08 Oct 2015
This was no surprise as a follow-up to the Surface Pro 3 has been rumoured for a while, but Microsoft did unveil a wealth of hardware upgrades that, even at this early stage, should give Apple cause for concern.
The Surface Pro 4 is the series' slimmest model yet at 292x201x8.4mm. That's still not quite as razor-thin as the 6.9mm iPad Pro, but the Surface Pro 4's slim bezels make it a solid 13mm shorter in length and 9mm shorter in width, even with a comparable display size.
The iPad Pro is also lighter, at 713g-723g to the Surface Pro 4's 766g-786g, although again the latter remains an improvement on the Surface Pro 3.
Despite slimming down, the Surface Pro 4 keeps one of the Surface line's killer features: a full-size USB 3.0 port. Very, very few tablets include this versatile and widely used connector, so the Surface Pro 4 will have a big advantage for enterprise users as soon as it's released.
One small but potentially very useful addition is a magnetic clip on the tablet's side, to which the new Surface Pen can attach. On previous Surface Pros, the pen was carried loose or slotted into the expensive Type Cover attachment, so this kind of integrated storage is a very welcome little feature.
Microsoft has bumped up the Surface Pro 4's display in size and resolution, and it's now a 12.3in screen at 2736x1824, or 267ppi. That's not quite as many pixels as the iPad Pro boasts, but the two devices are almost identical in density: 267ppi versus 264ppi on the iPad Pro. We'd therefore expect both slates to look similarly sharp, and with Apple's effort gaining only an extra 0.6in of diagonal space, there won't be much difference in what can fit on-screen either.
One of the most attractive things about owning a Surface Pro, from a business standpoint at least, was that they ran full-fat Windows operating systems, and the Surface Pro 4 is no exception. It will launch with Windows 10 pre-installed, which makes perfect sense. The Continuum UI, which can switch between a traditional desktop view and a more touch-optimised, Windows 8-style tablet mode, is perfect for 2-in-1 devices like the Surface Pro 4. The only downside is that this will require the purchase of a Type Cover.
Plus, Windows' vast compatibility with uncountable pieces of productivity software makes it theoretically superior, in an enterprise context, to the unproven iOS 9 running the iPad Pro. The latter might be fine on iPhones or consumer iPads, but it's not hard to see why a proper desktop OS might prove more appealing than a mobile OS for getting serious work done.
Microsoft's Panos Panay claimed during the unveiling that the Surface Pro 4 would be 30 percent faster than the Surface Pro 3 and 50 percent faster than the MacBook Air. That's a bit of a wonky claim, as the Surface Pro 4 can, like the Surface Pro 3, be fitted with one of a range of processors.
That said, these chips aren't creaking old silicon; they're all from Intel's newest, 6th-generation Skylake family, starting from the Intel Core M3 and scaling up to the Core i5 and Core i7 series. The latter two in particular are desktop-grade chips and, paired with up to 8GB of RAM for the i5 and 16GB of RAM for the i7, we'd be shocked if they delivered anything other than top-tier performance.
It's also worth noting that all Surface Pro 4 models will include a Trusted Platform Module microprocessor to prevent unauthorised hardware tampering.
Let's be honest: cameras aren't the headline feature on something like the Surface Pro 4. Even so, they sound very decent by tablet standards: an 8MP rear-facing camera with 1080p video capability, plus a front-facing 5MP for video conferencing.
What's really interesting is not the cameras themselves, but the functionality they enable. Windows Hello, a face-detecting authentication tool added to Windows 10, makes it possible to sign into the Surface Pro 4 simply by gurning at the front camera.
There's been no word on specific capacity, but Microsoft said that the Surface Pro 4 can endure up to nine hours of video playback. That's not quite on par with the 10 hours supposedly offered by the iPad Pro, so that might give the Apple slate a few bonus points in the eyes of road warriors, along with its lower weight and slimmer profile.
Nonetheless, nine hours is still enough to make it through a working day without needing to reach for the charging cable. It's not an outstanding battery life, but it meets our expectations for a Surface Pro.
Incredibly for a tablet, at least one configuration of the Surface Pro 4 will include a colossal 1TB of storage, although Microsoft hasn't revealed pricing for this premium option.
Right now, models with 128GB, 256GB and 512GB solid state drives have all been confirmed. They all match, or absolutely crush, the 128GB and 32GB options of the iPad Pro, a big win for Microsoft, particularly since users in the design, manufacturing and creative industries will want as much integrated storage as possible. What's more, a microSD card means that the Surface Pro 4 can be expanded with as much storage as users can afford.
One of the few offputting aspects of the Surface Pro 4 is its price. UK RRPs have yet to be confirmed, but the Surface Pro 4 will start at $899 + tax for the 128GB, 4GB RAM, Intel Core M3 model, up to an imposing $2,199 for 512GB of storage, 16GB of RAM and an Intel i7.
Of course, these are premium machines and priced accordingly, but we can definitely see some users forgoing larger storage in favour of the cheaper iPad Pro, which will cost between $799 and $1,079 + tax. Then again, the most expensive iPad Pro has as much storage and actually less RAM than the cheapest Surface Pro 4, so Microsoft arguably offers the better deal.
The Surface Pro 4 isn't a huge leap from the Surface Pro 3, but it's clear that Microsoft has made improvements where it counts; portability, processing power and display quality have all been upped, while maintaining the best enterprise-friendly features like a full-size USB port and a PC-quality OS.
It's pricey enough to perhaps count it out as a mass rollout device, but Microsoft might not mind so much. The firm is likely to be too busy setting its sights on Apple which, on the apparent strengths of the Surface Pro 4, should be very worried indeed.
07 Oct 2015
The timing is almost certainly no coincidence. The iPhone 6S Plus and Nexus 6P are effectively launchpads for rival operating systems, iOS 9 and Android 6.0 Marshmallow respectively. Still, that's only one aspect of these competing plus-sized smartphones, so to find out which is more worthy of buyers' attentions, we've compared and contrasted all of their most important specs.
Nexus 6P: 159x78x7.3mm, 178g
iPhone 6S Plus: 158x78x7.3mm, 192g
The two are remarkably similar in terms of dimensions. The Nexus 6P is a mere 1mm taller than the iPhone 6S Plus, but we count this as a big win for Google's effort as it manages to fit in an extra 0.2in of screen space over the iPhone 6S Plus while barely increasing the overall size. The fact that the Nexus 6P also weighs 14g less than the iPhone 6S Plus, again in spite of its larger screen, is equally impressive.
Funnily enough, a couple of what are usually standout features - integrated fingerprint sensors and aerospace-grade aluminium bodywork - are present on both devices. The same is true for features that are conspicuously missing: neither includes a microSD port.
One of the few real differences is the Nexus 6P's inclusion of a USB-C cable, while the iPhone 6S Plus goes with an Apple Lightning connector as expected. The latter is fine but, again, we're inclined towards the Nexus 6P here, as USB-C is capable of charging and data transfer speeds far in excess of the traditional microUSB.
Nexus 6P: 5.7in AMOLED at 2560x1440
iPhone 6S Plus: 5.5in Retina at 1920x1080 with 3DTouch
Both screens are nice and sharp, although the Nexus 6P wins easily on pure pixel density at 515ppi to the iPhone 6S Plus' 401ppi.
However, the latter isn't just a display. The iPhone 6S Plus includes Apple's new 3D Touch feature. Essentially, the touchscreen can distinguish between light 'Peek' taps and harder 'Pop' presses. This enables new ways of working with apps, such as 'peeking' at emails to check the contents without opening them properly, or previewing a webpage by lightly tapping on its hyperlink.
It's a nifty feature with a lot of potential for interesting uses, particularly from third-party app developers. We do love a high-res display, but in this case of looks versus functionality we have to give it to the iPhone 6S Plus.
Nexus 6P: Android 6.0 Marshmallow
iPhone 6S Plus: iOS 9
In some ways, the Nexus 6P and iPhone 6S Plus are proxy soldiers in a battle between iOS and Android, as both devices seem designed to show off the latest and greatest versions of their respective operating systems.
In the Nexus 6P's case, it obviously takes full advantage of Android 6.0 Marshmallow's native support for fingerprint sensors and USB-C. It also benefits from an improved, more easily searchable apps drawer, more versatile developer tools through Google Now on Tap, a more privacy-focused apps permissions model and the Doze power saving mode, which uses the Nexus 6P's motion sensor to determine whether it's been left still long enough to go into a low-power state.
As for the iPhone 6S Plus, the sizeable screen makes it ideal for the new handwriting support in iOS 9's Notes apps, while integration with the more power-efficient Metal API should help the display sip battery more frugally. Six-digit passcode support and two-factor authentication also mean that iOS 9 is no slouch when it comes to privacy and security.
Nonetheless, if this is a battle we think Android 6.0 Marshmallow deserves victory; Google's OS has supported things like handwriting and power-saving for years, with Apple forced to play catch-up. Naturally, there's no accounting for taste, and certain IT environments will accept iOS 9 far more readily than Android 6.0 Marshmallow, but Google's OS still seems like the more versatile and powerful option.
Nexus 6P: Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core (four 2GHz cores, four 1.5GHz cores), 3GB RAM
iPhone 6S Plus: Apple A9 1.8GHz dual-core, 2GB RAM
Apple is notoriously cagey about the specific clock speeds of its A-series processors, merely stating that the new A9 is up to 70 percent faster than the iPhone 6's A8 in CPU tasks and 90 faster in GPU tasks. Regardless, post-release teardowns mean the secret is out: the A9 is a 1.8GHz dual-core chip.
That does look very much on the small side next to the hulking octa-core Snapdragon 810. We haven't run proper benchmarks, but we'd expect the Nexus 6P to perform faster overall, particularly during multitasking, thanks to the extra cores and superior 3GB of RAM sharing the load.
That said, let's not write off the iPhone 6S Plus, as the use of fewer, faster cores could well see it compete in single-core benchmarks and single-threaded tasks. We'll need to perform some real-life testing before we can properly call this one.
Nexus 6P: 12.3MP rear with 4K video, 8MP front
iPhone 6S Plus: 12MP rear with 4K video, 5MP front
It's a close call where the rear cameras are concerned. We doubt that 0.3MP will make much of a difference to most users, and both phablets even manage to include 4K video capability.
Clearly, though, the Nexus 6P edges out the iPhone 6S Plus with its front-facing camera. With an extra 60 percent of megapixels to work with, we can expect better detailing on the Google phone, and having recently gone hands-on with it, we can confirm that it deals very competently - if not amazingly - with adverse light and sudden movements.
Nexus 6P: 3,450mAh
iPhone 6S Plus: 2,916mAH
The Nexus 6P undoubtedly has a vast capacity advantage, and it will be interesting to see whether the larger screen, as well as Apple's power efficiency improvements, help the iPhone 6S Plus close the gap in actual battery life.
Even if it can, there's more to a battery than its lifespan. Google claims that the Nexus 6P's USB-C port, paired with Android 6.0 Marshmallow's Fast Charging mode, allows it to regain seven hours of use from just 10 minutes of charge.
That's a big claim, even by smartphone marketing standards, but it would have to be disastrously off the mark for the Nexus 6P to avoid outpacing the iPhone 6S Plus' standard Lightning charger.
Nexus 6P: 32GB, 64GB, 128GB
iPhone 6S Plus: 16GB, 64GB, 128GB
For a premium smartphone that is likely to see heavy use, 16GB just won't cut it any more, hence we're leaning more towards the Nexus 6P's range of roomy internal storage options.
Sadly, both devices neglect what could have been a killer feature: microSD support. Neither can be expanded with removable storage, though to be fair that's far less of a problem at the 64GB mark and above than it is around 16GB or 32GB.
The iPhone 6S Plus is a slick smartphone with a much improved OS and an exciting force-sensitive display, but the specs don't lie: the Nexus 6P is, on paper, the better equipped device.
That's in spite of a considerably lower starting price - £449 for the 32GB model - than the iPhone 6S Plus, which starts at a wince-inducing £619 for 16GB of storage. To anyone on the fence regarding Google versus Apple or Android versus iOS, those numbers can only reasonably add up in the Nexus 6P's favour.
06 Oct 2015
If the newly announced Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P are any indication, Google is quite happy to split its focus between the top and middle ranges of the smartphone market. The Nexus 5X is a 5.2in handset starting from £349, while the Nexus 6P is a gigantic 5.7in phablet with a starting price of £449.
Nonetheless, from cameras to operating systems, these two devices have more in common than their names and price tags suggest. We've broken down their key specs to determine whether the Nexus 5X can truly keep pace, or whether the Nexus 6P's upgrades make it worth the money.
Nexus 6P: 159x78x7.3mm, 178g
Nexus 5X: 147x73x7.9mm, 136g
Unsurprisingly, the Nexus 6P's larger screen makes it taller, wider and heavier, gaining over 40g on the Nexus 5X. What we didn't expect was that the phablet is actually thinner: 7.3mm to the Nexus 5X's 7.9mm.
Of course, 0.6mm isn't a gaping chasm of a difference, but it does imbue the Nexus 6P with a technical impressiveness which its little sibling somewhat lacks. This is also true of the former's distinct aluminium unibody, which provides slick looks as well as a reassuring durability.
Still, both smartphones can boast a speedy USB-C port as well as a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. Once the preserve of only the most premium smartphones, this handy authentication tool has recently found its way onto more affordable handsets, and both sensors are equally fast and responsive.
Another design similarity, albeit one we're far less enthusiastic about, is the shared lack of a microSD port. Recent Nexus phones haven't been friendly with the concept of removable storage, but that doesn't make it any less disappointing that Google couldn't even find the space on the pricier Nexus 6P.
Nexus 6P: 5.7in AMOLED at 2560x1440
Nexus 5X: 5.2in AMOLED at 1920x1080
Unfortunately for the Nexus 5X, its above-par pixel density of 423ppi can't match the sharpness of the Nexus 6P's 515ppi display. The latter's superior amount of real estate also secures its position as the better screen for watching videos or scrolling through text-heavy web pages or e-books.
On the bright side, both are equipped with AMOLED tech which helps ensure vivid colours and deep blacks by electrically charging individual pixels. As a result, both screens offer some of the most vibrant palettes we've seen outside Samsung's Super AMOLED-powered devices.
Nexus 6P: Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Nexus 5X: Android 6.0 Marshmallow
These aren't just Google's latest smartphones, they're showcases for the new Android 6.0 Marshmallow, being the first devices to ship with it pre-installed.
This upgrade from 5.1 Lollipop adds a long list of new tools and usability improvements. Among many others, there's Android Pay support, less intrusive notifications, app search, the ‘Doze' battery saver mode, Google Now on Tap and native support for fingerprint scanners and USB-C which, wouldn't you know, both appear on the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X.
It only makes sense that the two new smartphones will arrive with the revamped OS, and what's more they'll also be free from bloatware; as with Google's previous smartphones and tablets, the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P won't be custom-skinned. This should also make sure that future Android updates will be delivered without delays.
Nexus 6P: Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core (four 2GHz cores, four 1.5GHz cores), 3GB RAM
Nexus 5X: Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 hexa-core (two 1.8GHz cores, four 1.4GHz cores), 2GB of RAM
The Snapdragon 810's overheating problems are well documented, but its faster clock speeds and greater core numbers should give the Nexus 6P a significant performance advantage over the Nexus 5X, even without the extra gigabyte of RAM. We expect this to become particularly apparent in multitasking.
That's not to say the Snapdragon 808 is slow. After all, it's previously helped the LG G4 deliver some very solid benchmarking scores, although that was when paired with 3GB of RAM rather than the Nexus 5P's 2GB. Regardless, in terms of on-paper power the Nexus 6P is the clear winner here.
Nexus 6P: 12.3MP rear with 4K video, 8MP front
Nexus 5X: 12.3MP rear with 4K video, 5MP front
The Nexus 6P looks like the wiser choice for video calls or, if desired, selfies. It offers a considerably finer front-facing camera than the Nexus 5X which, judging from our hands-on time, has far fewer problems with low light or loss of detail.
However, these two handsets reach a dead heat where the main rear-facing cameras are concerned. That's particularly good news for the Nexus 5X, which can claim to be among the cheapest 4K video-enabled smartphones around. 12.3MP isn't amazing, especially for a premium product like the Nexus 6P, but this top-quality video capture capability more than makes up for it.
Nexus 6P: 3,450mAh
Nexus 5X: 2,700mAh
This is admittedly a bit of a dubious comparison considering how thirsty a 5.7in display can be compared with a 5.2in, but what looks like a huge capacity deficit for the Nexus 5X might not actually result in significantly shorter battery life.
That said, the Nexus 6P does have a nearly 30 percent larger battery powering what isn't anywhere near a 30 percent larger screen. We'd therefore be fairly shocked if it didn't manage to outlast the Nexus 5X by a meaningful margin.
Nexus 6P: 32GB, 64GB or 128GB
Nexus 5X: 16GB or 32GB
Another good showing for the Nexus 6P. Its smallest integrated storage option is the same as the Nexus 5X's absolute maximum, and it offers more capacity and more choice from there. Options for the Nexus 5X, by comparison, are fewer and smaller.
Space is particularly important with these devices, as neither can be expanded with a microSD card. We'd wager that anyone who opts for the 16GB Nexus 5X will find that fills up alarmingly quickly.
It would be unfair to characterise the Nexus 5X as the runt sibling of a stronger, smarter Nexus 6P, as many of the latter's best features - Android 6.0 Marshmallow, 4K video capture and a fast-acting fingerprint sensor - are included as standard on both.
However, the specs have spoken, and the Nexus 6P is outright better equipped in a number of key ways. Thus, we stand by what we said in our Nexus 5X hands-on test: it's a good all-round device with no obvious weaknesses, but isn't quite as attractive a proposition as the premium Nexus 6P.
02 Oct 2015
Of the two smartphones revealed at Google's latest product launch, the Nexus 5X was overshadowed somewhat by the bigger, bolder Nexus 6X phablet. This was mainly down to its weaker on-paper specs, although for a device that starts at £100 less than the Nexus 6P it does achieve feature parity in a surprising number of ways.
We took a more in-depth look at what the Nexus 5X can offer by finding a test model and trying it out for ourselves.
The Nexus 5X isn't the sleekest of smartphones. The black case looks - dare we say it - boring, and the squareness of the edges makes it feel chunkier than it actually is despite being only 7.9mm thick.
Nonetheless, it does seem solid and durable, and we couldn't find any glaring structural weaknesses while handling it. The Nexus 5X isn't without some nice touches, either - mainly the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, which unlocks the screen almost instantly. The usual microUSB port has been replaced with a USB-C connector which should, in theory, enable much speedier file transfers and battery charging.
However, Google still hasn't added a microSD slot to any Nexus smartphones, including this one. Whichever amount of internal storage buyers opt for, they'll be stuck with it.
It's not as beautifully sharp as the Nexus 6P, but the Nexus 5X's 5.2in, 1920x1080 display still looks crisp and clear. Colours are pleasantly vibrant, but it's not too vivid either. The screen doesn't affect the colour balance of videos with intentional desaturation effects, for example.
Like most mobile devices, the Nexus 5X can suffer from reflectivity problems under certain lighting. The Gorilla Glass 3 screen is slightly fingerprint-resistant, but can't fight off glare so well. Still, this could largely be solved by cranking up the brightness.
Operating system and software
As expected, the Nexus 5X will launch with the latest version of Android, 6.0 Marshmallow. It's a great fit, as Marshmallow introduces native support for USB-C and integrated biometric readers, both of which are present here.
We're also particularly fond of the upgraded apps drawer, which features a Spotlight-esque search bar and A-Z indexing, as well as the more privacy-oriented app permissions model - we found we had much more control of what data apps could access than in Android 5.1 Lollipop. Another interesting addition is Doze, a revamped battery-saving mode that uses the Nexus 5X's motion sensor to detect when it has been left still long enough to go into a low-power state.
What's more, there are no custom skins to complicate the UI or delay future Android updates.
This was about what we'd expect from something in the £300-£400 bracket. The Nexus 5X is noticeably more responsive than most mid-range smartphones we've used, but isn't quite as buttery-smooth at swapping between windows and loading apps as truly top-end devices.
Further testing will be required to fully appraise how the 2GB of RAM and Qualcomm Snapdragon 808, a well-performing but ageing chip, will perform in the most intensive tasks. We tried to sneakily download and run the Antutu benchmarking tool, at which point the Google representative who'd lent us the Nexus 5X appeared and wordlessly took it back.
Since the Nexus 5X and the Nexus 6P share the same 12.3MP camera, it's no surprise that they take similarly high-quality shots, even in low light - a common stumbling block for integrated cameras. It also shoots 4K video, which is a rarity for smartphones in general, let alone those below £400.
The 5MP front camera isn't quite so impressive. Shots lack detail unless the subject is up close to the lens, and there's a lot of visual noise in dark scenes.
The Nexus 5X will launch with only 16GB and 32GB models compared with the Nexus 6P's 32GB, 64GB and 128GB. That's a pretty significant drawback to the cheaper handset. As app files get ever larger, the 16GB option in particular is fast becoming outdated. Cloud storage would almost certainly be essential, especially for those who want a single device for work and personal use.
Again, there's no microSD capability to help out either, an omission that is becoming increasing difficult to justify as even cheap entry-level smartphones now include such a feature on a fairly common basis.
Individual aspects of the Nexus 5X range from very impressive - the 4K camera, speedy fingerprint sensor, Android 6.0 Marshmallow - to the utterly underwhelming, like the low-detail front camera and minimalistic storage options.
Its strengths are just enough to make it stand out in its own price bracket - that limbo between the mid-range and high-end - but at this point in time, we'd rather simply splash out a little more for the full-fat Nexus 6P.
01 Oct 2015
Google's newest smartphone doesn't have a whole new number, but it's got more than a few upgrades on the Nexus 6. With a fingerprint sensor, 4K-capable rear camera and Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the Nexus 6P - announced last night along with the Nexus 5X and Pixel C tablet - looks geared up to take on high-end rivals like the iPhone 6S Plus and Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+.
We got our hands on the freshly unveiled device at the London leg of Google's worldwide launch event, and came away impressed.
The Nexus 6P isn't exactly small - it measures 159x78x7.3mm, well into phablet territory - but, crucially, doesn't feel heavy or bulky. In fact, at 178g, we were surprised by just how light it feels. This doesn't seem to come at the cost of build quality, either, as it hardily resisted our attempts to bend and flex it.
This is probably down to the aluminium unibody, which also provides a suitably premium feel. This, sadly, doesn't extend to including expandable storage, and the Nexus 6P neglects to feature a microSD slot like so many Nexus devices before it.
On the bright side, the USB port has had some attention and is now a USB Type-C. This is a risky move in some ways. USB-C hasn't proliferated to the point where spare cables can easily be found, which might catch out frequent travellers. But then again, it does offer much faster charging and data transfer times than the usual microUSB. Google said that 10 minutes of charging will translate into seven hours of battery life, a lofty claim about which we're fairly sceptical (and didn't get to test), but potentially game-changing if true.
Another big addition is the circular rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. Huawei built the Nexus 6P and nowhere is that more apparent than here. The sensor is located in the same place, and is just as fast at unlocking the phone as the top-quality sensors on the Huawei Mate S and Honor 7.
Even with a huge 5.7in screen, the Nexus 6P's 2560x1440 resolution ensures that it looks beautifully crisp and sharp. AMOLED tech also means that colours appear vibrant and bold, without tripping into the oversaturation to which Samsung's Super AMOLED displays are prone.
Indeed, there's very little to criticise at all about this screen. Besides looking superb and performing responsively, it uses Corning's latest Gorilla Glass 4, giving it a reassuring sturdiness. It was not entirely immune to the glare of the bright event lights, but we had no problems with reflections when using the Nexus 6P on a high brightness setting.
Operating system and software
First access to new Android versions has long been an attractive element of the Nexus range and, although the upcoming Android 6.0 Marshmallow will have already launched by the time the Nexus 6P starts shipping, the latter will, of course, arrive with the former pre-loaded and free from custom skins.
This was also our first time going hands-on with Marshmallow and, like the Nexus 6P, it's highly promising. We had much deeper control over which permissions installed apps could access, and there's a handy new search bar in the apps drawer. This is perfect for tracking down individual apps among the pile, as is the added A-Z indexing system. Most importantly, all these features were easy and lightning-fast to use.
The lack of a custom skin is more good news, as we couldn't find any bloatware or pre-installed apps beyond a couple of games Google had loaded for demonstration purposes. Without other manufacturers' firmware to get in the way, we can expect the Nexus 6P to receive future Android updates as soon as they are released.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor is known for two things: being a speedy high-end chip, and occasionally but disastrously overheating. Fortunately the Nexus 6P, which includes the Snapdragon 810 alongside a hefty 3GB of RAM, never got too toasty when we were using it. It also ran a reasonably intensive-looking 3D golf game well, never stuttering or dropping in framerate. This was, we should add, while also dealing with well over a dozen apps in the background.
Unsurprisingly, then, it didn't have any trouble opening apps quickly or smoothly when flicking through menus. It will take some more thorough benchmarking to see whether the Nexus 6P can stand up to Samsung and Apple's top-end phones, but it's worth remembering that the Snapdragon 810 previously powered the Sony Xperia Z3+ to a highly respectable Antutu score of 49,999.
Next to the Nexus 6's 13MP, the 12.3MP rear camera on the Nexus 6P seems like a slight downgrade on paper. However, 4K video recording more than makes up for it, and the captures - both videos and stills - looked nicely detailed, even in poor lighting conditions. Shutter speed isn't as rapid as we've seen on other high-end smartphones and phablets, but the result was minimally blurry when we took a picture while moving the handset.
The 8MP front camera isn't quite so sharp. It does seem to require an extremely steady hand to take clean shots, and colour balance is noticeably more washed out than on the main camera. Still, it seems good enough for the odd video call.
The lack of microSD stings, but even the cheapest Nexus 6P model has a very decent 32GB of internal storage - enough for personal and light work use. Pricier models come with 64GB or 128GB.
Google is also pushing its Google Photos cloud storage service by more closely integrating it into Android 6.0 Marshmallow's camera and gallery apps. This potentially saves storage space, although we suspect that it will really help only serious photography fans, as apps and music tend to take up as much if not more space than pictures.
Nexus smartphones have never been the most thrilling devices, but the Nexus 6P's combination of hardware upgrades, solid performance and a new and improved OS at least looks like a recipe for a supremely functional Android handset. With added security from the fingerprint sensor and crowd-pleasing features like the 4K camera, it could well turn out an all-rounder of acclaim when it launches in late October.
24 Sep 2015
Microsoft has launched Office 2016, the first refresh of its ubiquitous productivity software since Office 2013. Despite the time gap, Microsoft hasn't spent it making sweeping changes to Word, Excel, PowerPoint and company - instead, the Redmond firm has focused on fine-tuning, with only a handful of usability and cloud-based additions making it through.
One of our favourite new features is the ‘Tell Me' bar, which sits at the top of each application's menu bar. Broadly similar to the Cortana digital assistant in Windows 10, typing in this bar will offer a convenient list of possible actions; writing ‘symbol' in Word's Tell Me bar, for instance, creates a drop-down menu with quick access to the ‘Insert a Symbol' and 'Equation Symbol' tools.
This saves the need to dig for these options in the Ribbon UI's various tabs. Also, unlike the infamous Clippy, it never nags or intrudes, only speaking when spoken to. Our only complaint is that we can't use Tell Me in OneNote and Publisher, where it would likely have proven just as handy.
Word is also the sole recipient of the ‘Smart Lookup' tool. Using Bing, Smart Lookup can query highlighted words or phrases, displaying web results and dictionary definitions in an expanding sidebar. We don't actually see this getting much mileage; it's basically a more closely-integrated version of the ‘Search with Bing' feature in Office 2013, which always felt unnecessary when Google was a couple of clicks away. Smart Lookup also clashes with Word's spellchecker, as unrecognised words can't be queries. Sadly, this often includes proper nouns like person and company names.
While this web-based feature falls flat, other are much better. OneDrive is an even bigger part of Office 2016 than ever before, with a new Share button in Word, Excel and PowerPoint that enables document creators to invite other users to view and edit files directly from within the apps. This ties into another great addition, again specific to Word: the ability to co-author documents over the web, and see other users' edits in real-time.
This is the first time a desktop version of Word has included such capability, although a longtime staple of Office Online and Google Docs that has proved incredibly well-suited to collaborative working. What's more, Skype For Business is now built into Office, allowing for IM, calls and screen-sharing in the apps themselves - ideal for remote working.
Speaking of OneDrive, an Office 365 subscription - which is, save for the Home and Student edition, the only way to get Office 2016 on PC - remains a relatively good-value entry point to Microsoft's cloud service. the Office 365 Business plan, which includes 1TB of storage, costs £7 per user per month, compared to £3.99 per month for a standalone 200GB OneDrive subscription.
Office 2016's remaining changes are relatively minor. There are five new chart types in Excel, none of which offers much that a standard bar, line or pie chart doesn't already oofer, and user interfaces are practically identical to Office 2013's editions across the board.
While this limited innovation might not be enough to convince some firms to commit to ongoing subscriptions costs, the actual changes are benign at worst and brilliantly helpful at best. The comforting familiarity of Office 2016's consistent menu design also feels more like a wise acceptance of the software's strengths than a missed opportunity for change.
All that said, there is one major new addition to the Office family to consider: Microsoft Sway. It performs like a sleeker, more touchscreen-friendly evolution of PowerPoint, capable of creating presentations by adding building blocks of headers, text boxes and media. The resulting presentations slide smoothly between chunks of content like a horizontally-scrolling web page, rather than jumping through segmented slides.
It's a little too simplified, features-wise, to outright replace PowerPoint - which Microsoft says it isn't intended to do anyway, but since Sway does offer a more visually charming, less officious method for presenting data, we're happy to have it. The large, chunky menus are also a fine fit for smartphone and tablet use.
Curiously, Sway isn't actually part of the Office 2016 subscription deal. Instead, it's available as a free download on the Windows Store, albeit only to Windows 10 users - anyone still on Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 won't be able to use it at all. That's a pretty hefty drawback for late adopters, though we'd recommend upgrading to Windows 10 for free in any case.
Likewise, for existing Office 365 subscribers and potential upgraders, Office 2016 is easily worth a look. The changes may be not be big, but they certainly are clever.
15 Sep 2015
The iPad Pro, Apple's first foray into the business tablet market, looks familiar, not simply because it resembles a larger iPad Air but because it seems to borrow a wealth of features from Microsoft's Surface range.
Besides the hefty display, the iPad Pro is designed to work with the suspiciously familiar Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard - a Surface Pen stylus and Type Cover keyboard, essentially - to offer an enterprise-ready workhorse in a tablet body. Microsoft has successfully occupied this territory for years, and continues to do so despite losses elsewhere.
Thus, there are few better candidates for a spec-by-spec comparison with the iPad Pro than its biggest competitor and apparent inspiration, 2014's Surface Pro 3.
Dimensions and design
iPad Pro: 306x221x6.9mm, 713g/723g
Surface Pro 3: 292x201x9.1mm, 800g
The iPad Pro's sleekness is appealing. Even the LTE model is significantly lighter than the Surface Pro 3, in addition to being thinner than many smartphones. Microsoft's tablet is marginally more compact in the first two dimensions, although this is to be expected considering the smaller screen.
The Surface Pro 3 really outshines the iPad Pro in its range of connectivity options, which include a micro SDXC card reader and, crucially for business use, a full-sized USB 3.0 port. The iPad Pro, by contrast, features only a Lightning connector, which might make physically transferring data difficult if used in a Windows-heavy IT environment.
Both devices are compatible with a dedicated stylus - the Surface Pen and Apple Pencil respectively - but the Surface Pro 3 has the benefit of including the pen in the box. The iPad Pro's Apple Pencil must instead be purchased separately - for a whopping $99.
iPad Pro: 12.9in 2732x2048 resolution at 264ppi
Surface Pro 3: 12in 2160x1440 resolution at 216ppi
The iPad Pro's display wins it back some points. At 264ppi it's a touch sharper than that of the Surface Pro 3, even with an additional 0.9in diagonally. That extra real estate isn't much in the grand scheme of things, but might at least be enough fit an extra Excel column.
The Surface Pro 3's glossy screen also makes it susceptible to glare. The iPad Pro, by contrast, includes an anti-reflective and anti-fingerprint coating, although admittedly we haven't tested its effectiveness.
iPad Pro: 64-bit A9X
Surface Pro 3: 4th-gen Intel Core i5, i5 and i7 options with TPM chip
The inclusion of Intel Core chips has always been central to the Surface Pro 3's enterprise credentials, offering desktop-grade performance in a tablet form factor. These processors also work in conjunction with a Trusted Platform Module chip, a handy security tool that prevents the device booting up if it detects that a component has been tampered with.
The 4th-generation Haswell family has now been superseded by the Broadwell and Skylake lines, but we can't be sure of the new A9X chip's competitiveness until benchmarking it ourselves. Apple has compared it only with the old A8X, claiming that the new model is up to 80 percent faster in graphics tasks and up to 70 percent faster in CPU tasks. It might well need to be even faster to keep up with a decent i5 or i7.
iPad Pro: iOS 9
Surface Pro 3: Windows 10 Professional
iOS 9 introduces a number of attractive new features, including a split-screen multitasking view, an improved Notes app which can record handwriting - potentially useful with the Apple Pencil - and security additions like six-digit passcodes and two-factor authentication.
Even so, Windows 10 Pro will almost certainly be better for business use. Besides offering far greater compatibility with legacy applications and newer productivity software, Windows 10 Pro can switch between a touch-optimised tablet mode and a more PC-like desktop view. In the latter, users can open and manually resize as many different tasks as they can fit on the screen, thoroughly beating the two-app limit of iOS 9's split-screen feature.
Ultimately, this is a case of a mobile OS going up against a desktop OS, and Windows 10 Pro is just a better fit for devices that aim to be laptop replacements.
iPad Pro: 8MP rear, 1.2MP front
Surface Pro 3: 5MP rear, 5MP front
Interestingly, the iPad Pro has the higher-spec rear camera, while the Surface Pro 3 has the sharper front camera.
Which of these is ‘better' for photos and video recording will therefore depend on their intended use. The iPad Pro is clearly more suitable for those who want the most detailed images possible, but the Surface Pro 3 offers a finer quality 1080p webcam for video conferencing and Skype calls.
iPad Pro: Up to 10 hours for WiFi-only models, up to nine hours for WiFi+LTE model
Surface Pro 3: Up to nine hours
Both machines will last a full working day, but the WiFi-only iPad Pro variant wins out with a prolonged 10 hours of battery life, which should be good news for frequent travellers.
iPad Pro: 32GB, 128GB
Surface Pro 3: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, 512GB
Microsoft claims another victory with a wider range of high-capacity internal drives. As for the iPad Pro, 128GB is good by tablet standards but we can see the 32GB option filling up fast. Both are dwarfed by the generous 256GB and 512GB drives of the more expensive Surface Pro 3s in any case, so these are definitely the models to go for in a creative or design field.
The original iPhone and iPad are proof that Apple knows how to break into a market, and yet, judging by this spec comparison, the Surface Pro 3 already has the iPad Pro outmatched.
Apple's device may look cooler and have a crisper screen, but we'd wager that the Surface Pro 3's solid processors, high storage capacities and robust operating system will make it difficult for the iPad Pro to stake a claim as the superior business tablet. We'll find out either way when the latter launches in late November.
14 Sep 2015
Apple's iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus announcement comes hot on the heels of Sony revealing its new Xperia Z5 range. Both flagship smartphones, the iPhone 6S and Xperia Z5 are top-of-the-line machines that will face off when they launch.
We've compared the specs we know so far to try to determine which will be the best buy.
Dimensions and design
iPhone 6S: 138x67x7.1mm, 143g
Xperia Z5: 146x72x7.3mm, 154g
The iPhone 6S certainly has the more compact design, being lighter and smaller in all three dimensions, although, of course, the Xperia Z5 has a significantly larger screen. If anything, we're impressed by how comparably thin these two are, considering the gap in display size.
Both devices also integrate fingerprint sensors. This is combined on the iPhone 6S with the Home button on the front, and with the side-mounted power button on the Xperia Z5.
iPhone 6S: 4.7in 1334x750 resolution at 326ppi with Force Touch
Xperia Z5: 5.2in 1920x1080 resolution at 424ppi
The Xperia Z5 easily wins the sharpness contest, with a much crisper 424ppi in spite of its larger screen, the latter of which is arguably a benefit in itself.
However, the iPhone 6S does have a not-so-secret weapon in the form of Apple's 3D Touch tech, which allows the touchscreen to detect varying degrees of pressure. This allows apps and the OS to include additional functionality based on whether the user presses harshly or gently, something the Xperia Z5 is incapable of supporting.
iPhone 6S: 64-bit A9
Xperia Z5: 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, 2GHz octa-core with 3GB of RAM
The Xperia Z5's top-of-the-range chip is enticing and worrying at the same time. It packs some serious power but is awfully prone to overheating, as we found in our Sony Xperia Z3+ review.
The A9 chip, meanwhile, doesn't have such known problems, but is also unproven in general. Apple claimed that it's 70 percent faster than the iPhone 6's A8 chip in CPU tasks and 90 percent faster in GPU tasks, although whether it will be able to outpace the almost literally blazing Snapdragon 810 in our benchmarks remains to be seen.
iPhone 6S: iOS 9
Xperia Z5: Android 5.1 Lollipop
Fittingly, both of these top-end phones run the very latest versions of their respective operating systems. Android 5.1 Lollipop is the best yet, featuring support for manageable user profiles, anti-theft ‘Device Protection' tools and split-screen working with two apps at once.
Likewise, iOS 9 improves on iOS 8 with a new Low Power mode, six-digit passcodes and two-factor authentication for security, along with expanded core apps and updates which make more efficient use of storage space. iOS 9 apps also have access to the Metal API, which should result in better performance.
The question of which is 'better' will therefore be answered more by personal preference - and for enterprise users, which existing IT ecosystems a new device will integrate with - than by spec lists and feature comparisons.
iPhone 6S: 12MP rear with 4K video, 5MP front
Xperia Z5: 23MP rear with 4K video, 5MP front
The iPhone 6S snappers are a big improvement on those on the iPhone 6, but neither can match the huge 23MP sensor in the Xperia Z5. Sony claimed that the rear camera can autofocus in 0.03 seconds, which makes it a market leader if accurate.
At least the iPhone 6S can enjoy parity through its 4K video support and 5MP front-facing camera. These features should make both smartphones a solid choice for photo enthusiasts.
iPhone 6S: 1,715mAh
Xperia Z5: 2,900mAh
We don't know the extent to which iOS 9's power efficiency improvements will compensate for the iPhone 6S' relatively small battery, but we'd be extremely surprised if it outlasted the gigantic 2,900mAh cell in the Xperia Z5.
Nonetheless, Apple claimed that the iPhone 6S will endure up to 11 hours of HD video playback, compared with the Xperia Z5's advertised 10 hours for the same task. Sony does fight back with up to 160 hours of music playback, thrashing the iPhone 6S' 50-hour maximum.
iPhone 6S: 16GB, 64GB, 128GB, no microSD
Xperia Z5: 32GB, up to 200GB microSD
The iPhone 6S offers a wider range of internal storage capacities, and most of them are bigger than the Xperia Z5's sole 32GB drive. This would have made for an easy win, were it not for the latter's huge microSD support.
It's possible to extend the Xperia Z5's capacity beyond that of the most spacious iPhone 6S with a single 128GB or 200GB card. What's more, these can be removed and replaced at will, giving the Sony smartphone theoretically limitless storage. Such is the oft-underestimated importance of a microSD slot.
Despite their makers' best efforts, the iPhone 6S and Xperia Z5 are fairly evenly matched. The sharper screen and higher resolution camera on the Sony smartphone are countered by the more portable design and intriguing 3D Touch capabilities of the iPhone 6S.
Perhaps greater differences will become apparent once we get a better idea of each device's true performance and battery capabilities.