How’s your week been? As far as the tech world goes, it’s been a pretty exciting one, filled with its regular mix of juicy rumors, intriguing revelations and some rather nice new products (and thankfully, Microsoft didn’t unveil yet another cheap Lumia phone). As ever, 7 Days is here to guide you the week’s top tech news, and this time, our odyssey begins in Scandinavia.
Norway’s government announced this week that the country will become the first in the world to switch off FM radio signals. The transition to digital audio broadcasting (DAB) will begin in January 2017, and should be completed within twelve months.
But across the globe in Australia, Microsoft announced that it will soon be opening its first flagship retail store outside of North America. The company has previously opened ‘store-in-store’ concessions in China, but its new retail location in Sydney will be the first dedicated Microsoft Store to launch internationally.
It seems that it will be joined by another one in the near future, as images emerged this week of what appears to be a new Microsoft Store being fitted out in São Paolo, Brazil.
On Monday, Neowin exclusively revealed details of changes currently being tested on Outlook.com. New ‘Outlook Mail’ branding, updated icons and the addition of Live Tiles are among some of the tweaks made to beta versions of the site.
While Microsoft continues to make its software available for the Apple Watch, it’s continuing to develop the capabilities of its own wearable device, the Band. On Wednesday, the company delivered a bunch of updates to its Health app, as well as the Band companion app, introducing a range of new features and improvements.
Less than a month after its last round of discounts on the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft is yet again offering up to $150 off its flagship tablet, along with a free protective sleeve. It’s the third time that Microsoft has offered promotional price reductions on the Pro 3 this year (and the fifth time in six months).
That led us to ask the question: is it time for Microsoft to cut Surface Pro 3 prices permanently? Or would bundling a free keyboard (worth $130) be a better solution, adding more value to the device? Or is Microsoft’s current pricing strategy, supported by discounts every few weeks, the right way to go? Be sure to vote in our poll, and join in the discussion to have your say.
But back to Microsoft’s Surface range, as the company announced that it will offer a ‘unique’ edition of its new, more affordable Surface 3 tablet to the education sector. This version will have 32GB of storage (compared with the 64GB and 128GB options on the ‘regular’ models), but Microsoft did not reveal how much it will cost.
If you’re thinking of buying a Surface 3, make sure you read our review of the device (specifically, the model with 128GB of storage and 4GB of RAM).
PiPO isn’t exactly a household name around the world, but it’s managed to grab our attention in recent months – not just with the X7, but with other devices too, including one of the lowest-priced Windows tablets ever. This week, the company unveiled the X8 “Windows TV box + desktop tablet” – one of the most unusual form factors we’ve seen for a small Windows device. But priced at under $100, the 7-inch PiPO X8 might just make sense for some buyers.
It looks like Nokia may be preparing to make a return to the smartphone market, after selling its devices and services business to Microsoft last year. The Finnish company has already rolled out an Android tablet – the N1, built by Chinese manufacturer Foxconn – and it is reportedly also considering an entry into new product segments, perhaps including virtual reality devices and the Internet of Things.
Details emerged this week of a new flagship-class handset on the way from Chinese manufacturer Elephone, with two versions on offer: one running Android, and the other running Windows 10. Neowin published exclusive images and details about the handset, including its Intel processor on the Windows 10 version.
Microsoft itself promised that flagship-class “Lumia smartphones with Snapdragon 810 smartphones” are on the way earlier this year, and this week, new details surfaced of what the company may have planned for those devices.
It emerged this week that Microsoft has added MKV video playback support to Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2, the very latest version of the OS (excluding its preview releases of Windows 10). However, Update 2 is destined to roll out to only a handful of devices – but for those that don’t get it, the free Windows 10 upgrade will still include MKV playback support later this year.
Acer announced that its first Windows Phone for several years will go on sale at Microsoft Stores across the US for just $79.99, making it one of the most affordable smartphones in America when it launches there in June. That said, we had a chance to briefly try out the emphatically low-end Acer Liquid M220 at Mobile World Congress 2015 last month, and while the device certainly has some attractive features, its display is pretty poor. Be sure to check out our full first impressions of the Liquid M220.
But another low-cost Windows Phone – which Microsoft also announced at MWC 2015 last month – is heading to the US as well, and this one offers way more value than Acer’s Liquid M220. The Lumia 640 includes a 5-inch HD display with Corning Gorilla Glass 3, quad-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor, 1GB RAM, 4G LTE support, NFC and a whole lot more, and it will only cost a few bucks more than the much less impressive Acer.
On Thursday, the Microsoft Store briefly published pricing for the Lumia 640 – off-contract, but locked to T-Mobile, it looks like the Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2 device will cost just $89. That’s an awesome price for a handset with those specs, and it’s even more impressive when you consider that it will also include a free one-year Office 365 Personal subscription for your PC, worth $69.99.
But one thing the Lumia 640 can’t do at the moment is run the latest Windows 10 Technical Preview for phones. The handset was previously on the approved list of devices, but Microsoft said this week that it had pulled the preview for the Lumia 640, due to issues with the process of rolling back installations to Windows Phone 8.1. This appears to be related to a similar problem that resulted in the temporary withdrawal of the preview for the Lumia 520, 525 and 526.
As Microsoft continues its development of Windows 10, we’re also seeing changes in its global design language. Earlier this week, a designer and Microsoft enthusiast, Martin Anderson (you may also know him as Neowin member mdtaUK), created a graphic showing many of the visual changes from ‘Metro’ to the new ‘Microsoft Design Language 2’.
Earlier this week, build 10061 of the Windows 10 Technical Preview for PCs leaked (directly from Microsoft’s servers, in fact), but just a few hours later, the company made its release official:
- Microsoft releases Windows 10 preview build 10061
- What’s new in build 10061
- Known issues in build 10061
- Gallery: Windows 10 build 10061
- How to upgrade to build 10061 if you installed the earlier leaked build 10056
Microsoft has previously said that Windows 10 will officially launch this summer, but the CEO of AMD let slip on an earnings call that the new OS will launch at the end of July. But that’s not all we found out about Windows 10 this week:
- Some builds of the Technical Preview will stop booting after April 30
- Microsoft unveils Device Guard – another Windows 10 security feature
- Microsoft is integrating tech support directly into Windows 10
As we reported on Thursday, Microsoft’s new Project Spartan web browser – which made its debut in Windows 10 – offers blazing performance, even in its pre-release state. In fact, Spartan manages to beat Chrome in Google’s own benchmark tests.
Microsoft is eager to prove that it can build a truly impressive browser, given how little love users have for Internet Explorer. The company announced a new ‘bug bounty’ program for Spartan this week, in which it will pay people up to $15,000 if they discover vulnerabilities in the new browser.
On Tuesday, Microsoft rolled out an update to its Xbox app on Windows 10, bringing Game DVR functionality to the PC, allowing users to easily record clips from their games and share them.
The company also launched a new Avatars app for Windows 10, which lets users design and edit digital representations of themselves and save them to their Xbox gamer profile. Make sure you check out our hands-on gallery of the new app too.
Microsoft also rolled out its first preview release of the Xbox One May Update, adding several new features, including the ability to turn your console on and off via SmartGlass and – more excitingly – Miracast wireless display support. That’s been a long time coming.
The head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, said this week that Microsoft’s presence at the E3 gaming conference this year will focus heavily on new first-party titles, including some very appealing “new exclusive” games. He added that 2015 may be the most exciting year ever for first-party games on Xbox.
Microsoft certainly needs something to help boost its Xbox division. Sales of the Xbox One continue to lag behind those of Sony’s PlayStation 4, and revenues across the Xbox division were down 24% year-on-year last quarter.
That was just one of many details that emerged from Microsoft’s latest quarterly financial report, which it published on Thursday. Overall profits were down year-on-year, but there were some success stories. It sold 8.6 million Lumias, helping the Device and Consumer business unit grow by 8% to $9bn of revenue, and Office 365 Consumer subscriptions increased to 12.4 million users.
The company’s CEO, Satya Nadella, also said on an earnings call that Office has now been downloaded over 100 million times on Android and iOS.
While we’re on the subject of Android, it’s worth mentioning a story that certainly raised a few eyebrows on Friday. Right there, for all the world to see on Google Maps – both online and in the apps – was an image of the company’s Android mascot emptying its bladder onto the Apple logo.
Google later apologized for the image, explaining that it had been added by an individual using the Map Maker tool, but as Owen Williams (our esteemed former Neowin colleague, now with TNW) pointed out, Google’s approval process for additions to its Maps platform isn’t exactly rigorous.
There’s a lot to like about the Galaxy S6, and given its sales success so far, many consumers seem to agree. In fact, there’s one guy who really agrees – so much so that he got into an intense debate with his roommate in Tulsa, Oklahoma, over whether or not it’s a better device than the latest iPhone.
Unable to come to an agreement, the alcohol-fuelled debate eventually turned nasty, and the men smashed beer bottles and stabbed each other with them. Neither of them suffered life-threatening injuries, and it’s not yet clear if charges will be brought against either of them.
Incidentally, coverage of that story from Tulsa’s Channel 8 News included this great line: “Police did not respond when our photographer asked which phone is better.”
We end this week’s summary on a similarly violent note, with the brutal death of a Dell XPS 410. Lucas Hinch of Colorado Springs got so frustrated with the endlessly uncooperative PC that he eventually took it out into the back alley, and fired eight rounds from his 9mm pistol into it. However, the police weren’t impressed, and he was cited for discharging a firearm within city limits.
Despite this, Hinch said he had no regrets, adding that it felt “glorious” and that “angels sang on high”, as he ended months of misery by firing his gun into the Dell PC. You can kind of see where he’s coming from – after all, anything beats calling Dell tech support.