Saturday, September 20, 2014

Oculus "Crescent Cove" developer kit is one step closer to a consumer release

Oculus VR, the Kickstarter-funded virtual reality startup that was acquired by Facebook for over $2 billion earlier this year, still hasn't shipped a consumer-facing product. What they have released are 2 different developer kit models, and today they announced a third. The new dev kit 3, or "Crescent Cove," finally builds in headphones, as well as a laundry list of other changes. First off, it's lighter, meaning you can wear it for longer without getting fatigue. The motion tracking, meanwhile, is lower latency and is now 360 degree so the camera can track you even if you turn around. None of these are ground breaking additions, but they add up to a significantly refined final product.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablets are faster, thinner, and start at $99

Amazon's lineup of Kindle Fire tablets may not have access to the Google Play Store or Google's apps, are thus hard to use for work, and generally aren't great looking, but they have two huge advantages: Really top notch specs for extremely low price points.
The late 2014 lineup introduces a couple of all new models as well as upgraded existing tablets. The Kindle Fire HD 5 is one of those new models, and as you might expect it has a 6" screen, giving it a rather unique form factor. In fact, it's almost more like a phablet without the phone radio, which when combined with the 5 bright colors and kid-oriented software features makes it something of an iPod Touch competitor. There's a 1.5GHz quad core processor from MediaTek, Dolby Digital Plus sound, a 2MP camera and VGA webcam, 8 or 16GB's of storage for $99/$119, and a 1280x800 6" screen.
On the software side, it's running Amazon's latest "Sangria" Fire OS 4.0, which is layered over Android 4.4 KitKat. It's compatible with Family Library, X-Ray, ASAP(which downloads Amazon videos you might like,) and FreeTime Unlimited, a $2.99 a month service that lets you access 5000 kid-oriented movies, games and books.
The Kindle Fire HD 7, meanwhile, is essentially the same device for $139 at 8GB's or $159 for 16GB's. There's a 7" 1280x800 display and the same 5 color options available.

The top of the line Kindle Fire HDX line, meanwhile, has only seen an upgrade to the 8.9" version, not the smaller 7" edition. That HDX 8.9 is quite the spec monster now, though at $379 I find it harder to forgive Amazon's custom OS'es limitations, which remove all Google apps and Play Store and constantly steer you towards buying stuff from Amazon.
If you're OK with all of that, and the rather uninspired design, this is the best Kindle Fire ever. There's now a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 2.5GHz quad core CPU, an 8MP camera, 2GB's of RAM, a 2560x1600 339 pixels per inch display, and dual stereo speakers with Dolby Digital Plus. Software is the same Sangria Fire OS 4.0 as on the lower end models, with the added bonus of Amazon's Firefly service for taking a picture of something and instantly buying it from Amazon. There's also the Mayday video help service, just like last year. That's all wrapped into a 0.3" thick frame in your choice of 16, 32 or 64GB's with or without 4G LTE. Amazon will also sell you a nice looking "Origami" case that also functions as a stand, and a new Bluetooth keyboard that magnetically snaps to the device.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Amazon Kindle Voyage is the highest resolution ever, new base Kindle finally has touch

Amazon has just revamped their entire Kindle line, from the basic $79 e-ink Kindle up to the Kindle Fire HDX. But perhaps the most interesting entry is the new Kindle Voyage, a high end model that slots above the Kindle Paperwhite but is still a dedicated ereader with an e-ink display. That display may still be a black and white panel with adaptive front lighting, but it's been massively improved. It's now much higher resolution at 300 pixels per inch, with improved contrast, and the front light adjusts to your room's brightness. In fact, if it detects that you're reading in the dark it will slowly turn the brightness down as your pupils dilate.
There's also a new control mechanism which lets you squeeze the sides of the device to turn pages. It's the thinnest Kindle ever at .30"(7.6mm,) has 4GB's of storage built in and will cost $199 or $259 with 3G.

Meanwhile, the new entry level $79 Kindle has a faster processor and finally ditches the clumsy buttons for a touchscreen. All of the Kindle's support X-Ray, Kindle Unlimited(essentially Netflix for books,) a new vocabulary builder, and Family Library, which lets you read books another family member has purchased.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Panasonic Lumix CM1 is an Android phone with a better sensor than most compact cameras

Panasonic bowed out of the smartphone race a few years ago, but now they're coming back with a bang. The Lumix CM1 has an amazing 1 inch sensor, the same size as in a Nikon 1 Series mirrorless camera, pared with an f/2.8 Leica lens. There's even a physical manual focus ring, not to mention a 20MP resolution and 4K video capability.
As for the regular phone aspect, it's an Android 4.4 KitKat device with a 4.7" 1920x1080p screen, Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 and 2GB's of RAM plus all the radios you would expect. The 16GB's of built in storage is thankfully helped out by a microSD card slot that supports up to 128GB's.
It's on the large side, with that bulky camera ring sticking out, and will cost €900, but it's quite good looking and that manual focus ring is completely unique on a phone.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Dell Venue 8 7000 is ultra thin with tiny bezels on 3 sides and top notch specs

Sony's Z3 Tablet Compact was one of the thinnest tablets we've seen when it was announced last week, but now it's been surpassed by Dell, whose Venue 8 7000 Series is an incredible 6mm(0.23".) Dell's claiming it's the thinnest tablet in the world, and I don't see any reason to dispute that claim so far. Plus, it's got an interesting design where 3 sides have almost no bezel around the screen and the 4th provides a large area for both electronics and easy handling. It lends a somewhat awkward but very futuristic and sleek look to the tablet, though I prefer Sony's entry overall from a design perspective.
Dell's latest backs up those good looks with great specs though, featuring a 2560x1600 8.4" OLED display and an Intel Atom Z3500 CPU. But most intriguingly, there's something called Intel RealSense, which uses 3 cameras on the back to allow depth sensing, and thus refocusing after the fact among other benefits.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are 4.7 and 5.5 inch, super thin phones with mobile payments

Apple's new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are simultaneously not that different from iPhones past, yet in some ways are a complete sea change. That's because on one hand, they made the screen bigger, updated the camera and processor, and added NFC for mobile payments. But on the other hand, Apple's completely changed their strategy. Instead of offering just one high end iPhone, there are now two flagships. Instead of rejecting what many consumers are asking for in the form of bigger screens and mobile payments, they're listening. The same goes for widgets and 3rd party keyboard support in iOS 8. And despite heavily mocking Samsung for making phones too big for your hands, they're now offering a proper phablet in the form of the 5.5" iPhone 6 Plus.
As for proper specs, the iPhone 6 has a 4.7" 1334x740(really) pixel Retina HD display with ion strengthened glass, not sapphire as rumored and like the iWatch, and a new A8 64bit processor. Details are vague on that - it's 25% faster with 50% faster graphics, according to Apple - but we know the camera is still 8MP's but with a larger sensor, for better photos. There's a new M8 motion coprocessor for handling data from the many sensors on board, and it can now distinguish between cycling and running. There's also WiFi AC, LTE Advanced and WiFi calling on T-Mobile and EE(in the UK) support. It's also an amazing 6.9mm thick, which is thinner than any previous iPhone, the Motorola Moto X, Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One, and just barely thinner then the Sony Xperia Z3. There's other smartphones that are thinner, but Apple has the thinnest from a major name brand company in the US.
The iPhone 6 Plus has mostly the same specs but with a full HD 1920x1080p 5.5" IPS Retina HD display, optical image stabilization for the camera and a thickness of 7.1mm.

But the big new feature is built in NFC support, because it allows Apple Pay. This is Apple's take on mobile payments, where you store your credit card in your phone and tap it to a payment terminal in a store or restaurant. I've had this for years with Google Wallet on Android but don't use frequently for two reasons: It's hard to find places that support it, and even when you do store employees and bystanders frequently don't know about the technology. Thus, you get reactions ranging from enthusiasm and interest to people not accepting the payment or thinking you're trying to "hack" the register. That's why I'm pretty excited about Apple finally launching mobile payments, since it should popularize the concept, so even other services should benefit. As for Apple's specific implementation, it's quite well done; You can use your iTunes credit card or take a picture of a different one, and when you tap your phone it uses a temporary, one time number so that neither the store nor Apple actually gets your private information. They've partnered with Whole Foods, McDonalds, Subway, Macys, Staples, Walgreens, and various other stores. That's an interesting lineup, since Subway and a few others also support Google Wallet, so thankfully it sounds like we won't end up having to choose where to eat based on what phone OS we use.
The iPhone 6 starts at $199 on contract for 32GB's, with 64 and 128GB models each costing $100 more, while the 6 Plus starts at $299, and both come in silver, gold or space grey. Meanwhile, the iPhone 5S is now $99 with a contract and the 8GB iPhone 5C is free under the same conditions.

The Apple Watch is here with two sizes, a square screen, proprietary bands and a base price of $349

The Apple Watch. It's been rumored for years, and now it's finally here. Well... almost; It'll launch in early 2015, leaving a few months left to go if you've been waiting with your wrist empty and wallet open. When it does launch, there'll be not one watch from Apple but several. It'll come in 1.5 or 1.65 inches, and your choice of the Apple Watch in silver or space gray, Apple Watch Sport with the same color choices and a sport band or Apple Watch Edition with actual silver or gold plate.
Sadly, that 1.5" or larger screen is square, even though the interface is mostly circular, which just looks weird to me, and makes the Apple Watch feel a step behind Motorola's new Moto 360. You can get it with a whole variety of pretty good looking bands, but they all use Apple's own connector so you can't use a normal band. On the more exciting end, Apple's integrated NFC support, which means it can support the new Apple Pay service for paying for things by tapping your device against the payment terminal. That's a pretty standard thing for phones to be able to do, but a first for a watch as far as I know.

For UI interaction, you can use the touchscreen or Siri, as you would expect, but there's also something Apple's calling the "digital crown," which is basically a small metal dial on the side. It seems useful, though not really necessary. As for functionality, it has your choice of 11 Apple-designed watch faces, notifications, Siri searches, Handoff for starting a message on your watch and finishing on your phone, and health/exercise monitoring. There's also Glances, which let you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to see quick info such as stocks and weather, similarly to Google Now on Android Wear. Apple's also providing WatchKit, a framework for developers to make apps.
It'll start at $349, work with the iPhone 5 and later, and again be available early next year.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Cadillac to debut limited autonomous driving capabilities in a 2017 model car

Google has the most well known and debatably furthest along self driving car program, but most major auto manufacturers, research universities and even the Department of Defense are in the race. Mercedes and Infinity have even introduced cars with adaptive cruise control that can make steering corrections on a highway or driveway, though not in town. Now, General Motors CEO Mary Barra has announced they're also going beyond R&D to debut a form of autonomous driving within 2 years. Starting predictably with the company's halo Cadillac brand, one unnamed model will be launched featuring "Super Cruise" control. Meanwhile, the 2017 Cadillac CTS will include vehicle to vehicle communication, which seeks to reduce accidents by allowing cars to transmit their speed, velocity and direction to each other. In other words, it will automatically warn you of an oncoming car, or that there's a traffic jam ahead, and other such handy tips.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Motorola Moto G also updated with 5" 720p display, stereo speakers, and more

The main stars of Motorola's latest event may have been the Moto 360 and 2014 Moto X, but it's actually this phone that will probably sell the best: The 2014 Moto G is the successor to Motorola's best-selling smartphone ever, and I see no reason why this one won't outsell the last version. For just $179 unlocked and sans contract. it offers completely decent specs, and a nice design. But most importantly since it's very rare in the price range, there's almost-stock Android 4.4 KitKat with guaranteed updates and no skin to slow down performance. You don't get the fancy Moto Voice or Active Display features of the Moto X, but there's still support for Moto Assist which automatically changes settings if it detects you're driving or in a meeting. I use that on my last-gen Moto X to have it start reading my texts and announcing my phone calls when I'm driving, but not any other time.
This year's model takes the same basic format and updates almost everything. There's now a 5" 1280x720p LCD that wouldn't win any awards at $500, but at under $200 is positively spectacular. There's also an 8MP camera, 2MP webcam, 1.2GHz quad core processor, microSD card slot(apparently a much requested feature) and stereo speakers on each side of the display. There's also dual mics for improved sound quality and background noise cancellation, and your choice of 15 interchangeable backplates. It's available now through in the US and will roll out gradually to... well.. basically everywhere.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Motorola Moto X updated with a metal frame, optional leather back, better specs and a 5.2" screen

I liked the original Moto X so much that I bought one myself and still use it as my personal phone today, and now there's a new one that thoroughly revamps nearly everything. Let's start with the design: The new 2014 edition Moto X has a metal frame with a plastic front and either plastic, wood or leather on the back. They've also removed the separate camera flash, integrating it into a ring around the lens, while making the dimpled Motorola logo the same size for a unified design.
But lets step back a bit to where I said that you can now get a leather back. The preferred material of luxury car manufacturers, in your choice of 4 different hues sourced from Horween, adorn the backs of 4 of the 25 different options you can choose from. The wood, meanwhile, is from sustainably managed FSC certified forests. And like last year, you can customize the colors of most other elements of the phone, as well as have it laser engraved, which is quite fun.
As for specs, there's now a 5.2" full HD 1920x1080p Super AMOLED display that's also somehow more power efficient, along with Qualcomm's quad core, 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801. That's all complemented by 2GB's of RAM, 16 or 32GB's of storage, WiFi AC, a 3200mAh battery, and a new 13MP camera that can shoot 4K video.
Last year, the customizable design, small bezels, and US assembly of the Moto X were complemented by near-stock Android with super fast, guaranteed updates and some useful extra software features. This year, it's no longer made in the US sadly, but all of those other aspects still hold true, and there's some new software add ons. Touchless Control, which was such a good idea that Google integrated parts of it into the next version of stock Android, has been upgraded: Now, instead of saying "Ok Google Now" to your phone to launch voice control, you can program it to respond to whatever name you want. Ok Dave, open the pod bay doors. Said voice commands, now named Moto Voice and based off of Google Now, will also now let you post to Facebook or send a message on Whatsapp, or even pause a Youtube video.  The camera will now take a picture before and after you press the shutter button, then selects the best. And Active Display, which shows you your notifications without turning on the full screen, can now be triggered by waving your hand above the screen - or rather, the infrared sensors surrounding the screen. Those sensors also let you
ignore a phone call or snooze an alarm by waving your hand above your phone.
The 2014 Moto X will be available by the end of this month for $499 off contract or $99 on contract.

Motorola Moto 360 available now for $249, all-metal version coming later for $299

Chicago-based mobile electronics maker Motorola was the first company to announce a smartwatch with a round display, and now they're bringing it to market for the entirely reasonable price of $249. It was briefly available this morning, but sold out within about 10 minutes due to constrained supply. It'll hopefully be back in availability soon through as well as Best Buy, and in case you forgot runs Android Wear with a heartrate sensor, wireless charging, leather or metal interchangeable bands.
Leather bands will cost $29, while the metal band shown above will run a steep $79.

HP Chromebook 11 and 14 are stylish & more powerful but have really low resolution screens

HP's Chromebook 11 is one of the better looking Chromebooks, with a sleek but playful design and neat features like charging from a microUSB port just like your phone. The Chromebook 14, meanwhile, was also good looking and is the only 14" Chromebook. But they both had the same major flaws: Extremely lacking performance and quite low resolution screens, plus somewhat lacking battery life.
Now, at IFA Berlin, HP has unveiled the 2014 versions of their(still unimaginatively named) Chromebook 11 and 14, and they've fixed two problems while maintaining one of the mistakes. The 11" version now has an Intel Bay Trail-based Centrino processor, 4GB's of RAM, a 16GB SSD and 100GB's of Google Drive storage, 8 hours of battery, LTE, and your choice of turquoise, white or black. The 14" version has NVidia's Tegra K1 and 2 or 4GB's of RAM, 16 or 32GB's of RAM, and the same battery life and optional LTE. You can also get it in green or orange along with the colors from it's smaller sibling. So, they're faster and last longer, but sadly they still use a 1366x768 display, which is at least IPS but is just not acceptable in this day and age, especially with Samsung, Acer & Toshiba all offering 1080p Chromebooks. But at least you're getting good pricing: The Chromebook 11 starts at $279 and the 14 at $299.

Microsoft Nokia Lumia 730 & Lumia 830 are among the first post buyout Nokias

It seems like half the industry is launching phones, tablets, laptops, Chromebooks and smartwatches(so, so many smartwatches) this week at IFA in Berlin, and Microsoft is no absentee. Through their newly acquired Nokia division, the company has launched two new Windows Phones, the Lumia 730 "selfie phone" and Lumia 830 "compact flagship."
The Lumia 830 is slightly more interesting to me at least. It slots below the flagship Lumia 930 and phablet Lumia 1520, but actually looks better than either. It's got a thin, light, colorful design that's much more attractive than the thicker-than-some-laptops 930, and a 10MP optically stabilized Pureview camera. The aluminum and polycarbonate body comes in green, orange, white or black and wireless charging is supported. As for specs, there's a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 midrange chip, 1280x720p display, 1GB of RAM and 16GB's of storage. There's a version with dual SIM slots, and like the 830 it supports wireless charging.

The Lumia 730, meanwhile, is a lower end handset with one special feature: a 5MP wide angle front facing selfie camera with full HD video for Skype. Hopefully this might stop people taking pictures in front of mirrors. Other than that, it's a 4.7" 1280x720 phone with a 6.7MP rear camera, Snapdragon 400, 1GB of RAM and 8GB's of storage.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

ASUS jumps into the Android Wear watch space with the Zenwatch

ASUS may be new to the smartwatch game, but their Zenwatch has instantly joined the top ranks of the(rather small, but burgeoning) Android Wear lineup. It has a square 1.6" AMOLED display, with curved glass on the front and stainless steel on the back, and it's entirely more elegant then most smartwatches. It would look even better if it was a little smaller in my opinion, and I find the Motorola 360's round screen more interesting, but it definitely is a strong first entry from ASUS.
As for specs, there's 4GB's of storage, the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 as most other Android Wear watches, and 512MB's of storage. ASUS has also added a few software features, such as a double tap to find your phone, presentation control, and a camera remote.

Toshiba's Chromebook 2 13 joins the growing club of 1080p Chromebooks

There is now yet another Chromebook with the most unimaginative name possible: The word Chromebook and then the screen size of the device. The latest member of this group is also part of another, much better trend in Chromebooks: Featuring a 1080p, full HD screen instead of the pitiful 1366x768 displays that are more standard. 
Toshiba's version of the Chromebook 13 has Intel's Bay Trail-based Celeron processors, and 2 or 4GB's of RAM depending on whether you pay $249 with a 1366x768 display or $329 for the full HD version. The speakers, meanwhile, output the sound through the keyboard and are tuned by Skullcandy, which is... interesting, I guess. Between that price, the screen and the CPU, it sounds like one of the best Chromebooks yet, though the design is not the best in my opinion.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sony's Smartwatch 3, SmartBand Talk take opposing views of what people want on their wrist

Sony was among the early pioneers of the smartwatch space, but have been somewhat late to the fitness band market, despite the latter being far more popular then the former. At their IFA Berlin event today they unwrapped an entry in each of those markets. On the watch side is the Smartwatch 3, which sees them give up on the custom platform of their previous 5(yes, five, not two) generations of smartwatches in favor of Android Wear. And the SmartBand Talk, an unusual wearable with an E Ink screen and voice support.

The Smartwatch 3 has a 320x320 1.6" display, plastic front and stainless steel back, interchangeable backs, IP68 rated waterproofing, 4GB's of storage, and Bluetooth. All in all, it's nice looking, but to me can't compete with the Motorola Moto 360, LG G Watch R or ASUS Zenwatch on design or the Samsung Gear S on specs.

The SmartBand Talk is simultaneously simpler and weirder. It's a curved band with a narrow, always-on black and white e-paper display, shows you notifications and tracks your fitness. But it also has HD Voice support, so you can take a call from your phone on your wrist, which is rather nifty. 

Sony Xperia Z3, Z3 Compact and Z3 Tablet Compact are beautiful, waterproof, and can stream PS4 games

One thing you can almost always count on with Sony is that their hardware will be gorgeous. In smartphones and tablets, that's particularly true, and they're reliable, rugged, andI(finally) offer good software as well. There's other issues that they don't do so well on, but let's get into what was launched today:

Xperia Z3: The flagship of the Xperia lineup, the Z3 has a typically gorgeous aluminum and glass body that's just 6.3mm thick yet still manages to be waterproof and cram in a 3100mAh battery. It's powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, 5.2" full HD display, and Android 4.4 KitKat plus Sony's custom skin. The camera has a 20MP Exmor RS sensor, Sony G Lens, 4K video support, and up to ISO 12800 support. There's also Playstation 4 Remote Play, which makes this and the Z3 Compact the only phones that can play Playstation 4 games. This works by streaming them over your WiFi network from your PS4, meaning it'll only work at home and if you actually have a PS4, but it's still pretty fabulous. Of course, you can't control console games with a touchscreen effectively, so the entire Z3 family will work with the Dualshock 4 controller. It also features support for High Resolution Audio when paired with appropriate headphones, will attempt to upscale your music's fidelity, and has front facing stereo speakers. Best of all, it's available in black, white, or some particularly attractive shades of green or copper.

Xperia Z3 Compact: Modern day smartphones are big. Huge, in fact. So most manufacturers offer a compact or mini edition of their flagship, but don't make a point of mentioning that the smaller version also has drastically reduced specs. Sony bucks this trend by offering Compact editions of the Z series phones that are just as good as their big relatives, meaning Sony effectively has the premium small Android phone market cornered. Which is why, considering how sparse the competition, it's especially impressive how good the new Z3 Compact. It's has the same Snapdragon 801, 20MP Exmor RS camera, 7.3mm thick frame, high quality audio, PS4 support, IP65 waterproofing and IP68 dustproofing. But there's a 4.6" 1280x720p display(still featuring Sony's TriLuminos and XReality technologies from their TV division) instead of the 5.2" panel.

Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact: The Xperia Z2 Tablet has been my pick for best 10" Android tablet since it came out, but it wasn't updated today. Instead, Sony has finally jumped in the 8" tablet boat, with the new Z3 Tablet Compact. It's somehow even thinner then the phones - in fact, Sony's claiming it's the thinnest & lightest 8" tablet around, which at 6.4mm and 270 grams is easy to believe. Yet it's still water and dust proof and made out of premium materials, and it actually outspecs the Xperia Z2 Tablet. As for specs, it has the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, fancy audio features, PS4 streaming, and an 8MP Exmor RS camera, along with a 1920x1200p 8" display. Despite that super thin frame, Sony is also claiming 13 hours of video playback for the battery life estimate, which is probably not true but if they even got close that's pretty exceptional. It comes in black or white, and there's no details on pricing or availability on any of the Z3 family yet.

Samsung Gear VR is like an Oculus Rift for your Galaxy Note

The Galaxy Note Edge and Galaxy Note 4, along with the previously announced Gear S, were the most important devices Samsung showed off in Berlin at IFA today, but the Gear VR might be the coolest. The Oculus Rift virtual reality headset is such an amazing concept and has so much potential that Facebook recently bought the startup making the headset for almost $2 billion. So this is obviously a big market, and Samsung is jumping in with a headset that you slide your Galaxy Note 4 into. It's not just a mount for your phone though; There's two lenses between your phone and your eyes that create the 3D effect, and a trackpad on the side of the headset for control. You can also use a Bluetooth gaming controller, of course.

This all sounds great, and it even looks pretty decent, but it really only works with the Note 4. Samsung's own Galaxy S 5, or the Galaxy Note Edge they announced today, any of their other devices, and any phone from any other company will not work, which is a pretty fatal flaw.

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge has a crazy bent display, Galaxy Note 4 is super powerful

Samsung's new Galaxy Note 4 has pretty much the best specs you can fit in a(very large) smartphone, but there aren't a whole lot of uniquely different features from last year.
That cannot be said about the Galaxy Note Edge, which has essentially the same great specs but a completely unique design that also allows some cool features. The star of this Galaxy's show is a 5.6" Super AMOLED 2560x1440 display that curves over the right edge of the phone and has another 160x2560 expanse of real estate. This is not only ridiculously cool looking, but also allows some apps to move their menus off of your primary screen, freeing up space, let you launch apps without returning to the home screen, or various other uses. If you swipe down on the bar, you get a ruler, flashlight, stopwatch and timer, which is pretty neat.
Other than that, it's got a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, 3GB's of RAM, 32 or 64GB's of storage with microSD expansion, NFC, WiFi AC, and an upgraded S Pen stylus with better sensitivity. There's also a 16MP camera that finally has image stabilization, and a 3.1 MP front facing camera, and there's apparently also a better mic with high quality recording built into the voice recorder app. On the software front it's running Android 4.4 KitKat with TouchWiz complete with multi window support.

The Galaxy Note 4, meanwhile, has all the same specs except that there's a 5.7" display with no bend, but otherwise the same super high resolution. Actually though, it's still not flat: There's a subtle curve to the glass over the screen, which Samsung is calling 2.5D glass for some unknown reason. The battery is also slightly larger at 3200mAh.
And just like the Note Edge, it's got a much more premium design then previous Samsung phones, with a chamfered metal edge and a textured plastic back. That may be the biggest change that came out of today's event, and it's a good one. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Microsoft's Nokia division having an even September 4th to launch a "selfie phone"

Early September will see events from Apple, Motorola, ASUS, Sony, and various others, including apparently Nokia. They've sent out the above teaser image for their September 4th event, which promises more Lumia smartphones. The rumored 730 "selfie phone" with a decent front camera may have taken the picture in the teaser, in which case it's definitely a step above standard fare.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Samsung's crazy Gear S is a curved smartwatch with its own phone built in

Samsung was among the earlier companies to jump into the burgeoning smartwatch market back in September of last year, when it launched the Galaxy Gear. That device could make phone or video calls and ran a custom version of Android, but was big, ugly, had minimal battery life and was rather buggy. They followed it up with the Tizen-powered Gear 2, which ditched Android and was smaller & smarter but still ugly and short-lived, experimented with the attractive/limited Gear Fit, then launched an Android Wear watch(the Gear Live) in collaboration with Google. None of these efforts have been particularly successful, but they just keep trying.
Today marks the latest release: A bonkers curved screen watch that, like the original Galaxy Gear, can make phone calls using a built in 3G radio. It's definitely the best looking Gear yet except for the extremely simplistic Gear Fit, and unlike the Gear Fit, Pebble or Android Wear, is definitely not limited in capabilities. No, like their first model, it does(perhaps too much) more than any other smartwatch on the market; There's WiFi, Bluetooth, 3G, Tizen as an OS, notifications from your phone, an onscreen keyboard, S Voice(Samsung's version of Siri,) health & fitness tracking, turn by turn navigation, and much more. My favorite feature is the curved display, which is a 2" Super AMOLED unit with a 360x480 resolution. Samsung's even come up with a peripheral for this peripheral in the form of the Gear Circle, a Bluetooth necklace with built in earbuds that can vibrate when you get an alert.
It still has rather anemic battery life at a rated 11 hours of usage time, is quite large and has quite a bit of competition coming up from the Motorola 360 and LG G Watch R, not to mention the rumors of Apple making a watch, but there's something attractive about making calls on your wrist.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kobo refuses to admit defeat, releases waterproof Aura H20

The e-reader market is rapidly dwindling, with Sony recently throwing in the towel completely and Barnes & Noble's Nook line just barely treading water. But one manufacturer is refusing to let Amazon's Kindle become a complete monopoly: Kobo, a brand that exclusively makes e-readers and reading focused tablets. Their latest model is the new Aura H20, which as you might expect from the name has an affinity for water. It's IP67 certified, or in other words can stay fully submerged in up to a meter of water for half an hour. The centerpiece of the specs is a 6.8" 1430x1080 e-ink touchscreen with an optional light in the screen bezel, and there's 4GB's of storage space plus a microSD card slot. It'll cost $180 and launch on October 1st.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

HTC One M8 with Windows Phone is... just that

The HTC One M8 is one of, if not the best designed phone on the market right now, despite a few issues like a weak camera and large bezels. It runs Android 4.4 with HTC's Sense skin though, which isn't everyone's cup of tea. If you like the beautiful unibody aluminum construction, 1080p 5" display, Qualcomm CPU, 2GB's of RAM, 32GB's of storage and 4 "UltraPixel" camera of the Android One but prefer your OS to come from Redmond's finest, HTC has something for you. The new HTC One M8 with Windows Phone runs Microsoft's favorite OS, in it's latest and greatest version 8.1 variety, for $99 on Verizon only at launch with AT&T set to pick it up a bit later. HTC's also thrown in their camera UI from Sense on Android, as well as the Blinkfeed news reader app from the same source.

Friday, August 15, 2014

AT&T Motorola Moto X has now been updated to Android 4.4.4, with a few minor tweaks

Motorola's been great about updates for their Moto X, G and E phones, but one that they fell a little behind on was the minor Android 4.4.4 point update for the AT&T version of the Moto X. That's now been remedied, as it just rolled out to my device Moto X. Along with the Android update, Motorola's minor skin has been updated a bit too, finally bringing the capability to pause video recording in the stock camcorder app. There's also a new, rather nifty looking tiled dialer.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Rise of the Tomb Raider will be exclusive to the Xbox One

The legendary gaming franchise Tomb Raider is getting a new installment next year in the form of Rise of the Tomb Raider, which follows the events of last year's excellent reboot of the Lara Croft story. This has all been known for a few months, but what was announced this week is that Ms. Croft's latest adventures will be coming only to the Microsoft Xbox One. This is quite a high profile exclusive for Microsoft, and an interesting move for studio Crystal Dynamics, who normally develop games for all 3 major platforms(Playstation, Xbox and PC.)
That said, this is merely a timed exclusive - at some later point they will release the game more widely.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Acer's Chromebook 13 brings a full HD screen with NVidia power and 11 or 13 hours of battery life

Acer recently released a new version of it's long running C720 Chromebook series, which has long been a solid choice due to it's low price and solid performance, but now they're going a bit up market in both size and specs. The Chromebook 13 has, as you might expect, a 13" display with a 1920x1080p resolution that equals Samsung's similar Chromebook 2 and far surpasses most others. It's also better looking then the C720 in my opinion, with a sleek white case that looks quite a bit more like a high end products. But a full HD Chromebook has been done before - what's really new is what's inside. Instead of being powered by Intel's Celeron or Core i3/i5 chips, which are decently fast but large and require fans and lots of power, or Samsung's aging, painfully slow, yet still somewhat power hungry and not too much cheaper, it has NVidia's Tegra K1.
This is a quad core ARM-based system on a chip, but before you write this off as yet another slow mobile processor, remember that this is a brand new chip. First off, there's no fan required, which is always nice, and the Chromebook is a mere 18mm(.71") thick and 3.31 pounds, while still having better graphical performance due to the 192 Kepler cores than any of the Intel Chromebooks. In the promotional video below it shows off the multitasking abilities by completing a Google Sheets calculation with four other rich websites open and music playing in half the time of a Celeron powered Chromebook. And it's cheap: The entry level model with a 1366x768 screen, 2GB's of RAM and a 16GB SSD is $279, while getting the 1080p panel is just $20 more at $299(definitely, totally worth it.) Oh and you can double both the RAM and the storage, which brings you up to $379 and still undercuts Samsung's less powerful, $399 Chromebook 2. Meanwhile, it also allows crazy battery life, at 13 hours for the lower resolution version and 11 hours with the full HD screen. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Chevrolet Volt plug in hybrid will hit version 2 next year for the 2016 model year

The Chevy Volt was the first mass market plug in hybrid in the US, but Chevy is now readying a successor. Why? Plug in hybrids(meaning a gas/electric hybrid that can be plugged in to charge and run at freeway speeds on electric power only, unlike traditional hybrids) provide far better efficiency than more standard hybrids while offering the long range and short refuel times of a gas car. The 2016 model second generation Volt will debut at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and should be both cheaper and have a longer all electric range then the current car. GM has just released the above teaser image, and it looks like it'll also be a bit curvier then the rather staid first generation model.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Summer Buyers Guide 2014: Laptops

Today's edition is the 3rd buyers guide so far, and I'm outlining the best laptops for all of you, from budget to gaming, and everything in between! And for mainstream and pro, I'm presenting options for both of the major operating systems, Apple OS X Mavericks and Microsoft Windows 8, though you can always install a Linux distro of your choice as well. 

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, 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. 

Mainstream Ultrabook, Windows
Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro($1049+, Intel Core i5/i7, 13" screen)

Lenovo's Yoga was my overall favorite Windows notebook of 2013, and they're keeping the trend going this year. The Yoga 2 Pro starts at $1049, and comes with 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. The base model also has twice the RAM and storage space of the entry level 13" Macbook Air, though you are paying $50 more. 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
Samsung Chromebook 2 13"($399, Samsung Exynos Octa, 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. This, combined with the fact that Google has a hand in vetting most ChromeOS-powered machines, means they are often fast enough to provide a good experience, with good trackpads, keyboards and designs. Plus there aren't any truly horrible displays; Though many have low resolution 1366x768 panels, the ones I've tested at least are IPS with decent viewing angles and color reproduction. The Chromebook 2 is at the pricier end of the spectrum, with the 13" model costing $399 with an Samsung Exynos Octa 8-core ARM processor, 1920x1080p display, 4GB's of RAM and a sleek, slim design. If your budget is tighter, the Acer C720 sacrifices the full HD display and is rather bland to look at, but is actually faster and costs just $199 for the cheapest version and $379 for the best. Definitely buy that rather than the Samsung Chromebook 2 11", which also is missing the nice screen but is still slower and more expensive. 

Gaming Laptop
Razer Blade/Blade Pro($2199/$2299, Intel Core i7, 14/17" 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. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer Buyers Guide 2014: Phones

Welcome back to the official CCN summer buyers guide! I'm presenting my picks for the top smartphones in two price categories on the three major platforms: Apple's iOS 7, Google's Android 4.4 and Microsoft's Windows Phone 8, plus a few bonus picks.

Flagship, Android
LG G3($199/$579, Quad HD 5.5" display, 13MP laser-focused camera, Qualcomm 801)
Last year, my favorite Android smartphones were the Motorola Moto X, HTC One M7, and Google LG Nexus 5. This year, we so far haven't seen an update to the Moto or the Nexus(though those might be worth waiting for if) and the One M8 kept it's sub par camera, over-large bezels and expensive unlocked price tag. So far, then, LG's flagship G3 and Sony's Xperia Z2 are my top picks, with LG winning out slightly due to it's simply outstanding specs. Besides the standard top of the line quad core processor, Android 4.4 with various LG customizations, and plenty of RAM and storage, LG's fit in a lot else. Starting with the display: It's a crazy 2560x1440 5.5" IPS panel, yet has some seriously small bezels leaving the device not much bigger than other 5" phones. There's also a 13MP camera with optical image stabilization and laser focusing, and wireless charging on board. 
If the G3's a little out of your budget, you like closer to stock Android or want something a bit smaller, I would recommend waiting to see whether the rumored Moto X + 1 or Nexus 6 turn out better.

Budget, Android
Motorola Moto G($179+ unsubsidized, 720p 4.5" display, Qualcomm 400)
The Moto G is the best sub-$200 Android smartphone you can buy, bar none. Running close to stock Android 4.4 KitKat with a few tasteful customizations and a guaranteed update to Android L, it's far superior on the software front to most budget phones. There's also a quad core processor on board powering a 4.5" 720p display(still a rarety at this price point, and fun interchangeable colored back plates. If you can swing it, the $220 version with LTE and a microSD card slot is the version to buy. If you want something even cheaper, the $129 Moto E is also a surprisingly solid choice, just with a lower resolution screen, no front facing camera and a slower processor. 

Flagship, iOS
Apple iPhone 5S($199/$649, 4" Retina display, 8MP camera, Apple A7)
It's getting a little bit old at this point, but the iPhone 5S still has one of if not the best smartphone cameras on the market, an actually functional fingerprint reader, & a sleek design. If you can't wait for the next model and can afford one, the 5S is definitely the iPhone to buy.

Budget, iOS
Apple iPhone 5C($99/$549, 4" Retina display, 8MP camera, Apple A6)
The iPhone 4S is the truly affordable option available at the moment, but it's hard to recommend with its minuscule display and old processor. The 5C, meanwhile, has a colorful, cheerful design, a larger screen and the A6 processor. 

Flagship Windows Phone
Nokia Lumia Icon($99/$599, 5" 1080p display, 20MP camera, Qualcomm 800)

It's currently only available from Verizon, with the international version coming soon in the form of the Lumia 930, but the Icon is just about the best Windows Phone you can buy right now. If you're not on Verizon though, you might take a look at the Lumia 1520 or 928 as well. 

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

At an amazingly low price of $129 unsubsidized and unlocked, 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.

Waterproof phone
Sony Xperia Z2($587 on Amazon, 5.2" 1080p display, 20.7MP camera, Qualcomm 800)

The Xperia Z2 is just flat out beautiful. Not only that, it also comes in purple, is super thin, and it both water and dust proof. Behind that striking frame, there's a top notch display, very good(but slightly old) Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 SoC, and a camera with Sony's Exmor sensor and the capability to record 4K video.