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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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.

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?

Issue with laptop’s keyboard – and how I fixed it

The truth is that my WinTab with its Logitech K480 Bluetooth keyboard has almost completely replaced my laptops at home (and often during business trips) – I even get some work done using my smartphones now. I still have my aging but still hard working Toshiba C670-1C1 for specific purposes, such as letting kids watch videos on YouTube or play some online games which is great thanks to its 17-inch screen.

I recently wanted to work on a document so I pulled out the laptop and entered my password – it was rejected. I tried once more, more carefully, only to find out that some keystrokes did not display on screen (namely 1 and 3). I used the numeric keys and managed to log in. After testing the keyboard, I realized that several keys on its left side (including the space bar) did not operate correctly (e.g. pressing them did not have any result). At first I suspected kids pushing the keys so hard that the keyboard ribbon was either broken or removed; kids could have also spilled water on the keyboard without letting me know.

I started looking for online information about the issue; many posts referred to NumLock and other key combinations that could cause the issue; however this did not solve my problem. I also completely uninstalled the keyboards drivers from the Device Manager and disabled device driver updates through Windows Update (as I read online) but still no luck. I even connected my bluetooth keyboard to check if the issue would appear (i.e. software or hardware updates) but it worked fine – so there was something wrong with my laptop.

In the end, I came across a post mentioning a Lenovo pointing device in the Device Manager, and how it should be removed as it caused issues (like mine). I checked, and indeed there was a Lenovo pointing device there (keep in mind that my laptop is a Toshiba, not a Lenovo!). I just had to uninstall the device and voila – the keyboard worked like a charm!

I am still not sure how this Lenovo pointing device drivers made it into my system (maybe a Windows Update component?) but I am glad that I managed to find out the solution and bring the laptop back to normal operation 🙂

Upgrade day

Today was a day full of upgrades for my hardware:

  • I woke up only to see that my Lumia 735 had the latest Windows Insider build (10.0.14977.1000) waiting to be downloaded and installed. I took some time to download it before I left home and then let it do the installation while I was offline. The process worked great, for once more.
  • After I got home, I upgraded my newly-purchased TP-Link TD-W8960N V7 modem/router to the latest firmware version (v.160614 Rel.41323). If I find some time, I may give the OpenWRT firmware a try as well.
  • Then, it was time for my (also newly-purchased Samsung BD-J4500R Blu-Ray Player. I upgraded its firmware from v1008.1 to v.1011.0.

If you ask me, I have no idea about what the new firmwares bring to my devices. I rest assured that they will operate better in some aspects. 🙂

 

My life with my white gadgets

Those who know me well know that I don’t like the white color – at all. I never wear white t-shirts and white clothes in general, I don’t like white towels and linen and I wouldn’t buy my gadgets in white. Or would I?

The first time it happened was with my ill-fated Acer Aspire One 751h netbook. I found it on sale when I was in dire need for a small-form laptop and I went directly to the store to get it; alas, it was only available in white…however, the price was so much lower than the other colors available that I had to go for it. The netbook only recently hit the dust, so it is actually collecting dust in a drawer.

Then my Olympus E-300 broke down during a corporate event. I contacted the Greek dealer/official service only to find out that it could not be repaired (and it was way beyond its warranty). Instead, I was offered a demo model of an Olympus E-PM1; a dual-lens kit (14-42mm and 45-150mm lenses) and a body in almost mint condition in a very competitive price. I didn’t ask for the color; it was almost impossible to get in white. But I did. And I had no choice.

Then came my Lumia 720, my first Windows Phone 8 smartphone. I had a gift card from a specific gadget store and I was looking for a jnew smartphone. The specific store (a retailer chain in fact) had a very limited variety of Windows Phones (I even emailed them about that) and I kept checking out their page for updates. After a couple of months the 720 appeared – only in white. I was running out of time (the gift card was about to expire) so I bought that one. In white. About one year ago it was replaced by a lime green Lumia 735.

My WinTab’s keyboard recently broke down – in fact, the keyboard still works fine but it cannot plug into the tablet part anymore. I had plenty of alternatives in the form of Bluetooth keyboards but they were pretty pricey. Since I had to get one sooner or later, I was about to go for one of them and then I saw the Logitech K480 on sale – for just 30 euros. Amazing price for a keyboard that usually sold for 45-50 euros. Guess what? The price was only for the white version, and not the lovely dark grey-lime one hat I liked more. Since I was on a tight budget, I went straight for the white version. It’s working perfectly fine but it is white.

bluetooth-multi-device-keboard-k480
How much cooler is this dark grey/yellow version?

 

I am pretty sure that I’ll have to live with even more white gadgets in the near future. It seems to be my karma, my atonement for all the bad things that I’ve done in my life so far.

Logitech K480 Bluetooth keyboard: First impressions

So the winner of the challenge was the Logitech K480. But why?

  1. I needed a keyboard that would also act as a stand for my crippled WinTab (referring to the broken keyboard)
  2. I needed a keyboard with large keys, as I tend to type a lot, write long blog posts and I have fat fingers
  3. I needed a keyboard at a low price.

The Logitech K480 combined both 1 & 2 and as for 3, I got it brand new for just 30 euros – a real bargain! Setting up my first two devices (my WinTab and my Lumia 735) was as easy as it could be and switching between them was as easy as switching a rocker. Even though I hate white as a color for gadgets, the white version was the only one on sale…

logitech-k480-white

The keyboard is indeed convenient for typing, thanks to its (fairly) large size, about the size of a 10,1-inch tablet’s width. Round keys, easy to find and allow for quick typing. The slot for the tablet is also really neat, where a rubber-like material is used for avoiding scratching of the tablet.

I was worried to hear all these squeaking when I tried to press its edges but trust me, the keyboard does not squeak when one types – at all. It looks like a sturdy piece of hardware, and I hope that it will last long.

I have noticed that when I type really fast, there may be some characters (keystrokes) missing at some points. I have only noticed that while using Microsoft Edge (e.g. authoring blog posts) and I guess it might be due to some issues either with it or with the quality of the WinTab…I will have to check with e.g. MS Word documents but since the issue is not constant, I may have to test it thoroughly.

My overall first impressions are surely positive: The keyboard is easy to use, holds my 10,1-inch tablet both in portrait and landscape mode and connects quickly without any interruption. It may not be the most portable Bluetooth keyboard around (it is quite heavy and bulky, it is not foldable) but it does the work and can transform a tablet into a small-form notebook. I will have to admit that after using it quite a lot during a short trip, it made me rethink the role of my tablet – for the better 😉

Wintab keyboard broken; what alternatives do I have?

I recently took my WinTab with me on the go (inside my backpack) but it seems that for some reason the keyboard was not correctly attached to the tablet (or it was, who knows?). The point is that when I took it out of my bag back at home, I saw that there was a gap between the tablet and the keyboard when it was closed. I took the two components apart and tried to reconnect them. Tough luck: it seems that the two “holes” on the tablet side (where the keyboard prongs attach) were slightly broken (both of them) and each attempt to attach the keyboard resulted in creaky sounds and the plastic around the tablet to come off…this would not be covered by the warranty (happened one year after the purchase) so I was in need for a tablet keyboard.

The truth is that I was never really satisfied by the tablet’s keyboard so I was already looking for an alternative. Not only the keys were a tad ser than I would like (for comfortable typing) but on top of that, the connection between the keyboard and the tablet was not stable, so every slight movement of the angle of these two caused an instant disconnection and lots of missing keystrokes in the meantime – just try to imagine keeping notes during an important meeting or conference, only to end up with incomplete words and sentences…

Getting a Bluetooth keyboard meant that I would have to live without the extra full-USB port that came with the original keyboard, but based on my typical usage, I could live with that (or without that, to be more precise). My typical setup consists of the tablet and its keyboard, a mouse and sometimes an external hard disk; however, the mouse could be connected to the tablet through a micro-USB to USB converted (that I already have) leaving the full USB for the hard disk. When both USB ports are occupied,  could charge the tablet (if needed) using the proprietary port.

 

I kept an eye on the prices of the following items during the last months:

  • Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard: The most lightweight and compact of all models I checked – plus it is spill-resistant (which may come handy in some cases). However, it was a bit pricey, could not be used as a stand for my 10,1-inch Wintab and typists mentioned an issue with the Space key, being split in two (which caused issues when typing). Its price ranged from 80-95 euros.

20150925153125_microsoft_universal_foldable

  • Microsoft Universal Mobile keyboard: It was a great candidate – adequate size for fast typing, rather compact and sports a magnetic cover which could also be used as a stand for the tablet. It was also a bit pricey for me though and in fact I found the size a bit too small for my fat fingers to type quickly and efficiently. Its price ranged from 55 to 70 euros.
  • Various foldable keyboards from Amazon.Some of them looked pretty interesting but they were mostly small and did not feature s stand for the laptop. Some of them were rather expensive, too.
  • Logitech K480: This one was really interesting, too. It was a tad larger than the competition, keys were adequately large and easy to use and there was also a handy gap to hold a 10-inch tablet along with a smartphone – it has the option to manage 3 different devices at a time by simply rotating a dial switch. However, it was the bulkier and by far the heavier one (so that it could hold the weight of the tablet). Its price ranged from 45 to 55 euros.

Choosing one of them was not an easy task; there were different factors affecting my decision and a price drop of one of them was a significant one. But which one was it?