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22
Oct

Razer’s Blade Stealth and ‘Core’ add up to the gaming laptop I always wanted


For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamed of a computer that didn’t exist: something that could get me through the work day but also transform into a gaming powerhouse at home. It’s taken decades, but that old fantasy is finally starting to coalesce into reality. Laptops from Alienware and MSI can be bought with an external graphics dock that lends them the power of a desktop-class GPU. Earlier this year, Razer even made a bid for my dream laptop — but its Blade Stealth stumbled with middling battery life and by launching before its companion GPU dock hit the market. Recently the company updated the ultraportable with more storage and memory, a faster processor, a higher-capacity battery and the graphics extender that makes it so special: the Razer Core. Now that we finally have the complete package, it’s time to revisit the Stealth and see if it makes good on its promise.

Hardware

Like every Razer Blade laptop before it, the updated Stealth is a study of black, anodized aluminum accented with the glow of a customizable LED keyboard. This is hardly a surprise — the new Stealth is less a “new laptop” than a modestly updated version of the ultraportable Razer that came out earlier this year. Yes, there’s a new processor inside and a bit more memory, but all of that is contained in the same chassis as the original Stealth. Not that I’m complaining: Razer’s first take on the Ultrabook was thin, light and well built. This one is too.

The Blade Stealth ticks every box it needs to in order to qualify as an ultraportable. It measures just a half-inch thick at its fattest point, with a silhouette that gently tapers toward the palm rest. Its weight is almost negligible; it’ll add less than three pounds to your bag (2.84 pounds, to be precise). At 12.5 inches at its widest point, it won’t take up much space either. It’s solid and durable, too — there’s nothing like a CNC milled aluminum chassis to lend a device a high-end feel.

As for looks, Razer has always walked a fine line between subtle design and conspicuous branding. Like all Blades before it, the Stealth is draped in an attractive matte black finish and adorned with a glowing Razer logo. And it’s kind of cool. Maybe too cool. For Razer’s line of thin gaming laptops, the standard Blade design language looks sleek and almost sophisticated. But in a professional environment, the Stealth will stand out. Folks thinking about picking up the machine to double as a work and gaming machine should ask themselves, does the Stealth look too awesome for you to be taken seriously in next month’s board meeting? If the answer is “yes,” consider turning off the backlight behind the Razer logo and covering it with a sticker.

There isn’t a lot of room for connectivity on the Blade Stealth’s thin frame, but there’s enough. Each of the laptop’s sides houses a single USB 3.0 port, as well as an HDMI socket on the right, and a 3.5mm headphone jack and a Thunderbolt 3 connection on the left. Short of adding a built-in memory card reader, you can’t expect too much more from an ultraportable. Still, that Thunderbolt 3 connector adds some versatility; Stealth users who buy the Razer Core GPU dock will gain four additional USB 3.0 ports.

Keyboard and trackpad

Like the Stealth’s chassis, the keyboard here is one we’ve seen before — but it may also be the last time we see it. Don’t misread me: The Stealth’s keyboard is quite good. Its full-size keys are well spaced, comfortable to type on and even feature Razer’s Chroma backlighting, which allow the keys to glow in any of 16.8 million colors, with up to six accompanying animations, to boot. It’s not a bad keyboard, but Razer itself has already shown that it could be even better.

Just before Razer announced the refreshed Blade Stealth, it unveiled an iPad case that featured new low-profile mechanical keys. It’s a new kind of key technology that could potentially give laptops keyboards the feel of a full-size mechanical keyboard — complete with defined actuation and reset points and up to 70 grams of pushback force. Razer told us the new key technology was developed too late to make it into this generation of Razer laptops, but we might see it in laptops later down the line. It’s something I’m looking forward to; the Blade laptops already offer a great typing experience, but I won’t say no to something even better.

For years, I searched for the Windows-user’s answer to the MacBook Pro’s excellent trackpad — and Razer nailed it with the original Blade Stealth. The company’s trackpads were always pretty good but tended to suffer from mushy buttons. The Stealth got rid of those, and the mousing surface has been perfect ever since. It’s smooth, spacious and handles multi-touch gestures with aplomb. I couldn’t ask for more.

Display and sound

Perhaps nothing better exemplifies Razer’s attitude toward laptop design than the Blade Stealth’s screen options. The laptop’s 12.5-inch display can be had in two flavors: a 3,840 x 2,160 4K panel with a 100-percent Adobe RGB colorspace, or a 2,560 x 1,440 QHD screen with 70-percent RGB color gamut. Our review unit came with the latter, but both panels represent what seems to be the unspoken philosophy of Razer’s design process: gorgeous at any expense. Both of these display options are indeed stunning, with vibrant colors, deep blacks and wide viewing angles — but the cost is real. These beautiful screens bestow the laptop with the burden of short battery life.

To be fair, this problem isn’t unique to the Stealth — the next generation of high-resolution displays are killing laptop battery life across the board — but Razer’s latest portable was advertised as having longer battery life than the previous generation. It doesn’t (more on that later), and the display is the likeliest culprit. The Stealth’s screens are touch sensitive, too.

As standard as touchscreens have become on Windows systems, reaching across the keyboard to tap the screen still feels odd to me. That said, you have to give the company some credit: The Stealth’s display is beautiful. Movies, web pages and apps all look great, but the screen was at its best when the laptop was hooked up to the Razer Core GPU dock; playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on maximum settings at 2,560 x 1,440 is a thing of beauty.

I’ve consistently found nothing to complain about when it comes to the Razer Blade line’s audio quality, and that’s true of the new Stealth too. The laptop’s stereo speakers live on either side of the keyboard and push out balanced sound with no noticeable distortion and minimal tinniness, but there’s not much depth to the sound either. Razer recently bought THX, so the audio quality could one day improve, but for now these are merely good speakers. Not great, but good. And for laptop speakers, that’s more than enough.

Performance

Razer Blade (Fall 2016) (2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,462 3,889 E3,022 / P1,768 4,008 1.05 GB/s / 281 MB/s
Razer Blade (Fall 2016) + Razer Core (2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, NVIDIA GTX 1080) 5,415 4,335 E11,513 / P11,490 16,763 1.05 GB/s / 281 MB/s
ASUS ZenBook 3 (2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,448 3,911 E2,791 / P1,560 3,013 1.67 GB/s / 1.44 GB/s
HP Spectre 13 (2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520) 5,046 3,747 E2,790 / P1,630 / X375 3,810 1.61 GB/s / 307 MB/s
Huawei MateBook (1.1 GHz Core M3, Intel HD 515) 3,592 2,867 E1,490 / P887 2,454 538 MB/s / 268 MB/s
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet (1.2 GHz Core M7-6Y75, Intel HD 515) 4,951 3,433 E1,866 / P1,112 2,462 545 MB/s / 298 MB/s
Dell XPS 13 (2.3GHz Core i5-6200U, Intel Graphics 520) 4,954 3,499 E2,610 / P1,531 3,335 1.6GB/s / 307 MB/s
Razer Blade Stealth (2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520) 5,131 3,445 E2,788 / P1,599 / X426 3,442 1.5 GB/s / 307 MB/s
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (2.4GHz Core i5-6300U, Intel HD 520) 5,403 3,602

E2,697/ P1,556/ X422

3,614 1.6 GB/s / 529 MB/s
Lenovo Yoga 900 (2.5GHz Core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520) 5,368 3,448

E2,707 / P1,581

3,161 556 MB/s / 511 MB/s

Razer calls the Blade Stealth the “ultimate Ultrabook,” and as far as light, powerful laptops go, it fits the bill. I brought the Stealth with me when I covered Oculus’ Connect 3 conference earlier this month, and it didn’t let me down. For three days, the Stealth juggled multiple active browser windows with half a dozen open tabs apiece, a mess of disorganized Google Drive documents, multiple social media streams, video and image capture and editing tools and a handful of team messaging apps. Yes, my workflow is a complete disaster, which makes the Stealth’s tolerance of it all the more impressive. The Intel Core i7-7500U CPU and 16GB of RAM shrugged off everything I threw at it.

Unfortunately, killer performance is only half the puzzle. Ultraportable notebooks are supposed to be able to handle a full day’s work on a single charge, or at least something close to it. I just couldn’t get that kind of longevity out of the Blade Stealth. Engadget’s standard battery test (looping an HD video at a fixed brightness) exhausted the Stealth’s 53.6Wh battery in a little over five and a half hours — far short of the nine hours promised on the laptop’s product page. A second test, simulating an active browser workflow, lasted just 10 minutes longer.

Battery life

Razer Blade Stealth (fall 2016)
5:36
Surface Book (Core i5, integrated graphics)
13:54 / 3:20 (tablet only)
HP Spectre x360 (13-inch, 2015)
11:34
Surface Book (Core i7, discrete graphics)
11:31 / 3:02 (tablet only)
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display (13-inch, 2015)
11:23
iPad Pro (12.9-inch, 2015)
10:47
HP Spectre x360 15t
10:17
Chromebook Pixel (2015)
10:01
ASUS ZenBook 3
9:45
Lenovo Yoga 900
9:36
Apple MacBook (2016)
8:45
Samsung Notebook 9
8:16
Dell XPS 13 (2015)
7:36
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
7:15
HP Spectre 13
7:07
Huawei MateBook
6:35
Razer Blade Stealth (Spring 2016)
5:48
Dell XPS 15 (2016)
5:25 (7:40 with the mobile charger)

It’s actually not uncommon for laptops to fall somewhat short of their promised battery life, but the Blade Stealth’s failure stands out because the refreshed model was advertised as having longer battery life than the original. Our review unit didn’t. Not only did it fall 10 minutes short of the first-generation Stealth in our standard test, but it did so with a lower-resolution display than the 4K model we reviewed in the spring. To get the Stealth to run for more than seven hours on the battery, I had to reduce its screen brightness to its absolute minimum, disable all keyboard lighting features and turn off the sound completely. It’s a manageable problem, but I also didn’t see the improvement I was hoping for.

The Razer Core

If you can accept the Stealth’s middling battery life, you’ll have yourself a rather nice ultraportable — but you won’t get the full Stealth experience unless you pick up the Razer Core. This $500 accessory dock lends the laptop the power of a desktop-class graphics card, and it’s what makes my modular gaming laptop dream possible.

The GPU accessory dock is built from the same high-quality black aluminum as the Stealth itself; it’s heavy, durable and looks like a miniature desktop tower. The solid metal body is only broken by stylistic grooves on its front and top sides, a Razer logo on the left and a grated window on its right. On the back, the Core features four USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet jack, a single Thunderbolt socket for connecting to the laptop and an AC power plug. Just don’t plan on lugging the Core around: It weighs a hefty 11 pounds.

Lifting a recessed handle from the dock’s back panel unlocks it and allows you to slide the Core’s internal components out of the metal chassis. Inside, the Core is as simple as it gets, offering users nothing more than two power supply cables for the graphics card and single PCI-E port in which to install it. Even if you’ve never installed a desktop GPU before, setting up the Core is straightforward; there’s only one place for the card to go.

Using the Core with the Stealth is easy too: As soon as you plug it in, the Core automatically installs its own drivers. I fed the Core an NVIDIA GTX 1080, which it recognized almost instantly. After it finished installing, a new NVIDIA GPU activity monitor appeared in my system tray. “There are no applications running on this GPU,” it told me. Well, let’s change that.

I challenged the Razer Core-equipped Stealth to run two of my library’s most intensive games: Just Cause 3 and The Witcher III: Wild Hunt. Both were playable at the laptop’s native 2,560 x 1,440 resolution, even tuned to their highest graphic settings, but neither performed quite as well as I expected. The Witcher III looked gorgeous at 40 frames per second, as did Just Cause 3 running at a steady 50 — but with a GTX 1080 calling the shots, those numbers should have been higher.

At first, I thought the Stealth’s dual-core processor might be holding the Core’s performance back, so I switched to a less CPU-intensive game to double check. Sadly, Overwatch was underperforming as well, struggling to break 50 fps on multiple graphics presets. Eventually, I figured it out: The Core’s Thunderbolt 3 connection simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to pass the graphics processing to the external GPU and pipe the results back to the laptop. Hooking up an external monitor directly to the GTX 1080-equipped core yielded much better results: 76 to 100 frames per second in Overwatch and 60+ in Just Cause 3. The Witcher III still hovered around 40 fps at 2,560 x 1,440, but that might be the processor’s fault — that game is a CPU beast.

And there, we have the rub: The Razer Core can absolutely turn the Blade Stealth into a gaming machine, but it won’t quite match the performance you’ll get with a desktop. It’s also a segmented experience; the Core performs better when it’s outputting games to an external monitor, making games on the Stealth’s gorgeous display a worse experience by comparison. Frankly, I expected that: Thunderbolt 3 is fast, but asking it to farm graphics rendering out to an external dock and pipe those results back to the laptop eats up a lot of bandwidth. That isn’t to say the Core is underperforming, but it’s limited by today’s technology. No matter what GPU you install into Razer’s Core, it won’t be living up to its potential — but to realize the dream of an external graphics dock, you have to be OK with that. That’s where the technology is right now.

Beyond the technical bandwidth limitation, I experienced one other issue with the Core: It got a little confused when I tried to switch graphics cards. Specifically, the GPU dock failed to automatically recognize my AMD Radeon R9 Nano the same way it did with the GTX 1080. It still installed the drivers right away, but the Radeon control panel didn’t realize the graphics card was installed. When I tried to reinstall the drivers manually, the machine suddenly recognized that the Radeon software was already installed, at which point it started working.

Despite these hiccups, the Core works as promised. Getting into a game is as simple as plugging a single USB-C wire into the Stealth, which piped in the GPU, power and any accessories I hooked up to the Razer Core. Going back to mobile mode is just as easy; you can unplug the Core (even while in a game!) without restarting the laptop, and everything works fine. It’s a dead-simple plug and play experience. And it needs to be: The Core’s $500 price tag wouldn’t be tolerable if the machine were hard to use.

Configuration options and the competition

Choosing a Razer Blade Stealth configuration is mostly a question of screen resolution and storage space. The $999 base model will get you a 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U dual-core processor (3.5GHz with Turbo Boost), integrated HD 620 graphics, 8GB of RAM, a 128GB PCIe SSD and a QHD (2,560 x 1,440) display. Tacking on an additional $250 or $400 will net you 16GB of RAM and 246 and 512GB SSDs, respectively. The 4K Stealth starts at $1,599, also with 512GB of storage. Finally, the $1,999 configuration steps up to 1TB SSD.

The Blade is a decent value for an ultraportable with a seventh-generation Intel Core i7 CPU, but if you need something with better battery life, you may need to look elsewhere. Dell’s XPS 13 is still a good option, starting at $800 with an Intel Core i3-7100U, 4GB of RAM and over 10 hours of runtime, and can even be upgraded to match the Stealth’s Core i7. But if you’re dead set on a 4K display, you’re out of luck — the new XPS 13 tops out at 3,200 x 1,800. If you’re not married to Microsoft’s platform and don’t mind having only a single USB-C port for connectivity, you might consider Apple’s latest MacBook, which can handle 4K resolution for more than eight hours.

If you’re looking at the Blade Stealth in the first place, however, that Razer Core GPU dock is probably part of the reason why. Technically, the Core should work with any Thunderbolt 3 equipped laptop that supports Intel’s switchable graphics standard, but it’s only officially supported on Razer’s Blade and Blade Stealth machines. It works great on those, but at $500 it’s hardly the most affordable external graphics dock on the market. Alienware’s Graphics Amplifier sells for about $200 less but only works with Dell’s own gaming laptops, which are significantly bulkier than the Blade Stealth. MSI’s $1,300 GS30 Shadow is a thin and light laptop with an external GPU dock, but it’s stuck with a fourth-generation Intel processor.

Ironically, the best alternative to the Blade Stealth’s GPU dock might actually be a desktop computer. If you’re willing to learn to build a PC yourself, $500 can go a long way toward building a killer desktop gaming setup — one that won’t throttle the potential of your GPU the same way the Core does. In fact, taking this route won’t even hamper your ability to play high-end PC games on an ultraportable laptop: Steam in-home streaming can easily bridge the gap for most games.

Wrap-up

The Razer Blade Stealth initially caught my eye for its potential to fulfill a long-dormant dream: a portable, powerful laptop that could borrow the power of a desktop-class graphics card to transform into a gaming powerhouse. I’ve waited decades to realize this fantasy, and the Blade Stealth finally made it a reality… with some caveats. While the Stealth is indeed a powerful, thin and gorgeous laptop, its battery life keeps it from living up to Razer’s claim of the “ultimate Ultrabook.” The shadow of compromise hangs over the Core as well. At a high level, the GPU dock delivers on its promise, but today’s technology simply can’t siphon the full, unadulterated power of a desktop GPU through a single Thunderbolt 3 cable.

Still, I love the Razer Blade Stealth and Core combo. It’s not the best ultraportable, and it won’t make the most of your desktop graphics card — but it’s one of those products that “just works.” For gamers without the patience to maintain a desktop but aren’t willing to sacrifice size, weight and battery life for a full gaming laptop, it’s worth all of the tradeoffs. Ultimately, the Razer Blade Stealth isn’t for me, but the Stealth is nonetheless going to make a very specific niche of laptop-loving PC gamers very happy.

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22
Oct

Plum is a smart but expensive gadget for the wine-obsessed


Wine has a culture all of its own, steeped in tradition and practices passed down over the years. But wine experts will tell you it’s also a science, with precise measurements and conditions required to make that perfect bottle. The new Plum wine fridge stands firmly on the side of science. The $1,499 device can hold only two bottles at once, but Plum’s creators say it can make just about every aspect of serving wine better. It’s a lofty claim, but after seeing what Plum can do, I’m intrigued.

I really enjoy a good glass of wine — but aside from knowing the few varietals I enjoy most, I’m fairly clueless. I don’t understand what differentiates a pinot noir from a cabernet, and I don’t know the ideal temperature for serving wine. White goes in the fridge, red stays on the counter. Plum CEO David Koretz says there are millions of people like me who could better enjoy wine and learn a lot more about it with this product.

That’s because the Plum is packed full of technology you don’t typically see in most wine-serving devices. It’s connected to the internet, and there are cameras inside each of the wine-bottle chambers. Once you insert a bottle of wine, the cameras scan the label and upload it to Plum’s database. After about 30 seconds, the 7-inch touchscreen on the front of the fridge tells you exactly which wine you’ve loaded up.

From there, Plum will adjust each of the wine chambers to the proper temperature for the bottle you’ve put in. Each compartment is totally sealed off from the other, so you can chill a white wine while slightly cooling a red at the same time. Koretz says Plum can recognize 220 different varietals of wine and adjust to the optimal serving temperature for whichever bottle you have.

If you don’t care much about wine, this certainly won’t persuade you to spend $1,499 on the Plum (though you probably weren’t in the market for such a device in the first place). But Koretz says that in a taste test with a dozen ordinary wine-drinkers, every single one was able to recognize that a wine tasted best when chilled to its ideal temperature.

And that’s not Plum’s only trick, either. There’s also an intriguing internal setup that lets you pop in a bottle of wine and have it stay fresh for about 90 days. Sure, most people don’t need that long to drink a bottle of wine, but there are circumstances when this could come in handy (for example, if you have a particularly high-end bottle you sample only on special occasions). David Koretz says the idea is to let you drink wine at your own pace and not worry about the bottle going bad. People pour out wine all the time because they open it, want just a glass or two, and never get around to finishing the bottle. Plum’s preservation system means you can crack open a bottle and drink at your own pace.

The system preserves wine by first puncturing the cork or cap of a bottle with a dual-core, stainless steel needle. Puncturing the closure rather than removing it entirely keeps the wine from oxidizing. Plum then pumps in argon gas to pressurize the bottle. From there, the wine travels through stainless steel to the tap (using steel throughout the process is another way to keep wine from oxidizing). When you’re ready to actually drink the wine, you just tap the “pour” button on the touchscreen, which lights up when you’re nearby, thanks to a proximity sensor. You can either pour a small 1-ounce sample or a full 5-ounce glass, and the system lets you adjust each of those sizes to suit your taste.

Indeed, Plum is pretty customizable overall — if you prefer your wine a little warmer or cooler than the recommended temperature that the device pulls down, you can adjust it as you see fit. The system then remembers that you like your chardonnay a few degrees cooler than the default setting and will set all future bottles to that temperature.

Plum’s internet connectivity comes into play in a few other ways. Once you have wine loaded into the machine, you can tap the screen to get details about the varietal and winemaker — there are reviews, info on where the wine came from and info on what to look for while you’re drinking. The Plum also saves your wine-drinking history and uploads it to an account you can create, so if you particularly enjoy a certain bottle, you can go back and find it. For someone like me who regularly enjoys a wine and then promptly forgets about it, this would come in pretty handy.

That seems to be the entire premise of the Plum. It’s clearly a luxury item, meant for wine drinkers who are at least semiserious about the experience. At $1,499, this isn’t going to be a mass-market device — but there are already plenty of wine-dispensing and preserving systems out there. As someone who enjoys both wine and technology, using Plum sounds like an intriguing proposition, even if it’s out of my price range. Having something that uses the internet and its technology to make wine taste better and make me more knowledgeable would be great — and even though I can’t justify its cost, there are plenty of people who can.

22
Oct

How to use the Google Pixel’s Smart Storage feature – CNET


Google Pixel reviews are in and new Macs are incoming

Today’s daily tech wrapper includes a swarm of Pixel reviews, a slew of new Macs and Instagram’s Stories feature heading to the “explore” tab.

by Jeff Bakalar

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No matter how much storage your Pixel phone has, odds are you’ll eventually have to free up storage space on your device.

It’s never fun to have to pick through apps or photos and videos to decide what stays and what goes, but Google is making it easier than ever to do with its Smart Storage feature.

You can let Smart Storage do its own thing, periodically running in the background, or you can manually trigger a sweep of your phone’s storage to clear space on demand. Here’s how to set up and use both methods.

Automatic cleanup

google-pixel-smart-storage-settings-2.jpgEnlarge Image

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

To access Smart Storage, open the Settings app, then tap on Storage > Manage Storage.

Here you can enable or disable Smart Storage. When triggered automatically, Smart Storage will only remove photos and videos previously backed up to Google Photos.

Don’t worry — you won’t lose access to the content. You can still redownload it should you want to view or share it again.

It’s important to tailor how often you want Smart Storage to remove photos and videos from your device. Tap on the option and select from 30, 60, or 90 days.

Going one step further

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Enlarge Image

Left: Google Pixel Smart Storage results. Right: Nexus 6P results on Android 7.1 Nougat beta.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

In the Smart Storage settings, there’s an option titled Free up space now. You can use this tool to manually force your device to clear photos and videos, plus downloaded files and apps you haven’t opened in the last 90 days.

Of course, my Pixel shows a blank listing for all categories because I haven’t had it long enough to accumulate a lot of junk. However, I ran this feature on my test Nexus 6P running Android 7.1, and it found nearly 4 GB worth of items I don’t use and downloads I no longer need.

Check the boxes next to the category, or each individual app and file you want to remove, and then tap on the Free up button.

22
Oct

8 tips for using the Google Pixel’s camera – CNET


Pixel XL vs. iPhone 7 Plus: Battle of the cameras

Does Google’s new Pixel phone really have the best camera ever put in a smartphone? We tested it against Apple’s dual-lens iPhone 7 Plus to find out.

by Vanessa Hand Orellana

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Before you can begin taking stellar photos with your new GooglePixel, you need to learn a thing or two about the camera app itself.

For those who’ve used Google’s Camera app previously, you’ll feel right at home with a few minor tweaks. Those coming from a competing Android handset or an iPhone, you’ll get the hang of it in no time.

Here are eight tips to help you get the most out of the Google Pixel’s camera:

Quickly open the camera from anywhere

Samsung uses a double-press of the home button as a camera shortcut. Starting with iOS 10, Apple uses a quick swipe to the left on the home screen to launch the camera.

With the Pixel, Google uses the lock/power button. This feature first launched with the 2015 crop of Nexus devices, and it’s a welcomed carryover to the Pixel line.

Double-press the power button and the camera app will open, regardless if the phone is locked or if you’re composing an email.

Double-twist your wrist

google-pixel-move-flip-camera.jpgEnlarge Image

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

When taking a photo you can switch between the rear and front camera by tapping on a button to the left of the shutter release, or use a fancy new Moves gesture.

Using the same motion as turning a door handle, twist your wrist two times when in the camera app and the phone will switch between cameras. Twist again to go back to the previous camera.

The new feature is enabled by default in the Moves section of the Settings app, where you can view an animated tutorial detailing how to use it, or if you’d prefer, turn it off.

Shooting modes are kind of hidden

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Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

For iOS users who are accustomed to various shooting modes being visible, switching between modes may be a bit confusing on the Pixel.

The trick? Swipe in from the left-edge of the display to slide out a list of modes and the Settings button.

Currently, the list of shooting modes include: Slow Motion, Panorama, Photo Sphere and Lens Blur.

Give the volume button a job

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Enlarge Image

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Out of the box, the volume button will act as a shutter release when using the camera app. However, you can go into the Camera settings and set it to control zoom, or remove any camera-related tasks from the button.

Change picture, video quality

Customize the picture and video quality your Pixel captures by opening the Camera settings, and switching to your preferred resolution.

For whatever reason, Google is shipping the Pixel with 4K disabled by default. With free unlimited storage at full quality, there’s no reason to have 4K turned off.

Disable video stabilization

As long as you aren’t panning around when recording video with stabilization turned on, the feature is really impressive. However, if you’re walking around or moving the phone quite a bit, stabilization causes the video to jump around a lot. For some, it’s acceptable. For others, it’s annoying.

You can turn off Video Stabilization in the Camera’s settings.

To auto-create a GIF or not, that is the question

When you press and hold on the camera’s shutter button, it rapidly captures photos one after another.

Because Google Photos is awesome and likes to combine burst photo sessions into an animated image, the Pixel’s camera app naturally does the same.

But if you hate seeing your photos come to life, you can disable the feature in the Camera’s settings.

App shortcut

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Enlarge Image

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Don’t forget you can long-press on the camera app’s icon to bring up shortcuts to taking a selfie or recording a video without interacting with the app itself.

22
Oct

How to use Pixel’s built-in nighttime feature – CNET


Google Pixel unboxing

Want to see what comes with the latest Google phone? Take a look inside the box of the Google Pixel XL.

by Lexy Savvides

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Google’s Pixel phone ships with a new Night Light mode, similar to Night Shift on iOS devices.

When enabled, either mode will change the tint of your device’s display in an attempt to eliminate eye strain as bedtime nears.

The idea is that you’ll have an easier time falling asleep when compared to viewing the standard light from an electronic device.

Set up Night Light

googlepixelnightlightsettings.jpgEnlarge Image

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

You can find the new Night Light feature in Settings > Display > Night Light.

You have a few options regarding how the feature works, be it manually enabling it or letting it run on a predefined schedule. Alternatively, you can let Night Light mode activate and deactivate on its own based on your location, to determine sunset and sunrise time.

Manually enable

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Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Using one of the quick tiles, you can turn Night Light on or off from any screen. Swipe down from the top of your display, then swipe again to view the Quick Tiles.

A Night Light tile will be present; tap on it to toggle the status of the feature.

It’s really, really red

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A Nexus 6P without Night Light next to a Google Pixel XL with Night Light turned on.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

As you can see in the image above, the red tint is fairly dramatic. The initial reaction the change on your phone’s display is a bit jarring at first. Over time, you will get used it it. Eventually, you’ll wonder how you ever used a device that didn’t have a similar feature.

The jury is still out on whether or not it helps you fall asleep faster, but one thing is certain: It drastically reduces eye strain in low-light situations.

Unlike Apple’s implementation of Night Shift, Google doesn’t offer the ability to customize how extreme the red tint is on your display. Hopefully that’s a feature that’s added in the near future.

22
Oct

Sony MDR-1000X review – CNET


The Good The Sony MDR-1000X is an excellent-sounding, comfortable wireless headphone with effective noise-canceling that measures up to Bose’s for muffling ambient noise. It has good battery life and some nifty extra features geared toward frequent travelers.

The Bad Not great as a headset; its adaptive noise-canceling is too noticeable at times.

The Bottom Line If you can overlook a few small drawbacks, the MDR-1000X is a top-notch wireless noise-canceling headphone that’s stacked with features and sounds excellent.

When it comes to noise-canceling headphones — those models that actively block outside noise like airline engines — Bose is generally considered the gold standard, but Sony’s engineers have been on a mission to beat Bose at what it does best.

The result of their efforts is the MDR-1000X, which Sony is calling its most technologically advanced headphone. It features both wireless Bluetooth connectivity and adaptive noise-cancellation in a swanky looking chassis that retails for $400, £330 or AU$700.

Sony says it developed new ear pads for this headphone, and the embedded touch controls for volume adjustment and skipping tracks either direction are more responsive than those found in its predecessor, the MDR-1ABT.

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What you get in the box.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I’m not going to get into all the technical details but this headphone is equipped with similar drivers to the highly rated MDR-1A (a wired headphone) and has microphones not only on the outside of the ear cups to measure ambient noise, but inside to take account for the shape of your head and ears, and whether you wear glasses.

Sony has trademarked this feature, calling it the Sense Engine, and the company says it tailors the noise-canceling individually to you. You can also choose alternate settings that allow more ambient noise to seep in or even filter out everything but voices so you can hear announcements in airports while listening to music.

Another cool feature is the ability to muffle your music and let the outside world in by simply holding your hand over the right ear cup, where the touch controls are located. Once you finish talking to someone, you remove your hand and the music resumes playing at its previous volume and the noise cancellation kicks back in.

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The headphone in black.

David Carnoy/CNET

Battery life is rated at 20 hours and a cord is included if you want to listen in wired mode. You don’t need power to use it as a corded headphone (that means if the battery dies, you can still get sound out of it), but it sounds better as a powered headphone in wired mode.

Like a lot of Sony’s latest headphones, the company is promoting it as a high-res headphone, with support for Sony’s proprietary LDAC format that’s supposed to provide higher quality sound than conventional Bluetooth streaming. Unfortunately, you need a Sony music player with LDAC to take advantage of it. (Sony makes a variety of hi-res music players, but I suspect that the majority of people will use this headphone with their phones).

Also, Sony says this is the first headphone to have its Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE HXTM) built-in to “upscale compressed music from any source to near hi-res audio sound quality, even in wireless mode.”

22
Oct

Starbucks Verismo V coffee maker review – CNET


The Good The Starbucks Verismo V coffee maker brews both espresso shots and full cups of coffee. The machine is compact, operates quickly and doesn’t create a mess. An included milk frother accessory whips up dairy foam for lattes and other café favorites.

The Bad Buying into the pod-based Starbucks Verismo V system is exorbitantly expensive. Pulled espresso shots and brewed coffee from the Verismo V are weaker than they should be. The brewer is limited to Starbucks-branded Verismo pods.

The Bottom Line Even with some enhancements, only well-heeled Starbucks fans should buy into the mediocre Verismo V coffee maker and pricey supporting pod system.

For the true Starbucks coffee fanatic, nothing will satisfy the day’s first caffeine craving like a trek to the nearest Starbucks storefront. The mega java chain, however, wants to supply its fans with an alternate fix you can have at home with the $179 Starbucks Versimo V. The machine is the company’s latest domestic small appliance billed to recreate its drinks, including those dollops of real foamed milk that can make or break a latte.

Using and cleaning the Verismo V is a cinch, plus the machine slings coffee that successfully mimics much of that sought-after Starbucks taste. But this convenience comes at a steep price — the coffee maker itself is expensive, and purchasing pods over time is even more extravagant when compared with brewing java from bags of supermarket beans (you can only use the specific Starbucks pods in the machine). And the espresso shots aren’t as robust as I’ve had when I tested other machines. Unless you’re a diehard Starbucks fan, skip the Verismo V and invest in a better espresso machine that will save you more money and waste in the long run.

A fresh design to fit in more places

This isn’t Starbuck’s first stab at a self-branded coffee maker. The original Verismo machine debuted back in 2013, and it did a decent job of brewing Starbucks staple drinks like mugs of coffee and espresso shots from pre-packed plastic pods. The Verismo V also brews its coffee from pods, though Starbucks has trimmed down the size of this machine by a good 1 to 2 inches all around (11.7 inches tall, 5.9 inches wide, 14.9 inches deep). At 7.7 pounds, the V is also more than a pound lighter than the original.

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The new Verismo V is smaller and lighter than the original.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Another physical difference is a side-mounted water tank (77.7 ounces, 2.3 liters), which is much easier to reach and manipulate than the old model’s reservoir that was on the back. The Verismo V also ditches the chrome highlights that graced its predecessor’s chassis in favor of a subdued dark-gray-and-black color scheme.

Brewing and tasting

Operating the appliance remains mostly the same. To brew espresso, simply lift its handle, drop a pod into a special slot, lower the handle back down, then hit the designated button. After 13 seconds, you’ll have a 1-ounce shot of pulled espresso. While these shots had a well-developed crema and a balanced flavor, they lacked the richness and intensity that I’ve enjoyed in coffee made with true espresso machines.

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Drop in a Verismo pod then brew.

Chris Monroe/CNET

For instance, shots of espresso from both the $600 Breville Barista Express and $2,000 Miele CM6310 Countertop Coffee System had much more body and depth of flavor. Espresso from those two appliances also had higher TDS (total dissolved solids) percentages. Essentially, the higher a coffee or espresso’s TDS percentage, the more coffee essence and flavor the liquid contains. That means you’ll get a drink with a richer taste and fuller body. The Breville and Miele hit 10.5 percent and 7.4 percent, respectively (average, measured with refractometer). The Verismo V’s espresso averaged 5.3 percent.

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Espresso had nice crema but could have been stronger.

Chris Monroe/CNET

I’m not surprised that espresso from the Verismo V was rather mediocre. No matter how tightly sealed the container, ground coffee loses much of what makes it delicious in short order. And the other machines used more coffee grounds per shot than the Verismo, which made for stronger espresso. I used more than double the amount of coffee grounds (0.6 ounce) per each 1.4-ounce shot I manually pulled from the Barista Express. Likewise, the fancy superautomatic Miele CM6310 robotically consumed 0.5 ounce of grounds for each of my 1.1 ounce shots of test espresso.

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The Verismo V pulled espresso shots from pods in 13 seconds.

Chris Monroe/CNET

22
Oct

Best Chromebook apps


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Make the most of your Chromebook with these apps.

Your Chromebook is a safe, inexpensive, and simple portal the internet but it can do so much more. Whether you want to get productive, have a little fun or keep in touch you’ll find an app to help do it in the Chrome Web Store. Here’s the short — and ever-changing — list of ones we think you have to try.

  • Polarr Photo Editor
  • Skype
  • Any.do
  • Office Online
  • StreamDor

Polarr Photo Editor

One area where Chromebooks have traditionally been lacking is media creation tools. Photoshop for Chrome is a real thing, but it requires you to have an Adobe education license for Creative Cloud and live in North America. If you meet these qualifications you should definitely have a look, but for the rest of us, there is Polarr Photo Editor.

Polarr is beautifully done, filled with features and is extremely lightweight. It’s an offline app sp you can work without an internet connection and it’s the best way to edit photographs on your Chromebook. Whether you need to turn RAW files into great photos or just touch up something before you share it on Facebook, Polarr Photo Editor can handle the job.

See at the Chrome Web Store

Skype

We’re cheating a little bit here, but access to Skype is important enough to allow it.

Skype on the web now supports text chat and phones calls using standard internet communication protocols — that means it works on your Chromebook.

There are many different communication apps available — including Google’s own Hangouts — but for many Skype is the de facto standard. Using your Skype account and Microsoft’s official website, all you need to do is log and start Skyping.

For those who want it, there are also several launchers at the Chrome Web Store that let you launch the Skype site in its own window through an icon, but we think a bookmark is just as good.

Skype Online

Any.do

Any.do is one of the best ways to stay organized. It’s a task manager, reminder list, calendar, and organizer all in one and it syncs across all your devices. It’s also quite the looker!

Using the Any.do app for Chrome gives you the same tools and features as the client for your phone (Android and iOS) does plus the ability to drag and drop attachments, notes, and tasks using your Chromebook’s trackpad. Any.do is scalable and great for keeping track of a few reminders or as a complete organization tool for your entire team.

See at the Chrome Web Store

Office Online

Your Chromebook gives you access to everything Google Docs has to offer. While that’s more than enough productivity for some of us, if you work in a Microsoft environment Office Online is a must-have.

Using the same subscription you hold for the full version of Office for Windows or Mac, you get access to all the tools and features using your Microsoft account. You can view, edit and create files in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Sway right from your Chromebook and synchronization with your OneDrive account means they are accessible anywhere. You can also work locally when you’re not connected to the internet.

If you’re a Microsoft Office user, Office Online is a no-brainer.

See at the Chrome Web Store

StreamDor

No list of great Chrome apps would be complete without StreamDor.

The internet is huge, and it’s filled with awesome content if you know where to find it. StreamDor is a list of 20,000 movies that you can stream for free. Everything is legal and above the board, and there’s no funny stuff going on.

The list is refreshed daily and you’ll find old favorites as well as recent hits at high quality from sites like YouTube or Vimeo. While StreamDor doesn’t serve any content themselves, the app is the perfect way to find it all in one place. It’s free and a great way to relax during some down time.

See at the Chrome Web Store

22
Oct

ICYMI: Wearable robots will walk all over you


ICYMI: Wearable robots will walk all over you

Today on In Case You Missed It: MIT and Stanford researchers created tiny robots that can grab onto clothes and walk on your shirt, with the goal of them one day, forming a swarm to create a temporary video screen and then marching back into a pocket, putting themselves away. Meanwhile Japanese scientists were able to create mice offspring from skin cells of adult mice. They’re testing the method next with primates, so this is going to get even weirder.

In TL;DR, we’re rounding up some of the biggest headlines from the week and we think it’s particularly interesting to note how much money technology companies now spend on lobbying in Washington, D.C. (And share it with your friend who still thinks tech and politics aren’t related.) Also if you need to send that smoking Samsung video to someone stat, the original video is here. As always, please share any interesting tech or science videos you find by using the #ICYMI hashtag on Twitter for @mskerryd.

22
Oct

The Morning After: Weekend Edition


Letter from the Editor

You have chosen... wisely

Welcome to the very first edition of The Morning After, Engadget’s revamped newsletter. First, I’d like to congratulate you for subscribing to what is undoubtedly the greatest newsletter you’ll ever read. Thanks are also in order for giving us some of your precious inbox real estate each day. You’re hearing from me, Editor in Chief Michael Gorman, because this is the Weekend Edition — in which I’ll be putting context around the most interesting and important stories we published over the past week. Come Monday at 6 AM ET, and every weekday after, the daily version will hit your inbox with summaries of the biggest stories from the previous day, delivered with Engadget’s trademark wit and insight. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dive into the week that was…

Odds are you woke up to many of your favorite websites being nonfunctional on Friday, and you can thank the Internet of Things for the inconvenience. We’ve been sounding the alarm about the inadequate (and nonexistent) security of the IoT for some time now, and yesterday’s attacks — using a bunch of hijacked connected things to shut down one of the internet’s biggest domain name servers — shows just how dangerous that lack of security can be. It’s not hard to imagine a day when the entire internet is brought to its knees by a bunch of smart bulbs, DVRs and security cameras. While the perpetrator in this isn’t believed to be governmental, you may be surprised at who’s doing the hacking next time. In her latest column, Violet Blue says we’re in a new cold war with Russia, only now it’s about the threat of cyber war, not nuclear — and our sitting president can be counted among its victims after Putin’s people hacked Obama’s personal email account.

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom this week, as gamers got some great news. Nintendo finally revealed its next console, the Switch, and the Engadget team has some strong (mostly positive) feelings about it. As is Nintendo’s way, when the rest of the industry zigs, it zags, and the Switch is no exception. While Sony and Microsoft’s recent efforts focus on more graphically powerful yet mostly traditional hardware, Nintendo’s newest offers something completely different: a home console that turns into a mobile one. We won’t know how good it is until its release in March, but as a child of the ’80s and ’90s within whom powerful Nintendo nostalgia resides, my interest is piqued. Nintendo could have another Wii-esque hit on its hands.

What happens when Google entirely designs its own smartphone?Review: Google Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones

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After years of Nexus-themed experiments, Google’s made two great smartphones that — sadly — look a little dull. Both Pixels work as showcases for Google’s software and online service chops, and that’s where they truly shine, with an excellent camera and snappy performance thrown in for good measure. If only they were a little cheaper — and water-resistant.

‘sWiitch’ was right there for the takingNintendo’s new video-game system is here: Meet Switch

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The console/handheld’s first trailer shows off some grown-up-looking hardware with no lack of peripherals and play use cases. What games are coming at launch? Well, there will be a Zelda game. How much? No idea. When? March 2017.

An Autopilot in every TeslaTesla doesn’t build cars without self-driving hardware

Thursday, Tesla said every new car it builds will be capable of driving itself without human intervention, and a new demo video shows what that looks like. With only the lightest touch to the steering wheel from its human “driver,” a Model X goes from home to office, then parks itself. Other than a few odd gaffes in the parking lot, it’s pretty impressive stuff, but even without any more hysteria-inducing accidents, it could be a while before regulations catch up with the technology.

No more keyboardsReview: Lenovo’s Yoga Book swaps the keyboard for a huge digitizer

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You can’t fault Lenovo for trying something very different. Its Yoga Book does away with the keyboard altogether, swapping it for a touch-sensitive surface that pulls double duty as both keyboard and digital sketchpad. It’ll even magically pull your real-paper scribbles into the digital world. As you might guess, however, the typing experience is atrocious on the flat slate. It’s novel, but the Yoga Book isn’t reliable enough to be the go-to productivity machine.

Have you tried turning it off and on again?Your security camera is screwing up the internet

For much of Friday, internet services like Twitter, Spotify and Reddit were inaccessible, because of a DDoS attack on their DNS provider, Dyn. Not sure what those words mean? Allow us to explain the day the internet fell apart, and why the real culprit is the Internet of Things.

Not-quite-4K is still OK?Mark Cerny explains the strategy behind the PS4 Pro

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If you still need to be sold on Sony’s upgraded PlayStation 4, take a look at our talk with its architect. Mark Cerny explains how the PS4 Pro will use its extra memory (to hold background tasks), and why software tricks like checkerboard rendering will help games look better even if you don’t have a brand-new 4K TV.

It’s about timeDon’t buy a new Mac in the next two weeks

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Apple finally sent out invites for an event where we expect to see some new computers. At this point, everything from the MacBook Pro to the MacBook Air is painfully out of date and in need of a refresh, if not a rethinking. Rumors suggest we’ll even see some touch-sensitive OLED strips on new MBPs, so stay tuned, and remember: Don’t buy a new computer yet!

But wait, there’s more…

  • By accident, scientists found a way to turn carbon dioxide into ethanol
  • WikiLeaks’ latest drop reveals Barack Obama’s personal email address
  • Exoskeletons, prosthetics and implants for athletes: A robot-assisted parathletes’ championship pushed the frontier of bionics even further
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