Friday, 6 June 2014

Gadget Schmadget: Part 1

So, I'm currently facing a bit of a computing dilemma.

When I am in full 'ready for anything' mode, this is what I carry around with me in my backpack:

That's an Asus Nexus 7 LTE 2013 (299g), Sony A6000 mirrorless camera (344g) + SEL2418z lens (224g) and my Surface Pro 2 (1.162kg including keyboard).

That's just over 2kg of electronics on my back.
It isn't a lot - I used to carry around a 2kg+ 15" Macbook Pro for goodness sakes! But what I've found is that on days when I am walking around a lot I end up with back pain. It doesn't help that I have mild scoliosis, and ever since I found out I've tried to take steps to deal with it - for instance switching to a backpack instead of a sling bag (duh).

I do walk around a lot, because as an unemployed postgraduate student I like to take opportunities to walk around and not remain completely cooped up indoors. It helps clear my mind.

I don't always need all of these gadgets. Often I leave one or two of them out of my bag just because I know it will be too heavy and I will regret it later. But let me break down why I wish I could take all three, and why I'm not really super happy with the combination either.

Surface Pro 2: Pros & Cons

Let's start with the Surface Pro 2. I think from my videos it's pretty obvious that I love my Surface Pro 2. It's a beautiful machine. I love the fact that it's a powerful mobile computing device with a relatively light weight and full desktop application support. I love that I can prop up the kickstand and place it anywhere and have a good view of it without having to hold it up. And trust me, having an integrated kickstand kicks ass compared to dealing with all manner of flimsy cover + stand combinations I've seen. I love the brilliant screen quality and the keyboard integration - it's not a perfect keyboard, but it gets the job done.

What I don't love, is this: when I really want to sit down and get work done, I'd still prefer a bigger screen and a predominantly mouse driven interface. This is something they are working on with the Surface Pro 3, and watching the launch presentation for the SP3 I totally dug where they were going with it. But the trouble is: I still prefer OSX when I need to sit down and work.

OSX Yosemite looks even more powerful in many ways...

I just prefer it's ease of use for all sorts of little reasons that add up to one big shiny aluminium whole. Here's just a few things I really miss going from OSX to Win 8: one button visual window switching with Mission Control, fully automatic versioned backups with Time Machine, the ability to just press the spacebar to get a preview of a file with Quick Look, etc etc. In most cases Windows just has a different way of doing things, but in some cases that are really important to me, I think Windows just has a worse way of doing things. And I am not going to install a hundred different third party apps of questionable origin and value to compensate for those deficiencies.

And lastly I really, really love Final Cut Pro X, and as much as I've tried to learn and use Premiere Pro I cannot get over how much more intuitive and fast FCPX is in comparison. FCPX is often criticised by industry professionals because it initially dropped a lot of support for some very high level professional features. 'iMovie on steroids' people cried! 'Final Cut for people making skateboarding videos on Youtube'.

And there're probably right, but that's why I love FCPX. I'm no Steven Spielberg. For me FCPX has a simple, elegant interface. It's easy to use but it's also extremely fast. I love the magnetic timeline. I've never felt at ease with a video editing program as I have with FCPX. And I've previously used Final Cut, Premire Pro and Sony Vegas.

I should write a whole blog post about FCPX one day, but the gist of it is, when I want to really sit down and do work, I don't really love using the Surface Pro. I CAN do it, but I don't love it. Maybe if I was working on office documents all day I would, but I don't. So I am left with a 1kg machine that is too heavy (both physically and metaphorically) as a day to day carry around computer, but not what I want out of a fully powered workstation either.

My experience with my Chromebook has actually taught me a lot. As much as I thought my particular Chromebook sucks, it made me realise that what I really, really value in the Surface Pro 2 is the ability to use a trackpad or a mouse to get access to full desktop versions of webpages, and the use of a full physical keyboard.

Enter Macbook Air?

At this point you are probably screaming this: LACHLAN GET A MACBOOK AIR AND SHUT UP ABOUT IT.

Seriously shut up!

As much as the MBA seems like a near perfect thing to me (and I do think it seems near perfect), I still have my reservations.

For one thing, the Macbook Air has a horribly outdated display. It's a low res TN panel when all it's ultrabook competitors are sporting beautiful high res IPS displays. The display is actually low res enough that using a program like FCPX on the display scales badly. All the buttons are too big, and your workspace is too small.

My other problem is that it's still a 1kg computer. Maybe if I know ahead of time I am going to do some video editing or something, I'll want to put it in my bag. Do I want to slip it in every day? I know from using the Surface Pro 2 that no, I do not want a 1kg laptop in my bag every day. At least not with my camera and tablet in tow.

So I guess the answer to this particular question is: wait till Apple releases a Macbook Air equivalent with a high res display, or get a 13" rMBP.

In the meantime, I can use a tablet as an everyday computer right? Wrong.

In the next part of this gadget lament, I'm going to talk about my Nexus 7, why I have it, and why I still think tablets are really no good as everyday computing substitutes...