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Hands-on review: Hands on: Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2 review

The largest Samsung Galaxy Tab to date made its official debut at CES 2014, physically overshadowing smaller devices thanks to its massive 12.2-inch screen.We went all ten fingers on the Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2's spacious WQXGA LCD with a 2560x1600 resolut...
Latest Technology, Reviews

Hands-on review: CES 2014: Toshiba Chromebook

Hands-on review: CES 2014: Toshiba Chromebook

We spied Toshiba's new Chromebook at Intel's booth on the first morning proper of CES 2014.

It's the first 13.3-inch Chromebook, though at 12.85 inches, the screen on the super-expensive Chromebook Pixel wasn't far off. It didn't have the battery life of this baby though – read on to find out how this is one notebook you won't need to charge that often.

Toshiba Chromebook review

Unlike just about every other notebook announced this CES, the Toshiba Chromebook doesn't have a Full HD display, instead opting for 1,366 x 768. This doesn't exactly whet our appetites, but then most Chromebooks are designed to hit a price point – although the Toshiba Chromebook price has yet to be determined.

Toshiba Chromebook review

Given the location at which we spotted it, you won't be surprised to find out that the Tosh Chromebook sports an Intel Celeron 2955U processor. Before the low-end name puts you off, let us make it clear that this is bang up-to-date silicon – it's a latest-generation Haswell part that's a special low voltage variant – therefore Toshiba is claiming a whopping 91 hours of battery life for this Chromebook. We can't wait to find out how true that is.

A note of caution is that the battery life was measured using Google's own test, so we'll see how it performs under review conditions.

As you'll realise, the Chromebook runs Chrome OS, so that's basically a web browser with offline support for GMail and Google Docs. You do get 100GB of Google Drive storage for two years, which is just as well as there is hardly any local storage – just a sliver of flash at 16GB.

Toshiba Chromebook review

Connectivity is a strong suite, with HDMI, USB 2.0, a SD card slot, audio jack, up to 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

Toshiba Chromebook review

Toshiba Chromebook reviewToshiba Chromebook review

There's also a webcam as you'd expect from any notebook these days (especially one designed for Google Hangouts).

Toshiba Chromebook review

The trackpad and keyboard were of sound quality, which hasn't always been the case with Toshiba's lower end devices.

Toshiba Chromebook review

Toshiba Chromebook review

Apparently, this is light gold, but it looked more silver to us under the strong lights of the show floor.

Toshiba Chromebook review

The Toshiba Chromebook release date is the first quarter of 2014.

Early verdict

As with all Chomebooks, the success or failure of Toshiba's first foray into Chrome OS will be measured by price. If the Toshiba Chromebook can hit a decent price point, it will be a genuine success.


    






Latest Technology, Reviews

Hands-on review: CES 2014: Sony Smartband

Hands-on review: CES 2014: Sony Smartband

Sony is introducing yet another entrant to the wearable tech space, but with a little something special. Called the Smartband, the waterproof strap is essentially an activity tracker that also lets users control media, calls and message alerts on their Android tablet or smartphone.

It tracks the usual sleep patterns, movement metrics and calories burned, and discretely vibrates to alert wearers of incoming calls or texts.

There are certainly some elements of devices like the Galaxy Gear and Sony's own SmartWatch 2 found in the Smartband, and a Sony rep here at CES 2014 told us that it's "much more than a fitness tracker."

The display-less gadget follows a long line of wrist-worn tech with a twist. The likes of Pebble, the aforementioned Gear and Neptune Pine are just a few, and design-wise the Smartband finds itself in the same camp as straps like Jump and Fitbit.

Wrist

But where does the Smartband fit in? We went hands on with the new gadget on the show floor to find out.

Powered at the Core

Most spec details for the Smartband are still under wraps. Sony informed us that more specifics are due at MWC 2014, but for now there's one key bit of tech that makes the band tick and sets Sony's venture into wearables apart.

The heart of the Smartband is Sony's new Core, a tiny chip designed to fit in any number of wearables. Its first vessel is the Smartband – when users buy a Core, they'll receive two differently sized Smartbands, but the plan is to have it expand well beyond the strap.

Core charger

But back to the present - the Core, housed in a white casing, slips in and out of the Smartband. Users charge the whole thing via a USB in the Core capsule's rear with a separate charging unit. The capsule is curved, so it shapes to the wrist. Once it's in, users only feel the rubber edges that encase it inside the strap.

Core helps the Smartband do more than just count calories. Using an accompanying Lifelog app, users can see keep tabs on various elements of their life beyond movement, like how what songs they listened to.

The app is downloadable on Android devices, and the entire system works with Android 4.3 and up. It's a colorful, graphic-filled interface, and one that should make users feel good about moving.

App

None of the tech is stuck just using Sony products. Users of any Android device with 4.3+ will be able to use Smartband.

The Smartband strap

The strap is made of a rubbery liquid silicon. It's soft to the touch and feels light on the skin. It's gentle in a way, and as the Smartband has no sharp edges, the only thing to really call attention to its presence on your wrist is its weight.

Because of where the Core sits, the whole thing feels unbalanced. There's a large lump where the Core lives, but the rest of the band is the same width and weight (the Smartband will ship in two sizes - we tested the larger of the two). After a while a wearer would probably get used to it, but initially it was distracting.

The other negative about the strap is how you clasp it on. There are two pegs that fit into two holes. Wearers can make it shorter or longer based on where they put the pegs.

The problem is getting the darn thing on. It's similar to putting on your own wristband for concert admission – you have to twist the wrist you're trying to put the band on and push down at an awkward angle. The pegs, which pop up like mushrooms, don't go in easy.

Pegs

We were successful a few times getting it on and off (off is the easy part), but at one point had to take a break from trying because it was so frustrating.

Design wise, we like the matte black look of the band we tried. Customers will be able to get it in different, more vibrant colors and patterns when it's released.

The lights along the progress bar are discrete, as is the band's only button. The button is situated on the inside of the strap, and the three dull lights run along its right side. The button is actually housed on the Core, and is used to mute an in coming call, for example.

Tapping on the top of the band's bulb controls media functions, such as play, pause and choosing the next song. This we liked - one only has to tap and push the strap to get it to do anything, and there's no flicking through interfaces on screens.

The only flare on the black band we tried is the shiny clasp with "Sony" carved in, and since it's on the bottom when you're wearing it, there's little chance it will glint annoyingly in the sunlight.

Flash

Early verdict

If priced right, the Sony Smartband could carve itself a nice niche in the activity tracker/wearable market. While there are some design flaws, it's comfortable to the touch and lightweight, save for the bulk of the Core. It's functions are basic - really the most complicated thing about it is the Lifelog app.

It'd be nice if it slipped on like some of its competitors, but Sony seems to want to keep with the watch theme of its other wearables.

While those why buy it will get a fine device, what they're really buying is the Core. Once more wearables with different come out that support it, the Core could lead a revolution of sorts in how consumers and the industry thinks of what makes a wearable.

We'll be keeping an eye on this device, especially at MWC in February.


    






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Hands-on review: CES 2014: LG Chromebase

Hands-on review: CES 2014: LG Chromebase

When I first used a Chromebook, I thought, "this is the kind of computer they should have in libraries." They're affordable, with long lasting batteries and light builds, plus the limits of the Chrome OS means less distractions. The internals aren't impressive, but they're always more than enough to power Google's pared down software.

The affordability of the Chromebook has made laptops like the HP Chromebook 11 and Acer C720 hot selling items. But what about a desktop? Is there room in the market for an affordable and simple but far less portable, Chrome-based machine?

The LG Chromebase (just like home base) is an all-in-one system Chrome OS system that looks something like an iMac. It comes in black and white.

LG Chromebase review

As usual, the internals are nothing special, except for a 16GB iSSD, which is more high-speed storage then you usually find on one of these Google OS machines.

A surprisingly sharp screen

Watching YouTube videos is a big part of the web, and Chrome OS, experience. LG knows it and put a 21.5-inch widescreen full HD IPS display on the Chromebase.

LG Chromebase review

The resolution is a respectable 1920 x 1080 with wide viewing angles and sharp color. The built in 5 watt speakers were hard to hear over the din of the show floor, so I can't really judge them until we have a review unit in a nice, quiet room.

What's inside?

Inside, the Chromebase packs an Intel Celeron CPU, 2GB of RAM and those 16GB of solid-state storage I mentioned. I'm glad that LG has opted for an HDMI-in and a USB 3.0 port. There are two additional USB 2.0 ports and an Ethernet port.

The Chromebase is Hangout ready with a 720p webcam.

Bring your own keyboard and mouse

The only thing I actually disliked about the Chromebase was its keyboard. Getting back to my library comment, this one felt like it been kicking around in public computer lab for ages. The keys felt loose and rather shallow – not the kind of thing I want to use for banging out endless Google Docs.

LG Chromebase review

The mouse was better, with a comfortable feel and smooth scroll wheel. It still looked a whole lot like the kind of nondescript peripheral you'd get with a Gateway or Dell from 1999, but performed just fine.

Early verdict

Price is going to determine everything with the LG Chromebase. The hardwire is solid, especially that display. It's no Chromebook Pixel screen, but it'll be great for some YouTube and Netflix. It's just that the Chrome OS is inherently limited, at least until Google adds more offline features, that you can only ask so much for this sort of machine. Surely LG knows that though.

The only true liability here is that keyboard. If you're considering the Chromebase for your office or to have something for the kids to do homework on, consider picking up a better set of keys. Beyond that, I'm confident in the Chromebase and curious to see how the final version shakes out in a TechRadar review.


    






Latest Technology, Reviews

Hands-on review: CES 2014: DTS Headphone:X

Hands-on review: CES 2014: DTS Headphone:X

At its CES booth inside the Las Vegas Convention Center DTS is ushering attendees into a small, dark room called the "top secret sound facility," where the roar of the bustling convention is muffled by thick, black walls.

Inside, you're treated to "the DTS Listening Xperience," emphasis on the X; this is a demo of DTS's new Headphone:X technology, which makes wearing headphones sound like you're in a room full of speakers.

Device makers like the Brazilian company Vivo are already incorporating it into their handsets' firmware, and DTS hopes to announce more partners soon.

And since Headphone:X is built into devices it works with any pair of headphones, from the best money can buy to that pair of earbuds that came with your smartphone, according to DTS Public Relations Manager Michael Farino.

The real deal

DTS showed off Headphone:X throughout 2013, but only in prototype form. Now it's coming to market, and what we heard at CES was the real deal.

What Headphone:X amounts to is what DTS Field Applications Engineering Team Director Luis Paz called "an externalized sound experience."

That's an accurate term, because based on the demos we saw (well, heard) at CES, it really does make the experience of wearing headphones sound like you're surrounded by external speakers. Somehow the audio sounds like it's coming from all around the room, even though it's coming out of the headphones pressed against your ears.

DTS sound listening xperience headphone:x

The "DTS Listening Xperience" demo in the back room had attendees standing in the center of the room, surrounded by an 11.1 surround sound speaker system. The speakers emitted sounds individually, demonstrating the spacial properties of an 11.1 system.

Then each listener's headphones made the same noises, and they sounded almost identical, proving that Headphone:X can accurately emulate the experience of being surrounded by speakers.

Projections on the walls of the room showed a lengthy elevator ride and an alien abduction, with sounds seeming to come from everywhere when in reality they were simply coming out of the headphones.

DTS refers to this as "true surround sound in headphones," because the sound is not just directional, but spatial as well.

Simulated space

Again, it's not specific to particular pairs of headphones, though some, like the latest headphones from Skullcandy and Turtle Beach, will come fine-tuned for the Headphone:X tech.

But while Headphone:X "shines with multi-channel" audio, as Farino put it, it supposedly also improves the sound of even stereo audio tracks.

Headphone:X "lives on devices," Farino told TechRadar, and uses audio tracks' metadata to simulate that "true" surround sound. The metadata can contain cues that will tell Headphone:X exactly what type of environment profile to simulate, from an intimate studio or living room to a concert hall.

On such specially tuned media, such as a Wolverine clip playing on a Vivo handset in the booth at CES, a small "HP:X" icon appears in a corner so you can turn Headphone:X on or off.

Alternately, if no metadata is present for Headphone:X to read, it will turn to a default setting.

DTS CES booth

"Obviously, we want to build [Headphone:X] into the overall architecture of the device," Farino said. But it could also be delivered to devices within apps, he said.

DTS also has a headphone partner program with a cloud-based database so users can select what headphones they're using. Each has its own custom sound profile that the software takes into account.

"We take into account - let's say, the deficiencies of each of the different types of headphones, so that we compensate for that, so that we can create the same experience," Paz told TechRadar.

And Headphone:X comes with a "listening test" that measures each user's personal listening curve and compensates for it, creating a personalized experience for each user.

Early verdict

What DTS showed of at CES is impressive, but there are a lot of variables that need to be sorted out before it can be decreed a resounding success.

For one thing, device makers will have to adopt it on a wide scale, and content makers will need to include the required audio metadata for the Headphone:X tech to sound as good as it did in DTS's pre-designed demonstrations.

And although DTS promises that Headphone:X will improve the sound of any pair of headphones, that remains to be seen as well.


    






Latest Technology, Reviews

Hands-on review: CES 2014: Sony VAIO Fit 11A review

Hands-on review: CES 2014: Sony VAIO Fit 11A review

Sony, like most PC vendors, is doubling down on hybrid laptops. The latest in the Japanese manufacturer's range is the VAIO Fit 11A. Joining the previously-announced VAIO Fit 14 and 15 models, this 11-inch laptop offers an even thinner and lighter solution, natch.

But under the hood, what's making that possible is Intel's latest Pentium processors (Bay Trail M). The model I got a hold of was running on a quad-core (with two virtual cores) N3520 clocked at 2.16GHz with 8GB of RAM on board running 64-bit Windows 8.1 with Photoshop Elements pre-installed – score.

Sony VAIO Fit 11A

Weighing just 2.8 pounds, the Fit 11A will feel feathery in your backpack, but still doesn't beat dedicated 10-inch slates. After lifting the hybrid laptop myself during CES 2014, it's easy to understand why Sony went even smaller with its Fit lineup. Pulling off those tricky one-handed shots was a breeze, so I'm a bit more confident in this laptop's utility as a tablet.

Many, many modes

Sony's hybrid laptops are an interesting spin on the form, using a double hinge design that allows the screen to flip 180 degrees into a tablet mode or a stand facing opposite the keyboard for a viewing mode. (A third mode that covers the keyboard is also possible, though pointless.) When in laptop mode, you can lock the second hinge to avoid any mishaps.

However, despite the locking mechanism, I felt nervous of dropping the Fit 11A when switching between modes in my hands. Handling the screen while moving it from a laptop to a tablet orientation was a little unwieldy – do this on a flat surface. Regardless, the screen always felt firmly in place on the hinge, evidence of a premium design.

Sony VAIO Fit 11A

Unlike competing offerings, like the Lenovo Yoga 2, the Fit 11A chassis rests inherently at a slight angle. As a result, the tablet mode would make more sense resting on a coffee table or in your lap, giving it some added utility despite it still not quite offering that true tablet experience.

Triluminos … triple the luminance?

Not exactly. Triluminos, Sony's new display tech borrowed from its 4KTV division, widens the color gamut for deeper, more realistic color reproduction. While the difference is clear on a 65-inch TV, it's tougher to glean from a 1920 x 1080 touch panel. (Which was quite responsive, mind you.)

Sony VAIO Fit 11A

Granted, I'm not a photo or video professional – perhaps this is half the reason that Photoshop Elements is included in every Fit 11A. At any rate, it's quite a vibrant panel, as shown by the deep purple in the Windows 8.1 Modern UI background with the pastel blues and reds popping on top of it.

Early verdict

At 11 inches and just 2.8 pounds, Sony's Fit line of hybrid laptops makes a lot more sense. And that Sony managed to provide a smooth touchpad that's close to full-size sweetens the deal. Plus, it's tough to deny that metallic lid finish and matte keyboard with quick travel.

And all that for $799 (about £486, AU$895) isn't too bad a deal, though I've seen 13-inch hybrids for less, like ASUS's $599 Transformer Book Duet. (And that runs two OSes!) Still, Sony's premium build quality is tough to match at that price point. The Sony VAIO Fit 11A comes will come in black, pink and silver when it lands later this January.


    






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Hands-on review: CES 2014: Acer Aspire S3

Hands-on review: CES 2014: Acer Aspire S3

Acer has announced that its Aspire S3 Ultrabook refresh is now available in Europe, Middle East and Africa, so we thought it was high time we got hands on with one at CES 2014.

Acer has taken the design from the trend-setting Aspire S7 and brought it to the mainstream Ultrabook segment. The S3's key selling point is the fact it's a lightweight Ultrabook, but one that has some extra graphics grunt in the form of Nvidia's GeForce GT 735M.

Acer Aspire S3 review

That's quite unusual, since most Ultrabooks just take advantage of Intel's built-in HD 5000 graphics and really does broaden the appeal of the S3. The 13.3-inch screen is an IPS Full HD panel, rather than the larger resolution QHD option that you can choose to have on the S7. Still, although you can tell the panel isn't a very high resolution, it still looks excellent though. As you can see here, reflections are not very welcome.

Acer Aspire S3 review

Expect the S3 to come in various configurations - the one we saw had Intel's latest-generation Core i7 under the hood, although you can specify it with various Haswell Intel Core units - the starting Aspire S3 price is 999 Euros ($1,360 USD, £828 GBP, $1,525 AUD).

Various storage options are also available. The S3 ships with a 128GB SSD, though there is a larger non-SSD 1TB hard drive option.

Acer Aspire S3 review

The dual-torque hinge is back, so using the super-thin touchscreen is no problem in terms of screen wobble - you won't find yourself wishing for something more substantial.

Acer Aspire S3 review

Again, like the S7, you can bend the screen back flat. We're still undecided as to whether this is useful, but it's an interesting little benefit.

Acer Aspire S3 review

The S3's lid doesn't feature Gorilla Glass like the S7, but the look is the same and unless you're going to give it some rough treatment we don't think you'll notice too much. The lid itself is made from aluminum, as is the keyboard surround, what the Acer press release details "the operation area," a description I rather like.

Acer Aspire S3 review

The back features Acer's TwinAir cooling - essentially dual apertures to improve airflow.

Acer Aspire S3 review

As you'd expect from any half-decent Ultrabook these days, the keyboard backlighting also reacts to the amount of ambient light.

Acer Aspire S3 review

Software-wise, the S3 comes pre-installed with Windows 8 and features a bunch of Acer apps that you can see here, as well as McAfee security pre-installed.

Acer Aspire S3

Acer Aspire S3 review

The laptop is pretty minimal in terms of its thickness at a perfectly reasonable 17.8 mm. It weighs 1.67 Kg, so it's hardly the lightest, but it's certainly more than manageable to carry around in a bag.

Early verdict

We really like the S3 and it's actually a really powerful notebook. Don't be fooled by the slight watering down of the S7's high design, this is no budget or mainstream device and you're paying for that performance, too. It's an Ultrabook for those who need to get things done yet don't need or want to pay the exorbitant prices of some high-end featherlight models.


    
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Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids

Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids

Introduction

First of all, this isn't a new thing. What Samsung has done here is take its existing and rather low-spec Galaxy Tab 3 and whack it in a yellow case, rebranding it as the Galaxy Tab 3 Kids in the hope generous parents might buy it for their little ones regardless of how many cores it has inside.

This means you, or your lucky child, get a 7-inch tablet with a relatively low-resolution 1024 x 600 display, powered by a positively budget sector 1.2GHz dual-core processor.

There are two things that make it worthy of investigation, though, thanks to Samsung selling it with two extremely robust cases, and also providing a super-secure and completely separate Kids Mode alternative Home screen that lets parents control every aspect of their child's tablet time.

The RRP for the Galaxy Tab 3 Kids is around the £199 (around $229.99, AU$260) mark, although it's available for about £150 (around $199.99, AU$225) online. Which is quite a premium price for a 7-inch Android tablet these days, especially as the specs suggest this is mutton dressed as lamb - and the standard Galaxy Tab 3 can be picked up for nearer £99 (around $169, AU$190).

The hardware, then, is exactly the same as that offered by the Galaxy Tab 3. You get Samsung's traditional physical Home button, with Menu to the left and Back to the right. Beneath the central button is the Micro USB connector, which lets you fill the Tab's generous 4000mAh battery.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids

There are two cases provided, an orange rubber thing and this extremely impressive Junior Businessman-style case and holdall, which also combines a kickstand with a hole in the hinge to house the stylus.

This is by far the best reason to plump for the Tab Kids over the myriad other cheap Android tablets, as the stand lifts the tablet while in landscape mode, raising the viewing angle and meaning your poor child won't grow up with such a hunched back from using the thing sat at a table.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids

Samsung's build quality is impressive too. The Tab 3 Kids feels heavy and solid, plus the touchscreen is responsive and survived extensive angry prodding from my son during the course of my tests.

And the stylus that comes as part of the briefcase-like case and stand combo is great, allowing a child to live out its wildest marker pen fantasies without actually ruining any carpets or soft furnishings.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids

Around the back there's no flash beside that 3MP camera, so don't go expecting to use this for anything other than joke kiddy photography. What's nice to see are those chunky little rubber feet on the bottom of the case, which help the tablet sit still when being used on a table with the kickstand out.

I like the case. The case is great. The case is a five-star accessory. The tablet inside it, though, is a bit of a disappointment.

Interface

Kids Mode interface

The main selling point is this locked-down alternative launcher, which Samsung calls Kids Mode. It's activated by tapping on an icon on the standard Android Home screen, and once you're in this happy-clappy world of friendly animals you can't get back to the grown-up Android world without entering your PIN - even turning the tablet off and on again puts you straight back into Kids Mode.

So your child's going to be stuck with it.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids

Above is the Kids Mode Home screen. Children can choose for themselves what appears in the shortcuts to apps along the bottom, with these cards selectable from the list of all available apps.

Kids Mode also has its own app drawer, but it only shows applications adults have approved via the PIN-protected menu. It's a nice way to control what kids can see and use, although the concept of moving things from the drawer to the Home screen was a bit too much for my little boy to handle.

It's a clever system, though. Opening up the admin panel brings up a stylised version of the Android app drawer, only here there's a tick box beside each and every app.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids

This means the holder of the hallowed control PIN can give every single app a yes or no, even the omnipresent Google ones like Gmail and YouTube, deciding specifically what does and doesn't appear in Kids Mode.

So if you're the trusting type and are OK with your child using YouTube, you can add it to the OK list with one press. But if your child can't be trusted or has been bad and is in need of punishment, deselecting it denies access and will teach it who's really boss.

Kids are allowed to play with some basic settings, though. They can customise the tablet through the Kids' Settings tab, which lets them access a limited options menu to change the wallpaper, add or remove apps from the Home screen and adjust the brightness.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids

It's a bit basic, but I like the way it alludes to them having control of the tablet without actually letting them fiddle with the complete range of settings. My kid looked at it once, decided it was boring and left it alone. Which is exactly what you want.

Adults also have a bit more secret admin power, with the PIN-protected menu letting them deactivate the tablet's touch-sensitive Menu and Back buttons when in Kids Mode, more out of courtesy than security, as kids can accidentally press these with arms and stray fingers (and loose tongues, noses etc) and quit apps in error.

And Samsung's physical Home button serves the same purpose. While my boy often accidentally quits apps while using a phone with capacitive or software buttons, the chunky Home button Samsung's still using here means a definite press is required to get out of an app. That's a great frustration-saver for kids.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 kids

You're also able to choose whether you want all new apps downloaded in standard Android mode automatically added to Kids Mode or not. This is another nice touch, as it means you don't need to worry about accidentally granting your kid full access to your Dropbox files or Facebook messenger should you download them in Dad Mode.

But if you mainly download apps by request for the amusement of your child, you can set it so all new downloads automatically pop up in Kids Mode.

Android interface

Back on more familiar territory, entering the PIN lets adults or trusted older children access the standard Google/Samsung Android interface.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids belies its rather old age here by arriving with Android 4.1 as the OS, although upon first boot I was prompted to download a 230MB update.

Everything here's the same as it was on the standard Galaxy Tab 3, meaning Samsung's TouchWiz interface runs the show, offering such enhancements as a selection of quick access toggles to common features on the Notifications tab, an editable number of Home screens, and access to the usual Google apps and live widgets to install.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids

There are a few useful custom additions in here, notably the option to choose if the Android or Kids Mode layout should be the default, plus there's what Samsung calls Blocking Mode, which can be used to disable notifications according to a timed schedule.

Handy if you fancy doing a bit of uninterrupted sleep, or want to hand the tablet to someone else without them being able to see and access the notifications that might be firing into your phone or another tablet.

What's immediately apparent here, though, is how low-spec the hardware behind the Galaxy Tab 3 Kids is. Everything lags, from opening up the app drawer to watching the various settings screens take half a second or so to populate, plus there's a separate "loading" screen in place to cover the occasional blackness gap of around ten seconds that it can sometimes take the Gallery app to load.

It's a disappointing experience away from the undemanding Kids Mode. Adults are not going to be impressed, especially with rival budget tablets like Tesco's Hudl doing such a superb job of running Android for a much lower price than the Galaxy Tab 3 Kids.

Camera and media

Camera

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids features the same hardware spec as the Galaxy Tab 3, so your kid will be spoilt with access to twin cameras, then mildly disappointed by the blotchiness and general gloom of the output.

Images come off the camera at a maximum 2048 x 1536 resolution, and they're pretty depressing to behold. Colour reproduction is so poor images look like they've been run through some sort of 1990s-colour-printer-with-low-toner filter, plus the lack of flash makes indoor photography unappealing.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids

What's also sad to see is that there's no integration of images within apps. The third-party drawing app Samsung's stuck on here isn't aware enough to pull photos in from the Android gallery, which disappointed my child who's used to other Android drawing tools that let you import shots and draw exotic beards on everyone's faces.

Video captured in Kids Mode is saved at a shockingly poor 640 x 480 resolution. Seeing as kids will probably end up taking videos of their feet and the dog's nose that's probably not such a problem, and at least the framerate is consistent and smooth.

There is the luxury of a front-facing camera, though, plus Samsung's added in a range of clever overlays to the simplified Kids Mode camera interface, which let you add dog ears, funny noses and the like to images. This made my kid laugh quite a bit, but then he's only three so is still quite easily impressed by the magic of today's technology.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids

Heading over to the usual Android OS brings in loads more camera options via Samsung's TouchWiz customisations, where users can add a few filters, adjust the brightness and upgrade the resolution of clips to 1280 x 720, meaning the 640 x 480 limit on Kids Mode has presumably been put there to stop kids from eating up all the system storage with their videos.

And again, Kids Mode is the best thing about the experience. The simpler camera app is easy to use, with chunky, bright icons letting my kid immediately identify what each button does.

The rear camera sensor is fairly near the right-hand side of the tablet, though, so most of the videos and photos my child took featured quite a bit of finger blocking the shots.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids review

Click here to see the full-res image

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids review

Click here to see the full-res image

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids review

Click here to see the full-res image

Media

If you choose to let your child have full access to the Android range of media options, there's plenty to do on the Galaxy Tab 3 Kids. The YouTube app works well enough given the limitations of the low-resolution display and relatively weedy 1.2GHz dual-core chipset, plus Google's Play Music app is on here for cloud-based music playback.

In terms of actual child-friendly media options, there's a standalone player called Kids' Video in the Kids Mode area. Rather cleverly, this filters out any videos recorded back on the standard Android side of things, so the only clips you see in the Kids mode gallery are the ones recorded in Kids Mode.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids review

What happens in Kids Mode stays in Kids Mode, unless you access the PIN-locked parental options and manually check the tickbox beside the standard Android gallery, in which case all videos on the device pop up.

That's quite handy, as my child loves looking at photos and videos of himself, so if you have a load taken in the normal Android camera, your child can access them if you allow him to.

The only problem with doing that is it means your child can then delete all the videos on the device too, so be warned that your precious memories might be coldly binned by an accidental exploring finger.

Another area where Kids Mode shows welcome signs of restriction is with sharing media. You can't, basically, with the Android share menu completely missing from the images in the photo gallery. It's quite nice to know your children won't be sharing photos.

Battery, connectivity and apps

The Galaxy Tab 3 Kids features a 4000mAh capacity battery. Given that's it's running a relatively low-spec device here, battery life is generally pretty decent. It's certainly better than I've seen from some of the cheaper tablets, giving me several days of regular active use off a single charge.

There's little to no connectivity to worry about when Kids Mode is engaged, aside from that built into any apps you've specifically allowed your child to use. That's quite reassuring, as you know your kid is using the tablet solo and not enjoying Hangouts with random people on the internet.

What is a bit annoying is the inclusion of a Kids' Store app which, once again, sees Samsung and its cherry-picked app providers kindly offering to sell things to our children. Apps can be sorted by All, Paid or Free, but it's pretty clear that a big part of the reason this thing exists is so Samsung can cream off pocket money direct from dad's credit card.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids

For full connectivity options, Dad Mode AKA proper Android needs engaging. Here, again, it's all identical to what you get from the standard non-yellow Galaxy Tab 3, with Samsung's TouchWiz offering 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity, DLNA support and a MicroSD slot for storage expansion.

One large and quite baffling omission is an option to shut-off and lock Wi-Fi use when in Kids Mode. There's no such tool hidden in the PIN-protected admin panel, so the only way to deactivate Wi-Fi is to head off to the full Android and deliberately switch it off from there. You can turn it off via the Kids Mode settings screen, but there's no way to stop the little dear turning it back on again.

There's also no blanket "Turn Off All Payments" option or equivalent, so some apps will pester for money and Samsung's IAP tool to be downloaded no matter how hard you try to pretend today's aggressive monetisation strategies don't exist.

Kids Mode apps

Here's where Samsung's child-friendly ambitions disintegrate. Toca Train and Hair Salon 2 are the fairly grim highlights, with my boy getting quite a bit of pleasure from train driver role-play and making women go bald.

That said, at least some token effort has been made to cater to children of different age groups. 123 Farm is a counting app for toddlers, where they learn numbers by tapping on animals while being cheered on by a sickeningly cheerful and grating American child actor.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids

Kids also get two puzzle-based Inventions games that ask them to arrange objects to trigger events, plus of more educational benefit is Ocean, which attempts to teach children around the three- to four-year-old mark basic grammar and sentence structure, by giving them audio clues that describe where things are hiding behind objects on the touchscreen.

As the adult in charge, I like to see these educational apps on the Tab Kids, as it somehow convinces you that leaving your child playing with it for hours is actually doing some good. My son, though, wasn't easily fooled.

Anything vaguely educational was crossed off his play list after a few minutes, and the Tab Kids soon became his exclusive Toca Train play machine.

One thing that shouldn't be on here is the disingenuous Kids World app. This is basically a hub that promises access to fun and learning activities, but in reality is a shop window with the specific aim of getting kids to click on the 'Buy' icon that sits inside every tab.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids

If your child's getting on a bit and perhaps even pushing double digit years, the wealth of full-power Android apps that feature on the Android 4.1 side of things can be accessed in Kids Mode too. So as your child gets more adept and proves it can be trusted, you can start filtering in other apps and adding them to the Kids Mode side.

That's a nice touch. I trust my boy to amuse himself listening to Spotify and Google Music playlists as it's important he learns about the Pet Shop Boys, so being able to add these to the Kids Mode options means he's instantly at home. In a year or two he might be allowed YouTube, so it's nice to know that can be added to the locked side when you feel a kid is ready.

Then when he's 18 he can have access to Snapchat.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids

For controlling younger children and hopefully heading off tantrums, there's a Time Manager on here. This lets responsible adults set a limit for use, either by setting a live countdown or allowing access between certain times of day.

Which seems a bit unfair and controlling, especially if your child isn't very good at telling the time, but may at least encourage them to put it down once in a while. So dad can have a go on it.

Hands-on gallery

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids review

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids review

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids review

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids review

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids review

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids review

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids review

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids review

Official gallery

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids review

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids review

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids review

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids review

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids review

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Kids review

Verdict

The Galaxy Tab 3 Kids does some things right and some things very wrong. The rubber and hard cases are top quality, Kids Mode is a fantastic interface that was easily usable by my three-year-old, plus it comes with what at first appears to be a decent range of pre-loaded apps.

But those apps are not exclusive to the Galaxy Tab 3 Kids, plus several of them are money-with-menaces freemium options that soon have kids asking for credit card details to unlock extra features, which is quite an affront in a device aimed specifically at youngsters without access to their own ready supply of money.

We liked

The standalone Kids Mode home screen is a clever thing. It's an entirely new launcher, with PIN-protected, clearly labelled parental control options that let mum or dad easily choose which apps kids can have. And there's a timer too, for ensuring kids stick to a certain use limit.

Samsung's selling it with two cases, a rubberised case and a very impressive flip stand that doubles as a carry case -- and includes a fat stylus in the hinge. Both are thick and sturdy, and worth paying a premium for to protect the tab.

In fact, the build quality is superb throughout. Samsung's tablets always have a solid feel to them, and you wouldn't worry too much about this taking bashes and knocks even outside of its protective cases.

The stylus is fat and chunky. My son loved using it, as it adds a level of accuracy to presses and, as a parent, it's nice to see younger kids learning pen control as a side-effect of gaming and generally playing around.

We disliked

The screen resolution is a low 1020 x 600. This is fine on Kids Mode where everything's chunky and colourful, but back on the standard Android side of things it makes text look blocky and Samsung's grey and bland TouchWiz interface appears even more depressing than usual.

Also, when being used in standard Android mode, it's slow. The Galaxy Tab 3 has morphed into Samsung's equivalent of the budget models offered by others, and its 1GB RAM and 1.2GHz dual-core processor make it ponderous and glitchy. It's not a complete disaster, but Hudl and the new wave of cheaper budget tabs are much faster and slicker.

App choice is terrible. For a start, many aren't even pre-installed -- the shortcuts on the Home screen prompt you to download 70MB of data. To make matters worse, some are 'free to play' apps, which will ask for money to unlock stuff.

The app choice is so poor that even my three-year-old got bored of everything on here within an hour. If it wasn't for Google Play stalwarts like Toca Hair Salon and Train he'd have lost interest even more quickly.

Kid's verdict

"I like the train game. Can I be the train driver again?"

Dad's verdict

Kids Mode is great, with big, simple icons leading the way. The problem is, there are no exclusive games or learning tools on offer, with Samsung simply sticking on some popular free and 'free' games from Google Play.

This means that most games on here contain in-app purchases too, meaning buyers might be faced with the nightmare prospect of handing their child a brand new tablet to play with, only to be badgered for £1.50 in-app purchases by a talking dog with an American accent after just ten minutes of play.

I can't help but be disappointed that Samsung hasn't used its mass of talented coders to knock up a range of exclusive toys and learning apps to go on the Galaxy Tab 3 Kids. If it was packed with great, properly free and exclusive apps, that'd be a huge selling point.

My three-year-old enjoyed counting to ten by clicking on farm animals with the chunky stylus, but daddy wasn't best pleased when this app - obviously aimed at toddlers - then asked for permission to install Samsung's own IAP buying tool and coolly demanded my credit card details and £1.50 to open up more mini games.

It shouldn't be on here, and makes you think the Galaxy Tab Kids is a Trojan horse, designed to get kids badgering their parents for more money and Samsung's in-app purchasing tools in as many homes as possible. Not what you want from a gadget with an inflated price tag to start with.

As it is, with the apps sourced from Google Play and tablet hardware that was slow and crappy enough when TechRadar reviewed the standard Galaxy Tab 3 a few months ago, all you're really paying the premium price for here is the case and the Kids Mode interface.

Kids Mode is indeed a very nice interface, but it's poorly used, and my son quickly grew tired of the majority of the disappointing pre-loaded apps. A Hudl, a cheap case and a selection of apps installed yourself would do the job for less -- and would run grown-up Android better too.


    






Latest Technology, Reviews

Hands-on review: CES 2014: Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2

Hands-on review: CES 2014: Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2

The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 was announced before CES 2014, but it wasn't until the Las Vegas-set convention that we got to pour over every inch of this extra-large tablet.

The Android KitKat device felt like a true laptop replacement thanks to its 12.2-inch WQXGA LCD at a 2560x1600 resolution and accompanying S Pen.

The Galaxy Note Pro's S Pen is actually the difference-maker between this tablets and the otherwise identical Samsung Galaxy Tab 12.2.

That's right, the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro vs the Samsung Galaxy Tab 12.2 comes down to the stylus interaction.

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 review

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro stylus

The thin S Pen, while still feeling like cheap plastic, is actually a major upgrade in functionality over using your hands on the abnormally large screen. It's also a cleaner experience that doesn't get your grubby fingerprints all over the ultra-rich display.

Hovering over the screen with the stylus and pressing its single button brings up the half circle pen wheel. Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition users should be familiar with these five Air Commands.

Out of Active Memo, Scrapbook, Screen Write, S Finder and Pen Window, it was Pen Window that we found most useful on the large screen. That's because we were able to open a ridiculous amount of windows without the tablet hardware skipping a beat.

Pen Window enabled us to draw and open a total of eight windows (opening a ninth will close down the first one we opened) and easily switch between them on the 12.2-inch display. While this isn't true Multi Windows technology, it's still pretty novel to easily switch between eight separate-but-still-running apps.

Multi Window actually returns and it supports up to four different apps in a resizable two-by-two grid. Again, it's extra spacious on this Samsung tablet's big screen and in stark contrast to the Galaxy Note 3 phablet.

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 review

Android KitKat with Magazine UX

The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro runs the latest version of Google's operating system Android KitKat 4.4 with a TouchWiz twist.

The variation, dubbed Magazine UX, is that Samsung's overlay is takes on an eye-pleasing Flipboard-style magazine presentation.

Seeing mail, calendar, messages and other widgets elegantly spread across the screen in a variety of box sizes makes the dashboard interface feel optimized for this particular 12-inch tablet.

It may have taken eight versions of TouchWiz to get right, but Samsung's newest front-end Android interface finally feels right thanks to its new Magazine UX on the Galaxy Note 12.2.

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 review

More Galaxy Note 12.2 specs

The Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 processor configurations vary from region to region, as we have come to expect from Samsung devices ever since its Galaxy S4 device launched last year.

The WiFi and 3G models contain an Exynos 5 Octa chip with a combined 1.9 GHz quadcore and 1.3 GHz quadcore processor.

At the heart of the Note Pro 12.2 LTE model is a Snapdragon 800 2.3GHz quadcore processor.

All models, no matter the connectivity variations, boast 3GB of RAM and there are two options for internal storage: 32GB and 64GB. This can be upgraded with a microSD card up to 64GB.

Speaking of connectivity, the tablet supports LTE bands 800/900/1800/2600+850/2100 as well as 3G HSPA+ bands 21 850/900/1900/2100.

The rear camera takes 8-megapixel photos with auto-focus software and an LED flash. There's supposed to be zero shutter lag and we didn't experience any any issues using testing out this main snapper.

Around front, the tablet fits in 2-megapixel camera. It's obviously not as high resolution as the main camera on the back, but it's effective for Pro-using business owners to accomplish video conferencing when on the go.

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 review

Galaxy Note 12.2 dimensions, battery

With a tablet of this size, it's important to note the Galaxy 12.2 dimensions and battery capacity.

The larger-than-normal Samsung device measures 295.6 mm x 204 mm x 7.95mm and weighs in at 750g for the WiFi model. The 3G and LTE models of the tablet carry a tiny bit of extra heft at 753g, according to the official tech specs.

Battery with such a dynamic-looking 12.2-inch screen screen is of the utmost importance. It's 9,500mAh.

That compared to the Galaxy Note 10.1 8,220mAh Li-Polymer, which is clocked to run up to 10 hours with video usage and 9 hours with internet surfing.

Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 review

Galaxy Note 12.2 price, release date

Samsung was forthcoming with the large specs and S Pen functionality of this tablet, but it wasn't ready to reveal the Galaxy Note 12.2 price.

Its larger screen size means that it'll likely cost more than the recently launched Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition.

The same applies to the unconfirmed release date. Both the Galaxy Note Pro and Tab Pro have been set up for a global launch starting sometime in the first three months of 2014.

We tested out the international versions, which included a SIM card and phone capabilities, so that version should be out soon. After all, Samsung wants to get its extra-large tablet out in front of any possible 12.9-inch iPad Pro announcement from Apple.