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23
Mar

Vivaldi and DuckDuckGo join forces to keep search habits private


Today’s search engines are fast, powerful, and accurate, providing unparalleled access to information for anyone with a browser and an internet connection. There’s a price to be paid in privacy for all of that power, however, particularly if you like to keep your search results in sync across devices. That’s what makes alternative search engines like DuckDuckGo so attractive to many people, and now alternative browser Vivaldi is making DuckDuckGo its default for private browsing.

When we say “alternative search engine,” of course, we’re talking about alternatives to Google and, to a lesser extent, Microsoft’s Bing. And we’re talking about Google’s Chrome, Microsoft’s Edge, and Mozilla’s Firefox when we’re characterizing Vivaldi as an alternative. Both take a different approach to their chosen task, DuckDuckGo in refusing to track or gather any private user information and Vivaldi in offering a very different approach to web browsing.

Now, when you open a Private Window in Vivaldi, that is, the browser’s private mode that like Chrome’s Incognito mode and Edge’s In Private session, the default search engine will now be set as DuckDuckGo. That means that not only will the browser not save any browsing session information, but the search engine won’t track any information as well.

Vivaldi Technologies

As John von Tetzcher, CEO of Vivaldi Technologies, puts it, “The current climate demands a thriving internet — not an internet with increased surveillance and security breaches. There has been a widespread concern amongst users about their data being shared. More than ever, there is an immediate need to protect our privacy. We are proud to join hands with DuckDuckGo and provide solutions in Vivaldi that respect users’ privacy.”

DuckDuckGo CEO and Founder Gabriel Weinberg wants to set the record straight about safe mode browsing and search engines. Speaking to that point, he said, “A lot of people think their searches aren’t tracked in private browsing modes. Unfortunately, that’s not true. This new integration with Vivaldi enables people to get the privacy they expect and deserve in that mode.”

This development should be interesting to the 24 percent of U.S. adults who are concerned about their online privacy and are taking action to secure it. If that’s you, then you’ll want to consider Vivaldi as your internet browser, at least if you’re equally concerned about keeping your search habits private.

Editors’ Recommendations

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  • Keep on clicking with the 10 best browsers for Android
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23
Mar

Nvidia ‘confident’ monitors using its G-Sync HDR tech will arrive in April


Nvidia confirmed that it feels “confident” that desktop monitors based on its G-Sync HDR reference design will be made available in April. The monitors were originally slated to arrive by the end of 2017 but faced a delay that pushed them back until the first quarter of 2018. Now it appears that they won’t see the light of day until the second calendar quarter based on Nvidia’s comment this week during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Nvidia originally introduced its monitor reference design in January 2017 packing a 4K resolution, high dynamic range, G-Sync technology, and a refresh rate of 144Hz. They rely on the M270QAN02.2 AHVA panel supplied by AU Optronics that’s designed specifically for PC gaming. Other bells and whistles include Quantum Dot technology and 384-zone backlighting that only illuminates the screen where needed.

“We have applied a Quantum Dot Enhancement Film (QDEF) to create deep saturated reds and greens out of the blue light produced by the 384 controllable LED backlight zones,” Nvidia said at the time. “The QDEF film is coated with nano-sized dots that emit light of a very specific color depending on the size of the dot, producing bright, saturated, and vibrant colors through the whole spectrum, from deep greens and reds, to intense blues. This enables a far larger set of colors to be displayed.”

At the time, Asus was the first manufacturer to showcase a monitor based on Nvidia’s reference design: the ROG Swift PG27UQ. Acer followed with the introduction of its Predator X27 monitor in April 2017. Mass production of the AU Optronics panel wouldn’t start until July, so both monitors were on track to hit store shelves by the 2017 holiday season.

But that release never happened, and the two monitors were pushed back into the first quarter of 2018. Neither company provided a reason for the delay although AU Optronics may have delayed production of its panel, halting the projected 2017 launch. Another theory is that Nvidia further tweaked its reference design to get better performance out of the resulting displays.

Either way, Nvidia G-Sync HDR technology won’t be in the hands of gamers until April at the very least. Nvidia noted during its Game Developers Conference comment that the referenced release window is the company’s first fiscal quarter of 2019, which ends on April 29, 2018. Of course, the company didn’t actually confirm a release date, but only showed its confidence that the monitors should be available by that date.

“Like G-Sync, expect G-Sync HDR to evolve over time. In 2013 G-SYNC began with one 24-inch 144Hz 1,920 x 1,080 TN-panel monitor, and today we now have 240Hz monitors, 144Hz 4K monitors, 21:9 UltraWide monitors, curved monitors, IPS monitors, VA monitors, monitors with integrated Tobii eye-tracking, and massive 35-inch monitors,” Nvidia says.

Nvidia’s G-Sync technology is only compatible with the company’s GeForce-branded add-in cards and discrete graphics chips. It synchronizes the refresh of the monitor with the output of the GeForce chip, eliminating screen tearing, stuttering, and flickering for smoother gameplay. It’s a better, cleaner alternative to the V-Sync feature offered in games.

Editors’ Recommendations

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  • The best HDR monitors


23
Mar

Google Chrome 66 is set to stall those noisy autoplay videos


If you’re like some people, then some of your most frustrating experiences while browsing the web occur when autoplay videos blare loud and obnoxious audio in a quiet work environment. You’ve probably installed a plug-in, if one exists in your chosen browser, aimed specifically at blocking such videos and maintaining your serenity. Those don’t always work, however, and that’s why Google is finally tackling the problem in Chrome itself.

Specifically, the latest version of Google’s browser, Chrome 66, will start controlling when media will automatically start playing. There will be a set of rules governing autoplay, which Google outlined in its blog: “As announced earlier, autoplay is now allowed only when either the media won’t play sound, after the user clicks or taps on the site, or (on desktop) if the user has previously shown an interest in media on the site. This will reduce unexpected video playbacks with sound when first opening a web page.”

That’s not perfect, because it still means that videos will autoplay on your favorite sites, obnoxious sounds and all. But then again, Google has built in the ability to mute a site since Chrome 64, meaning that you can simply tell Chrome to never play sounds at a given domain unless you specifically want it to do so. It’s easy enough to set this up on the desktop: just click on the padlock next to the URL bar, then click “Site Settings,” then find “Sound” in the list and set it to “Block” from the drop-down list. You’ll need to reload the page, and when you’re on the page you can click the padlock again to quickly access your blocking settings and turn audio back on.

The new autoplay rules were supposed to roll out in Chrome 64 as well, but they were delayed until Chrome 66. If you’re running the Chrome beta, then you’ll receive this new functionality today, March 22. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until your Chrome browser updates itself in April. Chrome 66 also brings a number of security enhancements, some additional intelligence in playing video based on a system’s capabilities, and the usual developer tools to make Chrome more dynamic and responsive.

Editors’ Recommendations

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  • How to fix Microsoft Edge’s most common problems


23
Mar

IBM breaks law by allegedly firing older workers for young ones, report says


An investigation into IBM’s hiring and firing practices revealed that the company reportedly violated discrimination laws by targeting older workers. The revelation stems from ProPublica, which reviewed internal company documents, public records, and legal filings while also gathering information from more than 1,000 former IBM employees through questionnaires and one-on-one interviews. 

ProPublica estimates that in the past five years alone, IBM has eliminated more than 20,000 American employees ages 40 and over, about 60 percent of its estimated total U.S. job cuts during those years,” ProPublica reports. 

IBM’s goal, it seems, is to flush out its older workforce and fill the void with fresher faces to reflect its younger “fiercest competitors.” According to the findings, IBM supposedly laid off older workers due to “out of date” skillsets, only to re-hire them as contractors to perform the same duties at a lower pay and no benefits.  

Even more, older employees targeted for layoffs were encouraged to apply for other positions and train their replacements although managers from the other departments were advised not to even hire them. IBM also allegedly “took steps” to boost resignations and firings so they’re not counted as layoffs and fall under the required public disclosure.  

“[IBM] denied older workers information the law says they need in order to decide whether they’ve been victims of age bias and required them to sign away the right to go to court or join with others to seek redress,” the report states. 

One former IBM employee who came forward for ProPublica’s report is New York-based digital marketing strategist Marjorie Madfis. She worked at IBM for 17 years and found herself without a job for no apparent reason. She was 57 at the time of her layoff and joined by six other members of her nine-member team, all women in their 40s and 50s. The remaining two unaffected by the layoffs were younger men.

Another former IBM worker, Brian Paulson, served the company for 18 years. His performance as a senior manager was reportedly exemplary, but he was laid off due to “performance” issues without any real explanation. He also didn’t have any job-related connection to the executive who called and gave him the termination notice. 

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act came online in 1967 to protect workers over 40 years of age against discrimination related to “hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment.” 

But that hasn’t stopped corporations from age discrimination practices, especially over the last 20 years due to global competition and investor greed. Courts have reportedly weakened the law at the pleas of corporations to the point where age discrimination is a secret but common practice. 

“Everybody knows it’s happening, but often these cases are difficult to prove [because courts have weakened the law],” says Victoria Lipnic of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

An IBM representative said the company complies with federal laws and is “the only tech company that has not only survived but thrived for more than 100 years.” 

Editors’ Recommendations

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  • As redesign rolls out, Snap lays off 22 staff members across 8 departments
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  • Google has a problem with its campus bike-sharing scheme


23
Mar

The best inkjet printers you can buy


Inkjet printers are incredibly versatile. Besides text documents, many can also print photos — some can even make museum-quality prints — as well as labels for optical discs or iron-on graphics for shirts. Multifunction (all-in-one or MFP) variants add scan, copy, and fax, making them ideal for small office/home office environments. Even if you don’t print often, these MFPs can be used for scanning documents to PDF or saving them to the cloud. And while inkjet printers aren’t known for being the fastest, some newer models can rival laser printers in both speed and quality. Here are our current favorites.

Our pick

Canon’s Maxify MB5420

Why should you buy this? Office machine that makes excellent prints.

Our Score

The best

Canon Maxify MB5420

The MB5420 is ideal for small offices, particularly those that print color documents.

$259.99 from Amazon

$329.99 from Jet

Who’s it for? Small offices that want to share a printer.

How much will it cost? $260

Why we picked the Canon’s Maxify MB5420:

Inkjet printers offer many advantages, but traditionally speed hasn’t been one of them. Not anymore: The newest printers designed for the small office/home office are capable of making fast, quality prints, and one terrific option is Canon’s Maxify MB5420.

The MB5420 is large, but it’s designed to support a multi-person office – up to nine employees, according to Canon. The company claims a page print speed of 24 images per minute for black and white or 15.5 for color. In our tests, we achieved 22.2 and 10, respectively, which we find to be in-line with Canon’s rated speed. The printer also supports one-pass duplex printing, and ink cartridges have high yields.

More importantly, the prints are excellent, particularly with color. Although it isn’t a photo printer, the MB5420 could handle the task when we printed on photo paper.

Canon’s latest printers are well connected, whether it’s Ethernet or Wi-Fi. The MB5420 also supports wireless protocols like Apple AirPrint, and can print from cloud-based services like Dropbox or Google Cloud Print.

As a multifunction device, the MB5420 has an automatic document feeder for scanning documents, although its only weakness is slow copying. We also love the two built-in paper trays, and a touchscreen that’s easy to use.

Don’t look at the MB5420 solely as an office product. If you have a household that prints often, the MB5420 is suitable for that environment too. But if it’s overkill for your needs, check out the Maxify MB5120.

Our Canon’s Maxify MB5420 review

The best office inkjet printer

HP PageWide Pro 577dw

Why should you buy this? It’s one of the fastest – if not the fastest – inkjet printer.

The best office inkjet printer

HP Pagewide Pro 577dw

The speed of the 577dw will leave you ditching the laser printer.

$740.99 from Amazon

Who’s it for? Extremely impatient office workers.

How much will it cost? $740

Why we picked the PageWide Pro 577dw:

If speed is what you’re after, then your search ends with HP’s PageWide technology. Technically, the 577dw is not an inkjet printer in the traditional sense, but it shares certain traits like ink and quality. The big difference is that unlike an inkjet printer, which has a print head that travels back and forth across a sheet of paper, PageWide uses a stationary print head. This allows the machine to print up to 50 pages per minute in either black or color – HP claims it delivers the fastest speeds and a 40-percent reduction in color printing versus color laser printers. We find the PageWide printers to deliver on stated speed and quaity.

Like an inkjet printer, the 577dw uses a four-color ink tank system that’s easy to replace. HP rates page yield at 13,000 for color and 17,000 for black-and-shite; it also supports for large-capacity (XL) cartridges. Besides Wi-Fi and Ethernet, the machine handles Wi-Fi Direct for peer-to-peer and NFC connections, as well as Apple AirPrint and Google Cloud Print. Security features let you monitor usage as well as ensuring it isn’t breached by unauthorized users. Need more paper storage? The 577dw supports optional paper trays.

The 577dw is a multifunction device (print, scan, copy, fax). If you don’t need the extras, downgrade to a single-function model like the PageWide Pro 552dw, which offers the same printer performance. The 577dw, however, is designed for office use and carries a price to match, so for many users it’s expensive and the speed is probably overkill.

1 sentence description of why product is good (for product card): The speed of the 577dw will leave you ditching the laser printer.

Read more here

The best budget inkjet printer

Canon Pixma TS9020

Why you should buy this? It offers great performance for a reasonable price.

Our Score

The best budget inkjet printer

Canon Pixma TS9020

An affordable printer that doesn’t forsake quality.

$149.95 from Amazon.com

Who’s it for? Home users who want to print gorgeous photos cheaply and easily.

How much will it cost? $150

Why we picked the Canon Pixma TS9020:

Fitting for one of the premier camera manufacturers, Canon also makes excellent color printers, and the Pixma TS9020 is a great example. The TS9020 is a six-color (photo black, gray, cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) printer with a clean, angular look, and one that can print, copy, and scan.

The printer is quick and easy to set up, and has a number of convenient features, including a 5-inch LCD display on the front panel. The TS9020 supports various connections (USB, Wi-Fi, NFC, and Ethernet) and has a slot for an SD card. It’s also compatible with mobile platforms like Apple AirPrint and Google Cloud Print.

Unfortunately, the printer only holds about 90-100 sheets of paper at a time, and if you want to use letter or legal paper, you’ll need to pull out the paper drawer to fit the sheets in. Still, for the price, the TS9020 offers excellent print quality and lots of compatibility options.

Our  Canon Pixma TS9020 review

The best art inkjet printer

Epson SureColor P600

Why should you buy this? Nine ink tanks create the most accurate colors in an image.

Our Score

The best art inkjet printer

Epson SureColor P600

Gallery quality prints that will astound.

$758.00 from Jet.com

Who’s it for? Photo and art enthusiasts who make quality prints for display or sale.

How much will it cost? $758

Why we picked the Surecolor P600:

For photographers, artists, and other creatives who want to print fine art, a photo printer like the SureColor P600. Thanks to the use of nine newly formulated UltraChrome HD inks, the P600 produces color and monochrome prints with excellent color accuracy and saturation – important if you’re selling or displaying your prints.

The P600 supports paper up to 13-inches wide, as well as roll paper. A primary tray holds up to 30 sheets of photo paper (or 120 sheets of plain paper, but you wouldn’t want to use the P600 for everyday prints). Besides USB, Ethernet, and Wi-Fi, the P600 supports Apple AirPrint, Google Cloud Print, and Epson Connect service and Epson iPrint mobile app.

Epson also sells a more affordable version, the SureColor P400, which uses eight ink tanks, and the Surecolor P800, which supports paper up to 17-inches wide. Along with Canon’s Pixma Pro-10, Pixma Pro-1, and Pixma iP8720, the SureColor-series of printers are some of our favorite prosumer art printers.

Our Surecolor P600 review

How we test

To find the best photo printers, in addition to image quality, we factor in criteria such as speed, price, maintenance costs, and any unique features that help them one-up the competition. With their moving parts, we also look at durability.

Our selections are based on our long- and short-term testing; experience with earlier models; familiarity with the companies’ technologies; consultation with industry experts, fellow journalists, and users; online forums; lab results; and other third-party reviews. Our lead printer reviewer has racked up 30 years of experience in testing and reviewing printers. We also look across the board – not just our own experiences – to find consensus on what we think are the best-performing inkjet printers you can currently buy. We also look at list pricing to determine if a product is worth the cost, product availability, and future proofing qualities. We will even recommend printers that aren’t new, provided it’s still for sale, the features are still best-in-class, and it’s supported by the manufacturer.

The printer market, however, evolves constantly, with manufacturers either introducing better models with new features, or basic upgrades. So, you can expect our picks to change – and change quickly. But don’t worry: The models you see here will be with you for some time, and if we anticipate there could be better models in the horizon, we will state that upfront to help you decide whether you should buy now or wait.

Which printer is right for you?

What should you look for in an inkjet printer? That depends on what your needs are. If you want to frame a large print to put on a wall, you may want to consider a single-function, wide-format inkjet printer. If you need a device that can print both photos and documents, a multifunction inkjet printer could be a better fit. If you want to a lot of copies, and do it fast, you may want to invest in a workhorse machine that excels in speed.

Regardless, your options will most likely revolve around your budget and usage. Ask yourself: How often do you print? If it were occasional, draft-quality printing, you’d be well served by a budget model. But you may find other uses that are actually beneficial, such as the scanner in a multifunction unit or the ability to print photos; in this case, it may be worthwhile to invest in a good all-in-one unit with wireless connectivity. If you do print often, a workhorse printer with high-yield cartridges could be a better fit. Keep in mind, however, that ink can go fast depending how much printing you do, especially with color inks.

Inkjet is the technology used in most photo printers, and your options will very likely come from three companies: Canon, Epson, or Hewlett-Packard (HP). But keep in mind that even a budget inkjet model can churn out decent photos. Of course, the better models that use multiple ink tanks will deliver excellent results.

For more on what to look for in a printer, check out our Home Printer Buying Guide

Editors’ Recommendations

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  • Don’t print with crappy plastic. Here’s the best 3D-printing filament you can buy
  • HP’s new 3D printers can print in full color and use multiple materials


23
Mar

Oculus could be aiming to make VR a bit more real with these haptic gloves


Picking things up in virtual reality usually involves pushing a button on a touch controller, and it’s not exactly the most immersive part of a VR experience — it’s a constant reminder that you’re not actually interacting with anything. Oculus might be gearing up to change that with a set of VR gloves described in a pair of patent filings made public on Thursday, March 22.

It’s not the first time we have seen this kind of technology introduced to as a VR peripheral, and it’s also not the first time Oculus has dropped hints that it is working on this kind of technology. In February, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg teased the Oculus VR gloves in a Facebook post, and these patents shed some light on just what was going on inside those fancy white gloves.

“The haptic feedback mechanism includes a composite extendible ribbon coupled to a glove digit of a glove body. The glove digit is configured to be work around a [finger] of a user’s hand,” the patent reads.

The patents describe a pair of gloves that include internal “tendons” that tense and relax in order to simulate your sense of touch in VR. Normally when you touch something or pick something up, the pressure you experience in your fingertips is from your hand pressing against the object itself. These gloves work on the opposite principle — the tendons that run on the backside of the gloves are designed to offer resistance to your hand movements, simulating what it feels like to touch an object.

“The haptic feedback facilitates an illusion that a user is interacting with a real object when in fact the object is a virtual object,” the patent continues. “The mechanism resists movement by one or more portions of a user’s body.”

Think of it like tying a string to each one of your fingers and pulling up on those strings from behind your hand. It’s going to make clenching your fingers difficult, that kind of resistance is the exact kind of resistance these gloves use to simulate touch. On its own, it wouldn’t really feel like you were grasping an object, it would feel like something was pulling on your hand. But coupled with a VR headset, immersive sound, these kinds of physical cues can be the difference between a sort of immersive experience, and a truly immersive VR experience.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • The Sense Glove enables users to get a grip on virtual reality
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  • Another patent describes a haptic feedback feature for the Surface Pen
  • HTC Vive Tracker Review
  • Playstation VR could improve with new motion controller patents from Sony


23
Mar

Oculus Go and Santa Cruz will have a 72Hz mode for smoother mobile VR


The Oculus Go and Santa Cruz virtual reality headsets will include 72Hz modes according to Oculus VR’s headline session at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. That is a boost from the 60Hz refresh rate seen with the smartphone-based Samsung Gear VR, providing a more fluid mobile VR experience. That is still below the vomit-preventing 90Hz seen with the PC-tethered Oculus Rift, but understandable given the mobile, battery-based nature of the Go and Santa Cruz.  

According to Oculus VR, 72Hz will be an optional mode on the Oculus Go likely because the higher refresh rate will require more processing power, what Oculus calls “prohibitively expensive,” draining the battery at a faster rate. But for the Santa Cruz model, 72Hz may be the default refresh rate due to the headset’s use of hand-tracked controllers. Although we don’t have the official Santa Cruz specifications, the headset will likely have a larger battery to support a premium mobile experience. 

“Typically, high frame rates for VR devices are associated with lowering latency, particularly when it comes to positional tracking,” the company states. “Oculus Go is not a positionally tracked device, and though lower head-tracking latency is comfortable, it is not the primary reason to run at 72Hz. Rather, the purpose of this mode is to improve the visual quality of the display.” 

With the display cranked up to 72Hz, it will be brighter without causing “perceptible flicker.” Colors will pop and appear warmer, providing a richer experience. For apps that support Dynamic Throttling and Fixed Coveated Rendering, they can simply toggle on the 72Hz mode and run at the higher rate. Other apps may need “significant optimizations” to take advantage of 72Hz. 

On a whole, the company’s strategy consists of three VR headsets: The Oculus Go to serve as a low-tier solution, the Santa Cruz model as the mid-tier headset, and the current Oculus Rift as the high-end device. The Oculus Go, slated to arrive in the coming weeks for $199, will only support three degrees of freedom while the upcoming tether-free Santa Cruz model will support six degrees of freedom. 

Oculus VR introduced its first stand-alone VR headset, Oculus Go, in October. It’s built by smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi and relies on a single “fast-switch” LCD screen with a 2,560 x 1,440 resolution powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 mobile processor. Other bells and whistles include using the same lenses found in the Oculus Rift, built-in spatial audio, a 3.5mm audio jack, 32GB of storage, and an included remote controller. 

“We’ve put a lot of effort into making Oculus Go the best stand-alone VR device available. With the addition of features like Fixed Foveated Rendering, Dynamic Throttling, and 72 Hz Mode, we expect many hurdles to developing great VR software are significantly lowered on this device,” the company adds. 

As for the Santa Cruz model, developers began receiving kits towards the end of February. When the mid-level headset will hit store shelves is unknown for now although the retail model will likely arrive in the 2018 holiday season. 

Editors’ Recommendations

  • HTC’s Vive Focus mobile VR headset uses the same lenses, displays as Vive Pro
  • Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream hands-on review
  • Oculus Rift re-enters virtual space after bad software caused a global blackout
  • The best VR innovations at CES 2018 so far
  • Oculus Go relies on an older Qualcomm Snapdragon chip, gets Chinese version


23
Mar

Acer Aspire E 15 review


Research Center:
Acer Aspire E 15 (E5-576G-5762)

It’s easy to get spoiled when you review notebook PCs for a living. Today’s premium machines have elegant designs, but they’re also expensive, and there’s a tendency to forget that many people simply can’t spend thousands of dollars on a PC. It’s good to spend some time with a budget notebook that’s priced well under $1,000, and one that strives to offer solid value rather than cater to those with the most money to spend.

The Acer Aspire E 15 is just such a notebook, aggressively priced at $600 for our review configuration. It packs in a 15.6-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or X PPI) display, an eighth-generation Intel Core i5-8250U CPU, a discrete Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU, 8GB of RAM, a DVD-RW drive, and a 256GB SATA solid-state drive (SSD). You can drop down to 4GB of RAM, lose the discrete GPU, substitute a 1TB hard disk-drive (HDD), and spend as little as $350.

The question is, was Acer forced to leave anything out to fit the Aspire E 15 into such an attractive price point?

A chunky but serviceable design

We’ll begin by saying this is large notebook in all its dimensions. It’s thick at 1.19 inches, and heavy at 5.27 pounds, and it suffers from some very wide, old-school display bezels. It’s also a mostly plastic construction that’s a bit bendy in the lid, has some flex in the aluminum keyboard deck, and generally isn’t as solid as you’ll find in more expensive all-metal designs. We’ll note as well that the hinge is very stiff — you’ll need two hands to open the lid, but the display does tend to stay firmly in place.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The Aspire E 15 might not be the highest-end build, but it’s nevertheless robust enough to carry around the house or on the occasional field trip, and it’s at least as well-built as its budget competitors like Acer’s own Aspire 5.

The lid has a “metallic textile pattern” that adds a little flair, and the touchpad is outlined in a chrome-colored accent. Otherwise, you’re getting a simple design that’s not as modern as Acer’s Swift 3 budget notebook. This is typical for budget laptops, however. None of the Aspire’s competitors will wow you with looks.

Components are impressive for a budget machine, and performance rivals more expensive notebooks.

Acer has made good use of the thick chassis to help manage heat and noise. The fans do spin up when the CPU and GPU are under load, but they’re never so loud as to be obnoxious. And there’s enough room to move air around and keep the discrete GPU running at full speed, as we’ll see later in our benchmark results.

Another plus to the large chassis is upgradability, something more expensive laptops often lack. You can pop open the bottom cover to upgrade the RAM to its 16GB maximum and manage the storage slots — on our review unit, that means you could add a 2.5-inch drive to go along with the M.2 format SATA SSD that’s already installed. Also unusual is the 8X DVD-RW drive that’s built-in, which is nice to have even if it’s not quite as in-demand as it once was.

Acer Aspire E 15 (E5-576G-5762) Compared To

Asus Zenbook Pro UX550VE

HP ZBook Studio G4

Acer Aspire VX 5-591G 5652

Dell XPS 15 9560

Dell Inspiron 15 7000 (2017)

Dell Precision 15 3510

LG Gram 15 Z960

Samsung Notebook 9 Pro…

Asus Zenbook UX501VW-DS71T

Dell Inspiron 15 7000 (Late 2015)

HP Envy x360

Samsung ATIV Book 9 (2014)

Sony Vaio Fit E 15

Dell XPS 15 (2012)

Toshiba Satellite P855

The Aspire E 15 packs in plenty of connectivity. You’ll get a USB-C 3.1 Gen1 port (no Thunderbolt 3 support, though), two USB-A 3.0 ports, a USB-A 2.0 port, a full-size HDMI port, a VGA port, an Ethernet connection, and a 3.5mm combo audio jack. The usual 2×2 MU-MIMO W-Fi and Bluetooth radios are on hand to round out the connectivity. You shouldn’t have to worry about scrounging around for dongles.

Surprisingly decent — if limited — input options

The Acer Aspire E 15 has the usual island keyboard and squeezes in a 10-key numeric keypad. What’s unusual for a machine that’s so reasonably priced is the keyboard’s feel. It offers plenty of travel with a comfortable bottoming action. The layout is standard, and it doesn’t feel cramped even while offering a keypad’s convenience. The keyboard backlight’s single brightness level is even and attractive.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The touchpad is large, offers a smooth surface with just the right amount of friction, and supports Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad protocol for full Windows 10 gesture support. The left and right buttons are hidden at the bottom of the touchpad, but are responsive without feeling cheap. Again, this is a touchpad that punches above its weight class — in fact, it’s larger and more responsive than the one you’ll find on slightly more expensive notebooks like the Asus ZenBook UX330UA.

That’s it for input. There’s no touch display or Window 10 Hello biometric support, which isn’t surprising given the price point, but does detract a bit from overall convenience.

A good display for a budget machine mated with just average audio

Check out budget notebooks and you’ll find quite a few with a 1,366 x 768 resolution displays. That makes the Aspire E 15’s 15.6-inch Full HD display refreshing.

Once we put the display at the mercy of our colorimeter, we were pleasantly surprised overall. Color gamut support was relatively narrow, coming closest to the Aspire 5 and Swift 3, but short of slightly more expensive options. Brightness was very low at 173 nits. However, contrast was class-leading at 960:1, color accuracy was decent, and gamma was perfect at 2.2, meaning videos won’t be too light or too dark.

The display was pleasant to use for typical productivity tasks, as well as watching Netflix and YouTube.

Subjectively, the display was pleasant to use for typical productivity tasks as well as watching Netflix movies and TV. Colors didn’t exactly pop, but high contrast made for nice black text on a white background. Really, at this price point, we’d expect to see a far worse display.

Sound is another matter entirely. While the dual stereo speakers are plenty loud, they distort at high volumes and are serviceable at best. You can use it to watch the occasional YouTube video, but to really enjoy music, movies, and TV shows, you’ll want to plug in your favorite headphones.

Excellent productivity performance held back slightly by slower storage

There was a time when budget notebooks were limited to low-end Intel Pentium processors and limited RAM, and thus suffered from poor performance across the board. That’s no longer the case, however, and the Aspire E 15 is a case in point. It offers eighth-generation quad-core Intel Core i5 and i7 processors and up to 16GB of RAM. Our review unit used the Core i5-8250U and enjoyed a solid 8GB of memory.

This is an impressive combination for such a low-end machine, and it resulted in performance that rivaled much more expensive notebooks. In both synthetic and real-life benchmark tests, the Aspire E 15 provided excellent processor performance and had more than sufficient power to churn through just about any productivity task. It kept up not only with its budget siblings but also challenged more expensive options like the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming, which had a Core i5-7300HQ.

Storage performance is one area where Acer cut some corners with its choice of a Hynix 256GB SATA SSD. The drive isn’t fast, and the Aspire E 15 fell far behind the PCIe SSDs in some other systems including the Swift 3. We’ll note that although the drive is slow for an SSD, it’s still much faster than the spinning hard-disk drives you find in many other notebooks at this price. And in real-world use, it’s still plenty fast enough for typical productivity and gaming tasks.

Not a lot to spend for a decent entry-level gaming experience

Surprisingly, this notebook has an Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU. It isn’t the fastest graphics chip you’ll come across, but it’s much quicker than the usual Intel integrated graphics. It can even handle some newer games, as long as you lower the resolution and details.

As we mentioned earlier, Acer made good use of the Aspire E 15’s large chassis to make sure the components can be kept cool. This paid off in our gaming benchmarks, where the notebook competed well with other machines equipped with the MX150, like the Aspire 5 and the Asus ZenBook 13.

This was most apparent in our real-world gaming tests, where the Aspire E 15 managed a decent 35 frames per second (FPS) in Civilization VI at Full HD and medium settings. That’s a few FPS faster than the other MX150-equipped notebooks, and fully playable. The Aspire E 15 was even more impressive in Rocket League, where it managed 79 FPS in Full HD and performance mode, blowing away the similarly-equipped competition. It even managed 51 FPS in high quality mode, still a few frames faster than our comparison machines. We even saw 33 FPS, in Full HD and medium settings, while playing Battlefield 1.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

It’d be a mistake to call this Aspire a gaming machine, but it works well enough in many games. That’s high praise for a laptop that’s $600. In fact, this simple laptop is quicker in games than many ‘premium’ laptops sold for twice the price.

It’s a lot to lug around, but leave the power brick behind

The Aspire E 15 isn’t a portable notebook by today’s standards. It’s large, thick, and heavy at over five pounds. You won’t want to carry it around any longer than you must. But the notebook packs in a large 62 watt-hour battery to go with the efficient eighth-generation Intel Core processor.

As it turns out, battery life is a real strength. The Aspire E 15 provided solid longevity across our suite of tests, and was competitive with some much more expensive notebooks. It lasted for four hours on our most aggressive Basemark benchmark test, over nine hours in our web browsing test, and just over 12 hours playing a local video.

Those are impressive results, and they mean that the Aspire E 15 can last a full working day away from a charger. Battery life is usually a budget notebook’s Achilles heel, but Acer managed to turn it into one of the Aspire E 15’s more impressive strengths.

Our Take

The Acer Aspire E 15 is a great example of a machine doing its intended job very well. It’s not a premium notebook and doesn’t pretend to be one; rather, Acer clearly aimed to provide a solid value, with performance, build quality, and battery life that leads the class for less money than you’d expect to pay. Taken all together, the Aspire E 15 is more notebook than you’d expect to receive for the money, and that’s a very good thing.

Is there a better alternative?

One of the more direct competitors to the Aspire E 15 is Acer’s own Aspire 5. That machine’s also a rather large and chunky 15.6-inch notebook that’s similarly priced and shares a similar build quality. It’s still mired in the past, though, and it costs the same $600 for a seventh-generation Core i5-7200U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SATA SSD, and a Full HD display. You save on some thickness, but you also give up the DVD-RW drive. And you won’t see nearly the battery life, either.

Another interesting option is the Dell Inspiron 15 7577, a 15.6-inch budget gaming notebook that’s considerably pricier at $900 for a seventh-generation 45-watt Core i5-7300HQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SATA SSD, and a Full HD display. That extra $300 gets you a faster processor as well as much faster Nvidia GTX 1060 with Max-Q GPU that’s going to make for a much better gaming machine, but you’ll also want to take your power supply with you on the road.

One way to spend even less money is to go with a Chromebook. These notebooks are often less expensive than their Windows equivalents. However, it won’t run the same applications nor work as well when it’s not connected to the internet, and so whether it’s a viable option comes down to what you need your PC to do.

How long will it last?

The Aspire E 15 is built well enough that you won’t worry about how long it lasts, particularly given the minimal investment. And it’s running the latest eighth-generation Intel CPU, with the ability to pop open the case and upgrade the RAM and storage yourself. It even has a USB-C port to provide some future-proof connectivity. If you run into problems, you’ll be covered by a one-year warranty.

Should you buy it?

Yes. You’re not likely to find a better machine in this price range. The Aspire E 15 would make a great notebook for just about anyone with typical computing needs, proving plenty of power and battery life for churning through productivity tasks, and just enough gaming performance to run most popular games.

23
Mar

Like an A.I. acid trip, this neural net rebuilds reality with flowers and fire


When computers get creative, the results are frequently fascinating — as a new project created by artist and machine learning Ph.D. student Memo Akten admirably demonstrates. A bit like projects such as Google’s Deep Dream image generator, Akten has been applying artificial neural networks to create some unusual visual effects. His “Learning To See” project uses image recognition neural nets to interpret the images it sees on a live video feed. The twist? He trained his different neural networks exclusively on a diet of only water, sky, flowers or fire still images so that regardless of what image they actually see, they interpret it as waves crashing, fires roaring, or flowers growing.

“In some ways, this was a response to the binary polarization that we see politically in the U.K., in the United States, and in Turkey, which is where I’m from,” Akten told Digital Trends. “The idea is that all of us are only capable of seeing the world through the lens of what we’ve seen before. We incapable of seeing it through other people’s eyes because we’re so colored by what we know. In the case of this piece of work, the neural network has been trained only on certain images — such as waves or fire or flowers. As a result, everything it sees it can only make sense of based on its own experience.”

It’s an intriguing concept, both conceptually and technologically. Particularly impressive from a tech point of view is how fluid the movements look, despite the fact that Akten says the neural networks were trained exclusively on still images. Nonetheless, through analyzing only still images the A.I. has approximated a fairly accurate idea of how fires burn or water moves.

“With any emerging technology, artists will always think about how they can apply it to their own domain, whether that’s painting, dance, performance, or whatever else,” Akten continued. “Right now these machine learning technologies are still a bit complex and inaccessible for a lot of people. But there’s a lot of work being done to make these tools into things which can be used by everyone.”

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23
Mar

This robot with jet-powered feet is proof that we’re living in the future


In order for bipedal robots to live up to their potential usefulness, it’s important that they can navigate on a variety of different surfaces and deal with whatever potential obstacle is thrown their way. That’s something that researchers from China’s Guangdong University of Technology’s School of Automation have been working on with a new self-balancing robot called Jet-HR1.

Thanks to jet-powered feet, Jet-HR1 is able to step over extremely large chasms equivalent to around 97 percent of its leg length. In order to do this, the robot essentially performs the splits, by balancing on one leg while reaching the other one out to bridge the gap, before repeating the process to move the other leg across as well.

“The development of the electric motor and jet technologies contributed to the feasibility of the idea,” Zhifeng Huang, an associate professor at Guangdong University of Technology, told Digital Trends. “High thrust-to-weight ratio is one of the key points. In this research, we [worked] hard on the action planning, including the optimal posture and the thrust planning. In addition, the mechanical design was also important. To maintain the robot’s balance during the step over the gap, it is important to calculate the movement of the center of mass (CoM) and then carefully plan the thrust.”

Guangdong University of Technology

The need for jet engines on the feet comes down to the essential problem to be solved with this robot. When you take a long exaggerated step over a chasm, you shift your center of gravity to accommodate the movement. In the case of Jet-HR1, this is achieved by using ducted-fan jet engines on each foot, which can output a thrust equivalent to almost one-third the robot’s weight. Huang suggested that robots like this could one day play a valuable role in search-and-rescue applications, such as in the aftermath of natural disasters.

“Currently, we will not consider any plan to commercialize the robot,” he said. “Our focus and interest are about how to improve the robot. As you can see in the demo, we just successfully took one step. For the robot, it was a large step, [but] for the project, it is still small. We are highly confident that it is a novel and correct direction, [although] … there still many problems need to be solved, such as the mechanism design, stability of posture, and so on.”

As a possible next step (no pun intended), Huang said that the team is interested in expanding movement to cover more dynamic explosive actions, such as jumping.

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