Pondering travel device consolidation using an Apple iPad Pro 12.9″

It was a change of job in 2010 that got me interested in using devices with internet connectivity on the go. Until then, the attraction of smartphones had not been strong but I got myself a Blackberry on a pay as you go contract but the entry device was painfully slow and the connectivity was 2G. It was a very sluggish start.

It was supplemented by an Asus eeePC that I connected to the internet using broadband dongles and a WiFi hub. This cumbersome arrangement did not work well on short journeys and the variability of mobile network reception even meant that longer journeys were not all that successful either. Usage in hotels and guesthouses though went better and that has meant that the miniature laptop came with me on many a journey.

In time, I moved away from broadband dongles to using smartphones as WiFi hubs and that largely is how I work with laptops and tablets away from home unless there is hotel WiFi available. Even trips overseas have seen me operate in much the same manner.

One feature is that we seem to carry quite a number of different gadgets with us at a time and that can cause inconvenience when going through airport security since they want to screen each device separately. When you are carrying a laptop, a tablet, a phone and a camera, it does take time to organise yourself and you can meet impatient staff as I found recently when returning from Oslo. Checking in whatever you can as hold luggage helps to get around at least some of the nuisance and it might be time for the use of better machinery to cut down on having to screen everything separately.

When you come away after an embarrassing episode as I once did, the attractions of consolidating devices start to become plain. In fact, most probably could get with having just their phone. It is when you take activities like photography more seriously that the gadget count increases. After all, the main reason a laptop comes on trips beyond Britain and Ireland at all is to back up photos from my camera in case an SD card fails.

Apple iPad Pro 12.9″

Parking that thought for a while, let’s go back to March this year when temptation overcame what should have been a period of personal restraint. The result was that a 32 GB 12.9″ Apple iPad Pro came into my possession along with an Apple Pencil and a Logitech CREATE Backlit Keyboard Case. It should have done so but the size of the screen did not strike me until I got it home from the Apple store and that was one of the main attractions because maps can be shown with a greater field of view in a variety of apps, a big selling point for a hiker with a liking for maps who wants more than anything from Apple, Google or even Bing. The precision of the Pencil is another boon that makes surfing the website so much easier and the solid connection between the case and the iPad means that keyboard usage is less fiddly than it would if it used Bluetooth. Having tried them with the BBC iPlayer app, I can confirm that the sound from the speakers is better than any other mobile device that I have used.

Already, it has come with me on trips around England and Scotland. These weekend trips saw me leave the Asus eeePC stay at home when it normally might have come with me and taking just a single device along with a camera or two had its uses too. The screen is large for reading on a train but I find that it works just as well so long as you have enough space. Otherwise, combining use of a suite of apps with recourse to the web does much of the information seeking needed while on a trip away and I was not found wanting. Battery life is good too, which helps.

Those trips allowed for a little light hotel room blog post editing too and the iPad Pro did what was needed though the ergonomics of reaching for the screen with the Pencil meant that meant that my arm was held aloft more than was ideal. Another thing that raised questions in my mind is the appearance of word suggestions at the bottom of the screen as if this were a mobile phone since I wondered if these were more of a hindrance than a help given that I just fancied typing and not pointing at the screen to complete words. Copying and pasting works too but I have found the screen-based version a little clunky so I must see if the keyboard one works just as well though the keyboard set up is typical of a Mac so that affects word selection. You need to use the OPTION key in the keyboard shortcut that you use for this and not COMMAND or CONTROL as you might do on a PC.

Transcend JetDrive Go 300

Even with these eccentricities, I was left wondering if it had any utility when it came to backing up photos from digital cameras and there is an SD card adapter that makes this possible. A failure of foresight on my part meant that the 32 GB capacity now is an obvious limitation but I think I might have hit on a possible solution that does not need upload to an iCloud account. It involves clearing off the photos onto a 128 GB Transcend JetDrive Go 300 so they do not clog up the iPad Pro’s storage. That the device has both Lightning and USB connectivity means that you can plug it into a laptop or desktop PC afterwards too. If that were to work as I would hope, then the laptop/tablet combination that I have been using for all overseas trips could be replaced¬† to allow a weight reduction as well as cutting the hassle at airport security.

Trips to Ireland still may see my sticking with a tried and tested combination though because I often have needed to do some printing while over there. While I have been able to print a test document from an iPad Mini on my home network-connected printer, not every model supports this and that for NFC or AirPrint is not universal either. If this were not an obstacle, apps like Pages, Numbers and Keynote could have their uses for business-related work and there are web-based offerings from Google, Microsoft and others too.

In conclusion, I have found the my iPad Pro does so much of what I need on a trip away that retiring the laptop/tablet combination for most of these is not as outrageous as it once would have seemed. In some ways, iOS has a way to go yet before it could take over from MacOS but it remains in development so it will be interesting see what happens next. All the while, hybrid devices running Windows 10 are becoming more pervasive and that might provide Apple with the encouragement that it needs.

More thoughts on Windows 10

Now that I have left Windows 8.x behind me and there are a number of my machines running Windows 10, I have decided to revisit my impressions of the operating system. The first Technical Preview was something that I installed in a virtual machine and I have been keeping an eye on things have developed since then and intend to retain a Windows Insider installation to see what might be heading our way as Windows 10 evolves as now expected.

After elaborating on the all important upgrade process earlier, I am now moving onto other topics. The Start Menu is a big item but there are others as you will see below.

Start Menu

Let’s start with an admission: the prototype Start Menu that we got in the initial Windows 10 Technical Preview was more to my liking. Unpinning all the tiles allowed the menu to collapse back to the sort of width that anyone familiar with Windows 7 would have liked. If there was a setting to expunge all tiles at once and produce this state, I would have been well happy.

It was latter that we got to learn that Microsoft was not about consign the Windows 8 Modern interface entirely to history as many would have wanted. Some elements remain with us such as a Start Menu with a mandatory area for tiles and the ability to have it display full screen. Some are live but this can be turned off on a tile by tile basis and unneeded ones can be removed altogether. It is even possible to uninstall most apps by right clicking on a tile or other Start Menu entry and select the required option from the resulting context menu. For others, there is a command line alternative that uses Powershell to do removals. After this pruning, things were left in such a state that I have not been moved to restore Classic Shell so far.

The Start Menu settings used be in the same place as those for the taskbar but they are found in the new Settings tool. Some are in the Personalisation section and it has its own Start subsection for setting full screen mode or highlighting of new apps among other things. The equivalent Colours subsection is where you find other settings like assigning background colours based on those in a desktop background image, which itself is assigned in it own subsection in the Personalisation area.

Virtual Desktops

Initially, I failed to see the point in how Microsoft implemented these and favoured Virtuawin instead. My main complaint was the taskbar showed buttons for all open apps regardless of the screen in which they are opened. However, that was changed so your taskbar shows different buttons for each virtual desktop, just like the way that Linux and UNIX do things. Switching between desktops may not be as smooth of those yet but the default setting is a move in the right direction and you can change it if you want.

Cortana

This was presented to the world as a voice operated personal assistant like Apple’s Siri but I cannot say that I am keen on such things so I decided to work as I usually do instead. Keyboard interaction works fine and I have neutered things to leave off web searches on Bing to use the thing much in the same way as the search box on the Windows 7 Start Menu. It may be able to do more than that but I am more than happy to keep my workflow unchanged for now. Cortana’s settings are available via its pop-up menu. Collapsing the search box to an icon to save space for your pinned and open applications is available from the Search section of the taskbar context menu (right clicking the taskbar produces this).

Settings

In Windows 8.x, the Control Panel was not the only area for settings but remained feature complete but the same is not the case for Windows 10 where the new Settings panel is starting to take over from it. The two co-exist for now but it seems clear that Settings is where everything is headed.

The Personalisation section of the tool has been mentioned in relation to the Start Menu but there are plenty of others. For instance, the Privacy one is one that definitely needs reviewing and I found myself changing a lot of the default settings in there. Naturally, there are some other sections in Settings that need hardly any attention from most of us and these include Ease of access (accessibility), Time & language, Devices and Network & Internet. The System section has a few settings like tablet mode that may need review and the Update & security one has backup and recovery subsections that may be of interest. The latter of these is where you find the tools for refreshing the state of the system following instability or returning to a previous Windows version (7 or 8.x) within thirty days of the upgrade.