Weckler on Technology: Surface Pro excels but tablet tag lets it down
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Price: from €820 (keyboard extra) Rating: *****
The more I use Microsoft's Surface Pro 3, the more I like it. It's a great size (12-inch screen), it's light and it has oodles of power.
I can easily default to it as a work machine in every respect, while it is also a superb out-of-work leisure machine with great sound and a crisp, beautiful display.
Yet I suspect that Microsoft has a mountain to climb in making this machine a commercial success. And it's all down to one main thing: the word 'tablet'. Despite out-gunning Apple's MacBook Air (its real competition) on many key metrics (weight, performance and screen resolution among them) almost everyone I showed this to has said that they would probably choose Apple's machine first. Why? One reason dominated: "I can get a tablet much cheaper than that."
Microsoft just cannot shake the impression that this is a competitor to an iPad, not a laptop. That one needs to purchase a keyboard separately is part of the problem, reinforcing the wrong notion that its 'core' use is as a tablet. Even though it does function as a competent tablet (if you take away the slightly weak app store), that's not what gives the Surface its real mojo. The device's killer appeal is its functionality as a top-end light laptop, excellent for business or non-business use. Yet this is completely lost with many potential customers, who have heard that it's a tablet. And guess what? Business people don't want tablets as primary work tools. Nor do they even really want touchscreen laptops. If Microsoft launched a non-touchscreen, non-tablet version of the Surface Pro 3, I suspect it would sell like hot cakes.
With a few niggles (frustratingly small default fonts and ongoing aesthetic problems with Windows 8), I would heartily recommend this machine for work and play. But what is becoming clearer and clearer is that letting the word 'tablet' anywhere near the Surface Pro's product description has turned out to be an unfortunate albatross for Microsoft to bear.
Nokia tries again with 5-inch powerhouse
Nokia Lumia 930 Price: from free on contract, €450 on prepay
It must frustrate both Nokia and parent company Microsoft that most people will still not consider buying a Nokia smartphone. The Lumia devices are nicely designed and built with excellent physical features (such as cameras, casing and speakers). The 930 is effectively the company's new flagbearer device, with impressive specs including a five-inch screen, a quadcore 2.2Ghz processor, 32GB of onboard storage and a 20-megapixel camera.
The phone's latest version of Windows 8.1 adds some welcome features borrowed from rival operating systems, such as pull-down notification menus. Like all Windows smartphones, a weakness is the second-tier nature of Microsoft's app store. While many popular apps are in there, most developers don't include a Windows app with their first releases.
A good iPad cover hinges on this
Logitech Hinge for iPad Air Price: €45 Rating: ****
There's a significant body of evidence to suggest that tablets are being used more as passive second screens (for things like presentations or video-streaming) than immersive computers. If this sounds likes you, you may as well get a decent case that lets you prop the machine up at a comfortable angle. Logitech's Hinge case for the iPad Air is a nicely finished protective case that gives you a number of angle options. The variety of resting positions is crucial: some case stands are far too restrictive in the options they allow, making life difficult for tall or small people.
Samsung picks up a premium tab
Samsung Tab S 8 Price: €400 Rating: ****
How do you tell a cheap tablet from a premium one? Otherwise put, why would anyone spend €400 on a tablet when they can spend €200 on something that looks and acts fairly similarly? Samsung's answer to these questions lies a little in its latest model's physical design and a little in its software add-ons.
The eight-inch Tab S is one of the slimmest tablets you can get and also one of the lightest in its category. You can hold it in one hand without any real strain while you watch a movie or browse social media. It has most of the software upgrades of the company's high-end Galaxy S5, including a fingerprint reader (which I'm not crazy about) and an infra-red blaster, which allows you to set the tablet up as a universal remote control. With 16GB of storage and an octo-core processor, the Tab S is clearly going after Apple's iPad mini Retina as a competitor. Realistically, despite its specification advantage, this is an uphill battle. But it's a nice piece of equipment that is pleasant to use.
How to bag a decent laptop case
Thule Stravan Deluxe Attache case Price: €80 Rating:****
While there are a million different hipster bags for laptop-carriers, business users still prioritise functionality over flair. Thule's Stravan case illustrates the point. No one could mistake this for anything other than a laptop bag. Still, it has excellent support, practical padding where it's necessary and helpful compartments for accessories. It's also designed to allow easy, quick access to your laptop without too much rigmarole. And it has a handle as well as a strap, meaning you can lift it very easily. Finally, the case's finish is water and scuff resistant.