Category: Laptops

Microsoft reacts to Chromebook challenge

GoogleYesterday we reported that sales of Chromebooks using the ChromeOS are beginning to take off worldwide and challenging sales of Windows based notebooks.

But the Redmond software giant is not sitting back and watching revenues drop passively, according to a report.

Digitimes said that Microsoft has struck deals with Taiwanese original design manufacturers (ODMs), who will introduce Windows notebooks at $179 at the end of this quarter.

That’s mostly a reaction to the Google Chromebook challenge. The same report said that Google has introduced a $99 Chromebook aimed at the educational market, and is using Rockchip semiconductors and cooperating with mainland Chinese vendors.

Digitimes said that Google has recently visited Taiwan to talk with Acer, Asustek and Quanta and wants to market the low cost Chromebook machines into emerging markets.

Microsoft is limited in its options. Operating system revenues contribute to its bottom line and even though it has dropped licensing fees for Windows, there is only so far it can go.

Lenovo eyes up MSI business unit

Lenovo shopfrontReports suggested that Chinese manufacturer Lenovo is interested in buying Taiwanese company MSI’s gaming notebook business.

MSI has officially denied the rumour.

However, according to Taiwanese wire Digitimes, sources making components for both companies believe the story has got legs.

Lenovo has expanded greatly over the last few years, first buying IBM’s notebook unit and last year taking over IBM’s X86 server business too. It’s also bought NEC’s PC business, and German company Medion, as well as Motorola’s Mobility business from Google.

According to Digitimes, MSI is still in negotiations with Lenovo and the deal is not on the rocks.

MSI has had some success in selling gaming norebooks and that’s prompted a number of competitors to take steps to enter the market. There are far better margins in gaming notebooks than in bog standard laptops.

Toshiba admits three years of figures a load of old tosh

toshiba-11q4-C655D-S5330-cover-lgToshiba has admitted that  an  internal probe into accounting irregularities may mean it has to mark down three years of profit by about seven percent.

The announcement was meant to sooth investor fears the investigation might blow up into a bigger accounting scandal.

Tosh said that it was likely to mark down operating profit for the three years ended March 2014 by $420 million.

Shares had fallen 13 percent since Toshiba spooked investors on May 8, saying it was extending an investigation into inappropriate reporting of some infrastructure project costs and construction work.

The reason investors were spooked was because this would be Toshiba’s second accounting investigation in less than two years.

The company is in the process of setting up a third-party committee to investigate irregularities, which Toshiba said could reach a different conclusion on treatment of markdowns. The widening of an investigation first announced in April had prompted Toshiba to delay its quarterly earnings announcement and cancel a year-end dividend.

As a result of the extended probe, Toshiba said it would not be able to announce financial results for the latest fiscal year until June or later. The firm would normally have released earnings by early May.

Apple keeps the lead in PCs

IBM PCThere was a time when Apple was an also ran in the PC market.

But a report from market research company Canalys, at the end of last week, said those days are over.

Reporting on the global PC market, which it defines as including tablets, said sales saw a decline of seven percent in the first quarter of this year. Apple was first, but it saw a 16 percent drop in its PC shipments but has a 15 percent share overall.

Lenovo and HP came second and third while Samsung came fourth and Dell fifth, with an 8.2 percent market share.

Canalys PC market share 2015Tim Coulling, a senior analyst at Canalys, said that global players are struggling with exchange rate fluctuations. “These challenges, combined with a softening of demand as Windows 10 draws nearer along with Microsoft’s free upgrade plans, means PC market declines will be greater in the second quarter than the first,” he said.

Desktop shipments fell by 13 percent and has lost ground because XP migration is a thing of the past. Canalys expects “significant” shipment declines this year compared to last year.

The notebook market in the first quarter showed a decline of four percent, with Canalys claiming that Microsoft’s Windows with Bing programme has been causing significant pile up in the distribution channel. Rushabh Doshi, a Canalys analyst, said: “Any price rises for Windows notebooks will play into the hands of Google which is making strides in improving Chrome OS for both consumers and businesses.”

The decline in the tablet market was nine percent worldwide, but Samsung and Apple saw double digit shipment declines.

Some notebook sales set to surge

poison-appleAfter a long series of quarters in the doldrums, it seems that sales of notebooks will be boosted in the second quarter.

But although that might be generally considered good news, it seems that it’s not the traditional notebook market that will surge, but sales of Apple machines and Chromebook notebooks.

That’s according to a survey by Digitimes Research, which estimates that notebooks will grow by 11 percent sequentially in the second quarter – still down by 1.2 percent year on year, but better than the 4.7 percent decline in an earlier period.

The market research company said shipments from Apple and sales of Chromebooks will represent as much as 50 percent – with Macbooks showing 40 percent sequential growth and 50 percent compared to the same quarter a year ago.

Chromebooks will grow by 60 percent sequentially.

Sales of bog standard X86 notebooks will be down 8.7 percent quarter and quarter, year on year.

Digitimes Research estimates Apple will ship five million machines in the period, edging Dell out of third place. The number one player worldwide will be Lenovo.

Intel plunges more money into tablets

Dell TabletAlthough chip giant Intel has already taken a considerable beating because of its commitment to become a leading player in the mobile and tablet market, it seems that it doesn’t feel it’s spent quite enough yet.

According to Taiwanese wire Digitimes, Intel is going to create reference designs for the Android operating system in the second half of this year in a bid to help so-called “white box” manufacturers make and sell cheap tablets.

“White box” goods are unbranded products which distributors and others can then pick up and re-brand with their own je ne sais quois.

The Chinese white-box tablet market has, according to several market research companies, already taken a whack as demand falls because the replacement cycle for these devices isn’t on a very regular basis.

But Intel wants tablets to use its SoFIA processors and prices for 10 inch, 8 inch and seven inch LTE and 3G tablets at prices of around $130, $90, and $80.

It isn’t just Chinese manufacturers who will benefit from Intel’s largesse – the same report said that well known names including Foxconn, Compal,  Pegatron, Wistron and Elitegroup will all give the Intel scheme a go.

Meanwhile, the research arm of Digitimes reported that there is such a huge stock of cheap notebooks in 2015 that manufacturers are complaining of the “worst ever” decline in shipments.

Google Chrome gets Taiwanese boost

Google OgleTwo major Taiwanese hardware manufacturers are backing Google and will introduce Chrome devices this quarter.

Google is determined to outwit Microsoft and Acer, along with Asustek and other major vendors are creating super lightweight laptops as well as an oversized USB like stick, the Chromebit, kitted out with an OS that uses HDMI to turn displays into computers.

Yesterday Asustek showed off a 10-inch Chromebook called the Flip which weighs only a couple of pounds, is priced at $250 and has 13 hours or so of battery life.

Chromebooks don’t have hard drives and store information on the cloud – they also don’t have the overhead of paying for a Windows operating system, making them attractive to Taiwanese vendors, who have razor thin margins anyway.

Earlier this week Microsoft introduced its Surface 3, which costs over £420. Microsoft hopes that it can use legacy Office software to persuade people to pay the premium.

Microsoft’s hopes to leverage the past are not as relevant as once they were – many people are now accustomed to slick interfaces produced for both Apple and Android devices.

There are even cheaper Chromebooks around – Google has showed off two Chromebooks costing less than $150.

Intel Ultrabook head-to-head: HP Folio 13 vs Lenovo U300s

As Intel’s Ultrabook kick into full throttle as partners gear up for the release of a new wave of Ivy Bridge based devices TechEye took the time to have a look at how some of the initial wave of ultraportables have fared.

Intel set itself a mammoth task in attempting to keep up as the PC market moves at breakneck speed towards a greater emphasis on mobile devices.
 
With tablets knocking the established order of desktop and laptop dominance, traditional notebooks ran the risk of looking almost archaic in the face of shiny new mobile devices.  Vendors had largely tried and failed with the lightweight but underpowered netbooks, and there had been little to rival the rise of the mobile device.

The reaction from Intel to the various threats of ARM chip designs (and Apple‘s iPad and Macbook Air) was to offer up its own take, the Ultrabook.

$300 million dollars, a raft of specifications, and some dodgy handbags later and the initial influx of devices from a range of manufacturers have now properly arrived.  

Most of the major PC vendors have released their own take on the Ultrabook, and although Intel is likely a good way off the 40 percent penetration target that it set itself for the PC market in 2012, the Ultrabooks appear to have been largely well received and expectations remain high.

Price has been one of the main quibbles among consumers, though these are now dropping for the first wave of Sandy Bridge devices.  

Thanks to endeavours with hybrid SDDs, as well as potentially replacing metal casings with tough plastics and even roping in airplane designers, Ultrabooks are approaching more mainstream price points to meet Intel’s desired mainstream appeal.

As AMD’s own ultrathings hit shops later this year with a mission to beat Intel on price, there are plenty of challenges ahead. Apple’s own MacBook Air, generally accepted as the blue-print for Ultrabooks, though a razor thin Sony Vaio laptop did appear some time before, still presents a threat in the ultrapotable market.

The battle to gain dominance with mainstream adoption is still ongoing.

To find out what the fuss is about, TechEye got to grips with HP’s Folio 13 and Lenovo U300s.

 

HP Folio 13

The Folio 13 looks to us like it is aimed squarely at the business market but HP has delivered in a visually appealing, if somewhat heavy, device. Ultimately we think HP nailed it: considering it is part of the first wave, expectations were high, and considering the pressure to keep the price point low while delivering an ultra-thin, instant-on machine, we came away impressed. £649, we think, is not a bad price and the machine felt like, to us, bang for our buck.

 

Lenovo IdeaPad U300s

This machine has an eye catching design and is a pleasure to look at. Lenovo got it right with its vital statistics, keeping the machine thin and light: this is a very portable machine. However, it does feel a little flimsy at times. We missed an SD card which can prove very useful depending on the profession. Wireless connectivity and the advent of a world with its head in the cloud does offer an alternative down the line but we are not quite there yet. Lenovo’s IdeaPad U300s costs a little more, at £749, but is still a good, media laptop that offers instant-on working productivity with attractive looks to boot. 

 

The Result

Overall both laptops were mighty impressive and go a long way to achieving Intel’s goal of turning the consumer’s head away from tablets.

Both are lightweight, highly portable, powerful and, perhaps crucially, both score highly in the looks department.

They might not quite be as easy to brandish on the bus as a tablet, but they are not too far off, and more than make up for this is in productivity and versatility, and, well, all round usefulness.

As Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks crop up they will offer even better battery life and power than these devices.

Already, though, Intel and its vendor partners appear to have gone some way to cracking the Ultrabook standard in the first wave of Sandy Bridge based devices, and we would certainly recommend either device.

The real question for Intel and the big PC brands is whether or not they can continue to replicate the high quality level of products that has been set by the initial flock of Ultrabooks.

As device types proliferate and form factors begin to differ more substantially to accommodate Windows 8 touch features, The challenge in keeping the standard high is at least as tricky as ensuring a good standard in the first place. There will be more device types – as Microsoft’sSurface has shown us – and there will be more form factors on the way.

But, we reckon, Lenovo and HP have both managed to bring out very good devices at reasonable price points with the U300s and Folio 13 both representing good value.

However, the Folio 13 is marginally the victor. It was a close call, but we’d give it the advantage thanks to its battery life, strong build and versatility. Our winner? It’d be HP’s Folio 13. 

Lenovo IdeaPad U300s review

Lenovo’s IdeaPad U300s is seemingly positioned somewhere between appealing to the consumer and businesses, with an attractive tapered front edge and metal lip running around the side of the chassis giving it a slimline ‘book’ appearance.

At a skinny 16mm the U300s has the razor-thin appeal of an ultrathin laptop, and the two tone dark metal chassis hits high in the prettiness stakes. It is eye-catching without being overly stylised like some Ultrabooks, and when shown to non-techy friends it received considerable praise for its initial looks, a prime requisite for a spot of Mac Book Air bashing.

At 1.32kg it is also a very light machine, though we found it hard to feel any substantial difference with the Folio 13, and Lenovo even provides a miniscule battery brick that is a thoughtful, and useful, touch.

Despite its weight, or lack of, the majority of the aluminium chassis feels strong, and holding it one-handed results in no problematic bending at the edge of the main body. The thin metal surrounding the screen is slightly flexible, however, and has an unnerving tendency to bounce back and forth for a second or two when opened and positioned into place.

Nevertheless it is sturdy overall, and users will be more than confident to throw it in a bag to bring outside without fretting that it will be crushed in by whatever is lurking around it.

As with the Folio 13, the 1366×768 screen is not remarkable, and we found that the brightness left a fair bit to be desired, sometimes making it slightly difficult to use in well-lit environments.   This appears to be a feature of many Ultrabooks, and the inconvenience was minimal.

The audio is decent enough for a laptop of this size, if slightly tinny and obscured by the main body.

The glass trackpad is spacious and a joy to use.  The left and right click buttons both have just enough resistance, as does the satisfying one touch click. The two finger scroll and pinch zoom were as good as any we have used, with even our clunky and uncoordinated digits moving around with ease and precision.  

The keyboard is generally easy to use, with enough give in the well-spaced keys to make for speedy typing. The positioning of the shrunken ‘enter’ and ‘backspace’ keys meant that mistakes were made occasionally when typing fast, though most will adjust to this, and did not present any significant problems.

The rounded keys suit the lines of machine, but the lack of backlighting on the keyboard is a missed trick both in terms of functionality and general aesthetics.

One drawback with the U300s is perhaps in terms of connectivity, as it is far from generous in this department.  While a full sized HDMI on an ultrathin device rather than a mini port saves on faffing around with adaptors, with two USBs (one being the newer USB 3.0) and no Ethernet, connectivity is basic. What is even more glaringly absent is the space for an SD card. While external hard drives and cloud storage offer some alternatives to the 128GB SSD, many will find an SD card upgrade essential.

The SSD itself is fantastic, and the boot up times are as speedy as Intel has claimed the Ultrabooks would be, switching from sleep mode to full use in a flash, and zooming through a restart.

This is one of the main benefits of Ultrabooks aside from their portability, and go a long way to rivalling tablets for carrying around and instant use.

In terms of performance, the spec varies little from the Folio 13 – and indeed many other Ultrabooks – with 4GB DDR3 RAM and a 1.6GHz i5-2478 Sandy Bridge Intel chip, meaning that the U300s rumbled through most tasks without blinking.  For a small and light device this is impressive, and makes netbooks look almost laughable.

Of course an Ultrabook is not the place to play newer games with graphics at full tilt HD 3000 or no, but gaming on reasonably new titles without major tweaks was possible, and there is little the average user will require that the U300s cannot provide without stuttering. HD video playback through an LCD TV caused no hiccups either.

Similarly, multitasking was a cinch, with the U300s not batting an eyelid even battling a ridiculous amount of web tabs open at once, as well as a number of programs open simultaneously. One slight problem that was evident at times was a tendency to start overheating when the processor is working harder, though this was relatively rare.   

Battery life on the machine was again impressive, and we managed to eke out close to six hours with moderate day to day usage and even more with the settings turned down and minimal usage.

The benefits of such longer battery on a device this small and powerful are hard to understate.

HP Folio 13 review

The HP Folio 13 is aimed more at the business rather than consumer market, and consequently is less flashy than some of the other Ultrabooks that have emerged so far.  That it is not to say it isn’t attractive itself – far from it in fact.

The Folio 13’s charms may be more subtle than other Ultrabooks, but on closer inspection it is clear that it is remarkably well designed, achieving the crucial ‘wow’ factor that would have formed part of Intel’s brief in an understated way.

The silver brushed metal chassis surrounds the matching blacks on the chiclet keyboard, screen bezel and trackpad making for a cohesive, sleek finish.

Switch on the keyboard backlight and few would disagree that HP has succeeded in building a rather gorgeous machine that gives a classy edge to a business-use laptop.   

While the Folio is not the lightest of Ultrabooks, at just less than 1.5 Kg it is still very easy to throw into a bag and carry around without wearing your shoulder out.

At 18mm it is middling in terms of thinness and forgoes the tapered edges of the Mac Book Air and some other ultrathins. The flipside of this means that it is reassuringly robust, with the screen moving sturdily into place when opened.  With barely a hint of flex at any point of the chassis this gives the feel of a premium laptop, as you would expect.

Getting to grips with using the Folio 13 is relatively hassle-free. The beautifully weighted tiled keyboard is a joy to use for extensive typing, while the rubberised plastic coating stops digits from sliding around.  The page up and page down keys feel somewhat crammed in to fit the keyboard’s confines, but just take a few moments to get used to.

The touchpad is a success on the whole, with the multitouch scrolling easy to use, though there is a slight stiffness in the left and right clicks. The pinch zoom is over sensitive at times, with a slightly misjudged pincer movement resulting in zooming in and out almost reminiscent of the dizzying staircase scene in Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

The audio on the Folio is impressive considering the size of the machine.  The bass might be scant but the front facing Dolby Advanced Audio speaker bar is crystal clear, surprisingly loud and overall a fantastically well designed and delivered addition to the machine.  

The 13.3 inch screen is decent if unremarkable, 1366 x 768 as the rough standard for most of the initial flock of Ultrabooks.  The glossy screen can at times be difficult in terms of glare, but mostly it caused little problems, and has very good brightness levels.

Loitering around the side of the machine is enough connectivity to make the case for business use. HP have supplied two USBs, one of which is USB 3.0, as well as a full sized HDMI port and Ethernet connection.  These mean that the Folio 13 is ideally suited to BYOD fans.

Furthermore there is an SD card slot, very useful from the perspective of business use by professionals, and almost essential in terms of giving expansion options over the 128GB solid state drive.

Using an SSD in the place of the more traditional hard disk drives found in notebooks obviously means a significant drop in capacity, but from a business use perspective this is not massively important, and in an era of cloud storage it is less of a problem than we first expected. For those who are intent on storing large amounts of media an external hard drive is a worthwhile investment, considering the impressively cheap storage options available even at terabyte sizes.

In terms of performance the Folio 13 has the standard Intel spec of a Core i5-2467 processor, in this case Sandy Bridge, and along with 4GB of DDR3 RAM means that the Folio 13 can deal with just about everything you would expect from an ultraportable.

The Folio is by no means aimed at gaming, but still manages to support games from the past couple of years running at a fairly impressive rate with Intel’s HD3000 graphics, and even new titles with most of the graphic features turned down a bit.

Multitasking is rarely a problem, and HD video does not tax the machine, running smoothly when hooked up to a larger screen.

The battery life is another area where the Folio 13 really excels, and we were suitably impressed by the usage – approaching seven hours that could be wrung from the machine with low settings and light usage.  A more realistic figure for the general mix of web browsing, word processing, intermittent Spotify or YouTube use still gave a thoroughly decent life of around five hours plus.

This is an example of the real usefulness of the Folio 13.  The peace of mind that comes from not having to find the nearest plug to fill up the battery every couple of hours can really not be overstated, particularly for business use.   

Indeed, the usual jolt of fear when the battery icon approaches vanishes when you get used to battery life that has a fair crack at running all day, and this makes for a truly ‘ultraportable’ device.