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Review: Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard
Along with the Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse, the Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard has been released in preparation for Windows 8. It doesn't have a design as divisive as the Wedge Touch Mouse, but it complements it with the same black and silver colour scheme.
It's a small keyboard - not any longer than most tablets, and so typing on it for long periods can be quite uncomfortable. However the buttons feel good, and it's a huge improvement on using an on-screen keyboard on your tablet.
Again, there's no dongle included, so the tablet or PC you pair it with needs to have Bluetooth. Setting it up was as simple as inserting the batteries, then going to 'Change PC settings' in Windows 8 and clicking Add a device. Windows 8 found the keyboard without trouble, and after entering a unique code on the keyboard for security, everything was pared up.
Icons for Windows 8's charms are included above the 'F' keys, which makes navigating Windows 8 much easier. In fact, combining the Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse and the Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard - essentially turning your tablet into a mini desktop PC - makes using Windows 8 a much more pleasant experience.
The Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard is quite easy to carry about because it's small, thin and light and comes with a protective case that can fold and double as a stand for a tablet.
Overall the Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard isn't a keyboard that you'd want to use with a desktop PC, but if you're going to be doing a lot of writing on your tablet, then it is essential, and the Windows 8-specific shortcut keys are incredibly handy.
'Microsoft design style' may be latest, and final, Windows 8 UI rebrand
At the time, Microsoft claimed "Metro" was merely a codename used during W8's development, and that it would switch it to a broader term closer to launch was always part of the plan.
Since then, Microsoft has adopted terms like "Windows 8-style UI," "New User Interface," "Windows 8 design" and "Windows 8 application" in place of "Metro."
Now, new information has surfaced indicating Microsoft is once again flip-flopping on the name of its UI design in the wake of ditching "Metro."
Microsoft design style
Based on terminology discovered in Microsoft's app design guidelines for Windows 8, it appears the company is opting for "Microsoft design style" as the final replacement for "Metro."
Any and all mentions of "Metro" have been seemingly stricken from the record, as Microsoft readies itself for the consumer launch of Windows 8 on Oct. 26.
Curiously, the new term isn't capitalized, giving some credence to the thought the title is more of a descriptor than an actual branded name.
For now, consumers and developers are stuck with this new branding, which doesn't exactly speak to simplicity like "Metro" or Windows 8 and Windows RT.
Having already gone through nearly half-a-dozen different names just to describe the look of the Windows 8 user interface, it wouldn't be that surprising to see yet another change happen in the future.
Samsung Galaxy S3 goes contract-free on MetroPCS for $499
Wireless customers who don't like lengthy and expensive contracts will likely rejoice at their chance to take Samsung's Galaxy S3 for a spin, as Friday prepaid carrier MetroPCS announced the phone will join its offerings.
The contract-free wireless provider revealed that it will soon begin selling the Galaxy S3, one of the most popular Android phones, sans contract.
Naturally, the Galaxy SIII will cost a little more since it's not subsidized through a contractual carrier agreement - it will go for $499 on MetroPCS, with monthly rates reportedly ranging from $30 to $70.
When the S3 debuted over the summer, it went for anywhere from $149 (on AT&T) to $229 (on T-Mobile) with a two-year agreement.
Prepaid still the way to go
Mobile carriers in general are losing contracts, but gaining prepaid customers, a report claimed earlier this year.
With the Samsung Galaxy S3 headed to MetroPCS, that trend seems likely to continue.
The May report claimed that the seven largest U.S. carriers lost 52,000 contract subscribers during the same period that they gained two million prepaid customers.
One reason for this shift is that, simply put, contracts are expensive - the same report claimed that AT&T customers pay on average $64.46 per month when under contract, but only $11.52 when not on contracts.
Time to upgrade
The powerful and sleek 4.8-inch Samsung Galaxy S3 couldn't even be toppled from TechRadar's top spot by Apple's iPhone 5.
With T-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom in charge, who knows how things might change at MetroPCS?
In Depth: 15 best Windows 8 apps available today
Windows 8 has many interesting new features, but the most important has to be the Store. It's now easy to enhance your PC with a host of powerful apps - games, multimedia, tools, productivity and more - and these can then automatically be installed on all your other Windows 8 systems in a click or two.
You'll have to find them first, of course, which is something of a challenge, since the Windows Store now has thousands of apps competing for your attention.
But don't worry, we've been scouring the latest releases for the hidden gems, so if you'd like to save time and jump straight to the Store highlights then read on for our guide to the best Windows 8 apps currently available.
1. Metro Commander
One immediate advantage of the Store is it makes it very easy for developers to plug whatever gaps Microsoft might leave. So don't waste time wondering why Microsoft hasn't provided a file manager for the Start Screen, for instance - just install Metro Commander, instead.
The program provides a dual-pane interface on your files and folders, provides easy access to all the usual core functions - View, Rename, Copy, More, New Folder, New File and more - and offers integrated SkyDrive support, too.
Explorer remains far more powerful, of course, but if you need something simple and more touch-friendly, then Metro Commander should do the job.
2. musiXmatch Lyrics
Another advantage of the Store is it means PC software isn't isolated any more, somehow apart from your other devices. If you use the musiXmatch Lyrics app on your iPhone, iPad or Android device, for instance, then good news: it's now free to use on your Windows 8 system, too.
If you're new to musiXmatch, the app makes it easy to locate the lyrics for just about anything in your music collection. And we really do mean anything - the database now holds lyrics for around 6 million songs.
But if you're just feeling bored, you can alternatively browse the latest US and UK hits, listen to them, and watch the videos via YouTube.
3. Reversi Free
This fun version of the classic strategy game Othello is simple, straightforward and easy to use, yet still has more than enough power to keep you entertained for many hours.
And so there are three difficulty levels, for instance. You can go first, or second. And while the AI won't be too challenging if you're skilled at Reversi, if you get tired of the computer then there's an option to engage a human opponent, instead.
All this is presented in an appealing interface, nicely designed to look as though it's pencil-drawn. And this even extends to the sound of a pencil shading in pieces as they change colour (surprisingly, we didn't find this annoying, although if you do then you can turn it off). No bells and whistles, then - just the gaming basics done very well indeed, and that's fine with us.
4. Norton Satellite
Easy integration with online services such as Facebook is a plus point for Windows 8 - but you need to keep an eye on your security. And the free Norton Satellite can help.
The program uses apps to scan your Facebook links and Dropbox files, for instance, alerting you to threats before they have a chance to infect you. And if your worries lie elsewhere, then Satellite can scan particular files or folders on demand.
You don't get real-time protection for your whole system here, and so Satellite is no substitute for a full-strength antivirus package. It's simple, lightweight and easy to use, though, and will add a welcome extra layer of security to any Windows 8 system.
5. TuneIn Radio
Internet radio has always been a great way to keep yourself entertained, and TuneIn Radio shows off the technology with real style.
The app's huge database (more than 70,000 stations) means you're sure to find something you like, for instance. You can browse by music, sport, news, comedy, chat, language, country, or even just find a local station (assuming you've enabled the app to access to your location).
The program can also maintain a list of your favourite stations, for easy access later. Or you can even pin some to your Start Screen, so you can begin listening at any time with a click.
6. Fractal Photographer
If you've not come across the Mandelbrot Set before, then Fractal Photographer makes an excellent first guide, slowly revealing the fascinating infinity of gorgeous fractal patterns.
The app is perfect for tablets, its multi-touch support enabling you to zoom in or rotate to get the best possible view. But the authors haven't forgotten mouse users, either: you can click to move focus, scroll the mouse wheel to zoom in and out, and everything works just as you'd expect.
The program can also use multiple colour schemes to create new effects. If you find a particularly interesting point then you can bookmark it for easy access later. And a Save option enables you to save HD versions of your best patterns, ready to be shared with others.
7. Multimedia 8
If you're missing Windows Media Centre, then fear not, the Store does have some interesting alternatives - and Multimedia 8 is one of the best.
The program makes it easy to browse your music, video and playlists, for instance. In a click (or a touch) you can access files on a media server, or the web.
And a host of bonus features includes 3D video support; the ability to convert videos to MP4 or WMV; playlist creation, DLNA media streaming, subtitle support (SRT/ WebVTT), video stabilisation, video and audio capture, and more.
8. News Bento
Whatever your view on the introduction of the Windows 8 Modern interface is, there's no doubt that its apps can look fantastic, and News Bento is a perfect example.
Launch the app and a group of tiles show you constantly-updating news photos and headlines from top US sites. A host of others are available via the "more news" link, and Google Reader support combined with RSS search provides easy access to your other online favourites.
Choose a source and story summaries are neatly displayed in various panels. And most conveniently, clicking any of these (for the sources bundled with the program, anyway) displays its content within the app, so there's no irritating switching to and from an external browser.
9. Free Books
There's more to ebooks than Amazon and Kindle: no, really. And by way of evidence, look no further than Free Books. This attractive app offers more than 23,000 free books (mostly old classics), neatly organised by category and author, with an interesting selection of "Featured" books if you just want to browse.
Double-click any book to download it to your library. Double-click again to read it; tap right or left to turn the appropriate page; and of course the app remembers your current page, so if you leave it and come back later then you'll be able to carry on where you left off.
Some people may feel the app is a little too basic, and it would certainly benefit from settings to adjust text size, colours and so on. The simplicity does mean Free Books is very simple to use, though, and on balance it'll be a great addition to most systems.
10. Dredd vs Zombies
Mega-City One is in terrible danger of a zombie invasion. And even though this game has been a hit with iOS and Android users, they still haven't saved the day - which means that now it's your turn.
After equipping yourself for the battle ahead (there's your trusty Lawgiver pistol, assorted other weapons, body armour and more) this fast-paced top-down shooter throws you into 30 levels of hectic, challenging combat.
This isn't really a game for PCs, unfortunately - the mouse interface is relatively poor, making it hard to recommend for a conventional desktop. But on a tablet (or anything else with a touch interface) Dredd vs Zombies proves to be an entertaining game that offers plenty of zombie-killing fun.
11. OneNote MX
Microsoft's excellent freeform notetaking app makes it easy to build documents from photos, (handwritten or typed) text notes, pictures, drawings, audio files and more.
The ability to tag items on the page adds a little flexibility. Add "To Do" tags, say, and your items will gain checkboxes that you can click when they're complete. You can create multiple notebooks, each with as many pages as you need, then save them to the cloud for access from any of your devices (or perhaps to collaborate on with others).
And of course the program works with Windows 8 Search, making it easy to find the note you need. Even if it was written on a PC, and you're now on your mobile device.
Launch this comprehensive weather app and you'll immediately gain access to detailed information on your current weather conditions, as well as what's coming your way in the next few days.
A powerful Maps module gives you the big picture, with satellite imagery, humidity, temperature, pressure, wind speed and more. Live Tile support keeps you informed about conditions from your very own Start Screen, and you can also have WeatherBug raise a custom notification to warn you about rain, snow, fog, freezing temperature and more.
On the down side, the ads can be annoying, and we had some issues animating the radar maps. But this is still a very powerful and configurable weather app.
13. Daily Wallpapers
Windows 8 comes with some attractive and eye-catching images for the lock screen, but let's be realistic - you'll be bored with them before long. And that's where Daily Wallpapers comes in. This app can customise your system with images found in local folders, on Facebook, SkyDrive, or perhaps that you've just taken with the system's camera (if you have one).
The real fun is to be had in the "Today's Wall" and "Trending Images" sections, though, where you can browse a host of gorgeous images (with new examples added every day), and set up your favourite to be displayed on the lock screen.
And many of the images are so beautiful that you can waste plenty of time just browsing them in Slideshow mode (although the ads sometimes spoil the atmosphere, since they can be a little intrusive).
While it's a fabulous website, packed with essential information, Wikipedia has never quite looked as glossy as the best print encyclopaedias. But the Windows 8 app changes all that.
Launch it and gorgeous "featured pictures" catch your eye immediately, for instance. Clicking any of these drills down to the relevant article, carefully formatted for better display on mobile devices.
Scroll to the right and you'll find a similar set of "featured articles", a collection of events that happened "on this day" and links to recently changed pages, all useful as starting points for browsing. But best of all, once the app is installed, you can search Wikipedia at any time from the regular Windows 8 Search tool. And you just know that's going to be very useful indeed.
There's nothing on TV. Again. Annoying, but it doesn't have to be a problem - not if you've installed the SnagFilms app. This simple tool provides on-demand access to thousands of independent films, for free, whenever and wherever you want (as long as your internet connection is up to it, anyway).
Start by browsing the site's categories - Thriller, Comedy, Drama, Family Friendly, Science and Nature and more - and you'll find all kinds of offerings, from obscure shorts to major pictures with big Hollywood names.
And you can then read more details about the movie, add it to your own movie library, or start watching in just a click or two.
Opinion: Why iCloud is so crucial to Apple's future
Hidden behind the curtains at this year's Apple Worldwide Developer Conference, iCloud was really pulling all the levers. It reminds me of Woody Allen's eponymous character in the film Zelig, who appears in the background of virtually every important event in the 20th Century.
Like Zelig, iCloud is always there, always in the background of everything that Apple is doing now. (Although, unlike Zelig, iCloud doesn't actually change its appearance and identity depending on the situation. Even Apple hasn't mastered that particular technology yet.)
The aim is simple, and Apple is overt about it: iCloud is going to be the default place that apps store files, and they're going to be accessible from iOS and OS X. The idea of stuff stored locally is gradually going to go away. You see this throughout the iPhone 5 and iOS 6.
At present with iTunes In The Cloud, for example, if you tap on a song that's not available locally, it will be downloaded as you listen and kept on your device. With iOS 6, iTunes In The Cloud songs can stream to your iOS 6 devices without being downloaded. The cloud is the storage - all that happens locally is that it's cached, behind the scenes.
But there's more to iCloud now than saving you space by storing your documents and music elsewhere. The idea is to give developers the tools to let you use your apps on any device and pick up where you left off, no matter what platform you're using.
Syncing between your devices
Start a game on your iPhone on the tube, and pick it up on your iPad when you get home, from exactly the same spot in the game. Listen to a podcast on your iPad, put that down, and pick up from the same point in the show on your iPhone. iCloud is intended to be the invisible magic that glues your iPhone, iPad and Mac (if you use one) together.
Of course, when you have clouds, you also have turbulence, and sometimes a little rain, too. So far, developers have been relatively slow to pick up on iCloud, because some of the core features have lacked the kind of responsiveness and flexibility they need to create great experiences. Apple's done some work to address this in iOS 6, but there's a lot still to be done.
On the user side, iCloud still feels a little hit-or-miss in places: sometimes, for example, Pages documents end up in the cloud instantly. At other times, they don't. And when you're relying on the cloud for storage, it needs to be totally reliable.
There are also the issues that Apple can't control, such as the need for a speedy and reliable net connection available constantly - still not exactly the norm in many countries.
But make no mistake: iCloud is the most important thing that's happening on iOS at the moment. It's the heart of what Apple thinks is the future of virtually every product it does. You're going to be hearing a whole lot more about it over the next year, as Apple pushes its own products further and developers adopt its features more widely.