Thursday, February 4, 2016

Lenovo Yoga 700 review

Lenovo's original Yoga was a massive hit, and the key design element, that super useful 360 degree hinge, has now spread across much of their product portfolio as well as several competitor's similar models. That places the actual Yoga series in a weird place: If a bunch of ThinkPads, IdeaPad Flex models, other Yoga's, and HP's x360, along with various other options share your main differentiation point, it's no longer a unique selling point. Lenovo replied to that conundrum late last year by unifying their Yoga portfolio to two models, with the high end 900 series also offering a bunch of other selling points and the 700 having solid specs for an affordable price. Is their anything left to make the Yoga 700 stand out though? Maybe not as much as a couple of years ago,but regardless, I found it to be a solid laptop.

Performance: Unlike the Yoga 900, the 700 is a solidly midrange computer. However, in 2016 that means you're getting a pretty decent machine; The Intel 6th generation Skylake Core i5-6200U processor runs at a decent clock speed and handled Chrome, Eclipse, Filezilla and Notepad++ with aplomb. That was likely also helped by the 8GB's of DDR3-1600MHz RAM and ultra fast 256GB SSD. Despite the excellent all around performance, you won't be playing current generation games at high settings - if you want an ultrabook that can handle Fallout 4, Razer's Blade Stealth might be more your style. You'll be paying a lot more money and need an external GPU enclosure, however.

Display, keyboard, trackpad and ports: The centerpiece of any laptop is the display, and while the Yoga 700 may not have a fancy 3- or 4K panel, what it does feature is a 1920x1080p touchscreen at 14". In other words, it has a very nice but not amazing screen, which is just what a midrange laptop should have. I streamed Mark Wahlberg's The Gambler on the 700 and, while the movie was somewhat disappointing, it looked excellent. The trackpad also works quite well, and you get more ports than I typically expect on an ultrabook. I do have some issues with the keyboard; There's an annoying row of keys for home, page down, etc along the right edge that got in the way when speed typing, and the backlight only has one setting.

Software: Windows 10 is an excellent OS in my opinion, especially on a laptop/tablet hybrid like any of the Yoga line. I still prefer mobile operating systems on tablets, but that's inconsequential to this review since the 14" Yoga with its permanently attached keyboard is hardly a traditional tablet. As for customizations, there's the usual Lenovo suite of bloatware apps and the always-annoying McAfee antivirus, but that's all easily fixed by a fresh install of Windows. Normally I would recommend getting the Yoga from a Microsoft Store as they have clean installs, but the Yoga 700 isn't offered, only the 900 and last generation Yoga 3 Pro.

Design: The Yoga 900 is a gorgeous machine, practically a work of art. The Yoga 700 has almost identical specs other than the display for $400 less. What do you think they cut? If you guessed the design, that would be right. I'm not saying the 700 is a bad looking computer, because it isn't. Plus it has that previously-discussed Yoga hinge, which is awesome for movie watching, using the device as a cookbook, and many other reasons. But its also somewhat boring, with a simple black design, relatively thick chassis and plastic(though still solid) build.

Wrapup: The 700 starts at $849 through Lenovo's online store, That comes with either the i5-6200U or a higher end i7 for the same price right now due to a sale. You can also get it for $50 less through Best Buy. That puts it squarely in competition with the HP Envy x360 and excellent Dell XPS 13. With the HP, you get the same 360 degree hinge, a snazzier design and a larger 15" display, but it weighs somewhat more and has a far slower spinning hard drive instead of an SSD. The Dell, meanwhile, is a much smaller laptop despite only giving up an inch of screen real estate due to its thin bezels, and it has an excellent design and build quality. The specs are mostly similar(and can be configured much higher, to compete with the Yoga 900) but it lacks a touchscreen unless you spend much more and can't rotate all the way around.
In other words, if you want a Yoga and don't want to spend $1200, the 700 is an excellent laptop - but I wish they'd reduced the software bloat.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Good deal: High capacity 128GB iPad Mini 3 on sale from Best Buy for $349 today

If you have a positively massive library of music and movies, use a tablet in the field for giant RAW photo files, or have immense quantities of iOS games, Best Buy has a pretty great deal right now. The iPad Mini 3, with its 7.9" Retina display, A7 processor and Touch ID fingerprint reader, may be one generation out of date but it's still a good small tablet. And the high capacity 128GB version normally costs $599, so Best Buy's limited-time $250 discount is pretty great. Especially if you happen to have a Best Buy gift card laying around and their rewards program, this might end up being one of the best iPad sales of recent memory.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Lenovo Y900 Desktop Review

The Y700 laptop I recently reviewed is the backbone of Lenovo's gaming efforts, but they're also expanding into the hardcore desktop market, not to mention the profitable gaming peripheral area. Their top of the line Y-series desktop is the subject of today's review, and it's a pretty nice piece of kit, from the aggressive but not totally absurd case to an unlocked Intel Core i7-6700K, one of the best processors available right now. Now, why you would ever buy a pre-built gaming desktop instead of making one yourself I don't know, but if that's where your interests lie, read on for how this one stacks up.

Specs: The Y900 is the most powerful computer to cross my reviewing desk to date. Specifically, my configuration has an insane 8 core, 4.0GHz unlocked Intel Core i7-6700K 6th Generation Skylake CPU. If all that jargon doesn't mean anything to you, just trust me: This thing is fast, and the benchmark results agree  - It scored in the top 8 of all desktop CPU's ever made on Novabench. Sure, there's faster CPU's you can get, especially within Intel's Xeon lineup, but you don't really need one for gaming. There's also a 128GB SSD and 2TB's of slower HDD storage. As for the(even more important) graphics card, Lenovo went with an NVidia Geforce GTX 970, along with the slot and power to add another if you wish. Again, it did excellently on Novabench(top 7 this time) and handled the Heaven graphical benchmark quite well as well. As for real-world usage, Titanfall doesn't have exactly punishing graphics, but it's something that a non-gaming PC can't handle even on medium settings. The Y900, meanwhile, purred smoothly through a succession of maps with every single setting maxed out.
But not everything's perfect: Though the RAM is of the brand new DDR4 variety, there's only 8GB's, which is frankly ridiculous for a high-performance PC these days. There's also no Bluray drive, just a DVD burner.

Ports, peripherals and expandability: Quite possibly my favorite part of the Y900 is that it comes with a little booklet explaining how to upgrade or replace anything from the processor to the RAM. It also has a nifty lever to open the case, and pretty well designed cable management internally. There's 4 USB 3.0  ports, a full size SD card slot, headphone and mic connectors on the front, and a huge selection of ports on the back; USB, audio, Ethernet, 3 Displayport connectors, HDMI, and DVI are all represented. However, I have to knock Lenovo for the lack of a USB 3.1 Type C connection.
As for peripherals, they aren't included, but Lenovo shipped me the same gaming mouse and headset as with the Y700 laptop, plus a keyboard. I'm still not a huge fan of either the mouse or the headset, but the keyboard is pretty sweet. It's mechanical, backlit, has a huge number of shortcut keys that are even separate from the Fn keys, and a nice layout. Just be forewarned: It's quite noisy.

Design: Black and red better be your favorite two colors if you're interested in Lenovo's Y series devices, as the entire portfolio of products are decked out in a color scheme that'd make Darth Vader happy. The Y900 is no different, a giant ATX form factor tower in matte black with red LED illumination(yes, there's an LED control center app) festooned everywhere and tons of angles. It's definitely a slightly over the top gaming machine, but it doesn't go as crazy as some and the tower itself feels extremely solid. It also has plenty of ventilation and an angled window showing you the glowing green GeForce card and red power supply, which is rather cool in my opinion.

Software: I'm developing a rather intense dislike of McAfee's antivirus software suite, which is bundled on most Lenovo's. It's constantly running scans, installing updates, warning about new network connections, prompting a subscription renewal or otherwise distracting me and sapping performance. Other than that inclusion, the Y900 has Windows 10 with a few Lenovo and NVidia tools, which is pretty much what you want on a gaming desktop. I really like Windows 10's game streaming feature, which I used to play a bit of the Xbox One version of Star Wars Battlefront on the Y900.

Wrap up: The Y900 starts at $899, but that's with no dedicated graphics card and 4GB's of RAM - in other words, you aren't getting a competent gaming PC. The configuration I've been reviewing costs $1599, which would of course get you a lot of nice components if you were building your own PC. If you're only looking at off the shelf solutions(with their support,) however, it's not a bad deal. Dell/s XPS 8900 Special Edition is one of the best competitors, with either a slightly lower end CPU and no SSD but twice the RAM and a Bluray drive for $250 less or the same CPU, 3x the RAM and a slightly slower GPU for $200 more. They do offer $200 off the Oculus Rift if you buy an XPS, however. For $20 more with twice the RAM and a Bluray drive plus a larger SSD but more importantly an older, slower CPU, the HP Envy Phoenix is also decent competition.
I don't think you'll be disappointed with a Y900, however.

Monday, January 11, 2016

2017 Infinity Q60 brings new looks, three new engines

The Infinity Q60(formerly and more famously known as the G35 & G37) has long been a solid luxury coupe with sporting credentials and a huge aftermarket community, but it was growing quite long in the tooth. That changes with the revised 2017 version, which looks all new, has an updated interior, and most importantly has a new powertrain lineup. Starting at the top: Infinity's new twin turbo 3.0 liter V6 will produce 400hp and get an estimated 22MPG. There will also be a lower tuned version of the same mill producing 300HP, and an entry level turbo I4 that makes 208HP but gets 24MPG. That last motor is actually a Mercedes engine that has previously starred in the Mercedes CLA, GLA and Infinity QX30. Safety features include lane departure assistance, 360 degree AroundView monitoring, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision breaking, & everything else you'd expect from a 4 Series/C Class/ATS competitor.

The interior is almost exactly the same as the Q50 sedan, just shrunken a bit. That means it's a relatively nice place, with active noise cancelling, two touchscreens(instead of one larger unit, for unknown reasons) in the center console, and Infinity's spinal support seats.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Buick Avista Concept is a 400hp, RWD coupe

Buick is having trouble getting over the reputation that from the late 90's until just a few years ago they rightfully deserved: That of being slow, ugly, overstuffed cars that your grandparents drive 10MPH below the speed limit on a road with no passing lane. That's a shame though, because between the Regal and the Verano, they actually make some pretty great entry luxury, semi-sporty sedans that compare favorably to Acuras and the low end from the German Three. Public connotation is hard to change, however.
One way to do it is through flashy new concepts with big marketing pushes, and that's just what last year's Avenir and this Avista Concept are for. So what is the Avista? Well first of all, just look at it. That's a legitimately gorgeous car in my opinion, and not just for a Buick. Much more importantly, though, is that it's based on the Alpha platform, which underlies the excellent 6th gen Camaro and handles-better-than-a-3-Series Cadillac ATS. Besides that, there's a 400HP twin turbo V6, rear wheel drive, and an 8 speed transmission handling the important parts. The interior is pretty concept car-ish, with swooping touchscreens and lots of carbon fiber, as are the touchpad door handles, but mostly the Avista looks almost ready to ship. Please do so, Buick.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Acer Aspire Switch 12 S has Thunderbolt 3, 4K display, wordy name

Acer's latest high end convertible tablet, with Intel Core M processors and a 12.5" display with either 1920x1080p or 4K resolution, complemented by a keyboard dock that adds multiple ports. Perhaps more interestingly, it has a USB 3.1 Type C port that doubles as a Thunderbolt 3 connection with a bandwidth of 40GBps, allowing an external graphics card enclosure. There's also 4 or 8GB's of RAM, 128 or 256GB's of storage, and an aluminum chassis. It'll start at $999 in February.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Game of Thrones returns April 26th

There isn't a whole lot to say about this other than that there are 108 days left until we can return to Westeros and the nearby realms. The 6th season is also coming before the next book from George R.R. Martin, so I'll no longer be able to smugly laugh at my show-watching-only friends when they freak out over a twist.
Veep and Silicon Valley will also start up again, airing immediately after Game of Thrones on HBO.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Alienware's 13" laptop to get an OLED display this Spring

The Alienware 13 just got a refresh with Intel Skylake relatively recently, so it isn't time for an all new model yet. That isn't stopping Dell's gaming branch from adding a rather cool new feature though: An optional Samsung-made organic light emitting diode or OLED panel, which are known for their brilliant colors and deep blacks, among other differences from normal LCD displays. The price is yet to be announced, but Alienware is also running a campaign where if enough people use the hashtag OLEDinRED on social media, they'll also add a special edition red Alienware 13.

The Chevrolet Bolt looks like the future

Pure electric vehicles other than the $70000+ Tesla Model S have so far been confined to a range of less than 100 miles, which is just not enough to be your primary car for people who take road trips or have long commutes. That's why the Chevy Bolt is an extremely important product: It's an EV that'll cost roughly $30,000 after tax breaks with a 200 mile range. It also has a new LG-made 10.2" infotainment screen with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, that early reports suggest is one of the best on any car. There's also a slightly-less-than 7 second 0-60 acceleration time(exact details aren't available) and a practical if not amazing looking compact CUV design.

Update: The base price has been announced as $37,500. That's steep, but it will(barely) meet their :"$30k after rebates" claim.

Intel Compute Stick is an entire computer the size of a large flash drive

Intel's crazy-small Compute Stick debuted at last year's CES as a tiny HDMI dongle with one USB port that packed an entire Windows computer inside. This year, they've bumped up the specs and added a second USB port as well as enhanced the networking support.
You can get a 2nd gen Compute stick with a new Atom x5 quad core 2.2GHz processor, 2GB's of RAM and 32GB's of storage, or with a faster Core M3 or M5 processor, 4GB's of RAM and 64GB's of storage. The Atom variant has 2 USB ports on the stick itself, while the Core M versions have one there and two on the separate power module. All versions have 802.11ac 2x2 WiFi antennas, with Windows 10, and the lineup starts at $159.

Dell's new Latitude & Ultrasharp lineups are unified around USB Type-C, good displays

Dell just announced a whole bundle of new laptops, tablets and monitors at CES, mainly in their business-focused lineup. By far the craziest product of the list is the UltraSharp 30 OLED, which as the name suggests is a 4K OLED monitor at 30 inches. The OLED part is important - they're common on smartphones as it's not too hard to make a small panel, and as of last year are taking off in TV's, where people are willing to pay a couple thousand for a nice display. Up to now though, you haven't been able to get a laptop or desktop OLED monitor. That's changing with Lenovo's new X1 Carbon, Samsung's Galaxy TabPro S, Alienware's 13 OLED, and now this UltraSharp. Besides the panel technology, it has super thin bezels, a 0.1ms response time, USB Type-C and of course 4K. Unfortunately, it'll also cost  $4,999 when it ships this March.
On the lower end, there's two UltraSharp InfinityEdge monitors, a 23.8" 1080p and 27" Quad HD version for $349 and $719, respectively. More interestingly, the UltraSharp Wireless lineup consists of $429 23" and $469 24" monitors that both support MiraCast for wirelessly connecting your Windows or Android phone, tablet or laptop. The cheaper 23" version also has wireless charging for your phone in the stand, and built in speakers.

On the laptop front the Latitude 12 7000 series is a 2-in-1 tablet with either a full HD or 4K 12.5" touchscreen, magnesium unibody design, Intel Core M processor, and magnetically-attached backlit keyboard. It has USB Type C, as does the larger Latitude 13 7000 Series, which is essentially an XPS 13 with a thinner, lighter design enabled by a Core M instead of fasster Core i processor. It also has smartcard, fingerprint, and RFID readers. The Latitude 12 and 13 will start at $1049 and $1299, respectively. Finally, there's the Latitude 12 Rugged Tablet, an extremely durable, thick convertible that is aimed at construction workers, military, police and similar users. It'll cost $3299.

BMW i Vision Future Interaction Concept is a beautiful Spyder

The BMW i8 is a gorgeous futuristic electric coupe, but BMW's should always come in a convertible version. That's not quite happening yet for the i8, but the fine folks from Bavaria have a new concept that builds on the previous i8 Spyder concept with some cool tech inside. There's a giant 21" display on the dash that extends from where the normal display would be all the way to the right in front of the passenger. How does the driver control this? With AirTouch, a gesture-based system where you point at the UI element you want to control and push to select. This allows the concept to have exactly zero buttons on the dashboard, which is rather nifty.
But really, just build the i8 Spyder please.

Netflix rolls out in 130 new countries; "Basically everywhere except China"

During their CES 2016 keynote this morning, Netflix casually mentioned that they'd just flipped the switch on their service in 130 countries simultaneously, including India, Russia, Brazil and South Korea. They also added support for 4 more languages to the existing 17.
Meanwhile, they also showed trailers for The Crown, a Downton Abbey-like show starring Matt Smith, and Baz Luhrmann's The Get Down.

They also have a Ricky Gervais movie coming later this year. Oh and yeah: Their stock is now up 6.27% from earlier today.

Samsung Galaxy TabPro S is a Windows tablet with a gorgeous display

It may continue the long Samsung tradition of absolutely terrible names, but the new Galaxy TabPro S actually looks pretty good. It's a Windows tablet that doesn't try to be a full laptop: Instead, it's more like an Android tablet or iPad, in that it's super slim, light, fanless and has just one port. Luckily, said solo connector is of the USB Type C variety, so it can provide power, data transfer and video output all in one, so Samsung will sell a hub with various full size USB and HDMI connections. There's also a keyboard dock, which in a very nice move Samsung will be bundling instead of making you pay extra for, and stylus support though the stylus is not included.

As for specs, you get Intel's Skylake Core M processors, 4GB's of RAM, 10 hours of rated battery life and a 128GB SSD. But the most important aspect is the display. It's a 2160x1440p 12" Super AMOLED panel, and that's why you'd buy this tablet. That said, whether you should buy one or not depends partially on the price, which has yet to be released.

Consumer Oculus Rift will cost $599, ship March 28th

It has been a long road for Oculus from their beginnings as a project at USC to an amazing Kickstarter campaign, building a small company with the help of legend John Carmack, to joining Facebook to the tune of $2 billion. Through all of that, they haven't actually shipped a consumer-facing product. Sure, last year's Samsung Gear VR had some assistance from the folks at Oculus, but in terms of their own VR headset, there's only been a succession of developer beta kits. That all changes on March 28th, when the first real Oculus Rift will ship out. 
The big news, though, is the price: It'll be much more expensive than the dev kits, at $599, though that's still not unreasonable for what it provides. It'll also come in a seriously nice looking hardshell case, with a bundled Xbox controller and custom Oculus remote control, as well as two games. You provide the gaming PC. 
Your move, Sony. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Razer Blade Stealth is a split-personality laptop

Devices that convert into some other mode are a dime a dozen these days. Tablets that become laptops, tablets that become projectors, laptops that become tablets, phones that become laptops that become tablet/laptop hybrids, you get the idea. What's not super common are nice, traditional laptops(with none of the sacrifices to build, usability or size of a hybrid tablet/laptop) that can also gain functionality with a dock. That's the secret of Razer's new Blade Stealth. Like their previous Blade laptops, it's a premium laptop with an extremely nice design, good materials and build quality, a great screen, and decent specs. Hopefully it'll also keep their excellent trackpad and keyboard.

\What it is not, at first glance, is a gaming laptop. Sure, it has individually LED backlit keys for cool color-changing lighting effects, but this is an ultrabook through and through. There's an Intel Core i7-6500U processor, up to a 512GB PCI-E SSD, 8GB's of dual channel RAM, and either a 2560x1440 or 4K 12.5" touchscreen. But the secret is in the connectors: Along with the USB 3.0 and HDMI ports, there's what looks like a normal USB 3.1 Type C reversible plug for power, display output and data transfer. However, it's also a Thunderbolt 3 port, meaning it has 40GBps(yes, gigabyte, not bit) symmetrical bandwidth. And that then allows for the Razer Core, a separate device that lets you slot in any desktop graphics card and provides multiple display and I/O connections, which allows the Blade Stealth to play Fallout 4 or other top notch games. Moreover, you'll be able to upgrade your GPU without replacing the entire laptop. It's a concept that Sony pioneered years ago and Alienware offers now, but the Razer looks at first glance like a better all around implementation.

The Blade Stealth will start at a very reasonable $999 and is available now, but expect upgraded specs and the Razer Core to add substantially to that pricepoint. It's made out of CNC-machined aluminum and weighs 2.75 pounds. The base model has a 128GB SSD, while you can get 256GB's, 4K with 256GB's, or 4K with 512GB's of storage for increases of $200 each time.

Oculus: Rift dev kit Kickstarter backers will get a consumer model for free

If you ponied up for a Rift VR beta dev kit back in the days when Oculus was running their record-setting Kickstarter campaign, you're in luck. The company has decided that it will send a free consumer version of the headset to all of those early backers. It won't be specially designed, but if you're in that lucky group you'll be among the first to get one.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Lenovo and Razer partner for a new gaming lineup

I just finished reviewing the Lenovo Y700 gaming laptop, but it's soon to be complemented by a new Y900 laptop, a bunch of desktops and monitors, and some new peripherals. They're also partnering with gaming industry stalwart Razer, to help design the products and bundle their keyboards and mice.
  • IdeaPad Y900 laptop 17 inch gaming laptops are a dying breed, but Lenovo's adding one to their Y gaming subbrand. The Y900 has an Intel Skylake Core i7 K-series processor, NVidia GTX 980M graphics, and a multi-color backlit keyboard. There's also a turbo button that increases performance by overclocking the CPU with one press.
  • Y900 RE desktop: Here's the Razer partnership: The Y900 is a gaming desktop with dual GTX 970 GPU's, Intel Coire i7 6700K, a 1000 watt power supply, bundled Razer Chroma peripherals, and a starting price of $2299. Stay tuned for a review of the non-Razer edition Y900, which I'm typing this on right now.
  • Y27g RE Curved Gaming monitor: If yesterday's ThinkVision 27 4K monitor/hub is too business oriented for you, the Razer Edition Y27g has programmable color LED lighting, a curved display and a starting price of $399.
  • IdeaCentre 610S It's not a gaming device, but rather a home desktop with a built in projector that'll create a 110" image.

ASUS ZenFone Zoom is a smartphone with 3x optical zoom

Smartphone cameras are evolving at a tremendous rate, and work extremely well these days in most situations. However, there is one major issue with all currently available smartphones: They don't have real zoom lenses, meaning you have to rely on reducing your image quality to get a closer shot. A few failed phones have thrown in a zoom lens, but most have been terrible at nearly everything else. ASUS is using this problem as an opportunity for their latest Android phone, the ZenFone Zoom. Besides the name sake 3x Hoya optical zoom lens, there's a 13MP sensor, dual LED flash, 5MP webcam, Intel Atom quad core 2.5GHz processor, 4GB's of RAM, microSD expansion and 64 or 128GB's of storage. It'll start at $399 unlocked.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 lineup expands with new laptops, a monitor and a crazy transforming tablet

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon has been one of the better high end ultrabooks for a while now with its namesake carbon fiber design, good keyboard and specs, though its had a few tradeoffs. Lenovo's just unveiled the 2016 model in advance of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and while its definitely an iterative update, it also looks like a pretty good one. First off, the X1 Carbon's thinner and lighter at 2.6lbs and 0.66", but adds Intel Skylake Core i7 processors, 16GB's of RAM, and a Samsung M2 SSD that's rated at 5 times the speed of a standard SATA SSD. There's also either 1920x1080 or 2560x1440p displays, a fingerprint sensor, TPM module, and built in LTE-A mobile internet, for a base price of $1299.

Lenovo's also expanded the ThinkPad X1 moniker to refer to an entire range of products; The X1 Yoga is basically an X1 Carbon with the excellent 360 degree Yoga hinge, a touchscreen and stylus support. for $1499 and up. It also has an OLED display, which is quite unusual for a laptop. The X1 Tablet is an Intel Core m7-based Windows tablet that has a keyboard dock, LTE-A radio and a rather clever modular design. You can just slide on various modules, which add either 15 hours of battery life, a projector or a 3D camera.
There's also a new 27" 4K monitor called the ThinkVision X1, which connects using a reversible USB 3.1 Type-C port that both charges your laptop, handles the display output and lets the monitor function as a USB hub. It costs $799.

All Ford's with Sync 3 and new 2017 models will have Android Auto & Apple Carplay

Ford's been rolling a little behind(see what I did there?) its cross-town rivals at GM on the smartphone integration front, despite an early lead with their Sync infotainment systems. Almost every Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac have both Google's Android Auto and Apple's Carplay, not to mention many other manufacturers(Hyundai, Honda and Volkswagen come to mind.)
That's all changing though, as Ford has announced that all Sync 3-equipped Ford/Lincoln vehicles will get a software update with the software, while all 2017 models with Sync 3 will have it built in.
The 2017 Ford Escape will be first off the line with the two Silicon Valley titan's software included, and it'll also come with build in LTE mobile internet.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Lenovo Y700 Review

Gaming PC's went through a long period of near-abandonment by mainstream computer manufacturers, as there simply wasn't a large market for them. Most people's gaming needs were satisfied by a console, while the true hardcore PC gamers would typically build their own machine. That's changing now, lead by a resurgence in the popularit`y of indie games, which are often PC only, and interest in virtual reality devices such as Facebook's Oculus Rift, which requires a PC. Seeing this trend, everyone from Lenovo to Acer and HP to ASUS are launching new gaming lines. Which leads us to today's review, of the Y700 gaming laptop from Lenovo. It's the current mobile flagship of Lenovo's new Y-series gaming line, which also includes desktops, mice, headsets, and even backpacks. But how is it as a laptop?

Obviously, a gaming laptop needs to keep up with the latest and greatest PC games, and preferably even surpass their requirements enough that it'll still be usable in a few years. You also want it to win spec sheet battles against your friends - these computers are the tech world equivalent of a muscle car. The Y700 thus has predictably high end specs, though as a usable laptop, not a barely-portable pseudo desktop, it can't compete on benchmarks with the absolute top end of the market. The model I've been reviewing has an Intel Skylake Core i7 6700HQ, a quad core chip running at 2.6GHz, an NVidia GeForce GTX 960m, 16GB's of DDR4 RAM, and a 1920x1080p touchscreen. There's also both a 120GB SSD for the OS and applications and a 1TB hard drive for media storage, as well as JBL speakers. You can configure it with a 4K(3840x2160) display for an extra $100, which I'd definitely recommend, as well as more or less hard drive/SSD storage.
All of these parts contribute to an extremely fast computer, whether you're playing games or trying to get some work done. Star Conflict, a fast paced starfighter combat game, ran perfectly on maxed-out settings. Meanwhile, with 16GB's of RAM you can actually use Chrome with a decent number of tabs and run the Eclipse Java IDE at the same time, smoothly. Still, as I mentioned at the beginning of this section, gaming laptops should be future proof, and the most important element of that is the GPU; A GTX 960 is a capable graphics card today, but it will become obsolete before the higher end 970 and 980 options in some competitors. They also removed the optical drive, which is not a problem except for the fact that you could previously use that drive bay to install a second graphics card, which would be nice. Ultimately, however, the specs here are excellent.

I hope you like red and black. The Y700 could just as accurately be called Darth Vader's laptop due to its color scheme of alternating matte and glossy black metal, glass and plastic with red accents and lighting. That's not my favorite color scheme, and I typically hue more towards minimalist, sleeker designs, but I still appreciate what Lenovo's going for here. Additionally, besides looking good in a huge, rather Lamborghini-like fashion, the Y700 feels extremely solid. My one main quibble(besides wishing for configurable colors on the keyboard backlight) is the palm rest material, which is a total fingerprint magnet. My roommate has a similar Lenovo Y-series gaming laptop from a few years ago and it shows smudges even more, though, so at least they're making progress.

It's super powerful, looks appropriately menacing, and has great speakers, a good display and an excellent keyboard. There's always something wrong with every product though, at least if you're a reviewer like me looking for the pros and cons. In the Y700's case, it's the default software loadout, to borrow a term from the games its meant to play. They start with Windows 10, a perfectly good OS, but Lenovo's installed an insane amount of bloatware on here. Most annoying is(as always when it's present) McAfee, with it's constant intrusive popups and performance-sapping scans. There's also so many other added, unnecessary software that Lenovo's put two groups in the Start Menu for their tools. It's simply ridiculous.

Display,  keyboard, trackpad & miscellaneous:
The Y700's native habitat: Gaming at Temple Coffee
The 1920x1080p 15.6" panel on the Y700 I've been testing is quite good, with excellent viewing angles and plenty of brightness. Its pixel density isn't as high as I might like, but that's solved by the available 4K option, which sounds great. The keyboard is also typically good Lenovo fare, with plenty of key travel, a comfortable size, and a full numpad on the right. I do wish there was space around the Up key of the arrow keys. The trackpad is weirdly not as good as the one on the $179 Chromebook I tested recently, much less my Macbook Air, but it's functional and you'll likely mainly be using a mouse anyway for gaming. Finally, the port selection is excellent. There's two USB 3.0 ports, a USB 2.0 that can charge devices even when the laptop's asleep, full size HDMI and SD card ports, and even Ethernet.
As I said earlier, there's a whole ecosystem of peripherals to go with the Y series. My review unit came bundled with some 7.1 channel virtual surround sound headphones with a detachable mic, a rather awesome backpack, and a USB gaming mouse. I frankly didn't care for the mouse next to the Logitech or Razer options, but if you get a Y700, the backpack and headset might be nice additions.

The Y700 is one of my favorite laptops I've tried lately, but it does have some strong competition. For $30 less than the $1329 that my configuration would cost you from Lenovo, the ASUS Republic of Gamers GL552 has the same basic specs, but with a few differences. The ASUS has a USB 3.1 Type C port and in my opinion a better design, but lacks a touchscreen and there's no option to upgrade to a 4K display, a major omission. For $1350 you could get an Alienware 15 with Thunderbolt 3, the option to add two external GPU's, the same RAM/storage/GPU, and a carbon fiber chassis, but a much slower Core i5 processor. 
At this price point and target demographic, what computer you buy is something of an emotional decision. Which one do you like best, which brand you've had the best luck with in the past, and similar issues play an important role. But for me, the Y700 hit all the right marks, despite the fact that I'm not typically a fan of gaming laptops at all. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Fossil Q Founder smartwatch now available from $275

Fossil is a dedicated watch company typically, but they just jumped into the Android Wear smartwatch market currently dominated by phone manufacturers, and their entry looks pretty good. It's a round metal model with relatively thin bezels, along with a "flat tire" bottom bar like the Motorola 360 as opposed to the thicker bezels and completely round screen of the LG Urbane. As for specs, there's a standard 1.5" screen with 240ppi, a double-the-norm 1GB of RAM, 400mAh battery, wireless charging, 4GB's of storage and an Intel Atom processor. It'll run you $275 with a leather band or $295 with stainless steel.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Lenovo Chromebook 100S Review

The Chromebook 100S that I'm typing on right now is a full-fledged laptop that can be purchased brand new, with a warranty, for $179. That's a simply amazing price, especially considering that it's a perfectly usable laptop with no glaring deal breakers. It also feels about as well built as you'd expect given the price, and has a rather bad screen, but due to the fact that it runs ChromeOS, it performs excellently.

You can see the pixels on the display...
At a Jackson under $200, you can't expect very high end specs. The Chromebook 100S(C100S from now on) is certainly no cutting edge machine, but it has an Intel Celeron processor, 4GB's of RAM and 802.11ac WiFi. ChromeOS runs quite well on extremely low end machines, so I didn't encounter many performance slow downs. Unfortunately there's also a 1366x768 resolution display, though at 11" it's a perfectly usable resolution - just not a good looking one. You also get a relatively fast storage solution in the form of a 16GB eMMC chip, which since you're running ChromeOS is sufficient. There's also an SD card reader, two USB ports and HDMI, which is a pretty decent port selection for an 11 inch laptop. Battery life is rated at 8 hours, and I actually surpassed that slightly in testing with a mixture of standard web browsing and video streaming.

Luckily, Google doesn't really let you skin ChromeOS, so there's no unnecessary software, irritating interface changes, or other similar problems that typically come with low end, 3rd party manufacturer devices. Which just leaves you with stock ChromeOS, which you'll have to form your own opinion of. For those not familiar, ChromeOS is Google's cloud-centric operating system that offers the Chrome web browser, a file manager, a rather hidden command line terminal, and not much else. In other words, if you're an avid user of Photoshop, Pro Tools, Visual Studio, Xcode, iTunes, or a PC gamer, you're out of look. On the other hand, none of those programs are really usable on a $180 PC anyway except maybe the IDE's, and ChromeOS is fast. It's also extremely power-efficient, there's no danger of viruses or malware, and remote configuration for, say, schools is extremely easy.

The C100S is a perfectly fine looking black matte plastic rectangle, but there's absolutely no exciting design elements. Even Lenovo's business-oriented Thinkpads have their trademark red accents to liven up the designs, so it feels like they just didn't try here. As previously mentioned, there's a decent selection of ports, but that's enabled by a chassis that feels thick and heavy in this age of supermodel-thin Lenovo Yoga 900's, Dell XPS 13's and Apple Macbooks.

Here's somewhere where the C100S is actually better than a fair number of other laptops I've tested. The keyboard doesn't live up to the legendary Lenovo Thinkpad or desktop keyboards I've used, but it has Google's custom layout, which I quite like, and the key travel is quite decent for an 11" laptop. It just feels good to type on, though it is annoyingly noisy when typing at speed. The trackpad is similarly usable, accurate, and quite large, with none of the issues I've experienced on basically every low end Windows laptop.

Wrap up:
I wouldn't personally buy the Chromebook 100S. That's not to say it's a bad computer though - if you're looking for a PC for use as a check in terminal for a business, a research machine for a school, or a second personal machine, it's worth a shot. It also doesn't really have a whole lot of competition at this price point. For $20 more(or $30 less at Best Buy right now) Lenovo will sell you the IdeaPad 100S, an identical machine that runs Windows 10. While some vehement critics of ChromeOS or lovers of local storage may prefer this machine, I would much rather have a Chromebook at this low of a price point due to how efficient the OS is.
HP's Chromebook 11 has almost the same exact specs for the exact same price, but with a design that's more playful(it comes in turquoise, for example) but less professional, and a slightly inferior keyboard. It's hard to crown a victor there. For $229, the Acer Chromebook 13 has a better design, larger full HD screen and better battery life, but less processor speed.
In other words, if price is your biggest concern by a large margin, the C100S is a pretty good option - just please, Lenovo, make the display a little higher resolution and the keyboard less noisy next time.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

River Song returns this Christmas

The Christmas special is a time-honored British television tradition, and in the case of Doctor Who, has often been some of the best episodes of the entire show. Typically in between two series, the Christmas special gives the writers freedom from fitting into an overarching narrative.
BBC has just announced the first hints at this year's Doctor Who special, and it includes the return of one of my all time favorite characters: River Song is coming back. Actress Alex Kingsley will reprise the role, appearing alongside Peter Capaldi as the Doctor for the first time.
Here's the official plot teaser:
"It’s Christmas Day on a remote human colony and the Doctor is hiding from carols and comedy antlers. But when the Time Lord’s help is requested he finds himself recruited into River Song’s squad and hurled into a fast and frantic chase across the galaxy! King Hydroflax (Greg Davies) is furious and his giant robot bodyguard is out-of-control and coming for them all! Will Nardole (Matt Lucas) survive? And when will River work out who the Doctor is?
All will be revealed on a starliner full of galactic super-villains and at a destination the Doctor has been avoiding for a very long time…"

Saturday, November 7, 2015

T-Mobile offering $100 off their 11 best smartphones this month

T-Mobile's getting in on the Black Friday craziness a bit early with their latest deal. If you're thinking of picking up a smartphone from the Magenta carrier, make sure you order it through their website. You'll be able to apply a $100 discount to either an up front or payment plan purchase, which on some devices puts them below their average high quality used Ebay price - but with the option of spreading that payment over 24 months. The Apple iPhone 6S, 6S Plus, 6, 6 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S 6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge Plus, Note 5, Note 4, LG V10, and LG G4 are all included in the sale.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Samsung goes 4K with the Ativ Book 9 Plus

Samsung's strangely-named Ativ Book laptops have been pretty solid options for the last few years, and now they're jumping in on the 4K Ultra HD display trend. The new Ativ Book 9 Plus is the flagship Samsung laptop for the year, with that aforementioned 15.6" 4096x2160 display, powered by Intel's new Skylake Core i7 processors and an NVidia GTX 950m. There's also 8GB's of RAM, a 256GB SSD, the new reversible USB 3.1 Type C connector and a 4.45lb aluminum chassis. It'll start at $1599, and complements the new Ativ Book 9 Spin. That's a 13" ultrabook with a Lenovo Yoga-like 360 degree hinge that also allows you to detach the display, and the same Skylake i7, RAM and SSD. This time around though there's no NVidia GPU and the display is a(still impressive) 3200x1800 resolution panel.