Friday, April 28, 2017

Ok, it seems I want X1 Yoga after all. But I'll probably wait for Gen 3

Generation 2 of Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga was announced at this year's CES with both small and big improvements. They finally added Thunderbolt 3 ports with USB-PD charging support, which makes it slightly better deal than Yoga 910 (which is still visually more pleasing to me but no thunderbolt = muh). Anyway, the best part is it's virtually the only laptop with OLED display and I love OLED. I almost immediately decided that I'm gonna buy it eventually (not right now unless something happens, my Yoga 900 is not yet outdated, probably next year or whenever they make Gen 3) provided there are no deal breakers. Then I saw its keyboard:

Apart from weird Home/End position (why not make it Fn-PgUp/Fn-PgDn like everyone does? F1-F12 keys are pretty small as a result. But maybe they could be used for some hotkeys with a little xmodmap magic?..) the obvious elephant in the room is swapped Fn-Ctrl keys: seriously, who does that? I even wrote it off as a dealbreaking thing and forgot about lenovo until I did more googling.

Then I came to my attention that it's configurable and those keys can be swapped in BIOS. Ctrl will still remain smaller for no reason but I could live with that. Still, I'd like to see it swapped by default in Gen 3 so that Ctrl is bigger (option to swap them could remain but Ctrl in the corner by default, please). That, moving Home/End to PgUp/PgDn (then you could move Print Screen to the top and put menu or second Win key or even both in its place, because modifier keys are important) and a few other small things would totally change my opinion from "possibly" to "must have":

  • Add more USB 3.1/Thunderbolt 3 ports. Yes, it already has five USB ports total but I'd prefer three or even four Type-C ones and two Type-A, future is very close and I'd prefer to invest in future-proof hardware. Charging ports on both sides would be a huge bonus as would be supporting more than one external display. Removing legacy HDMI is optional, but I'd totally prefer more USB instead of keeping it.
  • Keep audio jack (I'm not sure if it's present in Gen 2, photo evidence is inconclusive). But it's important for a laptop, keep it. Just one with headphones+mic combined is enough, don't worry.
  • Consider Yoga 900-like "wristwatch" hinge this time, just because it looks cool :)
  • Iris GPU option. I know, it depends on which processors are trendy at the time of release but it's kinda important. Also, if there were such an option, I'd also sacrifice a couple hours of battery life for four cores.
  • Extra M.2 port for a second SSD. I haven't looked at X1 Yoga inside yet but if you could spare the space for this, it would be superb. I always prefer to have level 1 raid when I can, 'cause drive fail from time to time. Quality of included SSDs is not that important, on the other hand, I could upgrade it/them myself.
  • Good Linux support. Ideally, slightly cheaper "developer edition" with certified preinstalled Ubuntu. Dell already does it, everyone should do the same. Definitely no lock-in situation we had with Yoga 900-ISK2 and a few other models.
  • 4K OLED panel. Yoga 910 already has 2160p 14" IPS panel and Yoga 900 had 1800p 13" one, I understand there might be issues with supplier (Samsung, right?) but I'm pretty sure it's not impossible by 2018. I really really don't want to have less pixels for more money after I already modified everything I could to work well on 4k.
  • At least casual splash protection, spills is the #1 laptop killer. I understand that full IP68 protection could be out of practicality for now, because of fans and everything. Unless, of course, you manage to make a good fanless system with top of the line mobile processor. I'd totally pay extra for that. But at least a little sticky tape under the keyboard, it's really that simple.
  • Never ever put the camera at the bottom. Top bezel is totally ok and even helpful, really (tent mode, on the other hand, usually means more or less stable environment, external keyboard, usb hub, possibly another display, I could totally add external camera to that if I don't like how built-in one works in tent mode).
  • I repeat: fix the keyboard.
    • Swap Ctrl and Fn.
    • Combine PgUp/PgDn with Home/End.
    • Move Print Screen to the top.
    • Return Menu and/or second Win key
  • And keep all the nice stuff it already has: touchscreen with a pen, LTE modem, etc.
Now, I'm not that big a fanboy of Lenovo. They do nice stuff and I buy it but if Dell would make an OLED version of XPS 13 2-in-1 I'd probably get that instead (not necessarily 2-in-1, I don't care much about that stuff although it is nice to have options). But either way, the wishlist above mostly applies to everyone who wishes to sell stuff to most of us technomads.

And, as I mentioned elsewhere, it's not impossible that I can stop buying mobile hardware altogether at some point. Intel NUC or something similar could probably suit me better when I stop traveling as much and get a normal-ish 9-to-5 office job. Which is my intention at the moment, if other pieces fall in their places (yeah, that big relocation project of mine looks like it might finally work out real soon, although it's not quite completed yet). Of course I will still have some laptop but when it's not used as intensely it doesn't depreciate as quickly and doesn't have to be cutting edge.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

ORICO — small things that stand out

More than once I've written about stuff made by Big Brand manufacturers so I decided to balance things out by writing about a mostly-unknown but good things. In short, if you need something small like HDD enclosure or some cable or USB hub or a dongle of some kind, check if ORICO makes it and chances are you won't be disappointed. It's usually slightly more expensive than low-end stuff from aliexpress but, in my opinion, it's usually worth it.

Disclaimer. This post is a shameless promotion of their brand although, unfortunately, nobody paid me for it or even sent me any free stuff. Guys from ORICO and not, if you read this, I'll gladly review whatever free goodies you send me :) I only do honest reviews so better make sure to send the good stuff.

At this point I own a USB hub, three different 2.5" HDD enclosures, and a precision screwdriver set from them. And probably something else I don't remember. Here are the pics:

USB hub in its natural habitat, surrounded by cables.

It's powered with external adapter and supports Battery Charge protocol. Not powerful enough for most phones, no Quick Charge or anything like, but enough for charging smaller devices. Speed is ok although I feel plugging fast external HDDs directly into laptop is somewhat better. Full USB 3.0 support, no Type-C ports but it's older than the new standard anyway. The only serious disadvantage, in my opinion is that it only has four ports, it has one unused side so it easily could've been six (and possibly one or two on top for flash drives and like, although I like to put wireless charger stand on top of it so I probably wouldn't use them). The thing is I have a TRNG, mouse RF dongle, and RJ-45 dongle permanently plugged into it, it leaves only one empty port for anything else (which is usually enough but I don't like it). I'll probably upgrade it one day to something with both Type-C and Type-A ports and RJ-45 built-in. Maybe even a full-scale docking station, with video and audio... There are all kinds of these things on the manufacturer's site but I haven't compared them properly because I don't really need anything right now anyway.

Two kinds of 2.5" HDD enclosures
The transparent one is for slim 7mm drives while black one is for "full-sized" 9.5mm. Both have good speed and Type-C connectors. Unclear how much of USB 3.1 it actually supports, I have no laptops with full 3.1 support yet. But hopefully it's future-proof enough. The third enclosure (not pictured) I have is not Type-C (it uses one of the microUSB 3.0 variants) but works ok nevertheless.

Precision screwdriver in a nice case

it's quite compact
I like that heads are screwed in instead of magnets and the case is quite failsafe, it's really hard to break it since it's soft and even losing something is complicated. Handle allows for good grip although doesn't have anything for helping with tighter screws (no hexagonal segment, no ribs, nothing) but it's rarely required for electronics anyway. I hope steel is good, so far neither T6 nor T5 head is broken (which were problematic with most of screwdrivers I had previously, I even managed to strip some of bottom case screws in my Yoga 900 because of a bad T5 driver) but we'll see.

These are just some examples, they really have lots of stuff. Anything from data cables and power banks to surge protectors to NAS. Check out their site and aliexpress store and compare their stuff to competitors if you need something. Although it's probable that not everything is sunshine and rainbows I'm yet to be disappointed. Let me know in comments about your experience if you have any of their other devices.