Category Archives: Windows & ios

Why the Apple iWatch is coming in 2013

Why the Apple iWatch is coming in 2013
Apple’s “iWatch” is much more likely to arrive this year than an Apple TV. I’ve been avoiding the iWatch hype for the same reason I ignore the yammering about Apple building a television: Apple works on a lot of projects that don’t see the light of day, and what’s important to me is what people will actually get to buy.

But with respectable news organisations like The Verge and Bloomberg weighing in (see our report from earlier today), I have to say that the iWatch fits Apple’s pattern of new markets to join, and it looks like the next 12 months are the prime time.

Apple must keep moving forward. The company’s successes have been driven by helping to establish new mass-market product categories: The home PC (1977), desktop publishing (1985), MP3 players (2001), smartphones (2007) and consumer tablets (2010). Even in the dark years of the 90s, Apple kept trying to build new beachheads in PDAs (1993) and digital imaging (1994). It’s in the company’s nature to keep looking for new markets so it can repeat its successful formula.

Smartwatches are ready for Apple

Smartwatches (and wearable tech in general) are now in a traditional Apple entry phase. Apple tends to enter new markets once there’s significant tech-world interest in a new technology, but while there are still usability problems Apple could solve. Apple arrives after the first pioneers, but before a category has entrenched leaders. It makes a category mainstream not by increased functionality, but by better usability.

The smartwatch market existed on a very low simmer for several decades, but has really started heating up this year with buzzy, geeky entrants like Pebble and MetaWatch (see our article on Apple’s smartwatch rivals), driven by the low-power connectivity of Bluetooth 4.0 and the trend towards larger, less glanceable smartphones.

All the existing players are marketing towards the tech-savvy, and none of them have any real consumer brand recognition. Someone like Apple stepping in with strong design, overwhelming marketing, and integration between device and content (as it did with the iTunes Store and the App Store, which helped cement the iPod and iPhone’s market positions) could easily define the category.

Zoom out to the category of wearables in general, and it’s still a fertile field for Apple. Apple has dabbled with partnerships in things like Nike+, something it’s done previously before establishing new product lines (with the Motorola ROKR phone, for instance.) Its most comprehensive competitor, Google, is still at least a year from making Google Glass a usable, decently priced consumer hit.

The iWatch can also serve to backstop Apple’s iOS ecosystem against lower-priced Android phones that are currently outselling iPhones globally. The developed world is becoming smartphone-saturated, and most of the new smartphone customers are in emerging markets – that’s why you’re hearing so much chatter about Apple trying to figure out a way to build a cheaper iPhone without damaging its brand.

A device like the iWatch helps in two ways. It gives Apple a fresh purchase from developed-world consumers, and if it has some standalone functionality, it could be a “low-priced” entry device to the iOS ecosystem in emerging markets where iPhones are unaffordable.

Watches are an Apple market; TVs aren’t

I probably don’t need to tell you that the TV market is completely different from all this. The hardware side is a largely commoditised, extremely mature market led by huge, entrenched leaders with excellent brand recognition. The content side is basically a stultified, government-regulated quasi-monopoly of huge cable and satellite companies with almost total consumer penetration.

Entering the TV market means going head to head with wealthy, entrenched interests with something to protect and decades of experience studying consumer demand. Entering the smartwatch market mostly means going up against smaller companies in a confused, nascent welter where they’re still trying to figure out what people want. You’re Apple. Which market would you pick?

You may want Apple to shake up the TV market, because the TV market – especially the content side – sucks as a consumer experience. But it doesn’t fit the pattern of markets in which Apple succeeds. The smartwatch market does. I expect to see an iWatch sometime in 2013.

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Samsung Ativ S review

Samsung Ativ S review
If I asked you to name a manufacturer of Windows Phone-based handsets it is very likely that you’d come up with Nokia. The company has plenty of models available, and it has worked hard in its partnership with Microsoft to offer some good software add-ons that help its brand stand out.

But of course others are producing Windows Phone handsets too, and Samsung has just joined them. Samsung is rather late to the Windows Phone 8 party, but that doesn’t stop the Ativ S being a smashing phone with a lot going for it. The absence of LTE support is irritating, but there’s a lot more here that’s very nice.

The Ativ S is a big phone – the largest of any to run Windows Phone 8, in fact. The Super AMOLED screen measures 4.8in thereby just about beating Nokia’s 4.5in Lumia 920, and it houses 1,280 x 720 pixels. It’s the same screen found in the Galaxy S3, in fact, and it is obvious why Samsung has chosen to resurrect it here – it’s a pleasure to work with. If anything, Super AMOLED works better with Windows Phone than Android because the big blocks of colour that make up the tile-based interface respond much better than the Android interface to the bright sharp rendering on offer. Video looks great too and, well, you get the idea.

Having mentioned the Galaxy S3 I should continue with the comparisons. Some might say the Ativ S is a very similar looking phone, but in fact it isn’t. It is similar in size, sure, and Samsung has opted for a physical Windows button that takes you to the Start Screen just as it opts for a Home button on the Galaxy S3. Here the flanking touch buttons are back and search, incidentally. The reflective Windows Phone symbol on the physical button looks a little cheap and cheerful for my taste, and sadly it is not backlit. It’s an odd aberration, and a very visible one, in what is otherwise a pretty stylish physical design.

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The backplate is very thin and flimsy, but the fake metal finish to the plastic material looks great. The grill towards the bottom of the back covers the speaker, which in turn produces audio that’s too heavy on the treble for my taste and tends to distort at top volume. This grill also has a fake metal finish.

The fake metal concept extends to a long plate at the bottom of the back that melds into the edging. This has been given a chrome-like makeover and it’s the only part of the metal lie that doesn’t quite work. Plastic with a chrome finish just never seems convincing.

The chassis has a has squarer and blockier appearance than that of the Galaxy S3, though the overall dimensions of the two handsets are remarkably similar – the Ativ S measures 137.2 x 70.52 x 8.7mm, while the Galaxy S3 is almost identical at 136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6mm.

Button and connector placement is completely unremarkable. The headset slot is on the top edge, micro-USB on the bottom. A smallish volume rocker is on the left, main power and camera shortcut on the right. Under the backplate there’s a slot for your microSIM and another for microSD, both of which can be got at without the need to remove the battery.

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You get 16GB of built in storage, and that microSD card slot lets you add up to 32GB more, so there are none of those old issues about being unable to expand Windows Phone storage here.

Samsung has used a 2,300mAh battery in the Ativ S, and it did a pretty good job of keeping the phone alive. Placing it under an average (for me) burden that included some web browsing, email syncing, calls and even a little gaming, it saw me through a working day. If you are a heavy user, or listen to music on the commute, you’ll probably need to find mains power during the day.

The 8-megapixel main camera benefits from a flash, and I found photos to be perfectly acceptable in terms of both colour depth and quality. However, I still carry a dedicated camera most of the time and use a cameraphone for tweetable photos and the like rather than anything I want to keep long term. There is a 1.2-megapixel front camera, too, for those interested in video-calling or taking pictures of themselves.

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The dual-core Qualcomm processor, which is supported by 1GB of RAM, might sound behind the times when compared to the quad-core processors that support top-grade Android handsets, but I had no complaints about the responsiveness or speed of the Ativ S. In both cases, it performed well and did not let me down. As befits a high-end handset these days NFC is built in. It’s a pity, though, that there’s no LTE support.

I’ve said before that if you want software extras to lift the standard out-of-the-box Windows Phone 8 experience, then Nokia’s Lumia range is probably where you should be looking. Samsung has not changed my view with the bundle it supplies on the Ativ S. Yes, there are some extras here, but nothing that’s a deal-maker, I’m afraid.

You get Samsung Now, which is just an aggregator for weather, news (from Yahoo! News), stocks (from Yahoo! Finance), currency conversion, and an odd Top Tweets service that delivers tweets from several countries including France, Germany and Italy, but not the UK.

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Live Wallpaper is a fairly nice app that lets you choose up to 12 photos for the lock screen. I rather like this one as it helps you personalise things and get away from Windows Phone 8’s otherwise samey look across handsets. It is really easy to use which means you might be encouraged to change photo sets regularly.

MiniDiary lets you gather information in one place and can accommodate notes, photos and voice recordings. Personally, I’d install Evernote instead. Music Hub gives you some music related extras and is built around a store. Photo Editor will for some be the star of the show as it gives you a range of useful image editing facilities.

Samsung has also taken the opportunity to pre-install ChatON, its IM application. It does the job well enough but your contacts will also need to be on ChatON for you to take advantage of it. The same goes for Family Story, an app designed for sharing photos, notes and events with owners of other Samsung devices. You need a (free) Samsung account to use it.

To be honest, the pre-installed apps won’t draw you to the Ativ S. The good battery life, nice design and plentiful (and expandable memory) are the key features in that respect.

Verdict

At the time of writing this, Samsung’s Ativ S is the Windows Phone 8 handset with the largest screen, and the screen is bright, clear and a real eye-catcher. Slick operation under the fingers, NFC, plenty of memory and a generally stylish physical design are all additional points in its favour.

Specifications

Manufacturer and model Samsung Ativ S
Network GSM 850/900/1800/1900

HSDPA 850/900/1900/2100

Processor Qualcomm 1.5GHz dual-core
RAM 1GB
Built-in memory/memory expansion 16GB or 32GB/microSD
Display 4.8in, 1,280 x 720 pixels
Main camera 8-megapixel
Front camera 1.2-megapixel
Wi-Fi Yes
GPS Yes
FM radio No
Battery 2,300mAh
Size 137.2 x 70.52 x 8.7mm
Weight 135g
OS Windows Phone 8

 

The search for the truth behind Apple’s Lightning digital AV adapter

The search for the truth behind Apple’s Lightning digital AV adapter

Sending video from your phone or tablet to your TV is a very useful ability, and many options exist for doing so wirelessly – though most existing solutions are highly compressed and quite laggy. Obviously, a wired connection is what’s needed, right?

If you want a crisp 1080p signal from your iPhone or iPad, the best bet is to plug it in directly using Apple’s own £39 Lightning digital AV adapter. Unfortunately, it seems that this latest iteration of the device – designed to work with the new Lightning connector – isn’t putting out full 1080p.

Even worse, it seems that it is introducing noticeable compression artifacts (pictured below). Now comes the search for the truth amongst all of the Internet rage this is kicking up among Apple enthusiasts.

Cabel Sasser, a well-known software developer at Panic Inc., brought this issue to light at the end of last week. Through his own testing, he discovered that using the old Dock Connector AV adapter will output a full 1920 x 1080 video mirroring signal, but the newer Lightning AV adapter tops out at 1600 x 900.

After taking a hacksaw to the tiny adapter, it’s apparent that this isn’t just a simple cable. In fact, it has a minuscule ARM SoC and it is sporting upwards of 256MB of RAM. Cabel theorises that it is employing the same compression used in AirPlay to stream out the video, and that would explain the lag and artifacts being introduced to the signal. But why bother with this middleman at all? Well, we don’t have an official answer from Apple, but we have the next best thing: Wild conjecture and anonymous comments.

The Internet exploded with countless rage-posts about how Apple is screwing consumers. As cathartic as that may be, it didn’t provide much insight. Luckily, a comment on the original post provides interesting background to the ordeal. The anonymous commenter gives plenty of detail, and hints heavily that he or she is an Apple engineer. The commenter confirms that the SoC boots into Apple’s XNU kernel, but that’s as close as it gets to being iOS-like. Lightning isn’t capable of outputting an HDMI signal, so instead of adding complexity to each device, HDMI functionality was moved into the adapter.

According to this explanation, the iPhone uses the same hardware H.264 encoding that it would use to send video wirelessly over AirPlay. It then sends that compressed data out of the Lightning serial bus, and directly to the adapter. The SoC decodes the video, and handles the rest of the trip out to the end of the HDMI plug.

This accounts for all of the problems that Cabel ran into, and it seemingly has an understandable reason for existing in the first place. By having the iPhone spit a vanilla H.264 signal out of the Lightning connector, countless adapters can be made to work with existing phones instead of relying on the phone itself to support different specs (like HDMI itself). All of the heavy lifting is done by the adapter.

The quality is a problem, but updates are certainly a possibility if this commenter is to be believed. He or she even goes as far as to claim that iOS updates on the phone or tablet will be able to improve the quality of the output. At least it won’t require you to shell out for a whole new phone or £39 adapter. This isn’t a good excuse for the low quality output, but at least improvement seems inevitable and free of additional cost. Now we just have to wait for Apple to get round to making this better.

Dark Developer Demo

Kalypso’s vampire inspired, stealth-action title Dark has made several improvements since the developers showed us an early build of the game back in November. You play as a newly turned vampire out to uncover the mysteries of the supernatural underworld, but you won’t be attacking enemies in plain sight like a Blade wannabe–Dark is all about stealth. Since the last time we saw the game, the visuals have improved, now giving the game a graphic novel-like aesthetic, and we got to see some of the new environments in the near finished game. Check out the game for yourself in the video below.

Dark will be available for Xbox 360 and PC on June 4.

RECENT SCREENSHOTS

 

PREVIOUS SCREENSHOTS

 

Animated visualization maps a week’s worth of tweets sent between Twitter employees

Twitter interactions

The amount of publicly-available data available on Twitter, and a new data-visualization tool really hammers that home — developer Santiago Ortiz has mapped out the relationships between every Twitter employee based on their tweets to each other. Ortiz used Twitter’s API to pull all the tweets authored by Twitter employees for a one-week period, and then filtered those tweets by only those made between employees. The visualization Ortiz created is almost overwhelming in its depth of detail: hovering over a user’s avatar shows all the tweet-connections made by that person during the week, and clicking the avatar zooms in on that person and his or her contacts. Even more dramatically, you can click a “play” button to see a fast-forwarded view of every connection as it happened throughout the entire week — you can see small one-on-one coversations quickly branch to include more and more people. You can even click one user and drag to another to see a stream of any conversations the two individuals had.

While it feels slighly invasive and creepy, the simple fact is that none of these tweets are private — Ortiz only collected and collated this information into a more digestible form. As he told Fast Company DesignOrtiz took this challenge on simply to see if he could map a corporate hierarchy just using tweets, and figured that analyzing Twitter itself would be a good starting place. “The question is if this network matches the company structure…I believe yes, at least to some extent,” Ortiz said. Even after spending just a minute with Ortiz’ visualization, one thing is immediately obvious — Twitter employees certainly do like to use Twitter.

Microsoft Surface Pro review: Smart almost-laptop nearly gets it right

The good: The Microsoft Surface Pro fits a full ultrabook experience in a compact 10-inch tablet. Thanks to the ingenious Type and Touch covers, it offers a comfortable interface and typing experience. The clean, crisp design and sharp 1080p screen rise above the competition.

The bad: The battery life is disappointing, and more ports would be nice. The 64GB model barely has any free storage. It costs as much as a regular laptop, especially because the cool keyboard cover isn’t included by default.

The bottom line: The Surface Pro’s gutsy design successfully reinvents the Windows 8 laptop by cramming an ultrabook experience into the body of a 10-inch tablet. Those wanting to go all-in on the tablet experience won’t regret buying the Surface Pro, but we’re holding out for a future, more polished generation of the device.

 

On February 9, the Surface gets another lease on life. This version, known as the Surface Pro, tackles head-on many of the complaints about the original Surface RT — especially that model’s compromisedWindows RT operating system. The Surface Pro offers a full Windows 8 experience that works with older Windows software titles, packs a real Intel Core i5 processor, and boldly stuffs the entire PC experience into a sleek and appealing tablet body that’s just a tad thicker and heavier than the RT version.

There’s a lot to like here — if not to love. While the Surface Pro isn’t the first Windows 8 tablet, it may well be the best one to date, at least in terms of design. The magic here is in the details: the ingenious detachable keyboard cover and the included pressure-sensitive stylus both go a long way toward setting the Surface Pro apart from the other laptops, tablets, and hybrids we’ve seen so far.

Can the Surface Pro work as a real, everyday PC — a task that rival iPads, Android tablets, and even those Windows RT models couldn’t quite handle? For me, an initial skeptic, it can. You can color me impressed.

If you were skipping the Surface RT because you wanted “true” laptop power and performance, the Pro version is definitely the way to go.

 

But while it’s undeniably more powerful, the Surface Pro makes trade-offs — most notably, middling battery life, a heavier chassis, and a price tag that starts at $899. That hit on your wallet becomes closer to $1,200 if you go with the 128GB version (a necessity) and add the so-cool-you’ll-want-it keyboard cover. And you can say goodbye to the free version of Microsoft Office that came with the Surface RT; Surface Pro buyers will need to spring for that, too.

I’m waiting for Microsoft to throw me a bone. The Surface Pro’s best feature isn’t even in the box; toss in the $129 Type Cover. Or give me Microsoft Office. Otherwise, I think I’m holding out for the inevitable Surface Pro 2 — the one that will undoubtedly offer better battery life and a host of other upgrades. This version makes strides, but it’s not the perfect laptop-killer yet.

Price as reviewed / starting price $999 / $899
Processor 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U
Memory 4GB, 1,600MHz DDR3
Hard drive 64GB SSD ($899), 128GB SSD ($999)
Chipset Intel HM77
Graphics Intel HD4000
Operating system Windows 8
Dimensions (WD) 10.8×6.8 inches
Height 0.53 inch
Screen size (diagonal) 10.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 2 pounds / 2.6 pounds
Category Ultraportable / Hybrid

 

 

Design: Boxy-sexy-cool

Microsoft has done something right with the Surface Pro’s overall design: everything works exactly as advertised, and with an extremely elegant, bordering on beautiful, sense of design. The industrial magnesium chassis of the Surface Pro feels solid but isn’t too heavy to hold in one hand. One notable difference between it and the slightly thinner RT version of the Surface is a hairline wraparound vent on the rear that works with internal fans to keep the more powerful CPU running smoothly.

 

At 2 pounds, the Surface Pro weighs less than a regular ultrabook, and at 10.81 inches by 6.81 inches by 0.53 inch, it’s more compact. But it’s bigger than your average tablet, and weighs more, too. It feels like a larger iPad decked out in a fat suit. In fact, it still feels more like a super slimmed-down laptop than a regular tablet, especially with the Type or Touch Cover attached.

 

The Surface Pro on top of the HP Envy x2 tablet/laptop.

The closest equivalent we’ve reviewed was the Acer Iconia W700, a nearly identical tablet in terms of specs. The Iconia is longer and wider and has an 11.6-inch screen; the Surface Pro’s is 10.6 inches.

 

Made of the same “VaporMG” magnesium as the Surface RT, it feels even better than it looks, which — despite being cleanly honed — is a little boxy.

 

The Surface Pro tips the scales at 2 pounds even; add half a pound for one of the keyboard covers, and another 0.6 pound for the AC adapter and cord. That’s heavier than the Surface RT and iPad (both around 1.5 pounds), but lighter than most laptops, even with the keyboard case in tow.

 

If there’s any ergonomic complaint I can level at the Surface, it’s the angle of the tablet in kickstand mode when sitting at a desk and using the small kickstand flap that folds out to form the back of the system. The angle is not adjustable, and while it works fine with the Type Cover attached, I would prefer it angled up a bit more. I found myself hunching over to get to a perfect angle.

Display
The 10.6-inch display is small, especially for a full Windows laptop, but it’s crisp and bright and has a full 1,920×1,080-pixel resolution. I found myself able to work on it easily, but I could also see that you’d want to plug in a monitor for all-day use. The good news is that the Surface Pro supports up to 2,560×1,440-pixel resolution on an external display. Even if you didn’t use another monitor, the Surface’s IPS display is one of the best I’ve ever seen on a small Windows computer. Capacitive multitouch feels buttery-smooth. That’s the magic that made the iPhone and iPad so fun to use. The Surface Pro, in painting programs and a few other apps I tried, felt comfortable to navigate. It’s not quite as brilliant as the iPad’s Retina Display, but it feels like it’s getting spiritually close.

You can connect the Surface to a larger monitor easily; many will. A built-in Mini DisplayPort carries audio and video, and with adapters (sold separately) you can switch over to VGA or HDMI if needed. Working in multimonitor mode operated exactly the same as you’d expect on a Windows PC. It took some fiddling to get window sizing just right, but I found that working on my desk with the innocuous Surface on the side of my monitor as a PC-slash-second-screen was a bit of a treat.

 

Type Cover, Touch Cover: Killer accessories, neither included
Nearly this entire review has been written on the Surface Pro, using a combination of Type and Touch covers. The $130 Type Cover has an actual keyboard with depressible keys, whereas the $120 Touch Cover is a membrane keyboard. They both weigh about half a pound, and double as screen covers for the Surface.

The Type Cover keyboard feels wonderful, easy to bang away on, and largely responsive. The Touch Cover…well, not quite as much. It’s usable, however. The key spacing on the Touch Cover is identical, and as long as you can get used to the lack of actual key motion and give in to tapping away lightly on what amounts to raised polyurethane squares, then it can work — even with touch typing.

 

The Type Cover has a real but tiny honest-to-goodness multitouch touch pad with lower click zones; the Touch Cover’s touch pad has “clickable” areas delineated below the touch-pad space with cut-out grooved lines. The Touch Cover is fun (it’s available in multiple colors), but the real keyboard on the Type Cover only costs $10 more.

 

I can’t say enough good things about the Type Cover keyboard — if I were reviewing it separately, it would get an Editors’ Choice hands-down. It attaches magnetically and seamlessly to the Surface Pro’s bottom. It forms a pretty attractive cover along the lines of Apple’s own (keyboardless) Smart Cover, but with the addition of that Surface-powered keyboard-touch-pad combo that doesn’t noticeably drain battery life at all.

 

And, yes, it forms a strong enough bond to dangle the Surface Pro upside down, but I wouldn’t try this at home over a concrete floor.

Working with the included touch pad gets the job done, but you can just as easily use the Surface’s touch screen — or add a Bluetooth or USB mouse or touch pad. I used the Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse that Microsoft included with this review unit. It’s expensive but small enough, and it pairs nicely with the Surface.

 

Surface Pen

The Surface Pro supports pressure-sensitive styli, and the Surface Pro comes with its own Surface Pen that magnetically attaches to the power connector to hold it in place when you’re on the go. Writing and sketching felt natural, and the pen worked far more responsively than a capacitive iPad stylus (the technology’s different).

 

 

 

The “fun factor” is definitely present in the Surface Pro, but there isn’t the incredible level of tablet-friendly app support that iOS and Android enjoy. You can run legacy Windows applications on the Surface to your heart’s content, but those won’t be nearly as touch-friendly.

Speakers, cameras
Audio, conveyed through built-in stereo speakers, sounds adequate but not spectacular. It’s better than you’d expect out of a machine this small, however.

The Surface Pro has two cameras, front- and rear-facing, and they’re both 720p. No high-megapixel camera is included. That’s okay for front-facing Web chat, but for rear camera photos it’s a bit of a letdown, even though I can’t ever imagine holding a Surface Pro up to take a picture.

Software and security
Microsoft Office does not come preinstalled on the Surface Pro, though it will run the full version of Office as well as any similarly configured Core i5 laptop. You get a bare-bones set of basic software, and that’s it. Microsoft does include BitLocker encryption to more safely protect the data on your solid-state drive (SSD), but that’s not a feature we tested.

 

Microsoft Surface Pro Average for category [ultraportable]
Video Mini DisplayPort HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 1 USB 3.0, Micro SD 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet (via dongle), 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None None

 

Ports
I’m comparing the Surface Pro with an ultraportable PC instead of a tablet, because for its feature set and price, that’s what you’ll be comparing it with when shopping. I don’t think many people will choose a Surface Pro over an iPad, but some people might indeed consider it over an ultrabook or 11-inch Windows 8 ultraportable.

 

And based on that comparison, one of the big drawbacks of the Surface Pro as your main PC is its limited set of ports. A single USB 3.0 port, microSDXC card slot, and Mini DisplayPort are all you get. Granted, having USB 3.0 is better than the USB 2 on Atom-powered Windows tablet-laptop hybrids, but at least those (like the HP Envy x2) have two USB ports, plus a normal SD card slot.

 

There’s no Ethernet jack, and not even a packed-in USB dongle, which might be the most bothersome part of all. It means you’d better be ready to live off Wi-Fi. There’s nothing technically stopping you from plugging in a USB-based Ethernet adapter, but I found doing so hard to set up. They’re not all made alike.

The Surface Pro needs a dock, particularly one with Ethernet. Something small that it can preferably jack into via the same magnetic connector strip that the keyboard covers attach to on the bottom. If the Surface Pro is meant for pros, wouldn’t a dock that adds a few USB ports, Ethernet, SD card slot, and HDMI make sense? I hope it happens soon. The Mini DisplayPort’s bottom-right position is easy enough to plug a monitor into when the Surface is in kickstand mode, but I’d prefer something more elegant.

Consider that the Acer Iconia W700, another Windows 8 tablet, has its own dock with extra USB ports. I like the Surface Pro’s design better, but I have a hard time accepting the lack of a dock.

Configurations
Configuration options are limited: you can either choose 64GB or 128GB of SSD storage, for $899 or $999, respectively. That’s expensive for a tablet, but just a small premium over many Windows 8 touch-enabled ultrabooks this small.

The funny thing about the Surface Pro’s available memory is that, according to Microsoft, only 23GB of the 64GB Surface Pro’s hard drive can be used for user files. That’s odd because we only found about 20GB of system files on the fresh-out-of-the-box Surface Pro, which would leave 44GB free on the 64GB version. If true, it would really hamper the use of the 64GB Surface Pro, and practically dictates that you pick the 128GB version instead.

The Surface Pro is a lot different from last year’s Windows RT version of the Surface, despite similar branding and looks. The Surface RT had a Tegra 3 processor, less RAM, and a lower-resolution screen, and lacked improved stylus support. (The RT can use capacitive styli like the iPad, but it lacks the pressure sensitivity and palm-blocking technology of the Pro version.)

 

Performance
Whereas the Surface RT costs $500, the Surface Pro costs $899. But even though they look alike, they’re very different beasts: the Surface runs off an ARM processor and uses Windows RT, whereas the Surface Pro has an Intel Core i5 processor and runs full Windows 8, just like a laptop.

The original Surface RT tablet received mixed reviews, largely because of its Windows RT operating system. The Surface Pro is the more significant product, because it makes no computing compromises: it’s a strong case for a tablet as your PC, while the original Surface felt more like an iPad competitor. Not only can you use the tile-based Windows 8 interface on the Surface Pro, but you can visit a regular desktop and open older applications, run Steam, and do anything you’d do otherwise — including Java, Flash, and legacy Windows apps. The Surface Pro connects to monitors and outputs at resolutions beyond 1080p, and you can add Bluetooth and USB 3 peripherals like mice, keyboards, and external hard drives.

 

The great part of having a tablet with a Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM is that it’s every bit as powerful as a regular ultrabook. On our benchmark tests, it more than held its own, and even matched some Core i7 ultrabooks. The integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics are good enough to run some games on Steam with settings dialed down a bit. They match what’s on any current ultrabook without discrete Nvidia or AMD graphics.

As opposed to the dialed-down Atom-based performance on an HP Envy x2 or Acer Iconia W510, you can open up windows and perform lots of simultaneous tasks with relative ease. The system fans kicks in after a while, and I found the bottom getting hot when using it on a bed, particularly since the wraparound thin vents are on the back of the Surface Pro.

 

Battery life
If only the Surface Pro had excellent battery life. It doesn’t. In our video-playback battery drain test, the Surface Pro lasted 4 hours and 31 minutes, regardless of whether the Type Cover was connected or not. That’s not far off from some other high-powered 11- and 10-inch ultraportables, but it’s a big step down the 6-hour mark on many ultrabooks. The Acer Iconia W700 lasted more than 7 hours despite having a similar processor. Intel’s newer processors coming later this year should result in a more battery-efficient Surface Pro at some point. As it currently stands, the Surface Pro can last you a good chunk of a day, but you’ll need to monitor battery life and keep that sleek charger handy (which, incidentally, has its own extra USB charge port for accessories or phones). This qualifies as fair-enough battery life, but disappointing compared with other tablets — though not totally surprising.

 

Conclusion: Where Windows 8 is taking us via the Surface

We’ve already seen a number of hybrid and convertible laptop/tablet designs from Microsoft’s usual hardware partners, including the Lenovo Yoga 11S, the HP EliteBook Revolve, and the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix, not to mention more experimental gaming-centric devices like theRazer Edge. And, with Intel’s newer processors on the horizon, you’d have to wonder whether the Surface Pro could be refreshed to benefit from even more tablet-ready CPUs.

The Surface Pro will compete with those devices and others. But, based on how good that Type Cover is and how good the Surface Pro’s screen feels — not to mention its small size — the Surface Pro seems well-positioned to rise to the top of the pack. From the moment the Surface was announced, the real killer feature was the Type Cover. The success or failure of the Surface hinges on the ability of that cover to be comfortable and productive. And I think it is. It also draws power from the tablet, never needs recharging, and has a grip strong enough to hold the whole Surface tablet from the cover alone.

Microsoft and the Surface have proven the hardest point of all: that a tablet with a funky keyboard cover can replace a regular laptop, or even a desktop PC. The finer points of needing a dock, finding a better price that includes the Type Cover instead of making it a side purchase, and improving battery life — and, maybe, slimming down a bit — will hopefully come in the next iteration. Right now, the Surface Pro works. It’s not the most price-logical Windows 8 PC in the world — for $1,000, I might get an iPad Mini and a cheap Windows 8 laptop instead — but I think a fair number of people are going to end up being Surface Pro fans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

HTC One wows with stunning design, premium parts (hands-on)

 

In a bold attempt to steal thunder away from other phone makers ahead of Mobile World Congress next week, HTC just announced its HTC One flagship handset. Unveiled simultaneously at two glitzy press events in New York and London, the new HTC One is packed to the rafters with top-notch components and technologies including some of the latest processing gear Qualcomm can muster. The device isn’t merely technically advanced, but is lovingly crafted from premium metals, too, leaving no doubt that the Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer has placed considerable blood, sweat, and tears Continue reading HTC One wows with stunning design, premium parts (hands-on)