7 Days is a weekly round-up of the Editors' picks of what's been happening in the world of technology - written with a dash of humor, a hint of exasperation, and an endless supply of (Irish) coffee.
Given that Apple, Google and Microsoft have all held major product launch events in recent weeks, you may have been expecting things to be a lot quieter since then – the calm after the storm, so to speak. But it’s been another action-packed week across the tech world, and 7 Days is here once more to bring you up to speed with what’s been happening.
We begin with what’s believed to be the largest-ever acquisition in the tech sector, as privately-owned Dell agreed terms to acquire storage, virtualization and cloud computing giant EMC, in a cash-and-stock deal worth around $67 billion.
Over in India, Samsung is keeping its Tizen dream alive, with the launch of its second device running the Linux-based OS. Like the earlier Z1, the new Samsung Z3 is aimed at the lower end of the market – but according to the company, this strategy is paying off. Samsung says Tizen is now “the second-largest OS in the budget segment in India”.
At the other end of the market, Apple will soon be increasing the prices of many of its Mac computers in India. An 11-inch MacBook Air with 256GB storage will rise in price by Rs.10,000 INR (around $155 USD), while the range-topping Mac Pro gets a Rs.30,000 ($465) increase.
Apple refreshed its range of iMac devices this week, focusing heavily on ultra-high-resolution displays. The 21.5-inch iMac gets an optional Retina 4K Display for the first time; and all 27-inch models now come with a Retina 5K Display as standard.
However, while the 27-inch iMac gets Intel’s latest sixth-generation ‘Skylake’ Intel Core processors, the 21.5-inch models are stuck with fifth-gen ‘Broadwell’ chips. And if that’s not bad enough, the entry-level iMac also gets a comically slow 5400rpm hard drive.
Whichever way you slice it, that's a pretty poor effort on what's supposed to be a state-of-the-art, premium machine.
Alongside its new iMacs, Apple also launched three new desktop accessories, including the $129 Magic Trackpad 2, which features ‘Force Touch’ pressure sensitivity.
Apple’s iOS 9 devices now play nicely with Skype for Business, thanks to the launch of a new app earlier this week. Skype for Business replaced Lync as Microsoft’s corporate communications platform earlier this year.
And by the way, Microsoft has now made it incredibly easy to join a Skype video conference via a URL, even if you don't have a Skype account.
Microsoft’s Garage development team released another experimental app for iOS on Thursday. Twist offers an unusual take on photo-messaging, but while it may not last as a standalone app, some features could be incorporated into other Microsoft software.
Microsoft’s long-awaited Minecraft: Story Mode launched on PC (via Steam), Xbox (360 and One) and PlayStation (3 and 4) earlier this week, and on Friday, it also made its way to iOS and Android. Story Mode introduces a narrative to the blocky landscape of the hugely popular Minecraft, and the first episode, priced at $4.99, is available now.
Comments made by a senior executive this week appear to the leave the door open for the possibility of Microsoft creating its own Android distro in the future. While this remains far from certain, it could be seen as a logical progression for the company, given just how much of its software is now available on the Android platform.
Indeed, another revelation this week only serves to fuel the fire that Microsoft might create an Android distro at some point. The company is working on a new phone ‘Dialer’ app for Android, which includes Truecaller-style caller-ID functionality, as well as geo-search capabilities, allowing you to quickly find contact information for nearby businesses and places of interest.
By the way, that info was uncovered by Manish Singh of NDTV’s Gadgets 360 team. This week, alongside his continuing work with NDTV, Manish began reporting for us here on Neowin too – on behalf of the whole Neowin team, let me extend the very warmest welcome to him!
Another week, another report of a massive vulnerability in Android – this time affecting all users of Android 4G LTE devices on AT&T and Verizon. The security flaw leaves all versions of the OS vulnerable, including the latest release, Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
Google announced the start of the Marshmallow rollout on October 5 for many of its Nexus devices, including the LG-made Nexus 5. Despite this, over a week later, LG proclaimed that its G4 will be the "first in the world" to get Android 6.0 – and its rollout won’t even begin until next week.
Pre-orders have opened in the UK (with registration available in the US and Canada) for BlackBerry’s new Android flagship, the awkwardly named ‘Priv’. The device, which features a slide-out physical keyboard with touch-sensitivity, is priced at £579.99 in the UK – that price puts it right between the iPhone 6s 64GB and 6s Plus 64GB, and a bit more expensive than Sony’s new Xperia Z5 flagship.
It looks like OnePlus will be unveiling its next handset later this month – the company’s CEO spoke earlier this year of a phone “for those who appreciate design over specs”, and it looks set to announce the ‘powerfully beautiful’ device on October 29. A retailer listing for the handset - which could be called the 'OnePlus X' - hints at similar specs to the OnePlus One, but in a smaller package.
From mobile carriers to fashion brands and supermarkets, it seems like everyone is launching their own smartphones and tablets these days. Even so, few could have predicted that the next brand to launch its own devices would be... Pepsi!?
Google is preparing for an overhaul of its Play store, with a refreshed layout and refined store categories, more clearly separating apps and entertainment media. Check out some screenshots of the new design.
But the company is also making changes to Chrome on Mac, Linux and Windows, stripping out the underused notification center from the browser. Chrome will continue to support push notifications, but the central notifications hub is no more – although it will live on in Chrome OS.
Neowin Editor Anthony Tosie took a closer look this week at the new custom workouts feature for Microsoft’s health- and fitness-focused wearable, the Band. Unfortunately, he found that, while they were a great idea in principle, the execution left a lot to be desired.
Earlier this week, Microsoft was selling its first-generation Band for just $99.99. That offer has since expired, but the device is still available for $129.99 – that’s $70 less than its regular $199.99 list price. Of course, there’s a good reason for that: Microsoft is shifting stock to make way for the second-gen model, the Band 2.
With the new Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book also on the way, Microsoft has been offering big discounts on its older Surface Pro 3 too. In the US, the device is on sale now with $100 off all models – but in the UK, the savings are even greater, with up to £240 ($370) off.
Meanwhile, the Surface Book appears to be a hit so far – in fact, Microsoft had to suspend pre-orders earlier this week after exhausting its pre-launch inventory. They’ve since reopened, but with lengthy wait times of up to eight weeks for delivery.
The Surface Book is a 2-in-1 device; the tablet section contains the CPU and primary battery, while the keyboard houses a secondary battery and optional dGPU chip, offering a serious graphics performance boost to the device. However, Microsoft confirmed this week that it won’t be selling the keyboard section separately – so if you buy a Surface Book and later decide you want to upgrade to the optional dGPU, you’ll have to buy a completely new model instead.
And if you’re opting for the most high-end Surface Book, that could work out rather pricey. Microsoft revealed this week that the top-of-the-range model – featuring an Intel Core i7 (Skylake) CPU, 16GB RAM, dGPU and a whopping 1TB of storage – will cost a staggering $3,199.
Elsewhere, Microsoft’s hardware partners have been continuing to show off some of their new Windows 10 devices, including Toshiba, which announced the stunningly thin 12-inch dynaPad. They claim it’s engineered for a more ‘natural’ note-taking experience, but it’s the sleek design that really sets this device apart – the 6.6mm-thick body of the tablet section weighs just 569g.
Acer and Microsoft held a rather grandly-titled ‘Windows 10 Global Press Conference’ on Monday, but most of it was a dreadful bore. But amid the tedium of revisiting previously-announced devices – and a very long, awkward section, in which the “magical” Windows Hello hands-free log-in feature completely failed to work on Acer’s new Windows 10 all-in-one – the company also announced two new devices.
The premium Aspire R 14 notebook gets a 360-degree hinge and the latest Skylake processors, while the Aspire Z3-700 (shown above) is a 17.3-inch all-in-one that doubles as a giant portable tablet for use around the home, with a battery that offers up to five hours of battery life. You might scoff at such a device at first, but it may well find favor among buyers who can’t afford to equip every room in their home with its own PC or TV.
Microsoft is teaming up with some of its largest hardware partners on a massive global marketing campaign to promote Windows 10 devices. Expect to hear the phrase “PC does what?” a lot more in the weeks and months ahead.
Microsoft blamed a “mistake” after an unknown number of users found that their PCs were automatically upgrading to Windows 10. While the new OS is available as a free upgrade to Windows 7 and 8.1 users, this should remain optional – but Microsoft said that an error on its part had pre-ticked the optional checkbox in Windows Update, prompting the Windows 10 upgrade to begin on many PCs.
In last week’s edition of 7 Days, we revealed that Microsoft was planning to release new Windows 10 builds for both PCs and phones this week... and of course, that’s exactly what happened. (Anyone who doubted us has to go and sit in the Corner of Shame for ten minutes.)
First to arrive was the new Insider Preview for PCs:
- Microsoft rolls out Windows 10 Insider Preview build 10565 to Fast ring
- Microsoft rolls out Windows 10 build 10656 to Insiders in the Slow ring
- What’s new
- Known and fixed issues
- Gallery: Windows 10 build 10565
- Microsoft releases ISOs for Windows 10 Insider Preview build 10565
- Language packs for Cortana-supported markets
By the way, you should also be aware that some Insider Preview builds expired last week – you can find out more about that here.
Microsoft also released Windows 10 SDK Preview build 10563 on Tuesday, including Windows 10 Mobile emulators of the same build.
The company also acknowledged an issue that some users of the last Windows 10 Mobile Insider Preview, build 10536.1004, have been experiencing. Some have reported that performance of that build was becoming worse over time, including lag of up to 15 seconds when opening apps.
But a few days after releasing its new PC build, Microsoft also rolled out a new Windows 10 Mobile Insider Preview, although the last-minute discovery of a major bug means that it’s not possible to upgrade directly to the new build from the old one:
- Microsoft rolls out Windows 10 Mobile Insider Preview build 10549, but…
- What’s new in build 10549
- What’s been fixed (and what hasn’t)
- Cortana might be devouring your battery in the latest Windows 10 Mobile build
Microsoft has been promoting Windows 10 in Japan this week, and one of its various events there offered the opportunity to see some of the new Windows 10 Mobile handsets on the way, including a rather unusual device from NuAns (above), featuring wood design accents.
Microsoft released high-resolution images of its own Windows 10 Mobile flagships this week…
…but a report claimed that the company has pulled its Lumia 950 XL demo units from Microsoft Stores due to an unknown issue.
At the launch of the Lumia 950 and 950 XL, Microsoft also showed off the premium leather cases on the way from its ‘Designed for Microsoft Lumia’ partner, Mozo. The covers, which include NFC and Qi wireless charging support, have now been priced at €48.50 EUR (roughly $55 USD) each.
In our latest discussion, we asked our readers what they think of the new Lumia 950 and 950 XL, based upon what they’ve read and seen of the new devices so far. In fact, we asked them to go one step further, by posing the question: If there was just one thing you could change about them, what would it be? Check out some of their suggestions, and be sure to have your say!
The Lumia 950 and 950 XL will join the Microsoft Band, Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book at a series of ‘Microsoft Device Nights’ over the next few weeks. These Microsoft events are intended to familiarize the company’s retail staff and partners with its new devices (and to get them excited about selling them), and will include Q&As, demos, swag, food and drink and more.
Of course, we usually think about Microsoft promoting its devices to end users and corporate customers – but the company also has to win over the hearts and minds of those who will ultimately sell its hardware.
Microsoft has invited Neowin to join in the action on one of its Device Nights, offering a look at a part of its Windows 10 launch that most people wouldn’t normally get to see – look out for that next week.
Microsoft delivered two updates to Groove Music this week. The first – currently available only on Windows 10 PCs in the US – adds integrated support for iHeartRadio. The second – so far, exclusive to Windows 10 Mobile – adds support for gapless playback (at long last!).
It looks like Microsoft is gearing up to launch an updated version of its DT-903 Wireless Charging Plate for Qi-enabled phones and small tablets. Like its predecessor, the new Microsoft DT-904 Wireless Charger features a novel illumination system that can visually alert you of waiting notifications on your device, and can even signal when the phone in your pocket or bag needs to be charged.
If you were preparing to attend Microsoft’s Ignite conference in Chicago next May, get ready to change your travel plans. The event has been postponed and relocated – it will now be held in Atlanta from September 26-30, 2016.
But there was a tiny flicker of hope for Microsoft’s gaming community this week, as Xbox chief Phil Spencer revealed that the company is considering backward compatibility for Xbox 360 games on Windows 10 PCs.
But the year’s biggest launch for many Xbox gamers is now just over a week away. This week, Microsoft released its official gameplay trailer for Halo 5: Guardians, and also revealed details on a new animated series based on the first official novel for the gaming franchise, The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund.
But if you’re looking forward to playing Halo 5, make sure you’ve got enough room on your Xbox One – it looks like you’ll need as much as 60GB of storage!
Before we wrap things up, let me first encourage you to check out our latest reviews. First up, Robbie Khan took a look at the iClever foldable Bluetooth keyboard, which supports iOS and Android devices. He found the build quality to be impressive, and found its compact design to be surprisingly usable – but it wasn’t perfect.
And reporter Timi Cantisano reviewed the Pipo X9, a truly unusual Windows 10 mini-PC that’s marketed as a ‘Windows TV box + desktop tablet’. That one’s certainly worth a look!
We love giveaways – it’s a great opportunity for us to be able to say a big thank you to our readers! In our latest giveaway, we’re offering the chance to win a Microsoft Lumia 640 with 4G LTE, along with a Nokia MD-12 Portable Wireless Speaker! At time of publishing, there’s only a day left before the contest closes, so enter now – and good luck!
And stick around – in addition to this giveaway, and the one with the Lumia 640 XL a few weeks ago, we’ve got even more lined up for you in the coming weeks!
The week ahead
On Tuesday, HTC will be holding an online ‘event’, during which it will unveil a new device. No surprises; the cat’s already out of the bag unfortunately - HTC is widely expected to announce the One A9, a device that appears to borrow various design themes from previous Apple handsets.
We’ll also be bringing you coverage of a Microsoft Device Night, one of a series of internal company events – not usually open to public eyes – intended to familiarize its retail staff and partners with its new Band, Lumia and Surface devices. Neowin will be there for a glimpse of how Microsoft is working to get the people who will sell the devices excited about them – a key component of its retail strategy – so stay tuned for more on that in the days ahead.
Along with the usual mix of official news, juicy rumors, and intriguing insights, it should be another good week!
As ever, there’s plenty more to read across the site – including loads of interesting discussions over on our forums. From all of us on the Neowin team, have a great weekend!