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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.

Firefox for Windows 8 Touch Beta hands-on review

04 Mar 2014

Mozilla recently released the latest beta of its Firefox browser for Windows 8, and we downloaded it to a Windows 8.1 tablet to take it for a spin.

As this is a beta, it is available to download directly from Mozilla's website, rather than from the Microsoft Store. That said, we found the beta remarkably stable and polished – much more so than many of the release versions of apps we have tried from Microsoft's Store.

Firefox for Windows 8 Touch Beta

Our other first impressions of Firefox for Windows 8 Touch Beta are also positive; the browser is responsive, even on a relatively low-powered 8in tablet based on an Atom processor, and looks slick and modern when viewed in the Modern UI or "Metro-style" environment.

When used in Metro mode, Firefox follows the design conventions that Microsoft has dictated, using as much of the screen real estate for content as possible, while menus and controls are accessed by sliding in from the edges of the screen. Here, users will find an option to relaunch Firefox in the legacy Windows desktop instead, which keeps all your current tabs open.

In Metro mode, Firefox opens with a tile-based start screen giving one-tap access to recent or frequently accessed sites. The left and right edges of the screen also feature overlaid buttons to go back a screen and open a new tab.

Firefox for Windows 8 Touch Beta

Relaunching Firefox in desktop mode shows off a look and feel that will be familiar to existing users of Firefox for other versions of Windows, and provides access to all of the standard menus, including bookmarks, options and access to Add-ons.

Mozilla warned that the Windows 8 mode version of the browser does not share bookmarks, history or passwords with the desktop version at present. However, as a workaround, users can sign into the Firefox Sync service.

Firefox for Windows 8 Touch Beta

We ran Firefox for Windows 8 Touch Beta through the HTML5 compliance test website, which produced a score of 466 out of 555 points, compared with 372 for Microsoft's IE11 on the same system.

Firefox for Windows 8 Touch Beta

We also ran both browsers through Futurmark's Peacekeeper browser performance test. Firefox produced a score of 924 with 7 out of 7 for HTML5 capabilities, while IE11 produced a score of 680 with 5 out of 7 for HTML5 capabilities.

Firefox for Windows 8 Touch Beta

Overall, Mozilla's touch-based Firefox project is shaping up nicely, and looks set to be a viable alternative to IE for Windows 8 users when ready. We would be happy enough to use it as it stands, thanks to its responsiveness, ease of use and slick user interface.

 

MWC: HP Pavilion x360 hands-on review

26 Feb 2014

BARCELONA: Since Microsoft released its latest touch-focused Windows 8 operating system, hardware manufacturers have been wrestling to find the best way to showcase its finer points and create a truly usable laptop-tablet hybrid.

Some firms, such as Asus, have tried to solve the problem by creating dockable keyboard attachments for Windows 8 tablets. Others such as Lenovo have been a little more creative, making IdeaPad Yoga devices with flexible hinges that let users turn the laptop into a tablet by rotating its keyboard round to go behind the screen.

HP has traditionally chosen the same route as Asus, creating standalone tablets that can be turned into laptop replacements with optional dock attachments. But all that changed at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2014, where the company chose to quite literally go back on itself and unveil its IdeaPad Yoga-like Pavilion x360 laptop.

Design and build
HP has worked hard to make sure the Pavilion x360 looks as eye catching as possible, releasing it in a variety of colours. The red version we saw looked particularly striking and set the Pavilion apart from HP's other more enterprise-focused hybrids.

The Pavilion x360 is fairly light by large tablet standards, weighing in at 1.4kg, and doesn't feel overly heavy. We also found the slightly rubbery plastic outer coating felt suitably robust and offered little to no flex with pressure.HP Pavilion x360 regular

The keyboard and trackpad also proved fairly pleasant to use and were suitably responsive to the touch.

Checking the Pavilion x360's sides and back we were also pleased to see that HP has equipped it with a healthy selection of connectivity options. The system features a SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, Ethernet and a headphone-out/mic-in combo jack.

It was only when we attempted to change the Pavilion x360 into a tablet that we noticed any issues. Attempting to rotate the keyboard to go behind the screen, the hinge was very stiff. It felt fairly delicate and on a few occasions we were concerned that we'd actually snap the hinge – though an HP spokesman told us this is because the model we looked at was pre-production and that this will be fixed on the final versions.

The Pavilion x360 was also slightly difficult to use, firstly, because by having the keyboard on its back, it's fairly hard to get a good grip on the Pavilion x360. Secondly, while it's reasonably light for a laptop, as a tablet, the machine is far too heavy to comfortably hold in one hand.

Display
The Pavilion x360 comes with a 11.6in HD LED-backlit, 1366x768 touchscreen, and seemed very responsive to gesture input. Our only regret in this regard is that the Pavilion x360 doesn't come with a digital stylus, which meant taht using it as a standalone tablet could at times be fiddly – especially if trying to use a desktop application.HP Pavilion x360 tablet

The display also offered reasonable picture quality. While nowhere near as good as the in-plane switching (IPS) displays seen in other tablets, the Pavilion's is reasonably good. Colours were suitably vibrant and text, while sometimes a little hazy, was always readable.

The only issue we noticed was that the Pavilion x360's screen was fairly prone to picking up stray light. When this happened the Pavilion x360 became all but unusable – though we were testing it in a very bright showroom.

Software
The Pavilion x360 comes with Microsoft Windows 8.1 pre-installed. There is no Windows 8.1 Professional option for businesses, meaning the device is more suited for BYOD than dedicated corporate use.

The use of Windows 8.1 is still reasonably good from a productivity perspective. The device comes with Microsoft's core Office and OneDrive document-editing and storage services. The use of Windows 8.1, as opposed to the less impressive Windows RT also means users can load and run legacy software on the Pavilion x360.

Performance
HP offers the Pavilion x360 with either an Intel Pentium N3520 2.17GHz processor or an Intel Pentium N2820 2.13GHz processor. The demo device we tested featured 8GB of RAM. All versions feature Intel HD graphics.

This means high-power tasks, such as digital painting, video editing and 3D modelling and gaming, will be beyond the Pavilion x360. Considering it is priced from £350, though, this is no surprise.HP Pavilion x360 side

Testing it for productivity tasks, such as web-browsing and document-editing, the Pavilion x360 purred along nicely and we didn't experience any performance issues during our hands on.

Storage and camera
The Pavilion x360 we tested had 500GB of built-in storage, but it also comes in 320GB and 750GB options. It also has an HP TrueVision HD Webcam with an integrated digital microphone for video-calling. Powering up Skype and making a video call to a smartphone, the camera was more than good enough for making video calls.

Battery
HP is remaining hazy as to how long the Pavilion's two-cell battery should last off one charge and a spokesman at the company's MWC stand declined to answer queries regarding battery life. We will test this properly in a full review.

Overall
While the HP Pavilion x360 doesn't feel terribly original, looking a little too much like a Lenovo Yoga for our liking, our initial impressions are fairly positive. While it is heavy as a tablet, the Pavilion x360 did feel like a reasonable netbook replacement.

But its ability to deliver will largely be determined by key details that HP is remaining quiet about, such as battery life.

The HP Pavilion x360 is due for release in Europe in March, with prices starting at £350. Check back with V3 then for a full review.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Fujitsu Celsius H730 laptop hands-on review

05 Feb 2014

Data security has been a growing concern for numerous businesses, with intellectual property theft or loss having the potential to cripple even the healthiest of firms. This is because, not only do lost or hacked computers put the company at a competitive disadvantage, thanks to new legislation regarding the powers of the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), they can also land them with a hefty fine.

Fujitsu has looked to monopolise on businesses' security and data security concerns, marketing its brand new Celsius H730 with Palm Vein Security Reader as the ideal machine for any company working with sensitive customer data or valuable intellectual property.

Design and build
Visually the Celsius H730 is unashamedly business focused and is clearly designed to be a workstation, rather than a laptop. The pre-production unit we had a chance to test measured in at a hefty 380x257x35.5mm and weighed 2.9kg, so you wouldn't want to lug it around for an entire day.Fujitsu Celsius H730 three quarter

Making up for this, Fujitsu has taken advantage of the added real estate and loaded the Celsius H730 with a variety of graphics and component options. Unlike many other workstations that use Intel integrated graphics, Fujitsu has loaded the Celsius H730 with Nvidia Quadro professional graphics, offering K510M, K1100M and K2100M options.

Fujitsu has also equipped the Celsius H730 with a host of port and connectivity features, including an old school optical disc drive. Backing this up the Celsius H730 features four USB 3.0, two display and single VGA, DVI, Ethernet, audio in and out, and Kensington lock ports.

As an added bonus, the Celsius H730's rear battery is removable, meaning users on the move can pack a spare battery when they plan to be away from a power supply for a while.

Opening up the Celsius H730, we also got a chance to check out its full-sized keyboard and trackpad. Featuring a full-sized number pad, we found, while it wasn't backlit, the Celsius H730's keyboard was pleasant to type on. This was as much due to the reactive, snappy feel of the keys as it was the keyboard's large size.

We were also impressed with the build quality of the Celsius H730. While the Celsius H730 does have plastic parts, the workstation feels very robustly built and left us reasonably assured it could survive the odd accidental bump or scrape.

Display
The Celsius H730 comes loaded with a 15.6in LED backlit 1920x1080 display. Despite coming with a Windows 8 licence, the Celsius H730 doesn't feature a touch option. While this may be a bit of an issue for some early Windows 8 adopters, considering the number of businesses snubbing the latest version of Microsoft's operating system the absence is forgivable.Fujitsu Celsius H730 closed

In terms of display quality, we found the Celsius H730 performed reasonably well. In our bright office we found it, in general, boasted decent colour balance and brightness levels. The only slight issue we noticed was that it could at times become difficult to use when hit with direct sunlight.

Performance
The demo unit we tested boasted a cutting-edge Intel Haswell i7 Core processor, though it is also available in an i5 option. The Celsius H730 also comes with a variety of memory options ranging from a basic 4GB of RAM up to 32GB.

This, combined with its Nvidia graphics, means the Celsius H730 should be capable of dealing with even the most demanding of tasks and will be ideal for industries with high-performance needs, such as the financial or engineering sectors.

We didn't get a chance to test quite how powerful the Celsius H730 is or benchmark it during our hands on, but we will do this in our full review.

Software
Fujitsu offers the Celsius H730 in Windows 7 and Windows 8 options. The demo unit we tried ran using Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit. The Fujitsu spokesman on hand told us the majority of the units are set up to run Windows 7 as most critical independent software vendor (ISV) applications from companies such as Adobe and Oracle are yet to be optimised for Windows 8. He added that each Celsius H730 will come with a licence key for the newer Windows version, ensuring that they can be upgraded at the customer's convenience.

Security
The Celsius H730's enterprise appeal is compounded by its advanced security features. The Fujitsu Celsius H730 is the first ever laptop to come with the option to add an integrated Palm Vein Security Reader and Workplace Protect software.Fujitsu Celsius H730 PalmSecure scanner

The technology is similar to the Touch ID fingerprint scanner seen on Apple's iPhone 5S and uses biometric data to authenticate the identity of its user. Specifically the Palm Vein Security Reader scans the blood vessels in the user's hand to confirm their identity before unlocking. Unlike the iPhone Touch ID scanner, the Palm Vein sensor doesn't require the user to touch the device, but to hover their hand over the sensor, which is located at the bottom-right of its keyboard.

Fujitsu claims the scanner is the most reliable and secure way to lock any laptop. A spokesman told us the scanner has a 0.00008 percent false positive rate. By comparison he said fingerprint scanners have a less impressive 0.001 percent false positive rate.

We were impressed by how well the scanner worked. We set up the Palm Vein Security Reader using the Workplace Protect application, which simply required us to let the sensor scan our hand three times. Once done, the scanner proved capable of accurately and reliably authenticating our identity and generally took around four seconds to scan our hand and unlock.

As an added perk, the Celsius H730's Palm Vein Security Reader can register several users' identities and lock them to different accounts stored on the machine, so it can be used on shared devices with multiple users.Fujitsu Celsius H730 ports

The scanner is backed up by a number of other robust security features, including Intel vPro. Intel vPro is designed to secure the device against attacks such as rootkits, viruses and malware at a hardware level. As an added bonus, vPro also lets IT managers remotely monitor and interact with machines at a hardware level, making it quicker and easier for them to spot and mitigate any attacks on the machine.

Chances
The Celsius H730 is available from Fujitsu on a channel sales model with prices starting at £1,182. The Palm Vein Security Reader version is due for release sometime in March, and will add an extra £75 to the workstation's up-front cost.

Having tested the Celsius H730, we're fairly impressed. It comes loaded with a host of security features and hardware pre-installed, and includes the option for an integrated PalmSecure scanner, so the Celsius H730 is one of the safest choices for any business dealing with sensitive data or valuable intellectual property.

Add to this its powerful Haswell processor and dedicated Nvidia graphics card options and we can see the Fujitsu Celsius H730 with the Palm Vein Security Reader being a big hit in industries such as banking and engineering.

Check back with V3 later for a full review of the Fujitsu Celsius H730 workstation.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

CES: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch hands-on review

07 Jan 2014

LAS VEGAS: Lenovo released the original ThinkPad X1 Carbon in 2012 and it was one of a select few unashamedly business-focused ultrabooks.

But despite being lightweight and ultra powerful, the first X1 Carbon's enterprise appeal was hampered by a few issues, chief of which were its lack of Ethernet port and slightly poor non-removable battery. Two years on Lenovo has attempted to address these flaws by releasing a brand new, Intel Haswell-powered version of the X1 Carbon.

Design and build
At first glance the 2014 X1 Carbon looks all but identical to its 2013 predecessor, featuring the same sleek black carbon fibre chassis. It's only when you get closer to the device that you realise it's slightly smaller than the 2013 X1 Carbon, measuring in at 331x226x18.5mm. By comparison the 2013 model was 331x226x21mm.Lenovo X1 Carbon 2014

The 2014 X1 Carbon also features a slightly more impressive array of ports, with two USB 3.0 as well as a single full-size HDMI; OneLink Docking; mDP; and Native Ethernet inputs. Opening up the X1 we also noticed the newly added Adaptive Keyboard.

The Adaptive Keyboard is a capacitive strip that lies on the top of the X1 Carbon's keyboard dock. It is designed to provide users with a choice of touch shortcut keys that dynamically update depending on which application is open.

The feature was fairly useful and responsive. While playing a video file on the X1 Carbon the bar offered basic stop, start, fast forward and rewind keys, but switched to offer home, forward back and refresh keys when we opened Internet Explorer.

Display
The 2014 X1 Carbon is available in touch and non-touch screen options. The demo unit we tried boasted a 14in, 10-point multitouch, 2560x1440 in-plane switching (IPS) display.

As well as being nicely responsive to the touch, the X1's screen was also fairly pleasant to look at. Using the X1 Carbon in the brightly lit showroom floor the ultrabook's display proved suitably bright and remained legible even when hit with stray light. We were also impressed with its viewing angles, with text remaining crisp and legible even when viewing the Carbon's screen from the side.

Colours were also suitably vibrant and, while not as crisp as the Retina displays seen on Apple MacBooks, the Carbon's screen was far better than those seen on most competing Windows 8 ultrabooks.

Operating system
The X1 Carbon comes with Windows 8.1 Pro preinstalled, so the Carbon is running the latest version of Windows. While some businesses are choosing to sit on the fence with Windows 8, upgrading their systems to the more familiar desktop-focused Windows 7, we're big fans of the latest version of Microsoft's operating system (OS).Lenovo X1 Carbon side

As well as featuring full legacy software support, Microsoft has also fixed a number of minor tweaks in Windows 8.1, reinstating a Start button on the Desktop menu's user interface and improving its search capability to let users search the internet as well local menus using the built-in Search setting.

Processor
Our demo unit ran using a fourth-generation Intel Core i7 Haswell processor and boasted 8GB RAM. The combination meant that for pure productivity purposes the X1 Carbon was more than powerful enough, and it opened web pages and applications seamlessly.

Sadly we didn't get a chance to properly benchmark or see how the X1 Carbon dealt with more demanding tasks such as 3D gaming or design during our hands-on. But considering its integrated Intel HD graphics we're guessing it will struggle to play most current PC games – meaning its bring your own device appeal could be limited for some users.

As a final enterprise perk, the X1 Carbon also features Intel vPro technology. VPro is a custom technology from Intel designed to protect devices from cyber attacks at a hardware level. Considering the growing number of criminals looking to target corporations, its inclusion is seriously worthwhile.

Battery and storage
Past its performance-boosting powers, the real benefit of Intel's new Haswell chip architecture is its ability to boost ultrabooks' battery lives. Intel claims that thanks to its more energy-efficient design, Haswell chips are able to offer third-generation Core processor-level performance, coupled with Atom-length battery lives. For this reason it's unsurprising that Lenovo lists the X1 Carbon as being able to last for nine hours of regular use off one charge.

Lenovo X1 Carbon closed

We didn't get a chance to battery burn the X1 Carbon to check this, but considering the fact that the X1 Carbon's battery is non-removable it will be a serious pain for business users on the move if it doesn't live up to Lenovo's claims. Storage-wise Lenovo has stocked the X1 Carbon with a generous 512GB of internal space, which should prove more than enough for most regular users.

Chances
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is confirmed to arrive later in January, priced from $1,299. While we're disappointed at the lack of a removable battery, our opening impressions of the 2014 X1 Carbon are positive. Featuring a powerful and efficient Haswell processor, vPro technology and the latest version of Windows, the X1 Carbon could be one of the most enterprise-friendly laptops available in 2014.

Check back with V3 later this month for a full review of the 2014 Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

 

CES: Lenovo ThinkPad 8 Windows 8.1 tablet hands-on review

06 Jan 2014

LAS VEGAS: Small form factor tablets have been increasingly popular in the technology industry. But traditionally these devices have opted to use the mobile-focused Google Android or Apple iOS operating systems, rather than Microsoft's touch-focused Windows 8.

For consumers this isn't too much of an issue as the entertainment offerings on iOS and Android are great. However, for businesses it can be a bit of a pain as neither Android or iOS were ever designed with IT managers' needs in mind.

The Lenovo ThinkPad 8 is a clear move by the Chinese PC maker to amend this problem, offering businesses full Windows 8 Pro and Microsoft Office software in a travel-friendly 8in form factor device.

Design and build
Visually the ThinkPad 8 has the barebones black design synonymous with its namesake, but it is slightly curvier than previous Lenovo tablets, boasting rounded corners and sides. The curves mean that while retaining the unashamedly corporate look of its predecessors, the ThinkPad 8 is very comfortable in hand. This is helped by its small 132x224x8.8mm dimensions.Lenovo ThinkPad 8 front

But we did find the ThinkPad 8 far heavier than other 8in tablets, such as the 331g Apple iPad Mini. We tested the 4G model, which weighed a hefty 439g. The WiFi-only version weighs a slightly lighter 430g.

Ports-wise the ThinkPad 8 is reasonably stocked, with single micro USB 3.0, micro HDMI and micro SD inputs. These mean it should be easy for users to connect the tablet to a monitor and keyboard and turn it into a fully functioning PC.

We were also fairly impressed with the ThinkPad 8's build quality. Despite being built with plastic the ThinkPad 8 felt fairly sturdy in hand. Unlike the larger ThinkPad Tablet 2, the ThinkPad 8's back offered no flex when pressed and in general left us confident it could survive the odd accidental drop or bump.

Display
Lenovo has loaded the ThinkPad 8 with an 8.3in 1920x1200 full HD screen, with 10 finger multitouch, and we were seriously impressed with how well it performed.Lenovo ThinkPad 8 back

On the ultra-bright CES showroom floor, the tablet remained usable, even when hit with direct light. We also found it was wonderfully crisp and featured brilliant brightness and vibrant colour levels. In short, while we wouldn't say the ThinkPad 8's display could match the iPad Mini 2's Retina display, it is still pretty impressive.

Operating system and software
The ThinkPad 8 comes with Windows 8.1 Pro pre-installed. This is a massive plus point for businesses because, unlike Microsoft's Windows RT, Windows 8 Pro is legacy software compatible. This means as well as having the touch-focused tiled Windows 8 interface, businesses can also install and run desktop applications created for older Windows versions; Windows RT tablets by comparison can only run apps from the official Windows Marketplace.Lenovo ThinkPad 8 system info

Lenovo's also bundled the ThinkPad 8 with Microsoft Office, meaning users won't have to shell out extra cash to work on spreadsheets or Word documents using the tablet.

Processor
The ThinkPad 8 will feature an Intel Z3770 quad-core 2.4GHz Bay Trail processor with Intel HD Graphics and boast 2GB of RAM. The ThinkPad 8 was very nippy and responsive, being able to open applications and webpages in seconds, and we didn't notice any performance issues.

We didn't get a chance to benchmark the ThinkPad 8 or see how it performed with more demanding tasks, such as 3D gaming, but we'll make sure to do this in our full review.

Battery and camera
Lenovo lists the ThinkPad 8's battery as being able to last for eight hours of regular use from one charge. We didn't get a chance to test this during our hands on, but considering our experience with other Intel Bay Trail-powered devices, eight hours is believable.Lenovo ThinkPad 8 side

The ThinkPad 8 features 2MP front and 8MP rear cameras. Testing the rear camera we found that, while better than most tablets, images taken on the ThinkPad 8 still aren't on a par with those taken on most top-end smartphones. In general we found the images we took on the showroom floor came out looking slightly overexposed and weren't quite as crisp as we'd have liked, though we were shooting in less than ideal conditions.

Chances
The ThinkPad 8 is confirmed for release in late January with pricing starting at $399. Overall our hands-on time with the tablet was positive. Coming with a powerful Intel chipset, great screen and featuring all the inherent business perks of Windows 8 Pro, the ThinkPad 8 could be the best choice for businesses on the market for a small form tablet come its release.

Make sure to check back with V3 later for a full review of the Lenovo ThinkPad 8.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G1 hands-on review

11 Dec 2013

BARCELONA: HP unveiled a series of new devices on Tuesday at its annual Discover conference and the most notable of these new units was the EliteBook Folio 1040 G1.

It was unveiled on stage by senior vice president of HP Business Personal Systems, Enrique Lores, who touted its military-grade build quality to withstand dust, extreme temperatures and drops, at which point he let it fall from his hand to the floor with a resounding clang. It seemed to be ok.

Enterprise buyers were also targeted with the inclusion of a fingerprint scanner and a smart card reader for extra security, and a docking connector to link to printers and other peripherals.

The firm also touted several other aspects of the device that have been upgraded from its earlier EliteBook Folio 9470M, saying it is lighter, thinner and faster thanks to the inclusion of Intel's Haswell processor. It will ship with Windows 7 or Windows 8.1.

We went to see the laptop in the giant Discover hall and had a quick play around on the new device and, as HP claimed, it certainly is a swish looking unit with rounded edges, a grey metallic design and an overall feel of quality that is not too dissimilar to a MacBook.

HP Elitebook Folio 1040 G1 side on view

One other notable feature of the new device that HP touted is the use of a new type of control pad called ForcePad (pictured below). Rather than the traditional style control pads on a laptop that require two fingers to select and drag items, this can be done with one as it recognises different pressure sensitivities.

HP Elitebook Folio 1040 G1 front view of ForcePad

It also has the ability to recognise five-touch inputs so touch-style controls such as pinch-to-zoom can be used on applications or web services that support this functionality. This would be useful if you choose to have Windows 7 shipped with the unit.

However, those wanting a touchscreen can get a Windows 8.1 model, which will now support touch, a major let down of the older model. However, the unit we saw was running Windows 7, so we didn't get a chance to test out the new touchscreen mode.

Another improvement is in size and weight, with the device weighing 1.49kg, down from 1.63kg, and the thickness is down from 18.9mm to 15.9mm on the previous model. We certainly found the device light and comfortable to hold, and it could easily slip into a shoulder bag or suitcase without adding much weight.

HP Elitebook Folio 1040 G1 side view keyboard

Overall, after a quick first glance and play, the EliteBook Folio 1040 seems a nice device with a focus on enterprises users that should appeal to many firms and staffers buying their own laptops. The option of Windows 7 or 8.1 means both tastes are catered for and the ForcePad shows that HP is trying to innovate on the otherwise fairly standard laptop model.

The HP EliteBook Folio 1040 will be available in the UK from the middle of December with a starting price of £1,380. Check back on V3 in the future for our full review of the device.

Windows 8.1 hands-on review

18 Oct 2013

Microsoft's Windows 8.1 update is finally available to install for those already running Windows 8 on their tablet or PC, and judging by the length of time it takes to download, there is quite a high demand for the new version.

The first thing to note about the Windows 8.1 release is that there are no real surprises, as Microsoft has been talking about the changes to the user interface and the new features coming for some time now.

Windows 8.1 Start screen

We looked over the Windows 8.1 Preview release back in June, and as far as we can tell, not much appears to have changed since then. This does not mean that users of Windows 8 won't notice anything different, as there are a slew of user interface tweaks and other enhancements that Microsoft has added since the original release last year.

As we wrote back in June, the main changes users will notice are that you can now customise the Start screen, that you can resize tiles, and you can opt to boot straight to the old-school Desktop environment.

Boot to desktop option

The Bing app has now disappeared, with its search function subsumed into the search Charm accessible from the Charm bar you bring up with a swipe form the right side of the screen.

Meanwhile, Windows 8.1 makes greater use of Microsoft's SkyDrive service to ensure that user data and settings are consistent whichever device you log into, while all files can now be saved directly to a user's SkyDrive account, a feature that was introduced in Office 2013.

Some things that are new in the Windows 8.1 release include a new Help + Tips app to introduce users to what's new in this version of Windows, plus large animated on-screen hints that appear when you first use Windows to inform users about things like the Charms and that you need to swipe in from the edges of the screen to access options in the new-style user interface.

Windows 8.1 Help & Tips

The Mail application has also been given a makeover that makes it look much slicker and adds some capabilities more in line with Microsoft's Outlook app than the rather austere app that users of Windows 8 will be familiar with.

Winddows 8.1 Mail app

Meanwhile, Skype is now supplied as part of Windows 8.1, but it does not seem to appear on the main Start screen by default. Instead, users must access it from the Apps screen, which is now found by swiping up from Start, and pin it to the Start screen afterwards.

Windows 8.1 app menu

One word of caution for those upgrading: Microsoft warns users to back up their data before downloading and installing Windows 8.1, and with good reason. We found that the installation lost key configuration settings on our test tablet such as the localisation, and time and date, and we also had to reconfigure devices such as the Bluetooth keyboard afterwards.

More seriously, Windows 8.1 lost all the apps we had installed on the tablet, many of which had been there through several upgrade cycles since before the first release of Windows 8 itself. However, this could be because we were running the Windows 8.1 Preview build, rather than a release version of Windows.

For most users, upgrading should be as simple as opening the Windows Store app and being presented with Windows 8.1 as an available update to download.

Our initial impression of Windows 8.1 is that it is a slicker, more user-friendly version of the platform that Microsoft launched last year. However, as we noted in our earlier look at the Preview build, it does not really fix the sad fact that it is the Metro user interface itself that puts off many buyers.

Check back on V3 later for a full review of Windows 8.1.

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