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    In Brief: Windows 10 Launching This Summer

    Microsoft today announced that Windows 10 would be launching in 190 countries "this summer." And though summer technically ends in late September, this approximate timeframe is still ahead of the fall release of Microsoft's last two major OS releases, Windows 7 and 8. Both hit retail in the month of October, after public preview releases. The announcement was made at Windows summit in China, where hardware partners like Lenovo and Tencent committed to offering upgrade services for Windows 7 and 8 users (even non-genuine copies). We've liked what we've seen so far in Windows 10, but there is still a lot for Microsoft to reveal, such as the new consumer-facing web browser that will take the place of Internet Explorer in Windows 10. The upcoming Build conference should be pretty exciting.

    Norman 4
    In Brief: Lenovo-Installed Superfish Malware Breaks Secure Websites

    Lenovo's in the news because Superfish, a piece of pre-installed crapware the company shipped on some computers last year, breaks the secure connections between web browsers and web servers of banks, online stores, social media sites, and more. That means when affected users use sites that rely on SSL to encrypt sensitive communications those connections aren't secure. If you want to know more, Ars Technica has done a great job explaining how Superfish works. And if you bought a Lenovo PC, especially if it was manufactured between October and December of 2014, you should probably go see if your PC is infested with Superfish. As an aside, this is why I recommend doing a clean install of Windows whenever you buy a new PC.

    Will 7
    What's New in the Windows 10 Technical Preview (Build 9926)

    When Microsoft releases Windows 10, it'll be a free upgrade to anyone currently using Windows 7 or 8. But is it something you'll want to install? The new Technical Preview gives us a glimpse into how Microsoft plans to reel back the Modern UI design and introduce new features like Cortana search and a Notifications pane. Here's what you should know about it!

    Microsoft Unveils More Windows 10 Details

    After a preview at last September's BUILD conference, today Microsoft hosted a press event in Redmond to show more of what to expect from the next version of Windows, and a few more things to boot.

    First up, pricing. Describing Windows as a service, Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for Windows 8 users. Windows 7 users will have one year to upgrade to Windows 10 for free, as well. (Microsoft said they would clarify later what the upgrade options would be for Windows RT and XP/Vista users.) While there was some initial confusion about what this actual meant, in a post-conference Q&A session, it was explained that this isn't a change in business model for Windows--don't expect user subscriptions for the OS, although I wouldn't be surprised to see Microsoft push Windows users harder to sign up for Xbox Live Gold-style subscription-only upgrades and enhancements to the OS, including additional storage space on One Drive and the like.

    As originally shown at Build, Windows 10 will integrate the two disparate halves of Windows 8, the Start Screen and the traditional Desktop. You'll be able to run Modern-style Start Screen apps inside a window on the Desktop, the task switching utilities will be unified, and things like system settings applets will be available on both interfaces. That means that things like settings to control Windows will all be in one place, not split willy-nilly between the Desktop-only Control Panel and the Start Screen PC Settings app.

    At the same time, Microsoft is promising a more unified Windows across devices, including both mobile and large-scale collaborative touchscreens. In addition to syncing your files between devices using OneDrive, Microsoft claims that universal applications will behave in a standard, expected way across platforms. Microsoft is leading this initiative with its own for the OS running as universal apps. They demoed the Outlook app running on phone and a PC. While this sounds good on paper, the actual execution requires deftness that Microsoft didn't show on the Windows 8 side, so I'm waiting to see this in person before I render judgment. If the Desktop versions of universal apps are just reskinned versions of the mobile apps, without the added functionality I expect on a Desktop app, I'd be disappointed.

    Microsoft also showed its voice assistant, Cortana, running on multiple platforms, including Desktop Windows. Along with information similar to Google's Knowledge Graph, Cortana seems to learn from your behavior. If you ask the software to track an incoming flight, it will let you know if that flight conflicts with other events in your calendar. If you ask it about something that you mentioned in a written note, it will reference that info in its answer to you. The on-stage demo was a bit rough around the edges, so I'm interested in seeing this in person too. It seems odd that we're moving toward a world where I'll have three or four voice agents running in my presence at any given time.

    Tested In-Depth: Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro

    Will and Norm sit down to discuss the new Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, which is the first laptop we've seen to utilize Intel's Broadwell chipset. While more power efficient than the processor used in last year's Yoga and even the Surface Pro 3, the Core-M CPU here isn't without its compromises. Thinner and lighter doesn't always mean better!

    Testing: Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro Laptop

    We're at a bit of a crossroads for Windows-based laptops. With Windows 10 coming out next year, the laptops on sale this holiday may be the last new generation to be designed with Windows 8.1 in mind, with all of the OS's quirks and shortcomings (touch on the Desktop and high DPI screen management still not perfected). My hope is that laptops like Lenovo's new Yoga Pro 3 to thrive in Windows 10--I can't wait for that virtual desktop manager--but you don't buy a laptop today to unlock its potential in a year. And what Lenovo has done with its popular Yoga line this year is pretty interesting. I've been testing one as my Windows PC for the past week and a half, and wanted to share some notes with you before we shoot our in-depth review.

    If you recall, I was a fan of the original Yoga when it debuted as one of the first Windows 8 laptops. It was a full x86 machine with a unique folding hinge that gave it novel (and practical) use opportunities. I never liked using it as a tablet, but it worked well as a laptop and in its "stand" mode for watching video. The second generation Yoga Pro brought a ridiculous 3200x1800 screen resolution--a pentile Samsung panel that suffered from a color problem in displaying yellows. Because of the RGBW matrix of the panel, certain power settings on the Yoga 2 Pro made yellows appear greenish in hue. Users had to fix this with a BIOS update. The high resolution display also didn't work well in Windows 8, with DPI scaling behaving inconsistently between applications and even within the Windows desktop UI.

    The Yoga 3 Pro still uses the same 3200x1800 display, but the color issues seem to be gone and Windows 8.1 is slightly better at dealing with high DPI scaling. The big changes this year are linked: a new ultra-low power CPU from Intel and a new formfactor that's significantly thinner than the past Yoga laptops, while also increasing connectivity options.

    Tested In-Depth: Windows 10 Technical Preview

    The next release of Windows is going to be...Windows 10. We install the Technical Preview and show off the its new features, including refined touch on the Desktop, new multiple Desktop management, and the return of the Start Menu! This is software we don't recommend running on production systems, but we like what we see so far!

    Microsoft Announces Windows 10

    This morning at a San Francisco press event, Microsoft's Windows Chief Terry Myerson announced that the next version of Windows would be called Windows 10. Like Windows 8 and 8.1 (which I guess was Windows 9), Windows 10 will be one operating system that runs on traditional desktop and laptop PCs, as well as touch-only and hybrid devices like tablets and Microsoft's own Surface. It will also be Microsoft's mobile OS, as well as their Enterprise OS.

    For desktop Windows users, we'll see the long-awaited return of the Start Menu, with familiar functionality like pinned programs and system shortcuts, as well as Modern UI tiles nested alongside. It's an explicit callback to the features that Windows 7 users missed when Microsoft introduced the Start Screen--hence the 18% adoption rate of Windows 8 since it was released two years ago. For example, universal search is now back on the Desktop with the Start Menu, so users won't have to slide into the Start Screen to use it. Modern UI apps--now called Universal Apps--can run windowed on the Desktop, and snap alongside "Classic" programs.

    Other new features include a Task View button that is the new equivalent of Alt-Tab/Windows-Tab. Running applications tile next to each other in a grid so you can see what you're running and switch to any app. It's a lot like OS X's Expose, which third-party apps like Switcher have been mimicking for years. Windows is also getting better multiple-Desktops support, a feature I use heavily on small-screen laptops like my MacBook Air. This will make the Surface Pro that much better.

    Other features demoed today included a new Desktop Command Prompt (woo!), a new Start Screen mode, and improved app snapping. The Charms Bar is not going away.

    Microsoft is releasing a Technical Preview of Windows 10 soon for Desktop and Laptop users--interested parties should register at the new Windows Insider website. Windows 10 will be released "later in the year" in 2015, after Microsoft's Build conference. Watch Microsoft's Joe Belfiore introduce Windows 10 in the video below:

    Tested In-Depth: Microsoft Surface Pro 3

    Will and Norm sit down to discuss the new Microsoft Surface Pro 3. We compare it to previous Surface Pro devices and how it fares as both a laptop and tablet alternative. The one thing we like the most about it: note-taking with the pen digitizer is a lovely experience.

    In Brief: Satya Nadella on the Future of Microsoft

    At the first re/code Code Conference (which is basically the rebranding of the All Things D Conference), Walk Mossberg and Kara Swisher grilled Microsoft CEO about the path of the software company and how he plans to make Microsoft competitive against the likes of Apple, Google, and Facebook. Nadella, who has been frank about the company's missteps (while championing its successes), lamented Microsoft's inability to capitalize on the rise on tablets and mobile devices. Nadella talked about the need for Microsoft to build apps and platforms that are not device-specific, which is why the touch-capable version of Office was released on iPad first, and has still yet to make it to Windows. It won't be the last time Microsoft launches products on other hardware platforms first, either. As for Surface, Nadella called the latest version "promising," which was an acknowledgement that the product line is not a hit--yet. The tone of the conversation was largely defensive, but Nadella did use his time on stage to announce a new product: real-time translated conversations in Skype. The explicit references to Star Trek make it clear--Microsoft sees more value in competing with Google in cloud services than just with Apple on hardware platforms. Bing, Cortana, and moonshots--it's all about Microsoft being less risk-averse and trying to build the next "big thing."

    Microsoft Announces Surface Pro 3

    Only eight months have passed since Microsoft announced the second-generation Surface devices, and Panos Panay once again took the stage at a press conference in New York to unveil a Surface Pro refresh. This time the differences and upgrades feel a little more meaningful, or at least more focused for Surface's intended users (students and professionals). Surface Pro 3 was the only new product announced today, and it's not just a spec bump from the Pro 2. This is still Microsoft's laptop replacement--an x86 device (running Windows 8.1 Pro, natch) meant to compete with Apple's MacBook Air. To that end, its LCD screen is now bumped up to 12 inches, with a 3:2 aspect ratio and a native resolution of 2160x1440. That's a pretty significant bump from the 10-inch 1080p screen of the previous Surface Pros, with the change in aspect ratio the most meaningful difference for multi-window and portrait orientation use. The capacitive Windows Start button is now moved to the short edge as well to encourage portrait orientation when used without a keyboard.

    Speaking of the keyboard, Microsoft has also updated the Type Cover with magnets so it can stick to the screen when, you know, used as a cover. It also has a larger trackpad. The Surface kickstand gets not just one new angle, but is now "continuous", meaning it can stay rigid at many more angles--the example Microsoft gave was a "canvas" mode for drawing. It's reminiscent of the flexibility of Lenovo's Yoga laptop, but hopefully with more stability at low-angled orientations. What will also help is the weight of the Surface Pro 3, now reduced to 800 grams (1.76 pounds) without any accessories. Decidedly a two-handed device, if used as a tablet. Battery life is pegged at 9 hours for web browsing, according to Microsoft.

    This Surface Pro still includes a pressure sensitive digitizer pen, as well as a USB 3.0 port and microSD slot. Microsoft also chose to stick with Intel's 4th-gen mobile Haswell chips, with the Core i5 model being the Core i5 4300U processor with HD4400 graphics. The entry-level Surface Pro 3 will run on the Core i3 processor (as yet unspecified), which allows Microsoft to set the base price to an attractive $800. My guess is that this was a last-minute decision to respond to Apple's MacBook Air price slashing earlier this month, and would recommend that you look closely at the specs. The $800 Surface Pro 3 has 64GB of storage and 4GB of memory, with the 128GB SSD model bumping the price to $1000. People who are going to use the Surface Pro 3 as their primary computer will likely want the Core i5 model with 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM--which starts at $1300. Ad is the new Type Cover ($130) and that's $1430 for a well-spec'ed system before tax. That's the one I would get if I was in the market for a Surface Pro 3 as my daily carry.

    Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 goes on sale tomorrow online and at Microsoft stores. We're most interested with what users can get with the starting price of $800, and will likely be testing that model. Clarification: Pre-orders for the new Surface begin May 21, and only the i5 models will start shipping on June 20th. The other configurations, including the $800 i3 model, will ship in August.

    In Brief: Start Menu returns to Windows 8, Cortana Is Real

    During the epic three-hour keynote presentation at BUILD, Microsoft's annual developer conference, the company highlighted a handful of tidbits that will be of interest to normal users, in addition to the developers in the audience. The biggest announcement highlighted updates to Windows 8.1, which leaked earlier this year. The update will be available on April 8th, and will feature better integration between traditional desktop apps and Modern-style apps that were introduced with Windows 8. You'll be able to run Modern apps in a window on the Desktop, they'll shop up in the taskbar, and you'll be able to minimize and maximize them. I haven't been able to confirm details, but it also sounded like traditional desktop apps would be available for purchase and download in the Windows Store. Also, later this year Microsoft will quietly bring the Start Menu back to Windows 8.1.

    Microsoft also demoed Cortana, which is Windows Phone's answer to Siri and Google Now's voice search. While the extended on-stage demo was repeatedly plagued by flubbed recognition, it appears to fall somewhere between Siri and Google Now in terms of functionality. With APIs for third party apps to tie in and more granular support for personalized information (your inner circle, your interests, etc) than either Google or Apple give right now, Cortana could offer unique benefits for Windows Phone 8.1 users if it works better than it did on stage at BUILD. We won't really know how it fares in the real world until we have phones with our info on them to test, but I'll have a chance to spend some time with Cortana later this week.

    Will 8
    The Best Budget Laptop Today

    If I had to buy a Windows laptop for $600 or less, I'd get the ~$550 configuration of the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14 or something very similar. But first I'd think long and hard about whether I needed a full-sized Windows laptop at all.

    Who Should(n’t) Buy This?

    If you have regular access to a full Windows or Mac computer and want a secondary machine for web browsing, email, and basic document editing (i.e. something more than a tablet but less than a full-sized Windows computer), don’t buy a $600 Windows laptop as your secondary machine. Consider a $250 Chromebook or a $400 Windows convertible tablet instead. Neither can do quite as much as a full Windows laptop, but they often give a better experience in the things they do than a more expensive general-use machine.

    But if you do need a real computer—if this is your primary, do-everything computer—and you need the best all-around thing you can get for under $600, you should get something like the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14.

    Our Pick

    We like the $550 configuration of the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14 (listed on Lenovo’s site as the “Flex14-59393810“). It’s not perfect, but for its price it hits “pretty good” levels in a lot of important areas while managing to avoid deal-breaking flaws. It is powerful enough for day-to-day tasks, portable enough to bring with you without breaking your back, and has enough battery power to last all day. It also has a hinge that bends back around 300 degrees, just in case you wanted to use it like that.

    Tested In-Depth: Microsoft Surface 2 Review

    Microsoft's second generation Surface is faster, more capable, and has a much better screen than last year's model. We sit down and discuss what's changed on the hardware and software sides and whether the improvements are enough to make this a competitive tablet.

    Testing: Microsoft Surface 2 as Tablet

    If you were to show a random person on the street Microsoft's Surface 2 and ask them what kind of computing device it is, their likely answer would be a tablet. And that wouldn't be wrong--Surface 2 is a one and half pound slab of metal with a glass touchscreen taking up the entire face of one side. But Microsoft would want that person to think of Surface 2 as more than just a tablet--at least in the iPad sense--and imbue it with the qualities people typically associate with a laptop. Slap on a Touch of Type Cover, and you've got some productivity capabilities. Like other Windows 8-based convertibles like Lenovo's Yoga, Asus's Transformer T100, or even Microsoft's Surface Pro 2, Surface 2 leads dual identities. But unlike those computers with x86 processors and run Windows 8 Pro, Surface 2 should be thought of as tablet first, laptop second--not the other way around.

    Last week I wrote about the Surface 2's capabilities as a laptop alternative (it's better than a ChromeBook, much more limited than an Ultrabook) so today we're going to discuss the experience of using it as purely a tablet. That means using it without the keyboard cover attachment and primarily for content consumption. It means using it in a mostly lean-back positions, like on the couch or in bed. (And a few lean-forward scenarios, like, yes, in the bathroom.) It also meant thinking about what most tablets mostly are good for, when not used as replacements for desktop or laptop computers. For the purposes of my testing, I focused on web browsing, e-book reading, watching video, listening to music, and staying on top of social media. Let's start with the all-important web browsing.

    Testing: Microsoft Surface 2 as a Laptop

    It's no secret that we weren't fans of Microsoft's first generation Surface RT. Not many people were. As a weird tablet-laptop hybrid, it didn't excel at being either type of device; as a platform to showcase Microsoft's then just-released Windows 8, it called more attention to the dearth of useful apps available on that ecosystem. And one year later, everyone's learned a little bit from the great Surface RT experiment. OEM partners have all but abandoned the ARM version of Windows (bless Nokia), consumers are much more aware of what they're getting into with the big three tablet OSes, and Microsoft is more determined than ever to prove that Surface is a viable computing concept.

    We've already gone into detail about the technical differences between this year's Surface models, and I've been using the Surface 2 as a secondary computer for the past week. In testing the Surface 2 (Microsoft has not yet sent us a Surface Pro 2), I approached it from two logical perspectives: how well it works as a tablet and how well it works as laptop alternative. Those two use cases have different design and hardware requirements, some of which are complimentary, and some we know to be mutually exclusive. A touchscreen suits both scenarios, for example, but a keyboard does not. Today, I'm going to go over my experience with the Surface 2 when used as a laptop alternative.

    That means starting off with the biggest design change in Surface 2--the addition of a 40-degree angle to its unique kickstand.

    Surface Pro 2 and Windows Battery Life with Haswell

    Programmer Jeff Atwood, who runs the blog Coding Horror, has a loaded question to ask about Windows and Microsoft's new Surface Pro 2 tablet. It's also an important question: "Why does Windows have terrible battery life?" Before getting around to the why, it's worth confirming that Windows actually has terrible battery life. Does it? After all, Intel has been pushing for 10+ hour battery life from every system wearing the Ultrabook name, and Haswell chips just dramatically cut power draw compared to last year's Ivy Bridge processors. Things should be looking pretty good for Windows right now.

    In the grand scheme of mobile technology, Windows battery life is terrible. Atwood's claim draws heavily on extensive testing performed by Anandtech, and that testing shows the Surface Pro 2 lagging far behind virtually every other tablet in battery life. With 6.8 hours of battery life, the only tablet it beat was the first-gen Surface Pro, which got only 4.7 hours.

    In a way, comparing the Surface Pro 2 to the iPad or a Samsung tablet is unfair. It's a fully-powered x86 machine in tablet form, running much more powerful hardware than a more power efficient ARM chip. But the discrepancy remains. The iPad 4 gets nearly 10 hours of battery life. The Nexus 7 passes 12. The Nvidia Shield hits 13.5.

    Even if you accept that the Surface Pro 2 is more laptop than tablet, its battery life isn't much to write home about. Then Atwood compares the Surface Pro 2 to Apple's 2013 MacBook Airs, with more data from the 11-inch and 13-inch models courtesy of Anandtech. They achieved over 11 and 14 hours of runtime, respectively.

    "Let's see how the 2013 MacBook Air does, which spec-wise is about as close as we can get to the Surface Pro 2," Atwood writes. "The screen is somewhat lower resolution and not touch capable, of course, but under the hood, the i5-4200u CPU and LPDDR3 RAM are nearly the same. It's a real computer, too, using the latest Intel technology.

    Image via Anandtech.

    "The Surface Pro 2 has a 42 Wh battery, which puts it closer to the 11 inch Air in capacity. Still, over 11 hours of battery life browsing the web on WiFi? That means the Air is somehow producing nearly two times the battery efficiency of the best hardware and software combination Microsoft can muster, for what I consider to be the most common usage pattern on a computer today. That's shocking. Scandalous, even."

    Anandtech wasn't alone in finding the Surface Pro 2's battery life relatively lackluster. Under heavy usage, Gizmodo found that the tablet performed little better than the first Surface Pro:

    "We were able to squeeze three and a half hours of generating internet for Gizmodo dot com out of a single charge, juggling some 10-15 open Chrome tabs and pushing video out to an additional monitor. This is almost the same as we got out of the original Surface Pro, which is a little odd considering Intel's Haswell is such a battery saving monster. Likewise, the Pro 2 performed almost identically to the Pro in a 10-hour YouTube video test, giving up at just over two and a half hours, despite fairing better in situations that seem like they should be more intense."

    But this makes sense. Haswell's strength lies in its idle power usage, and constantly running video, a dozen Internet tabs, and outputting to a secondary display is not going to show off battery longevity. This doesn't seem like a problem with Windows battery life. Other tests tell a different story.

    Nokia Announces $499 Lumia 2520 Windows RT Tablet

    Nokia's finally done it. They've taken the taken the trend of larger and larger smartphone screens and seen it through to the very end, making a 10.1-inch Windows device called the Lumia 2520. Technically, it's a tablet, running Windows RT, but you'd be forgiven for thinking it's a really, really big smartphone. The Lumia 2520 sticks to the design Nokia has used in most of its devices over the past few years, with a colorful, rounded polycarbonate shell and a strong black bezel around its screen. Nokia's first Windows RT tablet even has a built-in LTE radio for mobile data. In other words, if you wanted to use it as a 10.1-inch VOIP phone, it wouldn't be too tough.

    Nokia unveiled the Lumia 2520 at Nokia World on Tuesday, and the new tablet bears some similarities to Microsoft's own Windows RT device, the Surface 2. Instead of Nvidia's Tegra 4, the Lumia runs on Qualcomm's quad-core 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800. Both tablets use 1080p displays, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, and offer microSD slots for expandability. The Lumia 2520 is a touch lighter at 1.35 pounds, compared to the Surface 2's near-1.5 pounds.

    With cameras, there's a small trade-off. The Lumia 2520 has a 6.7 megapixel camera around the back, with a 1.9 aperture and Carl Zeiss lens. On the front, it has a simple 2 megapixel webcam. The Surface 2's webcam is 3 megapixels, but it's rear-facing camera is only 5 megapixels, and without the lens quality Nokia is known for in its mobile devices.

    According to The Verge, Nokia's 1080p display looks fantastic, and navigating Windows 8.1 on the device is snappy as can be. They also tested out the Lumia 2520's keyboard cover--the device isn't compatible with Microsoft's Surface covers--which folds up into something resembling a leather binder. Unfolded, the case gives the Nokia tablet a kickstand to sit upright and a physical scissor keyboard and trackpad for laptop emulation. The backside of the cover even has two full-size USB ports for docking.

    Nokia's keyboard cover even includes an extra battery, which Nokia says will add about five hours of juice to the tablet's existing 8000mAh, 11 hour runtime. No word on an exact release date for the $499 tablet, but Nokia plans on releasing first in the US, UK, and Finland.

    Our Favorite Keyboard Shortcuts

    The Keyboard and Mouse make for a great team, but productivity is sometimes best when you don't have to switch from one to the other every few minutes. Here are the keyboard shortcuts for Windows, Mac OS, web browsing, and even watching YouTube that we use regularly, distilled in picture form. What are some of your favorite keyboard shortcuts?