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Entries in Windows (6)

Friday
May012015

Review: Toshiba Encore 2 Write (Updated)

Note: I originally wrote this review on January 30, 2015 for SurfaceGeeks.net. I am taking the original review as a base and updating it a bit now that I've had the device for a few months. The original version can be read at http://surfacegeeks.net/toshiba-encore-2-write-review.html

The Problem with Windows Tablets

I’ve long felt that Windows tablets need a stylus. Touch-centric Windows Store apps are simply not robust enough to use exclusively as a platform by themselves. If they had been Windows RT would still be around. The reality is we still need to rely on some desktop apps; but unfortunately, these don’t work as well with touch alone. This issue is heightened on smaller tablets where the desktop touchpoints can be even more difficult to accurately access. Plus, many websites and Windows desktop applications use mouseover functions that simply don't work in a purely touch environment (which is also why so many websites have dedicated apps on mobile platforms).

 

It seems, however, that very few Windows tablets emphasize or even support some kind of digital or active stylus. For instance, the Dell Venue 8 Pro (which I used to own) is a very capable tablet, but the stylus seems like an afterthought. Sold separately, it took three versions for Dell to get the stylus right. And even then—in my experience—the stylus seems awkward to use with the tablet.

Many of us were hopeful that the much-rumored Microsoft Surface Mini would be the mini tablet we were hoping for. But for whatever reason (and I have my theories), Microsoft pulled it at the last minute, leaving the Surface Mini to remain the stuff of fables and legends.

In recent months, new Windows tablets of 8" or smaller seem to appear every few weeks. I could not pass up the HP Stream 7 for only $99 when I saw one in person at the local Microsoft Store popup this past December. The Stream 7 is an amazing device, but it’s difficult to use, confirming my conviction even more that a Windows tablet needs a stylus.

Enter the Encore 2 Write

When the Toshiba Encore 2 Write was announced at CES, I immediately thought that perhaps this would be the tablet I had been hoping for. There are a number of things the Encore 2 Write has going for it, but two immediate qualities stood out to me. First, this tablet comes standard with 64 GB of drive space. I’m sorry, but 32 GB on a Windows device of any kind is not enough because the operating system simply takes up too much space from the beginning. A microSD slot helps, but apps run fastest on the primary internal drive.

Second, the Encore 2 Write includes an active stylus that does not seem to be an afterthought. The stylus does not need to be ordered separately; it comes with the tablet. The stylus and the digitizer built into the screen are the first to use Wacom’s new “Active ES” pen technology (see Reuters story here.) The addition of three new apps from Toshiba for note taking indicates that this is a primary purpose for which this tablet was designed.

The Encore 2 Write actually comes in two models: the 8" version ($349), which I purchased, and a 10" model ($399) as well. Besides the screen size, there are two interesting differences between the two models. Otherwise, everything else I describe here essentially applies to both.

While both Include a 1.2MP font-facing camera, the smaller 8" tablet has a rear 8MP camera; while the larger 10" tablet only has a 5MP camera. Why the larger tablet would have the lesser camera, I have no idea. Toshiba includes an app called TruCapture, which according to their promotional copy, is designed “to capture notes from textbooks, blackboards, whiteboards and chalkboards and automatically straighten and sharpen the text for greater readability.” And, of course, I often use tablets to take quick scans of documents, so the higher the megapixel the better.

The other difference between the two tablets has to do with the larger tablet including a microHDMI port for presentations. It’s a shame that this extra output feature is missing from the smaller tablet, and you really have to pay close attention to the promo copy to realize it’s not there. Nevertheless, users of the 10" Encore 2 Write will have an easier time connecting the tablet to an HDMI-equipped projector or TV. Fortunately, for those with the smaller tablet, I have confirmed in my own use that USB to VGA adapters do work for presentations or using an external monitor.

On a related note to the above, Toshiba sells a Connect and Charge Micro-USB Cable as an accessory to both tablets, which means that it is possible to use the micro USB port for peripherals and to charge the device at the same time. Although I’ve not seen anyone test it yet, I assume that the Encore 2 Write will work with one of the Pluggable docking stations to make this device convert to a full desktop solution if someone were so inclined.

Software Included for Notes & Meetings

My Encore 2 Write is the Signature Edition from the online Microsoft Store, so it came free from some of the usually-unnecessary software that you might find if purchasing directly from Toshiba. However, three apps specific to this device remain: TruNote, TruCapture (mentioned earlier), and TruRecorder.

TruNote is what you would expect—it’s a note taking app and a good one at that. It’s very customizable and handles note taking quite well. Although it does not OCR handwritten notes, you can search for your handwritten text because it will search for similar shapes if you write a word into the search field. I’m not certain how much I would use TruNote, however, because I’m already invested in other note-taking apps such as Evernote, and to a lesser extent, OneNote. Although Evernote does not read handwritten text, the Microsoft pen input keyboard available to use with any app does, and does so quite well. In fact, I wrote a large portion of this review strictly using Evernote and the Encore 2 Write stylus. The other advantage Evernote and OneNote have is their ubiquity. I can create a note on one device and open it on any other device. Nevertheless, notes can be exported out of TruNote, so it’s possible that if I found it more capable for basic stylus input note taking, I could use it and then import my notes into another app such as Evernote.

Taking a note (pun intended) from the Surface Pro 3, the Encore 2 Write will also let you write on the screen without completely logging in first. Holding down the lower button on the stylus while touching the lockscreen will immediately launch a virtual blank sheet of paper for taking down a quick note. Once you log onto the tablet, your note will be waiting for you in TruNote.

I haven’t had a chance to fully test TruRecorder yet, but it seems like an intriguing app. The Encore 2 Write comes with two microphones, which allows TruRecorder to better distinguish among individual voices. So, if the software works as advertised, you can record a meeting and TruRecorder will break down individual voices into their own tracks that can be listened to individually at a later time. I haven’t had a chance to really test this out yet, but I often have opportunity to record  meetings, so I will try it soon.

The Hardware

In addition to the hardware specs already mentioned, both versions of the Encore 2 Write come with an Intel Atom Z3735F Processor and 2 GB of RAM. They both run Windows 8.1 with Bing. Although I’d prefer more RAM, I haven’t had any real issues yet. Of course, I won’t be editing video or running CAD software on this device either. Plus, if I had to choose between RAM and drive space, I’m actually much more appreciative of the standard 64 GB of the latter.

The Wacom technology built into the screen and the accompanying TruPen work together quite well. Supposedly, together, there are 2048 degrees of sensitivity. This will result in darker lines when pushing the pen harder against the screen, but I’m not artist enough to really test this feature out. All I can say is that the pen feels quite natural—again, much better than the stylus with my Dell Venue 8 Pro. In fact, having owned three previous Windows machines with stylus input—the original Surface Pro, the Dell Venue 8 Pro, and the Acer R7-572—I believe that I can fairly say that the Encore 2 Write has the most natural writing experience of any of the devices I’ve used.

The original Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 came with Wacom technology before switching to N-trig for the Surface Pro 3. Unlike the plastic pens that came with the first two iterations of the Surface Pro, the Encore 2 Write “TruPen” is made of metal (presumably aluminum) and uses a AAAA battery. There is a cap for the pen, and the user manual says the battery will last longer if the cap is kept on the pen when not in use. This must be the modern equivalent of the ink drying out if you leave the cap off a marker. I’m actually more concerned about losing that cap (although it attaches to the top of the stylus) or worse, bending it by grabbing it too hard to pull it off the pen.

Toshiba promises 11+ hours of battery life. I haven’t formally tested this, but I can say the battery is lasting all day with moderate to heavy use. That’s good news since I don’t care to carry cords if I don’t have to. And it’s much better than the HP Stream 7 I recently bought that has the worst battery life I’ve seen since the old NiCad days.

The Nitpicks

I have two minor quibbles with the Encore 2 Write beyond wishing the microHDMI port had been added to the 8" model.

First, I have a hunch that Toshiba may have rushed the Encore 2 Write out the door so that it could be released during CES a couple of weeks ago. I say that because there are no specific accessories made to go with this tablet. I have searched everywhere for a folio case/cover that would work with the Encore 2 Write, but they don’t (yet) exist. Toshiba will sell you a cover for the regular Encore 2, but all of the Encore 2 cases cover the pen clip slot on the bottom right side of the screen. The second microphone also gets covered up by the existing cases available.

To get around this, I ordered a third party cover for the regular Encore 2, and I cut off the right edge that would block the ability to dock the pen. The second microphone is still covered, but I can live with this for right now.

I should also note that as of this writing, it’s impossible to order a replacement stylus [update: they're now available here]. I have always bought an extra stylus or two to keep handy for when my original pen inevitably gets lost. Right now, if that were to happen, I’d simply be out of luck unless Wacom is selling their own stylus with the new “Active ES” technology.

My second quibble is extremely minor. To keep from losing the pen, which I’ve already stated I fear doing, the Encore 2 Write comes with a handy strap that’s supposed to secure the pen to the tablet. On the right side of the tablet, the same side where the TruPen can be docked, there’s a strap hook. Okay, I can understand how to attach the strap to the hook—easy enough—but I see no way to attach it to the pen. Sure, it can be looped around the pocket clip, but that’s not going to keep it from getting lost. Granted, I’m not the most mechanically-minded person out there, but I really believe this is an oversight. I contacted Toshiba’s tech support with this question, and they didn’t have a clue either. Go figure. [Update: a user on one of the forums where I posted this question demonstrated a way to connect the strap to the stylus. It works, but it's not overly secure.]

The Best 8" Tablet? 

In spite of the minor issues, the Toshiba Encore 2 Write turns out to be the exact 8" tablet I have been wanting. It seems made for the stylus instead of the stylus being an afterthought, and there is enough drive space—and more with an added microSD card—to make the tablet truly useful as a mobile computing experience. I specifically wanted the 8" size, but for only $49 more at $399, the full 10" tablet is a bargain. I highly recommend it—especially since the Surface mini continues to be a no-show!

Two Additional Thoughts

When I originally wrote this post for SurfaceGeeks, it didn't seem appropriate to discuss performance on Accordance, but I will mention it briefly here. Note that a Windows tablet allows use of the full blown desktop Accordance instead of the powerful, but less feature-rich iOS version. Unlike Logos, which is unbearable (and unusable) on any PC or tablet with an Atom processor, Accordance will run on any computer that you can buy off the shelf as well as just about any computer currently in use today. I've actually enjoyed using Accordance on the Encore 2 Write. It's handy for taking to church. They stylus is required, of course, for crossover highlighting of English and original language biblical texts as well as the minimize, maximize and close buttons in Accordance zones. I highly recommend it for this kind of use. Moreover, use of a tablet like the Encore 2 Write allows use of Accordance in portrait mode, which brings about a completely different perspective on how to use the software, especially for reading monograph titles. See the screenshot below of Accordance on the Encore 2 Write to see an example of this. 

I should also point out that when I wrote the original review, the idea of a Surface Mini was still fresh in a lot of people's minds. There was hope that perhaps this device, which was rumored to have already been in production before Microsoft cancelled it, might still show up at some point. Since that time, Microsoft has announced the Surface 3, a less-expensive and smaller Surface tablet running a full version of Windows (as opposed to the now-discontinued Windows RT) on a slightly more powerful Atom processor (Quad-core Intel Atom x7-Z8700). I was offered the opportunity to order a 128 GB Surface 3 with keyboard and pen for half the regular price. That was too good of a deal to pass up, but I have no justification for keeping both the Encore 2 Write and the Surface 3. Presumably, if I like the Surface 3, I will probably put the Encore 2 Write up for sale on eBay. 

Questions? Thoughts? Comments? Rebuttals? Leave them in the comments.

Thursday
Jun132013

Accordance for Windows: Yes, It's Real

Optional headline: A significant temperature decrease in Hades has been reported.

Click on image for a larger view.

What you're seeing above is an internal beta for Accordance 10.x for Windows, running in Windows 8. Yes, Accordance, which has been exclusively on Apple platforms since it was launched in 1994, is coming to Windows. This is the second internal beta released in as many weeks. Although an exact release date (beyond simply 2013) has not yet been announced, the build I have is already starting to impress. 

If you've been wanting to run Accordance--with all its speed and power--but didn't want to leave Microsoft Windows to do so, you won't have to wait much longer.

For what it's worth, I would suggest that the beta of Accordance for Windows is already faster than similar programs on the same platform.

Stay tuned. More details to come. 

 

The image above has been posted with permission. Your questions, thoughts, comments and rebuttals are welcome below.

Thursday
Sep082011

This Was the Most Offensive Moment When Seeing Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows, Part 2

No, it was nothing in the movie itself.

Even though Kathy saw the final installment of the Harry Potter series earlier this summer, I only got around to seeing it over the Labor Day weekend. We wanted to see the 3:45 afternoon matinee at the Cinemark Tinseltown Theater in Louisville, but we were running just a few minutes late. I hate getting to a movie late, but I was consoled by the fact that the movie had been out a few weeks, and we probably wouldn't have trouble getting a good seat. We got our tickets, and opened the doors to screen 18 at exactly 3:50. I was surprised that I didn't hear any sound coming from what at least should be previews to upcoming movies by this point. As we walked further in, I began to see a white glow coming from the screen and as I got closer I was surprised to see this:

Now, I realize this is not a great photo, but I had to take the picture for sake of proof. What we were seeing was an error screen with a button partially shown at the top that said "Restore Active Desktop."

Active Desktop?! What—does Cinemark run their theaters on the back of Windows 98? 

And evidently, although a number of people got up to report what was on the screen (while I sat in my chair smug in the satisfaction that I am a Mac user), it took a solid 20 minutes for them to fix the problem. 

I can only guess they were probably delayed from having to import the film into Windows Movie Maker. 

 

Questions, thoughts, comments and/or rebuttals are invited in the comments section. 

Tuesday
Mar152011

iPad 2: Not Another Review—Just Some Observations

Some may see it as predictable, but honestly, as early as Friday morning last week, the day of the iPad 2's release, I was denying that I was upgrading from the first gen iPad. And I meant it. But then my circumstances changed about mid-day, and thanks to a very generous gift, I was able to procure the iPad 2 from the Apple Store in Louisville, Kentucky.

This is not a review of the iPad 2. Those are a dime a dozen at this point. Rather, here are a number of mostly disconnected observations based on my experience over the last four or so days.

Black's Always Cool, But White's the New Black.
I don't know if I was fully decided about which color to get—black or white—until I got in the store, but I was leaning toward white. As I assume most of you know, the original iPad came with only a black bezel around the screen. Now consumers get a choice, albeit limited to only one more choice. In the end, I chose white. It wasn't a nailbiter choice, mind you. I just thought I'd like to have a slightly different experience.

It's interesting that since last Friday afternoon, if you walk into just about any Apple Store, you will primarily see white iPads everywhere. Even the employees are carrying the white models.

I had initially one concern about getting a white iPad: it might show dirt more easily. I wasn't alone in this fear since a friend of mine voiced the same thing, and I heard people interviewed on various tech podcasts say this, too. My hunch is that this concern is especially relevant if you ever owned a white plastic iBook or MacBook. After a few weeks, the white plastic, especially on the palm rest, frankly looked gross. You could clean it, but good luck getting it back to the original pristine white.

The iPad's different though because regardless of whether you get white or back, the plastic is under glass. It's not going to absorb the grime from your hands regardless of how much you refuse to wash them.

And an added benefit? Fingerprints show up less against the white than on the black.

If You Use It to Teach, the iPad 2 Is a Significant Upgrade.
The phrase being thrown around in a lot of reviews is that the iPad 2 is an "evolutionary and not revolutionary upgrade." And this is true (and probably by design). However, there was one major new feature that will benefit anyone who teaches with an iPad: the ability to fully mirror the screen.

With the original iPad, video out was implemented on an app-by-app basis. So presentation programs like Keynote for the iPad could send slide images to a projector if connected with the iPad VGA adapter, but most programs could not.

The ability to throw anything on the screen is pretty exciting. This means that if I'm teaching a New Testament class in Keynote, and I want to switch over to a Bible software application such as BibleReader or Accordance, I can switch to these and perform live instruction from these apps. Every teacher with an iPad and a related educational app has no doubt been frustrated about not having the ability to mirror every screen. Now all that has changed. In fact, this past weekend at church, when I switched between programs, one fellow who's seen me use Keynote on the iPad dozens of times, asked "What's that?" when he saw my desktop of icon folders.

Of course, the first gen iPad has always had this ability as evidenced by Apple's own internal use of this feature during presentations as well as a fairly popular app for this that works with jailbroken iPads. Sadly, Apple has not allowed first generation iPads to have this feature even though they are certainly capable of it.

Contrary to What You May Have Heard, Mirroring Works with the VGA Adapter.
Part of the announcement of iOS mirroring, mentioned above, included a new adapter for connecting the iPad via HDMI to an HD television or an HD projector. This led to a question as to whether video mirroring worked with the original VGA connector released with the first gen iPad. In fact, I waited in line with a buddy of mine who was buying his first iPad. The Apple Store sales rep actually told him that mirroring would only work with the HDMI connector. I told her that this did not square with what Apple's own website states: "Video mirroring and video out support: Up to 1080p with Apple Digital AV Adapter or Apple VGA Adapter (cables sold separately)" (emphasis added; see the iPad Tech Specs page under "TV and Video").

I had already confirmed that the first gen iPad would not mirror with the 4.3 update, but one of the first things I wanted to test was the ability to mirror an iPad 2 with merely the VGA adapter. Using the VGA adapter, I have successfully mirrored the iPad 2 with both my television and an Epson projector. It works great. My main use of the iPad for this is with data projectors, but none that I have access to at the moment use HDMI. So, the VGA adapter works great.

Contrary to What You May Have Heard, the Keyboard Dock Works with the iPad 2.
Recently, I read somewhere that only about a quarter or less of iPad owners use an external keyboard. That's probably a testament to how well the on-screen keyboard works, but I occasionally find myself in situations in which I want to use a regular keyboard with my iPad.


I bought Apple's keyboard dock at the same time I bought my original iPad last year. I liked that it provided a very stable stand for the iPad while typing and that it also had an iPad specific row of function keys. However, I didn't like that it's odd shape made it difficult to fit in a bag or that the iPad could only be used with it in portrait mode. I do a LOT of Keynote work on the iPad, and Keynote will only run in landscape mode. That means using the keyboard dock with the iPad can give you a sore neck really fast. For what it's worth, I have tried the iPad with one of Apple's Bluetooth keyboard and that is probably what I'd recommend that most folks use who want a physical keyboard with their iPad, even though there aren't iPad specific function keys. Incidentally, if you use one of Apple's new "Smart Covers," the iPad is quite stable in upright mode to use with a Bluetooth keyboard.

FYI: stability is an issue in these contexts, because even when using an external keyboard, you still have to use the touch interface of the iPad's screen. You want it to be stable so that it doesn't fall over every time you touch it.

Regardless, the new iPad 2 rests in the original keyboard dock just fine despite its slightly different dimensions. In fact, I used the two together for a faculty observation I was performing last night, and I noticed no difference from the performance with the original iPad. Having said that, though, I still may eventually go with a Bluetooth keyboard myself. It would certainly be easier to carry the two together.

About Those "Smart" Covers.
Apple likes to refer to the iPad as "magical." While that may be a bit of silly hyperbole, the new Smart Covers are the closest thing I've seen yet to anything that might be called magic. It was really somewhat amazing when I first attempted to place the cover on the iPad 2. There seemed to be a bit of AI in play as the cover didn't even wait for me to line it up, but immediately grabbed onto the iPad and was lined up perfectly. The ease of placing the cover on the iPad 2 is quite a contrast from putting Amazon's Kindle cover on their eReader. The first time I tried that, I nearly broke one of the hooks, not understanding how it was supposed to be attached.

This automatic "physical syncing" between the Smart Cover and the iPad 2 is achieved through magnets--31 total between the cover and the iPad 2 according to folks who have taken both apart. Somehow this feels dangerous. I remember when we were told to keep magnets away from our computers!

As amazing as these covers are, somehow my new iPad seems a bit naked. The screen is protected, which is a good thing, but the aluminum backside is bound to get scuffed and scratched after a while. There are numerous companies that provide protective films for screens, and now we might need something similar for the back of the iPad. Or at the very least, all those companies that make iPad cases can breath a sigh of relief because I imagine some iPad owners will opt for a bit more protection.

I actually liked Apple's original folio case with one exception. With the case on, it wouldn't fit in the keyboard dock (which, again, evidently only I liked). So, as some of you remember, I "modified" mine with scissors, but Kathy said it looked unprofessional because I can't cut straight. I also liked how the iPad looked and felt in the folio case when I could carry it into a meeting as if it were a very thin Daytimer.

Besides the gee whiz aspect to the Smart Covers, I have to wonder why Apple went this route. I can only imagine it might be because they got tired of seeing the iPad covered up (or more likely, their logo covered up) whenever an iPad was used in real world situations or on television. With the increasing number of new tablets appearing on the market this year, and inevitably appearing in media and in the workplace, Apple probably wants to make certain that their iPad is distinguishable from the rest of all the forthcoming tablet noise.

Get a Grip.
I wonder if whether longterm, I'll want to put the iPad 2 in a more traditional case. The way it folds to prop itself up, either vertically or at an angle for typing, works great. But Sunday, when I was trying for the first time to use my new iPad with Keynote, connected to a projector, the iPad wouldn't stay at the top of the podium I was using. This was never a problem with the original, black folio case. I could turn the cover back, slip it into its notch to put it at an angle, and it would hold its place, even on a slanted podium. With nothing on the back of the iPad 2, there's nothing to grip the underlying surface. I wanted it to stay at the top of the podium, but it insisted on sliding to the bottom.

With the Smart Cover folded into a triangle, I've found that I also could hold the iPad in one hand, in portrait mode, providing I kept my thumb over the bezel. These magnets are strong, but the cover can still come off quite easily and the entire iPad should never be left hanging from the cover. In fact, I've already dropped mine this way, but fortunately, it landed on my living room couch. But how many of us dropped our first gen iPads and were thankful we had them in a full case? I predict with Smart Covers alone, we're going to see a lot more broken iPads this year.

I wouldn't recommend anyone use an iPad regularly without some kind of protection for it. I believe there are going to be better ways to protect the iPad 2 (none of the first gen covers fit the iPad 2, incidentally) than the Smart Covers, but at the very least you need to have something on your iPad.

Professionalism Comes with a Price.
It's nice to see Apple bringing some visual variety back to its products. In some ways, I miss the colorful days of the fruit-flavored iMacs and original iBooks. Most Apple products in recent years have been black, silver, and sometimes white. Last year's iPad folio cover from Apple only came in black, although third parties supplied a wide variety of colors and designs. Nevertheless, Apple's return to colors, even in this small way, is a welcome change.

The new covers come in either polyurethane or leather. The difference in price is significant—$39 for plastic and $69 for animal hide. I would have been fine with a polyurethane cover, having given up on any need for "real" leather a long time ago, if it were not for one thing. What was not immediately clear to me (and probably a lot of others) is that only the neon/pastel colors are polyurethane, while the darker colors—what I consider to be a better fit for most "professional" contexts—come only in the leather. I would have been more than willing—no, preferred—to buy a lower priced polyurethane cover, but I didn't want ANY of the polyurethane colors. In the end, I opted for the dark blue leather. As already described, there are pros and cons to these covers, but they are pretty amazing for what they are. However, when you hold it by itself in your hand and realize that you just paid $70 for it, well...that's a bit hard to take.

How Much Faster Is It?
When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad 2, he said it was up to twice as fast as the first iPad. It has a faster dual core processor as well as twice as much RAM (although Apple never wants to talk about the RAM in its iOS devices). As everyone has said, the first gen iPad was no slouch, so how distinguishable is the second one? Well, I have no idea; the first iPad was fast enough and in most apps, the difference is imperceptible. However, I do see a real difference in a couple of apps.

First, I see a difference in some Keynote transitions. I'm not one to use too many distracting transitions between slides anyway. A plain dissolve is usually fine with me. However, I do like the "Anagram" transition in Keynote which, when advancing from one slide to another, will use a few letters on the first slide to create the word on the second slide (here's a brief YouTube video of it in action). I like Anagram because it's subtle, but also because I feel it can visually link the concepts in one slide to the next.

On the original iPad, sometimes the Anagram transition would stall a bit. I'd be ready to go to the next slide, but I could tell that Keynote was processing a number of algorithms to get the transition to work. Often I would go through a presentation ahead of time, and if an Anagram transition took too long, I'd simply use a simple dissolve. Sunday, I noticed that none of my transitions were slowed down. The Anagram transition worked without a hitch, no doubt benefitted by the extra RAM and faster processor.

Second, I keep quite a few PDF files on my iPad in GoodReader. Some of them are quite large, hundreds of pages long. I use GoodReader, not because I liked its interface best (I really don't), but rather because it's been more robust than a lot of the other readers, crashing less often than other apps when viewing extremely large documents.

But as good as GoodReader is, I could still crash it on the the larger files, especially if I moved through pages too quickly. With the new iPad, while I don't imagine that the extra memory and faster processor make a program like GoodReader completely crash proof, I have noticed that larger files are much more stable, and I'm seeing fewer crashes.

About Those Cameras...
The biggest criticism the iPad 2 has received relates to the lesser quality of the iPad 2's cameras, although from what I understand, the front facing camera is the same quality as the front facing camera in the iPhone 4. It's the rear camera that receives the bulk of criticism as really lacking in quality. Believe it or not, that rear camera is LESS than one megapixel!

Now every once in a while, for sake of full disclosure, I do remind readers that I own a small amount of Apple stock. However, I have no desire to defend Apple on the quality of the camera, as I would like to have better ones, too. However, I do try to understand Apple's reasoning in issues like this—beyond the mere suggestion most often offered that crummy cameras were offered now, so the better cameras can be a feature of the iPad 3. I'm certain each iteration of the iPad will continue to get better cameras, but why not offer something better right at the beginning?

I can't fully answer that question, but here's my theory. I think that for right now, although the lack of a camera on the first gen iPad was lamented even before it was released, Apple's main goal for cameras on the iPad 2 is to help further solidify FaceTime. Whether this will be successful in the long run, I have no idea. I have FaceTime on my iPhone 4, my Mac and now my iPad, but I think I've only used it a couple of times. I have no doubt that there is a Windows version of FaceTime in the works, too. I really believe Apple is trying to make Facetime as much of a standard as Skype.

And for FaceTime, these cameras are perfectly fine. Of course, I have no doubt that many will use the iPad for photos and recording video, and while I don't believe it's going to be the best tool for that job, Ken Rockwell is surely correct when he says that the best camera is the one you have with you. Fortunately, I usually have my iPhone 4 with me, which is an undecidedly better camera, although not as nice as my Canon Digital Rebel (which I don't often have with me).

If Apple didn't intend for people to shoot video, why would they release iMovie for the iPad? Well, if they didn't, someone else would release a similar product. More on iMovie on the iPad in a bit.

Economics 101.
Another criticism of the iPad 2 is that there is no drop in price from last year's iPad. We're accustomed to seeing technology gradually come down over time. And it's no secret that the cost for production of a product goes down after a time, although I guess the iPad 2 would at least partly count as a different production run.

Again, I'm not wanting to defend Apple here so much as simply understand their motives, and in this case, I think I do. Again, I'm no different than any other customer in that I'd like to pay less for an iPad, too. However, from Apple's perspective, keeping prices the same for right now is good business sense.

Why should Apple drop its prices? You drop your prices in order to be competitive. And here's the key: at this moment, Apple has no competition in this market. I have no doubt that eventually, the tablet field is going to get very crowded. When there's some real competition for the iPad, Apple will decide to drop the price of its device. This will competitively undercut the competition who will still be under the obligation of a higher cost of production to keep their products at a higher cost just to recoup their investment. This is Economics 101, really.

I have no idea if it's true, but I remember when the iPad was first released, reading that some Apple insiders were surprised when the bottom tier iPad was announced at $499 instead of $399. In the big picture, $499 surprised everyone a little bit because Apple rarely sells anything for under $500. A lot of early predicters were expecting the iPad to be higher. But knowing that it costs less than $300 to make, evidently many inside Apple were supposedly told that the iPad would start at $399. And then, according to the rumor, Steve Jobs/Apple changed his/its mind.

And again, why not? Economics 101 again: prices are set by what the market will bear. If customers hadn't gone gangbusters over the iPad, I have no doubt it would have been dropped down to $399 for the starting level within six months. But people kept buying it at the prices set and no competition emerged during 2010, so prices remain the same today.

Competition from other companies will be good for consumers because it will bring iPad prices down as well as prices for competing tablets. Further, competition will result in a better iPad 3, 4, 5, etc. and that will cause better results from the competition as well.

And the Rest...
Here are a few more minor observations:


  • iMovie: My upgrade to iMovie on the iPad was free because I had bought the earlier version released for the iPhone. I tried using it one time on the iPhone a while back and gave up. The iPhone's screen is simply too small for editing video. It was difficult simply based on the impracticality of it. However, iMovie on the iPad is quite handy and pretty easy to use. I doubt I'd ever do much video recording with the iPad, but I did transfer over about four minutes of video I'd recorded on my iPhone. Editing on the iPad was easy and even enjoyable. The themes save a lot of time. There are a number of ways to share the final product, but oddly the MobileMe gallery is missing.

  • GarageBand: Okay, if you've never been into GarageBand on your Mac, don't let  that stop you from taking a look at the iPad version. It's the touchscreen that makes the difference because you can actually play instruments. Even I, with zero musical ability, can fake my way through it with the so-called "Smart Instruments." In fact, I found that doing some basic strumming on the guitar to be quite relaxing, even though I'd have no desire to do so on a real guitar. GarageBand works on all iPads, even last year's, so for $5 give it a try. See a demo video here.

  • Elbow Room: I realize that my use of  an iPad is probably not typical, but with the original iPad, I had run out of room in recent months with the 32 GB version I'd bought last year. I regularly had to move files on and off the iPad based on what I needed for the week, often having to put them back on if I need them again the next week. So, this time, I got the full 64 GB iPad. I'm very pleased. In fact, it was a bit thrilling to be able to download my entire Accordance library over the weekend to my new iPad. I've been using Accordance on the Mac since 1998 and over the years, I've built up quite a digital library. Before, I had to be very selective as to what titles I carried on the iPad. With this larger iPad, I can load everything and not worry about it.


So, those are a few observations. I agree with most who say that if you already have an iPad, the iPad 2 is not a "must have" upgrade. In fact, my wife, Kathy, says that while she wouldn't mind having a new one, doesn't feel any rush to get one. Nevertheless, I feel very fortunate to have mine, especially in light of the ability to mirror screen and the upgrade to the 64 GB model. Feel free to ask question or add your own in the comments.

I've said before that I'm excited about tablet computers in general and the potential they bring. Some are going to prefer the Xoom, or the Playbook, or the Galaxy Tab, and that's fine. These devices, while not currently replacing everything a computer can do, certainly give us greater freedom and mobility when we can use them instead of a computer. Yes, there will always be the next big version of each of them coming down the pike, but if you don't have one yet, I encourage you not to wait, but instead, jump in and enjoy the party.

Tuesday
Aug032010

Official Word (pun intended): STILL No RTL Text Support in Office:Mac (2011)

Over at the MacMojo blog, the Microsoft Office for Mac team has officially announced that Office 2011—and most significantly, Word 2011—for the Mac will not handle right-to-left text. This means no Unicode language support for anyone writing in languages such as Hebrew and Arabic. So, not only does Word remain fairly useless for native speakers of these languages, but it also has significant impact on any Mac users who are engaged in biblical, Middle Eastern, and Ancient Near East studies.

The announcement itself was sandwiched between two other announcements about language support in the post, "Добро пожаловать ! Zapraszamy ! (And I know I've spelled this right!)." The post itself is written to be a bit lighthearted, but clearly the big news is that yet again, Mac users still do not have RTL support, meaning the Mac version of Word plays second fiddle to the Windows version. Yes, Windows users, feel free to gloat. This is one instance where Windows users have an advantage.

There are other alternatives on the Mac, including Mellel, but Word is such a universal format, used both in the academic and non-academic world that this exclusion continues to put Mac users at a disadvantage, especially those engaged in biblical studies. While a Mac user can request a PDF file from a Windows user who includes Unicode Hebrew in a document, obviously, such a request precludes direct collaboration on a file between users of the two platforms.

What I found most interesting is that  Microsoft's Mac Business Unit managed to blame Apple for the lack of RTL support in their announcement:

Office 2011 relies on the Apple Type Services for Unicode Imaging (ATSUI) as the set of services for rendering Unicode. Due to technology restraints on the text input tools, Office for Mac’s Unicode support doesn’t include languages such as Hebrew and Arabic.

Okay, I'll be honest. I really don't understand half of that. But here's what I do understand: RTL language support is fully supported in specialty word processors on the Mac such as Mellel as well as a host of other programs. Heck, it's even supported here in Safari, where I'm composing this post in WordPress.

Hey, Microsoft MacBU: ‏אָבִיךְ הָאֱמֹרִי וְאִמֵּךְ חִתִּית

Look, I'm not anti-Microsoft like some Mac users. In fact, I use Word just about every day. But if this affects you, I encourage you to give the Microsoft MacBU grief over this. RTL support needs to be added as soon as possible. If it doesn't make the October release of Office 2011, it needs to closely follow it with a point update.

It's not as if this is a new issue. In fact, it feels a whole lot like 2005 all over again.

Tuesday
Oct132009

So Long, MS Works! You Were Great in ’88 

Ms-works-2.0-dos MS Works 2.0 for DOS screenshot (borrowed from the Wikipedia)

You know, before I was a Mac guy, I was a Windows guy. And before I was a Windows guy, I was a GeoWorks Ensemble guy. And before that, I was just a plain old DOS guy. And what was the first word processor I ever used to write a college paper? It was Works 1.0 for DOS. I used it my junior year in college in 1988.

So, I read a post on ZDNet last week about the demise of Microsoft Works (see "Goodbye, Works!"). Evidently, Microsoft is discontinuing it in favor of a stripped down, ad-laden version of Office. The opening paragraph of the ZDNet article especially caught my attention:

How many of you have received files from students (or even teachers’ home computers) and been unable to open them because they’re in Works format? Sure, there’s a converter utility, but it’s one more thing to install on the computers you manage and doesn’t help if you’re using a Mac, Linux, or Google Apps. Of course, since it’s pre-installed on most home PCs, many of our students don’t think about the file format issue.

As I've begun to accept more papers electronically, the issue above occurs all too frequently. Quite often students pay no attention to what software they use to write their papers. When asked, they often don't know whether they're using Works or Office. They're not thinking about it; they simply use whatever came with their computer. Word 2007 for Windows will read Works files, but Word 2008 for the Mac will not because there hasn't been a current version of Works on the Mac platform since the mid-nineties.

Now, if I want to go out of my way, I can convert a Works file on my Mac in one of two ways. I can fire up Windows Vista in Parallels where I do have a copy of Office 2007 installed. Or I can launch MacLinkPlus. But most of the time, I email the student back and ask that he or she export the file to Word format or at least RTF. I also encourage them to buy Office. As cheap as our students can get a full copy of MS Office, I really see no reason to go through an entire college degree using Works.

But it was great or me--back in the day. I thought Works 1.0 for DOS was amazing. I sat down with the tutorial and went through every lesson. It had a word processor, spreadsheet, database, and a communications program (the last of which I don't think I ever used). I mainly used the word processor, eventually upgrading Works to v. 2.0. But my stepfather, who was a banker, told me that for quite a while he ran the whole bank in a Works database. Imagine that.

When I began work on my M.Div in 1991, the Works word processor wouldn't cut it for me because it couldn't create footnotes (I believe current versions of Works will). I switched to WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS, and spent another week or two, going through every lesson in the tutorial. But around this same time, I was also using GeoWorks Ensemble. It had a great word processor, but again no footnotes. Nevertheless, I saw the value of a graphical user interface, and so I eventually made my way to Windows, using MS Word, and then in 1998 I switched to the Mac.

Anyway, I still have some of those files from Works for DOS. I believe I've converted most of them to Word by this point. And there's the rub. At the end of the ZDNet post, the writer commented, "Works is dead. Long live generally accessible file formats."

Accessing files from twenty years ago is possible, but it's a pain. In twenty years, I don't want it to be difficult to access the files I create now. Word processing is one of my major uses for a computer. I have multiple word processors on my MacBook Pro. I have Word 2008 for the Mac, Word 2007 for Windows, WordPerfect 2002 for Windows, Apple's iWork Pages '09, Mellel 2.7, and even an old copy of AppleWorks 6. In addition to these programs I have installed, I keep up with Nota Bene for Windows by subscribing to their email list. I am also a member of the WordPerfect for Mac email list even though Corel hasn't released a version for the Mac since 1997.

And with all that, what word processing software do I use 90% of the time? Microsoft Word 2008. In the end I'm a pragmatist. I know that for better or worse, Word is the standard and I'll be able to read my files two decades from now. I simply have no doubt whatsoever about this. I've learned this lesson the hard way because I have to jump through hoops to open old Works or WordPerfect files. And I cannot open the GeoWorks files at all right now (although I'm looking to change that).

Everyone likes to throw stones at Microsoft. I've always said I'm not anti-Microsoft; I'm just anti-Windows (even though I also have Windows installed on my Mac in Parallels anyway). I'd love to switch to something like Pages for the bulk of my work, but I'm a bit reluctant. Apple ditched AppleWorks and before that MacWrite. Who's to say that one day, they won't ditch Pages?

But I'm not such a pragmatist across the board. I have switched completely over to Keynote for teaching instead of PowerPoint because it is so much better. For the first year or two I used it, I would save a backup copy of my file in PowerPoint format just in case. However, I've stopped doing that and even delete these PowerPoint versions of my files now when I come across them. I believe that regardless of what happens with Pages (and Numbers), Keynote will remain because it's garnered quite a following. And hey, it's what Steve Jobs uses, so I would think that guarantees its staying power. I wouldn't be surprised if there's not eventually a Windows version of Keynote. I think those of you who are Windows users would really like it.

As for Works? I haven't used it since 1989 or ’90. It brings back fond memories of my early days on the computer and my first academic work. I hung on to the floppy discs after I stopped using it--just in case other things didn't work out and I needed to reinstall it. But after almost two decades, I think I can safely say that won't happen (I still have those WordPerfect 5.1 discs, too).

I guess, it's sad to see Works go only from a nostalgic viewpoint. But who needs yet another file format? In fact, I'm surprised it even stayed around this long. And as long as I can open my files without hassle, I'll be happy.