Samsung’s $180 DeX Pad is a docking station that turns a Galaxy S9 or S9 phone into a desktop computer. On paper it looks like a good idea. In practice it’s less useful than you might expect. At least not for most people.

The DeX Pad is a lightweight black plastic box that lies flat on a desk or table top. It has a cheap, flimsy feel. This is in stark contrast to premium finish of the Galaxy 9 phone. You plug a Samsung Galaxy 9 or 9 phone into it using the USB-C port. This also lies flat, which is a potential minor problem as we will see.

Samsung Dex Pad - flat

There are two USB 2 ports. You can use these to connect a keyboard and a mouse. A HDMI port connects the DeX Pad to a screen. There’s another USB-C port for the DeX Pad’s power supply. It comes with a New Zealand-style wall plug, but the cable is on 1 metre long, which may not be enough for many people.

The box is a little bigger than the Galaxy S9 phone. It measures 84 by 158 mm. When it sits on its little rubber footpads, the height is around 15 mm plus a small lump with the USB-C phone connector. That adds another 15 mm to the height.

Lightweight hardware

On its own, the DeX Pad weighs 135 g. Together a Dex Pad and a Galaxy S9 phone weigh around 300 g. The two weigh less than, say, an iPad or a small, light laptop.

Samsung DeX Pad

So all good to go? Well no. The DeX Pad is meaningless without a screen and you really need a keyboard to get much value. Carrying both along with the various cables and power supplies is far harder than taking a tablet or a laptop. Even if you know you can expect to find a suitable screen at your destination, you still have to carry a satchel full of kit.

When you get to your destination it takes time to hook everything up. The inventory of parts you need to carry includes phone, DeX Pad, keyboard, two cables and, perhaps, a mouse. Which mean there’s risk of leaving something behind. Taking a laptop or tablet would be far less trouble.

If you’re OK with all that, DeX Pad has another drawback: Android.

Lightweight OS

Whatever your opinion of Android as a phone operating system, it is not the best desktop OS. Windows, MacOs or Linux are better in almost every conceivable circumstance. The DeX Pad Android desktop OS feels a little like ChromeOS, but Google’s browser-based operating system would have been a better choice. Indeed, any of the OSs mentioned earlier would give you a better and more productive experience.

That’s not to say Android needs to be awful on the desktop, but Samsung has not done enough work on the software user experience. For example, some apps appear in portrait mode windows that mimic how they would look on a phone. Others have lots of white space. Almost nothing makes the best use of the screen real estate.

The good news is that most apps popular with IT departments and the enterprise users likely to choose  Dex Pad now have decent Android versions. You could run, say, Microsoft Office or G-Suite this way.

Jerky

Microsoft Word functions as expected. But performance is poor. Even the cheapest Windows 10 PC has less lag than a Galaxy and Dex Pad. At times the cursor jerks slowly almost painfully across the screen.

You can choose to use the phone screen as a touch pad instead of a mouse. It’s just as jerky and at times unpredictable. Likewise the double-tapping to click can be tricky when the touch pad function decides to be unresponsive.

Dex Pad Screen

Because the phone lies flat on the desk, you can’t use the fingerprint reader. So if you leave the Dex Pad long enough for it to go to sleep, you have to lift the phone in its cradle and turn it through 180 degrees to use the face recognition. There’s little that is downright bad, but lots of small niggles add up to a less than stellar user experience.

Don’t even think of running a fast moving game on this combination. Of course that’s not what Samsung designed the device for. The target is enterprise users.

Samsung DeX Pad verdict

Samsung’s marketing suggests a Galaxy S-series phone owning consumer might choose Dex Pad instead of buying a desktop or laptop computer. They would be disappointed.

Dex Pad would be handy if you’re in sales and turn up at a customer’s office to present with, say, PowerPoint.  It might be useful if you stop overnight in hotels where you can plug the Dex Pad into the TV set. Beyond that there is not an obvious market for the product.

Say you shuttle between, say, a home office and a company office. You would need screens and keyboards sitting waiting at both locations. You’d be better off buying two computers.

And that’s the problem. The idea is not silly. After all, phones are powerful and dominant. And the phone business is short of fresh thinking. One day a Dex Pad-like product might arrive and change the face of personal computing. We’re not at that day yet. The execution lacks too much for Dex Pad to be a serious PC alternative. For now it is likely to appeal to a tiny niche.

Also on:

PC shipments perked up in the second quarter of the year. While this is the first increase in six years, no-one is talking about a revival yet. It could be what people in the finance industry call a dead cat bounce.

Both Gartner and IDC published sales estimates showing a small increase in sales. Gartner put the increase at 1.4 percent. IDC has a more bullish 2.7 percent increase.

It’s worth noting here the two market research companies are not measuring quite the same thing.

Also, a shipment is not a sale. It is a computer that has moved from a factory to a retailer’s warehouse. But PC supply chains are tightly managed so, in general, shipments closely mirror actual sales.

PC Shipments joy not evenly spread

IDC’s more bullish estimate includes sales of PC-like devices such as Chromebooks, but doesn’t not include Windows tablets such as Microsoft’s Surface Go. Gartner counts a Windows tablet with an attached keyboard as a PC. Its number does not include other tablets nor does it include Chromebooks.

Both IDC and Gartner say that at least some of the increase is down to business computers running Windows 10.

Mikako Kitagawa, a principal analyst at Gartner says: “PC shipment growth in the second quarter of 2018 was driven by demand in the business market, which was offset by declining shipments in the consumer segment.

“In the consumer space, the fundamental market structure, due to changes on PC user behaviour, still remains, and continues to impact market growth. Consumers are using their smartphones for even more daily tasks, such as checking social media, calendaring, banking and shopping, which is reducing the need for a consumer PC.”

All of which has been true since 2012.

Recovery or dead cat bounce

Kitagawa expects business sales to weaken again when the Windows 10 replacement cycle ends.

IDC says the top five PC makers all saw sales growth and collectively they now account for a larger share of the market. This year they make up 78 percent of all sales.

Gartner and IDC can’t decide whether the top PC company is Lenovo or HP. Gartner has Lenovo a nose ahead shipping 12,000 more units than HP. IDC has HP in front by around a million machines. Remember the two companies are measuring different things.

Both put Dell, Apple and Acer in that order behind the leaders. IDC and Gartner also agree that Apple experienced the least growth during the quarter. New MacBook Pro models this week could change that.

Neither of the market research companies is prepared to say if the PC shipments uptick is the start of something new, a one-off before the slide resumes or an indication that shipments have bottomed out. The only certainty is that these top five PC brands are likely to strengthen their hands against the rest of the market. PC manufacturing is a game when volume matters.

Push NotificationsAt Wired David Pierce writes:

Kill your notifications. Yes, really. Turn them all off. (You can leave on phone calls and text messages, if you must, but nothing else.) You’ll discover that you don’t miss the stream of cards filling your lockscreen, because they never existed for your benefit. They’re for brands and developers, methods by which thirsty growth hackers can grab your attention anytime they want. Allowing an app to send you push notifications is like allowing a store clerk to grab you by the ear and drag you into their store. You’re letting someone insert a commercial into your life anytime they want. Time to turn it off.

Source: Turn Off Your Push Notifications. All of Them | WIRED

This has bothered me for some time. Not least because the mental space needed to write anything more than a paragraph means turning off all notifications.

Push notifications sin-binned

It’s impossible to focus when there’s a constant barrage of calls on your attention. I go further than Pierce. For much of the time I have my phone set on silent, all computer notifications are permanently off. Everything, except system warnings to warn of a flat battery or similar.

Touch Voicemail catches messages from  callers should they bother to leave one.

There are two exceptions to the clampdown. I allow  text messages and voice calls from immediate family members and my clients or the people who work for them.  The other exception is I allow calendar notifications to remind me if, say, I know I have to leave later for a meeting.

The downside of this is that some things get missed. It’s rare, but I have missed out on stories by putting myself in electronic purdah.

Yet on the whole, it works well. There’s always the list of missed calls, messages and so on. I can go to the notification centre scan the long, long list of missed items and realised that nothing important slipped through to the keeper.

 

~650,000 machines still ship every day, but that’s the lowest total since 2007

Source: PC sales still slumping, but more slowly than feared • The Register

Simon Sharwood writes:

Both analyst firms suggest that rising component prices have led to rising PC prices which has led to falling enthusiasm from buyers, especially consumers. DRAM, LCD panels and solid state disks prices all share some of the blame for the rise, as all are in short supply.

This is nonsense: not Sharwood’s reporting, what the analysts say. They are clutching at straws. Rising PC prices are not the issue, prices have only ticked up a smidgen. That is not enough to affect sales if there is an underlying demand.

The demand is not there. Customers have little appetite or need to start buying PCs again in large numbers. Not today.

Two points stand out from the latest PC sales figures.

First, HP moved ahead of Lenovo. Sharwood quotes a Gartner analyst talking about Lenovo pulling back to focus on margins.

That’s a plausible explanation, but I think there’s more to it.

HP has been on a roll since the business split from HP Enterprise. Hardware quality is better than in the past and the designs are more interesting. While it would overdoing it to use a word like excitement, HP has momentum. Some good products too.

Second, Apple has moved to fourth place. Apple’s year-on-year sales are flat, in a falling market that means the company’s market share has climbed. It’s not much of a climb, about 0.3 percent, but that’s enough to move Apple past slumping Asus.

Lenovo thinkpad e570 NZ

Lenovo serves up a mid-price, not-so-small business laptop. The ThinkPad E570 is so traditional it borders on retro. It will please laptop conservatives. If you need greater mobility, look elsewhere.

Lenovo ThinkPad E570 at a glance:

For:Configurable
Latest processor
Against:Heavy
Large
Build quality
Maybe:No touch screen
Removable battery
Verdict:Mid-price large screen laptop. Will appeal to small business owners.
Price:From NZ$1100. Review model NZ$1300.
Website:Lenovo NZ

By 2017 standards, the Lenovo ThinkPad E570 is bulky. The review model weighs 2.4Kg. It measures 376 by 262 by 34 mm at its widest, broadest and deepest.

Part of the heft is because the case includes a large, bright 15.6-inch display and a DVD drive.

There’s a lot of plastic around the edge of the screen. Indeed, there’s a lot of black plastic full stop. It’s chunky and robust which adds protection but you’ll need a backpack to move it.

Another reason for the bulk is the battery and studs rise the base a few millimetres off a desktop. This gives breathing room so air can flow through vents. There’s also a heavy-duty fan vent on the left side of the case too.

Rough in places

An E at the start of a product number indicates the E570 is from the lower-price ThinkPad range. That means you get a lower quality finish than you’d find on more expensive models. It’s a little rough in places and the matt black plastic picks up smudges with a vengeance.

The front of the lid doesn’t sit flush with the bottom part of the computer. This makes it easier to open. The hinge has a small amount of give, but nothing to trouble anyone.

While the case is not pretty, it does look like Lenovo made the computer to do business. If you like the red and black ThinkPad look, you’ll be happy with the effect.

Desktop replacement

Given size and weight, you won’t want to carry the E570 all the time. If portability is important get something else. It makes a fine desktop replacement that can travel at a pinch.

A big case means there’s room for a full-size keyboard and numeric keys. The layout takes getting used to. A week or two of reviewing was not enough time to master the keyboard idiosyncrasies.

Among other things, having two backspace and one delete key in the top right corner is strange. Also odd is the off centre touchpad and the small space bar.

TouchPad

Because there’s no touchscreen, you’ll use the touchpad a lot. It’s small by 2017 standards. The little red signature ThinkPad cursor joystick is some compensation. In practice the touchpad is erratic, that could be a Windows 10 driver problem.

If you owned this computer and used it often, trackpad aside, all these things, would be no trouble after a few weeks.

The lack of a keyboard backlight is disappointing.

As already mentioned, there is no touchscreen. The display is 1366 by 768 HD format. There is a FHD 1920 by 1080 model that, at the moment, costs $100 more than the review computer.

It comes with a faster processor and a better video card, that’s a lot of extra value for $100.

One minor worry about the display is that the default setting is 100 percent brilliance. While that’s fine, there’s nothing extra for when you need a boost.

Video and everyday Windows apps work fine with the display. It’s not state-of-the-art, but its good considering the price tag.

Kaby Lake

The review model has an Intel i5 7200U processor running at 2.5GHz. That’s a Kaby Lake chip or the seventh generation of Core processors.

Intel says they are faster than last year’s processors, enough for users to notice. They are video optimised and should be more power efficient.

Lenovo says you can get eight hours on a single charge. As always, the manufacturer’s claim is pushing it. In practice, it works for a little over six hours before power supply nagging starts. Battery life isn’t so vital in a computer that will sit on a desk most of the time.

There’s a DVD drive, which feels anachronistic, but will please many users. There are three USB ports — again, that pleases some users not others. Lenovo also includes HDMI, Ethernet, a multi-format card reader and an audio jack.

Old fashioned

Despite a state-of-the-art processor, the ThinkPad E570 is, in many ways, old-fashioned. It’s been a long time since a review non-touch Windows PC with a hard drive instead of SSD has turned up here.

The question is how the specification trade-offs work with value for money. The biggest downside is the quality of finish. You can find better-made computers at the same price, although they may not have the same mix of features.

At first sight it looks as if Lenovo charges a premium for its 15.6 inch display. On a more positive note, you get a lot of processor performance for your money. It would be a good choice if you crunch numbers on a spreadsheet all day.

It’s clear the $1400 top of the line model with a Core i7 processor, higher resolution screen and better graphics card is better value. This is a promotional price and may not be available for long.

You might want to swap the 1TB hard drive for a 256GB SSD, that would add around $170 to the list price.

Not everyone prizes slim and light over big screens, full keyboards and processor power. The Lenovo ThinkPad E570 isn’t for the kind of person who works from cafés or airport lounges. There are many who still want DVD drives. This will hit the spot for some demographics.