Tuesday, August 23, 2016

New Tesla 100kWh option makes the Model S the 3rd fastest production car

The Tesla Model S and its CUV sibling, the Model X, are already ludicrously fast and have impressively long ranges for electric cars with their old maximum battery, a 90kWh pack. Today they've made them even better, with a 100kWh battery that lowers the 0-60 time to 2.5 seconds and raises the range to 315 miles for the Model S. The Model X P100D's stats are 2.9 seconds for the run to 60 and a 289 mile range. That makes the Model S, a large 5 seater sedan, quicker than any Lamborghini, BMW, Corvette, Mclaren, Audi, Mercedes or Aston Martin ever made, and slower only than the Porsche 918 and Ferrari LaFerrari. The Model S P100D will start at $134,500, the Model X P100D at $135,500, and existing P90D owners will be able to upgrade and recycle their old battery for $20,000.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Every 2017 Windows PC will support Microsoft Hololens

Microsoft's Hololens looks rather similar to the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive at first glance. It's a headset you hook up to a PC, designed to enable new ways of gaming, learning or simulating various other experiences, after all. But it's designed for augmented reality, or overlaying digital objects onto the real world, not virtual reality - transporting you completely into an artificial world. Apparently, it will also be different in another rather substantial way: Microsoft has just announced that Hololens will be compatible with every single new PC launched starting next year, as well as many existing Windows 10 devices. By comparison, you need a pretty high end gaming PC with a discrete GPU to use the Rift or Vive.
This news was announced at the Intel Developer Forum as a partnership with the chipmaker, but presumably if "all" new Windows 10 computers
will support Hololens, that also includes AMD-powered PCs.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Blackberry's DTEK50 is an Android smartphone with an emphasis on security

Blackberrys. The bane of many a government worker's existence, as they fell further and further behind standard smartphones in capability and modernity. The Canadian smartphones always had a few key attributes: BlackberryOS, a custom platform with some useful enterprise features but not much else, and almost always a really great physical keyboard.
The new DTEK50 has none of those things - instead, it's an Android 6.0 smartphone with similar customizations to the company's first Android device, last year's Priv. The main new feature is the DTEK app, which is essentially an anti-malware suite with a few other security-oriented features. There's also no keyboard. This is a full-touchscreen phone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617, 5.2" 1080p display, 13MP camera and 3GB's of RAM.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Lenovo Pocket Projector P0510 review

Today's review is somewhat unusual - at least for 2016. Pocket(or pico) projectors were the center of every CES booth and Computex keynote half a decade ago, but they never really caught on with the public. Consequently, most companies have more or less abandoned the category at this point. Lenovo, ASUS, and a few other smaller companies, however, are revitalizing it. The biggest reason is that nearly every modern smartphone, computer, tablet, and set top box supports either Apple Airplay or Miracast these days. That means whatever your favorite content consumption device is, it can probably wirelessly share its screen to a pocket projector. That provides a new opportunity for the once-abandoned market, but is it actually useful?

Input options and setup:
As mentioned, there's a lot more options for how to use these pocket projectors than the old pico projectors, and they're more convenient. When you boot up the P0510 for the first time, you're presented with options for connecting to a local WiFi network, an Windows, Android, Mac, iOS device, or SD card media. The wireless options are great, and they're pretty easy to set up. I tested them with Android 6.0, Mac OS X El Capitan and Windows, and all of them just required a short pairing process and then hitting "share screen" on the device. I also connected the P0510 to my home WiFi and it found and downloaded a software update, so it's not a static feature set; Lenovo can keep making it better.

Picture quality:
Like the ASUS S1, Brookstone Pocket Projector and AAXA P4-X, the Lenovo P0510 has a rather low 854x480 resolution. This was evident when binge-watching HBO's Silicon Valley compared to my laptop and phone's displays, but it actually still looks alright. The screen is pleasantly large(Lenovo quotes up to 110") and despite only putting out 50 lumens, I thought it was sufficiently bright. Still, considering LG's PH300 and the ZTE Spiro 2 are capable of 720p images and in the case of the LG, 300 lumens for only $150 more, an update might be due pretty soon for the Lenovo.
Another problem was that, especially when using Airplay as opposed to Miracast, there's quite a bit of connection lag on occasion. Sometimes it would play videos quite smoothly, but other times they were laggy, poorly synced with the audio, and had artifacting. This was rare, however.

The physical design of the P0510 is utilitarian, with a two tone grey color scheme, 90 degree rotating stand design, and rubbery d-pad for controls. Those controls work well, and I like the adaptability of the rotating hinge, but I'd say the LG competition is quite a bit better looking. The Lenovo is pleasantly durable feeling, however, and there's no need for a touchscreen and entire Android-based built in computer like ZTE decided on.

Battery life:
This was my main complaint with the P0510. I could only get through about an hour and a half to at most two hours of wireless usage, despite the estimated 3 hours. That's enough for a few episodes of your favorite TV show or pretty much any Powerpoint presentation, but just barely.

Between the battery life, occasional connection lag, and somewhat low resolution, the P0510 is far from perfect. Yet it's also fun, well designed, and useful, all for a price that's lower than most of the competition. I might recommend waiting for the next generation(in fact, I might buy one then myself) but even the current version would be a pretty decent choice.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The 2017 Ford F150 will offer a 3.5L turbo V6 with 470 lb-ft of torque

This generation's Ford F150, the most popular vehicle in America, is primarily a 6 cylinder-powered truck. You can still get it with a V8, but the six pots aren't the penalty boxes anymore, which is being reinforced by the newest engine: A 3.5 liter V6 that is debuting as the top sub-Raptor F150 option. And it has some pretty impressive power figures to back up that positioning: 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, the most important metric for a truck. For comparison, the best selling Chevy Silverado is the 5.3L V8 configuration, which makes 355 horsepower and 383 lb/ft of torque. You can move up to a 6.2L V8 with Chevy or GMC, however, which'll net you 420HP and 460lb/ft. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Lenovo IdeaCentre 700

Review inception.

In Lenovo's pantheon of devices, the 700 series is near the top, but not quite their flagship. Typically they're cheaper with almost the same specs, but missing the flashy designs and maybe some cool/gimmicky special feature of the top of the line 900 series models. That all seems about right for the IdeaCentre 700, an all in one desktop that does have a couple of pretty neat, unique features for the market and good specs but an uninspired design. It also has an absolutely gorgeous 4K display for a quite reasonable price, which makes it a tempting buy just for that reason.

The internals of the 700 AIO are... perfectly sufficient, if not top of the line. There's a 6th generation Intel Core i5 quad core CPU, 8GB's of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive with a small solid state cache. Performance is pretty good; I tried setting up a virtual machine and was able to run my usual workflow in Windows and the Ubuntu VM simultaneously, at a good clip. A full SSD would probably be a good idea, and is available on the 700 AIO, just not my review version.

What is not at all mediocre, on the other hand, is the display. As mentioned before, it's a 4K UHD 3840x2160p panel. But it's not just 4K - this thing is beautiful. It's also quite bright, has pretty good color reproduction to my non-graphics-artist eyes, and also happens to be a touchscreen. And normal HD content looks great, not just 4K video. Game of Thrones giant battle scenes in the latest episode at the time of this review were simply stunning on the 700 AIO.
The competition does have an even better screen though, in the form of Apple's Retina 5K iMac, but it costs more and doesn't have HDMI input.

As I said, a fancy industrial design is one of the advantages of Lenovo's 900 series, and the aforementioned iMac, but the 700 isn't exactly terrible looking. It's just a rather plasticy black monitor frame, though I do quite like the stand for some reason. There's also quite large bezels above and below the screen to accommodate the Intel RealSense camera(more on that later) and speakers. Also, while it does have a touchscreen, and has a nice adjustable hinge in the stand, if you want to use a Lenovo all in one in "tabletop mode," tilted 90 degrees backwards, you'll have to spring for the Yoga 900 AIO.

Overall, Lenovo's been trimming down the number of extra apps they put on their PC's, which I quite appreciate. This is the case with the 700 as well, though it still has more than I'd like; There's McAfee's ever-annoying antivirus suite, a whole bunch of Lenovo apps, and for some horrible, unknowable reason, Candy Crush. Please, PC manufacturers, do not preinstall the free version of the latest edition of an uninspired smartphone game that fell out of favor years ago on your computers.

Speakers, RealSense and miscellaneous:
Despite how large they are, and their prominent JBL branding, I'm not a big fan of the speakers on the 700 AIO. They sound pretty decent on classical recordings such as Isaac Stern and Leonard Rose's Beethoven: Triple Concertos album, but for anything country, such as Dierks Bentley's Black, I found them muddy. For watching a couple videos on Netflix, they also weren't nearly as good as my Logitech desktop speakers or some laptops I've used.

Meanwhile, the RealSense camera is pretty great. Besides enabling Windows Hello(facial recognition) logins, you can download a number of different apps designed for it. There's simple photo apps that let you add depth-related filters, motion controlled games in the style of the Kinect, and other interesting options. Basically, from a technical perspective, there's three lenses instead of one, and one of them is an infrared sensor, which together allows depth positioning and 3D imaging.

One other cool aspect of the 700 AIO that I actually didn't test out is that it allows easy access to upgrade and fix components, even without tools for some things. This is quite unusual for an all in one. By comparison, Apple seals things off as much as possible and uses unusual screws to make things harder to work on yourself.
As for the bundled mouse and keyboard, Lenovo still makes a good keyboard, but like any bundled set there's far better third party options. The 700 does have a built in optical drive as well, a rarity these days.

Next to Dell's XPS One 27, Apple's iMac or Lenovo's own 900 AIO, the 700 AIO is plain looking and not the fastest machine around. But the combination of a fabulous 4K display and reasonable price tag make it quite a compelling buy. I just would trade the mediocre but presumably somewhat expensive JBL speakers and cool but unnecessary RealSense camera for a Core i7 and the optional NVidia GTX 950 graphics card.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Alienware is finally releasing their OLED laptop, refreshes all their desktops

PC gaming is getting a major revival these days, with tons of new computers, major graphics card advancements, VR headsets mostly only working with PC's, and Microsoft's announcement this morning of Play Anywhere. Tying in with this narrative, one of the stalwarts of the gaming PC marketplace, Alienware, just refreshed a number of their computers at E3.
The new Alienware 13 OLED is basically the existing Alienware 13 from earlier this year, with its Intel Skylake Core i5/i7 processors, NVidia GTX 655m, multicolored LED light scheme, and thinner design. The difference is in the monitor: There's a new 13" 2560x1440p panel that's an Organic LED or OLED display instead of the traditional LCD, allowing for deeper blacks, less power usage, and brighter colors. OLED screens have been common in smartphones for years, and there's a few extraordinarily expensive TV's with them, but laptops haven't had them until this year with a couple of Lenovo devices. Of course, it also maintains compatibility with Alienware's Graphics Amplifier, a dock for hooking up an external desktop-class GPU.

That gives it another thing in common with the refreshed Alienware Alpha, the latest version of Alienware's "desktop console" idea. It's a small gaming desktop in a Wii U-sized case with a $599 starting price, Intel Skylake Core i3/i5/i7, NVidia GTX 960m or AMD Radeon R9 470x, and Windows 10. There's also a new Alienware Steam Machine, with essentially the same specs but Valve's Steam OS instead of Windows.

There's also new versions of the Alienware Aurora and Area 51 desktops, which promise full support for VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, and can be configured with the NVidia Geforce GTX 1080.

Some Xbox One/PC games will have buy once, play anywhere and cross platform play going forward

At E3 this year, Microsoft has announced a new initiative called Play Anywhere in which for specific titles, if you buy an Xbox One copy of the game, you get it for free in your Windows 10 library as well. Further, saved progress, unlocked items and achievements will sync between the copies of the games, and some titles will support cross platform multiplayer. Currently announced games that will have Play Anywhere support include Gears of War 4, Forza Horizen 3, Halo Wars 2, Quantum Break, Ark: Survival Evolved, ReCore, State of Decay 2, ScaleBound, and We Happy Few.That's a whole bunch of pretty big Microsoft Studios titles and a few 3rd party indie games.
On a tangentially related note, the new ReCore trailer looks sweet:

Microsoft Xbox One S is 40% smaller, finally loses the power brick, and has Bluetooth controllers

Microsoft has been flat out losing the console wars this generation, with every metric - sales, profits, platform exclusives, developer preference, and hardware performance - lining up in Sony's favor. The team from Redmond is looking to change that with an avalanche of announcements at their E3 keynote today. Chief among them is the new Xbox One S, a mid-cycle refresh(to borrow an auto industry term) of the Xbox One S.

Starting at $300, which is what a standard 500GB Xbox One would cost you right now, it comes with 4 times the storage space at 2TB(still twice the previous high end 1TB model) and 4K video support - though probably not 4K gaming yet. Better yet, it loses the obnoxious giant power brick, for a simple one piece cable, and has a built in IR blaster for controlling other home entertainment devices. All of this is fit into a box(pardon the pun) that's 40% smaller than the rather massive, VCR-like original Xbox One.

Meanwhile, the already-excellent controller is getting two massive changes: It's going Bluetooth, which means it'll be compatible with a far greater selection of 3rd party devices, and hopefully won't require a dongle to use with your PC anymore. Secondly, as you can see in the image above, they're taking a page out of Motorola's book and introducing a design studio for customizing the colors of your controller.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Lenovo Yoga 900S review

The first thing I noticed about the Yoga 900S when I pulled it out of the box was the bright gold hue. Not contained to the lid, the back, hinge and even the keyboard are gold. I'm not a huge fan of the trend of gold electronics, especially since many companies only do it because Apple does, but this Yoga is striking. That's helped along by how extremely thin it is, and the crazy watchband hinge. And unlike last year's Core M powered devices, it's also a usable computer.

Screen, ports, keyboard and trackpad:
The screen is an absolutely gorgeous 2560x1440p IPS touch panel at 12.5"(yes, the same size as the Macbook) that I found myself gravitating towards over every other display I have. Seriously, it looks great. As for the input mechanisms, I found the keyboard surprisingly good for such a thin laptop, actually preferring it slightly to my Macbook Air keyboard, and the trackpad is not bad but not great. Meanwhile, Lenovo's beating Apple and HP's Spectre  by including not only a USB 3.1 Type C connector but a standard Type A USB 3.0 port and a separate power port that can be used as a USB 2.0 connection. Sadly the charger is not Type C, so if you have a phone with one of those new connectors you can't use the same charger.

As I opened with, the Yoga 900S is a very, very small laptop, and is as you might expect therefore not extremely powerful. However, Intel's done a great job updating their Core M processor line from last year, when it was in its first generation. The new Core M's are based on their 6th generation Skylake architecture, and the top of the line Core M7 in the Yoga is just about as fast as my Haswell Core i7 ultra low voltage chip in benchmarks.
All of that nerdery aside, unlike a Lenovo I reviewed last year with the old Core M, and the 2015 Apple Macbook, the Yoga 900S keeps up with normal usage just fine. I never felt any major speed penalties compared to even my desktop when using lots of Chrome and Edge tabs, Notepad ++ and a few Windows Explorer windows. Similarly, the graphics are much improved - streaming a 4K video from YouTube with a bunch of other background tabs open was absolutely fine. Besides the Core M7, there's 8GB's of DDR4 RAM and a 256GB solid state drive. All of that said, if you want the laptop equivalent of a Corvette, the 900S is not your computer - it's more like a Miata. In particular, gaming is out; Even something like Rocket League was too stuttery to be playable.

At 12.8mm, only the ASUS Zenbook 3 and HP Spectre come to mind as rivals for the thinnest laptop crown right now. The latest Yoga also ridiculously light, at just 999 grams, and the watchband hinge is super cool looking, though I wonder how durable it is, considering the number of parts. It does enable Lenovo's favorite convertible design, that namesake Yoga 360 degree rotation. In fact, overall this is one of my favorite laptop designs I've used for a while, though a few more color options would be nice.

There's essentially 3 main direct competitors to the Yoga 900S: The Apple Macbook, ASUS Zenbook 3 and HP Spectre. The Macbook is slightly better looking in my opinion, and has OS X which is a huge advantage for some, but there's some severe usability issues with only having 1 port. Additionally, it costs a full $300 more for the base configuration. The Spectre is even thinner than the Yoga, yet somehow still fits in higher powered Core i processors. But it's pricier at $1169, has a lower resolution screen, and no touch capability whatsoever - I'd take the Yoga's beautiful 1440p screen over a slightly faster CPU.  Finally, while the Zenbook 3 looks great, it's not out yet, so I can't really recommend it without some evaluation time. Of course, you could also move up to a standard, less crazily thin ultrabook like the Dell XPS 13, normal Yoga 900(the non-S version) or Macbook Air, but that's a different category of device.  That leaves the Yoga 900S as the winner, unless you hugely prefer OS X.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Asus Zenbook 3: An amazingly thin, decently powerful Macbook clone

I'm not always a big fan of extremely thin laptops, as they typically sacrifice a lot in usability and specs in the pursuit of design(or fashion over form) without always being that, well, good looking.

The Zenbook 3, though, looks cautiously like a better ultra thin laptop. Instead of a low power Core M processor and a plastic casing, it has a sleek patterned metal shell and up to a ULV Skylake Core i7. Despite that, and the rated 9 hours of battery life, it's just 11.9mm thick and weighing 910 grams. That's thinner and lighter than Apple's new Macbook, which has the lower powered Core M, though the Zenbook does look a lot like the Macbook. The Zenbook does come in a rather sweet dark blue, along with grey and rose gold, a fingerprint reader for Windows Hello biometrics, and up to 16GB's of RAM and a 1TB solid state drive. 
It'll start at just $999, but for those high end options you'll be paying up to about $2000.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

No Man's Sky is delayed until August, which sucks but is not a reason for death threats

No Man's Sky is a giant open world space exploration game that uses procedural generation, or algorithms instead of hand coding, to populate an otherwise un-manageably huge world. It looks great, and is coming to PC and PlayStation 4 this year, with potential virtual reality support after launch in an update. However, the small studio  behind it has been showing it off since 2013 without even a beta release, letting various competitors launch first and they just delayed the release until this August.
This is sad for those looking forward to the game(including me,) but unfortunately has prompted numerous death threats against the developers, as mentioned by Sean Murray on Twitter. This is simply horrible, and of course makes no sense. Likely most of these threats are by internet trolls emboldened by anonymity with no intention of carrying out the attack, but it's still terrible behavior.
Even more incomprehensibly, Jason Schreier at Kotaku, the first journalist to report on this, has himself now received at least one death threat via Twitter, simply for writing about the incident.
People of the internet: Don't threaten to kill people over having to wait another month or two for a video game, or ever actually.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Google Home: Like an Amazon Echo but tied into all of Google's services

Amazon's Echo is a cool device, offering frequent new features through upgrades, a legitimately useful digital assistant, no-button control and an alright speaker in a decent looking device. But seeing as it's built by Amazon, the music comes from their rather terrible Prime Cloud Music and it doesn't have first party-level integration with any of the suites of web services from the likes of Google, Apple and Microsoft.
That's where Google's new Home comes in: It's a slightly larger, but in my opinion better looking living room speaker with interchangeable shells and more powerful, higher quality audio. The main differentiator though is that since it's built by Google, it uses the excellent Google Play Music and has first party Google services integration. For example, there's full-featured Chromecast support for casting content to it from your other devices, or using its voice assistant to control your TV's Chromecast.
Speaking of the digital assistant, Google's excellent Google Now voice control/search features are freshly renamed as Google Assistant, slightly upgraded, and baked into Google Home. All in all, I will likely be buying one of these.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Lenovo IdeaPad 700 Review

The days of the midrange desktop replacement laptop might seem to be in the past, with 13" and smaller ultrabooks, convertible tablets and high end professional machines taking up most of the laptop market. Which is why the Lenovo IdeaPad 700 is a bit of an anomaly, while simultaneously being an example of what the word "laptop" has traditionally meant. It's a big 15" computer with a spacious keyboard, no touchscreen, full voltage processor, and midrange specs at a midrange price.

Internals: As I mentioned, the brains of the 900 aren't super-high end fare compared to something like the Y700 gaming laptop I reviewed a while back, but at the same time they're quite a bit better than most ultrabooks. My review unit 900 series had an Intel Skylake Core i7-6700HQ processor, 8GB's of DDR4 RAM and a 256GB PCIe SSD for storage. There's also an NVidia GTX 950M built in, which gives it quite a bit more graphical performance than the vast majority of mainstream laptops. How was it to actually use? Blazing fast for my normal usage, which mainly consists of running lots of tabs in Chrome and NotePad++, and maybe an IDE like Eclipse. However, despite the discrete GPU, this isn't really a gaming laptop - if you want to play the latest titles on high settings, spring for the only slightly more expensive Y700, which has a higher end GPU.

Design: This is a bit of a weak point for the 700 series. It's a giant, thick black slab, with rather flimsy feeling plastic and annoyingly-large bezels around the screen. And it's really thick.
But it's not meant to be thin or light, so I won't dock Lenovo too hard for the huge size - I just wish their was a little more design flair, and really, those bezels are ridiculous.

Display, Keyboard & Misc: The 15" full HD display is spacious, reproduces colors well, has a nice matte finish, and was generally good to use. A higher display resolution wouldn't be a bad idea on a screen this large for future revisions, but for a laptop at this price point I thought the display was great - certainly, the new season of Game of Thrones looked excellent on HBO Now streaming. The trackpad was equally good, and the keyboard has a full numpad, which is always appreciated. That said, having recently used a Lenovo ThinkPad X1, the keyboard on the 700 didn't feel anywhere near as good as any of the ThinkPad's I've tried.. I also prefer the Apple Macbook Pro keyboard, and some of Dell's.
Amusingly, the laptop actually comes with a bundled external DVD drive, which I never even tried - I live a pretty much disk free life, with the exception of Xbox One Blurays. Speaking of which, if you're going to include an optical drive, please make it a Bluray reader in 2016. Meanwhile, the speakers and port situation are great, as you'd expect on a big 15" desktop replacement.

Software: The IdeaPad 700 has Windows 10, as you'd expect of a modern non-Apple laptop, with an actually surprisingly light load of bloatware software. There's the ever present, ever annoying McAfee antivirus, a few Lenovo apps, and weirdly a version of Candy Crush preinstallled, but that's pretty great. Some laptops(cough, HP) that I've tried have literally dozens of terrible free trial apps installed. In fact, it feels a lot more like a typical business laptop setup... except for the Candy Crush.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Audi TT RS is a super quick, 400 horse conundrum in coupe or roadster form

The Audi TT line has always been a bit of a strange market proposal, for two main reasons. First off, it's essentially a sports car that... isn't actually that sporty; It's a light, fast looking coupe or roadster that has a rather underpowered engine, giving it a reputation of being for people who value style over substance. Secondly, it's weirdly similar to the Porsche Boxster and Cayman duo, a couple of products within the Volkswagen portfolio that are only slightly more expensive yet have more power and are, well, Porsche's. And of course, if Audi makes the TT more competitive, then that would draw sales away from the more profitable Porsche models.

All of that background aside, the new TT RS looks legitimately awesome. It's actually a pair of cars, one coupe version and one roadster, which share a brand new turbo inline 5 cylinder engine that has 400 horsepower. Now, that's no longer bonkers supercar territory, with the Mustang and Camaro's V8 versions both making well over that, but it's still a lot of power for a relatively light little car. It translates into some pretty quick acceleration too, with the coupe making a 3.7 second naught to sixty run, and the roadster hitting 60 in 3.9 seconds. There isn't a single Porsche Cayman model that can match that, and even the base 911 is slower from 0 to 60. The BMW M2 and M4 are also slightly slower, as is Jaguar's base F Type, and the aforementioned Camaro SS and Mustang GT. The base Corvette matches the performance of the TT RS(which will probably cost much more than Chevy's finest) but there aren't a lot of other mid-level sports cars that do.

Beyond performance, there's a 7 speed S-tronic transmission, quattro all-wheel drive, and OLED taillights, which is a first for a production car. Inside, there's paddle shifters on the steering wheel, a 12.3" display for the "virtual cockpit" introduced on the normal TT, an LTE wifi hotspot and Bang & Olufsen sound.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Good deal: $560 off a top spec Apple Macbook Pro

Apple's absolute highest end laptop right now, the $2500 SKU of its 15" Macbook Pro Retina, is currently $1939 or $94 a month for two years right now on Ebay. That'll net you an(out of date but still blazing fast) Intel Core i7 quad core chip running at 2.5GHz, 16GB's of RAM, an AMD Radeon R9 M370X, GPU, and a 512GB SSD. Plus all the normal Macbook Pro stuff like a 2880x1800 Retina display, amazing trackpad, etc.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Tesla Model S gets a new nose, other minor upgrades & the Model X 75D is finally up for order

Tesla's Model S sedan is still an excellent car in a class of 1, but its design is getting a bit long in the tooth. That's presumably why this refresh is coming, with a new front end, different headlights and a few other slight design changes. It's also getting the "Bio-Weapon Defense Mode," ie a cabin air filtration system, that debuted on the Model X crossover, as well as a new 48 amp charger, which should be faster.
Speaking of the Model X, when it debuted, you could only buy one if you'd pre-ordered, and they've been very gradually rolling out more general availability. This continues today, with the public launch of the online configuration tool and the entry level(well, as entry level as a luxury electric SUV with crazy doors can be) 75D version. Unlike the higher end options, this Model X has a 75 kWh battery good for a 237 mile range, 6 second 0-60 sprint and 130 MPH top speed. But in exchange, it has a $85,500(so roughly $75k after tax incentives) base price, $10,000 cheaper than a 90D.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga & T460S Review

I'm trying out a dual review here, since Lenovo sent me two ThinkPad's that are in many ways very similar, yet also have some crucial differences. The X1 Yoga takes the popular Yoga form factor, with its 360 degree hinge, and applies it to the X1, typically Lenovo's top of the line ultra portable for businesses. It's a utilitarian-yet-handsome black slab with a 14" touchscreen, stylus support, amazing keyboard and the signature red trackpoint.
The T460S, meanwhile, lacks the Yoga hinge and pen, but is otherwise very similar. There's nearly the same specs inside, an almost identical 14" touchscreen, and that same great keyboard and trackpoint. It can be had with a discrete GPU, however, and costs roughly $300 less.

Specs: Both my review unit ThinkPad's came with Intel's latest Core i5 processors but can be configured with Core i7's, along with DDR4 2300MHz RAM(4GB's for the T460S, 8 for the X1) and 256GB SSD's. Those are overall decent specs, though I would definitely recommend upping the RAM on the T460 - if you use Chrome, it will rapidly eat up 4GB's. The displays were again the same, with nicely thin bezels that let these 14" laptops be about the same size as some 13" computers. They have a 1920x1080p resolution that looked quite good, but is in this day and age is the minimum I would accept on high end computers. However, both offer a 2560x1440p upgrade option(on the T460S, this requires sacrificing touch capability) and the X1 even has an OLED 2560x1440p panel available. Considering the 2560x1440 display is just $95 more on the T series, or $125 on the X1, go for it.
Overall, I found little to complain about with the specs - these are solid ultrabooks with good performance, displays and storage. The 4GB's of RAM on the T460S is rather ridiculous for a $1000 laptop, but it can be easily and affordably bought with 8, and 12 or even 20GB options are available.

Keyboard, fingerprint reader, radios & ports

  • The T460S has nearly every port you could conceivably want, except perhaps for VGA if you spend a lot of time using out of date projectors, as many business people do. Other than that, you do get HDMI, mini Displayport, USB 3.0, SD, Ethernet(an advantage over the X1) and even a SIM card slot. Yes, both of these laptops have SIM card slots for mobile data, along with the 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1, both of which are the latest versions of their respective protocols. Finally, the touchscreen is fast, responsive and complements the trackpad(which is also quite good) nicely. 
  • The X1 Yoga meanwhile lacks the Ethernet port, but retains everything else and adds the previously mentioned pen. Unlike some manufacturers that offer styli, the ThinkPad pen has a slot that can charge the pen's battery to 80% in 30 seconds, as well as providing somewhere to put it. I'm terrible at handwriting and drawing(I type much faster) so it's not a majorly compelling feature for me, but if you like taking notes by hand, it works quite well.

What both models share: A truly excellent keyboard. I know I mentioned this before, but seriously, I really, really like this keyboard. I have my normal quibble with Lenovo's placement of other buttons around the left and right arrow keys, but otherwise, this is the closest to a perfect typing experience you'll get on a 14" laptop. The other nifty feature that I wish I could have on my Macbook Air, is the fingerprint reader. It's a lot more secure and far easier to use than a password, and it works pretty well - sure, occasionally it couldn't read my finger, but that happened far less than on my Samsung Galaxy S6. It's also a lot faster then the S6 fingerprint reader.

Here's one of the advantages of buying a ThinkPad instead of a consumer laptop: There's basically no bloatware installed. Sure, McAfee is there, and rather annoying in my opinion, but some people would actually consider that a benefit.
Other than that, you have Windows 10, which is still an excellent OS. There's not a whole lot you can do to differentiate yourself as a Windows laptop maker, other than offering a clean install, which Lenovo's pretty much done here.

At right around $1000, the ThinkPad T460S makes a lot of sense. That amazing keyboard and fingerprint reader, combined with the relatively solid specs & legendary ThinkPad build quality, make it my current top recommendation for a business laptop. For comparison, Dell's Latitude 7000 14" has a slower Core i3 processor, terribly low resolution display and otherwise similar specs for slightly more money.
However, the T460S being so good puts the X1 Yoga in an awkward position. When I first started using the two laptops, I much preferred the X1; I really like the 360 degree hinge, the pen is nice, and it just seems like a more modern device. But it's really a quite similar computer overall - yet it costs nearly $400 more. I just don't think the flexibility of the Yoga hinge and the excellent ThinkPad Pen are worth that kind of money. Certainly, if compared to something like Microsoft's Surface Book, which is at least as expensive and has a more awkward convertible design, it makes a bit more sense. But in a world where you can get a T460S or, if you don't need the business-centric features, a Dell XPS 13 or Lenovo Yoga 900 for less than 3/4 of the price, it's hard to justify. Once that OLED screen comes out, things might change however.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Here it is: The Tesla Model 3

Tesla Motors has been promising a car with their unique design, technology, and high range electric capability at a price point far lower then their first vehicles for at least 5 years - and now we've finally gotten our first glimpse of it. At a flashy but short event in Southern California last night, CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Tesla Model 3. It's a size smaller than the Model S, a lot cheaper, and is aimed directly at the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C Class, Cadillac ATS and similar entry-lux sedans. All of this we already knew, but we hadn't seen the design, with its gorgeous(but optional) front-to-back glass roof, grill-less nose, and front and rear trunks. More importantly, though we still don't know the details on specifications, there are some preliminary figures:The slowest base model will do 0-60 in less than 6 seconds and have a minimum 215 mile range on one charge, and have rear wheel drive. It'll also come standard with autopilot and Supercharger support across all models, along with having the largest volume of cargo space for the class, thanks to that front trunk. And it will start at $35,000 when it goes on sale in late 2017. Of course, there will also be higher end models available, including dual motor all wheel drive versions.
Amazingly, before they even had their event, Tesla had already secured 115,000 preorders(with a $1000 reservation fee) from people who hadn't seen the car or learned any details about it at all.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Apple goes smaller with the iPhone SE and iPad Pro 9.7

At what will likely be their last event before moving to their new headquarters, Apple unveiled two new additions to the mobile product portfolio. Perhaps even more interestingly, they announced that 93% of all their facility's energy usage worldwide is powered by renewable sources, which is pretty cool.
As for the products: The iPhone SE is for everyone who complains about how large phones are getting these days, but doesn't want to settle for low end or out of date specs. It's an idea Sony pioneered with their Z1 Compact years back, but a good one. Essentially, it has the specs of an iPhone 6S packed into the body of an old iPhone 5, with a 4" Retina screen with an 1136x640 resolution. Yet despite the iPhone 5-like outside and display, inside there's an Apple A9 processor, M9 coprocessor, NFC for Apple Pay, support for 802.11ac wifi, voice over LTE or Wifi calling, and 150Mbps LTE. There's also the 12MP f2.2 aperture camera with 4K video and LivePhoto support, all for $399 or $13.30 per month on Apple's installment plan. Unfortunately, that base price only gets you 16GB's of storage, which is just ridiculous in 2016 for a phone that can record 4K videos, though you can pay an extra $100 for 64GB's.

The iPad Pro 9.7", or 9.7" iPad Pro, or iPad Mini, no wait that's the 8" one... Apple's tablet naming strategy is getting extremely confusing these days. Regardless, the latest iPad is a ~10" tablet positioned above the existing iPad Air 2, with the stylus support, first person keyboard dock, faster processor and enhanced screen of the giant iPad Pro 12". Specifically, the display is the least reflective of any tablet, something Apple is very proud of that most people will never notice, and intelligently adjusts the white balance to the room you're in. Further, it'll fade out the blue light from the display when it's dark or late, to help you sleep easier after using it.
Inside, it's powered by the Apple A9X processor, which debuted on the larger iPad Pro, and of course has split screen app support. It weighs just 0.96 pounds, and has a 12MP still/4K video camera and HD webcam, along with TouchID. It'll start at $599 with 32GB's of storage space, with 128 and 256GB configurations selling for an extra $150 each, along with the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard and the usual LTE variants also available.
Finally, there's now a 256GB version of the 12" iPad Pro as well for an insane $1099 - yes, that's $300 more than a Macbook Air.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Slack is getting voice call functionality

Popular team messaging/email replacement app Slack can already initiate voice calls through Google Hangouts and other similar services, but now it's getting native, in-platform support for telephony. For normal users, you'll be able to make one-to-one voice calls for free, while if you have their paid Standard plan or above, you can make conference calls with up to 15 users. 
Nicely enough, Slack's leaving in the easy integration with other voice services, so you won't have to use their version unless it's convenient. Finally, since this is slack, you'll be able to send quick emoji reactions to a everyone in the call.

Monday, February 22, 2016

One of the most interesting phones from MWC is a revival of an old Motorola idea from HP

HP has a long, weird history with mobile devices. They made some very early PDA's and smartphones, running Windows Mobile, long before the iPhone or Android burst onto the scene. Then they stopped for a while. Then, around the turn of this decade, they purchased Palm, the innovative but perpetually down on their luck creators of the first smartphone ever, and webOS, the platform that invented many concepts that Apple and Google are just now catching up to. Yet less than a year after spending well over a billion dollars on Palm, they killed their newly integrated constituent company, stopping all new hardware releases. There were some last gasps from the Palm team within HP in the form of attempts to open source webOS, but essentially it was all over. That was in 2011; Since then, HP has periodically released some rather uninspired Android phones and tablets, that have never garnered any critical or sales success.

Now, though, they're getting back into mobile with a bang - yet abandoning Android for another OS that seems perpetually doomed from a sales perspective: Windows 10 Mobile, the latest version of Windows Phone. This time around, they're resurrecting an old idea with new hardware that should make it actually work pretty well. That idea is to use your smartphone as your main computer, hooking it up to a monitor and keyboard when you need a desktop, or a super thin laptop-like device with no processing power of its own when you want a laptop. It's one that was first thought of, funnily enough, by Palm with their Foleo laptop shell, then later refined quite a bit by Motorola with the Atrix 4G. ASUS has been refining their PadFone lineup, which is based around the same idea for years now. So the HP Elite x3 isn't at all a new concept, but that doesn't make it a bad one. And it's crazily powerful: It's based around a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 octa core CPU, with 4GB's of RAM, 64GB's of storage, up to 2TB's more via microSD, an iris scanner(really!) and fingerprint reader, dual SIMs, and a giant 4150mAh battery. Giant also sums up the device as a whole, seeing as it has a 6", 2560x1440p display, but its docks are nicely compact: The desktop dock is a tiny cradle that provides two USB 3.0 ports, a USB 3.1 Type C port, DisplayPort and Ethernet, while the Mobile Extender has a near-borderless 12.5" display and is appropriately thin. Plus its wireless, unlike previous executions of this modular-computing idea, so you don't have to slot your phone in awkwardly.
In other words, HP's aced the hardware here, but I see two main problems: First, Windows 10 Mobile is a distant 3rd in the smartphone race and as such doesn't have many apps that you want on a phone, and its Continuum dock mode feature is brand new and won't run classic Windows programs. Secondly, it'll likely be extremely pricey. Still, it's a nice phone, Continuum is nifty, and I still think the central idea is a good one.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 Edge: Predictable but excellent

Unlike LG's new G5 with its modular design, rolling robot "Friend" and two rear cameras, Samsung's playing it straight with their flagship refresh this year. That doesn't mean any less engineering effort went into the new Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, though - these are excellent looking devices. First off, they look amazing. My Galaxy S6 is a good looking phone, and the S7 is almost the same, but somehow through subtle little tweaks like making the fingerprint sensor and camera hump less prominent,they look even better. As for specs, the S7 still has a 5.1" 2560x1440 Super AMOLED display, while the S7 Edge has a bigger 5.5" quadHD screen with its namesake curved edges. The back is now slightly curved as well. Inside there's an octa core(2.3GHz quad and 1.6GHz quad) 64 bit CPU, 4GB's of DDR4 RAM, 32 GB's of storage, and a 3000mAh battery. The S7 Edge gets a larger 3600mAh battery, and they both have two features that the Galaxy S5 had but the S6 dropped: A microSD card slot and IP68 certified waterproofing. One omission is the new USB Type-C port that many devices are getting, which is a shame in some ways, considering its faster data transfer and enhanced video and daisy-chaining capabilities. However, Samsung stuck with a micro USB port for what I consider a very good reason: It doesn't break compatibility with the GearVR virtual reality headset, meaning if you already have one designed for an S6, it'll work for the S7. That's a nice move seeing as how they could've made it not work with the old headsets and forced people to buy a new one.

From a software perspective, the S7 duo run Android 6.0 Marshmallow with the latest version of Samsung's Touchwiz software, which has seen a few refinements. It has an always on display feature, like the Moto X or LG G5, which is quite nifty, as well as a revised version of Samsung Pay that supports barcode payments. Meanwhile, one of the most important aspects of a smartphone is the camera, and the S7's sounds good so far. There's a lower resolution then last year at 12 instead of 16MP's, but this enabled larger pixels, which along with a brighter f/1.7 aperture lens, should help low light photography a lot. It's also super fast to start up.

The LG G5 is an ultra high end flagship with modular peripherals

The Mobile World Congress tradeshow in Barcelona started off with a bang this morning as LG unveiled their latest flagship, the G5. LG's top-dog smartphones have been excellent since at least the G3, but they've never really given a very convincing argument for buying them in an ultra competitive segment. It's competitors all have some major advantage - there's the well-specced and better known Samsung Galaxy S line, the gorgeous HTC One, or the cheaper and customizable Moto X, and the iPhone, which is, well, the iPhone. Then of course there's Google's own Nexus devices with their fast updates, Sony's Xperias which look amazing and stream PS4 games, and a slew of Chinese startups undercutting everyone on price.

That may change after today: The new G5 has top notch specs, looks great, and more importantly has a truly compelling differentiator: A set of accessories called "Friends" that add some pretty unique functionality, some even by becoming part of the device directly. But first, the phone itself:
The G5 is a sleek anodized aluminum and glass device with rounded edges and a gently curved display, in your choice of silver, pink, gold or a nice-looking gunmetal grey called "titan." The centerpiece is of course the 5.3" 2560x1440p IPS display, which has a trick backlight that can leave just a tiny bit on at all times in black and white at basically no hit to the battery life. Around back, there's a circular power button/fingerprint reader like on the Google Nexus 6P and 5X, and two cameras. The main shooter is a 16MP unit, and there's also an ultra-wide angle 8MP camera next too it, as well as another 8MP shooter on the front. Inside, there's Qualcomm's latest and greatest Snapdragon 820, 4GB's of DDR4 RAM, and 32GB's of storage. Connectivity includes the new reversible USB Type-C connector, Bluetooth 4.2 with aptX HD for the highest quality wireless audio, and a microSD card slot. Also removable is the 2800mAh battery, which combined with Android 6.0 Marshmallow's battery savings and the more-efficient Snapdragon, should lead to pretty good battery life.

But where it really gets intriguing is the peripherals: There's a button on the side of the G5 that lets you slide the bottom of the phone off, revealing the battery but also allowing you to switch to one of two modules: The CAM Plus, which has a larger 4000mAh battery and physical buttons for the power, shutter, and record features, and a nifty jog wheel for the camera zoom. Meanwhile, the Hi-Fi Plus module is a Bang & Olufsen digital audio converter and amplifier that provides a far higher quality audio output jack, with 32-bit 384KHz HD audio playback. There's also a pretty cool VR goggle device that you can hookup to the USB Type-C port and use to simulate a 130 inch TV, and a 360 degree camera that can upload straight to Google Street View or Youtube. Finally, the Rolling Bot is a spherical robot with an 8MP camera, laser pointer, wifi, microphone and speakers. It's designed for remote home monitoring or torturing playing with your pet from the other side of the world.