Norm reviews the Avegant Glyph, a headset that uses tiny DLP projectors to put a personal video theater on your face. It's not a virtual reality headset, but has sensors for head-tracking for 3D and 360-degree video from your phone. But the best use of it may be with camera-equipped quadcopters.
After living with the new 4th generation Apple TV for a month, Norm and Patrick Norton evaluate how this set-top box performs against its competition. There's a lot to like about its interface and implementation of video streaming apps, but a few things bug us about its remote design and consistency of voice-control. Here's why it's not the cord-cutting device for everyone.
I've been testing the iPad Pro for the past week and a half now, using it not only as a go-to tablet, but also as an alternative to a notebook for as many day-to-day tasks as possible. I strapped it inside a Logitech Create keyboard and brought it as my sole computer for a weekend work trip to LA. There's a lot more testing to do--my Apple Pencil hasn't even shipped yet--but I wanted to share with you my thoughts on how the device performs, and where it fits and doesn't fit into my work and home use. Specifically, I want to discuss how it, along with other devices, are changing the conversation and role of what are typically classified as mobile and desktop-class computers.
The release of Microsoft's new Surface devices (Surface Book and Surface Pro 4), along with the release of the iPad Pro has renewed the idea of mobile vs. desktop. You can find many reviews that boil their evaluation down to whether the iPad Pro can replace a laptop, or whether Microsoft's Surface laptops can replace the need for a tablet. I'm not interested in that head-to-head comparison--the products are set at different price points, and in my mind serve different purposes. Their hardware and software design illustrate different priorities for Microsoft and Apple for their respective families of computing devices. It's those priorities and design approaches that are really interesting; I want to compare what the iPad and Surface lines stand for: a future that's mobile first vs. one that's desktop first.
To do that, we should first define our terms. So much of this discussion can get muddled in pointless semantic disagreements. When talking about the iPad and Surface, what categorizes one as mobile, and what categorizes the other as a desktop device? Is it the physical formfactor and size? Having a built-in keyboard? Long battery life? Processor architecture? Touchscreen? App selection? All of the above are important to varying degrees, but I think the difference currently boils down to windowed applications and input models, and how those implementations affect how you can use those machines.
Windows and a Desktop: Multitasking for Productivity
For me, the biggest difference in the way you currently use a desktop-class device (eg. a notebook) and a mobile device (eg. smartphone and tablet) depends on whether the operating system employs a desktop model of running programs and file management. As opposed to runnings apps full-screen, Desktop OSes allow for windowed applications to run alongside each other, on top of a virtual and visualized desktop surface. It's a really simple concept to understand, and yet there are grey areas. For example, the home screen on iOS doesn't count as a desktop--it's just an application list, like the Start Menu in Windows. Simple. But on Android OS, being able to arrange files and shortcuts around a launcher screen and run apps in windows makes those devices more akin to desktop OSes, even though Android is typically classified as a mobile OS.
The second-generation Pebble smartwatch is here, and brings with it a color screen and microphone. We sit down and discuss how the new Pebble Time compares with the original, the Apple Watch, and Android Wear. All-week battery life is great, but this watch has many caveats, especially if you're an iPhone user.
This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com.
We've spent more than 140 hours testing 21 different battery cases (18 for the iPhone 6 and three for the iPhone 6 Plus), and we think the best battery case for most people is Anker's Ultra Slim Extended Battery Case. It provides an above-average 117 percent of a full charge to the iPhone 6—one full charge plus another 17 percent—and at only $40, it's by far the least expensive. The result is the highest ratio of charge percent per dollar and the lowest cost per full iPhone recharge out of all the models we looked at. It's also the lightest and thinnest battery case we tested.
Why you might want a battery case
Depending on how you use your iPhone, draining its battery during an average day can be easy. If you rely on your phone to last a full day, and you don't have the time (or physical access) to plop down next to a wall outlet, a battery case—which puts a moderate-capacity rechargeable battery inside a bulky iPhone case—can be a smart choice. In the best circumstances, a battery case can double the battery life of your iPhone and then some. And unlike with stand-alone battery packs, you don't need to bring a separate cable or figure out how to carry both devices together. You just slide or snap your iPhone into the battery case to get protection and power in a single unit. If you're looking only for some protection, we can also recommend a regular case.
After living with the Apple Watch for over a month, Will discusses what features he finds most useful about it and what has disappointed him. Typical of first-gen products, the watch is a mix of successes and missteps. Here's what early adopters should expect and what we hope will change in future versions.
Apple annual developer conference, WWDC, started today, and the company just finished its keynote address announcing updates for Mac OS, iOS, and WatchOS for the rest of the year. We followed along with liveblogs and the livestream, and will be discussing the news in this week's podcast. Until then, here are the major product and service announcements that came from Tim Cook and his team at Apple.
Mac OS X updates came first. The next version of Mac is called OS X El Capitan. Notable changes include Safari pinned bookmarks and tab management, Spotlight accepting natural language searches, and new mission control windows management--a la window snapping in Windows. Performance is supposed to be 1.4X that of Yosemite. Metal--Apple's low-level rendering engine--moves to OS X and secures Adobe adoption for much faster rendering. El Capitan is available to devs today and will be released for free in the fall.
On the iOS front, the big iOS 9 update lies with Siri, which gets a feature called Proactive Assistant. This is Apple's version of Google Now, and will take information from Mail, Calendar, and other apps to give you notifications about context-relevant events. It'll also be more context-aware for tasks, like playing audiobooks vs. music when you get in a car. Siri and iOS Spotlight look better integrated, with a new API for deep linked search within iOS apps. This will all be data kept on your phone, and not sent to Apple's data centers or linked to Apple ID. Maps gets transit directions in select cities to start. A new News app is like Apple's version of Flipboard, but apparently with no ads. Photos and Notes apps get updated too, along with the default keyboard.
Google's relaunched Photos service and app are here, and it's a big deal for the company. As we've discussed on This is Only a Test, Photos is our favorite part of Google+, for its automated backup feature and ease of downloading and sharing pics. Now it's split off of Google+ completely, relaunched as a sort of Gmail for Photos. That could be a good thing for Android and iOS users who have hundreds if not thousands of photos saved on their phones. But as with typical Google services, you should also think about what Google gets out of it too.
Here's how the new Photos service works. On the app front, it's the updated version of the Photos app for Android, which Google has been using to compete with default Gallery apps on OEM phones. The app is as useful as its ever been, allowing automated uploading of every photo and video saved on your phone, either over Wi-Fi or cellular. "Full resolution" photos are now saved, up to 16MP, though they're actually high-quality compressed versions of the JPEGs found on your phone. Each phone compresses their JPEGs differently, so we'll have to do more comparisons to see whether Photos backups are truly archival quality. Still, we're just talking about smartphone photos, so most people don't care about a little bit of compression. Videos are saved up to 1080p resolution, and Google is touting unlimited backup storage using the high-quality compression setting. (You can still archive actual original photos, with a storage quota.) Detected duplicate photos on your phone can also automatically be deleted, saving you some local storage. The app is also now available on iOS with the same features, making it at least a solid complement to Photostream.
What's new is mostly on the web side, where Photos has been streamlined for better archiving and search of your photos. This is where the Gmail analogy is most appropriate. Instead of treating Photos as a Flickr or Instagram like showcase of the photos you want to share, the thought is that it's an archival service first, sharing service second. The thought is that you don't have to worry about curating anything--just let Photos handle all the sorting and backup of your photo dump, and allow it to tap into Google's image-processing algorithms to digest it. Then, just like searching through old email, you can dig through old photos by searching for people, locations, and even objects Google has recognized in your photos (eg. animals, food, plants, etc). Backend work has clearly been going on for a while, since the new Photos is already up and running, and surprisingly fast. It's like Lightroom for the smartphone photos you don't plan on tweaking to death.
So what does Google get out of it? The company said that it has no plans to monetize it with ads, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't have advertising--its core business--in mind. What Google gets is an incredible dataset of user photos to refine its image-recognition algorithms. It really sounds like a play a computer vision, like Stanford researcher Fei-Fei-Li's use of photosets to teach AI how to recognize an image of a cat. Except in that case, the dataset was only 15 million photos--Google has access to orders of magnitude more data, with both active and passive user feedback just through the use of the Photos service. Improving image search puts us one more step toward better video search, as well. And unlike Flickr or Instagram, search is something that Google actively monetizes.
For more on Google Photos, Steve Levy of Medium has an insightful interview with the service's director, Bradley Horowitz.
For this week's Show and Tell, Norm shares a car accessory that has been essential in numerous road trips this year. If you don't have bluetooth or a line-in jack for media in your car, the Mpow Streambot FM transmitter is an easy way to play podcasts and music over your stereo system. The Wirecutter recently selected it as a great Bluetooth car stereo pick for music streaming! (Thanks to B&H for providing the One Man Crew system for this video. Find out more about it here!)
For the past few days, I've been testing an iOS tool called Duet Display. Eric Cheng of DJI clued me in on the $15 app, and it's one of the more interesting and useful iPad utilities I've used so far. Simply, it allows you to use any iPad--whether it's an old 30-pin or current Lightning cable model--as a second screen for your Mac or PC. Yep, it's platform agnostic, and the desktop client is free. Using a 9.7-inch or 7.9-inch tablet as your secondary monitor may not sound like a great idea, and it's not something I would use on a regular basis. But since I keep both a laptop and my iPad in my backpack for most places I go, this is something that may have a lot of utility for frequent work travel.
The ability to use an iPad as a second display isn't new--iOS apps like Air Display have granted that ability for years. But those apps rely on a tethered or shared Wi-Fi connection, which limits the quality and responsiveness of the extended display image. The host computer is essentially sending compressed video over to the iPad, and that requires a lot of bandwidth. Duet Display uses a wired connection, so the only limiting factor is the host computer's ability to render and compress a desktop to send over the cable (Duet Display is admittedly a bit of a CPU and power hog, if you're running on laptop power). I was impressed by how good the desktop on my iPad Mini looked, and how responsive the cursor was as I moved windows between screens. It's not exactly zero lag, but darn close.
For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares his new favorite travel keyboard, the Microsoft Universal Mobile. It's a small rechargeable Bluetooth keyboard that can pair and easily switch between multiple devices (Windows, Android, or iOS), and is well-designed for use on airplanes. Check it out!
We're starting to test the new Apple Watch for our long-term use review. Today, we run through some common questions about its basic features, how app integration works, connectivity with our phones, and Siri functionality that you can't demo in stores. What questions do you have about the Apple Watch?
The Apple Watch is finally available to try in person, so we book the very first appointment at our local store to get a demo and check out the hardware. Norm, Jeremy, and Gary share their impressions from trying on the different models and bands and discuss navigating the UI with the digital crown.
Hey, did you hear? Apple is releasing a watch next month. And unlike past product category launches like the iPad and iPhone, Apple seems to be a bit more open in allowing the press and public to glimpse into its product development process. There was that massive Jony Ive profile in the New Yorker, where writer Ian Parker spent days in Apple's design lab chatting with Ive's collaborators. There are the three craftsmanship videos about Apple watch manufacturing, which Greg Koenig has delightfully dissected. And even Good Morning America recently visited Apple's health testing lab, where dozens of employees are strapped to complex health monitoring systems for study. Just a little bit like the gym in Gattaca. This new approach to transparency as marketing is smart--it doesn't feel like Apple's giving away state secrets, at least, not that any it thinks competitors can reproduce. It's more posturing than anything, more of a "look what we can do with over $150 billion in cash reserves." And like Koenig's analysis of Apple's materials process, I'd love to see context from health companies like Fitbit and Withings to see what kind of rigor they're putting their health tracking technologies through. Or is all of this extra research unnecessary, given academia and the medical industry's current understanding of fitness?2
For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares his favorite new adjustable stand for his iPhone 6+. We've tested the simple Glif stand before, and Studio Neat's newest version is more versatile. Will uses it all the time to attach his phone to tripods or for propping it up on a table.
How secure is Apple's Touch ID? We explain how it recognizes your fingerprints, and then put it to the test by making fake fingers and fingerprints of our own. A German computer club claimed to have spoofed the security system last year, and we retrace their methods as well as experimenting with a few of our own. (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Thanks to our members who've supported us. Learn more about memberships here.)
Apple has two new iPads out this year, but only one of them is a significant update to the last generation. Surprisingly, it's the iPad Air 2, which improves on last year's model in both size, weight, and performance. We sit down to discuss in-depth the differences between the current slate of iPads, and show you where GPU improvements are most noticeable.
The first reviews of Apple's new iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 went online yesterday, and they're looking mostly positive. The consensus on the Mini seems to be that it's not worth the $100 premium over the now-$400 Mini 2, just for TouchID and the gold color option. But the improvements made to the iPad Air line is pretty significant. iPad Air 2 is Apple's first tablet with a tri-core SoC, the A8X. It's not just a clock speed bump over the iPhone 6's A8, and synthetic benchmarks peg performance far above the latest iPhones in both single-core and multi-core usage. iPad Air 2 is also Apple's first iOS device with 2GB of RAM. According to some reviewers, it's as fast an old MacBook Air (at least for web browsing). Those devices aren't really comparable, since their core users buy them for very different reasons and usage scenarios. While I'm not excited for the new Mini, nor am in the market for a new full-size iPad, I think it looks promising as an upgrade for my parents' 3rd-generation iPad (the heavy one that got the Retina display). They can't stand the small screen of the Mini, and will appreciate the sub-1 pound weight of the new Air 2. But the best thing for them is that they will be able to get 128GB of storage at the previous 64GB price--essential for photos. They're the kind of people who use their iPads as their sole computers, and never delete or move photos off of them. My guess is that there are a lot of iPad users who fall into that category too.
Despite the product leaks via its own store yesterday, Apple managed to surprise us with the announcements at this morning's press briefing. We'll start off with the annual iPad updates, which fall into two categories. On the full-size iPad, Apple didn't announce any "pro" model, sticking with improvements to the iPad Air. It's now 6.1mm thick, uses an optically bonded LCD, supports 802.11AC MIMO Wi-Fi, and runs off of the expected A8X. Weight finally drops below one pound at 435 grams. TouchID also comes to the iPad Air 2, but no NFC for mobile payments (though Apple Pay will be supported). Apple made a big deal about the new 8MP f/2.4 camera in the iPad Air 2, which shoots better 1080p video and has a burst mode. It'll also come in gold. The iPad Air 2 is available for pre-order this Friday and will ship by the end of next week. Pricing is familiar--$500 for 16GB--but $100 more gets your 64GB, like with the iPhone 6. Last year's iPad Air stays in the lineup, getting a $100 price cut.
The iPad Mini 3 only got a brief mention at the presentation--it has now a TouchID home button. It's otherwise exactly the same as last year's popular Mini with Retina, down to the A7 processor. We were impressed that Apple put the same internal hardware in the iPad Air and Mini lines, but it looks like they're segmenting their lines again this year. That's a little disappointing. Last year's iPad Mini gets a price cut to $300 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model, while the Mini 3 starts at $400. $100 is a LOT to pay for TouchID, especially since there's no NFC chip in the Mini 3, either. If you're in the market for a new iPad (eg. still using the first iPad Mini or an iPad 3 or older), my recommendation would be to get the iPad Mini 2.
A Retina iMac also made its debut today, in a 27-inch iMac equipped with a 5120x2880 screen. It has the same formfactor as the existing iMacs, but the high-density LED backlit display now runs off of AMD's Radeon R9 M290X GPU (a mobile GPU). The base configuration has a 3.5GHz Haswell Core i5 (upgradeable to a i7 4GHz), 1TB Fusion drive, and 8GB of RAM. It starts at a whopping $2500. It's available today. Apple didn't upgrade the 21-inch iMac, though we're expecting refreshes in the spring with Intel's Broadwell CPU release. A 5K desktop iMac indicates that Apple could release a standalone Retina Cinema Display in the future as well. Update: this Anandtech hands-on explains why this display (which is likely the same panel as what's in Dell's 27-inch 5K monitor) would not work off of a single DisplayPort connection. MaximumPC got a closer look at the Dell 5K panel in September, which retails alone for $2500 and requires two DisplayPort 1.2 connections.
Finally, the Mac Mini got a long-awaited upgrade. It now runs on a Haswell CPU (1.4GHz dual-core i5 standard), 802.11AC, and two Thunderbolt ports. PCI-e storage is an upgrade option, as is a i7 CPU. It also goes on sale today, and the base price has dropped from $600 to $500.
We'll be testing the new iPad Air 2, though the iMac Retina likely won't be sufficient for the kind of video editing we do. iPads have always had great LCD displays, so I'm curious to see how that holds up with the new optical bonding on the Air. Let us know what from the presentation interests you, and how you feel about this year's new iPads and iMac.