Nebo – Great Note Taking App for the Microsoft Surface

Hello everyone! Are you guys excited for the new school year? I am definitely not..

I have a very useful application for note taking that you can use in school or even for business meetings.

This application is called Nebo.

I find that Nebo utilizes the Surface Pen very well and one of the best handwriting recognition applications for note taking.

Nebo can convert your handwriting in to in text and can be exported to Word Document.

This can also convert your diagrams and mathematical formulas in to text! This is useful for business and engineering students!

There is a promotional deal right now and Nebo is completely free for a limited time! In the Windows store it was priced at 8.99USD and this offers ends in 3 days from now.

I would highly recommend this application for business professionals or students who uses their computer to take notes.

Don’t wait guys, it is free and very useful!

This video can briefly show you what this application can do.

Windows Ink in the Anniversary Update – what is it?

(above is a screen shot of Windows Ink Space)

The Anniversary update is coming on the August 2nd. And part of its update includes what Microsoft calls it “Windows Ink”. Sounds like something a touch device such as the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book could use, right?

Microsoft is becoming more serious about supporting pen devices at the OS level. This time around, they have implemented a new set of pen-related capabilities at the OS level. Up to this point, Microsoft treated pens as if it is similar to a mouse – it does what mouse does in addition to the pressure sensitive touch. And since it implements mostly what mice do, its not any easier to use than a conventional mouse. There are some apps that are aware of pen hardware and lets you use them but you can obviously tell that the apps weren’t designed from ground up to use a device like a pen. Without pen support at a OS level, these features will never feel graceful to use. I basically don’t use my pen at all for this reason other than when I need to write notes freehand style.

Microsoft claims the Windows Ink will allow applications to respond to pen input “more naturally”. Rather vague to me, me thinks! My take on this is that since this is mostly a lower level framework, you are not going to see a huge improvement in your work flow immediately. Like any other APIs, you need good apps that use them to have any use for the underlying hardware.

For the initial release, Microsoft is providing what they call “Windows Ink Workspace”. This workspace is a place for you to find all useful pen-enabled apps and applets such as Sticky Notes, Screen Sketch apps, and all-new Sketchpad. It will also show all pen-enabled apps you ran recently. You can activate it by either clicking on the button in the system tray or (more likely) click on the back of the pen. I would say this is pretty spartan for the initial release. These are simple apps Microsoft included as an idea so that other app developers can come up with more complete apps, although for simple use, I could see myself using them.

Here are some screen shots:

(Screen Sketch app)

(improved Sticky Notes)

Some of the apps have picked up new features. The Windows Photo app now lets you draw stuff on photos directly. The Map app lets you draw routes and figures out the distance in real time. You can do a neat stuff like figuring out a height in 3D mode, you can even figure out heights of buildings and mountains (as a avid hiker, I may want to explore this in further depth). The Office 365 app now lets you delete a whole paragraph by scribbling on the paragraph. Highlighting is much improved as well with less chance of accidentally highlighting what you don’t want. Oh and don’t forget that ruler – you can use it just like a real one, including drawing straight lines like this:

(Ruler in action)

Overall, I still feel these features are immature. Many of today’s apps that are bundled with Windows don’t quite work gracefully with the pen despite much improvements. But now I feel it has enough features that I could start using the pen. I am looking forward to see other app vendors innovating in this space with the new OS level support of the pen hardware.

You can check out Microsoft’s original blog article here.

Do you use your pen? If so, what do you use it for?

Most power efficient browser for your Surface Book and Surface Pro 4?

Microsoft has recently performed some study on various browsers in the area of battery efficiency. They picked the usual popular browsers – Chrome, Firefox and Opera. They then compared them against their latest browser – the Edge. Microsoft says the Edge is especially optimized for mobile devices such as the Surface Book and the Surface Pro 4.

Their quote:

“You can simply browse longer with Microsoft Edge than with Chrome, Firefox, or Opera on Windows 10 devices”

You can read the this article to find out the details of their test methods. This is the chart they came up with:

All the tests were performed on the Surface Book which means the results probably apply well to the Surface Pro 4 as well.

Given the above, and if you care about longevity, its a no brainer to go with the Edge, right? Even the Wall Street Journal’s article confirmed that the Edge lasts longer than Chrome.

Well, a day later, Opera fought back, posting an article on their own blog, refuting Microsoft’s claim. Here’s what they posted:

Both Microsoft and Opera posted videos running their own tests.

Looking further into details, it does appear that Opera has used several methods to conserve battery. They offer a ‘power saving mode’ (the Edge doesn’t have one) and some of what it does may not suit your need. Of course, Microsoft has decided not to use this mode. Also, an insider build was used which may or may not point to anything.

Me? I use Chrome. I use Chrome’s bookmark synchronization heavily. I’ve built up a huge collection of bookmarks over the years in a hierarchy format. This can be used on any platform as long as I stay with Chrome. If someone comes up with something that lasts 50% longer than Chrome, I would use it alongside Chrome for those special occasions.

As for you guys, which browser do you use on your Surface device?

[poll id=”3″]

Oh and by the way, my wife and I are currently on vacation and we will be for another 10 days. Here are two of many pictures I’ve taken so far. Can anyone guess where we are? 🙂

Android notifications coming to your Windows 10 soon!

If you currently own an Android phone and also use Windows 10 (the most popular combo amongst this blog readers), then we  may have an interesting feature coming to us soon. This feature allows you to see Android notifications on your Windows PC/laptop/laplets!

Of course, to get this feature working, you will need to install an app in your Android phone, and that role will be fulfilled by the Cortana App. Once you have the latest update applied to your Windows 10 when it becomes available, you will be able to enable the notification synchronization feature. Notifications such as e-mails, messages and missed calls will be visible on your Windows 10 and the process is near real time. This feature is called synchronization for a good reason – if you dismiss any of the notifications from any of the devices, the rest will be automatically dismissed as well. Its a two way communication, not one.

This feature was discovered by one of the user who are currently part of the Microsoft Windows Insider Program. This means for most of you, this notification feature is still not visible. It is expected to be rolled out as part of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update which is currently scheduled for late this summer.

Surface Diagnostic Toolkit

So, Microsoft released Version 1.0 the Surface Diagnostic Toolkit and, let me tell you, if you own a Surface you need to know about it.

Basically, the Surface Diagnostic Toolkit runs your Surface through a series of tests. These tests are designed to cover everything from making sure the latest patches and drivers are installed, to checking every key on the keyboard, and everything in between.

The toolkit comes as part of the Surface Tools for IT which is a set of programs designed to help IT professionals deploy and maintain Surface devices in a business environment. However, the Surface Diagnostic Toolkit is simple enough that anyone can use it (even if you don’t have a lot of IT savvy).

As such, I would recommend that everyone who owns a Surface downloads a copy and keeps it tucked away in a folder. That way, even if you’re not having a problem at the moment, you can easily test your hardware in the event something starts acting up.

It’s also a great tool to have on hand, if you’re planning on buying a used Surface. Just copy it onto a USB drive and run it against the Surface before you hand over your cash.

Surface Diagnostic Toolkit: Getting It

To get the toolkit, just follow these instructions:

  • Go to Microsoft’s Download Center and click on the Download button for the Surface Tools for IT.
  • Next, make sure the “Surface_Diagnostic_Toolkit_v1.0.88.0.zip” file is checked then select Next.
  • Open the zip file and save the Surface_Diagnostic_Toolkit_v1.0.88.0.exe file to your desktop.

Note: Depending on when you’re reading this, the “v1.0.88.0” portion of the file names may be different depending on if/when Microsoft updates the tool.

Surface Diagnostic Toolkit: Using It

Now that you have the toolkit, the next step is to run it. If you do all of the tests, it will take about 20 minutes and since many of the tests require you to interact (disconnect power, type on the keyboard, etc.), it’s not something you can just kick off and come back to later.

However, the tool does give you the option of selecting which tests to run; so, if you are suspecting a problem with the dGPU on a Surface Book, you can run just that test without the need to do every other test (which can be a bit tedious).

Running the Surface Diagnostic Toolkit:

  • Make sure you’re logged in with admin rights.
  • Run the Surface_Diagnostic_Toolkit_v1.0.88.0.exe program.
  • When the EULA widow appears, select the Proceed button.

  • Next, the “Welcome” screen will appear. From here, you can select to run all tests or select which tests to run. For this example, I’m going to select the Select Tests option.

  • From the Select Tests window, make sure only the tests you want to run are selected. You can use the Uncheck All option to clear all of the tests (which will be selected by default). Once you’ve selected the tests to run, select the Run Tests button.

At this point, the test(s) you selected will begin running. All you have to do is follow the on-screen instructions.

As an example, here is the Integrated Keyboard Test screen:

During this test, you need to manually hit every button on the keyboard which will turn them from grey to green in order to show that they are working properly.

Also, you can hit the Skip Test button during any test to skip it and move on to the next test.

While it would be nice if more of these tests were automatic, the Surface Diagnostic Toolkit does the job of checking out pretty much everything that can go wrong with a Surface tablet or Surface Book.

Tim

Customize your Surface with GestureSign Gestures

If you want to be able to customize how you interact with your Surface via touch by creating or assigning gestures to actions, you have a new choice. In the past, TouchMe Gesture Studio was pretty much your only option. and while it works really well, sometimes it’s nice to have choices.

As such, I’m happy to inform you that, the first release version (1.0.0) of GestureSign was made available a few days ago and offers the following features:

  • It’s free and open source.
  • You can add your own custom gestures.
  • You can make application-specific gestures and even make the same gesture do different things depending on which apps you’re running.
  • It can mimic keyboard shortcuts like Alt+Tab, Win+D, etc.
  • It doesn’t take up much disk space (785 kb as opposed to 95 MB Touch Me Studio)
  • You have the option to use it as a portable app.

Pretty cool, right? Now that you’re curiosity is piqued, let’s take a look at how you can get a copy of GestureSign for yourself.

Customize your Surface with GestureSign Gestures: Setup

To get GestureSign, just go to the link below and download either the installable or portable version

https://github.com/TransposonY/GestureSign/releases

When you do, you’ll see a screen like the one below. I highlighted the two download choices in the blue box. You only have to download one or the other, not both.

The difference between the two is simple, the installable version can be installed as any other software while the portable version doesn’t require installation to function. All you have to do is unzip the file and run the gesturesign.exe program. As such, it’s a great choice if you just want to try it out but you’re not sure about installing anything.

Customize your Surface with GestureSign Gestures: Using It

Once you have GestureSign running, you’ll notice a new icon in your Surface’s system tray that looks like a blue box with a “G” in it:

From there, you can right-click it to get some options. The one you’ll want to look for first is Control Panel, which will bring up the main application window as shown below:

This window is where you can assign actions to gestures, such as using a 2-finger swipe up to bring up the touch keyboard and a 2-finger swipe down to close it.

During my testing the software worked well and I didn’t have any major problems but I did come up with a short list of things you should be aware of, if you choose to give it a try:

  • The interface isn’t terribly intuitive and there are no instructions included with the software but, if you play with it for a few minutes, you can figure it out.
  • Single-touch (gestures made with only one finger don’t seem to work (for example the “e” gesture which is supposed to open a web browser by default doesn’t work at all). I got around this by using, at least, 2-finger gestures which worked just fine.
  • The mechanism used to create a new gesture is called “Training Mode”. I thing calling it “Create new Gesture(s)” would be more intuitive.

Once you have your gestures the way you want them, just start using them. The software gives you some nice feedback on screen via soft blue lines when it recognizes a gesture. This way, you know it’s working.

If you don’t want to start the software manually every time you restart your Surface, you may want to look under Options and turn on “Start GestureSign when Starting Windows”.

So, If you’re looking for new ways to better interact with your Surface, and\or TouchMe Gesture Studio wasn’t to your liking, give GestureSign a shot. Since it’s free and you don’t even have to install it, what do you have to lose?

Tim

Master of Orion on a Surface Book

You might recall that I like to play video games. So, when I got an early access (beta) copy of the new Master of Orion (MOO) remake from Steam, I just knew I’d have to see how well it would run on my Surface Book.

If you’re not familiar with Master of Orion, the original was made in the early 90’s and was an instant classic. It invented the 4x genre in video games (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate). The premise is simple, humans have recently invented a FTL Hyper-drive which leads to a mad dash to conquer the galaxy by any means necessary.

Now, I happen to have one of the i7 Surface Books with 8GB or RAM so it’s got plenty of power but I was wondering if it had enough power to render multiple spaceships in combat with the video settings cranked. Turns out, it can and below is the proof.

Master of Orion on a Surface Book: Screenshots

Here’s some in-game screenshots (click pictures for a larger version) from MOO, as it looks on my Surface Book. I was playing while connected to an external monitor with a resolution of 1920 by 1080. The video settings were cranked up to the maximum:

Not too  shabby, huh?

Not only is it beautiful on my Surface Book but it is very smooth. Very little noticeable lag or jumping at any time during gameplay.

Master of Orion on a Surface Book: Videos

Here’s a pair of game play videos. As with the screenshots, I used an external monitor with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and the video options cranked up to maximum. In the first video, I sent 6 ships on what turned out to me a suicide mission against a Space Dragon…

Not wanting to make the same mistake I did before, this time, I sent 50 ships up against the Guardian of Orion…

You might call it overkill, I call it “insurance” 😉

So, if you’re an old school gamer like me, you’ll probably be happy to know that the new MOO will run just fine on your Surface Book. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a galaxy to conquer…

Tim

Chrome 49 Keyboard Issues on Surface

If you’re using Chrome as your primary web browser on your Surface, DO NOT upgrade it to version 49.

Some people have discovered that while Chrome 48 worked fine (more or less), Chrome 49 does not trigger the on-screen keyboard which makes it pretty useless in tablet mode. [Kind of funny since Google is supposedly all about mobility, nowadays, and they are very quick to downgrade sites and are not mobile-friendly.]

The “old stand by” answer of setting the “Enable Touch Events” to enable, doesn’t seem to help in this case. (In case you’re wondering, you can open a new tab in Chrome and browse to chrome://flags to see a giant list of settings. One of them is the “Enable touch events” setting.)

Chrome 49 Keyboard Issues on Surface: Workarounds

If you didn’t hear about this issue until it was too late, there are a couple of workarounds, unfortunately, none of them get Chrome to trigger the keyboard as it should:

  1. Attach a keyboard.
  2. Use Edge or some other browser when in tablet mode.
  3. Manually switch back to Desktop mode by swiping in from the right of the screen and clearing the Tablet Mode option. Once you do this, the keyboard icon will appear in the system tray and you can bring it up manually.

The 2nd or 3rd option is probably the best temporary workaround. Hopefully, the folks over at Google will issue an update to correct the problem soon because Chrome is a pretty popular browser.

Of course, if you’re OK doing it, reverting back to version 48 will also do the trick. Just be aware that it might just be tough keeping Chrome from trying to update itself back to the (broken) version 49.

Tim

Configure Find My Device on Surface Devices

Find My Device is a feature built into Windows 10 that can be used to pinpoint the location of your Surface on a map from a web page. Better yet, it doesn’t require any 3rd party software or services to be installed.

Since it is free with Windows 10, the feature doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles. In fact, it only allows you to locate your Surface on a map and only if the following conditions are met:

  • The Find My Device feature is configured for your Surface.
  • You normally log into Windows 10 on your Surface with a Microsoft Account.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because I already talked about this feature in my article titled Find Your Surface – How To Locate Your Tablet. In that article, however, I was discussing the features in comparison to a pair of 3rd party tracking software packages.

In this post, I’m going to cover how to configure and use the Find My Device. Let’s start with configuring it…

Configure Find My Device on Surface: The Steps

By default the Find My Surface feature is turned off on your Surface. However, it’s pretty easy to turn on, just follow these steps:

  • Open All Settings then go to Update and Security.
  • Select the Find My Device option then select the Change button.

  • Turn the option On.

That’s it. Pretty easy right?

Configure Find My Device on Surface: Using It

Now that Find My Device is configured, let’s go over how to use it to locate the last location of your Surface. For this example, I’m going to track my Surface Book:

  • Fire up a web browser and go to account.microsoft.com/devices.
  • Sign in with your Microsoft account.
  • Browse to the device you want to locate then tap or click the Find My Device option.

  • When you do, you’ll get a map that looks a lot like this one…

As indicated, the location will update periodically when the device connects to WiFi; so, the location it shows may not be exactly where your Surface is when you check.

Basically, showing the last known location is the extent of the functionality. If you want additional features such as remote wiping or remote locking, you’ll need to look at 3rd party hardware-finding programs.

Despite this limitation, however, I recommend you configure Find My Device. If for no other reason than to help you to remember where you last used your Surface, in case you misplace it.

Tim

Application Sandboxing on your Surface

If you’re security conscious, you’ve probably installed good Surface. You may have even tightened up your firewall settings and installed a VPN in order to be as safe online as you can be.

However, there’s still something you can do to make your system even more secure (especially when web browsing) and it’s pretty easy to implement.

It’s called application sandboxing.

Application Sandboxing on your Surface: What is Application Sandboxing?

At the most basic level, application sandboxing is a technology that creates a “virtual space” in which you can run programs. This, in effect, isolates programs in the sandbox from the rest of your computer and prevents those sandboxed applications from making any permanent changes to your computer.

For example, if you run Chrome in a sandbox, and if you accidentally click on one of those popups that installs some dodgy toolbar (or something worse), all you have to do is close down the sandboxed browser, empty the sandbox, and restart Chrome to wipe out any nefarious changes. Cool, huh?

Application Sandboxing on your Surface: What Are My Sandbox Options?

Like everything else nowadays, there’s a multitude of options you could try. However, to keep it simple, I’m going to present to you just two… Sandboxie and Shade Sandbox.

Sandboxie

Sandboxie is, arguably, the best known and most popular application sandboxing solution. It is pretty feature-rich but that might make it a little confusing for less technical people. However, it is very flexible and, if you learn how to use it properly, very powerful.

Pros

  • Free
  • You can simply right-click on an application or desktop icon to start the application in sandboxed mode
  • You can create multiple sandboxes
  • You can create desktop icons to automatically run applications in the sandbox. When you install Sandboxie, it automatically places a “sandboxed” icon for your default web browser on your desktop.
  • Outlines sandboxed apps with a yellow box, so you can easily tell they are sandboxed.
  • Works well with most applications.

Cons

  • Can be a bit intimidating for less technical users.
  • Does not work with tiles (Win 8.x) or the Win 10 Start Menu. Just desktop icons and application in File Explorer.

Bottom line: If you want to have a lot of control over your sandboxed apps and you’re willing to spend a little time sorting through and learning options, Sandboxie is for you.[divider]

Cybergenic Shade Sandbox

Shade Sandbox doesn’t offer the options that Sandboxie does but, if you want a sandboxing application that’s simple to run and you want to use it (mainly) for your web browser, this is it.

You don’t need to choose whether or not to run an application in the sandbox, the Shade Sandbox automatically runs applications the sandbox once configured. In fact, by default, it will find web browsers you have installed on your Surface (except for Edge) and automatically add them to the sandbox.

Unfortunately, this can be problematic, if you don’t want to run the app in a sandbox, because you’ll need to open the Shade Sandbox options and remove it. If you want to run it in the sandbox again, you’ll need to re-add it to the Shade Sendbox.

Pros

  • Free
  • Very simple to use
  • Outlines sandboxed apps with a violet box, so you can easily tell they are sandboxed.

Cons

  • “All or nothing”. If an app is configured to be sandboxed, you can’t run it normally.
  • Shows a popup (and plays an associated sound) for just about everything it does. It gets annoying quickly.
  • It is designed mainly for web browsers; so, it might not work as well for other applications.
  • Does not work with tiles (Win 8.x) or the Win 10 Start Menu. Just desktop icons and application in File Explorer.

Bottom line: This is a very easy to use sandboxing utility but it might not be as flexible as you would like.

Both applications work fine on any Surface Pro or Surface 3 (sorry, they don’t work on Windows RT) and can help your Surface be even more secure quickly and easily.

Tim