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Author Archives: Alex Kidman

What’s your bushfire tech survival plan?

We’re in the middle of a particularly fierce bushfire season here in Australia, and sadly that’s included not only loss of property but also loss of life.

Bushfires are part of the Australian ecosystem, it’s true, and if you live in an area that’s likely to be affected by them, it’s wise to have a survival plan, whether that’s to leave at the first sign of trouble — and I’ll be honest, that’s part of my own strategy, if only for breathing reasons — or to be well prepared to stay and fight as long as it’s safe to do so.

Anyone in an area that could be impacted — which is, let’s face it, most of the country — will probably have a plan, and if you don’t, you really should. You’re usually advised to have important documents to hand if you do have to flee, as well as survival necessities, but have you considered what you should do in technology terms?

Now, if you’re in a situation where you have to leave immediately, it’s too late, but just like preparing for any other aspect of bushfire survival, a little planning can go a very long way.

Indeed, a little judicious technology planning can make a huge difference in ways you might not have considered. This isn’t an exhaustive list of things to take into account, but should give you food for thought, even if you’re not in an area where bushfires are usually a concern.

Backing up your documents: Look, I’ve mentioned many times before here that you should have a backup of your own files, if only because hard drives and computers can and do fail at the least opportune times.

Extreme heat is no friend to computers, and there it won’t matter much if you’re using a newer solid state drive or an older mechanical one, because a melted heap is melted either way.

But in a bushfire scenario, having an encrypted online vault of your precious documents — preferably both certified copies of important legal documents such as insurance details, house titles and the like — but also scans of your physical photos and backups of your digital ones. Photo albums are frequently the kinds of things people regret losing the most, but if they’re stored online, even if your computer doesn’t make it, your photos will. Taking the time to scan in those precious photos doesn’t just mean you can share them with family overseas — it could be a vital part of a strategy to keep them even if the original photos are sadly lost.

Using online resources to stay safe: There’s no shortage of online resources that you can use to keep yourself aware of both fire restrictions in your area, but also any ongoing fire actions, whether they’re controlling an actual fire or backburning to reduce future risk. That’s not just a question of being ready to leave if a bushfire is approaching, but even simpler health issues such as staying indoors if there’s a planned backburn in your area if you have breathing issues. Doing a simple Google search for your state or area and “bushfire map” can reveal a store of resources that may track more quickly than waiting for a radio or TV broadcast to alert you.

Keeping resources with you — especially a well-charged smartphone — can keep you updated even if you do have to leave an area, and of course you can use that same smartphone to alert friends, family and workmates about your situation. It’s not a bad idea in those circumstances to have a spare battery pack for your phone, as you may be some time between recharges.

Working out what you can take with you: That 65 inch TV? Not likely to fit into the car, and even if it did, it’s going to be heavy and difficult to move. But working out if you’ve got a backup drive, or a laptop that can be quickly put into a bag along with the rest of your bushfire survival kit can give you a useful tool for communication, as above, as well as elminating one of the more pricey items you’d otherwise have to claim against insurance. Bear in mind that if you do have to leave your home and your tech items are lost, the key content there is anything you’ve created. There’s much less point in saving, say, software that you could almost certainly get online again anyway, but if you lose your photos, your business account files or that great Australian novel you’ve been working on, there’s going to be no way to get it back again.


Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 Review: Third time’s the charm

Microsoft used to be a software-only company, leaving the practical work of actually building PCs to partner companies such as Dell, HP, Lenovo and others. In recent years it’s branched out with its Surface range of tablet 2-in-1s and more recently, Surface-branded laptops. Microsoft recently sent me the Surface Laptop 3 to assess. As the name suggests, it’s the third generation of its line of laptops, with just a few new tweaks under the hood.

First impressions are very solid, and that’s a deliberate choice of words. I’ve been testing out the black model of the Surface Laptop 3, and the style is very deliberately minimalistic, almost brutally so.

I’ve started to refer to it as the “monolith”, after Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, because outside a reflective Windows logo on the top, there’s almost no adornment at all. Where Microsoft’s offered up fuzzy Alcantara keyboards on some of its Surface devices of late, for the 15 inch model you can only get a more standard plastic-and-metal keyboard.

I’m perfectly happy with that, as my own experience with Microsoft’s Alcantara keyboards has been that they’re often dust and grot magnets. While it’s a laptop keyboard, so key response and travel isn’t exceptional, it’s a perfectly acceptable keyboard.

The Surface Laptop 3 features a pair of USB ports – one USB C and one USB A type – located on the right hand side of the laptop body. For such a large laptop, it feels a little odd not to offer up more ports. It’s not as though there isn’t more space around either side. It depends on your need for plugged in peripherals, but if this was going to be my everyday laptop, I’d definitely budget for a USB-C connected hub to make the most of it.

The model I’ve been testing out is the 15 inch model running on an AMD Ryzen 5 2.1Ghz processor. Microsoft’s making the Surface Laptop 3 in a variety of configurations, with either AMD or Intel processors, although there’s a slightly odd choice there depending on what colours and what integrated CPU you actually want.

The smaller and more portable 13.5 inch Surface Laptop 3 only ships with Intel Core i5 or Intel Core i7 processors with either 8GB or 16GB of RAM. The 15 inch model in Australia sold to consumers ships with an AMD Ryzen processor and either 8GB or 16GB of onboard storage, although there is a business model of the 15 inch version with Intel processors inside.

At its asking price, the AMD Ryzen model with 16GB isn’t the most powerful you could get in overall performance terms. I’ve hit relatively few issues myself with essential browsing, word processing and just a little light gaming, but for the $2799 Microsoft wants for this model, you could pretty easily score an equivalent Intel-based laptop from other makers with integrated NVIDIA GPU power behind it. Many business users might not push the Surface Laptop 3 that hard, and certainly some competing alternatives aren’t as nicely built as the Surface Laptop 3 is.

Battery life on laptops is always a highly subjective matter. Microsoft states that the Surface Laptop 3 is capable of “up to” 11.5 hours of “typical device usage”. My own experience suggest that you’d have to be using it fairly lightly to get to that figure, but then it’s not unusual for 15 inch laptops not to be absolute battery life monsters.

The Surface Laptop 3 uses Microsoft’s own magnetically-connected “Surface Connector” charger that clips in on the right hand side for charging. I’m a big fan of magnetically attached laptop chargers, if only because if somebody trips on the cable, it simply detaches rather than pulling your laptop crashing to the floor. At the same time, the Surface Connector is very custom cabling, and it’s a little annoying taking it everywhere with you. Break it or lose it, and Microsoft’s your only port of call for replacements.

Microsoft has long viewed the Surface line as a template for other manufacturers to follow. With the Surface Laptop 3 it’s delivered a slightly mixed message. I can’t fault the build quality or indeed the style, both of which are excellent. At the same time, for the asking price the 15 inch models’ AMD processors aren’t exactly cutting edge, and I do wish it had more expansion ports down the sides.


Apple iPad 7th Generation review: Good basic value for most tablet buyers

Apple recently refreshed its basic iPad line of tablet computers. I’ve got to be very careful in describing them, however, because while you might think of an iPad as a tablet, it’s actually a range of tablets. At the top end of the price and performance scale is the Apple iPad Pro, then moving down there’s the iPad Air, then moving down in size, the model that’s just the “iPad”, and then the smallest model, the iPad Mini.

To make things even more confusing, the iPad Mini actually has a faster processor and better display technology than the model that’s just called the iPad. But it’s this model — the Apple iPad — that Apple has most recently updated, and I’ve spent the past few weeks testing one out to see how it compares to the rest of the range.

Apple is pretty insistent that the iPad is much more than just a content consumption device, but that’s an argument it pitches more heavily towards the more expensive and powerful iPad Air or iPad Pro lines. The Apple iPad is much more entry level, but the 2019 iteration does bring with it a few tweaks that can make it more than just the device you browse the web or do a little light Netflix watching on.

Last year’s model of the iPad brought with it compatibility with Apple’s Pencil stylus, sold separately, which is a nice inclusion if you’ve got artistic inclinations. This year, it’s got the side connector to make it compatible with the Apple Smart Keyboard for tablets. It’s very nice keyboard that also folds up into a front protective case for the iPad, but it would want to be — Apple charges a rather hefty $235 for it.

The new iPad also has a slightly larger display than the previous model, with a 10.2 inch 2,160 x 1,620 pixel screen. It’s still running the same Apple A10 Fusion processor as last year’s model, which means in the iPad heirarchy it’s the least powerful model you can buy. That includes the Apple iPad Mini, which runs on the A12 Bionic that also powers the Apple iPad Air.

Which is not to say that the 7th generation iPad feels low powered. I’ve been throwing a number of titles from the new Apple Arcade service at it, and it’s rarely missed a beat. It’s fully capable of the kinds of multi-tasking that iPadOS can handle, and while I won’t be replacing my laptop with one any time soon, if you do need to shift from, say, the Safari Web browser to a Pages document, it’s pretty easy to do so.

Battery life is decent; Apple’s claim is that it’s capable of up to 10 hours of battery life, and I’d agree with that figure for most uses outside really intensive games or AR applications.

So what do I not like? I’m not a big fan of the fact that the baseline model only comes with 32GB of storage. You can’t upgrade the storage on an iPad, so the only way to store “more” on an iPad is to pay for Apple’s pricey iCloud storage and keep content online only. The included camera is good for video calls over Facetime, Skype, Duo or your calling app of choice, but the rear camera is awkward for photo taking, and not really up to the standard set by Apple’s iPhone line.

Still, in the tablet space, Apple remains well ahead of its Android competition, and given the lower price, if you’re after a tablet for the first time, or an upgrade from an older iPad, the baseline Apple iPad is a great choice.


Which keys are vital on your keyboard?

While there’s been an explosion in touch-led interfaces in recent years as we’ve all adapted to using devices such as smartphones and tablets, the humble keyboard is still king for data entry and general interaction with our PCs.

Which is amusing when you think that the current standard QWERTY layout was designed in an era of entirely mechanical keyboards. There’s a very popular myth that it was laid out in its rather non-alphabetical style in order to slow typists down and prevent key jamming, although that’s been rather widely debunked; it now appears more likely that QWERTY came about because the first alphabetical keyboards were confusing to rapid-fire telegraph operators seeking out individual letters.

Still, working at a keyboard isn’t as simple an issue as sitting down to just any keyboard, however – or at least it shouldn’t be. If you’re using just the one notebook and nothing else you’re rather stuck with whatever option your laptop manufacturer went with. Some more expensive laptops can have nicer keyboards on them, but again what you consider “nice” could be “awful” for others. I’m generally a big fan of Apple’s MacBook lines, but I absolutely hate the newer “flatter” keyboards it’s been using of late, which is why I’m clinging to my 2015 MacBook Pro with tenacity – it’s the last Pro model that has a nice depth of travel for each key, which suits my typing style.

Of course, if you work with an external keyboard, whether that’s plugged into a laptop for docking or comfort purposes, or with a desktop PC where it’s a necessity, your choices become much wider. If you don’t do much typing, then just about any $10 or less USB connected keyboard is generally fine, but it’s entirely feasible to spend quite a bit more to meet specific needs. I’m typing this right now on a HyperX gaming keyboard, not because I’m playing a game, but because the feel of its fully mechanical keyboard suits my typing and writing style.

At other times, I use a Microsoft Ergonomic keyboard, because to put it rather impolitely, I’m not getting any younger. Decades of thumping out millions of words on keyboards of varying quality has had its impact, and a keyboard that aids in comfort is very much appreciated! If you do have issues with wrist or finger comfort when typing, it’s well worth looking into the alternative keyboards that are available. There’s typically an all-new learning curve with those keyboards thanks to their unusual shapes, but the benefits can quickly become clear.

That’s even leaving aside what kinds of keys you want on your keyboard of choice. It wasn’t that long ago that computer keyboards were really just standard typewriter keyboards, supplanted with a range of function keys at the top. In more recent years, many ship with a “Windows” key as standard, and often a separate function key that modifies the behavior of the top row of function keys themselves. Microsoft is about to start selling an even more complex set of keyboards with dedicated keys for its Office suite and a key specifically to engage an emoji mode, for example.

If you do a lot of spreadsheet work, or for certain game and app purposes, a keyboard with an integrated number pad is a bit of a must, but for others it’s just an extension that takes up desk space.

Again, it’s a question of matching to your needs; if you use a lot of emojis in your typing it could be an absolute boon, and if you don’t, it’s a key you can either ignore or potentially remap to a more useful function instead.

When was the last time you considered your keyboard strategy? There’s no shortage of choices when it comes to making your computer time more productive, or simply just more enjoyable, so it’s a factor in your computer setup well worth considering.


macOS Catalina: New features and problems mean it’s worth waiting

Apple released the latest full version of macOS for its range of desktop and laptop computers recently. It’s a free upgrade to macOS Catalina as long as you’ve got a qualifying iMac, Mac Pro, MacBook, MacBook Air or MacBook Pro model, with the promise of plenty of new features. Most of macOS’ core applications have been given a significant redesign with streamlined workflows. There’s a new feature called “Sidecar” that lets you use any Apple iPad compatible with the Apple Pencil as a secondary display for your Mac.

Those who disliked how bloated iTunes had become over the years can rejoice, because just like it said it would, iTunes is no longer the one-stop shop for your music, video app and iOS device backup needs. Instead, they’re handled by what are essentially ports of their iOS counterparts, except for device backup and syncing, which is handled directly within the Finder. If you’re an iPhone user on a Windows PC, however, iTunes is still where all of those services reside; it’s only on the Mac side of the fence that Apple’s killed off iTunes.

The general sensible advice on any major update like this is to hold off until the bugs are ironed out. That holds true too for macOS Catalina, because despite a public beta period that undoubtedly quashed a number of software problems, there’s still plenty of reports of unusual app behaviour from early macOS Catalina adopters.

Some of these issues are with Apple’s own included apps, but there’s also the prospect of third-party applications misbehaving, at least until their developers patch around or fix issues with those software packages running smoothly on macOS Catalina.

It’s an issue exacerbated by the fact that macOS Catalina drops support for 32-bit apps entirely. That’s a step Apple underwent some time ago for iOS devices, but the Mac’s history of apps with only 32-bit support stretches back even furhter than iOS. If you do run older apps (and especially if you’re already getting the warning that the app will be “unsupported” on future macOS upgrades, you may find that they don’t work at all once you do upgrade.

To further complicate matters, if they have their own uninstallers, you’ll need to run those before you upgrade, because the odds are pretty good that if the core app itself is only 32-bit, then the uninstaller will be too. You could be left with an app you can’t use or in fact even easily remove from your Mac if you’re not careful!

So how can you know if it’s ever going to be safe to upgrade? Thankfully it’s not too tricky to check your Mac for apps that won’t work under macOS Catalina if you’re using the prior version, macOS Mojave.

Open up Spotlight search by pressing command and the space bar, and type in System Information. Press enter, and it will show you the details of your Mac in a new window. Scroll down to the area headed up with “Software” and there should be an entry labelled “Legacy Software”. These are all the apps you’ve currently got on your Mac that won’t work with macOS Catalina.

If there’s nothing there, you’re at least OK from a direct apps support point of view for upgrading. If there’s lots of applications there that you rely on, the smart move will be to at least check if you can get upgrades to 64-bit versions, or find equivalent applications that will fulfill the same purpose.


Microsoft’s new Surface range could show the future of Windows

When Microsoft announced its very first range of Surface laptop computers, it very prominently stated that it wasn’t going into direct competition with hardware partners such as Dell, HP, Lenovo or Acer. Indeed, at the time, such a move would have been very foolhardy for Microsoft, because a huge proportion of its revenue came from the Windows licences attached to machines sold by those firms.

Instead, Microsoft’s stated aim was to show an effective “reference platform” for what a Windows device could be. Surface devices have typically been amongst the most expensive in their class, whether you’re talking the regular Surface tablet that ships sans keyboard, the Surface Book or even the Surface Laptop. They’ve also typically been amongst the best Windows machines you can buy, which was how Microsoft could justify the asking price.

It wasn’t much of a secret that Microsoft had a number of new Surface devices it was planning to launch, and just recently, it did just that. On the slightly more mundane side, it launched the new Microsoft Surface Pro 7, a 12.3 inch Windows 10 tablet device with optional keyboard and Surface Pen accessory to update that line, and the Surface Laptop 3 with either a 13.5 inch or 15” touchscreen in a more traditional laptop form factor. They’ll go on sale in Australia from the 22nd of October, but you’ll need to save your pennies. Even the entry level Surface Pro 7 will set you back $1299, and that’s without the keyboard that I’d consider an essential component of the Surface experience. The Surface Laptop 3 is a little more pricey again, especially as you up the storage and processor specifications.

In any other year, Microsoft might have stopped there. But it didn’t, instead announcing a third device we’ll see this year, as well as offering a tantalising glimpse into the very future of Windows itself.

The Microsoft Surface Pro X is a 13 inch laptop that looks somewhat like the halfway position between the Surface Pro 7 and the Surface Laptop 3, albeit with a much flatter Surface Pen. That’s not the key difference here, though. Where Microsoft’s other Surface devices have tended to use Intel or AMD x86-based processors, the Surface Pro X runs on a Microsoft co-designed, Qualcomm Snapdragon processor with an ARM base. It’s not the first ARM-based Windows 10 laptop, although it’s Microsoft’s first since the Surface RT, which was part of the very first generation of Windows Surface devices.

The difference here is that the underlying software architecture means that some Windows applications won’t compile natively for ARM, especially older 32-bit Windows applications. It’s rather hard to say that older apps will or won’t run, and while that’s a somewhat familiar story with Windows generally the further back in its history you go, it’s especially true for Windows on ARM, because it uses an emulation layer to run any 32-bit app. The big players in the Windows space should work, however.

So why go ARM in the first place? It’s a question of mobility and battery life, with a lighter carrying weight, inbuilt LTE connectivity and up to 13 hours of battery stamina. The Surface Pro X is pitched pretty heavily at the travelling laptop crowd, and it’ll go on sale in Australia in late November. Again, though, it won’t be cheap, with pricing starting at $1699.

That wasn’t all Microsoft had to show off, however, although its last two devices I can’t even give you pricing or specifications for. That’s because the Microsoft Surface Duo and Microsoft Surface Neo won’t go on sale for at least 12 months. Both feature twin screens in folding arrangements. Although unlike devices like the Samsung Galaxy Fold, they don’t use continuous screens, but instead hinges in the middle.

The Surface Duo will be Microsoft’s first phone since it folded its Windows 10 Mobile ambitions, running Android with Microsoft’s own launcher on top. More enticing is the Surface Neo, a full double-screen laptop device. Imagine two screens folding in on each other, and you’ve got the Surface Neo, but with an optional keyboard that can be placed on the bottom screen, either to give you a wide activity bar at the top, or touchpad at the bottom.

Windows 10 will see yet another version when the Surface Neo launches, with Windows 10X its core operating system. It’s being modified to work on the Surface Neo’s unusual structure, although at its core it’s still Windows 10.

Microsoft clearly sees this kind of more modular, heavy-screen based laptop as the future, as it’s indicated that its hardware partners such as Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Asus which will also use Windows 10X. That’s an interesting development in itself. Many of them have toyed with this kind of concept idea in the past, but it’s been hamstrung by lack of actual Windows support, making them a “best fit” kind of hodgepodge device. With a version of Windows built from the ground up with this kind of device in mind, they should be much better overall.

Which raises the question of just how touch-centric Windows can actually get. Microsoft’s been down this path before with Windows 8, which defaulted to a large screen, large icon display that plenty of Windows users absolutely hated. It’s not looking quite that way again, but it’s still got to tread carefully to keep in mind all those Windows users who are used to a more traditional approach to the way Windows works.


Apple updates iOS, but it’s not just all bugfixes

If you’re a user of one of Apple’s very popular iPhone or iPad tablet devices, you’ve probably already been pestered by now to upgrade to the latest version of the underlying operating system Apple uses for its mobile devices.

While technically iOS is now only for iPhones while iPads use iPadOS, there’s an awful lot of code similarity between the two platforms, given that Apple only forked iPadOS off from iOS this year. The iOS/iPadOS upgrade to version 13 brings with it a number of security improvements and bugfixes, but also a number of new features as well.

Which devices can get iOS 13/iPadOS 13?

Apple typically drops a generation of older iOS devices when it releases a new version. The older hardware typically struggles to keep up with the demands of newer, more powerful software, although it’s a picture that’s complicated by the split between iOS and iPadOS this time around.

On the iPhone/iPod Touch side of the fence, you’ll need one of the following handsets:

  • iPhone XS
  • iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone X
  • iPhone 8
  • iPhone 8 Plus
  • iPhone 7
  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPhone 6s
  • iPhone 6s Plus
  • iPhone SE
  • iPod touch (7th generation)

If you’ve got one of Apple’s shiny new iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro or iPhone 11 Pro Max handsets, they come with iOS 13 preinstalled.

In order to get iPadOS 13, you’ll need one of the following iPad models:

  • iPad Pro 12.9 (2018)
  • iPad Pro 12.9 (2017)
  • iPad Pro 12.9 (2015)
  • iPad Pro 11 (2018)
  • iPad Pro 10.5 (2017)
  • iPad Pro 9.7 (2016)
  • iPad Air (2019)
  • iPad Air 2
  • iPad (2018)
  • iPad (2017)
  • iPad Mini (2019)
  • iPad Mini 4

If your iPhone or iPad isn’t on that list, then you won’t be able to install iOS 13. Indeed, you won’t even be prompted to. As always, you can check if your iOS/iPadOS software is up to date by opening up the Settings app, tapping General, then tapping Software Update. If there’s an available update, be it a point security update or full number update, your device will check for it and update accordingly. It’s wise to do so over Wi-Fi rather than mobile data, simply due to the costs of downloading those updates.

So what can I actually do?

So what’s actually new in iOS 13/iPadOS 13? Honestly far too much for just one article, but to start here’s a few headline features and tips you may want to try.

There’s a new dark mode option you’ll be offered when you upgrade — or by heading to Settings, then Display & Brightness — that turns most (but not all) interfaces dark, which may be easier on your eyes, especially late at night. Apple’s also debuting its Apple Arcade subscription gaming service for iOS/iPadOS devices with version 13. That may or may not appeal, but at least a free trial is available.

There’s also native support for swiping style keyboard entry. You’ve been able to install third party swipe keyboards for some time now, but it’s now a native feature. If you’re keen, you can enable that by heading to the Settings app, then General, then Keyboards, and then switching “Slide to Type” to the green “On” position.

If you’re the private type — or you just hate spam callers — you can now silence them automatically on your iPhone. Head to Settings, then Phone, and turn on “Silence Unknown Callers”. Anyone not in your existing contacts list will still be able to call, but they’ll automatically be muted, rather than disturbing your day. They can leave a voicemail message, which means you can deal with them at your own pace — or ignore them completely depending on the nature of the call.

Apple’s also expanded the role that its voice assistant Siri plays in iOS 13, with a new Shortcuts app that makes it easier to set up custom voice commands or even full automated actions, such as playing a song when you get home, or switching on Bluetooth when you leave home to sync to your car, for example. Apple’s new Shortcuts app really does make this quite simple with a guided interface that shows you what’s possible with just a few taps.

If you take a lot of photos or video with your iPhone or iPad, you should also check out the new editing tools built right into the photos app. It’s not quite professional grade editing, but for the everyday user it’s quite powerful, with easy ways to automatically punch up the quality of your pictures, or even do some quite fine-grained editing and correcting. As just one example, it’s now feasible to rotate videos you’ve shot within the photos app, which corrects (to an extent) if you’ve accidentally started recording video in portrait mode when you wanted a landscape shot, or vice versa.


How much battery life is “enough”?

If you’re a notebook user, there’s nothing worse than that alert that comes up to let you know that your battery is running low. Depending on your circumstances, it may be a long while before you can plug back into a power source and top up your battery.

I recently had the chance to very briefly check out one of HP’s upcoming business-centric laptops, the HP Elite Dragonfly. It’s a pro-grade notebook with an accent on portability, with select models weighing in at under 1kg. Given it’s sporting a 13.3 inch display, that’s no mean feat.

Thin and light is great if you’re on the go all the time, because even a moderate weight notebook can become a serious drag on your shoulders and back if you have to lug it around all day. There’s a trade-off there, however, because one of the primary ways that you cut weight on any portable tech device is by limiting battery capacity. Batteries are heavy, and if you want lots of battery life something has to give.

Here HP’s done some clever work, with two available models of the HP Elite Dragonfly. The “ultralight” model is the under-1kg version (albeit that it’s 990gram, so only just) with a claimed battery life of up to 16.5 hours, while a heavier version – HP wouldn’t tell me quite how heavy – will run for up to 24.5 hours. Either model uses a sealed battery, however, so you can’t swap them out to meet your needs in the moment.

Now, those are “up to” figures, so they’re always worth taking with a grain of salt. Do a lot of heavy duty video editing on an Elite Dragonfly and I’d be willing to bet you’d see less battery life, but it’s still a pretty remarkable claim for such a thin and light laptop. We’re not that far removed from a period where “all-day” battery life claims made by manufacturers used to think of a “day” as being a working day, suggesting that around 8 hours was an ideal figure.

Sure, the nature of work has changed with many of us doing more than an ordinary 9 to 5 trawl, but even then those were 8 hour figures at best, and often less. For a mobile workforce, that’s far less than optimal. You probably shouldn’t work flat out for 24.5 hours either, but the idea there is much more that you can confidently work through your day, and if power isn’t to hand at night it’s not necessarily going to be a big issue for the next day.

The HP Elite Dragonfly is a premium model notebook pitched at the business crowd with a range of Intel Core 8th generation processors on board, as well as HP’s enterprise software which can include some very smart AI-driven malware detection software. From my brief hands-on it’s very well built, and I was quite taken by the keyboard, which has plenty of travel movement but isn’t terribly noisy in real world use. If you’re interested in the Elite Dragonfly, you can see more of my impressions on YouTube here. It’ll go on sale in Australia from November with pricing starting at $2,699.

If you are stuck in that dread situation of a rapidly dying battery on your existing notebook, by the way, there are a few tricks you can try. Muting your audio, dimming your screen and disabling any radios – Bluetooth, WiFi may help you eke out just a little more power. Closing any apps you’re not using is also wise in this situation, as is dropping any browser tabs you don’t need. You can’t quite get a laptop that will last forever that way – but you just might get enough usage to see you through your immediate task at hand.


Apple’s sweetening its TV deal for hardware buyers

The launch of the Apple iPhone 11 was, not surprisingly, mostly about the iPhone 11. Well, to be strict, it was about the iPhone 11, which is the entry level model, the iPhone 11 Pro, and the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

However, iPhones weren’t the only topics of Apple’s heavy-handed hype at its recent launch event. It also announced a new iPad model, its subscription-based Apple Arcade service and its own play in the streaming media space, Apple TV+.

Now, in some ways it’s playing in exactly the same turf as services such as Netflix, Stan or Amazon Prime Video, but there are some key differences.

Apple has spent up big on just a few TV and movie productions, with the plan to release new “originals” productions each month featuring big name stars. At its launch event it showed off a trailer for a new Apple TV+ series “See”, starring Jason Momoa of Aquaman fame, for example. Most streaming services offer up a wide smorgasbord of content, but Apple’s approach is going to be significantly smaller and more curated.

Apple’s plan for Apple TV+ involves launching with just 9 available titles, and even then it plans to release most series in a style reminiscent of broadcast tv. Most series will release just one episode a week, in order to keep you hooked. In an era where many viewers are highly accustomed to binge-watching an entire series over a weekend, it’ll be interesting to see how consumers take to that approach.

The smaller curated library of Apple TV+ is no doubt why Apple is pricing it very competitively with the rest of the streaming field, at just $7.99 per month when it launches in Australia on the 1st of November.

There’s no higher tier for 4K streaming, as it will support whatever quality it can manage based on the speed of your internet connection, for up to 6 “family members”. Apple hasn’t really commented on how it will police how you declare those 6 family members, either. It will also support “offline” playback, where you download full shows or movies to your device of choice for watching when you don’t have an internet connection, such as when you might be on an international flight.

Where competitors tend to offer up 30 day trials, Apple will offer just a 7 day trial, which would presumably mean maybe only 2 episodes of a new series to check out whether it makes sense for you to subscribe. However, there’s a very large bonus deal for that pricing if you’re already in the market for just about any new Apple gear. If you purchase a new iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iPod touch or Mac from Apple from now, you’ll qualify for a year’s worth of Apple TV+ for nothing. The cynical side of me reckons that’s an easy way to drive up the numbers of “subscribers” early, but at the same time, a free subscription isn’t to be sneezed at if you were looking to buy a new Mac or update your iPhone anyway.

The one big downside of the huge variety of streaming subscription services is that subscribing to all of them can get very expensive rapidly. You can always pick and choose based on the content you want to watch, and given Apple TV+’s rather selective catalog, that might be the wisest way to approach it if you don’t qualify for the free year’s access.


Samsung’s Galaxy Fold is surprisingly fun, but not cheap

At the IFA trade show in Berlin, I had the opportunity to go hands-on with Samsung’s new Galaxy Fold. Not for quite long enough to write a full review, given I had 45 minutes, but enough time to run through its major features, as well as to spot some of its less than stellar compromises.

The Samsung Galaxy Fold is a phone/tablet hybrid that Samsung was going to launch in Australia by mid-year. Then, just prior to its US launch, reviewers noticed significant durability issues with dust getting in and what appeared to be a screen protector but was actually part of the actual screen being accidentally peeled off. Samsung cancelled those launch plans and went back to the drawing board, and it’s the revised unit I had the chance to check out.

The Galaxy Fold’s primary selling point is in its name. It’s a foldable phone with quite a small 4.6 inch external display that folds outwards to reveal a much larger 7.6 inch internal display.

By itself, that’s a nice large size to browse web pages or scroll through your photos, but it’s in the way Samsung’s addressed that larger screen that it gets some genuine productivity boosts.

You can run 3 apps on the display — one larger and two smaller apps — so it’s feasible to research on a web page while having, say, YouTube videos running and a copy of your calendar onscreen all at the same time.

When you’re done, you fold it up into a smaller device that pretty easily slips into your pocket – although it is a little tall when you do so. Whatever the primary app you had open will display on the outside screen.

It’s also surprisingly satisfying to simply fold and unfold it. The engineering feels solid, and while it makes for a thicker phone than any other flagship these days, I spent a lot of my test time simply opening and closing it up.

There are some significant catches, however. The folding mechanism leaves a visible “crease” in the display, and it’s one that you can feel when you run your finger across it. Where most flagships use Corning’s Gorilla Glass for durability and scratch resistance, the need to fold the Fold’s screen means that it uses a plastic display that may have some scratch issues. Samsung wasn’t keen on the idea of me “experimentally” running my keys across it, so I politely didn’t try.

The external screen isn’t all that big, but it’s surrounded by a very significant body frame. Given Samsung’s work in providing full-screen standard smartphones, it felt weird that the Galaxy Fold doesn’t follow suit with a larger external display.

Foldable devices have been a big theme in mobility this year, but we’re still in the first generation of them. Samsung’s started selling the Galaxy Fold in South Korea, but there’s not an announced timeframe for when we’ll be able to buy one in Australia. What we do know is that it won’t be cheap. Based on existing pricing, it’s likely to come in at around $3,000 outright. That’ll be for a 4G model, too. Samsung is making the Galaxy Fold in a 5G variant, but Samsung representatives told me that we’ll only see the 4G model in Australia.

The Galaxy Fold is fun to open and close, and I can see the productivity benefits of the way it handles multiple apps at once, but that price means it’s really only likely to be a device for very few people.


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