Dell XPS 13 2015 Review

I’ve just got a new Dell XPS 13 2015, and all I can say it good things about it. I’ve been a faithful Mac convert since 2004, but after 10 years, I feel its the right time to come back to the PC and Windows.

Even through all these years, I always kept working on Windows, MacOS seemed a more stable and uniform environment, but with Windows 8.1 and the coming Windows 10, I think Microsoft is really coming back. Besides, the quality of Ultrabooks in general now matches (if not surpasses) the ones from Apple.

Image taken from The Verge’s Dell XPS 13 review

Are there other Ultrabook options to consider?

I bought a Yoga 3 Pro earlier this year and ended up returning it after less than a week, because of its lousy performance. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the chassis and design in general, also the 2-in-1 factor seemed cool at the beginning. But honestly, couldn’t justify the machine being slow after just opening two or three tabs on IE, unacceptable.

Now, straight to the Dell XPS 13: this is the Ultrabook to have in 2015. I’ve been following the XPS 13 for a couple of weeks now, and it was nowhere to be found: neither Dell, Microsoft, BestBuy or any other online retailer had it in stock.

Screen: Touch screen or matte?

The first option you have to deal with is the screen: if you want a touch screen is around $100 more, but also the resolution is awesome: 3200×1800 (even higher than a MacBook Pro Retina Display). The only drawback is the glossiness… I love matte screens, I’m sure I will find a matte screen protector for this.

The brightness at its maximum is really good, also has an auto-brightness setting that works pretty well and saves you battery.

Final comment: Just go for the non-touch if you must, the real deal is the 3200×1800 QHD touch screen. The resolution is excellent.

i3, i5 or i7?

The processor is the second big decision to make: i3 is not an option for me (having discarded the Yoga 3 Pro for having a Core M, which is even better than the i3). The only real options are i5 vs i7. This was a tough call, as I found the i5 reduced $100, so the gap between these two was $300. Too much of a price difference just for a couple more GHz and cache. Honestly, don’t think the i7 is worth it, unless you plan to keep your computer for a long time.

SSD Space: 128GB, 256GB or 512GB

128GB is out of the question: you either get 256 or 512. If I would have found the 512 n stock I’d buy it, but 256GB was the only thing I could get. Besides, the good news is that (apparently) you can upgrade the storage. If not, you can add more storage via an SD card.

Where to buy? At the Microsoft Store of course!

There are lots of retailers that can sell you this, but your best bet is still the Microsoft Store. Their service is superb, comparable experience to what you get at an Apple Store. When I was at the store an still undecided between the i5 and i7, they didn’t try to upsell me straight to the i7, but walked me through the considerations they would have, and ended up recommending the i5. That’s really honest!

Other advantages are:

Signature Edition PCs: Your Windows is pre-installed by Microsoft and with no manufacturer adware, malware or bloatware. This is excellent, now that we’ve heard what just happened to Lenovo and its infamous Superfish.

Microsoft Complete for PCs: Kind of an extended-warranty, but at $129 it definitely makes sense! Apple charges around $300 for the same on their Macs. Whatever problem you have, you can go to the Microsoft store and they’ll fix it for you. It covers up to two damage incidents during the two year warranty, and they will give you a new PC for just $49. Really hope I don’t have to use it, but you never know..

Overall comments

I’m very happy with the Dell XPS 13, the non-bezel display is gorgeous, the keyboard is very comfortable and the performance of the i5 model is excellent. The portability is very similar to a MacBook Air 11 (and that is not a typo).

Overall, a very minimalistic machine with excellent performance and at a reasonable price.

Jawbone UP: How to create an awesome product, screw it up and then fix it

The Jawbone UP is one of those products I waited for, and really really wanted to have. I’m kind of a gizmo’s junkie; so every new, shiny, data-collecting device released must be in near proximity of my working area field.

What’s UP?

The Jawbone UP is what they call a ‘fitness band’. It is a wristband (similar to the ‘Livestrong band’ but thicker) that will help you measure three things:

  • Steps taken during the day. Pretty much like a pedometer.
  • Distance ran while jogging. Similar to the Nike+ stuff.
  • Hours slept and quality of sleep. What you will get with Zeo.

Nothing new, uh? But what got me is the idea of having three things in just one simple object that you get to carry around all the time, so is difficult to forget. It is very discreet because it looks like a jewelry accessory, and best of all: its battery lasts for 10 days!

On top of that as the band tracks how much you move, you can program it to remind you to move if you’re inactive for a while. This is very good for people like me who have sedentary jobs.

Another feature I like is that you can program your band to wake you up by vibrating: the band will figure out when is the best moment to wake you up according to your sleep cycle that day.

Quantify Yourself

This kind of devices are part of an idea/movement called ‘Quantified Self’: a group of crazy people (in which I consider myself) collecting all sorts of data about their daily lives: anything from calories eaten and hours slept to steps taken or kms run. It started mainly as a way to measure fitness stuff but I’m sure it will evolve to measuring more mundane and more vain numbers. The basis of the quantified self is similar ‘Taylorism’ or ‘Scientific management’, the idea that you cannot improve things that you cannot measure. And being myself a Business Intelligence consultant, I know that is absolutely true!

Back to the UP band

I patiently waited for the UP band release date, November 6th 2011. Being in Canada doesn’t always make things easy, but this time I was happy: Jawbone said they were going to release it simultaneously with the States, and that you would be able to get it from your local Apple Store.

To make a long story short: I had to call 20 different Apple Stores, explain what an ‘Jawbone UP band’ is (and let me tell you that it is not easy!), and finally get one at the Eaton Centre’s Apple Store the very next day, Nov 7th. For this, of course I had to go to the store the very moment they told me over the phone that it was available and get the two sole bands they had for sale in my size. Basically, after just one customer they were left out of stock.

Good UP

And so I was very happy with my UP band! I registered it, used it with my iPhone, did my first work out and everything was fine in ‘up-band land’. The app still had its shortcomings: the food part is silly/useless and it only works on iPhone (I don’t care, I love my iPhone). You cannot get your data out of the phone (not even on a website) and there’s no way to post any of your information online. Seriously? We live in a social-media world, don’t you guys know that? If I run and post it on Facebook, is just to show it off to my friends!

I was so sold into the idea of “wearing it all times” that I showered with the band every morning. My fitness buddy (who is much more careful than I with tech stuff) took it off every time he showered and was also very attentive of not getting it wet. I laughed at his face: you luddite! Haven’t you see the ad where the guy emerges from a pool with the band on?

Bad, bad UP

Fate made me eat my own words: after five days of using my band and exposing it to the water in the shower, it was dead and my friend’s was alive and kicking. So I started googling and tweeting about this problem and found that I was not the only one with this problem. If you go to the Jawbone forums, you can read the horror stories of hundreds of people that were totally disappointed with the product. I tried to be a little more understanding because I really like the product, and so I asked for a replacement of my band. I called Jawbone on the phone, they were very nice to me and told me they were going to send me a replacement. After a couple of days waiting I got a new band that works fine!

Does it live UP to expectations?

I understand there are people still angry at Jawbone about the way they handled things. In Canada, we even had to even endure waiting more days to get bands and do the “Apple Store chase” to get one, so I totally understand that. Also, buying a half-baked product and paying full-baked price is not nice at all.

I’m most happy with the band: still think is a hell of an idea and a very good product. Maybe execution on the release could have been better (lot better) but I totally understand that sh*t happens.

After all the problems they had, I got a very nice email yesterday, pretty much admitting all of the issues they faced and saying they’re willing to fix them. So Jawbone is giving your money back for any of the bands you might already bought and stopping production until they sort their problems out. I think there is nothing else they can do to get you totally satisfied.

Their refund program is no-questions-asked. You can keep your band, return it, do whatever you like with it, they’re just giving your money back! You don’t even need a receipt so even if you got yours as a present, you can still get a refund if you’re not satisfied. That is what I call a very smart (as in intelligent and elegant) way of handling things.

Please, don’t go!

Its kind of sad to read they’re stopping their production and don’t even have a come-back date planned; that just gives me the idea that they’re probably not going to do the bands anymore. That would be really bad. Please Jawbone, do not do that. I respect that you need time to fix things up, but please do come back. I really think you have a great product and still want to recommend it to my friends and family!

Update

I received and cashed my refund for the UP band. I also ran into troubles with the first replacement band I already had (the vibration motor suddenly stopped working) but I called Jawbone and they sent me another replacement in less than 5 days. I cannot say more than gratitude words for this company, they are really exceeding my expectations as a customer and I intend to keep using the band for as long as I can to track all of my workout and daily activities.

About ‘Steve Jobs’ and the biography

Steve Jobs passed away a couple of weeks ago and its biography, that was in the works for some time now, was released. I just finished reading it and enjoying it.
The first chapters about Steve’s childhood are good, and set up the ambiance for what comes next, a very interesting and rebel youth. All the middle part is what makes the book really valuable. The first Apple and ‘jail time’ at NeXT is very very good!
All the most recent times at Apple are well know history and there are not so many details you wouldn’t know if you’ve just been following the news all along. The last chapter could be a book on itself, it is an excellent summary of all of Steve Jobs’s values and it even has it in his own words.

The book is long and fun, some chapters are not so fun (probably his personal life wasn’t so exciting as his professional life) but it is very very easy to read. I would advice anyone to get a copy and read it, if you’re interested in recent technology’s history. It was very interesting to go in a travel through time and read about history so recent, and a cool way to remember.

One more thing, about Steve

I have a history with computers that goes back to my childhood, I started my career working with Microsoft and after many years I learned to discover and love Apple and its ‘think different’ more artistic approach. I still work with Microsoft technologies and feel really sad that they couldn’t learn much from Apple as they should have.
I feel deeply the loss of Steve Jobs as one of the great technology visionaries of the 20th and 21st centuries, and I think we’re gonna miss that industry guidance and path that Apple marked in the past years. Most of companies are not so daring and bold as Apple to innovate (Microsoft used to be but they lost that edge in the past years) so I really hope that someone can stand up to the challenge of being the next Steve Jobs.

If Google is the new Microsoft, Microsoft is the new Xerox

A couple of days ago, as Steve Jobs passed away, I watched again Pirates of Sillicon Valley, the movie that tells the story of the first years at Apple and Microsoft.
It was good to remember that, at that time, Xerox and its PARC had enough budget to invest in R&D and let its engineers create crazy things like the mouse and the Graphical User Interface. They actually had so much money that they didn’t care about having them, as they were sure that the current status-quo was to last forever: computers were just a thing of the distant future, photocopiers are forever.
And so along comes Apple, “borrows” the idea of the GUI and applies it to its Macintosh computer. And the Microsoft “borrows” that idea from Apple and Windows is born.

What if you change a couple of names and re-read that same story over ? In version 2.0
– Microsoft is the new Xerox
– Google is the new Microsoft
– Mobile is the new Personal Computer (Mobile as in smartphones and tablets)
– Apple is the new … Apple!

Microsoft has grown so out of proportions and so sure that PC and Windows kingdom were to last forever, that they had the luxury to ignore all of the money the invested in R&D to develop new products like the Tablet PC and Windows Mobile.
And so came along Apple, “borrows” those ideas and applies them to its iOS platform (iPhone, iPad). And then Google “borrows” that idea from Apple and Android is born.

Google is the next Microsoft

I’m totally amazed at how fast things go in the technology business this days! And I mean business and not technology development, that is a totally different lane.
Remember the days when everybody bashed Microsoft for being a “copycat” in lots of their products? Suddenly they started to expand in unimaginable ways: Internet portals (MSN), Instant Messenger (MSN Messenger, now Live Messenger), browsers (Internet Explorer), even TV (MSNBC channel).
Well, it seems that Google is now playing pretty much the same “me-too” strategy! First, we watched as a nice “competition” and it was nice to have more options to choose from. But now, it seems rather silly. Here’s the list:

– Gmail (vs Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail)
– Google Docs (vs Office)
– Picasa (vs Flickr)
– Talk (vs MSN Messenger and Skype)
– Buzz (vs Twitter)
– Chrome (vs Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari)
– Chrome OS (vs Windows, Linux, Mac OS)
– Android (vs iPhone)

And today they add a new item to the list. As if Orkut (their own social network) wasn’t enough, they now want to add something called “Google Me” that seems to be their response to Facebook. I understand that once you reached such status in the industry you have to start to protect yourself against possible new competitors, but is this the only way they can come up with?

I really love options, but do you think that just because of Google having its own social network everybody will start moving from Facebook to theirs? I think lots of people have invested a lot of time in building their Facebook profile (adding friends, posting thoughts, uploading photos, learning how to use it) and their not willing to do it again just because some other company has a product that does the same. I mean, it really REALLY has to be something so much better than Facebook to lure me into it. Like totally revolutionary, in the way that Apple revolutionized mobile with iPhone three years ago. Or the way Google itself revolutionized search more than a decade ago. Otherwise, just let me be happy with my Facebook profile. I will probably open an account, play a day or two, and then let it rust (as I think we all did with Google Wave).

So, remember again when everybody bashed Microsoft for this same behaviour, and think: Why isn’t everybody doing the same with Google now?

Microsoft’s Lost Decade

What happened to Microsoft? I used to love their products, know each release in their line-up, enjoy every innovation. But lately (more than lately, I could say like for more than ten years ago) it seems like the innovation front has moved from MicrosoftLand to some other fertile grounds. So I would like to share some ideas about what I think about them, taking a step back and looking at their last ten years.

For what I can recall, the last good operating system they released was Windows XP, and that was in 2001! Let’s forget about their whole Vista fiasco, and just face that Windows 7 is just Vista’s Service Pack 2. I remember when XP SP2 went out, they got a totally reliable system back then! Innovative is not an adjective you can put on any of those two releases: Windows still suffers the same security problems as always, it got more annoying and more difficult to manage than before, and it still does the same old things: filesystem management, presentation management, peripheral devices management. So many great things to do on so many fronts, so many lost opportunities! Let’s just take an example: Apple Mac OS’s Time Machine. Boy, I would really like some of that on my Windows. And there are so many great things to still make computers easier to use. But, no, they have this silly TV ads where they tell you that W7 is better just because you can arrange your windows by just dragging them to the borders of the desktop? C’mon, is that all that you could think of as an innovation?

So, what about Office? I think Office is just a finished work of art, guys. We really don’t need anything else in our word processors, spreadsheets and presentation software. That’s why OpenOffice caught up with them and offers a totally free (meaning you don’t have to pay a penny) bundle of software that does pretty much the same that Microsoft Office does. And with browser’s and JavaScript getting its fair share in the development world, you also have Google Docs, now followed by Microsoft’s version… Office Web! Even Apple has some nice products on that field: Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Have you noticed Keynote lately? Is so easy to make such wonderful presentations on it, I wish Powerpoint got that same “designer” treatment (I know they’re doing better on that, but again, this change wasn’t lead by them).

In development tools, the last good product Microsoft released was .NET around 2001. I know this is not fair to say, they were many many advances in the .NET area, and it was planned to be this way. NET is a platform more than a product, and that’s how platforms go, they grow slowly and steadily over time. But those changes seem too much now. Remember the good old days when all you needed to know was just a little bit of Visual Basic (maybe VBScript) and you could come up with a nice Windows Application, or even a website in ASP? Well, now that is so much more complicated and fragmented now. You have to know WCF (Windows Communication Foundation), WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation), WWF (Windows Workflow Foundation), Silverlight, ASP.NET is way more complicated than ASP (that’s why so many people couldn’t come up with it and jump the fences to easier PHP). And let’s just assume that you don’t want to know how to put .NET assemblies in your SQL Server, instead of just writing some simple stored procedures. And all of that just because of trying to keep up with the latest tendencies in programming!

So let’s talk about their product lineup. They used to have the Server products (Exchange, SQL Server, MOM and some other great stuff), the Operating System products (Windows in all of its variances), the Office products (with productivity tools like Project) and their Home line (all the software that you would buy for your kids, including the old Encarta). If you look at their product lineup now is a total mess, just the names of the products are confusing. It seems to me they need a house cleanup in that area!

Mobility is an area that I really used to love. Microsoft was THE player in mobility. Windows Mobile, based on the solid foundations of Windows CE, was the only serious smartphone that was around. You could develop applications for it using almost the same tools you used in your desktop applications: C#, SQL Server (with some quirks) but it was totally bearable. As soon as Apple released iPhone is like they totally froze up! And they’re coming up with an incomplete operating system in the next few months: no database support, no filesystem access. Really!? I knew that they had to ditch the original project they were working on and start all over again. Can they be so out of focus? Guys, this was THE opportunity, you were the ones that were calling all the shots, and now look at you, you’re just another player on the battlefield. I know you have all your big friends like HP, Dell and such, but is this really how you want to see yourselves, as another one on the list? Are you happy with just that?

Open source is another battle they’re losing. First, they tried to convince everybody that OSS is a bad word, you would get sued, the software is not as good as theirs, and lots of nonsense that time took care of proving they were wrong. Now, Linux is a pretty good alternative on the server front (specially for web servers where all you need is LAMP: Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) and is becoming better on the desktop field too, thanks to the guys at Ubuntu. They came up with a “good enough” version of a computer operating system and set of productivity tools that you can use even if you’re not a NASA engineer (as it used to be when I ran RedHat Linux in the old days). They guys at the open source movement showed all us that you don’t have to be a multi-billonar company to write quality software. You just have to good programmers and good policies to get things going. And as Microsoft started to slow down, more people starting to notice that there were some other options, and that those options were not so bad as we had been told. So why not try them? They’re free, so it wouldn’t cost us a dime to just see what’s up with that. And that is a hard battle to fight. How do you compete with free?

So what happened? Well, my idea (and it seems I wasn’t the only one with that in mind, as I been reading some other people’s blogs) is that Microsoft has a serious management issue. And it might even have a name: Steve Ballmer. If you think when all the innovation stopped, and when was the last change of management, both things coincide. As soon as this man got the steer, the company’s star started to fade. Maybe it’s because Bill Gates is more of a technology guy (makes sense to have such a person running a technology company), maybe he is not so smart as it seems (just look for some videos of him on YouTube to find it out). But for me, those to things happening at the same time are not just coincidence.

I don’t intend to rain on anyone’s parade, that’s truly not my intention. As I told, I used to love Microsoft, and I still have a pretty amount of respect for them. They make one of the best software products in the world. So this post is just a summary of ideas I have on my mind right now. I would really like to help you guys regain the leadership position you used to have. But it looks like there’s a long way to go, and as far as I’m looking, no one is acknowledging this inside the company.

Are really PCs (and Macs) going to disappear?

Not soon, I guess! But it is true that in the last couple of years, the innovation field on technology has moved from PCs (Personal Computers, Macs, x86, Linux, etc) to the mobile world. And it is logical… in the end, how many computers a household can have? In many cases we share computers at our homes. But what about cellphones? It seems that we need to have at least one mobile cellphone per person. And, besides the need, cellphones are even more “personal” than computers, a gadget you need to have turned on with you all the time, everywhere you go.
So yes, maybe the focus is changing a little bit from computers to mobile computing. I have an iPad a I won’t deny it, is the device I’ve been dreaming for several years now. Something portable, light, easy to carry around, that can take charge of all of your computing needs while on the go. You can argue with me about how the cellphone/smartphone was to occupy that place, but for me, small screens are not good enough. Although I have to concede Apple they have made a tremendous work on Mobile Safari, and the browsing experience is superb, the screen size it’s still a barrier for serious content consumption.
Imagine yourself reading an ebook on your cellphone. Even though Apple is releasing their iBooks app for the iPhone I don’t see it as viable (as much as Kindle or Kobo on the same platform).
But the iPad is just another thing! A touch interface really created from the ground up, not just an adaptation of a current platform (as Windows for Tablet PCs). This makes total sense, and makes the world of difference when you really understand what is the niche for this products/platform.
Would it be nice to have USB? Yes. Would it be nice to have a front-face camera? Wait ’til next year. Would it be nice to have more storage? Would you really need it?
Seriously, this is designed to address a different set of needs, and it’s just beginning! Remember the iPhone at the beginning? Just 10 apps? And everybody loved it at the time!
This kinds of evolution in technology take years. It is real that cycles are getting shorter now, more than ever, but notebooks have been on the market for more than 20 years now, and it wasn’t until three or four years ago than everybody switched to that. Smartphones are now in the market for over ten years (I remember the first Kyocera PalmPhone!) and people are just still catching up.
Apple is smart, focusing on things that are just starting… but things aren’t going to happen so soon. We will all see the change gradually, as always! So rest asured that your PC or Mac is safe for the years to come. You will need it to browse the web and buy that next gadget that will replace it.

About the iPad (and why I love it)

Today I got my iPad. I’m really excited about it. I know this launch has received a lot of coverage on the media, but for me this is not just about a product. This is about a platform.
Many of you would think that “the iPad is just a large iPod Touch”, that’s nothing revolutionary about it. But when you think about the device and the platform as a whole new thing, you will see it all differently.
It is true that touch interfaces aren’t new: the iPod exists now for almost four years in the market. But one thing is a touch interface in a mobile phone, and something totally different is when you think about a mobile computing device. The things that you can do with this are tremendous! Think about just some applications to come: sales force automation, mobile technical support, e-learning, business intelligence. All are just like brand new in the light of a touch interface. All of those applications that are just normal on a PC are totally transformed by the touch interface.
Maybe it is because the “surprise” about touch interfaces was spoiled a few years ago with the iPhone, but I do think that this is completely new, and is going to change things in a lot of ways yet to imagine. So here I am, starting to compile my first projects on the iPad and trying to see how things work on it.
Is not that I enjoy products from a company (let this be Microsoft or Apple or whatever), I enjoy technology itself, and for the things that enables me to do. Just thinking about the years to come makes me so excited, and I can’t wait to be a part of it.

Uh oh, Apple released new MacBook Pros!

Following the story about my new notebook, that I bought just five days ago, it seems I should have waited! Apple just released new specs for all MacBook Pros, and they’re upgrading pretty much everything!

The processor is faster (2.4 GHz compared to 2.26 GHz), they have more RAM (4 GB compared to 2 GB, that’s twice the memory!), the hard drive is larger (250 GB compared to 160 GB) and the video chip is better (NVidia GeForce 320M compared to the NVidia GeForce 9400M). It seems to me this is the machine it should get!

Now, Apple has a 14-day return policy, but they have this little nasty thing they called “return fee”, if you opened the box, you get like 120 dollars less when returning the hardware. I guess that help them cover the cost of testing the machine and maybe repacking it to be sold as refurbished. The thing is, if I would have know that they were to release new machines, I wouldn’t have opened it! But having just called to the Apple Store, they told me (and I remember I read something about it somewhere…) that being the case that they made the change in their hardware specs, they won’t charge me with the return fee, and that I will get a new machine, no cost!

This is why I like Apple so much: they really have reasonable policies when dealing with this kind of incidents. So I have to keep calling the Apple Store to see when they will have the new models in stock, and get it exchanged.

If you have the case of being trapped in such a situation sometime (having just bought a new machine, and knowing about a new release two or three weeks after your purchase) don’t hesitate to call or visit your Apple Store and talk to them so you can get your new hardware

New MacBook: Pro it is!

I finally got my new notebook, is a MacBook Pro. It’s a 13.3 inch display, 2.26 GHz Core2Duo, with 2 GB of RAM and 160 GB hard drive. It doesn’t seem too much of an upgrade from my previous notebook, but I feel it more responsive, maybe not using it in an external display makes the difference. The older one had a Nvidia video board, and this has GeForce 9400M and also WiFi is ‘n’ (which means it can go faster than 802.11g).

One of the first things I want to do is buy a larger hard drive. I absolutely know for sure that 160GB is not enough. Although I have an external 500GB MyBook hard drive, is not the same as having all of your stuff inside your notebook, and not having to carry around more gadgets, cables and power adaptors. Everybody would want to avoid that!

So I’m off to BestBuy to get a 500GB internal hard drive and make the switch. I should probably get an external case for the 160GB that I would be left with, so I can use it as an external HD. I hope they have those at BestBuy too.