Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Watch the Avengers try to lift Thor's hammer while off duty


If you're like me, you've been watching the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer pretty much on repeat since it came out, and analyzing every aspect. Now, Marvel's put up a new version that adds a hilarious scene of the full Avenger's team(Thor, Stark, Rogers, Banner, Barton, Romanoff, Hill, Rhodes) lounging around what I believe is one of Stark's buildings. Thor plops down Mjolnir, his legendary hammer on the table, and a variety of people try to lift it, including... oh just watch the video.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Alienware 13 refreshed with 1" frame, external GPU enclosure

External GPU's are a great concept - you can have a thin, light laptop that can become way more powerful just by plugging in a peripheral - but haven't caught on very broadly. The excellent Sony VAIO Z had one, and many people have hacked them together for Macbooks and various other devices, but that's about the extent of their adoption so far.
That changes now, with Dell's gaming branch Alienware unveiling a "Graphics Amplifier" for their latest Alienware 13 laptop. Essentially, it's an 8 pound, $299 rectangle that connects to the laptop via a custom PCI/USB cable and allows you to insert any NVidia or AMD desktop graphics card that uses 375 watts of power or less. This is pretty awesome for a gaming laptop, as it allows you to update your GPU without having to replace the entire laptop, or vice versa(as long as you stick with Alienware.)
The amplifier also adds 4 USB 3.0 ports to the already respectable 3 on the Alienware 13.
As for the laptop, it starts at $999 with a measly 1366x768 resolution screen but you can upgrade that to a 1920x1080p or 2560x1440p touchscreen panel. There's Intel's Core i5-4210U CPU, NVidia's GeForce GTX860m GPU, 8 or 16GB's of RAM, and either a 500GB or 1TB hard drive or a 256GB SSD. There's also stereo speakers with Creative Sound Blaster audio processing, a backlit keyboard and both HDMI and mini Displayport. The laptop itself is the thinnest Alienware yet at 1" thick with a carbon fiber composite frame.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Amazon Fire TV Stick takes on the Chromecast at $39 or $19 for Prime members

Amazon's Fire TV set top box is apparently doing quite well, and the selection of apps and games for it has swelled to over 600(from less than 200 at launch.) But at $99, it costs quite a bit more than the Google Chromecast or entry level Roku models. Not to mention that it faces stiff competition from the identically priced the forthcoming Apple TV, Roku 3 and forthcoming Google Nexus Player.
So the Seattle-based retail giant has unveiled the Fire TV Stick, which keeps the remote, voice control, casual gaming capability, and screen mirroring of the normal Fire TV, but cuts the price. It costs $39, or just $19 for Amazon Prime members, which is rather amazing. And the dual core processor, 1GB of RAM and 8GB's of storage are more equivalent to an Apple TV or Roku 3 than the comparatively priced Roku Streaming Stick or Google Chromecast.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Android Wear gains GPS, local music playback to welcome the Sony Smartwatch 3

Google's wearable platform, the aptly-named Android Wear, is getting its first major software update. The biggest feature addition is support for using GPS built into the watch instead of having to rely on a paired phone for location tracking. This is a perfectly timed addition given that Sony's new Smartwatch 3(which features GPS) is launching soon.
Next up, the music player can now actually... play music, instead of just acting as a fancy remote for your phone. With the 4GB's of storage in most smartwatches, you won't be keeping your whole music collection, but it should be perfect for hearing a workout playlist while using that GPS tracking on a run. And finally, you can pair Bluetooth headphones directly with the watch now.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ridley Scott-directed Halo: Nightfall series gets its first trailer


Halo Nightfall, an episodic series from acclaimed director Ridley Scott(Aliens,) is going to be released alongside the Halo Master Chief Collection on November 11th. That's coming right up, so we've gotten our first full-length trailer for it, showing some action and the characters and sets. 
One question remains: How precisely can someone stop being a Spartan?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Spotify launches $14.99 a month family subscription

Spotify hasn't had a huge amount of success getting people to sign up for their premium subscriptions, despite the many benefits they offer, but their newest offering might be the best yet. The new Spotify Family plan costs $14.99 a month(as opposed to $9.99 a month for a Spotify Premium account) with 2 users, $19.99 for three, $24.99 for 4, etc. Essentially, you get a $5 a month discount per extra user, which adds up to a $20 a month savings at the max 5 user plan. Best of all, you actually get separate accounts, meaning your family member who only listens to your least favorite band won't mess up your account's recommendations. Plus, unlike if you have one account with multiple users by sharing your password, everyone can listen at the same time. And you get all the other benefits of a Spotify Premium account, including no ads, local cacheing, full mobile usage, and higher. Competitors RDio and Beats Music have offered family plans for quite a while, but services such as Google Music All Access and Apple iTunes Radio do not, so Spotify has a new differentiator here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Google's HTC Nexus 9 and ASUS Nexus Player are now up for preorder

The fall 2014 Nexus lineup was announced on Wednesday, and now you can actually plunk down money for two of the three members. The gorgeous HTC Nexus 9, which as you might suspect is a 9" QHD tablet(complete with front facing stereo speakers and super fast performance,) costs $399. You can also pay $479 for an identical model with 32GB's of storage, and there's a $599 LTE version coming later.
Meanwhile, the $99 ASUS Nexus Player set top box/casual game console/fancy Chromecast is also up for pre order with an included $20 Google Play gift card for free. There's also an optional game controller for an extra $39.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

All Sony Xperia Z devices, NVidia Shield tablet will get Android Lollypop

Yesterday Motorola was first out of the gate with news about Android 5.0 Lollypop updates for their devices, but now Sony and NVidia have chimed in. If you've got any member of Sony's Xperia Z series, you will be getting the update, at least eventually. That includes the Z3, Z3V, Z3 Compact, Z3 Tablet Compact, Z2, Z2 Tablet, Z1, Z1 Compact, Z1S, Z Ultra, Z, Z Tablet, ZR, ZL, and Z Ultra Google Play Edition. That last one will receive the update first, followed by the Z3 series and Z2 in early 2015.
NVidia's gaming focused Shield Tablet will also be getting the update, and possibly other new features as the tweet making the announcement mentioned "and more."


Apple Mac Mini(2014) gets a price cut and spec boost, plus Thunderbolt 2

The Mac Mini is Apple's cheapest computer, but it hadn't been updated in quite a while, making it not the best value. Today in their iPad Air 2/Retina iMac event, they finally changed that, with the 2014 Mac Mini. Perhaps the most important change is the $100 price drop, which means Apple now has a computer for under $500 again. And even at that level, it has better specs than the lower end of the old range, with Intel's Haswell Core i5, running 2 cores at 1.4GHz with 4GB's of RAM and a 500GB HDD. You can update that all the way up to a dual core Core i7 at 3.0GHz with 16GB's of RAM and a 1TB solid state drive, with a variety of standard configurations in between. Sadly, there's no more quad core or server-oriented options available.

Apple iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 are have TouchID, super thin frames and are faster

The iPad Air 2 is an iterative upgrade over last year's model - if this was an iPhone, it'd probably be called the Air S - but that doesn't make it a bad device. Apple's crammed a brand new A8X SoC that's 40% faster than the Air inside a frame that's just 6.1mm(0.24") thick, while maintaining the same battery life. There's also TouchID, which due to iOS 8 can now be used to authenticate payments in 3rd party apps as well as unlocking the system. It's available in white, space grey or gold, and has an 8MP camera on the back, a larger sensor for the web cam, and faster WiFi and LTE. And finally, they've changed the display to have optically bonded components for no air gaps and an anti-reflective coating.
The iPad Mini 3, on the other hand, got just a few seconds of attention at today's keynote, perhaps because it's even more of a minor update. There's TouchID, the faster wireless chip from the Air, a gold option, and that's about it. No new camera, better display or A8 processor. In fact, since the iPad Mini 2 is still around for $100 less, that's a better deal unless you really, really need a fingerprint reader on a gold-colored tablet.
As for pricing, from the top down: The iPad Air 2 costs $499 for 16GB's, $599 for 64GB's(yes, there's no more 32GB configuration) or $699 for 128GB's, with LTE models adding $130 to those prices. The iPad Air now costs $399 for 16GB's or $449 for 32, with LTE again adding $130. The iPad Mini 3 is also $399 for 16GB's, with 64 and 128 running $499 and $599 respectively and the usual LTE surcharge. An iPad Mini 2 is maybe the best deal of the bunch if you can't afford an Air 2, at $299 or $399 for 16 and 32 GB's plus $130 if you need cellular data. And finally, the aging original iPad Mini, with a non-Retina 1024x768 display and A5 CPU,

is $249 with 16GB's of storage.

Apple iMac with Retina Display is the highest resolution all in one ever

So called Quad HD(or 2560x1440) 27" IPS displays like those in the iMac or Lenovo A740 are already quite beautiful, but Apple's just unveiled a much, much better all in one screen. They're calling it a Retina 5K display, and it's an incredible 5220x2880 IPS 27" panel that somehow manages to also use 30% less energy. They've backed that panel up with what may be the fastest all in one computer available; The starting configuration has a 3.5GHz quad core Intel Core i5, AMD Radeon R9 M290x GPU, 1TB Fusion Drive, and 8GB's of RAM. But of course, you can max it out: up to a 4.0GHz quad core Intel Core i7, 32GB's of RAM, and either a 3TB Fusion Drive or a 1TB SSD, along with an AMD M295x are all on offer. It runs the just released OS X 10.10 Yosemite and will start at $2499.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

All Motorola and Google Nexus devices from 2013(& some from 2012) will get Android Lollypop


Motorola and Google have both announced their upgrade plans for Android 5.0 Lollypop, making Motorola the first 3rd party manufacturer to do so. On the Motorola side, their entire 2013 and 2014 lineup will get the upgrade; That means both the original and second generation Moto X and Moto G, as well as the Moto E and Droid Ultra, Maxx and Mini.
Meanwhile, Google's Nexus family is marketed partially around the fact that they get prompt upgrades, so it's no surprise that quite a lot of them will get Lollypop. Specifically, if you have an LG Nexus 5 or Nexus 4, a Samsung Nexus 10, or an ASUS Nexus 7 from either 2012 or 2013, you're getting Android 5.0.
Source: Motorola, Ars Technica

The ASUS Nexus Player is Google's latest assault on the living room, with Android TV

Google's first two TV initiatives, the Nexus Q and Google TV, were strikes. But before they could be struck out completely, the boys and gals in Mountain View hit a home run with the simplistic, $35 Chromecast. It was the top selling electronics product on Amazon for months, and I personally know a lot of people who have them. But full featured it was not. In fact, there was no UI or functionality at all, instead relying on your tablet/phone/computer to launch the content and then mirroring it on your TV.
The new Android TV OS seems to strike a balance between that uber-simplicity and the ridiculously complex Google TV, and today they've announced the first product to run it. It's manufactured by long-time Nexus program partner ASUS, but with hefty input from Google, and it's called the Nexus Player. Essentially a small shiny black circle, it looks something like a cross between an Apple TV and the old Nexus Q. Chromecast support is baked in, so you can use it the same way, but there's also a nice tiled UI that lets you navigate  using your phone, a remote or a gamepad. Just like the Amazon Fire TV, there's a mic on the remote for voice search; That was a super smart feature that should work even better here with Google's excellent voice control. The gamepad is sold separately but you'll probably want to pick one up since this is Android so developers won't have a hard time making games for Android TV. Plus, there's free online multiplayer and a quad core Intel Atom onboard, along with super fast 802.11ac 2x2 wifi.
Pricing is as of yet unknown but you can put in a preorder on Friday and it'll launch in early November.
Update: The Nexus Player will cost $99 and come with $20 of Google Play credit, while the game controller will be an extra $39.

The HTC Nexus 9 is a beautiful, QHD, super fast tablet for $399

The Google Nexus tablets have mainly been oriented at consumption rather than creation; The Nexus 7 is a relatively low end, media oriented device and the Nexus 10 never got a keyboard dock or a focus on productivity. That's changing now, with HTC making its first Nexus device and tablet in years(since the original Nexus One and ill-fated Jetstream, respectively) with the new Nexus 9. It's a high end device with a beautiful metal/glass/plastic design in your choice of black, white or sand(gold.) But it also has an optional physical keyboard that attaches magnetically, and an extremely powerful 64 bit NVidia Tegra K1 "Denver" CPU. Besides that, there's an 8.9" 2560x1440p display front facing stereo speaker just like on the excellent HTC One, and a 6700 mAh battery. Finally, there's an 8MP camera, 2MP webcam, 16 or 32 GB's of storage and of course stock Android 5.0 Lollypop.
The Nexus 9 is up for pre order on Friday and will launch November 3rd for $399(16GB's,) $479(32GB's) or $599(32GB's plus built in LTE.)


The Motorola Nexus 6: 2014's Google flagship is a 6" stock Android powerhouse

Like small phones? This one's not for you. Google's latest Nexus device is an upscaled version of the all-around excellent Motorola Moto X, but with a crazy 6" display. It's aimed right at the iPhone 6+ and Galaxy Note 4, and has a plastic, metal and glass body in black or blue with front facing stereo speakers. There's also that humongous 6 inch display, complete with a 2560x1440 Quad HD resolution and powered by the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 2.7GHz quad core processor.Around back there's a 13MP camera with an f/2.0 aperture lens, and there's a huge 3220mAh battery on board. If you ever do run out of juice, Motorola's bundling a "Turbo Charger" that can charge up 6 hours of battery life in 15 minutes. Finally, it's the first smartphone to run Android 5.0 Lollypop, as well as the first Nexus device from Motorola. It'll start at $649 with 32GB's of storage and also be available with 64GB's, unlocked through Google or on AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint or US Cellular.

Lenovo IdeaCentre A740 review


All in one desktops are a bit of a confusing category to review. On the one hand, they offer laptop-like low performance and high pricing compared to traditional tower desktops, due to their space constraints and built in displays. On the other hand, their simplicity, beauty(when done right) and space saving capabilities are very real advantages that are somewhat hard to put a price on. What I've decided on for a general rubric is that the display is most important, followed by design and size, then performance, followed by fun bonus features with price playing it's usual important role. Lenovo's IdeaCentre A740, which they sent me to evaluate, does near-perfectly on 4 out of those 6 categories, but not great on the remaining two.

Note: This is my thoughts about a review unit that I received for roughly 2 weeks from the ever-helpful media representatives at Lenovo. There was no monetary transaction involved, in either direction.

Display: A good display is the most important part of the all in one formula, and Lenovo nailed it. The centerpiece of the A740 is its 27" IPS 2560x1440(QHD) multitouch panel, and it lives up to it's role. This screen is seriously gorgeous; Next to my laptop, either of my two desktop monitors(1080p units at 24 and 25 inches,) my tablet or even my phone, this is definitely the best screen I have access to. I've used Apple's iMac - one of the A740's main competitors - quite a bit, and I would take the display in the A740 every time. It's not quite as good as a 4K panel, though I don't have one of those to compare it with directly in the same room, but there's not much content at that resolution anyway. Not only is it huge, bright and super high resolution, the fact that it's an IPS panel means the off-center viewing angles are quite good as well. Playing the Youtube trailer for The Judge, an episode of Doctor Who, Taylor Swift's new Shake It Off music video, and Destiny on an Xbox 360 using HDMI-in all looked great. It's a touch screen as well, but more on that below.

Not much thicker than the included keyboard
Design: The A740 is much thinner than most of its competition due to the fact that the motherboard, CPU and other components(along with the ports) are in the base, not the display. This is a very smart design decision that I hope the rest of the industry copies, and allows this Lenovo to look like a futuristic TV. At some angles, you can't see the hinge, so there's just a silver metal base with a black glass and metal display hanging over it. That hinge is also interesting, letting you fold the display down into a sort of table-PC that's good for... well, board games or drawing maybe? I didn't use that feature a whole lot, and it makes the screen bounce back a bit when you're touch typing on it, so I could have done without it. But if you like the idea, it's there, and all in all the A740 is minimalist, and good looking, without the design getting in the way of the functionality.


Performance & Specs: Here's where the weak point comes in. The A740 is not a slow computer at all, in fact it kept up with almost everything I threw at it, but it has the internals of a laptop. And not a large, powerful laptop, but a slim ultrabook. There's one of Intel's ultra low voltage Haswell Core i7-4558U 2.8GHz dual core processors, 8GB's of RAM, NVidia GTX850a graphics, and a 1TB HDD with an 8GB SSD. For comparison, the Apple iMac has a still-laptop-grade, but full powered(instead of ULV) quad core Core i5 running at 3.2GHz, while the Dell XPS One 27's is also a quad core i5 but at 3.3GHz.


Touch/Miscellaneous: I'm still not thoroughly sure that we need touchscreen desktops, but if you want one, there's nothing lacking about the A740's implementation. It's a full 10 finger multitouch panel, and that aforementioned hinge that lets you use it in "table mode" is quite the advantage for touch usage.
Want to hook up another device to that beautiful display? There's an HDMI-in port on the left side of the A740's base, which worked flawlessly with my Macbook Air and Xbox 360. It's a great feature, and it also lets you take advantage of the built in JBL speakers. They're quite good, and extremely loud; Sound quality wasn't quite as good as my external Logitech 2.1 array but I'm pretty sure the Lenovo's built in speakers are actually louder, which is somewhat amazing.
"Table mode," for touch use
As for the software, you're looking at the latest version of Windows, 8.1.1, plus a smattering of preinstalled apps: Dragon Assistant is a surprisingly useful Siri/Google Now-like tool, Microsoft Office, Evernote and Lenovo PowerDVD will come in handy, and the rest should be uninstalled. Particularly, the Lenovo start menu and McAfee AntiVirus are somewhat annoying.
Lenovo also bundled an external DVD writer, which connects via USB and works just fine if you ever need to read or write a CD/DVD. No Bluray capability, sadly. There's also built in NFC, WiFi AC, Bluetooth 4.0, a 6-in-1 card reader, 1080p webcam, & 4 USB 4.0 ports. In other words, nothing to complain about there.

Price & Competition: This is always the sticky point for an all in one. The IdeaCenter we're looking at today has a base price of $1649 or $1879 as configured. Alternatively, you could buy an excellent monitor, build your own tower desktop(or purchase a pre -built one) with far better specs, and still come out hundreds cheaper.
But assuming you want an all in one, and a high end 27" one at that, you're probably looking at the Apple iMac, Dell XPS One, and possibly the HP ENVY Recline. The HP starts at just $1249 with a faster quad core processor, but with a far inferior display, bulkier design, and less powerful graphics card. The Dell is more interesting: It has the same price, display, RAM, hard drive and touchscreen capabilities, but with some trade offs. It's powered by a 3.3GHz quad core processor and has a built in DVD drive, but lacks the GTX850a GPU and super thin design. Apple's iMac, meanwhile, is the many-times-removed descendant of the very first all in one computer. It's beautiful, and unusually for a Mac-vs-PC comparison, costs less($1799) than my review unit A740 while having a faster processor. But again, Lenovo has it beat on the GPU, with the iMac having a rather obsolete GT755m, plus there's no touchscreen or fancy 90 degree angle hinge here.


Verdict: Again, it's a bit hard to review an all in one, as it doesn't really make financial sense yet for some users it may be perfect. If you've already decided that you want an all in one, and you either prefer Windows or want a touchscreen(thus eliminating the iMac) I would go with the A740. I wish it had a full voltage, quad core processor since almost all its competition does, but I never really had any issues with the performance in actual usage. And that screen really is truly amazing.






Friday, October 10, 2014

Tesla's D is a crazy AWD, dual motor, partially self-driving, Model S that can do 0-60mph in 3.2s

The Tesla Motors Model S has rapidly become not just the most iconic electric car, but the status symbol of the entire Silicon Valley culture - it means you've arrived financially, but haven't lost your principles. Or something like that.
Now, CEO Elon Musk has unveiled a new variant, the D, which improves nearly every aspect of the Model S. Available on the entry level P60, midrange P80, or bonkers P85, the D trim essentially adds another entire motor. This allows all wheel drive, which obviously makes you safer in increment conditions, while increasing performance as well. How much? The lower end models have 0.2 seconds cut from their 0-60 time, & that same acceleration takes just 3.2 seconds on the P85D. This is despite the Model S being a large, nearly 5000 pound sedan. For comparison, a Porsche Panamera Turbo S($180,000) takes 3.6 seconds, while an Audi RS7 takes 3.7s($106,500,) and the Mercedes AMG E63 4Matic($96,000) has a quite good time of 3.4s. Those are all high end sedans, Tesla's direct competition, but what's most impressive is how it beats, equals or is near the performance of some legitimate super cars. The Porsche 911 Turbo, with a base price of $151,100, takes the same 3.2 seconds as the Tesla, while the Corvette Z06(just $78,995) would leave them both in the dust from a pure acceleration standpoint at 2.9s. The much higher end Ferrari 458 Italia costs $233,500 but takes 3.4s.
There's also a combined 691 horse power and 687 lb-ft of torque, which is quite a lot, and an all electric range of 275 miles.
You'll be paying $120,170 for the P85D, $85,070 for the P80, or $77,070 for the P60, and those lower end models actually get an increased range over the non-AWD versions, of 225 and 295 miles respectively.
Finally, there's the autopilot. It can't quite drive itself yet, but there's now cameras, radar and sonar on board both the RWD and AWD Model S versions, which allows it to switch lanes when you turn on your signal, park itself, or stop automatically to avoid a collision. And it can even come pick you up in a parking garage or on a long driveway. In fact, if you schedule it into the calendar, your car will be waiting outside your door(as opposed to having to find it in the garage) when you told it you will need it.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Lenovo Yoga 2 family is designed by Ashton Kutcher, available with Windows or Android(mostly)

Lenovo's partnership with Ashton Kutcher has yielded a new result: The Yoga Tablet 2 Pro. It's a 13" Android tablet with a built in projector that can create a 50" screen on any flat surface. There's also the signature Yoga kickstand, which I found quite useful when I reviewed the original Yoga Tablet. This time around, that kickstand can rotate a full 180 degrees, and has a hole in it to let you hang the device for using it in the kitchen or mounting it in a boardroom, for example. As for specs, there's a quad core Intel Atom processor, 2560x1440 13" display, 8MP camera, 8W speakers and a crazy 15 hours of rated battery. It'll start at $499 in a platinum color with an optional 4G LTE model when it goes on sale later this month.

Meanwhile, the 8-and-10 inch Yoga Tablets have been refreshed as well, with your choice of Windows 8.1.1 or Android 4.4 KitKat on board. Interestingly, the Windows models are only available in black while the Android versions are only platinum, but otherwise they have identical specs. There's the same quad core Atom, 8MP camera, 180 degree hinge and optional 4G as the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro, but with a 1920x1080p display instead of a 2560x1440 one.

Lenovo's Yoga 3 Pro slims down last year's best convertible laptop

Last year, the best convertible touch ultrabook you could buy was the Yoga 2 Pro, at least in most people's opinion. So the followup model is quite the important device for Lenovo, and it looks like they haven't messed it up. It takes the same formula of a traditional laptop with a hinge that lets you keep rotating the screen back nearly 360 degrees, and iterates on it. Instead of being 0.61" thick and 3.06 pounds, the new model is 0.5"(12.8mm) thick & 2.6lbs, and comes in gold, clementine or white. That hinge now has more than 800 hand assembled pieces, so Lenovo's calling it a "Watchband hinge." The beautiful 3200x1800 touchscreen is still the centerpiece, and now it's backed up by Intel's brand new Broadwell Core M processors. The battery life has been enhanced to a rated 9 hours, and there's JBL speakers, 802.11ac wifi, 8GB's of RAM and up to a 512GB SSD onboard. It'll launch at $1349 later this month.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

HTC Desire Eye is a high mid range smartphone with a 13MP front camera

The HTC One M8 is a great phone, with a beautiful design and top notch specs, but it's expensive. Today's announcement, the Desire Eye, takes the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, 5" 1080p display, 2GB's of RAM and all the normal radio options, but subs in a plastic body instead of unibody aluminum. It's still quite nice looking though, and has a 13MP camera on both sides - yes, you could call this a "selfie phone," a popular term with manufacturers right now that I hope doesn't catch on. There's Android 4.4 with HTC Sense 6 on board, complete with a new camera app that can take pictures with both cameras at once or automatically take a shot when it focuses on a relatively still subject.
Source: HTC Twitter

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

NVidia's Maxwell GPU architecture comes to laptops with the GeForce GTX 970M & 980M

NVidia's Maxwell-architecture GPU's were released early this year for desktops, but laptops have still been on the aging Kepler architecture until now. The new GeForce GTX 970M and 980M chips bring Maxwell to gaming laptops, and thus have a number of improvements over the previous generation. Dynamic Super Resolution renders games at 4K and then scales them down to 1080p, or whatever your laptop's display is, allowing better quality graphics. Battery Boost lets you cap the framerate of your game at 30 to 60 frames per second, which saves power while keeping all other aspects of the quality the same. And of course, they're faster and more efficient, with NVidia claiming that Maxwell laptop GPU's are capable of 80% the performance of their desktop counterparts, in comparison to 60% for 2012's Kepler.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Motorola SF500 Buds review

Wireless headphones are a pretty well established category. From fashion headphones like the Beats Studio Wireless to gaming headsets from Turtle Beach or Razer, there's a lot of options on the market. What're less common are wireless earbuds, since there's really nowhere in an earbud to fit a battery, wireless antenna and accompanying circuitry, and everything else required. They do exist however, and today I'm taking a look at one of the more affordable Bluetooth earbud setups around, the Motorola Buds SF500.

Design & Specs:



The SF500's have a very light, U-shaped control & battery unit that rests around your neck, and two ear buds attached via(rather short) cables. When not in use those ear buds attach magnetically to the ends of the control unit, which is quite nifty, not to mention convenient. You can buy the Buds in blue, black or white; Mine are black, but they still have white highlights on the cables, which look quite nice to me. On the thick area of the control unit, which goes behind your neck, there's the power button and microUSB charging port - yes, you can charge it using the same connector as your phone, nothing proprietary needed. At each end of the control unit, there are two small buttons, which adjust volume, play/pause/skip music, answer phone calls, or trigger voice control on your phone. There's also a built in mic for calls or the aforementioned voice control, and the Buds support Apt-X for higher quality audio. You can only take advantage of Apt-X if your phone supports it, however. My Moto X 2013 does, as do Samsung and HTC's flagships from the last 3 years, but the iPhone and some others don't. Interestingly, Mac computers can support Apt-X but it isn't enabled by default.
There's no NFC for one touch pairing built in, but pairing the Buds's to my Motorola Moto X, Apple MacBook Air and home made desktop running Ubuntu 14 was all quite easy and quick.
They come with a carrying pouch and microUSB charger, along with 3 different sizes of ear buds, which should allow you to find one that fits securely.
All in all, the design is unobtrusive and functional, and doesn't get in your way or prove fatiguing, whether you're riding a bike, working at a desk or watching videos in bed. I do wish they had longer cords though, as the ear buds can fall out if you twist your head one way or the other. This was rather annoying on a 4 mile bike ride I took while listening to music and Google Maps directions.

Audio Quality:
This is where I was worried there might be an issue, but I've been quite happy with the sound quality so far. Music sounds good, better than my last set of ear buds(Sol Republic Jax,)and mostly comparable to a pair of older Bose QC2 headphones. Country albums like Brad Paisley's Moonshine in the Trunk or Lady Antebellum's 747 are rich and full, with good reproduction of bass and treble and decent mid range. Sean Watkin's new acoustic album All I do is Lie was also good, though it was a bit muddy compared to my Bose headphones or car speakers. Still, for a pair of wireless ear buds in a pretty low price bracket, I'm quite happy. Phone calls were a bit staticky but perfectly audible, 3 Days To Kill and the latest Interstellar trailer on my MacBook was also fine.
while both directions and voice search responses from my phone sounded great. Watching

Battery Life: 
While the audio quality was quite decent, it was nothing totally amazing - but the battery is different. Motorola rates the SF500's at 11 hours, so I expected to get about 3/4ths of that. Instead, I've been using them from Sunday through Wednesday, averaging about 4 hours each day, and they still haven't run out yet. That's truly impressive considering how small they are, and that they have to keep a Bluetooth radio running the whole time they're on. In other words, on that several mile bike ride, a 3 mile hike, a few errands, & a bunch of usage while writing on here, doing web development work, and watching a couple of full length movies I haven't had to charge them once.
One note though - having Bluetooth on for hours on end does drain your phone's battery quicker. Your mileage may vary, but while I normally get a full day's usage(12-16 hours) out of my Moto X, it was dying earlier in the day by a few hours, especially if I forgot to turn off Bluetooth when I was done using the headset.
I'll update with more info on the battery life as I conduct more testing, but count me totally happy with their endurance so far.

Competition and Price:
Motorola sells the SF500 Buds for $69, but I purchased them new from Amazon for $47, and you shouldn't have much trouble finding a similar price. This makes the SF500's quite a bit cheaper than Motorola's own S11 Flex HD set, which are similar but add waterproofing and quick-charge capability. They also have a list price of $129 and in my opinion don't look as good. The LG Tone+ 730 is the most direct competitor to the Moto Buds, with Apt-X for high quality audio and the same price-point - $69 list, $45 through Amazon. They have an hour less listed battery life though, and a bigger, heavier design that stores the ear buds in an awkward slot instead of with the magnetic attachment. LG's higher end Tone Ultra 800's have ambient noise cancellation and JBL sound, plus better battery life, but they cost $99, or $79 through Amazon. Finally, the Sony SBH80's cost $119/$89, but have HD Voice support for better phone call quality, plus a lighter, smaller battery/control unit that doesn't wrap all the way around your neck.

Verdict: 
I wish the ear bud cables were a bit longer, but all in all I'm very happy with the Motorola SF500 Buds. They're stylish, the magnetic connection is pretty cool, the sound quality was better than expected considering they're wireless, and the battery life is amazing. I'd definitely recommend them over anything else in the ~$50 price range, such as the LG Tone +, and even over the more expensive S11 Flex HD. If you want to spend the money, the higher end LG Tone Ultra and Sony SBH80 seem intriguing, but I haven't tested them myself, so the SF500's are currently my top recommendation.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Tesla to unwrap two new things on October 9th: The D and "something else"

Tesla's Model S is doing quite well, while the still-not-out Model X has already sold 20,000 pre orders, and they've announced a forthcoming small sedan called the Model III. None of this is stopping ultra-ambitious Tesla Motors founder/CEO Elon Musk from apparently working on yet another car, which he just teased on Twitter. The "D" is probably a new car of some sort, and there's also something more coming on October 9th that we know even less about.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Microsoft Windows 10 is coming in late 2015, separates devices visually while unifying them technically

Windows 8 was truly ambitious, but quite flawed. The idea was that the same platform would underly every Microsoft, from phones to tablets, laptops to desktops, game consoles to servers. Unfortunately, what ended up happening was that all of those devices got the same interface, but remained separate from a technical perspective. This was a problem; the idea of having virtually the same code under the hood of all your devices is great, making things easier and better for software developers, hardware manufacturers and consumers. But you don't want to interact the same way with a 4" touchscreen as you do with a mouse and keyboard hooked up to a 27" workstation, or a controller with a 50" TV.

The just announced Windows 10, which skips right over the number 9 to put a bit more separation between Microsoft and the unpopular Windows 8, seems to go a long way towards fixing this. It's pretty much flipped the formula - this time around, every device's interface will look better, but they'll be practically identical from a code perspective. On desktops, this essentially means that Microsoft has gone back to a very Windows 7-like desktop, with some changes(more on those later.) On a touch only tablet, the Windows 8-style tiled Start menu will remain, though with the traditional task bar at the bottom, while on a convertible device it will meld both approaches.
So what is new in the desktop view? Well, first off the Start menu is back, but modified. Besides the normal list of apps, there's also an area for Live Tiles to provide widget-like information, and a universal search bar that searches your computer and the internet. Microsoft's also finally put in virtual desktop support, similar to Spaces in Apple's OS X, for setting up different desktops for home & work. You can now "snap" up to four apps to different corners of the screen, instead of just two, and the command prompt supports pasting text.  And those "Modern UI," build once run anywhere apps can now be run in windows within the normal desktop view. There's a lot more changes coming before Windows 10 launches in late 2015, but this shows a good overview of where Microsoft is going.

Monday, September 29, 2014

HP Stream family take on low end Android tablets and Chromebooks with Windows, starting at $99

HP's just stepped up their entry level game with four new Windows devices that range from $99 to $229 in price, and all come in a variety of colors with an Office 365 subscription for a year. If you'd rather buy into Microsoft's ecosystem then Google's, and want a super cheap tablet or laptop, these might be worth a look.

  • HP Stream 7: It's similar to any number of low end Android tablets, with a $99 price tag, 7" 1280x800 screen, and a low powered Intel processor of an unspecified variety. There's also the aforementioned year-long Office 365 Personal subscription, 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage for the same duration, and 60 minutes of premium Skype credit a month for a year.
  • HP Stream 8: At the still-attractive price point of $149, the Stream 8 adds in an 8" display and T-Mobile LTE capability, complete with 200MB's of free data each month.
  • HP Stream 11: The Stream 11, meanwhile, looks quite a bit like HP's own Chromebook 11 but subs out ChromeOS and the NVidia Tegra K1 for Windows and another unknown Intel chip. This time, we do know it's a Celeron, which will allow for a fanless design, and there's a 32GB SSD on board as well as that same Office 365 bonus. It'll cost $199 in magenta or blue with an 11" 720p display.
  • HP Stream 13: It has essentially the same specs as the Stream 11, but with a 13" touchscreen for $229.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Motorola Moto X 2014 is coming to Verizon for $99 on contract


The new Moto X may be the best Android phone around, or even the best phone period for some people. So far though, it had only been available for pre order on AT&T or in an unlocked GSM model in the US; Today that changes with Verizon Wireless' announcement that you can pick up a Moto X through them starting tomorrow. $99 on contract or $499 sans contractual obligations will net you a 16GB all black plastic & metal or white-plastic-and-real-bamboo Moto X. Adding $50 to either of those prices will let you up the storage to 32GB's. And of course, if you're OK with buying online instead of in store, you can use Moto Maker to customize your phone exactly how you like it, with leather, bamboo or plastic backs in a menagerie of colors.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Blackberry Passport brings it's weird square formfactor to AT&T for $249/$599

Blackberry has essentially given up on the consumer market, and competing directly with Apple and Google. Instead, they're going back to their roots by targeting enterprise users, businesspeople who have no interest in games or Instagram or Snapchat and just need to get work done. To do that, the new Passport has a physical keyboard, just like Blackberries of yore, though due to the cool-but-weird square format the spacebar is in the middle of the keyboard. That keyboard is actually touch sensitive, so you can glide your finger over the keys to control the phone without blocking the screen. Otherwise, this is the most powerful Blackberry yet, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, 3GB's of RAM, & a beautiful 1440x1440 square 4.5" screen. It's also got a 13MP camera and runs Blackberry OS 10.3, with both their own app market and the Amazon App Store preloaded for Android apps. AT&T's on board to sell the device for $249 on contract or $599 without one.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Oculus "Crescent Cove" developer kit is one step closer to a consumer release

Oculus VR, the Kickstarter-funded virtual reality startup that was acquired by Facebook for over $2 billion earlier this year, still hasn't shipped a consumer-facing product. What they have released are 2 different developer kit models, and today they announced a third. The new dev kit 3, or "Crescent Cove," finally builds in headphones, as well as a laundry list of other changes. First off, it's lighter, meaning you can wear it for longer without getting fatigue. The motion tracking, meanwhile, is lower latency and is now 360 degree so the camera can track you even if you turn around. None of these are ground breaking additions, but they add up to a significantly refined final product.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablets are faster, thinner, and start at $99

Amazon's lineup of Kindle Fire tablets may not have access to the Google Play Store or Google's apps, are thus hard to use for work, and generally aren't great looking, but they have two huge advantages: Really top notch specs for extremely low price points.
The late 2014 lineup introduces a couple of all new models as well as upgraded existing tablets. The Kindle Fire HD 5 is one of those new models, and as you might expect it has a 6" screen, giving it a rather unique form factor. In fact, it's almost more like a phablet without the phone radio, which when combined with the 5 bright colors and kid-oriented software features makes it something of an iPod Touch competitor. There's a 1.5GHz quad core processor from MediaTek, Dolby Digital Plus sound, a 2MP camera and VGA webcam, 8 or 16GB's of storage for $99/$119, and a 1280x800 6" screen.
On the software side, it's running Amazon's latest "Sangria" Fire OS 4.0, which is layered over Android 4.4 KitKat. It's compatible with Family Library, X-Ray, ASAP(which downloads Amazon videos you might like,) and FreeTime Unlimited, a $2.99 a month service that lets you access 5000 kid-oriented movies, games and books.
The Kindle Fire HD 7, meanwhile, is essentially the same device for $139 at 8GB's or $159 for 16GB's. There's a 7" 1280x800 display and the same 5 color options available.

The top of the line Kindle Fire HDX line, meanwhile, has only seen an upgrade to the 8.9" version, not the smaller 7" edition. That HDX 8.9 is quite the spec monster now, though at $379 I find it harder to forgive Amazon's custom OS'es limitations, which remove all Google apps and Play Store and constantly steer you towards buying stuff from Amazon.
If you're OK with all of that, and the rather uninspired design, this is the best Kindle Fire ever. There's now a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 2.5GHz quad core CPU, an 8MP camera, 2GB's of RAM, a 2560x1600 339 pixels per inch display, and dual stereo speakers with Dolby Digital Plus. Software is the same Sangria Fire OS 4.0 as on the lower end models, with the added bonus of Amazon's Firefly service for taking a picture of something and instantly buying it from Amazon. There's also the Mayday video help service, just like last year. That's all wrapped into a 0.3" thick frame in your choice of 16, 32 or 64GB's with or without 4G LTE. Amazon will also sell you a nice looking "Origami" case that also functions as a stand, and a new Bluetooth keyboard that magnetically snaps to the device.