Asus N55SF

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 Asus N55SF

At first glance, it’s difficult to get a handle on exactly what type of laptop the Asus N55SF is.

The powerful Core i7-2570QM processor, huge keyboard with numeric keypad and slab of speaker atop the keyboard suggest that it may be intended as a desktop replacement. But the weight and general lack of bulk suggest otherwise.

When all’s said and done, this is a out-and-out powerhouse of an entertainment laptop. There’s Bang and Olufsen ICEPower audio, 6GB of memory and a Blu-ray drive hidden inside that hefty case.

Indeed, this is a high performance family laptop with a gaming bent – the high end Nvidia GeForce GT 555M has a whopping 2GB of memory on board just for graphics, providing some of the best 3D performance you’ll find in a laptop.

While the chassis is big, it’s not as bulky as you’d think and is easily to move around the living room. Sadly the power brick isn’t so portable and is a bit of a lump. The chassis is a little plasticky, but is topped off by a lovely curved, glossy piano black lid with a smart looking chrome finish around the edge.

Unfortunately the lid does pick up fingerprints quickly, but that’s an issue with all such glossy laptop lids – particularly when they’re being used by kids. As a whole, the laptop looks very classy and we certainly wouldn’t be ashamed to leave it on the coffee table – the aluminium panel below the screen adds to this.

The chassis has been put together well and is strong – you can’t push down on the palm rest, although there is a little flex in the base of the keyboard and the main laptop chassis itself. There is more flex in the screen, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary.

Key concern

We’re unsure about the keyboard though. It looks horrid compared to those of many comparable laptops, for a start. The letter keys seem a little compressed for such a large machine, and although they have a lovely spring to them when you’re typing, it’s easy to accidentally hit the wrong key.

This problem is exacerbated by the location of the volume control keys on the left-hand side. It’s very easy to hit one of them when going for Tab or holding down shift – largely because we’re so used to these keys being at the edge of the keyboard. A bad usability flaw there; suddenly you see a volume control graphic pop up in front of you as you type.

Sound, which has traditionally been a weakness for laptops, certainly isn’t neglected here. The B&O audio is nothing short of astounding. It was too loud for our living room, so we really gave it a challenge by bringing it into the office. Even on the other side of our large open plan office we could clearly make out the music. It’s great for watching Blu-ray movies as a result, and HDMI means you can output your display to a larger screen.

If you prefer to use the laptop’s built-in display, images are clear and crisp, and there’s an anti-glare coating to reduce refl ections when you’re watching video or working. The screen has great contrast and colours are also reproduced well.

Asus n55sf rear

Photo, video and music addicts will be pleased with the 640GB of storage, and USB 3.0 connectivity means that, even if you decide to add external storage, transfer speeds would be extremely snappy with a USB 3.0 drive. Ports are plentiful, while there’s a SD card slot underneath the front lip.

The trackpad is responsive, but we found the mouse buttons tended to click too easily and it can be difficult when doing more precise tasks such as highlighting text or files in a folder.

Powerful performer

The N55SF put in a really strong performance in our benchmarks – the gaming graphics put it right up alongside entertainment-orientated notebooks like the Toshiba Qosmio X770, as well as high-end gaming laptops such as the Alienware M14X and M18X. With the quad-core processor, advanced graphics and 6GB of memory, you’ll have no trouble running most games or performing demanding tasks like video editing.

The laptop uses Nvidia’s Optimus graphics switching technology, so you get great graphics performance when it’s plugged into the mains and decent battery life when it’s not. This is reflected in our battery benchmark score, which is great compared to many of its peers – the Toshiba’s Qosmio X770 only lasted 44 minutes by contrast.

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Battery Eater ’05: 132 minutes
Cinebench: 18,323
3DMark 2009: 12,711

As with some other recent Asus laptops like the UX31 Zenbook, we found some of the software annoying. A reminder to register our details constantly popped up, and an update wizard kept appearing. Such add-on software seems to be a way of life now, but it detracts from the out-of-box experience.

That said, for extra unwanted software, the N55SF is better than most, with only the Bing toolbar really grating. And the benefit of the super-fast processor is that such additions don’t slow Windows 7 down.

The N55SF is a superb home entertainment laptop with only a couple of weak points in the odd keyboard, mouse controls and some irritating software alerts. Performance is excellent and the spec sheet as a whole is impressive.

Of course, all this doesn’t come cheap, but this machine compares extremely favourably to more stylised and costly entertainment laptops from the likes of Toshiba and Alienware. We’d definitely recommend it – if you can put up with the strange keyboard.

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Review: Asus U46 SV

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Review: Asus U46 SV

Overview

We’ve got to confess, the unveiling of the Asus Zenbook has spoiled us. The beautifully slender yet sturdy body is a marvel, yet it still makes room for some powerful components for (hopefully) excellent performance.

This makes reviewing the Asus U46SV – another new laptop from the Taiwanese giant – a rather tricky business. It’s not that this laptop is ugly or anything. But imagine embarking on an illicit one-night affair with Megan Fox, then hooking up with Hilary Duff. She’s probably a very nice girl and not bad looking, but you’d be thinking of Megan during sexy time.

Let’s begin by saying we really liked the Asus U36JC, a powerful and well-built ultra-portable laptop. The Asus U46SV is a spiritual successor to the U36JC, but we were surprised by how chunky and heavy it felt when we pulled it free of its box.

The chassis is 38mm thick, which is rather bulky for a laptop of this size. It also weighs 2.3kg – a lot more than the Asus U36JC’s featherweight build. The U46SV won’t exactly weigh you down if you’re carrying it in a bag all day, but we expected something a lot slimmer and lighter. Compared to the Sony VAIO S Series, this is a boxy beast.

We also aren’t massive fans of the Asus U46SV’s aluminium build, which feels strangely like plastic. The lid is especially weak, and bends in the centre under light pressure. Both the lid and the palm rests feature a circular pattern that looks cheap compared to the beautiful finish of the Zenbook.

Asus u46 sv

Still, we can’t complain when it comes to the keyboard. The popular chiclet, or ‘isolation-style’, design means that keys are well spaced, which makes it perfect for touch-typists. The keys are a great size, with no tiny Shift or Return keys to spoil the party. Even the arrow keys get plenty of space, which is a welcome relief.

We also liked the smooth touchpad, which finds plenty of space to spread out across the Asus U46SV’s palm rests. The dedicated mouse buttons aren’t set too firmly and are a haven for grimy fingerprints, but they’re hugely preferable to those pesky integrated buttons.

Specifications

Asus u46 sv

For some reason, Asus built the U46SV with a jutting lip at the back, which prevents the lid from tilting back by more than 45 degrees. This makes it tricky to get a good view of the screen when this portable laptop is sat on your lap.

Thankfully the 14-inch display goes some way to rectifying this, with decent enough viewing angles. It’s also impressively bright, although blacks aren’t as deep as we’d like and images can occasionally look washed out. However, we still enjoyed watching high-definition movies and browsing our photo collection (holiday photos, not the other kind. Ahem).

Speaking of which, you can carry a large chunk of media around on the 500GB hard drive – over 100 HD films, or around a hundred thousand songs or photos. Only torrent fans should struggle to carry around their entire collections.

A five-in-one memory card reader can be used to boost storage space, or quickly copy your holiday snaps onto your laptop, ready to bore close friends and family. You also get VGA and HDMI ports for outputting to an external display, and three USB ports. One of those is USB 3.0, so you can quickly back up your files to a compatible hard drive.

Asus has also stuck an extra power button above the keyboard, for booting into its Express Gate OS. This gives you quick access to your media and the internet, booting up in mere seconds.

However, we still aren’t massive fans of the stripped-down user interface and limited functionality, and would rather wait the extra 20 seconds it takes to boot into Windows. Let’s face it, we’ve got nothing better to do with our time, except feed Doritos to the office gerbil.

You have built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi for hooking up to wireless internet networks and an Ethernet port if you prefer to trail cables across your lounge. You also get a built-in DVD drive, and in terms of features that’s about it.

We were surprised to see no more, but extras such as fingerprint scanners would probably go unused by most consumers anyway.

Performance

TechRadar Labs

tech labs

Cinebench ’10: 9816
3D Mark ’06: 8771
Battery Eater: 330 minutes

While we’re less than impressed by the build and looks of the Asus U46SV, we can’t deny that the laptop is stuffed with power. One of Intel’s latest Sandy Bridge chips, the Core i5 2410M, is ably backed up by 4GB of memory and is strong enough to run any number of applications at once.

The Cinebench score of 9,816 isn’t one of the best we’ve seen lately – that award goes to the Toshiba Qosmio X770, which managed a stupendous 17,063. However, we’re confident that even demanding users will get years of use from the Asus U46SV.

Asus u46 sv

This laptop also caters to movie and music editors with its Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics card. You can run dedicated editing software without any kind of stuttering or issues, and even have a blast on modern games (although you’ll need to turn down detail levels on the more complex titles to keep a respectable frame rate).

If you’re more into watching movies than fiddling with them, you can enjoy HD video with smooth playback. We recommend plugging in some decent speakers or headphones, though. The Asus U46SV’s built-in efforts are tinny and, strangely, the sound seems to come from the right-hand side of the laptop instead of hitting you head-on.

Asus u46 sv

Despite the excellent performance and dedicated GPU, the Asus U46SV somehow pulls off fantastic battery life. We test our laptops by looping an HD video on full brightness, with performance settings turned to max, which gives a good indication of the minimum life to expect. Most portable laptops manage less than three hours before dying, but the Asus U46SV lasted almost double that before the screen went black.

It’s a damn shame the body isn’t slimmer or lighter, or this would be one of the most portable laptops we’ve used in a long time.

Verdict

Asus u46 sv

After enjoying our time with the Asus U36JC, we really hoped that the Asus U46SV would be a worthy update, packing similarly strong performance into another light and slender chassis. However, when we pulled the U46SV from its box, it wasn’t quite what we expected.

We liked

We certainly weren’t disappointed with the performance. The Intel Core i5 Sandy Bridge processor can multitask with the best of them, while a dedicated Nvidia graphics card copes with video editing and gaming.

Despite the powerful components, you can still enjoy movies for almost six hours before the battery dies. This is one of the best results we’ve seen in a long time. Movies look good on the bright 14-inch screen, even if colours are occasionally saturated.

If you’d rather bash out a novel or chat with friends online, the firm isolation-style keyboard will keep you satisfied. You can store plenty of files on the 500GB hard drive, and you get a decent range of ports, including USB 3.0.

We disliked

Performance impressed, but the build of the Asus U46SV is a letdown. While the Asus U36JC had a sleek ultra-portable body, this update has a chunkier chassis and weighs a meaty 2.3kg. It’s still portable, but we expected this laptop to be just as light, if not lighter.

We were also disappointed by the build quality. The lid flexes far too easily under pressure, and the design isn’t too appealing. There’s also a lack of exciting features.

Verdict

While the Asus U46SV is powerful and its impressive battery life makes up in some part for the bulky build, we’d recommend holding off for the upcoming Asus Zenbook instead.

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Review: Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet

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Review: Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet

Overview 

and features

For those with a penchant for tech throwbacks, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet is a reminder of past accomplishments. With its all-black design and an optional pen with a large red faux-pa eraser, this tablet looks a bit like one of those original IBM ThinkPad notebooks from years ago. Sadly, its throwback design is still no match for the thin and powerful Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 or Apple iPad 2.

Like the Acer Iconia Tab A500 and Asus Eee Pad Transformer, the ThinkPad Tablet has quite a few extra ports including a camera card slot for loading images from a digital camera straight from the SD memory card, a USB port for connecting peripherals such as a keyboard and mouse and a micro-HDMI port for sending the screen out to your HD TV.

However, at 14.5mm thin and 748g heavy, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet is not as sleek or portable as the Apple iPad 2.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet, which runs on the Android 3.1 operating system, is loaded with the latest chips, as expected. There’s an Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 1.0GHz processor, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, and – at least on the version we tested – 32GB of storage. Lenovo offers 16GB and 64GB versions as well, costing £683 for a 16GB Wi-Fi-only version, £788 for a 16GB Wi-Fi and 3G version and £885 for a 64GB Wi-Fi and 3G version.

The tablet has a 2MP front-facing camera and a rear 5MP camera for videos and photos. There’s a SIM slot for adding an optional 3G card, and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections are both on board.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

The most unique feature is the pen, which is thankfully just an optional add-on that enhances the interface in dramatic ways. For most tasks, you can just use finger presses and swipes. Yet, if you want to jot down notes, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet converts what you write to text quickly and, for the most part, accurately. You can also draw objects in a sketchpad and annotate documents with ease.

From a design standpoint, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet feels a bit chunky and is reminiscent of older slate tabs that ran on Windows Tablet PC. That said, unlike the Toshiba AT100 (known as the Toshiba Thrive in the US), the IPS screen, made of Gorilla Glass and so exceptionally durable, is viewable from a side angle, like the iPad 2’s.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet

There are four buttons on the top left-hand side that serve as the screen lock, Web, Back and Home buttons.

The tablet is loaded with extra software. Lenovo includes the Documents To Go app, which normally costs £9.99 to download. Lenovo says its ThinkPad Tablet is the first Android tab to include the Netflix app – the popular US TV and movie streaming site – on its US models. There are two unique interface add-ons – one is an app launcher that sits in the centre of the screen, and the other is an app wheel that functions just like the app pop-up menu that’s standard with Android.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

Lenovo advertises its ThinkPad Tablet as “professional grade”, and we think that means it’s focused less on the consumer side. That’s a good thing, because one of our overall impressions is that the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet runs slowly for video.

The Chinese PC maker might be targeting business people with the higher price as well. At £821 for the 32GB model (although currently offered at the discounted price of £580 on the Lenovo website), the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet is one of the most expensive Android tablets around. It may not be worth the high price, but some of the features are definitely business friendly.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

In the box, Lenovo includes a charger and USB cable, but no earbuds, case or stand

.

Taking a tour around the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet, the first impression is that the tablet seems big and bulky. At 748g, it’s heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, at 565g, and the Apple iPad 2, at 601g. The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet is even heavier than the Toshiba AT100, which we described as too bulky.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

There are ports galore, though. We tested the USB port, which is below the screen on the right, and it worked with a USB keyboard called the Luxeed, and even a wireless mouse from Microsoft. However, the tablet didn’t work with one USB flash drive loaded with music and video files. We tested another flash drive, formatted on the same Windows 7 PC as the first one, and it worked fine.

Above the USB slot, on the right-hand side, there’s a three-in-one camera flash card reader that works with SD, SDHC, and MMC cards up to 32GB. A docking port, micro USB port (for charging and swapping files) and a mini-HDMI port are also on the left-hand side. The power button is on the top to the left. On the left-hand side, there are volume control buttons and a slot for storing the pen.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

The 1280 x 800 IPS display, measuring 10.1 inches, like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, looked a bit dull for movie playback and games. At least it is viewable from a side angle, up to 178 degrees, since the technology is the same as the Apple iPad 2. Like almost every tablet we’ve tried, the screen glare on the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet is obnoxiously bad – the device is barely useable outside.

Other notable hardware features are here to appease the business user. For example, Lenovo includes an app that you can use to encrypt sensitive business documents stored on flash media. There’s also a handy USB file transfer app that works for copying internal files to an external hard drive or USB flash drive.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet

Battery life on the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet is about average for most Android tabs, lasting for around eight hours. In our testing, we experienced all-day usage from sun-up to sun down when we used the device under normal conditions for checking email, browsing the web and playing YouTube clips.

As expected, when we watched several episodes of The Killing one after the other, with the display turned up bright so we could see what was happening, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet only lasted for about four hours of continuous playback.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

One other hardware perk is that the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet comes with a service called PrinterShare. You install a utility on your PC, select your printer and can then print directly from the tablet – although you have to configure the printer under Settings – over a Wi-Fi network. Of course, the printer has to be on the same network as the tablet.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet

Interface


Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

Other than the slightly unusual hardware features, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet Tablet is also outfitted with some interesting new user interface enhancements. Some of them work well, but others aren’t as impressive.

The thing first you notice about the main screen is that Lenovo has added a Launcher widget in the centre of the screen where you can quickly start the internet browser, open a book, watch a movie or listen to music. The widget really only sends you to an app – Slacker Radio for music or the mSpot app for movies. For new users, the widget is a smart idea because it calls attention to main features on the device.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

Another addition is the App Wheel. There’s an icon on the lower centre of the screen – press it and you’ll see a circle menu you use to start an app. This is different from the pop-up menu included with Android that shows you open apps – this wheel is for storing favourites. The App Wheel looks a bit clunky though, with an unconvincing drop-shadow. Also, it’s easier to just store apps on the desktop.

Both of these are just extra UI icing on the standard Android 3.1 interface. There are no radical interface overhauls like there will be with the Amazon Kindle Fire. There are also no app categorisation bins like there are with Samsung and Acer tabs, although these bins don’t add a lot of value.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet

Many of the other interface features are standard – you can drop widgets onto the main screens. None of these stray too far from the norm – Lenovo hasn’t added any extra widgets. There’s a back button on the lower left-hand side and a Home button in addition to the pop-up app menu.

One oddity, though, is that the hardware buttons on the left of the screen require that you press them close to the screen. If you press near the edge, the button might not work. In daily use, you might just skip these buttons altogether.

Market and apps


Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

Some of the best features on the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet are all behind the scenes. Lenovo includes IT-specific tools such as Computrace for finding a lost device or wiping the data if it’s stolen, LANDesk for pushing apps to the device over a network and requiring that data has to be encrypted when moved to an SD card, and the McAfee Security app, which is designed mostly for backing up and restoring data.

Lenovo went well beyond the norm for bundled apps. In addition to the IT tools, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet includes an app called ArcSync that enables you to synchronise documents, music files, photos and videos to a website, then sync the same media to your phone and computer.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet also includes Angry Birds HD, Documents to Go for viewing and editing Word, PowerPoint, Excel and PDF files, several “virtual” board games such as Backgammon and a few card games including Euchre and Spades.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

As you’d expect, all of the Android apps are here as well, including a light app for editing movies you’ve taken with the built-in camera, the Google Music app for syncing music to the cloud, a built-in Maps app that includes turn-by-turn navigation, and Google email, web browser and calendar apps.

One interesting addition has to do with the Lenovo app store, called App Shop. This cluttered app store pales in comparison to the Android Market. We searched for any pinball game and found none listed. Worse, the screenshots that show up on the main screen were stretched as though the app store was designed for a thinner tablet. When we searched for a PDF reader, the store only had two suggestions – one was the free Adobe reader.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

There’s also an AppVerse feature within Lenovo’s App Shop, which is designed to help you find the best apps. This enables you to browse through the popular apps suggested by other users. The section works like Twitter – you can follow other users and they can follow you. The main problem at the moment, though, is that there just weren’t enough users actively making app suggestions to make this feature useful.

Screen


Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

The summary so far is that the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet does offer some extra IT services, there are some good bundled apps, and the Lenovo app store isn’t really worth the effort. But what about the screen? A tablet lives or dies on the quality, brightness, and touch input of the screen.

Lenovo uses the same IPS technology on the Apple iPad 2 that makes the screen viewable at a sharp angle. That was helpful in a crowded coffee shop when trying to work with a laptop and the tablet at the same time – sitting on a table, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet screen was still viewable.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

The colour quality looked a bit dim, though, and the screen brightness isn’t anywhere near as luminescent as the iPad 2 or Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1’s.

In terms of gesturing, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet is just average. We didn’t notice any serious problems – in a session with Angry Birds HD the screen registered our flicks and swipes with ease. Pressing on an app icon registered quickly and accurately.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet

However, during several tests with the keyboard, we found the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet would occasionally miss a finger press. There’s no haptic feedback (a slight buzz that tells you your finger registered) but the keyboard does make a chime to register a finger press.

For pen input, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet works wonderfully well if that’s what you need to do. Modern tablets are designed for finger input, but there were times when we used the pen to annotate a document, write down notes and control the interface. The pen proved to be highly responsive.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

Using the Notes Mobile app, we wrote out a grocery list and found that the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet recorded these notes accurately as text.

In the SketchPad app, we drew a complex artistic drawing with the pen and were impressed with how accurate the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet registered every brush stroke and spray paint blob. We liked that Lenovo includes the pen not as a primary input device but as an extra option you can use when you need that functionality. There were no times when we felt dependent on the pen to control the tablet.

Usability

Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet seems like a throwback device at times. The all-black design doesn’t help – it reminded us of a ThinkPad with the red mouse control nub from the early noughties. Lenovo meant for that to be a bit nostalgic we think, but the overall impression is that the design looks dated. The tablet felt a bit heavy and bulky, not exactly state-of-the-art thin and light like the Apple iPad 2 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 models.

We also found the buttons a bit superfluous. The buttons to the right of the screen are all repeated as software buttons, and our focus tended to stay on the screen. So we used the software home button more often, rarely used the hardware button for the web browser and never bothered locking the screen rotation, although that last one’s partly due to the fact that the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet rotates the screen correctly.

The ports tell a different story. We used the USB port with a USB flash drive throughout a day of testing, and snapped in an SD card from a Nikon D7000 camera several times.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

We also tested the mini-HDMI port with a 50-inch Sony HD TV, and were mightily impressed: the screen looked crisp and ran fast on the HD TV, and finger swipes were responsive, even with the mirroring.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

When we watched the movie Fast Five, playback looked a bit dim and had a poor, muddy contrast ratio, but at least the movie looked properly formatted and streamed fluidly from the mSpot app.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet lacks that pick-up-and-go aesthetic of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Apple iPad 2. There’s something about the extra thinness of those devices that makes you think they’re designed to grab quickly to look up a recipe in the kitchen or flick through a website.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet has a business-like aesthetic that’s designed more for a conference room than for quick YouTube sessions. It almost feels and looks like a small LCD from a Lenovo laptop, only at a 10 inch size.

Media


Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

By emphasising the business features on the ThinkPad Tablet, Lenovo has made some of the consumer features a little less compelling. There are no first party apps for renting movies, buying music, or serving up your photos to a secure image library. Instead, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet relies heavily on apps.

For example, the mSpot service is included for renting Hollywood movies. This app is actually quite useful, because it streams movies instead of forcing you to download them first. So, in our test of the movie Fast Five, the first chapter of the movie started playing immediately after we rented it. You can set the app to use a low bandwidth or high bandwidth mode, which determines the quality level.

At the high bandwidth setting, the movie looked similar in quality to a LoveFilm or BBC iPlayer stream. The low bandwidth setting made movies look almost unwatchable, with a soft jagged look to objects.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet

For music, there are a few options available, but none of them match the tight infrastructure of iTunes. The main portal is the Amazon MP3 app, but there’s also a music purchase store from mSpot. If you have your own music, you can load files onto the tablet easily using a USB flash drive, connected over Wi-Fi, or from an SD card. When you do, you can use the Google Music app for playback and cloud storage.

From what we hear about the Amazon Kindle Fire, these features might all suddenly seem outdated and even archaic. The Kindle Fire enables you to store all media in the cloud for free, and that feature is baked right into the device – it will be seamless. That means every photo, movie, music file and document will be transferred automatically over to a cloud server from the Kindle Fire.

With the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet, and every other Android tablet, cloud integration is app-specific.

We had no problems with media support – the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet worked fine with every music file we loaded, including several WAV and MP3 files. We also loaded several hundred JPG photos. The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet worked well in terms of playing these media files and formatting them for the screen.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet review

The one glitch we noticed appeared when we loaded Windows Media video files for the TV show The Killing. The videos would stutter and pause occasionally. We loaded the exact same files, which weren’t even HD quality, on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, and they played smoothly.

Camera

Lenovo thinkpad tablet

Let’s be clear about camera technology on tablets: it is not what it should be. Shots with the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet tended to look a tad blurry, with a washed-out look and lack of colour variance. In fact, comparing the photos to those taken with a handheld Samsung Galaxy S2 smartphone, there is quite a disparity.

In a pinch, when all you have available is the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet, the camera does work OK. But there were times when it was difficult to hold the tablet steady, and shots looked blurry.

Indoor shots looked less colourful than those taken outside on a bright sunny day. The problem isn’t particular to the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet – no modern tablet is really ideal for taking photos.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet

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Lenovo thinkpad tablet

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Lenovo thinkpad tablet

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Lenovo thinkpad tablet

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Lenovo thinkpad tablet

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Lenovo thinkpad tablet

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In terms of videos, colour quality was also an issue, but there wasn’t as much of a problem with blurriness. In a scan of a back garden scene, the video looked clear enough and had some colour variance, but the movie wasn’t nearly as impressive as what you’ll find on any typical handheld pocket camera, and is definitely far worse than a dedicated video camera or the video mode on a DSLR.

Lenovo thinkpad tablet

The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet offers a few extra scene modes than we’re used to on Android tablets. You can quickly press the scene button and select a setting for a beach, sunset, snow or even fireworks. There’s also a solarise setting, which casts your image in a pale silver outline. White balance settings for indoor shots or even on a cloudy day help to improve colour accuracy.

There are no scene settings for the video mode, though, other than using black-and-white, sepia or other colour modes. For video, it would have helped to have scene modes that improve shutter speed for recording at a sporting event or for low light conditions (say, a birthday party).

Verdict

Lenovo thinkpad tablet

We ended up liking what Lenovo has done to make its ThinkPad Tablet a more professional-grade tablet than some of the competition. IT folks can track the device and wipe data if it’s stolen, the back-up app from McAfee means not worrying about lost business documents. Help desk staff can push apps to the device, which isn’t something Samsung or Apple offer out of the box.

Overall, the design is a bit dated, which is odd for an Android tablet. It has a throwback look that seems more like a Lenovo laptop than a sleek, modern tablet. The device is a bit hefty and bulky for daily use, but if you are a mobile professional and need to run a Citrix client all day and tap into your ERP system, then the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet has you covered – and you might be willing to overlook the design issues.

That said, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet is also a poor consumer choice. The AVI movies we tested stuttered and looked washed out, like looking through a steam-covered window.

There isn’t the same quick mobile movie session of competing tablets, and that’s a shame, because even for business use there are times when watching a movie on an aeroplane or at the hotel makes sense.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet beats several other Android tablets, including the Acer Iconia Tab A500, the Toshiba AT100, the Motorola Xoom, and the Asus Eee Pad Transformer. Each of those tablets also provide some extra ports, including one for USB connections, that make them more suited for a PC-centric tablet user, but are not exactly thin and light enough for mobile entertainment.

Yet, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet adds some extra business-oriented features. We loved the pen input for jotting down notes and drawing in pen-enabled apps. Other than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, the iPad 2 and potentially the Kindle Fire, which is coming to the US soon, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet is a good bet.

We liked

The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet has extra business features for tracking the device in case it’s stolen or lost, pushing apps for a secure install and backing up your data.

The pen, which slips into a holder below the screen, is useful for making notes that are accurately converted into text, and for making original art sketches.

The eight-hour battery life is about what we’d expect from a 10-inch tablet – the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet lasted all day and them some for typical web browsing and email activities.

We disliked

The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet felt bulky and heavy compared to thinner tablets on the market. The all-black design works well at the office, but not so much on a long plane ride or at a sporting event. Other sleeker and more modern-looking tablets point to a future age when most computing takes place on a thin device.

The camera, like the one included with most tablets, is just not that great. It’s hard to take really compelling photos and videos and want to keep them forever (aka, on Facebook). Some AVI videos played with stuttering that made the TV show unwatchable.

It’s unfortunate that not many apps actually support the annotation features – the pen didn’t work with Adobe Reader or Documents To Go. That means the pen is useful but not essential.

Final verdict

The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet is a smart option for those who need to use a tablet at work. It has an understated but somewhat bulky design that fits well with a full-size laptop.

Movies and other media are hit and miss, but mostly miss because of the less than colourful screen and choppy playback.

Our final conclusion is that this tablet is better than many other Android models, mostly because of the extra ports and the business apps, but the larger size and weight make it a runner-up to Apple and Samsung models.

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Review: Fellowes Office Suites Monitor Riser Plus

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You might not always be aware that the way you sit at your computer, and the way that you use it, can lead to injuries. Fellowes specialises in ergonomic devices that can make your computer more comfortable – and safer – to use.

While the Fellowes Health V Easy Gliding Palm Support helps support and protect your wrist as you use a mouse, the Office Suites Monitor Riser Plus makes it easy to ensure that your monitor is at the right height. This might sound a bit ‘health and safety gone mad’, but in reality if you’re bending your neck to view your screen then this can become uncomfortable.

While it might not do much more than what placing a monitor on a pile of books could achieve, it is a safe and specifically designed device that ensures the monitor is positioned correctly.

We found it easy to set up and sturdy enough to hold LCD monitors up to around 24 inches in size. It can also be used as a laptop stand. At first it feels slightly odd to use a laptop this way, but it certainly makes using laptops for long periods of time far more comfortable than resting them on a desk.

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Review: Fellowes Office Suites Monitor Riser Plus

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You might not always be aware that the way you sit at your computer, and the way that you use it, can lead to injuries. Fellowes specialises in ergonomic devices that can make your computer more comfortable – and safer – to use.

While the Fellowes Health V Easy Gliding Palm Support helps support and protect your wrist as you use a mouse, the Office Suites Monitor Riser Plus makes it easy to ensure that your monitor is at the right height. This might sound a bit ‘health and safety gone mad’, but in reality if you’re bending your neck to view your screen then this can become uncomfortable.

While it might not do much more than what placing a monitor on a pile of books could achieve, it is a safe and specifically designed device that ensures the monitor is positioned correctly.

We found it easy to set up and sturdy enough to hold LCD monitors up to around 24 inches in size. It can also be used as a laptop stand. At first it feels slightly odd to use a laptop this way, but it certainly makes using laptops for long periods of time far more comfortable than resting them on a desk.

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Review: Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G

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These days we’re seeing a lot more slim and light ultraportable laptops. Rising up against these size zero models is the Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G.

Like the Dell XPS 15z and the Macbook Pro 17 inch, this is all about packing in huge amounts of power, and who cares if it’s on the chunky side. After all, as our mothers told us: it’s not the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

As with the previous Ethos models, the Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G is an entertainment centre that’s designed to sit on your desk at home.

Crushing the scales at 4.2kg, you wouldn’t want to carry this laptop any further than the next room, to avoid popping a couple of vertebrae.

That said, we were impressed at how thin the Ethos is. Sure, 40mm can’t really be described as ‘thin’, when you consider that the Samsung 9000 series measures just a smidgen over 10mm. But considering the girth of this machine, it’s comparatively slender.

We also liked the smart design, which follows the XPS 15z’s mantra of ‘keep it simple’. The dark chassis has a brushed metal finish that spreads everywhere except the palmrests, and it looks as solid as it feels.

We didn’t find any hint of flex no matter how hard we poked and prodded, which is to be expected at this price point.

One of the most interesting new features of the Ethos 8951G is the detachable touchpad. In previous models, the touchpad converted to a media control panel at the press of a button.

This laptop has the same gimmick. One push of the corner gives you fast access to the Clear-Fi application, which is a media hub for enjoying your photos, films and music. Another press brings up the play, skip, pause and volume controls, and a third press returns the touchpad to normal.

On the previous models this was nice, but of limited use as you had to be sat in front of the Ethos to use it. However, the Ethos 8951G lets you remove the entire touchpad by flicking a switch, so you can use it from across the room to control your media.

It’s a smart idea that works well. Even when we positioned ourselves across the other side of the office, the laptop still responded perfectly to the infrared remote.

Of course, it isn’t a perfect solution. You’re limited to the basic pause/play/skip and volume controls, and if you wish to go full-screen or fiddle with other settings, you need to change back to touchpad mode and fiddle around.

While the touchpad works fairly well as a remote, it works rather less well as a touchpad. For some reason, the responsiveness is all over the place, with sensitivity levels dying as you slide your finger towards the edges.

In fact, swiping the right edge did nothing at all. We’d actually recommend using a USB mouse with this laptop, to avoid frustration.

Thankfully the keyboard is typically great for an Acer laptop. As usual, an isolation-style design has been used, with each key poking up through an individual hole cut in the Ethos 8951G’s chassis.

It’s a well laid out board and a great size for touch typing, despite the tiny left Shift key.

The arrow keys are sadly squashed beneath the right Shift key, which seems unnecessary considering the room Acer had to play with. Still, you do get a separate numeric pad, which is useful if you’re a spreadsheet junkie.

Acer aspire ethos 8951g

Since the Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G is a multimedia machine at heart, we were keen to test out the huge 18.4-inch screen by kicking back with a sack of Blu-rays and a vat of popcorn.

That’s right, we said Blu-rays, not crummy old DVDs. Acer has included Sony’s HD technology so you can enjoy films the way they’re meant to be seen, with ultra-crisp visuals.

Of course, you can still play DVDs on the drive, so you don’t need to part with your collection just yet.

The Ethos 8951G’s display features a sharp 1920 x 1080 WUXGA resolution, making it perfect for taking in Full HD 1080p movies and shows.

HD films really do look amazing on this machine. Contrast levels are excellent, blacks actually look black, as opposed to grey, and colours are rich and vibrant.

Viewing angles aren’t too bad either, so you can happily enjoy a movie with your family, spread out on the sofa. You don’t even have to get up thanks to the detachable touchpad/remote control.

A good chunk of space above the keyboard is dedicated to the built-in speakers. Although laptop speakers are usually as powerful as a gnat’s fart, we were expecting great things from the Ethos 8951G. Those expectations were sadly dashed on the rocky plateau of disappointment.

The sound quality is fine, but there’s a serious lack of power. Even on top volume, we were straining to hear over ambient office noise.

This is especially disappointing considering how powerful the Dell XPS 15z’s speakers were. If you want to truly enjoy a movie or some bass-heavy music, you’ll definitely want to attach some USB speakers.

Those with enormous media collections are well catered for by the 1.5TB hard drive, which provides enough space for hundreds of thousands of songs and photos, and hundreds of HD movies.

If you need even more space or simply wish to back up your collection, you can attach an external drive using the eSATA port, or slip a memory card into the multi-card reader.

You also get four USB ports, one of which is USB 3.0, in addition to VGA and HDMI connections for hooking up external monitors or televisions. Acer has even included mini-Firewire, which we rarely see on laptops these days.

Rounding off the features is the almost-obligatory fingerprint scanner, which provides a satisfactory alternative to remembering ridiculously complex passwords.

Acer aspire ethos 8951g

When we saw the specs list for the Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G, we certainly weren’t disappointed. Acer has stuffed in one of Intel’s latest Sandy Bridge processors, the Core i7 2630QM, which runs at 2GHz.

Backed up by a mammoth 8GB of RAM, it was obvious that the Ethos would destroy our benchmarking tests.

And destroy it did. We didn’t think the Dell XPS 15z‘s CineBench score of 11,474 would be beaten any time soon, but the Ethos 8951G topped it with a score of 12,633.

The Intel CPU’s eight cores are perfect for multi-tasking, while software loads up almost instantly. No matter what we were doing, this laptop provided a smooth, fast experience.

Since the Ethos 8951G was built for enjoying media, Acer has included a dedicated nVidia GeForce GT 555M graphics card.

Most modern games that we tried ran fine, although we had to turn down detail levels on more demanding titles. HD films ran smoothly as expected, as well as video editing software.

The dedicated graphics make full use of nVidia’s Optimus technology, powering down when you’re doing basic tasks such as bashing out an email.

In these cases the basic integrated graphics on the motherboard take over, to save power. As a result, the Ethos 8951G’s battery lasts for a full three hours when you aren’t playing games, and even longer if you turn down brightness levels and performance settings.

This was much longer than we expected considering the high specs and huge screen. Okay, so the battery life isn’t really a significant factor considering the size of this machine, but at least you won’t have to drag the charger as well as the laptop when you shift to another room.

Benchmarks

CineBench: 12633

3DMark 06: 9989

Battery Eater: 185 mins

Acer aspire ethos 8951g

Acer’s Ethos range are built for entertainment, and aimed squarely at those who want a smart and powerful portable for enjoying their games and media collection. We’re big fans of previous Ethos models, so gleefully put the Aspire Ethos 8951G through its paces.

We liked

Featuring one of Intel’s most powerful Intel Core i7 mobile processors and a mighty 8GB of memory, the Ethos 8951G is a better performer that ten Ron Jeremys. You’re fully future-proofed and can multi-task to your heart’s content.

You’ll have no trouble running the latest games (although some detail fiddling is required on the most demanding titles), which look fantastic on the bright and vibrant 18.4-inch screen. The Full HD 1080p resolution means both games and Blu-ray films are presented at their best.

And now you can enjoy movies from the comfort of your sofa, thanks to the detachable touchpad which doubles as a remote. It’s a cool gimmick, although not entirely perfect.

Finally, the generous 1.5TB hard drive means you won’t have to constantly remove old films and games to add new ones.

We disliked

As with previous Ethos models, this bad boy is best left at home. The 4.2kg weight will break your back if you attempt to lug it around on a regular basis, and it isn’t the easiest to slip into a bag or rucksack. We were impressed by the three-hour battery life though.

The Ethos 8951G has few flaws, but we were disappointed by the rubbish touchpad. It works fairly well as a remote control, but not so well as a device for moving the mouse cursor around. We’d have also preferred more powerful built-in speakers.

Verdict

As a home entertainment machine, the Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G does almost everything right. Attach a mouse and some decent speakers and you’re set.

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