Windows Creators Fall Update & touchpad issue

A couple of days ago I installed the Windows Creators Fall Update on my only laptop, the decent Acer Aspire ES1-512. It started pretty late and took so long that I decided to leave the process unattended. When I woke up in the morning, I noticed that the laptop was stuck on a blue page (not the BSOD) so I had to power it off and reboot.

To make a long story short, I noticed that the touchpad (an ELAN model used by Acer) was not working at all! I plugged in a mouse and started investigating things. The touchpad was not listed as a device in the Device Manager and I could not find the ELAN tab on the mouse properties menu (as suggested in other cases). I also tried re-installing my laptop’s touchpad drivers from the Acer website a couple of times, rebooted, nothing.

Then I read on a forum that it may be the Serial I/O drivers that cause the problem after the update. So, I gave it a try and installed them as well. The installation finished and I was prompted to do a restart but even without that, the touchpad was fully operational again! 🙂

The device is listed in the device manager as “ELAN I2C Filter driver” and the driver was updated through the device manager to the latest version.

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Tech Air TAN3711 15.6-inch backpack review

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was in the hunt for yet another backpack, as I got bored/tired of the one I’ve been using almost exclusively for the last years, during my daily commutes to work and back. And when I was about to get a brand new one for me, I recalled a backpack I was given several months ago, now resting at my storage room. And I decided to give it a try.

The backpack is a Tech Air 15.6 Inch Backpack TAN3711, with the following dimensions:

Width 34.5 cm
Height 13.5 cm
Depth 46.5 cm
Weight 1.1 kg

I have been using the backpack for a couple of weeks now and here are my impressions:

What I like:

  • The bottom is rugged, with heavy duty rubber/plastic. This means that even if it sits on water, water will not soak the internal of the backpack.
  • The laptop compartment is reinforced, in a way patented by the company; it’s like having a sleeve for it, which is securely integrated in the bag.
  • There is a dedicated pocket for documents, folders etc. behind the laptop sleeve; this ensures that documents will not wrinkle etc.
  • There are 4-5 internal small pockets, open top, which allow the storage of e.g. a mouse, a phone charger, a wallet, a pocket notepad, wrapped cables etc. Keep in mind that all of them are open (see later on)

What I don’t like:

  • Both external pockets are badly designed: They only have one zipper (not the typical couple available nowadays) and it starts from pretty low point; this means that if you put small items inside they will likely fall when you try to open the pocket. For example, I have plenty of USB sticks with me and some of them were always about to fall when I opened the top pocket for storing my keys.
  • There are not internal zipped pockets: This means that all these small things that may end up in your backpack (and in case you decide to avoid using the external pockets for the aforementioned reasons) will spread inside the bag if it turns around. Securely storing coins, paperclips, rubber bands, USB sticks etc. is not possible with this bag.
  • There is no external side pocket/mesh for water bottles, umbrellas etc. This makes the backpack look less wide (it is already significantly wide) but I miss this feature. After all, I wouldn’t put my wet umbrella inside the backpack.
  • A deep and wide mesh pocket exists in the main compartment, which can be used for various items but with no organization. This also occupies space from the main compartment.
  • The main compartment will not fit a typical lunch box, as it is narrow and on top of that blocked by the internal pockets, all of which face inwards.
  • The material doesn’t look waterproof – let alone weatherproof.

All in all, it seems like a backpack aiming at professionals and not the typical city commuters, who carry their water bottles, umbrellas etc. with them, along with lots of small things that need to be securely stored in zipped pockets. I like its shape and it seems to hold its weight well-balanced (not carrying a laptop with me, though) but I really miss some features that I consider essential.

Despite that, I plan to keep using the backpack and will try to adapt to its features and limitations for the next weeks, too, but I will keep my eyes open for any alternatives.

Lumia 735: Time for a clean update

I kept trying to install one of the last Windows Mobile updates (before MS stops the stream of updates in the near future) since September; despite the fact that I could successfully download it, the installation kept stopping at some point with one of these hard-to-understand Microsoft error codes.

Yesterday I got a notification for a new update (the October one) so I tried installing it, too. It seems that the update required a total of 1.18GB of storage – hard to find that with a total of just 8GB of storage (including system reserved storage). I kept removing apps, offline maps, cleaning the cache. I was still short in space. So I decided that it was about time for the big step.

First I backed (almost) everything up, using the built-in feature of Windows Mobile (my first backup after quite a long time). Then I went for a hard reset, wiping everything from the device and started everything from scratch. After a couple of reboots I managed to install the latest Windows 10 Mobile Anniversary update (Build 10.0.14393.1770) along with all my apps (including the ones that initially shipped with the mobile, totally useless). I only had to enter my credentials, fine tune some settings and everything was there, including the home screen tiles 😉

I was excited to see that despite the hard reset, both the stored WiFi passwords and the Continuum hack was there, fully working as they used to. Overall, it was a process that took me something more than 1,5 hours and now my 735 feels more responsive and with more free storage space.

In search for a new backpack

In search for a new backpack

I have been using my Sentio Sporty backpack almost daily since I got it, two years ago; I never expected it to last that long. I even used it as my main backpack during business trips lately, as I tried to travel light – lighter than in the past. In the meantime, I had some short breaks, using my Swiss messenger bag and even an old Trust backpack, trying to break this daily routine of using the same bag to and from work. After using it so intensively I can be a pretty subjective reviewer of it.

Sentio_Sporty_2048310

What I like:

  • It is really light;
  • It is compact: a 15.6-inch laptop hardly fits in its main compartment (no way to fit it in the laptop sleeve). I don’t have to carry my laptop so my tablet fits fine there when needed and I can easily store the bag virtually anywhere;
  • It is spacious: Its main compartment can fit my lunch box, along with chargers, cables, a hard disk, etc. – the main compartment expands a lot compared to the bag’s total volume;
  • It is practical: it has two external side mesh pockets for my water bottle and umbrella. It also has a three zippered pockets in the front, one of which with some basic organizational options (for pens, business cards and a small zippered part for coins and other small items. All zippers have their own loops, and are double, which makes them easy to use;
  • It is easy to carry around: It has soft shoulder straps and combined with its low weight you can hardly feel it.

What I don’t like:

  • Its material is so soft that it hardly holds its own weight; in most cases, the bag sits like a sack of potatoes…
  • The material is so thin that wears off when sharp or heavy objects are packed in the bag;
  • The bag is not well-balanced; since all additional pockets are located at the front side, the additional weight makes the bag lean forward, which is awkward when backpack is on my shoulders;
  • The top handle is not well-placed; for some reason it is located more towards the back of the bag.

For these reasons, I lately started looking for alternatives. What I wanted was a spacious yet compact backpack, comfortable for everyday use, with dedicated pockets for organizing all the small things I carry along, lightweight and durable, and even water-resistant if possible.

My short but in-depth online research came up with two potential candidates: Targus Seoul (a long time favorite of mine) and HP Odyssey. The former was a bit more expensive (about €45) than the latter (€25) but money was not an issue, as a backpack is a long-term investment.

Targus_Seoul

I spent hours checking out video and text reviews on Amazon, blog posts and images from manufacturers and users, trying to figure out how I would fit my stuff in their pockets and slots, which were their strong and weak points etc. I even had the opportunity to check the Odyssey at the office, as a colleague of mine had a couple of them in different colors. Seoul seemed more refined, with well-thought features (see the trolley and tablet sleeve, and maybe a bit more spacious) while the Odyssey seemed more rugged and less-refined but still practical. The Odyssey even got a reddot award / honorable mention in 2015.

»The HP Odyssey scores high for its well-thought-out functionality, which focuses particularly on the safe and comfortable transport of sensitive electronic equipment.«

And when I was about to get one of these for me, I recalled a backpack given to me several months ago, resting at my storage room. And I decided to give it a try…

(to be continued).

WinTab: How near is the end?

I was browsing the Web with my Wintab last night and received a notification about an updated graphics driver (Intel 10.18.10.4653); after installing and rebooting, I kept on browsing only to see the tablet switching off after a while with a “paf” sound. I switched it on, kept using the tablet and the same thing happened again. It happened once more and then I went to bed – no need to bother about that so late.

Next morning, I booted and was greeted with the Windows troubleshooting screen; it was frustrating, because the touch screen was misbehaving as it used to do after upgrading to Win10 for the first time. I swiped on the right and the cursor went on the left (and vice-versa) so it was tricky to find the proper spot. In the end I gave up and just switched off the tablet.

I hope that the problem will be as simple as a driver issue, so that I can revert back to the old one. I like the tablet (functionality-wise, not quality-wise) so I will miss it if it stops working…

Can a cheap Windows tablet replace your laptop?

In my case, yes. For more info, just read below.

I am a avid supporter of portability and lightness, so I always try to do my work (and live) with the less and lightest possible. My laptop arsenal consists of a huge and bulky 17-inch Toshiba Satellite (was used as a desktop in my previous work, so I rarely moved it away from the desk, and a low-end 15-inch Acer laptop, with basic specs (4GB of RAM, Intel N2940 @ 1.83GHz, 500GB HD), to be used mostly at home (by my wife and kids) and during trips, when my serious work had to be done. I needed something more portable, light but efficient, to save me from dragging these laptops around the house, where space is really limited – i.e. no desk available.

There are some related articles on the Web, authored by those who tried to get things done with a tablet, replacing their laptop. See for example

I am using a cheap 10.1-inch Windows tablet imported by a Greek tech company (Plaisio Computers), so it is practically a Chinese model with the Turbo-X (Plaisio’s brand name for my electronic devices) brand on it; a common practice among related electronics suppliers. It features (like almost all similar tablets) the following specs:

  • RAM: 2 GB
  • Storage: 32GB flash (expanded through the microSD slot)
  • CPU: Intel Z3735F @ 1.33GHz
  • Screen: 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800
  • Cameras: Front (2MP) and rear (5MP) cameras (both low quality). Practically useful only for Skype calls.

An interesting spec is that it charges both from its microUSB port and from its proprietary port (pin cable) so I can charge it and use its microUSB cable at the same time.

Modifications

Update to Windows 10: The table came originally with Windows 8.1 and no drivers were available by the supplier/manufacturer. After a couple of months, the free upgrade to Windows 10 started rolling and knocked my door, so I went for it. I had serious issues after upgrading (touch screen not working at all or misbehaving), cameras not working etc. so it took me days of researching for solutions, drivers and getting some support from Plaisio. Now it’s working like a charm with Windows 10.

Keyboard: The tablet came with a detachable keyboard, but after about after one year the plastic gaps of the tablet part, where the keyboard’s hinges plugged, broke and so the keyboard will not fit without causing issues to the tablet’s plastics. I soon replaced it with a Logitech K480 bluetooth keyboard because: (a) it doubles as a stand for the tablet (otherwise I would also need a stand) (b) it can be paired to 3 devices max and instantly switch between them by rotating a dial knob so I could also use it with my smartphones and other tablets and (c) it was bluetooth, so it would save me the only full-size USB port of the tablet (the second one was on its original keyboard part, which was now unusable) from a USB RF adapter of a wireless keyboard.

Storage: The tablet’s 32GB are mostly occupied by the OS and other app files, leaving less than 15GB for the user. I went for a 32GB microSD card, to be used as a storage so all apps would be installed on the tablet’s storage.

Peripherals
Mouse: After the original keyboard incident, I was left with no touchpad, so while I use the touch screen sometimes I need the precision of a mouse. I have a travel USB mouse with a retractable cable at hand, along with a bluetooth Microsoft mouse as a backup.
USB: I have a microUSB to USB adapter for making use of the tablet’s microUSB port.
HDMI: I bought a microHDMI to HDMI cable for hooking the tablet to TVs or larger screens. In most hotel rooms the ports (and TV menu options) are locked but sometimes I get lucky.

Ethernet: The tablet did not come with an ethernet port, so I got a USB to ethernet adapter for those rare (nowadays) cases where WiFi is not available but I have the option for a wired connection (while in other cases there are both but wired is usually faster and more stable 😃 )

Typical use

I mostly use my tablet at home, when I need to browse for something and I need a screen larger than my Lumia’s 4.7-inch one. It boots quickly, can be used single-handed and acts like a small-form laptop. I also use it for working with documents, reading ebooks, checking my emails and social media etc.

At one time, I decided that carrying my 15.6-inch laptop around during my business trips was an overkill so I started using my WinTab instead. And I haven’t regretted it. It is much lighter, flexible (e.g. I can use the tablet only when reading a document or reviewing my slides during a flight, where space is limited, and attach the keyboard when I am at the hotel room or during the meeting / workshop that I am attending, for working on my slides, keeping notes, sending emails, sharing outcomes through social media etc.

In both cases, WinTab is a great laptop substitute: It is capable of handling light multitasking, e.g. a few browser tabs open along with a couple of MS Word files, a PPT presentation etc. It can decently play YouTube videos and MP4 files without stutters. It is really sufficient for such light tasks and makes me wonder about the crappy netbook I once owned (an Acer Aspire One 751h), which was a real nightmare to use, even with lightweight Linux distributions – how badly designed it was…

Issues faced

Battery: The battery lasts much less than advertised. I haven’t tested it thoroughly but it won’t keep charge for more than 3 hours, which is really low (and less than I need), depending on the usage. For this, I decided to buy a 2m microUSB cable so that I can access any available power outlet.

Lack of Miracast support: It would be lovely for the tablet to support Miracast, so that I could wirelessly mirror its screen on a Smart TV or large screen. Its hardware does not allow it so I need to hook it through the HDMI port. It cannot be used as a larger screen for other devices, so e.g. I cannot project my smartphone’s images or videos to it – wirelessly.

Screen quality: I do not mind about the low resolution of the screen, and it’s size is adequate most of the times. However, I recently noticed some flickering of the screen, which is really annoying.

Storage: I use the remaining internal storage of the tablet for installing apps and the microSD card for storing stuff (music, movies, images etc.). However, my work is much larger than that and I need to keep files synced. In order to address this, I keep my archive on an external HDD and work directly on it, when it comes to real work. I also have a selection of movies and music there, so that I do not exhaust the microUSB capacity. I’d love to have more than 128GB of internal storage, so that I could avoid this.

Heat: The tablet is fanless and shouldn’t raise the temperature but maybe due to bad design (and lack of air flow), it gets really hot behind the CPU. It may affect the battery life, but it’s not really a problem.

So to make a long story short, one can replace a laptop with a basic Windows tablet, but this surely depends on the expected use and requirements. A typical Windows tablet with a Z3735f CPU and 2GB of RAM can do much more than I expected and costs less than a low-end laptop.

Hacking my Lumia 735 to support Continuum

I recently came across a video showing how to enable Continuum on any Lumia smartphone and use it without display dock. It sounded pretty interesting, especially taking into consideration that we now have a smart TV at home (after the old TV broke down) and I wouldn’t want to invest in proprietary solutions like a Continuum dock. My Lumia 735 does not officially support Continuum (in fact I have a hard time projecting content to our smart TV as well) so I thought I should give it a try to see how it goes.

I took some time last night (less than 30 mins in total) to download the necessary files, hack the phone’s registry and restart the phone a couple of times. Then it actually worked! I managed to project my Lumia’s screen to my Toshiba’s laptop screen (despite the warnings I got that the laptop’s hardware does not support projecting from other sources). It was rather laggy but I could see a full-size desktop on the screen and actually run my Lumia’s apps using its touch screen as a touchpad 😃

Unfortunately, this was not the case for my Samsung smart TV; my Lumia could see the TV but could not pair successfully, while I kept seeing that the TV also tried to connect to the phone but with no luck. Interoperability issues I guess, with too many different protocols for performing a simple task.

In any case, the specific application of Continuum was not really useful, as I had a fully working 17-inch laptop in front of me so I had access to more processing power and a full size keyboard, along with a mouse.

However, the next day I thought I should give Continuum a try at the office, where in one of the meetings rooms there is a Philips Smart TV with a Miracast dongle attached to one of its HDMI ports. So I switched on the TV, selected the proper HDMI port as the source and waited. At the same time, I switched on the WiFi on my Lumia and launched the Continuum app. It took only a couple of seconds to see the home page of my Lumia mirrored on the meeting room’s smart TV!

What does this mean in practice? Let’s say I participate in a meeting where we share content and keep notes using the Intel NUC attached in the second HDMI port of the same smart TV. If I want to share something that I have on my phone, I just have to switch the image source (from one HDMI to the other), saving me from:

  • having to use any app credentials in another’s user account (running on the NUC),
  • having to switch to my user account on the NUC,
  • having to remember the credentials I use for a given app/account (I tend to forget lately)

From the convenience of my smartphone, I can show photos, videos, slides or even open a web page to share it with everyone in the room – wirelessly and with no hassle. How cool is that?

Newer is not always faster

I have a Samsung Galaxy A3 (2016) as a backup phone, getting it ready to replace my trustworthy but declining (app-wise) Lumia 735. The phone came with Android 6.0.1 installed and before I even bought last May, I was reading on various fora about an upcoming upgrade to Android 7.0 (Nougat). Even though I knew that the update would be nothing special, as an upgrade freak I was really looking forward to receiving the update. And it arrived, last week.

The update brought some nice visualization touches (e.g. the new top toolbar icons), some usability tweaks (e.g. organizing settings/options in a better way) and some noticeable lag to the phone. The latter is pretty annoying. It seems that it takes a couple of seconds now before I can enter the SIM PIN and unlock PIN, switching between open apps takes some time as well etc.; before the update, the phone seemed more responsive and quick to use.

I read that it is not easy to downgrade to 6.0.1 and that would validate the warranty; I am sure that it will be possible and I do not care about the warranty anyway. In any case, it still is a usable phone, with a great camera, lots of functionalities and great looks.

I guess that this is the price you pay if you are an upgrade maniac like myself…

Packing light for summer holidays

Packing less is great, but you always have to carry the essentials with you; especially when you spend some time away from home. You need to carefully plan your stay, think about the items that you will definitely need, add some of those that you may need and then start packing. The easiest way is packing more, but this is not really convenient – especially during summer holidays.

During the first part of our summer holidays, I packed my stuff in my compact messenger bag: My 10.1-inch tablet with its charger and the Logitech K480 keyboard, a couple of smartphones with their chargers, HDMI cable for plugging the tablet to the hotel room’s TV (it was the first time the TV was unlocked and the cable proved useful for keeping kids busy watching cartoons), a notepad & pencils, wallet, my sunglasses etc. However, I hardly had the opportunity to use the bulky keyboard and instead I used mostly my smartphones for consuming content (e.g. checking out social media, looking for information on places to visit, GPS navigation etc.) and producing as well (taking and editing photos, updating social media). I also found the bag heavy to carry around.

As a result, during the second part of our holidays, I decided to get rid of some stuff and be even more portable. I challenged myself to fit all my essentials in a really compact mens shoulder bag that was given to me as a gift some time ago but never had the opportunity to use it. It may sound impossible, but this little bag held the following during my holidays:

  • My Magic Wallet
  • A pocket notepad and a couple of pens
  • A pocket book (one of the biographies of Black Sabbath 😃 )
  • Home keys, car keys and hotel room keys with keyrings
  • Two smartphones and one charger
  • My sunglasses in their pouch
  • A compact flashlight (it always comes handy when away from home)
  • A nail clipper
  • Coins
  • Fresheners & gums
  • All the receipts collected during the vacations and a couple of folded A4 pages with map of the area and other notes.

It was so compact and light that I could easily carry it around by the pool, the beach and our evening walks – virtually all the time. Of course I did not have my 10.1-inch tablet nor its keyboard with me, but I would hardly have the opportunity to use them anyway, based on my experience and daily schedule. This meant that I stayed a little bit behind with blogging, reviewing the places we visited etc. but this would happen anyway, due to lack of time for that (and not due to the lack of the items themselves).

Test drive of Hare Kohu beach shader: Part 1

I recently got myself a Hare Kohu beach shader by Terra Nation, after our cheap beach umbrella broke. I went for a shader, as I liked the fact that our staff would be half-protected while we are swimming and that kids would find it fun to sit under the shade and play (compared to a typical beach umbrella).

The specific shader is easy to setup, provides plenty of space, is said to be of high quality and is lightweight. What more could I ask? I purchased one and spent some time at home, opening and closing it and I was amazed by its simplicity. Its material was thinner than I expected (more or less like a rain umbrella) so I don’t expect it to last for a long time; however, it may make up for it thanks to the fun of using it.

Today I had the opportunity to test it under real conditions, at a remote beach we visited during our summer holidays. It was really windy though, and the wind’s direction was opposite to the sun’s one, so the shader had to face the wind like the sails of a boat if we wanted to get some shade…

I  needed some help from my wife to open it; in fact, she needed to make sure that it will not fly with the wind when opened! After that, I used five of the pegs provided with the shader and had both windows opened, in order to allow the wind’s flow, and put all our stuff inside. Using one of the available cords with an additional peg did not improve things. We soon realized that the shader would not stay at its position unless an adult sat inside, so we had to swim in turns! In the end, we got so frustrated by the wind that we had to pack our things and go. I closed the shader by myself and it was easier than I expected, taking into consideration the strong wind.

Despite that, my first impressions from Hare Kohu were positive:

  • It was easy to set up, even under windy conditions;
  • It gave us plenty of space and shade for three persons – even 4, if squeezed;
  • Our stuff were protected (at least partially);
  • We appreciated the roof pockets, which allowed the easy storage of our e.g. sunglasses and smartphones, among others.
  • The shader was easy to carry around (thanks to its practical carry bag) and lightweight, equal to a beach umbrella (but more compact).

On the other hand, it was obvious that strong wind was an issue and I would also appreciate a slightly thicker material (the current one looks prone to tearing at some point soon, even when packed with all these parts of the shader’s skeleton pressing the fabric).

Overall, I find it a nice investment and I can only hope that it will be a durable one.