Microsoft’s Nextbook could be said to relate more closely to the active form of the word in question. That is, the verb: to rise up — for something to appear that was not there before. It’s a very apt definition for what Microsoft is doing, attempting to go from zero to hero on the tablet hardware front in just one shot. Trying to please us on not bringing us the Surface range. Is this, the Nextbook, good enough to erase decades of mediocre touchscreen Windows devices? Will it help Microsoft and its latest operating systems float up to the top of the tablet hierarchy? Your answers lies just below.
[title type=”h2″ class=””]Hardware[/title]
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It’s not an easy feat to make a tablet that looks or feels different from those hundreds of slabs that have come before, yet the Nextbook is indeed quite distinctive on both fronts. It’s genuinely hard to differentiate our visual impressions from our tactile ones, if you know what I mean.
The exterior of the book is a cool, matte surface that looks dark and feels quite strong and durable. It’s constructed using Microsoft’s Vapor Mg process, which relies on vapor deposition to create this distinctive tactility, which we found ourselves quite drawn to. The material feels amazing in the hand and here it’s used to create a structure that is quite complex, flat on the front and back of course with the sides straightened outward.
This straightened edges makes for a very reassuring feel when walking around carrying this tablet under one arm, and also gives room for a display that is slightly larger than your average 7- or 9-inch slates. In fact, its display clocks in at 10.1 inches, with its resolution far lower, at just 1,366 x 768. As we saw when we got to go behind the scenes of the device’s design and development at launch, that 16:9 display and size were custom-crafted to make the most of Windows’s ideal orientation and, as I’ll detail in the next section, the quality of this panel mostly makes up for its relative lack of resolution.
That rim around the edge is perforated in many places, much more than your average tablet, including two new proprietary magnetic connectors. The first, and biggest, is on the bottom of the tablet. It has fvie contacts, providing power and data connectivity for its own keyboard and, hopefully, more peripherals down the road. On the lower-right is another, similar but incompatible magnetic connector, this one with only one pin. It’s here that the device’s AC adapter plugs in, that custom plug meaning you’ll have to bring it with you whenever you hit the road, but this does at least mean it pushes more juice through than your average USB connector and therefore charges faster. We do, though, wish that connector was a bit more grabby. With MagSafe it seems like if you get the plug anywhere near the connector the two pull themselves together. Microsoft’s option requires a good bit more precision and doesn’t hold nearly as tightly.
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Following up the right edge the next port you’ll find is a micro USB 2.0 connector that’s ready and waiting for thumb drives, keyboards, hubs, mice and anything else you can throw at it. – through its full size adapter. We can’t help but be slightly disappointed it isn’t USB 3.0, but having this port is incredibly useful — as is the micro-HDMI connector that sits above. Then comes the right speaker, with its mate to be found over on the other side. Up top you’ll find a pair of microphones along with the power button, which can be found toward the right edge. On the left side is the 3.5mm headphone jack positioned just above a volume rocker. Finally, tucked at the bottom on the side is a microSDXC port, which means near-infinitely expandable storage is just one tiny little chip away.
Fitting all those ports means this book is on the large side, and not just because of the display. Full dimensions are 10.81 x 6.77 x 0.37 inches (275 x 172 x 9.4mm). And when it’s time to reach out and get this thing online, as it is, of course, of limited use when disconnected, you have WiFi and… that’s it. Microsoft is not offering a 3G- or LTE-equipped model, at least not yet, but you do get a comprehensive suite of 802.11 interconnects: a/b/g/n with 2×2 MIMO sending and receiving. There’s Bluetooth 4.0, too.
[title type=”h2″ class=””]Performance and Batter life[/title]
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Under the hood, the Nextbook purrs along on 1GB of RAM and an Intel Quad Core chip, the same SoC powering other Windows RT tablets, like the ASUS VivoTab. Since we’re not yet aware of any benchmarks tailored to this operating system, we’ll stand on this: Intel’s Quad Core is more than capable of handling Windows’ Live Tiles and Modern UI. The tablet cold-boots in just under 25 seconds and launches apps briskly. It responds smoothly to taps and swipes, and we also found that the tablet is quick to respond if you open an app, change your mind and hit the home button before the app is finished loading. I love this.
That said, I did notice some occasional pauses when quickly swiping the left side of the screen to toggle between open apps. To be clear, it didn’t matter how many apps we had open: in fact, we frequently lost count of how many were running. We rarely bothered to manually close any and the machine never seemed to suffer for it. In short, the performance has a few limitations, but overall, Nextbook is fast, responsive and stable
[title type=”h2″ class=””]Cameras[/title]
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The Nextbook has dual 720p cameras, but unless you’re in the mood for video chatting, you probably won’t be using them much. Even by tablet standards, the image quality here is pretty poor. Our full-res, 1,280 x 720 shots look awfully pixelated, even in brightly lit environments that shouldn’t have yielded any noise. You’ll also notice a good deal of color saturation. As for the Surface’s 720p video recording, we noticed some motion blur, but we were pleasantly surprised by how gentle the audio rendering was. Too often, our clips taken with tablets have a buzzing, distorted quality. In this case, the tablet didn’t pick up any stray gusts of wind that might have otherwise spoiled our recording.
[title type=”h2″ class=””]In Closing[/title]
The Microsoft Nextbook with Windows 8’s R2599 (current pricing at Makro) starting RRP means those thinking about making the investment here will be carefully cross-shopping against same-priced offerings from Samsun, Acer ASUS and others. Where does this one rate? Very well — but very differently. While those devices are primarily targeted at content-hungry consumers, the Nextbook is a slate upon which you can get some serious work done, and do so comfortably. You can’t always say that of the competition.
It’s in the other half of the equation, that of the content consumption and entertainment, where the Nextbook is currently lacking. It needs a bigger pile of apps and games to make up for that and, while we’re sure they’re coming, we don’t know when. If those apps arrive soon, then early adopters will feel vindicated. If, however, the Windows market is slow to mature, not truly getting hot for another six months or so, holding off will prove to have been the smarter option.
So, if gaming and music and movies and reading are what you’re looking to enjoy, then we might advise sitting this one out for a few months just to make sure that all your bases will indeed be covered. If, however, you’re looking for an impeccably engineered tablet upon which you can do some serious work, a device that doesn’t look, feel or act like a toy, then you should get yourself a Nextbook with Windows 8.
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