Technology Review…………Dell XPS 12 Ultrabook


Now that the prelude is over, let’s get down and dirty with the details.

HANG UP!!!!!


Can I get a word in here, seriously?

OK.  Joking aside.  Here is my real review.  Yes, it has crashed a few times.  Yes I lost a document or two already.  But that isn’t really a tech review, is it?

I am a man spoiled rotten by Apple and their near flawless products…So I WILL take it hard on this machine.

To begin with, look at that name.  Dell XPS 12 Ultrabook—-They should add a few more words, how about “Tablet Laptop Computer.”  That would do nicely.  And that would almost fully explain the machine.  It’s a Dell, so guess what?  Windows.  Not just any Windows, but shiny new Windows 8!  (Should I use the word Surface, or Pro, or Metro, or Windows Phone Mobile?  I lose track after awhile.)

I am going to start with the machine, then move to a review of the operating system.  You might say, “But SpartanNerd, that ain’t fair!”  Keep yer “buts” down.  This is how I would review a Mac, no?  LEVEL PLAYING FIELD, Hub City Geeks.

To review the machine, just look at these pictures.

Yep.  This machine is a transformer.  It transforms from a laptop into a tablet.

In laptop mode, you can tell that it is clearly inspired by Appl….I mean Intel!  It is an ultrabook, meaning that it is inspired by the MacBook Air, literally, but by saying that it is inspired by Intel, they are skirting the truth that must be mighty uggly to them.  And that has two “g”s.  It has a backlit keyboard, which is cool, but the letters themselves don’t light up.  This takes away from the “jewelry store” effect you get from first turning on a new mac, but it works essentially the same in every other way.  The keys are also “chiclet”style.  As you can see my standard issue model from work that I am reviewing here has a black and grey color scheme.  There is some shinier places on it around the edges, etc.

The trackpad is frustrating.  I am really spoiled with the Macbook Pro’s trackpad.  The one on the XPS 12 isn’t as responsive, seems to want me to actually click it, and doesn’t mimic touchscreen gestures.  In other words, it is a different language than the tablet part of the machine.  Someone might say, “Big deal.  You know it is in laptop mode.”  Well, as you get to using this thing, you start to see that this IS a big deal.  You have to teach yourself two different ways of communicating with the same machine.

One more, sort of minor thing.  Backspace and delete are DIFFERENT BUTTONS.  Has it been like this, and I just forgot?  And the little things count, so here’s another one.  I like to be able to open my screen and the keyboard stay put, because the heavier part doesn’t move.  Any MacBook Pro user knows what I am talking about.  But this don’t happen with almost any other computer, including the XPS 12.

Other things, you turn the machine on via a little switch on the left side.  It has a glowing light, also akin to a Mac.  The USB ports are on the right side of the machine, for when you get frustrated with that trackpad and decide to switch to a mouse.  The USB jacks on mine are very tight.  I have to pull really hard to remove my USB chord from the socket!  There are also battery lights on the right side that activate at the push of a button.  Sound familiar?

So, while you are in laptop mode, you also have the touchscreen that works.  I might sound like someone who writes for Macworld when I say this, but it IS awkward to reach up and touch the screen while you are laptop mode. It just seems wrong.  After awhile, your hand does get tired.  Also, me and every other technology geek out there have trained ourselves…”Don’t touch the screen!”   Now that we can, we feel like, “Why?  I have a mouse attached!”

So, is it a workhorse?  Hardly.  Read the first couple of sentences.  I don’t know how much RAM it has, or anything, but I guarantee it isn’t enough.  MICROSOFT WORD HANGS UP!  Keep in mind nothing else is running besides Outlook.  I hate to think I was playing an intense game on this machine ….shudder…..

I told the SpartanMrs. I would try and be nice, so here goes….It is light.  It is kind of cool looking in laptop mode.  I already like it better than my Desktop Windows machine.  How’s that?  I can sit in my comfy office chair and check my e-mail.  And not walk 10 feet to the uncomfy plastic chair.

Now, let’s transform it.  The transformation is spiffy!  But I have to wonder how long this mechanism will last.  My boss assured me that it was tested hundreds or thousands of times by a sweatshop worker robot.  We’ll see.  I have my doubts, mostly because the springs that make it click in place are made of plastic.  You flip the screen around, and collapse it over the keyboard.  Now you have a tablet computer.

This tablet is supposed to use the ol’ “metro” screen.  But it can switch to regular Windows.  See above for how well this works out.  The tablet stuff feels right here, but the desktop applications don’t so much.

This screen is NOT “oleo-phobic.”  It will pick up your fingerprints, streaks of oil and grime and dirt.  And because it is sort of big……much bigger than an iPad Mini (my preferred tablet,) you can’t easily wipe it on your pants legs.  So keep a hanky handy!  And did I mention elbow grease?

You press the “Windows” button at the bottom, to get a Home Screen effect like you would on an iPod or iPhone.  Other than that, I don’t know what to say, except that sometimes it gets stuck in an orientation that you don’t want, and it doesn’t readily switch the way you want it like an iPad would.  You have to exaggerate motions in the directions to get the re-orientation to trigger.

So what about this Windows 8 Operating System?  I would like to say a few nice things first.  I am glad it isn’t an IOS clone, like Android is apparently.  “Stolen product,” anyone?  The Windows Home Screen (formerly known as Metro, to techies out there) is kind of pretty.  I like how the “live tiles” update stuff.  This is arguably better than what an iPhone or iPad can do.  And the tiles don’t work like IOS icons.  BUT, they aren’t as easy to learn….not as intuitive.

I said a few nice things, but, it has the “I am going to make you work for it” philosophy that Windows has always had.  It isn’t an intuitive system.  I am afraid Apple took the easy ideas already, and patented them.  Not that I believe MicroSoft would have chosen the easiest stuff if they were first to the party.  Remember, they were the first people to market “tablet computers,” and were never able to bust the market open the way Apple did with their trained and groomed crowd of iPhone users.

Here is an example.  I was working in Microsoft Word.  I decided to switch and browse for some clip art with Internet Explorer.  I used the tablet version of the browser.  Then, I was like….”how do I get back to the desktop?  Well, the way this works, is you swipe from the top of the screen to the bottom to close a program.  I did that, which brought me to the Windows Home screen.  But I wanted to see the desktop….and I started to get frustrated, then I remembered.  Swipe from left to right to browse screens.

See what I mean?  If someone hadn’t told me how to do that, I wouldn’t have got it.

How about this, How do you make it sleep?  You flick the right side to make a menu appear, choose, “settings,” then hit the power button graphic, and choose sleep from the menu.  Isn’t that too much work FOR A BASIC FUNCTION?  I could transform it and close it clamshell style.  But that is too much work, too.

So what is my rating for this machine?

I give it a 5/10.  It is better than my old desktop (3/10.)  It isn’t a 9/10 like my MacBook Pro  (I mark down the MB Pro because the rubber pads on bottom come off too easily.)  What computer is a 10/10?  My desktop iMac.  (2006 model)  Maybe I’m going too easy on that one, the SpartanMrs. and I spent a long night replacing the hard drive in that one.

Maybe after awhile this tablet computer will become like “an old friend,”  But I have yet to really bond with it.

“Silly Rabbi,” said George, “Tricks are for Kids!”             (Nerdy quote from Captain Underpants #5)

I like putting these Nerdy quotes.  Comment people!

Buy a Mac….Don’t be a CheapSkate

As mentioned numerous times, the SpartanNerd is a Cheapskate.  How cheap?  Well my nerdly pursuits are anything but cheap.  But I try to cut corners where I can, by subscribing to comics, buying booster packs of MTG cards instead of the cards I want, going with Netflix instead of cable\satellite, etc.

But where am I not a Cheapskate?
Well I figure there are three areas where being a cheapskate just won’t cut it….
Go ahead and get the expensive trash bags!
Buy the Scott-Tissue.
Get a Mac, instead of a PC.
The first two probably have obvious answers…..You want to avoid a mess.  Get the Hefty bags.  Want to avoid plumbing blockages, get the Scott-Tissue.
But what about the computer?  Well, when you buy a computer, you should be thinking….”Hmmm….I’m buying a friend and a working partner.  I’m buying a pet.  I’m buying an item that I am going to be seen with.  I’m buying an item that is dependable.”  SO YOU SHOULD GO AHEAD AND GET A MAC!
Yes it is more expensive at first, but hear me out Hub City Geeks!  I remember the days of DOS.  (Yes.  I am a true SpartanNerd!)  In those days, you had to know the commands to type at the prompt in order to accomplish anything.  Want to delete that cute kitten picture?  You had to type at the C:\> prompt, “del cutekitten.gif”   This command would only work in the root C: directory.  If it was in a different directory, (nowadays directories are called “folders.”) you would type something like 
“C:\kittypictures>del cutekitten.gif    .   Got me?  Of course not.  Most of you folks have only lived in the age of the mouse and the touchscreen.  This kind of code has been lost to the world of the casual nerd.
So after the golden age of DOS commands and codes, Microsoft Windows came along.  Keep in mind, this is how I saw it.  Windows was a HUGE ADVANCE.  You could see that folder on the screen, and open it, and delete the kitty by dragging it to the trashcan.  WOW.
Now I had a relationship with Windows.  You see, I could sense the DOS codes going on behind the scenes.  I had a leg up on everyone in this area, it seemed.  But Windows became WACK over time, and I didn’t realize it.  I was like that frog in the water that slowly came to a boil. And then a breakthrough.  A revelation.  A breath of fresh air.  and I didn’t see it coming.
I was invited by my employers to attend a Podcasting workshop.  (This was in 2005.)  At this event, people from Apple computers came and dug in their heels and taught us how to do podcasts.  Now I’ve done a few podcasts since, but what was transformative for me was that they gave me an eMac and an iPod.  The eMac ran OSX “Tiger,” and was really alien to me.  But after a day of using it and getting lost in the machine, and actually creating a product with basically no trouble, I realized that my friends the Window PCs had had their day in the sun.  Now the Mac was Back in Town!
Now I did have a little relationship with Apple machines before this workshop.  In elementary school we had Apple IIe computers that ran floppy disks.  In college we had a mac computer lab that would eat my disks.
But this was nearly ten years after all of that.  OSX is a dream compared to Windows, in every form.  My computers have crashed about 10 times in the last EIGHT YEARS.  I was handed a Windows 8 machine today for work, a Dell XPS, brand new out of the box, THAT THING HAS ALREADY CRASHED.
Go with the Mac.  You won’t regret it.