I've reached the end of my patience for underpowered devices. I've entertained quite a few thin clients, including:
- Various Netbooks
- Apple TV
- Fire Stick
- Intel Compute Stick
- NEC MobilePro 770, 780, 790 (more on this below)
Return on Investment
The return on investment (ROI) of any device can be considered on the dimension of time (how long one uses it) and performance (how much one can do with the device). There are several approaches to this: buy something new and keep for a long time, turnover new devices quickly (lease approach), or buy something used but with a lot of life left, and turnover as needed (once the next generation appears at the same price/performance point). Underpowered devices make no sense for any of these approaches. Underpowered (or poor quality on other dimensions) only makes sense on a short-term, immediate purchase price consideration.
Underpowered Wastes Time
Underpowered generally means slow, but it also means feeble. This is where the Chromebook has a significant disadvantage. It is fine as an appliance of some kind, but ultimately falls short. Chromebooks do have a fast boot time, but then there is the time spent using the device. If one spends little time on the device, then little time is wasted. But that just means the use case has not been thought out very well.
Underperforming Set Top Boxes
The same goes for AppleTV, Chromecast, and the Fire Stick (and maybe the Fire TV, but I have not tried that). Boot times are ponderously slow. Responsiveness to the remote is horrible (and for the older AppleTVs, the use of the infrared port is maddening). These are all shit devices. Those who think Apple will make its AppleTV product better are dreaming.
The Failure of Voice Commands
Voice commands are still gimmicky and frankly ridiculous. There is such a high failure rate that it becomes painful and frustrating to use, nearly every time.
The Underpowered Apple Devices
Being an Apple product user on a budget, I've been subjected to my choices being generally underpowered. From the MacBook Air (restricted to 4gb of RAM back in 2011), to the iPhone 5 (restricted to 16gb of storage, at the low end). Even the so-called entry level Mac Mini still has an HDD (or a fusion drive option for a hefty price increase) and starts at 4gb of RAM and only goes to 16gb. The 2gb ipod shuffle has not been updated since September 2010. Really? This kind of storage limitation is insulting.
As one writer put it back in 2015, Apple just doesn't care about Ipods anymore. Close, but really they don't care about you. That is you as in y'all as Tim Cook might say. They don't give a shit about much except for that profit margin. A better ipod shuffle? Won't move the needle, so F*ckoff consumer.
Even in the area of watches, the competition is putting forward offerings that while less expensive, have as good or better functionality and use cases.
Fully Powered, Fully Functional
By fully powered and fully functional, for computers, we mean decent video, decent processors, lots of RAM and SSD drives, and the ability to be expanded in the future (that is, if one wants 16gb of RAM now, the device will support 32gb, if one wants to add another internal SSD, a controller is available, etc.).
Future Laptops and Desktops
For a fully-powered laptop, the future Lenovo x270 may be the model that fills all the needs. For the desktop it is the Intel NUC that has grown up to be a significant platform, that is still quite affordable and extremely frugal when it comes to power consumption.
But looking to the past, we do see a need for special devices that can fit into a certain niche. However, for things like smart TVs, home audio and video, and general purpose devices, I say no more underpowered devices.
NEC MobilePro 770, 780, 790
The NEC MobilePro series is a slightly different factor. For one thing, it ran Windows CE -- aka WinCE -- and did not have internal storage (though CF cards could be connected). It operating pretty much as a writing (and sometimes reading) device, with a 92% keyboard size and the ability to quickly take notes. I loved this device and had several units over several years. It was invaluable in my graduate studies for classroom notetaking. It was small, light, instant on and instant off, and the battery lasted a long time. It also had a modem, and could connect rudimentarily over wifi for a little email, if a special cf card modem were attached. The browser was super slow and frankly it was so underpowered one couldn't try to do things beyond its capabilities. However, what it did, it did better than anything else (and I still have not seen anything to beat it in terms of a speedy typing input device).
Kindle and other Ebook Readers
There are special devices for special use cases, such as the NEC MobilePro. Another great example is the Kindle. It is good for reading books (and searching for/buying books). The browser doesn't really work well at all. However, what it does (store hundreds to thousands of books, provide an easy-to-read interface that is not tiring on the eyes, has a battery that lasts weeks, and is fairly light and easy to carry), it does well.