Surface Book 2 (13-Inch) First Impressions

I have been using the brand new Surface Book 2 for the past couple of hours. I am far more impressed than unimpressed, but I haven’t spent enough time with it to see all its faults yet.

The version I am reviewing runs on an 8th-gen i7 processor, 8GB RAM, a 256 SSD, and a discreet NVIDIA GeForce GPU. It runs for $1999, but if you qualify for a discount from Microsoft, you can get $200 off. It may not be worth $1999, but it is definitely worth $1799, especially compared with the MacBook Pro with (almost) the same specs.

Here are some of my first impressions:

The Surface Book 2 is a well-built device.

  • This thing isn’t heavy, but not quite the “ultra-portable.”
  • No major light bleed when first turning on unit.
  • The hinge on the SB 2 is much stronger than the one on the first Surface Book.
  • The tablet portion is what makes the SB2 feel more heavy than competing laptops. However, when you detach the tablet, it feels surprisingly light.
  • The SB2 works well as a tablet.

The Surface Book 2 screen makes a great tablet.

  • The screen is crisp and clear. The contrast ratio isn’t quite as good as the MacBook Pro. Still, the screen easily gets a 9/10.
  • The screen has fantastic viewing angles
  • Battery life appears to be exceptional. After one hour of use, I’m at 88 percent.
  • They keyboard is a 10/10. I like the MacBook Pro’s butterfly keys, but it’s nice to have a notebook with keys that have decent travel on them.
  • So far, the trackpad is the best one I’ve used on a Windows device. It’s not MacBook Pro quality, but very close.
  • The speakers are also great — a slight improvement from the first generation book.
  • This thing is FAST! The 8th-generation quad core processor really helps move things along.
  • There is decreased bezel space on the screen, but just enough so you can grab it as a tablet and not worry about accidentally hitting something on the screen.
  • When using Photoshop or CyberLink Power Director, there is noticeable coil whine noise, but nothing out of the ordinary. It’s still annoying.
  • I wish I had the Surface Pen to test the digital inking capabilities.
I am more impressed with the Surface Book 2 than I thought I would be. The overpriced Surface Book that was released in 2015 feels like a Beta product now. That said, the Book 2 will take a big bite out of your wallet. However, it may be worth it. 
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iPhone X Is Great, But Is It Really Better Than Samsung Galaxy Note 8?

I’ve spent almost a week with the iPhone X. And my initial impressions stay the same — it’s great, but it doesn’t blow my socks off. In other words, it’s a four-star (or even four-and-a-half-star) phone, but it’s not a five-star revelation. In fact, if the choice was based solely on the hardware, I would use the Galaxy Note 8 as my main smartphone instead.

Samsung recently did a very clever commercial that gets to the point on why the Note 8 may be a better phone for a lot of people.

Click to play in YouTube.

One of the main advantages of the Galaxy Note 8 is the stylus, which is just about the best digital pen on the market today. (Only the Apple Pencil outperforms it.) You won’t know how convenient it is to jot down notes, write journals, and do other things you normally do with a pen until you own the Note 8 for at least a week. This is the Note 8′s biggest selling point over the iPhone. I’m still surprised that Apple didn’t make the iPhone X compatible with the Apple Pencil.

The commercial shows the star using an annoying dongle to listen to his music while his girlfriend is flawlessly listening to her Galaxy Note device with her wired headphones. As much as wireless headphones have gone mainstream, wired headphones are still popular. And yes, it’s incredibly annoying to not have a headphone jack on the iPhone.

The Galaxy Note 8 has a larger screen than the iPhone X.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 screen is 6.3-inches compared to the iPhone X’s 5.8-inches. But the iPhone creates a better multimedia experience because of the stereo speakers, which are absolutely outstanding. The sound they produce is full of bass and you feel almost like you are listening to a pair of (very) small high-quality Bluetooth speakers.

Samsung has yet to put stereo speakers on one of their phones, but they have a stereo mic for recording videos — something the iPhone has always lacked. And if you ever watched videos taken with a Samsung smartphone, you know the sound is outstanding. Of course, the 4K video quality is good too, and it’s on par with Apple’s 4K video camera capabilities.

In terms of still shots, the Galaxy Note 8 is right up there with the iPhone X. I found that the Note 8 shoots slightly better pictures in lower light, but a colleague of mind begs to differ and believes that the Samsung pictures look way too unnaturally lit. In terms of the front-facing camera, both take very good pictures.

In terms of phone call quality, listeners say I sound slightly more clear on the Galaxy Note 8 than the iPhone X. But I can obviously hear the person on the other end much better on the iPhone’s two speakers than the Note 8′s bottom speaker, which sounds a little muffled.

It all comes down to the fact that the Note 8 feels more useful. The S Pen capabilities continue to advance Samsung’s phablet, and apps such as OneNote have been updated to work better with the S Pen. Receiving a phone call and being able to instantly jot down important information on the phone while still taking on it is extremely helpful. Yeah, you can type notes with your fingers on the iPhone while talking on it, but there are many reasons why the benefits of writing by hand outdo typing.

Yet, the Note 8 still runs Android. No matter how much the mobile operating system has improved over the years, Apple’s iOS is smoother, more consumer friendly, and more reliable. The iPhone X is a great smartphone that mostly lives up to the hype surrounding it. However, business-oriented smartphone users may find there are greater benefits with the Galaxy Note 8.

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iPhone X: First Impressions

The iPhone X arrived in the mail this morning. I was looking forward to it, though I suspected once the initial thrill disappeared, I wouldn’t exactly be blown away. And that’s exactly what has happened. Don’t get me wrong; the iPhone X is a great smartphone. It’s just not that much different (hardware wise) from Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 or even the Galaxy S8.

I have to use it for a couple more days to be able to write a full review. But for now, here are my first impressions:

  • This reminds me a lot like the Galaxy S8. But it runs iOS, so that makes it better.
  • The size of the phone, along with the screen, is perfect. It still feels like you are using a 4.7-inch iPhone, but with a much bigger screen.
  • You definitely need a body protector for this phone. It’s made of glass and feels like it can break easily.
  • I’m ordering a screen protector for this as we speak.
  • The screen is OLED, but doesn’t look that much different from the already perfect LED screen on older iPhones.
  • The colors aren’t as saturated as they are on Samsung’s OLED screens — this may be a good thing for some people.
  • The only way to get a battery percentage indicator is to swipe down from the upper-right side of the screen. Bummer!
  • The notch that comes down from the top of the screen is annoying.
  • The fact that both camera lenses now have optical image stabilization does make a difference in picture quality.
  • The brightness levels are off the wall. Even set at 75 percent brightness, the iPhone X screen looks beautiful.
  • Battery life seems okay so far, but not as good as it is on the iPhone 7 Plus.
  • The iPhone X is a fingerprint magnet.
  • The speakers on this thing are wonderful, and I could definitely hear bass.
  • So far, the face recognition has worked 9 out of 10 times.
  • I miss the home button, but I will get used to the screen-swiping gesture that has replaced it.
I still think Apple would make the perfect iPhone if they allowed Apple Pencil support. Still, the keyboard input is very easy on the iPhone X, and it feels a lot more natural than typing on any Android phone. I also wish Apple would have stereo microphones for taking videos like Samsung does on their smartphones.Based on the couple hours I’ve spent with the iPhone X, I’d say it’s worth the price if you are absolutely tied to Apple’s ecosystem. But it’s not the type of phone that’s worth camping out at an Apple Store for several nights in hopes you may get one early in the morning. If you weren’t able to get the iPhone X today, go to an Apple Store, play with it, and get the excitement out of your system.

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Sony WH-1000MX2 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones Hit Near Perfection

Sony has been hitting all the high notes lately when it comes to Bluetooth wireless headphones. This blog has recently raved about the W1-1000X wireless neckband headphones and praised the WF-1000X wireless earbuds, though there were some reservations due to connection issues.

Last year, Sony hit the jackpot with the MDR-1000X wireless headphones, which not only topped Bose with noise cancellation quality, but became the best sounding wireless headphone set with the exception of the Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless. Sony has just released the follow-up to the MDR-1000X, the WH-1000MX2. Needless to say, Sony has outdone itself once again.

Sony WH-1000MX2 wireless headphones

There isn’t much of a design difference between the MDR-1000X and the WH-1000MX2 headphones, except the latter now have a grainy substance on the side of the cups. This helps make it easier to use your finger to control volume, skip tracks, pause tracks, talk to Siri, answer a call, and other functions. There are also two buttons on the left ear pad instead of three — Ambient mode and noise cancellation can now be switched with the same button.

Speaking of noise cancellation, it is even slightly better than Sony’s previous effort. For example, I am at a Starbucks right now, and this place always has loud music playing, blenders running, etc. The WH-1000MX2 has cancelled out about 90 percent of the noise. It works slightly better than the noise cancellation on the Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones, but Bose’s noise cancellation doesn’t put as much pressure on your ears.

There is an Ambient mode which allows you to be able to  hear traffic and voices, and an app allows you to control just how much outside noise you hear. Then, there is the Adaptive Sound Control mode, which supposedly adjusts the ambient sound based on your current activity. It works better than it did on the MDR-1000X, but it still takes too long. Setting up the amount of ambient sound needed works better when setting it manually on Sony’s Headphone app, which is available for iOS or Android devices.

Sony lets you adjust the noise cancellation and ambient sound levels.

The WH-1000MX2 has the same sound stage as all of Sony’s recent headphones — heavy (but not too domineering) bass, emphasized highs, and present mids. The only time I heard any slight distortion (in the lows) was when listening to “Candy Shop” by 50 Cent. Still, listening to the the song was an ear-kicking delight.

If you like the signature Bose sound and don’t mind a little extra bass, chances are you will like the sound better on the WH-1000MX2 more than competing headphones by Bose and Sennheiser. Sony kicks you in the ear with the bass, and this is perfect when listening to EDM or R&B. When listening to soft rock, it can be a touch annoying.

Then, there is phone quality. While you won’t sound as clear as you do on Bose’s QC35s, the quality is more than adequate. A friend even told me that I sounded fine (if a little ruffled) when talking to him from a loud Starbucks. The good thing is that noise cancelling still works when you are on a call, so you don’t hear the other people much when you talk.

Sony has pretty much thrown everything at the kitchen sink with the WH-1000MX2, and almost everything has landed safely. Sony’s latest wireless noise cancelling headphones are the best overall high-end cans on the market, easily beating competitors like Bose, Beats, Sennheiser, and Bowers & Wilkins.

 

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It’s 2017 And You Need To Back Up Your Data!

I cannot tell you how many people I know who still don’t back up their important data. If you have a Mac, using Time Machine is simpler than using a first grade coloring book. If you have a PC, it’s not as easy, but it’s still relatively painless.

The most common excuse I hear is, “I was going to, but forgot!” I hate to say this, but those people who say that deserve to lose their data. Well, almost. I’ve lost important data before and I don’t really wish that on my worst enemies.

The least you should do is purchase a portable hard drive. They are much better than they used to be (in that they don’t break that easily) and are also a lot cheaper. I’m going to list three of the best portable hard drives I’ve seen and used. And although I link them to a sales page (for information purposes), I am NOT paid in any way, shape, or form to recommend these.

Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB Portable ($69)


This portable drive is perfect for regular backups on your computer.  What I like about this Seagate drive (which I own) is that it can be used easily on both your PC and MacBook with relative ease. However, you do need to install NTFS drivers on your MacBook in order for the drive to work.

I’ve dropped it twice from a Starbucks table, and it still works. I can’t say the same thing about my other hard drives.

WD-Elements 1TB External USB 3.0 ($54)


If you were going to use a portable drive to backup your PC or Mac, I would say go for the Seagate. But the WD-Elements drive is perfect for a collection of files. For example, I use my WD-Elements drive specifically for all the video clips I take with my smartphone. I back up all the original videos along with edited ones.

Just in case something happens to the drive, I have another WD-Elements drive I use to back up the first one. Memories can’t be replaced, and spending an extra $54 to make sure I have a backup of my original backup is worth the price.

Samsung T3 Portable 1TB SSD Drive ($449)


Okay, so this one isn’t that cheap. But there is an absolute 99 percent chance that you’ll never use your data on it, even if it is dropped. SSD drives don’t have moving parts, which is why almost every single laptop has used them for the past four years or so (some even more).

You could spend more and get even more memory for multiple PC or MacBook backups, but the drive is better used for a collection of files you never want to lose. That’s not to say it’s not useable as a regular hard drive backup either.

Perhaps the best part about this drive is that since it is an SSD drive, you can transfer files up to five times faster than the other portable drives. I admit to not owning this one yet due to the price, but you can bet it will be in my collection by the middle of next year, when the price comes down a little bit more.

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Apple iPhone X Pre-Order Flawless For Some, Disappointing For Others

If you want to have a new iPhone X on release day next Friday, then chances are you had to order it at the stroke of midnight (PST) on Friday. Even if you had attempted to order the iPhone X, chances are that by the time everything was finished, you found out you won’t be getting your new smartphone on its release day.

I have T-Mobile’s JUMP plan and am eligible for an upgrade. I did research five hours before midnight in order to make sure I would be one of the first to get the new iPhone. I had T-Mobile’s website open, but also called their sales line at 11:53 p.m. I told the customer service representative immediately what my call was about, and he said by the time he gets my information, it will be midnight and I can order the phone.

“There are 4,000 other calls right now, so you’re pretty lucky,” he happily responded, acting just as excited as I was. I ordered the 64GB space gray version of the iPhone X and will be sending T-Mobile back my iPhone 7 Plus, which I bought last year through the JUMP program. I signed the electronic forms, viewed my order on T-Mobile’s website, and confirmed that my iPhone X would arrive on either November 3. I was one happy camper, but others weren’t.

The iPhone X is Apple's biggest smartphone upgrade in a decade.

As MacRumors points out, some AT&T as well as Apple Store customers experienced unexpected delays.

“One AT&T subscriber, for example, tweeted screenshots of the app showing that her estimated wait time was 18 minutes until she could pre-order an iPhone X, but once she got down to one minute remaining she lost her position in the virtual queue.”

Then, there was another customer who received an “error” message and was put into a 35-minute queue. The problem is that after 15 minutes, all iPhone X orders were moved to a two or three week wait. There are many upset customers complaining in the comments section after the article.

“The Apple App store would not come up for about 11 minutes for me. When it finally did, i was at 2-3 weeks out,” says SaintsMac.

“This was the messiest pre-ordering experience I’ve EVER had,” points out Return Zero.

On Reddit, there appears to be many who couldn’t get the Apple Store app working correctly. There are also a lot of Verizon users who are complaining the process was deeply flawed with the carrier’s app. They, too, will be receiving their new iPhone X  later than hoped for.

Expect lines like this at Apple Store locations on November 3.

One thing is for sure — there will be people making a lot of money off the new iPhone X. After stores instantly sell out of these next Friday, Apple’s new smartphone could go for thousands of dollars. People are telling me to sell mine in order to make a lot of money, but this is one case where I do not really want to support resellers. After all, I could have been one of the very disappointed customers had I not called in at just the right time. 

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Microsoft Surface Book 2 Looks To Be An Expensive Beast

This blog has often talked about the problems the Surface Book had when it was released in 2015. There was the detachable screen that didn’t always detach, the unusable touchpad, display issues, etc. These were all (mostly) fixed by the spring of 2016. Still, it left the Surface Book brand with a bitter aftertaste.

It was speculated that Microsoft was going to release the updated Surface Book 2 during the holiday season, and Microsoft didn’t disappoint. The new Surface Book 2 was announced last week. Pre-orders start on November 9, with the device arriving in physical form on November 16.

As TechRadar notes, the Surface Book 2 will be available in both 13-inch and 15-inch versions. Both will support the new 8th-generation Kaby Lake processors, have improved battery life, a USB Type-C port, and will be compatible with many different Windows Mixed Reality headsets.

Early reviews have been very complimentary. Engadget calls it “the sequel we’ve been waiting for.”

As you’d expect, both Surface Book 2 laptops [13-inch and 15-inch] handled just about everything I threw at them, be it dozens of browser tabs while streaming video or games like Minecraft.

The review adds that not only is the hinge less wobbly, but the battery life has indeed improved. All sounds good, right? As you are reading this, your hand is probably moving toward your pocket to take out your wallet.  But you might want to hold off as the pricing is really out of this world (and not a in a good way).

Click to play video in YouTube.

As shown on Microsoft’s product page, the lowest end of the 13.5-inch Surface Book 2, which has 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD, runs at $1499 — and that’s without integrated graphics. The mid-level version with the same specs but a faster processor and discreet GPU graphics costs $1999.

The lowest-end 15-inch version of the Surface Book 2, which has 16GB of RAM, a 256SSD, and a higher-end NVIDEA graphics card, costs $2499. There are other versions going for as much as $3299. For that price, the new Surface Book better do your laundry, cook your dinners, etc.

Microsoft’s new Surface Book 2 units are indeed expensive, but they are comparable in price to the MacBook Pro 2017 units that have the same specs. And the highest-end versions of both the 13-inch and 15-inch Surface Book 2 offer more than the highest-end versions of the MacBook Pro. Best of all, you don’t have to worry about that annoying touch bar.

Microsoft knows what it’s doing. They are stepping in and trying to attract the many customers who believe the new 13-inch an 15-inch MacBook Pros aren’t really at the “pro” level. Let’s hope the new Surface Book doesn’t have the same quality control issues the first one had. Judging from early reviews, it doesn’t.

 

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My Experience With Windows Mixed Reality Platform And Acer Headset

On Friday, I was able to get a 10 minute test ride with Acer’s new Windows Mixed Reality Headset (retail price is $399) using Microsoft’s new “mixed reality” platform. I put this in quotes because it’s just virtual reality. Microsoft claims that the platform is capable of augmented reality, but that “capable of” hasn’t turned into something tangible yet.

I was put in a physical game space that was all the way at the back of the store in a corner. The Acer headset was easy to put on, and the motion controllers worked well — very similar to how they work on the HTC Vive. My position was pretty well detected by the headset (without any huge motion tracking stations like previous VR headsets), and I didn’t bang into any walls. I wasn’t really worried; the Microsoft Store salesman was watching me very closely.

The screen door effect on the the Acer headset is still prominent as each eye views a 1440 x 1440 pixel resolution display. This resolution would be great on a smartphone display but not one that is right in front of your eye. Still, it wouldn’t matter if there was an exciting experience to make up for it.

Microsoft's Virtual Cliff House

I was put in front of Microsoft’s virtual home, the “Cliff House.” Transforming to different parts of the house and interacting with different apps was pretty simple, especially since I am used to virtual reality. Still, I think someone new to VR would compliment the ease of use as well.

The motion controllers are bulky, and don’t always track well. Perhaps I put the left controller out of the field of view more than the right since I had more trouble with the left. When I made sure that both controllers were in front of me, they survived in the virtual world.

I chose the Halo: Recruit app on the wall. I was impressed with the graphics, but I noticed there was some latency (which caused dizziness). Perhaps the HP desktop PC the headset was connected to didn’t have a powerful enough graphics card. In any case, I had to say “enough” and take the headset off.

If I found anything more interesting about the Windows VR experience, I would have tried to play other games (which there aren’t many of yet) or even watch a video. But I was bored, disappointed that I was bored, and left the experience hoping that Samsung’s HDM Odyssey headset, released next month, provides a better experience.  For now, I don’t believe Microsoft’s new “mixed reality” platform will take off. And I hope I’m wrong.

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Bose SoundSport Free Wireless Earbuds: Hands On

Yes, there was just an article about these on IReTron last week. And now, here’s another one. But the difference now is that I have the Bose SoundSport Free buds in my ears and can tell you what my experience listening to them has been like for the past three days.

I was going to write an article about these on Wednesday, but wanted to use these for two more days so I can give the most accurate review. I am more impressed with the Bose buds than I thought I would be. The only thing I’m not quite impressed with is the price ($249).

Bose’s new buds are fat, but not clunky. They fit in your ears well once you put on the correct fins. (Bose includes three different pairs.) The right bud has all the basic controls, including a volume rocker. The left button has a connect/disconnect button that’s hard to press. Actually, all the buttons are hard to press, but at least they are there.

The SoundSport Free wireless earbuds are now available.

While the Bose buds fit comfortably in your ears, they don’t comfortably cancel out a lot of noise. Active noise cancellation would have hurt the battery life, but more passive noise isolation would have made these great buds even better. If you think you are going to go into a gym or a train, put on the SoundSport Free, and forget about background noise, you’ll be disappointed.

However, compared to the AirPods, Bose’s earbuds at least offer a small amount of noise isolation. Actually, there is more noise isolation than early reviews will have you believe. But the fact that I can’t sit down at Starbucks and just concentrate on the music when the Buds are on is, perhaps, the only major disability of Bose’s latest product. However, I don’t think this, for the most part, is a deal breaker.

The SoundSport Free earbuds come with a charging case.

Now let’s talk about what really makes the SoundSport free shine — the sound! I am absolutely impressed that Bose has been able to reproduce the sound of many of their high-end headphones (without the noise cancellation) and put them into these two little nuggets.

What’s interesting is that there is no AptX codec when using the buds with the Galaxy Note 8. I believe there is no AAC codec for better sound through the iPhone. But the SoundSport Free buds sound even better than the Sony W1-1000x headband earphones, which has both AptX and AAC.

Bose’s sculpted bass (which some audiophiles don’t like) is here in its full glory. However, the middle and high ranges of the sound spectrum are there as well — at least enough so you can hear all the instruments in Kesha’s “Praying” while also enjoying the vibrato in her voice. Hip-hop and EDM music are also practically made for the SoundSport Free.

Are the SoundSport Free buds worth $249? I think they should be priced as much as the Sony WF-1000X buds, which are $199. Sony’s offer active noise cancellation, but operate only three hours each charge (Bose’s buds last 5 hours). Still, the SoundSport Free may be the best wireless earbuds on the market right now.

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Why You Should Protect Your Apple Watch Screen

The Apple Watch uses “Ion-X” glass, and doesn’t scratch under normal conditions. But the conditions you are in will not always be normal. This comes from someone who scratched his first Apple Watch by sticking his wrist in the freezer, trying to pull out a bag of vegetables.

My Apple Watch Series 2 was scratched when I was walking and accidentally scraped my wrist against the wall. I normally avoid the wall with my body parts, but sometimes accidents happen. And it happens that I was wearing my Apple Watch at the time.

So, now that I have the Apple Watch Series 3 (with LTE capabilities), I decided I needed a screen protector. I originally purchased a tempered-glass screen protector from OneWalker on Amazon. Because the watch screen curves, I shouldn’t have expected that the protector would cover the whole glass part of the Watch, and it didn’t. Furthermore, the glass on the screen protector broke. I wasted $7.99, but it could have been a lot worse.

Somebody recommended the Amoyzk iWatch case that is also sold on Amazon. I received it this weekend, and I couldn’t be happier. It came in a small package, and as you can see from the picture below, I tore the package apart like a hungry dog.

I had to detach the bands on the watch in order to put the case on. The clear case was a little difficult to put on, and I had to stretch in in all of its corners to make sure it fit the Watch accurately. But the tight fit has been worth it, for the most part. The only negative thing I have experienced with the Amoyzk case is the fact water got into it when taking a shower. In order to get the foggy water out, I had to detach the bands and wipe the case.

Yes, I can easily leave the Apple Watch on the ledge of the bathroom sink when I take a shower. I can evne leave it in the locker at the gym. But the Apple Watch is made to be water resistant, and I like having it on my wrist at all times in order to accurately track my activity. This is a minor inconvenience, but not a major one.

A clear case, more than a screen protector, is the only true way you can protect your Apple Watch from screen scratches. If you own an Apple Watch, the extra $8.99 is certainly worth the price.

 

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