Actually ASUS did get there: ASUS VIVO TAb Review

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I wrote during the summer that Microsoft didn’t have a tablet that met the criteria of high definition screen, all day battery life, and functional design. I was writing about their Surface line of tablets that I tried out in a forlorn Microsoft Store. I totally missed ASUS’ VIVO Tab which is roughly the size of a letterbox shaped iPad. By itself it has about 8-9 hrs of battery life but the secret sauce is its keyboard base which was an optional accessory. Unlike keyboard options for iPad, you click this into the charging port and you now have a mini laptop with a touchscreen. The connection is strong and trumps most keyboards for iPad and Surface in that the clamshell configuration lets you put it on your lap. Even better, there is a battery in the base giving the keyboard ballast and the whole device an extra 6 hours of usage. When used with the keyboard base, the VIVO Tab is suppose to get up to 16 hours of battery life which is great for a light laptop/tablet hybrid that is airplane tray table friendly.

Some people won’t like the small keys which are Brobdingnagian compared to my Vaio P Series laptop. The screen is bright and nearly Retina -about the same as the current iPad Mini. I really like the price I paid for it -285 for both the tablet at its battery-keyboard base. This was through Woot and almost half off last year’s price.

The thing runs Office and will link to my hospital system via Citrix. The only snag is there really are no apps for Windows RT which drives this Tegra processor. Yes there is Kindle, Evernote, Dropbox, Netflix, and Hulu and a web browser. The XBox game thing appeals less to me than the radio which is okay but I’m invested in iTunes so it’s irrelevant. There are a ton of programming apps and I think that Windows RT will be a curiosity for nerds like Segways, AMC Pacers, and OG Dr. Who. Even so, having a blank Word screen feels so full of possibilities, I can now spend 16 cordless hours at the Starbucks writing the great American novel. If I had the time.

Addendum: The battery life is for real having used intensively at work yesterday between cases and watching Netflix and Hulu last night. There is enough juice today 47% to go another day of light work. The only hassle is that like all regular Windows devices including Windows 7, Wifi is dicey. I am now at my sons’ Korean class at the Korean Cultural Center and the VIVO Tab refuses to search and find the new network. I rebooted but it started a looooong Windows update which occurs weekly. Now I don’t have a computer to use and am quickly reminded why I generally hate Microsoft products.

The other comment is that the keyboard doesn’t always turn off the screens keyboard which should be a norm. Apple would not have let this out the door in this condition (hence the uproar over its pathetic Maps).

Addendum: The intermittent problems that I have had with the keyboard are actually a problem with the touchpad. Like any non-Apple touchpad, the touchpad on the Vivo Tab, is overly sensitive and will interpret a light touch or hover as a tap to redirect the cursor where the mouse is pointing. This is a problem I have had in most Windows laptops and can be somewhat ameliorated by decreasing the sensitivity of the touchpad, but on Windows RT -access to this is impenetrably difficult. There are two ways to get to the controls of the computer -one via a right swipe which gives you a very limited number of functions to tweak. The other is to get to the desktop mode -the one missing the Start button. From there, getting to the control panels is basically impossible and I managed only by bringing up the Windows Defender control panel during an obligatory scan, noticing the folders setting on top and digging to find the Synaptics driver -but no dice. There is no way to set the touchpad as far as I can tell.

The solution? A USB mouse from an old PC which now takes up the only USB port available.

Microsoft OEM’s don’t understand touchpads -plain and simple.

Addendum: October 15, 2013 -Add to the issue that when the tablet goes to sleep, it won’t wake up. I have updated all drivers and returned the sleep settings to factory original conditions. This is obviously a problem with this tablet because I see it on the internet, but every Windows device going back to Vaio’s I owned in the mid 2000′s had a problem with sleep. It’s probably not a Microsoft problem, but a manufacturer problem, but again, my MacBook Pro sleeps and wakes without problem. With a tablet, not turning on when you want it on is criminal.

Hi Resolution Display, All Day Battery Life -Windows Can’t Get There

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I just picked up a Nexus 7 (2013) tablet. I got tired of waiting for the iPad Mini to come out with a Retina display, and I bit when this gem came out. It confirmed for me this fact -iOS is way, way behind when it comes to interface for mobile devices. But as much as it knocks Apple for the time being, at least until iOS 7 comes out and the inevitable iPad Mini with Retina display, this device illustrates the basic problem afflicting Microsoft in their journey through the thickets. 

They don’t get it when it comes to what is now an absolute for me -high resolution displays are now a given and I can’t work on a pixelated “HD” display that Windows laptops come with. I just can’t see straight after working on a non-Retina display, and am working to ditch any non-high resolution display out of my life. 

But the other cardinal sin committed by Microsoft and Intel is the willful disregard for battery life. The Surface Pro comes with 4 hours touted, meaning 2-3 hours in real life. Most Windows laptops feature 6-7 hours at best meaning 3-5 hours in real life. The solution -extended batteries that add bulge and thickness to already thick devices. These aren’t solutions -they are hacks. 

The Nexus 7 shows that you don’t have to be Apple to hit these considerations -high resolution display and >6 hours of battery life with an easy to use interface that requires no instructions or manuals. It shows how to succeed (they are sold out now everywhere) where Microsoft Windows 8 laptops and tablets languish. I don’t like good enough solutions offered by PC makers to IT admins who have never traveled intercontinental flights -carry your adaptor they say only that PC adaptors weight as much as the computer and take up irregular space, and the 6 hour battery life is really only good for 3 and then you are done.

Microsoft is basically done in the consumer space. Done. 

Samsung Galaxy Tablet 2 7.0 -brief review

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The annoyingly named Samsung Galaxy Tablet 2 7.0 came out last month and I couldn’t hold off picking it up because my other 7 inch Android tablet has been appropriated by my 3 year old for video watching. Turns out, while traveling, the 7inch tablet is easier to hold than an iPad. I have become a fan of the 7 inch form factor, and because most of my work is done in email, Evernote, and Dropbox, across multiple platforms, it really doesn’t matter what gadget I’m on, as long as these cloud services and apps are available.

I was first struck by this device as being more business oriented than previous tablets, having charcoal grays that would look good in a boardroom. The front is Gorilla glass, the back is a high quality plastic that feels good in the hands. There are front and back cameras and Instagram works fine from either sides. It is thin enough. The 7 inch tablets work well for me in the hospital because it fits in my pocket. All the medical apps work, and in a pinch, Citrix is usable for accessing the hospital and office data. I can also read my Kindle books and watch Netflix and Hulu, listen to Pandora and Spotify, and via Google Play can cloud base my iTunes for my Android devices, or as I have done, park the non-DRM files on a 64 gigabyte microSD card with room left for over 25 feature length films.

It runs well, has between 6-8 hrs of battery life. It is much more user friendly that it used to be, but really, if you can’t set up your own email account, you shouldn’t be given a computer. Amazon sells a faux leather book cover which works and keeps things corporate.

It will run Amazon media via Flash, but who has time to watch Downtown Abbey when you have four seasons of Mad Men to catch up on? Flash kills your battery life (we know, we know), but there are times that it is convenient although every year it is less so as Apple and Microsoft have abandoned Flash.

Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) is much more touch friendly than Honeycomb which killed the 10inch Android Tablet in the crib. The Tablet 2 designation is correct in that Samsung is positioning itself as an Apple alternative in the post PC world. I like ICS because you can customize. The problems Android had when I had my Droid 2 from Motorola/Verizon are note apparent -contacts come up fast on emails, and Facebook and Twitter are laced into the OS. It doesn’t crash. Individual apps may but the whole OS no longer dies. I see no need for a task killer so far.

Why did Steve Jobs hate the 7 inch form factor? It didn’t jibe with his four square grids on his keynote presentation. As he said, you’d have to file your fingers down to nubbins to reach the right size – this is not true. I think it was a mistake on his part. The fact is that industrial gadgetry is market begging to be filled by the void being left by BlackBerry. Doctors want a tablet, but one that doesn’t need a murse or a satchel to carry.

This tablet at 249.99 at Best Buy is more expensive than the Fire, but I think it does more. Even if you are wed to iOS, the fact that most of the big apps like Instagram and Angry Birds are available means that it doesn’t matter which one you have. I am preferring subscription services like Netflix and Spotify because of their ubiquity on multiple devices. Subscriptions make more sense because you don’t need to take up precious storage space for media when you can have it in the cloud -the tradeoff being the need for a broadband connection.

Other neat stuff -it features a universal remote and IR blaster, letting you turn it into a very cool feature rich remote. The app also tells what’s on TV -it would be wonderfully convenient if it just displayed the TV as well, no?

It’s a good time to be into tech. You have options. When Apple does come it with a 7inch iPad, you’ll have even more.

Apple’s Impact on CES

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It seems CES is all about reacting to Apple -Ultrabooks that are indistinguishable from MacBook Airs, smartphones that try to beat iPhone on features, cloud services that plagiarize Steve Jobs presentation slides, TV’s you talk to that try to preempt a Siri hosted Apple TV. The best stuff is when they try to be themselves, like Windows Mobile which is not very Microsoft in that it is stylish and easy to use, again like Apple.

When irony is so obvious, it no longer is ironic. It’s just sad. It’s just a bunch of small fish in a small pond. A tall hobbit contest.

Why Keyboards Matter and Why They Must Go Away

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Tablets are often denigrated as being merely consumption devices, and there is some truth to it. For actual work -or what we call work in this latter day, we do need keyboards, but that is because of the infancy of touch UI, and its likely successor, the voice UI (Siri). In healthcare, not having keyboards is a big deal -the ones in hospital hallways are generally filthy, but accessing Windows via Citrix on a tablet is not fun -just not set up for touch. Being able to talk to a device like it was your ever-present first assistant -like a caddy but less bulky, would be ideal.

“Give me Mrs. Jones vitals for today. What is her potassium level? Order a bolus of saline, CBC, Chem 7 in morning labs, and schedule for surgery on Friday -what? oh..an exploration with possible resection.”

One day. until then, watching The New Girl on Hulu rocks.

Intersection of Healing and Technology

So much has been written in the short time since Steve Job’s death, that I will refrain from expressing my personal grief at his passing. I just finished his biography by Walter Isaacson. I read between cases and into the night. The most recent memory I have of Steve (he is now all of ours to refer to personally) is watching his introduction of the iPad2, which I watched on-line this past spring. The final image was what stuck with me –the intersection of the liberal arts and technology. That is why Apple products are so wonderful –they liberate the individual to perform insanely great things with computers that were frankly difficult or impossible before. It has also inspired me to think about health care’s relationship to technology.

Modern health care is about delivering technology. I can now repair an abdominal aortic aneurysm with stent grafts delivered via two small incisions smaller than the width of my pinky where traditionally, I had to make a long incision on the belly. These patients go home the next day. Small computers embedded in pacemakers can sense arrhythmias, correct them, and send reports to physicians by internet. Drugs can be tailored to the genetic makeup of tumors. You can have your genome scanned for disease risk.

But in the practice, on the back end, health care is very analog, very dependent on paper and pen, dictation, and text. The best medical notes read like compelling tone poems but can only be composed by direct speech or penmanship. The notes generated with the assistance of computers end up formatted for other computers and insurance companies. I generally skip to the human generated summary section and plan of care, yet even here, most EMRs (electronic medical records) try to parse meaning by stuffing what is analog into digital cubbies. Electronic medical records are ripe for reimagining.

When I want to know the temperature in Orlando, where my father lives, I can ask my smartphone, “What is the weather in Orlando, Florida?” and the temperature pops up along with weather forecast for today, this week, and so on. My email, my contacts, my friends are instantly available. When it comes to my patients, it is an entirely different story.

The problem is that hospital information services serve many needs and therefore devolve into the least common denominator in order to be used in an infinite variety of scenarios. Often, during the course of decades, legacy systems and databases serving different aspects of patient care create an alphabet soup of programs, each with their own security needs and access methods.

For example, in most hospitals, to look up blood tests, you have to log into the computer, then log into several layers of programs then look up the patient, select the correct admission, then select the laboratories -all the while remembering multiple long and complex passwords which you are not allowed to write down. You repeat the process to look up x-ray images, and chart notes from other physicians if they happened to have been scanned in. I can find out the location of every Starbucks in Manhattan and have them mapped out, but checking patient information is a trip back to 1985 in terms of technology. On top of all of this, hospital computer programs are simply ugly. Steve would not approve.

Steve’s philosophy of vertical integration -of creating the software, hardware, store, and services, created simplicity for the end user. It made the technology work magic by being carefully thought out from top to bottom. Simple takes a great deal of effort, but the returns are clear. What a great day it would be if I could just ask my smartphone, “What is Mrs. Smith’s potassium over the past week?” and get an answer.

The answer, of course, is to begin the work needed to get to that point. And that is the great lesson in Steve Job’s life -not fortune, nor influence, but that beautiful simplicity takes a great deal of focus and effort. Thank you Steve for showing us how.

Apple M-Series

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Apple needs to create a premium product line. BMW has their M series. McDonalds gives you the option to supersize their fries. You can now pay an extra 20 bucks to get seated in the exit aisle on your next flight. So why can’t we have serious upgrade options.

I know that when you buy a Mac, you can upgrade the processors and RAM, tweak the screen, and add software, but what I really want is the stuff out of Apple’s skunk works, some imbalance, a heaping load of cognitive dissonance. You see, the problem I’m having with Apple right now is that it is headed towards becoming General Computers.

Why can’t we have a Macbook Pro Premium with the DVD drive slipped out and the space filled with more battery, maxed out i7 processor, and 16 gigs of RAM with a retina display screen? In matte black. Why can’t we have a limited edition micro-Macbook Air suitable for pocketing with a 7 inch letterbox screen and small but full keyboard (like Psion’s), 24 hour battery life, and an SD card slot. Why can’t we have a limited edition iPod Touch with a 5 inch retina display and impossible thinness? How about an iPod nano phone with a separate, flawless bluetooth headset, that also functions as a wi-fi hotspot for all your iGadgets.

There is a market for these items, in much the same way that there is a market for Ferrari’s and personal submarines. When the overweight lady with crazy hair and too many shopping bag carry ons is poking around on an iPad -it’s not so fun.

Windows 7 on Macbook Air: Finally A Windows PC that I Like

From Evernote:

Windows 7 on Macbook Air: Finally A Windows PC that I Like

This grainy photo above shows my shiny new Macbook Air running (GASP) Windows 7. While this feature has been available via a utility called Boot Camp, I had always run Windows XP in virtualization, first in Parallels, and currently in the open-source (free) Virtualbox. That said, I wanted a faster option, particularly to see if this set up would run 3D CT analysis software well. My current home workstation, a Dell desktop replacement laptop, slows to a crawl when I run this software, but something told me it may run better with the flashdrive enabled Macbook Air.

Buying a shrinkwrap Windows 7 was not fun -an initial trip to Best (not) Buy revealed that they were happy to sell you an empty box, but after they took your money realized the whole store was empty of actual Windows 7 disks. I therefore went to Amazon and was happy to find Windows 7 Ultimate for 40 dollars off the Microsoft price. It arrived two days later and away I went…

To the Apple Store to buy a Superdrive. I tried various ways of creating a bootable USB flash disk, but after several hours, decided to take the plunge and purchase the MacBook Air Superdrive. The Boot Camp setup was a little annoying -you had to download Boot Camp drivers and burn a CD to load onto your Windows drive. You then had to partition the hard drive -I initially set aside 25 Gb but now find that I am running out of space as I load up with necesary software.

After a few days of fiddling, and running it in Windows, I have to say I am surprisingly pleased. Windows 7 is as beautiful as Windows XP is mofugly. It anticipates your needs and just works -for example, drivers for my network printer were automatically downloaded upon adding it to the printer list. This sort of ease of use used to be associated with Mac OS only, but Microsoft has finally bit the bullet and realized that the “for business” label was just an excuse for keeping things arcane and difficult. Getting XP to recognize a network printer is a Sisyphusian task. Windows 7 does it with elan.

Strangely enough, I am enjoying working on Windows 7. Sure -the fonts aren’t as good looking, but the OS is polished and refined. Frankly, I love it. The 3D CT software runs as well from my home as it does in the office on its server (a Dell Xeon PC which is monstrously huge). I am loading Office on it. During the late ’00′s, Microsoft seems to have gotten the message that their software was preferred by geeks, but generally despised by an increasing number of people. What always kept be away from Windows 7 was the terrible hardware available -I had miserable experience with Sony and Dell, and am dubious of any of the large PC makers. Boot Camp and Macbook Air changes all that.

Oh, the virus thing -Microsoft now offers a free download called Microsoft Security Essentials which does a decent job of policing the computer. Kudos to Microsoft and here’s to hoping much luck and fortune to that other iconic American company.