Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Microsoft Windows 10 launching this summer as a free upgrade for everyone

Windows 10 has been in a public beta for several months now, but previously the release date was rumored to be in October. Microsoft's moved that up quite a bit with the announcement that its flagship OS is coming this summer to 190 countries, as a free update from Windows 7, 8 or 8.1. Even if you're currently running an unlicensed, pirated copy, you'll be able to upgrade to a full version for free.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Amazon is offering a USB 3.0 1TB portable hard drive for $49 today

Portable hard drives are extremely useful both as backup drives and as expanded storage for the space-constrained, SSD powered ultrabooks of today. The Toshiba Canvio Connect wouldn't normally be my top recommendation, but it is nice looking, compact and USB 3.0 capable for fast transfer speeds. Which is why today's Amazon sale of the 1TB version for just $49 is a good enough deal that I'm definitely considering picking one up, and if you want to as well, just click here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Google's new Chromebook Pixel is cheaper, faster and still gorgeous

The original Chromebook Pixel was an anomaly. On one hand, it had a simply beautiful physical design, truly amazing screen, great trackpad and keyboard, and interesting lightbar. On the other, it had mediocre internal specs, ChromeOS, which especially in 2013 couldn't do everything you needed from your main computer, and lacking battery life, for the crazy price of $1300. But it wasn't really intended for consumers; Instead, it was more of a showcase of Google's best(and, some might say, worst) ideas and engineering prowess, and a testbed for developers to try out new web technologies.
Today, the giant of Mountain View has announced their successor, and while it still feels more like a showcase/testbed, it's also longer lasting, faster and cheaper while still offering a great design and interesting new ideas.
The basic specs are as follows: Intel's Broadwell Core i5 or i7 CPU's, 8 or 16GB's of RAM, a 32 or 64GB SSD, and that excellent 2560x1700 IPS touchscreen are all present. There's also now 2 USB 3.1 Type C ports, similarly to on Apple's new Macbook, which provide power, data transfer and display output to HDMI/Displayport/VGA through adapters. But unlike the Macbook, they kept the two standard sized USB 3.0 ports and a full size SD card slot, along with a headphone/mic jack. Physically, it's a solid machine, weighing 3.3lbs and measuring 15.3mm thick, and the design is still just as gorgeous as last time. The lid also retains the lightbar, which shows different color combinations either for ornamentation or to signal notifications and alerts. You can also knock on the lid when the device is closed to have the lightbar indicate your battery life, which is quite cool.
Speaking of battery life, Google claims a stellar 12 hours, equaling Apple's Macbook Air 13 and surpassing just about every other ultrabook, and early reviews are getting even more on average.
Despite all of these improvements, the 2015 Pixel costs $999, a significant price drop over the previous version, though still a pretty penny for a Chromebook.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Motorola adds Moto 360 to their custom design Moto Maker studio

Despite Sir Jony Ives' opinions of it, the Moto Maker website for designing the colors and appearance of your device before purchase is well liked by many, and definitely a unique idea in the tech world. Up till now, though, the only device you've been able to customize has been Motorola's flagship Moto X smartphone. As of today, you can also build your perfect Moto 360 watch, though the options are quite a bit more limited: You can choose a silver, black or gold body, a leather band in 3 colors or one of three sizes of metal bands in three colors, and preset your watch face. Still, it's a nice touch, and comes perhaps in response to yesterday's price-point announcement for the Apple Watch.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 10" with Windows Review

Soon after returning the Android-powered Yoga Tablet 2 8", I got a somewhat larger package from the awesome folks in the Lenovo media department: The Yoga Tablet 2 10", which is almost the same device but trades in Google's software for Microsoft Windows, along with a 10" display. I've been using it for a while now, and while I'm no more convinced that Windows tablets are the way to go, it's quite the solid device.

Specs: The Yoga 2 is very close to identical both internally & externally to its Android-powered sibling, with just a few slight differences. It has the same Intel Atom 1.33GHz 64 bit quad core processor, 2GB's of RAM, 9600mAh battery, full HD display, and 8MP camera. The only changes from a spec perspective are a 32GB EMMC chip for storage instead of a 16GB one(there's still a microSD card slot to add more,) and an added micro HDMI port. That last addition is quite nice, and I wish the Android version had it.
As for how well these all work... well, as a tablet, they're great. As a laptop, an Atom processor and 2GB's of RAM are pretty much the bottom of the pack, especially considering that you can get a normal form factor laptop for about the same $369 with a full powered Core i3 and twice the RAM. But those would be much less portable and most likely have a pretty terrible display... Which brings us to the screen on the Yoga Tablet: In a word, it's gorgeous. Just like the 8" Android Yoga I reviewed previously, it's a 1920x1080p IPS panel, and it's extremely sharp(not as stunning as the 8" version, but still quite good,) and gets plenty bright. Whether watching the new season of House Of Cards, writing articles on this site or studying for my physics midterm, I again found myself using it over the other devices I have available because of the pixel density. And that's a major advantage; The Yoga's main competition(the ASUS Transformer T100, HP Pavillion 10 x2 and Acer Switch 10) have far inferior 720p displays

A thickness comparison with my Moto X 2013
Design: I like the Android Yoga Tablet's design, and the Windows-running version is identical except for a nice black color that looks even better to my eyes, and a capacitive Windows button. In other words, it looks great, and the kickstand is just as useful here as it was on the Android version. I wish every tablet manufacturer built in a kickstand, and the number of cases with them imply lots of other people do as well. There's really not a whole lot to say here - it's a well made, premium feeling device, and if(like me) you don't find the circular hinge for the kickstand off-putting, it's also quite good looking.
It's not exactly part of the tablet, but the Windows Yoga comes with a keyboard dock that turns it into a miniature laptop. It's a Bluetooth system that doesn't actually dock or plug in to the tablet but rather just magnetically attaches. It works pretty well, and I like the keyboard, though I wish there was a wired connection option so I wouldn't have to keep Bluetooth on all the time and could recharge the Yoga with the battery. There's also a small trackpad, which is surprisingly good for its size but is just too small to be truly useful. Still, the assembly is nice to have and definitely worth buying. It'll actually also work with Android tablets if you wish to use it with one.

Software: The Yoga Tablet 2 runs full Windows 8.1, amusingly the 32 bit version again despite the 64 bit processor. That's apparently a theme with Yoga Tablets, as the Android edition was the same. Anyway, it's wonderfully devoid of bloatware - unlike the last Yoga I reviewed, which had a somewhat over-bearing skin with UI changes, tons of bundled apps, and an out of date OS as a result. Instead, there's literally just a user manual app, a couple of Lenovo network sharing programs, and an included 2 year subscription to Office 365, which could actually be useful. I'm a Google Docs user and my university provides free Office anyway, so I didn't try that, but it's a nice perk.
That's just Lenovo's implementation of Windows though. I've never been much of a Windows fan, but especially on tablets I just find it sub-optimal. The Atom, 2GB's of RAM and 10" screen make this device not really capable of being your only computer if you do anything particularly complex. Therefore, in my opinion it's more of a competitor to other tablets than laptops, and for most of what you do on a tablet, there isn't an app in the Windows store, or at least a good one. That doesn't mean you can't do those tasks or use those services, but it means you'll have to use the full desktop programs or websites, which aren't designed for touch and 10" screens by and large.

Conclusion: As I mentioned earlier, the most direct competition for the Yoga Tablet 10 are the ASUS Transformer T100, HP Pavillion 10 x2, and Acer Switch 10. All of those devices have the same RAM, processor, and software, but with far inferior displays across the board. The HP and Acer have the same processor as the Yoga and shorter battery life. The ASUS has a slightly faster CPU 1.46GHz and a 500GB hard drive plus a 32GB eMMC chip, but still inferior battery, no kickstand and of course that 1366x768 screen. Mainly due to the display, but also Lenovo's admirable lack of bloatware and that nifty kickstand, the Yoga Tablet is the best out of the comparable Windows tablets. I still would rather buy the Android-powered version for my tablet and a decent laptop, but if you just want one device that's affordable, ultraportable, touch-capable and powered by Windows, this one's a good bet.

Macbook Pro, Air get new processors, Force Touch, Thunderbolt 2 and not much else

The new Macbook was Apple's main focus laptop-wise at their Spring Forward event today, but they also made a few minor changes to the Air and Pro lines.
The Macbook Air now runs on Intel's Broadwell, 5th generation Core i chips, specifically a 1.6GHz i5 or 2.2GHz i7, with Intel's new HD 6000 graphics and Thunderbolt 2. There's also an SSD that's twice as fast as the already blazing previous version on the 13" Air, but not the 11". They retain the $899/$999 starting prices, and unfortunately the low resolution, TN panel screens. There's also still only 4 or 8GB's of RAM.
The Macbook Pro, meanwhile, also gets Intel Broadwell chips and HD 6100 graphics as opposed to 6000 series, in this case a 2.7 or 2.9 GHz dual core i5 or 3.1 GHz dual core i7 on the 13". They also added the new Force Touch trackpad, which can be pressed to varying levels to control things like video fast-forwarding. Finally, the battery life is now a claimed 10 hours, up from 9 before.
The 15" model has not been upgraded as of yet - perhaps this summer.
Meanwhile, the Apple TV set top box has not seen any upgrades, but will be getting a price drop to $69 from the previous $99, which'll pay for 2 months of HBO Now. 
Unlike the new Macbook and the Apple Watch, all of these upgrades are available right now.

New $1299 Apple Macbook is just 2 pounds and 13.1mm, has a Retina display

Apple's latest Macbook is not called an Air or a Pro, but rather revives their old practice of just calling it a Macbook, with no secondary label. Despite that, it's not a low end model like some expected. Instead, it starts at $1299, the same as a 13" Macbook Pro, and is built around a Retina display. In this case, that means a 12" IPS panel with a 2304x1440 resolution that uses 30% less power than previous Retina laptop panels. There's also a new keyboard that spans the width of the device, and a "Force Touch" trackpad that has a secondary click mechanism for right click/special uses, like fast forwarding through a video.
But the biggest change is the design: It's just 13.1mm thick(thinner than the Motorola RAZR,) weighs 2 lbs, and does away with full size USB, MagSafe, Thunderbolt and HDMI ports. Instead, there's just the new USB 3.l Type C connectors, which power your device and provide connectivity or display output. That means you'll need adapters for nearly everything you own, but at least they're fast at 10GBps symmetrical transfer speed. There is at least still a standard headphone jack.
What's not very fast is the processor of the new Macbook. Despite costing as much as a Macbook Pro, it's slower than a Macbook Air, with a dual core Intel Core M processor at 1.1 or 1.2GHz. Other than that, the internals are decent, with the base model having 8GB's of RAM, 256GB's of storage and a quoted 9 hours of battery life. The $1500 premium configuration has the slightly faster CPU and 512GB's of storage. My favorite part: Apple's finally offering colors other than silver, in the form of gold or space grey.

Game of Thrones, entire live HBO catalog coming exclusively to Apple for $14.99 a month

Apple's main updates today may be the Watch and (hopefully) a new Retina Macbook, but they also announced HBO Now. This is the first time that HBO content has been available without a premium cable TV subscription, and it's huge news. Unfortunately, it's an exclusive to Apple devices(iPhones, iPads and the Apple TV - maybe Macs as well but that's unclear) so if you have a Roku, FireTV, Android TV, etc. you're out of luck. Still, being able to pay $14.99 to watch Jon Snow kill White Walkers live without having to also pay $100+ for cable has some appeal.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Amazon's Fire Phone now just $199 unlocked, with a year of Prime


Amazon's Fire Phone was audacious, but mostly a failure. It was panned near-universally by critics, and sales were extremely low despite quite a bit of promotion from both the Seattle shopping giant and AT&T. Despite all that, the plain design, and rather terrible skin on top of Android, the hardware is actually quite good. It's powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 with 2GB's of RAM, 32GB's of storage, a 13MP camera with OIS, and a 4.7" 720p display. Those are rather remarkable specs at the current sale price of $199 off contract, and it comes with a year of Amazon Prime, so if you're already paying for that it's more like $99.
If you want to pick one up, it's on Amazon here.

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.

Specs:
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.
Battery-testing-inception
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.

Design:
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.

Software:
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.