1&1

Founded in Germany way back in 1988, 1&1 is now Europe’s largest web hosting provider, handling a mammoth 19 million domains spanning 70,000 servers in data centres across Europe and the US. 

1&1 offers three general-purpose shared hosting plans. These start with Basic – £1 ($1.20) per month plus VAT for the first year, then £5 ($6.10) – which despite its name, has all the core functionality many buyers will need. That includes a free domain, unlimited webspace, websites or bandwidth, along with an SSL certificate, basic email (2GB mail storage only), automated installation of WordPress, Joomla, MediaWiki and many other popular apps, plus 24/7 phone support if you run into problems.

The Plus plan – priced at £4 ($4.90) a month ex VAT for the first year, £7 ($8.55) a month on renewal – improves performance by caching your site content in servers around the world, and doubling Basic’s RAM allocation from 600MB to 1.2GB. Access to 1&1’s SiteLock enables scanning your site for malware, security vulnerabilities, SSL issues and more. There’s also support for up to 500 MySQL5 databases, up from only 20 with the Basic plan. 

The Pro plan – £7 ($.8.55) a month ex VAT for the first year, £10 ($12.20) afterwards – gives you 2GB RAM, 1000 databases, a smarter CDN and extended app support.

If you’re looking for WordPress hosting then any of these plans will do, but 1&1 also offers some time-saving managed WordPress packages. These get you easier setup, preinstalled and recommended plugins, automatic security updates and improved support, all for the same price as the general plans.

There are also specialist e-commerce packages which come with custom sites, product catalogues, a shopping cart, PayPal and Amazon payment support, and more. Prices range from £60 ($73) to £585 ($710) for year one, depending on the features you need.

A 30-day money-back guarantee covers most of this, although there are one or two gotchas. In particular, you’re not covered for new domain registrations and a customer can only use the guarantee once. Check the small print here.

Account setup

Setting up your 1&1 account involves several steps, but a well-designed wizard walks you through the process and keeps it relatively painless.

Key decisions include the contract period, where you can sign up for two or three years and keep your introductory discount. For example, Basic would cost £132 ($161) plus VAT with the first year monthly payments and two annual bills, but only £108 ($132) if you pay the full price upfront.

1&1 also offers multiple add-ons – security, SEO, an extended website builder, basic eShop – with free 30-day trials.

Choose your preferred products and the company asks for detailed billing information, including your name, physical and email addresses and phone number.

After payment, an email arrives with confirmation and a copy of 1&1’s mammoth terms and conditions (almost 5,000 words). Meanwhile the website redirects you to your 1&1 Control Panel, where you’re able to view and manage your account.

Creating your site

All 1&1 hosting accounts come with access to the 1&1 Website Builder, a simple web-based site creator. Choose from an array of bundled site templates, customise the content, and drag-and-drop to add image galleries, YouTube videos, Facebook or Twitter feeds, downloads, forms, and comment boxes.

We found this easy-to-use, but the templates were a little dated and the standard service limits you to just five pages. Upgrading to 1&1 Website Builder Plus enables the creation of sites of up to 500 pages, gives you direct HTML/CSS access, more web app integration and use of a royalty-free image archive, but it’ll cost you another £5 ($6.10) a month plus VAT.

Another option is to install a CMS from the 1&1 App Centre. The company has worked to make this much easier than the usual methods – enter your site title, a few clicks and you’re done – although basic hosting users must sort out themes, extensions and updates on their own.

Experts can manually access 1&1 webspace via secure FTP, SSH and the Webspace Explorer, a browser-based file manager. None of this is difficult, but it did take us a while to find our way around the slightly cluttered interface. (Forget your cPanel or other experience, 1&1’s shared hosting panel does things its own way.)

Performance

Support is a key element of any good web host, as even experts are likely to have issues when setting up their site. There’s no way we can get a complete picture of a host’s support abilities with a one-off test, but we sample the service anyway to see how it performs for us.

We wanted to know where we could download the free NetObjects Fusion 1&1 Edition web designer included with our hosting, for instance. A quick search of 1&1’s online database led us to download instructions, but they were useless, pointing us to a section of the 1&1 Control Panel which no longer exists. How old was that page? There’s no way to tell, as unlike other services there’s no ‘created’ or ‘last reviewed’ date available.

While running tests we discovered that our server was using OpenSSL 1.0.1t, a relatively old version with security (and other) issues. Does 1&1 have a timescale for it to be updated, we wondered? We decided to put this question to the company’s support system.

Searching the Help site gave us only one hit on OpenSSL: a three-year-old article on the Heartbleed bug.

The Help pages suggested we called the company instead. We did – we sat on hold for 15 minutes – we gave up.

We tried creating an appointment for a support agent to call us. We had a 10:00-10:30 slot and received our call at 10:03. The agent was polite, but didn’t seem to know what our question was going to be, even though we’d entered it when setting up the appointment. They also didn’t display any technical knowledge, and apparently just searched their own database for any references, before giving up and saying they had no information.

We decided to live with OpenSSL as it was, set up a couple of test sites, and moved on to our performance checks.

Bitcatcha’s multi-site Server Speed Checker scored us somewhere between C+ (slightly above average) and D+ (slightly below). Our other tests returned below average results, with for example WebPageTest recording around a 0.275s wait for the ‘first byte’. Real-world testing showed no noticeable issues, though, and overall performance was acceptable for a baseline account (upgrading should get you more speed).

If the service doesn’t work for you, there’s a web option to begin the cancellation process, and this even alerts you if you’re still within the 30-day money-back guarantee period. The downside is that you must still call 1&1 to ‘activate’ cancellation. But this was a hassle-free experience for us: an 0800 number to call, it was answered in seconds, and although the agent warned us that cancellation would mean losing all our website data, he didn’t demand explanations or try to change our mind.

Final verdict

1&1 has great value plans for first-time users and plenty of more powerful products for everyone else, but unimpressive support might be an issue if you run into real difficulties.

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Bungie Reveals Record Book, Weekly Featured Raids In 'Destiny' Livestream

Last week, Bungie announced the “Age of Triumph,” the final live event for Destiny. This week, the development team shared more details via Twitch about what players should expect when the update arrives on March 28.

To commemorate the event, Bungie will release another record book, a 13-page list of achievements that you can complete for rewards. The accolades include different tasks for specific classes, Strikes, matches against other players in the Crucible, and even raids. (More on that later.) You can even finish an entire page of the book just by playing through the main campaign.

The more tasks you finish in the digital book, the faster you climb through its ranking system. Specific rank levels provide rewards in the form of emblems for your character. However, when you reach the top rank, level seven, you can claim your final reward, a shirt from Bungie with the Age of Triumph emblem and your online name emblazoned on the sleeve.

Because the event is all about remembering past content from the game, Bungie also upgraded its raid mechanic. Specifically, all raids can now be completed at the Light level of 390, which brings them all up to par in terms of difficulty. In addition, there will also be a weekly featured raid, which will include some challenges to make it even harder for players to complete.

If that wasn’t enough, you’ll also be generously compensated for completing the tougher raids. This includes the return of weapons that you could only retrieve from completing raids. There are also some new rewards, too, in the form of gear and ornaments.

Before the update’s release on March 28, Bungie will host two more livestream events. Next week, the team will talk about the new weekly events, or “rituals.” The week after that, the final event will cover the overall sandbox update to the game.

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Premiere League gets Kodi piracy court order

The Premier League has secured a court order to help tackle rights-infringing video streams of football matches via so-called Kodi set-top boxes.

The order gives the league the means to have computer servers used to power the streams blocked.

Until now, it could only go after individual video streams which were relatively easy to re-establish at different links.

A spokesman said it could now target pirates in a “precise manner”.

“For the first time this will enable the Premier League to disrupt and prevent the illegal streaming of our matches via IPTV, so-called Kodi, boxes,” he added.

Football fans are urged instead to get a Sky Sports or BT Sport subscription, or watch games at a venue that pays for access.

‘Pirating epidemic’

The Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact) declared that the use of Kodi software to watch pirated streams was becoming an “epidemic” last September.

Since then, there have been several arrests of people selling set-top boxes pre-installed with both Kodi software and additional third-party add-ons that make it possible to watch copyright-infringing film and TV streams.

According to a recent survey commissioned by the security firm Irdeto, Kodi boxes are particularly prevalent in the UK.

It reported that 11% of Brits that admitted to watching pirated streams in a survey said they did so via a Kodi box.

Doing so is not thought to be illegal.

“Accessing premium paid-for content without a subscription is considered by the industry as unlawful access, although streaming something online, rather than downloading a file, is likely to be exempt from copyright laws,” Derbyshire County Council trading standards officers recently said.


What are Kodi boxes?

Kodi is free software, built by volunteers, that is designed to bring videos, music, games and photographs together in one easy-to-use application.

Some shops sell set-top boxes and TV sticks known as Kodi boxes, preloaded with the software.

The developers behind Kodi say their software does not contain any content of its own and is designed to play legally owned media or content “freely available” on the internet.

However, the software can be modified with third-party add-ons that provide access to pirated copies of films and TV series, or provide free access to subscription television channels.

“Streaming boxes have steadily increased in popularity in recent years,” said Ernesto van der Sar, from the news site Torrentfreak.

“Most use the entirely legal Kodi software, but some are augmented with illegal third-party add-ons.

“Nowadays people often prefer to stream pirated content instead of using traditional torrent sites.”


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Microsoft Surface Pro 4

There’s no doubt in our minds that the Surface Pro 3 was a success. In fact, with its flagship tablet, Microsoft went so far as to inspire its manufacturing partners to make their own award winning 2-in-1s in a similar vein. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that when the next iteration rolled out, the Surface Pro 4 made only slight revisions over its predecessor. But we’re not complaining.

The slimmer form factor and increased display size do wonders for the Surface Pro 4. Even the Type Cover keyboard has seen subtle changes. While it may not seem like much on the surface (ha), Microsoft Devices team lead Panos Panay and company have written a love letter with the Surface Pro 4 to their long-time supporters who’ve taken the time to issue feedback along the way.

It’s further evidence that Microsoft is listening, and its response is stellar.

Recent developments

Although it’s starting to show its age, Microsoft hasn’t quit when it comes to the Surface Pro 4, even if the company has apparently decided to drop its predecessor altogether.

And, while you still have until June to install the Anniversary Update without issue, it’s been confirmed that the Windows 10 Creators Update is expected to touch down within “a matter of weeks.” 

As was confirmed in a recent statement by Microsoft and published by Softpedia, the Creators Update will land on the Surface Pro 4 and its full-blown Windows 10 desktop counterparts before it strikes mobile, meaning whenever it comes, it ought to be soon.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review

Design and display

Perhaps the most obvious way in which this year’s Surface Pro model is iterative is its looks. The same all-magnesium, unibody casing is still here, though the “Surface” logo has been replaced in favor of Microsoft’s new logo in chrome.

Microsoft managed to up the device’s screen size by a few hairs, from the 2014 model’s straight 12 inches to this year’s 12.3 inches, without affecting its footprint at all. That is, unless you count the Redmond firm shaving over half a millimeter off of its thickness, from 9.1mm to 8.4mm this year – all while maintaining support for full-fat mobile processors.

How did they do it?

For one, Microsoft’s product team decided it was time the capacitive Windows button said goodbye, especially with Windows 10 providing easy access to the Start menu, thus the extra room for that three tenths of an inch.

Secondly, the team managed to bring the display’s optical stack – the series of sensors, diodes and pixels beneath the glass – even closer to the glass this time around, a key point of Microsoft’s trademarked PixelSense screen technology. This helped the firm bring the slate’s thickness down by half a millimeter.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review

The idea here is to bring the sensor elements of the touchscreen as close to your finger or Surface Pen as possible, and it works awfully well. The display is incredibly responsive to touch, and the further sensitivity it brings to the stylus experience is huge. In tandem with the new Surface Pen, the screen detects 1,024 levels of pressure, even during a single stroke.

Now, let’s talk pixels. Even though it really didn’t have to, Microsoft went and boosted the Surface Pro’s resolution from 2,160 x 1,440 (216 ppi, or pixels per inch) in the old model to 2,736 x 1,824. That makes for a huge 267 ppi put forth by the Surface Pro 4, which blows its main rival, the MacBook Air (128 ppi for the 13-inch), out of the water and narrowly edges out Apple’s new, 12.9-inch iPad Pro at 264 ppi.

Screen

But more importantly, the new screen proves to be far more luminous and more color accurate than the Surface Pro 3 display at all brightness levels, as you can clearly see. That’s bound to be a key selling point for creative folks, namely artists and designers that have yet to leave the Wacom tablet and calibrated monitor combo behind.

For the rest of us, it simply means more realistic-looking movies and more vibrant photos and games. However, considering Microsoft kept to its rare 3:2 aspect ratio to best emulate the notepad experience for the stylus users, you’ll see even thicker black bars sandwiching your favorite films in 16:9 – and even more so for those in 21:9, or widescreen format.

It’s a fair concern for folks that watch plenty of movies and TV on a tablet. But fear not, workers, for you’re the very reason Microsoft made this decision. The 3:2 aspect ratio is wider and shorter than 4:3, but taller and slightly more narrow than 16:9, the most common aspect ratio for TV and desktop (and laptop) screens today. The result is a middle ground between the two that is ideal for both photo and design or drafting work, wherein 3:2 is much more common, as well as getting computational work done, given the extra vertical space.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review

Surface Pen and Type Cover

To best make use of that extra space, Microsoft has given its Surface Pen and Type Cover accessories some serious upgrades. In addition to the aforementioned 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, the new-and-included Surface Pen is redesigned to feel more like a pencil. The stylus now has one flat side, as if a Number 2 pencil had all but two of its angles rounded off.

The reason for this is two fold. For one, this stylus is even more comfortable to hold than the last as a result – your index finger rests just above the main function button on the flat end. Secondly, this surface (no pun intended) is coated with thin, powerful strip magnets that allow it to cling onto the tablet’s left side. The age of stylus loops is over.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review

The Pen also sports a new, and actually functional, eraser button up top that not only does what it says on the tin, but offers up three unique use cases. In addition to opening OneNote with a single press, the button now takes a screenshot and then opens OneNote with a double press. Finally, a long press summons Cortana to answer to your every whim.

Microsoft seems to have expertly weighted the Surface Pen to make it feel not much heavier than your average clickable pen, despite all of the tech inside. Plus, now that Microsoft offers additional pen tips right out of the box only sweetens the pot.

Suface Pen

Coupled with Microsoft’s PixelSense display, the duo makes for the best stylus experience I’ve had on a tablet yet for as little as I’m wont to use it. Now, I’m no artist or designer, but between the superb palm detection and the accuracy and nuance of the Pen tracking, the Surface Pro 4 looks to have Microsoft’s best shot at luring in that crowd yet.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review

Sorry, artsy folk, but these improvements almost pale in comparison with the Redmond firm’s new-and-still-not-included Type Cover. This time around, Microsoft managed to greatly widen the spacing between the keys for a chiclet-style approach. What this does is make keeping track of which keys your fingers are on by feel much easier, and it allows for each key to be individually backlit.

The new Type Cover is also slightly thicker and far more rigid than before, allowing for deeper key travel and punchier feedback – not to mention a sturdier, quieter surface to type on – that brings it so much closer to the true laptop keyboard. Panay’s team also managed to widen the touchpad and coat it in glass rather than plastic.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review

These two huge improvements make a world of difference in answering the question of whether Microsoft’s tablet can replace your laptop. The Surface Pro 3’s keyboard cover was excruciatingly close to honestly providing a laptop-level typing experience. Now, the new Type Cover has all but closed that gap.

Microsoft upgraded the Surface Pro 4’s Type Cover with biometric functionality. The Surface Pro 4 Type Cover with Fingerprint ID has gone on sale in the US and Australia at a cost of £135 (around $192 or AUS$258). The new keyboard cover, which is only available in black, uses Windows Hello to login to the Surface with a fingertip press. The scanner can also authorise app purchases from the Windows Store, and because the keyboard is backwards compatible, it can be used with the Surface Pro 3 too.

First reviewed: October 2015

Kane Fulton and Gabe Carey have also contributed to this review

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Dell XPS 27 AIO

A lot changes in four years. That how long it’s been since we reviewed the Dell XPS One 27 Touch, an All-in-One PC that sported Blu-Ray drive options and relied solely on Intel’s integrated solution for graphics. 

Since 2012, the standard has shifted for desktop computers. With Microsoft’s advent of the Surface Studio, there is now the expectation for PC makers to think outside of the box and implement forward-thinking AIOs engineered for versatility, 4K monitors and outstanding speakers, while also catering to designers and gamers.

The 2017 Dell XPS 27, what with its lumbering 27-inch Ultra HD display, 6th-generation Intel Core i7 processor and discrete AMD Radeon GPU, aims to be your next All-in-One computing solution. Confidently endowed with six front-facing speakers and a weighty, albeit subtle design, let’s take a look at whether the Dell XPS 27 offers enough value to justify its lofty price tag.

Spec sheet

CPU: 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-6700 processor (quad-core, 8MB cache, up to 4.0GHz)
Graphics: AMD Radeon R9 M470X (4GB GDDR5 VRAM)
RAM: 16GB DDR4 (2,133MHz)
Screen: 27-inch, UHD (3,840 x 2,160) display with touch and articulating stand
Storage: 512GB PCIe SSD
Ports: 5 x USB 3.0; 2 x Thunderbolt 3; 1 x DisplayPort; 1 x HDMI out; 1 x SD card slot
Connectivity: Dell Wireless 3165 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0
Camera: 720p infrared camera
Weight: 38.2 pounds (17.3kg)Size: 17.1 x 24.6 x 3.16 inches (43.4 x 62.5 x 8.03cm; H x W x D)

Pricing and availability

There’s no getting around the $1,349 or £1,699 (about AU$1,755) price range that the Dell XPS 27 inhabits. Even with standard specs it’s more lavish than a baseline 24-inch iMac, which costs $1,099 (£1,049, AU$1,699), on the low end.

Note, that’s without the touchscreen and articulating hinges. Even so, the Dell XPS 27 is more of a 5K iMac competitor, what with its colossal 27-inch Ultra HD display. 

Pitting it against Apple’s larger, more extravagant iMac model, the Dell XPS 27 is a lot more enticing. Although the version we were sent is valued at $2,799 or £2,599 (about AU$3,641), it has a lot more on offer than Apple’s top-end, $2,299 (£2,249, AU$3,599) 5K iMac. 

For that lofty lump of cash, the Dell XPS 27 is graced with an i7 processor and a full-fledged SSD. The premium also nets you 8GB more RAM and a graphics card with double the VRAM.

When compared to the HP Envy AIO 27, however, the XPS 27 begins to seem a tad overpriced. For $1,899 (£1,999, about AU$2,475), you can snatch yourself a similarly specced AIO 27 from HP. 

For almost a grand less, you’re getting an almost equivalent configuration  with a touchscreen, an i7 processor, 4GB of Nvidia VRAM, 16GB of DDR4 RAM and a 2TB hard drive combined with 256GB of PCIe SSD storage.

Though the quality of the speakers, mouse and keyboard put the HP Envy AIO 27 to shame, the price difference is monumental between the two. 

Design

There’s no denying that the Dell XPS 27 is a looker. Even the rear of the machine glimmers with a silvery metallic finish and the rounded adornment of Dell’s own logo. 

Although there is no fancy backlighting in sight on the back of the machine, the ostensible minimalism is honestly for the best. It exhibits the subtlety and sophistication that the company is known for and a quality we’ve admired with other machines like the Dell XPS Tower.

Turn around to the front, however, and you’ll notice a full sound bar firing directly at you. Among these are two tweeters devised with high notes and vocals in mind, four full-range drivers for punchy midrange sounds and two passive radiators for the bass.

When Dell says its speakers are immersive, the company means it, as the XPS 27’s sound system is a clear draw for audiophiles in the market for an All-in-One. The sound is as loud as it is vibrant. Even with the system volume tuned down to about 10%, you can hear the Dell XPS 27 from across the room or even outside it.

Despite all the central components stuffed into the Dell XPS 27’s bodacious gut, it still manages a relatively slim bezel complemented by a crystal-clear Ultra hi-def display.

As long as you have the touchscreen equipped, there’s an articulating stand that allows you to lay it flat on its back. You can get up close and personal with the XPS 27 without any loss in quality when viewing the screen.

Given that there’s no stylus included with the Dell XPS 27, a touchscreen seems hardly necessary except for use as a giant tablet. Nevertheless, there’s at least the option to avoid its inclusion altogether and, still, retain  the Intel Core i7-6700 processor. 

The Dell XPS 27 also ships with a Premier wireless mouse and keyboard –  which are surprisingly impressive for pack-ins. The mouse is sleek and lightweight, yet at the same time, avoids feeling cheap. The keyboard, on the other hand, goes all out with a number pad, dedicated media control buttons and a virtually silent membrane interface that feels natural to the touch.

The only downside, we would say, is the use of AAA batteries rather than a native rechargeable solution for the keyboard and mouse. Though they’re bound to last you awhile longer than something you’d plug into the wall, the requirement of household alkaline batteries is a bit antiquated in 2017.

Ports-a-million, if you can get to them

The Dell XPS 27 is well-versed in ports as well. On the right side of the display, you’ll find a USB 3.0 port with PowerShare just above the power button while, on the left, you’ll be grateful to discover an SD card slot and an audio jack in place for your convenience. It was smart of Dell to install ports on the side as well as the back, that is, until you find out why it was necessary to begin with.

The rest of the ports are located on the back of the device, and boy are they a pain to get to. Within a small, hollowed out cubbyhole on the rear of the All-in-One are four more USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 3 USB Type-C ports, one DisplayPort and an HDMI out port. 

Unfortunately, this whole ensemble of ports is inaccessible being caught between the chassis and one of the hinges on the adjustable stand.

While this setup is damned hard it is to access, it didn’t get in the way too much during our time with the All-in-One considering we didn’t often need more than one USB port. The Dell XPS 27 is also enough of a hulking monster on its own; the attachment of an external monitor would only add to its table-weight which, at 38.2 pounds (17.3kg), is already a lot.

That being said, it would have been nice to have an HDMI input port at our disposal in the spirit of the HP Envy AIO 27, which itself can be used as an external monitor for your other devices.

Benchmarks

Here’s how the Dell XPS 27 performed in our suite of benchmark tests

3DMark: Sky Diver: 13,934; Fire Strike: 3,961; Time Spy: 1,532
Cinebench CPU: 780 points; Graphics: 103.99 fps
GeekBench 3: 3,970 (single-core); 15,237 (multi-core)
PCMark 8 (Home Test): 3,786 points

Performance

Because it wrestles with the idea of discrete graphics, onloading an AMD Radeon R9 M470X, the Dell XPS 27 performed fairly well in our graphics-based benchmarks. That said, the XPS 27 is a far cry from a gaming PC. 

Even so, it’ll be able to handle most of the games you want to play at somewhere along the lines of medium to high settings. This is a machine that’s clearly geared towards more general forms of entertainment as well as creatively-driven assignments.

Compared to the HP Envy AIO 27, the XPS scored better in every test. In Cinebench in particular, the Dell XPS 27 received a score of 780 points while the HP Envy AIO 27 garnered 662 points.

For those stuck between these two butting rivals, the Dell XPS 27 is the faster machine, even if that speed does come with a towering price tag. Just another factor to keep in mind as you determine just how much a little extra performance boost is worth financially.

Final verdict

From its gaudy (though admittedly desirable) sextet of speakers to its glossy and gargantuan 4K display, the Dell XPS 27 is clearly an entertainment computer meant to be gawked at. It’s no gaming PC, nor is it meant to be, but the XPS 27 throws a convincing pitch as a productivity machine as well. 

While it’s held back by a price that’s simply unjustifiable when compared to its closest competitor, the Dell XPS 27 almost makes up for that with a comfier mouse and keyboard, better performance and a sleeker design than the HP AIO 27. Those snug peripherals, however, are ultimately hindered by the demand for AAA household batteries rather than opting for a more convenient rechargeable solution.

That goes without mentioning the weight of the XPS 27, which is already a lot even without a supported external monitor connected via HDMI or DisplayPort. As we mentioned before, it’s pretty disappointing when other All-in-Ones like the HP AIO 27 tote HDMI-in ports for use as an external monitor itself, the XPS 27 overlooks this feature entirely.

All-in-all, the Dell XPS 27 will give you a sound All-in-One computing experience, but for the price you may be inclined to ask, “but what else?” The lack of a pressure-sensitive stylus means it isn’t as great for designers as the nearly-as-expensive Surface Studio; then again, maybe it doesn’t need to be.

The Dell XPS 27’s practical design, gorgeous screen and out-of-this world sound quality all make for a dreamy entertainment center.
 

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Vimeo Takes On YouTube, Facebook With 360-Degree Video Support

Vimeo announced the aptly named Vimeo 360 service to let people upload, stream, and sell 360-degree video content. The company also said it would highlight this content on a curated channel, publish lessons to help creators learn more about 360-degree videos, and otherwise support the format.

At launch, Vimeo 360 will be available on the web, Vimeo’s mobile apps, and platforms such as Samsung’s Gear VR, Zeiss VR One, and Google Daydream. (There’s no word on when popular HMDs like the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive will be supported.) Users can also directly publish 360-degree videos with Adobe Premiere Pro and Sony Vegas. All told, it seems like Vimeo is diving right into the deep end with 360-degree videos, not just dipping its toes in.

That’s probably a good thing, given that YouTube added 360-degree video support in March 2015, and Facebook did the same that September. Both have also pushed 360-degree video on creators–YouTube added support for live-streaming in the format, and Facebook announced at the F8 developer conference in 2016 its Surround 360 Camera with 360-degree video capabilities, 60fps, and 8K resolution per eye, to complement its software.

Vimeo 360’s biggest advantage over its competitors is the fact that it doubles as a marketplace. Video creators don’t have to publish 360-degree videos and hope ads make up for their investment in the required camera, software, and other equipment. Instead, they will be able to sell their videos to consumers, allowing them to make some money without having to worry about not attracting enough views to make any meaningful cash via ads.

The service also supports 8K resolution–Facebook restricts 360-degree videos to a maximum length of 30 minutes and 5GB size, which rules out longer and higher resolution videos–and will allow people to download 360-degree videos for offline viewing. As on other platforms, 360-degree videos watched on a PC or smartphone will allow people to look around by moving their cursor or dragging their fingers around the display, respectively.

More information about Vimeo 360 is available on the Vimeo website.

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Microsoft Surface Book

During its short tenure as a hardware maker, Microsoft has become the de-facto trailblazer for Windows-running devices. It all started with the lofty promise that its Surface tablet could replace your laptop. We were skeptical about it three years ago, but after the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft nearly perfected the formula and showed veteran computer manufacturers how hybrids should be made.

Now, Microsoft introduces the Surface Book as the ‘ultimate laptop’. Like the Surface tablets before it, this laptop takes a unique spin on the notebook format that’s been around for over 40 years. Between the 3:2 aspect ratio, 13.5-inch screen and its practically-trademarked ‘dynamic fulcrum’ hinge, there isn’t any machine on the planet like the Surface Book – and then, with the touch of a button and a gentle tug, it becomes a tablet.

It all sounds like an amazing idea on paper, and with the added “Holy cow, Microsoft made a laptop!” factor, the Surface Book sounds like a thoroughly amazing device. Let’s see just how well Redmond made good on the hype.

Recent developments

There’s no time like the present to start looking towards the future of Microsoft’s first laptop. The top-end Surface Book i7 runs circles around the original with its loftier graphics capabilities, but if you’ve no use for such hardy visual rendering, you can now turn your head to a less costly, GPU-less model.

With the Windows 10 Creators Update set to arrive in “a matter of weeks,” it won’t be long before Surface Book users get to enjoy a handful of design- and gaming-focused additives. That goes without mentioning that PCs such as the Surface Book are getting the update first, before mobile users, meaning a release is assuredly imminent.

Surface Book

Design

If a tear in the space-time continuum were to suddenly rip open, two things would fall out: the Terminator and then the Surface Book quickly tumbling to the Earth behind it. From the snake-like hinge, the flat design and even down to the washed-out silver color of this laptop, everything about it just seems like it came from the future.

Milled from two solid blocks of magnesium, the Surface Book feels sturdy and has a most minimalistic style unto its own.

From keyboard deck to the palm rests, the entire interior of this laptop is one flat surface of metal, save for the large space reserved for the glass touchpad. Similarly, the screen lid is made of one uninterrupted slate of magnesium, with its only extra flourishes being a mirror-finished Windows logo in the center and a rear-facing camera.

Along the chiseled sides, you’ll find two flat edges that start from the top of the display and terminate at the tip of the palm rest. That’s not the only seamless transition.

Unlike most other convertible devices, the screen and base sections share nearly the same thickness and weight. Without the foreknowledge that the display can actually detach, the Surface Book looks like one continuous device, thanks to the hinge.

Surface Book

Mind the gap

At the midpoint of the Surface Book, there’s a piece of connective tissue that Microsoft calls the dynamic fulcrum hinge. On top of simply gluing the screen and keyboard base together, it’s this key piece that makes the whole device work.

Rather than folding flatly, the hinge basically coils into itself, leaving a noticeable gap between the screen and keyboard when the unit is closed. When opened, this same part rolls out and actually extends the base of the laptop, which in turn helps extend the support base for the tablet portion of the Surface Book (called the Clipboard).

While a traditional notebook display might weigh half a pound at most, the top section of the Surface Book weighs 1.6-pounds, because it contains all the necessary parts to act as a standalone tablet. As such, the hinge has been reinforced and contains extra mechanisms, not unlike the Lenovo Yoga 900’s watchband-style hinge to keep it in place.

Surface Book is solid as a rock, and you can even pick up it by the display and shake it about without worrying about the whole thing falling apart. On a flat surface, the screen is held steady in place and even stays put when you have it in your lap.

The only times the screen wobbles are when I’m poking at it with my finger or the Surface pen, but that really comes with trying to operate a touchscreen on any laptop.

And to address the concerns of the gap left in the middle of the system. Yes, there is a substantial open space in the middle of the system when it’s closed. No, dust and other bits of nasty will not slip into the interior anymore than with a standard laptop, unless you’re a particularly messy person. After a week of using the Surface Book religiously, I can run my finger against the inside edge of the hinge and not find a single speck of dust.

Another plus side of having a laptop that doesn’t close completely flush is you’ll never find any oily outlines of the keyboard imprinted on the screen. It’s a design element that also eliminates the need to seat the keyboard into a recessed area. Instead, the keys on this laptop sit flush with the keyboard deck.

The keyboard itself offers a splendid 1.6mm of key travel that caps off with a satisfying thwack when you bottom out the keys. The trackpad is equally as enjoyable, with it’s glass laminated finish. For the first time ever, I found myself interested in using the three-finger multi-gestures to rotate through windows and reveal the desktop.

While this is a tiny element of the Surface Book, few – if any – other Windows notebooks on the market today offer such a tight tracking experience.

Mobilizing the desktop

The Surface Book’s other signature trick is the screen can pop off the base with just the tap of a button. Technically, Microsoft is coming late to the 2-in-1 laptop game with various devices being able to do the same, including Acer’s Switch family, Toshiba’s Click notebooks, some HP devices and the list goes on.

However, no one has made a system as seamless as the Surface Book.

Undocking and attaching the Clipboard is nearly as seamless as the Surface Book’s design. After either pressing the eject button on the keyboard or the virtual button in the taskbar, the screen will blink off for a second and then notify you it’s safe to detach the screen with one quick tug.

Surface Book

It’s fast and simple, however, the timing takes a little getting used to. After you get the prompt to detach the screen, you have to wait for about half a second before you can actually lift the display off its base.

Another unique feature to this notebook is it’s the first to integrate a discrete graphics processor, or GPU, into a hybrid system. Tucked underneath the keyboard is a customized Nvidia GeForce GPU that makes this laptop just a bit more capable with media production and gaming.

We’ve seen this sort of GPU docking technology before in machines like the MSI GS30 Shadow with GamingDock and Alienware’s GPU Amplifier solution. Microsoft has improved upon dockable graphics, as the Surface Book just needs a short moment to disengage the extra parts, whereas both the Alienware and MSI solutions require the laptop to reboot completely.

Surface Book

It’s a neat feature that allows me to quickly show a friend something cool or when I want to read a digital comic book without having to lug the whole laptop around. But it didn’t really click with me until I realized how easily it lets me bring my entire PC to another place without having to disconnect my external monitor, keyboard, mouse, Xbox controller and all my other peripherals at home

It’s the coolest mechanic since the saucer separation of the Enterprise-D. What’s more, it leaves open a door to expandability. Because the Clipboard is compatible with all Surface Book keyboard bases, not just the one it shipped with, Microsoft could theoretically come out with future upgrades could be done through new bases. (Or maybe even a desktop rig that interfaces with the display? We can dream.)

First reviewed: October 2015

Gabe Carey also contributed to this review

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