Books written by Ray Sullivan

Sunday, 20 October 2013

One Step Forward

Regular readers will know that I purchased a Microsoft Surface RT earlier this year when I was let down by the self destruction of my Google Nexus 7.  For those who haven't read all of my posts, here's an abridged bitch about how I ended up spending £400 on the Microsoft machine.

I was given the Nexus for my birthday last year, just after it was launched and to be honest it was a good machine.  It went everywhere with me - which is reasonable as it is a portable tablet.  I do have a generic case for it, but often it was carried around naked in my jeans pockets - did I mention it was pocket sized as well as portable?  Anyway, after a not too taxing bimble around the Lake District earlier this year I pulled my Nexus out of a side pocket to while away a few moments while crossing a lake on a steamer when I realised that somewhere along the way the screen had spontaneously self destructed, cracked from arsehole to breakfast time.

A quick search on the internet using my wife's iPhone revealed that this was a fairly common experience.  Anyway, to cut a long story short, Asus (manufacturer) will only consider looking at such damage if the owner parts with £50 and will only refund that if it decides (without arbitration) that the fault is a manufacturing one.  If they throw the bones down and decide it is user induced, they keep the money and offer to repair at an exorbitant cost.  Somewhere between the cost of a new Nexus and the ticket price on a Virgin Galactic flight.

So I decided to walk away from Google branded equipment and bought a Surface RT instead, hoping to find that replacement screens and digitisers come down in price in the near future.  I'm still waiting, and the near future is now a distant memory. As an aside, while in Boston, MA the other week I came across a stall in a mall offering to repair a variety of broken screens on iPhones, iPads, Galaxies, other machines.  Average price seemed to be about $60 all in.  I spoke with the young man at the stall to ask if they repaired the Nexus - I didn't have it with me, why would I take a broken tablet on vacation?  Anyhow, said young man pulled a pained expression when I asked if the Nexus could be repaired - he answered yes and started to fiddle with some spares he'd been collecting together, not really making eye contact.  How much? I asked.  About $200, he replied.  And he agreed that you could buy a brand new 16GB Nexus 7 for much the same amount, he just couldn't do anything about the price.  So if you're in the market for a pocket sized portable tablet then by all means consider the Nexus, just don't expect it to be portable or suitable for putting in your pocket.

Anyway, I bought the RT and it's been very good in general - it does have a habit of installing updates and rebooting without warning - we're talking Microsoft here remember - and I have had a few occasions when it didn't want to wake up at all, eventually rebooting.  Either it's a teenager, I'm interrupting an unannounced update or I've an intermittent fault on my machine.  On the upside, I've typed around 50,000 words on the snap-on keyboard and it's still working like brand new.  Outside of authors I suspect most users won't use the keyboard as aggressively.

But Windows 8 is far from perfect, so Microsoft have been working feverishly on a new version, Windows 8.1. Highlights are a Start button (I can't get too worked up about that - it lets you toggle between the old desktop and the new tiled interface, so what?).  It does allow unlimited web pages to be viewed by your machine - I expect there is a limit, but the current limit is way too small and the random culling of web pages is a little irritating, although the pinning facility means they are relatively easy to restore.  You can view up to four web pages side by side with the new OS, which is likely to be a little challenging on an RT screen, but useful on an extended screen.  Two pages maximum on the RT is considered the maximum that is practical.  It also allows a 50:50 split on screen - Windows 8 allows a 1/3:2/3 split, which has it's place but is often not a great choice.

Perhaps the biggest update is the inclusion of Outlook to complement the existing Office 365 that gets bundled in for free. 

So, what's the catch?  Well it seems that Microsoft pulled the upgrade off its store within 24 hours of launch.  There are a few sites out there that obtained the code to download but the way I look at this is if Microsoft are worried enough to pull the OS so soon after launch, why would I want to risk messing my machine about.  Plus some of the instructions to upgrade take me back to my maths degree - if you've got to resort to coding just to upgrade a piece of software then something is seriously wrong.

The upgrade sounds like it could be worthwhile, but I'm going to hold fire until I hear that Microsoft have re-launched the OS and then I'll let it stabilise, maybe 48 hours this time.

And the Nexus?  Well,  I'm convinced I'll get it up and running, it just may find itself in a different housing with a different function.  I'll canvas those inventive persons at B L O'Feld Megalomaniac Industries, I'm sure they will have a few evil suggestions that will make Google sit up.


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