Acer All-In-One: Style Over Substance on Windows 8

Acer-Aspire-ZC-605

All-in-one desktop computers have been around for a good few years, with Apple cornering the high-end look-at-me market a couple of years ago with the stunning iMac. Now it’s time for Windows 8 users to be treated to the style-over-substance world of all-in-one PC desktops available from the likes of Sony, Acer, HP and Dell.

What is not understood by many is an all-in-one desktop computer has more in common, components-wise, with a laptop than a traditional tower and screen PC setup. Now, that used to mean style over performance; but these days an all-in-one isn’t necessarily a by-word for slow.

Acer’s latest offering, the ZC-605, is a low-cost all-in-one that isn’t going to compete with the iMacs of this world, but it does have some redeeming features including: a 19.5-inch display, Dolby Home Theater v4 surround sound and 16 GB of onboard RAM.

The weakest part of the ZC-605 specs list is the processor, a dual-core Pentium 2117U, clocked at 1.8Ghz, which as far as were aware, is a new chipset from Intel that’s only been on the market since January 2013, and while it’s not going to blow your socks off it’s not a bad base for a mid-range all-in-one.

One saving grace for the ZC-605 is that comes with a healthy dollop of RAM: 16 GB DDR3, to be exact – which is impressive. But we can’t help but feel it might be a bit wasted when it’s paired up with a less-than-stellar dual-core processor, with a built-in graphics chip – a gaming rig this is not.

Elsewhere the ZC-605 continues the all-in-one aesthetic on a shoestring, with the 19.5-inch screen, which comes with a huge bezel, again, compared to an iMac it doesn’t do the ZC-605 any favours in the looks department, but it’s actually not all that bad, because it allows more space for some decent speakers – a massive bugbear of most all-in-ones.

The screen does have 10°-30° tilt adjustment so you’ll be able to find a comfortable position, whether you are relaxing watching a film, playing a game or working. The screen has a reasonably impressive resolution of 1600×900, though, it’s quite someway off 1080p. There’s also an adjustable 720p HD webcam, but there’s no touchscreen capability, which really could have seen the ZC-605 stand apart from the competition, especially alongside the new touchy feely Windows 8.

The most frequently used ports, including a USB 3.0, are all grouped together in a handy port capsule to the side.

Sound is handled by Dolby Home Theater v4 Surround Sound and compared to some all-in-one desktops it’s quite impressive, with decent bass levels and even there’s even an attempt to create virtual surround sound via cleverly shaped speakers in the screen’s case.

Samsung Slate PC Series-7: Crazy name, impressive spec

While the champions of iOS and Android battle it out in the tablet-space this autumn, one manufacture has taken up the fight for a more ancient cause – a Windows-based tablet. Samsung’s plan is to create ultimate office tablet, using typical office software – Windows 7 and Microsoft Office. Enter the Slate PC Series-7, with a crazy name but good specs.

Samsung-Slate

To power the full-sized Windows 7 operating system on the Slate, you’ll find a full-sized Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB RAM and a 64GB SSD HD. While we’re used to seeing flash memory on other tablets, the huge 4GB RAM and Core i5 mean that this tablet is packing some serious heat. And with a full-sized processor, it’ll be generating a lot of heat, too.

While the processor is great for a tablet, the 4GB RAM is essential for Windows 7 operation – anything else might cause the machine to stutter – especially with Samsung’s touch interface on top.

The interface lets you poke around with your fingers to control the mouse-friendly operating system, but it’s really no match for a native touchscreen interface like Android or iOS. Samsung have tried to deal with fiddly display elements by bundling a capacitive touch pen – which is also cool for drawing – but the un-finger-friendly Windows 7 will be a frequent frustration.

On the plus side, Windows 7 means the Slate can run all the important programs a business could need, as well as support a huge array of file types and bespoke software. It’s basically a portable PC, so it’s open to whatever software you throw at it.

The truly miraculous thing about the Slate is not the interface, though, but how the laptop-standard specifications fit inside the thing. The 11.6” screen doesn’t create the biggest footprint for the components to sit in, especially considering that the device is only 12.9mm thick and weighs a paltry 0.8kg.

You’ll find other tablet staples included, such as Bluetooth for keyboards and mice, a 2MP front and 3MP rear camera and wifi, plus some additional goodies: there’s a full-sized USB port, WiMax and HSPA connections.

Buyers can also pick up the docking station (with video-out) to let you use the Slate as an efficient portable computer – making the device a great purchase for road-warriors.

We should also note the Samsung FastStart technology that allows the Slate PC Series 7 to wake up in 2 seconds and boot from cold in 15. Impressive.

Unfortunately, it’s all a bit expensive – retailing for around £999.

HP ‘s New Summer Line Up Of Towering Pavilions

HP is looking forward to a scorching hot summer with its new line up of redesigned Pavilion Desktops culminating in the meaty H8 which it boasts is the ‘most powerful HP computer to date’.

HP-gear

The redesigned towers incorporate sleek lines and contrasting materials such as a glossy sliding black front panel which hides the integrated ports and drives layered over a metallic base. Some of the models also offer a valet tray integrated into the top of the tower that comes with USB 3.0 ports so you can charge smartphones, and cameras easily enough. There’s also some banging sound promised with Beats Audio, a high-performance sound technology developed by HP and Beats by Dr. Dre.

It is however the HP H8 Series that leads the pack, with its Intel Core i7 processor, high end NVidia or ATI graphics card and up to three monitor multiple display capability.

There are two other models in the Pavilion family range, the HP P7 series that promises ‘generous’ hard drive  space, integrated graphics and multi channel surround sound and the HP P5 Series, a kind of dwarf version of the P7  that still packs a punch but takes up much less space.

Chief Designer Randall Martin comments “HP’s new PCs offer intuitive features and enhanced aesthetics, bridges the gap that sometimes exists between form and function.”

To complete the picture, the HP 2311x is a consumer slim line monitor with HDMI connectivity and mercury free LED backlighting.

HP 2311x Monitor £159

The HP Pavilion Slimline s5 series from £499

The HP Pavilion p7 series from £499

The HP Pavilion h8 series from £799

The Pavilion series is expected to be available from early summer 2011.

HP TouchSmart610: Multitouch All-In-One PC

Since the launch of the iPhone, PCs have been comparatively boring. Their designs are dull, you can’t rotate them around and poking the screen just leaves dirty marks. Not anymore – HP noticed this desktop short-coming and created the TouchSmart610. It’s interesting to look at, moves in two directions and has multi-touch compatibility. But, and this is the big question – why?

HP-Touchsmart

No-one doubts that computer’s stats. The 23-inch, 1920×1080 (Full HD) screen is impressive, especially with the LED backlight. And the screen’s ability to recline 60 degrees, tilt 5 degrees forward and swivel back on itself is unique to the 610.

It’s not let down by poor internals, either. The TouchSmart can be configured with either Intel or AMD processors, RAM runs up to 16GB, a potential terabyte of storage (or a 160GB SSD version) and a Blu-ray drive.

And there’s also plenty-o’-extras, including a 1.3 megapixel camera and Beats Audio speakers, offering possibly the best sound available in a home desktop.

So why are we feeling a little cynical? Well, the problem is application. It’s a bit hard to know what the computer will be used for. The two variations, 610 and 9300 Elite Business, have decidedly different markets – and only one makes much sense.

The 610 aims at home users, with TouchSmart software, some media manager and the inclusion of strategy game R.U.S.E. The problem is that the screen is a bit too small to replace a TV, the touchscreen useless for the majority of games and the swivel function almost pointless. It’ll be great for ergonomics, but we can’t see much regular use otherwise.

For business, however, the purpose of the 9300 is much clearer. In showrooms, for example, an employee could tap away at a computer, then swivel it around for a client to interact with it via touch. PC sharing will be a lot easier and – and this is important – seem much more professional. The 9300 also boosts the webcam to 2 megapixels (why?), but loses Beats Audio (makes sense).

If you’re a home user who needs flexible ergonomics and has trouble with mouse-and-keyboard input, then the HP is the only PC for you. Otherwise, we’re open to comments suggesting other home-uses. Business customers, however, look this way.

TuneUp Utilities 2011 review

TuneUp

Like people, computers seem to slow down as they get old. With human ageing, it’s usually losing information that slows things down. With a PC, however, it’s the opposite – too much data. Accumulate enough old and redundant files and even the fastest system will struggle. Over 20 million people have turned to TuneUp to solve these issues. We got hold of the 2011 edition to find out why.

After a painless install, TuneUp automatically boots and asks if you want to scan your system. Its part of the 1-Click Maintenance service, which cleans and defragments the registry, removes broken shortcuts, deletes temporary files and optimises system start-up.

When ran on my six-month old computer, it found 582 registry issues, 96 broken shortcuts, 484.16MB of pointless temporary files and 11 potential system start-up optimisation. Suddenly, I felt like an abusive parent.

A quick browse of the “show details” option showed that I’d been fairly caught, too – most of the errors in the registry were from installed software referencing to absent files. Not exactly my fault, but it was clear that TuneUp wasn’t making the number up.

While most users will have to take TuneUp’s recommendations as gospel, even less advanced users might be able to understand the start-up optimisation options. Clicking “show details” launches a panel that reveals superfluous boot-up software – the stuff that slows down your computer’s loading time.

Not only can it tell you to remove some of them, but it also recommends moving some of the programme updates to weekly schedules rather than to run on boot. This is perfect for updating software – you’ll keep up with the latest releases but prevent a mammoth boot time.

There is plenty of functionality other than 1-Click Maintenance to dig through, although the most memorable is Turbo Mode. At the click of a button, TuneUp will change some preset (by you) system settings, such as graphic options and unused system processes, and free up computer power for whatever important task you’re doing. This is a godsend for older computers tugging along, although it won’t make too much difference to your top-end system.

After ten minutes of following wizards, I’d finished.  Rebooting my computer, start-up had definitely improved. Of course, ten minutes of Googlin’ can tell you how to increase your boot-up times using the Windows built-in MSCONFIG.

As for the rest of the optimisations – I couldn’t tell. I’ve got a lightning fast system, so the difference is hard to notice, and realistically, probably minimal. Having looked at what the programme does, however, I can say for a fact that older systems will love this programme.

If you aren’t an advanced computer user, I almost guarantee that this programme will prevent your computer from unbearably slowness. There’s a 15-day free trial, so it can’t hurt to give it a try – especially on a system over a year old. I think I’ll get it for my Dad.

Kindle apps roundup

Just as trees are grown for books, Amazon has slowly been growing an eco-system for reading books anywhere – the Kindle software. Now available or planned for eight different devices, Kindle plans to become far more than just hardware for eBook rendering. It wants to be a one-stop shop for all your book reading needs.

Kindle-Apps

And with such clever features, it’s no doubt an important reason to buy into the closed Amazon environment. With any piece of Kindle software, you can view your entire eReading library. Forget your Kindle? Read the same purchased book on your phone. Spare moment at work? Whip open the PC program.

Aside from granting you access to all of your books, Whipsersync software will also automatically synchronise the last page you read , as well as any annotations. It’s like having your book on you no matter where you choose to read.

Despite standard Whispanet features, each platform has slight variations in what the program can do. We’ve ran through every piece of Amazon software, isolating the key features of each version

PC Version

You’d expect the PC version to be the most fully-formed installation, but you’d be wrong. Feature-wise, it lets you create new highlights, notes, and bookmarks, and manage old ones. It also lets you search for words or phrases within the book you’re reading.

In terms of readability, it is one of only three versions with a multi-column reading mode, full screen functionality, and brightness adjustment. You can also alter the presentation, changing it from black-text-on-white to white text-on-black, or to a sepia option (a personal favourite). You’re also allowed to fiddle around with the amount of words per line.

Unfortunately, Kindle newspapers, magazines, and blogs are not currently available for Kindle for PC (or any other app). All those subscriptions can only be realised on the actual Kindle device.

Mac Version

The OSX installation (for Leopard and Snow Leopard only) is exactly the same as Windows. It’s almost an identical port, bar the change around in the menu due to the operating system’s layout.

iPhone Version

The only option the iPhone loses over the computer versions is multi-column support. Otherwise, viewing annotations and adding notes and highlights are there, size, search and background colour are all present.

Far from being a stripped down experience, the iPhone app actually adds three killer features. The first is the ability to tap a word for a definition. The second is the automatic orientation adjustment, and the third is swipe to turn a page. Brilliant.

Android Version

The Android version started out as a poor man’s iPhone app, but a recent update has put it above its Apple brother. There are two reasons for this. First, you can change brightness in-app, so it is much easier to adjust depending on your reading conditions.

The other iPhone-beating features is that you can search inside a book via text input or by voice, as well as look up the definition of words in Wikipedia.

Blackberry Version

The Blackberry version hasn’t received very favourable reviews, mainly due to the lack of touchscreen and small display. Still, you can create new highlights, notes, and bookmarks and manage those created on other systems, as well as change the font size between six different sizes and select a certain page or chapter to go to.

There’s also a whole host of shortcuts to make book navigation easier, though:

• Press ‘P’ or ‘shift’ + ‘space’ to go to the previous page.
• Press ‘B’ to add a bookmark to the current location (page).
• Press ‘F’ to toggle full screen reading mode on or off.
• Press ‘-‘ or ‘+’ to change font sizes.

Kindle for BlackBerry is available to U.S. customers only. It should install on your UK device, but the book store probably won’t work.

iPad

The iPad edition takes the best bits of the iPhone and adds customised background colors, font colors, and font size to help ease eyestrain. Then it takes the adjust screen brightness function from Android and puts it within the app.

Finally, it takes the multicolumn display from the computer system versions and makes it available when reading in landscape. It’s the most complete version and our top pick.

• They’ve even added a page turning animation to replicate the look of turning a page in a book, or you can use the default Basic Reading Mode for a simpler and unadorned reading experience.

BlackBerry Playbook Version

This app is as mysterious as the platform right now. We imagine it’ll be like the iPad’s version, however. Watch this space.

PS3 pad sliced in two by SplitFish, evolution?

For most, the well established Sony control pad is perfect just the way it is. The latest incarnation, the DualShock 3 for PS3, not only features analogue controls but also motion sensing, USB charging and vibration technology. So then, how do you improve on perfection?

Third party control pad developers Splitfish think they’ve found the answer – by literally breaking the DualShock 3 design in two. The sleek Dual SFX Evolution, comes in two wireless pieces, and works on both PS3 and PC. By enabling the user to hold a piece of the controller in each hand SplitFish contend that the arms can be placed in more comfortable positions allowing for prolonged stints of play. Each controller also contains its own ergonomically placed analogue stick to further enhance the user’s comfort.

The Evolution’s enhancements don’t stop at comfort either; Splitfish’s device features fully programmable motion controls not found in Sony’s pad. By connecting the Evolution to a PC, the pad’s ‘wrist flick’ controls can be configured exactly how you want them. A quick flick of either wrist triggers a pre-programmed action – ideal for honing the pad to a particular type of genre or creating instant Wii-like gesture controls. The pad’s analogue sticks can also be modified as required; perfect for achieving that perfect control balance on anything from a first-person shooter to a driving game.

The Evolution does have its drawbacks however, the most obvious being the button layout. PS3 owners are used to their face buttons being of a standard configuration, the Evolution changes this standard to accommodate its analogue sticks; a change sure to cause confusion when playing games that require quick-fire button presses. The constant need to connect the pad to a PC whenever a new layout is required is a problem too; the inability to store multiple pad layouts onboard the device an obvious failing.

The success or failure of SplitFish’s Evolution will depend on their successful championing of its improvements over Sony’s pad in order to win over fans of the DualShock 3. The Evolution might not offer quite enough to tempt everybody at this stage but perhaps subsequent, refined versions might; after all even Sony’s DualShock didn’t happen overnight.

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