Windows 10 – almost here & a boon for tablet users

We are only a few days away from the release of Windows 10, which as you may know already is a free upgrade for legitimate users of 7 and 8/8.1. So if you have Windows and a proper license for it, the option is there to upgrade for free.

Which might sound scary to those many of you who did not like Windows 8 – but it shouldn’t be. Windows 10 is designed to appeal both to touch users, and those who felt like a more traditional Windows experience (with the start menu for example). Reviews in already suggest that it is a solid operating system, with a great many powerful features.

The first one that everyone is talking about is Cortana and the search function. Cortana is Windows voice personal assistant. Interesting text and voice can be used interchangeably here, and people have suggested that the search features are powerful enough to replace the start menu. Cortana is able to activate program features by voice as well, so you can for example, turn off the Bluetooth, by asking. It seems like Cortana may be every bit as powerful as Microsoft have been promising. And microsoft are releasing Cortana on Android and iOS. Here is a leaked Android APK beta for Cortana.

The second thing people are remarking on is the quick options for multi-tasking. Windows 10 comes with a variety of gestures and a smart interface that enables you to snap windows, or change windows for multi-tasking with ease. Add to this virtual desktops, and Windows 10 is a multi-tasking powerhouse. Even when you switch to tablet mode, Windows will preserve two snapped windows for you, allowing you to do a side by side.

Windows 10 by all reports is faster, and runs games better.

The action center is also a bit of an answer to something android has been doing for awhile, but it’s a little bit more powerful. It replaced the much maligned charms bar in Windows 8.1. As well as allowing you to switch between tablet and desktop mode, activate flight mode and so on, you can add a note in one note, access settings, turn on VPN and a few more. It also features a new quiet hours mode that allows you to banish notifications when you don’t want to be disturbed – in the world we live in, thats a smart feature.

The start button has returned, and it offers a blend of the modern UI, and the traditional Windows 7 start button – making it familiar enough, while preserving touch apps, at a glance news articles and so on.

Windows 10 also offers a new universal app system, that promises to make things easier for developers and increase the number of touch apps on Windows over time. Firstly the apps are designed to essentially run on any device. Secondly there is easy code for importing the apps from android or iOS. And this way, developers can write their code once, or port it once, and never have to design for multiple platforms again. From a developers point of view, this means it will be cheaper and easier. And hopefully that means that Windows 10 will eventually be full of touch apps for everyone to use.

The introduction of the ‘task view’ allows for a preview style task switching method, that is very tablet friendly, but also allows for virtual desktops.

Overall, Windows 10, from early reviews, looks to be the solid new modern OS design that everyone was hoping for. And I think it will be particularly powerful on tablets, hybrids and phones for its ability to bridge the gap between touch and keyboard input.

Many of these features very much needed refining. For example, whilst on android, switching off bluetooth was a two touch operation, it was a further step, and more complex in Windows 8.1. This strong interface optimization will allow Windows 10 to be the first strong, true hybrid OS. And I think we will only see the impact of that user power more as time goes on.

However, one final caveat – an upgrade process will likely not be perfect and need some trouble shooting. It’s quite likely that not everything will work perfectly on the release day of any new OS. If you wish to avoid this possibility, perhaps wait to hear back from other users before making the switch.

BTW, I sell one tablet with Windows 8.1. Using the product key, you should be able to upgrade, to Windows 10 when it comes to the day. And on request I may be able to do that for you, before sending the device out. Because they are dual boot devices however, it is possible you will lose Android (which isn’t so bad, because you also would gain much needed space). When I figure out more about this, I’ll let you all know.

What size or form of tablet is best for me?

This is probably one of the most important aspects of choosing a tablet computer. There are different schools of thought on this, and it will depend what you are using your tablet for.

If you want a highly portable device, you’ll want something 8.9 inches or smaller. Additionally this is about the maximum size where the tablet can easily be held in one hand, with 8 inches being slightly more optimal for one handed comfort for most people. This does make the device more convenient to use.

If you want to access high resolution, highly graphical media like complex full websites, comics and magazines a larger tablet might suit you better.

One should keep in mind also the aspect ratio of the screen. For example a 10.1 inch screen tends to be longer rather than wider, which suits Windows, but does not add as much screen real estate as 9.7 inch screens.

If you’re using Windows, the smallest form that you can really use the desktop mode on is 8 inches.

People who use both tend to come to the conclusion that having a larger tablet and a smaller one is best, because they both have their advantages, smaller for portability and ease of one handed use, and larger for the bigger screen real estate. I have used both and enjoyed both. An eight inch can go in a bag easily. But a 9.7 inch is ideal for web pages, magazines, games etc.

For those on a budget, you will need to work out what characteristics are more important to you.

Additionally, if you are inputing a lot of text, you will want a keyboard. For media consumption, tablets are king. But for creation, the desktop still has many advantages. If you wish to enter a lot of text, a keyboard case, or a powered hub are good options (with Windows, and HDMI output, and a powered USB hub, you can plug your tablet into a keyboard, mouse and monitor, using it like a desktop). And if you input text more than use touch only, a hybrid is a good choice.

RAM: How much do you need for a mobile device?

Continuing my series on what to look for in a mobile device, today I am briefly covering how much RAM you need on a mobile device, like a smart phone, or tablet computer.

RAM is temporary memory used to store data from the Operating System, and any Applications. It’s a bit like a persons working memory, if they were doing a maths equation. Together with screen resolution, CPU speed, and storage speed, it affects how fast your mobile device will run.

The answer really is ‘it depends’. On an Android device with a moderate screen resolution, and a fast CPU, you can get a fluid response with 1 GB of RAM – if you don’t have a lot of apps open at once.  Similarly, with windows in the live tiles screen, 1 GB with a quad core processor can suffice. Running desktop applications however it will not fair so well.

Some screen resolutions are technically above what the eye is supposed to be able to see, and we will cover this soon – but it’s worth noting now that this will effect both speed and battery life.

Optimally, with  a higher screen resolution, or running a lot of apps in Android, or any Desktop applications in Windows, 2 GBs is the gold standard.

The above picture is a comparison from 2012. But it does show what you might get even with a well known brand, if you buy their cheaper older generation hardware – some of those devices are genuinely too slow.

Look for devices with either a fast CPU (such as 2.0Ghz octocore, or 1.8ghz Quad core), moderate screen resolution and 1GB of RAM (depending on your useage pattern), or 2GBs of RAM for full desktop applications or higher screen resolution.

FLAC, Vinyl and MP3: The fidelity renaissance

The discussion has been going for years about the merits and failings of mp3, which mirrors a discussion going further back about Vinyl versus CD.

With each advance in music technology we seem to have take a step back from audio quality, from vinyl to tapes to CDs, to MP3’s and now streaming music. But those advances haven’t been for nothing, each advance gave us something else we wanted – increased convenience.

However, since 2006 the vinyl revival has been going on. Last year over 1 million records were sold in the UK. I myself acquired a vinyls for an artist I really like (the Glitch Mob), and the sound difference compared to MP3 blew my mind. Still, I can’t carry it around in my pocket!

Increasingly artists like Muse, and the Glitch Mob, as well as numerous mainstream artists are releasing in higher fidelity, vinyl and lossless formats like FLAC.

And FLAC is having a slow increasing in popularity too. You might not have noticed, and it’s not always super noticeable, but there are areas where MP3’s sound compression affects sound quality noticeably. Sounds with fast attack, such as intricate drumming can be muffled. Very high and low ranges can be lost, and the sound can lose range, dynamics. And those sounds while seemingly subtle sometimes, change the ‘feel’ of the music, when they are lost the sound seems to lose some ‘life’.

For some music this is hardly noticeable – mainstream dance pop, or distorted and blended rock and roll. But for some music, such as highly acoustic, ambient, nuanced or drum oriented music (classical like Ludovico Einaudi, the latest Florence and the Machine Album, or the Glitch Mobs Drink the Sea are examples) the difference is quite audible between FLAC and MP3. And a little extra between that and Vinyl.

Now not every album can be found in FLAC, and buying and ripping CDs is hardly convenient. Fortunately apple has it’s own lossless format, which are stored as .m4a files, and you can get a lot of things from iTunes in this format. Although personally I do listen to FLAC and 320 kbps MP3 on my phone, some people may wish to store more files rather than have higher fidelity.

People might argue that 320 kbps MP3 is good enough, and it’s very popular right now, and sounds a lot better than older bitrates commonly used. You can find a lot more music in this format than in FLAC. However it’s only a fraction smaller in file size versus FLAC, and is still compressed. At that level of storage saving it’s really not worth compressing at all, if you are losing sound.

At minimum for devices with very high storage capabilities, like the average desktop, there really is not much point in MP3 nowadays. We have plenty of space to store files lossless on such devices.  And if your willing to go quality over quantity, it’s perfectly viable on your mobile device (tablet or phone), if you can be choose-y about what you take with you.

And if you have some all time favourite album, I highly recommend the odd Vinyl, even if its only for special occasions.

Windows or Android?

I am putting together a series of short blog articles, to help advise people on their buying choices. At the end of the series, I am going to put together a guide.

If your shopping for a smart phone, or a tablet, one question you may be faced with is which is better, Windows or Android?

Every OS has its advantages and disadvantages. They exist on a spectrum in a way. So what is good for one person, may not be for another.

Android is an OS, that is highly touch optimized. The devices come in high-end, and budget varieties. There is a volume of apps that is only paralleled by iOS. It’s a very easy OS to use, with a wide variety of apps, and it is cheaper and more customizable than iOS. More than customization, because it is based on Linux, there is a little more power in it. One can for example, run a commandline in Android.

On the downside, a lot of software, paid or free on touch platforms like Android or iOS are not so great. Indeed because the majority of users – few of them pay for software, and often their needs and expectations for such software are much lower than with desktop OS’s, we get software like freemium software, that is equal parts irritation and satisfaction, with the satisfaction sometimes not being so great.

Windows 8.1 is an OS that is slightly less touch optimized. While the live tiles screen offers a very easy mode of use, and the windows store many touch optimized apps, the real power of Windows lies in where it bridges with the desktop. There are less touch apps, by a large amount. Compensating for this slightly, is the fact that what apps exist, are reasonably high caliber.

However, the paid desktop software is of a caliber that does not even compare with most touch based software. There is a power in Windows. You can automatically detect and printer to a network printer, plug in a vast range of peripherals, either wired or by wifi or bluetooth. The software has the power to do things, that pretty much nothing in the Apple store for iOS or the Google Play store can manage. Games won’t ask you to constantly pay more money. They have depth. And you can run specialist desktop software – emulators, terminal software, databases and more. The browser can be unlike many in Android, fully featured, it can run all the Java, Quicktime and other code on a full website.

Ultimately the choice between the two will come down to how much ‘power’ you need, as a user in your software, and whether that needs to be strongly touch optimized. If you are primarily looking for basic browsing, social media apps, and want the device to intergrate those services simply and well, Android is the go to OS. Its refined for the purpose. If offers good customization, compatibility and price compared with iOS, and yet has similar advantages.

If you are after a device with the potential for broader uses, or more software power, such as using it at the office, or for study, or for applications like music, or gaming (Keeping in mind that for many such games, they will need to be a bit older and you may need a gaming controller, keyboard or mouse -I’ll have a nice gaming bracket soon btw) – you might consider a Windows device.

Each OS suits a different style of use. However we may also have to watch this space. Windows 10, out very soon, promises to be further touch optimized, and offers a universal app platform that may drive developers away from OS specific software. And this may minimize some of the differences.

The technology disconnect and how you can avoid it

By this point in time, many of us, or at least some of us are aware that there Internet can be a barrier for empathy, for human connection. Whether it’s Facebook acting as a placeholder for an in person social life, or the relentless trolling and cyber bullying on the Internet, the technology disconnect is visible to almost anyone who uses a mobile device at some point. To whatever degree this is true, it’s a topic on people’s minds. 

Sure, cities and modern living haven’t helped empathy. And there have always been those who take advantage of community. But where cities increase anonymity, decrease responsibility, remove a layer of potential understanding, the Web can do so even more.

Equally some people might argue that the Net is lowering boundaries, connecting the world, and in some ways this is true, the Internet more than anything has made us a global community. The same anonymity that extends to lack of empathy and sometimes anti-social behaviour also expands free speech and gives voice to those who need it. Anonymity has both positive and negative effects, and the social situation itself may help determine which is favoured.

And just as concerning, social science has established that empathy is a learned skill. So it might be possible that decreased exposure to empathy, might increasingly lower empathy. That is to say, it’s a problem that may well feed into itself.

I am a big fan of the idea that technology should enhance life, and pair with human nature, rather than technology determining human nature. And I think that can be true, like any tool, what determines its outcomes is how we choose to use it. So what can be done to increase the human connection of the way we use the Internet?

Face time

The most obvious solution is to go with mediums where anonymity is removed, and where cues like facial expression, tone, body posture are present. It’s a lot easier to empathize with a person you can see or hear, than text on a page. Psychologists call that the online dishibition effect. So where ever possible, utilize live video chat, and live audio chat, or at least video and audio. Audio tone also seems to be a primary clue in detecting falsehoods, so if you can hear someone, you are more like to know if they are lying.


Moderation might be controversial, but as theory suggests that context determines the positive or negative bias of anonymity, creating cultures online that do not tolerate abuse is a way to maximize the positive, minimize the negative. It may also help foster stronger empathy in future generations – used right. Of course where the line is crossed, is where it removes the positive aspects of anonymity, freedom of expression and open sharing. So it can be a fine line.

Reach across the world

As discussed earlier, the Internet is also making us a global society. If you embrace this, and read about, or view people who have different lives, different experiences, you can use the internet to increase your empathy for others. Try following a YouTube channel, or a blog of somebody whose culture, or lifestyle, or life experience is well outside of what you are familiar with.

Stand Up

Like anything human, the Internet is fuelled by culture. There are cultures of abuse, trolling, bullying, and social inappropriateness. Simply saying something, reporting it, documenting it, or doing something, anything about, brings back the human element, the social element. Don’t tolerate it!

Fight the superficiality

Social networking, for an example, can emphasize the superficial. As Portlandia put so well, people crop out the sadness. They create an image of themselves, a veneer. And in such an environment it can be easy to judge others and yourself. To be fooled by the illusion. People who are critical, are frequently critical of themselves. Be compassionate towards yourself. Realize that social media is an illusion, that it is sculpted, much like Hollywood, what you see is not reality. Everyone has flaws, everyone gets sad. Even that supposedly light hearted troll, is hiding his vulnerability. So be easy on yourself!

Get out there

Last but not least, the Web should not substitute for a social life. It’s not a shadow on meeting people in real life, creating real bonds, and connecting to real community. At its peak, instead, it enhances that community rather than replaces it. Turn off your Facebook notifications, and catch up with some family and friends!

The Internet has far too much potential for good, for us to reject it based on its issues. But we should perhaps also be aware of its issues, and then maybe we can create an Internet that is more of a global community, where the ideals of those who describe it as such, are fully realized.



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