2017 – The Tipping Point for Electric Vehicles?

While crawling through traffic with several thousand of my closest friends this morning, I was struck by the number of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and pure electric vehicles I was sharing the road with.  I recently bought my first hybrid, a  2016 Malibu, to replace my aging 2000 Jetta TDI.  My daily commute consists of streets combined with slow-and-go traffic through Los Angeles. As such, it is well-suited to an electric, hybrid, or plug-in hybrid. I’ve wanted to purchase a hybrid or electric for several years. However, my choices were limited to the Prius or some mild-hybrid options.  If I bought electric, I’d either need to cram into a sub-compact Leaf or the uber-expensive Tesla.  Neither choice was worth my money.

Enter late 2016: my 16-year-old Jetta with 260,000 miles finally needed major repairs.  Yes, I could have spent the few thousand to repair it but was not interested. The car was small, noisy, and really only seated two people. Also, driving a manual in Los Angeles is just more work than it is worth. I sold it and went for the Malibu, which is based on the Volt and will also service the 2017 Cadillac CT6 Plug-in.   For reference, the Malibu contains a 1.8 liter engine mated to an electric engine for a combined 180 HP and 270 lb-ft of torque. The gas-powered Malibu gets only 160 hp by comparison.

During my search, I noticed the number of plug-in hybrids, hybrids, and electric models has skyrocketed in the United States.  Based on tax incentives and a desire to increase overall economy, both consumers and auto-makers are moving away from internal combustion only engines towards hybrid and electric only powerplants. I believe that this year is going to be known as the “tipping point” for electric and hybrid vehicles.  (The term refers to a term from author Malcom Gladwell uses to describe “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.“)  This past summer, MIT published an article stating that “Roughly 90 percent of the personal vehicles on the road daily could be replaced by a low-cost electric vehicle available on the market today, even if the cars can only charge overnight,”  (https://phys.org/news/2016-08-electric-vehicles-drivers-percent-road.html#jCp)

While true, the average consumer still felt uncomfortable with pure electric vehicles. I have heard first hand about those driving a Nissan Leaf or the Chevy Spark EV and getting close to empty before returning home. 2017 is the first year, we can choose between more than one vehicle with decent electric range. Chevrolet released the Bolt to much fanfare. That car has a 250-mile range, which is considered optimal for many commuters and drivers.

 

Compare that to the original mass-produced electric, the GM EV1. That car only was able to manage about 100 miles before charge depletion and was only a two-seater. 

In 2017, we now have over a dozen electric models, ranging from the Smart for Two all the way to the aforementioned Tesla Model S.  Add to these a list of almost 20 plug-in electric vehicles now on sale. These cars have enough battery capacity to run for over ten miles on electric only but have an on-board range extending gas engine to enhance and recharge the electric. Yet, each of these can be plugged in to charge from solar or utility company grid electric.  One can even shell out over $1,000,000 for a McLaren P1 supercar, which has a 5 Kwh battery that can be plugged in.

The only question is whether we are looking at true adoption or government incentives.  Considering many people – myself included – prefer to drive larger SUVs, the true takeover of electric vehicles may take awhile .

Hopefully, we will look back at 2017 and see that electric and plug-in electric vehicles are becoming the norm rather than the exception.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Business

Who Owns Your Mobile Device?

For much of the past year, it is well known that Samsung shipped then was forced to recall 2.56 million Note 7 units after some devices caught fire or even exploded.

In order to ensure customers were not hurt – and to save the company, Samsung took the additional step of deactivating devices still out in the wild.

 

This brings up a good question posed by MSN last week – who actually owns the device?

 

It is a valid question. On the original IBM PC and on every PC sold since then, a user can wipe the OS, install any compatible OS, and the manufacturer has no recourse other than to void the warranty. On a mobile device, however, one cannot install IOS on an Android phone or Windows 10 on an Iphone. In fact, the article argues that we are moving from ownership to a quasi-lease. You may own the hardware, but are only using/leasing the underlying software and capabilities.

This could bring up some serious questions in the future as mobile device usage becomes even more prevalent than now.

Posted in Business

Lumia 950XL Review

Last night, I arrived home late with my younger son from his basketball practice. I noticed a FedEx box on the floor. Not thinking anything of it, I went about my business getting the dog walked, kids to bed and eating a little dinner. Finally, around 11:00, I realized I should look at the package.  I opened it and was amazed to find three boxes. A brand new Microsoft Lumia 950XL, a Microsoft Display Dock, and an Actiontec Screen Beam Mini 2.

Lumia 950xl Package

 

Back in early December, I received a letter from Microsoft asking if I’d be interested in participating in the Windows Insider program further by testing a Lumia 950 or 950xl device. Of course, I said, yes. I had thought of purchasing one but was holding back, happy with my HTC One M8 (now running Windows 10) and not wanting to fork out $650 for something I didn’t really need.  

So, I carefully walked away, and allowed my fifteen-year-old son the pleasure of opening the boxes as well as inserting my SIM card and existing SD card into the device.  I then signed into my network, added my Microsoft account, and restored a backup from my HTC One M8 to this device.

A few reboots later and I was up and running on Windows 10, build 10586.36.  I’ve been running various mobile operating systems for some time now, and keep coming back to Windows mobile. With 10, Microsoft has struck a balance between usability, customization and productivity. I have a Samsung Galaxy S6 from work and find it spends most of the time in a drawer.  The Windows phones just work better in my opinion.

I even posted back in May, my preference for Windows phone over iPhone, Android or Blackberry –

Android, windows, iphone

The 950 XL is a beautiful device.  I’ve read reports that many aren’t happy with the “plastic” backing. Honestly, I don’t really care. The One M8 and the Galaxy S6 both are metal. I never see the body, since I immediately put a case on the devices.  The same will be done for this device. As it is, the device does not feel “cheap” in any way.  I will point out, however, that both the One M8 (5″) and LG G4 (5.7″) are easier to hold. The power button placement on the One M8 is on top and seperate from the volume rocker. The G4 has the power and volume buttons on the back. In both instances, holding the device and using one-handed is easier with that button placement.   Also both the M8 and G4 have rounded edges. This is a factor in helping the device feel more comfortable in the hand.  While the One M8 does not have a removable battery, the G4 does. The backplate on the G4 feels more solid than the one on the 950 XL and I don’t worry about accidentally breaking off the power, volume, and camera buttons.

LG G4 5.5″ phone

Still, the 950XL buttons are solid, the screen is extremely crisp, and the performance is flagship-worthy.  My One M8 came with a Snapdragon 801, a 5″ screen, and 2 GB of RAM.  It ran Windows 8 poorly but excels at Windows 10M.  This device, with a liquid cooled Snapdragon 810, 3 GB of RAM, and a 5.7″ screen performs very impressively. The screen size is perfect. While I found my Galaxy S6 and One M8 a bit too small, I also found the Lumia 1520 a bit too big at 6″.  The 5.7″ form factor in this device is a perfect size. Of course, for those with smaller hands than I, Windows mobile allows for the screen to be resized simply by holding the home button.

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In addition, the keyboard – while not replaceable with third-party options like on Android or iOS – is very configurable.  The full-size keyboard can be quickly moved to one-handed position simply by dragging the spacebar left or right.

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On-screen keyboard for left-handed use.

 

 

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On-screen keyboard full-size.

 

In addition, the device has a software-based navigation bar. I originally disliked this, coming from the world of Samsung devices, however, now very much appreciate not having to touch a physical button to go “home” on the device. Speaking of home, however, there is one nit-pick. If you notice the image above, the notification area across the top shows I have two SIM card options. SIM 1 is getting signal while SIM 2 is missing. This device allows for two SIM cards, but I fail to understand why I need to be always notified the second SIM is not present.

I won’t go too much into the software of Windows Mobile 10. This has been done many times. I will only say that the “app gap” is not an issue for me. The only app I really miss is the official Starbucks App found on iPhone and Android devices.

The new feature I’m already enjoying is the ability to unlock the phone using a iris scan.  Basically, the device has my iris mapped. When I go to unlock, it will take an infrared picture of my eyes and validate that I’m the person who is registered to unlock the device.

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Unlike facial recognition, Windows Hello is based on  “asymmetric key cryptography” which validates that only my eyes work to unlock the device. Of course, I can also use a pin or password if needed.

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The other feature I’ve already found better than expected is the camera. I loved the camera on my Lumia 1520. However, the camera on this device is superb.  The camera has  Carl Zeiss optics, 20 MP sensor, and triple LED flash. After updating and getting things working, I wanted to find out how it worked. As I walk my dog early in the morning, I felt a low-light situation would stress the camera. It would also provide a good opportunity to compare the camera in the 950XL to that in my One M8, both running Windows 10.

 

Here’s a picture of my dog with the One M8 using only natural light and automatic settings.

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Click for full-size

Here’s a picture taken a few seconds later using the 950XL.  You can clearly see the image quality, color saturation, and stabilization features of the camera. My dog was clearly more interested in a treat than the camera.

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Click for full-size

 

I felt it a little unfair to compare a flagship 20MP camera against a two-year-old 5MP camera. So, I asked my son to snap a picture inside without flash using stock settings with both his LG G4 16 MP camera and the camera on my 950XL.  Once again, I’m impressed with both the richness and clarity of the camera on the 950 XL.

First the LG G4 Image:

Low-light image taken with LG G4 Camera

Low-light image taken with LG G4 Camera. Click to see original.

 

Next the 950XL Image:

Low-light image taken with Lumia 950XL Camera

Low-light image taken with Lumia 950XL Camera. Click to see original.

 

So far, I’m very impressed with this device.  With a 3340 mAh removable battery (unlike on my One M8, Lumia 1520 or Galaxy S6 – all of which have non-removable batteries.) and USB-C Fast Charging, the device can run all day on a charge and recharge in less than an hour. My main concern is with the lack of front-facing speakers. I got used to incredible sounding speakers on my One M8 and already miss the clarity.  Rear speakers are no longer a luxury but a necessity on flagship devices.

I’ll report back soon with my review of the device using the Continuum feature. I have yet to set that up.

 

Posted in Business, productivity, System Review