Update: The full review is now available. Go give Notebookcheck (and my review) some love!
Think about 2013-level Ultrabook performance with no fans, more flexibility and a good market-start price. The Acer Aspire Switch 12 weighs 1.1 KG…until you add the keyboard which takes you up to 1.4 KG. Because of the always-exposed screen Acer have done the right thing and provided a nice case but when you put the bundle together with the power supply you’re carrying over 2 KG. Despite the weight I like the Switch 12 for a couple of reasons. 1) It’s more stable on the lap than many other solutions because of the rear stand and mid-mounted screen. 2) It’s fanless and is returning performance scores well above what you’ll find with Baytrail-based solutions. There’s also a fast SATA-connected SSD inside which makes this one of the cheapest full-HD 128GB SATA SSD solutions out there. Add AC WiFi, USB 3.0 and a good keyboard that can be pulled away from the unit and you’ve got a productive setup. Comparisons must be made to the Surface Pro 3, Lenovo Yoga 3 11 and the HP Envy 13 X2 which is even more hot-desking focused.
A preliminary set of performance results, battery life figures, confirmation that there’s a digitizer and other information can be found over at Notebookcheck.net where I’ll be publishing the full review. Let me know if you’ve got any questions and I’ll try to get them answered in the full review.
Rounding-off a series of Chromebook updates here on UMPCPortal are my thoughts on the Lenovo N20p Chromebook which is built around a design I tested recently in the Lenovo Flex 10. In my opinion it adds a lot of value to a laptop and is actually more suited to a laptops design than a ‘yoga’ style tablet-capable design. Like the Flex 10 the N20P has a 270-degree fold-back ‘stand mode’ touchscreen and comes with a basic set of specifications. Atom CPU, 2GB of RAM and 16 GB of eMMC storage.
Unlike the Flex 10 this Chromebook doesn’t have a touch-friendly user interface option and that, for the time being, could be seen as a big disadvantage. In practice though there are a lot of things you can do with a touchscreen in stand mode and web-browsing is an important one. When I did the in-depth Lenovo Flex 10 testing I found the unit to be more practical as a partner PC than a 7-inch or even 10-inch tablet without a stand. Magazine-style reader apps (I use Feedly) are great with coffee as is a Facebook or Tweetdeck ‘easel.’ Video applications work well too because this seat-back friendly mode brings the screen closer to the eye and, at full fold-back, has great stability. If you want to lift the screen to eye-height you’re also able to fold the screen to 180-degrees and prop up the unit to balance on the keyboard edge. Flex is good and worth paying a little extra for.
At current prices the Lenovo N20p is going to set you back about $60-$80 more than the cheaper Chromebook options which is a significant 25%-33% more than the cheaper ASUS and Acer options and, presumably because of the design, it’s a little heavier than, say, the ASUS C200. There’s a 34.8Wh battery inside which is OK, but not the biggest either.
Screen resolution is a basic 1366×768 and there’s no mention of wide-viewing angles in the Lenovo marketing materials. A USB 2.0. USB 3.0, SD card, headset and full-size HDMI port are on-board and there’s AC-capable WiFi.
Although there isn’t a perfect match between a 2-in-1 design and ChromeOS now the Lenovo N20p offers the consumer something that’s been missing from Chromebooks up until now – fun. As ChromeOS develops with new features and improved touch capability the N20p could evolve into an attractive secondary PC for home and holiday use. If the AccuType full-size keyboard is good, this might make a good conference or hotel PC. In the Education market students are going to be far more excited about this Chromebook design.
When I reviewed the 270-euro Lenovo Ideapad Flex 10 recently I knew it would be a great candidate for an SSD upgrade. This fanless, touchscreen hybrid is the very model of a modern casual portable laptop but it was fitted with a really poor quality hard drive that was obviously holding the system back. After completing the SSD upgrade yesterday I can report that the difference is amazing. Applications are starting in half the time, the PCMark score is up 70% and the system works as it should. No more drive activity slow-downs and a huge lift in the user experience. I’ve done a lot of SSD upgrades over the years but this one is probably the most impressive.
The Lenovo Flex 10 has a 270-degree fold-back screen. Stand-mode is very useful.
I’ve dropped a MydigitalSSD BP4 in as a test (I had it from a previous test I did with an Acer V5) but you can shop around for a good deal. On Amazon.com there’s an offer on the 7mm 128GB Sandisk SSD that would be perfect for this. $69.99 is a great deal. [Affiliate link.]
Over 40X improvement in the very important 4K write speed. Superb result!
In a PCMark test the device scored 70% better. 1521 with HDD, 2579 with SSD. Application start-up times are drastically reduced. DriftMania started in 10 seconds compared to 21 seconds with the HDD. Lenovo Photo Show started in 5 seconds (11 with HDD.) Facebook, IE, Chrome and Paint also started about twice as quick. Battery life has probably been improved too but I haven’t tested it yet. Considering the heat that was generated by the HDD and the time it took to get things done there’s going to be a clear real-world difference in how much you can get done on this. Silent operation is a dream too. I’ve connected a USB3.0 docking station and I’m writing this with external screen, keyboard and mouse and it’s a very nice way to write.
Inside the Flex 10. RAM is soldered. No fans. Disk and WiFi module are easy to remove
How to upgrade to SSD on the Lenovo Flex 10
To do the upgrade you’ll need a USB recovery drive (create using Windows 8 tools on a 16GB USB stick or CDROM.) I chose to use an external USB 2.5-inch SATA adapter so that I could do all the imaging on a faster PC. Obviously you will lose your warranty and there’s a possibility of failure or breakage so take care and own the risk!
Reduce partition size on C: to bring total disk size into range of SSD. Use Windows 8 disk manager to shrink the volume. (Ideally do a system restore to factory setup beforehand.)
Remove back of Lenovo Flex 10. This is a little tricky. Two screws are hidden under the rubber feet and one has a seal that will need to be broken. You lose your warranty at this point. You can use a thumbnail to carefully prise the unit apart. It takes time and care, especially at the front corners, but it’s certainly not a sealed unit.
Remove hard disk. It’s an easy 4-screw removal process. (Note: You can upgrade the WiFi too. The basic 2.4Ghz single channel unit has good reception but would benefit from a dual-channel upgrade IMO.)
Put hard disk in 2.5-inch USB3.0 adapter.
Take Acronis TrueImage disk image of hard drive. (Took 40 minutes on a fast SSD-based Ultrabook using free 30–day trial.)
Remove drive from adapter and store with care
Insert SSD into adapter.
TrueImage disk copy the saved image to the SSD drive. (You might get an error saying it won’t boot but you can ignore that.)
Remove disk from adapter and install in Lenovo Flex 10
There are still clear limits with this setup. The Lenovo Flex 10 doesn’t have a powerful CPU and that shows itself when you start using browser-based apps. Google Drive and the associated productivity apps won’t be much fun (Chromebooks are way more suited to this) but I suspect the free Office Home and Student will be a far better experience. GPU and video decoding power is pretty good though so you’ll be able to watch 1080p videos and play Windows 8 RT games without any issues. XBMC and Openelec work well. Read my full review, or my summary review video for more detail.
I’m a huge fan of the 270-degree fold-back screen (more so than the 360-degree fold-back) and a huge fan of ‘lightweight’ computing. Based on what I’ve seen with the Flex 10 there’s scope for Lenovo to make a seriously useful Flex 11 with a quad-core Baytrail-M and a low-cost 64GB SSD. Until then though, this Flex 10 SSD upgrade has created an extremely well-balanced hybrid netbook that covers a wide range of activities. I’m keeping it.
Intel CloverTrail is a truly ground-breaking PC platform and the Acer W510 appears, in my 48hrs with it, to offer great ways to enjoy the new features of the platform along with amazing value. At least it does in Europe where the tablet and docking station can be had for â‚¬499 inclusive tax. I have the â‚¬599 version here which includes 64GB of storage.
I’ve been extremely impressed so far. It’s light enough to use in portrait mode using thumb input, it has battery life that will last you a full 24hrs in consumption scenarios or you can get creative and plug the dock in and work, like I am now, for a good 8hrs non-stop. This is not an ARM-based Windows RT device, this isÂ PC. ‘Post-PC’ needs to be re-thought because the dynamic range of this PC takes it into more scenarios than any computing product before.
According to a couple of online source the HP Envy x2 should start shipping soon. An offer starting in Japan today promises delivery starting from the 27th December (some reports say 21st) and in Germany a couple of retailers have listed the same timeframe.
Starting from 9th November in the US you’ll be able to buy a Windows 8 PC, a full Windows 8 PC, that weighs just 1.27lb / 658gm â€“ lighter than the good old handheld ultra mobile PC favorite, the Viliv X70EM and lighter than any full-size iPad.Â The Acer Iconia W510, part of the Acer Iconia W5 Series, runs a dual-core 1.5Ghz Clover Trail CPU with turbo boost to 1.8Ghz, a newer GPU, 32BG of solid-state storage, an optional keyboard dock, a claimed 9hrs of battery life and a 1366×768 IPS multitouch capacitive touchscreen. The Viliv X70EX started at about $600/ The Acer Iconia W510 starts at $499. In Europe you’ll get the dock thrown in for a total of 500 Euro.
Let’s take a closer look at the W510 and think about what it says about the state of ultra mobile PCs in 2012
Qualcomm gave us an update on Mirasol this morning. If you remember, Mirasol is a daylight-readable (transflective) display technology with color. The screen refresh rate and colour depth isn’t that good for video and photo experiences but for reading, it’s getting better every time I see it.
Power-saving, daylight readable and now with touch and sidelight. Here’s an video in which I give you an update about timescales for mass production. (Expect products in 2013.)
The screen is one of the Huawei MediPad 7’s strongest features. It’s a 7” capacitive touchscreen with a resolution of 1280×800 and is IPS. It’s bright and produces colors well and is perfect for photos and videos but is also great for reading text. E-books look fantastic and the text jumps off the “page”.
Firstly I am impressed with the look and feel of the MediaPad 7 and it seems to be very well made. The materials are first rate and the fit and finish equal to any other high grade tablet I’ve used. The device feels solid in the hand and it’s ergonomically easy to hold. The MediaPad7 feels a bit heavier than the Samsung GalaxyÂ Tab 7 (380g vs. 391g) and this may have an impact if you intend to carry it around a lot or hold it for extended periods while reading or watching videos.
Personally I like the smaller form factor but with a high resolution screen and the 7″ size if you don’t have good eyesight you may struggle with the MediaPad 7.
The Cracked Screen
I found out the hard way that the MediaPad doesn’t haveÂ Gorilla Glass screen as unfortunatelyÂ my Son dropped the tablet and it landed screen first and slid a bit. It scratched badly and has a crack running edge to edge across the top of the screen. And this from a drop onto a wood floor from a height of less than 2 feet! Â I’d highly recommend a screen protector and a case as the first accessories you buy.Â Personally I don’t like screen protectors and haven’t fitted any of my devices with one and the Eee Pad, for example, hasn’t got a scratch on it. I don’t know whether it was just bad luck or a soft screen but this scratching is the worst I’ve ever had on a tablet or phone screen and it didn’t take that much of a fall. YMMV as it could also have been a freaky perfect storm of impact and angle.
Moving on to the device, I tested the cameras and I was pleasantly surprised by the rear facing camera.Â It’s a 5 megapixel camera and just using the standard Android camera interface it handles low light well and the image looked nice and crisp. This photo of a teddy Bear was taken in the middle of the loungeroom with filtered light from a window about 10 feet away and there’s little grain in the image. The front facing camera is 1.3 megapixels and also handled room-only lighting easily. Under low light the MediaPad 7 performed as well as any of the other Android cameras I’ve tested and so would be fine for video conferencing or VOIP calls.
Test image from Huawei Mediapad camera
Keyboards and MiceÂ
Periperals like my portable Bluetooth keyboard and mice setup worked fine. I couldn’t connect any USB devices or drives because the MediaPad 7 doesn’t have a full-sized USB port, so this was untested.
Huawei claims 6 hours for the battery and this feels right to me. I didn’t run any formal benchmarks on the battery but I could easily get through the day and night using it and have 25% left in the battery when I plugged it in at night. I had WiFi and Bluetoth on, auto brightness, and default screen time-out and sleep settings. My ‘all day’ is from 7 am to midnight usually. The MediaPad 7 will do well for active all-day use.
I liked the Huawei MediaPad 7. Cracked screen aside, the Medipad 7 is well made, fast, has a great screen, and is very portable. With the right accessories, like a good case and a keyboard, it could work OK in an enterprise environment (of course with the standard Android limitations) but the lack of a full size USB port hamstrings the MediaPad 7 forÂ enterpriseÂ work. This may be the tradeoff you have to make to get a 7″ form-factor so you need to asses whether the ability to connect drives or peripherals via USB is a real needÂ for you. I prefer the 10″ screen tablets for work but a 7″ is great for portability and as a quick around-the-house consumption device. I’d consider the Huawei MediPad 7 if it’s priced correctly — stay tuned for pricing announcements which should be coming soon from Huawei.
Surprisingly, Ocosmos actually showed up at last month’s IDF, only after Chippy,Â Avram Piltch (of LaptopMag), and I chatted about how unlikely it would be! The Ocosmos OCS9 was on display as well as the Android powered “Smart O-bar” controller. Here’s our hands-on (unfortunately we lost the first 50 seconds of audio to technicalÂ difficulties!):
The Smart O-bar has aÂ 3.5â€ 320 x 480 touchscreen as well as two hybrid D-pads (they move like a joy stick, but have individualÂ directionalÂ buttons as well) and shoulder buttons. The Smart O-bar is designed to be complimentary to the Ocosmos OCS9, allowing you to connect it for keyboard input and for use as a game controller.
According to the company, the Ocosmos OCS9 is the world’s thinnest Windows Slate, and at 11.9mm, that might just be true. Here are the specs:
Processor Intel Atom Z670 (Oak Trail) CPU (1.5GHz)Memory DDR2 2GB RAMDisplay 10.1″ MVA-TFT LCD Display 1280×800 Display ResolutionIntegrated Ports 2x USB 2.0 1x microSD Card Reader (up to 32GB) 1x HDMI (via Docking Station)Power Li-Polymer (3650mAh) Up to six hours battery lifeOperating System Windows 7 Home Premium (32-bit)
Motherboard Features Intel SM35 express chipsetStorage 16 / 32GB SSDCommunication 802.11 WiFi b/g/n Bluetooth 3.0 GPSInput/Output Front-facing 1.3MP WebcamPhysical Features 267 x 173 x 11.9mm
There’s also a few accessories available for the Ocosmos OCS9, including a nice looking dock, a keyboard folio, and even a bag. These will run $70 for the first two, and $90 for the latter. The Smart O-bar is optional as well and is offered for $140.
And the price for the Ocosmos OCS9? Actually, a rather reasonable $699. Dynamism is taking pre-orders for the unit and is giving an additional $50 off for those who order before November 18th, bringing the price to $649. They expect the unit to ship on the 30th of November. We’ll have one on hand for review in the coming weeks.
Many of us have downloaded the Windows 8 Developer Preview to give it a test run and I think it’s fair to say that the most exciting feature to test is the Windows 8 Metro UI. Focused on touch, app-snacking, consumption and entertainment it has been an interesting product to think about in terms of mobile computing; real mobile computing. Getting the balance of UI right for both on-the-go and bum-on-seat activities hasn’t been achieved by anyone yet. Windows 8 is the big hope for that in the future.
Not only does Windows 8 introduce this interesting Metro UI and apps layer, it also approaches quick-startup and efficiency. In testing it over the last few weeks on four mobile devices, I’m not as positive as a was a month ago about the Metro UI although it’s way better than anything I’ve experienced as an overlay on Windows before and ultimately, I’m enjoying its responsiveness, sharing sub-system, full-screen Explore browser and dynamic nature. There are some serious issues to talk about though.
The first is that while Metro works on low-resolution devices, the apps won’t because they require a minimum of 768 pixels vertically. For the side-by-side snap feature, you need 1366 pixels minimum width. There are also major issues when working in portrait mode â€“ something that isn’t really supported at all. The resolution restriction seems crazy when you consider the cost and size of 1366×768 screens. I don’t see anyone producing that at 7″ and as it’s not compatible with 1024×600, 100 million netbooks users are going to be left out.
You might argue that we just need much higher resolution screens. I’ve tried Windows 8 on a 1280×800 screen at 5.8″ and yes, Metro apps work. Text might need a little enlargement here and there but it works. Some issues remain though. Touchscreens can’t be recessed otherwise it’s not easy to find the magic swipe that expose the hidden menus on the right and bottom left corner. Forget resistive screens. That’s not such a big deal considering the level of capacitive and digitiser deployment and it’s also not much of an issue for the classic Windows UI either as that’s the one you’ll be using who you’re docked at your desk. The other issue comes with cost and battery drain. High resolution screens are expensive to produce, especially if you want one that’s readable outdoors. There’s also the power cost in terms of the display electronics and the graphics power needed to control it. Given that most people are more than happy with 200ppi, a higher density in a 7″ frame is counter-productive, at least for large-font Metro. People with perfect eyesight may disagree with 200ppi but I regard it as a good trade-off point for screen design.
Windows 8 Metro UI in Portrait Mode
It’s unfortunate that the developer preview is indicating that portrait mode isn’t encouraged. All the apps in the preview fail to work efficiently in portrait mode despite that fact that in portrait mode you get the best split-screen keyboard experience and preservation of screen real estate.
I agree with those that say portrait is useless on a top-heavy device of 2lb or more but what about 2013, 2014 when 10â€ Windows 8 tablets could be under 1lb and when even the 7â€ form factor could be possible with a hi-res screen?
To demonstrate what I mean here, I’ve made a video showing the Windows 8 developer preview on an ExoPC in portrait and landcsape modes.
You’ve probably seen plenty of previews of Windows 8 over the last 12 hours or so given that its just gone publicly available as a preview. The operating system offers multiple usage scenarios for touch, mobile and productivity. Devices like the Fujitsu TH40 will benefit highly from Windows 8 as they too offer multiple usage scenarios.
I was really quite impressed with the device after my hands on at the Intel Atom Showcase here at IDF. Of all the Oaktrail devices I’ve tried, this has been the best experience yet. I was left wondering why this is only available in Japan.
Look out for the optical mouse pointer. Given my experience with other Oaktrail devices I would put the working battery life, screen on, at about 4-5hrs. Two points I would have to think carefully about are the longevity of the slider mechanism and the processing power which, on Oaktrail, is never really going to impress anyone.
I don’t speak Italian, but the video gives us somewhat of an idea of what experience you can expect from inking on the HTC Flyer. My initial feeling is that while the N-trig capacitive/active digitizer screen will feel great for digital inking, the software on the Flyer is going to determine how seriously this tablet could be used for art.
I’m no artist, but from what I understand, layers and a robust brush tool are vital to creating digital hand-drawn art. Artists need to be able to selectively work on various layers of their projects, and need to have a huge brush-head selection to be able to do mass-outs and draw textures what would be difficult to achieve with manual strokes.
At first glance, HTC’s drawing application might look ok, but a major roadblock that I can already see is that brush sizes appear to be quantized, meaning that only specific pre-set sizes can be chosen, rather than being able to select from a virtually unlimited number of possible brush sizes. Layers also don’t seem to be present, so when if you are looking at the Flyer as a seriously digital-drawing art tool, you might be better off sticking with your Wacom pads. Drawing (not writing, mind you) on the HTC shift appears to be more useful for simple sketches than masterpieces.
Digital ink for note taking, however, will likely be well received to people unfamiliar with using a real stylus and active digitizer. HTC has talked about Evernote integration on the Flyer which happens to be my go-to digital ink (and regular text-based) note taking app, so they definitely picked a good ally in this department.
The on-device inking experience might not be up to professional artistic standards, but HTC could potentially pull a Notion Ink and allow the Flyer to function as a wireless drawing pad for a full blown computer. The Flyer appears to have pressure support (a must for life-like digital inking), so conceivably it could work as wireless drawing pad when linked up to an application like Photoshop. HTC hasn’t yet announced such functionality, but here’s to hoping (or at least a clever third-party implementation)!
The HTC Flyer is launching in the UE region on the 8th of May for a steep $792 (479 pounds) for the base model. Thus the Flyer is unlikely to be anyone’s first choice as a dedicated digital inking pad as Wacom’s industry-recognized Intuos drawing pad line starts at $299.