Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Pebble Time Steel is a metal Pebble Time with a bonded display

The Pebble Time was just announced a few days ago(and has already crossed $14.6 million in pre orders) but they now have announced a slightly higher end version. For $249 or a $49 charge for people who preordered the bast Time, the Time Steel adds slightly thicker stainless steel frame in silver, gold or black, and includes both a leather and a metal band. There's also a battery with twice the charge capacity, though Pebble's aiming for 7 rather than 5 days of use on the standard Time, and the display is bonded to it's glass covering. Most importantly, there's a magnetic connector on the back that can transfer data or power to a "smart strap," a band which could be extra battery or display lights for notifications, for example. Those will be up to 3rd parties to build though, as Pebble's just baking in the port and software support.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Sony Z4 Tablet is a stunning, super thin, waterproof 10" tablet with great specs

Sony's flagship Xperia Z line has always had gorgeous, incredible designs, though early on they also had a lot of issues with displays, cameras, price and software. Gradually though, almost all of those have been resolved, meaning if you're willing to pay quite a lot of money, Sony will sell you some of the best Android devices around. The new Z4 tablet is proof of that, with some positively incredible engineering & design but a price point at the high end of what anyone will pay for a tablet.
It's essentially a refresh of the excellent Z2 Tablet, but with upgrades to nearly everything. It's truly beautiful in person(pictures just don't do justice to Sony's designs) and is remarkably thin at 6.1mm and 389 grams. That equals the iPad Air 2 on thickness and surpasses it on weight savings. Yet while when almost any other manufacturer reduces battery, durability and screen quality when they make devices thinner, Sony has somehow still packed in a 6000mAh battery they rate at 17 hours of usage. They also kept the waterproofing of the Z2 Tablet, which is quite incredible on a device this thin, and you don't even need an annoying cap for the USB port anymore to keep your tablet safe from spilled drinks or falling in a shallow pool. And the screen is a 2560x1600 2K TriLuminos LCD that's 40% brighter than the Z2 and can reproduce 130% of the Adobe sRGB spectrum. Sure, Apple's iPad Air 2, HTC's Nexus 9 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S also have great, higher than 1080p displays, but this one should be pretty good.
And what none of those previously mentioned competitors have, yet at least, is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810, which is the latest crown jewel processor from Qualcomm. It's got 4 64 bit 2.0GHz cores and 4 lower power 1.5GHz cores for battery savings, and it positively screams in early tests on the LG G Flex 2 and HTC One M9. There's also optional LTE, 32GB's of storage, rear 8MP and front 5MP cameras, 3GB's of RAM, and microSD expansion. Software is handled by Android 5.0 Lollipop with a few Sony additions, and Sony's also offering a Bluetooth keyboard dock and bundling Microsoft Office.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Samsung Galaxy S6 & S6 Edge are the best looking, best specced Samsung's ever

Samsung's just unveiled their latest flagship phones, and unlike the HTC One M9, they're quite a bit different than last year's models.
First off, there's now two Galaxy S flagships: The S6 and S6 Edge, which is like the Note 4 Edge in that the screen curves around the edge of the device to provide a few extra pixels for showing notifications and whatnot. Let's start with the normal S6, however; Samsung's somehow completely reworked the design while still keeping it recognizable as one of their devices, and it's gorgeous now. I've never cared for Samsung phones before - sure, they have great specs, but they're made out of a cheap feeling, flimsy plastic, which is both ugly and not as durable as the competition. That's started to change with the Galaxy Alpha and Note 4 however, and now the evolution is complete. The S6 is positively stunning, with a Gorilla Glass 4 back and front and metal frame, in white, black, gold, blue or green
Software is handled by Android 5.0 Lollipop with Samsung's TouchWiz skin, which has been toned down a bit and modernized, but is still questionably designed and completely unnecessary with how good Lollipop is stock. And of course, you'll get slower updates and more draw on system resources due to it.
. Internally, the S6 has a 64 bit octa core Samsung Exynos processor, 32, 64 or 128GB's of storage, 3GB's of DDR4 RAM, a 16MP camera with optical image stabilization, real time HDR and 4K video, and a 5MP front camera. The 5.1" screen has a density of 577 PPI, due to a 2560x1440 resolution, and there's a 2550mAh battery that supports wireless charging through both WPC and PMA, the two major standards. There's NFC for quick pairing, data transfers or mobile payments through Google Wallet or the new Samsung Pay, and an IR remote control feature.
Because of the inclusion of wireless charging, much faster wired charging, and better battery life, Samsung's seen fit to do away with the removable batteries of the previous versions, which will be unpopular with some. They've also gotten rid of the microSD card slot(amusingly on the same day HTC added one in to their flagship) and the water proofing of the S5, which is a much bigger omission.

The Galaxy S6 Edge is much the same as the S6, but with a curved screen on two sides that shows you a little extra bit of content. It can also host the navigation elements of an app to free up more space on the main part of the display. Besides the screen, the S6 Edge has a slightly larger battery at 2600mAh, and is just a hair thicker at 7mm instead of 6.8.

HTC & Valve team up for the Vive virtual reality headset

Everyone and their grandmother seem to be announcing virtual reality headsets these days, though not one company so far has showed off a finished, consumer oriented device. HTC is not changing that state of affairs, but what they are doing is teaming up with gaming titan Valve to announce the Vive. It's yet another developer kit VR device, but it's rather interesting because of the control set up. But first, the specs: Essentially, you plug the Vive into your PC, and it fires up a 1280x1000, 90 frames per second refresh rate screen in front of each of your eyes, You can then use it with just the two bundled controllers and the headsets gyroscope and laser position sensor for head tracking(to the 1/10th of a degree.) Or alternatively, you can get two of Valve's Steam VR base stations, which will track your position and motion within a 15 square foot area to allow you to walk or run in a virtual world. Besides a whole variety of game studios and Valve itself, HTC and Valve are partnering with Google, HBO, Lionsgate and the National Palace Museum to create content for the Vive.

HTC One M9 is an iterative upgrade with a new camera, blazing fast CPU

The new HTC One M9 is nearly indistinguishable from last year's One M8, which was itself not much different from the 2013 One M7. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as their design is quite handsome - definitely one of the best looking smartphones around. The lack of changes to anything except the specs is rather disappointing in a supposedly all new device, though.
Inside is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, the brand new chip that bakes in 4 64 bit 2GHz cores and 4 older, lower power 1.5GHz cores to save battery. There's also a new 20MP camera on the back, while the 4 "Ultrapixel" shooter from last year is now on the front, making this one of the better selfie phones around. The battery is larger, at 2840mAh, and there's now 3GB's of RAM, 32GB's of storage and a microSD card slot for adding up to 128 more GB's. They've moved the power button down from the top of the phone to the right side, and Android 5.0 Lollipop with HTC Sense 7 is now preinstalled. And.. that's really about it for changes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

2015 Motorola Moto E is faster, bigger, and LTE capable, but still amazingly cheap

Last year's Motorola Moto E cost a rather incredible $120 while offering decent specs, a durable, good looking design, near stock Android with guaranteed upgrades, and water resistance. This year's model keeps all of those strong points while offering a few major upgrades.
First off, there's now a 4.5" screen(still 960x540 sadly) powered by Qualcomm's quad core, 1.2GHz Snapdragon 410 processor, with 1GB of RAM. The storage has been doubled to 8GB's with microSD expansion, and there's finally a front facing camera for video calls and the all important selfie.
Perhaps the biggest upgrade, however, is 4G LTE support. They've also added autofocus to the 5MP rear camera, and instead of interchangeable back plates there's now a colored band around the phone that you can replace. And of course, this being a modern Motorola device, it runs Android 5.0 Lollipop with a few useful additions but no bloatware or UI changes, and guaranteed updates. It's also quite well built, and keeps the water resistance of the original.
The LTE, Snapdragon 410 version will cost you $149 off contract/unlocked, and there's a cheaper version with all the other enhancements but no LTE and a Snapdragon 200 for $119. The Snapdragon 200 is still a quad core 1.2GHz chip, but is 32 bit and has less powerful graphics and no LTE support.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Pebble Time adds a color screen, new OS to the Kickstarter darling

In April of 2012, an unheard of startup named Pebble launched a campaign on the fledgling crowd funding platform Kickstarter, to raise a few hundred thousand and make a smartwatch. They crossed $10 million in pledges, legitimatized Kickstarter, built a company that just shipped their 1 millionth watch, and now everyone from Apple to Samsung is making smartwatches.
Despite the competition, Pebble just announced the Pebble Time, also launching on Kickstarter, not because they need the funding this time, but as an homage to their backers and recognition of their roots. What is the Pebble Time? A smartwatch that keeps the original's focus of being a watch first, then a smartwatch, and emphasizing battery life over extra features. It still will last a claimed 7 days without charging(the competition aims for 2 days, but does much more) but has a completely reworked OS and new hardware. The display is now color, but don't expect touch control or high resolution; Instead, this is an evolution of the e-paper display in the original, not an LCD or OLED. Therefore, it can be on constantly so you don't have to flick your wrist or hit a button to see the time, without using tons of power, but the trade off is a mere 64 colors and a slow refresh rate.
The other big hardware addition is a microphone, which Pebble's CEO Eric Migicovsky liked in the Android Wear competition they tried, so they implemented it - with a few changes. Since the voice search offered in those isn't extremely reliable, especially in noisy situations, the Pebble Time won't do that. Instead, it can record quick notes or songs, or let you reply to notifications like texts or emails, either by dictation or by sending back a recording if you're somewhere dictation wouldn't work.
On the software side, the OS is brand new, but still supports the ~6500 3rd party apps available for the Pebble and Pebble Steel. The basic metaphor of the interface is, appropriately for a watch, based around time. The center screen that you see all the time is your chosen custom watch face, and then you can hit one of the three buttons to go to the Past, Present or Future. What does that mean? Well, the past is your notifications, synced from your phone. Read your email, Twitter mentions, how many steps you've taken today, and other things that have already transpired. Future is what's coming up; Your calendar appointments, reminders, alarms, package tracking, and things like transit alerts. Present is how you access apps - want to control the music playing or trigger the camera shutter of your phone, play a quick game, or pay at Starbucks? That's all right now in time.
It's an interesting metaphor, and apparently a lot of people like the idea; The Kickstarter launched this morning, is currently sitting at over $5 million funded, and broke $2 million in less than an hour
.Mr. Migicovsky and team are having a very, very good day.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sol Republic Tracks Air headphones $125 off right now

I've had good luck with Sol Republic earbuds, and right now their flagship wireless headphones are on sale for more than half off. The usually-$200 Tracks Airs are $74.99 from now through March 3rd on Motorola's website, which is quite a great deal on wireless headphones with 15 hours of battery life and a 150 foot range. They use Bluetooth, and are therefore compatible with any smartphone, tablet, or smartwatch and quite a lot of desktop and laptop computers. They're available in blue, red, black or white.
Source: Motorola

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 8" review

A little over a year ago, I reviewed the Lenovo Yoga Tablet, which had a cool design, great battery life, and low price, but a mediocre screen, slow processor and rather annoying software skin. Today, I'm taking a look at the Yoga Tablet 2 8", which improves on all of the high points of the original and fixes two of my complaints, making for an all around much better device. But the competition has evolved too, so we'll have to see whether it's still a competitive device.

The most important aspect of the spec sheet: They fixed the screen, and it's now excellent. While a 1280x800 panel on a 10" tablet was disappointing even back in 2013, the 1920x1200p full HD IPS 8" display here is positively great. I've been using the Yoga rather than my Macbook Air to watch Netflix, the music video for Nickel Creek's Hayloft, and read the e-textbook for my upper divisional algorithm & data structures class simply because the screen is so much higher density. In fact, it clocks in at 330 pixels per inch, which is pretty great. There's also the kickstand, but more on that later.
However, the competition also have great screens - The ASUS Nexus 7 is still available for the same price as the Yoga 8 and matches the resolution at 7", while the Apple iPad Mini 2 has an even better screen for $299. So the rest of the specs have to be good as well. Luckily, they're a lot better than the first time around: Instead of a Rockchip processor, the Yoga 2 has an Intel Atom quad core, 64 bit 1.33GHz CPU, 2GB's of RAM, an 8MP rear camera, and 16GB's of storage with microSD expansion.
On the Geekbench 3 benchmarking tool, the Yoga 2 scored 2396, which trails $300-$400 tablets like the NVidia Shield, Samsung Tab S, & HTC Nexus 9 but puts it ahead of other low to midrange devices. The Nexus 7, LG G Pad and most ASUS & Samsung tablets except the Tab S line are all slower than the Yoga 2.
Battery life wise, there's nothing to complain about here, with the tablet lasting me a good 2 full days of usage with 4 hours of streaming video, some web browsing, PDF's reading, email management and lots of music streaming. So all in all, I'd say that rather than being just alright as with the original Yoga, the specs are great for the price for the Yoga 2. Certainly, the Shield Tablet or Nexus 9 will be faster and in the latter case have a better screen, but they cost $80 and $180 more respectively.

I quite liked the design of the original Yoga Tablet, and I still do. But it's barely changed, and the competition has. Obviously, the 8" version is smaller and lighter, and the kickstand can now rotate a full 180 degrees and be used to hang the tablet, but that's it. Against the Sony Z3 Tablet, Dell Venue 8 or iPad Mini 2, the design pales, but luckily for Lenovo those cost quite substantially more than their latest. Versus other ~$220 tablets such as Samsung's Galaxy Tab 4 and the Nexus 7, I like the Yoga 2 the best. And that kickstand is awesome - being able to prop the device up on any mostly flat surface is simply great. I started using it with Android's Daydream mode as a digital picture frame, which was rather fun. Plus, the front facing stereo speakers are still around, and still much better than the muffled sound you get from back or side speakers. I tried them out with Haas Kowert Tice's You Got This, Tim McGraw's Sundown Heaven Town, and the recently Grammy-winning Bass & Mandolin from Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer.  They lack bass and volume compared to my desktop Logitech Z530's. of course, but I actually preferred them to my Macbook Air's built in speakers.
Here's a request though: Please add water resistance like Sony's Z3 tablet or Motorola, Sony and Samsung phones offer.

Not even all of it.
Here's the Yoga 2's weak point. Just like Samsung, LG and ASUS, but unlike NVidia, Nexus devices and Lenovo's own sub-brand Motorola, Lenovo customizes and changes many aspects of Android, and only a few for the better. The homescreen has been designed to look more like Apple's iOS, with all your icons, extreme colors and no separate app drawer. The lockscreen is just a large picture you can swipe away, with a quick shortcut for the camera, but no widgets like in stock Android. If you swipe up from the bottom of the screen, there's one of two software changes I like, a quick settings bar that's useful and well designed. The other good change is the addition of(rather limited) multi window support, which lets you have small apps floating above your main app. This is nice for multitasking, but it only supports a few apps, such as Chrome, a calculator and a local video player, and you can't easily resize or snap the 2 apps, like in Samsung's similar system. Then there's the bloatware: Lenovo's pre installed Security HD, 3 separate network/cloud sharing apps, a photo frame app(even tho
ugh that's built into Android,) a users guide, a gaming app store, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Kingsoft Office, Kindle, and Route 66 Navigate. Luckily, and unlike some competitors(cough Samsung) you can uninstall these unnecessary apps.
Of course, all of this software customization means that the Yoga 2 is stuck on Android 4.4, when Android 5.0 has been out since last year. One funny but sad side effect of this: The processor inside is a 64 bit chip but the OS is still 32 bit.

Competition: Lenovo's found a good price point for the Yoga 2, especially the 8" version, as the $200-$250 range is sparse on competition at the moment. If you're looking at other 7 or 8" tablets in that range, your choices are mainly the $220 Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 8" & ASUS Nexus 7 and the $250 original Apple iPad Mini. The Tab 4 has a low resolution 1280x800 screen, slower processor, and even more overwrought software skin. The Nexus 7 is better, with an equivalent display, clean, stock Android and fast upgrades, but it has a 2013-era processor, no kickstand and is gradually being discontinued. For slightly more money, the iPad Mini has way, way more quality apps and is somewhat smaller, but it has a comparatively terrible screen, a quarter the RAM, worse speakers and no kickstand. If you go lower, you can save maybe $100 and get an entry level Lenovo IdeaPad A8 or ASUS MeMO Pad, but you're losing out on screen, CPU, build quality and design.
On the higher end of the spectrum, at $300 there's the excellent iPad Mini 2 and NVidia Shield. Both have similar or better screens, faster processors, and are better for gaming(in the iPad's case, there's simply more games available, while the Shield can stream PC games.) But if you only read books, articles, manage emails, browse the web and watch movies, the Yoga's screen, kickstand and front speakers make it equitable, for a full 27% less money.
If you jump up to the $400 market, you're now comparing against Dell's Venue 8 and the iPad Mini 3, which are all far better devices, but I question whether any 8" tablet is worth $400.

Accessories: Lenovo offers a portable battery recharger, Bluetooth mouse, $29 sleeve case and $19 in ear headsets for the Yoga 2. Android isn't really meant to be used with a mouse, and there's better 3rd party options for the earbuds and battery, but if you're picking up the Yoga 2 you might as well get the case. A keyboard, such as this excellent Logitech unit, might be a good idea as well.

Summary: The Yoga Tablet 2 is a handsome device with a great screen, extremely useful kickstand, good battery life and performance, held back by Lenovo's software customization to an out of date version of Android. Most of all, it makes me wish Lenovo would take some queues from their new acquisition Motorola, and guarantee fast OS upgrades, scale back to more tasteful software, and offer water resistance. Something like the Moto Maker design customization program wouldn't hurt either. But if you want a small tablet, can't afford the $400 Dell or Apple options, and don't care about gaming or fast upgrades enough to spend the extra for the NVidia Shield, buy the Yoga Tablet 2.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Dell's Venue 10 line has your choice of OS, nice balance between specs, design and price

The 10" tablet market isn't exactly booming - Apple still dominates, and even they aren't selling as many iPads as they once did. But there's still people who want a 10" tablet, and Dell just introduced 2 very interesting ones, along with a new Chromebook and Windows laptop.
Dell Venue 10: Normally, Android tablets in the 10" space are either very cheap but with horrible materials, build, screens and ancient versions of Android covered in tons of bloatware, or they're really expensive. There aren't many options in between for those who prefer 10 to 8 inches, and Android to Windows or iOS. That's exactly the gap that Dell's attempting to fill here: While the Venue 10 is ostensibly targeted at schools, it'd be just as good for regular consumers. It runs the latest version of Android, 5.0 Lollipop, with a 10" screen with either 1280x800 or 1920x1200 resolutions, has an optional keyboard dock, an active stylus for precise note taking and drawing, LTE mobile data support and NFC. The design looks quite well made and handsome, as well, and it's surprisingly powerful: There's an Intel Core M processor at 2.0 or 2.9GHz dual core, 2GB's of RAM, front and rear cameras, and between 64 and 256GB's of storage. Unfortunately, we don't know the price as of yet, but it'll go on sale this spring.

Dell Venue 10 Pro: The Venue 10 Pro is identical to the Venue 10, but running Windows 8.1 instead of Android 5.0. It'll cost $329 or $379 with the keyboard dock.
Dell Chromebook 11(2015): One of the better Chromebooks during the early part of last year, the Chromebook 11 is back now with a few cool features and one major letdown. There's now an activity light on the back for orchestrating student groups or quizzes, waterproofing, and optional touchscreen, and Intel's latest Atom CPU. Unfortunately, the screen is the same as before, and while a 1366x768 resolution 11" display was pitiful last year, it's completely unacceptable now. It'll start at $249 and go on sale today, February 12th.
Dell Latitude 11: Again, it's identical to the Chromebook 11, but with Microsoft's latest OS instead of Google's. Available March 3rd for $299.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Reviews coming soon: Lenovo Yoga 2 8", Android Wear hands on

My contacts in the Lenovo press department are sending me a Yoga 2 eight inch Android tablet to review, and I've purchased a Motorola Moto 360. Stay tuned for both of those - if you have any questions about either, send me a Tweet @Dacelbot. 
I'm also looking into another possible guest post from my friend Forrest Rosetti, who previously reviewed the Google Nexus 5 for us!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Ford Focus RS is finally coming to the US, with AWD, Ecoboost I4, and >315 horsepower

The Ford Focus ST is already a great driving, extremely fast hot hatch that hits well above it's price, but over in Europe, Ford offers an even more extreme Focus. Today, it's coming to the US for the first time ever, and it looks positively amazing. Featuring the same Ecoboost 2.3 liter 4 cylinder from the Mustang, but completely rebuilt with at least 315 horsepower, it['s also the first Focus in the States with AWD. There's also dynamic torque vectoring control, Ford's Sync infotainment system, and Pilot Super Sport tires. And that's all wrapped up in a rather great looking body, in my opinion.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Android 5.0 is on it's way to the Samsung Galaxy S5

Samsung's flagship Galaxy S5 hasn't been the fastest to receive new versions of Android, but it's finally getting Lollipop: Android 5.0, customized of course with Samsung's TouchWiz skin, is rolling out starting now to Verizon S5's, with the other models following later. Besides all the normal new features of Lollipop, you can expect some changes to the TouchWiz design to bring it in line with 5.0's interface, as well as camera and dialer shortcuts on the lockscreen.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Google Fiber coming to Atlanta, Nashville, Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte

Google's rather amazing 1Gbps fiber optic internet & TV service is great, but so far it's been very limited; Originally available in just Kansas City, it's since expanded to Austin and Provo, UT. But that's still just 3 cities, which is why this new report from the Wall Street Journal is particularly exciting: Apparently Google is about to announce a roll out of Fiber in four major metro markets, specifically Atlanta Georgia, Nashville Tennessee, and both Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte North Carolina. This would obviously more than double their coverage area, though don't get too excited quite yet - it takes quite a long time from announcement to people actually being able to get Fiber.
According to the Google Fiber website, those are all upcoming Fiber cities now, while San Jose CA, Portland OR, Salt Lake City UT, San Antonio TX and Phoenix AZ are potential sites.

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.