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.

Advertisements

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?

LG Optimus 7 – The end

It was back in April 2011 when I got my LG Optimus 7 (E900) second-hand from a good friend of mine. I needed to replace my workhorse, an HTC Blackstone running Windows Mobile 6.5 with a custom ROM. The Blackstone was still working but it was obvious that the battery needed replacement and maybe a refresh was also necessary as the menus were lagging even with a relatively light ROM.

I was new to Windows Mobile 7 but I found it really easy to learn; a nice start-screen, a list of installed apps and a variety of settings. That was all – no file managers, no hidden options, dead-simple menus. The hardware was really decent, featuring 1GHz (single core) CPU, 512 MB RAM & 16GB storage, along with a 3.8-inch screen. The phone itself was really sturdy and went through a lot of abuse but never even showed a sign of wear. Soon the OS was updated to 7.5 (the last one to be supported by the mobile) and the battery was replaced by a third party one. Everything was working fine, with some glitches due to the OS itself and not the phone (e.g. lack of Greek support for SMS, ringtone and vibration not working at the same time etc.). The camera was also lower quality than expected (at least worse than the one of my Blackstone) but I learned to live with it.

All good things come to an end, so was my life with Optimus 7. The second battery also started showing reduced lifetime, the power button did not always woke the screen up, menus started closing for no reason, voice command feature started switching on without my intervention (even during phone calls), apps were closing with no reason and most of these must have been due to my poor technical skills when replacing and gluing the Windows button back in its place after my youngest son had peeled it off. Lately, the battery was so swollen that it pushed hard the cover of the battery compartment from the inside and I missed the (lost) functionality of the Windows key…

It was time for a replacement; since I l got used to Windows Phone, I went directly for a Windows Phone 8 powered one. At first I thought about getting the cheapest Windows Phone, which was Nokia Lumia 520 at about 140 euros; despite the fact that I liked its large screen (larger than the 3.8-inch of the E900), I didn’t like the lack of flash in the camera. My next choice was Nokia Lumia 620 (at about 160 euros); it had a LED flash but no radio, which I sometimes use while commuting. The next in line was Nokia Lumia 720 (I like the Lumias, mostly for the apps that are bundled with; they surely provide added value to the phone). The Lumia 720 combined FM radio and LED flash, a better construction, larger and higher screen quality and better battery life (among others); it was also lighter and had a rather better camera. For 189 euros it seemed like a bargain to me, so I ordered it online and hope to get it in the next couple of days! The specs compared to my LG Optimus 7 are a bit lower (still 1GHz CPU but dual-core, same 512MB RAM and only 8GB storage) but according to the reviews everything is running smoothly, thanks to the specific OS.

Home network update Part 2: Laptop’s operating system upgrade

As mentioned earlier, I kept having issues with my home laptop. It is an entry-level Lenovo G550, with basic specs like 15,6-inch screen, Intel Celeron Dual Core T3100 CPU @ 1,9 GHz, 2048MB DDR3 RAM, a modest Intel GMA X4500 GPU and 250GB HD. The laptop is othing special, but obtained back in 2010 for serving basic tasks, such as web browsing, word pr

After a batch of recent updates, the laptop started freezing temporarily every now and then and I suspected the Internet Explorer update to version 11, as freezes occured while using the browser for watching YouTube video. Even though I use Chrome myself, my wife uses Explorer in her user account, so I had issues with that. Since I had never formatted/refreshed the laptop before, I decided to take some time, back everything up (a really time-consuming process, as there was not enough free space in the 2nd partition of the hard disk and the external one was not the fastest around) and re-install the original Windows 7 Home Premium. However, I remembered that I had purchased a Windows 8 Pro license some months ago to be used with my Acer 751h netbook, hoping that iy would bring some fresh air in the low-end hardware; however, due to the fact that the GMA500 GPU was not supported, I decided to uninstall Windows 8 and keep the license for another instance.

ocessing and  movies, among others. It has been through a lot during these years, such as frequent falling (my son liked to push it from the desk down to the floor), and it became rather sluggish over the years. It came with Windows 7 Home Premium which were never upgraded or formatted. It is the core of my home network, which also consists of my netbook (Acer 751h), a Lenovo A1 Android tablet and my LG Optimus 7 (E900) Windows Phone (7.8).

Installation was quick and easy; all hardware was correctly identified. However, I faced an issue with the license key: Despite the fact that it has long been inactive and uninstalled from my netbook, I was unable to activate my license in this case. I tried all methods I found online but the only one that actually worked was to call Microsoft’s line and follow the guidelines in order to get my license back again. In the end I managed to activate the license properly but still I was frustrated by the fact that I had to go through this process despite the fact that there were no two machines using the same license.

The next step was to update to Windows 8.1; I left my laptop working overnight for downloading and installing this large update. After that, I started setting up my software again (e.g. Google Chrome, 7zip, Dropbox/Sugarsync/Skydrive etc.) and everything seems to be working properly. I realized that there were some things still not working properly (e.g. Windows Experience Index missing, some distortion with the graphics and the lack of Aero functionalities). After uninstalling the GPU’s driver at least the distortions were minimized (if not totally eliminated). In addition, there was an issue with the touchpad (the part for scrolling up and down) which was also solved after installing some official drivers from the web).

Despite the fact that I have not used the laptop intensively during the last days, I have the impression that the laptop is more responsive now with Windows 8.1 compared to Windows 7 Home Premium. Maybe a re-install of Windows 7 would be sufficient but since I had the opportunity to try Windows 8 Pro. At least there are no freezes or lags yet so everyone seems to be happy with the update.

Home network update Part 1: Modem/router replacement

I have been having issues with the network at home for quite some time now. I suspected that the cause of the disconnections was not the laptop but the modem/router; the old and probably worn Thomson TG585 v7 was my first one and obtained through my DSL provider back in 2009. It has been working almost 24/7 since then and I found it normal to start malfunctioning. Even a firmware update to the latest available version (8.2.7.8) did not help; my devices kept disconnecting from the home network every now and then.

After doing some online research, I decided to get myself a LEVEL ONE WBR-6603A 150MBPS WIRELESS ADSL2+ PSTN MODEM ROUTER, which I found on sale for 24,90EUR + 3,00 EUR P&P. It seemed like a decent replacement of my existing modem/router with advanced features (many of which I may never use). I have to admit that setting it up was not the easiest part since I found the user interface to be poor and not helpful (nowhere near the Thomson one); however, after some hours of testing I managed to get all the info provided by my DSL provider correctly in the settings of my new router and had my home network up and running again.

Image

It has been about three weeks since then and everything seemed to be functioning smoothly…apart from the home laptop itself (an entry-level Lenovo G550); it kept freezing sometimes and became the bottleneck of the network. So I had to do something about that too!

Testing Acer 751h with Zorin OS 7 Lite – Ressurection

To make a long story short: I got tired of my netbook being so slow with Windows 7… in the meantime I have tried some Linux distros which did not treat my GMA500 really well or were not as responsive as I would like. On the other hand, Windows 8 were also malfunctioning in my netbook (GMA500 also being the cause of the Blue Screens of Death that I kept seeing every once in a while.

In the end, I decided to give Zorin OS another try. I created a live USB of Zorin OS 7 Lite using Unebootin and installed it on the second partition of my netbook’s HD (the one acting as storage and back up space for the machine – I didn’t realize that until I booted into Zorin) and I liked it quite a lot – it also identified and set up my GMA500 correctly. Since I was so pleased with the new OS, I decided to uninstall it and use the primary partition, so that it would boot along my Windows 7 Home Premium installation. Alas, something went wrong in the process (despite the fact that I have installed quite a few Linux distros, I was never fond of the partitioning options and never got to understand them) so I ended up not only with a non-bootable C: drive, but also all the entire contents of the second partition were also gone! There was a lot of non-backed up stuff there, ranging from movies and music to documents and other personal files (e.g. images) which is rather impossible to retrieve from other sources.

After realizing what was happened and that there was no way of recovering, I decided to enjoy a fully formatted disk after a long time and take the time to install a fresh copy of Zorin OS 7 Lite. Everything was set up in a few minutes (I became familiar with the process) and I started installing my favorite apps, including MS Office and Sugarsync using Wine, and Dropbox and Skype using the Software Center and setup package respectively.

So far I am pretty pleased with the behavior of my netbook; in fact I think that it has been transformed into a useful machine after a long time (during my last business trip, I decided to travel with my 17-inch/almost 3 Kg Toshiba laptop instead of carrying my lightweight but sluggish netbook with me). Operation is smooth, YouTube videos also play smoothly. I am still trying to figure out which app I will need to install in order to set up my netbook according to my needs so I guess that I will have to update this post after a while.

Philips GoGEAR SoundDot MP3 Player (SA4DOT02BN/37)

I recently purchased this mp3 player, as I was looking for a cheap device with long lasting battery; Philips has a nice reputation regarding battery lifetime in its devices so I went for the SoundDot. Packaging contains all necessary stuff (such as multilingual printed manual and warranty info), as well as a pair of headphones. I was surprised to see that the headphones were not Philips branded; instead they are low quality, generic ones.

Operating SoundDot is really easy: One button for Vol (-) and Previous track, one button for Vol (+) and Next track and one button for Power/Play-Pause/Shuffle. Sound quality is really good, but volume is too low with the provided headphones; there is now way that you can listen to music while walking on a rather busy street. I saw a little improvement while using another set of headphones. I also noticed that when the volume reaches maximum, it beeps three times and playback stops for a couple of seconds before it resumes. I am not sure if this is a normal behavior of the player, as this is not mentioned anywhere in the manual.

The Songbird software (free download from Philips) is cumbersome (more than 100MB) and not easy to use. There are a lot of confusing menus and small icons, as well as panels all over the interface. I am working with various types of software for the last 7 years more than 10 hours daily and still find the SongBird software confusing and not easy to use. In addition, it doesn’t work properly with Windows 7 nor with Windows 8. In both cases the SoundDot is identified but it is not possible to check for a firmware upgrade, as I receive a “Connection issue” message all the time, even with firewall disabled. At the same time, Songbird is able to open web pages within the app (e.g. the registration problem) so it is not a connection issue. I finally managed to update the firmware of my Sounddot using another laptop, but still the software is buggy and the volume issue was not solved…

Battery seems to last for more than 4-5 hours but I haven’t tested that thoroughly yet. SoundDot is really use to charge by plugging it directly to a USB port of a computer or a USB charger plugged in a power outlet (no cables needed). It is really lightweight and portable, while the clip is also convenient.

To sum up: The issues identified is the low quality headphones and the low volume level even at the maximum setting. Songbird is also a problem, but I just avoid it for transferring MP3s to Songbird (I just drag & drop my files through Windows Explorer). Since I got it for less than 20 euros I cannot complain much but still I do not consider it as my best purchase ever…  in the meantime I have tried to use the Philips forum in order to ask about these issues but there was no way that I could do so, as I kept receiving an error message about the format of my birthday date (which I have carefully entered…).

Edit 25/8/2013: I finally found out that the low volume limitation can be passed-by, simply by keep pressing the Vol(+) button after the 3 beeps, and release it after you hear another 2 beeps. This signal means that the limit is no longer valid and you can increase the volume by pressing the same button, as usual. Hallelujah! I can now listen to music while walking in a busy street or while commuting by train!

Using a Windows Phone without a Windows button…

It is one of the lessons I learned the hard way:

I have this really nice LG Optimus 7 Windows Phone mobile for about a year now and I have been really happy about that. I just replaced the battery and could not complain about its performance in any case. One day, I decided to make my youngest son (just 15 months old) happy and gave him the mobile phone (airplane mode on) in order for him to listen to music, which he really loves! I decided to take my eyes off him for some minutes, so that I can check my emails…I soon realized that he was really quiet, therefore he was into something not good for me. Indeed, when he saw me he gave me back my phone, which was still playing music – but with the Windows button missing!! (just to remind you that the Optimus 7 is one of the few Windows Phones with hard buttons – not the soft ones available in the majority of the other Windows Phones).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I started looking around for the button but it was nowhere to find… so I understood: I had to wait until this little guy pooed and do a little ehm… research before I found the button again, shining! After a nice wash and disinfection, the button was ready to be glued back into place.

I got a nice, strong glue, in order to make sure that it will not be peeled off again by this little guy. I tried to drop one drop but the glue run quickly, so instead there were 3-4 drops in the mobile phone’s button place. I though that it would only make it stick even better and I was right: There was so much glue inside that it apparently run off the button hole and it made the hole button hard as a rock! There is no way to press the Windows Phone button now as it is stuck for good! Acetone did not do anything apart from making the black color turn to grey…

Now I have to learn how to operate my Windows Mobile phone without its flagship button. I only miss the direct transfer to the home page, as I can move there  indirectly, by pressing the Back button a couple of times (or more in some cases…). But the hardest lesson I learned is not to trust my sons with my gadgets,at least not until they become old enough to understand the pain I am going through after seeing my gadget being treated like that!

My laptop, also abused by my youngest son…

LG Optimus 7 – Updated to WP7.8

To make a long story short, I read the news at WPCentral, where rumors about all existing WP7.5 Windows Phones (no matter which the manufacturer was) were to be upgraded to WP7.8 in the next hours. That seemed to good (and optimistic) to be true, especially as manufacturers like LG and HTC have stated that they were not interested in supporting their older Wp7.5 devices.

Waking up today and without checking any news, I decided to plug my LG Optimus 7 to my laptop and open Zune – in fact

LG_Update_31012013_1I first checked through the WiFi connection of my phone for updates and it showed that some updates were available and I had to connect my phone to my computer (which I had already done by then). After checking for updates through Zune, I got two of them along with a long backup of my phone’s content and then the third one was… WP7.8! Everything was done automatically, so there was no need to “push” or “trick” this update to my phone. Has Microsoft decided to show to its reluctant partners like LG and HTC who is the boss in the field of Windows Phones? We will never now; however, it seems that those who stated that the update was up to MS and not the manufacturers were right.

LG_Update_31012013_2

LG_Update_31012013_3I was never fond of this update, nor I was really disappointed to hear that LG is not to update the Optimus 7 to WP7.8. The main features were purely cosmetic (large and small tiles along with more color accents!) and for the rest of the fixes there were not much mentioned. So far, the standard size of the tiles looks bigger than I would like and the small ones tiny for my large fingers – as for the color accents? No comment! However, I like to see my devices always up-to-date featuring all the latest firmware and features and this is why I ended up with this update.

LG Optimus 7 – Minor upgrade

Well,don’t expect too much… since LG officially announced that the Optimus 7 will not receive the WP7.8 update, my device should not expect any special care apart from being in good shape to serve my daily needs. I wasn’t really anxious to receive the WP7.8 update, but still I was frustrated by the lack of support for this device from LG…this will affect my future purchases of course.

Apart from that, I recently noticed that the battery life is sometimes awfully short. Sometimes, it will not even hold for more than some hours before the mobile shuts off, which is pretty annoying, especially if you are not close to a power source (which was the case some days ago). Therefore, I decided to make myself (and Optimus 7) a gift and buy a brand new battery, hoping that this will solve the problem. The battery was ordered about a week ago via Ebay, arrived just yesterday and will be tested in the next days to see how things will go with battery life.

Image

It is rated at 2,430 mAh, which is a significant difference compared to the 1,500mAh of the original LG battery, but as they say “size does not matter”… only time will tell if this minor upgrade will be substantial for the daily usage of my mobile phone.