A few months ago we took a good look at the Microsoft Surface RT. This tablet computer from Microsoft is nicely built and well-rounded, but it has one glaring problem.
Although it runs a version of Windows called Windows RT, it can only run special Windows RT apps, and not your standard Windows software.
Buy a Surface Pro
Microsoft Surface should be available direct from Microsoft from 23 May.
The entry-level model will cost £719, and you can add a touch cover (with keyboard) for an extra £80.
On the basis that a key reason to buy a Windows tablet is to run traditional Windows software, we reckoned most businesses would want to wait until the Surface Pro was released.
(If you do want a Windows RT tablet, Dell's XPS 10 is cheaper in any case.)
The Surface Pro is a more powerful model that does have a 'proper' version of Windows on it. This means it can run all your standard Windows software.
It's been available in the US since February, but Microsoft has finally announced it'll be available this side of the Atlantic from Thursday.
Surface is a big bet for Microsoft. So far the software giant has struggled to make inroads into a tablet market dominated by Apple and Google, and it hopes this device will change that.
And maybe, just maybe it will. Initial reviews are reasonably positive.
Microsoft has done something genuinely different, building what's effectively a fully-functional Windows PC into a device that works like a tablet. While you'd struggle to use an iPad or Android tablet as your only business computer, Surface Pro can do the job pretty well.
That's because it's built from similar components as many of the super-light, super-thin ultrabook laptops on the market. The only difference is that Microsoft has crammed those components into a tablet device with an optional detachable keyboard.
Plug in a mouse, keyboard and external screen and you can quite happily use it as your main computer while you're in the office. But disconnect it and it's good to slip in your bag - even if it is a good bit thicker and heavier than other tablets of this size.
And I think that's where the Surface Pro sits in the market. With prices starting at £719 (plus another £100 or so for the keyboard), Surface Pro isn't really a direct competitor to Apple's iPad, which starts at £399.
But if you're in the market for a thin, light laptop, maybe you'd consider opting for the added tablety flexibility of a Surface Pro instead. PC Pro and the Daily Telegraph both have in-depth reviews to help you decide.
Smart phone, meet glass of water / pint of Guinness / insert damp environment as applicable. Being dropped in water or another liquid is a common way for a mobile phone to meet its end.
Someone should probably tell that to the 75% of owners who use their expensive smart phone while on the toilet.
For this tip of the week (TOTW), we explain what to do if your mobile phone gets dropped in water.
Recovery is by no means guaranteed, but swift action can often save a smart phone from a watery grave.
Are your reactions good? Let's hope so, because the first crucial step to saving your mobile phone when it's been dropped in water is to fish it out and pop the battery off the back.
If the phone appears to still be functioning, don't try and turn it off first. Pressing buttons could let more water inside or fry the circuits.
Once it's powered down the chance of damage is lower, so the quicker you can do this the better. If your handset is an iPhone, or another model without a removable battery, you'll have to switch it off instead and hope for the best.
Whatever you do, don't be tempted to try and turn it on after a few minutes just to 'check if it's ok'. You could do irreversible damage.
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Assuming you've already removed the battery, take out the SIM card and remove any other accessories, like memory cards or headphones.
Then grab some kitchen towel (or whatever you have to hand) and dry the outside of your mobile phone as thoroughly as possible. Your aim is to stop water leeching in through gaps in the case.
It can take real effort to remove all traces of water from handset keypads, headphone connections and so on.
You may be tempted to use a hairdryer, but don't. The air can actually push water further into your device. Instead, try using a vacuum cleaner to suck water from nooks and crannies.
Even if your mobile phone looks bone dry, there's likely to still be water where you can't see it. Before you take the risk of switching it back on, give it a decent chance to dry out.
A good option is to leave your handset in a bowl of rice for a few days. This may draw the moisture out for you. Alternatively, you can buy special bags to draw out any damp lurking in your smart phone. Try this Bheestie bag (£14.99) or this kit (£14.20).
The key here is to be patient. Don't leave your phone in an overly-warm place or be tempted to heat it up, as this may do more harm than good.
After a few days, check your handset and give it a good shake to see if any water droplets emerge. If there are no signs of damp, you can put it back together and risk turning it on. If you're lucky, it'll spring back to life. If not, you'll need to take a trip to a repair shop.
A Dell video promoting the XPS 12.
The Dell XPS 12 convertible ultrabook is the PC manufacturer's latest attempt to marry laptop and tablet technology into a sleek, sophisticated all-round business machine.
With prices starting at £999, it'll have to be good to convince business owners and executives to ditch their existing iPads and laptops.
We spent a few days with the top of the range model, which clocks in at just under £1,300. Here's how it fared.
This Dell Ultrabook is a sleek, solid machine. It comes elegantly packaged in a classy box (well, it's as classy as a cardboard box can be), and the laptop itself is clearly well made.
The external finish feels good and the screen's hinge is substantial. There are none of the tacky lights, badges or finishes you often see on laptops. Quite simply, it looks and feels like a premium laptop.
Weighing in a 1.54kg, it's light enough to pop in your bag and carry around all day. It also feels more than up to withstanding the odd knock, which is inevitable for any mobile computer.
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The XPS 12 has a superb 12.5" touch screen. It's bright, clear and has a full high definition resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. This means text and images are very sharp - it must be one of the best screens at this size on the market. (Learn about screen resolution.)
The only downside of such a high resolution is that text appears quite small in standard mode. You can fix this by cranking up the text size in Windows, but non-technical owners may be unaware this is possible. (Instructions are here.)
The screen has another trick up its sleeve too. It rotates through 180 degrees to transform from a laptop form factor to a tablet.
Basically, you rotate the screen then close the laptop, leaving the screen facing upwards and covering the keyboard. You can see it in action in the Dell promotional video at the top of this review.
The touch screen features are more useful than we'd expected when using the XPS 12 in 'laptop' mode. It's certainly true that the Windows 8 interface makes more sense when you experience it on a machine that has touch capabilities.
In tablet mode, you use the touch screen exclusively. It works pretty well, except when you have to venture into the Windows 8 desktop, which is best navigated via the mouse.
As you'd expect from the technical specifications, this is a very capable machine. The Intel i7 processor flies through tasks, and we were particularly impressed at the speed with which the XPS 12 starts up.
That's down to the 256GB solid state drive, which means Windows and other programs load impressively quickly. You can comfortably use this as your only machine - whether in the office or out and about.
In fact, when you're out and about you'll appreciate the responsive keyboard and track pad, although we did find it easy to nudge the volume switch on the side of the case when you're typing at speed.
Battery life is reasonable too, if not stunning (expect to get around five hours of work from it). Die-hard mobile workers may be disappointed that the battery is built-in, so you can't swap it when it runs flat.
There's no doubt at all that as a thin, light laptop, the XPS 12 ranks highly. The fast load times and impressive screen stand out. We'd happily use it as our main computer.
But we're sceptical about the tablet features. Although the touch screen is useful, it's hardly essential. And while the rotating display is cleverly designed and solidly engineered, in tablet form the XPS 12 is just a bit too heavy.
It's twice the weight of an iPad and significantly chunkier, which means it's not practical to hold the XPS 12 for long periods (like when you're reading during your commute or taking signups at an exhibition).
If you want a top-end laptop for occasional use as a tablet, you won't do much better. But if you want a laptop and a tablet, we'd say buy a laptop and a tablet instead.
You can learn more about the Dell XPS 12 and buy online from the Dell website.
Smart phones are getting bigger. Clearly unhappy with the already-really-rather-large size of its new Galaxy S4 (whch has a 5" screen), Samsung recently announced a new even-more-ginormous phone.
Yes, the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy Mega (check out the name) has a massive 6.3" screen. It's a phone that is, frankly, ginormous.
To illustrate just how big it is, we've knocked up this diagram comparing it to an iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S4. The image isn't actual size, but it is to scale:
The trend towards larger displays on smart phones isn't a new one. It seems to reflect our desire to do much more with these devices than just make phone calls.
Larger screens are better-suited to watching video and playing games, as well as less-exciting functions like viewing and editing documents or making video calls.
But how big is too big? And at what point does a smart phone stop being a phone, and start being a tablet?
Finding a phone
If you're in the market for a new mobile, it's worth checking all the main mobile networks for a good deal:
Well, some tech firms have pre-empted that question by creating an entirely new product category. I give you: the phablet.
Tell friends or colleagues that you have a new phablet and they'll have no idea what you're on about, of course. But at least you'll know your new gadget has a name.
At the end of the day, as long as your phone / phablet / tablet does what you need it to, it doesn't matter what you call it.
But if you are shopping for a new smart phone, the diversity of screens available means it's important to check yours is right for the job. For instance:
If 6.3" isn't enough for you, there's no word yet on whether Samsung has any larger handsets planned. But it does seem unlikely, as there's already a wide range of 7" tablets on the market. These include the firm's own Galaxy Tab, the Amazon Kindle Fire and the cheap-as-chips BlackBerry PlayBook.
If you're looking for a good business laptop that isn't going to cost you a fortune, this Lenovo G580 might well fit the bill.
It's currently available from Dabs for £359, which is an excellent price for a decent specification laptop from a well-respected manufacturer. As an all-round business machine, it's great value.
The Intel Core i5 processor that powers this Lenovo laptop is more than capable of handling pretty much any business task you throw at it. Together with 6GB of memory and the 500GB hard drive, it should last you a good few years.
Perfect if you're mainly office-based but need to work on the move occasionally, this Lenovo G580 also comes with Windows 8.
It is a very good price and - as always - we're not sure how long Dabs will be offering it for. So if you're interested, best to see the details and buy online now.
Light and slender, Dell's XPS 10 tablet computer looks like a small laptop, except the optional keyboard (not pictured) can be removed, transforming it into a pure 10.1" touch screen tablet.
We spent a couple of days using the XPS 10. Here are our first impressions.
Buying the XPS 10
The XPS 10 is available direct from Dell. There are several models to choose from.
Prices start from £299 for the entry-level model with 32GB of storage and no keyboard.
The top-end model is £444, including the keyboard.
The XPS 10 is an attractive, understated piece of kit. It feels solid and - when you choose to use it - the keyboard is pleasant and quiet, if a little undersized.
It would be nice if the keyboard had a backlight, but the large trackpad works nicely without feeling at all cramped.
Because the keyboard contains extra batteries, when you use the XPS 10 in its 'laptop' configuration, the battery life is fantastic. It'll keep going for 16+ hours, which is great if you're on a long flight or simply don't want to recharge so often.
However, the flipside of this staying power is the significant weight of the keyboard. In pure tablet mode, the Dell XPS 10 weighs in at 635g, which is slightly less than an iPad. But adding the keyboard more than doubles this to 1.3kg.
The XPS 10 impresses with its connectivity too. The screen includes a micro-USB port and micro-SD memory card slot, as well as the dock connector for the keyboard. When the keyboard isn't attached, this doubles as an HDMI output via an adaptor, allowing you to connect an external screen when in tablet mode.
There are extra ports on the keyboard, including two USB connections and a mini-HDMI port, for hooking up screens and projectors.
The touch screen is clear and bright - even in sunlight - and allows multi-touch gestures just like a decent tablet should. It responds well when you tap and swipe, comparing favourably with other tablets in this bracket.
The XPS 10 includes either 32GB or 64GB (gigabytes) of storage space. That's not a huge amount, particularly when you realise the pre-loaded software can leave as little as 16GB of usable space on the smaller-capacity model.
It is still room for lots of text documents or thousands of images. However, it would be wise to avoid downloading large video or music files, as these could eat up that space quickly.
Overall, the XPS 10's performance certainly feels snappy. Chuck in the enormous battery life and this Dell tablet starts to look like a real winner.
The XPS 10's Achilles' heel is that it comes with Microsoft Windows RT, a special version of Windows designed for tablets.
The problem with Windows RT is that it can't run most standard Windows software. That means some of the programs you use in your business are unlikely to work on the XPS 10.
The tablet does come with a web browser, email software and other tools which mean it's fine for browsing the internet and using many cloud services. There's also an app store where you can download apps that will work on the tablet, although it's sparsely populated compared with competing app stores from Apple and Android.
Most usefully, the XPS 10 includes a special version of Microsoft Office, meaning you can work on Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.
However, when you buy the tablet you'll get the Home & Student Edition of Office, which is not licensed by Microsoft for commercial use. As ZDNet has revealed, you'll need to buy an additional commercial license to legally use this version of Office in your business.
It's worth noting this isn't really Dell's fault. Microsoft hasn't made other versions of Office available with Windows RT. But it still seems bizarre that a tablet specifically marketed as being 'great for work and play' comes with key software that you can't legally use for work.
The Dell XPS 10 is a nicely-built tablet with a brilliant battery life. It has few weak points when used in either tablet or laptop modes, and during our limited time with it we've been impressed.
But whether it's right for you will probably come down to whether you can manage with Windows RT. It's confusing to use a version of Windows that doesn't run your existing software and the limited-but-expanding range of apps could be a source of frustration. (In fact, one of Dell's competitors, Samsung, has cancelled its Windows RT tablets.)
As a tablet for internet and email then the XPS 10 is an excellent piece of kit.
If you're happy to pony up for a commercial Microsoft Office license and the other apps you need are available for Windows RT then it could be a great addition to your business. Just make sure you're comfortable with the software's limitations before you make the leap.
Used ink cartridges. (Image: kennymatic on Flickr.)
New research from printer manufacturer Epson suggests that the UK is the worst offender in Europe when it comes to bad printing habits.
These include printing documents but not reading them, leaving print-outs languishing on the printer until someone throws them away, and printing stuff unnecessarily.
The research estimates that UK professional service companies could collectively save more than £45m a year - that's equivalent to over £400 each.
Cutting printing costs
Epson suggests many businesses can see significant savings by introducing some fairly simple measures, including:
You can also switch to your printer's 'draft' setting (this will use less ink or toner) and shop around for cheaper paper.
Where to buy cheap ink
All these companies sell cheaper alternatives to official ink cartridges:
However, one cost-saving idea conspicuously absent from Epson's list is to try switching to third-party ink or toner cartridges.
As you'd expect, most printer manufacturers strongly advise against using anything other than official cartridges.
However, Which found last year that many unofficial cartridges perform strongly:
"Our August 2012 test highlighted some third party inks that produced good looking prints for up to 72% less than the cost of prints using the printer manufacturer inks. "
What's more, recent reports suggest printer manufacturers have been reducing the amount of ink they put into their official cartridges while also increasing cartridge prices. Sneaky.
View printers from these online suppliers:
High running costs apply most to inkjet printers, which tend to be cheap to buy but expensive to run.
The best advice for businesses has always been to spend a bit more on a decent laser printer, unless they only print in tiny volumes.
Not only are laser printers usually cheaper in the long run, but they're also generally more reliable and faster.
However, if you do like to break the mould, Epson's own WorkForce Pro line is about the only range of inkjet printers that can come close to matching lasers on running costs. Reviews have been strong, so perhaps we could yet see the inkjet make an impression on companies looking for better-value printing.
The PayPal Here card reader and app
If 2012 was the year contactless payments finally crawled vaguely into the mainstream, 2013 is shaping up to be the year when it gets much easier for small companies to accept card payments.
There are a whole slew of competing products emerging, all of which enable you to take card payments with your smart phone. They include:
With so many companies entering the market, the next few months are likely to see aggressive competition. If you are looking to start taking card payments, you should be in a good position to get a decent deal.
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Most of these new mobile payment services function in the same basic way. When you sign up you get a card reader which connects to your smart phone. You also get an app which you must install onto your mobile.
Together your phone, the app and the card reader do the same job as the traditional card terminals currently used by retailers.
When someone wants to pay you, you open the app, enter the payment amount and process their card through the card reader. Some services use chip and PIN. but others only offer verification via signature, which is less secure. Over time, it seems likely that chip and PIN will become the standard method of taking payment.
What all these mobile payment services have in common is that they promise to simplify the business of accepting credit and debit cards.
At present, most companies need a merchant account to accept cards. Getting one can be time-consuming and expensive.
Typically, you pay a one-off set up fee, plus a commission of 1 - 3% on each payment. There's also often a monthly fee for the account itself, plus a charge for the hire of a card terminal - all wrapped up in a contract of 12 months or more.
In comparison, most of these new services charge up to 3% commission, plus a one-off fee (£50 - £100) for the card reader. With no minimum contract, they'll be attractive to companies who want to test the water or need to take card payments less often.
The unanswered question - so far - is how the banks and other companies that traditionally provide card processing services will respond to the increased competition. Will it rouse them to slash their costs and increase the flexibility of their own services?
We'll be keeping a close eye on this market over the next few months to see exactly how things shape up. Once a few more services are publicly available, we'll take a closer look at the differences between them.
In the meantime, if you've had any experience using your smart phone to take card payments then leave a comment to let us know how things have gone.
So far, Google's range of Chromebook laptops has been firmly aimed at the budget end of the market. The small, cut-down machines can come in at under £200, giving you a basic computer that's a decent - if relatively unusual - choice for mobile working.
With a Chromebook, you don't install software on the hard drive. You barely have a hard drive. Instead, you use cloud computing services to do everything online.
Want to edit a document? Log in to Google Documents. Need to check email? Use Google Mail (or your preferred email service) instead of firing up Outlook.
Many experts argue this is the way business IT is going and - with its empire of online tools and services - Google has a vested interest in making it happen.
Buy a Chromebook
But last week the search firm announced the Chromebook Pixel, a new model that definitely isn't for the budget-conscious. With prices starting at £1,049, it's a slick, powerful laptop that's gunning for the top end of the market.
With its aluminium case, big touchpad, full-size keyboard and powerful processor, the Chromebook Pixel has a lot in common with Apple's MacBook Pro, which has cornered a large slice of the premium laptop market.
It includes up to 64GB of storage, depending on which model you opt for. That's nothing compared to other laptops in this price bracket, which typically offer 500GB or more.
The stand-out feature of the Chromebook Pixel is its high-resolution screen. It's a super-crisp display that could even be better than the 'Retina' screen that's available on some models of the MacBook Pro and widely regarded as the best laptop screen on the market.
In fact, there's a good chance the Chromebook Pixel could become known as the 'Chromebook Retina'.
This new laptop also has a touch screen, creating interesting new possibilities for using your laptop and no doubt delighting manufacturers of screen-cleaning wipes.
(Learn more about screen resolution and how it relates to screen size.)
Given the price of the new Chromebook and the relatively limited scope when it comes to installing software and saving files, it seems unlikely Apple will be too worried about it as competition just yet.
But the Chromebook Pixel signals that Google is keen to develop hardware to further its vision of a 'Google universe', where we use a Google device with a Google operating system to run Google apps and access Google services that store our data.
The Chromebook Pixel makes that vision seem just a little more plausible. And while most businesses won't be rushing to move away from their Windows PCs quite yet, perhaps in a few years things will look very different.
Screen resolution is one of those IT terms that people use without necessarily knowing exactly what it means. We thought it was about time we explained it.
The image on your computer screen is built up from thousands or millions of pixels. The screen creates the image you see by changing the colours of these tiny square elements.
The screen resolution tells you how many pixels your screen can display horizontally and vertically. It's written in the form 1024 x 768. In this example, the screen can show 1,024 pixels horizontally, and 768 vertically:
Now it starts getting a little more complicated. Screens that are different sizes can still have the same screen resolution.
For instance, your laptop could have a 13" screen with a resolution of 1280 x 800. And you could have a 17" monitor on your desk with the same 1280 x 800 resolution.
In this example, although the monitor on your desk is larger, you won't actually be able to fit anything extra onto it. The total number of pixels is the same - just everything looks a bit bigger:
This means that choosing the right screen means you have to take note of both the screen's size and its resolution.
If you're comparing two screens of the same size but with different resolutions, the screen with the higher resolution (that's the one with more pixels) will be able to show you more of what you're working on, so you don't have to scroll so much.
Because that screen has more pixels, the image will be sharper. However, the higher resolution also means that elements on the screen - like icons and text - will look smaller.
Here's another example. It's a real-life one from Dell, to illustrate the difference between two screens available on its XPS 13 laptop.
On the left, a screen with resolution of 1366 x 768. On the right, a screen of the same size with resolution 1920 x 1080:
The higher resolution screen means you can see more of your spreadsheet at once. But it also means the figures in that spreadsheet will look smaller and sharper.
When you're choosing a new computer or display, don't let yourself be guided by screen resolution alone. Brightness and colour representation can vary across screens, so the best way to choose is to sit down in front of a screen and see if you like it.
Having said that, there are a few rules of thumb to help you choose the right resolution:
What screen resolution do you use? Do you ever feel like you need more screen space?
If you're looking for a crisp, clear monitor for your desktop or laptop computer, 24" screens currently strike a nice sweet spot between price and screen real estate.
We've just spotted this Philips E-Line 244EL2SB LCD LED 24" HDMI monitor over on eBuyer for just £107.99 including VAT and delivery. (Incidentally, why do hardware companies give their products such awkward names?)
That's a great price for a 24" screen from a reputable manufacturer, and we can't see it cheaper anywhere else at the moment.
This Philips monitor should be a perfect workhorse display for your business. It's large enough to have several windows open at once, giving you space to spread out your applications.
It's also a full HD screen, which means it has enough pixels to display high definition content (like films and games) at the best possible quality. The 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution is pretty standard for a screen this size.
The 24" screen has HDMI, DVI and VGA ports, which will allow you to connect it to virtually any computer in your company.
This is an excellent price for a 24" monitor. See full details and buy online now.
As a new IT Donut feature, we'll be highlighting a couple of business tech bargains each week, to help you find the best value IT out there.
To kick things off (that's the best I can do for a football related pun) eBuyer is offering this Buffalo 3TB DriveStation external hard drive for £89.49 (including VAT, but excluding delivery).
An external hard drive like this is an easy way to add extra storage to your computer. It's also a good way to back up your key business files.
3TB (terabytes) of storage is an enormous amount of space for files, which means this hard drive can hold around 600 full-length DVD quality films or millions of documents.
At this price, it's worth having in reserve just in case you need extra storage in a hurry. See full details and buy online now.
He brought his own. Did you? (Image: Flickr user kodomut.)
So, we’ve finally perforated the delicate seams of a new year, torn our way through all the red tape and emerged the other side blinking bleary-eyed into the white hot future that sits before us! Well, either it's white hot out there or it's been snowing again - it's hard to tell.
You've already been hit left, right and centre with predictions for the year ahead. And while 2012 was undoubtedly the year of the cloud, the most talked-about technology for 2013 is bring your own device, or BYOD for short.
If you're not already aware, BYOD is a trend in company IT policies that allows employees to use their own technology to do their work. The idea is that it instils a better work ethic, promotes a work-anywhere attitude by allowing access to company systems remotely, and increases employee loyalty by giving staff a greater degree of flexibility in their workflow and work schedules.
It all sounds brilliant. And it is.
So what’s been holding BYOD back in 2012, and what will change that this year? Whilst the cloud was still pedalling its way to stardom, BYOD had to make some small compromises on its far-reaching ideals.
Chiefly, companies are scared. They fear that allowing employees to access company data on their own devices will lead to a security breach somewhere down the line.
Although many companies already allow staff to access their email through other devices, it's this fear that's holding most organisations back from embracing BYOD.
This year then, if a business is wishing to get the most of its people, it absolutely must start implementing systems that allow for BYOD.
That means ensuring that:
Fortunately, there are services available that can do this already. What's more, with the cloud garnering increasing support (the latest European Commission cloud strategy, Unleashing the potential of cloud computing in Europe is a clear sign of this) 2013 really could be the year of the mobile office, the year our work ethic is revolutionised and the year companies rewrite their IT philosophy.
One way or another, it’s going to be an exciting 12 months. What’s your stance on BYOD? Good? Bad? Ugly? Let us know in the comments.
This article was written by Rob Vicars on behalf of iHotdesk, which provides comprehensive, cloud based IT support and BYOD systems in London and beyond.
At this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Dell announced new models in its Inspiron laptop range.
Although the PC giant's machines are a fixture in companies across the world, there are suggestions that laptop sales are in a long-term decline. So, can these new models tempt workers away from their tablet computers?
Dell's customers told it that they want better battery life from laptops without sacrificing overall performance, and that they want laptops that are thin and portable.
That's not exactly groundbreaking news, but as a result the company says its new Inspiron models take advantage of low-power processors to optimise performance and improve battery life. They're 17% thinner and 15% lighter than the previous generation.
Prices start at just £299 all in for the entry-level 15" model. But with its slow Celeron processor, it's a false economy. Even if you're on a really tight budget, you'll be better off stretching to £379 for a model with Intel's i3 processor.
Unusually for a laptop this size, the 15" model includes a 10-key number pad, which could be really useful if you enter numbers or work with figures a lot.
If you prefer a bigger screen (but a less portable laptop), the 17" model starts at £349. Again, a decent business machine will cost you more than that - here aim for the £449 model which includes a powerful Intel i5 processor.
These offer some personalisation options, including a choice of brushed-aluminium finishes. Lovely, but probably not worth paying more for.
Of more interest is the optional full HD screen available with these two laptops. This gives you a crisper display, with more space for your windows and the ability to show full HD video if you wish.
It's not a must-have for business use, but may be worth paying extra for, particularly if you use your laptop screen a lot to work on big images, spreadsheets or other documents that take up a lot of space on screen.
3D printing: coming to your business sooner than you think?
Spotting the pieces of technology that are going to have a significant impact on businesses is a mug's game. So we thought we'd have a go anyway.
Here are four pieces of technology we think could make a big difference to UK companies in the next 12 months. We'll be watching them closely - and as things change fast in the world of tech, we recommend you keep an eye on them too.
After many false starts and a number of flawed devices, this is a make-or-break year for tablets running Microsoft Windows.
Windows 8 is designed for touch screens, so the theory is you can have the same interface, software and files across your desktop computer and your tablet. It could be a seamless computing experience that hits iPad for six. But will it work? The next few months will tell.
Most work in a similar way: they use an app on your smart phone plus a small card reader to take card payments.
Typically promising fewer admin headaches and lower costs than traditional merchant accounts, they could be a great option for retailers, restaurants, taxi drivers, street vendors and more.
The UK's first 4G mobile network, Everything Everywhere, got out of the blocks quickly last year. However, limited coverage and expensive data bundles have dissuaded many potential customers from signing up.
This year will be different. O2, Vodafone and Three will all be vying to launch 4G networks. The number of 4G devices available should increase, and - with luck - prices will drop as competition and coverage improve.
Make no mistake: if it's cheap enough, 4G has the potential to transform mobile working.
Ok, while we my be more than a few months off having a 3D printer in every company, these niche gizmos are on the verge of making a big impact.
3D printers let you print objects. They build them up one thin layer of plastic at a time, seemingly constructing things you can hold in your hands from thin air. This video shows you how they work.
They may not be ready for mainstream adoption yet, but the potential of these devices from companies like MakerBot and Printrbot is huge - particularly for designers who want to create prototypes quickly and cheaply.
In the future, we may see spare parts for everything from furniture to cars simply printed to order.
On Monday we revealed IT experts are predicting that, among other trends, 2013 will be about Mac malware and 3D presentations.
To follow up, we decided to ask two IT Donut contributors what they think this year will bring. Here's what they told us.
It's a trend that's growing and growing, with many experts tipping it for the next 12 months. Regular IT Donut contributor Craig Sharp, from Birmingham IT support firm Abussi, agrees:
"Businesses will be more willing and more technically able to embrace the BYOD trend this year."
"That's partly down to the rise of cloud services that we saw in 2012. These make it easier for businesses to embrace BYOD, because employees can connect to them with their own iPads, laptops and computers, from home and remote locations."
"Companies that decide to give BYOD a try can become more productive and reduce their costs because they don't have to buy so much expensive hardware. Most people have a computer and an increasing number have iPads or other tablets, so why not let them use this equipment to allow more flexible working arrangements?"
"I think this will create a debate about the boundaries of work. When are we working and when are we not? But perhaps that's a piece for this time next year!"
Rob Collins is technical director at Yorkshire Cloud, a firm that provides cloud services to companies from its base in Harrogate. He thinks smaller companies would do well to pay attention to Microsoft's fortunes this year:
"I think Windows 8 adoption will be slow, especially compared to Windows 7. Its interface has been designed to work well on touch screens, but reviews have criticised the way it functions on non-touch screen computers, which is what most companies have at the moment."
"Likewise, Microsoft's Surface tablet will be a lukewarm success. It's hard to see it mounting much of a challenge to the iPad, and I think people will dislike the current model because it runs a cut-down version of Windows."
"Surface Pro should be available soon. That'll run the full version of Windows, but even if it appeals more to businesses, I suspect most employees will still prefer to use iPads."
"At the other end of the market, we'll see a surge of low cost, high performance tablets going on sale. Many of these will run Google's Android operating system. These will seriously erode laptop sales."
That's what our experts think. But what IT will you be paying attention to in 2013?
Does anyone in your business have this many devices? (Image: kawanet on Flickr.)
As any marketer should, I watch streams of Twitter hashtags and have Google Alerts set up to monitor topics in my business realm.
Of these feeds, bring your own device is by far the most interesting. Though the concept isn't new - I've been using my personal devices for work in some form for more than a decade - BYOD as a business problem is receiving a lot of media coverage. And, as with most new tech challenges, the coverage is divided on whether BYOD's cost-savings and access benefits really outweigh the security risks.
Your business is likely already engaging in BYOD. If your staff use personal devices for work, either as their primary system or when they work remotely via laptop, tablet, or smartp hone, your business, too, is part of the BYOD trend. And, you're far from alone: according to a Spiceworks survey (PDF link) more than 75% of small businesses are actively managing personal devices as part of their IT strategy.
But what do small and new business really need to know about BYOD?
Most businesses already support BYOD in the workplace, and if you don't, the chances are your staff are accessing information and files remotely on personal devices anyway.
Having policies in place to limit remote access could be a deterrent and reduce the risks your business faces. However, these require additional IT infrastructure to enforce.
Plus, employees want remote access for flexibility in when, where, and how they work. They want to get information while on the go. And they don't want to juggle a company smart phone and tablet along with their own personal devices.
Data security, especially for law, health, and accounting firms, is crucial. Your business needs to ensure information is secure and that you aren't exposed to undue risks by allowing remote access.
You need to integrate employees' own devices into your existing systems, and give your staff support to troubleshoot problems when they occur.
Generally, you have two options for mobile security;
Every business is different, but many companies can see significant cost savings from BYOD.
You'll almost certainly save on hardware costs, and many companies will also save on the software and maintenance costs that go along with running a fleet of devices.
Lara Franklin manages content and marketing for nivio, a cloud-based platform providing comprehensive IT infrastructure enabling BYOD and anywhere access for businesses.
Small businesses traditionally stick with laptops, does Microsoft Surface mean they’ll now get the benefits of tablets too?
Tablets have really taken off in the past couple of years, with all of the major computer brands now in the market. Apple recently released its iPad Mini, and a number of other manufacturers have really upped their game.
The debate rages over whether these new tablets or traditional laptops are better for business. The real solution however, could lie with Microsoft’s new Surface: a tablet with laptop power and capabilities.
The overall consensus has been that tablets are best suited to displaying or digesting information, whereas laptops are better for business applications. The intrinsic tactility of a tablet suits it to presentation, while the superior power and setup of a laptop suits it to actual work.
It can be used as a sleek and attractive tablet, ideal for passing round a boardroom. But attach the keyboard and it should be a more effective workstation than any other tablet can hope to be.
Fans of laptops will be pleased to see that Surface Pro will come equipped with an Intel i5 processor; a mid-level central processing unit that you’ll find in many modern laptops.
It will mean the Surface should be capable of handling a raft of traditional Windows software with ease, which is something most tablets can’t currently do. The clip-on keyboard is proving very popular, as it instantly turns the tablet into a workstation.
However, the real benefit of having a Windows operating system is, of course, that all your usual software should work on Surface Pro too.
Criticisms of the Surface are mainly aimed at its tablet aspects. For instance, reviews have suggested Surface is not as capable of displaying information attractively as rivals such as the iPad.
If you’re looking to impress clients, it seems that the offerings from Apple are a better choice. This is partly down to screen quality and Apple's slick interface.
The other criticism is the price. In particular, refurbished laptops offer a lot more power in terms of relative cost. If you’re looking to issue several members of staff with a computer, a laptop is by far the most cost effective option.
In conclusion, it appears the debate is far from over. Surface is a go-between, but it is not as good as either a tablet or a laptop for their respective specialities. The decision of which to buy probably relies on what you’re going to be using the computer for.
If you have a desktop and just need something to present information to customers on, then a tablet is best. If you need to be able to work on the go, then a laptop is probably essential. For something in between, Surface may do nicely.
Surface Pro will be available to buy from Microsoft from January. The price is expected to be around £700.
Adam Hart-Davies is a computer enthusiast who writes on behalf of SCH Trade, who supply excellent value refurbished laptops.
Secret Santa season is in full swing. Up and down the country, in offices, factories, warehouses, shops and other places of work, people are picking names out of hats, rushing down to the shops and trying to buy good secret Santa gifts for each other.
Assuming you don't want to just pop down to the local newsagent and buy a lottery ticket (a gift I once received from a colleague who never revealed their identity), how do you find a good secret Santa gift?
With your budget and time limited, the world of tech offers plenty of good secret Santa gifts. Here are our top five - plus some pricier alternatives, in case you've decided to blow the budget this year.
In cold weather, there's nothing worse than having to take your gloves off to operate the touch screen on your smart phone.
But for £4.50, these smart phone gloves contain metal thread in the fingertips, allowing you to use your phone with your gloves on. It means the end of cold fingers.
Looking to spend more?
As well as being touch screen friendly, these Bluetooth gloves (£49.99) contain a microphone and a speaker that turn your hand into a phone.
It's hard to believe anyone doesn't like LEGO, so if you want a good secret Santa present then how about this key ring torch?
It wins on two counts, because not only is it LEGO, but it's also Darth Vader. And if your gift recipient doesn't like Star Wars then frankly they don't deserve a good present anyway.
Looking to spend more?
Just £19.99 bags you a Darth Vader alarm clock.
If you need a good secret Santa gift for someone who loves to keep things tidy, you could get them a tub of Cyber Clean.
Available for £5.99, this putty is designed to be squeezed into tight spaces - like the gaps between buttons on a mobile phone - where it removes dust, dead skin and other nasty stuff.
Looking to spend more?
Grab a miniature Henry desktop vacuum cleaner for £12.99.
If you're buying for the kind of person who makes a cup of tea, gets distracted and ends up drinking it cold, they need a £5.95 USB cup warmer.
It'll keep their tea warm for hours, and runs off any computer's USB port.
Looking to spend more?
It's got to be this self-stirring mug (£11.99). And they say they've invented everything.
Encourage them to go paper free by giving them a robot-shaped USB stick (£7.99) to store their files on.
Make sure they're not the absent-minded sort though - you don't want them causing a data disaster by leaving it on a train.
Looking to spend more?
Go classy(ish) with a silver plated USB drive - just £49.99.
Have you come across any good secret Santa gifts for gadget lovers? Leave a comment and let us know.
Although the vast majority of business computers are still PCs, recent years have seen Apple Macs take an increasing slice of the market. In short, more companies are considering the choice of Mac or PC.
Despite their reputation for being easy to use, it still takes a little time to get accustomed to the Apple way of doing things. So, if you've recently made the switch yourself or are hoping to find a MacBook Pro under the tree this year, here are three quick tips to help you deal with some common annoyances.
If you've been using a PC for any length of time, your brain probably feels hard-wired to hit the CTRL key when you need to do something fast. CTRL-C to copy, CTRL-V to paste, and so on.
Macs are different. Although there is a CTRL key on the keyboard, you generally need to hit command (marked cmd) for a shortcut.
The good news is that once you get used to that, the shortcuts are the same as on a PC. So command-C will copy, command-V will paste, and so on.
As standard, Macs don't let you right-click with the mouse. If you're used to doing this to access menus and options, it can get really frustrating.
But it's actually easy to turn right-clicking on, if you know where to look. Here's how:
That's it! You'll now find you can bring up menus and options by right-clicking with your mouse.
In these days of Twitter hashtags, it seems incredible that the Mac keyboard doesn't have a hash (#) sign on it anywhere.
No problem - to type a hash symbol, just use the shortcut ALT-3 instead. Easy!
Have you switched from PC to Mac? How long did it take you to get up to speed? Leave a comment and let us know.
Microsoft Surface, complete with Touch Cover
Should you buy a Microsoft Surface, the tablet computer Microsoft launched alongside Windows 8? Billed as an iPad beater, Surface is the tech giant's big bet to carve itself a space in the tablet market.
A month after the tablet hit the shelves, we've trawled the web to try and answer the question: should you buy a Microsoft Surface?
Buy a Microsoft Surface
Microsoft Surface is available direct from Microsoft. Most other online IT firms don't currently sell it.
Surface is boxier and slightly heavier than most of its rivals, but none the worse for it. Most reviews agree it has a distinctive design, with a clever kickstand that supports the tablet in portrait mode. PC Pro's Barry Collins explains:
"The mechanics of the kickstand are beautifully simple. The bottom half of the back of the tablet casing flicks out to create a stand, turning the device into a pseudo-laptop when used with one of the keyboards."
Ah yes, the keyboard. The Touch Cover is a thin screen cover for Surface that incorporates a touch-sensitive keyboard. It costs £100 if you buy it separately (and you'll almost certainly want one if you're going to buy a Microsoft Surface). There's also a thicker Type Cover (£110) which features a more traditional keyboard.
We referred to these Microsoft Surface reviews when compiling this blog post:
PC Advisor tried both:
"The Touch Cover is strange to use at first but is something you can get used to after a while. It's just 3mm thick and uses pressure-sensitive touch pads. The Touch Cover is fine for the odd bit of typing but anyone wanting to do any serious work will benefit no end by opting for the Type Cover."
In general, reviews praise the design and build quality of Surface, putting it up there with other leading tablets like Apple's iPad.
Surface runs a special version of Windows called Windows RT. This caused some consternation among reviewers, because it means Surface can't run the Windows software you already own.
Next year you'll be able to buy a Microsoft Surface that's thicker, heavier and able to run standard Windows apps. CNET UK's Andrew Hoyle explains:
"...you can only use software from the Marketplace app store, which is missing many big-name apps and is currently a low priority for most developers,"
Similarly, Information Week, complained about some obvious omissions:
"There are a lot of go-to apps that still aren't there. Microsoft's SkyDrive was the only cloud storage service available on day one, though DropBox was added shortly after. Others, like Google Drive and Carbonite, still aren't available. There's still no dedicated YouTube app. Social media staples like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are absent..."
TechRadar agrees, in more scathing fashion:
"Windows RT won't run old PC programs [...] It has the potential to cause mass confusion and the power to sink Microsoft's figurehead before it's even taken off."
Having said that, Surface can run a special version of Microsoft Office, which is not available for non-Windows tablets.
However, as is often the case when it comes to displays, the screen's specifications don't tell the whole story. CNET found it well up to most jobs:
"I found it to be perfectly sharp enough for working on documents in Office, or indeed in Google Docs. Videos looked crisp, clear and bold, thanks to the display's good use of colour. It doesn't excel in any area, but it's a decent all-rounder."
As we've mentioned before, Windows 8 has been designed for touch screens. And if you buy a Microsoft Surface, you'd expect it to make full use of these touch-enabled features. Wired found this aspect of the interface doesn't disappoint:
"It is delightfully gesture-friendly, and Microsoft has clearly spent much time thinking about and creating an entirely new interface."
However, Windows RT also incorporates elements from older versions. Most prominent is the old-skool Windows Desktop, which you have to use in order to run Microsoft Office. ZDNet found this is where the interface suffers:
"...any time you're forced to use the desktop interface (safely removing a USB stick or accessing Task Manager are other examples), you'll have an experience akin to finding a hand-crank starter on an otherwise sleek and modern-looking automobile"
Expert Reviews judged the tablet's speed and performance to be fine in general use, but discovered the Surface slows down when asked to perform more demanding tasks:
"In general use the tablet is as responsive as an iPad, with touch elements and web pages gliding around under your fingers [...] but the moment you try to do anything serious in Office things start to chug a little, while demanding 3D games such as Pinball FX 2 didn’t run as smoothly as we expected."
Surface is a really interesting prospect. Microsoft should be commended for creating a tablet that does things a bit differently. The Touch Cover and kickstand are genuinely innovative and useful, and for day-to-day internet use you won't be disappointed if you buy a Microsoft Surface.
The ultimate vision of creating an environment in which software and files can move seamlessly from tablet to PC and back again is also attractive. But Microsoft isn't quite there with Windows RT. The mix of touch and traditional interface elements can be jarring, and there are notable omissions from available apps.
Those gaps are likely to get filled over time, and when Surface becomes available with the full version of Windows 8 next year you'll be able to run all your usual Windows software too.
If Microsoft manages to get that experience right, that's when Surface will become a compelling business tool. And that's why most businesses will probably want to buy a Microsoft Surface only once that new model becomes available.
You can buy a Microsoft Surface online now. Prices start from £399.
A laptop and notepad - all you need? (Image: slightly everything on Flickr)
Forget the briefcase and the sharp suit. Ditch the oversize Filofax. Never mind the company car. The most important piece of equipment you need to successfully start a business is a laptop.
That, at least, seems to be the opinion of the next generation of entrepreneurs. Dell asked 380 students aged 15 - 24 about their business aspirations. Around 63% wanted to start a business after college or university.
You could file this in a folder marked 'the bleeding obvious', but actually I think it highlights the ongoing shift both in how business is run and where the greatest opportunities lie.
With flexibility and mobility increasingly contributing to business success, the laptop can be your mobile office. Connect to a wireless network, log on to a cloud computing service, and you have everything you need to work from anywhere.
That means you can be more efficient, with minimal overheads. And that might enable you to undercut competitors and win more business.
Clearly, these soon-to-be-entrepreneurs get it. If your business hasn't yet investigated how mobility and the cloud can help you work more efficiently then perhaps now's the time. Otherwise you might soon find there's a young business owner stealing your customers.
If you're looking for a portable computer that can stand up to rougher treatment than your average wafer-thin ultrabook or tablet computer, and you're keen to move to Windows 8, Panasonic have a new combined laptop-tablet that'll be right up your street.
On paper, the company's new CF-C2 model looks pretty good. There's a mid-range Intel CPU, which is more than up to regular business jobs. The 12.5" screen has touch capabilities, so you can try out all the new Windows 8 features that are designed for touch screens. The claimed battery life of 11 hours is up there with other properly portable computers.
One notable feature is the way the screen can swivel, allowing you to use the CF-C2 either as a normal laptop, or folded flat as a tablet.
Other rugged laptops
But it's when you actually see this computer's rugged, don't-mess-with-me design that you realise it's a little out of the ordinary.
In fact, Panasonic has taken to calling it a 'toughbook'. Seems a fair description, even if it's not a category of computer we've encountered much before.
While it might look a little conspicuous in the boardroom, this rugged laptop is going to be at home out and about. It's been tested to withstand drops of up to 76cm, and has a water-resistant keyboard and strengthened glass on the screen.
For your average business, it's overkill. But if you work somewhere your laptop stands a good chance of taking the odd knock - on building sites, a factory shop floor or a warehouse, say - it could be a good buy.
It will go on sale in December. The price is likely to be a rather steep-sounding £1,700 or so. Get more information from the Panasonic website.
Dell's Vostro range of laptop and desktop computers is aimed specifically at smaller businesses. We got our hands on the company's 15" Vostro 3560 laptop, and tried using it day-to-day in our company. Read on to see what we thought.
The Vostro 3560 has a pleasing appearance and a sleek, classy look to it. As with many laptops, the outside of the case is made of metallic-effect plastic. We'd prefer it to be actual metal, but that was probably outside Dell's budget.
Having said that, it looks and feels solid. The matte grey plastic around the screen is a little thicker than we'd like, but the overall effect is great.
At 2.57kg, the Vostro weighs about average for a laptop of this size. It's fine for mobile working now and again, even though it's not super-light.
The keyboard is well-spaced, making it harder to hit the wrong keys, even if you have sausage fingers. It has a positive action and is nice and quiet, so you can type for extended spells without having to connect an external keyboard.
In line with recent trends, there's a nice large trackpad with two wide buttons. You can scroll using two fingers on the trackpad, rather than having to click and drag scroll bars on screen.
The 15.6" display is bright, and lacks a glossy coating, which makes it well-suited to use under bright lights. You can see the screen clearly from a wide viewing angle, so this could be a good laptop for giving ad-hoc presentations in meetings.
The version we tested had a crisp, clear full-HD screen, so you can watch HD video on it at the full resolution. It's also available with a lower-resolution screen.
The Vostro 3560 we tested had an Intel i5 processor. It was well up to anything we threw at it during day-to-day business use. It's well-suited to running apps like Microsoft Word and Outlook, or running several programs at once.
We tested it using Windows 7, which loaded in under 30 seconds. The 3560 now ships with Windows 8.
The model we tested had an optional dedicated graphics card. This makes a big difference to the graphics performance and is a good option if you want to play games or run graphics-intensive software like Photoshop.
It's worth noting that the base level model only comes with 2GB (gigabytes) of RAM, which is borderline adequate nowadays. You can upgrade after buying, or opt for a model with 4GB, 6GB or 8GB instead.
Even the entry-level Vostro 3560 comes with a 320GB (gigabyte) hard drive, which should provide more than enough storage for general business use. There's also a built-in DVD writer, so you can read and burn DVDs easily.
There are a generous 4 USB connections, all of which are the fastest USB3 type, so they can transfer data nice and quickly. The connectors are close together, which means a chunky memory stick or mobile broadband dongle can block the adjacent ports.
We really enjoyed using the Vostro 3560 for a few days. It has a classy, solid feel that belies its price, and it's more than capable in a business context.
True, it's not incredibly light, and it lacks the touch screen features appearing on other laptops. However, performance is good, the screen is excellent and with an entry-level price of £299 (plus VAT and shipping), it represents great value for money.
Buying the Dell Vostro 3560
Get 10% off when ordering online from Dell.co.uk by using the promotional code H3983?MGC4XBL4
Given recent coverage of 'bring your own device' (BYOD), the phenomenon which sees employees using their own IT for work, you could be forgiven that it's open season on IT in the workplace.
There are undoubted benefits from giving staff freedom to choose their own IT equipment. But before you open the floodgates and let tablet computers, iPhones and other gadgets into your company, it's worth considering the downsides too.
James Easton, right, from IT modelling and data visualisation company Real Status, reckons BYOD can create five key issues:
Viruses, malware, spyware and hackers can jump the security perimeter by being brought into the company on an employee's own device. Once inside your business, they may be able to bypass the firewalls that monitor your network.
When you have a wide range of devices in your business, it can be hard to apply security updates consistently across all of them. Falling behind with even one update can allow a new virus or piece of malware to slip through undetected.
Every mobile device should have data encryption (to scramble data, keeping it safe if the device is lost), password protection and the ability to lock users out if a password is repeatedly entered incorrectly. However, this is tricky to enforce across a wide range of devices.
BYOD makes it harder to keep track of staff going onto Facebook and Twitter, or playing with apps which would might normally break your IT policies.
As soon as BYOD becomes TYOD, or 'take your own device,' any data stored on each device is vulnerable. For example, when employees share their devices or passwords with other people, when their devices are lost or stolen or when data is accessed over public Wi-Fi hotspots.
This isn't to say that BYOD is fundamentally flawed. We've explained the benefits before, and there's a certain inevitability to it in any case. It's just a good move to be wise to the risks before you embrace it wholeheartedly.