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MacBook Air’s second coming: Can Apple give it the right Touch?

When Apple launched the MacBook Air in 2008, the ultraportable laptop market was heading in a different direction. At the bottom end Asus had just created the netbook with the EEE PC 701, which was ultraportable in both size and weight. Meanwhile at the top, the Sony Vaio TZ was packing a decent processor in a small and light chassis. Lenovo’s X200 and Dell’s Latitude E4200 became the business ultraportable flag carriers with fast processors, long battery life and 12 inch screens.

The MacBook Air by comparison was hardly more portable than a regular MacBook. Even though it was a good deal lighter, its owner still needed basically the same size bag to carry it around. So the netbook and X200/E4200 sectors flourished while the MacBook Air stumbled, plagued by complaints about overheating, underperformance and disappointing battery life.

This time around it’s sounding like Apple may have reacted to the successes of the smaller form factors. Rumors suggest an 11.6 inch MacBook Air refresh possibly coming on October 20th with near instant-on capability from a bespoke case-less SSD.

Funnily enough this is close to what many were expecting to see when Apple launched the iPad; i.e. a netbook competitor with a quick SSD for instant gratification. I’d anticipate however that the MacBook Air replacement would have at least the current model’s processing power, in order to handle OSX.

Touch might be in the mix as well, but I’m 99% certain that we will not see iOS on this device just yet because that would send completely the wrong message about the iPad’s input method. I do still believe that iOS will eventually become the main Apple OS with Mac OSX becoming a niche in a few years time. But I think this will happen through increasing the touch capabilities of OSX, continuing with the new version that will hopefully be announced on October 20th along with the new MacBook Air. MacBook Air Touch anyone?

Neil Berman

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Oct 16, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Hardware | , , , | Leave a comment

Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t hands-on: It’s no iPad killer

Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t 3With the iPad inspired tablet season well underway, Lenovo has released its new IdeaPad S10-3t in the hope of snatching some early sales before Apple’s magical tablet hits the stores.

The IdeaPad S10-3t is definitely a different beast to the Apple iPad, with Lenovo throwing the guts of a netbook into a convertible tablet chassis.  There’s an Intel Atom N450, a 250GB hard drive and the usual webcam and assortment of ports.  This makes the IdeaPad S10-3t more akin to a traditional Windows convertible tablet than a dedicated iPad style tablet device with a honed OS.  At the risk of reaching the end of this review in advance …continue reading

Mar 18, 2010 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Flash 10.1 Beta 3 brings GPU acceleration to GMA500 netbooks

MSI X320

The MSI X320 will benefit from the GMA500 support

There’s a funny dynamic going on in the world of Flash which, let’s remember is used by almost the whole world.  On the one hand the likes of Apple are trying to encourage the world away from Flash because it is a processor hog and towards HTML5 instead.  While on the other hand Adobe is demonstrably working to make Flash HD video run better on lesser hardware by enabling …continue reading

Feb 24, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New fragility vs used solidity: Part 1 – Lenovo U110 review

Oh the netbook craze! I’ve been through a few of them and they’ve all been great. It goes without saying that they have their limitations though and are challenged by anything requiring decent horsepower, like playing HD video.  The new Intel ULV powered ultra-portables in the $500-700 range are a step up, but even they aren’t powerhouses if you create media as much as you consume it.  They’re also sometimes a little fragile compared to some premium offerings. Continue reading…

Feb 3, 2010 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton@CES: MSI introduces new X-Slim and Netbook models

MSI has gone from strength to strength in recent years, and while its initial X-Slim range was judged to be a little flaky the company is hoping to change that with its updated 2010 models.  MSI has also been showing new netbooks here at CES and you can catch their latest X-series and netbook models in the video above, including the new X350, X420 and X6xx laptops.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 9, 2010 Posted by | CES, Computing, Mobile, News, Video Features | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Netbooks rock, but are Nettops worth it?

p1030840Whilst we are eternally grateful to Asus for the original EEE PC and the Netbook offspring it spawned, why do OEMs continue to think it’s OK to package an Intel Atom with GMA950 graphics in a home PC?

Apart from the potential electricity savings why would a sane person ever say, “I’d sure like to have an underpowered home PC which will struggle to play YouTube vids”.  And given how much longer this PC would have to be powered-on to complete tasks which an Intel CULV chip could complete in a fraction of the time, are there really power savings there at all?

I actually reckon a CULV powered PC could be more power efficient than an Atom based machine for home media usage.  But of course the Atom platform is cheap to build and the Nettop buzzword adds margin…and that’s the crux of this one.

Netbooks are great.  Nettops?  Fit them with CULV processors.  I’d rather pay a little extra for a LOT extra.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jul 14, 2009 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Hardware | , , | 2 Comments

Laptop prices falling hard

Today’s MacBook price cuts were both welcome and not unique in the current laptop market.  Ultraportables and desktop replacements alike have been suffering from netbooks and Intel CULV powered thin ‘n lights pulling down the whole sector.

It’s pretty cool that you can finally get a decently powered 3-4lb laptop with a 13 inch screen for well under $1,000; MSI’s X340 and Acer’s Timeline are good examples.  Both are HD video capable and provide enough power for day-to-day computing.

These machines pull down the premium end of the ultraportable market like the Dell Adamo and MacBook Air, which don’t really offer much more hardware than the MSI or Acer.  In fact the Dell is probably slower than both.  So now we have a $1,499-$1,799 MacBook Air, which is great news for consumers and effectively sets a glass ceiling for ultraportable prices.

At the heavier end of the market 17 inch laptops are under strain from all-in-ones like the Asus EEE Top which are semi-mobile and keenly priced.  I found a new Toshiba dual-core T3400 17 inch laptop on Amazon this evening for $529.  This thing was fully loaded, you really wouldn’t need much more for a day-to-day desktop replacement…and of course you can install Windows 7 RC and get almost a year of usage before you need to buy a license.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jun 8, 2009 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sony Vaio P hands-on

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 15, 2009 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton@CES – MSI booth walking tour including X320 and U115

MSI’s X320 is about as close as you’ll ever see to a Macbook Air without an Apple logo on the back of the screen.  When the lid is closed the laptop is a dead ringer for the Cupertino model, aside from MSI’s black and white color models which accompany the silver one.  The X320 should be released in the US in Q2 this year for under $1,000, sporting an Intel Atom and 13″ screen.

The U115 hybrid has a SSD and a traditional hard drive as well for mass storage.  The spinning hard drive can be turned off for extended battery life, MSI claims up to 12 hours of total usage.

Note that the white X320 in the video is a mock-up concept.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 9, 2009 Posted by | CES | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Are Windows 7 pre-Beta success stories responsible for Atom notebook rumors?

Today’s rumors that HP is discussing the possibility of using Atom CPUs for notebooks as well as existing netbooks is interesting for two reasons.  Firstly we have not seen the Atom in any laptops with >12″ screens, but secondly and more importantly I think this could be an indicator of confidence in early Windows 7 tests.

We have already seen Windows 7 running on an Asus EEE PC, and early impressions of the next-gen OS have been extremely positive for a stage so early in the pre-release phase.

So what does it mean if HP really is talking to Intel about supplying the Atom for notebooks?

  • Battery life should skyrocket, if the netbook crowd can be used as a benchmark.  My Wind gets over five hours in real-life usage and the only significant additional power drain on a notebook is a larger screen…but they also offer more real-estate for housing a larger battery.  Could full working-day battery operation from a large-screen laptop become a mainstream reality?
  • The concept is good news for organizations with a mobile/flexible-working workforce and a thin-client infrastructure.
  • Many consumers may only need low processing power as we move towards a web-based services computing model (eg. web-mail/photo/music/productivity apps).  They might trade notebook HD movie editing capabilities for longer battery life in real life usage…however this would require a sea change in marketing tecniques where high power specs aim to sell a life-changing experience.  It is probably a ‘Greener’ sell though, which could lead to Atom-based notebooks being more fashionable that more energy-hungry models.

Time will tell if anything comes of this, but when I put together the early Windows 7 success stories with rumors of HP talking to Intel about the Atom then it does all start to come together…in my hopeful mind!

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 2, 2009 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

iMac Sales Plunge, Apple Slashes Refurb Macbook Air to $1,149

It’s been a week that Apple fans will want to forget.  NPD reported that Apple sales for November were flat year on year whilst Windows PCs gained 7%, iMac sales collapsed by 38% whilst Windows desktops fell only 15% and Apple announced that the company will stop attending Macworld after the 2009 show.  Apple laptop sales rose 22% compared to 15% for Windows laptops.

mb-air

What does this mean for Apple?  Most likely something needs to be done…and pretty fast.  Apple has responded by slashing prices of its refurbished models, a move likely aimed at removing the carrying costs of old inventory.  Macbook Airs are available for $1,149 on Apple’s US website at the time of writing.  Deep reductions are offered across other lines as well and online stores are offering serious discounts on new models.  After a while this discounting could erode the premium perception of the brand and hurt Apple retail store sales, which are typically made at full price.

Netbooks captured the the public's imagination in 2008

Netbooks captured the the public's imagination in 2008

This may be a short term band-aid to improve working capital, but Apple needs to look deeper at its product line and offer models at prices which relate to the current economy.  The company has been too late in coming to the Netbook market, which exploded with colossal growth this year following the arrival of the Asus EEE in late 2007.  Apple needs a Netbook quickly, and it will need to compete with the quality of the MSI Wind, Acer Aspire One and Asus EEE range, which all sell for around $300-400.

Steve Jobs said that “We don’t know how to build a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk.”  Well Apple might have to learn how.  Five hundred dollars is now premium Netbook territory as prices have been falling throughout 2008.

I expect that if Apple enters the market they would choose the $600-800 range with a couple of configurations.  They need this because Macbooks are no longer the coolest laptops to pull out of your bag…Netbooks are.  A glance at the Amazon bestseller list shows Netbooks occupying slots which Macbooks used to live in. 

The MSI Wind Netbook was one of the most hotly anticipated products of 2008. Can Apple introduce its own competitor to stop the rising Windows sales?

The MSI Wind Netbook was one of the most hotly anticipated products of 2008. Can Apple introduce its own competitor to stop the rising Windows sales?

Whilst Macbooks used to be the laptop of choice for Manhattan coffee shop outings, Netbooks now get the curious admiring looks.  In an America looking to downsize cars, energy usage and spending, Netbooks are the Prius of today’s laptop showroom.

Clearly the slowdown in the economy has affected Apple as a seller of premium products.  It also seems that Apple’s negative advertising campaign throughout 2008 against PCs may have not had the positive sales effect Apple was hoping for.  In fact the plunging iMac sales figures indicate that Apple might have done better through a positive campaign promoting the benefits of the iMac compared to Windows desktops.  It may be that consumers simply were unable to identify a positive value of spending the extra bucks on an iMac, which is a classic outcome of a negative advertising campaign, unless the competing product is seen as truly worthless.  Clearly not the case in this instance as iMac sales plunged 23% more than Windows desktop sales.

Whilst I think Apple will pull through, it needs to revitalize its line-up to be attractive in today’s economy.  And hopefully that revitalization effort will give us reasons to buy Macs, instead of reasons not to buy PCs.  I want to want Macs for good reasons, not because I’m told the competition is bad.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Dec 18, 2008 Posted by | Apple, Hardware, Microsoft, News | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MSI Wind / Advent 4211 Review

After a gust of initial promise, the MSI Wind blew into the US market in a flurry of overpricing, stock delays and battery shortages. Whilst the pricing still remains questionable, the stock situation has slowly improved. I managed to spend some time with the Advent 4211 clone in London this week to see if it was a full force tornado or just hot air.

Acer Aspire One on top of MSI Wind

Acer Aspire One on top of MSI Wind

Appearance of the MSI Wind

The Wind is one of the larger netbooks, not quite as ‘notebook looking’ as the Asus EEE 1000 but sizeable nonetheless. Sitting under the Acer Aspire One the MSI Wind shows a centimeter of clearance all round, which is not bad considering it boasts a full inch of extra screen space due to the Wind’s narrower bezel.

As for overall appearance, the MSI Wind looks OK. In Advent 4211 silver plastic guise it misses out on the eye catching looks of the EEE 1000 and Aspire One which are definitely a step ahead in the fashion stakes with their design details.

Keyboard and trackpad of  the MSI Wind

Opening the lid reveals a good size keyboard with a smallish trackpad. The keys themselves sit up high and seem initially stodgy to press. Due to their angled sides they actually have a smaller contact area than the Acer Aspire One, which sit almost flat giving a sleeker look and for me a more reliable typing experience. The Wind’s keyboard is perfectly functional however and would be easy to adapt to. I wasn’t a fan of the right Shift key’s position and there is some empty space where MSI haven’t fully utilized all the available real estate.

The trackpad is responsive enough, but might ideally have been wider. It’s reminiscent of the first EEE PC, which had an even smaller square. The EEE 1000 definitely leads the netbooks in this regard with its lurvely multitouch pad.

Performance of the MSI Wind

The MSI Wind and Advent 4211 ship with Intel’s Atom N270, 1GB RAM, an 80GB hard drive and Windows XP Home, which took just under sixty seconds to boot and turn the egg timer into a full arrow. That’s passable, but this is a bare machine. I expect that once you install a firewall, antivirus, Skype and other apps which load at boot-up you’re probably looking at nearer ninety seconds plus another ten to lock on to a wireless router. By contrast the Linux Aspire One boots in eighteen seconds plus wireless lock-on time.

Once the MSI Wnd is up and running the Atom hustles along speedily enough for general uses with applications loading in acceptable if not lightning time. Again performance on the Aspire One Linux feels snappier with faster application load times. Music sounds reasonable through the built in speakers and the webcam puts in a good performance compared to some of the other current netbooks.

The screen is also nice enough too. I was expecting to be dazzled given early claims about its quality but it’s actually very similar to the Aspire One and EEE 1000 in terms of brightness and clarity, which is still a good thing. I was unable to test DVD playback as I did not have an external drive to hand.

The MSI Wind is well connected with three USB ports, ethernet, VGA, audio in/out and an SD card slot, although it lacks the Acer Aspire One’s second SD slot.

Did the MSI Wind blow me away?

So was I blown off my feet? Not quite. The MSI Wind is a nice netbook, it does everything well but just looks and feels a bit ordinary at $499 for the 3-cell version or a whopping $599 for the 6-cell. By contrast the Acer Aspire One XP is $349 and $449 for the 3 & 6-cell versions respectively and the longer lasting EEE 1000 is yours for $549. Last time I looked the Wind had fallen out of Amazon’s top 100 computing bestsellers, whilst the Acer Aspire One and Asus EEE 1000 were both in the top 5. Until MSI revises its pricing I have a feeling it might stay that way.

Neil Berman

www.thonbutton.com

Gallery:

Sep 6, 2008 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Acer Aspire One Review

Following a false start worthy of the Olympics, Acer’s repair shop just delivered me a new Aspire One.  My first Aspire One must have been so fried that it was not worth repairing, so take two begins…

Initial reactions to the Acer Aspire One

First impressions of the Acer Aspire One are just as before: great ultralight design, perfect keyboard, boots in under twenty seconds…but this time continue beyond five minutes as the WiFi connects swiftly and I’m off surfing in no time. I upgraded to Firefox 3 with this handy guide.

And that’s when it hit me: the Aspire One is loading pages faster than anything I own. I’m unable to pin it down to any one system element, but the combination of the Intel Atom, the SSD and Firefox running on Linpus Lite makes the internet scream on this baby. Way faster than my EEE 2G was, no comparison. Firefox’s full screen option makes the experience even better, taking advantage of all 8.9 LED backlit screen inches.

Using applications on the Acer Aspire One

I installed Skype and tried a video call. I told Skype to start video automatically and the webcam worked perfectly. My friend at the other end of the line in Tokyo could hear and see me clearly and I could hear him fine too. Again, the quality of the experience hit my old EEE for a home run…where I tended to reach for my Nokia N810 for Skype due to the 2G’s choppy chatter, the One was clear as a bell and it was handling the video well too.

The One also ships with several installed applications, such as OpenOffice, a media player and photo maanger, which together with the web browser may take care of most owners’ needs. Again, OpenOffice opened much faster than on my Asus EEE 2G and saved documents almost instantly.  This Linux version running Linpus Lite ships with an 8GB SSD.  If you need more storage there are two SD card slots, of which one allows an inserted card to show as a hard drive extension in the file manager.  The second slot shows up as removable storage.

Typing on the Acer Aspire One

Unlike my EEE experience, I have been able to touch type naturally on the One. The keyboard is very usable with everything in the right place. I’ve also found the trackpad to be big enough, as long as you’re a tap-to-click type and not a button pusher. I would like Acer to have implemented a MacBook style double finger right-click tap, as right clicking requires moving off the trackpad to find the button. There is a dedicated button on the keyboard for opening context sensitive menus however, which makes this omission easier to forgive.

The keyboard and wrist rest also remain at a reasonable temperature during use, as does the underside of the One. This is probably due to the low power consumption of the Intel Atom processor. A small fan kicks in now and again but it is unobtrusive.

Screen quality and battery life of the Acer Aspire One

Given its size and weight I expect my Aspire One to get plenty of outdoor use. The screen is bright enough to use outside in the shade, but becomes unreadable when hit by direct sunlight. As a guide it’s a lot brighter and sharper than the Asus EEE 2G, but is outshone by an Apple MacBook. The Aspire One does ship with a slip cover, which offers useful (non-waterproof) protection in transit. Regular travelers might prefer a closed protective case, but it’s a great free addition as a basic cover. Nice One Acer.

Battery life is quoted at three hours for this three cell Linux version and I achieved close to that with sensible moderation of the screen brightness to fit my environment. On full brightness with constant WiFi usage I’d expect that to go down to around two hours. Acer quotes the Windows XP version at 2.5 hours, probably due to the SSD being replaced by a regular hard drive. After boot-up I hardly ever see my SSD light illuminated, but the XP model is likely to be busier. So taking more frequent disk accessing together with the effort required to spin the platters would definitely reduce overall battery life.

Competitors to the Acer Aspire One

On balance, the One represents the best balanced experience of any of the small (< 9 inch) netbooks I’ve tried so far.  Its keyboard beats the EEE 901, its size is more practical than the seven inch models and its processor runs more efficiently than the VIA C7 powered HP Mini-Note or Everex Cloudbook.  In six cell guise with XP, it would be compelling but I have also appreciated the fast boot-up time and low resource usage of Linux.

Is the Acer Aspire One a good one?

The market is about to get more crowded with the imminent arrival of Dell’s mini Inspiron and future VIA Nano based machines. The ten inch Lenovo, Asus and MSI netbooks are also worth considering if you want to move up on screen size. For now though, the Acer Aspire One is a solid contender amongst the midsize netbooks.

Update: Acer has now lowered the retail price of the 3-cell Linux version to $329. The 3-cell XP version is now down to $349 and the 6-cell XP version is set to retail at $399.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Aug 17, 2008 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , | 5 Comments

Netbook market grows further, has Aspiring winners and falling Stars

A glance at Amazon’s top 25 bestsellers gives a window into today’s netbook market.

The recent $100 price drop of the Asus EEE 1000H has it selling strongly, Acer’s Aspire One Linux is sitting at number 11 and the pre-order XP version is at 14. Various other EEEs make up much of the middle groung and Micro Star International’s Wind is caught up in turbulence at 24.

Given its $399 price tag I expect the 3 cell XP Aspire One to climb that chart, although hopefully they won’t suffer from the quality control issues which sent my Linux One back for repair only days after its unboxing.

Lenovo announced its entries, the S9 and S10, a few days ago. Only the S10 will be coming to the US and will bring a ten inch screen, Atom processor and XP starting from $399 in October…and it looks great.

An unfortunate characteristic of the Wind since its missed launch date of mid-June has been rumored, and now official, price hikes. The 3 cell XP model is now at $499, which looks forgettable compared to the pricing of the One and S10. This Wind is blowing in the wrong direction.

We’re still waiting to see what Dell’s E is going to throw at us, shouldn’t be too long now. Their rumored $299 entry price will ruffle a few feathers and their marketing might will ensure a sale or two.

Then there are still more models expected to launch in Q4 with VIA’s celebrated Nano CPU, just to make buying decisions that little bit harder.

If I was a betting man I’d say that Acer’s Aspire One and Lenovo’s S10 are set to be strong sellers in XP guise. Dell won’t take any prisoners either when they launch. So within a year I expect the Wind and Mini-Note to be shaken out of the market or forced into price cutting. Perhaps the savior of the Mini-Note will be if HP can swap in the Nano for the C7.

For the Wind, price cutting alone may be too late for mainstream buyers. If broad stock fails to arrive soon then how will they break onto retail shelves which already have Acers, Dells and EEE on display? It may end up being too little too late for this great product.

Neil Berman

www.neilberman.com

Aug 9, 2008 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It was love at first sight but Eee’s not the One.

A few months with an Eee 701 have taught me one thing. It’s not the one. It was one heck of a first breed of ultralight laptop and it was fun while it lasted. But three days on since Acer’s announcement and my One is in the mail. That’s the Acer Aspire One.

It’s fair to say that it would have been the Wind if anyone was actually selling them…The Wind forums are full of people saying they’ve just ordered a different machine out of sheer frustration.

In only nine months the Netbook market has moved so far, there’s no room for supply chain slip-ups. I’m looking forward to seeing how the One performs: Atom processor, near full size keyboard, webcam, 8.9″ LED backlit screen and as light at my 701. It sure does sound promising.

Best of all it’s real and is in a UPS truck right now heading for chez moi. Full review to follow…

Neil Berman

www.neilberman.com

Jul 26, 2008 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mini laptops = mini prices?

Don’t you just love market forces? Only a week after it’s launch at $649 and the Asus EEE PC 1000 is already down to $549 at NewEgg.

Part of the greatness of the original EEE was its price tag, and sales figures were through the roof. As everyone else caught up with models from HP, Acer, Dell and MSI all announced or launched, Asus’ pricing seemed off the pulse. So it’s good to see this correction, but more is still needed especially for the EEE 901 given Acer’s 8.9 inch Atom powered Aspire One is retailing for $379. By comparison the 901 is over $200 more expensive!

Now spare a thought for MSI’s Wind. The Wind is a great product ‘almost’ competing with the EEE 1000. I say ‘almost’ because although the Wind was due to rock the market over a month ago, the only model released was a low capacity battery version which had reviewers telling everyone to wait until September.

I expect by then the 10 inch early adopters will have bought the reduced price EEE 1000 and the Wind will be scrapping in the trenches for leftovers in a price-cutting market.

Did I mention the Dell E will be launching around then starting in the region of $299…?

Neil Berman

www.neilberman.com

Jul 21, 2008 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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