Friday, October 7, 2016

Got a new developer laptop, here are my thoughts on it so far

I work from home and by the end of the day I am done sitting in my home office and am ready to spend some time around the family. I also work on some side projects and take some time to learn new things on my own outside of office hours.

I want to pick up more Kotlin programming so I have been playing around with that. Having a laptop I can use in the family area made a lot of sense to me. I looked over a ton of machines, tried some out at Microcenter then did a lot more research.

There were some initial requirements:
15.6 - 17.3" screen
16GB RAM minimum (OK with manual upgrade)
256GB SSD minimum (OK with manual upgrade if multiple SSD slots)
Decent video card - nVidia preferred
Keyboard must have numeric keypad along with HOME, END, PG UP, PG DN keys
Back lighting on the keyboard
Ports to support multiple monitors

I started with the ASUS ZenBook Pro UX501VW. Thought it would be great to have 5121GB SSD, no moving parts HDD. Nice and light as well. The problem? No END key, the power key is in that place. Of course you can turn off the num-lock and use that end key but I use the numeric keypad a lot as well. Plus it had a lot of glare to the screen and the reviews point out the color accuracy sucks especially for yellows. I tried one out at Microcenter and eliminated it but was very sad about that. It also has a pseudo 4K screen that does not play nice with all apps. Windows needs to catch up.

Lots of people liked the MSI models. They require you to use the FN key to get to HOME and END so those were out as well. I looked at various Acer and HP models but each had a fatal flaw. I was getting close on some of the HP models. They seemed to have good screens, keyboards and sound systems. But I just could not do it. Once you starting adding touch screen, the memory and SSD the prices started to jump quickly.

Then I found the Asus G725VL on the Microsoft store for $500 off. Hit all the requirements

17.3" touchsreen
24 GB of RAM
256 GB SSD
965M nVidia video card
Full keyboard with numpad, separate HOME, END, PG UP, PG DN keys
Fast charge USB port that even works when laptop is off
Multiple ports for extra monitors
CD/DVD drive

Plus it is the Microsoft Signature Edition so no bloatware. They kept that promise. There was nothing for me to uninstall. Came from MS store with free shipping. Odd thing is they shipping in just the Asus box - no extra padding at all. At least we had to sign for it as it was very obvious what was in the box so you would not want it just sitting on your front steps. At least the Asus box is nice and thick and was not damaged at all.

Machine boots in 10 seconds. Runs like a champ, is nice and quiet. Keyboard has good travel and 3 levels of back lighting. Screen is semi-gloss and looks good in everything but direct sunlight. I really like the touchscreen as well. When I do Android work I can pop-up the emulator and treat it like a real device when it comes to scrolling, tapping, long press and swiping. It does not support pinch zoom. The PC does for Windows but does not for the emulator. It is in Google's list to address.

Using the touch screen is nature in Windows as well. We are all pretty used to using a touch device such as a tablet or a phone so you want to do it on your computer screen as well. Tapping a button or scrolling works great.

I have had no issues with wireless internet connectivity. It also has standard port to hook right in to a wired connection as well.

As stated boot times are quick, starting any program off the SSD is very fast. Android compile speeds with the source code, SDK and tools off the SSD are are top notch in speed as well.

What is wrong with it?

1T HDD is only 5,400 RPM. Wish it was 7,200 but since I can fit all the stuff I want to access quickly I can fit onto the 256GB SDD. I put music, videos, images, utilities, etc. out on the HDD.

It is heavy but I don't plan to haul it all over the place. It may go to an offsite meeting from time to time but that is about it. I would not recommend this for a college student to haul about. The power brick is just that - a brick. Needs to be big to power this beast.

The trackpad itself is responsive but the buttons seems to miss clicks at times. Still trying to get used to that. Track pad is nice and big so you don't have to lift and scroll over and over. Responds to multiple finger scrolling and the like as well. It does show finger prints as well but you tend to slide around so they kind of smear on to the pad.

While the back lighting is good the font used on the keys is a bit much on the Star Trek / gaming side. The font could be more readable. I touch type quickly so I generally and not looking at the font but it is still weird.

Sound is just OK, on the muddy side and full volume is way too low. You can tweak some of it with the Asus Sonic Sound Studio control panel. Headphone volume is great. Good thing there are separate settings for that vs. speakers so  you can set speakers at full volume and headphones at 50%. I was able to get headphones to sound respectable. Still need to work on the speaker side of things.

I know new Pascal based machines are coming out. They cost a whole lot more and were very game oriented. I needed something I could game on but was mainly for Android development. This machine hit all the big items on my list. I am very happy with the purchase. There is space under a one screw to remove panel to add another SSD if I need it. I have a feeling the current configuration will last a pretty long time.

At first I was trying to figure out how to right click on the screen. I thought maybe two fingers or quick taps. Turns out you long press then a rectangle will start to grow from where you finger is then a release will show the right mouse click menu. Windows realizes you use a finger so there is more spacing between the menu items as well for easier tap zones. Would not game doing this but it works fine for doing user interface based interactions.

No regrets on this machine. Doing everything I ask of it. I was not expecting perfect and it is not but it hits the majority of the areas I need, just missing some minor things but none of those things were on my must must have so I don't feel I settled.

Compared to the new stuff coming out this is a B for gamers, it is a A for developers.