Microsoft Surface set to expand its business footprint

Family_v4_Hero_01Surface Pro 3 has seen widespread adoption, at least if Microsoft is to be believed. The tablet-laptop hybrid is heading into the business world, where it provides portability for those on the go. Now the company would like to expand on that market, announcing new plans to do just that.

Microsoft laments that it’s business channel has been a bit limited thus far, but now it’s time to change that with many new offerings.

“We are expanding our channel and will go from having a few hundred partners selling and servicing Surface to a few thousand globally in the coming months”.

Microsoft claims it’s excited to welcome new hardware integrators to the world of Surface, anxiously expecting to grow its market share. “Interested partners should go to the Microsoft Partner Network Device Partner Portal and contact an Authorized Device Distributor to learn how to become a partner”, the company’s Brian Hall claims.

As for Hub that was recently announced, that will be delayed. “We started taking pre-orders on July 1 and we’ve seen strong demand out of the gate. Based on the early interest we see, we’re tuning our manufacturing process to prepare for production at broader scale. To do this, we are adjusting our product roll-out schedule to ensure we deliver a great customer experience and set our partners up for success. We will not start shipping on September 1 now. We’ll have more details on our updated shipment schedule in early August. In the meantime, we will continue to take pre-orders”.

Asus Debuts ZenPad S 8.0 at Computex

Asus logoComputex 2015 is in full swing in Taipei and new product announcements are coming fast and furious. One of those products is a new tablet by Asus called the ZenPad S 8.0. This 8-inch ZenPad boasts some impressive features. Including:

  • Intel 64-bit Atom Z3580 processor
  • 4GB of RAM
  • PowerVR 6430 GPU
  • 3.4 times the browser performance of some competitors and 2.2 times the GPU performance
  • Optional stylus (this is where the ZenPad gets the “S” in its name)
  • Metallic finish with “diamond cut edges”
  • 6mm (0.25 inches) thick
  • Weighs 298 grams (10.5 ounces)
  • Screen is a 2K (2,048×1,536-pixel) IPS panel, offering 324 pixels per inch

This new ZenPad could be seen as a strong competitor to Apple’s iPad Mini, as the two devices are pretty similar in terms of overall size and spec. Also, the ZenPad comes with many of Asus’s proprietary enhancements, including TruVivid and Tru2Life (known collectively as VisualMaster), both of which are designed to increase screen clarity, contrast and brightness. The TruVivid technology actually alters the traditional screen manufacturing process to eliminate the “air gap” between the touch panel and the LCD ZenPad models, increasing optical transparency.

ZenPad S 8.0 also comes with optional accessories like the Clutch “fashion” cover as well as a Power Cover that offers an additional 15 hours of battery life.

ZenPad tablets will offer both 4G LTE and Wi-Fi only versions. Availability of these will differ from region to region. Full pricing and release dates haven’t yet been announced.

Divoom Airbeat-10 Bluetooth Speaker Review

Divoom LogoIt’s rare that products sent for review offer any great surprises: usually gadgets arriving on my desk meet my expectations in terms of build, functionality and price. However, occasionally a device delivers more than expected and I’m pleased to say that this is one such occasion. The Divoom Airbeat-10 punches well above its weight with loudness and clarity that belies its diminutive size. Sorry if this ruined the review but let’s take a look anyway.

The Divoom Airbeat-10 is portable Bluetooth speaker with speakerphone. It’s splashproof and comes with a suction cup and bike mount, though Airboot is just as happy to sit on the table or hang from a hook. A USB to micro-USB cable is included for charging and a 3.5 mm stereo lead comes in the box for devices without Bluetooth.

Airbeat-10 Contents

The Airbeat-10 is about 9 cm along the sides and around 4.5 cm tall. Covered in a soft touch rubber, it’s available in four colours; black, white, red and blue. An LED on the top lights up to show Bluetooth and charging activity, on the side there are four buttons for power, phone functions and volume up/down, along with a covered port for USB charging and 3.5 mm aux in. On the back of the Airbeat is a standard camera screw mount which is used for the suction cup and bike attachment but can be used with other camera accessories such as a GorillaPod. The Airbeat 10 weighs in at 155 g, meaning that it’s not hollow plastic.

Airbeat-10 Buttons

Pairing is straightforward. Turn the Airbeat-10 on, search from the Bluetooth settings on the phone or tablet and pair up. Easy-peasy and time to make some noise.

And this is where the Airbeat-10 delivered well beyond my expectation – it produced rich and surprisingly loud sound for such a small device. Certainly it’s not audiophile hi-fi and it’s not stereo but for a pocket-sized portable device the Airbeat-10 is very good indeed. Music comes across well through the range with little of the tinniness normally associated with small lightweight devices and good amount of lower end bass.

Airbeat Speaker with SuckerI had the Airbeat on my desk for the review period and it was great to have it handy for a quick listen for both music and podcasts. It’s portability and wireless connectivity meant that I could move it round my desk as I needed space. Battery life is a claimed six hours and that seems about right – I found that I needed to charge the Airbeat-10 once or twice a week depending on usage.

The Airbeat-10 is splashproof as well and with the suction mount, it’s ideal for use in the shower. I whacked it onto the tiles with the sucker, started the radio app before stepping in and listened to the morning news in the shower without getting my smartphone wet. Excellent.

There are three minor issues that I found with the Airbeat. First, when using it as a speakerphone, the microphone on the side needed to be pointing at the speaker otherwise the caller on the other end of the line didn’t hear too well. The second was that sometimes “silence detection” seemed to be overly aggressive and between music tracks or between people talking in podcasts, the Airbeat would go silent (presumably to save power) but then there would be a small pop as the sound restarted and the first half-second of speech or music would be lost. Adjusting the volume upwards on the smartphone or tablet usually helped. Finally, the soft touch rubber coating was a bit of a fluff magnet!

These niggles aside, I was impressed by the Divoom Airbeat-10. Although small, the quality of the sound and volume is better than anything I’ve heard at this size, and the portability and wireless connectivity make it the perfect casual speaker whether in the office, in the shower or out-and-about. At this time of year, I’d recommend it to the music Festival crowd and later in the year I’d be suggesting it as a great stocking-filler.

The Divoom Airbeat-10 is available from retailers worldwide with an RRP of £29.99 in the UK.

Thanks to Divoom for the Airbeat-10 for review.

Archos Fusion Storage OTA Incoming

Archos Fusion StorageBack in March at MWC, French firm Archos announced “Archos Fusion”, an Android storage technology that seamlessly joins a smartphone or tablet’s internal memory with an inserted memory card. Archos Platinum 52The merger of the two memories is invisible to apps and other services, with Archos Fusion automatically managing and moving files around. Apps tend to stay on the internal memory and media gets moved to the external card.

The clear advantage here is that there’s loads more space made available to the user with almost zero effort. Another advantage is a reversibility of the process: the fusion of internal storage with the external storage card is seamless and the user can return to the original separated settings at any time.

GNC covered the announcement at the time, but the good news is that Archos are delivering on the promise and a free OTA is expected very shortly for owners of the Archos 101 Oxygen tablet, along with the 50 Oxygen Plus, 50 Diamond and 52 Platinum smartphones.

By pure coincidence I have an Archos 52 Platinum smartphone on review at the moment so I’ll be reporting back on the OTA and the Archos Fusion technology, which looks really clever and a huge benefit.

Archos Fusion will be available on the new 62 Xenon and 59 Xenon out of the box.

Toast Tech Covers from Natural Materials

toastlogoThe Moto X and new G4 smartphones have shown that there’s a market for personalisation using natural materials; a synthesis of the traditional with technology. Where glass, metal and plastic pervade, there’s an opportunity for the natural in wood and leather. Into this space step Toast, specialising in natural material covers for smartphones, tablets and small laptops. Built on the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Portland-based firm provides after-market products that look custom-crafted.

Using hardwood from North America, bamboo from Asia and leather from America cattle, Toast’s covers are crafted to perfectly match the device’s openings and cut-outs. With wooden backs, designs and decorations can be cut into the surface using a laser. There’s a selection of designs available to order but Toast is happy to take custom orders as well.

Toast CoversPrices very depending on phone model and material, but expect to pay from $24-$34 for a wooden back and around $45 for a leather one. For more information, listen to my interview with Danielle and Matias from Toast at Gadget Show Live.

Archos Creates World’s First 256GB Android Tablet with “Fusion Storage”

Archos LogoWhile tablets are overall a relatively new technology, they’ve evolved a lot since the first iPad was released in 2010. And now Archos is continuing that evolution with its new Magnus tablets, including the company’s innovative “Fusion Storage” technology.

Fusion Storage optimizes data storage by fusing internal memory with external micro SD card memory. Once activated, Fusion Storage automatically migrates data from the micro SD card and optimizes memory balance, resulting in an increase in install space for apps and games, as well as more storage for media and large files. Fusion Storage will be available on all new ARCHOS tablets and smartphones, including the new Magnus tablets, and through Over-The-Air updates on select models.

Along with this new storage technology, the Archos 101 Magnus Plus and 94 Magnus feature  powerful Cortex A17 quad-core processors capable of running apps and games smoothly while remaining energy efficient and maintaining longer battery life.

These new Archos tablets will hit the market next month. The 101 Magnus Plus 128 GB and the 94 Magnus 256 GB are expected to retail at $349.00. Archos will also be launching the 101 Magnus, the first tablet with 64 GB of internal storage for $179.

Booking.com Launches Booking Now App

Booking.com logoI was somewhat surprised to learn that 50% of travel bookings made within 48 hours of departure are booked on a mobile device. On reflection, it’s perhaps not that surprising, given that the spontaneous decision to travel is likely to be followed up immediately, rather than waiting to get home to get the laptop out.

It’s with this opportunity in mind that accommodation site Booking.com has launched Booking Now, an instant booking app that can get a place to stay in as little as two taps. After a successful launch in the US and Canada, the app is now available in the UK for iOS devices with an Android version to follow. The app’s built-in intelligence, along with GPS, helps it choose the best properties based on your preferences from over 600,000 properties in 70,000 destinations.

Booking Now - Booking.com UK imageWith the launch of Booking Now, we’re increasing our investment in mobile by leveraging our global scale, assets and partnerships to accommodate the growing number of customers who are booking reservations within two days or less of their stay,” said Darren Huston, Chief Executive Officer of Booking.com. “The new app puts users at the centre of the booking experience, drawing from our vast database of properties to meet their specific preferences at the very moment they need to book. Booking Now is designed to deliver a seamless mobile experience for spontaneous consumers, fitting perfectly into their multi-device, on-demand lifestyle.

Booking Now personalises real-time search results based on the traveller profile created by each user when they first start to use the app. The profile indicates specific accommodation preferences, such as budget and options like parking, included breakfast and wifi. Users are then presented with the most relevant accommodation available based on profile and location. The traveller can then modify their choice of accommodation to suit their itinerary and the places that they want to see. With Booking Now’s predictive analytics, the more frequently customers use the app, the more personalised their recommended matches become. Additionally, as user’s swipe through the app, they can pin their top hotel choice to the map so they can see where the hotel is relative to their location or other attractions.

The Booking Now app can be downloaded from the relevant app stores – iOS only for now with Android coming soon.

If only I had more time and more money to be spontaneous!

Amazon Fire HD 7 Review

fire_hd7

Back in February 2014, I reviewed the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and I was impressed with Amazon’s top-of-the range tablet. Amazon has continued to push their Fire tablet range and the fourth generation of the Fire tablets came out in September 2014. Not only did Amazon bump the spec with the refresh, they bumped the Kindle moniker too, reserving that for the ereaders. On review here, is the Fire HD 7 tablet, Amazon’s offering in the 7″ market. Let’s take a look.

HD Fire 7

In the box there’s the tablet, a travel charger and a USB charging cable. This review unit (courtesy of Amazon) came with a US charger but I imagine that chargers will be supplied according to local requirements.

From the very start the Fire HD 7 is a little bit different from the average tablet with a choice of five different colours – black, white, cobalt, magenta and citron – and obviously this is the white version. I think it would be fair to call the Fire HD 7 as chunky – it’s a little over a 1 cm thick and weighs in at 337g, which specs it very closely to the Nexus 7 2012 but it looks a bit bigger – there’s a bit of trickery going on in that Google devices have narrow chrome bands with curved backs which make them look thinner than they are. Setting the figures to one side, the HD7 feels….fun.

Fire HD 7

Giving the HD 7 a once over, there’s not much to poke at. The front has the main screen and a front-facing camera, on the top side there’s the power button, micro-USB port and the headphone port, and on the left there’s a volume rocker. Round the back, there’s the rear camera and stereo speakers. The rear camera is 2 MP and the front camera is VGA, which seems a bit under-specced for a 2014 tablet but it does record HD video. There’s also a large Amazon logo emblazoned in the middle of the back and not everyone will like the plastic back, though it’s largely a matter of personal taste. Even though the back cover does have a matte texture, it’s not that grippy, so I’d be investing in some kind of case.

Fire HD 7 back

Geek Bench 3Performance-wise, the Fire HD 7 has a 1.5 GHz quad-core processor, with two 1.5 GHz cores and two 1.2 GHz cores. As a result, it scores 766 in single core and 1483 for multicore in Geek Bench 3, putting its performance close to the 2013 Nexus 7 (and much better than the 2012 one). Regardless of what the benchmarks say, the HD 7’s performance in the hand was great.

On powering up, Fire OS looks as good as ever, even on the 7″ display. The screen is 1280 x 800 pixels, giving 216 ppi, which might not be as detailed as some, but the display is good and bright with rich colours that aren’t over-saturated. The carousel style interface works well with apps and media all mixed in together. As before, there are some great touches to the interface with the soft buttons moved to the right-hand side, conveniently under the hand in landscape view but still at the bottom when held in portrait. It’s tempting to review Fire OS but given this is the fourth generation of the tablet, it’s probably unnecessary.

FIre OS Screenshot

However, it’s still all about the apps though, and it’s good to see that the range of apps available in the Amazon Store has increased in the year since I reviewed the HDX. For example, Zinio is now available (though it didn’t want to load on the HD 7) and Mailbox has been released as well, so there’s a great email client too. For the average user, it’s hard to see app availability as an issue.

More than apps, Amazon is about content and as with all Amazon devices, the Fire delivers well. Signing into the Fire HD 7 with your Amazon credentials instantly accesses all your books, music and video content. It’s easy to switch between content that’s on the device and content that’s still in the cloud – there’s a simple toggle on the top right – so managing storage is less of an issue, even on 8 MB devices. Audio playback is good and background noise is minimal, even when listening with earbuds in quiet environments. The rear speakers are one of the highlights of the Fire HD 7, giving surprisingly good sound and add to the atmosphere when watching video.

Amazon Music

For films and TV on demand, Amazon offers its Instant Video – playback of movies is as smooth as you’d expect. I reviewed much of GNC’s CES coverage on the HD 7 and it handled all the video I threw at it.

Amazon Instant Video

As with other Fire tablets, Amazon offers FreeTime, a parental controls app that lets Mum and Dad add apps and content to a child’s profile. Access to the web browser and social networking apps is restricted and the amount of play time can be controlled as well. It’s well done and increases the appeal of Amazon Fire tablets to families.

Turning to price, the base cost is GB £119 for the 8 GB wi-fi version with “Special Offers” aka adverts. Taking the memory to 16 GB ups the cost to £139. Removing the adverts costs an additional £10 in both configurations.

I’ve been using the Fire HD 7 for over a month now and I like it a great deal. It’s fun, robust, inexpensive and with the parental controls, makes a good choice for a family tablet. The screen might not have the highest resolution but if I hadn’t read the spec sheet, I wouldn’t know or care as it looks great. I enjoyed having the HD 7 around and there were plenty of times when I picked up the HD 7 in preference to my Nexus 9. If you are into the Amazon ecosystem, this would appear to be a no-brainer buy…….

….but the Fire HDX 7 is currently reduced by £50 to £149 for the 16 GB versions albeit with ads. This has a 2.2 GHz CPU and 1920 x 1200 (323 ppi) screen, so personally, I think this is the one to get. Tell you what, buy the HDX for yourself and the HD for the kids. Perfect.

Thanks to Amazon for the loan of the Fire HD 7 tablet.

Oomi Cube Smart Connected Home

Oomi LogoContinuing the current trend of connected homes and smart houses, Oomi‘s unique selling point is the user experience, claiming to be the easiest to setup and the smartest at learning. Jamie talks dream houses with Chris Hall, President of Oomi.

Eighteen months in the making, the heart of the Oomi system is the Oomi Cube and the Oomi Touch. The Cube is the brains of the system and is full of sensors, including ones for motion, noise, temperature, humidity, breaking glass and smoke. The Oomi Touch is an Android tablet which is used to setup and control the whole system though “Tap-and-Touch”. Tap the connected device to be added to the system and then touch the app on the tablet to get it setup correctly. Easy-peasy.

Oomi IQ is built-in to the Cube and the idea is that it learns from the activity in the home around it and starts responding to changes in an intelligent way. Simplistically, if it’s dark and there’s someone in the house, turn the lights on. Sounds great but it will be interesting to see how it works out.

Oomi will be available mid 2015 and pre-orders will initially be taken through Indiegogo, though the campaign is not yet live.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly  for the TechPodcast Network.

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Southern Telecom Brings $249 Windows tablet to CES

Southern Telecom logoTablet computers have become mainstays in our everyday lives. In just a few years, this market has exploded, with many vendors jumping in with new products. One such company is Southern Telecom, who showed off its new Windows tablet at CES 2015.

Scott caught up with Isaac from Southern Telecom. Isaac explained that his company’s new Windows tablet runs the “full-blown” version of Windows and also comes with a full keyboard. The device will ship with 32gb of internal storage and a Micro-SD card slot. This tablet will retail for the impressive price of $249 and should be available in May of this year.

Interview by Scott of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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