HP Spectre x360 13 (2019): Three Months Later

HP Spectre x360 (2019)

The HP Spectre x360 13 has been my go-to laptop for the past three months, and — for the most part — I couldn’t by happier. There are a few things I desire for the 2020 edition of this groundbreaking laptop that will be discussed in a little bit.

When the Spectre x360 13 first became available in 2017, I was blown away at the specs but less impressed when finally testing the device. The biggest problem was that it was a non-premium product disguising itself as a MacBook Pro (or even Surface Pro) alternative. Unfortunately, it had a low-contrast ratio screen, less-than-stellar battery life, and the digital stylus didn’t work as well as expected. Oh, and who could forget that awful trackpad.

The 2017 version of HP's 13-inch flagship device was less than satisfactory.

The trackpad on the 2019 version is still below average, but one can easily fix that by downloading the Windows Precision Touchpad drivers. It makes a world of difference. But besides the trackpad, HP has improved the screen (much better aspect ratio), speakers (HP now includes excellent Bang & Olufsen speakers), design, battery life, etc.

When I first tested the new x360 13 in March, I kept asking myself, “What’s the catch here?” I thought that there was no way HP can deliver a notebook as good as the MacBook Pro that costs several hundred dollars less. Three months later, there has been no screen burn-in, no new backlight bleed, no decrease in battery life, etc. The only thing I did notice was a small scratch on the mid-right of the screen. I should have put on that free screen protector a colleague gave me.

The HP Spectre x360 13 (2019) is very simple to use.

This HP device has been so reliable that I ended up selling my Surface Go. Sometimes, I miss the extra portability of the Surface Go, but the HP’s power makes up for it. And it is still quite portable. The Spectre x360 doesn’t offer its own LTE port, but that barely matters in the year 2019. There are Wi-Fi hotspots almost everywhere, and I can use the hotspot allowance on my Galaxy S10+ when I need to (although it is limited to 10GB).

All this said, the Spectre x360 13 still doesn’t make a great digital writing pad, even though the stylus has improved. There is still some latency when writing, and there is some unnecessary pen jitter as well. Still, the pen experience is far better than it is on other devices, such as the Surface Go. It’s important to note that the new Spectre isn’t really advertised as an inking device. If you really need an inking device on a PC, get a Surface Pro.

Despite some minor flaws, I don’t see myself giving up the HP Spectre x360 anytime soon. It is the best ultraportable laptop ever made. Apple and Microsoft may be able to top HP with their upcoming devices. For now, however, HP is the king (and queen).

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Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 Are Announced

I still can’t get over how much I like the Bose QuietComfort 35 11 headphones, which have the best noise cancellation on any over-the-ear headphones — with the exception of Sony’s WH-1000X3 cans. However, they actually feel more comfortably than Sony’s headphones. If you have an iPhone the Bose headphones are the best. But since Sony has the aptX codec for Android phones (as well as the high-end AAC codec for the iPhone), Samsung Galaxy S or Note users are better off with Sony’s offering.

Unfortunately, the new Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 don’t add the aptX codec, even though they will cost $400. Therefore, they are best used with the iPhone. Still, these headphones have just about everything else.

As CNN describes, the new headphones, which feature 8 different mics, work especially well at letting the listener zero out surrounding noise when listening to music or making phone calls. Bose already has good technology for this on other headphones, but the Headphones 700, which are compatible with Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant, allegedly take this to a completely new level.

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are said to be amazing for making calls in loud surroundings.

The headphones certainly look updated and modern. It’s certainly a branding risk when changing a design that has proven to be successful for several years. However, at least the plush earpads remain. I’m not so sure these would be really comfortable when working out (especially lying down and lifting weights), but we shall see.

The Headphones 700 aren’t the only thing Bose has in line; they will release the Bose Earbuds 500, which replace the successful SoundSport Free buds. These will be smaller and have touch controls that can access Siri, Google Assistant, or even Amazon’s Alexa. However, they won’t have noise cancellation. Apparently, that will come with Bose Noise Cancelling Earbuds 700. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until 2020 for what seems like the ultimate earbuds.

These new headphones and earbuds can give Bose a little bit of a needed boost. While the audio company is still doing well, it doesn’t maintain the top-of-the-line reputation it did at the beginning of the decade. Many consider Sony as the company with the best over-the-ear wireless products, while Sennheiser as well as Bowers & Wilkins have also been seen as Bose alternatives.

It also remains to be seen whether the $400 price tag will be too much to entice listeners, especially since the most expensive wireless headphones cost $350. That said, I can hardly wait to test the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 out.

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Dell And HP Release New OLED Laptops

The HP Spectre x360 (15 inch, OLED) is available right now.

This blog declared 2019 to be the Year of the OLED laptops, and things are finally starting to heat up. Here are the two hottest new 15-inch OLED laptops:

HP Spectre x360 (15-inch, OLED)

HP’s Spectre x360 line has been a big hit over the past few years — in both 13 and 15 inch versions. If you’re looking for an ultraportable 13-inch laptop with an OLED screen, you’ll have to wait longer. But for those who don’t mind something that’s slightly larger to lug around, the 15-inch HP Spectre now gives you a good reason to; it has a gorgeous OLED screen.

Laptop Mag gives HP’s new groundbreaking laptop 4.5 stars.

“The HP Spectre x360′s embrace of OLED worked out swimmingly. Not only does this laptop have a vibrant 15.6-inch 4K display, but it has other excellent qualities like strong performance, a comfortable keyboard and gorgeous design,” says reviewer Rami Tabari, adding that he wishes that the battery life, although commendable, lasted a little bit longer.

The HP Spectre x360 (15-inch, OLED) can actually be purchased today for $1799 at Best Buy. (Note, this isn’t a paid-for advertisement, but it’s the only place that has it in stock right now, so I’m just pointing it out.)

Dell XPS 15 (2019, OLED)

2019 Dell XPS 15 gets an upgraded OLED screen.

 

Unfortunately (or fortunately, for some — we’ll get to that in a little bit), the new version of the Dell XPS 15 won’t be available until June 20. Dell moved the nose-cam to the top, and now it can actually be used as a normal webcam. In addition, a maxed-out version of the XPS 15 includes a 9th generation 8-core Intel Core i9 processor, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 graphics, 64GB of RAM, a 2TB SSD, and….an OLED 4K UKH touch display.

The OLED display comes on other options as well, which is good — not everybody needs 64GB of RAM and a 2GB SSD. Dell’s latest seems like the ultimate multimedia machine, even if it comes at an ultimate price.

However, one may want to be careful. Though the XPS 15 has received unanimously good reviews over the past few years, there have been many complaining about coil wine, less-than-promised battery life, light bleed, overheating, etc. I didn’t have any of these problems when using the 2018 XPS 15 for a couple weeks, but maybe I got lucky.

There aren’t any full reviews of the new XPS 15 yet, but it will be interesting to see if Dell has fixed the minor problems people have been complaining about. Perhaps your best option is to buy HP’s new OLED laptop to be on the safe side.

 

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Microsoft Surface Pro 7 Will Have USB-C Port

The latest Surface Pro doesn't have a USB-C port.

The Surface Pro 6 was released in November of 2018, and it is a great device. Microsoft perfected the already great laptop/hybrid tablet, but one thing was missing — a USB-C port. It wasn’t that big of a deal that the port was missing in 2017, and nobody even cared that it was missing in 2016.

However, as TechRadar notes, it looks like that may change with the upcoming Surface Pro 7, which was discovered in a new patent to have a USB-C port for charging and faster speeds. It’s not known whether the USB-C port is Thunderbolt compatible. The USB-C port on the Surface Go isn’t Thunderbolt, but it’s addition is very helpful. It’s a surprise that Microsoft released this tablet with USB-C but ignored their flagship one.

Microsoft did include a USB-C port with the Surface Go.

That’s not all Microsoft has in store for their next Surface Pro. There are also rumors that the Type Cover will be completely redesigned and have a stronger magnetic connection to the base of the machine. There are also rumors of a redesigned Pen too. I’ve always liked the Surface Pen, but the only device it works perfectly with is the Surface Pro 5 and Surface Pro 6. Unfortunately, it produces “jiggly” writing on other machines.

I don’t want to see Microsoft make the device any larger. However, I would love to see Microsoft reduce the rather large bezel space to make room for a larger screen. I’m not talking about an “infinity” display where there is no bezel. If that happens, people wouldn’t be able to hold the new Surface Pro without accidentally touching the screen.

There is still too much bezel space covering the screen on the Surface Pro.

I also think that although it may weigh more, Microsoft should definitely come up with sturdier keyboard. Perhaps the keys can have slightly more travel as well, though this isn’t absolutely necessary. The materials used in the current Type Covers are great, but they haven’t been changed in years. Perhaps we’ll finally see something different in 2019.

Finally, I would love to see Microsoft offer the Surface Pro 7, Type Cover, and Surface Pen all in the same box. Let’s stop confusing customers, who will likely buy the Type Cover and Surface Pen anyway. HP, Dell, and other companies put all the necessary parts for their computers in one package, and Microsoft should do the same. The Surface Pro is more of a PC device than a tablet, so it should include everything.

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Oculus Quest Inches Close To Becoming ‘iPhone’ Of The VR World

In my hands-on review, I mention that I had problems with getting the Oculus Quest to set up since the tracking was way off. Originally, I thought it was a battery problem. However, from using it more, I now understand that the Quest doesn’t work well in any kind of sunlight. Knowing this would have saved me at least three hours of frustration since I originally set it up to use at a park. (I don’t have much space in my apartment)

Of course, the dream VR headset would be something that you can use outside, like a smartphone. It wouldn’t matter where you used it; you could enter into another world any place at any time. When I used it later in the evening, I had no problems — with the exception of some people giving me weird looks. That’s their problem, not mine.

As I used the Oculus Quest for the next couple of days, I noticed that there were other slight issues that kept this from being the “iPhone” of the VR world. First of all, there’s the resolution (1,600 x 1,440 per eye) that sounds great on paper, but still produces a screen door effect in the VR world. However, the screen door effect is less noticeable than it is on the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift, and even the Gear VR. In other words, the screen in the VR world is almost “there” but not quite.

But that’s not to say I haven’t been having fun. Thankfully, there is a strong lineup of games and experiences. So far, my favorite is Star Wars Vader Immortal – Episode 1. Even if you aren’t a huge Star Wars fan like me, you’ll become one. You really get immersed in the Star Wars universe, light sabers and all. I wish it lasted longer, but it’s just about the best thing I’ve ever experienced in VR.

'Star Wars Vader Immortal' is the best VR experience available for the Oculus Quest at launch.

Another app that shows how far VR has come is Epic Roller Coasters, which allows you to go on dizzying roller coasters with raptors, snow slides, zombies, witches, etc. If your stomach can handle it, you’re in for an adventure. The fact that a VR roller coaster doesn’t really make you feel like you are on one still holds true, but these VR roller coasters give you a sense of height as well as stomach drop.

If you are like me, you’ll mostly be using the Quest to watch movies. And it is a great experience watching Netflix or your own movies in cozy environments. When Oculus releases a headset without the screen door effect, you may never feel the need to go to a movie theater again. And you’ll be able to invite your friends and family from all over the world to watch movies with you.

The Oculus Quest is great for watching movies.

The Oculus Touch controllers work just as well as they did on the original Oculus Quest and help make this portable VR experience more vital. They are easy to use, even if the learning curve takes a little longer than usual. As mentioned, I had problems using them outdoors (my fault for not reading the material that warns against this), but using them at night or indoors shows absolutely no lag whatsoever. They really do feel like your own hands in the VR world.

And the Oculus Quest fits comfortably without one needing five minutes to get the screen in focus. It’s wide-lens angle helps make the virtual worlds a lot more realistic. And, it needs to be stated again — NO WIRES!

The Oculus Quest is certainly a breakthrough device that will hopefully make VR mainstream. The glass is more than half-full — it’s four-fifths full. But it doesn’t quite hit the home run I was expecting. Still, a triple is good enough for hours of immersive fun.

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Oculus Quest: First Impressions

I have been playing with the Oculus Quest for the past day. First, let’s get the negative out of the way. The very first unit that I had barely worked, and I could not get the thing to track properly.

The second unit worked a little better, but was still failed to track some of my movements. Then, I decided to use two Energizer AA batteries I had, which made things work far more smoothly. I can imagine others will be having similar issues and returning their unit, thinking something is defective. This is a major quality control issue that could have easily been avoided by providing something better than cheap batteries.

But now that I have a unit that works and tracks perfectly, here are my first impressions:

The Oculus Quest controllers work very well with good batteries.

  • The fit is comfortable. It’s still a little cumbersome, but Oculus has come a long way.
  • Setup appears to be easy. It wasn’t in my case because of weak batteries, but for anyone else, it should be easy.
  • This is awesome to use at a park. People will think you are a little strange, but you should never care what people think of you!
  • I really like the controls — simple to use with a variety of functions.
  • You don’t need your own headphones, but using them (especially noise-cancelling headphones) will make your experience more immersive.
  • The battery life isn’t that great, but it’s easy to use with an external battery pack if you need to.
  • The Power button is hard to reach when the headset is on. The volume rocker is a little bit easier.
  • Someone commented, “This looks like some type of futuristic sex toy!”
  • The screen door effect is still there — but I do notice an improvement in comparison to the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.
  • Creed: Rise to Glory is my favorite experience so far. It really puts you in the ring. It’s not perfect, but it shows just how far VR has come along. If the Oculus Quest is to succeed, it needs more software experiences like this.

Creed: Rise to Glory

  • The Oculus Quest is a great exercise machine. After playing with it in the park for an hour, I feel like I got an incredible workout. But oooh, my knees!
  • The Oculus Gallery app, where I upload my own videos, is probably what I’ll use the most.
I will be taking the Oculus Quest through many tasks for the next couple days before writing my full review. However, I can definitely say this, at least for now — If you are on the fence about spending $399 for the Quest, get over it. This stand-alone VR headset is well-worth the price. 
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OnePlus 7 Pro Sounds Better On Paper

OnePlus 7 Pro

When I first heard about the OnePlus 7 Pro, which CNET called the best Android phone value of 2019, I was excited. After all, for $700, you get a phone that has a pop-up camera in front, a triple-lens camera in back, and a UHD 6.7-inch screen. Is the excitement worth it? Here are my first-impression thoughts.

  • This thing is heavy. Almost massively so (in terms of the smartphone world).
  • If I had this, I could use it to do some bicep curls (exaggerating just a little bit, of course).
  • Yes, the screen is beautiful. Is it the best display on the smartphone? I don’t think so. The Samsung Galaxy S10+ may not have as many dots per inch, but it’s still more crisp.
  • I really like the idea of the pop-up camera on front. That way, there is no notch or cut-out on the front edge of the screen. Still, this engineering decision might have led to the  extra weight.
  • Typing on the keyboard isn’t exactly that easy. One could probably get used to it, but….
  • The volume rocker is a little bit difficult to press.
  • The design of the screen is cool, but curvy screens often don’t do well outside, since the edges easily reflect sunlight.
  • I like that the screen has a 90Hz display. It really makes things buttery-smooth when scrolling. It reminds me of the iPad Pro.
  • The 90HZ display would be great for gaming, but would anyone really feel comfortable gaming on this device?
  • I wasn’t able to test the fingerprint reader with my own finger. But the guy who showed it to me was able to log on instantly with his fingerprint — faster than I can with my Galaxy S10+.

The OnePlus 7 Pro has a strong build.

  • Though it feels heavy, the OnePlus 7 Pro also feels premium. Just don’t drop it!
  • This phone begs for a digital stylus.
  • The stereo speakers are very good. There isn’t as much sound separation as there is with the Galaxy S10 and S10+, but the sound is still very good.
  • It allegedly records with stereo sound, but I wasn’t able to test it.
  • Videos looked slightly shaky, but that could possibly be changed in the settings.
In general, the OnePlus 7 Pro is a good value. However, it doesn’t quite blow me away like I expected. Unfortunately, I think the weight is the Achilles heel of the smartphone. Still, others may disagree. But to be honest, I really don’t have an interest in pursuing a review unit in order to do a full review. And that should say something. 
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The Foldable Laptop May Be The Notebook Of The Future

Lenovo has a foldable laptop prototype.

Yup, the foldable phone industry isn’t going so well now. But that doesn’t mean that the foldable laptop industry can’t arise. As The Verge explains, Lenovo has being showing off it’s prototype for a foldable laptop that should be out within the first quarter of 2020.

“It’s not just a cool tech demo, either: Lenovo has been developing this for over three years and has plans to launch a finished device in 2020 as part of its premium ThinkPad X1 brand. The goal here is a premium product that will be a laptop-class device, not an accessory or secondary computer like a tablet might be.”

The article adds that the computer has a 13.3-inch 4:3 2K OLED display that can fold up to the size of a hardcover book. When you fold it half open, the lower half can be used as a keyboard, though it appears that using the Bluetooth keyboard works better. Of course, this is only a prototype, so who knows what the final version will look like.

But although I still can’t imagine the majority of people using a foldable phone in the next five years, I’m willing to bet that the foldable laptop will go mainstream. There are just so many uses for this type of device — a laptop, a digital writing pad, an e-reader, a tablet. I can imagine these eventually being used a lot in classrooms.

Click to play in YouTube.

In order to succeed, however, this new foldable device absolutely needs to be a laptop replacement. It can’t be a laptop companion — that’s why the first PC tablets failed,  and that also explains the Ultra-Mobile PC failure of the late 2000′s. The Surface Pro was the first successful Windows PC tablet, and that’s because this tablet also was a powerful laptop. It didn’t make too many compromises as a laptop or tablet.

I have a feeling that we’ll be waiting more than a year for the first foldable laptop to become available, and instead of being by Lenovo, it will be made by Huawei. Soon, we’ll see foldable laptops from Dell, Microsoft, and HP. Apple will be late to join the game, but will delay it’s foldable laptop until they guarantee it works to perfection.

As for now, I am typing this on my HP Spectre x360, and I am thinking that this may be the last laptop of its kind I will own. The next couple years will radically change the laptop world just like MacBook Air did 10 years ago. It’s going to be an interesting ride.

 

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Ears On: Apple’s New PowerBeats Pro

Apple's Power Beats Pro is impossible to find in stores.

Well, I still haven’t received my (hoped-for) review unit for the PowerBeats Pro, but that doesn’t mean I can’t go the Apple Store myself and get some ears-on time with them. My official review will come once I am able to test these for at least a few days. For now, here are my first impressions.

  • They are plastic and rubbery, but sturdy. Black buds look better in ears than white ones.
  • The case is pretty big. Yeah, you can still put it in your pocket, but the “Is that a Beats PowerPro case or are you just…..” question will be inevitable.
  • If you drop the case, the earbuds won’t come flying out. (Yeah, that happened during my time playing with them.)
  • It took a few minutes to connect them to my Galaxy S10+. However, when another person paired them with his iPhone, it connected immediately.
  • I moved my head pretty frantically and felt no indication that the Beats Pro were going to come out.
  • But these are certainly not the type of buds that you can instantly put on for an easy fit. Perhaps I need more time with them.
  • The sound is very “Beats” sculpted — it reminds me of the Beats Studio 3, which is a good thing.
  • The mirrored controls are easy. I always find it frustrating trying to use controls on new earbuds, but the PowerBeats Pro doesn’t present this issue.
  • The phone quality seems decent. I need to test it out in different environments. While at the Apple Store, the person on the end said he could understand me, but that I sounded slightly muffled.

The PowerBeats Pro buds fit very comfortably.

  • Unlike the AirPods, there is passive noise isolation. I’m not sure if the noise isolation is very good, but perhaps it was because I wasn’t using the correct-sized bud tips. There is no Ambient Sound function, so these aren’t really the type of earbuds you would want to drive with.
  • I can definitely imagine working out with these. Perhaps I wouldn’t swim with them, but would do everything else.
  • I didn’t notice any connection issues — that may change when I use them more.
Overall, the short time with the PowerBeats Pro makes me want to play with them some more. But I’m not jealous that there is no way to buy them in stores yet. The PowerBeats Pro are decent, but just don’t scream, “Buy Me!” At least for now. 
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The PowerBeats Pro Early Reactions Are Positive

The ultimate earbuds?

Well, it looks like Apple has another winner on its hands. For those who don’t know, Apple acquired Beats back in 2014, and the brand that was known for more style than substance turned into absolute substance — as well as style.

The PowerBeats Pro  buds are like the AirPods, except they are larger and have ear hooks that will guarantee a more secure fit. They’re water resistant, but not waterproof. So, if one of your hobbies is swimming, it’s best to leave these in your locker.

PC Mag gave the PowerBeats Pro four stars.

“A secure fit, easy operation, and a bass-forward sound signature make the Powerbeats Pro ideal true wireless earphones for Beats fans.”

The review noted that the sound is very sculpted and not for everyone. The $249 price tag also appears to be a point of controversy.

Mac Rumors also like the PowerBeats Pro, noting that they fit on your ears super securely and drown out ambient noise. They work very well with sunglasses and produce full, crisp, and clear audio.

“So are the Powerbeats Pro worth the $250 price tag? We think the answer is yes if you’re looking for a set of earbuds that have a secure, comfortable fit with all of the features offered by the AirPods. They’re perfect if you live an active lifestyle or are looking for a more traditional earbud fit than the AirPods offer,” concludes author Juli Clover.

The PowerBeats Pro charger is quite big.

Lori Gill  from iMore just can’t get over how comfortable the PowerBeats Pro are to wear.

“I’m one of those people that can’t wear AirPods for more than about an hour without feeling significant pain in the cartilage in my ears. The difference from EarPods to AirPods was much better but still hurt my compact ears. By comparison, Powerbeats Pro feels like I’ve got a soft baby’s blanket in my ears.”

It may be a little while before you get to see people in public wearing these. Even though they went on sale today (Friday, May 10), every single store (at least on the West Coast) is sold out and the earliest shipping date is June 12. If you thought the AirPods were a hit, it looks like the PowerBeats Pro are the ultimate home run.

There will hopefully be a review of these on IReTron next week. In the mean time, sell your AirPods!

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