Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Firebrand LPIC-1 Junior Level Linux Certification

The Linux Professional Institute (LPI) provides accredited certification for IT professionals who want to master Linux. Its LPIC-1: System Administrator course is the first step to proving you can administer Linux systems.

While technically you can go to the LPI website to purchase learning materials and register for the exam, Firebrand Training offers a way to become a certified administrator in less than a week through its 'accelerated learning' program.

Firebrand is distinctive in that unlike other Linux training courses, you pay to stay at an exam centre for an intense six-day period, at the end of which you will take the examination. Learning is classroom-based with a dedicated instructor. Your accommodation, meals, tuition, study materials and certificates are included in the fee for the course which is currently £4,650 including VAT (around AU$8,000).

The Firebrand website also points out that traditional study days are 9:00 to 17:00 with a ‘nice long break for lunch’, whereas Firebrand training days are 12 hours long, maximising your time with the instructor.

Firebrand also emphasises this by showing a promotional video explaining the disadvantages of an employer paying for a less expensive course, as a Firebrand trainee will be back at their desk in a matter of days.

For those readers willing to give up their nice long lunch breaks, assuming you're within travelling distance of an exam centre, you'll either need to cover the large course fee out of your own pocket or persuade your employer to stump up the readies. The website itself lists when training sessions are available and you can book online in advance. 

If your employer does agree to cover the cost of an intensive LPI (Level 1) course, Firebrand claims they'll be joining the ranks of big-name companies such as Barclays, IBM and Vodafone. This seems to be more than name-dropping as Firebrand has won a number of awards for its courses. 

Businesses who register with Firebrand also receive a certain number of free training days and discounted rates for their employees using 'Firebrand Passport', although it's not clear from the website whether this applies specifically to the LPI (Level 1) course.

Firebrand clearly has great confidence in its courses as shown by a 'Certification Guarantee'. This promises trainees that if they don't pass exams the first time, they can resit them for free, provided they’re willing to pay the extra accommodation costs. This is in contrast to taking an exam directly with the LPI, which requires the payment of a fee (currently around $155 – about £120, AU$210) to register for a resit each time. 

The website also promises that course instructors have industry experience, although you'll have to take their word for it as unlike other courses reviewed by TechRadar, this organisation doesn’t list any names or qualifications. 

Firebrand also doesn't mention the LPI Essentials course, available via Linux Academy. This is designed as basic training in the fundamentals of Linux, for those who have little or no experience. Firebrand in fact specifically states that there are no prerequisites to undertake LPC-1 training but there is a free practice test for those who don't feel confident. 

Although the Firebrand website doesn't specify the exact LPC-1 syllabus, you can find details of this on the LPI website. The course itself is divided into three parts: the first covers system architecture, which in plain English means you'll learn how to detect and configure computer hardware.

This involves using various command line utilities such as 'lsusb' to list connected devices, as well as detailing where to find information about hardware such as examining the '/dev' folder.

The second section examines the Linux boot process. Trainees are given an overview of the boot loader and system kernel, in addition to a summary of the boot process overall. This section of the training also touches on using the system log to check boot events, which is extraordinarily useful for error checking. Firebrand also promises to cover backing up and restoration of data. 

The final section of the course is the most complex, focusing on changing the default runlevel or boot target. This includes booting into the console rather than the graphical desktop as well as examining how to properly terminate processes.

Final verdict

The LPIC-1 course itself will give any employee a knowledge of the fundamentals of system administration and also open new doors to learning through the more advanced LPIC-2 (Certified Linux Engineer) and LPIC-3 (Linux Enterprise Professional) qualifications, which you can also obtain through Firebrand.

The question you need to ask yourself is whether you wish to obtain this certification through Firebrand training. If you feel you’d benefit from an intense learning environment with a real instructor, the choice is clear. 

The cost of having a dedicated learning centre where trainees come to sleep, eat and learn 12 hours a day from a paid instructor is understandably higher than simply watching training videos online. However, Firebrand courses are so much more expensive compared to the cost of buying the study materials yourself (around $300 – about £235, AU$400) and sitting the LPIC-1 exam (around $155 – about £120, AU$210), that you can save thousands by learning in your own time.

Firebrand does, however, seem to offer more on its course than the syllabus outlined on the LPI website. For instance, the organisation claims you'll also learn to install and configure workstations, then connect them to a LAN, or the internet. As mentioned above, there's no additional fee to resit the exam if you fail to pass the first time. The large course fees can also be discounted via 'Firebrand Passport' as we've previously discussed. 

The level of support from Firebrand is also excellent. Aside from allowing you to learn with a dedicated instructor, any queries sent to the website are answered promptly – in our experience within 24 hours.

Ultimately whether or not Firebrand training is right for you is a decision to make based on your learning style and what your employer is willing to pay for.

Alienware 15 R3

Over the years, the 15-inch gaming laptop has become the sweet spot for gamers, and the Alienware 15 has been a top choice for its design and powerful specs. The 15-inch size is big enough to enjoy games on a built-in display while not being too cumbersome to carry around. 

With the latest third-generation model, the Alienware 15 R3 offers incremental bumps in specs with relatively unchanged design. New for this year’s model are Intel’s latest Kaby Lake processors and Nvidia’s new graphics chips that are as powerful as their desktop counterparts. 

But today, the Alienware 15 R3 is up against stiff competition from the likes of Origin with its compact EVO15-S and the even slimmer Razer Blade (2016). While the Alienware 15 R3 can’t match the size and weight of its competitors, it can more than keep pace in terms of pure performance.

Price and availability

The Alienware 15 R3 is available now with a starting price of $1,100 (£1,349) but can be configured up to a whopping $2,050 (£1,849), with options for more storage and RAM that will further bump up the price. In fact, configured with triple storage drives (including two 1TB SSDs and a 1TB HDD) and 32GB of memory, the Alienware 15 R3 came out to a ridiculous $3,500 (about £2,737).

The Alienware 15 R3 is by no means a cheap laptop but its configurability lets you choose the options that you value the most. However, the processor choices are limited to the latest Intel Kaby Lake Core i5-7300HQ or Core i7-7700HQ. For graphics, you can choose between the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050, 1060 or 1070. 

Design

The Alienware 15 R3 is a striking laptop, thanks to its imposing size and RGB LEDs that are just about everywhere on the laptop. Seriously though, just about everything on this laptop lights up from the Alienware text, logo and even the trackpad. 

While the Alienware 15 R3 is unabashedly a gaming laptop it doesn’t beat you over the head with superfluous fins, red accents or overly aggressive design. We found the laptop handsome with its metal, plastic and rubber construction. 

Although the Alienware 15 R3 sports a 15.6-inch screen, its size is more fit for a 17-inch with beefy bezels around the display. The bottom display bezel is particularly large and houses the light-up Alienware logo. Compared to the Origin EVO15-S, which also has a 15.6-inch screen, the Alienware looks like a laptop from the early aughts in terms of size and weight. 

Speaking of weight, you’ll want to hit the gym if you plan on taking the Alienware 15 R3 anywhere. The laptop weighs in at a whopping 7.69 lbs (3.49kg) and its massive power brick adds a couple of more pounds in your backpack. 

The pay off for that big size and weight is great thermal performance and a spacious, 10-keyless keyboard. While some may miss having a numberpad, the spacious keyboard makes typing a pleasure, and there are macro keys for gaming which can be configured in software.

You can configure the laptop’s slew of RGB LEDs via the AlienFX software. There are presets that look great but you can customize every LED to your liking to match your peripherals or even team colors.

Looking at the top of the display, you’ll notice the dual cameras for Windows Hello support and Tobii eye tracking. Windows Hello works great for quickly unlocking the laptop without ever having to type a password. Tobii eye tracking works fine as well, which we’ll get into more in the performance section.

Our top-of-the-line Alienware 15 R3 is, unsurprisingly, a beast of a performer. The laptop flew through every benchmark we threw at it without any thermal throttling. The large size and efficient fans of the Alienware made sure the laptop could run at 100% all the time. 

For those concerned about noise, the Alienware 15 R3 gets loud at full load but doesn’t exhibit the high pitch wail of a thinner laptop, like the Origin EVO15-S. It’s not quiet by any means, but the Alienware is far from the loudest gaming laptop we’ve heard.

While the Origin EVO15-S we tested came configured with the same i7-7700HQ processor, our Alienware 15 R3 came with a more powerful NVIDIA GTX 1070. Graphics performance between the two laptops is readily apparent, with the Alienware pump out higher graphics benchmark scores everywhere. 

The NVIDIA GTX 1070 is a beast of a GPU and played every game without problem on the laptop’s Full-HD screen. Our Alienware 15 R3 was configured with a 120Hz display with G-Sync support, making every game look buttery smooth. We were seriously impressed with both the graphics card and display on the Alienware. 

The only game that brought the Alienware 15 R3 to its knees was Deux Ex: Mankind Divided running with Ultra settings. The laptop managed a slideshow-like 16 frames per second (fps). 

Dial back the graphics to high, and the laptop maintains an acceptable 50 fps on average.

As for Windows Hello and the Tobii eye tracking, both work well but with lower accuracy than other laptops. We ran into a problem where the Alienware 15 R3 could only recognize our face at a very specific distance; too far or too close and the camera wouldn’t register our face. Contrast that to other laptops like the Microsoft Surface Book recognized faces immediately from various angles and distances

Tobii eye tracking works well for games like The Division but ends up being somewhat distracting. Thankfully, you can turn it off.

Battery life

Battery life for the Alienware 15 R3 is average for a gaming laptop with around three to four hours of use. The laptop managed 3 hours and 13 minutes in our PCMark 8 battery life test and survived 4 hours and 4 minutes looping Guardians of the Galaxy at half brightness. You’ll be able to do some work at the local cafe, but you’ll want to bring your charger whenever you leave home. 

One thing to note is that the Alienware’s plethora of LEDs result in a hit to battery life, so you’ll want to disable them in the AlienFX software if you want to stretch your longevity. Sure, people won’t see how much of a pro gamer you are without the light show, but that’s the price you have to pay for a little more battery life. 

Buttery display

While the Alienware 15 R3’s display may only offer 1,920 x 1,080 resolution, it’s more than enough for gaming on the go. We never feel like we need higher resolution to enjoy gaming on the 15.6-inch display. Alienware offers a 3,840 x 2,160 (UHD) display in its highest price configuration in the US and as a £200 option in the UK, but we feel that resolution is overkill for gaming on the go.

Where the display really shines in with its 120Hz refresh rate and G-SYNC support. By doubling the refresh rate of a typical laptop display, games look buttery smooth, which helps with games that require quick reaction times. The display made playing Dirt Rally a pleasure, and the powerful GTX 1070 never dropped a frame – even with settings maxed out. 

You should note that the Alienware 15 R3 comes standard with a Full HD, 60Hz panel but you can opt for the 120Hz panel for an additional $150 (£120), which we think is worth it. 

Last but not least, the Alienware 15 R3 only comes with anti-glare, non-touch displays, making it possible to use the display outdoors. The optional 120Hz display also gets up to 400 nits, so it’s no problem using the laptop near a window or outside.

We liked

The Alienware 15 R3 is a beast of a laptop in terms of performance and physicality. We love how solid the laptop feels and its understated design, for a gaming laptop anyway. The size may be an issue for those who hope to take their laptops on the go frequently, but for those who are usually stationary, the Alienware 15 R3 is an excellent choice.

For gaming, the spacious keyboard is excellent and features a row of configurable macro keys. Alienware’s lighting software is intimidating to use at first but allows for a ton of customization. 

The best part is that the Alienware 15 R3 just flies through any game. The Nvidia GTX 1070 is massively powerful, especially for playing games at 1080p. The 120Hz and G-Sync capable display is also a highlight of the system.

There’s no getting around the fact that the Alienware 15 R3 is a brick compared to slimmer laptops, like the Razer Blade (2016) and Origin EVO15-S. The Alienware is not a laptop you can take on the go without serious consideration (and frequent gym visits). The 15 R3 is not a laptop for the road warrior. 

Battery life is about average for a laptop of this segment, but you shouldn’t stray far from an outlet, as the battery drains quickly even when doing light tasks like web browsing and word processing.

In terms of value, the Alienware 15 R3 is quite expensive, especially in the more powerful configurations. We think the middle configurations hit a sweet spot for price versus performance. Companies like MSI offer thin and light gaming notebooks but for a price. The Alienware sacrifices portability for some cost savings but the excellent thermal performance will please discerning gamers.

Final verdict

The Alienware 15 R3 is not a gaming laptop for everyone. Its big and heavy size and expensive, top-of-the-line configurations will turn a lot of gamers away. But, for those who stay stationary most of the time, the 15 R3 is an excellent laptop. 

Gaming performance is impressive, and we enjoy the Alienware’s tank-like build. Thermal performance is excellent, allowing the Alienware 15 R3 to run at 100% for extended periods without losing a beat. We were equally impressed by the optional 120Hz Full-HD display that made games look buttery smooth. 

If you like the design of the Alienware 15 R3 and don’t mind its bulk, you’re going to be very happy with its performance, display and build quality. 

Google Pixel C

Update: The Google Pixel C has a new software update, and some new competition in the iPad Pro 9.7 and Samsung Galaxy Tab S3. We've updated our Pixel C review to reflect these developments.

The Pixel C was launched a little half-heartedly by Google during its Nexus 5X and 6P event back in October 2015, and since then it's seen some serious rivals show up in the form of the iPad Pro 9.7 and Samsung Galaxy Tab S3.

It may be starting to show its age, but a recent software update to Android 7 Nougat has managed to keep it relevant.

The Pixel C was a new venture for Google, being the first tablet designed and built by the search giant. 

Previous 'Google' slates sporting the Nexus brand were been made by Asus and HTC; this time round, though, Google's had total control over every aspect, shaping the device specifically for Android.

The 10.2-inch, 2560 x 1800 display and premium metal build means the Pixel C sits comfortably at the top end of the tablet market, bridging the gap between the Nexus slates and Google's Chromebook Pixel laptop.

It attempts to bridge that gap with a clever keyboard dock which transforms the Pixel C from a standard Android tablet into a hybrid laptop.

Google Pixel C review

Google Pixel C price

  • 64GB model: £479 ($599, around AU$820)
  • Keyboard dock: £73 ($124, around AU$160)

At launch you could pick up the Google Pixel C in two storage sizes: 32GB and 64GB. 

The 32GB version set you back £399, (US$499, around AU$680), while the larger storage size is available for £479 (US$599, around AU$820).

Now though, only the pricier 64GB model remains, but it's still comfortably cheaper than the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (£700, $930, AU$1,499) and (admittedly newer) iPad Pro 9.7 (£549, $599, AU$849).

If you want to make the most of the Google Pixel C you'll want to pick up the Pixel C keyboard as well, which will set you back a further £73 ($99, around AU$160) - which is much cheaper than the initial £119 ($149) launch price.

You're looking at a total spend of £552 ($698, around $940) for the 64GB Google Pixel C if you want the complete package, which is still cheaper than rivals (when you include their keyboards as well). 

Google Pixel C review

Design

There's no mistaking that the Pixel C is a premium tablet. Finished in Anodized Aluminum, the Pixel C looks and feels like an expensive piece of tech as soon as you lay eyes and hands on it.

That style isn't light though, and at 517g it's considerably heavier than the similarly proportioned iPad Pro 9.7, which tips the scales at 437g – although the Pro 9.7 is shorter, narrower and thinner than the 242 x 179 x 7mm Google Pixel C.

There's a healthy amount of bezel surrounding the 10.2-inch display, and considering there's no physical home key it feels like wasted space. We'd have liked a larger screen, or tighter dimensions – but the tech has to fit somewhere, which probably explains the extra bulk.

Google Pixel C review

You don't even get a fingerprint scanner, a feature that Google's included in its  Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P smartphones after providing dedicated support for the digit-reading tech with Android Marshmallow. It feels a little bit like a missed opportunity.

With the Pixel C held in landscape orientation, the power/lock key is located on the left of the top edge, while the volume rocker sits high up on the left, with a USB-C port at the bottom of the same side.

The USB-C port enables you to charge the Pixel C and transfer data to and from it, but it also has another use. Connect a phone or Pixel laptop to the Pixel C and the tablet can charge your other devices – handy if your phone is running low and there's no power outlet in sight.

Google Pixel C review

There are also dual stereo speakers on either side of the tablet, and a 3.5mm headphone jack completes the array of features on the right side of the Pixel C.

On the rear, the 8MP camera is joined by the iconic Chromebook light bar shining in Google's four trademark colours. It's Google's answer to the illuminated Apple logo on the MacBook range, ensuring that even in dark environments people know the brand of your machine. Thank God.

It is rather attractive, and it actually serves a purpose other than blowing Google's trumpet. Double-tap the light bar and it can display the Pixel C's battery level, even when the device is turned off – that's really useful if you want to see if it needs a quick charge.

Google Pixel C review

The flat edges mean the Pixel C doesn't sit particularly comfortably in the hand, and this isn't a tablet you'll want to be clinging to for extended periods of time.

The location of the various buttons, and the orientation of the light bar, signals that Google intends for you to use the Pixel C in landscape mode most of the time. But portrait mode is readily available, and is arguably better for activities such as web browsing.

The design then, is pleasing to the eye, but the Pixel C still can't hold a candle to the iPads. Apple's flagship tablets just feel nicer, look slicker and weigh less. 

We really like the Pixel C's design, but put it next to the iPad and Apple still wins the beauty contest.

Dazzling display

The Google Pixel C packs a 10.2-inch display, which is larger than the 9.7-inch iPad Air 2 and 8.9-inch Nexus 9 displays, but smaller than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and 12.3-inch Surface Pro 4 screens.

Meanwhile, with a resolution of 2560 x 1800 the Pixel C has a pixel density of 308ppi, comfortably outperforming the Air 2 (264ppi) and Nexus 9 (281ppi) and making for a crystal-clear display – it's called the Pixel for a reason.

So far, so good then, but Google's not finished there. The screen on the Pixel C is 25% brighter than leading tablets (according to tests by DisplayMate). It can go up to 500 nits, which makes outside viewing more viable – although it's still not perfect.

Google Pixel C review

The screen has also been enhanced with Low Temperature PolySilicon technology. "What the hell does that mean?" I hear you cry. Well, it's good news for the battery, as it helps to keep the display's power consumption down.

Holding the Pixel C alongside the Air 2 it's clear that Google's tablet has the brighter screen. It's fantastic.

It all means you get an excellent on-screen experience with the Pixel C, with pin-sharp clarity and bright colours. The iPad Air 2's display seriously impressed, but the Pixel C's is even better.

Clever keyboard

For an additional £119 (US$149, around AU$200) you can supplement your Pixel C with a full-size keyboard, which has also been designed and built by Google, alongside the tablet.

The best feature of the keyboard is automatic pairing. There's no need to mess around with Bluetooth settings, or switching off the keyboard when it's not in use – the Pixel C just knows when the keyboard is attached. Just make sure Bluetooth is on, and the slate will do the rest.

Then there's the docking system. There are no annoying latches or pins to line up here; instead the keyboard sports a heavy-duty magnet which clings to the bottom third of the Pixel C. The connection is surprisingly strong, and you can pick up the assemblage by either the keyboard or tablet without any fear that the two will become disconnected.

Google Pixel C review

The magnet also doubles as a multi-angle hinge, enabling you to tilt the Pixel C to your preferred degree for optimum viewing, whether you're tapping out text or sitting back to enjoy a Netflix binge.

When you're not using the Pixel C the keyboard acts as a protective cover for the screen, sticking to the front of the tablet. If you want to use the Pixel C as a slate, rather than a laptop, you can stick the keyboard to the rear for safe keeping.

This does, however, increase the bulk of the tablet, and makes it more uncomfortable to hold, with an additional 399g added to the total weight. I'd advise slipping the keyboard into a bag, or sitting in on a table when you're in tablet mode.

Google Pixel C review

Whenever the keyboard is attached to the tablet it wirelessly charges, which means your keyboard will never run out of juice while you're using the Pixel C.

The chiclet keyboard has traditional clicky keys which feel natural under the fingers, although the 1.4mm travel is a little shallow. It's a setup your fingers will become accustomed to quickly, although a few of the keys can be tricky to hit – the apostrophe/@ key is only half-width, while the enter key has also been slimmed down.

The keyboard is great for typing, but there's still a strong reliance on the touchscreen, which does interrupt the experience somewhat. Hitting the three dots key to the right of the space bar brings up an on-screen menu of symbols, and you tap the one you want rather than using the keyboard.

Google Pixel C review

It's this disconnect which reminds you that you're using a tablet and not a laptop, and it slows down the typing experience. It would also be handy to have a home button on the keyboard, to enable you to quickly exit applications.

I wrote around half of this review using the Pixel C's keyboard, and over extended periods of typing I did notice my speed was lacking compared to working on a traditional computer keyboard. I was able to type relatively comfortably with the Pixel C on my lap, though – something you can't always easily do with tablet keyboard docks.

Another potential annoyance is that the keyboard dock doesn't enable you to seat the Pixel C in portrait mode. For many this won't be an issue, but it's something the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet does allow with its (included in the box) keyboard dock.

Google Pixel C review

The Pixel C's keyboard is cheaper than Apple's £139 (US$169, AU$269) Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro, but it's fair to say the Cupertino firm's implementation is cleaner, and quicker to deploy. It does have its limitations compared to the C though, with just one display angle and keys which take a lot of getting used to.

Tasty Nougat

The Google Pixel C launched with Android 6.0 Marshmallow - and operating system it was specifically designed to run, meaning it's optimized for Google's software without the interference of an outside manufacturer. 

That means nothing gets in the way of the pure Android experience, and the Pixel C is first in line for future Android updates, ensuring you're always up to date.

Since launch, the Pixel C has seen a number of Android updates and the most recent build to hit the tablet was Android 7.1.2. That means it's bang up to date with the latest version of Android Nougat.

Google Pixel C review

One of the big features which arrived in the Marshmallow update is Doze, which keeps activity to a minimum when your device is on standby, and which helps to extend battery life up to a claimed 10 hours on the Pixel C – but more on that in the battery section.

You do benefit from improved voice support however, enabling you to be a little more casual when conversing with Google Now, plus there's Now on Tap – this displays mini cards in-app to provide additional information relevant to what's on screen.

For example, if you're viewing a web page about Star Wars, Now on Tap can detect that and offer up other relevant information about the franchise.

Now on Tap is triggered by sliding up from the home button on the Pixel C; it doesn't always have something to add, however, and it can be a little hit and miss when it does return results.

What the Android interface fails to deliver, however, is the breath of functionality to rival the iPad Pro or Surface Pro 4. 

While both of those slates can potentially stand alone as laptop replacements, Android doesn't do enough to make it a viable option as well.

Google has ensured that it's put specs in all the right places on the Pixel C, with a focus on the screen, power and battery.

That does mean, though, that there are a few areas where the specs don't quite match the flagship price tag – chiefly in the camera department, where an 8MP rear camera is joined by a 2MP front snapper.

It's certainly not the end of the world, and while the lack of a microSD slot will irk some, at least there's no poxy 16GB model – I'm looking at you Apple – with 32GB the entry-level storage size. I would have liked to have seen a 128GB model above the 64GB offering, although for most users 64GB will be enough.

Google Pixel C review

Stereo speakers help to improve the audio output of the Pixel C, while the four microphones enable the tablet to hear you more clearly when you're barking orders at Google Now, and improve your voice clarity during video calls.

As I've mentioned, the Pixel C comes with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the latest iteration of Google's mobile software platform.

This means you have access to the Play Store, well stocked as it is with apps, games, movies and music. The thing is, though, Android lacks the quantity and quality of tablet-optimised applications that you get in the rival App Store for Apple's iOS.

Load up certain applications – Spotify is a good example – and you'll notice it's just the smartphone application. It hasn't been optimised for the Pixel C's expansive 10.2-inch display, nor any other tablet screen for that matter.

Google Pixel C review

While such apps are still perfectly usable, this lack of optimisation does hamper the user experience, and can make things look a little bit ugly on screen.

A handy touch, however, is found in the navigation bar, where Google has split the trio of buttons so they no longer reside in the middle of the screen.

Instead, the multitasking button sits against the right side of the screen, while back and home are on the left. This makes them a lot easier to hit when holding the tablet with both hands.

There's plenty of Wi-Fi potential inside the Pixel C with the slate supporting 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2x2 MIMO – if you've got a super-duper router this tablet can take full advantage of it.

Those looking for 4G connectivity will be disappointed, though, as Google offers the Pixel C as Wi-Fi only. Apple, Samsung and even the Nexus 9 offer up pricier Wi-Fi + LTE models for those who never want to be without an internet connection, but no dice here.

It's not a big problem, though, as for many their core usage will occur at home or somewhere with a Wi-Fi connection.

Performance

The Pixel C sports Nvidia's Tegra X1 processor, a 64-bit, quad-core chip which delivers a healthy blast of power into Google's aluminium-clad slate.

That's joined by 3GB of RAM, which means the Pixel C has more power under the hood than the iPad Air 2 and Nexus 9, although the octa-core Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 and Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet technically have greater capacity for higher loads.

Google Pixel C review

Running the Pixel C through Geekbench 3 shows just how powerful it is. With an average multi-core score of 4449, it performs better than the Nexus 9, Sony and Samsung tablets, while pretty much matching the Air 2's result.

On screen I found the Android interface to be fast and fluid. Apps generally loaded in good time, and the Pixel C was able to run the graphically-intensive Real Racing 3 and Asphalt 8 Airborne without any hint of slowdown.

It's not the slickest experience I've ever had on a tablet though, and while everything runs well, the Pixel C just lacks that top level of polish for sublime performance and instant responses every time.

Music

The Pixel C is a Google tablet out-and-out, so it's no surprise that the only music player that's pre-installed is Play Music.

As music apps go it's pretty standard, enabling you to view your tunes by artist, album, track or genre. You have the facility to create playlists on the fly too, but Play Music does have a trick up its sleeve.

That trick is Unlimited, Google's own music streaming service, which requires a monthly subscription payment of £9.99 (US$9.99), in return for which it puts millions of songs at your fingertips.

Of course, if you already subscribe to a rival service (such as Spotify) you can just head to the Play Store and download the relevant app.

Google Pixel C review

Sound quality from the built-in stereo speakers is acceptable at a moderate level, but don't expect resonating bass or crystal-clear lyrics.

At high volumes the Pixel C's speakers are tinny, almost uncomfortably so – there's more depth in the iPad Air 2, but that's only got a single driver. If you're looking for room-filling sound you'll need to plug in an external speaker.

Things are improved when you plug in a set of headphones, however, with the Pixel C able to kick out decent audio.

Movies

With its 10.2-inch, 2560 x 1800 display, the Pixel C is a movie machine. Your HD movies and TV shows will look great on the tablet's screen, and if you can afford to crank the brightness up to max your eyes will be in for a real treat.

For those willing to splash out on the keyboard, you'll be glad you did if you watch a lot of videos on your mobile devices. The Pixel C is pretty heavy, so you won't fancy holding it for the duration of a film; the keyboard proves a solid stand, and its multi-positional hinge means you'll be able to find the perfect viewing angle.

Google Pixel C review

There's sadly no option to minimise your video into a small floating window, which would enable you to use the tablet while still keeping an eye on the action. This is something the iPad Pro has, although its larger display means it makes more sense there than on the Pixel C.

Video playback is smooth, bright and highly detailed, enabling you to fully enjoy the on-screen action. The internal speakers do let the side down again though, so if you're settling down to watch a blockbuster you're best off connecting a speaker or headphones.

Gaming

With its crystal-clear display, Tegra X1 processor, Maxwell GPU and 3GB of RAM the Pixel C is well equipped for a solid gaming session.

Load times are quick and playback is smooth, even on demanding titles such as Real Racing 3. I did find my arms got a little tired if I played for an extended period of time, though, so you might want to divide your play time up into chunks – or just choose a game where you don't need to hold and twist the tablet to steer a car!

I also found the Pixel C could get quite warm during an intensive gaming session – not hot enough to burn your hands, but it can get a little uncomfortable.

Google Pixel C review

If you opt for the keyboard as well, some games are already taking advantage of the keys on offer. I played Asphalt 8 Airborne on the Pixel C, which has already been updated to allow for keyboard input.

This gives you more of a PC-like experience, and given the power of the Pixel C and the graphical improvements in games, our mobile devices are getting closer and closer to console and PC gaming.

One thing to note though is that not all games are optimised for the resolution of the Pixel C's display, which can mean they appear a little pixelated.

That's a shortcoming on the developer side, rather than on the part of the tablet – and the hope is that devs will update their apps and games to support higher resolutions in the future.

Battery life

Google claims the Pixel C can go for over 10 hours on a single charge, although obviously that depends very much on your usage.

During our time with the Pixel C we found battery life to be generally strong, with the tablet coping well with a variety of tasks. Activities such as video playback and gaming, of course, drain the battery quicker than web browsing or social media activity.

We ran the TechRadar 90-minute HD video test with the screen on full brightness and various accounts syncing in the background over Wi-Fi, after which the Pixel C had lost 27% of its battery, dropping down from 100% to 73%.

That's a disappointing result, putting the Pixel C behind the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 (16%), Nexus 9 (18%), iPad Air 2 (21%) and Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet (21%).

Google Pixel C review

It's not all bad news though. The Pixel C's display is much brighter than its rivals, so reducing the brightness by half means you still get a decent experience while saving yourself a whole heap of battery life.

If you want to get 10 hours-plus from the Pixel C's battery you'll need to make sure you keep the display brightness reduced, and limit your amount of video playback.

If you primarily use your tablet for web browsing, emails and social media, then you'll easily be able to get a good eight hours from the Pixel C, if not longer.

The Pixel C comes with a fast-charger plug in the box, so if you are running low you can quickly top the tablet up – you'll know when it's fast-charging, as 'charging rapidly' will be displayed on the lock screen.

Camera

The Google Pixel C does have cameras, one on the front and one on the back, but like many tablet snappers they're not a patch on the offerings in your smartphone.

Round the back the 8MP sensor provides a relatively solid camera for basic, occasional shots, while the 2MP front camera should be reserved for video calls only – it's not great for selfies.

The size and weight of the Pixel C also means it's not exactly easy to wield, and you'll want to find something to rest the tablet on so you can get a steady shot.

Google Pixel C review

There's no flash either, so you'll want to avoid snapping in low lighting, which does limit the Pixel C's camera credentials further.

As the Pixel C comes with stock Android, you get Google's standard camera app, which finds a happy place between the simplicity of Apple's iOS app and the feature-packed offerings from other Android handset manufacturers.

Slide your finger in from the left side of the display and you'll get five modes to choose from: Photo Sphere, Panorama, Lens Blur, Camera and Video. It's all pretty stock Google, but it's easy to use.

Google Pixel C review

There's a settings icon too, which enables you to adjust the resolution of your images and switch on manual exposure if you wish.

The shutter is pretty quick, and the larger 10.2-inch display makes for a great viewfinder – but the results aren't so good. Images tend to be grainy and lacking in detail, with moving subjects often blurring as the Pixel C struggles to keep up.

It's certainly not the worst tablet camera I've used, but you'll probably be better off using your phone, and reserving the Pixel C for snapping the odd photo.

Camera samples

The Pixel C may be Google's first proper attempt at a tablet, but you wouldn't know it. It looks great, performs well and gives its high-end rivals a real run for their money.

Google needs to set the standard when it comes to Android products, and with the Pixel C it's managed to do just that.

Google Pixel C review

We liked

This is one of the best-looking Android tablets we've had the pleasure of using – and it's one of our favorite Android slates to date.

We were wary of the Nvidia processor Google had opted for, but thankfully it performs well – you can throw pretty much anything at the Pixel C and it'll run it without breaking a sweat.

Then there's the display. Seriously, this display is awesome. It's pin-sharp, colorful and insanely bright. You don't appreciate just how bright it is until you put it side by side with the iPads. It's pretty special.

Stock Android is another big plus point for the Pixel C, giving you a clean, fuss-free interface to customize to your liking without another manufacturer's apps and design tweaks getting in your way.

Plus, the Pixel C will be in line for future Android updates, so you can be safe in the knowledge that it won't fall behind the times for the next few years at least.

Google Pixel C review

We disliked

There's really not a great deal to dislike about the Pixel C, and the negative points it does have are relatively minor.

It is a bit on the heavy, bulky side, especially when compared to the svelte iPad Pro 9.7 and Galaxy Tab S3 – but it's not disastrous.

The keyboard dock is a clever accessory, but it's also a pricey one on top of an already expensive tablet. While if was fun to use, we're not convinced it's worth the asking price; if you're planning on doing a lot of typing on the Pixel C, however, it's a must.

Battery life also wasn't stellar. The Pixel C by no means suffers in the battery department, but given Google's big claim of over 10 hours use from a single charge we were hoping for better performance during video playback.

Google Pixel C review

Verdict

The Pixel C is still a great Android tablet. It's not cheap, but this is a top of the range tablet, and it justifies its iPad-matching price tag.

If you're fed up with Apple, or simply want the best Android tablet around, then the Pixel C is the slate for you. You can feel that Google has been involved at every stage, with its simple fluidity flowing throughout the Pixel C experience.

Android still has a shortcoming when it comes to tablet-optimized apps; add to that the general bulk of the Pixel C it's not quite as pick-up-and-play-friendly as the iPad range. 

It also doesn't have the breath of functionality to trouble the iPad Pro or Surface Pro 4, even with its keyboard dock, but the Pixel C is comfortably cheaper than both.

What the Pixel C does offer is genuine competition at the top of the tablet market, and if you decide to splash the extra cash on the keyboard dock as well you'll have a very powerful machine at your fingertips.

There are a few high-profile rivals for you to consider before splashing the cash on the Google Pixel C, and we've pulled them together below to help you make up your mind.

iPad Pro 9.7

iPad Air 2

There's no mistaking which tablet Google's going after with the Pixel C. The iPad Pro 9.7 (and the new iPad) still dominates the high end of the market, and manufacturers are trying their best to emulate Apple's slate success.

The iPad Pro 9.7 has a fantastically premium design, an excellent display and a whole heap of power under the hood, making for a slick and enjoyable experience. There's also the optional Apple Pencil and keyboard case to make it into a tablet.

The biggest bonus of picking up the iPad though is the wide selection of applications that are optimized for its larger screen. It's something the Play Store has yet to match, and it makes the Pro even easier to use.

Read our iPad Pro 9.7 review

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2

Samsung's iPad Pro and Pixel C rival is filled full of tech, and sports a fingerprint scanner, S Pen stylus in the box, a premium design and an optional keyboard as well.

It's thin and light, making it easy to hold, while Samsung has worked on improving its TouchWiz interface. Stock Android still has the beating of it, but it's a positive step forward, while it can also boast the world's first HDR display on a tablet - making it great for gaming and movies.

Read our Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

The Surface Pro 4 has the advantage of running the full desktop version of Windows 10 - giving you all the functionality of a computer in a more portable form factor.

The Type Cover keyboard has been greatly improved, and it also boasts a mouse pad which makes certain tasks much easier over the Google Pixel C.

It doesn't come cheap, and if you're not wedded to the Microsoft way of doing things you can save yourself some money - will taking a functionality hit - by opting for the Pixel C.

Read our Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review

First reviewed: December 2015

Best 4G Smartphones in India Below Rs 15,000 – March & April 2017

You are reading a story from PhoneRadar.

From the last one year, we have seen quite a few smartphones with high-end specifications and sturdy build quality priced under Rs. 15,000. Below is the list of newly launched mid-range smartphones priced between Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 15,000. Earlier, the online exclusive devices used to offer better specifications than the others, but the gap is now narrowing down. All the listed smartphones come with 4G VoLTE connectivity for using with Jio 4G SIM and offer dual SIM support. Also, go through the list of upcoming smartphones that will be launching in June.

Moto G5 Plus – Rs. 14,999

The Moto G4 Plus with a 16MP camera is one of the budget smartphones launched in 2016. Now in 2017, the company launched the Moto G5 Plus with even better specifications and build quality. It comes with an Aluminum built unibody design and runs on the latest Android 7.0 nougat out of the box. It even gets the Google Assistant which was made available for the all the latest smartphones. The device comes in 3GB RAM+16GB storage and 4GB RAM+32GB storage variants priced at Rs. 14,999 and Rs. 16,999 respectively. On the front is 5.2-inch Full HD display and beneath it is a large home button with integrated fingerprint sensor. It packs Snapdragon 625 SoC, 12MP rear camera, and a 5MP selfie camera. It is backed by a 3,000mAh non-removable battery and supports fast charging with the 18W TurboCharge adapter. It comes with a total of three slots for two SIM cards and one MicroSD card. The device is exclusively sold through Flipkart and comes in Lunar Grey and Fine Gold colors.

Buy Now: Moto G5 Plus

Smartron srt.Phone – Rs. 12,999

Smartron has finally launched its first product this year called srt.Phone. Unlike the t.Phone, the srt.Phone is a mid-range device and packs some decent specifications. It comes in 32GB and 64GB storage variants priced at Rs. 12,999 and Rs. 13,999 respectively. However, the device comes with a polycarbonate body even at this price tag. The device sports a 5.5-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) IPS display and has a Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection on top. Under the hood is the 1.8GHz Snapdragon 652 octa-core processor coupled with Adreno 510 GPU. Both the variants include 4GB of RAM, and it should work fine even with heavy usage. The srt.Phone runs on Android 7.1.1 Nougat with the vanilla flavored UI. In the camera department, there is a 13MP rear camera with PDAF and f/2.0 aperture. There is also a 5MP selfie camera on the front with the wide-angle lens. It is backed by a 3,000mAh non-removable battery and support Quick Charge 2.0 fast charging technology using the USB Type-C port. The company also mentioned the srt.Phone to receive the upcoming Android O update once it is available for public release.

Buy Now: srt.Phone

Samsung Galaxy J5 Prime – Rs. 14,900

From the last few weeks, we have been seeing the leaks about the upcoming Galaxy J7 2017 and Galaxy J5 2017 smartphones. However, Samsung India launched the 32GB storage variants of the last year’s Galaxy J7 Prime and Galaxy J5 Prime. Apart from the doubled storage, there is no other difference between the 16GB and new 32GB storage variants. The new Galaxy J5 Prime is priced at Rs. 14,900 and comes with a 5-inch HD (1280 x 720 pixels) display. It is powered by the in-house Exynos 7870 octa-core processor clocked at 1.6GHz and includes 3GB of RAM. It supports dual SIM dual standby and runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow with the TouchWiz UI laid on top. It sports a 13MP rear camera with f/1.9 aperture and a LED flash. For selfies, the Galaxy J5 Prime comes equipped with an 8MP front facing camera. It is backed by a 2,400mAh non-removable and lacks the fast charging support. Apart from the bloatware apps, the company is also adding the exclusive features like S Power Planning, Ultra Data Saving (UDS) mode, and S Bike.

Buy Now: Galaxy J5 Prime

Micromax Canvas 2 (2017) – Rs. 11,999

As we exclusively covered, Micromax officially launched the Canvas 2 (2017) with the Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection. The company also mentioned replacing the damaged display one time for free within the first year after the purchase. It is priced at Rs. 11,999 and comes with 4G data (1GB/day) and unlimited free calling for free for one complete year. Normally, Airtel is offering the unlimited plan with the same benefits for Rs. 349 per month. The Canvas 2 (2017) sports a 5-inch HD (1280 x 720 pixels) display and an unspecified quad-core processor clocked at 1.3GHz. There is 3GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage on this device that can be further expandable up to additional 64GB. Interestingly, the deice runs on the latest Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box and includes the bloatware apps which decreases the available storage on this device. On the camera front, the Canvas 2 (2017) has a 13MP rear shooter with LED flash and a 5MP front camera with wide-angle lens for selfies lens. It supports dual SIM dual standby and packs a 3,050mAh non-removable battery.

Buy Now: Micromax Canvas 2 (2017)

Lava Z10 (3GB RAM) – Rs. 11,500

A couple of months back, Lava launched the new Z series smartphones to compete with the affordable Chinese devices. The Lava Z10 powerful device among the two newly launched devices and recently, the company came up with a 3GB RAM variant. It is priced at Rs. 11,500 and is sold via offline retail stores across the country. Lava is also offering 365 days screen replacement warranty where the user can get the display replaced for free. It comes with a 5-inch HD IPS display, and there is a 2.5D curved glass laid on top. The device packs an unspecified octa-core processor coupled with 3GB RAM and 16GB of internal storage. It runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow based StarOS 3.3 out of the box. Talking about the cameras, the Lava Z10 comes with an 8MP rear camera and a 5MP front camera. With all these specifications, the device is powered by a 2,600mAh battery. It also supports 11 Indian regional languages on the system level. This dual SIM device also comes with 4G VoLTE support and offers other basic connectivity option.

Buy Now: Lava Z10

Nubia M2 Lite – Rs. 13,999

After launching the Nubia M2 and Nubia M2 Lite smartphones in China, the company brought the affordable Nubia M2 Lite to the Indian market. The device is priced at Rs. 13,999 and is sold exclusively through Amazon India. It sports a metal built unibody design and comes with a physical home button that has an integrated fingerprint sensor. On the front is a 5.5-inch display with HD (1280 x 720 pixels) resolution.Under the hood is the MediaTek MT6750 octa-core processor coupled with Mali-T860 GPU and 4GB of RAM. It includes 32GB of onboard storage that can be further expanded up to 128GB. The device runs on Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box with the highly customized Nubia UI laid on top. The USP of the device is the 16MP selfie camera on the front. The rear camera on the Nubia M2 Lite is limited only to 13MP resolution. There is a 3,000mAh non-removable battery that should easily last for more than a day long usage. It measures 155.73 x 76.7 x 7.5 mm and weighs 164 grams.

Buy Now: Nubia M2 Lite

If you can extend your budget, then check out the list of recently launched 4G VoLTE smartphones priced above Rs. 15,000 in India.

This story appeared first on PhoneRadar. Join the PhoneRadar Forums to discuss, meet experts & share your experiences. We have now launched a Hindi Website for the latest news in Hindi. Click here to read PhoneRadar Hindi

Mozilla Firefox

Firefox remains one of the biggest names in the world of web browsers, but if you're currently using Edge, Internet Explorer or Chrome, is there an incentive to switch allegiances?

Browser development has accelerated so much in recent years that if you haven't used Firefox for a while, you probably have very little idea of what it's actually like now. All the more reason to give it a go. 

While browsers have moved forward a great deal in recent years, Firefox hasn’t advanced quite as much as the competition. There are interesting little quirks like retaining separate address and search bars, for instance, and the rounded tabs are like stepping back in time. The feature that keeps passwords and bookmark synchronized between devices also feels antiquated.

There have been great improvements when it comes to privacy and security, though. Firefox's private browsing mode includes tracking protection to block third-party ad trackers, and Flash has been all but killed off.

Other recent changes include the introduction of Quantum Compositor to improve stability, redesigned tabs which are more informative, and compact themes for those who likes to change the look of their browser. 

User experience

The stability of the browser may have been improved in recent updates, but little has been done to boost the performance which continues to feel lackluster. The menu system is horrible, feeling like it has been designed for a smartphone rather than a desktop computer. It's also hard to ignore the dated look of Firefox. There's the promise of themes to jazz things up a bit, but they don’t address the generally weak interface design; they're little more than a lick of paint on top.

On the positive side, site rendering is generally excellent, and the range of extensions to increase functionality is also impressive.

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DMDE Free Edition

DMDE Free Edition – or, to give it its full title, DM Disk Editor and Data Recovery Software – helps you recover files from your hard drive that you have lost due to accidental deletion, hard drive problems, a virus attack or some other grave misfortune. This is the free edition of a program for which there are paid-for versions, so it should come as no surprise that there are a few limitations – but none that should put you off.

The free version of DMDE is only available for personal use, and it's only possible to recover files that are currently visible in the selected directory. You can't, for example, select a folder from the directory tree and recover it. On top of this, recovery is limited to 4,000 files at a time, but there's no limit on how many files you can recover if you break it down into batches of 4,000 or fewer.

DMDE is a portable app that runs directly from a USB stick, meaning you don’t need to install it and risk overwriting data you're trying to get back. The program also goes beyond file recovery, giving you the option of search for and recovering drive and partitions that have, for one reason or another, become invisible to Windows.

If you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can even venture into disk editing mode or reconstruct RAID configurations as part of your disaster recovery program.

User experience

Fire up DMDE Free Edition and your immediate reaction may well be to inhale sharply. This isn't a pretty program, or one that makes many allowances for people unfamiliar with more advanced software.

Nevertheless, if you can muscle your way through the scary-looking interface you'll find that things are rather less complicated than you might expect. That's not to say that it's a walk in the park – we're talking about file recovery and disk editing here, after all – and there's potential for serious messing things up if you start playing around with the HEX editor. Take your time to familiarize yourself with the layout and the terminology, however, and you shouldn’t go far wrong.

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Free Narendra Modi Laptop Scheme Surfaces Online

You are reading a story from PhoneRadar.

Spam messages on messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Messenger, etc. is nothing new to us. A couple of weeks back, we had reported about a similar incidence which was a rumor that was spreading about users getting a call from a 9-digit number and their smartphone exploding after that. Well, this new message which is spreading now on WhatsApp is no exception. The new message which is now going viral on WhatsApp is about getting a free Laptop.

Yes, currently, everyone’s WhatsApp inbox is being hit by a spam message which talks something about getting a free laptop via Government program called ‘Laptop Vitran Yojna 2017’ which is basically a program where Government is distributing free laptops. The message which is going viral comes with a link to access this website. Once you tap on the link, you will be directed to a website which has our Prime Minister’s photo on a laptop.

There are three fields which you need to fill out. The website asks for your name, which state you belong from in the country and lastly the preferred brand of Laptop which you would like to get. Once you fill out all these details, you will be redirected to a new page where again you will see two tabs. One reads ‘Invite Friends’ and the other one reads ‘Order Laptop’. As soon as you tap on ‘Order Laptop’ it will ask you to ‘Invite at least 12 groups’ i.e forward the message to at least 12 groups on WhatsApp to proceed.

Now at this point, most people will invite all the friends and try out their luck. And this is where we are suggesting you not to proceed. We all know how these kinds of spam messages work on WhatsApp. This is just to make you spread the message to as many people as you can. Through this, the source of this website is simply looking to get clicks on the advertisement which is displayed on the website.

Do make a note that there is no such program out there and Government is not giving away the free laptops to anyone. If that was the case, then by now we would have seen at least a single advertisement or at least some sort of a campaign. To sum this up, this nothing but a spam message which trying to spread a fake website where no laptops will be given away. Be sure to do proper research on anything before giving away your personal details or sharing it with others. Having said that, we would like to know your thoughts on this. Did you receive this message and if yes, what did you do? Be sure to let us know by dropping a comment down below and also, stay tuned to PhoneRadar for more updates like this.

Source – Tech Sandesh

This story appeared first on PhoneRadar. Join the PhoneRadar Forums to discuss, meet experts & share your experiences. We have now launched a Hindi Website for the latest news in Hindi. Click here to read PhoneRadar Hindi

TeamViewer

The prospect of connecting to another computer remotely with a view to taking control might sound complicated, but TeamViewer makes things as painless as possible by eliminating the need to tinker with any security or network settings.

 With the software installed on a pair of computers (or other devices), all you need to do is provide the relevant ID and password, and the hard work of establishing the connection will be done for you.

There are lots of reasons you might want to take control of another machine with TeamViewer: to offer technical support to a friend or family member if you've found yourself taking the role of tech support, or to use a computer of your own in another room or when you're away from home, for example. If you buy a business, license, you can also use TeamViewer to conduct meetings, give presentations, and hold video calls. What's beautifully refreshing is that in every single case, getting up and running is incredibly easy.

There are paid-for remote access tools that work in a similar way, but TeamViewer is instantly appealing thanks to the fact that it's free for personal use (with premium license options for businesses).

User experience

Despite the inherent complexity of remote access, TeamViewer simplifies things to the point that even the technically terrified should be able to use it, and there's phone support available in the unlikely event that you get stuck.

When used for remote control, the remote desktop can be displayed in full screen mode so it's really like sitting in front of that machine and using it. Security is in place so a remote machine can only be accessed when permission is granted, but there's also an unattended access mode.

There's a portable version of TeamViewer that can be run without being installed, and access is even possible through a web browser. If you're struggling with a slow connection that's causing laggy performance, you can adjust various settings to improve performance at the expense of aesthetics – a welcome touch that shows just how much thought and care has gone into creating this superb remote access app.

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Microsoft Office 365

[Editor's Note: What immediately follows is a rundown of the latest developments and features Microsoft has added to Office 365 since this review was last updated.]

May 2017

April 2017

  • Microsoft used another tactic to push folks towards Office 365, announcing that those with a standalone version of Office will eventually lose access to OneDrive and Skype for Business.
  • It was confirmed that Windows will have twice-yearly major updates to align with Office 365 ProPlus’ update schedule, with said upgrades coming in September and March.
  • Outlook Customer Manager, which is designed to make it easy for SMBs to track and manage customer relationships, is now rolling out worldwide.
  • The PowerPoint app for iPad was improved with the introduction of Designer, which gives you quick and easy ideas for designing and laying out slides.
  • Microsoft revealed that Wunderlist – which is available as an add-on to Office 365 subscribers using Outlook 2013/2016, and on the web – will be replaced by To-Do.

March 2017

February 2017

  • Microsoft has updated Visio Pro for Office 365 with a database reverse engineering tool that allows you to easily create a visual representation directly from source data.
  • Office 365 benefited from the introduction of a security analytics tool which rates your current security configuration, and makes suggestions on possible improvements.
  • The Office team announced that the OneNote REST API now supports application-level permissions.
  • Excel got new features based on Power Query technology, including support for the percentage data type, along with a new OLE DB connector.
  • Microsoft released Office Training Roadmaps which help businesses keep track of training programmes for the various productivity apps.

January 2017

  • Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection got several new features for tighter email security, namely URL Detonation and Dynamic Delivery.
  • Microsoft graced Office 365 with a new Setup section on the navigation menu, which provides convenient and easy access to all setup-related settings in one location.
  • Office 365 was crowned king of all productivity apps by Okta, outdoing second-place Salesforce.com by a factor of 1.3 to 1 as 2016 came to a close.
  • Microsoft brought in a raft of new courses from LinkedIn Learning to the Office Training Centre, with over 20 offerings on working with Word and PowerPoint.
  • StaffHub, a nifty new app which allows for the management of shifts for deskless workers, became available for Office 365 users with a K1, E1, E3 or E5 plan.

December 2016

  • A new OneDrive for Business admin centre began rolling out to release customers, with general availability promised for early 2017.
  • Microsoft laid out its grand vision of how the firm intends to integrate Teams (its Slack rival) with Microsoft Planner so working across the two is a seamless affair.
  • Microsoft made the Accessibility Checker more easily found across all Office 365 apps, and introduced automated alternate text descriptions in Word and PowerPoint.
  • An official guide on the ‘preferred deployment practices’ for Office 365 ProPlus was released, including advice on preparing the ground, and maintenance afterwards.
  • New statistics emerged from data protection firm Bitglass showing that Office 365 is twice as popular as Google’s G Suite.

November 2016

  • Office 365 users got the benefit of real-time co-authoring in PowerPoint, as well as in the Word app.
  • Office Lens received a couple of new features, including the full integration of Immersive Reader, and a new tool called Frame Guide to help the visually impaired.
  • Outlook Customer Manager arrived in Office 365, enabling businesses to track and manage – and hopefully grow – their customer relationships.
  • Microsoft reintroduced Access, its heavyweight database software, to Office 365 Business and Business Premium customers.
  • Microsoft officially took the wraps off Teams, the firm’s Slack rival that leverages the whole gamut of Office 365’s apps and services.

October 2016

  • Excel 2016 got new features based on Power Query tech, including an improved web connector and enhanced Query Editor, as well as Query Parameters support.
  • Microsoft introduced the ability to create (and collaborate on) Office documents from within a Yammer group.
  • In an earnings report, Microsoft announced Office 365 user numbers: 85 million active commercial users, and 24 million consumers.
  • A batch of new apps were revealed for Office, including an app for invoicing, and tracking expenses, along with one for keeping tabs on your business’ web presence.

September 2016

If you want to see older news and developments pertaining to Office 365, then check out the Archives page at the end of this review.

Otherwise, now move on to Page 2 for our full review and detailed look at what Office 365 offers, and how it can help you become more productive.

Darren Allan contributed to this article

It's been a long time since Office just meant Word, Outlook, Excel and PowerPoint (plus Access - remember that?). In fact, there's a confusingly wide range of tools and services under the Office umbrella.

In the last few years, Office 365 has established itself as the definitive business cloud service bringing together those familiar productivity services, plus an ongoing range of new features.

Apps

There are personal and business versions of Office 365 – home users get the latest version of the Office desktop and mobile applications plus email with Outlook.com and extra cloud storage with OneDrive, along with free Skype minutes every month. If you want to edit documents in Office on your iPad, or using the mobile Office apps on a Windows 10 PC, you need an Office 365 subscription.

Office 365 Personal is for a single user and allows one download of Office. Office 365 Home Premium costs $99.99 per year (£79.99, AU$119.99) for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Access and Publisher.

That's good value if you share it with the family; up to five people in the same household can have their own installations of Office on their PC or Mac at the same time (for the Office programs that run on a Mac).

When the next version of Office comes out, you'll get it on the same subscription, and you'll get new features as they become available. If you're at college or university (or you teach at one) you're eligible for Office 365 University on a four-year subscription for $79.99 (£60, AU$99) that you can use on up to two PCs or Macs.

Office 365 for business

Microsoft offers three tiers for businesses with less than 300 seats. Office 365 Business Essentials allows you to use online Office apps only (no desktop applications) plus 1TB of online storage per user and a 50GB Outlook inbox with email, calendar and contacts for £3.10 ($5, AU$5.50) per month per user on an annual contract.

Licence

Office 365 Business offers Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access, Publisher and Lync, with a subscription licence for each user to run them on up to five PCs or Macs at once. You still get the online storage but no email services. Office 365 Business Premium combines Office 365 Business and Business Essentials; all the applications, plus email and storage.

Download Office

Enterprise business users get a full collaboration service with Exchange email, SharePoint document storage, Skype for Business unified communications, OneDrive for Business storage sync and sharing, Yammer enterprise social networking, Delve for tracking what your colleagues are working on, and Groups for ad hoc collaboration.

All that, alongside an increasing list of new services like GigJam (for sharing just parts of documents so you can have the right information available in a meeting) and Planner (a simple planning tool for groups), plus a subscription to the Office 2016 desktop and mobile applications, which includes early access to new features.

Delve

There are several different plans, depending on what mix of services you need. The E5 plan, for example, includes rights management services for encrypting documents and choosing who can see them and how long they're available for, Delve Analytics for tracking how people are spending their time, Power BI for graphical data analysis and business intelligence, and the Office 365 video portal for publishing video inside your company.

In the year since Office 2016 was released, Microsoft has continued to add new features to both the Office 365 service (which you expect in a cloud service) and the Office 2016 applications (which you might not), as well as the mobile versions of the apps for iOS, Android and Windows, new apps like Sway for 'digital storytelling' (that's somewhere between making a mobile app and designing a website), and the Office Online web apps.

That includes new admin features like the new look portal, customising sign-in pages, improved encryption controls, self-service password reset, plus a deal to use Wix to build websites after SharePoint public websites were removed.

New features arriving

The Office Online apps get regular updates, including new features plus integration with other cloud services like Skype and Dropbox – Word and PowerPoint now have the Format Painter for transferring formatting from one section to another, and Excel Online has more number formats, more features in Pivot tables and a high contrast view for accessibility.

Office Online updates

The mobile apps keep adding features like Find and Morph transitions in PowerPoint, or ink annotations in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. You can record audio in OneNote for iOS and on the web; that's better than OneNote on Windows 10 Mobile where audio recordings cut off after a minute.

Because Office 365 is a subscription service, the familiar desktop applications get new features. Word is about to get a spelling and grammar checker that uses machine learning to understand your writing, and a Researcher tool for easier searching for facts and quotes.

PowerPoint has gained several new transitions, a Designer tool that comes up with new looks for your presentation (very much like Sway) and a way to summarise your presentation with Zoom. Excel has new functions and charts and shape recognition when you draw on-screen, plus many more connectors for getting data into Power Query, while Outlook lets you '@ mention' people in email the way you would on Facebook or Twitter.

Office Online

But the changes also include removing some useful features. Changing the Save As options in Office 2016 has been particularly painful, and Office 365 no longer allows you to temporarily stream Office 2016 to a PC that you want to work on, if the Office Online versions don't have the features you need. Desktop Outlook is going to get the Focused Inbox that's so popular in Outlook for iOS and Android – but it will replace the Clutter feature in Exchange Online that files emails you're not likely to be interested in. Clutter worked in every client that you can read Exchange email in, including on older devices (especially Windows Phone 8.1), whereas Focused Inbox will only work in the latest versions of Outlook.

The enterprise Office 365 service is also where Microsoft tries out new features that will appear in the on-premise server products, like the new SharePoint 2016. Exchange Server 2016 is based on the latest version of Exchange Online, which has been available on Office 365 for some time (and you can buy some Exchange Online features to use with your own Exchange Server, like Exchange Online Protection spam and malware filtering).

Service health

SharePoint 2016 catches up with existing Office 365 features like chatting while you're collaborating on documents stored in OneDrive for Business, and will get newer features gradually. Improvements like the new document library experience, and the suggestions in the new iOS SharePoint app of what sites you should look at, are already showing up in SharePoint Online and will appear on premises once they've been tested in the cloud.

In the past, Skype for Business hasn't had the full unified communications features of the on-premise version because PABX integration is harder in the cloud, but Microsoft has been signing up partners like BT to offer voice services for Office 365, as well as creating cloud-only features like Skype for Business broadcast meetings for very large numbers of users (which will soon include real-time live translation and captions).

As you'd expect, you manage Office 365 mainly through the browser (although you can use PowerShell commands if you need to change settings in bulk). The admin portal is getting a major redesign that will soon become the standard way to manage the service.

Admin Centre

The previous interface had a minimalist, low-contrast, 'Metro' style that wasn't particularly efficient, with key tools relegated to a list of links at the side of the page and a dashboard that always showed the setup features even when you'd been running the service for years.

Extras

Now there's an expanding menu on the left with ten sections for managing and monitoring the Office 365 service, each of which expands to let you click straight into the specific area you need. This also makes room for features like Groups that have been added to the service over the years, which show up in their logical place (along with the traditional role-based groups).

As you navigate through the different sections, the tools are also grouped logically, and when you click on the details for a user or a group, all the information pops up in a window, with the most common commands (like resetting a password or deleting the user) at the top.

Dashboard

The home screen that replaces the former dashboard is far more useful – and you can even customise it. There are 'cards' for common tasks, from managing users to downloading the Office clients, and you can rearrange them, delete any you don't need quick access to, and add others.

Edit admin centre

The admin interfaces for Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Skype for Business and Yammer are now much easier to find as well; they have their own section on the menu, which also links to the new Security and Compliance centre, and to Azure Active Directory (even if you don't buy any of the premium AAD services, using Office 365 automatically creates an Azure AD for your business, but in the past it hasn't been obvious how to get to it in order to carry out any management).

You'd expect Azure AD to open as a separate site, because it's a separate service. It's slightly more confusing that the Security and Compliance centre opens in its own browser tab, but has the same design as the Office 365 admin centre.

Security and compliance

This new portal brings together all the security tools for the service, from assigning permissions to admin users, to managing devices, setting up alerts for user and admin behaviour and choosing how spam and malware in email are handled. All that sits alongside the tools for setting retention policies, running ediscovery searches and archiving content, and details of how Microsoft secures the different Office 365 services.

And it's downright annoying that all the admin portals for the Office 365 services still open in different tabs. Plus they still have the white-space-heavy, hard to navigate interfaces that are basic rather than simple, in which it can be hard to find the tools you need quickly (and Yammer has its own design again). We'd like to see them move to the new portal design too; the current mix of interfaces feels fragmented and confusing.

Yammer

It might even make sense for more of the settings to move to themed admin portals the way the security and compliance options have, rather than matching the admin options for the separate on-premise Office servers. Key settings from the Exchange, Skype for Business and SharePoint services are already duplicated in the new admin portal; if they're all you need, you'll never need to use the full service portals at all.

Rooms and equipment

Getting started

Setting up Office 365 is fast – provisioning an E3 or E5 tenant takes only a few minutes – and it's straightforward for a small company, especially if you're migrating from Exchange Online. You can start the wizard to walk you through setup – including connecting to the domain you're using for email addresses, or buying one if you don't already have one – straight from the purchase screen, or you can come back and work through the individual steps later.

You can set up users by connecting to your on-premise Active Directory by importing details (from a CSV file, for example) or by creating users one at a time (that's most suited to a small business); and when you create individual users you can assign licences as you go. If you want to pick and choose who gets which features, you can allocate licences individually for Office 2016, Office Web Apps, SharePoint, Skype for Business, Exchange and any other services.

There are other settings that you can change if you want, but not so many that things get confusing. You can customise the Office 365 theme, set the password expiry policy, choose whether you get new features when they're generally released or try them as soon as they're in preview (and that can apply to all users or just the more advanced users that you pick individually), turn on multi-factor authentication, set the policies for Azure Rights Management if your plan includes this document encryption service, and choose whether users can search Office 365 content using Cortana, or use Office Online to work with files in other cloud storage services like Box.

Groups

There's more work to do if you have email accounts on other services that you need to import data from (there's an import option where you can upload data or even ship drives to Microsoft if that would take too long), and if you're a large business that needs to mix on-premise servers with Office 365 you'll need to plan which users have accounts where and how you sync between your AD and the cloud service. But you don't have to be an expert to get a small business online with Office 365.

Ever since Exchange 2013, the web version of Outlook has had the same features and interface as the Outlook client – it's also what the Exchange Online admin centre is built on, and you can just mark a user as an administrator. This removes the need for an Exchange mailbox to administer Exchange, so you don't have to waste a mail licence and storage quota on a shared mail admin account. You can also give different administrators limited permissions; if someone only needs to use the compliance or discovery tools, they won't get access to mail flow and user settings.

The admin centre is crammed with features, organised into around a dozen categories. Previously complex tasks, like setting up a federation trust to make free/busy times in user calendars visible or setting up shared mailboxes for call centres, are far simpler and you are guided through important steps (like giving users the right permissions to access the shared mailbox).

Exchange admin

Public folders are still available, by popular demand. Like everything else in the new Exchange Online, they're simple to set up with helpful error messages that make clear what you've done wrong and how to fix it.

There's also a helpful balance between enforcing policy and users getting work done. The data loss prevention tools in the Enterprise version of Exchange Online let you set up rules to stop people emailing personal information like credit card numbers (with a smart check that employs the same algorithm used to issue credit card numbers, rather than just looking for any 16 numbers in a row).

But users can also override most of these policy warnings by filling in an explanation and confirming they know the message will be logged. The information can be encrypted to keep it safe until the manager approves the explanation.

The tips reminding users of the policy show up in Outlook clients, and Outlook webmail. But if you send a message from your smartphone that breaks a policy, the rule can forward the message to your manager or mail you to confirm that you meant to break the policy.

Malware report

But while the ultra-minimalist, white-space design is well organised, and will be familiar to Exchange Server admins, it doesn't match the style of the new Office 365 portal. There is also quite a lot of overlap – many tools from the Exchange Online portal also show up as links in the main portal to the auditing, mail flow and information protection tools (spam and malware protection and data leakage policies that block or warn users who are trying to send details like credit card numbers in email). These open the tools in either the Exchange Online or Security and Compliance portals.

Spam report

There are also some settings you might expect to find in Exchange that are in the main Office 365 portal, like choosing whether users can share their calendars with people outside your organisation.

Like Exchange Server, you can use Exchange Online for mobile device management by setting policies that will apply to any smartphone, like forcing the user to turn on encryption and set a PIN, and even setting how often they have to re-enter it.

Office 365 also includes Microsoft's Intune MDM service which adds extra features like detecting whether devices are jailbroken, and letting you mark emails and documents that can only be opened in approved mobile apps, like Office, and only saved in specific locations. You can also selectively wipe devices, removing business data but not personal photos and information.

MDM

The Exchange tools for managing mobile device access are still in the Exchange Online admin portal, which is where admins who are used to Exchange Server will expect to find them. The Intune MDM features are in the Security and Compliance centre – and yet again, that opens a new browser tab, because it has its own interface.

OAW for device admin

This is the kind of duplication we expect Microsoft to clean up as it continues to improve the Office 365 admin UI, and the disparate interfaces shouldn't distract from the fact that you're getting a powerful mail system with all the options you need. And if you don't need to delve into those options, you can be up and running quickly with a rock solid mail system. Exchange Online remains one of the crown jewels of Office 365.

If you've used Office 365 before, you'll remember the admin portal for the unified communications service formerly known as Lync was distinctly minimal, with very few settings you could change. As Skype for Business gains more features, there are correspondingly more options and controls, but it's a far cry from the complexity of the on-premise version; this is one of the services where being in the cloud makes unified communications dramatically simpler.

Now that Skype for Business can connect to Skype, you can control that integration, as well as allowing or blocking calls and chats with Skype for Business users outside your company, and choosing whether the Skype Broadcast service is available for creating large public online meetings. Again, the controls for external connections are duplicated in the main Office 365 admin portal – for many businesses, they're the only settings you might want to change, so you might never need the full admin centre.

Manage skype

You can also set the defaults for notifications and privacy mode and add your own boilerplate to meeting invitations. You can include your company logo, links to support, any legal terms and conditions that apply to meetings, or a few lines of text you wish to be included in all invitations.

Skype for business custom

You can use Skype for Business for dial-in conferencing, with or without toll-free numbers, so your users can phone in rather than using the Skype for Business client – that's included in the E5 Office 365 plan, or you can buy it as an add-on. You can also use PSTN Calling to call standard phone numbers and receive calls from anyone, not just other Skype for Business users (again, that's included in some plans but not in others – confusingly, there's a version of the E5 plan that has it, and another that doesn't).

Skype IM

You can even use Skype for Business as your PBX – as well as making and receiving calls, you get PBX features like transferring calls, having several phones ring when a call arrives, putting your phone on 'do not disturb' except for a few key contacts, playing hold music and handling voicemail. Again, you need the right licences.

The admin centre also includes a handy list of tools for troubleshooting, and a very minimal set of reports.

Lync Online was already an impressive HD videoconferencing system with excellent tools for online meetings. The Skype integration makes it a great choice for letting your customers and partners reach you without the cost of a phone call, and if you add the dial-in conferencing, PSTN calling and PBX tools, it's close to being a cloud service that offers a full unified communications system. But buying all those options as separate add-ons, some from third-party communications providers, does make everything more complicated than we'd like.

For a while, SharePoint Online was the red-headed stepchild of Office 365. The name didn't even appear in the list of apps – users just saw links to OneDrive and Sites – and the ribbon-based interface felt dated and out of step with the rest of Office 365.

But cloud competition like Box and Dropbox hasn't killed off SharePoint, and even though the personal cloud storage of OneDrive for Business is still part of Office 365, Microsoft has just given SharePoint itself a major refresh that updates the key features for document sharing and collaboration, and adds far better mobile support.

SharePoint Online also connects to the new services Microsoft has been adding to Office 365 like Groups and Planner, making the collaboration options feel more coherent.

SharePoint new

Sites for personal and shared team use and document libraries are still at the heart of SharePoint – document collections can now be as large as 25TB, and there's a new document library experience that looks much more like OneDrive, or a blog.

Team Site

Team sites automatically show popular documents and details of who in the team has been working on what, and there are new tools for creating pages on the site as if you were writing and publishing a blog – so you don't need to create HTML or use a separate publishing tool any more. Just pick web parts – images, events, links, videos, Yammer feeds – and drag them into place.

SharePoint Team Sites

Some Office 365 plans include the SharePoint Video service, for uploading and streaming videos. This is going to be replaced by the Azure Streams video service, though not until the new service has all the same features as the existing one.

Office video formats

All the existing options for customising SharePoint are still available. You can include language translation services for sites and documents, and for structured tasks you can add workflows designed in Visual Studio and have them hosted on Azure, or you can create a Flow or a PowerApp on Azure that lets you configure workflows that connect other services – like Salesforce or Dynamics – to SharePoint.

If you need the same kind of full-trust managed .NET code that lets you customise SharePoint on your own server, you can put that on Azure. As a multi-tenant cloud service, SharePoint Online has to protect users from each other's potentially performance-hogging code, so this is a sensible approach. But many of the features you'd once have built that way are available as apps written in HTML and CSS that run on SharePoint: you can get blogging tools, mapping tools, address checking tools and more – and admins can choose which apps are available in the SharePoint Store and who is allowed to buy more.

Plus SharePoint 2016 adds a new extension framework based on common JavaScript frameworks like React and Angular, where the code runs on the client device, not on the server. That's still in development, but it brings SharePoint up to date with the latest web development technologies.

SharePoint Home

SharePoint also has a new way of controlling access. Admins can still grant and block access to SharePoint sites, but team sites work with the new, self-service Groups feature in Office 365. Anyone can create a group of colleagues and the group automatically gets a team site with a document library, a shared calendar and inbox, a Skype for Business chat room that you can also get as email, along with a OneNote notebook, an always-on Skype conversation you can drop in and out of, and the new Planner task management tool.

It works the other way round, as well; make a team site or add colleagues to Planner and you create a group.

Planner is like a simple version of Trello – you create a card for each task, assign it to someone and save it into different 'buckets' that you use to organise your plan. It doesn't have much in the way of notifications yet, but Microsoft is adding features quickly.

Groups 2

Groups also have the kind of connectors you might have seen in Slack. You can connect a Twitter feed or a variety of services like GitHub, Trello and ZenDesk to a group to get alerts – so you could follow the hashtag for the product your team works on, or see customer support issues in the group.

You can search across all the sites you have access to and when you find a useful document, you can follow it as if it was a friend on Facebook. Results include automatic recommendations based on what the people you're connected to are working on, and your previous behaviour. That's based on the Delve feature, which analyses what documents your colleagues are working on that are relevant to you – you can see that in the Delve service but the information will now show up in SharePoint too.

Search is smart: search for 'marketing deck' and results will include PowerPoint presentations (that don't have the word 'deck' anywhere in the contents), with particularly relevant slides highlighted in the results.

The SharePoint newsfeed is still available if you want to use that to keep track of what's going on. This looks very much like Facebook or Twitter – you can follow people, sites, projects, hashtags, documents and events, and you'll see in the activity stream when someone does something new or makes a change (you can filter the stream to make it more manageable). You can also preview documents and videos straight from the Newsfeed, or turn any item into an action that becomes part of your task list.

Customise SharePoint portal

You use Twitter-style @ names to mention people and you can see when other people have mentioned you (you get an email as well as seeing it on the Newsfeed, so you don't have to update feverishly to stay on top of work). Also, you can post your own updates to everyone or just the team you're working with.

Customise SharePoint portal 2

But now that the Yammer social network service is available to all Office 365 customers, you can switch to using that instead. It's a much more powerful tool for collaboration that's getting regular updates – and again, it's going to integrate with Groups soon, so a team can choose to collaborate through Yammer or the other Groups tools.

Yammer design

You can view and edit documents in the Office Online web apps, and you can preview file types you can't edit, like Visio. Sharing documents – with colleagues or up to 10,000 external partners and customers who don't need to have SharePoint themselves – is also much simpler. Click on the sharing icon and type in names or email addresses, choose whether they can view or edit – or copy an obfuscated URL you can send in an instant message or put in a blog post.

Shared documents are marked by an icon you can click to see who you're sharing with (and you can stop sharing a document when you're done collaborating). Many Office 365 plans include Azure Rights Management Services, so you can control not just who can see a document but what they can do with it, turning off the printing and copying functions for confidential information.

SharePoint started out as a way to share document libraries and create workflows. It's now a flexible collaboration tool for ad hoc groups as well as a formal, centralised information store, with mobile apps as well as simple web publishing.

The SharePoint Online admin centre reflects that. There's a long list of settings that lets you control apps, connections, rights management, collaboration and whether users get new features and the new OneDrive for Business interface.

For many smaller businesses, that's all you need and you can hide the other controls. But if you need them, there's a full set of configuration options for everything from InfoPath to the taxonomy for how documents are indexed, in an interface that SharePoint Server administrators will find familiar (although it's going to confuse anyone starting with the new Office 365 admin centre).

OneDrive and OneDrive for Business

Microsoft uses the same name for its business and consumer cloud storage services: OneDrive and OneDrive for Business are now more similar than they used to be – in particular they use the same sync client, which fixes a lot of problems with OneDrive for Business – but they're still different services.

OneDrive is Microsoft's consumer cloud storage service, which gives users 5GB of free storage with the option to purchase 50GB for $1.99 a month (£1.99, AU$2), plus Office Web Apps. If you buy Office 365 Home, Personal, or University, you get 1TB of OneDrive space.

OneDrive for Business is the cloud storage service that's part of the business Office 365 plans (and also available as part of on-premise SharePoint Server), with either 1TB or 5TB of storage per user, depending on which plan you choose.

Office 365 tenants also get SharePoint Online, which includes 10GB of secure cloud storage with an extra 500MB per user, and the option of paying for up to 25TB of storage in total. You can choose how the SharePoint space storage is allocated between users and control how they use it, like limiting who they can share documents with or forcing them to encrypt confidential documents using rights management software.

OneDrive for Business, which is confusingly labelled OneDrive in the Office 365 portal to fit on the ribbon, lets users store their own working documents privately. If you're familiar with SharePoint, you can think of it as like the storage in My Site – and documents can still have workflows or be checked in and out.

OneDrive in office 2016

Users can also share documents with specific people – inside or outside the company – by clicking the three dots next to the file name and choosing Share, or from the properties and preview pane for the file. This interface has been updated a couple of times but it's still easy to share documents and see who has access.

Users can choose whether each person they invite can edit or just view the document and whether or not they need to sign in (it's possible to choose whether to enforce sign in globally). It's very clear if a document is shared and with whom, and you can stop sharing a document at any point. OneDrive for Business storage is part of SharePoint and you can apply policies to it in the same way.

OneDrive share

If you want to share a document in OneDrive for Business with everyone (including those to whom you give the URL of your OneDrive for Business), you can move it into the Shared with Everyone folder by default.

If you want to make it available only to a specific group of people, you can put a document into the library for a Team Site instead. That uses the SharePoint tenant storage and you can get those files onto a PC by opening them from SharePoint Online, opening the document library in Explorer (from the ribbon on the SharePoint site) or syncing the document library as a list in Outlook. Team mailboxes also save information into the SharePoint library.

Although the range of storage and sharing options in Office 365 sound confusing, in practice they make a lot of sense. Users get the option to stick to SharePoint shared document libraries or use something that looks like popular free cloud storage services – but which gives you control and security.

Sharing documents is simple and users can easily collaborate (they can even edit the same document simultaneously, in the Office desktop applications or the Office Web Apps) but again, you have tools to control this.

When it first came out, Office 2016 had excellent integration with OneDrive, on both Mac and Windows, letting you browse your online folders and see the folders you'd used recently right on the Backstage menu. A recent update stripped that out on Office 2016 for Windows, replacing it with a very slow dialog that doesn't show any recent folders at all – and doesn't even show you what the file name will be. It's a definite step backwards.

All apps

What else is in Office 365?

Depending on which Office 365 plan you choose, you'll get a range of new apps and services. All the plans include Sway, a new authoring tool that uses machine learning to do a lot of the layout work for you, creating responsive layouts that work on smartphones as well as desktop web browsers.

Business plans include the Planner service, as well as GigJam, a collaboration service that lets you share specific pages inside a document – you can just cross out pages and paragraphs you don't want colleagues to see. It's an interesting idea that needs a lot more work to be really useful.

Delve Analytics

The E5 plan includes the Power BI cloud service that lets you visualise information in charts and dashboards, and an extra tool in Delve called Analytics that analyses your working habits to tell you how much time you spend in meetings and email compared to your colleagues, to help you make the most of your time.

There are also related Office services you can add to Office 365, like Project Online, which is a full-fledged portfolio project management system.

Office recent changes

Expect Microsoft to keep adding new services to Office 365 – like the ones it plans to create from LinkedIn.

Office 365 is hands-down the best way to buy Office, whether you're a consumer user wanting the Office desktop apps with all the latest features, or a business that needs email and collaboration tools without the hassle of running your own servers. Yes, you pay a monthly fee, but you keep getting new features as well as useful cloud services.

We liked

The new Office 365 admin centre is a real improvement, making it easy to find features that used to be tucked away inside specific services

Exchange Online is one of the best business email systems around, and no-one knows how to run it better than Microsoft. Skype for Business has gone from VoIP meetings in the cloud to something that can be a full unified communications service – if you're prepared to pay for all the conferencing and telephony services you need to make it work. And SharePoint is getting a much needed refresh, plus the formerly infuriating OneDrive for Business is now both usable and reliable, and Groups give teams a simple way of working together on projects.

We disliked

Overall, the Office 365 admin interface remains disparate and disjointed; Microsoft needs to do more work here. In part, that's due to the overlapping tools, from the formal systems that replicate the server options larger businesses want – especially if they're migrating to the cloud – to the simpler, ad hoc tools based on Groups that are more approachable but also sometimes lack features. Whatever you need, you can probably do it with Office 365 – if you can find out where and how.

If you want the latest features and improvements, you need to opt-in to try previews – but that can mean losing useful options as well, like the confusing changes that make the Save As dialog slow and unwieldy in Office 2016. If you don't get features in preview, it can still take a long time for them to reach all the Office 365 tenants once they're supposed to be available.

Final verdict

Office 365 is a reliable service that integrates email, document sharing and conferencing almost seamlessly with the latest desktop versions of the Office software – which now get regular updates and extra features – and is evolving new cloud tools and services like Sway and Planner.

It's simple enough for small businesses and also has powerful options for larger companies, who will find that the savings from putting commodity IT in the cloud, while still being able to integrate with on-premise servers through Active Directory and hybrid Exchange deployments, make the combined subscriptions for server and desktop products very attractive.

You do need to pick the right plan though – there's a confusing number of them, all with slightly different features. This means you don't have to pay for services you don't need, but it also makes it hard to point at Office 365 and know exactly what you'll get.

Microsoft has officially released Office 2016 for Windows and it is available for consumer customers (Office 365 Home and Personal) immediately for download. Mac users have already been able to download Office 2016 for a few weeks already.

Office 365 will likely keep its name and could be joined by Windows 365 as Microsoft will apparently add a subscription option to Windows 10, and it has trademarked that name. Amongst the flurry of features added to Office 365 in recent times, the ones worth highlighting are:

Microsoft acquired Sunrise, a popular calendaring app for touch devices, which is likely to be incorporated into Office 365. Calendaring has been one of the areas where Microsoft hasn't devoted as much resources as many would have expected especially with the rise of mobility.

Microsoft also bought Acompli (which it almost immediately turned to Outlook), LiveLoop for to prep ip PowerPoint and 6Wunderkinder for its popular to-do-list application.

The company also announced that it was giving away 100GB of free storage for a year to existing Dropbox users to lure them away from the popular cloud storage provider – which incidentally is a close Microsoft ally.

That bonus is on top of a 100GB giveaway of OneDrive storage for two years if you subscribe to its Bing Rewards scheme. Your files will be read only after the subscription ends unless you buy a top-up and if you want to get a cheap one, Ebay seems to be the place to go with plenty of deals available for Microsoft Office 365 Personal available for less than £40.

Okay, let's move on to the most recent developments over the past couple of months. Microsoft recently announced that it has updated Office 365 for Exchange Online, so that users will no longer have their emails automatically deleted after a period of 30 days. Previously, deleted items were shifted into the Deleted folder before disappearing from there after 30 days, but the new update allows the system admin to change this period to a different length, or simply to set all emails to be kept indefinitely.

Also on the email front, Microsoft has just updated Office 365 to allow users to send email attachments which are far, far bigger than was previously possible. In fact, attachments can now be six times as large, with the new size limit being 150MB (whereas Office 365 users were limited to 25MB before – that said, note that the 25MB limit will remain in place unless the administrator actually changes things).

Video content is an arena Redmond is moving to cover with its subscription Office suite, as well, with the creation of the Office 365 Video portal that allows businesses to distribute videos internally. This is a free additional service which is currently in the process of rolling out globally for Office 365 enterprise users, in order to provide a fully integrated solution for video sharing within an organisation with security in mind. Office 365 Video employs an HTML5 player so it can work across all devices from mobiles to desktop computers, although Microsoft is also producing an app for iPhone users.

Furthermore, Redmond has bolstered Office 365 with the addition of mobile device management (MDM) again free of charge, at least for those on commercial plans. System admins will be able to use these features to manage access to data over a range of devices and platforms, from smartphones upwards and on Windows Phone, Android and iOS.

This will put in place measures such as the detection of jailbroken devices, and will allow for security policies to be set up to ensure that certain business emails or documents can only be accessed on approved devices. A selective wipe feature will strip corporate data off a device running Office 365, without touching any personal data on said piece of hardware.

Another major move on the security front which has only just happened is Microsoft and Samsung's announcement of an agreement, following settling their legal arguments over Android, whereby a version of the Office 365 suite will come to Samsung's Knox. In other words, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, OneNote and OneDrive for Business will be included wrapped up in the Knox container.

Redmond has also just changed things with Office 365 so that documents can now be exported in the Open Document Format (ODF), to bring the suite in line with UK government guidelines on document sharing.

OneDrive

Recent news

The following is a list of updates to the Office 365 suite going back from August to the beginning of 2016:

August 2016

  • Microsoft is going to more tightly integrate Office 365 and Windows 10 by implementing an 'Office Hub'that offers easy access to your documents from within Windows.
  • Office 365 saw the introduction of a Service Assurance Dashboard which provides a range of details on privacy, security and compliance controls, including third-party auditing.
  • Microsoft said that the rollout of the overhaul of Outlook.com, which brings fresh Office 365 features to users of the webmail service, has been further delayed.
  • Office 365 Education introduced a raft of new features including Microsoft Classroom, School Data Sync, Microsoft Forms, and Learning Tools.
  • Microsoft brought some new ink effects to OneNote, and also the ability for the app not just to convert a handwritten equation to text, but also to teach you how to solve it.
  • Two new Visio apps popped up: Visio Online Preview which allows users to view and share Visio diagrams with only a browser, and the Visio for iPad app.
  • Various accessibility updates were applied across Office 365, including tweaks to make Narrator (the screen reader) a better experience in Word, Outlook and SharePoint.

July 2016

  • Microsoft highlighted two major new features coming to Word – Editor and Researcher, which help with proofing/editing, and citing sources respectively.
  • A new service arrived in the form of Microsoft Bookings, which gives Office 365 business users a hub web page that allows customers to schedule appointments.
  • Microsoft announced that Office 365 now has 23.1 million subscribers.
  • The free preview version of Microsoft Stream was launched, a YouTube-style service for businesses which will eventually become the de facto video experience in Office 365.
  • The Secure Productive Enterprise offering was revealed, bundling Office 365, Windows 10 Enterprise (in its new E3/E5 cloud-based form) and Enterprise Mobility + Security suite.
  • Redmond released a free videoconferencing tool for SMBs, noting that Office 365 business subscribers get similar facilities on a much grander scale via Skype for Business.
  • Microsoft revealed that later in 2016, Office 365 users will get a preview of an automatic live translation caption service for Skype Meeting Broadcast supporting 40 languages.

June 2016

  • Microsoft Planner was rolled out to Office 365 users worldwide, an app which lets you tackle project management in a fresh and user-friendly fashion.
  • Microsoft made a number of tweaks to Sway, its 'digital storytelling' app, including upping content limits so you can use more photos, videos and so forth in your Sways.
  • Outlook received some new features to help users better manage their travel plans and track the status of package deliveries.
  • Excel got a new set of Power Query features designed to make working with and getting the most out of your data easier.
  • A new Office 365 admin app was pushed out with a more slickly designed interface that makes important information easy to spot at a glance.
  • A new SharePoint mobile app was also launched for iOS offering quick and easy access to your company's portals, sites and resources when you're on the go.
  • The preview version of GigJam – a collaboration app inbound for Office 365 that allows users to easily share all manner of content – was made available to all comers.
  • Office 365 was struck by a major ransomware attack that exposed some 57% of its 18.2 million subscribers to phishing attempts.

May 2016

  • Office 365 Business was enhanced to allow co-editors to chat in real-time when collaborating on documents stored in OneDrive for Business or SharePoint Online.
  • Accessibility improvements, including a new high contrast theme, were applied to Office 365 to make it easier for the visually impaired to work with the apps.
  • Microsoft tweaked security for Office 365, with Exchange Online Protection getting safety tips that give warnings about suspicious emails.

April 2016

  • Office 365 received a front-end facelift with a new welcome page designed to be more helpful and intuitive.
  • Redmond bolstered the capabilities of Microsoft Graph, meaning that going forward developers can build better and smarter apps powered by data drawn from Office 365.

March 2016

  • A new admin centre arrived on Office 365 boasting powerful search functionality and enabling easy access to in-depth reports.
  • Office 365 Connectors were introduced, allowing apps and services to be hooked up to Office 365 Groups, so notifications from said apps automatically get sent to the Groups shared inbox.
  • Office 365 became the only non-Apple accessory offered to those purchasing iPads online.
  • Google expanded its Identity Platform, which is made up of a number of solutions including Google Sign-In, to cover Office 365.
  • And as March ended, we discovered that according to one study, Office 365 is the king of all business web apps.

February 2016

  • A ton of improvements were applied to Excel including new functions to make building common calculations an easier process, and deeper integration with Power BI.
  • Outlook also got some attention with a new system that lets users easily archive messages, and a new Groups section was added to the ribbon.
  • We saw a leaked pilot web page that indicated Redmond's incoming premium email service, Outlook.com Premium, will be free for Office 365 users.

January 2016

  • Microsoft extended its Office Insider preview program, which allows the curious to test early builds, to include Mac users.
  • Redmond introduced new inking features for the Office for iPad apps, allowing for scribbling on documents with a stylus or your finger.

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