Category Archives: Techradar

Work better today: The best free PC productivity tools

Work better today: The best free PC productivity tools

Work can be engrossing. Enthralling. A platform where you learn more about the world, and yourself.

But let’s be realistic: most of the time it’s just a chore which you’d like to complete just as quickly as possible.

Good productivity tools can really help – and we’ve found 10 of the best. Whether you want to generate more ideas, plan a project, work better with others, minimise distractions or just make the best possible use of your time, there’s something for you here.

1. XMind

If you’re having trouble starting your project, give XMind a try. This comprehensive mind mapping tool helps you to express, structure and organise your ideas, then present them in attractive, professional diagrams.

XMind

The program is surprisingly versatile. Click File > New and you’re presented with templates for To Do lists, flow charts, timelines, cause and effect diagrams, project plans, org charts, plus even more personal projects like weight-loss programs or travel plans.

Once you’ve finished, there are options to export your work as images or HTML files, and you can even save the project to Evernote for easy access anywhere.

2. Wunderlist

Whether you’re shopping for groceries, planning a wedding or building an airport, you’ll probably start the same way: with a list. Wunderlist makes this easy. Type items and press Enter to add them, click a checkbox when they’re done.

Wunderlist

But you can also highlight important items and give them due dates or reminders. Lists may be shared with family and friends, and a persistent text chat feature acts like a simple web forum, allowing everyone to make comments and give advice on your various list items. Factor in real-time syncing of lists across all your devices and the ability to make lists public with one click, and this is one powerful tool. Go download it immediately.

3. LibreOffice

Everyone needs a good Office suite, and LibreOffice is one of the best – and it’s totally free. With a powerful word processor, spreadsheet, presentation tool, database, drawing and flowcharting application, there’s something here for almost every need. Whatever you’re doing, tools like a chart builder and mathematical formula editor help to produce professional, top-quality results.

LibreOffice

The program can open and save all Microsoft Office file types – Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations or Visio drawings – allowing you to collaborate on projects with friends or colleagues. Better still, regular updates mean LibreOffice is improving all the time. For example, presentations don’t have to be boring flat slides – they can now include animated 3D models.

4. Cold Turkey

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube – it’s hard to get work done when there are so many online distractions, but Cold Turkey may be able to help. Just give this clever free tool a list of the most tempting websites and it’ll block access to them all for the time period you specify.

Cold Turkey

Whatever browser you’re using, the results are the same – enter one of the forbidden URLs before the time is up and you’ll be told that the site is unavailable. The terminally lazy could still browse from their phones, of course, but Cold Turkey is still a useful way to remove common PC temptations.

5. GanttProject

Time is money, especially for large-scale and business projects, so if you’re taking on a complex task then it’s important to use the right software. GanttProject is an industrial-strength cross-platform (Windows, OS X, Linux) project manager that provides everything you need to stay in control. Create and organise tasks, add milestones, set priorities and costs, allocate resources, monitor your colleague’s workload: it’s all here.

GanttProject

Well-presented Gantt and PERT charts keep you fully up-to-date with progress. Optional cloud storage makes it easier for others to work on the project, while capable PDF reporting helps you share the current situation with the rest of your team.

6. TeamViewer

No matter how well organised you are, sometimes you’ll be in one place and the files or people you need will be somewhere else. And that’s where TeamViewer comes in. Once set up, this amazingly powerful free-for-private-use tool allows you to access and use remote PCs as though you were sitting in front of them.

TeamViewer

You can hold web meetings with audio, video and text chat, a whiteboard, file sharing and more (meetings can even be recorded for reference later). Best of all, you can do this from almost any device. TeamViewer has clients for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iPhone and iPad, and you can attend meetings through your web browser without installing any software at all.

7. Launchy

Windows has given us Explorer, the taskbar, Start Menu and the Start Screen, yet it can still take an age to find the files you need. Launchy aims to change all that by indexing your core files and allowing you to launch them with a few keystrokes.

Launchy

To use the program, press Alt+Space and start typing whatever you’re looking for: an application, file, folder, document or bookmark. As you type each key, Launchy displays its best match; press Enter when this is correct and the application, file or folder will be launched right away. The program also includes a simple calculator (try typing 2+2=), and a range of plugins provides even more power.

8. Mozilla Lightning

Mozilla’s Thunderbird isn’t just a great email client. Add Lightning‘s comprehensive scheduler and it becomes an open-source Outlook, a powerful tool for getting your life in order. At Lightning’s heart is a well-designed calendar. Add one-off or recurring events, set up reminders, even invite friends or family to join in.

Mozilla Lightning

It’s just as easy to set up tasks, attach web pages or documents and set a priority or status to help manage your activities. Working with others? Lightning can import and export calendars in the popular ICS format, or you can publish your calendar for everyone to view in a couple of clicks.

9. Evernote

Productivity isn’t just about getting more done at your desk. Ideas and inspiration can happen anywhere, which is why you need Evernote to tie them all together. Whether it’s a quick to-do list or a lengthy essay, you can add it to your Evernote workspace. Grab photos, screenshots, links, the interesting bits of a web article – anything that can help with your current projects.

Evernote

Any note can have a "reminder" attached, optionally sending an email alert for important tasks. Smart search tools scour everything you’ve collected to find the details you need. And Notebooks can be synced across all your devices as required, enabling you to view and work on them anywhere.

10. PhraseExpress

How much time do you waste typing the same words and phrases over and over and over again?

The free (for personal use) PhraseExpress saves keystrokes by expanding abbreviations into full text snippets. "ADR" could expand to your address, "SIG" might be your email signature, "RPLY" could become "Dear customer, Thank you very much for contacting us". Snippets may include formatting, pictures, tables and more, and you’re able to paste them into almost any application.

PhraseExpress

That’s great – but it’s just the start. PhraseExpress also learns and automatically auto-completes full sentences on demand. There’s a system-wide spellchecker, a clipboard manager, calculator, program launcher and much, much more.



Microsoft might put Android apps on Windows Phone

Microsoft might put Android apps on Windows Phone

Microsoft might be about to annihilate its apps problem, as it’s now rumoured that the company is considering allowing Android apps to run on its Windows Phone handsets.

Microsoft has so far failed to become a big mobile player, with users flocking instead to iOS and Android. There are any number of reasons for that but one of the biggest is surely the more developed app stores that Microsoft’s two biggest competitors have.

Not only do Apple and Google’s stores have more apps but they even have some high profile apps which Windows Phone lacks.

App overload

So allowing Android apps to run alongside native ones could be the solution and that’s exactly what the company is discussing, according to a former Microsoft employee as reported by The Information.

That would give Windows Phone instant access to a far greater number of apps, and could prove particularly tempting to Android users who could make the jump without losing any of their favourites.

But even if Microsoft is considering it, it may not go ahead, as the flip side is that developers would be less likely to make apps specifically for Windows Phone when the Android version is already compatible, which could prove enormously damaging to the Windows Phone Store. So it would be a gamble, but from a user’s perspective it could only be a good thing.



Is this our first look at the HTC One M9?

Is this our first look at the HTC One M9?

New images have leaked onto the internet that apparently show the prototype for the HTC One M9, also known as Hima.

The image of the front of the alleged prototype shows a body that will be familiar to anyone who has used the HTC One M7 or HTC One M8, with front facing BoomSound speakers, sensors, front-facing camera and HTC logo.

Another photo apparently shows the back of the prototype, with a camera and dual flash present and correct. It is not clear from the leaked shots if the HTC One M9 will feature a second rear camera (known as the DuoCamera) as well.

HTC One M9

These images, delivered by nowhereelse.fr, haven’t been verified, so we’d take there authenticity with a grain of salt, but if true it looks like HTC is sticking to a tried and tested look for its upcoming flagship smartphone.

Hopefully we’ll get a better look at the HTC One M9 at HTC’s MWC 2015 event on March 1.



Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge rumours continue to fly

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge rumours continue to fly

A number of rumours have emerged that paint a picture of what we can expect from the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S6, and if true it could be a very exciting smartphone.

The first rumour suggests we’ll see a special variant, dubbed the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, that will come with a dual-edge curved display.

The curved display will be similar to the one Samsung created for the Galaxy Note Edge, but according to SamMobile the Galaxy S6 Edge will have a curved screen on both sides of the handset.

SamMobile also claims that the Galaxy S6 variant will be able to make use of the same apps for the edge screen (known as panels) as the Galaxy Edge, which include Yahoo Finance, news and sport panels, briefing panel, pedometer panel and others from the Samsung app store.

There will also be some unique features for the Galaxy S6 variant due to its dual edged curved screen, such as being more comfortable to use regardless of if your left or right handed, along with the screens lighting up when you receive a call or message.

More RAM than a Paul McCartney solo album

The second rumour, published by GSM Arena, suggests that the Galaxy S6 will come with 4GB of RAM, rather than the previously thought 3GB.

This has emerged from statements from analysts in Korea’s financial sector. It doesn’t rule out the possibility that there will be a version of the Galaxy S6 with 3GB of RAM as well.

This is due to the rumour that the Galaxy S6 could come in two versions (not counting the curved screen variant), one with a Snapdragon 810 chipset, the other with Samsung’s own octa-core Exynos 7420. The amount of RAM the handset comes with could depend on what version you go for.

It’s expected that Samsung will show off the Galaxy S6 at MWC 2015, so hopefully we’ll see the new handset and all its potential versions then.



Google may help Elon Musk put his internet satellites in space

Google may help Elon Musk put his internet satellites in space

Elon Musk is going to launch a fleet of internet satellites in space, but considering the size of the sum it will cost, Kickstarter probably won’t be a viable option.

However according to a new report, Google is about to sign a very sizeable check with Musk’s name on it (or SpaceX – how Elon does his banking is none of our business).

Musk’s plan is to develop an army of SpaceX satellites that will beam cheap internet around the globe, opening access to billions of people who aren’t currently connected.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Google is close to investing $1 billion in the project, reiterated by The Information. As we reported yesterday, SpaceX will launch about 700 small satellites with a particular focus on bringing internet to developing areas.

Of course, Google itself has been working on a balloon-based project with similar intent, named Project Loon. That may continue, but as is the Google way – why build it when you can get someone else to do it instead?



Big changes could be coming in iOS 9

Big changes could be coming in iOS 9

The iPhone 6S could come with 2GB of RAM, double the amount found in the iPhone 6, which has been criticised by some people as too meagre.

The rumour comes from supply chain sources speaking to Taiwan’s Tech News. That extra power is exciting in itself, but it begs the question of what Apple intends to do with it, given that the iPhone 6 already delivers brilliant performance. The answer may lie in iOS 9.

Forbes theorises that as Apple is unlikely to double the RAM unless it was necessary there could be a big overhaul coming to iOS 9 which would make 2GB of RAM beneficial.

Following the cycle

It’s not just the possible upping of the RAM that points to major changes though, as iOS tends to follow a similar update cycle to the iPhone, with a major upgrade one year, followed by a more minor one focused on tweaks and optimisations the next.

iOS 8 delivered tweaks to the overhaul found in iOS 7, so now with iOS 9 we should theoretically be in for another massive change and having twice as much RAM in the iPhone 6S certainly supports that. Though it’s not clear what form that change will take.

Of course presumably it would still have to run okay on phones with just 1GB of RAM, but with the 512MB of RAM toting iPhone 4S likely to be the next iDevice to stop receiving updates it could be that less than 1GB won’t cut it.

All of this is just speculation for now and even the 2GB of RAM rumours might not pan out, especially as it’s quite a lot pricier than the RAM Apple is currently using, but if this theory does turn out to be right then iOS 9 could be very exciting indeed.



Industry voice: 12 things you should know about email, spam and file attachments

Industry voice: 12 things you should know about email, spam and file attachments

Spam has been around for longer than we can remember and often we almost forget that it is and remains a real problem. For the IT department, spam remains a major security threat and a constant headache.

More than 3% of all spam contains a malware payload and it doesn’t mean that the remaining spam emails are safe either. Today, it may sound strange, but the promises of big lottery wins and the various malicious websites that spam emails guide users to are just as dangerous as an email carrying a malware-infected attachment.

Spam is not going away any time soon, either, and the percentage of total email traffic that spam contributes has rarely dipped below 75 percent.

As the 2013 Microsoft Security Intelligence Report states: "More than 75 percent of the email messages sent over the internet are unwanted. Not only does all this unwanted email tax recipients’ inboxes and the resources of email providers, but it also creates an environment in which emailed malware attacks and phishing attempts can proliferate. Email providers, social networks, and other online communities have made blocking spam, phishing, and other email threats a top priority."

This is all the more reason to pay attention to how we use email on a daily basis, at home and at work. It can take just one spam email to ruin your day and that of your IT team. Reducing the risk does not require every employee to have a doctorate in security, but they can follow a few basic (and common sense) steps that will help keep your network safe.

The following tips should be followed and communicated to each user with access to email:

1) Do not open or respond to emails that look suspicious, unusual or from someone you don’t know that generally ask you to make an action such as giving information, credit card details, making a payment. If the email claims to be from a genuine company, but originated from a free web-based email service, it’s likely spam.

2) Do not open an attachment you weren’t expecting, especially if you don’t know the sender. Often malicious code masquerades as Word documents or some other file type. Scammers can easily change an .EXE extension of a malicious file to .DOC. If you think that you may have received such a file, it’s best to check with your IT team before doing anything with it.

3) Just as you should not open attachments, do not click on a link in an email unless you are 100% sure it is safe to do so. It is easy to interject an infected hyperlink into the body copy of an email. If in doubt, delete (or check with the sender or your Helpdesk).

4) Most businesses use a professional-grade spam filter that is configured to meet the company’s security needs. Check your spam folders regularly just in case a legitimate email is caught by the filters. Ask your IT department to whitelist important email addresses so they won’t be filtered.

5) Don’t be fooled by phishing attempts. Someone somewhere will try to get personal information from you. You should never give out personal details over email or fill in a form that pops up when you open up an email. If in doubt, check with IT department.

6) Also on the phishing front, you shouldn’t open or interact with messages from businesses you haven’t given your address to. Also be wary of messages from companies that already have your address. A popular tool among spammers is to act as if they were from your bank suggesting you need to change your password. In cases such as these, it is best to check the banks’ website for details or call their helpdesk to ensure your account is in order. Better safe than sorry. Also, banks and other organisations should not be contacting you via email for security purposes.

7) Sometimes, employees click on malicious links contained in emails. In case you have opened an email with a malicious attachment or clicked on what might have been a malicious link, immediately shut down your machine and inform IT. They will be able to isolate that machine from the network and carry out the necessary scans and remediation.

8) Compromised emailed calendar invites are a fairly recent threat. If you get one from someone you don’t know or one that looks suspicious, don’t accept it. If it is from a colleague but not using the corporate address, contact them to see if it is legitimate. In both cases, delete the invite so it can’t cause any harm.

9) Be careful when using public Wi-Fi. Don’t be tempted to log onto every bar or restaurant Wi-Fi network you come across. Avoid suspicious-sounding SSIDs. Hackers love to spoof genuine SSIDs to sniff traffic to steal passwords and user names.

10) Your company email account should be separate from your personal one. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t use the same password for both and not use your personal email address as a way to store important work documents.

11) Don’t post your work email address on forums, websites and blogs unless absolutely necessary. Hackers gather these addresses and use them for broad-based attacks and for spamming.

12) Do not download any software that has not been approved by the IT department. This could open a backdoor on your machine and used by hackers to gain access to the network or use your pc as part of a botnet, spewing out spam across the world.

A large number of security issues are avoidable if employees understand what they need to be aware of when it comes to email. As a practical tip, every organisation should circulate a few security tips regularly to refresh the employees memory and to remind the entire organisation that security is important.



Review: Panasonic GF7

Review: Panasonic GF7

Introduction

Panasonic’s GF series compact system cameras are aimed at novice photographers, but since the introduction of the super-small Panasonic GM series, the GF range has taken a bit of a back seat.

But now Panasonic has refreshed the GF series with the GF7, which the company says is replacing the GF6 (although the older model will continue to be on sale for a short while).

Sensor specs

The GF7 uses the same Micro Four Thirds format sensor format as all of Panasonic’s compact system cameras (and Olympus’s). The pixel count of the GF7 remains the same as the GF6 at 16 million pixels, but the sensor itself is upgraded to the model used in a camera much further up the Panasonic range, the GX7.

The processing engine is the same as the GX7’s, too. This allows a data readout of 240fps (frames per second), which should be good news for the autofocus speed. The AF point can be set to any point across the imaging frame and there’s both Face and Eye detection AF mode.

Panasonic claims that the AF system can operate in very low light, down to -4EV, but Focus Peaking is on hand for those occasions when you need to focus manually. It’s also possible to shoot at up to 5fps in continuous autofocus mode, or 5.8fps in single AF mode when the focus is set at the start of the sequence.

Selfie screen

Like the GF6, the GF7 has a screen which can be flipped upwards through 180 degrees, and when you do this the camera automatically switches to Selfie mode. In Face Shutter mode, the wave of a hand in front of a face will trigger the shutter, while Buddy Shutter mode is designed to help when taking selfies with friends.

Panasonic GF7

Panasonic GF7

There’s also a Jump Snap mode which uses the GF7’s built in wi-fi – you put the camera on a tripod, connect the camera to a smartphone and put the phone in your pocket. The phone detects when you’re in mid-jump and trips the camera’s shutter release.

Panasonic says that it is easier to make a Wi-Fi connection with the GF7, as after the first connection has been made, pressing the Wi-Fi button makes a reconnection. There’s also a direct picture upload option for easier image sharing.

Other camera features include a sensitivity range of ISO 200 – 25600, a maximum shutter speed of 1/16000 of a second and a more compact and lightweight body than its predecessor. As well as shooting full HD movies, the GF7 can create time lapses and stop motion animations, and has a Snap Movie mode which creates 2, 4, 6 or 8 seconds of video.

Kit lens

Whereas the GF6 came supplied with a fairly large 14-42mm kit lens, compared to the size of the body, the GF7 will ship with the smaller, collapsible 12-32mm kit lens. This is the lens that Panasonic has previously packaged with its super-compact GM range.

Panasonic GF7

Although this does mean you lose some focal range, it makes the overall size of the camera much more pocket friendly. There are a huge range of compatible lenses for the Micro Four Thirds system, and the GF7’s lens mount is compatible not only with Panasonic optics, but also those produced by Olympus and Micro Four Thirds lenses from third party manufacturers such as Sigma.

There’s a fair amount of competition in this sector of the market, but perhaps the closest rivals are Panasonic’s own GM5 and the Sony A5100 and the Olympus PEN Mini E-PL7.

Build Quality and Handling

Panasonic has given the GF7 a more classic, retro look when compared with the GF6. The rounded corners have been straightened out a bit and certainly when paired with the 12-32mm lens it’s much neater overall package. Despite the fact that it’s smaller, the camera feels a little more solid, and there’s a more substantial thumb pad on the back of the camera.

Panasonic GF7

The mode dial covers semi-automatic modes (such as aperture priority and shutter priority), panoramic mode, scene modes, digital filters mode and a couple of other scene modes. In order to activate the fully automatic mode, you’ll need to push a button just next to the on/off switch. You’ll see a small blue light just in front of this button which indicates that automatic mode is on.

Viewing options

There’s viewfinder on the GF7, so if you prefer to compose your images with a viewfinder in a traditional way, this may not be the camera for you. On the other hand, the flippable screen makes it more useful for selfies, waist-level shots and other awkward angles.

Panasonic GF7

Moving to the back of the camera, you operate the flash pop-up control with your right thumb, but it’s quite small and awkward. There are three buttons surrounding the GF7’s navigational control (the GF6 had four) – a playback button, a display button and a button which you use to access the quick menu or delete pictures when in playback mode.

Buttons and functions

Each of the directional keys on the navigational control has a dedicated function. Up accesses exposure compensation (or allows you to switch between altering aperture and shutter speed), left gives you access to AF point, right accesses white balance, while down brings up drive mode and self-timer modes.

Panasonic GF7

There is a button on the top of the camera which by default accesses the Wi-Fi settings, but this can be customised with other functions. There are are further six "virtual" spaces on the touchscreen, which can also be customised and are useful if you find yourself wanting quick access to a particular function. There are 35 different options for these buttons, including Photo Style, Picture Size, Metering Mode and more.

Panasonic GF7

The Quick Menu button offers another quick way to access common settings, such as the image aspect ratio, Photo Style, and more. Different settings will be displayed depending on the shooting mode you’re in. You can use the navigational buttons to move between the settings you want to change, or you can tap directly on the screen.

Focus pointers

To set the AF point, you have two options. You can tap the point on screen you wish to focus on, or you can press the left directional key and then use the physical keys to move to the point you need. The screen is very responsive, and you can change the size of the AF point using a pinch gesture – or scroll the dial on the back of the camera.

Pressing the Display button activates a digital level guide on the screen, which is very useful for helping to make sure horizons are level and is something which was missing from the GF6.

Panasonic GF7

There are two ways to apply digital filters. You can turn the mode dial to the digital filter mode, or if you’re shooting in semi-automatic or manual modes the screen displays a palette icon – if you tap this you can scroll through the different filter options available.

As the lens is collapsible, you’ll need to extend it before you can shoot. This makes the process a little slower for the first picture you take, but you can then leave the lens extended if plan on taking more shots.

I find the camera very easy to hold and use, but some may find that the position of the mode dial puts it in the way of the shutter button.

Image quality and resolution

We used our resolution test chart as part of our image quality testing for the Panasonic GF7. Click here to see a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean.

Panasonic GF7 resolution test

Full ISO 100 image, see 100% crops below.

JPEG images

Panasonic GF7 resolution test

ISO 100: 26. Click here for a full resolution version.

Panasonic GF7 resolution test

ISO 200: 24. Click here for a full resolution version.

Panasonic GF7 resolution test

ISO 400: 24. Click here for a full resolution version.

Panasonic GF7 resolution test

ISO 800: 24. Click here for a full resolution version.

Panasonic GF7 resolution test

ISO 1600: 24. Click here for a full resolution version.

Panasonic GF7 resolution test

ISO 3200: 22. Click here for a full resolution version.

Panasonic GF7 resolution test

ISO 6400: 22. Click here for a full resolution version.

Panasonic GF7 resolution test

ISO 12800: 16. Click here for a full resolution version.

Raw files (converted to TIFFs)

Panasonic GF7 resolution test

ISO 100: 28. Click here for a full resolution version.

Panasonic GF7 resolution test

ISO 200: 24. Click here for a full resolution version.

Panasonic GF7 resolution test

ISO 400: 24. Click here for a full resolution version.

Panasonic GF7 resolution test

ISO 800: 24. Click here for a full resolution version.

Panasonic GF7 resolution test

ISO 1600: 22. Click here for a full resolution version.

Panasonic GF7 resolution test

ISO 3200: 22. Click here for a full resolution version.

Panasonic GF7 resolution test

ISO 6400: 18. Click here for a full resolution version.

Panasonic GF7 resolution test

ISO 12800: 14. Click here for a full resolution version.

Performance

We didn’t have much doubt that the GF7 would be an excellent performer, given that it uses the same sensor and processor as the already proven GX7.

It produces bright and punchy colours but without so much vibrance that pictures look unnatural. Skin tones, in particular, are rendered beautifully, while landscapes have a lovely bright tone.

Panasonic GF7 sample image

Click here for a full resolution version.

Panasonic GF7 sample image

Click here for a full resolution version.

You can change the colour reproduction with different Photo Styles. Here you can choose from Vivid, which is useful for boosting the hues in landscape shots, Natural, which is good for portraits, and other options such as Monochrome. The good thing about using these Styles is that they can be shot in the raw format, so you have a clean version of the image to work with later down the line if you need it.

Finer details

The camera’s sensor reproduces detail really well, and examining an image at 100% shows how much fine detail has been captured. At lower sensitivities, such as ISO 200, detail is particularly well defined. As you move up the sensitivity scale, towards the higher values, such as ISO 3200, you can see some smoothing and loss of detail if you examine pictures at 100% magnification. The overall impression of detail at normal web and print sizes such as A4 is very good, though.

Panasonic GF7 sample image

Click here for a full resolution version.

Generally, the camera’s multi-pattern metering system does a good job of helping to produce accurate exposures. In trickier lighting conditions, or where the scene is a little dark, there is a tendency to slightly underexpose so you might find you need to dial in some positive exposure compensation to correct this.

Similarly, the automatic white balance setting works well to produce accurate colours most of the time. It errs very slightly towards yellow tones under artificial light, so you might find using the Incandescent white balance preset will give better results in these circumstances.

The quality of shots taken at high sensitivities in low light varies depending on the shot itself. Generally, the pictures are very good, with low noise levels even at sensitivities as high as ISO 3200 – this usually comes at the expense of a little loss of detail, but it’s acceptable. You might find, however, that images with large expanses of sunset or night sky have more obvious noise – shots with lots of detail help to disguise it.

Panasonic GF7 sample image

Click here for a full resolution version.

At the time of writing, it’s not possible to convert the GF7’s raw files with Adobe Camera Raw, but you can use the bundled Silkypix software. This shows that the default noise reduction is quite extreme in some areas of the scene in high ISO shots, so if you want to you can control the noise reduction settings yourself if you want to make sure more detail is retained.

Creative control

If you want to be a bit more experimental than the Photo Styles allow, there is a good range of digital filters to try. Unlike previous generations of G series cameras, you can apply these filters when working in semi-automatic or manual modes, which is useful if you want to keep control over other settings, such as the lens aperture.

Panasonic GF7 sample image

Click here for a full resolution version.

It’s worth giving all of the filters a go to see which particularly appeal to your own tastes, but my favourites include Old Days, Dynamic Monochrome, Toy Pop and Bleach Bypass. Again, the good thing here is that they can be shot in raw format so you can revert back to the original if you don’t like the effect.

The 12-32mm kit lens is a decent performer, and certainly good enough to get you started. Although you lose some zoom length in a bid to make the overall package smaller, you’ll probably find you don’t miss it too much for most day to day scenarios.

Panasonic GF7 sample image

Click here for a full resolution version.

Panasonic GF7 sample image

Click here for a full resolution version.

If you can stretch to additional lenses, it’s worth thinking about something with a longer reach for travelling and holidays. There’s a huge range of different optics available for Micro Four Thirds cameras now, and a particular favourite of mine is the Leica branded 25mm f/1.4, which gives an equivalent of 50mm – a classic ‘standard’ focal length. You can also use Olympus lenses with the GF7 because they use the same Micro Four Thirds lens mount.

Panasonic GF7 sample image

Click here for a full resolution version.

The need for speed

The GF7’s operational speeds are great – moving through the menu system is a breeze, while shot to shot times are also excellent. For single shots, the buffer clears almost instantly, but if you’re taking a burst of several shots, you’ll need to wait a couple of seconds for it to clear before you can take another burst.

The GF7’s autofocus system is fast, locking on to targets in bright light almost instantly. The speed drops slightly in darker conditions, but it’s only when you reach almost pitch black conditions that the camera starts to struggle to lock on at all. It’s also extremely rare to get a false focus confirmation.

I was unable to assess the Wi-Fi performance at the time of writing, since the smart device app hadn’t yet been updated for the GF7. I have used the Wi-Fi with other Panasonic G series cameras before, though, and usually it’s very reliable and easy to use. We can update this review when the appropriate update becomes available.

Verdict

Panasonic cameras continue to impress me with their excellent performance and because they’re easy and fun to use.

And although the GF range may have appeared to fall by the wayside since the introduction of the ultra-small GM range, it’s nice to see that the company has kept this line going, meaning that, along with the G, GX, and GH ranges, there are cameras to suit a wide variety of needs.

The GF7 is marginally larger than the GM5, and you’ll have to decide whether you prefer a small viewfinder, and therefore opt for the GM5, or a tilting screen with no viewfinder, and therefore opt for the GF7. The GM5 is around 50% more expensive, too.

Pocket power

It’s a sensible decision to include the collapsible 12-32mm kit lens with the GF7 because it makes it possible to fit it inside a jacket pocket. It’s too much bigger than some of the current compact cameras on the market, but it has the flexibility of interchangeable lenses and a much larger sensor.

Panasonic GF7

For the creatively minded, there’s a host of great options available, and I continue to believe that Panasonic offers the best, and most interesting, range of digital filters – and the fact that you can shoot them in raw format is a very welcome bonus.

Using the GF7 is easy, and with its super responsive touchscreen, setting the autofocus points, and other settings, is a doddle. There’s no viewfinder but, luckily, the screen doesn’t suffer too badly from glare even in bright sunlight.

The autofocusing is super quick, in a range of lighting conditions, the GF7 is fast and responsive to use, and the automatic white balance and exposure modes generally result in very pleasing images, too.

It would have been nice to be able to test the Wi-Fi, especially as Panasonic claims it’s better than than previous versions, but I’m confident it will live up to expectations once the app update becomes available.

We liked

There are lots of things to like about the GF7. The touch sensitive, high resolution display is perhaps one of the best things though, helping you to compose your images easily and quickly, and letting you make key changes to settings with a simple tap of the screen.

We disliked

Although the screen is great, and I can understand why there’s no in-built viewfinder, it would be nice if Panasonic could include a hotshoe on the GF range so that you could add an external viewfinder or indeed other accessories, such as a flash.

Final Verdict

Some may question the point of the GF range now that the GM is available in a smaller package, but the GF continues to offer a lot of great features for a lot less money.

Panasonic GF7

A great travel camera, the GF7’s flipping screen is ideal for selfies and will perhaps appeal more to those who like to document their holiday visits.

Panasonic isn’t the only company to make small compact system cameras. The Nikon 1 range is also very compact but it’s based around a much smaller 1-inch sensor. For something as small as the GF7 to have such a large sensor is a great feat of camera engineering.

I would recommend this camera to many different types of people, and if you already have another Micro Four Thirds camera, this would make a fantastic second body.



Sky will filter adult content by default this month, unless you tell it not to

Sky will filter adult content by default this month, unless you tell it not to

Sky will start to turn on its adult and malware content filter by default in the next 10 days for any customers who have not set a preference to date.

New customers (and those who got new routers) have been asked to choose to opt in or out of Sky’s ‘Broadband Shield’ since its non-mandatory arrival at the back end of 2013, but all users will now be required to tell the company if they want to opt in to adult content, with the filter setting turned on by default if no overt decision is made. The Shield can also be turned off entirely.

The implementation of filtering software has been heavily pushed on the ISPs, with David Cameron calling for mandatory opt-in in 2013, but censoring any content on the internet by default is never likely to prove a popular decision among the general public.

Controversial move?

Inevitably the decision has been taken under the guise of protecting children, something that has previously been left to the parents.

"Once Sky Broadband Shield is active, users cannot access a filtered site unless they choose to log in and alter their settings," explains Lyssa McGowan, Brand Director, Communications Products in a blog.

The Broadband Shield also filters phishing and malware sites, so does add a measure of security, and can be tailored to allow greater content access at different times of the day – but the settings must be done manually.

"Knowing our customers and the internet as we do, we believe this is the right and simplest solution to a problem we all know is out there," concludes McGowan.

Whether the customers agree or there will be backlash remains to be seen.



Industry voice: Predictions for cyber-crime in 2015, and how the security industry will respond

Industry voice: Predictions for cyber-crime in 2015, and how the security industry will respond

From Heartbleed and Shellshock to the Target breach and the Sony hack, last year was littered with high-profile cyber threats and security breaches. The dire consequences an attack can have on a business have become increasingly apparent, as poor response to security breaches has led to the resignation of senior staff and even companies going out of business.

In 2015, the frequency and severity of cyber-attacks will continue to increase – and organisations will have to explore new approaches in responding to cyber-attacks. These are my predictions on how cybercrime will manifest itself this year, and how the cyber-security industry will develop in response.

Increase in the frequency and scale of attacks

Each year, the frequency and severity of cyber-attacks increases, and there is no reason to think that 2015 will buck this trend.

Europe may appear to be relatively unscathed so far, but this is probably because public disclosure is not generally required as it is in the US. In 2015, however, there will be an attack on the scale of the Target breach – so large and far reaching that it can’t be swept under the carpet. The consequence will be harsher measures imposed on companies within the EU who are not adequately prepared for security breaches. And, as in the US, it’s possible we will see CSOs or even CEOs lose their jobs as a result.

Cybercrime: a booming industry

Cybercrime will continue to boom in 2015, and we’ll see even more eager criminals enter the profession.

The reason for this is simple: cybercrime pays, and the rewards heavily outweigh the risks.

This isn’t because there aren’t harsh punishments for those who are caught (Albert Gonzalez, the TJX attack mastermind, is still serving his twenty year sentence), but because the likelihood of being caught is very small in comparison to other serious crimes.

Furthermore, there is a very low cost of entry for cybercriminals – the tools needed to attack even the most comprehensive security systems are incredibly cheap when compared to what could be gained.

Until cybercrime is less rewarding, this trend is likely to continue.

Response takes centre stage

In 2015 organisations will finally begin to realise that there is no silver bullet for cyber-security – yet another shiny security technology won’t save us (just as the last ones didn’t).

Rather than continuing to focus resources on prevention and detection, firms will focus attention on response and developing resilience – the ability to weather the inevitable incidents as just another part of doing business.

A new rise in espionage and hacktivism

The SandWorm zero-day exploit made big headlines when its discovery was revealed in October of last year – partially because of the technical implications, but also because of the impact. At least one hacking group used the vulnerability to target critical infrastructure, a trend that will continue in 2015.

Although hacktivism failed to dominate the headlines in 2014, it has always been cyclical. With several conflicts persisting around the world, and given a controversial general election this year in the UK, we should expect renewed momentum in this kind of malicious activity.

Threat sharing becomes more prevalent

Threat intelligence and threat knowledge-sharing shows growing promise, representing a real opportunity to turn the tables on the bad guys. But there are a number of obstacles to its success, including the relative quality of the data involved and how complicated it can be to share.

In 2015 we will see improvements here, particularly with the work that NIST is doing in the U.S. We also expect the ISO to release some Incident Response Management guidelines this year.

Humans and computers take security to the next level

We’ve learnt by now that technology is no panacea. Therefore getting the balance of how humans and machines work together will be increasingly important.

Studies of chess masters and supercomputers have shown that a computer alone, no matter how powerful, can still be overcome. Indeed the best approach teams up good chess players with a computer. This same approach can and will be applied to security –particularly incident response.

Security solutions still lack the judgement needed to ensure the cure prescribed isn’t worse than the disease it’s intended to address. The ideal approach will leverage computers for information collection and analysis, but rely on humans to fine-tune the response.