On May the second Microsoft unveiled it’s new stream lined operating system aimed at the education market which requires more cost effective ICT solutions. The plan was obviously to create a product that could provide customers with the same experience as Windows 10 Pro but is capable of operating on devices with limited processing power and memory and therefore keep the cost down for the consumer. This consistency of performance has always been a problem for Microsoft as OEM’s have been making low cost laptops and more recently tablets running Windows with the minimum requirements further slowed by useless blotware for years. It is a problem that Google has avoid with Chrome OS and it’s reliance on web apps along with Apple whose clearly defined walled garden allows it to control the user experience yet Microsoft has to position Windows to compete at both ends of the spectrum. The release of the Surface Pro, Surface Book and Surface Studio has show that Redmond can mix it with Apple at the premium end but has done nothing to halt the advance of Chrome books in schools. The answer; Windows 10 S promises to open up the second front on the low cost end of the spectrum by primarily restricting third party applications that impact the overall performance of the operating system. Controversially the operating system achieves this by limiting the user to applications downloaded from the Windows Store similar to iOS.
It was a move Microsoft needed to make according to the analysts due to the success of Chromebooks in US schools and had the potential for leveraging a popular operating system in Windows 10 to break into a different market. Unfortunately, most of the media coverage seems to attack Microsoft for their approach to the problem and the limitation they have placed on the installation of apps. Typically everyone wants the result but don’t want to face the consequences and seemingly expect nothing to be taken away in order to facilitate the necessary improvements to performance. Yet, as anyone with some experience with PC’s knows the major factor impacting performance is third party applications or related processes running in the background. Unbeknownst to the everyday user popular applications like the Adobe suite, Dropbox and Google Drive have several processes that run at start up by default and continue to draw processing power away from the user. These can easily be disabled in Windows 10 but most PC users in my experience teaching IT at a secondary school and provided ongoing support to colleagues and family this is beyond the average user. While limiting the installation of apps to the Windows store does not necessarily eliminate background processes it does provide a level of oversight missing from the web and prevents third party updates which are one of the major culprits of draining processing power.
Instead of focusing on these facts the Media have instead tried to suggest that Windows 10 S is the second coming of Windows RT except there are important differences for instance RT could not run legacy or Win32 applications and was made specifically to run on ARM based devices. In addition Windows RT was released at the same time as Windows 8 which was a completely revamped operating system that meet with a range of criticism and limited adoption. This ultimately impacted the development of apps for the Windows 8 store and doomed Windows RT. However neither of these apply to Windows 10 S as it not only does run Win32 applications but it is also being introduced after the successful uptake of Windows 10 this simple fact means that the Store is already more useable than the variant available to Windows RT. In addition, last year Microsoft made an important step in the right direction by making sure Win32 apps run on ARM devices this decision in an of itself shows a progress from the days of Windows RT that has been ignored by so called exports and provides the new operating system a real chance of competing with Chrome Books.
Possible the largest noise surrounding Windows 10 S is the suggestion that it limits users to Microsoft own web browser Edge and prevents them from using Google Chrome. This is a matter of perspective as Windows 10 S does not prevent the user from installing a different browser and setting it to default it just requires the browser to be downloaded from the Store like iOS. It is as much Google’s decision to not support the Windows Store even though it doesn’t require them to write a new version of Chrome rather tweak the existing application and submit it to the store. The same could be said for Mozilla and Opera but no doubt as the Windows 10 Store continues to mature the will eventually appear, especially if the media puts pressure on them instead of Microsoft since Windows 10 S is the solution they have been asking for. Until than users may actually learn that Microsoft Edge isn’t useless since it now supports extensions, has a reading mode and renders Java script better than Chrome which still maintains an overall lead in performance with HTML 5. It is a competitive browser even without the unique ink mode which has the potential to really come into it’s own in an education setting with inexpensive tablet PCs, I can imagine teaching students to annotate opinion articles straight from the net or show them how to the can highlight while doing research for an assignment, even sending it easily to friends doing a group task. All it needs is someone with a little understanding and imagination to use the tools that Microsoft have tried to make available for education.
My final frustration is the reception of Microsoft newest member of the surface family, the Surface Laptop. The hardware itself has been well received but as usual the tech media can be positive with presenting a negative. In this case you guessed it the focus on Windows 10 S as most exports don’t really understand while Microsoft first Laptop comes preinstalled with the slimed down version of the operating system. This is obviously more of a marketing opportunity as the Surface Laptop tries to convince people of the value of the new operating system with the lore of attractive hardware. Even if people aren’t happy with Windows 10 S the consumer can easily upgrade to Pro for $49 considering the entryy model comes with an i5 processes the device is configured to run Microsoft’s full OS without any drop in proformance The other area that has been a point of contention is the price point starting at $999 US or $1499 AUS it can hardly be called a budget device which seems counter productive considering the purpose of Windows 10 S to compete at the lower end of the market. However, this follows the same principal that Microsoft have followed with the Surface Pro building premium hardware to lead it’s OEMs to start investing more in design and providing them with the opportunity to under cut their prices and offer consumers a cheaper option. This has been successful with the 2 in 1 market as the Surface Pro is viewed as the premium device and has inspired numerous knock offs from Lenovo, Dell, and Samsung among others. It doesn’t really matter for Microsoft which option the consumer buys since their all running Windows 10 ultimately bringing people to the ecosystem which in turn helps Microsoft encourage developers. The same principal is behind the pricing of the Surface Laptop as it still positions Microsoft as a premium hardware manufacturer and will no doubt inspire OEM’s to improve the quality of their low cost laptops to prevent consumer’s from shelling out a little more for a better product. Again either way Microsoft wins.
It’s about time the tech media started playing fair with the truth and compared apples to apples rather than making connections that don’t make sense based on the changing landscape.
Samsung and LG may have captured the attention of most the tech world at the start of MWC but they weren’t on their own. The HP Elite X3 made more than a few people take notice thanks to its high-end specs and the decision to embrace Microsoft’s unpopular mobile OS. It was undoubtedly a headline act of a successful show for the boys at Redmond with more phone makers jumping on board the 2 in 1 train, some specialised heavy-duty devices and even a nice shiny reward.
HP Elite X3
The stats on HP’s first foray into the phone market for two years match anything offered by Android manufacturing. A snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB of RAM, expandable memory, 16 megapixel camera, 2HD 5.96 inch display and water resistance maintains the same standard set by Samsung and LG. Yet the Elite also packs in a massive 4150mAh battery which even outpaces the G5 with the additional modal and an iris scanner for windows hello.
The numbers are impressive but what makes the Elite x3 standout is the Continuum feature of Windows 10. This allows the phone to act as a desktop PC with mouse and keyboard support with the help of the HP Desk Dock which also provides USB, HDMI and Ethernet ports. Microsoft’s own Lumia 950 and 950xl have shown of this versatility before but HP have taken it a step further with Mobile Extender which turns the phone into a laptop. Using the power of Windows 10 HP have created a phone which could conceivably replace your computer, at least in a casual sense. Unsurprisingly the Elite x3 is aimed at enterprise but hopefully we will see a commercial release as it appears to be the high-end flagship that Windows Mobile has been screaming but is it enough. Check out the hands on from Techradar from the show floor and make up your own mind.
The other major Windows 10 hardware announcement was a portable 2 in 1 Surface inspired PC from this notable phone manufacturer. Huawei is not the first to jump from the unprofitable and bleak pack of Android tablets as Samsung announced the Galaxy Tab Pro S last month at CES. If anything was obvious at MWC it’s that the future of tablets is the PC and consumers will see more competition between phone makers and traditional OEM’s.
As you might expect the MateBook is a 12 inch tablet with detachable keyboard and stylus in keeping with the Surface formula. Users have a choice of Intel processors up to the m7 and 4 or 8 GB of RAM with a whole day of battery life. This makes it slightly less expensive option compared to the Surface Pro but the MateBook doesn’t offer the same performance as the more expensive Pro 4 configurations and is probably more suited to casual PC uses. Looking at the price breakdown in this Gizmodo review it seems that Huawei may have got ahead of themselves as the Matebook doesn’t come in too much below the entry-level Surfaces but we will just have to wait and see.
Best of the rest
These two announcements may have stolen the spotlight for any other windows announcements but they weren’t the only things on offer. Vaio showed off the 5.5 inch Phone Biz handset hat also supports desktop like functionality through Continuum but with a snapdragon 617 processor and 3 GB of RAM it’s more of a mid range option. Unlikely to be seen in western markets the Phone Biz is a well put together and sleek device joining the Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL and Acer Jade Primo announced at CES showing support for Microsoft’s mobile platform. The guys from Redmond weren’t to be left out announcing the budget Lumia 650 which has a more premium look than other Lumia handset but with low end specs is only meant to be an affordable option.
Similarly the MateBook was not the only windows 10 tablet announced at MWC with Alcatel adding to its Windows lineup with the Plus 10, a 10 inch tablet with 4G LTE keyboard. These Surface like combinations are starting flood the market but the Alcatel is a little unusual as it has 4G connectivity built into the keyboard alongside extra battery life rather than the tablet itself. Personally this seems a little odd as the ideal time to rely on 4G would be when using the device as a tablet without the keyboard. Even so if priced right LTE connectivity is a rarity on windows tablets and it might bring strong interest. Another unusual device obviously designed for a niche market is the Panasonic Tough Pad FZ-F1 which is a 4.7 inch phone like tablet meant for heavy-duty environments. It’s a device created with a single focus in mind to replace the bulky hand help PDA used by postal workers and the like. A more mainstream announcement was the raft of yoga transformers from Lenovo which is using so many different numbers to distinguish the line it’s starting to have an identity crisis.
The icing on the cake
The highlight of Microsoft’s MWC may have been more symbolic as the Surface Pro went back to back winning the award for best mobile tablet and beating out all its fiercest rivals including the iPad Pro. It’s more than this victory however as it is clear that the slate has changed the consumer perception of what a tablet should be since everyone is coping the formula. Microsoft will be hoping that this success might be able to filter into mobile with new exciting hardware in the Elite X3 to get consumers interested. Who knows? Maybe the boys at Redmond might give us another surprise at Build which is now only about a month away.
I thought this was the perfect follow up to my last post about the tech worlds presentation of iPad Pro sales and market share. The main difference here is that the comparison isn’t based on hardware but software. This takes into account all of Apple’s hardware devices since they run iOS and recognises that Microsoft’s priority is Windows of which the Surface line is only one flagship device. It’s a comparison that is seen in the mobile market with iPhones (iOS) compared with all Andriod devices rather than just Samsung.
Personally I feel this is a more realistic measure of trends in the market place since it recognises both companies different strategies. Don’t just believe my opinion however read the article on slashgear and give it some serious thought. Especially since numbers can be used to say just about anything.
The consumer electronics show in Las Vegas is done for another year and the tech world is already turning its eyes towards MWC in a couple of weeks. However, I thought we should take a look at the major trends appearing this year and what it means practically for consumers in the real world.
To nobody’s great surprise major car companies used CES to showcase everything to hydrogen powered cars to the latest in driverless car technical. New concepts from BMW and a new player in Faraday Future may have captured people’s attention but it was other announcements that are more likely to make a difference in the consumer market. Mainstream manufacturers Kia with is Drive Wise range of semi to fully autonomous vehicles, Toyota FCV hydrogen powered concept and Ford’s Smart mobility program which includes current road testing of experimental driverless cars all put forward an exciting vision of the future. In addition, Volkswagen unveiled the BUDD-e an electric powered van and Chevrolet showed off their own take on the electric car in the Bolt. It’s no wonder that CES is become the Car Electronics Show. As wonderful as all this sounds however it’s important to remember that a lot of these plans won’t start becoming a reality until 2020 not least of which because of the need for uninterrupted internet connectivity.
Drones and Robotics
The CES floor was no doubt buzzing with new drones but the biggest announcement was the Yuneec’s Typhoon H. Using Intel’s Real Sense technology and Sonar senses the Typhoon H is able to avoid large obstacles in conjunction with the standard high end features it isn’t surprisingly that it captured a fair amount of attention. Most of the other announcements like the DJI Inspire Pro 1 and Phantom 4K offered upgrades to existing models. On the robotics side it was undoubtedly the Ninebot the collaboration between Segway, Intel and Xiaomi. No word yet on price but I suspect when it hits the market late this year that it will be out of reach for most consumers.
Internet of Things
Just in case you have been living under a rock the new age of computing connects all kinds of device to the internet in order to make our lives easier. The IoT is yet to really take off with consumers but with big announcements from Intel with the Curie and Samsung’s partnership with Microsoft might mean that this is the year that IoT starts building for the future. Intel’s plan with New Balance to print custom shoe inserts caught my interest as it might offer everyone with flat feet like myself an easier solution.
Virtual and Augmented reality
The biggest news in VR broke before the convention got started with Oculus Rift announcing their pricing for their long awaited headset. A $600 US price tag seemed to get a few people upset but considering the price of other products and the inclusion of an Xbox One controller this appears reasonable. Now if any US techies really want to get worked up they can think about the $920 plus postage for Australian preorders, now that’s ridiculous. In addition, the other major developers including HTC and Sony used CES to demo new virtual reality content and their latest builds. One thing is for certain 2016 is definitely going to be the year of VR.
MWC in February is when most phone and tablet makers except Apple announce their major product news but that doesn’t mean they didn’t bring anything to Vegas. Acer showed off their first Windows 10 handset the Liquid Jade Primo while the Huawei Honor 5X seemed like a premium Android handset. At the more affordable end LG’s K series and Alcatel’s Windows and Android phones got plenty of attention. PC makers seem to be following Microsoft’s lead making more hybrid Surface like devices that focus a little more on sleek design. Out of all these tablet convertibles my favourite was definitely the Samsung Galaxy TabPRO S, a high-end Windows 10 tablet with a full keyboard cover. Notably this marks the first time that the Galaxy brand has not been associated with Android suggesting that Samsung has recognised the benefits of Windows in the tablet market, we will just have to wait and see if this trend continues.
It’s been nearly 3 years since Microsoft first released the Surface Pro to champion it’s new look OS Windows 8 and it was meet by ridicule, scepticism and projected failure, who can forget Apple’s fridge and toaster analogy. The tech media was a bit more reserved with most pleased at the overall performance but critical of the poor battery life, weight and extra cost for the type/touch cover. Then came the $900 million write down for the Surface RT and many were ready to forget about the potential of its more powerful younger brother. Not one to follow trends I was never really a fan of early tablets due to their inability to run any of the software I used on a daily basis so I jumped on board once Microsoft changed their strategy in Australian and released it through retail stores. Ever since then I have never regretted a second as for the last few years it has been my major computing device alongside my desktop, I even convinced my Dad, Girlfriend and some random at Harvey Norman to buy one. Sure the battery life still sucks but the pen input was a revelation for teaching whether taking notes or modelling annotation skills while it also allowed me to keep my excel student planner close at hand. This is all ancient history but it’s worth remembering the humble beginnings of the Surface Line as the idea has always remains the same, a tablet that could replace your laptop, we just needed technology to catch up before it became a reality with the Surface Pro 3. The new design increased the screen size but made the tablet lighter and more streamed line with improved battery life yet still a significant power boost. Finally, people started taking notice from students to enterprise Surface Pro become the ultimate hybrid device and turns into a neat $1b profit making machine. That’s enough for the industry to take notice and even Apple was quick to try and copy this new formula in the iPad Pro but without the silver bullet, a desktop experience. So this brings us to today and the 4th generation.
Surface Pro 4
As it was expected the latest version of Microsoft’s innovative hybrid was all about refinement. The slate boasts a slightly larger 12.3″ screen with an impressive 267 ppi and Microsoft’s new PixelSense technology to take advantage of o.4mm thick cover screen to bring improved contrast. For the most part the SP4 keeps the same dimensions as the SP3 to maintain backwards compatibility with existing accessorises. Even so the tablet is a little bit thinner and lighter while still maintaining all the necessary ports. The main improvement is under the hood with Intel’s 6th generation Skylake processors giving a significant power boost that really put the spring in Panos Panay’s step as he could brag about a 30% increase and a 50% advantage over the MacBook Air. It was hard to remove the smile from his face as he joked about the fridge and toaster analogy or alluded to competitors making tablets with larger screens.
To read an in depth comparison between the SP3 and 4 click here.
It wasn’t just the tablet itself that got an upgrade as the new Type Cover offers an improved typing experience with an island style layout and increased depth similar to what is found on most laptops. A new glass trackpad offers five touch points and should provide a smooth experience while an optional finger print scanner will give SP3 users with access to Windows Hello. Likewise, the Pen has been given the once over as well increasing to 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity to further push the boundaries between computer experience and writing on paper. In addition, the top of the pen acts as an eraser something normally, associated with a pencil, which adapts to applications while still providing a quick launch button for OneNote and Cortana. If that wasn’t enough Microsoft have also introduced a range of colours and interchangeable tips so uses can adapt their experience. Finally, Microsoft has gone back to the original design of the Surface Pen by providing a magnet dock on the side of the tablet, at least this time it doesn’t cover the charging port.
Overall the SP4 is a noticeable improvement and gives fans what they wanted faster performance and a more elegant user experience. It has definitely been worth holding off upgrading if only for the boost from the 6th generation Skylake processor. In terms of the competition the iPad Pro can’t measure up as it still lacks the proper experience to replace your Laptop and for the price is an expensive secondary device. Meanwhile the MacBook Air which Panay admits is a great product has an outdated processor and lacks the same convertible experience. However, Apple is not the only copycat trying to capitalise on the Surface design with other PC makers implementing kickstands, removable keyboards and pen input in an effort to keep up but the SP4 which just raised the bar again. It will be interesting to see in the next few weeks with Microsoft’s major OEM’S also hosting device announcements if they can follow the standard that’s just been set.
Microsoft’s big surprise came with only the slightest gossip in the lead up to the event with rumours of a Laptop or a larger Surface but no specs, renders or patients. The Laptop is elegantly designed with a unique look due to the visible gap between the keyboard and screen. The way this comes together reminds me of an empty folder and fits well with the name. The soon to be iconic hinge is where the Surface Book’s design really captures everyone’s attention. It runs out like a carpet to extend the base and give the device balance while the contrast between the magnesium and aluminium gives it a distinct shine that catches the eye. You might think that it’s a bit sad that the tech world has gone into overload over a fulcrum hinge but it truly is a master stroke of engineering. It solves the ever present weight distribution problem with this type of device and allows the two parts to meet perfectly to give the unique shape.
Check out Mashable’s inside with Panay and design chief Ralf Groene about the development of Microsoft’s first Laptop.
Beyond the design the Surface Book boost a 3000 x 2000 13.5″ PixelSense display which means it shares the same 267ppi as the SP4, more than the retina display found on the MacBook Pro. At the entry level the laptop packs a 6th generation i5 processor and 8GB of RAM but at the top end it is a beast which is why Microsoft has labelled it the ultimate laptop. The addition of a dedicated NVidia GPU makes it easily beat out the competition available in comparable form factors and will allow professionals and gamers to render complex 3D imaging more familiar to desktop PC’s and larger laptops. In addition, the ability to upgrade to an i7 and 16GB of RAM makes the top end configuration an expensive yet enticing proposition. Like the Surface Pro’s new type cover the keyboard has been carefully engineered to provide the best typing experience possible. Running Windows 10 the Surface Book performs as you would expect any high powered PC being able to easily run demanding applications like the Adobe suite with no troubles.
It wasn’t all specs however as Microsoft engaged in its own brand of theatre with Panay directing his audience to re-watch the opening promo in order to give us one more thing …
The screen detaches and it becomes a full Surface tablet, surprise. Just at that moment Panay must have been on cloud nine as the crowed whooped and gave a standing ovation. After all he says this is Surface, this is innovation. Now some people might be thinking what’s the big deal there have been 2 in 1 devices that have a detachable keyboard since Windows 8. If you watch the demo its clear Surface Book is different as it is first and for most a laptop and the muscle wire mechanism is nearly as well conceived as the hinge. Relying on a metal that contracts when placed under current it secures the two sections so that Panay is confident waving the laptop around by the screen. Personally the other similar form factors I have played with in stores seem flimsy and didn’t inspire me with a lot of confidence so this is a big change.
Practically the Surface Book provides three possible uses the laptop, tablet or “clipboard” and the canvas. All provide uses with different possibilities to be productive. The “clipboard” is not marketed as a standalone tablet but a portable extension that could be removed when you need to show something to a few colleagues to pass around or take a work through the factory. In addition thanks to the hinge (Simpsons moment of the rod) the screen is able to reverse and lay down over the keyboard to provide a tilted experience for writing and drawing which has access to the GPU and 8 hours of battery life stored in the base. This flexibility alone regardless of any power advantage provides a clear source of difference from the competition which shouldn’t be ignored.
By the end of Microsoft’s event it was clear that they have stopped following with HoloLens, Surface Pro and Surface Book their ready to return to the lead. The company not only has built serious momentum this year through a series of announcements including backwards compatibility for the Xbox One but they now have a confident swagger brought about by a clear vision thanks to Satya Nadella. Unfortunately, this has left me with an annoying problem, which do I purchase they Pro 4 or the Surface Book. Price might have a lot to do with it as here in Australia it seems that the major tech companies feel like we should pay more meaning the top end Surface Book comes in at $4100 while the i7 SP4 is a bit more affordable at $2700. If only money grew on trees and I could get both.
Check out the full Surface announcement here.
Microsoft’s long awaited Windows 10 devices launch did not fail to impress. The software giant rolled out a raft of devices from phones to wearables as expected with predictable specs but managed to still give us a few surprises. In every way possible the team nailed this recent set of announcements in order to maintain the positive coverage from the tech world which is always ready to label the company irrelevant. So lets break it down …
Microsoft Band 2
The companies first wearable had a very limited availability, limited to the US and UK but from all reports the performance was never really the issue. Made as a fitness tracker and not a watch the band was always designed to be warn with the screen facing in for more natural experience while working out. To achieve this the original hardware squeezed 10 sense s into a clumsy design which people never felt very comfortable wearing. Obviously satisfied by the performance of version 1 the new and improved Band 2 seems like it has received a little more love with a rounded and premium design with a streamlined metal body, curved display and flexible straps. In addition the team has some how managed to include a new elevation sensor to help those who train at different altitudes. Finally, the Band 2 retains the best part of the original device as it is cross – compatible with iOS and Android and is therefore not necessarily tied to the fate of Windows Mobile. The Band has to date been the only wearable that has really caught my attention as it aims to serve a specific purpose but provides more functionality then other fitness trackers like Fitbit. At the same time it doesn’t try to become a fashion accessory, personally I’m sticking with my Armani to give me that added flare. Now that they have refined the design I’m definitely still keen if it lands in Oz soon.
By now we are pretty used to Microsoft showing off mind blowing HoloLens demos but lets face it, we shouldn’t complain. This time the show focused on Multi-reality gaming with Project X-Ray where your entire house can become your new battle ground. Personally this is where the untethered nature of HoloLens really has an advantage over virtual reality headsets as you can more easily move into different rooms and interact unrestricted with the experience. The gameplay itself is pretty straight forward but is definitely cool, robots burst through the walls and hide behind your couch before you blast them in to holographic pieces. It really has me thinking about the possibilities, a police raid in your own house or a personalised hostage situation. More importantly, Microsoft finally gave us some release details with the developer kit available in the first quarter next year for $3000. It’s not cheap but since Google Glass was $1500 and that was nowhere near the level of HoloLens so I won’t be surprised if developers jump on board.
Lumia 950 and 950XL
Unsurprisingly the specs for these new Lumia Flagships like the new design for the Microsoft Band 2 had already spread all over the Internet but it always helps to get things confirmed. The 950 has an hexacore snapdragon 808 processor, and a 5.2 WQHD OLED display while the XL comes with an octacore processor, 5.7 display and liquid cooling. In addition both phones have a 20 megapixel PureView camera with optical stabilization, USB – C connections, 3 GB of Ram, wireless charging, Windows Hello facial recognition, duel adaptive antennas and 32 GB expandable memory. None of these specs seem ground-breaking on their own but as International Business Times points out they still slightly edge out the competition from Apple and Samsung. Even so some other media reports are disappointed expecting a killer feature and a ‘premium’ Surface like design rather then the continued use of polycarbonate.
Firstly, I see the duel antenna as a welcome addition if it successfully works to improve signal quality as I have always felt that it is a annoying weakness of modern smartphones that it was easier to have a conversation with someone over a phone call 15 years ago. Personally the killer feature of these phones comes from the software as Continuum allows both handsets to connect with a keyboard and mouse through the dock and drive a desktop experience through Windows 10, but every other phone on the market can do this right?. Technically this means that with the right app you can edit, print or easily manipulate photos and documents without syncing your devices. Now you can be “productive like a Boss where ever you are”, at least that’s the idea. Unfortunately, most people probably only want to use their phone as a phone so I don’t know how much traction it will get in the consumer market but it is definitely great for the enterprise sector.
I find the second criticism ridiculous and largely perpetrated by those people who have never used a Lumia device beyond a review unit, having owned a HTC Mozart, Lumia 610, Lumia 920 and a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge I still consider the polycarbonate 920 my favourite. Mainly because of the solid build quality as regardless of how many times I dropped it over the 3 or so years with out any form of case the 920 still works fine if only for the aging specs. Meanwhile the HTC lasted just over a year before a fall from a coffee table shattered the screen and made it unusable similarly one fall from a car door has left my Galaxy 6 edge with clear blemish to it’s stunning screen. This is not to mention the fact that my Galaxy like most other phones is kept neatly covered by a case so I can preserve the “premium” design, something I never even considered with my Lumia. Now don’t get me wrong the Galaxy S6 is a fantastic phone and I don’t have any regrets but I’m using it to make a point that the Lumia Line has a well know track record for taking a beating which I think is more important. After all if your buying a phone for the looks you probably don’t know anything about performance and are too concerned with your own status unfortunately this probably includes a good portion of the mobile marketplace. Sorry for the rant but every time I hear or read comments about premium materials and beautiful shiny designs I can’t help getting angry at people’s stupidity as I am a very practical person.
Admittedly apps still remain a problem for Microsoft’s mobile strategy and it’s not TV surprising that they find themselves at something of a cross roads. Both realising the importance of getting their services onto other ecosystems while trying to use the universal capacity of Windows 10 to breath some life into their own platform. The word out of Microsoft is that they aren’t expecting much from the new handsets but it allows them to create a bundle for enterprise customers interested in the surface line. We shall have to wait and see over the next couple of months but they will continue to make little progress if they can’t get Google, carriers and OEM’s on board in order to encourage developers. Hopefully the new tools to port Android and iOS apps to Windows will help as I think consumer’s will benefit from increased competition if Microsoft can start gaining even a little bit of traction in mobile.
I always seem to go into way too much detail, but stay tuned for part 2 as I look at the Surface announcements from Microsoft’s event.
It’s taken some time but Skylake is finally a reality. Intel has been working towards this point since the development of the tablet market in and other chip makers started to muscle in on thier market. No one has ever question Intel’s ability to deliver the best processing power which is why Apple made the switch for its Mac computers. The problem has always been power consumption and heat which has limited there application in tablets.
Haswell released in 2013 after more then two years in development was the first step in Intel’s attempt to fix the status quo. It made it poosible to start putting Intel chips in convertable devices that were starting to become popular with Windows 8 it also brought a significant improvement to battery life as the Surface Pro 1 and 2 clearly demonstated. In the mobile market place Intel followed this up quickly with the release of the Broadwell Architecture and the Core M processor a lighter more power efficent CPU which achieved the same clock speeds on turbo boost as existing Haswell chips with a 4.5 W TDP ( Thermal Design Power) compared to the 15w TDP of a core i5. Suddenly, Intel had a CPU that could compete in the compact market and we saw an increase in hybrid devices in addition to a thinner MacBook.
It is this development that Skylake is set to continue. Firstly, by introducing sub-categries to the Core m line with m3, m5 and m7. Early test show the m7 can clock 3.1ghz at turbo compared to the broadwell core m at 2.9 and the old haswell i5 at 2, it also boast a better intergration of DDR3 memory. However that’s not all, Skylake promises to bring improved battery life with intel saying we’ll get 10 hours of 1080p playback on a charge and finally a 40% increase in graphics. This is definitely impressive progress since 2013.
This development means the next few months could be really interesting as we will likely be seeing a lot more Windows 10 tablets and hybrids, hopefully starting with a new Surface Pro. It’s also worth thinking about Apple’s expected release of an iPad Pro on the 9th and whether they have a skylake suprise or purhaps thier attempt to reinvigorate thier tablet sales may all ready be outdated. We may if rumours are true even see Microsoft announce a few flagship Windows Phones with an Intel chip to take advantage of Continuum in Windows 10. Maybe Skylake coupled with the successful launch of Microsoft newest OS might just return WinTel to the good old days.
I recently got to have a play with a new Lumia 640 XL and couldn’t help but think about how far low cost handsets have come over the last few years. Only recently did a cheap phone mean that you were restricted to a low cost Andriod phone that lacked a decent screen or camera and an out of date OS among other limitations. However, as I updated a few apps for my father in law I couldn’t help but be impressed at what you can get these days for a couple of hundred Australian dollars.
The 5.7″ HD display looked reasonable crisp and seemed a good size in my hand. No longer having physical buttons on the front took some getting use to but didn’t cause any real issues. While Windows phone 8 was responsive and fluid more so then it had been on my aging lumia 920. Despite not getting to really put it through it’s paces or check out any benchmarks it is clear that the 640 XL would satisfy the average person’s needs. Possibly the biggest advantage is that Microsoft somehow managed to fit a 13 megapixal rear facing camera without breaking the bank which is easly better then anything else you’ll find at this price point. A common criticism remains the polycarbonate body but while some view this as cheap it often becomes pratical as I’m still not really sold on the “premium” feel argument about metal since most people like myself wrap thier iPhones or Galaxy S6 in a plastic cover. One of the things I liked about the Lumia 920 was for 2 and a half years I didn’t need a case and I feel the 640 XL would be the same.
At anywhere between $240 and $400 outright depending on your shopping skills and prefered currency the 640 XL is good value. In Aus you can even pick it up on plans under $50 with a $5 device charge. It’s clear to me why such products are gaining some traction in emerging markets. The only thing holding these new budget Lumia’s back is still the same story, the app gap. Hopefully, Windows 10 with it’s universal apps and iOS conversion tools can deliver the remedy at last.
E3 2015 is done and dusted so I thought I’d look more in-depth at the games that really caught my attention and those I personally can’t wait to get my hands on.
Halo 5 guardians
Platform: Xbox One
Release Date: 27/10/15
A new Halo is always a big deal for the Xbox community and the first instalment on the new console will be expected to boast overall console sales just like the past. The small snippets of the story line have got fans like myself sitting on edge, is the Master Chief a traitor, is Spartan Locke friend or foe and the inclusion of Buck voiced by Nathan Fillion from ODST is a welcomed addition. At E3 we were given a glimpse of the campaign that diverges a little from the traditional formula as it seems more like ODST and Reach with two teams of Spartans led by Locke and the Master Chief made for drop in & out coop play. In addition 343 industries gave us Warzone a new 24 player multiplayer mode combining elements of PvP and PvE where two teams compete with the added fun of AI opponents in a crazy overload of Halo awesomeness. Suddenly the 27 of October seems so far away.
Forza motorsport 6
Platform: Xbox One
Release date: 15/9/15
Recently I have really got into playing Forza 5 as it has outstanding graphics and is perfect for gaming when you have time constraints. The 6th instalment promises much of the same running in 1080p it looks stunning and with an extensive list of 450 cars it’s perfect for car enthusiasts. However, the main development is the addition of meaningful racing conditions, this goes beyond the basic visual effect and includes real world experience as rain doesn’t just look pretty but actually make the track slippery and effects your handling. A subtle inclusion but one that will make it just that little more challenging for seasoned racers.
Platform: Xbox One and Windows
Release date: 2015
This free to play cooperative title has been promoted before at Microsoft events as it demonstrates the capabilities of Windows 10’s cross-platform gaming as PC and Xbox users can play alongside each other. Legends offers gamers a different experience than previous titles as players can choose between the traditional hero game play without the exploration alongside possibly up to 3 friends or as the villain who plans the obstacles faced by our band of heroes like a strategy game. It seems like an interesting combination of different game styles and I’m looking forward to testing it out later this year.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Platform: First on Xbox
Release date: 10/11/15
Crystal dynamics sequel to their 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider promises a lot with different combat options and more opportunity for discovery. Learning from the feedback after the previous title developers have incorporate a new ability for Lara to use her environment to create weapons and make choices as to how she will engage combatants. Most notably this includes the ability to avoid lethal engagements using items as distractions and finding other methods to take down the enemy. In addition crystal dynamics have stated their aim to make Lara the most realistic and humanised character in gaming by focus on the emotional impact of decisions and the storyline. We shall have to wait until November 10th to see if Rise of the Tomb Raider delivers.
Gears of War ultimate edition and Gears 4
Platform: Xbox One
Release date: 25/8/15 and holidays 2016
The other Xbox franchise also had its time at E3 with two announcements. Gears of War Ultimate Edition was unveiled and its more than just a remastered HD version of the 2006 original but more of a full rebuild. The Coalition has gone back to basics with new motion capture and animation to help bring the game into the next era of gaming. Beyond this the remake incorporates new game elements from more recent titles in the series including an enhanced multiplayer. Even thinking about it gives me a pang of nostalgia.
Gears 4 the first game in the franchise since Microsoft took over the rights shows more of what we expect, chainsaws, weird creatures and a post apocalyptic setting. Still scarce on details all we really know about Gears 4 is that the gameplay looks similar to the other titles in the series. It’s still far away but any new chance to saw through your enemies can’t easily be passed up.
Platform: Xbox One
Release date: 4/8/15
This collection of 30 classic Rare games is a steal for the $30 price tag. Many of the games pre-date my gaming experience but classic 64 titles like Banjo Kazooie, the sequel Banjo Tooie and Perfect Dark are enough for me to jump on board. Adding some Xbox 360 up dates to those series alongside a host of other games to explore for the first time and I’m counting the hours of game play. The only disappointments are the absence of GoldenEye and Diddy Kong Racing due to legal restrictions. Click here to see the full list.
Star Wars: Battlefront
Platform: Xbox One, PS4 and PC
A self professed Star Wars tragic I have been looking forward to this one since Battlefront 2 was released years ago. One of my absolute favourite Star Wars games because it allows players to jump into the epic battle and key events of the films like no other game. Gameplay follows the same basic format as the earlier titles in that it is primarily a third person shooter with different class options and you need to complete a series of objectives in order for your side of the Star Wars conflict to gain victory. It doesn’t look like there are any real changes to this basic formula but the new Battlefront takes advantage of the next generation consoles through new game modes and refinement. Personally I can’t think of a better way to get in the spirit before the release of The Force Awakens.
Mass Effect: Andromeda
Platform: Xbox One, PS4 and PC
Release Date: Q4 2016
Details are still scarce about the new Mass Effect but we learnt at E3 that the game is set outside the milky way in the Andromeda galaxy long after the events of Mass Effect 3. This means that developers have the freedom to imagine a new host of planets and new alien species without being restricted by the previous games. Despite this scope for innovation its clear that this next chapter will maintain most of the elements we have come to expect of the series as the game will still follow a human protagonist leading a team made up of different specialists. Beyond this we also know that Mass Effect Andromeda will use the Frostbite 3 game engine behind Dragon Age Inquisition which promises a rich experience. I’m very excited about this one as I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing through the previous titles multiple times, I’m just shattered its such a long wait.
Check back later as I preview the best of the rest from E3