Android Wear Are You?

Is it just me or has every smartwatch that doesn’t run watchOS become vaporwear? I feel like if you want to buy a smartwatch then you will most likely have to settle for the Apple Watch or a smartwatch that really isn’t “supported” by Google. By supported I mean that they are featured on the official Android Wear web page and will be getting continual OS updates from Google.

When the start of the current smartwatch craze occurred I really wanted a smartwatch too. It wasn’t for the style or visual appeal but the convenience of not having to actually have your smartphone in the same room as you to respond to a new message, or even check the time (like a standard watch). Right now I generally carry my smartphone with me and leave it on the table whichever room I am in. Recently I started to get the itch to get a smartwatch but when I saw what was on offer I was a little disappointed. There was nothing on the market that I could find that was easy for me to purchase or supported by Google. Living in Australia has not made getting a smartwatch very easy it would seem.

Going to the official Android Wear website and examining the different Android smartwatches that are available was flat out disappointing. Not only was the selection fairly poor but actually getting a hold of one of the smartwatches through the officially supported stores was near impossible. Starting with the LG Android Wear smartwatches, none appear to be available to purchase in Australia. I continually get routed to the US website and when I change to Australia and check for availability it shows “coming soon”, even though these smartwatches have been out for some time. The three other Android Wear smartwatches (Zenwatch 2, Huawei Watch and Moto 360 2) all are supposed to be available through the Harvey Norman store. But when you click the link to examine the item all you get is a “Page Not Found” page. Google appears to not have abandoned the Android Wear platform entirely either. Android Police appears to have obtained information about Android Wear smartwatches that will be getting Oreo updates and/or already have the latest version of Android (see here). But why are these smartwatches not displayed on the Android Wear webpage?

Microsoft is also out of the smartwatch market as of 2016. They stopped producing more Microsoft Band 2 devices and unfortunately had no plans to release a Microsoft Band 3 according to this article from The Verge. Unlike the traditional smartwatches the Microsoft Band was closer to a fitness band with its emphasis on health and fitness monitoring. With Cortana integration it was super appealing to me as that is my primary AI assistance, even on my Nokia 8 (running Android Oero), Cortana has replaced Google Now/Assistant. Maybe Microsoft will return back to the smartwatch market, but with them also pulling out of the smartphone hardware market I doubt it very much. If (and this is a big if) they release a Surface Phone or Surface Watch then I will most likely be picking them up. I have never had any major issues with any of the Surface products that I have purchased, even the Surface RT. But nothing Microsoft has said, shown, or even hinted at has indicated a new smartwatch from them.

Do I really need a smartwatch? Not really. Would it be a nice to have? Absolutely. I have a couple of really nice standard watches. Some have leather bands, some have metal bands. None are “smart” and none do anything more than show me the time and date. For now this will have to do. I will be taking a look at various online stores to see what I can get here in Australia, but right now the Android Wear future does not look as bright as it once was.

Surface Book 2 Impressions Part 2 of 3

If you haven’t already please check out the first part of my Surface Book 2 impressions here. It outlines how I chose the Surface Book 2 and what I was after in a laptop.

This post is going to be about the look and feel of the new Surface Book 2 13.5” version. I will be doing a performance and usability break down in the coming week as I want to have as much time putting the Surface Book 2 through its paces first.

The Surface Book 2 unboxing experience (actually any Surface product I would say) is very close to how I would imagine an Apple MacBook unboxing would be. I’ve never had an Apple product so I wouldn’t know exactly, but from what I hear Apple tries to make the unboxing experience as premium as their device. The box is extremely durable, minimalistic and has each component placed ever so thoughtfully to make the experience as pleasant to the consumer as possible. From the get go Microsoft has made the experience feel premium, kudos.

Once you take the Surface Book 2 out of the box you immediately feel you are holding a premium product. I will probably end up using the word “premium” or the phrase “top of its class” a number of times in this post because that is probably the best word and phrase to describe the Surface Book 2. The Surface Book 2 is not too heavy and not too large, so carrying it and using it on the go or on your lap is not going to be an issue. Note that I am using the 13.5” version and not the 15” one, so perhaps the 15” might be a little different; the 13.5” is the perfect size and weight for me your experience may vary.

Covering the ports and buttons quickly, the Surface Book 2 has on the left of the base two USB A ports and an SD card slot. On the right side of the base it has a USB C port and a proprietary charging port. Something most phones in 2017 don’t have is a 3.5mm headphone port; however the Surface Book 2 has a 3.5mm headphone port. It can be found on the top right of the display/lid which is great when you are using the device as a tablet but not so great when you are using it as a traditional laptop. The top left of the display also has the power button and the volume buttons which is nice to have, especially if you are going to use the device as a tablet.

Every part of the device is made from what appears to be a premium metal, it has a matte finish so there are no finger prints and makes the entire device look and feel luxurious. There are really only two colours on the device (not including the chrome inlayed Microsoft logo on the display). The colours are the light gray and black. I don’t think I can find any plastic on the Surface Book 2. Microsoft seems to have gone the route of “if you are going to be spending big bucks on a new device, then you are going to get premium parts” and I commend them on that. I have bought gaming laptops in the past which come close to the price of the new Surface Book 2 and have significantly more plastic in the build. They could have skimped on some parts but they didn’t.

If you look at the device from the side with the display/lid is closed there is a gap (it does not completely close) and that is a result of the hinge that Microsoft uses. I personally have no concern that my device does not completely close and actually am a fan of the hinge design; it is unique and does the job well in giving the consumer a good display tilt. Lifting the display/lid is extremely easy and takes minimal effort. Closing the display/lid is also just as satisfying as when the display/lid touches the base there is a satisfying magnetic click; most likely they added this to highlight to the consumer that you have closed the display/lid and it will not open up by accident. It is the little things like this that make the device feel premium and well thought out. Microsoft didn’t need to add these little touches, but it shows they really care. This is something that Apple does well and many other manufacturers miss.

One of the top two most important features of any laptop is the trackpad. Many manufacturers like HP, Dell, Lenovo, etc. generally have extremely poor to barely adequate trackpads. They are sized poorly, or placed in an odd location, or feel cheap. The Surface Book 2 trackpad however is top of its class. It is positioned perfectly on the base, is large enough, and feels smooth which to me allows for extreme pointer precision. Apple makes some of the best trackpads in the business, but Microsoft has caught up and its trackpad on the Surface Book 2 is on bar with the best that Apple offer. Kudos to Microsoft for not skimping out on the trackpad, they could have easily given us something smaller and made from plastic but they have gone again with the premium materials used throughout the device.

Something that a laptop needs to truly be useful is a solid keyboard, especially if you are to be typing on your lap or are not docked anywhere. Along with a premium trackpad there is a premium feeling keyboard. I have used many different keyboards, both on laptops and on desktop PCs. Personally I am a major fan of mechanical keyboards. There is something about that key click and key travel on them that makes typing on it such a pleasant experience. The Surface Book 2 has the keys perfectly spaced and the key travel is also near perfect. I don’t know if it is a mechanical keyboard but it sure performs like one. Every time you hit a key you get a satisfying click, and with the optimal spacing and travel you can easily type with little slow down. The keyboard is backlit which is pretty common now and is a handy feature to have. Out of all the laptops I have used this has one of the best if not the best keyboards. A close second would have to be my old Lenovo ThinkPad which also has that satisfying click and mechanical feel. It also worthwhile to note that the device feels perfectly weighted so there is little to no wobble when you are typing on your lap.

With the keyboard and trackpad covered I should probably move on to the display. You get a beautiful 3000 x 2000 resolution display. Some people are really picky about the colours on their displays, me personally I am not overly too concerned. As long as my blue is blue and my red is red I’m happy. The colours on this display are perfectly acceptable and I would not think many people would have any issues with them. The display also can go extremely dim and also extremely bright, so you have both ends of the spectrum covered. Images, video, everything that is presented on the display is crystal clear and extremely sharp. On a laptop, it has to be one of the best displays I have used. I cannot fault Microsoft here on the display. If there is one thing that I would have liked is a slightly smaller bezel, but I can understand why they had to have a bezel of this size. Coming from the Surface Pro 3 which itself had a large bezel and brilliant display, the Surface Book 2 is miles ahead in display quality.

Overall I feel that Microsoft has crafted a premium and top of its class product. I know there really isn’t much different when you first glance at the Surface Book 2 over the original Surface Book but this device really has been refined. From the precise trackpad to the near pixel perfect display, everything has been thought of. Microsoft have designed and engineered a marvelous device that can act as a laptop and a tablet. Nothing feels cheap or tacky, you are getting a premium product with premium looking and feeling parts.

As noted at the start stay tuned for my final post which will cover the Surface Book 2’s performance, and let me know if there is anything specific you want me to test. I’ll be pushing the device to its limit while I use the development tools I have installed and work on my side projects.