20 May 2014
Microsoft made a big deal about its Surface Pro 3 when it unveiled it at its New York press event on Tuesday, claiming it will easily outperform all of its key rivals as both a tablet and a laptop. This has led many buyers to wonder how the new productivity focused Surface Pro 3 compares to the current ruler of the tablet market, the Apple iPad Air.
Surface Pro 3: 292x201x9.1mm, 800g
iPad Air: 240x170x7.5mm, 468g
Packing a sizable 12in display and robust magnesium chassis, the Surface Pro 3 is significantly heavier than the iPad Air. That said, it does have more connectivity options than the iPad Air, coming loaded with full-sized USB 3.0 ports, a microSD card slot and a mini Displayport. By comparison the iPad Air only has a Lightning port.
Surface Pro 3: 12in ClearType Full HD screen with 2160x1440 resolution
iPad Air: 9.7in 1536x2048, 263ppi in-plane switching (IPS) LCD Retina display
Microsoft made a big deal about the Surface Pro 3's 12in display claiming that as well as being 38 per cent larger than the previous Surface Pro screen it is also able to display twice as many pixels.
That said, it will still have a tough time dethroning the iPad Air, as its 9in Retina Display remains one of the sharpest and crispest seen on a large tablet.
Surface Pro 3: Windows 8.1
iPad Air: iOS 7
Microsoft designed the Surface Pro to function as a laptop as well as tablet and has loaded it with its full Windows 8.1 operating system. This means that on paper it could offer better productivity services and applications than the iPad Air, which runs the latest version of Apple's iOS mobile operating system.
Surface Pro 3: Intel Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 options
iPad Air: A7
The Surface Pro is available with fourth generation Intel Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 chip options. This means, despite Apple iOS being significantly less demanding to run than Windows 8.1, the Surface Pro 3 should offer superior performance to the iPad Air, which is powered by an A7 mobile processor.
Surface Pro 3: 5MP and 1080p HD front- and rear-facing
iPad Air: 5MP iSight rear and HD Facetime front
Both the Surface Pro 3 and iPad Air come loaded with 5MP rear cameras. This means we won't be able to call which is better until we've had some hands on time with the new Microsoft tablet.
Surface Pro 3: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB and 512GB internal storage options
iPad Air: 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB internal storage options
The Surface Pro 3 comes with a more robust set of internal storage options. It also competes with the iPad Air on price, with the cheapest 64GB model costing $799 (£475). Pricing of the equivalent 64GB iPad Air model starts at £479.
Surface Pro 3: Nine hours
iPad Air: 10 hours
On paper the iPad Air will last an hour longer than the Surface Pro 3, though we won't be able to tell if this is true until we've had a chance to battery burn the two tablets.
When viewed purely from a specification standpoint, the Surface Pro 3 is a seriously impressive device that does beat the Apple iPad Air. However, as we've seen with past Surface tablets, its focus on working as a laptop replacement could lead to some issues that make it less pleasant to use as a tablet than the iPad Air.
The Surface Pro 3 is set for release in the UK "by August." Check back with V3 closer to the time for a full review of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
19 May 2014
Motorola unveiled the Motorola Moto E last week, an affordable Android 4.4 KitKat smartphone on sale now that it hopes will enjoy the same success as last year's Motorola Moto G.
The £89 Motorola Moto E is even cheaper than the Moto G, which Motorola recently called its "best-selling smartphone ever". With the Moto E, Motorola is looking to kill off the feature phone, and with the handset boasting such a low price, it might just manage to do it.
The Motorola Moto E doesn't feel like a sub-£100 phone when you hold it. The device is built of toughened plastic that feels robust and doesn't creak like some other budget smartphones. It's a nice-sized phone too, with its arched rear casing making it rest comfortably in the palm.
Motorola boasted that the Moto E features a water-resistant nano-material coating, which means it should survive the occasional splash. We have yet to test this feature, but will be sure to do so in our full Moto E review. Although Motorola has given the front of the Moto E a smudge-proof coating, we found the rear of the device susceptible to fingerprints.
The Moto E also comes with support for Motorola's snap covers, which means that users will be able to customise the device with nine different coloured shells or opt for one of Motorola's three rugged alternatives.
The Motorola Moto E has a 4.3in 960x540 resolution display, giving the handset a pixel density of 256ppi. While this makes the display on the Moto E good for a phone at this price point, the lack of HD resolution is noticeable, with the screen looking somewhat dull and grainy.
One thing we do like about the display, however, is its tiny bezel, with the Moto E's front offering an almost full-display experience.
Software and performance
Despite costing just £89, the Moto E runs Google's latest Android 4.4 KitKat mobile operating system, with Motorola hinting that, thanks to its barely-there custom skin, it will be quick to receive future updates too.
While Motorola's custom user interface is hardly noticeable, the firm has equipped the phone with a handful of software add-ons. There's a new addition called Motorola Alerts, a location-based app that enables Moto E users to notify friends and family that they have arrived at places safely, while also offering the options to send emergency messages and requests to meet. Moto Migrate is also included, making it easy for users to switch from a different phone.
Beyond that, you won't find much from Motorola supplementing Google's features. With the firm clearly aiming this smartphone at first-time smartphone buyers, this is a clever move on Motorola's part, with the handset offering an uncluttered, easy-to-use interface, which cannot be said for smartphones sold by Sony and Samsung, for example.
The Motorola Moto E has a not very exciting dual-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor and 1GB of RAM. We haven't spent much time with the Moto E yet so it's hard to judge how it will perform in the real world. However, upon opening the web browser and firing up applications such as Angry Birds Star Wars, the Moto E did show signs of lagging and stuttering, although general swiping and tapping seemed smooth enough.
On its rear, the Moto E has a 5MP camera without flash, and there is no accompanying front-facing camera. The lack of a front-facing camera on a phone at this price shouldn't have anybody upset, and on first impressions we found the rear-facing camera performed reasonably well. Motorola has made some handy changes to the camera app that make it much easier to change settings, too.
While it has its downsides, it's hard not to warm to the the Motorola Moto E. Undoubtedly, the smartphone is one of the best at its price point, and is likely to win over buyers looking for an affordable, no-frills handset.
Check back soon for our full Motorola Moto E review.
08 May 2014
PARIS: Chinese tech giant Huawei has stepped up its push to wrestle control of the UK smartphone market from Samsung and Apple with the unveiling of its latest flagship Ascend P7 handset.
Huawei claims that despite retailing for a modest €450 (about £370), the Ascend P7's advanced imaging and 4G technologies make it more than a match for the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Apple iPhone 5S.
Design and build
The Ascend P7 adheres to the same design philosophy as its predecessor, having been built to be as light and thin as possible. At just 6.5mm thick and weighing 124g, the Ascend P7 is significantly thinner and lighter than competing Android handsets, but it's not as light as the 112g Apple iPhone 5S.
Like the Ascend P6, the P7's top and sides are slightly sharp while its bottom edge is rounded. The front and back are covered in Gorilla glass, which feels nice but tends to show up fingerprints. Despite its slightly sharp sides, the device is fairly comfortable to hold. It also felt fairly solid and capable of surviving the odd accidental bump and scrape.
This year has already seen an influx of handsets boasting superb displays. Not to be outdone, Huawei has loaded the Ascend P7 with a 5in 1920x1080 IPS, 441ppi screen that performed impressively during our hands-on, with icons and text looking sharp and clear even under the showroom's bright lights.
Colours were generally vibrant and rich, but when hit by direct sunlight the display became reflective and all but impossible to use - though being fair to Huawei this is an issue we experience on 99 percent of the smartphones we review.
Operating system and software
The Ascend P7 comes running Google Android 4.4.2 KitKat overlaid with Huawei's custom Emotion UI 2.3 skin. While we're pleased to see the use of KitKat, the inclusion of Emotion UI is less appealing.
This is because Emotion UI reworks Android's user interface to the point it is all but unrecognisable. Emotion UI replaces all application shortcut icons with custom alternatives and moves the location of many key menus and settings options. The skin also removes Android's native app tray feature and places all installed applications on the main menu screens - as they are on Apple iOS. The changes are generally to the detriment of the operating system and make Android far less intuitive to use.
This heavy-handed approach to skinning the OS will also impact the phone's ability to receive Android updates as Emotion's code will have to be tweaked to work with every new release from Google - a practice that could take weeks, or even months.
Unlike most 2014 flagship smartphones, the Ascend P7 is not powered by Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 801 processor and instead runs on Huawei's own 1.8GHz quad core HiSilicon Kirin 910T processor.
We were impressed with the handset's performance. Featuring 2GB of RAM, the Ascend P7 ran smoothly, and opened applications and webpages close to instantly both on the showroom WiFi and outside on Three's 4G network.
We haven't yet had a chance to test how the Ascend P7 coped with more demanding tasks like 3D gaming, or benchmark the handset during our hands-on but will be sure to do so for our full review.
Huawei made a big deal about the Ascend P7's 13MP rear and 8MP front cameras during the phone's Paris unveiling, claiming they will offer better imaging quality than the Samsung Galaxy S5 and iPhone 5S. This is thanks in part to the device's DSLR level Image Signal Processor (ISP), which Huawei claims radically improves low-light performance. We were impressed how well the Ascend P7's rear camera performed. During our opening tests images shot around Paris in bright sunlight looked crisp and featured decent contrast and colour balance levels.
The 8MP front camera also performed very well and actually managed to match the performance of many 2013 smartphones' primary rear cameras during our opening test shots.
Battery and storage
The Ascend P7 is powered by a 2,500mAh battery that Huawei lists as offering users 14 hours' talk time. If accurate, the figure means the Ascend P7 should offer above average battery life. We didn't get a chance to test battery life during our hands-on but will be sure to do so come our full review.
The Huawei Ascend P7 review unit we tested came with 16GB of inbuilt storage. Further storage can be added using its microSD card slot, meaning most users shouldn't have to worry about running out of space.
Set for release in the UK this month, the Huawei Ascend P7 delivers the kind of performance and imaging quality usually seen on handsets costing as much as £200 more.
Our only significant gripe so far is with its less than stellar Emotion skin, which as well as making the Ascend P7 slightly unintuitive to use, will also undoubtedly hamper its ability to receive software updates from Google.
Check back with V3 later for a full review of the Huawei Ascend P7.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
30 Apr 2014
Since the beta of Firefox 29 launched earlier this year, Mozilla fans have been rushing to test out the new web browser. With Firefox 29 now out in its final release version, it's clear why, with Mozilla having added a host of improvements that make the browser on paper one of the most advanced and flexible currently available.
Firefox 29 features a completely redesigned user interface designed to help users browse the web more efficiently.
The most obvious changes include the the bookmark manager's move to be next to the bookmark star in the Firefox toolbar, the migration of the Firefox menu button to the right corner of the toolbar and a redesigned home page that gives you one-click access to key functions such as "Downloads", "Bookmarks" and "Add-ons".
Past this, Firefox 29 also features a number of more subtle changes that, while small, make using the browser more pleasant. One of the biggest of these is the new tab page, which automatically displays thumbnails of frequently visited sites.
Firefox 29 also adds a new Customise option that lets users tweak the browser's interface by manually dragging and dropping commonly used features into the UI.
Firefox 29 adds Mozilla's reworked Firefox Sync service. The new synchronisation feature is similar to that seen on Google Chrome and requires users to set up a Firefox Account. The account stores and synchronises information from various Firefox services like bookmarks, history, and any open tabs across any device the user is logged into.
Add-ons and extras
As well as its reworked interface, Firefox 29 adds several useful under the hood technical upgrades. These include the ability to open and read PDF files without having to install a third-party add-on, as well as new WebRTC framework support. The WebRTC framework adds direct support for in-browser audio and video chats.
Firefox 29 also features all the standard essential features including a powerful search bar, pop-up blocker, integrated web search functionality and RSS feed reader.
Security and privacy
Outside of Firefox 29's productivity upgrades, Mozilla's also worked hard to improve the browser's security and privacy services. Firefox 29 features a new private browsing tab option, which offers similar services to Google Chrome's "incognito" mode. The option opens up a private tab that doesn't save any browser or search activity carried out in it.
The browser also includes options that will instruct Firefox 29 to block known malicious sites and alert its user if it detects nefarious activity, like an add-on or site instructing it to do something like change the default search provider without permission. Firefox 29 can also be set up to block outdated web plugins such as Flash and Java from opening content, reducing the users' chance of being hit by hackers targeting older exploits in the services.
Our opening time with Firefox 29 has been positive. Featuring a significantly more user-friendly, customisable interface and variety of under the hood productivity and security upgrades, Firefox 29 is a solid choice for any web user. However, with many of the features already having appeared on competing browsers, like Google Chrome, some users may struggle to find any reason to jump ship to Firefox.
On Tuesday Apple made a quiet update to its MacBook Air range. Rather than the usual razzmatazz of a new Apple unveiling, this time the firm issued a release and left it at that.
What’s new, and what's missing?
The low-key announcement was probably due to the fact the only clear difference between the new Macbook Air devices and the old ones is a slightly improved CPU, which has increased from an Intel iCore 1.3GHz processor to 1.4GHz.
Perhaps more notable was the (disappointing) fact that Apple has not updated the screens for the MacBook Air 2014 range to include its Retina display technology.
Mac aficionados will no doubt be hoping Apple adds this to the range at its next big unveiling, possibly in September. Apple rumours have also suggested a 12in model will be unveiled later this year sporting the Retina display technology.
As such, those considering a new MacBook may decide to wait until later in the year.
One area of improvement that could tempt buyers is the price. Apple has lopped £100 off the cost of the cheapest device, so the 11.6in display model starts from £749 when bought with 128GB of flash storage.
For 256GB of flash storage the price is £899. This is a saving of £130 compared to the same model from the 2013 range.
Meanwhile the 13.3in model starts from £849 with 128GB flash storage and rises to £999 with 256GB of flash storage. That represents a saving of either £100 or £130, compared to last year's models.
For those in the market for a Mac, being able to pick up an Air device from £749 could well prove enticing. The screenshot below from the Apple page shows the price differences:
Best of the rest
While the rest of the specs have not changed from the previous Air range, it is still worth running over what you get for your money:
11in model 13in model
Storage: 128GB or 256GB 128GB or 256GB
Weight: 1.08 kg 1.35 kg
Dimensions: 30x19.2x.1.7cm 32.5x22.7x1.7cm
Battery: Nine hours 12 hours
Screen: 11.6in, 1366x768 13.3in, 1440x900
Both devices also have a 720HD front-facing camera for FaceTime calls and 4GB of memory. They also both offer two USB 3 ports and a Thunderbolt port.
Is it worth the upgrade?
For those on an existing 2013 Air device it seems not. The only difference is a minor boost in compute power, which while nice, is never worth buying a whole new device.
However, for those considering a Mac, the temptation will only grow. The reduced cost alongside the same high-end specs Apple has always offered is a strong pull.
With many not interested in the new Windows 8 operating system, and increasingly comfortable using iOS devices, the decision to move to Apple's laptops to complete the set just got a lot more enticing.
The new 13in Apple Macbook Air
11 Apr 2014
The Samsung Galaxy S5 arrived on UK shelves on Friday 11 April, and the Korean firm will be hoping to steal users away from rival smartphones such as the Google Nexus 5.
While the Google Nexus 5 debuted last October, the device still sports top-end specifications, and has so far managed to win over users' affections due to its vanilla Android 4.4 Kitkat mobile operating system and affordable price, with the handset retailing from £299, making it more than £200 cheaper than the Galaxy S5.
Here we compare the specs of the Samsung Galaxy S5 against the Nexus 5 to see which one is worth your money.
11 Apr 2014
Microsoft's Windows 8.1 Update was made generally available for users to download on 8 April, a week after it was officially announced and released to subscribers of Microsoft's MSDN service.
As detailed by Microsoft, the update adds a number of changes to improve usability for desktop and laptop users working with a mouse and keyboard instead of a touchscreen. In doing so, the Windows 8.1 Update more successfully integrates the Desktop and Start screen environments than earlier builds of Microsoft's platform, though possibly not enough to please those hungering for the return of the Start menu.
We downloaded the Windows 8.1 Update by checking for it via Windows Update, but it only appeared once we had installed all other pending updates to bring our Windows 8.1 system completely up to date. Users who are not in a hurry do not need to do anything, as it will be distributed via Windows Update the usual way over the coming weeks. The update itself was over 800MB in size, and took some time to download and install.
For those using a tablet, the changes may not be too apparent at first. The Start screen and its array of tiles look pretty much the same, save for the addition of a Search tool shortcut and a power button, tapping which enables you to shutdown, restart or put the system to sleep directly from the home screen (shown left).
Perhaps the most noticeable change on our test system was that Windows goes straight to the Desktop rather than the Modern UI Start screen after signing in, though this can be configured by the user.
However, users still need to go to the Start screen in order to open any applications, apart from Internet Explorer and the Windows Store, both of which are now pinned to the taskbar on the Desktop by default.
For those users with a desktop or laptop that lacks a touchscreen, it is fair to say that Windows 8 has been a bit unwieldy to use. In an attempt to address this, the Windows 8.1 Update adds minimise and close buttons that appear at top right if you move the mouse pointer to the top of the screen in any Modern UI app. Likewise, the Windows taskbar now pops up if you move the mouse pointer to the bottom of the screen (see below), even on the Start screen, and context-sensitive menus appear if you right-click on tiles.
One interesting change is that Modern UI apps such as the built-in Mail or Weather tools now show on the taskbar (see below), allowing you to switch between them from the Desktop environment. Although the Modern UI apps still look the same, taking up the entire screen rather than running in a Window, this small change starts to make the Start screen and Desktop environments feel more integrated rather than two distinctly separate spaces.
One feature we did not test out is Enterprise Mode for IE11, which renders websites as if the user were running an older version of the browser, to handle compatibility issues with corporate websites and apps. This feature is hidden by default and must be enabled via an administrator using Group Policy.
Overall, the Windows 8.1 Update shows that Microsoft has been hearing the complaints of Windows users and is moving to address them. The software giant has perhaps not gone quite far enough yet to satisfy those users distraught over the loss of the traditional Start button and menus, but it does offer a greatly improved experience over the original Windows 8 and perhaps offers hints of what we can expect to see in Windows 9 next year.
For a full list of what's new in Windows 8.1 Update, see Microsoft's Windows website.
03 Apr 2014
Nokia has been championing Windows Phone for several years now, releasing a steady stream of business-friendly handsets full of innovative security and productivity services. This effort has paid off to a large extent, with Windows Phone's market share growing from less than three percent to just over 10 percent since Nokia launched its first Windows Phone, the Lumia 800.
According to Nokia Windows Phone has had particular success in the corporate space, with UK president Conor Pierce claiming the OS currently has an impressive 18 percent share of the business market. For this reason it's unsurprising Nokia's chosen to continue its enterprise conquest push and has unveiled a new Windows Phone 8.1-powered Lumia 930 flagship handset it claims is its most business friendly to date.
Design and build
Visually, like all Nokia smartphones, the Lumia 930 has a colourful, distinctive design that is slightly reminiscent of the firm's previous Lumia 925 Windows Phone. The Lumia 930 has metallic, angular sides and a coloured polycarbonate backplate.
Size-wise the Lumia 930 measures in at 137x71x9.8mm and weighs 167g. This puts it on a par with most 5in handsets, like HTC's latest 146x71x9.4mm, 160g One M8. This means that smartphone users accustomed to smaller handsets, like the Apple iPhone 5S or Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, may find the Lumia 930 slightly unwieldy. However, despite its increased size, during our hands-on we found the Lumia 930 was still fairly comfortable in hand and wasn't overly cumbersome.
We were also reasonably impressed with the Nokia Lumia 930's build quality. Pushing down on the Lumia 930's back we found the clipped-in polycarbonate plate offered no give. The phone also felt reasonably scratch proof and in general left us feeling suitably reassured it could survive the accidental bump or scrape.
Nokia's loaded the Lumia 930 with a 5in Full HD, 1920x1080, 441ppi organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display.
Testing the Lumia 930's display in the well-lit Nokia press room we were very impressed. Colours displayed on Windows Phone's tiled user interface appeared vibrant and rich and the display featured dazzlingly good brightness levels - so much so that it began to hurt our eyes using it at maximum brightness. Text displayed on the screen was also crisp and the screen boasted significantly wider viewing angles than most competing 5in smartphones.
Operating system and software
One of the Lumia 930's most interesting and potentially biggest selling points is its use of Microsoft's latest Windows Phone 8.1 (WP8.1) operating system. WP8.1 adds a variety of new features to Windows Phone. Some of these are quite consumer focused, like the ability to set a background image in the main UI and increased theme options for the phone's lock screen, though many have undeniable business appeal.
These include key things like Skype being directly integrated into the phone's dialler app, a new productivity-focused Calendar user interface, 'Cortana' voice assistant and 'Action Center' quick alert service.
The Cortana service offers similar functionality to Apple's Siri and lets users do things like launch specific applications or mount web searches with voice commands. The Action Centre pull-down notifications menu is similar to the one seen on Google's Android operating system.
WP8.1 also comes with a number of under the hood mobile device management (MDM) upgrades designed to improve the OS' appeal to IT managers and enterprise-level companies. The upgrades include newly added Line of Business application and certificate management powers and inbuilt secure/multipurpose internet mail extension (S/MIME) and virtual private network (VPN) support.
The Nokia Lumia 930 is powered by a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor and features 2GB of RAM. This puts the Lumia 930 one step shy of running on Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 801 chip.
However, despite running on last year's chip, during our hands-on we never once noticed a performance issue using the Lumia 930. Testing the Lumia 930 we found it ran perfectly smoothly and opened applications in milliseconds. Sadly we didn't get a chance to benchmark the Lumia 930 or see how it coped with more demanding tasks, like 3D gaming, though we'll be sure to do this for our full review.
Despite carrying Nokia's prestigious Pureview branding, the Lumia 930 doesn't feature the 41MP camera sensor debuted on its predecessor the Lumia 1020. Instead the Lumia 930 comes loaded with a 20MP rear camera complete with Zeiss optics.
Testing the Lumia 930's camera by taking a few quick pictures around the press room we noticed the new Windows Phone's camera is far more responsive than the 1020's, which at times could feel fairly laggy. Image quality was also very good, with images captured on the Lumia 930 generally coming out looking sharp and featuring decent colour and contrast levels.
Battery and storage
The Lumia 930 is powered by a 2,420mAh battery that Nokia lists as offering users 15.5 hours' talktime and up to nine hours' video playback. We didn't get a chance to test the Lumia 930's battery during our hands-on, but if the handset matches Nokia's claims the phone's battery will be better than average, with most handsets in its size range offering 6.5 to seven hours of video playback. As an added bonus Nokia's also loaded wireless charging to the Lumia 930, meaning users will be able to quickly and easily top up the phone's battery throughout the day.
Storage-wise the Lumia 930 comes with a reasonable 32GB built in. Sadly the Lumia 930 doesn't have a microSD card slot, meaning users won't be able to upgrade the phone's storage after purchase.
Our opening experience with the Nokia Lumia 930 has been very positive. While the handset doesn't have the technology "wow" factor of its predecessor, the Lumia 1020, which was the first ever Windows Phone to feature a 41MP camera, during our hands-on we discovered plenty of software features to get excited about.
Our only concern about the Lumia 930 is that Nokia is yet to release one key detail about the smartphone - its price. Without this key bit of information, knowing the phone's exact chances in the increasingly competitive top-end device market is difficult.
The Nokia Lumia 930 is set to arrive in the UK in June. Check back with V3 then for a full review of the Nokia Lumia 930.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson