Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Microsoft Windows 10: Universal apps, Spartan, Cortana, Xbox Live, HoloLens and Surface Hub

Microsoft had an amazingly massive event today where they unveiled the future of their products, for almost every form factor imaginable, all unified by Windows 10. I'll break it down by category.

  • Universal apps Microsoft's been talking about the potential of having one operating system on every device for ages now, but in the Windows 8 era it was more like one interface, but very different underpinnings and not much interplay. They've flipped that formula, and now your phone, tablet, desktop and TV will all look different, but work much the same under the hood and talk to each other. This is great, because for developers, being able to write one app(with a different graphical interface) and deploy it to tons and tons of devices is basically the dream. That means that, theoretically at least, more developers will write apps for Windows, which is in turn good for consumers. 

  • Spartan: Internet Explorer is one of the most despised pieces of software around, since more than a decade ago it truly was horrible. It's evolved a ton since then, but for many it still carries the legacy of that slow, bloated, anti-competitive software that didn't support modern web standards. Therefore, Microsoft's unveiling a completely new web browser codenamed Spartan that will ship with Windows 10. It's got Cortana support baked right in, meaning you can control it with your voice and it'll give you predictions or answers directly from the address bar. It also features annotation, letting you use a stylus on compatible devices to write and draw on a web page, then send that to a friend or colleague. And there's a reading mode similar to Safari's that strips out much of the visual cruft of a website and shows you just the text. 
  • Free updates: If you're running Windows 7, 8, 8.1 or Windows Phone 8.1, as well as the current Xbox One OS, you'll be updated to Windows 10 completely for free. Not only that, but Microsoft will continue to update said devices until they no longer support the hardware requirements for the software, all for free. Again, this is great for developers because having one target to make apps for means you don't have to spend as much time testing and coding for compatibility. 
  • Xbox Live/Game streaming: One of the biggest additions for those who care about it is the Xbox app. There was one in Windows 8, but it didn't do much. This, on the other hand, does a lot. If you have an Xbox One, you'll be able to stream supported games to any Windows PC or tablet on your local network, and even if you don't, devs can enable Xbox Live multiplayer from the PC to the console now. Finally, Game DVR lets you record, edit and share gameplay on your PC, which is far from groundbreaking but still useful if you don't use a 3rd party option. 
  • Office: Microsoft's finally unveiled a touch optimized, universal version of Office, meaning you'll be able to use the suite with on a Windows 10 phone, tablet or PC. No Excel on the Xbox though, as they joked onstage. The new Outlook for phones looks like a particularly big upgrade.
  • Cortana: Yep, the chatty, useful, but somewhat imprecise personal assistant is coming to your desktop and tablet, pretty much unchanged from the Windows Phone 8.1 version. It'll sync back and forth between all your devices as well. 
  • Surface Hub: Designed for business teleconferencing and remote computing usages, the Surface Hub is a 55 or 84" 4K screen that runs Windows 10 with some custom apps designed for the large screen. It of course runs Skype and OneDrive, and has stylus support for using as a digital whiteboard.  

  • HoloLens: Most of these features are relatively safe, predictable updates, but HoloLens is flat out crazy. Essentially, HoloLens is a set of virtual reality goggles like a more immersive Google Glass or see-through Oculus Rift that overlays custom Windows 10 apps over your vision. They demoed everything for using it for computing tasks like checking the weather and your email, to overlaying Minecraft or a Martian simulation onto the real world. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

HP's new business tablets add active styli to Android or Windows, for a pretty penny

HP just refreshed and expanded their business-oriented tablet lineup, and while there's nothing quite as compelling as the Dell Venue 8 7000 or Sony Z3 Tablet Compact in my opinion, they have some interesting features. The new Pro Slate line is definitely the best, offering an Android tablet in either 8 or 12" screen sizes that both have active digitizers and styli for accurate note taking and drawing. The stylus is called the Duet Pen and can also write as a normal pen, on paper, which is rather nifty. They're powered by the high end, but out of date Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, and the 8" version has a 2048x1536, while the 12 inch edition has a 1600x1200 panel. There's also 2GB's of RAM, Android 4.4 KitKat and Corning Gorilla Glass 4 on the front. Unfortunately, they also have extremely hefty price tags, specifically $449 for the Pro Slate 8 and $569 for the Pro Slate 12. There's also the Pro Slate 10 EE, which is education focused, has a keyboard dock, stylus(but not Duet Pen, strangely) support, 10" 1280x800 display, 1GB of RAM, an Intel Atom processor, and a starting price of $249.
The Pro Tablet 10 EE is the same as the Pro Slate 10, but with Windows and a pricetag of $299 for registered education customers and $349 otherwise.
Then there's the Elite x2 1011 G1(really,) which is an 11" Windows 8 Pro tablet with a keyboard dock, Intel Core M processor, optional Wacom stylus, and a base price of $899.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Adobe Lightroom now available for Android - but not tablets

Adobe's Lightroom is one of the premier photo management and editing tools available on a desktop, offering a decent subset of Photoshop's functionality for far less money. A mobile version launched on Apple's iOS a few months back, and now it's made its way to Android. There's a good number of useful features, including full support for editing RAW files. This blends nicely with Android 5.0 Lollipop's API for 3rd party camera apps to be able to take RAW photos, and the app is free if you have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. Since that's required anyway, you get the benefit of being able to sync all of your photos between Lightroom for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.
But there's two huge, ridiculous caveats, which make this app difficult to recommend. Number one, which will probably be fixed, is that there's no tablet version, an insane omission for a photo editing app that is best used on a device with a large screen. Secondly, the app requires 8GB's of free internal storage space to store photos while Lightroom's using them, and you can't even use the app otherwise.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Ford Shelby GT350R is the fastest factory Mustang ever

Mustang's are some of the most customized, modded cars around, but Ford also has their own in house performance division, Shelby, and their latest is quite the track beast. The new GT350R has been reworked for enhanced aerodynamics, with a better hood vent, pans on the underside, a carbon fiber wing, new fender vents, and wheel well air curtains. Then they took 130 pounds away from the already-race-oriented GT350, bys removing the rear seats, exhaust resonators, air conditioning(though that can be added back if you want), trunk floorboard, and backup camera. Oh and by using carbon fiber wheels, which is a first on any factory car in existence.
Then there's the powerplant, a 5.2 liter V8 with a flat-plane crankshaft, the first one from Ford, that produces over 500 horsepower and 440 lb-ft of torque.
It's coming to the US and Canada later this year and will compete with the Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 and ZL1, the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, and other luminaries of the pony car racing world.
The Ford performance lineup: Fiesta ST, Focus ST, Ford GT, Mustang GT350R, SVT Raptor

Monday, January 12, 2015

The legend returns: 2016 Ford GT is a 600+HP, carbon fiber, midengine twinturbo V6 monster

The Ford GT is one of the most legendary cars in auto history - back in the 60's, it beat out Ferrari and Porsche at Le Mans, the first and only overall win for an American manufacturer, and has set many other records since. It's also one of very, very few midengine supercars made in the US, and the 2005/06 anniversary edition was also a record setter in many ways.

Now it's back, and it's powered by a 3.5 liter V6.

Yep, the American supercar is losing the hallmark of Detroit performance vehicles. It may be more powerful then any previous V8 powered GT, but some will still not be happy. Despite that, the engine sounds like a pretty great mill; It's part of Ford's EcoBoost line, with 6 cylinders and two turbochargers hooked up to a seven speed DCT.
There's also the completely gorgeous design, active rear wing that deploys automatically when reaching heady velocities, and 20" wheels.
The body is made of a mix of  carbon fiber and aluminum, and there's scissor doors and Michelin tires.

Mercedes C350 Plug-In Hybrid has a 20 mile EV range

There's a growing flock of plug in hybrid sedans available - Chevy just refreshed the Volt, Ford makes a Fusion PHEV, Toyota, Hyundai and Honda offer them, and there's even the high end Porsche Panamera and Mercedes S Class PHEV's. Today Mercedes unveiled their latest, a version of the C Class that will offer a 20 mile electric only range from the 80HP, 251 lb-ft electric drive train. There's also a 208 horsepower, 258 lb-ft turbocharged four cylinder on board, meaning you have a combined HP rating of 288, good for a 0-60 sprint in 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 130mph.

Toyota Tacoma redesigned for 2016 with new engine, transmission, styling and interior

The Toyota Tacoma has been so good and so popular for so long that it drove Dodge, Ford and to some extent Chevy/GMC out of the midsize truck market. But since most of it's competition has given up, the Tacoma has stagnated, receiving practically no updates for a decade, and now GM is back with the excellent Colorado/Canyon twins. That's the scenario that the 2016 Tacoma wades into, and while it'll probably do quite well for Toyota, it's to me a bit disappointing.
The styling is all new, and quite handsome in my opinion, with a tri-fold tonneau cover, locking tailgate that can lower itself, daytime running lights, and either an extended or quad cab. Power is provided by either the same old 2.7 liter 4 cylinder or a new 3.5 liter Atkinson cycle V6. There's also a new 6 speed automatic or 6 speed manual, both of which should improve fuel efficiency. Internally, options include Qi wireless charging, a power moonroof, dual zone climate control, push button start, and a GoPro mount right by the rear view mirror.

Nissan Titan XD is a new size class of truck with a V8 Cummins diesel

Nissan's taken the wraps off their revamped Titan, and while the new sheet metal, cabin and engines are interesting, the biggest news is an entirely new version. The Titan XD may be a rather stupid name, but it's a really intriguing idea: A truck that slots between traditional light and heavy duty vehicles. If it was from Ford, it might be called the F200 and be bigger and more powerful then the F150 but less extreme than the F250. It's a great idea, because there's a lot of people who need more towing capability or something else than a 1500-class truck offers but don't really utilize their 2500's fully.
The other main aspect of the Titan XD is the engine, a Cummins 5.0 liter V8 diesel that produces 310 hp and 555 lb-ft of torque, along with a 6 speed automatic transmission. It'll have a towing capacity of 12,000 pounds and a payload of 2,000 pounds. There's also a V8 gas engine from Nissan available, and the normal Titan will come with either a gas V6 or the gas V8.
Other than that, there's LED bed lights, which are cool, LED headlights, normal, extended or quad cab configurations and 3 bed lengths. Two or 4 wheel drive is available, and there's lockable in bed storage comparttments.

The Ford Raptor is back, and crazier then ever

Ford's F150-based SVT Raptor is a rather bonkers vehicle; Designed to be the ultimate off road performance race truck, it's near-unchallenged. After being briefly discontinued, it's back, and this time based off the new aluminum F150, though with a steel frame, allowing for weight savings of 500 pounds. Also new is a 3,5 liter Ecoboost V6 that will provide more power than the old 411 hp V8, and a state of the art 10 speed automatic transmission. There's also new Fox Racing shocks and BFGoodman tires, and a variety of calibration modes for mud, sand, snow, rain, mountains or even a desert-running Baja mode.

2016 Land Rover Range Rovers to offer diesel power for 32% better fuel economy

Land Rover's iconic Range Rover is great for a lot of reasons - luxury, performance, off roading capability, style, prestige - but not at fuel economy.With tightening regulations on average fuel economy for your lineup, Land Rover's trying to improve this somewhat, and so they've turned to diesel. The Range Rover and Range Rover Sport will soon be offered with a 3.0 liter 6 cylinder turbodiesel on the HSE trim, which is good for 22mpg city, 28mpg highway and 25mpg combined. In exchange for that major improvement over the 17 city, 23 highway of the gas V6.
The diesel Td6 engine will offer 240 horsepower and a positively mental 440 lb-ft of torque, which means that  the diesel will be far better at towing and off-roading then the petrol version. Acceleration times are down a bit though, at 7.1 seconds 0-60 for the 'Rover Sport and 7.4 for the normal Rover with diesel, versus 6.9 and 7.1 seconds for the gas 6 cylinder.
Moreover, Jaguar-Land Rover is bringing diesels to every model they sell in the US other than the F-Type sports car.

Chevrolet Bolt concept imagines an affordable 200 mile range EV crossover

It's sadly a concept at the moment, but the Chevrolet Bolt seems destined for production, which is great. Not because the world needs another rather ugly high riding hatchback/tiny CUV, but because of the powertrain and the price. Electric vehicles are great, saving money on gas, helping the environment, requiring far less moving parts and fluids to be replaced, and allowing tons of torque. But they have a problem: Batteries can't store enough power for very good range, and they're expensive. Which means that up until now all of the battery-only EV's for less than $40000 offered a range somewhere around 100 miles, and definitely less than 150. That's not enough for a road trip, especially when finding a charging station can still be tough.
Tesla's Model E is promising to change that, but it'll still be a rather pricey car - somewhere over $30000, and probably closer to $40k, I would expect. That's why the Bolt is so exciting: It's a practical 5 seater CUV with a 200 mile electric range on one charge and an expected price right around $30k. It's also got a pretty sweet full glass roof, a 10 inch touchscreen, DC quick charge port
and you can use your phone as the key. Oh and it'll park itself without you even in it, though that I expect might not end up in the final version.

Chevrolet Volt refreshed with 50 mile range, new design and better performance

The Chevrolet Volt was the first plug in hybrid vehicle in the US, a category that now includes everyone from Ford, Toyota and Honda to Porsche and BMW. But the Volt, despite selling well initially, has been flagging as of late, so Chevy is unveiling a complete revamp. Nearly every element of the car has been changed - It's larger, with a proper 5 person hatchback design that's quite a bit more handsome, and the drivetrain's completely different. Power is now provided by two electric motors instead of just one, offering 149 horsepower and 240lb-ft of torque, good for a 7% better 0-60 time of 8.4 seconds. The backup gas motor is now a 1.5L inline 4 with 101hp on tap. But the biggest change comes in the battery: It's been completely revamped and uses less cells(192, now) to deliver more power at 18.4kWh, which allows a range of 50 miles. That's a nice bump over the older Volt's 34 mile range, and should be sufficient for almost any kind of daily commute. And of course, if you want to take a road trip, there's that traditional gas engine, which has a fuel efficiency of 41mpg.
Internally, the Volt will offer an 8" touchscreen, 4G LTE hotspot, blue ambient lighting, a standard backup camera, 10 airbags, and optional autonomous parallel parking.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Non-sport convertibles are back: The Buick Cascada is launching in early 2016

Buick. They're General Motors most awkward remaining brand - they make semi-luxury products, but can't get too high end without stepping on Cadillac's toes, yet have to provide something for the price premium over Chevrolet. It's a tough situation, and for a long time it made them into the company so forgettable that many didn't even dislike them, but just didn't think about them at all. Except perhaps to make jokes about them being the car of choice in retirement communities.
Over the last few years, however, they've turned their product portfolio around with a lot of actually good, well reviewed, comparison test winning cars. They still have that problem of being sandwiched between Chevy and Cadillac, so apparently their new idea is to get into a market segment that neither of those compete in.
And it's also a segment with virtually no competition from anywhere: convertibles that aren't just versions of sports cars yet also aren't priced stratospherically high don't exist in the US now. Chrysler's 200 Convertible was the last to go, with the Volkswagen Eos and Toyota Solara being discontinued earlier. Now, if you want a convertible, your choices are pony cars like the Mustang and Camaro, sport cars like the Miata, or extremely expensive German luxury cars.
It's into this scenario that the new Buick Cascada wades. It's essentially a rebadged Opel, but it's the first Buick convertible in 25 years and the only near-luxury, yet not ridiculously expensive 4 seat convertible in the US. The styling is a very pretty(if not very aggressive) smooth, wavy design and there's a 200hp, 221 lb/ft turbocharged I4 engine and a ragtop that can lower in 17 seconds at 35mph. Internally, there's the expected heated seats and steering wheel, Onstar, 7" touch screen, park assist, 4G LTE hotspot, and lane departure warnings.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Game of Thrones returns: Venture back to Westeros on April 12th

HBO's adaptation of George RR Martin's fantasy epic is coming back for a 5th season quite soon. The new round of episodes chronicling the lives of the Lannisters, Starks, Targaryens and others will premier on HBO, HBO Go and some IMAX theaters on April 12th.
Silicon Valley and Veep are also back on the same day, so mid-April is going to be a very good month for HBO executives.

Samsung's business card-sized T1 is a portable SSD with up to 1TB of storage

Samsung's line of solid state drives, or SSD's, is always among the best you can buy for the money, and now they're packaging one as a portable external drive. While most laptops and desktops now have SSD's, the external drive market, mainly used for backing up vast quantities of data on occasion, is still mainly the province of spinning hard drives. That's unfortunate, as besides being extremely slow, traditional HDD's are extremely prone to breaking and crashing due to their moving parts.
That's where the T1 comes in: It's a sleek, brushed metal device about the size of a business or credit card(but thicker, of course) and it comes in 250GB, 500GB or 1TB options. There's AES 256 bit encryption, USB 3.0, and a rated write speed of 450 MB per second... for comparison, your average portable hard drive has a write speed of around 90MB/s. It's unfortunate that there's no Thunderbolt connection, and it's pricey at $180 for 250GB, $299/500GB and $599/1TB, but it'll save you a lot of time and possibly a replacement drive cost down the road.

Sharp's 2015 TV lineup runs Android TV, 4K starts at $750

Sharp's latest TV's have jumped on board the Android TV platform, with the UE30 and UH30 series all running the latest TV software from Mountain View. This means that they share a platform with Sony's entire 2015 lineup, the intriguing Razer Forge TV, and of course the Google Nexus Player. Hopefully this will also lead to Android TV getting a lot of interest from 3rd party developers, which would be great since it's an extremely solid foundation.
Meanwhile, the lower end UB30 series does not have Android TV but it does manage a very impressive feat: The smallest model is a 4K TV from a major, name brand manufacturer, yet costs just $750 for a 43" panel. That line will range up to 65 inches, while the UE30 comes in 60, 70 or 80 inch versions and the UH30 is a 70 or 80 inch 4K TV.

Verizon picks up Samsung's crazy Galaxy Note Edge

The Galaxy Note Edge launched a while back, but now it's coming to the nation's largest carrier. Verizon will sell the Note 4-with-a-bent-screen on contract for $399 or for a full price of $799, putting it on the very top of their pricing lineup. But for that price you get a top notch smartphone with a superlative camera, display, processor, tons of RAM, stylus support and that namesake bent display.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Netflix & Marvel's new Daredevil series is coming April 10th

Ben Affleck's role as blind superhero Matt Murdock/Daredevil may have lead to his more recent casting as Batman, and now the story is coming back, just without Affleck. Daredevil is launching exclusively on Netflix, this time as a 13 episode web show that will, in typical Netflix fashion, be available all at once. Besides being great for binge watchers, this model also lets Marvel & Netflix estimate demand and interest in the entire show, not just a premier episode.
Daredevil will star Charlie Cox in the titular role as well as Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Rosario Dawson and Vincent D'Onofrio. It's also got some serious production talent - Steven S. DeKnight of Buffy, Angel and Spartacus and Drew Goddard of Cabin in the Woods, Lost and Buffy are onboard, as is Marvel's Jeph Loeb.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Motorola brings the Moto X, Moto G and Moto X Pro to China

Motorola's lineup of Android smartphones is quite excellent, but up until now has not been available in the world's largest market. That's now changing, as the Lenovo-owned mobile manufacturer has announced that they're bringing the Moto X(in February,) Moto G and Moto X Pro(after Spring Festival) to China. Wait, what's the Moto X Pro? Apparently, a new name for the handset co-developed with Google known here as the Nexus 6, since the specs seem identical. Also, the Moto G mentioned is the second generation, 2014 edition, but with LTE; That's interesting, as LTE is not as of yet available on the 2nd gen US Moto G, only on the older first gen model.

Dell's early 2015 laptop lineup includes new XPS 13, 15 and Alienware 15 & 17

Dell's revamped almost their entire consumer laptop line today, and there's a couple stand out devices that look excellent.
XPS 13: The new XPS 13 has edge to edge glass on top of a display with bezels that are just 5mm thick, allowing a 13" screen in a very small frame. They've also majorly upgraded the battery life, with a claimed run time of 15 hours on the 1080p screen-equipped model. But 1080p isn't the top of the line display option here: You can upgrade to a 3200x1800p touchscreen, and it should have plenty of power to run that with the Intel Broadwell Core i3, i5 or i7 processors. There's also a 2.6 pound carbon fiber frame and up to a 256GB SSD, but sadly only 4 or 8GB's of RAM, with no 16GB option. On the other hand, it starts at a mere $799 with the Core i3, 1080p screen, and 4GB's of RAM. 
XPS 15: Again, the main highlight here is the display. Competing against the Apple Retina Macbook Pro, the XPS 15 has a 4K(3840x2160) touchscreen to the Pro's 2880x1800 non-touch panel. It also now runs on Intel's 5th gen Broadwell Core i processors. The 4K version will start at $2349.
Alienware 15 & 17: The latest from Dell's gaming sub brand now feature Broadwell Core i7's and NVidia GTX 980m GPU's. They're also compatible with the "graphics amplifier" they announced last year that lets you connect an external GPU and upgrade it when it becomes out of date. The 15" model will start at $1299 and the 17" version at $1499. They're also both made out of a mix of carbon fiber and aluminum now, allowing for a 20% weight reduction, and the giant Alienware 18 is no more.
Venue 8 7000 Series: This intriguing, super thin tablet with Intel RealSense that Dell announced last year is now finally available through & Best Buy for $399, with an LTE version coming soon.
Inspiron 15 7000 Series: Like the display of the XPS 15 but can't afford one? The lower end Inspiron 15 will also be getting a 4K touchscreen option in the form of the 7000 series, which'll start at $1099.

Razer Forge TV is an Android TV console that can stream games from any PC

Over the last year, two services have launched that let you stream full desktop PC & current gen console games to devices that would normally not be anywhere near powerful enough to run them: NVidia's Gamestream and Sony's Playstation Remote Play. They open up the possibility of running full PC and PS4 games respectively on phones, tablets, or TV's with no attached console, which is extremely compelling. Unfortunately, both require a rather tremendous buy in to that company's product portfolio. For NVidia's, you need a gaming PC with one of their high end GTX GPU's, and their Android tablet, while with Sony you need a Playstation 4 and an Xperia smartphone, tablet or Bravia TV. So if you don't want to go all in on Sony or NVidia, you're out of luck.
That may be part of why Razer, a gaming startup that began selling high end peripherals but now makes everything from laptops to smart wristbands, is now starting their own similar service. Known as Cortex, it's launching on the also-intriguing Forge TV, and it provides a key advantage: Your host computer can be... well, almost anything. Any Windows PC, whether it has an NVidia, AMD or Intel GPU, from any manufacturer, can run the server app and stream all of your installed games. And it'll even work with any Android 5.0 Lollipop device, not just the Forge TV. That's a pretty killer idea, and if Razer can execute it properly this might be a legitimate new home console for a fraction of the price of a PS4 or Xbox One for anyone with a gaming PC.

But what's the Forge TV that Cortex will run on, anyway? It's the second Android TV set top box to come to market, and at first glance it looks like just another competitor to the Roku 3, Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV. And yes, it does everything those devices can do - play Netflix, Hulu, Google Play Music/Movies/TV, Youtube, your own local content from a hard drive, etc. It also has Google Cast, which debuted on the Chromecast, baked in so if you're watching a movie or listening to music on your phone, tablet or PC, you can tap a button and it'll start playing on your TV. It'll even mirror your entire screen from an Android or ChromeOS device. But here's the key differentiator of Android TV over the competition: It's just Android with a new UI for the big screen, so the legions of Android 3rd party app developers already know how to program for it. This means that there's a decent selection of games, media apps and various other useful additions to the functionality available through the Play Store, and more coming all the time. In fact, since Sony and Sharp have announced that they're launching Android TV's, and with this new box from Razer, the app count should swell rapidly.

As for hardware specs, the Forge runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 quad core 2.5 GHz CPU with an Adreno 420 GPU, making it massively more powerful then the Ouya, Fire TV or other Android consoles. There's also 2GB's of RAM, Gigabit Ethernet, WiFi 802.11ac, 16GB's of storage, Bluetooth 4.1, a USB 3.0 port, and Android TV based off of 5.0 Lollipop. It also supports up to 4 simultaneously connected controllers, and Razer would be very happy if those were it's new, oddly named Serval gamepads. They look pretty similar to an Xbox controller, with two sticks, a d pad and four action buttons, plus miscellaneous other's for controlling the interface, and will cost a pricey $79. But that price comes with the normally-$39 Cortex streaming app included for free. The Forge TV is also compatible with Razer's new Turret keyboard, which is designed for living rooms and offers a magnetized pad for your mouse.
The Forge TV starts at $99, but you really shouldn't buy that one. For $149, it'll come bundled with the Serval controller and Cortex streaming service, which turns this from a run of the mill set top box into an extremely interesting gaming device.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Sony's 2015 TV lineup runs Android TV, is mostly 4K

Sony may not be announcing any curved, flexible or OLED TV's at CES this year, but I think their new lineup is among the best we've seen. First of all, instead of making their own smart TV platform that will further fragment the market for developers, they're getting behind Android TV. Almost the entire range runs Google's TV platform, which also runs on Sharp TV's and the ASUS Nexus Player. Next, most of them also support Playstation Now, meaning they can stream Playstation 3 games without an attached console, and Google Cast to mirror your phone/tablet/laptop's video on the TV.
The top of the line is the XBR-X900 series, which has their new X1 4K engine for enhanced clarity, contrast & scaling, and has the Triluminos for expanded color. It's also an insane 4.9mm thick at it's thinnest point, making it the thinnest TV Sony's ever made. It comes in 55, 65 or 75 inch versions, and has a sleek touchpad remote.
The XBR-X930/940 series loses the super thin frame but instead gets built in speakers and subwoofers, and retains all other features and capabilities, as well as the sizes.
The next line downwards is the XBR-X850, which doesn't have the X1 engine but keeps everything else. Then the XBR-X830 series, which has X1 but not Triluminos or the touchpad remoteand is smaller, with 43 or 49" panels.
Finally, there's the KDL-W850, which is a 1080p TV with Android TV and Playstation Now in 65 or 75 inch versions, and the KDL-W800, which is the same in 50 or 55
" versions.

Sony Smartwatch 3 is now stainless steel and customizable

The Sony Smartwatch 3 was the first Android Wear smartwatch with built in GPS and one of the the only two with a heart rate sensor, making it among the best for runners. It also has IP67-rated waterproofing, 4GB's of RAM, and a quad core CPU, making for a very solid watch. It was also one of the more ugly Android Wear watches at launch. Luckily, Sony's now unveiled a stainless steel version that makes a remarkable difference - it's actually a quite good looking watch now, in my opinion. The stainless steel Smartwatch 3 is coming next month, and may be the best Android Wear watch we've seen so far.

Sony Walkman ZX2 is a $1200 audiophile-oriented FLAC player

Sony's CES keynote was predictably crazy, with Tony Hawk, 4K everything, 4mm thick 75" screen TV's, a "Symphonic Light Speaker," Smart Eyeglasses, smartwatches, virtual fitness coaches, and much more. But perhaps the most Sony product they announced was the Walkman ZX2 - it combines every defining characteristic of Sony I can think of. The hardware is exquisitely beautiful in a unique way. It's created very specifically for a small niche audience. The software is incredibly behind the times for no seeming reason. The price tag is ridiculously, laughably expensive, You probably shouldn't buy one. And it's the best at what it does because no one else would ever do this.
At a basic level, it's a portable media player oriented at audiophiles running Android.

The first thing Sony got right is the design: It's a rugged matte black aluminum device with rounded edges and circular buttons embedded in said edges, as well as a circular gold enclosure for the headphone jack. Opposite that jack is a circular, physical volume knob, and the front of the device is a glass-covered touchscreen. It somehow simultaneously evokes Sony's 1980s heyday and looks very modern, if not futuristic. Sony claims the sound quality is great, and given the 192kHz/24 bit Hi-Res audio, FLAC & WAV support(along with all the standard formats,) gold-plated copper components, and S-Master amplifier, I'm inclined to believe them. It even has software to attempt to upconvert the quality of streaming audio services such as Spotify or Google Music. Plus there's 128GB's of flash storage and a microSD card slot for storing a fairly large music library and NFC for one touch pairing with Bluetooth headphones or speakers.

On the other hand, it costs an insane $1199, runs Android 4.2(released in 2012,) which is 3 major versions behind, and has a pitiful 854x480 resolution screen. Basically, it makes very little sense in a world where your smartphone is an excellent music player. But I still kind of want one.

LG's 2015 TV lineup: 4K, OLED,flexible and Quantum Dots are all in attendance

The LG TV family this year seems to subscribe to the school of thought that the more marketing buzzwords you can string in front of a product name the better. The top of the line models have OLED 4K Ultra HD flexible displays, which means that they're 3840x2160p organic light emitting diode panels that can switch between being curved(a better experience for 1 or 2 viewers) to flat. 
Below those are the curved-but-not-flexible and standard old flat OLED 4K models. Then, at the comparatively low end, there's Quantum Dot 4K LCD displays which offers 30% better color efficiency then last year's LG 4K TV's. 
All of the above screens will come with LG webOS 2.0, which adds some UI tweaks, 4K Netflix and Amazon support, and 60% faster bootups then last year's version, and come in 55, 65 or 77 inch versions. 

ASUS Transformer Book Chi line comes in 3 super thin sizes

The 2-in-1 convertible laptop, where you have a tablet that docks into a keyboard, was mostly invented by ASUS several years back. Now, they're unveiling their latest refinement of the line, known as the Transformer Book Chi. Available in 8.9", 10" and 13" versions, it simultaneously competes with traditional tablets on the low end and laptops on the high end. The $299 Chi T90 has a 1280x800 8.9" display and an impressive 7.5mm frame, all powered by Intel's latest Atom. Next up, the 10" T100 has a 1920x1080p panel and a thickness of just 7.2mm for $699. And finally, the T300 is a legitimate laptop replacement with an Intel Core M processor, 2560x1440 IPS 13" display, and a $799 price tag. All 3 run Windows, have keyboard docks and SonicMaster audio.

Lenovo's 2015 consumer laptop line includes their lightest laptop ever

Yesterday Lenovo updated practically their entire ThinkPad business laptop line, and today they're doing the same for their consumer portfolio. The stars of the show are definitely the new, awkwardly named LaVie Z laptops, but there's quite a lot of options.
LaVie Z HZ550 and HZ750: They're light. Really, really light. Designed in collaboration with NEC, the LaVie duo use magnesium-lithium, the HZ550 manages to weigh just 1.72 pounds yet cram in an Intel Broadwell Core i5 processor, not one of the Core M or Atom chips common in other ultra-thin devices. It's also a crazy 16.9mm thick, and has a 2560x1440 13.3" display, 128GB SSD, 2 USB 3.0 ports, HDMI out, 4GB's of RAM and WiFi 802.11ac. The HZ750 meanwhile, weighs a still-impressive 2.04 pounds and adds in a touchscreen, Core i7 processor and 8GB's of RAM. The HZ550 is $1299 and the HZ750 will start at $1499, launching this May in the US and a bit earlier in Japan.
IdeaPad Yoga 3 11 and 14: These take the mostly excellent Yoga 3 Pro and bring down the price somewhat. The Yoga 3 14 fits a 14" 1920x1080p touchscreen with thin bezels in the same space as the Yoga 3 Pro's 13" 3200x1800p panel, and does away with the fancy watchband hinge. It starts at $999 though, and should have better performance since it has a brand new Intel Broadwell Core i7 as opposed to the low-powered Core M in the Yoga 3 Pro. There's also an optional NVidia Geforce GPU, 8GB's of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, The 11" model is similar, but without the NVidia GPU option, a $799 base price and a smaller chassis. Clementine orange, silver, white or black are all available options.
ThinkPad Yoga 12, 14 and 15: Refreshes of last year's models, the ThinkPad Yoga lines combine the business oriented software and design of a ThinkPad with the touchscreen and 360 degree hinge of a Yoga. They all offer stylus support, and the 15" version has Intel's RealSense for using gesture controls similarly to the Kinect. They all have 1920x1080p IPS touchscreens, a 1TB hard drive or 256GB SSD, and Dolby speakers. The 12" model has an Intel Pentium processor, up to 8GB's of RAM, a 2.8 pound, 0.7" thick chassis, and a base price of $999. The 14 incher has the same specs except for an Intel Broadwell Core i7 CPU, a 4.2 pound, 0.8" chassis and a starting price of $1199. Meanwhile, the 15" version adds the option of a discrete NVidia GPU and 16GB's of RAM, plus a 5.1 pound weight, also for $1199.
Yoga Tablet 2 8: It's an 8" 1080p Windows tablet with an Intel Atom CPU, but there's one super cool feature: You can write on it with any pen or pencil, not just specialized styli. Starting price is $299.

ASUS ZenFone 2, ZenFone Zoom have extremely low prices, optional optical zoom

ASUS isn't a big smartphone player, but their latest two devices are surprisingly compelling. Lets start with the Zenfone 2: It's a nice looking rounded metal device with a 5.5" 1080p IPS display, 13MP camera, and a 64 bit Intel Atom processor, plus it's the first smartphone with 4GB's of RAM. But the most compelling aspect is the price: It costs just $199 unlocked, which is unheard of for this high end of a device.
Meanwhile, the Zenfone Zoom is large and bulky, but for good reason: It's got a 3x optical zoom for the camera. Yes, optical, not digital, meaning you'll be able to zoom in without reducing image quality. Otherwise, it's mostly similar to the ZenFone 2, with optical image stabilization on the camera and a $399 unlocked price tag.

Google Cast updated to support wireless whole home audio

Google's Cast protocol lets you wirelessly "cast" video or your display to your TV with the tap of one button, which is pretty awesome but overkill for listening to music. Therefore, today Mountain View's finest have announced Google Cast for Audio, which takes on Apple's Airplay by doing exactly what it sounds like it should do. Buy a compatible speaker(so far Sony, Denon and LG have announced support) and tap the cast button in any supported app on your phone/tablet/computer and the speaker will instantly start playing your music. It sounds like a great idea, and so far the app support is pretty decent: Google's own Play Music app, NPR One, Pandora, Rdio, Songza, Tunein, iHeartRadio and BeyondPod will be launch partners. Plus, any developer will be able to use the existing Cast API to add support. And of course, just like the old video-only Google Cast, this will work with Android, iOS, Mac OS X, Windows and ChromeOS, unlike Apple's Airplay which is iOS-and-OS X-only. Even better, speaker and soundbar manufacturers can support both Cast and Airplay in the same speaker. 

LG G Flex 2 is a refined, slightly smaller curved phone with a self healing back

Last year's LG G Flex had two remarkable attributes: First of all, it was both curved and somewhat flexible, which LG believes makes it better looking and more durable then a normal phone, and secondly it had a self healing back plate. Essentially, minor scratches would naturally "heal" themselves over a couple of hours.
This year's model takes those two strong points, enhances them, and fixes the major issues with the rest of the phone, making this an extremely compelling device. This time around the screen is a much more manageable, good looking 1080p 5.5" panel instead of a 720p 6" display. The self healing process occurs in just seconds or a couple of minutes instead of up to 3 hours. They've enhanced the Corning Gorilla Glass 3 front plate with a chemical coating making it 20% stronger.
The curve is less extreme, but it's still flexible so if you, say, sit on it it can naturally flatten instead of breaking. And of course, the standard phone parts have been upgraded as well: There's now a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, the brand new 2.0GHz octacore chip that LG has managed to be the first to debut. There's also the excellent 13MP camera and laser autofocus from the LG G3, and either 2 or 3GB's of RAM with 16 or 32 GB's of storage. Android 5.0 Lollypop is the OS of choice here, with LG's skin riding along mostly unchanged.