A “Crossover” Computer?

Dell Inspiron Duo "Crossover" Computer

Dell Inspiron Duo "Crossover" Computer

Go ahead – touch it.

“First time, you get a warning. Second time, you lose a finger.”
– attributed to an anonymous IT Leader cautioning users against touching their display screens.

It wasn’t so long ago that fingerprints on computer screens were the bane of many IT people’s existence. That was then. This is now.

My first touch screen adventure came with my smartphone (Android based). As I’m the “frugal” type, it wasn’t the most expensive device available and touch performance was unpredictable in cold weather (not a good match for outdoor use in Minnesota, for more than half of any given year). But, the productivity improvement was immediately evident.

It spoiled me quickly. I found myself trying to navigate my wife’s Blackberry via its non-touch screen. Not unlike the scene in one of the Star Trek movies where Bones reminds Scotty he must use the keyboard, rather than voice, to interface with a computer when they are stuck in “ancient times”. Scotty’s “Ach! Keyboard…” was my “Ach! Joystick…”.

Bolstered by my acceptance of fingerprints on glass, I began a search for the “perfect” road companion. Something more portable than my boat anchor equivalent, “desktop replacement” laptop without sacrificing too much power or functionality.

You may recall my trials and tribulations when HP bungled their TouchPad sell off (see http://www.bim-ready.com/bimblog/?p=53 ). I’d have bought one of those 32GB models if I’d been able to get one at the $150 “fire sale” price (remember, I’m not cheap – I’m frugal!). Ebay opportunists and HP rethinkers rendered that an impossibility.

Even then, I had reservations of relying upon a tool that didn’t have a keyboard. So, I kept looking.

Dell’s Inspiron Duo “Convertible” caught my eye. A 10” laptop whose touch screen rotates in its frame to allow operation as a tablet. At a street price of over $500, though, I wasn’t ready to plunge straight in.

Two weeks ago, when my wife and I were looking at iPad accessories at a local MicroCenter (yes, we’re a multiple platform family), I inquired about the Duo. A salesperson said they’d been closed out. I checked MicroCenter’s website and found there was one open box model left, at a discounted price of $270. At half price, I’m in!

So far, I’m impressed with this new tool. The keyboard feel is great, the 1366 x 768 display looks nicer than my “serious” laptop’s 1440 x 900 screen and performance is really quite good (2GB RAM / Intel Atom Processor / 320GB Hard Drive / Win7 Home Premium).

Drawbacks are similar to any device built with portability in mind. There are only 2 USB ports and no optical drive. In order to conserve the USB ports, I snagged a Bluetooth mouse. Optical drawbacks are mitigated when you consider that “thumb” drives hold more data than DVD’s plus the on board hard drive provides storage for entertainment files alongside business apps and data. All one needs to do is plan ahead or rely on WiFi when on the road (isn’t HBOGO great?).

Oh, there was one disappointment. Dell’s online manual for the Inspiron Duo claims the device has one full and one half size media card slot. After peeling away the layers of my Duo to install a GPS card (an operation not for the faint of heart), I discovered only the half size slot had a socket (and was used by the WiFi / Bluetooth card). The motherboard has leads, but no full size socket or GPS antenna.

No full-length socket - Online manual is inaccurate

No full-length socket - Online manual is inaccurate

Bummer. I was looking forward to having a big GPS display.

I’ve been trying to go the full immersion route with Google Apps on this machine. In fact, this will be my first blog post composed using Google Docs. So far, so good.

Wanting to see just how far I could push this machine, I installed Autodesk Revit. It does run. Definitely not something you’d want to spend all day working on. But, if caught in a pinch, it can run native Revit. Interesting to note, Autodesk’s splash screens are taller than 768 pixels and do not allow resizing. So, installation can be a “hit Enter and hope for the best” exercise. AutoCAD WS, which was written with tablets in mind, is a breeze.

Duo in Table Mode - Running Revit

Duo in Table Mode - Running Revit

I’m not trying to sell machines for Dell. In fact, there are conflicting indicators about the Inspiron Duo’s future (it’s not promoted on Dell’s site, yet I could google to a link that would allow me to buy one from them). All I’m saying is that this has the potential to be a pretty handy tool and, if you can find one for the price I paid, I’d recommend adding one to your arsenal.

Dave

About Dave Pluke

Dave Pluke served as "the man behind the curtain" (Principal and VP of Technology) of a successful Structural Engineering firm for over 2 decades. Overseeing the transition from two, stand-alone 80286 Personal Computers, through Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) and Design to a fully networked, Building Information Modeling (BIM) integrated environment has provided plenty of "life lessons" (sounds better than "battle scars", doesn't it?). This blog's purpose is to share those experiences and apply lessons learned to better assist meeting the challenges of the future.
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