Category Archives: Techradar

HP unveils its line of enterprise convertibles and tablets

HP unveils its line of enterprise convertibles and tablets

If your business is looking for enterprise-focused devices that are designed to provide portability and power, HP has several new tablets and convertibles they’d like you to test out.

In addition to the recently leaked HP Pro Slate 12, HP Pro Slate 8 and HP Pro Tablet 408 G1, HP unveiled the Elite X2 1011 G1, the ElitePad 1000 G2 Healthcare and Rugged Tablets, and the Pro Slate 10 EE & Pro Tablet 10 EE.

The Elite x2 1011 G1 is an 11.6-inch Windows 8 convertible. It features a Core M processor built into a magnesium-alloy bezel. The Elite x2 is meant to serve as a tablet primarily, but HP claims it offers enough under the hood to serve as an enterprise laptop as well. With 10.5 hours of battery life, it will run more than a full business day. It will be available later this month for $899 (around £987, or AUS$967).

HP Elite x2

Industry-specific devices

The ElitePad 1000 G2 Healthcare Tablet is a 2.4 pound 10.1-inch device with a full HD screen. It is powered by an Intel Atom processor and features a 2D barcode reader specifically designed to read and scan personnel, patient, and medication information. It is generally available for $1499 (around £546, or AUS$1830).

HP ElitePad Health

Similar to the Healthcare Tablet, HP unveiled its tougher, more longer lasting cousin, the ElitePad 1000 G2 Rugged Tablet, a 3.2 pound tablet powered by an Intel Atom processor. In addition to the 2D barcode reader available on the Healthcare Tablet, the ElitePad 1000 G2 Rugged Tablet offers 20 hours of battery life and a full HD 10.1-inch screen. It will be available in February for $1599 (around £1055, or AUS$1950).

HP ElitePad Rugged

The Pro Tablet 10 EE features an Intel Atom processor that runs on Windows 8. It weighs 1.87 pounds and is generally available for $279 (around £184, or AUS$340). The same device can be purchased with an Android-based operating system – the Pro Slate 10 EE – for $299 (around £190, or AUS$980) for educators and $349 (around £230, or AUS$426) for general consumers.

HP Pro Tablet

Pro Slate and Pro Tablets

Although previously reported on, pricing and availability for the Pro Slate and Pro Tablet lines were unknown. The Pro Slate 8 and Pro Slate 12 are both generally available for $449 (around £296, or AUS$548) and $569 (around £374, or AUS$695) , respectively. The Pro Tablet 408 G1 is now available for $299 (around £190, or AUS$980). Both the 8-inch and 12-inch devices offer 12 hours of battery life.
HP Pro Slate

The previously reported HP Pro Tablet 408 G1 is now available for $299. It’s an 8-inch tablet powered by an Intel Atom Quad Core processor. It weighs 0.82 pounds, with a low-resolution 1280 x 800 screen.

HP Pro Tablet G1



Download of the day: CrystalDiskInfo

Download of the day: CrystalDiskInfo

Get to the bottom of any problems ailing your computer with CrystalDiskInfo, which shows you exactly what’s wrong in an easy to use interface.

Why you need it

If there’s something wrong with your computer, it’s not always obvious what the problem is. Even experienced PC users can be stumped by a faulty computer, which makes CrystalDiskInfo such a useful program.

Get it up and running and it displays the S.M.A.R.T. information of your PC – that stands for Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology, and it lets you see exactly what’s ailing your computer.

CrystalDiskInfo breaks this down and makes it easy to know exactly whether a drive is too hot or whether your computer is in general good health or is about to lay down and die. Even better, this useful little app can automatically send you alerts if a problem arises, meaning you can quickly address the problem before any serious damage is caused.

Key features

  • Works on: PC
  • Versions: Free
  • Diagnose problems: Find out exactly what is ailing your computer and solve the problem fast
  • Monitor PC health: CrystalDiskInfo can send you alerts when things go wrong, especially useful if you need to monitor several systems at once

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Industry voice: Five key trends which are accelerating enterprise video adoption

Industry voice: Five key trends which are accelerating enterprise video adoption

The majority of us will watch a video by the end of today. Whether it is for information or entertainment, people are using video on a daily basis in their everyday lives. Businesses have started to capitalise on this fact and are beginning to incorporate video into their communications strategies.

Widespread corporate adoption of online video is a significant driving force behind investment in and development of the medium. Enterprise video has made a substantial impression at a management level and, as a consequence, budgets to invest in streaming-enabling technology are being inflated.

This increase in spending translates into a much broader audience for distributed video content within businesses. As managers adopt new technology to deliver employee training, executive presentations and company meetings, workforces are becoming accustomed to video as a professional, effective and engaging communications medium.

As the use of online video for business purposes is increasing, the corporate world is making great strides forward, enthusiastically embracing video technology.

A recent report by Wainhouse Research shows that there are five key market trends driving this momentum in enterprise video adoption and setting the stage for continued increase in corporate streaming technology investment.

1. BYOD and the mobile trend

Getting the most value out of business video means accommodating the prevailing trend of using smartphones and tablets for business purposes. As BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and CYOD (Choose Your Own Device) mature as practical business solutions, users will expect the technology to keep up regardless of compatibility, formatting or security difficulties.

Interestingly, most people these days have access to a video camera in the workplace. Fully embracing enterprise video will mean utilising the medium to enable information to flow back up the management chain, providing executives with valuable feedback from their workforce.

2. Engagement

Whether by means of a webcast or a videoconference, video has the potential to create more connected and engaged employees. It is effective, it grabs viewer attention and can entertain and inform at the same time. Video is also a very personal, human medium to convey messages and this makes it easier for management to come across as more approachable, but also for users in general to put a face to their voices and opinions.

3. Employee Generated Content (EGC)

Up until not long ago, it took a lot of work, time and money to create a video, without any guarantee that the end product would work seamlessly. Nowadays however, almost anyone can create a video with a webcam and little else. Young people, even children, do it effortlessly on a daily basis.

More than half of the respondents to Wainhouse’s survey said they have access to a camera at their workspace that can capture video. It is now easy to create and share videos at the workplace to communicate faster and more effectively.

4. Integration

In order for video to become a natural part of the workplace, it must integrate seamlessly with the communication solutions that companies already have in place. Enterprise video platforms should not exist in a vacuum, independent of established tools such as Microsoft Lync and SharePoint, IBM Connections and Oracle WebSphere.

In order for solution providers to consistently meet these expectations, the technical requirements demanded of video technology platforms will continue to expand.

5. Security

It is incredibly important that internal communication is secure. In the past, many video sharing options offered less than optimal security for companies. Now enterprise video platforms are developing robust and flexible security for an organisation’s sensitive video content.

Final thoughts

The features key to a solid enterprise video platform are not just the ones mentioned above, rather they shift as organisations develop new ways in which video affects their business.

Enterprise video providers must continue to innovate in everything from viewership analytics and network management to network and content security, this last element being of key importance for internal communications. In order to address the expectations of corporate users exploring expanded investments in video, solutions designed for the enterprise market must be both robust and flexible.

The corporate world will play a key role in driving innovations in online video. Regular use and continued investment will push platform providers for frequent product upgrades so that the available software and delivery solutions can be consistently improved. With such investment, development and innovation, the adoption of streaming and online enterprise video will continue to accelerate.

  • Martin Nurser is Vice President of Qumu EMEA



The most popular passwords of 2014 prove we’re still morons

The most popular passwords of 2014 prove we're still morons

Apple’s iCloud leak. The Sony hacks. You might think the past few months would have taught people a thing or two about online security. Apparently not.

SplashData has published a list of the most popular passwords from the last year, most of which – but particularly the top five – reveal that plenty of us still don’t give two hoots about protecting our personal information. The number one culprit for 2014 was ‘123456’ – can you guess number two?

Look, we know how it is. We lose track of all the services we’re signed up to, and it’s often tempting to go with something nice and generic, but at least pretend you don’t want the hackers to win.

Anyway, here’s a rundown of the top 10.

1. 123456
2. password
3. 12345
4. 12345678
5. qwerty
6. 123456789
7. 1234
8. baseball
9. dragon
10. football

Really? Your password is ‘football’? Really?

YouTube : www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Jx8Eay5fWQ



Industry voice: Six predictions for the future of cloud infrastructure

Industry voice: Six predictions for the future of cloud infrastructure

The future of the cloud is bright, but this year, cloud performance will become a critical factor. Organisations will be challenged to build a best-fit cloud environment that meets workload requirements and provides optimal performance.

With that in mind, read on to discover our six predictions for the future of cloud infrastructure in 2015.

1. Network latency will take the spotlight

Having optimal cloud compute and storage specs does not alone ensure the best possible cloud performance. The performance of your network can be equally – and sometimes more important – than the quality of your internet infrastructure.

This year, Internap found that networks only deliver data over the best path 15% of the time, which is a huge issue for companies that are hosting their mission-critical applications in the cloud and need to ensure high-speed access.

I expect 2015 will be the year when more companies that have invested heavily in internet infrastructure will take a closer look at how they can improve their network to ensure the best possible performance.

2. Hybrid infrastructure will go beyond cloud-only solutions

The term "hybrid" has traditionally been limited to public and private cloud infrastructure, but in 2015 and beyond, we’ll see "hybrid" take on an expanded definition as companies concerned with delivering the highest possible levels of performance, security, control and cost-efficiency implement broader hybrid infrastructure approaches.

A few years ago, the only people who cared about achieving the highest possible levels of performance might have been high-frequency traders or scientists using high-capacity R&E networks, but today performance sensitive applications are becoming table stakes across industries. From ecommerce to adtech and mobile analytics companies, the reliability, scalability and performance of their internet infrastructure is not only critical to the business – it is their business.

For these customers, public or private clouds are not optimal for cost-efficiently scaling their applications to deliver a flawless user experience for end customers on any device, anywhere, at any time, which is driving the growth in hybrid infrastructure environments.

In 2015, expect more companies to get realistic about virtual cloud’s role as one element of their overall IT infrastructure mix, along with bare-metal and more custom services like managed hosting and colocation, to best fit their specific applications and use cases.

3. Bare-metal adoption in performance-sensitive industries

Companies in industries that rely on performance-sensitive, fast data applications will increasingly weave bare-metal infrastructure – which can offer the flexibility of virtualised public cloud with the performance of dedicated servers – into their IT infrastructure mix.

As customers become more familiar and comfortable with running their stable workloads on bare-metal infrastructure, we also expect to see companies increasingly take advantage of hourly bare-metal configurations to support their performance-sensitive variable workloads.

We were one of the first-to-market with our bare-metal infrastructure solutions back in 2012, and over the last year we’ve seen many other providers move into the bare-metal space as companies seek higher performing, but equally flexible and on-demand alternatives to public cloud.

We’ve already started to see widespread adoption of bare-metal emerging in the adtech industry, and we expect to see continued adoption in industries like online gaming, financial services, healthcare and ecommerce in 2015 and beyond.

4. Public cloud does not always equal virtualisation

The NIST definition of cloud computing includes on-demand self-service, along with rapid elasticity and resource pooling, among other criteria. Although virtualisation is nowhere to be found in the definition, there is still a widespread misconception that it is inextricably linked to public cloud services. According to a recent Internap survey of 250 internet infrastructure decision makers, 66% of respondents cited virtualisation as a defining characteristic of a public cloud.

With the rise in popularity of bare-metal infrastructure, which can offer the agility that defines the cloud without using a hypervisor layer or multi-tenant environment, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that virtualisation is not necessary for cloud computing.

In 2015 and beyond, this traction will continue to drive greater awareness that public clouds can come in various forms – including non-virtualised bare-metal alternatives – and are still evolving to fit the needs of new and more specific applications.

5. OpenStack will gain more public cloud traction

Over the last few years OpenStack-based private clouds have been adopted by some of the world’s largest corporations like PayPal, Time Warner and BMW, and this year we will start seeing more OpenStack-based public cloud deployments.

For public cloud providers, this private cloud activity we’ve seen over the last few years has helped to build the overall OpenStack ecosystem, and laid the foundation for widespread OpenStack-based public cloud implementations. Each OpenStack-based private cloud that is deployed represents a future hybrid cloud and an enterprise customer that will appreciate the interoperability that OpenStack offers.

With expanding geographic footprints, enterprise-class features and the ability to avoid vendor lock-in, these customers will be increasingly attracted to OpenStack-based public clouds in the same way enterprises started warming up to Linux.

6. Cloud-wary organisations and security revelations

In Internap’s 2014 Cloud Services Landscape Report, we found that 40% of "cloud-wary" organisations (those that have not yet adopted cloud infrastructure) cited security as a concern, whereas only 15% of the "cloud-wise" (those currently using cloud infrastructure) cited security as a challenge they’ve encountered.

While a portion of cloud-wary organisations are from security conscious industries, such as financial services, healthcare and government, these findings suggest that the majority of cloud-wary organisations may be overestimating security risks. As more companies adopt cloud infrastructure for the first time in 2015, we expect that many will experience fewer security issues than they might have expected prior to adoption.

  • Satish Hemachandran is the vice president of product management, cloud and hosting, at Internap



Fujitsu laptop runs for 20 hours thanks to Broadwell and extra battery

Fujitsu laptop runs for 20 hours thanks to Broadwell and extra battery

Fujitsu has launched a new fleet of Lifebook notebooks powered by Intel’s fifth-generation Broadwell CPU, one of which the company claims can go for up to 20 hours on a single charge.

Well — two charges — technically: the Lifebook S935K gets extra juice from an optional second internal battery. It can still reach a fairly impressive 15.9 hours without it, according to Fujitsu, though it’s likely that figure will drop with screen brightness and other power settings dialled up to 10.

The S935K has a 13.3-inch IGZO display and a modular bay that allows a DVD writer and other components (including the battery) to be swapped on-the-fly.

The Windows 8.1 notebook can be equipped with a biometric palm vein sensor, NFC and smart card reader for security, and connectivity options include LAN and an analog RGB port for hooking up to a projector.

Extra Lifebook

It’s joined by three more additions to the Lifebook series — the T935, a 13.3-inch 2-in-1 — and the T725, a 12.5-inch 2-in-1 that comes with a docking station. A third model, the U745, is being touted as a slim-and-light Ultrabook packed with connectivity options that includes an increasingly rare VGA output.

Pricing and availability for the new LIfebook systems is yet to be announced, but Fujitsu has confirmed that they are due to launch in February.



Microsoft to showcase phone-laptop hybrid at Windows 10 event

Microsoft to showcase phone-laptop hybrid at Windows 10 event

Microsoft’s first big event of 2015 is only hours away and there seems to be increasing evidence that it will not be only about Windows 10 (at least if we believe Microsoft’s head of mobile, Joe Belfiore).

Now, The Information understand that Microsoft could also introduce "new hardware" and may reveal a phone-laptop hybrid solution, which the publication believes could appeal to enterprise customers.

Could it be a Windows version of Palm’s promising but doomed Foleo? A take on Asus’s similarly-promising EEE keyboard (but with different layout) or a Windows iteration of the Padfone X, which might be easier to do.

Platform agnostic

There are also rumours that Microsoft will reveal a single code base that will allow applications to be natively platform agnostic, meaning that they can run on any devices, regardless of whether they are x86 or ARM-based or whether it has a large screen or a small one.

The logical outcome could be that Microsoft will deploy a unified app store instead of having two separate ones (for two separate architectures). Doing so opens the door to a much wider audience for developers.



Review: Updated: Samsung Galaxy Alpha

Review: Updated: Samsung Galaxy Alpha

Introduction and design

While Apple is being praised and mocked in unequal measure for launching the "bigger than bigger" iPhone 6 with a 4.7-inch display and the even bigger iPhone 6 Plus – is that a reversing beep I can hear? – Samsung has performed an about-turn of its own with the launch of the Galaxy Alpha.

This is the first Samsung smartphone I can remember using that values attractive design ahead of spec list box-ticking. Whilst it’s not the finished article, it marks a welcome departure in an exciting new direction for the company.

It’s also arguably the most balanced and comfortable-to-use premium phone Samsung has made since the Samsung Galaxy S2.

Make no mistake though – this is unknown, risky territory for Samsung. The Samsung Galaxy Alpha is priced like a flagship phone, but it’s technically out-specced by the Samsung Galaxy S5.

Since its launch there have been a number of price drops, and you can now get the Samsung Galaxy Alpha for under £350 if you shop around. That’s quite a big drop from the £549.99 asking price it launched with.

Really, though, this simply reframes the age-old iOS vs Android argument with none of the platform bias – what makes a premium phone premium?

Design

Let’s get the obvious comment out of the way early doors. The Samsung Galaxy Alpha looks a lot like an iPhone.

While it’s clearly been released to pre-empt the launch of the iPhone 6, though, the Alpha’s design is pure iPhone 4. It’s got a very familiar flat-edged aluminium rim with that same nick-inviting chamfered edge. Even the machined speaker grid on the bottom edge is reminiscent of Apple’s seminal phone.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Of course, the fact that Samsung has borrowed some ideas from Apple is far less noteworthy than the fact that it has finally adopted metal into its design process. Given how well the company has done with its first attempt, I have to ask: what took you so long, Samsung?

This is a lovely phone to hold. It sits in one hand delightfully. As someone with larger-than-average hands, I can just about stretch my thumb to each corner of the 4.7-inch display without needing to shuffle the handset around in my hands.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

That’s facilitated by a nice thin bezel and the Galaxy Alpha’s super-thin body. At 6.7mm, it’s not the thinnest phone in the world, but it’s up there. It’s also 0.2mm thinner than the similarly proportioned iPhone 6.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Like Apple’s new iPhone, Samsung has positioned the Galaxy Alpha’s power button on the top right-hand edge of the phone, so you can reach it easily with thumb or finger. The volume rocker is on the opposite edge, if a little higher up. Both have a satisfying click to them.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

It’s when you look closely at these side buttons that you realise the Galaxy Alpha’s metal rim isn’t quite as unoriginal as it first seems. There’s a subtle outward curve just before you reach the top and bottom edges, which is both nice to look at and offers a useful niche to tuck your little finger into.

You know you’re definitely dealing with a Samsung phone when you turn it over – and we’re not just talking about the Samsung logo or the centrally-mounted, square-rimmed, slightly protruding camera unit.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

The Galaxy Alpha’s dalliance with metal extends only to its outer rim. The rear of the device is the same kind of soft-touch polycarbonate as we’ve seen before.

It’s one of the least objectionable uses for the material yet, though. Perhaps it’s the fact that Samsung has done away with that awful faux-stitching effect, or the fact that it’s framed by elegant metal rather than ugly shiny plastic. I don’t know, but in this case Samsung’s use of plastic is as notable and restrained as its use of metal.

The decision not to opt for an all-metal body has led to a number of other benefits. It makes the Alpha easy to grip and handle, it allows for a removable battery, and it makes the phone remarkably light.

Samsung is evidently pleased with the design of the Samsung Galaxy Alpha as it is basing the look of its new series of handsets on it. The Samsung Galaxy A5, along with the Galaxy A3 and Galaxy A7 have all taken design cues from the Galaxy Alpha, such as the elegant metal body.

After the disappointing design of the Samsung Galaxy S5, we’re also hoping that the Samsung Galaxy S6 will take cues from the Galaxy Alpha’s stylish design.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

At 115 grams, it’s 14 grams lighter than the iPhone 6. In fact, it’s only 3 grams heavier than the 4-inch iPhone 5S. No, it doesn’t quite feel as premium as either, but it’s nowhere near as far off as Samsung’s earlier efforts.

And this introduces one of the most contentious specs of the Samsung Galaxy Alpha – its display. As I’ve already mentioned, this is a 4.7-inch screen, which kind of bucks the trend for recent high-end Android devices. The HTC One M8, the Google Nexus 5, the Sony Xperia Z3, and yes, the Samsung Galaxy S5, have all busted through the 5-inch barrier.

Indeed, the Alpha feels like a blast from the past, going back to the time of the Nexus 4, the HTC One X, and the Samsung Galaxy S3. More pertinently, and as already discussed, this is the size adopted by Apple for its iPhone 6.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

The result is that you’ll probably find the Galaxy Alpha either slightly smaller or slightly bigger than you’re used to. My view? Like Goldilocks and the middle-sized bed, this one feels just right. It offers a clear view of HD video, games and most web pages without sacrificing portability or one-handed usability.

Perhaps even more contentious is the Samsung Galaxy Alpha’s display resolution. It’s only ("only") 720p.

Complaints about this lower resolution are valid – particularly given the Galaxy Alpha’s premium price – but only up to a point. Yes, other Android phones have hit the considerably sharper 1080p resolution standard in recent times, but the vast majority of these have been larger 5-inch displays.

In fact, if we’re talking mainstream phones, only 2013’s HTC One M7 really springs to mind as offering a 4.7-inch 1080p display.

In a sub-5-inch screen like this one, 720p feels perfectly adequate. That’s not to say that you definitely won’t notice the difference in sharpness between the Galaxy Alpha and (for example) the Galaxy S5. But as it is, using the phone in isolation, the Alpha’s display is plenty sharp enough.

Indeed, with Samsung’s expert – and still relatively unique – use of Super AMOLED technology, the Galaxy Alpha’s picture positively pops from the screen. Colours are rich and contrast levels are exemplary, while you won’t be experiencing inky blacks of this kind on any LCD panel.

It still lends some icons and images a slightly false, gaudy appearance, but once you’re attuned to it (or once you’ve tuned it to your liking) other displays can look a little drab by comparison.

Key features

Many would argue that the Samsung Galaxy Alpha’s defining feature is its stunning looks, and that may well be the case. Indeed, even Samsung itself claims that the focus is on "smart aesthetics and a compact frame" here.

But don’t let that fool you into thinking that the Alpha skimps on interesting features. Not all of them are entirely successful, but they’re here.

For one thing, the Finger Scanner from the Samsung Galaxy S5 has made its way into the Alpha. Think of it as Samsung’s version of Apple’s Touch ID, only not as good.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Like Apple’s solution, you can use your finger or thumbprint to access your locked phone from sleep. You can also use it to input registered website passwords, once you’ve fed the initial details in.

This is all well and good, but the reason Touch ID works is that it’s simple to initiate – just press your finger onto the home key – and it works the vast majority of the time.

Samsung’s solution requires you to steadily swipe your finger from the bottom of the screen over the lozenge-shaped home key in a very specific way. Once you’ve perfected the technique, it works more often than not, which isn’t often enough. These factors combine to make it a bit of a pain to use, and after toying with it I switched it off pretty quickly.

Fitness features

Another of the special features to have made its way into the Galaxy Alpha is a heart rate monitor. Combined with the S Health app, it lets you monitor how your heart is doing over a period of time.

This too was present in the Samsung Galaxy S5, and once again it works in much the same way. There’s a little optical reader right where the camera flash is, on the back of the device. Enter the heart rate monitor section of the S Health app and hold your finger up against the reader, and you’ll soon have a seemingly accurate reading.

Of course, it’s a pretty specific function that only certain fitness fanatics will consistently use. For the rest, it’s a bit of a gimmick.

Still, S Health has other functions beyond reading your heart rate. In fact, it’s a one-stop shop for all things health and fitness related.

You can track your calorie intake, and start an exercise routine based on running, walking, cycling or hiking. This will employ the phone’s GPS and music-playing system to send you on your merry way, tracking the distance covered and calories burned along the way.

The feature you’ll most probably encounter the most in general use is the pedometer. Once set up, you’ll get a constant reading of the steps you’ve taken during the day on your lock screen, as well as updates on your progress towards a preset goal.

I was suspicious of how accurate this was given the high number of steps that it registered during a day of my inherently sedentary job. Besides, working towards a set number of steps seems a little arbitrary. But perhaps if you’re semi-serious about getting fitter and don’t plan to splash out on a dedicated fitness tracker, this may be of interest.

Even then, though, there are superior Android fitness applications out there on the Google Play Store, such as Adidas MiCoach and Runkeeper.

4K video

We’ll discuss the Samsung Galaxy Alpha’s camera in general terms in the appropriate section, but I should mention here that it’s capable of recording 4K video.

Yes, this is another feature that can also be found on the Samsung Galaxy S5, but the Samsung Galaxy Alpha isn’t competing with that. It’s competing directly with the iPhone 6, and the iPhone 6 doesn’t do 4K.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Of course, watching UHD video back on the phone itself doesn’t reveal much. You’ll only really see the benefit if you have a 4K TV or monitor, although the footage I shot and played back on my 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display (which has a 2,880 x 1,800 resolution) looked plenty smooth enough.

Again, this isn’t really a feature that many people will need, and it’s highly questionable whether taking 4K video on a smartphone is worth the extra storage space overhead – particularly here on the Galaxy Alpha, which doesn’t have expandable storage.

That latter point is a slightly odd one. Yes, the Samsung Galaxy Alpha has a moderately generous 32GB of internal storage as standard. But why is there no microSD slot?

The Sony Xperia Z3 and Xperia Z3 Compact are also able to shoot 4K video. Although both handsets do have their own issues with 4K video, they at least come with a microSD slot that allows the memory to be boosted by up to 128GB.

The Alpha is supposed to be a direct iPhone 6 rival (Apple’s phones never come with expandable storage), but given that the Alpha’s rear panel is removable, why not include a microSD slot?

Was space really that limited?

Interface

Those hoping for a classy software overhaul from Samsung to match its hardware efforts are in for a disappointment. You get the same cluttered, dated-looking TouchWiz UI layered on top of Google’s Android OS – this time Android 4.4.4 KitKat.

As always, I forced myself to live with the default Samsung UI throughout the review period, resisting the temptation to streamline the experience by downloading Google Now Launcher or Apex Launcher, as I would with my own Android phones.

Nowadays, doing so is no longer a sure fire way to get me riled up. Using a modern Samsung phone like the Galaxy Alpha with its default factory settings is pretty okay. Not great, but not bad.

That might sound like damning with faint praise, but it isn’t meant to be. Samsung has undoubtedly made improvements in its software design over the past year or so, and this is the best and most intuitive Samsung UI yet.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha

The latest iteration gives you a main homescreen with a useful and surprisingly understated weather and time widget taking up the top third, with a Google Now box leaving space for four of your favourite app icons. Along the bottom you can squeeze in your four main-use apps alongside an app tray shortcut.

It’s not so dissimilar to stock Android, really. Slide left, however, and you don’t get the Google Now screen as you do in the excellent Google Now Launcher (that’s accessed by pressing and holding the Home key here). Rather, you get Samsung’s My Magazine news story collator, which is a result of the company’s team-up with Flipboard.

My Magazine looks quite nice, but it’s not particularly well executed. It feels sluggish, taking an age to load up a limited range of content. You’re much better served just booting up the Flipboard app itself and getting to precisely the content you’re interested in.

Although there hasn’t been any official word, it is all but guaranteed that the Samsung Galaxy Alpha will be updated to Google’s latest mobile operating system, Android 5.0 Lollipop.

Android Lollipop has now started rolling out to the Samsung Galaxy S5, so hopefully the Samsung Galaxy Alpha will get it soon. Of course it will still be skinned with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface, so don’t expect an experience akin to the one in stock Lollipop.

Menus and settings

Elsewhere, Samsung’s notification menus are gradually getting more functional, but seemingly not much more attractive. They’re presented in a slightly uninspiring range of blue tones, but the circular function toggles are crisp enough.

Having said that, the latest settings menu is simply too spread out for its own good, with the large coloured circular markers too tough to distinguish from one another at a glance.

You can see what Samsung was attempting – to prevent that familiar information overload feeling you get with most modern smartphone settings menus. But this alternative approach makes it even trickier to find the function you want, because the odds are it’ll be several swipes away from where you are, and not necessarily in a logical location.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

On the plus side, I like how Samsung has started dotting thoughtful shortcuts throughout its interface. Bring down the notification menu and you’ll find a dedicated S Finder button, which lets you carry out a system-wide search.

Type in a name, for example, and it’ll search your chosen messaging app (Hangouts or Messages), your contacts, your email app, any stored files containing that name (including images and videos), and even Chrome’s search history. It won’t, however, search your Gmail app, which is a bit of a pain.

Anyway, S Finder is a nice thing to have to hand, as is a Quick Connect option for sharing content to local devices.

Another minor touch I appreciated along these same lines was when I switched on Flight mode when turning in for the night. When you wake the phone next, there’s the option to turn Flight mode off, right there on the lock screen.

It’s seemingly small touches like this that make a smartphone pleasant to use rather than gimmicky biometric readers or finicky gesture controls (which are still here, if you really want them). Samsung seems to be waking up to this fact, which can only be a good thing and hopefully we’ll see more of this sort of thing with the update to Android 5.0 Lollipop.

Performance and battery

Another reason the Samsung Galaxy Alpha is so pleasant to use, and probably why I’m finding the TouchWiz UI so easy to live with, is that everything simply flies on it.

This is one speedy, responsive smartphone. Navigating through the Android menus is super smooth, with nary a glimmer of a stutter.

Besides Samsung’s software optimisation, that’s partly thanks to the speedy Exynos 5 Octa SoC that’s running most versions of the phone. Samsung’s own chip, which switches between four low-power processor cores for light tasks and four supercharged ones for heavier tasks, is quite the performer.

What’s more, with fewer pixels to push around than, say, the Samsung Galaxy S5, there are even more processor resources free at any one time. That’s borne out with our usual GeekBench 3 benchmark test.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

An average multi-core score of 3,132 pitches the Alpha’s performance level slightly ahead of the Galaxy S5, which managed 2,909 in our test.

There still aren’t enough top-performing compact phones like the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact for my liking. Here’s another to add to that tiny pile.

Battery

For a phone that favours a slim, compact design above all else, battery life was always going to be a concern. Indeed, the Samsung Galaxy Alpha’s 1,860mAh battery seems a little slight by modern standards. Compare it to the Galaxy S5 and its 2,800mAh battery, and it looks alarmingly small – regardless of its less demanding display.

Sure enough, the Alpha only just lasted through a full day of moderate usage, and required a nightly charge. Introduce a little gaming and HD video watching, and the percentage plummeted.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Of course, that in itself is not unusual for a modern high-end smartphone. Our regular battery test, which involves running a 90 minute 720p video with the display cranked up to full brightness, left 84 percent left in the tank, which isn’t bad by any means.

That’s the same level of performance as the Galaxy S5 and the iPhone 5S, and is well ahead of the HTC One M8. Hopefully the battery performance will improve too with the optimisations of Android 5.0 Lollipop when that lands on the phone.

This being a Samsung phone, you also get the benefits of Ultra power saving mode. This is way more extreme than your average power saving mode, switching the display to greyscale, providing a simplified homescreen, restricting app usage to the bare essentials, cutting mobile data when the screen turns off, and limiting connectivity.

It’s so bare bones that it wouldn’t even let me take a screen grab for this section.

The result, though, is that your usage time will increase dramatically. I sat and watched as the stated battery percentage ticked up by 10 percent, such is the mode’s miraculous restorative power. It’s perfect for those emergency situations when you’re low on juice and far away from a charger, though at this point it’s worth remembering that your £350 – £500 smartphone is essentially less useful than a 10-year-old feature phone.

The essentials

This is a Samsung phone, which means that it’s very strong at simply making and receiving calls. While I was concerned at the relatively low and erratic signal strength that often appeared in the notification bar on my test unit, that didn’t seem to reflect on the call quality in those locations.

In fact, call quality was of a consistently high standard during my time with the phone – clear, crisp, and plenty loud enough.

Samsung’s Contacts menu and related Phone app may not be the prettiest around, but they’re powerful and effective. Going to a contact brings up all of the ways in which you’re connected, including any installed third party communication apps like WhatsApp.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

You also get a little reminder of the last time you spoke to someone when you call them up, which is particularly handy for those business calls.

Messaging

In terms of messaging, you get the now typical choice between Samsung’s own Messages app and Google’s Hangouts app.

As with making calls, Samsung’s messaging app is a little ugly but deeply functional. I particularly like the ability to add "priority senders" to the top row of the app, giving you quick access to those few contacts that you message all the time.

Meanwhile, using the volume buttons in the Samsung Messages app performs the rather unusual – but strangely appealing – function of increasing the size of the fonts, so you can quickly squeeze more messages in or make them easier to read.

Of course, Google’s Hangouts has its own allure. It’s much more stylish and pleasant to look at and use, and it smartly integrates SMS messages with data-based chats. It also automatically pushes your favourite contacts to the top of the pile.

That being said, it’s one of those apps where you feel Google is still trying to hit upon the ideal layout and design, which doesn’t always make for a fluid, intuitive experience and that continues to be the case in the updated Android 5.0 version. The current one’s pretty good, though, so here’s hoping Google runs with it.

Keyboard

Samsung’s keyboard isn’t particularly great, though. Once again, it’s functional rather than attractive, but it simply lacks the effortless appeal of something like SwiftKey or even Google’s own Keyboard.

What’s more, if you’re a regular comma user like me, you’ll have to touch and hold on the full stop key to bring up a menu and select it from there. That gets old pretty quickly.

The predictive word suggestion system works pretty well, though, and there is a slide-to-type option – but it needs to be activated from the keyboard settings menu.

Both of the aforementioned alternatives are available on the Google Play Store – Google’s for free – and both feature a comma key and integrated swipe-typing, as well as a more attractive design. Download one of those instead, unless you like to have dedicated numerical keys.

Browser

Just like the choice of messaging app, Samsung continues to offer two web browser apps here on the Galaxy Alpha. It’s still a decidedly messy state of affairs that you have both Google’s Chrome and Samsung’s own internet app available here – particularly to those ignorant of the differences.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Of course, Chrome will be the favourite of most for its unbeatable ability to sync up with the popular Chrome desktop browser. Having said that, Samsung’s own internet browser isn’t bad by any means. In fact, it has a couple of features that Chrome doesn’t.

I really like the little magnifying glass effect that appears when you hold and drag on text, making copying and pasting sections of text a doddle. Dare I say it’s markedly better than Chrome’s fiddly text-selection function? Yes, I think I would.

Samsung’s browser also has a Safari-like Reader option that renders desktop-based web sites in nice, simple, mobile-friendly text-only form. These can then be saved for later offline reading. It’s not the best implementation of this feature, but at least it’s there and it works.

Both browsers are fast, though, and both seem eager to get out of your way and offer a full-screen web browsing experience. I just don’t think it’s an ideal state of affairs to have them both here at once.

Camera

It might seem as if Samsung has compromised with the Samsung Galaxy Alpha’s 12-megapixel camera. After all, the Samsung Galaxy S5 has a 16-megapixel example.

That may well be the case, but the Galaxy Alpha still turns out some truly excellent images. Just as importantly, it’s a joy to handle. Not only is it fast to focus and snap, but you don’t have to work hard or fiddle with settings to get decent results either – just point and shoot.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Of course, when you do delve into the Alpha’s camera settings, you’ll find plenty to play with. Ever-present on the main camera interface is a toggle for an accomplished HDR mode, for those high-contrast or shady images. You also get a selective focus mode that accentuates a close-up (50cm or less) object by blurring out the background.

The mode even lets you switch between focusing on the foreground or background after the picture has been taken. In truth, you can get a decent enough depth of focus effect in general use without needing to switch to this artificial method, which takes a little too much framing and a considerable amount of time to process. That’s more a testament to the Alpha’s fine camera than it is a criticism of a gimmicky mode, though.

Elsewhere you get the same extras as the Galaxy S5 and others in the Samsung range, including Beauty face (for smoothing off those wrinkles and spots) and a streamlined Shot & More mode. The latter is where you can apply various effects and post-processing options such as Best photo, Best face, erasing unwanted objects and merging multiple shots into an action photo.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

As with elsewhere in its TouchWiz UI, Samsung has cleaned up and simplified its camera UI significantly to the point where it’s actually quite intuitive to use.

As noted above, you also get 4K video recording here, which provides footage with four times the pixel count of 1080p Full HD. The Galaxy Alpha handles this without batting an eyelid, although you lose the ability to do extra things like taking still snaps while you’re recording, so Samsung has understandably stuck with the more flexible 1080p mode as the default.

Sample images

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

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Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

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Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

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Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

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Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

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Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Click here for the full res image

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Click here for the full res image

YouTube : http://youtu.be/H_Gm_xNl2ewYouTube : http://youtu.be/h4O3Qnw1XOA

Media

Samsung devices are always highly capable media players, and the Galaxy Alpha isn’t going to be the first phone to let the side down.

While it still only has a single speaker (on the bottom of the handset), making for mono playback across all media, that’s about the only thing that’s lacking here. And besides, you should be using a decent set of headphones anyway.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Samsung bundles its own music player in here, as always, and it’s fine for those who simply want to drag and drop their existing MP3 collection the old fashioned way.

However, Google’s Play Music – also bundled – is a much better choice for anything further. Not only does Google offer its own well-stocked MP3 store, but you can also sign up to a Spotify-like music subscription service and upload your existing tracks to the cloud.

Sound quality is just fine regardless of the service you choose. You also get a nice piece of full-screen album artwork for the lock screen music widget, alongside the expected control shortcuts.

You also get a smaller music widget in the notification menu. Speaking of which, whenever you plug in your headphones, you’ll be presented with a row of commonly associated app shortcuts within the drag-down menu. It’s a nice touch.

Video playback is similarly accomplished. OK, so the Samsung Galaxy Alpha’s 720p display won’t show off 1080p Full HD video in its full glory, but all of the HD footage we tested – through Google Play Movies & TV, YouTube, and the Netflix app – looked plenty sharp enough. Held next to a larger 1080p handset you’ll notice the difference in sharpness, but in isolation it looks great.

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Thanks to that Super AMOLED technology, colours and blacks look particularly striking – there’s a real sense of depth to movie content in particular.

Perhaps the strongest media-related area for the Samsung Galaxy Alpha is gaming. Almost everything we tried here positively flew, from complex 3D fare like Dead Trigger 2 to vibrant 2D games like Badland (which feels like it was made to show off Super AMOLED technology).

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

This strong performance is doubtless thanks to that nippy Exynos 5 CPU and a 720p display that doesn’t siphon too much of its power off for pushing extra pixels around. Anything that didn’t fly during my time with the Alpha seemed to be down to a lack of optimisation on the game developer’s part – still not an uncommon state of affairs on Android, sadly.

The Competition

iPhone 6

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

The iPhone 6 is clearly the smartphone Samsung had in mind when it launched the Samsung Galaxy Alpha. It’s got the same-sized 4.7-inch display, a similarly slim metal-heavy design and a similar price point.

Samsung has the slight edge on size and weight, but the iPhone 6 retains Apple’s premium design edge with its all-metal construction. We’d also take Apple’s classy iOS 8 software over Samsung’s slightly clunky TouchWiz UI any day.

After our full review of the iPhone, it’s definitely the superior phone in myriad ways, but it’s also more expensive and this is Samsung’s most focused attempt at taking on Apple directly in a single premium handset yet.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact its clearly the most direct rival to the Galaxy Alpha after the iPhone 6.

It’s got a similar 4.6-inch 720p display, and a similarly high-end Snapdragon 801 CPU powering it. In the Sony Xperia 3 Compact’s favour it has a tasty-looking 20.3-megapixel camera.

Like the Galaxy Alpha, the Xperia Z3 Compact can also film 4K video but this time with a microSD slot that allows you to store a decent amount of 4K footage.

One thing the Xperia Z3 Compact doesn’t have is a classy metal design, but on the flip side its tough plastic shell means that it’s dust and water resistant. The Galaxy Alpha certainly isn’t.

HTC One M7

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

You can’t talk about premium metal Android phones without mentioning one of HTC’s recent efforts.
While the HTC One M8 is the most recent and impressive effort, however, I feel that last year’s HTC One M7 – which is still being sold as new by HTC – is a more apt Galaxy Alpha competitor.

After all, it too has a premium metal design and a 4.7-inch display. In fact, the HTC One M7 arguably has the superior examples of both. Its body is ALL metal, and distinctive to boot (no raiding of the Apple design book here).

Meanwhile the One M7’s display has a much higher 1080p resolution, not to mention a well under £400 price tag for those prepared to shop around.

Of course, last year’s HTC flagship also has an older, less capable Snapdragon 600 CPU, which means it’s not as good a performer as the Alpha, nor is it as future-proof. Its 4-megapixel UltraPixel camera isn’t as good an all-round snapper as the Alpha’s 12-megapixel unit, either.

Hands on gallery

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Samsung Galaxy Alpha review

Verdict

It’s taken a while, but Samsung has finally come up with a premium metal design for one of its phones – and it’s pretty darned good for a first attempt. True, the company has sacrificed a little of its box-ticking cutting edge allure in the process, but the result is the most balanced and pleasant-to-use handset in the range.

We liked

While it borrows liberally from the Apple design playbook, the Samsung Galaxy Alpha still feels like a notable progression for the company – and it still feels like a Samsung phone. Just a particularly classy one.

In scaling back to a 4.7-inch display, and framing it in a super-slim chassis, the Alpha takes its place as the nicest Samsung phone to wield – particularly in one hand.

Indeed, the Galaxy Alpha is brilliant in day-to-day use thanks to blazing performance and an accomplished 12-megapixel camera.

We disliked

While Samsung’s TouchWiz UI is the leanest it’s ever been, it’s still a glaring weak point when you compare it to rival efforts. It should be next on the list for a radical overhaul by Samsung’s designers.

Meanwhile, Samsung has evidently had to make certain compromises to facilitate that slim, premium design. One takes the form of a slightly less-than-premium 720p display. So-so battery life is the other notable downside to such a slinky handset design.

These shortfalls make the Samsung Galaxy Alpha’s premium price point feel very steep – or at least it does if you don’t value high-end external design as highly as cutting edge internal technology. It’s a lot, lot more expensive than the S5, which has a much more impressive spec list.

Verdict

Samsung has created a truly desirable smartphone for the first time in… well, ever. Those who were fine with Samsung’s plastic-heavy approach in the past may frown at perceived compromises in the Galaxy Alpha’s spec list, but I’d encourage you to hold one in your hand before making any snap judgements.

This is a phone that’s pleasant to use in a variety of situations, thanks to its lightweight design, just-right size, and impressively swift performance.

I’d have liked a 1080p display and stronger battery life, and ultimately Samsung’s software design is holding the Alpha back from being a true iPhone 6 toppler. But this is a solid first step on a bold new path for Samsung – it’s just hard to understand why on earth it’s so expensive.

First reviewed: September 2014



Samsung won’t buy BlackBerry, but this may be the start of a beautiful friendship

Samsung won't buy BlackBerry, but this may be the start of a beautiful friendship

Rumours that Samsung was looking to buy BlackBerry were met with flat out denials from both companies, but while an acquisition may not be in the works it looks like a closer partnership could be on the table.

J.K. Shin, head of Samsung Mobile Communications, said "We want to work with BlackBerry and develop this partnership, not acquire the company" in a statement to The Wall Street Journal.

Samsung claimed in a statement that it wasn’t interested in BlackBerry’s security software as it’s heavily invested in its own Knox platform, while BlackBerry’s patents apparently aren’t a big draw for Samsung either.

Sharing technology

The site goes on to reveal that Samsung is reportedly looking to extend the scope of its cooperation with BlackBerry and may even use BlackBerry technology in Samsung devices.

It’s not clear what technology that might be, especially if Samsung really is focused on its own security and enterprise software, but on the other hand BlackBerry is already helping Samsung with its Android security, so further cooperation in that space could be on the cards.

There are other things BlackBerry does well though. Its BBM and BlackBerry Hub messaging software is well developed and could prove beneficial to Samsung.

And of course a partnership goes two ways, so it’s feasible that one day we could see Samsung technology make its way to BlackBerry devices. If the two companies do continue to share their technology then that would surely be a good thing for users, who could potentially benefit from the best of both, but it still remains to be seen what form this strengthened partnership will take.



Tech Bargains: TechRadar Deals: Smartphones, TVs, tablets, hard drives and more

Tech Bargains: TechRadar Deals: Smartphones, TVs, tablets, hard drives and more

It’s Tuesday morning and that can only mean one thing – more deals!

Today we’ve got some cheap smartphones, TVs, cameras, headphones, tablets, portable hard drives and more!

Let’s kick off with some excellent portable bargains? If you’re after a smartphone AND a camera, why not get both in one device? The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is an Android smartphone and a compact camera all in one and is currently available for £139.

Or if portable gaming is more your thing, how about this Zavvi deal on a New Nintendo 3DS bundle which includes the new handheld as well as Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – all for £174.99.

January Sales: quick links

Gift cards: Amazon gift cards | Gift card store | John Lewis gift cards|Currys gift cards|PC World gift cards | GAME gift cards

TODAY’S HOT DEALS

1

When the LG G Flex – the world’s first curved smartphone – launched a year ago, it cost well over £600 SIM free which was a bit steep. Today though, you can pick one up for just £244.99 – that’s more like it!

2

And while we’re on LG’s mobile devices, you can also get a great deal today on the 7-inch LG G Pad Android tablet. It’s currently just £76.99 at Expansys.

3

The Nintendo 3DS deal above isn’t the only portable gaming bargain we’ve seen this morning. You can also pick up a Sony PS Vita with the Sports & Racing Mega Pack and a 16GB memory card all for just £129.99!

4

And the first of two portable storage bargains now. Firstly, Argos currently has this Toshiba Canvio 2TB hard drive for just £59.99 – that’s a great deal.

5

Meanwhile PC World has a 256GB PNY USB 3.0 memory stick for just £74.99.

MORE DEALS

Netgear EX2700 300mbps WI-FI Range Extender – £18.99

Toshiba Encore WT8-A-102 8-inch Tablet – £159

Samsung UE32H5500 32-inch Widescreen Full HD Smart LED TV – £249

TomTom Via 130 EU GPS Unit – £79.99

Sennheiser CX 200 Street II – £13.99

Integral UltimaPro 64GB Class 10 SDXC Memory Card – £18.99

Gioteck HC2 Stereo Headset For PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC – £19.99

Samsung GALAXY S4 Zoom – £139

NEW 3DS Black Console – Includes Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – £174.99

January sales: quick links

Quick links to the best January sales deals:

very

Very sales homepage | Electricals sale | TV sale | Tablets and E-Readers | Games & Consoles | Clothing, fashion & footwear sale|Home, garden & furniture sale | Home & Garden |

amazon

Amazon sales | Games & console deals | Electricals & computing sale|Clothing sale | DVD & Blu-ray sales | Shoes and boots sale | Toys & Games sale

argos logo

Argos sales | Technology, Gadgets & Gaming sale | Home & Garden|Toys and Games | Sport & Leisure | Health & Beauty sale | Clothing sale

currys

Currys sales homepage | TV Mega Sale | Cameras & Audio|Laptop & Computing sales | Hard drives & printers | Home Appliance sales|Software sales

tesco

Tesco Direct: The Big Sale | Smartphones & Mobile | TVs & Accessories| Headphones & Speakers | Computing & Office| DVD & Blu-ray sale |Furniture sale

john lewis

John Lewis Sale | Tech & Gadgets sale | Home & Garden|Sports Gear|Womenswear | Menswear | Furniture sale|Beauty sale

Gift cards: Amazon gift cards | Gift card store | John Lewis gift cards|Currys gift cards|PC World gift cards | GAME gift cards