Mobile Setup 2014
The iPhone’s button and battery were both on the way out, and the iOS 7 mandatory upgrade had slowed the thing to a crawl. Having had a couple of Nexus 7s for a couple of years, I wasn’t wed to the iOS ecosystem, and SoftBank’s LTE based plans for the iPhones all carried big price increases per month over my 3G plan so I shopped around and found virtual carrier Y! by Yahoo! Japan.
Y! Mobile was originally called WillCom and then E-Mobile, and ironically piggy backs off the SoftBank network. It was cheap and had the LG Nexus 5 phone for a smaller monthly fee than my current 3G plan with a 3GB cap. As it’s an unlocked phone, it’ll also make trips outside Japan a little simpler with SIMs, which will really help.
Six weeks on, as a physical device, I like it, it’s very light after the iPhone, and even with the fairly chunky Spigen case, it still feels light but solid. I tend to get a case for my devices which I think which will survive well. It feels speedy, but I accept that’s relative after the disaster the iPhone 4 became with iOS 7 (not helped by Apple refusing to let iPhone 4 users update to a secure iOS6 train release after the goto fail fiasco). There are plenty of reviews though which will do a better job than I could. I do like Android, but you’ll notice I tend to get Nexus devices, and that’s because I like that they don’t ship with the ridiculous carrier and manufacturer apps, and you’re almost guaranteed to get OS updates quickly.
For the laptop, I looked at the MacBook Air - it’s a beautiful piece of engineering, but truthfully, outside of my 80,000 yen budget (it’s almost 110,000yen with 8GB RAM, 13” screen but a relatively slower CPU). I looked around at a lot of laptops, but kept coming back to Lenovo’s relatively unsung Thinkpad E design and pricing.
After prioritizing my wants, I got a unit with 8GB RAM, the higher definition 1600x900 screen (matte), and the dual antenna AC wi-fi. I debated i5 vs. i3 on the CPU, which had an ~8,000yen price differential, but since the only difference appears to be the turbo on the i5, and since this is mainly a movable writing rig, I went for the lower CPU. For a decent review of the unit, stum.de did a great review, especially on the BIOS.
Having installed a 128GB Crucial MX100 SSD, this thing flies with Mint Linux 17 Cinnamon on it. The only issue I have right now is suspend is a bit unreliable, and it would appear to be the continuation of a Linux tradition; in my case it may be anything from the Intel graphics driver, to the lack of a swap space under LVM with 8GB of RAM. Hibernate is fine though.
As for real world performance, I was ripping a CD to FLAC, transcoding other FLACs to OGG format, watching a 1080p video over the N based Wi-Fi from my old Buffalo NAS with a few IRC chats, and browser tabs going, and the thing never missed a beat. I think that should cover my average usage.
Physically, it’s really nice, much more solid than I was expecting, and the keyboard is probably the best I’ve had on a laptop. I’ve been a general Linux user for a long time, so it was nice to use it on a dedicated laptop, having kicked the idea around for a while. It also doesn’t seem to get very warm either, especially near the keyboard, where the old MacBook would get a little uncomfortable after a while. I have not yet tested out the spill resistant keyboard, and don’t actually plan to!
Using the Windows 8.1 the laptop shipped with and the horrific dance it likes you to do through first boot was enough in itself to put you off - really Microsoft, that obsession with linking to an MS account before you can play with your new machine is really annoying, and the first thing I switch off afterwards anyway.
For what it’s worth, if you do want to continue using it, it comes with less crapware than I’ve seen elsewhere, and which is easily removed. The fact I even had to cover that tells you something. To cover performance, the machine is very snappy in Windows 8.1, and I had no problems with it, even though it was running through a 5400rpm HDD.
In the six weeks I’ve had it, I’ve taken it on an international trip, and it performed excellently, even if it is a little bulkier than a more expensive ultrabook. I’ve dragged it around the house, sat in the park with it, and generally lugged it about, and it’s done exactly what I wanted from it.
So there we are, that should be me done for several more years. Also, this is not an Apple vs. Linux vs. Google thing. Brand loyalty is a silly thing, you should buy on your needs and your available money. For me the Nexus and the E440 are exactly what I need for the foreseeable future, and whilst I like the alternatives, they don’t represent good value for money to me currently.