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24
Mar

How to choose an iPad: A practical guide to Apple’s tablets


It’s been a while since Apple made choosing an iPad easy.

There was an overwhelming number of iPad models on store shelves for quite some time and Apple caught a lot of well-deserved flack for the complexity of its tablet portfolio, most of it centered around the difference — or lack thereof — between iPads. There were multiple versions of the Air and Mini, and that was before the company introduced the 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch Pro models.

More: What’s the best MacBook for your money? Hint — you can forget the Touch Bar

Thankfully, the iPad hierarchy is now a lot simpler. The 12.9-inch Pro is the most expensive at $800, and its smaller cousin, the 9.7-inch Pro, sits below at $600. The 9.7-inch iPad, at $330, is your budget option, while the $400, 7.9-inch Mini 4 is the only small iPad still available.

Just because the new iPad lineup is smaller, however, doesn’t mean choosing the right model for you has become any less challenging. Spec breakdowns are one thing, but context is another. What good is a 12-inch screen if you value portability above all else? And why pay more for a top-of-the-line graphics chip if you only game casually?

In an attempt to answer those questions and others, we’ve evaluated every iPad pragmatically in an attempt to identify the most appropriate use for each. It’s a buying guide in the truest sense of the phrase: The merits and deficiencies of each iPad are laid bare in everyday language. To say it’ll lead to the perfect purchase is facetious — there’s no such thing, after all — but our guide should, at the very least, help you choose which iPads to consider and which to avoid.

The budget-conscious iPad — iPad ($330+)

The latest 9.7-inch iPad, unveiled in March, is one of the most affordable Apple has ever offered. It’s the cheapest option in the current iPad lineup, after the iPad Mini 2 was discontinued.

This is a great tablet for watching movies, thanks to a 9.7-inch Retina display with a 2,048 x 1,536-pixel resolution. It has a speedy A9 processor and a big battery that can go for 10 hours on a single charge. You’ll also find an 8-megapixel rear camera, a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera, two speakers, a Touch ID fingerprint sensor, support for Apple Pay, and a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack.

With the announcement of the new iPad, Apple also revealed that the iPad Air 2 will be discontinued. There’s actually little difference between the two. The new iPad is thicker at 7.5 millimeters, compared to the svelte, 6.1-millimeter Air 2. It also has a newer, faster processor than its sibling, and it’s a little heavier, with a bigger battery. But the new iPad lacks the cutting -edge processing power and the 12-megapixel camera found on the 9.7-inch Pro.

What’s that all that mean in practical terms? If you don’t demand a superior shooter, play the latest games, or run extraordinarily demanding apps, the iPad will suit you just fine. It’s comfortable in the hand and ideal for casual content consumption — reading, watching movies, casual gaming, etc. It may do for productivity in a pinch, too, and you’ll have no trouble snagging a decent keyboard. But for serious work, the Pro range is where to look.

It’s hard to find much fault with the iPad at $330. It’s the cheapest model you’ll find outside the used or refurbished market. If budget is your primary consideration, the iPad is the obvious winner.

Buy one now from:

Apple

The powerful and compact iPad — iPad Mini 4 ($400+)

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If power in a small form factor is what you seek, the iPad Mini 4 delivers. An evolution of the much-maligned iPad Mini 3, it addresses all of its predecessor’s shortcomings and more: it’s got the same A8 processor as the iPhone 6, an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera, faster Wi-Fi (802.11ac), Touch ID, and a thinner (6.1mm) and lighter (0.65lbs) aluminum exterior.

But the differences end there. It takes design cues from the iPad Mini 3, has the same quoted battery life (10 hours), and sports an identical screen screen resolution (2,048 x 1,536 pixels).

There’s new software to consider. The iPad Mini 4’s updated silicon supports all of iOS 9’s multitasking features — Slide Over, Picture in Picture, and Split View. Split View, by far the most compelling of the three, lets you arrange and interact with two side-by-side apps. You can copy and paste text from an adjacent Wikipedia article into a Word doc, for instance, or watch a video while answering email. (Multiple windows on a screen size that comparatively small may be difficult to maneuver, granted.)

The iPad Mini 4 has chops in other areas. The 8-megapixel camera packs autofocus and aperture improvements over the iPad Mini 3, and the A8 — which powers the new Apple TV, incidentally — can handle almost any graphics-intensive game thrown at it.

In sum, the iPad Mini 4 can multitask like a pro, take great pictures, and play the newest games. If those prospects excite you, go for it. But if they don’t, or if you’d like those features in a larger body, then consider stepping an iPad tier up or down. Read our full review.

Buy one now from:

Apple

The elephant in the room — iPad Pro 12.9 ($800+)

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The iPad Pro is Apple’s biggest tablet, measuring a ruler-busting 12.9 inches. It’s thick and hefty, too, at about 6.9 mm deep and 1.57 lbs — a tad thinner, but heavier than the original iPad.

Justifying that footprint is what Apple’s been calling “desktop-level” performance and features, and our impressions support those assertions. The iPad Pro’s display is a whopping 2,732 x 2,048 pixels, higher in resolution than any of the other iPads, and driven by the A9X processor, a beefed-up version of the A9, paired with 4GB of memory. It’s well-endowed externally, too: The Pro sports a four-speaker array, a Touch ID sensor, an 8-megapixel camera, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and LTE connectivity. It’s a multitasking monster.

Accoutrements are only a part of the Pro equation, though. The real value proposition is ostensibly in the accessories. There’s the Smart Keyboard, an iPad cover with attached QWERTY keys, and there’s the far more interesting Apple Pencil. It’s Apple’s first attempt at a stylus, and the company’s touting its superiority to competing styli in the areas of pressure sensitivity (it can differentiate between hard and light presses) and battery (it lasts up to 12 hours).

All told, the Pro may be the ultimate iPad. It certainly delivers on performance, and extras like dual stereo speakers and Touch ID are icing on the cake. But it’s not for everyone. The Pro’s far and away the most expensive iPad at a base price of $800. Its immense screen is as unavoidably awkward as it is unwieldy — it’ll be tough to finagle the Pro on a subway, much less a plane. And the productivity tools that truly make it shine, the Smart keyboard and Apple Pencil, are an up-sell ($100 for the Pencil and $160 for the keyboard).

Apple’s angling for a very particular market with the Pro: enterprise and corporate users who might otherwise be swayed by a PC equivalent, such as Microsoft’s Surface. That’s not to say its features don’t appeal to the average crowd, but unless you’re willing to put up with the very real drawbacks the 12.9-inch Pro’s size confers, you might consider a more portable option. Read our full review

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Apple

The best of all worlds — iPad Pro 9.7 ($600+)

_Apple-iPad-Pro-9.7_008

Perhaps Apple realized that gigantic tablets don’t really appeal to the vast majority of folks. The smaller variant of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro — dubbed the 9.7-inch iPad Pro — will hit the sweet spot for a lot of people. It’s in many ways a carbon copy, albeit a smaller one, of its predecessor. The 9.7-inch model sports the same A9X processor as its larger sibling, along with the same multi-speaker array and Retina display with a 2,048 x 1,536-pixel resolution. It’s also compatible with many, if not all, of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s accessories, including the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard.

That’s not to say they’re identical, however. The diminutive iPad Pro packs only half the RAM — 2GB — of its counterpart, and features improved camera components in the form of a 12-megapixel rear-facing shooter and 5-megapixel front-facing sensor. By and large, though, the differences are negligible. From an experiential standpoint, you’re getting the same tech from last year’s iPad Pro in a slimmer, lighter package.

For most people, that’s a no-brainer. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro’s got portability and processing prowess in its favor, plus the added benefit of compatibility with future 12.9-inch iPad Pro accessories. And it’s only marginally more expensive than the iPad Air 2 — $600 versus $400.

If you’re compelled to pick up the latest-and-greatest Apple device and don’t mind putting down a few more Benjamins for the privilege, the iPad Pro’s your best bet. Read our full review

Buy one now from:

Apple

Conclusion

There is, as we said in the beginning, no perfect iPad. The iPad lacks the Pro’s decked-out audio and top-of-the-line processor; the iPad Mini 4 is the only compact choice; and the 12-inch iPad Pro is a bit on the large side. But there are iPads more appropriate for some users than others. Want a cheap, relatively uncompromising iPad? The standard 9.7-inch iPad’s just fine. Want a top-of-the-line tablet you can fit in your briefcase? Opt for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

Ultimately, of course, a written guide is no substitute for the real thing. When it comes time to make a purchasing decision, reserve some hands-on time. Scope out the iPads at your local Best Buy or Apple Store, and get a feel for their respective strengths and limitations. They aren’t the cheapest investment, after all, so take it slow. Weigh your options carefully.

Then buy your iPad and enjoy the hell out of it.

This article was originally published on June 30 and updated on March 23 by Simon Hill to include recent lineup changes.

24
Mar

Hangouts may lose SMS support as Google overhauls it to take on Slack


Why it matters to you

If you’re an Android user who relies on Hangouts to handle your text messages, Google may soon force you to find a different app for the job.

SMS integration in Google’s popular Hangouts messaging app may not be long for this world. An email shared on Reddit, reportedly sent by the company to G Suite administrators, claims Google will remove the feature on May 22 as it continues to push non-enterprise users toward its new Allo and Duo platforms.

According to the post, Google will begin notifying Hangouts users of the change next week, asking them if they’d like to switch to a different texting app on their device if they’ve chosen Hangouts as the default. If they don’t have an alternative installed, it will direct them to the Google Play Store to get one.

More: Attack on Slack: Google beefs up its Hangouts services, Meet and Chat

For those who use Google Voice, the company points out that this change only affects people sending SMS through carrier phone numbers, and Google Voice numbers will continue to be supported.

It’s no surprise that Google would be ridding Hangouts of one of its primary selling points while it re-positions the service. Last fall, Google notified Android partners that Hangouts was to no longer be included in the operating system’s core apps package. And just several weeks ago, the company unveiled Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet — two new apps that represent the evolution of the platform as a business-centric tool similar to Slack and Microsoft Teams.

Still, it seems like only yesterday Google launched Hangouts as the successor to Google Talk, pitching it as the one-stop app for all your communication needs, whether that involved Google contacts, SMS and MMS, or video calling. Up until that point, Android lacked its counterpart to Apple’s Messages — a default application on every phone that could intelligently consolidate old-fashioned texts with faster, more feature-rich internet-based chat in the same conversation.

That was an important advantage for Hangouts’ adoption at the time, as it meant users could completely replace their texting app with Google’s new service, and slowly and easily migrate their conversations to Hangouts as their friends made the switch. As a result, Google cultivated a modest following with Hangouts over a number of years.

While it never rivaled Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp in terms of sheer active users, Hangouts was special because it worked on so many different levels. As Google distributes features that all used to be contained within Hangouts among different services, users will be forced to install to multiple apps to compensate — and Google could very well lose them in the process.

24
Mar

South Korea finds Qualcomm prevented Samsung from selling chips to phone makers


Why it matters to you

Qualcomm may have engaged in anti-competitive practices affecting smartphone chips — potentially driving up the price of smartphones.

Qualcomm and Samsung have a close working relationship — but it’s not always amiable. According to the South Korea Trade Commission (SKTC), chip-maker Qualcomm prevented Samsung from supplying its in-house Exynos processor to third parties.

The Commission’s report claims that Qualcomm abused its standard-essential patents — which define technical standards like Wi-Fi and 4G — to prevent Samsung from selling its modems, integrated processors, and other chips to smartphone makers like LG, Huawei, Xiaomi, and others. The Commission reportedly threatened to file suit against Samsung, which had agreed to license the patents for an undisclosed sum, if the South Korean electronics maker began competing against it in the mobile market.

More: Apple vs. Qualcomm: Everything you need top know

That bullying ran afoul of the South Korea Trade Commission’s rules, which require that standards-essential patents be licensed on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. “Samsung Electronics has been blocked from selling its modem chips to other smartphone manufacturers due to a license deal it signed with Qualcomm,” the commissioners wrote.

The report provides legal justification for the $853 million fine the SKTC placed on Qualcomm in December for “anti-competitive practices.”

Qualcomm intends to appeal. “[We] strongly disagree with the KFTC’s announced decision, which Qualcomm believes is inconsistent with the facts and the law, reflects a flawed process, and represents a violation of due process rights owed American companies” under an applicable agreement between the U.S. and South Korea.

More: Federal Trade Commission hits Qualcomm with a lawsuit over its licensing practices

Since late last year, Qualcomm has been embroiled in a tangled legal battle involving Apple, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, and South Korean regulators. In January, Qualcomm was sued by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for allegedly using its industry dominance to elbow out the competition. The FTC reports that it maintained a “no license, no chips” policy in which it refused to sell smartphone chips to companies that didn’t agree to pay inflated royalty fees.

Apple has filed several lawsuits against Qualcomm — in China, the U.K., and the U.S — for imposing “restrictive terms” on the use of its patented technology, and “punishing” Apple for cooperating in a South Korea regulatory probe regarding Qualcomm’s licensing practices.

More: Apple vs. Qualcomm: Everything you need to know

According to Apple, Qualcomm required the company to pay a percentage of iPhone sales in return for access to Qualcomm technology, and demanded that Apple use Qualcomm chips exclusively between 2011 and 2016. While Apple initially received quarterly rebates under the agreement, Qualcomm began withholding those rebates when the Cupertino, California firm began working with the Korea Fair Trade Commission.

“We are extremely disappointed in the way Qualcomm is conducting its business with us and, unfortunately, after years of disagreement over what constitutes a fair and reasonable royalty, we have no choice but to turn to the courts,” an Apple spokesperson said in February.

24
Mar

After 21 years, Blizzard renames its Battle.net gaming service after itself


Why it matters to you

If you grew up playing Starcraft or any of Blizzard’s older games, it may seem like saying farewell to an old friend.

Blizzard has made the decision to rebrand its long-standing Battle.net service. Moving forward, it will simply be known as the Blizzard online service. While not all users have reported seeing the change, especially in the U.S., British users have begun reporting it.

“We’re going to be transitioning away from using the Battle.net name for our gaming service and the functionality connected to it,” Blizzard said on its blog. “You’ve already seen this recently with things like “Blizzard Streaming,” and “Blizzard Voice” and more changes are on the way.”

Although this may throw some fans into consternation, the reasoning for Blizzard’s move seems like a sound one. When it initially created the Battle.net service, the idea of a unified online platform for games was rather a “novel concept,” as Blizzard explains. Because of that, it wanted it to have a distinct name.

Originally released in 1996, Battle.net was very much part of the burgeoning dot-com boom era, whereby web-name sounding services were all the rage. That is why Futuremark was named MadOnion.com for a time.

More: Blizzard creates cross-game economy for ‘WoW,’ ‘Overwatch,’ and ‘Hearthstone’

Blizzard notes that more often than not, Battle.net engenders confusion in its player base, especially among new, younger gamers.

“Given that built-in multiplayer support is a well-understood concept and more of a normal expectation these days, there isn’t as much of a need to maintain a separate identity for what is essentially our networking technology,” Blizzard continued. Hence the name change.

Although the change appears to have taken place in the U.K. already, according to Euro Gamer, which we can confirm, some of the Digital Trends’ U.S. staff have yet to see the change roll out, so it may take some time for Blizzard’s new naming convention to reach everyone.

24
Mar

Upgrade Assistant for Windows 10 Creators Update spotted, confirming build number


Why it matters to you

The existence of this Upgrade Assistant is yet more confirmation that the Creators Update is nearly ready.

Microsoft will release the Creators Update for Windows 10 in April, but not all users will receive the update at the same time. Like last year’s Anniversary Update, it’s set to be rolled out gradually — but users who are desperate to get their hands on the latest version of the operating system will be able to use the Upgrade Assistant tool to hurry the process.

A test version of the assistant tool for the Creators Update has already been spotted out in the wild, according to a report from MS Power User. It’s not yet functional, but its existence demonstrates just how close we are to the release of the Creators Update.

The new Upgrade Assistant is apparently very similar to the utility that was distributed to help users grab the Anniversary Update early last August. Upon opening the app, users are informed that they’re not running the current version of Windows 10, which is listed as build 15063.

More: Windows 10 Creators Update bringing real changes to updates and privacy

This seems to suggest that build 15063 is the final version of the Creators Update that will be rolled out to all Windows 10 users starting from launch day. Members of the Insider Program already received build 15063 last week, so it’s clear that the update’s official release is drawing near.

Microsoft has been hyping up the Creators Update for months, promoting features like the new Paint 3D app, and the update’s enhanced gaming functionality. However, the company has yet to announce a firm release date, even though all signs point toward it dropping next month.

Earlier in March, reports began to circulate that the Creators Update would be made available on April 11, but this hasn’t yet been confirmed by Microsoft. At this point, it seems like the company is going to leave users guessing until the last possible moment.

24
Mar

The SlimBuds are the first wireless earbuds meant for motorcycle riders


Why it matters to you

If the only thing you love more than music is your motorcycle, these earbuds could be perfect for you.

Riding a motorcycle usually means listening to no music at all, or blaring music from a built-in radio that the people you’re passing can hear better than you can. A Philadelphia-based startup called Eaos is attempting to solve this problem with its new SlimBuds, a set of wireless earbuds that are specifically built to be worn under a helmet, and that’s just the beginning.

The slim fit is only part of how the SlimBuds attempt to make life easier for motorcycle enthusiasts, bicyclists, and users of off-road vehicles like ATVs and dirt bikes. In addition to letting you listen to your favorite music, the earbuds feature a microphone that sits on your chin, allowing for phone calls, even while you’re on the move. For those who prefer to travel in packs, an intercom application developed by Eaos lets you easily communicate with your passenger or fellow riders without having to shout.

More: The best wireless earbuds you can buy

Everything is controlled via the SlimRemote, a handlebar-mounted remote that will ship with the SlimBuds. This lets you control your music without ever having to take your hands off of the handlebars, making your ride both safer and more convenient. A built-in push-to-talk button makes communication a breeze, and the company says the battery can last for months, so if you’re only using the SlimBuds for communication, you shouldn’t need to worry about forgetting to charge them before a ride.

Eaos is a company started by motorcycle riders, which is why these earbuds are so laser-focused on their goal. While we haven’t had a chance to hear them yet, the company says the SlimBuds use a special type of noise cancellation aimed at reducing wind noise, meaning that this is more than just a set of earbuds with a super-slim profile.

More: Mymanu’s Clik earbuds instantly translate between 37 languages — even offline

The Eaos SlimBuds are not yet available, but are set to launch via an Indiegogo campaign on April 4. To sign up to be notified when the SlimBuds campaign launches, head to the company’s website.

24
Mar

T-Mobile’s new features aim to stamp out scam calls made to subscribers


Why it matters to you

Phone scams are as old as time — and they aren’t going anywhere soon — which is why T-Mobile’s new features could prove valuable.

T-Mobile has announced it is rolling out a pair of features today for its post-paid subscribers intended to help eliminate nefarious calls. Named Scam ID and Scam Block, they work in different ways to safeguard users, relying on the carrier’s patent-pending call analysis technology and a constantly updating database of known frauds.

Scam ID is the one T-Mobile customers will probably become most familiar with, as it alerts customers to suspicious incoming calls before they pick up the phone. When a user receives a call flagged by Scam ID, it will be identified as “Scam Likely” in place of the caller ID.

More: How to block calls on an Android phone or iPhone


T-Mobile

T-Mobile says new customers of its One plan can expect to receive the feature on April 5, while existing post-paid customers can enable it for themselves on the same day by dialing #664#. Otherwise, T-Mobile will eventually enable Scam ID for all users.

Still, the carrier would ideally like to prevent scams from getting to you in the first place, which is what Scam Block is for. Scam Block works discreetly within the network, preventing those calls from ever reaching you. Unlike Scam ID, Scam Block has to be manually activated, and customers can do just that by dialing #662#. To turn it off, the number is #632#.

T-Mobile says with these features, every incoming call to the network is checked in mere milliseconds against a global list of malicious numbers. “Behavioral heuristics and intelligent scam-pattern detection” are active behind the scenes to keep that database forever current as new frauds pop up.

Last July, Google added a feature to the Phone app for Nexus and Android One devices that worked similarly to Spam ID, flagging certain incoming calls with a “suspected spam caller” alert. The update also allowed users to report spam calls that had been received and block those numbers on the spot.

24
Mar

Dell’s XPS 15 vs. Apple’s MacBook Pro 15: Which premium laptop is the best on the market?


Any company can develop a powerful laptop. After all, everyone uses the same internal components: Intel Core processors, Nvidia or AMD graphics chips, and lightning-fast solid-state drives. You can even do it yourself if you have the knowhow, but Dell and Apple have the resources and institutional knowledge to take things a step further than the competition.

More: The best laptop you can buy

The Dell XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 15 are natural rivals. Set them on a desk beside each other, and the comparisons almost make themselves. They’re both thoughtfully constructed from premium materials, feature high-end internal components, and they’re both flagship products from their respective companies.

Each one represents thousands upon thousands of hours of research, development, and industrial design — and it shows. These laptops are impeccable, so to find out which one comes out on top in a direct comparison, we’re going to have to dig deep and get picky. Read on for more details.

By the numbers

Dell XPS 15 9560

MacBook Pro 15 with Touch Bar

Dimensions
.45-.66 (H) x 14.06 (W), x 9.27 (D) inches
.61 (H) x 13.75 (W) x 9.48 (D) inches
Weight
4 pounds
4.02 pounds
Processor
7th-generation Intel Core i3, i5, or i7
6th-generation Intel Core i7
RAM
8GB, 16GB, or 32GB
16GB
Display
15-inch 1080p or 4K Touchscreen
15-inch Retina
Resolution
1920x 1080, or 3840 x 2160
2880 x 1800
Storage
256GB, 512GB, or 1TB SSD
256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB SSD
Networking
Killer 1535 802.11ac 2×2 Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.1
802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2
Ports
1x HDMI 1.4, 2x USB 3.0, 1x Thunderbolt 3, 1x Ethernet, SD Card Reader, 3.5mm headphone jack, Kensington Lock
4x USB Type-C, Thunderbolt 3.1, 3.5mm Headphone Jack
Webcam
Widescreen HD 720p
FaceTime HD 720p
Operating System
Windows 10
MacOS Sierra
Battery
97 Watt-hours
76 Watt-hours
Price
$1000 and up
$2,400 and up
Availability
Available now
Available now
Review
4.5 out of 5 stars

3 out of 5 stars (13-inch model)

Thunderbolt vs. everything else

The MacBook Pro 15 is a masterclass in thoughtful, inspired design. Everything from the key travel to the precisely calibrated display belies an uncompromising design philosophy that is characteristically Apple. It’s simple, streamlined, and sometimes a headache.

Apple’s been under fire for eliminating ports over the past year, namely the 3.5-millimeter headphone jack on the iPhone 7. The MacBook Pro has also eliminated nearly every extraneous port and replaced them with a quartet of lightning-fast Thunderbolt/USB Type-C ports.

It’s forward-thinking, and a year from now we might not even notice the absence of older port standards. But today, we certainly do. To be fair, being able to charge your laptop from either side is a joy, and having the freedom to choose where you plug in your devices is appreciably intuitive — carrying around a set of adapters is not.

More: Here are the 10 best USB Type-C cables on the market today

Which is why it’s refreshing that the Dell XPS 15 takes a different tack. By supplying a standard array of ports — including one HDMI, two USB, one Thunderbolt, and an SD card slot — Dell provides a straightforward peripheral experience that you probably won’t even need to think about in your day-to-day life. If you need a port, it’s there. Done and done.

Winner: Dell XPS 15

Outstanding design vs. remarkable engineering

Cover up the logos, put aside your personal feelings toward both companies and just look at these two notebooks. These laptops both represent the pinnacle of contrasting design philosophies and they’re both just fantastic products.

It’s 2017, and this is what laptops should look like, feel like, and offer to their users; exceptional design, solid build quality, and nimble performance in lightweight 1.5cm chasses.

So how do these two compare? The XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 15 are the perfect size for mobile workstations. The rich, vibrant 15-inch displays give you enough real estate to work from a desk without feeling cramped, and both notebooks are small enough to comfortably use from your couch.

More: A tale of two similar machines: HP’s Spectre 360 13 vs. Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1

Apple has doubled down on its signature aluminum unibody, updating a few elements to modernize the tried-and-true design — most notably, ditching the familiar glowing Apple logo for an etched metallic version.

The matte aluminum is just extraordinarily pleasant to the touch. It feels good under your wrists while you’re typing, and doesn’t attract fingerprints the way soft-touch TPU finishes tend to, and it just perfectly embodies the premium aesthetic Apple was undoubtedly shooting for.

Similarly, the XPS 15 benefits from an inspired industrial design. Featuring aluminum plates on the lid and underbody, the interior of the laptop is lined with carbon fiber layered over with a soft-touch coating. It’s an attractive, understated, and professional design, elevated by the inclusion of such an exotic material.

Viewed from the top, it looks just like a black plastic lining common to Dell laptops, but once the light hits it just right, those fibers give the XPS 15 a truly unique sense of depth. Nothing says “we’re living in the future” like carrying around a mobile supercomputer clad in futuristic metamaterials.

They’re both lightweight, remarkably well-made, and they both epitomize different design philosophies.

Winner: Tie

Intel vs. Intel

Pop the hood, and you’ll notice a few key differences between the XPS 15 and the MacBook Pro 15. First, the XPS utilizes Intel’s latest 7th-generation Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 chips — depending on the model — while the MacBook Pro 15 employs a few of Intel’s quickest 6th-generation processors.

The difference here is minor, but important. If you’re unfamiliar, Intel’s 7th-generation “Kaby Lake” processors are the successors to the 6th-generation “Skylake” models. Essentially, the newer chips are a little faster and a little more power efficient. You might not notice a difference in everyday use today, but you might a year or two down the line.

Similarly, the Dell XPS 15 features one of Nvidia’s latest graphics cards, the modest performing GeForce GTX 1050, with 4GB of RAM. The MacBook Pro features the AMD Radeon Pro 450, 455, or 460 depending on your specs. Only the most expensive Radeon offering, the Pro 460, can come close to the GTX 1050 in gaming performance.

Both laptops feature lightning-quick memory options, but the XPS can be scaled up to 32GB of RAM, while the MacBook Pro is currently stuck with 16GB. Moving on to storage space, the opposite is true. The MacBook Pro is scalable from 256GB to 2TB, while the XPS 15 only ranges from 256GB to 1TB. Of course, these days we all have a few external drives handy, but the extra storage space in the MacBook Pro will be important for video and photo editors.

More: AMD rumored to be working on a 16-core, 32-thread Ryzen CPU due later this year

Still, this round goes to the XPS 15 for its quicker CPU, and well-rounded graphical performance with GTX 1050 equipped. It’s not a gaming laptop, but you can play games without much difficulty. The same cannot be said for the MacBook Pro.

Winner: XPS 15

4K vs. Retina

Before we dig into display quality, it’s important to point out that both of these notebooks feature absolutely stunning displays. The 4K touchscreen panel in the XPS 15 is a marvel to behold, while the MacBook Pro 15’s Retina display is so clear it’s like you’re looking out a window.

Looking at the numbers, the XPS 15’s 4K display is capable of rendering 99 percent of the AdobeRGB scale, an impressive number for any display especially for a laptop display. A good laptop display will usually hit around 76 percent. The MacBook Pro 15 hits only 91 percent, but it pulls ahead in another important metric.

Color accuracy is one of those measurements you see thrown around alongside brightness, and black levels, but when you can compare two displays side-by-side showing the same image, all three come into sharp contrast.

macbook pro  vs dell xps hero

macbook pro  vs dell xps apple with touch bar hands on

The MacBook Pro features an average color error of 0.61, meaning colors are reproduced so faithfully that you can rely on this display for color-sensitive work like photo and video editing. More than that though, the pitch-perfect color accuracy means that everything appears vibrant and alive on this display. Colors are clearly delineated, shifts from one shade to another are subtle but noticeable.

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Additionally, the contrast ratio on the MacBook Pro’s Retina display is fantastic, at 910 to 1, so photos have an unusual sense of depth. Movies and videos all seem to pop in a way that they just don’t on the XPS 15’s 4K display, which features a contrast ratio of 770 to 1 at max brightness.

There are hundreds of metrics by which you can judge display quality, but at the end of the day, your eyeball is the most important tool. So, which one looks better? The MacBook Pro. While the XPS 15 looks great in 4K, higher max brightness, the MacBook’s superior contrast ratio, and excellent color accuracy push the Retina display just slightly ahead of its nearest competitors.

Winner: MacBook Pro

Click vs. travel

Both the XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 15 are perhaps best used as daily drivers, your everyday work-and-home laptop, as constant a companion as your smartphone. For that reason, usability is extremely important. If you’re going to sit in front of a laptop for a substantial part of your day, it should be pleasant to use. The keyboard and trackpad should melt away, and never even cross your mind. They should feel as natural as your own hands.

Let’s start with the XPS 15. Here, the keyboard is almost invisible. Once you start typing, you never even think about it. It doesn’t feel too soft, too clickety-clackety, and key travel is just enough without feeling too deep or too shallow. This keyboard rests comfortably in the Goldilocks’ zone. It just feels natural.

The trackpad is similarly inoffensive. It’s smooth and accurate, with multi-touch gestures that respond naturally and without any input delay. The trackpad itself feels very good to the touch, it’s soft and slick, your fingertips just effortlessly glide across.

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The MacBook Pro 15 on the other hand, features three very polarizing input devices. First up, the keyboard. It’s snappy and quick, with an appreciable amount of backlighting — though it appears the keys are just slightly too thick in some places, so the backlight doesn’t show through evenly when turned all the way up. The built-in butterfly switches offer a satisfying click but very little key travel, which can be a dealbreaker for users more accustomed to keyboards with deeper travel. Here, it’s purely a matter of preference though, since both keyboards are quick, accurate, and well-laid out.

Moving on, the MacBook Pro’s multi-touch trackpad is luxuriantly large. It’s more like a small football field than a traditional trackpad. Seriously, this thing is massive, almost double the size of a traditional trackpad. With all that extra space, you have a lot more room for those big sweeping multitouch gestures built-in to MacOS — three finger, four finger swipes, five-finger pinches.

So what’s controversial about a big trackpad? The Taptic Engine, Apple’s proprietary haptic-feedback device which simulates a mechanical click, when you tap the trackpad. There’s no actual click here, just a simulation of one, but it’s so convincing you might not even notice.

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Otherwise, the MacBook Pro 15’s trackpad remains one of the best, if not the best trackpad on the market today. It’s smooth, glassy, with just enough texture to give you a nice tactile feel without slowing you down.

What’s the third input option? The Touch Bar. Yep, that thing we all speculated about for months, and then totally forgot about right after it was announced. The added functionality isn’t exactly essential, but you might find yourself using it more than you’d expect. Not for anything exciting, just for minor things like changing font color, and locking your screen.

This one’s really close, but we’re going to have to give it to the MacBook Pro. Not because of the Touch Bar, or the next-generation butterfly switches in the keyboard, but because of that trackpad. It remains the most responsive and most intuitive trackpad on the market, and the increased size really gives your hands room to stretch out.

Winner: MacBook Pro

Optimization vs. longevity

Let’s say you have a messenger bag. In that messenger bag there is a zippered, padded pocket for a laptop, the bag is designed to carry a 13-inch laptop in that pouch. There’s a chance the XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 15 will both fit inside that pouch. At the same time.

Because both laptops have narrowed their display bezels to the absolute minimum, they’ve both managed to fit 15-inch displays into a chassis with the overall footprint close to what you’d expect from a laptop with a 13-inch display from 2014 or 2015.

Close them up, and it’s hard to believe they’re 15-inch laptops. At four pounds, they’re extremely light, and easy to pick up, not to mention impossibly thin. Toss one in a bag, and you’ll almost forget it’s there.

What about overall form factor? The XPS 15 has a tapered design, which means it’s thicker at the back than it is at the front, while the MacBook Pro is thin across the board. Further, the MacBook Pro is a fraction of a pound heavier, but it somehow feels lighter. Due to overall weight distribution, it’s a little easier to just pick up and carry. Due to its uniform thickness, it’s easier to slip into a bag, but only a little.

So this round goes to the MacBook Pro, right? Well, there’s more to portability than footprint. Let’s talk about battery life.

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The MacBook Pro 15 features a 75WHr battery, which provides enough longevity to get through most of a single workday on a single charge — we tend to get around 6 hours of mixed use with the display brightness turned up to compete with bright office lights. The XPS 15 features a 95WHr battery, and it’s capable of hitting closer to 7 hours on an average workday.

There are two other factors to consider when you’re looking at those battery life estimates. First, by default the MacBook Pro has GPU switching enabled — which means it switches off the AMD Radeon Pro GPU when you’re on battery power, which can increase your battery life significantly. Without it, you’d be hard pressed to get more than five hours at high brightness — and closer to four if you’re running Windows via Boot Camp.

Secondly, the XPS 15 has a higher resolution display, and more power-hungry GPU, but still manages to outperform the MacBook Pro’s battery life due to its larger battery size. Both laptops deliver acceptable battery life, and the XPS 15 wins when it comes to longevity, but the MacBook Pro wins on overall footprint and portability. This round is a tie.

Winner: Tie

Pricing

This round is simple and straightforward. Just look at the numbers: the MacBook Pro 15 starts at $2,400 and goes all the way up to $4,300. The XPS 15 on the other hand, starts at $1000, and tops out around $2,600. There’s just nothing more to say, the XPS 15 wins this round by a huge margin.

Winner: XPS 15

Who wins?

It’s cheesy to say, but really, laptop users are the real winners here. Dell and Apple have each outdone themselves with these computers, they’re both just superb — and they both have their flaws. You’re not going to agree with our picks for each category, and that’s because everyone weighs those categories differently. For some, price and performance take precedence over design and display, for others, the opposite is true. There’s no right or wrong answer here, it’s like picking between a BMW and a Mercedes. Dig into the details and you’ll find the one that’s right for you.

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That said, the XPS 15 is the better value. For most people it’s the best laptop on the market, and it’s probably the one you should buy. If you’re not sure, go to an Apple Store and get your hands on a MacBook Pro 15. Are the display fidelity and build quality worth the extra cash? Maybe, maybe not. Objectively speaking though, the XPS 15 wins this battle if only by a hair.

Winner Overall: Dell XPS 15

24
Mar

Researchers develop an artificial lung that fits in a backpack


Why it matters to you

Small, portable medical devices can offer patient’s newfound mobility.

Engineers at the University of Pittsburgh developed an artificial lung that can be carried in a patient’s backpack. Trials have so far shown that the device works on sheep and could offer relief and mobility for people who suffer from lung failure.

“The disparity between the number of patients that need lung transplants in the availability of lungs to be transplanted means that many patients can wait months for a donor lung,” William Federspiel, who leads the team developing the device, told Digital Trends. “The literature on lung transplants is very clear in that if patients can be mobilized while they wait for a donor lung, the post-transplant outcomes are better.”


William Federspiel

Current systems are big and bulky and inhibit a patient’s ability to get around.  “Our hope is that by having a truly wearable artificial lung these patients will be much more mobile and comfortable as they wait for their donor lungs and a lung transplant,” he added.

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To ensure that the lungs functioned properly, Federspiel and his team worked with a group from the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine to develop a special coating that reduces the incidence of blood clotting within the device. Federspiel called this the biggest challenge of the project.

The researchers have more obstacles ahead of them. Although a recent paper demonstrated that the lung worked on sheep subjects during a six-hour trial, they will still need to complete month-long animal studies before getting approval to test with humans. Although the lung is small enough to fit into a backpack, it still requires an external oxygen tank that patients would need to wheel with them. With patient freedom and mobility as their focus, Federspiel and his team are working on building a tank-free prototype.

24
Mar

Apple patent hints at iPhone protective case with smart communications


Why it matters to you

Want to keep your shiny new iPhone as safe as possible? Apple may release a case to help you do so.

Apple has been making a number of efforts of late to make its iPhone more durable. The iPhone 7, for example, is the first iPhone to be water-resistant — which is a big deal. Now, however, a new Apple patent hints at a new case that could make your device much more durable.

The case is interesting for a few reasons. For example, it seems it can provide feedback to the phone, so if the case isn’t properly secured, the iPhone will inform the user that extra steps need to be taken.

More: This Apple patent would transform your iPhone or iPad into a MacBook

According to the patent, which was discovered by Patently Apple, the case itself would be made from standard materials like plastic, silicone and perhaps some leather. As you might be able to see in the patent, the case would also have an electrical contact, which may be used to ensure that the case is properly attached to the phone. The case even has a small memory circuit and processor circuit, which could be used to run tiny programs pertaining to the case’s positioning.

It also looks like the case will have a latch mechanism, so you can take the case off and put it on with a simple screwdriver. That also helps ensure the case is secured when it is on the phone and that it won’t come apart if you accidentally drop your device.

Apple has been playing a bigger role in the production of iPhone accessories over the past few years and it launched a battery case with a large battery pack on the back. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues and if so, we could see things like completely waterproof cases, which would be helpful for those who have dropped a device in the bath or pool before.

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