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IFA: Lenovo Tab S8 hands-on review

05 Sep 2014

BERLIN: Since Apple released its original iPad Mini, 8in tablets have become increasingly popular and manufacturers around the world have been releasing a steady stream of the mid-sized devices.

Key players were Samsung's Galaxy Tab S and Note ranges and Acer's latest 8in Iconia tablet, for example. Unperturbed by the strong competition, this IFA Lenovo chose to join the 8in tablet race, unveiling its first ever mid-sized Android tablet, the Tab S8.

Design and build
Unless you pick the yellow colour option, the Tab S8 is fairly unassuming, featuring a round back and sides, and barebones front that's free of noticeable design features. In fact, were it not for the Lenovo stamp emblazoned on the Tab S8, you could easily mistake this for one of Asus' or Acer's existing devices.Lenovo Tab S8 lock-screen

While some may complain about the Tab S8's unassuming design, we didn't really have too much of an issue with it. This is largely because, while not terribly ostentatious the Tab S8 ticks all the necessary design boxes. For starters, measuring in at 210x124x7.9mm and weighing 299g, the Tab S8 is suitably travel friendly and feels comfortable to use, or hold one handed.

Additionally, despite being made of plastic, the Tab S8 doesn't feel too cheap and, from what we've seen, it's reasonably well built. While we didn't get to drop test the Tab S8, its chassis did feel scratch and drop proof.

In a world where tablets regularly break the 300ppi milestone, we were a little disappointed when Lenovo announced the Tab S8 will feature an 8in 1920x1200, 283ppi in-plane switching (IPS) LCD.

However, during our hands on we found the Tab S8's display is pretty impressive, especially when you consider its $200 price tag. Using the Tab S8 on the showroom floor at IFA, while it was occasionally prone to picking up stray light, the display did perform fairly well. Colours, while not on a par with those seen on Samsung Super Amoled tablets' displays, were rich and the Tab S8 featured impressive brightness levels. Text and icons were suitably crisp and we never experienced any serious issues with the display during our hands on.

Operating system
The Tab S8 runs using a customised version of Android 4.4 KitKat. We're not massive fans of Android skins as generally they don't add to the user experience, either making superfluous, or detrimental changes that make Android less user friendly and slow down future updates.

Lenovo Tab S8 app tray

Some of these issues remain true with the Tab S8, which features a number of needless applications and user interface changes that don't really add anything.

For example, in the app menu Lenovo has added a random shortcut icon. This brings up a tab on the bottom of screen with links to the tablet's main settings and theme options, all of which can also be accessed directly from the app menu.

That said, the skin is still significantly lighter than those made by some of Lenovo's competitors, such as Huawei Emotion or Samsung Touchwiz, and most Android users won't take too long to get used to it.

Unlike the majority of manufacturers, Lenovo has chosen not to use a Qualcomm snapdragon chip and has instead loaded the Tab S8 with a quad-core, 1.3GHz Intel Atom processor and 2GB of RAM.

We didn't get a chance to benchmark the Tab S8 during our hands on, but found the tablet was very fast for basic tasks. Webpages opened in seconds, even on the showroom's over-stacked WiFi the Tab S8 ran smoothly.

While we didn't get a chance to see how the Tab S8 ran when faced with more demanding tasks, such as 3D gaming, considering its use of Nvidia GeForce GTX graphics we have high hopes and are keen to see how it performs in our full review.

Tablets of all sizes are yet to really offer anything above average imaging performance when compared with their smartphone siblings and, from what we've seen, this will remain true with the Tab S8.Lenovo Tab S8 back

Testing the Tab S8's 8MP rear camera we found the device is fairly average and images, while more than good enough for sharing on social media, rapidly lost their clarity when zoomed in on. The same remained true when we took a few snaps on the Tab S8's 1.6MP front camera.

Battery and storage
We didn't get a chance to test the Tab S8's 4290mAh battery life, but even if Lenovo's projected seven-hours is true it will still be below average, with most similarly sized tablets lasting at least eight to nine hours before dying. In terms of storage the Tab S8 comes with 16GB of internal space that can fortunately be upgraded using the tablet's Micro SD slot.

The Lenovo Tab S8 will be available from the beginning of September, with prices starting at $199. While we did notice some issues during our hands on, considering its low cost and the inclusion of a powerful Intel processor, there is still plenty to like about the Tab S8 and we can see it being a popular choice for buyers on a budget.

Hopefully our positive opening impressions will ring true when we put the Lenovo Tab S8 more thoroughly through its paces in our full review later this year.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Lenovo Vibe X2 hands-on review

04 Sep 2014

When Lenovo announced its desire to purchase Motorola from Google, it made it clear the move was designed to increase its global smartphone presence and let it break into the Western European market.

The Vibe X2 is the latest step in Lenovo's expansion plans and debuts a number of cutting-edge technologies designed to showcase what the Chinese firm has to offer.

Design and build
Lenovo prides itself on the Vibe X2's design, claiming it is the first "layered smartphone" in the world, and we can see why the firm is so keen to boast about it. The Vibe X2 is built from three distinct sections, each of which has a different colour and texture. These range from basic polycarbonate backplate to a more esoteric "wood" finish.

Another interesting design twist, which we sadly didn't get to test during our hands on, is the addition of "Xtensions". These are extra custom covers that add add new functions to the Vibe X2, such as improved sound quality.Lenovo Vibe X2 home screen

Despite being composed of three layers, the Vibe X2 is reasonably thin, measuring in at 7.3mm. The 5in device is also comfortable to hold and feels fairly similar to Sony's range of straight-edged Xperia devices.

We were also reasonably impressed with the Vibe X2's build quality. It felt solid and left us fairly sure that it would survive the odd accidental bump and scrape. The rear backplate's slightly matt finish also felt suitably scratch and blemish resistant.

Display technology is an increasingly important factor for many potential buyers, so Lenovo has configured the Vibe X2 with a 5in, 1080x1920, 441ppi, in-plane switching (IPS) LCD touchscreen. Using the screen on the brightly lit showroom floor we were impressed by how well it performed. Colours on the display were rich and vibrant and the screen showed surprisingly wide viewing angles.

Operating systemLenovo Vibe X2 operating system
Unlike Motorola, Lenovo chose to tweak the Vibe X2's Android 4.4 KitKat operating system with its custom Vibe UI 2.0 skin.

The changes we noticed during our hands on were fairly unobtrusive and amounted to little more than tweaked application icons and menu layouts, but under the hood the Vibe X2 does have a few notable features, one of the most useful of which is its quick-access lock screen.

The feature is designed to let you more quickly access regularly accessed applications from the lock screen using screen taps. It lets you can activate the lock screen from sleep with one tap and access a quick menu with shortcuts to recently opened apps with a second tap. While small, we can see the feature being a selling point for business buyers who regularly have to access emails or check incoming messages on the move.

One of the Vibe X2's most interesting features is its MediaTek eight-core processor, using a mix of ARM Cortex-A17 and low-power Cortex-A7 cores. In a clear shot at Samsung, which has recently launched smartphones and tablets running on its own Exynos "octa-core" chips, Lenovo claims the MediaTek processor is the first "true" processor of this kind and, paired with 2GB of RAM, will allow the Vibe X2 to easily outperform competing handsets.

We found there could be some truth to this claim. During our hands-on, the Vibe X2 moved between windows and open applications smoothly and stutter free, and proved capable of opening multiple content-rich websites in the native browser app hassle free.Lenovo Vibe X2 side

We're keento see how the Vibe X2 performs when faced with more demanding tasks, such as 3D gaming, upon its release later this year.

The Vibe X2 comes with a 13MP rear camera with a back-illuminated sensor and 5MP front camera, which we were also impressed with.

Shots taken on the Vibe X2 looked reasonably vibrant, crisp and had decent colour balance. The only possible issue we noticed was that, on a few occasions, the shutter speed was slightly slower than we'd have liked, which is odd as Lenovo claims the handset has advanced "instant-capture" capabilities.

In terms of shot modes, the unit we had featured all the staple options you'd expect, such as burst, panorama and HDR, plus a more esoteric "beauty mode". The beauty mode works the same way as the equivalent feature seen on Huawei's Ascend P7 and is meant to let users quickly remove blemishes from "selfies". But we really can't see this taking off with business users.

Battery and storage
The Lenovo Vibe X2 comes loaded with 32GB of internal space, which sadly can't be upgraded due to the device's lack of a Micro SD card slot. However, considering the number of cloud-storage services available, we can't see this being too much of an issue for many buyers.Lenovo Vibe X2 back

Past this, the Vibe X2 is powered by a 2,300mAh non-removable battery, which Lenovo claims will easily last a full day's use off one charge. But we didn't get a chance to check this claim during our hands on.

Price and release date
The Vibe X2 will launch in China in September, costing $399 SIM-free. It is currently unclear if the Vibe Z2 or X2 will be released in the UK, though Lenovo has promised to make the phones "available in select regions starting in October".

While it's still unclear if the Vibe X2 will launch in the UK the device is still interesting. Featuring a unique and original design and "true" eight-core mobile processor the Vibe X2 is clear proof that Lenovo wants to establish itself as an innovator in the smartphone industry, and we'd be pleased to find out if it delivers on its promise, if and when it arrives in Europe.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

IFA: Sony Xperia Z3 hands-on review

04 Sep 2014

BERLIN: Sony lifted the lid on its Xperia Z3 smartphone, at IFA on Wednesday, with its updated slimmer design, solid aluminium frame and rounder edges than its predecessor the Xperia Z2. We were lucky enough to have some hands-on time with the device before its launch.

Sony Xperia Z3  smartphone hands-on at IFA - side view

The first noticeable thing about the Xperia Z3 is that it is thinner and lighter than the Xperia Z2. It was clear that Sony has managed to squeeze in a number of updates, such as a slimmer chassis that feels more comfortable to hold.

IFA - Sony unveils Xperia Z3 smartphone

The Xperia Z3 is very similar to the Xperia Z2, which in terms of design is no bad thing as we're fans of the boxy look. Even better, with this release Sony has rounded the edges even further, making the Z3 easier to hold, while still managing to pack the same sized 5.2in screen into the bezel.

The firm has made it slimmer by 0.9mm, so it now measures just 7.3mm, compared with the Xperia Z2's 8.2mm. Picking up the phone for the first time, we were surprised at how comfortable it felt, even with such a large display.

Sony Xperia Z3  smartphone hands-on at IFA - side

Another great feature of the Xperia Z3's design is that – like the Xperia Z2, Xperia Z1 and Xperia Z before that – the Xperia Z3 can be dunked in water for up to 30 minutes at a depth of 1.5m, Sony claims. This is thanks to its dust-resistant and waterproof IP65 and IP68 certification, the highest possible waterproof rating. However, we didn't have a chance to test that in our brief time with the device.

The display on the Sony Xperia Z3 is its most impressive feature. With the same pixel count as its 1080x1920 resolution predecessor, the Xperia Z3's 5.2in display blew us away. Images are crystal clear and it is truly stunning to use: both text and images look sharp and touch operations are smooth between pages and apps.

Sony Xperia Z3  smartphone hands-on at IFA - apps

Performance and software
The Sony Xperia Z3 is powered by a quad-core 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor with 3GB of RAM, making it quite a powerhouse. The chip is just as impressive in the real world as it is on paper, and we found the device very nippy, with no lag whatsoever, even when playing and recording 4K video, though during the latter it does still get a little hot.

As for software, the Xperia Z3 runs Google's Android 4.4 Kitkat mobile operating system right out of the box. However, Sony has skinned Android with its own custom user interface (UI). While we've never been huge fans of Sony's custom UI, finding it overbearing compared with a vanilla Android user interface, some of the firm's apps are a bonus.

The Xperia Z3 also arrives loaded with Sony's Walkman and PlayStation companion apps as seen on the Xperia Z2, as well as many new augmented-reality camera features and built-in noise cancellation technology to help block out background sounds while listening to music.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the Xperia Z3 is its rear-facing camera, which not only features the same 20.7MP sensor as seen in its predecessor and the same 4K video recording, but it also boasts an 'Exmor RS for mobile' image sensor, with a new 25mm G Lens, making it what Sony claims "the world's first smartphone with ISO 12800 sensitivity for superior photos, even in low light."

Sony Xperia Z3  smartphone hands-on at IFA - back cam

Still images taken with the 20.7MP camera were just as impressive as on the Xperia Z2, appearing crisp, clear and full of natural colour.

The Sony Xperia Z3 also features a 2.2MP camera on its front that's capable of shooting HD 1080p video for all your video-calling needs.

Our first impressions of the Sony Xperia Z3 were good, but the handset's success will likely depend in part on its cost, which has not yet been announced.

Sony will release the Xperia Z3 around the world this autumn. Check back with V3 then for our full review.

Samsung Gear S hands-on review

04 Sep 2014

Technology firms have been trying to persuade us we need smartwatches for quite some time. However, a number of niggling flaws in past smartwatches – including their need to be tethered to a smartphone to work and woefully small displays – have stopped many people, including us here at V3, from getting excited about them.

Samsung claims to have gone back to the drawing board to design its Gear S smartwatch, and has worked to fix all our past qualms and finally offer users the wearable wrist companion they've been waiting for.

Design and build
The Gear S's curved screen and metallic design features make it look about as slick as a smartwatch can be.

As well as making the wearable look slick, the curved chassis also makes the device feel significantly more comfortable to wear than many of the other smartwatches we've experienced, for example the LG G Watch, which has a flat back.Samsung Gear S IFA

The one potential design flaw we noticed is that, like most smartwatches, the Gear S is noticeably larger than most regular watches. We're used to wearing big watches, so we found the 40x58x12.5mm Gear S' dimensions weren't too much of an issue, but people used to regularly sized watches may find it slightly cumbersome.

Despite being large the Gear S is fairly well built regarding its specs, and it meets IP67 certification standards. This means the Gear S should be dust and water resistant and should be able to survive submersions in up to one metre of water for 30 minutes.

Sadly the Samsung spokesperson on hand at the event declined our request to test the Gear S's water resiliency and all but tore it off our wrist when asked we if we could pour our bottle of water over it.

During our hands on we found the Gear S's 2in, 360x480 pixels, 300ppi Super Amoled capacitive touchscreen was one of the best we'd ever seen on a smartwatch. Using Samsung's Super Amoled screen tech, colours on the Gear S display were wonderfully vibrant and it was brilliantly bright. We'll be interested to see if our positive impressions remain when we test the Gear S in more adverse lighting conditions, such as direct sunlight, which has rendered all past smartwatches close to unusable.

Unlike most 2014 smartwatches the Gear S runs using Samsung's own Tizen operating system, not Google's newly launched Android Wear. Scrolling through various menus we found Tizen offers a significantly different user experience to Android Wear and has a completely different menu and application system.

Unlike Android Wear, Tizen's user interface (UI) requires you to swipe left or right to switch between applications and services. Google's OS by comparison requires you to scoll up and down. Tizen applications' individual interfaces are also far more varied than those seen on Android Wear, which have a uniform card-like design similar to that seen on Google Now.Samsung Gear S calendar app

For example, moving from a weather app, which featured a familiar UI to Android's to a Tizen news aggregator we were met with a completely different tiled design reminiscent of HTC's BlinkFeed that had its own set of shortcuts and colour palette.

While we initially found the experience a little jarring and disjointed, we soon became accustomed and began to notice a number of positive points about Tizen.

For one, many of the apps we used had noticeably more advanced functionality than their Android Wear equivalents. For example, entering the calendar app, we could not only see incoming notifications, but we could also tweak or create new ones directly from the Gear S, which we couldn't do on Android Wear smartwatches.

Productivity perks are aided by the fact it has standalone 3G and WiFi connectivity. This means, after requiring you to pair the smartwatch with a smartphone on setup, the Gear S can function independently and doesn't require a constant Bluetooth connection to an Android handset.

The Gear S is powered by an unspecified dual-core 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM. While we found these features were more than good enough in past smartwatches, during our hands on we noticed the Gear S did occasionally chug and stutter.Samsung Gear S news app

For example, going through the news feed on an aggregator app, the Gear S occasionally stalled for a fraction of a second when we tried to scroll up or down. Though being fair to Samsung, the Gear S we tried was a pre-production model and this issue could equally be due to poor coding on the app itself and in general the Gear S performed very well during our hands on.

Battery power is a constant issue on all the smartwatches we've encountered, with most barely lasting a full day's use before needing a top-up charge. Sadly we didn't get a chance to test the Gear S battery life. However, if Samsung's claim the Gear S 300mAh battery will offer users "two full days of typical usage", it will be above average for a smartwatch.

While the Gear S doesn't follow the common path of most manufacturers and uses Samsung's Tizen OS, as opposed to the increasingly common Android Wear, it did impress us.

Featuring a curved design that makes the Gear S look nice and feel comfortable on your wrist, a sizable 2in display and standalone 3G connectivity, there is plenty to like about Samsung's latest smartwatch.

Hopefully the minor performance issues we noticed during our hands on will have disappeared by the time the Gear S arrives in the UK later this year, and tech aficionados across the globe will finally have the smart smartwatch they've been waiting for.

Check back with V3 later for a full review of the Samsung Gear S.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Galaxy Note 4 hands-on review

03 Sep 2014

BERLIN: Samsung claims it created the plus-sized "phablet" market in 2011 when it unveiled its first Galaxy Note. While technically this was actually Dell with its Streak 5 in 2010, Samsung is without a doubt the first smartphone manufacturer to successfully push big handsets to the masses and, in many buyers' minds, the Galaxy Note range is still the first anyone thinks of when shopping for a big-screen device.

As a result, at the Galaxy Note 4's unveiling at Samsung's IFA Unpacked 2014 keynote in Berlin, we couldn't resist the chance to get some hands on time with the gargantuan handset.

Design and build
Visually the Galaxy Note 4 doesn't stray too far from its predecessor, the Galaxy Note 3 and has the same fake leather backplate and metallic sides. The Galaxy Note 4's button placement is also the same and the Galaxy Note 4 has a physical front-facing home button and volume and power controls on its right side. Under the hood, though, Samsung has made a few changes, one of the biggest of which is the inclusion of the custom fingerprint scanner debuted on Samsung's regular-sized Galaxy S5 handset.Samsung Galaxy Note 4 home screen

The scanner is a bonus for enterprise customers as it lets them lock the Galaxy Note 4 to only unlock once they have proven their identity, making it much harder for criminals to access corporate data stored on the phone should it be lost or stolen.

While the Galaxy Note 4 is fairly thin by phablet standards, despite years of wielding the plus-sized handsets, we still found the phone's 154x79x8.5mm dimensions and 176g weight slightly cumbersome when trying to use the device one handed.

Luckily these issues are heavily countermanded by the inclusion of the Galaxy Note 4's reworded S Pen. The S Pen digital stylus docks into the bottom edge of the Galaxy Note's rear, and helps make the Galaxy Note 4 more comfortable to use, despite it's advanced size, for a variety of reasons. More on this later.

While we didn't get to drop test the Galaxy Note 4 during our hands on we were reasonably impressed with its build quality. The handset felt solidly built and left us feeling suitably assured it could survive the odd accidental drop chip and scratch free.

As we've seen in past Samsung handsets, the Galaxy Note 4's 5.7in QHD 2560x1440 Super Amoled display is one of its best features. While we only got to test the display in the controlled showroom floor lighting conditions we found the Galaxy Note 4's display is not only crisp, but also features great colour balance and brightness levels – so much so that we had to turn the demo unit's brightness setting down.

This is likely a consequence of Samsung's custom Super Amoled technology. Super Amoled is good as not only does it offer all the benefits of normal Amoled screens, which are designed to display deeper and richer blacks by electrically charging each individual pixel to generate colours, it also reduces the screen's power consumption.

The technology reduces power consumption by integrating the capacitive touchscreen layer directly into the display instead of overlaying it on top, as with regular Amoled screens. The practice removes the need to charge two components at once, thus reducing the display's power consumption.

Operating system and software
The Galaxy Note 4 runs using a heavily customised version of Android 4.4.4 KitKat. In the past we've not been massive fans of Samsung's software additions as they, generally, add a wealth of needless services and make handsets' user interfaces (UIs) feel busy and slightly unpleasant to use.

But we were fairly impressed by how much work Samsung has put in to fix these issues. As well as featuring significantly fewer bloatware applications than the Galaxy Note 3, the Galaxy Note 4's main UI also looks noticeably cleaner.

We were also happy to see Samsung has developed some of the more pleasant and useful software additions it has made over the years, loading the Galaxy Note 4 with a wealth of applications designed to help users take advantage of its S Pen Stylus, for example.

Key positive additions we noticed are the Galaxy Note 4's enhanced multi-window support and new Smart Select and S Pen Mouse features.Samsung Galaxy Note 4 S Pen

The reworked multi-window feature lets users swipe using the S Pen to minimise open windows and pull up new apps, while Smart Select is an innovative feature that lets users select several pieces of content in a row and simultaneously share them as attachments in messages. S Pen Mouse is designed to make it easier to select and edit text using the S Pen and lets users instruct the stylus to highlight text simply by holding down the pen's side button.

During our time with the Galaxy Note 4 we were very impressed by how well the features worked and found they made key productivity tasks, such as document-editing, note-taking and altering images, significantly easier to do than they are on most competing handsets.

There is some truth to Samsung's claims that the Galaxy Note 4's S Pen stylus is twice as pressure sensitive as the Note 3's and felt it was significantly more accurate and reactive than its predecessor.

On paper the Galaxy Note 4 is one of the most powerful handsets out there and runs using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor and 3GB of RAM. We didn't get a chance to properly benchmark the Galaxy Note 4, or see how it coped with demanding tasks such as 3D gaming during our hands on, but found for general purposes it is very quick.

The Galaxy Note 4 opened applications and webpages in milliseconds and ran chug and stutter free, even when we had multiple apps running using the handset's multi-window support.

Samsung made a big deal about the Galaxy Note 4's 16MP, 3456x4608 rear camera with optical image stabilisation, and 3.7MP front camera, claiming they will offer users "industry-leading" imaging quality.

Testing them on the show floor, while still not of the same quality as images taken on the Nokia Lumia 1020, images taken on the Galaxy Note 4 were very crisp and featured great contrast and brightness levels.Samsung Galaxy Note 4 back

Running through the camera app's options, it is reasonably well stocked and supports all the modes you'd expect, including Dual Shot, panorama and HDR (high dynamic range).

While we're still not convinced many executives would use the Galaxy Note 4's 3.7MP front camera for anything but video calling, we were also reasonably impressed with its imaging quality and found it is reasonably good at taking photos.

The Galaxy Note 4 we tested came with 32GB of internal storage. Luckily for those looking for more space, a further 64GB can be added using the Galaxy Note 4's micro SD card slot.

Featuring a large, but crisp display and offering what appears to be top-end performance and a reworked more sensitive S Pen stylus, our opening impressions of the Galaxy Note 4 are very positive and the device certainly has the potential to be one of 2014's best handsets.

However, with Samsung yet to reveal the Galaxy Note 4's UK release date and price, it's currently difficult to gauge whether it will make good on this promise.

Check back with V3 later for a full review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4.

By V3's Alastair Stevneson

Boston shows off servers and workstations with upcoming Intel Xeon E5-2600 Haswell-EP processors

22 Aug 2014

Intel is preparing to release its next generation Xeon processors for workstations and servers, and many vendors are gearing up with new systems in the pipeline ready to launch when the chips themselves are officially available.

One such firm is Boston Limited, which allowed us a preview of some of the updated systems it has waiting in the wings until the official launch date, which is coming in the near future.

Boston has a close relationship with Supermicro, and many of its systems are based on chassis designs from that vendor, with the firm offering to custom build solutions for specific requirements.

On the server side, Boston is readying a 1U rack-mount "pizza box" system, the Boston Value 360p (pictured below). This is a two-socket server with twin 10Gbps Ethernet ports, support for 64GB memory and 12Gbps SAS Raid. It can also be configured with NVM Express (NVMe) SSDs connected to the PCI Express bus rather than a standard drive interface.


Boston also has a multi-node rack server, the Quattro 12128-6 (pictured below), which comprises four separate two-socket servers inside a 2U chassis. Each node has up to 64GB memory, with 12Gbps SAS Raid storage plus a pair of 400GB SSDs.


On the workstation side, Boston is readying a mid-range and a high-end system with the new Intel Xeon chips, both based on two-socket Xeon E5-2600v3 rather than the single socket E5-1600v3 versions.

The mid-range Venom 2301-12T (pictured below) comes in a similar mid-tower chassis to the system we reviewed last year, and likewise ships with an Nvidia Quadro K4000 card for graphics acceleration. It comes with 64GB of memory and a 240GB SSD as a boot device, plus two 1TB Sata drives configured as a Raid array for data storage.


For those needing a bit more performance, the Venom 2401-12T (below) ships with faster Xeon processors, 128GB memory, and an Nvidia Quadro K6000 adapter. This also has a 240GB SSD as a boot drive, with two 2TB drives configured as a Raid array for data storage.


The Venom 2401-12T also features the CoolIT liquid cooling system attached to its processor heatsinks, enabling them to run at full clock speed for longer, according to Boston.


Finally, the new Xeon E5-2600v3 processors are designed to work with 2133MHz DDR4 memory instead of the more usual DDR3. The last picture here (above) shows a DDR3 DIMM next to a DDR4 DIMM. The DDR4 has slightly longer connectors towards the middle of the module.

Raspberry Pi Model B+ opening impressions

14 Jul 2014

The Raspberry Pi Foundation unveiled the latest redesign of its Raspberry Pi single-board computer on Monday, as detailed by V3. The update adds a number of features but is still available at the same price from outlets such as RS Components and Farnell Element14.

Farnell Element14 was showing the device at an official launch event in London, and we went along to have a look at the new model.

Raspberry Pi Model B Plus

The Raspberry Pi Model B+ is the same size and shape as the older Model B, as can be seen in the photo of both devices next to each other (below).

Raspberry Pi Model B and Model B plus

However, the new device has a number of changes, including more USB ports and a larger I/O header connector, which can also be seen in the pictures.

Having four rather than two USB ports enables more devices to be connected. On the older Pi, you could easily use up both plugging in a mouse and keyboard, unless you happened to have a USB hub or a keyboard that can daisy chain the mouse through it.

Another less visible update is to the power supply. A redesigned power regulator circuit can supply more current to the USB ports, up to a maximum of 1.2A across all four ports, enabling hardware such as USB hard drives to be powered from the Raspberry Pi, as in the picture below.

Raspberry Pi Model B Plus with external hard drive

According to Element 14, this will be a boon for projects where the Raspberry Pi is being used to drive a sensor and record data from it, as the device can now have access to much greater storage than is available on an SD card.

Element 14 also showed off a new Raspberry Pi case the firm is selling via its website. Not only is this £4.76 accessory designed to snugly fit the new Model B+ device, but also the Raspberry Pi camera module (see below) that connects into the dedicated CSI connector on the Pi board.

Raspberry Pi Model B Plus case open

We will report back at a later date with a more in-depth look at the new Raspberry Pi Model B+.

Surface Pro 3 vs Surface Pro 2

09 Jul 2014

Since Microsoft first entered the tablet hardware market in 2012 it has been promising users the world, claiming its Surface series of devices would be able to function equally well as both tablet and laptop.

But because of a number of niggling flaws in the first two Surface Pro tablets' design and software, they fell somewhere between the two categories and didn't fully deliver on Microsoft's promise.

As a result, when Microsoft returned to the stage earlier in May to unveil its latest Surface Pro 3 shouting the same message as before, some buyers were justifiably skeptical.

Since then these doubts have grown and many buyers have been wondering exactly what changes have been made to differentiate the Surface Pro 3 from its predecessor, the Surface Pro 2, to let it deliver on Microsoft's "one device to rule them all" promise.

Design and build
The Surface Pro 3 features a completely reworked design to previous Surface devices, with Microsoft having worked to make its new tablet as light and thin as possible.

During our tests we were impressed with the Surface Pro 3's design and found the light aluminium tablet-laptop hybrid looks a lot sharper than its predecessor. Despite featuring a larger display the Surface Pro 3 is significantly lighter and thinner than the Surface Pro 2, measuring in at 292x201x9.1mm and weighing 800g.Microsoft Surface Pro 3 three-quarter

The Surface Pro 3

We found the thinner and lighter design makes the Surface Pro 3 feel significantly more travel friendly and comfortable to use as a tablet than the 274x173x13.5mm, 907g Surface Pro 2.

What's more impressive, though, is that even though the Surface Pro 3 has less real estate along its sides, Microsoft has still managed to load it with USB 3.0 micro SD and Mini DisplayPort inputs.

Adding the new Type Cover and putting the Surface Pro 3 in laptop mode, we were equally impressed during our early tests. Unlike the Surface Pro 2, which has a kickstand that only features two standing options, the Surface Pro 3 can be manually adjusted to stand at custom angles.

While this sounds small, it's a serious upgrade. The ability to set which angle the Surface Pro 3 stands at not only makes it easier to rest and use the device on your lap, this also makes it more pleasant to use when doing tasks such as digital painting with the device's stylus. This is because the new kickstand let us set the Surface Pro 3 to sit at the same angle as a proper drawing board or Wacom tablet PC when doodling.

Microsoft has done some good work to improve the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover's trackpad. The Surface Pro 2 Type Cover's trackpad was one of its worst features, being too small for comfortable use and featuring unresponsive capacitive right and left click buttons. Microsoft has worked hard to fix this on the Surface Pro 3's Type Cover and has made the trackpad significantly larger and added physical left- and right-click buttons.Microsoft's Surface Pro 2 overall

The Surface Pro 2

During our hands on we were impressed by how much more responsive the Surface Pro 3's Type Cover was than the Pro 2's, making it easier to use as a laptop replacement when editing Word documents or loading copy into a content management system, for example.

Microsoft made a lot of fuss about the Surface Pro 3's 12in ClearType Full HD 2160x1440 resolution screen at the device's launch. Specifically Microsoft claims that, as well as being 38 percent bigger than the Surface Pro 2's 10.6in ClearType Full HD 1920x1080 resolution screen, the Surface Pro 3's 12in display is able to display twice as many pixels.

During our hands on, we did notice a clear difference in quality between the two tablets' displays and found the Surface Pro 3 is significantly sharper and clearer. That said, we did notice, like the Surface Pro 2, the Surface Pro 3's display is still slightly prone to picking up stray light.

Both the Surface Pro 3 and Surface Pro 2 run using the latest version of Microsoft's Windows 8.1 operating system. This means users will have access to key Microsoft security and productivity services, such as Office, OneDrive, OneNote and Lync.

But thanks to the inclusion of the Surface Pro 3's upgraded digital stylus, it is easier and more pleasant to take advantage of the services than it is on Microsoft's previous tablet. Unlike the Surface Pro 2's polycarbonate digitiser stylus, the Surface Pro 3 is made of metal and features a number of improved shortcut features.Microsoft Surface Pro 3 flat

OneNote is a good example of this. Unlike the Surface Pro 2, OneNote can be activated at any time, even when the tablet is in sleep mode, simply by pressing down on the stylus's rear button. Once activated the app offers a blank page for Surface Pro users to scribble notes on, and a second push of the rear button will save the notes to the user's OneDrive cloud storage account. Little touches like this made the Surface Pro 3 feel slightly slicker and easier to use than its predecessor. Hopefully we'll find more nice touches when we write our full review.

Unlike the Surface Pro 3, which is available in Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 options, the Surface Pro 2 is only available with an i5 chip. Microsoft claims that the top Intel Core i7 Surface Pro 3 option will offer 10 percent better performance than the Surface Pro 2. Sadly we didn't get a chance to test Microsoft's claim as the demo unit we tested was powered by an Intel i5 Haswell processor. We didn't get a chance to see how the Surface Pro 3 performed with demanding tasks, such as large digital painting projects or 3D gaming, but found it was nippy and responsive when doing basic tasks such as word processing.

Microsoft claims the Surface Pro 3's upgraded 5MP rear-facing camera will offer radically better imaging performance than the Surface Pro 2's 3.5MP unit. Sadly we didn't get a chance to test the Surface Pro 3's camera during our hands on, but will be sure to in our full review.

Storage and battery
Both Surfaces feature the same 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, 512GB internal storage options, though Microsoft lists the Surface Pro 3 as being able to last a full hour longer than its predecessor, listing it as offering up to nine hours of web browsing off one charge.Microsoft's Surface Pro 2 kickstand angle one

Thanks to its more varied chip offering the Surface Pro 3 is the more affordable option, with prices starting at £639 for the 64GB Intel Core i3 model. By comparison the 64GB Surface Pro 2 costs £720.

Having had an opening look at the Surface Pro 3 we are very impressed. Featuring a radically improved, slimmer and lighter design, a more varied array of processor options and a larger and clearer display the Surface Pro 3 feels like a serious step up from previous Microsoft tablets.

From what we've seen the Surface Pro 3 has the potential to finally make good on Microsoft's "one device to rule them all" promise. Hopefully our positive impressions will ring true once we put the Surface Pro 3 more thoroughly through its paces in our full review later this year.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

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