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15
Apr

After Math: The golden age of streaming


We’re winding down a freaky week of bad omens, unconvincing congressional testimony and sterling new streaming services. While most eyes were fixated on Mark Zuckerberg doing his best real boy impression, GTA IV lost most of its Russian tunes, ESPN debuted a new mobile app and vinyl got a high tech upgrade that nobody asked for. Numbers, because how else are you going to stretch your entertainment dollar?

30-ish: If you were a fan of cruising the streets of Liberty City while jamming out to the melodious mixes of Vladivostok FM, I’ve got some bad news. Due to copyright claims, pretty much all of the songs currently available on the station are being pulled. The silver lining, however, is that this means fans of GTA IV will have a whole new set of singles to listen to come April 26th.

6 months-ish: Hulu subscribers who like to watch androids go nuts and kill stuff in the Old West are in for a treat. The streaming service announced this week that it would offer users the HBO add-on for just $5 a month for “as long as 6 months” to help kick off Westworld season 2. The price bumps back up to $15 after the promotion, mind you.

A close up shot of a running record player spinning out some music, dramatically lit with orange light.  Horizontal with copy space.

30 percent more amplitude: “What vinyl needs is better fidelity,” said nobody. Yet here we are with HD records thanks to Austria-based Rebeat Innovation and their laser audio conversion system. It promises better sound quality, longer playing times and is guaranteed to make the audiophile in your life just a little more unbearable.

180 MLB and NHL games: Not to be left out of the cord-cutting revolution, ESPN rolled out its streaming app this week, dubbed ESPN+. For $5 a month you’ll get access to a bunch of live pro and college games, though for MLB, NHL and MLS broadcasts, they’ll only be out of market matches. So you’ll still need an OTA system or YouTube TV to catch your local sportsball organizations.

5 percent growth: Apple’s really putting the screws to Spotify (which would explain that godawful Taylor Swift exclusive that dropped on Friday), outpacing the online music service’s growth by more than double. Now that Apple Music has hit 40 million subscribers, the company announced this week that it is installing Oliver Schusser as Apple Music’s new VP under Eddie Cue.

5 short films: Twitch is making an effort to expand its streaming offerings beyond watching other people play video games, announcing this week that it has signed on with Neil Bloomkamp of Chappie fame to feature five short films from his studio.

Bydgoszcz, Poland, 20 June 2016: Twitter has announced the possibility of live streaming via its site. With the integration of Periscope, the popular live streaming app Twitter now has the majority of the live streaming market in its hands making rivals like Meerkat all but disappear. (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

792,000 tweets: Out of a study population of 1.2 million tweets linking to some 2,300 popular websites, a recent research survey concluded that 66 percent of them were sent by bots. 22 percent of those were sent by just 500 suspected bot accounts. So yeah, Twitter still has some platform cleaning to do.

15
Apr

The best hair dryer


By Shannon Palus

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After more than 20 hours of research and interviews; more than 10 hours of putting 12 dryers through speed, heat, and time tests; a holiday season’s worth of hairstyling; and working our way through all the marketing claims, we think the Rusk W8less is the best for most people.

Who should get this

Writer Shannon Palus with our previous top picks, the Xtava Peony (left) and the Rusk CTC Lite (right). Photo: Michael Hession

If you can’t leave the house with wet hair for aesthetic reasons or because it’s below freezing outside and you don’t want your head to be covered in icicles, you need a hair dryer. You also need one if you plan to use other hot tools on your hair—make sure you’re getting your hair really dry if you are going to take a flat iron to it.

How we picked and tested

An armful of the dryers we considered. Photo: Michael Hession

Hair dryer boxes are adorned with a ton of buzzwords and specs, but hairstylist Allen Ruiz told us he looks for only two things: “hot and fast.” These features are connected to the wattage, which is generally around 1,875 watts for most hair dryers. According to engineer Jim Shapiro, “Essentially all of the energy used by each dryer will be converted into heat, so don’t expect or look for much difference among the dryers here.” This is where we arrived at a central truth about hair dryers: Their performance doesn’t differ much based on advertised specs.

Instead, we narrowed the field based on other features, such as multiple heat settings, a cool-shot button, a nozzle that’s compatible with attachments, a cord that’s long enough to reach across a bathroom, and an intake filter that’s removable for cleaning out debris. We also looked for dryers that are compatible with a diffuser to help dry curly, wavy, or textured hair, and we paid a lot of attention to how each dryer felt in our hands.

Based on these criteria, we picked 12 dryers to test. We started by gauging each dryer’s speed, heat, noise level, and weight, and how long it took to dry a swatch of hair wet with 5 grams of water on the highest setting. These tests helped us identify our favorite dryers, which we used in our daily routines for a couple of weeks before settling on our picks.

Our pick: Rusk W8less

The Rusk W8less lives up to its name, weighing less than a pound. Photo: Michael Hession

The Rusk W8less has all the features you need in a hair dryer while costing a fraction of the price of a luxury model. In our tests, it produced the fastest and hottest air of all (60 mph and 130 °F, respectively). The buttons are all nicely placed—easy to push, but hard to press accidentally—and the cord is long enough (8 feet) to reach distant outlets. Unlike on other dryers, the cool-shot button is wide, so holding it down for several seconds isn’t uncomfortable.

Most important, the Rusk W8less should take about the same amount of time to dry hair as dryers that cost hundreds of dollars (and do it faster than some less expensive competitors). It will make your hair look just as nice. Though it does come with a two-year warranty, it does not include a diffuser—you’ll have to buy one separately.

Runner-up: Rusk CTC Lite

We’ve loved the Rusk CTC Lite for a few years now. It’s nearly identical to our top pick, just pricier. Photo: Michael Hession

The Rusk CTC Lite, our former top pick, is nearly identical to the Rusk W8less, with a few drawbacks, making it a solid choice to consider if our top pick is sold out or you strongly prefer a black glossy finish over a white glossy finish. This model has one major upside if you have curly hair: It comes with a diffuser; our top pick, the W8less, does not. The CTC Lite’s nozzle is also slightly shorter. However, it lacks the grip-enhancing groove that makes the W8less feel especially nice in our hands. The CTC Lite also tends to cost more than the W8less.

Budget pick: Conair Tourmaline Ceramic

The Conair Tourmaline Ceramic dryer, our budget pick. Photo: Michael Hession

If you don’t dry your hair often and you have an outlet near your mirror, the Conair Tourmaline Ceramic dryer does a good job and doesn’t have any hugely annoying design features. At 0.91 pound, this model was lighter than most of the other models we tested. It comes with a two-year warranty.

However, this dryer has two big downsides. First, the handle is thicker and straighter than those of the other dryers we tested, making it a little more annoying to hold. Second, the cord is shorter, at just 5 feet. If your outlet is more than three steps from where you intend to dry your hair, you need to choose a different dryer; don’t try hooking this one up to an extension cord, as doing so could start a fire.

Also great: Conair Infiniti Pro

The Conair Infiniti Pro is a great hair dryer for its price, but it’s heavier than our other picks. Photo: Michael Hession

In our tests, the 58 mph, 108 °F airflow from the Conair Infiniti Pro was nearly as fast and hot as that of our top pick. However, this model is considerably less expensive and it comes with a concentrator and a diffuser.

The main reason it’s not our top pick is its weight. At 1.2 pounds, it’s noticeably heavier to hold, especially after several minutes of drying. Its cord is also two feet shorter than that of our top pick.

This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

15
Apr

Ben Heck made a portable Raspberry Pi-based gaming device


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What you’re looking at here is the result of some careful tinkering: a Raspberry Pi portable MAME emulator, with no HDMI. Ben and Felix have put the finishing touches on this portable gaming device using a combination of laser cutting and 3D printing. With eight GPIO left, though, Felix decides that it’s best to do a low-level input for the buttons and directional pad to control the device. If you want to build one yourself, find the code and build files on our website. What would you do differently? Have you made a Raspberry Pi Portable? Let the team know over on the element14 Community.

15
Apr

Apple Watch code hints at future support for third-party faces


Ever since the original Apple Watch premiered in 2015, owners have been frustrated by the absence of third-party faces. And it’s hard to blame them — while Wear OS and Pebble devices have had them for years, Apple Watch owners couldn’t do much more than customize existing faces. Thankfully, there might be relief on the horizon for individualists. The 9to5Mac team has discovered code in watchOS 4.3.1’s NanoTimeKit that hints at future support for third-party faces. It’s just a placeholder, but it’s explicit: one of the kit’s log messages says “this is where the 3rd party face config bundle generation would happen.”

With that said, we wouldn’t expect the feature to surface in the immediate future. From initial appearances, whatever third-party watch face support exists is preliminary at best. We realistically wouldn’t expect to hear about anything more substantial about support until WWDC in June, and that’s assuming the feature is coming at all. Still, that there’s any mention in the first place is promising to anyone who’s grown bored of the limited choices they have today.

Source: 9to5Mac

15
Apr

China’s Weibo is purging violent and gay-themed content


Popular Chinese social network Weibo is removing violent and gay-themed content to comply with China’s new cybersecurity regulations. The Twitter-like platform has announced that it’s doing a three-month “clean-up campaign,” which will mainly target “manga (Japanese comics) and videos with pornographic implications, promoting violence or (related to) homosexuality,” as well as games with violent content like Grand Theft Auto.

The move has drawn the ire of users, who held an online protest with the hashtag “I am gay” that was used around 170,000 times before Weibo ultimately banned it. “There can be no homosexuality under socialism?” one of the users wrote, according to AFP. “It is unbelievable that China progresses economically and militarily but returns to the feudal era in terms of ideas.” China decriminalized homosexuality in 1997 and declassified it as a mental illness in 2001, but authorities have been cracking down on LGBT-themed content anyway.

Unfortunately, there might be nothing users can do to stop Weibo’s three-month purge. Due to China’s new cybersecurity laws, the government can pressure private entities to censor content it deems prohibited. The laws also make it easy for authorities to keep an even closer eye on its people. Weibo says it has already purged 56,243 pieces of “illegal content” and deleted 108 user accounts since it started. Those numbers can only keep growing as the platform finds more and more posts to kill during its clean-up campaign.

Source: Reuters, Weibo, AFP

15
Apr

‘High definition vinyl’ could be spinning on your turntable by next year


Wikimedia

Vinyl records are in the midst of a surprising renaissance, fueled not only by millennial nostalgia but by high-tech turntables. As CD and digital music sales continue to decline due to online streaming services like Spotify, CNBC reports that vinyl LP sales have increased to 13 million in 2016 — their highest level since 1991.

Now, an Austrian start-up named Rebeat Innovations is hoping to give the venerable medium itself a high-tech boost with an innovation it’s calling “high-definition vinyl.”

Pitchfork has a rundown on the new process, which involves digital audio conversion and the use of lasers to engrave the ceramic “stamper,” the master component that creates the grooves on the record during the manufacturing process.

The company filed a patent in 2016 for “3D-based topographical mapping combined with laser inscription technology,” which it says will reduce the manufacturing time by 60 percent.

Founder Günter Loibl told Pitchfork that they’ve received nearly $5 million in funding for the venture, with a new $600,000 laser system on the way and plans for five test stampers at selected plants. The new process produces vinyl LPs with higher fidelity, better volume, consistent quality, and longer playing times than traditional records.

Loibi hopes to make a big splash at the upcoming trade show in Detroit. “Our goal is to officially present our test stampers at the Making Vinyl conference in October,” he said. “It will take another eight months to do all the fine adjustments. So by summer 2019 we shall see the first HD vinyls in the stores.”

What’s more, backward compatibility is built in — the new HD Vinyl albums can be played on any current turntable.

Rebeat also has its eye on creating their own line of HD turntables, which it says will maximize audio playback and allow additional features such as digital metadata.

It seems like there’s no better time to start your own vinyl collection. Although the old-school analogue format only makes up 11 percent of album sales, vinyl is attracting a new generation of music lovers. “Now with the internet and instant gratification, the younger record fans still love the feel and sound of a physical artifact,” said Miriam Linna of the independent label Norton Records. “It’s highly personal.”

“It’s a pleasure to watch the label go around, to marvel, as I do with every record I spin, on the magic of a rotating piece of plastic, and how it can cause us to laugh, cry, fall in love, or jump for joy,” she added.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Watch The Philharmonic Turntable Orchestra make a symphony out of turntables
  • Vinyl is back! How to build and preserve a killer vinyl collection
  • Best Buy stores will stop selling music CDs, and Target could be next
  • Keep your records looking and sounding sweet: Here’s how to clean vinyl
  • The new Crosley C6 turntable is easy on the eyes and your wallet


15
Apr

‘Underworld Ascendant’ teaser reveals a reborn dungeon crawler


Ever since veteran developers successfully crowdfunded their spiritual successor to Ultima Underworld, there’s been a looming question: how would the prototypical 3D action RPG translate to the 21st century? You now have an idea. OtherSide and 505 Games have released a teaser trailer for Underworld Ascendant that illustrates how the reborn dungeon crawler will work. More than anything, it’s clear that this isn’t just a hack-and-slash. You’ll be rewarded for ingenuity and stealth, such as building bridges from magic-laced barrels, or using a water arrow to shoot out a light Thief-style. There’s even some wall running for Mirror’s Edge fans.

The graphics have unsurprisingly made leaps and bounds over Ultima Underworld (it was made at a time when any 3D was a novelty), but you might be most interested in the variety. The usual grim dungeons and dark caverns are broken up by underground flora and other signs of the not-so-natural life in the Stygian Abyss.

The teaser still leaves questions unanswered. Does it translate some of the clever role-playing elements (such as learning another species’ language), for example? And how much will it feel like an Ultima game for those who remember the series when it was fresh? Ascendant is still slated to ship in 2018, so you might not have too long to wait to get further answers.

Source: 505 Games (YouTube), Steam

15
Apr

Acer Nitro 5 Spin vs. Lenovo Yoga 720 15


Windows notebook makers aren’t shy about mixing and matching product categories. Usually, gaming notebooks are very specific kinds of machines aimed at particular buyers and convertible 2-in-1s are something very different. Acer thinks there’s some overlap, however, and so it made the Nitro 5 Spin — a gaming notebook with a 360-degree hinge.

Sometimes, a company will take one kind of notebook and equip it with components that create a crossover product that’s far less obvious. That’s the case with Lenovo’s Yoga 720 15, a convertible 2-in-1 that includes a legitimate entry-level gaming GPU and a high-power CPU.

When you hold these two machines side-by-side, you realize it’s not just semantics. In our Nitro 5 Spin vs. Lenovo Yoga 720 15 comparison, we determine just how successful a company can be in creating a gaming-2-in-1 mashup.

Acer Nitro 5 Spin

Lenovo Yoga 720 15

Dimensions
15.02 x 10.16 x 0.70 (in)
14.3 x 9.5 x 0.75 (in)

Weight
4.85 pounds
4.4 pounds

Keyboard
Full-size backlit keyboard
Full-size backlit keyboard

Processor
Up to eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8550U
Seventh-generation Intel Core i7-7700HQ

RAM
Up to 8GB
Up to 16GB

Graphics
Intel UHD 620
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050

Display
15.6-inch IPS Display
15.6-inch IPS Display

Resolution
Full HD (1,920 x 1,080, 141 PPI)
Full HD (1,920 x 1,080, 141 PPI)
4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160, 282 PPI)

Storage
256GB SATA SSD
1TB 5400 RPM HDD
Up to 1TB PCIe SSD

Networking
802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1

Connectivity
USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 (x2), USB-C 3.1 (x2), 3.5mm combo jack
USB-A 3.0 (x2), USB-C 3.1, USB-C 3.1 with Thunderbolt 3, 3.5mm combo jack

Webcam
720p webcam
720p webcam

Operating System
Windows 10
Windows 10

Battery
50 watt-hour
72 watt-hour

Price
$1,000+
$1,100+

Availability
Now
Now

Review
6.0 out of 10 stars
7.0 out of 10 stars

Design

Take one look at the Acer Nitro 5 Spin, and you’ll think “that’s a gaming notebook.” There’s the usual black chassis with brightly-colored trim — in this case red — and a keyboard with highlighted WASD keys made specifically for gamers. It’s not a garish design by any means, and most of the gaming notebook cues are relatively subdued, but you won’t mistake it for a conservative business notebook.

And yet, the 15.6-inch display swings all the way around into tablet mode. That’s of questionable value, though, because the Nitro 5 Spin has huge display bezels by contemporary standards and so it’s overly wide and a bit deep. It’s thin enough at 0.70 inches, but it’s also a relatively hefty 4.85 pounds. It’s solidly built, for sure, with an all-metal chassis, and give its overall girth it’s not particularly easy to carry around as a tablet.

The Lenovo Yoga 720 15 enjoys a much more conservative design, following along with the company’s deliberately subdued design aesthetic for the Yoga line in general. It’s attractive enough, but it clearly targets the more typical productivity user.

The Yoga 720 15 is also well-built with an all-metal chassis, but it pays a little more attention to how much space it takes up. It sports smaller display bezels, and so it’s overall dimensions are slightly smaller than the Acer, and in spite of being slightly thicker at 0.75 inches, it’s almost half a pound lighter at 4.4 pounds.

Which is the better looking convertible 2-in-1 comes down to whether you want your notebook to stand out in a crowd. Lenovo made the Yoga 720 15 slightly more comfortable as a tablet, though, and that counts for a little bit more.

Winner: Lenovo Yoga 720 15

Performance

The Nitro 5 Spin is equipped with eighth-generation quad-core Intel Core U 15-watt processors, which can go very fast when spun all the way up but that sip power when running lesser tasks. That’s something of a different approach than the Lenovo Yoga 720, which uses a 45-watt seventh-generation Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU that runs fast and suck down power all the time. In our benchmarks, the Nitro 5 Spin is the faster performer in many tasks.

At the same time, both 2-in-1s use the same Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU, although the Acer uses the 4GB version compared to the Yoga 720 15’s 2GB version. And yet, the Nitro 5 Spin is not the better gaming notebook across the board. It barely beats out the Yoga 720 15 in Civilization VI at 1080p and medium graphics (falling behind with graphics set to ultra), but it was over 10 frames per second (FPS) slower in Battlefield 1.

Both 2-in-1s will provide similar productivity performance, but the Yoga 720 15 is just as good if not slightly better at gaming. It wins this category on principle alone.

Winner: Lenovo Yoga 720 15

Keyboard, Mouse, and Pen

As we mentioned earlier, open up the Nitro 5 Spin, and it’s obvious this is a gaming-oriented notebook. The keyboard is lined in red, with a single level of red backlighting, and the WASD keys are highlighted for gamers. The feel might appeal to them as well, with a snappy action that’s great for gaming. However, it also suffers from short travel and an abrupt bottoming action that’s less comfortable for long-term typing.

The Microsoft Precision touchpad is better, with a comfortable surface and solid gesture support. And, the optional $50 Acer active pen is a bit limited by modern standards with only 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity and no tilt support.

The Yoga 720 15 fares a bit better in terms of typing information, with a typical Lenovo keyboard that offers a nice, springy mechanism that’s quiet and consistent and provides good feedback. Travel is a tiny bit short, but the bottoming action is comfortable. It’s a far better keyboard than the Acer’s for any user.

The touchpad was also competent, with Microsoft Precision touchpad support and an equally good feel as the Acer. The (also optional) $50 Lenovo active pen supported by the Yoga 720 is equivalent as well, with 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity.

Ultimately, a good keyboard is vital in any notebook, and the Yoga 720 15’s is simply superior. It wins this round.

Winner: Lenovo Yoga 720 15

Connectivity

The Nitro 5 Spin makes good use of its large chassis when it comes to fitting in a bunch of connectivity. There’s a single USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 port (no Thunderbolt 3 support, alas), two USB-A 3.0 ports, a USB-A 2.0 port, a full-size HDMI port, and an Ethernet jack. Add in the usual 2×2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios and you’re mostly covered.

The Yoga 720 15 takes a slightly different approach. It has two USB-C ports, one with Thunderbolt 3 support, and two USB-A 3.0 ports. Toss in a 2×2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and that’s your entire connectivity suite.

We do like the Acer’s wide range of ports, which should leave nobody needing a dongle. But the Yoga 720 15’s Thunderbolt 3 port offers a lot more performance and more diverse display options. It’s a bit of a challenge picking a winner in this category, but ultimately we think Lenovo should be rewarded for including the most futuristic port of all.

Winner: Lenovo Yoga 720 15

Display

We’ll keep this category short. Both the Nitro 5 Spin and Yoga 720 15 have equally sharp 15.6-inch Full HD displays (141 PPI). They’re both average for the price range and for the usual 2-in-1, meaning they’re very good displays by historical standards but can’t match the excellent panel on some more expensive machines.

By our objective tests, they’re fairly equal in terms of contrast, color gamut, and brightness. Where the Nitro 5 Spin falls down is in color accuracy and gamma, meaning the Yoga 720 15 is going to offer a more true-to-life image for videos and photos.

Also, the Yoga 720 15 can be purchased with a 4K UHD display, offering a significant upgrade in sharpness and overall quality. Along with the more lifelike colors, that’s enough to give the win to Lenovo, but that’s not to say you’ll be disappointed with the Acer. And compared to many gaming systems in the same price range, the Nitro 5 Spin has a much better display.

Winner: Lenovo Yoga 720 15

Portability and Battery Life

Gaming notebooks tend to offer limited battery life, which is a nice way of saying they’re usually terribly short-lived. Acer seems to have considered this fact in designing the Nitro 5 Spin, and not in a “let’s fix that” kind of way. It packed only 50 watt-hours of battery into the 2-in-1, which resulted in some decidedly mediocre battery life.

Compared to the Yoga 720 15, which enjoys a more reasonable 72 watt-hours of capacity, the Nitro 5 Spin doesn’t last as long on a charge. And that’s in spite of its using a more efficient eighth-generation Intel Core U processor compared to the full-speed processor in the Yoga 720 15.

The Acer beats out most gaming systems in terms of battery life, but that’s damning with faint praise. There should have been room for more battery inside that largish chassis, and unfortunately, Acer didn’t take advantage of it.

Winner: Lenovo Yoga 720 15

Availability and Price

The Nitro 5 Spin is moderately priced at $1,100 for a Core i7-8550U, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SATA SSD, and a 1TB HDD. That’s just on the edge of premium territory for a 2-in-1 and slightly expensive for similarly-equipped gaming notebooks. You can save $100 by dropping to a Core i5-8250U CPU or losing the SSD, but you probably wouldn’t want to do so.

The Yoga 720 15 is similarly priced at $1,100 for a Core i7-7700HQ, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB PCIe SSD. You don’t get the extra hard drive storage, but you do get a much faster SSD, and so there’s your tradeoff. You can spend up to $1,500 by bumping RAM up to 16GB, the storage up to 1TB, and opting for the 4K UHD display option.

We like options like higher resolution displays, and we’re happy with the extra performance offered by the Yoga 720’s faster SSD. For that reason, it wins this category as well.

Winner: Lenovo Yoga 720 15

The Yoga 720 15 is a better 2-in-1, and is just as good at gaming

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The Acer Nitro 5 Spin tries hard to be both a real gaming system and a legitimate convertible 2-in-1. In the end, it fails at being a great example of either, falling behind the Yoga 720 15 as both a productivity machine and an entry-level gaming notebook.

We, therefore, give a solid win to the Yoga 720 15. It manages to do what it promises better than does the Nitro 5 Spin, while also adding in another dimension that goes a bit above and beyond.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Acer Nitro 5 Spin review
  • Asus ZenBook Flip 14 vs. Lenovo Yoga 920
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 3 vs Microsoft Surface Book 2 13
  • HP Spectre x360 13 (Late 2017) Review
  • Microsoft Surface Book 2 13-inch Review


15
Apr

Ewoks are on a rampage in the upcoming limited-time ‘Battlefront II’ event


One of the great debates in the Star Wars universe is how a ragtag bunch of pint-sized furballs could have defeated the heavily armed Stormtroopers in Return of the Jedi. Now you can relive that night of terror yourself in the limited-time “Ewok Hunt” event, part of the Night on Endor update for Star Wars Battlefront II. As if Ewoks weren’t frightening enough, loot boxes are also scheduled to reappear in the space-age multiplayer shooter.

Available April 18, Ewok Hunt is a horde mode that puts you in the boots of a stormtrooper on the forest moon of Endor. Armed with blasters and flashlights, the Imperial soldiers need to repel the nasty critters until an extraction team can arrive. Each defeated stormtrooper respawns as an Ewok, so as your meager squad dwindles, the enemy forces increase.

As EA announced several weeks ago, crystals are also returning to the game as part of the update. Crystals can be purchased with real-world currency, but they’re only used to unlock cosmetic upgrades for your character, dubbed “Appearances.” Players cannot purchase items that affect progression or gameplay, such as Star Cards.

You can keep any Star Cards you currently own, but new Star Cards will be unlocked depending on your level. Parts will no longer be awarded, and as of the update your current parts will be converted into skill points, which can be used to upgrade current cards or unlock new ones. You can find out all the details at the Progression Update FAQ page.

EA hastily pulled the plug on the Battlefront II microtransaction system just hours before launch, following player backlash and an avalanche of poor publicity. The controversy helped elevate the loot boxes argument beyond the gaming community, leading some governments to speculate whether paying for random in-game items constituted gambling.

Game publishers seem eager to avoid any further regulation, and many have opted to scale back in-game purchases and make cosmetic items like outfits available for real cash, as opposed to experience boosts or upgraded weapons. Warner Bros. recently pulled all microtransactions from Shadow of War, and the upcoming Battlefield game will only feature cosmetic microtransactions as well.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Can adorable playable Ewoks get players back into ‘Star Wars: Battlefront II’?
  • ‘Star Wars Battlefront II’ ditches paid loot boxes for good
  • ‘Star Wars: Battlefront II’ review
  • ‘Star Wars Battlefront II’ patch introduces explosive new game mode
  • ‘Destiny 2’ Legendary Shards guide: What they are and how to get them


15
Apr

Acer Nitro 5 Spin vs. Dell XPS 15 2-in-1


The Acer Nitro 5 Spin is a curious machine. It’s a convertible 2-in-1, with the usual hinged design that allows the display to spin a full 360 degrees into tablet mode. And yet, it looks like a gaming notebook and includes the most popular entry-level GPU around, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1050.

The new Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is also a curious machine. In fact, it might be even more curious, because it’s clearly a productivity-oriented business-class convertible 2-in-1 with a display that spins all the way around. But it equips an even more gamer-friendly GPU in the AMD Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics chip that’s bonded to a quad-core eighth-generation Intel Core processor.

In our Acer 5 Spin vs. Dell XPS 15 2-in-1, we consider which of these two oddball machines perform best as either gaming notebooks with a 2-in-1 extra or a business-oriented 2-in-1 that can double as a capable gaming notebook.

Acer Nitro 5 Spin

Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

Dimensions
15.02 x 10.16 x 0.70 (in)
13.9 x 9.2 x 0.36-0.63 (in)

Weight
4.85 pounds
4.36 pounds

Keyboard
Full-size backlit keyboard
Full-size backlit keyboard

Processor
Up to eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8550U
Eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8705G

RAM
Up to 8GB
Up to 16GB

Graphics
Intel UHD 620
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050
AMD Radeon RX Vega M GL

Display
15.6-inch IPS Display
15.6-inch IPS Display

Resolution
Full HD (1,920 x 1,080, 141 PPI)
Full HD (1,920 x 1,080, 141 PPI)
4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160, 282 PPI)

Storage
256GB SATA SSD
1TB 5400 RPM HDD
Up to 1TB PCIe SSD

Networking
802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1

Connectivity
USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 (x2), USB-C 3.1 (x2), 3.5mm combo jack
USB-C with Thunderbold 3 (x2), USB-C 3.1 (x2), 3.5mm combo jack

Webcam
720p webcam
1080p webcam

Operating System
Windows 10
Windows 10

Battery
50 watt-hour
75 watt-hour

Price
$1,000+
$1,300+

Availability
Now
Now

Review
6.0 out of 10 stars
7.0 out of 10 stars

Design

At first glance, the Acer Nitro 5 Spin is obviously a gaming notebook. From its deep black chassis with brightly-colored red trim to its red-accented keyboard and highlighted WASD keys aimed at gamers. While the 2-in-1 isn’t a garish machine and doesn’t sport the usual gaming notebook jet fighter vents, it’s not a notebook that you’ll look for in the typical conference room.

And yet, it’s a 360-degree convertible 2-in-1, with a display that swivels from clamshell mode into a very large tablet. Whether you’ll use it in that form is debatable, given the Nitro 5 Spin’s huge display bezels (by modern standards) and wide and deep girth. While it’s surprisingly thin at 0.70 inches, it’s also a very chunky 4.85 pounds. It enjoys a solid build quality that places it on premium 2-in-1 ground, and that likely contributes to the heft that makes less suitable for carry-around tablet use.

The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 couldn’t be more different. To begin with, it looks a lot like its XPS siblings the XPS 13 and XPS 13 2-in-1. That means it’s a conservative design with aluminum and black carbon fiber making up the well-built chassis and lending the same pleasant soft-touch feel to the keyboard deck.

In another departure from Acer’s gaming-focused 2-in-1, the XPS 15 2-in-1 is also incredibly small and thin, at 0.63 inches thick and with a width and depth that’s over an inch less in both directions. It’s significantly lighter as well at 4.38 pounds, which is almost a pound less than the Acer and is a lightweight among 15-inch 2-in-1s in general.

And as we’ll see in the performance section, Dell packed in some powerful components, forcing it to look to innovative materials such as space-age Gore insulation to keep the heat contained and away from sensitive skin. As we note in our review, Dell was only partially successful, as during loads the chassis still gets overly warm to the touch.

Ask a gamer, and they might call the Nitro 4 Spin too conservative to be a real gaming notebook. Ask a businessperson, and it might be too stylized to carry into a meeting. But the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 looks exactly like it’s supposed to look, and it’s far better suited as a 2-in-1. It wins this round.

Winner: Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

Performance

Even though it’s ostensibly a gaming notebook, the Nitro 5 Spin is equipped with eighth-generation quad-core Intel Core U 15-watt processors rather than the 45-watt CPUs you’ll find in many gaming systems. The Intel Core i7-8550U in our review unit can power up for more demanding tasks and then start sipping from the battery when the tasks are a bit easier on the CPU.

That’s a different approach than the XPS 15 2-in-1, which is built around Intel’s latest unique offering, the Core i7-8507G that’s built around a faster quad-core eighth-generation processor. In our benchmarks, it’s a real beast, beating out the i7-8550U and competing strongly with the 45-watt process typical to gaming systems.

And here’s where this particular comparison gets most interesting. The gaming-oriented Nitro 5 Spin comes with a discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 that’s essentially an entry-level gaming GPU, whereas the productivity-oriented XPS 15 2-in-1 has an AMD Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics chip that’s in line with the CPU.

Simply put, the XPS 15 2-in-1 out-games the gaming 2-in-1 Nitro 5 Spin, and by a fair margin. It scores higher in the 3DMark synthetic gaming benchmark. And in real-world games, it achieves significantly higher frame rates in all of our test titles including Civilization VI and Battlefield 1. 

It’s not that the Nitro 5 Spin performs slowly that’s at issue here, it’s how much faster the XPS 15 2-in-1 is at the very tasks that Acer aimed for with its gaming-oriented 2-in-1. Dell squeezed a ton of performance out of an incredibly thin and light machine, and that earns a huge win in this category.

Winner: Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

Keyboard, Mouse, and Pen

Clearly, the Nitro 5 Spin’s keyboard was designed with gamers in mind. It’s lined in red, which is your first hint, and the single level of backlighting shines in a red hue. And, the WASD keys are highlighted, which certainly isn’t done to make entering data into Excel any easier. The key mechanism is probably most attractive to gamers as well, with its snappy action but short travel and abrupt bottoming action that’s less comfortable for long-term typing.

The Acer’s touchpad is better, with a comfortable surface and solid Microsoft Precision gesture support. The optional $50 Acer active pen is a bit limited by modern standards with only 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity and lack of tilt support. It’s okay, but nothing special.

Dell went in a completely different direction with the keyboard in the XPS 15 2-in-1, which needed to be thinner to fit into the 2-in-1’s svelte chassis. Specifically, the keyboard uses a magnetic levitation (maglev) mechanism to try to tune 0.7mm of key travel into something that doesn’t feel like you’re typing on a block of wood. We found it to offer a snappy feel that’s loud and has an abrupt bottoming action — which should sound familiar because that’s just how we described Acer’s keyboard.

The touchpad uses more typical technology, and it’s very good, with Microsoft Precision touchpad support for precise Windows 10 gestures. The latest Dell Premium Active pen is much better, with 4,096 levels of pressure sensitive and tilt support.

With a better pen and an innovative keyboard design, we’ll give Dell the win here as well, although by a slighter margin than in some other categories.

Winner: Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

Connectivity

The Nitro 5 Spin has a relatively large chassis, and that makes room for lots of connectivity. There’s a single USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 port (no Thunderbolt 3 support, alas), two USB-A 3.0 ports, a USB-A 2.0 port, a full-size HDMI port, and an Ethernet jack. Add in the usual 2×2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios, and you’re mostly covered.

With the XPS 15 2-in-1, Dell committed fully to USB-C. Literally, that’s all you have besides a 3.5mm combo jack: four USB-C ports, two of which support Thunderbolt 3 with a full four lanes of PCIe each. That means you’ll have no problem plugging in all kinds of displays and connecting to an external GPU for gaming if the Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics aren’t enough for you. Oh, and there’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as well.

You’ll need dongles to plug in your legacy devices with the XPS 15 2-in-1, but we do like Thunderbolt 3. Having the fastest connectivity on the planet is a good thing, and the Dell has plenty of it.

Winner: Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

Display

Okay, so, the Nitro 5 Spin has an average 15.6-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 142 PPI) display that competes well against its class of convertible 2-in-1 and is better than many similarly priced gaming notebooks. That’s all to the good.

But the 4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160 or 282 PPI) panel that Dell offers for the XPS 15 2-in-1 is absolutely, flat-out, downright gorgeous. It’s sharp as a tack, extremely bright, has the best contrast this side of a Microsoft Surface Book 2, and covers almost the entire AdobeRGB color gamut. Seriously, it’s a beautiful display, probably the best you’ll find on a notebook today — and that includes Apple’s MacBook Pro.

There’s nothing else to say here, really. We’ll add that you can get a Full HD display for the XPS 15 2-in-1 if you like, but you won’t unless you just don’t care how things look. Or if you’re really worried about battery life, but we’ll save that for the next section.

Winner: Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

Portability and Battery Life

Here’s one thing the Nitro 5 Spin has in common with “real” gaming notebooks: Too little battery capacity tucked into that relatively chunky chassis. Acer only included 50 watt-hours, in fact, and that results in very limited battery life. Now, it’s better than many gaming notebooks thanks to the power-sipping capabilities of the eighth-generation Intel Core “U” processor, but it falls well short of most convertible 2-in-1s.

Unless, of course, you’re talking about the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 with that Intel Core i7-8705G CPU and 4K UHD display. Then, you’ll marvel at just how poor battery life can be in a notebook that’s meant to be carried around for long periods away from a charger. The XPS 15 2-in-1 has even worse battery life than the Nitro 5 Spin, and that’s saying something. Get the Full HD display, and you’ll likely stretch the batter a bit more, but we suspect it’ll never be exceptional.

Dell made its convertible 2-in-1 very lightweight and easy to carry around. But that’s no good if you have to take your charger along with you. Acer is the (rather weak) winner of this round.

Winner: Acer Nitro 5 Spin

Availability and Price

The Nitro 5 Spin falls just into the premium notebook range at $1,100 for a Core i7-8550U, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SATA SSD, and a 1TB HDD. It’s not terribly expensive for a well-equipped 2-in-1, but it’s probably a bit overpriced compared to similarly-equipped gaming notebooks. Drop $100 by selecting a Core i5-8250U CPU or losing the SSD.

The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is a pricier machine. It starts at $1,300 for an Intel Core i5-8305G (using the same AMD graphics as its faster sibling), 8GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, and Full HD display. You can spend as much as $2,750 for an Intel Core i7-8705G, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and that lovely 4K UHD display.

Simply put, the Nitro 5 Spin is far more affordable, and it’s a decent value. The XPS 15 2-in-1 is an expensive machine, and because of the onboard graphics, you can’t configure it down very far.

Winner: Acer Nitro 5 Spin

The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is just better at what it sets out to do

The Acer Nitro 5 Spin ends up being a Jack of two trades and a master of neither. It’s not a great gaming notebook — you can spend less and get a faster machine — and it’s too large and heavy to be a serious convertible 2-in-1.

Dell’s XPS 15 2-in-1, on the other hand, is a great convertible 2-in-1 that can also game right along with some dedicated gaming notebooks. It’s therefore better at doing what Dell promises, with an added bonus to people who aren’t all work and no play. We wish it had better battery life, but it still beats the Nitro 5 Spin by a fair margin (with a few extra dollars tossed into the mix).

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Acer Nitro 5 Spin review
  • Acer Nitro 5 Spin vs. Lenovo Yoga 720 15
  • Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 vs. Surface Book 2 15
  • Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 review
  • Asus ZenBook Flip 14 vs. Lenovo Yoga 920


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