Dell XPS 15 9560 (2017 Version): First Impressions

I was able to get my hands on Dell’s 2017 version of the XPS 15, which is supposed to be the 15.6-inch version of Dell’s XPS 13 laptop. This is the version with the 4K screen, Quad-Core Intel i7 processor (7th generation, Kaby Lake), Discreen NVIDIA graphics, 16GB RAM, and 512GB SSD.

When taking the XPS 15 out of the box, the most noticeable thing is that the laptop is heavy — at least compared to the 13-inch version. Yes, one expects it to be heavier, but it feels significantly heavier. However, compared to other 15.6-inch laptops, it’s lighter than average. And you won’t mind the weight when you see the beautiful 4K screen, which produces colors as vivid and accurate as the MacBook Pro does.

Unfortunately, there are the speakers — both built into the bottom. You won’t get the same live thumping sound you get on the new 15-inch MacBook Pro. In fact, the max volume is surprisingly soft. You can always use a Bluetooth speaker, but when a device costs $2,000, you shouldn’t have to.

2017's Dell XPS 15 is a premium laptop.

Then, there is the keyboard, which is great on the XPS 13, but just above average on the XPS 15.  Despite all the space Dell has on the XPS 15, they couldn’t build a different keyboard.  I never had problems with the XPS 13 keyboard. I did think the keys were cramped together, but I understood Dell did this in order to keep the device as compact as possible. Even though it is the same keyboard, the keys feel more cramped on the XPS 15. The keyboard is not a deal breaker, but it is somewhat of a disappointment.

The trackpad, thankfully, is wonderful. It’s great on the XPS 13, and it’s even better on the XPS 15, especially because it’s larger. The Precision trackpads that are used on both the XPS 13 and XPS 15 are almost MacBook Pro touchpad quality and show just how far Dell has come over the past couple of years.

The Dell XPS 15 may feel like a beast, but it operates like one too and offers decent battery life. I used Cyberlink PowerDirector to put together 4K videos, which the XPS 15 helped it do in minutes. I also had five high resolution photos opened in Photoshop and was able to edit them individually without a hiccup. Instead, there was fan noise with a small amount of coil wine. Don’t expect the machine to be silent, but you’ll only hear it if you are in a silent room.

After one day of use, I think the XPS 15 is certainly a better buy than the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. And the screen really is the best I’ve seen on a 15-inch laptop. If you have $2000 ($1799 with discounts at certain places)  to spend on a high-end laptop, you really do get your money’s worth with the 2017 XPS 15.

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HTC Vive To Go Mobile: Will People Care?

A mobile version of the HTC Vive will be released soon.

I’ve written about the desktop HTC Vive a lot in this blog. It’s the most fascinating product I bought last year, returned it, and decided to repurchase the VIVE cause I couldn’t live without it. I don’t use it as much as I used to, but still don’t regret my purchase. I still believe VR needs to become mainstream, but I am also fearing that it could go in the direction of 3D.

One of the reasons that VR is not being completely embraced by the mainstream is price — the HTC Vive itself costs $799, and a desktop system that’s compatible cost at least the same price or more. Then, there is the fact that the Vive is attached to a desktop with many wires. Sometimes, the pull of the wires takes away from the immersive experience.

Now, HTC wants to go the way of Samsung by creating a somewhat successful mobile VR headset. According to Tech Radar, the mobile headset will probably be released in the next few months. The company will likely be taking a different approach instead of the common “phone slapped into a headset.”

One thing that would be great would be a 4K screen. The Quad HD screen that is on the current HTV Vive and other VR devices looks good on a mobile phone or even on a laptop. However, when a Quad HD screen is glued against your face, you can make out the individual pixels. A 4K screen would take up a lot of battery life, but the tradeoff would be worth it.

Will the mobile HTC Vive have tracking stations like the desktop version?

It would be great if the mobile HTC Vive had positional tracking as well. One of the greatest things about the desktop Vive is that you can walk and explore things in your VR world. There are two tracking stations that allow you to do this. You outline your area before going into the VR world to make sure that you don’t knock over your television set. A light blue border displays when you are about to go past the area you outlined.

I’m not sure a mobile VR set would have the power to do this, but some type of positional tracking would be great — even if it allowed you to just stand up and move around a little bit. If positional tracking is included, you can bet that the mobile VR set would be more than $300.

Most important to the mobile Vive experience will be software. The HTC Vive has only a handful of killer apps, and the mobile version will need to have great titles ready to go at launch. The upcoming mobile HTC Vive will either be a big hit or a huge miss.

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First Impressions: HP Spectre x360 (13-Inch, 2017 4K Version)

A couple days back, I wrote about the new 13-inch HP Spectre X360, which now comes in  a 4K version that has digital inking capabilities. I have been playing with a review unit for the past day. Here are some of the the things that immediately stand out.

Premium Product

I normally don’t associate HP with “premium,” but people have told me that has changed. And this is obvious when looking, touching, and carrying the Spectre X360. The dark ash silver coloring is not only beautiful, but the machine aluminum build and light weight (without compromise) makes this the best built windows laptop available. It feels like the MacBook of the Windows world.

Screen

Is a 4K screen absolutely necessary on a laptop, especially because it eats up battery life faster? Not really, but it is sure nice to have. For the most part, the 4K screen looks great on the new Spectre x360. The colors aren’t as vivid as they are on the MacBook Pro or Dell XPS 13, but the screen still looks better than any you’ll see on other HP devices.

The HP Spectre x360 comes in a small box.

Keyboard

Since we’re comparing the x360 to the MacBook Pro, HP’s laptop beats Apple on their keyboard. While the MacBook Pro keyboard is great and unique, the keys on the x360 find a solid balance between key travel and firmness. 

 

Performance

The x360 runs on a 2.5GHz Intel Core i7 processor (7th generation). Unlike other laptops that run the Kaby Lake chip set, the x360 has no coil wine problem. However, the fan can get pretty loud — it sounds like static. But you won’t really notice the fan noise unless you are alone in a completely silent room.

The fact that HP was able to put such a powerful processor in such a thin device means that the bottom of the x360 is going to bet pretty hot. The high temperature of the device isn’t a deal killer, but it’s something you will notice.

The HP Spectre x360 is a tablet hybrid.

Battery Life

I haven’t been able to measure this yet, but — as expected — this isn’t the type of laptop you will get eight hours with on high-powered use. It appears that with the brightness set at 80 percent while constantly streaming videos, you will get — at the least — five hours. This isn’t awful considering the x360 has a 4K screen. Some have said they have been able to get six or seven hours.

Other Thoughts

The 2017 HP Spectre x360 is certainly the best laptop HP has come up with, but it’s certainly not without its faults. Out of the box, the display driver doesn’t work correctly (I had to uninstall then install again) and the device gets pretty hot. However, despite some drawbacks, this 2-in-1 is definitely one to check out.

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HP Releases 4K Version Of Spectre X360 With Pen Support

HP's updated Spectre x360 could be the best hybrid of 2017.

The late 2016 version of the HP Spectre x360 13.3-inch convertible is, perhaps, the most critically acclaimed ultrabook of last year. The Verge is just one of the sites that calls Spectre the best Windows laptop of 2016.

“The Spectre x360 is one of those rare laptops that takes all of the same parts as everyone else and combines them together into something greater than their sum. Perhaps it’s time that Dell, Lenovo, and even Apple started to take note.”

The article especially praises the thin design, the premium build, and great battery life. I have seen this at Best Buy and it really looks like a tempting laptop. However, there is just one problem — the 13.3-inch screen on the Spectre X360 is only full HD (1920 x 1080, 166 ppi). That would have been great three years ago, but now, most laptops have a higher resolution screen. Even the 13.3-inch MacBook Pro has a 2560 x 1600 (227 ppi) screen resolution, and some still consider that outdated.

The late 2016 version of the HP Spectre x360 has received excellent reviews, but has one "visual" flaw.

HP says they only allowed a full HD screen in order to save battery life. However, if the relatively low resolution kept you away from the Spectre x360, there is good news: HP has just released a 4K version, and it is available at Best Buy. At $1599, it comes with 16GB RAM, a 512 SSD, and a 7th-generation Intel Core i7 processor. It also comes with a digital pen for note-taking.

If you don’t mind using Windows 10 (and you shouldn’t), the Spectre x360 could be an easy 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar killer. However, whereas the color accuracy is almost perfect on the MacBook Pro, the new Spectre is said to have a 66 percent color accuracy — not bad, but not great. If you don’t edit photos and need the exact color, it’s not going to be an issue. Streaming movies on this device should be a pleasure.

If the keyboard is the same exact one used on the current Spectre x360, users are also in for a treat as that is the best keyboard on the market. I love the Butterfly keyboard on the new Macbook Pro, but the keys on the Spectre x360 just have a solid feeling with just enough travel to satisfy your fingers.

Click to play video on YouTube.

I will try and get a first-impressions review of the new Spectre x360 sometime this week. It’s safe to say that HP’s new hybrid laptop will be a great challenge to the Surface Pro 5, which should come out in March.

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Apple’s BeatsX: First Impressions

The BeatsX is now available at Apple Store retail locations.

Yesterday, I got my hands (and ears) on the new BeatsX wireless earbud set. The product is wireless (but the buds are wired together) and has received a lot of hype. Like the AirPods, the BeatsX easily connects to an Apple product due to it’s advanced W1 chip. Once I turned it on, the Bests X immediately connected to my iPhone.

I have to use the earbud set a little bit more to give my final verdict, but here are some of the things I have noticed the most.

Audio Quality

For $150, the sound quality is really good. Usually, Beats branded headphones have an overwhelming amount of bass (some people like that). But even though the BeatsX headphone set offers a lot of bass, it’s not overwhelming. Beats has sculpted the treble as well, which could sound too sculpted if you don’t change the equalizer settings on your phone or computer.

Fit and Noise Isolation

The BeatsX fits around your neck comfortably. Unfortunately, the cord is so big that it could easily get caught up in your shirt or jacket. However, once the headphone set fits in your ears, you will notice that the BeatsX blocks out more noise than some headphones that have active noise cancellation.

The BeatsX offers the best noise isolation out of any earbud set on the market.

When working out at 24 Hours Fitness, I could barely hear anything else besides my music playing — that is a good thing. However, it wasn’t such a good thing when I was walking in Burbank and couldn’t hear traffic. One should be careful when choosing to wear the BeatsX.

Phone Quality

When talking with people using the BeatsX, they said I sounded good, but could hear more background noise than they did when I used the AirPods. Beats headphones and earbuds have never been excellent for making phone calls, but they adequately do the job. These certainly aren’t the best buds to use if you need to constantly go into really loud places and make phone calls.

Battery Life

The BeatsX offers more than eight hours of battery life.

Apple claims you get up to eight hours of battery life with the BeatsX, which is pretty good (not spectacular) for earbuds of this caliber. In two different tests, I was able to get about eight hours and fifteen minutes. The earbud set comes with a Lightning charger, which charges the headphones to useable levels within minutes.

Early Conclusion

So far, I would say that the BeatsX headphone set is definitely worth the $149, but won’t be for everybody. If I had to choose between the BeatsX and the AirPods, the Apple buds would win, even though they are slightly more expensive.

 

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Apple Moves Many Apple Watch Units in Q4 2016, But Is It Really Enough?

Apple might have not revealed exact Watch sales from last quarter, but one market research expert has. Fortune has the news.

“The tech giant sold 6 million Apple Watch units worldwide during the fourth quarter according to research firm Canalys. Apple Watch unit sales were up 12% year over year, according to the research firm.”

The article adds that Apple CEO Tim Cook has argued that sharing sales figures could help competitors—a claim that some analysts laughed at. That’s probably because even though sales are good, they probably aren’t as good as Apple has wanted.

Still, at least in terms of the reviews, Apple produced a hit. The Daily Express claimed that the release of the Watch 2 made it finally the time to buy a smartwatch. They especially liked it for its fitness features.

“Though it looks largely identical to its predecessor, the new Apple Watch Series 2 has a number of noteworthy hardware improvements. For anyone who has used the Apple Watch before, the most noticeable change will be the new dual-core S2 processor. As expected, everything is simply faster, from launching apps to using Siri to just navigating around,” claimed Apple Insider.

I have owned the Watch since early October, and — unlike the first Apple Watch — it’s something that makes my wrist feel empty without it. Don’t get me wrong; I really liked the first Watch. But the Series 2 version feels a lot more complete. The GPS features have been great for tracking my workouts; I don’t need to have a Bluetooth connection to the iPhone for this to work. When I do reconnect with the iPhone, it records my progress.

The Apple Watch has become more popular, but it still has a way to go before becoming mainstream.

I’ve even see more people with Apple Watches wherever I go. However, the upcoming Watch 3 can still improve things. I understand that 4G LTE connectivity was left off the Series 2 in order to save battery life. But I, as well as others, wouldn’t mind it if the next Apple Watch was slightly bigger and heavier — this would allow for a larger battery.

The Apple Watch still has some competition, especially from the Samsung Gear S3, which has a version with cellular connectivity. There are also the new Android Wear Watches with the Android Wear 2.0 update that — by the way — works with the iPhone.

Still, in terms of a combination of form and ease-of-use, the Apple Watch Series 2 is the best smartwatch you can buy now. It is worth every cent of the $350 Apple charges for it.

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Surface Pro, iPad Pro, And Galaxy Note 5: Comparing Styluses For Top Devices

The stylus for mobile devices has certainly grown in the past ten years. Most people used a stylus as a replacement for their fingers ten years ago since capacitive touch screens were barely available. These were passive styluses that didn’t have any electronic charge and were poor for digital inking.

S Pen (Samsung Galaxy Note)

However, things have definitely changed, and it all began with the first Samsung Galaxy Note. This time, stylus was active and became an essential part of the mobile device. The Note let you use the stylus to draw and write notes like you do on paper with the S Note application. Things weren’t perfect, but Samsung was getting it right.

Things improved with the Galaxy Note 2 as the S Pen allowed you to do other things. The Air View mode allowed the Note II to detect the tip of the pen before it touched the screen, allowing you to get information to pop up (or windows to open) just by hovering the pen over the proper spot.

Surface Pen (Surface Pro)

Like the Galaxy Note 5, the first two Surface Pro units used a Wacom stylus. This provided more smooth writing that the N-Trig stylus. However, the N-Trig stylus supports 256 points of pressure, and there is rarely any latency or parallax effect.

In other words, when the stylus hits the screen, ink starts to appear. With the Wacom stylus, there is often a short delay, which isn’t really all that noticeable. Still, many notice that if they don’t write fast with the N-Trig pen, the lettering comes out slightly squiggly. 

Apple Pencil (iPad Pro)

The Apple Pencil is easily the best stylus out of any of these. Apple took a long time to come out with a stylus, but the wait was worth it. The Apple Pencil not only mimics a pen or pencil  almost perfectly, but it also is very comfortable between your fingers.

So far, you can only use the Apple Pencil with the 12.9-inch or 9.7-inch versions of the iPad Pro. Since both versions of the iPad Pro are so thin, it really does feel like you are writing on a pad of paper.

There are rumors that the next 12-inch MacBook will be able to utilize the Apple Pencil, which would make it the first macOS device that has tablet capabilities. One can only hope that the Apple Pencil will work just as well with the MacBook as it does the MacBook Pro.

 

 

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VR Baseball – Home Run Derby Shows The Power Of Virtual Reality

The thought of a VR baseball simulation may make some dizzy, but VR Baseball – Home Run Derby has produced a simple experience that not only makes you feel like you are a batter, but it can help you practice to play baseball or softball in the real world.

A couple weeks back, I was cast as a softball player for a major television show (I can’t list which one yet because it hasn’t aired and I signed a confidentiality agreement). They wanted someone who could hit well and specifically hit a grounder to third base. Even though I hadn’t played baseball or softball for 20 years, I took the job. After hanging up the phone, I feared that the next day would be a disaster and that I would never be cast in anything again.

I needed to practice! After doing some research, I purchased VR BaseballHome Run Derby for the HTC Vive virtual reality headset. The game offers continuous batting practice. Perhaps complete a complete VR baseball experience, where you actually run the bases, is not too far away. But that wasn’t needed that evening.

VR Baseball: Home Run Derby provides a stereoscopic virtual reality batting experience.

When the game started, I had a choice of different bats and different sized balls to hit. I chose a softball, got behind the plate, and started hitting the balls, which are continuously pitched to you for a couple of minutes. It felt like REAL softball. I used the same hand and eye coordination that I used when playing twenty years ago.

I first wanted to hit the ball over the bleachers, but kept hitting grounders. I remember what my coach used to tell me about not taking my eyes off the ball when looking at it. That advice helped me in the virtual reality world too. Whenever the ball flew into the stands, my body felt a great feeling of satisfaction as the audience cheered and fireworks hit the sky.

The game allows you to choose from several types of bats and balls.

Then, I wanted to practice hitting specific grounders to third base. I forgot how to do this, so I looked on the Internet. Apparently, I had to position my feet a certain way and flip my wrist as I hit the ball. Then, I entered the virtual world and followed the advice. After a couple foul balls, I was consistently hitting grounders to third base. Then, I started using different bats and different sized balls, including a baseball, and practiced hitting a fly ball to first base. I wasn’t as successful as I was with third base grounders, but still did a satisfactory job.

You don’t have to be an expert baseball or softball player to enjoy VR Baseball. Even if you don’t use the game to practice for real games, it still is great for exercise. After two rounds of batting, you can expect your heart rate to get really high. VR Baseball — Home Run Derby is far from the best VR title, but it’s one of the best in showing how VR can help in the real world.

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Are Waiters In Danger Of Being Replaced With Tablets And Robots?

Your order is only one touch away.

If you go to a restaurant such as Olive Garden or Outback, you will notice that there is a tablet on the table. In a handful of these locations, you can order your own food. However, in most, the waiter or waitress uses the tablet to produce your order, produce your check, and have you sign your credit card bill. Since we are only at the beginning of the restaurant tablet phase, you still get a waiter. But how much longer will you need one?

According to Business Insider, waiters are already being replaced by robots at some restaurants in China.

“Chinese restaurants started to replace their workers with robots as early as 2006. Though some have proven pretty incompetent, they’re still cheaper than human wait staff.”

Could this be your future waitress?

The article adds that the approximate $1,200 up-front cost per robot is just a couple month’s salary for an average server in China. The Robot waiters do well, mostly because they are fun rather than being completely efficient. The waiters look very toy-like and like something that came from The Jetsons.

When you think about it, there can be advantages to robot waiters. They won’t spit in your salad when they get mad at you, and they certainly won’t give you a bad attitude. They probably won’t need to be tipped. But don’t people go to restaurants for human interaction?

It’s more reasonable to say that the tablets will replace the waiter as the tablets become more advanced. There will be a station for people to pick up their food and drinks, just like there is at some restaurants now. There will be a couple of hosts that will walk around and make sure everybody is okay.

A new report from Cornell University claims that table top technology actually benefits customers at full-service casual dining chains. By monitoring one chain restaurant’s service over the course of two Fridays and two Saturdays, research showed that table turnover rates improved and customer spending increased when a table top-placed tablet was used for ordering and/or settling the bill.

Perhaps people who attend fancy restaurants won’t like the new technology completely taking over their experience. And then there are people who are completely sick and tired of technology taking over every other profession, including education and banking. But the replacement of waiters with tablets and (possibly) robots is certainly going to happen whether they like it or not.

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2017 Dell XPS 15 Causes Problems For Some Early Buyers

I’ve always heralded the Dell XPS 13 as a groundbreaking laptop. In 2015, Dell released the 15.6-inch version of the XPS 13, the XPS 15. The larger version didn’t seem as groundbreaking. The small keyboard with minimum travel was excused on the XPS 13 since Dell was trying to create the most portable 13-inch laptop. But Dell could have put a better keyboard on the XPS 15.

Still, over the past year, the XPS 15 has been heralded as the 15-inch MacBook Pro killer, especially since the latest MacBook Pro with Touch Bar has received such mixed responses. The Guardian listed the XPS 15 was one of the ultimate MacBook Pro replacements.

“The Dell XPS 15 is better value. You get a Core i7-6700HQ, 8GB of memory, Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M graphics with 2GB of video memory, and a 256GB SSD for £1,249. It has a Thunderbolt 3 port, two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and an SD card slot.”

The new Dell XPS 15 has one significant advantage over the 2016 MacBook Pro — a 7th generation Kaby Lake processor. This processor has proven to save battery life while offering increased performance. However, this processor has also caused a problem referred to as “coil whine,” which this blog talked about last month.

There have been some complaints about the XPS 15 and coil whine, but they are not as widespread as they were with the late 2015 version of the XPS 15. However, as one can see on Reddit, new owners have dealt with Wi-Fi, backlight bleed, sound, ghosting, the keyboard, and other issues.

One owner of the new Dell XPS 15 finds his screen glows in the dark.

Reddit user Pa0ap received a unit from Dell that looks like it absolutely skipped quality control. Backlight bleed is common on most laptops, but it becomes a problem when the bleed interferes with the picture or goes towards the middle of the screen.

Jonsworkaccount, like others, is having Wi-Fi problems with the new XPS 15.

“I recently purchased a XPS 15 9560. I have been having a strange wifi issue that seems to be heat related. During normal use, the wifi connection is solid and doesn’t have any noticeable problems. However, if I boot up a game (in this case, Civilization 5) the wifi will die after an hour or two of play.”

When a new product is released, Reddit is usually filled with more complaints than compliments. However, the amount of complaints for the 2017 version of the Dell XPS 15 is much higher than it usually is for new laptops. Let’s help Dell can get things in order and make the new XPS 15 a hit. Competition is good.

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