Windows 8 ‘Release Preview’ Brings New Apps and Updates the Old Ones

As we assumed when various apps in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview were marked with an “App Preview” tag, the core Metro apps have been updated in the Windows 8 Release Preview. The updated applications feature some improvements to the user interface (there were some apps that really needed it), a unified app settings bar, and even some all-new applications.

The preview pages of some revised apps have been floating around online via the Windows Store, but this is the first time we are seeing the new apps in action. Though it isn’t surprising that the core apps have been updated, we are still extremely excited to see the makeover results. Some of the apps were just plain difficult to use and lacked cohesion, ease-of-use, or basic functions.

To kick things off, we begin by applauding the unified look of the app bar that drops down from the top of the screen. The options may be app-specific, but it’s nice to see a cohesive design structure being employed.

Updated Apps

Photos

The new Photos app (pictured above) features a new smart screen complete with a full-size background photo chosen from your own collection, and smaller thumbnails pulled from your local library, SkyDrive, Facebook, and Flickr are displayed overtop. It’s very easy on the eyes and closely resembles the Windows Phone version.

Calendar

In the Consumer Preview, the Calendar app was missing a simple search function. Maybe not a problem for the average user with two or three appointments in a week, but incredibly troublesome for the power user with a growing number of time commitments. Thankfully that search function has been implemented in the latest release and answered our dearest prayers.

Music

The most exciting change in the Music app is the integration of Zune Pass, which means all of your cloud-based music is finally accessible via the Windows 8 desktop.

Mail

When we first started working with Windows 8, the Mail app haunted our nightmares. It was unreliable and clumsy at best, and though the new version still lacks threaded conversations (really!?), it’s been optimized and crashes a lot less often. The user experience has become actually, well, usable now.

Inboxes are listed on the left-hand pane, doing away with the hellish way of switching inboxes in the App Preview, which involved pressing the back button a whole lot of times. You can also pin specific accounts to your start screen in order to choose whether to check your personal or work email before launching the app. It’s still not as feature-packed as say Gmail or Hotmail, but we must admit that it’s gorgeous.

Web Browsing

The most interesting and innovative change to IE this time around comes in the form of “Flip ahead”, a feature that uses crowd-sourcing to predict which web page a user will click on next. So instead of needing to click on the suggested page, you can simply swipe or click the on-screen forward button to navigate there. At the moment it works best for flipping to the second page of an article, but hopefully with time the algorithm will prove more useful. “Flip ahead” will be turned off by default, so you’ll have to enable it manually.

Sharing options are built-in now, which isn’t too exciting, but worth noting. Flash has been enabled as well, which was inevitable. But what rocks about Metro IE’s implementation is that it’s plug-in free by default so Flash works without any additional setup.

Weather and Maps

Nothing much has changed here. The Weather app is still beautiful and information-packed. We thought Maps lost it’s dedicated search function, but it was only moved into the Charms bar.

Lock Screen

The lock-screen saw a mini-refresh as well. You can now adjust the volume and pause or skip tracks without unlocking your device, which we love.

Brand New Apps

Most of the new apps are Bing-centric, which makes sense for Microsoft’s clear dedication to all things Bing. The moniker of Bing seems a bit redundant since the apps are obviously powered by the search engine, but you can’t blame a company for tooting its own horn. Besides, each app is gorgeous, works great, and beats the pants off the competition.

Bing News

The Bing News app opens up to the top story of the moment and as you scroll right, you’ll find more top headlines pulled from several different categories. The app bar serves as a way to drill down into specific sources or trends. Of course, you can pin any category or custom topic to your start page for quick access to personalized news feeds.

Bing Travel

Basically a Metro version of the site’s trip planning feature, Bing Travel lets you do research and flight / hotel booking. If you don’t already have a destination in mind, the home page serves to inspire you by displaying a collection of pictures and travel articles from featured destinations. Once you choose a place to visit, the app provides you with plenty of helpful details ranging from maps to weather stats and local prices.

Bing Sports

As you may have guessed, Bing Sports helps you keep track of your favorite sports teams and general news stories in the realm of athletics. A top story is displayed on the home page by default and as you swipe to the right you’ll be greeted by more articles, game schedules, and a place just for you called “Favorite teams.” This section of the app is pretty self-explanatory, type in a team name and you’ll receive personalized information relevant to that team like standings, rosters, player stats, etc. And from the app bar up top, you can filter news stories by sport if you could care less about specific teams.

Conclusion

What do you think? Will Windows 8 be the next big thing or the next big flop? Sound off below!

If you’d like a more in-depth look at the Release Preview, a slideshow of all the apps (new & improved) has been provided for your viewing pleasure.

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Microsoft Small Business Server 2011: A Techie’s First Impressions

Microsoft’s Small Business Server features prominently in my life as an IT consultant. Its combination of Windows Server, Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint at a low price-point makes it a compelling proposition for smaller firms.

Dislike of Windows Vista has resulted in many of my clients continuing to maintain systems running SBS 2003 and Windows XP. Now these products are approaching the end of their support lifecycle, many of them are migrating to SBS 2011 and Windows 7. Now that I have completed the first of these migrations, I am in a position to present my first impressions.

First Impressions of Small Business Server 2011

As with previous incarnations of Small Business Server, SBS 2011 is designed to appear easy to use. In many ways it is, with wizards designed to make frequent tasks such as adding users, configuring software updates and sharing printers simple and intuitive.

As with earlier versions, however, these wizards are running on top of Microsoft’s complex and sophisticated Windows Server and Exchange technologies. While much of the server configuration can be done using the wizards (accessed via the SBS 2011 Administration Console), some essential tasks throw admins way into the server configuration deep-end.

Small Business Server 2011
Small Business Server 2011

As an example, I encountered a complicated feature when I increased the maximum incoming email size from the default. This landed me at the Exchange 2010 command line interface – daunting enough for someone raised on SBS 2003 – and I imagine utterly impenetrable for a non-technical person!

New Features for Admins

The Administration Console provides access to all the key server features and maintains an ongoing “traffic light” style alert system which informs admins of any issues with software updates, security and backups. These alerts link in with daily emails sent to the people in charge of the system to provide quick notification of problems.

I particularly like the fact that SBS 2011 appears to place emphasis on any significant errors listed in the Windows event logs, which encourages administrators to proactively investigate all problems in the continuing quest to obtain green “OK” statuses across the board!

Adding new PCs to the SBS 2011 network is a slick process with better integration than previous versions. For example, if an administrator grants a user delegate access to a mailbox, Outlook picks this up and adds the mailbox to their Outlook folder tree with no client configuration required.

New Features for Users

From a user’s perspective, there is a fair amount of new functionality in this incarnation of Small Business Server. How much users will notice, however, depends on how much of the old functionality they were making use of.

The new remote access portal now provides access to shared files via the Web browser – a valuable enhancement in the “Dropbox age,” and is a compliment to the existing options of remote controlling an office PC, or accessing email via Web-based Outlook. The richly featured Exchange 2010 Outlook Web App now provides this.

At the desktop level, less has changed. Essentially, users access shared files and interface with Exchange via Outlook. SharePoint looks shinier than before, but in my experience, few small businesses actually make much use of it.

Conclusion

In a world where many small businesses are considering a move to the cloud, there’s still a place for Microsoft Small Business Server. It is hugely configurable and delivers enterprise-level IT services at a reasonably competitive price. Businesses just need to make sure they have someone reliable to look after it – there’s still a lot of complexity hidden behind that shiny admin console.

Microsoft invests $300 million in Barnes & Noble; looks to spin off Nook business

In what may be considered an interesting and somewhat odd move considering past events, Microsoft has announced that they will be investing $300 million into a “strategic partnership” with Barnes & Noble to work on the future of e-reading by creating a whole new subsidiary of Barnes & Noble that will focus on all things Nook as well as its education/college business.

With Microsoft’s $300 million investment, they’ll own a 17.6 percent stake in the new business (valuing the new company at $1.7 billion), while Barnes & Noble will own the remaining 82.4 percent.

The first thing on the agenda so far is a Windows 8 Nook app, as well as working on spreading and popularizing the Nook Study software on Microsoft’s platforms. Just from these two things alone, Microsoft desperately wants content on their platforms. It seems they want their own answer to Apple’s iBooks and to offer Windows users an alternative to Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

However, this could end up being a bitter mistake for both Microsoft and Barnes & Noble if things don’t go even remotely well. Microsoft has a recent history of catching up to established markets by siding with mediocre companies (their partnership with Nokia, for instance). Microsoft’s partnership with B&N, who – let’s face it – is a lesser-performing company in the e-reading market, could become a complete flop if not done right, especially when going up against powerhouses like iBooks and Amazon’s established ecosystem.

Then again, Microsoft lacks any real strategy to compete in the e-reader business in the first place, so this partnership with Barnes & Noble is certainly a good first step if they really want to compete. It will allow them to get more content onto their platform — especially Windows 8 tablets.

In any case, it’ll be interesting to see what consumers will get out of this once the competition is in full swing.

Image Credit: George Kelly

6 myths about the PC vs. Mac debate

The PC vs. Mac wars just need to die. They’re stupid and pointless. They accomplish absolutely nothing but just more back-and-forth shouting, and the same exact arguments come up every time, making the PC vs. Mac flamewar one giant cliche.

Here are six arguments that come up in every PC vs. Mac debate that are complete myth and have absolutely no merit.

“Macs can’t play games!”

Yup, they can actually. The Portal series runs great on a Mac and so does Civilization IV, Bioshock, and numerous other grade-A games thanks to Steam. Even on the low-end Macs that only have integrated graphics, these games coast along fairly well.

I will say, though, that PC has and will probably always have more titles available than the Mac, but the number of games available for Mac machines is growing and will always grow from this point on.

“PCs are slow, they always crash, and get viruses!”

I’m not sure what PC you’re using, but within the past five or so years that I’ve owned my PC, not once has it gotten a virus or crashed. I also never considered it “slow.” That’s mostly because I took care of my PC and knew how to use it. It’s just like a vehicle: If you know how to use it and take good care of it, it will perform admirably. However, if you never change the oil, expect only problems to arise.

Aside from regular maintenance (on a Mac too, not just PC), you should expect the occasional failure of hardware. It shouldn’t happen, but it just does. And it’ll happen with both PCs and Macs.

Whenever a Microsoft hater spells the company name with a “$” (Micro$oft)

So, I’m pretty sure you’re not aware that Apple is the most valuable company in the world and has more cash reserves than the Federal Government. Microsoft’s money-making ways don’t even come close to Apple’s.

Apple’s “stupid” one-button mice and “not-that-much-better” trackpads

I will admit that Apple’s one-button mouse from a few years ago (the Mighty Mouse) was pretty crappy. Like…really crappy, but they’ve come a long way since then with the Magic Mouse and glass trackpads thanks to the implementation of multitouch.

The trackpad on the MacBook is simply nothing like a standard PC trackpad. That sounds really subjective at first and most PC users will say, “It can’t be that much better than my HP’s trackpad.” However, it really is. MacBook trackpads are configurable to almost an excessive degree thanks to multitouch and utilities like BetterTouchTool. I can click, right-click, middle-click, scroll, two, three, or four-finger swipe in four different directions, pinch-zoom, expand, rotate, two-finger tap, three-finger tap, and four-finger tap. That’s just the tip of iceberg, really. There are a ton of other gestures that I can do, all with a flat surface and one single button.

“OS X just simply runs better than Windows”

This sort of goes back to the second myth, but the latest OS X (10.7) does not run better than the latest Windows (7) and vice versa. This argument did have some merit a few years ago when Windows actually wasn’t that great, but today both OSes perform fairly equally. They both have their strong advantages that make each unique, but they also have their own tiny, albeit annoying quirks that make you want to pull your hair out.

“Macs are way overpriced!”

I saved this one for last because it’s probably the most-known and most-used argument of all. A lot of Apple haters like to play the overpriced card and say they could get a PC with the same specs for way less. While it is possible to find a PC that’s cheaper on average, that doesn’t mean Macs are overpriced by any means.

However, the price gap between PCs and Macs is shrinking, especially with the direction that the industry is going with Ultrabooks and the MacBook Air (in fact, there’s hardly a price difference in that category). Eventually, the overpriced argument will be obsolete. I think that’s because PC manufacturers are now starting to add their own “Apple tax” to their new Ultrabooks because “if Apple can sell their thin-and-light laptop for that much, why can’t we?”

Conclusion

When it comes down to it, it’s all about preference. Some people like  PCs because they like Windows and they’re cheaper overall, and others like Macs because they’re aesthetically pleasing and come with a richer user experience you won’t find elsewhere. They both have their advantages and disadvantages, which makes them unique in their own ways. I’m both a PC and Mac guy because I couldn’t tell you straight up which one is better. I like both very much and I think they each have great things going for them.

Make your Mac More Like Windows 7 with HyperDock

I’m a Mac, but I used to be a PC.

(Just in case you haven’t seen them, I am referring to the popular series of TV adverts comparing the Apple and Microsoft ways of doing things.)

This is an app review, so it’s not the place for a Mac vs. Windows debate. For the sake of context however, I should say that after switching and enduring a sharp learning curve, I personally came to appreciate and prefer the Mac OS X way of doing things.

Little niggles remained, however. In the course of my working day, I often have many documents open at one time. Windows 7 introduced a great preview feature that shows all of the files open in an application when you hover the mouse over its taskbar icon. Earlier versions of Windows had opened each file in a separate instance of the application, so even without the Windows 7 preview, it was still easy to quickly switch between several different Word documents.

On my Mac, I became frustrated with having to go to the “Window” menu or cycle through windows in an application to quickly move between open documents. I also missed Window 7’s desktop snapping features, particularly the ability to instantly make one window take up exactly half of the screen.

Enter HyperDock, an app that appears to have been specifically designed to add these features to Mac OS X.

Hyperdock for OS X
Hyperdock for OS X

On the evening that I first investigated HyperDock, I was put off by the price. £6.99 ($11 USD) seemed like an awful lot to pay for some OS tweaks, despite a host of 5-star App Store reviews. I put it to the back of my mind. By lunchtime the following day, I realised that I had needed to use the cumbersome way to switch between documents at least ten times. I swallowed the cost and downloaded the app.

Though it’s probably a little histrionic to say that HyperDock has changed my life, it has certainly made it less frustrating. Windows 7’s window preview was a great feature from Microsoft. HyperDock basically provides OS X with the same, but better. The app lets you change the preview size, the animation, the behavior – and even adds some cool extra features such as advanced previews for iTunes and iCal.

HyperDock gives me the window snapping features too. I can now drag a window off to the side to make it take up half the screen – perfect for comparing documents, or using one to refer too while writing. It’s the perfect example of a feature you didn’t know you needed until you had it – and after Windows 7, I was missing it.

To come down firmly on one side of the Windows vs. OS X debate is somewhat missing the point. There are always going to be things that one OS does better than the other. Utilities like HyperDock give you the best of both worlds, and what I like best about this app is that it works seamlessly, without the flaky unpredictability that I associate with Windows UI enhancements that I have tried in the past. It’s turned out to be worth every penny.

First Look: Using Windows 8 on a Tablet

Microsoft is aiming high with Windows 8. Not only will Windows 8 be their next flagship desktop operation system, Microsoft is also looking to make it their first OS that’s actually usable on a tablet (anyone who has used any version of Windows on a tablet up to now will tell you that it makes for a less than stellar experience).

I recently had the good fortune to play around with a tablet (specifically the Acer Iconia Tab W500) running the Windows 8 Developer Preview. While the developer preview is still a very early build (and it shows), it’s showing a lot of promise.

Right away I was impressed with Windows 8’s boot time, Microsoft is finally paying attention to an area it has struggled with in the past. With the help of the W500’s solid state drive I clocked the time from pushing the power button to staring at the log in screen at around five seconds. Compared to the 30+ seconds you’ll see on a Windows 7 desktop with a standard spinning drive that’s quite an improvement, and a necessary one for a portable device like a tablet.

In Windows 8, Microsoft added the option of tying your Windows Live ID to your standard log in. This allows you to sync things like browser bookmarks and passwords across all of your devices and facilitates downloads from the upcoming Windows Store. It’s similar to both Apple’s and Google’s approaches to tying your device to an account with the added bonus of syncing things you’d normally find in a roaming profile on a Windows-based network. Most everyone has a Live ID lying around for something or other, may as well put it to good use!

My favorite addition to Windows 8 is the expanded Task Manager. It’s actually useful! All of the stats you could ever want are available at a glance. Instead of just CPU and memory activity you can now see which processes are hogging disk or network access. Ever wonder how many threads are currently active, or how many open file handles there are? Probably not, but it’s there for you to view. The Task Manager also integrates the useful Startup (previously found in msconfig) and Services (previously services.msc) tabs, making them easier to get to.

Windows Explorer has also seen a welcome update with the addition of the ribbon interface found in recent versions of Microsoft Office. Gone are the days of having to dig through a menu just to do something simple like show hidden files and folders, you can now make it available right on the main screen by pinning it to the ribbon.

But enough about Windows 8 features in general, how does it work on a tablet? Pretty well, actually.

The main tablet interface will be familiar to Windows Phone 7 users as it’s basically an expansion on that. Big friendly buttons make it easy to go where you want to go, and standard touch screen rules apply (for example, to move an icon long press on it and drag).

Windows 8 also features a browser optimized for tablet browsing. If you’ve used other mobile browsers it shouldn’t take much getting used to. In normal mode, the whole screen is dedicated to website viewing, with additional options like the URL bar or tabs available at the swipe of a finger.

The most useful feature of Windows 8 on a tablet, in my opinion, is the fact that if you end up needing to do something that a traditional tablet can’t handle there’s still a full Windows operating system to fall back on. Sure, it’s just as clunky to use as past versions, but the important thing is that it’s there. For example, it wasn’t too long ago that Android was hurting for a full-featured video player that could handle such things as a wide variety of codecs or subtitles. On a tablet running Windows 8 that’s a non-issue, just install VLC and play whatever you want.

Unfortunately, the benefits of a full desktop OS also add something you might not want: weight. To handle an OS like Windows a tablet needs powerful hardware. That desktop processor and solid state drive don’t come light, and the W500 weighs in at around 3.5 pounds, compared to the iPad 2’s 1.3 pounds. If you have something to rest the tablet on it isn’t so bad (or if you’re using a ‘transforming’ tablet like the W500 that can plug into a keyboard attachment), but holding it up can get annoyingly tiring.

Windows 8 also features the obsession with whitespace that seems to be sweeping the design community

As previously mentioned, the familiar Windows 7-like portions of Windows 8 still don’t handle a touch interface very well. Right clicking is done by long pressing, icons and menu options are small enough to make them difficult to click with a finger, and convenient keyboard shortcuts are impossible to use. Hopefully the Metro portion of Windows 8 will be up to handling most tasks, because while a Windows desktop is useful as a fallback option trying to use it for more than short period of time is an exercise in frustration.

Windows 8 still has a way to go before it’s ready for prime time, but that’s understandable as it’s still early in development. A beta version is expected to be available sometime in February of this year which will hopefully address many of the faults found in the Developer Preview. Windows 8 probably won’t be a necessary upgrade on a desktop or laptop running Windows 7, but as a tablet OS it’s showing plenty of promise. And who knows, with Android being ported to x86 architecture and Windows 8 supporting ARM processors maybe we’ll see tablets dual booting Windows 8 and Android.

Special thanks to my dad for letting me borrow the tablet used in this article.

Bring Python to Your .NET Development with IronPython

Python is a high-level programming language that has gained popularity in recent years for its emphasis on clear code that is easy to read, combined with surprising power and flexibility. Because Python is free and open-source, it has become a widely used scripting language primarily for web-based applications…but did you know that a little help from the .NET framework can bring your Python apps to the desktop, complete with a graphical user interface? IronPython is a handy tool that will allow you to enjoy the perks of .NET development with your favorite language, Python.

IronPython is a version of Python that is tightly integrated with .NET, originally developed and maintained by a team of Microsoft engineers but recently released to the open-source community. IronPython integrates with Microsoft Visual Studio and allows you to combine traditional Python code with .NET technologies, including Windows Forms and WPF for UI design. The result is a Python-coded application that looks and behaves no differently than any other Windows program, which is a big improvement over the command-line programs typical of the language.

'Hello World' with IronPython

But how exactly does IronPython fit into the .NET world? The diagram below shows the basic functionality where the Python code makes calls to both the .NET framework classes as well as Python libraries. The Python code is then compiled by the IronPython Engine and converted to assembly code that can be executed by the .NET runtime.

IronPython isn’t just for the desktop and can be used to develop web applications that integrate with Silverlight, a Microsoft framework similar to Adobe Flash. If you’re worried about pigeon-holing yourself into Windows with .NET, fear not, IronPython is supported by Mono, an open-source and cross-platform alternative to .NET. Likewise, if you don’t have the money to throw down on a license for Visual Studio, IronPython Studio is a free IDE that runs from the Visual Studio Shell.

So, if you’re a Python developer and want to make user-friendly apps that can take advantage of all that .NET has to offer, bust out of your command-line world give IronPython a spin.

How to install Microsoft’s FxCop for Visual Studio 2010

I recently discovered Visual Studio Achievements, which as the name indicates, adds video game-style “achievements” to Microsoft’s premiere IDE while you code. Visual Studio Achievements was even created by Microsoft’s Channel9 team, so you know it’s the real deal.

Some of the unlockable achievements include positive awards like “Add 10 regions to a class. Your code is so readable, if I only didn’t have to keep collapsing and expanding!” and negative awards such as “Write a single line of code at least 300 characters long. Who needs carriage returns?”. With leaderboards and fun icons, Visual Studio Achievements adds a little fun to your programming experience.

Many of the achievements require a Microsoft tool called FxCop to be installed for them to be unlocked. FxCop is a utility that can analyze your source code and provides feedback on possible design, localization, performance and security improvements. Unfortunately, if you head to the FxCop download page, you’ll quickly learn than the FxCop “download” is actually a text file that tells you to install another file to actually get the application.

When you open the FxCop text file, you’ll be presented with the following information.

FxCop Installation Instructions
1. Download the Microsoft Windows SDK for Windows 7 and .NET Framework 4 version 7.1.
2. Run %ProgramFiles%\Microsoft SDKs\Windows\v7.1\Bin\FXCop\FxCopSetup.exe to install FxCop.

I know, I was surprised too. For this to work, I need to install the Windows SDK, then install another installer? Well you’re in luck – I took the time to figure out what files were needed so you can install FxCop as quickly as possible. Just follow my instructions below.

Note: This guide is only required if you are using Visual Studio 2010 Professional. If you have Visual Studio 2010 Premium or Ultimate installed, FxCop will already be included with your IDE.

How to install FxCop

Step 1. Download the Microsoft Windows SDK installer.

Step 2. Run the installer. Click “Next” until you get to the “Installation Options” screen.

Step 3. In the Installation Options screen, select only “Tools” under the .NET Development section. You’re free to install other features as well, but “Tools” is the only item that will include the FxCop installer.

windows_sdk_installer

Step 4. Click “Next” and continue following instructions until installation is complete.

Step 5. After the installer finishes, navigate to C:\Program Files\Microsoft SDKs\Windows\v7.1\Bin\FXCop.

Run the installer in that folder, FxCopSetup.exe.

After installing FxCop, you’re finished! You can now enjoy the full features of both FxCop and Visual Studio Achievements.

CES 2012: Day 2 Recap – LG, Samsung, Vizio, and Microsoft

The second day of CES-ness is now behind us and wow, was it a busy one! Numerous companies held their press events today, including Microsoft, which hosted the opening keynote for this year’s CES. To say the least, tons of stuff happened. Since I won’t cover everything (that would literally be like writing a book) and to save your sanity, I’m just going to go over the bigger highlights of the day that matter.

LG

Image Credit: VentureBeat

LG introduced its 2012 lineup of HDTVs and they don’t seem to disappoint. More than half of them are either 3D capable or Smart TVs. LG’s Cinema 3D Smart TVs range from 55-inches to a whopping 84-inches. The 84-inch model packs an “Ultra High Definition” (UHD) display that squeezes 8 million pixels with a 3840×2160 resolution. It’s only 28mm thick and has a tiny 1mm bezel.

LG also announced their new flagship phone, the Spectrum. It features a 1.5GHz dual-core processor covered up by a massive 4.5-inch 1280×720 IPS LCD screen, giving it a ppi of 329 — better than the iPhone’s Retina Display. It also has 1GB of memory and 4GB of internal storage. LG will be releasing the Spectrum exclusively on Verizon on January 19 for $200 on-contract.

Samsung

The Galaxy Note has officially been announced, even though we knew it was coming of course. It boasts a whopping 5.3-inch screen with a 1280×800 AMOLED display, making it a half-phone, half-tablet. It has AT&T’s 4G LTE built-in and rocks a 1.5GHz dual-core processor. AT&T hasn’t said when it will be available, but if color selection means anything to you, the Note will come in “carbon blue” and “ceramic white.”

Samsung also unveiled its Smart 3DTV lineup, and they’re nothing short of crazy. The TVs support voice control, motion control and face recognition. They also run on SoC (System on a Chip) kits that users can upgrade starting in 2013 when Samsung releases upgrade kits. Samsung says that this allows the user to upgrade their television without actually having to replace the entire unit.

Vizio

Vizio, long-time maker of HDTVs, has now entered into the PC and tablet market with an all-in-one machine, three laptops and a tablet. The all-in-one PC is still somewhat of an unknown as far as specs, but the company’s YouTube channel goes over the products a bit. As far as the laptops, they’ll come in three different sizes: 13-inch, 15-inch and “full-size.” Just like the all-in-one, specs are hard to come by at this point.

Vizio’s tablet is a 10.1-inch model that they’re calling the M-series. It’s also apparently powered by an unannounced processor, so they’re not able to talk details just yet, but all of these new products by Vizio are due out this Spring/Summer.

Microsoft

Microsoft actually didn’t have much to announce for the first time. CEO Steve Ballmer and company mostly discussed already talked-about subjects, including topics about the Xbox 360, Windows 8 and Windows Phone. However, there were a couple of new things.

Nokia and Microsoft announced the latest Nokia Windows Phone, the Lumia 900. It’s a 4G LTE phone with a 4.3-inch AMOLED display. It runs on a single-core 1.4GHz Qualcomm CPU and 512MB of RAM. It’ll be arriving within the next couple of months exclusive to AT&T. The Lumia 800 will also be coming to the U.S. unlocked within the next few months, Ballmer says.

Microsoft also unveiled the Windows Store, which is the equivalent to the Android Market or the iTunes App Store, but for Windows devices. It’ll be available on Windows 8, as well as Windows Phone in the future.

Lastly, Ballmer mentioned that Kinect is coming to Windows February 1st.

Bonus: Microsoft partnered with ZeptoLab to bring a HTML5 version of Cut the Rope directly to the browser. Anyone with a computer can play the game. If you’ve never played it before, do it now!

Other Fun Stuff

– Netflix has announced availability in the UK (£5.99/month) and Ireland (£6.99/month).

– microUSB 3.0 is coming to smartphones and tablets near you as early as late this year.

– The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is coming to Sprint.

– The HTC Titan II, the first LTE Windows Phone, will be hitting AT&T.

– Asus’s Transformer Prime tablet hybrid will be getting Ice Cream Sandwich.

Stay tuned to Techerator throughout the week to get more details from inside CES 2012!

Consumer Electronics Show 2012 Preview

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is the one time a year where consumer electronics and other gadgetry hits an all-time high. The entire technology industry converges in Las Vegas, Nevada for a week of press events, unveilings and demonstrations of the latest toys and concepts that have yet to hit the public market. Needless to say, it’s the craziest time of the year for anyone that’s into technology.

CES 2012 will officially run from Tuesday, January 10th to Friday, January 13th, but we guarantee that much will occur a couple of days before the official opening, including the opening keynote. Many companies will also be hosting their own private press events days before CES actually begins.

So what kind of things should we expect to see at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show? Fortunately, there’s never been a moment when a CES preview has put me to sleep and this year is no different. Here are some of the important highlights of what we should expect at CES 2012.

Windows 8

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will once again be giving the opening keynote of CES 2012, and you can bet that he’ll be using the allotted time to discuss Microsoft’s most recent project, Windows 8. It’s rumored that Ballmer and company will be publicly releasing a second beta of Windows 8 at CES 2012. Ballmer also might be showing off a handful of ARM and Intel-based Windows 8 tablets that will end up launching later in 2012. Also, you should expect the Microsoft CEO to talk at least a little about the Xbox 360 and some of its recent updates as well as future plans for the console.

Microsoft has also announced that CES 2012 will be their last major appearance. This will be their last keynote and they won’t be setting up a booth on the show floor, but they did say that they will still attend CES “to connect with partners and customers across the PC, phone and entertainment industries.” Just don’t expect any big things from them at CES in the future.

Ultrabooks

Trademarked by Intel, the term “Ultrabook” refers to a very thin and lightweight laptop, similar to a MacBook Air. Be assured that Intel is hitting the ground running with this (and has been the past few months) to try to prevent rising competition from ARM-based tablets, so we’ll probably see a lot of Ultrabooks being announced at CES by companies like Asus, Acer, Lenovo and Toshiba.

Android Devices

In all honesty, I will be absolutely surprised and appalled if Android conversation doesn’t come up at least a few times throughout CES 2012. However, I don’t think that will be a problem at all.  We should expect to see faster Ice Cream Sandwich devices being unveiled, as well as just as much hype of 4G LTE as last year.

As usual though, all of the big mobile phone contenders will be at CES 2012 in some fashion or another. However, Motorola has, in fact, cancelled their press conference (but will still have a booth on the floor) and HTC has yet to schedule their own presser.

Gaming

Both Sony and Nintendo will be strutting their stuff at CES this year. Sony will be putting their PlayStation Vita on display, as well as a few games to check out. As far as the PlayStation 3, Sony will most likely continue to delve into the 3D portions of the console, so don’t expect the 3D fad from last year’s CES to die off just yet.

Nintendo will apparently be alive and well at CES this year. Their current project, the Wii U, will be making its second appearance at CES 2012; its first appearance was at E3 2011 back in June. CES goers should be able to get a more thorough hands-on session with the console this time around.

Other Fun Stuff

– Nokia’s having their press conference on Monday the 9th and from the looks of their invitation, we’re going to take a shot in the dark and say that they just might be discussing Windows Phone. Some brand new devices, perhaps?

– Nvidia has also scheduled their press conference for the 9th, which leaves the door wide open for speculation of a Tegra 3 announcement.

– Google TV might be a talking point at CES 2012. It’s even been rumored that LG plans to unveil a Google TV-ified television sometime that week.

– Car tech will most likely be a hot topic at CES 2012, since the big wigs at both Mercedes-Benz and Ford will be there to give keynotes.

Keep an eye on Techerator for full upcoming coverage of CES 2012!

Image Credit: TechCocktail, chialinshih, blogeee, Sham Hardy