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.
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.