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 That'll net you an(out of date but still blazing fast) Intel Core i7 quad core chip running at 2.5GHz, 16GB's of RAM, an AMD Radeon R9 M370X, GPU, and a 512GB SSD.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.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Tesla Model S gets a new nose, other minor upgrades & the Model X 75D is finally up for order


Tesla's Model S sedan is still an excellent car in a class of 1, but its design is getting a bit long in the tooth. That's presumably why this refresh is coming, with a new front end, different headlights and a few other slight design changes. It's also getting the "Bio-Weapon Defense Mode," ie a cabin air filtration system, that debuted on the Model X crossover, as well as a new 48 amp charger, which should be faster.
Speaking of the Model X, when it debuted, you could only buy one if you'd pre-ordered, and they've been very gradually rolling out more general availability. This continues today, with the public launch of the online configuration tool and the entry level(well, as entry level as a luxury electric SUV with crazy doors can be) 75D version. Unlike the higher end options, this Model X has a 75 kWh battery good for a 237 mile range, 6 second 0-60 sprint and 130 MPH top speed. But in exchange, it has a $85,500(so roughly $75k after tax incentives) base price, $10,000 cheaper than a 90D.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga & T460S Review


I'm trying out a dual review here, since Lenovo sent me two ThinkPad's that are in many ways very similar, yet also have some crucial differences. The X1 Yoga takes the popular Yoga form factor, with its 360 degree hinge, and applies it to the X1, typically Lenovo's top of the line ultra portable for businesses. It's a utilitarian-yet-handsome black slab with a 14" touchscreen, stylus support, amazing keyboard and the signature red trackpoint.
The T460S, meanwhile, lacks the Yoga hinge and pen, but is otherwise very similar. There's nearly the same specs inside, an almost identical 14" touchscreen, and that same great keyboard and trackpoint. It can be had with a discrete GPU, however, and costs roughly $300 less.

Specs: Both my review unit ThinkPad's came with Intel's latest Core i5 processors but can be configured with Core i7's, along with DDR4 2300MHz RAM(4GB's for the T460S, 8 for the X1) and 256GB SSD's. Those are overall decent specs, though I would definitely recommend upping the RAM on the T460 - if you use Chrome, it will rapidly eat up 4GB's. The displays were again the same, with nicely thin bezels that let these 14" laptops be about the same size as some 13" computers. They have a 1920x1080p resolution that looked quite good, but is in this day and age is the minimum I would accept on high end computers. However, both offer a 2560x1440p upgrade option(on the T460S, this requires sacrificing touch capability) and the X1 even has an OLED 2560x1440p panel available. Considering the 2560x1440 display is just $95 more on the T series, or $125 on the X1, go for it.
Overall, I found little to complain about with the specs - these are solid ultrabooks with good performance, displays and storage. The 4GB's of RAM on the T460S is rather ridiculous for a $1000 laptop, but it can be easily and affordably bought with 8, and 12 or even 20GB options are available.

Keyboard, fingerprint reader, radios & ports

  • The T460S has nearly every port you could conceivably want, except perhaps for VGA if you spend a lot of time using out of date projectors, as many business people do. Other than that, you do get HDMI, mini Displayport, USB 3.0, SD, Ethernet(an advantage over the X1) and even a SIM card slot. Yes, both of these laptops have SIM card slots for mobile data, along with the 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1, both of which are the latest versions of their respective protocols. Finally, the touchscreen is fast, responsive and complements the trackpad(which is also quite good) nicely. 
  • The X1 Yoga meanwhile lacks the Ethernet port, but retains everything else and adds the previously mentioned pen. Unlike some manufacturers that offer styli, the ThinkPad pen has a slot that can charge the pen's battery to 80% in 30 seconds, as well as providing somewhere to put it. I'm terrible at handwriting and drawing(I type much faster) so it's not a majorly compelling feature for me, but if you like taking notes by hand, it works quite well.

What both models share: A truly excellent keyboard. I know I mentioned this before, but seriously, I really, really like this keyboard. I have my normal quibble with Lenovo's placement of other buttons around the left and right arrow keys, but otherwise, this is the closest to a perfect typing experience you'll get on a 14" laptop. The other nifty feature that I wish I could have on my Macbook Air, is the fingerprint reader. It's a lot more secure and far easier to use than a password, and it works pretty well - sure, occasionally it couldn't read my finger, but that happened far less than on my Samsung Galaxy S6. It's also a lot faster then the S6 fingerprint reader.


Software
Here's one of the advantages of buying a ThinkPad instead of a consumer laptop: There's basically no bloatware installed. Sure, McAfee is there, and rather annoying in my opinion, but some people would actually consider that a benefit.
Other than that, you have Windows 10, which is still an excellent OS. There's not a whole lot you can do to differentiate yourself as a Windows laptop maker, other than offering a clean install, which Lenovo's pretty much done here.


Wrapup
At right around $1000, the ThinkPad T460S makes a lot of sense. That amazing keyboard and fingerprint reader, combined with the relatively solid specs & legendary ThinkPad build quality, make it my current top recommendation for a business laptop. For comparison, Dell's Latitude 7000 14" has a slower Core i3 processor, terribly low resolution display and otherwise similar specs for slightly more money.
However, the T460S being so good puts the X1 Yoga in an awkward position. When I first started using the two laptops, I much preferred the X1; I really like the 360 degree hinge, the pen is nice, and it just seems like a more modern device. But it's really a quite similar computer overall - yet it costs nearly $400 more. I just don't think the flexibility of the Yoga hinge and the excellent ThinkPad Pen are worth that kind of money. Certainly, if compared to something like Microsoft's Surface Book, which is at least as expensive and has a more awkward convertible design, it makes a bit more sense. But in a world where you can get a T460S or, if you don't need the business-centric features, a Dell XPS 13 or Lenovo Yoga 900 for less than 3/4 of the price, it's hard to justify. Once that OLED screen comes out, things might change however.



Friday, April 1, 2016

Here it is: The Tesla Model 3


Tesla Motors has been promising a car with their unique design, technology, and high range electric capability at a price point far lower then their first vehicles for at least 5 years - and now we've finally gotten our first glimpse of it. At a flashy but short event in Southern California last night, CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Tesla Model 3. It's a size smaller than the Model S, a lot cheaper, and is aimed directly at the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C Class, Cadillac ATS and similar entry-lux sedans. All of this we already knew, but we hadn't seen the design, with its gorgeous(but optional) front-to-back glass roof, grill-less nose, and front and rear trunks. More importantly, though we still don't know the details on specifications, there are some preliminary figures:The slowest base model will do 0-60 in less than 6 seconds and have a minimum 215 mile range on one charge, and have rear wheel drive. It'll also come standard with autopilot and Supercharger support across all models, along with having the largest volume of cargo space for the class, thanks to that front trunk. And it will start at $35,000 when it goes on sale in late 2017. Of course, there will also be higher end models available, including dual motor all wheel drive versions.
Amazingly, before they even had their event, Tesla had already secured 115,000 preorders(with a $1000 reservation fee) from people who hadn't seen the car or learned any details about it at all.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Apple goes smaller with the iPhone SE and iPad Pro 9.7

At what will likely be their last event before moving to their new headquarters, Apple unveiled two new additions to the mobile product portfolio. Perhaps even more interestingly, they announced that 93% of all their facility's energy usage worldwide is powered by renewable sources, which is pretty cool.
As for the products: The iPhone SE is for everyone who complains about how large phones are getting these days, but doesn't want to settle for low end or out of date specs. It's an idea Sony pioneered with their Z1 Compact years back, but a good one. Essentially, it has the specs of an iPhone 6S packed into the body of an old iPhone 5, with a 4" Retina screen with an 1136x640 resolution. Yet despite the iPhone 5-like outside and display, inside there's an Apple A9 processor, M9 coprocessor, NFC for Apple Pay, support for 802.11ac wifi, voice over LTE or Wifi calling, and 150Mbps LTE. There's also the 12MP f2.2 aperture camera with 4K video and LivePhoto support, all for $399 or $13.30 per month on Apple's installment plan. Unfortunately, that base price only gets you 16GB's of storage, which is just ridiculous in 2016 for a phone that can record 4K videos, though you can pay an extra $100 for 64GB's.



The iPad Pro 9.7", or 9.7" iPad Pro, or iPad Mini, no wait that's the 8" one... Apple's tablet naming strategy is getting extremely confusing these days. Regardless, the latest iPad is a ~10" tablet positioned above the existing iPad Air 2, with the stylus support, first person keyboard dock, faster processor and enhanced screen of the giant iPad Pro 12". Specifically, the display is the least reflective of any tablet, something Apple is very proud of that most people will never notice, and intelligently adjusts the white balance to the room you're in. Further, it'll fade out the blue light from the display when it's dark or late, to help you sleep easier after using it.
Inside, it's powered by the Apple A9X processor, which debuted on the larger iPad Pro, and of course has split screen app support. It weighs just 0.96 pounds, and has a 12MP still/4K video camera and HD webcam, along with TouchID. It'll start at $599 with 32GB's of storage space, with 128 and 256GB configurations selling for an extra $150 each, along with the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard and the usual LTE variants also available.
Finally, there's now a 256GB version of the 12" iPad Pro as well for an insane $1099 - yes, that's $300 more than a Macbook Air.


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Slack is getting voice call functionality


Popular team messaging/email replacement app Slack can already initiate voice calls through Google Hangouts and other similar services, but now it's getting native, in-platform support for telephony. For normal users, you'll be able to make one-to-one voice calls for free, while if you have their paid Standard plan or above, you can make conference calls with up to 15 users. 
Nicely enough, Slack's leaving in the easy integration with other voice services, so you won't have to use their version unless it's convenient. Finally, since this is slack, you'll be able to send quick emoji reactions to a everyone in the call.

Monday, February 22, 2016

One of the most interesting phones from MWC is a revival of an old Motorola idea from HP


HP has a long, weird history with mobile devices. They made some very early PDA's and smartphones, running Windows Mobile, long before the iPhone or Android burst onto the scene. Then they stopped for a while. Then, around the turn of this decade, they purchased Palm, the innovative but perpetually down on their luck creators of the first smartphone ever, and webOS, the platform that invented many concepts that Apple and Google are just now catching up to. Yet less than a year after spending well over a billion dollars on Palm, they killed their newly integrated constituent company, stopping all new hardware releases. There were some last gasps from the Palm team within HP in the form of attempts to open source webOS, but essentially it was all over. That was in 2011; Since then, HP has periodically released some rather uninspired Android phones and tablets, that have never garnered any critical or sales success.


Now, though, they're getting back into mobile with a bang - yet abandoning Android for another OS that seems perpetually doomed from a sales perspective: Windows 10 Mobile, the latest version of Windows Phone. This time around, they're resurrecting an old idea with new hardware that should make it actually work pretty well. That idea is to use your smartphone as your main computer, hooking it up to a monitor and keyboard when you need a desktop, or a super thin laptop-like device with no processing power of its own when you want a laptop. It's one that was first thought of, funnily enough, by Palm with their Foleo laptop shell, then later refined quite a bit by Motorola with the Atrix 4G. ASUS has been refining their PadFone lineup, which is based around the same idea for years now. So the HP Elite x3 isn't at all a new concept, but that doesn't make it a bad one. And it's crazily powerful: It's based around a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 octa core CPU, with 4GB's of RAM, 64GB's of storage, up to 2TB's more via microSD, an iris scanner(really!) and fingerprint reader, dual SIMs, and a giant 4150mAh battery. Giant also sums up the device as a whole, seeing as it has a 6", 2560x1440p display, but its docks are nicely compact: The desktop dock is a tiny cradle that provides two USB 3.0 ports, a USB 3.1 Type C port, DisplayPort and Ethernet, while the Mobile Extender has a near-borderless 12.5" display and is appropriately thin. Plus its wireless, unlike previous executions of this modular-computing idea, so you don't have to slot your phone in awkwardly.
In other words, HP's aced the hardware here, but I see two main problems: First, Windows 10 Mobile is a distant 3rd in the smartphone race and as such doesn't have many apps that you want on a phone, and its Continuum dock mode feature is brand new and won't run classic Windows programs. Secondly, it'll likely be extremely pricey. Still, it's a nice phone, Continuum is nifty, and I still think the central idea is a good one.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 Edge: Predictable but excellent

Unlike LG's new G5 with its modular design, rolling robot "Friend" and two rear cameras, Samsung's playing it straight with their flagship refresh this year. That doesn't mean any less engineering effort went into the new Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, though - these are excellent looking devices. First off, they look amazing. My Galaxy S6 is a good looking phone, and the S7 is almost the same, but somehow through subtle little tweaks like making the fingerprint sensor and camera hump less prominent,they look even better. As for specs, the S7 still has a 5.1" 2560x1440 Super AMOLED display, while the S7 Edge has a bigger 5.5" quadHD screen with its namesake curved edges. The back is now slightly curved as well. Inside there's an octa core(2.3GHz quad and 1.6GHz quad) 64 bit CPU, 4GB's of DDR4 RAM, 32 GB's of storage, and a 3000mAh battery. The S7 Edge gets a larger 3600mAh battery, and they both have two features that the Galaxy S5 had but the S6 dropped: A microSD card slot and IP68 certified waterproofing. One omission is the new USB Type-C port that many devices are getting, which is a shame in some ways, considering its faster data transfer and enhanced video and daisy-chaining capabilities. However, Samsung stuck with a micro USB port for what I consider a very good reason: It doesn't break compatibility with the GearVR virtual reality headset, meaning if you already have one designed for an S6, it'll work for the S7. That's a nice move seeing as how they could've made it not work with the old headsets and forced people to buy a new one.

From a software perspective, the S7 duo run Android 6.0 Marshmallow with the latest version of Samsung's Touchwiz software, which has seen a few refinements. It has an always on display feature, like the Moto X or LG G5, which is quite nifty, as well as a revised version of Samsung Pay that supports barcode payments. Meanwhile, one of the most important aspects of a smartphone is the camera, and the S7's sounds good so far. There's a lower resolution then last year at 12 instead of 16MP's, but this enabled larger pixels, which along with a brighter f/1.7 aperture lens, should help low light photography a lot. It's also super fast to start up.

The LG G5 is an ultra high end flagship with modular peripherals

The Mobile World Congress tradeshow in Barcelona started off with a bang this morning as LG unveiled their latest flagship, the G5. LG's top-dog smartphones have been excellent since at least the G3, but they've never really given a very convincing argument for buying them in an ultra competitive segment. It's competitors all have some major advantage - there's the well-specced and better known Samsung Galaxy S line, the gorgeous HTC One, or the cheaper and customizable Moto X, and the iPhone, which is, well, the iPhone. Then of course there's Google's own Nexus devices with their fast updates, Sony's Xperias which look amazing and stream PS4 games, and a slew of Chinese startups undercutting everyone on price.

That may change after today: The new G5 has top notch specs, looks great, and more importantly has a truly compelling differentiator: A set of accessories called "Friends" that add some pretty unique functionality, some even by becoming part of the device directly. But first, the phone itself:
The G5 is a sleek anodized aluminum and glass device with rounded edges and a gently curved display, in your choice of silver, pink, gold or a nice-looking gunmetal grey called "titan." The centerpiece is of course the 5.3" 2560x1440p IPS display, which has a trick backlight that can leave just a tiny bit on at all times in black and white at basically no hit to the battery life. Around back, there's a circular power button/fingerprint reader like on the Google Nexus 6P and 5X, and two cameras. The main shooter is a 16MP unit, and there's also an ultra-wide angle 8MP camera next too it, as well as another 8MP shooter on the front. Inside, there's Qualcomm's latest and greatest Snapdragon 820, 4GB's of DDR4 RAM, and 32GB's of storage. Connectivity includes the new reversible USB Type-C connector, Bluetooth 4.2 with aptX HD for the highest quality wireless audio, and a microSD card slot. Also removable is the 2800mAh battery, which combined with Android 6.0 Marshmallow's battery savings and the more-efficient Snapdragon, should lead to pretty good battery life.


But where it really gets intriguing is the peripherals: There's a button on the side of the G5 that lets you slide the bottom of the phone off, revealing the battery but also allowing you to switch to one of two modules: The CAM Plus, which has a larger 4000mAh battery and physical buttons for the power, shutter, and record features, and a nifty jog wheel for the camera zoom. Meanwhile, the Hi-Fi Plus module is a Bang & Olufsen digital audio converter and amplifier that provides a far higher quality audio output jack, with 32-bit 384KHz HD audio playback. There's also a pretty cool VR goggle device that you can hookup to the USB Type-C port and use to simulate a 130 inch TV, and a 360 degree camera that can upload straight to Google Street View or Youtube. Finally, the Rolling Bot is a spherical robot with an 8MP camera, laser pointer, wifi, microphone and speakers. It's designed for remote home monitoring or torturing playing with your pet from the other side of the world.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Tesla Model 3 to be shown on March 31st, still on track for a 2017 debut


After the many, many delays to their Model X crossover, you could be justified in expecting that Tesla Motors' value play, the mass-market-aimed Model 3 might also be delayed. However, it so far seems to be coming along right on schedule, and we'll finally get to actually see a preproduction version quite soon - March 31st, to be precise.
The Model 3 is expected to launch in 2017 as a 2018 model year vehicle, and be a shrunken Model S competing with the BMW 3 Series, Cadillac ATS, Lexus IS, and similar entry level luxury sedans. But perhaps more importantly, it'll also join the Chevrolet Bolt in the sub-$40k but likely over 200 mile range electric vehicle club.

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.