Tag Archives: ios

Something Microsoft has never fixed: why Windows is slow to start up

One of the most common complaints I hear about Windows is that it is slow to start up. Everything is fine when a machine is new (especially if it is a clean install or purchased from a Microsoft store, and therefore free from foistware), but as time goes on it gets slower and slower. Even a fast PC with lots of RAM does not fix it. Slow boot is one of many factors behind the drift away from PCs to tablets, and to some extent Macs.

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As far as I can tell, the main reason PCs become slow to start is one that has been around since DOS days. Some may recall fussing about TSR – Terminate and Stay Resident – applications that would run at startup and stay in memory, possibly causing other applications to fail. Windows today is generally stable, but it is applications that run at startup that cause your PC to start slowly, as well as having some impact on performance later.

I install lots of software for testing so I suffer from this myself. This morning I took a look at what is slowing down my desktop PC. You can view them easily in Windows 8, in Task Manager – Startup tab. A few of the culprits:

  • Adobe: too much stuff, including Service Manager for Creative Suite, Creative Cloud connection, Acrobat utilities
  • Intel Desktop utilities – monitors motherboard sensors
  • Intel Rapid Storage Technology – monitors on-board RAID
  • Sync applications including SkyDrive, Dropbox, SkyDrive Pro (Groove.exe)
  • Seagate Desktop, manage your Seagate NAS (network attached storage)
  • Google stuff: Google Music Manager, Google update, some Chrome updater
  • Plantronics headset updater
  • Realtek HD Audio Manager
  • Fitbit Connect client
  • SpotifyWebHelper
  • Microsoft Zune auto-launcher
  • Microsoft Lync, famously slow to start up and connect
  • Roccat Gaming mouse settings manager
  • Flexera “Common software manager” (InstallShield updater)

Many of these applications run in order to install a notification app – these are the things that run at bottom right, in the notification area of the taskbar. Some apps install their own schedulers, like the Seagate app which lets you schedule backup tasks. Some apps are there simply to check for updates and inform you of new versions.

You can speed up Windows startup by going through case by case and disabling startup items that you do not need. Here is a useful guide. It is an unsatisfactory business though. Users have no easy way to judge whether or not a specific app is doing an important or useful task. You might break something. When you next update the application, the startup app may reappear. It is a mess.

Microsoft should have addressed this problem aggressively, years ago. It did put great effort into making Windows boot faster, but never focussed on the harder task of bringing third-parties into line. A few points:

  • If Windows had a proper notification service, many of these apps would not need to exist. In Windows 8, it does, but that is little help since most applications need to support Windows 7 and even in many cases Windows XP.
  • The notification area should be reserved for high priority applications that need to make users aware of their status at all times. The network connection icon is a good case. Printer ink levels are a bad case, aside from reminding us of the iniquity of printer vendors selling tiny ink cartridges at profiteering prices. In all cases it should be easy to stop the notification app from running via a right-click preference. The Windows 7 idea of hiding the notification icons is counter-productive: it disguises the problem but does not fix it, therefore making it worse. I always set Windows to show all notifications.
  • Many tasks should be done on application startup, not on Windows startup. Then it is under the user’s control, and if the user never or rarely runs the application, no resources are grabbed. Why do I need to know about an update, if I am not running the application? Have the application check for updates each time it runs instead.
  • It is misguided to run a process on start-up in order to speed up the first launch of the application. It may not be needed.
  • If a background process is needed, such as for synchronisation services, why not use a Windows Service, which is designed for this?
  • Windows has a scheduler built in. It works. Why write your own?

Of course it is too late now for desktop Windows. Microsoft did rethink the matter for the “Metro” personality in Windows 8, which is one reason why Windows RT is such a pleasure to use. Apple does not allow apps to run on startup in iOS, though you can have apps respond to push notifications, and that strikes me as the best approach.

Update: I should mention a feature of Windows 8 called Fast Boot (I was reminded of this by a commenter – thanks Danny). Fast Boot does a hybrid shutdown and hibernation:

Essentially a Windows 8 shutdown consists of logging off all users and then hibernating.

This is almost another subject, though relevant. Microsoft has for years sought to address the problem of slow boot by designing Windows never to switch off. There are two basic approaches:

Sleep: the computer is still on, applications are in memory, but in a low power state with screen and hard drives off.

Hibernation: the computer writes the contents of its memory to disk storage, then powers off. On startup, it reads back the memory and resumes.

My own experience is that Sleep does not work reliably long-term. It sometimes works, but sooner or later it will fail to resume and you may lose data. Another issue on portables is that the “low-power state” is not as low power as it should be, and your battery drains. These factors have persuaded me to shut down rather than sleep.

My experience of hibernation is better, though not perfect. It usually works, but occasionally fails and again you lose data.

Fast boot is a clever solution that works for some, but it is a workaround that does not address the real issue which I have outlined above: third-party and Microsoft applications that insist on automatic start-up.

RØDE Mic: High quality recording with iPhone or iPad

Interested in high resolution recording with an iOS device? It may be worth checking out the RØDE iXY which for $199 gets you a pair of cardiod capsule microphones which attach to the docking port on your iPad or iPhone (note that you will be holding your device upside down though it hardly matters).

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Using the associated app you can record at 24-bit/96Khz – good enough to allow some further processing while retaining high quality.

Suggested uses are recording concerts, broadcasting, or attaching to a camera for video with superior sound (though it might be easier to use a conventional external microphone).

Currently I travel with a separate device for recording so something like this is interesting. On the other hand, the recorder I use is small and light, the batteries last for days, and I can plug in any external microphone or use the one built-in. Still, an advantage of the RØDE iXY approach is that you get to use a lovely colour app for recording, and have one less device to keep charged up on the road.

Review: Skullcandy Navigator, smart on-ear headphones with microphone and special controls for Apple devices

Skullcandy has released the Navigator on-ear headphones, using some of the same technology found in the over-ear Aviator though simplified and at a lower price. An inline microphone is included, with buttons to control call answer, play, pause and volume on iOS devices.

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The Navigator is a stylish device, with the glossy black finish on the outside of the ear cups nicely offset by sliver chrome trim and sliders. The cups fold inwards for storage and a silky drawstring bag is supplied. The cable is detachable, which is always a good thing since if you are are lucky the cable will detach when you trip over it rather than breaking internally, and if you are unlucky you can replace it.

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In the box you get a a guide to the “MIC3” button controls and a leaflet showing how to attach the cable, along with the headphones, bag and cable itself.

The soft inside of the ear pieces has a cutaway section showing the Skullcandy logo.

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While the designers no doubt thought this a nice touch, it looks like there is potential for the edges to lift or tear here, but only time will show whether this is a real concern.

Sound

The sound is decent but falls short of greatness, no more or less than you would expect at this price point. First impressions are good, with a smooth sound and adequate bass, but close listening revealed some compromises. The sound is a little recessed, with accentuated bass and slightly dulled treble, with the result that handclaps, for example, sound less real and natural than they should.

Listening to Sade’s By Your Side, with its strong rhythmic bass lines, is always revealing; it is on my list of difficult tracks. On an iPad this was disappointing, with the bass turning to mush and the treble detail getting lost too. Switching to a desktop PC and a dedicated headphone amplifier made a substantial improvement and the music became enjoyable, though still some distance from how it can sound with the best equipment.

Mirror in the Bathroom by the Beat (or English Beat) is a punchy and demanding track that is also good for revealing gear differences. The Navigators are claimed to have “punchy and powerful bass” but on this track they sounded too polite, losing too much of the rhythmic drive in the song, and again recessing the treble too much.

Adele’s Daydreamer sounded reasonable with forward vocals, though the Navigator loses some of the delicacy of the guitar picking and the sound is a little closed-in compared to better units.

The sound is unexceptional then; but good enough for casual use.

Having a microphone built in is great though. Plugged into Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet, this set made a great job of a Skype call with clear, solid sound at both ends of the call.

Controls

The Navigator’s inline microphone includes controls for use with iOS.

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The plus and minus buttons control the volume, while the central clicker is multi-function. One click is for play/pause, or to take a call if ringing. Two clicks in quick succession moves to the next track, and three clicks the previous track.

On the Surface RT the microphone worked fine, but the controls did nothing.

Comfort

Headphones are personal things and ideally you will try these before you buy. In general the design is good, with plenty of travel on the rails to which the ear pieces attach so that you can fit these headphones to the size of your head.

Unfortunately I found the clamping pressure too tight, though over time this may reduce a little. The result for me was that I could not wear these headphones comfortably for an extended period. This might not be the case for you; but I cannot agree with the “insanely comfortable” claim in the press release.

Conclusion

The design is beautiful, the inline microphone useful, and the sound is not too bad. Overall I rate these a reasonable but unexceptional purchase, but only if you can wear them without discomfort. If you prefer a slightly looser fit, these will not be for you.

The Skullcandy Navigator comes in three colours: Black, White or Royal Blue. It costs £84.99.

Which online storage service? SkyDrive is best value but lacks cool factor

This week both Microsoft and Google got their act together and released Dropbox-like applications for their online storage services, SkyDrive and Google Drive respectively.

Why has Dropbox been winning in this space? Fantastic convenience. Just save a file into the Dropbox folder on your PC or Mac, and it syncs everywhere, including iOS and Android mobiles. No official Windows Phone 7 client yet; but nothing is perfect.

Now both SkyDrive and the new Google Drive are equally convenient, though with variations in platform support. Apple iCloud is also worth a mention, since it syncs across iOS and Mac devices. So too is Box, though I doubt either Box or Dropbox enjoyed the recent launches from the big guys.

How do they compare? Here is a quick look at the pros and cons. First, pricing per month:

  Free 25GB 50GB
Apple iCloud 5GB $3.33 $8.33
Box 5GB $9.99 $19.99
Dropbox 2GB   $9.99
Google Drive 5GB $2.49 $4.99 (100GB)
Microsoft SkyDrive 7GB $0.83
(27GB)
$2.08
(52GB)

and then platform support:

  Web Android Black
berry
iOS Linux Mac Windows Windows
Phone
Apple iCloud X X X Limited X
Box X X
Dropbox X
Google Drive X X X
Microsoft SkyDrive X X X

Before you say it though, this is not really about price and it is hard to compare like with like – though it is obvious that SkyDrive wins on cost. Note also that existing SkyDrive users have a free upgrade to 25GB if they move quickly.

A few quick notes on the differences between these services:

Apple iCloud is not exposed as cloud storage as such. Rather, this is an API built into iOS and the latest OS X. Well behaved applications are expected to use storage in a way that supports the iCloud service. Apple’s service takes care of synchronisation across devices. Apple’s own apps such as iWork support iCloud. The advantage is that users barely need to think about it; synchronisation just happens – too much so for some tastes, since you may end up spraying your documents all over and trusting them to iCloud without realising it. As you might expect from Apple, cross-platform support is poor.

Box is the most expensive service, though it has a corporate focus that will appeal to businesses. For example, you can set expiration dates for shared content. Enterprise plans include Active Directory and LDAP support. There are numerous additional apps which use the Box service. With Box, as with Dropbox, there is an argument that since you are using a company dedicated to cross-platform online storage, you are less vulnerable to major changes in your service caused by a change of policy by one of the giants. Then again, will these specialists survive now that the big guns are all in?

Dropbox deserves credit for showing the others how to do it, Apple iCloud aside. Excellent integration on Mac and Windows, and excellent apps on the supported mobile platforms. It has attracted huge numbers of free users though, raising questions about its business model, and its security record is not the best. One of the problems for all these services is that even 2GB of data is actually a lot, unless you get into space-devouring things like multimedia files or system backups. This means that many will never pay to upgrade.

Google Drive presents as a folder in Windows and on the Mac, but it is as much an extension of Google Apps, the online office suite, as it is a storage service. This can introduce friction. Documents in Google Apps appear there, with extensions like .gdoc and .gsheet, and if you double-click them they open in your web browser. Offline editing is not supported. Still, you do not have to use Google Apps with Google Drive. Another issue is that Google may trawl your data to personalise your advertising and so on, which is uncomfortable – though when it comes to paid-for or educational services, Google says:

Note that there is no ad-related scanning or processing in Google Apps for Education or Business with ads disabled

Google Drive can be upgraded to 16TB, which is a factor if you want huge capacity online; but by this stage you should be looking at specialist services like Amazon S3 and others.

Microsoft SkyDrive is also to some extent an adjunct to its online applications. Save an Office 2010 document in SkyDrive, and you can edit it online using Office Web Apps. Office Web Apps have frustrations, but the advantage is that the document format is the same on the web as it is on the desktop, so you can also edit it freely offline. A snag with SkyDrive is lack of an Android client, other than the browser.

Conclusions

There are many more differences between these services than I have described. Simply though, if you use a particular platform or application such as Apple, Google Apps or Microsoft Office, it makes sense to choose the service that aligns with it. If you want generic storage and do not care who provides it, SkyDrive is best value and I am surprised this has not been more widely observed in reports on the new launches.

One of Microsoft’s problems is that is perceived as an old-model company wedded to the desktop, and lacks the cool factor associated with Apple, Google and more recent arrivals like Dropbox.

Bridge for Apple iPad and iPhone: FunBridge upgraded, no longer free

GOTO Games has updated Funbridge for iOS to version 3.0, adding many features and introducing a per-game fee.

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FunBridge is a Contract Bridge app in which the play is always online. You play against the computer but compare your score to that of others. In this new version the game engine seems little changed, but interaction with others is much greater, making it more like the web version.

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In the earlier release, you could see your ranking and which users were in the top 10 for a tournament of 10 games, but you could not discover anything about another user beyond the username. Now there are user profiles and you can see another user’s overall ranking and, if they choose to provide it, name, age, location and About me notes.

Tournaments no longer stand alone, but are grouped into series which match you with players of similar standard. Rankings are decided after each period of a week, based on the results from short 3-game tournaments, provided you play at least 5 during the period. There are 35 series, and after each period the top 25% are promoted and the bottom 25% demoted from each.

You can also play in old-style Daily Tournaments, which are now more frequent than before with a new one every two hours, but these are not grouped into series. You can also play practice hands. The Daily Tournaments and practice hands are scored with IMPs (International Match Points), whereas the Series Tournaments are scored with pairs-style percentages; if you score just slightly more then others, you get 100%, and even a good score can get you 0% if everyone else made an overtrick.

The other big change to mention is that play is no longer free, though you get an introductory 100 games.

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Games cost from 3p each falling to 1.75p if you purchase 1000 at a time. FunBridge will give you 5 games free if you reveal your birthday and another 5 for your city. Is your birthday worth more than 15p?

This makes FunBridge expensive compared to most iOS games. It is a different model to the web version, where you pay €9.90 per month (a bit less if you subscribe for a year) for unlimited games. That would buy around 400 games on the iOS version so you win or lose depending how often you play.

The game itself truly is a lot of fun, though I have found a few frustrations. The play is generally good, though eccentric occasionally. The bidding can be perplexing, especially as the bidding conventions are not described in detail, so you have to guess exactly which variant the computer is supposed to be playing. There is help for the meaning of simple bids, but this does not always match the selected convention and cannot be trusted.

Still, everyone is in the same situation so it is fair!

Hands seem to be tilted towards interesting deals; I have never seen a 10-card suit in one hand in regular bridge but I have in FunBridge.

Gameplay can be annoyingly slow even on a good connection; though perhaps when everyone has played all their free games this will improve!

A fun game; but with the new subscription model I wonder if we will see some alternatives at lower cost. It would also be good to see a version for Android and other mobile operating systems.

Kingston Wi-Drive extends iOS storage, but not hassle-free

I have been trying out the Kingston Wi-Drive, which expands the storage of an iOS device using a pocketable wireless solid-state drive.

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The unit is about the size of a mobile phone, but smoother and lighter, and available with capacity of 16GB or 32GB.

The drive comes with a minimalist instruction leaflet which tells you to charge it by attaching the USB cable to a PC or Mac, add content by accessing it as an external drive, and then when charged, download and run the free Wi-Drive app on your iPad or iPhone.

I got this working without too much trouble. I added a movie to the drive and was able to watch it on an iPad, which is handy given that there is no DVD drive, though if it was sourced from a DVD you have to work out how to rip the DVD to a file first. I also added some documents and pictures, and was able to view these on iOS without any issues.

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The app seems to be designed primarily for iPhone, which means it looks a little odd on an iPad, though it does run full-screen. There is a thumbnail view, for images, and for documents there is an option to open them in apps that understand the file format. For example, I could open a Word 2010 document in Pages.

So far so good; but I found some annoyances. The first is that when you connect to the Wi-Drive, you are no longer connected to the Internet unless you also have 3G. The solution is to go into the Wi-Drive settings and configure your normal wi-fi connection as a bridge. The leaflet does not mention this, but it is explained here.

The bridge did not work at first. I had to change my Netgear router so that it is WPA 2 only, rather than supporting both WPA and WPA 2. This is mentioned in the FAQ:

Wi-Drive’s bridge function supports a single security protocol only: WEP, WPA, or WPA2. These may also appear as WPA ONLY, WPA2 ONLY, etc. Wi-Drive does NOT support mixed mode.

I also configured security on the Wi-Drive wi-fi connection. By default, it is wide open to your neighbours; and if you have the bridge enabled, bypasses the security of your home wi-fi connection as well. On the other hand, the fact that up to three users can connect is a good thing if, for example, you wanted to share some files with friends or colleagues at a meeting.

If you are using the device on the road, in a cafe or airport for example, it would be difficult to connect to the internet as well as to the drive. If you are flying, the airline will probably not allow you to use the Wi-Drive.

Most annoying is that when the device is connected to a computer, the contents become inaccessible. Even connecting to a USB charger seems to be enough to disable it. When it is not connected to a computer, the battery starts running down; it only lasts 4 hours.

This means that you should not think of the Wi-Drive as permanently attached storage. Rather, think of it as something you can switch on when needed.

Poking around on the drive, I noticed that it has the Apache web server installed. When the bridge is operating, you can browse to the device from a web browser on your computer and access the contents or change the settings.

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This is a handy device; but it could be better. I would like to see a memory card slot – and Kingston would benefit as it sells memory cards – as well as a longer battery life. Kingston also needs to fix it so you can use it on iOS while it is connected to a computer and charging. The Wi-Drive app could do with a bit more polish too, particularly the iPad version.

As it is, the Wi-Drive is great if it exactly fits your need, but make sure you can live with it before parting with your money.

Kingston Wi-Drive: portable storage expansion for iPad and iPhone

Kingston has announced availability of the Wi-Drive. This product addresses an annoying limitation of the Apple iPhone and iPad: no USB port for external storage devices.

The Wi-Drive overcomes this by connecting wirelessly. It offers 16GB or 32GB of solid-state storage, with USB for charging and for access to the files from a PC or Mac. When you are on the go, you can put the Wi-Drive into your pocket. A free app on the iPhone, iPad or iTouch lets you access the files. The use of a network bridging means you can still access the internet. Battery life is said to be up to 4 hours, so I hope you can switch it off when not needed. You can also share the drive with up to three other users.

Example prices are £89.99 for the 16GB or £124.98 for the 32GB version.

It is a clever solution. That said, I have a couple of reservations. One is that the price is high compared to a simple USB device of the same capacity. That is not unreasonable given the extra technology needed, but it means it will only sell to users who really need it.

And do you need it? If you are on the internet, you could use a file synchronization service like Dropbox, or Apple’s own iDisk or forthcoming iCloud, to extend storage instead.

A second problem is that iOS does not expose its file system to the user. This means that external storage is less convenient on iOS than on other systems. Want to save a Pages document from iOS to the Wi-Drive? You probably cannot do so directly; there is no way to save direction to Dropbox either.

The Wi-Drive only exists because of Apple’s desire to control and supposedly simplify the operating system. It is a workaround, but not a perfect one, although that is not the fault of Kingston.

That said, I have not yet tried a Wi-Drive; I hope to bring you a proper review in due course.

An iOS security tip: tap and hold links in emails to preview links

Today I was using an iPad and received a fake email designed to look as if it were from Facebook. It was a good imitation of the Facebook style.

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In particular, the links for sign in look OK.

Outlook on Windows displays the actual link when you hover the mouse pointer over the link. As you can see, in this case it is nothing to do with Facebook:

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How do you do this on iOS? There is no mouse hover (though it could be down with a proximity sensor) but if you tap and hold on the link, iOS pops up a dialog revealing the scam:

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Worth mentioning as tapping and holding a link to inspect it is not obvious and some users may not be aware of this feature.

The iPad is still worse than Outlook for email security. Outlook does not download images by default. Downloading the image tells the spammer that you have opened the message:

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The iPad mail client downloads all images.

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In mitigation, most malware on web sites will not run on iOS. However you could still give away your password or other information if you are tricked by a deceptive web page or fake login.

Hiding links is a feature built into HTML. The designers of HTML figured out that we would rather see a friendly plain English link than a long URL. Unfortunately this feature, and related ones like the ability to make an image a link, play into the hands of the scammers and it is necessary to look at the real link before you follow it.

A better solution would be authenticated email, so that fake Facebook emails would be detected before they are displayed. Unfortunately we are still a long way from using authenticated emails as the norm.

Battle of the portables: Netbook vs Apple iPad 2

A semi-serious comparison

The popularity of tablets has seriously undermined the market for netbooks, according to many reports. But to what extent are the two comparable, and if they are, is a tablet unequivocally superior? I’m asking the question as much as answering, because I am trying out an iPad 2 and intrigued to see to what extent it can replace the netbook with which I normally travel. I have found I prefer the netbook to a laptop when out and about: the lightness and long battery life is worth the performance limitations for me.

The comparison is not straightforward. An iPad is a thing of beauty, whereas a typical netbook is an obvious compromise, nearly a laptop but limited in memory and performance. For some people that is enough; they will say, it is not about features, it is about the experience, and it is night and day.

Even so there are things that the netbook does better. What follows are some notes on the subject, based on the iPad vs a Toshiba NB 300 netbook with which I am familiar. I may add or amend the entries, so check back for updates.

1. Price

iPad2: £399 (wi-fi with 16GB)

Toshiba netbook: £230.00 (based on typical current price of NB305)

Winner: netbook

the netbook comes with Windows 7 starter, a crippled version of Windows, and only 1MB RAM. You probably want to add 1GB RAM (£17.00). If you want to join your netbook to a business domain you’ll need to upgrade Windows 7 to the Professional version; if you want to get rid of the annoying ads in Office Starter you’ll need to upgrade Office too.

2. Ease of setup:

iPad2: Switch on, and it asks you to connect to a computer running iTunes. This actually has its annoyances. iTunes is rather slow and bloated especially on Windows. When you connect, the default is auto-sync, which means iTunes will attempt to copy its music library to your iPad, likely not have enough room, and copy a random selection. If you have an iPhone, you will also get all your iPhone apps copied across, like it or not, which means you have to delete the ones you do not want.

Toshiba netbook: I recounted the “fairly dismal” experience of setting up a Toshiba netbook here. The main problem is all the trialware that is pre-installed, plus a bunch of Toshiba utilities of varying quality. Rather than repeat it all here, I will show show the screenshot a few minutes after first power-on:

Winner by a mile: iPad 2

3. Boot time

iPad 2: instant

Toshiba: ages. Better from hibernation, though still much slower than iPad 2. Better from sleep, but I am not a big fan of sleep because it drains the battery and occasionally crashes on resume.

Winner by a mile: iPad 2

4. Multi-tasking, or the ability to do several things at once

iPad 2: does multi-task but the experience is not great. Only one app is visible at a time, and to switch you have to double-click the big button, swipe through a list of apps, and tap the one you want.

Toshiba: It’s Windows. Fortunately Microsoft changed its mind about having a limit of three apps you can run at once. You can run lots of apps, switch between them with alt-tab or by clicking a taskbar icon, and size them small so you can see more than one on-screen at one time.

The simplicity of one app to view is meant to be an advantage of iOS; but while the Windows model can be troublesome – see the above screenshot for proof- I’d like to see some improvement in this part of iOS. It is not a matter of screen size: the screen size on the netbook is similar to that of the iPad.

Winner: netbook

5. Keyboard

iPad 2: soft keyboard that obscures half the screen, or add-on physical keyboard.

Toshiba netbook: traditional clamshell design with integrated keyboard.

I do a lot of typing, and my speed is substantially better on a physical keyboard. However I do not like carrying lots of accessories, and while the iPad add-on  keyboard is fine at a desk, if you are in a confined space such as an aeroplane the clamshell design works better than a loose keyboard.

That said, I recall hearing how a school that issued all its pupils and staff with iPads was surprised by how few wanted keyboards. Some kids apparently prefer the soft keyboard to “all those buttons”, so it may depend what you are used to. However, even if you replaced the “Keyboard” heading with “Text input”, my vote would still go to the netbook.

Winner: netbook

6. Touch control

iPad 2: yes

Toshiba netbook: no

I’m putting this in just to make the point. Even a Windows tablet, with a stylus, is less convenient to use with touch than an iPad.

Winner by a mile: iPad 2

7. Applications

iPad 2: A bazillion apps available in the app store, cheap or free to purchase, a snap to install. Not so many for iPad as for iPhone, but still a good number.

Toshiba netbook: It’s Windows. They are a bit slow to load, but I run Microsoft Office, Outlook, several web browsers, music apps, games, network utilities and all sorts of other stuff.

Winner: I am going to call this a tie. There are some beautiful apps for the iPad 2, but I miss the features of Windows apps like Office. With the netbook my experience is that I can do almost anything that I can do with a desktop PC, although more slowly, but that is not the case with the iPad 2. On the other hand, the way apps can be installed and removed in a blink on the iPad 2 is a delight compared to Windows setup.

8. File system and storage

iPad 2: There is a file system, but it is hidden from the user.

Toshiba netbook: Yes. I can save a document from one app, and open it in another. I can connect to it over a network and copy files from one folder to another. Not possible on the iPad 2 without workarounds like iTunes and DropBox; and even then some things are difficult. For example, you cannot save a document from Pages on the iPad directly to your DropBox. Let me add that the netbook has a 250GB hard drive, whereas the iPad gets by with a maximum of 32GB solid state storage – though also note that solid state storage is faster to access, and that because the iPad is designed to work like that it does not feel particularly space-constrained.

Winner by a mile: netbook

9. Connectivity

iPad 2: Wireless network, or devices that accept Apple’s proprietary connector. You can attach the iPad to a PC with USB, but only iTunes really understands it, unless you just want to copy photos and videos. Apple offers an add-on camera connectivity kit for downloading photos from a camera, and AirPrint for printing over a network. It is annoying that you have to buy add-ons to do what a netbook does out of the box.

Toshiba netbook: Three standard USB ports, you can attach external hard drives or most USB devices such as printers.

Winner: netbook

10. Battery life

iPad 2: Apple says up to 10 hours, but I have never managed as much as that. Maybe 7 or 8 hours.

Toshiba netbook: I get about 6 hours on wifi, more than that without.

In practice, I have no quibble with either machine – though I am envious of Amazon Kindle owners with their one month charge.

Winner by a whisker: iPad 2.

11. Portability

iPad 2: no bigger than a pad of paper. It is not exactly pocketable, but slips easily into any kind of bag or briefcase. It perhaps needs the protection of a case, but even in a case it is not bulky.

Toshiba netbook: fatter and uglier than an iPad, but still very portable. The worst thing is the power supply, if you need it: the Apple mains adaptor is much smaller than Toshiba’s effort.

Winner by a whisker: iPad 2

12. Watching videos

iPad 2: Great. It is like a portable TV or DVD player, but better – as long as you have a strong wifi connection and BBC iPlayer or the like. Just prop it up on its stand (most cases have one) and enjoy.

Toshiba netbook: it works but the graphics capabilities are inferior and it feels like you are looking at a netbook.

Winner by a mile: iPad 2

13. Built in cameras and microphone

iPad 2: two cameras, front and back, and a microphone that works.

Toshiba netbook: webcam and microphone, but they are junk; I have not seen a netbook with anything decent.

Winner by a mile: iPad 2

14. Reading eBooks

iPad 2: iBooks app and Amazon Kindle app. I prefer the Kindle app, though whether it will survive Apple’s assault on alternative readers I am not sure.

Toshiba netbook: Kindle app, as well as Adobe Reader etc.

A tablet is great for reading, much better than a netbook. However despite its humble appearance Amazon’s Kindle device really is better for reading, thanks to a screen you can read in sunlight, much longer battery life, and free internet access to download books everywhere.

Winner: iPad 2, though a Kindle is better

15. Attract admiring glances

iPad 2: Yes

Toshiba netbook: No

Winner: I did say “semi-serious”.

Escaping Apple: trying to switch away is hard

Mark Wadham posts his Thoughts on switching to Android. Last week he sold his iPhone 4 and switched to an HTC Desire S. I found this interesting, since I have an iPhone 4 and an HTC Desire.

The motive behind Wadham’s switch was to escape Apple’s “over-controlling ways”, rather than immediate dissatisfaction with its products, and there is mild disappointment running through his whole piece:

So in summary, android isn’t really /that/ far off the iPhone. It’s missing the cleanness of the user experience, consistency in the user interface and the glorious wealth of apps, but hopefully that will all come in time. This is a great little phone and I’m happy I made the switch. It’s not as fun to use as an iPhone, and if you’re a real UX freak you should probably stick with the iPhone at least for now, but if you’re someone who likes to tweak and customise and play around with your device android seems much more suited than Apple’s offering.

There is also some irony: HTC’s offering is not as free as he would like.

I would have loved to get rid of HTC Sense and install one of the modded roms like Cyanogen, but that currently isn’t possible due to restrictions HTC has placed on these new handsets …The good news is that, according to the research I’ve done, the root for the Desire S (and the incredible S) isn’t far off.Actually the worst thing about this phone is that it comes with a Facebook app that I can’t remove until it gets rooted.

Still, there is no question that Android is a less tightly controlled platform than iOS. The fact that you can install apps from outside Google’s Android Market is all you need to know.

In usability though, Android falls short. It lacks the obsessive attention to design that characterises Apple’s devices and software; and once you are used to iOS it is particularly hard to switch:

Eventually I got the hang of it, but even now after two days of playing and installing apps and tweaks, the UI still feels counter-intuitive and I have to consciously remember how to do things rather than it being obvious and simple like iOS.

One thing I have noticed since getting these two phones is the impact of Apple’s dock connector. There are countless iPhone/iPod docks and although there is often an option to use a non-Apple device with a mini-jack cable it is not as convenient or elegant. You cannot easily build a generic Android dock because there is no exact equivalent.

Another issue is apps. Once you have purchased a bunch of apps, you can transfer these to another iOS device. If you switch to Android, you have to start again.

There is also iTunes to think about. Let’s say you have got used to iTunes and have your music stored there. While it is possible to transfer non-DRM music to Android or other non-Apple devices, it is not necessarily obvious how to do so; and iTunes itself will only sync to Apple devices. Personally I am not a fan of iTunes; but I can see how it tends to encourage users to stick with Apple.

The bottom line is that escaping Apple requires some determination, once you are hooked into its ecosystem.