HP Spectre 13T

HP Spectre 13T

Since giving my Lenovo Yoga 13 to my parents (a great machine, by the way, and v2 looks even better), I’ve been on the lookout for something to replace it. My primary considerations were battery life, display (inc. touchscreen), touchpad, weight, build quality and reasonable future-proofing for the machine to last 2-3 years. I’ve really liked the 12-13.3″ range, since it usually results in a laptop in the 3-3.5lb range, which is highly portable, while providing enough display real estate to be truly productive.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I considered several MacBooks, particularly the MacBook Air 13 (gosh, the 10-12 hours of real-world battery life is mind-blowing) and the MacBook Pro Retina 13. The build quality, battery life, and touchpads are absolutely fantastic, and frankly, even pricing isn’t outrageous, when looking at comparable options across the ecosystem.

However, I landed on the HP Spectre 13T, because:

  • Nice build quality, aluminium used throughout and positioned as a premium Ultrabook, so I hoped for the best in terms of manufacturing tolerances and the visceral feel in-hand
  • Great display options (in both colour gamut and resolution)
  • Includes both a gigantic touchpad and a touchscreen; most importantly, the touchpad is smooth and tracks well, almost as well as the MacBooks
  • Approximately 3.2lbs with 8-9 hours of real-world battery life
  • Configured with a Core i5 4200U, 8GB memory, 128GB SSD, 2560×1440 touchscreen, and included 2 year warranty was just under $950 (cheaper than a base MacBook Air 13)

I’m only a week in, so more detailed thoughts will have to wait. Initial impressions are positive; it feels reassuringly sturdy, the design is simple, but the aluminum colouring makes it a bit less generic than every other black or silver laptop out there, and the display is stunning in both colour as well resolution. Given how close it is to a melange of the right elements of each of the MacBook Air and Retina, in a package that cheaper than either, is a very good thing.

2014

The past year has been one of great learning for me. Both my wonderful girlfriend and great job combined have taught me many lessons and etched more than a year’s worth of maturity onto me. I have also become a mess of contradictions: while feeling young and invincible (still), I also sense the rapid approach of both cynicism and wisdom that often accompany old(er) age.

I know this year will be one of great change. I’m officially in the latter half of my twenties, I’ll have had 4 years of industry work experience under my belt, and big decisions to make, such as buy or rent when my lease is up (and all the associated implications that would have).

Part of the reason for my internal confusion is because I’ve been blessed with a job that has given me visibility and influence at a scope I couldn’t have begun to imagine as a relative whipper-snapper in the company. It’s been like a lanky kid going through puberty. The physical reality is there, but the mind hasn’t  grasped the entirety of what’s happened. The feeling of invincibility to have almost no fear in meetings, discussing problems and solutions with some seriously smart and senior people, while also beginning to develop the maturity to frame discussions in the right manner to achieve the best outcome. At the same time, ignorance truly can be bliss, and unfortunately, I haven’t had the luck to be spared any detail when it comes to the business or the organization.

It’s also within that context that I’ve seen my work experience drift more towards the strategic, the higher levels. I find myself missing the deep and intimate work on technically challenging problems and seeing it through to the end. In a somewhat idyllic way, I sometimes long for the all nighters in the engineering labs at university, ploughing through the latest calc assignment or FPGA design project. The goals were straightforward and little in the way of convoluted scheming was needed to accomplish them. It’s rarely that simple to do anything these days.

So, it’s with these thoughts that I enter 2014.

Apple A7 SoC

The A7 SoC

For me, one of the most interesting things about the iPhone 5S launch is what lives within: the new A7 SoC. One of the first shipping 64-bit ARMv8 designs, and certainly for the consumer market, folks may wonder, why? Why did Apple feel the urge to go to a 64-bit architecture, one that doesn’t have much opportunity to stretch its legs on a 4″ phone? Was it simply to keep consistent with the next generation iPad? If you believe the A#/A#X pattern will continue with this generation, that must certainly contribute to it; however, the question remains: does the move to 64-bit on an iPad make sense enough, right now, to outweigh the cost and complexity?

There are plenty of arguments to be made on that point. Instead, I think it points to a new direction. Think about the iPads you see people using. How many of them are wrapped in cases? And, how many of those cases have keyboards attached to them? Even more, how many times have you seen folks typing furiously on those iPads+keyboards, just like a laptop? The answer is, a lot, especially for a something that was originally defined as a consumption device.

Combine that tendency with strong enterprise interest in the iPad and you have a new product opportunity, a sell-up option from the basic iPad, combining an attached (or detachable) keyboard with the touchscreen, all running iOS. Think of it as a touchscreen MacBook Air, but thinner, lighter and providing all-day battery life. The A7 (or A7X variant for a tablet-sized product) would really be able to stretch its legs, injecting a lot more performance headroom and scale in a device designed for productivity.

Here’s a quick comparison of the existing MBA and iPad: MacBook Air 11.6″

  • Intel Core i5
  • 4GB memory
  • 128GB SSD
  • $999

iPad (4th Gen)

  • Apple A6X SoC
  • 1GB memory
  • 128GB eMMC
  • $799

There are several ways this scenario could play out. Here’s one: an “iOSBook” 64GB SKU at $899 and a 128GB SKU at $999 while maintaining similar or better margins than the existing iPad (greater margins than the existing MBA).

Compared to Qualcomm’s SoC ASPs of $22, in-house production of the A# SoC is probably about the same, given the larger die, and much, much lower than the $120 ASP Intel is purportedly getting for their chips across the board (the i5 in the MBA is likely above this average). Meanwhile, an extra 1GB of memory, larger touchscreen and the keyboard attachment (or chassis) may offset the chipset cost reduction. Now, you have an ~12″ iPad, 2GB memory in a roughly clamshell form factor.

In terms of positioning, there’s some trade-off in performance relative to the MBA, but it contains a much higher resolution display and touchscreen with all the familiarity and apps of iOS (prevalent compared to OS X). For most people, this “iOSBook” would be more than sufficient, and if peak performance is paramount, then the MBA and MBP are still there for customers’ choosing.

There are rumours from the supply chain that Apple is testing a larger display for an iPad, slightly under 13″. While it could be a big tablet, perhaps it’s the panel for something a bit different. :)

Prime

I spent part of the Labour Day long weekend in Vancouver, night market in Richmond, biking around Stanley Park, and hiking in West Vancouver. It was a great weekend of outdoors activity, accompanied by beautiful weather. It was a ton of fun, and at the last moment while packing, I decided to bring my neglected Nikon D600 (I figured the night market would benefit from the high ISO performance). To test out whether my interest in the Fuji X-system and its great prime lenses will work out, I brought a fast prime, the Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4. More challenging than being just a fast prime, it’s a manual focus-only lens. Not something I envied a ton, with my little experience with manual focusing and the razor-thin focal plane of a fast prime paired with a full format sensor.

What I did forget, though, is just how stunning a great sensor and lens combo can be. That’s not to say that my go-to Panasonic GX1 + 14-42mm or 20mm pancake isn’t capable of producing good photos; it’s simply that there is another tier of image quality to be achieved, if one is willing to lug around some more weight. I took a risk by opting for the 58mm as my only lens on this trip, but I’m happy I did. I discovered that it’s very enjoyable to frame and zoom with your feet. I also discovered epic image quality, again. Below is a small crop of a shot at night (full frame is inset, top-right) at ISO 1600 with no sharpening or noise reduction (aka both are set to 0 in Lightroom). Wow. This cleans up very nicely with minor tweaks. By comparison, the GX1′s sensor quickly falls apart beyond ~ISO 800.

Nikon D600 + Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4

It certainly gets me even more excited for the highly lauded X-Trans sensor on the Fuji X-E1 and great (autofocus) primes in that system, including the 35mm f/1.4!

Microsoft + Nokia

Microsoft has entered into an agreement to purchase Nokia’s devices and services business. Let that sink in for a little bit.

 

 

 

 

Okay, so every tech behemoth seems to have their own vertically integrated software and hardware stack these days, so why not us, right? With all of the ongoing talk of a shift towards devices and services as a company, at Microsoft, the acquisition of Nokia’s business makes sense, comes with a very reasonable price tag (unfortunately, for my Nokia holdings I’m very sad to say), and integrates together what are already two very linked teams. There will no doubt be countless calls of conspiracy, with Stephen Elop rejoining Microsoft, albeit now as part of a devices group, as opposed to the Office team he used to run. I, for one, am very excited about these developments.

There were also a few interesting nuggets of information in the Strategic Rationale, which accompanied the acquisition announcement.

  • As a licensor of the Windows Phone software, Microsoft’s gross margins on each Nokia smartphone is <$10
  • As a manufacturer of Windows Phones, Microsoft’s gross margins would be >$40
  • Operating income breakeven arrives at ~50 million smartphones. Last quarter Nokia sold 7.4 million Windows Phones, up from 5.6 million the previous quarter. Could breakeven come in FY15?
  • The acquisition becomes accretive to earnings only in FY2016. Based on the non-GAAP FY2015 estimate of $0.00 impact, my guess is, as above, we expect to sell ~50 million phones.
  • We expect 1.7 billion smartphones to be sold by 2018 – we also expect to claim 15% of that market
  • That is expected to translate in $45 billion in revenue, or approximately $176 ASP. Nokia’s most recent quarter’s Lumia ASP was $207.
  • Even with 15% market share, the smartphone business will be a very lucrative business
  • Microsoft combines its patent portfolio and deals with those Nokia has signed with competitive ecosystem OEMs into a heck of a licensing powerhouse and protective fortress

More thoughts as things develop.