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Foldable Smartphone

Flexible Displays Take Center Stage at CES 2020

Perhaps the most exciting new development featured at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show is the introduction of foldable displays into a plethora of devices, which promises to revolutionize the way we interact with technology. 2019 saw the premiere of foldable screens in the form of the Samsung Galaxy Fold which, while far from a perfect device, demonstrated the potential that such a dynamic form factor has for expanding functionality in the consumer technology market. Though many of the devices with flexible displays presented at this year’s show are merely prototypes that illustrate a concept, they offer a glimpse into what may very well be the future of how we consume, create, and share digital content.

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One of the more striking innovations on display this year is the use of folding screens in laptop-sized devices, bringing the full experience of the Windows computing environment to the new form factor. Intel showed off their Horseshoe Bend concept at the event, allowing reporters to test the device which unfolds to reveal a continuous 17-inch touchscreen display. The unique device can be used in a number of orientations; it can be held sideways, partially bent, to resemble a large book, or it can be positioned like a traditional laptop with the bottom half of the screen functioning as a virtual keyboard, or it can be unfolded completely for consuming content on a relatively large portable display.

Many of the major tech manufacturers are getting in on the foldable display trend. Lenovo introduced the ThinkPad X1 Fold which, unlike Intel’s prototype, will go on sale within the next several months. Though Lenovo’s device is similar in design and function to Intel’s prototype, it is significantly smaller with a 13.3-inch screen. Unlike the Horseshoe Bend concept, however, Lenovo also offers the “Bluetooth Mini Fold keyboard” accessory, which adds a wireless physical keyboard to the experience which can either sit on top of the lower half of the screen or in front of the device to take advantage of all of the available screen real estate. When folded, the device has a gap in between the two halves of the screen, which makes for a convenient storage location for the bespoke wireless keyboard accessory. Even more impressively, the device wirelessly charges the keyboard when it is stored in this way, reducing the headache of managing the batteries of multiple wireless accessories. In a nice touch, the device’s leather exterior causes it to resemble a traditional Moleskine notebook when folded. The premium look is befitting of the device’s premium price tag, as it will cost $2,499 when it releases later this year.

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Dell, for their part, sought to emulate the functionality presented by a folding-screen laptop while relying on more traditional display technology in their Concept Ori and Concept Duet, two prototype devices which apparently draw inspiration from the Surface Neo and Surface Duo devices Microsoft announced last year. Like Microsoft’s devices, the Concept Duet features two screens connected by a 360-degree hinge which allows the device to be used in a number of different orientations. While Dell’s products appear to be less polished than the ones Microsoft showed off last year, the Concept Duet, if and when it releases in its final form, will likely offer a competitive experience to the Surface Duo at a reduced price. The Concept Ori, on the other hand, strongly resembles Lenovo’s Thinkpad X1 Fold with a folding display of its own, suggesting that manufacturers are thinking along similar lines when determining how best to incorporate the cutting-edge technology into their hardware offerings. If anything, the multitude of folding-screen devices shown at this year’s CES suggests that the future of consumer electronics will offer a plethora of competitive options for customers excited to take advantage of innovations made possible by cutting-edge flexible display technology.

Apple MacBook

Apple Releases New 16 Inch MacBook Pro

Apple is known as one of the top tech companies on the planet. Every year they attempt, and often succeed, at topping themselves from the year prior in terms of personal device innovation. iPhone’s become thinner, and contain the most powerful camera in any cell phone on the market, AirPods have become a trailblazer in terms of wireless headphone technology, and now the coveted MacBook Pro is becoming the largest personal computer the company has ever made. Standing in at a whopping 16 inches in length, and 4.3 pounds in weight, it surely is the Andre The Giant of the laptop world. 

Besides the obvious size change, the one thing tech geeks all across the globe were looking at in this annual computer upgrade was at the keyboard design. Within the past few MacBook models, Apple has implemented a newer and sleeker “butterfly keyboard” design. The name refers to the way in which the keys sit in the keyboard themselves. Standard laptop keys tend to have a little bit of a raise above the keyboard surface, which results in a more powerful and loud “click” as you type. Recently, Apple made their MacBook’s with the “butterfly” design, which refers to the way in which the underside of the keys actually sit more in the keyboard itself, as opposed to resting above it like in standard models. The concept of this design allows for a much thinner keyboard look, less of a loud click, and an overall smoother typing experience. However, individuals were quick to renounce Apple for this choice, as butterfly keyboard designs have been scrutinized in the past based on how easily dust or food particles can get stuck under the keys, making it quite difficult to actually type, and Apple’s design was no different. So when the company announced the new 16 inch giants would revert back to a more standard keyboard design, tech enthusiasts were thrilled. 

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Besides these upgrades in size and keyboard stamina, the laptop also now contains a 100WH battery which Apple claims will give you up to 11 hours of non stop use. The battery itself is also the Federal Aviation Administration’s limit for laptops that are allowed on planes, according to the Verge. Tech expert reviewer Dieter Bohn also discussed how the speakers on this massive laptop are the best Apple has ever done with their computer’s sound systems. 

“The 16-inch MacBook Pro can maintain higher speeds than before and, I think, more importantly, it does so consistently. That all happens, thanks to some design changes that Apple made: it added a larger heat sink, changed the fan design to move more air, made the whole thing slightly thicker, and even rearranged the logic board to optimize for heat dispersal. Apple claims that all of these changes allow it to push 12W more power though the processor under load,” said Bohn

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The laptop itself is also an obvious giant. This is important for anyone to note on the market for a new laptop. The new large design allows for a slightly bigger high definition screen resolution, quality “surround sound” esque speaker performance, and improved keyboard layout and design. The speakers themselves are claimed to be the best laptop speakers on the market currently (Verge). However, that improved sound does mean that it is rather heavier than previous models, and if you think the extra inch of surface area would make a difference in terms of travel, compared to last years model, you’d be correct. If you’re the type of commuter who travels with their commuters in their backpack every day, you’re more than likely to get used to the extra weight, however, should you have to? Especially for a more expensive price. 

The new MacBook Pro starts at $2,400. For reference the much smaller 11 inch MacBook Air starts at $1100, and the standard 13 inch MacBook Pro starts at $1300. That’s one thousand dollars more for an extra three inches of screen space. The new Pro is larger, contains amazing sound quality, a more traditional keyboard design, and all the other perks of a standard current Apple laptop. It truly is up to the individual buyer and their intended use for the computer to determine if that would actually be worth it or not.

Hammock with Laptop

What You Need To Work On The Go

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, it’s easier than ever to replicate many of the functions of the office on the go. Technological advancements mean that most, if not all of the tasks that knowledge workers engage in on a daily basis can be performed remotely, as high-speed internet becomes increasingly widespread and innovations in mobile computing enable greater productivity. If you’re lucky enough to work for a company that allows you to work remotely, or if you’re self-employed, you’ll need the right tools to help you get the job done. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of transitioning to mobile work is choosing the technology that’s most useful to you when on the go without breaking the bank. As such, this article offers several recommendations for the traveling employee.

An essential part of maintaining productivity, of course, is staying organized. This can be difficult when traveling, particularly when your job requires you to bring several different pieces of technology with you. As such, investing in a bespoke electronics organization system is essential. Depending on your budget, several options are available; if you’re not afraid to splurge, the Stow First-Class Leather Tech Set, which costs $545, enables a luxurious travel experience. For more budget-conscious consumers, the Brooklyn Tech Envelope offers similar functionality and style and is currently on sale for $89.99, and the bare-bones BAGSMART Electronic Organizer gets the job done while maintaining a suitably professional appearance for $23.99. All three of these bags are custom-built to carry your technology, taking much of the headache out of planning your work trips.

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Once you accumulate a certain number of mobile devices, keeping all of their batteries charged can quickly become a nightmare, as charging solutions for different products are often mutually incompatible. What’s worse, different countries use different electrical systems, often forcing consumers to purchase power adapters specific to the local they’re visiting. Thankfully, plenty of universal power adapters exist to alleviate the hassle. For $39.99, the BESTEK Universal Travel Adapter enables compatibility with different types of outlets from around the world, featuring multiple USB ports to charge seven devices simultaneously. If you want to save some money, SLMASK’s Travel Adapter is half the price and offers similar functionality, though it can only charge five devices at once. For a nominal up-front cost, both of these options eliminate the hassle of managing several different charging systems for each of your devices.

Though smartphones and tablets have made substantial progress in incorporating productivity features, laptops are still the best way to get any serious work done on the go, as their built-in physical keyboards and precision input capabilities enable more complex interactions with computers. If you’re in the market for a new laptop, plenty of impressive and budget-friendly options have recently hit the market. While it’s not the cheapest option available, the $1,099 MacBook Air features a gorgeous design, brilliant display, and powerful specifications of the machine are of particular interest to people who depend upon MacOS-exclusive applications like Final Cut Pro for their work. If you can get away with using little more than a web browser, though, the comparatively inexpensive Google Pixelbook Go and Acer Chromebook 15, retailing for $650 and $350 respectively, present worthy alternatives. 

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If you’re someone who relies on making VoIP or video calls to coordinate with your colleagues, a quality portable audio system is valuable. Wireless headphones are becoming all the rage as of late, and higher-end models include microphones and noise-cancelling features, a bonus for frequent fliers for reducing annoying cabin noise. Over-ear wireless headphones offer superior battery life to wireless earbuds, and often offer superior audio quality as well. A good budget product offering these features is the TaoTronics TT-BH22 Active Noise Cancelling Bluetooth Headphones. If you’re willing to spend more money for improved sound quality and premium design and materials, the Bose Headphones 700 for $399 and Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless Headphones for $349 offer a superior listening experience.

Your tech travel preparations wouldn’t be complete without an anti-theft backpack. Fortunately, several tech-friendly options exist on the market, such as the $199 Voltaic Systems OffGrid 10 Watt Rapid Solar Backpack Charger, which features a solar panel to charge an internal battery which can power your devices. Cheaper options include the minimalistic Travelon Anti-theft Urban Incognito Backpack for $79.22 and the Oscaurt Anti-theft Travel Backpack for $31.99.

Girl on Computer

Who is the Pixelbook Go For?

There’s no question that the Pixelbook Go is an impressive-looking device. Multiple reviewers have praised the product’s sleek build quality and carefully considered design, in addition to its unusual twelve-hour battery life. But for a laptop that starts at $650, it offers little in the way of features. Instead of the traditional, more powerful Windows or macOS operating systems, the Pixelbook Go runs Chrome OS, a platform designed to handle Google’s Chrome web browser and do little more. To its credit, the Pixelbook Go has the hardware chops to perform this task excellently, but its constrained featureset may leave prospective buyers skeptical of its practicality, particularly considering the expansive spate of options available at this price point.

Though the company is often praised for the build quality and design of its products, including its flagship Pixel line of smartphones, Google has been known to introduce consumer products that fail to take off in the competitive personal electronics market. Take, for instance, last year’s Pixel Slate, a ChromeOS tablet starting at $599 with a premium look and feel that offers even less functionality than the company’s laptops, especially without its optional $199 keyboard case or $99 Pixelbook Pen. Even though this expensive tablet runs Android apps, many are not optimized for the Pixel Slate, leading to an unreliable user experience when dealing with third-party software. The Pixel Slate supports split-screen multitasking, for instance, but many third-party apps are not yet compatible with this feature. While the product was nonetheless praised by reviewers for what it was, it was a commercial flop, and Google seems to have shifted its focus away from ChromeOS tablets towards laptops at least for the time being.

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While the Go is significantly cheaper than Google’s premium version released earlier this year, its price point, at essentially twice the cost of Chromebooks by other manufacturers, puts the product into a class all of its own. For that additional price, consumers are treated to impressive hardware specs that ensure the task of browsing the web, even when using multiple tabs and accessing content-heavy sites, remains fast and smooth. Chrome on the Pixelbook Go runs about as well as it does on any other laptop on the market, with the exception of Google’s own, more expensive 2-in-1 hybrid Pixelbook. And the Go features a high-quality, 1080p display, which, combined with a battery life that lasts all day and then some, renders the device perfect for extended Netflix or Youtube binge sessions.

The problem with the Pixelbook Go is the existence of laptops running exactly the same software almost as well for half the price or less. For $299, Samsung’s take on the Chromebook concept features a display of the same resolution and a similar, attractive design, with specs that are likely more than adequate for the tasks one might seek to accomplish within the confines of the Chrome web browser. And for $100 less, Asus’s Chromebook C423 features a lower-resolution screen but can handle light web browsing with ease. Consumers willing to spend $650 on a laptop are likely better off purchasing one that features a full operating system like Windows or MacOS, rather than what is in essence little more than a stripped-down version of Android. At this price point, Windows laptops with similar specifications are abundant, including Microsoft’s own Surface Laptop, and while they may not share the attention to detail of the Pixelbook Go’s build quality, the boost in functionality their more sophisticated software environments offer more than makes up for it. 

With all that being said, I still wouldn’t say the Pixelbook Go looks like a bad product. It’s simply one with an unclear market. While people who buy the Go are likely to be satisfied with their decision, the fact of the matter is that any number of better value propositions exist at and below its price point. As such, though it appears to be an acceptable device with some impressive specifications, it’s hard to recommend the Pixelbook Go to anyone when considering its alternatives.

 

Featured image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/momandson/8229514301

Google Search

Google Announces New Line of Products at Made by Google 2019 Event

Today, Google held a press event during which they discussed their new line of products, as well as their advancements in engineering and design, with a particular focus on how progress in artificial intelligence and machine learning has affected their business.

Google began the event by discussing the company’s mission, which is to help people in their lives without intruding on their daily lives. Google calls this concept “ambient computing,” by which they mean interactions with computers that exist in the background, rather than ones that occupy the user’s attention by being obvious and intrusive. Google claims that this concept informs the development of all of their products, and stated that all of the products announced at the event would demonstrate the value of this approach to computing.

The first product Google described was the Pixel Buds, a pair of wireless earbuds with advanced software functionality. The Pixel Buds include integration with the Google Assistant, and use bone conduction technology to recognize the user’s voice even in loud environments. They also work several rooms away from the device to which they are wirelessly connected, allowing for greater freedom and flexibility, and include audio pass-through features to enable users to remain present in their environment even while listening to music. The Pixel Buds will cost $179, and will launch in Spring 2020.

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Next, Google talked about the importance of sustainability and environmental consciousness in their company’s philosophy. The company stated that they would commit to investing $150 million into renewable energy sources, and spoke about their commitment to incorporate recycled plastic in their products. Google also spoke of its new video game streaming platform, which requires only a controller and a compatible device, cutting back on hardware costs and waste. They introduced the controller they designed for this specific purpose, which was inspired by the versatile design of kitchen knives for professional chefs.

Google then introduced the Pixelbook Go, an affordable laptop, which is available for pre-order and will cost $649. The company quickly moved on to talk about its updates to Google Nest, a smart home system designed to seamlessly incorporate technology into home life. Google stressed its commitment to security and privacy, describing how third-party developers would have to meet certain requirements in order to enable compatibility with Google Nest products. The Google Nest Hub Next acts as a standalone tablet to be placed on top of the kitchen counter, for instance, and allows users to dynamic move content from one display to another within the home. Google described an update to its Google Home Mini, including advanced artificial intelligence processors and the option to mount the device on the wall. They also described Nest Aware, a camera-based surveillance system for the home, and talked about how smoke alarm features would be integrated into their products. The last Google Home product the company discussed was Nest WiFi, a router system for creating mesh networks within the home.

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Google then discussed the Google Pixel 4, the company’s flagship smartphone which has been completely redesigned. The first feature of the phone the company discussed was its built-in radar sensor, which is used for facial recognition and gesture recognition. The company described their efforts in radar technology as a way to introduce natural human body language as a way of interacting with computers, and described how the Google Assistant is more deeply integrated into the phone’s operating system, again emphasizing the company’s commitment to privacy and ensuring users have control over their data. One example of this is the company’s new Recorder app, which automatically records and transcribes audio on the device, even when it’s not connected to the Internet.

Google described the display of the Pixel 4 as “visually indistinguishable from perfect,” and it is the first phone to feature a display with a 90 Hz refresh rate. Additionally, the company claimed the phone’s camera was at the top of its class, and discussed how the company invested into “computational photography,” which is software that improves the visual fidelity of data captured by the image sensor. Computational photography generally involves combining several images into one, reducing noise and expanding the dynamic range of photographs. Computational photography also enables high-resolution digital zoom, and real-time previews of HDR images. Additionally, computational photography allows for more accurate automatic white balancing and approximation of the depth-of-field effect, including bokeh simulation, and improving the detail of night shots, including the ability to capture stars in the night sky. The phone will start shipping on October 24, and will cost $799.

Overall, the range of products announced at this year’s event was somewhat limited, as the updates to the Google Home products seemed fairly minor, with limited appeal. While the Pixel Buds seem impressive, there is strong competition in the wireless earbud market from Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and Samsung, and the Pixel Buds don’t feature any truly unique capabilities. Google didn’t go into too much detail about its upcoming Pixel 4, but the smartphone was by far the most interesting product described today, as the company promises their new phone will integrate hardware and software features to provide the best Android experience on the market.