13 Nov 2015
Apple has an eye firmly on the business market with the iPad Pro, which has launched this week in the UK. The tablet is a honking great 12.9in slate, with stylus and keyboard accessories suspiciously similar to those of the Microsoft Surface Pro series.
This is very much a device that Apple wants you to carry into the office instead of a laptop, but how well does it compare against one of the US firm's own? To find out, we've compared the iPad Pro's key specs against the 11in MacBook Air.
iPad Pro: 12.9in 2732x2048 264ppi
MacBook Air: 11.6in 1366x768 135ppi
The iPad Pro picks up an early lead, beating the MacBook Air on size and pixel density. 135ppi is passable for web browsing and document editing, but the iPad Pro is easily better for making films and photos look suitably sharp.
Design and dimensions
iPad Pro: 306x221x6.9mm, 713g
MacBook Air: 300x192x17mm, 1.08kg
The downside of the iPad Pro's gargantuan display is its increased size; it's taller and deeper than the MacBook Air, although it more than makes up for it in slimness and weight. As one might expect from a tablet, even a 12.9in one, it's less than half as thick as the MacBook Air and weighs nearly 400g less.
It's difficult to make this particular laptop seem chunky, but that's exactly what the iPad Pro has done. However, that comes at the cost of connectivity. The MacBook Air has the benefit of two USB 3.0 ports and a Thunderbolt 2 port, whereas the iPad Pro makes do with a single Lightning connector.
iPad Pro: A9X
MacBook Air: 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5
The 64-bit A9X processor in the iPad Air is a brand new design, so we don't know exactly how well it performs. Apple said that it runs 1.8 times faster than its predecessor, the iPad Air 2's A8X, and that was certainly no slouch.
Speaking of the A8X, we know that was a tri-core 1.5GHz chip. If the A9X is notably quicker, as Apple promises, the iPad Pro should have a very good chance of outperforming the 1.6GHz dual-core i5 in the MacBook Air.
iPad Pro: iOS 9
MacBook Air: OS X Yosemite
The iPad Pro will be loaded with the new iOS 9, which introduces several security, performance and power efficiency improvements. Other interesting additions include handwriting support for the Notes app, a battery-saving Low Power mode and a multitasking view that places two apps on screen at once.
Naturally, the MacBook Air runs the latest OS X version, Yosemite, and will be upgradable to OS X El Capitan when it rolls out on 30 September.
iOS 9 sounds like a fine mobile OS, but we're more inclined towards the versatility of OS X for an everyday device. Apps run in windows rather than at full-screen, making them even easier to multitask with than iOS 9's split-screen view. What's more, these apps will be part of a much greater range, from AAA games to the full-fat versions of work software like Microsoft Office.
iPad Pro: 8MP rear-facing, 1.2MP front-facing
MacBook Air: 720p FaceTime
The iPad Pro's 8MP iSight camera is the best individual snapper in this comparison, a victory marred only slightly by the fact that taking photos with a vast two-handed tablet looks and feels utterly ridiculous.
The front-facing cameras on both devices are equally underwhelming - decent enough for the odd Skype call, but not for serious recording - so we'll move on.
iPad Pro: 32GB, 128GB
MacBook Air: 128GB, 256GB
None of these are spectacularly spacious options, although the MacBook Air's relatively generous 256GB drive earns it the win. And it's worth remembering that this can be expanded via USB too.
With the iPad Pro, 32GB is forgivably small by tablet standards, although anyone who follows Apple's wishes and makes it their main work computer will find it getting full fast.
iPad Pro: Up to nine hours (WiFi+LTE), up to 10 hours (WiFi only)
MacBook Air: Up to nine hours
The WiFi-only iPad Pro is the most enduring model here. Apple said that it can survive up to 10 hours of web browsing on a single charge, compared with nine hours for the MacBook Air and the WiFi+LTE iPad Pro variant.
To be fair, all of these are strong showings, and the tablet and laptop are both capable of lasting through a full work day or a reasonably long flight.
With a higher-res screen and more portable proportions, the iPad Pro does have a certain sleek appeal which the older MacBook Air doesn't quite share.
That said, it falls short as an outright laptop replacement. There's little reason to use something with a mobile OS as your main work machine, and we doubt that many will prefer the feel of the flat ‘Magic Keyboard' cover over the MacBook Air's actual keys.
Toshiba's Tecra line of laptops has long offered a selection of reliable, if unexciting, business notebooks.
The new Tecra A40-C, then, could probably have gotten away with being more of the same. However, with a feature-packed, enterprise-friendly design and a new Intel Skylake processor, this machine - a rare addition to Toshiba's under-represented 14in lineup - was quick to grab our attention. Although this latest Tecra won't be out to buy until early 2016, and pricing has yet to be revealed, we got a sneak preview.
Besides some chunky bezels around the screen, we're quite fond of the Tecra A40-C's looks. It measures 340x244x23.8mm and weighs 1.8kg, which for a traditional notebook isn't too bad at all. Plus, despite being thick enough to accommodate an optional DVD R/W drive, it's surprisingly sleek, and there's a lovely matte black finish throughout. This is all on top of a sturdy, rigid build quality, particularly around the lower keyboard segment.
Speaking of the keyboard, it's more than capable for full-time typing. The keys are a bit shallow but spaced well apart, allowing for accurate but quick strokes, and there's enough room for extra Delete, Home, Page Up, Page Down and End keys in a column along the far right.
There are plenty of connection options as well: three USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, VGA and HDMI connectors and an Ethernet port. That's a good range for a device of this size, with more than enough space for multiple peripherals or removable storage while allowing for an external display to hook up.
Like Lenovo's ThinkPad series, the Tecra A40-C also includes a little textured mouse nub in the keyboard's centre as an alternative to the trackpad. While it does enable cursor control without moving hands away from the keyboard, it's quite unwieldy without practice, and can be safely ignored if so desired. A much more enticing inclusion is the fingerprint scanner, which sits near the bottom of the chassis, just below and to the right of the trackpad.
We didn't get a chance to test battery life but it's commendable that the Tecra A14 includes a removeable battery while staying reasonably slim; many lightweight notebook keep their batteries integrated, making them impossible to quickly replace if they run dry. The Tecra A14, on the other hand, can be kept going with a spare pack.
The 14in display runs at 1920x1080, with a pixel density of 162ppi. That means decent, if unspectacular, clarity - there can be fuzziness around small text and images, but we had to actively search for it before noticing.
Colours, on the other hand, are spot-on; balanced without looking dull, vibrant without looking garish. They aren't compromised by the anti-glare coating, either. Some devices, like the HP ProBook 455 Ubuntu, use coatings which add a mildly distorting, grainy effect to the display, but the Tecra A14 successfully avoids this while minimises reflectivity.
Operating system and software
The Tecra A40-C will launch with Windows 10 Pro pre-installed, or with Windows 7 Pro pre-installed plus upgrade media for Windows 10 Pro included in the box.
Our particular demo model was running Windows 10 Pro, which, if at all possible to fit into existing IT environments, we'd sooner recommend. Besides being due for more frequent content, security and performance updates than previous Windows editions, Windows 10 Pro includes useful tools like BitLocker encryption, Universal Apps and the Action Centre - an extremely convenient combination of notifications tray and quick settings menu. Windows 7 Pro, as long and illustrious as its service has been, has none of these things.
Toshiba has added over a dozen proprietary applications, which is bad news for anyone who likes their Windows clean, but other than a redundant video player, these do lean towards utility rather than frivolity. A good example is HDD Protection, which employs a built-in sensor to detect if the laptop has taken a jolt. If so, it automatically moves the HDD head to a safe position, reducing the risk of it taking damage. Opting for an SSD instead of an HDD makes this addition moot, but it could potentially save a lot of data.
We're seeing more and more enterprise notebooks with integrated fingerprint scanners, including the Tecra A40-C, and that's entirely a good thing. Biometric systems are both more time-efficient and less prone to theft than conventional passwords, making them ideal for business use.
We're also glad that Toshiba opted for the Pro versions of both Windows 7 and Windows 10, which boast additional security features over their Home equivalents. Windows 7 Pro, for instance, supports native filesystem-level encryption and the ability to create, though not enforce, AppLocker policies to determine which applications can and can't run on a company network. Windows 10 Pro, meanwhile, adds the aforementioned BitLocker drive encryption and the Group Policy Management console for IT managers.
We tested a mid-range configuration of the Tecra A40-C, comprised of a 2.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-6300U processor from Intel's latest Skylake family and 8GB of RAM. Models with beefier Core i7 chips will also be available.
That i5 still produced some nimble performance, though, with the generous RAM allowance maintaining responsiveness when multitasking. We didn't get the chance to run benchmarks or try truly punishing tasks like photo or video editing, but the speed with which the Tecra A40-C opened programmes and ran straightforward tasks like text editing gave us confidence in its general office work capabilities.
Battery and storage
Toshiba claims that the Tecra A40-C will last for up to eight hours off a single charge. Since manufacturer estimates are almost always on the optimistic side, that means it probably won't last a full work day without charging, which is a shame - though to be fair, we've used notebooks which conk out before half a day, let alone a whole one.
The choice of storage options is pretty good as well. SSDs max out at 256GB, but forgoing their speeds in favour of a larger HDD allows for up to 1TB of internal storage.
It's clear that Toshiba has built a highly respectable, well-featured business laptop, and one which is especially suitable for users who prefer larger screens but don't necessarily want to deal with the bulk of a 15in or 17in device.
Being able to squeeze multiple ports, a removeable battery and even a DVD drive into this form factor is impressive, and we're hoping that the Tecra A40-C's performance and battery life do the design justice in everyday use.
28 Oct 2015
The newly refreshed HP Envy 15 is a big, chunky clamshell laptop that was utterly overshadowed by the flashy Spectre X2 hybrid when they were announced earlier this month.
But the two devices have more in common than one might think, as both are Windows 10-powered productivity machines with a CPU taken from Intel's latest 6th-generation Skylake range. Business tablets are on the rise, so can the revamped Envy 15 prove an exemplar of what traditional laptops can do? We got our hands on one to find out.
The problem with laptops as vast, thick and heavy as the 2.36kg Envy 15 is that they're usually better parked on a desk than carried around for lap use. Indeed, having picked up this demo unit, we certainly wouldn't want to lug it over our shoulders for more than a few minutes at a time.
That heft does come with benefits, though. There's enough room for an optical drive (a DVD/RW in this case), that oft-forgotten but frequently useful casualty of the shift towards tablets and ultrabooks, as well as four USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, an SD card reader and an Ethernet port for plugging into a wired LAN connection.
There's even enough room for a full-size keyboard, with numeric keypad. It makes for very comfortable typing, but we almost immediately managed to jam the ‘O' key, leaving it permanently pressed in. It's not a good sign of a product's build quality, and disappointing from a veteran manufacturer like HP.
To be fair, the rest of machine seems fairly sturdy, with a solid case and a firm screen hinge. We also appreciate the inclusion of a fingerprint sensor for an extra layer of security. It looks very much like the same design as that of the HP Elite x2 1011 G1 hybrid so, although we didn't get to try it out ourselves, it should be suitably fast and accurate.
As the name suggests, the Envy 15 features a 15.6in display at 1920x1080 resolution and 141ppi. This is far from the crispest display on the market, but it looks fine in practice and we had no problems reading small text or admiring the details in images and videos. An anti-glare coating dealt capably with overhead lighting, reducing reflections without suffering a grainy or oily effect overlaid on the screen - a sadly common problem with such coatings.
That said, colours generally looked a bit flat and washed out, even on a high brightness setting. This is an interesting, if somewhat annoying, contrat with the many convertible and 2-in-1 devices which have brilliantly vibrant colours but are problematically reflective.
Operating system and software
Fans of the Start menu will be pleased to know that the new Envy 15 runs Windows 10 Home, which brings back the famed UI element after Microsoft ditched it in Windows 8.
It would also have been nice to have, say, the BitLocker encryption features of Windows 10 Pro, but the Home version is still a very good all-round OS. Plus, Microsoft has committed to releasing more frequent content updates for Windows 10 than with previous versions, so it could get even better over time.
HP isn't as bad as others in loading its products with bloatware, but there were still a few pieces of trivial or useless software on the Envy 15 when we checked. These are mostly redundant utilities, but since the Envy 15 includes a fingerprint scanner it's a shame that it doesn't also ship with HP Client Security.
This has shown itself to be a very powerful and versatile tool on other scanner-equipped HP machines, like the Elite x2 1011 G1, and we'd definitely liked to have seen it here as well. True, it's designed for enterprise use, but it's also user friendly enough for most consumers to get to grips with it.
The combination of an Intel Skylake Core i5-6500U processor, dedicated Nvidia GeForce graphics and a huge 12GB of RAM sounds like HP has equipped the Envy 15 for intensive design and creative work. We were able to test video editing on it, and the good news is that the Envy 15 copes with this task cleanly and smoothly.
It's hard to beat the colossal 2TB hard drive in the Envy 15. This doesn't offer the speed of an SSD, but should provide plenty of space for working with big image and video files even if only 1.75TB is available to use after accounting for the OS and pre-installed software.
We suspect that some large applications and files were loaded onto the HDD for the benefit of a demonstration, rather than because they're included at launch, so it's likely that 250GB won't have entirely gone missing on the final product.
Our mishap with the ‘O' key has us eyeing the Envy 15 with a certain suspicion and, although it isn't quite as bulky as a lot of budget notebooks, our ultrabook-softened shoulders would still prefer it on a desk rather than in our bag.
Nonetheless, this big beast has the power to serve as a respectable pseudo-mobile workstation. Until we see tablets of which we can say the same, laptops will continue to find a home - and deservedly so.
27 Oct 2015
It's been only 10 months since the original launched, but Dell has already refreshed the XPS 13 ultrabook. Revealed alongside a new XPS 15 and the XPS 12 2-in-1, the updated XPS 13 adds Intel Skylake processors, more storage, extra memory and a Thunderbolt 3 connector to the so-called "smallest 13in laptop in the world".
We had to chance to try some of these upgrades for ourselves at a recent hands-on event.
The XPS 13's claim to moderate fame was, and still is, that it squeezes a 13.3in display into an 11in-sized body thanks to the screen's minuscule bezels. This hasn't changed, and the new XPS 13 still looks distinctly classy while being slightly more satchel-friendly than most 13in laptops.
However, we're not sure why the screen is touch-enabled; this isn't a convertible and dangling our hands over the keyboard and trackpad felt pretty silly, as well as uncomfortable. Luckily, the touchscreen is optional, and the keyboard itself is wonderful, with tactile, nicely spaced keys and a bright backlight.
This is a very well built laptop in general. It includes the same matte materials and attractive carbon fibre-lookalike finish as the previous XPS 13, and the entire bottom half feels sturdy and strong. The screen can flex very slightly if enough force is applied to the corners, but this is an acceptable price for its being so thin.
As for connectivity, it's equipped with two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, and a newly added Thunderbolt 3 connector. Based on the USB-C platform, the Thunderbolt 3 port can be used to charge the XPS 13 and transfer data faster - theoretically, anyway - than USB 3.0. We didn't get to test this, but overall that's a very decent combination of connectivity options.
One benefit of the touchscreen option is that at 2560x1440, it's much higher-res than the 1920x1080 standard screen.
Indeed, we had no complaints about the XPS 13's sharpness. The clarity of text makes for some extremely wide viewing angles, and images and videos look excellent - helped in no small part by the spot-on colour accuracy that isn't bland or oversaturated. Blacks are deep and rich, too.
Operating system and software
Windows 10 Home is missing some useful security features from Windows 10 Pro, but it's still a good choice of OS for the XPS 13. The return to a more desktop-focused UI, complete with a traditional Start menu, makes it much better suited to laptops than Windows 8/8.1 was. Things like the Action Centre - a combination of notifications tray and quick settings menu - and the general shift towards a more frequent update model also make us glad that Dell has gone for this up-to-date OS.
Dell has, however, seen fit to pre-install a number of applications. Some of these don't make much sense - if you buy a £1,000+ laptop to play Candy Crush Saga you've done something wrong - but the good news is that they're relatively few in number. In fact, not all of them are entirely unwelcome. Dell Command Power Manager, for example, offers a more in-depth tool for tweaking battery use than Windows 10 Home does by itself.
Despite its size, the XPS 13 put in the kind of benchmark scores we'd expect on a hulking gaming laptop: 110.2ms in Sunspider and 1,038.4ms in Kraken.
That's seriously fast, and can be attributed to the high-end Intel Core i7-6600U processor with 8GB of RAM. That's not even the most powerful configuration - Dell announced models with 16GB of RAM, as well as titanic 32GB editions coming later.
Of course, the headlining hardware here is the Intel chip, a 2.6GHz dual-core from the latest Skylake line. These 6th-generation processors offer minor performance gains and better power efficiency than the previous Broadwell generation. We can't speak for all Skylake-powered devices, but the XPS 13 certainly coped well with every task we gave it. Applications open incredibly quickly, and multitasking doesn't seem to slow it down one bit.
We'd like to have tried the 1TB SDD model, but sadly the demo unit contained only a 256GB drive. This turned out to be more of a 215GB drive as that's how much free space was useable.
The XPS 13 should have a bit more room to work with at launch, as this one seemed to include a few files and programs for the sake of demonstration. Still, 256GB isn't a great deal of storage space for a premium laptop, especially considering how tablets like the Surface Pro 4 have not only caught up with, but surpassed such capacities. However, even a small SSD will fetch data and boot Windows faster than an HDD, so there is that.
Dell said that the new XPS range, including the refreshed XPS 13, is built for "prosumers", i.e. those who produce and consume. Normally we'd have thought this would warrant, say, a dedicated graphics processor to drive video and image editing.
Nonetheless, the sheer speed of the XPS 13's shiny new Skylake chip is very encouraging. Combined with the great screen and a highly mobile form factor, this looks like it could be a very good choice for mobility-inclined professionals.
23 Oct 2015
The concept of the 360-degree convertible is still relatively new, and Lenovo has quickly become one of its biggest proponents. The firm's Yoga series now encompasses an array of back-flipping laptops, spanning a multitude of prices and target markets.
The Yoga 900, announced in mid-October, is very much a high-end addition to the range and UK pre-order listings price it at £1,400. To find out whether it's worth it, we went hands-on at an Intel-hosted event in London.
The Yoga 900's flexing abilities come from the 'watchband' hinge, an intricately segmented, outward-rolling mechanism first seen on 2014's Yoga 3 Pro and quite possibly an inspiration for the Microsoft Surface Book's Dynamic Fulcrum hinge.
It's surprisingly sturdy for a hinge only several millimetres thick, while enabling the screen to slip around without needing to apply much force. The screen can wobble if poked and prodded too hard, though. It's a common problem with convertibles that Lenovo has seemingly yet to solve.
Indeed, the Yoga 900 feels at its best in a standard laptop configuration. Despite slightly shallow key travel, the keyboard and trackpad are comfortable and responsive, and we've never really been fond of using a fully-rotated convertible as a handheld tablet anyway; they're just too big and heavy compared with a regular slate.
That said, the Yoga 900 is impressively slim even after managing to fit in three USB 3.0 ports and a full-size SD card reader. It's noticeably lighter and more portable than, say, the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 12 although, unlike on that device, the keys aren't physically locked from depressing, resulting in a disconcerting amount of key-mashing when using the tablet mode.
At 3200x1800 resolution and 276ppi the Yoga 900's touchscreen is beautifully sharp, and text, images and videos all look crisp and clear. Colour balance is mostly fine as well, although blues and purples sometimes aren't as vibrant as the rest of the spectrum.
This might worry designers and artists who require full colour accuracy, but for most people the Yoga 900 is very well suited for general content viewing. That high resolution is especially impressive, as many laptops and convertibles don't even break the 200ppi mark.
Operating system and software
Lenovo will launch the Yoga 900 with Windows 10 Home, the ‘basic' version of Microsoft's latest operating system. This means that it won't benefit from the security enhancements of Windows 10 Pro, such as AppLocker and BitLocker encryption, but Windows 10 Home is still a fine fit, mainly for the Continuum feature.
This allows the Yoga 900 to switch between a traditional desktop view and a tile-based tablet view, based on whether it's in a laptop or tablet configuration. What's more, it can be set to change automatically as soon as the screen is sufficiently rotated, and seems to detect configuration changes very near instantly.
Unfortunately, Lenovo couldn't resist tossing a few of its own pre-installed programs onto the hard drive. These include dubiously useful additions like SHAREit, which is effectively just an app for emailing files, and REACHit, a fairly basic cloud storage service that doesn't offer anything that more established commercial services don't.
The model we tested included a fairly beefy Core i7-6500U from Intel's 6th-generation Skylake family. It's a dual-core chip clocked at 2.5GHz - 100MHz faster than the Broadwell Core i7-5500U it replaces - and has been partnered with 8GB of RAM.
A Samsung-built SSD supposedly provides 512GB of storage, but a quick jaunt into Windows Explorer revealed that only 400GB of a 432GB partition was free.
Hands-on events aren't great for judging capacity, as vendors will often add software and files for demo purposes even if they won't appear on the device once it hits the market. Even so, that's a solid fifth of the maximum drive capacity out of use, which is a lot for what should just be the operating system and some firmware.
Still, 400GB is quite a lot, especially for those who mostly work with small files. The speed benefits of an SDD, as opposed to an HDD, shouldn't be underestimated either.
The £1,400 remains intimidating, but the Yoga 900's sharp screen, speedy performance and skinny profile has gone a long way towards winning us over.
It's certainly a cooler, trendier alternative to the ThinkPad Yoga 12, although this comes at the cost of the latter's business focus. At best, this is a solid consumer device that might suit SMBs, but doesn't include the management and security tools of the ThinkPad series. That may prove more offputting than the cost.
14 Oct 2015
The Surface Book, Microsoft's first laptop, isn't purely a laptop. The detachable touchscreen makes it really more of a convertible, albeit one with a more traditionally notebook-style keyboard than the Surface Pro 4's Type Cover.
This setup generated a few 'the laptop to replace the Surface to replace your laptop' gags at the Surface Book's unveiling, but the hardware involved is no joke: this is a top-spec, MacBook Pro-challenging productivity device with a premium price to match.
One aspect of the Surface Pro tablets inherited by the Surface Book is their relative chunkiness. At 232x312x22.8mm, the Surface Book is nearly a full 5mm thicker than the 13.3in MacBook Pro, although admirably it weighs the same at 1.58kg.
Microsoft has been keen to promote the Surface Book's unique 'dynamic fulcrum' hinge, which consists of small segments that seem to roll outward, lifting up the screen, which is attached to the final segment, rather than pivoting on a fixed point. It's a nice aesthetic touch, but honestly it's not yet apparent what, if any, advantages the hinge offers over the mechanisms used by existing convertibles.
Speaking of which, a more impressive feature is the mechanism used to hold the Surface Book's screen in place. It comprises spring-loaded wire locks, which engage or disengage electronically rather than using a flimsy lever to unclip the display. During the launch event, Surface Group corporate vice president Panos Panay demonstrated the wire lock's strength by waving a Surface Book around by its screen before effortlessly releasing it with a button press on the keyboard.
Connectivity is handled by a decent collection of two USB 3.0 ports, a full-size SD card reader and a Mini DisplayPort, as well as 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0.
Like the new Surface Pro 4, the Surface Book includes a magnetic clip on the tablet section's edge which holds a compatible Surface Pen in place - a handy addition for those with illustrative or notation duties.
A gigantic 3000x2000 resolution ensures the Surface Book has a sharp 267ppi, even with its 13.5in display. That's precisely the same pixel density as the Surface Pro 4, although the bigger Surface Book naturally has the higher resolution.
It's also much sharper on paper than the 13.3in MacBook Pro, which sports a 2560x1600, 227ppi display. Short of the most expensive 4K laptops, don't expect the Surface Book to have much competition in this department when it launches.
The Surface Book will launch with (what else?) Windows 10 Pro pre-installed. We maintain that this is the single best operating system for convertibles, as the Continuum interface can switch between a laptop-friendly desktop view and the touchscreen-optimised tablet mode on the fly. The extensive software compatibility offered by Windows 10 Pro also puts it leagues ahead of Android and iOS as a tablet-powering OS for enterprise use.
It's not perfect, as some IT managers may take issue with Windows 10 Pro's mandatory updates and potentially insecure WiFi Sense sharing feature, but these aren't a huge price to pay for its usability advantages and built-in security tools, like Device Guard anti-malware.
Microsoft is loading the Surface Book with Intel's 6th-generation Skylake chips, specifically from the Core i5 and Core i7 series - the top of the line, in other words. As with the Surface Pro 4, PC-quality performance is well and truly on the table, especially with the Surface Book's hefty 8GB and 16GB RAM options.
An Intel HD Graphics 520 chip is also included across all models, but the really high-end editions - starting at $1,899 - will be fitted with a dedicated 1GB Nvidia GeForce graphics processor as well. This will be placed in the keyboard, so the Surface Book won't be able to take advantage of the extra power when used as a tablet, but should capably handle tasks like 3D modelling and gaming while connected.
Another nice touch is that the 8MP rear-facing and 5MP front-facing cameras are capable of 1080p video capture. A pleasant bonus of this is that the front camera's broadcasting quality should be pretty high as well, making for smooth, clean video calls.
It will also come in useful for Windows Hello, a Windows 10-exclusive feature which allows the user to sign in to a device by looking at the camera. Face recognition software, which is smart enough to avoid being fooled by a photo, will verify that it is indeed the registered user and sign in for them.
With an estimated 12 hours of video playback time, the Surface Book's battery is well ahead of most laptops - but not, notably, the MacBook Pro, which also claims up to 12 hours under the same conditions. Still, that's hardly something to complain about, as both machines should easily last a working day of intensive use.
Models with 128GB, 256GB and 512GB of SSD have all been detailed. Even a 1TB storage option, unprecedented for a convertible, has been announced, although the price for it has not.
That said, 512GB will be plenty in most professional fields, and even the smaller 128GB and 256GB models still offer much more space than the vast majority of consumer tablets.
Credit where it's due: Microsoft's debut attempt at a laptop has the quality hardware and bold design choices of a much more experienced manufacturer. There's very little to dislike in terms of raw specs, from the bang up-to-date processors to the 3K display and lengthy battery life.
However, we have some concerns. Firstly, the prices are borderline terrifying: $1,699 for a middling 256GB, 8GB RAM model, and up to $2,699 for 512GB of storage and the extra Nvidia graphics processor. Secondly, there's significant overlap between the Surface Book and the new Surface Pro 4, the biggest difference seemingly amounting to which keyboard they attach to.
We can't help but wonder whether Microsoft should have settled for making a non-convertible laptop, which would be cheaper. As it stands, even the MacBook Pro is much more affordable, and less likely to trip over the Surface Pro 4 in a dash for market share. We'll have to wait until 26 October, when the Surface Book launches, to see whether Microsoft's touchscreen-heavy strategy truly pays off.
05 Sep 2015
BERLIN: Lenovo unveiled its latest IdeaPad devices at IFA this week and one of the most notable was the Miix 700, an Intel Skylake-powered Microsoft Surface competitor.
Looking a little like a clone of Microsoft's tablet, the IdeaPad Miix 700 offers a Windows 10 experience in a portable form factor and with RealSense camera functionality.
We got our hands on the IdeaPad Miix 700 on the IFA show floor to see whether it is just as similar to the Surface in real life as on paper, as well as to see how well it fared in our usual initial tests. Here are our thoughts ...
The Lenovo IdeaPad Miix 700 sports an integrated kickstand, optional keyboard cover and the same dual watchband hinges as seen on the Yoga 3 Pro, of which we are fans.
The familiarity of the Surface was evident in our hands-on. For example, the kickstand works in exactly the same way and has a similar 'full friction' feature. This allows the kickstand to move so that the tablet sits in almost any position. It rested well at any angle without slipping, even when applying pressure to the screen.
The IdeaPad Miix 700‘s metal chassis makes the device feel robust and expensive, and so it should for $700 (£450), which we might add is considerably more than the lowest priced Surface 3 ($499).
It feels around the same weight as the Surface 3, although it is a little thicker. Unfortunately, we do not have exact measurements yet but it does feel light and thin enough to carry around in a small backpack or satchel, for example. We'd say it probably weighs less than 1kg with the keyboard.
One thing we do not like, however, is the keyboard dock. It's an exact rip-off of the that seen on the Surface, and cheapens the overall look of the device. We also found that it makes it difficult to use because of the odd layout of the trackpad and cheap-feeling keys which have poor travel.
Lenovo said that the IdeaPad Miix 700 features an option for Intel's RealSense 3D cameras alongside Windows 10 for "never-before-seen PC performance" while "giving discerning shoppers multiple reasons to upgrade this holiday season". We didn't get a chance to see how well the RealSense 3D camera worked in our short hands-on, but we will give it a go in a full review soon.
The Lenovo IdeaPad Miix 700 has a 12in Full HD+ 2160x1440 touchscreen display, which is quite bright and the resolution doesn't lie. Images are detailed with deep colour representation and no jagged text. It also proved very responsive to touch, in the same way as the Surface.
Performance and software
A 6th-generation Intel Core processor and up to 8GB of RAM make the IdeaPad Miix 700 quite a powerhouse for its size. It runs Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 Home and this seemed to run smoothly, being responsive to touch with no lag. This is thanks to the updated Intel 6th gen processor running on the latest Skylake 14nm architecture.
Skylake is the successor to the chipmaker's Broadwell architecture and is touted to deliver significant increases in performance, battery life and power efficiency. Intel's latest chipset is the first mainstream Intel desktop platform to support DDR4 memory, and is claimed to deliver 30 percent better performance than a three-year-old PC based on Ivy Bridge architecture, 20 percent better performance than a two-year-old PC (Haswell), and 10 percent better performance than a one-year-old PC (Broadwell).
Essentially, this means that devices such as the IdeaPad Miix 700 can have a smaller form factor without any decrease in speed or performance.
There's up to 256GB of SSD storage, meaning that files, photos and videos should be stored quickly.
The IdeaPad Miix 700 starts at $699 (about £450), and will be available sometime this year, Lenovo said.
04 Sep 2015
The Toshiba Satellite 12 may be a few inches smaller than its stablemate, the impressive 15.6in Satellite Radius 15, but the newly announced convertible is no downgrade. In fact, it's the first device with a 360-degree screen hinge to feature a 4K display, and can be loaded with up to 8GB of RAM and a Core i7-6500U processor from Intel's 6th generation Skylake family.
Toshiba demonstrated the machine at IFA Berlin, where we spent a few minutes getting a hands-on with the new device.
Our primary problem with the Satellite Radius 15 is that it's far too big to be used in a tablet configuration, attained by flipping the screen all the way around so it presses against the back of the keyboard section.
This isn't such a problem with the Satellite Radius 12, which measures a more manageable 299x209x15.4mm and weighs 1.32kg, nearly a full kilogram lighter than its larger sibling. That's still heavy by tablet standards, but a definite improvement for highly mobile users.
Connectivity options have been upgraded with the addition of a USB-C port, alongside two USB 3.0 ports. The former should ensure faster data transfers, although be warned that standard USB cables won't fit.
The keyboard has been shrunk to fit this smaller device, but it's still quite comfy to use. We had no problems typing quickly and accurately although, as with the Satellite Radius 15, it would have been nice if the keys were physically locked in place when using a tablet configuration. Mashing them in while holding the Satellite Radius 12 in one hand feels distractingly peculiar, even if their input is disabled.
The 12.5in UHD display is the big selling point of the Satellite Radius 12, although a cheaper FHD model will also be available. We tested the former and, as expected, it looks pretty spectacular, with easily the sharpest images we've seen on a convertible.
Colours are deep and rich by default, and Toshiba has included software for quickly switching between various RGB profiles. This quickly put paid to our initial thought that the screen was oversaturated. It merely turned out to be just one of several optional colour settings.
We didn't have any problems with reflectivity, something which seriously hindered the Satellite Radius 15, although we could only use the Satellite Radius 12 plugged in at Toshiba's booth. This might well be a different story in direct sunlight or under different lighting.
Operating system and software
The Satellite Radius 12 will launch with Windows 10, and has been designed specifically for Microsoft's latest OS; the keyboard, for instance, includes a dedicated Cortana button for summoning the digital assistant.
Windows 10 is an excellent choice for a convertible like this, as its transforming UI can switch between a traditional desktop view and a more touch-friendly tablet mode whenever the screen is rotated. This worked perfectly during the time we spent testing, bringing up a prompt asking whether we'd like to switch modes as soon as we flipped the screen. This can also be set to occur automatically without a prompt.
However, we did spot quite a lot of pre-installed software, which is rarely a good sign. It can be hard to tell what will be found on the hard drive at launch and what has been included solely for a presentation, but hopefully Toshiba will tone down the bloatware.
We couldn't run any benchmarks, but were otherwise very impressed by the Satellite Radius 12's swiftness. Everything from altering colour balance to loading webpages to scrolling through photo albums is done instantaneously, without a hint of lag or stuttering.
This is to be expected, considering the high-end hardware and the premium price tag of €1,449 and upwards. The 4K screen option will push that up even further, establishing the Satellite Radius 12 as a premium buy rather than a mass rollout device.
We used a model with the maximum 256GB SSD. That will be fine for most prople, and using solid-state storage naturally helps the system boot up and run faster, as was the case in our hands-on.
Then again, those who need a machine for design or creative work may find 256GB filling up very quickly, necessitating cloud storage or a device with a more spacious, conventional hard drive.
The high price is a slight turn off, but the Satellite Radius 12 directly addresses several complaints we had about its 15.6in predecessor. It's certainly lighter and more portable, although a more thorough test is required to make sure the battery can survive the drain of a 4K screen.
In all likelihood, these strong specs will make Toshiba's latest effort an attractive option in the growing 360-degree convertible market - for those who can afford it, anyway.