Asus VivoTab Note 8 ReviewAffordable 8-inch Windows 8 tablets are becoming ubiquitous, and we’ve found the more recent models, such as Dell’s $299 Venue 8 Pro and Lenovo’s $299 Miix 2 8, impressive—at least in terms of overall performance and battery life. Granted, these compact Windows devices tend to cost a little more than the average like-size Android slate, but keep in mind that what you get for the few extra bucks is essentially a full-blown handheld PC that can run the majority of Windows’ entertainment and productivity programs.

In addition to providing access to millions of Windows apps, Windows tablets provide several other advantages over Android devices. For example, Windows slates deliver a much wider range of compatibility with most people’s desktop PCs; they utilize Windows’ network and security features more efficiently; and they save many folks the trouble of learning and working with two different operating systems, thereby decreasing the learning curve and increasing overall productivity.

Asus VivoTab Note 8 Start

Alas, this is not to say that these Windows handhelds are perfect compared to their Android counterparts. Despite the respectable performance and miserly power consumption delivered by their latest quad-core Intel Atom (a.k.a. “Bay Trail”) processors, most can’t match the battery life of Android compacts. And the Android OS handles relatively high resolutions more gracefully—especially when the Windows device is running in desktop mode.

In fact, objects such as icons and pull-down menus are often far too small to manipulate comfortably with your fingers, which can make using the tablet frustrating—so much so that some manufacturers, such as Dell with the Venue 8 Pro, have added stylus or pen support to help you get to those tight spots.

However, the Dell slate’s stylus support seems like an afterthought: You must purchase the pen separately, and Dell doesn’t provide any way to store it on the tablet. By contrast, the subject of this review, Asus’ $329-list VivoTab Note 8, not only comes with a stylus but also a compartment to store it in.

Asus VivoTab Note 8 landscape

And that, the bundled and neatly stowed away Wacom active stylus, is what makes the slightly more expensive VivoTab stand out from other recent Windows slates. Otherwise, it runs on the same processor and comes with mostly the same software and feature set as the Lenovo and Dell models mentioned above—two tablets that, by the way, we liked a lot.

In addition to the $329 VivoTab Note 8, which comes with 32GB of storage, Asus also hawks a 64GB version for $369. Given their low prices, all three of the Windows tablets mentioned on this page are solid buys, but we think that the Asus, with its well-performing stylus with 1,024 pressure sensitivity levels (which we’ll discuss in a minute), delivers better all-around value.

Read the entire review at Computer Shopper.

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Acer Iconia A1-830 Review and RatingsIf imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery, then the tablet we’re looking at here today, Acer’s Iconia A1-830, borders on idol worship.

Granted, in one way or another, every compact tablet (which we define as a model with a screen from 7 to 9 inches) competes with Apple’s industry-leading iPad Mini and iPad Mini With Retina Display. But few of them are as blatant about it as this $179.99-list Acer slate. Aside from the obviously different logos, the placement of the speakers, and a bit more heft, the Iconia A1-830 looks as though it came from the Cupertino design team.

As you’ll see in the course of our review, though, looks aren’t everything. In many ways, this 7.9-inch Android tablet is nothing like either of the core Apple iPad Mini models. Nor does it, in our opinion, offer a whole lot of competition for them.

Acer Iconia A1-830The one area in which the Iconia A1-830does soundly beat the iPad Mini, though, is price. When we wrote this in mid-April 2014, the standard (non-Retina Display) Apple iPad Mini sold for $299 (with 16GB of onboard storage), while the Retina Display model with the same storage was going for $100 more. In contrast, you can pick up the Iconia A1-830, with a same-size screen (7.9 inches, at a 1,024×768 native resolution) and the same 16GB for about $120 less—or perhaps an even bigger discount on sale. (iPads, meanwhile, seldom get marked down from list price, and even then, not by much.)

Another feature on this entry-level Android tablet, as well as most other Androids—budget-priced or otherwise—that you won’t find on any iPad is a MicroSD card slot, for expanding the onboard storage. Aside from that, though, nearly everything else—most notably, the display, the speakers, and the camera quality—wasn’t up to the iPad Mini’s mark.

All this is not to say that the Iconia A1 is a bad tablet—not at all. It’s just that it’s no iPad Mini, even though it looks like one. Still, the Iconia A1-830 is hands-down superior to the thicker and heavier Iconia A1-810 it replaces. And from that perspective—this is an entry-level slate, after all—it holds up much better. It’s well-built and attractive; it feels good in your hands; and the display stacks up well compared to those of other low-cost compact tablets.

Acer Iconia A1-830 (Horizontal)

On the other hand, several under-$150 7-inch slates, such as Dell’s Venue 7 and Asus’ MeMO Pad HD 7, perform as well as (or better than) the Iconia A1-830. And Acer’s model lists for only $50 less than Google’s field-leading compact Android tablet, the 2013 Nexus 7. Our point? You can get a comparable slate for less money and a much better one for only about $50 more.

Of course, the screen sizes aren’t exactly equal; you get nearly an extra inch with the Iconia A1-830′s 7.9-inch screen over the 7-inch brigade. And what you don’t get with any of the slates mentioned in the previous paragraph is a display with a 4:3 aspect ratio, like that of the iPad Minis. A 4:3 ratio is more like an old-style television’s, versus the more common 16:9 ratio used by most HDTVs and tablets today. We’ll look more closely at the Iconia A1-830’s display traits in the Features & Apps section later on.

In short, this tablet’s resemblance to the iPad Mini is at the same time one of its big strengths and weaknesses. It’s a good-looking, relatively well-performing slate, but it suffers, on a feature level, when compared to Apple’s ace. Plus, considering its many low-priced competitors, we think the list price is a tad high. At under $150, this would be a winning budget tablet, especially as it’s a near-8-incher, rather than a 7-incher. In fact, the closer the Iconia A1-830 might get to being $100 less than the market-leading Android, the $229 Google Nexus 7, the more we’d like it.

Read the entire review at Computer Shopper.

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ValueChain ValuePad VP112 (7-Inch) Review and RatingsWe predicted early in 2013 that entry-level Android tablets with list prices under $100 were imminent—and soon. Sure enough, budget-friendly models such as Hisense’s $99-list Sero 7 LT began to show up at Wal-mart, Sears, and Amazon. But then, everybody knows that “list” prices (a.k.a. manufacturer-suggested retail prices, or MSRPs) are merely guidelines that give you the perception of a bargain when you pay less. Most outlets sell their wares for less than the MSRP, often undercutting each other in attempts to entice you to buy from them. The result, of course, is that the actual sale price (the “street price”) turns out to be significantly less.

Take the subject of this review, ValueChain’s $99-list ValuePad VP112. As we wrote this in late March 2014, we found the VP112 online for as little as $69.99. That makes us wonder whether under-$50-list compact slates are coming in 2014, but we’ll hold off on predicting that for now. Still, even if that doesn’t happen, it won’t be long before almost everybody will be able to afford a new Android tablet of some kind.

ValueChain ValuePad VP112 (Cover)But are these super-cheap slates any good? The answer depends on your response to these two questions: (a) Compared to what? And (b) what do you want to use your tablet for? By today’s standards, these extreme-entry-level tabs come with the bare minimums in terms of CPU, display resolution, battery life, and storage space. Both this ValuePad and the Sero 7 LT, for instance, run on dual-core processors, compared to the much snappier quad-core CPUs found in higher-end mainstream models, such as Google’s $229-list 2013 version of its Nexus 7  and LG’s more recent $349-list G Pad 8.3 and G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition.

These higher-end slates also come with much nicer, higher-resolution display panels. The Nexus 7 and the two G Pads, for example, sport gorgeous full-HD 1,920×1,200-pixel screens, compared to the meager 1,024×600 screen on our ValuePad test unit. (The Sero 7 LT’s screen has the same resolution.) With HD, you get nearly four times the overall number of pixels in much the same screen area, making a huge difference in overall display clarity, detail, and vibrancy. (We’ll look at screen quality and several other issues, such as battery life and storage space, later in this review. And we’ll address overall performance and capabilities in the Performance section near the end.)

ValueChain ValuePad VP112

Now, we expect under-$100 tablets to skimp somewhat on hardware and processing muscle, and this ValuePad does demand some trade-offs in that regard. But it has what we consider a bigger problem—it runs Android, but it’s not a Google-certified slate. While that entails many things, the primary drawback for end users is that you can’t access the Google Play store, the world’s largest repository of Android apps. Instead, you’re relegated to relying on one of the third-party app stores, such as the Amazon Appstore or 1Mobile Market. These aren’t as restricting as they used to be, but Google Play provides by far the largest selection.

That said, given its price, this ValuePad is a good buy for children and first-time tablet buyers. Granted, there’s no magic going on here: You’re getting less for less money, notably a small dollop of storage space (just 8GB) and short battery life (under 4 hours). But if you shop around, you can pick up the VP112 for under $70. At that price, as long as it’s built reasonably well and runs stably, it’s hard to go wrong if you need a basic, near-disposable tablet.

Read the entire review at Computer Shopper.

 

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OKI C831n Review and RatingsIt wasn’t long ago that you couldn’t buy a wide-format (11×17-inch) color printer based on laser or laser-class technology that didn’t stand over three feet high, weigh well over 100 pounds, and cost upward of $5,000. (And let’s not even talk about the cost per printed page, or CPP.) As with so many kinds of computer-related tech, though, wide-format color printers have continued to get smaller, lighter, and less expensive—as well as faster and better-performing. And, as a result, more and more buyers are finding wide-format a must-have once they get their mitts on such a machine. As we noted in our review of HP’s Officejet 7610 Wide Format e-All-in-One, a tabloid-size inkjet multifunction printer we looked at a few weeks ago, once you’ve had a wide-format printer in-house for a while, you’ll probably find yourself wondering how your small or medium-size business (SMB) got by without it.

But aren’t wide-format inkjets significantly cheaper than their laser-class counterparts? You bet they are. You can find decent high-volume wide-format inkjets for under $300. Take the Brother MFC-J6920DW, which comes with two paper drawers, automatic two-sided printing, an automatic document feeder (ADF), and highly competitive per-page consumable costs (in this case, ink). That Brother went for around $230 when we wrote this in March 2014, and that’s less than half of what equivalent inkjets cost six or seven years ago. Laser-class wide-format machines like the one we’re reviewing here today, OKI Data’s $1,699-list OKI C831n, have also gotten a lot more reasonably priced over that same span.

OKI C831nWide-format, or “tabloid,” printers, of course, are capable of churning out pages with twice the surface area (11×17 inches) of the standard letter-size (8.5×11-inch) pages that most of us are used to. Tabloid printers allow you to print a broader range of documents. You can, for example, easily produce four-page booklets and brochures—with just one sheet of paper. (You would print in wide, or landscape, orientation on both sides of the paper, then fold the sheet down the middle.)

Tabloid printers also allow you to create larger flyers, posters, diagrams, drawings, and spreadsheets than standard-size machines do—without your having to take time out to swing by the local Kinko’s. It’s also more economical to print your “oversize” documents on demand, as you need them, rather than shelling out on large print runs—only to have the information contained on the hard copy (such as, say, price changes) become obsolete, forcing you to toss the remaining hundreds or thousands of copies in the recycle bin.

OKI C831n (Angle View)This brings us back to the OKI C831n. It’s a single-function “laser-class” machine that uses the broadly similar LED printing technology. It’s quite a different animal from the inkjet-based HP tabloid printer we mentioned earlier, which gives you nearly every productivity and convenience feature available for a relatively low price. All the C831n provides is bare-bones printing—no auto-duplexing, no automatic document feeder (ADF), no scan or copy features, not even Wi-Fi. You can add some of these features as options, and you can boost the print capacity big-time via some additional input drawers, though this will significantly increase the cost of the printer (which we’ll talk about shortly). And OKI Data does offer an automatic-duplexing version of this printer, dubbed the C831dn, for a list price of $1,929.

If your tabloid printer must be laser-class, as wide-format models go this is a good one. It’s relatively fast and the output, aside from subpar photo output, looks good. (And really, no color laser or LED printer touches even a mediocre inkjet on photo print quality.) The black-and-white CPP is reasonable, but, as we’ll discuss in the Setup & Paper Handling section later on, high-volume machines like this one that cost more than a grand should deliver a lower color CPP. That fact cost the C831n our Editors’ Choice nod. Otherwise, we like this printer.

Read the entire review at Computer Shopper.

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HP Officejet Pro 8630 e-All-in-One Printer ReviewWhen it comes to computer technology, the traditional wisdom is often short-lived. Recent developments in printer technology, for example, have all but dashed the conventional belief that laser-class printers are necessarily the most economical and efficient all-in-one (AIO) machines. We’ve seen several high-volume inkjet AIOs, such as the Epson WorkForce Pro WP-4590 we looked at back in late 2012 and, more recently, HP’s Officejet Pro 276dw we reviewed in June 2013, that stand tall—in terms of print speeds, print quality, and cost per page (CPP)—compared to their laser-class counterparts.

HP Officejet Pro 8630 e-All-in-One Printer (Angle View)

Then, too, we mustn’t forget HP’s early-2013 debut of its PageWide-basedOfficejet Pro X576dw Multifunction Printer. Hands-down the fastest and least-expensive-to-use inkjet AIO we’ve seen, this workhorse kept pace with several midrange ($400-to-$700) laser-class multifunction machines we’ve tested, and its per-page operational cost was (and still is) one of the lowest in the printer industry—regardless of the imaging technology.

The PageWide technology is special, in that it uses a fixed array of inkjet printheads to spray the ink onto your pages. We liked the two Officejet Pro X models we tested very much, but the PageWide technology has only appeared in these relatively high-end inkjet models. And they should not overshadow a set of high-volume, low-ink-cost AIOs that HP makes with conventional carriages: the Officejet Pro 8600 series.

Beginning with our January 2012 Editors’ Choice recipient, the Officejet Pro 8600 Plus (which was replaced by the aforementioned Officejet Pro 276dw, also an Editors’ Choice winner), these printers have been both fine values and performers. Thus our excitement when we learned that in 2014, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based printer giant was poised to debut a series of high-volume workhorses aimed at small and medium businesses (SMBs). Consisting of three models—the Officejet Pro 8610, 8620, and 8630 e-All-in-Ones—they stair-step upward in list price at $199.99, $299.99, and $399.99, respectively.

Debuting on April 7, 2014, the stripped-down $199.99 Officejet Pro 8610 will, according to HP, print up to 19 monochrome pages per minute (ppm) and 14.5ppm in color. In addition to a wealth of mobile and Web-based print channels, this entry-level model will come with a 2.7-inch touch screen, a 35-page automatic document feeder (ADF), and a 250-sheet input drawer. Also due out on April 7, the $299.99 Officejet Pro 8620 is rated for 21ppm black-and-white and 16.5ppm color. In addition to all the features available on the Officejet Pro 8610, the Officejet Pro 8620 will sport a 4.3-inch touch screen, a 50-sheet automatic document feeder (ADF), and support for NFC “touch-to-print.” (We’ll discuss NFC and several other unusual functions in the Design & Features section on the next page.)

HP Officejet Pro 8630 e-All-in-One Printer

Then there’s the subject of our review here, the $399.99 Officejet Pro 8630, which, according to HP, won’t be released until May 5, 2014. The Officejet Pro 8630 comes with all of the 8620’s features, along with a second 250-sheet paper drawer (for a total of 500 sheets of paper capacity), OCR software, and an extra set of color (cyan, magenta, and yellow) ink cartridges. The additional ink tanks would run you about $60 on HP’s Web site, in effect reducing the price of the Officejet Pro 8630 to a mere $40 more than the 8620, which seems like a small price to pay for the additional input drawer.

Like with the Officejet Pro 8600 and Officejet Pro 276dw before it, we found very little to dislike about the Officejet Pro 8630. It’s fast, and its print, scan, and copy quality are top-notch—easily comparable to what we’ve come to expect from high-end HP printers. Our only real concern, in terms of overall value, is the challenge set forth by the HP Officejet Pro X576dw we spoke of earlier. Granted, its list price is a couple of hundred dollars more than the Officejet Pro 8630′s, but it’s also nearly twice as fast and rated for more than twice the recommended maximum monthly duty cycle. (“Duty cycle” is the maximum number of pages that HP estimates you can print without inflicting undue wear on the printer.)

The Officejet Pro X576dw also manages a lower per-page cost. We’ll compare the ongoing operational costs between these two models and others in the Setup & Paper Handling section a little later in this review. But up front, here’s our recommendation: If you’re looking for a high-volume workhorse, it’s hard to go wrong with this Officejet. Depending on the kind of monthly print volume you need, though, there does become a point when the faster, bigger, and more-expensive Officejet Pro X makes more sense. Figuring out which side of that tipping point you’re on is the key buying consideration, and we’ll get into that over the course of this review.

Read entire review at Computer Shopper.

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LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition Review and RatingsLG Electronics is well-known worldwide for its household appliances, televisions, smartphones, even computer accessories—indeed, just about every other type of consumer-oriented gizmo, except tablets. Late in 2013, though, following the lead of HiSenseVizio, and a few other TV makers, the South Korean electronics giant entered the highly competitive tablet free-for-all with its own compact Android slate, the $349.99-list G Pad 8.3 Tablet. (That’s as opposed to the Google Play Edition of the G Pad 8.3 that we’re reviewing here; they are slightly different models.) As the name, suggests, the G Pads have an 8.3-inch screen. (We classify tablets with screens from 7 to 9 inches as “compact,” and 9.7 to 11 inches as “standard” or full-size slates.) Unlike most players in this ever-widening field that have debuted budget-friendly slates in the last 12 months (among them HP, Dell, and Asus), LG’s G Pad 8.3 is a premium device, and priced accordingly.

In fact, aside from the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, which lists for $399.99 and sells online for about $330, the original G Pad 8.3, at its debut, was one of the costliest compact Android tablets that had shown up in a while. You weren’t just paying a premium for a vanilla tablet, though; like the Galaxy Note 8.0, this Android came with several operating-system enhancements, spearheaded by LG’s QSlide and Slide Aside features, which allow you to display and work in more than one app at a time. Where this compact slate fell short of the Note 8.0, though, is that the latter also comes with Samsung’s highly functional S Pen stylus, as well as several productive S Pen-enabled apps plenty slick enough to warrant its higher-than-the-norm price.

LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play EditionIn addition to the standard G Pad 8.3, LG also makes a Verizon-ready LTE model (which we’ll be reviewing soon after this model) and a $349.99 Google Play Edition—the subject of this review. The G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition is the first non-Nexus tablet distributed by Google (you can buy it direct), joining the ranks of some illustrious smartphones, such as the HTC One, the Samsung Galaxy S4, the Motorola Moto G, and the Sony Z Ultra. Like the G Pad 8.3 that preceded it, this Google Play version of the tablet is thin, light, and attractive, and it’s relatively powerful, to boot. However (like other Google Play Edition devices), it comes with a stock (unaltered) build of Android, in this case Android 4.4 (a.k.a. “KitKat”).

LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition

So, what does it mean for a tablet to be a “Google Play Edition”? An advantage of being a Google Play tablet, aside from running a plain-vanilla build of Android (which many users prefer), is that the tablet will automatically receive updates of the latest Android software well before most other Android tablets will. Also, it’s optimized for the latest apps, and you get more Google cloud storage for your content than do owners of other Android devices. On the other hand, youdon’t get QSlide and the other multitasking features that the original G Pad 8.3 came with.

What you do get, though, is a comfortable-to-use, durable 8.3-inch tablet, with a great-looking full-HD (1,920×1,200) display, that runs on a cutting-edge Qualcomm Snapdragon processor (which we’ll discuss in the Performance section later on). It also has a pretty good sound system for a slate. In fact, besides the above-mentioned Galaxy Note 8.0, only one other compact slate we’ve handled can boast the build quality of the G Pad 8.3: our 2013 Editors’ Choice recipient, Google’s own Nexus 7 (2013 Edition).

The problem we see for this G Pad, however, is that it sells for about $120 more than the 16GB version of the Google Nexus 7. Now, granted, the screen is 1.3 inches bigger, but aside from that and its MicroSD slot for expanding storage, we don’t see $120 worth of additional value here—even if this is the only “Google” tablet (including the big-screen Nexus 10) that allows you to bump up its storage capacity.

That said, the G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition is, in a word, a sweet tablet. Aside from the lack of HDMI-out for connecting to HDTVs and, as mentioned, stylus support, it has just about everything you could reasonably ask for today in a compact slate. But does it have enough to justify its price?

Let’s put it this way: We don’t think that most buyers will be disappointed with it. But then, we can say the same about the less-expensive Nexus 7, as well as the more versatile, S Pen-enabled Galaxy Note 8.0. While we really do like this G Pad, it’s up against some rather stiff competition.

Read entire review at Computer Shopper.

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HP Officejet 7610 Wide Format e-All-in-One Printer Review and RatingsWe suspect that most small businesses and home offices might not realize the benefits of owning a wide-format, or ledger-size, all-in-one (AIO) printer. (Ledger paper measures 11×17 inches; it’s perhaps more commonly known as “tabloid.”) As we’ve said in previous reviews of wide-format printers, though, once you’ve owned one, you’ll probably find yourself wondering how you got along without it. The ability to print oversize pages provides a wealth of options, such as the ability to print multipage booklets and brochures, as well as large drawings, diagrams, and spreadsheets, that are simply unavailable on standard letter-size printers.

HP OfficeJet 7610 Wide-Format

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a few printer makers, notably Brother and Epson, debut consumer or home-office-grade wide-format printers. Some, such as the Brother MFC-J4610DW, allow you to print only one oversize page at a time, via a manual-feed slot; others, such as the Epson WorkForce WF-7520 and Brother MFC-J6920DW, not only let you print multiple 11×17-inch pages in succession (just as you would letter-size documents), but they also enable you to scan, copy, and fax these big documents.

That first option—printing tabloid pages manually, one at a time—is suitable for only very short print runs or occasional “convenience” printing, and therefore quite limiting. If you want to do some serious wide-format printing, though, a much wiser choice might be a machine like the one we’re reviewing here today: HP’s $249.99-list Officejet 7610 Wide Format e-All-in-One. It, like a few other wide-format inkjet AIOs we’ve reviewed, comes with a relatively large ledger-size input tray (in this case, 250 pages) that allows you to print multipage oversize documents, or lots of copies of the same big document, without having to babysit the printer or feed it a sheet at a time. It also prints really big 13×19 pages; more on that later.

While we found a bunch of reasons to like this printer, among them its great print quality and relatively economical cost per page (when using the right ink tanks), we were a bit perplexed that the Officejet 7610 comes with only one paper-input source. This, of course, means that you’ll have to empty and reconfigure the paper tray each time you change paper sizes. Its two closest competitors, the abovementioned Epson WorkForce WF-7520 and Brother MFC-J6920DW, on the other hand, each have two paper drawers, so you can keep one loaded with the ledger paper and the other with, presumably, letter-size. In addition, both the Epson and Brother models have multiple slots for flash-memory cards, allowing for printing from and scanning to camera media. This Officejet, in contrast, only has a port for USB flash drives. (We’ll discuss this and other types of PC-free printing in the Design section on the next page.)

HP OfficeJet 7610 Wide-Format

We should pause here to point out that, while this Officejet’s list price of $250 is about average for a consumer inkjet AIO (judging by the prices of the Epson and Brother ledger-size AIOs mentioned above), you may be able to find it much cheaper. When we wrote this in early March 2014, HP was offering the Officejet 7610 for sale directly via its Web site at a steep discount at various times, for $179.99 and even for a while at $149.99. Therefore, the question becomes, is the convenience provided by the second paper drawer—the ability to print to different media sizes with just a couple of mouse clicks, without taking the printer out of service to change the paper—worth an extra $70 to $100?

If dual paper drawers (and flash-memory-card support) were all you gave up, well, then yes, we’d say that at $150 to $180, HP’s Officejet 7610 is a good value, assuming you’d be using it mostly for its wide-format functionality. At that price, most homes or small businesses could justify purchasing it as a second, dedicated wide-format AIO, to supplement a letter-size inkjet or laser printer. However, compared to the Brother MFC-J6920DW, the Officejet 7610 has a few other—and somewhat glaring—shortcomings. For one, its automatic document feeder (ADF) can’t scan two-sided pages without you flipping them over manually. Also, its CPPs are significantly higher, especially when printing black-and-white pages. (We’ll look at this AIO’s ADF and per-page operational cost in the Setup & Paper Handling section, a little later in this review.)

Aside from the confining single input drawer and manual-duplexing ADF, we like this printer: It’s attractive and well-built, and it churns out great-looking prints, copies, and scans. It’s not nearly as nimble and versatile as the competition, though. We like it a lot more at its limited-time $150 HP-direct price, but we could really get behind it, with an enthusiastic “buy” recommendation, at, say, a $129 street price.

Read entire review at Computer Shopper.

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Dell Venue 11 Pro Review and RatingsWith everyone kvetching about its controversial interface, one thing Windows 8 perhaps hasn’t gotten enough credit for is its efficient performance on lesser hardware. Windows devices used to demand much more CPU horsepower and memory, and hence higher prices, than Android. Today, only $70 separates Dell’s Android-based Venue 8 tablet ($229) from the Windows Venue 8 Pro ($299), each with an Intel Atom processor and 2GB of RAM.

Granted, the two slates don’t use the same Atom processor—the Venue 8 packs an older “Clover Trail” chip, while the Venue 8 Pro features the faster “Bay Trail” iteration of the Atom. The latter offers performance that, while not in the same league, is at least worthy of discussing in the same sentence as Intel’s Core laptop CPUs.

That makes Dell’s flagship tablet, the Venue 11 Pro reviewed here, particularly interesting. Aside from its larger 10.8-inch, full HD screen, our $499 test unit’s “Bay Trail” Atom and 2GB of RAM make it resemble the Venue 8 Pro. But if you crave a truly laptop-class computing experience, you can get a Venue 11 Pro with a Core i3 ($799) or Core i5 ($849) processor. Those models come with 4GB of memory and 128GB of solid-state storage, double the amounts of our “Bay Trail” version.

Whichever Venue 11 Pro version you choose, Dell offers some handy optional peripherals, such as a detachable keyboard that turns the tablet into a de facto laptop and a docking station that, when teamed with your own keyboard and mouse, lets you use the slate as a desktop PC.

Dell Venue 11 Pro trio

From left to right, the Venue 11 Pro’s three operating modes—desktop, laptop, and tablet. The first two require optional docking add-ons, and the stylus for the third is optional as well.

An advantage of purchasing the Atom-based model over one of the Core tablets is that the former comes with a fully licensed copy of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote). That’s a $139 value.

However, as we noted in our review of the Lenovo Miix 2 8, there’s a disadvantage to purchasing a current Atom tablet, as well: Today’s “Bay Trail” Atoms ship with 32-bit, not 64-bit, Windows 8.1 and can’t access more than 4GB of RAM (the reason devices using them typically come with just 2GB). Heavyweight apps like Autodesk’s 3D Max or some in Adobe’s Creative Suite CS6 collection need more memory than that to execute some processes successfully. Intel is due to ship 64-bit Atoms soon—HP has already announced it’ll offer a tablet with one, the ElitePad 1000, in March. So shoppers who want to run such potent programs may wish to wait.

Dell Venue 11 Pro slate

But who wants to run high-end multimedia editing applications on a tablet? The “Bay Trail” Venue 11 Pro is perfectly fine for productivity work and enjoying your multimedia collection, especially considering that you can turn it into a relatively well-performing laptop with the add-on keyboard—and if you do require sumo-sized content creation apps, you can buy the Core i3 or Core i5 version, something you can’t do with the Venue 8 Pro or Miix 2 8. That makes the Venue 11 Pro a viable alternative to Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2.

We suspect, however, that you probably don’t need to run high-end 64-bit programs. And in that case, we suggest that you put this Venue on your short list.

Read entire review at Computer Shopper.

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Dell Venue 8 Review and RatingsBudget-friendly, compact Android tablets certainly haven’t been in short supply over the last year or so. The main trend among them, though—apart from better feature sets and screens for less money, as time has gone on—is that the 8-inch screen size has risen to more prominence. That’s likely due to the influence of the 7.9-inch Apple iPad Mini.

Before, compact tablets were practically defined by the 7-inch screen size in slates like the early Amazon Kindle Fire HD and first-gen Google Nexus 7. So, when Dell unveiled an 8-inch version of its Android-based Venue tablet last fall, tucked between its 7-inch Venue 7 Android tablet and an 8-inch Windows version, the Venue 8 Pro, that’s when we realized 8-inch slates would be a new class to reckon with on the Android side, too. The Venue 8 wasn’t the first of its kind, but with the rollout of Lenovo’s ThinkPad Tablet 8 at CES 2014, the company’s earlier Yoga Tablet 8, and several others, the “8” size looks like it’s here to stay.Dell Venue 8 (Front and Back)

The subject of our review today, Dell’s Venue 8, is not terribly different from the umpteen other compact Android tablets we’ve looked at over the past several months—especially the $149-list Dell Venue 7 we tested back in December 2013. Like the 7-inch Venue and numerous other compact Android slates from competitors such as HP, HiSense, Lenovo, Asus, and Samsung, this one falls short of our favorite compact slate to date, 2013′s $229-list refresh of the Google Nexus 7, in terms of performance and display quality.

In this case, though, our 16GB Venue test unit sold for only $50 less than Google’s sleek, strong-performing Android. As we see it (unless you simply just can’t pony up the additional $50), what you give up when choosing one of these under-$200 budget models is stark.

Then again, this and several other budget models—HP’s Slate 7 and Dell’s Venue 7 among them—come with MicroSD card slots for expanding storage, which is missing from not only the popular Nexus 7, but also all iterations of Apple’s runaway iPad Mini. You can increase the Venue 8′s storage capacity, for example, by 32GB, to either 48GB or 64GB (depending on which initial model you buy).

This Venue comes in either black or red…

Dell Venue 8 (Colors)  

Our review-model Venue 8 was a red tablet equipped with 16GB of internal storage, for $179.99 list. The next model up has 32GB of storage and runs $229.99 MSRP. (You can get either capacity in either color.) Alternately, you can choose Dell’s Venue 8 + Essentials Bundle (which lists for $294.99). In addition to 32GB of onboard storage, this bundle includes a Targus stylus, a 32GB SanDisk MicroSD card (which boosts the storage capacity from 32GB to 64GB), a Dell-branded case for the tablet, and an extra power adapter.

Dell Venue 8 (Angle)

The bundles that Dell offers with the 7-inch-screened version of this slate are broadly similar to its larger sibling’s: a stand-alone Venue 7 tablet for $149.99; the tablet with a stylus for $189.99; and a $229.99 Essentials 7 Bundle with the same accoutrements as on the 8-incher. While the Venue 7 has a smaller screen and a slightly slower processor, at $30 less than the 16GB Venue 8 (and $80 cheaper than the Nexus 7), we think that it’s the better buy of the two—by a modest margin.

The Venue 8 runs on a slightly faster Atom processor than the Venue 7 does (a 2GHz chip versus a 1.6GHz). As you’ll see in the Performance section later on, this makes for a slightly better-performing tablet. (Don’t confuse the Venue 8 with the previously mentioned Venue 8 Pro, though, a Windows 8.1 tablet we looked at back in December 2013.) As we said about the Venue 7, this 8-inch Venue brings little new to the club. In fact, both slates are very much like several other entry-level compact Android tablets that came before them. At $179.99, though, given that most of the competition has 7-inch screens, the Venue 8 does net you a bit more display for your money.

Like we said about its 7-inch sibling, we couldn’t find a compelling reason—aside from its relatively low price given the screen size—to recommend this slate strongly over many of the other compact Android tablets out there, though it’s certainly as good a choice as any at its price. Given that the much peppier Nexus 7 is just $50 more, the potential savings gained from choosing the Venue 8 are only compelling if you’re sold on its bigger, lower-res screen.

Still, this is a well-built, satisfactory-performing tablet. It’s a good buy as a second slate for families with children, or perhaps as a first tablet for someone who isn’t sure if, or how much, he or she will use it. And if you see it on a limited-time discount, as Dell tends to offer for its tablets, it becomes an even better deal.

Read the entire review at Computer Shopper.

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Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga Review and RatingsLast year, we watched as two-in-one convertible laptops battled for dominance, making 2013 the first round of the Windows hybrid wars. Laptop makers trotted out machines that twisted, turned, and bent over backwards to switch to tablet mode. Some were highly inventive and useful, while others (Acer’s Iconia W700 comes to mind) were well-intentioned but awkwardly implemented.

Over the past months, few convertibles have impressed us as much as Lenovo’s Yoga series, whose screens fold a full 360 degrees to bring the display and keyboard back to back, turning the laptop into a tablet, with handy “tent” and “stand” modes in between. Since testing the Yoga 13 in November 2012, we’ve reviewed several Yoga models, most recently giving an Editors’ Choice to the Yoga 2 Pro, with its fourth-generation “Haswell” processor and ultra-high-resolution 3,200×1,800 screen, in December 2013.

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga modes

A Lenovo illustration of the Yoga series’ four operating modes.

One complaint those reviews have had in common, however, is that we haven’t been thrilled with the way the downward-facing keyboard hangs out in the breeze while using the Yoga in tablet mode. Although the keyboard’s disabled as the screen swings past 180 degrees, feeling the keys give way beneath your fingers as you hold the tablet is distracting and awkward.

Dell’s Yoga-like convertible, the XPS 11, addresses the exposed-keys issue by making the keyboard a flat surface, similar to the touch-sensitive slabs Microsoft sells for theSurface Pro. We found holding the XPS 11 in tablet mode less awkward than Lenovo’s approach, but when it came to comfortable typing, Dell’s hybrid was far from ideal.

Enter the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga, which is not only the first Yoga to bear the Chinese computer giant’s famous business brand but the first with a so-called “lift ‘n’ lock” keyboard that elevates the keyboard deck as you open the lid past 180 degrees. The deck slowly rises until it’s flush with the (disabled) key tops, making the bottom of the tablet a flat surface—and, in our opinion, successfully and cleverly addressing the distraction caused by the keys protruding and giving way beneath our fingertips while using the device as a tablet or in stand mode.

So the question now becomes, how well does this ThinkPad hold up to the competition as a business-centric PC? In addition to the signature ThinkPad keyboard and TrackPoint and touch pad pointing devices, this Yoga is built around a powerful fourth-generation Intel Core i5 CPU, making it one of the better-performing ThinkPads to date. We also liked our review unit’s great-looking 1080p HD screen. Then, too, there’s the exceptional ThinkPad build and materials quality.

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga flat

Our bottom line? We loved last year’s Yoga 2 Pro, except for the exposed keys in tablet and stand modes. The ThinkPad Yoga resolves that issue, but at a price. To get one configured similarly to our review unit, with a 1,920×1,080 display and stylus support, you’re likely to spend upwards of $1,500. Our test model rang up at $1,669, which is frankly a lot for a 12.5-inch notebook.

Still, this is one well-performing, well-built laptop. That it seconds as a tablet, with a couple of other useful positions between that and laptop mode, provides significant additional value, making this not only our new favorite ThinkPad, but also one of the better business-oriented convertible notebooks of early 2014.

Read the entire review at Computer Shopper.

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