Saturday, September 24, 2016

The 2018 Chevy Equinox with a diesel might have the best fuel economy of any SUV

Chevrolet's second best selling model is not the Corvette, or the Camaro, or the Tahoe, or the Volt. No, after the unbeatable Silverado pickup, the runner up in sales has been the rather mediocre, out of date Equinox compact crossover. But despite that, they're not sitting on their laurels(anymore) with today's announcement of the next generation Equinox. It's been thoroughly revamped, with a slightly smaller design and better materials adding up to a 400 pound weight reduction, and a trio of interesting engines. All three are turbo fours, with a base 1.5 liter that has 170hp and 202 lb-ft of torque, with a claimed 31MPG highway. Then there's the 2.0 liter from the Cadillac ATS, Buick Envision and Chevy Camaro, which is down on power from the 2017 Equinox's V6, but might actually be faster considering the weight loss. It makes 252hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. But by far the most exciting option is the diesel, which is shared with the Cruze sedan and makes 136hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. But it'll also get roughly 40MPG on the highway, which is huge - not even the Rav4 Hybrid can manage that.
The new Equinox will also have new safety features like lane change assist and forward collision alerts, among others. It also has Apple Carplay, Android Auto and a 4G LTE wifi hotspot.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Chevy Bolt will go 235 miles on a charge, beating the entry level Tesla Model 3

Chevrolet's Volt plug in hybrid has been outselling... well, every battery-only EV and plug in hybrid for a while now, garnered positive reviews and in the second generation, actually looks pretty good.
The new Bolt EV is less good looking in my opinion, but is joining the forthcoming Tesla Model 3 in the tiny group of electric vehicles that will start under $40k and have more than 200 miles of range on one charge. Now, neither of these vehicles are available yet, so it's hard to compare them, but one very important fact has been revealed today about the Bolt: It has an EPA rated range of 235 miles. Meanwhile, the base model Tesla Model 3 will have about 215 miles of range, according to Tesla(rather than the EPA.) Of course, Tesla will likely offer more expensive, higher battery capacity models which will likely easily beat Chevrolet's latest and greatest EV, if you're willing to pay perhaps quite a bit more.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Lenovo Y900 17" review

One of the perks of reviewing technology is you get to try out lots of gadgets. In fact, you "have to." This isn't always that exciting, if you're looking at yet another midrange tablet, but then there's the really fun devices: Gaming PC's, which you have to do some gaming on to properly evaluate. Which brings us to Lenovo's highest end Y Series gaming laptop, the monstrous 17" Y900. It's a beast, with some very high end specs, a turbo button(!), gigantic display, and a chassis heavy enough to use for weightlifting practice. But is it worth the equally gigantic price tag?

Specs & Performance: This is of course the most important category for a gaming laptop, and the Y900 is stocked in this department. The CPU, in particular, is just about the most powerful chip you can get in a laptop, Intel's Core i7-6820HK, an easily-overclocked quad core processor that runs at 2.7GHz. There's also an ample 16GB's of RAM and a 128GB SSD to complement the 1TB but slower hard drive.You can also customize it with dual SSD's in a RAID 0 configuration, for even better performance. Then there's the GPU, which is a bit of a mixed bag. It's an NVidia GeForce GTX 980M with 8GB's of GDDR5 memory, which had no problem with any of the games I tried, or 4K videos. However, it's not compatible with VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. That's a particular shame since the Y900 meets all the other requirements for VR support, but I guess you'll have to wait for a revision with the Geforce 10 series.

With turbo mode enabled

Rather amusingly, there's also a "turbo" button on the keyboard, which as you might expect speeds up the performance. I saw roughly 2000 points higher Geekbench benchmark scores with turbo mode enabled, and the Battlefield One beta adjusted to rather higher graphics settings automatically. Just be aware that you need to plug in the Y900 with its massive power brick to use turbo mode.

Battery, Keyboard and Display:
Which brings us to the battery life. Now, coming from an ultrabook(like the Macbook or Lenovo Yoga) or a mainstream professional laptop(Macbook Pro/Dell XPS 15/Thinkpad), the battery life is unimpressive. But if you're comparing it to other gaming laptops, it's actually not bad, lasting over 4 hours easily in standard usage. The screen is also perfectly fine, a nice bright 1920x1080p panel at 17.3" with good color reproduction and NVidia G-Sync support. However, Windows 10 on a laptop feels strange without a touchscreen to me, and most other gaming laptops in this class offer 4K displays as an option.

The keyboard, on the other hand, is amazing. It's mechanical, clicky, perfectly sized, has good key travel and is well laid out. Plus there's the obligatory gaming laptop crazy multicolor backlighting, which is quite fun. As for the trackpad, it's fine for normal usage, but come on - this is a gaming laptop. You'll be using an external mouse. Or maybe a controller, for some titles such as Rocket League, which runs perfectly on the Y900.

Between the aforementioned customized LED lightshow, the red speaker grill, angular lines and brightly glowing stylized "Y" logo on the front, this is definitely a gaming PC. If you like that aggressive, over the top look, it's great. If you're more of a minimalist, this computer isn't for you, as it stands out. Furthermore, it's gigantic. I took it to a coffee shop and it barely even fit on the tables. At the same time, I was able to fire up my Steam library and try out a couple of games that with a much smaller PC would be impossible.

Connectivity & Software:
Another upside of being a simply huge computer: There's a lot of ports. Perhaps the standout is the USB Type C port with Thunderbolt 3 support, but there's also HDMI, Displayport, 4 standard USB ports, an SD card reader, Ethernet and separate headphone/mic jacks. That Thunderbolt 3 support could theoretically allow external graphics cards down the road, though Lenovo doesn't offer a dock for them. I don't think Razer or Alienware's eGPU enclosures would work, though I didn't have one on hand to test. There's also a Killer Network Interface Card, with WiFi AC support and automatic prioritization of online gaming packets over others.
Meanwhile, the software loadout was fine: It's Windows 10 Home, as you would expect, with little bloatware: There's McAfee AntiVirus, Candy Crush, CyberLink Power2Go and a few Lenovo apps for setting up keyboard macros and that sort of thing.

First off, 17" gaming laptops are a very special breed of computer, that don't make much sense for a lot of people. But they also provide a unique proposition of being able to play better than console quality games, anywhere you go. If you want a giant gaming PC, the Y900 is a pretty good option. It's got a splendid keyboard, great speakers, excellent performance and all the ports you could want. However, if you're at all interested in virtual reality, I recommend waiting for an update with NVidia's 1080 instead of the 980m. Oh and Lenovo: A touchscreen would be appreciated.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Apple iPhone 7 has a new waterproof design, faster CPU, no headphone jack

There were no surprises of note at Apple's iPhone/Watch event yesterday. The specifics of the device had already leaked, and the controversy over Apple's latest port removal had already begun. That doesn't change the fact that the iPhone 7 will be a pretty major device.
It's a thin phone with a new reflective back that looks seriously gorgeous, a choice of matte or glossy black, gold or pink colors, and all new internals. The screen choices remain the same, but the storage now starts at 32GB's and goes up to 256 and there's a new A10 Fusion processor that should be just about the fastest on the market. There's also a new dedicated chip just for image processing, which should make the camera even better and faster. That camera itself is also upgraded, with a 12MP sensor, f/1.8 aperture, 4K video recording and quad-LED flash. Optical image stabilization is now standard on all iPhone 7's, not just the Plus line, and the front selfie cam is a 7MP, 1080p video-capable sensor. But the iPhone 7 Plus also has a new camera system, or actually two: There's a wide angle sensor the same as the smaller iPhone, and a 2x closer secondary 12MP sensor for longer shots.
That A10 Fusion chip, meanwhile, is a quad core CPU that Apple's claiming is both 2x as fast and more efficient, allowing 2 hours more battery life on the iPhone 7 and 1 hour more on the 7 Plus. The GPU will be 3X faster than the iPhone 6S, as well.
Finally, there's also stereo speakers, and the much-debated removal of the headphone jack. You can use the proprietary Lightning port, or Bluetooth, or you're out of luck.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

LG V20 is their new flagship with a focus on audio, Android 7.0 Nougat

LG decided last year to introduce a secondary flagship line, the V series, positioned along their long-running G series at the top of the mobile heap from the manufacturer. That V10 had a small second screen above the primary one and a rather cool "self-healing" back plate that would fix minor scratches. This year's V20, announced tonight in San Francisco, keeps the second screen(updating it to be brighter) and adds two new primary focuses: Audio and software.
On the audio front, the V20 keeps the headphone jack while Lenovo's Moto line and probably the iPhone are dropping it, and adds in a 32-bit quad digital audio converter. In other words, they're aiming it at audiophiles.
The V20's also the first phone to ship with Android 7.0 Nougat, and puts Google's new In App Search feature front and center, with a shortcut on the homescreen and that little secondary display. In other words, they're showing off Google's latest and greatest Android when some manufacturers are trying to hide that their phones even are Android. 
The camera, meanwhile, has a 135 degree wide angle, and can capture HD Audio when recording video.

Friday, September 2, 2016

New Razer Blade Stealth has better battery life, faster performance, Razer Blade gets VR support

The Razer Blade Stealth is a somewhat confusing product. It's a standard, thin & light ultrabook with ULV processors, from a company that normally builds gaming PC's and peripherals. Of course, the angle is that you can buy the Razer Core, an external GPU dock that lets you add 2 desktop class graphics cards. This turns it into a somewhat legitimate gaming PC, though that dock is a separate cost. Anyway, now that Intel's released new processors this week, so Razer's upgraded the Blade line: It now crams a Core i7-7500U processor, 8 or 16GB's of RAM, up to 1TB of SSD storage, Chroma backlighting, and Thunderbolt 3 into that 0.52" thick CNC machined aluminum casing. There's also either a 2560x1440p or 4K 3880x2160 12.5" display, and HDMI 2.0 for outputting 4K video, and a 15% larger battery that Razer rates for 9 hours of usage.

The standard Razer Blade, a more traditional gaming laptop, has also been upgraded, though it doesn't get 7th gen Core i processors yet, as Intel hasn't released the quad core versions. Instead, there's an NVidia GTX 1060 inside, a pretty decent jump in graphical power that also allows the laptop to support VR headsets like the Oculus Rift. You can also use it with the Razer Core for adding external GPU's, and there's also a new entry level model with a 1080p matte non-touch screen instead of a glossy 4K touchscreen. That'll cost you $1799 instead of $2099 for the base model, and considering the battery savings, the advantages of a matte panel, and the price difference, it's probably the way to go. If you want a Razer, that is.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The ASUS Zenwatch 3 might be the best looking Android Wear watch yet

Smartwatches haven't really caught on to the extent that Apple, Google, Pebble, Samsung, Motorola and others might've liked, but they can be nice. I quite enjoy my first generation Moto 360, though I haven't been using it as much lately. The ASUS Zenwatch line has consistently been one of the better looking options, but it has always been square, which whatever Apple says is not the right shape for a watch. That changes with the new Zenwatch 3, which ASUS unveiled at IFA Berlin. It's still pretty thin at 9.95mm, is made from stainless steel, and has a curved Corning Gorilla Glass display. Unlike the Moto 360, it's a full 360 degree round screen at 1.39" and 400x400 pixels. The other primary differentiating factor they're claiming is a 95% accurate step tracker, which ASUS says is the best of any smartwatch. It's also based on the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 2100, a custom smartwatch processor that boasts 25% better energy consumption than the previous version.

The Moto Z Play is rated for 50 hours of battery life, supports Moto Mods

The latest Motorola Lenovo Moto high end smartphones, the Moto Z line, all have a modular interchangeable back system, which allows them to add functionality such as a projector or larger battery. At IFA in Berlin today, the Moto team introduced a few new "Moto Mods," as these interchangeable parts are called, as well as a new Moto Z.

The Moto Z Play is basically the same as the other members of the family, ie a nice looking, mostly stock Android 6.0 device with a 5.5" display, fingerprint reader, 16MP camera and 3GB's of RAM. However, it also has a super large 3510mAh battery and a lower end, but therefore more efficient, Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, a combination that Lenovo claims will allow for up to 50 hours of battery. That's unlikely, but it will probably outlast most other smartphones. 

There's also a new Hasselblad True Zoom Moto Mod, which adds a 10x optical zoom lens and Xenon flash to any of the Moto Z line, with a somewhat chunky shell. It's actually an entirely separate camera, with a 12MP, 1/2.3 inch CMOS sensor as well.

Lenovo's Yoga Book tablet has an adaptive touch keyboard, real pen, and Android or Windows

The Microsoft Courier concept was never built, but still has a legion of fans among digital artists, product developers and students. It was essentially a modernized Moleskine notebook, with a clamshell, dual screen design and super accurate stylus, along with perfect software.
Today at IFA Berlin, Lenovo's announced something of a real world version of that imaginary product: The Yoga Book. It's a 4.5mm thick, 690 gram dual screen clamshell designed for drawing and notetaking. Looking much like a miniaturized Yoga 900, it's made from magnesium and aluminum and has your choice of Android 6.0 or Windows 10, with some bundled art and note apps. But the two coolest aspects are the secondary display and the pen. That display can show either an adaptive touch keyboard that learns and adapts like that of a smartphone, or simply a blank surface for you to write on. The pen, meanwhile, is your standard active stylus, but it can also be loaded with an ink cartridge to draw on actual paper. It's also rated for an amazing 15.5 hours of battery life, though that may be rather optimistic.
Price is unknown, but it'll come with an Intel Atom processor unfortunately.

Acer's 21 Predator is a monstrous 21" curved laptop, Switch 7 the thinnest ever

At the IFA conference today in Berlin, Acer unveiled two laptops on exact opposite ends of the size spectrum from one another, as well as a variety of more standard clamshells.
The 21 Predator X is maybe the craziest laptop I've ever heard of. It starts with the display, a completely bonkers 21 inch curved(yes, this is the first curved laptop) IPS panel with a 2560x1080 resolution. Then there's eye tracking, utilizing a special camera system, 5 fans inside, a removable numpad that can also be used as a trackpad, and a Cherry MX mechanical keyboard. Internally, it has not one but two top of the line NVidia GTX 1080 graphics cards and an Intel "Kaby Lake" 7th gen Core i7.
The Predator 15 and 17, Acer's existing high end gaming laptops, get NVidia's new Pascal-based 10 series GPU's, meaning they now support the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive virtual reality headsets.
The Switch 7 is the Taiwanese competitor to HP's Spectre 13 and Apple's Macbook, with an Intel Core i5 Kaby Lake processor and a thickness of just less than 1cm(0.39".) It also has two USB 3.1 Type C connectors and a full HD display, along with a 256GB SSD and 2.48lb/1.1kg weight. It'll start at $999.
The Switch 5, 3, and 1 series are similar devices with sequentially lower price tags and thicker chassis. The Switch 5 however sounds like a slightly higher specced device than the Switch 7 despite the lower price tag, since it does without the crazy thin design. Prices start at $749, $499 and $249 respectively.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

New Tesla 100kWh option makes the Model S the 3rd fastest production car

The Tesla Model S and its CUV sibling, the Model X, are already ludicrously fast and have impressively long ranges for electric cars with their old maximum battery, a 90kWh pack. Today they've made them even better, with a 100kWh battery that lowers the 0-60 time to 2.5 seconds and raises the range to 315 miles for the Model S. The Model X P100D's stats are 2.9 seconds for the run to 60 and a 289 mile range. That makes the Model S, a large 5 seater sedan, quicker than any Lamborghini, BMW, Corvette, Mclaren, Audi, Mercedes or Aston Martin ever made, and slower only than the Porsche 918 and Ferrari LaFerrari. The Model S P100D will start at $134,500, the Model X P100D at $135,500, and existing P90D owners will be able to upgrade and recycle their old battery for $20,000.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Every 2017 Windows PC will support Microsoft Hololens

Microsoft's Hololens looks rather similar to the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive at first glance. It's a headset you hook up to a PC, designed to enable new ways of gaming, learning or simulating various other experiences, after all. But it's designed for augmented reality, or overlaying digital objects onto the real world, not virtual reality - transporting you completely into an artificial world. Apparently, it will also be different in another rather substantial way: Microsoft has just announced that Hololens will be compatible with every single new PC launched starting next year, as well as many existing Windows 10 devices. By comparison, you need a pretty high end gaming PC with a discrete GPU to use the Rift or Vive.
This news was announced at the Intel Developer Forum as a partnership with the chipmaker, but presumably if "all" new Windows 10 computers
will support Hololens, that also includes AMD-powered PCs.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Blackberry's DTEK50 is an Android smartphone with an emphasis on security

Blackberrys. The bane of many a government worker's existence, as they fell further and further behind standard smartphones in capability and modernity. The Canadian smartphones always had a few key attributes: BlackberryOS, a custom platform with some useful enterprise features but not much else, and almost always a really great physical keyboard.
The new DTEK50 has none of those things - instead, it's an Android 6.0 smartphone with similar customizations to the company's first Android device, last year's Priv. The main new feature is the DTEK app, which is essentially an anti-malware suite with a few other security-oriented features. There's also no keyboard. This is a full-touchscreen phone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617, 5.2" 1080p display, 13MP camera and 3GB's of RAM.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Lenovo Pocket Projector P0510 review

Today's review is somewhat unusual - at least for 2016. Pocket(or pico) projectors were the center of every CES booth and Computex keynote half a decade ago, but they never really caught on with the public. Consequently, most companies have more or less abandoned the category at this point. Lenovo, ASUS, and a few other smaller companies, however, are revitalizing it. The biggest reason is that nearly every modern smartphone, computer, tablet, and set top box supports either Apple Airplay or Miracast these days. That means whatever your favorite content consumption device is, it can probably wirelessly share its screen to a pocket projector. That provides a new opportunity for the once-abandoned market, but is it actually useful?

Input options and setup:
As mentioned, there's a lot more options for how to use these pocket projectors than the old pico projectors, and they're more convenient. When you boot up the P0510 for the first time, you're presented with options for connecting to a local WiFi network, an Windows, Android, Mac, iOS device, or SD card media. The wireless options are great, and they're pretty easy to set up. I tested them with Android 6.0, Mac OS X El Capitan and Windows, and all of them just required a short pairing process and then hitting "share screen" on the device. I also connected the P0510 to my home WiFi and it found and downloaded a software update, so it's not a static feature set; Lenovo can keep making it better.

Picture quality:
Like the ASUS S1, Brookstone Pocket Projector and AAXA P4-X, the Lenovo P0510 has a rather low 854x480 resolution. This was evident when binge-watching HBO's Silicon Valley compared to my laptop and phone's displays, but it actually still looks alright. The screen is pleasantly large(Lenovo quotes up to 110") and despite only putting out 50 lumens, I thought it was sufficiently bright. Still, considering LG's PH300 and the ZTE Spiro 2 are capable of 720p images and in the case of the LG, 300 lumens for only $150 more, an update might be due pretty soon for the Lenovo.
Another problem was that, especially when using Airplay as opposed to Miracast, there's quite a bit of connection lag on occasion. Sometimes it would play videos quite smoothly, but other times they were laggy, poorly synced with the audio, and had artifacting. This was rare, however.

The physical design of the P0510 is utilitarian, with a two tone grey color scheme, 90 degree rotating stand design, and rubbery d-pad for controls. Those controls work well, and I like the adaptability of the rotating hinge, but I'd say the LG competition is quite a bit better looking. The Lenovo is pleasantly durable feeling, however, and there's no need for a touchscreen and entire Android-based built in computer like ZTE decided on.

Battery life:
This was my main complaint with the P0510. I could only get through about an hour and a half to at most two hours of wireless usage, despite the estimated 3 hours. That's enough for a few episodes of your favorite TV show or pretty much any Powerpoint presentation, but just barely.

Between the battery life, occasional connection lag, and somewhat low resolution, the P0510 is far from perfect. Yet it's also fun, well designed, and useful, all for a price that's lower than most of the competition. I might recommend waiting for the next generation(in fact, I might buy one then myself) but even the current version would be a pretty decent choice.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The 2017 Ford F150 will offer a 3.5L turbo V6 with 470 lb-ft of torque

This generation's Ford F150, the most popular vehicle in America, is primarily a 6 cylinder-powered truck. You can still get it with a V8, but the six pots aren't the penalty boxes anymore, which is being reinforced by the newest engine: A 3.5 liter V6 that is debuting as the top sub-Raptor F150 option. And it has some pretty impressive power figures to back up that positioning: 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, the most important metric for a truck. For comparison, the best selling Chevy Silverado is the 5.3L V8 configuration, which makes 355 horsepower and 383 lb/ft of torque. You can move up to a 6.2L V8 with Chevy or GMC, however, which'll net you 420HP and 460lb/ft. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Lenovo IdeaCentre 700

Review inception.

In Lenovo's pantheon of devices, the 700 series is near the top, but not quite their flagship. Typically they're cheaper with almost the same specs, but missing the flashy designs and maybe some cool/gimmicky special feature of the top of the line 900 series models. That all seems about right for the IdeaCentre 700, an all in one desktop that does have a couple of pretty neat, unique features for the market and good specs but an uninspired design. It also has an absolutely gorgeous 4K display for a quite reasonable price, which makes it a tempting buy just for that reason.

The internals of the 700 AIO are... perfectly sufficient, if not top of the line. There's a 6th generation Intel Core i5 quad core CPU, 8GB's of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive with a small solid state cache. Performance is pretty good; I tried setting up a virtual machine and was able to run my usual workflow in Windows and the Ubuntu VM simultaneously, at a good clip. A full SSD would probably be a good idea, and is available on the 700 AIO, just not my review version.

What is not at all mediocre, on the other hand, is the display. As mentioned before, it's a 4K UHD 3840x2160p panel. But it's not just 4K - this thing is beautiful. It's also quite bright, has pretty good color reproduction to my non-graphics-artist eyes, and also happens to be a touchscreen. And normal HD content looks great, not just 4K video. Game of Thrones giant battle scenes in the latest episode at the time of this review were simply stunning on the 700 AIO.
The competition does have an even better screen though, in the form of Apple's Retina 5K iMac, but it costs more and doesn't have HDMI input.

As I said, a fancy industrial design is one of the advantages of Lenovo's 900 series, and the aforementioned iMac, but the 700 isn't exactly terrible looking. It's just a rather plasticy black monitor frame, though I do quite like the stand for some reason. There's also quite large bezels above and below the screen to accommodate the Intel RealSense camera(more on that later) and speakers. Also, while it does have a touchscreen, and has a nice adjustable hinge in the stand, if you want to use a Lenovo all in one in "tabletop mode," tilted 90 degrees backwards, you'll have to spring for the Yoga 900 AIO.

Overall, Lenovo's been trimming down the number of extra apps they put on their PC's, which I quite appreciate. This is the case with the 700 as well, though it still has more than I'd like; There's McAfee's ever-annoying antivirus suite, a whole bunch of Lenovo apps, and for some horrible, unknowable reason, Candy Crush. Please, PC manufacturers, do not preinstall the free version of the latest edition of an uninspired smartphone game that fell out of favor years ago on your computers.

Speakers, RealSense and miscellaneous:
Despite how large they are, and their prominent JBL branding, I'm not a big fan of the speakers on the 700 AIO. They sound pretty decent on classical recordings such as Isaac Stern and Leonard Rose's Beethoven: Triple Concertos album, but for anything country, such as Dierks Bentley's Black, I found them muddy. For watching a couple videos on Netflix, they also weren't nearly as good as my Logitech desktop speakers or some laptops I've used.

Meanwhile, the RealSense camera is pretty great. Besides enabling Windows Hello(facial recognition) logins, you can download a number of different apps designed for it. There's simple photo apps that let you add depth-related filters, motion controlled games in the style of the Kinect, and other interesting options. Basically, from a technical perspective, there's three lenses instead of one, and one of them is an infrared sensor, which together allows depth positioning and 3D imaging.

One other cool aspect of the 700 AIO that I actually didn't test out is that it allows easy access to upgrade and fix components, even without tools for some things. This is quite unusual for an all in one. By comparison, Apple seals things off as much as possible and uses unusual screws to make things harder to work on yourself.
As for the bundled mouse and keyboard, Lenovo still makes a good keyboard, but like any bundled set there's far better third party options. The 700 does have a built in optical drive as well, a rarity these days.

Next to Dell's XPS One 27, Apple's iMac or Lenovo's own 900 AIO, the 700 AIO is plain looking and not the fastest machine around. But the combination of a fabulous 4K display and reasonable price tag make it quite a compelling buy. I just would trade the mediocre but presumably somewhat expensive JBL speakers and cool but unnecessary RealSense camera for a Core i7 and the optional NVidia GTX 950 graphics card.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Alienware is finally releasing their OLED laptop, refreshes all their desktops

PC gaming is getting a major revival these days, with tons of new computers, major graphics card advancements, VR headsets mostly only working with PC's, and Microsoft's announcement this morning of Play Anywhere. Tying in with this narrative, one of the stalwarts of the gaming PC marketplace, Alienware, just refreshed a number of their computers at E3.
The new Alienware 13 OLED is basically the existing Alienware 13 from earlier this year, with its Intel Skylake Core i5/i7 processors, NVidia GTX 655m, multicolored LED light scheme, and thinner design. The difference is in the monitor: There's a new 13" 2560x1440p panel that's an Organic LED or OLED display instead of the traditional LCD, allowing for deeper blacks, less power usage, and brighter colors. OLED screens have been common in smartphones for years, and there's a few extraordinarily expensive TV's with them, but laptops haven't had them until this year with a couple of Lenovo devices. Of course, it also maintains compatibility with Alienware's Graphics Amplifier, a dock for hooking up an external desktop-class GPU.

That gives it another thing in common with the refreshed Alienware Alpha, the latest version of Alienware's "desktop console" idea. It's a small gaming desktop in a Wii U-sized case with a $599 starting price, Intel Skylake Core i3/i5/i7, NVidia GTX 960m or AMD Radeon R9 470x, and Windows 10. There's also a new Alienware Steam Machine, with essentially the same specs but Valve's Steam OS instead of Windows.

There's also new versions of the Alienware Aurora and Area 51 desktops, which promise full support for VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, and can be configured with the NVidia Geforce GTX 1080.

Some Xbox One/PC games will have buy once, play anywhere and cross platform play going forward

At E3 this year, Microsoft has announced a new initiative called Play Anywhere in which for specific titles, if you buy an Xbox One copy of the game, you get it for free in your Windows 10 library as well. Further, saved progress, unlocked items and achievements will sync between the copies of the games, and some titles will support cross platform multiplayer. Currently announced games that will have Play Anywhere support include Gears of War 4, Forza Horizen 3, Halo Wars 2, Quantum Break, Ark: Survival Evolved, ReCore, State of Decay 2, ScaleBound, and We Happy Few.That's a whole bunch of pretty big Microsoft Studios titles and a few 3rd party indie games.
On a tangentially related note, the new ReCore trailer looks sweet:

Microsoft Xbox One S is 40% smaller, finally loses the power brick, and has Bluetooth controllers

Microsoft has been flat out losing the console wars this generation, with every metric - sales, profits, platform exclusives, developer preference, and hardware performance - lining up in Sony's favor. The team from Redmond is looking to change that with an avalanche of announcements at their E3 keynote today. Chief among them is the new Xbox One S, a mid-cycle refresh(to borrow an auto industry term) of the Xbox One S.

Starting at $300, which is what a standard 500GB Xbox One would cost you right now, it comes with 4 times the storage space at 2TB(still twice the previous high end 1TB model) and 4K video support - though probably not 4K gaming yet. Better yet, it loses the obnoxious giant power brick, for a simple one piece cable, and has a built in IR blaster for controlling other home entertainment devices. All of this is fit into a box(pardon the pun) that's 40% smaller than the rather massive, VCR-like original Xbox One.

Meanwhile, the already-excellent controller is getting two massive changes: It's going Bluetooth, which means it'll be compatible with a far greater selection of 3rd party devices, and hopefully won't require a dongle to use with your PC anymore. Secondly, as you can see in the image above, they're taking a page out of Motorola's book and introducing a design studio for customizing the colors of your controller.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Lenovo Yoga 900S review

The first thing I noticed about the Yoga 900S when I pulled it out of the box was the bright gold hue. Not contained to the lid, the back, hinge and even the keyboard are gold. I'm not a huge fan of the trend of gold electronics, especially since many companies only do it because Apple does, but this Yoga is striking. That's helped along by how extremely thin it is, and the crazy watchband hinge. And unlike last year's Core M powered devices, it's also a usable computer.

Screen, ports, keyboard and trackpad:
The screen is an absolutely gorgeous 2560x1440p IPS touch panel at 12.5"(yes, the same size as the Macbook) that I found myself gravitating towards over every other display I have. Seriously, it looks great. As for the input mechanisms, I found the keyboard surprisingly good for such a thin laptop, actually preferring it slightly to my Macbook Air keyboard, and the trackpad is not bad but not great. Meanwhile, Lenovo's beating Apple and HP's Spectre  by including not only a USB 3.1 Type C connector but a standard Type A USB 3.0 port and a separate power port that can be used as a USB 2.0 connection. Sadly the charger is not Type C, so if you have a phone with one of those new connectors you can't use the same charger.

As I opened with, the Yoga 900S is a very, very small laptop, and is as you might expect therefore not extremely powerful. However, Intel's done a great job updating their Core M processor line from last year, when it was in its first generation. The new Core M's are based on their 6th generation Skylake architecture, and the top of the line Core M7 in the Yoga is just about as fast as my Haswell Core i7 ultra low voltage chip in benchmarks.
All of that nerdery aside, unlike a Lenovo I reviewed last year with the old Core M, and the 2015 Apple Macbook, the Yoga 900S keeps up with normal usage just fine. I never felt any major speed penalties compared to even my desktop when using lots of Chrome and Edge tabs, Notepad ++ and a few Windows Explorer windows. Similarly, the graphics are much improved - streaming a 4K video from YouTube with a bunch of other background tabs open was absolutely fine. Besides the Core M7, there's 8GB's of DDR4 RAM and a 256GB solid state drive. All of that said, if you want the laptop equivalent of a Corvette, the 900S is not your computer - it's more like a Miata. In particular, gaming is out; Even something like Rocket League was too stuttery to be playable.

At 12.8mm, only the ASUS Zenbook 3 and HP Spectre come to mind as rivals for the thinnest laptop crown right now. The latest Yoga also ridiculously light, at just 999 grams, and the watchband hinge is super cool looking, though I wonder how durable it is, considering the number of parts. It does enable Lenovo's favorite convertible design, that namesake Yoga 360 degree rotation. In fact, overall this is one of my favorite laptop designs I've used for a while, though a few more color options would be nice.

There's essentially 3 main direct competitors to the Yoga 900S: The Apple Macbook, ASUS Zenbook 3 and HP Spectre. The Macbook is slightly better looking in my opinion, and has OS X which is a huge advantage for some, but there's some severe usability issues with only having 1 port. Additionally, it costs a full $300 more for the base configuration. The Spectre is even thinner than the Yoga, yet somehow still fits in higher powered Core i processors. But it's pricier at $1169, has a lower resolution screen, and no touch capability whatsoever - I'd take the Yoga's beautiful 1440p screen over a slightly faster CPU.  Finally, while the Zenbook 3 looks great, it's not out yet, so I can't really recommend it without some evaluation time. Of course, you could also move up to a standard, less crazily thin ultrabook like the Dell XPS 13, normal Yoga 900(the non-S version) or Macbook Air, but that's a different category of device.  That leaves the Yoga 900S as the winner, unless you hugely prefer OS X.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Asus Zenbook 3: An amazingly thin, decently powerful Macbook clone

I'm not always a big fan of extremely thin laptops, as they typically sacrifice a lot in usability and specs in the pursuit of design(or fashion over form) without always being that, well, good looking.

The Zenbook 3, though, looks cautiously like a better ultra thin laptop. Instead of a low power Core M processor and a plastic casing, it has a sleek patterned metal shell and up to a ULV Skylake Core i7. Despite that, and the rated 9 hours of battery life, it's just 11.9mm thick and weighing 910 grams. That's thinner and lighter than Apple's new Macbook, which has the lower powered Core M, though the Zenbook does look a lot like the Macbook. The Zenbook does come in a rather sweet dark blue, along with grey and rose gold, a fingerprint reader for Windows Hello biometrics, and up to 16GB's of RAM and a 1TB solid state drive. 
It'll start at just $999, but for those high end options you'll be paying up to about $2000.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

No Man's Sky is delayed until August, which sucks but is not a reason for death threats

No Man's Sky is a giant open world space exploration game that uses procedural generation, or algorithms instead of hand coding, to populate an otherwise un-manageably huge world. It looks great, and is coming to PC and PlayStation 4 this year, with potential virtual reality support after launch in an update. However, the small studio  behind it has been showing it off since 2013 without even a beta release, letting various competitors launch first and they just delayed the release until this August.
This is sad for those looking forward to the game(including me,) but unfortunately has prompted numerous death threats against the developers, as mentioned by Sean Murray on Twitter. This is simply horrible, and of course makes no sense. Likely most of these threats are by internet trolls emboldened by anonymity with no intention of carrying out the attack, but it's still terrible behavior.
Even more incomprehensibly, Jason Schreier at Kotaku, the first journalist to report on this, has himself now received at least one death threat via Twitter, simply for writing about the incident.
People of the internet: Don't threaten to kill people over having to wait another month or two for a video game, or ever actually.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Google Home: Like an Amazon Echo but tied into all of Google's services

Amazon's Echo is a cool device, offering frequent new features through upgrades, a legitimately useful digital assistant, no-button control and an alright speaker in a decent looking device. But seeing as it's built by Amazon, the music comes from their rather terrible Prime Cloud Music and it doesn't have first party-level integration with any of the suites of web services from the likes of Google, Apple and Microsoft.
That's where Google's new Home comes in: It's a slightly larger, but in my opinion better looking living room speaker with interchangeable shells and more powerful, higher quality audio. The main differentiator though is that since it's built by Google, it uses the excellent Google Play Music and has first party Google services integration. For example, there's full-featured Chromecast support for casting content to it from your other devices, or using its voice assistant to control your TV's Chromecast.
Speaking of the digital assistant, Google's excellent Google Now voice control/search features are freshly renamed as Google Assistant, slightly upgraded, and baked into Google Home. All in all, I will likely be buying one of these.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Lenovo IdeaPad 700 Review

The days of the midrange desktop replacement laptop might seem to be in the past, with 13" and smaller ultrabooks, convertible tablets and high end professional machines taking up most of the laptop market. Which is why the Lenovo IdeaPad 700 is a bit of an anomaly, while simultaneously being an example of what the word "laptop" has traditionally meant. It's a big 15" computer with a spacious keyboard, no touchscreen, full voltage processor, and midrange specs at a midrange price.

Internals: As I mentioned, the brains of the 900 aren't super-high end fare compared to something like the Y700 gaming laptop I reviewed a while back, but at the same time they're quite a bit better than most ultrabooks. My review unit 900 series had an Intel Skylake Core i7-6700HQ processor, 8GB's of DDR4 RAM and a 256GB PCIe SSD for storage. There's also an NVidia GTX 950M built in, which gives it quite a bit more graphical performance than the vast majority of mainstream laptops. How was it to actually use? Blazing fast for my normal usage, which mainly consists of running lots of tabs in Chrome and NotePad++, and maybe an IDE like Eclipse. However, despite the discrete GPU, this isn't really a gaming laptop - if you want to play the latest titles on high settings, spring for the only slightly more expensive Y700, which has a higher end GPU.

Design: This is a bit of a weak point for the 700 series. It's a giant, thick black slab, with rather flimsy feeling plastic and annoyingly-large bezels around the screen. And it's really thick.
But it's not meant to be thin or light, so I won't dock Lenovo too hard for the huge size - I just wish their was a little more design flair, and really, those bezels are ridiculous.

Display, Keyboard & Misc: The 15" full HD display is spacious, reproduces colors well, has a nice matte finish, and was generally good to use. A higher display resolution wouldn't be a bad idea on a screen this large for future revisions, but for a laptop at this price point I thought the display was great - certainly, the new season of Game of Thrones looked excellent on HBO Now streaming. The trackpad was equally good, and the keyboard has a full numpad, which is always appreciated. That said, having recently used a Lenovo ThinkPad X1, the keyboard on the 700 didn't feel anywhere near as good as any of the ThinkPad's I've tried.. I also prefer the Apple Macbook Pro keyboard, and some of Dell's.
Amusingly, the laptop actually comes with a bundled external DVD drive, which I never even tried - I live a pretty much disk free life, with the exception of Xbox One Blurays. Speaking of which, if you're going to include an optical drive, please make it a Bluray reader in 2016. Meanwhile, the speakers and port situation are great, as you'd expect on a big 15" desktop replacement.

Software: The IdeaPad 700 has Windows 10, as you'd expect of a modern non-Apple laptop, with an actually surprisingly light load of bloatware software. There's the ever present, ever annoying McAfee antivirus, a few Lenovo apps, and weirdly a version of Candy Crush preinstallled, but that's pretty great. Some laptops(cough, HP) that I've tried have literally dozens of terrible free trial apps installed. In fact, it feels a lot more like a typical business laptop setup... except for the Candy Crush.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Audi TT RS is a super quick, 400 horse conundrum in coupe or roadster form

The Audi TT line has always been a bit of a strange market proposal, for two main reasons. First off, it's essentially a sports car that... isn't actually that sporty; It's a light, fast looking coupe or roadster that has a rather underpowered engine, giving it a reputation of being for people who value style over substance. Secondly, it's weirdly similar to the Porsche Boxster and Cayman duo, a couple of products within the Volkswagen portfolio that are only slightly more expensive yet have more power and are, well, Porsche's. And of course, if Audi makes the TT more competitive, then that would draw sales away from the more profitable Porsche models.

All of that background aside, the new TT RS looks legitimately awesome. It's actually a pair of cars, one coupe version and one roadster, which share a brand new turbo inline 5 cylinder engine that has 400 horsepower. Now, that's no longer bonkers supercar territory, with the Mustang and Camaro's V8 versions both making well over that, but it's still a lot of power for a relatively light little car. It translates into some pretty quick acceleration too, with the coupe making a 3.7 second naught to sixty run, and the roadster hitting 60 in 3.9 seconds. There isn't a single Porsche Cayman model that can match that, and even the base 911 is slower from 0 to 60. The BMW M2 and M4 are also slightly slower, as is Jaguar's base F Type, and the aforementioned Camaro SS and Mustang GT. The base Corvette matches the performance of the TT RS(which will probably cost much more than Chevy's finest) but there aren't a lot of other mid-level sports cars that do.

Beyond performance, there's a 7 speed S-tronic transmission, quattro all-wheel drive, and OLED taillights, which is a first for a production car. Inside, there's paddle shifters on the steering wheel, a 12.3" display for the "virtual cockpit" introduced on the normal TT, an LTE wifi hotspot and Bang & Olufsen sound.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Good deal: $560 off a top spec Apple Macbook Pro

Apple's absolute highest end laptop right now, the $2500 SKU of its 15" Macbook Pro Retina, is currently $1939 or $94 a month for two years right now on Ebay. That'll net you an(out of date but still blazing fast) Intel Core i7 quad core chip running at 2.5GHz, 16GB's of RAM, an AMD Radeon R9 M370X, GPU, and a 512GB SSD. Plus all the normal Macbook Pro stuff like a 2880x1800 Retina display, amazing trackpad, etc.