Laptop abruptly falling asleep? Check your watch strap

I exchanged my Lenovo ThinkPad X260 work laptop for the newer T14 model last Wednesday, and spent the first half of the day setting up the new model. When I started using it in the second half of the day, I had 3 instances when it went off into hibernate mode without any warning, while I was working. In fact, the first couple of times it happened during the same call. The only silver lining was that the new machine was quite fast & didn’t take long to start after hibernating.

The battery levels were full, and disabling auto sleep didn’t seem to make any difference. I didn’t seem to be triggering any special gesture on the trackpad or fingerprint reader either. Google results didn’t have much beyond the usual check for defects/battery/OS issues. The only tell tale sign was that I was using the keyboard when this happened.

It was on the 3rd instance that I suspected that my magnetic watch strap was engaging the lid closure detection magnets built into the palm rest. A quick tapping around the suspected area confirmed my suspicion – it was my magnetic leather watch strap that was triggering the hibernation as the laptop thought that the lid was closed. Don’t think there is a solution other than using non-magnetic straps when working directly on the laptop.

I do use a laptop stand with external keyboard & mouse when working from home, so magnetic straps should be fine. However, no special watch straps when in office it seems ūüė¶

iOS to Android P2: The Watch migration

Being deeply entrenched in the Apple ecosystem definitely has its advantages as the devices typically work well together, be it the iPhone to Apple Watch or with the HomePod & iPads. Getting out is another matter, of course. When I ditched my dead iPhone 11 Pro & switched to the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE last year, I also got an iPhone SE as a backup phone which continued to pair with my Apple Watch. This setup was ok from the fitness tracking point of view, but for me, notifications on the wrist is the USP of smartwatches.

Design & Features

So, after a month of trying to avoid another gadget purchase, I opted to get the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 which is one of the few models with Wear OS 3. While it did have pretty much all a sensors & hardware features as my Apple Watch Series 5 like always on display, sleep tracking, ECG etc. (plus a few more like blood pressure monitoring, SpO2 & body composition analyzer), the ECG & BP sensors are not active in India yet. Haptics are much better on the Apple Watch through. However, you get pretty much similar hardware, but at half the price.

The display on the Galaxy Watch is round, which does take some getting used to when swiping around, but feels more natural to me as majority of my old school watches were round. The controls are somewhat different with 2 buttons on the side, and a touch bezel which can be used for quick scrolling similar to the Apple Watch’s crown. The Classic version of the Galaxy Watch does have a hardware dial instead of the touch bezel, but the price & weight go up significantly.

On the strap front, the Galaxy Watch uses standard 22 mm bands, so the costs are significantly lower. My preference is for the Milanese loop bands & magnetic leather bands for formal occasions, & velcro ones for regular home use. The Apple Watch has a bunch of 3rd party options, but those are 2-3x costlier than the standard watch varieties (Apple’s own straps can cost as much as other smartwatches themselves). Also, while the mechanism for securing & removing bands on Apple watches is quite novel & convenient, 3rd party options can be a bit finicky and don’t work as smooth.

Apps & Notifications

Notifications themselves are quite decently managed, though you do need to use the touch bezel to scroll through them quickly when they pile up in the notification centre. You also get a good number of options to act on the notifications unlike on the Apple Watch. However, you may need to scroll quite a bit to get to them as the notifications can take up a good deal of vertical space along with the response options.

Complications & watch faces are also handled very differently with complication support varying from face to face. Wear OS also supports full screen widgets which feel more like complications.

There’s also a bunch of standalone apps & phone app counterparts (sometimes broken into multiple apps), similar to the Apple Watch. There’s also a browser if you want. That said, the app situation is probably better on the Apple side, but it’s pretty much stagnated at this point with some of the initial developers like Uber even discontinuing support for the Watch apps.

Health & Fitness tracking

While the watches may have parity in terms of hardware sensors, the biggest difference comes in the way fitness data is handled between the watches. Apple has the Health app as a central hub which can share necessary sensor data with multiple other apps. On the Galaxy Watch, and possibly on Wear OS/Android, there is no such standardised central hub due to which most of the data beyond basic step counts is locked within Samsung’s health app, or whichever app (say Google Fit) you use to get the reading, be it getting a heart rate reading, logging your weight or recording a workout. In fact, some of the advanced sensor features do not seem to be supported on other apps.

The situation will of course be similar on other platforms which may not even have support for 3rd party apps. For me, this is a reasonable tradeoff and I am using Samsung’s Health app to track the vitals for the time being.

Closing

You can also answer calls on the Galaxy watch in a pinch just like on the Apple Watch, and support is limited to phone calls as well. The speaker is also fairly loud which is good enough unless you are in a noisy environment. Battery life has been typically better on My Galaxy Watch than on the Apple Watch as I can also comfortably wear it to sleep and charge it towards the end of the next day.

I am getting a very similar experience to the Apple Watch with my Galaxy Watch, and it serves my primary need of notifications on the wrist with few tradeoffs, but also a bunch of new features at half the price of the Apple Watch. Ultimately, I have been able to replace my iPhone 11 Pro & Apple Watch Series 5 combo at the a slightly lower cost than it would have taken me to get a 11 Pro replacement.

Getting rid of ads with Pi-hole

I’ve been using Pi-hole running on a Raspberry Pi 3B+ for the past 2 1/2 years, and it has really spoilt me to the extent that I have forgotten what ads on web pages and mobile apps look like (the limited travel in the last couple of years has also helped). It’s pretty effective in getting rid of the pop-up mobile ads and the in page banner ads on all devices connected to the wifi.

The setup process is quite simple if you have your own router or at least change the DNS server on the home router:

  • First off, get hold of a Raspberry Pi (even the model Zero is powerful enough for the Pi-hole), and the necessary peripherals like a case, SD card, charger & LAN cable. There are many readymade kits with the OS preinstalled sold online including Amazon, which saves a good deal of time.
  • Initial setup is easier with a monitor & keyboard + mouse attached to the Pi. Once this is done you can connect it to your router using a LAN cable and access it through a Telnet client/mobile app like Putty on any of your devices in the home network.
  • Next, you need to install Pi-hole on the Pi (you can do it during the setup itself), and configure the router to use the Pi as your DNS server. If you are stuck without admin access to your router, then you may need to configure each device to use the Pi separately.
  • You can also install mobile apps to manage the Raspberry & Pi-hole quite easily through your phone. There are multiple apps available for both Android & iOS.

Once everything is setup, you should have an ad free experience on your devices (not all ads can be blocked of course). I’ve found about 10-15% of the queries on my home network getting blocked, and this includes devices like Android & iPhones, iPads, Android TV, Amazon Echo, Homepods & Windows laptops of course.

Pebble Time: In hand and First impressions

I was one of the late backers of the Pebble Time smartwatch, and finally received it today. I backed it after the Apple watch event in early March and deciding that the first gen Apple watch was a bit too expensive for me. I also got lucky with the Pebble Kickstarter campaign and managed to switch my initial pledge of $169 to the early bird $159 when people had started backing out towards the end of the campaign.

The shipment was delayed by nearly a month, but that’s not too bad by Kickstarter standards, and as I had opted for the expedited option with prepaid duties and taxes, I received my package within a week of dispatch. I did have to stay in regular touch with the DHL support, first for the KYC documents and then for the description letter to the customs team. There was also the currency goofup on the invoice with labels in EUR though the payments had been in USD. This was something many of the Indian backers who received their packages before me¬†had observed on the campaign portal. Fortunately for me, the DHL team seems to have managed to sort out these issues with the customs to ensure that I received the package just a day later than their estimate.

Anyway, coming to the Pebble Time, it is definitely quite lightweight and pretty comfortable to wear. The silicone strap seems quite comfortable as well and the material feels just like those silicone cupcake moulds and other similar kitchen accessories that one sees in stores. As for the display, it is fairly colourful, but a bit dim even with the backlight as many reviewers and users have observed. It is especially problematic in the current monsoon season with cloudy skies most of the time. That said, I’m sure app and watchface developers will start optimizing their products for the display in the coming months to improve readability.¬†The double bezel is also on the thicker side by modern gadget standards, but haven’t found it to be very distracting so far. As for the coating on the steel frame, I suspect Pebble might be facing the same durability challenges as Apple did with the iPhone 5 black version, given the scratch reports from early users.

I opted to pair the Pebble Time with my iPhone 5s instead of the Mi 4, and loaded a bunch of apps and watchfaces on it including the PebbUp watchfaces that I’d backed on Kickstarter. The notifications have been trickling in since the pairing as well and the vibration is fairly gentle. I’d already done some notification management on my iPhone, so haven’t been getting flooded thus far, and even cricket scores are showing up thanks to the ESPNCricinfo app alerts.

I also did a full charge of the Pebble while installing the apps though it was well over 60% when I got it. It charged up pretty quick even from a laptop USB port. Also, no faulty cable.

Some of the other things I’d like to test in the coming weeks are Android support and voice replies, fitness tracking (already installed some apps), usage at work (currently working from home with a broken arm) and of course the battery life. In the meantime, checkout the unboxing and initial setup photos below.

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HP Omen, Spectre x360 and Pavilion launch hands-on

HP had their launch event in Mumbai for the Omen, Spectre x360 and refreshed Pavilion series earlier this week, and I managed to get some hands-on time with the laptops. The new partnership with Bang & Olufsen for the speakers and sound system was one of the highlights of the launch, now that Beats is owned by Apple.

HP Omen gaming laptop

Possibly HP’s first real foray into gaming laptops, and almost certainly their first gaming laptop launched in India. The specifications are pretty top notch with a 256 GB PCIe based SSD, 8 GB RAM, a 15″ full HD IPS touchscreen display powered¬†by¬†an NVIDIA GeForce 960M & Core i7 quad core processor,¬†customisable¬†backlighting for the keyboard and B&O speakers of course.

The touchpad felt quite spacious¬†and seemed pretty¬†responsive – not MacBook levels but definitely top notch in the Windows world. It also comes with a gaming mouse, which had additional buttons but didn’t seem to have adjustable weights though. The ports are also all positioned at the back of the laptop which is quite rare in laptops these days. The device weighs a little over 2 kgs and has a pretty slim profile as well which is definitely rare for a gaming machine. Of course this could lead to performance throttling especially in Indian conditions which only a full fledged review can verify.

It is the priciest of the laptops launched at almost Rs 1.6L, but gaming laptops seem to be taking off in India given the Alienware and MSI laptops on offer online and in major electronics stores. However there seems to be only one configuration on offer at the moment.

HP Spectre x360 convertible ultrabook

Another premium device but in a very different form factor Рa cross between a Lenovo Yoga and a MacBook. The all metal build for this convertible makes for a very attractive looking device that highlights the focus on design that HP has placed on their latest laptops. The specs are definitely high end for the form factor as HP has opted for a dual-core Core i7 CPU over the Core M in the Lenovo Yoga 3 and Asus ZenBook. This coupled with the 256 GB PCIe SSD and 8 GB RAM should ensure a fairly future proof machine. At 1.4 kg, it is a tad heavier than the Yoga 3 and ZenBook, but you get an all metal build in return that should be sturdier, and it is still significantly lighter than your typical ultrabook.

The display is also high resolution and the hinge is quite smooth but firm ensuring that the device stays in the mode you opt for. HP has also not messed around with the keyboard like Lenovo and we get the full row of function keys atop the numbers row. The keys are backlit as well, but not your typical white on black. They’ve opted to go with a black on steel scheme, and it did seem to affect visibility a bit in some lighting situations.

At the moment there seems to be only one configuration on offer for around Rs 1.3L which is well into the premium segment where MacBook Pros play. However, the configuration itself is very competitive and built to last a while with no major compromises. The Pro edition of Windows 8.1 that comes with the laptop also highlights it focus on the prosumer market.

HP Pavilion refresh

The Pavilion is of course HP’s budget range of laptops and while the specs are pretty good for the price – Core i3\i5\i7, 1 TB HDD, 4-8 GB RAM, full HD display and upto an NVIDIA GeForce 940M – they pale in comparison to the two flagships launched with them. HP emphasised on the fact that they upped the display on all models to full HD, albeit non-IPS.

Doing a hands-on with the Core i5 & i7 models after playing around with the Omen and Spectre was probably not the best way to get acquainted with this series as the display paled in comparison with the flagships’ with poor viewing angles. At least the resolution has been increased and this should considerably improve the user experience. The trackpads were also a big letdown as they failed to register clicks reliably during my hands on and highlights the gap with premium devices.

Overall, the devices were definitely quite competitive for their segment, starting around Rs 45K.

The laptops come with Windows 8.1, and with Windows 10 launch around the corner, we can definitely expect these new devices to play an important role in the user adoption of the new OS.

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