Friday, November 1, 2013

Ultra-teeny-tiny-book and Choosing Your Own Device

I should preface that I work for Softchoice Corporation, but this blog post is ENTIRELY my own opinion.

Also, one or more of the vendors in this post asked my company to sanitize their version of this blog post, removing all negative commentary.  The following is all the content they didn't want you to see.  Enjoy!

(UPDATE: I'm sending my device back.  It's too under-powered for me, and I'm just not productive with it.)

Ahh the UltraBook.  Small form factor, great good battery life, decent specs.  I've been trying out the Lenovo Helix, the tablet/laptop hybrid that made a splash at CES earlier this year.  My employer, Softchoice, has been trialing a Choose Your Own Device campaign sponsored by Intel and some other vendors, and I was lucky enough to be included in the program.  I chose the Helix because the specs listed in that were better than the rest of the devices.  I'm a power user, so I need at least a Core i7 and 8 GB of RAM.  Storage isn't a big deal, since I keep the majority of my files on, and can pick and choose what gets synchronized down to my device.  The Helix as it was listed indeed met my spec requirements.

After a small wait, the device finally arrived. And I was like a kid at Christmas time.  (Admittedly, this happens anytime I receive a package from Amazon too.)  I opened the package, turned the device on, and...squinted to see the screen.  The Helix has an 11.6" screen.  And since I've used 10" tablets for a couple of years now, I thought an extra 1.6" would be a bonus.  Nada.  The resolution on the Helix made using the device as a "laptop" near impossible.  Holding it closer to my eyes like I would a true tablet was fine, but when I tried to use the keyboard (you know, all laptoppy and stuff), I looked like a sad T-Rex.  So that's "-1" for Lenovo for pairing a tiny screen, high resolution, and a keyboard without also including a coupon for a visit to an eye doctor prior to shipment.

Then I tried the device's tablet mode.  Undocking the screen from the keyboard was like the starship Enterprise going through a saucer section separation. It just worked, and there were no problems whatsoever.  The device has USB ports as well as a display port on the bottom edge of the tablet, which is normally flush with the keyboard dock.  I definitely love the idea of being able to plug a USB device into my tablet.  So a "+1" to Lenovo for building the tablet-only portion of the Helix to stand alone nicely without the keyboard dock.

At this point, the Helix had been on for about 30 minutes.  I started to notice some heat radiating from the back right, so I placed my hand on that part of the device.  The temperature was uncomfortably hot for a tablet, and I had not really even been stress testing the unit.  Another "-1" to Lenovo.

I decided to see if anything was using my processor, so opened Task Manager.  Lo and behold, I only had 4GB of RAM.  This was confusing to me, because I specifically remembered seeing 8GB of RAM in the spec sheet.  I checked the processor: Core i5.  And lastly, for giggles, the HD was a paltry 100GB instead of the 180GB advertised, though the real disappointment here was on the processor and memory specs.  Giving my company the benefit of the doubt. since this program is a "trial run", I decided to move forward with the usage of the device to augment my desktop.

As an engineer, I can safely say that 4GB of RAM is almost useless in a world with tabbed browsers, Windows 8, Office 2013, and multiple office files nearing (and in some instances exceeding) 10MB in size. Thus began my frustrations with the Lenovo Helix.  I used it for all of 30 minutes on my first day of ownership, primarily because the Helix was just sluggish compared to my primary machine.  There was no way I was going to sacrifice productivity when I could use something else that was snappier.  Ok, so maybe I'll just stick with using it on the couch and when I travel.

This was also my first foray into Windows 8 on an OEM device.  I'm less than impressed with Microsoft's latest OS.  The interface isn't very intuitive and doesn't flow well between applications, especially if you have a mixture of Metro (full-screen) and traditional (windowed) apps. The Windows 8 store is a might....challenged (staying politically correct here).  The majority of the pre-loaded apps wouldn't update, nor could I install anything new from the store for at least a few days.  I think a Windows update sorted the problem out.  The app ecosystem is a bit light as well.  Some of the core apps that I use on my Android tablet were duplicated here, but the functionality was in some instances crippled.

My first road trip with the device was a success, other than the aforementioned issues in using the device as a laptop.  When I arrived back home, using the Helix had made me appreciate my main machine.  I can safely say that given another chance/choice, I would go with something that had a larger screen and better specs, even if I had to put a little skin in the game with my own money.

The idea of allowing users to choose their own device from a pre-set list is a much better approach than allowing carte blanch into your organization (like what happens with BYOD).  In the context of a CYOD model, I would encourage every IT department to work with the lines of business to establish user profiles that equate to classifications of specs.  This way, you're not giving engineers machines that are under-powered and not capable of running VMWare Workstation or opening a 200MB Excel document.  Conversely, it doesn't make any sense to give someone in sales a Core i7 with 8GB of RAM.  Use cases will set the criteria for those device lists.  Also, build your CYO policy to account for what happens when a user chooses a device, and that device falls short of the user's needs.  CYO is another tool in the utility belt of IT to accommodate the changing workforce.  In my opinion, it should always be chosen over BYOD, as it gives control back to IT, and likely will end up being the "best tool for the job" for IT departments everywhere for the next few years.

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