Amazon's original Kindle Fire may not have lit up sales, but it was the first tablet to offer any serious competition to the iPad. But it wasn't the tablet itself that gave Apple competition. It was the $199 price tag. Toshiba wants to ride that same wave with the Encore 2, priced at $200 for the 8-inch version and $300 for the 10-inch version.
The only real impressive part of the Toshiba Encore 2 is that it run a full-blown version of Windows 8.1, which means you can run any piece of software on the tablet that you can run on your desktop or laptop. Unfortunately, running full-blown Windows may be the one major flaw in the tablet.
Let's face it, few people are getting a $200 Windows tablet with the idea of doing too much productivity on it, which is the main reason you'd want to run Windows 8.1. And when you combine the full version of Windows with a measly 1 GB of RAM, you end up with a very slow tablet that will come to an absolute crawl if you attempt any multitasking. The basic tablet also includes 32 GB of storage, most of which will be taken up by the operating system.
Users will have the option to add more memory and storage, and they may have to if they hope to get any real use out of the machine other than watching videos online or checking Facebook. The one big advantage of the Encore 2: a year's subscription to Office 365. That's a $99 value, which pays for half the tablet. But even at half off, it's tough to say exactly who should be buying an Encore 2. The tablet is clearly aimed more at entertainment and media consumption than productivity.
If price is a concern, the iPad Mini may be the best deal. A refurbished iPad Mini, which comes with a full year warranty, costs $249. That's only slightly more than the Encore 2's $200 price tag. And that $50 buys a better overall tablet experience. The iPad Mini's 1024x768 resolution 7.9-inch display is similar to the 1200x800 resolution 8-inch display on the Encore 2, and the iPad Mini's 5 MP back-facing camera is by far better than the 1.2 MP cameras on the Toshiba tablet.
But mainly, you'll be buying the Apple app store. There are over half a million apps designed specifically for the iPad, most of them tuned specifically for the iPad Mini's A5 chip. This will make the iPad Mini feel faster, even if the iPad Mini's A5 chipset isn't as fast as the Intel Atom.
If you are looking specifically for a Windows 8.1 tablet, there are better options on the market. While the Encore 2 looks like a steal, you'll ultimately get what you paid for: a cheap tablet that struggles to do more than play a video from Netflix.
The Arena is a great way to earn extra cards in Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, but unless you can string together some wins, your rewards will be minimal. At the very minimum, you will always win an epic pack. And even if you have three straight losses, you will likely win 20-25 gold along with the pack. So when you consider that it costs 100 gold to buy an epic pack, a 150 gold arena ticket is buying you around 125 gold in rewards even if you don't win a match.
So what about winning matches? When do you start making out like a bandit?
You will always win an epic pack with an additional reward. At 3 wins, you will start getting two additional packages, and if you can make it up to eight wins, you will get three additional package.
A package can be gold, dust or a card. As you advance in wins, the quality of the package will go up, so while you may only win 20-25 gold with a single win, you could gain 150-175 gold as a reward if you can get 7 wins.
It's always possible to win a card, and even with only a few wins, you could be rewarded with a rare or even an epic card. But your chances of getting a top tier card with just a couple of wins are very small. At 6 wins, your chance of winning a rare card is increased. The monetary rewards at this level are also very good, with a package yielding around 75-100 gold.
It's important to remember this idea of packages. Even at higher win totals, one of your packages will be of a smaller tier. So you are likely to win an epic pack, 75 gold and 25 gold. This would constitute a mid-tier package and a small-tier package.
Here's the key breakdown for win totals:
- 0-2 wins = 1 epic pack and 1 package of a lower tier.
- 3-5 wins = 1 epic pack and 2 packages of lower tiers
- 6-7 wins = 1 epic pack, 2 packages with a decent chance for a rare card
- 8-10 wins = 1 epic pack, 3 packages and increased chances for a rare or epic card
- 11 wins = 1 epic pack and 3 packages with one package being of the highest tier
- 12 wins = 1 epic pack and 4 packages with one package being of the highest tier
Obviously, those high tier packages with 11 and 12 wins have the best chance at garnering an epic card. At the very minimum, they'll award 225 gold.
The break even point is around 3-4 wins. At that point, your reward will match your 150 gold ticket. At seven wins, you start getting a package large enough to buy yourself a new arena ticket.
While the Surface Pro 3 has the specs and the price tag that aligns more with the MacBook Air, it will no doubt draw inevitable comparisons with the iPad Air. And rightly so. Microsoft's Surface tablets are aimed squarely at the iPad, fighting the idea of a post PC world with a PC-Tablet hybrid device. And in some respects, it's a pretty good device. But does it really compare with an iPad Air?
Microsoft Surface Pro 3: The Specs
The biggest improvement on the new Surface Pro may be the new 12-inch display. The 2160x1440 resolution might not be quite as sharp as the Retina Display on the iPad Air, but it is close enough that few will tell the difference. It's also changed to a 3:2 aspect ratio, which means it will be much more comfortable to use when in portrait mode.
The entry-level device includes an Intel i3 processor, 4 GB of memory and 64 GB of storage. It has 5 MP front-facing and back-facing cameras, includes Bluetooth 4.0 and has a USB 3.0 port in addition to a microSD card reader. It also has much improved speakers that face the front this time around, so you won't accidentally cover them up with your hands while holding the device.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3: The Price
This is where direct comparisons to the iPad become a lot more difficult. The entry-level Surface Pro 3 starts at $799, but this is without the $129.99 Surface Pro Type Cover. Considering Microsoft bills the Surface Pro 3 as both a laptop and a tablet, that Type Cover is a requirement, bumping the price up to $928.99.
And while that 64 GB of storage sounds like a lot, more than half of it will be taken up by the operating system. Because it runs full-blown Windows, software is going to take up more space than apps would on an iPad, so the remaining 30 GB of space will feel smaller than the 14 GB of free space you get with the 16 GB iPad Air. And this is at about double the price.
Unfortunately, the Surface Pro 3 doesn't compare well against the MacBook Air either. The MacBook Air starts at $899, slightly cheaper than a Surface Pro 3 with a Type Cover. And for this price, you get a faster Intel i5 processor and double the storage.
Simply put, that entry-level Surface Pro 3 has a nice looking price tag, but it lacks the power of a modern laptop. And it's going to run out of space way too quickly. This makes the $999 Surface Pro 3 with a Intel i5 processor and 128 GB of storage a much more realistic option.
The iPad Air is cheaper with more functionality
It's easy to point out that the Surface Pro 3 runs a full-blown version of Windows, thus it can run all the same Windows software that you have on your laptop or desktop PC. And for those that are required to run Windows software, that's a big bonus. But what about the rest of us?
Microsoft's tablet has long been regarded as laptop that doesn't work well as a laptop. The Type Cover is better used at a table than in your lap. Microsoft has improved the design with the Surface Pro 3, but there's no doubt that a true laptop is more comfortable and easier to use than the Surface Pro with the Type Cover attached. And while running full-blown Windows gives the Surface Pro access to a vast array of software, much of this software is designed for the mouse and keyboard, which defeats the purpose of having a touch device. The iPad has over half a million apps designed specifically for its touch display, and another half a million iPhone apps can be run in 'compatibility mode'.
The iPad Air also gives you the option of 4G connectivity. For those with an active lifestyle or who frequently travel for work, the ability to connect to wireless data networks is a major bonus over the Surface Pro 3, which currently doesn't have an announced data connectivity.
The availability of Microsoft Office on the iPad in addition to office suites like iWork give the iPad a boost in productivity. And while Microsoft makes a big deal over the keyboard, it's quite easy to attach a keyboard to the iPad. In fact, there are a number of keyboard cases that will turn you iPad into a laptop.
The Surface Pro 3 vs the iPad Air: And the Winner is...
There's rarely a true winner when comparing devices running on different platforms, and when you consider the Surface Pro 3 is a bit more inline with a MacBook Air than an iPad Air, it may not even be fair to compare them directly.
The flaw of the Surface Pro series is that they aren't great laptops. The Type Cover is a neat idea, but compared to working on a true laptop, it's not quite there. And when you look at the $799 entry-level version, it is overpriced and underpowered. This might be okay if it was a great tablet, but the Surface Pro isn't there yet. The number of tablet-optimized apps is very limited, which means you'll ultimately run a bunch of software designed for the mouse and keyboard.
Despite its flaws, the Surface Pro 3 does have its place. If you absolutely must have a Windows-based laptop, you really want a tablet, and you detest the idea of carrying around a laptop, tablet and a smartphone, the Surface Pro 3 could be a good option. And there are a number of great uses for it. It could easily run a presentation in tablet mode, allowing more mobility while presenting, convert to a laptop for taking notes in meetings, and then back to tablet mode for browsing the web after work.
But we are quickly approaching a time when Windows is not a requirement. The more you can do on your iPad, the less attractive a hybrid device like the Surface Pro 3 looks. While it is nice to have one device for two uses, ultimately, you have a watered down laptop and a watered down tablet.
For many, buying a cheap entry-level Windows laptop for those times when you absolutely must have Windows and an iPad Air for those times when you don't may be the best choice. In fact, considering you'll need that $999 model with a $129.99 Type Cover to really get the most out of the Surface Pro 3, you could easily save money going with a cheaper laptop and an iPad Air.
When I first started developing applications for the web, it quickly became apparent how backwards the process was. This was in the days before Ajax and similar techniques to create interactive web apps was possible. And in many ways, it was like trying to program a complicated software project inside of Microsoft Word. Web browsers weren't designed for the fluid exchange of information. They were designed to display documents that were linked together with anchors.
It got me to thinking what the web would look like if it were designed by developers rather than the evolution of the web browser, which was essentially a document viewer. From a developer standpoint, you would want a framework that allowed each web page to be a full app by itself.
Fast forward a couple of decades and we have the rise of the app store. How many times have you browsed the web on your iPad and noticed the website you are on is jumping up and down trying to get you to download their app? Companies would much rather you use the iPad app than the webpage because they can create a more sophisticated and controlled experience. In effect, mobile apps have become better web pages, with the old site really being the thread that holds the web together.
And with the rise of app stores on PCs, this is no longer a mobile phenomenon. I can choose to browser Facebook in my Chrome browser on my PC, or I could just download the Facebook app. This new web may have started on smartphones, but it is spreading everywhere.
Not that the old web is going anywhere any time soon. While the idea of searching an app store may sound similar to googling for information on the web, it is that jump from website to website that really keeps us browsing. Apps don't quite have that jump-from-app-to-app feature down quite yet. (Could you imagine StumbleUpon for your PC? You might go from working on a document in Microsoft Word to killing skeletons in Dark Souls 2. W Which might be rather cool.)
But there's no doubt that the app store has had a huge impact on the web.Suggested Reading:
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How to Print on an iPad
The latest rumor making the rounds is that split-screen multitasking will finally make its way onto the iPad with the iOS 8 release. Microsoft's Surface and Samsung's Galaxy Note already have this ability, but while the iPad has some multitasking features, we are still just limited to a single app on the display at once.
The ability to view two apps at once has a lot of huge benefits, including the easy of copying and pasting from one app to another. And with the iPad quickly closing in on the performance and speed of laptops, it would make sense to add more functionality to the operating system to cash in on the performance. This will be especially true if Apple releases a 12-inch iPad, as is rumored.
We'll have to wait a little longer to find out if the iPad will get split screen support. Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference starts in June, which is where the next version of iOS will be revealed to the world.Review: Photon Flash Player for the iPad
How to Use the Photon Flash Player on the iPad
Microsoft Office made a rather big splash when released on the iPad earlier this year. In fact, Microsoft claims over 100 million downloads since that release. And there's good reason there were so many downloads: Microsoft released a touch-friendly, polished product.
But it did have one curious omission: you couldn't print. Well, you could, but you had to use a rather awkward workaround.
It's odd that Microsoft would choose to release the apps without the ability to print, but at least the wait wasn't long. The newest versions of the apps now let you print to an AirPrint-enabled printer. You can even select what pages to print in Word or the area of the spreadsheet to print in Excel.
More About Microsoft Office:Microsoft Office for iPad Tips and Tricks
Microsoft Office vs iWork
How to Copy Microsoft Office Files to the iPad
While all Android devices get lumped together for market share reports, not all Android devices are created equal. For the purpose of market share, even a tablet designed for kids will count the same as a decked out iPad Air, and while the $50 Chromo tablet isnt' good for much besides surfing the web and checking Facebook, it counts the same as the iPad Mini 2 in the eyes of market share.
Perhaps even more interesting are the walls coming up between versions of Android. While Amazon's Kindle Fire series is powered by Android, it is a walled-off version of the operating system. There's no Google Play for the Kindle Fire. Instead, users are directed to Amazon's marketplace, which means not all Android apps are available for the Kindle Fire.
This can be a good thing. At least Amazon does some checking to make sure the app isn't malware and actually does basically what it says it does. Google doesn't have an app review process, which makes some developers wonder why they are taking the same 30% of app sales.
And Samsung may be preparing to follow in Amazon's steps. Samsung devices already come with Samsung-branded apps, which can lead to a confusing experience for new users. Samsung is also working to bring more games to their app store, recently teaming up with Chillingo for the 100% Indie program, which gave independent developers higher royalties for bringing their games to the Samsung store.
The next step for Samsung is to abandon Google Play completely and brick off their version of the Android OS. It makes sense that Samsung would want people to only use their stores. Amazon uses Android to push products on Kindle Fire users, selling the tablet for cost in order to open a storefront inside the user's home. Samsung walling off their popular Galaxy and Galaxy note smartphones and tablets will let them take a bigger piece of that particular pie.
iOS 7 constituted the biggest changes to iOS since the iPad was released. But with the iPad on the verge of becoming as powerful as a laptop, there are some more key changes that need to happen if the iPad is to invade the enterprise.
Common Documents Directory. One key component of a PC is the ability to work on a document in multiple applications. But while the open file system makes this possible, it is also why PCs are so vulnerable to viruses. The iPad is virtually virus proof thanks to each app existing in a private space, but it loses the ability to easily share files among applications. The best of both worlds would be a common documents directory that all apps can access. This would make the iPad infinitely more productive. As a bonus, this documents directory could be accessed via the Lightning connector, allowing users to both transfer files to the PC or copy them to the iPad.
File attachments for Mail, iMessage. It's easy enough to share photos through Mail and iMessage, but it would be really nice to share any type of file. This would make collaboration using the iPad much easier.
iCloud expanded to act more like Dropbox. iCloud does a great job of letting us back up our iPad and store iWork documents, but why stop there? Dropbox is one of the best apps on the iPad not just because it adds to the iPad's storage capacity, but also because having centralized storage for all your devices makes working on the same document with your laptop, smartphone and tablet much easier.
The buzz surrounding the iPad may not be quite as strong as in years past, but there are still plenty of rumors circulating around the next iPad. The release date is still expected to be in the September/October range, with some speculating Apple will move it up a month to give more room for holiday sales. An earlier launch might mean a combined iPhone 6 / iPad Air 2 announcement, which would make sense when you consider many features of the new iPad will be deduced by what is added to the iPhone 6.
Here are the latest iPad rumors:
- Laptop performance. This is more of a deduction than a rumor, but if Apple continues the trend of roughly doubling the performance of the iPad with the introduction of a new System-on-a-Chip, the iPad Air 2 will rival the MacBook line in terms of raw processing power. More on the A8 catching up with Intel's i5.
- The iPad Pro. There was a lot of buzz around a 12-inch iPad earlier in the year, and while the rumors have died down, many analysts are expecting a larger iPad to be released later this year or early 2015. Of course, the iPad Pro is more than just a display side. Analysts expect Apple to increase the amount of RAM available for apps, and when combined with a faster processor, the iPad Pro could easily be seen as a laptop replacement.
- Integrated Display. One of the more recent rumors is of an integrated display. The current iPad display contains two basic layers: the layer that delivers visuals, and the layer that senses touch. An integrated display combines these two layers, which makes for a thinner display. Yes. The next iPad could get even thinner. Maybe Apple will hide it behind a butter knife this time?
- Touch ID. This is an easy rumor. Expected to be released on the iPad Air, Touch ID should be a no-brainer for the iPad. One big advantage of Touch ID is how easy it makes adding a passcode to the device. Currently, having a passcode means you end up typing it in throughout the day whenever you want to use your iPad. But with Touch ID, you can hold your thumb on the sensor as you wake the iPad up and it will bypass the passcode, though you will still need to type it in after rebooting the device or installing iOS updates. The sensor itself isn't so expensive as to be cost prohibitive, and while it wouldn't be a mind-blowing new feature, it would still be nice.
That wraps up the major rumors on the iPad. One funny phrase I see tossed about is the idea of an "incremental update". This is a fancy way of saying no big new features being added to the iPad. It's also a term that seems to be mostly used in connection with the iPhone and iPad. Let's face it, I don't think Apple is going to add that toaster oven to their tablet. The analysts may want Apple to create some laptop-tablet hybrid that runs Mac OS, iOS and can cook spaghetti, but that's not how Apple operates.
Like many games these days, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is fueled by in-app purchases. These purchases come in two forms: a $1.99 ticket to the arena or buying expert packs, which start at 2 packs for $2.99. There's no doubt Expert packs are the path to unlocking the best cards, but playing in the arena may be the cheapest way to unlock them.
Each time you play in the arena, you will get an expert pack. Even if you lose three times in a row, you'll get an Expert pack and some other reward, which could be the magic dust used to craft rare cards or a small bag of gold. If you do the math, buying that 2-pack costs you $1.49 per pack. For just 50 cents more, you can buy a ticket to the arena and be assured at an expert pack plus an extra reward.
And if you can gather some wins, your rewards increase.
This is also true of using hard-earned gold on expert packs. You can pay 100 gold for a pack, or 150 for a trip to the arena.