News

Surface Studio 2: Half Baked Refresh

Come on Microsoft. Why would you use a 7th generation CPU that came out in the January 2017? Especially when there are Six Core 8th generation CPUs readily available and given the price of the Studio 2 starting at $3,499. Sure the Studio 2 now comes with a Nvidia 1060 or Nvidia 1070 which is leagues ahead of the Nvidia GTX 965 of the previous generation. But this significantly limits the demographics this device would be a good value for.

What has changed?

  • 7th Generation i7-7 CPU
  • 6GB Nvidia GTX 1060 or 8GB Nvidia GTX 1070
  • 1TB or 2TB Solid State Drive instead of Hybrid Drives
  • 16GB or 32GB of DDR4 RAM
  • Brighter Display and Better Contrast
  • Additional USB-C Port

Who is this for?

This device is for digital artists, architects, or people who will make good use out of the large pen supported touchscreen. Without that, it is hard to justify shelling out 3.5K for a device with these specifications. Gamers will find better value going with laptops like the Razer Blade 15 and MSI GS65 Stealth which both have a faster CPU and higher refresh screens. Video producers will want a Six Core CPU to decrease rendering time.

I really wish Microsoft could have found a way to put a Six Core CPU into the Studio 2. It would have made the Studio 2 a much better value.

News

Surface Pro 6 and Surface Laptop 2: Matte Black Increment

Microsoft announced minor updates to the Surface Pro line and Surface Laptop line. Despite Microsoft claiming talking points like the “Surface Laptop is 85% faster”, not much has changed in terms of the overall experience. So what is new?

New Matte Black Color

Both the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop line now have a new Matte Black option. One thing that other tech sites have noted is the matte black does not attract fingerprints as much as the other colors.

8th Generation CPUs

The Surface Pro 6 and Surface Laptop 2 now comes with either a Quad Core i5 or i7. This is definitely a significant improvement from the 7th generation dual-core processors from the previous generation.

Lower Starting Price

With the elimination of the 4GB models for both the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop, the base model for the Surface Pro 6 now starts at $899 for the i5 with 8GB of RAM while the Surface Laptop 2 starts at the same $999 but for the i5 with 8GB of RAM. Both devices are now more competitive compared to other laptops on the market.

Windows 10 Home come standard

Oddly enough, you no longer get Windows 10 Pro with the Surface Pro line. This is disappointing since you lose the ability to encrypt your drive using Bitlocker. You do at least get Windows 10 Home instead of Windows 10 on S mode for the Surface Laptop line.

Quieter Keyboard and Better Contrast

Microsoft also mentioned that the new devices come with a quieter keyboard, though I have never heard of anyone complain about that on a surface device. They also mentioned that the screens have better contrast now.

No USB-C Port

Despite the Surface Book, Surface Go, and Surface Studio line all having a USB-C port, the new Surface Pro and Surface Laptop do not come with any port changes. It even more surprising given the newly announced Surface headphones charges through a USB-C port.

If you have the Surface Pro 5 (“New Surface Pro”) or Surface Laptop, there is little reason to upgrade to the newer generation. Whether the Surface Pro 6 and Surface Laptop 2 can compete with existing 2 in 1s like the Lenovo Miix 520 and upcoming laptops like the Asus Zenbook UX433, only time will tell.

News

HP Spectre Folio 13: Premium Leather

image from HP

The high-end laptop market is riddled with premium metal build PCs that feel pretty much the same. That is why HP has decided to switch things up with a new material: Leather. The HP Spectre Folio 13 is the first laptop to have leather built into the chassis of the device. Bringing new elegance to the laptop space.

Resembling a leather business portfolio, The HP Spectre Folio 13 is a 13-inch convertible device running the latest Y-series 8th generation processor. With its fanless design, HP is positioning the Spectre Folio as a flagship “Always Connected” PC with LTE support for AT&T, Sprint, and T-mobile.

The device is also the first to run Intel’s low power display technology which explains why its expected to have 15 hours of battery on the 4G LTE model and a whopping 18 hours on the non-LTE model.

Since the device will be the first to run the Y-series, we won’t know how well it performs compared to the U-series or the 7th generation Y-series in 13-inch use. But if it is anywhere close to the jump from 7th to 8th for the U-series, expect a significant improvement.

Other specifications include:

  • Intel i5 8200-Y or i7 8500-Y
  • Intel UHD 615 Graphics
  • Up to 2TB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD (Starting at 256GB)
  • 8 GB LPDDR3-1866 SDRAM
  • Backlit Chiclet-Style Keyboard
  • Intel 802.11b/g/n/ac (2×2) Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2 Combo
  • Intel XMM™ 7560 LTE-Advanced Pro
  • 13.3″ diagonal FHD IPS micro-edge WLED-backlit touch screen with Corning® Gorilla® Glass 4
  • 2 Thunderbolt USB-C Ports
  • 1 USB 3.1 Type-C™ Gen 1
  • 1 USB 3.1 Gen
  • Total weight of 3.28 lbs

Pricing for the HP Spectre Folio 13 is also pretty competitive. Starting at $1299 for the i5 model and $1499 for the i7/LTE model, you are getting a great balance of performance and aesthetics. The pen is included in the price, though it’s unclear if the pen is the one that supports tilt.

I am glad to see manufacturers experimenting with other materials and releasing devices that not only perform well but also have a unique design and tactile feel. HP has really come a long way in terms of their laptop design in the past couple of years. Dell, you should really step up your design department.

You can pre-order the device right now if you are in the US at Best Buy for the i7/LTE model. “Bordeaux Burgundy” colored and 4K screen models are expected to come later this year.

News

Facebook Hacked: More Than 50 Million Accounts Compromised

image from Facebook

It has not been a good year for Facebook. From the revelation of 
Cambridge Analytica having access to user’s data to Facebook giving advertisers access to your 2FA phone numbers, Facebook has been quite the security and privacy nightmare. Yesterday, Facebook announced that 50 million accounts have potentially been compromised due to a bug introduced into their system.

So what exactly happened?

To put it simply, a piece of code introduced in 2017 allowed for users to get the access token used to verify you are logged in on Facebook. With this access token, hackers are able to access your account without having to guess your password or enter the 2FA authentication. What is worse is that this not only affects your Facebook account but any account that you used Facebook to login to. So that means your Instagram, Spotify as well as many others all might have been accessed.

What has been done so far?

Facebook has reset the access token for all 50 million accounts that were affected. Additionally, they have reset another 40 million as a precautionary measure.  The “View As” feature that was used to gain access to the access token has been temporarily disabled while Facebook conducts a thorough investigation.  Facebook is also working with the FBI to figure out who was conducting the hack.

How does this affect me?

The problem with Facebook is the information people share on the platform. Do you have your elementary school listed on your Facebook profile (a common security question used for accounts)? Did you post a picture of your first car (another common security question)? Even if its just set to only viewable by yourself? Coupled with the Experian hack and other security hacks out there, it really would not be too hard to compile this information together to compromise your bank account or other accounts

What should you do?

My recommendation would be to remove any information on Facebook that could potentially be used to verify your identity. Be mindful of what you share, what you post on the internet stays on the internet forever.

Check to see if there have any unauthorized logins into your account from places you don’t recognize. You can do this by going to https://www.facebook.com/settings?tab=security&section=sessions&view

Consider deleting your account if you can live without Facebook and other accounts that require a Facebook login. If you can’t live without Instagram or Messenger, suspending your account would be the better alternative since those services will still be available with a suspended account.

For more technical details about what is happening, read the official Facebook Blog

News

Apple Watch Series 4: ECG and Fall Detection

image from Apple

The newly announced Apple Watch Series 4 pushes their smartwatches to be more health-focused. Equipped with an ECG (electrocardiogram) and fall detection, it is the first Apple Watch to have significant improvements over its predecessor and the potential to provide real-world benefits.

image from Apple

Lets go through the basic technical changes:

  • New dual-core 64 bit S4 Processor
  • Larger rounder edge screen with 40mm and 44mm sizes
  • Updated accelerometer and gyroscope
  • Digital crown with haptic feedback
  • Louder speakers
  • Back of the watch is now black ceramic with sapphire crystal.
  • Electrocardiogram

The two features that are really exciting are the electrocardiogram and fall detection feature. The electrocardiogram feature has received clearance from the FDA (this is different from FDA approved). What this means is that the electrocardiogram should be used by someone who is over the age of 22 and should not be used for people who have been previously diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. It also should not replace any traditional diagnostic tools. The electrocardiogram provides your doctor with information regarding your daily heart rhythm. This has the potential to provide additional insight for your doctor and should be very helpful.

The fall detection feature could help save lives. The watch is now smart enough to detect falls and can notify emergency services if you do not get up. It will also notify any emergency contacts you have on the phone.

Is it worth the $399 price tag? Well, I think that will really depend on the user. It is, however, years ahead of what the Wear OS platform is able to offer. Google really needs to step up on this one.

News

iPhone XR: The Colorful Bunch

image from Apple

I would say one of the more interesting iPhones that Apple announced yesterday was the iPhone XR. At a starting price of $749 and an array of color options, the iPhone XR is the more compelling upgrade for anyone that is looking for a new iPhone.

A cheaper “iPhone XS” with little compromise

The iPhone XR has many of the features of its more expensive brother the iPhone XS. You still get the new A12 Bionic CPU, the improved Face ID, and near bezeless screen. There are a few noticeable differences between the XR and the XS models.

LCD Screen instead of AMOLED

Instead of the AMOLED screens that the XS and XS Max has, the XR has an LCD screen. Without seeing the device in real life, it will be hard to tell whether this makes too much of a difference. You’ll also probably notice that the bezels on the iPhone XR are larger than the XS models.

Screen size in the middle with lower resolution

The screen size of the XR is 6.1 inch which sits right in between the XS (5.8 inches) and XS Max (6.5 inches). The resolution of the XR is also lower compared to the XS models. At 828 x 1792 pixels and 326 pixels per inch, the XR will have similar sharpness as the iPhone 8.

No 3D Touch

For whatever reason, the iPhone XR does not have 3D Touch. Instead, it will have the ability to long press in order to access a lot of those 3D touch functionality.

Aluminum instead of Steel construction

The iPhone XR will use aluminum instead of steel for the outer construction. The average user probably will not really notice this different at all.

IP67 instead of IP68 rating for waterproofing

Instead of the new IP68 (up to 2m for 30 mins) rating that the iPhone XS and XS Max has, iPhone XR has a slightly lower IP67 (up to 1m for 30 mins) rating. Given that the iPhone X has the same IP67 rating. I don’t see this to affect day to day.

Single back facing camera with Portrait mode support

image from Apple

The XR comes with a single back facing camera that is able to take Portrait pictures just like how the Pixel 2 phone have been able to with a single camera. You will also retain the Depth Control feature that is on the iPhone XS and XS Max as well.

A 128GB Variant

The iPhone XR will be the only new iPhone that will have a 128GB variant. The iPhone XS models automatically go from 64GB to 256GB. If you are one of those people who does not want to spend the amount of money for a 256GB model but the 64GB is too small, the XR is a great choice.

Colors, Colors, Colors

There are now six different colors you can choose from for the iPhone XR. There is a Product Red version, Yellow, White, Coral, Black, and Blue.

Reasonable Price

image from Apple

The price of the XR is quite competitive to other flagships on the market. This pricing is right in line with the Pixel 2 and rumored Pixel 3. Without having any hands on time with the device, I would say this is the better value for anyone looking for a new iPhone this year.

News

iPhone XS and XS Max: The Post Grand Era

image from Apple

Apple has announced three new iPhones today. Two of which are the iPhone XS and XS Max. These two iPhones are the top of the line and start at a ridiculous starting price of $999 for the 64GB variant. Although the Samsung Note 9 also starts at this price tag. It is when you get to the largest storage size when the price gets mind-boggling. For the 512GB XS you are looking at $1349 and the 512GB XS Max $1449. (The 512GB variant of the Note 9 is $1250.) With mid-range phones getting better and better, let’s see what exactly you get for the grand.

A Faster CPU

Both the iPhone XS and the XS Max comes with the new A12 Bionic chip. The A12 Bionic chip is the first 7mm chip on the market and is one of the fastest mobile CPUs on the market. Its already been blowing the Snapdragon 845 out of the water in terms of benchmarks. Although, in terms of real world performance, I have not seen Apple use the chip in a way that revolutionizes the mobile experience. What you will actually experience with the new A12 chip is faster face ID unlocking and some minor improvements in responsiveness.

Better waterproofing

Waterproofing has been upgraded from IP67 (up to 1m for 30 mins) to IP68 (up to 2m for 30 mins). Don’t expect too much change in day to day use with regards to this. I still would not recommend anyone dip their iPhone in the pool (due to chlorine) or take a dunk at the Beach (sand and salt water is very bad for your phone)

Cameras has been upgraded

image from Apple

Coupled with the new A12 Bionic chip, there is improved image processing with improved HDR, better noise reduction, and better low light. An improved Portrait mode now allows you to change the bokeh blur post shot (Depth Control). Most of this seems to be a software improvement and there may be a possibility that it may also work on the iPhone X.

Slightly better battery life

Apple has also said to expect better battery life on the XS and XS Max compared to the X. Not too sure how much of this battery improvements is due to the new CPU and software rather than an actual increase in battery capacity. I suspect the XS Max will at least have the battery capacity increased to handle the larger screen size.

The XS Max

image from Apple

The XS Max is identical to the XS except for being a larger device. The XS Max bumps the screen size from 5.8 inches to 6.5 inches. The price also increases due to the screen size.

New Gold Color

image from Apple

The only way you will know that someone has the new iPhone XS vs the iPhone X is if they have the new Gold color. The iPhone X looks identical to the iPhone XS.

Ridiculous Price

image from Apple

What started last year as the thousand dollar smartphone trend, has now broken a new ceiling. The highest configuration iPhone now costs a whopping $1449. Let us bring some context into this. The iPhone XS Max 512GB cost nearly as much as a Macbook Pro 256GB. You can get almost three OnePlus 6 and almost five Poco F1.

image from Apple

I think the pricing scheme of Apple’s iPhone has gotten a bit out of hand. Even with the enormous amount of R&D Apple is putting into developing their own chip. The iPhone XS and XS Max do not provide enough value to warrant their price tags.

iPhone XR looks more reasonable

I’m just going to straight up and say it. Based on what we know so far, the iPhone XS and XS Max are not good values. I don’t see any compelling reason to upgrade from the iPhone X to the XS or XS Max. Even for those who are still using the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus or below, the iPhone XR is probably a greater value for your money.

News

Qualcomm announces Snapdragon Wear 3100

After two-plus years, Qualcomm has finally announced an update to their ageing Snapdragon Wear 2100. Qualcomm has been working closely with Google and the Wear OS team to create a chipset that is designed for the OS.

With the new Snapdragon Wear 3100, Wear OS is now able to support three different modes: an enhanced ambient mode, a dedicated sports experience, and a traditional watch mode.

Enhanced Ambient Mode

Instead of a low res black and white display in ambient mode, the new enhanced mode will now support a smooth second hand, live complications, better brightness, and up to 16 colors. This will allow the watch to look like a real watch even when in ambient mode while not sacrificing battery life. With the new processor, we can expect 4 to 12 hours of additional battery compared to the previous generation.

Dedicated Sports Experiences

The dedicated sports experience will allow swimmer and runners to be active for a long duration while having sensors like GPU and heart rate monitor turned on. Qualcomm has said that their chip is designed to deliver up to 15 hours of continuous use in this mode.

Traditional Watch Mode

This mode allows the user to use the basic watch functions for up to a week without having to charge the device. This will be great for people who are travelling and might not have access to a charger.

We won’t even need to wait that long to see these watches hit the market.
Fossil Group, Louis Vuitton, and Montblanc all have announced that they will have some Wear OS watches with the Snapdragon 3100 by the 2018  holiday season. Montblanc even went a step further to officially announce their smartwatch, the Summit 2. We can expect it to be available in October for around $1000 (ouch).

Montblanc Summit 2
image from Trusted Review

If these new features sound exciting to you (they certainly are for me) I would say the Fossil Group is probably your best bet for a smartwatch that will be priced more reasonably. Hopefully, we will hear from them soon.