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15
Feb

HP Spectre x360 15 review


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HP Spectre x360 15-bl075nr

We concluded following CES 2017 that 2-in-1 devices — that is, touch-enabled PCs that can convert from standard notebooks to tablets, often with other modes in between — are becoming the new normal. Between Windows 10 offering a much-improved touch experience and Microsoft’s Surface line blazing a trail, manufacturers are trending toward making as many 2-in-1s as they are traditional notebooks.

That’s a good thing, because many 2-in-1s are excellent machines no matter how you use them. In fact, some 2-in-1s are so good you could use them as standard notebooks, and completely disregard their extra flexibility.

The HP Spectre x360 15 is one such machine. It offers hardware that competes well with most traditional notebooks. That means a seventh-generation Core i7 processor, 15.6-inch 4K display, Nvidia discrete graphics, large battery, and no-compromise keyboard. These are features you expect in a high-end notebook, but not necessarily in a 2-in-1 that’s meant to serve double duty as a tablet.

More: Apple’s MacBook Pro is too thin, and HP can prove it

To top it all off, the Spectre x360 15 isn’t particularly expensive, given its specifications. Our review unit had an Intel Core i7-7500U, 16GB RAM, and 512TB SSD for $1,500. While that’s expensive, it’s quite a fair price for everything that’s included. Given its lofty aspirations, then, did HP manage to make a machine that doesn’t compromise power for flexibility?

Well-built and good looking — a great combination

At first glance, the new Spectre x360 15 looks a great deal like a blown-up and repainted version of HP’s current 13.3-inch version. That’s not a bad thing – the Spectre x360 13 is itself a great looking machine that’s elegant and attractive. With its subdued “Ash Silver” color accented in copper, and an all-aluminum chassis that feels as solid as it looks, the Spectre x360 15 definitely looks like a luxury laptop.

hp spectre x  reviewMark Coppock/Digital Trends

hp spectre x  reviewMark Coppock/Digital Trends

hp spectre x  reviewMark Coppock/Digital Trends

hp spectre x  reviewMark Coppock/Digital Trends

As a 360-degree 2-in-1, the Spectre x360 15 offers the typical four usage modes: traditional notebook, tent mode, presentation mode, and tablet. Of course, it’s a large machine despite the thinner “micro-edge” bezels on each side of the display, and it’s too heavy to use for long in tablet mode. You won’t want to carry it around as a tablet held in the crook of one arm, but it works fine if you have a surface you can rest it on. As usual, the display’s 16:9 aspect ratio feels fine in laptop use, but awkward as a tablet.

The Spectre x360 15’s build quality doesn’t disappoint. It’s solid through and through, with no sign of excessive bending or twisting. Even the display, a weak spot with many machines, requires some real pressure before you can get the screen to warp. The hinge rotates easily but maintains its position once in place. You can make it move if you jolt the base sharply, but in typical use it stays firmly in place.

In with the new (ports) without throwing away the old

USB Type-C connections are becoming de rigueur lately, with manufacturers of particularly slim machines including them as the only connectivity option. HP hasn’t followed the industry down that rabbit hole with the Spectre x360 15, choosing instead to include a USB 3.1 port and a full-sized HDMI connection to go along with two USB Type-C ports. One of the latter includes Thunderbolt 3 support, and both can be used to charge the machine with the included 90-watt AC charger.

Wireless connectivity is provided by an Intel AC8265 Wi-Fi adapter with 2X2 MU-MIMO support, along with Bluetooth 4.2. The standard combo headphone and microphone adapter is on hand, along with an SD card slot — a nod to creative professionals who often rely on SD cards to transfer images and video.

Excellent keyboard, touchpad, and active pen make for a plethora of input options

HP has packed just about every meaningful input technology into the Spectre x360 15, including an active pen and Windows Hello support. It all works extremely well, making the machine as robust in the input department as anything else on the market.

To begin with, the keyboard has excellent feel, with sufficient travel and a nice crisp action. Keys require enough force to depress that they don’t feel the slightest bit mushy, and the bottoming action is soft and springy such that that even extended typing sessions shouldn’t cause fatigue. Thankfully, the keyboard is also quiet, with only the spacebar on our review unit exhibiting any noise that might interrupt someone close by.

The Spectre x360 15 is a better notebook than 2-in-1, and that’s a good thing.

In short, HP accomplished its objective of providing a superior typing experience with the Spectre x360 15. We think it’s one of the better keyboards you’ll find on a notebook today — particularly with Apple abandoning the tried and true MacBook Pro keyboard for the second-generation MacBook-style version in its new MacBook Pro 15 with Touch Bar.

Of course, the keyboard is backlit, which is mandatory today with all but the lowest-end machines. The keys are uniformly lit, with minimal light leak. Oddly enough, there are only two settings, on and off, and so some users might find the lighting a bit bright for dark rooms. A lower brightness option would’ve been welcome.

HP calls the Synaptics glass-covered touchpad an “Imagepad,” and it’s rather large, with the same wide aspect ratio as the display. If you’re accustomed to square touchpads, then it might take some getting used to. The touchpad sits underneath your palm as you type, which can feel a bit strange. It has very good palm rejection software, however, so we didn’t experience any inadvertent cursor movement while typing.

More: CES 2017 proves 2-in-1s are becoming the new normal

Overall, the touchpad works well, with good responsiveness and gesture performance. One disappointment is that it doesn’t support the Windows Precision Touchpad protocol, which seems to provide the best overall experience in other notebooks. The Synaptics drivers work well and gestures are generally smooth, but there’s some minor lag at times that might have been avoided had HP simply went with Microsoft’s standard.

Of course, the Spectre x360 15 is a 2-in-1, and so it sports a touchscreen display. In this case, it’s a full 10-point touchscreen with excellent responsiveness. Flip it into one of its non-traditional modes and you’ll be fully productive swiping, tapping, and typing using the on-screen keyboard.

hp spectre x  reviewMark Coppock/Digital Trends

hp spectre x  reviewMark Coppock/Digital Trends

Every new Spectre x360 15 includes an active N-Trig pressure-sensitive pen, which provides another solid input mechanism that greatly enhances the 2-in-1 experience. The pen doesn’t have quite the same feature set as Microsoft’s Surface Pen. There’s no eraser, for example, or Bluetooth connectivity that pairs the pen to the machine to expand button press functionality. Still, active hover works well, and pen input is smooth and reliable.

Finally, the Spectre x360 15 has an HP TrueVision Full HD web cam with infrared, meaning it supports Microsoft’s password-less Windows Hello login technology via facial recognition. We tested it throughout the review process and found it to be at least as reliable as the technology used on Microsoft’s own Surface machines. Just open the lid, look at the display, and you’re logged in almost instantly.

A very good, but not necessarily great, display

HP decided to forego the 1080p display option offered with the previous generation, and so this time around you’re “stuck” with a 4K (3,840 x 2,160) resolution 15.6-inch display. In addition, while the last generation used a PenTile panel, the new Spectre x360 15 uses the more standard RGB stripe technology. We won’t get into a debate over the relative advantages and disadvantages of PenTile displays on large notebook screens, but some people dislike the technology, so we thought it worth mentioning that HP made the switch.

In terms of objective measurements, the Spectre x360 15 display offers up some good, but not great, results. Brightness is decent at 315 lux, which is bright enough to work indoors but likely won’t be enough to see the screen clearly in sunlight. Contrast was, again, good but not great at 720:1 at full brightness, and colors were fairly accurate at 1.95. This color measurement is an error reading, so a lower score is better. The HP’s result is about average overall, but some competitors – like Apple’s MacBook Pro – reach a score below one, which is so low that errors become hard for the human eye to detect.

In terms of color, the display’s 74 percent of AdobeRGB and 95 percent of sRGB fell a few points below other machines of the same class, such as the Spectre x360 13 and Lenovo Yoga 910, but are still good results. The display’s gamma was a strength at 2.2, which is perfect — meaning that the display should be neither too light nor too dark compared to source content.

Each of these specifications, except for gamma, place the Spectre x360 15 display generally below the comparison machines listed here, but still much better than lower-end machines. Microsoft’s Surface Book has one of the best displays available on a Windows 10 machine, and it’s noticeably better when compared side-by-side with the Spectre x360 15.

Despite this, in actual use, the display looks excellent and is a pleasure to stare at for long sessions. Video, especially 4K video, is simply a joy to watch on the expansive screen, with good detail and accurate lighting — bright scenes aren’t blown out, and darker scenes aren’t the least bit muddied. Images also look good, with accurate colors, and using the Spectre x360 15 as a productivity machine is also pleasant. Black text looks excellent on a white background, which is important to anyone who writes or works with numbers for a living.

This is a testament to how far notebook displays have come in recent years. These scores would’ve been class-leading a couple years ago. It’s also worth noting that while the Microsoft Surface Book and MacBook Pro 15 with Touch Bar have superior screens, they’re also much more expensive when similarly equipped.

Great speakers, for a notebook

HP partners with Bang & Olufsen on its machines, with two amplified speakers bracketing the keyboard on the Spectre x360 15. The partnership paid off, with sound that gets loud enough to fill a medium-sized room without breaking down. While bass isn’t terribly robust, it’s not all that bad for notebook speakers, and midrange and high tones come across clearly. There’s also a utility that provides some ability to adjust the sound for music, movies, and voice, and it works — movie audio mates well with the display and makes for a great experience.

Notably, headphones also sound great plugged into 3.5mm jack. The machines pumps out serious volume through the headphone jack.

Class-leading processor performance

There’s only one processor option offered with the Spectre x360 15, and that’s Intel’s seventh-generation Core i7-7500U. That’s a strong processor for most general computing tasks, and it’s exceeded only by much more power-hungry quad-core processors. Toss in the included 16GB of DDR4-2133 RAM, and the Spectre x360 15 promises very competitive performance indeed.

Simply put, the Spectre x360 15 leads this pack of machines sporting the same processor. On the Geekbench 4 synthetic benchmark in single-core mode, it was significantly faster than the Spectre x360 13, and meaningfully faster than the Asus Zenbook 3 and Lenovo Yoga 910. Not surprisingly, it also beat out the Surface Book with Performance Base, with its previous-generation Intel Core i7-6600U processor. In multi-core testing, only the Lenovo was slightly faster.

On the Handbrake 4K video conversion test, the HP again provided better performance than all the other systems using the Intel Core i7-7500U. Only the Dell XPS 15 with its quad-core Core i7-6700HQ processor was faster.

In actual use, the Spectre x360 15 felt plenty fast. No matter what we threw at the machine, it responded without hesitation. Simply put, it should perform extremely well for any productivity task and for some serious content creation as well.

More: HP Spectre x360 2-in-1 (2016) review

Note that the fans do kick on when the CPU (or GPU, for that matter) is working overtime, and they’re loud. In more typical use the machine remained quiet, with the fans only periodically turning on at low levels that were quite tolerable.

Working with files is quick, too

The Spectre x360 15 review unit came equipped with a Toshiba 512GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD. Typically, that technology provides good performance, and HP’s iteration is no different.

The Spectre x360 15 scored 1,280Mbps on the CrystalDiskMark read test, which is a very good score that’s competitive with all the comparison systems. The Dell XPS 15 and Lenovo Yoga 910 were faster, but not by much.

On the same benchmark’s write test, however, the Spectre x360 15 was much faster than the comparison machines, scoring 934Mbps. The Asus Zenbook 3 was the next closest at 737Mbps per second, and the other systems were a little more than half as fast.

Most modern systems using the same SSD technology are similarly fast, and the Spectre x360 is no exception. Opening applications, accessing and saving files, and loading games was immediate and refreshingly quick. The exceptionally speedy write speed means that the machine will not bog down when editing video, which is a real plus for creative professionals.

You can game a little, but keep your expectations in check

HP included an Nvidia GeForce 940MX in the Spectre x360 15 primarily to help drive the 4K display and to meet the needs of its content creator target market. Indeed, the GPU should help a bit with editing video and the like, but by no means is it a gaming GPU. It’s also well behind newer machines that are starting to ship with GTX 1050/Ti GPUs.

Compared to systems with Intel HD integrated graphics, the Spectre x360 15 looks good. It scored 1,939 on the 3DMark Fire Strike test, and 6,316 on the Sky Diver test, close to twice as fast as the machines using integrated graphics. Of course, the Dell XPS 15 with its Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M GPU was about twice as fast as the Spectre x360 15, which gives a hint as to how much faster newer systems must be with GTX 1050 GPUs on board.

These scores are good enough for some light Full HD gaming with older titles, but they hint that running newer games at the machine’s full 4K resolution — or even at Full HD — would be out of the question. We don’t stop with synthetic benchmarks, however.

Keyboard, touch, active pen; it’s all here, and it all works.

We use Civilization VI, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and Battlefield 1, running at 1080P and 1440P, in our reviews. We ran the Spectre x360 15 through each of them, and the only game that the machine could run at something approaching a playable framerate was Civilization VI. And even then, we only managed to squeeze 30 FPS out of the title at 1080p and medium settings.

The best Battlefield 1 result was 24 FPS at 1080p, with medium settings. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided never exceeded an average of 11 FPS. Our test just confirmed our expectations. The Spectre x360 15 has a good enough GPU for assisting with running creative applications, but it’s not nearly good enough for running modern games.

It’s grown a bit since last year’s model, but the added girth and weight is put to good use

The Spectre x360 15 isn’t a small machine by any means. HP made the conscious decision to increase the thickness of the machine over last year’s model, to ensure that battery life, keyboard quality, and connectivity options weren’t compromised. The decision was a good one.

All told, the company added just under two millimeters to the machine’s thickness, making it 17.9mm thick. The thin bezels keep its overall dimensions a reasonable 14 x 9.88 x 0.7 inches. Finally, it’s a bit heavy at 4.42 pounds, which is also up slightly from the previous generation. Thanks to the slight increase in thickness, HP was able to increase the battery capacity from 64.5 watt-hours to 79.2 watt-hours.

As it turns out, battery life is quite good for a machine with such a large 4K display. In fact, it’s competitive with several machines using the same processor but sporting smaller displays. Given our results and assuming the display is kept at our tested 100 lux brightness, the Spectre x360 15 can likely last most of a typical workday unless you’re hammering on it non-stop.

On our aggressive Peacekeeper battery test, the Spectre x360 15 lasted for four hours and 37 minutes. That’s competitive with the four hours and 54 minutes achieved by its smaller 13.3-inch Full HD sibling. In our comparison group, only the Acer Swift 7 with its low-power core i7-7Y54 processor lasted significantly longer.

Our web looping test uses live sites with idle time in between page swaps to more closely mimic how we use our machines when browsing. On this test, the Spectre x360 15 lasted for seven hours and 10 minutes, which is about two hours behind the Spectre x360 13 — which is an outlier in this group — but slightly longer than the other machines in our comparison.

HP has accomplished something special with the Spectre x360 15.

Finally, the Spectre x360 15 lasted 10 hours and 17 minutes on our video looping test, which plays an HD video clip full-screen until the battery dies out. Once again, that compares favorably to our comparison group with smaller displays. Only the Spectre x360 13, with its Full HD display, lasted significantly longer than its larger sibling.

HP has built in its Fast Charge technology, which promises to juice up the battery from empty to a 50 percent charge in 30 minutes using the included 90-watt charger. In our informal testing, the feature lived up to its billing. Speaking of the charger, it’s a rather large rounded brick that you won’t want to carry around with you wherever you go.

Warranty information

HP provides a one-year parts and labor warranty with the Spectre X360 15, which is the industry standard. You can buy extended warranties starting at $220 for a second year of coverage, or extended warranties with accidental damage protection starting at $240 for two years.

A little bloated, but nothing too terrible

The Spectre x360 15 doesn’t come with an inordinately bloated set of pre-loaded apps. There are a couple of games, including the ubiquitous Candy Crush, to go with the usual Microsoft first-party Windows 10 apps. HP includes their typical management utilities, including HP Recovery Manager for performing factory resets and reinstalling drivers and software and the HP Support Assistant app that provides a bevy of system information and diagnostic tools.

HP Spectre x360 15-bl075nr Compared To

hp spectre x  review dell xps in product

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1

hp spectre x  review acer spin product

Acer Spin 7

hp spectre x  review product

HP Spectre x360 13-w023dx

hp spectre x  review samsung notebook spin product

Samsung Notebook 7 spin

hp spectre x  review dell inspiron in product

Dell Inspiron 17 7000 2-in-1 (2016)

hp spectre x  review acer switch alpha product image

Acer Switch Alpha 12

hp spectre x  review dell inspiron in product

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 (2016)

hp spectre x  review huawei matebook press

Huawei Matebook

hp spectre x  review vaio z flip

Vaio Z Flip

hp spectre x  review lg gram z

LG Gram 15 Z960

hp spectre x  review samsung notebook pro np z l us

Samsung Notebook 9 Pro…

hp spectre x  review toshiba satellite radius p w cst n

Toshiba Satellite Radius 12…

hp spectre x  review dell xps touch

Dell XPS 15

hp spectre x  review toshiba satellite radius p w press image

Toshiba Satellite Radius P55W

hp spectre x  review acer aspire r press image

Acer Aspire R7 (late 2013)

HP also includes an app for adjusting the Bang & Olufsen audio settings, an HP Pen Control app, and HP Orbit that sets up a connection between the notebook and smartphones for transferring files, notes, and links. HP Orbit uses an Android or iOS app to easily pair devices via Wi-Fi, and works seamlessly.

Our Take

HP accomplished something special with the Spectre x360 15. It’s not an inexpensive machine, but it’s nevertheless a no-compromise option that will leave you convinced that you’ve made a great investment. In all its aspects, from performance to battery life to utility, the Spectre x360 15’s whole is more than just the sum of its parts. Admittedly, it makes for a very large 2-in-1 device, but if that bothers you, then just buy it because it’s an excellent notebook and ignore the fact the screen flips around.

Is there a better alternative?

Finding a machine in its distinct class — that is, 15.6-inch 2-in-1s — is a challenge. At least, finding ones that are as high-quality and offer the same value is difficult. The Lenovo Yoga 710 comes closest, offering a 4K display, the same Core i7-7500U processor, 16GB RAM, GTX 940MX GPU, but with only a 256GB SSD for $1250. But the battery is significantly smaller at 53 watt-hours, and there’s no active pen support, making the Spectre x360 15 the better option.

The DT Accessory Pack

Anker USB-C to 3-Port USB 3.0 hub

$30

HP Powerup backpack

$169

Cable Matters USB-C multiport adapter

$45

At the same time, the Spectre x360 also competes against higher-end notebooks like the new Dell XPS 15. While Dell’s machine has a quad-core Intel Core i7 processor option and Nvidia Geforce GTX 1050 GPU, and thus offers higher performance, it’s also significantly more expensive at $2,000 with similar RAM and storage. That’s $500 more than the Spectre x360 15, so if you don’t need the XPS 15’s workstation-level performance, you can save some money with the HP and gain occasional 2-in-1 functionality.

Finally, the Spectre x360 15 also competes against Microsoft’s Surface Book, as both are large 2-in-1s with active pens. The Surface Book’s “clipboard” tablet component is much lighter and more comfortable to carry around than the Spectre x360 15 in tablet mode. Pen support is similar between the two, as is performance, and so if your tablet use doesn’t require carrying it around in one hand, then the Spectre x360 15 is an interesting alternative — and it offers a $1,300 savings over the equivalent Surface Book with Performance Base.

How long will it last?

The Spectre x360 15 uses a seventh-generation Intel Core i7 processor, includes a USB Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3, and supports Windows Hello and an active pen. Those are some of the latest and most relevant current technologies, and they should keep the machine cruising along for a good while. The 1TB SSD option means you’ll be able to store tons of apps and files, and so that component should last for some time as well. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 940MX is an older GPU, however, and so graphics performance will likely be the first aspect of the machine to become obsolete.

Should you buy it?

If you’re looking at the HP Spectre x360 15, then chances are you’re interested in a machine with a larger display. You’re also probably looking for a traditional notebook first and a 2-in-1 second — otherwise, you’d likely be looking at something smaller. If this describes you, then the Spectre x360 15 is a great choice. It’s not a workstation, nor a solid tablet, but it does deliver an excellent laptop experience at a more reasonable price than its entirely unaffordable peers.

15
Feb

AMD’s Ryzen desktop processor box art, details, and pricing leak before launch


Why it matters to you

This leak provides a possible look at what enthusiasts, mid-range, and entry-level customers will be required to pay for the new Ryzen desktop processors.

With roughly 15 days before AMD spills the Ryzen beans all over the desktop market, a whole heap of leaked information arrived to get customers revved up for the new CPUs. Not only did the box art briefly appear online via computer retailer Centralpoint, but the details and prices of all 17 Ryzen chips were posted as well. Let’s dive in, shall we?

The high-end Ryzen R7 family

Cores
Threads
Base
Speed

Boost
Speed

L3 Cache
TDP
Price
R7 1800X
8
16
3.6GHz
4.0GHz
16MB
95 Watts
~$499
R7 1800 Pro
8
16


16MB
95 Watts
~$449
R7 1700X
8
16
3.4GHz
3.8GHz
16MB
95 Watts
~$389
R7 1700
8
16


16MB
65 Watts
~$319
R7 1700 Pro
8
16
3.0GHz
3.7GHz
16MB
65 Watts
~$299

The mid-range Ryzen R5 family (six cores)

Cores
Threads
Base
Speed

Boost
Speed

L3 Cache
TDP
Price
R5 1600X
6
12
3.3GHz
3.7GHz
16MB
95 Watts
~$259
R5 1600 Pro
6
12


16MB
95 Watts
~$249
R5 1500
6
12
3.2GHz
3.5GHz
16MB
65 Watts
~$229
R5 1500 Pro
6
12


16MB
65 Watts
~$219

The mid-range Ryzen R5 family (four cores)

Cores
Threads
Base
Speed

Boost
Speed

L3 Cache
TDP
Price
R5 1400X
4
8
3.5GHz
3.9GHz
8MB
65 Watts
~$199
R5 1400 Pro
4
8


8MB
65 Watts
~$185
R5 1300
4
8
3.2GHz
3.5GHz
8MB
65 Watts
~$175
R5 1300 Pro
4
8


8MB
65 Watts
~$165

The entry-level Ryzen R3 family

Cores
Threads
Base
Speed

Boost
Speed

L3 Cache
TDP
Price
R3 1200X
4
4
3.4GHz
3.8GHz
8MB
65 Watts
~$149
R3 1200 Pro
4
4


8MB
65 Watts
~$139
R3 1100
4
4
3.2GHz
3.5GHz
8MB
65 Watts
~$129
R3 1100 Pro
4
4


8MB
65 Watts
~$119

For the uninitiated, the new Ryzen processors will only work on motherboards with AMD’s new AM4 socket and one of the following chipsets: X370, B350, A320, X300, and A300. Manufacturers selling compatible motherboards when Ryzen finally arrives in March include ASRock, Asus, Biostar, Gigabyte, and Micro-Star International.

Here are a few details regarding the five chipsets:

X370
B350
A320
X300
A300
Form factor:
ATX
ATX
M-ATX
M-ATX
Mini-ITX
Mini-ITX
Mini-ITX
Target Audience:
Enthusiast
Mainstream
Essential
Enthusiast SFF
Essential SFF
PCIe Gen3 Lanes:
24
24



PCIe Gen2 Lanes:
8
6
4


Dual PCI3 Slots:
Yes
No
No
Yes
No
USB 3.1 Gen2:
2
2
1


USB 3.1 Gen1:
6
2
2


USB 2.0:
6
6
6


SATA 3:
4
2
2


SATAe:
2
2
2


DDR4 Slots:
4
4



CrossFire/SLI:
3x Radeon
2x GeForce
No
No
No
No
Overclocking:
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
No
NVMe:
Yes
Yes



Price range:
~$129+
$59 to ~$99
$59+
~$129+

As the chart shows, we don’t know all the details regarding the supporting chipsets. We presume AMD’s use of “essential” means the chipset targets entry-level solutions, but we will likely find out more in the next several weeks.

More: AMD’s new R7 1700X desktop CPU may outperform $1,000 Intel chips in some cases

Notice that we don’t have all the info regarding the “Pro” Ryzen models either. These are expected to target the enterprise sector and hit the market sometime after the enthusiast, mainstream, and entry-level models arrive in March. The details of these chips may be revealed during AMD’s Capsaicin & Cream event slated for February 28. AMD typically reveals graphics cards for the enterprise sector during this specific show.

Unfortunately, the Ryzen processor listings discovered on Centralpoint’s online shop were removed. But that also indicates the info wasn’t bogus, thus there is a good chance everything listed in the tables above is correct. We shall find out in the first week of March (if not earlier) when AMD’s Ryzen lineup finally arrives.

15
Feb

You may soon be able to use Google Home or Amazon Echo to make phone calls


Hey Alexa, get me the operator!

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that both Google and Amazon are looking into ways to add phone call functionality — remember that? — to the Home and Echo, respectively.

The tech giants could launch the feature this year, the people said — but the effort is hung up over concerns about privacy, telecom regulations and emergency services. And they are aware of the inherent awkwardness of having phone conversations on a speaker.

While one would think that having phone call functionality on such a product would be equivalent to using the speaker on a phone, but both the Home and Echo are stationary products that plug into a wall, and the companies would have to figure out how to seamlessly transition a call from one room to another, or back to a phone, without interrupting the call.

google-home-echo.jpg?itok=trm8qOwv

Amazon would also have to contend with the fact that it doesn’t own the operating systems the Echo would connect to in order to facilitate the phone call, something that Google, with Android, can more easily overcome. Amazon is looking into call forwarding or even providing the Echo with its own virtual number to get around that limitation.

Would you use a Google Home or Echo to make phone calls? Let us know in the comments below!

Amazon Echo

echo-dot.jpg?itok=R0wkn4K-

  • Amazon Echo review
  • Echo Dot review
  • Top Echo Tips & Tricks
  • Tap, Echo or Dot: The ultimate Alexa question
  • Amazon Echo vs. Google Home
  • Get the latest Alexa news

Amazon

15
Feb

Which unlimited plan should you buy: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon?


freedom-mobile-lte-3.jpg?itok=ciIirYH4

All four major carriers in the U.S. offer unlimited data plans. But which is the best?

With Verizon bringing back an unlimited data plan, the big four networks in the United States (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon) all carry an unlimited data plan now. That’s important for power users as well as anyone who uses their mobile broadband internet as their sole way to stay in touch or for entertainment. The cost of data overages means that unlimited data is a must for many of us.

But just because everyone offers unlimited data doesn’t mean that all plans are equal. Pricing is important as are “extras” like tethering and the hidden data cap that pushes you back to slower 3G speeds when you reach it. And of course, zero-rating means we have to pay attention to what unlimited means when it comes to the quality of streaming media as well as the source.

We took a look at what each carrier has to offer so we can decide who delivers the very best unlimited data package. Let’s start with a look at the details for each carrier.

AT&T

  • Cost for one line: $100 per month with $50 monthly DirecTV/Uverse subscription1
  • Additional lines: $40 per month1
  • Data limit for potential throttling: 22GB per month
  • HD video included: Yes2
  • Tethering package: Only for smart vehicles

Notes:

1AT&T’s pricing does not include taxes, surcharges or other fees.

2AT&T defaults streaming video to 480p but this can be disabled at no cost.

Note: AT&T customers can only get unlimited data when subscribing to DirecTV.

Sprint

  • Cost for one line: $55 per month1, 2
  • Additional lines: $40 per month for a second line, $30 per month for lines three through five1, 2
  • Data limit for potential throttling: 23GB
  • HD video included: No. Requires Sprint Premium package for $75 per month
  • Tethering package: 5GB per month

Notes:

1Sprint’s pricing does not include taxes, surcharges or other fees.

2Promotional pricing of $50 per month for one line, $40 per month for a second line, and up to three additional lines for $0 per month is available until March 2018.

T-Mobile

  • Cost for one line: $70 per month
  • Additional lines: Two lines for $100 per month. A third line is $47 per month and a fourth line is $40 per month
  • Data limit for potential throttling: 28GB per month
  • HD video included: Yes1
  • Tethering package: 10GB/month

Notes:

1As of February 17, T-Mobile One customers can enable HD video, but it defaults to 480p.

Verizon

  • Cost for one line: $80 per month1
  • Additional lines: $45 per month1
  • Data limit for potential throttling: 22GB per month
  • HD video included: Yes
  • Tethering package: 10GB per month

Notes:

1Verizon’s pricing does not include taxes, surcharges or other fees.

Verizon also allows any smart devices to be added to the plan for $5 per month.

The best unlimited data plan

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As always, you have to choose the carrier that provides you the best coverage in the places you spend your time. Saving a few dollars for better perks is not worth struggling to find a signal. What works for someone else who might be hundreds or thousands of miles away should have little influence on your decision. Since everyone’s coverage will be different, we have to treat each carrier equal on that front and base the decision on other criteria.

T-Mobile offers the best unlimited data plan in the U.S.

This is based on cost, data available for tethering and the “real” monthly allotment before you are throttled. One important thing puts it ahead of Verizon, and that’s the notion that an $80 plan should cost $80. Not $80 with added fees and taxes. It sounds like a gimmick, but two lines on T-Mobile is going to cost about the same (or less) as a single line with a $5 connected device because of those fees. If we focus only on cost — which you should if you have equally good coverage — T-Mobile wins.

T-Mobile also beats Sprint’s promotional plan because Sprint limits your ability to stream HD. We think a good data plan has to be able to entertain us in all ways, so we have to disregard anything that doesn’t allow us to do just that. AT&T’s offerings simply fall short and we hope recent changes from Verizon and T-Mobile get them to follow suit.

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If you have equally good coverage from all carriers and want to get the most value from your phone company you only have two real choices right now: T-Mobile or Verizon.

Recent user-data through Open Signal suggests that there is little difference in network speeds or total coverage, and pricing is very similar now, too. These two companies want your business and have been bickering for a while. They’ve also been adjusting their policies and rates to “out-do” each other which is awesome for us as consumers.

See plans at T-Mobile

See plans at Verizon

See plans at AT&T

See plans at Sprint

Your turn

What carrier do you subscribe to, and are you thinking of switching to either T-Mobile or Verizon? Let us know in the comments!

15
Feb

Save up to 40% on select networking and storage accessories today only!


Amazon’s Deal of the Day can save you up to 40% off when purchasing select networking and storage accessories. Whether you are in need of a new wireless router, a network extender, or want to get set up with a NAS, you won’t want to miss this deal. With items from popular brands like Netgear, ASUS, Linksys, Drobo and more available here, this is a perfect time to make those upgrades that you’ve been thinking of.

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Some of the items available in this sale include:

  • Netgear 2-Bay NAS – $208.99
  • TP-Link 8-Port Gigabit Ethernet Switch – $54.99
  • TP-Link Range Extender – $19.99
  • Netgear Range Extender – $39.99
  • ASUS DOCSIS High Speed Cable Modem – $69.99
  • Netgear Nighthawk Router – $66.99 (be sure to clip the $20 coupon on the page)

This is just a small sample of what is available in this daily deal. Be sure to check the rest out at the link below, and remember these prices are only good for today, February 15, so don’t wait too long to make your purchase.

See at Amazon

For more great deals on tech, gadgets, home goods and more, be sure to check out our friends at Thrifter now!

15
Feb

What is wireless charging and how does it work?


Wireless charging isn’t magic, but it can be convenient.

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Wireless charging, like the Qi charging many Android phones use, isn’t new technology. My Panasonic electric razor used it many years ago, and most of us have seen toothbrushes that charge wirelessly in a cradle. And of course, we can’t forget Palm and the way they brought wireless charging (though a different standard) to the masses with the Touchstone. Now that size, cost, and efficiency constraints have all eased up a little, putting wireless charging in something like your Android phone or watch makes more sense.

We get more than a few questions about wireless charging and how it works, so let’s take a few minutes and talk about the basics — what it is, how it works and why you would want it in your next Android purchase.

This post was updated in February 2017 with the latest information.

What is wireless charging?

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Wireless charging isn’t magic — you still need a wire. the difference is that the wire is connected to a charging base instead of your phone, so you can just drop your Android onto the charger and things get to work without hooking anything up to your phone. The charging base can be almost any shape or size, and can even be in something like your car dash or the base of a lamp from IKEA. As long as you’re able to get the right spot on the rear of your Android on the right spot on the base of the charger, it will work.

A good example would be having a wireless charging base on your desk at work. When you’re not using your phone, you set it on the charger. When you need to use your phone, pick it up and it has a charge. Wireless charging isn’t as fast as Quick Charging, but it’s easy and something you’re more likely to use to keep your phone topped off throughout the day (in our example). That’s where wireless charging shines — ease of use.

How does wireless charging work?

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Let’s try to explain the magic so everyone in the room can understand. While there are plenty of cool technical things to discuss, and we totally should discuss them in the forums or the comments, we’ll try to keep things basic here.

Wireless charging uses two resonant inductive couplings to transmit low-power signals between two devices. These are specially designed to transmit electricity without touching each other like a normal wired connection does. The base station has a transmitter coil and your phone has a receiver coil. The base station regularly sends a signal out, and when a receiver coil gets close enough a resonance or capacity change happens in the signal. The waveform of the signal is then modulated and inductive charging begins.

Inductive charging uses those two specially designed electromagnetic coils to create a magnetic field between two devices. There is an intricate process involved that allows a magnetic field to produce electricity through the difference of potential and oscillation (we’ll simplify this and call it vibration so it makes more sense to everyone).

The coil in your Android is also connected to the battery charging circuit, and your battery is charged using the energy induced by the magnetic field. Excess heat is created as well, and that’s part of why wireless charging isn’t the most efficient way to transfer power from the wall to your battery. This is also why it takes longer to charge your phone on a Qi pad than it does to plug it into the wall. While new methods and materials use higher frequencies and thinner coils than past iterations, wireless charging is still less efficient and more costly than standard charging over a wire. It will stay this way for the foreseeable future.

To simplify:

  • Your Android and the charger have special electrical coils in them.
  • When the two coils get close enough, they use magnetism and “vibration” to send a small amount of power across the gap between them.
  • This power goes through the charging circuit in your phone and charges the battery.
  • It costs more and takes longer to charge than it would if you plugged your phone in, and creates more heat because this is less efficient than connecting wires the traditional way.

A word about Powermat

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Qi is not the only wireless charging standard. Other standards like Powermat are used to build wireless charging solutions. These use a different standard than Qi but the science behind them all is the same. Powermat has partnered with companies like AT&T and Starbucks to provide base stations in public places, and using a special case or charging block attached to your phone lets you wirelessly charge. They are also partnered with General Motors and are working to bring built-in wireless charging bases in vehicles.

While the same basic electrical theory applies to both Powermat and Qi, the different standards mean they are not compatible. Your Qi-enabled phone won’t charge on a Powermat base because the signals sent and received are different. If you have Powermat equipment, you’ll need to be sure you’re buying more Powermat equipment to get everything working.

There are exceptions, like Samsung Galaxy phones, which include both Qi and Powermat standards.

Why do I want wireless charging in my next phone?

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Now that we have a good standard — we’re talking the Qi standard here — we have to remember than any Qi charger will work with any device that is Qi-certified. That means the charger you buy, whether it’s a $6 Chinese unbranded unit from Amazon or a name-brand like Samsung or Zens, will work with the device you have now and any devices you buy in the future.

Couple this with the convenience factor — and until you’ve bought a couple Qi chargers and put them in the places you’re likely to set your phone you don’t really understand how convenient it is. I have a Qi charger at my desk, on the table beside my recliner in the living room, one in my car and one on my nightstand. My Nexus 6 almost never had less than 50-percent charge. Not because the battery life on the Nexus 6 was great, or because Qi chargers work “better”, but because whenever it was not in my hand it was charging.

Of course, there’s the initial cost of buying the charging bases, but they are pretty cheap — about the same cost as a good wall wart and USB cable. As more and more handheld devices and smartphones move towards the Qi standard, more and more devices will be able to take advantage of the chargers.

Finally, wireless charging doesn’t have to replace removable batteries for those that want or need them. Think of it as a supplement to stretch out the time between battery swaps.

Wireless charging doesn’t make your phone work any differently, but it can change the way you use it.

15
Feb

5 New iPhone Apps You’ll Definitely Want to Install


Whether you have just bought your first iPhone or have been a loyal Apple customer for years, there’s nothing more exciting than downloading new apps to your brand new handset. Whether you’ve treated yourself to the latest iPhone 7 or are saving money by opting for an older model that still has a great range of features, getting the right apps for your needs is a huge part of fully optimizing your phone to suit your lifestyle. We’ve listed some of the best new apps that you should consider downloading to your iPhone.

888 Poker

If you enjoy playing poker as a hobby or even professionally in order to make yourself some extra cash, this app is available from the Apple App Store and will allow you to play poker to your hearts content from the comfort of your own home. From your iPhone, you’ll be able to easily upload money to your 888 account via your debit or credit card, PayPal, or a range of other alternative payment methods. Once your account is in credit you can then begin to play poker as normal, either at home or to pass the time whilst on the go, for example when commuting to and from work on public transport.

Boomerang

Although it’s not one of the newest apps out there, Boomerang is a definite download for your iPhone if you are a fan of taking videos and using Instagram! A popular app with iPhone users of all ages, Boomerang allows you to make funny videos of all sorts of different things and upload them to your social media accounts to share with your family and friends. Whether it’s a video of yourself, your pet, your friends, children or something else entirely, you’re sure to have plenty of free fun with this app.

One Second Every Day

Although it was released back in 2015, this cool app has only just begun to really gain some popularity, so it is certainly worth a mention. If you enjoy documenting things via video, perhaps to upload to your Facebook or Snapchat account, then you will love this app, which encourages you to record just one second of your day, every day. After a few months or even a year, you will have a continuous movie of your one-second clips (which can be longer if you need them to be!). This is a great way to make a video diary of anything that you might be doing, whether it’s traveling, studying, or working out to lose weight!

Hooked

If you enjoy fantasy stories and making new friends online, then you certainly need this app on your iPhone. Released just this year, Hooked allows you to read and create your own fantasy stories with other users in a chat feature. An alternative to simply reading books on iBooks or the Amazon Kindle app, Hooked is a fun app that’s sure to keep you ‘hooked’ for hours – no pun intended!

Peak Brain Training

New and improved for 2017, Peak Brain Training is free for the iPhone and offers a comprehensive collection of brain training exercises that are specially designed to improve your memory, enhance your cognitive ability, fine-tune your problem-solving skills, and more. Including a range of puzzles, strategy games and more to keep you occupied, this app will help you to improve your cognition, which can benefit many other areas of your life.

As an iPhone user, you know that you have a huge range of fun, interesting or informational apps to download from the App Store. These are just some of the best new apps available for iPhone now.

15
Feb

Buy Lenovo’s Android-powered Yoga Book for $499 and get a free $100 Amazon gift card


Right now you can score a free $100 Amazon gift card with the purchase of a Lenovo Yoga Book. Since its release, the Android-powered tablet has yet to see a price drop, and while this doesn’t mean you are paying less, it is still a great perk. The 10.1-inch tablet comes with 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and a unique Halo Keyboard which makes it stand out a bit more. You can pick one up in your choice of gold, black, and gunmetal right now. Once you receive your gift card you could always use it to grab a protective leather case, some screen protectors, or some other accessories you may need.

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All you have to do is select the option that bundles the Yoga Book and gift card, and add it to your cart, it’s just that simple. This deal should run through February 22, but it is possible it will sell out before that, so be sure to place your order now if you want one!

See at Amazon

For more great deals on tech, gadgets, home goods and more, be sure to check out our friends at Thrifter now!

15
Feb

Republicans call for investigation into EPA use of encrypted chats


Earlier in February, Politico reported that US government workers (particularly at the EPA) were using encrypted chat apps like Signal to express dissent against President Trump’s policies without the threat of retaliation. Well, House Republicans Darin LaHood and Lamar Smith aren’t happy about that secrecy… and they’re demanding action. The two have sent a letter to the EPA’s independent overseer, the Inspector General, asking for an investigation into the claims. They’re concerned that the encrypted conversations “run afoul” of government record-keeping rules and prevent the government from monitoring their on-the-job communications.

LaHood and Smith maintain that this latest report about in-secret chats is just the symptom of a larger problem with accountability. For example, a December report revealed that only 86 out of 3.1 million text messages on government-issued devices were preserved for the federal record. This may not have been intentional, but it’s far from acceptable. And the representatives note that off-the-record chats aren’t always used for honest purposes. They point to one Department of Energy employee who used personal email and texts to talk to third-party groups hoping to influence the Department’s plans. If chats aren’t on the record, a Freedom of Information Act request isn’t very useful, is it?

The Inspector General has until February 28th to provide an answer.

This doesn’t guarantee that there will be an investigation — it’s entirely possible that the Inspector General will decide that there isn’t enough evidence to warrant action. However, the letter’s motivations could easily be more complicated than they appear on the surface. While it’s true that accountability is a problem, the EPA chats are prompted by worries that the Trump administration is suppressing climate science and may even break the law while enforcing its agenda. A crackdown on encrypted chat use could lead to EPA employees losing their jobs simply for wanting to fulfill their agency’s environmental protection mandate.

Via: The Verge

Source: House.gov (PDF)

15
Feb

India sets record launching 104 satellites aboard a single rocket


The Indian Space Research Organisation, India’s version of NASA, set a record on Valentine’s Day when one of its PSLV rockets successfully launched 104 satellites into orbit. Riding onboard were 88 “Dove” mini-satellites from Planet, a US-based private imaging service, India’s Cartosat 2D high-resolution imaging satellite, and 15 others from various nations.

These Doves aren’t the first of their kind to be sent into orbit, or even the 14th. Planet already has a flock of 50 such miniaturized probes up there. But with these additional 88, Planet can claim the distinction of having “the biggest fleet of Earth-imaging satellites — and of satellites in general — in human history,” a company rep told The Verge.

Now that the diminutive, 4-inch by 12-inch satellites have reached space, they’ll enter into a Sun-synchronous orbit, which will have them circling the poles. This allows the flock to cover the same part of the planet every day at the same time, which in turn allows the company to collect standardized, predictable imaging of the Earth’s surface. This won’t happen immediately, however, as the company will next need to spend a couple months properly positioning each probe in its assigned orbit.

Via: Verge

Source: ISRO

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