Dell XPS 15 9530 8-month review

So I’ve been using a Dell XPS 15 9530 as my daily (and nightly!) driver for the past 8 months.  I have the top-end version (3200×1800 touch, Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD)

It’s not the perfect laptop, but it’s damn close.  I primarily use it for work, which is to say I use Windows, light virtualization, and spend a fair bit of time in Colocation facilities or at client sites.  I also use it for all my gaming needs – at least once I week I play a few hours of Borderlands 2, or Mechwarrior online.

Things I like:

  • Thin and light – For it’s size it’s remarkably powerful.
  • Touchscreen – I didn’t think I’d use it a lot, but I often find myself poking at the screen.  It’s nice to have the option.
  • Keyboard – The keyboard is great.  Absolutely no complains.  It’s a joy to use.
  • Screen – The screen is gorgeous.  Though I usually run it at half-res (1600×900) since a lot of the apps I use day-to-day don’t scale nice YET.  e.g. VMWare console, RDP, etc.  It’s bright, quick, and crisp.
  • SSD – The SSD is huge and zippy.   Once you go SSD you can never go back.
  • Battery life – Exceptional!  I regularly go all day without plugging in.  The battery in this thing is awesome!

Things I wish were better

  • Cooling.  Gaming on this thing requires some compromises, and it’s all due to cooling.  Most games can run at half-res + high detail at 60 fps for about 10 mins and then things drop to 10fps due to heat throttling.  To get around this I’ve had to run things at lower settings and cap framerates at 30fps.  With those compromises it can play for hours, but it would be nice if the cooling system was capable of handling the head load the hardware is capable of generating.  I get that compromises were made in order to make it thin & light, but IMHO Dell got the balance wrong here.
  • Trackpad.  The trackpad is OK most of the time, but sometimes it gets stuck down and I have to flex the chassis to get it to unclick.  Doesn’t happen enough for me to put in a call to support yet, but that’s something I’ll have to do before the warranty expires.  Heard similar complaints from other XPS owners.
  • Ethernet.  Why is there a trend to not put Ethernet on laptops?  For the love of Pete PLEASE give me back my Ethernet port.  Dongles suck.  For casual users wifi may be enough, but for anyone serious it’s just too slow and flakey and not always an option.  Had I realized that the 9530 didn’t have Ethernet when I was selecting it I probably would have gone with something else.

Overall, I’d give this laptop an A-.  It’s very very good, and juuuust shy of great.  If Dell had done a better job of balancing the components against the cooling system it would get an A+.

 

LG GW620 Eve/Etna Review

After playing with this phone for almost a week now, I can say that I am very impressed. Not since the first time I played with a Palm Pro have I been so enamoured of a handheld computer. This little beauty is amazing! I know it’s not as slick as the Droid, but it fills a sweet spot in the market that I am smack dab in the middle of. It’s a tiny, powerful, android based smartphone with a full slide out querty keyboard – and it’s actually smaller than any other handheld I’ve ever owned. Plus, with a 3 year contract it only cost me $50 Canadian! Bonus!

To be fair, there are a few things I don’t like about it:

  1. The “LG IME” predictive text helper / software keyboard is horrible. Really, really, horrible. Turn it off as soon as you can. For the longest time I thought the space bar was broken because of the way the IME uses the first space to select the word, and the 2nd to actually insert a space. Sad, and on a full keyboard it’s completely pointless. But, it’s easy to turn off, and once it’s off the keyboard behaves the way a keyboard should. 🙂
  2. It’s Android 1.5 instead of 1.6 or 2.0. It’s a small gripe, really, and I assume it’ll be fixed in the near future with an over-the-air software upgrade. Still, it would have been nice if this new device came installed with the current version of Android. Version 1.5 works fine, however, and most of the missing features are fairly minor.
  3. The battery. The battery lasts me all day from 8am to 8pm under fairly heavy use with wifi on. Barely. I’m sure I could save a tonne of power and add a few more hours on to that by turning wifi off, but why use my data-plan when I have wifi at home + work? Still, I’ve yet to actually run out of power, and since it comes with a handy USB cable, I can charge it from my laptop in a pinch.
  4. The home and back buttons are too sensitive. Maybe it’s just my big paws, but I often end up exiting the app I’m using by mistake. It’s happening less now than when I first got the device, but it’s still an issue.

That’s it. Everything else is awesome:

  1. The OS. Android is amazing! The number of apps, utilities, and games is astounding. Plus, as a bonus most of them are free! I’ll cover the highlights a little farther down.
  2. My phone has a command prompt, and I didn’t void my warranty to get it. Hear that apple?
  3. 5mp auto-focus camera with LED flash that can also take fairly high res video. It works well, and takes a waaay better pic than my Blackberry does. It’s not a dedicated digital camera, but it’s as close as I would expect to come in a PDA/Smartphone
  4. Size – this device is as small as I would want it to be. Small enough that it fits in the front pocket of my jeans without problem, but big enough that it doesn’t feel too cramped
  5. The keyboard is backlit! Awesome for working in the dark!
  6. Has a build in GPS/Compass/Accelerometer. This device knows where it is, and which way it’s pointed, which opens the door for some truly astounding apps – e.g. Google Sky.
  7. The touch screen. A LOT of people are complaining that it’s not a capacitive multi-touch. Phoey to them, I say. I think LG made the right call making this a resistive touchscreen. It means you can use a stylus, and sometimes that’s important. This device is small, and my fingers are big. When I’m RDP’d in to a server the start menu button is about the smallest thing I can reliably hit without a stylus of some sort.
  8. Wifi! Free data when I’m at home or at work. Cuts down on the data package requirements by a massive amount!
  9. Media – It plays DivX and MP4 movies. Sweet! I can watch some Connections or Red Dwarf while waiting for the bus.

Mostly what I’m using this device for is as a mobile internet device. I already have a Blackberry tethered to my hip for work, but I needed something that could get me online while I’m on the phone on the BB. E.g. Someone calls me. A server is having issues. I can be on a bus, or at a cafe, or anywhere – whip out the LG, open an RDP session to the server, and fix the problem. For me, the RDP client available for it is the killer app. But, as a bonus I get all kinds of other fun apps. Here’s a brief rundown of my favourite Android apps so far – in no particular order:

  1. wpToGo – I could be writing this blog entry on the Eve. The client is perfect. Small, tight, and does everything required for a quick post or edit.
  2. Touchdown – ActiveSync exchange synching for Android. It’s amazing! Miles beyond what the built in stuff does. Absolutely required if you have an exchange server you’d like to talk to.
  3. Google Maps – Duh. Never get lost again!
  4. Google Sky Map – Truly amazing. Lie on the beach, gaze up at the night sky, wonder what that star is? Hold your Eve up beside the star and there it is on the screen complete with constellations. The device can tell which way it’s pointed and where you are, so it’s totally effortless to find the star you’re looking at. Beautiful!
  5. Remote RDP – Remote Desktop in the palm of your hand. You can connect to your machine at home, or servers at work. Fantastic for more things than I can mention here. If you manage any servers at all this app is a must have.
  6. Samba Explorer – Browse and copy files off network shares on to your SD card.
  7. ShopSavvy – Scans barcodes with the camera and finds deals nearby. A killer app for any shopaholic.

Oh, and did I mention the games? There are a few really well done Tower Defence games, logic puzzles, bejewelled clones, and the like. However the killer for me are the emulators. NES, SNES, Sega, Commodore 64. Even ScummVM has been ported to run all those fantastic old LucasArts games! I have The Curse of Monkey Island in the palm of my hand!

Basically, I can not imagine a better deal. $50 for this phone is a total and complete steal. if you’re in Canada and in the market for a great smartphone on a budget the LG GW620 deserves serious consideration.

Aluminium MacBook Review

The short version: This laptop rocks. End of story. 😉

The longer version: This is my first ever Mac, and I have to say I’m impressed. As a long-time PC geek, I’m finding it very easy to adapt to the Mac way of doing things. There are still a few things Ineed windows or Linux for, most notably Outlook and Xen Center, but for the most part I’ve been able to find OSX apps that suit all my needs. For the rest, VMWare Fusion fills the gap by letting me run my needed apps on my OSX desktop.

I bought the higher end 13.3″ MacBook at 2.4 ghz with the backlit keyboard, and it is totally worth the extra cash. The keyboard was a huge point of contention for me. Though the Mac keyboard is growing on me, I still miss the keyboard from my old Dell. The feel of the Apple KB is nice, but it’s keys are spaced far apart and it’s missing a few important keys as a result. No page up, no page down, no insert and no delete – it’s killing me right now, but I expect I’ll get used to it. The backlight is just plain sexy. It makes the machine a treat to use in bed.

Oh, and speaking of bed – this beauty has no vents on the bottom. You can toss it on a bed/couch/carpet/whatever and not have to worry about it roasting due to lack of airflow. It’s been a mystery to me for years why laptops insist on having vents on the bottom where they get blocked if you use the thing on the top of your lap. In all honesty, this was one of three main selling feature of this laptop for me. The other two being the trackpad and the ability to run OSX+Win7+Linux.

Ah, the trackpad. It is an absolute joy to use. Seriously. Working on any other laptop now feels cramped and counter-intuitive in comparison. The trackpad is HUGE, and the gestures are a joy to work with. The main thing preventing me from getting a Mac earlier was the continuing (retarded) decision to stick with a single mouse button. On the new-style pad removing the button and creating the two-finger right click-anywhere has totally resolved that issue for me, and then some!

The screen is lovely, with a bright led backlight, and a fairly decent viewing angle. The res is a little low (especially after playing with my boss’s thinkpad with it’s 1280×1050 res.) but I have no real complaints. It’s a screen, and it does it’s job admirably.

I should also mention that heat doesn’t seem to be an issue, even with the 2.4ghz proc. I’ve never seen it above 60 C, and usually it’s hovering around 49 with an almost completely silent fan. Compared to my Dell running around 79 this is a real treat!

For the most part, OSX is wonderful to work with. I’m especially loving the “Spaces” take on virtual desktops. I’ve used Virtual Desktops on almost every OS I’ve ever used, but Spaces totally nailed the experience. It’s flawless. I’m also loving having access to a bash prompt in a mature and friendly OS. (No offense to Linux… Linux rocks, and I use it on a regular basis, but it’s not something I’d install on my mom’s PC – yet. Soon, but not yet.)

I have a few minor complaints with OSX – mainly around the fact that OSX seems to think that “Connection failed” is a valid error message, where windows would say “Conection failed – unable to negotiate compatible encryption protocol.” I know the extra info might be confusing to some people, but when shit goes wrong I like to know why so I can fix it. But, there are 3rd party ways around OSXs insisting on treating me like I’m computer illiterate. GeekTool, for one, is saving my sanity. With it I’m able to have the system.log file always tailed on my desktop, so when I get a “Error” message, I just have to look at my desktop to know what the actual error message is.

There are a few must have apps for me already:

GeekTool. As mentioned above. It’s a keeper!

rEFIt. As a PC user, I absolutely must have rEFIt installed. This thing of beauty lets me triple boot between OSX, Linux, and WIndows with ease.

VMWare Fusion. Also mandatory, allowing me to boot those same OS’s virtually from their installed partitions – Impressive!

Ecto. Almost as good as Microsoft’s Live Writer. Almost. It does all that it should, and then some, and I feel no need to use Live Writer via VMWare instead of Ecto. It’s a lovely little app well deserving of it’s purchase price.

Remote Desktop Connection – I need this for work. Hard to admin a network if you can’t rdp to any servers.

Citrix Client – Same as above.

ZTerm or PuTTY – Both are just lovely for talking to switches etc on the console port.

MacSaber – Turn your MacBook in to a light saber. Do you need any other reason to download it?

That’s about it… There are lots of other must-have-apps for the mac, but those are the ones I use the most. You can find some other, more comprehensive lists here, here, here, and here.

If you found this article worthwhile then feel free to click one of my ads on the right to throw a googlequarter in my hat. 🙂

Logitech G25 Review

The short version:  If you can afford it, go get this wheel right now!

The long version: This wheel is simply amazing.  The whole driving game experience is completely enhanced by it, to the point where my fiance has become totally hooked on Test Drive Unlimited.  (I’m writing this to the sounds of her brand new Ferrari screaming down the highway)

OVERVIEW:

The box contains the wheel, the pedals, the shifter, and the power supply.  The quality is simply amazing, with a very solid feel.  I should also mention the smell.  The wheel and shifter smell like new leather seats.  It’s a little distracting initially; I keep finding myself leaning forward to smell the wheel at the end of each race…

Getting everything hooked up was a snap, and the software installed easily.  I did have a small problem with it detecting the wheel initially, but it was solved simply by unplugging and re-plugging the wheel at the “Detected Game Controllers” screen, at which point the wheel appeared and allowed me to test/configure it.

THE FEEL OF THE WHEEL:

The first thing you’ll notice about the wheel is the leather, followed closely by the brushed steel.  The main unit is heavy, and solidly built.  It clamps securely to your desk, and if it were just a tad bigger it would feel like a real steering wheel.  The dual force feedback motors provide excellent responsiveness, and provide a very strong effect.  This wheel really lets you know when you fall off the road!

The leather feels fantastic on your hands, even after a few solid hours of driving.  The paddle shifters are very solid, are perfectly sensitive, and don’t flex at all. 

The wheel also has 2 thumb buttons on it.  I would have preferred a few more thumb buttons, but that’s a tiny complaint – and also the only one I can think of for the entire rig.

THE METAL OF THE PEDAL:

The pedals are superb.  Logitech really nailed the feel for your feet.  The gas has light resistance, so it’s easy to hold the pedal at any position.  The brakes are heavy, so you really feel like you’re stomping on the brakes.  The clutch is somewhere in the middle, and felt a lot like my old VWs clutch.

The pedal unit has a nifty carpet grabbing bar on the bottom that held the unit very securely to my floor.  There are also LRFs (Little Rubber Feet) attached that, I expect, would do the same on hardwood or tile.

THE THROB OF THE KNOB:

The shifter knob also has a lovely leather treatment.  The six speed H pattern makes it very easy to find the gear you’re looking for, and allows for fun tricks like skipping gears while shifting – something that no sequential setup can really match.  There is a sequential mode to the shifter, but if you’re going sequential you may as well use the paddles. 

There are also 8 other buttons on the shifter unit, plus an 8-way hat switch.  Loads of buttons for controlling whatever game you play – though again, I would have preferred if some of those buttons had been on the wheel itself.  Just a personal preference though.

THE GAMES:

I tested the wheel with three games.  In order of realism, they are:  Need For Speed Undercover, Test Drive Unlimited, and rFactor. 

I found Need For Speed a little too arcade focused for me.  It’s physics model (and plot) are too squarely aimed at console kiddies.  It’s not that the game is boring, or that it’s not fun.  It’s just weak compared to the other games I tested the wheel on.  The feedback effects were decent, but the realism of the wheel was hampered by the weak physics.  As a side note, I’m VERY glad EA is letting go of the NFS franchise.  Hopefully the new owners will drop all the cosmetic customization, leave the free roam, and otherwise return to the roots of the game.

rFactor, on the other hand, I found to be almost too realistic, though it did a great job of highlighting the strengths of the G25.  The force feedback effects were exquisite!  Hook up to a projector and you’d almost believe you were in the car!  I will admin, however, that I spent more time spinning out than I did driving. 

Test Drive Unlimited was just right.  A solid physics model about half way between arcade and simulation, and a HUGE variety of cars.  The wheel totally shines in this game.  You can immediately feel how a car handles.  You can feel if the steering is loose or tight.  You can feel how much traction your tires have, and (critically!) when they’re about to let go of the pavement.  I enjoyed the game so much, that I’m planning on writing a review of it in the near future.

CONCLUSION:

If you have the means, get this wheel.  You will NOT regret it. 

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

G25 Review Coming Soon!

I will be a reviewing the Logitech G25 force feedback wheel as soon as I get my grubby mitts on one!  I should be getting one this weekend!  Stay tuned!