12 Feb 2016
We're sure that the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation will forgive us for saying that the country isn't particularly renowned for its smart devices.
BQ, hailing from Madrid, is looking to change that. A leading maker of e-readers, smartphones, tablets and robotics in its home country, BQ is making a big play for the UK market with the upcoming Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition tablet and a crowd-pleasing Android device: the Aquaris X5.
This £180 handset can already be bought SIM-free online, and will soon be available on contract with O2. We attended BQ's UK launch event to find out more, and try it out for ourselves.
Unlike the rest of BQ's largely plastic smartphone output, the Aquaris X5 aims for style points with an anodised aluminium frame and a matte polycarbonate backplate. It does look good, especially with the slimline dimensions of 71x144x7.5mm, although we're more impressed by the feel. It's an unusual, but thoroughly pleasant, mix of textures that provides plenty of grip.
It's light, too, at 148g, a little less than the ultra-slim Samsung Galaxy A5. This allows it to rest easily in the hand even with the lack of other typical ergonomic features like a curved back or tapered edges.
As for ports, there's a standard microUSB connector and a single dual-purpose card tray that holds the nano SIM and a microSD card. This is a very by-the-numbers device in physical connectivity, then, but that's pretty much what we'd expect for the price.
That said, BQ has made a few interesting additions to the design. The bodywork - not just the screen - has received anti-fingerprint treatment to prevent the build up of any oil-induced marks and smudges, and the whole thing is UV resistant, so the frame and backplate won't be discoloured over time by exposure to the sun.
Another nice little feature is the notification LED, which be configured to shine in different colours depending on whether the received notification comes from an email, missed call or social media.
The Aquaris X5's screen is 5in diagonally and is constructed from Dragontail glass, a cheaper, slightly less scratch-proof alternative to Gorilla Glass.
The 1280x720 resolution might not be the best around, but it seems adequate for general use; at 294ppi, we had to look closely and squint before we could make out individual pixels. A more pressing issue is the low default brightness, which made whites in particular a lot duller than they could have been.
That said, it's still a colourful display overall, with a fine mix of cool blues, vibrant yellows and intense reds. The anti-fingerprint coating is also effective enough that these hues won't be obscured behind ugly smudges.
Operating system and software
We're still waiting for a true budget Android 6.0 Lollipop device, as the Aquaris X5 runs Android 5.1. However, unlike most smartphones, this comes in a choice of flavours: unskinned or modified with CyanogenOS 12.1.
The latter is likely to delay future Android updates even further, but credit is due to the customisation options, which extend to allowing no aesthetic customisations at all. This effectively maintains the basic look and UI of Android 5.1, while keeping CyanogenOS' added features.
Some of these are, in fact, genuinely useful. We particularly appreciated PIN Scramble, which randomises the PIN entry layout to confound anyone who tries to peek at thumb movements, as well as Truecaller. This uses a database of phone numbers to warn the user that a call from an unknown but spam-associated number can be safely ignored. Conversely, it can also assure the user that an unsaved number belongs to a legitimate owner, such as a food delivery service.
It's also worth noting that, even on the unskinned Android option, BQ has pre-installed a few apps like BQ Plus, which manages the firm's warranty and replacement service, and a Dolby app for changing sound settings. They're not hugely bloating, but this still isn't quite an absolutely clean Nexus-style Android installation.
It's a lower-end processor, to be sure, but along with 2GB it scored a decent 1,212,4ms in the Sunspider benchmark, putting it on par with the Moto G and even the mid-range ZTE Axon Mini Premium Edition. Scrolling through an image-heavy webpage also felt slightly smoother than it normally does on cheap handsets, and apps like YouTube and Gmail open reasonably quickly.
We'll put the Aquaris X5 though the full benchmarking regime in our upcoming review, but its real test will be whether it can maintain its responsiveness over time. We tried out a model only as it would come out of the box, not after a while spent loading it with apps and files.
The room in which we tested the Aquaris X5's 13MP rear and 5MP front cameras wasn't particularly well lit, so it was impressive that the former managed the highly accurate colour reproduction that it did. That said, detailing wasn't particularly high and fuzzy edges abound. Both cameras can capture 1080p video - another nifty inclusion for a sub-£200 device - but in practice, footage appears dark and slightly too blurry for our taste.
The front camera, meanwhile, was capable of some surprisingly vivid colours, but not always the ones we wanted. Sometimes the image would look fine, at other times it would gain a strange turquoise tint throughout. More positively, videos look smooth and stills are adequately sharp, although photos are prone to a little visual noise.
Another welcome software addition is BQ's camera app, which is considerably better equipped than the stock Android offering with its time lapse, slow motion and panorama modes.
Battery and storage
BQ hasn't given any estimates on how long the 2,900mAh lithium-polymer battery will last, but perhaps that's no bad thing considering the habit of manufacturers to advertise extremely optimistic media playback and mixed use times. Again, we'll look at this in our full review, but we will say that 2,900mAh is no small cell for a 5in smartphone.
Internal storage options are 16GB and 32GB, the larger option costing £20 more. That might turn out to be a pretty sound investment, as the 16GB model's usable space seems limited to 11.8GB on CyanogenOS models and 12GB on Android 5.1 models.
All varieties do support microSD, which is more than we can say for certain top-end handsets, although the 32GB card size limit is relatively low. We usually see such limits at 128GB or 200GB.
We suspect that it will take more than UV resistance and CyanogenOS for the Aquaris X5 to take the UK by storm, but at the very least BQ seems to have ticked all the boxes for a mass-appeal smartphone: decent specs, sharp design and an affordable price.
We'll soon have a better idea how the handset will cope with regular day-to-day use, so be sure to check back for our full review.
12 Jan 2016
If the Dell Latitude 13 7370 is a business-focused reworking of the firm's XPS 13 laptop, the Latitude 12 7275 has the same relationship with the XPS 12. Announced at CES 2016, this member of the new Dell Latitude 12 7000 series is a productivity tablet designed with an eye for small form factors and high-end materials usually associated with consumer devices.
We got our hands on an early production unit to find out whether the Latitude 12 7275's blend of mainstream design and enterprise features make it a viable competitor to the Surface Pro 4, iPad Pro and Samsung's newly unveiled Galaxy TabPro S.
Dell's device certainly looks good for a Windows tablet. It measures 291x193x8.1mm and sports some extremely thin side bezels, a design touch borrowed from the XPS range, as is its use of a magnesium unibody chassis. This gives it a solid and sturdy feel without adding much bulk, resulting in a comfortably low weight of 730g.
Two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 can be found on the left edge, but unfortunately there's no full-size USB port. This is a big omission for something that is broadly intended as a laptop replacement, and could easily prove an annoyance for anyone who frequently makes use of USB-based storage, peripherals or data connections in the course of their work. At least it also includes micro SD, SIM and Noble Lock slots.
We do like how the Latitude 12 7275 clamps onto its keyboard dock with a single magnetic connector; it's a smart compromise between latch-free ease of use and ensuring that the tablet doesn't just slide off. There will be two dock options when the Latitude 12 7275 launches in early February: the thinner and cheaper Slim Keyboard, and the Premier Keyboard which includes a much longer-extending kickstand.
We used the Premier Keyboard, which provided a slightly more solid-feeling, laptop-like typing experience than most other keyboard covers we've tried. This comes at the cost of extra heft, but for that you'll get a decent-sized trackpad and well-spaced backlit keys. There's also a fabric loop on the side for holding a Dell Active Pen stylus, although like both keyboards these are sold separately.
The basic model will feature a 12.5in FHD touchscreen, but we tested the cream-of-the-crop 3840x2160 UHD edition with Gorilla Glass NBT which has a resolution and construction setup shared with the XPS 12.
This makes it preposterously sharp, with an incredibly dense 352ppi. The Surface Pro 4 managed 267ppi, for comparison. Colours are vibrant and well balanced as well and, unlike the Latitude 13 7370, the display can be set to be brilliantly bright. As tough as it is, the Gorilla Glass 4 is very reflective and prone to picking up fingerprints, although these are hardly terrible trade-offs for a screen so well suited to professional design work.
Operating system and software
Dell will sell the Latitude 12 7275 with Windows 7 Professional or Windows 10 Pro pre-installed to accommodate businesses still reliant on older Windows systems. Given the choice, however, it's hard to deny that Windows 10 Pro is much better suited in terms of features; the Continuum interface allows it to optimise for touch controls and, when the tablet is in the keyboard dock, a more desktop-like scheme. The improved ‘snapping' controls in Windows 10 also make it much faster to slip multiple windows into a multitasking-friendly layout.
As for business-specific features, both operating systems support Encryption File System, which allows protection of individual files, although only Windows 10 Pro offers full drive encryption through BitLocker - another win for the newer version.
Regardless of which OS is chosen, Dell will load the Latitude 12 7275 with some bonus security and management software - par for the course with Latitude machines - although perhaps especially important here to ensure that business buyers aren't scared away by the consumer design influences. These include Protected Workspace, Dell's collection of anti-malware safeguards, as well as Dell Client Command Suite, an admin-oriented tool for tweaking BIOS and system settings.
We didn't spot much bloatware when inspecting the tablet's storage, so we're happy to see Dell sticking largely to potentially useful utilities rather than useless apps with the out-of-the-box software.
A 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core M7-6Y75 powered the particular model we used, but Dell said that a choice of Core M3, M5 and M7 Skylake chips will be available. We also found it was equipped with 8GB of RAM, half of the maximum 16GB option.
The more efficient Core M series provides less theoretical power than the Core i5 and i7 processors in the Surface Pro 4, but it's still more than capable of most tasks. We didn't experience slowdown or significant delays when running multiple applications, but we'll need to take a more in-depth look at the Latitude 12 7275 to determine its benchmarking prowess and ability to deal with tough CAD work.
The sole problem we encountered was a Continuum mishap when the OS failed to recognise that we'd returned the slate to its dock, thus staying in the touch-focused Tablet mode. Admittedly, it's hard to say whether this is a hardware or software issue, but hopefully it will be fixed in the final production builds.
A peek at the 256GB SSD revealed that 200GB of free space was usable, from an actual maximum of 226GB.
That's a decent - not great, not bad, but decent - capacity, and it's worth mentioning that the Latitude 12 7275 achieves parity with other high-end Windows tablets by offering a 512GB SDD option as well. Both drives absolutely smash the 128GB maximum of the iPad Pro, too.
Even against stiff competition, the Latitude 12 7275 looks like it could be a respectable addition to the business tablet market. The lack of a USB-A port is disappointing, but is arguably outweighed by the sleek form factor, ultra-high-res display and promising security focus.
LAS VEGAS: CES 2016 has been all about Windows 10 2-in-1 devices and Samsung used the show as a chance to reveal its first Windows-powered convertible device.
Much like devices we've seen from Acer and Lenovo this week, Samsung's Galaxy TabPro S apes Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 in terms of style and functionality, offering a keyboard that doubles as a kickstand and an optional Bluetooth pen for on-screen scribbling.
It might seem impossible for companies to differentiate in the ever-growing Windows convertible space, but Samsung hopes that the TabPro S' 6.3mm frame - the thinnest Windows 10 2-in-1 available - will impress the market.
The Galaxy TabPro S is available in black and white and gives the iPad Pro a run for its money when it comes to design. It feels more premium than the Android-powered Galaxy Tab S before it, as Samsung has ditched the perforated plastic for a sturdy magnesium alloy frame. The tablet feels like an impressively robust piece of kit, despite its thinness.
Being thin comes at a price, however, in terms of port options. The Galaxy TabPro S has an audio out port and only one USB Type-C slot. If you want to hook up all your peripherals you'll have to cough up for Samsung's port hub, which comes with HDMI, USB Type-A and Type-C ports. You win some, you lose some.
The add-on keyboard is included in the box at no extra cost, unlike with Microsoft's offering, and transforms the Galaxy TabPro S from high-end tablet to Surface Pro competitor. The soft-touch keys felt a little disappointing and cheap-feeling at first, but after a few minutes tapping away we found it offered better travel than the costly alternative offered with the Surface Pro 4.
The keyboard is present for more than just typing. Like most, it attaches magnetically to the bottom of the tablet, but Samsung's offering also covers the rear of the 12in display, creating a makeshift kickstand that can be used at two angles.
The 12in 2560x1440 Super AMOLED display on the Galaxy TabPro S is one of the best we've seen on a Windows device. Just like the screens on Samsung's smartphone line-up, the display on the Windows 10 convertible offers insane levels of brightness, vibrant colours and deep blacks, and didn't suffer any reflection problems even under the harsh lights of the CES showroom floor.
The screen, again like that on the Surface Pro 4, comes with an optional Bluetooth stylus, or Active Pen, which Samsung claims offers similar functionality to Microsoft's Surface Pen. It was responsive enough during our brief hands-on, and suffered no lag whatsoever.
Performance and software
The Galaxy TabPro S will ship with one of Intel's 6th generation dual-core Core M chips clocked at 2.2GHz with 4GB of RAM and 128GB or 256GB of SSD storage. We noticed no discernable lag while using the device, and switching between Windows and opening apps was fluid, but we'll reserve judgement until we put the convertible fully through its paces.
The Galaxy TabPro ships with Windows 10, and the software has never looked better thanks to the tablet's Super AMOLED panel. Buyers will have a choice of Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 Home, and it doesn't appear that Samsung has loaded too many of its own apps.
The Galaxy TabPro S shows a lot of promise. The premium design, excellent (and free) keyboard and gorgeous Super AMOLED display means it will stand out in the crowded Windows tablet market when it arrives in February.
08 Jan 2016
The Latitude 13 7370 is part of the Dell Latitude 13 7000 Series announced at CES 2016 and leads the charge in Dell's plan to shed the image of business laptops as stuffy, clunky work machines.
In this case, Dell has looked inwards, borrowing several design notes from the more consumer-oriented XPS 13 in an attempt to create a capable, secure productivity aid that looks and feels like a stylish ultrabook. We went hands-on with an early production model to see how this is working out.
The most immediately apparent XPS 13 influence is the Latitude 13 7370's carbon fibre lid that uses the same materials and pattern as the XPS 13's keyboard portion. It's a welcome inclusion, considering its soft-touch feel but strong durability. Magnesium, another Dell staple, forms the bulk of the remaining chassis, providing a nice matte finish.
It's wonderfully light as well; the whole thing weighs just 1.1kg, which is great for a 13in laptop. It's also a bit narrower than most, thanks to the bezel-minimising InfinityEdge display
There's only one USB 3.0 port, but Dell has modernised things by adding two USB-C 3.1 ports with Thunderbolt 3 compatibility. That means faster data transfers and charging of mobile devices, as well as the ability to connect to several displays from a single port, although there's also a more conventional mini HDMI connector onboard, plus one SD and smart card reader apiece.
There's no faulting the backlit keyboard, which strikes an excellent balance between light, swift operation and decently deep key travel. Sadly the same can't be said of the trackpad and its loose, mushy left and right buttons.
Still, other than the relative shortage of full USB ports, this is definitely one of the more attractively designed business laptops out there. It includes a 180-degree hinge like the HP EliteBook Folio we've tested previously, although the real-life applications of this seem somewhat limited compared with all the 360-degree hinges we saw in 2015.
We've already praised the space-saving benefits of the edge-to-edge screen, but the panel itself is very respectable as well, and everything looked sharp and smooth with deep, rich colours even on the standard FHD version we saw. A touch-enabled QHD model will also be available at launch.
Our only complaint is a slight lack of brightness, even on 100 percent. It's not outright dull if you crank up the settings, but it's never truly brilliant either.
Operating system and software
Dell plans to offer the Latitude 13 7370, along with all its new Latitude devices, with a choice of Windows 10 Pro or Windows 7 Professional.
This is, of course, to accommodate the majority of firms that still rely on Microsoft's older OS, and it's true that a clamshell laptop like this won't take full advantage of Window 10 Pro's ability to shift between desktop and tablet-style UIs to extent that a 2-in-1 might.
That said, the Latitude 13 7370's integrated camera, which was disabled during our test, is supposedly compatible with Windows Hello, a face recognition authentication feature exclusive to Windows 10. This would give the newer version a key advantage for security-minded users and admins, especially those who fret about stolen passwords.
Speaking of security, Dell is loading its own enterprise-grade protective software, adding extra layers of encryption on top of that built-in to Windows 10 Pro, as well as even more support for multi-factor authentication and remote MDM tools for administrators.
The use of Core M processors from Intel's Skylake family wouldn't normally be a concern, but it seems like a step down from the Core i5 and Core i7 chips found in the XPS 13. We'd have thought that the business line would boast as much, if not more, processing power than the consumer equivalents, even considering the Core M's theoretically lower power demands.
Still, with 8GB of RAM and a dual-core 1.1GHz Core M5-6Y67, the Latitude 13 7370 feels nimble and lag-free when jumping between basic apps. We'll have to wait and see how well it can stand up to intensive work tasks, like media editing or handling large spreadsheets.
A closer look at the Latitude 13 7370's 256GB SDD revealed that 216GB was free from a maximum of 237GB.
We've seen far more egregious examples of over-bloating, to be fair, and a peek inside the test unit's Documents and Downloads folders indicated that it contained at least some temporary or demonstration files which are not likely to be included when it goes on sale.
Like the XPS 13 - again - the Latitude 13 7370 also benefits from an incredibly fast boot-up time on account of the speedy solid state drive.
We're not too worried about how the Latitude 13 7000 Series turns out based on the strength of this taster, even with just one USB 3.0 port, provided that the Core M CPUs can keep up with everyday use.
After all, it's difficult to get too cynical about a more secure, more business-ready spin-off of the XPS 13, which we felt was the best laptop of 2015. Here's hoping that the more modest processor encourages Dell to keep the price reasonable.
07 Jan 2016
HP Inc's ultra-slimline EliteBook Folio we wrote about recently seems like an attempt to create as tiny a 12.5in laptop as is humanly possible, but the EliteBook 1040 G3, due for release in late January, is a more balanced machine. It's still thin, but not to the extent that it's missing a load of ports or can't make room for an Intel Core i5.
We had the chance to try out the EliteBook 1040 G3 at CES 2016, and found that this balance between portability and capability could well see it outshine its more stylish stablemate.
There's only one major aesthetic difference between this laptop and its EliteBook Folio 1040 G2 predecessor: the trackpad, which keeps its large footprint while rounding out the bottom corners. There's been a more functional update underneath, namely new mechanisms for the left- and right-click buttons which provide a nicely tactile click when pressed.
We also like the laptop's portability; at 1.3kg it's on a par with other high-end machines like the Lenovo Yoga 900 and the Toshiba Satellite Radius 12, both of which we've been happy to carry about town over our shoulders. Even so, the EliteBook 1040 G3 still manages to squeeze in a great selection of ports, including one USB-C, one HDMI, two USB 3.0, an SD card reader and even a SIM slot for 4G LTE connectivity.
Another welcome bonus is the optional fingerprint scanner, which appears to use the same fast, reliable and discreet design as that of the Elite x2 1011 G1. This works in tandem with HP's Client Security software to guard the laptop's stored data with biometrically-backed encryption.
All of this is housed in a diamond-cut aluminium chassis which has an elegantly understated look and a reassuring rigidity.
Our first complaint does, sadly, need to be directed at the display - not so much the 14.1in screen itself but the anti-glare coating, which hampers the EliteBook 1040 G3's respectable colour balance with a nasty, grainy overlay effect. We appreciate the effort to reduce reflectivity, especially when the EliteBook Folio suffers from it so much, but it's a measure that could easily irk anyone who needs their screen to look crystal clear.
Fortunately, the actual detailing is pretty good; we tested the FHD version, which runs at a respectable 156ppi, and we had to squint to make out any individual pixels. A touch-enabled QHD resolution option will also be available, which we're in two minds about. More pixels is always good, but an always-on touchscreen seems a little unnecessary for a non-convertible laptop. In our experience, this feature doesn't add much besides a drain on battery life.
Operating system and software
The EliteBook 1040 G3 will launch with Windows 10 Pro pre-installed, and with Windows 7 Professional and Windows 8.1 Pro available through downgrade rights.
This offers a commendable amount of flexibility to firms that might use one of the older operating systems exclusively, and thus would want any new devices to conform. We're most fond of Windows 10 Pro for its UI improvements as well as what looks to be a more frequent and longer-running update schedule. Windows 7, by contrast, will reach end-of-life in 2020.
Adding to Windows 10 Pro's BitLocker encryption and Windows Hello authentication is HP Client Security, HP Inc's excellent mix of anti-malware and encryption tools. It's one of the better inclusions in a smattering of pre-installed applications, ranging from the useful - like Client Security and HP Touchpoint Manager - to the questionable, like HP Image Assistant.
Our time with the EliteBook 1040 G3 was limited so we couldn't run benchmarks, but there was little to fault about its general speed and responsiveness when multitasking. It has strong specs to thank for this, at least in the case of the unit we used, which featured an Intel Skylake Core i5-6300U vPro plus 8GB of RAM. For reference, that's the same 2.4GHz dual-core chip and RAM set-up found in the Surface Pro 4 we tested, which produced great benchmark scores of 256.0ms in Sunspider and 1,303.7ms in Kraken.
The full range of processors is yet to be confirmed but we're sure that the EliteBook 1040 G3 can be even more powerful, considering that memory options go up to an ample 16GB.
One shared characteristic between the EliteBook 1040 G3 and the EliteBook Folio is their good but not great cameras. Like the smaller laptop, the EliteBook 1040 G3's webcam suffers from noisy stills and video, but can still act as an adequate conferencing tool with slick, fuzz-free capturing.
The EliteBook 1040 G3 already looks like the wiser choice of HP Inc's two new business laptops. Better specs, more hardware features and even a longer predicted battery life - 11 hours to the EliteBook Folio's 10, though such estimates are often extremely optimistic - easily outweigh the benefits of the EliteBook Folio's slimmer profile.
The EliteBook 1040 G3 is far from cheap with a starting cost of £1,000, but from what we've seen it goes a long way towards earning that price tag.
LAS VEGAS: Acer is not a name you usually associate with high-end, hybrid devices, but the firm is looking to change that with the Aspire Switch 12 S, a convertible Windows 10 device that, at €1,200, is aimed at the same market as Microsoft's Surface Pro 4.
The company has kitted out the device with top-end features, including an optional 4K screen, an Intel Core M processor and an Intel 3D RealSense camera.
Acer has upped its game when it comes to design with the Aspire Switch 12 S. We typically associate the firm with cheap, plastic laptops, but its latest effort is constructed from aluminium, making it look stylish and feel solid. It's lightweight enough, and just 7.85mm thick.
The big talking point here, though, according to Acer at least, is the new Snap Hinge Gold magnetic connector that enables the Aspire Switch 12 S to transform between notebook, tablet, display and tent modes, similar to Lenovo's Yoga line-up.
This connector communicates with the tablet portion of the device at speeds of up to 6Gbps, but we were more impressed by how easily, and satisfyingly, the tablet and keyboard components attach and pull apart.
This keyboard add-on feels premium, too. The backlit keys, unlike those on Acer tablets of old, are satisfying to touch, and arguably make for speedier typing than those offered with the Surface Pro 4. We weren't quite so satisfied with the built-in trackpad, though, which suffered some lag during our time with the device.
The keyboard comes with USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt 3 ports, alongside microHDMI and microSD ports.
The Acer Aspire Switch 12 S is offered with an eye-popping 3840x2160 4K resolution 12.5in screen or a less impressive 1920x1080 Full HD. We got our hands on the higher-spec screen which, despite its overly reflective Gorilla Glass coating, is just as impressive in real life as on paper.
We tested the display indoors and out, and the screen coped well in both situations and proved a huge improvement on the Full HD screen on the Aspire Switch 12 before it, offering vibrant colours, sharp edges and great brightness levels. The display also offers support for Acer’s Active Stylus tech.
Performance and software
The Aspire Switch 12 S comes with an Intel Core M, or Skylake, processor. We've yet to put the device fully through its paces, but it was smooth and responsive overall during our brief hands-on.
The Aspire Switch 12 S runs Windows 10. Acer has added none of its own apps to the Windows-powered Jade Primo smartphone, but unfortunately hasn't taken a similar approach with its latest convertible. There aren't loads of custom apps, but services such as Acer Store and Acer Care Centre are unlikely to get a second look.
You can check out our Windows 10 review for our full thoughts on the operating system.
The Aspire Switch 12 S comes with an Intel RealSense camera on its rear, another tactic from Acer to ensure the device stands out in the crowded Windows 10 convertible market.
Unfortunately, we didn't have two hours to wait for a RealSense app to download and install onto the device, but Acer told us that the camera can scan objects and capture images that can be used to create 3D models, for example.
We didn't have high hopes for the Aspire Switch 12 S given Acer's previous efforts in the hybrid space. We shouldn't have been so negative, however, as the convertible is a decent bit of kit and could rival the the Surface Pro 4 and Dell XPS 13.
It will certainly be interesting to see how it performs in a full review when we get the chance to test it out later in the year.
05 Jan 2016
We saw a lot of impressively slim and light laptops over the past 12 months, but the upcoming HP EliteBook Folio, revealed at CES 2016 in Las Vegas, is something else. It's a wafer-thin 12.4mm deep and weighs just 1kg, lighter than the smallest 11.6in MacBook Air but boasting nearly an entire inch of extra diagonal screen space.
The EliteBook Folio won't find itself on the folding seat-back trays of commuters until it launches in March, but we were invited by HP Inc to try it out first-hand.
The silvery aluminium construction contrasting with a black plastic keyboard certainly evokes the rest of the EliteBook range, leaving the EliteBook Folio's thinness and narrowness to make it stand out. The left and right screen bezels are tiny and there's hardly any chassis between the keyboard and the edges. It's clear that HP Inc has trimmed off as much as it feasibly could to increase the device's extreme portability.
This comes at a cost, however: there's no room for a full-size USB port, just two USB-C slots. These are Thunderbolt 3-equipped, so they'll be able to connect to an external display with the appropriate cables, but anyone hoping to use a mouse or even a common USB stick will need to invest in an adapter. It's also a bit disappointing to see no SD card reader or mini HDMI port.
At least HP Inc has made other improvements. The surprisingly spacious touchpad, for instance, has new mechanical left- and right-click buttons. These add a pleasantly deep, forceful action as well as a premium feel broadly similar to that of a mechanical switch keyboard. The EliteBook Folio's keyboard is fairly standard in design and operation, with the exception of specialised calendar and conference call controls on the function keys. HP Inc sees this laptop as a device that can multitask as a business laptop and a conference phone, hence the inclusion of quick calling and voice-muting controls.
This also seems to be the idea behind the EliteBook Folio's 180-degree hinge, which allows it to lie completely flat on a table - presumably so that everyone sitting around it can see what's on-screen.
As we'd expect from something that will cost a minimum of €999, the EliteBook Folio's screen is of a suitably high quality. It's a 12.5in IPS panel that shows off some beautifully bright, bold colours, and even on a base FHD model we tested - that's 176ppi - text and images look fine. A UHD model which runs at a 352ppi will also be available, although we haven't seen it in action.
The screen is protected by Gorilla Glass 4, which provides some good scratch resistance but is just as reflective here as it is on a smartphone, so those planning to take advantage of the flattening hinge should beware of any pesky overhead lights.
Operating system and software
Windows 10 Home will be the EliteBook Folio's standard issue OS. HP Inc will offer Windows 7 Professional or Windows 8.1 Pro through downgrade rights, which might prove useful for firms with a strictly controlled IT environment based on the older operating systems, but we feel that Windows 10 Pro would be a better choice for sheer usability. The UI is much improved for laptop use since Windows 8.1, and it's hard to dislike features such as Universal Apps or the versatile Action Centre menu.
Windows 10 Pro also features handy tools like BitLocker encryption and built-in IT policy deployment, considerable advantages over the Windows 10 Home version that appears on cheaper laptops.
As with all EliteBooks, there's a handful of HP Inc's pre-installed programs onboard. A lot of these can be ignored or deleted for extra SSD space, although there are some genuinely good inclusions. HP Touchpoint Manager, for instance, allows admins to streamline software inventory and patch deployment, while HP Client Security is an expansive collection of anti-malware, authentication and drive encryption tools.
HP Inc is staying tight-lipped on the specific CPU and RAM specs the various EliteBook Folio models will include, other than the fact that all processors will come from Intel's 6th-generation Skylake Core M line. That's to be expected, since the laptop's fanless design wouldn't be able to cope with a full-on Core i5 or i7, although the Core Ms will all be vPro-enabled.
For now, we can get an idea from the test unit we were given, which ran a 1.1GHz Core M5-6Y57 dual-core chip with 8GB of RAM. On paper, that's an adequate if hardly spectacular amount of power for everyday tasks.
Indeed, we didn't notice any stuttering or sluggishness when web browsing and text editing on the EliteBook Folio, but we couldn't run benchmarks or download more demanding photo and video editing software to test. We're still curious as to how it will fare under intensive working use, and have requested a unit we can test in full for a later review.
The EliteBook Folio may be custom built for conference calls, but its webcam isn't quite as clear as those of high-end competitors like the Dell XPS 13 or Microsoft's Surface Pro 4, mainly due to a large amount of visual noise. That said, videos appear bright and smooth with blurring kept to a minimum.
Some good software and a sleek design means that the EliteBook Folio scores points for style and functionality. Even without the somewhat niche conferencing focus, that's enough for us to keep an eye on it ahead of its launch later this year.
Nonetheless, we can't shake the feeling that the few available ports may cause headaches, and EliteBooks typically don't have the best battery life, something in which the EliteBook Folio remains untested. A more in-depth look is required before we can fully judge its suitability as a real mobile productivity machine.
01 Dec 2015
Microsoft is aiming to make it that bit easier to upgrade to Windows 10 for existing Windows users with the Windows 10 November Update, the first major update to the new operating system since it launched in July.
The update delivered a host of updates and improvements. One of those, it seems, is a tweak to the activation process that now allows users to perform a clean install of Windows 10 and activate it using a valid product key from Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1.
When Windows 10 launched, it was offered as a free upgrade for anyone running one of those older versions of Windows. Many expert users prefer to take a different route and do a clean install rather than an in-place upgrade, but those doing so have found that they often couldn't take advantage of the free upgrade offer, because Windows setup failed to detect an existing version of Windows.
Microsoft has now resolved that issue with the November Windows 10 update.
However, there was another twist in the tale: some users downloading the Windows 10 November update from Microsoft's site reported that installing it reset some key privacy preferences governing online tracking that they been chosen when they first upgraded to Windows 10. As these default to allowing tracking, the users were understandably concerned.
Microsoft's response to this was to withdraw the November Update as a download while it fixed the issue, which it now claims to have done. Users may continue to get it via Microsoft's preferred method of waiting for it to be delivered via Windows Update.
Windows 10 was launched at the end of July to great fanfare, and legions of users are upgrading or awaiting their chance to upgrade for free via the Get Windows 10 app (right) that Microsoft delivered as an update to Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 systems a few weeks back.
However, if you haven't got that app for some reason, or just favour a more direct approach, there is a shortcut to getting Microsoft's new operating system by using a media creation tool available from Microsoft's site.
Whichever way you choose to get Windows 10, just make sure you leave plenty of time for the upgrade as it can prove a very lengthy process.
In our tests with the release code, we used the media creation tool to download an installation image of Windows 10 onto a USB flash drive, which can then be used to upgrade multiple computers without having to download afresh.
This where you'll meet the first hurdle, as you need to download a 32-bit or a 64-bit version of the media creation tool, depending on whether the PC you want to upgrade supports 32-bit or 64-bit processing. In Windows 7, you can look in Control Panel > System and Security > System to see whether you are running a 32-bit or 64-bit version.
The second hurdle is that you need a blank USB flash drive (or alternatively a blank writable DVD) that is at least 4GB in size to hold the installation files.
The final caveat is that you need to download the correct version of Windows 10, which is available to end users in Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro editions. If you are currently running one of the Home editions of Windows 7, or the base edition of Windows 8, and you download Windows 10 Pro, Windows Setup will treat it as a first-time installation and ask for the product licence key (we know - we tried it).
Having said all this, we found that the media creation tool offers you the option of creating an installation disk, or just installing Windows 10 directly onto the PC you are using.
Once you have chosen, the tool will start the download process. The download is at least 3GB in size, so is likely to take hours depending on the speed of your connection. We found it took at least 2.5 hours.
After this, the media creation tool will kick off the Windows 10 setup, or write the files to your chosen installation media, which means another progress indicator for you to watch for a while.
Once you have the installation media, you can launch the setup program on it to begin installing Windows 10, and look forward to waiting some more. The installation can easily take another couple of hours, especially as setup will look for and fetch any vital updates and patches before beginning the actual installation.
The process itself is frustrating, as the progress indicator reaches 100 percent several times, only to start again from zero with some other process such as installing features and drivers and restarting the computer several times.
Even when fully installed, Windows 10 will ask you to confirm settings such as your location and privacy preferences, such as which of the built-in services you are happy to share data with and whether you want to permit Microsoft to collect diagnostic and use data as you use your computer.
However, this should all prove worthwhile when you finally finish and are faced with the Windows 10 home screen with the restored Start button and Start menu. For more, see our review of Windows 10.