Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Bose QuietComfort 35 II

 We’re often asked what noise cancelling headphones to buy for commuters or travelers and Bose always tops our list of recommendations thanks to their excellent noise isolation and good sound (see: Bose QuietComfort 35). 

The newly updated Bose QC35 II NC - the sequel to the original QC35 - offers both qualities in spades and adds something new - Google Assistant.

The Bose QC35 II NC gives the company bragging rights for being the first headphone in the world to integrate Google Assistant but rest assured, more smart headphones are on the way. With Google Assistant onboard, you can simply press and hold a button to interact with Google without yelling, “OK Google.” The headphones will also read back notifications to you so you don’t have to dig in your pocket or bag for your smartphone. 

The addition of the Google Assistant is appreciated - it is - but it comes at the expense of other, more useful features like auto play/pause or instant mute.

While the QC35 II NC remain a solid recommendation for travelers and commuters, a few nagging feature omissions that prevent it from being at the top of the pack, especially for the $350 (£330, AU$500) price it commands. 

Design 

The Bose QC35 II NC look exactly like the previous generation headphone save for the new Google Assistant button located on the left earcup. The headphones come in black or silver and its design is ... well, stiflingly generic. This makes them perfect for modest business class travelers, but less perfect for those who like their headphones to make an impression. 

Also disappointing is its plastic build, which is nice for saving weight but feels extremely cheap especially compared to luxury headphones like the Master & Dynamic MW50, which bathes your head with lambskin leather and aluminum. 

Thankfully, the plastic build doesn’t affect the headphone’s ability to take punishment as it feels very solid. The headphones also come with a hard case for traveling, which is nicer than the pouches that many headphone makers opt to include. 

The plastic build does help the QC35 II NC in terms of comfort and we were impressed by just how comfortable the headphone was to use for extended periods. Although plastic doesn’t feel as nice as metal, it does wonders in weight savings which travelers will love on long flights.

The pads Bose use in the QC35 II NC are amazing, as they block out a ton of ambient noise even when noise cancellation is switched off. This is great if you want to preserve battery and listen with noise cancellation off. 

Similarly, controls on the headphone are simple and effective: You have a power and pairing slider on the right earcup as well as buttons for volume up/down and playback. The left earcup houses just one button for Google Assistant, though you can remap the button to toggle noise cancellation levels using Bose’s Android or iOS app. 

Features 

Google Assistant is the Bose QC35 II NC’s headline feature and it works well for the most part. Throughout our testing, we were impressed by the speed and accuracy of Google Assistant and how well the headphones were able to pick up our voice even on a crowded train and coffee shop. 

Before you power on the headphone for the first time, you’re prompted to download the Bose app for your phone as the headphone will require using the app for many features like toggling noise cancellation, remapping the Google Assistant button, updating firmware and more. 

The app is simple and worked well though we suffered some connectivity issues from time to time on Android where the app wouldn’t detect our headphones. Restarting the app would fix this so hopefully Bose will continue working on its mobile app to be more stable.

Using Google Assistant with the Bose QC35 II NC works just like it would on Google Home. You can ask it to read headlines, add reminders, or myriad other questions. The Assistant will also read you your notifications as they come in, which is nice but may be redundant if you have a smartwatch already. 

In short, the addition of Google Assistant is nice to have but is by no means the reason you should buy the Bose QC35 II NC: buy this headphone for its excellent noise cancellation, balanced sound, and incredible comfort. 

Where Bose fall short is simple things like automatically pausing your music when you take off the headphones. There’s also no instant-mute feature like on the Sony WH-1000XM2 where you can put your palm over an earcup to hear what’s going on around you. This feature is a godsend to travelers who need the ability to hear the airport PA quickly. It’s disappointing Bose doesn’t include these features when the budget Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 has both. 

Performance 

Bose’s forte is active noise cancellation and it shows with the QC35 II NC. Switching on noise cancellation is like walking into a quiet room after being on a busy city street. The headphone does an excellent job of drowning out everything from the rumble of a train, cars driving by and even voices. 

There’s still some pressure we felt with noise cancellation turned on but it wasn’t bad. (However, those sensitive to noise cancellation pressure may not like them.) The headphones do an excellent job of blocking out ambient noise even with noise cancellation turned off, which is a testament to Bose’s earpad design. 

In terms of sound, the Bose QC35 II NC is good, but not class leading. While tonal balance is relatively neutral with a slight mid-bass bump, the sound is somewhat soft when compared to competitors like the Sony WH-1000X M2 (previously the Sony MDR-1000X). This means dynamic range is a bit limited and makes for a somewhat dull presentation. Resolution is good but not great and sound stage is about average. 

Most listeners will find the sound quality of the Bose great if taken in isolation. Audiophiles will want to go with the Sony WH-1000XM2 or Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2 instead. 

Battery life is rated at an excellent 20 hours with noise cancellation turned on and listening at moderate volumes. We found this rating to be spot on and you won’t have to worry about charging these headphones in the middle of a flight. However, the battery is not removable like the B&O Beoplay H9 so bring a microUSB charging cable and a battery pack just in case.

If you want to save some battery life, you can listen in wired mode with noise cancellation still on, which is a nice option to have. It’s annoying that Bose chose to use a 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable - which means finding a replacement won’t be as easy - but it's not a deal breaker by any means.

Verdict

Bose took the already-excellent QC35 and updated with Google Assistant. The headphone is identical in every way save for the new Google Assistant button. This means you still get the class-leading noise cancellation Bose is known for, good sound quality, and incredible comfort. 

The Google Assistant works well on either Android or iOS and provides a similar experience to using a Google Home. The headphones will also read back your notifications, which may be redundant for smartwatch users. Google Assistant is nice to have but is by no means the reason you should buy this headphone. 

Taken as a whole, the Bose QC35 II NC is an excellent headphone for travelers and commuters. Bose has found a good balance of features that will satisfy most mainstream listeners. Audiophiles will want to check out the Sony WH-1000XM2 or Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2 instead.  

Aaxa M5 Mini Projector

Projector designs often fall neatly into one of two camps: those that are offering portability, and others that can project enough light to be seen easily.

Not that the boundary between those distinctions isn’t a bit flexible, and the Aaxa M5 is an example of a product that attempts to straddle both requirements in a single solution.

But is it light enough to carry, and yet bright enough to be worth bringing along?

Design

According to the specifications, a 48-inch projection requires a 50-inch throw, which is a 1.04 ratio using our calculator.

The M5 retails at around £680 – $470 over in the US – and it comes in a fabric carry case that’s been stiffened with plastic to offer greater protection. Inside the case is the (roughly) Apple Mac mini-sized M5, the power supply, a small tripod, tiny remote control and a few potentially useful cables.

The unit is just 150mm square and 45mm deep, making it larger than some of the Pico projectors we’ve seen, but obviously small in comparison to a full-scale projector.

The projector alone weighs 863g, and together with all the accessories in the travel case, the total weight is 1.84kg.

At 900 lumens, Aaxa claims that this is the world’s brightest mini projector, and it can generate a 150-inch display using its 4th-Gen DLP Optical Engine.

That quoted brightness assumes a mains power connection, though the M5 will run on an internal battery for 70 minutes if you are willing to accept a reduction to 500 lumens as the trade-off.

Available inputs include VGA, HDMI, and Composite A/V, and you can also source media files from USB-connected storage or a microSD card slot.

There is also a headphone jack for those who like to project something others can’t fail to notice, but keep the sound to themselves. The unit also has a single 2W integrated speaker for more gregarious types.

On the underside is a mount for the accompanying tripod which could be used to place it on a more substantial support, or even be used for ceiling mounting.

Instead of including a foot for tabletop deployment, Aaxa angled the optics in the M5 slightly upwards, allowing the projection to avoid hitting the supporting surface. Usually, some clearance is required to avoid overheating, but here the vents are on the top and rear.

The underside also has a removable cover where the battery is housed, allowing for the replacement of the Lithium-Ion module with another that the company will sell you for about $50 (around £40).

What you can’t switch out is the LED light source. That said, this element is built for up to 20,000 hours use, making replacement less of a concern.

Aping larger projector designs, the M5 has a small control pad on the top that can be used to select options from the interface. This is useful when you (inevitably) misplace the tiny remote control. However, the remote is a necessity for some adjustments, such as keystone alterations.

The only other features of note on the outside of this device are a small focus wheel on the right, and an on/off switch that overrides the soft power controls.

The internal projection system uses DLP (Digital Light Processing) technology with a native resolution of 1280 x 800 (WXGA), though it will scale a 1080p HDMI signal for presentation.

However, note that this projector isn’t a short-throw design, having a ratio of only 1.2:1. That equates to requiring roughly as much distance from the screen as the scale of projection you wish to see.

According to the specifications, a 48-inch projection requires a 50-inch throw, which is a 1.04 ratio using our calculator.

In use

In recent times, we’ve seen so many small projectors that use the Android platform that it was a shock to discover one which doesn’t.

Aaxa has gone with a very basic interface where you get to choose what sort of media you’d like to show, or input source to present. You can also configure a relatively small number of projection parameters, like the color balance, picture mode and aspect ratio.

There’s also an option to boost the brightness settings or scale them back with Eco mode.

What’s missing here is any internet interaction, and by definition, any means to upgrade or enhance the existing firmware. How it works and looks when you get it is exactly how the M5 will always be, forever.

The obvious way to solve that problem is to connect a laptop, tablet or phone to the projector, and make use of the other device’s connectivity instead. Personally, we’d buy a Chromecast and use that, because it would easily fit inside the carry case and take power from the USB port.

For media playback, the M5 is fully self-contained. Any of the compatible file types can be loaded on to a FAT32 formatted USB device or microSD card and presented directly.

In terms of official support, Aaxa’s M5 can handle MP3, WMA, OGG, WAV, AVI, WMV, SMV, BMP, JPG, GIF and TXT files. But we also tried MKV and that worked, unsurprisingly.

Our only reservations about projecting videos with the M5 are that the image can exhibit an extreme contrast in dark scenes and rampant over-saturation. Some adjustments to the contrast levels helped a little, but as a means to project videos, the M5 isn’t ideal.

On some video formats, the decoder also chose to ignore the aspect ratio of the source, instead presenting it stretched rather than correctly bordered top and bottom.

The sheer brightness produced by this device is impressive, though, being easily strong enough to use in naturally lit rooms with 40-inches wide or smaller projections, even without activating brightness boost.

When the M5 is projecting there is a fair amount of fan noise. However, at least the noise is constant, and the unit isn’t inclined to make sudden and distracting pitch changes.

Performance

900 lumens is a dramatic amount of light to see projected from such a small box, giving the M5 some tough numbers to live up to in testing.

With standard picture mode and default brightness, the M5 puts out an impressive 570 lumens at its centre, and about 30 less than that around the edges.

Selecting brightness boost mode elevated the light level to the 750-800 lumens range, though it never actually got to 900 lumens in our testing.

For such an easily transportable device that’s more than respectable, and significantly brighter than any of the Pico class projectors we’ve tested.

Battery brightness is closer to 400 lumens than 500, but it is workable if you only need it for an hour or so. What’s mildly annoying about running on battery power is that the interface contains no indicator as to the current level of charge or likely lifespan that might yield.

Having gone to the trouble of providing a battery, and even making it replaceable, would it really have been so much effort to implement some sort of battery life gauge?

Still, the biggest issue here, as mentioned previously, is overly saturated colors in everything this device projects, and there is only so much you can do about that in the settings.

Final verdict

Our initial reaction was to be disappointed that the M5 didn’t use Android, or have any networking capability. But the deeper we got into using this projector, the less that mattered.

Critically, the M5 delivers much of what it claims in the specs, and that overrides being able to access YouTube via the interface, or reply to an email with it.

Sadly, while this device manages to deliver the headline brightness that Aaxa claims, the M5 does so by almost ignoring basic requirements for color representation.

The video playback issues it exhibits don’t make this a great choice for use in a home environment, but travelling business users might find it a useful tool for PowerPoint presentations.

At just over £680, the UK pricing also doesn’t do it any favors compared to what US customers might expect to pay ($470).

Ring Video Doorbell 2

There are a few smart doorbells on the market, and they all seem to be a little different from each other: While the SkyBell HD is largely considered to be one of the best smart doorbells, it has to be hard-wired to work properly. 

Ring, however, is here to offer a smart doorbell that doesn’t require hard-wiring with its all-new Ring Video Doorbell 2 ($199/£179/AU$329).

So, does the Ring Video Doorbell 2 perform well enough to outdo similarly-priced devices like the SkyBell HD? We put it to the test to find out.

 Design and setup 

The first thing you’ll notice about the Ring Video Doorbell 2 is its design: it’s a good looking device. In the box we were treated to two face plates – a silver one and a dark gray one, and we ended up going with the dark gray one. 

The doorbell itself is somewhat large, and that may be a problem for those that want to install it in a small space or doorframe. It’s certainly too big for a doorframe, coming in at 5.05-inches tall, 2.50-inches wide, and 1.08-inches thick. 

That said, it doesn’t look too out of place on a wall next to the door, and while large the trade-off is that the battery can be a little bigger – which is always nice. In fact, Ring claims the battery will last between six months and a year. For obvious reasons we couldn’t fully test that, but we haven’t heard of any customers or reviewers claiming the battery did not last that time.

Setting up the smart doorbell is really quite easy, but there were a few bumps along the way. You’ll need to download the app on your Android and iOS device, then create an account, if you don’t already have one. Then, simply follow the in-app instructions to install it. 

There are a few options for installing the device – you can choose to wire it to replace your existing doorbell, or simply use it separately from your existing doorbell. If you do that, however, you may want to pair it with the Ring Chime or Ring Chime Pro, which will, as the name suggests, chime when someone presses the doorbell. We installed the Chime Pro, which also extends your Wi-Fi range.

And while we were pleased with the results, setting up the Chime Pro wasn't a flawless experience. We had to go through the instructions more than a few times, as the device was unable to connect to the Wi-Fi network. 

 Day-to-day use 

Once installed, the Ring Video Doorbell 2 is a breeze to use. When someone presses the button or approaches your door, you’ll get a notification on your phone, and if they press the button, the chime will sound and a video call will appear on your phone. That’s particularly helpful if you’re away from your home - as you can initiate a two-way call with whoever is at the door.

There are a few settings in the app that you may want to tweak, however. 

For starters, the Ring video doorbell has motion tracking and initiates video recording if it detects motion. By default, it was a little too sensitive for our use - especially considering it was facing another nearby condo and would initiate recording when people went to their door as well. Thankfully, that can be changed in the app simply by heading to the “My Devices” section and hitting the “Motion Settings” option.

The motion tracking really worked quite well, and we loved the integration with our smartphone. When the sensitivity options are all set up, we picked up a few things we wouldn’t have otherwise seen - like delivery drivers delivering packages, people approaching the door for unknown reasons, and so on. 

In the app, you can also go through all the recent activity, and you can sort activity based on things like rings, motion, and “starred.” That last option is helpful if, say, you see something particularly suspicious, then you can “star” it and easily return to it later. 

Other features we would expect are present too. You can check the battery status of your connected devices pretty easily, change the chime sound to a sound you like, and so on. You can also easily add another user - so if you live with someone else they can access the doorbell as well. 

 Subscription costs

As is the case with most video recording security devices, you are prompted to subscribe to the video recording service - and if you don’t you won’t be able to use the Ring Video Doorbell 2 to its full potential. You won’t, for example, be able to watch back video recorded when motion tracking is activated, and your previously recorded video will be deleted from your account.

It’s kind of a bummer that there’s no free subscription available. For example, some services allow you to watch back video within 24 hours before it’s deleted, and SkyBell offers free cloud video storage to its customers, which is very helpful. With Ring, you’ll have to pay $3 per month or $30 per year for one device, or $10 per month/$100 per year for multiple devices - which comes in handy if you have Ring security cameras. 

It’s not overly expensive, to be sure - but it would have been nice to be able to use a $200 doorbell for what it’s made for without having to pay extra.

(We've reached out to Ring for the UK/AU subscription price and we'll update this review when we hear back from them.)

 Final verdict 

The Ring Video Doorbell 2 is a solid device. Setup is easy, the app is a breeze to use, motion tracking works great, and the battery lasts long enough to not be a hassle. We really liked the layout of the app, and the fact that the system can be integrated with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant only makes things even better for smart home enthusiasts.

But should you buy it? If you don’t mind the size and want a battery-powered device, then this is the one for you. If, however, you would prefer something a little smaller or you don’t want to have to pay to store video recordings, you may want to look elsewhere.

If motion tracking or security features are at the top of your priority list, though, Ring Video Doorbell 2 has you covered.

RazerPhone, iPhone X Airtel Store, BlackBerry Motion, Surface Pro with LTE & More – PhoneRadar Report

You are reading a story from PhoneRadar.

Welcome to the seventeenth edition of PhoneRadar Report, where we talk in brief about today’s news related to the tech industry.

BlackBerry Motion will go on Sale Starting November 10th

Earlier this month, Blackberry unveiled the new Blackberry Motion smartphone at an event held in Dubai. Now, the company announced to launch this new in Canada on November 10th. It is priced at CAD 600, but it can be purchased for as low as CAD 99 with contracts. The Blackberry Motion sports a 5.5-inch Full HD touchscreen display and there is no physical keyboard. It also packs a 4,000mAh and supports fast charging using the USB Type-C port. The physical home button beneath the display also features the fingerprint sensor.

Airtel Might Sell iPhone X with Bundled Plan on its Online Store

Airtel started selling the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus for as low as Rs. 7,777. However, the users have to pay Rs. 2,499 per month for 24 months. The company will be offering unlimited calling and 30GB of 4G data every month under the Rs 2499 plan. Now, the latest reports hint at the iPhone X availability on the Airtel store. While the Rs. 2499 monthly plan remains same for every device. As of now, there is no information about the one-time payment fee of the iPhone X.

RazerPhone Listed Online Ahead of its Official Launch

RazerPhone listing reveals some additional details ahead of its official launch. The 5.72-inch display will be featuring IGZO panel with 120Hz refresh rate and Wide Color Gamut support. On the rear, the device sports 12MP wide-angle sensor with f/1.75 aperture and 13MP telephoto sensor with f/2.6 aperture. The RazerPhone also includes THX-certified dual speakers and amplifiers on the front. It gets its juice from a 4,000mAh battery and supports Quick Charge 4.0 fast charging technology.

Asus Zenfone 4 Devices Now Launched in the US

Asus has finally launched the Zenfone 4 devices in North America. The ZenFone 4, ZenFone 4 Pro, and ZenFone 4 Max will be available through Amazon, B&H, Best Buy, Newegg, and other leading retailers. All the Zenfone 4 smartphones feature dual camera setup on the rear. As of now, there is no information about the availability of the Asus Zenfone 4 Selfie devices.

Microsoft Surface Pro with LTE Support Rumored to Launch on December 1st

Microsoft is said to launch the LTE version of the Surface Pro on December 1st. According to The Verge, it will be powered by Intel Core i5 processor and includes Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 LTE modem. Talking about the other specifications, the Surface Pro with LTE includes 4GB/8GB of RAM and 128GB/256GB of SSD storage. It will be retailing from $1,149 and is said to be first available to its business customers.

Stay tuned on Phone Radar for tomorrow’s “PhoneRadar Report” article with all the latest tech news.

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

Sticky Password

Despite the name, Sticky Password is about more than just remembering and entering your passwords. It can take care of just about any data you are expected to enter online, such as your address, date of birth and phone numbers.

Data is secured with AES 256-bit encryption, and there are versions of the program available for Windows, macOS, iOS and Android.

There's also a password generator for generating more secure logins, and a secure memo option for saving notes that you'd like to keep private.

While Sticky Password is primarily concerned with helping you store and enter online passwords, it can also be used as a vault for the passwords you use to access apps, and it will even attempt to enter program passwords for you when you need to log in.

It's worth noting that there is also a premium version of Sticky Password available for US$29.99/£19.99 (about AU$40) for a year or US$149.99/£96.99 (about AU$200) for a lifetime license. This edition of Sticky Password gives you greater control over the synchronisation of data, notably the ability to sync across devices – if you are particularly concerned about security, you can disable cloud synchronisation so data never leaves your computer.  

User experience

Getting up and running with Sticky Password is very simple, and you're guided through every step of the way. There's a tutorial on hand to help you out the first time you run the program, and a series of video to introduce the various components.

Sticky Password has a somewhat old-school look, but it's highly accessible. For the most part, Sticky Password disappears into the background, only needing to be active when you are using it. We like the password rating tool, which judges the strength of your logins, but the cost of upgrading to the premium version is a slight irritant if you want to be untethered from a single device.

The competition

KeePass Password Safe

KeePass Password Safe is one of the best known password managers thanks, at least in part, to the fact that there are versions available for just about every operating system, including unofficial mobile ports.

It's a password database that can be used to store passwords for websites and applications, as well as notes. The database is encrypted and either protected with either a password or a security file to keep your details from prying eyes.

When it comes to entering your stored passwords, you have a couple of options. You can simply copy and paste from KeePass Password Safe (there's no browser integration, sadly) or use hotkeys to trigger them. Sadly, there's no form-filling feature, and you will also have to spend time manually compiling your database as there's no way to pull in data from your browser or other programs.

There's a massive range of extensions available for KeePass Password Safe. The program is incredibly powerful in its raw form, but there are dozens of ways to add even more capabilities, or tweak it to work better with other software.

User experience

As strong and feature-packed as KeePass is, there's no escaping its unintuitive design. The interface is far from attractive, and the manual password entry is time-consuming. It's clearly designed with the more technically inclined in mind, and that's a shame for less experienced users.

With a bit of work and a new look, KeePass Password Safe could have serious mass-appeal. As it stands though, it's a powerful program whose benefits will only be felt by those who are willing to learn how to make it work for them.

The competition

Snagit 2018

When taking a screengrab requires nothing more than hitting the Print Screen key, and when Windows 10 even has its own built in screen capture tool, you may well wonder why on Earth you would want to spend money on software for taking screenshots. Snagit 2018 is the answer.

Snagit will not only grab everything that you can see on your screen, not only individual windows, not only videos of on-screen activity, but much more – including grabbing scrolling screenshots of long web pages, and grabbing text from screenshots to boot.

The inclusion of an image editing component is nothing new for Snagit, but the latest edition of the program also includes tools that makes it possible for you to rearrange the components of the images you grab.

At its most basic, Snagit is a screen capture tool that lets you use a custom keyboard shortcut to grab everything you can currently see. Alternatively, you can use the horizontal and vertical grabbing to capture the full contents of a scrolling window. There's even a delay timer so you can prepare your shots before capturing them.

User experience

The image and video capturing side of Snagit is impressive and incredibly simple to use, but there are robust editing tools on offer as well. Snagit might never replace your dedicated image editor, but the range of tools it offers for working with screenshots is very impressive. Image editing isn't just about enhancing your grabs; you can also augment them with annotations, shapes and other objects.

This is all very impressive, and combines with Snagit's excellent video capture tool to give it a real edge over other screen grabbing tools.

The competition

UsenetServer

UsenetServer is a popular Usenet provider owned by UNS Holdings, the company behind Newshosting, Easynews and many other services.

The UsenetServer website highlights some appealing features: 3,363 days retention, over 100,000 newsgroups and 99% completion. You only get a maximum of 20 connections, while others often give you 30, 40 or more. Still, there's free SSL to keep your connection private, a VPN if you need it, and no transfer limits, speed caps or other irritating restrictions.

While this sounds good, there's a distinct shortage of detail. UsenetServer has an "award winning search", the website claims, which is "new and improved." Which award did it win, and what has changed? The company doesn't want to tell us. This overly vague approach applies almost everywhere, with the website not even displaying any prices until you hit the Get Started button.

Skeptical types might think UsenetServer is trying to hide something, but the reality is very different. You can pay monthly for $14.95 (£12), but the highlight is the annual plan, which adds a "zero-log VPN" and sees the price fall to a seriously cheap $7.95 (£6.35).

This looks like excellent value to us, and a free trial gives you a chance to try it out for yourself. It's relatively limited at 14 days and up to 10GB data transfer – Newshosting gives you 30GB, some even more – but it's enough to sample the VPN, test retention for your favorite groups, and get a feel for the level of performance you'll get.

Privacy

Some Usenet providers take the time to reassure users about privacy, for example explaining how they don't log, monitor or otherwise track what you're doing online. UsenetServer doesn't seem quite as interested and barely mentions this at all, even in its privacy policy.

What we do know is that the service includes free SSL support, encrypting connections to limit the ability of snoopers to see what you're doing.

A VPN can further hide your identity by allocating you a new IP address from one of 21 possible countries.

We had a small issue with UsenetServer's handling of our personal details. Not only did the company collect and store our billing address when we paid by PayPal, it also prominently displayed that address on the front page of our web control panel. If it must hold that data, we would prefer it to be stored separately and accessible to UsenetServer staff only, and not made instantly available to anyone who might gain access to the account.

We noticed one other apparently interesting point in UsenetServer's terms of service, where it states the agreement is "governed by... Icelandic law". Could this mean you get more privacy rights than other countries?

Well, no, as the privacy policy points out. "Our computer systems are currently based in the United States, so your personally identifiable information will be processed by us in the United States, where data protection and privacy regulations may be different than other parts of the world, such as the European Union."

Many companies highlight the fact that they're based in some non-EU or US location, but this doesn't necessarily bring you any privacy benefits. Always check out the small print to find the real position.

Performance

We headed off to UsenetServer's signup page to try out the service, and worked through the usual process, picking a plan, choosing a payment method (card or PayPal only) and entering our details. The company doesn't take any money immediately, but payments will kick in after 14 days or the 10GB data allowance has been used, whichever comes first.

After confirming the order at PayPal, UsenetServer redirected us to a simple web page with the core details we needed to get started: username, password, the server name and port numbers (119 and 563, as usual).

Unusually, the website also has a Global Search page which enables searching Usenet from your browser. Results can be filtered by date, for example to show matches in the last month, and you're able to download the matching NZB files in a couple of clicks. Open the NZB and as long as you have a suitable Usenet client installed, such as Usenet Wire, it should open and download the file for you.

While this search feature may be a plus point for some people, it doesn't appear to be very well thought out. For example, if we logged in to UsenetServer's web console, then clicked the Global Search link, it opened outside the current security context and asked us to log in again, with the same credentials. We would have thought the company might have noticed that and fixed it, but apparently not.

If you don't have a Usenet client then you'll need to find one, and UsenetServer doesn't make any significant effort to help you. We couldn't even find a simple list of packages that new users could try. We suspect it won't matter to most UsenetServer customers as they'll know precisely what they're doing, but it's still a concern when a provider doesn't highlight and explain something so basic.

We did get a link to download and install the Windows VPN client, and that was entirely straightforward: download, install, then an icon popped up in our system tray a few seconds later.

The client interface was simple, but very limited. You start by selecting a server from a list of cities and countries, with ping time stats to help you choose. A slider allows you to prioritize your connection for speed or security, and a Connect/Disconnect button turns the service on and off, and there's nothing else at all.

There's no search box to find a particular location, for instance. No favorites system. No right-click menu on the system tray icon – not even a simple exit option. There are also no startup options, no DNS tweaking, no configurable kill switch, no settings of any kind.

Even at this basic level, the Windows client isn't very well implemented. It raises a User Account Control prompt every time it launches. It uses its own desktop notifications which hang around for too long, and closing the client window disconnects you without any alert, rather than minimizing to the system tray. It feels more like a small app you've found on SourceForge, as opposed to a professional product.

To be fair, if you only want to use the VPN when connecting to Usenet, this may not matter very much. And if you do need more power, you could simply ignore UsenetServer's own client and set up OpenVPN instead. For us, the main issue here is that once again UsenetServer isn't showing the level of professionalism or expertise that we would expect.

Whatever the situation with the VPN software, we've no complaints about the underlying network. We had 21 countries to choose from, with locations including Australia, Brazil, Korea, New Zealand and Singapore, as well as the usual cities across Europe and North America. Our nearest UK server got close to 40Mbps download speeds, nearby European locations typically managed over 30Mbps, and even US servers got close to 30Mbps. In our experience, that's much better than you'll see with most specialist VPN services.

The main Usenet server isn't going to hold you up, either. We managed to download at more than 40Mbps with just four connections, and there are 20 available if you need them.

We completed our tests with a few simple retention checks, and again UsenetServer delivered, quickly finding and downloading binary and text files from the beginning of 2009. If you need to go way back in time, this is one service that may be able to help.

Final verdict 

UsenetServer is a poorly-presented service with a weak website, brief support articles, no bundled newsgroup software and a horribly basic Windows VPN client.

And yet, experienced users who only need a good core service will find a lot to like here, including speedy downloads, high retention and a great value online plan. If that sounds appealing, use the free trial to see if it meets your needs.

UsenetServer is offering an exclusive 65% discount on annual plans for TechRadar readers. Get it here for $7.95 per month. 

HMD Global Unveils Nokia 2 with 2-Day Battery Life & Pure Android OS

You are reading a story from PhoneRadar.

In a short span of 11 months, HMD Global has launched 11 Nokia branded mobile phones across the world. Today, the company unveiled its 12th device, the all-new Nokia 2 at an event held in New Delhi, India. It is priced at EUR 99 (~ Rs. 6,999) and is the company’s most affordable Nokia Android Smartphone. This new announcement comes after the recent launch of its flagship smartphone, Nokia 8. The Nokia 2 will be available in Pewter, White, and Copper color variants.

It will go on sale starting November, and the official Indian pricing is yet to be announced. The smartphone sports a 5-inch LTPS display with HD (1280 x 720 pixels) resolution and Gorilla Glass 3 protection. Under the hood is the Snapdragon 212 quad-core processor clocked at 1.3GHz and comes coupled with Adreno 304 GPU and 1GB of RAM. With the entry-level chipset and just 1GB of RAM, the Nokia 2 cannot be recommended for power users.

There is 8GB of internal storage that can be further expandable up to 128GB via a MicroSD card. The USP of the Nokia 2 is its mammoth 4,100mAh battery that is mentioned to give two days of battery life. In terms of optics, the budget Nokia device packs an 8MP autofocus camera on the rear with LED flash and a 5MP fixed focus camera on the front for selfies. It runs on Android 7.1.1 Nougat out of the box and is guaranteed to receive Android 8.0 Oreo update.

On the connectivity front, the Nokia 2 supports 4G VoLTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, 3.5mm audio jack, and a MicroUSB 2.0 port. Unlike other budget smartphones, the Nokia 2 comes with a 6000-series Aluminum frame offering sturdy built quality. The power button and volume rocker are placed on the right edge of the device. Just like the Nokia 3, Nokia 5, & Nokia 6, the new Nokia 2 also comes with IP52 certification.

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

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.]

October 2017

  • Microsoft brought premium Outlook.com features to Office 365 Home and Personal subscribers, including an inbox storage capacity of 50GB, and no more adverts.
  • Microsoft announced that Office 365 now has 28 million consumer subscribers (up from 24 million this time last year), and 120 million commercial users (up from 85 million).
  • Microsoft To-Do, the company’s task management app, began rolling out across the Office 365 user base.
  • Outlook for iOS and Android got some smart new features including the ability to sync shared calendars to your phone, and added capabilities for managing events.
  • Microsoft ended support for Office 2007 and Outlook 2007, meaning no more security patches, with the company pushing for users to upgrade to either to Office 365 or 2016.

September 2017

  • Microsoft revealed that Office 2019 will be out next year, so the company will continue to cater for those who don’t want (or aren’t ready) to move to the cloud with Office 365.
  • Skype for Business has reached the end of the road, with Microsoft set to roll the service into Microsoft Teams – with audio conferencing capabilities already in preview.
  • The Office.com website has been redesigned, and Office 365 app launcher simplified to help users open the apps they need swiftly, and to easily switch between them.
  • Microsoft kicked off a new program called ‘Windows Insider Lab for Enterprise’ which allows IT pros to try out Office 365 and other services for free, with a view to upgrading.
  • Microsoft Teams was improved by the rollout of guest access for Office 365 commercial and education subscribers, allowing guests to join a team and subsequent meetings.

August 2017

  • Microsoft brought co-authoring to Excel, along with an auto-save function for Word, Excel or PowerPoint files being worked on in OneDrive or SharePoint Online.
  • Security firm Barracuda has warned about an ongoing series of phishing attacks aiming to steal the login credentials of Office 365 users. As ever, be cautious about links in emails.
  • Microsoft released a new preview of Office for Windows PCs introducing in-line chat functionality to Word, Excel and PowerPoint, along with new ink effects.
  • A redesigned Outlook.com began rolling out in beta this month, with a number of touches to make your inbox smarter, and the webmail service more responsive in general.
  • Microsoft added new features for Office 365 users to the OneDrive app for iOS, including the ability to take folders offline for access, and scan multiple pages into a single PDF.

July 2017

  • With its latest quarterly financial results, Microsoft announced that Office 365 revenue surpassed traditional Office licenses for the first time ever.
  • The Outlook apps for iOS and Android have benefited from a redesigned navigation and conversation experience, and new intelligent search capabilities are promised soon.
  • Three new apps are coming to Office 365 Business Premium: Microsoft Connections (email marketing), Microsoft Listings (managing online listings) and Microsoft Invoicing.
  • Microsoft 365 was revealed, a new offering which combines Office 365 and Windows 10 in a single streamlined package, with additional security and management features.
  • Microsoft launched Workplace Analytics as an add-on for Office 365 enterprise customers, a system which uses behavioural metrics in an attempt to boost employee productivity.

June 2017

  • Microsoft Teams got new classroom experiences, allowing Office 365 for Education customers to benefit from virtual classroom environments with rich chat capabilities.
  • Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection received improved reporting on malicious emails which have been blocked, and a new Safe Links policy was introduced.
  • Microsoft Forms, a web tool for creating surveys, is rolling out for commercial customers, entering public preview for these users (previously it was only available to education customers).
  • Microsoft Stream was introduced for Office 365 commercial customers, an intelligent video service which allows users to share videos and benefit from speech-to-text transcription.
  • Microsoft pushed out iOS and Android apps for Microsoft Planner, allowing Office 365 users to update their plans while they’re on the move.

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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