major Australian retailer. While they had several chromebooks in stock the Harvey Norman salesman were very dismissive of the product and told him that in a year they have not sold one. I found that hard to believe since I have personally bought two chromebooks in that store.

The problem for Google (and users) is that salesmen have very little incentive to sell Chromebooks because low cost means small commissions. And retailers train sales staff to sell the items with the biggest profit margins.

The Chromebook is an appliance like a television set, you simply plug it in and it works

The Chromebook is an appliance like a television set, you simply plug it in and it works. You do not buy antivirus software, Microsoft Office or any other of the other big ticket items that make a salesman’s day. So any salesman, seeing mom and pop walk into the shop will upsell them using brands and names they know. While it is ageing and tarnished in the tech. world, Microsoft Windows is a well known brand. For the non-technical person, the advice of a smiling salesman combined with a name they know, Apple or Microsoft, will convince them.

You do not buy antivirus software, Microsoft Office or any other of the other big ticket items that make a salesman’s day.

The result will be inevitably that’s for Google to succeed with chromebooks they will have to be sold online not through retailers who simply have no incentive to sell them.

This may well mean that for these brick and mortar retailers the day will stay with windows and Apple devices until the market gradually withers and dies and then find that they have lost out to Google and online retailers forever.

I visited Harvey Norman myself the next day, and received the same dismissive response to Chromebooks. The HP 11 original version is my favourite computer. To my delight, I found they had two in stock, reduced almost to half price. I picked one up for my son, with the intention of pensioning off and old Samsung Chromebook.

Before filling out the paperwork the salesman looked at me over the top of the beautiful molded box and said “You do realise that a Chromebook is not a REAL computer…” I assured him I knew EXACTLY what a Chromebook was, and left with a half price Chromebook.

This post was written offline on a Chromebook, and moved via USB drive to post here – My Offline Chromebook challenge is half over.

Old Hardware Never Dies, It Just Gets Recycled

Two Old Friends
Two Old Friends

I have spent the morning cleaning out some old hardware. A pair of desktop computers that have not been started up for four years or more.

I do not consider myself a hoarder, but letting go of old computer equipment is always hard.

Computers and technology tend to be big purchases. We invest in them.

In this case the machines were ones that I had built, rebuilt and upgraded by hand. I had used them as workstations, sitting for hours, days, weeks, months while they had whirred tirelessly away under the desk.

I wrote software and articles. Thousands of pieces of e-mail flowed across the screens. hours of music had played through the speakers.

Operating systems and software had been upgraded, replaced and, at times re-installed or wound back. Disk repair, defrag and backup software had kept them running many nights.

In each case they had become too slow for the latest software. They had been relegated to workgroup servers (an undemanding job in a small workgroup) and eventually were shelved as “backups” for newer machines.

Today their performance and capacity seems ludicrous, but each machine was a big investment, carefully chosen, and lovingly used.

I name my computers.

Old hardware never diesOver the years I have named computers after moons, characters from books and movies. Currently I am naming them after spacecraft and mars rovers. I am typing this on a Chromebox named Firefly, while my Chromebook, Viking recharges beside me.

These two were named Banichi and Jago. I will leave it for the sci-fi fans to figure out who they were named after.

Today they were carted into the back yard, minus disk drives, that will be destroyed, and added to a pile to go to the recycling depot as e-waste. Finding a home for them, minus keyboards and monitors is impractical.

I will not miss them, but I will remember them as old friends now departed.

00175 – Image Courtesy of Wilson Afonso

Cloudbooks – The Worst of Both Worlds

wccf Dump Chromebooks - Really?
wccf Dump Chromebooks – Really?

A post on the Wccf Tech website suggests we should dump our Chromebooks and move to a Windows Cloudbook. The give four reasons, an I do not agree with any of them!

While Google’s Chrome OS is ideal in some circumstances, it is still not as feature riche as Windows 10.

  1. The Windows 10 Experience: Yes, Windows 10 is wildly superior to Windows 8 and 8.1 because it is usable. This might be new for Windows 8 users, but my Chromebook is unfailingly easy to use. Is Windows 10 feature rich? Yes. But that is not necessarily a selling point for many of us. I like simple and fast…
  2. The Hardware: The hardware is very similar to that of a Chromebook, but the “feature rich” Windows 10 operating system requires far more resources that a Chromebook. Most come with 16 or 32 GB of storage, so forget about installing or running Photoshop (Microsoft’s usual reason for saying Windows is essential) and on 16 GB of storage, forget about Microsoft Office. My Chromebook runs MUCH better on this hardware.
  3. Pricing is Dirt Cheap: True, so are Chromebooks, and Chromebook of a similar price works better. If a $10 price difference is important, go to eBay or a second hand shop!
  4. Getting Onedrive and Office 365 free for One Whole Year!: Yes 1 Tb of storage free is good, but after a year, you have to pay. And without Office 365 you have bought a brick. A Chromebook comes with free access to Google Docs, and you can always access 15 GB free, and have 100 GB for a year.

The suggestion that:

Cloudbook owners will receive 12 whole months of free OneDrive storage, along with an Office 365 subscription. That is a total of two services that you will be receiving from Microsoft while only one from Google.

Is inaccurate and ridiculous, because both of these services are free from Google, except for the (temporary) 1 TB of storage.

If you are a home user and really need 1 TB of cloud storage, I suggest you look at options other than Google or Microsoft. 15 GB is enough for most home or small business users. If you need more, you are in a different category altogether, and will not be looking at $150 computers as a cost saving measure.

For the average computer user, Cloudbooks are the WORST of both worlds.

Cloudbooks

For the average computer user, Cloudbooks are the WORST of both worlds. They are under-powered, and have the complexity of Windows, making them slow. They require updates, anti-virus software, and require the installation of many programs to make them useful.

They are prone to viruses, hacking and malware.

They cannot use Office 365 without a permanent internet connection, making them useless for Digital Nomads.

Chromebooks

My Chromebook (and Chromebox) can do almost everything offline. ( they just wait to sync, if offline) and are fast thanks to a stripped Linux kernel and minimal O/S overhead. Is it simple? Yes.  Does it work?  Yes.  Is it fast? Yes.

I watch/listen to media from, and save files to a local NAS server, or work from a USB key or Google Drive for days at a stretch without Internet.

The ability to write, use spreadsheets, presentations and more is built in, free, and works offline. Apps like Pocket, Stackedit and Gmail Offline allow me to work happily without a connection.

No contest here, Windows has a place, and I like Windows 10. If I need serious power and apps like video and audio editing, I go to Linux.

I am writing this on an ASUS UX31E Ultrabook running Ubuntu Linux, after taking Windows 10 off yesterday. It was nice, but not compelling for me. To many things don’t work yet! And Microsoft now is collecting a great deal of information about me. Too much? No, Google collects the same information, but they do not then charge me for the service, they just show me ads!

But a Cloudbook? This is a Netbook with another name, and will go the way of the Netbooks. I do not need one of these fail whales.

00169

Written by Phil Stephens of Philstephens.com.au .

Review: HP Stream 11 – A Low Cost Windows Laptop

HP Stream 11
HP Stream 11

(Review edited and updated 2015/04/16.)

I recently purchased the HP Stream 11. I have better Windows computers, but since becoming a fairly serious Chromebook convert, I thought I should try to be balanced.

Please understand, I am NOT a reviewer. Nobody sends me computers or hardware to try out. If I like the look of something, I spend my own, very limited cash on it, and hope I have made a wise (or at least justifiable) decision.

The HP Stream 11 has low but interesting specs.

  • It uses the  Windows 8.1 with Bing Operating System.
  • The processor is an Intel Celeron N2840 running at 2.16GHz with Turbo Boost Technology, up to 2.58GHz.
  • The screen is an 11.6-inch WLED backlit screen with 1366 x 768 resolution
  • Memory is 2GB of 1333MHz DDR3L SDRAM and it has Intel HD graphics.
  • The 32GB eMMC Drive assures a pretty snappy response.
  • And it has an HP TrueVision HD webcam that does a pretty good job.
  • It has an SD card slot on the left and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.
  • It has USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports, a full sized HDMI port and an audio jack on the right side.

There are speaker ports under the front, but the sound emanates from under the keyboard. The DTS Studio Sound is quite good for a compact device, and is clear at full volume. It is perfectly adequate for personal listening. If you care about audio quality, you will be using headphones anyway.

I like the fact that it is Fan-less. After months with Chromebooks going back to a Windows PC with whining fans can be annoying. I have learned to love silence.

Activating a new Chromebook takes about 90 seconds. Switch on. Select the WiFi access point and type in the password. Enter my Gmail address and password. Thirty seconds later it is working. With my many plugins and large Drive storage, it takes another five minutes to be fully functional, but that happens in the background as I work.

With the HP Stream 11, it took me almost five hours to get it to a stable working point.

I had to register and log in. I had to install multiple updates.

The computer came pre-loaded with a number of apps and pre-installed spyware, scareware and bloatware, that I had to remove. These programs I considered to be “Potentially Unwanted Programs” or PUPS were:

  • Super Optimizer, a system optimizer utility, once installed it claims that several issues were been detected on your computer. However, if you try to fix these issues, Super Optimizer will state that you need to buy its full version before being able to do so.
  • iStartSurf a browser hijacker, it will change your browser homepage to iStartSurf.com and default search engine to search.yahoo.com. It will also append the argument http://iStartSurf.com to random Windows shortcuts on your desktop and your Windows Start Menu.
  • And TV wizard – It is a Windows application. It installs plugins in your browsers. They spy on your internet usage, and display ads. They also assist malicious sites to install adware and spyware via deceptive advertising.

One of these would not uninstall. I had to resort to Systools to stop it booting. It is still installed, cluttering up my drive, but does not run on boot-up.

And of course there was the inevitable anti-virus trial version, not needed if you know a bit about computers, and all the HP special bits and offers.

There was then a multi-step account activation process to begin using Skype and Office 365. This required TURNING OFF SECURITY SETTINGS in IE so it could run ActiveX controls (seriously Microsoft? let’s make the new user expose their PC to attacks from the web by de-activating the security we finally build into IE just so they can activate a Microsoft Office 365 account!!!) Then the various office components downloaded and installed.

All in all, the setup was an exercise in frustration. A basic user will get it going quickly, but redeeming all the vouchers, offers and add-ons took a lot of time. Removing the spyware and setting this machine up properly may well require help.

The Stream is a surprisingly good experience for Windows on limited hardware. The Keyboard is a little clicky, but quite nice, and a good size. The track pad has received well deserved criticism, but I use a mouse.  The case is solid and comes in a striking Matt finish in blue or pink. Predictably the blue I wanted was sold out, but everyone had pink. I waited for blue. The keyboard surround is an anodised aluminium finish with a graduated colour scheme. It actually looks fantastic.

I name ny computers, and since it is running Windows 8.1, NOT my favourite O/S I named it Humphrey after Sir Humphrey, the obstructive bureaucrat in Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, the BBC series that is surely a comedic seed for House of Cards.

The screen resolution is often criticized, but in my opinion an 11.6” screen does not benefit from higher screen resolution, 1366 x 768 is perfectly adequate. The viewing angle is poor, and would be less of a problem if the screen tilted back a few more degrees. It is simply not bright enough. It is the one true let-down with this laptop.

It works perfectly for web browsing, email, writing and general purpose use. Just don’t try to watch to much video on it. One episode of House of Cards has convinced me I cannot do the 30 day challenge I was contemplating. The screen is just not up to long term use or quality video watching.

The computer works fine as long as you do not try to do too much at once. Office will exercise it, too many applications open at once will slow it down badly. I would not want to keep Outlook open all day, it will cripple everything else. For basic Windows users, It is fine. If you spend most of your time in a web browser, it will be perfect.

HP Stream 11 Pink
HP Stream 11 Pink

My Stream, after a basic installation of my usual suite of Windows apps including Evernote and Chrome has 2Gb of disk space left.

Much of that is taken up in my case by Chrome storing my Google Drive contents offline, Dropbox, and Evernote. Desktop Evernote downloads my entire database. You probably do not use all these services.

If you are using the Microsoft OneDrive storage that comes free with the HP Stream 11 for the first year, this is not a problem. If the Stream runs out of storage, you can move it elsewhere. Perhaps the ideal would be a 32 or 64 Gb SD card tucked into the SD slot on the left side of the machine. Moving the OneDrive storage is easy, and there is a tutorial on how to do it here on CNet.  I can do something similar with Dropbox, if I desire.

I cannot use the HP Stream alone as a daily driver, the screen and performance fail it. I use a computer many hours a day, and this is just not good enough to be my only computer.

For me, it becomes the thing you toss in the backpack before going to the library or to type with for an hour or so.  It is cheap, connected, and adequate. Not suitable for continued use.

But, don’t give up on it just yet… It does have a place, and potentially a large one.

Microsoft sells Windows computers as superior to Chromebooks by talking about all those crucial applications that people need like Photoshop, Quicken and Call of Duty. None of these will run at all, let alone well on this computer ( well maybe Quicken). Audio and video editing apps like Audacity and Openshot will run, but with no disk space left, editing audio and video becomes a balancing act with the available disk space and constantly inadequate (and non-upgradeable) RAM. Adobe Premier will require 4 times the RAM, more disk space than is available, an external monitor, and a better CPU, rule it out here.

The Verdict:

If you are a digital nomad, flitting from country to country, living out of a 7 Kg carry-on bag and working online for a living, this computer is NOT for you.

If you are a digital grey nomad, living out of a van or motorhome, or house sitting with the 22 Kg  lifestyle (7 Kg carryon plus 15 Kg checked bag) this may be for you. It is rugged, reasonably compact and capable. It is quite suitable for an hour or two a day of use on its own. It can handle video, windows programs and works happily offline. If your van or house has a TV with an HDMI Port, a cable will give you a big screen, and it can drive it well.

For the price, it is an excellent computer.

Keep in mind that it is reliant on a Microsoft Office 365 account for most of its features, including OneDrive storage. These cannot be transferred. If you buy it, you own it for the first year. Resale is pretty difficult, since the new owner will need to immediately purchase and Office 365 licence at around $99 per year to use the Office apps, Office 365 cloud applications, OneDrive storage or free Skype minutes.

I can pass a Chromebook to anybody and they can be online in minutes, at no cost. Most of my Chromebooks have three accounts, and can switch between users instantly, or allow free guest access. This is not possible with Office 365.

It is not for me, I prefer the simplicity and speed of a Chromebook or the Performance of a high end Windows Ultrabook, but it does definitely have a place with many digital grey nomads.

I cannot sell it, since it is now locked to a new “outlook.com” email address and account. If I sell it, it will be useless to the next user as I outlined above. It weighs more than my 13″ HD ASUS Ultrabook, and almost twice as much as my Chromebook (with power supply included, when I travel, that has to go as well) so for me, is is not a viable option. It may be perfect for you.

LATER: I have bitten the bullet and installed the Ubuntu 14.10 operating system on the HP Stream 11, and I am very pleased with the results. It is still too heavy to be a prime travelling machine, but for the price, I will find uses for a full featured laptop with Audio and Video editing software and, now, quite a bit of free disk space. For those who know Linux, it was pretty much a default install. I will write about it later… PAS.

HP Chromebook 11 Charging – revisited

The HP Chromebook 11
The HP Chromebook 11

I have had a comment on a recent post from Kathy, concerned that the HP Micro-USB charging port is not living up to it’s potential.  She was concerned by the “Low-power charger” message.

I decided to redo the last group of tests, to be sure.

last night I ran my HP Chromebook 11 flat by playing the Iron-man movie continually until the battery was dead. I do NOT like or recommend ever running a battery below 18-20% as this can damage the battery. I am not an Apple fan, but they have an excellent web page on battery care for laptops and devices with Li-Ion batteries here

I plugged the charger into my basically dead Chromebook four hours ago, and rebooted when the battery reached 9%. The results, with the computer asleep and only being checked every hour where:

  • Hour 1 – 33% up 24%
  • Hour 2 – 56% up 23%
  • Hour 3 – 78% up 22% (with the PortaPow fast  power only cable)
  • Hour 4 – 84% up 6% (with the computer in constant use)

smoothing out the results, this is about 24% / Hr, or four hours to pretty much full charge. The original HP charger does this in a whisker under three hours. not a bad comparison.

Interestingly, temperature is a factor for battery life, and fast chargers heat batteries up, as does fast discharging doing things like playing video at full screen and full screen brightness.  As a result, I have chosen, where possible to charge all my devices as slowly as possible.

Anker 4 Port Charger
Anker 4 Port Charger

My most used option for the HP Chromebook 11, my Nexus 7, and my phone is a one meter illuminated charging cable. I have purchased three different types, and the common factor is usefulness rather than speed. They glow red when charging, and turn blue when charging stops. They charge at about half the speed of the fast PortaPow cables, but I plug all my devices in at night, and by morning, everything has been charged slowly but effectively.

When I travel, speed becomes more of an issue, and I go to the fast charging options.

The HP Chromebook 11 and  the “Low-power charger” message

I have no inside information here, but I see devices described by my HP 11 as “Low-power chargers” charging at a pretty good rate (See the figures above)  My feeling is that the HP charger uses a customized “hardware handshake” or unique resistors between the signal and power lines. I am sure no matter how powerful the charger, and good the cable nothing but a genuine HP charger will be considered the full powered option. It does not mean the the charger is not doing a good job. Slower? Yes, but that is not always a bad thing.

I have worked for days with a 2 amp Nexus 7 charger slowly charging ( and sometimes discharging) my HP Chromebook 11 while it is being used. When I close the lid and the computer is suspended, it charged at a pretty fast rate.

I am currently writing this on the HP 11 with Drive, Gmail and a couple of other tabs open. It has charged only 5% in the last hour. But in my experience, a Windows Laptop being used while charging can often take 8-10 hours to charge. Assuming a 20% starting point, that is 8% per hour, so the difference is noticeable, but not catastrophic.

This computer has now been charging for four hours, three in sleep mode, one in constant use, and the battery has gone from 9% to 82%. Not a bad average, given that my $1800 ASUS Zenbook takes four hours to charge from 20% while not being used.

The thing to remember is, if you use the machine constantly, the charger will keep it going. Any USB charger will bring it back up overnight, and that USB charger can also charge your phone, tablet, headphones, keyboard, mouse and more. And the slower charging rate will preserve the battery in your Chromebook.

Also worth mentioning is that the power-bank you bought to recharge your phone or tablet can also keep the HP Chromebook 11 running longer. Everything from a 2600 mAh lipstick sized charger to the 10400 mAh Soshine power bank beside me (review coming) can keep that HP Chromebook 11 running longer.

My Takeaway:

  • Any USB charger can charge the HP Chromebook 11
  • Any HP Chromebook 11 charger can charge a myriad of other devices
  • Lower powered chargers may take longer, but they will extend battery life
  • The HP Chromebook 11 & Charger is a VERY light travel solution, and can charge other devices
  • pick the best cable for the job you need

If you have doubts, look at the numbers, and, does it really need to charge in three hours? What is your real usage model? In my case, a trickle feed keeping it going all day and an overnight top-up is perfect, and any charger can do that…

Enjoy!

Windows 7 Updates Cause Lost Time & Aggravation

Asus ultrabook
Asus ultrabook

Trying to get my ASUS ZenBook UX31E running this morning has been an exercise in frustration. I use a USB stick with PortableApps on it for mail, so I can move from PC to PC. Most of the time I am on a Chromebook using ChromeOS and Gmail, and there are no delays because of updates and patches. It all just happens automagically. Windows, of course, is different.

Most of the time I am on a Chromebook using ChromeOS and Gmail, and there are no delays because of updates and patches. Windows, of course, is different.

I have not used the machine for a couple of weeks, so there were 12 updates. The antivirus software wanted to update. The PortableApps wanted to update. I am moving from a USB 2 stick to a new 64Gb USB 3 stick. The drivers on the Ultrabook do not recognize the new USB 3 stick.

Bluetooth and USB 3 driver pains

The Bluetooth mouse would not connect. I deleted the last instance and re-installed, three times. Each time I went through the troubleshooting routine that re-installed the drivers. that is SIX installs, still no go.

After two hours the PortableApps are updated, the 12 Windows updates have downloaded, and I am waiting for the machine to install and shut down. In that time that has taken, I have written most of this post on my Chromebook in Google Drive. We are at update 11, still installing. Still no Bluetooth or USB 3.

I keep a wireless mouse just for this situation. The ASUS and Windows 7 is so perverse that I despair of ever having these high tech devices work for more than a few days without having to re-install.

By comparison, the Chromebook instantly recognises the Bluetooth Logitech Ultrathin Mouse and the Sandisk 64Gb USB 3 drive. The Chromebooks are constantly ridiculed by Windows and OSX users as nothing but a web browser.

After all that and 39,386 registry updates, we are running again. The Mouse works! I have had to re-install the the ASUS USB 3 drivers.

Finally running after two and a half hours

Then , finally after almost two and a half hours, the machine is running and talking to all it’s peripherals. Why oh why can’t Windows adopt the Linux driver model that makes Linux and ChromeOS (using the Linux kernel) as fast and reliable as it is!

Make a backup now!

Having finally gotten everything updated and working in a configuration I like, I am now running a backup, saving a System Image to an external USB drive. Another hour and a half gone, but this time NOT WASTED. I strongly recommend making a system image every week or so. It is the ultimate recovery option.

I have two old USB drives, both recovered from laptops that have been upgraded to solid state drives (SSDs) and put into cheap USB drive cases. I alternate backups between the two drives for all my Windows machines. One is stored remotely, and I swap them every few weeks.

The Samsung Phone Extended Battery and Back

The Samsung Phone Extended Battery and Back.

Galaxy S3 Extended Battery & Back
Galaxy S3 Extended Battery & Back

While most phone manufacturers delight in offering thinner and lighter phones, some users, me included, simply want more battery life. This is the best answer I have found so far.

I always carry a 4400 mAh power bank that can charge all my mobile devices, and since an embarrassing episode in Melbourne a couple of months ago, when it’s charging cable broke, I have been looking for alternatives.

I am currently using what I think is the best option for me, as a Samsung Galaxy S3 user. The S3 is old, but it works, does what I want, and I have heaps of accessories for it. And there are two of them in my office, so sharing accessories, advice & batteries is common.

Galaxy S3 Extended Battery
Galaxy S3 Extended Battery

I am now using an add-on battery that is 4500 Mha, almost 2.5 times the capacity of the original. It comes with a curved white back to replace the factory back. It adds weight, about 35 grams or 1.23 ounces, and gives a slightly pregnant look to the phone, but fits well and looks fine. Having lived with the original Motorola Brick phone weighing 0.8 Kg or 28 ounces, I will not complain about the weight. It is about one third thicker, and about one third heavier, and for twice (or more) the battery life, that is a good deal.

The phone stays the same width and length, and uses the superb Sony charging controller, with a constant 870 mA charging rate.  It also protects the camera better than the original case. Since the battery fits in the normal battery holder, it will not interfere with the antenna, but does not have the NFC (Near Field Communication) chip fitted. I have never used NFC, but to some users, this will be an issue.

It will not be a permanent fixture, but whenever I travel I will switch to this two day battery for some peace of mind. This is one of the true benefits of using a phone with a removable battery. Some phones, notably, but not exclusively, Apple devices do not have this option.

I am not, and may never be an iPhone user, but I know that many users of this “thin, jewel like, bla, bla, bla” phone look first for an add-on battery. A search for iPhone battery case returns 41 million results… Mac World says: “The iPhone 5’s battery life isn’t bad, but it isn’t awesome, either. With careful use, you can make your iPhone’s battery last all day. If you want to work your iPhone hard, however, particularly when you’re traveling or otherwise away from places to recharge the device, you need a battery case.” The recommended cases cost $80, $100 and $120. and a benefit described is that most cases use a Micro-USB charging port,not the more expensive Lightning cable. And everything else uses USB charging, so you can share a charger. The power case makes the phone not only thicker and heavier, but wider and longer, and must play havoc with the notoriously problematic antenna.

Other phones by different manufacturers have the same problem. For some, it is to reduce weight and size, for others, it is a cost saving measure.

Galaxy S3 Extended Battery & Back
Galaxy S3 Extended Battery & Back

The result is that public power outlets are at a premium. I was amused when passing through Melbourne airport a last week to see five people huddled around power outlets, even sitting on the floor talking on their phones while they charged them.

So if you travel, and have a phone with a removable battery, check out the options for your device.

Charging the HP Chromebook 11 Without the Factory Micro-USB Charger.

Hint: Its all about the cables!

The HP Chromebook 11
The HP Chromebook 11

The HP Chromebook 11 broke new ground by using a fast 3 Amp Micro-USB charger. It also generated a lot of bad publicity early on when the US chargers had to be recalled due to overheating. The USB charging is effective because the computer has a relatively small battery, and thus achieves a fairly rapid charge. To get reasonable battery life despite a very bright 300 nit screen, it uses a relatively low powered processor, limiting it’s performance. At a weight less than a Mac Book Air, it is a joy to carry, and on short business trips, the ability for the single, light charger to charge every device I carry is seductive.

But there are reports that the chargers are difficult to replace if they fail. Any Micro USB charger can charge the Chromebook overnight, but they lack the power to charge the machine while it is running. A 1 Amp phone charger will raise an alert that it is a low powered charger, and the running device will still bleed down slowly.

My experience with a variety of chargers and cables shows that while many chargers will deliver the required 3 Amps, the Cable used is the big leveler. The original HP charger is rated at 3 amps and works fast. I have not dismantled it, but I am sure it uses heavy gauge wire.

Most USB cables use thin #28 or #24 AWG wire. Non-intuitively, lower numbers are thicker and therefore better conductors of current. The USB charger supplies 5 V (volts) and the thicker the wires the better. Thin wires provide resistance, and power coming from the charger is lost as heat in the cable. So as a rule of thumb, shorter is better, and thicker is better. Over the last 12 months I have tested about 30 different cables. Some were quite expensive, many were not. The shortest ones worked best, but at 200 mm (8 inch) cable is not very convenient.

PortaPow fast charging cable
PortaPow fast charging cable

The single best charging cable I have found comes from PortaPow in England. It is the PortaPow Fast Charge Micro USB Cable (Length: 100cm (3.3ft)) Most cables of this length would only deliver 0.6 – 0.7 A. That translates to about 3.5 W, not enough to charge and run a Chromebook. The PortaPow cable delivers 1.75 A or about 8.75 W. from the same power supply. I believe my cable is #22 AWG, but they have since increased the size of the conductors to #20 AWG and I have two more on order.

Lets look at three chargers that work well with this cable. In each case the Chromebook is running with multiple tabs open, multiple docs, Gmail, Drive and some web pages. WiFi is on, and I am using a Bluetooth mouse. Brightness is at about 80%. In all cases they are reported as low power chargers.

Anker 4 Port Charger
Anker 4 Port Charger

My favourite charger is the Anker 40 watt, 5 port IQ+ charger. It has been superseded by a 60 watt version, but mine is working fine and does not need an upgrade. With the PortaPow cable, it delivers 1.75 A and the Chromebook is working and charging steadily. If I close the lid and hibernate for 30 minutes, it will charge up by 12%. Basic arithmetic suggests about 4 hours to go from 20% to 100%. With the computer working, of course, it will be MUCH longer, but will get there.

Kensington 2 amp Charger
Kensington 2 amp Charger

I also have a Kensington 2 amp, 4 port charger that can be plugged into the power socket or be used with a figure 8 cable instead of the adapter. It charges the Chromebook at 1.45 A and has enough power in reserve to also charge my smartphone without reducing power to the Chromebook.

Finally, the ASUS 2 A wall-mount charger that came with my Nexus 7. This small charger is rated at 2 A and pushed about 1.35 A through the PortaPow cable. This is enough to run the Chromebook with a little left in reserve for charging. With my current settings it is charging at about 3% per hour. I would suggest playing video at full brightness will cause the battery to drop.

There is an endless parade of USB Chargers, and the cheaper ones are not worth the time. Ask yourself if you really want a $5 charger between mains voltage and your expensive device, and then move on to a name brand charger.

My summary of the best options:

If you already have a 2 amp charger lying around ( I am sure you do) simply buy the PortaPow fast charging cable, and you are in business. The Nexus 7 charger weighs 62 grams (2.2 oz) with an Australian plug.

If you want flexibility and low weight, the Kensington 2 amp charger (112 grams ( 4 oz)) comes with a range of international plugs, and can be used with a figure 8 cable if the power outlet is inaccessible and can charge four devices (up to 2 amps) simultaneously.

For speed and power, there is no substitute for the Anker 5 port IQ+ charger. It weighs in at a hefty 250 grams (8.8 oz) with a cable but I have been on vacation with four people, a chromebook, three tablets, four smartphones, a USB powered WiFi hotspot and assorted keyboards mice and Bluetooth headsets and the Anker handled the lot perfectly.

My Review of the Anker Charger is here, you might enjoy it.

I also reviewed the HP Chromebook 11, and decided It is my favorite Chromebook despite it’s limitations!

“He’s Dead, Jim!” – Upgrading the Memory in My ASUS Chromebox

"He's dead, Jim"
“He’s dead, Jim”

My ASUS Chromebox has been working well for more than four months, but I am beginning to see the dreaded “He’s dead, Jim!” screen.

I have begun to use more Chrome Apps, and I keep a lot of tabs open. I will often scroll through 30 blog posts in Feedly, and open interesting posts in tabs in for later reading. So 20 tabs and 3 or 4 apps is not unusual. And the result is the “He’s dead, Jim!” screen appearing regularly. Basically, Chrome OS is running out of memory. It does it gracefully, stopping the pages I am NOT viewing, bit it is annoying. When I switch to a previously opened tab, I see the message, and have to re-load.

I have never had a current tab die, but having to refresh each page is a pain. So today, I upgraded my ASUS Chromebox with another 4Gb of RAM.

I have been running continuously for five hours, and deliberately opening more apps and tabs than I normally open.

Cog - Lots of RAM left
Cog – Lots of RAM left

I have not lost a single tab or app, and Cog is telling me I am using about 60% of available RAM.

The Chromebox is running well. I cannot say faster, because speed has rarely been an issue. I have rebooted and run the Octane benchmark, and it is slightly faster, but that could be random noise. But importantly, I have not once been bothered by issues relating to running out of memory.

I really believe it it time for Chromebook manufacturers to crawl out of the crib, and start building Chromebooks and Chrome Boxes with real performance. The Chromebook Pixel was an outlier, but one loved by a fanatical and vocal, if small fan base.

We may not need another Pixel, but we definitely need a few high end Chromebooks. From my experience here, I think a Chromebook with a good quality 1080p screen, 13” or above, minimum 4Gb ram, expandable, 32 or 64Gb drive and a good backlit keyboard is sorely needed!

The Australia tax will make it 50% more expensive here, for no reason other than the fact the the manufacturers can get away with it, but I will still pay for a premium Chromebook.

You may like to read my original review of the ASUS Chromebox or why I think Google Drive / Docs users would not have suffered the same fate as Sony in the Sony Hack.

Enjoy! – Phil Stephens