Dell Inspiron 13 7347 Review

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series 2-in-1 Tablet

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series 2-in-1 Tablet

So in my last few posts, I’ve reviewed things like the Microsoft Band, the HP Stream 11 and, of course, my initial feelings about the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. While many of my reviews have been somewhat critical of Microsoft and their direction, I hope you’ve seen that, in my heart, I really do want Microsoft to succeed. Being a long-time Windows guy, I just can’t fathom a world without Microsoft.

I’m happy to say that with some recent changes, especially from the top down, that Microsoft really seems to be making a comeback. And this is what prefaces this review of the Dell Inspiron 13 7347.

First off, some specifications:

CPU: Intel i5 1.7GHz native
RAM: 8GB DDR3 memory
HDD: 500GB 5400 RPM drive
DISPLAY: 13.3 in. IPS display at 1920 x 1080 resolution
SLOTS: HDMI 2560, 3 USB (2 – 3.0, 1 – 2.0), SD MMC, Security
OS: Runs Windows 8.1 out-of-the-box, more on this later
BATTERY: 43WHr, 3-cell battery with 5 hours of battery life
DIMENSIONS: .75” (19.41mm) x 12.99” (330.12mm) x 8.74” (222mm), 3.68 lbs
MISCELLANEOUS: Passive stylus
PRICE: $699.00 from Costco – the 11″ version is available for $499.00

With that out of the way, here are some of my original stream-of-consciousness notes: The keyboard is great; Overall feel of this is awesome – almost a rubber feel to it, easy to hold, the perfect texture; however, it is a big bit when using as a tablet; Screen is a little on the dark side, but the resolution is fantastic; Great deal when compared to the Surface, though the Surface has a better profile and is lighter; Wi-fi works perfectly and better than both the Surface and MacBook Pro, which have had issues.

My initial reason for getting this laptop was for my kids. As I’ve documented in the past, I’ve wanted a device that was cost effective but that offered a high degree of flexibility and power for my kids. The HP Stream 11 was great as it’s really inexpensive and is a great media device for the kids, perfect for YouTube, Netflix, etc. when their outside, when they go to friends’ houses, etc. However, it lacks a certain amount of power for some of the things they’re starting to get into now, like editing movies and doing some more involved graphics. That’s where this Dell comes in.

As a convertible — yes, the Dell Inspiron 13 7347 converts from laptop to tablet just like the Lenovo Yoga — this “laptop” can replace the HP for my kids without too much concern on my part. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I *did* make some modifications to this after I got it. I do have to say, however, that these changes were extremely easy to make and really make a great machine even better.

First, I replaced 5400 RPM hard drive with a SSD. Then, instead of running Windows 8.1, I put the latest Tech Preview of Windows 10 on it after the hardware upgrades. All-in-all, a painless process that really made a lot of difference. It appears that making hardware changes to this laptop — hard drive, battery, RAM, wi-fi card, etc. — are REALLY simple. That said, the laptop is great right from the box. I only modified it to a) see how easy it was and b) well…because I could.

Regarding this being a “convertible” laptop, I’ve used the Surface Pro 2 and the Surface Pro 3, which are marketed as half laptop, half tablet. The Dell is primarily a laptop with the ability to convert to a tablet. I see this as a much better combination as the Dell has the benefits of a true keyboard but with the ability to change to a full touchscreen tablet. I think people in general will see this as well as they need all the functionality of a laptop but want the portability and usefulness of a tablet. You get that, and much more.

To put the finishing touch on this review, let’s talk displays. I may be the odd man out, but higher resolution displays are not all that important to me. This is partly due to how poorly Windows deals with DPI scaling and some other things. The Surface Pro 3 at 2160 x 1440 is just a bit too small for me, though the display is better overall, but the 1920 x 1080 on the IPS display of the Dell is pretty good. Angles are great but brightness and whites seem a bit dark and sometimes show a hint of yellow. Regardless, they’re minor inconveniences and I think I only noticed them because I was specifically looking for problems.

Overall, the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 is a great, reasonably priced convertible laptop, offering the functionality of a laptop with the convenience of a tablet. Had Dell put a slightly better HD graphics card in this, I dare say I’d consider it a perfect device.

Now, I can’t end this without some commentary on Windows 10. I’ve been running it for awhile across a number of different devices, and I have to say I’m impressed. Microsoft seems to be taking the right approach to Windows 10. My perception is that they’re stepping away from building a “tablet only” interface that works on a desktop and, instead, making a “better” desktop OS that also works well on a tablet. In my opinion, THAT’S the way to go, and Microsoft is making commendable headway. I see Windows 10 becoming quite a formidable platform.

Best Way to Bootcamp Windows on OSX

I’m taking a bit of a break from the Microsoft posts. Well, I’m sort of taking a break. In this post I want to demonstrate the best way to use Bootcamp on a MacBook Pro Retina to run Windows and OS X side-by-side.

First off, a gripe. Apple, why wouldn’t you provide a simple process or a simple step-by-step guide for getting Windows on your hardware using Bootcamp?

SmarterTools is a Windows development company that runs primarily MacBook computers because the hardware is incredibly solid. We build every computer with a Bootcamp partition because our developers spend most of their time in Windows. However, it shouldn’t be this difficult to get Windows running! On the other side of the office, the Customer Service team works primarily in OSX and this gives us a good balance of testing across all platforms. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we also have a few employees using  Microsoft Surface devices.

Knowing all of this, and having the experience with the process, I thought it would be very helpful for people to understand how to get Windows on a MacBook Pro. A majority of our MacBooks are late 2013 models and we run Windows 8.1 Pro. So, here is our configuration and the steps we use to get this all set up. It may also apply to other MacBook models, Windows versions, etc.

First off, what you’ll need…

  1. A DVD player (use a USB version if your MBP doesn’t have a physical drive) and DVD with Windows on it. Install off a USB drive doesn’t seem to work. Believe me, we’ve tried.
  2. A 4GB USB stick for the Bootcamp drivers.

So, let’s get started…

  1. On the Mac, start Bootcamp assistant. The easiest way to do this is use Spotlight (command + space and type “bootcamp”…it should highlight).  Choose whether you need to make your USB drivers, etc. This is where you’ll use the USB drive if you actually need to create/get drivers. If you’re lucky and have the drivers already, you can skip this step.
    Bootcamp Get Started
  2. Once the drivers are ready, choose your partition size and then your computer is going to reboot when done.
    Set Bootcamp Partition Size
  3. Hold down the “option” key on boot up.
  4. Choose EFI Windows or it may just say EFI with a disk and start the Windows setup process.
  5. When you get to the disk and drive options, delete the partition that was created for Bootcamp.  It should be the last one the list.
    Delete Windows Bootcamp Partition
  6. After deleting the Bootcamp partition, hit “shift + f10” and type in the following information:
    Select disk 0
    create partition primary
    format fs=ntfs quick
  7. Hit “alt + tab” after this is completed and then hit the “X” on the list of disks
  8. You now need to re-start setup.
  9. When your computer reboots, hold down the “option” key again and choose the EFI for Windows again. (It may just say EFI.)
  10. Now you can choose the last partition / drive in the list and Windows will install.

After Windows finishes installing, you’ll want to go through and do ALL of the Windows updates. Gotta love Windows…

Once you’re ready to go, all will work as normal: You’ll have 2 separate partitions on your disk, one for OS X and one that allows you to enjoy Windows on your Mac!

The Microsoft Band Experience

Microsoft BandIf you’ve read any of my recent blog posts (see this, this or even this), I have been somewhat critical of Microsoft. Between the issues with Windows 8/8.1, what I’ve seen with the Technical Preview of Windows 10, problems with their re-branding of products and services, the consumer experiences I’ve had with the Microsoft Stores and call centers…I’ve not had good experiences and I’ve written about them. Despite all of this, I decided to try the Microsoft Band. Shocking, maybe, but having been a long time Nike Band user and also using a Basis Tracker / Watch, I had some hopes for the Microsoft Band as it has numerous sensors and is cross platform. So, I bought one.

Maybe because it’s a new product that’s NOT associated with just Windows, but the Microsoft Band not only works, it works perfectly with my Note 3. I’m not joking, I’m honestly pleasantly surprised with how well this thing works! It works right out of the box and requires very little time to get up and running and working with your mobile device and the associated Windows Health app. There are no quirks, no bugs and well…not that many issues.

A common complaint is that it is a little big. However, if you are used to the various other bands that are available on the market today, while this is a bit bigger, but you forget about it after awhile. Another complaint is that the face scratches easily. I got a screen protector for it when I bought the band and put the protector on immediately. For anyone considering getting a Microsoft Band, this is probably the smartest thing you can do. So, scratching isn’t a concern in my case, but the fact that you need the screen protector at all may put some people off as you shouldn’t need it for a wearable. For me, though, it isn’t an issue.

As for the overall size of the Microsoft Band, it isn’t the result of poor design but rather it needs to be larger because they really packed a lot of stuff in it:

  • Hear Rate monitor
  • Accelerometer/Gyrometer
  • GPS
  • Microphone
  • Ambient Light Sensor
  • Galvanic Skin Response Sensors
  • UV Sensor

(learn about each of these sensors)

What I loved about the Nike Fuel Band was that it felt rewarding to hit my goals. I worked a little harder on certain days to get 7 day goals, etc. That was probably the best part of the Nike Fuel Band because, overall it had some limited functionality.

With the Basis, it has many of the sensors I wanted but lacked any reward system. I loved watching my sleep and it was the first time I really realized that I don’t sleep enough and I don’t always sleep well. But I just didn’t feel like I wanted to do more in my day with it, especially when compared to the Nike reward system.

I waited and waited for another band or watch that I really felt was going to give me the best of both worlds.  I had been reading up on all the Android watches, but nothing really felt right. Apple announced their watch, but the requirement for an iPhone plus not having GPS put me off, and I really am having a hard time getting over the stupid personal heart rate thing you can send to friends and/or the emoticons. I’m not even sure why those bother me so much…maybe it’s because I think they’re kind of cheesy and don’t see their relevance.

But then, suddenly, the Microsoft Band came out. It has daily goals, it has all the sensors, especially GPS, it has sleep monitoring and its a Band, not a watch, which works better for me when playing basketball and tennis.

Of course, I had one HUGE concern: How good would it be, considering Microsoft’s recent difficulties bringing products to market.  Without a doubt, they hit the ball out of the park.  Is it perfect?  No, but nothing ever is.  This thing really does what it says its going to do. Some highlights:

The sleep monitoring seems alarmingly accurate.

The heart rate has worked well for me but I have read of others having difficulties.  I don’t mind wearing the band tight and maybe that’s why I seem to be getting accurate results.

It works perfectly with my Note 3. I absolutely LOVE getting notifications on my wrist! I always thought that I just wanted a fitness tracker, but keeping your phone in your pocket and seeing if the emails, text messages or whatever are actually critical is REALLY awesome. This functionality got me thinking about the Apple Watch a bit more because it is going to have an OVERKILL of functionality on the wrist.  But, I really think they blew it not putting a GPS in the watch.

What about battery life? Apple announced that their watch will need to be charged daily. Charging daily, in my opinion, would make monitoring your sleep very difficult. Most people charge their phones at night, while they sleep. Having to change that pattern, or add in a new pattern and charging the Apple Watch during the day and your phone at night will be a difficult transition for many people. I’m finding that the Microsoft Band is lasting 2 days, with exercise, heart rate, and MANY notifications in a day…. and I can get a full charge in about and 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours.  Would it be GREAT if the battery could last longer? Of course, but it seems like the Band is better at battery life than other bands currently on the market, much less others that are coming.  In my opinion, anything less than 2 days of battery life would prevent me from collecting my sleep which is one of the most important results for me as it’s demonstrating an area that I need to work on the most.

Overall, the Microsoft Band is a great product. It has an incredible number of sensors and gathers a ton of actionable data. The notifications and integration with Android has been excellent. The cross platform nature of the Band was possibly the BEST thing Microsoft could have done with this as it allows them to reach a much broader audience, something Apple can’t and won’t consider with their Watch.

I will end with a couple of my only concerns. First, the Microsoft Band seems to be sweat proof but not water proof. I’m pretty good about keeping it away from water but I have been pretty hard on my previous trackers: my Nike Fuel band was replaced 3 times and the Basis died in a couple months. I am hoping that the Microsoft Band has the longevity because I would REALLY hate to try and work with Microsoft on repairs after my experiences with their customer service teams for other items. Secondly, I wish the voice integration was stronger when using the Band with a non-Microsoft device. I suppose with Cortana, they want to keep that functionality a bonus for Windows Phone users. While that makes sense, it sure would be nice if I could use it as well.

Overall, I’m pleased. I’m happy that Microsoft finally did something right. Hopefully the success of this points them in the right direction and they can carry the kudos with them to their other products and services.

Hands-on with the HP Stream 11

HP Stream Windows 8 laptop

Image courtesy of CNet

In our ongoing series of reviewing all things Microsoft, today I’m turning my attention to the latest entry in the “inexpensive” Windows laptops: the 11 inch HP Stream. I tell you what: I’m not sure you will find a better $200 Windows machine.

I am so sick of reading articles that say a product is sub-par because it’s missing certain features, either from a hardware or software perspective. This is especially frustrating when these complaints are directed towards lower-end products.  My feeling is: If you want more, pay more. But for US$200, HP did an INCREDIBLE job of putting a ton of features into this little blue notebook!

It’s so good that there have been some articles asking if the HP Stream 11 is a Chromebook Killer. The Answer is: YES!  Or should I say, it should be a Chromebook killer! The only things holding it back are poor marketing, the Microsoft Windows experience (which I’ve detailed before) and how HP distributes the product, because the product itself is EXCELLENT! So if I read one article about what should be added to this thing, I’m going to flip out.

I will give out the specs later, but below is a hands-on, stream of consciousness analysis:

The laptop is SOLID. The blue color of the case is kind of cool and the slightly grainy texture perfectly complements the color…

The screen is what you wold expect for the price: Viewing angles are okay, contrast and colors are decent. It’s better than other inexpensive products that I have used. The keyboard is fantastic. I would almost say that it’s as comfortable to type as my MacBook Pro. The touch pad is a bit sensitive but it has all of the multi-touch functionality you need to use Windows 8.1 or Windows 10. One of my favorite swipes is from left to ride on the touch pad to cycle through active applications. I find the touch pad a bit sensitive from time to time, swapping through apps when I’m just trying to click on something.

The HP Stream 11 is capable of running a number of applications concurrently. I am able to bring up Mail, Word, and a couple Windows UI applications without any issues. I have about 10,000 files on OneDrive and my favorite feature is the “Online only” feature, so I don’t use much of the 32GB of space available on the notebook as “Online only” will only give me access to those files when I’m actually online. This is different than Google Drive, which downloads and syncs all of your files locally with your online Google Drive account.

I can easily play Windows UI Games. For example, Asphalt 8: Airborne is a neat little game and the HP Stream 11 plays it surprisingly well!

I was very surprised by having a USB 3.0 port, but the HDMI seems like it’s limited to v 1.1 so you can only use 1080p on a second monitor. I was hoping it would work with my 2560×1440 ASUS monitors, but that’s only supported by HDMI 1.2. Yeah..first world problems.

The speakers are great for such a little machine. It’s not going to knock your socks off, but like everything else on this Notebook, it’s all very usable and, well….surprising.

I believe HP is trying to market this as having an 8 hour battery life. That may be true if it’s just sitting there doing nothing, but having Office products open, doing some Web browsing and shopping around the Windows store gave me about 6.5 hours, which is still very respectable.

The Windows Updates for 8.1 took about an hour but were seamless.

Overall, using the HP Stream was a very pleasant experience. This machine “just works.” And because its a true Windows 64-bit with 2GB of memory notebook, and only costs $200…Yea, it kills a Chromebook! I can see a lot of people who do limited work being VERY happy with this portable notebook.

BTW, I didn’t mention it provides Office 365 for a year. If you take off the $70 that would cost, your getting this Notebook for $130.

Sitting out in the backyard with our 3 dogs and 6 kids, I am finding myself picking up this little bad boy instead of the $2700 MacBook Pro or $2000 Surface Pro 3… and when the kids want to see something I hand the Stream to them instead of holding onto my device for dear life while they watch :)

Congrats to HP and congratulations to Microsoft on making Windows 8.1 work VERY well in 2gb of memory. I never thought I would see that day.

A Fix for Yosemite Wi-Fi Issues

OS_X_Yosemite_DesktopUPDATE: Some additional things that can be done have been added to the end of this post.

It’s no secret that the latest release of Apple’s OSX, named Yosemite, has some Wi-Fi issues. If you visit the Apple forums, you’ll find them full of complaints from users that are having problems — primarily regarding latency and connectivity — and there are some suggestions on resolutions. A couple of us here at the office upgraded as soon as Yosemite came out, and we’re both seeing a huge problem with latency, specifically when connecting to Airplay devices. However, other issues were also occurring: Web pages not loading, dropped connections, Yosemite seeming to run slowly in general and more. We were able to consistently reproduce the issues regardless of whether it was here at the office or in our homes.

The final straw, however, came when I noticed that I was unable to play Starcraft II.

You see, a few of us here have a rather unhealthy attachment to Starcraft. Bryon, the SmarterMail Development Manager, and I tend to spend hours in the evening playing the game. We generally team up and play against other 2-player teams and before I upgraded to Yosemite, there were no issues. However, the first time we played AFTER the upgrade, I saw an incredible amount of lag when playing. Bryon, who is also using a MacBook Pro, but generally runs Windows in Bootcamp and plays Starcraft in Windows, had zero issues. My side, however, was unplayable. We didn’t think too much of it, but the next time we played I had the exact same issues. Earlier in the day, in a meeting, I tried using Airplay on our conference room television and there, too, saw a ton of lag. Others in the room who hadn’t upgraded also used Airplay and saw no issues.

So this got me thinking. Messing with my ability to play Starcraft is one thing, but when an issue impacts my ability to get work done, then I get serious. I remembered Bryon, running Windows in Bootcamp, didn’t have any problems. Add that to the fact that MacBooks still running Mavericks were also running fine and I realized it must be something in Yosemite. Not being one to “go backwards” and revert to Mavericks, I had a challenge on my hands and it was going to mean some late nights finding a resolution.

Ultimately, the primary issues seems to be with Bonjour and multicast. After monitoring packets I was seeing a consistent pattern when any broadcasts or discoveries were being made. Anytime this happened, my ping times went through the roof. I was able to consistently duplicate the issues by simply dropping down the Airplay menu.

So, here is the solution. This first part will get you started with a fresh network configuration, especially if you’ve upgraded from previous OSX versions. NOTE: This solution requires you to use Terminal. If you’re not comfortable using this, DO NOT perform this fix – simply wait for Apple to release a fix.

  1. Turn off Wi-Fi
  2. Open Finder
  3. From the Go menu, select Go To Folder
  4. Type in “/Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/”
  5. Delete the following files, if you have
  6. Close everything and reboot your machine

Once your machine comes back up, turn your Wi-Fi back on, if it doesn’t turn on automatically.

This next step is the true fix…

  1. Open Terminal
  2. Type the following command: sudo nano /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/
  3. change this:
    </array>to this:<key>ProgramArguments</key>
  4. Re-boot your machine one last time.

You’ll notice you simply added the “–no-multicast” string to the ProgramArguments array. Normally this change is made to disable broadcasting of your computer itself but this is where the BUGS seem to be within Yosemite.

Making this change will normalize your Wi-Fi connection and you will not see any latency or erratic ping times. A check of my MacBook Pro on before making this change showed 5-9mbps, whereas checks AFTER this change took me into the 60+mbps range over our Wi-Fi connection. I’m also seeing Airplay devices like I did before, there is ZERO latency when playing to an Airplay device…all seems normal.

Now, this should not be a permanent solution and could impact other functions such as the new Handoff features in Yosemite, etc. However, it will make your machine usable again.  Discovering Airplay devices will still work, but you may not see all devices on your network and it might take MUCH MORE TIME to discover the ones you have available.

Let us know how things work and if you do find additional functionality within Yosemite not working as anticipated after the change, let us know.   I’m an Android user so I don’t use some of the new Yoesmeite features and although I believe very little will be impacted, realize that other things I haven’t tested and don’t use may be affected.

UPDATE 1: If you notice that your network status icon is blank after you perform this fix, this is simply a display issue so the fix for that is pretty simple:

  1. Open Network Preferences
  2. Uncheck “Show Wi-Fi status in menu bar”
  3. Re-check “show Wi-Fi status in menu bar”
  4. Your status icon will show active again.

UPDATE 2: If you still experience issues, you may want to try the following:

  1. Remove any and all stored SSIDs you have in Network Preferences.
  2. After clearing your SSIDs, create a new Network Location:
    1. Select the Location dropdown in your Network Settings
    2. Select Edit Locations
    3. Click the + sign in the lower, left and create  new Location
    4. Add in any network connections (Wi-Fi, VPN, etc.)
    5. Delete any old or default Locations
  3. REMOVE the “–no-multicast” string you added in the original fix, listed above.
  4. Reboot your machine.

After making these changes, you *should* be back to normal. While the “no-multicast” change resolved, or at least lessened, issues some employees saw, creating a new Location and removing stored SSIDs seemed to resolve the issues for others.


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