Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Motorola Surround and Pulse are surprisingly affordable wireless headphones

Wireless headphones and earbuds are proliferating, now that the AptX codec has made Bluetooth streaming capable of extremely decent audio quality, but they're mostly rather expensive. Motorola's looking to change that with the new Pulse over-ear headphones and Surround earbuds. They both use Bluetooth 4.1 for low power usage and latency, support HD Audio, A2DP and aptX, and the Surround is waterproof, unlike the older SF500 Buds, which I reviewed, liked and killed with water.
Both also have a microphone and button for taking calls, video chats or issuing voice commands to Google Now on a synced phone. They'll of course also work with laptops, smartwatches, or anything else with Bluetooth.
Best of all, the Surround costs just $59 with 18 hours of rated battery life, and the Pulse costs $69 with 12 hours of endurance.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Motorola's new Moto G, Moto X Pure and Moto X Play look fabulous


Motorola's line of smartphones are some of the most consistently excellent, class leading devices around, despite being relatively low sellers compared to their major competitors. The Moto X, their top of the line model, compares quite well with the Samsung Galaxy S, Apple iPhone and HTC One, but costs much less. Their most popular model, the midrange Moto G, is a solid device as well, and the entry level Moto E is perhaps the most impressive considering it's ridiculously low price.
Today, Motorola unveiled their 2015/16 portfolio, which consists of a decidedly more upmarket Moto G that somehow costs the same, and not one but two new Moto X devices, the Pure and Play.

The 2015 Moto G essentially fixes everything that was wrong with the previous version - which really wasn't a lot. It was already a surprisingly powerful device with a good looking, durable design, and a super low $189 price tag. That's not even mentioning the best part, the near stock version of Android, with just a few useful apps added, not an entire skin, which slows down performance, updates & can introduce security vulnerabilities. That said, you had to buy a special model to get LTE, the camera wasn't the best, and it wasn't waterproof. That's all fixed now: The G gets IPx7 waterproofing, a 13MP camera, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 410 quad core CPU, LTE, and a 5" HD display. It comes with 8 or 16GB's of storage, with 1 or 2GB's of RAM respectively, and costs $179 or $219. Plus, there's still a microSD card slot and interchangeable back plates, and you can now customize the design through Moto Maker just like on the flagship Moto X.
Speaking of which, the Moto X Pure Edition is the new flagship from Chicago's smartphone maker. Motorola doesn't normally play the spec one-upmanship game to the same extent as most, but the new Moto X has some seriously competitive specs. There's Qualcomm's 1.8GHz octacore Snapdragon 808, 3GB's of DDR3 RAM, 3000mAh battery, a 5.7" 2560x1440p IPS display with small bezels, and a 21MP camera. That rear camera is the best Motorola's ever made, with an f/2.0 aperture, video stabilization, 4k recording, 120fps slow mo, video HDR, dual Color Corrected Temperature flash, and phase detect autofocus. The front "selfie" cam is a 5MP shooter with a flash, which is somewhat unusual. Also unusual these days on flagships is a microSD card slot, waterproofing and front facing stereo speakers. All of those are offered on some other high end devices, but Motorola's still the only company that'll let you custom design your phone. You can choose between real wood, Horween Saffiano leather, plastic or rubber, many, many color options for the metal and glass parts, and engraving.


Also unlike most smartphones(but like the Moto G above,) the Moto X Pure Edition is only available at launch online, unlocked and compatible with every carrier, with stock Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. But what does it cost? Just $399 unlocked for the 16GB model, which is just slightly more than half what a Galaxy S6, One M9 or iPhone 6 would cost you. There's also 32 and 64GB versions available, and of course that microSD card lets you add a ton of storage. Sadly, there's no USB Type C port or wireless charging as had been rumored, but there is quick charge support to get 80% of your battery filled in 10 minutes.


There's also yet another new phone, but it's not coming to the US. That would be the Moto X Play, which has a 1080p 5.5" display and Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 instead of a 2160p display and Snapdragon 808, but compensates with a giant 3630mAh battery and otherwise similar specs. Interestingly, in other countries the Moto X Pure will be called the Moto X Style, presumably to differentiate it from the Play. The Play will also be cheaper than the Pure/Style, making it an extremely good value. Finally, the 2014 Moto X is sticking around at $299.







Monday, July 27, 2015

OnePlus Two is a near-flagship phone for half the price

Last year's OnePlus One, the first phone from OnePlus, was an extremely powerful phone considering the sub-$300 price point, but had a variety of compromises next to true flagship devices. The new OnePlus Two is somewhat pricier at $329 for 16/3GB's of storage and RAM or $389 for 64 and 4GB's, but it also has a much more premium design and some features that even top shelf phones don't have. Here's the full spec breakdown: Power is provided by Qualcomm's highest end Snapdragon 810, a 64 bit 8 core 2GHz chip, with a 5.5" 1080p display, 13MP camera and 3300mAH battery. There's also USB Type C, the new reversible, high speed connector that debuted on the Apple Macbook, and a fingerprint reader on the front.
In terms of design, the Two has an aluminum frame with a grippy plastic back that can be changed out for other colors, wood or Kevlar options.

Unfortunately, OnePlus has kept the weird invite system to buy the phone, but if you can put up with that it'll launch on August 11th running Android 5.1 with their "Oxygen OS" skin. It is however, missing a few useful features: There's no NFC for mobile payments(a la Apple Pay/Google Wallet) and no wireless charging or fast charging.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Apple updates the iPod Touch with a new processor, camera, and colors across the whole line

The iPod line has gone from spectacularly successful to living on life support in a relatively short time due to the rise of the smartphone, but Apple still makes the iPod Touch, Shuffle and Nano. This week they actually updated them slightly, which hasn't happened in years. The iPod Touch got the biggest changes, with the Apple A8 processor(albeit at a lower clock speed than in the iPhone 6) and a new 8MP camera, along with iOS 8.4. It'll cost $199 for 16GB's, with 32, 64 or 128GB options adding $50 sequentially. There's also some new colors, rounding out the options to silver, gold, space grey, pink, blue or Project Red.
The low end iPod Shuffle and Nano didn't receive any spec upgrades, but they now offer the same 6 color options as the Touch.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Tesla's Model S now starts at $70k, top notch model can do 0-60 in 2.8 seconds, and there's a new Roadster coming


Tesla Motors' main priority right now might be getting their first SUV, the Model X, out the door, but that's not stopping them from continuing upgrades for the Model S & planning new vehicles. Last night company CEO Elon Musk announced a slate of news on both fronts:
The Model S received the most attention, with a new base model, upgraded battery pack for the higher end versions, and a "Ludicrous" speed mode for the flagship P85D. The cheapest Model S is now the single motor 70 RWD, which slots below the dual motor 70D and costs $5000 less, at a flat $70000 before federal and state incentives. You'll also now be able to buy a 90 kilowatt hour battery pack for the higher end sedans(the 85D and P85D) for $3000, which makes them into a "90D." This new battery breaks the crucial 300 mile range barrier, at least at 65MPH, and will be available for new or current owners.
But the most extraordinary achievement was the Ludicrous mode coming to the P85D, at a cost of $10000 for new owners or as a $5000 upgrade for existing cars. It's a speed setting that lets you accelerate from 0 to 60 MPH in a completely bonkers 2.8 seconds. That's quicker than any Ferrari ever made except for the LaFerrari. or any other sedan in the world.
Finally, Mr. Musk teased that there will be a new Roadster coming in about 4 years, to round out the eventual portfolio of the Model 3, Model X and Model S.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Joy, the next Lawrance/Cooper/De Niro showcase from David O. Russell looks excellent

Director David O. Russell's last two movies, both starring two of my favorite actors, Jennifer Lawrance and Bradley Cooper, have been great. Silver Linings Playbook was sweet, funny, crazy and garnered Ms. Lawrance her first Academy Award. American Hustle was equally crazy and well done, with a number of Oscar nods and a few Golden Globe wins.
That's all just a bit of history to introduce the trailer for Joy, the latest Russell film starring the Cooper and Lawrance again, along with Robert De Niro. It follows the story of Joy Mangano, who became a multimillionaire by starting a company to sell the Miracle Mop, an invention that quickly became immensely popular.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Watch this wonderful video of the McLaren 675LT


If you have any interest at all in cars, driving, engineering/technology, design or adrenaline-inducing activities, these will be 3 minutes well spent. Set it to 4K and full screen and sit back.
The 675LT, named to pay tribute to the McLaren F1 Longtail, is an enhanced 650S with 666HP from a twin turbo V8, using a titanium exhaust that sounds simply amazing. The shade of green that this model is painted in might not be everyone, but irregardless of that it's an exquisitely beautiful car.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Lenovo Flex 3 15 Review

I don't try a lot of 15" laptops. You don't hear very much about 15" laptops in the news. Yet they're still huge sellers - 4 of the top 10 best selling laptops on Amazon at the moment have 15 inch displays. That's due mainly to two categories, low end PC's for those who want just one computer with a big screen & keyboard, and ultra-powerful gaming or workstation devices for pro users. The Flex 3 15" doesn't quite fit into either of those categories, as it's not super cheap but also not a spec monster. What it is, though. is a solid all around computer if you want a large screen for a decent price.

Performance:
The Flex 3 15" has an Intel Core i5-5200U CPU, 8GB's of RAM, a 1920x1080p touchscreen, Lenovo's 360 degree folding design that debuted on the Yoga, and a 1TB HDD. That makes this one step up from the base, $499 Flex 3, coming in at $599 through Lenovo. I had no complaints with the performance - Intel's 5th generation Broadwell chips are great performers, and 8GB's of RAM is plenty. That said, this isn't the computer you want to buy for gaming or, say, video editing as there's no dedicated GPU. Additionally, the old fashioned spinning hard drive, while providing lots of storage at a low price point, makes booting up the computer and starting applications quite slow compared to a modern solid state drive.

Display, Keyboard & Trackpad:
The last Lenovo I reviewed was a much higher end machine, the Lavie Z, with a 2560x1440p IPS 13" display. Next to that impressive panel, the Flex 3's 1920x1080p 15" touchscreen is more pixellated and generally less impressive. I also felt the colors didn't pop as much as most high end screens when watching the Bruce Willis flick Hostage on Netflix. That said, if you remember that this is a ~$600 computer, the 1080p display is actually quite good. Just a couple of years ago, a computer in this price range would've likely had a terrible 1366x768 display, so we're making progress.
On a more positive note, the keyboard is excellent, unlike the weirdly laid out, shallow keys of the Lavie Z. It's a chiclet design with white LED backlighting, a full size numpad, and I had no objections to the layout. The trackpad is fine, if not quite up to the standards of my Macbook Air, but you get a full touchscreen, so you're well covered on the input/output front with the Flex.

Software:
The Flex 15 has a few more unnecessary pre installed applications then the Lavie Z did, but it's much better on that than some Lenovo's and any HP or Acer I've ever used. I did find the preinstalled Mcafee antivirus rather annoying, with its endless popups, but if I was buying one I'd just uninstall it and that would be that. Other than that, you have standard Windows 8.1 update 1, with Windows 10 coming at the end of the month as a free update, both of which are competent operating systems.

Design:
Low-to-midrange 15" laptops are not the category you should look in for stunning industrial design, but within that framework the Flex 3 is actually pretty decent looking. It's 0.96" thick, a little over 4 pounds, and an inobtrusive black with very few annoying stickers, logos and such. It's also features the 360 degree hinge that debuted on the Lenovo Yoga and is now featured on a lot of computers. As I mentioned in my Yoga 3 11" review, it's a useful, versatile feature to have, and in my opinion a much better idea then  the dockable 2 in 1 tablets that are also pretty common these days. All in all, a fine looking computer, if not quite supermodel level.

Battery:
Unfortunately, the battery life is thoroughly mediocre. Lenovo claims 4 hours of usage, which was about my average(though sometimes I saw a full half hour more or less.) That's practically unacceptable in these days of real world 10 or more hour batteries on high end or ultra low power computers, and 5 to 6 on almost everything.
Still, it is powering a rather large, HD touchscreen and spinning hard drive, but please Lenovo: Stick a bigger battery and a(small if needed for cost constraints) SSD in the next model.

Conclusion: 
The Flex 15 doesn't aspire to be the future of computing come early, or a record setter, or even a high end machine in any way. But there's also very little wrong with it besides the battery life, it's quite affordable, and the 360 degree flip design is legitimately useful. In other words, if you just want a laptop, need a big screen, and don't mind carrying the charger with you, the Flex 15 is a pretty good PC.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

2016 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible loses 200lbs, gets a full auto ragtop

Chevy had a glitzy media event on Belle Isle to introduce the 2016 Camaro last month, and today they're showing off the drop top version. The new 6th generation Camaro Convertible, like it's coupe relative, is based on the Alpha platform along with the Cadillac ATS, and as such is 200 pounds lighter than last years. It'll feature the same range of engines, namely a turbo inline 4 cylinder, V6 or LT1 V8, maxing out at 455 horsepower. The ragtop will now stow itself fully automatically at up to 30 miles per hour, or at the touch of a button on the key fob. There's also a metal tonneau cover that hides the roof when it's lowered, reducing wind resistance and noise.
Pricing is still unknown, unfortunately. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Lenovo LaVie Z Review


Seeking the title of "world's _____ laptop" is always a tough mission. First off, it requires some state of the art engineering, which is expensive, and then it usually results in some major compromises to other aspects. Plus, with the relentlessly advancing state of consumer electronics, you won't hold on to the title for long. Despite all of that, there's something cool about having the current world's lightest 13" laptop in your product portfolio, and that's just what the Lenovo Lavie Z is.

Design: It's a 13" computer that has an Intel Core i7 processor and high end ultrabook specs, not the lower power Core M and it's disappointing performance like in the Apple Macbook or Lenovo Yoga 3. Yet despite that, a gorgeous 2560x1440 display, and decent battery life, this computer is insanely light. In fact, at 1.87 lbs. it's lighter not only than the 13" Macbook Air but also my 11" Air. That's seriously impressive, and combined with the thin bezels around the display it makes the Lavie feel like an 11" laptop with a larger screen. The construction feels solid as well, with no perceptible flex like some super-light laptops, though I initially felt like I was holding a plastic model, not an actual computer. Otherwise, the design isn't particularly exciting, but it's a nice enough simple black laptop.

Display, Keyboard, Trackpad: The display is extremely beautiful, with a great 2560x1440p resolution and anti-glare coating. It's not a touchscreen, but Lenovo does make a slightly thicker version that is touch capable. The trackpad continues the trend of Windows laptop trackpads being hugely improved but still not perfect, as it was a little small and not slick enough for my tastes but otherwise fine. There's also a pretty fabulous selection of ports for an ultrabook: You get 2 USB 3.0 ports, full size HDMI, a full size SD card slot(!), power, a Kensington lock port and of course a headphone jack.
The keyboard on the the other hand, despite being a typical Lenovo strong point, was not particularly good in my opinion. The keys have less travel than on my 11" Air or most other laptops I've used, and the key layout is just strange:

Power: As previously mentioned, the Lavie Z is running on an Intel Core i7-5500U Broadwell CPU, which is the first Broadwell U-series chip I've gotten to test. Compared to a Haswell Core i7, the speed increase isn't hugely noticeable, but graphics and battery life are improved. Running a 4K video on Youtube in Chrome with multiple other tabs, Notepad++ and Windows Explorer open didn't cause any stuttering at all. This is mainly due to the new integrated graphics, which are an estimated 30% faster than those in Haswell chips. Combined with 8GB's of DDR3 RAM and a 256GB SSD, the Lavie Z kept up with everything I threw at it. Of course as an ultrabook with no discrete GPU, you won't be playing 2015 games on high settings.


Software: Apparently the Lenovo devices I'm sent to review are alternating in terms of installed bloatware. The Android-based Yoga 2 Tablet had a full-blown skin and lots of bundled apps, the Yoga 2 Tablet with Windows was pretty clean, and the Yoga 3 laptop again had lots of annoying preinstalled programs. This flip flopping continues with the Lavie Z, which is wonderfully clean of extraneous, unnecessary software, running essentially stock Windows 8.1. When Windows 10 rolls out this summer, it'll be even better.



Conclusion: The LaVie Z competes against a whole host of top flight ultrabooks, notably the Dell XPS 13, Apple Macbook Air & Macbook, Microsoft Surface Pro 3, HP Spectre 360, and Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro. Let's cross two off that list immediately: The Yoga 3 Pro and Macbook use Intel's ridiculously under powered Core M processors, have lackluster battery life, and cost far too much. The Macbook Air is a great computer, and I love mine, but its screen is so resolution that it's a bit hard to recommend in 2015 when every other laptop(including Apple's) have such great panels. That leaves the Surface Pro 3, XPS 13, and Spectre 360. If you're seriously considering the LaVie Z, you probably want a traditional laptop, in which case neither the SP3 nor the Spectre are for you. Against the XPS 13, I feel there's something of a tie. Both devices have excellent screens, decent trackpads, relatively clean installs of Windows, and good but not outstanding battery life. I like the XPS design more, and its keyboard, but the Lenovo has a newer processor and is unbelievably light.
All in all then, Lenovo did a great job with the Lavie Z, and didn't fall into the normal traps that come with chasing one engineering crown. In fact, I wish more laptops had the same lack of bloatware, great screen and port selection, and acceptable performance/battery life. If they make the keyboard a bit better and maybe spice up the design for mark 2, it'll be the best 13" ultrabook.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Xbox One getting an Xbox 360 emulator, Cortana, new Elite controller, and more

Microsoft's E3 press event may have mainly been about new games, but they also unveiled a veritable boatload of improvements coming to the Xbox One, plus a new controller(actually, two.)
The biggest news for most is the addition of an Xbox 360 emulator, which will hugely expand the number of available titles for the Xbox One, and allow people to use their existing game libraries. Games you purchased from the Xbox Marketplace on the 360 will automatically show up as available to download on your One, and physical disks will simply work after a software update. Even more impressively, they're maintaining both full backwards compatibility with saved games, achievements, etc. and letting you use new Xbox One features like Game DVR and Windows 10 streaming. You'll also be able to play online Xbox Live multiplayer with people on either a 360 or One. The beta is always available, while it'll roll out for everyone this fall. That'll be as part of the annual dashboard update, which revises the UI and adds Cortana, the digital assistant from Windows Phone & Windows 10. It'll sync data with those 2 platforms, and also features a new UI geared towards making as many features available without leaving a game as possible.
Finally, the normal Xbox One controller received an update with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack instead of a custom port, and the new Xbox One Elite controller was announced. The Elite is a $99 controller geared towards competitive gamers, with an emphasis on performance. They added Hair Trigger mode, which locks the triggers to only depress slightly and spring back quickly, swappable thumbsticks, and up to 4 customizable paddles on the back. Everything's made with higher quality materials, and there's an app to customize control profiles on Xbox & Windows 10.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Here it is: The consumer Oculus Rift


Oculus VR started as a record-setting Kickstarter project, revived interest in virtual reality, prompted everyone from Sony to Valve to get into the VR market, and was purchased for over $2 billion by Facebook. Yet they still haven't actually shipped a consumer-oriented, ready for market product. That's about to change with the announcement of the retail Oculus Rift, which is coming in the first quarter of 2016. We still don't know the price point, but Oculus has explained the control strategy at launch, along with detailing a partnership with Microsoft. Every Oculus Rift will ship with an Xbox One controller for standard control, and there's also an optional double controller called the Oculus Touch. You hold one in each hand and it has a stick for precise control, buttons and motion tracking. Perhaps even more intriguingly, the Oculus will play Xbox One games, but not directly; When hooked up to a Windows 10 computer that's on the same network as an Xbox, you'll be able to play optimized games via Windows 10's built in streaming.

Apple iOS 9 brings multiwindow mode to the iPad, wireless CarPlay, Apple Pay for the UK, and transit directions

The new version of the OS at the heart of every iPhone and iPad is getting a major update this fall. Unlike Windows and many skinned Android tablets, Apple's never supported using multiple apps on the screen at once, but that's changing with iOS 9. On the iPad you'll be able to use either a 50/50 split view or picture in picture mode with a small video on the bottom of the right. This is a massive change to the iPad's usage paradigm and makes it much more of a real computer in many ways.

But Apple's also made a huge amount of other changes: Apple Pay will now support Discover cards and launch in the UK - including for the London Underground. Passbook has been renamed Wallet, and can store your royalty cards, gift cards, credit/debit cards, and more.

The built in utility apps have been updated a fair amount; They're now written using the Metal graphics framework for performance, and Notes will now support camera, web, maps and sketched content. In other words, it's much more of a legitimate Evernote/Google Keep competitor now. The much-maligned Apple Maps, meanwhile, is finally getting public transit directions in major cities.

iOS 9 will also eke an hour more out of an iPhone 6 battery on average, and take up less space to install. Siri has been updated to work a claimed 40% faster and more accurately, and can now make location, time and email-based suggestions just like Google Now and Microsoft Cortana. Carplay, which is starting to roll out to Chevy, Cadillac and Hyundai vehicles(so far) now, will no longer require a physical connection to function. If your car supports it, it'll connect sans wires.
Apple's new programming language, Swift, is also getting an update to version 2.0, and will now be made open source for anyone to modify.
Finally, two factor authentication for your Apple account log ins will also be baked in to iOS 9.

Apple OS X El Capitan brings split screen, better performance, Metal, a new Safari and more this fall

Apple's biggest news at their World Wide Developer Conference was their new subscription streaming service, but they also previewed the next versions of OS X and iOS. The former, coming this fall as a free download for all Mac users, will be called El Capitan after the famous mountain in Yosemite. If you've been keeping track, the last OS X release was called Yosemite, so this is a somewhat minor update, but it does bring some key improvements. There's now 50/50 split screen windowing for apps, which Microsoft has had since Windows 7 and Linux for far longer, and an enhanced version of Spaces, Apple's multiple desktop technology. For developers, they've ported over Metal, which is a technology based off of OpenCL that allows direct access to the GPU for games. Safari now supports pinned tabs and is faster and more power efficient, putting it even further ahead of Chrome and Firefox on the efficiency front. It'll also get full screen video mirroring to the Apple TV - in Yosemite, you have to mirror your entire screen or at least a Safari tab, but with El Capitan you can send just the video.
Spotlight's also been updated with natural language query support, similar to Google; You can ask for the weather in Cupertino and get a result directly in Spotlight instead of it opening a browser window.
Finally, they're claiming 1.4x faster app opening and 4x faster PDF rendering, and general performance improvements across the OS.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Good deal: Google ASUS Nexus Player on sale for $30 off

It may have been supplanted at the top of the Android TV totem pole by Sony's Bravia TV's with Android, the NVidia Shield Console and Razer's Forge TV, but the Nexus Player is still a decent set top box. If you have a terrible smart TV interface, or an older dumb TV and no modern set top, this is a good way of getting games, movies, Youtube, Netflix, music, Chromecast integration. Furthermore, if you want a gadget that looks like a hockey puck, this is your only and therefore best option. Pick it up on Amazon right now for $69, the same price as the much less-capable Apple TV>

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Dell's mid 2015 laptop crop includes the Inspiron 15 7000 with a 4K display


Dell's just unveiled a veritable boatload of new computers, with the star of the show definitely being the new Inspiron 15 7000 Series. They also teased the even-higher end XPS 15, which is getting one of the Infinity Display's that debuted on the XPS 13, but there are no details on that model.
Let's start at the top: The Inspiron 15 7000 has a 1920x1080p or 4K 3840x2160p IPS TrueColor touchscreen, in a sub-20mm thick aluminum shell. The specs include one of Intel's new Broadwell Core i7 quadcore processors and an unspecified discrete GPU with 4GB's of GDDR5 memory. It's a 2-in-1 with a 360 degree hinge like the Lenovo Yoga, so you can use it in tablet or stand mode. There's also Waves MaxxAudio speakers, a spillproof backlit keyboard and a base price of 5999 yuan($970) in China, which will be its first market.
Meanwhile, the lower end Inspiron 5000 Series loses the 4K display option in favor of a base 1366x768 or optional 1920x1080p display at 14, 15 or 17 inches. They have a wide variety of AMD or Intel processors, optional touch capability and come in red, black, blue, white or grey. The 14" starts at $599, with the 15" running $449 and the 17" $699.
The entry level Inspiron 3000 Series will also be refreshed with Intel Broadwell processors, but no other changes.


The Dell Micro Desktop, meanwhile, is a tiny 5.16"x5.16" box that bakes in an Intel Celeron processor, SSD storage, 4 USB 3.0 ports, Displayport, HDMI, Gigabit Lan, WiFi AC, and Bluetooth. It's available now with a base price of $179.

Monday, June 1, 2015

ASUS adds three new Windows products and a 4K curved monitor

Last night's ASUS press event was full of Android device launches, but the company didn't forget about Windows either. They revamped their extremely popular Transformer Book T100 with the new T100HA, and rolled out the Zen AIO, a nice looking all in one desktop.
The Transformer Book T100HA is maybe the most interesting, as it was already a quite competent Windows 2-in-1(dockable tablet,) and now it has rather amazing battery life. It's also the first Windows laptop to bake in a USB 3.1 Type C port, which debuted in the Apple Macbook and Google Chromebook Pixel. It's the future of connectors, with a tiny, reversible plug that carries up to a 100 watts of power, much faster data transfers and can function as a display connection as well. The battery life is rated at 14 hours, thanks to Intel's brand new Cherry Trail Atom x5 chips and a sadly low resolution 1280x800p screen. There's also 4GB's of RAM and Windows 10 in a 8.45mm thick case with your choice of blue, grey, white or pink coloring.
Meanwhile, the Zen AIO is an aluminum in one powered by an Intel Core i7 processor with a Realsense 3D camera for gesture controls and again the USB 3.1 Type C port. That one's due in the fourth quarter of this year and has 6 built in speakers.
Finally, the ProArt PA329Q is a curved IPS 4K UHD monitor with a screensize of 32" and 100% reproduction of the Adobe RGB color gamut. As for connections, it has Displayport 1.2, mini Displayport 1.2, HDMI 2.0, three HDMI 1.4, and 4 USB 3.0 ports.

ASUS launches Zenwatch 2, Zenpad 7, 8, 8S & 10, and Zenfone Selfie

ASUS had a blowout event last night to start off the Computex trade show, and launched a huge number of new devices.
First up, the Zenwatch 2 is the first second generation Android Wear watch, and it comes in two sizes, with the larger one including a bigger battery. There's also 3 colors, an AMOLED screen coated in Gorilla Glass 3, a "digital crown" like on the Apple Watch(basically a scroll wheel) and a choice of 18 metal, rubber or Swarofski straps.
The ZenPad series of Android tablets, meanwhile, are mostly rather average Android tablets in your choice of a 7, 8 or 10 inch HD laminated screen with optional 4G LTE. The ZenPad 10 has an optional keyboard, but where it starts to get interesting is the Zenpad 8 and 8S. The 8 has interchangeable backplates, like many phones, but instead of just offering different colors, you can add functionality. One backplate adds a large battery, while the other puts 6 speakers, including a subwoofer, on the back of your tablet. Meanwhile, the 8S is the first Android tablet with 4GB's of RAM, a 2048x1536 IPS display, Intel Atom Z3580, and a 6.6mm thick design.
Finally, the Zenfone Selfie is, as you might expect from the name, a smartphone with a 13MP front facing selfie cam.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Android M Dev Preview brings better battery life, Android Pay, Now On Tap, and more


Google's giant I/O developer conference kicked off this morning with a 2.5 hour keynote full of announcements. One of the biggest was a preview of the next version of Android, codenamed M(for Milkshake? Or Marzipan? Weigh in below or on Twitter) and a usable preview. Here's the new features:


  • Google Now On Tap: This is some of the most impressive software I've seen as of late. Basically, when you're looking at something on your phone, you'll be able to hold the home button to bring up information about whatever you're seeing. Sounds simple, and similar to what Amazon does on their Fire devices - if you're watching a video, it'll tell you about the actors, locations or objects on screen. If you're looking at a web page, you can long press a word to get a definition, or if someone emails you about a movie, it'll show you the trailer and an option to buy tickets. But it goes further: They showed a phone playing a Radiohead song, and said "Ok Google, who's the lead singer?" and the phone gave them the answer. Note that they didn't specify the lead singer of Radiohead - the software just knew that was what was meant, based on the context. That's some seriously crazy stuff. 
  • Doze: This should also prove quite useful, and uses some pretty interesting software. Imagine you have a tablet that you leave at home most days while you go to work or school. During that whole period, unless you turn it fully off, it'll still be getting push notifications, periodically checking for other new content, and maybe running background apps. That all uses a lot of battery life, which leads to you having to charge your device more often. Doze detects when a device hasn't been moved for a while, and disables every background process that's not manually set as high priority by a developer. This can lead to as much as 100% improvements in battery life under some scenarios.
  • Android Pay: In one of their more questionable decisions, Google is rebranding their mobile/web payments system Google Wallet as Android Pay. Now, while that's a fine name, it is very similar to Apple Pay, a service which came out after Google Wallet but does much the same thing. If you weren't aware of Google Wallet, and you now hear about Android Pay, it may seem like Google's copying Apple, when in fact they were first. But anyways, Android Pay will work across thousands of apps and stores, and provides a temporary credit card number to third parties so that your real one isn't compromised. More interestingly, it will now let you make payments at stores without even opening the app, and Google's working on facial recognition payment systems. 
  • Permissions & App Links: With Android M, instead of letting apps demand tons and tons of permissions to even be installed, users will now be able to grant permission to an app at runtime. For instance, WhatsApp will ask you for permission to use your microphone when you tap something that needs the microphone. Sharing info between apps is now a little better, as apps can set themselves as the default for a certain kind of app link. For example, if you install Twitter, and someone sends you an email to a tweet, previously you'd have to specify that you want to open the link in Twitter. Now it'll just do so automatically unless you go into settings and say otherwise.
There's a few other useful features, and "thousands" of bug fixes, plus performance improvements, but most of the user-facing updates will probably be announced closer to this fall. If you're a developer and want to try out the beta version however, system images are now available for the Nexus 5, 6, 9 and Nexus Player.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Android Auto & Apple CarPlay come to 14 new Chevrolets this year

Both Google's Android Auto and Apple's CarPlay platform are software for your car's radio/nav screen that replaces the car's UI with one designed by Google/Apple when you connect your phone. This is great, as car manufacturers are generally pretty terrible at software, and most of what you use that screen for is more efficiently done by your phone anyway. Despite nearly every car company signing on for one or both, though, there aren't very many cars with the software on board. The 2016 Hyundai Sonata midsize sedan was the first to integrate Android Auto and CarPlay, but today's announcement is much more exciting: Chevrolet is building both into nearly their entire fleet. If you buy a 2016 Spark, Camaro, Cruze, Malibu or Silverado with the 7" touchscreen, you'll automatically get the two new software packages. Strangely, on the higher end 8" display, you only get CarPlay at launch, though a later software update will enable Android Auto. That 8" screen is available on all the above models except the Spark, as well as the Corvette, Volt, Impala, Colorado, Tahoe and Suburban.

No word as of yet on when we can expect GM's GMC, Buick and Cadillac vehicles to add the enhanced phone integration. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The first phone with 4GB's of RAM is the $299 ASUS Zenfone 2

It's awkwardly named, but the new Zenfone 2 from ASUS is shaping up to be an extremely impressive device. Now that mobile processors and operating systems are going 64 bit across the mid and high end, you may have been expecting phones with more RAM than the older 32 bit architecture would allow. The Zenfone 2 is ushering in that change by offering a full 4GB's of RAM, a 64 bit 2.3 GHz quad core Intel Atom processor and a 5.5" 1080p display. It's basically a flagship-level phone, complete with Android 5.0, a 13MP camera, 64GB's of storage and a 3000mAh battery. Most of those specs aren't quite at the level of a bleeding edge device like the Samsung Galaxy S6, but while a GS6 costs $700, the Zenfone will run you $299. There's even a $199 version with only 2GB's of RAM and 16GB's of storage, along with a slightly slower 1.86 GHz processor, but otherwise equal specs. If you're intrigued, this is also one of the first ASUS phones that's being majorly released and promoted in the US, and it's available on Amazon here. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The 6th Generation 2016 Chevrolet Camaro


The Camaro is an American icon, and Chevrolet's just showed off its 6th generation. At an event last night on Belle Isle, they unveiled the new 2016 Camaro, with a completely new chassis, new engines and transmissions, and a revamped interior.
The engine's one of the the most important things about a muscle car, and Chevy's put 3 different options under the hood of its latest. The base model will be a new turbocharged I4 that produces 275 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torqute, with in excess of 30MPG highway on offer and a sub-6 second 0 to 60 time. Next up is Chevy's well known 3.6 liter V6, with 335 HP and 284 lb-ft of torque. If you buy that model with the automatic transmission, you also get standard cylinder deactivation for increased fuel economy when you aren't flooring it. Finally, the Camaro SS gets a only-slightly-detuned version of the legendary LT1 V8 from the Corvette Stingray and SS sedan. In the Camaro, it'll make 455 HP and 455 lb-ft of torque, and... it's an LT1, which is simply an outstanding engine. Being able to get one in a Camaro is pretty incredible.
All that power will be routed through your choice of a 6 speed manual or 8 speed automatic transmission, with different versions in the SS versus the lower end models.


The biggest thing we were told about the new Camaro before the official reveal was that it would be 200 pounds lighter, and they exceeded their promise. Through extensive use of aluminum, the Camaro now has a curb weight more than 200 lbs lighter than the 2015 model, and is based on the Alpha platform along with the Cadillac ATS. It's also 27% more structurally rigid. They've also brought over the Cadillac/Corvette/Camaro ZL1's magnetic ride control, which measures the road 1000 times per second and adjusts the suspension for the smoothest ride possible.


Internally, the new Camaro takes a somewhat more upscale appearance, with plenty of tech. There's an 8" HD touchscreen with the latest version of Chevy MyLink, OnStar, a 4G LTE-based wifi hotspot, and a wireless charging pad for your phone. The charging pad is to keep your phone secure even during sudden, tight maneuvers. There's also a new ambient LED cabin lighting system with 24 colors which can  be fully customized or switch profiles based on what drive mode you're in. The dashboard instrument cluster is another 8" HD display, and there's now a backup camera available.
All in all, it's a fantastic redesign, and I'm looking forward to hearing pricing and exact performance and economy specs.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Lenovo Yoga 3 Review

If you're looking for a new mainstream ultrabook the main issues that matter are screen, keyboard and trackpad, performance, battery life, design and price. The Yoga 3 is the first laptop I've reviewed with one of Intel's new Core M processors, which sacrifices performance to allow better design and battery life. Unfortunately, the energy efficiency is not actually very good, and while many Core M laptops are near-unbelievably thin and light, the Yoga 3 is not. In most other ways, however, the Yoga 3 is an excellent device for the price.

Design & Display:

It's not a work of industrial art like the higher end Yoga 3 Pro or Apple's new Macbook, but the Yoga 3 is a pretty great looking laptop. My review unit's furnished in a nice shiny white(I took to calling it The Stormtrooper) yet has proved quite resistant to fingerprints. Meanwhile, I love the general Yoga design of a laptop with 360 degree hinge; It's more practical for doing real work and using on various surfaces than a tablet/dock combo like Microsoft's Surface, yet still gives you plenty of flexibility. Combined with the generally excellent(though again, not Y3P, Macbook or Dell XPS-level) display, this is simultaneously a good work machine and casual Netflix watching tablet. There's a reason HP has copied the Yoga's design for their x360 laptops. It's just a great idea.
Finally, the keyboard is quite decent, with Lenovo's "smile" keys, decent travel for an 11" ultrabook, and plenty of shortcuts. I didn't care for the keys next to the up arrow, though - empty space around those reduces accidental key presses. The trackpad is actually one of the better Windows trackpads I've used, though it's smaller than my 11" Macbook Air, and obviously doesn't support all the same gestures.

Specs:
With my Moto 360, from Lenovo subsidiary Motorola
Lets get this out of the way. I recently reviewed the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2, which as the name implies is a Windows or Android tablet with a mobile Atom CPU. The Yoga 3 is only very slightly faster, and since you use a laptop for heavier tasks, it actually feels slower. To be fair, part of this is due to the amount of applications installed by default and thus would be fixed by a clean install of Windows. Despite that, the performance from the 0.8GHz dual core Core M is just disappointing. The one upside of the Core M is that it does run extremely quietly and stays pretty cool, no matter what you do.
Other than the performance from that Core M, the Yoga 3 has quite impressive specs. There's a health 8GB's of RAM and a 256GB SSD, both of which are expensive upgrades on a Macbook Air or Dell XPS 13. There's also a full HD 1920x1080p display, Bluetooth 4.0, the latest & greatest WiFi standard(AC) and plenty of ports; Specifically, you get two USB 3.0, microHDMI, a full size SD card slot and of course a headphone jack.

Software:

Unlike the Yoga Tablet 2 with Windows that I reviewed, which had a nice clean install of the OS, the Yoga 3 has a huge amount of bloatware. All of these preinstalled apps slow down the computer and take up space that could be used more productively. Of course, this can be solved by wiping the laptop and installing either fresh Windows 8.1 or another OS, but you shouldn't have to do that. It's annoying, and can lead to unforeseen security vulnerabilities like SuperFish.


Competition:
Side comparison with the 11" Macbook Air
At $700, you're saving $200 over a Macbook Air 11", which has half the RAM & storage unless you upgrade for more money, no touchscreen, and no SD card slot. The Air does have a much better Core i5 or i7 CPU, faster SSD, better trackpad, more durable design and OS X, however.
On the Windows front, there's a whole lot of alternatives, but Lenovo's own Yoga 3 14" will solve the performance issue if you don't mind a larger laptop. It does cost $100 more, but comes with better specs all around and the same(good) design. Dell's XPS 13 is also larger and costs $799, but with a better processor & gorgeous design but again, half the RAM and storage unless upgraded. Acer offers the Switch 11 for $649 with a Core i5 processor and detachable keyboard, but 4GB's of RAM, 128GB's of RAM and questionable build quality.


Conclusion: The Yoga 3 has a sadly slow processor and way too much preinstalled bloatware, but is otherwise an excellent laptop, especially considering the price point. If next year's Core M has better performance, this might end up being the perfect midrange 11" Windows ultrabook, and it's already pretty hard to beat.






Monday, May 11, 2015

This 4K video of jetpacks over Dubai is incredible


Dubai is an incredible place, with some of the tallest buildings on Earth, a police force with dozens of supercars, and a unique geography of desert, ocean and giant city mixed in both. This makes it a beautiful setting for this 4K Ultra HD video of two people flying around on some rather amazing winged jetpacks. Yves Rossy previously flew a jetpack over the Grand Canyon, and he's now training Vince Reffet in flying at over 120 miles per hour in a wing suit with attached jets. It's not quite Boba Fett from Star Wars, as they don't launch from the ground but rather drop off a helicopter, but the entire production is extremely impressive.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Daredevil Review: The Story of an Anti-Villain

Antiheroes are undergoing a movie and TV revival, or perhaps even their biggest moment yet. From Walter White in Breaking Bad to the edgy, darker superheroes in modern DC Comics movies, they’re tremendously popular. Less common are stories that make the villain compelling, and motivated by the right reasons; If not “good,” at least understandable. It’s been done, but is still a good idea, and that’s where Marvel and Netflix’s series Daredevil is at its best. 

If you haven’t read the comics or watched the Ben Affleck movie by the same name, Daredevil is the story of Matt Murdock, a blind vigilante who fights crime in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. He’s a struggling defense attorney and devout Irish Catholic by day who was struck by radioactive chemicals as a kid. This blinded him but supernaturally heightened all his other senses, because again, it’s based on a comic book. Charlie Cox of Boardwalk Empire plays the lead and does a good job, but the supporting cast really sell the show. During the rather slow-paced first two episodes, my favorite scenes were Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henson’s hilarious side-adventures. They play Murdock’s law partner/best friend and the law team’s secretary respectively, and inject some much-needed comic relief. They aren’t just comic sidekicks though, as they get quite a bit of solo screen time, and Ms. Woll’s character makes a lot of the most important discoveries. Ben Urich and Rosario Dawson are also quite good. Most of all, actor Vincent D’Onofrio as the main villain (whose name I won't reveal here) is simply fantastic. He perfectly blends power with weakness and high-minded idealism with childlike rages. 

D’Onofrio’s character is a criminal kingpin with immense legitimate and illegitimate incomes plus most of the city police, judiciary and “at least one Senator” in his employ. I won’t spoil his name - you don’t learn that until several episodes in. Yet he’s also afraid of speaking to crowds almost to the point of a disability and can be easily overwhelmed by his emotions. This juxtaposition is also played out in how Mr. D’Onofrio succeeded at convincing me that he regretted his misdeeds more than any other TV villain I can remember. His master plan is gentrifying his city, and while you may not feel that’s a great goal, it’s far from Bond-villain-style evil. If his methods weren’t so awful, he’d essentially be a force for good. Of course, this being a TV show, they are terrible. In one scene he beheads a Russian mafia leader with the door of a Cadillac for interrupting him during a dinner date, which is somehow both gallant and horrible. And extremely bloody.

That brings us to how dark this show is, along with some other issues. Marvel’s movies and their previous shows have been relatively light fare, mostly PG13 rated and essentially happy. Daredevil is none of those things. Considering the relatively low body count compared to your average blockbuster or action show, there’s an incredible amount of graphic violence. There’s nothing wrong with that if it’s appropriate, such as in Game of Thrones, but I find it overdone here. It feels like they’re trying to look more serious and “adult” to combat their juvenile reputation by throwing in as many broken bones, stabbings, and long falls off rooftops as possible. The show also has a fair amount of stereotypes, with the bad guys delineated into the Russian, Japanese, and Chinese syndicates. Oh and Deborah Woll’s character is a pretty blond girl, so of course she quickly becomes a secretary. 


Overall though, Daredevil was worth watching in many ways. Another high point of the show was Murdock’s discussions of the ethics of vigilantism with his priest, and his guilt over wanting to kill the lead villain. They have a lot to play with, obviously: A supposed hero who admits to enjoying hurting people is a bit unusual. Finally, the fight scenes are well executed, choreographed and don’t always go in the Murdock’s favor, unlike most superhero shows. Sure, there’s some scenes of hopelessly outmatched thugs being quickly defeated, but most of the time the fights are well balanced. In one scene, he’s left writhing on the floor after being hit with a Taser by a 77 year old banker. You’d never see that happen to Thor or Batman, and it keeps things interesting. But most of all, Daredevil shines the brightest through its darkest character, emphasizing how important the villain can be.