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Windows 10 Technical Preview hands on

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.

Windows 10 Technical Preview

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 Technical Preview

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.

Windows 10 Technical Preview

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.

Nokia Lumia 830 hands-on review

15 Sep 2014

In a bid to take on Samsung and Apple, Nokia released its Lumia 830 at IFA in Germany earlier this September, at its first event as part of Microsoft after the Redmond firm bought Nokia's devices division a year ago. The Lumia 830 adds to the firm's recently announced models such as the Nokia Lumia 530 and Nokia Lumia 630.

Nokia Lumia 830 hands on - screen

The Lumia 830 is the formerly Finnish company's "thinnest and lightest" high-end Windows Phone yet, priced at €330, or around £300.

Design
The main design feature of the Lumia 830 is that it offers a feature set similar to the flagship Lumia 930 but in a more compact chassis. Measuring 8.5mm thick and weighing 150g, the Lumia 830 is one of the lightest Lumia phones, and thus fits more comfortably in the hand than previous high-end Lumia iterations such as the Nokia Lumia 920 and Lumia 1020.

Nokia Lumia 830 hands on - side

The handset measures 139x70x8.5mm from top to bottom, a little bigger than the Lumia 930's 137x71x9.8mm chassis but a lot thinner, which makes all the difference. It's also 17g lighter than the Lumia 930, at 150g, meaning it won't slip as easily into a pocket like its predecessor, but it does feel a touch easier to hold. We found that we liked the handset's design and feel, with the aluminium edging adding to its overall robust impression.

Nokia Lumia 830 hands on - side

It might be Nokia's first release since it was bought by Microsoft, but the good news is that the firm has kept the Lumia brand's splash of colour. Like the Lumia 930, the Lumia 830 will be available in vibrant orange and green models, which certainly will turn heads on the street. Nokia has also opted for matte polycarbonate for the colourful casing rather than the shiny plastic often found on its Windows Phone devices, which means that it sits comfortably in the hand and likely won't be too prone to picking up fingerprints.

For the more conservative buyers, the Nokia Lumia 830 will also be available in black and white models.

Display
The Nokia Lumia 930 has a 5in in-plane switching (IPS) 1280x720 resolution display that we found crisp and bright during our hands-on time with the smartphone.

Nokia Lumia 830 hands on - camera

Thanks to its ClearBlack display technology, Nokia boasts that the Lumia 830 offers 180-degree viewing angles, and the phone lived up to this during our time with it on Thursday at the launch event. However, we found the display quite reflective, and it struggled under bright fluorescent lighting.

Camera
In our hands-on tests, the Lumia 820's 10MP camera seemed to respond brilliantly when we took pictures of the greenery outside the launch event window. Shutter speed was reasonably fast and images taken were crisp, due its PureView image sensor. Nevertheless, it isn't quite as impressive as the Nokia Lumia 1020's 41MP rear-facing camera.

Nokia Lumia 830 hands on - camera lens

We have yet to put this camera fully through its paces, but early impressions suggest that it will produce images of similar quality to those taken on the Nokia Lumia 930, which impressed us with its crisp and natural image-taking capability.

Performance and OS
Powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, the Lumia 830 seems fast and fluid when swiping between different apps. Nokia said that its new smartphone's performance is "either better or on par" with the Samsung flagship competition, without naming which smartphone it was referring to.

The Nokia Lumia 830 arrives running Windows Phone 8.1 and thus is pre-loaded with Microsoft Office for productivity, OneDrive for cloud storage, and the Cortana voice control app "for markets it's available in".

Nokia Lumia 830 hands on - Windows OS

We have yet to test all of the features of Windows Phone 8.1, but it also delivers Microsoft's Cortana personal assistant, WiFi Sense, Word Flow and enterprise additions.

Of course, all of Nokia's usual additions are also in place, including Here Maps, Nokia Music and the Finnish phone firm's custom camera applications.

Wireless charging
Like the Lumia 930, the Lumia 830 supports wireless charging and Nokia has announced an accessory alongside it at IFA – the second-generation wireless charging plate. The device charges a wireless phone via NFC so when users tap their phone on the plate, they can customise notifications via the plate's lighting feature. They can then choose between different blinking patterns.

The wireless charging plate requires Windows Phone 8.1 and will be available in green, orange and white to match the covers of the Lumia 830.

First impressions
While the Nokia Lumia 830 didn't immediately strike us as a breathtaking smartphone, our hands-on has convinced us otherwise, and we think that this could one of Nokia's most popular Windows Phones yet, mainly due to its relatively low price.

The screen is the most impressive we've seen on a Nokia Lumia smartphone yet, and the Microsoft's Windows Phone 8.1 mobile operating system brings some impressive additions, including built-in VPN support, integrated Skype access and low system requirements, meaning its more nippy. With all these extras, people might be more open to switching to Windows Phone from more popular operating systems such as iOS and Android.

Check back with V3 soon for our full Nokia Lumia 830 review.

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.

Display
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.

Software
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.

Processor
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.

Camera
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

Price
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.

Overall
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

Surface Pro 3 hands-on review

06 Jun 2014

TAIPEI: Microsoft unveiled its long-rumoured Surface Pro 3 tablet last month with a bigger and better 12in HD screen, touting it as "the tablet that can replace your laptop".

The Surface Pro 3 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor with an Intel Haswell processor, and is set to be made available in Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 chip variants.

Intel, which has worked closely with Microsoft, gave us a close look at the tablet at the Computex trade show in Taiwan this week, powered by a Core i5 CPU and running Windows 8.1.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 hands-on - kickstand

Design and build
Measuring 9.1mm thick, the Surface Pro 3 is the thinnest Intel Core product "ever made", according to Microsoft, which it credits to the device's "fanless build". It might not sound like a vast improvement over the Surface Pro 2, which was 13.5mm thick, but you'll immediately notice a huge difference in aesthetics. It is much nicer to hold owing to the thinner design, and it's apparent that Microsoft has made an effort to make the device much more attractive to consumers.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 hands-on - comparison with Surface Pro 2

The Surface Pro 3's aluminium chassis feels robust and this makes the device feel expensive, probably because it is. It will retail from £849 for the Core i5 model when Microsoft launches it on 31 August. However, it's reassuring to think that you're getting premium kit for your money.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 hands-on - stylus

Picking up the tablet we noticed that it feels much lighter compared with the Surface Pro 2, despite its larger screen size. Unfortunately, one thing that hasn't changed with the Surface Pro 3 is the keyboard dock. We are simply not fans of this, especially the coloured version that we saw in our hands-on review. Not only does it cheapen the overall look of the device but we found that it makes it difficult to use because of the odd layout of the trackpad and cheap-feeling keys, which have poor travel.

Although Microsoft has updated the trackpad, which we can confirm works much better than the previous version, it feels more akin to those found on full-size clamshell laptops.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 hands-on - side

On first impression we were rather impressed with the overall design of the Surface Pro 3. Its best feature is the display upgrade. This is the first time we've seen a Surface device with a form factor that actually makes us want to use it.

Screen
The Surface Pro 3's 2160x1440 resolution HD display is the tablet's biggest overhaul since the previous iteration and is also now its nicest feature.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 hands-on - tablet

While it's around 1.5in bigger than the Surface Pro 2, it feels much bigger in the hand, which is probably accentuated owing to the slimmer design. It's quite bright and the resolution doesn't lie - images displayed are impeccably detailed with no jagged text and with deep colour representation. It also proved very responsive to touch in our tests, in the same way the Surface Pro 2 did before. The updated screen is a welcome improvement over the Surface Pro 2's 1920x1080 display.

Kickstand
The Surface Pro 3's kickstand is also an improvement over the last version, which had only two angles to choose from. The Surface Pro 3's "full friction" kickstand allows the tablet to sit in almost any position, and in our tests it rested well at any angle without slipping, even when applying pressure to the screen.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 hands-on - back

Microsoft has said that an optional docking station will also be available at or sometime after launch, allowing users to hook the tablet up to a 4K display. It will ship with a Digitizer Stylus, too, which we can confirm works accurately.

Performance
Unfortunately we didn't have long enough with the Surface Pro 3 to really put it through its paces, but we did have a quick play around. Operations were fluid and the Windows 8.1 operating system proved very responsive. However, we are looking forward to testing the Surface Pro 3 thoroughly in a full review.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 hands-on - overall

The Core i5-powered Surface Pro 3 will hit the UK sometime towards the end of August, priced at £849 and £1,109 for 128GB and 256GB storage options respectively.

The cheapest, an Intel Core i3-powered Surface Pro 3 model, has already gone up for pre-order in the UK, priced at £639. The most powerful and expensive Core i7 model will set users back an eye-watering £1,649.

Surface Pro vs Macbook Air

22 May 2014

Microsoft made some pretty bold claims when it unveiled its latest Surface Pro 3 tablet-laptop hybrid on Tuesday. Without a doubt one of the biggest claims was that the Surface Pro 3 will outperform Apple's Macbook Air 13in laptop in close to every way.

Considering the popularity and very recent refresh of the Macbook Air line, many buyers have been left wondering whether the Surface Pro 3 has the on-paper specifications to make good on Microsoft's claim.

Dimensions
Surface Pro 3: 292x201x9.1mm, 800g
Macbook Air 13in: 320x227x17mm, 1.35kg

Apple has constantly prided itself on the Macbook Air designs, claiming that they are among the lightest and most elegant laptops in in the world. Aware of this, Microsoft has looked to outdo Apple, designing the Surface Pro 3 to be lighter and thinner than the Macbook Air 13in.Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Display
Surface Pro 3: 12in ClearType Full HD screen with 2160x1440 resolution
Macbook Air 13in: 13.3in LED-backlit glossy widescreen with 1440x900 resolution

Microsoft has made a lot of claims about the Surface Pro 3's 12in screen, one of the most interesting of which is that, despite being smaller, it will let users view and interact with "six percent more content than they can on a 13in Macbook Air". This is apparently due to its custom 3:2 aspect ratio and, if true, will make the Surface Pro 3's display one of the best currently available on a laptop-tablet hybrid.

Software
Surface Pro 3: Windows 8.1
Macbook Air 13in: Mac OS X Maverick

Both the Surface Pro 3 and Macbook Air 13in run on the latest version of their respective companies' operating systems. This makes picking which is better difficult as the answer is determined mainly by user preference and the ecosystem in which they are already embedded.

Processor
Surface Pro 3: Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 options
Macbook Air 13in: Intel Core i5 and i7 options

The Surface Pro 3 comes with more varied chip options than the Macbook Air, being the only one of the two currently available running Intel's affordable Core i3 as well as its more premium Core i5 and Core i7 processors.

Camera
Surface Pro 3: 5MP and 1080p HD front- and rear-facing
Macbook Air 13in: 720p FaceTime HD front-facing

The Surface Pro 3 is the only one of the two devices to come with a rear camera. However, considering our experience using previous tablet cameras, we're not holding out high hopes regarding the Surface Pro 3's imaging quality.New Apple Macbook Air line-up 13in model

Storage
Surface Pro 3: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, 512GB internal storage options
Macbook Air 13in: 128GB or 256GB internal storage options

The Surface Pro 3 comes with a more diverse range of storage options than the Macbook Air 13in. The two devices are also evenly matched when it comes to price, with the 128GB Core i5 model of the Surface Pro 3 and Macbook Air 13in both costing £850. However, for those willing to sacrifice a bit on storage and performance, the Surface Pro 3 is the more affordable option, with the 64GB Intel Core i3 model costing a more modest £639.

Battery
Surface Pro 3: Up to nine hours
Macbook Air 13in: Up to 12 hours

On paper the Macbook 13in easily beats the Surface Pro 3 and will last a full three hours longer on one charge.

Overall
On paper there is a lot to like about the Surface Pro 3, even when compared with Apple's ever popular Macbook 13in. However, being powered by Windows 8.1, an operating system that is far from universally loved even by diehard Microsoft fans, many may still opt for Apple's current flagship Air laptop irrespective of the two devices' hardware when the Surface Pro 3 is released this August.

Check back with V3 later this year for a full review of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Surface Pro 3 vs Surface Pro 2 spec by spec

21 May 2014

Microsoft's entry into the hardware market was a slightly bumpy one. While taken as a game changer, Microsoft's first ever own-brand Surface Pro featured a number of niggling flaws that hampered its overall appeal, chief of which was its poor battery life.

Luckily, one year on Microsoft learned from its mistakes and released what in many people's eyes, including us here at V3, was one of the finest tablet-laptop hybrids, the Surface Pro 2. As a result, with Microsoft having once again chosen to radically rework the design of its latest Surface Pro 3, many have justifiably wondered how the new hybrid compares with its predecessor.

Measurements
Surface Pro 3: 292x201x9.1mm, 800g
Surface Pro 2: 274x173x13.5mm, 907g

Despite featuring a similar magnesium chassis and set of port options, the Surface Pro 3 is significantly bigger than its predecessor. Making up for this, though, unlike the Surface Pro 2, the Surface Pro 3's Kickstand isn't limited to two standing options and can be set to a variety of angles, meaning it should be more pleasant to use as a laptop.Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Display
Surface Pro 3: 12in ClearType Full HD screen with 2160x1440 resolution
Surface Pro 2: 10.6in ClearType Full HD screen with 1920x1080 resolution

Microsoft claims that, as well as being 38 per cent bigger than the Surface Pro 2's, the Surface Pro 3's 12in display is able to display twice as many pixels. If true the display will be one of the best seen on any Windows 8.1 tablet.

Software
Surface Pro 3: Windows 8.1
Surface Pro 2: Windows 8.1

Both of Microsoft's Surface Pro tablets run the latest Windows 8.1 software version. However, the Surface Pro 3's larger display is likely to make using Windows 8.1 in the desktop mode more pleasant than it is on the Surface Pro 2.

Processor
Surface Pro 3: Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 options
Surface Pro 2: Intel Haswell 1.6 GHz Core i5-4200U

The Surface Pro 3 is available with a variety of chip models. Microsoft claims that the top Intel Core i7 Surface Pro 3 option will offer 10 percent better performance than the Surface Pro 2.

Camera
Surface Pro 3: 5MP and 1080p HD front- and rear-facing
Surface Pro 2: 3.5MP 1080p rear-facing and 720p front-facing

Taking photos on tablets is never a pleasant experience but, as we noted in our review, the Surface Pro 2 was particularly bad at it. Coming with a higher megapixel rear camera, the Surface Pro 3 will hopefully offer better imaging performance.

Storage
Surface Pro 3: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, 512GB internal storage options
Surface Pro 2: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, 512GB internal storage options

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

Microsoft Surface Pro 2

Battery
Surface Pro 3: Up to nine hours' web browsing
Surface Pro 2: Up to eight hours in our tests

Microsoft claims that the Surface Pro 3 will offer superior battery life to its predecessor and will last up to nine hours from one charge. During our tests, the Surface Pro 2 generally lasted around seven to eight hours.

Overall
On paper the Surface Pro 3 is a significant step-up from the Surface Pro 2, offering a more diverse range of chip options, larger and crisper display, and significantly lower starting price.

Hopefully, the Surface Pro 3 will make good on its on-paper promise when it arrives in the UK this August. Check back with V3 later for a full review of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Surface Pro 3 vs iPad Air spec by spec

20 May 2014

Microsoft made a big deal about its Surface Pro 3 when it unveiled it at its New York press event on Tuesday, claiming it will easily outperform all of its key rivals as both a tablet and a laptop. This has led many buyers to wonder how the new productivity focused Surface Pro 3 compares to the current ruler of the tablet market, the Apple iPad Air.

Dimensions
Surface Pro 3: 292x201x9.1mm, 800g
iPad Air: 240x170x7.5mm, 468g

Packing a sizable 12in display and robust magnesium chassis, the Surface Pro 3 is significantly heavier than the iPad Air. That said, it does have more connectivity options than the iPad Air, coming loaded with full-sized USB 3.0 ports, a microSD card slot and a mini Displayport. By comparison the iPad Air only has a Lightning port.Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Display
Surface Pro 3: 12in ClearType Full HD screen with 2160x1440 resolution
iPad Air: 9.7in 1536x2048, 263ppi in-plane switching (IPS) LCD Retina display

Microsoft made a big deal about the Surface Pro 3's 12in display claiming that as well as being 38 per cent larger than the previous Surface Pro screen it is also able to display twice as many pixels.

That said, it will still have a tough time dethroning the iPad Air, as its 9in Retina Display remains one of the sharpest and crispest seen on a large tablet.

Software
Surface Pro 3: Windows 8.1
iPad Air: iOS 7

Microsoft designed the Surface Pro to function as a laptop as well as tablet and has loaded it with its full Windows 8.1 operating system. This means that on paper it could offer better productivity services and applications than the iPad Air, which runs the latest version of Apple's iOS mobile operating system.

Processor
Surface Pro 3: Intel Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 options
iPad Air: A7

The Surface Pro is available with fourth generation Intel Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 chip options. This means, despite Apple iOS being significantly less demanding to run than Windows 8.1, the Surface Pro 3 should offer superior performance to the iPad Air, which is powered by an A7 mobile processor.Apple's iPad Air has a 9.7in Retina display

Camera
Surface Pro 3: 5MP and 1080p HD front- and rear-facing
iPad Air: 5MP iSight rear and HD Facetime front

Both the Surface Pro 3 and iPad Air come loaded with 5MP rear cameras. This means we won't be able to call which is better until we've had some hands on time with the new Microsoft tablet.

Storage
Surface Pro 3: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB and 512GB internal storage options
iPad Air: 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB internal storage options

The Surface Pro 3 comes with a more robust set of internal storage options. It also competes with the iPad Air on price, with the cheapest 64GB model costing $799 (£475). Pricing of the equivalent 64GB iPad Air model starts at £479.

Battery
Surface Pro 3: Nine hours
iPad Air: 10 hours

On paper the iPad Air will last an hour longer than the Surface Pro 3, though we won't be able to tell if this is true until we've had a chance to battery burn the two tablets.

Overall
When viewed purely from a specification standpoint, the Surface Pro 3 is a seriously impressive device that does beat the Apple iPad Air. However, as we've seen with past Surface tablets, its focus on working as a laptop replacement could lead to some issues that make it less pleasant to use as a tablet than the iPad Air.

The Surface Pro 3 is set for release in the UK "by August." Check back with V3 closer to the time for a full review of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Windows 8.1 Update hands-on review

11 Apr 2014

Microsoft's Windows 8.1 Update was made generally available for users to download on 8 April, a week after it was officially announced and released to subscribers of Microsoft's MSDN service.

As detailed by Microsoft, the update adds a number of changes to improve usability for desktop and laptop users working with a mouse and keyboard instead of a touchscreen. In doing so, the Windows 8.1 Update more successfully integrates the Desktop and Start screen environments than earlier builds of Microsoft's platform, though possibly not enough to please those hungering for the return of the Start menu.

We downloaded the Windows 8.1 Update by checking for it via Windows Update, but it only appeared once we had installed all other pending updates to bring our Windows 8.1 system completely up to date. Users who are not in a hurry do not need to do anything, as it will be distributed via Windows Update the usual way over the coming weeks. The update itself was over 800MB in size, and took some time to download and install.

Windows 8.1 Update Start screenFor those using a tablet, the changes may not be too apparent at first. The Start screen and its array of tiles look pretty much the same, save for the addition of a Search tool shortcut and a power button, tapping which enables you to shutdown, restart or put the system to sleep directly from the home screen (shown left).

Perhaps the most noticeable change on our test system was that Windows goes straight to the Desktop rather than the Modern UI Start screen after signing in, though this can be configured by the user.

However, users still need to go to the Start screen in order to open any applications, apart from Internet Explorer and the Windows Store, both of which are now pinned to the taskbar on the Desktop by default.

For those users with a desktop or laptop that lacks a touchscreen, it is fair to say that Windows 8 has been a bit unwieldy to use. In an attempt to address this, the Windows 8.1 Update adds minimise and close buttons that appear at top right if you move the mouse pointer to the top of the screen in any Modern UI app. Likewise, the Windows taskbar now pops up if you move the mouse pointer to the bottom of the screen (see below), even on the Start screen, and context-sensitive menus appear if you right-click on tiles.

Windows 8.1 Update showing taskbar

One interesting change is that Modern UI apps such as the built-in Mail or Weather tools now show on the taskbar (see below), allowing you to switch between them from the Desktop environment. Although the Modern UI apps still look the same, taking up the entire screen rather than running in a Window, this small change starts to make the Start screen and Desktop environments feel more integrated rather than two distinctly separate spaces.

Windows 8.1 Update desktop

One feature we did not test out is Enterprise Mode for IE11, which renders websites as if the user were running an older version of the browser, to handle compatibility issues with corporate websites and apps. This feature is hidden by default and must be enabled via an administrator using Group Policy.

Overall, the Windows 8.1 Update shows that Microsoft has been hearing the complaints of Windows users and is moving to address them. The software giant has perhaps not gone quite far enough yet to satisfy those users distraught over the loss of the traditional Start button and menus, but it does offer a greatly improved experience over the original Windows 8 and perhaps offers hints of what we can expect to see in Windows 9 next year.

For a full list of what's new in Windows 8.1 Update, see Microsoft's Windows website.

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