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.

 

 

Lenovo’s ThinkPad P14s i Gen 2 workstation may be pricey but it is one of the most powerful laptops you can buy. If you need raw power, this delivers.

At a glance

For:Graphics performance, great display, keyboard and build quality.
Against:Sound quality and webcam could be better. Pricey.
Maybe:Battery life, screen ratio. Non-touch screen.
Verdict:Packs the most Windows laptop power into the smallest package. Good choice if you need the grunt.
Rating:4.5 out of 5
Price:From $3530, as reviewed $5400.
Web:Lenovo

Who is the ThinkPad P14s for?

Lenovo engineered the ThinkPad P14s for demanding users who need mobility. We used to call them power users.

It offers Intel CPU options that, when added to the Nvidia Quadro T500 graphics processor, are more than powerful enough for heavy duty work but not the most demanding workloads.

There are 17 and 15-inch models for people who need bigger screens. These can get big and hefty.

With a case that is 18mm deep and 330 by 230 mm elsewhere, the 14-inch model is the most portable P series model.

Lenovo thinkpad P14s - open

On the move

You might choose this if mobility is your priority.

While it is ideal for serious on-the-go photo or light video work, if you work in animation, CAD or need heavy video rendering you may prefer a less mobile computer with more grunt.

It would be good for scientific computing in the field and number crunching through large databases. Developers would be a key market and people who need to demonstrate creative work.

If you are reading this and think the price tag is outrageous; you are not the target market.

This machine is overkill for everyday computing. If your work means spending time waiting for calculations to finish, then you’ll see a return on your investment in weeks.

Above all, it’s a ThinkPad

Lenovo inherited the bento lunchbox inspired ThinkPad design when it acquired the brand from IBM in 2005. It has run with it ever since.

While Lenovo has tried other ideas, ThinkPad remains a classic premium business-focused laptop design. ThinkPads tend to be robust, but they are not tanks.

It’s a physical format that suits a powerful workstation.

The ThinkPad P14s i Gen 2 workstation is made to get work done. It looks that way from the moment you unpack the box.

Black and red

You won’t be surprised to hear the ThinkPad P14s i Gen 2 workstation keeps the black plastic case with red trim.

It includes the tiny, red, joystick-like TrackPoint controller which, once you adapt to using it, moves the cursor around the screen.

In case that’s not enough, there’s an excellent three button TrackPad. Because I’m a touch typist and prefer not to move my hands away from the keys, I find the TrackPoint works best. Both TrackPoint and Trackpad are accurate

No-one beats Lenovo when it comes to laptop keyboards. That’s true with the P14s keyboard. There is plenty of key travel for touch typists. Each key is sculpted and backlighting is best in class. It feels right.

Basics

The review model has a 14-inch display. Inside there is the 11th generation Intel Core i7–1185G7 processor. It has 32GB of Ram and 512Gb of storage. We mentioned the Nvidia Quadro T500 4GB graphics card earlier.

Lenovo sent the model with the UHD (3840 by 2160 pixel) display.

That configuration adds up to a New Zealand list price of $54001.

By any standard this is a lot of money for a laptop. Yet the second generation ThinkPad P14s i is no ordinary computer.

There is a base model P14s for NZ$3530. It’s hard to see who might choose that over a more conventional high-end laptop. This technology comes into its own when you pump up its specification.

Lenovo ThinkPad P14s half open

Mobility

At 1.5Kg the P14s is light for this class of 14-inch laptop. That achievement is spoiled somewhat by the small 65w power brick and cables that add another 320g. Yet you won’t stretch your arms moving it around.

It feels robust enough to be hauled around town or, if you’re flying at the moment, on to planes without any worries. There’s a small amount of flex in the plastic case which can soften blows.

Display

Given the premium nature of the ThinkPad P14s, the bezels are large by the standard of modern laptops. The aspect ratio is 16:9. Lenovo missed a trick here2.

The non-touch display on the review laptop is nothing short of stunning.

It is luscious and bright, has high 3840 by 2160 pixel resolution, great colour and fast response. Thanks to the 500 nits of brightness, you can read the screen fine in sunlight.

White coloured areas on screen can glare at times… you may need to adjust the brightness down if you are in dark conditions.

In use

There are no applications in my armoury that could begin to trouble the ThinkPad P14s. I tried video editing, page design and audio rendering software without ever seeing any signs of stress.

While it handled almost everything with ease, there was one area of less than stellar performance: Video calling.

Many laptops have inadequate webcams. That’s to be expected on low-cost computers. You might expect better from something that costs more than five grand.

Lenovo’s 720p webcam is poor. 720p is about 0.9 megapixels. That’s a fraction of what you might find even on a modestly priced mobile phone.

Webcam

For comparison, my iMac has a 1080p webcam which is 2.1 megapixels. I thought that was low. My iPad has an 8 megapixel front facing camera.

In practice, P14s webcam pictures are blurry with washed out colours. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine a boss who has shelled out for an employee to buy a P14s wondering where the money went.

Likewise, the P14s speaker and microphone are adequate, not outstanding. I found I needed to use earbuds to get better video call performance.

Lenovo ThinkPad P14s front

Battery

Lenovo has the balance between portability and battery life about right. The processor, GPU and screen consume plenty of power and yet I could get close to ten hours between charges. I haven’t attempted to measure battery life when driving the system harder, no doubt it would drop.

Bits and pieces

  • The privacy shutter is a nice idea, but it was hard to find, hard to use and feels like it will be the first thing on the laptop to break.
  • I’m not going to dismantle a $5400 review laptop, but looking at the screws on the case, this would be easy to take apart if you want to upgrade components.
  • Wi-Fi 6 support is welcome. Should be a minimum in any 2021 device. It may pay to upgrade your wireless router if you buy this computer.
  • There’s a fan in the case, but you wouldn’t know it. My home office is quiet, but it was rare to notice any noise even when more demanding tasks might need extra cooling.
  • The P14s includes 12 ports – there’s a list on the website spec page. You probably won’t need a docking station with this, but Lenovo offers plenty of options if that’s your preference.

Verdict: ThinkPad P14s i Gen 2 workstation

Lenovo has crafted a top quality, premium Windows workstation for professionals who need power while on the move.

It looks good, feels good and delivers on the promised high performance. Mobility and battery life are on a par with less powerful laptops.

This is not a laptop for everyone, the price makes that clear.


  1. As an aside, the Lenovo web site warns you may need to wait weeks to get this configuration. ↩︎
  2. I much prefer a square screen 16:10 or 3:2 because writing needs less width, more depth. ↩︎

There’s more to say about the 15-inch Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 there is more to say.

My original review is dismissive of the keyboard. That needs to be updated.

First time around I wrote:

“The Surface Laptop 3 keyboard is decent enough, but it is not anything to get excited about.”

That was written after a couple of hours tinkering with the machine. Later I used the laptop to write a long feature and realised the keyboard deserves more praise. It is among the better laptop keyboards I’ve used.

For someone who writes all day, this is important. Laptop typing can leave me exhausted after ten hours at the keyboard.

This goes a long way towards justifying what is, by 2020 standards, the expensive price tag.

Charging

The Surface Laptop 3 charges faster than most laptops. If the machine is running low, say between 10 and 20 percent battery left, it takes a little over an hour to get back to full charge.

This is wonderful news if, like me, you might work late into the evening, then get up next morning and realise there is not enough power for a day on the move. Plug it in, wander off for a shower, breakfast and a cup of tea or coffee, by the time you are dressed and ready to go the computer will have a full charge or be close to it.

The propritary charging plug for the Surface Laptop 3 reminds me of the old-style Apple Magsafe. It’s a similar shape and magnetic. Like Magsafe, it attaches to the laptop body loosely so that should you trip over the power cable, it detaches instead of sending your laptop flying across the room.

What Microsoft designers give with the charging plug, they also take away. The magnetic plug is difficult to attach to the laptop in the first place. You can’t simply connect it while the laptop is sitting on a flat surface, you have to lift and turn the laptop first. It’s far from a deal breaker, but is strange given the computer is otherwise so well thought out from a usability point of view.

 

One last power supply observation. Microsoft includes an old-style USB port on the power brick, so you could charge, say, your phone or wireless headphone without hunting for another power socket.

A better Windows experience

There’s one other aspect of the Surface Laptop 3 that took more time to sink in is how much better Windows 10 is in 2020 than in earlier versions. Yes, I know most people use Windows most of the time and this might be an unremarkable comment for many readers. My Windows 8 experience was so negative I switched to an Apple Mac. My productivity soared and I never looked back.

The earlier incarnations of Windows 10 didn’t fix things for me. Eight years later it finally feels as if Windows is back on track. That doesn’t mean I plan to switch back from MacOs to Windows, it does mean that doing so would no longer be a jarring backward step.

This year’s Norton 360 offers the most comprehensive set of cross-platform computer security tools. It is a safe choice. Yet it is expensive and is not necessarily the right choice for everyone. It’s a poor option for Apple users who don’t get all the benefits.

Norton 360 is aimed at consumers, people who work from home, freelancers and sole proprietors. You might buy it if you have a handful of vulnerable devices to protect. If you run a bigger operation you should look elsewhere for an alternative built for business or corporate users.

Even if you fall into Norton’s target market, it may not be necessary to buy security software at all. In fact, I recommend you don’t unless you are in a group that needs extra protection.

Should you decide you want protection, then Norton 360 is a safe choice. It’s popular. According to Norton there are 50 million users. It wouldn’t stay popular if it didn’t deliver benefits.

Norton fails to deliver on Apple kit

If you run Windows, it’s a solid option. In practice I found it was overkill for my Apple-centric home business. You might find otherwise.

Norton 360 is a comprehensive suite of security tools covering Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS devices. Here I only look at the product on MacOS and iOS.

According to the marketing you get anti-virus and anti-spam software, a full VPN, a firewall, parental controls1 and back-up.

Because these are a family of tools, they all dovetail neatly with each other. That’s not always the experience when you mix and match security components from multiple sources.

LifeLock

There’s also a feature called Lifelock. This promises to help protect against identity theft, although it can feel alarming to use.

I didn’t test LifeLock because the first rule of privacy protection is to not hand over important personal details to every Tom, Dick and Harriet who come asking for them. If you read on, you’ll see why I’m not planning to maintain the kind of long-term relationship that might make LifeLock worthwhile.

Norton 360 comes in an array of versions, each includes a different number of licences. You can buy a single licence product, or two or three or five or ten.

The price rises as you go up the levels. Spend NZ$100 and you get a single licence, spend NZ$250 and you get ten. Keep in mind these are subscriptions for a single year’s use.

Slow start

Getting started on a Mac isn’t as easy as Norton wants you to think. The process takes 30 minutes, a lot of that is waiting around for things to download even on a gigabit fibre connection. Clearly Norton is not geared up for fast download speeds, that doesn’t make me confident about using the back-up feature.

There’s a moment in the install process where the software directs you to change the MacOS Security and Privacy settings in the General Preferences. After this, you then have to reboot the computer and then, ridiculously go back to the settings and do it all over again.

Maybe it is necessary. It certainly grates.

I should also point out Norton doesn’t explain why you should change these settings. It may seem obvious, but that’s not good enough. Security is about trust. Expecting customers to unlock the gates without offering a good reason goes against good security principles.

This all seems irritating and time consuming, but it would be a small price to pay if Norton made a Mac safer. And that’s the problem. It’s not clear that Norton 360 makes much difference. It’s also not clear it adds NZ$200 worth of value.

My Norton

Once everything is loaded, there’s a My Norton home page with five tabs. These are: Device Security; Secure VPN; Password Manager; Parental Controls and Cloud Backup.

Let’s run through the feature list and see where there is value and where there is none.

Top of the list is Device Security. This includes malware scanning and a firewall. There’s no indication that Norton’s firewall is an improvement on the free, built-in MacOS firewall. No obvious value there.

This is less clear cut with the malware scanning. I’ve owned Macs for seven years and have never seen any malware on any of the Apple devices in my home2. At one point there were eight devices when all the family had Macs and iPads.

You might have a different experience or indulge in riskier behaviour that lets malware in. While there’s no value in malware scanning for me, I accept it may help others.

VPN the highlight

Norton’s Secure VPN is excellent. Earlier standalone versions nagged you if you attempted to use Bittorrent, even legal torrents. And it didn’t like some legitimate streaming services. There is no longer any of that nonsense. At least not in the time the VPN has been running.

The Password Manager does nothing for me. Similar functionality is part of Apple operating systems and there are excellent tools such as 1password that do a better job. Again, other people may find it helpful. I don’t.

My children have grown up and left home, so parental controls are not needed. It turns out that they are not part of the deal for Mac users although it does work with iOS.

Back-up missing in action

Norton’s cloud back-up is also missing in action for Mac users. In theory you get 100GB of online storage to play with on the NZ$200 a year plan. If you are a light Windows computer user this may be enough to back-up your files. You can get extra storage if you buy a more expensive plan, but the price seems high if that’s all you want.

Either way, there is no MacOS back-up software.

There’s an option to buy what Norton calls the Ultimate Help Desk for another $150 a year. It’s not clear from the website if that is US or NZ dollars.

It’s hard to love the way Norton wants a hefty up-front NZ$200 and then charge more for extras which you might reasonably expect to be part of the deal. But sadly that’s the way of the world, consumers seem to tolerate apps with in-app purchase, so may be I’m out of touch for even mentioning this.

What’s missing?

In a package of this price and complexity, I’d expect to see something for protecting users against ransomware. Maybe that’s in there somewhere, but I haven’t found it.

I wasn’t a fan of parental controls when my children were young, they don’t seem to guard against the biggest risk which is online bullying. Yet not having a Mac version wipes some of the perceived value of Norton 360 for Apple users.

The lack of back-up also detracts from the product’s value for Mac owners. In effect only three of the five main feature groups are available for Mac owners. You have to wonder why these features are shown on the MacOS version of the MyNorton home page if they don’t exist.

From a MacOS point of view, Norton 360 is an expensive disappointment. The brightest spot is the Secure VPN. You get five one year VPN licences for $200. Norton sells a stand-alone VPN product, five one year licences purchased that way cost NZ$140, you have to ask yourself if the firewall and malware protection are worth another NZ$60. I’m not convinced they are.


  1. See what I mean about it not being aimed at business users? ↩︎
  2. This is not 100 percent true. We have seen Windows malware in email spam folders. But that’s not a concern for a Mac user. ↩︎

At first sight Microsoft’s Surface Laptop and Windows 10S launch is all about education. That was the company’s emphasis at the product roll-out in New York.

Yet there is more at stake here than putting computers in school bags.

The announcement outlines a strategy for the next stage of personal computing. If Microsoft pulls this off, it will once again dominate the sector.

On the Surface

Surface Laptop is Microsoft’s most ambitious touch screen hardware product to date.

Previous Microsoft devices; Surface Pro tablets, Surface Book, Surface Hub and Surface Studio, are all niche products. They cater for minority tastes.

The Surface Laptop is mainstream. It competes head on with hardware from brands like HP, Lenovo and Asus. The Surface Laptop is a direct challenge to Apple’s MacBook range.

It doesn’t directly address Google’s Chromebook, but Microsoft developed the Surface Laptop with that product in mind.

Chromebook

Chromebook is a basic, low-cost, easy-to-manage laptop. It has sold well. It is one of the few PC success stories of recent years. Chromebook sales have climbed while sales of most other computer formats have been in free fall.

It is more sucessful than Google’s rivals expected. Above all else the Chromebook is strong in education. Yet that’s only part of the story. IDC’s latest market survey says Chromebook are now selling well to commercial customers.

We can assume Microsoft understands the Chromebook threatens its PC business.

Chrome OS

Chromebooks run Google’s Chrome OS. In effect, the operating system is the Chrome browser.

Chrome OS is light on features. You can’t do everything with Chrome OS. You don’t have as much low-level control. But that’s a good thing for many customers.

Lots of users don’t need all the personal computer trimmings. They just want to get a limited set of tasks done in an unfussy way. This applies in spades to young school students.

More to the point, school students and their families are not willing or able to pay for a more powerful computer with a full operating system.

You can buy a Chromebook in New Zealand for less than NZ$400. Brands like HP, Asus, Acer and Lenovo all have versions. This is less than half the price of a mainstream laptop. It is about one-quarter the price of the cheapest Apple Mac.

In many schools Chromebooks have displaced Windows laptops.

Microsoft bothered

That bothers Microsoft. Aside from the impact on today’s market share and revenue, there is a risk people will get a taste for Chromebooks.

Youngsters growing up with school Chromebooks may stick with them later in life. Or if not Chromebook, something else that doesn’t involve Microsoft Windows. The no Windows habit could rub off on their families, friends and workplaces.

Microsoft wants to counter that threat.

The Surface Laptop looks great but it is not going to do that. For a start it is too expensive. It sells in the US for $1000. That’s four or five times the price of a Chromebook.

It is a premium 13-inch laptop, more a competitor to models like the MacBook, HP Spectre and Dell XPS 13. It’s lighter and thinner than a MacBook Air. It costs less and is more powerful.

That comparison is a whole other story that needs closer inspection. Maybe another post. We’re going to look at something more fundamental here.

While Surface Laptop is inexpensive compared to, say, a MacBook Pro or Surface Book, it’s not going to shake up the education market.

That job goes to Windows 10S.

Where Windows 10S fits

There are, of course, plenty of low-cost Windows laptops to choose from. Asus, Lenovo and Acer all have PCs in New Zealand that sell for under NZ$400. If you can afford a little more, there are plenty of better models for less than NZ$500.

Low-cost Windows laptops tend to be clunky and inelegant. They are not powerful by 2017 standards. But, like Chromebooks, they get the job done.

At least they would get the job done but for one problem. To claw back the dollars makers don’t earn from hardware sales, they load them with trial software. This often makes more money for the computer maker than they get from the hardware sale.

Crapware

Software makers pay to have their apps included as standard on PCs. They may call their products trial ware or use some other coy name. We know them as crapware.

The name is well deserved. These programs are ugly. They make for an awful user experience. They bombard people with messages. At times they can frighten less experienced or tech-savvy users. Some include marketing messages that border on blackmail.

Crapware often slows computers down. It can introduce security risks. More than one of these programs has included a serious malware payload in the past.

Other crapware programs report key information back to their owners behind the computer user’s back.

Even the best crapware is annoying. It can pop up with a distracting, unwelcome message at an inappropriate moment.

In effect, you can get a great deal on a low-end PC in return for accepting a steaming pile of crapware. What a time to be alive.

Windows 10S

By locking down the computer, Microsoft says Windows 10S will improve security and performance. It keeps things simple. Windows 10S makes it easy for administrators to manage fleets of computers.

And it locks out crapware.

If you choose to stick with Windows 10S, and that’s optional, then you’ll only be able to install apps from the official Microsoft app store.

Now that may not be what you want from a computer. But there are people who like the sound of this.

Remember Windows RT?

We’ve been here before. Windows RT was the Microsoft operating system on the first Surface Tablets. It had the same lock-down approach and similar restrictions. It was a commercial flop.

RT cost Microsoft hundreds of millions of dollars.

In practice, Windows RT was not an awful OS. After all Apple’s iOS is locked down in a similar way and that’s been a winner.

The issue is that Microsoft Windows users want different things from their devices to Apple users. One of them is the ability to run tons of obscure, esoteric and, in some cases, poorly written niche apps.

Creating a version of Windows that can’t run most Windows apps was a mistake.

Unlike Apple, Microsoft failed to make sure the app store was packed with all the must have apps. Using the RT store was like walking into a shop with dusty, empty shelves and few recognisable products or brands.

This time is different…?

You may ask yourself what’s different this time. The simple answer is that Microsoft will force Windows 10S on the market.

Most or at least many future Windows PCs will come with Windows 10S installed at the outset. Customers can upgrade, if upgrade is the right word here, to a full unlocked version of Windows 10 by paying US$50.

Inertia and a reluctance to spend any money means many customers will never upgrade.

Big guns buy-in

Another difference this time is that Windows hardware makers are joining the lockdown party.

Some of the biggest names will have Windows 10S laptops on sale within weeks. It’s going to be hard for PC buyers to ignore these machines. The list of companies already signed up is a who’s who of the hardware business.

With Windows 10S users will only be able to get apps from Microsoft’s App Store. That means the company gets to clip the ticket with every purchase.

Independent developers may whinge, but the same approach has worked well for Apple.

App gap

When it arrives a lot of popular Windows apps will not be available for Windows 10S. Among the stand-outs are the Chrome browser and iTunes. The pair may not be your favourite apps, but they are popular.

What happens when a user, who has paid a bargain basement price for their PC, learns they need to shell out another $50 to run Chrome or iTunes?

The deal is worse than that. When you switch to the full version of Windows, you lose a lot of the security benefits. The responsibility of managing your system returns. Again that may not worry you, but it will be a problem for some others.

Competition bashing

If you read the above section and thought Windows 10S will cause headaches for Microsoft’s biggest competitors, you’d be right.

It’s no accident Chrome and iTunes were mentioned above. Google and Apple need to put their games theory strategists onto this one. Do they invest in creating Microsoft app store versions of their software?

If they don’t they run the risk of being cast adrift from large numbers of their customers. Although it’s possible the disconnected customers might be the kind that don’t use their software anyway.

Ecosystem

If Google and Apple do build app store versions, they help Microsoft create a formidable ecosystem that may bash them again later.

Windows 10S is likely to be a hit with schools and organizations that want to impose order on PCs.

Otherwise there’s always a chance Microsoft’s customers may walk away from Windows 10S.

People don’t have many other places to go. Chrome OS is even more locked down. Apple is less so, but the nuances of its approach aren’t always understood.

Microsoft still accounts for the vast majority of PC operating systems. So it looks like it will succeed this time. But there’s always a possibility Windows 10S will be an RT rerun with even higher stakes.

 

Surface Book
Surface Book

Microsoft’s Surface Book is as good as it gets for hybrid devices. You can’t buy a better one, even if it still has a few irritating bugs.

Hybrids are popular. They are the only growing PC segment. There is no doubt they are what many people want from a computing device.

And yet there is something wrong with the hybrid format. Wrong could be the wrong word here. Perhaps unsatisfactory better fits the bill.

The problem is that all hybrids involve some form of compromise. In most cases you don’t get the best laptop experience, nor do you get the best tablet experience.

Many users are happy to tradeoff these experiences in return for having two devices in one package.

This tradeoff plays out in a different way with the Surface Book. As my earlier post says, it is an excellent Windows 10 laptop. In practice I found once the review was over, I only ever used the Surface Book as a laptop.

Sure detaching the screen is clever. But I never need to do this apart from testing to see how it works. [1]

And there’s the problem. The Surface Book is a great Windows laptop, the extras that turn it into an OK tablet add a lot to the cost. Prices start at NZ$2750. That’s $1000 more than you’d pay for something with the same specification that doesn’t double as a tablet.


  1. I also found I almost never use the touchscreen. It helps that the Surface Book has a great touchpad that means you don’t need to make uncomfortable reaching movements.  ↩

Some diehards still argue Windows XP was Microsoft’s best-ever operating system. Nobody says that about Windows 8. Windows Vista was just as forgettable. For many users, Windows reached a peak with 7.

Where does Windows 10 fit in this picture?

If Windows 10 has yet to earn an XP or 7-like reputation for greatness, it has already passed one test. It is not an embarrassment. It was clear from the moment Windows 10 first appeared, that it was an improvement on the ill-conceived Windows 8.

Fast adoption

One year after launch Windows has a 20 percent share of desktop operating systems. Microsoft says users have adopted 10 faster than any other new version of Windows. Some 350 million computers around the world run Windows 10.

Let’s not get too carried away with this number. The 20 percent figure comes from netmarketshare.com in August 2016. In that month Windows 7 still accounted for 47 percent of operating systems in use.

There are reasons why users have been so quick to adopt Windows.

For a start, it replaces Windows 8. Many users couldn’t wait to move on from that train wreck. Even the 8.1 upgrade didn’t ease their angst.

Frustrated users would sieze almost any route out of 8.

Free upgrade

Moreover, until a few months ago, Windows 10 was a free upgrade.

Microsoft gave everyone using older Windows versions constant, unmissable reminders to update. There were warnings that the software wouldn’t stay free for long.

Windows 8 was unpopular. Microsoft gave users financial incentive to upgrade. It would have been a surprise if users didn’t adopt Windows 10 faster than earlier versions.

It is more remarkable that almost half of all computer users chose to stick with Windows 7.

Since its launch, Windows 7 has enjoyed a well-deserved reputation from users. It is easy to use. It feels right in a way Windows 8 never did. The software is robust and reliable. Windows 7 is low maintenance.  All these things matter when it comes to operating systems, especially for business users.

Happy users

That’s not to say Windows 10 upgraders are unhappy. According to Microsoft, customers are more satisfied with Windows 10 that with any previous edition.

You have to take this kind of statistic with a pinch of salt. For years Microsoft reported impressive high satisfaction scores for unloved versions of Windows. There’s a press release somewhere telling the world how much users loved Windows ME. That version of the software is now regarded as joke.

The voice of the market is far more important that any internal marketing survey. To date there hasn’t been a huge outcry of despair from Windows 10 users.  Yes, you can see plenty of niggles and whinges[1]. Yet there’s no widespread outpouring of anger, grief and denial like there was with Windows 8.

Windows 10 better than 8

Everyone knows Windows 10 is better than the unloved Windows 8. The recent Anniversary Update is another step in the right direction. Microsoft says there are 5000 new features in the update. Most changes are obscure improvements that will pass most people by unnoticed. Even so there’s a clear feeling the code is tighter. And that’s something people will notice.

One aspect of Windows 10 that is yet to sink-in with the great unwashed is how it improves in the background. There are big updates, but there are also frequent smaller updates. In a sense, Windows 10 is an operating system-as-a-service. Just as SaaS applications get frequent tweaks, Microsoft fixes Windows 10 without users noticing.

There was a lot right with the first official version of Windows 10. It was fast, stable and secure. But there were flaws. These have been cleared up over the last 12 months.

There’s a joke in geek circles that Microsoft gets every second Windows version right. It’s too soon to say if Windows 10 will prove a long-lived success like XP or 7. It has already confirmed the good-bad-good Windows release pattern. That’s something to celebrate.


  1. Most of the anger with Windows 10 focuses on privacy issues. We’ll look at that in a separate post. ↩

In hindsight most users agree Windows 8 was a stinker. Many thought so at the time.

Windows 8’s reception so traumatised Microsoft the company drew a clear line under the operating system. To emphasise this, Windows skipped a version moving direct from 8 to 10.

One reason desktop and laptop owners didn’t warm to Windows 8 was because of its touch screen features. Not only could most people not use them on their existing devices, but the touch screen apps and features were often confusing in a non-touch context.

It wasn’t much better on a touch-screen PC. Switching between two modes was awkward.

Tablet or desktop OS?

Windows 8 made more sense on a tablet.

When Microsoft’s Surface arrived we saw what the software giant had tried to do. While it wasn’t perfect, Surface with Windows 8 was a plausible alternative to iOS or Android tablets[1].

Android and iOS were born mobile. They were phone operating systems first. Although moving them to tablets wasn’t seamless, it was straightforward.

For Windows the transition was rougher. It’s no accident that if we’re strict about the term, most popular Windows 10 tablets aren’t tablets at all.

Hybrid

They are hybrids. No-one considers buying a Surface Pro without also buying a keyboard at the same time. The same applies to models from Huawei and Samsung.

You never see people using Windows 10 tablets in the portrait phone orientation. They are almost always used in landscape mode. Like laptops.

Surface Pro users look like they are using laptops, because that’s how they are working. Hybrid tablets are, in effect, an alternative laptop design.

While you could say something similar about the iPad Pro and some Android models, at least they keep their born-mobile operating systems.

Orientation

You can sit on the sofa with an iPad Pro in the portrait orientation. Sure, you can do the same with Surface, but it’s not as natural.

If Surface and other Windows 10 hybrids are, in effect, a different take on laptop design, they have a few obvious disadvantages compared with more conventional laptops.

First, they are expensive. Surface Pro 4 prices start at around NZ$1850 if you include a keyboard.

There’s a big performance jump between the cheapest model and the lowest Intel i5 model which would take the price up to around $2000.

Ultrabooks better value

You can get a lot of conventional laptop for the same money. Prices for Ultrabooks with an Intel i5 processor start at less than NZ$1000. Or you could buy a lot of iPad or Android tablet.

Second, Surface Pro battery life remains terrible. This may not be the case with the Huawei and Samsung hybrids.

Not only do you get a less active battery life from a Surface Pro 4, but the battery doesn’t last long on standby either.

Battery woes

You can flip the power off on, say, the HP Spectre Windows laptop — review coming soon — and know there will be plenty of juice later in the day, or the next day or the day after.

That’s not the case with a Surface Pro. Come back later the same day and you may need to bring the charger.

Third, while Windows 10 hybrids can run most of the vast Windows software catalog, there aren’t many tablet optimised Windows apps. You end up doing everything in the Windows browser.

That may not be bad for you. You may prefer to work that way. But it is not the same smooth experience you’ll get with an Android or iOS tablet.

When there are Windows 10 tablet-style apps, developers give them less love. Developers update Windows tablet apps slower or less often than their Android or iOS versions. They’re not being difficult, they are responding to market demand.

Dog’s breakfast

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Windows 10 tablets is how they display non-tablet Windows apps. At times the screen is a dog’s breakfast.

Load up a tablet-style app from Microsoft’s Windows Store and you’ll get crisp text, clear lines, smooth graphics. All good.

Now go and load an old-school Windows app. There’s a chance the text is tiny, not resized to account for the high resolution screen. If that’s not the case, then instead of showing larger text, the pixels from small text sizes are blown up leaving blurry, hard to read writing.

Windows 10 laptops better than tablets

Why does this post’s headline say Windows 10 laptops are better than tablets? As we’ve seen, Windows 10 tablets are used in much the same way as laptops. Yet, apart from weight, they don’t have many obvious advantages.

Meanwhile, they have poor battery life and there is not much decent Windows 10 tablet software. It isn’t the focus of this post, but most laptops also offer better keyboards.

There’s nothing foolish about buying a Surface Pro 4 or any other Windows 10 tablet. The best are fine devices. I’d consider one for my use. Hybrid sales show Windows 10 tablets hit a nerve with customers.

Yet four generations on from the first Surface models, they still haven’t met their full potential. Windows 10 tablets could be an incredible productivity tool, but they are not there yet.


  1. We shouldn’t forget Windows RT. More confusion perhaps, but overall a more tablet-like experience.  ↩