Bill Bennett

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Why bother with Windows 11?

After a couple of weeks using the beta and a week with the final version of Windows 11, I’ve yet to find a real reason to use it.

Steven Vaughan-Nichols nails the problem with Windows 11 in at Computerworld. 

For many people it is, he notes, “a pointless upgrade”.

That’s the conclusion I reached.

The main justification for moving to Windows 11 is that it will be more secure than Windows 10. To get those benefits you need to have the right hardware.

Windows 11 is picky about hardware. Most versions of Windows have been able to run on computers that are more than a couple of months old.

That’s not the case with Windows 11.

Are you ready to buy a new computer?

For many people reading this, that means buying a new computer.

And anyway, you can get the security updates if you stick with Windows 10.

Which, as the man says, makes the move to Windows 11 pointless.

At least for now. If you want to stay with Windows, you’ll get it with your next hardware upgrade.

You have to ask yourself why Microsoft is moving to Windows 11.

Last version of Windows

When Windows 10 came along the message was this could be the last ever version of Windows. From that point on the idea was that there would be regular incremental upgrades rather than big leaps.

“Last ever version” lasted six years.

In comparison, Windows XP lasted eight years.  Well, five years if you don’t count Windows Vista. Even Microsoft would prefer to see Vista written out of the history books.

Aside from the security benefits, Windows 11’s other selling point is a fresh new look. This is little more than cosmetics. A lick of paint and a brush-up. If anything it now looks more like MacOS.

Some of the changes appear to be change for change’s sake rather than researched improvements. There are background performance changes that users might experience without noticing them.

There is a promise that Windows 11 will run Android apps. That’s unlikely to happen for another year and, unless you have something important you do only on Android, is less interesting than it sounds.

Options

None of this is to say Windows 11 follows the tradition that says every second version of the operating system is embarrassing. It’s usable, popular and up to a point familiar to the majority of users.

On a personal note I was so disappointed with Windows 8 that I investigated, then moved from Windows to Mac. In hindsight it was a smart move, my productivity soared.

This time around Windows users have other options to tempt them away from the mainstream. Desktop Linux is mature and well worth investigating.

If that’s not for you, there are Chromebooks. An iPad Pro can do most things you buy a PC for. You may fancy a change without moving too far from Microsoft’s orbit. A Windows 365 Cloud PC is an option.

Yet I suspect most Windows users will choose to stick with 10 for now and see which way things go. There is no pressing reason to make a decision today. Most enterprise IT departments will wait at least 18 months before changing, you don’t need to take that long, nor do you need to hurry.

 

 

Tablets, Chromebooks have bumper year

IDC reports says sales for tablets and Chromebooks grew in 2020 and will continue to do well in 2021.

It says both classes of devices sold to consumers, businesses and schools as people looked to stay connected during the pandemic lockdowns.

IDC says tablet shipments had double digit growth in 2020. It forecasts shipments will grow a further 1.8 percent in 2021. That’s a modest number, but is better than flat or negative growth experienced before the Covid outbreak.

A different take

Gartner offers a different take on the tablet sector. It forecasts the number of tablets in use will rise 11.7 percent in 2021.

That is faster growth than for laptops, which Gartner says will increase 8.8 percent this year.

IDC expects Chromebook sales to climb 33.5 percent this year. 2020 was the best year ever for Chromebook sales. Gartner puts last year’s growth at 80 percent.

While Chromebook growth is higher, it is off a smaller base. IDC expects a total of 43.4 million Chromebooks to ship this year while tablet numbers will reach 166.5 million.

In both cases, the devices’ lower price when compared with laptops or desktops is behind the growth.

Tablets future less certain

IDC is less positive about future sales of these devices. It says it expects demand to slow as lockdown restrictions relax.

In the past Chromebooks have mainly been popular with schools and with cash-strapped parents looking for low-cost devices for learning and entertainment.

Jitesh Ubrani, research manager with IDC Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers says: “Chromebooks are quickly proving themselves useful within workplaces. While they will not supplant Windows and Mac in these settings, they are expected to provide competition, particularly in job functions where high performance and legacy support isn’t a priority.”

“On the tablet side, detachable tablets will remain a bright spot as these devices are more PC-like than ever, both from a hardware and a software perspective.”

Meanwhile phones are about to see a modest upturn in sales after an ugly year in 2020. Gartner says the total number of phones in use declined 2.6 percent in 2020 and will rise by one percent this year.

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook: Bargain computer

The NZ$400 Lenovo IdeaPad Duet is a small 2-in-1 Chromebook. It works as a tablet or as a ultra-portable laptop.

At a glance

For:Great value, Includes keyboard and kickstand, battery life
Against:Small keyboard, a few minor compromises
Maybe:Has enough processor power and Ram for Chromebook tasks but won’t please everyone.
Verdict:The best low-cost option at the moment. Buy it you need a decent computer and you are on a tight budget.
Rating:4.5 out of 5
Price:NZ$400. Have seen it sell for more in some stores.
Web:Lenovo.

 

A lot for $400

You get a lot of device for $400. Or, if you like, you get two devices.

Open the box and you’ll see the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook as a tablet.

Dig deeper into the packaging and you’ll find a keyboard and kickstand. These can turn the IdeaPad Duet into a tiny laptop. It fits in a satchel, sports bag or briefcase with ease.

In its tablet form, the IdeaPad Duet about the size of a standard iPad with a 10.1 inch touch screen. It weighs 920 grams.

When used as a laptop, it has a similar feel to Microsoft’s Surface Go.

iPad, Surface Go comparisons

There are many differences between the IdeaPad Duet and an iPad or Surface Pro.

In almost every direct technical comparison it comes off worse. But that’s not taking its huge price advantage into account.

Nor does it do justice to the purpose of the IdeaPad Duet. It is a Chromebook. It works with the cloud. Much of the heavy lifting takes place elsewhere. You don’t need a sparkling specification for that.

Keyboard

When you spend $400 on the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet you get the keyboard and kickstand as part of the deal.

A base model Surface Go and Type Cover Keyboard will set you back $840. The cheapest iPad and Apple keyboard cost $820. You might get by with a lower price third-party iPad keyboard. Yet you can buy two IdeaPad Duets for the price of one Surface or iPad.

This is a small computer

A 10.1-inch screen is a reasonable size for a tablet. By laptop standards it is tiny. The positive way to look at this is the IdeaPad Duet is way more portable than 12-inch laptop.

It works fine for basic apps, but is smaller than ideal if, say, you plan to spend the next few weeks writing a book.

It will cope fine with an hour or two homework after school. I found it easy to write a news story or two on it, but was more comfortable when I got back to my normal laptop.

Lenovo has opted for a 16:10 screen. That’s wider and less deep than you’d expect on a laptop. There’s more bezel than you’d see on a more expensive device. The documentation says it is 9.13mm, which is more precise than necessary.

When a laptop is better

If you push your computers hard or work long hours, you’d be better off spending more. Buy a laptop with a bigger screen.

As you’d expect, a tiny computer has a tiny keyboard.

In practice it is not bad. I could touch type without any major problems. Take care when back-spacing to delete. You may hit the wrong key. The keyboard isn’t cramped, but it is on the cramped spectrum.

There’s a touch pad, which, again, is smaller than you see elsewhere, but not a problem unless you spend hours typing.

If you bought a Lenovo IdeaPad Duet for a school student, they’d soon learn to deal with this. It is a small compromise for having an otherwise decent computer without spending a fortune.

 

 Lenovo IdeaPad Duet kickstand

The keyboard and kickstand are fabric covered. It’s more than enough to protect the computer from small knocks and scratches.

When you open out the keyboard to use the device as a laptop, the hinge is not solid. It’s not the smooth action your see on a more expensive device.

Likewise, the kickstand is awkward to pull away from the cover at first. This improves over time. But the whole arrangement lacks polish. A more expensive device would finesse these design details.

Memory, processor

Chromebook users spent much of their time in the cloud. There isn’t as much need to store a lot of local data on the device. Even so, there’s a generous 128GB of storage on the IdeaPad Duet. That’s enough for a lot of apps, movies or music.

The documentation describes the processor as an eight core MediaTek P60T. Graphics are powered by an integrated Arm Mali-G72 MP3 GPU. There is 4GB of Ram soldered to the board.

If you’re reading this and thinking those specifications don’t mean much, you are not alone. What matters is how the device performs in use.

What is it like to use?

In use, the IdeaPad Duel feels like a giant phone. You can’t make voice calls, but the way it works is phone-like. It is more phone-like and Android-like than early Chromebooks. The processor, graphics processor and Ram are all phone-like specifications.

This is not a negative. The IdealPad Duet can handle grown-up work if you are not a power user. Browsing and Google’s web apps perform to the standard you see on devices costing $1000 or more.

During use, there were a couple of crashes. More than you see on an iPad or Surface Go, but nothing fatal, nothing worrying. You can multitask if you don’t push it.

Zoom calls

Zoom calls work fine. The built-in front facing camera is better than you’d fine on many notebooks. The speaker is small and thin sounding, but up to the job.

Lenovo doesn’t include a headphone socket, but there is a dongle with a jack you can use with the single USB connector if you’re not using that to charge the device.

ChromeOS

ChromeOS has improved over the years. It’s a more joined-up experience. If you use Chrome, Gmail and Google Workplace apps you will feel at home. It does these things well.

Chromebooks sales has surged since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. They are a cheap option for people who need to work or study from home.

If you are new to ChromeOS, it takes time to get used to it. Once you find your feet and feel the rhythm, you’ll be fine. There will be things you miss from Windows, iOS or MacOS, but you didn’t expect to find them on a $400 device.

It’s possible to load Android apps, but testing that is beyond the scope of this review.

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet verdict

If you’ve read this far, you will realise this is not a top-of-the-line device. It is excellent value. It could be the best computer to buy if you are on a tight budget and need something decent. You won’t do better if your kids need a low-cost computer for school or working from home in another lockdown.

Pandemic tablet sales boom rolls over into 2021

Tablet shipments are up 55 percent on the same period last year. The 2020 tablet sales boom that started when the world went into lockdown rolled over into the first quarter of 2021.

IDC reports almost 40 million tablets were shipped in the quarter. It says the market hasn’t seen growth of this magnitude since 2013.

Demand for tablets remains high. IDC says it expects strong numbers to continue for a while yet.

Chromebook surge

Meanwhile some 13 million Chromebooks shipped in the quarter. This compares with 2.8 million in the same period a year ago. Growth was a stunning 357 percent.

We don’t see as much Chromebook activity in New Zealand as elsewhere. That could change, but most education sales activity here seems to be around low-cost conventional laptops and tablets.1

Apple dominates tablet sales boom

Apple’s iPad remains the star tablet performer ahead of Samsung, Lenovo and Amazon, in that order.

IDC says the iPad accounted for 31.7 percent of shipments in the quarter. A total of 12.7 million iPads left Apple’s warehouses during the period. Year-on-year growth was a 64 percent.

A rival research company, Strategy Analytics, says iPad shipments were up 75 percent. It counted a total of 16.8 million.

There’s a significant spread between the two market share estimates. Either way, iPad sales are surging.

Apple’s most recent financial reports noted the company made US$7.8 billion revenue from iPad alone during the quarter. That’s up 79 percent on the previous year’s revenue.

Things could be as strong this quarter. A week ago Apple announced the first iPad Pro model to use the company’s M1 processor and a mini-Led display.

Samsung strong

Samsung remains in second place with 20 percent of the market. It moved eight million units and saw shipments grow 61 percent.

Lenovo more than doubled its shipment numbers to 3.8 million. That’s a shade under 10 percent of the market. Growth was 138 percent.

We don’t see much of Amazon’s tablets in New Zealand. In the first quarter the company moved into fourth place ahead of Huawei which slipped from third place a year ago.

HP dominates Chromebook shipments, it accounted for one-in-three units during the first quarter. Shipments are up 633 percent.

Lenovo is in second place with a 25 percent market share. Shipments are up 350 percent. Samsung is a smaller player with only eight percent market share, but shipments climbed 500 percent. Now that’s a tablet sales boom in itself.

Phone shipments have shown similar growth in 2021


  1. I’m interested to hear if there are sizeable pockets of Chromebook action in New Zealand. If you know, please drop me a line. ↩︎

Android tablets – Best left on the shelf

Google doesn’t like to talk about it, but there’s one type of Android hardware you really shouldn’t be buying.

Writing at Computerworld JR Raphael reveals: The Android hardware truth Google won’t tell you.

Before we go further, note that Raphael writes a regular Android column. This isn’t an attack from outside the tent.

He says:

“Google’s priorities and the desires of the companies making the bulk of the devices don’t always align. And that forces Google to do a delicate dance in order to push forward with its own plans without saying anything that’d go directly against a device-maker’s interests.

Well, it’s time to stop beating around the bush and just say what Google won’t openly acknowledge: You should not be buying an Android tablet in 2020. Period.”

Long wait for Android tablet OS updates

It’s a long story well worth reading. The gist boils down to Google having some good ideas about how Android should work with tablets, then it lost interest for a while. That while turned out to be too long.

Now we’re in a position where Google isn’t updating the tablet version of its operating system at anything like an acceptable pace. Raphael points out Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S6 got Android 10 eight months after the software was first released. And that’s the Android tablet with the best OS upgrade record.

He says:

“Plain and simple, buying an Android tablet is setting yourself up for disappointment — when it comes to both performance and capability and when it comes to the critical areas of privacy, security, and ongoing software upkeep.”

Get a Chromebook instead

Raphael recommends people who want an Android tablet would do better to buy a convertible Chromebook.

All this is one reason why Apple continues to dominate tablet sales with iPad and iPad Pro models. The only other serious player in premium tablets is Microsoft with its Surface range. These two brands run iOS and Windows. The Android tablet market skews towards the low end with a lot of low value, undifferentiated tablet models.

Sure, plenty of people are happy with these devices. No doubt many reading this love their Android tablets. Yet the Android world hasn’t got its tablet act together enough to mount an assault on the premium market. That’s odd considering how, outside of the US, Android has a huge share of the phone market.

ChromeOS: Google’s surveillance capitalism OS 

“Anyone saying that Android apps on ChromeOS are a good experience is delusional.”

In Chrome OS has stalled out, Dave Ruddock says Google’s Chrome OS has failed to live up to its potential. Ruddock is a Chrome user who says he does 95 percent of his work using the operating system.

When Chrome OS first appeared it looked like the future. Or at least one version of a potential future.

It’s a great idea on paper.

Take a minimal specification computer. One that costs almost nothing to make and almost everyone can afford. Give it just enough hardware to connect to the net and handle a web browser.

Cloud power

Then let efficient remote cloud systems do all the heavy lifting. After all, that’s what most people now do most of the time anyway. Few MacBooks or Surface Books are not web-connected.

ChromeOS users mainly connect to free services. That’s a problem because in the online world free can be a high price to pay.

Large companies don’t give services away out of the goodness of their hearts. They want to advertise their client’s products or manipulate you into voting a certain way. And we all know that works. It’s an aspect of surveillance capitalism.

This gets worse.

ChromeOS uses Android apps to plug functionality or entertainment gaps. The experience is bad.

Android apps can be cheap and nasty at the best of times. They collect far too much user data. Many Android apps live at the seamy end of surveillance capitalism.

Ask yourself why you need to give someone your home address to write a document or your first pet’s name1 in order to put an interesting filter on your uploaded pictures.

Dismal

If that wasn’t bad enough, the Android app on ChromeOS experience is dismal. I can’t bear to use it.

Many apps were clearly written for phones and make little or no allowance for larger screens and keyboards. They are buggy as anything and many are a security nightmare2.

There’s something else bad about Chrome. We live in a world where technology iterates towards a kind of nirvana. Each successive line of Windows or MacOS computers is a step up on what went before. Each new generation of mobile phone has a better camera, faster processor, is packed with more oomph.

This applies even when there are two-steps forward, one step back messes like the butterfly keyboards in recent Apple laptops.

As Ruddock points out, the problem with Chrome, the OS and Chromebooks, the computers do not appear to be moving in any direction.

ChromeOS going nowhere

Chromebooks are not as clunky as they were, some are nice to use. But it isn’t going anywhere. The Chrome experience has barely changed over the years. There’s little prospect of it changing in the near future.

It’s stagnant.

Sure this might not matter to school students who need a fast, low-cost route to the web. It matters to almost everyone else.

Ruddock says there are aspects of Chrome life that amount to computing barbarism. He is being generous.

Sure, a MacBook or a Surface Book might cost getting on for ten times the price of a Chromebook. But the experience is on another plane. You can do so much more. It’s a struggle doing everyday work on a Chromebook, it’s a challenge being creative.


  1. Maybe not literally. But they often ask for information they have no right collecting ↩︎
  2. Although I doubt the average Chromebook users cares much for security or privacy ↩︎