# Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Acer Iconia W7 is one of the numerous slate form factor designed for Windows 8 PCs that launched along side Windows 8

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It might look like a normal tablet, but it is actually a PC and in the world of PCs its all about having the ability to choose what kind of PC best suits your needs, and the W7 does offer some interesting features.

First of all the W7 is a monster of a tablet, it's hard to tell from stand alone shots but this thing has a 11.6" 16:9 screen, so it's a very tall slab.

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The screen is a 1920x1080 IPS screen, so you get your HD resolution AND a bright vibrant screen to go with it.

You get all the usual buttons on each side of the device, power and volume controls on the right followed by the audio out jack

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A rotation lock toggle switch on the top, along with the ventilation grills.

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Note that this is actually a toggle button because this allows Windows 8 the flexibility of controlling screen rotation via physical (the toggle button) or through software (via the charms bar in Windows 8)

There are actually two sets of grills which run along the top.

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The left side has your Mini HDMI port, one sweet USB 3.0 port and the power port.

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And at the bottom you find the two speaker grills.

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The speakers actually sound quite good and can be pretty loud, don't think it'd pass the chinese dinner test though. Smile with tongue out

The W7 comes with a dock

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One nice thing about the stand is that it serves as a USB 3.0 Hub, giving you 3 USB 3.0 ports when docked in the stand,

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To charge the system in the stand you'll need to plug the power adapter into the stand.

The first thing that isn't so good about the dock is that aside from the protruding USB and power plugs

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There's no real guide to help the W7 plug into the dock, eventually I got familiar enough with the process so that I wouldn't have to fumble with it much to plug it in.

Another quirk about the dock is how it 'transforms' into portrait mode. It actually doesn't, you basically have to rearrange the support plate for the dock into another groove to make it stand in portrait orientation.

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While this works, the fact that the support plate cannot be flattened means you probably would be taking this around with you much. I guess there's not much reason to do so anyway considering that it's just a glorified USB 3.0 hub. Smile with tongue out

For means of protecting the W7 when you're moving around, Acer was nice enough to provide this folio case with it. (The sales people say that it's a special deal but considering that the folio case fit in the actual packaging I kinda doubt that)

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The folio can do the usual tricks such as stand up so you can watch movies

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or slightly nudge it up so you can type on the W7 better

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So.. that pretty much sums up the physical aspects of the W7, how well does it work as a PC then? The W7 packs an Intel Core i3 1.4Ghz processor and 4GB of memory, which means that it can pretty much handle any routine PC task you can throw at it. The use of the standard Intel integrated display means that you're probably not going to be playing Diablo 3 in full res on this thing.

There is one critical flaw with the W7 though, the WiFi performance is abysmal!! I don't know wheter this is caused by the Atheros AR5BMD222 they decided to put in the W7, or wheter it's because of the aluminum body that's causing wifi issues but the W7 has very weak signal reception and also is prone to 'hiccup' on occasion, requiring me to disconnect and reconnect back to my AP to fix it.

The Final Word

In summary, the Acer Iconia W7 is a big 11.6" tablet, is abit hefty at 950 grams when you compare it to other tablets, and the fact that it uses a Core i3 means that it gets a bit toasty if the CPU gets loaded.

That said, it has a BEAUTIFUL screen, and that i3 processor means you'd never have to ask yourself if you'd be able to watch that HD video or not. In fact I wouldn't stop anyone from getting it...

If it wasn't for the damn WiFi issue, a driver update *might* fix it in the future but that's of course an uncertainty, and of course.. being a PC, you could just plug in a better USB WiFi adapter, but that's kinda inconvenient actually. This is actually the SECOND time I've seen performance issues with an Atheros WiFi adapter, kinda makes me abit cautious towards them from now on.

UPDATE 30th November 2012: An updated Wifi Driver WAS issued, you can nab it here. After running this for 2 days, it seems to have solved the INSTABILITY of the Atheros WiFi so it doesn't disconnect like crazy anymore. But signal strength is still relatively weak, but I guess that's what is expected when you have a metal body and only a strip of plastic on the top for the antennae. It might also depend on wheter or not you're holding it wrong. Smile with tongue out

So, the W7 is a great Windows 8 tablet if you can accept the gimpy WiFi capabilities.


Saturday, 24 November 2012 22:44:10 (Malay Peninsula Standard Time, UTC+08:00)  #    Comments [0]  | 

So... after the device quality disaster that was the Razer Onza (The thumbsticks would go out of whack after awhile) I can't believe I decided to go ahead and buy yet another specialty joypad, this time it's the Hori FPS Assault Pad EX.

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First of all.. like the Razer Onza, this thing feels a bit big for my small Asian hands, was cramping about 10 mins after using it. (need to add more insight)

Like the Razer Onza, the Hori Assault Pad gives you 2 additional remappable shoulder buttons.

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The original bumper is the higher one, like with the Razer Onza, you'll need a while before you can get use to the extra button.

Unlike the Onza, not only can you remap the 2 additional shoulder buttons to the face buttons or bumpers you can also remap the TRIGGERS as well. But it surprises me that you can remap the original bumpers as well.

Also unlike the Onza is the fact that there's no way to see WHAT button something is mapped to, and also there's no way to remap it quickly on the fly. Because remapping a button involves holding the PROGRAM button until a green light pops up.

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Press the button you want to remap, and then press the button you want to map to.

The controller also includes a freaking bright blue brag light, which changes to red whenever the rumble motors engage.

The blinding light is easy enough to disable, all you have to do is hold down the back button for a few seconds and it'll turn off.

And now we move on to the other specialty of the Assault Pad, the sensitivity wheel located below the D-Pad

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This wheel controls the sensitivity of the right thumbstick, although it's a bit wrong to say it's a sensitivity control due to how a joystick works compared to a mouse. While a different DPI rating for a mouse would influence how many pixels would be cross when you move the mouse by a centimeter, a joystick doesn't do that.

Joysticks basically just report how far away they are from the center of the stick, where the center is 0% and the edge is 100%, So how would you implement a sensitivity dial for a joystick then? The dial basically changes how soon the stick reports that it's at the edge, the setting of 1 is normal, and the max setting of 7 means you just have to push the stick ever so slightly and it'll report as if it's been fully pushed.

I don't find this sensitivity dial of any particular usefulness though.

The next important feature of the Assault Pad is the Target button. Located underneath the controller near where the D-Pad is

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When you hold down the target button, The right thumbstick's motion will be limited to about 25%, so you can push the stick very quick and fast but it'll result in slow movements.

While this sounds GREAT on paper (and it was what made me decided to buy it) when used in Halo 4, this works like an emergency brake button for the right stick, when held down the reticle moves painfully slowly. I wished there was a dial to customize exactly what is the limit when you hold down the button, but there isn't one, so it feels like a wasted opportunity.

One more thing about the Assault Pad is that you can screw in taller sticks for the thumbsticks.

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That's the tallest stick, how useful is this? Well, when I use the medium sized one my hand feels like dying after only 1 minute instead of the usual 5 when I'm using the default height. Extremely NOT useful for small hands.

And that's the gist of it, like the Razer Onza, the Hori FPS Assault Pad is just TOO big for my hands, the distance between the edge of the controller and the right thumbstick really hurts my hands, that and the fact that the 2 main selling points of controlling joystick sensitivity doesn't really work well practically serves will serve as a reminder for me that I should not buy any more 3rd party controllers which everyone has mentioned that it's a bit big.


Saturday, 24 November 2012 15:43:57 (Malay Peninsula Standard Time, UTC+08:00)  #    Comments [0]  | 
# Sunday, 18 November 2012

Here are some tips for using Window 8 with a touchscreen that you might not know about.

Moving Tiles On The Start Screen

It's easy to move tiles around using the mouse, just click and drag the icons from where they are on the start screen. But when you try to do it using a touch screen, you might find it a bit harder, sometimes you end up scrolling the screen instead of dragging the tile.

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What's happening is because if you try to drag a tile directly off it's spot as indicated by the RED arrows, Windows will interpret that as an intent to scroll the screen and you end up scrolling instead of moving the tile. If you want to move the tile via touch, what you need to do is to drag the tile DOWNWARDS first as indicated by the BLUE arrow, once you draw a tile down far enough it'll tear off it's spot in the screen and you can start moving it.

Showing The Keyboard Whenever You Want

The touch keyboard automatically shows up when there's a need for it, do not fret if you need to access the keyboard when there doesn't seem to be anyway for you to do so. Just bring up the Charms Bar, hit Settings then in the lower right corner you'll see a Keyboard icon.

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Hitting the Keyboard icon, brings up the input selection list and at the bottom of the list is the option Touch keyboard and handwriting panel tapping on this option will immediately bring up the touch keyboard.

Getting access to other keys on the keyboard

The default touch keyboard is a nice finger friendly keyboard consisting of the most commonly used keys.

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This is enough for most of your typing duties, but for legacy desktop apps this might not be sufficient, for example you don't have access to the ALT key and also the function keys.

You can enable a fuller keyboard by bringing up the Charms Bar -> Settings -> Change PC Settings (it's at the bottom) Then in the PC settings screen, hit General on the left, then scroll down to the Touch Keyboard section on the right and find the setting Make The Standard Keyboard Available and turn it on.

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Once you turned that setting on you'll now find a new keyboard icon in the change keyboard type button on the touch keyboard (it's the little keyboard icon beside the right arrow key)

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This will bring up the fuller more cramped touch keyboard.

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You can toggle between numbers and function keys by hitting the Fn button in the lower left. One thing to note is that if you encounter any instance where the program doesn't seem to respond to the default keyboard, you might want to try it with the fuller keyboard.

Accessing The Even FULLER Keyboard

You'll notice that on the standard touch keyboard, some keys are still missing. Such as the Print Screen key, you still have one more option, bring up the Start Screen and type On Screen Keyboard.

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This will bring up the legacy on screen keyboard meant for accessibility use.

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This should solve all your legacy keyboard needs.


Sunday, 18 November 2012 13:30:45 (Malay Peninsula Standard Time, UTC+08:00)  #    Comments [0]  | 
# Wednesday, 10 October 2012

I picked up another Nerf gun to add to my little arsenal, this time it's the Nerf Vortex Vigilon

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The main difference about this line of guns is the name VORTEX, Vortex guns don't shoot darts, Vortex guns shoots little foam discs.

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The fact that the discs are basically little frisbees shows in their flight performance, they coast and float through the air easily covering the length of a living room, and are quite accurate though at long ranges due to their disc shape it'll start veering off to the side.

The Vigilon is a great gun to pelt play with your children, mainly due to how you load the gun.

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It doesn't use an ammo magazine like the bigger guns, but rather a built in compartment. The cool and useful thing about this is that at any point in time while you're chasing your son around firing discs at him you can just open up the door and reload the gun at any thing, very convenient and leads to less downtime while reloading and letting son get an opening for a counter attack.

One thing to note is that the disc do hit a bit harder than darts due to the heavier nature, mommy complained a bit about it but I think it's mostly because immediately after she said "You're hurting WH by shooting him!" I shot her...

If you are interested in a Nerf gun that shoots little foam discs, you can't go wrong with the Vigilon it's not too expensive and holds 5 discs for the thrill of rapid fire. Highly recommended!


Wednesday, 10 October 2012 23:07:44 (Malay Peninsula Standard Time, UTC+08:00)  #    Comments [0]  | 
# Saturday, 08 September 2012

Today's post starts off with an interactive exercise, first download the sample project file and run the program in there. The program looks like this.

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When you've run the program, perform a simple exercise, move your mouse in and out of the extra large buttons and note what happens.

The buttons are essentially a ViewBox control containing the XAML which makes up the buttons. The viewbox is then contained inside a grid and scaled to the grid's size.

Code is tied to the PointerEntered and PointerExited events of the Viewbox which basically just changes the background color of the Grid which contains it. If you haven't already run the program and then move the mouse in and out of all of the buttons, do so now.

After running the program and trying out what I mentioned you should have noticed the following problem, given that a button looks like this.

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  • Button 1 didn't seem to respond to mouse events in the green area
  • Buttons 2 and 3 did.

So what's happening and why the difference in behavior? Let's take a look at Button 1's XAML construction. (Behold my l33t diagraming skills!)

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Note that it is made up of two vector paths (the Stroke and the [Path])

Now let's take a look at Button 2's XAML construction.

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Compared to Button 1, there's an extra Ellipse element (the green circle) called hitAssist which is sitting behind the blue circle and 'i' which makes up the button.

By now you should have figured out why Button 1's mouse events where behaving so weirdly, for Button 1 the only elements which have a physical appearance are the circle and the 'i' and that's exactly what triggers the mouse events.

Whereas Button 2 has an additional hitAssist element which fills up the empty gap between the circle and the 'i' and hence the mouse events are triggered as if they're one consecutive element.

"But what about the Grids that are containing the strokes? Wouldn't THEY trigger the mouse entry and exit events?" But they don't! In XAML you'll use a LOT of Grids, Panels and Canvas to layout your elements, you do NOT want every single container to simple fire mouse events!

So how DOES an element qualify for mouse interactivity? Well, I gave a hint just now already. It must have a PHYSICAL appearance. In more easy to understand terms... Make sure the element has a Background Brush assigned to it. The moment a background brush is assigned to an element it will start participating in mouse events because the mouse is able to know if it's running over an element's background brush or not.

So now we know that what we want to do is to fill up gaps in our interactive elements so it makes more sense when users are using them. "But I don't want my sleek outline buttons to have an ugly unadaptable background color!" you say. Well, that's why there's a Button 3 in the sample.

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Construction wise it looks just like Button 2, except the Ellipse element that's covering the gap is called hitAssistClear and it's can't be seen. "But didn't you just say that only elements which have a physical appearance can have mouse events?" Because it IS still physically there, it just has an Opacity property value of 0%. It's like a really really really clear piece of glass, you can't see it but it's there! Just remember:-

Any element that has a Visibility property value of Visible will participate in mouse events even if Opacity is 0%. Setting Visibility to Collapsed will remove it from mouse events too. And just in case you didn't realize, there's a property on every element called IsHitTestVisible setting that to FALSE will remove it from mouse events too.

And that is what the name of this whole notion of seeing wheter the mouse is over an element or not : Hit Testing

It's something that I feel all XAML developers and designers should know about, yet I don't really see anyone talking about it much. If you think this is not important, what if the button was only this small?

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Notice the hit area of 'i' is now merely a few pixels, do you want your users to have to pixel hunt in order to click a button? Would YOU like to pixel hunt in order to click a button? This experience gets WORSE if your user is using touch to navigate your app!

ps. The button icon you see was created using the TOTALLY EXCELLENT Metro Studio by SyncFusion. Hmm... I should submit a feature request where they insert a hit test element into their XAML output.


Saturday, 08 September 2012 23:11:41 (Malay Peninsula Standard Time, UTC+08:00)  #    Comments [0]  |