I have been using a Microsoft Surface 3 for about three months now. Its arrival comes on the heels of my disuse of two tablet devices I’ve owned for sometime now: Nexus 7 (first gen) and iPad 2. Both I barely use for other than the occasional surfing the web. I don’t even use them for reading ebooks.

My Nexus 7 was great for its portability but it had 2 flaws: a cold boot takes over 25 seconds to start (a mystery never resolved). What annoys me is that I have to hold the power button for nearly half a minute counting and praying my finger doesn’t slip else I would have to restart the process again. The other flaw is that operating system (OS) upgrades have resulted in deteriorating performance to the point where even just to key in the password is painfully slow as the device isn’t responsive at all. Imagine driving a Tesla at 5 km per hour. Granted I’ve not had a chance to drive a Tesla but I swear walking would be faster.

The other tablet I have is an iPad 2. Yes, it’s old but when you consider that the only applications I ever use it for are web browsing, Evernote and watching videos on YouTube – I don’t think these activities warrant a hardware upgrade. I am sure the folks at Apple will disagree. I don’t even sync it to my laptop anymore because if I did it would take me all night and part of the next day to update the photos (no video, no music, not even apps). Truth be told since upgrading to IOS 8, the feel-good experience just isn’t there. The one good news is the iPad 2 performs better than my Nexus 7 even after I’ve upgraded it to IOS 9, Apple’s latest IOS.

Anyway, on to the Microsoft Surface 3. Before this machine I was looking to upgrade from both Nexus 7 and iPad. But I was weary with the so called latest and greatest. The secret to Apple’s innovation is the experience. Apple made sure of this by keeping everything in-house: from product design, hardware and software. It didn’t license the hardware design to others. It opted to keep everything to itself. Yes it outsourced manufacturing, distribution and parts of retailing, but for the most part when you order an Apple product – it is all Apple. It kept a few apps in-house but third party apps and accessories were allowed to thrive in the Apple ecosystem.

As I said Apple’s winning formula is experience. So if you are into content consumption – music, video, reading digital books and surfing the web – then Apple is good enough for the job. More recently, the company made, what I think is, a wise decision not to tither its customers too tightly to iTunes when upgrading the device’s content so kudos to Apple for waking up to the reality that we can’t be all slaves to iTunes.

The one area that Apple failed to monopolize is productivity. For people like me, who just want our Microsoft office suites – mostly Word and Excel, with some PowerPoint – we still need a way to bring us back to a Windows environment. Hence Macbook users rely on Parallels Desktop to make this possible. A friend was asking me if I’d consider buying a Macbook Air/Pro. I declined reasoning I’d have to buy Parallels Desktop and Microsoft software to use on the Macbook. WTF?

I have a colleague at work who swears by Apple and I get a lot of flak from him for using Microsoft Windows and Office. I tend to just ignore his rants about Microsoft’s security vulnerability issues. Of course he is all tight lip about IOS and Mac OSX vulnerabilities.

Anyway I have digressed enough. The reason for this blog post is to give you my experience with the Microsoft Surface 3. Before I got this loaner from Microsoft, they had me try out the Surface Pro 3. I wasn’t too thrilled about the Surface Pro 3 because (1) it got hot relatively quickly; (2) it wasn’t significantly lighter than my Lenovo Thinkpad X250 work laptop; and (3) the much venerated Surface detachable keyboard isn’t a novelty to me. I had an old HP Tablet PC T1100 – which despite its heft was cutting edge at the time – circa 2003. It featured a detachable keyboard that turned heads every time I took it out to work. The website I help build – www.enterpriseinnovation.net – was partly built from my writings, research and postings using the TC1100. So I give credit to HP for a very good machine.

Anyway back to the Surface 3.

Learning curve

To be honest the Surface 3 is not the lightest tablet in the market today. It took getting used to opening the kickstand. The physical design is boxy with edges that make it standout in a market of tablets that follow the iPhone/iPad concept of rounded curves.

The power/sleep and the volume buttons sit in the same area – upper left corner in landscape mode. Because of this I often mistakenly press the power/sleep button when I want to press the volume rocker switch. This is more a nuisance than anything else.

I noticed that when the keyboard is magnetized to the bezel of the Surface, it is difficult to reach the Windows button on the lower left corner. But this should not be a problem as long as I remember that there is another Windows button on the center-right side of the bezel (landscape mode).

Takes getting used to

I flip between the Surface 3 and my work laptop – the X250. The problem with this is that I get used to the combination of touch screen with trackpad on the Surface, so much that I end up most times inadvertently touching the screen on the X250 when I need to reach a particular point in the screen.

Putting the screen on something akin to sleep is not a good idea as it still consumes power and you end up getting surprised with a low battery indicator. Always best to shut it down.

Other observations

The Surface 3 uses an Intel Atom processor which means that it is not advisable to use this machine to do video editing. Video playback and some not-so-graphics-intensive games should have no difficulty running on this machine. Yes, you can still multi-task unlike the iPad (and iPhone) where most applications are in suspend mode when you shift to another app. On the Surface 3, you can copy files, watch a video and read emails concurrently – really!

Biggest gripe

For a tablet the Surface has a short battery life of a little over 5 hours. For a tablet this is bordering heresy. The supplied charger is rated at 2.5A so charging via your phone’s charger will be a very slow experience.

When the keyboard is elevated (i.e., sticking to the side of the tablet), it makes a hollow clacking sound. So when I am on a flat surface I try to put the keyboard flat on the table. It makes for a better typing experience – just feels more solid.

I used to think that as I age I would prefer to use a computer with a bigger screen, and for the most part I do. But you lose out in portability as you get bigger. Sure it looks nice from the outside but imagine carrying a 12” (or bigger), 1.37 pound tablet around all day and it won’t be long before you begin to feel the weight of it in your wrist, your hand, your arm, and your back. To be fair this the same complain I have carrying my iPad 2 around. At some point reading a book on the iPad or watching a video while holding the slab starts to take toll on the wrist.

Overall experience

I’ve grown accustomed to the Surface 3 being my weekend computing companion because there is just so much you can do on your mobile phone – granted I am using a BlackBerry Passport with its 4 inch square display – I love reading emails on it. I rarely take out the X250 at home – mostly when I need a file or I need to edit a video. Just about everything else I can do on the Surface.

What I need now is a way to remotely access the X250 from the office using the Surface 3 and I am a happy commuter.

Is the Surface 3 worth the price? Microsoft sells it online for HK$3,888 for the basic unit with 128GB storage. Its half the price of the Apple iPad Air 2 albeit you sacrifice the so-called cool, mystique that Apple shrouds its devices with.

Microsoft chose the path of all around productivity with its Surface and this is what you need to remember when comparing the two brands.

The iPad Air is, hands down, the sexy device to show around. It’s great for content consumption and a little bit of content creation – just a little. The Surface is the everyday workhorse. It may be ugly compared to the iPad Air but it just gets the work that. For me that is what I need.

Apple recently released the Apple iPad Pro – what I refer to as the Surface Pro-clone. I think Apple is realizing that people really need to work and the MacBook Air is too under powered for serious work while the Macbook Pro is too heavy to carry around – seriously! As for the iPad Air? Really you have to ask?

My daughter heard this comment:

“Why don’t you buy the iPad Pro? Sure it’s useless and expensive. But its cool!”

Enough said!

Microsoft Surface 3


I never intended this to be a gaming review as I haven’t been a regular gamer since after I graduated from college and started working to pay the bills. But I am an avid movie watcher and I do a lot of photo and video editing. So my criteria for a laptop, since I also like to take my work wherever I go, is one that is light and powerful enough for photo and video editing. I’ve experimented with business and multimedia laptops and in all the years I’ve always, always, been disappointed. I’ve tried my hands on Apple, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo (formerly IBM), Sony and Toshiba, and hand in heart I can say in all honesty I can get my work done but I have time spare to watch TV, eat a meal or snack, and in a few cases take a shower (too much info?).

Then I read about Alienware computers – machines built from the ground up for serious gamers. The distinctive “sci-fi” styling, reminding us that we are not alone, together with the flashing logo/ keyboard and what looks like front headlights of the batmobile, give Alienware machines an eerie look if left alone in the dark.

I got a chance to try out the smallest gaming laptop on the planet courtesy of Ogilvy PR in Hong Kong. I was surprised at the simplistic packaging the laptop came in. I was even more surprised at the heft (2 kg) this tiny 11.25″ x 9.19″ x 1.29″ came in with. The magnesium-alloy chassis looks and feels thicker making the business-standard Thinkpad look like a plastic toy in comparison. I actually thought that Alienware machines were built from slabs of steel.

What I Like
Honestly, I didn’t like the keyboard when I saw it on photos. I still didn’t like it when I looked at a unit at the Dell display store in Wanchai. But after spending some time typing and banging away, I just had to shut up. The individual keys hold a traditional shape that is slightly curved in the middle of each key. Key spacing is quite good and each key has the perfect amount of feedback with minimal side travel. Some nights I had to work with the lights out in the bedroom and the LED backlit with transparent key frame were a blessing. You have to be a Trekker to appreciate the futuristic font look of the key labels. More importantly, the support frame beneath the keyboard is rock solid.

For an 11 incher, the Alienware MX11 R3 doesn’t skimp on ports (My work laptop a Dell E4310 has one USB 2.0 and a USB/e-sata combo port). It comes with one USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports, FireWire, a 3-in-1 media card slot, Ethernet, standard audio jack, and two video out options: HDMI and DisplayPort.

What I Don’t Like
Apart from the hefty size-to-weight (pound for pound this is a heavy machine), it also gets reasonably hot underneath despite the backlit fan (very quiet) which tries to desperately cool down the machine. I don’t want to speculate what the laptop would feel like without the fan.

Some reviewers pounce on the glossy display which makes it very difficult to read the screen in the outdoors but you can correct this with one of those anti-glare screen protectors which most laptop owners do anyway to protect their investments. Of course you have to taper it a bit since the overall shape of the display is not exactly rectangular. A more serious problem might be the very narrow viewing sweet spot on the MX11. If you move your head just a little bit you won’t see an completely black screen during dark scenes in a game (also applies when video or photo editing!).

I know this is a gaming machine but why did Alienware decide to be stingy with the Synaptics touchpad? Yes the honeycomb textured surface makes for smooth, controlled finger movement and the buttons are responsive but it’s very small! Note to Alienware engineers – checkout the Macbook Air and learn!

One Other Thing
The MX11 comes pre-installed with Windows 7 Home 64-bit. But the truly important software is the Command Center. The clearly laid out and intuitive user interface allows the case illumination to be adjusted (AlienFX), as well as configuring the power options (AlienFusion), and the touchpad (AlienTouch).

Rumour has it that optical drives are on the way out. Apple appears to spearhead this drive with recent hardware releases missing optical drives. I actually thought the MX11 would have a slot loading drive. But it doesn’t. Do I need one? I actually rarely use the optical drive on my E4310 but it is handy on those occasions when I need to install software from disc, watch a DVD from a disc, or burn a DVD. But I can’t say I’ll be willing to pay extra for it.

The 15″ and 17″ siblings of the MX11 have twin vents on the front of the laptop which is part of the cooling system. I really don’t understand why Alienware technicians decided to forego this feature on the MX11. Maybe it’s an internal design constraint?

Did I mention that the battery is built-in? Laptop aficionados might scowl at this but compared to Apple, Dell understands that the battery is user replaceable. The MX11 has a single massive cover panel for the battery, hard drive, wireless cards and memory slots and uses eight standard Phillips screws for easy disassembly. Current Apple laptops are 100% non-user replaceable so that Apple can charge you a steep price for additional memory or to replace your battery or hard drive. How is that for customer friendly design? Alienware even designed the screws with retention clips so they don’t fall out when unscrewing. Something Steves and Co might want to think about if it truly cares what customers think. Fat chance!

Most reviews I’ve seen of the MX11 point to an odd approach taken with the Klipsch speakers. The downward-firing drivers located on the bottom front end means that the sound can be muffled if you put your laptop on a flat surface. Alienware engineers did include two small sound channels into the chassis to redirect sound forward through the two decorative LED panels on the front but for my money this is not good enough. Of course I shouldn’t complain since most other laptops use tiny speakers making it almost mandatory to keep a pair of headsets ready for those odd moments when you want to listen to music, watch a video or hold a conference call via Skype. MX11 designers included two headphone jacks!

Would I buy an MX11 as my permanent laptop? Pound for pound, the MX11 is true value for money. You get the power typically found in larger, heavier and more expensive machines, yes even against Apple, at a much lower price point. Bravo Dell for finally making Alienware the gaming machine for the masses.

TECH SPEC (At a Glance):
Processor: Intel® Core™ i7-2617M 1.5GHz (2.6GHz w/Turbo Boost, 4MB Cache)
Operating: System Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium 64bit Multi-Language (Traditional Chinese / English)
Display: 11.6″ (29.5cm) WLED HD (720p) display (WXGA 1366X768)
Graphics: Dual graphics with Intel HD Graphics 3000 and 2.0GB DDR3 NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M
Memory: 8GB DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz (upgradeable to 16GB)
Hard Drive: 750GB 7500RPM (upgradeable to 256GB SSD)
Connectivity: Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, 375 Bluetooth, Gigabit Ethernet, integrated SIM card port
Camera: 2.0 Megapixel Camera with dual digital microphones
Battery: 8-cell
Price: HK$11,999 (USD1,548)

Other Review:
Compreviews: http://compreviews.about.com/od/PC-Gaming-Laptops/fr/Alienware-M11x-Spring-2011.htm
Notebook Check: http://www.notebookcheck.net/Review-Alienware-M11x-R3-Gaming-Notebook.51236.0.html
Alienware Video Review

Someone once told me that you buy a Mac if you don’t know where the power on switch is. For years I’ve always wanted to own an Apple Mac computer but couldn’t because my company has standardized on the Windows platform so all our applications were wired for the Microsoft operating system. Then came the decision by Apple to get out of the PowerPC platform and joined the Intel X86 bandwagon. I was ecstatic as I now thought I could finally use the much desired Apple operating system on an x86 computer – my PC. Alas, I soon realise things were not as simple as it seemed. Yes there were a few geniuses out in the world that tried to hack the Mac OS to run on an Intel PC but to my dismay you can’t expect to reap the benefits of the Apple operating system when you hack it into your standard Intel PC hardware.

To test the waters I borrowed a friend’s Apple Macbook. He’d been using Boot Camp for some time and swears by it. He was going away for a couple of weeks and said he didn’t plan on bringing his workhorse for the ride.

I tried Boot Camp and quickly realized a few things: (1) I have to reboot to shift from one platform to another; (2) it’s not easy sharing data between the two platforms; and (3) Boot Camp, while easy to install, took up what limited space was available on the MacBook (250GB configuration). Sure they say Boot Camp is faster because it runs native on the Mac hardware but cutting 250GB storage capacity cripples my ability to have my favourite programs and data with me when I need it.

A friend of mine loaned me an evaluation copy of Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac. With the new PD6 I get around the single biggest complaint about running Windows on a virtual machine – which it doesn’t run as fast as Boot Camp.

With PD6, I can install Boot Camp inside a PD6 instance and get the same experience as if I were running Windows 7 in native mode. And because I was using Parallels I could run both Mac OSX and Windows 7 at the same time with no rebooting.

Best of all I can now check my Outlook email and run Microsoft Word and Power Point on the VM window and be able to quickly cut and paste data from Windows 7 apps to the Mac OS X apps. It was an awesome experience!

For those of who have been following my typical reviews, you will discover this to be a totally different approach. Its largely because I’m still fiddling with this platform. If you want more info on a more details review, watch the video below. I didn’t get to try all the features highlighted in the video.

One other thing I found quite interesting with PD6 is the available of an app for the iPad (I happen to own one) meaning I can boot Windows on the Macbook using the iPad. The caveat is the Macbook has to be powered up, I have the Macbook’s IP address, and it only works on Windows running inside Mac OS X.

How cool is that?

A common problem with product reviews is that the reviewer will often use a few days to evaluate the performance or usability of a device and give judgment based on that. While it is possible to write a reasonably accurate review of a product after a few days’ use, in reality some of the kinks of a device appear after a bit more time of using it.
I was handed the BlackBerry Torch 9800 over a month ago and since then I’ve learned to appreciate the capability of the device as well as its limitations, particularly when pitted against the Apple iPhone.
On the point of size (111mm x 62mm x 14.6mm) it is not a small phone but then again it’s not exceptionally large either. It’s actually a comfortable form factor if you compare this to the news HTC HD7 (122mm x 68mm x 11.2mm) with a monstrous size frame. Indeed I often keep it inside my pant pocket, and while you can notice the bulge, it doesn’t look outwardly bulky. It’s not lightweight either at 161.9 grams but it’s just heavy enough for me to remember it’s there when I leave it for long periods of disuse.
I noticed reviewers of the 9800 call the phone’s screen resolution a deplorable 3.2″ 480×360 pixel when compared to the iPhone 4’s 3.5″ 960×640 pixel or the HTC HD7’s 4.3″ 480×800 pixel resolution. To be honest the 480×360 resolution is just sufficient enough for me to comfortably watch my favorite TV programs without causing me to squirm at the thought of seeing pixilated images. And given that I don’t have a habit of zooming at photos (as the iPhone ad suggests) I think I can live with this. After all the purpose for my favoring the 9800 over an iPhone or a HTC phone is to send messages.
After weeks of using the 9800, I finally managed to buy a case designed specifically for the 9800’s slider design. This means I can finally protect the outer shell of the phone. The new case adds 1.5mm to 9800 making it feel bulky. While I could accept the bulk in favor of better protection for the phone, it makes typing on the physical keyboard a little annoying (see photo) because of the reduced space between the upper keys and the screen.
When Apple launched its first generation iPhone, there was much speculation about RIM’s implementation of a touchscreen for the BlackBerry. History tells us that RIM’s choice of the SurePress technology for its first ‘touch’ phone didn’t quite get the acceptance the company hoped for. So the choice of a capacitative touchscreen for the 9800 is welcome news, indeed I still wonder why some phone makers are opting to use resistive touch screens on their devices when it’s already proven that capacitative offers better user experience. Maybe they are just trying to keep the cost down.
When I got the 9800, one of the first things I looked at was the CPU. At the time, the Qualcomm snapdragon clocking in at 1GHz was setting the standard for the core processor of most smartphones. So I was dismayed to find out that the 9800 only had a 624MHz CPU. Certainly from a pure spec perspective, the 9800 quickly looked old and outdated. Today, I don’t even quibble about the CPU.
The 9800 is the first BlackBerry to sport the much anticipated new operating system – BlackBerry 6. It is, without doubt, the best implementation to date and one can only expect further refinement of this operating system in future Blackberry phones. The user interface is nice, clean and customizable (to a certain degree).
Multi-tasking is the ability to do two or more things at the same time. For those of us who own an iPhone or an iPad with IOS 4.2, we are condemned to suffer Apple’s interpretation of multi-tasking: only the application that is immediately visible to the user is running, all others are sitting in suspended animation ready to pounce back to life when picked from a roster of apps. Like other BlackBerry phones, the 9800 supports true multi-tasking, meaning all applications that have been picked to run will continue to run until ‘closed’. This means that with a 624MHz CPU and 512MB of internal flash memory, the 9800 may eventually run out of steam unless you close some of the applications you don’t really need to be running at that moment. (more…)

 NOKIA, the European rubber boots maker that transformed itself into a mobile phone powerhouse in the 1990s is in trouble. So much so that it hired a non-Finn to run the global giant – something unheard of in 145 years.

Flash back to the 1990s when Nokia was seen the company to work for, the mobile phone to covet,and the darling of European politicians who used the Finnish phone maker as the benchmark of what a European company can achieve in the global stage.
So what went wrong? Simple! NOKIA forgot to innovate. It sat too long on it’s winning streak perhaps hoping that it would last forever. It banked on it’s marketshare and brand to keep it going. Wrong mistake!
If history is ever to teach us anything is that early success doesn’t guarantee the future. Several forces disrupted this winning streak. NOKIA should have seen it coming with the success of Research In Motion with it’s BlackBerry phones and proprietary mail service that won over the corporate world. NOKIA tried to emulate BlackBerry’s success but it’s failure to deliver a similar compelling service brought limited success to the company’s E Series phones.
Next came Apple with the iPhone. The iconic computer vendor delivered a two punch blow with an innovative new service delivery model in it’s twin strategy of iTunes and AppStore. A series of strategic moves on the part of Apple – from securing the cooperation of the American music industry (some might call it differently) to cajoling the software developer community to write applications built for the iPhone, and all delivered/sold via AppStore on iTunes created instant success for the burgeoning consumer electronics giant (yes, I would think by now people should stop thinking of Apple as a computer maker but as a consumer electronics manufacturer.
For sure Nokia wasn’t blind to the winning streak of Apple. It tried to create a music (LOUDEYE and TWANGO) and gaming (SEGA.COM) distribution platform. It also tried it’s hand at enterprise services via a JV with Siemens to form Nokia Siemens Network.  Taking it’s queue from Microsoft Windows Mobile, it sought to create an ecosystem of handset makers loyal to Symbian by acquiring the operating system and to give it back to the developer community as a platform from which to develop mobile applications. But this strategy was less than successful partly due to the arrival of Google Android – a new mobile operating platform many perceived as the true competitor to Apple’s growing dominance in the mobile OS platform. NOKIA stayed way too long on the ‘phones are for calling only’ concept producing phones that ‘connected’ people the way POTS did it and added a music player to amuse the musically inclined.
It failed to notice a crop of Asian brands like Samsung and LG inching their way aggressively at the low end of the spectrum while Windows Mobile and Android phones were coming in from Asia.  Unlike Sony Ericsson and Motorola which now offer at least two mobile OS as part of their portfolio of handsets, Nokia has stood it’s ground on Symbian even as the Finnish giant tries to update it’s smartphone strategy with an upgraded OS and a new line of handset products.
On the management front the departure of NOKIA board member Anssi Vanjoki on news of the appointment of Canadian Stephen Elop, former president of Microsoft’s Business Division to the top post. Elop faces a tough challenge ahead of him, changing a culture rooted in consensus, a development cycle that appears to slow to react to market forces, and an organization likely not thrilled at the prospect of working for a foreigner.
The new line of NOKIA phones announced in London will not turn heads at Apple or the Android community. They represent more of the same old, same old with some improvements in functionality and features. But they do not represent any significant shift in the company’s strategy.
Of course we have to give Elop a break since he’s only been in the job for less than 30 days and he still has to get a handle on the company’s assets. To be honest there is no honeymoon period in this job. If he even pauses to think too long, he will find the climb out of the hole NOKIA has rugged for itself even harder than when he first entered the hallowed halls of NOKIA land.
Is there hope for NOKIA? Will we finally see NOKIA delivering a multi-OS product strategy much like Sony Ericsson, Motorola, HTC, Samsung and LG? Will it try to replicate the success of Apple by creating a new OS that is on par with what Apple has done? (good luck on that). At the moment, we have to just wait and see. In the meantime, I will keep using my BlackBerry even as my swoons over the possibility of owning her first non-Nokia phone – the iPhone.

Wikipedia defines a couch potato as a slang term for a person who spends most of his or her free time sitting or lying on a couch. You can read more about the history of the term here. The modern home has an average of one TV, a VCR, stereo, and a DVD player. And with the convergence of broadband, TV and computing, the multimedia home entertainment system is gaining ground. In all of this convenience lives one constant – the remote. Each appliance comes with a specially built remote that showcases the basic and unique features of the appliance.

But all good things must come to an end. The most used appliance naturally means higher wear and tear on the remote control. In my case, the remote for the TV in the living room is due for a replacement… and because it’s a really old model, a replacement remote is expensive.

For a couple of years now I’ve been thinking about replacing all the remotes with one universal remote control. It just made sense, why keep five or more controls if you can have one that does everything? Most remotes use infrared to control the appliance.

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer, founded CL 9. to create a remote control that could operate multiple electronic devices. The CORE unit (Controller Of Remote Equipment) was unique in that it could ‘learn’ remote signals from different devices. It had the ability to perform specific or multiple functions at various times with its built-in clock. It was the first remote control that could be linked to a computer and loaded with updated software code as needed.

Which brings me to our review of the week – the Logitech Harmony 900. This unit comes from a long line of Harmony universal remote controls offered by Logitech.

The build of the Harmony 900 is solid. Charging is almost child-proof. But everything else after that is something else.

The box includes the Harmony 900, a charger cradle, two chargers, a central RF to IR blaster, and with two mini IR blasters. This is a radio frequency (RF) device. The blasters are meant to be used where the appliances to be controlled are behind a cabinet. Setup is a simple plug the master blaster (reminds me of the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome character – Master Blaster) and the two mini blasters. The complicated technology of synching these blasters to the remote itself is all done by the software.

Speaking of software, all the intelligence that goes into the Harmony 900 is by way of software… the Logitech Harmony Remote Software (currently version 7.7.0). The Remote unit itself is very solid to the feel. It feels like one of those weapons common to Sci-Fi flicks. I’m not going to do an exhaustive recap of the process I went through to test this unit. I tested it on two different systems. One is a simple Sharp TV-vcr console. The more complex system included a Panasonic 29″ TV hooked up to a cable TV decorder, and a Pioneer DVD player-recorder.

The product manager for the Logitech Harmony series told me it took him a couple of hours to make the proper setup. To be honest, two days of trying to get my Sharp TV to recognize the remote was frustrating the ‘hell’ out of me.

Suffice to say that it was only when I had the technical support person walk me through the process that I began to realize just how tedious it is to teach the Harmony 900 how a particular remote control controls an appliance. For the Sharp TV-vcr, it took us all of an hour to get the basics done right. Thereafter it took me another hour to teach the Harmony 900 additional features of the TV-vcr that were controlled by its proprietary remote. (more…)

You’ve seen one you’ve seen them all! This used to be my perception of computers – be they servers, desktops, laptops and netbooks. Eight years ago I had the opportunity to visit Nomura Research Institute‘s (NRI) data center in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. What amazed me with this visit was the fact that NRI’s data center showcased servers from every major hardware vendor – IBM, HP, Dell and Hitachi servers were spread out in neat rows. What was even more amazing to me was that unless you looked close enough you will find it difficult to distinguish one brand from the other.

Apple’s success following the return to power of Steve Jobs can be attributable to his choice of designer – Jonathan Paul Ive, an English designer and the Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple Inc. You won’t appreciate Ive’s contribution until you equate his name to the iMac, PowerBook G4, MacBook, unibody MacBook Pro, iPod, iPhone and iPad. But this review is not about Ive or Apple. It is about Dell’s recent efforts to get over the perception that the company knows only how to make non-descript computers that resemble other brands’ products. The kind that says “me too”.

Earlier I reviewed the Dell Adamo XPS, which in my view does showcase Dell’s ability to produce coolness at the level of Apple (maybe even better in some cases). In this review, I share my experience with the Dell Adamo Pearl. The Pearl was first introduced at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show.

And like the XPS, we’ve not seen this series in Asia. I visit the Dell showroom in Wanchai whenever I pass by the Wanchai Computer Mall and all the computers there on display are of the conventional black and black design. It’s no wonder Apple products turn people’s heads.

This should change with the Adamo Pearl. Made of brushed aluminum, the 16.4mm thickness coupled with the rather unique design of the bezel makes for an attractive talking piece. There is no latch to lock the screen but the hinge does hold the screen to the rest of the laptop very securely. Opening the computer reveals a 13.4″ WLED HD widescreen display (1366 x 768 resolution) with edge-to-edge glass (reminiscent of the MacBook Pro). Whereas MacBook Pros are molded from a single aluminum block, the Adamo is housed in an etched anodized aluminum chassis.

The surface around the keyboard is clean of any Microsoft or Intel stickers. But if you turn the Pearl on its bottom, you will find the Microsoft and Intel logos etched into a panel. The backlit keyboard reminds me of the now fasionable chicklet keys you will find on the MacBook and Sony Vaio laptops with one exception – each key is slightly scalloped rather than flat. The metal finish offers a luxury feel. Backlighting means you can type in dim light or total darkness.

The model I tested came pre-installed with Microsoft Vista Home Premium – meaning I couldn’t test the multi-touch trackpad capability (really a shame). But I managed to test drive it in other ways, including watching videos, and, of course, doing some work.

The Pearl uses a 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U9400 ultra low voltage (ULV) processor with 3MB Level 2 Cache on board. I was a little disappointed to discover this baby still uses DDR2 memory chips. My experience with ULV equipped laptops hasn’t been very promising but this baby came installed with a fast 128GB Samsung SSD thin uSATA drive. Combined this explains why bootup was still reasonably fast despite the machine using the dreaded Windows VISTA operating system. At least it was the 64-bit version so the OS can take advantage of the 4GB of RAM on board (32-bit OS versions can only handle up to 3GB RAM).

Most laptops have ports on either side of the chassis. With the exception of a single headphone jack, the sides of the Pearl are clean of any such ports. Two USB 2 ports, a eSATA/USB port, a DisplayPort, a power socket, and an Ethernet port can be found at the back of the Pearl. (more…)