Saturday, November 7, 2015

T-Mobile offering $100 off their 11 best smartphones this month

T-Mobile's getting in on the Black Friday craziness a bit early with their latest deal. If you're thinking of picking up a smartphone from the Magenta carrier, make sure you order it through their website. You'll be able to apply a $100 discount to either an up front or payment plan purchase, which on some devices puts them below their average high quality used Ebay price - but with the option of spreading that payment over 24 months. The Apple iPhone 6S, 6S Plus, 6, 6 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S 6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge Plus, Note 5, Note 4, LG V10, and LG G4 are all included in the sale.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Samsung goes 4K with the Ativ Book 9 Plus

Samsung's strangely-named Ativ Book laptops have been pretty solid options for the last few years, and now they're jumping in on the 4K Ultra HD display trend. The new Ativ Book 9 Plus is the flagship Samsung laptop for the year, with that aforementioned 15.6" 4096x2160 display, powered by Intel's new Skylake Core i7 processors and an NVidia GTX 950m. There's also 8GB's of RAM, a 256GB SSD, the new reversible USB 3.1 Type C connector and a 4.45lb aluminum chassis. It'll start at $1599, and complements the new Ativ Book 9 Spin. That's a 13" ultrabook with a Lenovo Yoga-like 360 degree hinge that also allows you to detach the display, and the same Skylake i7, RAM and SSD. This time around though there's no NVidia GPU and the display is a(still impressive) 3200x1800 resolution panel.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 8" Review

I've now reviewed 4 different Lenovo Yoga Tabs, starting with the first generation model in 10 inch Android form, followed by two of the second gen, representing two sizes and both Android & Windows. Now, I'm sampling the 3rd iteration, which is an iterative update that keeps many of the strengths, improves on a few weaknesses, and weirdly reduces the screen resolution and RAM - but also costs quite a bit less.

Performance: Tablets and phones have gotten to the point that PC's reached a few years back where even low end devices will provide consistently good performance for standard use cases. That's true here, so while the Yoga 3 is faster then the entry-level Lenovo A series or the Yoga 2, and is slower than the Samsung Galaxy Tab A, you probably won't notice most of the time. If you do care though, there's a Qualcomm Snapdragon 212 quad core 1.3GHz CPU, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB's of storage with microSD expansion. It received a 1080 multi-core score on Geekbench. I never had any slowdowns while using Chrome with multiple tabs, Google Music in the background, a word processor and GCal open simultaneously, or while watching Netflix/Youtube.

Display: The screen on last year's Yoga 2 was phenomenal for the category. Unfortunately, this one trades that full HD panel for a 1280x800 IPS 8" display that is merely mediocre. That said, it actually still looks pretty good to my eyes compared to the($60 pricier) Galaxy Tab A 8". I watched a few episodes of the second season of Blacklist and James Spader's exploits looked great, as did standard web browsing. While reading an e-textbook on Google Books I definitely missed the high pixel density display, however.

Software: Here's where Lenovo's improved in my opinion. They've toned down their skin, and include a relatively minimal amount of  unnecessary, resource consuming, potentially unsafe apps. There's still McAfee Security, a couple of media sharing apps, a sound recorder, and some rather cartoony icons for some stock apps, but overall, it's one of the less offensive skins. It also runs quite fast, has a rather nice lockscreen, and is based on Android 5.1.1, the latest version at the time it was released. Of course when/if it'll get Android 6.0 is an open question... And of course, Android is still somehow lacking in good tablet optimized apps(I'm looking at you, Twitter!)
Overall, good job on a much more tasteful, better performing software loadout, Lenovo.

Battery life, kickstand, and speakers: The Yoga Tablet line has always had good battery life, thanks to the giant cylinder on the bottom that also allows the kickstand and new rotating camera. This time around, thanks to the lower resolution screen, more efficient OS, and whatever under-the-hood engineering improvements they've made, it's even better. I used my review unit Yoga Tab 3 on and off for a good 4 or 5 days between charges on average, including streaming Netflix in HD. Lenovo rates the 8" version I was using at 20 hours of screen-on time, and I believe them.
Meanwhile, the kickstand is great, just like on the Yoga 2. For some unknown reason, they added a latch to it that you have to release with a button, which is slightly annoying, but I still think the competition's missing out by not offering one. And finally, there's front facing stereo speakers with Dolby EQ profiles, which sound surprisingly good for a tablet. On the other hand, the audio through the headphone jack, hooked up to my Symphonized Wraiths, was overly loud and somewhat crackly. That may have been just my test unit though.

A sample shot with the YT3's camera
Another Yoga cam sample
Camera: I don't think people should use tablets as cameras, and none that I've used are very good at the task. That includes the Yoga, which has an 8MP shooter that is as good or better than most of the competition that I've used - but that's not saying very much. Still, Lenovo did make one pretty cool engineering advancement this time around: Instead of having a rear camera and a webcam/selfie cam taking up precious internal space and costing more money, they put one camera on a rotating wheel. It's nifty, fun to play with during boring programming languages lectures, and is just generally a good idea.

Design: The Android Yoga Tab 3 looks almost exactly like the Windows powered Yoga Tab 2 from earlier this year. By that I mean that it's a Yoga Tab in black aluminum. In other words, it looks great and feels extremely well made and durable, but has absurdly large bezels around the display, making it larger than other 8" devices. There's also that giant cylinder for the battery and kickstand, which I like as it makes it easy to hold, but some might find ugly.

Wrapup: I don't see why they got rid of the great screen, halved the RAM and reduced the processor speed just to hit an only slightly-lower price point, but despite all of that, I'd recommend the YT3. It's well made, looks good, has nifty touches like the kickstand, speakers and rotating camera, and has gone from over-customized, out of date software to a refined, recent version of Android. More importantly, the battery life is leagues better than most of the competition, and that means a lot. An electronic device you don't have to charge every other night is a rarity these days, and a very nice one. Plus, for under $200 your alternatives are rather bleak, consisting of the smaller, cheaper feeling Galaxy Tab 4 7", or the Asus Zenpad 8, which has more RAM but less than half the battery, no kickstand and an older version of Android. There's also the HP 8 G2, but it has an older version of Android, an inferior display and even less battery life. There's some better competition in the $250+ range, but all in all, the Yoga Tab 3's a good product in it's category.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Lenovo Yoga 900 is their competitor to the Macbook Air and Dell XPS 13, with Skylake & QHD+

Lenovo's original Yoga laptop was one of the best Windows 8 launch devices, and it caused HP, Acer and many others to copy the innovative 360 degree-rotating design. The Yoga 2 Pro that came after it was an equally excellent computer, one of the best ultrabooks you could buy. Unfortunately, for the Yoga 3 Pro, they went with Intel's disappointing Core M processor inside. This  allowed a much thinner design but at the expense of a huge performance and battery life loss. This was around the same time that Dell's XPS 13 debuted, which for me took the crown of best mainstream ultrabook away from Lenovo due to that Core M.
With the new Yoga 900 for the Windows 10 launch, Lenovo's switching to the new Intel Skylake 6th generation Core i7 processors, which should be much faster on both the CPU and GPU fronts. They've also engineered the batteries for 50% higher density, and are claiming 9 hours of local video playback will be possible. Meanwhile, the rest of the computer is competitive as well, with a 3200x1800 13.3" IPS touchscreen, 16GB's of RAM, Samsung SSD's and of course that Yoga design.
It'll come in 3 rather nice colors, namely clementine orange, silver or gold, weighs 2.8lbs, and costs $1199

The new Yoga Home 900 is a stranger beast: It's a portable all in one desktop, a concept many companies have tried and few customers have embraced. Be that as it may, this specific one looks pretty well specced, at least, with the same Intel Skylake Core i5 or i7 as the Yoga 900, a 27" FHD touch display and an NVidia Geforce GT940.  There's also NFC and HDMI-in, along with 3 hours of battery life, though you can definitely just use it plugged in all the time as well. It'll start at $1499.

I'm at Lenovo's launch event here in San Francisco and will update with hands on impressions soon!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

BMW M4 GTS is a water injected, super-light track star

The BMW M4 is already a rather legendary performance coupe, and for 2016 Bavaria's finest are offering 300 substantially upgraded models, with a couple of firsts for production cars.
Most interestingly, the 3.0 liter turbocharged I6 engine has water injection, which is a popular 3rd party modification but has only been offered in production cars by GM in the 1960's and Saab in the 70's. Essentially, water injection refers to spraying water into the intake valves of an internal combustion engine, which if you've ever taken a basic physics course you know will absorb heat as it evaporates. Less heat = more potential performance, allowing the same engine as the stock M4 to put out an extra 16% more horsepower, for 493HP and 442lb-ft of torque.
The other first is the Organic Light Emitting Diode taillights, a technology you may be familiar with from Samsung and Motorola(among other) smartphone displays and extremely high end Sony TV's. Essentially, they use less energy for any coloring, can emit white light with almost no energy, and look rather cool.
Next, BMW replaced the roof, hood, trunk lid, spoiler, instrument panel and driveshaft with Carbon Fiber-Reinforced Plastic, which is lighter and thus increases performance, and deleted the rear seats for the same reason. The door panels are also 50% lighter, and there are new Alcantara seats and the carbon ceramic brake rotors which save a bit of weight and adds stopping power(just remember they're really, really expensive to replace.) Finally, they reprogrammed the 7-speed dual clutch transmission, suspension and electric power steering to prioritize track performance.
All of these upgrades shave an estimated 0.3 seconds off the 0-60 time, making this a 3.7s to 60 car with an artificially limited top speed of 189.5 miles per hour, and BMW's claiming a 7 minute 32 second time around the famed Nurburgring track in Germany. What they aren't mentioning is the price, which will likely be a fair bit higher than the normal M4's base of $65,400.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Microsoft's new Windows 10 flagships: The Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book

Microsoft's Surface line of in-house tablets started off as a spectacular failure, requiring a massive write off due to how much money they lost on excess supply, but they just kept going - and somewhere along the way, became quite successful. I certainly see tons of Surface Pro 3's here at UC Davis.
That Surface Pro 3 was getting a bit stale though, and despite Microsoft's assertion that it can replace your laptop, the kickstand/magnetically-attached keyboard doesn't work on a lap. In fact, it really doesn't work on very many surfaces(no pun intended) at all other than a desk. To fix both of those problems, Microsoft just announced the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book, their first laptop. The latter is the more interesting of the two, a gorgeous magnesium device that can still be removed from the keyboard, but docks with a metal hinge that lets you use it just like a normal laptop. That keyboard dock has a full size backlit keyboard, glass trackpad and on the higher end models, a dedicated NVidia GPU inside, as well as multiple extra ports. Meanwhile, the main unit is a 13.5" 3000x2000 resolution touchscreen with the expected Surface Pen capability, and pretty high end internals. There's a full voltage Intel Skylake 6th Gen Core i5 or i7, which should be much more powerful than the ultra low voltage processors in the Surface Pro(or Macbook Air, for that matter.) There's also 8 or 16GB's of RAM, 128/256/512GB's of SSD storage, a rated 12 hours of battery life, and a facial recognition camera for signing into Windows or various apps without a password.

Meanwhile, the Surface Pro 4 is, as you might expect, a relatively straight ahead refresh of the Surface Pro 3. It has a larger 12.3" 2736x1824 screen without being any wider, It's also evfen thinner and lighter than before, at 8.45mm(0.33") thick and 1.73lbs or just 1.69lbs with an Intel Core M processor. Yes, there will be three processor options: Intel Skylake-based Core m3, Core i5 or Core i7 chips. My advice, from reviewing a laptop with the last gen Core M, is unless this year's is massively upgraded, pay up for the much better Core i5 or i7. That'll also get you 8 or 16GB's of RAM and 256GB's of storage, as opposed to 4 and 128GB's respectively. As for everything else, there's 8MP rear and 5MP front cameras, 9 hours of battery life, Surface Pen support, and a base price of $799.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

LG's crazy new flagship V10 has two screens, three cameras and 4GB's of RAM plus a removable battery

LG just upended their naming scheme. For the last 4 years, their top of the line smartphone has had a G in the name. Their was the Optimus G, the G2, the G3, and the early-2014 G4. Not to mention the G Pro phablets and experimental, curved G Flex series. But now, against freshened competition from Apple, Samsung, Motorola, and Sony, all of which have launched new flagships in the last month, there's the V10. No, I don't know why they started with 10 either(or maybe it's binary, in which case that's a 2?) but the V is their because of the focus on video. The rear camera, besides having a 16MP optically stabilized, laser auto-focused still mode, can shoot 4K in a 21:9 cinematic mode with stabilization.
There's also a 5.7" 2560x1440p IPS Quantum Dot LCD screen, with a small 2.1"secondary display right above it that can display the weather, time, battery status and notifications when the main screen's off. They threw two cameras on the front as well for super wide angle selfies, and the audio for music goes through a 32 bit ESS Technologies digital audio controller, so it should sound pretty great. As for specs, there's a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 CPU, 4GB's of RAM, 64GB's of storage, Android Lollipop, and a 3000mAh battery. Perhaps most interestingly, they kept the removable battery, which none of the available competition offers, and have a microSD card slot that supports up to 2TB's.
Pricing is unknown, but the V10 will be available in black, white, beige, or two shades of blue, with a silicon and metal design, on all major carriers except Sprint.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Google's Chromecast 2 looks different and should be a lot faster

The original Chromecast was an unqualified success, as you might expect of a $35, easy to use device that lets you throw video or your phone/tablet/laptop screen on to any TV. That's why the new Chromecast 2 isn't hugely changed. There's 5GHz 802.11ac WiFi, "Fast Mode" to pre-cache apps like Netflix and videos it thinks you might want to watch, and a new design: It's now a tiny little circle with a bendable rubber HDMI cable sticking out, allowing you to plug it into TV's with lots of other devices and not much room between the ports. It still costs $35 and now comes in black, yellow or red, but that's really about it.
Meanwhile, the new Chromecast Audio is exactly what it sounds like: A $35 audio-only Chromecast for casting Spotify, Google Music, Pandora, or whatever else from your phone or laptop to any speaker with a 3.5mm, RCA or optical connection.
Why would you want this when so many speakers have Bluetooth now? For one thing it works with any, non-Bluetooth speaker set you already have, but it can also have(potentially much) higher audio quality and works even if your phone or other device isn't near the speakers. This is since Google Cast works by streaming your desired content from the internet, not actually from the local device.
As before with the original Chromecast, these devices will work with a growing selection of apps on Android, iOS, Mac OS X and Windows.

Google Pixel C is a high end, in house tablet with an NVidia Tegra X

A few years back, Google unveiled their first internally-produced hardware device, the Chromebook Pixel. It was beautiful, and an amazing screen back when that was a rarity, and cost a rather insane amount of money. The new Pixel C is also gorgeous, has an incredible screen, and costs the same as the iPad Air, in a market where most try to undercut the incumbent leader. On the other hand, the device really is stunning, with a 7mm thick minimalist aluminum design and magnetic connection to the optional keyboard, making it much more elegant then a Surface or iPad Pro's docking connector. The display is a 2560x1800 10.2" panel, making for an amazing 308 pixels per inch.  There's also 3GB's of RAM and NVidia's super fast Tegra X1, with 8 processing cores and 256 Maxwell GPU cores. There's also an 8MP camera, if you're the sort of monster who takes photos with a tablet. Finally, it has the new reversible USB Type C port, runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow and will cost $499 with 32GB's of storage and $599 with 64, while that keyboard costs $149.

Google Nexus 5X and 6P are the latest flagship Android phones

The Motorola and LG built, Google designed Nexus 6 and Nexus 5 have been some of the best phones available at their respective launch times of 2013 and 2014, and now Google has a successor for both: The LG Nexus 5X and Huawei Nexus 6P are all new, and they both look tempting so far.
Lets start with their commonalities: As Nexus devices, they of course run the absolute latest version of Android(version 6.0 Marshmallow), with no 3rd party customization's and guaranteed prompt updates. Then there's the fingerprint sensor, which is on the back of the phone right where your finger typically rests, and works for Android Pay authentication among other uses. They also are among the first few phones with the new USB Type C port, which is reversible, smaller, more durable, can support up to 100 watts of power(in other words, it can also charge a laptop) and faster. They also share a Sony 12.3MP camera sensor with larger-than-usual 1.55µm pixels, which should enable far better indoors or low light photos. That camera also supports the now-common for a 2015 flagship 4K video recording, On the negative side, neither have microSD card slots, like the latest from Apple and Samsung, but unlike the more flexible LG G4 and Motorola Moto X. Finally, both are bundled with 3 months of Google Play Music, a $10/month subscription, and a $50 Google Play gift card.
But they aren't the same phone. The LG model is, as you might expect, a 5.2" device with a smaller form factor but a plastic design and not quite the same level of specs. It still runs a blazing fast hexacore Qualcomm Snapdragon 808, 1920x1080p display, 5MP front selfie cam, 2700mAh battery, has 2GB's of RAM, and comes in black, white or a beautiful light blue shade. Unlocked pricing is $379 with 16GB's of storage or $399 for 32GB's of storage, making it $20 cheaper than a Moto X and $270 less than an iPhone 6S or Galaxy S6.
Meanwhile, the Nexus 6P is a successor to last year's Nexus 6, and as such is a little bit higher end: There's a sleek aluminum unibody frame, the namesake 5.7" 2560x1400p AMOLED display, front facing stereo speakers, 3GB's of RAM, a crazy 8MP front camera, and Qualcomm's octacore Snapdragon 810. It'll come in plain aluminum, graphite, or frost grey, with 32GB's for $499, or higher end 64GB/$549 and 128GB/$649 models. That puts the 6P at $250 less than an iPhone 6S Plus and $200 < the Samsung Galaxy Note 5.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pebble Time Round is the thinnest & lightest smartwatch and the first round Pebble, for $249

Watches, in my opinion, should be round. It's just the classic form factor, and the best smartwatches are those that are basically normal watches with some added features. The circular design is one of the great things about the Motorola Moto 360, and a bunch of other smartwatches are jumping on board. That group now includes Pebble, with the Kickstarter-funded startup today introducing the aptly named Pebble Time Round. It's extraordinarily thin and light, with a nice looking metal chassis and a circular, always on color epaper display. They're rating the battery life at two full days of power, and a 15 minute charge time to get to 50%. It costs $249, which puts it at $50 more than the normal Pebble Time or ASUS Zenwatch but right in line with the Moto 360 and $100 cheaper than the Apple Watch. Of course, unlike the Apple Watch, the Pebble will support nearly any iOS or Android device.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Amazon's latest Fire family includes a $50 tablet, 4K Fire TV, and more

Amazon's unleashed a whole variety of new Fire devices this morning, ranging from the very entry level Fire tablet to the Fire TV 4K and the new Fire HD 8 and 10 inch options. This comes in the wake of their spectacular failure at entering the smartphone market, and consequent pairing down of the devices division. Seemingly, they still have enough engineers and designers to make a huge amount of tablets, however.

The Fire HD now comes in 8 and 10 inch models, making this Amazon's largest tablet ever. It's also super thin, at 7.75mm, has a 1280x800p IPS display, 1.5GHz quad core processor, 5MP rear camera and 720p webcam. There's also Dolby Atmos speakers, 802.11ac wifi, a microSD card slot, and 8 or 16GB's of storage on the 8 inch version and 16 or 32 on the 10" edition. In other words, they aren't targeting the high end here, but on the other hand, the prices are nicely low: You can buy an 8" Fire HD from $149 and up, while a 10" model will run you $229 or higher.
The new Fire(yes, just the Fire, not any other descriptors) has a even lower specs, but an even better price point: It costs just $49, or $249 for a 6 pack of tablets. Need a tablet for everyone in your family, small office, or every room in your house? Amazon has what's likely the best option around. Sure, with a 1024x600 7" display, 1.3GHz quad core Mediatek processor and 8GB's of storage are far from impressive, but you could legitimately use one as a cook book in the kitchen, one in your garage for help working on cars, one to control a sprinkler system... the possibilities are endless. It's a pretty cool idea. It'll also come in a $99 Kids Edition with a built in rubber bumper, special OS optimized for kids, and an unlimited warranty.
Meanwhile, on the home theater front, the Fire TV set top box has been updated with two major new features: 4K content playback support, which is something that the new Apple TV doesn't have, and Alexa, Amazon's take on the virtual assistant a lá Siri/Cortana/Google Now. To support all of that, it has a new quad core processor with 75% better CPU performance then the last Fire TV, 2GB's of RAM and WiFi AC. There's even a microSD card slot to augment the 8GB's of built in storage, and an optional "Gaming Edition" that comes with a 32GB card, a gamepad and two free games of your choice. Pricing? The normal Fire TV will be $99, while the Gaming Edition is $139.
All of the above products run Android Lollipop with the 5th version of Amazon's custom skin on top.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Porsche Mission E concept is a stunningly gorgeous electric super sedan

If Porsche decides to build their latest concept, Tesla's Model S will have some extremely compelling competition for the title of best high end electric car. That's because the latest from Stuttgart has an estimated range of 500km(310 miles) on a single charge, a top speed of >250km/h(155mph) and a 0-60 sprint in <3.5 seconds. That puts it on par with the Model S, but it also has some unique tricks: You can use an 800 volt charge to charge the batteries to 80% in 15 minutes, or charge inductively(ie without wires) from a more typical 400 volt charger.
And then there's the design. I'm not always a fan of Volkswagen Group products designs, but this think is just drop dead, unbelievably good looking. There's rear suicide doors, aluminum/carbon-reinforced polymer/steel construction, carbon fiber wheels, and a height of 1.3 meters for rather amazing aerodynamics. The interior is well designed as well, and has some nifty features like eye tracking to control the heads up display.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Lenovo A540 Review

The living room PC is a hard market to crack. A lot of companies have decided that it should just be a device connected to your TV for entertainment, while others like having a normal PC for every type of task. What most people do agree on is that having a ton of separate components connected with annoying wires is not worth it. That's why companies make computers like this Lenovo A540, a sleek, compact all in one with a touchscreen so you can use it without all the separate pieces of a normal desktop. Of course, it'll work in an office as well, and a self contained system like this might make sense for a small business.

Display: The most important aspect of an all in one is the display - it's almost the only factor that matters, actually. The A540's centerpiece is a 23.6" 1920x1080p IPS multitouch screen. I have nothing bad to say about it, and quite enjoyed using it to watch an episode of Narcos on Netflix, but it's not really a standout anymore. A few years ago, I would have been hugely impressed, but now it's just standard for the class. It pales in comparison to the outstanding panel in the A740 I previously reviewed, and competitors from ASUS, HP, Dell and Apple also have equal or in some cases better displays. You can also hook up another device with HDMI and use the A540 as a monitor, which I found quite useful. I used it with my desktop and Xbox One to play a bit of Metal Gear Solid and it worked perfectly. Of course, as HDMI doesn't pass through the touchscreen interactions, you can't use the touch capability of the monitor, but it's still a nifty feature.

Specs: Like its big sibling, the A540 uses an ultra low voltage Intel Core i7-4558U laptop chip, similar to what you'd find in an ultrabook like the Macbook Air or some Lenovo Yoga's. I found this disappointing when I reviewed the A740, and now time has passed, so that's a two-generation old chip as well. Among the competition, Dell's Inspiron 23 7000 has a faster full voltage Core i5 running at 3.2 GHz, for $100 less, or the same price with 4GB's more RAM. That said, the A540 never felt slow in my normal routine - in fact, everything was quite snappy. The other specs are pretty decent, with 8GB's of RAM, an NVidia GeForce GT840m(not a very powerful discrete GPU, but none of the direct competition have one at all) and a 1TB HDD with an 8GB SSHD. That little bit of flash storage helps boot up and app loading times be pretty good, and neither the Dell nor the entry level Apple iMac have one.
The speakers, meanwhile, are fabulous. For normal desktop use, I kept them at around 30% volume while listening to Kacey Musgraves Are You Sure?, and besides being loud, they sound just as good as my Logitech 2.1 channel set if not better.

Design: The A540 is quite a nice looking PC, with a sleek, minimalist glass and aluminum shell and all the computer-y bits in the base, making for a quite thin display panel. There's also the hinge, which allows you to tilt it 90 degrees backwards for a tabletop mode that's like using a giant tablet. There's a bunch of kids games preinstalled(more on that later) which take advantage of this mode, and it's quite fun. The responsiveness of the touchscreen when 2 people are swiping around on it quickly leaves something to be desired, but that's not a design complaint. All in all, I'd say Lenovo's designers are to be applauded here.

Software: There's a lot of extra software on the A540. I briefly counted them and found 41 programs that Lenovo has installed on top of Windows. None of them need to be there, and they're all taking up space and introducing the potential for security vulnerabilities. A lot of them also start by default, causing performance degradation and popping up messages. It's terrifically annoying, especially in comparison to the last Lenovo computer I reviewed, which had a relatively clean install of Windows. Bloatware, as this trend is called, is never a good thing and it's just over the top here.

Verdict: There's not a whole lot that really stands out about this PC, but it's a pretty decent purchase as long as you plan on performing a fresh install of Windows to get rid of all the bundled software. The Dell Inspiron 23 is a bit cheaper with a better processor, but doesn't have a GPU or the 8GB's of solid state storage, and it doesn't look quite as good. Apple's iMac has a smaller display, half the hard drive space, no GPU or touchscreen, and a slower processor, but it does run OS X and and have Thunderbolt in a nice design, at the same price. HP's Envy 23xt has a weird, overly-flashy design and a higher price tag(though it's on sale for $1069 at the moment) but with a quad core CPU, more RAM, optional Bluray, and better speakers. You still don't get the GT 840m graphics card or the 90 degree hinge, and HP's build quality is questionable. So for $1099, the A540 is a pretty great choice.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Huawei Watch has a sapphire, circular display for $349 and up

Android Wear has a burgeoning selection of hardware from the likes of Sony, Motorola, Samsung, LG, ASUS and now Huawei. The latest from the Chinese manufacturer known mostly for their smartphones is a premium, circular Android Wear watch. It looks somewhat like the Motorola Moto 360, but has a fancier sapphire crystal display. There's a Qualcomm 400, 512MB's of RAM, 4GB's of storage and magnetic charging, all similarly to the 360 as well. The screen is a 1.4" full circle with 286 pixels per inch, and it's IP67 water resistant certified. The steel case/leather band version starts at $349, while a gold plated case and stainless steel band will cost you a steep $799. While that's expensive compared to the $300 Motorola, it seems like a positive bargain against Apple's Watch, which reaches into the 5 figure range. It'll ship to the US on September 19th, and support Apple iOS 8 and Google Android 4.2 devices.

Lenovo's late 2015 ThinkPad lineup is centered around Skylake, lots of options

At IFA in Berlin Lenovo unwrapped the latest models in their business-centric ThinkPad series, the Yoga 260, Yoga 460, ThinkCentre Tiny, ThinkCentre M900 Tower and M900z AIO.
  • The ThinkCentre M900 has Intel's latest Skylake processors, up to 64GB's of DDR4 RAM, 8 USB 3.0 ports, Display Port 1.2, several removable hard drive bays and support for 7 different monitors. It also has a base price of $799.
  • The ThinkCentre M900z AIO is as you might expect, an all in one PC with Intel's Skylake Core i7 processors, up to 32GB's of DDR4 RAM, up to 12 TB's of hard drive space or a 1TB SSD or various mixtures of the two, and a 23.8" FHD display. There's also 6 USB 3.0 ports, Displayport in/out, and touch capability. 
  • ThinkCentre Tiny Available in M600, M700, and M900 versions, which start at $399/$499/$749 respectively, the Tiny is a small form factor tower with Intel Pentiums on the M600 and up to a Skylake Core i7 on the higher end. As for the rest of the specs, it has up to 32GB's of DDR4 RAM, 6 USB 3.0 ports, Displayport, and support for 3 monitors. 
  • On the more portable side, the ThinkPad Yoga 460 has Lenovo's signature Yoga 360 degree hinge design, Skylake Intel Core i7 processors, a 14" 2560x1440p display, 8GB's of DDR4 RAM, 1TB HDD or 256GB SSD, NVidia Geforce 940M 2GB, Mini Displayport, HDMI and 3 USB ports. It also comes in an optional silver color, which is quite unusual for a ThinkPad, is made from carbon fiber and offers a claimed 10 hours of battery life for a base price of $1049.
  • The ThinkPad Yoga 260 is in some ways lower end but also has some specs that surpass the 460. There's a 12.5" 1920x1080p display with active digitizer support for the stylus, up to a Skylake Core i7, 16GB's of DDR4 RAM and a 512 GB SSD. There's also 2 USB 3.0 ports, Mini Displayport, HDMI, a fingerprint reader, and the same 10 hours of claimed battery life and silver color option. 

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 3 series features built in projectors, higher-res screens and more

When I reviewed the Yoga Tablet 2 in both Android and Windows flavors earlier this year, I was mostly impressed by their solid build quality, good displays, useful kickstands and reasonable prices. However, there weren't a lot of features that made the lineup stand out besides the battery life and aforementioned kickstand. Lenovo's trying to change that with the new Yoga Tablet 3 devices, especially the flagship Yoga Tablet 3 Pro. It's a 10" device made of metal, glass and real leather that looks great, and has a brilliant 2560x1600p display, JBL speakers, 18 hours of battery life and an Intel Atom processor. But that's all standard tablet fare; What is definitely not is the build in 70' projector, which is one of the most intriguing tablet features I've seen. Unfortunately, it will come at a price: The Pro costs $499, pitting it directly against Apple's iPad Air 2 and the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet.
Meanwhile, the 8 and 10" Yoga Tablet 3's have 20 hour battery life, LTE support and rotating cameras, along with Intel CPUs and the same aluminum design as before.

Tesla's 3rd car, the crossover Model X, is coming September 29th

Tesla Motors is a company that is excellent at many things, but not at staying within release windows. The Model X crossover has been delayed a ridiculous number of times, but we do finally have a hard release date: The first versions, so-called Signature Series models destined for the people who preordered the electric CUV, will be made available on September 29th. After that, new orders will start delivery early next year.

The new Motorola 360 comes in 3 versions, with many customization options

The Motorola Moto 360 was the first smartwatch with a round display, like most real watches, and is in my opinion still one of the best looking smartwatches ever. Plus, after a few software updates, the battery life became quite good I normally get two full days of light usage, or a good full day of heavy usage. That said, the ancient processor makes it a bit slow on occasion, and it is a very large watch, which bothers some people.
The new, 2nd generation Moto 360 rectifies those problems with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chip inside, which allows better battery life and faster performance, and it comes in three models: There's a 42mm version, a 46 mm option and the 360 Sport, which is based on the smaller watch but has a chunkier, permanent rubber shell and increased waterproofing. The bands are also now easier to change, and there's a lot more color and band material options through the Moto Maker custom ordering website. Finally, they added GPS, which when combined with Android Wear's new standalone WiFi support will make the watch much more useful without a connected smartphone.

Sony Xperia Z5 will come in standard, compact and the 4K Premium

Europe's biggest tech tradeshow, the annual IFA extravaganza in Berlin, is in full swing at the moment with hundreds of new product announcements. Sony's big news was their new trio of flagship smartphones, one for each major size class. They all share top of the line Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core processors, 23MP cameras with industry-fastest 0.03 second autofocus, and fingerprint readers on the side-mounted power button and Android 5.1. Sony's also claiming increased low light performance for the camera, 2 day battery life, microSD support, plus streaming PS4 games. Then there's the design, which hasn't changed much for the last couple of years, but that's OK because these are some of the most beautiful smartphones around. The pictures really don't do them justice.
So what's the differences between the 3 models? Basically screen size, resolution and price.
The Z5 Compact is a 4.6", 720p device that will be the cheapest of the lot, while the Z5 has a 5.2" 1080p display. The craziest might be the 5.5" 4K(yes, 3880x2160p) Z5 Premium, which also has a mirror on the back. Because why not.