Why Do Most Windows-Based PCs/Laptops/Ultrabooks Suck? Why Surface Exists:

Discussion in 'Microsoft Surface Pro 3' started by ChrisPanzer, Jan 10, 2015.

  1. ChrisPanzer

    ChrisPanzer Active Member

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    Saw this blogpost the other day as I was skimming the 'net.

    Thought I should share.

    Main link: http://pando.com/2012/06/24/why-doe...r-why-microsoft-is-building-its-own-hardware/

    Full Read:

    There’s something magical about the touchpad on a MacBook. Out of the box, the first time you use it, it just works. Built out of a big slab of glass, the surface offers just enough friction for optimal finger sliding. Whether on the MacBook Pro or the Air, the trackpad is masterful at figuring out multiple finger inputs, it’s brilliant at disregarding errant touches, and it’s got a knack for multitouch gestures. The best thing about the Mac’s touchpad is that you never really notice it’s there. It’s designed to be invisible; everything you do on it feels natural and intuitive, and after a while the on-screen pointer becomes something like an extension of your fingers.

    It’s precisely this so-good-you-don’t-notice-it sensation that leads people to take the MacBook’s touchpad for granted, to overlook it as a chief selling point for Apple’s notebook line. As I’ve written many times, I find the MacBook Air to be one of the best personal computers ever built, and certainly the best all-purpose notebook computer on the market today.

    Every time I praise the Air, I hear from an army of Windows dittoheads who accuse me of being in Apple’s pocket. They point to articles like this one, which note that on a spec-by-spec basis, you can find a number of PC “ultrabooks” that appear to best the Air. For instance, both Toshiba and Acer make machines that weigh less than the Air. Some ultrabooks offer discrete graphics chips for better gaming performance, while others come with bigger screens, brighter screens, and better resolution. Finally, many PC ultrabooks cost a couple hundred dollars less than the Air. Given all these apparent advantages, these Mac haters argue, only a fool would choose an Air over the competition.

    The truth is, I’m not opposed to using a Windows laptop. I actually find Windows 7 to be superior to the Mac OS. My desktop—my primary computer, a machine with which I spend more time than I do with my wife and son—is a dazzling Win 7 beast that I built myself. But I switched to Apple notebooks more than five years ago, and I did so precisely because of things like the trackpad. I’ve searched high and low for a Windows notebook with a touchpad that comes close to the buttery bliss offered by the MacBook line. I haven’t found it, and you won’t either. At best, you’ll find a trackpad that can perform satisfactorily after you tweak a lot of settings—which may work fine for pros, but it’s not the kind of just-works experience that most computer users want.

    Why does any of this matter? Because PC makers’ inability to build a perfect trackpad is symptomatic of the larger difficulties the Windows device business faces in the mobile age. Windows device makers are used to competing on specs; they buy commodity parts, they use generic reference designs, and they stick everything together in a case and slap on an inscrutable model name. This worked perfectly well in the desktop market, and for many years it worked well in laptops, too.

    But when you move away from those machines into computers that are more like appliances, you get the sort of clunkers that now clog the ultrabook market. They’re cheaper than the Air, they have better specs than the Air, and yet—because of things like terrible trackpads—they fall far short of the Air.

    The touchpad problem illustrates why Microsoft had to build the Surface rather than let its hardware partners take the lead on Windows 8 tablets. Making a great trackpad isn’t easy. Humble as it seems, perfecting the interface depends on a host of skills that most companies don’t possess—top-notch industrial design, perfectionist control over manufacturing processes, and, most importantly, software that’s finely crafted to work with the hardware. If PC vendors can’t even get this small thing right, how could they possibly make something as polished as an iPad?

    To understand how much trouble PC notebooks have with touchpads, look at the Asus Zenbook, an ultrabook that’s often hailed as the next-best-thing to the Air. The Zenbook matches or beats the Air on most specs, and a slew of tech reviewers have given it high marks. The Wirecutter’s Brian Lam, who calls 13-inch Air the “best overall laptop for most people,” recommends the Zenbook Prime UX31A as something to consider “if you really hate Macs.” CNet gives the Zenbook 4 stars (out of 5), while Laptop Magazine named it an Editor’s Choice and “the best ultrabook.” Intel sent me an 11-inch Zenbook a few weeks ago, and I’ve been struck by two things. First, Asus has done a lot of work to make the machine look and work just like the Air. Second, by not putting much thought into the touchpad, the company blew it.

    The Zenbook’s touchpad is the opposite of the Air’s—everything about it is laborious, requiring careful, frustrating choreography to accomplish even though most basic actions. The machine gets confused with multiple fingers; when Anand Lal Shimpi reviewed a Zenbook last year, the cursor got stuck when the touchpad detected both his thumb and index finger at the same time. Ars Technica’s Casey Johnson wrote, “Dragging and dropping is particularly infuriating. Once you put that second finger on the trackpad, the trackpad almost immediately forgets which finger clicked and which showed up to drag; often, the cursor will jump across the screen to the finger you just put down to drag.” Several times, Johnson noted, the trackpad’s unpredictability caused her to highlight and delete entire blocks of text.

    Asus has since updated its drivers to improve the touchpad. Shimpi says the newer version is “pretty good, albeit not quite perfect.” (Among other things, “the pointer will occasionally refuse to move, but it’s very rare.”) Others say that if you turn off a bunch of settings, the Zenbook’s trackpad is OK. “At first the cursor was too unwieldy, especially when typing, and we would accidentally type over our work,” says Laptop Magazine. “However, once we disabled both tapping and drag and drop in settings, the UX31A was less temperamental.”

    My own assessment was similar. If you fiddle around with the software, you can get the Zenbook’s trackpad to work maybe 80 percent as well as the Air’s. But that’s as close as you can get—and that missing 20 percent, which includes things like consistent two-finger scrolling, makes all the difference in the world.

    Why is the Zenbook trackpad so bad? Probably because it’s a blend of several companies’ hardware and software. At first, Zenbooks shipped with touchpads made by two different vendors—Sentelic and Elan. This caused inconsistent experiences across the product line. People who got models that included the Sentelics touchpad noticed many more problems than those with the Elan pads.

    But if you had trouble, you had to figure out which touchpad was baked into your device. This was a headache. Asus support staff had to monitor Amazon reviews, and they were personally responding to customers with gibberish like this: “Please check your Device Manager and verify if the touchpad is Sentelic or Elantech. If it is Elantech, it will show that it is Elantech. If it is Sentelic, it won’t show the name but rather will just say General or something along those lines….”

    Seriously.

    After a few months Asus began switching all its Zenbooks over to Elan touchpads, and it now ships a software utility made by Elan that allows people to tweak their touchpad settings. But as Shimpi points out, this can only get Asus so far. If it really wants a perfect touchpad, Asus will have to write its own software to better integrate the trackpad into its machine. “At some point it may just come to that,” Shimpi writes.

    I know what you’re going to say: You’ve got a Windows laptop and your trackpad works perfectly. The Zenbook is an exception. Other PC laptops aren’t so bad.

    I don’t believe you.

    But even if you’re right, I’ll bet that there’s something else about your device—maybe it doesn’t respond from sleep very quickly or consistently; maybe it doesn’t boot up very fast—that causes you endless annoyance. More often than not, those problems are caused by too many cooks, by a lack of tight integration between all the hardware and the software in your machine.

    If you want perfection, you need a single company to design everything from touchpad on up. Microsoft, finally, is coming around to this truth.
     
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  2. goodintentions

    goodintentions Active Member

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    I actually agree with this article regarding the trackpad. I've come across too many windows machines that had terrible trackpads.

    The problem is the age old quantity vs quality. Companies like asus are notorious at pumping out as many hardware as they can with minimal support. Apple's model is different. Every time apple has a presentation, they present 1 or 2 products. Almost always 1 product. And they stick with that product. The last time asus had a presentation, they showed off 7 different things. Hardly any of them got the support they needed.
     
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  3. ChrisPanzer

    ChrisPanzer Active Member

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    I posted this bc the thread entitled "SP3 competition heating up" features the new Dell XPS ultrabook at the CES 2015. Yet another example of what the article explains.

    Thank you MS for making the life-saving SP!
     
  4. ctitanic

    ctitanic Well-Known Member

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    Nice article about trackpads. I never have used one. They were there in some of the laptops that I have owned but I never used them. I never use the SP3 keyboard either and I write a lot. ;)

    The point is, nobody is perfect and what works for some may not work for others.
     
  5. sharpuser

    sharpuser Super Moderator Staff Member

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    A fair treatise, in the context of trackpads. Let me very briefly explore the philosophy of trackpads.

    The point of trackpads is touch: gestures, taps, swipes, pinches, drags... I am typing this on my MacBook Pro Retina 15 inch, and find it comfortable, including the trackpad. Like a mouse, a trackpad is a remote control for the screen cursor and computer functions. The Apple OS X makes the trackpad an integral part of its operations. You really cannot operate without it.

    Right beside me is my Surface Pro 3, which itself becomes a touch device, cutting out unnecessary trackpad hardware, and the remote interface. My entire touch-enabled screen is my trackpad. If I want to write or tap or swipe or pinch or drag, I do it directly onto the document. An example of this is Apple's own iPad product. The key word here is direct.

    This last sentence was written using my Surface Pro 3, which seems to be much closer to the perfect 'trackpad' than my Mac. I also created a graphic illustration for this post, using the Surface.

    I like both worlds: Mac and PC, just like I like both pizza and burgers. But I also like to place pizza or burgers directly into my mouth, not remotely, as with a fork. :)

    remote_vs_direct.jpg
     
  6. mohcho

    mohcho Active Member

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    The fact that Apple designs, engineers and controls its own hardware and software DOES give them the edge on things like the trackpad. Steve Jobs was meticulous about those finer details and they have been successful because of that. Now... enter the average consumer who doesn't know the difference between a good trackpad and an awesome one. You could argue that once they experience an Apple trackpad, they will never go back, but in reality that is not always the case. They look at the overall specification and ultimately, the price.

    I admit that the Apple trackpad is probably one of the best ones that I have used on different devices, but like others, I prefer to use a mouse, simply based on my preferences. I do appreciate a good trackpad that works and is smooth like butter, but that is not the only determining factor on my choice of buying the system, but one of many.

    The SP3 type cover has a significantly better trackpad than the older type covers, and I'm happier about that, but it is still not a deal breaker for me in my decision about wanting a SP3.
     
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  7. Nuspieds

    Nuspieds Active Member

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    I'm always "amazed" to see how proficient some people are with the trackpad...because I am the complete opposite if I try to use it. ;)

    When I either deliberately do not want to use the mouse or I lose the ability to use the mouse for whatever reason, I switch to the pen. Needless to say, I have the trackpad disabled on my SP; trust me, I'm very thankful for the pen interface on the SP.
     
  8. baandoptager

    baandoptager New Member

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    I've only ever encountered a touchpad that was just as good as the macbook. The one on the Dell Adamo. Though you did have to install the Samsung series 9 touchpad driver on it before that happened. :) I Miss that touchpad. After that i got Lenovo Yoga. BIIIG MISTAKE! Piece of shit! Pieeeeceeee of shiiit!

    Now im on Surface Pro 3 and i must say, it is good. But, it just doesn't react to very first touch.
     
  9. ChrisPanzer

    ChrisPanzer Active Member

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    Two Points:

    1)One day I was browsing in best buy, and I saw a keyboard with a mousepad on the SIDE of it (Right side). I think it was a TV/Media type system, but I thought to myself, "Wow, now thats smart!" What a smart place to put it. I realize its not the best when it comes to sizing issues, but it feels much more natural to reach to the right side of the KB to access the mouse.

    Also, I've always felt the concept of a 'pad' to move the mouse cursor around was not the best. I've yerned for a laptop with ball in the middle of the keyboard (not the stubby little 'eraser' type nipple IBM would put on its PS/2 lappies) .

    That would be a great design.

    2) I think we're all missing the greater point of the blog. It points out the very reason why MS felt it necessary to build their own hardware -- because of the generic, hardware-fueled market for horrid PCs
     
  10. Liam2349

    Liam2349 Active Member

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    I have to disagree with the love for the Macbook Air. If I was going to get a mac, it would be a pro model - the Air is immediately eliminated based on screen resolution, and I have no idea why so many people buy them other than they must think it's cool and don't really know what they need or want from their portable computer.
     
  11. zhenya

    zhenya Active Member

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    In my opinion this article hits the nail on the head with what's wrong with PC manufacturers although he never comes out and says it. No other company sweats the small details the way Apple does. It amazes me that year after year that nobody else can put together a team that can assemble a line of PC's that doesn't screw something up big in one way or another. Whether its the trackpad, the screen choice, the battery life, the design, whatever, it amazes me that they can't do it.

    Take Lenovo as one example I've had recent experience with. I have bought a bunch of their high-end T440s ultrabooks for the company I work for in the last year. I own one myself. This machine is a huge leap forward in many ways - but there are SO many places where their lack of attention to detail is just appalling. I pay extra for the 1920x1080 ips screens - but it turns out they use two suppliers - and one of those provides screens that are terrible - bad TN screen terrible. There is no way they are equivalent. Same with the keyboard. One supplier's backlight blinds you with the LED's with the laptop in its normal position in front of you. The trackpad is hit or miss. They gave up the buttons for the trackpoint which they are legendary for. They redesigned the powerbrick but it's the same old clunky design they've had for decades, just smaller.

    Even the SP suffers from this lack. The trackpad is greatly improved, but it should still be a lot better. Who allowed them to spec fixed focus cameras?? Why is the home button capacitive so it's easy to brush when using the stylus, one of the device's biggest selling points?

    I use Windows laptops because our business runs on Windows, but if I were buying for myself, I'd buy a MacBook because I know they took the time to think of all this stuff for me.
     
  12. zhenya

    zhenya Active Member

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    And you do? The Air hits a lot of homeruns for people. It is incredibly portable and has fantastic battery life. Those attributes at a reasonable price turn out to be a pretty compelling package, regardless of the resolution.
     

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