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The Arrival:
I picked the the Dell Inspiron 17 after my college graduation. Intel i5 Core processor, let’s see what you can do! [I forgot to write down the actual model #, but oh well.]

The notebook was delivered in a huge cardboard box. Despite its starting weight of 6.8 lbs, it felt surprisingly light for its dimensions. Perhaps it was only a tad heavier than my 15″. The shell was sleek, but easy to smudge. There were ports galore.

Display:
With so much LCD real estate, it was a breeze cascading and accessing multiple windows. The experience of scrolling through websites, however, was similar to that of a smaller display (the screen height seemed unchanged).

The LCD was very bright. The lowest setting was fine, except when in direct sunlight. The biggest downside: I couldn’t escape the persistent glare from the glossy screen.


Operating System:
Windows 7 is a darling, with the crisp aesthetics of Vista and the familiarity of XP.

Mobility:
The notebook did not fit in any of my backpacks/bags. The solution was to have it ride shotgun in my car en route to the cafe. A 17″ notebook is not recommended for travelers—it’s bulky and wants to lounge around at home.

Keyboard | Audio:
The keypad felt like an add-on to fill up all the space below the display. The numeric keypad offset the keyboard & touchpad, which shifted my typing posture. Is this ergonomic? My head & eyes would naturally center on the display, but my hands were at an awkward left-ward slant.

The speakers were on the bottom of the laptop, so the audio was always muffled. The default equalizer settings were unusual; voices sounded garbled even at high volume . The left cooling fan activated sporadically and would drown out the sound from the left side of the laptop, worsening the sound quality.

I would ditch the keypad in favor of a centered keyboard with [big!] speakers by its side. I own a USB keypad and I rarely use it.

Multitasking:
Scrolling through hundreds of image & text-laden posts was absolutely seamless. No skips or misses. Same with long PDFs on Adobe Acrobat Reader. I streamed music and barreled through YouTube videos & movie trailers. I blogged and read the news. I watched seasons of Mad Men and revisited Breaking Bad, sometimes on fullscreen or minimized next to a web browser. I edited multiple files on Photoshop.

I tried all of the above, all at once. Hm. I could keep a million tabs and applications open because they never lagged. Even when I let my friend  run an unnamed engineering/modeling program in the background, the performance did not suffer. That’s awesome. It must be the Intel i5 Core processor at work.

Final thoughts:
I went back to my laptop and netbook and they seemed…slow [why aren’t you fast as an i5!?]…and the LCDs…minute. Maybe it’s time for an upgrade.

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FTC Disclaimer: I was sent an Intel i5 Core notebook to test drive for a week, as part of the Intel Youth Review Program.

This alpine white Dell Mini 10 was a present from Intel.

I’m using my awesome Asus Eee PC 1000HA as a benchmark. Yes, I’ve cut out an Apple-shaped logo out of black duct tape and stuck it on for kicks.


First impressions of the Dell Mini 10:

  • Oh, the default appearance settings for Windows XP are ugly. Let’s fix that ASAP.
  • This Dell Dock, a custom ObjectDock for organizing shortcuts, is cool.
  • The 1.33Ghz Atom Z520 processor feels sluggish (my Asus has the 1.60Ghz N270).
  • Bonus points for the sleek clamshell design.
  • It has the same ports, with the exception of the HDMI in place of VGA.

Other observations:

  1. The netbook has a smaller screen angle. My Asus can flatten out like a book.
  2. The ElanTech Smartpad is great. Shortcuts can be enabled for two and three finger taps, swipes, and pinches. The “cover gesture” is my favorite–plant your hand over the trackpad to minimize all open windows. The left and right bottom corners of the trackpad are clickable.
  3. The keyboard seems nearly full-size. But it’s not as snappy.
  4. The Dell Mini 10 is noticeably lighter and feels more compact.

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Unfortunately, I love my all-white ASUS because it has more battery life. So I am passing the Dell Mini 10 off to my little brother. I’m going to need to buy an HDMI to VGA adapter…hm.

In late February, a group of tech-savvy bloggers and social media enthusiasts dropped by Intel headquarters to learn more about the world’s leading computer chip maker.

Last year, Intel launched an global ad campaign to highlight the company’s forward-thinking, technophile culture. The campaign, taglined “Sponsors of Tomorrow,” humorously highlights the major achievements of Intel’s engineers. This is one of the TV commercials:

In the spirit of the ad campaign, the company hosted an immersive event to expose “youth rock stars” to their latest breakthroughs and unique corporate culture (the commercials don’t lie).

At the start of the summit, participants faintly associated Intel with computer chips. After a whirlwind tour of Intel, a maze-like complex with odd splashes of color, participants revised their opinions. The connection was clear: Intel = innovation.

Demos of Intel’s R&D projects included forays into clever home-management devices, online services, and mind-boggling video analysis software.

Attendees discovered that Intel works from the “inside,” upgrading data transfer and computer processing power by leaps and bounds, to enable the development of tomorrow’s business and consumer electronics. Intel sets the standard for future markets today.

Left to right: a USB stick, an 80-core processor, and a typical Intel elevator
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Facts:

  • Intel’s has hypnotic, glowing, color-changing walls.
  • 80% of Intel’s processors are for more powerful computers.
  • An emerging market for netbooks are 6-11 years old, who are fighting to use the laptop/desktop at home.
  • Intel is committed to Moore’s Law, which suggests that computing speed doubles roughly every 1.5 years.

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Cool stuffs from Intel:

1. Light Peak, originally USB 4.0, is a high-speed optical cable capable of moving 10 Gb/s–with the potential to scale up to 100 Gb/s. With Light Peak, a single port type could connect peripherals, displays, drives, and more. The cable will be flexible and light (cutting down on wire jungles); and laptops can be made thinner (the VGA port is a fatty). The modules below can transfer 20 Gb/s (each wire is 10 Gb/s), so you could download a Blu-Ray movie in seconds.

2. The fully featured, 13.4″ Dell Adamo XPS is a jawdropper.

3. The Home Energy Management System monitors your appliances, reminds you to avoid peak hours (and water your plants), notifies you of needed repairs, and shows how you can use electricity more wisely. It connects to the Internet and has all sorts of live widgets. Also, it doubles as a clock.

4. I can’t remember what this was called, but it’s an algorithm that can look at real-time video feeds and identify specific parameters. In the pictures below, it’s detecting pedestrians and surrounding motor traffic in a moving vehicle. You need an 8-core processor for this.

The program could also deliver sports highlights (game-winning goals, failed plays, etc) or follow a particular player. With facial recognition software tacked on, you could gather the most epic or tragic scenes in your favorite television drama.

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FTC disclaimer: Intel provided all participants (that’s me) with a free Dell Mini 10 netbook and full accomodations at the Santa Clara Marriott.

Jeff Han founded Perceptive Pixel to develop and market the most advanced multi-touch systems in the world. Above is the official demo. All I have to say is, HOT DAMN – that’s the stuff of dreams! 

Imagine coupling Perceptive Pixel’s systems with Intel’s Minority-Report-esque 3D translucent touchscreen wall at CES 2009!!! I can’t wait until multi-touch user interfaces go mainstream.

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I guess I should also mentionMicrosoft Surface, the first commercially-available surface computing platform as of 2007.

Surface computing is:

  • Direct Interaction: Users can actually “grab” digital information with their hands – interacting with content by touch and gesture, without the use of a mouse or keyboard.
  • Multi–Touch: Surface computing recognizes many points of contact simultaneously, not just from one finger like with a typical touch–screen, but up to dozens of items at once.
  • Multi–User: The horizontal form factor makes it easy for several people to gather around Microsoft Surface together, providing a collaborative, face–to–face computing experience.
  • Object Recognition: Users can place physical objects on the display to trigger different types of digital responses; in the future, this will include the ability to transfer digital content.

The emergence of netbooks follows a couple of trends in computing and hardware…Before, slim and portable laptops were often sold at a premium and packed with expensive features. But with the release of smaller, lower-energy and lower-cost processors like Intel’s Atom chip, manufacturers have been able to construct tighter and cheaper packages that can be focused on a smaller list of tasks [and] with more services offered through the Internet “cloud,” a growing number of consumers are content to just browse, use social networking sites, e-mail and consume their favorite media on their laptop. [via SF Gate]

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{Left: The box. Right: Asus Eee PC 1000HA next to my old Motorola RAZR}

{Left: A friend’s 8.9″ Asus Eee PC 901. Right: My Asus Eee PC 1000HA.}
{Middle: KidRobot Munny, a DIY customizable vinyl doll.}

Ordered my white Asus Eee PC 1000HA off of Amazon for $429.99 in early November (now $419.99, or $389.99 in black) and have been using it ever since. Netbooks specifications are nearly indistinguishable, so I spent two long months weighing the options. I chose the Asus Eee PC 1000HA because of these factors, ranked in order of importance:

  1. Minumum 10″ screen. Tiny screens mean tiny keyboards. 
  2. Long Battery Life. As a lower quality laptop, it might as well have one clear advantage. 6-cells were not available for 10″ netbooks, and the ones that did were priced well over $450.  The 10″ Samsung NC10 was my second choice,  since it averaged 6-7 hours in battery life tests and has Bluetooth, but it was $500 at the time. 
  3. Costs under $450 with Windows XP. No other brands offered a 10″ 6-cell battery at $430. Wasn’t ready to dive into a whole new OS with Linux, which was always packaged with SSD anyway, but was alright with an upped price for Windows XP.
  4. Minimum 80Gb HDD. Solid state hard drives are still pricey and I can do without. I wanted at least an extra 80Gb to cover the multimedia file overflow from my primary laptop.
  5. Not ugly. Preferably white or silver. HP Minis still have the best build aesthetics, but are weak on battery life.

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Asus Eee PC 1000HA Full Specifications:

  • Operating system: Windows XP Home
  • Internal memory: 160GB 5400 RPM Hard Drive (Seagate 5400.4)
  • RAM: 1 GB DDR2 (667MHz)
  • Processor: 1.6 GHz Intel Atom
  • Screen: 10 inches, 1024 x 600 pixels, LED backlight
  • Peripheral connectivity: Three USB 2.0
  • External video: One VGA
  • Networking: 54g Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), 10/100Mbps Fast Ethernet
  • External audio: One headphone and one microphone port
  • Memory expansion: Slot for MMC/SD/SDHC cards
  • Webcamera: Yes, 1.3 megapixels
  • Battery: 6 cells (6600 mAh), up to 7 hours
  • Weight: 3 lbs 2.5 oz, 3 lbs 11 oz with AC adapter
  • Dimensions: 10.5 × 7.5 × 1.5 inches
  • Other: Kensington lock slot, 10Gb online storage from ASUS, one year warranty


{Pictured: 8.9″ Eee PC 901 stacked on top of a 10″ Eee PC 1000HA.}
{In the foreground is my new phone, the Sony Ericsson W350.}

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Pros: Extremely fast to boot up and shut down (5-10 seconds) and I get 4-5 hours on a full charge with medium brightness and Wi-Fi. Plastic casing feels surprisingly solid. Great multi-touch trackpad. Non-glossy screen. Wireless range and signal pickup are superb. Connects to my 32″ LCD HDTV with no problems. 

The buttons are underneath the trackpad and not on the sides, as you’ll find on many other netbooks. The keyboard is 92% full size, so it’s cramped but easy to adjust to. Pressing Ctrl-/+ (normally minimizes font sizes) resizes whole webpage, images and all! Four buttons above the keyboard are programmable. Brightness/volume/display controls are accessible via Fn+Function keys, just like on my PowerBook’s keyboard, as are power management and wireless connection options. The charger is white and appropriately light.

Cons: The “Pearl White” colorway means a sickening toothpaste/Barbie-doll pearly. Momentary gag reflex upon unboxing, which has passed. Pearl is nice and shiny, but matte white would have been better. Speakers are terrible, but that hardly matters with external audio. No optical drive (duh). No Bluetooth, but this was quickly remedied by purchasing a bluetooth dongle with software for ~$4 off of eBay. The capslock doesn’t have a light. Mac OSX > Windows XP (at least it’s not Vista!)

Bottom Line: A durable, decently powerful, internet friendly, and portable netbook to have on eight hour runs to campus and work. It’s very straightforward to use and only demands one recharge per day. “Easy. Excellent. Exciting.” [Read in-depth reviews @ SlashGear & NotebookReview.]

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Windows XP’s interface made me feel traitorous, I mean, weird. Accessing applications via the Mac dock is much more intuitive than using the accursed Windows taskbar or desktop icons. Scrolling with two fingers on the multi-touchpad gave me the idea to Mac-ify the appearance of my netbook. To make myself a bit more comfortable on a foreign Windows OS, I:

  1. Changed wallpaper to a Mac OSX Tiger Aqua.
  2. Installed Mac mouse pointers.
  3. Removed extraneous desktop icons. 
  4. Installed Safari, iTunes, and Firefox for Windows.
  5. Hid and replaced the Windows taskbar with the ObjectBar.
  6. Simulated the Mac dock with RKLauncher, and customized with icons from the ObjectDock gallery. Shortcuts to Control Panel, Games, My Documents, Programs, etc. 
  7. Downloaded Shock Aero 3D to mimics the task-switching effects of Exposé and Shock 4Way 3D to mimic the virtual desktops of Spaces. There’s no real clone of Mac Exposé, unfortunately – aw, I miss fn+F9/F11-ing.

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Apparently Asus makes 10-cell battery for the Eee PC and am tempted to get it when this 6-cell batterydies. That’s like what, 7-9 hours of battery life on a single charge? I could deal with it looking like a hammerhead netbook. Sharks are cool.

History shows that a recession can be an auspicious time to invest in a brand. Some of the most successful brand campaigns in the past six decades began during economically challenged years. Of Advertising Age’s “Top 100 Ad Campaigns of the 20th Century,” fully a quarter that got under way after 1945 did so during recession years. Several of the most effective were launched in the ugly years of 1974 and 1975, when consumer spending tanked and gas and commodity prices soared (sound familiar?). In 1974, for example, BMW introduced itself as “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” a slogan that endures to this day and helped turn the German automaker from a niche sports sedan in the minds of American drivers into a top luxury auto brand known for superior engineering in everything from roadsters to SUVs… 

[Read more on the Best Global Brands @ BusinessWeek]

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Coca-Cola continues to top Interbrand’s 2008 Rankings of the Best Global Brands. Intel, McDonalds, and Disney are holding on spots #7-9, respectively. Apple rose from #34 to #25 in just a year, edging out Sony at #24. Hennes & Mauritz (abbr. H&M), a rapidly expanding Swedish clothing company known for cheap and “fast fashion”, makes its debut appearance at #22. Aw, I love H&M!

Also, check out Brand New’s Best & Worst of 2008 brand redesigns. Pepsi gets top dishonors. {Below: the hideous new Pepsi logo}
pepsi_logo

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obama-08-logo-7
Sol Sender tells the story of conception and birth of the Obama ’08 logo, including the strategy behind it, developmental concepts and finalist designs for the identity not chosen by the campaign. Read more about the Obama logos that weren’t chosen @ LogoDesignLove. {Below: another finalist design}
obama-08-logo-7

Netbooks are miniaturized, no frills, bare-bones versions of their larger laptop counterparts, boasting solid wireless connectivity and basic mobile computing at an extremely low cost. Prices range from $250-$800 (averaging ~$400), depending on the brand and set of specifications, e.g SSD vs. HDD, 3-cell vs. 6-cell battery, and so on. They come in screen sizes between 7″-10″ and weigh between 2-4 lbs, i.e. light as a MacBook Air at a fifth of the cost. Although not as aesthetically pleasing as an Air, netbooks are durable, reliable, and far from ugly. 

Personally, I think netbooks are awesome. I’m a minimalist packer that dislikes heavy loads, so lugging around my PowerBook G4 was out of the question. That gorgeous thing stays put on my desk at the apartment. As a student on-the-go, I needed a decently powerful, internet friendly, and portable computer to have with me on eight hour runs between campus and work. You know, to check email, RSS feeds, current events, and maybe play a little MS Pinball if a lecture gets a bit dry. No, I didn’t want an iPhone and I didn’t want to pay the high price of a UMPC (why, Sony, why ??). So I bought a netbook. . . which should bring me to reveal which one I own, but since I’ve been too lazy to take more pictures of it–the review will have to wait. 

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Netbook History 101:
Before 2007, affordable “portable” laptops were clunky 12-15″ abominations weighing at or above 6 lbs. True “ultraportable” laptops (aka UMPCs) were available, but commanded premium prices well above $2000. Cheap, lightweight notebooks simply did not exist. 

The non-profit OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) initiative led the way in building the first lightweight, rugged, low-cost, and kid-friendly laptop. Personal computers with Internet access are powerful educational tools, so OLPC sought to make and distribute $100 laptops to developing countries for classroom use. The XO laptop came out to  be ~$200 with their “Give a laptop, get a laptop” program. Intel quickly followed suit, developing the $200 Classmate PC, which is now in its second generation. They look like toys but pack all the same features of a laptop and, mind you, are built to withstand children (who can prove to be very destructive). These were coined as sub-par laptops, or “subnotebooks.” {Left: OLPC XO Laptop, Right: Intel Classmate PC}

Although subnotebooks were fully intended to be marketed in developing countries, they heralded the way for the netbooks in today’s retail markets. Asus followed in the footsteps of OLPC and Intel and developed the tiny Eee PC, an ultra mobile Internet device targeted at the general public. The primary market was sales in traditional retail channels, with later plans to ship the Eee PC to schoolchildren in third-world countries. {Below: Asus Eee PC 4G}

Smart move. Launched in late 2007, the Eee PC was a hit on the American retail market and quickly gained popularity worldwide. The Asus Eee PC changed everything: a 2 lb. laptop with a 7″ screen, standard ports, built-in WiFi & webcam, all at a starting price below $300. They were tight, compact, easy to use, and inexpensive; customer reviews on Amazon remain overwhelmingly positive. Asus had no idea the Eee PC’s portability would have such broad appeal for kids, first-time computer users, bloggers, students, and mobile workers alike.

The market was there. Consumers wanted cheap, lightweight laptops. Then all hell broke loose, as every electronics manufacturer on the planet jumped the bandwagon, rushing to put out their own “netbooks”. This was a confusing time, because the netbooks churned out were virtually indistinguishable, offering roughly same specifications in different shells for a variety of prices. You had the Acer Aspire One, the Lenovo IdeaPad S10, the Samsung NC10, the MSI Wind, the HP Mini-Note 2133, etc…and many models of the Asus Eee PC [see Lilliputing.com for more]. Dell was the last to join in with the Inspiron Mini 9 & the Mini 12. Models after models were introduced as manufacturers tried to edge out the competition by improving specs. 

At the end of 2008, the dust has cleared and the Asus Eee PC continues to dominate netbook sales. Netbooks are no longer thought of as “subnoteboks” but rather as versatile, understated, mini-laptops. Be sure to read the reviews to make sure you’re not getting a really shitty one.

Netbooks presently share these features: 10″ screen, Intel Atom 1.6Ghz processor, a webcam, and 1-2 Gb RAM. The real differences lie in what storage disk you choose, whether you go for 6-cell (longer battery life), personal aesthetics (color, size/arrangement of the multi-touchpad & keyboard), and cost. Competition keeps quality up and prices down, with the exception of high-end or designer notebooks.

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Where does the netbook/PC industry stand now? I’m interested to see how it all plays out during a recession. 

The PC industry ended the year on a decidedly gloomy note, with very few bright spots…It’s telling who didn’t jump on the [netbook] trend: brands that like to associate themselves with upmarket style and quality. Apple CEO Steve Jobs essentially dismissed the idea of an Apple Netbook in September, and Sony denied it has plans to market an inexpensive Netbook. A Sony executive even went so far as to declare Netbooks, a “race to the bottom,” in terms of price and quality, driving down the price of all laptops. [Year In Review via CNet]

He means that if mainstream PC buyers start to find their needs met by a lightweight, simply featured, inexpensive portable, it’s likely to impel all of the major players in the industry to pile on by lowering their prices. And that’s in an industry with already low margins for retailers and manufacturers. [Sony leery of the Eee PC? via CNet]

Nicolas Barendson, a senior executive at Sony U.K., says that laptops with 7-10″ screens don’t meet consumer needs and that the netbook market will “evolve” into a different form factor. “We think that the proposition in the market today is not the future of netbook … the form factor is not properly designed for the consumer’s needs … So there’s a lot of quantity sold, people are disappointed by them, and it’s not small enough to be pocketable and not big enough to be a PC.” The company, he says, will have a “different proposition” to the range of nearly-identical netbooks. [via BBG]

So, Apple & Sony will not be rolling out netbooks anytime soon. It’d be wonderful if they did, and those netbooks would be oh-so gorgeous. Unfortunately, those premium brands are more likely to churn out a “less expensive” ultraportable ($800-$1500) than a dirt cheap netbook. Can you imagine if Louis Vuitton suddenly start selling plain white tees? It would crush the brand image.

Hmm…what is the future of the netbook? What will be that perfect form factor? 

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On an unrelated note, this is Lenovo’s ThinkPad W700ds. This beast of a mobile workstation supports a 17″ and 10.6″ LCD dual display setup intended for for photographers, graphic artists and application developers. The 11 lb laptop is so wide it has room for separate numeric keypad.

Also, Dell has pitched smaller, greener consumer desktop PC with totally recyclable packaging.

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