HP takes on the MacBook Air with the Spectre x360 hybrid laptop

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What do you think of when you hear the name HP? Laser printers maybe? Office desktops, business laptops? All very worthy but generally dull. Well, it’s time to throw away those preconceptions because HP is putting on the style.

Its latest HP Spectre x360 range of hybrid laptops is slim, stylish and set to take on the MacBook Air. With a machined aluminium chassis that’s just under 16mm thick and weighs only 1.49 Kgs (3.3 lbs) the x360 range features full HD touchscreen displays and a choice of Core i5 and Core i7 processors. A flip over screen means you can use it as a conventional laptop, turn it into a tablet or stand it up in ‘tent mode’ for viewing movies or presentations.

The machine has also been designed in close collaboration with Microsoft to provide a pure Windows user experience with fast performance and long battery life. So far, so impressive, but what do the reviewers think of it?

Trusted Reviews starts with some faint praise, describing the design as “inoffensive” but is impressed by the machine’s construction and quality saying it, “…has the feeling of hard density that we like to get in an Ultrabook.” The 12 hour battery life also made an impression, “If you needed any more convincing that this is the HP take on the MacBook Air, this is it.”

PC Advisor describes the Spectre x360 as a rival to the more expensive Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro,

“Not only is it more affordable, it uses a more premium design. While the Lenovo uses a metal lid, the inside is a soft-touch rubber finish. With aluminium all over, the HP Spectre x360 looks and feels more desirable and stylish.”

The 13.3-inch screen they say, “looks crisp” but it gets some criticism for being highly reflective. However, the overall conclusion is positive,

“…the firm looks to have done a great a job of packing good specs in a desirable aluminium chassis at an affordable price point.”

Describing the Spectre x360 as, “…the Surface Laptop that Microsoft refuses to make.” Slashgear says it’s,

“…a beautifully constructed machine. Sure, there are some elements which are a little MacBook Air-like – the bottom panel, for instance, and the front notch in the lid – but overall the combination of brushed and polished aluminum, the consistently-even keyboard, and the excellent IPS display with broad viewing angles give it a distinct look and feel of its own.”

“The Spectre x360 is one of our new favorite laptops,” says Engadget, singling out the hinge design for particular praise, “This allows the machine to be equally thick regardless of whether the screen is in tablet mode or folded shut, like a regular notebook.” Though it does point out that the machine is less successful when used as a tablet, “What you might find, though, is that a relatively large, 13-inch PC like this, particularly one this heavy, isn’t well-suited for tablet mode.” However, the machine’s size is a double-edged sword,

“Because the x360 is slightly bulkier than its rivals, it can accommodate a cushier keyboard and a bigger battery, allowing for nearly best-in-class runtime. It also makes room for a ton of ports.”

The size is a concern for Laptop Mag  too, “At 3.26 pounds, the x360 is heavier than most other 13-inch ultraportables. Among those whose screens can fold back 360 degrees, the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro is a full pound lighter, as is the nonfolding Dell XPS 13 (2.5 pounds). The MacBook Air weighs 2.9 pounds.” Despite this it concludes,

“With long battery life, good performance and an attractive design, the HP Spectre x360 is one of the best convertible notebooks you can buy.”

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If all this has convinced you that you really need one in your life, the HP Spectre x360 range starts from around £850. But we’ll leave the final word to Notebook Review,

“HP didn’t just make something that ‘looks’ similar to a MacBook … HP made every effort to deliver a product that meets or exceeds what Apple currently offers from the feel of the chassis and performance of the hardware all the way to the intangible elements of the user experience.”

The HP Spectre x360 is available now from $899.99. Visit HP to find out more.

The updated Toshiba Kira series: putting the ‘ultra’ in ultrabook?

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Toshiba has announced it has both expanded and enhanced its premium Ultrabook Kira range. According to Toshiba, with a range of new features, the 13.3 inch Kira takes “performance to an improved level as the ultimate Ultrabook both for personal and business use.”

The Kira range will soon be available for the first time in Europe with a range of configurations. Will it be the “detailed clarity” of a PixelPure touch screen, or the new fully HD non-glare option, that whets the appetite of the Europeans?

So what to the critics think of the new and enhanced Toshiba Kira range?

The Gadget Show is wholly impressed, running its review with a striking opening sentence that states the new Toshiba Kira “Packs more of a punch than ever.”

With a fifth-generation Intel Core i7 processor, according to the Gadget Show, not only is the new Ultrabook more powerful than previous models, but it allows for slicker day-to-day use as well as processor-heavy tasks such as gaming.

The Gadget Show review is particularly awestruck with the 1080p model, in which users can enjoy a “whopping” 13 hours of standard use.

Wooing Apple laptop users?

The Inquirer is equally as rapt by the “beefed up” Toshiba Kira range, believing that the Windows 8.1 Ultrabook will have the ability to “woo Apple laptop users.”

The Inquirer is keen to highlight the fact the full HD model weighs just 1.1 kg and the higher spec model weighs a little more at 1.32kg.

The upgrade comes with 256GB SSD storage and 8GB RAM, as well as the same Haman Kardon stereo speakers with DTS Studio Sound as its predecessor.

Trusted Reviews were also quick to jump of the Kira Ultrabook’s new processor and longer battery life, which, according to the site, jumps from around 10 to 13 hours.

As far as connectivity goes, the upgraded Kira has three USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI, SD card reader and dual-band Wi-Fi, as well as Bluetooth 4.0, Trusted Review is quick to point out.

According to the Gadget Show the 2,560 x 1, 440-pixel model will be out before the end of March, but we’ll have to wait for the 1080p model which is likely to be available before the end of June.

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There definitely seems to be a general accord of excitement surrounding the new Toshiba Kira range, and that’s even despite the fact we’re all looking forward to the arrival of Windows 10 but with the Kira update we’ll still have to make to with Windows 8.1.

The prices have yet to be disclosed.

Review round-up: The Dell Venue 8 7000 – the World’s thinnest tablet?

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Did Dell make crappy laptops? Some loved them, love hated them. But it now seems our experiences of Dell’s products can be put to one side, with the arrival of a statement-making 8-inch Android tablet – The Dell Venue 8 7000, proudly marketed as “the world’s thinnest tablet”.

So it’s definitely got our attention, but what’s the word on the street about the Venue 8 7000?

Wired, we have to admit, aren’t overly impressed. Citing the 8 7000’s new Intel processor, stylish features, unusual accessories, and a three-camera array, assets which are supposed to “blow you away”, the only aspect of the tablet that ‘does it’ for Wired is its beautiful design – sleek and slim, which at an incredible 6mm, could possibly be thinner than the iPhone 6. Despite its waif measurements and weighing just half a pound, the tablet still feels sturdy, pines Wired.

Innovative Intel Processor

Running the latest, cutting-edge Intel processor, the Venue has theoretically the perfect processor for a PC-style setup in a tablet form, writes Wired. However, the important word here is theoretically. Whilst the battery is impressively powerful and PC-like, little things like a game defaulting to inferior graphics and the multitasking menu stutters opening, are of concern to the Wired reviewer.

So mixed feelings about the Venue 8 7000 for Wired, but does the Dell tablet fare better with The Verge?

Super thin but “surprisingly solid” writes The Verge, but if only “better than the rest” counted for more!

Not a great start to the review and even less so when we learn that there’s only really two reasons why anyone should part with their money for the Venue 8 7000 – its design and its camera array.

So what about this elusive three-camera array?

Flip the Venue 8 7000 over and you’ll see three camera sensors, note the Verge. The sensors work together to form a depth-sensoring array. The first is an 8-megapixel camera which take the images, while the other two 720p cameras measure distance and determine depth information. This enables the user to get creative with photography by doing tricks such a blurring the background or isolating the subject in colour and making the background black and white. The camera even acts as a digital tape measure, informing the user of the measurements of the items in the frame.

Sounds impressive but, disappointingly, according to the Verge, the Venue 8 7000’s ‘special’ camera is reason not to buy this device. Why? Its standard 8-megapixel camera isn’t great, nor is trying to hold the device to take the photos!

Computer World seems a lot more upbeat about the Dell Venue 8 7000, referring to it as a “distinctive and premium Android tablet.”

This “distinctively stylish” tablet has some “unusually compelling” qualities, writes Computer World.

One such quality is the tablet’s impressive speakers which produce crystal clear sound. The 8 7000 is “consistently snappy” has “respectable stamina”, useful feature enhancements and clean and intuitive UI. On the downside, Computer World is critical of the tablet’s limited on-board storage

So what’s the overall verdict? Well the Dell Venue 8 7000 has certainly got the thumbs up for its super thin, sleek yet sturdy design but what seems to be a consistent let down is its camera, which, ironically, is the one component Dell probably worked the hardest on.

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And the price? The Dell Venue 8 7000 starts at £326, which is hardly a bank breaking price tag.

Asus ZenBook UX305: looks good, but is there substance?

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It’s ultra slim line. It’s aimed at professionals on the go, and it weighs just 1.2kg. The Asus ZenBook UX305 certainly sounds like it could have potential for those who work on the move, but what to the critics think?

When it comes to laptops, CNET isn’t always the forthcoming in sounding the merits. When therefore the technology review site use several complementary adjectives to describe a new gadget, we are compelled to sit up and read on.

In their hands on review of the UX305, CNET says they were impressed by the ZenBook’s slim frame, which, measuring just 12.3 mm thick and weighing a mere 2.6 pounds, is one of the slimmest laptops going.

Furthermore, with its all-aluminium frame, the UX305 both looks and feels “like a luxurious piece of kit,” continue CNET.

With an Intel Core M processor and 8GB of RAM inside its skinny frame, there should be plenty of oomph to keep Windows 8.1 “ticking along nicely,” CNET continues.

Will it impress amidst the business lounge elite?

Whilst impressed by its slightness and memory, assets that CNET believe will be attractive to business users on the go, the review’s only doubt is whether or not the UX305 will look the part when pulled out of a briefcase in a business lounge.

Throwing another view of the design of the ZenBook, the Ultra Book Review of the UX305 deems the device as sleek-looking, keeping the familiar lines of Zenbooks but with the added intrigue of concentric circle patterns on the lid and bevelled sides on the darker finishing but chromed elements on the white one. Sounds like Asus have at least tried to provide some intricacy on the UX305’s design.

On a less positive note, the Ultra Book Review is quick to point out that the UX305’s footprint seems to be pretty similar as the UX301 and, asides its being slimmer, there is nothing particularly new to shout about with the UX305.

Fan-less hardware

The pros of the Asus ZenBook according to this review are it strong and beautiful build, packed with a great matte display, its fan-less hardware and that it’s fast enough for everyday use.

Its cons are the fact it’s void of a backlit keyboard, it can get a tad overheated, its Wi-Fi is a little slow and the trackpad is prone to glitches.

Pocket Lint is quick to point out the Asus ZenBook UX305’s price – £649.99.

The technology site seem impressed with the device’s 128GB solid state disk drive and its resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels.

On the downside, Pocket Lint seems a little disappointed that despite being available to two colours – a silky-smooth Ceramic Alloy shade and an Obsidian Stone with ZenBook’s signature spun-metal finish, the UK only has the latter version!

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All in all, if you’re after a lightweight and fairly stylish ZenBook that has all-day battery and powerful productivity and you are willing to part with £650, with the Asus ZenBook UX305 you could be on to a winner.

Alcatel OneTouch PIXI 7 – how good can a £70 tablet be?

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In recent weeks we’ve seen major players including Tesco and Vodafone stepping up their efforts in the budget tablet market – anybody would think it was getting close to some major seasonal gift buying event.

Now French manufacturer Alcatel is getting in on the act, bringing its OneTouch PIXI 7 tablet – first unveiled at Mobile World Congress back in February – to the UK. It’s a Wi-Fi only device with a budget price of £69.99, which places it above the sort of obscure far eastern brands you can pick up online for under 40 quid, but below better known names. It’s £10 less than the original Tesco Hudl for example.

The question is, at this price point what sort of compromises does it involve? At 9.9mm thick and weighing only 285 grammes it’s suitably pixie like. Inside is a 1.2 GHz triple-core CPU running Android KitKat, 512MB of memory and 4GB of internal storage that can be upped to 32GB with a microSD card.

Unusual for a cheap tablet is an infra-red port which lets you use it as a universal remote for your TV. You can stream content with Miracast too. Where the cost cutting really shows though is in the 960×540 screen resolution and in front and rear cameras both with a meagre 0.3 pixel resolution.

As Trusted Reviews says, “The specs are assuredly underwhelming, but that’s no surprise considering the price point.”

Cnet points out that the PIXI’s design is reflected in the price,

“To look at, there’s no question that it’s a budget device. Its rounded plastic back is very plain, with none of the elegance you’d see on more expensive devices. Still, if you’re expecting bleeding-edge design for 70 quid, more fool you. It’s all plastic and comes in ‘bluish black’ — oddly unspecific, but at least Alcatel didn’t make up some awful name like ‘Midnight Emperor’ or ‘Ocean Shadow’.”

The presence of two cameras impresses Phone Arena, though their spec didn’t.

“Usually, affordable Android tablets omit cameras, so it’s to our amazement that this one is outfitted with not one, but TWO cameras. Don’t hold your breath, though, seeing that they’re measly sized 0.3-megapixel ones – front and back! They’re not there to snap the most detailed shots, but instead, they’re simply tacked on to give us that option of snapping something if nothing else better is present.”

The Gadget Show likes the fact that it runs a relatively recent version of Android,

“Although there’s no sign of the latest and greatest Android 5.0 Lollipop onboard, the fact it runs KitKat is respectable enough (we’ve seen plenty of budget slates and phones running Android that are a couple of iterations out of date)…”

Overall there’s no doubt that the PIXI 7 is a budget device with a slightly silly name. But if you just want to update your social media while you watch TV on something with a bigger screen than your phone, it’ll do the job without stretching your finances. The PIXI is available now from Three stores.

Samsung Galaxy Tab Active – the rugged tablet for business types

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Tablet computers are becoming increasingly popular among business users as a means of allowing employees to stay connected wherever they are. But for industrial environments, field service personnel or people who work outdoors, a conventional tablet may not be up to the task.

Step forward Samsung with an answer to the problem in the form of the Galaxy Tab Active. This is a ‘ruggedised’ tablet aimed at business users, so much so that it will only be sold through B2B channels and won’t be available through retailers. Home users may like to click-through to the next story now.

Still here? Good, you’re obviously a serious business type who’s not afraid to take the rough with the smooth. So what makes a tablet rugged? In the Galaxy Tab Active’s case it’s erm… the case. It has an anti-shock covering that Samsung claims will survive a 1.2 metre drop (that’s about 4 feet in old money), it’s also IP67 certified which means it’s dust resistant and won’t be daunted by going out in the rain. There’s also a stylus so you can, for example, use it whilst wearing gloves.

Beneath the rugged exterior – sorry for coming over a bit Mills and Boon there – is not a heart of gold but a pretty standard Galaxy Tab. You get a 1.2 GHz CPU, an 8-inch 1280×800 screen, 16GB of onboard storage expandable by a microSD slot, 3.1 megapixel front and 1.2 megapixel rear cameras. All this is driven by Android KitKat and, in keeping with its business focus, comes with Samsung’s Knox security program.

So what do reviewers think? Engadget notes that,

“The Galaxy Tab Active boasts 10 hours of power from a detachable, 4,450mAh battery, and a UI designed for tough work – the kind of stuff that keeps your fingers off the screen. It’s also got a variant of Samsung’s S Pen in the C Pen, a tougher version of the standard stylus included with various Galaxy devices.”

Reinforcing the Active’s business credentials ZDNet says, “It’s also been certified for Citrix and SAP applications…” and, “…during the design phase of the Galaxy Tab Active, the company talked with Fortune 500 companies spanning 12 industries to find out what business leaders wanted from a mobile device.”

“The tech specs are mid-range at best,” says Rugged PC Review, “but that would not detract from vertical market use where leading-edge tech isn’t as essential as in the cut-throat consumer market.” Which basically means business users are happy to buy lower tech specs as long as they work.

Pocketnow puts it more simply,

“The hardware that powers the Tab Active isn’t too exciting, much closer to a Tab 4 than a Tab S, but that’s not why anyone’s going to be buying this thing; they’re here for the rugged design. That protects the tablet against drops and environmental damage, while features like its stylus (even if it is a capacitive one) and support for quick charging cradles help expand its usefulness out in the field.”

However, Cnet’s reviewer says,

“The Active has definitely been put together with businesses in mind, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a consumer version, as there currently aren’t many options for those who want a rugged tablet for outdoor use. Samsung has a tendency to make plenty of variants of its products, so fingers crossed we see a version of the Tab Active that’s aimed at everyday shoppers before too long.”

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So, if your working life demands a tablet that’s a bit tougher than the norm, tell your IT manager that the Galaxy Tab Active is available in the UK through distributor Exertis though no pricing is has currently been released.

Nokia returns with N1 Android tablet

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Nokia is back and is back in style! Being a product that marks the former phone giant’s return to consumer electronics, naturally the announcement that Nokia is releasing an Android tablet is causing quite a stir. Sites as diverse as the Android Police and the BBC, the Phone Arena and Forbes, quickly gave Nokia’s announcement some deserved attention.

So should we be excited about the style, workings and capabilities of the N1 Android Tablet? Or is the hype merely bubbling because it’s the first product Nokia has released since it sold its smartphone business to Microsoft and is likely to be a disappointment?

Forbes, fairy impartially we have to admit, details the N1’s spec with little commentary or opinion. This 7.9-inch tablet has a Gorilla Glass 3 covered with IPS panel running at 2048 x 1536 pixels. The CPU is an Intel Z3580 which has 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of internal storage and runs at 2.3 GHz.

The camera is an eight-megapixel rear camera and a five-megapixel forward facing camera, perfect, of course, for taking ‘selfies’. As Forbes writes, it will be interesting to see if Nokia has “retained its legendary image capability.”

The BBC spoke of how Nokia’s “surprise launch” pits the company against Microsoft, which concluded its takeover of Nokia’s previous mobile devices in April this year.

The BBC also points out how Nokia says it will not be making the device itself, but has instead licensed its design, software and brand to a third-party.

So what about the N1’s design?

Uncanny resemblance of the iPad Mini is one comment that is woven through a significant proportion of the preview reviews.

Digital Versus talks of the iPad Mini resemblance, stating how, with a screen that even uses the same 4:3 ratio, the designers must have taken some “serious inspiration from the iPad Mini.”

“So much so, in fact, that it’ll be difficult for the Nokia to plead ignorance.”

Admitting that Nokia, doesn’t “do things by half”, Digital Versus is quick to point out that its tablet is designed around the very latest version of Android, 5.0 Lollipop.

The 5.0 Lollipop is, as Android proudly asserts, the “largest and most ambitious release for Android yet!”

Asides the Android 5.0 Lollipop, the N1 is overlaid with the Nokia Z Launcher interface, a feature almost every report of the N1 is keen to mention.

As Wired mentions, Nokia describes its Z Launcher as “predictive”, as it enables users to quickly scribble a letter or two to retrieve content on the tablet quickly and efficiently. Eventually the Z Launcher will apparently learn which apps are in use and will predict what users are requiring based on the time of day and the user’s location – could be a tad frustrating we fear if the Launcher gets it wrong!

Of its design, Wired remarks that the colourful Lumias which Nokia were once celebrated for are gone, and it in place stands a single piece of aluminium with slightly rounded corners that look suspiciously like a device we’ve seen before that sports an Apple logo!

All in all there is a wave of excitement circulating the press about Nokia’s return to the consumer market – a return that is definitely ambitious.

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The N1 looks set to retail at $250 and should be released in the first quarter of 2015.

Google Nexus 9: their finest tablet entry?

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Though it hasn’t scaled the heights of Samsung’s Android success, Google’s Nexus line has been doing a good trade with your “purists” and those who enjoy a less restricted experience, and that’s in short down to the fact that its phones and tablets are, on the whole, damn good devices.

With Lollipop on the way Google’s celebrating with the new Nexus 9, the latest in a line that includes some of the best Android tablets money can buy. It’s shaping up to be every bit as good as its predecessor but this time Google has asked HTC to work the design, who despite mixed success have certainly shown they know how to build a phone. It’s a mix of brushed metal and soft plastic housing an 8.9” (2048xx1536) display alongside HTC’s BoomSound speaker design. It has a 64-bit NVIDIA Tegra K1 processor at 2.3GHz, 8MP rear and 1.6MP front camera and a choice of 16 or 32GB of memory. It also claims up to 9.5 hours of video playback and up to 30 days on Wi-Fi Standby, so looks to deliver that all important battery life. There certainly seems to be plenty of potential here, so let’s see how it fares with some hands-on trials.

PCAdvisor is a fan of the design, even though it does note that the tightly built, slim device doesn’t leave any room for a removable battery or microSD expansion.

I like the soft-touch back, which reminded me of Amazon’s new Fire HDX 8.9; this tablet will be easy to hang on to and won’t slide off tables.”

On the downside it has a 4:3 aspect ratio which isn’t as suited to movies, and it does seem a shame that HTC hasn’t worked harder to make the bezel a bit thinner – “The design isn’t bleeding-edge.”

TechRadar is impressed by the Nexus 9 but stops short of getting truly excited about its potential. For example, in terms of the screen there’s plenty to like but it’s far from the best on the market.

“It’s a decent effort indeed without being mind-blowing. It’s certainly high-res enough to match the iPad Air 2 in terms of pixel count, which means by having a 0.8-inch smaller display increases the sharpness.”

That said, it was impressed by the deep blacks and overall contrast, with video content faring very well.

TechRadar also goes into some detail on the new OS – Android 5 / Lollipop. It’s fairly early days, but:

“it’s a really nifty upgrade and it combines well with the larger and wider screen size on offer. Loading TechRadar on the Chrome browser wasn’t the fastest experience, with a few lags with swiping, but that’s very possibly down to not being final build.”

Elsewhere most aspects of the tablet are praised, but one area that did draw some criticism was the camera, which can still struggle to focus and in terms of general usability the overall quality isn’t quite there.

Finally Pocket Lint has a lot of love for the Nexus 9 design in general, which compared to the Samsung-designed Nexus 10, is just a better quality of device. First impressions of the display are good with decent viewing angles, but it’s a shame it doesn’t have the anti-reflective layer of the new iPad Air 2. It also explains a few of the nice details found on Lollipop:

“There’s also some touches of detail that we really like, such as enhanced volume options. Tap volume down and you can opt to silence the tablet for an hour, or to only allow priority notifications through”

before concluding:

“the Nexus 9 is a lovely device. HTC has brought some of its skill to the device with the front-facing BoomSound speakers, but we’ve yet to put them through their paces. We’re hoping they match the performance of the HTC One M8.”

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The general consensus seems to be that there’s plenty to like in another solid entry from Google, but like its predecessor it’s not exactly cheap. £319 for the 16GB version in fact, which will be available from the 3rd November in a choice of three colours – white, black and a kind of beige. We’re interested to see how it fares under a full review.