Book Review: “How to Create a Mind” by Ray Kurzweil

Ray Kurzweil is a futurist who may be most famous to many people for his book “The Singularity is Near”, where he generated some controversy because he said we are soon reaching a point (the singularity) where humans can, in theory, live forever.

I have never read any of his books, because I have never been too interested in what futurists say, as in general they have been wrong.  Being a “futurist” is kind of like being a fortune teller.  You might get lucky, but in general you are just guessing.

However, I decided to give this book a try because of my day job.  Mr. Kurzweil has created technologies which have essentially morphed into what is in Siri and Google Voice Search – speech recognition, and in my day job I will be working on this.

The central thesis of this book is Mr. Kurzweil’s assertion that the neocortex of a human brain is essentially a set of pattern recognizers which are repeating and work at different levels.  A pattern recognizer can be a simple as, say, recognizing the cross-bar of the capital letter “A” and saying “this could be a letter A”.  Another recognizer could recognize the left bar, and a third the right bar, and when they fire together, a recognizer at a higher level will say “ah, this must be an “A”.  And this goes on and on to create recognizers for words, then phrases, then concepts.

He calls this the “Pattern Recognition Theory of Mind” (PRTM).  To back up his case, he points to many recent discoveries in the medical field that show that the neocortex is not this random rats nest of neurons generating random axons to random dendrites, (axon being the messenger piece, and dendrite being the receiver piece), but rather a regular, highly repeating structure where of neurons in clusters, with connections between the clusters.

Mr. Kurzweil submits that these clusters are pattern recognizers, who learn a specific thing (such as the crossbar of a capital A) and that groups of these work together to create a letter A in your mind.  In addition, these pattern recognizers work downward.  As an example, for the word “CAT”, the brain sees a letter C at a higher level and sends a signal down to the pattern recognizers for A saying “I’m kind of expecting an A here, such that even though the A may not be written very clearly, it still fires.  This is how we can see, say, a picture of Einstein that is half covered, or is a cartoon drawing of Einstein, but we still recognize it as Einstein.

To further back up this claim, Kurzweil goes into some explicit detail on how he developed speech recognition algorithms, by using HHMMs (Hierarchical Hidden Markov Models), which is a very strong concept used in modern Artificial Intelligence applications.  Watson, for example, the computer that beat contestants at jeopardy, and before that Big Blue, which beat a world class chess champion at chess, used HHMMs as part of their core programming.  Watson, for example, was not programmed with all the world’s information – it was given basic rules of grammar and structure, and then was “set loose” to read every article on Wikipedia on its own.  Based solely on this, Watson was able to figure out puns, for example – they weren’t hand programmed in.

Kurzweil then spends some time talking about HHMMs and a concept called “GA” (genetic algorithms).  The way to make his speech recognition program work better was to build a set of HHMMs, have them work on recognizing speech, and then taking the best results from the different sets and, well, “mating” them – taking some of the algorithm from model A and some of the algorithm from model B.  Do this to create new sets, and drop all the ones that “failed”.  Run the recognition again, and repeat.  Eventually you get something that is much better than when you have a bunch of linguists program a speech recognizer by hand.  The resulting algorithm built itself – made itself smarter, and made itself smarter than humans.

Which then begs the question – why does Siri, and Google Voice Search, get things wrong?  This is a question not of it being “dumb” or even being “not conscious”… it is a question of resources.  Neither Siri nor Google have applied the richest set, as this requires too much compute power.  But as Kurzweil shows, this is just a matter of time – technology progresses at an exponential rate.

At this point Kurzweil takes an aside to talk about consciousness and free will.  What are they?  And would a computer program ever develop them?  He spends some time knocking down arguments for why a computer could never be conscious.  One of the main arguments made by people is that the brain is doing “quantum computing” in its axons, and since quantum computing is “many states at once”, there is no way a computer that is operating on “1” and “0” states can duplicate it.  He shows that this neurons doing quantum math is, really, nonsense, and that even if it weren’t, that just means it will take longer for a computer to get there (computers are edging into the realm of quantum computing.

But then he does a great explanation of consciousness as discussed by philosophers.  Any discussion of consciousness or free will ends up using definitions that are circular.  For example, free will is defined as the freedom to make a decision without constraints – but since “freedom” is part of the definition, that’s a circular argument.  This gets a little long winded for me, because I have never cared too much for philosophy, but it does serve the point he is trying to make.  Given that we can’t really define what consciousness is, it is pretty difficult to say whether a computer is or is not conscious.

In general, pretty good book.  While he doesn’t use a lot of math in the book, there is enough math in it that it can get frustrating if you don’t care for math.  While I like math, even I got a little bored in these parts.  But overall, it made a really great impression on me about how the brain works, and how it should therefore not be too difficult to model a human brain and thus, consciousness.  As he points out, the limits to our intelligence are how much neocortex we have – how many of the pattern recognizers we can fit into our skull.  Our brain is totally dominated by the neocortex, but there is only so much we can have.  Given that, our technology – our ability to create services in the cloud, allows us to extend our consciousness beyond our forehead.  Eventually these technologies will be so small as to be ubiquitous.  We already carry an incredibly smart agent in our pocket (the cell phone) that can understand (with limitation) what we say to it.  Things like Google Now are using even more information about us (through our use of Google services such as Gmail, and Google Search), to give you information on things you care about without you even asking.

So, if you can get by with some of the math without losing your own mind, I highly recommend the read.

 

 

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Yet Another Windows 8 Tablet Review

The Acer “Iconia W5“.

This is yet another Windows 8 tablet.  Like the previous tablet I reviewed, this tablet is an Atom based tablet.  Unlike the previous tablet, however, this seems like it is trying much harder to be a tablet.  Rather than an 11.6″ device that is much more like an introductory MacBook Air, this is a 10.1″ device, which is what many Google Android tablets are.

Unfortunately, this makes the device both a really, really small laptop, more akin to the old NetBooks that have gone the way of the dodo, and a not great tablet, as most of the 10.1″ Android tablets haven’t sold at all.

As a PC

This device also comes with a detachable keyboard, so you can snap it into the keyboard to use as a laptop, and disconnect when you want to use as a laptop.  And the design of the hinge you snap into is pretty good, yet it still has its problems.

Here is a picture of the tablet with it’s attached keyboard, when closed.

Iconia W5 attached to KB, closed

Iconia W5 attached to KB, closed

You can see the white piece on the top… this is the hinge that the display attaches to.

Here is the device with its KB, opened:

Iconia W5, attached to KB, Opened

Iconia W5, attached to KB, Opened

Like the Samsung tablet, this tablet has the same problem when trying to open it as a laptop – you cannot open it with one finger.  When you try, the hinge is very stiff, and the bottom of the device lifts off the table:

Lifts off the table when trying to open

Lifts off the table when trying to open

When attached to the keyboard, this device is much better than the Samsung, in that you can open the hinge much farther.  In fact, you can open it completely around, such that the keyboard tucks underneath to be used as a stand for the tablet.  This addresses one of the gripes I had with the Samsung, as you could only open it a limited distance.

While this tablet solves that problem, it has a similar problem – once you open it past a certain point, the hinge sits on the table, and lifts up the back feet, and the device slides on the table easier.  Additionally, past a certain angle, the device is too heavy for the keyboard and causes the keyboard to want to lift up.  You also cannot adjust the hinge with one hand – it is so stiff, that if you try to adjust it, you can’t – the whole device moves.

Get ready to tilt the display!

Get ready to tilt the display!

Oh Crap, I can't.

Oh Crap, I can’t.

Similar to the Samsung device, the hinge you snap into has a release button with mechanical interlocks.  Why is this?  Is this a Microsoft mandated thing?  Ugh.

Use this Release, or You will NOT PASS

Use this Release, or You will NOT PASS

However, the hinge itself is much more satisfying.  When you put the display in, it gives a satisfying “click” sound so you know it is attached, and it has no wobbly give to it like the Samsung.  You don’t have to push it into the receiver.  It slips in nicely (that’s what she said!).  Also, the home button is not covered up by the hinge, so you can still use it.

As for the device itself as a laptop, I have to say it is pretty weak.  In order to be 10.1″, the keyboard buttons are small.  Thus, this device suffers in the same way as a lot of netbooks – your hands are crammed too close together and you can’t use the keyboard effectively.  Additionally, the trackpad is mighty small.

Maybe the right size for Hobbits?

Maybe the right size for Hobbits?

A couple of notes about the trackpad.  It’s layout made no sense.  As you can see in the picture below, there is a line across the bottom of the trackpad, about 7/8 of the way down.  That implied to me that this was a “press here for the button action”, but you could use the button action well above that line – about 3/4 up it still worked.  But then above that, it didn’t and you would get no click.  I don’t know what Acer was trying to go for here, but I would say that whatever it was, it is a big, fat FAIL.  Sometimes I would press, and no button, other times I wouldn’t want to press, but did.

I don't know what this means, Acer.

I don’t know what this means, Acer.

I am seriously angered at PC manufacturers about this.  The mouse/trackpad and keyboard are incredibly important things to get right.  It is how people interact with your product, for Chrissakes!  Yet they just don’t seem to care.

As a Tablet

As a tablet, the device seemed pretty heavy.  It’s probably not unduly heavy, but it certainly wan’t light.

As an iPad user, I don’t like the widescreen aspect ration of it as a tablet.  When held in landscape, it just seems to fat and short.  When held in portrait, it just seems to tall.  It’s not nearly as ridiculously tall as the 11.6″ Samsung, but too tall for my tastes.  If you are coming from a 10.1″ Google tablet, this probably doesn’t bother you.  Here are some shots of it running the Kindle eReader

Kindle App - Landscape

Kindle App – Landscape

Kindle App - Portrait - Legal Docs, Anyone?

Kindle App – Portrait – Legal Docs, Anyone?

I would not be comfortable using this as an eReader given this look.  Books just aren’t this tall (portrait) nor wide (landscape), except for coffee table books.  And people don’t read coffee table books while in bed.

One note on the home button – it isn’t a button.  It is a flat, touch thing.  I don’t know if I like this or not.  Seems too easy to accidentally touch it.

That's not a button!

That’s not a button!

In general, I found the screen to be “OK”.  It, like the Samsung, had a lot of glare, and it also seemed very dim.  As an iPad user, this is not surprising, because Apple really does have the best display technologies.  The touchscreen seemed a little better than the Samsung, but not much.  It still had problems registering my swipes from the left (the alt-tab effect).

Conclusion

Yeah, still not thinking these Win8 devices that are tablets + laptops are worth a damn…

Review of the book: “The Generals” by Thomas Ricks

Thomas Ricks is a non-fiction writer who writes mostly about the US military.  He wrote a great book a few years ago called “Fiasco”, detailing our missteps in the war in Iraq.  While a title such as that may seem to indicate to the casual observer that this is some kind of left wing (or right wing) screed, given that people like Ann Coulter have books titled “Treason” and such, that is not at all how Thomas Ricks writes.

He is a very thoughtful writer that cares deeply about the US military – its traditions, its execution, its soldiers, and how the military represents the United States.

The genesis for his current book, The Generals, is a trip Ricks took to a battlefield in Italy during WWII.  There he learned that the US general of the battle had been relieved.  This was shocking to Ricks, because that general went on to great success elsewhere in WWII, and this seemed at odds with what Ricks knew of the modern US military, which is that generals almost never get removed – usually if they do, it is by the President, and is the top general.  This was a general removed by another general.

From there, he started digging, and what he found is that in WWII, the US military relieved generals constantly for non-performance, usually giving them other chances to succeed elsewhere with a different command.  This was so foreign to how we do things now, which is that a general is only removed due to a sex scandal or, in the case of William McChrystal, saying stupid things to a Rolling Stone reporter.

This book is an examination of how the US military behaved then, and how it is behaving now, with regards to senior military leadership.

It is a very fascinating book.  You don’t have to be a fan of the US military in particular, or military matters in general, to like this book.  The book is less about “the military” with whatever connotations you may have about that in your mind, but rather about how large organizations behave – the internal bureaucracy, who considers what important and why, how people learn what the incentives are so that they can be successful, what it means when those incentives don’t match what is needed.  If you’ve never been in the military, but work in a large company with several different groups / divisions, you will probably see failings of your office in stories Thomas Ricks relates.

The general thrust of the book is, over time, the military went from an institution that was looking out for soldiers to an institution that was looking out for its generals, even if that meant soldier’s lives were lost.  Which, in a way, is how many militaries over the histories have behaved.  What was shocking is that the Army that Marshall built during WWII worked very hard to not become that, yet it became that anyway.

I learned quite a bit more about My Lai (the US massacre of a village in Vietnam) than I had known before, and all the behind-the-scenes failures during Gulf War I, which seemed like a resounding success given the Army’s devastation of Saddam’s forces.  And how, during Vietnam, just as the junior officers were beginning to see the fruits of adopting a counter-insurgency strategy, the upper leadership squashed it.  And thus, the military has had to learn it all again in Iraq and Afghanistan, and all indicators are that the army is going to quash it yet again.

It is an easy read.  There are many names given the sheer numbers of generals, and a couple of times I had to go back and look up people – “who was Matthew Ridgeway again?”, but it is well worth the read.

O-How-I-Hate Windows 8

Introduction

As other posts of mine have shown, I like Apple products.  I like them a lot.  I hate Windows and virtually everything Microsoft does.  There are many reasons for this.  The biggest reason is that I consider Microsoft to be an “80%” company.  In other words, they give you 80% of what you need, and then call it a day.  The other 20% either doesn’t work, or isn’t there, and that’s the stuff that actually takes time to do.  Remember the 80/20 rule – the first 80% of a job usually takes 20% of the time… it is the remaining 20% that takes 80% of the time.  Microsoft has never seemed like a company that wants to spend time on that other 80%.

So, what happens when a company that only delivers on 80% of a software design in order to get it out there takes on a touch operating system, especially when that operating system has to meet the flawed goals of being both a PC and a tablet?  The results are not good.

Warning: Snarky pro-Apple comments contained…

I’m going to just talk about the basics of what Microsoft did here.  Some nerd (and I are one, so I can call them that), will come forward talking about some registry key setting or some mod software from a shareware site in Russia that can undo the things I’m critical of.  Yes, I know that.  Modding, for the purpose of this review, is irrelevant.

The Starting Point – Simplify Until It Looks Like it Was Created with MSPaint

One of the things Microsoft had added to Windows Vista (and carried on into Windows 7) was a feature called “Aero Glass”.  This was the feature that allowed you to make your task bar and window borders semi-transparent where the content underneath would look blurred (as if you were looking at it through thick “glass”).

I never understood this.  It took a massive amount of GPU (graphics) power to do well (and GPU power == less battery life).  I remember seeing a demo where a Microsoft guy showed me how, under the thick border of Windows Media Player, you could still see windows underneath it.  The first thought in my head was “or, you can just make the border thinner so that you aren’t blurring anything!”  But I digress.

Apple doesn’t do anything this stupid.  The dock is transparent, sure, but things underneath it aren’t blurred.  You can make a terminal window semi-transparent which is nice for some things, but again, content underneath isn’t blurred.  Apple spent their time not doing blurry transparency, but rather gradients.  Lots and Lots of gradients.  This has changed over time as their hardware has changed, because the purpose of the chrome they chose was to match their hardware design.

But the point is, gradients don’t take much horsepower to do.  Additionally, they also did something I consider neat with “wait” indicators.  Rather than a bar that scrolls across an area (like what Microsoft does with a green progress bar that fades out to clear and moves across the screen), they have a simple round logo that looks like it spins.  But it doesn’t spin – it is a simple image that is rotated by about 22 degrees every second.  So, they aren’t dynamically drawing anything – they are simply taking an image and rotating it, which again, doesn’t take much horsepower.

OK, that’s enough of that.  What did Microsoft do in Windows 8?  Well, in Vista/7 they swung the pendulum massively far to the “use the GPU for everything” to, in Windows 8, “try not to make the GPU do much of anything”.  Aero, that hateful blurry thing, is gone now.  But, they kept pushing the pendulum to simplification.  There isn’t even really any transparency anymore.  And, there are no gradients.  And, there are no rounded corners.  Everything is a hard, square box of a single color.

The result is the desktop looks childish.  It looks just about as bad as Windows 3.1 which was in the early 1990s, before there were graphics processors.  It’s just this blocky, box of 16-color Crayola Crayon mess.  In other words, they took it too far.  It is simply ugly.  You can argue that you really shouldn’t care – after all, it’s just the presentation – what you are really interested in is, say the application you are running.  But, I’m sorry… this stuff matters.  Microsoft is presenting something to you like they hate you.  It’s like they said, “Hey, please give us hundreds of dollars to run something we designed on a napkin over lunch”.

I’m not asking for the world here, but as Walter Isaacson said about Steve Jobs when he was building the first Mac in 1984, rounded rectangles are everywhere.  In the story, a programmer on the Mac came to Jobs to show him the routine he created that allowed rectangles (for windows) to be drawn with very little memory.  The problem was they were all sharp angles.  Jobs wanted them rounded, and the guy said, “rectangles aren’t rounded”.  Steve took him all around the office building – tables had rounded corners, doors are even rounded.  He took him outside – showed him all the corners on street signs… rounded.  Eventually the guy gave in and said fine, and after another 24 hours had rounded rectangles with the same memory and CPU horsepower footprint.

The point of this story is, in the real world, we deal with things that are rounded.  There aren’t these sharp, 90-degree angles that come to a hard point.  The natural world is smooth.  You should try to mimic that whenever possible, because your brain does notice it.

This, then, refers to my earlier 80/20 point.  It took 20% of the time to make things a simple rectangle, with basic colors and no transparency or gradient.  To Microsoft, that’s enough.  They don’t care about that final 20% to make it aesthetically pleasing, because that takes 80% of the time.

Think about that when you see that a new version of Mac OS costs $19, has beautiful gradients and rounded corners, and Windows 8 costs, in many cases, over $100, and is this boxy, Crayola colored blocky junk.

The Start Button: “There Is No Spoon”

Microsoft, which spent a gagillion dollars once upon a time to get rights to the Rolling Stones “start me up” to highlight their start button, just killed the start button.  It is gone.  They don’t want you using it anymore.

Instead of having a start button, you have to go back to a home screen of tiles, reminiscent of the tiles they use on the Windows Phone (more on tiles later).   As has been written on my other blogs and in the press, removing the start button has been met with either derision or grudging acceptance or, for those that are probably paid by Microsoft, the best thing to ever happen in the history of computing.

The reasoning behind doing this is because they want you to think of this OS as not just a PC, but also as “tablet”, and tablets have to be touch thingies with big icons.  If you are trying to build a thing that is both a laptop and a tablet, maybe you can see the justification for this.  But the thing is, most people aren’t going to do this.  They are going to have a regular laptop or a desktop, and so, having this touch oriented interface being the default interface is… really, really dumb.

Apple, by the way, has implemented something like this.  It is called “LaunchPad”, and when you use it (by doing a 4 finger pinch on the trackpad, which would be the same way you get to the home screen on an iPad), brings up a list of big icons that are on multiple pages (like an iPad).  Unlike what Microsoft did, however, it is not the default interface.  The default interface (with the Apple logo in the upper left, spotlight in the upper right, etc.) is as it always has been.

When you look through Google to talk to Apple users about LaunchPad, you basically get a “meh” response.  Some people use it as an extension of using the dock, but most people don’t use it at all.  And this should tell you something about putting such an interface on a PC.  If the Mac crowd, which is constantly berated as being a bunch of sheep bowing at the altar of Jobs won’t use this, maybe it’s a dumb idea.  Mac users more than likely also have an iPhone or an iPad, so they are familiar with the icon home screen concept, yet very few want to duplicate this on their PC.  The existing PC interface of menus is fine… more than fine in fact… preferred.

Yet, here is Microsoft, saying no to that.  Saying that you have to have the same interface as the phone.  It is, in fact, better for you that it is this way.  Maybe they are right this time, but remember, this is the same company who said during Vista that Aero Glass was awesome.  So, excuse me for being skeptical.

You Made It Even MORE Cumbersome to Shut Down?  Jeezus…

Before I get into a lot of the other features of the new home screen you have to use now that there is no start button, let’s talk about shutting down.  It was always kind of a joke about Microsoft that you had to hit “start” in order to “stop” (shut down).  And, shutting down was kind of cumbersome, though we all got used to it.

To recap, in Windows 7, you hit the start button, then move to the button that had shut-down.  If this wasn’t the default choice (usually it is sleep), you had to then bring up a menu of options, and then click OK.  So, a 3-step process (If shut-down was the default choice, it is a 2-step process).

In Windows 8, this is, believe it or not, longer.  In tablet mode, you have to swipe from the right of the screen to bring up the “charms”.  (With a mouse, you have to move the mouse to the right corner of the screen to bring up charms), then tap “settings” then tap “power”, and then choose which one to do (shutdown, sleep, restart).  This is a 4-step process.  They seriously made it more steps.  How is this even possible?

Let me ask that again… HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?!?!?!  It has got to be the stupidest thing in the world.  You couldn’t have a power button as a charm – it had to be buried?!?  You couldn’t have separate buttons for power/sleep/restart to tap, that had to be a menu?!?  You couldn’t even do something simple (like the Mac) of having a power button on the keyboard itself?!?!  Ugh.

This is what happens when a company has no leaders.  The fact that shutting down on Windows has been a multi-step process has always been laughed at.  It is a simple thing to fix.  You just need a leader to come in a fix it.  But there are no leaders.  I could imagine that where to place the “power off” feature had to go through several committees and be signed off by several managers at different levels of the organization.  Like a game of “telephone”, the initial message was “we need to get the power button off of ‘start’ – it is too many steps”.  After all the translation, the message turned into “put power as a sub-choice of ‘settings’ instead of ‘start’.”

Gestures Because I Can, Not Because I Should

One of the neat features of tablets, which Apple has then gone to duplicate on trackpads for the Mac, has been multi-finger gestures.  Rather than just having a finger to tap, you can have a finger swipe take an action (such as a scroll), and can use multiple-fingers to do more interesting actions. (pinch to zoom, etc.)

Apple has gone really far with this.  A four-finger pinch on an iPad brings up the home screen, for example.   When you are on the home screen a swipe left or right moves to the next page of icons.  When you have an app open, a four-finger swipe left or right is an “alt-tab”.  A four-finger swipe up brings up all running apps that you can scroll through.

Windows 8 has done strange things with gestures.  Things that are so strange as to be, well, really strange.  There is a two-finger pinch-to-zoom.  OK, great.  That’s kind of a “duh”.  But they don’t have a lot of multi-finger options.  Pinch-to-zoom is the only one I found on the device I was playing with.  Then there are gestures that are just annoying.

Menu – If There Is One, And We Won’t Tell You

There is a gesture where you use a single finger, and swipe down from off the top of the screen.  This is supposed to bring up an app’s “menu” (if it has one).  Two problems – if an app doesn’t have a menu, obviously one won’t come up.  But there is no indication of that.  Typically, when you try to do a gesture on an iOS device and there is nothing to do, you get a “bounce” effect.  For example, on an iPhone, if you try to swipe past the last available page of icons, the page looks like it is going to swipe, but bounces back.  This lets you know “yeah, I registered your gesture, but there was nothing to do.”  Windows 8 doesn’t do this.  So, you typically try it a couple of times before you go, “well, OK, guess there is no menu”.

The second problem is that this gesture doesn’t mean “swipe down to see a menu pull down from the top”.  It just means “do something with menus”.   In the Maps app, for example, a swipe down from the top causes a menu to swipe up from the bottom (a menu to let you show traffic, change map style, etc.).  That’s right… a downward swipe causes an upward screen motion.  Um…. Huh?

Charms – A Shortcut That Seems OK

Another gesture is swiping from the right hand side of the screen.  This brings up the “charms”, which are a series of buttons.  The charm buttons are “search”, “share”, “start” “devices”, and “settings”.  Basically, global options.  Oh, also, bringing up the charms brings up the time and date in the left (more on this later).  I have no problem with this charms menu, until we get to a different swipe operation… the “alt-tab”.

Left Swipe – Because We Already Did Top and Right, So Why Not

The “alt-tab”, is a swipe from the left hand side of the screen.  What this does is bring up other running apps.  A fast swipe just causes the next app in the list to come up.  A slow swipe and “stop” causes an app to come up in a “pinned” fashion (so that two apps are running side by side).  Finally, a slow swipe where you start swiping back (I think) causes a list of all the running apps to show up as screen shots so you can choose.

There are several issues with this.  First, the fast swipe – this can only go one way.  If you have 5 apps running, for example, you swipe to app 2, but can’t swipe back to app 1.  This is because that would be a rightward swipe from the right side, but that’s taken up with a “charm” menu.  So, the only way to get back to app is to keep swiping.  OR, you do the slow swipe then back to see the full list.   That’s dumb.  On iOS, for example, four fingers from left to right brings up the next app in the list, but a four finger swipe from right to left brings up the previous app in the list.  In other words, the gesture makes friggin’ sense.  The gesture is “four fingers” and means “go between apps”, and the direction tells you which way to go.

Microsoft must feel that the swipe in from left then back slightly left is a way to compensate for this.  But again, it’s a big compromise.  Because they forced a single gesture from the right to be one thing, they had to hack up a gesture from the left to deal with something missing.

The final piece – the swipe slow to pin a second app, seems utterly pointless.  The second app doesn’t take up half the screen.  The second app either takes up ¼ of the screen, or you can move the slider so it takes up ¾ of the screen.  Which means one app is very tiny, and the other app is not as big as it wants to be (¾ of the screen).  While you might not think of this as a big deal, one of the pinning I did is “pin the desktop app (i.e. legacy windows) into ¼ of the screen”.  It was, needless to say, useless.   I also did that with the maps.  Again, useless.  I then did it with the “Games” app.  When in ¼ screen mode, it was a simple green rectangle that had a button saying “discover and browse games”.  When you tapped it, that expanded the games app to ¾ of the screen.  Basically, the message is “you can’t pin the games app to ¼ of the screen.”

Big Maps, Tiny Games

Big Maps, Tiny Games

Big Games, Tiny Maps

Big Games, Tiny Maps

So…. What the hell is the point of pinning two apps side by side?  Maybe there are a couple of apps this makes sense for, but for the most part, it seems utterly pointless.  It is a “look, ma, I recognized gestures and can multi-task.”  There is no rhyme or reason for this to exist… at all.

Bottom Swipe – No, Because We Said So

So, there is a swipe from the top, which may or may not do anything and you won’t know unless you try a couple of times, there is a swipe-from-right which does a system level thing one of which is “go home”, which is what a button on the device already does, there is a confusing-as-hell swipe from left that is overloaded, cumbersome, and does something (pinning) that seems pointless.

So, there must be a “swipe from the bottom”, right?  Well, no.  There isn’t.  Why?  Who knows.  Maybe they felt that this swipe would be too close to a keyboard that exists or something.   But remember, this is supposed to be a tablet OS as well, and a tablet may not ever have a keyboard.  So, they should enable a swipe there, but they don’t.

Live Tiles, Because You are Never On The Home Screen

The next bit of nuttiness in the Windows 8 experience is “live tiles”.  What is a live tile?  Well, on the home screen, every app is represented by a bigger than necessary square called a tile (or a rectangle, more on this later).  A program can make the tile “live”, meaning it can display something other than an icon – a news app can have news headlines, a stock app could have stock quotes you follow, etc.

On the Windows Phone, this can actually be somewhat interesting.  It has, in fact, been a selling point for Windows Phones – the ad where people not using a Windows Phone run into doors or fall down stairs because they are walking and trying to look at all their apps for basic information.

So, the concept of a “live” tile seems, well, interesting.  But this is a desktop/laptop we are talking about.  You aren’t pulling a device out of your pocket to casually looking to see some latest info.  You are actively doing work (or playing a game).  In short, you are most likely never on this home screen.  So, the concept of a live tile is kind of silly.

Additionally, the live tile you can see are only a page of tiles at a time.  At most, you can have 24 apps visible on the home screen (if each of them is a square instead of a rectangle  If they are all rectangles, you can have 12).  So, when you go to the home screen, you might not be looking at the screen that has the live tile you want info out of anyway.  You are already scrolling to find that tile.

And here is the worst part of the live tiles… the things that make the most sense to have as live tiles are things that are getting info from the internet – friend posts, stock quotes, news articles, etc.  If you aren’t connected to the Internet, there is, actually, nothing “live”.  However, the live tiles will be more than happy to keep showing you the same stale stuff over and over, scrolling between them.  Basically, the live tile is doing work, keeping the CPU awake (and burning battery), and providing you with nothing of value because you aren’t connected.  Oy.

The live tiles, though, was most likely inevitable.  Once Microsoft made the decision that the phone look and feel had to be the desktop look and feel, and the phone look and feel had live tiles, then dammit, the desktop has to have it too.  Although, I have to make one comment here – guess what, the phone and desktop look and feel are… DIFFERENT.  The phone is set up so you can scroll left and right as well as up and down.  The desktop?  It’s right and left only.  So, it isn’t even the same, though they made it mostly the same.  Remember the 80/20 thing?  Yeah, evident here, too.

Scrolling Between Apps – Pages?  We Don’t Need No Stinking Pages!

So, another brief Apple aside.  On iOS, you essentially have “pages” of icons.  You have a page that can have up to 16 icons plus 4 in a dock (iPhone 4) or 20 icons plus 4 in a dock (iPhone 5).  You can do a swipe to another page, which has another 16/20 icons plus the 4 that were in the dock.  You scroll between these pages.

Windows 8 has something that looks similar.  You put your icons into groups, and there is a spacer in between groups.  The spacer between the groups allows you to create a new group.  Again, a group can have between 12 and 24 tiles (based upon the number of rectangle vs. square tiles).

However, these gaps don’t represent a page (although a set of 24 square tiles takes up the whole screen).  So, there is no scrolling between “pages”.  Rather, the scrolling is “freeform”.  If you do a right/left swipe, it’s like you are scrolling “forever”.  There is no snapping to another “page”.  I personally found myself scrolling past where I wanted to go.  I would know an app was in the 3rd group, but that’s not two swipes away from the first group (to the third page).  It’s just a swipe and hope you stop or “swipe and then press again to stop”.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Resizing and Moving Tiles – Oh God, Just Kill Me

Again, in iOS, this is pretty simple.  It seems like it would be really hard to f*ck this up, but trust me, Microsoft has.  In iOS, you simply tap and hold an icon until you see all the icons wiggling.  The “wiggling” lets you know you can move tiles.  An “x” appears in the upper left also letting you now you can delete an app.  Once in this mode, you can still swipe between pages, and you can move an icon to another page, let it go, and then move it again.  It’s very, very simple.  (You can also put icons in folders, but since Microsoft doesn’t have something like this, I won’t talk about that feature).

While I’ve never used a Windows Phone, my understanding of moving tiles is somewhat similar, but somebody would have to point that out.

In Windows desktop, they managed to make something simple so god-forsakenly complex that you just want to drop kick the machine, or if you don’t want to go that far, to just say “I’m never moving any tile ever.”

In order to move a tile, you have to tap and hold the tile, and pull down and “over” (left/right) slightly (but just slightly).  This tells the OS (oh, you want to move this thing), and then it spreads out the icons.  You are basically doing this slight motion to break some imaginary “rubber band”.  You don’t know when the rubber band will break, or how far you have to move the app.  It’s incredibly annoying.  It’s especially annoying because by the time Microsoft realizes what to do, your finger may no longer be on top of the tile anymore – it might be slightly to the left or the right.  It is so damned annoying that after a while you just don’t want to organize anything.  It’s like – wherever it lands, that’s where it stays.

Start of a Move

Start of a Move

Now, this isn’t the end of the story.  While you are trying to do this tap/hold/drag slightly so you will recognize it you damned OS, you will see that a little white checkmark appears on top of the app you’ve started to drag down.  What is this checkmark?  Well, that is a thing that lets you resize the tile.  As mentioned earlier, tiles can be squares or rectangles.  In order to resize the tile, you have to tap, hold, drag down until the checkmark goes from gray to white, and then let the tile go.

When you do this, the tile will have a blue outline around it with the white checkmark in a blue triangle in the upper right, and a whole new blue bar appears at the bottom.  This blue bar has icons on it to make an icon larger/smaller, to delete it, to “unpin from start” (I have no idea what that does… I guess launch at boot?), and to turn the live tile on or off.

Resize / Delete / Live

Resize / Delete / Live

Now, here’s what’s absolutely hilarious about that.  You can only do one of those four options.  As soon as you do one, the bar disappears, and the tile is no longer highlighted.  So, if you want to both turn on live tile and resize it, you have to do this tap/hold/drag twice.  TWICE!  For crying out loud, Microsoft.  Also, let’s say you make the tile larger, but decided against it – you don’t get to try making it larger, because the act of making it larger caused this menu to exit.  You have to tap/hold/drag again to undo it.

All this is so painful that you just don’t want to fart with it.  If the app installed and was a live tile, and it was a square, then just leave it.  Because if you want to move it, then make it a rectangle, and turn off the live tile, that is, at a minimum, 3 different drag operations.  Goddamn that is idiotic.  You actually have to try to do something this stupid.

Other Crap I Couldn’t Figure Out and Stopped Caring to Try

The tiles the machine I was playing with had a couple of groups called “Samsung apps”.  So, apparently, your groups can have a title.  How did this title get there, how do you change it, and how do you remove it?  No… Friggin… Clue…  It wasn’t at all obvious, and I wasn’t going to look it up.  I don’t know why you want a title to begin with, but regardless, there was no obvious way to change it.

Apparently, When I Come to the Home Screen I Always Want to Be at the Beginning

In iOS, you could be on, say, page 3 of the pages of icons and launch an app.  When you hit the home button to exit the app, you are back on page 3 of the pages of icons.  Seems pretty obvious.

Microsoft, apparently, doesn’t think things should work this way.  When you run an app, regardless of where you were in the list of tiles when you launched it, when you go back “home”, dammit, you are going back to the very first group of tiles.  Sure, your tile may have been over to the right a bit, with a bunch of other tiles that were related to each other, and yeah, sure, you might want to run an app right next to the one you were at, because after all, this is why you spent the 18 hours of grueling taps/hold/resize/live to put them together, but sorry, you have to just scroll over there again.

This is the ultimate in laziness, Microsoft.  I swear, they hate their users.

Why Do You Want Status, Mr. Nosy Parker?

One of the hallmarks of every graphical operating system is the concept of status.  Apple had this in the first mac with a bar at the top of the screen.  Windows introduced this with the task bar in 1995.

These status bars are useful.  They tell you things like if you are connected to the internet, how much battery power you have left, what time it is, sometimes the date, and since the advent of smart phones, things like the cellular signal and Bluetooth on/off.

This is very basic stuff.  It’s common.  It’s obvious.  You should have it.

Microsoft on Windows 8, though, said “nah, screw that”.  There is no status bar… not anywhere.  On the home screen, it will put a big text block that says “Start” (in case you didn’t know you were on the home screen) and an icon of who the user is (in case you got amnesia and forgot who you were), but you really don’t need to know the time or internet status.

If you want to know the time/date, you must bring up charms (or run the desktop app and have date/time in the task bar).  If you want to know if you are connected or not, well, bring up an app that requires an Internet connection, or go again to charms and click on the “available” icon.  Other than that, screw you.

I cannot believe this.  It is more than asinine.  It, again, is a message from Microsoft that says, “we hate our users.”

Internet Explorer Here, Internet Explorer There, But Never the Two Shall Meet

So, get this.  Microsoft uses Internet Explorer as its browser.  I know, I know, not shocking.  But, did you know that Microsoft uses 2 internet explorer browsers?  Two, completely independent Internet Explorers?  It’s true.

That’s right, there is an Internet Explorer that runs as part of the tablet mode tile, which is full screen and with disappearing status and address bars, just like on a mobile OS.  But there is a second Internet Explorer that runs on the desktop.  And that Internet Explorer looks just like the Internet Explorer you have used on Windows forever.

Wait, surely they are the same Microsoft Internet Explorer, just two different looks – they really aren’t different?  Yes, yes they are different.  And don’t call me Shirley.

Microsoft, on Windows 8, really has implemented two different Internet Explorers.  If you are on the tablet and navigate to a page, that page is only in the tablet IE.  If you go to the desktop?  That IE knows nothing about that page.  You have to navigate there all over again.

Now there are two ways to look at this.  One is that this is the dumbest thing in the history of computing (my interpretation).  But another way is to say, “wow, I get two browsers for free!”

Conclusion

I don’t know how much more needs to be said out this.  This thing is a terrible joke.  Microsoft has created an OS that borrows things from the phone, ostensibly to make the look and feel the same (even though there is no reason they have to be), yet changed it from the phone so it isn’t the same.  They force you to use this new interface and removed the start button.  They hacked the user interface to hell to remove any nice things like gradients and soft corners because…. I dunno.

Microsoft changed their logo recently, from the wavy squares that looked like a flapping flag to simple squares (to highlight the new tile look of the company).  Personally, I think they should have just changed their logo to a guy holding up a middle finger and a cash register.  It represents the two facets of the company: (1) we don’t care about you, and (2) pay me.

Review of a Windows 8 Tablet/PC

…or The Picture You See When You Look Up “Terrible” in the Dictionary

Prologue

People know me as an Apple fan.  I get accused of being a “fanboy” – that I simply refuse to like things that either Google or Microsoft make because Steve Jobs didn’t make it.

I’m not going to defend myself against this charge.  Most of the folks who hurl that charge at me hate Apple products simply because Steve Jobs made it, so they are as colored by perception and ideology as they claim I am.

Having said that, yes, I will say that I think Steve Jobs was right when he made the iPad and said it was a different device than a PC.  That it was “post-PC”.  In other words, trying to make a PC into a tablet or a tablet into a PC wasn’t going to work.  I would think this would be obvious to almost anybody with a brain, because tablet PCs (from Microsoft) have been out since 2002 at least, and nobody has ever really bought them.  There are a few devotees, but look, the market has spoken, and the market doesn’t like these things.

Many simply refuse to believe that, and they continue trying.  Microsoft kept plugging away with stylus support and on-screen keyboards for the miniscule number of convertibles sold.  Motorola came out with a dock for their Android phone, where you plugged it in to the back and got a full screen and keyboard.  Every time one of these devices shows up, you get drooling tech writers and drooling geeks who say, “WANT!”.  Then virtually nobody buys it (not the drooling geeks, nor the drooling tech writers), and the device disappears.

If you are Microsoft, however, you simply cannot let this stand.  The PC is the thing!  Real men use a keyboard and mouse!  So, rather than recognize reality and build a tablet running something like a mobile operating system, dammit, you are going to double down and make the PC into a tablet.

The lesson Microsoft apparently learned from their fiasco of a tablet experience, however, is not that the device itself is stupid, but that…. “touch”!  Yeah, touch, that’s the ticket!  So, they came up with Windows 8, which is “touch”, and hey, while they’re at it, make it look like the phone, because people are dying to have the same look and feel everywhere!  (Remember, the old Windows PDAs tried to look like Windows 95 with their title bars and buttons).

So with that, this is a review of such a device.  I’m not going to review Windows 8 here since it isn’t unique to the device.  I will do a follow-up post on what a pile of dung Windows 8 is.  It is really, really not a good OS.  But that isn’t unique to this device.  The problems of making a PC and a tablet be the same thing are independent of whether the software on top of it stinks.

The Device

The device I’m reviewing is a Samsung 500T.  It’s an Atom powered device that is a tablet, but with a keyboard dock that you slip it into to make it into a clamshell laptop.  It has dual cameras like all tablets tend to have (front and rear facing), a home button like an iPad home button (more on this later), and ports and buttons for various things (HDMI, the dock connector, USB, volume buttons, power buttons, etc.  Here are some pictures of it from the Samsung web site.

I'm a Laptop!

I’m a Laptop!

But I'm Also a Tablet!

But I’m Also a Tablet!

It is about as thick as a 13.3” Macbook Air at its thickest point, but is not tapered, so the thickness is universal.  It is gray in color, with a look of brushed metal, but it is plastic.  The device has a power connector in both the clamshell keyboard dock (when docked) and in the display itself (for when using as a tablet).

As a PC – Compromises, Compromises, Compromises

The Device / Keyboard Hinge

One of the challenges of making a device like this, and why Apple chose not to, is that it is very hard to make a device that is sturdy and full-featured while also thin if it is going to have two pieces (keyboard and display).  You can make a good, solid hinge that makes for a good PC, but that might make it too thick and bulky.  Or you can make the hinge thin and light, but that will probably make it chincy.

Samsung tried to make it sturdy, but not too sturdy so that it wouldn’t be too thick, and so, the whole thing is a failure.  The place to plug in the display is a U-shaped, hard gray plastic thingy that wraps around about ¾” on the back of the display.  Given that this U-shaped enclosure has to hold something that stick up past the hinge by 5 inches and is several pounds, it isn’t really all that sturdy.  When you plug the display in, it almost feels like you could bend it off the back.  Should the lip be bigger?  If it was that would make the device all that much thicker.

However, it is also not very thin.  As a result, when you open up the clamshell, the hinge rotates under the device, lifting the back end of it up.  When this happens, it lifts up the back rubber feet of the keyboard dock, which causes the device to lose its grip on the table.  Additionally, the hinge doesn’t easily flex, and so when opening the clamshell, this causes the front rubber feet to lift up.  The result is that the whole device slides backwards on the table and doesn’t open.  Essentially, you can’t open the device with one finger, which is, I dunno, something you should be able to do with a laptop!

Device Closed - Sits Flat

Device Closed – Sits Flat

Device Open - Back Raised

Device Open – Back Raised

Trying to Open with One Finger - Device Slides on Table

Trying to Open with One Finger – Device Slides on Table

Maybe you don’t consider this a big deal, but, this is what happens when you try to build a car that is supposed to get 60MPG and also go off road in 4-wheel drive.  The tradeoffs made to be able to make the display removable mean you have a laptop that doesn’t physically work like you expect a laptop to work.  That would be fine if it was a good tablet, but it isn’t (as you will see later).

The solution to opening the device, therefore, appears to be, “open slightly until you can put a finger from your other hand on the keyboard dock to hold it down.  Lovely.  Oh, and I also got this lovely screen when opening and closing the device a few times to see if I could do it with one hand.  The Blue Screen of Death is nicer looking now…

Ruh-Roh!  Why Are You Trying to Sleep Dummy?

Ruh-Roh! Why Are You Trying to Sleep Dummy?

Given the hinge design, you end up running into another problem with this device, and that is, you can’t open it very far.  Microsoft Surface has a similar problem – you only get one angle to view the device when the keyboard is attached, because the angle is determined by the hinge on the back of the tablet.

There is a similar, but different problem here.  Because of the hinge’s thickness, there is a limited angle that you can tilt the display.  The angle appears OK for a desktop, but it is not a good lap angle.  Below I have the Macbook Air 13” and this Samsung device tilted to their largest angle.  You can see how much farther the Macbook Air tilts, and the Macbook Air is sometimes criticized for not being able to go back very far.  Given that criticism, it is really bad how little the Samsun can go.  Unrelated question – do you like my back yard?

Thou Shall Not Tilt

Thou Shall Not Tilt

A final problem with this hinge design again has another problem, and that is how the device locks into the keyboard.  The KB is a USB device (shows up as an HID Keyboard Device in Windows).  But as seen in the picture, it has these two mechanical interlocks and a proprietary connector.

Rube Goldberg's Got Nothing on Me

Rube Goldberg’s Got Nothing on Me

When docked, to release the device from the keyboard you have to press the button, which releases the mechanical interlocks.  A button… really?  Sigh.  Anyway, the problem with this is when you put the device back in the dock.  There is no nice “click” sound that lets you know you docked it right.  Additionally, there is a lot of “give” in the mechanical interlocks, so the device can wobble side to side in the keyboard as you put it down.  Without the click and with the give that is present, you aren’t sure you have it docked.

Windows will cause the device to make a sound when it sees it as connected, but the sound can be misleading.  For one, it is delayed.  For another, it doesn’t always happen.  And a third problem is you might get several of these sounds!  The keyboard itself has a USB hub in it so that you can attach devices to the keyboard dock.  Every time a USB device is discovered, Windows will make a sound.  So, you could get 3 or 4 of these sounds as all the devices are registered (if there was a hub plugged into the keyboard dock with several devices in it, you will get even more of these chimes.  Additionally, if the device isn’t in just right (due to the give in the mechanical lock) you will get a never ending repeat of connect/disconnect sounds.  This is ridiculously frustrating.

What this does sometimes cause you to do is to push down on the top of the device to really-really-double-triple make sure you docked it.  And this leads to another problem.  The top left of the device when in this orientation contains the power button.  So, while you are trying to make sure you are docked, you might hit the power button and put the device into suspend.  Ugh.

One final note of this whole hinge design thing.  The “home” button when used as a tablet is located on the bezel that slides into the keyboard dock.  This means you can’t press the “home” button when docked.  You have to use the charms/home of Windows, or press the Windows key on the keyboard.  At first glance that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if you are using the home button when as a tablet, it is annoying to realize you don’t have that home button once docked and that you have to “go home” using a different mechanism.  That is just idiotic.

Keyboard / Mouse

As for the keyboard and trackpad?  Not bad.  The keyboard is definitely a rip off of Apple.  The trackpad, though, is much smaller, and this becomes really, really, excruciatingly annoying when using Windows.  Like the Windows 8 home screen, where a gesture from the right brings up “charms”, and a gesture from the left is essentially “alt-tab”, and a gesture from the top is “app menu” (or whatever), this is duplicated on the trackpad.

Thus, a swipe from the right of the trackpad brings up charms.  A swipe from the left is “alt-tab”, and a swipe from the top is “app menu”.   But with such a small track pad, you may have your fingers near one of these edges when trying to do just a normal, non-gesture thing, like “click on a menu”.  What you will end up getting, however, is one of these Windows 8 gestures.  Several times in desktop mode the charms would suddenly appear (because I was at the right edge), or all of a sudden the app would just change (because I was at the left edge).

Apple, by contrast, doesn’t do anything this asinine.  There are a couple of things you can enable when moving the mouse to the corners of the screen, but that’s you making a choice to move the mouse to the corner of the screen.  There isn’t this random appearance of stuff where the mouse cursor is, say, in the middle of the screen but your fingers happen to be on the right of the trackpad.

And if you think about this, it is really dumb for another reason.  Say you actually do want to bring up the charms.  If you swipe from the right to do so, that isn’t really a shortcut if your mouse cursor is ¾ of the way on the other side of the screen.  You still have to then move your mouse cursor over to where the charms appeared before you can click on a charm (like settings or power options).  So, the gesture bought you nothing!  Now, you could of course just use your finger to tap on the charms when it came up, but if I’m using my finger on the screen, then what was the friggin’ point of using the trackpad gesture!?!?

Needless to say, I turned this stuff off.  Unfortunately, most users barely know how to use a trackpad to begin with, and given that the trackpad settings are buried under ‘hardware and devices’ in control panel, which most people also don’t know how to bring up, I doubt this is going to be turned off by many people.

Other Idiocy

Samsung decided to put little covers on their USB port, SDIO port, and HDMI ports so that the device, I guess, looks sleek.   God these port covers are awful.  They are those kind of covers that are attached to the main body with by a piece of rubber, so they bend out of the way at almost any angle.

I have seen several devices with these kinds of hinges.  Two things happen with them.  First, they are annoying because since it is a rubber attach point, sometimes the cover snaps back toward the port before you plug the device in, or plug it in fully (so it prevents a full insertion).  Secondly, they invariably break off after a while and are lost.   So, I’ve never understood the point of these things.  And the fact that there are three of them on the device (USB, SDIO, and HDMI) and then two additional ones on the keyboard (one on each side for a USB port), really annoys me.  Even worse, there is a thing on the device next to the SDIO slot that looks like yet another cover, but it isn’t – it’s just an indentation.  Why is this there?  I have no idea.

As a Tablet – Are Those The 10 Commandments You Are Carrying?

Too Tall… Just Too Tall

The first thing to note about the Samsung device as a PC is that it is an 11.6” device.  Which means it is a small laptop.  The entry level Macbook Air is an 11.6” device, for example, and Netbooks were in the 9” to 12” range, so this is pretty small.

However, once you take this Samsung device and detach it from the keyboard dock to use as a tablet, holy cow does the thing seem big.  Here are some pictures of it compared to an iPad1, which is a 9.7” screen.

Me John... Big Tree....

Me John… Big Tree….

...and Leon is Getting Laaaaarger

…and Leon is Getting Laaaaarger

You can see that it is the same width as the iPad1, yet is much, much taller.  And this makes for some notably strange experiences while holding it as a tablet.  For reference, I also have a shot of the Samsung here against an iPad mini, which is roughly the same size as a Kindle Fire, just so that you can see how much bigger it is to hold it if you are going to use it as an eReader.  A lot of people are going for the iPad mini, the Nexus 7, and the Kindle Fire because they think the iPad is too big.  And this thing is even bigger!

Which Would You Rather Use for Reading?

Which Would You Rather Use for Reading?

So, you can see you are going to be a little challenged here using this thing as a tablet… say grabbing it before heading off to bed for some reading.  It is just ridiculously big.

And hence, that’s why I made the 10 Commandments reference in the section heading.  When you hold it in portrait mode, you really are holding a large stone tablet, or something like an old Roman scroll.  When you hold it in landscape mode for reading it’s like you are holding a spread out map.

And herein again is why trying to make a PC and a tablet the same device is dumb.  Here you have a device that is almost “too small” when you are using it at a computer distance with its keyboard, but is way too big when you hold it at a tablet distance.

The Touchscreen

The touchscreen is very finicky.  I don’t know how much of this is Windows vs. Samsung.  Touchscreens are hard to do right.  You need to have very good sensors, and you need to have good software running somewhere to find real touches vs. false touches, or a swipe vs. a touch.

On this device, at least, it isn’t working very well.  Sometimes swipes are just missed and interpreted as a touch.  Sometimes you needed to press hard to be recognized, but other times the slightest brush of the screen caused an action (usually unwanted).

I’m sure this will get better over time, but to risk alienating people again by talking about Jobs, he indicated this is the kind of thing they spent tons of time on.  If you don’t get it right, the user is frustrated.

Glare

This thing had a ton of glare.  With my iPad, you can see glare – you certainly don’t want to take it outside and try to read, that’s what a e-Ink Kindle is for.  But this device just had glare everywhere.  In my family room, I can read with my iPad mini while sitting in a couch against the family room window during the day and it’s fine.  You simply cannot do that on this device.  You had to close the blinds.

Conclusion

Microsoft said of Surface in particular, and Windows in general, “no compromises”.  They want to tell you that you can have a tablet, and a PC, and it can be the same thing.  And, in fact, having them be the same thing is actually good for you.

But this device shows the flaws in that thinking.  This thing isn’t “no compromises”, it is “too many compromises”.  It is too small of a laptop, but way too big of a tablet.  The docking procedure is clunky, hurting its usefulness as a PC.

The device costs $700+ tax.  You can get a PC that is just as good from a performance standpoint and is a better laptop (viewing angles, etc.) for $500, and a Kindle for $200.  Same price, and each device is better at what it does.