After 4 days, the Pixel XL is going back..

.. because of the lens flare problem.

I know I said it wouldn’t bother me, but having experienced it a few times after that post, I just can’t justify locking myself into a two year contract when the hardware isn’t up to scratch.  It is a hardware issue.  I know Google has said it would fix the problem with a software patch that will detect and remove the lens flare through the use of complex algorithms, but having experienced it first hand, I just don’t think this is the right way to do it.  Short of a full recall with redesigned camera assembly, software isn’t going to cut it.   There have also been a few Bluetooth issues that have cropped up as well.

So I’ve arranged with the carrier to return the unit to them next week and downgrade back to the SIM only plan.  I’ll just stick with the iPhone 7 Plus.  Having now had what appears to be two flagship Android handsets returned in four months – both of which were designed in a bit of a rush[1], at least I know what I have with the iPhone.

[1] Apparently the Pixel/Pixel took just 9 months of development time.  Samsung rushed the Note 7 to try and beat Apple, and look how that ended up.

Dell XPS 13 – the Apple of the Windows world

Stage 2 of Operation Bye Bye Apple Pie is in progress.

My replacement for the two-year-old MacBook Pro arrived yesterday.  Having owned a Dell desktop for around three years before switching to the Mac platform, I know just how reliable and well built Dell PCs are.  Indeed – I gave the old Pentium 4 Dell desktop to my in-laws, and it lasted them two-three years with just a graphics card and hard drive replacement required to get it working again after a year of heavy use.

I chose a Dell XPS 13.  It has a 13″ screen but within a 12″ body.  If you thought Apple were the only ones making well-made laptops, think again.  This thing has what is called an “infinity display” – the screen’s bezels are extremely thin., giving you more screen for your buck.  The keyboard closely resembles a MacBook Pro – chicklet keys that are satisfying to type on (albeit now with a Windows layout and the @ and £ symbols moved around a bit).

The system comes with 16Gb RAM, 1Tb  NVe PCIe SSD and Windows 10.  I chose to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro because the ability to generate, host and muck about with Hyper-V virtual machines are extremely useful for work related purposes.  I shall just tap my nose at this point – all will be revealed later.  The most important feature of Windows 10 Pro is the Bitlocker filesystem encryption.  With the Mac you’re rather spoilt with FileVault, so it makes sense to do the same thing with WIndows.  Speaking of the Mac, FileVault has given me quite a bit of jip over the years – see my articles on fixing FileVault on new Macbooks and CoreStorage jiggery-pokery – which will probably make all this look tame when Apple moves to their brand new filesystem, Apple FIle System (or APFS) with MacOS Sierra.  I doubt Microsoft will ever move away from NTFS / BitLocker for quite some time.  I’ve enabled BitLocker and it’s roughly 38% through encrypting the drive.

The SSD itself is a thing of beauty.  I’d always been wary of using SSDs with Windows because for the longest time there was never much in the way of “TRIM” support.  Trim helps manage the areas of the SSD where data has been written and erased.  Over time, the SSDs cells will eventually wear out (despite not having any physical moving parts).  Trimming will help manage the cells and remap where necessary.  A typical SSD should last around 5 years or more even with constant use (constant use being something like writing over 100Gb a day to the drive).  As this Dell uses Intel’s Skylake processor range, it also supports the latest chipset revisions.  It supports the SSD optimised management system called NVMe, an architecture designed around SSDs.  The internal Samsung SSD fully supports it.  From boot to use, Windows 10 Pro is ready to be used within 10 seconds.

The display is a touch screen, super high-resolution beast.  Like the iPad Pro, the screen suffers from a lack of support from developers.  Anything that doesn’t support resolution independence will look a bit blurry and rubbish.  On the other hand, applications such as Adobe Bridge are absolutely hideous – the screen is so small you’ll need to look at it through a magnifying glass.  I’m happy to report, however, that Adobe Photoshop is just fine.

The touch screen makes extensive use of Windows 10 tiles and touch facilities.  You could potentially use this laptop like a tablet – although the screen is firmly attached to the unit and you can’t twist the screen around.  It puts it in the same category as Dell’s excellent Chromebook range (albeit this XPS has a much better display).  It’s rather odd touching the Start menu with your fingers and not your mouse.

My biggest bugbear so far is that while Microsoft provides an OS X-like Preview app for viewing multiple images in separate windows, the Windows 10 Photos app adds all manner of guff to each window which you can’t get rid of.  If you just wanted to look at a photo by itself without the headers or toolbars – tough luck.  But you can, through a registry hack, bring back an older image app called Windows Photo Viewer.  This is much better – it’s easy to resize images through scrolling, resize the windows, etc.  I’ve tried looking for third-party applications that can do this – just in case Microsoft does something silly with Windows Photo Viewer – but nothing comes close to it in functionality.  I have yet to try Adobe Lightroom, however.

Overall, my experience with Windows 10 – my first proper experience with Windows 10 not involving running it in a virtual environment/lab – has been a good one.  But I’m not done there – I still have ti move over my photos and manage them as well as iTunes.  While the iTunes thing is more or less done through Google Play Music now, I’d still like to keep the physical files that I own on the SSD and access them through some form of desktop player.  Microsoft’s Groove player, maybe?  We’ll see.

This weekend I will be waving a sad goodbye to my MacBook Pro.  It was fun.  But it was two generations behind and, as I’ve said, I don’t have much faith in Apple going forward.  Besides, this new machine has cost me far less than what I originally paid for two years ago, has on site warranty for three years, and offers greater tinkering possibilities.  It also fits in with what I do at work, and – finally – who doesn’t like a change once in a while?  I had been stuck in Apple’s complete ecosystem for far too long.

Google Play Music would be the best streaming service if only..

.. it had support for offline support for albums being borrowed on subscription.  Practically every other service has this.  Even more oddly, the mobile app does have offline support.  So why not on the desktop?  And speaking of desktop, there really isn’t a desktop version – you run it within a web browser.  I use Google Chrome – I’m a big Google user – but even I recognise that there are certain limitations with listening to music via a web browser.  I’d much prefer a properly written desktop app for Windows, Mac and Linux.  On the other hand,  even with Google Play Music operating in a web browser, the experience is 100 times better than Apple Music and iTunes!

Speaking of desktop, there really isn’t a desktop version – you run it within a web browser.  I use Google Chrome – I’m a big Google user – but even I recognise that there are certain limitations with listening to music via a web browser.  I’d much prefer a properly written desktop app for Windows, Mac and Linux.  On the other hand,  even with Google Play Music operating in a web browser, the experience is 100 times better than Apple Music and iTunes!

The real beauty of Google Play Music is that one can upload up to 50,000 DRM free tracks and access it in a browser or a mobile app along with the subscription music.  It forms a very powerful and well-integrated system.

So, Google, offline support for the “desktop” and/or a proper desktop app – and I’ll happy keep subscribing.  Which I will.  Until Amazon’s own music subscription comes along when I’ll be checking that out.

As for Apple Music – much trumpeting from Cupertino yesterday about a forthcoming redesigned service, but no mention of fixing server errors, iTunes Match muck-ups and all that malarky.  No apologies, nothing – and we know it’s affected a great deal of people.  Especially those who are heavily into their music collections – the very people Apple are trying to target.

My biggest complaint with Apple services that outside of the US, it’s pretty much a load of old rubbish.  I’m really still not happy with the speed of development of high-resolution apps for the iPad Pros.  I’m not happy with the tvOS uptake of video app for Apple TV (still no All 4, no support for BBC Store in the iPlayer app, no ITV hub, and unlikely that tvOS will get an Amazon Prime video app).   Apple may be providing the platform, but damn it if developers are taking the bait.   As for watchOS 3 – the speed differential should have been there at the launch of the Apple Watch on day one.  As for the other stuff – many features already present in other platforms or third party apps.  And they’re mainly niceties, not must-haves.

iPad Pro (12.9″) Four Months On

Still loving my iPad Pro (12.9″).  But I’m not loving developers who are taking time updating their apps to take advantage of that higher resolution screen.  Google is slowly getting there, but they are still a very long way off getting everything up to date.  I’m still waiting for the official Gmail app to be updated, for example.

One of the biggest complaints I have with the 9.7″ iPad Pro (which I don’t have, by the way – I love my gadgets, but I don’t have infinite monetary resources!) is that because the resolution isn’t any better than the iPad Air 2, there isn’t as much incentive for developers to hurry up and crank the resolution up for its bigger brother.

I’m finding that I am using iPad Pro a lot more at work for note taking, and also for handwritten notes and drawings (which can be embedded into documents such as PDFs or Word files).  There is something lovely about the freedom to choose between typing and handwriting and typing/drawing.  A good app for this is GoodNotes 4.

Prompt 2 for iOS is a must-have application for those that need SSH access to servers.  Now with split-view support, one can have a web browser and an SSH session running side-by-side simultaneously.

I’m also finding that I’m reading a lot more free magazines via Surrey Libraries’ Zinio magazine service.  With 12.9″ of sceen real estate to play with, one can view magazines at a 1:1 level without having to pinch/zoom.  I have to take the keyboard cover off to free up weight, and the whole thing feels as if I’m reading the broadsheets, but it’s perfectly usable.

Surrey Libraries give their customers access to a lot of premium services online, and at the libraries themselves (including Find My Past).  Worth checking this link out if you’re got a library card. There’s stuff there I didn’t even know about.

Web sites are still a bit of a problem.  Most sites (including this one) are designed to be “responsive”, so you’ll get the very best version depending on the resolution of your device.  For sites such as BBC News, this looks and feels like the desktop version.  But where certain technologies come into play, you’ll get a mobile version which just looks horrible.  I find, however, that using Gmail site is still better than using the Gmail app.  At least Google Chrome uses the full resolution whereas the app does not.

Overall, still very pleased with my purchase.  The limitations at this time are still developer focused, rather than anything to do with the hardware or OS itself.  But I’m sure Apple will do their best to encourage them to update, update, update.