At its VMworld conference in Barcelona, VMware announced a new addition to its Horizon platform of end-user computing tools in the form of Horizon Flex. This is a tool that promises to help organisations with bring your own device (BYOD) schemes by enabling a corporate virtual PC to be provisioned on Mac and PC systems.
The firm did not say much else about Horizon Flex at the show, but it seems that the tool could fix many of the issues that customers have had in the past with virtual clients deployed onto endpoint systems, such as deployment, management and patching of the image once out in the field.
VMware's Horizon portfolio started out with View, which offered virtual desktops hosted in a data centre, plus Mirage for managing images on standard PCs and laptops. Horizon Flex rounds this out by enabling an IT administrator to build a corporate Windows PC image, then deploy that to workers anywhere in the world, who may be using their own PC or Mac.
The firm used to have a product that fulfilled pretty much this same role, VMware ACE, but that was discontinued back in 2011 with VMWare claiming that customer demand no longer justified the ongoing development of the product.
Since then, the BYOD trend has kicked in, and many organisations are now looking for a secure way to let workers run corporate applications on any device, whether it is owned and managed by the organisation or not.
Horizon Flex combines several of VMware's products, including the client-side virtualisation from Fusion Pro (pictured) and Player Pro, Mirage and the Airwatch mobile device management technology it gained with the company of the same name.
The basic idea seems to be to enable the operating system and the applications inside a Horizon Flex virtual image to be managed and updated separately, while the behaviour of the whole is controlled by management policies that govern whether the user can move files between the host and the Flex image, and whether it can access physical resources on the host system, such as a memory stick connected to a USB port.
Writing on VMware's blog, chief technology officer for end-user computing Kit Colbert explained that "with Mirage, you can remotely provision, manage, and update the Windows OS and apps running on a physical laptop. Flex extends this functionality to the containerised virtual desktop. This means that as patches or new versions come out, it's a matter of a few simple clicks for an admin to push those updates out to all Flex users, who will get them the next time they're online.
"In addition, IT can also push out new apps to Flex users and automatically back up the Flex virtual desktop transparently. This means if a user's laptop is lost or stolen, it's easy to re-provision the user's containerised desktop on a new physical machine without data loss."
VMware Horizon Flex is expected to be available this quarter and will be licensed on a per-device basis starting at $250 (£155).
18 Oct 2014
Apple released what in many buyers' and reviewers' minds, including us here at V3, was its best tablet in 2013, the iPad Air. Featuring a stellar lightweight and thin design, that housed at the time cutting-edge internal components, the 2013 iPad Air is to this day one of the best tablets available.
Aware of this, Apple chose to rework rather than rethink its tablet strategy in creating its latest flagship iPad Air 2. However, featuring a very similar design to its predecessor, this strategy has slightly backfired and led to some confusion about what's actually new in the iPad Air 2.
iPad Air 2: 240x170x6.1mm, 437g
iPad Air: 240x170x7.5mm, 469g
From a distance the iPad Air and iPad Air 2 look very similar, both having aluminium backs and sides and glass fronts. However, there are a few subtle design factors differentiating the two.
For starters the iPad Air 2 is 18 percent thinner, measuring 240x170x6.1mm. The iPad Air 2 is also 32g lighter, meaning it should be one of the most travel-friendly tablets available.
iPad Air 2
The iPad Air 2 is also the only one of the two to come loaded with Apple's Touch ID fingerprint scanner. Contained within the iPad Air 2's physical home button, the Touch ID sensor is a security feature that lets users set the tablet to only unlock after they have proven their identity on it.
For us, Touch ID is the much more important change of the two and will likely prove a key selling point for any security conscious buyer.
iPad Mini 2: 9.7in 1536x2048, 264ppi LCD Retina display
iPad Air: 9.7in 1536x2048, 264ppi LCD Retina display
On paper the two iPad Air's are evenly matched when it comes to display size and screen resolution.
However the iPad Air 2 features an anti-glare coating not seen on the original iPad Air, and Apple claims this makes the screen 56 percent less reflective than before. If true the Apple iPad Air 2 should be one of the best screens for workers on the move and remain usable in conditions that render most tablet's screens unreadable, like bright sunlight.
iPad Air 2: iOS 8.1
iPad Air: iOS 7, upgradable to iOS 8.1
The iPad Air 2 is the first ever tablet to come pre-loaded with Apple's latest iOS 8.1 operating system, though iPad Air users will be able to upgrade to the latest software on Monday.
iOS 8.1 is a minor update to the operating system designed to fix bugs in iOS 8. In fact, the only major non-performance related change is the re-addition of Apple's Camera Roll feature.
iPad Air 2: A8X
iPad Air: A7
The iPad Air is still a fairly powerful device, however if Apple's claims about the A8X chip are even remotely true it will be noticeably slower than the iPad Air 2. Apple claims the A8X processor will offer 40 percent faster CPU and 2.5 faster GPU performance than previous iPads.
iPad Air 2: 8MP iSight and HD Facetime front
iPad Air: 5MP iSight rear and HD Facetime front
Image quality was one key area the iPad Air 2013 fell down on. Aware of this, Apple has worked to up the iPad Air 2's camera quality by increasing the rear sensor's megapixel count and adding new 43MP panorama shot and burst photo, and time lapse and slow motion video recording shot options.
iPad Air 2
While we don't expect the iPad Air 2 to match the imaging performance of a top-end 2014 smartphone, it should still be well above average by tablet standards.
iPad Air 2: 16GB, 64GB and 128GB
iPad Air: 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, 128GB
Apple has taken the same strategy it did with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus and has chosen not to sell a 32GB storage version of the iPad Air 2. While some buyers on a moderate budget may be saddened by the 32GB version's absence, considering the number of cloud storage services available on iOS we can't see it being too much of an issue.
iPad Air 2: 10 hours
iPad Air: 10 hours
Both the iPad Airs are listed by Apple as offering users 10 hours of life off one charge. If our experience with the original iPad Air is anything to go by this claim will generally be true with the iPad Air 2. Battery burning the iPad Air 2013 by constantly looping a video file stored on the tablet, the device generally lasted between eight to nine hours before dying.
iPad Air 2: 16GB £400, 64GB £480, 128GB £560
iPad Air: 16GB £320, 32GB £360
Price is one area the iPad Air has a clear edge on the iPad Air 2. While you can't pick up a 64GB or 128GB version of the original iPad Air on the UK Apple store any more, the 16GB and 32GB models have had their prices slashed by a massive £80.
While the iPad Air 2 isn't a massive step-up from the original iPad Air, there are plenty of new features to get excited about. Key additions include an upgraded A8X processor, sharper 8MP rear camera and new anti-reflective coating around its screen.
As a result, while we can see many 2013 iPad Air owners shying away from upgrading, we can definitely see the iPad Air 2 proving a hit with first-time tablet buyers or people still using older iPad versions.
Check back with V3 later for a full review of the iPad Air 2.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
17 Oct 2014
The build-up to Apple's launch events always cause quite a stir in the technology community, and the iPad Air 2's 16 October launch was no different. Suffering the usual sea of alleged leaks and nebulous rumours, the iPad Air 2 was expected to be a bold leap in tablet technology.
However, come its unveiling, the iPad Air 2, for many, failed to deliver on the high expectations. Apple chose to release a reworked version of its 2013 tablet, leaving many buyers wondering why they should bother upgrading.
Visually the iPad Air 2 looks from a distance all but identical to the iPad Air, featuring a slim metallic back and sides and Gorilla glass front.
Despite this, there are a few key additions to its predecessor. For starters, the iPad Air 2 is 18 percent thinner, measuring 240x170x6.1mm. This doesn't seem like much of a difference but, combined with the 473g (WiFi model) weight, it means the iPad Air 2 should be one of the most travel-friendly tablets on its release.
More importantly, the iPad Air 2 is the first tablet to feature Apple's custom Touch ID fingerprint scanner. The Touch ID sensor is a security feature debuted on the iPhone 5S, allowing users to set the iPad to unlock or approve certain actions, such as Apple Pay transactions, only after the user has proved their identity.
Considering the ongoing security and privacy concerns around work devices, we can see Touch ID being a key selling point for the iPad Air 2.
The iPad Air 2 comes with a 9.7in, 2048x1536, 264ppi Retina display. While the pixel per inch density isn't anything to write home about these days, when tablets regularly break the 300ppi mark, Apple has made a few subtle improvements to the display.
One of the most useful is a fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating, which Apple claims makes the screen 56 percent less reflective. If true, the Apple iPad Air 2 should be one of the best screens for workers on the move, and remain usable in conditions that render most tablet screens unreadable, such as in bright sunlight.
The iPad Air 2 comes with Apple's latest iOS 8.1. Sadly, iOS 8.1 isn't a major update and mainly fixes bugs in iOS 8. In fact, the only real non-performance-related addition is Apple's Camera Roll feature.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing as, beyond the bugs, iOS 8 is a very business-friendly operating system.
Key positives include improved password security, S/MIME features and VIP threads, and support for Microsoft Exchange out-of-office replies.
OS X Continuity is another useful feature debuted in iOS 8. Continuity represents the latest stage in Apple's work to converge the iOS and Mac OS X operating systems, and offers a variety of synchronisation features. One of the most useful is the ability to Airdrop files between iOS and Mac OS devices.
Apple made a big deal about the iPad Air 2's new A8X processor, claiming it will offer 40 percent faster CPU and 2.5 faster GPU performance than previous iPads. If true, the iPad Air 2 will be a powerhouse and should be one of the fastest tablets on the market come its release.
Past iPad cameras have been slightly disappointing affairs. While capable of taking reasonable photos, the cameras have failed to match the performance of most mid-range smartphones and have been woefully short of shot modes.
Apple has fixed the second issue with the iPad Air 2, bundling its 8MP iSight rear camera with 43MP panorama shot and burst photo, and time lapse and slow motion video recording options.
The iPad Air uses an unspecified non-removable battery, which Apple claims will offer 10 hours of WiFi use on one charge. This would give the iPad Air 2 a battery life similar to that of the first-generation Air.
Apple is offering the iPad Air 2 in 16GB, 64GB and 128GB versions. None of the models features a microSD card, meaning users will not be able upgrade the iPad Air 2's storage after purchase. Apple has dropped the 32GB model, as it did with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
While slightly annoying, we can't see the lack of microSD being too much of a problem given the number of cloud storage services available on iOS.
The 16GB iPad Air 2 will cost £399, the 64GB £479 and the 128GB £559 for the WiFi-only models.
While the iPad Air 2 may not be a major upgrade to the original 2013 iPad Air, it does have a number of subtle and positive additions. Chief of these are the Touch ID sensor, a more powerful A8X processor and the reflective screen coating.
As a result, we can't see too much to persuade iPad Air owners to upgrade, but we can see the iPad Air 2 proving a hit with new tablet buyers, or people still using older iPad versions.
Check back with V3 later for a full review of the iPad Air 2.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
16 Oct 2014
Apple took the smartphone market by storm in September, unveiling what in many people's minds, including ours here at V3, was its most innovative smartphone to date, the iPhone 6.
Clearly unintimidated by the iPhone 6, Google answered Apple's challenge and teamed with Motorola to unveil what is on paper its most advanced Nexus smartphone ever, the Nexus 6, mere months later.
The iPhone 6 and Nexus 6 bring a wealth of custom hardware and software features to the table, and many buyers have become perplexed trying to determine which smartphone is best for them. Here to help, we've pitted the two handsets head to head, breaking down the key strengths of each device.
Nexus 6: 159x83x10mm, 184g
iPhone 6:138x67x6.9mm, 129g
Design is one area in which iPhone devices have traditionally beaten Nexus devices, with most feeling that their metal frames make them feel more premium and robustly built than their polycarbonate Google competitors.
With the Nexus 6 this could all change. Motorola has made the wise decision to build the handset out of contoured aluminium and to rework the chassis to look like a blown-up metal version of its previous Moto X flagship.
That said, it's worth noting that the Nexus 6 is still significantly larger and heavier than the 129g iPhone 6. While this won't prove too much of an issue to seasoned phablet users, it could put off people used to smaller smartphones, such as the iPhone 5S.
Nexus 6: 6in, 1440x2560, 493ppi quad HD display
iPhone 6: 4.7in 1334x750, 326ppi Retina HD display
On paper the Nexus 6's quad HD display has a clear lead on the iPhone 6 as it's capable of displaying over 100 more pixels per inch. While some may question whether the human eye can discern the difference, we're fairly certain the Nexus 6 display will be the sharper of the two.
However, we're less sure whether the Nexus 6 will be able to match the brightness and colour balance levels of Apple's Retina display, which remains the industry leader.
Nexus 6: Android 5.0 Lollipop
iPhone 6: iOS 8
Both the Nexus 6 and iPhone 6 run on the latest version of their makers' respective mobile operating systems.
In the past we've struggled to pick between Android and iOS as the answer to which is better is determined largely by what ecosystem you're already embedded in. This is even more true comparing Android Lollipop to iOS, as both firms have worked hard to further synchronise the mobile operating systems with their cloud services.
As a result, until we've had a chance to fully test Android Lollipop and check how it actually compares with iOS 8, we're going to have to reserve judgement.
Nexus 6: Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 2.7GHz quad-core processor
iPhone 6: A8 chip with 64-bit architecture with M8 motion coprocessor
The iPhone 6 runs Apple's new A8 chip and reworked M8 motion coprocessor. Apple claims the A8 offers 25 percent faster CPU performance than the A7.
However, thanks to the inclusion of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 805 chip, the Nexus 6 theoretically has the chops to match if not beat the performance of the iPhone 6. We won't know if the Nexus 6 makes good on its promise until we've had a chance to test it and benchmark it.
Nexus 6: 13MP with dual LED ring flash and Optical Image Stabilization rear, 2MP front cameras
iPhone 6: 8MP rear and 1.2MP Facetime front cameras
Imaging technology was one area in which Apple had begun to fall behind in the smartphone market, with many Android handsets featuring noticeably better imaging sensors than the firm's previous flagship, the iPhone 5S.
Aware of this, Apple worked to radically improve the iPhone 6's imaging performance by loading it with a number of new imaging technologies. Key additions include phase detection auto-focus which allows it to focus twice as fast, new tone mapping, noise reduction and a Slo-Mo mode that can capture video at 240 fps.
However, even with these the Nexus 6 does have a few additions that make it better than the iPhone 6. Chief of these is the Optical Image Stabilization technology which improves photo quality by compensating in real time for shaking and vibrating while shooting. The compensation means there are no alterations or light degradations to the captured image.
If this works as well as it has on past handsets, the Nexus 6 should not only perform better at capturing photos in low light, it should have noticeably better shutter speeds.
Nexus 6: 32GB or 64GB, 3GB RAM
iPhone 6: 16GB, 64GB, 128GB, unspecified RAM
Storage-wise the Apple iPhone 6 features more storage options than the Google Nexus 6. However, neither phone has a microSD card slot, meaning users won't be able to add space after purchase.
Nexus 6: 3220mAh battery
iPhone 6: Unspecified, 11-hour listed life
The Apple iPhone 6 on paper will last 2.5 hours longer than the Nexus 6, which is listed as offering 8.5 hours' "internet use" from one charge. However, the Nexus 6 features a number of charging innovations which may make up for this. These include wireless charging support and a new 'Turbo Charger' that will offer a claimed six hours of battery life from a 15-minute charge.
Nexus 6: $650 (around £400 without tax)
iPhone 6: From £540
Google has yet to announce the Nexus 6's UK price, although if its US cost is anything to go by it should be cheaper than the iPhone 6. However, considering some US firms' tendency to charge more than the exchange rate would fairly imply, and UK tax on devices, it's too early to tell whether this will actually be the case.
Summing up, when it comes to specifications the iPhone 6 and Nexus 6 are fairly evenly matched. Both come with top-end processors, cutting edge software and innovative designs, and both look great.
The important question is whether the Nexus 6 will make good on its promises when we do our full head-to-head review later this year.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
16 Oct 2014
The battle for dominance of the smartphone market between Google and Apple with their respective Nexus and iPhone devices has become a staple part of every tech fan's calendar.
Traditionally Google has worked to beat Apple by radically undercutting the cost of iPhones, releasing phones that, while slightly lower specced, are up to £200 cheaper.
With prices starting at $650 the Nexus 6 continues this strategy. However, being built by former Google company Motorola, as opposed to LG, as the past two Nexus smartphones were, there are a number of key factors differentiating the Nexus 6 from past Google flagships.
Previous Nexus designs have been minimalist, functional, polycarbonate affairs. While we here at V3 were fairly fond of the unassuming design approach, many users did find them slightly dull and, as we noted with the Nexus 5, there were some definite build quality issues. During our review the Nexus 5's display proved incapable of surviving a two-foot drop onto a carpeted floor.
Aware of this, Motorola chose to rethink traditional Nexus designs and made the Nexus 6 chassis out of contoured aluminium as opposed to polycarbonate. This has the potential to be a huge differentiator for the Nexus 6. In the past we've found that metal handsets, such as the HTC One M8, not only feel more luxurious than polycarbonate phones, they're generally much more drop and bump resistant.
Additionally, thanks to intelligent work by Motorola, on paper the Nexus 6 isn't too cumbersome by phablet standards, measuring 159x83x10mm and weighing 184g.
Screen technology is a key area that has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, with players like LG and its G3 handset coming loaded with increasingly high resolution displays. Not wanting to lose face, Motorola has loaded the Nexus 6 with a 6in, 1440x2560, 493ppi quad HD display.
On paper the resolution means the Nexus 6 display will be one of the sharpest ever seen on a phablet. By comparison, most other phablets are still struggling to break the 400ppi mark. Also, if our past experience with Motorola phones is anything to go by, the Nexus 6 screen will boast cornea-scorching brightness levels and vibrant, rich, colour balance levels.
Originally unveiled as Android L at the I/O conference in June, the Nexus 6's use of Android 5.0 Lollipop is likely to prove a key selling point for businesses. Android Lollipop is set to feature a number of under-the-hood upgrades that improve its enterprise appeal. Chief of these is full integration of Samsung's Knox security service.
At its most basic level, Knox is a sandboxing service similar to BlackBerry Balance. It lets users or IT managers set up and manage a separate password-protected work area on the handset. As well as giving IT managers the power to set policies, like blocking what applications can be installed or run on the device, Knox encrypts all data on the work side.
Having tested Knox on recent Samsung Galaxy smartphones and tablets we believe the feature is a serious selling point that helps boost bring your own device appeal and are happy to see it included on the Nexus 6.
Lollipop also adds a significantly more user-friendly Material Design and reworked notifications system to Android. The Material Design aims to make the OS simpler to use, and replaces Android Kitkat's user interface with a flatter one similar to that of Apple's iOS 7. The upgrade also allows Android's UI to mimic depth by adding new shadow effects.
The reworked notifications system improves Android's already impressive system by granting increased management powers. For example, on Android Lollipop users can now view and manage incoming notifications from the lockscreen.
On paper the Nexus 6 is seriously powerful. Running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 2.7GHz quad-core processor and featuring 3GB of RAM, the Nexus 6 should be one of the most powerful handsets on the market come its release later this year.
Hopefully, the Nexus 6 will make good on its on paper specifications when we benchmark it more thoroughly and test it for our full review.
Since Nokia threw down the gauntlet in 2011 with its first 41MP camera phone, the 808 Pureview, smartphone makers have been rushing to load their handsets with increasingly powerful imaging technologies.
Keeping up this trend Motorola has loaded the Nexus 6 with a 13MP rear camera with dual LED flash and Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). Putting aside the megapixel count, which as any camera consensus will tell you isn't the most important feature, the inclusion of OIS is a big deal.
OIS is a nifty piece of tech that improves photo quality by compensating in real time for shaking and vibrating while shooting, so there are no alterations or light degradations to the captured image. This means the Nexus 6 should be the best Google Nexus device ever released when it comes to imaging quality.
In terms of storage the Nexus 6 is fairly well placed, coming with 32GB or 64GB of internal space. This, combined with the wealth of cloud storage solutions available on Android, means most users won't have to worry about running out of space.
Battery life has been one key area where most smartphones have struggled, and we've yet to find one that can consistently survive more than two days of moderate, let alone heavy, use.
Working to fix this Motorola has equipped the Nexus 6's 3220mAh battery with 'Turbo Charger' technology that will offer a claimed six hours of battery life from a 15-minute charge. As an added perk the handset will also feature wireless charging support.
Considering the Nexus 6's reasonable listed 8.5 hours of 'internet use', the handset should be slightly above average when it comes to battery life.
The 32GB version of the Nexus 6 is set to retail for s $650 in the US, while the 64GB model will set you back $700. There's currently no official word how much the device will cost in the UK, but if the US price is anything to go by it will be £400 to £440.
Overall, the Nexus 6 is on paper a very impressive smartphone that showcases what Motorola and Google can offer the handset market, which is interesting considering that Google just sold the firm to Lenovo.
Featuring a more alluring design than past Nexus smartphones, a powerful Qualcomm processor, quad HD display and all the business perks of Google's latest Android 5.0 OS, we can't help but get excited about the Nexus 6.
Hopefully, the Nexus 6 will make good on its opening promise come its release later this year.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
02 Oct 2014
The technical preview release of Windows 10 was made available to download and try out late on 1 October UK time, and testers including the V3 team are finally starting to get their hands dirty with this first pre-release build of the next version of Windows.
If first impressions are anything to go by, Microsoft may finally have hit on the winning formula that will entice customers who have so far been put off by the huge changes that Windows 8 introduced, especially in the user interface.
Windows 10 boots by default into a desktop environment (see below) which is close enough to Windows 7 that existing users of Windows should have few problems getting to grips with it, and it is this familiarity that should ensure its success.
The Metro-style or Windows Store apps have not gone away, but these now run in a resizeable Window alongside traditional Windows tools and applications, blurring the distinction between them somewhat.
Many industry commentators have made false claims about the return of the Start button in various updates of Windows 8, but with Windows 10, it is the real deal. Tapping the Window icon at the bottom left of the screen (or a physical Windows key on a keyboard or tablet fascia) pops up a menu that is similar enough to the Start menu of legacy Windows to satisfy those enraged by its removal in Windows 8.
Where the Start menu differs is in the presence of the Live Tiles from the Start screen of Windows 8, shown as banks of small tiles alongside the list of applications on the menu. For those who have grown attached to the Windows 8 Start screen, you can check a box to switch the user interface back to this instead of the desktop.
Other changes to the user interface are relatively minor. Users can add multiple desktops (see below) and split applications between them, but this seemed of little value during our initial hands-on, as every open application still seems to have an icon in the taskbar, regardless of which desktop you switch to.
Windows 10 also adds a new Task View button, next to the search button on the taskbar, which shows every running app and lets you switch between them.
The way application snapping works has also been tweaked, with users able to have up to four apps snapped on the same screen (see below). However, on our test system, whenever we dragged a window to the side or corner of the screen to activate snapping, the app often seemed to freeze. It should be remembered that this is still an early release version of the platform and bugs are to be expected.
These are, perhaps the most noticeable changes in Windows 10, but it is remarkable what a difference it makes. The switch back to a desktop environment with resizeable windows and a pop-up menu to access applications makes it feel much more like Windows 7, even if in reality it is more like a fusion of Windows 7 and Windows 8.
For those who have tried Windows 8, the integration of touch with more conventional controls such as the mouse and keyboard now feels seamless. We found ourselves mixing use of the keyboard with touches of on-screen controls, occasionally resorting to a stylus on our test tablet when more precise control was required.
However, as with Windows 8, many of the more key changes are going to be found under the hood, such as better security for data, easier system updates, and expansion of the cloud-based management approach seen with Windows Intune.
Many such features are not yet present in the technical preview, however, so we can only look at the user interface changes so far to gauge how well Windows 10 is likely to be received. At first blush, we would say that Microsoft is getting it right, and we look forward to seeing what future updates bring.
25 Sep 2014
BlackBerry has been redoubling its efforts to focus on its core enterprise professional market since sales of its handsets first started declining.
The BlackBerry Passport is the latest piece in this strategy, and is touted by the firm as the only smartphone available that is designed with business professionals in mind.
However, given the ongoing consumerisation of IT and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trends happening in many firms, business professionals may be asking why they would give up their iOS or Android handset in favour of the Passport. We took an opportunity to get a hands on at the launch event to find out why.
Design and build
BlackBerry made a big deal about the Passport's design, claiming it is "a welcome break from the sea of boring rectangular handsets".
The Passport's square design is undeniably different to most regular smartphones. Apart from this, most noticeable feature is its physical touch-enabled keyboard. Physical keyboards have been one of the few design features differentiating BlackBerry handsets from the tide of Android, iOS and Windows Phone competition.
The Passport's touch-enabled technology enables the keyboard to be used as a trackpad as well as keyboard. On top of this BlackBerry claims it will let professionals type more accurately and make 70 percent fewer typing errors.
We definitely found the keyboard a big improvement, even on past BlackBerry devices with physical keyboards. Document editing and typing on the Passport felt significantly more accurate than on most handsets.
We found the Passport initially felt slightly odd to hold, with its square dimensions making it feel noticeably different to most smartphones. However at 9.3mm thick the handset was far from unwieldy.
The Passport's 4.5in 1440x1440, 453ppi square display is one of its most interesting hardware features. BlackBerry claims the square display is optimised for productivity purposes and will display as much as 20 more characters per line than other top-end handsets, such as the iPhone 6 or Galaxy S5.
The display worked really well when editing documents or viewing webpages. Text on the display appeared crisp, and colours were suitably vibrant. We'll be interested to see how the Passport's display performs when being used on the move in more adverse lighting conditions, such as direct sunlight.
The Passport is powered by BlackBerry 10.3. The 10.3 update adds a new BlackBerry Assistant feature, alongside upgrades to BlackBerry's core security and productivity features, such as BlackBerry Balance, Messenger and Hub.
Assistant is BlackBerry's answer to Apple's Siri and Google Now, and is designed to let users interact with their Passport using vocal or written commands. BlackBerry claims Assistant is more advanced than its competitors, and will have access to corporate as well as personal information stored on enterprise networks, a feature it claims its rivals lack.
We didn't get a chance to test this during our hands on, as the Passport we used wasn't connected to our company network, but we'll be sure to do this in our full review.
Beyond this, we found BlackBerry's Hub and multitasking services worked just as well as they have on past BlackBerry 10 handsets. BlackBerry hub is a tool that collates information and messages from all the accounts on the phone. This lets you see all incoming Facebook, email, Twitter and LinkedIn messages in one place. It also boasts filtering options that let you control which account is displaying at any one time.
The Passport is powered by a 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor that is backed by 3GB of RAM. In the past we've found BlackBerry smartphones slightly slower than their specifications would lead you to expect. This is due to BlackBerry 10's heavy demands on resources which have a habit of eating up memory.
During our hands on, although we found the Passport took a good few minutes to boot up, it did feel responsive in use. Apps opened in milliseconds and it managed to stream video and load content-heavy web pages hassle free. We'll be interested to see how the Passport deals with more intensive tasks when we more thoroughly put it through its paces in our full review.
The Passport features a 13MP rear camera with Optical Image Stabilisation and a 2MP front camera. Testing the rear camera around the showroom floor we found the Passport could take a pretty good picture, though not on a par with some top-end camera phones such as the Lumia 1020. In general, shots looked sharp and showed vibrant colours. Shutter speeds were also noticeably better than on past BlackBerry handsets.
Battery and storage
The Passport's powered by a sizeable 3,450mAh battery, which BlackBerry claims will last 30 hours from one charge. It also comes with 32GB of internal storage, which can be upgraded using its microSD card slot.
If opening impressions are anything to go by, the Passport definitely seems to have the potential to be a hit with the firm's core enterprise customer base, although we're not convinced it will be the game changer BlackBerry needs to win over consumers.
With its newly designed keyboard, crisp display and wealth of enterprise features, the Passport could prove to be BlackBerry's best handset to date.
Check back with V3 later for a full review of the BlackBerry Passport.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
18 Sep 2014
Apple unveiled its first big-screen smartphone on 9 September – the 5.5in iPhone 6 Plus – as it tries to compete with the growing number of Android phablets on the market. The Samsung Galaxy Note 4, one of these large-screen Android phones, has a 5.5in Retina HD screen and will be directly in competition with Apple's new offering. So here we compare the two smartphones to see which comes out on top.
Design, measurements and weight
iPhone 6 Plus: 158x78x7.1mm, 172g
Galaxy Note 4: 154x79x8.5 mm, 176g
The iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 are not worlds apart in size. The iPhone 6 Plus is slightly taller at 158mm compared with 154mm, but trumps the Galaxy Note 4 when it comes to depth, measuring 7.1mm compared with 8.5mm. Samsung's latest phablet is also slightly heavier at 176g, while the iPhone 6 Plus weighs 172g.
The two phones are worlds apart in design, however. The iPhone 6 Plus is crafted from the same metals used to build the iPhone 5S, retaining the same high-end design as its predecessor. The Galaxy Note 4, on the other hand, features a faux-leather backplate, coupled with metallic edges and a plastic front. While some might prefer the Galaxy Note 4's quirky design, it's likely that the metal finish of the iPhone 6 Plus will appeal to more people.
The iPhone 6 Plus will be available in silver, space grey and gold, while the Galaxy Note 4 will launch in white, black, gold and pink.
iPhone 6 Plus: 5.5in, 1920x1080 resolution, 401ppi Retina HD display
Galaxy Note 4: 5.7in, 1440x2560 resolution, 515ppi Super Amoled display
While the iPhone wins in the style stakes, the Galaxy Note 4 is the clear winner when it comes to the screen – on paper, at least.
The iPhone 6 Plus debuts Apple's new Retina HD resolution, with the 5.5in screen boasting a 1920x1080 resolution, and a pixel density of 401ppi. Apple also claims that its new Retina HD screen offers better viewing angles and colour production than before.
This likely will get iFans excited, but the Galaxy Note 4's QHD 1440x2560 resolution screen way surpasses that of the iPhone 6 on paper, boasting a pixel density of 515ppi, and Samsung's Super Amoled technology, which also offers better viewing angles and colours.
iPhone 6 Plus: Apple A8 chip
Galaxy Note 4: 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 chip
The iPhone 6 Plus arrives with Apple's new A8 chip under the bonnet. While Apple hasn't revealed many details about its latest processor, the firm claims it offers 25 percent faster processing and delivers up to 50 percent faster graphics.
It's also as yet unclear how this compares with the Galaxy Note 4's quad-core 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor, which proved impressive during our hands-on time with the phablet. This Qualcomm chip also provides the Galaxy Note 4 with support for 300Mbps LTE speeds, compared with the iPhone 6 Plus's support for 150Mbps connections.
iPhone 6 Plus: iOS 8
Galaxy Note 4: Android 4.4 KitKat
With the iPhone 6 Plus running iOS 8 and the Galaxy Note 4 running Android 4.4 KitKat, the winner in this category is a matter of taste.
Apple has clearly been taking some tips from Samsung in its iOS 8 software, however, introducing a landscape mode designed specifically for the larger 5.5in iPhone and a one-handed mode called "reachability". Samsung arguably makes better use of the screen space, thanks to the smartphone's included stylus, allowing users to doodle and annotate on the handset's screen.
However, with Samsung's custom overlay onboard, it might take the Galaxy Note 4 some time to be updated to Google's next Android iteration, whereas all iPhones receive software updates on the same day.
iPhone 6 Plus: 8MP rear camera with optical image stabilisation (OIS), 1.2MP front-facing camera
Galaxy Note 4: 16MP rear camera with OIS, 3.7MP front-facing camera
Camera is another category that the Galaxy Note 4 wins on paper, touting a 16MP rear-facing camera, compared with the 8MP camera on the iPhone 6 Plus.
However, Apple claims its camera is one of the best on the market. The firm has a new feature called Focus Pixels, for example, which means it focuses twice as fast as before, and has added Phase Detection Autofocus. The iPhone 6 Plus camera is also the first to feature optical image stabilisation and the first capable of capturing 43MP panoramic images.
Saying that, the Galaxy Note 4 comes with the ability to record 4K video, while the iPhone 6 Plus is able to record HD 1080p footage.
The Galaxy Note 4 boasts a 3.7MP front-facing snapper, compared to the iPhone 6 Plus' 1.2MP front camera.
iPhone 6 Plus: 24 hours of talk time
Galaxy Note 4: 3,200mAh battery, talk time TBC
Apple claims that its iPhone 6 Plus offers 24 hours of talk time, a huge improvement compared to the 10 hours offered by the iPhone 5S. However, it's not yet clear how this compares with the Galaxy Note 4's 3,200mAh offering, with Samsung yet to reveal its battery life.
iPhone 6 Plus: 16GB, 64GB, 128GB
Galaxy Note 4: 32GB, Micro SD up to 64GB
While the iPhone 6 Plus is available in more models than the Galaxy Note 4, with 16GB, 64GB and 128GB models, it still doesn't feature a Micro SD card slot. The Galaxy Note 4, unsurprisingly, does, giving users the option to expand the phone's storage by an additional 64GB
iPhone 6 Plus: From £619 SIM-free
Galaxy Note 4: From £600 SIM-free (TBC)
The iPhone 6 Plus is, again unsurprisingly, an expensive device. The 16GB model is available for £619, while the 64GB and 128GB versions are priced at £699 and £789 SIM-free, respectively.
The Galaxy Note 4 looks like it will be the cheaper option, with preorders outing the handset's price as just shy of £600.
Apple phones usually trump their rivals on paper, but the iPhone 6 Plus does face some stiff competition from the Galaxy Note 4, with its higher-resolution screen, Micro SD card storage and lower price. But the iPhone 6 Plus wins on a design front, and we are still yet to find out which smartphone has better battery life.
Check back with V3 later for a full head-to-head review.