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)

I Bought a MacBook Air – Hell Just Froze Over…

MacBook Air 13"When I walked in the door with an expensive white box under my arm, my son, a writer, raised his eyes to the ceiling and announced loudly “Hell has frozen over…”

“Hell has frozen over…”

Why did I move to a 2015 Apple MacBook Air 13”, after using Windows PCs from Windows 3.11 onwards? I have made a living as a Windows software developer, system administrator, tech support person and more for decades.

I have long been aware of the limitations and failings of Windows. It has been a treasure trove of bugs, zero-day exploits, crashes and malware. Unscrupulous developers have become rich selling anti-virus software, registry cleaners, disk defragmenters and optimisers, firewalls and more. Computer companies, including mine, have made a good living removing viruses and installing expensive anti-virus software, and answering simple questions like “should I turn off macros in Office?”.

Some years ago, I discovered Linux as an alternative. It is fast, reliable and safe. It runs on old hardware. Linux has software that does what almost everything that can be done on Windows. Almost.

So for the last decade I have had a back and forth love affair with Windows and Linux, often dual booting my computers back and forth for features the other O/S lacked. Only my use of Google Docs prevented loss of data when switching constantly, but things did get lost between the cracks…

I discovered Chromebooks, and realised I could do everything a normal computer user does on a Chromebook, with no drama, and at a fraction of the cost. But there were a few limits. I worked around many, and went back to Windows or Linux for the few exceptions.

Windows 10Then came Windows 10. I have tried Windows 8 and 8.1 and not been fond of either of them. I installed Windows 10 on three laptops, looking to a better future. Each one had driver issues, overheating, power consumption issues or other problems. I reverted them all back to Windows 7. Microsoft began pushing Windows 10 silently back onto each machine. This was infuriating because I had gone to the trouble of downloading and burning both 64 and 32 Bit USB installers, to save my precious and expensive bandwidth.

My internet data usage ballooned… I wrote about my frustrations on my blog here: 

Ultimately, I decided to sleep with the enemy…

I bought a 2015 MacBook Air (It was a lot cheaper than a Dell XPS 13 and about the same price as the gorgeous Dell Chromebook 13 7310 here in Australia).I am tech savvy, so it has not been too difficult, but it has not been easy. But with one or two exceptions, it has been painless and smooth. And the operating system stays in the background.

I now see no reason EVER to go back to a Windows computer. If I don’t have a Windows computer, I will never want a Windows phone, despite being impressed by many things Microsoft is (finally) doing with Windows phone.

I do have a broken HP Laptop with no hard-drive. If I need to copy massive amounts of data across the network, I boot it from an Ubuntu Live CD, do the job, and put it back in the garage, OS X is slow on file transfers… Other than that, it is smooth and easy. Sometimes I have to search for features. But when you look, the most mundane looking OS X app has amazing hidden features. It will take me years to learn them all, but in the meantime, the 80% I use is easy to find and reliable.

And most of the open-source programs I love and use are available on the Mac as well as Windows and Linux. More about that later!

For me, the War is over. It is Apple OS X and Google Chrome OS all the way.

So Long Microsoft, and Thanks For All The Fish.

I am sure you will enjoy Why I Abandoned Windows, After 23 Years.

How to Avoid Pain and RSI Using a Portable Office

Mobile Working Without Pain
Mobile Working Without Pain

Every coffee shop, train and park bench is filled with people (mostly, but not always) young, working on laptop computers or tablets.

Silently, RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) or ( ‘CANS’: Complaints of Arm, Neck and/or Shoulder) is resurfacing. This time it is not factory workers. It is knowledge workers. Home, Portable and Mobile office users. Digital nomads, teleworkers and more.

The smartphone and tablet have become the consumption device of choice, but except for quick email, notes and checking appointments, we need a laptop computer of one type or another. An ugly, but as yet little discussed side effect of using laptop computers is the damage you can be doing to your body and hands. Back, neck and wrist pain can become chronic and debilitating.

In the 70’s and 80’s millions of dollars were spend on the design of office workstations. Standards and rules were developed. Injuries were reduced, and the people rejoiced (well, not that perhaps) but injuries fell dramatically. Then came the laptop. And much of that work went out the window, with the office…

For digital nomads and mobile workers the idea of a workstation is not on the radar.

Think Again – You Have A Workstation!

Your Workstation is the place you sit down (or stand up) and work from. It may be a coffee shop, bar stool, airplane seat or hammock, but if you work there for more than 10 minutes, it is a workstation. And it needs some thought.

A recent survey in the UK found that 79% of people using mobile devices were having health problems, 10% said “nomadic Working” had created long term problems and 5% had been forced to give up their jobs.

RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) is not associated with age, it is associated with hours in front of a keyboard. ( in some areas The term ‘RSI’ has been replaced by ‘CANS’: Complaints of Arm, Neck and/or Shoulder, but RSI is best known)

It is very easy to make a mistake. Especially digital nomads who tend to be young. You are young, active and healthy, and then, suddenly, you are not.

Then it can take months or years to fix even the simplest problems, because you cannot work without aggravating the problem. Imagine not being able to type (at all) for 3 months. How is that online business looking now?

So, lets look at the solution.

The Workstation

The “Workstation” is your whole working environment. For Mobile Office users, the basics are this:

  • Avoid glare on the screen
  • Have the top of your screen at about eye level
  • Have your arms nearly horizontal to the keyboard
  • Your feet should be flat on the floor
  • Your hips should be slightly above your knees
  • You should be reasonably upright, with the chair supporting your back (or no back, forcing you to sit/stand straight)
  • You should be able to read the screen without leaning forward or back. If necessary, get reading glasses specially for the computer.

If you have nothing but a laptop, you are screwed have a problem.

One solution is to raise the screen or back of the laptop with a stand. The options here are endless, so I will not offer a suggestion. It can be a simple as a pair of socks or a glasses case.

Dozens of laptop stands are being sold, from large desk based base stations to light weight folding stands.

The best solution is a stand, keyboard and mouse. This may seem like an impossible load for a digital nomad, but it is not.

The following Article looks at a simple, light, solution for a travel workstation.

Tablets and smartphones

Protecting against iPad neck or tech neck.

the IOS Press web site has an excellent 11 page PDF with the results of a study done into problems caused by the typical low postion tablets are used in.

On its excellent page on Perfect PC Posture, the British Chiropractic Association says “Never sit at the computer for more than 40 minutes; less if possible,”

My personal approach is to use the widely recognised Pomodoro technique that requires working for 25 minutes and the taking a 5 minute break. I have tools in place to reinforce this approach.

Stand up, walk around, roll your shoulders, and head. Make your eyes focus on distant objects. Don’t just switch from work to checking Facebook. Actually make your body move for five minutes. Your body will thank you.

Take Regular Breaks!

Some excellent resources on this subject:

And and excellent  Wall Street Journal video:

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.

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.

Logitech T630 Ultrathin Touch Mouse

Logitech T630 Ultra-thin Touch Mouse
Logitech T630 Ultra-thin Touch Mouse

For many users of touch devices such as phones and tablets, mice are a thing of the past. For me, the mouse still has a huge place in my toolkit. It is essential for laptop and desktop computing, and even editing text on a tablet works better with a mouse.

I use a number of tablets and computers on a daily basis, and wireless mice have three drawbacks. They require a spare USB port for the dongle, they require AA or AAA batteries, and they are mostly fairly large.

I spend a lot of time using Laptops, Chromebooks and Tablets. None of these have a lot of spare USB ports, and some have none at all. So Bluetooth is the only option to get full functionality on all devices. If I am doing serious typing on my Nexus 7 Tablet, I connect a Bluetooth keyboard, and at times, having a mouse is handy.

If I am travelling, I will have a Chromebook or an Ultrabook. Long hours working on one of these devices on a table or on my lap is a sure invitation for a stiff neck, and back pain. So I carry a stand that tilts the laptop up to a level where the screen is comfortable.  This may require a Bluetooth keyboard, but always makes the trackpad difficult to use, so I always use a mouse if I have the room.

I have been using a Microsoft Sculpt Touch mouse, simply because it was the only Bluetooth mouse I could find here in Tasmania, Australia that was reliable. The Sculpt Touch is a good size, but has a tactile bar that replaces the wheel that drives me absolutely crazy. It is impossible to control on non Windows computers, and just plain bad on Windows. Scrolling becomes an exercise in frustration that has on one occasion literally driven me to throw the mouse across the room (onto a lounge chair, I was frustrated, not stupid) and resort to the touch pad. It also uses 2 AA batteries, and therefore is quite heavy.

I do not like mice that require batteries. When I travel I must take spare batteries, and/or a charger. I like everything I use to charge from a USB port. This makes it possible to travel for an extended period with only one charger. I have a USB powered AA/AAA charger, but it is another device, and unless I carry spares, I have to stop work and wait for my mouse batteries to be charged, or do without the mouse

So I went shopping for ANY mouse that was Bluetooth enabled and has USB charging. I took a few deep breaths before I paid out $90 for a mouse, and kept the receipt in case I could not use it, but I have found THE perfect mouse for me.

The Logitech T630 Ultrathin Touch Mouse

Logitech T630 Ultra-thin Touch MouseThe Logitech T630 Ultrathin Touch Mouse. I confess, if I had seen one, I may have gone for the T631 white mouse, but other than that, this is mouse is ideal for me. It is very small, 59 x 85 x 19mm and weighing only 70 grams.  The tiny size had me worried that it might be difficult to control, but it invites you to place two or three fingertips on top and control it that way. There is no wheel, the entire top surface is touch sensitive, and stroking the top surface up and down or sideways provides a scroll effect. The provided software works on Windows & Mac, and adds multi-touch functionality, but since I use Chrome OS, Linux and Android as well as Windows I have kept my use to the basic functions that work on every device.

Scrolling is smooth and effortless, and can be done almost anywhere on the top of the mouse. The Bluetooth setup is a function of the operating system, but the mouse seems to reconnect on wake-up very fast. It has been faultlessly reliable.

An added feature that a number of Logitech keyboards have is the ability to pair to two or more devices, and switch between them with the flick of a switch. The Logitech mouse has a switch on the bottom of the mouse that allows two connections. I would love the ability to connect to three devices, like my Logitech K810 Keyboard, but two is enough for most situations.

To keep the mouse clean and small, the micro-usb charging port is on the bottom, so the mouse cannot be used and charged at the same time. This is not really a problem. One minute of charging will run the mouse for an hour. I have only had the mouse go flat once, I plugged it in for a minute to get it working, continued worked until I wanted a break, and re-charged it the few minutes I was away from the computer. Basically I charge the mouse & keyboard up once a week, and just forget about it after that. I do not bother to switch it off unless I am travelling.

I am far more concerned with function than looks, but it is still a pretty mouse. it is small, works on everything (better if you have the Windows or Mac software, but I am happy without the extras) and has a simply beautiful scroll surface.

Watch out for the Click!

Logitech T630 Ultra-thin Touch MouseI have seen criticism of the buttons sticking down. The do NOT stick. The buttons are under the chassis of the mouse. There are no buttons on top of the mouse. It is a single, unbroken touch surface. The entire mouse moves down when you click a button. If (like me) your fingers hang over the sides of the mouse, and touch the desktop it is possible that when you click (press down) your fingers, resting on the desktop, will grip the mouse tightly enough to stop it coming back up. This is a user error, based on the very light, small and short travel of the mouse. As you become aware of this, you learn to be a little gentler in handling the mouse, and it then moves perfectly.

I became comfortable with the tiny, light and sensitive nature of the mouse quickly. the button held down issue took a few days. but now, when I have to use a normal mouse it feels monstrously big, and awkward. Having to deal with a shrunken tendon in my right hand makes this mouse even more friendly.

Overall, this is my choice for the best ever portable mouse, and in my case, the best mouse ever.

The quick and simple connection with Chrome and Android devices as well as the usual Windows and OS x devices makes it very versatile. Frankly, the best ever! It is small, light and a little different in use due to the tactile to surface, but once you use the mouse for a few days, you will not want to go backwards to an old, traditional mouse.

I am writing this on an ASUS Chromebox, with a Logitech K810 Keyboard and a Logitech T630 Ultrathin Touch Mouse in Google Docs. Despite the high price, I am trying to convince my wife that a second T630 Ultrathin makes sense for my office, where I use multiple devices on a daily basis.

The jury is still out on that second mouse… But I am hopeful…

HP Chromebook 11 Review, My New Best Friend

The original HP Chromebook 11
The original HP Chromebook 11

Recently I took delivery of my new workhorse, a Google HP Chromebook 11. (http://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/devices/hp-chromebook-11/) The packaging alone made me fall in love with this little device. The moulded white cardboard box with rounded edges that mirror the rounded corners and edges of the Chromebook made me want to touch it. I thought it was plastic, but once opened, it is clearly a recyclable paper material

I think everyone has learned from Apple that the product should be front and centre, and not buried in packaging, and the HP 11 packaging follows this rule. Lift the lid off the box, and it is the first thing you see.

Somehow the photos I have seen made me think the HP 11 was thicker than it is. I knew the weight, only 1Kg, before I saw it, but the size and lack of weight is still amazing me.

HP 11 From the Front
HP 11 From the Front

The box has the Chromebook, charger, a card with the three steps to use it (switch it on, select a network, log in) and that is pretty much it.

The screen is the standard (for most Chromebooks) 1366 x 768 resolution. I love this size, My Asus Zenbook has much higher resolution, and frankly the tiny characters and icons are a problem in the readability stakes, I keep fiddling with settings looking for something more readable. The screen is noticeably better than the Samsung, and people who have compared the machines say it is much better that the Acer 720 Chromebook. The Acer is much faster, but for me, the micro-USB charging and superior screen are the winning features. I want to travel with one power supply only. The HP Chromebook 11 allows that.

I quickly power wiped my Samsung and passed it to my son. He has been hard at work configuring it to his liking.

My only disappointment was that the supplier, Harvey Norman Launceston did not have a SlimPort adapter to allow me to connect the Chromebook to my 22″ External monitor. The HP uses the newer and better SlimPort technology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DisplayPort#SlimPort) rather than MHL to access an external monitor through the micro-USB port.

I have (an expensive) MHL adapter I bought for my Samsung Galaxy SIII, and rarely use. MHL requires an external USB power source. The Slimport is different. It is self powered, but in most cases allows the device to receive power through a second socket. I have ordered a Slimport adapter on line, with a 5-7 day delivery for an extra $10.

MyDP Slimport Adapter
MyDP Slimport Adapter

It is still half the price I would have paid Harvey Norman if their had been one in stock. I prefer to support local suppliers when I can, but in this case necessity overrides local business profits.

In the meantime, I am using the Chromebook display with a stand that lifts the computer slightly to save neck strain, and it is working quite well.

The speakers, hidden under the keyboard are quite good, and surprisingly loud. Some have complained about distortion, but sounds surprisingly good to me.. It plays music and uses Hangouts with no noticeable issues for me. And you can always plug in headphones or speakers.

The keyboard is excellent. I dislike rattles, but this keyboard has a firm feel with good movement and no rocking or clattering. The keyboard is not back-lit, but that is hardly surprising, and with the white keytops, is pretty visible in low light. The keys are textured and feel quite nice to type on. Like all Chromebooks, the keyboard layout it the Google Chromebook design, with dedicated keys for search, changing apps, moving forward and back in the browser and taking the browser to full-screen. It also controls volume, screen brightness and mute. Having the soft power button next to the backspace key has caused problems for some, but I have never had an issue with it.

Many people complain about lack of a delete key, but Alt + Backspace is delete, and if you REALLY want it, Alt + Search is Caps Lock, something I do not miss at all.

HP Chromebook 11 Keyboard
HP Chromebook 11 Keyboard

The HP 11 was famously pulled from sale in the US due to overheating and melting chargers. My Australian charger works fine, but I confess, it still feels pretty warm after a full charge. I will monitor it for a while before leaving the charger unattended overnight.

I tend to be influenced by functionality rather than industrial design and beauty, but this time, I have to say, it really looks sweet!

The light weight and effectively instant suspend and resume mean that this laptop will be doing a lot of travelling with me. I have made a slipcover out of Mylar bubble wrap and gaffer tape as some protection.

I will write again when I have the Slimport adapter to test my full desktop setup.

My 31 Day Chromebook Challenge Ends Today

Samsung Chromebook
The Samsung Chromebook

The 31 day Chromebook Challenge has been… challenging. There have been some failures. I have learned a lot and developed a huge respect for Chromebooks as a daily work tool.

I have also gone back to Windows or Linux on several occasions, and then realised there was an alternative that could have been used on  the Chromebook.

The Lessons – Chromebooks Offline

I spend a good part of my day on the road and away from Internet connectivity. That has been one of the challenges I faced with the Chromebook. It rose to the occasion beautifully. It is lighter than my Asus Zenbook, and a lot cheaper. I feel no fear of damaging it shoving it in and out of my backpack. I have saved hours on sleep and wakeup time.

ASUS Zenbook UX31E
ASUS Zenbook UX31E

My Zenbook crashes if I suspend it while it is connected to an HDMI port and external USB drive. Often it will not disconnect the external drive without me shutting the computer down and rebooting it. On one occasion I lost and entire day when I had to wait to get home to allow it an hour to go through recovering from a nasty BSOD when I woke it up after unplugging the HDMI cable to my external monitor. A day lost.

The Chromebook handles peripherals reliably and instantly

My Chromebook desk setup
My Chromebook desk setup

The chromebook goes to sleep instantly. If the external monitor is disconnected, all open windows are re-sized and appear on the Laptop screen. When the external monitor and USB devices are connected they are found and activated immediately. Open windows can then be dragged back to the the external monitor. The screen resolution is identified correctly and silently. I simply have to go into settings to identify the orientation of the second monitor once, and ChromeOS remembers it.

The Chromebook is Fast

Asus ultrabook
Asus ultrabook

My Zenbook is A quad core i5 processor. It is fast, it is hot. The fan runs much of the time. After a month with the totally silent Chromebook I find that the fans and heat have become quite distracting.

The Chromebook boots faster than the Zenbook despite the humble Exynos processor. It simply has less work to do. Google us using the Linux kernel for ChromeOS and have stripped alls sorts of un-necessary stuff out of the system. It boots fast, goes to sleep instantly, wakes up instantly, and then spends a few seconds discovering anything plugged into the ports. It takes about 5 seconds to identify and activate the HDMI monitor, USB network card, mouse, 3Tb western Digital drive and my 64Gb Kensington USB thumb drive, if they are present. Otherwise I just lift the lid and start typing.

There has been criticism of the Exynos based Chromebooks browsing slowly, and I notice that scrolling can be jumpy when multiple tabs are open. The graphics works fine, I can play full screen video with no problems. The number of tabs seems to be the issue. Chromebooks need more than 2Gb of RAM for heavy users. But I am using a music player, countdown timer, Keep, Drive, a couple of docs, and perhaps a dozen tabs. It runs faster that the Zenbook with a similar load of applications. There is simply less overhead.

The Chromebook Cannot do some things

  • Evernote cannot be used offline. I am now using Evernote much less, and relying on Keep and Google Drive
  • Truecrypt cannot be used on Chrome, so my secure volumes are closed to me.
  • Chrome does not support Scanners, so OCR is a problem. But using the Drive app on Android to photograph a document makes it a searchable PDF.
  • It cannot capture or Edit audio or video while offline. There are apps that work online. I will continue to use Linux to edit video and audio.
  • I cannot access files stored in Dropbox unless I download them while online

In Conclusion

This post is getting too long, so I will simply say, The Samsung Chromebook will continue to be my daily carry. It will travel with me, be used constantly, and be connected to a monitor and charger when I get home. The Zenbook will be used once or twice a week for the things I simply cannot do on the Chromebook.

I am very interested in the HP 11 Chromebook. It has similar specifications to the Samsung, but is lighter, has a better screen, and charges from a micro-USB adapter.

I will follow up with a later post. – Enjoy! – Phil Stephens

 

The Chromebook Challenge Day Two – Write Space

Samsung Chromebook
The Samsung Chromebook

Well, here I am on day two of the 31 day Chromebook challenge. It has not been without problems, one of them causing me to use a Windows PC to do a remote support call. I now know how to do that from ChromeOS and will write about it when I can do some more research.

The first question I asked when I started using a Chromebook a couple of months ago was what will I use as a text editor? The obvious choice would seem to be Google Docs or a Google Drive Document. Drive (For now, I will call them Google Docs) has formatting, spell-check and word-count, all things important to a writer. And despite the the “without WiFi it is a brick” whining of the Microsoft Scroogled campaign’s lapdogs, it works perfectly offline, accessing and editing all your documents, as long as you have allowed them to sync with Google before going offline.

But I have one problem with Google Docs as a general purpose text editor. A Google document can be quite hard to view in field conditions. I spend a lot of my day on buses and in the sun, with my Samsung Chromebook Series 3 on my lap. A big, clear screen is vital.

I am currently using Write Space, a full-screen text editor. Write Space is basic. A handful of basic key-strokes, a status bar at the bottom of the screen with Words, Lines and Characters typed.

Write Space
Write Space, Configured the way I like it!

There is no menu, and no save option. Everything I type is saved locally. It has no file save option. Text just gets saved to the local Chrome storage, and is kept. To use it elsewhere, it must be cut and pasted to a Doc file, Keep, or a text file.

I using Write Space because of the simplicity of the screen and the ability to re-configure it. If you go to the Chrome > plugins > settings menu you can change the page width, font size and colour. Save the settings, and Write Space instantly updates its look an feel.

I am writing in a large, pale blue font on a dark blue background on a page that is 800 pixels wide. It is large, easy on the eyes and very responsive. It is visible in low light. I can read the large font easily when using the computer on my lap. It is a little reminiscent of the Wordperfect screen of the eighties, and easy on the eyes.

There is a spell-checker that works well, even when offline. The usual short cuts work, including the undo function.

When I hit the full-screen key (the equivalent of F11 in a Windows Chrome browser) I have a full, uncluttered and simple screen that allows me to work without distraction.

It is hard to get any simpler, and hard to think of more that a few hundred words to say about an editor that just works. I have never lost a word, and occasionally I copy everything into Keep so it will sync across every device I use.

All in all, I recommend Write Space as a simple and reliable text editor.

Enjoy!

The 31 Day Chromebook Challenge

Samsung Chromebook
The Samsung Chromebook

The Chromebook is a surprisingly capable platform. It is little understood and constantly maligned by people who speak without taking the time to understand the potential of it for accomplishing real work.

It is the wisdom of the herd that nothing important can be done on a Chromebook. The widely held belief that it cannot work without an Internet connection is just plain wrong. I have decided to put the Chromebook to the test with a 30 day challenge.

The challenge is not to use nothing but the Chromebook, but to always look for an alternative to using Windows or Linux.

I will use this Chromebook as my primary computer for a month, starting today. I have packed up my Desktop PC and put it in storage. I have a Windows laptop, and may need to use it for some specific tasks such as editing podcasts and using a scanner with OCR. But I will always try to find an alternative from the web to allow the  Chromebook to perform the same task. Time will tell how well I can survive without a full featured computer as my main device.

I will also use my Galaxy SIII Phone and Nexus 7 (2013 edition) tablet.

(This article was written on the Samsung Chromebook shown above)