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David Pearlman "sound fanatic" RSS Feed (Arlington, MA)
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Cyberlink PowerDirector 13 Ultra
Cyberlink PowerDirector 13 Ultra
Price: Click here to see our price
20 used & new from $49.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Not hard to learn and incredible fast rendering times, but not as many transitions and effects as you'd hope..., December 12, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The market for video editing software has changed dramatically over the past several years. What was once a niche market for the brave few willing to transfer their analog captures to their computer has been transformed by the digital video cameras integrated into phones and the digital formats used by all modern consumer video capture devices.

As the interest in video editing has expanded, so have the options. And whereas a few years ago you might have considered buying a commercial product for video editing a necessity, now perfectly adequate basic apps are available from both Apple and Microsoft.

So the bar is now raised. To merit purchase, an app needs to be appreciably better than what you can get free from the platform provider. PowerDirector is a PC app, so it is competing directly with the free Windows Movie Maker app from Microsoft. Windows Movie Maker is a basic video editor app that offers standard editing, transitions, and effects. It's certainly not for professional level users, but for those who just want to bang out a movie from some video clips and/or stills, it does the job pretty well.

So how does PowerDirector 13 Ultra compare? In summary, I'd say the advantages here are: Not hard to learn and incredibly fast rendering times. I find that this program renders much faster than Windows Movie Maker, and that's definitely good. It also reads in your native video captures a lot more quickly than Windows Movie Maker.

But, to be honest, I can deal with the (appreciably) slower import/rendering times with the free Windows app, if those were the only advantages of PowerDirector. However, PowerDirector also provides a much larger number of transitions and effects than the Windows platform. The ones I would typically use are mostly shared by both programs, so this is in some sense a case of more is not all that much better. But on the rare occasion where you might be looking for something special, it's nice to have additional options.

In terms of one-click-and-go theme rendering, the Windows offering is pretty mediocre, but I find that PowerDirector Ultra isn't all that much better. (It has more canned themes, but most of the additional ones are, again, not super exciting).Cyberlink has chosen to pack many of the best canned theme options into their more expensive "Ultimate" version of their program. So if you want, say, 1 click "wedding" themes, you might want to buy that.

On the whole, I definitely prefer this program to the Windows Movie Maker (and to the old versions of programs like Adobe Premier that I used some years ago). It both imports and renders appreciably faster, and it does offer additional options not available with the basic WMM program. If you plan to do any serious editing, this program assuredly is worth the investment. Those who just need to import a movie, add some titles and so some cursory edits on rare occasion might, however, be suitably served by the free program that comes with their computer.


Dell Notebook i7347-10051sLV 13-Inch Convertible Touchscreen Laptop (Core i5 Processor, 8GB RAM)
Dell Notebook i7347-10051sLV 13-Inch Convertible Touchscreen Laptop (Core i5 Processor, 8GB RAM)
Offered by coldriver20
Price: $809.00
28 used & new from $739.00

66 of 69 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 2-in-1 convertible laptop for the money. A little too heavy to be called an ultrabook, but substantial and good value, November 19, 2014
I am, as one can read from my previous reviews of Dell's XPS 12 series, a fan of these convertible laptops, which offer a touchscreen/tablet mode as well as a full fledged laptop mode with a full sized attached keyboard.

While the XPS 12 was targeted to the premium ultrabook segment in price and performance, this Insprion 13 700 series aims at a lower price point, and makes some concessions as a result. Most obviously, the construction, which uses a sturdy rubberized finish plastic instead of metal, and the hard drive in the cheaper models, which is a hybrid mechanical (Seagate) drive. That said, the case is actually quite aesthetically pleasing and nice to the touch, and the hard drive is easily replaced. (More on that below).

Dell offers this laptop in several configurations. The important specs that are common across all the configurations:

13.2 inch touchscreen
Haswell processor/Intel HM87 chipset (better battery life than earlier generations)
Intel integrated 4400 HD graphics (good enough for most purposes except high end gaming)
Wireless N
Bluetooth
2x USB 3.0 ports
1x USB 2.0 port
HDMI out
Full sized SD card reader
Capacitance PASSIVE pen with built in holder
Backlit keyboard
2-in-1 convertible laptop with a 360degree flipable screen
HD webcam
Windows 8.1
Dimensions: 0.75" X 12.99" X 8.74"
Weight: 3.7 pounds

The options depending on configuration:

Screen resolution. The cheapest model features a 1366x768 resolution screen. I would not recommend this. All other models feature a full HD 1920x1080 resolution screen.

Processor: This comes with either an Intel I3 or I5 processor. Unless you are doing work that tends to peg the processor (e.g. video processing, scientific computing, etc.) then the I3 will be more than sufficient and you are not likely to notice the difference.

Memory: This comes with either 4Gb or 8Gb of memory. Memory replacement is straightforward (remove the bottom cover by removing a few screws). There is one memory stick slot on the motherboard. Since memory can be replaced, if you don't think you need 8Gb to start (and most do not), go with 4Gb and you'll be happy.

Wireless card. The cheapest model has only Wireless N (which is good enough for almost anyone). The higher end models add Wireless AC, which is the latest wireless spec--although it's not supported yet in most hotspots nor even in most homes. The higher end models also add both 2.4 Ghz and 5Ghz bands for N (the low end only supports 2.4Ghz). That's an upgrade many will actually find important--the 5Ghz band is usually less crowded and faster (although with less signal penetration).

Hard drive: A Seagate 500Gb hybrid hard drive. This is, essentially, an old fashioned spinning drive with a few GB of flash memory that the drive uses to "learn" the apps you load most and to then boot those apps more quickly. The hard drive is easily replaced and I STRONGLY recommend replacing it with a SSD as your first upgrade, since this is the bottleneck on this laptop. The space available supports 7mm thick drives. You might be able to fit a 9.5mm drive, but it would be very tight.

OK, enough with the specs and options. What's the verdict?

In terms of performance, coming from platforms built on SSD drives (the Dell XPS 12, the Microsoft Surface Pro), I found boot times with the included 500GB hybrid drive to be annoyingly slow. They aren't bad compared to boot times of just a few years ago--after a few reboot cycles for the drive to learn your system, I'd say boot times are maybe half a minute. But given that I'm now spoiled by boot times of 10 seconds or so, this seems poor. More significantly, new apps that the hybrid drive hasn't "learned" open much more slowly. The same is true for installs. The hybrid drive helps not at all with installs, and installing complex software with lots of "parts" is a trip back to the bad old days of many many minutes to install even some software that's relatively common (e.g. Acrobat). For fun, I imaged the included drive to a decent Plextor 256Gb SSD that I had lying around. This immediately fixed all the aggravations I experienced with the hybrid drive. But I should emphasize that if you are not coming from a laptop that has a SSD, you will find the performance with the included drive fine. The key is that including the non SSD has helped Dell meet a price point for this laptop.

The system is (thankfully) devoid of bloatware. So performance is (especially after replacing the drive) snappy and pretty much indistinguishable from other modern laptops with modern chipsets. The model I reviewed has an I5 and 8Gb of memory, but the system monitor confirmed what I already pretty much knew: That neither the processor nor the system memory were anywhere close to maxed out for normal use cases outside of video encoding or running some proprietary resource hog software for work.

I found the keyboard to be very comfortable to use. The keys feel good and all the special keys are exactly where you expect them to be. I did encounter the occasional glitch in the behavior of the track pad, where the cursor would seem to jump suddenly. This only happened a few times, but a perusal of the Web suggests its a driver issue and I expect it will get fixed shortly. But again, it didn't happen enough to be important (in my experience).

Battery life? It's not bad When I put the laptop on an endless video loop to test battery life, with the screen brightness at medium and using the default Dell power program, I got just about 4.4 hours before the laptop turned itself off. During another test session where I limited myself to productivity work (MS Office, Acrobat, email, a little surfing), I got a little over 6 hours. I doubt in any real world use case you should expect much more than that unless you're willing to keep the screen unacceptably dim or you just have it on doing absolutely nothing. But 6 hours is enough for a trans continental flight, and to me that's the necessary benchmark if I'm packing it for work.

In terms of ports, it's nice that there are 3 USB ports, although only two of them are USB 3.0 (the third is USB 2.0). It's GREAT that there's a full sized SD memory card reader. One of my peeves about the mostly excellent Dell XPS 12--which has been my work computer for a couple of year snow--is that there's no memory card reader. On the downside, you have a HDMI out port here, and not a more flexible micro-Displayport, which has become standard with Ultrabooks. That means this laptop definitely will NOT be suitable for road warriors who want to use it for work presentations--too many installations (in my experience) still do not support HDMI and only have VGA connectivity, and USB-> VGA adapters are both expensive and, in my experience, a bit too flaky to rely on them for work.

I played with the included passive capacitance pen a little. I though, at first, it was cool they included such a pen, along with a nice slot in the laptop where it's stored. However, I found that the pen was pretty much worthless--too inaccurate to use for actual functions such as note taking. I am not sure what the value of it is, actually, other than as a way to select items on the screen without using your actual finger.

Regarding the ergonomics of the convertible 360 degree flip screen: Unlike Dell's previous convertible entry, the XPS 12, which features a novel approach to convertibility (screen rotates 360 degrees in an attached frame), this model basically follows the paradigm already demonstrated by Lenovo in their Yoga series and the Asus in their Transformer Book Flip model. That is, you can fold the screen back entirely, so that the back of the screen sits against the bottom of the laptop, and the screen is exposed on one side and the keyboard is exposed on the other side. The downside to this approach is that if you decide to use your laptop in tablet mode, the keyboard is exposed underneath. The worry is that this leaves the keyboard susceptible to getting dirt, key damage, etc. But again, I am sure this design is much less expensive to execute than the XPS 12 flip-in-frame model. Ignoring the exposed keyboard in tablet mode, it works fine, the hinges between the keyboard and the screen are nice and tight--supporting any desired angle. In laptop mode, this sat nicely on my lap--something I can't exactly say with the Microsoft Surface, for example.

Finally, there's the weight and size. This is a little thicker than the cutting edge ultrabooks available now, but I didn't find it disconcertingly thick as a laptop. However, it's not exactly light, weighing in at over three and a half pounds. That's obviously another concession to keeping costs down. And while it's not going to make your friends go ooh and ah in the weight sweepstakes, it's not bad when you throw it in your briefcase or backpack.

The place where I find the weight and thickness to be an issue are in tablet mode. Like the XPS 12, the Microsoft Surface Pro 1 and 2, the Lenovo Yoga and others, I continue to find these convertibles continue to feel a bit clumsy in terms of heft when used as tablets. That said, I would imagine the most obvious use case as a table would be as a consumption device, e.g. watching a movie, and then you're not likely to be holding the tablet (laptop) for more than a short amount of time before you set it down to watch.

In summary, I was generally quite pleased with this platform. I think Dell is offering a lot of value here, although the entry model for $600 list price is the one I'd avoid--primarily due to the lower resolution screen in that budge model. Any of the higher end models, with the full HD screen, should be more than suitable. All suffer somewhat from the lack of a SSD as provided, but Dell has made it simple to replace both the SSD and the memory (just remove the backplate), and when you have the time and a little money, I'd recommend doing just that. The battery life is not amazing, but it's adequate. And the ergonomics and feel of the construction all are solid. The port selection is good--much better than, say, the Surface--although the inclusion of a HDMI port rather than the more flexible mini-Displayport is a strike against it for road warriors.

There are slicker laptops out there, but not at this price point--even if you account for the cost of replacing the included hard drive with a SSD. If the size and ergonomics work for you, this is a strong entry in the convertible sweepstakes.


Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series i7347-7550sLV 13-Inch Convertible Touchscreen Laptop (Intel Core i5 Processor, 8GB RAM)
Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series i7347-7550sLV 13-Inch Convertible Touchscreen Laptop (Intel Core i5 Processor, 8GB RAM)
Offered by BetterLifeTech
Price: $719.00
34 used & new from $649.00

101 of 105 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 2-in-1 convertible laptop for the money. A little too heavy to be called an ultrabook, but substantial and good value, November 19, 2014
I am, as one can read from my previous reviews of Dell's XPS 12 series, a fan of these convertible laptops, which offer a touchscreen/tablet mode as well as a full fledged laptop mode with a full sized attached keyboard.

While the XPS 12 was targeted to the premium ultrabook segment in price and performance, this Insprion 13 700 series aims at a lower price point, and makes some concessions as a result. Most obviously, the construction, which uses a sturdy rubberized finish plastic instead of metal, and the hard drive in the cheaper models, which is a hybrid mechanical (Seagate) drive. That said, the case is actually quite aesthetically pleasing and nice to the touch, and the hard drive is easily replaced. (More on that below).

Dell offers this laptop in several configurations. The important specs that are common across all the configurations:

13.2 inch touchscreen
Haswell processor/Intel HM87 chipset (better battery life than earlier generations)
Intel integrated 4400 HD graphics (good enough for most purposes except high end gaming)
Wireless N
Bluetooth
2x USB 3.0 ports
1x USB 2.0 port
HDMI out
Full sized SD card reader
Capacitance PASSIVE pen with built in holder
Backlit keyboard
2-in-1 convertible laptop with a 360degree flipable screen
HD webcam
Windows 8.1
Dimensions: 0.75" X 12.99" X 8.74"
Weight: 3.7 pounds

The options depending on configuration:

Screen resolution. The cheapest model features a 1366x768 resolution screen. I would not recommend this. All other models feature a full HD 1920x1080 resolution screen.

Processor: This comes with either an Intel I3 or I5 processor. Unless you are doing work that tends to peg the processor (e.g. video processing, scientific computing, etc.) then the I3 will be more than sufficient and you are not likely to notice the difference.

Memory: This comes with either 4Gb or 8Gb of memory. Memory replacement is straightforward (remove the bottom cover by removing a few screws). There is one memory stick slot on the motherboard. Since memory can be replaced, if you don't think you need 8Gb to start (and most do not), go with 4Gb and you'll be happy.

Wireless card. The cheapest model has only Wireless N (which is good enough for almost anyone). The higher end models add Wireless AC, which is the latest wireless spec--although it's not supported yet in most hotspots nor even in most homes. The higher end models also add both 2.4 Ghz and 5Ghz bands for N (the low end only supports 2.4Ghz). That's an upgrade many will actually find important--the 5Ghz band is usually less crowded and faster (although with less signal penetration).

Hard drive: A Seagate 500Gb hybrid hard drive. This is, essentially, an old fashioned spinning drive with a few GB of flash memory that the drive uses to "learn" the apps you load most and to then boot those apps more quickly. The hard drive is easily replaced and I STRONGLY recommend replacing it with a SSD as your first upgrade, since this is the bottleneck on this laptop. The space available supports 7mm thick drives. You might be able to fit a 9.5mm drive, but it would be very tight.

OK, enough with the specs and options. What's the verdict?

In terms of performance, coming from platforms built on SSD drives (the Dell XPS 12, the Microsoft Surface Pro), I found boot times with the included 500GB hybrid drive to be annoyingly slow. They aren't bad compared to boot times of just a few years ago--after a few reboot cycles for the drive to learn your system, I'd say boot times are maybe half a minute. But given that I'm now spoiled by boot times of 10 seconds or so, this seems poor. More significantly, new apps that the hybrid drive hasn't "learned" open much more slowly. The same is true for installs. The hybrid drive helps not at all with installs, and installing complex software with lots of "parts" is a trip back to the bad old days of many many minutes to install even some software that's relatively common (e.g. Acrobat). For fun, I imaged the included drive to a decent Plextor 256Gb SSD that I had lying around. This immediately fixed all the aggravations I experienced with the hybrid drive. But I should emphasize that if you are not coming from a laptop that has a SSD, you will find the performance with the included drive fine. The key is that including the non SSD has helped Dell meet a price point for this laptop.

The system is (thankfully) devoid of bloatware. So performance is (especially after replacing the drive) snappy and pretty much indistinguishable from other modern laptops with modern chipsets. The model I reviewed has an I5 and 8Gb of memory, but the system monitor confirmed what I already pretty much knew: That neither the processor nor the system memory were anywhere close to maxed out for normal use cases outside of video encoding or running some proprietary resource hog software for work.

I found the keyboard to be very comfortable to use. The keys feel good and all the special keys are exactly where you expect them to be. I did encounter the occasional glitch in the behavior of the track pad, where the cursor would seem to jump suddenly. This only happened a few times, but a perusal of the Web suggests its a driver issue and I expect it will get fixed shortly. But again, it didn't happen enough to be important (in my experience).

Battery life? It's not bad When I put the laptop on an endless video loop to test battery life, with the screen brightness at medium and using the default Dell power program, I got just about 4.4 hours before the laptop turned itself off. During another test session where I limited myself to productivity work (MS Office, Acrobat, email, a little surfing), I got a little over 6 hours. I doubt in any real world use case you should expect much more than that unless you're willing to keep the screen unacceptably dim or you just have it on doing absolutely nothing. But 6 hours is enough for a trans continental flight, and to me that's the necessary benchmark if I'm packing it for work.

In terms of ports, it's nice that there are 3 USB ports, although only two of them are USB 3.0 (the third is USB 2.0). It's GREAT that there's a full sized SD memory card reader. One of my peeves about the mostly excellent Dell XPS 12--which has been my work computer for a couple of year snow--is that there's no memory card reader. On the downside, you have a HDMI out port here, and not a more flexible micro-Displayport, which has become standard with Ultrabooks. That means this laptop definitely will NOT be suitable for road warriors who want to use it for work presentations--too many installations (in my experience) still do not support HDMI and only have VGA connectivity, and USB-> VGA adapters are both expensive and, in my experience, a bit too flaky to rely on them for work.

I played with the included passive capacitance pen a little. I though, at first, it was cool they included such a pen, along with a nice slot in the laptop where it's stored. However, I found that the pen was pretty much worthless--too inaccurate to use for actual functions such as note taking. I am not sure what the value of it is, actually, other than as a way to select items on the screen without using your actual finger.

Regarding the ergonomics of the convertible 360 degree flip screen: Unlike Dell's previous convertible entry, the XPS 12, which features a novel approach to convertibility (screen rotates 360 degrees in an attached frame), this model basically follows the paradigm already demonstrated by Lenovo in their Yoga series and the Asus in their Transformer Book Flip model. That is, you can fold the screen back entirely, so that the back of the screen sits against the bottom of the laptop, and the screen is exposed on one side and the keyboard is exposed on the other side. The downside to this approach is that if you decide to use your laptop in tablet mode, the keyboard is exposed underneath. The worry is that this leaves the keyboard susceptible to getting dirt, key damage, etc. But again, I am sure this design is much less expensive to execute than the XPS 12 flip-in-frame model. Ignoring the exposed keyboard in tablet mode, it works fine, the hinges between the keyboard and the screen are nice and tight--supporting any desired angle. In laptop mode, this sat nicely on my lap--something I can't exactly say with the Microsoft Surface, for example.

Finally, there's the weight and size. This is a little thicker than the cutting edge ultrabooks available now, but I didn't find it disconcertingly thick as a laptop. However, it's not exactly light, weighing in at over three and a half pounds. That's obviously another concession to keeping costs down. And while it's not going to make your friends go ooh and ah in the weight sweepstakes, it's not bad when you throw it in your briefcase or backpack.

The place where I find the weight and thickness to be an issue are in tablet mode. Like the XPS 12, the Microsoft Surface Pro 1 and 2, the Lenovo Yoga and others, I continue to find these convertibles continue to feel a bit clumsy in terms of heft when used as tablets. That said, I would imagine the most obvious use case as a table would be as a consumption device, e.g. watching a movie, and then you're not likely to be holding the tablet (laptop) for more than a short amount of time before you set it down to watch.

In summary, I was generally quite pleased with this platform. I think Dell is offering a lot of value here, although the entry model for $600 list price is the one I'd avoid--primarily due to the lower resolution screen in that budge model. Any of the higher end models, with the full HD screen, should be more than suitable. All suffer somewhat from the lack of a SSD as provided, but Dell has made it simple to replace both the SSD and the memory (just remove the backplate), and when you have the time and a little money, I'd recommend doing just that. The battery life is not amazing, but it's adequate. And the ergonomics and feel of the construction all are solid. The port selection is good--much better than, say, the Surface--although the inclusion of a HDMI port rather than the more flexible mini-Displayport is a strike against it for road warriors.

There are slicker laptops out there, but not at this price point--even if you account for the cost of replacing the included hard drive with a SSD. If the size and ergonomics work for you, this is a strong entry in the convertible sweepstakes.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 16, 2014 12:55 PM PST


Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series i7347-50sLV 13-Inch Convertible Touchscreen Laptop (Intel Core i3 Processor, 4GB RAM)
Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series i7347-50sLV 13-Inch Convertible Touchscreen Laptop (Intel Core i3 Processor, 4GB RAM)
Price: $549.99
35 used & new from $511.49

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 2-in-1 convertible laptop for the money. A little too heavy to be called an ultrabook, but substantial and good value, November 19, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I am, as one can read from my previous reviews of Dell's XPS 12 series, a fan of these convertible laptops, which offer a touchscreen/tablet mode as well as a full fledged laptop mode with a full sized attached keyboard.

While the XPS 12 was targeted to the premium ultrabook segment in price and performance, this Insprion 13 700 series aims at a lower price point, and makes some concessions as a result. Most obviously, the construction, which uses a sturdy rubberized finish plastic instead of metal, and the hard drive in the cheaper models, which is a hybrid mechanical (Seagate) drive. That said, the case is actually quite aesthetically pleasing and nice to the touch, and the hard drive is easily replaced. (More on that below).

Dell offers this laptop in several configurations. The important specs that are common across all the configurations:

13.2 inch touchscreen
Haswell processor/Intel HM87 chipset (better battery life than earlier generations)
Intel integrated 4400 HD graphics (good enough for most purposes except high end gaming)
Wireless N
Bluetooth
2x USB 3.0 ports
1x USB 2.0 port
HDMI out
Full sized SD card reader
Capacitance PASSIVE pen with built in holder
Backlit keyboard
2-in-1 convertible laptop with a 360degree flipable screen
HD webcam
Windows 8.1
Dimensions: 0.75" X 12.99" X 8.74"
Weight: 3.7 pounds

The options depending on configuration:

Screen resolution. The cheapest model features a 1366x768 resolution screen. I would not recommend this. All other models feature a full HD 1920x1080 resolution screen.

Processor: This comes with either an Intel I3 or I5 processor. Unless you are doing work that tends to peg the processor (e.g. video processing, scientific computing, etc.) then the I3 will be more than sufficient and you are not likely to notice the difference.

Memory: This comes with either 4Gb or 8Gb of memory. Memory replacement is straightforward (remove the bottom cover by removing a few screws). There is one memory stick slot on the motherboard. Since memory can be replaced, if you don't think you need 8Gb to start (and most do not), go with 4Gb and you'll be happy.

Wireless card. The cheapest model has only Wireless N (which is good enough for almost anyone). The higher end models add Wireless AC, which is the latest wireless spec--although it's not supported yet in most hotspots nor even in most homes. The higher end models also add both 2.4 Ghz and 5Ghz bands for N (the low end only supports 2.4Ghz). That's an upgrade many will actually find important--the 5Ghz band is usually less crowded and faster (although with less signal penetration).

Hard drive: A Seagate 500Gb hybrid hard drive. This is, essentially, an old fashioned spinning drive with a few GB of flash memory that the drive uses to "learn" the apps you load most and to then boot those apps more quickly. The hard drive is easily replaced and I STRONGLY recommend replacing it with a SSD as your first upgrade, since this is the bottleneck on this laptop. The space available supports 7mm thick drives. You might be able to fit a 9.5mm drive, but it would be very tight.

OK, enough with the specs and options. What's the verdict?

In terms of performance, coming from platforms built on SSD drives (the Dell XPS 12, the Microsoft Surface Pro), I found boot times with the included 500GB hybrid drive to be annoyingly slow. They aren't bad compared to boot times of just a few years ago--after a few reboot cycles for the drive to learn your system, I'd say boot times are maybe half a minute. But given that I'm now spoiled by boot times of 10 seconds or so, this seems poor. More significantly, new apps that the hybrid drive hasn't "learned" open much more slowly. The same is true for installs. The hybrid drive helps not at all with installs, and installing complex software with lots of "parts" is a trip back to the bad old days of many many minutes to install even some software that's relatively common (e.g. Acrobat). For fun, I imaged the included drive to a decent Plextor 256Gb SSD that I had lying around. This immediately fixed all the aggravations I experienced with the hybrid drive. But I should emphasize that if you are not coming from a laptop that has a SSD, you will find the performance with the included drive fine. The key is that including the non SSD has helped Dell meet a price point for this laptop.

The system is (thankfully) devoid of bloatware. So performance is (especially after replacing the drive) snappy and pretty much indistinguishable from other modern laptops with modern chipsets. The model I reviewed has an I5 and 8Gb of memory, but the system monitor confirmed what I already pretty much knew: That neither the processor nor the system memory were anywhere close to maxed out for normal use cases outside of video encoding or running some proprietary resource hog software for work.

I found the keyboard to be very comfortable to use. The keys feel good and all the special keys are exactly where you expect them to be. I did encounter the occasional glitch in the behavior of the track pad, where the cursor would seem to jump suddenly. This only happened a few times, but a perusal of the Web suggests its a driver issue and I expect it will get fixed shortly. But again, it didn't happen enough to be important (in my experience).

Battery life? It's not bad When I put the laptop on an endless video loop to test battery life, with the screen brightness at medium and using the default Dell power program, I got just about 4.4 hours before the laptop turned itself off. During another test session where I limited myself to productivity work (MS Office, Acrobat, email, a little surfing), I got a little over 6 hours. I doubt in any real world use case you should expect much more than that unless you're willing to keep the screen unacceptably dim or you just have it on doing absolutely nothing. But 6 hours is enough for a trans continental flight, and to me that's the necessary benchmark if I'm packing it for work.

In terms of ports, it's nice that there are 3 USB ports, although only two of them are USB 3.0 (the third is USB 2.0). It's GREAT that there's a full sized SD memory card reader. One of my peeves about the mostly excellent Dell XPS 12--which has been my work computer for a couple of year snow--is that there's no memory card reader. On the downside, you have a HDMI out port here, and not a more flexible micro-Displayport, which has become standard with Ultrabooks. That means this laptop definitely will NOT be suitable for road warriors who want to use it for work presentations--too many installations (in my experience) still do not support HDMI and only have VGA connectivity, and USB-> VGA adapters are both expensive and, in my experience, a bit too flaky to rely on them for work.

I played with the included passive capacitance pen a little. I though, at first, it was cool they included such a pen, along with a nice slot in the laptop where it's stored. However, I found that the pen was pretty much worthless--too inaccurate to use for actual functions such as note taking. I am not sure what the value of it is, actually, other than as a way to select items on the screen without using your actual finger.

Regarding the ergonomics of the convertible 360 degree flip screen: Unlike Dell's previous convertible entry, the XPS 12, which features a novel approach to convertibility (screen rotates 360 degrees in an attached frame), this model basically follows the paradigm already demonstrated by Lenovo in their Yoga series and the Asus in their Transformer Book Flip model. That is, you can fold the screen back entirely, so that the back of the screen sits against the bottom of the laptop, and the screen is exposed on one side and the keyboard is exposed on the other side. The downside to this approach is that if you decide to use your laptop in tablet mode, the keyboard is exposed underneath. The worry is that this leaves the keyboard susceptible to getting dirt, key damage, etc. But again, I am sure this design is much less expensive to execute than the XPS 12 flip-in-frame model. Ignoring the exposed keyboard in tablet mode, it works fine, the hinges between the keyboard and the screen are nice and tight--supporting any desired angle. In laptop mode, this sat nicely on my lap--something I can't exactly say with the Microsoft Surface, for example.

Finally, there's the weight and size. This is a little thicker than the cutting edge ultrabooks available now, but I didn't find it disconcertingly thick as a laptop. However, it's not exactly light, weighing in at over three and a half pounds. That's obviously another concession to keeping costs down. And while it's not going to make your friends go ooh and ah in the weight sweepstakes, it's not bad when you throw it in your briefcase or backpack.

The place where I find the weight and thickness to be an issue are in tablet mode. Like the XPS 12, the Microsoft Surface Pro 1 and 2, the Lenovo Yoga and others, I continue to find these convertibles continue to feel a bit clumsy in terms of heft when used as tablets. That said, I would imagine the most obvious use case as a table would be as a consumption device, e.g. watching a movie, and then you're not likely to be holding the tablet (laptop) for more than a short amount of time before you set it down to watch.

In summary, I was generally quite pleased with this platform. I think Dell is offering a lot of value here, although the entry model for $600 list price is the one I'd avoid--primarily due to the lower resolution screen in that budge model. Any of the higher end models, with the full HD screen, should be more than suitable. All suffer somewhat from the lack of a SSD as provided, but Dell has made it simple to replace both the SSD and the memory (just remove the backplate), and when you have the time and a little money, I'd recommend doing just that. The battery life is not amazing, but it's adequate. And the ergonomics and feel of the construction all are solid. The port selection is good--much better than, say, the Surface--although the inclusion of a HDMI port rather than the more flexible mini-Displayport is a strike against it for road warriors.

There are slicker laptops out there, but not at this price point--even if you account for the cost of replacing the included hard drive with a SSD. If the size and ergonomics work for you, this is a strong entry in the convertible sweepstakes.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 7, 2014 10:29 AM PST


Husky 8 in 1 Torx Screwdriver Set
Husky 8 in 1 Torx Screwdriver Set
Offered by Gold Land
Price: $16.89
6 used & new from $11.90

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mediocre quality set. Better option available cheaper at Amazon, October 18, 2014
Mediocre quality set. Available for under six bucks at your local Home Depot. Barely worth that price. Someone's trying to fleece you here.

There are other sets that are of at least comparable and arguably better quality, with a lot more pieces, available for less right here at Amazon. For example:

Handysmart 17 in 1 Precision Screwdriver Tools Set Repair Tool Kit for iPad, iPhone & Other Devices

or

Handysmart 53 in 1 Precision Screwdriver Tools Set for Rc Pc Mobile Car

A LOT more complete sets, and a lot cheaper. Don't be tricked.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 2, 2014 8:49 AM PST


iHome Bluetooth Stereo Executive Music Station (Black)
iHome Bluetooth Stereo Executive Music Station (Black)
Price: $119.99
2 used & new from $78.72

25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice looking, good sounding, Bluetooth enabled speaker with a clock. Good option if you are not concerned with portability., October 7, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Yet another entry into the crowded Bluetooth speaker market. At this point, the market is differentiated into two types of speakers: Portable speakers with a built in battery, and (typically) bigger speakers that need to be plugged in. This falls into the latter category.

The non-portables are, in my experience, generally more desirable. Yes, there are circumstances where you want to whip out a portable speaker and place it in front of you. But for me, generally, I don't carry a speaker in my backpack to play on the beach. So the bigger speakers--which through the simple physics of larger size and weight can do a better job of reproducing sound (in principal, anyway) are a better option.

I've had a bunch of these speakers now, both portable and non-portable variants. So I have a pretty good sense of what they can sound like when they're good, and what they sound like when they're not. I'd rate this speaker very good. The sound it projects is pleasing and clear, and it doesn't distort even as you push the volume to the maximum. There's detectable bass (not always a given) and there's a modest (but just modest) amount of stereo separation discernible from the speaker set. I had this on the entire day listening to a variety of source material, and I found the sound to be consistently pleasant and not fatiguing.

One thing this speaker is not, by the standards of such things, is super loud. It's loud enough, for sure--it fills pretty much any normal house-sized room with sound. But you wouldn't power a party with this sound. I have heard louder speakers of this type. But again, my guess is that they've limited the maximum volume so that when you push it to the maximum, it doesn't distort or otherwise sound unpleasant.

And that also makes sense looking at the aesthetics of the design. It's relatively elegant--all black, with some minimalist mods to afford controls and a clock in the front. This would assuredly fit quite comfortably in a nice home (or business) office, a den, etc. I expect that't their target audience. And for those types of environments, the maximum sound quality is more than sufficient.

It's worth noting that I'm rating this sound quality as very good by the standards of non-portable speakers. By the standards of portable rechargable speakers (Jambox, JBL, etc.) this sounds great. But it's an unfair competition, because this device has a lot more physical room to work with (and it doesn't have to be clever with power consumption, either).

The speaker connects via Bluetooth. I had no trouble pairing with my PC. It took about 1 minute from start to finish. It can also pair by the newer NFC protocol. I didn't test this, and given how easy it is to pair via the menu system on your PCs or phones OS, I continue to think that NFC is of minimal significance. In addition to Bluetooth connections, you can pair via a standard mini-jack cable, if you wish.

Beyond working as a speaker, you have a USB outlet that you can use to charge a USB device, a built-in microphone to use this as a speakerphone extension, a (just adequate) built-in FM tuner and a clock on the front. Note: This is JUST a clock. You'd imagine, both based on the form factor and the fact that this comes from iHome, who have made a lot of popular clock radios, that this would incorporate alarm functionality. It does not. It's JUST a clock. There's a battery backup included so that you don't have to reset the clock if you lose power. But again, it's just a clock. That's a disappointment to anyone who might consider this for use in the bedroom. (Oh, and the unit automatically times out after a few minutes and goes to sleep if no music is playing; so you can't set the alarm on your phone and use that through this unit as a makeshift clock radio. Once this unit goes to sleep, you have to turn it on again using the button at the top).

I tested the speakerphone functionality by making a few calls during the day using this as both the speaker and microphone, via Skype/Webex and my computer. When I polled people on the other end of the connection, the consensus was that I sounded fine, but that it was clear I was on a speakerphone. Do not buy this expecting to replace a high quality polycom type device, in other words. But based on my unscientific polling, it's about as good as when I used the PC's built in speaker.

Control functionality on the speaker is rudimentary; There's a nice feeling, large volume dial on the top, as well as a mode button that selects between Bluetooth/Aux (minijack in) and FM radio. And there are some forward/reverse controls that apparently will work with an iPhone if you connect it (not tested), and also can shift through FM presets.

On the whole, I'm pleased with this speaker. It's elegant enough that it fits nicely on my downstairs desk where people will see it, and it sounds very good for the segment and price. I've heard better Bluetooth speakers, but not at this price point or with this modest a form factor. And if your other option is one of the portable speakers that cost as much or more, my suggestion is to audition this device first before you buy. I think you'll find that, unless you need the portable functionality, this speaker offers a lot more for your buck.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 15, 2014 6:37 AM PST


Live At Wembley Arena [2CD Deluxe Edition Book]
Live At Wembley Arena [2CD Deluxe Edition Book]
Price: $26.51
34 used & new from $11.99

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A surprisingly good listen, from when actual talent was more highly valued -- A warts and all show with few warts, October 1, 2014
This is a surprisingly good live show. When this release was announced, I was less than excited. Some of this music was previously released--overdubbed--as the forgettable Abba Live in 1986. That one was a listen once and file experience.

This is different. First off, they've chosen to release a full concert, not a set of songs chosen from a variety of shows. The idea is that there may be some mistakes, but they humanize the experience, and make it more interesting. I agree. But again, it also helps when you are dealing with ABBA. Not only are the lead vocals generally spot on and lovely/terrific, but the ample backing musicianship fully fleshes out the songs.

The collectors bait here is a previously unreleased song, Agnetha's "I'm Still Alive," available legitimately for the first time. It's actually a good song and not just a reason for completists to grudgingly open their wallets again.

But this set is hardly just for collectors or fanatics. This is an excellent show that reveals how gifted ABBA were.

My only complaints are that since this is 1979 it misses a good number of crucial ABBA hits and classics from the subsequent few years, and that there isn't an accompanying full length concert video.


Ipevo CDCU-04IP VX-1 Internet Conference Station for Conference Calls and Remote Meeting
Ipevo CDCU-04IP VX-1 Internet Conference Station for Conference Calls and Remote Meeting
Price: $219.00
2 used & new from $219.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic conference station at a relative bargain price given the quality...Something of a Polycom killer for home use, September 27, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Anyone who does a lot of teleconferencing is familiar with the expensive conferencing devices that you find at work. Mostly, you find the "mushroom" type Polycom branded devices, which run $400 and up. They are very good. And very expensive.

I do a lot of teleconferencing from home, and my company has not seen fit to give me a Polycom station. So I've had to make do either with high end headphones with a good attached microphone (not bad, but the cable annoys me and I hate looking like a doofus on video conferencing calls), or else use the speakerphone capability of my home phone (mediocre at best) or the built in microphone in my computers (junk at best). So I was interestd to get this device...Despite the considerably lower price, I was hoping I'd have something to match the quality of the Polycom.

Much to the surprise of my inner skeptic, this Ipevo conference station has turned out to be great. When I use it, I sound as clear as I do on those much more expensive Polycom devices. I can move around the room and it picks up my voice just fine. And the reproduction of sounds coming FROM the Ipevo is also excellent. This is one of those times when I finally got something that I told myself a hundred times "I'm not going to waste the money on that" and now I wonder why I didn't get one a long time ago. It makes conferencing from home MUCH more pleasing. Not just for me, either. For everyone who has to listen to me. (The downside: They still have to listen to ME. This device can't fix that!)

As to the ergonomics: You can choose one of our directional microphones, or you can choose an omnidirectional mode. Since I use this at home, I always use the omnidirectional model. But it's worth pointing out that you can ONLY choose EITHER one of the four directional microphones OR the omnidirectional mode. You can't pick, say, microphones 1 and 3. I can't recall that being an issue even at work with multiple people in the room, but it's worth pointing out.

Installing the conference station on your PC is trivial: Basically, connect the included USB cable from the device to a USB port on your computer. Installation will occur automatically. Then (if necessary) point the audio out and microphone in selectors to the new device.

The Ipevo can also be attached to either a PC or a phone via an (included) headphone jack cable. HOWEVER, the device must be powered by the USB connection. Note that the device can ONLY be powered by a USB connection. To provide the needed power, you can either connect this to a USB jack on your computer, or else to a USB power adapter you plug into the wall (NOT included). A standard USB adapter with at least 500mA output (basically any USB adapter you can buy today) will be sufficient to power the Ipevo. The key point here, though, is that you can't use it with your phone UNLESS you also have access to a USB power source. This limits, to some degree, the convenience of using it only with your phone. For example, to use it in your car (if you were so inclined), you'd need a USB lighter-adapter and you'd need to plug it into that for power. If you want to use it in a room without a PC, you'll need to plug it into the USB adapter in the wall. It would have been nice if a rechargeable battery were included that would obviate the need to be near a power source. But in my day to day use, I find this only a very modest drawback.

On the whole, I am extremely pleased with the Ipevo, which seems to provide quality commensurate with the Polycom devices costing more than twice as much, and is quite easy to use. Highly recommended for the home warriors among us :-)


TP-LINK TL-PB10400 10400mAh Dual-Port Ultra External Battery Portable USB Charger, Power Bank, Fast Charging, High Capacity, Compatible with iOS(iPhone/iPad) and Android(SAMSUNG/HTC/NEXUS/MOTO) Devices, One Micro USB Cable, Practical Flashlight
TP-LINK TL-PB10400 10400mAh Dual-Port Ultra External Battery Portable USB Charger, Power Bank, Fast Charging, High Capacity, Compatible with iOS(iPhone/iPad) and Android(SAMSUNG/HTC/NEXUS/MOTO) Devices, One Micro USB Cable, Practical Flashlight
Offered by Bella Blue Boutique
Price: $45.41
50 used & new from $39.89

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good emergency USB power source that delivers what it promises in a good ergonomic package, September 27, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I now have several devices that, like this charger, provide the ability to recharge your USB devices on the go. They all work pretty similarly: You charge the device (which itself is 95% battery, and 5% casing and USB ports, plus in some cases like this one a modest flashlight), then you stuff it in your computer bag/purse/luggage and pull it out in situations where you need to charge your portable USB device and don't have a standard power outlet handy.

All these devices have the same caveats: A) Once charged they will all loser power over time, even sitting on the shelf; B) It is best not to leave them to fully discharge. Full discharge without any use from a fully charged state will take months. However, if you use it, and forget to recharge it when you get home, and you put it on the shelf for a few months, you may well find your device in a state of deep discharge and it might stop working properly (or else not work as well once recharged); C) You will not be able to get the full rated mAh power out of the device...Assume, at best, maybe 70-80% of that number. The rest goes to the overhead of transferring the power to your device; D) Modern smartphones usually charge well on a 1A outlet (so either of the connectors here will work), while larger devices, such as tablets, typically require around 2A charge (at least to charge and run at the same time). Fortunately, one of the outlets here supplies a 2A charge.

OK, now for some reality checks. Typical modern smartphones have batteries that range in capacity from roughly 2000-3500 mAh (2000-2500 is more common). This device offers about 10000 mAh total capacity, but remember that inefficiency issue mentioned earlier. So that means that the real amount of recharge capacity this charger can provide, when full, is closer to around 8000 mAh. So that's good for 2-3 charges, depending on the size of the battery in your smart phone.

If you're thinking of recharging your tablet from empty, you're risking using the entirety of the charging capability of this device for one charge. For example, an iPad 4 has a ~11000 mAh battery, and the iPad Air has a ~8000 mAh battery. However, in reality, how often might you need to recharge your tablet from empty to full on the road without access to a power outlet?

In terms of ergonomics, this power adapter is somewhat differently shaped than most. Typically, these adapters have been flat, relatively thin, and relatively large--reflecting the batteries inside (often re-purposed from standard laptop designs). This charger is more rectangular...Think: a short square sausage, 3.5" long. I actually prefer this shape, although your mileage may vary. The dimensions of this charger also make it easier to carry as a flashlight (it has a built in light) if you want to use it for that. I did a cursory test of the light and found it to be adequate, but not really appreciably better than the flashlight mode on my smartphone and assuredly not as good as a good dedicated flashlight. Still, it's fine for emergency applications--and if you keep it in your glove compartment, it might find some use in that capacity.

In terms of charging the device itself: This is done from a USB charger source via a standard micro USB cable. The micro USB cable is included BUT THE CHARGING SOURCE IS NOT. Be clear on that: You need to provide your own charging source. You can use your standard smartphone charger, or any other standard USB charging device. Just note that this device has a lot of capacity and it will take some time to charge. A 2A charger will require 7 hours to fully charge this device from empty. A 1A charger will require about 10 hours to fully charge this device. And if you choose to use the USB connection to your computer (and you can do that), which provides only 0.5A (by design), it will take roughly 25 hours (!!!) to fully charge this device from empty. Obviously, a more powerful charger is desirable. (Most chargers supplied with recent smartphones are 1.5-2A chargers). And if you're leaving for a trip, you may want to remember to charge this device the day BEFORE you need to leave!

In my own tests on a standard modern smartphone (Moto X, ~2200 mAh battery), I found that I got 3 full charges from this device, and there was some power left, but not enough to charge a forth time to full. That's not bad at all. I was also able to take the phone from empty, put it on this charger for a few minutes, and then use the phone in high intensity applications (GPS + surfing) and the charger was able to keep up with the drain on the phone.

On the whole, I'm quite happy with this charger and would recommend it based on the ergonomics and the tested ability to the expected amount of charge based on the specs.


Plain Spoken
Plain Spoken
Price: $11.88
58 used & new from $8.73

38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is arguably John Mellencamp's best album since his '80s heyday, September 23, 2014
This review is from: Plain Spoken (Audio CD)
This is arguably John Mellencamp's best album since his '80s heyday. It's basically an extension of the back porch folkiness of a song like Jackie Brown, or a song like Human Wheels with the drums and guitars turned down. You sense his heart is in this work. He's written one of his best batches of songs in a very long time. And, unlike a few of his recent albums, this one successfully cuts the difference between a certain simple audio verite and just enough adornment to best bring the songs to life. (To elaborate on that last point: His last few albums have all been in a more mature style, but in my opinion, they've been a bit studied and claustrophobic in their approach. This album is freed from any particular audio concept and is the better for it. I also think the songs here are, on the whole, stronger.)

Ultimately, there's a lot of simplicity here: John, mostly acoustic instruments, and few production tricks. You could imagine that John could sound exactly like this if he were playing on your back porch with a few of his friends. Plain Spoken is an apt title. (The one exception is the last track, Lawless Times, a bluesy toss off).

If, like a lot of people, you were a big fan of Mellencamp but lost interest when John seemed to lose focus, this might be the right moment, the right album, to get back on the bus. He's older, he's quieter, and he sings with a bit more gravel, but so, presumably, do those things apply to all of us.

This is Mellencamp more mature, but no less impressive than the Kid who kicked it up about Little Pink Houses way back when. He doesn't really rock here, but he's present and engaged and engaging. And that rocks a lot more.

Highly recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 21, 2014 9:18 PM PST


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