BARCELONA: Panasonic's previous Toughpads have been some of the sturdiest devices we've ever reviewed, with their rugged IP68 certification meaning they can survive everything from a dip in a lake to a three-metre drop onto a concrete floor.
In the past, though, these tablets have been fairly large and have lacked any telephonic abilities. Luckily for those working in hazardous industries – who the tablets are designed for – Panasonic unveiled its new 3G-enabled 5in FZ-E1 and FZ-X1 Toughpads at Mobile World Congress.
Design and build
The two Toughpads look identical and are the same design as their larger predecessors. They both have the same reinforced glass front and ruggedised rubber sides. In keeping with their IP68 certification, the Toughpads' micro USB, power, audio and dual-micro SIM inputs are also all securely covered.
This means they are nowhere near as pretty as more consumer-focused devices and are far heavier, weighing 430g. The trade-off is their IP68 certification, which means the Toughpads are seriously robust and should be able to survive being submerged in liquids at depths of up to 1.5 metres for 30 minutes. They can also survive direct drops from up to three meters.
As an added perk for business customers, Panasonic has also designed the Toughpads to feature the same barcode reader and peripheral upgrade options as its previous tablets. The barcode reader lies at the top of the Toughpad's long edge, while the upgrade USB dock is underneath the removable backplate. The dock lets users connect a number of Toughpad peripherals to the device, like a second battery or chip and PIN reader.
As an added bonus Panasonic has added removable batteries, so users can carry a backup with them when they are away from a power socket for a prolonged period.
We've not been fans of the displays on previous Toughpads. This is because, while very tough, the touchscreens have been resistive, not capacitive, so they could sometimes be unresponsive and difficult to use.
Panasonic has rectified this on the new FZ-E1 and FZ-X1 Toughpads, loading them with HD capacitive touchscreens. While colours and brightness levels were not on a par with most consumer devices in the same class, they were very responsive to the touch and are a definite improvement on previous models.
The screens can also be used when wearing gloves, and considering the conditions these devices are designed to operate in, this is definitely an advantage.
A Panasonic spokesman told us that the display is very rugged and should be able to survive direct impact from a "dropped brick", for example. Unfortunately our request to test this during our hands on was declined.
Operating system and software
The FZ-E1 runs using Windows Embedded 8 while the FZ-X1 uses Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. Windows Embedded is the enterprise version of Windows Phone. It is designed to offer users more robust security and includes the option for companies to partner with Microsoft to tweak it to meet their needs.
The Panasonic spokesman told us the company chose to release the 5in Toughpad with two OS options as a "play-it-safe move", arguing that the mobile market in enterprise is still quite volatile and companies are divided over which is the better option. There is definitely some truth in this claim and we're happy to see that Panasonic has tailored the Toughpads to work for businesses using both Microsoft's and Google's enterprise ecosystems.
The Windows-powered FZ-E1 is confirmed to run using a 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor. The Android-powered FZ-X1 uses an older 1.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 chip. Both versions boast 2GB of RAM.
We didn't notice a massive difference in performance during our hands on. Both tablets proved capable of dealing with every task we gave them, opening webpages using the busy showroom WiFi in seconds and navigating smoothly between menus.
We didn't get a chance to benchmark either Toughpad or see how they perform when challenged with more demanding tasks, but we'll be sure to do this in our full review.
Both Toughpads come with 8MP rear and 1.3MP front cameras. Image quality, while far below top-end camera phones, was reasonable. We wouldn't want to use it unless we had to, but images generally came out in focus and featured reasonable colour balance and brightness levels. We were also impressed with the cameras' shutter speeds, with both capturing images milliseconds after we hit the capture button.
Panasonic has loaded the 5in Toughpads with a large 6,200mAh battery, which it claims will last 13-14 hours off one charge.
The Panasonic Toughpad FZ-E1 and FZ-X1 live up to their names and offer business users based in hazardous environments a robust device. The added perks of full telephonic 3G connectivity has the potential to upgrade the Toughpads from productivity tools to communication tools as well.
But this promise is likely to come with a premium price tag. Though Panasonic is yet to officially confirm prices, a spokesman told us the Toughpad FZ-E1 and FZ-X1 would likely cost around €1,000, making them close to twice as expensive as more consumer-focused, top-end smartphones and tablets.
Check back with V3 later this year for full reviews of the Toughpad FZ-E1 and FZ-X1.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
26 Feb 2014
BARCELONA: Since Microsoft released its latest touch-focused Windows 8 operating system, hardware manufacturers have been wrestling to find the best way to showcase its finer points and create a truly usable laptop-tablet hybrid.
Some firms, such as Asus, have tried to solve the problem by creating dockable keyboard attachments for Windows 8 tablets. Others such as Lenovo have been a little more creative, making IdeaPad Yoga devices with flexible hinges that let users turn the laptop into a tablet by rotating its keyboard round to go behind the screen.
HP has traditionally chosen the same route as Asus, creating standalone tablets that can be turned into laptop replacements with optional dock attachments. But all that changed at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2014, where the company chose to quite literally go back on itself and unveil its IdeaPad Yoga-like Pavilion x360 laptop.
Design and build
HP has worked hard to make sure the Pavilion x360 looks as eye catching as possible, releasing it in a variety of colours. The red version we saw looked particularly striking and set the Pavilion apart from HP's other more enterprise-focused hybrids.
The Pavilion x360 is fairly light by large tablet standards, weighing in at 1.4kg, and doesn't feel overly heavy. We also found the slightly rubbery plastic outer coating felt suitably robust and offered little to no flex with pressure.
The keyboard and trackpad also proved fairly pleasant to use and were suitably responsive to the touch.
Checking the Pavilion x360's sides and back we were also pleased to see that HP has equipped it with a healthy selection of connectivity options. The system features a SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, Ethernet and a headphone-out/mic-in combo jack.
It was only when we attempted to change the Pavilion x360 into a tablet that we noticed any issues. Attempting to rotate the keyboard to go behind the screen, the hinge was very stiff. It felt fairly delicate and on a few occasions we were concerned that we'd actually snap the hinge – though an HP spokesman told us this is because the model we looked at was pre-production and that this will be fixed on the final versions.
The Pavilion x360 was also slightly difficult to use, firstly, because by having the keyboard on its back, it's fairly hard to get a good grip on the Pavilion x360. Secondly, while it's reasonably light for a laptop, as a tablet, the machine is far too heavy to comfortably hold in one hand.
The Pavilion x360 comes with a 11.6in HD LED-backlit, 1366x768 touchscreen, and seemed very responsive to gesture input. Our only regret in this regard is that the Pavilion x360 doesn't come with a digital stylus, which meant taht using it as a standalone tablet could at times be fiddly – especially if trying to use a desktop application.
The display also offered reasonable picture quality. While nowhere near as good as the in-plane switching (IPS) displays seen in other tablets, the Pavilion's is reasonably good. Colours were suitably vibrant and text, while sometimes a little hazy, was always readable.
The only issue we noticed was that the Pavilion x360's screen was fairly prone to picking up stray light. When this happened the Pavilion x360 became all but unusable – though we were testing it in a very bright showroom.
The Pavilion x360 comes with Microsoft Windows 8.1 pre-installed. There is no Windows 8.1 Professional option for businesses, meaning the device is more suited for BYOD than dedicated corporate use.
The use of Windows 8.1 is still reasonably good from a productivity perspective. The device comes with Microsoft's core Office and OneDrive document-editing and storage services. The use of Windows 8.1, as opposed to the less impressive Windows RT also means users can load and run legacy software on the Pavilion x360.
HP offers the Pavilion x360 with either an Intel Pentium N3520 2.17GHz processor or an Intel Pentium N2820 2.13GHz processor. The demo device we tested featured 8GB of RAM. All versions feature Intel HD graphics.
This means high-power tasks, such as digital painting, video editing and 3D modelling and gaming, will be beyond the Pavilion x360. Considering it is priced from £350, though, this is no surprise.
Testing it for productivity tasks, such as web-browsing and document-editing, the Pavilion x360 purred along nicely and we didn't experience any performance issues during our hands on.
Storage and camera
The Pavilion x360 we tested had 500GB of built-in storage, but it also comes in 320GB and 750GB options. It also has an HP TrueVision HD Webcam with an integrated digital microphone for video-calling. Powering up Skype and making a video call to a smartphone, the camera was more than good enough for making video calls.
HP is remaining hazy as to how long the Pavilion's two-cell battery should last off one charge and a spokesman at the company's MWC stand declined to answer queries regarding battery life. We will test this properly in a full review.
While the HP Pavilion x360 doesn't feel terribly original, looking a little too much like a Lenovo Yoga for our liking, our initial impressions are fairly positive. While it is heavy as a tablet, the Pavilion x360 did feel like a reasonable netbook replacement.
But its ability to deliver will largely be determined by key details that HP is remaining quiet about, such as battery life.
The HP Pavilion x360 is due for release in Europe in March, with prices starting at £350. Check back with V3 then for a full review.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
25 Feb 2014
BARCELONA: Huawei has been fighting an ongoing war to conquer the Western smartphone and tablet markets for several years now. In the smartphone arena the Chinese firm has had some success, with analyst house IDC listing it as the third-biggest handset maker in 2013.
However, its MediaPad tablets have so far failed to match this success, and so the MediaPad X1 is the latest attempt from Huawei to rectify this situation.
Design and build
Visually, the MediaPad X1 is a lot nicer than previous Huawei tablets. It features a very slim 7.2mm aluminium chassis that houses a 7in display. The use of metal makes the X1 feel slightly more high end than other similarly sized tablets, such as Google's Nexus 7.
Thanks to its smaller dimensions, the MediaPad X1 is also more comfortable to use while held in one hand than the slightly thicker 7.5mm iPad Mini. This was also helped by the MediaPad X1's 239g weight.
We were also impressed with the MediaPad X1's build quality. Our time with the device left us suitably convinced that the tablet could survive the odd accidental bump, scrape and drop. Our only concern was that the metallic-finish chassis of our demo unit didn't seem particularly scratch resistant – though we didn't get a chance to fully check its durability.
Huawei made a big deal about the MediaPad X1's 7in 1200x1920, low-temperature polysilicon (LTPS) LCD display, and we can understand why. Boasting a pixel density of 323 pixels per inch (ppi), the MediaPad X1's screen proved very crisp, with icons and text appearing sharp and clear.
Colours were vibrant and viewing angles were great. While the MediaPad X1's display was good, the only small qualm was that it wasn't quite as bright as some other tablets, such as the iPad Mini or Nexus 7.
Operating system and software
The MediaPad X1 runs the somewhat old Android 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system overlaid with Huawei's own Emotion UI 2.0 skin.
The use of the Emotion UI means the MediaPad X1's user interface is very different to most other Android tablets. In the past we've not been big fans of the Emotion UI and, sadly, this remained true during our hands-on time with the MediaPad X1.
The Emotion UI made using the MediaPad fairly heavy going, because Huawei has made a number of key changes. The biggest of these is the removal of the apps menu. Most Android phones feature an app menu button that takes the user directly to a window showing all installed applications, making it quick and easy to know what is on the device. Emotion changes this and – in a bid to look more like Apple iOS – places all installed applications in the main UI.
Thanks to the sea of custom applications Huawei has loaded onto the MediaPad X1, it makes the UI look very cluttered and more difficult to navigate.
The use of the Emotion UI also left us feeling slightly concerned about the MediaPad X1's potential to receive upgrades to newer Android versions. Traditionally devices using skinned versions of Android have taken longer to receive software updates. This is because the skin's custom code needs to be tweaked to work with new Android versions, and given how radically Emotion UI changes Android, we expect that this will be the case with the MediaPad X1.
The MediaPad X1 runs using a Hisilicon Kirin 910 1.6GHz quad-core processor that's backed up by 2GB of RAM. It also features advanced Cat 4 LTE connectivity. We didn't get a chance to see how the MediaPad X1 performed on a 4G network, but found it fairly nippy when connected to WiFi in the showroom.
The tablet proved capable of opening applications and webpages in seconds, and was fairly responsive in general. We didn't get a chance to install any benchmarking tools on the demo device or see how it handled more demanding tasks such as 3D gaming, but will be sure to do so in our full review.
Huawei has endowed the MediaPad X1 with a 13MP rear camera that boasts Sony's BSI Exmor imaging technology, plus a 5MP front camera. However, we've never been fans of taking photos on a tablet, because most have sub-par imaging sensors and thanks to their increased size are fairly unpleasant to take pictures on.
This generally remained true for the MediaPad X1, too. But, taking a few quick snaps on the showroom floor we had to concede we were impressed with how well images came out, at least when judging them by tablet standards. The shots we took looked fairly sharp and featured reasonable colour and contrast levels.
Storage and battery
The MediaPad X1 has 16GB storage, which can be upgraded to 32GB via its micro SD card slot.
One key selling point we didn't get to test was the MediaPad X1's battery life. Huawei claims the MediaPad X1's 5,000mAh battery will offer users 15 hours of video playback from a single charge. If true, this will be a massive selling point for the tablet, with most competitors struggling to make it to the nine-hour video playback milestone.
Huawei has not yet announced when the MediaPad X1 will be released, but has confirmed that it will cost €399 (£329). This means it will be more expensive than its main Android competition, the Google Nexus 7, which costs from £199.
But we were impressed with the device. The MediaPad X1 appears to offer premium build quality and above-average performance – a fact that can only be helped by its advanced 4G LTE connectivity.
The only possible thing we can see holding the MediaPad X1 back is the cluttered Emotion UI and its superfluous software additions.
Check back with V3 later this year for a full review of the Huawei MediaPad X1.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
24 Feb 2014
BARCELONA: Samsung is currently the undenied ruler of the Android ecosystem, with every analyst firm listing it as the world's biggest smartphone maker. But last year, with the release of its flagship Galaxy S4, some critics began to express concerns that the Korean firm was resting on its laurels, simply releasing a tweaked version of the Galaxy S3.
Luckily Samsung has worked hard to quell these criticisms with its new Galaxy S5 flagship smartphone.
Design and build
The Galaxy S5 is one of the most striking devices Samsung has ever made. Unlike previous smooth-finish Samsung smartphones, the Galaxy S5 features a perforated, slightly rubberised backplate and is available in more striking colour options.
The device is also slightly chunkier and heavier than the previous Samsung handsets, measuring in at 142x73x8.1mm and weighing 145g. By comparison this S4 measured 137x70x7.9mm and weighed 130g.
Its increased size is likely because Samsung has built the Galaxy S5 to be IP67 certified. This means the Galaxy S5 is scratch, dust and even water resistant. We didn't get a chance to test the water resistance, but found the Galaxy S5 does feel significantly moer solidly built than previous Galaxy handsets.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 also keeps the same ergonomic curved shape as the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S3, so despite its bigger size, it still felt comfortable to hold.
Samsung has equipped the Galaxy S5 with a 5.1in full HD Super Amoled, 1920x1080 display. In general, we found the screen featured wonderfully vibrant colours and brightness levels, and had great viewing angles.
We were also impressed with the Galaxy S5's ability to intelligently adjust the display settings based on the ambient background lighting conditions. For example, walking into a brightly lit area that made the screen all but illegible, the Galaxy S5 automatically boosted the brightness setting to maximum, so we could once again read text on the display.
Operating system and software
The Galaxy S5 features a heavily customised version of Android 4.4.2 KitKat. The most noticeable changes are fairly cosmetic tweaks to the user interface, with Samsung once again flooding its flagship device with a host of custom applications and widgets and altering the native Android apps icons to make them look "simpler".
Being blunt we're still not fans of the custom user interface and find it not as nice as Android's slightly cleaner-looking native user interface (UI). That said, it is to Samsung's credit that the Galaxy S5's user interface is significantly less busy than previous Galaxy smartphones.
We also noticed some useful fitness applications, chief of which was its new S Health 3.0 feature. This uses information stored on the Galaxy S5, combined with biometric data collected by its custom pedometer and built-in heart rate monitor, to offer users fitness advice and help create more effective exercise regimes. For most people in the workforce these will prove a welcome time saver.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 also comes with a variety of security features. Chief of these is its new fingerprint scanner. Like the Touch ID scanner seen on the Apple iPhone 5S, the Finger Scanner is housed in the Galaxy S5's physical Home button, and allows users to set the device to unlock by scanning their fingerprint.
As an added bonus, users can also set the Galaxy S5 to require users to prove their identity with the scanner when making payments via PayPal.
The Galaxy S5 is also confirmed to feature the latest version of Samsung's Knox security services when it is released.
Knox is a custom sandboxing security service that lets users create separate work and personal areas on the device. Data stored on the work side is encrypted and password protected.
Samsung has yet to unveil the latest version of Knox and the review unit we tested didn't have it installed, so we can't comment on what new features it will have. However, in the past we've found Knox to be a definite selling point for Galaxy devices.
Samsung has configured the Galaxy S5 with a cutting-edge 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 and 2GB of RAM. We didn't get a chance to see how the Galaxy S5 dealt with demanding tasks such as 3D gaming, or to benchmark it properly during our hands on. But we were impressed with the Galaxy S5's performance in the time we had with it: it opened webpages and apps in seconds, and easily dealt with every task we threw at it.
The Galaxy S5 also features Cat 4 LTE connectivity, meaning users willing to pay for it will also be able to enjoy 4G connectivity speeds up to 150Mbps come its release.
Samsung has made a big deal about the Galaxy S5's 16MP rear camera, claiming it boasts the world's fastest autofocus speed of 0.3 seconds.
There is certainly some truth to this claim, and the Galaxy S5 does indeed feature a fantastically fast shutter speed. Images taken in the well-lit showroom generally came out fairly well, featuring decent colour balance and contrast levels and looking reasonably crisp. Sadly, we didn't get to test outside of the showroom so can't comment on how the camera performs in more adverse lighting conditions.
We were also pleased with the Galaxy S5's enhanced advanced High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Selective Focus features. The HDR Live option that lets users manually adjust the light and dark levels in a photo. A Selective Focus feature lets you set the camera to focus on a specific area or object while simultaneously blurring out the background, creating a shallow depth of field.
Storage and battery
Samsung will release the Galaxy S5 in 16GB and 32GB versions, both of which can have their capacity upgraded by a maximum of 128GB via a micro SD slot.
The Galaxy S5 also features a sizeable 2,800mAh battery, which Samsung claims will last for several days off one charge, though we didn't get a chance to check this claim during our hands on.
Due for release in April, our opening impressions of the Galaxy S5 are positive. Featuring a more rugged IP67 certified design, beefed-up processor and coming loaded with a robust selection of security features, the Galaxy S5 has the potential to be one of 2014's standout business smartphones.
Check back with V3 later this year for a full review of the Samsung Galaxy S5.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
05 Feb 2014
Data security has been a growing concern for numerous businesses, with intellectual property theft or loss having the potential to cripple even the healthiest of firms. This is because, not only do lost or hacked computers put the company at a competitive disadvantage, thanks to new legislation regarding the powers of the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), they can also land them with a hefty fine.
Fujitsu has looked to monopolise on businesses' security and data security concerns, marketing its brand new Celsius H730 with Palm Vein Security Reader as the ideal machine for any company working with sensitive customer data or valuable intellectual property.
Design and build
Visually the Celsius H730 is unashamedly business focused and is clearly designed to be a workstation, rather than a laptop. The pre-production unit we had a chance to test measured in at a hefty 380x257x35.5mm and weighed 2.9kg, so you wouldn't want to lug it around for an entire day.
Making up for this, Fujitsu has taken advantage of the added real estate and loaded the Celsius H730 with a variety of graphics and component options. Unlike many other workstations that use Intel integrated graphics, Fujitsu has loaded the Celsius H730 with Nvidia Quadro professional graphics, offering K510M, K1100M and K2100M options.
Fujitsu has also equipped the Celsius H730 with a host of port and connectivity features, including an old school optical disc drive. Backing this up the Celsius H730 features four USB 3.0, two display and single VGA, DVI, Ethernet, audio in and out, and Kensington lock ports.
As an added bonus, the Celsius H730's rear battery is removable, meaning users on the move can pack a spare battery when they plan to be away from a power supply for a while.
Opening up the Celsius H730, we also got a chance to check out its full-sized keyboard and trackpad. Featuring a full-sized number pad, we found, while it wasn't backlit, the Celsius H730's keyboard was pleasant to type on. This was as much due to the reactive, snappy feel of the keys as it was the keyboard's large size.
We were also impressed with the build quality of the Celsius H730. While the Celsius H730 does have plastic parts, the workstation feels very robustly built and left us reasonably assured it could survive the odd accidental bump or scrape.
The Celsius H730 comes loaded with a 15.6in LED backlit 1920x1080 display. Despite coming with a Windows 8 licence, the Celsius H730 doesn't feature a touch option. While this may be a bit of an issue for some early Windows 8 adopters, considering the number of businesses snubbing the latest version of Microsoft's operating system the absence is forgivable.
In terms of display quality, we found the Celsius H730 performed reasonably well. In our bright office we found it, in general, boasted decent colour balance and brightness levels. The only slight issue we noticed was that it could at times become difficult to use when hit with direct sunlight.
The demo unit we tested boasted a cutting-edge Intel Haswell i7 Core processor, though it is also available in an i5 option. The Celsius H730 also comes with a variety of memory options ranging from a basic 4GB of RAM up to 32GB.
This, combined with its Nvidia graphics, means the Celsius H730 should be capable of dealing with even the most demanding of tasks and will be ideal for industries with high-performance needs, such as the financial or engineering sectors.
We didn't get a chance to test quite how powerful the Celsius H730 is or benchmark it during our hands on, but we will do this in our full review.
Fujitsu offers the Celsius H730 in Windows 7 and Windows 8 options. The demo unit we tried ran using Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit. The Fujitsu spokesman on hand told us the majority of the units are set up to run Windows 7 as most critical independent software vendor (ISV) applications from companies such as Adobe and Oracle are yet to be optimised for Windows 8. He added that each Celsius H730 will come with a licence key for the newer Windows version, ensuring that they can be upgraded at the customer's convenience.
The Celsius H730's enterprise appeal is compounded by its advanced security features. The Fujitsu Celsius H730 is the first ever laptop to come with the option to add an integrated Palm Vein Security Reader and Workplace Protect software.
The technology is similar to the Touch ID fingerprint scanner seen on Apple's iPhone 5S and uses biometric data to authenticate the identity of its user. Specifically the Palm Vein Security Reader scans the blood vessels in the user's hand to confirm their identity before unlocking. Unlike the iPhone Touch ID scanner, the Palm Vein sensor doesn't require the user to touch the device, but to hover their hand over the sensor, which is located at the bottom-right of its keyboard.
Fujitsu claims the scanner is the most reliable and secure way to lock any laptop. A spokesman told us the scanner has a 0.00008 percent false positive rate. By comparison he said fingerprint scanners have a less impressive 0.001 percent false positive rate.
We were impressed by how well the scanner worked. We set up the Palm Vein Security Reader using the Workplace Protect application, which simply required us to let the sensor scan our hand three times. Once done, the scanner proved capable of accurately and reliably authenticating our identity and generally took around four seconds to scan our hand and unlock.
As an added perk, the Celsius H730's Palm Vein Security Reader can register several users' identities and lock them to different accounts stored on the machine, so it can be used on shared devices with multiple users.
The scanner is backed up by a number of other robust security features, including Intel vPro. Intel vPro is designed to secure the device against attacks such as rootkits, viruses and malware at a hardware level. As an added bonus, vPro also lets IT managers remotely monitor and interact with machines at a hardware level, making it quicker and easier for them to spot and mitigate any attacks on the machine.
The Celsius H730 is available from Fujitsu on a channel sales model with prices starting at £1,182. The Palm Vein Security Reader version is due for release sometime in March, and will add an extra £75 to the workstation's up-front cost.
Having tested the Celsius H730, we're fairly impressed. It comes loaded with a host of security features and hardware pre-installed, and includes the option for an integrated PalmSecure scanner, so the Celsius H730 is one of the safest choices for any business dealing with sensitive data or valuable intellectual property.
Add to this its powerful Haswell processor and dedicated Nvidia graphics card options and we can see the Fujitsu Celsius H730 with the Palm Vein Security Reader being a big hit in industries such as banking and engineering.
Check back with V3 later for a full review of the Fujitsu Celsius H730 workstation.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
14 Jan 2014
Since being bought by Google, Motorola has been going through a gradual period of refocus. In November last year this reached fruition with the release of the Motorola Moto G, a phone that offered specifications traditionally seen on £300-plus devices at a bare-bones £135 starting price.
Looking to repeat its success with the Moto G, Motorola has raised the bar and chosen to release its flagship Moto X handset in the UK. However, at £380 SIM-free and coming out six months later than its initial US release, some naysayers have been justifiably sceptical of the Moto X's chances.
Design and build
The black-finish Moto X we tried featured an understated, fairly minimalist design, similar to the one seen on the more affordable Moto G. Featuring a single-piece chassis, with soft rounded corners and a slightly curved back, the main difference we noticed between the two phones is that the X has a slightly more premium-feeling, textured back.
While some will bemoan the fact the X's design isn't radically different from the G's, we're fairly happy Motorola that didn't decide to rework the wheel. Testing the 129x65x10.4mm Moto X, we found the pebble-like design made the phone very comfortable to hold, and this was helped by the fact that the Moto X weighs a reasonable 130g.
We also found the Moto X feels reasonably well crafted. Featuring a nano-coating, the Moto X is technically "splash and water resistant". We didn't get a chance to test this during our hands on, but the coating made the Moto X feel fairly scratch and bump proof, and left us feeling reassured it could survive the odd accidental drop.
The Moto X comes with a 4.7in 720p (720x1280) 316ppi Amoled capacitive touchscreen. While we're slightly disappointed the Moto X isn't 1020p and features a lower ppi density than competing phones – such as the Nexus 5, which boasts a 5in 1080x1920 in-plane switching (IPS) plus capacitive touchscreen – during our opening tests the Moto X's display did perform well.
Using the screen in the brightly lit showroom floor, the display proved reasonably good. With the brightness cranked to full we were able to continue using the Moto X, even under direct overhead light. We also found, thanks to its Amoled tech, colours were wonderfully vibrant and rich. And despite not breaking the 400ppi count, text and icons were suitably crisp. During our hands-on, we had no trouble reading text displayed on the screen.
We also got a chance to see the Moto X's custom Active Display technology during the briefing, which is designed to push updates including incoming or missed calls to the user when the phone is locked. The tech does this by making the Moto X's display pulse on with the information displayed. The feature was far more pleasant than the traditional LED light alerts seen on most phones – though we are slightly concerned it could be a drain on the Moto X's battery.
Operating system and software
The UK version of the Moto X is due to ship with the latest 4.4.2 KitKat version of Android pre-installed. As an added bonus, from what we saw during our hands-on, the version looked close to untouched.
This is a big deal: by choosing not to reskin Android, Motorola has not only made the Moto X's user interface significantly less cluttered and pleasant to use than some competing phones – such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, which features a less than ideal Touchwiz skin – but it has also ensured the Moto X will be ready for future software upgrades.
This is because, by not drastically changing Android, Motorola won't have to develop or adapt the Moto X's software to work with new Android versions. This means theoretically the phone could get software updates faster than phones running more heavily customised versions.
The only obvious additions we noticed to the Moto X's software were Motorola's custom Migrate, Assist and Connect applications, and a non-touch speech recognition service. Migrate is a basic QR code feature that aims to make it easier to set up the Moto X, and lets you move files, basic settings and call history from your previous Android phone.
Assist is a productivity app designed to let you set up automatic actions for certain situations. Connect is a custom app designed to let users take incoming calls and messages directed to the Moto X using their computer.
The speech recognition technology builds on Android's inbuilt voice command powers, and is designed to let users interact with their phone without having to physically touch it. It tailors the phone to recognise its owner's voice and lets them ask the phone for directions and to open applications, for example.
We didn't get a chance to test any of the custom applications during our hands-on time but will make sure to do so in our full review.
In a day where quad-core processors are the vogue item in the Android smartphone world, Motorola has oddly chosen to load the Moto X with a dual-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset. While not on a par with the quad-core Snapdragon 800-powered Nexus 5 or Snapdragon 600-powered Galaxy S4, the Moto X is backed up by 2GB of RAM and a powerful quad-core Adreno 320 GPU, and so is still set to perform fairly fast.
But, using the Moto X for regular tasks, including surfing the internet, watching a YouTube video and navigating between menus, we found the phone was fairly nippy. We'll make sure to put the Moto X through its paces with more demanding applications, such as 3D games, in our full review.
The Moto X comes with a 10MP rear and 2MP front camera. The 10MP rear camera comes with custom Quick Capture technology. The tech lets users activate the camera simply by twisting their wrist twice and users can take photos in split seconds just by tapping the screen with the camera application open.
Testing the camera on the showroom floor we found images taken on the Moto X were of reasonably good quality. Colour balance and contrast levels were decent and photos in general came out looking reasonably crisp.
Taken on the Motorola Moto X
We also found the camera's shutter speed was fairly good, with it being able to take rapid successions of shots as we ferociously tapped away on the device's screen. The only issue we noticed was that the autofocus could at times miss the subject matter we wanted and wasn't great at dealing with moving objects. In these situations images could come out slightly blurry.
Battery and storage
The Moto X is powered by a 2,200mAh battery, which Motorola lists as being able to last for up to 24 hours of "mixed usage". We'll test this thoroughly in our full review.
Storage-wise the Moto X features a fairly minimal 16GB built in. Luckily, though, Motorola has bundled the Moto X with 50GB of free Google Drive storage for the first two years after purchase.
Had we got our hands on the Moto X six months ago when the phone was first released in the US, our opening impressions would have been far more positive. Featuring an all-but untouched version of the latest Android 4.4.2 KitKat operating system, and what at first look appears to be an above-average camera and display, there is plenty to like about the Moto X. But priced at £380, costing £80 more than Google's Nexus 5 flagship, which features comparable and at times superior on-paper specs, it's clear the Moto X is going to have a tough time battling for sales when it is released in February.
Check back with V3 soon for a full review of the Motorola Moto X.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson.
LAS VEGAS: Unlike previous shows, at this year's CES Korean tech giant Samsung's chose to unveil a number of unashamedly business focused devices. Chief of these are its new Galaxy Tab Pro range of Android tablets.
The Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4in model is the smallest of the new tablets in Samsung's enterprise-friendly arsenal. However, despite featuring a smaller screen and chassis, the tablet still boasts a number of top-end internal components and productivity features.
Design and build
Despite being smaller than its 12.2in sibling, the Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4in features the same visual design. Up close the Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4in looks like a blown-up version of Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 smartphone. It features the same metallic lining along its sides and faux leather finish back.
This is no bad thing, as like other Samsung devices the design ensures the 219x129x7.2mm Galaxy Tab Pro is fairly comfortable in hand. This fact is helped by its light weight with the WiFi-only version we tested weighing 331g and the LTE version a slightly chunkier 336g.
The Tab Pro 8.4in also felt reasonably built with its fake leather finish back and metal sides leaving us feeling fairly reassured it could survive the odd accidental bump.
Samsung's loaded the Tab Pro with an 8.4in 2560x1600, 359ppi, super clear LCD capacitive touchscreen. Using the Tab Pro on the CES 2014 showroom floor we were impressed how good it was. Text displayed on the tablet remained legible and usable even in the brightly lit conditions. It also proved to have decent viewing angles and great brightness and colour balance levels.
Operating system and software
Like the Tab Pro 12.2in, the Tab Pro 8.4in runs using Google's latest Android 4.4 KitKat operating system overlaid with Samsung's new Magazine UX skin. The skin is very different to Samsung's consumer-focused Touchwiz and alters Android's user interface to the point it is all but unrecognisable.
This meant that when we first picked up the tablet it took us a good few minutes to get our bearings. However, after that we soon began to notice a number of cool productivity and security features. The best of these was the inclusion of Samsung's Knox security service. Knox is a security service designed to protect the device at a hardware level. Samsung claims the service is capable of warding off all manner of attacks, including Trojanised apps.
The Tab Pro 8.4in also features the same Multi Window support seen on the Tab Pro 12.2in. The Multi Window supports lets users split the Tab Pro's screen into up to four different windows. This means users can run, view and use up to four applications at any one time. While we found the feature was very useful on the Tab Pro 12.2in, we found the Tab Pro 8.4in's smaller size reduced its allure. With four windows open we found text became so small and was slightly awkward to read.
Unlike the Tab Pro 12.2in, the Tab Pro 8.4in doesn't offer an octa-core option. Instead both the 4G and WiFi-only models are powered by a quad-core 2.3 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor and feature 2GB of RAM.
We didn't get the chance to benchmark the Tab Pro 8.4in or see how it performed running demanding applications, like 3D games. However, testing it using the applications pre-installed on it we found it was very fast. Apps like Google Drive, Facebook, YouTube and Chrome opened close to instantaneously. During our hands on we didn't notice any performance issues, even when running multiple applications at once.
Battery and storage
The Tab Pro 8.4in comes with a Li-Ion 4800 mAh battery. Sadly we didn't get a chance to battery burn the Tab Pro 8.4in to see how long its battery lasts, but a spokesman told us it would be "above average" - we'll make sure to check this claim come our full review.
Samsung's confirmed the Tab Pro 8.4in will be available in 16GB and 32GB options. Both models will feature a microSD card slot that will let users upgrade its storage to a maximum of 64GB.
Overall our opening impressions of Samsung's Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4in are positive. While its smaller screen means it's not as pleasant to use certain services, like Multi Window support compared to a larger screen device, there is still plenty to like about the tablet.
Featuring a powerful quad-core processor, productivity focused version of Android, bright and crisp screen, and Samsung Knox security services, the Tab Pro 8.4in has the potential to be one of 2014's best business tablets. However, its ability to deliver on its promise depends very heavily on its price - a key bit of information Samsung's remaining cagey about.
Check back with V3 later this year for a full review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4in.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
09 Jan 2014
LAS VEGAS: LG announced its first curved smartphone in October – called the G Flex – and we managed to spend some time testing the phone at CES ahead of its release next month.
With the LG G Flex due to be the first curved smartphone to go on sale in the UK, it's unlikely that the handset is going to be a huge success, as consumers are still unconvinced that flexible displays are the way forward. However, during our hands-on time with the handset in Las Vegas this week, LG might have managed to convince us otherwise.
Of course the design of the LG G Flex is the handset's main talking point, and it's the first device we've ever handled that boasts a curved chassis.
Thanks to its curved display the phone sits more comfortably than most when held in the palm of the hand, and although this sounds a little silly it really does sit more nicely against the side of your head, although the handset's large size means that you're still likely to look pretty odd. That said, at 8.7mm thick and 177g, the LG G Flex doesn't seem bulky or unwieldy.
The device is truly flexible too, meaning that you can push down on the handset's screen, and the phone, as its name suggests, easily flexes itself back into shape. We can't see a practical use for this, but it's likely to get heads turning nonetheless.
Another interesting feature of the LG G Flex's design is that the plastic casing is capable of 'self-healing', meaning that if you accidentally scratch it with your keys it should be able to fix itself. You'll also find that the handset's main hardware keys on the rear of the device, much like on the LG G2, and these seem to fall into a natural position when the phone is held in the hand.
While the design of the LG G Flex is impressive, the screen is its most impressive feature. Measuring 6.1in with 1280x720 resolution, the curved P-OLED display, despite our doubts, does match LG's claims that viewing images and video on the device is more immersive than on your regular smartphone.
While its 1280x720 resolution is usually found on mid-range smartphones, the OLED technology makes colours look vibrant and natural, while the slightly concave curve of the screen offers an immersive viewing experience.
Performance and software
Under the bonnet, the LG G Flex has a quad-core 2.26GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, and despite LG's close ties with Google, it runs the now somewhat dated Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean mobile operating system.
Although we have yet to benchmark the phone, we found the device impressively nippy, and despite putting it thoroughly through its paces - opening apps, browsing the web and multitasking - the phone showed no sign of stuttering.
Impressively, LG has left the Android mobile operating system largely untouched on the G Flex, offering a clean, almost vanilla user interface. However, it has added a few software features to the bendy smartphone, including a split screen mode and a knock to unlock function.
Before we got our hands on the LG G Flex we couldn't see the benefit of owning a phone with a curved display. But during our brief time with the device on the CES show floor in Las Vegas, LG managed to convince us otherwise.
A curved screen isn't exactly essential, but we found that the display offered a much more immersive viewing experience than other smartphones with similar specifications. It's also likely to turn heads in public, unlike the usual black, rectangular handsets.
But we weren't completely sold on the G Flex's back-level mobile operating system and low screen resolution. We're also not sure that LG will be able to convince people to opt for a curved screen – at least not for now. Check back with V3 soon for a full LG G Flex review.