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.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Tesla Model 3 to be shown on March 31st, still on track for a 2017 debut

After the many, many delays to their Model X crossover, you could be justified in expecting that Tesla Motors' value play, the mass-market-aimed Model 3 might also be delayed. However, it so far seems to be coming along right on schedule, and we'll finally get to actually see a preproduction version quite soon - March 31st, to be precise.
The Model 3 is expected to launch in 2017 as a 2018 model year vehicle, and be a shrunken Model S competing with the BMW 3 Series, Cadillac ATS, Lexus IS, and similar entry level luxury sedans. But perhaps more importantly, it'll also join the Chevrolet Bolt in the sub-$40k but likely over 200 mile range electric vehicle club.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Lenovo Yoga 700 review

Lenovo's original Yoga was a massive hit, and the key design element, that super useful 360 degree hinge, has now spread across much of their product portfolio as well as several competitor's similar models. That places the actual Yoga series in a weird place: If a bunch of ThinkPads, IdeaPad Flex models, other Yoga's, and HP's x360, along with various other options share your main differentiation point, it's no longer a unique selling point. Lenovo replied to that conundrum late last year by unifying their Yoga portfolio to two models, with the high end 900 series also offering a bunch of other selling points and the 700 having solid specs for an affordable price. Is their anything left to make the Yoga 700 stand out though? Maybe not as much as a couple of years ago,but regardless, I found it to be a solid laptop.

Performance: Unlike the Yoga 900, the 700 is a solidly midrange computer. However, in 2016 that means you're getting a pretty decent machine; The Intel 6th generation Skylake Core i5-6200U processor runs at a decent clock speed and handled Chrome, Eclipse, Filezilla and Notepad++ with aplomb. That was likely also helped by the 8GB's of DDR3-1600MHz RAM and ultra fast 256GB SSD. Despite the excellent all around performance, you won't be playing current generation games at high settings - if you want an ultrabook that can handle Fallout 4, Razer's Blade Stealth might be more your style. You'll be paying a lot more money and need an external GPU enclosure, however.

Display, keyboard, trackpad and ports: The centerpiece of any laptop is the display, and while the Yoga 700 may not have a fancy 3- or 4K panel, what it does feature is a 1920x1080p touchscreen at 14". In other words, it has a very nice but not amazing screen, which is just what a midrange laptop should have. I streamed Mark Wahlberg's The Gambler on the 700 and, while the movie was somewhat disappointing, it looked excellent. The trackpad also works quite well, and you get more ports than I typically expect on an ultrabook. I do have some issues with the keyboard; There's an annoying row of keys for home, page down, etc along the right edge that got in the way when speed typing, and the backlight only has one setting.

Software: Windows 10 is an excellent OS in my opinion, especially on a laptop/tablet hybrid like any of the Yoga line. I still prefer mobile operating systems on tablets, but that's inconsequential to this review since the 14" Yoga with its permanently attached keyboard is hardly a traditional tablet. As for customizations, there's the usual Lenovo suite of bloatware apps and the always-annoying McAfee antivirus, but that's all easily fixed by a fresh install of Windows. Normally I would recommend getting the Yoga from a Microsoft Store as they have clean installs, but the Yoga 700 isn't offered, only the 900 and last generation Yoga 3 Pro.

Design: The Yoga 900 is a gorgeous machine, practically a work of art. The Yoga 700 has almost identical specs other than the display for $400 less. What do you think they cut? If you guessed the design, that would be right. I'm not saying the 700 is a bad looking computer, because it isn't. Plus it has that previously-discussed Yoga hinge, which is awesome for movie watching, using the device as a cookbook, and many other reasons. But its also somewhat boring, with a simple black design, relatively thick chassis and plastic(though still solid) build.

Wrapup: The 700 starts at $849 through Lenovo's online store, That comes with either the i5-6200U or a higher end i7 for the same price right now due to a sale. You can also get it for $50 less through Best Buy. That puts it squarely in competition with the HP Envy x360 and excellent Dell XPS 13. With the HP, you get the same 360 degree hinge, a snazzier design and a larger 15" display, but it weighs somewhat more and has a far slower spinning hard drive instead of an SSD. The Dell, meanwhile, is a much smaller laptop despite only giving up an inch of screen real estate due to its thin bezels, and it has an excellent design and build quality. The specs are mostly similar(and can be configured much higher, to compete with the Yoga 900) but it lacks a touchscreen unless you spend much more and can't rotate all the way around.
In other words, if you want a Yoga and don't want to spend $1200, the 700 is an excellent laptop - but I wish they'd reduced the software bloat.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Good deal: High capacity 128GB iPad Mini 3 on sale from Best Buy for $349 today

If you have a positively massive library of music and movies, use a tablet in the field for giant RAW photo files, or have immense quantities of iOS games, Best Buy has a pretty great deal right now. The iPad Mini 3, with its 7.9" Retina display, A7 processor and Touch ID fingerprint reader, may be one generation out of date but it's still a good small tablet. And the high capacity 128GB version normally costs $599, so Best Buy's limited-time $250 discount is pretty great. Especially if you happen to have a Best Buy gift card laying around and their rewards program, this might end up being one of the best iPad sales of recent memory.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Lenovo Y900 Desktop Review

The Y700 laptop I recently reviewed is the backbone of Lenovo's gaming efforts, but they're also expanding into the hardcore desktop market, not to mention the profitable gaming peripheral area. Their top of the line Y-series desktop is the subject of today's review, and it's a pretty nice piece of kit, from the aggressive but not totally absurd case to an unlocked Intel Core i7-6700K, one of the best processors available right now. Now, why you would ever buy a pre-built gaming desktop instead of making one yourself I don't know, but if that's where your interests lie, read on for how this one stacks up.

Specs: The Y900 is the most powerful computer to cross my reviewing desk to date. Specifically, my configuration has an insane 8 core, 4.0GHz unlocked Intel Core i7-6700K 6th Generation Skylake CPU. If all that jargon doesn't mean anything to you, just trust me: This thing is fast, and the benchmark results agree  - It scored in the top 8 of all desktop CPU's ever made on Novabench. Sure, there's faster CPU's you can get, especially within Intel's Xeon lineup, but you don't really need one for gaming. There's also a 128GB SSD and 2TB's of slower HDD storage. As for the(even more important) graphics card, Lenovo went with an NVidia Geforce GTX 970, along with the slot and power to add another if you wish. Again, it did excellently on Novabench(top 7 this time) and handled the Heaven graphical benchmark quite well as well. As for real-world usage, Titanfall doesn't have exactly punishing graphics, but it's something that a non-gaming PC can't handle even on medium settings. The Y900, meanwhile, purred smoothly through a succession of maps with every single setting maxed out.
But not everything's perfect: Though the RAM is of the brand new DDR4 variety, there's only 8GB's, which is frankly ridiculous for a high-performance PC these days. There's also no Bluray drive, just a DVD burner.

Ports, peripherals and expandability: Quite possibly my favorite part of the Y900 is that it comes with a little booklet explaining how to upgrade or replace anything from the processor to the RAM. It also has a nifty lever to open the case, and pretty well designed cable management internally. There's 4 USB 3.0  ports, a full size SD card slot, headphone and mic connectors on the front, and a huge selection of ports on the back; USB, audio, Ethernet, 3 Displayport connectors, HDMI, and DVI are all represented. However, I have to knock Lenovo for the lack of a USB 3.1 Type C connection.
As for peripherals, they aren't included, but Lenovo shipped me the same gaming mouse and headset as with the Y700 laptop, plus a keyboard. I'm still not a huge fan of either the mouse or the headset, but the keyboard is pretty sweet. It's mechanical, backlit, has a huge number of shortcut keys that are even separate from the Fn keys, and a nice layout. Just be forewarned: It's quite noisy.

Design: Black and red better be your favorite two colors if you're interested in Lenovo's Y series devices, as the entire portfolio of products are decked out in a color scheme that'd make Darth Vader happy. The Y900 is no different, a giant ATX form factor tower in matte black with red LED illumination(yes, there's an LED control center app) festooned everywhere and tons of angles. It's definitely a slightly over the top gaming machine, but it doesn't go as crazy as some and the tower itself feels extremely solid. It also has plenty of ventilation and an angled window showing you the glowing green GeForce card and red power supply, which is rather cool in my opinion.

Software: I'm developing a rather intense dislike of McAfee's antivirus software suite, which is bundled on most Lenovo's. It's constantly running scans, installing updates, warning about new network connections, prompting a subscription renewal or otherwise distracting me and sapping performance. Other than that inclusion, the Y900 has Windows 10 with a few Lenovo and NVidia tools, which is pretty much what you want on a gaming desktop. I really like Windows 10's game streaming feature, which I used to play a bit of the Xbox One version of Star Wars Battlefront on the Y900.

Wrap up: The Y900 starts at $899, but that's with no dedicated graphics card and 4GB's of RAM - in other words, you aren't getting a competent gaming PC. The configuration I've been reviewing costs $1599, which would of course get you a lot of nice components if you were building your own PC. If you're only looking at off the shelf solutions(with their support,) however, it's not a bad deal. Dell/s XPS 8900 Special Edition is one of the best competitors, with either a slightly lower end CPU and no SSD but twice the RAM and a Bluray drive for $250 less or the same CPU, 3x the RAM and a slightly slower GPU for $200 more. They do offer $200 off the Oculus Rift if you buy an XPS, however. For $20 more with twice the RAM and a Bluray drive plus a larger SSD but more importantly an older, slower CPU, the HP Envy Phoenix is also decent competition.
I don't think you'll be disappointed with a Y900, however.

Monday, January 11, 2016

2017 Infinity Q60 brings new looks, three new engines

The Infinity Q60(formerly and more famously known as the G35 & G37) has long been a solid luxury coupe with sporting credentials and a huge aftermarket community, but it was growing quite long in the tooth. That changes with the revised 2017 version, which looks all new, has an updated interior, and most importantly has a new powertrain lineup. Starting at the top: Infinity's new twin turbo 3.0 liter V6 will produce 400hp and get an estimated 22MPG. There will also be a lower tuned version of the same mill producing 300HP, and an entry level turbo I4 that makes 208HP but gets 24MPG. That last motor is actually a Mercedes engine that has previously starred in the Mercedes CLA, GLA and Infinity QX30. Safety features include lane departure assistance, 360 degree AroundView monitoring, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision breaking, & everything else you'd expect from a 4 Series/C Class/ATS competitor.

The interior is almost exactly the same as the Q50 sedan, just shrunken a bit. That means it's a relatively nice place, with active noise cancelling, two touchscreens(instead of one larger unit, for unknown reasons) in the center console, and Infinity's spinal support seats.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Buick Avista Concept is a 400hp, RWD coupe

Buick is having trouble getting over the reputation that from the late 90's until just a few years ago they rightfully deserved: That of being slow, ugly, overstuffed cars that your grandparents drive 10MPH below the speed limit on a road with no passing lane. That's a shame though, because between the Regal and the Verano, they actually make some pretty great entry luxury, semi-sporty sedans that compare favorably to Acuras and the low end from the German Three. Public connotation is hard to change, however.
One way to do it is through flashy new concepts with big marketing pushes, and that's just what last year's Avenir and this Avista Concept are for. So what is the Avista? Well first of all, just look at it. That's a legitimately gorgeous car in my opinion, and not just for a Buick. Much more importantly, though, is that it's based on the Alpha platform, which underlies the excellent 6th gen Camaro and handles-better-than-a-3-Series Cadillac ATS. Besides that, there's a 400HP twin turbo V6, rear wheel drive, and an 8 speed transmission handling the important parts. The interior is pretty concept car-ish, with swooping touchscreens and lots of carbon fiber, as are the touchpad door handles, but mostly the Avista looks almost ready to ship. Please do so, Buick.