A week in reviews: 21 - 25 October

This week it's all about computing. Well, largely about computing. We've been treated to the second generation of Microsoft laptop-meets-tablet devices in the shape of the Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2, the latter a head-to-head dead ringer against the also just announced Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet.

But it doesn't end there. Apple announced a boat load of new products - including the iPad Air - and the immediate rollout of the free-to-upgrade Mavericks operating system. Is it any good, or should you bide your time and wait to upgrade to avoid any teething problems?

Elsewhere we've been scooting around in the rain - sigh! - in the latest BMW Z4, tracking our steps with the Misfit Wearables Shine just ahead of its UK launch, snapping away with the 14x optical zoom Nikon L620, have squeezed in yet another laptop review to stick to our computing theme, and have embarked on some slightly out-there things like playing with air conditioners and microphones. Never a dull day here on the 'Lint that's for sure.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2


First up is Microsoft's refresh of its Surface Pro. The aptly named Surface Pro 2 is a lot like its predecessor but with Windows 8.1 on board and different architecture. That means a better battery life from this half-laptop, half-tablet device. A definite plus point, although we're still a little perplexed as to exactly what Surface thinks it is.

Overall there's no denying that it's a solid, well-built device with a glorious screen. Think of it as a standalone tablet, however, and it feels a little bit too thick and heavy. Think of it as a boundary-blurrer that straddles the tablet-meets-laptop category and you'll be a far happier customer.

Whether that amasses to enough to get you on board and give the Pro 2 a new home, well, that's going to depend on your point of view. We find the Surface Pro 2 genuinely decent to use, better built than plenty of Ultrabooks, but also that it doesn't entirely connect with us as a tablet-like device. If only it came with the keyboard included for a touch less cash.

Price: £719 (64GB)

Quick verdict: Surface Pro 2 is a subtle push forward for the device, and a necessary one. It's no giant leap, though, and just like before we're toing and froing between its highs and lows and balance to price point. If anything the second-generation Pro shows us that Microsoft is listening - from the physical adjustments of the flip-stand, through to better battery life from Haswell, and the steps forward in software with the introduction of Windows 8.1. It's positive, but far from perfection in our minds.

Full review: Surface Pro 2

 

Microsoft Surface 2

Here's where things get a little more complex. The Surface 2 drops the "RT" name of its predecessor, but still runs Windows 8.1 RT. Huh?

If you want the full-on Windows operating system then you want the Pro 2. If you're happy with the Windows Marketplace alone then Surface 2 has you covered.

The latest iteration also has updated Office RT support, including Outlook integration which makes light work of email. It might be a good shout for business users, as compared to the iOS and Android tablet equivalents there's something altogether less "fun" about Surface 2.

Its place in the market is somewhat confused but that doesn't make Surface 2 bad. But it doesn't make it great either. It'll be good - but only for a limited audience in our view.

Price: £359 (32GB)

Quick verdict: Surface 2 is thinner, lighter and more powerful than the original - but only just. It's the latest software that'll make it more appealing but, again - only just. As much as these are steps forward, we find the confusion status of what Surface means in the wider context of the tablet world puts it a step behind the competition despite, as outlined, loads of glorious features such as a 10.6-inch 1080p screen.

Full review: Surface 2

 

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite

Windows 8 and 8.1 is beginning to embed itself into the public knowledge and we're getting more and more used to the concept of touchscreen laptops. And that's the exact where the affordable, sub-£500 Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite fits in.

Its name might sound like a bit of a mouthful, and the unwarranted all-caps "ATIV" brand was apparently conceived by taking the Latin word for life - vita - and spelling it backwards. Um, that makes no sense at all. Does that represent death for the latest Samsung laptop, or does the new series bring fresh lift to the Korean manufacturer's line?

Given its price point we reckon the ATIV Book 9 Lite is a decent enough all-rounder. It may not have stacks of power compared to some pricier competitors, and the screen is a bit glossy, but otherwise this plastic-constructed 13.3-inch offering is good looking and affordable.

The SSD makes it fast to load and wake from sleep, and even if the AMD processor isn't cut out for gaming or hardened editing, we're not surprised - that's not what this machine is all about.

A comfortable typing, tracking and touchscreen experience wrapped up in a portable package. Even if the ATIV Book 9 Lite doesn't quite take our breath away in terms of excitement, for the money it's one of the more favourable laptops out there today.

Price: £499

Quick verdict: One not to overlook the simple things: the ATIV Book 9 Lite has a decent trackpad, keyboard and responsive touchscreen that make it good to use. The AMD processor at its core won't see off plenty of competition, but as an affordable core experience we're generally pleased.

Full review: Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite

 

Misfit Wearables Shine

An activity monitor with a difference: Shine is a more casual approach to physical activity monitoring, designed to look different, built to be waterproof and versatile in how it can be worn.

The pebble-shaped design has 12 lights that illuminate as you reach your goal. It's not got the sort of step-by-step granular detail of many competitors and it's only available for iPhone, however, but for some that might be of preference on both counts. 

Where the Shine differs to the competition is that it uses a standard watch battery for four months of power - you needn't charge it up each day. And rather than plugging it in its "mobile first" approach means easy Bluetooth sync with your iPhone to gather up data and send to your personalised online account. 

There are plenty of things we like about the Shine, including the design, waterproofing, multiple ways to wear and affordable price point. It's clever, and works as prescribed to a point, but it somehow lacks wow factor for our preferences.

Price: £100

Quick verdict: We were hoping that the Shine would do just that - shine as much as its name suggests. Instead it's more of a warm glow. It'll be perfect for some, it's all a matter of taste.

Full review: Misfit Shine personal physical activity monitor

 

Apple OS X Mavericks (v10.9)

Apple has opened up its latest operating system, OS X Mavericks, as a free upgrade to any Mac users running Snow Leopard and above. Cheers, hurrahs, wows and general hype were the initial response. But is it any good?

The internet is a great forum and there have been all kinds of points of view as to whether Mavericks was put out free because it's "buggy". We've seen people raising various issues - from installation problems to app compatibility issues, to slow-down issues in Quick Look and Gmail. For us it's only the last point that has had any relevance to our workflow, and that's based on installing Mavericks on four different machines.

That small blip aside - one we think is a teething problem rather than a "forever" issue - and Mavericks is great, particularly if you're upgrading from before Mountain Lion. Battery life is boosted significantly - and that in itself is reason enough to upgrade.

Price: £free (Snow Leopard users and above)

Quick verdict: Apple is pushing to the future with Mavericks. Even if you don't use all the new features, the fact it's free and the boost in battery life makes it more than worth the upgrade. Did we mention it's free?

Full review: Apple OS X Mavericks

 

Blue Microphones Nessie

Yes we know it's "just a microphone", but the Nessie has been doing a cracking job of capturing great audio for us here at the 'Lint.

It's a USB mic rather than a standalone unit, so you'll need to plug it in through a computer, but doing so and the relative low cost makes it well worth it considering just how good it is.

Price: £99

Quick verdict: In terms of doing its job to perfection, you can't beat the Nessie, it's a great looking microphone that performs brilliantly. We love it.

Full review: Blue Nessie

 

BMW Z4 sDrive 18i Roadster

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Price: £37,365 (as tested)

Quick verdict: BMW freshens up the Z4 and adds a base level engine that's not without appeal - just a shame you don't get better CO2 and fuel economy into the bargain. Otherwise the Z4's appeal remains undimmed, with a snug cabin roof down that's as good as a coupe roof up. Only slightly at-sea suspension settings when you're really going for it let the car down.

Full review: BMW Z4 sDrive 18i

 

Electrolux air conditioner

It might look more like a swanky mini fridge, but don't be fooled: the Electrolux EXP09HN1WI comes with a name that doesn't roll off the tongue, but that's ok because this air conditioner is on wheels for roll-around portability.

Only it's not totally portable as you need to really plumb it in for the best results. Waste water and steam come out of rear pipes and that will need to be dealt with.

As summer draws to a close you may wonder why the heck we're even looking at an air conditioner. But this Electrolux is oh so much more: it can heat, dehumidify and filter air too which is great for damp or those with allergies.

Price: £350

Quick verdict: Perhaps not the perfect solution for every home, due to its "is it, isn't it?" portability - but if you're prepared to put some effort into plumbing it in, then it does a brilliant job for cooling, heating and dehumidifying.

Full review: Electrolux EXP09HN1WI air conditioner

 

Nikon Coolpix L620

The Nikon Coolpix L620 is the gap between a smartphone and a more pro camera: it's got a wide-ranging 14x optical zoom lens that can cater for close-ups, group shots, landscapes or capturing those far-away subjects all from the one unit.

But if you do have pro aspirations then this might not be the camera for you as it's a straightforward point-and-shoot device that does the majority of thinking for you. If that's what you're after then, perfect, here's an affordable option.

The price does reflect the image quality, however, which is good enough but not incredible - particularly higher up the sensitivities and as an awful lot is being asked of that lens there's some softness towards the edges.

Still, a decent and affordable enough all-rounder.

Price: £185

Quick verdict: If you're after an inexpensive camera with a wide-ranging zoom lens then the L620 does a fair job. It might not blow your socks off in the image quality department, but it can cater for most things that you'll throw at it.

Full review: Nikon Coolpix L620