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Competing with the Surface Go: Windows 10 ARM tablets are getting much better – but still have a long way to go

What do you get when you combine a Samsung Tablet, an ARM chip, and Windows 10? A super solid Microsoft Surface Go competitor that ticks a fair few boxes when going head to head with other smaller units.

Daniel Rubino of Windows Central recently reviewed the newly announced Samsung Galaxy Book 2, which on first glance looks absolutely stunning.
It has a solid aluminium build, well built keyboard and LTE onboard. But that has me thinking. The current Snapdragon 850 is designed as a transitionary chip, being that users coming from low power Intel Chips are expected to see substantial performance changes in single app performance, and still be able to perform their standard workflows from their older machines, but then see an improvement in their portability & battery life.
The 850 chip has been improved from the original Snapdragon 835, which is a smartphone chip input into some smaller form convertables early last year to attempt to create the next generation of ARM laptops. However, as benchmarks were less than desired, Qualcomm created the 850 earlier this year to compensate for the drawbacks of the quadcore phone chipset.

The previous Samsung Windows tablets have been a bit of a hit and a miss. Having done several hands on time with the Tab S Pro and the Original Galaxy Book in Teltra stores and Samsung Popups, this unit, atleast on a visual inspection, seems to fix a few of the issues I had with the older Windows Slates.
Samsung originally launched their Tab S Pro slates in 2017, and the original version of the Galaxy Book to follow. These tablets ran earlier generation Core M CPUs or in earlier cases, U series Core i5 CPUs. The refreshed units late last year and earlier 2018 have all got the more modern Y series Core M CPU that is similar to what is in Apple’s smaller MacBook.
The main gripe with these units wasn’t the tablet’s build design, but more or less the keyboard and how the processor didnt feel optimised for daily use.
Light use is ok (and the keyboards definately warranted this), but for similar pricing to a Surface Pro, you were far better off sacrificing no LTE  and having a more capable daily driver.

In late 2018, things seem to have changed for the better. The Surface line still has decent keyboard in the Surface Go’s size, Lenovo are experimenting with E-Ink displays for a smarter keyboard design, and Samsung have learn’t from their previous errors and and produced a fairly decent looking tablet that beats even the Surface Go.
The specs for the unit dont blow a fully fledged surface unit out of the water, however for a portable sort of PC this should definately be on the check list to check out.

The main benefit for things like a Snapdragon 850 in a unit like this, comes down to things like battery life, excellent 4G LTE radios that Qualcomm input into their own chips which Vendors can utilise; as well as slim builds for maximum portability. These units have all got a bare minimum of a USB-C port, a headphone jack, as well as quality displays.
Most of the accounced units in the last 6 months all meet this criteria; however if you read other tech blogs, you can end up coming to the same conclusion that I have. Performance doesnt scale with the current generation of ARM.
Yes, portability is great. But there is still the nerdy pipe dream of one slate that can plug into your home desktop, be as powerful and as portable on the road as your smartphone but do everything in between. It seems that the current gen of ARM units just cant handle fairly heavy duty workloads.
This opinion may change when folks end up buying and using them (much like we saw with the Surface Go and it’s widespread appreciation for what it can do, for what specs it was packing); however at this point in time the Snapdragon 850 Chip is still lackluster on multi-core performance compared to some Y series chips. Single Core performance is definately exceeding that as to what is in the Surface Go and other less powerful chips, and thats what alot of manufacturers want you to focus on – excellent single app performance or running a few apps at the same time, however when you get into X86 applications it does show noticable performance issues (see some of the referenced articles below for some examples of this).

I would love to personally own an ARM laptop for testing. Running my dev workflow on something like this is highly intriguing to me and I would definately love to benchmark some renders of my own against the other tech reviewers to see where these machines sit in my workflow.
The dream of an ultrapowerful, ultraportable is NEARLY being recognised. I hope by 2020, the laptop market finally reaches this reality and the power available in thinner machines can just get more and more powerful for a wider market audience.

Some References, and Further Reading & Watching:
Windows 10 on Arm: Build Recap (Tech Republic)
The Verge – Surface Go Review
Matthew Moniz – Microsoft Surface Go Review // Students Will Love This!
Computex Snapdragon 850 Chip exclusively for Windows



Concepts, the popular Sketching and Drafting App on iOS, comes to Windows

Windows users Rejoice! One of the best vector graphics and illustration tools on iOS is now available on the Windows Store!
This app has been a mainstay on my iPad since it came out, and I have been a pro customer for over a year or so.
Concepts can be flexible in what your use-case if you want to make mindmaps or project maps, flowcharts or business diagrams? Concepts can do it.
if you want to draw art or illustrations? Concepts can do it (like the main image above – that’s from the default opening screen on Windows). Concepts is so Flexible for a graphic artist or a business use that the app has seen so many consistent updates and improvements over the years that it’s still retaining a high score on the App Store. The developers have added excellent Apple Pencil support and the iOS app can output to a variety of formats for maximum compatibility with Desktop apps. 

In a move that I personally wouldn’t have expected, Concepts is now available on Windows 10 through the Microsoft Store. Over some of the years, we have seen developers either choose to stay with the Apple Ecosystem and make their App available on the Mac App Store or choose to keep it mobile and port it to Android. 

There are plenty of scenarios where the porting this to Windows 10, shouldn’t happen. There is already a myriad of bad apps on the Windows Store and developers aren’t exactly jumping to develop on Microsoft’s App Store.
But, I believe there is always a means for change, and I like to think that with Concepts Developer TopHatch could pave the way for other high-quality developers to bring their apps to the windows store.

The App Features similar functions to the iPad app, with a gorgeous swatch UI for colour changing and brush alternations, and then the other primary and secondary settings like adding text, the settings and export menus are buried in a hamburger menu at the top left of the screen.
The iOS app does have a small sidebar that can be displayed to quickly adjust settings and brush types, add different input styles and add the blocks or stickers from their own in-app purchase store.

The App has full support for the Surface Pen and Surface Dial, as well as offering Palm Rejection and smooth tracking for the stylus. 
It seems that this app was built for Surface Devices first, and then other Windows Slates second.
The main competitive advantage that this app has over other Windows Store illustration apps like Sketchable and Autodesk Sketchbook is the pace and quality of the app updates. I subscribe to the Concept App email updates and this is where I first found out about the update, and every time they do an update (monumental or iterative) the quality to the updates are consistent. I have used desktop competitors like Affinity Designer and Adobe Illustrator on the Desktop and they’re both well-established however with no App Store variants that are decent, they stand to remove themselves from something like the education market that may not want to use full-blown Windows 10.

The Concepts App has full Surface Pen support

On the topic of Windows 10S, this app (and others) also stands to improve the paultry landscape of the Apps for Windows 10S users. The newly announced Surface Go and Surface Laptop still come out of the box with Windows 10S installed (you can update to Windows 10S for free),  but for the Education market who is actively purchasing iPad Pros and Chromebooks and want flexibility to run traditional Windows programs or may want to in the future, or students who may not be able to afford $1500 AUD for a MacBook or pricer Surface product, leave little decent options for a 2 in 1 to draw and work on for a Portable Laptop solution.
The Surface Go combined with something like Concepts can be a tempting solution, especially if you later look to a professional upgrade and then grab something like a Surface Pro or a Surface Book. 

Apps like iTunes on the Microsoft Store, Linux distros, Trello, Slack and 1Password are a few examples of decent Windows Store apps that are solid ports of their desktop counterparts, and hopefully, more developers can follow suit of TopHat and port their apps to the Windows Store. I would love to see something like Affinity Designer or even Sketch on the Windows Store. 

You can download Concepts 1.0 for Windows here from their website or from the Microsoft Store