Should We Save the Optical Drive?

disc drivesIt’s nothing new to hear that Apple’s latest MacBook models come without a disc drive. They’re sleeker and thinner, and leaving out the “dated” technology allowed the company to pack in more features in less computer. They first did it with the MacBook Air in 2008, and with soaring sales, it’s likely the company didn’t see much of a draw back.

And because few people actually need their disc drive on a regular basis, computer engineers argue that the change is simply moving with the times. Games and CDs now come with digital download capabilities, and most software and entertainment can now be purchased completely online. As for CD lovers, audio book nerds, or vintage game players, a simple attachment can help cross this technological jump.

But what about the rest of computer companies? For now, most full-size laptops are still including a disc drive, but that isn’t the case for ultrabooks or tablets, which are being used more frequently as full-time computer substitutes. Due to both cost efficiency and technology trends, more and more people are finding it’s better to leave the drive behind. Custom models can still be ordered to include it, but not without a hefty price tag. And within only a few years, older models that still host the slot will become outdated, eliminating the pre-made option as well.

In time, it looks as though the disc drive may be almost completely extinct.

What We Lose

Without the ability to physically hold our own copy of music, movies, software, etc., a great deal can be lost. Digital copies are difficult, if not impossible, to lend to others because of DRM. Many downloads are given a one-click lifespan, meaning if a connection is lost or there’s a technical difficulty, you’re usually on the phone with customer support. And once you upgrade to a new device, replacing all your programs becomes a huge headache.

Even with completely legal tensions in mind (no illegal copies, etc.), losing the disc itself takes away a multitude of freedoms. Another issue comes with price, as few digital copies account for much of a discount. Despite not spending funds on physical materials, sales companies offer only a small price difference between their digital and in-person products. If you’re going to take away our ability to lend, can’t we at least save some cash?

Time will tell what’s really in store for our disc drives, and until then, we’ll be sure to borrow and share as many CDs as our drives will allow.

A society drowning in cords, and how to manage them

power cordsFirst, we got our own cell phones.

They were friendlier than the previous in-car versions, offering the same talking abilities without location restriction. But they also required a charging cord to be carried around, forever nesting in our suitcases and/or purses. Then computers became mobile, and they needed a cord too, lest we be stranded without a way to play Oregon Trail. Then MP3 players became a thing (which needed headphones, another cord), and then tablets, and before we knew it, we were carrying around cords upon cords. A tangled mess of single colored adapters that must stay with us a majority of the time.

For a while we thought our Apple products would feed from a single-shaped device, but even they changed, forcing us to either upgrade all around, or continue with the business of multiple cords.

The same can tangled-ness can be said for our homes; electronics of all kinds require a constant source of power, leaving us with the wake of their lines. TVs, stereos, lamps, and more have us bowing to their needs with their ugly plug in needs.

So where did we go wrong? Now even cars are becoming electric, requiring even a larger cord to be toted while traveling. While some efforts are being made toward wireless charging and hot pad stations, the majority of “wireless” devices still require a standard outlet, and a power cord.

Managing the chaos

Until all our electronics re-juice ET style, all we can hope for is a more controllable mess. Crafty types can bind together toilet paper rolls (with optional paint) for a storage grid – though this isn’t ideal for travel. While messier folks just tote around a knot of coated wire, pulling out what’s needed as items die.

For an in-between, look to cord keepers or rubber stick-ons that “grab” the cords and make them stay put. Best for in-home cords, such as desktops, phones, or power strips, models can be affixed to the wall for semi-permanent keeping. For traveling, stick to wrapping features, such as circular items that hold both ends down during movement. Both items come in various sizes, adaptable for all types of cords.

Whether choosing to organize gadgets with more gadgets or living with the ever-growing mess, it’s safe to say the age of the cord is upon us. Our only option seems to be grinning and bearing the technological whirlwind we’ve created.

Google Nexus 7 tablet: The specs drill-down

Not long ago, Apple took the full impact of the tech limelight by releasing the iPhone 5 and their next generation iPads. Its competitors, with one such example being Google, had earlier announced a branded 7-inch tablet, the Google Nexus 7.

In the making of the $200 tablet, Google knew that they had to beat the redefined hardware specification set by the iPad and the Amazon-made Kindle Fire. Other than worrying about specifications, they also had to redeem the tarnished reputation of Android OS as a tablet operating system.

To offset the hardware struggle, Asus adopts the normal glossy and black-beveled display characteristic to most tablets. To make it stand out, the designers ringed the display with a matte rigid silver band and covered the back with some soft-touch material with that comfortable feel of taut leather.

Measuring 7.8 inches tall by 4.7 inches wide, the Google Nexus 7 tablet weighs 0.74 pounds making it 0.16 pounds lighter than the kindle Fire. Additionally, the tablet is 0.41 inches thick making it thicker than the trending iPad by a mere 0.04 inch.

Past the bezel on the front that eats up some screen size while giving you some place to grip and the adhering smudge resistant back, is a quad-core Tegra 3 CPU with processing speeds of up to 1.15GHz on all cores and 1.3GHz when running a single core. The Tegra 3 CPU works with 1GB of RAM and normal user storage capacity being 8GB with an option of paying $50 for a 16GB version. In this case, the company’s pre-installed internal storage strictly dictates the amount of data you can keep on the Nexus 7 since it has no microSD slot. To compensate for this, the tablet features Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, a GPS chip, gyroscope, compass, accelerometer and the much-coveted NFC capability.

The tightly sealed tablet (the tablet’s back panel is not removable at all) features a 1.2-megapixel front facing camera that comes in handy when holding Google+ Hangouts, a rear speaker and built-in microphones.

Performance is improved by the Android 4.1 operating system and “Project Butter” that works to improve touch response and the smooth floor of Android apps. Though high speed scrolling still brings the Galaxy Nexus snap-back effect, apps load fast enough and the Tegra Chipset does a good job in rendering 3D games.

The Google Nexus 7 display power does not in any way let down its internal hardware capabilities. It features a 1280×800 corning glass-covered LCD display with an impressive 216ppi count. Though colors look a bit off compared to Galaxy Nexus Super AMOLED display, text and images are crisp and clear enough making the gadget completely favorably with the new iPad.

Battery life is within the ranges expected for such a performer. With brightness tied to 65 percent while loading web pages, the battery stays for roughly six hours though heavy use of the monster CPU will drastically reduce this.

Tablets and your pre-schooler: Is it a good idea?

While writing here at Techerator I plan on covering a lot of tops related to the Mac and iOS. After all, that is what I know when it comes to technology. Part of those articles will include a series about iOS apps for the preschooler and toddler. Basically these articles will be recommending apps that have been a hit in my house. However, before I get to those articles I wanted to write an article about the benefits (and downsides) of letting your preschooler use a tablet or phone or similar device.

Tablets for kids are popping up all over the place. There is the Leapfrog LeapPad (now in its second-generation version). There is a new kids-only tablet from Toys “R” Us. Tablets are hitting the kids market and hitting it fast.

There will be many people out there that will say a kid should go nowhere near a tablet device. There are also many people out there who say a young child should not be watching television (don’t get me started on this one). I disagree on both counts. In moderation, and with parent supervision,using a tablet can be educational for a young child – not to mention fun.

There are apps that teach writing, reading, and arithmetic. There are apps that teach patterns and spacial reasoning. There are apps for the artist child. In many cases these apps are reinforcing what a child will be learning in school. In other cases the app might be teaching the child something new and giving him/her a head start.

My son loves playing games that are based on his favorite characters like Dinosaur Train and Clifford the Big Red Dog or Team Umizoomi.  We also read books on the iPad and there are a lot of fantastic interactive book apps out there. Through these apps he is having fun learning. He is also learning how to type and learning how to use a tablet device, which I think will be the future in schools over laptops (but that is another story).

Don’t get me wrong, too much use of a tablet is not good. In fact we limit usage heavily in my house. My son is on the iPad no more than 20 minutes per week. I also don’t let him play any apps except the educational games (some are based on characters and others are not).

The bottom line is that there is definitely a place for tablets and preschoolers, and if you monitor a child’s usage it can be a great learning tool.

Google’s Awesome Sauce: The Nexus 7 Tablet Review

Google has been doing impressive things lately, by anyone’s standards. Google Glasses, and the awesome live streaming skydiving stunt Google pulled at Google I/O this year blew the minds of fans all over the world.

At that same conference, Google announced the release of two Nexus devices: the (Asus) Google Nexus 7 tablet and the Nexus Q.  (The Q is sexy, smooth, different, and just about useless to the average consumer. It’s an expensive media streamer for your TV.)

Let’s get down to the Nexus 7. My Nexus 7 device arrived last week, which was very fast compared to what I’ve read about shipping times on the internet. I was stoked.

About the reported packaging problems

Some people have reported that it is difficult to remove the Nexus 7 from its original packaging.

Unlike the rest of the world, I believe when expensive electronics are shipped halfway across the country, if not the world, they should be packaged in such a way that they do not fall out or easily get stolen. Therefore, I bring a knife when I attempt to open a new product, unlike these ridiculous people.

Yes, the packaging of the Nexus 7 is tight. No, the packaging of the Nexus 7 should not deter you from purchasing one.

 

Awesome-Sauce Software with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean

As the first device shipping with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, I can say that this is the most beautiful and “buttery” smooth Android tablet I have ever used, and is as good as the iPad 3. Google has definitely done a bang-up job on Jelly Bean and Project Butter to get Android finally caught up to iOS as far as smoothness goes.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean includes Google Now, which is software that can anticipate your schedule and location throughout the day and provide helpful information like traffic time, current weather, and upcoming calendar events. No input is needed – Google Now helps you throughout the day without any prompting.

Since getting Google Now, I’ve used it way more than I ever used any previous voice search feature on a phone (including iPhone’s Siri).

Switching between recent apps is a great experience, and I find myself doing it just for the fun of playing the animations over and over again. Transitions are fast and responsive. Apps open and close quickly so your tablet can finally be as productive as you are!

The default Chrome browser is very impressive, with great loading speeds (over a decent WiFi connection), fast renders, and good support for HTML5 (finally).

Using apps on Android can finally be fun, not the chore it used to be with laggy and slow-loading apps of yesteryear. Congrats Google!

Hardware: Quad Core and a Brilliant Screen

The Nexus 7 did not fall short on hardware or design. With a quad core Tegra 3 on board and a brilliant graphics processor, apps on this device look better than any other Android tablet device I’ve seen, including the Asus Transformer Prime. While playing Dead Trigger (a great zombie shooter), this tablet becomes a hardcore gaming device in a perfectly sized 7-inch form factor. The screen really shines and shows just how incredible technology is becoming.

What makes this device nice to hold is that just-right thickness that makes it feel like it won’t break or fall out of your hands, but also fits great in your pocket. The soft-touch plastic on the back really adds grip to the device as well, so you won’t be dropping this thing any time soon.

Unbeatable Price Tag

$200 bucks. That’s all I need to say here. If you haven’t jumped on a tablet yet, or are looking for that second or even third screen, this is the best Android tablet on the market today. Period.

The Nexus 7 can be purchased directly from Google.

4 Reasons Why We are NOT in a Post-PC Age

Is the Desktop Dead - Tablets have been Tried BeforeSales of desktop PCs and laptops are falling. It’s impossible to read any technical media without hearing about the “death of the PC.” And both Apple and Microsoft are soon to release operating systems that seek to merge the features of the computer operating system with those available on tablet devices.

All this evidence mounts up to suggest that the Steve Jobs-coined “post PC era” is upon us. Well, I’m going to stick my neck out on this: I don’t buy it.

Don’t get me wrong – I possess and adore an iPhone 4s, and if I need to quickly look something up online in the evening, I am as likely to reach for that as I am my laptop. I also think that Apple have done enough with the incredible specification of the latest iPad that I will finally give in to temptation and buy one, even though I don’t NEED one.

The ability to perform tasks via phones and tablets that would previously have required a “proper” computer is undeniable. Often these tasks can even be performed more effectively and flexibly on these devices. This, logically, accounts for the falling desktop and laptop sales figures…but “post-PC?” Don’t be daft.

Here’s why:

1. Business

Walk into any office and what will you see? Everyone working with email. Staff using office applications, bespoke databases and commonly used apps like Photoshop and InDesign. Move further into the business, and PCs and traditional servers are powering everything from car production lines to restaurant EPOS systems. Is this going to change overnight because the new iPad has a retina display and a 4G mobile connection?

2. Gaming

Phones and tablets now have power and graphical grunt to rival dedicated consoles. However, can they play Skyrim, World of Warcraft and Deus Ex? Do they have the ability to utilize the classic keys / mouse combo necessary to play the leading first person shooters? Do they even have a D-pad and A button to rival the original monochrome Gameboy. No, no and no.

3. Ergonomics

Imagine the legal fallout if offices switched from desktop PCs and made staff hunch over tablets. There’s a reason office workers use ergonomic office chairs and monitors located on desks – it stops them damaging their spines.

4. Practicality

What, really, is an iPad with an attached keyboard? It’s basically a laptop. What, really is an iPad with a BlueTooth keyboard? It’s basically a desktop with a screen that doesn’t stand up on its own. Without any ports.

Now, I am aware that my stance may seem non-progressive. The kind of thing an old-school techie may have said about the iPad when it was first released. This is not the case. If I didn’t love technology, I wouldn’t have got into the industry. Furthermore, there are wonderful ways to use the iPad right across the consumer and business sectors. Creating music and graphics in an iPad is a pleasure impossible to emulate without the tactile experience of a tablet.

However, why should everyone do everything on a touch-based device simply because it is possible? I have no doubt that over the next couple of years I am going to witness plenty of clients make poor decisions by trying to squeeze computer shaped square pegs into iPad shaped round holes – and all because they read “post PC era” somewhere and took it too seriously. We all need to calm down – the computer’s not going anywhere.

The New iPad: Everything You Need to Know

Just iPadMost of the rumors posted in our recent iPad 3 post came true today when the new iPad was unveiled. Of course, there were a few things we all got wrong. Like the name for instance. But we all had it right where it counted. Welcome to the future of iPad.

Dropping the Number System

Despite numerous guesses at the name for the newest Apple tablet (the 2S, 3, or HD), they decided to simplify the naming system and just call it the “iPad”. It’s simple, clean, and I really like it. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Apple doesn’t number their MacBooks or iMacs do they? So removing the numbers from the iPad makes Apple’s various product lines seem even more in sync. Here’s hoping they extend this treatment to the iPhone lineup because numbers aren’t so cute once the years start adding up. The iPhone 11S doesn’t really roll off the tongue.

The Retina Display

Tech blogs everywhere (at least those lucky enough to get their hands on the device) are positively blown away by the new screen. Laptop Magazine said they “could sum up the visual experience in a word: whoa.” and Engadget said that the new iPad’s screen “is something that really needs to be ogled to truly appreciate.”

It looks like the screen lived up the hype and though it may have slightly less ppi (at 264, resulting in 3.1 million pixels on one screen) than the required 300, Apple is still calling it a Retina Display. The title of Retina Display still counts because when held at a normal distance (15 inches), the pixels are not visible. The resolution is as expected (2048 x 1536) and they say it has 44 percent more saturation than their previous IPS technology. And if the reactions around the web are to be believed, then new iPad really needs to be seen in person.

Camera Upgrade

My dreams of an HD front-facing camera have been dashed, though I am the first to admit that they were too good to be true. Instead, the new iPad features a new camera around back. Basically the same set up as the iPhone 4s, but with 5MP instead of 8. But it’s still rocking the 5-element lens, side-illuminated sensor, and infrared filter.

And that’s not all. The new camera is capable of recording video in 1080p HD at 30 fps. Apple has included temporal noise reduction that detects which pixels are actually moving and then using that information to decide what is noise and what is actual detail. Translation: Videos will look much clearer.

Brand New Guts

The new iPad is equipped with, not an A6 chip, but an A5x chip. Regardless of the name, the A5X still comes with a quad-core graphics module. Apple says the new chip has four times the graphics performance and twice the speed of a Tegra 3.

Faster Data Speeds

We all knew it was coming and now it’s official. 4G LTE connectivity will be supported, giving the user data speeds estimated at 21 Mbps on HSPA+ networks, all the way up to 73Mbps on LTE connections. And now I’m drooling… No. More. Waiting. The device will also be able to connect to GSM, UTMS, and CDMA networks.

More Memory

No actual confirmation on whether or not the new iPad has more RAM onboard, but it is pretty obvious that it would need some extra juice to power all those pixels.

Odds and Ends

The product dimensions remain virtually unchanged, measuring a mere 0.03 inches thicker than the iPad 2 and weighing in at 1.5 pounds.

Apple says battery life will stay at the beloved 10 hours.

The release date for the US, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia will be March 15.

Prices are set at $499 for 16GB, $599 for 32GB, and $699 for 64GB. Nothing shocking there. LTE capabilities will cost you $629, $729, and $829 respectively.

All in all, I am pretty excited about the newest iPad. I can’t wait to put my greasy fingers all over that Retina Display and abuse that LTE speed. Maybe I will round it all out with a few hours of Infinity Blade II. I guess it’s time to make another trip to the Apple store!

CES 2012: Day 1 Recap – Acer, OLPC, and Lenovo

The first day of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2012 is under wraps. Overall, it was quieter than what it will likely be later today. Acer and Lenovo held the only press events, but there were certainly some bits and pieces that were revealed throughout the day that are worthy for a spot in today’s recap.

Acer

Acer announced what they claim is the “world’s thinnest ultrabook.” The 13.3-inch Aspire S5 is a mere 15mm at its thickest point and weighs just under three pounds. It comes packing with HDMI, USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt ports. The S5 can also be woken up from a smartphone and can immediately log into email and social network accounts. Specs are still something of an unknown, although we do know that it will run an Intel Core processor and it’s coming in the second quarter of this year.

Acer also announced another ultrabook model dubbed the Aspire Timeline Ultra. These will measure in at 20mm thick and will come in 14- and 15-inch variants. This laptop will run some type of Intel Core i processor and sport HDMI and USB 3.0 ports. The Timeline Ultra will ship sometime during Q1 2012.

Acer is also getting into the cloud business with their new service called AcerCloud. It’s pretty much the same concept as Apple’s iCloud, as in it “securely connects all personal smart devices for anytime, anywhere access.” It’s almost too close to iCloud, in fact. The graphic explaining the service is almost identical to Apple’s. In any case, AcerCloud will be out Q2 2012.

Lastly, Acer finished up their presser with a teaser of their next-gen, quad-core Iconia Tab A700. It’ll have a native 1080p display and be powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 3 chip clocked at 1.3 GHz with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich on board.

OLPC (One Laptop Per Child)

The makers behind the XO laptop for underprivileged children came out with their own tablet. Just like the laptop, it’s a cheap, educational tablet made for children who live in poor parts of the world. It has an 8-inch display and comes with both a USB port and micro USB port. On the inside of the tablet, there’s a Marvell Armada PXA618 SoC processor and a battery that will deliver between 8-10 hours of juice.

It’s obviously not going to outperform the iPad or any other mainstream tablet for that matter, but for a $100 target price that the company wants to meet, it’s certainly not a bad device. However, you won’t be able to buy one of these yourself. They’re only sold to specific countries in bulk.

Lenovo

Lenovo unveiled their own transforming tablet/laptop device to take on Asus’s Transformer. It’s called the IdeaTab S2 and is equipped with Android Ice Cream Sandwich. It runs on a Qualcomm 1.5GHz dual-core processor and has up to 64GB of storage. It weighs in at just under 1.3 pounds and is just 8.7mm thick. For now, the S2 will only be released in China, with a worldwide release coming later.

They also announced the K91 Smart TV that runs on Ice Cream Sandwich and has a 55-inch (or 42-inch) 3D-ready, LED-backlit, 240Hz display. A 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor powers the software and has a built-in 5 megapixel webcam for video calling. The K91 is also a China exclusive, but no word on a worldwide or U.S. release.

Lenovo is also stepping into the smartphone market, announcing the S2. It’s really nothing special (even Lenovo admits that), since it only runs on Android 2.3, but Lenovo says it’s great for enterprise use since it has a secure kernel. The phone is already being made available to China customers for $400. No word on a U.S. release.

Other Fun Stuff

– It’s confirmed that Samsung’s newest device, the Galaxy Note (which looks to be a mix between a phone and tablet), will be headed to AT&T. We’ll hear more about the device in Samsung’s presser later today.

– Parrot, makers of the A.R. Drone, unveiled the 2.0 version of their remote-controlled quadricopter. This time around, the learning curve is much easier and on top of the updated build quality, the A.R. Drone 2.0 now records 720p footage.

Keep your eye on Techerator for more CES 2012 coverage throughout the week!

The Asus Eee Slate with Windows 7: A Tablet Computer on Steroids

I had been lusting for a tablet computer for quite some time. And no, I didn’t want one of those tiny, feature-limited Apple or Android tablets with a 6” screen and far too many smartphone similarities. I wanted the real deal: a 12”- 14” portable computer with full touch capabilities, an absurd amount of RAM and CPU power, and an operating system that can do just about anything. That’s right, I required a tablet on steroids.

When Asus came out with the EP121 Eee Slate with Windows 7 Home Premium and a Core i5 CPU, I thought to myself, “Maybe this is the Barry Bonds of tablet PCs that I have been looking for.” So I marched on down to my local Microsoft Store (yes, they do exist) and procured one for myself.

The Unboxing

*XBox 360 sold separately

In case you were curious, this is what Asus gives you in exchange for $1,200.00 (not including the Xbox 360). Yes, $1,200 is asking a lot considering one can get an iPad 2 for $499 or a Motorola XOOM for $199, but once again: I wanted a tablet that could hit 600 home runs in a season and bench press an entire church choir.

As the picture above shows us, besides the standard power supply Asus also supplies a Microsoft 6000 Bluetooth keyboard, a digital stylus pen with spare nibs (or in layman’s terms, the little plastic tip on the stylus pen that touches the screen), and a leather carrying case/easel to secure/prop-up the tablet PC for any level of ergonomic usage. All in all, plenty of accessories to get one’s tablet usage to a pleasant rolling start.

Hardware

Please excuse the plaid

The Asus EP121 is a 12.1” tablet with two USB 2.0 ports, a mini HDMI port, a 2 megapixel webcam, a headphone jack, a power button a virtual keyboard toggle button, an SD card reader slot, and a little hole to manually reset the device. The screen is a capacitive LED multi-touch 1280 x 800 display that works with both a pen and a human finger. Overall, the device weighs about 2.56 pounds, or rather the equivalent weight of a half-gallon of milk (if that helps at all). If one is concerned with lap burn from the device, be at ease. The device runs pleasingly cool and can be held for extended periods of time without any notion of heat transfer.

On the inside, the EP121 contains an Intel quad-core i5 CPU at 1.33 GHz, with the potential to be overclocked up to 1.86 GHz (if one is willing to tweak it). This CPU combined with the 4 GB of DDR3 RAM allows the EP121 to run Windows 7 at impressive speeds, allowing a cold boot to occur in 8-12 seconds (boot times may vary). The SSD hard drive allows for fast file accessing and writing, but is limited to 64 GB in size; those of us who want to store our 360,000 pictures of dogs in silly costumes might have to split our photo storage with an external device. Oh, and it has an integrated graphics card as well, which can easily handle some of the videogames out on the market today (I’ve heard that Civilization 5 works well with this tablet’s touch interface).

The battery is a 4 cell lithium-ion 34 W/h module that can be fully charged in less than 8 hours. Of course, the smaller battery combined with the beefy hardware mean that this guy has a short lifespan: about three hours to be exact. But really, when you’re dealing with high-powered internal components running a full-blown operating system like Windows 7, one cannot entirely complain. It’s a major drawback, but easy to overcome by just bringing the power cable along.

Software

The EP121 is running a 64-Bit Windows 7 Home-Premium with Wacom tablet digitizer software to allow one’s finger to do all sorts of beautiful touching and multi-touching. With that in mind, though, it is clear that Windows 7 was not designed specifically for tablets in mind, since finger touches to small check boxes and drop down menus can take a few hits to select. This of course can be solved by trying to recalibrate the screen or by using the stylus, but it would be nice to have more precision already there. To speed up one’s touch usage, I highly recommend learning the “flicks” touchscreen shortcuts that Windows 7 uses to move forward, backward, up, and down a page.

Using standard applications with the touch-based operating system seemed fine, and really the only issues I found was Chrome and Firefox do not allow for finger scrolling on webpages. After some digging a solution was found (more specifically, see: Chrometouch and Grab and Drag for Firefox).

For the graphic artists out there, the RAM and CPU of this tablet more than satisfy the performance beasts known as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, and to date I have seen no issues working with them. The stylus pen does wonders for photo editing and graphics design, and when paired with the Bluetooth keyboard makes editing fast and precise.

The virtual keyboard included with Windows 7 is quite user-friendly and reliable. I have seen instances where the virtual keyboard will be stubborn and not appear when summoned, but fortunately that can be remedied by pressing the physical “keyboard” button on the top of the device. I also have seen issues with the physical Bluetooth keyboard being unresponsive with the EP121’s Bluetooth module, but it is a rare occurrence. Besides that, both methods provide ample QWERTY goodness and enhance the overall non-laptop experience.

If you prefer to actually write out everything, the handwriting tool built into the virtual keyboard can be used as well. I was surprised that it could figure out my abominable chicken-scratch handwriting and convert my written words to text – a nice bonus to the text input options.

I get easily distracted when I take notes...

A step above the simple handwriting interface is the Microsoft application called OneNote, which comes extremely in handy for scribbling notes and collecting thoughts. When linked to your Windows Live account, these virtual notes and scribbles can be pushed into the cloud for continual availability to revise and update. With OneNote, the EP121 goes beyond the realm of a computer to become a notebook, a stetchbook, and even to-do list.

Conclusion

So did the Asus EP121 with its massive CPU and RAM power and full Windows 7 touch capabilities live up to my figurative steroid enhancing expectations? The short answer is absolutely yes. Its fast, touch-friendly, and perfect for doing just about anything tablet related.

The long answer? Yes it is a fantastic tablet, but that honor comes with a signature “Barry Bonds Hall of Fame Asterisk” attached. If one looks at the current state of the Windows 7 based tablet PC market (which according to a Newegg search contains a total of five other competitors, none of which have an i5 Processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, or a 64-bit architecture), the over-powered Asus EP121 obviously stands out in its class. But that is like trying to argue that a middle school boy who hit puberty before his classmates is the best hitter in baseball. So what I’m trying to get at is this: until a slew of newer, higher performance tablets enter the market (which will most likely happen with the eventual release of the tablet friendly Windows 8), it is hard to say if the EP121 is truly the best.

But until that day comes, I’d just go with my short answer.

Windows 8: Better Built From Scratch?

Windows 8 is rapidly taking shape, and on the surface it looks fantastic. On the surface. Only on the surface. Under the hood things are a little messier, because at its heart Windows 8 is still Windows, the same Windows that we’ve known, and loved and hated in equal measure, since it debuted under Bill Gates leadership in 1985.

The question that really has to be asked is whether Microsoft would have been better building Windows 8 from scratch? Would starting again and building from the ground up have been a better strategy than effectively plugging the holes?

First, let’s look at Windows 8 in more detail, and thanks to Microsoft’s insatiable need to share we know a lot about Windows 8 already, even though it’s at least a year away from being unleashed on the public. Steven Sinofsky, President of the Windows Division at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, is keeping us in the loop with the Building Windows 8 blog.

Windows 8 is a two-headed beast. Its user interface (called Metro) will be the default for all users regardless of their machine of choice, is big, bold, and colorful. Under the hood, doing all the hard work, is Windows 7 with bells on. There have been a few small changes made here and there, with ribbons being integrated left, right, and center, but it’s still the same old Windows.

The trouble is that the shiny new UI is gaining all the attention and taking all the plaudits. Rightly so, I guess, because it is regarded as a triumph, both visually and in terms of usability. But it was conceived with tablets in mind, being finger-friendly and reminiscent of Windows Phone 7 mobile OS. At this point in time most people don’t own tablets, and those that do own Apple iPads. So it’s a gamble.

The Windows desktop PC users know all too well exists on Windows 8 as an app, given equal billing as Angry Birds and Facebook. But it’s still there, in the background, with all its inherent security flaws and decades-old issues. Which seems a little bizarre. It’s as though Microsoft wants to forge its way into the future, competing with Apple and Google as it does so, but feels the need to hold on to the past, its past, a past that many would say needs to be left well behind if the company is to remain as the giant it currently is.

I can’t help feeling that Microsoft is trying to please all of the people all of the time, which is, as we know, impossible. There is a very real risk that Windows 8 will sit between the two camps – the classic and the modern – and please nobody. It may have been a more worthy strategy for Microsoft to face the future head on and build Windows 8 completely from scratch. Sure, it may have meant an extra year or two’s wait, but Windows 7 is serving most people’s needs adequately at this stage. And with firms upgrading from XP and Vista en masse, a delay wouldn’t have been too detrimental to Microsoft’s revenues.

Perhaps a better question to ask would be whether Microsoft should build Windows 9, or whatever its next, next operating system is called. Because that has to deliver on all fronts in the way Windows 7 managed to. It is notoriously difficult trying to cater to everyone at the same time, and that could eventually prove to be Microsoft’s downfall.

Image Credit: magn3tik