HP Stream preview and first look

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The “netbook” market, or whatever you want to call it, got a bit of a boost when Google launched its Chromebooks . Offering users little more power than they needed to perform such simple but important tasks as browsing the internet and working with documents, they were a popular solution for the low-demand budget-conscious. Google’s stripped-down operating system may not be to everyone’s tastes however, or at least that’s what HP decided when it came up with the HP Stream, a Windows 8.1 touting 14” device that’s also competitively priced and is aimed at the same audience.

As you’d expect you’re not going to get cutting-edge specifications – count yourself lucky if there’s enough here to do a smooth job. The 14” WLED-backlight display offers 1366×768 resolution, there’s a full size keyboard, 1.6GHz AMD A4 chip, 2GB of on board memory and up to 6 and a half hours of battery life. There’s 32GB of storage for your stuff or an alternative model that upgrades this to 64GB, but with 100GB of OneDrive cloud storage for two years as standard this should be plenty if you’re efficient with your data. If you’re a fan of music on the move you’ll also be pleased to hear that it features Beats Audio alongside quad speakers, so should offer far more on this front than your typical Chromebook – this could, in fact, be the last hurrah for the synergy that was Beat and HP.

It sounds fairly appealing so far, but CNET is quick to point out its limitations: “While probably the least expensive Windows 8 clamshell you’re likely to find, the system includes specs that might make even a very casual computer user cringe, at least if you were planning to use it as you would a standard laptop.”

PCWorld calls it a “Chromebook killer”, and starts by highlighting the fact that Microsoft drove out Linux in the netbook market and could be looking to do the same with Chromebooks. The big question, it seems, will be “how well it runs Windows. Low-end PCs are notorious for being deathly slow, although the onboard storage should help the Stream 14 run faster than hard drive-encumbered netbooks from five years ago.” This seems like it could be a deal breaker – after all, Chrome OS was designed to boot quickly and work smoothly on such meagrely specced machines. It also points out that “Chromebook also have an advantage over Windows in terms of security thanks to process sandboxing, verified boot checks, and the Web security features built into Chrome itself” so this is another area in which Microsoft might have to offer some reassurance.

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MobileGeeks has gone hands-on so can offer us a few more specifics. The display seems adequate if uninspiring: “Compared to today’s IPS screens the viewing angles, color and brightness levels are not fantastic, but considering the price point it is in fact totally acceptable and decent TN panel.”  When it comes to performance, the demo model that was tested seemed pretty nippy and capable enough of making it around the OS without unnecessary lag. The SSD undoubtedly helps here, which combined with cloud-oriented storage and a fast enough connection should give you quick enough access to your data. The keyboard also gets a mention, which is nicely sized and doesn’t flex too much under pressure. The lack of a touchscreen is a shame, though understandable at the price point, which we’d better get around to mentioning.

It’s $299, which is a bit of a shame as it was touted at being $100 less when rumours were doing the rounds a few months ago, but it’s still a tidy price and depending on how this gets translated outside the US, we can see the Stream being a popular alternative for Windows users.

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.

Parallels Access Turns Your Windows / Mac Programs Into iPad Apps

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Being able to get at your computer from your tablet is nothing new — apps like TeamViewer and LogMeIn already to a great job, and a free for non-commercial use — but Parallels Access offers something a little different. It optimises the programs running on your computer so that they mimic iPad apps, supporting the standard full-screen mode, tapping and scrolling that you’d find in anything you downloaded from the App Store. Your Windows taskbar or Mac OS dock is turned into an iOS-style home screen, making it much easier to launch and switch between apps as required.

It’s an impressive feat, and it comes at a price: you’ll need to shell out £54.99 a year for every computer you want to access, though there is a free trial available if you want to test the software out before parting with your cash. The final link in the chain is the Parallels Access desktop client, available for Windows (in beta) and Mac OS, which controls access from your iPad and makes the necessary adjustments on your computer (which you won’t be able to use if you’re also linked to it on your iPad).

We spent some time playing around with Parallels Access on an iPad mini and a Windows 8 PC, and while there were one or two minor bugs in the beta desktop client, overall the setup offered a great iPad-optimised experience. Installation was simple and straightforward, and our desktop software programs really did feel like native iPad apps, from the integrated pop-up keyboard to the simple app switching interface. Using Word was intuitive and straightforward, providing the fully featured software in a way that makes sense for a smaller screen.

Some of the more advanced operations (like clicking and dragging) take a little time to get used to — pay attention to the tutorial video that appears during the setup process, which explains how to duplicate mouse clicks and keyboard presses on your touchscreen iPad. Not every application works perfectly right now, but you can make use of the free trial period to see how Parallels Access handles your favourite programs.

Parallels has high hopes for the app. “We are now in an always-on age where people are increasingly demanding access to their applications and data regardless of physical location,” said CEO Birger Steen. “With Parallels Access, you can tap, swipe and pinch your way around Mac and Windows applications to ultimately be more productive at work, and lead a more connected life.”

You can download Parallels Access for iOS here and find the desktop clients at the Parallels website . The company also develops an extensive range of other virtualisation and cloud computing products.

XPS 18 – Dell’s Thinnest and Lightest All-in-One

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What do you get when you cross a laptop with a desktop PC and a tablet? If you’re imagining a bit of a mess, then you’d be completely on the wrong tracks, because that is just what Dell’s new XPS 18 is. All the portability of a laptop, with the trappings of a tablet and power of a desktop.

Connect the tablet device to a wireless keyboard and mouse and you have a laptop, or alternatively you can set up a special stand that allows it to take centre stage on any desktop. Versatile? Yep, you can check those boxes.

Whilst the majority of tablets with large screens (the XPS 18, taking after its name, comes with an 18.4-inch HD touchscreen display) tend to be rather bulky and on the heavy side, the XPS 18 is neither. Both thin and light clocking in at 5ibs, the All-in-One (AIO) is less than half the weight of its competitors on the market-place.

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With an aluminium backed finish, you can be confident that the XPS 18 is also designed to take a few knocks whilst on the go, and the versatility it offers means you can use it no matter if you are in the office, on the train or at home in the living room. The battery life of nearly five hours between charging means you are not restricted in terms of where you use it, making it a truly portable device.

Based upon third generation Intel Core processors together with seamless integration of the new Windows 8 operating system, the XPS 18 also represents good value for money, with a recommended retail price of only £849 when it goes on sale on April 16th.

Visit Dell for more information and to reserve one for yourself before the official release date.

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.

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.

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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.