Pre-christmas technology review 2017

It’s been two years since my last technology overview and I feel the need for another one. Especially after otherwise pretty weak blog-year.

Notebook HP Stream 14” with 32GB eMMC (“Snow White”) (verdict: 2/5)

I got this for my son to teach him some HTML or similar entry-level computer stuff. He loves doing it. However, even nearly bare pre-installed Windows is not able to update itself (Anniversary Update I guess) with over 7GB free disk. And there is no way to make it any free-er. At least not without some hacking. There is just a single local user (admin) because any other user takes additional gigabyte(s), especially with Microsoft account, OneDrive, etc. There is only a couple of apps, I’ve got Visual Studio Code (175 MB) and K-Lite Codec Pack (111 MB).

That’s it. Virtually no data except some pretty tiny HTML files we work on and some pictures (few megas). Anything else is beyond my control. I tried compressing OS. I wanted to switch to Linux, but I’ve read eMMCs are not well supported there (in general). The disk is also incredibly slow – don’t let the fact it’s a flash drive fool you. It’s not SSD. Simply said, it’s something slow connected over a super-slow interface.

I believe there are devices where it’s acceptable, but please, let’s make it official. Notebook with eMMC is just a stupid idea. Especially with 32 gigs and Windows on top of it – that should be considered a crime. Or a scam at least.

Without the problem combining Windows with eMMC, I’d take the machine as OK for the price. It’s light, thin, looks good, runs long on battery (5-8 hours no problem), bright enough display. But it simply does not update anymore. Shame.

Next day update: It didn’t boot the next time and kept finishing in the BSoD. Recovery didn’t work anymore, although I’ve never touched any recovery partition that was there. Windows bootable USB didn’t help (you need to upgrade from your booted system and install didn’t work because there wasn’t free room anymore). Ubuntu 17.10 installed, but booted to black screen – however after enabling Compatibility support module (CSM) in BIOS (F10 to get there), it booted fine.

Bluetooth speaker Bose SoundLink Mini II (5/5)

I wanted a speaker for a party and I wanted it on short notice (not that I needed it, just wanted). I was surprised how many options there is for Bluetooth speaker, but Bose’s one was available and I’d seen it couple of weeks before – and heard it too. Rather pricey just under 200 Eur, but I took the risk.

I’m not sure how much the speaker is responsible for “catching” the bluetooth signal but sometimes I had to keep it pretty close to the device (especially with my HP ProBook). I settled on using a mobile phone. What I love is both way control – I can pause or skip the song using speaker’s button. I also like how it speaks at me and it was easy to pair it with devices.

And then there is the sound. Perhaps too deep to my liking, but definitely satisfying. I expect the speaker to play nicely when quiet – that is I hear enough music details yet I can talk with people around. This is that kind of speaker. Second revision also has micro USB on the speaker itself in case you don’t have the cradle with you (or it gets broken or what) which is nice. Some say it’s not powerful enough, but for me it is more than adequate. No regrets.

Windows package manager Chocolatey (5/5)

I encountered Chocolatey when I was experimenting with Windows unattended installation for VirtualBox. Since then I use it and it’s one of the first things I install on fresh computers. Then I just check my notes about setting up Windows (warning, it’s a live document for personal use, not a blogpost) and copy paste commands to install what I want. This is what good operating system should have at its core – and in a simple matter. Sure you can add/remove things with various PowerShell commands, but the situation there is messy – some features are available only on Enterprise edition so it simply does not do what any Linux package manager does. Chocolatey is a nice plaster for this hole in Windows. Nuff said.

CSS grid layout

Shortly – go and try it. It’s awesome, especially for responsive design when combined with media queries. I first heard about it in this video (highly recommended). While playing with it I also used this tutorial. While still just a candidate recommendation it’s widely supported with recent browsers (although there are some problems with IEs where it originally came from). And you can make it fallback gracefully, just in case. I’m no expert, but this is technology not only for experts – and that’s good.

JavaScript framework ExtJS 4.x (3/5)

I encountered this JavaScript/UI framework on the most recent project and it was selected for us long time ago. It for sure is comprehensive and you can achieve a lot with it – that’s why the verdict went all the way up to 3. I simply can’t deny the results one can do with it. But for us it was too much. It all starts with incredibly steep learning curve. And you pay dearly for anything you don’t understand. Talking about paying – it’s commercial and the license is pretty expensive. It may be good for all-in ExtJS shops, but not for occasional project where people may change and they need to learn it.

Story of our project? We started using Architect, then some “raw JS” devs walked through and original Sencha workspace was unusable and it was coded by hand since then until I came and saw the resulting mess. During the development it produced off-1px glitches like missing right borders of panels until you ran the Sencha CMD (build) that fixes it – but it takes a long time. In general, the whole process is pretty heavyweight and we couldn’t figure out the way how to build the result into completely separate directory tree (e.g. target when Maven exec plugin was used) without breaking some path references.

So you probably can do a lot with it, but it’s all-in or rather not at all. It’s proprietary and I’d rather invest in some mainstream OSS framework instead. That would be better for both my career and future evolution and maintenance of the project too.

Note: Current version is 6.5.x.

Fitness band Xiaomi Mi Band 2 (4/5)

I bought this step counter (as that was the main reason I wanted it) just before previous Christmas and it worked well for the purposes I wanted it for. It counted steps. How precise it is? I personally think it doesn’t matter. For couple of days I carried some Garmin device on the same hand and it counted 12k steps where Mi Band counted 10k. But this doesn’t really matter. On your average day 10k is more than 8k, you know which one is better. On days you do something completely different you can’t compare the number with the day with different routine. But both devices counted actual steps just fine – the difference happens in between the long walks – like during typing on the computer. Mi Band also clearly differentiates between walking and running as it indicates more energy output for the same step count. So far so good, that’s what I wanted.

How good is Mi Band 2 as a “smart band”? I don’t know. I don’t use it to measure my heart rate as it doesn’t work that well while running anyway. I don’t have it constantly paired with a mobile phone either. Only occasionally I pair it with a phone with the application. Ah, the application – it runs only on newer Androids, my old Samsung Galaxy 3S was out of question. It also doesn’t run on tablets in general, neither on PC. That just sucks. I wasn’t able to connect the application and my Xiaomi account either. Instructions are unclear or unavailable or something fails – I haven’t tried since then, I simply use the app on the phone to see the history and don’t care about the bigger picture (yet). I saw recommendations to use it with different app (like Google Fit or so).

Finally – after roughly a half year the device started to fall out of the wristband. Happens to many people so it seems. I was quite lucky I always picked the device up before I bought some cheap replacements. These feel similar – they are rougher for sure but after a while I don’t feel bothered by them at all. I like they feel firmer than the original, but it’s been just 3 months yet so I’ll see whether they last longer or not. But for this price I have no problem to replace them often.

So, why not 5/5? The device was pretty expensive in Slovakia a year ago (50 Eur or so), it got into normal range later. The application is not available on many devices (not running on tablets for arbitrary reasons?!) and it didn’t connect easily (=at all for me) with an online account. Display is good but not in strong sunshine. Otherwise it does what I want – but let’s face it, I don’t want that much from it. 🙂

Amazon Prime (verdict cancelled)

OK, this was rather a hasty affair. Lasted less than an hour for me. I tried to use my amazon.com account for that – and this is the first gripe. Amazon should seriously help us to decide what account we should (or even could) use for the full benefit in a particular country. Prime in Slovakia is official only for couple of weeks (if I understand it correctly) but I have no idea whether I should use COM, co.uk or DE account for it. I tried COM then – trial is for free, shouldn’t hurt.

I’m trying a link from registration email to a movie included with the membership. Does not work in my region. So much for the confusion of the customer. They seriously should employ their AI to offer me available films. There is no chance in understanding all the limitations before you actually start the trial.

Then I tried Amazon Music – as the music is by far the most important thing for me. The site asked for billing information – why? Amazon has it already! Funny that their video site didn’t. But I filled it in… and the wait indicator just keeps spinning and spinning. Hm, after a while I reloaded and retried – the same result. I couldn’t go further without providing the info and they didn’t accept it (or reject for that matter). Terrible first experience. Anyway… as I browsed around it dawned upon me that there is this Music Prime (included) and Music Unlimited – for additional 8 Eur/month.

Is even my kind of music available on Prime? I don’t need a million of songs… couple of thousand of the right ones would be enough. Let’s check. Our newest hit in the family – Steven Wilson! Nope… Pink Floyd? Nope. Yes? Mike Oldfield? U2?! Unlimited only… I couldn’t find anything I liked on Prime!

I could as well cancel the trial period immediately. And I did. (It will run out after a month, but after that the service will be cancelled.) Shame, as I’m rather a fanboy, especially when it comes to what they do with AWS. But first the Music site must actually work, especially at its literally first step and then offer some reasonable music for reasonable price. Total price, not add-on price.

I feel no urge to buy Echo Dot for Christmas either… at least not this year. The whole landscape moves pretty fast anyway and I’m curious where it all is next December.

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About virgo47
Java Developer by profession in the first place. Gamer and amateur musician. And father too. Naive believer in brighter future. Step by step.

2 Responses to Pre-christmas technology review 2017

  1. andrejkvasnica says:

    32gigs is plenty for recent Linux so for developer machine I would recommend trying latest Fedora . XFCE is not so resource hungry as default Gnome and the eMMC thing should be fine these days.
    At least you can test it on live distro from https://spins.fedoraproject.org/xfce/download/index.html and run the installer from the Fedora itself.

    That MSFT code editor runs on the Linux too as it’s just bunch of client-side javascript anyway…

    • virgo47 says:

      I started with Ubuntu 17.10 and now I’m getting used to that Gnome thing again, Visual Code is there. Not sure why Firefox crashes regularly (after couple of minutes, really), switched to Chrome, so far so good. My son does not complain at this moment, for his HTML experiments it’s good enough. I can still try to switch it to Xfce, but there is no hurry.

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