All posts by Steve Makris

How does the new Microsoft Surface 3 stack up? And some thoughts on “free”

Check out my Global TV Sunday Morning News Tech Talk segment today.

Microsoft’s new Surface 3, is available now for pre-order. It’s touted as the portable work and school successor to its very well received Surface Pro 3 which has impressive sales. Although Microsoft touts similar DNA to the Surface Pro 3, the Surface 3 has very little in common with its older sibling.

Check it out at the Microsoft Canada Store

Microsoft's new Surface 3 hopes to match its older sibling's success but not at budget prices
Microsoft’s new Surface 3 hopes to match its older sibling’s success but not at budget prices

Here’s what I like about it:

Perfect size for portability and long battery life. The docking station is a good idea as is an always connected 4G LTE model. The 3:2 aspect screen ratio on a 10.8 – inch screen is smart for documents and magazines. Keeping three positions for the kick stand is welcome as is the free one year trial of Microsoft Office 365 Personal. The free upgrade to the yet unreleased very excellent Windows 10, we all get in the first year.

The full-size USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort, microSD card reader and Micro USB charging port are smart too.

Now the bad news:

The Surface 3 at $639 is too pricey to start with. Third party makers can easily beat that with better features and processors, not the Intel Atom the Surface 3 comes with and more than 2 GB RAM.  That doesn’t include the optional Surface 3 Type Cover, $159.99 and full feature Surface Pen for $49.99.

Microsoft is riding on the success of its Surface Pro 3 which commands a hefty price but worth it.

I still can’t see where the tablet version of Windows comes in. It’s still an orphaned touch OS and the more it gets out of the way in the new Windows 10 OS, as it does, the better. That’s not from me. I rarely run into raving Windows tablet users, still griping about the original Windows 8 and patched up Windows 8.1 with “that other screen view with big icons that comes out of nowhere.”

Microsoft’s idea of a universal OS in Windows 10 is a smart idea, insofar as having apps that run on your desktop laptop or Windows Phone. But the tablet part cannot stand up to iPads or Android Tablets. I think one of the wisest things the late Steve Jobs said was that tablets (iPads) and laptops have totally different uses.

Microsoft’s challenge to be in every day consumer lives is making the software giant give a little “free” here and there.

Canadian students can get a free Office 365 Education for Students providing their district school board or individual school (from K-post-secondary institutions) has purchased Microsoft Office for use by its staff. Parents and students can check for details. The software will work on multiple devices for each student and includes classroom collaboration. But not shared with four other users.

But if the students move to another school that uses the popular Google for Education with free forever Office-like tools, they will lose their special Office 365.

Microsoft hopes planting early free seeds to potential future customers of the future is a good idea. As an Office 365 user myself, it’s difficult to break away for competitive free office software.

I must say, with all this free software, especially on phones, one gets spoiled and annoyed at having to pay companies like Microsoft for software. But there is a price for free software. You give up your privacy and your phone literally gets dragged from the additional goings on. Check out this eye opening recent research on what FREE phone software does to your phone.

Interestingly, unlike competitors, Microsoft’s free Office Mobile App has minimal involvement with your smart phone. It only accesses information directly needed by you when using the app.

Would you pay a couple of bucks for phone software that just leaves you alone? For years Microsoft insiders have been telling me, the time will come when the option of paying a descent price for software with no ads or secret sharing of your phone user stats might get traction again.

I’m in!

The best smart phone cameras are impressive but still can’t match enthusiast digital cameras

Despite today’s sophisticated smart phone cameras, I still like to take more serious camera hardware along when I travel.

Why? Because a 16 megapixel cellphone picture is not the same as a 16 megapixel quality mirrorless or DSLR with interchangeable lenses.

Why? Picture sensors on phones, with the exception of the Sony Xperia Z3, are half the size of your pinky  fingernail. Compare that to the postage size sensors of interchangeable lens cameras like the  Sony NEX, Samsung NX, Fujifilm X, Olympus Pen  and bulkier DSLR cameras.

Physically larger sensors record richer colours, more detail in shadows and less noise at higher ISO settings.

Phone cameras have no real zoom lens. They basically shoot wide angle photos with the ability to zoom in closer, but at the expense of megapixel size and quality. This means phone cameras can’t shoot from far away like zoom lenses on real cameras. Nor can they shoot extra wide angle photos.

The lens on a smart phone has one aperture, typically f2, leaving the shutter speed to control the picture’s exposure. Due to the physically small size of the picture sensor, the depth of field on smartphone pictures is quite large (making near and far subjects look just as sharp) and cannot be changed. Again, zeroing in on closer objects, or portraits with an out of focus background is impossible to do with phone cameras.

Phone cameras are best at quickly recording personal moments near you. They are small and handy, but there are images further out that are worth capturing beyond your personal sphere.

Here are examples of “tourist” photos I recently took in Barcelona after the Mobile World Congress I reported on my Global TV Sunday Morning News today.

They were shot with a 16 MP Samsung Galaxy Note Edge and the Fujifilm weather resistant 16 MP X-T1 with top tier fast aspherical extra wide angle XF 10-24 mm f4 zoom which captures 3 times as wide a view as normal lenses, the new 16-55 mm f2.8 aspherical weatherproof and the 18-135 mm f3.5-5.6 aspherical zoom, also weatherproof, for my ultra-zoom close-ups.

See the first group of still impressive quality Note Edge pictures, unbeatable selfies, great panoramas and medium wide angle views. Compare the variety of  wider and  tight telephoto views shot with the X-T1.

Click on photos to enlarge

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge with medium wide views, wider selfies and amazing panoramas
Samsung Galaxy Note Edge with medium wide views, wider selfies and amazing panoramas
Fujifim X-T1 with extreme wide and telephoto zoom lenses
Fujifilm X-T1 with extreme wide and telephoto zoom lenses






Samsung keeps the WOW factour at Barcelona launch

Today Samsung announced its newest Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge smartphones at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

2015-03-01 14.49.37


The S6, features a smooth rounded metal bezel, while the S6 Edge has curved glass screens on both sides with a uniquely crafted bezel hugging both exposed corners.

2015-03-01 14.49.37

More 64 bit processing power and faster response to finger touch are in order here. Both models are sealed, thus no interchangeable battery with build-in wireless re-charging. You get 4 hours of normal use after a 10 minute charge.

National coffee stores and Ikea will soon feature under the surface cordless chargers on counters and night tables from Ikea. Samsung supports an open standard in wireless charging.

No more memory upgrades either. There will be 32, 64 and 128 GB models. Samsung decided its new battery was good enough to be sealed permanently shaving the S6 down to 6.8 mm. It also said the S6 “won’t bend.”

A 16 megapixel main camera features less than a second instant on from the get go by pressing the menu bar twice, even on locked phones. It has easy to use settings for beginners and a Pro mode to grow into.

The 5 megapixel selfie uses a fast f1.9 lens and shoots gorgeous FullHD video.

Samsung showed tough picture and movie taking comparisons in bad light against an iPhone 6 with noticeable quality gains.

Both phones will be available in Canada on April 10 with all cellcos. The 32 GB S6 is expected to sell in the $250 range while the Edge will cost about $100 more.

For that you get a well crafted constant companion with Gorilla Glass 4 and a curved screen that was subjected to 8,000 Celcius during assembly.

Thinness, dazzling looks and smart functionality with speed is Samsung’s latest effort to compete with Apple’s recently successful iPhone 6 and 6 Plus phones sold worldwide.

Samsung Canada's Paul Brannen "We listened to everyone's pain points on phones and delivered on design and functionality."
Samsung Canada’s Paul Brannen “We listened to everyone’s pain points on phones and delivered on design and functionality.”

The curved S6 Edge has room for separate narrow side panel information viewed from the top or the side. This gives fast access to app icons, auto-scrolling sports and news and a nifty non-intrusive bed light mode, with time weather and alarm showing on the curve edge.

When face down, the S6 Edge glows colours assigned to specific contacts so you know who might be buzzing you in a meeting.

Despite its “wow” tecnology showcase at the premiere mobility show of the year, the South Korean giant finds itself with decreasing annual profits and playing catchup to Apple’s hugely successful 75 million global iPhone 6 sales.

Analysts place Apple and Samsung at par with 20 per cent each on global phone shipments in the past quarter. Samsung recently reported a 37 per cent drop of its company-wide operating profit from last year.

Will Samsung’s glass screen-bending magic save it from its current woes?

Faced with Apple’s lightening fast market growth outside North America, low price busting Chinese smartphones from Xiaomi and its growing dissatisfaction with the Android operating system, Samsung is in the unenviable position of having the coolest technology in need of the right market.

Talking with Photoshop creator Thomas Knoll


“A lot of stuff I am not terribly happy with, with what’s going on…especially the body issues it creates for a lot of women.”  Photoshop creator Thomas Knoll on digital picture manipulation

Happy 25th Photoshop! In a live Adobe hosted online media briefing this morning, the creator of Photoshop Thomas Knoll, took questions from us. He was totally candid, thankfully with minimum media training. Although supportive of Adobe’s ever expanding cloud based Creative Cloud, Knoll expressed concerns about its abuse as a tool. He also gave us a glimpse of what the graphics industry was like back in 1987 when Knoll and his photographer brother John dabbled with a little imaging program they called Display.

Photoshop creator Thomas Knoll answers media questions online today on Photoshop's 25th. My meeting him in 2000 running PS 6!
Photoshop creator Thomas Knoll answers media questions online today on Photoshop’s 25th. My meeting him in 2000 running PS 6!

It’s interesting to note that Knoll had his own camera in his teen years and was shown the ins and outs of darkrooms by his dad. He was frustrated not being able to get darker blacks or whiter whites on his prints. Later he dabbled with basic picture editing programs during his thesis work to the point where he never got his PhD. We can all thank him for that!

Knoll said that Display was designed as a pixel editor for the graphics industry to prepare images for printing in 1987. He considered other names for his program like Image Pro and Photo Lap, even PhotoShop through an acquaintance. After Adobe purchased the fledging program, according to Knoll, it changed the upper case S to a lower case, launching Photoshop in 1990 to a world hungry for better imaging editing solutions.

I interviewed Knoll 15 years ago, also an Adobe Fellow, in 2000 who was running Adobe 6 on his Mac Book. His biggest beef then was why Adobe was putting more emphasis on his all-powerful Photoshop being to handle web-size images when it was originally conceived to handle huge picture files for professionals and photo enthusiasts.

Remember, this was the early days of the Internet and Adobe envisioned being a big part of the online digital revolution. Fast forward to the Adobe Creative Cloud today which dominates the graphics and publishing industry.

Keeping low budget photographers in mind, Knoll was instrumental in Adobe’s special Creative Cloud Photography offer for Photoshop and Lightroom plus mobile phone app for anyone for only $9.99 US a month with online benefits. That’s two large fancy coffees a month!

In this morning’s Q&A session Knoll shared how he still gets a kick out of “Photoshop” used as a globally known word. But he expressed reservations on how his beloved app becomes the centre of controversy whenever digital manipulation hits the web social scene.

“Photoshop is a tool and like any other tool, it can be abused,” he said. “A lot of stuff I am not terribly happy with, with what’s going on…especially the body issues it creates for a lot of women. I would appreciate it if people would back off on that,” he added.

From my first conversation with Knoll 15 years ago to today’s media Q&A, I can’t help but think Knoll has no mean digital strain in his DNA. He is a non-destructive kind of guy and continues to work on new versions of Photoshop’s pure RAW format which reads every bit of better cameras’ pure digital picture information when the photo is taken.

You will understand Knoll better if you visit his site, and see his view of the world in a collection of extensive world photography. Pure photos, most taken in RAW format.

Visit the Photoshop 25th anniversary blog

Checkout my GlobalTV Tech Talk segments



One Tap takes the distraction out of driving


Calgary based AppColony  has come up with a cleverly simple free Android app, One Tap, which effectively stops distracted driving. Take that from me, I have been driving with it for a week. It’s a keeper.

One Tap summerizes each drive session, left, compares your distraction performance , centre and distance driven with friends
One Tap summerizes each drive session, left, compares your distraction performance , centre and distance driven with friends

Continue reading One Tap takes the distraction out of driving

Tech love for Valentine’s Day

How do you say I love you for Valentine’s Day with technology?

For a range of affordable new personal tech gift suggestions check out my  and Edmonton Global News Sunday Morning News Tech Talk segment.

If your love has no limit, here are a few items, costing more, that have a lot of tech love to give back for the next few Valentine’s years.


The Kobo Auro H2O keeps your digital books dry
The Kobo Auro H2O keeps your digital books dry
  • The Kobo WiFi Aura H20, $169.99, is an all-weather E Ink eReader with enough internal memory to carry 3,000 books. The 6.8 – inch antiglare 265 dpi screen features adjustable ComfortLight backlight technology for reading in brighter places.
  • The New Kindle eReader, $79, is winner in many ways. It’s small, light, with weeks of battery life, 20 per cent faster processing and twice the storage capability as the previous model. The new touch interface is simple and the new Word Wise feature makes it easier for readers learning English to understand new words.

Continue reading Tech love for Valentine’s Day

Free Windows 10 for Windows 8.1, 7, Phone 8.1 users for one year!

The biggest surprise at today’s Redmond Windows 10 event was not Windows 10. Nor that one of Microsoft’s cash cows would be free for Windows 8.1, Windows 7 and Windows Phone 8.1 users for one year after release.

It was Microsoft’s best kept virtual reality secret, under wraps for the past few years, one floor from the Redmond Campus visitors centre. More on that later. Let’s talk about what those 1.5 billion Windows users on real Earth have been waiting for.

Microsoft's Joe Belfiore shows universal Windows 10 for phones and PCs
Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore shows universal Windows 10 for phones and PCs


Windows 10, out in public test mode since last fall, showed in more mature form today with features designed and thought out, sure to please disgruntled Windows 7 users, missing their Start Menu features.

Continue reading Free Windows 10 for Windows 8.1, 7, Phone 8.1 users for one year!

Streaming Content will trump hardware in 2015

My selfie above, from CES 2006 in Las Vegas got me into thinking about what technology is all about. Especially after having attended similar shows for the past 25 years or so.

The word technology has Greek origins, combining “craft” and “discourse” a lot of which happens at every Las Vegas CES event. It plays itself out in many ways in four days and nights of events in Las Vegas , press conferences, walkabouts, personal meetings, and hands-on on what might show up in store shelves.

The CES 2006 “technology” playing field was much different than today. The BlackBerry smartphone had the North American market to itself with its “CrackBerry” line while Korean, Japanese and US tech giants still showed flip phones. The first Apple iPhone was a year away to be followed by the first Android phone in 2008.

Continue reading Streaming Content will trump hardware in 2015

Off to CES armed with the curved Note Edge and Gear S

Hi folks, here we go again. The annual International Consumer Electronic Technology Show in Las Vegas  is upon us once again next week in Las Vegas. Like many of us tech writers, I go early, arriving Sunday morning, landing with my feet running to the afternoon CES Unveiled event at the Mandalay Bay.

What can we expect? New wearables, tablets, palm-size drones, TVs and more. I will be reporting on what I see, lot’s of it, so keep in touch!


I am CES-bound, armed with new “cutting edge” technology from Samsung Canada who seeded me with the yet-to-be launched in Canada, Galaxy Note Edge.

The Samsung Galaxy Note Edge with stylus S Pen and dual screen mode is a veritable multi-tasking phablet
The Samsung Galaxy Note Edge with stylus S Pen and dual screen mode is a veritable multi-tasking phablet

The phone, with all the features of the current Note 4 with S Pen stylus is more that evolutionary, featuring a curved screen edge with a dedicated vertical panel along the right side of the main screen.

You can read the armed-to-the-teeth specs on this gorgeous phablet at EDGE but this newly designed Samsung interface running on Android 4.4 Kitkat, must be seen, held and used to be fully appreciated.

The Edge is slightly wider and shorter than the current Note 4 with with a removable slightly smaller battery and access to a micro-SD slot for up to 128 GB cards.

The side panel ( it also works for lefties with a few clicks and holding the phone upside-down)  appears and disappears with helpful information like favourite apps. You can run up to 10 panels from about 20 free downloadable themes and functions like games, streaming one line news sites, favourite contacts and more.
Click on those and you get to the original Web site.

The Edge can accommodate 10 panels with diffrent themes and functionality
The Edge can accommodate 10 panels with diffrent themes and functionality

There is a slight overlap between the right vertical main screen edge and the Edge panel. When it disappears the main screen becomes slightly wider and part of it starts curving slightly. Unnoticeable  after you use it for a few hours.

I like the dedicated function menu options on the side panel when running camera, calendar and S Note apps. You can even design or use your own photos to show on the panel while in locked mode…even with some handwriting messages.

Samsung smartly thought out this panel function through with many surprises including a night mode which kicks in when the screen times out. The Edge becomes a horizontal dim night table screen showing weather, time and alarm, viewable when the phone is on its back…right next to your pillow. Nice!

The Edge is immaculately made with attention to detailed curves and a clean metal edge carefully countered around the curved screen, just enough to protect the pricey piece of glass from flat surface falls.

Exquisitely designed and assembled with clean curved metal edge
Exquisitely designed and assembled with clean curved metal edge

Samsung’s dedicated folio case turns the main screen off, when closed, leaving the side viewable curve panel on, which changes modes by a finger swoosh across its narrow screen.

As for looks, the Edge is a winner and a showpiece for Samsung. Most folks can’t get their heads around a perfectly curved ultra sharp colour screen. Currently available in the US, for $945 USD or $500 with a two year plan, it is not for the average consumer’s wallet.

But it is what it is, showstopping technology in Canadian stores and cellcos this quarter, from the Korean tech giant who unquestionably walks the walk on glass making.

“From an innovation and revolutionary perspective for a mobile device we hit the nail on the head,” said Samsung Canada’s Steven Cull.  “When your’e looking at the cost justification from a Samsung perspective, its delivering that fast multitasking device in the market.”

Indeed it does.


If money is no problem, yes! This is a version 1.0 that works right off the bat.  When matched with the also curved head-turning Gear S smart watch (with its own sim card for anywhere “mother-ship” phone and data synchronization) the Edge is the next step in smartphone innovation.

If your’e not a tech enthusiast, I would wait. You can certainly ne functional without it. After showing the Edge to several Canadian cellco stores, I got the same reaction from store managers:  Samsung should put curved screens in more of its next gen affordable phones if they want to aggressively keep their market share.
Are you listening Samsung?


Speaking of next generation,  Samsung’s market leading tech Gear S is so close to becoming its own stand-alone hotspot, phone and smartphone on a wrist.

The Samsung Gear S has its own sim card for 3G data and voice...yes, make and receive calls, even forwarded from your synched Samsung smartphone
The Samsung Gear S has its own sim card for 3G data and voice…yes, make and receive calls, even forwarded from your synched Samsung smartphone

When will you cut the digital cord on your next Gear S Samsung? Who needs a hand-held phone when you can wear it on your wrist and take along a tablet instead?

Tune in to my Edmonton Global TV Sunday Morning NewsTech Talk segment where I will be showing the Edge and talk about more CES.