Sunday, December 20, 2015

IT News Head Lines (Techradar) 21/12/2015


Updated: The best iPhone 6S deal for Christmas: save £150 with code XMAS150
Updated: The best iPhone 6S deal for Christmas: save £150 with code XMAS150
Update: this deal will run up until midnight on 31st December
If you're looking for a great deal on an iPhone 6S before Christmas, this is a bit of a cracker. and O2 are currently offering a fantastic deal on the best-of-the-best iPhone 6S 128GB.
The deal allows you to save £150 on the up front cost of the phone and then get yourself on a good value contract with O2.
It looks to be by far the cheapest and best-value way of getting hold of the iPhone 6S 128GB and even beats most (if not all) of the deals out there on the 64GB model.
Here's the deal: using the voucher code XMAS150 you can save £150 on the superior 128GB version of the iPhone 6S, leaving you paying £150 up front instead of £300. It comes with a brand new O2 contract which offers great value - unlimited calls and unlimited texts with and 3GB data for £31 per month. That's a really good deal.
It's available in Space Grey, Silver, Rose Gold and Gold, so that's all the colours checked off and it will be available until midnight on December 31 - but note you'll need to order by December 22 to guarantee delivery before Christmas!

The best iPhone 6S deal in the UK

We've had a look around to make sure this deal is really worth recommending and we think it is. The only way to get an iPhone 6S for cheaper than this is to go for the vastly inferior 16GB version.
We did find this other deal which offers the same £31 O2 contract with 3GB data – but that'll cost you an extra £25 up front and it's for the iPhone 6S 64GB not the 128GB version.
The phone-only price of this handset on Amazon is currently around £664, which means you're paying an extra £230 for the O2 plan - less than £10 per month.

The XMAS150 deal in full:

iPhone 6S 128GB |
£150 up front | Unlimited calls + texts | O2 4G | 3GB | £31pm | £894 total
Use the code XMAS150 at the checkout to save £150 on the best-of-the-best iPhone 6S 128GB handset and pay just £150 up front instead of £300. Then you'll be on a 4G contract with O2 which offers unlimited calls and texts and 3GB data for £31 per month. Total cost of this deal over two years is £894.

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Asus ZenFone 3 tipped for May with fingerprint scanner on board
Asus ZenFone 3 tipped for May with fingerprint scanner on board
Amidst all of the high-end Android flagships that grab most of the headlines, let's not forget that Asus makes a very respectable mid-range handset too, and it looks like the next model might be arriving by the summer of 2016.
According to DigiTimes, the Asus ZenFone 3 is going to be arriving in May or June. its predecessor first appeared in January 2015 although it took a few more months for it to be available around the world.
Asian sources also say the phone is going to come with fingerprint scanning technology to save you the trouble of having to type in a PIN code or a pattern every time you want to unlock the phone.

USB Type-C too

Does the inclusion of a fingerprint sensor mean we can expect something a little more premium from Asus this time around? Not necessarily: component prices have now dropped far enough that even mid-range handsets can incorporate the functionality.
A few months ago Asus CEO Jonney Shih confirmed that the upcoming mobile will have a USB Type-C port as well, so owners of the third-generation ZenFone are going to be able to take advantage of the faster charging and data transfer speeds the new tech offers.
Apart from that we don't know too much about the specs or design of the ZenFone 3 - but you can at least mark your calendars for the summertime if you're interested in the Taiwanese manufacturer's next handset.

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Running Man of Tech: Could you run run 10k every other day in 2016?
Running Man of Tech: Could you run run 10k every other day in 2016?
If you're a runner then I wonder if you're feeling like me at the moment. A bit listless and directionless - not sure of the point of running at all other than a vague notion that you should be doing it.
If you regularly run races then you'll have a sense of what I'm talking about. It's the 'Runner's blues' on a larger scale: all the effort done, the event over and the realisation you've got no reason to run anymore.
I know it's just because I'm at the end of the year, and looking back at what I've achieved over the last 12 months, I'm pretty chirpy. I finally broke the 40 minute 10k barrier, competed in my first (well, technically second) triathlon without dying and finally joined my local running club.
So that's good. But any runner will tell you that achievement is a fickle beast: on the one hand, she gives you the warm, fuzzy memory to enjoy and on the other, she makes you wonder, well... what's next?
I started to think. Could 2016 be the year I finally take on the ultra distance? Do a proper marathon? (I don't really think one on a treadmill will really count).
But those were the same goals I idly had for 2015, which doesn't feel very progressive. Then a few days late I got an email from Smashrun, the service I use to track all my running stats, letting me know there was a bevy of new badges on offer.
For those that don't know, Smashrun tracks your progress with every run by sucking in the data from your running watch / app to pore over, and gives you badges for all different kinds of achievements: running harder, longer, earlier, more regularly with ever-increasing difficulty.
Man, the new list was horrendous. Running further month on month, doing it around the world and strapping the trainers on every day to name but a few - it was a massive list.
It seemed insane - impossible, even - and I wondered if I'd ever get around to completing them all.
Then came the stupid thought. The one that usually precursors a decision that risks friendships, tests relationships, pushes the boundaries of injury and is just, well, totally dumb:
What if I could get EVERY badge in 2016, do it all in 12 months?
I looked at the list of badges left to achieve again and had another wobble. You'll see what I mean if I lay out the main highlights of what I'd have to do:
  1. Run every day.
  2. Run 10k every OTHER day
  3. Run in 10 countries and four corners of the globe
  4. Complete my first ultra marathon
  5. Run a marathon in under 2:55
  6. Do a run that packed in over 2,500 metres of ascent
  7. Run 300 miles in a single month
And those are just a few of the challenges. There are LOADS more* and, frankly they terrify the life out of me - even the first point above (and especially the second one) presents logistical difficulties that I don't think I could iron out.
And that's without thinking about injury, illness and a million other reasons that would mean I couldn't run a single day and ruin the whole thing. I also have no idea how I'll get to all those countries and their locations (or how I'd ever afford it).
But... but.... but. There's that little flicker that refuses to die, the thought of how amazing it would be to hit them all. How it would give me a new focus each day and teach me new things about running that would be impossible to achieve normally.
That's why I've written this column. I need your help to know if this is a stupid idea that could ruin everything and make me resent running for the rest of my life, or whether it's the very definition of what running is all about: finding an obstacle that's brilliantly stupid and just running right over it for no reason other than I just can.
You're probably wondering where technology fits into all this, as that's probably why you've come here in the first place.
The structure of this makes that part easy: I'll do a monthly group test of tech from the newest watches to apps to tech-enabled socks, where I'll wear / use four gadgets and try each out for a week, giving you the insights that you can't get with an average review.
I won't lie - the idea excites the hell out of me. And scares me too the bone - even the daily planning alone will be horrendous, and that's before I even work out the logistical nightmares present.
But... maybe. Just maybe.
*You can check out the full list here.

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Week in Gaming: Video games can give us all a perfect Christmas, so why bother going home this year?
Week in Gaming: Video games can give us all a perfect Christmas, so why bother going home this year?
Things I am excited for this Christmas: free stuff, endless food, climbing inside boxes and pretending to be a space-lady. Things I am not looking forward to: being too old to be fawned over but still too young to be taken seriously, getting practical presents rather than Polly Pocket sets, being told to get out of the box.
In many ways, I'd rather just be sitting at home, in my pants, in my unheated flat, with nothing but the ladybird infestation for company, playing video games to keep myself warm over the long festive period. Family are great - they have heating and free food and they don't mind me using it for free - but really, don't video games offer a more picturesque version of the same thing?
Let's look at the evidence.
First (and most important), we have gifts. People often mutter things like "Remember the true meaning of Christmas" and while I haven't actually looked it up yet, I'm pretty sure it's presents. But surely video games can't replicate the joy of getting a really, really nice blender from your parents. Oh ho ho, my friend. Of course they can.
Take Harvest Moon, where you'll celebrate Christmas by the giving and receiving of gifts. Not only is this incredibly adorable, but for a budding farmer there's much more to play for here than in real life. Will you get that shiny new hoe you've been hoping for? Will the sweet gal you've been courting appreciate your offering of chocolates and also marriage? It really is the most wonderful time of the year, although that might be because the rest of the year is taken up by the growing and harvesting of turnips
Or how about Animal Crossing, which has a much more pragmatic approach to gift-giving. In real life, receiving an unwanted present means putting on a fake grin and saying thanks while you secretly work out how long you can keep said gift in your possession before flogging it on eBay. We don't want to hurt other people's feelings, do we?
But in Animal Crossing, your villager friends are so dense that they won't notice if you resell your presents. In fact, some of them might even buy them back. For money. That you get to keep. Why can't we do this in the real world, again?
You also don't have to worry about picking the wrong presents for other people. In Animal Crossing: New Leaf you actually get to dress as freakin' Santa Claus and deliver each villager their perfect gift, meaning you get that warm fuzzy feeling over and over again.
The Sims
What is missing from video games is your family and friends, of course. But is that really as bad as it sounds? After all, Christmas is that special time of the year where you rediscover just how terrible some of your family members' political, religious, and ideological views are. You'll realise that your grandparents treat the Daily Mail as gospel and your cousin's new job is drowning kittens.
Skip all that, I say. Spend your Christmas in the warm embrace of The Sims, where everyone is nice because you control them like the AI puppet master you are. Uncle Frank on another rant? No problem, just send him outside and delete the doors for an hour. Ahh, that's better.
So that's presents and family sorted - what about decorations? Enter Fallout 4's festive Diamond City makeover. It might be a bit more "radiation green" than white, but it's still damn colourful. You can spend the season chilling with fun friends like Takahashi the broken noodle bot, the mayor who hates you for some reason, and your sexy synth partner in crime, Nick Valentine. Well, maybe not crime, on account of him being a detective.
Ah, but one thing's missing: snow. Here's where things get really good, because many of us don't even get snow on Christmas day. Yet again, enter video games to show reality how it's done. Why not boot up Rockstar's fantastic Bully: Scholarship Edition, where you can delve into Chapter 3's Christmas mission and meet drunk homeless Santa before taking part in a huge snowball fight. Or, alternatively head over to a festively-themed Minecraft Christmas world. Sure, there are creepers… but at least they're not racist.
I could go on, but here comes the disclaimer: I am spending Christmas with my family. I fully expect disagreements over the table, and at least one person calling me a "leftie" or similar. I guess, in a lot of ways, video games are just trying to replicate the most Christmassy thing of all - being surrounded by people you love.
Still, I'm looking forward to virtual reality Christmas next year.

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You might be able to stream The Beatles' music by Christmas Eve
You might be able to stream The Beatles' music by Christmas Eve
If you've written to Santa asking for the Beatles back catalogue to appear on a streaming music service this Christmas, then you must have been very well behaved over the last year: Billboard reports that the Fab Four's tunes will indeed be available to stream as of Christmas Eve.
The band from Liverpool are well known for their reluctance to join the digital music revolution - it was many years before their music appeared on iTunes in a downloadable format - but it would seem the surviving members have now decided to join the streaming revolution.
Billboard's sources are indicating that all of the major streaming services will announce deals with The Beatles, though there is some talk of a six month exclusive period for one of them. Perhaps Apple is going to use the legendary outfit to boost Apple Music subscriber numbers?

There will be an answer

Of course Paul and Ringo and the families of John and George don't necessarily need the money, but nevertheless being able to stick Hey Jude on the end of your Deezer playlist should add some extra fizz to your Christmas and New Year parties.
And the remaining streaming music services are going to be hoping the music of The Beatles helps to boost their profit margins: Rdio is shutting its doors next week after failing to attract enough subscribers.
It's still just a rumour at this stage, but we'll keep our ears to the ground next week and let you know if we hear anything that sounds remotely like Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. In the meantime you might want to think about getting a Beatles-mad loved one a Spotify Premium subscription for Christmas.

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Internet of Things: Forget the big numbers, what are the best IoT gadgets?
Internet of Things: Forget the big numbers, what are the best IoT gadgets?


IoT Gadgets
It's a market that likes to talk numbers – 34 billion connected devices by 2020, global investment of $7.3 trillion (around £4.8 trillion, AU$10 trillion) by 2017. Blah blah blah. It's guesswork – all of it – and peddled by vested interests and crystal ball-gazers with very little evidence.
The Internet of Things depends on great ideas for products that fire the imagination. So where are they? We know about the phones, the watches and the tablets, but they account for only 10 billion of the predicted explosion in IoT devices. What are the other 24 billion?
We won't be covering them all in this article – obviously enough – but here's a selection of our top picks for the IoT gadgets which are going to turn heads.

Microbot Push robot finger

Ready to automate everything? The WeMo brought old lamps into the IoT, and trying to do the same for – well, anything with a button – is Microbot Push. A low-energy Bluetooth device, the Korean-made Microbot Push is a robot finger that can be attached to anything, and be wirelessly commanded to push a button.
The coffee machine, the kettle, light switches, the answer button on your phone… anything that needs a physical interaction from you to switch it on. It's an idea in its early stage – it certainly won't get everything onto the IoT – but it's an intriguing way to bring the physical into the digital arena.

Lively personal emergency response

Lively personal emergency response
Smartwatches aren't just for the wannabe technorati. 'Active ageing' gadgets are the next frontier for the IoT, and nowhere is that trend better proved than by Lively. "Lively is a system composed of activity sensors placed on objects around the home that monitors the daily behaviour of an individual living alone," says Dr. Kevin Curran, senior member of the IEEE. "For example, sensors may be placed on a refrigerator door, a pill box, or car keys to collect data on an individual's eating, medication, and sleep habits."
A connected home health platform with cloud-based 'activity sharing' of data, it gives others – such as a doctor or relatives – an insight into a potentially vulnerable person's behaviour. It also includes a 24/7 emergency response button.

Mimo baby monitor

Mimo baby monitor
Anything you want to keep an eye on is fair game for the IoT, so this self-proclaimed 'smart baby nursery' bucks the trend for many hyped-up IoT gadgets by trying to solve an existing problem.
"The Mimo baby monitor is a body suit that monitors a baby's body temperature, motion, and breathing patterns," explains Curran. "Sensors use Bluetooth to relay this data to a base station, which then transmits it to the internet to be analysed by the company's sleep analysis software."
Using the best sensor technology available, according to Mimo, parents get data via an app on how the baby is breathing, their body position, sleeping temperature, activity level, and whether they're asleep, as well as alerts and nightly reports.

Juvo sleep monitor

Juvo sleep monitor
If you can drop-off in seconds and sleep for eight hours each night, go and have a nap. For anyone who struggles with arguably the most important activity we humans ever do, Juvo is here to use the IoT to compose your repose.
A sleep monitor that slips under the mattress, Juvo goes way beyond the sleep measurement antics of the FitBit and Jawbone activity trackers by actually trying to help you sleep, too.
It can talk to other smart home gear, from Philips Hue lightbulbs, WeMo devices and the Nest thermostat – and anything else that can use IFTTT (If This Then That) – to create the ideal environment, and personalised schedule, for sleeping and waking.

Noke Bluetooth keyless padlock

Noke Bluetooth keyless padlock
Initially it sounds like something that probably doesn't need wireless connectivity – and especially not yet another app – but hear us out. Although the Noke is programmed via an app, and can be opened via a tap on a phone, it's actually designed to be opened using a pre-programmed sequence of short and long pinches.
Working with any iOS, Android or Windows devices running Bluetooth 4.0, Noke is mostly a keyless padlock and is only programmed by Bluetooth (though you can also open the lock using your phone), though there's a powerful IoT dimension, too – Noke can be shared with others, and its history of being opened checked.
Its CR2032 battery lasts a year and, yes, it uses 128-bit encryption. Use it in commercial lock-ups, warehouses and anywhere else where a breakdown and history of visits would be useful.

AgriHouse SG-1000 Leaf Sensor

AgriHouse SG-1000 Leaf Sensor
How does a farmer know his crops are thirsty? They send him a text message. That's the basics of AgriHouse's SG-1000 Leaf Sensor [PDF] and Precision Irrigation Control Software – and it all came from NASA.
Designed to reduce water use, the SG-1000 Leaf Sensor is pinned to one plant and provides continuous information on moisture content and the nutrients needed.
NASA, which has long researched technologies and techniques to allow astronauts to grow their own food, backed a project by the University of Colorado Boulder and BioServe Space Technologies to determine a plant's water content by measuring the rigidity of its leaves.
The resulting sensor measures leaf thickness by using electrical pulses. It means less watering of crops that don't need it. If that's becoming more crucial on Earth, it's absolutely critical on Mars.

Shockbox helmet sensor

Shockbox helmet sensor
Over in America, the NFL is turning to technology to prevent concussion incidents, and so can all sporty types thanks to the IoT and cloud computing
"Shockbox is a small, flexible sensor that fits inside of a sports helmet and monitors the history of head impacts athletes sustain," says Curran. "Shockbox sensors communicate using Bluetooth to immediately alert parents, coaches, and trainers in the event of a concussion-level impact."
Aside from American sports like US football, ice hockey and lacrosse, Shockbox is also available for ski, cycling and horse riding helmets.

Nuubo nECG smart shirt

Nuubo nECG smart shirt
Why cover someone in irritating sensors and smartwatches when you can use the shirt on their back? An e-textile, BlendFix sensor electrode technology has been developed by Spanish company Nuubo.
"It's a sensor-equipped shirt that monitors a patient's vital signs and movement," says Curran about Nuubo's nECG Platform. "The sensors in the shirt can take regular measurements on items, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, and it can also conduct an electrocardiogram (ECG)."
The shirt sends data wirelessly to a server for data analysis where, for example, software can detect anomalies in the ECG and alert a doctor, or emergency services.

mySkin OKU skin coach

mySkin OKU skin coach
If you really want a tech concept to go global, make it cure ageing. OKU doesn't quite promise that, but this first-ever 'personal skin coach' is aimed at people who want to know about their skin.
The cube measures skin moisture, oiliness, texture, wrinkles, elasticity and pigmentation, does a quick cloud-based analysis, and then produces a skin-score. Cue graphs, graphics and suggestions for lifestyle and diet changes. It's on sale now (though currently only for iOS devices) and comes with both a docking station and a carrying case.

Angee Home Security System

Angee Home Security System
Currently on Kickstarter, Angee is billed as the first autonomous security system. Uniquely voice-controlled and using voice recognition to clock you coming through the front door, Angee is a one-piece, 5.5-inch cylindrical gadget that can swivel through 360 degrees, so the user can see the whole room on a smartphone feed.
It will also swivel to video intruders after detecting motion, and send you videos (in 1080p, 30fps quality, no less), audio messages and alerts. The unit itself can only store an hour's worth of video, but 1GB of free cloud storage is also included. It's expected to become available in October 2016.

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Facebook videos are the latest to dump Flash
Facebook videos are the latest to dump Flash
In another sign that Flash is nearly dead, Facebook announced that videos on the social media platform will now load through HTML5 by default.
The company explained that switching to a HTML5 video player made "development easier" and improves "the video experience for people on Facebook," including videos playing faster and reports of fewer bugs.
Facebook says it only waited to roll out HTML5 video players on a larger scale because of older browsers and operating systems where the new web standard doesn't perform as well.
"That's why we waited until today to ship the HTML5 player to all browsers by default, with the exception of a small set of them," Facebook said.

Not a complete unfriending

The move comes just a few weeks after Flash creator Adobe started discouraging content creators from using Flash in favor of newer web standards, like, for example, HTML5.
But Facebook won't completely rid itself of Flash as the network will still use it for games.
"We are continuing to work together with Adobe to deliver a reliable and secure Flash experience for games on our platform but have shipped the change for video to all browsers by default," Facebook noted.
  • CES 2016 is almost here, and this is why you should be excited

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Gaze upon this giant billboard made entirely in MS Paint
Gaze upon this giant billboard made entirely in MS Paint
MS Paint is far, far, faaaar from the standard for graphic design, but that didn't stop this massive billboard from being made using only Microsoft's super-simple image editing software.
The signage features several crude doodles for the viewing pleasure of commuters in south-east London, complete with stick figures and the death knell of any self-respecting graphic designer: Comic Sans. Spanning a considerable 36-square meters' worth of surface area, the billboard may just wind up being the world's largest piece of artwork made with the rudimentary software.
Construct 2 is the product being advertised: it's a game development software that lets users quickly build 2D games without needing a heavy background in coding. Construct 2 was created by London software company Scirra, which, believe it or not, is quite proud of its advertisement.
We love the little doodles illustrating each kind of game
Scirra Co-Founder Tom Gullen revealed in an interview with Ars Technica that he designed the billboard, taking no more than 20 minutes to make the image. "I was pretty happy with the result," Gullen admitted. "I'm a web developer by trade so this sort of advertising is all new to me."
Creating the simplified artwork with MS Paint was not a decision brought on by laziness, however. Gullen explained that he believes fledgling developers become disheartened if they have too lofty a vision for their first game. "This advertisement is meant to say to them: your first efforts might not be AAA standard," he said. "Everyone has to start somewhere!"
According to Gullen, the billboard is paid for until tomorrow, so anyone in the South Bermondsey area of London, keep an eye out for this low-tech masterpiece.
Top image credit: Ars Technica

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OS X 10.11.3 El Capitan beta available for the brave at heart
OS X 10.11.3 El Capitan beta available for the brave at heart
Just two days after Apple released the first beta of OS X 10.11.3 El Capitan to developers, it is now making the software available for OS X users in its Beta Software Program to try. OS X 10.11.3 beta 1 is now available for public beta members to download.
Like the developer beta released earlier in the week, Apple did not provide details of changes or new features. It's unclear if any changes have been made to the operating system since the release of the developer beta. OS X El Capitan was released in late September, and OS X 10.11.3 beta 1 is the third seed to launch in as many months.
Apple generally provides focus areas for testing with its second beta release, so you'll likely have to wait until the next beta release to learn more details of what Apple is testing. This helps developers and members of its public beta program to focus their attention on specific changes and bug fixes. Apple will incorporate feedback to continue to make changes in subsequent beta releases as needed.

OS X 10.11.2

OS X 10.11.2 launched earlier this month, bringing additional stability and security to Macs.
The release addressed Wi-Fi and Bluetooth performance as well as improved reliability of AirDrop, Handoff, Mail, FaceTime and Messages. OS X 10.11.2 launched after Apple successfully completed four rounds of betas.
An earlier release of OS X 10.11 El Capitan introduced new emoji to Mac users.
If you own a Mac and decide to download OS X 10.11.3 beta 1, be sure to let us know in the comments if you've discovered any new features, changes, bugs or performance improvements.

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New hacker group strikes Xbox Live, PSN could be next
New hacker group strikes Xbox Live, PSN could be next
Hacker group Phantom Squad is claiming responsibility for an online attack of Microsoft's Xbox Live service last night. Xbox Live was struck with a distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attack that left servers overloaded and unable to log in several users.
The similarity to a hacking attack allegedly conducted by a group called Lizard Squad last Christmas, in addition to threats made by Phantom Squad on Twitter, may point to Sony's PlayStation Network as the group's next target.
The Phantom Squad Twitter account, though currently suspended, tweeted "Xbox Live #Offline" as Xbox Live's servers were attacked, also stating that "PSN is next..."
The group's claimed reason behind its actions is cybersecurity, or, rather, the lack thereof. "Why do we take down PSN and Xbox Live? Because cyber security does not exist," the group tweeted. That said, the group also reportedly cited that "some men just want to watch PSN and Xbox Live burn" as another motive.
While Phantom Squad has claimed no affiliation with Lizard Squad, the name of the group and timing of threats creates a sense of déjà vu with last year's PSN and Xbox Live outages.
Xbox's support staff has been updating progress on its website in regards to amending its servers, stating, "We are aware of these issues and are working to get it fixed ASAP!"
Side note: For anyone planning to give a new PlayStation 4 or Xbox One as a gift this holiday, we would suggest taking the unit out of the packaging and installing all the necessary firmware updates in advance, should hacked servers or increased Christmas traffic prevent you from setting up the console on the 25th.

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Review: Toshiba Tecra A50-C
Review: Toshiba Tecra A50-C


The Toshiba Tecra A50-C is the laptop you don't have to worry about. Throw it into your suitcase. Drink your lidless latte over it. Knock it off your desk (accidentally, of course.)
Just don't play games on it.
With its budget-friendly price (starts at $599, £798, AU$1,298) the Tecra A50-C definitely thinks of itself as an all work, no play, grunt of a laptop. The problem is it doesn't always live up to its own expectations. Yes, it's got every port under the sun, but a lackluster screen, poorly executed keyboard, and multi-touch so slow you can drink your entire lidless latte before it scrolls keeps it from realizing its full potential.
Comparable workbooks like the HP Envy 15 ($549, £799, AU$1,499), the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 ($349, £319, AU$999) and the Lenovo ThinkPad E555 ($424, £299, not available in Australia) are all flawed too – as is the case with inexpensive machines. Laptops in this price range have all made compromises. But where the Tecra A50-C has not compromised is in toughness, and port diversity.
Toshiba Tecra A50-C


Rather than the aluminum space age look you see on so many of its competitors' laptops, Toshiba has opted for a more down-to-earth impression with its Tecra A50-C.
Its matte black exterior is grooved with fine parallel lines that are reminiscent of wood grain. Toshiba calls the exterior "graphite black" but dark walnut or ebony may be a more fitting description. Its design matches an executive's desk better than any of its silvery competitors.
Its screen lies tight against its base when closed, which gives the Tecra A50-C a surprisingly slim profile. Its exterior edges are glossy, plastic and embedded with multiple ports that contrast nicely against the "wood grain."
This "wood grain" motif continues inside with the palm rest and the areas around the chiclet-style keys and two-button touchpad. In accordance with the Tecra A50-C's small-to-medium sized business (SMB) orientation, the keyboard features a full number pad and – as you'd expect from a full keyboard – the touchpad sits left of center.
Toshiba Tecra A50-C

Big but balanced

At 14.9 inches (378 mm) long and 10.2 inches (259 mm) wide, the Tecra A50-C has a significant footprint, even amongst its competitors. It's over an inch longer than the ThinkPad E555 and the Inspiron 15 5000, but the Envy 15 has the Tecra's footprint beat by a quarter of an inch. And while all three have similar height profiles (about an inch or 25 mm), the Tecra A50-C's compact design makes it seem smaller than the rest.
At 5 pounds (2.27 kg) the Tecra A50-C is no MacBook Air, but because its weight is evenly balanced over its whole frame it handles like a lighter laptop. Its similarly weighted competitors (the Envy 15 is 5.2 pounds or 2.35 kg and the ThinkPad E555 is 5.18 pounds or 2.34kg; the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 is 4.4 pounds or 2 kg) aren't as easy to grab and toss in a bag.
The Tecra A50-C maintains its balance even when open. Shifting laps and wobbly desks do not perturb it: tilt its screen all the way back and its strong hinges will prevent any flopping or tipping. The superb balance and hinge strength were some of our favorite aspects of this laptop.

Multi-touch lacks the "multi"

The touchpad could use more surface area – its small size makes scrolling tedious. On the other hand, because the touchpad occupies so little real estate, you won't have to worry about "palming" it while typing. Its size aside, the touchpad is responsive with very clicky buttons that provide great feedback.
Multi-touch, however, is not responsive at all. Two-finger scrolling is temperamental. When it's in the mood to help it's either laggy or it misreads your intentions. More often than not I saw my website shoot off in the wrong direction because of the poor scroll detection.
Pinch-to-zoom works a little more often, but its imprecision ultimately makes it impractical. After much experimentation, we gave up on multi-touch and stuck with the traditional side screen scroll bar.
Toshiba Tecra A50-C

Squishy keys

Unfortunately the only positive thing we can say about the keyboard (other than the number pad) is that they keys are well spaced. It's lacking in nearly every other way.
The keyboard is not backlit, all its keys have short travel, and all the non-letter keys (the spacebar and enter keys in particular) suffer from a sponginess that makes typing unsatisfying. This relegates the A50-C to mundane work like email writing and web browsing. Writing intensive tasks, while not out of the question, will be difficult.

Tough as nails

The Tecra A50-C's claim to fame is its durability and indeed, it is one solidly built piece of computing. Its base is firm and compact – it doesn't feel hollow or chintzy the way many budget laptops do. And while the keyboard may not be well-designed, it is at least spill-resistant. We wouldn't recommend dipping the Tecra A50-C in the bathtub, but if you knock your open water bottle onto it you'll have time to save your files before the water wipes out your work.
The Tecra A50-C's hard plastic edges are made to absorb the kind of dings and knocks that occur during travel. The only part of the laptop that feels flimsy is the screen, though this may be an intentional design decision. We repeatedly stepped on the laptop (when closed) to test its durability and the screen exterior's flexibility prevented any cracking or splitting.

Displayed out

The 1,366 x 768 resolution screen of my review unit is underwhelming, to say the least. The colors are flat and its backlight puts out minimal brightness. Thumbnails appear grainy and out of focus. Text does not pop. Viewing angles are limited and background glare completely washes out the screen. Don't even try to work on a Tecra A50-C outside on a sunny day – enjoy the weather because you won't see enough of the screen to get any work done.
And Windows 10 users who love its touchscreen functionality are out of luck here. Pressing the A50-C's matte screen will only produce thumbprints.
Lucky for Toshiba its competitors struggle with screen quality as well. Neither the Inspiron 15, the Envy 15 nor the ThinkPad E555 have great displays. If you're going with a Tecra A50-C, we recommend spending the $100 to upgrade its screen to 1,920 x 1,080, 300nit, not only for the increased resolution, but for the enhanced brightness as well.

Specs and performance

Here is the Toshiba Tecra A50-C's configuration sent to techradar for review:

Spec Sheet

  • CPU: 2.2 GHz Intel Core i5-5200U (dual-core, 3MB cache, up to 2.7GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4600
  • RAM: 8 GB DDR3L1600 MHz
  • Screen: 15.6-inch, 1,366 x 768 HD TFT LED Backlit Display
  • Storage: 500GB Serial ATA
  • Optical drive: DVD SuperMulti drive supporting 11 formats
  • Ports: 2x USB 2.0, 2 x USB 3.0, Memory Card Reader, VGA, HDMI, Ethernet, Headphone/microphone combo jack
  • Connectivity: Intel Dual-Band Wireless-AC 3165 plus Bluetooth, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Camera: FHD webcam
  • Weight: 5 pounds
  • Size: 14.9 x 10.2 x 0.95 inches (W x D x H)
The Tecra A50-C shines in one particular area: ports offered. The SMB user will find everything they need here, including a thought-to-be extinct VGA port and Ethernet jack. Thanks also to four USB ports and an optical drive, the Tecra is a laptop ready to couple – with any device or medium: modems, finicky projectors, even burnt CD-ROMs.
This port diversity is what sets the A50-C apart from its competitors. While the HP Envy 15 and the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 each have a decent array of ports (the Envy 15 also has 4 USB ports), neither have a VGA. The Lenovo ThinkPad E555 has as many types of ports as the Tecra A50-C, but fewer of them. And none of its competitors possesses an Ethernet jack.
Toshiba Tecra A50-C


Here's how the Toshiba Tecra A50-C performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
  • 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 4,622; Sky Diver: 2,556; Fire Strike: 621
  • Cinebench CPU: 169 cb; Graphics: 23 fps
  • GeekBench: 2,405 (single-core); 4,660 (multi-core)
  • PCMark 8 (Home Test): 2,368 points
  • PCMark 8 Battery Life: 4 hours
Its Cinebench and 3DMark scores reinforce what was already suspected: the Tecra is not a gaming laptop (unless Solitaire counts.) For its cost though, the Tecra provides decent performance. Note it's PCMark 8 Home Test score: the Tecra A50-C is not all that bad at multitasking, though it's lack of a solid state hard drive makes opening applications a sluggish affair.
As far as its competition goes, the A50-C easily outpaces the Lenovo ThinkPad E555 in all tests, but does not do as well as the HP Envy 15 or Dell Inspiron 15 5000 in the graphics tests. The Inspiron 15's PCMark 8 score is also 700 points higher than the Tecra A50-C's, while the HP Envy 15's is about 300 points lower.
All in all, Toshiba's laptop sits in the middle of the pack – as is expected. Its Intel Broadwell CPU is designed to reduce heat and improve battery efficiency, not provide a cutting edge gaming experience.
Toshiba Tecra A50-C

Battery life

Thanks to that aforementioned Broadwell chip, battery life is another strong suit of the Tecra A50-C when compared to its rivals. In our PCMark 8 test, the battery lasted 4 hours, nearly an hour more than the Lenovo ThinkPad E555, and 40 minutes more than the Dell Inspiron 15 5000. Only the HP Envy matched the Tecra A50-C in battery charge.
The Tecra A50-C's battery was even more impressive in our movie test. We played a full-screen 720p movie continuously on 50% brightness until the battery gave out. Under these conditions, the battery lasted a very respectable 5 hours and 36 minutes.
The Tecra A50-C's battery is also hot swappable. Travelers who worry about outlet scarcity can pop in a fresh battery without having to shut down their Tecra first.
It's also worth noting that the Tecra A50-C runs very quietly and maintains a consistently cool temperature. In our experience, the palm rest never rose above room temperature and the undercarriage only warmed to "tepid" on the right side. This warming wasn't uncomfortable, but frequent lap users may notice it.


Toshiba's latest SMB-friendly offering occupies an awkward middle ground. Its poor usability may turn off power multi-taskers and it's just-not-cheap-enough price tag may drive away the basic email and PowerPoint work crowd. Ultimately, only those users in need of port diversity may find the Tecra A50-C to be a good value for its cost.

We liked

For a budget machine, the Tecra A50-C looks and feels like a high-end laptop. In a world of chunky profiles and creaky bases, the Tecra A50-C's clean lines, wood grain-like finish and solid construction stand out. This is a laptop you'd be proud to open up in a client meeting.
Yet despite its expensive looks, the Tecra isn't a laptop you have to treat with kid gloves. It'll weather a fall out of your backpack. It'll socket up with any device, old or new. And it'll run unplugged throughout your whole presentation.

We disliked

Unfortunately the Tecra A50-C's keyboard does not pass the business-grade test. It lacks feedback, a backlight and a thumbprint reader, all of which are nearly standard laptop fare.
And while its poor display is forgivable, its non-existent multi-touch – in today's iPhone dominated world – is not. The Tecra A50-C could use a little more function and a little less form.

Final verdict

The Toshiba Tecra A50-C can handle most physical challenges. Certainly that is a strong selling point. However, many users don't need a tough laptop. They just need one that works – and works cheaply.
Users who value a great external build and port diversity will love the Tecra A50-C and its budget price. But those who don't will find that there are more budget-friendly options available.

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5 computing innovations that shaped 2015
5 computing innovations that shaped 2015


Apple MacBook
This year, we saw releases of big computing items. Apple's iPad Pro, Microsoft's Surface Book and Dell's XPS 13. Each of these products generated huge, hype-worthy buzz for their performance and iconic designs, but it's the underlying technology that has helped shape 2015's computing trends.
Although technology like a new USB port, a digital pencil, slimmer bezels, bigger drives and faster processors may not sound as sexy as the devices that debuted them to the world, these innovations have each rightfully earned mind share in 2015, and I expect them to generate even more impact in 2016.

1. Windows 10

Windows 10
Even though Windows 10 looks similar to previous versions of Windows, the operating system signals a new era for Microsoft.
First, for Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 users, Windows 10 is available as a free upgrade during the first year of release. Microsoft is also shifting its strategy. Instead of delivering Windows as a standalone software product, Microsoft is entering the software as a service business. Under this model, Microsoft promises to release new features, improvements and security updates.
Second, Microsoft is showing that it is rallying its energy around a single platform. Windows 10 will be available for desktops, laptops, tablets, convertibles, Xbox and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Instead of maintaining separate OSes for different product categories, unifying development around Windows 10 will hopefully mean that we'll see more apps for Windows phones and tablets.
Third, and probably the biggest feature of Windows 10, is Continuum. With Continuum, Microsoft promises that you'll have the same great experience regardless of your computing device's form factor.
Convertible notebooks will automatically switch between laptop mode and tablet mode for the optimal experience. Continuum is also present on Windows 10 Mobile phones as well. Once you connect Microsoft's Lumia 950 to a display dock, you'll see a bigger desktop interface. Instead of seeing a blown up smartphone display mirrored onto your large display, you'll get an experience that's similar to a Windows PC for enhanced productivity. Continuum for Windows 10 Mobile is like having a PC in your pocket.

2. Singular connection

USB-C is the new standard
Apple made an early bet with the USB Type-C connection when it released its slimmer than "Air" MacBook. In a highly controversial move, the 12-inch laptop sheds all of its ports, including a power port, for a single USB-C connection.
USB-C offers three main benefits, including fast transfer speeds, a reversible connection so you won't have to figure out which way to plug in and the ability to handle diverse input and output protocols. It allows you to connect peripherals, power, accessories and displays to your devices, essentially replacing your power, traditional USB and HDMI ports.
Google didn't take as drastic a leap as Apple with the Chromebook Pixel. The high-end Chromebook added the next generation standard, but retains support for legacy full-size USB Type-A ports.
USB-C is here to stay, and expect to see tablets, phones, docks, monitors, hubs and additional devices adding the standard in 2016. It may be a while for laptop manufacturers to go all-in like the MacBook, but the port will begin appearing beside standard USB ports on your next notebook, like Dell's recent quad-core 15-inch Latitude 15 5000 Series (E5570).
Hopefully, for you, this means no more traveling with a tangled bundle of cables. For mobile users, USB-C for power could open the door to a universal external battery pack that can recharge your phone, tablet, laptop and other accessories so you can leave your power brick behind.

3. New interactions

Surface Book
Convertible notebooks have taken a leap as consumers want devices that can do more, allowing them to create and consume content on the go. Led by popular models like Microsoft's Surface Pro 4, Microsoft's Surface Book and Apple's iPad Pro, these convertibles show that the pen can be a versatile input tool.
Long a staunch opponent of the stylus, Apple has gone all in with the Apple Pencil, a digital stylus with low latency that can handle various levels of pressure and angles, allowing the tool to be used for creative projects much like a real pencil. Through the Apple Pencil, developers are even adding "right-click" support to the non-3D Touch display on the iPad Pro.
Microsoft is also expanding support for inking. The company has hedged big bets on the stylus a decade earlier with the launch of the Tablet PC, and Windows 10 continues to support Microsoft's investment in digital inking. Cortana can now understand your handwritten reminders, so you can scrawl on your tablet as you would a Post-it note.
And for Android users, Samsung's Galaxy Note series still leads the charge. Even though Samsung hasn't released a new Galaxy Note tablet in over a year, the Galaxy Note 5 phone also comes with improved handwriting support, making it a portable digital Moleskine.
Beyond the touchscreen, Microsoft is adding better voice support with Cortana on Windows 10 PC and bringing biometric security to make passwords obsolete. The ease of use Touch ID on the iPhone is coming to PCs, and Windows Hello supports both fingerprint and facial recognition. Microsoft also introduced an iris scanner on its latest Lumia 950 smartphone.
This year, we also got a glimpse of how touch works beyond a simple tap. Apple brought its Force Touch tech to touchpads and 3D Touch to the iPhone. We're already seeing this tech adopted by HP on the EliteBook Folio 1020's touchpad, and there are rumors that more phones and tablets will integrate touch-sensing capabilities in 2016 that will make right-clicking easier.

4. Bulking up and slimming down

Dell XPS 13
Bigger is better, unless you're a mobile user. The benefit of a bigger device is that a larger display can help boost productivity, allowing you to see more on your screen. The downside is that a bigger display makes the device larger, and a larger footprint adds bulk to your desk and gear bag.
Dell stunned the world early this year when it introduced the Dell XPS 13. The notebook's trademarked Infinity Display comes minimizes the bezels and make the screen appear larger than it is. Dell claims the 13-inch notebook occupies the footprint of an 11-inch device, meaning you're literally getting a Windows-powered 13-inch notebook in the size of an 11-inch MacBook Air. The company also introduced a similarly compact XPS 15 with an Infinity Display.
Microsoft also upped its game with the launch of the Surface Pro 4. Because the Surface Pro 4 is a tablet, Microsoft simply can't just chop off the bezels. Instead, the Surface Pro 4 occupies the same footprint as the Surface Pro 3, but Microsoft increased the screen size from 12 inches to 12.3 inches.
Hopefully, this trend continues. As 4K resolution becomes mainstream on high-end notebooks and convertibles in 2016, we want to have more space to see the extra pixels, but users don't necessarily want to carry a bigger, bulkier device when traveling. Slim bezels will allow device manufacturers to fit a larger screen in the same notebook footprint.
In the desktop space, we're also seeing slimmer bezels on monitors. This helps make a multi-monitor setup appear seamless.

5. Need for space

Intel announced Optane at IDF 2015
For a while now, switching from a slower hard drive to speedier solid state storage means sacrificing storage capacity. This trend seems to be reversing, as we're seeing more storage on devices than before.
SSDs with 1TB of storage used to be a rarity in the notebook space, but Samsung announced that it will soon release a 1TB version of its compact M.2 form factor SSD drive. More manufacturers will likely introduce 1TB M.2 drives in 2016, but for now, Samsung is first to make the announcement.
Additionally, Microsoft is topping out its Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 configurations with a 1TB SSD option, but be prepared to pay top dollar for these options.
Beyond 1TB of storage, there are several promising drive technologies on the horizon that will bring faster speeds, more reliability and larger capacities. Intel announced that it will release a speedy Optane drive developed with 3D XPoint technology. SanDisk and HP's Storage Class Memory (SCM) technology is an Optane rival.
Air-filled drives will also help boost your storage needs. For businesses harvesting copious amounts of data, air-filled drives will increase storage capacity on traditional hard disk drives. Seagate announced an 8TB air-filled drive, and Western Digital is relying on Helium to boost capacity to 10TB. These drives will help the industrial Internet of Things collect, store and analyze data.

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Major HTC Vive VR 'breakthrough' to be shown at CES 2016
Major HTC Vive VR 'breakthrough' to be shown at CES 2016
HTC is set to reveal a big tech breakthrough for the HTC Vive VR headset at CES next month.
CEO Cher Wang explained at the Vive Unbound developers forum in Beijing today that Valve and the HTC team made "a very, very big technological breakthrough" with the Vive virtual reality system earlier this month, according to Engaget.
While Wang didn't reveal anything about what this "technological breakthrough" is, or how it actually affects the Vive headset, she did say HTC will be demo the new tech at CES 2016.
Wang said that the breakthrough is also the reason the company delayed the launch of the headset to April 2016, choosing instead to rework the VR headset rather than releasing it without the upgrade.
"We shouldn't make our users swap their systems later just so we could meet the December shipping date," she said.

Still no price tag

Unfortunately, HTC still hasn't revealed a price for the Vive, though we do expect it to sit on the higher end. That's in part because the HTC One M9 maker isn't just targeting consumers with the headset., as HTC is not only targeting consumers in the home.
Wang revealed Audi and other car brands will be installing Vive headsets in flagship stores next year to offer VR test drives. Wang also hopes to entice hospitals and schools to use Vive for educational purposes.
We may have gotten a look at what HTC plans to show at CES 2016 and ship later in April, as some leaked revealed what could be the new HTC Vive headset and controllers.
We've contacted HTC about these images, but we wouldn't be surprised if we see the second-gen VR system along with any accompanying improvements at CES in a few weeks' time.

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Take a holiday tour of the White House in virtual reality
Take a holiday tour of the White House in virtual reality
Google Expeditions and The White House have teamed up to bring a holiday-themed tour of the president's home to virtual reality.
The VR tour was posted on The White House's YouTube page, showcasing the residence decked out in full Christmas splendor.
YouTube :
Google Expeditions, a "virtual field trip" program, combines Google's Cardboard VR headset with the GoPro Jump rig, a 16-camera setup to capture immersive 360-degree video footage.
Viewers can step right into the shoes of a visitor taking a tour of the White House, showcasing highlights such as the library, china room and even a cameo by one of the Obama family's pets, Bo.
While the experience works best using Cardboard or the Samsung Gear VR, those without a virtual reality rig can also partake in the holiday festivities by scrolling around on a desktop as well as on a smartphone, which even moves in response to the viewer's position.
The White House isn't the only location to get the treatment from Jump's VR-ready video, with an entire playlist sending viewers to exotic locations ranging from the Congo to the Grand Canyon, and every places in between, like an Avicii concert.

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Another retailer may make its own mobile payment platform - should Apple Pay be worried?
Another retailer may make its own mobile payment platform - should Apple Pay be worried?
According to a new report, US retailer Target is developing a mobile wallet solution to take on the likes of Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay.
However, Target has said that while it is developing a mobile wallet, it hasn't committed to launching it, according to sources speaking to Reuters.
Still, it could come as early as next year if the retailer does go ahead with a launch, as it already has partners lined up.

Payment options

The news comes just a week after Walmart launched a QR-based mobile payment solution, Walmart Pay, as an extension of its smartphone app.
Like Walmart, Target had put its lot in with the QR code-based payment app CurrentC to take on Apple Pay, though the launch of CurrentC has since been delayed.
It's very likely that Target's mobile wallet could incorporate CurrentC, or Target could instead use NFC instead.
Either way, there is an increasing interesest in mobile payment solutions, and there looks to be a lot more options headed our way.

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How to delete iBooks on Mac/iOS
How to delete iBooks on Mac/iOS
Got an Apple, Mac or iOS tech question? We have the answer. This time the question is from someone looking to delete his iBooks purchases from the cloud. Technically, there's no way to erase them completely, but you can certainly make it so you never have to deal with unwanted iBooks ever again. Keep reading to see how it's done.


How do you delete purchased books from your iBooks cloud?


Deleting iBooks from your Mac or iOS device is easy - just tap select, tap the book, and tap delete on iOS, or right-click, choose delete, and confirm on a Mac. However, Apple does not currently offer the ability to completely delete purchases in the cloud for the App Store, iBook Store or iTunes Store; instead, they offer the ability to hide purchases so that they do not show up inside of the purchased section of the iBooks Store or App Store.
To hide purchases, you must have the iBooks app on Mac OS X, then perform these steps:
1. Open the iBooks app.
2. In the upper-left corner, click iBooks Store.
3. Under Quick Links on the right side of the iBooks Store, click Purchased.
4. Scroll to find the item that you want to hide. Hold the cursor over the item and an X appears in the upper-left corner. Click the X.
5. When you click the X, a message appears asking you if you're sure that you want to hide the purchase. Click Hide.
Hide iBooks
This purchase will now be hidden from your account. If you wish to unhide purchases, perform the following:
1. Open the iBooks app.
2. From the menu at the top of your computer screen, choose Store > View My Apple ID.
3. On the Account Information page, scroll down to the iTunes in the Cloud section. To the right of Hidden Purchases, click Manage.
4. Below the item you want to unhide, click Unhide.
When you unhide the item, it will automatically download from the iBooks Store.
Got an Apple tech question? Email

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The top tech gifts for mum this Christmas
The top tech gifts for mum this Christmas

Best tech gifts for mum

Mum tech
Whatever your mum loves – whether that's music, exercise or anything else – there's a gadget to make her Christmas. We've collected the best tech gifts you can buy. Now all you have to do it make your choice and bask in the appreciation.

FitBit Flex

The Fitbit Flex wristband is the ideal accessory if your mum enjoys, or aspires to, an active life. More than just a glorified pedometer (though it will keep a step count), the Flex can track calories burned, distance travelled, active minutes, and can even improve sleep by delivering data on hours slept and the quality of her sleep patterns.
Where to find it £44.99 at Currys

Flower Power by Parrot

Parrot pot
Flower Power by Parrot is a genius device for gardeners, and will let your mum's most prized plants report measurements of sunlight, moisture, fertiliser and temperature. If action is required, it sends a handy notification to a connected smartphone or tablet. The app also provides access to a database of more than 7,000 plants, with a host of practical tips to tone up her green fingers.
Where to find it: £39.99 at Parrot direct

Kensington Proximo Key Fob

Help your mum safeguard her digital world with Kensington's Proximo Key fob. Whether she's running an iPhone or Android-powered smartphone, the Proximo will keep everything on her phone safe and sound, and hopefully help her to never lose her phone in the first place.
By communicating with a dedicated app, the Proximo fob will alert your mother if her phone strays too far away, and can even determine an estimated distance. Attach her keys to the fob and they can be found with just a couple of taps.
Where to find it: £31.49 at Kensington direct

Libratone Zipp Mini

Give your mum one of the best wireless speakers available in the form of the Libratone Zipp Mini. Following firmly in the footsteps of the acclaimed larger models, the Mini produces stunning sound from a diminutive package.
Thanks to the long-lasting rechargeable battery, it can last all day long, and match the decor of any room in the house thanks to Libratone's trademark removable woollen sleeves.
Where to find it: £179 at Libratone direct

Philips Hue Starter Kit

Philips Hue
Give your mum the power to set the mood around the home with the Philips Hue Starter Kit. This smart lighting system includes three 9.5W LED bulbs and a bridge unit to control them, creating atmospheric lighting with simply a few taps on the iOS or Android companion app.
Preset modes include "concentrate" and "relax," and up to 50 lights can be synchronised with the system. Home automation has never been so easy.
Where to find it: £150 at Amazon

VARV Table lamp with wireless charging

When you think of IKEA, you may be more familiar with their flat-packed furniture, cheap homewares and – of course – meatballs. But this year it brought its range firmly into the 21st century with a clever range of wireless charging furnishings.
The VARV table lamp is a simple yet elegant table lamp that would make a perfect present if your mum has minimalist tastes. It includes a wireless charging base and USB power socket for charging devices that aren't compatible with the wireless technology.
Where to find it: £50 at IKEA

Smarter iKettle 2.0

Smarter Kettle
Is there any better way to show your love than by presenting your mum with a cup of tea as soon as she steps through the door? With the Smarter iKettle 2.0, you can give the gift of tea even when you're far away: your mum can now get the kettle on from the other side of the room, the town or even the world with the iKettle app.
The app also tracks the water level, and allows your mum to precisely set the temperature to get the best taste out of her favourite hot drink.
Where to find it: £99 at Amazon

Anker Bluetooth Speaker

A cheaper alternative to the Libratone Zipp Mini, the Anker A7908 Portable Bluetooth speaker is a perfect way to bring the beats to smaller rooms. Measuring just 8 x 6 x 6cm, and with up to 20 hours of wire-free music playback and a 10M range, this portable speaker provides clear audio thanks to the 4W speaker.
Where to find it: £23.99 at Amazon

Plantronics Backbeat Fit

Plantronics' Backbeat Fit Bluetooth headphones are perfect for mums who run. They've got excellent battery life, strong smartphone connection to, and really do well at staying in-ear thanks to the moldable ear loops.
Volume is controlled so hearing traffic is never an issue – and they even come with an armband too to house her phone (although it'd be a bit snug for a phablet).
Where to find it: £56 at Amazon

Amazon Fire Tablet

Amazon Kindle
Does your Mum wish she had a bigger screen on her smartphone but doesn't want to carry around a phablet? Amazon's Fire tablet is an incredibly good value tablet, priced at a shade under £50.
With a quad-core processor under the hood and access to hundreds of thousands of apps, books, music, movies and TV shows, there's enough power and content to blow away significantly more expensive tablets. And if she's someone who likes to read a book or two on the train, it's also a pretty respectable ereader.
Where to find it: £49.99 at Amazon

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Microsoft has delayed Windows 10 Mobile's universal release again
Microsoft has delayed Windows 10 Mobile's universal release again
Windows Phone users who are eager to upgrade to Windows 10 Mobile will have to wait until next year.
Microsoft told ZDNet that is has pushed back the operating system's (OS) rollout to "early 2016" to "select Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 phones." This contradicts a previous statement made by Microsoft saying users of previous generation Windows Phones would get the operating system before the end of 2015.
What has already been a long saga just got longer.

When (if?) it's launched

Back in August, Microsoft announced that the following Windows Phones would receive the Windows 10 Mobile update when it became available: the Lumia 430, Lumia 435, Lumia 532, Lumia 535, Lumia 540, Lumia 640, Lumia 640 XL, Lumia 735, Lumia 830, and Lumia 930.
In order to access the OS when it's made available, your Lumia smartphone will need 8GB of internal memory and the Lumia Denim upgrade (Windows Phone 8.10.14219.341 or above).
But, given how long it's been since these statements were made, and how often Microsoft has flip-flopped on the Mobile rollout, who knows if these statements still apply.

What's already happened

Microsoft released the first live version of Windows 10 Mobile to Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL users in November. It has continued updating and refining that build, as it will continue to do throughout Windows 10 Mobile's 24 month life-cycle.
However, recent iterations of that build have featured minor bugs and start-up issues. The most-recent build appeared to be so solid in terms of lingering bugs versus improved reliability that it led many, myself included, to believe it was a near-complete release that would be rolled out to all Windows Phone users.
However, the build was pulled back and unpublished for 24 hours while Microsoft fixed a few major problems. The build is live now, but only for Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL owners.
We originally thought Microsoft would make the OS generally available in September. However, several delays pushed the rumored release date to November, and then Microsoft said in no uncertain terms that the release would happen in December. So much for that.

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6 of the best tech gifts to buy musicians at Christmas
6 of the best tech gifts to buy musicians at Christmas
Musicians are those dedicated beasts who spend hours on an instrument or in front of a glowing computer screen honing their craft. The multitude of styles and abilities can be a confusing time for people looking to buy their musician loved-ones and friends the perfect gift.
Fear not, we've got a cracking list of the top gifts to impress the musicians in your life.

Yamaha Silent Piano

Here's one for the high-end musician hoping to enter professional level, or for the wealthy tinkerers among you. Yamaha has a variety of keyboard styles from portable digital modules to uprights and full grand pianos, there's a set of keys for every budget. The Silent range is a bit more expensive and this entry-level piano pictured costs around £3,600 (approx $5,365/AUS$7,500) with the most expensive, a hand-crafted grand piano, will set you back nearly £50,000 (approx $74,500/AUS$103,500).
Yamaha silent piano
Yamaha's Silent Pianos unsurprisingly for the price, have a sleek design and natural tone reproduction which makes them a great pick for those times when you need to practice but not disturb others. It's not just pianos either, there's a whole range of acoustic instruments featuring Yamaha's Silent technology.

Alphasphere by nu desine

A novel way to use samples and manipulate your digital sounds, the Alphasphere is a completely new digital instrument. Developed by Adam Place, of nu desine, it is used in live sets by bands like Koven and Enter Shikari on the regular, and even Chvrches have given it a go.
The Alphasphere promises to combat sampling boredom on stage, not to mention it looks awesome in your studio.
It comes in a range of price points, from $199 (about £133/AUS$276) to up to $1,500 (about£1,000/AUS$2,084) for a professional Elite model. For now, you can only pre-order one from the website but retailers will be listed as they become available.

Sensel Morph

After successfully reaching its Kickstarter target, Sensel are putting its Morph into production. The pressure-sensitive, customizable interface lets you switch up your input easily and smartly.
Need a keyboard or music pad interface? Use the keyboard overlay or use a brush on the plain surface for art projects. You can connect it to your Arduino kit too or use it as a controller for gaming depending on which overlay you use (sold separately).
Sensel are taking pre-orders now so pop an IOU in someone's X-mas stocking. The main unit plus one overlay costs $249 (about £167/AUS$350) from the site.

Boss SY-300

The BOSS SY-300 is a guitar effects pedal for the serious musician who needs an arsenal of sounds at their fingertips.
Boss SY-300
From flute to dubstep bass sounds, this thing is flexible. MusicRadar gave it a 5 star review and it will definitely keep you busy in your studio with various tweaks and options to split sounds and effects across frequencies.
Amazon UK has one listed at £499, Amazon US at $699 and BetterMusic has one for AUS$869, as of this writing.

Logic Pro X

Logic Pro X is one of the stronger software choices for your Apple-loving musician. MusicRadar gave it a solid review, and it's the software of choice for a large range of pro musicians.
logic prox
However, it's not without its bugs or limitations unless someone is rocking a very fast Pro-level machine, so if you're made of money you can get one of those for them too.
Currently retailing for $199/£149/AUS$319 on the Apple Store, it'll keep the bedroom studio maven occupied all holiday.

A music streaming subscription

A music streaming subscription is an excellent choice for those without a massive budget this holiday. If you know someone who just loves their new music, and can't get enough of discovering more, why not treat them to a premium subscription of their favourite streaming service?
Choose from: Tidal ($19.99/£19.99/AUS$23.99 a month), Spotify Premium ($9.99 - or its three-month holiday deal for only $0.99 - or for £9.99 per month), Apple Music ($9.99/£9.99 a month), YouTube Red, Napster or Deezer (who are offering a subscription deal for only £1 for Christmas) for UK and USA-based subscribers. Most subscriptions cost between $7-$15/ £5-£10/ AUS$10-AUS$20 a month.

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The next information revolution will happen in 2016 - are you ready?
The next information revolution will happen in 2016 - are you ready?

Introduction and the effects on businesses

We need to embrace the Nexus of Forces. Yes, that sounds ridiculous, and yet analyst firm Gartner's concept from last year is still highly relevant – and being ignored or badly handled by many businesses.
Many are getting a SMAC. Social, mobile, analytics and cloud – the four most important technologies – are disrupting traditional business practices, and driving innovation. This is the technology platform, the so-called Third Platform, of the future, and the consequences of it are only just being understood.
"In the Nexus of Forces, information is the context for delivering enhanced social and mobile experiences," says Chris Howard, managing vice president at Gartner. "Mobile devices are a platform for effective social networking and new ways of work. Social links people to their work and each other in new and unexpected ways. Cloud enables delivery of information and functionality to users and systems. These forces of the Nexus are intertwined to create a user-driven ecosystem of modern computing."
Autonomous factories and warehouses are next

What is the Nexus of Forces?

"The Nexus of Forces is the concept of social media engagement, mobile platforms and analytics derived from the explosion of data, underpinned by cloud to enable rapid, flexible delivery," says Cliff Evans, Chief Digital Officer at Capgemini, who helps companies transform their business processes.
Anyone doubting that there's been a change should just look at the tech they carry around. A few years ago, we had laptops, projectors and other cool new tech at work. Sometimes we brought them home.
Now the opposite is true; we've all got far more advanced computers in our pockets than on our office desktops, each of them using the public cloud – unlike at work – and each packed with myriad apps and sensors. Not only has IT become consumerised, but we've also become more tech-savvy.
The Nexus of Forces embraces emerging new tech on the 'hype cycle'

How does the Nexus of Forces affect business?

It's largely about more sophisticated ways of reaching customers via digital marketing, with Gartner recently highlighting the must-have tech that will join the trends of social, mobile, analytics and cloud in an ever-expanding Nexus of Forces. "As enterprises continue the journey to becoming digital businesses, identifying and employing the right technologies at the right time will be critical," says Betsy Burton, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.
Gesture control, hybrid cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, people-literate technology, and speech-to-speech translation are all identified as technologies in the 'hype cycle' that will play a big role.
"We are seeing new forces – IoT, AI, and cryptography such as Bitcoin and Blockchain – creating new imperatives for change, further breaking down the barriers of the organisations," says Evans, though he points out that some of the most radical changes are happening in less well developed countries. With no legacy equipment, systems and mind-sets to contend with, a business can go straight to new models of delivery and become an instant digital business.
Cryptography such as Bitcoin challenges business to adapt

How are businesses adapting?

While citizens have lapped up the Nexus of Forces, business hasn't been so adaptable – and it's mainly down to people's old fashioned mind-sets. Evans is not convinced that any business has yet been able to truly integrate the tech trends of social, mobile, analytics and cloud to create anything really compelling for customers.
"Most often we see organisations with one part of the business doing social media engagement, another building mobile platforms, and a separate insights and data team, with the IT function worrying about where to use cloud to save costs," he says.
A cultural shift is needed to herald any kind of meaningful, long-term changes to how business is done. "This cultural change would require a change in the way technology is used, and the most frequent manifestation of the change is the business starting to buy technology directly from service providers to gain rapid access and speedy delivery." This is the move to SaaS (Software as a Service).

B2i and the third platform

From B2C and B2B… to B2i?

The landscape of IT purchasing has changed massively since the cloud appeared. "The rise of the cloud, the proliferation of mobile and improved access to information empowered business buyers in new ways," says Ed Chuang, VP of Marketing for Avangate. "These shifts go beyond consumerisation of IT and into what we call B2i – business to individual – where the traditional distinction between B2C and B2B is now blurred."
This is the world not only of IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), but of SaaS and PaaS (Platform as a Service), where companies pay as they go for bandwidth, buy software subscriptions, get freemium trials, and pay via credit cards.
"The IT budget is not solely in the hands of the IT team anymore, and individual employees are now empowered to purchase applications with a few clicks of a mouse," says Chuang.
However, it's not necessarily about this new consumerisation of IT per se. "It's more about IT in the digital age being bought as part of a business service, rather than as an end in itself," says Evans.
Ed Chuang, VP of Marketing for Avangate

What is the Third Platform?

The Third Platform is largely more terminology for the same thing as the Nexus of Forces, this time from analysts at IDC. Chuang thinks it's all heading for one place; commerce automation. "With millions of apps, billions of users and trillions of things and continuous industry transformation, digital commerce and, together with it, commerce automation technology will emerge as the fundamental enabler of omni-channel sales within the Third Platform," he says.
Almost all commerce is e-commerce now, but while life gets easier for retailers, it's gotten a lot trickier for distribution and warehouse companies. Cue the automated warehouse, which helps businesses pick orders for individual items without employing hundreds of staff. It's a trend that's soon to go one step further and embrace both personalisation and even faster fulfilment, too.
"The future of the buying experience will be provided through various consumption models – one-time, subscriptions or usage, with 24-hour order processing, instant gratification and personalisation becoming more prevalent," says Chuang.
The fact that Amazon is thinking of using drones to make deliveries is the proof of exactly where it thinks e-commerce is headed, thanks to the Third Platform – and Amazon Prime is but the tip of the iceberg.
Quantum computing will also join the Nexus of Forces

What comes after the Nexus of Forces?

Properly digital business – this is about the convergence of people, business and things. The IoT and the concept of blurring the physical and virtual worlds then come into play, according to Gartner, with physical assets becoming digitalised.
It's also when next-gen technologies that are just now being discussed will begin to play a role in business, from augmented reality, brain-computer interfaces, and volumetric and holographic displays, to smart robots, 3D bio-printing and quantum computing. The end result? Autonomous business, where tech replaces humans.
Today, digital business is about mobile apps. Tomorrow there'll be autonomous vehicles shuffling goods and people to and fro, and all kinds of autonomous cognitive software communicating with customers. One thing is for sure; the Nexus of Forces is growing.
"The response needs to be one of cultural shift to embrace the new fast dynamic of the business/technology model, where technology has now become a driver for change, rather than just an enabler," says Evans. "Those companies that recognise and embrace this cultural change will be the ones that succeed in this new environment."

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