New, new, new – everything seems to be new at the moment

By | November 1, 2013
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Sometimes I write about new programs or bits of kit, sometimes I write about things that aren’t actually new, but are still useful to know… this time it’s all about new things!

Win 8.1 part 1 – free, despite what some “experts” say

There’ve been dozens, probably hundreds of articles all about the new Windows 8.1.  I wrote about it myself last time.  But I’ve noticed a lot of the so-called experts have at best been very confusing.

I’ve seen articles asking whether Windows 8.1 is worth buying, articles about whether you should pay to upgrade and articles that just don’t mention the price at all.

It’s pretty misleading, so I thought I should explain it properly.

Windows 8.1 is a free upgrade.  If you already have Windows 8, you don’t have to pay anything to get Windows 8.1 (You click on the “store” tile and choose it from in there).

If you don’t have Windows 8 (say you have Windows 7 or XP or whatever), then you’d have to pay to get Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 – and you pay about the same.  Windows 8.1 isn’t any more expensive than Windows 8.

But Windows 8.1 is really an improved (or at least changed!) version of Windows 8.  So if you didn’t want to upgrade to Windows 8, then you probably don’t want to upgrade to Windows 8.1

For the record, both the computers I use most of the time are Windows 7 and I’m not planning to change anytime soon!

Windows 8.1 part 2 – an irritating problem

Just now, I started to type that 8.1 was an “improved” version of Windows 8 and then corrected myself to “changed”.  In a lot of ways I do think it’s improved but there are some snags.  Some small, some really quite annoying.

One thing to watch out for if you’re thinking of upgrading to Windows 8.1 is that there’s some older (but still perfectly good) equipment like printers or scanners that don’t work very well with Windows 8.1.

In some cases they won’t work at all, in others they will but you have to download a new driver from the manufacturer’s website.

It varies depending on the make and model of the equipment you have but if you’re thinking about upgrading to Windows 8.1 and you have a printer or scanner, I’d recommend checking whether it’s likely to work smoothly first.

Go to www.google.com and type in Epson C172 Windows 8.1 but replacing Epson C172 by the name of your printer or scanner.  You’ll get lots of results – have a look at some of the top ones and see if they’re saying “it doesn’t work” – chances are other people will have already tried it – and if they’d had problems, you probably will too.

If lots of people are saying it doesn’t work, it might be best to hold off on the upgrade – chances are Microsoft and the manufacturer will between them fix the problem over time, so you could try it maybe in a couple of months.

New tablet PCs from Tesco, Argos, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all…

Well, I made the last one up – there’s no “Uncle Tom Cobbley tablet PC”.  Not that I know of, anyway.

But both Tesco and Argos have recently launched fairly cheap touchscreen tablets at around a hundred pounds (though if you have them, you can use Tesco clubcard vouchers to get the Hudl cheaper – £60)

They’re similar to the Nexus 7 (£160), which Google produced and I think is a pretty good one.  But the Tesco and Argos ones are both significantly cheaper.

As with Google, Apple, Amazon and nearly everyone else making these devices, they’re hoping that if you buy their tablet you’ll also buy ebooks, music, films and so on from them, and their tablets are set up to make it easy to do so.

But the Tesco Hudl and Argos MyTablet are both pretty good devices for general use too.  In my view they’re both much better options than the Amazon Kindle Fire, which is the equivalent device you can get from Amazon.  (In a nutshell I don’t like the Fire because it not only makes it easy to buy stuff from Amazon, it makes it deliberately hard to use stuff from other sources, which makes it less useful and feels a bit underhand.)

I’m not saying they’re the best tablet PCs ever but as a cheapish one to occasionally browse the web or read ebooks, maybe when you’re away from home, I think they’re good options.

Of the two, I’d probably go for the Tesco Hudl.  It’s got a bit more storage space, runs a little faster and has a better display.

But on the “cheap tablets” front I’ve just heard that Carphone Warehouse have announced they’re selling a similar sized tablet at £49.  Looking at the specification, though, the display won’t look as good and it’ll probably be rather slow – in my view it wouldn’t be a terribly good choice unless you only wanted very occasional use.