Kaspersky Anti-Virus + Microsoft Windows 10 + Microsoft Office 365 Issue

Recently I had updated three of my household’s Windows 10 machines (one Surface Book 2, one custom built gaming PC, and one ASUS laptop) to the latest stable/release version of Windows (Microsoft Windows April 2018 Update). Each of machines also have a copy of Microsoft Office 365 installed, along with the latest version of Kaspersky Anti-Virus.

What I have found after the Windows 10 April 2018 Update installation; Microsoft Office 365 fails to properly recognise that I have a registered version. I can still use the products in the suite such as Word, Excel and Outlook, but am given 3 days to rectify the problem before the product runs in a limited capacity. I have the correct account logged in, the credentials are correct, and if I try to register and authenticate via the Internet option (phone option is not available) it completely fails. Googling or Binging the error code that is produced does not show any resolution or worthwhile results.

Restarting the machine, restarting any of the Microsoft Office 365 products also does not seem to resolve the problem. Initially I thought that communication to the Microsoft servers was unavailable (sometimes servers go down), but trying to use the product at any time resulted in the register/authenticate prompt to appear on all the machines. So out of sheer desperation and curiosity I thought perhaps I should disable my anti-virus because sometimes they can cause problems with certain applications. Low and behold when I booted up any of the Microsoft Office 365 products the registration/authentication prompt no longer appeared. It appeared that Kaspersky Anti-Virus was blocking or limiting my ability to properly communicate with the Microsoft servers.

Now that Microsoft Office 365 could be restarted without the register/authenticate prompt appearing I decided to re-enable my Kaspersky Anti-Virus, restart my machine and launch the Microsoft Office 365 products. Still no more register/authenticate prompts; great news. Whatever happened between the Windows 10 April 2018 Update, Kaspersky Anti-Virus and Microsoft Office 365; it seemed like it invalidated my copy of Microsoft Office 365. If you encounter the same problem after updating your Windows 10 machine then try the following steps because they worked for me:

  1. Close any open Microsoft Office 365 product you have open.
  2. Disable any anti-virus that you have running (if possible).
  3. Open a Microsoft Office 365 product.
  4. Close the Microsoft Office 365 product.
  5. Turn on your anti-virus.
  6. Restart your Windows 10 machine (this is optional).
  7. Open a Microsoft Office 365 product (the register/authenticate pop up should no longer appear).

Hopefully the above steps helps to resolve your problem.

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.

Being an Xbox and Windows Insider

After installing a new Xbox OS update on my Xbox One X console, I launched the Xbox Insider application to see what the changes were and if there was any new Quests, Polls, Survey, etc. I noticed that I had been an Xbox Insider for 3 years and 11 months, essentially as soon as there was an option to try the latest features and opt in to new functionality I jumped on it. Along with being an Xbox Insider, I am also a Windows Insider; but I have not been as active in that program in recent months. Checking out the new features and functionality that the teams over at Redmond and around the world working at Microsoft are developing is something that really excites me. I love trying out new gadgets, devices, software, etc. What Microsoft is doing with both their Windows and Xbox platforms, allowing individuals to try new features and provide constructive criticism and feedback is extremely positive and very pro-consumer. It helps ensure that the best product is produced.

However by trying out early builds on either platform is not always fine and dandy. There have been a number of times when simple and basic functionality such as Xbox Live Party Chat did not work at all or installing and/or updating applications completely failed. Luckily to combat this, Microsoft has separated the Insider builds into “Rings” which determine the stability of each build and how new the features you will be getting are. If you are in the Alpha Ring (like I am) then you will get the latest and potentially breaking builds or you could be in the Delta Ring and get a significantly more stable build but not have the newest features. This creates choice for the individual while still allowing them to contribute to the evolution of the platform and assist in bug reporting (something as a software engineer is extremely helpful, the more testers the better). More software companies really need to start providing this feedback process as software is becoming ever increasingly more complex.

Many people will most likely not want to be involved in trying unstable or incomplete builds/features for various reasons. To me though, providing feedback and helping the features become less buggy and complete ready for the masses is rewarding (even though I do not write a single piece of code). To make trying out the new features more enticing and understandable, Microsoft has created Quests and Surveys. Generally if there is new functionality added after an update a new Quest will appear which shows you how to activate and or try it out. It is a very handy way to get your device configured with the new features. The Surveys provide an easy way to communicate how you find the new features (if they even do work as intended) and if there are any issues that you encountered. Reporting bugs and issues is also extremely easy. Each platform as their own Hub that allows you to provide as much detail as possible to help Microsoft resolve your problem, and if others have the same issue then they can piggy back off yours and add further information and diagnostic data.

Overall the entire Insider experience on both platforms has been fun and for someone who is looking to try new features before others, or just wants to help Microsoft out in providing the best possible experience for everyone then the Insider programs are a must. For more information about the Xbox Insiders Program check out the following link. For more information about the Windows Insiders Program check out the following link.

Microsoft Edge and Paid YouTube Content

This evening I decided I wanted to watch some YouTube content on my PC using Microsoft Edge. I have a decent list of purchased movies and TV series through the Google Play Store. After looking over the list of paid content I settled on a movie and I clicked on it ready to watch on my second monitor while I was doing some other stuff on my primary monitor. To my surprise I was greeted by a playback error. To be exact I got the following error message in the video player (I have blacked out some content that I deem not relevant).

YouTube Paid Content Playback Error

The exact message reads, “An error occurred. Please try again later. (Playback ID: MLeXgYpv05LH1Uhq)“.

I decided to click the “Learn More” link which would hopefully provide some informative information as to why I got this error. But in typical Google fashion I have found it was little to no use. I decided to try their troubleshooting steps.

YouTube Paid Content Playback Error Troubleshooting Page

I first closed every tab that I had open except the YouTube tab and tried again. No luck got the same error message, a different Playback ID error code was presented though. The next step was to restart my router, did that and still no luck. I restarted my computer to see if that would help like it said, again the same error message. The second last option was to verify that I was using the latest version of my browser; there was no Windows updates and I am unaware of any other way to update Microsoft Edge (if there is please let me know). The absolute last resort is to use Google Chrome. I’m sorry Google but this isn’t going to happen and really is not a troubleshooting step.

Curiously I decided to try some videos from some of my subscribers and those videos played absolutely fine with no issue on Microsoft Edge. In fact I am watching one of my favourite YouTubers playing XCOM 2: War of the Chosen as I write this. So clearly there appears to be an issue trying to stream paid content through YouTube on Microsoft Edge. I quickly tried my Android phone and using the official YouTube app I had no issue playing the same video (so it was not a licensing issue) and the video plays absolutely fine on my Xbox One X using the YouTube app.

Finally I decide to try Google Chrome. Low and behold the video starts with no issue. I tried again on Microsoft Edge and I get an error message. To me it seems that Google is doing something in back that is restricting content being played on Microsoft Edge or Microsoft has something in Edge that Google does not like, blocking paid content from being played. Perhaps being paid and licensed content I thought maybe there was a setting that was causing issues, but Netflix on Microsoft Edge had no issues playing. Has anyone else had the same issue? If so did you get it resolved or does the problem persist? Generally I have found Google to be near useless when it comes to any support and their response to issues is down right abysmal (the only other company to be close or worse is Valve and Steam Support). Looks like when I am on my PC or laptop I won’t be streaming any paid content from YouTube until this is fixed.

Google Chrome VS Microsoft Edge On My Surface Book 2

Now that I have moved on from my Surface Pro 3 and have been using the new Surface Book 2 since it was released on a daily basis, I thought it would be a good time to do another comparison between the two browsers. If you want to check out my previous comparison of the two browsers on my Surface Pro 3, it can be found here. This time around I put Google Chrome up against Microsoft Edge on my Surface Book 2, and the results surprised me a little. If you want to read about my Surface Book 2 experience then click here.

Normally it is standard practice to install another web browser as soon as you install a version of Windows. Nearly everyone I know uses either Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox (no kidding, I maybe know a handful of people who use Microsoft Edge and they all live in my house). No one even bothers to give Microsoft Edge a go and see if it does the job, which is a real shame. Whatever Microsoft has done with the Fall Creators Update and subsequent updates to the Microsoft Edge browser has made it extremely more stable, responsive and well, usable.

Here is just a short list of gripes I had with the Microsoft Edge browser that resulted me in having to install Google Chrome when I was using my Surface Pro 3:

  1. Lack of first, and third party extension support.
  2. Web pages failing to load and render.
  3. Tabs would become unresponsive too often.
  4. Constant crashes after not being able to recover web pages and tabs.

Now as you can see some of these issues are problems that make the browser not usable in one’s day to day browsing, I mean who would really want to properly render and load a web page without it crashing?

Once I setup my Surface Book 2 I did not install Google Chrome, I wanted to give Microsoft Edge a fair go. On paper Microsoft Edge has all the features a user would want and more. Since using Microsoft Edge I have noticed little to no issue with web pages failing to load and render, tabs are very rarely becoming unresponsive if ever and when they do become unresponsive they recover quickly and do not cause the browser to lock up and crash. Come to think of it I have not had Microsoft Edge crash on me once during my time using it on my Surface Book 2, and I have not had to force close it either.

Microsoft Edge has had no negative effects such as causing my Surface Book 2 to generate a large amount of heat or spin up a fan (my Surface Book 2 does not have a fan because I have the 13.5” i5 version), and the battery life has been extremely good. The only thing I wished was better with Microsoft Edge was the support for extensions, and from the extensions that are available most are buggy or do not function as well as their Google Chrome counterpart. With all this positivity I still wanted to see how Google Chrome performs on my Surface Book 2. After installing Chrome and using it for a couple of days, it showed me how far Microsoft has gone in catching up and passing Google when it comes to web browser optimization.

Google Chrome is known to be a resource hog and to Google’s credit it has been improving the resource management of the web browser with each subsequent release. Google Chrome chews up a large amount of your available RAM, unlike Microsoft Edge. But chewing up your available RAM is not the major problem here; I mean really using up available resources is not an issue (it is there to be used for a reason). The absolute worst part about Google Chrome on the Surface Book 2 is the drain on the battery. With Microsoft Edge I can get solid day’s worth of use on my Surface Book 2; Google Chrome on the other hand cannot give the same amount of battery life doing the same browsing. A solid day to me is 8 hours and using Microsoft Edge with other tools running easily passes this. Google Chrome and the same tools running can only last me around 6 hours. To some people 2 hours is not much, but that 2 hours can determine whether you leave your charger at home or now.

The issue where watching YouTube on Google Chrome would spin up my CPU fan of my Surface Pro 3 did not happen on my Surface Book 2. The primary reason for this is because my Surface Book 2 does not have a fan. What did happen though was that my device was a little warmer when watching YouTube on Google Chrome than on Microsoft Edge, it was not too hot to use on my lap but there was a noticeable difference.

Overall I think I’ll be sticking with Microsoft Edge completely now on my devices (on my Android device I have switch to Microsoft Edge and will most likely change my default browser back to Microsoft Edge from Google Chrome on my gaming PC), especially on my Surface Book 2. With the fixes that Microsoft have done to the Edge browser, if you have not given it a chance then try it out; it will surprise you I think at how well it performs compared to Google Chrome, and if you have a device you take on the go with you then it will probably drain less of your battery.

Well done Microsoft in really taking the time in optimizing your default browser, now if people only could shake the bad taste of Internet Explorer out of their mouths, they may give Edge a go.

Surface Book 2 Impressions Part 3 of 3

If you haven’t already please check out my two previous posts about my impressions and experience with the Surface Book 2. The first post can be found here, and the second post can be found here. Enjoy 🙂

This is my third and final part of my Surface Book 2 impressions. The first post was an introduction to how and why I chose the Surface Book 2 as my primary laptop device over everything else on the market. The second post was about how I felt about the design and aesthetics. Now it comes down to one of the most important aspects when choosing a new device, what is the performance like and does it live up to expectations.

I have been using my Surface Book 2 while at home whenever I can. It has essentially become my daily driver when it comes to a PC; I have been avoiding using my gaming PC for most things like programming and word processing to ensure that I test the Surface Book 2 completely.

Display Detached

I have only detached the display a couple of times and it has been an okay experience. The detach process is fairly quick and there are no issues attaching the display back to the base. What I found was that using the display by itself (like a clipboard or a tablet) I would get 4 hours worth of battery easy (which I think is acceptable for its size and what you can really do without a keyboard). I didn’t really do too much with just the display; I watched videos and did some note taking with the Surface Pen and OneNote. In my day to day use I will most likely be keeping the Surface Book 2 as it came out of the box and like a traditional laptop.

Windows Hello 😉

The Surface Book 2 is equipped with Windows Hello, and is also the first Windows device I have ever had with this feature. Logging in to your Surface Book 2 is super easy and quick with Windows Hello and I highly recommend it; just look at your camera on the log in screen and it logs you in if it authenticates you. The entire Windows Hello experience is less than 3 seconds.

One thing I noticed was that when I first launched and configured my Surface Book 2 with Windows Hello, I had a beard so Windows Hello was recognising my face with a beard fine. Recently I shaved my beard off and it didn’t recognise me so I had to improve the recognition, not a major issue but something to consider if you change your facial hair frequently. To its credit though it recognised me with and without glasses with no issue.

Top Shelf Battery Life

The 13.5” i5 Surface Book 2 has an absolutely amazing battery. It has lasted me easily 10 hours before going to around 15% (shown by the battery indicator), and it could go for a little longer. The maximum amount of batter life I have gotten from the Surface Book 2 is around 11 hours (but closer to 12 hours really). Is it the 17 hours that Microsoft claims? Well no, but in saying that I have not been using the top of the line model and have not been watching videos only while offline with the display on a low brightness settings. The 10 hours that I have experienced is an average over several battery charge cycles with the lowest being 8 hours (closer to 9 but rounding down, this was when I was doing some taxing tasks) and the highest being 11 hours (close to 12 but I rounded down and this was with normal tasks).

Surface Book 2 Battery IndicatorA nice feature is the battery display which shows two batteries. From what I can tell “Battery 0” is the battery in the display and “Battery 1” is the battery in the base of the Surface Book 2. Microsoft didn’t need to do this and could have easily only shown a single battery level. What this allows you to do is before you detach the display from the base you can easily check to see if you will have enough battery to use the Surface Book 2 as a tablet. Kudos for Microsoft for adding this feature for the Surface Book 2 through Windows 10. The complete harmony of the hardware and software is present here, very Apple like.

Initially I used the Surface Book 2 fairly lightly and did not do any programming or perform any heavy duty tasks; I mainly did some web browsing, video consumption and document editing. I let the battery completely drain (well around 5%) and then let it completely charge. Once I knew that the battery was charged all the way back up to 100% I started to push the Surface Book 2. To get a good average I did this battery drain cycle and charge a number of times.

Even when taxing the Surface Book 2 with Visual Studio and the Windows Mobile emulator plus a number of other apps running in the background the battery still impressed me. My Surface Pro 3 could get close to maybe 6 hours battery if I was lucky, here with the heavy duty use I was getting close to 9 hours. Can this device be your “leave your charger at home” type of laptop? It sure can, no problem. Personally I would have no issue leaving my Surface Book 2 charger at home and it would last me the entire normal work day. Rating the battery life for the time that I have been using the Surface Book 2 I would give it a 10/10.

Cool to Touch

One thing that is really good about the Surface Pro devices is that all the components are in the display, the keyboard that is attached is essentially just the keyboard and cover. Your lap then would never get hot if you were using the device on the go and not on a surface. This is a major problem with most traditional laptops in the market, but it is not a problem with the Surface Book 2.

I found that compared to other traditional laptops the Surface Book 2 runs extremely cool, I barely even noticed any heat on my lap while doing taxing tasks. I have used some laptops that are incredibly hot after a short period of time making them near impossible to place on your lap. Where you palms rest while you type and where your thighs are positioned under the base of the Surface Book 2 there is no heat generated at all. The only place where there is any heat felt at all is at the center back of the base, and that really isn’t too hot or uncomfortable at all. The heat distribution and management is fantastic.

San Fan (No Fan)

The Surface Book 2 that I have has no fan (i5 version). So unlike the insanely loud fan that would spin up on my Surface Pro 3 whenever I was doing anything taxing (or watching videos in Google Chrome for that matter), there is no noise being generated from my Surface Book 2. This is a welcome change and something that once you realise how quiet your device can be, you may miss it when you go to another device that has a loud fan. If you have an i7 version of the Surface Book 2, you unfortunately do have a fan and I imagine that when you do something that really pushes the device you will end up hearing the fan fairly easily.

No Lag or Compromise

With the combination of some pretty decent hardware and Windows 10, the Surface Book 2 has never lagged or slowed down on me, even when I was on less than 15% battery while doing programming tasks. I imagine that Microsoft has done some optimisations to the OS so that it runs well on the Surface Book 2 (like the battery indicator for example).

Other laptops and even to a lesser extent my Surface Pro 3 when the battery was getting close to being completely depleted the mouse would start to slightly lag and then some apps would take a little longer to respond. To date I have not experienced this with the Surface Book 2. Visual Studio is known to at times freeze/lag and then pick up again (even on my beefy gaming PC), but I have not had any issues with Visual Studio on my Surface Book 2, even when running the Windows Mobile emulator on around 20% battery.

My Final Thoughts

Microsoft has crafted and extremely durable, elegant and pleasant to use device in the Surface Book 2. From the premium unboxing experience to the outstanding battery life and no compromise performance even under heavy use, the Surface Book 2 can pretty much do whatever you need. For me, the Surface Book 2 met all the criteria for me to purchase and use as my primary laptop device, and it has exceeded my expectations from the unboxing to using it.

There really isn’t too much that I can fault the Surface Book 2 on. The keyboard is one of the best keyboards that I have ever used. The trackpad is the best trackpad that I have used. The display is one of the sharpest and crystal clear displays I have seen on a laptop and that is even after using the Surface Pro 3. The battery life has amazed me and can easily go a single work day with one charge and there is still battery life to spare. Windows 10 and every application that I have used on the Surface Book 2 has not lagged, frozen or crashed on me. If I had to fault the Surface Book 2 at all I would say that having the 3.5mm headphone port at the top right of the display when docked is a little annoying.

I would recommend the Surface Book 2 with no hesitation.

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.

Surface Book 2 Impressions Part 1 of 3

My History with the Surface Line

I have been a big fan of the Microsoft Surface line since it first launched. Hell I even purchased a Surface RT, and to the device’s credit it lasted all the way up until mid 2017 before the battery was no longer any good and trying to load a web page was near impossible. Windows RT might not have been the future but Microsoft had something with the original Surface products and I am happy that they continued to refine and rework them. They could have easily thrown the line out like the did with the Zune, RIP Zune I will miss you.

My primary mobile computing device was a Surface Pro 3 and one of the main reasons why I purchased that product was that it was a laptop and tablet in one with decent performance and a good battery. Plus the Surface Pen and OneNote made taking notes in my Artificial Intelligence and Mathematics classes while doing my post graduate Computer Science degree far easier. I also credit that device to my higher average marks overall. With the combination of better note taking and easier material management I recommend that any student who wishes to take notes in class and have everything digital then a Surface product with OneNote and the Surface Pen is the way to go.

While my Surface Pro 3 had done the job while I was studying, some of my side projects were not running as well on that device compared to my gaming PC. Over time the more I started looking at AI and emulation programming the more I realised that purchasing a device with only 128GB of total hard drive space and 4GB worth of RAM might have been a mistake. I should have saved up a little more cash and purchased the 8GB and 256GB model, but we all make mistakes and we all learn from them (I know I have).

With the announcement of the new Surface Pro 2017 edition, and the new Surface Laptop I knew that I had options. Before pulling the trigger I waited a little longer to see if Microsoft will be doing a refresh of the Surface Book line. There was the Surface Book with the Performance Base, but I didn’t want a first generation Surface Book and the discrete GPU did not interest me. Thankfully my patience paid off as Microsoft announced the new Surface Book 2. I started to read and follow any news about the new Surface Book 2, making note of the little details that were mentioned in the videos and blog posts I read. One week before the release date I decided to pre-order the device from the Microsoft Store. It had everything that I needed.

My Laptop Needs

I used my Surface Pro 3 originally as my primary mobile study device while at university, but I also used it as a development laptop while and after I graduated. I used Android Studio, Visual Studio and IntelliJ on it. So any new device needs to be a workhorse, but it also needs to be built like a tank with all the ports that I need. I really appreciate the details that Microsoft put into their Surface line so I decided to stick with them as the build quality of my Surface Pro 3 was top notch.

I have used other manufacturers laptops in the past and they have been hit and miss. I had a Lenovo but the device is very “plasticy” and the trackpad is horrible, but the keyboard is amazing; I had a HP which has a more solid feel than the Lenovo but the keyboard is one of the worst I have used (poor spacing and key travel). I also had an ASUS gaming laptop which has all the necessary power I need but is not very portable.

The Surface Book 2 appeared to check all my boxes (according to the initial impressions from the media and the individuals who had used the device at preview events). It has:

  • A fundamentally solid build, no obvious plastic here.
  • A keyboard that is spaced well and the keys have a near perfect travel, plus there is backlighting to the keys (I sometimes code deep into the night so this is now a necessary feature).
  • A trackpad that is Apple like.
  • More than one USB port (this is something that I needed, as having a single USB port on my Surface Pro 3 was quite annoying and even the new Surface Pro 2017 edition and Surface Laptop only have one USB port).
  • The ability to function as a tablet and has touch/pen support (I still use OneNote to draw up wireframes for apps and take notes, plus at time I just want to watch Netflix in bed).
  • Enough horsepower to run Visual Studio and any emulation software I need when developing my apps and working on side projects.
  • A battery that can last a near full day’s worth of work (so around 6 hours worth of development and Internet browsing at a minimum).

How Big and How Much Horsepower?

I have used laptops from both ends of the spectrum with regard to size and performance. What I have found is that the optimal size for me is a device that does not have a screen much larger than 13”. Any larger and the device becomes too large to lug around and is too heavy. So right out of the gate the Surface Book 2 that I was getting was the 13.5” and not the 15”.

Do I need a laptop with a discrete graphics card? No. I don’t play any video games on laptops, all my gaming is done on my Xbox One X or my gaming PC which has a GTX 980. Maybe a GPU would be useful in regard to AI programming but I doubt a single card would matter too much. The new Surface Book that I would end up purchasing would not have a discrete GPU.

Something unfortunate is that all the i7 laptops have a discrete GPU. This means that the Surface Book 2 that I would be purchasing would have an older generation i5. I had spoken about this with the other software engineers at work and they all felt that having an i7 option with no discrete GPU would have been great. I most likely would have purchased that build. Maybe in the future Microsoft will offer an i7 with no discrete GPU, but I highly doubt it. One nice feature with the i5 version is that it is completely san fan 🙂 Not a major loss here, but having a new generation CPU which has better performance would have been nice.

With the i5 version I don’t really get much choice in regard to RAM and HDD size (in Australia anyway, not sure about the rest of the world). It comes with 256GB worth of storage space, which is going to be a big relief after living with only 128GB worth of space on my Surface Pro 3. Having 8GB worth of RAM is also going to be a nice bump from the 4GB that I had with my Surface Pro 3 (2x worth the bump I might add).

I plan on releasing two more blog posts, one about the build quality of the Surface Book 2 and one about the performance. The build quality post will be released very shortly, but the performance post will take a little longer. I want to spend some more time running the Surface Book 2 through it’s paces while I am doing some development work. So stay tuned in the coming days for part two and in the coming weeks for my final (part three) Surface Book 2 impressions.

My New Xbox One X

I wanted to write this a little while ago, but needed to have some more time playing on the Xbox One X and try to experience as much as possible. Since the launch of the new Xbox One console, I have been having a blast. Yes I am an Xbox fanboy so maybe my view is slightly skewed but Microsoft made an extremely great (dare I say) near perfect console.

Xbox One X Project Scorpio with various Xbox One controllers
Xbox One X Project Scorpio with Xbox One Day One, Elite and Project Scorpio Controllers

To my luck, I managed to pre-order an Xbox One X Project Scorpio Edition, I know a number of people that wanted this edition but missed out due to the limited number. After using it for a little while I thought I might sum up the experience I have had with it so far and also areas where there is some contention on the Internet.

Breakdown

Price

I knew I wanted to purchase the Xbox One X when it was still called “Project Scorpio”. From what I was reading and the rumours swirling around the Internet , I knew it was going to be a powerful console and it wasn’t going to be cheap. A high price tag was not going to discourage me from purchasing it. I pre-ordered the Xbox One Elite controller and that was $200 AUD, so paying around $700 AUD for a new, and powerful console was not an issue. I mean a GTX 1070 is still going for $700 AUD. For the power and convenience the console provides it is super cheap, plus I have a large library of Xbox games so I am not going to invest in another console.

4K and HDR

Weeks before the lead up to the release of the console there were many gaming sites that posted about how “unnecessary” or “wasted” it would be to purchase the Xbox One X console if you do not have a 4K TV or one that supports HDR. Funnily enough there were none of these articles written when the PS4 Pro was coming out/released (bias “journalism” maybe). I don’t know where these so called “journalists” got this information because Microsoft to their credit on numerous occasions highlighted the benefits a gamer would have if they only had a 1080p display.

I personally do not have a 4K/HDR supported TV; mine is still a 65” 1080p Panasonic plasma TV. The games (enhanced or not) all look gorgeous. Gears of War 4, Halo 5 Guardians, Quantum Break, etc. all look brilliant with their enhancements. Even the games that haven’t gotten the enhancements look slightly crisper and cleaner to me like Battlefield 1. I have spoken to a number of friends on Xbox Live who do have 4K TVs with HDR and have an Xbox One X, and there has been a unanimous agreement that the visual fidelity is high class.

Performance

I knew the Xbox One X was powerful and would help with load times, framerate, etc. but boy did I underestimate how much of an improvement there would be. Off the top of my head I can think of two games where the load times have significantly improved. Destiny 2 and XCOM 2 (I’ve been playing these recently). Loading to the Tower or any planet in Destiny 2 took it’s sweet time on my original Xbox One. On the Xbox One X the time it takes to go to those same locations is easily halved.

XCOM 2 on the original Xbox One was a disaster when it came to loading. If you tried loading a save, loading a mission, or coming back to your ship, it could easily take one minute. On the Xbox One X it loads in under 15 seconds. Before I could go and grab a drink from the fridge and come back to still see that the game is still loading, and now on the Xbox One X it just loads too quick to do any of that.

Games like Halo 5 Guardians, Gears of War 4, Battlefield 1, etc. all feel smoother. They feel like they are hitting higher refresh rates (or targets that they were originally supposed to be reaching). I don’t know, I can’t measure it and maybe I’m just imagining it, but the games feel like they play better. It is the same as going from a monitor that doesn’t support 144Hz to one that does and you reach that refresh rate, the game just feels so much better. So overall I think the Xbox One X is on a completely higher tiered level to the original Xbox One. Kudos Microsoft for squeezing so much performance out of such a dense little box.

Good Internet

My current Internet download and upload is 100Mbps and 40Mbps respectively (again I am fortunate enough to be able to have fibre connected directly to my house). I also do not have a data cap. Both of these (speed and data) are extremely important when considering the Xbox One X. The game updates to handle the 4K assets, etc. are massive (some games nearly double in size). So if  you have slow Internet download speeds or have a relatively small data cap then it will seriously hamper your ability to play the recently updated Xbox One X Enhanced games. From what I can tell there is no way to not download these updates if you have an Xbox One X console.

I did notice that downloading titles on the Xbox One X seemed slower than on the original Xbox One. I am on the Alpha Insider Preview ring so there may be some OS issues, but other people I have talked who are not Xbox Insiders pretty much agree that their downloads seem to be going slower on the new console. I’ll be keeping an eye on this and if it persists then I may have to have a little chat with the Microsoft Support team or raise an issue.

Storage Space

Along with these large downloads to support the 4K assets comes the need for more storage space. This is one area I think Microsoft needed to do a little better. A 1TB internal storage device is not nearly enough to support all the new Xbox One X Enhanced games that a gamer could potentially have. My internal HDD is near capacity with all the updates my games have received recently (I only have 75GB left). I do have an external HDD but may need to consider purchasing another. So do invest in another storage device to ensure that you do not run out of space.

Final Thoughts

Who is this Xbox One X console for? Well due to the high price tag I don’t imagine it is for the casual gamer, or someone who is not interested in playing the latest games at the highest fidelity possible on a console; for that I would suggest the Xbox One S. The individual who would buy this console would be one of these I believe:

  1. Looking to buy a new console where money is not a purchasing factor.
  2. Looking to upgrade your old or original console where money is not a purchasing factor.
  3. Looking to upgrade your old or original console to play the latest games at the highest console fidelity possible.

Do you need a 4K/HDR supported TV to enjoy the Xbox One X? Absolutely not. I don’t have one and I am having a blast; everything looks amazing and the games play better than before. There is a noticeable difference even in 1080p 🙂

Do you need a good Internet to use the Xbox One X? Unfortunately I believe yes. I cannot see in the settings anywhere to disable 4K updates if you don’t have a 4K TV. Downloads could take an extremely long time and you may hit your data cap if you have one. This is one of the downside of 4K gaming.

If someone off the street right now asked me, “Would I recommend the Xbox One X?” I would say “yes” in a heart beat with no hesitation. I would tell them that they don’t need 4K or HDR to experience what the Xbox One X offers, I would even mention to be mindful of the download sizes for game updates.

I don’t give technology a numbered rating but if I had to give one to the Xbox One X, it would easily be a 9.5/10. I cannot fault Microsoft for the product that they have built.

Kudos Microsoft.

A Microsoft Twist on Google’s Android

Update: Within 6 hours of me posting this Microsoft sent me an email about the availability of the Microsoft Edge browser on Android, in Preview. You can find it here in the Google Play Store. Enjoy your new browser.

I have stated this before but I’ll do it again. I am a HUGE Android fan, I love Android. I like being able to customize my phone (from a stock Android experience) and use the full range of supported first party apps. However, I am a HUGE Microsoft fan as well; even bought the original Surface RT (R.I.P. Windows RT). When I read that the Redmond software king was coming out with a new Android launcher called Microsoft Launcher (seems to be a re-skinned Arrow Launcher from their Microsoft Garage team) and Microsoft Edge I was over the moon. You can read more about the announcement on the Windows Blog here.

I have on and off used the Arrow launcher previously on my Android device, and I use Microsoft Edge on my Surface Pro 3 and Gaming PC (alongside Google Chrome. See here about my experience running Edge and Chrome on my Surface Pro 3). I could not be happier to try out these two new apps from Microsoft on my now nearly no longer security supported Google Nexus 6.

Note: As of writing this blog post the Microsoft Edge browser is currently only on iOS, you can however sign up and get informed when the Microsoft Edge becomes available to use on Android. See here for more information about the Microsoft Edge browser for Android availability. The Microsoft Launcher for Android is in Preview aka Beta and already available.

Several days later my heart sank slightly. The high I was on from the new software announcement did not last. I read that Microsoft is officially not going to be adding new features and build new hardware for Windows 10 Mobile; see here for more info about that news. I was really and truly hoping for a Surface Phone (still am, even after the announcement). Sure I don’t have a Windows 10 Mobile supported OS but it is always good to have competition and the experience I had on the Windows Mobile ecosystem was acceptable with the exception being the lack of first party supported apps. A real shame because the performance and UI to me was superior to that of the all too similar iOS and Android platforms.

With a new launcher in use and a new browser coming to my Android phone all coming from Microsoft I decided to have a look at the apps and services I use on my phone. What I saw was a little shocking at first, I used to primarily only use Google’s services and apps. As time went on my needs and preferences must have changed which in turn led to changes to the apps and services I use. The Google launcher I was using is now a Microsoft launcher, I will no longer be using Google Chrome but use Microsoft Edge (once it becomes available), and I don’t even use Google’s AI assistant, Cortana is my go to AI (she syncs with my Windows 10 PCs so easily it is stupid of me not to use her). The majority of my day to day apps or services are Microsoft now. Recently I even purchased a subscription to Office 365 so having that extra space on OneDrive and having the Office suite on my phone has Google’s suit of “Office” products obsolete.

I have always been dependent on the Google ecosystem (from Chrome to Gmail), but now I feel that I have finally managed to escape Google’s tight grasp. It isn’t that I don’t like their services or apps, it is just that I have found better services and apps. What Microsoft is offering on the Android platform is fantastic and the clear differentiation between the two technology giants is that Microsoft understands that synchronization and integration between mobile and desktop is important, plus getting people to use their services no matter the platform is important. Google’s lack of proper app support on desktop is a major problem for me as doing everything through a browser is not amazing plus the features on their browser supported products pale in comparison to the Microsoft offerings. Google Docs does not come close at all to what I can do in Microsoft Word, even Microsoft Excel completely destroys Google Sheets. What Microsoft offers with Office 365 is light years ahead of what Google offers.

So it appears that even though I am running stock Android (mainly for the performance and security updates), my time with Google’s apps and services appears to be coming to a close with Microsoft’s apps and services easily taking over. Nothing Google showed at Google IO this year has changed my mind and even the hardware they showed in early October has me avoiding their products (no 3.5mm headphone port, really, are you serious). Microsoft may be slowly abandoning their own platform but they are building a strong foundation on both Android and iOS which can in the long run position them extremely well in the mobile space. It is not about having your own platform to gain market share in the mobile space, it is about getting the mobile user to use your services to gain market share which I feel is more important and Microsoft now realises this.

Time will tell now whether I stay on the Microsoft apps and service bandwagon or I jump back on the Google apps and services freight train. What about you guys? Do you mix and match, or are you staying loyal to a single provider?