REVIEW: THE DELL VENUE PRO 8 TABLET

After the Kindle HDX washed out, I had a hole where a small, portable web-capable device should be. With hospitalization soon, I wanted to be able to do small footprint basic computing. My laptop is great, but too big and heavy for a hospital bed.

I’ve been using the Dell Venue Pro 8 every day for the past few weeks. I no longer find myself shouting at it — big improvement. The real problems were solved when Dell installed new drivers. The rest of the issues have gone away as I’ve gotten to know the hardware and operating system.

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I remain underwhelmed by Windows 8. It offers no advantage over Windows 7, at least to customers. My son pointed out it offers value to Microsoft by making everything proprietary. It blocks you from using applications not made specifically for Windows 8. Considering the whole advantage to Windows has always been its universality, this is a strange, self-destructive direction for Microsoft. They have a new CEO. Let’s see if he gets the company back on a sensible course. Otherwise, this will likely be my last Windows device. Sad, after such a long relationship.

Technically, you can run standard Windows applications on any Windows 8 machine, tablet or otherwise. Practically speaking, it’s not true. Some things run. Most don’t. The Venue 8 only lets you install by download, which eliminates a lot of my software by default. Most of the other applications I use on Windows 7 don’t run on 8 — or run so poorly it isn’t worth the effort. It’s ironic. Just as Apple is opening up their platform to all kinds of applications, Microsoft has gone the other way.

The tablet’s native software runs well. The email app is fine. IE runs smoothly. You better like IE because you won’t be using Firefox or Chrome — neither runs on the tablet. I’m not a big gamer, so the lack of games doesn’t bother me as much as it aggravates others, but still. Aside from Solitaire, there are no games. You can’t even get a download of Scrabble. That’s rough.

Photography apps? None worth the effort. I won’t be taking a lot of pictures using the onboard camera (which works pretty well), or uploading photographs to the tablet — even for viewing. There’s no USB port, no slot for an SD card other than one micro card which is an extension slot for memory.

If you want to play games, read books, watch movies, listen to music? The Kindle Fire HD (the old version, not the HDX), is just $139 from Amazon. It’s a far better choice for entertainment. Not as good for email and other Internet activities … but for entertainment, it’s a winner.

The Dell Venue Pro 8 is solidly built. It feels great in hand. It seamlessly connected to Netflix. Watching movies is easy. You can listen to music on Amazon’s Cloud Player, but it’s not straightforward. Microsoft really wants you to use its own software … but I find it confusing, complicated and lacking documentation or instructions, ultimately incomprehensible. It’s inexcusable to provide so little support.

The (free) copy of MS Office installed without a hitch. I don’t know if I’ll get out much use from it. That’s not what I bought the tablet for. I found a bunch of other useful small applications. Solitaire, a clock, calendar, alarm and stopwatch and installed them without incident. I uninstalled a few things too. Installation and uninstallation is really easy. And fast. If only there were more apps!

The speakers are great, though not terribly loud. Which is fine. I can use earphones if I need it louder. For such a little tablet, the graphics are fantastic. I watched “Jack Reacher” on Netflix and enjoyed it. My website looks great.

The cameras (1 front, 1 back) work but the lack of editing software limits their usefulness. It would be okay for Skyping — probably — but I don’t Skype, so it’s moot. The video camera seems fine as does the voice recorder, though I have little use for either.

It’s got a lot of bells and whistles, some of which I might use yet it’s missing important basic tools. Not being able to edit its own photos is bad, but not being able to upload my photos at all? Worse. All for the want of a USB port.

It’s good for reading (Kindle and maybe other reader apps), watching a movie on Netflix. I don’t know about other services but you can’t watch Amazon Prime. Or I can’t figure out how.

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It’s good for quick emails. I’m disinclined to write much on a virtual keyboard. I can  do small amounts of web editing but wouldn’t want to do more. But not because the tablet won’t. It loads this website fast and switches to editing mode with no problem.

The Venue Pro 8 is too small for web editing. It’s too small for a lot of things. My son has a 10″ device and he can do a lot more. The “OK” boxes and other targets on-screen are tiny. Even using a stylus, I miss as often as I hit. Fine editing is out of the question. That is not the fault of the tablet. I chose this size. I knew it would have limitations. I was right.

There are no after market accessories — yet. Well,  there’s one, but it doesn’t work. I bought a secondary market keyboard — blue tooth — and returned it. It wasn’t broken, but you had to enter a generated key code. You couldn’t see the code because the virtual keyboard popped up and blocked it. By the time you got the keyboard out of the way, the code was gone. The codes are good for only 30 seconds. I don’t understand why they designed it like that. Just provide a printed code. Why make me jump through hoops to sync a keyboard?

Dell sells a keyboard that apparently works, but it’s $99. Too expensive. I’ll do without. I don’t know how well any blue tooth accessory will install. If it includes a “time out” code, it won’t. It’s a tactical rather than technical problem, but it stopped me.

If anyone wants to point out how I could use my iPhone, may I remind you I find an 8″ tablet too small. Do you think the iPhone would be better? Think before commenting.

Summary

What I like:

  • Great graphics
  • Excellent sound
  • Good camera and video (but no editing tools)
  • Free Microsoft Office, email and other workaday stuff
  • Fine build
  • No problem loading websites
  • Fast boot time; almost instant
  • Long battery life and short recharging cycle
  • Comes with a charger.

What I don’t like:

  • No USB port
  • No SD card slot
  • The cord is too short. Really, would it have broken the bank to add a foot and make it reach my desk from the electrical outlet? Serious inconvenience
  • No documentation. The PDF is just generated data. Useless
  • Windows 8.1 sucks
  • The graphical Interface feels like a bunch of pieces stuck together without a cohesive concept.

Related articles:

DELL VENUE PRO 8 TABLET – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL | Serendipity

DELL VENUE PRO 8 TABLET – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

Not long ago, I chronicled my adventure with Dell Customer Disservice and Dell Technical nonSupport. A few days later, I wrote ASK A SIMPLE QUESTION, GET A SIMPLE — WRONG — ANSWER. The following day, my Dell Venue Pro 8 tablet arrived. Such a little package. Well, what did I expect? It’s just a wee bit bigger than a Kindle.

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Why Do I Always Have Be the Fixer?

Yesterday was computer fixing day. My son used to be a professional computer repair guy but has apparently forgotten everything he ever knew. He handed me his laptop. Seven hours later, it was running pretty well, though it could use a full reload of the OS which I’m not going to do. Still, I think it’s at least a working computer.

With all the jokes they make about Old People and computers, how come I’m the ONLY one in this 3-generation household who understands how computers work? How come, huh? I wanted to beat the kid (all 6’4″ 240 lbs of nearly bald 44-year-old kid) to death with that 15″ laptop. I’m definitely getting old and cranky.

Back to the Review (Already In Progress)

The Dell Venue Pro 8 is well-built. It has a lovely, solid, silky feel. It easily connected to the Kindle application and Netflix. Without a hiccup. Chrome, on the other hand, would not work and I gave up. Some battles aren’t worth the effort. The (free) copy of MS Office installed without a hitch too. Eventually I found a variety of other useful applications, a reasonable version of Solitaire, a clock, calendar, alarm and stopwatch and installed them too. I uninstalled a few things I didn’t have any use for. Installation and uninstallation is really easy. And fast.

The tablet wasn’t working quite as it should. It dropped its Internet connection each time it went to sleep and it wasn’t sensitive enough to touch.

This meant – OMG!!!! – another call to Dell’s tech support. I didn’t hesitate. I have learned that thinking about it will make the inevitably horrible experience even worse. Moreover, I have no intention of keeping the tablet if it isn’t going to work properly.

The problems weren’t big ones, but they were annoying. Mostly I like the tablet. Good speakers, exceptional graphics. Watched “Jack Reacher” on Netflix. Not bad. The sound isn’t as loud as I might like, but the quality is excellent and it has an earphone jack. The cameras (1 front, 1 back) work pretty well, even in low light. I haven’t tried the video camera or the voice recorder yet. Overall, it’s got a lot of bells and whistles I might really use (be still my heart).

Tech Support Again (Oy)

I am not going to go into details. Suffice to say, I was on the phone with this doofus for 4-1/2 hours. When the conversation started I had 2 relatively minor issues. After he fixed things (reinstalling the drivers, etc.), the tablet was dead. Unresponsive. He said he wanted to try one more thing. It was getting late, past dinner time and I said, “No, I’ve had enough. Either you put me on with someone who actually knows what needs to be done and can speak English well enough for us to understand each other (this guy not only didn’t speak English, he didn’t understand it either) or I swear I will return this tablet to Dell, explain that YOU are the reason why and never, ever buy anything from Dell again in this lifetime.” Which, if I didn’t get my blood pressure under control, might not be very long.

He threw in the towel and passed me to a Supervisor. Who spoke and understood English. And knew how to get the tablet up and running.

The secret of getting a dead Windows 8 computer up and running is 3 successive cold reboots. Third time, it goes into “self-repair and diagnostic mode” — the new version of Safe Mode.  Which doesn’t require a password. So finally, I was able to adjust the setting after which it began to connect automatically to WiFi. Problem solved.

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Next, I insisted I make the table NOT password protected. Which is when I discovered Windows 8.1 is still — as all Windows have been — a hack over DOS. It was comforting in a weird way. There was the old DOS prompt in its little black window, like an old friend. It meant I was not really learning a new OS. I was just learning to work around the changed GUI. I felt better.

Eliminating Password Protection

For anyone who wants to get rid of password protection in Windows 8.1, here’s how to do it:

(1) Use Search to find the command prompt. Start typing “Command” and before you hit the second “m,” you’ll see command prompt as a clickable link. Click it.

(2) Type: control userpasswords2

(3) Up comes a little window, a little window you’ve seen on every version of Windows since 3.1.

(4) UNCHECK “require all users to have a password,” then enter your password as requested. Exit all the way out and reboot. That should do it. Sometimes you have to do it twice.

Win 8.1 has the identical sub-structure as every version of Windows. Control panel, menus, SysConfig, Uninstall. It’s all there, buried a level deeper under a new — pointless and unattractive — user interface. You can change the interface using “Personalize” and make it less ugly.

My over all opinion of Windows 8.1 remains unchanged. It is not an improvement over 7. If anything, it’s a step backward. It requires significant relearning without offering any noticeable advantage to users. After you get the hang of it, it’s not hard to work with, but it’s unnecessary and adds an unfamiliar layer to what ought to be simple.

Summary

What I like:

  • Great graphics
  • Excellent sound
  • Surprisingly good camera and video
  • Useful apps that work and most of them are free
  • Feels nice to the touch with a fine build quality
  • Good battery life.

What I don’t like:

  • The cord is much too short. Really, would it have broken the bank to add a foot and make it reach my desk from the electrical outlet? This is a serious inconvenience, not a quibble
  • Horrible documentation. I’ve seen the PDF and it isn’t much more informative than the leaflet. It’s not that Win 8 is difficult. The documentation is totally inadequate
  • I don’t like Windows 8.1. Now that I can use it, it’s a lot of flash and dash. It isn’t an improvement over Windows 7 — quite the opposite. Sorry dudes. I still don’t understand why you took a good OS (Win 7) and made it harder to use
  • The graphical Interface is neither tablet or user-friendly. It doesn’t feel integrated or smooth. More like a bunch of pieces stuck together without a cohesive concept.

Try Windows 8.1? I think not.

I’ve given this thought. I reviewed the video from Microsoft. I read the FAQ. I’ve read the articles in ZDNet and anything else that seems to have detailed information. I watched the video a second time. I read the email you sent me and looked at the poll results. I still can’t find any advantage for me in using — or even testing — Windows 8.1.

I  don’t have a machine appropriate for testing anyhow. If I install it on a little notebook, the inadequacy of the machine would so limit what I could test I’m not sure I would learn anything meaningful. I couldn’t use such a little machine to run any important applications. I don’t even know if Chrome will run on 8.1. The information in the FAQ was vague.

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Installing and testing would steal time from other projects to which I’m already committed. Others things take priority. If I could install it on one of my real working computers and use it for regular stuff I do … no, I don’t think so. I’ve heard rumors. Ugly rumors. I’m not willing to risk my computers … or waste my time. In the end, I’m merely curious about the system. And that isn’t enough motivation.

Windows 8 does not appear to be a work-oriented operating system. I’m a work-oriented user. The Dell XPS tablet I gave my son runs RT and that’s fine. RT was designed for a tablet and it does well in that environment.

But what’s in it for me? A bunch of apps I don’t need and won’t use? I have no interest in or need for basic photo editing apps. I don’t need simplified anything. I’m way past grade school versions of real tools I’ve been using for years.

Who does Windows 8.1 target? Not me. You? Anyone out there?

I understand what Microsoft is selling. The problem? I don’t want or need it. It’s not a business environment. My wish list for a new operating system is for more and better business tools. Easily organized, searchable databases for graphics, photos, and documents. Tools to help me quickly locate files on huge hard drives. A better media player for audio.

I want an improved email client and a versatile calendar application I can share on a network. And I don’t want to lease or even buy it. I want it to be part of the operating system. I want dependable, easy access to the Internet and in particular, this website. I don’t like Internet Explorer. I hate being prevented from going where I want because my browser is a wimp. I’m not 12 and I don’t need to be protected from myself.

Microsoft urgently needs folks like me to test drive this operating system. They need core users — like me — to work with it, accept it, and enthusiastically endorse it. To talk it up on the Internet. To vouch for it to friends and co-workers.

Instead, we are the people most reluctant to try it and unless something dramatically changes are least likely to adopt it in the forseeable future.

XPS 10 Tablet Details — Dell Windows 8 Tablet - Dell

Does Windows 8.1 work? Probably with a lot of bugs. Eventually Microsoft will fix it. They usually do, though not nearly fast enough. Two very basic questions remain unanswered:

  1. Why should I switch to a new operating system that’s anti-intuitive, ill-suited to my needs, and requires I relearn basic computer tasks?
  2. What advantages does Windows 8.1 offer that might motivate me to use it?

The answers are “no reason” and “none.”

Two words: Why bother?

I have read every article, watched all the videos, played with my son’s RT tablet and I cannot see anything tempting — for my purposes.

Maybe in the future Microsoft will do something to change my mind. But far as I can tell, they don’t know I exist. Or don’t care. One way or the other, they’ve chosen to ignore me and everyone like me, effectively disenfranchising the whole class of business users. That’s a crazy choice for a corporation which depends on business clients. Mind blowing and well … dumb.

Does this mean that there’s no merit in this operating system? I’m sure it has value to someone, but it doesn’t have any to me, at least none I can find. And I’ve really looked. I want to want it. I want to like it.

Sorry, Microsoft. Not happening for me.

 

To try Windows 8.1 or not … THAT is the question!

I got an email from Microsoft asking me if I would like to try the new Windows 8.1. It came out in Beta today. I am not, as you probably know if you’ve been following me for a while, thrilled about Windows 8. I like Windows 7 and can’t see a single reason why Microsoft can’t support both a standard interface operating system — Windows 7 — plus their new tablet operating system, Windows 8. They have supported more than one operating system before and are doing it now. Why not let us — their customers — have an operating system with which we are comfortable and familiar? Why force us to relearn everything when we don’t (a) want to, and/or (b) don’t need to.

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I work on my computer. I process photographs. I blog. I edit. I write. I design. I don’t see what I have to gain from Windows 8. It seems to be aimed at stuff in which I have no interest.

But here’s the dilemma. I’m not the kind of reviewer who writes about products she hasn’t used. I wouldn’t put Windows 8.1 on any of the three computers on which I depend, but I have an entirely functional, if emaciated 10-inch Dell notebook. It doesn’t have much horsepower. But, it has a full Windows 7 operating system and it works. There’s nothing wrong with it except it was never powerful enough to do anything except light surfing and email.

Maybe I could install Windows 8.1 and use it for testing? It has a 1.7 GH board, just 1 GB of RAM, but a 320 GB hard drive, so it is a real, if slow, computer. I don’t use it any more so it’s just sitting in a bag getting old. What do you think? Should I give it a trial and see if there’s anything in Windows 8.1 I might like?

A Nifty 10″ Tablet: The XPS 10 is a sweet machine

Last week, in the wee hours of the morning … the darkest hours before the dawn … I ordered a Dell XPS 10 tablet that runs on Windows RT. Windows RT is not Windows 8, though they certainly belong to the same family. Kissing cousins. RT was designed as an operating system for a tablet. It does not let you install any standard PC software anymore than an iPad lets you install standard Mac software. It is a nifty tablet.

Dell XPS 10 Light Windows 8 Tablet

Immediately after I bought it, I went to the Dell website and read some dreadful reviews. Mostly I discovered people bought it expecting it to replace their laptop. They were disappointed. It is not a replacement for your laptop. When all was said and done, I knew it wouldn’t satisfy my mobile computing requirements, not because it is a bad piece of hardware or a bad operating system. It’s simply not what I need.

XPS 10 Tablet Details — Dell Windows 8 Tablet - Dell

So, I bought the Inspiron 14Z which only cost a little bit more and arranged to return the XPS 10 when it arrived. As it turned out, the day it arrived — the day before yesterday — Dell was upgrading their systems, so I had to wait.

Today, I called Dell, explained I wanted to return the XPS 10 because I didn’t believe it was right for me. He offered  me a $50 discount. I hesitated, then said, “No,” because I have already ordered another computer. I mean, how many computers do I need, really?

He offered me $100 discount, which also meant a refund of some of the sales tax … bringing the whole thing in for under $400. I had ordered a pretty high-end configuration, including the keyboard which doubles the battery life to 18 hours, and the 64 GB flash memory. And it came with Office RT installed … everything except Outlook.

“Maybe,” he said, “Your husband would enjoy it?”

I gave that some thought, but he really doesn’t need it. On the other hand, I have a son. I told Owen about the tablet. He could try it. If he didn’t like it, there would be no problem returning it.

The Configuration

  • XPS 10 Tablet – Windows RT
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 1.5 GHz DC processor with 64GB Flash Storage, WiFi Only
  • XPS 10 Mobile Keyboard Dock – US English
  • 10.1″ HD Display (1366×768) with capacitive multi-touch
  • Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 RT

I handed him the box, he opened it and set it up. It asked questions, Owen answered them. The email started working immediately. It took 5 minutes to figure out how to use the home screen, get into desktop mode, set up the weather and the maps (it has a fast GPS).

The keyboard has a great feel. It locks securely in place with a satisfying click. With keyboard attached, it becomes a small, well-built laptop. The keyboard is heavy enough to hold the XPS 10 upright so you can watch movies or videos hands free. The keyboard is 92% of full size, large enough for email and whatever documents you may want to create on it. If you have huge hands, well … you know who you are. For most of us, the keyboard is fine. The screen is bright and responsive, the speakers work.

And off he went to work, taking the XPS 10 with him.

By the time he got home, it was obvious that the only way that tablet was going back to Dell was if I pried it from his cold dead hands. He was in love.

What’s are the problems?

The cyber world has not embraced this tablet even though the XPS 10 is a great little machine. After using it, I think I understand the issues, the reasons people are not flocking to it, nor “taking” to any of the new Windows operating systems.

(1) Most people have no idea how to use them.

(2) Microsoft has failed to explain the capabilities and limitations of the operating systems. There’s a black hole of ignorance being filled with rumor, innuendo, and lies.

(3) Microsoft has done a terrible marketing job. Instead of reassuring customers, they adopted an antagonistic big brother attitude.

If you’ve heard this song before, feel free to join in the chorus. Touchscreen technology is not new. It has its place, but under the best circumstances, touchscreens become insensitive through use. Big, little, no matter how it’s made, touchscreens have a lifespan much shorter than non-touchscreens. If you get a few good years out of a touchscreen, you’re doing well. Not everyone wants to replace their equipment every two or three years. It’s not merely inconvenient. It’s costly.

Touchscreens are inappropriate and hard to use in a vertical position. Terribly hard on wrists and shoulders.

Fingers are not precision devices. The cheapest mouse, trackball, or stylus is more accurate and versatile. Not to mention easier to use.  Touchscreens in an office environment? Why? What advantage does it offer? Telephones? Okay, but I preferred the keyboard on the Blackberry. I hate my iPhone.

Cameras? I would prefer buttons and dials. When I’m shooting in cold weather I can barely feel my fingers much less hit tiny little points on a 3 inch LCD.

Tablets? Ah. The sweet spot. And the Dell XPS 10 is a fine example of how good it is when you marry two well matched technologies.

Customers have unrealistic expectations and are doomed to disappointment

After spending years trying to convince us — unsuccessfully — to believe that tablets (any tablet, take your pick, it doesn’t matter) will replace other computers, it isn’t true. Tablets are great for some things, useless for others. They are — not to put too fine a point on it — good for what they are good for, but that’s far from everything.

The propaganda that we don’t need our “big” computers and can do it all using a tablet  convinced many (most?) people to buy tablets expecting they would be using  it to do everything they used to do on bigger more powerful machines. If their primary computer activities are internet surfing, emailing, taking snap shots, Skype, playing music, listening to audiobooks or reading ebooks, it could be true. For the rest of us? Not really. It is a nice complement to bigger equipment, but not a replacement.

Last — far away from least 

Hire some technical writers to produce documentation so everyone can look stuff up.

Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, we don’t want to call customer service to find out how to change the background on the screen. Make manuals as friendly as an average “Dummies” book and folks will use them. No manual for either new Windows OS is (thank you Benjamin Franklin, wherever you are) penny wise and pound foolish. There are professionals who know how to write this kind of stuff. I’m one of them. We work cheap. Hire us.

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Would it have killed Microsoft to include a manual for the operating system? Acquainting people with how (and why!) it works before they bought it would have saved a lot of negative feedback because RT works beautifully on a tablet. I wouldn’t want it on my desktop or laptop, but on the XPS 10? It’s great.

So, what can (and can’t) you do with this tablet?

You cannot install standard PC software on Windows RT. You can’t use a wired router. It only works on WiFi or 3G if you ordered it.

You can’t store all your files, but there’s cloud storage available. It has two USB 2.0 ports and a slot to install a mini SD card. You can access other computers and download music and other stuff. There’s a Kindle reader application. Netflix runs on it. Music sounds pretty good, as do voices.

Dell XPS 10 Light Windows 8 Tablet

My son could not figure out how to change the background and asked why they don’t include documentation? The Billion Dollar Question. They have a couple of booklets and probably somewhere on the system, a manual. I wouldn’t be optimistic about how useful the manual is. Most of them are generated by software, not written by the likes of me.

I bet most problems people have with the operating system(s) and tablet is not having instructions on how to use it and not understanding what they bought. I found it easy to figure out, but I have a tablet and I’m computer savvy.

What you can do on the Dell XPS 10

  • Email
  • Surfing the net
  • Playing music
  • Skype
  • Netflix and other movies
  • Take pictures
  • Play games (lightweight)
  • Light photo editing
  • Listen to audiobooks.

If you are a photographer, don’t expect to do serious editing. You can view your pictures, crop them, fix them up a little. You’ll have to save the heavy processing until you get to your other computer.

Dell’s XPS 10 comes with MS Office RT installed. You can do most office tasks, smooth as silk. I wish I had a legitimate excuse to get one for me, now that I’ve given it to Owen, but I don’t need it. For me it would be a toy. For Owen, it will take care of most of his computing needs. We occupy different places in the cyber world.

I am an old dog, but I can still learn a few new tricks. I apologize, Microsoft. It’s a sweet operating system and Dell has made a smooth, functional tablet with superb battery life and a fine keyboard. You can even attach a mouse if you want.

I like it. The XPS 10 is a sweet little machine. I can tell from the gleam in my son’s eyes and the way he keep saying “Cool!!”

- – -

So I ordered another one: Dell Inspiron 14Z Ultrabook

Inspiron 14z Ultrabook™ Non-Touch

I was surprised at the large number of the bad reviews the 14Z has gotten. That has not been my experience with this computer. After reading all the bad reviews, I believe I have a better grasp of the issues. Perhaps it’s unwise to automatically believe every reviewer.

There was one review — really a complaint — that exemplified why you need to evaluate the reviewer as well as the review. He had given the 14Z a one star review because he had ordered the computer (he said) with Windows 7, but when he turned it on, “this thing comes up and says Windows 8.”

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“What,” he asked, “Does that mean?”

About 20 people had written to suggest he return the computer and buy an Etch-A-Sketch. I suggested if it said Windows 8, he could be reasonably sure it’s Windows 8. Either he was sent a computer with the wrong operating system or he ordered the wrong operating system. Given his cluelessness, I can’t see how it would make any difference which operating system he has.

The Etch A Sketch Animator

Next, there was a one star review by a woman who complained she couldn’t get the WiFi to work because “I have a wired system and don’t want to waste money getting wireless.” She felt the computer should run WiFi anyway. What can you say to that? Remember, these people are allowed to vote. Frightening.

I have read reviews that complain of the keyboards failing for no reason, of monitors or screens breaking — again for no reason. That the back “just fell off” the computer.

I’ve been using computers since the early 1980s. I’ve never had a screen or monitor break at all. When my keyboards stop working, it’s because I dropped my jelly sandwich on it.  And really, you’re telling me the back fell off the laptop? Just like that? You didn’t unscrew anything or maybe drop it on a cement floor?

In over 30 years of using computers, I’ve never had a monitor or screen break. Never had any computer, no matter how cheap, fall apart. It doesn’t happen.

The people who are most likely to write reviews are those who are having problems. Many have no idea how to use a computer but that doesn’t stop them — or even slow them down. People do dreadful things, then panic and blame the computer. Then there are the people who, rather than call customer service, write a bad review. It doesn’t solve the problem, but I suppose it makes them feel better. Maybe they’re afraid if they call customer service, someone might ask how the back really came off. Sometimes, the problem is the user, not the tool.

I bought a Dell 14Z for my husband more than a year ago. It has Windows 7 as its OS with 4 GB of memory. It’s not a super computer; he doesn’t need one. It’s just a good, dependable machine that does what he needs to do and doesn’t break his back when he takes it with him.

The 14Z is the economy model among Dell’s lightweight computers. It’s classed — by them — as an ultrabook, but it’s a bit heavy to be a true ultrabook. Weighing in at 4 pounds, it is lightweight, but to be an ultrabook, it should be closer to 3 pounds. In compensation, the 14Z has a DVD read/write, a full-size keyboard and good sound — so it’s a more than acceptable compromise at a reasonable price.

My husband’s machine has operated for more than a year completely trouble-free. I took it out of the box. I installed Google Chrome, added his email accounts, installed and/or downloaded whatever applications he was likely to need. He’s been using it ever since. There hasn’t been any reason to call customer service because there haven’t been any issues to address. I don’t know how long the battery would last because he usually plugs it in. It must be easy to use because he is not especially computer savvy and if he were having problems, I would know about it.

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The 14Z is light. It has a bright high-definition screen. The speakers are good, loud for a laptop. They aren’t as good as those on my XPS laptop — those are very good — but significantly better than typical laptop speakers. Overall, I’ve found that Dell laptops have better than usual sound. Even my little 10″ Dell mini has decent sound.

The 14Z plays videos without complaint, runs applications, boots, sleeps, wakes, reboots with never a hiccup.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do about getting a more portable computer. My mini still works, but it can’t handle much beyond basic email or maybe an audiobook. It just doesn’t have enough juice.

I never go anywhere without a computer, a bunch of camera and accessories, my Kindle and of course, the ubiquitous cell phone and associated chargers, cords etc. I’m beginning to feel I need a fork lift to get from the car to wherever we are staying. I usually haul my hefty XPS with its anchor-like 9-cell battery when I think I’ll need Photoshop or some other installed application. But for short trips I would like something less weighty. No matter how I figure it, no tablet is going to do it for me. It’s either too expensive, has the wrong operating system, no real hard drive, too slow, too small and typically, no keyboard. I need a keyboard. And USB ports.

I love being able to play my own media. I prefer having a DVD player. I can’t work without a keyboard.

And then I realized the solution was obvious. Buy a 14Z. For me. Dell is still offering the 14Z with Windows 7, so I can have my cake and eat it too — so to speak.

I have a houseful of Dell computers. Literally. Why do I keep coming back? Dell has gone through a lot of changes. For a while, customer service was awful and I actually bought two Gateway laptops. They were okay but when I needed a new desktop for myself, I came back to Dell. However dubious their customer service has been sometimes, their computers are really well-built. They last. Moreover, Dell has addressed most of the customer service problems of the past and while they aren’t perfect, they offer the best standard warranty in the business. When I had a bad hard drive on my desktop, Dell sent a guy to fix it. He not only replaced it, he also re-installed all my applications and transferred the mountains of data from my dying hard drive to the new one. It was above and beyond any obligation he had under my warranty, but he was a really nice guy. I was incredibly grateful. He saved me long days of additional work.

Since then, I’ve bought two more Dell laptops, the 14Z for my husband and the loaded XPS 15 for me. Now, I’m getting a 14Z for me, also with Windows 7 and I’m pleased with my choice. It’s not a powerhouse like my XPS, but I don’t need another powerhouse. This will handle anything I usually need to do when I’m away from home — editing and writing this website, downloading photographs and light photo editing.

I’m sure that there will be more terrible reviews by customers who are disappointed that the 14Z isn’t an XPS.  But I already know that, so whoever is writing the review won’t be me.

Pros: light, fast, good speakers, great monitor, full-size keyboard, comfortable to type on.

Cons: None

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Gadget saturation.

Pointy shoes hurt

When I was a young woman, I refused to wear pointy shoes. They hurt my feet. It took some hunting, but I found round-toed shoes. I wore comfortable sandals, even having them made for my feet — simple, flat and strappy. I owned boots with square toes made in England or Australia. I would not wear shoes that caused me pain.

I still won’t wear clothing I don’t like or is uncomfortable. I didn’t care about fashion when I was 20 and I care less today.

I am equally resistant to gadget fads. I’m geeky enough to understand the latest gizmos and old enough (and poor enough) to think long and hard if it would be useful enough to be worth the cost. What I buy, especially tech stuff, is driven by what I need rather than what’s new, trendy or sexy.  I don’t have an MP3 player because I don’t need one and I hate earphones. When I’m not near a computer, I use my Kindle.

Being unfashionable has advantages. It saves money. If you don’t need the latest thing, you need not replace your wardrobe when what was “In” goes “Out.” I have a pea coat  made for the U.S. Navy as warm and attractive as it was 35 years ago.

My computers were bought with an eye toward running everything I have now plus anything I might need in the near future. I bought computers with as much memory as I could get. I got the highest resolution monitors available. I bought fast hard drives and big external drives as back ups. I got the best video cards the machines would support, Blue-ray reader/writers, and sound cards to support any system I want to hook up.

If we aren’t hit by a tornado, tsunami, or earthquake, as far as computers go, I’m set for a while, a few years at least. And most everything is upgradeable.

“The sky is falling,” cried Chicken Little. “PC sales have flattened out!”

I’m surrounded by desktop and laptop computers that run smoothly and on which everyone depends. Meanwhile, ZDNet is predicting the end of the PC.  This deduction is worthy of Chicken Little or maybe, Turkey Lurky. Computer sales having flattened out while mobile device sales remain brisk from which the author concluded everyone will do everything on mobile devices. We no longer need hard drives or embedded applications. We can pick up apps from the app store and everything we need can be accomplished … on the telephone? iPad? Chromebook? Android tablet? Having made an earlier and even more baseless pronouncement that we don’t need dedicated GPS’s because you can use your telephone or iPad, I should not be surprised, but stupidity always surprises me. For some reason, I expect better of my peers.

Others have said we don’t need cameras. If you are a photographer, you’ve probably bumped into these people on forums. They don’t understand the difference between photography and snapshots. “We can take pictures just as good on our phones,” they shout. Shall I take their advice? I will just throw away my cameras, lenses, filters …everything. I mean, Hell, I have a telephone. What more do I need?

They have declared anything I use for work or art obsolete. However, before I start editing a 16 X 20 photograph on my telephone, there are a few issues to work out.

Who are these pundits?

In what world do these predictors live? Do they work? As in, for a living? Are any of them musicians, authors, or photographers? Book designers, engineers, developers? Accountants, financial advisors? Movie makers? Are they aware that most professionals rely heavily on powerful installed applications, like Photoshop, Acrobat, Framemaker and CAD?

Or are they kids who think playing games on their iPhone is the ultimate technological achievement?

People aren’t buying PCs because they have computers … and they don’t like Windows 8. I don’t like Windows 8. I want to like it. I just can’t.

Sooner or later, everyone has enough and they don’t need another, especially if buying a new one means having to relearn everything they already know.  Microsoft made a huge miscalculation when they banked on touchscreens as “the next big thing.” Hubris is dangerous, whether you’re a Greek demigod or a corporation. I think until they back off, Microsoft is in very troubled waters.

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You aren’t going to see a buying surge for microwave ovens or refrigerators either. People usually replace what they have when it no longer does the job. The market for expensive new toys is not limitless. One day, everyone will stop replacing their almost new cell phones with the next generation that has a new bell or whistle. Everyone who wants a tablet will have one, two or three of them.

Right now, almost everyone who wants a PC has one. Most have several. In this household, with 5 computer-using adults, we have 12 laptops, desktops and tablets. None is obsolete. Plus a couple that are in working condition but no one uses.

Like other families, we tight for money. Bad economy. We buy things, but only when something else breaks or becomes too old to do the job. We can’t afford mistakes.

A few years ago, we ran out of space for books. I bought Kindles for my husband, son, and me. Later, I got a Kindle HD Fire that plays audiobooks, music, videos, collects email and can be hooked up with Facebook and Twitter. It’s my compact media center and it didn’t break the bank. it’s not a full service computer, but I knew that before I bought it. I’m addicted to audiobooks. Since I no longer commute, listening has tied me to the computer in my office. The Kindle has freed me to roam.

But I still wanted a lightweight compact computer. My netbook was supposed to fill this niche, and it tried. Like “The Little Engine That Could” it mumbled “I know I can, I know I can.” The Kindle will do many of the things I did on my Netbook — which moved down the line to my daughter-in-law — but the Kindle isn’t a computer. It is what it is, so I got an Ultrabook. I also have an iPhone but don’t use it even for phone calls. I hate it, actually. I have yet to figure out what people find so great about it.

I took a long, hard look at Chromebooks, but lacking a hard drive, its limitations exceed its value.

Lies and suppositions

Not long ago, an equally ill-informed ZDNet author announced the death of dedicated devices, in particular, the GPS. The author (I use that word advisedly) surmised that since we all own tablets and smartphones and will use them for navigation. The idea of using iPads, iPods, or smartphones for navigation attaching a 10-inch or 7-inch iPad to my windshield is hilarious. Having tried my phone as a GPS, no thanks. I can barely understand what someone is saying on a phone call. As a GPS, it’s useless. I wouldn’t be able to read the map or hear directions. Just because a device has a technical capability doesn’t mean it really does the job.

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These same pundits have repeatedly announced the death of personal computers and the replacement of standard application with mobile apps. They y think free apps will replace everything. Really? Or do they believe that we are all going to sign up for expensive monthly subscriptions? I’m not. Are you? I can barely afford my current overhead: I’m not going to up the ante.

We don’t need no stinkin’ facts! 

Instead of professionals producing thoughtful articles about technology, we have a bunch of stooges for big corporations. They are not working for their readers. They are trying to sell us on whatever their sponsors want them to push. The articles are nothing more than slightly reworded corporate PR releases. I would say they are badly researched, but I no research is more accurate. How do I know? Because I used to be a tech editor. I got those releases too.

They got a PR packet, picked some information out of it, did a little tweaking, and voilà, that’s the article. If I’m going to just take the manufacturer’s word for it, I don’t need them.

I assume whoever wrote the last article saying we are all going to do everything on mobile devices has never tried to do anything working people need to do. He certainly never tried to do it on one of the devices he was touting. He probably thinks his telephone is a fine precision camera and he is welcome to his opinion so as long as he doesn’t ask me look at his pictures.

Anything that can do everything doesn’t do anything well.

In the realm of small dedicated devices, from cameras and MP3 players, to telephones, DVD players and book readers, dedicated devices perform far better than equivalent “add ons” to general purpose devices. A modern computers is not a dedicated device: it’s a platform with power to drive a lot of different things, rather like a big empty room. It does many things, but it won’t do everything well. You can use it as a TV, but sitting in your living room, feet up on the recliner and watching a movie on your big-screen TV is a more satisfying experience.

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You can use a computer as a GPS, but a small dashboard or window-mounted unit works much better. Nothing takes pictures like a good camera. Nothing reproduces music better than a sound system with quality speakers. Book readers are great for reading books and if you want to make music, learn to play an instrument.

I don’t want to read on my computer or take pictures on my phone. I am a photographer and I use a camera. If you are positive your iPad is just as good as a camera, if you believe your cell phone or android tablet is good enough to fill your picture-taking needs, you’re probably right. Don’t show me your pictures. Please.

I own cameras. I edit in Photoshop. I write books. I design books and I use Framemaker, the world’s most anti-intuitive software, but also the only software that does the job. In the ZDNet fantasy world, we are going to do everything on our telephones or tablets. Where do I fit into this portable society?

The answer is simple: I don’t. Maybe you won’t, either. Many of us have been declared obsolete.

“There’s an app for that!”

No, there isn’t. There is no app by anyone anywhere that can come anywhere near any version of Photoshop. There is no application other than Framemaker that will create indexes across chapters. For creating PDF books for reading online, you need Acrobat. What? You don’t need to do any of that?

I do. So do others. Spread sheets and other office applications need screen real estate. Before you declare the PC obsolete, you might want to try really working on a tiny devices you want to sell me. You’ll be shocked to discover a spread sheet is invisible on a telephone. You might be able to create a small one on a tablet, but if you are a serious number cruncher, you aren’t going to do it on an iPad or any other tablet. You may use a tablet to display the final result, but you won’t use it to do the work. If you are editing pictures, you’re not going to use a little screen on a pod, tablet, or telephone. You want a big high-def monitor.

Some people take their jobs and art seriously. They want real tools. If you think games are the height of technological achievement, get a job.

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How come people are still buying small mobile devices but not computers? Aw, c’mon. You know why. They don’t need another computer. If they do, they are hoping Microsoft will come to its senses and give us a real operating system before they have to decide what to buy.

Meanwhile, technology for telephones is changing fast too. Telephones are subject to more abuse than other devices. They get rained on, dropped, and sat on. Crumbs and coffee make the keys sticky. Touchscreens become unresponsive. But, people will not always buy a new phone twice a year. They’ll demand sturdier phones that are waterproof, dust-proof and shock-proof.

Eventually, everyone will have enough telephones, tablets, and other gadgets. No doubt there will be new gadgets, but if they want us to buy, they’ll have to come up with new needs. Otherwise, they will create sexy, cute and trendy gadgets and manufacturers will expect a rush to buy them but no one will care. They will be gadgeted out.

Computer sales will stay modest until the expensive high-powered laptops and desktops we recently bought break down or are obsolete. Are personal computers going the way of dinosaurs? Mine aren’t.

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No amount of salesmanship will convince me to buy stuff I don’t need or like.

I like gadgets. I like cool devices. If someone gives me a toy, I will play with it but I’m not going to spend a lot of money to get it. Free is my price on anything I don’t need.

It would also be great if magazines and journals that supposedly provide information to the trades would really do it. I resent them trying to sell me stuff. The only reason I read trades is for impartial information on technology. I can no longer trust what they say so, so other than finding out what’s new on the market, they are useless. They might at least test the products before they tell me how great they are.

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