Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Asus Chromebox

The final Chrome device I've ordered has finally arrived. I am typing this post with it. As you can see from the picture, it just comes with the unit and the power cable. No keyboard or mouse is provided. I don't expect to for the price which is less than USD $120 before shipping.

It has 2GB RAM with a 16GB SSD and a Haswell Celeron 2955U CPU. I''ve upgraded the RAM to 4GB as my experience tells me this will have the biggest impact on performance. Technically this has the exact same hardware configuration as my original HP Chromebook 14.

Upon boot up, the first thing I noticed is that it is not as smooth as the HP. It has the exact same specs but the HP somehow boots up faster and launches programs faster. Another thing I've noticed is that the ASUS will sometimes stutter when I have music running in one of the tabs via Google Play Music. It's not always but I never get this with the HP. So what accounts for this? I suspect ASUS has cut corners and installed a much slower SSD. But this does not account for the stutteriness of Google Play Music where music is streamed from the network and not stored locally. Maybe it's stored to SSD first during streaming before it gets played? I don't know. 

I'm not terribly happy as a result. I was hoping for the HP's performance level when I bought this. Compared to the HP and the ACER which do not have a large performance difference between them, the ASUS can be noticeably sluggish in comparison.

Other than that, there is nothing much I can say about the device other than it is a nicely built unit. The power button is a bit sticky so you are left wondering if you have turn it on when you press it. Luckily it has a white LED indicator to show that it has turn on. It does not have a VGA port, only HDMI, so I have to use an adapter to use it with my current HDMI-less monitor. The unit is also easy to upgrade as you only have to remove its rubber feet to access the screws which allows access to its internals. 

Maybe I should have bought the HP Chromebox instead?

Monday, 8 December 2014

Lenovo Yoga 11s

I did it again. Spending money that I don't really have.

Before I dive further into the subject, first a little background on its purchase.

I actually really really like the Acer C720. The only thing that I felt could improve it further is for it to have a better screen, This led me to a journey of discovery for a better screen Chromebook but one with not too many sacrifices in terms of performance.

I decided early on that what I actually wanted is an IPS screen Acer C720 equivalent. I wanted something small like the Acer so it has to have an 11.6 inch screen. The resolution does not really matter because at this screen size, a full HD screen will make things on screen way too small for my old eyes. The current Acer's screen resolution is fine. Anything smaller than 11.6 inches would be too small and anything bigger I will have to deal with the additional size and weight. However there are not many IPS screen Chromebooks let alone a 11.6 inch one. I counted 3.

The first one is the Chromebook Pixel but it is way too expensive for me.

The second one is the HP Chromebook 11 which has the exact screen size that I wanted but it's crippled by the Exynos processor and I'm not willing to compromise on that.

The third and final one is the Toshiba Chromebook 2 which has an 13.3 inch IPS screen but I was disappointed by its N2840 BayTrail processor which is slower than the good old Haswell Celeron 2955U. This was however the most promising of the 3 as the BayTrail is still a massive improvement over the Exynos in the HP Chromebook 11. However I decided I do not want to deal with the extra size or weight of the Toshiba. It was close though.

During my journey I stumbled upon a very good deal for the Lenovo Yoga 11s on eBay. It is running a Haswell Core i5-4210Y processor with 8GB RAM and a 128GB SSD. I basically paid the price that I paid for the Acer C720 Core i3 version. Well maybe just a little bit more. To be precise, just SGD $36 more. It was a very good deal. Simply too good to pass.

So let's now get to the meat of this post. The Lenovo Yoga 11s.

It came in a very nice packaging. Upon boot up I realise why I would rather have a Chromebook on any given day. The boot up is still plenty fast at about 8 - 10 seconds. However once I launched windows update I ended up spending the next 4 - 5 hours updating the notebook before I can use it. This is unlike Chromebooks where the update do not take longer than 2 minutes. I am missing the Chromebook already.

The screen. This one has got an IPS screen alright. And it comes in the 11.6 inches that I was looking for. The viewing angles are great. However it is quite dim even at max brightness and as a result are quite bad on my eyes. Why why why?!? There is always one thing which ends up as a deal breaker and this happens to be a big one. Let's see how I adjust. The Acer has poorer viewing angles but it is a lot brighter in comparison.

The keyboard. The keyboard on these are excellent. I am typing this post on it. Doesn't take long for me to adjust. Like a duck to water.

The trackpad. OK. This is another deal breaker. Movement is pretty good. But on Windows 8, scrolling is the reverse of the Chromebook. What the hell! What is Microsoft thinking? The scrolling on the Chromebook is a lot more natural. Another thing about the track pad is that the left button ends up somewhere in the middle instead of the left and the right button is way on the extreme right which makes it hard to press. Another deal breaker for me but not as bad as the reverse scroll thingie.

The speakers. The speakers are side firing. That is, one is on the right side of the notebook and the other is on the left side. I guess this makes sense as the Yoga can folded into a tablet and it will not make sense to have the speakers down firing from the bottom as it will then be covered when it is folded. As a result the speakers are not very loud. Disappointing if I were to be honest. The Acer is a lot louder. The HP is somewhere in between which is not very loud but still better than the one on the Yoga.

Battery life. It's too early to tell but based on my usage so far it has been quite decent. Time will tell.

Performance. This has a Haswell Core i5-4210Y so performance has been pretty great. However I found out that this is actually a slower processor than the Haswell Core i3-4005U on the Acer C720. I guess this is due to the Lenovo having a Y series CPU even though it is a Core i5 and the Acer is using a U series CPU which is more performance oriented. Lesson learnt here is don't trust the i3 i5 i7 nomenclature too much. It does not matter as much as the actual architecture of the processor.

Other stuff. The screen rotates 360 degrees so this can act as a tablet. However I find it too heavy to use as a tablet for long. I also find Internet Explorer 11 superior compared to Chrome when using this as a tablet. A lot smoother.

OK. That's it for now. I will update my findings as I use this more. I get the feeling I will be falling back to the Acer C720.

UPDATE 1 : I have managed to get the reverse scroll problem resolved! There is a Synaptics program on the taskbar which allows me to change the setting. Evidently it was set to reverse scroll by default.

UPDATE 2 : I have managed to solved the screen dimness problem! It seems that Windows 8 will override whatever settings for brightness and will get the screen to auto adjust as it sees fit. Another reason for me to hate Windows 8. Chinese have a saying "kay kiang" or too much artificial intelligence when you never asked for it in the first place. The screen is still not very bright at full brightness but it's bright enough to negate the number one problem I have with it so it is no longer a deal breaker. Let's see how it affects the battery life. I have a feeling it will drain it fast.

Now to find a resolution to the track pad buttons alignment problem. Once this is solved I will have nothing really to complain about the Yoga 11s. I get the sneaky feeling that the problem is hardware related and not really a software issue. We'll see how it goes.

UPDATE 3 : I am unable to find a solution for the track pad buttons issue. I am able to find a workaround however. I generally do not have a problem with the left button activation and I am even able to perform a light touch to activate it. As for the right mouse button, I was able to configure a 2 finger button press to register a right click anywhere on the track pad. However it has to be a physical 2 finger button click and not a light 2 finger tap for it to work. At least that's better than nothing. I guess I just have to live with it.

More impressions. After using this notebook for awhile, I notice that it has small stutters here and there as I go about my work. Not a deal breaker but it can get annoying. The HP Chromebook 14 with its theoratically slower Celeron CPU feels a lot more fluid. Not faster but smoother. I suspect the Yoga has a slow SSD. The Acer C720 Core i3 on the other hand simply flies through every task.

UPDATE 4 ; One more pet peeve. The power is really hard to turn on. The button is located in front of the Yoga but it is sunken in making it hard to press. It's easier if you have nails but I don't have any! Even if you do have nails, it takes quite a bit of pressure to trigger so your nails will hate you for it.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

ASUS C720 Core i3 version

So the ASUS C720 arrived today and I am typing this post with it. It has 4GB RAM with 32GB SSD for storage and a Core i3-4010U CPU.

Out of the box it is considerably smaller than the HP but it is not as light as I thought it would be. I mean it's light but it's not light for its size.

Second thing which is immediately noticeable is that the keyboard is not as good as the HP. Maybe it takes some getting use to. I remember how I hated the HP's keyboard but I got use to it and it is not as terrible now. The ASUS keyboard initial experience is just like the HP keyboard initial experience. Horrible. A lot of mistypes. Hopefully I get use to it like I did the HP.

The trackpad is actually quite decent. Just like the HP. I'm quite surprised by this. A lot of reviews out there condemned the Acer's trackpad and I was expecting the worst. Real life experience shows that it's neither better or worse than the HP.

Finally for the biggest difference. The Core i3 on the Acer. I expected a big difference over the Celeron on the HP but to be totally honest I don't really notice a big jump in speed if any. My advise? Save your money and stick to the good old Intel Haswell Celeron 2955U CPU. It is more than good enough. The 4GB RAM will make a bigger difference. I mean you can definitely feel some speed difference but it's really not worth the extra cash outlay.

The screen. It is brighter and have better viewing angles over the HP but that is not saying much. The HP has a horrible screen. To be perfectly honest the Acer is much better and I can see myself tolerating it faster than the HP. But its definitely no IPS level quality display. But I'll take any improvement I can. There is still a slight haziness but nowhere as bad as the HP. The viewing angles are much better too. It does not ghost out as much as the HP do from left to right. From above, it does not do as well but still better than the HP.

The speakers are just slightly louder over the HP but the HP has err...better tone? To be honest, both could have sounded better.

I will give more impressions as I use it more. It has been only...what? 45mins worth of usage so far? I want to see how long the battery lasts.

I'll have more impressions as I use it more.

UPDATE 1 : OK. My first update. After what? 10 mins after I first posted? I take back what I said about the screen LOL. It is not much better than the HP. Just slightly better. Once I start to move the Acer around, I find that it's not as good as I thought it was. Still better than the HP though. Just not that much better. I find a lot more ghosting at off angles. Both left to right as well as top to bottom. Front on it is still quite decent and better than the HP.

UPDATE 2 : OK. It's confirmed. The keyboard will never be as good as the HP. Not that the HP keyboard is stellar in the first place. You have to press a bit more heavily on the Acer in order for it to register a key press but it shouldn't be this way in the first place.

I rate the track pad lower than the HP too. For navigating and finger gestures, it works fine but registering a mouse button action requires a heavier touch. On the HP I can just do a light touch to register a button press but on the Acer the touch have to be heavier. I ended up clicking most of the time to register a button press. I find this annoying.

The display on the Acer is better. I got use to the screen on the Acer a lot faster than on the HP. Due to its smaller screen it also appears sharper. I never did get use to the HP screen. I simply tolerated it.

When placed on a hard surface, the Acer sounds louder than the HP. This may be due to its front bottom, down firing speakers. In any other position, it sounds equal or at times worst than the HP.

Battery life has been very promising. I use it heavily and I don't notice that big of a hit over the HP. For your info, I use both at maximum brightness so that may account for the more or less similar battery life. Maybe the HP lasts just a bit longer but based on my usage, I am very satisfied with the Acer's battery life.

Overall I love this little Chromebook and it has more or less replaced my tablet. Unlike the HP where I mostly use it in one stationary position due to its weight and size (it can be unwieldy at times), the Acer is very portable and I carry it everywhere with me. It is fulfilling its intended purpose that I had in mind when making the purchase so I consider this money well spent.

So what do I do now with the HP?

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The march to the clouds continues...

So with the end of year coming and what's with all the Black Friday deals and IT Shows, I gave in and bought for myself not one but two Chrome devices! One is the Acer C720 chromebook. This is an oldie but goodie and what's different this time is that it comes with a Core i3! This thing will surely fly!

The second chrome device I bought is the ASUS Chromebox. The deal was too good to pass and I gave in to temptation.

Do I need either of these devices? Hell no. I already have a HP Chromebook 14. It is serving me very well and for my needs more than sufficient for 90% - 95% of my needs. Its only downfall is its poor screen. Not the resolution mind you but its bad viewing angles and that constant "pastiness" which gives a sort of fuzziness which drives me nuts sometimes. Performance wise it has been a champ and runs everything I throw at it.

So why get the Acer C720? Based on most reviews it has an equally poor screen like the HP. I got this mostly for its size. At 1.25kg it is a lot lighter over the 1.8kg HP. It might not sound like much on paper but in real life, portability wise, it makes a lot of difference.

As for the Asus Chromebox, well.....I do have a proper Windows desktop for my other 5% - 10% needs and I have a great 24 inch monitor. Problem with that desktop is that it takes a bit more longer to boot up and get connected. Well actually its boot up time is not very long as I have an excellent Samsung SSD for its boot drive. I am however spoilt by the instant boot up of my HP Chromebook. I could be up and running and get connected in no time. Can't beat that convenience. I would like a similar experience at the desktop level and especially on a big screen. Old eyes you see and every little bit helps.

We'll see how it goes when they arrive.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Revisiting the Leopold FC660M Part 2

I've swapped back the ABS keycaps on the Leopold FC660M to the original PBT keycaps. Now that I am more or less doing proper touch-typing, the experience on the Leopold FC660M has been quite different.

When I was typing using my old ways, I have the tendency to hit the keys quite hard and this results in a very tiring experience due to the stiffness of the Cherry MX Clears on this keyboard. However, when you do proper touch-typing on it, the tendency is for you to type lightly on these especially when you want to type fast. What I've discovered is that I can type pretty fast on these and quite accurate too. In fact I can get up to speed and get almost as fast as I can on my Topre keyboards where I've mostly been practicing my touch-typing on. In fact at times, I feel I am even more faster and accurate on it. Due to the stiffness of the keys on initial entry, I find the actuation quite early on and as a result, my fingers quickly raise away from the keys. My fingers are not as tired. In fact I don't find them more tiring than I do on my Topre keyboards. Maybe just a little. So what accounts for this? On Topre, the keys literally invites you to bottom them out. It is just the way they are designed. You can try not to bottom out but it does not feel natural and it is very difficult to feel for the actuation point. On the Cherry MX Clears you do not have this problem. I'm actually quite surprised how fast and accurate I am on them.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

So I decided to learn...touch-typing!

So I got all these wonderful keyboards and I think it is time for me to learn proper touch-typing. You know, the one that you don't look at the keyboard at all and having your fingers on the home row and using proper fingers for the proper keys.

Man...it has been tough. I'm now averaging about 30wpm which is just well...average. My target is at least 100wpm but I think that is really a long way to go. I'm having real problems getting my pinky to reach the letter "P" and I keep missing typing the letter "I" especially after I stretch my fingers to reach the less frequent keys like the letter "Z" and "Q" as well as "?". I guess part of it is because my fingers get out of position after reaching for them but the letter "I" I always forget where it is in relation to my fingers. I keep hitting it with the wrong finger.

I try to touch-type whenever I can. This post is one of them.

Well, I still have a long way to go. Wish me luck!

UPDATE 1: I can't seem to be able to go beyond 40wpm!

UPDATE 2 : I'm consistently hitting 40wpm now. Can't wait for it to reach 50!

UPDATE 3 : The highest I've hit is 60wpm. Will not be repeating that anytime soon lol. My average speed is still 40wpm. This is quite depressing.

UPDATE 4: I realised that the more accurate I am and even though my typing may not be very fast it will still maintain a high typing speed. I will try to be as accurate as possible while still trying to maintain a fast typing speed while not making any mistakes or making as few as possible. I will correct each and every mistake in the whole word or even the previous word to force myself to be as accurate as possible.

It has not been very easy. The positioning of the fingers are very important. What I've noticed is that I have problems hitting keys which are close together and also hitting keys which I've not hit for quite some time even though they may be common keys. I keep using the wrong finger which is usually the finger which is to the immediate right or the immediate left of the correct finger. That has been the toughest to correct. Generally and on the whole though, my fingers already remember where they are supposed to be when hitting the respective keys.

UPDATE 5 : I'm using TypeRacer to keep track of my progress and currently I have just reached 50wpm as my average score but I don't quite trust that as I can vary quite wildly between test pages. I can go as low as 30+ wpm to as high as 60+ wpm. On average I'm hitting a high 40+ wpm.

Improvements are getting harder by the day. I'll take whatever bit of improvement I can get. I'm still trying to improve my accuracy as I find that it has the biggest impact on my typing speed.

UPDATE 6 : My average speed is more or less 50wpm now. On good days it has been quite consistent. Being accurate has definitely helped. I've even reached a maximum of 72wpm! I'm also seeing a bit more 60+wpm as well. That will be my new target but it definitely won't be easy.

UPDATE 7 : My average speed has reached 60wpm if TypeRacer is to be believed. It has been a very tough time getting here. Even then I find it hard to believe that I can hit 60wpm consistently. 50wpm is a given. Even 55wpm. But I'll take whatever TypeRacer is telling me. It's a nice morale booster and makes me want to continue to get better. At these speeds, accuracy becomes even more crucial and actual typing speed also becomes a factor. Another factor which I've noticed which I've not noticed so much before is fatigue. If you come in fresh and alert, I can easily hit 60wpm without a problem. The longer you type and the sleepier and tired you are coming in, the more mistakes you make and the lower your average becomes. I'm fastest somewhere between the 3rd typing test and the 8th. Anything earlier my fingers are still acclimatising to the keys and anything beyond, I start to get tired.

It goes without saying that the difficulty of the test passage also plays a part on how fast you can type but that has always been a given.

UPDATE 8 : I've just hit a maximum of 75wpm! Yeeee Haaaaw!

UPDATE 9 : Ok, pretty much confirmed that I can hit a consistent 60wpm when I'm not too tired and relatively alert. I believe when I'm fresh and even more alert I can go even faster. Wish me luck!

UPDATE 10 : Another observation. I type fastest and with lesser errors when the words are short and familiar. The longer and more complicated they are, the slower I become and the more mistakes I make. Sometimes the words can be familiar but simply long. I make mistakes while typing along the way.

I still have not mastered the positioning of my fingers. Once they start stretching from one end of the keyboard to the other, I make mistakes. The worst ones are those where the letters are side by side. Have to master this in order to increase my typing speed.

The biggest impact still seems to be fatigue. One time, I may hit a max speed of 70+wpm and in the next test I would go down to 50wpm or slower. The fact that I was coming in from a "high" does not help and the tendency is to go fast in the next test which does not help. I also do not give my fingers sufficient time to recover from the last test. I now try to rest my fingers more. However at the end of the day, there is always a limit and when I find myself making too many mistakes than I normally would, I will just stop and call it a day.

UPDATE 11 : My favourite keyboard for typing seems to be the Leopold FC660M with the Cherry MX Clears. I also prefer it for gaming. For everything else, I prefer to the Topre keyboards where the keys massage your fingers while you type.

UPDATE 12 : Reached a maximum of 78wpm today with zero errors. I wasn't typing particularly fast so accuracy definitely played a major part today.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Revisiting the Leopold FC660M

So I got bored and decided to play with my other keyboards which I have been neglecting. One of them is the Leopold FC660M. Those who followed my blog will know that I am not exactly too enamoured by the Cherry MX Clears on the Leopold FC660M. I love their tactility but not their stiffness. As I also have a Cherry MX Blues Armageddon Stealth Raptor, I decided to play with the keycaps by swapping them around. Based on my experience with swapping keycaps on my Topre keyboards, I know that the keycaps plays a part in the feel of the keyboard. I figured I have nothing to lose. I was bored after all hehe.

The result is what you see above. Not perfect and not all the keycaps are an exact match. What I did not expect however, was an improvement made on BOTH keyboards after I had finished switching the keycaps. If you remember, one of my complaint of the Leopold is that the keys are hard to see with the gold-lettering on the white background. They are also stiff on entry and very stiff when bottoming out. The ABS keycaps of the Armageddon are not exactly that much better legibility-wise but it is an improvement. The biggest improvement however, is in its feel. I was caught by surprise how great these feels on the Leopold. The Armageddon keycaps are lighter (more flimsy actually) and also a bit taller than the original keycaps. In one stroke, it solves the problem of the stiffness and fatigue on your fingers. I mean the stroke is still stiff but not as stiff as before. It actually changes the character of the keystroke quite a bit. These are lighter on entry and because it is taller, the stiffness on bottoming out is also much lessened. Is it perfect? No but I sure as hell can live with it. Now even typing is a pleasure. Also because it is taller, the tactility is even more pronounced which is a real delight. I think ABS keys have been given an undeserved reputation. Maybe the lettering quality may not be as good but in terms of feel it is not necessarily worse than a PBT.

I really enjoy typing on the Leopold FC660M now. Initially I was thinking of using soft landing pads or o-rings to solve the stiffness problem. I was also thinking of lubing the stem to further smoothen the entry when typing. I may still do them but as it is now, these are really great to type on. At times I even enjoy typing on them more than the Topre. Never thought I'd say that.

P.S. I forgot to say something about the swapped keycaps on the Armageddon. The Leopold keycaps actually improved the feel of the Armageddon. Where previously the typing experience can be a bit wobbly, the new keycaps tighten up the experience. If anything, the keys are even more clicky than before making it quite enjoyable to type on. I still prefer the Cherry MX Clears though.