June might seem an odd time for us to be mentioning the dreaded c-word; summer is finally here, the good weather is (hopefully) just around the corner and a visit from Santa couldn't seem further away. Still, that didn't stop Microsoft from wanting to get us in the festive spirit and showcase some of the gadgets that will be appearing on Christmas lists everywhere later this year. So So Gay donned our festive jumpers and headed down to The Hospital Club to play with some of the toys we hope will be under our tree this December.
First up was a quick demonstration of the latest version of Microsoft's OS, which was announced earlier this week. Due later this year, the update will be free to Windows 8 users - we got a sneak peak at some of the features you can expect:
- Greater personalisation: Microsoft have been keenly listening to customer feedback about the Windows 8 experience, particularly the demand for greater customisation. In response they have tweaked existing features like the 'live tiles' system and the device backgrounds to allow the system to better reflect the personalities of its' users. The device also now uses 'picture passwords' to unlock the home screen; rather than inputting a password, users simply draw a pattern or image of their own design.
- The lock screen now acts as a digital photo frame, drawing images from any connected Windows 8.1 devices. A simple way of sharing and displaying photos without having to load a separate app or device. The connectivity between windows 8.1 and an increasing range of Smart TV's also make this feature a great way of displaying your favourite images to family and friends.
- There is an increasing focus on multi-tasking and seamless switching between apps; when receiving an email with photo attachments, Windows devices will no longer switch between the image or the email, but will keep both open side by side until the user chooses to focus on one or the other.
- The search feature has also been improved. Searching on a Windows 8.1 device will no longer throw up a series of blue hyper-links, instead the system provides a fully curated searching experience. Search for New York, for example, and images of the city will appear alongside information about the city and current weather conditions. It's now even easier to share this information too, using the systems native 'share' button.
Of course, all of these changes are meaningless without a device to experience them on. Thankfully there was plenty of tech on show for So So Gay to play with. The sheer range and versatility of the devices shown demonstrates Microsoft's commitment to ensuring that there is a device to suit any kind of user, from the conscientious worker to the hardcore gamer and everything in between.
Of course - with so many devices to choose from, the choice can be overwhelming. To make your lives easier we selected five of our favourite devices on show:
1) Best all rounder: Microsoft Surface RT/Microsoft Surface Pro (From £399/719 respectively)
Surface, Microsoft's flagship tablet, is a brilliantly versatile device. Lightweight and ultra thin, the Surface is extremely portable and great as an on-the-go tablet. The addition of a clip-in-keyboard instantly transforms the device into a fully functional workstation too. You don't have to unclip the tablet from the keyboard to switch to gaming either; simply flipping the keyboard behind the devices switches off the keys meaning that you can flip from work to a game-on-the-go device instantly.
What really makes the Surface stand out from its competitors though is the addition of a USB port (USB 2.0 on the Surface RT and USB 3.0 on the Surface Pro), making transferring documents, photos and music to other devices even easier.
For those who use their tablets for business, the Surface Pro also comes with the ability to install desktop programmes like Photoshop onto the device, making it both a powerful and portable business solution. It also comes with an extremely intuitive stylus with over 1000 levels of pressure sensitivity allowing for some pretty impressive precision in its use.
2) Best for hardcore gamers: Dell Alienware 14 (Price: TBC)
Due for imminent release, So So Gay got an early preview of the Alienware 14 laptop, and it is an impressive piece of kit. Capable of delivering console-quality gaming with impressive graphics, the device comes with all the benefits of Windows 8 (and soon 8.1) but is also capable of playing the latest gaming releases - Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 was running on the machine that we saw. The ability to plug in an Xbox controller (via USB) means that the device is also extremely flexible in offering a variety of ways to play.
3) Best for gaming with friends/family: Lenovo Horizon (£1499.99)
Oh, how we covet the Horizon - the 27 inch, fully HD display transforms any surface into a gaming table. Complete with air hockey paddles, electronic dice and attachable joysticks, it's hard not to see the appeal of Horizon at any social gathering and it was by one of the most popular devices demoed at the event. The peripheral kit is responsive and the games, ranging from air hockey to an electronic version of Monopoly, are huge amounts of fun. Best of all, when you're done with gaming the devices flips up (via a stand at the back) and becomes a fully functional PC. It may be more expensive and less portable than some of the other devices we've mentioned, but it'll certainly draw a crowd
4) Best for portability: Acer W3 (£279)
The world's smallest Windows 8 tablet. Comes with all the benefits of a Windows device but is small enough to cart around easily. The device also comes with an attachable keyboard, helping to provide a laptop style experience. The keyboard also acts as a protective cover when you're on the move.
5) Best budget device: Dell XPS 10 (from £239)
The Dell XPS 10 was lightweight, responsive and extremely intuitive to use. The large HD display looks crisp and is multi-touch enabled. The real advantage of the device is the optional keyboard dock; not only does this transform the XPS 10 into a portable workstation, but it also provides extra battery life and HDMI and USB ports.
So there you have it, a taste of what to expect from the Windows 8.1 experience when the update hits later this year, as well as a selection of our recommendations for what should be on your Christmas list this year!