Review round up: Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet

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With Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia all but signed and sealed, it’ll be interesting to see what the merger of these two tech giants can bring to the ever-changing handheld market. Whether the Nokia Lumia 2520, the Finnish company’s first (and quite possibly last) tablet, gets swept under the carpet in favour of the Surface or embraced as part of a more diverse portfolio really depends on how precious Microsoft is about its own baby, and, of course, whether Nokia can show that it has something worth looking at.

With a 10.1” full HD display, quad-core, 4G connectivity, Windows RT 8.1, an impressive 11-hour battery life and 6.7MP/2MB rear/front cameras, along with a choice of four colours, Nokia is going all out with a high-end entry from the off, so let’s see how it fares.

We’ll kick off with The Independent, who lays its stall out early by claiming that “This, Microsoft, is how to make a tablet”. Lauding the aesthetics of the 2520 and calling it “…a triumph of design and beauty, making Microsoft’s own Surface look clumsy and heavy”, Nokia’s tablet is praised for its simplicity, a neat selection of Nokia’s own built-in apps and fast and responsive touchscreen, though what could turn out to be a predictable disadvantage is the limited (albeit growing) selection of additional apps available.

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T3 is similarly complimentary about the design, claiming that it represents a mix of the elegance of the iPad Air, the bargain price of the Tesco Hudl and the PC-replacement nature of the Surface 2. It also praises the display, stating that “It looks great, not least because alongside excellent resolution of 218ppi it has Nokia’s Clear Black Display technology which makes the screen more easily readable in bright light” and “Movies look super sharp, with a rich colour palette and wide viewing angles.” Both overall performance and the impressive camera get a mention, and T3 concludes by saying that “This is one of the best tablets yet built, thanks to Nokia’s swish and tactile design that fits the hand splendidly”.

Pocket Lint likes the performance, battery life, display and viewing angles, and again praises the design over Microsoft’s Surface, though does note that the Surface has a kick-stand, more USB ports and a slightly better price. These are minor points, however, as it goes on to say that “…the Lumia 2520 is probably the best thing on the market for people looking to buy a tablet that doubles as a laptop.”

Phone Arena is slightly less dismissive of Microsoft’s own brand, claiming that the choice between the two “is a tough one to call.” The slightly more expensive 2520 appears to win out overall though, with the extra cost “…justified in the way that it’s sporting one attractive design, produces better results with its camera, and that it’s preloaded with various Nokia-branded apps that deepens the experience out of the box.”

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Finally, TIME magazine says that the Lumia 2520 is “the tablet Nokia was born to build” and offers similar praise for the design and overall performance. Holding it back, however, is that “…it doesn’t trump the iPad and can’t compete with its abundance of apps”, while musing over its future in the light of the Microsoft acquisition. Sadly, with Nokia’s previous head of design Marko Artishaari declining to join Microsoft, it may be the case that the 2520 is seen as too much of a threat, with no immediate means to replicate its aesthetic merits. But as what could be a final hurrah for a company that has been so influential in the mobile phone marketplace, it’s nice to see that the Lumia 2520 ticks a lot of boxes.

The Nokia Lumia 2520 is priced at £399 with 32GB of storage, a SIM card slot for 4G and is exclusive to John Lewis.

Microsoft announce Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro

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Though it can hardly claim to have revolutionised the tablet market, Microsoft’s original Surface was nevertheless an intriguing device. Blurring the line between tablet and notebook, it seems to have done well enough for the software giant to come up with two new models to fit into the ever-improving tablet landscape.

It would be fair to say that the Surface series is aimed at slightly more professional use than your typical tablet, but from the look of the specs, Microsoft certainly hasn’t cut any corners when it comes to all-round capabilities. The Surface 2 is a 10.6” full HD model with an impressive (1920x1080p) display powered by an NVIDIA Tegra 4 processor alongside 2GB of RAM, a 10 hour battery life and either 32GB or 64GB capacities. It also offers a full-sized USB 3.0 port, a 3.5MP front and 5MP rear camera that are both capable of recording video at 1080p, with improved low-light performance to make face-to-face conversations a bit clearer. It ships with Windows RT 8.1, which comes with improved personalisation, search, multitasking and of course the full Windows Store experience, as well as being pre-loaded with Office Home & Student 2013 RT and Outlook 2013 RT.

The Surface 2 Pro improves on the more basic model and apes its predecessor by aiming to be a full-on laptop replacement, with a built-in keyboard and Intel Core i5 processor, as well as claiming a 60% battery life improvement over the original Surface Pro. It offers a similar display to the Surface 2 alongside 720p front and rear cameras, and true to form it’s capable of running virtually all Windows software, including the full Office suite. It comes with either 64GB or 128GB of storage with 4GB of RAM, and is also available in 256GB and 512GB configurations with 8GB of RAM.

Microsoft also announced six accessories for the new Surface tablets including three covers – “Touch Cover 2” for those who want to keep things as slimline as possible, “Type Cover 2” for improved lap-typing experience and “Power Cover” which offers a similar experience to the Type as well as boosting battery life by 50%. There’s also a docking station, in-car charger and the Arc Touch Mouse Surface edition for greater control. Microsoft is sweetening the deal on both tablets by offering free Skype calls to landlines for one year, unlimited Skype WiFi at one of over 2 million hotspots worldwide for the same amount of time, and 200GB of SkyDrive storage for two years.

The Surface 2 starts at £359 for 32GB, with the Pro 2 a rather eye-watering £719 for the 64GB model, and both should hit the shelves on October 22nd.

E3 Roundup: XBox One vs Playstation 4 – Price vs. Promising Lineup

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Gamers struggling to make a informed decision on whether to buy an Xbox 1 or PS4 this Christmas are not alone – but you will be glad to know both console makers laid their cards on the table at last night’s E3.

Both console makers gave a firm launch window of Winter 2013 for Europe and the US – basically November. The biggest headline from both shows was: price. Microsoft unveiled that their new console would cost $499/£425 – which on the face of it is quite pricey. Compared to the Xbox 360 launch the price point it’s a scary one. For example when the first Xbox 360 launched 8 years ago the base model was a mere £209, admittedly, though you didn’t get a lot of functionality for that price. When Microsoft wrapped up their presentation they unveiled their price-point and collective gasp echoed across the show floor like an icy wind.

Sony on the other hand unveiled an incredibly competitive price point of $399/£349. But that didn’t actually get the biggest cheer from the gaming fraternity. Oh no. Jack Tretton then went onto fully explain Sony’s stance on the thorny issue of DRM, he confirmed that the company wouldn’t be employing any form of draconian secondhand game policies. So if you want to lend a game to friend: you can. If you want to trade a game in at a retailer: you can. If you want to play any PS4 game offline: you can. Basically Sony made a massive song and dance that their console, on paper, is faster, it’s cheaper, and isn’t looking to completely re-write the whole paradigm of game ownership. Now, in the interest of impartiality, you can do almost all of that with Microsoft’s system, too, but their solution is a lot more convoluted and requires games to be online at least once every 24 hours, whilst secondhand games can be traded in depending on whether third party publishers get a cut of the trade-in fee – but it’s their decision, if they want to block trade-ins they can though – a worrying trend as we move towards a digital era.

Both console makers showcased as veritable smorgasbord of incredible titles coming exclusively to each console. It’s clear Sony won the battle of price and DRM, but there’s no doubt that they didn’t have a stronger software lineup compared to Microsoft’s own war chest of games. Games like Dead Rising 3 and Titanfall (from ex-Call of Duty devs) are exclusive to the Xbox One and look like hardcore games that will shift units fast. In almost every area of gaming both companies had exclusive titles; Microsoft showed of Forza 5, the latest installment of their biggest racing title, Sony’s answer was Drive Club, but on the face of it just can’t compete with Forza’s scope and vision.

Trying to decide which console to get is an exercise in futility, but now there are some big difference between the two consoles. Sony has also confirmed that their console will be region free, this means you can import a US console, for example, for a cheaper price and play games from Japan on it. Microsoft’s console on the other hand isn’t region free – again another big difference.

It’s clear that Microsoft and Sony have two different visions for their respective consoles. Microsoft is going for a walled-garden system akin to Apple’s iOS, with full control. They want to move the console into the world of the digital era, and, along with it, change the way we buy and consume games. This means games are intrinsically linked to your profile – much like they are on any digital store. Whilst Sony has stuck to its guns and will continue with the current model of open trading of games and the traditional ownership model – much to the delight of hardcore gamers.

E3 on the whole was great for both Microsoft and Sony – Microsoft clearly had the stronger software lineup with Titanfall, Forza 5 and Ryse, all shooting for the lucrative launch window. Whilst Sony nailed the all-important price point and DRM model, though their software lineup didn’t eclipse Microsoft’s with Killzone: Shadow Fall, Drive Club and The Order.

It’s clear that many gamers are still on the fence when it comes to choosing their next console, and that won’t change until they can get their hands on the controller, the system and, most importantly, the games. But on the face of it Sony’s decision to undercut Microsoft’s price point could well be the smoking gun for many. After all with such a dire economic outlook a cheaper price point is likely to secure a lot of those floating gamers who have yet to make their decision.

Will Microsoft rethink its price point? Unlikely. Will they rein in some of their draconian DRM? Quite possibly, but it’s been long suggested that their decision on DRM was at the behest of publishers unhappy at losing revenue to secondhand sales. So quite how Sony has managed to negotiate a different model does seem a bit puzzling, though, Sony’s decision to charge for online gaming could see a cut of that money going to publishers now – but at the moment that’s just pure speculation.

Surface Pro – Battery Life Review Round-Up

surface-pro-battery-test As someone who still carts about a relatively hefty five year old Dell laptop, I’ve been itching to splash out on an Ultrabook or tablet-cum-keyboard for some time now. Initially I thought the Surface RT was the answer, but its lack of compatibility with the large plethora of non-Windows software I run, soon ruled it out. So, like a lot of others, I sat on my hands (or should that be wallet?) eagerly awaiting the Microsoft Surface Pro – with its promise of being able to run pretty much anything your traditional desktop can.

The good news is that, on the whole, initial hands-on reviews of the Pro have been positive – apart from one consistent gripe, the battery life. From my point of view, this is a key decider on whether I buy one. I want a device with iPad-like properties, where you can happily leave it on ‘standby’ for days and still watch a movie without running out of juice.

In order to try and get a full picture of how the Pro’s battery life stacks up, I decided to check out the hands-on battery tests so far. I’m a natural pessimist and therefore decided to focus on the worst case scenario, so the results in the table below are generally the minimum you can expect from the Surface Pro’s battery. The logic being that you should be pleasantly surprised to find it lasts a bit longer than you expected!

Surface Pro Battery Life Results

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Given those results, I think I’ll continue to sit on my hands and see the battery results if/when the Pro comes shipped with the next-gen Intel “Haswell” CPU, which, according to PCPro, promises to include ‘aggressive power management’ not just for the CPU but also the chipset and other internal components.

If you found the table above useful, then you can use the Share buttons below to let your followers and friends know too.

Microsoft Surface: Review of reviews

It may have taken more than a few years for the penny to drop, but finally Microsoft has released its own tablet contender to take on the more established iPad and Android heavyweights. Has Surface, running Windows 8 RT, got what it takes to compete? Many reviewers it seems, have their shovels poised for some serious digging.

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Luke Westaway from CNet UK  welcomes the addition of Office as standard but suggests there aremore than a few irritating features:

“There are thoughtless annoyances everywhere. If you try to edit a Google doc without the keyboard attached, for example, the software keyboard doesn’t pop up automatically, so you have to go hunting for it in settings. Install an app and you can’t open it from Marketplace — head out to the Start screen and open it there. There’s no battery indicator on the Start screen either — there’s a graphic on the lock screen if you have charms engaged, but to find a battery percentage you have to go to the crusty old desktop.”

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Joshua Topolski at The Verge is initially impressed with the hardware:

“The Surface hardware is handsome indeed. The rectangular slab is a magnesium alloy forged from what Microsoft calls VaporMg, though it feels like thin, stiff aluminum to the touch.”  Not a bad opener, but then thing begin to get ugly, “Overall, Microsoft has designed a beautiful tablet that’s unfortunately more functional as a laptop… on a desk.” And now he is throwing haymaker punches ” It does the job of a tablet and the job of a laptop half as well and it often makes that job harder, not easier. Instead of being a no-compromise device, it often feels like a more-compromise one. There may be a time in the future when all the bugs have been fixed and the third-party app support has arrived. But that time isn’t right now — and unfortunately for Microsoft, the clock is ticking.”

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Wired on the other hand gives it 8/10 and some comforting words from reviewer Mathew Honan

“This is a great device. It is a new thing, in a new space, and likely to confuse many of Microsoft’s longtime customers. People will have problems with applications — especially when they encounter them online and are given an option by Internet Explorer to run them, only to discover this won’t work. But overall it’s quite good; certainly better than any full-size Android tablet on the market. And once the application ecosystem fleshes out, it’s a viable alternative to the iPad as well.”

Critics are united about the Surface’s lack of apps and perhaps Microsoft’s misguided strategy of a tablet that doubles as a laptop. The fear is it could end up falling between both stools.

Microsoft Surface: Rumour round-up

The tech world is buzzing with whispers about Microsoft’s first tablet release: the Microsoft Surface. The software giant has taken its time developing a contribution to the competitive market, but that’s only fueled the rife speculation surrounding the device, its features, its pricing, and its launch date.

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Microsoft gave consumers a glimpse of the Surface back in June, when it revealed that the tablet would run on the Windows 8 operating system. The company haven’t yet made any official announcements about the tablet yet beyond its release date, but have let slip snippets of information that have raised more questions than they’ve answered.

Features

Initial feature rumours surround the Surface’s connectivity. Bloomberg reported that the Surface will only be able to go online using a short-range wifi connection. This is a stark contrast to the Apple iPad 3, that has a 3G option, and a faster LTE connection.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Ben Bajarin, an analyst at technology consulting firm Creative Strategies, remarked that the wifi-only status could clash with Microsoft’s marketing attempts:  “The way that Microsoft is positioning this product – that it’s highly mobile but also has the functionality of a notebook – that customer might be more interested in working from any location and not being bound by Wi-Fi,” he said.

Another talking point is the Surface’s battery life. Online tech magazine Computerworld ran some calculations and estimated that the battery capacity was around 25% less than that of Apple’s iPad 3.

Pricing

According to Digitimes, the Surface will have two-tiered pricing. The Windows RT-based model will set you back around $600 dollars, while the Windows 8 Pro-based Surface could be a palpitation-inducing $800. It’s worth noting that these initial pricing rumours set the Surface as a more expensive competitor to the iPad 3, whose retail price starts at $499.

Launch

Microsoft have announced that the Surface launch will coincide with the release of Windows 8 on 26th October.

Follow-Up

Early August saw further rumours surrounding Microsoft’s tablet ventures. This time, the rumours weren’t so focused on the Surface but on its successor. According to the International Business Times, a not-so-cryptic job advertisement posted in Microsoft’s careers section suggested the company are already working on the follow-up to the Surface:

“We are currently building the next generation of devices and Surface needs you! The Surface development team is seeking a talented senior engineer to work on our next generation Surface. You will be responsible for overall system design and system bring-up/ enablement. You will be a critical member of a team that includes firmware, electrical, software, design validation and mechanical engineers; together, you will bring next generation Surface to life.”

Office 2011 Mac review: Outlook is positive, the rest of the applications, so-so

Microsoft Office 2008 on the Mac is horrible yet unavoidable necessity, that has had me banging my head against the wall for a long period of time. Random formatting glitches when working with complex (and sometimes quite simple) documents, irritating floating windows and the nightmare that was mail via Entourage (which still managed to handle Exchange better than the native Mail.app).

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Office 2011 promises to change all this. I raced through the quite simple install process and jumped straight to the new Outlook app. This account set up was, uncharacteristically automagical, importing multiple gmail accounts from my Mail.app and an Exchange account I had on Entourage in just a few clicks. Downloading thousands of messages took a while – but nowhere near as long as downloading my single Exchange account took when I set it up a year or so ago, so that process has been streamlined on some level. You can even preview documents like you can in Mail.

Much like lightweight Mac mail client Sparrow, Outlook groups conversations, following the Gmail paradigm. Initially I thought this was awesome. After a few days use a few annoying bugs appeared to have crept in. The most annoying of which was the algorithm used to group conversations, which seemed to simply operate on Subject line. Which is fine if you have ultra-specific subject lines such as “Office Mac 2011 review” but I had an incredibly long conversation spanning years that collated every email I’d ever used “Hey” as a subject line for. I’m sure there is something I could do to fix this … but I shouldn’t have to.

Outside of Outlook, VBA makes a welcome return, with no real excuse as to why it disappeared in the first place. Sharepoint and Windows Live SkyDrive are also thrown in for corporate users, who obviously have quite demanding document sharing needs. The integration of the Mac Media browser – makes searching for pictures – and other media obviously, pretty nifty.

There are a few confusing choices with regards to user interface choices and consistency with Mac style guidelines – which are dealt with in more detail here. Daring Fireball’s Jon Gruber would probably foam at the mouth at all this.

However, given Microsoft’s dominance in the corporate world you will in all probability be using this, not matter what it looks like, and I’ve seen much worse looking software. Like Office 2008. The ribbon is feature-packed, which can be a little confusing at times – although I do enjoy casually glancing at features I’ve never seen before (in what … 15 years of using Office) and experimenting with them.

My favourite feature is however the actual opposite of the Ribbon’s mild visual clutter. The Full screen mode, removes all controls from the screen, but allows you do basic (in fact most) editing and composing work with a limited control set available with a quick mouseover on the top bar.

Excel has a few refinements and Powerpoint looks a lot more like Keynote, which can only be a good thing. Apple’s iWork suite is pretty competitively priced and does lots of basic features that will work fine for the average user. And there is lots of custom low-priced Mac software, that works well most of the time. But… if your work is mission critical or if you function in a corporate environment then the high reliability and (almost) guaranteed compatibility for the Office suite means you should probably bite the bullet and update.

Your Shape: Changing the shape of gaming, and your waist-line

Your Shape is part of a new generation of gaming – the Xbox Kinect generation. The aim is to free you from the shackles of traditional control pads by using the movement of your entire body as the controller. But does it work? Is an updated version of the Sony EyeToy worth a £150 outlay? We got our hands – well, our bodies – involved in the new game to work up a sweat, as well as work out the answer.

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The amazing thing about Your Shape, and the Xbox Kinect, is how intuitive the control system really is. As soon as you step in front of the camera, you instantly feel in absolutely control. And with the camera sensing 24 different joints of your body – joints that you use every day – you can understand why it feels so natural.

Thanks to the Kinect, all of the Your Shape mini-games are extremely easy to use. Our favourite, the balance-objects-on-a-board game, is both the simplest and most fiendishly addictive. Hold an imaginary board level to stack falling objects, and then drop them into the open pit at either side to score points. The more blocks you stack, the more they are worth. While the game is fun, the most amazing feature is how easily non-gamers could pick it up – most took mere seconds.

While games like board-balancing fire up the testosterone, other games deliberately aim in the opposite direction. In fact, the game recommends you end with one of these relaxation sessions – like Tai Chi Tutor – to warm-down.

When practicing your Tai Chi, the camera provides you with visible feedback on your positioning. You’ll instantly know whether you are a Tai Chi master, or a poor imitation whose body is not quite in the right position. The visible feedback lets you instantly improve your technique – it is as if a real teacher was watching and analysing any mistakes. It will be a disservice to compare this to any other game, because it feels so much more like a real training experience.

There are plenty of more fitness orientated exercises for you to enjoy (or endure), but the key to development is the ever-evolving exercise programmes. The better you get, the more intense the work-outs become.

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Your success at getting fit isn’t just at the mercy of the console either, as Your Shape also lets you check out your exercise achievements online. Head to YourShapeUp.com and you can see your progress on various exercise, as well as the calories you’ve burnt over a period of time. It’s like an achievement record for your gym-skills. Being able to keep track of your successes really adds to the lifespan of the game – you can make sure that you’re keeping yourself going and continuing to improve without guesswork or time-consuming record taking.

Aside from burning calories, some of the games are actually quite fun. The aforementioned board-balancing game is a bit like Tetris for the twenty-first century. The basics are simple, but there are plenty of strategies and techniques to make you a first-class player. For example, hold your arms higher to raise the board in the air, making the objects drop slowed. Drop your arms to your waist, and the games speeds up its block dropping. It’s then up to you to work out when to tip the blocks into the catchment areas.

Your Shape is a great example of gaming for a new market. The party-play may not be there (although board balancing can get quite competitive, especially when you are pitched against the insurmountable Super Chick), but never before has such an interactive exercising game existed. It should be the pin-up of the current crop of Kinect games – an interesting game that literally couldn’t exist without the Kinect technology.