Is There Really A Need For An iPad Pro Refresh?

Both the 9.7 and 12.9-inch versions of the iPad Pro may be getting a refresh. Forbes has the news.

“Noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes that Apple has three new iOS-powered tablets lined up for release in 2017; an update to the 12.9 inch iPad Pro, a price-conscious 9.7 inch model, and the previously rumored educational model with a screen of just over ten inches on the diagonal.”

Sales must have been decent enough to allow for an upgrade, although exact sales figures can’t be found. When I reviewed the iPad Pro (9.7-inch) last April, I said the device was a keeper, and it was — well, for three more months. Despite the beautiful display and great speakers, I found myself using the Dell XPS 13 or iPhone 6s Plus more to watch movies. It was also easier to use the iPhone 6s Plus to surf the Internet since it had 4G LTE built in. Of course, I could have bought the 4G LTE version of the iPad Pro, but it would have been at least an extra $30 a month.

The Apple Pencil provides a smooth writing experience on the iPad Pro.

I can say that the Apple Pencil, besides not being very portable, was the best stylus I ever used on a digital device. If fact, the best use of the iPad Pro was note-taking. Using OneNote felt like writing on a piece of paper. But it wasn’t something I really needed. Still, Apple is expected to release a second-generation Apple Pencil in March.

According to Mac Rumors, not much is known about the new Pencil, but it’s likely that it will have some type of magnet that would allow one to attach it to the iPad when it’s not in use. It could also have an antenna. But is all of this really needed? Has Apple realized that people want an OS X tablet with a desktop operating system, not an iOS mobile one?

As stated several times in this blog, the iPad Pro cannot replace your laptop, although it’s something Tim Cook insisted is possible. I tried a two-day experiment with the iPad Pro. I used it for all my blogging, and not only was it not comfortable to type on, but there were no apps that came close to being as useful as Photoshop, which I still use to edit and size all my photos (including all the ones on this blog). I had to do workarounds, which made things take twice as long.

Perhaps I’m wrong, and I may not be the typical consumer Apple is after. Perhaps the new iPad Pros will have an innovative feature that will blow consumers’ minds away. But the feeling that Apple is living in the past with the iPad Pro just won’t go away.

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One Week With The Dell XPS 13 (Late 2016 Version)

I have certainly mentioned the Dell XPS 13 a lot on this blog as it is the most groundbreaking laptop of the past two years. I actually owned the mid 2016 version, before I sold it and bought a 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. I can say that the late 2016 XPS 13 (Kaby Lake i7 processor, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD) is the same XPS 13 I’ve known for the past two years — but is that alway a good thing?

The new XPS 13 certainly is a great laptop. It’s still delightfully light and portable. It still has that gorgeous 3200 x 1800 pixel resolution display. However, Dell certainly isn’t the only one these days to put an almost 4K screen on a 13.3-inch screen. And while the edge-t0-edge display is still great, it’s disappointing that Dell still puts the webcam on the bottom left-hand corner. If you are a Skyper, get ready to show off your chin, and if you have a double chin, the XPS 13 will certainly highlight that to your viewers.

The new Dell XPS 13 is still ridiculously thin, but keeps all the major ports.

The most noticeable difference between the mid-2016 and late-2016 version of the XPS 13 is the trackpad, which feels more solid, rather than rubbery. There were no complaints with the rubbery XPS 13 trackpad, but Dell made it even better. The XPS trackpad is the best one I’ve used on a PC.

Then, there’s the battery life. While the mid-2016 lasted me an average of 6 hours doing heavy tasks, the new version gives me about 7 hours. The new Kaby Lake processor really helps save battery life. But it’s also caused the phenomenon known as Coil Whine, which was discussed in detail here last month.

The issue doesn’t present itself all the time, but when it does, you can hear it. It sounds like somebody is being tortured a couple blocks away. It is audible with or without other noise.  I had to turn the maximum processor rate to 99 percent — the same thing I did when the Lenovo Yogo 910 coil whined. For the most part, it solved the problem. But at $1499, one should NOT have to change the settings like I did to resolve this issue.

You can't go wrong purchasing the new XPS 13, but it's no longer the leader of the ultraportable pack.

I would still recommend the Dell XPS 13, but would also advise one look at the Lenovo Yoga 910 and HP Spectre 360. Personally, I think the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is the best ultraportable laptop now, but the other ones mentioned cost less and have more power.

Besides the coil wine issue, the only thing wrong with the XPS 13 is that others have caught up. However, Dell can take solace knowing it was at the top of the laptop heap for two whole years.

 

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Is Virtual Reality Stalling?

I’ve talked about my experiences with the HTC Vive on this blog before and have always been positive that VR is going to take off in a big way. Current VR experiences are flawed, but very promising. AltspaceVR, for example, is an amazing experience that allows you to meet up with people from all over the world in different open spaces.

One would think that virtual reality would have been the star of the show at CES last week. However, according to CNET, it certainly wasn’t.

“If you relied on CES to show you the latest in technology, VR was pretty much a no-show.”

The article notes that the most exciting new product was Lenovo’s new headset, which was only there as a prototype. CNET notes that the biggest players in the VR industry skipped CES this year. Could all this be similar to how 3D technology was largely ignored in 2012 at CES, despite being the biggest thing at the 2011 show?

3D failed because it was too much of a pain for the average consumer. Perhaps 3D that doesn’t require glasses would make the 3D industry big, but the technology just isn’t there yet. But at least VR shows promise.

What VR needs is headsets that have better resolution (4K would help diminish the screen door effect), better tracking, and — most importantly — killer software titles. It has been highly rumored that Samsung’s next Gear VR mobile headset will offer 4K virtual reality, given that the smartphone it will use for its screen, the Galaxy S8, will have a 4K screen. But virtual reality headsets that rely on smartphones to power them are limited in the amount of immersion they are able to provide.

A wireless solution has arrived for the HTC Vive

What is really needed to make higher-end VR headsets (like the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive) more consumer friendly is cutting the wires. No matter how immersed you feel wearing your HTC Vive, you can always feel the wires pulling against the headset to remind you that you’re not really in VR land.

According to Polygon, HTC is allowing a third party solution to make its headset wireless. TPCast will likely be the first company to ship  their wireless add-on, which will cost $220. Shipping should start during the second quarter this year. Let’s hope the company doesn’t delay this wireless product, which is the most important thing the Vive can use now.

 

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Dell Latitude 7285 Is First Wireless Charging Laptop

Dell Latitude 7285

Dell is really getting their groove back. The XPS 13 is, perhaps, the most critically acclaimed ultraportable laptop of the past two years. The XPS 15 is certainly the most acclaimed power laptop. Now, the new Dell Latitude 7285 has been unveiled at CES and it has something that’s pretty groundbreaking.

“The notebook is Airfuel Alliance-certified and will be interoperable with magnetic resonance-based wireless charging infrastructure, the technology in which WiTricity founded. The laptop is key for the workplace of the future, enabling a wire-free environment that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also creates a more efficient and mobile office,” reads a press release I was sent about the device.

However, this might not really be as dreamy as it reads. The wireless charging keyboard base is optional. While this charging situation would be cool, one wonders if it is more convenient than an old fashioned charging cable.

Dell's Latitude 7285 could be the laptop of the future.

It’s quite clear that wireless charging is the future. It’s already been mainstreamed on many Android smartphones, and it has been suggested that the iPhone 8 will finally have wireless charging as well. But it may be a while before we see a true wireless charging era. Or will it be?

According to the Guardian, not only has Dell introduced a wireless charging solution for the Latitude 7285, but Ford announced it would be conducting tests of wireless vehicle charging.However, they were most impressed with a company called Energous.

“The four-year-old company, a CES regular, had something to show of its WattUp wireless system, which beams power to devices using radio frequencies, rather than the magnetic induction used in the the contactless charging of certain smartphones of the past few years.”

The article adds that magnetic induction can’t be used over larger distances, but radio frequencies potentially can. We’ll definitely be hearing more about this soon. As for Dell, they continue to be on a roll. Not only did they recently announced the XPS 13 2-in-1, but they announced the 2017 update to the XPS 15, which Tech Radar describes a potential portable gaming powerhouse.

The higher-end XPS 15 has a  NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 GPU that has 4GB GDDR5 graphics. The XPS 15 has always been seen as a MacBook Pro 15-inch alternative, and this latest version could put a dent in Apple’s sales, especially since many believe the 2016 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is overpriced and underpowered.

Dell has pretty much become the go-to name in laptops now instead of Apple. Pretty soon, we’ll see Dell-branded retail stores pop up at malls all over the world.

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Dell Announces XPS 13 2-in-1 Convertible

The Dell XPS 13 has been the go-to ultraportable, even more so than anything Apple has come up with. It’s literally a powerhouse 13-inch laptop (higher-end versions) in an 11-inch shell. Since there isn’t much of a bezel, Dell had to put the webcam at the bottom of the screen — this is definitely bad for people who use Skype a lot. For everyone else, the XPS 13 is a technological marvel.

On Monday morning, Dell announced the convertible version of the XPS 13, (called XPS 13 2-in-1) that can also be used as a tablet. There is some disappointment for those who thought they were getting the full XPS 13 in tablet form. According to Engadget, Dell’s laptop runs fanless Intel Core i5-7Y54 or i7-7Y75 processors (otherwise known as Intel Core M) , which are noticeably slower than the regular processors that run the latest Dell XPS 13. That will be certainly be a turnoff for some buyers.

Click above to play in YouTube

In order to make the convertible tablet thinner and lighter (2.7 lbs), Dell had to take away the legacy ports, leaving only two USB-C ports. Some may be upset, but it’s very obvious that the tech world is converting to USB-C. If you can’t live with it now, you’ll have to in just a few years. It’s quite impressive that Dell was able to still fit in a microSD card slot.

The XPS 13 will come with either 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB of RAM, and is available in Full HD, or QHD+ display versions. If you don’t mind battery life being an hour or two less with a full charge, you should definitely get the QHD+ version, which looks absolutely stunning.

Laptop Magazine is the first to provide a full review (four stars), and the only thing they don’t seem to like is the battery life, which others say lasts longer than the regular XPS 13. Before selling my high-end mid-2016 version of the XPS 13, I was able to get about six hours of battery life doing some heavy tasks with brightness set at 80 percent. I found that satisfying, even knowing I was getting less than the Intel Core i5 version of the same computer.

Dell had to make some compromises on the XPS 13 2-in-1.

But a lot of people seem to believe that Dell has “butchered” the XPS 13 tablet.

“Honestly, I hate the direction Dell taken with this, No full size USB, slower processor, smaller battery, and they charge a $100 more, $100 MORE?????” screams Reddit user Squat_cobler.

“No USB-A port? Seriously? Don’t tell me that it did not fit. Since when fashion and 10 grams less are more important than convenience? This laptop looked very exciting – I now suddenly lost any and all interest in it,” says Vapor Eidolon.

The good news is that the XPS 13 convertible has a digitizer so you can write with an optional stylus that costs $45. However, it’s too early to even attempt to predict if the XPS 13 2-in-1 will become a hit.

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Apple’s AirPods Are Already Getting Complaints

I did a hands-on review of the AirPods ten days ago, and my review was very mixed. However, I received the AirPods as a Christmas gift and I am far more satisfied with them then I was during my brief demo. I found the sound to be a lot fuller. Perhaps they were in my ears better. But the one noticeable thing is that there is a presence of bass.

The AirPods will not replace your $350 Bose headphones, but they aren’t intended to. However, the AirPods represent the best overall wireless experience you can get right now, including ease of use, phone quality, and pairing. They are the jack of all trades. But just as it is with every Apple product, people have already found problems.

The main issue seems to be battery drain. As MacRumors reports, some users are complaining that the charging case that comes with the pods isn’t holding the 24-hour charge that Apple promised. After one puts the AirPods back in the charging case (which looks just like dental floss), it should theoretically hold a charge after the AirPods are completely charged. But that hasn’t been happening.

Is the AirPods charger battery leak really a major problem?

I am noticing quite a bit of charger leak myself, but I don’t think it is really an issue. For example, I charged my buds with the charger until they were both at 100 percent this morning. I used the buds for almost five hours, and when I went to put them back, the charger had 87 percent battery life left. One of the things that could be causing the leak is opening the charger too many times. Each time you open the charger, it appears to make a Bluetooth connection with your phone, even though it doesn’t display as a Bluetooth connection.

A thread on Reddit shows users having to recharge their charger every two or three days. To be honest, that isn’t bad — at all. However, it would have been great for Apple to include a switch to turn the charger on or off. I can almost guarantee you that Apple will have this in the next version.

I have been running, jumping, and lifting weights with the AirPods, and they haven’t even come close to falling out. The only time they did was when I changed my shirt at the gym. Still, according to Yahoo, Apple plans to include a mechanical mechanism that wraps around the user’s ear. Even without the mechanism, Apple has still hit a home run with the first release of the AirPods.

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A Look At The 2016 (15-Inch) MacBook Pro With Touch Bar

Last week was an awful one for Apple; the Cupertino company still continues to suffer a (mostly undeserved) backlash over their latest MacBook Pro. I worked with the 13-inch version for almost a week and, in a hands-on review, said I was more impressed with it than I ever thought I would be.

Now I have been working with the $2399 ($2199 at some places) 15.4-inch MacBook Pro, and am enjoying myself even more. I’ve received at least six hours of battery life with some pretty heavy use — that’s not great, but it’s not a deal breaker either, especially considering how powerful the new Pro is. It runs an Intel Quad-Core i7 2.6 GHz processor, has 16GB of RAM, and a 256 SSD. It’s hard to believe that something this thin can carry out all this power.

I thought the speakers on the new 13-inch MacBook Pro were great, but the ones on the 15-inch Pro are simply amazing. It’s the first notebook that I’ve used in which I can listen to lifelike music without a Bluetooth speaker or headphones. The bass is thumping, and the high and mid sound ranges are very distinctive.

But Consumer Reports certainly doesn’t agree, and they have written a damning article about how they can’t recommend the MacBook Pro because of — in some cases — disastrous battery life. They revealed that the battery life tests were inconsistent, and that, at times, the 15-inch version gave out only 3.5 hours of power. While the battery life certainly doesn’t live up to Apple’s own tests, one has to wonder exactly how Consumer Reports is “testing” the new MacBook Pro.

The article had a serious affect on Apple — so much that, as the Verge points out, Apple’s Philip Schiller tweeted that Apple was working with the magazine to understand their battery tests. Apple usually ignores media reports, but they couldn’t let this one go. It wouldn’t surprise me if there is some sort of follow-up on the article soon. Apple certainly has that power. But this time, they would definitely be right to use this power.

I can say there is one thing I don’t like about the new 15-inch Pro. The screen resolution (220 ppi) is somewhat noticeably lower than even the 13-inch Pro’s resolution (227 ppi). Both versions of the MacBook Pro have displayed the same resolution since 2012. The Microsoft Surface Book (267 ppi) and the Dell XPS 15 (282.4 ppi) have noticeably sharper screens, although Apple’s still wins at color display. Perhaps Apple is just trying to save battery life, which is already being complained about.

The only real problem with the new MacBook Pros is the price. The entry level 15-inch version should cost $1999, not $2399. And the entry-level 13-inch with Touch Bar should cost $1499, not $1799. After initial sales are done, I believe these will be the new official prices.

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Bose QC20 In-Ear Headphones Are Still Amazing After Three Years

Bose QuietComfort 20

Many of my investments in electronics, especially when it comes to audio, don’t last more than two years. This is because headphones keep getting better, especially wireless ones. In August of 2013, I spent $300 on the QC20 wired in-ear headphones from Bose, and I still use them until this day. You can still purchase them for $249.

The QC20s were the first in-ears to have active noise cancellation. And even though the noise cancellation isn’t as good as recent Bose headphones like the QC35s, it is still more than adequate. Part of what makes the QC20s last so long is that they are portable, meaning that as long as they are in my pocket, I can have what noise cancellation makes feel like phone conversation with anybody at anytime. It also means that I can tune out noisy environments wherever I go.

But the best thing about the QC20s is the sound. The separation between the high, low, and middle ranges of the sound spectrum are very noticeable. The bass doesn’t get muddled in like it does on some of Bose’s wireless headsets, like the QC30s. The QC30s were meant to be the “wireless” version of the QC20s, but fail. Many people who have purchased the wireless QC30s have returned them to get the QC20s instead. Yeah, they are wired, but are still more convenient than wireless headphones.

The QC20s come with different size buds to ensure a great fit in your ears.

There are two things I still find annoying about the QC20s. One is the candy-bar like battery pack, which makes the QC20s feel heavier than they should. It doesn’t feel as bad when you attach the wires from the headphones to your shirt with Bose’s attachment ring. If you don’t, you’ll feel the bar jerk around by your pocket.

If you run out of battery power, which is used for noise cancellation, you are out of luck. Listening to the QC20s without noise cancellation is a painful process. However, if you want to be aware of the noise around you, there is a special “Aware” mode that lets you do this, even as the noise cancellation is turned on. It can work as a hearing aid of sorts as well, letting you hear conversations as if they are closer to you.

The Bose QC20 in-ear headphones (you can refer to them as earbuds too) have been in my pocket almost every day for more than three years. $299 is cheap for the joy and helpfulness Bose has provided.

 

 

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Apple AirPods: Ears-On Experience

I have talked and written a lot about Apple’s AirPods. And I have read so many good reviews that I wanted to get a pair — that is, until I actually tried them. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider the AirPods, which are probably the best wireless earbuds available.

On Monday evening, I walked into the Apple Store at the Americana on Brand in Glendale, CA. I was told they got some AirPods in Monday morning, but that they sold out immediately. However, I was able to try them out and left happy that I didn’t put down any cash for them.

I noticed that the AirPods were taken out of a charging case that looked like the outer shell for dental floss. I thought they would easily fit into my ears, but that wasn’t the case. The AirPods don’t come with a variety of ear tips like many other in-ear products. I finally got them to stay, and the salesman told me not to worry — they wouldn’t fall out. He was right — I shaked my head like crazy, and they stayed in.

He wouldn’t let me use the AirPods with my iPhone, but instantly paired them to the store’s iPhone. I asked for a song with a lot of bass, so he put on “Red Lights” by Tiesto. Then, that’s where the problems (at least for me) started. After using headphones by Bose, Bowers & Wilkins, Sennheiser, and Sony for the past five years, my ears found the audio quality to be horrible as there was hardly any bass. The sound was very tinny.

The AirPods don't have the best audio quality.

While the audio quality was slightly better than the audio quality of the regular Apple Earpods that come with the iPhone, those are free. These cost $160! I walked out of the store thinking that Apple had pulled another fast one on the general public, who believes they have to run out and buy Apple’s latest “revolutionary” product.

However, I then thought about consumers who don’t usually use $300 headsets to listen to music. I thought about how many people will use the headphones to answer calls, which the AirPods work surprisingly well at according to most reviews. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test this out at the store.

A colleague of mine, who bought the AirPods, tells me that when he wants to have a huge music listening session, he will use his Bose headphones. He says that for everything else, the AirPods are perfect and incredibly convenient. Perhaps he’s onto something here.

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Should You Buy Apple’s New Wireless Earbuds?

Apple has just released their new AirPods.

There has been a lot of talk about Apple’s AirPods, the Cupertino company’s first set of wireless earbuds that just became available. The product has been delayed the past couple of months, and judging by some reviews, the wait might have been worth it.

“That’s right folks, these Bluetooth wireless earbuds require no button pushing or connection with the physical world. They are simply magical. Many wizards worked tirelessly on either the optical sensor and motion accelerometer technology or the marketing campaign. The lines are blurred. Magic does that,” says Curtis Silver of Forbes.

PC Magazine says the AirPods have a clear audio performance, and they seamlessly pair with multiple iOS devices on the same iCloud account. They also like that the carrying case doubles as a backup battery. It sounds like Apple has — once again — turned what other companies have failed at into a success.

The AirPods aren't guaranteed to be successful.

However, it may be a little to call Apple’s new product a success. For one thing, even the sources that have praised the AirPods admit that they don’t have world-class sound. The AirPods have about the same sound quality as the regular Earpods, which is good if you are used to those. However, if you are going from wearing wireless headsets such as the Bose QC35 or the Sony MDR-1000X to using the new AirPods, you will certainly be disappointed.

Then again, the AirPods set is a different product than the big Bluetooth wireless headphones that fit over your head. After all, these things — with the charging case — actually fit into your pocket with ease. But aren’t the AirPods easy to lose?

A couple days back, CNET wrote a sarcastic article titled, “Apple AirPods available today for  you to lose tomorrow.” According to Mashable, Cook explained why the AirPods won’t slip out of your ears.

“I’ve been wearing them [AirPods] for a while. And because they don’t have wires on them… The wires tend to help the earbud to fall out, because it applies weight on those. By snipping the wires, I have never personally had one [AirPod] fall out.”

I am really excited to review the AirPods, but have no interest in buying them whatsoever. The most important thing to me is sound, and it’s obvious Apple’s new earbuds can’t deliver bass-thumping sound. But I think Apple is going in the right direction, and — perhaps — the next generation AirPods will provide more battery life and better sound with more bass.

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