The Surface Book 2 Easily Replaces MacBook Pro

I took a huge risk when I sold my 13-inch MacBook Pro With Touch Bar in order to purchase the Surface Book 2. One month after owning Microsoft’s new 13.5-inch laptop (it also comes in a 15-inch version), I can say that this has been one of the best technology choices I have ever made.

The biggest fear I had was giving up macOS for Windows 10. I knew Microsoft has improved its latest operating system, but didn’t know what it would be like to use full time. After being stuck with the latest edition of Windows 10 for a month, I can say that the smoothness, ease-of-use, and speed is just as good as macOS. It’s obvious that Microsoft has moved past the divisivedays of Windows 8 and Windows Vista.

The Surface Book 2 offers top-notch hardware.

But the biggest draw of the Surface Book 2 over the 2017 MacBook Pro is the hardware. Yes, the MacBook Pro is lighter. But the Surface Book 2 is both a tablet and a laptop. Detaching the screen gives you a tablet that’s not only bigger than anything Apple has come out with, but it’s also as light as the 2nd generation iPad from 2011. And it runs full desktop apps.

Of course, once you attach the screen to the keyboard, the device weighs more than most ultra-portables of this size. But you also get truly all-day battery life. When streaming movies over Netflix on repeat with brightness levels set at 70 percent, Microsoft’s new Surface Book has produced over 10 hours of battery life, which is the most ever for a notebook of this size. My MacBook Pro with TouchBar produced almost seven hours of power, which is still great for a notebook as thin as light as Apple’s. But the Book 2 is an all-day device, and the MacBook Pro, no matter what Apple tells you, simply isn’t.

The butterfly keys on the MacBook Pro are good, but hard to get used to.

Although I was quite impressed with Apple’s new butterfly keyboard on the MacBook Pro, I can’t explain what a pleasure it has been to use full keys with travel again. The keyboard on the Surface Book 2 is the best one ever built. While the touchpad isn’t as fluid as the one on the MacBook Pro, it’s still ranks up there as one of the best.

Then, there’s the screen. The Book 2 has a screen that displays 260 pixels-per-inch (PPI), while the MacBook Pro’s screen displays 227 PPI. Those who say you can’t tell much of a difference on a 13 to 13.5-inch screen are clearly wrong; 4K videos are noticeably sharper on the Book 2. However, Apple’s screen has a better contrast ratio and more vivid colors. Apple’s screen also shines better in the sunlight.

There is one thing I do miss about the MacBook Pro — Final Cut Pro. I’m not a professional video editor, but I did use the software for editing personal videos. However, CyberLink PowerDirector on the Book 2 is actually easier to use than Final Cut Pro, although I would still prefer to use the latter if I could.

Finally, there’s the price. The 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro regularly costs $1799 with Touch Bar, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, a 7th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, and integrated Intel graphics. With my usual Microsoft discount (this is easy to get if you do just a little bit of research), I was able to get the 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 for the same price. My Book 2 includes a touchscreen, 8GB of RAM, a 256 GB SSD, an 8th Generation Intel Core i7 processor, and a discreet Nvidia GeForce GTX graphics chip.

I may not be considered the “coolest” guy on the block anymore without my artsy MacBook Pro with the shiny (but gimmicky) Touch Bar, but I am confident in knowing that I have the best 13-inch laptop on the market today.

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Beats Studio 3 Wireless: First Look

 

The original Beats Studio Wireless headphones were named as one of the top products of 2014 by this blog. They were indeed polarizing, especially because the bass on the headphones was artificially inflated to the point that it really annoyed audiophiles. But those who loved hip-hop or dance music loved these headphones.

Beats, which has been acquired by Apple, has somewhat changed their signature sound over the past couple of years. The bass is still there, but the mids and highs have more emphasis. And that change of sound continues on the Beats Studio 3 Wireless. Those who enjoyed having their ears harshly kicked by the bass may be a little disappointed, but everybody else will be satisfied. The Beats Studio 3 Wireless is the best Beats headphone released to date.

The Studio 3 Wireless comes in some impressive packaging.

For $349, they may be slightly too expensive. However, if you can get a deal on them for $299 (it’s especially easy during the holiday season), you will have absolutely no regrets about your purchase. They may look exactly like the original Studio Wireless, but are actually quite different inside.

In terms of sound quality, the Studio 3 Wireless might not by the best, but are close. They offer a wider sound stage then previous Beats headphones, while still providing that warm bass kick, although it’s not as strong or overbearing. For example, listing to “Dirty Sexy Money” by David Guetta & Afrojack sounds lighter than it does on the original Studio Wireless, but one can still feel the bass as the chorus starts. The vocals, however, are a little distant.

Taio Cruz’s “Row the Body” makes it sound like you are in a club. The bass isn’t quite “kicking,” but it’s warm and takes a staring role throughout most of the song. Once again, the vocals feel somewhat distant.

The Studio 3 Wireless offers impressive noise-cancellation features.

The biggest improvement in the new Beats headphones is the noise cancellation, which borders on the quality of the Bose QuietComfort 35 and the Sony WH-1000XM2 headphones. The adaptive “Pure ANC” isn’t just hype and actually does adapt to different environments you are in. As with other headphones that have noise cancellation, you’ll hear a slight hiss when the music is paused, but nothing overwhelming. And you can turn off the noise cancellation if you like. Unlike the recently-reviewed Bowers & Wilkins PX Wireless, audio quality doesn’t diminish when noise cancellation is activated.

The Studio 3 Wireless has a W1 chip that is compatible with iOS devices. It didn’t automatically pair with my iPhone X the first time, so I had to do a manual connection through Bluetooth. However, this problem hasn’t been reported by other users. The Studio 3 Wireless is compatible with the AAC codec that is on just about every iOS device. Unfortunately, there is no aptX codec for Android devices. I found the audio quality slightly better on the iPhone X than the Galaxy Note 8.

Though I can’t say that the Beats Studio 3 Wireless is the best in its class and price range, I can say that Apple (who currently owns Beats) has produced a solid wireless headphone that hits all the right spots. These are especially good for hip-hop or EDM listeners who don’t want bass completely dominating their music.

 

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2018 Is The Year USB-C Becomes The Norm

It’s really confusing now. Let’s say you own an iPhone, iPad, Sony’s new WH-1000MX2 headphones, a 2017 MacBook Pro, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. If so, you not only have a great job (or have inherited some good money), but you carry different chargers with you all day. It’s annoying, but it’s a fact of life.

The iPhone and iPad use Apple’s Lightning connector, the WH-1000MX2 uses a micro-USB connector, and the MacBook Pro and Samsung Galaxy Note 8 use a USB-C connector, which is becoming the most common type these days. The iPhone will never have a USB-C connector since the Lightning connector has become so popular, but almost everything else will.

It’s not just smartphones and laptops that are being fit with USB-C ports. As The Verge points out, monitors from Phillips now have built-in USB-C docks. And future cars as well as gaming devices will also be built with USB-C docks.

The biggest advantage of the USB-C standard is that it is powerful without taking up too much power. It offers great speed, it is very flexible, and it is very small. It is also reversible, meaning that it doesn’t matter which side you fit in. This saves a lot more time than one would normally think.

Right now, the most popular cords have a USB-A connection on one side and a USB-C connection on the other.

Right now, most USB-C cords have a USB-A ending in order to work with the latest laptops, PCs, and other computing equipment. ExtremeTech explains why the goal is to make both ends of power and connection cords with USB-C tips at both ends.

“USB Type-C is designed to be bi-directional. While there are currently a lot of cables that are USB-A at one end and C at the other, the endgame is to make everything USB-C at both ends. That means one single port on everything. A bidirectional Type-C cable can transmit video signals, audio, and as much as 100W of power (with the USB-PD standard).”

Some people want to look past USB-C and have everything operate completely wireless. Yes, it’s very possible that in 10 year, that will happen. There will be no reason to lug around different cords. However, ten years in the tech world feels like 100 years in the real world. Since we are going to carry cords with us throughout the next decade, the USB-C standard will at least make this feel more tolerable.

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Netflix Raises Subscription Prices, But It’s Worth It

Netflix raises their prices for a good reason.

The two apps I use the most on my iPhone are Hulu and Netflix. I have subscriptions to both, which cost $7.99 per month. I like Netflix better because of the commercial free broadcasts. But now, it appears that Netflix is raising the subscription price to $10.99 a month, which includes HD streaming.

It’s important to note that those who still pay $7.99 do so without access to HD quality content. Netflix grandfathered people who, before 2016, had always been paying the $7.99 monthly fee. However, for the past couple of years, new subscribers have been forced to sign up for $9.99, but that price includes access to HD content. So for them, the $1 price hike won’t mean much.

But Netflix isn’t just raising their prices; they are raising the quality of their programming as well. Over the past four years, Netflix has churned out shows such as House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Stranger Things that rival (or even outdo) shows that are on network television. Netflix has become its own version of Showtime or HBO, but even better.

'Stranger Things' proves how far Netflix has come.

Netflix is now attracting huge stars such as Winona Ryder, Naomi Watts, Bradley Cooper, Angelina Jolie, Aziz Ansari, and Amy Poehler. These big stars come with a lot of financial demands and production needs. It would be hard to argue that Netflix shouldn’t continue to build their star power.

It’s understandable how some can be upset with Netflix’s rising prices, but they are saving money in the long-run. The way things are going, one of the next Star Wars movies will skip the theaters and make its debut on Netflix. Instead of paying $20 to $30 a person to go to a movie theater (by the time you include popcorn and soda), tons of money will be saved by simply watching it in your home theater. With audio and video equipment coming down in price, the personal theater you build will provide much of an escape, especially since you won’t have to listen to people’s cell phones ringing or buzzing.

Personally, I like watching movies on my iPhone X more than anything. It’s like having a mini theater, with excellent video and audio, in your own hand. There’s nothing like lying back on my bed with the iPhone providing the cinema experience right in my eyes. And I am more than happy to pay an extra couple dollars a month to continue that experience.

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Google Pixel 2 Receives Some Great Reviews

Google Pixel 2

I always thought that the Google Pixel 2 was a “beside the point” phone right now, especially with the Galaxy S8 and iPhone 8 available. I had absolutely no interest in reviewing it.  I do have more interest in the Google Pixel 2 XL, which I will try and review on this blog in the next week or so.

However, it appears that the Pixel 2 is receiving some of the best reviews of the year. ZDNet gives the device an 8.9/10 rating and praises the fast performance, the great camera, the fast battery charging, and the fingerprint reader (hello, Apple!). TechRadar gives the Pixel 2 four stars.

“The Pixel 2 clues us in on why Google called its phone series Pixel: it was building the best camera on a phone. This second-generation effort fulfills that promise with not only the best-in-class photos, but also dual front-facing speakers and water-resistance.

The article adds that even though the phone is a great size, you’ll have to be okay with its basic design. The Pixel 2 also doesn’t have a headphone jack. But now that Apple has popularized the lack of a headphone jack, Google will get away with leaving it off as well. CNET gives the Pixel 2 four-and-a-half stars.

“The Pixel 2 has the best camera quality of any Android phone, and updates like water resistance and a best-in-class processor make it a top pick,” says reviewer Lynn La, adding that the one downside is that the battery life doesn’t quite keep up with the competition.

The Pixel 2's rear camera may only have one lens, but it takes outstanding pictures.

So, it appears that people absolutely love the single-lens camera on the Pixel 2. Some like it as much as the dual-camera lens on the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X. According to CNET, Google says that the Pixel 2 doesn’t need a dual-lens camera because its single lens camera can produce the same effect. The Pixel XL uses something called a “dual-pixel” design, which allegedly splits every pixel into two — there’s a left and right sensor that capture a left and right photo.

Whatever jargon Google is using to describe their camera, the most important thing is that the camera takes outstanding pictures. Besides, a dual-lens camera would take up even more battery life, which is already not that great. Overall, however, it appears that the Google Pixel 2 is actually a legit challenge to the iPhone 8 and the Samsung Galaxy S8.

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Forget 4K; It’s Time For 8K

If you thought 4K was overkill and didn’t make things that much better than full HD, you’re in for another kick as 8K is set to be the next new thing. As CNET noted earlier this year, Japanese broadcaster NHK, Sharp, Sony, Samsung, and LG have either shown or announced plans for 8K TVs and/or 8K broadcasts.

8K video has a 7680×4320 pixel resolution — the same resolution that was considered very sharp for smartphone photos just 5 years ago. And now, HDMI 2.1, which supports 8K, has just been announced. There’s no need to worry; the new standard will support your 4K television or monitor as well. But do we really need 8K when 4K capabilities haven’t been fulfilled yet?

Most laptop displays don’t have a 4K resolution yet since it would eat up unnecessary battery life. Besides, the human eye can’t tell much of a difference between a 3K and 4K display on a 13 or 15-inch screen. It’s there, but it’s not worth losing an hour or more of battery life.

Dell's new 8K monitor costs "only" $3,900.

4K shows or movies are still a niche part of Netflix and Hulu. And one needs great bandwith to support 4K streaming. Actual 4K broadcasts have just started to take off. High-end computers such as the Microsoft Surface Book or MacBook Pro have just finally become adequate enough for comfortably editing 4K videos. What would be the point of suddenly moving up to 8K?

Well, the picture, especially on a large television set, will be absolutely gorgeous, and you will be able to see all the details in your videos that you do in your photos. Even though 8K content is years away from becoming mainstream,  you can shoot your own 8K videos, but 8K video cameras currently cost thousands of dollars. They will come down in price eventually.

However, can you imagine the bandwidth required to stream 8K content? You need at least 25 megabits-per-second to stream 4K. In other words, even the fastest smartphones aren’t really fast enough for 4K streaming, though it’s sometimes possible if you are on an LTE network with very little congestion.

Can you imagine the GPU power you would need to play (and especially edit) 8K videos. Even the top-of-the-line 15-inch MacBook Pro wouldn’t be adequate for this. Perhaps higher-end desktops are ready for 8K editing, but you would be stuck to your office or home when doing the editing.

If you are considering finally buying a 4K television set but are on the fence waiting for 8K, don’t be! If 8K does go mainstream, it won’t happen for at least another three or four years. Even then, 8K televisions may still be considered overkill.

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Bowers & Wilkins PX Wireless Headphones Raise The Wireless Bar

For the past few years, Bowers & Wilkins has delivered some of the best-sounding wireless headphones on the market. 2015′s P5 Wireless proved that wireless sound can actually be really good, and 2016′s P7 Wireless completely raised the bar for wireless headphones.

The main complaint against previous Bowers & Wilkins wireless headphones was that although they sounded great, they didn’t offer active noise cancellation like competing headphones from Bose, Beats, Sony, and Sennheiser. But that has changed with 2017′s PX Wireless.

New Bowers & Wilkins headphones have fantastic sound isolation, but active noise cancellation is not so great.

The bad news is that the noise cancellation isn’t as effective as it is on recent headphones from Bose and Sony. Even worse is  the fact that the more noise cancellation you employ through the app, the more the sound is degraded. The good news is that the PX Wireless cans offer great passive noise isolation with their tight fit — so much that you don’t even really need to use active noise cancellation. If you consider the noise cancellation a “bonus” rather than an important feature, the PX Wireless will blow you away with their other features.

First comes the design. Unlike plastic headphones from Bose and Sony, the PX Wireless won’t make creaking sounds. The PX has an aluminum industrial design with magnetic pads that squeeze your ears. They are heavier than the other plastic headphones on the market, but the extra weight is worth it. In fact, I feel comfortable sleeping with the PX and using them to cancel out noise that usually wakes me up.

But what makes these stand out from the rest is the sound. It’s safe to say that the PX Wireless have the best sound stage out of any wireless headphones on the market. There is slightly less bass than there is in the P7 Wireleless headphones, but the sound still satisfies hard-core hip-hop or dance music listeners. If you are mostly into slow rock or classical music, the PX Wireless may still be a little too strong for you.

The PX Wireless have the best sound quality of any pair of wireless headphones.

The PX wireless work very well to make phone calls, although my voice sounds higher than usual when listening to a message I made to another phone number with the headphones on. Others tell me that with the exception of the slightly robotic sound, they can’t really tell I’m talking on a pair of headphones.

Bowers & Wilkins claims a 22-hour battery life. With one test, I’ve been able to use them for 18 hours, which is still fantastic. They are right in line with recent offerings from Bose and Sony. Keep in mind that unless you actively use the headphones for several hours a day, you’ll only need to charge them once every three or four days. And they charge rapidly.

The Bowers & Wilkins PX Wireless headphones cost $399, while the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and Sony WH-1000MX2 cans cost $349. The $50 extra is certainly worth the price for the best-built and best-sounding wireless headphones on the market.

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The Wearable Bluetooth Speaker Era Has Just Begun Thanks To Bose

Bose SoundWear Companion Wireless Speaker

“Why would you want to wear a speaker? Why don’t you just wear headphones,” an older woman asked me at Starbucks today as I was blasting the new Bose SoundWear Companion Bluetooth speaker yesterday. The speaker wasn’t really bothering her since the noise doesn’t travel far. However, the nice (she wasn’t trying to be rude, just curious) lady just thought the entire idea of wearing a speaker was weird. Welcome to 2017!

If you’ve gone to the Bose retail store or even Fry’s Electronics and saw the SoundWear Companion, you probably laughed and said, “What will they come up with next?” But if you actually try Bose’s wearable speaker, you’ll be surprised on how much you like it. The sound is vibrant, full, and allows you to hear your music or videos without tuning out the rest of the world.

Bose's wearable speaker looks weird but sounds fantastic.

Bose isn’t the first company to come out with a wearable speaker. The LG Tone Studio has been available since earlier this year. The main issue with LG’s wearable speaker is that if feels (and listens) like sound quality has been sacrificed. Because of that, it’s easier for one to say a wearable speaker is ridiculous. But Bose proves that it isn’t.

The SoundWear Companion is most useful while driving your car (it sounds better than most car stereos), taking a walk, or even watching a movie at home. It won’t be very useful when working out at the gym since there is too much other noise, although I have been able to do this. It’s not useful in most situations that are very loud. And if you’re used to using noise-cancellation headphones, you may be in for a shock at first.

But what makes this better than headphones is the fact that it fits comfortably around your neck — so comfortably that it’s easy to forget it’s there. It feels great not having to stick buds, which can often cause slight discomfort, into your ears. And it feels great to walk around listening to music without tight pads squeezing your ears.

Bose has been able to brilliantly capture the sound from its high-end Bluetooth speakers and put it into the relatively small neckband. Since the sound isn’t directly in your ear, even audiophiles won’t be able to tell the difference between wireless and wired sound. The product that it sounds closest to is the SoundLink Mini II.

Trust me when I say this — within the next six months, we will see similar products from Sony, Sennheiser, Bowers & Wilkins, and — possibly — Apple. Wearable speakers won’t make headphones obsolete, but they are about to become mainstream in a major way.

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Hulu And Google Chrome Need Update For iPhone X ASAP

Hulu's programs don't fit the full screen on the iPhone X.

I am not as elated about my iPhone X purchase as I was one month ago. Don’t get me wrong; it’s the best smartphone Apple has ever built. The question I’ve been asking is if the iPhone X is really worth the price.

The fact remains that two apps that I use the most, Hulu Plus and Google Chrome, aren’t up to date. When the Galaxy Note 8 came out, you couldn’t stretch Hulu’s videos out to the full screen until one week later. However, the iPhone X has been out for a whole month, and you still cannot watch videos without a black bar on each side. What is taking so long to fix this annoyance? Does Hulu think that people who own an iPhone X don’t want to watch their films or television shows in full-screen mode?

Netflix fixed their app the day the iPhone X came out. All you have to do is tap the screen for a video to cover the entire space. But I watch Hulu a lot more than Netflix. Perhaps that will change in the near future. Still, at least Hulu isn’t as buggy as Google’s Chrome, which has become my go-to internet app for the past two years.

Whenever I load a page with a lot of data, scrolling with Chrome on the iPhone X makes the page jump back to the top. There have also been issues with non-responsive links. I could easily use Safari or even Firefox, but I’m used to all my Chrome settings syncing on all the devices I have. I’m not only surprised that there have been very few complaints about this, but it’s quite baffling that after one month, Google hasn’t come up with an update to fix the issues.

Plenty of major apps have been updated for iOS in the past couple weeks so they could work better on the iPhone X — Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, YouTube, and even Skype. Apple’s new 5.8-inch, 2,436 x 1,125 resolution screen has been a challenge for some developers. Not all the apps are able to fit the full screen.

Overall, I still have to say that the iPhone X troubles have been worth it as the camera has proven to be the best one ever put on a smartphone. I now like it better than the camera on the Galaxy Note 8, which is also fantastic. The “Portrait” mode, which I will fully discuss in another article, really produces some sharp and realistic pictures. But the $1000+ price tag is still something to ponder about.

 

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Hands On With Frustrating Samsung Odyssey Mixed Reality Headset

I was excited to try out the Samsung Odyssey Windows Mixed Reality Headset and spent a completely frustrating six hours using the headset with the Microsoft Surface Book 2, which has a NVIDIA GTX 1050 processor. It’s supposed to make the Odyssey work smoothly, but that hasn’t been the case.

I am very impressed with how easy everything was to set up. It didn’t take hours like the HTV Vive did when I first received it last year. It almost seems like Microsoft makes all their new VR headsets set up themselves. Too bad the problems occur after the setup.

Inside the VR world, Microsoft has the right idea — a virtual house with different controls and different screens that can be customized. You can launch programs in different parts of the house. You can even launch them in the garden. My favorite was the movie room, where I watched an episode of Stranger Things.

Samsung's new VR headset has built-in headphones.

I was able to walk in the virtual world as I walked in the real world. The space was very easy to set up, and I never banged into the couch, table, etc. However, the tracking of the controllers was a mixed bag, as the headset often lost tracking and one of the controllers in the real world started floating away.

Too often, the virtual world became shaky. It was as if an earthquake was taking place, and I don’t think Microsoft was planning that. If I was on my desktop PC that is made for gaming, I probably wouldn’t have that issue. But I have the HTC Vive for my desktop PC. The Samsung Odyssey is supposed to be made for traveling. And the Surface Book 2 I used it with allegedly has more than enough power so one could run the basic tasks smoothly.

The Samsung Odyssey doesn't work well with the Surface Book 2

I thought I would be more impressed with the display. After all, each eye views a 1440 x 1600 pixel resolution OLED screen (compared to 1080 x 1200 per eye on the HTC Vive). While the resolution looks slightly better on Samsung’s new headset (there is only a minor screen door effect) it’s still not enough for a completely immersive experience. Perhaps Samsung’s upcoming standalone VR headset will change that.

The worst part of the whole experience occurred as I tried to port SteamVR into the Windows Mixed Reality portal. The experience was dizzying, frustrating, and brutal. It actually left me longing for the days of my Gear VR in 2014, and that says a lot.

The best thing I can say is, “Nice try Samsung and Microsoft!” However, this latest attempt at VR will continue to hurt the platform rather than help bring it more mainstream.

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