Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Blackberry Classic is a modernized Bold built around that legendary keyboard

Blackberry's Bold 9900 was quite possibly the perfection of the portrait oriented physical QWERTY keyboard on a smartphone. Since then, Blackberry has tried and failed to adapt to the modern world of touchscreen slates, spec wars and huge devices, so now they're going back to their roots.
The new Blackberry Classic is basically a slightly modernized Bold, with that legendary keyboard and the traditional 4 navigation keys and trackpad, but better specs. There's a 3.5" 720x720 touchscreen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8960 1.5 GHz dual core processor(yes, it's from 2012 - still, better than the Bold's,) 2GB's of RAM and 16GB's of storage.There's also an 8MP camera with 1080p video, a front facing web cam, and Blackberry OS 10, which just like on Blackberry's other phones supports installing Android apps from the Amazon app store. Plus there's LTE, Miracast, 5GHz WiFi ac, NFC and even an FM Radio, so you're well covered on the radio front. It'll retail for $450 off contract, which is high considering the specs, but quite a bit less than a standard flagship smartphone.
It's not a phone for most, but if your corporation is still handing out Bold's, or you just have to have that keyboard, this will make a great update.
 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Android Wear updated with Lollipop core, custom 3rd party watch faces

Google's platform for smartwatches, Android Wear, just got a relatively major update. It's now based off of Android 5.0 Lollipop, and there's a new, sleeker version of the companion app for phones. But the big new feature is custom watch faces; Many manufacturers already bundled a few, but now there's an entire section on the Google Play store and a Watch Face API for developers to make their own. Launch efforts include a Pacman face, Surfline which gives you glanceable tide info, and a stylish Porsche watch face.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

CCN Holiday Gift Guide 2015: Tablets

Welcome back to our 2015 holiday tech guide - this time around, focused on tablets. Growth in the segment may have stalled, but tablets are still among the most popular devices, and there's quite a few new options to consider, from all the major players. Again, instead of choosing one overall pick and a bunch of runner ups, I'm breaking the market down into categories. Those categories are full size(usually 10 inches,) and compact, delineated by operating system. The OS'es are sorted alphabetically, so Android comes first, then iOS, then Windows.

Full Size, Android
Google HTC Nexus 9(9" 1536p display, Android 5.0, NVidia Tegra K1, $399+)
It's not quite 10 inches, but Google's latest Nexus 9 is an excellent device. It's the first tablet made by HTC since the ill-fated Jetstream, but as it's designed by Google it looks more like a Nexus 5 then an HTC One. To me that still results in a very handsome design, though some don't agree, but what you can't argue with is the software. Android 5.0 Lollipop is the biggest change to the little green robot OS in years, and it makes everything look far better, perform much faster, and use less power. Google Now has also gotten smarter with the update, and you can have your device automatically unlock when it's connected to your home WiFi. Plus, they've expanded the already excellent user accounts implementation with a guest mode for when a friend or kid wants to use your device but you don't want to give them access to all your sensitive info. Plus, media and apps can now be shared between users much easier. Take that, iOS.
Those are a small subset of the features of Lollipop, which every Android tablet will eventually have, but the Nexus 9 is the first, and it showcases them all on a beautiful 9" 2048x1536 IPS display, powered by a 64 bit NVidia Tegra K1 processor. There's a 16GB wifi only version for $399, or you can upgrade to 32GB/Wifi or 32GB/LTE.

Compact, Android
NVidia Shield Tablet(8" 1200p display, Android 5.0, NVidia Tegra K1, $299+)
It's marketed at gamers, but the Shield Tablet is really a good choice for anyone. It's got a great display, front facing stereo speakers, plenty of power from the NVidia Tegra K1 on board, and it was the second tablet to get Android 5.0 Lollipop, so NVidia's doing a great job of supporting it. There's also an optional game controller available, as well as a 4G LTE version available. Plus, if you also have a desktop or laptop with an NVidia GTX graphics card, you can stream full PC games to your tablet, which is pretty sweet.
Another good choice is the Sony Z3 Tablet Compact, an absolutely gorgeous device with full waterproofing, Playstation 4 game streaming and top notch specs that lost to the Shield only because of its price, a steep $499.

Full Size, iOS
Apple iPad Air 2(10" 1536p display, iOS 8, Apple A8X, $499+)

It's blazing fast, thinner and lighter than almost anything on the market, and has a simply huge selection of 3rd party apps that makes it virtually unbeatable. The display's even better this time around, laminated to the glass covering, and the battery life is quite excellent.
Oh and there's a fingerprint reader that's the first step towards a more secure, password-free world. As a diehard Android fan who finds iOS limiting, I'm loath to admit it, but the iPad Air 2 is the best tablet available unless you have a specialized use case that iOS or the hardware doesn't support. Sure, you aren't getting multiple account support like Android, and it's hard to multitask when you can only have one window open at once, and there's no PC or console game streaming, but those are nitpicks.
If you don't care about thinness, fingerprint readers, top of the line performance or laminated displays, the last gen iPad Air costs $100 less and is otherwise just as good.

Compact, iOS
Apple iPad Mini 2(8" 1536p display, iOS 8, Apple A7, $299+)
Here's a surprise: I'm not recommending the latest version of the iPad Mini. Why? When Apple announced the iPad Mini 3, they spent about 30 seconds on it in their keynote. It's that minor of an upgrade - they added TouchID(the fingerprint sensor) and a gold paint option. Neither of those things is worth the $100 price difference between the Mini 3 and Mini 2, which has exactly the same specs.

Full Size, Windows
Microsoft Surface Pro 3($799, Windows 8.1, Intel Core i3/i5/i7, 12" display)
Microsoft's not playing around anymore. The new Surface Pro 3 is aimed straight at replacing not one but two devices from Apple, the Macbook Air and iPad Air, and it makes a compelling case. Starting on the outside, the Surface Pro has a good looking, durable magnesium allow frame with a unique kickstand that you can finally use at any angle, and a 12" 1440p display. Then there are the optional Type and Touch covers, which add quite good keyboards and trackpads along with a dash of color to the device, as well as an included stylus that works with the active digitizer for precise drawing. Inside, there's standard ultrabook specs, with anywhere from an Intel Core i3, 4GB's of RAM and a 64GB SSD up to a Core i7, 8GB's of RAM and 512GB's of storage. I'm still not quite convinced on the form factor, but if you are, Microsoft's executed it quite well.
If you want a more standard, affordable tablet, check out the ASUS Transformer T200. It's got simply amazing battery life due to a second battery in the detachable keyboard dock, decent performance, and a low price.


Compact, Windows
Lenovo Yoga 8($299, Windows 8.1, Intel Bay Trail Atom, 8" 1080p display)
Lenovo's Yoga 8 is available with Windows or Android, and has a cool design with a spherical hinge for the built in kickstand - that also allows a larger battery then would otherwise be possible. 
There's also 2GB's of RAM, Intel's latest Atom quad core CPU, and a 1920x1080p display. All for the same price as an iPad Mini 2, which can't double as a full PCC.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

CCN Holiday Gift Guide 2015: Phones

Welcome back to our holiday 2015 tech gift guide. Whether you're picking out presents for friends and family, or just need to refresh your own tech toolkit, I hope this will be helpful.
A lot has changed in mobile tech since the last buying guide I did this summer, between Apple's launch of the iPhone 6 & 6 Plus, the new Motorola Moto X, new Google Nexus devices, and much more. Read on for the best mainstream and budget picks for each of the 3 main operating systems, plus the best "phablet"(giant phone/small, cell-enabled tablet) you can buy.

Mainstream Flagship, Android
Motorola Moto X 2014(5.2" 1080p display, Qualcomm 801, Android 5.0)
Motorola's Moto X was my favorite phone last year and into the beginning of this year, and the one I still use as my personal device. The refreshed 2014 model makes almost everything better: There's a beautiful 5.2" 1920x1080p AMOLED display, a 13MP camera, 2GB's of RAM, and Qualcomm's Snapdragon 801 on the inside. But the outside's where it really gets interesting; A Gorilla Glass 3 front and metal sides surround the curved back in plastic, leather or natural wood, and the entire design is customized to look just how you want. On the software front, it runs near-stock Android with a number of useful additions; Moto Voice, which provides hands free voice control and a custom name, Moto Connect, which shows your texts and lets you answer calls or ring your phone from your computer, and Active Notifications, which show alerts even when the screen is off.
Plus you get Motorola's great build quality, water resistance and super fast software updates.
Other good options include the LG G3, with a 2560x1440 5.5" display and 3GB's of RAM, the Sony Xperia Z3 which is fully waterproof and can stream Playstation games, or the Z3 Compact which is... well... a Z3 Compact.

Budget Pick, Android
Motorola Moto G 2014(5" 720p display, Qualcomm 400, Android 4.4)
Motorola's excellent Moto G was also my budget pick for Android this summer, despite being rather old at the time. Now it's been updated with a larger HD display, 8MP camera, microSD card slot, water resistance, and most of the software features of the big sibling Moto X. They also kept the fun interchangeable colored back plates and good battery life of the original, and like all relatively recent Motorola phones it'll be updated to Android 5.0 KitKat soon.

Mainstream Flagship, iOS
Apple iPhone 6(4.7" Retina HD display, Apple A8, iOS 8)
Apple finally released a phone with a display larger than 4 inches this year - in fact, they released two. The iPhone 6 is extremely thin, fast, and has one of the best cameras in any smartphone. You lose a bit of flexibility and some features against Android, but if you are already an iPhone user or you want a great cameraphone, the 6 is a great phone.

Budget Pick, iOS
Apple iPhone 5C(4" Retina display, Apple A6, iOS 8)
The iPhone 5C was my budget iOS pick this summer as well, and since then there's been a $100 price drop, making it even more compelling. It comes in multiple fun colors, has a nice-if-small display and all the same software and apps as the more expensive iPhones.

Mainstream Flagship, Windows Phone
HTC One M8 for Windows(5" 1080p display, Qualcomm 801, Windows Phone 8.1)
With the same gorgeous and durable(albeit bulky) design and virtually identical specs as the One M8 with Android, HTC's only Windows Phone at the moment is quite fabulous. There's 2GB's of RAM, 32GB's of storage plus a microSD slot, a 5" 1080p SLCD display, Qualcomm's quad core Snapdragon 801, and a 4 "Ultrapixel" camera.

Budget Pick, Windows Phone
Microsoft Nokia Lumia 635($129, 4.5" 854x480 display, 5MP camera, Qualcomm 400)

At an amazingly low price of $99 unsubsidized and unlocked(currently available for $69 from Microsoft and AT&T) the Lumia 635 has very similar specs to the Motorola Moto E, but with Windows Phone instead of Android. You end up with an inferior display but a superior processor, however.

Phablet
Samsung Galaxy Note 4/Note Edge(5.7" 1440p display, Qualcomm 805, Android 4.4)
If you want a gigantic phone, there's lots of great options. Google & Motorola's Nexus 6 is superb, and the iPhone 6 Plus is great, but the company that popularized the phablet still makes the best one. The Galaxy Note 4 has a amazing specs and an acceptable(much better than last year's) design, but the reason it's getting the recommendation is the software. I'm not a huge fan of Samsung's TouchWiz skin on top of Android generally, but it really takes advantage of the extra screen real estate on the Note in a way none of the competition does. There's multiwindow support in various ways, full stylus control, and much, much more that I won't detail here. And that stylus-friendly giant screen has an amazing 2560x1440p resolution, backed up by a top of the line processor and 3GB's of RAM.
The Galaxy Note Edge, meanwhile, is identical except for a curved display with an extra 160 horizontal pixels to show you notifications, media controls, mini-games, or just to look cool.



Monday, December 1, 2014

CCN Holiday Gift Guide 2015: Laptops

Welcome to the first post of my holiday 2015 tech gift guide. Whether you're picking out presents for friends and family, or just need to refresh your own tech toolkit, I hope this will be helpful.
In laptops, Apple's OS X Yosemite and a large variety of new Chromebooks, plus quite a few gaming laptops featuring NVidia's latest graphics cards are all new since the last laptop guide I compiled was published. Still, many of my recommendations are mostly the same.

Mainstream Ultrabook, Mac
Apple Macbook Air($899+, Intel Core i5/i7, 11 or 13" screen)

It's looked much the same for years now, but that's because it's pretty close to perfect. Sure, I'd like a higher resolution screen, more colors, and LTE capability, but I'm writing this on my mid-2013 Macbook Air and have very few complaints. That's because the blend of high quality, durable, gorgeous aluminum, insanely thin and light design, best in class trackpad and backlit keyboard, super fast SSD's, and completely adequate specs. Plus you get OS X Yosemite, if that's an advantage for you, and good compatibility with Linux and decent support for Windows if you prefer. If you need a dedicated GPU for gaming/video work, a super fast CPU, a large screen, or a low price, the Air isn't for you. But for the general consumer, journalist, programmer, college student, or anyone who doesn't have specialized needs, the Air's my top pick. And it's just $899 for the base model now, even less with the education discount, which is quite affordable.

Mainstream Ultrabook, Windows
Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro($1299+, Intel Core i5/i7, 13" screen)
Lenovo's Yoga was my overall favorite Windows notebook of 2013, the Yoga 2 Pro the best of the early part of 2014 and now the 3rd version further refines the formula. The Yoga 3 Pro is an incredible 0.5" thick and much lighter than even the Macbook Air. That's despite featuring an amazing 3200x1800 QHD+ multitouch display that can rotate almost 360 degrees back or be used anywhere in between. This allows you to use it as a traditional laptop, a tablet with the keyboard on the back, or in a tent mode that's perfect for watching movies or viewing a slideshow. It's pricy though - the base price is $1299, though you do get a 256GB SSD, 8GB's of RAM and one of Intel's fancy new Core M processors for that price.
As an alternate pick, I would recommend the Acer S7, which also has a super high resolution touchscreen and a gorgeous design, though it's a bit pricier. 

Budget Laptop, ChromeOS
Toshiba Chromebook 2 13($279, Intel Pentium, 13" screen)
Google's ChromeOS is perfect for budget laptops, as it requires much less powerful specs than Windows to run well, and doesn't have a licensing fee. 
The Toshiba Chromebook 13 has a really good 1920x1080p IPS display for less than $300, which is kind of incredible. That plus the Intel processor, decent battery life, Skullcandy speakers, Wifi AC and 4GB's of RAM puts it ahead of competing options in my opinion.
As for those other options, if you want a larger display, the HP Chromebook 14 is your best bet, though it has a pitiful 1366x768 resolution panel. The Acer C720, on the other hand, is a good bet if you don't want to spend more than $230. Toshiba also offers the Chromebook 13 with a 1366x768 screen for $220, but trust me - get the 1080p option.

Workhorse Laptop, Mac
Apple Retina Macbook Pro($1999+, Intel Core i7, 15" screen)
It's the gold standard for creative types and programmers, with a superlative 2880x1800p display, up to 1TB SSD, quad core Intel Core i7, optional NVidia GPU, and OS X Yosemite. If you're a video editor, photographer, graphic designer, recording engineer, or software engineer, or something similar - buy one. 

Workhorse Laptop, Windows
Lenovo Thinkpad W540($1099+, Intel Core i7, 15" screen)


There's a 1920x1080p or optional 2880x1620 3K display, Smartcard reader, fingerprint reader, 4G LTE, quad core processors, and up to 2 hard drives or SSD's in RAID 0 or 1. Oh and you can buy one with 32GB's of RAM. In other words, this Thinkpad is almost ridiculously powerful and versatile.

Gaming Laptop
Razer Blade($2199, Intel Core i7, 14" screen)
With an Intel Core i7 quad core processor, an NVidia GeForce GTX 860m, or 870m, 8 or 16GB's of RAM, 128, 256, or 512GB's of super fast SSD storage, and either a 3200x1800 14" or 1920x1080 17" display, the Razer Blade series isn't cheap. It's also incredibly beautiful, well made, durable, and fast, with quality components and a 0.66" thick frame.
You could also check out Lenovo's Y50 or the Alienware 13. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer shows a new lightsaber, X-Wings, strange droids and more

The trailer for the 7th Star Wars installment has been released, and it so far looks like a return to the feeling and style of the original trilogy. There's stormtroopers, Tatooine, X-Wings, and the Millenium Falcon, Tie Fighters, and though we don't see them, most of the original cast. On the other hand, it also shows off Daisy Ridley and John Boyega(in stormtrooper outfit,) plus a new rolling droid and a rather boxy speeder.
All in all it looks pretty great, though why we have to go to Tatooine yet again when there's literally billions of other interesting planets out there is beyond me.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Verizon Motorola Moto X 2014 is now receiving Android 5.0 Lollipop


Motorola has promised to update their entire device family from the last couple of years to Android 5.0, which is pretty awesome. That said, if you're running a carrier-locked Motorola smartphone, not one of Motorola's "Pure Edition" or Google Play Edition unlocked devices, you haven't gotten a taste of Lollipop yet. Until today, that is, as Verizon has started rolling out Lollipop to the 2014 Moto X.
Now come on AT&T, please put out the 2013 Moto X update pronto!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Every new Chromebook owner will now get 1TB of Google Drive storage for 2 years

Chromebooks have long come with a decent amount of free cloud storage through Google Drive, but now Mountain View's finest are upping the ante quite a bit: If you buy a Chromebook before January 1st, you'll now get a full 1TB of free storage for 2 years. That would cost you $240 if you were purchasing a normal 2 year 1TB subscription, so it's quite the good value considering you can buy a $199 Chromebook.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Nokia attempts to reinvent itself post-buyout with the N1 tablet

Fabled smartphone manufacturer sold off their devices and hardware business(essentially what most people think of as Nokia) to Microsoft, and have said they won't build another smartphone until at least 2016. Everyone thought this meant they would just become a services company, not making any new hardware, but instead they're going a different route: Today they announced the Nokia N1, an Android tablet that they designed, will sell under their name and uses their Z Launcher, but is made by Foxconn, the manufacturing company that also makes many of Apple's products. And that's not the only similarity between the N1 and some of Apple's portfolio: The N1 looks almost exactly identical to the iPad Mini, just without the home button and Apple logo.
The specs are quite good though, with a 7.9" 2048x1536 laminated display, quad core 64 bit Intel Atom, 2GB's of RAM, and 32GB's of storage. And it runs Android 5.0 Lollipop, with Nokia's custom Z Launcher which tries to predict what apps you want and make them easily accessible, and lets you write a letter with your finger to search. There's also an 8MP camera and 5MP webcam, plus a new USB Type C connector that can be inserted either way. And the N1 is crazily thin: Just 6.9mm(to the iPad Mini's 7.5mm and the Sony Z3 Compact's 6.4mm) and weighs 318 grams. It's also quite a bit cheaper than an iPad Mini 3 at $249, though it's headed for China and Russia only to begin with.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Snapchat launches Snapcash, a payment service powered by Square

There's a lot of ways to quickly send money to friends, coworkers, or roommates. Options such as Paypal, Google Wallet, Square Cash, and many others provide different approaches for different needs. But most of those require downloading a new app, or at least setting up a payment account. Ephemeral messaging app Snapchat has just integrated Square into their app, with typical Snapchat simplicity. You just enter a debit card(which will be stored by Square, not Snapchat,) type a $ and then the monetary amount you want to send, and hit the green dollar sign.
I'll probably keep using Google Wallet, but for avid Snapchatters, the app just got more useful. Follow the source link for the(exceedingly weird) intro video/commercial.

Source: Snapchat(Youtube)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

ASUS Zenwatch launches on Google Play

Smartwatches historically have been big, ugly and just generally the kind of thing you have to be pretty nerdy to ware. That's gradually changing with the round, elegant Moto 360, small, sleek Pebble Steel and a few other options. Continuing that trend is the new ASUS Zenwatch, which at $199 is both one of the cheaper Android Wear watches and one of the best looking. It's rectangular not round, so I still like the Moto 360 a bit better, but the Zenwatch is thinner, $50 cheaper and has a very handsome band. There's a 1.63" AMOLED 320x320 display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2GHz processor, plus the usual-for-Android-Wear 4GB's of storage and 512MB's of RAM. It also has IP55 water resistance, which makes the Sony Smartwatch 3 still the best choice if you're planning on getting your watch wet, but it'll survive occasional moisture.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Google Now gets a huge slate of updates for Android Lollipop

Google's new vision of how mobile computing should work, Android 5.0, is rolling out now to some devices, as well as shipping on the Nexus 6 and 9, To complement that massive update, Google's updated their Google Search/Now app for Lollipop with a brand new, colorful design that utilizes the Material Design guidelines. Besides the new look, there's quite a few other enhancements: First off, the "OK Google" command to launch voice control can now work even when your phone's screen is off. Next up, there's now an algorithm that automatically looks for possible event plans in your emails and asks if you want them added to your calendar, which sounds extremely useful. Google's now rolled in a virtual coin toss to help you make decisions by means of a pseudorandom outcome. And finally, voice search will now let you search within apps on your phone, if the developer adds support.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Google is doubling every dollar given to help fight ebola

Google is well known for their philanthropic endeavors, and now they've launched yet another: For every $1 that is donated through the website they've set up, Google will give $2. The money will be split between Doctors Without Borders,the International Rescue Committee, Partners in Health, and Save The Children. And of course, Google will cover all the processing and transaction fees as well.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sony Smartwatch 3 now available through Google Play, brings full waterproofing and a heart rate sensor

Sony's first Android Wear smartwatch, the Smartwatch 3, has just launched on Google's Play Store and brings some unique features. It's not quite as good looking as the Moto 360 or as high end as the G Watch R, but if you're looking for a watch that can double as a fitness tracker it may be your best bet. There's full waterproofing as opposed to the water resistance of the 360 and most other options, built in GPS, a selection of different colored rubber sport bands, and a heart rate sensor. That's in addition to a 1.6" 320x320 display and the usual half a gig of RAM and 4GB's of storage. The processor is an unspecified 1.2GHz dual core ARM Cortex A7 chip.
The latest wearable from Sony will cost you $249, which gives it some stiff competition: The round, elegant Moto 360 is the same price, the smaller Pebble Steel which works with iOS as well as Android is $50 less, as is the upcoming, sleek-looking ASUS Zenwatch. Not to mention that the LG G Watch 3, which also has a heart rate sensor and a slightly better processor, if a somewhat overly-complex design, is only $50 more. On the other hand, given the staid design and lacking features of the first LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live and Gear 2, I would take this over any of those despite their lower price points.
Also: I have literally no idea what's going on with the model's pants in the press image above.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

LG G3 will get Android 5.0 Lollypop next week, starting in Poland

If you own LG's 2014 flagship phone, the G3, you're in for a treat: LG has just announced that they're starting the roll out of the Android 5.0 Lollypop upgrade next week. This means it's actually getting the update before the Nexus 5, 7 or 10, or any Google Play Edition phones, which is quite impressive.
The rollout is starting in Poland, and will continue to other markets as soon as possible according to LG.

Friday, November 7, 2014

LG G Watch R now available for a steep $299 with a heart rate sensor & circular screen

Motorola's Moto 360 is no longer the only round smartwatch in town. LG's second Android Wear-running device has just launched on the Google Play Store, and it has a completely circular 1.3" OLED display. There's also a heart rate sensor, Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor and the standard 4GB's of storage. In my opinion the Moto 360 is still quite a bit more elegant looking, and retails for $50 less at $249, though it will run you the same $299 if you opt for a metal band.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Amazon's Echo is an invitation-only Bluetooth speaker with a built in voice assistant

Amazon's been on something of a product/service-releasing binge of late, with the Fire TV, Fire Phone, Fire TV Streaming Stick, loads of new Kindles, Kindle Unlimited, and Prime Photos all launching recently. Today, they've announced perhaps the weirdest device yet, the Echo. Basically, it's a Bluetooth speaker, like the many from Jawbone, Bose, Beats, Sony, Logitech and others. But it's got a few other tricks up the old metaphorical sleeve, namely a voice assistant similar to Siri, Google Now, or Cortana. And there's internet connectivity baked in so that Amazon can update it remotely and it can play music for you from Amazon Music or iHeartRadio without any other device connected.
Strangely, it's only available by invitation so far; You have to go to Amazon's page for the Echo and request an invite to buy the device, which will cost $99 for Prime members or $199 for everyone else.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

HP returns to the gaming laptop space with the Omen

10 years ago, HP bought boutique gaming PC startup Voodoo PC, but within 3 years had discontinued all products with any Voodoo influence. Today, they're bringing back the Omen badge that was used on many Voodoo laptops, for the first gaming laptop from Palo Alto's finest in quite a while. The new Omen is a machined aluminum, 4.68 pound 15" laptop with a custom hinge and ventilation system that HP says will let the CPU and GPU run at full speed more of the time. Speaking of components, it's based around Intel's Core i7 Haswell quad core chips, with an NVidia GeForce GTX 860m handling graphics duties  and 8 or 16GB's of RAM. There's also a 128, 256 or 512GB SSD on board alongside a 1920x1080p 15" touchscreen.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Samsung's crazy Galaxy Note Edge will launch in the US on November 14th

The Galaxy Note Edge takes one of this year's best phones, the Galaxy Note 4, and adds a bend to the screen that essentially gives you a secondary little strip of display. This can be used to shove UI elements off of the main screen, launch apps without returning home, show stocks or the weather, and various other gimmicky but potentially useful things. It'll cost you a pretty penny though: $950 unlocked or $399 on contract through AT&T, with other carriers announcing launch plans soon.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Watch the Avengers try to lift Thor's hammer while off duty


If you're like me, you've been watching the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer pretty much on repeat since it came out, and analyzing every aspect. Now, Marvel's put up a new version that adds a hilarious scene of the full Avenger's team(Thor, Stark, Rogers, Banner, Barton, Romanoff, Hill, Rhodes) lounging around what I believe is one of Stark's buildings. Thor plops down Mjolnir, his legendary hammer on the table, and a variety of people try to lift it, including... oh just watch the video.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Alienware 13 refreshed with 1" frame, external GPU enclosure

External GPU's are a great concept - you can have a thin, light laptop that can become way more powerful just by plugging in a peripheral - but haven't caught on very broadly. The excellent Sony VAIO Z had one, and many people have hacked them together for Macbooks and various other devices, but that's about the extent of their adoption so far.
That changes now, with Dell's gaming branch Alienware unveiling a "Graphics Amplifier" for their latest Alienware 13 laptop. Essentially, it's an 8 pound, $299 rectangle that connects to the laptop via a custom PCI/USB cable and allows you to insert any NVidia or AMD desktop graphics card that uses 375 watts of power or less. This is pretty awesome for a gaming laptop, as it allows you to update your GPU without having to replace the entire laptop, or vice versa(as long as you stick with Alienware.)
The amplifier also adds 4 USB 3.0 ports to the already respectable 3 on the Alienware 13.
As for the laptop, it starts at $999 with a measly 1366x768 resolution screen but you can upgrade that to a 1920x1080p or 2560x1440p touchscreen panel. There's Intel's Core i5-4210U CPU, NVidia's GeForce GTX860m GPU, 8 or 16GB's of RAM, and either a 500GB or 1TB hard drive or a 256GB SSD. There's also stereo speakers with Creative Sound Blaster audio processing, a backlit keyboard and both HDMI and mini Displayport. The laptop itself is the thinnest Alienware yet at 1" thick with a carbon fiber composite frame.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Amazon Fire TV Stick takes on the Chromecast at $39 or $19 for Prime members

Amazon's Fire TV set top box is apparently doing quite well, and the selection of apps and games for it has swelled to over 600(from less than 200 at launch.) But at $99, it costs quite a bit more than the Google Chromecast or entry level Roku models. Not to mention that it faces stiff competition from the identically priced the forthcoming Apple TV, Roku 3 and forthcoming Google Nexus Player.
So the Seattle-based retail giant has unveiled the Fire TV Stick, which keeps the remote, voice control, casual gaming capability, and screen mirroring of the normal Fire TV, but cuts the price. It costs $39, or just $19 for Amazon Prime members, which is rather amazing. And the dual core processor, 1GB of RAM and 8GB's of storage are more equivalent to an Apple TV or Roku 3 than the comparatively priced Roku Streaming Stick or Google Chromecast.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Android Wear gains GPS, local music playback to welcome the Sony Smartwatch 3

Google's wearable platform, the aptly-named Android Wear, is getting its first major software update. The biggest feature addition is support for using GPS built into the watch instead of having to rely on a paired phone for location tracking. This is a perfectly timed addition given that Sony's new Smartwatch 3(which features GPS) is launching soon.
Next up, the music player can now actually... play music, instead of just acting as a fancy remote for your phone. With the 4GB's of storage in most smartwatches, you won't be keeping your whole music collection, but it should be perfect for hearing a workout playlist while using that GPS tracking on a run. And finally, you can pair Bluetooth headphones directly with the watch now.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ridley Scott-directed Halo: Nightfall series gets its first trailer


Halo Nightfall, an episodic series from acclaimed director Ridley Scott(Aliens,) is going to be released alongside the Halo Master Chief Collection on November 11th. That's coming right up, so we've gotten our first full-length trailer for it, showing some action and the characters and sets. 
One question remains: How precisely can someone stop being a Spartan?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Spotify launches $14.99 a month family subscription

Spotify hasn't had a huge amount of success getting people to sign up for their premium subscriptions, despite the many benefits they offer, but their newest offering might be the best yet. The new Spotify Family plan costs $14.99 a month(as opposed to $9.99 a month for a Spotify Premium account) with 2 users, $19.99 for three, $24.99 for 4, etc. Essentially, you get a $5 a month discount per extra user, which adds up to a $20 a month savings at the max 5 user plan. Best of all, you actually get separate accounts, meaning your family member who only listens to your least favorite band won't mess up your account's recommendations. Plus, unlike if you have one account with multiple users by sharing your password, everyone can listen at the same time. And you get all the other benefits of a Spotify Premium account, including no ads, local cacheing, full mobile usage, and higher. Competitors RDio and Beats Music have offered family plans for quite a while, but services such as Google Music All Access and Apple iTunes Radio do not, so Spotify has a new differentiator here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Google's HTC Nexus 9 and ASUS Nexus Player are now up for preorder

The fall 2014 Nexus lineup was announced on Wednesday, and now you can actually plunk down money for two of the three members. The gorgeous HTC Nexus 9, which as you might suspect is a 9" QHD tablet(complete with front facing stereo speakers and super fast performance,) costs $399. You can also pay $479 for an identical model with 32GB's of storage, and there's a $599 LTE version coming later.
Meanwhile, the $99 ASUS Nexus Player set top box/casual game console/fancy Chromecast is also up for pre order with an included $20 Google Play gift card for free. There's also an optional game controller for an extra $39.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

All Sony Xperia Z devices, NVidia Shield tablet will get Android Lollypop

Yesterday Motorola was first out of the gate with news about Android 5.0 Lollypop updates for their devices, but now Sony and NVidia have chimed in. If you've got any member of Sony's Xperia Z series, you will be getting the update, at least eventually. That includes the Z3, Z3V, Z3 Compact, Z3 Tablet Compact, Z2, Z2 Tablet, Z1, Z1 Compact, Z1S, Z Ultra, Z, Z Tablet, ZR, ZL, and Z Ultra Google Play Edition. That last one will receive the update first, followed by the Z3 series and Z2 in early 2015.
NVidia's gaming focused Shield Tablet will also be getting the update, and possibly other new features as the tweet making the announcement mentioned "and more."


Apple Mac Mini(2014) gets a price cut and spec boost, plus Thunderbolt 2

The Mac Mini is Apple's cheapest computer, but it hadn't been updated in quite a while, making it not the best value. Today in their iPad Air 2/Retina iMac event, they finally changed that, with the 2014 Mac Mini. Perhaps the most important change is the $100 price drop, which means Apple now has a computer for under $500 again. And even at that level, it has better specs than the lower end of the old range, with Intel's Haswell Core i5, running 2 cores at 1.4GHz with 4GB's of RAM and a 500GB HDD. You can update that all the way up to a dual core Core i7 at 3.0GHz with 16GB's of RAM and a 1TB solid state drive, with a variety of standard configurations in between. Sadly, there's no more quad core or server-oriented options available.

Apple iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 are have TouchID, super thin frames and are faster

The iPad Air 2 is an iterative upgrade over last year's model - if this was an iPhone, it'd probably be called the Air S - but that doesn't make it a bad device. Apple's crammed a brand new A8X SoC that's 40% faster than the Air inside a frame that's just 6.1mm(0.24") thick, while maintaining the same battery life. There's also TouchID, which due to iOS 8 can now be used to authenticate payments in 3rd party apps as well as unlocking the system. It's available in white, space grey or gold, and has an 8MP camera on the back, a larger sensor for the web cam, and faster WiFi and LTE. And finally, they've changed the display to have optically bonded components for no air gaps and an anti-reflective coating.
The iPad Mini 3, on the other hand, got just a few seconds of attention at today's keynote, perhaps because it's even more of a minor update. There's TouchID, the faster wireless chip from the Air, a gold option, and that's about it. No new camera, better display or A8 processor. In fact, since the iPad Mini 2 is still around for $100 less, that's a better deal unless you really, really need a fingerprint reader on a gold-colored tablet.
As for pricing, from the top down: The iPad Air 2 costs $499 for 16GB's, $599 for 64GB's(yes, there's no more 32GB configuration) or $699 for 128GB's, with LTE models adding $130 to those prices. The iPad Air now costs $399 for 16GB's or $449 for 32, with LTE again adding $130. The iPad Mini 3 is also $399 for 16GB's, with 64 and 128 running $499 and $599 respectively and the usual LTE surcharge. An iPad Mini 2 is maybe the best deal of the bunch if you can't afford an Air 2, at $299 or $399 for 16 and 32 GB's plus $130 if you need cellular data. And finally, the aging original iPad Mini, with a non-Retina 1024x768 display and A5 CPU,

is $249 with 16GB's of storage.