All posts by Darren Allan

Microsoft announces the Surface Pro with a nifty new design and big battery boost

Over at a press event in Shanghai, Microsoft has revealed the next model in its Surface range of hybrids, and as expected, the follow-up to the Surface Pro 4 has dropped the number and is simply called the Surface Pro.

Also as expected, the power of the convertible has been boosted with an upgrade to Kaby Lake processors, which are fanless – meaning this is a quieter-running and more power-efficient device. Plus there’s optional support for 4G LTE coming later this year.

And the new Surface Pro has also witnessed some improvements to the overall design, including rounded edges, and less bulk – this is the lightest model of the hybrid yet at 770g (and 8.5mm thin) for the Core m3 version.

But the biggest design move is an improved hinge, meaning the kickstand can go much further back to an almost flat position, called Studio Mode.

As with the Surface Studio, this allows for a more comfortable experience when doing things like sketching on the Surface Pro with the stylus (or using the Surface Dial with the hybrid).

Speaking of the pen, this is also revamped and now boasts 4,096 levels of pressure, tilt sensitivity, and an improved 21ms latency, with Microsoft promising to deliver the ‘best writing experience’ thus far.

Beefy battery

The Surface Pro has a claimed battery life of 13.5 hours, an impressive boost (the Surface Pro 4 offers nine hours of longevity according to Microsoft’s official figures). There are no USB Type-C ports here though, with just a plain Type-A port, mini-DisplayPort and audio jack.

Microsoft further claims that the new machine is 1.7x faster than the iPad Pro (and 2.5x faster than the Surface Pro 3).

As promised, enhanced Type Cover keyboards of the Alcantara (fabric) variety were also revealed alongside the refreshed hybrid.

As for the asking price of the new Surface Pro, the entry-level model starts at $799 in the US and £799 in the UK (that’s around AU$1,380). It goes on sale on June 15.


Three wants you to cut the cord with new wireless broadband offer

Fed up with your sluggish fixed broadband connection? Then you might be interested to learn that Three is offering a new tariff with a 40GB data allowance for its HomeFi mobile broadband solution.

HomeFi means you can have broadband without a landline – and it’s dead easy to set up. You just plug the HomeFi box into a power socket, insert a SIM card, and you’ve got a Wi-Fi hotspot running off Three’s 4G mobile network (of course, the other requirement is you need to be in an area with a signal from the network).

Up to 32 devices can be connected to HomeFi, and as mentioned the new tariff boasts a monthly data allowance of 40GB, at the price of £24 per month. It won’t cost you anything for the hardware if you sign up for a 12-month contract.

However, if you’d rather have a rolling one-month contract, it still costs £24 monthly, except you have to pay for the HomeFi box initially; it’ll set you back £60 upfront.

Rural remedy

This solution could definitely be a tempting option for those stuck in rural or remote locations where fixed broadband speeds are very poor due to long phone lines, but you can still get a decent mobile signal.

If you want to check signal strength in your area, Three’s coverage checker is here, and you can order HomeFi on this page.

There are, of course, other options along these lines – such as the Relish Broadband hub, which definitely has its strengths and weaknesses, as we made clear in our review last year.


Microsoft teases new keyboard covers ahead of Surface Pro launch

Microsoft has pretty much confirmed that it’s about to launch a new Surface Pro device complete with fresh keyboard covers at a press event in Shanghai today, courtesy of a tweet from the executive in charge of Surface hardware.

Yesterday, Panos Panay, Corporate VP of Devices at Microsoft, tweeted: “Working session. 30 hours to go. #MicrosoftEvent #Surface #Shanghai.”

The message was accompanied by a picture of new Type Cover keyboards for the Surface (see below), clearly showing that these will be launched – probably among other accessories – with what surely must be a new Surface Pro.

This backs previous rumors which have shown us what the new hybrid will look like: pretty much the same as the old Surface Pro 4.

Indeed, as has previously been reported, this isn’t the Surface Pro 5 – rather the device will simply be called the Surface Pro, ditching the numbers entirely and only being a minor refresh. We heard on the grapevine last month that this iteration is most likely a basic upgrade of the hardware innards including adding Kaby Lake processors.

What will Surface?

Panay further tweeted a video five hours ago, with the message: “I love our fans. Here’s to you. #Surface.”

At the end of the video clip, one of the fans commenting says of Microsoft’s Surface range: “I really can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with next.”

It seems we’re just about to find out at the Shanghai event, which kicks off at midday BST (4:00 PT or 7:00 ET in the US). Stay tuned for our full coverage of the launch, and fingers crossed for something unexpected popping up, or a more major Surface Pro refresh than we anticipate.

Top Image Credit: VentureBeat

Via: The Next Web


Laptop sales pick up with Apple’s latest MacBook Pro selling nicely

There’s more positive news on the PC front, with one analyst firm declaring that laptop sales are up for the first quarter of this year, against traditional seasonal expectations (i.e. slower sales at the beginning of the year).

TrendForce’s figures for Q1 2017 show that 37.8 million notebooks were shipped around the globe, which represents a healthy 6.1% increase compared to the same period last year. This is another dose of positive news for the industry this year, compared to the consistent declines in PC shipment numbers we’ve become accustomed to seeing in past years.

TrendForce observed that there were a few reasons for the uptick, including unfulfilled demand from the last quarter, tempting deals that vendors were offering, and distributors bolstering their stock levels ahead of anticipated price increases from manufacturers later in the year.

It is, then, something of a temporary swing, but any good news is welcome when it comes to PC sales these days. And the Q2 outlook remains ‘positive’ according to TrendForce notebook analyst Anita Wang, with anticipated growth of 1% to 3% year-on-year.

Stall imminent

The not so great news is that we may see progress stall later in the year, and overall shipments are predicted to slip slightly. Wang noted that: “North America had a substantial wave replacement demand from government agencies in last year’s fourth quarter.

“Without similar demand contribution, the global notebook market will be a bit cooler during this year’s second half. TrendForce projects that the 2017 global shipments will fall by 2~4% compared with preceding year’s shipments.”

For Q1 2017, HP remained top dog in the notebook market, and did particularly well selling 8.16 million units which represented a growth of 18.9% year-on-year. Lenovo wasn’t far behind, flogging around 8 million units which was up 1.6% on the same quarter last year.

As for Apple – in fifth place behind Dell and Asus – the company sold 3.4 million MacBooks, with the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar apparently making a ‘significant’ contribution to shipment numbers with ‘brisk’ sales according to TrendForce. Apple’s notebook sales were up 15.4% year-on-year, and in Q2, they’re expected to grow by over 10% compared to this quarter.


Follow-up to WannaCry malware shaping up to be a real tear-jerker

Think WannaCry was bad? Well, something worse is in the pipeline, and that impending, far bigger threat, has a name: EternalRocks.

EternalRocks is aimed at the same vulnerability which WannaCry leveraged to spread itself so widely, and as Bleeping Computer reports, it’s a worm that propagates itself via SMB (Server Message Block – a file sharing protocol in Windows). If your system hasn’t had that flaw patched, it’s open to exploit.

The difference is that while WannaCry used a pair of NSA hacking tools to spread and install malware, EternalRocks has a further five NSA tools in its malicious toolbox, making a total of seven. This makes it more dangerous in terms of being able to potentially infect more PCs in an even swifter manner than WannaCry managed.

However, as Miroslav Stampar, the security researcher who discovered the new threat observes, the good news – such as it is – is that EternalRocks has not yet been weaponized.

In other words, it doesn’t currently have a malware payload, meaning that the version discovered in the wild simply doesn’t do anything at the moment.

But EternalRocks could easily be loaded up with ransomware, as with WannaCry, or perhaps a stealthier piece of nastiness such as a Trojan to hoover up your bank login details (whatever the architect of the malware wants, basically).

And unfortunately, EternalRocks is considerably more sophisticated than WannaCry on an overall level, using a two-part installation routine which delays the second stage of infection in order to be less likely to get detected by security measures. There’s no kill switch here, either, so no way of shutting the thing down as happened in the case of WannaCry.

World of hurt

In short, when this new strain of SMB-leveraging malware is let loose, we could be in for a world of hurt – a tidal wave of infections which makes WannaCry look like a lazily flowing stream in comparison.

Microsoft will doubtless argue that all this is a good reason to upgrade to Windows 10, given that it has emerged that 98% of those affected by WannaCry were running Windows 7 (so Windows XP wasn’t the worst hit operating system as previously thought).

But the reason those Windows 7 PCs were infected was because they weren’t up-to-date with the latest security patches, with Microsoft already having issued a fix for this exploit back in March. All this is certainly plenty of motivation to keep on top of security patches, if you needed any more prodding in that respect.

Also remember that Shadow Brokers, the group of hackers responsible for leaking the aforementioned NSA tools, has promised that from next month, it will leak fresh tools and exploits to help malicious types crack desktop systems and smartphones.

Furthermore, it’s also worth bearing in mind that some nefarious types are offering up solutions for WannaCry which are actually malware themselves. As Easy Solutions pointed out in a blog post: “There are various mobile applications advertising that they can be used to protect users from the WannaCry ransomware. However, our analysts found that some of these apps contained adware meant to infect the devices they are downloaded onto.  Rather than protecting users’ devices, they are causing them harm.”

All in all, it’s a bit of a malware minefield out there right now. We’ve got some advice on fighting ransomware here, and if you need further help, you can also check out the No More Ransom website which offers plenty of advice on what you should do if infected (and why you shouldn’t attempt to pay the attackers – which we also discuss).

Via: Fortune


Panasonic reckons its Toughbook 33 is the most durable 2-in-1 laptop ever

Panasonic has announced that its new Toughbook 33 will be available to buy in the US very soon, claiming it’s the most durable 2-in-1 going, and the first fully rugged detachable laptop to have a 3:2 aspect ratio display.

This is a 12-inch hybrid with a magnesium alloy chassis which meets both MIL-STD-810G and IP65 standards, being designed to be used in all weathers, and the most “gruelling and extreme conditions”. Even its digitiser pen is IP55 certified.

The 3:2 display makes this device easier to handle out in the field, Panasonic notes, and it has a resolution of 2,160 x 1,440. It’s a capacitive multi-touch display which can be used with gloves, and it has a whopping brightness of 1200 nits to ensure visibility outdoors even on sunny days.

Processor options include a Kaby Lake Intel Core i5-7300U vPro CPU running at 2.6GHz – or an i7-7600U – or you can go Skylake if you prefer, with a Core i5-6300U vPro running at 2.4GHz (or an i7-6600U).

That’s backed with 8GB of system RAM (optionally you can increase that to 16GB), with a 256GB SSD for storage (which again can be doubled up to 512GB).

Security chops

Connectivity includes 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth with optional dedicated GPS, and an optional 4G LTE modem. There are two cameras on-board, with a 1080p front-facer and 8-megapixel rear camera – with the Kaby Lake CPU models, you get facial recognition via Windows Hello (and there’s also an optional fingerprint reader).

As for battery life, that’s 10 hours (according to Panasonic’s testing with MobileMark 2014), with a twin battery design allowing for hot-swap replacements – the optional ‘long life battery’ configuration gets 20 hours of juice while out and about.

Panasonic also offers a choice of two keyboards for the Toughbook 33, and a range of other accessories including vehicle docks. And you get a three-year warranty with the device.

As you might expect, this level of power, durability and flexibility doesn’t come cheap, with the notebook pitched at a starting price of $3,649 (around £2,800, AU$4,900) when it hits the shelves later this month.


Razer will make customized gaming peripherals for Destiny 2

Razer has announced a partnership with Bungie in order to provide gaming peripherals which will be specially themed and branded for the massively multiplayer shooter Destiny 2.

Razer will sell special versions of a mouse, mouse mat, keyboard and gaming headset to celebrate the launch of Destiny 2, with the peripherals coming out in August, just before the game goes on sale at the beginning of September (on PC, as well as PS4 and Xbox One).

Jim McQuillan, Creative Director, Brand and Marketing at Bungie, commented: "The team has come up with some cool ways to pair Destiny’s art and designs with Razer’s high-performance hardware, providing players with new ways to customize their Destiny 2 experience."

Of mice and mechanical keyboards

Razer will be giving its DeathAdder Elite gaming mouse a Destiny 2-themed makeover. Aside from its new looks, the mouse boasts custom-made mechanical switches and high levels of sensitivity and accuracy. And you’ll be able to use it on a Destiny-themed Goliathus Speed mouse mat.

Also getting a splashy new look is the Ornata Chroma keyboard, which features a ‘mecha-membrane’ key set that blends the tactile feel of a mechanical switches with the comfort of membrane keys.

And finally, there’s the Razer ManO’War Tournament Edition headset, which delivers precise surround sound (and a good dollop of bass into the bargain, too).

Some tempting gear for major Destiny addicts who were already mulling the purchase of a new mouse or keyboard for the series' first . Mind you, at this point, it’s not clear if these special editions of the peripherals will cost any more than the regular versions. We’ll doubtless find out in due course.


Lenovo targets students with sleek new IdeaPads

Lenovo has revealed a range of new laptops aimed at students looking for a notebook for going back to school, including a smart-looking and svelte IdeaPad 720S alongside some new Flex 2-in-1 models.

Let’s start with the IdeaPad 720S, which is a 14-inch laptop (in a 13-inch chassis) designed to be svelte (the ‘S’ stands for slim), as well as look good. This machine benefits from an anodized aluminum casing and is 15.9mm thick with a weight of 1.55kg.

The 14-inch screen is an IPS panel with a Full HD resolution (1920 x 1080) and it’s driven by up to a Core i7 Kaby Lake processor, backed with up to 16GB of DDR4 system memory, and an Nvidia GeForce 940MX GPU.

As for storage, you get a PCIe SSD with a capacity of up to 512GB, and connectivity comprises of one USB Type-C port, a pair of USB 3.0 connectors, an HDMI port, along with 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

The 720S also boasts other premium touches like a backlit keyboard (with a redesigned layout) and a Precision Touchpad (which supports nifty gestures under Windows 10). You can also plump for an optional fingerprint reader for extra security.

Another feature worth bearing in mind is ‘always-on charging’, which means you can plug your mobile device into the notebook and it’ll charge the phone up, even if the 720S happens to be switched off at the time.

So, how much will the IdeaPad 720S set you back? The laptop will be priced at $970 (around £750, AU$1,305) and will hit the shelves in June.

Lenovo is also introducing new IdeaPad 320 (pictured above) and 320S models, with the former coming in 15-inch and 17-inch flavors, and the latter ‘slim’ variant in 14-inch and 15.6-inch models (being 19.3mm and 19.9mm thick respectively).

All offer up to Core i7 Kaby Lake processors, with integrated graphics on the 320, and the GeForce 940MX with the 320S. They’ll also be out in June with the IdeaPad 320 retailing at $440 (around £340, AU$590) and $490 (around £380, AU$660) for the 15-inch and 17-inch notebooks, with the IdeaPad 320S pitched at $740 (around £570, AU$995) and $750 (around £580, AU$1,010) for the small and larger versions respectively.

Flex appeal

Lenovo is also launching a new 2-in-1 device in the form of the Lenovo Flex 5 which will come in 14-inch and 15.6-inch versions, with a 360-degree hinge that allows for the convertible to be used in laptop, stand, tent or tablet modes.

Again, these machines will run with up to Core i7 Kaby Lake CPUs backed with up to 16GB of DDR4 system memory, and GeForce 940MX graphics. Storage comes in the form of a PCIe SSD and a hard drive of (up to) 512GB and 1TB respectively.

It’s also worth noting there’s an option for a 4K display with the 15.6-inch model, as opposed to the standard Full HD resolution. The Flex 5 will be the first of this load of new notebooks to emerge, as it’s on sale later this month priced at $720 (around £555, AU$970) for the 14-inch model, and starting at $830 (around £640, AU$1,120) for the larger laptop.

Legion of gamers

Finally, the company also revealed the Legion Y920 VR-ready gaming laptop with a Full HD 17-inch display (IPS with Nvidia’s G-Sync tech), powered by a Core i7-7820HK or Core i7-7700HQ processor.

The notebook has 16GB of system memory and a GeForce GTX 1070 GPU with 8GB of video memory. Storage is provided by a 512GB SSD and 1TB hard drive, plus you also get a backlit mechanical keyboard, and sound delivered by twin 2W speakers and a 3W subwoofer.

The Legion Y920 will cost $2,700 (around £2,080, AU$3,630) and it’ll be available in June.


Leak gives us a glimpse of Windows 10’s streamlined new design

Rumor has it that Microsoft is going to make a considerable change to the interface of Windows 10, with the introduction of a new Control Center reached via a taskbar icon – and it’ll contain functions taken from the current Action Center, the idea being to make them more readily accessible.

This all stems from an image Microsoft posted (and then swiftly deleted) along with the release of the latest preview build of Windows 10, which showed a Settings-style cog icon in the taskbar, that folks simply assumed was a new way of accessing the Settings app.

However, according to sources who spoke to Windows Central, the icon will be used to go to the aforementioned Control Center, a new section of the UI which will play host to the Quick Action buttons that are currently in the Action Center – such as the controls for Wi-Fi networks, Tablet Mode, Quiet Hours and so forth. Plus it will incorporate some additional bits for extra convenience including a slider for screen brightness.

As mentioned, this will mean more convenient access to these controls, and indeed you’ll be able to customize what appears in the new Control Center. Remember, though, that this is speculation, and that even then Microsoft is only testing this new spin on the UI at this point (on internal builds of Windows 10).

Image Credit: Windows Central

Husk of a hub?

If the company does go through with the move, it will obviously mean that the Action Center will be really stripped down – all these controls which currently nestle at the bottom of the panel will be removed (in other words, they won’t appear in both the Action Center and new Control Center, but just the latter to avoid confusion).

Effectively, the Action Center will simply become a hub for delivering notifications. And as Neowin spotted, that ties in with speculation drawn from which claims that Microsoft is considering renaming it as the Notification Center, and giving it a sleeker, more minimalist design.

That would definitely make sense if this is the direction Microsoft is going in. As ever, only time will tell, but this could well be a change which arrives with the Fall Creators Update for Windows 10 later this year.

As you’re probably aware, Windows 10 is due a big overall UI makeover with that next major update, which Microsoft is calling the Fluent Design System (previously known as Project Neon).


Microsoft’s Template Studio gives anyone the tools to build a Windows 10 app

Microsoft wants to help developers and enthusiasts easily create apps for Windows 10, and to that end is launching Windows Template Studio.

This is a simple wizard-based system designed to get Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps up and running with a minimum of fuss – and no need for coding knowledge. UWP or universal apps simply refers to software which works across the whole gamut of devices running Windows, from PCs to phones, and the Xbox console.

This fresh offering actually builds on a previous online app creation tool by the name of Windows App Studio, although the new Template Studio won’t be found on the web – instead, it’s available as an extension in Microsoft’s Visual Studio program development suite.

Template Studio’s app-making process broadly involves four stages, where you’re guided through selecting a project type, and a framework, then you can select app pages (like a settings page, or maps), and finally you can add features like background tasks and live tiles, to cite a couple of examples.

Special source

This certainly makes it very easy to create a basic universal app, and Microsoft is also making the studio an open source project, so developers can customize and add content such as their own app pages for others to use. In time, then, Template Studio should become considerably more powerful.

We spoke to Microsoft recently, and it’s certainly the company’s hope that more developers bring their apps to the Windows Store – which is important in light of the fact that Windows 10 S becomes available in the summer. This new tool could really help with that aim.

The Windows Store is, of course, crucial to Windows 10 S, given that the lightweight operating system is restricted to store apps only. By the way: stay tuned for our interview with Microsoft on the subject of Windows 10 S, which we’ll be publishing soon. It’s a must read for those interested in the new spin on Windows.

Via: Engadget