Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet

Why You'll Dig it:

IT'S HARD TO believe, but Sony has managed to make a tablet that's both thinner and lighter than the iPad Air. Apple's tablet is just 7.5mm thick and weighs only 469g, but Sony's new Xperia Z2 Tablet trumps that. It's just over a millimeter thinner than Apple's tablet at 6.4mm, and at 439g it's even lighter.

You notice the weight difference as soon as you pick it up. The Z2 Tablet feels significantly lighter to hold than the iPad Air and Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1, both of which are 30g heavier. It's also a lovely object to look at. The Z2 Tablet feels more like a high-quality product than the plastic Galaxy TabPro and is approaching the iPad Air for desirability. You may not like the Z2 Tablet's plastic rear as much as the iPad Air's metal finish, but it contributes to the light weight and feels durable. You might also prefer the glass rear of the Tablet Z, but the Z2 is certainly more comfortable to hold. It's still waterproof, too, and Sony has managed to waterproof the headphone socket without using a plastic flap.


The Z2 Tablet contains one of the most powerful mobile chips available - the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801. This has four cores running at 2.3GHz and runs Android 4.4 better than any Android tablet we've seen. It feels far quicker than the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro, which, despite its up-to-the minute Exynos 5 Octa processor, suffers from stuttering and lag. The Z2 Tablet's power is evident when opening and closing applications and flicking through home screens, but even an Android tablet as powerful as this can't match the iPad Air for sheer uninterrupted smoothness, as we still noticed the occasional hesitation.

In our benchmarks, the Z2 Tablet wasn't quite as quick as we expected. It completed the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark, which is a reasonable indicator of web browsing performance, in 1,034ms. That's a strong score but is slower than both the iPad(382ms) and Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro (972ms). It's also significantly slower than the Snapdragon 801-equipped Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone, which completed the test in 731ms using Google Chrome browser.

Despite this, the tablet's web browsing performance is excellent. It renders pages quickly and there's almost no lag when scrolling around. The Z2 Tablet certainly copes better with complicated web pages than the Galaxy Tab Pro, which was disappointingly hesitant. The Z2 Tablet also performs well with 3D games. As we expected, 3D driving game Real Racing 3 ran beautifully smoothly at maximum detail levels.

The Z2 Tablet's customized version of Android is a winner. The stock version of Android 4.4 can look dark and staid, but Sony's customizations are subtle and classy. Customizing your home screens, with a sidebar presenting apps and widgets for you to drag where you want them. The main app tray makes navigating your apps easy, too. Swiping in from the left edge brings up a menu that lets you sort your apps alphabetically, by frequency of use or according to an order of your own devising.


Apple and Samsung may have pushed their tablet's resolution to great heights, but Sony has stuck with a relatively modest 1,920x1,200 for the Z2 Tablet. This gives it a pixel density of 224ppi compared with the iPad's 264ppi and the Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1's 311ppi, but we're not convinced that it matters much. Text on the Z2 Tablet's screen is still incredibly sharp, and web pages couldn't be easier to read.

The Z2 Tablet may not be hugely different from its predecessor, but it's an improvement in all the ways that count. It's slimmer, lighter and faster, with an absolutely beautiful screen and even an impressive battery life of just over 15 hours in a video playback test. It's the best Android tablet by far, and there's not a lot difference between this and the iPad Air for speed, ease of use and screen quality. If you want a 10in Android tablet, buy this one.


Speed, power and a beautiful screen; Sony's new tablet has it all, and is the best 10.1in Android tablet available.


CPU: 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
GRAPHICS: Adreno 330
DISPLAY: 10.1in widescreen LCD(1,920x1,200)
DIMENSIONS: 172x266x4mm, 439g
DETAILS: www.sonymobil.com

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SAMSUNG Galaxy TabPro 10.1

Why You'll Dig it:

There are three 10.1in tablets in Samsung's current range. At the bottom you have the $200 Tab 3, with its relatively low-resolution 1,280x800 screen and dual-core 1.6GHz processor. At the top is the $600 Galaxy Note, which has capacitive stylus for note-taking and drawing. Between the two is the TabPro 10.1, which shares the Note's 2,560x1600 screen and eight-core processor but does away with the stylus and cuts more than $150 from the price.

The TabPro looks almost identical to the Note with its faux-leather rear. This is a little cheesy and divides opinion, but it makes tablet easy to grip and is preferable to shiny plastic. Most Android tablets dispensed with physical buttons a while ago, preferring to devote a section of the display to back, home and running applications, but Samsung has kept dedicated controls on the bezel. This leaves you with more screen space, but means you can't easily use the tablet upside down. That's not much of a hardship, though.

This tablet's stand out feature is its screen, which has a massive 2,560x1,600 resolution. That's the highest pixel count of any current tablet, dwarfing even the iPad's 2,048x1,536. The iPad's screen may be classed as Retina, which means the human eye can't discern individual pixels, but text on the TabPro's screen still looked slightly smoother. There's little to choose between them for image quality too. The calibration tests revealed similar contrast ratios. The iPad's came in at 805:1 and the TabPro's at 812:1 impressively deep for LCD screens.

The TabPro's display is slightly brighter than the iPad Air's at 397.9cd/m² rather than 374.7cd/m², but the iPad has the edge for color accuracy, displaying 96.8 per cent of the sRGB color gamut to the TabPro's 93.3. Viewed side by side, there's little difference but the iPad's screen has slightly purer whites.


The Galaxy TabPro has a Samsung Exynos 5 Octa processor, which uses ARM's big.LITTLE architecture. It has four Cortex-A15 and four Cortex-A7 processors and switches to the lower-power cores for less-intensive tasks such as audio or video playback. The tablet managed 10 hours and 14 minutes in a continuous video playback test, which is one of the better scores we've seen from a 10in Android tablet, but lags behind the 12 hours and 24 minutes we saw from the iPad Air.

We weren't particularly impressed with the TabPro's performance, however. Its 1.9GHz processor should run Android smoothly, but we experienced lag. Animations were jerky when opening and closing applications, and there's slight delay between pressing a key on the screen keyboard and text appearing. There's also a delay between swiping your finger on a web page and the page moving. This compares poorly with the super-responsive iPad and also the Google Nexus 5, which feels far snappier despite its slower processor. We suspect that the combination of a high-res screen and Samsung's software customizations is affecting performance.


Samsung's custom software isn't entirely unwelcome. As well as being prettier than the stock Android 4.4. it has some useful productivity features. Our favorite is multitasking support. Swipe in from the right bezel and a pane appears with a selection of apps. You can drag an app to one side, and even adjust how much of the screen each takes up. It's useful for looking at documents or websites side by side, for example.

Samsung has also tweaked its My Magazine app to suit business users. As on the Samsung Galaxy S5, swiping left from the main homescreen brings up a tiled magazine view that pulls information feeds from various news stories in a choice of categories, but swipe left again and you'll now see a dedicated Business screen. This has panels for news stories, your calendar, your inbox and the integrated Hancom Viewer office document app.

The TabPro also comes with a remote access utility that lets you log into your PC. Once we'd logged into the service and installed the agent on our PC, we were able to view whatever was on our PC's screen and even do some basic editing. We could enter data into Excel spreadsheets but not Google Sheets, for example. More useful was the ability to access our PC's file system and copy files to the TabPro. From a productivity point of view, though, we preferred to use SugarSync to synchronize our documents between a PC and tablet's storage, and to edit them using the tablet's built-in apps.

On paper, the Galaxy TabPro 10.1 seems an excellent alternative to the expensive Galaxy Note. It has the same high-resolution display and processor, and if you don't need the Note's stylus, you'll appreciate the $170 discount. We love the high-quality screen too, but were disappointed with the tablet's performance. The operating system feels too laggy for a premium tablet, especially compared with the similarly pr iced and far more responsive iPad Air. We think the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet is much better buy than the Samsung Galaxy Pro 10.1.


A lovely high-resolution screen and some useful productivity features, but the TabPro's performance is disappointing.


CPU: 1.9GHz Samsung Exynos 5 Octa
DISPLAY: 10.1in widescreen LCD(2,560x1,600)
DIMENSIONS: 171x243x7mm, 469g
DETAILS: www.samsung.com

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

HTC One m8

Why You'll Dig it:

THE ORIGINAL HTC One was such a design statement that the company has opted not to mess with the formula for its successor. With an-all-metal design, faster internals and a larger screen, you could easily mistake the new hanset for the original - until you turn it over and spot the unique dual camera.


As one of the few Android phones to compete with Apple in terms of design, the HTC One (m8) is a beautiful handset. It's a almost 90 per cent metal, with the few silvers of plastic used to ensure the best possible reception for the internal antennas. The curved back fits your hand comfortably and the brushed metal finish glints in the light. The m8 will also be available in gold and silver color, but these have a more subtle matte finish.

The m8 is slightly larger than the original HTC One to make room for the bigger Sin LCD display. Both phones have the same 1,920x1,080 resolution, which means pixel density has dropped from 469ppi on the 4.7in original to 441ppi here, but in practice it's still impossible to see individual pixels. The m8 looks incredibly sharp, even the tiniest of fonts is still legible, and images are incredibly detailed, with natural colors and pure bright whites, along with impressively deep blacks. With a peak brightness of 491cd/m² and an sRGB colors spectrum coverage of 93.7 per cent, the m8 is among the best LCD screens we've seen, rivalling the iPhone 5S.

HTC's front-facing BoomSound speakers make watching YouTube videos a joy; they are impressively loud, but also clear, with no signs of distortion or clipping when pushed to their limits. There's even a small amount of bass, so you won't need to reach for your headphones when someone sends you a video.


It's at the back where you'll find the biggest change; the Duo Camera is such an important feature that it almost deserves a review in itself. It uses dthe same 4-megapixel 'Ultrapixel' main sensor as the original HTC One, which has an oversized ½in sensor and larger 2.0um pixels to capture more light information. However, this time it's paired with a second depth-sensing camera. Used together, they let you choose the point of focus in a image even after you've pressed the shutter button, or add stylish bokeh effects to your images. Sadly, optical image stabilisation has been cut to make room for this feature.

Because it uses hardware rather than software calculations to assign depth values to images, the m8 is much faster than other smartphones. Samsung's Galaxy S5 and the LG G Pro 2 both take five shots at once then stitch them together, giving you five possible points of focus but taking several seconds per shot. With HTC we could take three or four different shots in the same amount of time. In practice, the effects make portraits and macro shots stand out, but sometimes refocusing an image would blur areas we wanted to keep in focus; there's no way to select the strength of the effect, so you're stuck with what the phone chooses for you.

If you're more of a night person, you'll love the m8's low-light abilities. Moving inside, it captured plenty of facial detail when shooting portraits; it was also quick to save each shot, which could make it the perfect nightclub companion. It also has a True Tone flash, which automatically adjusts the intensity and color of the twin LEDs to produce more accurate low-light images. In our still life tests, it helped create a more even color balance than other smartphones.

You can control white balance, ISO and shutter speed to negate some of this effect, saving your settings as a specific 'lens' that can be called up at any time. There are also a huge number of filters, effects and tools to choose from once you've taken a snap, too, including the clever Dimensionalise mode which uses the depth data to add a 3D effect, where tilting the phone moves the images online and preserve the effect, but it's a nice touch that can add a bit more interest to your photos. HTC's custom Camera app is sensibly laid out and very responsive, making it ideal for spur-of-the moment photography.


As is par for the course in a 2014 flagship phone the HTC One (m8) is running latest 4.4 KitKat version of Android. The latest iteration of HTC's own Sense user interface sits on top; that means reskinned icons, a selection of device-specific apps and the Blinkfeed news reader, which is just a swipe away from the home screen. Blinkfeed is much easier to scroll through now everything is presented in one long list, rather than by pages at a time, letting you get Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Google+ updates in bite-sized chunks without jumping into the apps themselves. You can also add a selection of diverse news sources, including the Guardian, Bloomberg, Designed for Living, Deadline, Autoblog and Vice.

The Phone, Messages and Mail apps have all received Sense makeovers, and HTC insists on including its own Browser app rather than let Googles's Chrome take centre stage, but otherwise this latest version of Sense is refreshingly minimal. The Settings app is cleanly laid out and easy to navigate, while the pull-down notification and quick settings menus feel a lot like vanilla Android.


HTC has also added a microSD card slot to the HTC One (m8), letting you add up to 128GB of extra capacity to the 16GB or 32GB of internal storage (depending on the model). Unfortunately, Google's revised permissions in Android 4.4 make it a bit harder to edit or move the files saved to external storage, but anyone that uses their smartphones as an MP3 jukebox or portable video library will still appreciate its inclusion.

The m8 is powered by Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 801 processor, which seems to have made its way into almost every flagship smartphone in 2014 so far. The quad-core chip runs at 2.3GHz and is paired with 2GB of RAM, which translates to incredibly fast performance. Even with Sense 6.0 running on top of Android 4.4 KitKat, the phone felt extremely responsive, loading apps quickly and drawing image-heavy websites such as BBC News and the Guardian with no noticeable lag or slowdown. When it comes to to web browsing, this is the fastest Android-powered smartphone.

The Adreno 330 GPU is also more than adequate for playing any game in the Google Play Store today; it played demanding 3D titles such as Real Racing 3 smoothly.


OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 4.4(KitKat)
DISPLAY: Sin 1,920x1,080 LCD CAMERA: 4-megapixel
CLAIMED BATTERY LIFE: 20 hours' talktime
DIMENSION: 146X70X9.4MM, 160r
DETAILS: www.htc.com

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Asus Transformer Book Trio TX201LA

Why You'll Dig it:

Asus Transformer Book Trio TX201LA is unlike any hybrid device we've ever seen. Not only is there a complete Windows 8 system hidden inside its keyboard, there's also an Android tablet packed in behind the screen.

Switching between operating system is simple. Detach the screen from the keyboard and you have an Android 4.2 tablet - the change takes place in an instant. You can also use the dedicated "instant OS switch" button at the top of the keyboard to switch between operating systems when the keyboard dock is attached. The transition takes less than a second and you don't need to worry about losing your progress either, as each operating system runs in the background while the other is in use, so you can pick up instantly where you left off.

You can use the keyboard and touchpad to control both operating systems, which will be welcome news to those who don't like using Android's onscreen keyboard or who want to keep oncreen fingerprints to a minimum. it certainly makes browsing the web easier if sites aren't configured for mobile viewing.

A nice feature, though, is the ability to connect the keyboard dock to a monitor over its Mini HDMI or mini DisplayPort output. As the Windows PC is inside the keyboard, you can use it on a large screen while someone else uses the tablet.

Of course, with twice as much hardware the Trio is a little bulkier than many hybrids. Its combined weight of 1.7kg (1kg for the keyboard dock and just 700g for the tablet) makes the Trio TX201LA surprisingly heavy in your hand. The tablet es actually a fraction lighter than Samsung's Galaxy NotePro 12.2 tablet, but at 9.7mm deep it's almost 2mm thicker. It's still comfortable to hold in both hands, but we often had to rest it on our lap or the edge of our desk when using it for long periods. The Trio's combined height of 32mm when closed is also considerably thicker than an Ultrabook, but it's easy enough to fit in a bag when traveling.

The Trio doesn't have the widest range of ports, but it should cater for most users. As well as two video outputs it has two USB3 ports and combined headphone and microphone jack on the keyboard dock. The tablet has a microSD card reader that supports cards up to 64GB, a Micro USB port and another combined headphone and microphone jack.

The microSD card is particularly useful as the tablet has only 16GB of internal storage. The keyboard dock, on the other hand, has a 500GB hard disk, so you'll want to store most of your files here. Transferring files between the two is easy. The tablet's storage appears as a drive in Windows Explorer, so you can drag and drop files from one to the other.


The Trio's dual-operating system isn't just for show - some seriously capable hardware powers each device. In the Windows-based keyboard dock you'll find a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U processor and 4GB of RAM. This is the processor found in many Core i5 Ultrabooks. It's more than capable of handling everyday office tasks and running multiple applications at once.

The tablet, meanwhile, has a 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2560 processor and 2GB of RAM. This would be sluggish in a laptop, but it's a great choice for Android. The operating suystem felt smooth and responsive when we were flicking between pages. The tablet completed the SunSpider JavaScript test in a respectable 1,280.3ms, quicker than the Google Nexus 10, so you shouldn't have any trouble browsing the web or watching videos.

The Trio's keyboard is a joy to use. Ideally, we'd like a little more room on the wrist rest, but the keys are well spaced and give plenty of tactile feedback while typing. We like the responsive touchpad, too, and its smooth surface makes it easy to perform multi-touch and Windows 8 gestures.


The touchscreen disables itself when you're using Windows 8 with the keyboard dock connected. This isn't too much of a loss, though, as the screen's 1,920x1,080 resolution would be tricky to use accurately with touch support. It still works when you switch to Android in the keyboard dock, though.


The Trio's rear 5 megapixel camera is less impressive, as both our indoor and outdoor shots had a kind of milky haze. Images were relatively detailed when there was enough light, but even outdoor shots in bright sun were noisy, with muddy patches of pixels.


CPU: 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U / 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z2560
STORAGE: 500GB hard disk + 16GB SSD
GRAPHICS: Intel HD Graphics 4400
DISPLAY: 11.6in widescreen IPS touchscreen (1,920x1,080) OPERATING SYSTEM: Windows 8, Android 4.2 DIMENSIONS: 32x303x194mm, 17kg
POWER CONSUMPTION: 1W standby, 11W idle, 31W active
WARRANTY: Two-years
DETAILS: www.asus.com

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