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Wireless charging feels modern. But don’t let clever looking technology fool you. It doesn’t always work as well as promised and it could be terrible for the environment.

“…the slight convenience of juicing up your phone by plopping it onto a pad rather than plugging it in comes with a surprisingly robust environmental cost.

According to new calculations from OneZero and iFixit, wireless charging is drastically less efficient than charging with a cord, so much so that the widespread adoption of this technology could necessitate the construction of dozens of new power plants around the world.”

Source: Here’s Exactly How Inefficient Wireless Charging Is | Eric Ravenscraft | OneZero

Nokia claimed to have the world’s first wireless phone charging in 2012 with the Nokia Lumia 920.

At the time Nokia said its wireless charging was 90 percent efficient. That means the charger wasted 10 percent of energy, turning it into heat.

This doesn’t square with Eric Ravenscraft’s story at OneZero. He says:

“Charging the phone from completely dead to 100 percent using a cable took an average of 14.26 watt-hours (Wh). Using a wireless charger took, on average, 21.01 Wh.

That comes out to slightly more than 47 percent more energy for the convenience of not plugging in a cable. In other words, the phone had to work harder, generate more heat, and suck up more energy when wirelessly charging to fill the same size battery.”

Ravenscraft found how he positions the phone on the charging mat makes a huge difference. And he found it hard to line things up to get the best results.

Wireless charging hit and miss

Wireless charging can be hit and miss. There are mornings when I pick up my phone and discover that it didn’t charge overnight.

The phone only has to move a millimetre or two for that to happen. It is so sensitive that I can open a desk drawer or type on my keyboard and the phone moves away from a charging position.

In his story Ravenscraft reveals a wireless charger consumes a small amount of power when it isn’t charging a device.

All up, wireless chargers waste a lot of power. It may only be a tiny amount per person, per charger, but multiplied by millions of users around the world it adds up to environmental damage.

In my earlier story, I noted that wireless charging is handy, but plugging in a cable is hardly a big deal. You get almost no advantage for what, in aggregate, is a big environmental cost.

Toshiba portegeAt The Register Simon Sharwood writes: Toshiba has finally and formally exited the laptop business.

The Japanese computer maker had a long run. It made its first laptop in 1985. As Sharwood says:

Toshiba “…claims to have been the first to make a mass-market computer in the now-familiar clamshell form factor. By the 1990s the company was producing solid workhorses in the Satellite range and started to make meaningful stretches of mobile work possible with the small, thin and light Portégé range.”

It’s no accident that the first tiny, portable computers came from Japan. In the 1960s and 1970s country was ahead of the world when it came to miniaturisation. This is the culture that introduced the world to the Sony Walkman.

Space saving Toshiba

There’s another reason laptops took off early in Japan. They take up less room. Japanese homes and offices have far less space than elsewhere in the world. Even senior managers would have small desks. A desktop computer, which in those days meant a large and heavy CRT display along with a hefty main box, wouldn’t leave much space for anything else.

Toshiba enjoyed an early success in New Zealand. For years it was one of the top five PC brands. In September, 1993 I interviewed an IDC analyst who told me Toshiba was a leading brand here because its products “allowed executives to take work home with them”. The NBR published this story.

For year I bought Toshiba laptops. For myself and for family members. In their day they were great, but as Sharwood reminds me in his story:

“As the 2000s rolled along Toshiba devices became bland in comparison to the always-impressive ThinkPad and the MacBook Air, while Dell and HP also improved. Toshiba also never really tried to capture consumers’ imaginations, which didn’t help growth.”

Toshiba’s fortunes waned. Japan’s followed. The country was never more than a bit player in the PC business after that. NEC faded from sight, at least in New Zealand. The last I heard of Toshiba was six years ago.

Sharp picked up the Toshiba brand two years ago. By then Japan’s remaining visible laptop maker, as far as New Zealand is concerned, was Panasonic with its range of hardened Toughbook models.

Nokia 7.1 phone

New phone models arrive all the time. The phone product lines get an annual refresh.

Apple holds its annual iPhone launches all at once. In recent years this has always happened three or four months before Christmas.

Top Android phone makers like Samsung, Huawei and Nokia have more than one product lines. Each line gets its own annual update. The phone makers tend to stagger their launches throughout the year.

Add in the smaller brands and yes, we see a dozen notable phone launches each year.

Goodbye two year phone refresh cycle

Phone makers expect you to hang on to a device for at least two years even if they refresh their model lines every year.

Carriers agree. Their phone plans are two-year contracts. Remember carriers make money when you to buy new phones and roll over two-year contracts. While two-year contracts remain popular, they’re less common today than five years ago.

New Zealand’s Inland Revenue Department depreciates phones at 67 percent a year. That implies a life expectancy of under two years. Depreciation rates are similar in other countries.

We’re holding on to phones for longer

Most of us now hold onto phones for longer than two years. No-one forces us to operate on a fixed timetable.

There’s a noticeable difference between Apple and Android phones. Android phone users tend to keep their phones for a shorter time than iPhone users.

Apple’s sales figures reflect this. iPhone revenues peaked in 2015. Apple now focuses more on selling services to its customers to make up the revenue shortfall.

In 2016 Benedict Evans reported Android users keep phones for under two years. Back then, Apple iPhones stayed in use for more than two years. There are interesting theories about this in the comments on Evans’ post. This also explains why second-hand iPhones hold their value better than Android phones.

One reason people hold on to phones for longer is that upgrades are more incremental than in the past. A few years ago there would be dramatic changes from one year to the next. Now phone makers emphasise cameras and cosmetics.

It’s no accident that phone makers hold launch events that look like fashion shows. They want to create the impression that you need this year’s design. You almost never do.

Phone hardware can live for years

Phones can take a beating. Owners handle them many times each day. They get dropped, knocked, scratched and soaked.

Yet, there are few moving parts to seize up. (Avoid any phone that does include moving parts such as a pop-up camera.)

If you look after your phone and it doesn’t pick up too much moisture, the battery is the first part to wear out. Constant use and charging cycles mean they degrade over time. After about three to four years use they hold as little as half the charge they managed when they were new.

You can replace phone batteries, even those in sealed phones. It can be difficult, there are official repairers and a cottage industry exists.

Although it may look expensive, paying someone NZ$100 to replace a battery is cheaper than a new phone.

Screen life

Screens last three to ten years depending on the technology, build quality and your use. Often the screen backlighting goes first. Again, repairers can fix these problems.

There are times when a new phone model is compelling.

Sometimes moving from one year’s model to the next brings a must-have feature. Even so, you can expect to get at least two years from a device. They should last for three or more. Five years is no longer exceptional.

There are users who give their phones a pounding. If that’s you, or a family member, you have two choices. You could buy a more robust phone model. Or you could opt for a cheaper model that won’t break the bank when replacement time rolls around.

How long should you hold on to a phone?

There’s no simple answer to ‘how long should you hang on to a phone’. What works for one person doesn’t work for another. You should hold on for at least two years. Yet that’s unambitious.

For some people the best time to replace is when the battery life is not enough to get you through the working day. For others it’s when the operating system is no longer supported and there is a security risk. That’s roughly six years for Apple iPhone users.

Apple released iOS 13 in September 2019. It will support the iPhone SE but not the iPhone 5s, 6 or 6 Plus. Apple released the iPhone 5s in 2013, it is now out of support. If you think that is bad, spare a thought for Android users. Six years is more than double the official supported life of Android versions.

Update: If you love Android and worry about phone longevity, chose a Nokia phone. The company has a policy of keeping phone software up to date. It guarantees two years of updates. That’s far less than Apple, but that’s better than rival Android brands.

Canalys reports worldwide tablet shipments hit 37.5 million units in Q2 2020, a 26 percent year-on-year increase.

Worldwide tablet PC market Q2 2020

Source: Canalys Newsroom- Worldwide tablet PC market Q2 2020

The tablet is back. Tablet shipments climbed 26 percent in the second quarter. Desktop PC shipments dropped 26 percent, while notebook shipments were up 24 percent.

The overall effect was positive for PC makers who have suitable models, but otherwise it bordered on disastrous.

Across the world retail outlets selling computers and other electronic devices were closed down by the pandemic. Microsoft took the decision to permanently close its physical stores.

Apple wins

The only company to emerge unscathed was Apple, which had the right mix of products and offering to meet the public’s needs. The company made billions of extra dollars from its iPad and Mac product lines during the quarter.

Apple doesn’t provide unit sales numbers, but Canalys estimates the company sold 14.25 million iPads. That’s almost 20 percent more than the same time a year ago.

Apple now has a 38 percent share of the tablet market. Its nearest rival, Samsung has less than half that amount. Yet Samsung unit sales grew even faster than Apple’s numbers. The other tablet makers, Huawei, Amazon and Lenovo all posted a huge growth in sales.

Canalys does not count Microsoft’s Surface models as tablets.

As is usual with these reports, the focus is on unit sales. What Canalys doesn’t show is that Apple’s market share in terms of revenue is higher again. As a rough estimate Apple would account for more than half of tablet revenue and an even higher share of tablet profit.

Canalys notes the strong demand for tablets was because the devices are suitable for remote work and education. They do a solid job with communications and collaboration. Most of all, they are often cheaper to buy. The analyst company also points out retailers offered aggressive discounts on tablets. In the US mobile carriers offered 60 days of unlimited wireless for devices purchased in the education sector.

Surface Go 2

Surface Go 2 is Microsoft’s second generation Windows 10 tablet. Like Apple’s iPad, the Surface Go 2 is a lovely device, Yet it has more in common with ultraportable Window laptops than the iPad.

Microsoft’s second Surface Go is a fraction larger than the first version. The screen is now 10.5 inches. It weighs 545g, that’s 22g more than the earlier model.

Measurements are 245 by 175 by 8.5mm give or take a tenth of a mm. It roughly the same size and weight as an iPad Air, although not the same shape. The Surface screen is wider and shallower than the more squarish iPad.

Ideal trade-off

You won’t notice any weight difference when carrying the hardware, but you will notice the bigger screen. Depending on your application (more about this later), it could be an ideal trade off between screen size and portability.

In practice it is small and light enough to slip into a briefcase or any kind of bag almost without noticing it is there. It isn’t going to cause problems with airplane carry on baggage.

Local prices for the Surface Go 2 start at NZ$629. That buys the Wi-fi model with 64GB of storage and an Intel Pentium 4425Y processor. Pay NZ$880 for 128GB of storage and the same processor. These models both have 4Gb of Ram. NZ$1200 gets the Ram bumped to 8Gb and a more powerful Intel Core m3 processor along with 128GB of storage and 4G mobile network connectivity.

There’s little question you will want the $220 Signature Type Cover.

Add the necessary keyboard and you’ll pay $850.

While you can buy laptops with similar power for these prices, this has a much more premium feel. It is the cheapest way of getting a Microsoft Surface device.

Surface Go 2 touch screen

Keyboard

Many iPad users get by without a keyboard. It is harder, although not impossible, to use a Surface that way. An iPad spends a lot of its life being used in the phone-like portrait orientation. Everything about the Surface Go assumes you will use it like a laptop. That means the screen will be landscape apart from the odd rare occasion.

Microsoft might call it a tablet. Technically Surface Go 2 is a tablet. Yet the Surface Go 2 will likely end up being used like an ultraportable laptop.

It is a mighty fine small, lightweight laptop. The touch screen is better than you’d find on similarly priced laptops. It looks bright and responds as you’d expect to touch. The kickstand is a nice touch. Everything is built to a high standard.

Enough power, not heaps of power

The review model came with a Pentium Gold processor. It won’t break any speed records, but it provides more than enough power for the kind of work you’d expect to throw at a small computer.

I found it ideal for my writing work. It handles all the online tasks without missing a beat. I’m not the kind of user who opens dozens of browser Windows.

When I attempted this in the name of science, I got bored long before the Windows Edge browser lost the plot.

If you are wedded to Windows, live in Microsoft Office and don’t need a big screen for creative work or grunt for huge calculations, this could be the only computer you need.

Great for Zoom meetings, Microsoft Teams

The Surface Go 2 is a stellar performer when it comes to video conferences. It has a better front camera than you’d normally find on a laptop selling for under $1000. It’s five megapixels and can shoot video in full HD quality. What’s more, it requires less light than a standard laptop camera which struggles with my home office.

Microsoft hasn’t skimped on the microphone and speakers. I found the mic works better than other Windows laptops for calls. It’s not noticeably better than the Apple equivalents.

The speakers are not up to the standard of the iPad Pro, but, again, are excellent by Windows laptop standards. They do OK with music, although the bass is missing in action. Yet they are great for video calls. I can hear everything at the other end. Better than that, the sound is clear enough for me to record conversations speaker-to-mike.

Other features

On the back there is an 8 megapixel camera that can shoot 1080p video. This is clumsy with the Surface Go 2 format, but can be useful at a pinch.

The Surface Go 2 Type Cover keyboard is much like the earlier Surface Go keyboard. It’s about 30mm smaller than a full-size keyboard in both dimensions. In part this is because the top row of function keys are all half size.

It looked like I might struggle with pudgy fingers on smaller keys. I’m a touch typist, which means it takes getting used to, but after 30 minutes I was back to full speed. In practice the keyboard is better than anything you might see on a laptop in this price range.

A few other points:

  • Microsoft equipped the Surface Go 2 with Wi-fi 6. If you have a suitable router you’ll have a better, more reliable wireless connection.
  • I’ve found Windows Hello face recognition to be unreliable on other recent laptops. It worked every time on the Surface Go 2.
  • Given that next to no-one leaves the store without the keyboard, it is not optional. Microsoft should bundle the two products together. Even if that doesn’t reduce price, it would reduce wasteful packaging and unnecessary stuffing around.
  • Microsoft says the battery is good for five hours. It’s longer than the original Surface go, but around half what you’d get with an iPad. You can eke out power longer by cranking down the brightness, but my old eyes struggle with this.

Surface Go 2 verdict

With the Surface Go 2, Microsoft has refined the laptop PC format into something modern and productive. You get access to a huge library of Windows apps, not all are full touch enabled, but they will work.

It’s a perfect choice for a second computer if you have, say, a desktop at home and need a light computer for the road. I’d recommend it for journalists or anyone who spends their working life in Microsoft Word or another word processor.

The Surface Go 2 is not the best machine to buy if your main need is media creation or media consumption. You would need to make compromises.