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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.

Nokia Lumia 930 hands-on review

03 Apr 2014

Nokia has been championing Windows Phone for several years now, releasing a steady stream of business-friendly handsets full of innovative security and productivity services. This effort has paid off to a large extent, with Windows Phone's market share growing from less than three percent to just over 10 percent since Nokia launched its first Windows Phone, the Lumia 800.

According to Nokia Windows Phone has had particular success in the corporate space, with UK president Conor Pierce claiming the OS currently has an impressive 18 percent share of the business market. For this reason it's unsurprising Nokia's chosen to continue its enterprise conquest push and has unveiled a new Windows Phone 8.1-powered Lumia 930 flagship handset it claims is its most business friendly to date.

Design and build
Visually, like all Nokia smartphones, the Lumia 930 has a colourful, distinctive design that is slightly reminiscent of the firm's previous Lumia 925 Windows Phone. The Lumia 930 has metallic, angular sides and a coloured polycarbonate backplate.Nokia Lumia 930 hands on desk

Size-wise the Lumia 930 measures in at 137x71x9.8mm and weighs 167g. This puts it on a par with most 5in handsets, like HTC's latest 146x71x9.4mm, 160g One M8. This means that smartphone users accustomed to smaller handsets, like the Apple iPhone 5S or Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, may find the Lumia 930 slightly unwieldy. However, despite its increased size, during our hands-on we found the Lumia 930 was still fairly comfortable in hand and wasn't overly cumbersome.

We were also reasonably impressed with the Nokia Lumia 930's build quality. Pushing down on the Lumia 930's back we found the clipped-in polycarbonate plate offered no give. The phone also felt reasonably scratch proof and in general left us feeling suitably reassured it could survive the accidental bump or scrape.

Display
Nokia's loaded the Lumia 930 with a 5in Full HD, 1920x1080, 441ppi organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display.

Testing the Lumia 930's display in the well-lit Nokia press room we were very impressed. Colours displayed on Windows Phone's tiled user interface appeared vibrant and rich and the display featured dazzlingly good brightness levels - so much so that it began to hurt our eyes using it at maximum brightness. Text displayed on the screen was also crisp and the screen boasted significantly wider viewing angles than most competing 5in smartphones.

Operating system and software
One of the Lumia 930's most interesting and potentially biggest selling points is its use of Microsoft's latest Windows Phone 8.1 (WP8.1) operating system. WP8.1 adds a variety of new features to Windows Phone. Some of these are quite consumer focused, like the ability to set a background image in the main UI and increased theme options for the phone's lock screen, though many have undeniable business appeal.

These include key things like Skype being directly integrated into the phone's dialler app, a new productivity-focused Calendar user interface, 'Cortana' voice assistant and 'Action Center' quick alert service.Nokia Lumia 930 hands on back

The Cortana service offers similar functionality to Apple's Siri and lets users do things like launch specific applications or mount web searches with voice commands. The Action Centre pull-down notifications menu is similar to the one seen on Google's Android operating system.

WP8.1 also comes with a number of under the hood mobile device management (MDM) upgrades designed to improve the OS' appeal to IT managers and enterprise-level companies. The upgrades include newly added Line of Business application and certificate management powers and inbuilt secure/multipurpose internet mail extension (S/MIME) and virtual private network (VPN) support.

Performance
The Nokia Lumia 930 is powered by a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor and features 2GB of RAM. This puts the Lumia 930 one step shy of running on Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 801 chip.

However, despite running on last year's chip, during our hands-on we never once noticed a performance issue using the Lumia 930. Testing the Lumia 930 we found it ran perfectly smoothly and opened applications in milliseconds. Sadly we didn't get a chance to benchmark the Lumia 930 or see how it coped with more demanding tasks, like 3D gaming, though we'll be sure to do this for our full review.

Camera
Despite carrying Nokia's prestigious Pureview branding, the Lumia 930 doesn't feature the 41MP camera sensor debuted on its predecessor the Lumia 1020. Instead the Lumia 930 comes loaded with a 20MP rear camera complete with Zeiss optics.Nokia Lumia 930 hands on photo

Testing the Lumia 930's camera by taking a few quick pictures around the press room we noticed the new Windows Phone's camera is far more responsive than the 1020's, which at times could feel fairly laggy. Image quality was also very good, with images captured on the Lumia 930 generally coming out looking sharp and featuring decent colour and contrast levels.

Battery and storage
The Lumia 930 is powered by a 2,420mAh battery that Nokia lists as offering users 15.5 hours' talktime and up to nine hours' video playback. We didn't get a chance to test the Lumia 930's battery during our hands-on, but if the handset matches Nokia's claims the phone's battery will be better than average, with most handsets in its size range offering 6.5 to seven hours of video playback. As an added bonus Nokia's also loaded wireless charging to the Lumia 930, meaning users will be able to quickly and easily top up the phone's battery throughout the day.

Storage-wise the Lumia 930 comes with a reasonable 32GB built in. Sadly the Lumia 930 doesn't have a microSD card slot, meaning users won't be able to upgrade the phone's storage after purchase.

Chances
Our opening experience with the Nokia Lumia 930 has been very positive. While the handset doesn't have the technology "wow" factor of its predecessor, the Lumia 1020, which was the first ever Windows Phone to feature a 41MP camera, during our hands-on we discovered plenty of software features to get excited about.

Our only concern about the Lumia 930 is that Nokia is yet to release one key detail about the smartphone - its price. Without this key bit of information, knowing the phone's exact chances in the increasingly competitive top-end device market is difficult.

The Nokia Lumia 930 is set to arrive in the UK in June. Check back with V3 then for a full review of the Nokia Lumia 930.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Microsoft Office apps: Word, Excel and PowerPoint for iPad hands-on

28 Mar 2014

Word screenshot from Office for iPad app

Microsoft has finally unveiled versions of its Word, Excel and PowerPoint tools for the iPad. New CEO Satya Nadella unveiled the tools on Thursday, as he begins his tenure as the firm’s new leader with a focus on mobility and cloud.

The apps are now available to download from the iTunes store, although Apple hasn’t given Microsoft the honour of any home screen banner splash, so you’ll have to search to find them.

Once you do, each requires downloading separately, and you’ll want to be by a good WiFi connection, as each app is over 200MB in size. The PowerPoint app is 205MB, the Excel app is 221MB and Word is a hefty 246MB.

Each app is built around the same design style as Microsoft’s Windows 8 platform, with soft fonts and logos, and it looks nice. The apps all load quickly and are easy to navigate, and switch between portrait and landscape orientation immediately.

From there on in, though, to get the most from the apps you will need an Office 365 subscription. Without one, you can do nothing more than simply open and view documents in the apps which, while handy, doesn’t really provide much use.

With a subscription, though, you can use them to their full potential. Each of the three apps provides a raft of template documents, presentations and spreadsheets – shown below for Excel and above for Word.

Excel for iPad app from Microsoft

Using the apps is straightforward, with Microsoft keeping the familiar look and feel of the tools while incorporating the features of the iPad everyone knows well.

Typing in a Word document, for instance, is simple using the iPad keyboard, while the usual editing and formatting capabilities are easily accessed (shown below). In Excel you can pinch-to-zoom so you can view hundreds of cells at once, or zoom to a specific cell to view information.

Word for iPad screenshot 

PowerPoint is also nice to use, with text boxes easily moved by dragging them around the display using your finger, while a nice touch allows you to press and hold to call up a laser point graphic (pictured below).

This is a nice touch and shows the thought Microsoft has put into making the tools as user friendly as possible, no doubt to cement its position as the top dog in the business software world as it looks to meet the needs of its "billion-plus" user base, according to Nadella.

Laser point in PowerPoint for Office for iPad app

All-in-all at first look the three apps on the iPad are impressive. They show that Microsoft has fully recognised the need to provide a high-quality experience for its key businesses tools; it can no longer ignore the popularity of the iPad for busy business folk.

Whether it hampers attempts to flog its own tablets by removing any of their unique selling points around Office software remains to be seen, but with a new man at the helm, Microsoft is clearly willing to move into new areas and recognise the realities of the new IT market.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2 tech specs breakdown

24 Sep 2013

Microsoft has unveiled its second generation Surface tablets that are due to go on sale on October 22 just days after the updated Windows 8.1 operating system is released to general availability.

Most buyer interest in Microsoft's devices has centred on the Surface Pro, which is able to run existing Windows applications as well as the newer Metro-style Windows Store apps, and so we've drawn up a quick list of the key features of the Surface Pro 2, and some of the differences between it the original model.

Tempted customers can pre-order the Surface Pro 2 from Microsoft's Surface website, with prices starting from £719.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2


Processor

The original Surface is powered by a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 chip, and this has been upgraded in the Surface Pro 2 with a 4th generation Core i5 processor, which Intel launched earlier this summer.

This latest family of Intel chips, previously codenamed Haswell, offers increased performance, especially in the area of its integrated graphics, but its chief advantage is greater power efficiency when compares with the previous generation. This should translate into longer battery life, and Microsoft in fact claims that the Surface Pro 2 lasts up to 75 percent longer than its predecessor.

Intel Haswell 4th generation Core i5

Meanwhile, Intel's 4th generation chips have several different levels of graphics capabilities. The new high-end Iris graphics, for example, is claimed to offer performance comparable to some discrete adapters from Nvidia.

The exact chip in the Surface Pro 2 is a 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5-4200U, which can run at up to 2.6GHz with Intel's Turbo Boost technology, and which includes Intel HD Graphics 4400. This is a step up from the basic HD graphics in the previous generation, but not as impressive as Microsoft's claims about the new device might lead you to believe.

Screen

The display on the Surface Pro 2 is the same in terms of specifications as that of the original Surface, offering a full HD resolution of 1920x1080 pixels in a 10.6in, 16:9 ratio (widescreen) format.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2

As with the original Surface Pro, the display of the new model supports 10-point multitouch input, and it comes with a digitiser pen included for handwriting and other input using the screen.


Memory and storage

While the original Surface shipped with 4GB of memory and a choice of 64GB or 128GB flash solid state drive (SSD) in the UK, the options are more diverse with the Surface Pro 2.

You can still opt for a Surface Pro 2 with 4GB of memory, combined with either 64GB or 128GB SSDs, but there is a beefier tier now available, combining 8GB of memory with either 256GB or 512GB of storage instead.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2

This is not the first time that Microsoft has offered more than the standard storage; when the Surface went on sale in Japan earlier this year, it was available in 128GB and 256GB versions, as well as including Microsoft's Office suite in the price.

 Kick stand

A notable feature of Microsoft's Surface tablet devices is the kick stand, which flips out at the rear to hold the system at a convenient angle for viewing when standing on a desk or other available surface.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2 kick stand

This also works if you are sitting using the device on your lap, but the angle of the kick stand on the original Surface Pro was not quite right for this configuration. In the Surface Pro 2 this has been fixed with a dual-stage kickstand that can be set at two different angles, one for use on a desk and another when resting on your lap.

Docking Station

One of the things lacking in the original Surface was an easy way to connect up to desktop peripherals, which is a key requirement if you are a business professional using the device as your chief computing client.

Microsoft Surface Docking Station

Microsoft has addressed this with a Docking Station that lets you slot in and connect your Surface Pro 2. As well as charging the tablet, it offers an Ethernet connection to a LAN, three USB 2.0 ports and one USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort video out and audio in and out.

Microsoft Surface dock

Even better, the Docking Station can be used with the old Surface Pro as well as the Surface Pro 2.

New keyboard Covers

The Touch Cover and Type Cover where essential accessories for anyone wanting to use the first generation Surface devices for heavy text entry, and Microsoft has now introduced thinner and lighter Touch Cover 2 and Type Cover 2 versions. Like the originals, these snap into place for use, and can be folded over the screen to protect it in transit.

Microsoft Surface Type covers

Meanwhile, a new Power Cover offers the same typing experience of the Type Cover, but also includes batteries to extend the usable life of your Surface 2, Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 by up to 50 percent.

Windows 8.1

Finally, the Surface Pro 2 will ship just after the availability of Microsoft's updated Windows 8.1 operating system and will ship with the improved platform installed.

Windows 8.1 delivers a broad range of enhancements and improvements, the most significant of which are changes to the user interface based on user feedback that make it more customisable and intuitive, plus an updated IE11 browser.

Windows 8.1 Start screen

The new release also comes with updates to all of the platform's built-in apps, makes greater use of Microsoft's SkyDrive to make data available across multiple devices, plus a slew of enterprise mobility and security improvements aimed at helping organisations meet the challenges of bring your own device (BYOD) features and improved enterprise support.

Windows 8.1 preview hands-on review

27 Jun 2013

Microsoft's preview of Windows 8.1 is available to download and test now, but many users will be hard pushed to notice any difference at first glance, as a post-upgrade system presents the same tiled Start screen as before.

However, start to use Windows 8.1, and the changes start to crop up. These include tweaks to the user interface designed to improve the experience, an enhanced Internet Explorer 11, and one feature many professionals will have been waiting for: the ability to boot straight to the desktop.

On the user interface side, you can now customise the Start screen by swiping up from the bottom edge, which allows you to reposition tiles and create named groups of tiles.

Windows 8.1 Start screen resizable tiles

You can also resize tiles, with new large (see image above) and small size tiles supported. Oddly, not all tiles support all of the sizes; we found that the mail app could not be switched to a large tile, for example.

Swiping up anywhere else on the Start screen now pulls up the Apps screen. This is reminiscent of swiping between multiple home screens on Android devices, and may have been implemented to make smartphone users feel more at home.

The lock screen can also now be customised via the Settings Charm (see below), allowing users the option to show notifications such as new emails and calendar entries. In addition, users can now choose to display a slide show of their photographs as the background.

Windows 8.1 settings

The Apps screen shows a number of newly added apps in Windows 8.1, such as an Alarms tool, Food & Drink, Health & Fitness, and Sound Recorder. These are not all consumer-oriented, with new admin tools such as a Windows Memory Diagnostic, and pretty much all the apps found in Windows 8 have also been given an update.

For those with legacy Windows applications, you can set Windows 8.1 to boot direct to the Desktop. This is enabled from the Desktop itself, by selecting "Properties" from the taskbar. Under the Navigation tab, checking "go to the desktop instead of Start when I sign in" enables this (see below).

Windows 8.1 boot to desktop option

Windows 8.1 comes with IE11, which Microsoft claims has enhanced performance. It also enables you to have an unlimited number of tabs open, which you can simply tap between instantly (see below). However, this is still not as convenient as the tabs on a desktop browser as you have to swipe up from the bottom of the screen in order to see the available tabs.

IE11 showing tabs

IE11 also includes support for WebGL, enabling hardware support for 3D graphics acceleration in web content. We tried this out with a few WebGL-enabled sites (see example site below), and found that some worked, but not all of them.

 IE11 WebGL demo site

Much has been made of the supposed reappearance of the Start button in Windows 8.1, but in reality, Microsoft has just added a Windows logo to the left edge of the taskbar, where the Start button was placed in older versions of Windows. However, tapping this just takes you to the Start screen, and does not bring up the old-style menus.

While many of the changes made to the user interface in Windows 8.1 are cosmetic, we found the overall effect is to make it feel a bit more "grown up" and less like a platform designed for kindergarten use, as the overhauled Windows Store (below) demonstrates. In fact, we would go as far as to say that Windows 8.1 is what Windows 8 should have been in the first place.

Windows Store in Windows 8.1

However, like with the original Windows 8 release, we found that many of the new features are not especially intuitive. For example, IE11 allows you to have two browser tabs open side by side on the screen, but it is not at all clear how you are supposed to do this. After much trial and error, we discovered you have to swipe up to show the available tabs, then hold down your finger on the one you want to appear alongside the already visible one.

In other words, while the changes in Windows 8.1 are useful and very welcome, we do not believe they are enough to convert anyone with a violent dislike for the radical user changes that Microsoft introduced with the release of Windows 8 last year.

Samsung Ativ Q vs Microsoft Surface Pro spec by spec

24 Jun 2013

For the last few years Korean tech giant Samsung has universally been acknowledged as top dog in the Android ecosystem. Sales of the firm's popular Galaxy smartphones and tablets constantly dominate the charts and to date it's the only firm to ever come close to matching the record breaking sales of Apple's competing iPad and iPhone devices.

However, sales of its Ativ PCs have been less impressive, with competitors like Lenovo controlling a significantly larger chunk of the PC market. Clearly unhappy with the situation, Samsung's unveiled its new Ativ Q hybrid laptop-come-tablet hoping to leverage its Android superiority to steal a bigger stake of the general PC market.Samsung Ativ Q

However with interest in Windows 8 still negligible it's unclear whether the dual-booting Android and Windows powered Q will be seen as an actual perk. This is especially true considering the recent arrival of Microsoft's homemade, super-powerful Surface Pro.

Measurements and weight
Samsung Ativ Q: 327x218x13.9mm, 1.29kg
Microsoft Surface Pro: 275x173x13mm, 907g

When it comes to size and weight neither the Q or the Pro are lightweight, with both weighing close to twice as much as less powerful Atom-based Windows 8 tablets. However of the two the Q is the heavier, with its physically attached slide-out keyboard making it close to 300g heavier than the Pro - even when the Microsoft machine is connected to its lighter detachable keyboard.

However, as noted in our hands-on review, the Q's increased weight does translate to pretty solid build quality and we found it was far more comfortable to type on than the Pro.

Display
Samsung Ativ Q: 13.3in qHD+ 3200x1800, 275ppi
Microsoft Surface Pro: 10.6in touchscreen, 1920x1080, 208ppi

Samsung's made a big deal about the Q's screen claiming it is the brightest and clearest ever seen on any Windows 8 tablet. On paper there's plenty of evidence to support Samsung's claims, with the Q's larger 13.3in display boasting a 275ppi that puts the Pro's, still reasonable, 10.6in, 208ppi unit to shame.

Processor
Samsung Ativ Q: Intel Core i5 Haswell
Microsoft Surface Pro: 1.7GHz Intel Core i5

When it was first released in the US the Pro was a powerhouse device running off a top-end Intel Core i5 chip. However, having taken its sweet time to finally arrive in the UK, its powerhouse status has waned with Intel unveiling its latest Haswell line of processors just before the Pro launched. This means that the Ativ Q could well be a nippier device than the Pro.Right side view of the Microsoft Surface Pro on a desk

Battery
Samsung Ativ Q: Up to nine hours quoted
Microsoft Surface Pro: 5.5 hours in V3 tests

Another added boon to Intel's Haswell line of chips is that they're far more power-efficient than their predecessors. This is a good thing as older Core i5-powered Windows 8 tablets, like the Surface Pro, suffered from battery life issues, generally petering out at around the five and a half hour mark. This is why Samsung has listed the Q as having an impressive nine hour life - here's hoping the claim proves true.

Software
Samsung Ativ Q: Windows 8, Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
Microsoft Surface Pro: Windows 8 Pro

The Ativ Q is one of a select number of devices that comes with both Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows operating systems pre-installed. The device is able to dual-boot, running both OSs at the same time and can even share data between the two, thanks to some nifty software touches by Samsung. The Pro by comparison runs on the more premium Windows 8 Pro version of Microsoft's OS. It's unclear yet whether the Ativ Q will be able to upgrade to the professional version of Windows 8.

Storage
Samsung Ativ Q: 128GB
Microsoft Surface Pro: 64GB or 128GB

Storage-wise, both are available in 128GB options, though you can also pick up a 64GB Surface Pro if you want to save some cash. How much of a value proposition it will be remains unknown as Samsung is yet to reveal the Q's price. To get an equivalent 128GB Surface Pro with a keyboard costs from £899, while the 64GB model can be purchased for £819.

Overall:
Raced head-to-head, on paper the Samsung Ativ Q does outpace the Pro, which thanks to a series of delays getting to the UK is fast becoming a previous generation device. Chief sins are its non-Haswell Intel processor and slightly lower ppi display. Still, given we don't know the Ativ Q's price at the moment, the upgraded tech could well come at a premium cost.

Check back with V3 soon for a full review of the Samsung Ativ Q, and read our full Surface Pro review here.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Samsung Ativ Q hands-on review

21 Jun 2013

Windows 8's app shortage has been a sticking point for many buyers since the operating system launched late last year. For both enterprise and consumer buyers looking for a decent bring your own device (BYOD) option, the OS' marketplace has been woefully understocked when it comes to apps and has shamelessly overcharged for the select few it has.

Clearly aware of this Korean tech giant Samsung has looked to solve the problem, creating its new Ativ Q hybrid, a device that can dual boot Google's app-rich Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean OS alongside Microsoft's Windows 8, theoretically meaning users can enjoy the consumer perks of Android while retaining the productivity perks of Windows.

Design and build
Visually the Ativ Q looks a lot like most hybrid devices, featuring a similar design to Sony's recently unveiled Vaio Duo. The device starts off as a standard tablet, but can be converted into a fully functioning laptop, by sliding the screen back to reveal an attached hidden keyboard.

A consequence of the hidden keyboard is the Q feels significantly chunkier and and heavier than a standalone Windows 8 tablet, measuring in at 327x218x13.9mm and weighing 1.29kg. While this isn't too bad for people looking for a bespoke laptop replacement it does mean that those looking for a lightweight tablet will do best to look elsewhere.

However, during our hands-on we were impressed by how much Samsung's managed to load into the design, packing it with USB3.0, USB2.0, micro HDMI, RJ45 (dongle), HP/Mic combo and microSD ports.Samsung Ativ Q S Pen

We were also impressed with the Q's build quality, with its metal chassis feeling robust and the hinge connecting the screen and keyboard proving far more sturdy than those seen on most other hybrid devices. We also found the keyboard, while a little squished together, was fairly comfortable to type on with its keys feeling responsive and suitably well built.

During our hands on we did notice the lack of a full touchpad. In order to make space for the keys Samsung's opted to load the Q with a Lenovo trackpad-point ball that sits at the centre of the keyboard. While we found the trackpoint suitably responsive we know some users aren't fans of the input design, preferring the larger and more common touchpad mouse replacement. Another key design cut we noticed was the lack of a dock for the S Pen Stylus that comes bundled with the Q.

Display
Samsung made a lot of noise about the Q's 13.3in, 3200x1800, 275ppi display, claiming it's the brightest and clearest ever seen on a Windows 8 tablet. The firm went so far as to claim the Q's screen will make the device usable in direct, bright sunlight, a feat most tablets and laptops are yet to achieve.Samsung Ativ Q

While we only got to test the Q in the controlled lighting conditions of the Samsung showroom floor, we have to concede our opening tests proved there is some truth to the Korean firm's claim. Testing the display we found it boasted brilliant brightness and contrast levels, great viewing angles and was far crisper than we expected.

Software
The Q's most interesting feature is its ability to dual-boot Microsoft's Windows 8 and Google's Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean operating systems. The device does this automatically whenever you turn the Q on and lets you switch between the two simply by clicking on the "dual-OS" tile housed in the Windows 8 touch UI. Users can then revert back to Windows 8 at any time simply by pressing the capacitive Windows button housed on the Q's front or slide-out keyboard.

Another nifty feature of the dual-boot is the ability to actually create shortcuts to Android apps in Windows 8. The feature is a clear move by Samsung to solve Windows 8's app shortage. Testing the Q we found the transition was very smooth, jumping between the two operating systems and we're looking forward to more thoroughly testing how Android and Windows can complement one another come our full review.

Performance
The Q is confirmed to run off one of Intel's latest Intel Core i5 Haswell processors, boast 4GB of RAM and feature Intel HD Graphics 4400 graphics. This means that, while the Q won't be great at running super-intensive Windows programmes, like hardcore 3D modelling tools or games, it should still be fairly fast and cope with most general use tasks. During our hands-on we didn't notice any problems with the Q's performance with it loading and running both Android and Windows applications issue free.

Samsung Ativ Q Android

Battery and storage
As well as increased power, Haswell chips are also meant to be far more efficient than older Intel processors and as a result are meant to vastly improve devices' battery lives. Because of this Samsung's listed the Q as having a reasonable nine-hour battery life. While time constraints meant we didn't get a chance to test this, if true, it will mean the Q has one of the longest battery lives seen on a non-Atom Windows 8 machine. Most competitors, like the Microsoft Surface Pro, only last on average around five and a half hours. Storage-wise the Q is set to come loaded with a 128GB SSD.

Chances
Overall our first encounter with the Samsung Ativ Q was a positive one. The Q's dual-boot feature makes it scream BYOD, having the potential to offer all the productivity perks of Windows 8, alongside Android's consumer app offering. However, there are still several key questions that need to be answered before we can know if the Q will actually make good on its potential. First is how much it will actually cost and second, is how the device will handle security - a key concern on both operating systems. It remains unclear if businesses will be able to secure both the Android and Windows operating systems without overloading the Q with multiple tools - thus eating up its modest 4GB of memory and hampering its performance.

The Q is set for release in "summer this year", check back with V3 later for a full review.

Written by V3's Alastair Stevenson

Windows Server 2012 R2: Key features

05 Jun 2013

Stacks in a datacentre

Windows Server 2012 R2 is a comprehensive refresh of Microsoft's server platform, with advances in storage, networking, Hyper-V and across the board, according to the firm.

However, some features stand out as "game changing", according to Jeff Woolsey, principal programme manager for Windows Server Virtualisation. These include storage tiering in software, and a multi-tenant gateway to support software defined networking (SDN) in cloud deployments.

Storage tiering is an update to the Storage Spaces feature of Windows Server 2012. It creates a pool of storage from a bunch of disks directly attached to the server, with thin provisioning and resiliency provided by the file system.

In the upcoming R2 release, customers can now tier that storage using a combination of SSD and spinning disks, delivering a dramatic boost in I/O performance.

"We're taking mainstream SSDs, applying them to hard disks, and giving you phenomenal performance," Woolsey told V3.

In a demo at the TechEd conference, Woolsey showed how server with just spinning disks achieved 7400 input/output operations per second (IOPS). The same task with four SSDs added for tiering delivered 124,000 IOPs – a 16x performance improvement.

"Now you can set up a scale-out file server with JBOD storage and JBOD SSD, and deliver the same performance, resilience and fault-tolerance as a SAN at a fraction of the cost," Woolsey said.

R2 also supports deduplication for active virtual machines, which will enable customers to slash the costs of storage to support virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) deployments.

"This has been one of the blockers to VDI – when customers actually see the cost of the storage to implement it, it just doesn't make business sense," said Woolsey.

While the dedupe is processed in software, it does not significantly affect performance, he said, as "servers are never compute bound, as most of the time they are waiting around for I/O and storage."

Meanwhile, the multi-tenant gateway extends the network virtualisation features introduced in Window Server 2012 to allow service providers to better support multiple customers in their cloud infrastructure.

"Customers want to be able to bring their network to that cloud, and to do that you need a gateway. Today, there some hardware gateways, but you have to buy the right one, and so we just provide that in software under R2," Woolsey said.

System Center is the control plane to create and manage network virtualisation and the data plane lives in Windows Server, he explained. The R2 release also extends Microsoft's PowerShell automation framework, turning it into a "fundamental building block for operating the cloud", according to Woolsey.

"If you are an IT pro, you have to have PowerShell on your resume today. You have to," he said.

Windows Server 2012 R2 will be available as a preview release later this month and set to ship commercially later this year.

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