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Scott's Column
Vinyl Sound You Can Hear, Is Microsoft's Surface Pro a Good UltraBook

March 1, 2013
By Scott Lewis

This month I wanted to see if there was a difference I could hear with vinyl. I found it pretty quickly. I also look at the Microsoft Surface Pro and see if it could pass for an UltraBook.

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Vinyl - It's Not Just For Hipsters, You Can Hear a Difference

I put on my old Beatles 1967-1970 "Blue" vinyl album on my turntable to see if I could hear a difference between it and a CD. I bought this New York in the early 80's, and yes... very, very little ticks... I am stunned how good I managed to keep my albums all these years

It only took the first (and my favorite) Beatles song... Strawberry Fields. I can definitely hear differences in the stereo separation from the vinyl and the CD (and MP3 I ripped from the CD). It is almost as if they deliberately added more stereo to it. On vinyl it sounds like you have to hear both speakers for a full experience. But not in the way most people might think. I have noticed how some Beatles songs in the digital age have almost all vocals coming from one speaker and music from the other. But this was different from that. I could definitely hear (on my $70 setup) sound moving from left to right in the digital version, where as it was "just there" in both speakers on vinyl, but clearly some in one speaker and some in the other... but not "moving."

For anyone trying to demonstrate how vinyl sounds different than digital... try Strawberry Fields. Keep in mind... you cannot use the newly remastered Beatles albums. These were remastered from the CD Masters. From what I heard the original masters would not hold up to the rigors of making new analog masters. So they used digital masters to make new analog masters. Meaning what I am hearing on my CDs is what I will hear on the new vinyl. You have to buy old, used vinyl in good condition to enjoy The Beatles in true analog.

I may buy the remastered Magical Mystery Tour album... to hear if there is a difference between it and my old vinyl... and how it compares to my CDs.

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UltraBook - The Search Is Over

I spent a bunch of time looking at UltraBooks last year (and even a little of 2011). My original goal for an UltraBook was to get a very slim, lightweight laptop that could minimize my desire for an iPad. In other words... just as UltraBooks (Intel's designation for a slim laptop with certain features, such as SSD storage and near instant on capability) started I was on the fence on whether to get an iPad or a laptop.

My needs for a laptop were to do some very light development work when traveling. That meant it had to run Windows, Microsoft's Visual Studio & SQL Server software. Granted, it did not have to run these fast. Just well enough that I could show someone an application I was developing when I was away from my main desktop PC. I would do the real development work on the desktop. For me a laptop is an extension of the desktop. It would never be my main machine.

A tablet does so many things that a laptop does that for many it can be that extension to their main computer. An iPad cannot be an extension of a PC for me, especially if I need development tools with me when I travel. For me, the iPad is purely a media consumption device.

When the MacBook Air was updated to the Intel Core i-Series processors and a screen resolution of 1440x900 it was the perfect laptop... that could persuade me away from an iPad. But it was not a Windows laptop.

I have an iPad now, so getting a laptop is much more of a luxury than it was. I mostly use my iPad to read news (Flipboard) and play poker (Zynga). The third most used app on my iPad is IMDB. There is little reason I could not do all these activities on a laptop, especially if it had good battery life and a really fast resume from sleep. And that was what I was looking for in a Windows based UltraBook.

With Windows 8 and its touch interface, and all the laptops and hybrids (a hybrid in my opinion is a tablet that can be docked with a keyboard to allow it to work like a laptop when connected, making it a very feasible compromise to an Ultrabook) that are coming out... it means I should be able to find a device that can run Flipboard, Zynga Poker & IMDB... as well as Visual Studio and SQL Server (if slowly).

The most promising UltraBook seemed to be the Lenovo X1 Carbon with its 1600 x 900 screen. But at around $1,400 I cannot not justify the purchase. I also looked at the Lenovo IdeaTab Lynx (too light duty, and I think it runs Windows RT), HP Envy x2 (Atom processor makes it very slow for regular Windows applications), Asus Zenbook UX32VD (at $1,299 it just too expensive), Asus Zenbook UX31A (a real contender with 1920 x 1080 resolution as an UltraBook, but no touch screen for Win 8), Samsung Series 9 (the original was flimsy, but the current one is a real contender, but no touch screen).

I think my iPad has tainted my opinion of UltraBooks. They have to be even better than I wanted last year. That's a shame, some are getting really nice.

So... which UltraBook is for me... the Microsoft Surface Pro!!!

That's right, after all the research on UltraBooks and now the trend toward "hybrid" laptop/tablet devices... the Microsoft Surface Pro is the closest thing to a tablet and laptop for my needs.

Trust me... this decision did not come easy, and the Surface Pro is not perfect. But it is good enough. From the start I always wanted a higher resolution screen than the 1366 x 768 that was common on affordable UltrBooks. The Surface Pro is 1920 x 1080. Add in the fact that I can do development on the Surface Pro and I am sold. It is a bit heavy for a tablet at 2 pounds, but it is very light for an UltraBook, if you consider that most UltraBooks are at about 3 pounds.

Granted, I have written before how Microsoft is screwing up the Tile/Desktop interface schizophrenia with Windows 8, but at least the Surface Pro can work correctly with both. Hopefully it will be good enough. I would like to try developing for the Windows 8 "Tile" interface (I will call it that until they give it an official name, since they rejected Metro). To develop for Windows 8's Tile interface you need to be running Windows 8. At least that is what I have read. I'll have to do more research on that.

I don't know if I want to trade "across" from my iPad to a Surface Pro. I am seriously thinking of buying a Surface Pro. What will it take to get me to open my wallet? Well, for starters, I am going to wait for more apps for the Tile interface. Last time I checked Flipboard and Zynga Poker were not available. I have to have those before I can buy a Surface Pro. Also, I suspect that with all the complaints against the Surface Pro's battery life, and Intel's next set of chips being even lower power hungry, that the next generation of the Surface Pro hardware will likely have significantly better battery life. We will just have to wait and see if that happens.

Hopefully by next month I will have gotten a chance to handle a Surface Pro. I'll let you know if handling one strengthens my desire for it, or turns me off to it.

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Conclusion

Last month was a tough one. This month was busier than I expected. So I don't know what is happening next month.

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