Hands On: HP Spectre X360 14 May Be Best 2-in-1 Laptop Available

HP Spectre X360 14 is on sale now.

With the exception of the new MacBooks with the M1 chip, the laptop industry has been somewhat boring lately. There is one new laptop that caught my eye — the HP Spectre X 360 14, which is the 13.5-inch version of HP’s very popular Spectre series of laptops.

Earlier this year, I reviewed the OLED version of the early 2020 Spectre, which had a 13.3 inch screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio. It looked better on paper and video than it was in person. The biggest issue was that the OLED screen appeared almost too colorful for the eyes. I, like others, also thought that in 2020, a 13.3-inch screen is outdated. In regards to the former point, HP heard us.

The new 3:2 screen allows one to scroll more vertically. It’s also good for watching movies, although you’ll either have to stretch a video to the proper aspect ratio or watch with a black bar above and below. Neither is a bad option. If one is strictly buying a laptop to play movies, than a 13.3-inch screen is perfect. However, nobody is buying laptops solely for that purpose in 2020.

The OLED screen looks bright and beautiful. For some reason, it doesn’t bother my eyes like the last version did. The trouble could have been caused on my end. Did I have the brightness set too high? Was I looking at the screen too long? Either way, I am willing to give OLED screens on laptops another try.

The keyboard is very good. It produces more of a click than most other laptops, including the new MacBook Pros, and the key travel is decent. Luckily, the touchpad is a little bit larger than it was on the 13.3-inch version released earlier this year. The touchpad is very capable, but not as smooth as the one on the Surface Pro or the MacBook Pro.

Click to play in YouTube.

The new Spectre X360 weighs a little more than three pounds, but the weight is distributed evenly. However, in tablet mode, the Spectre doesn’t feel quite comfortable. It feels like it’s going to drop out of your hands easily. However, HP doesn’t advertise the computer as a tablet, and most buyers won’t use it much this way.

Another big difference is performance, thought I really didn’t have enough time to test everything out. The Spectre X360 now has an 11th gen Tiger Lake Core i7 processor. I tried editing a video and was shocked that such a small computer could do so much. The keyboard did turn quite warm though.

There are some drawbacks, with the biggest one being that the 720p webcam looks grainy. It’s even worse than the webcams on Apple’s notebooks. It seems as if HP’s webcams are still stuck in 2012. Normally, that wouldn’t be much of a deal breaker, but webcams have become very useful and important during this pandemic.

I was also disappointed about the sound quality from the speakers. It does have Bang & Olufsen quad speakers, but they sound tinny compared to some of the newer laptops. HP still beats Dell in this category, but falls way behind laptop speakers from Apple, Lenovo, or even Microsoft. The speakers aren’t really a deal breaker, but don’t expect a full satisfying audio experience.

Despite some drawbacks, the HP Spectre X360 14 is tough to beat if you are looking for a 2-in-1 and understand that it’s not meant to be used as a tablet most of the time. It’s a powerhouse laptop that offers a lot more than those in a similar price range.

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Apple’s AirPods Max: Ears-On Review

AirPods Max headphones are very hard to find despite huge price tag.

I have been looking forward to Apple’s new wireless over-the-ear headphones for the past few years but was really turned off when finding out Apple is charging $549 for the new AirPods Max. I finally was able to experience them for a short period this past Monday. Does the price match the quality? Read on…

Design

The design of the AirPods Max definitely blows me away. They kind of looked plain in pictures, but they are anything but boring in person. The aluminum earcups are well designed and tinted to match the color of the headband.

Speaking of the metal headband, it looks like it may crush your head. But once you put the headphones on, they help equalize the weight (which is a lot) of the entire headset. Still, the AirPods Max is the most comfortable set of headphones I have worn in years.

The AirPods Max are very comfortable.

Sound

Those who prefer a lot of extra bass may want to look at the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones, which cost a lot less. However, for natural sound, the AirPods Max win, and the adaptive EQ does what it’s supposed to. For a pair of wireless headphones, Apple offers fantastic sound quality.

The AirPods Max cans, just like the AirPods Pro, offer spatial audio that sounds as realistic as headphones can get. However, the content you are watching must be recorded in Dolby 5.1, Dolby  7.1, or Dolby Atmos. Unfortunately, the spatial audio only works with an iPhone or iPad right now.

Noise Cancellation

If you thought the noise cancellation was good on the AirPods Pro, wait until you use it on the AirPods Max. The NC on these cans cuts a lot of noise on all frequency levels. It’s about equal with both Sony and Bose’s latest offerings, but the Transparency Mode actually works better. When this mode is on, it really sounds like your headphones are off and you are listening with your natural hearing.

Voice Quality

The AirPods Max cans make great calls and reduce a great amount of background noise. However, I find that the AirPods Pro or Bose NC700 work better for calls with a lot of wind. Still, like the best headphones out there, the AirPods Max put you in your own private conference room when making calls.

Worth the Price?

If Apple’s high-end headphones ran at $450, I would have absolutely no problem recommending them. At $550, they are hard to recommend unless you are an absolute Apple enthusiast. There is hardly anything wrong with them, and even though the AirPods Max have some excellent features, no wireless headphones are worth $550 this day and age.

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Warning: Do Not Expose Oculus Quest 2 Lenses To Any Sunlight

The Oculus Quest 2 is a great device but the lenses can be easily damaged.

Remember the 1984 film GremlinsIf the creatures got wet, they would multiply. If they were exposed to sunlight, they would dissolve. Well, the Oculus Quest 2 isn’t really as harmful as a gremlin, but it can be harmed pretty easily — as I just found out.

First of all, it’s important to note that the Oculus Quest 2 isn’t meant to be used in sunlight. It’s actually almost impossible since any hint of sunlight ruins the tracking of the hand controllers. I have been using the Quest 2 a lot outdoors, but usually after sunset. Games like Beat Saber, SuperHot, and Creed: Rise to Glory VR are so much fun outdoors, where your virtual space is endless.

So, where did I go wrong? I can’t be completely sure, but during the day, I charged my Quest 2 in the car. That’s when the lenses were exposed. I didn’t notice until I tried playing later in the evening and noticed two blue spots in the lenses that wouldn’t disappear.

These spots were likely caused by exposing Oculus lenses to sunlight.

The spots weren’t very noticeable when a software title started but were downright annoying when the complete screen was black or dark. I tried not to let it bother me, but it did. So, I contacted Oculus Support, and they were helpful in troubleshooting the cause. They even offered to trade in my device at no cost.

Keep in mind that the Oculus warranty doesn’t normally support sun damage, but they made an exception for me this one time. I had to send it in last Wednesday, and I already miss my favorite device dearly (it may even top my Best Products of 2020 list). Since all the gyms are closed down (for the most part) in Southern California, I’ve been using the Quest 2 for my cardio workouts, and it has been a great substitute.

Besides not exposing my Quest 2 to sunlight, I could have done something else — use lens protectors! You can buy several for really cheap on Amazon, or even use the paper protectors Oculus provides in the box.

Using protectors can help light damage on your Oculus lenses.

In fact, I’m willing to recommend that you use the lens protectors any time you are not using your Quest 2. Doing this can also prevent damage from liquid spills and other types of damage. Your VR world needs to be perfect, and even the tiniest amount of damage can go a great way in ruining your virtual experience.

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Apple May Get Last Laugh Over AirPods Max $549 Price Backlash

The AirPods Max come in many different colors.

This week, Apple finally announced its over-the-ear headphones, the AirPods Max. They seem really nice, with an old-school build. They have a stainless steel design with a breathable knit mesh canopy headband. The squarish cushions are easy to replace.

The new headphones have many of the features of the AirPods Pro, including the simple instant connection, active noise cancellation, transparency mode, and the new spatial simulated sound, which really sounds quite good and realistic. There is one big difference: The AirPods Pro can be purchased for as low as $179, while the AirPods Max will cost….are you ready…..$549!

As you can guess, not everybody is happy. Rick Broida from CNET lists all of the combination of other products you can buy instead – an Oculus Quest 2 + Nintendo Switch Lite plus + a Soundcore Life Q20, the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones + Apple AirPods Pro + six months of HBO Max, or seven Amazon Echo smart speakers + Aukey EP-N5 wireless earbuds.

The AirPods Pro cost $200 more than competing over-the-ear headphones.

Michael Simon of MacWorld thinks the AirPods Max are way overpriced, even if they offer audiophile quality sound.

“But at $549, it’s hard to look at the AirPods Pro Max as anything other than a missed opportunity. We knew they wouldn’t come cheap, but AirPods Max are hundreds more than their closest competitor and are arriving pretty late to the game bringing features we’ve seen and heard before.”

He adds the fact that true audiophiles usually don’t even want wireless headphones. He does, however, mention the possibility of Apple releasing cheaper over-the-ear headphones next year.

No matter how many complaints about the price, it appears that the AirPods Max is an early hit. According to Mashable, Apple’s latest headset is sold out for the rest of the year.

“At the time of writing [one day ago], the headphones ship in 12–⁠14 weeks in the U.S., no matter which color you choose. That means there’s no chance of getting these in time for Christmas — in fact, you’ll be lucky to get them before March, even if you order right now,” writes author Stan Shroeder.

So far, there haven’t been any major reviews for the headphones. But Apple knows what they are doing. Remember all the complaints about the price for the Apple Watch? The iPad? Perhaps Apple truly has produced a groundbreaking set of over-the-ear headphones, and we’ll certainly find out next week if they justify the price.

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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold Arrives

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is now available for purchase.

Foldable phones have come a long way, as evidenced by the release of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2. Now comes the release of the first foldable laptop, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold. It’s a premium device with a leather back, a hinge, somewhat thick bezels, and a nearly 2K 13-inch screen that folds. According to just about everyone who has seen it, the device at least looks beautiful.

There is a Bluetooth keyboard that can be fit on the lower screen if you like, but it’s not included in the package. You can also do without the physical keyboard and use an on-screen touch keyboard, but the lack of tactile feedback may be hard to get used to. However, according to some reviews, this entire computer may be hard to get used to.

YouTube guru Marques Brownlie (MKBHD) finds the product fascinating at first, but notices that there isn’t much functionality here that isn’t on a device like a Surface Pro. He also says that there isn’t really enough software that takes advantage of the new hardware. He does think that a product like the ThinkPad X1 Fold could become mainstream in the near future.

Click to play in YouTube.

“An Intel Core i5-L16G7 Processor powers the Thinkpad X1 Fold’s base unit with integrated graphics, with 8GB memory, and a 256GB SSD. It’s enough to run the basics – web browsing, media consumption, and general productivity apps like Microsoft Office. But can be quite challenged for more resource extensive operations like video editing. And of course, hardcore gaming isn’t for this laptop,” says Paolo Lacuna of Yahoo News

A friend of mine indicated his lack of excitement when pointing out that all laptops are foldable devices. He’s obviously correct, but it’s not the same thing as having an actual screen that folds. But do people really need that on a laptop? A foldable screen sounds more like a consumer need on a smartphone than a laptop.

Don’t get me wrong; I would love to get my hands on the ThinkPad X1 Fold, and I have actually requested a review unit from Lenovo. But if I don’t get one, I’m not going to be upset. Perhaps, in three more years, the software will be able to support the hardware. For now, I’m actually looking more forward to seeing the Surface Pro 8.

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Apple’s Silicon M1 Macs Are A Stunning Look Into The Future

Apple has used Intel chips since 2006, and they helped move PC users to the Mac world. The only issue was Apple’s lack of control over its own products, and anything Apple can’t control is a big deal for the Cupertino company. Apple had to schedule its notebooks and desktop machines around Intel’s release dates for their new chips. But that has all come to an end.

In June, Apple announced that they were replacing the Intel chips with their own in-house ARM-based chips. By doing this, Apple is making their macOS operating system a lot like iOS. In fact, Apple’s new chips allow one to run iOS apps. This may cause some growing pains at first as software companies rush to make their apps compatible with the new Macs. But early reviews on the new Apple notebooks with the M1 chip have been fantastic.

The Verge, when reviewing the new MacBook Air,  claims that new ARM-based system has exceeded expectations.

“The MacBook Air performs like a pro-level laptop. It never groans under multiple apps. (I’ve run well over a dozen at a time.) It handles intensive apps like Photoshop and even video editing apps like Adobe Premiere without complaint. It has never made me think twice about loading up another browser tab or 10 — even in Chrome.”

The review adds that although processor transitions are somewhat messy and complicated, Apple has smoothed out the process.

“The MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) is the most exciting laptop Apple has released in years. The new M1 chip offers exceptional battery life, and in our early testing performance has been excellent,” writes Matt Hanson of The Verge in his review of the new 13-inch MacBook Pro, adding that he wishes Apple would have changed the design somewhat.

The new MacBook Pro 13 with M1 processor is groundbreaking.

It looks like Apple is off to a better start than Microsoft was when they released the ARM-based Surface Pro X in 2019. (Microsoft has recently updated the device.) Microsoft started the mainstreaming of ARM-based chips for flagship computers, but Apple has now cemented it.

In addition to improved performance and battery life, the possibilities are endless for Apple’s M1 chip. We can see cellular service and perfect integration with our smartphones and tablets in future Apple computers. Now that Apple has completely redesigned the inside of it’s computers, one can also hope a radical design change will happen soon.  

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iPhone 12 Pro Max Is Significantly Better Than iPhone 12 Pro

iPhone 12 Pro Max

I initially thought that the iPhone 12 Pro was definitely the iPhone one should buy if they are looking for the sweet spot — something not too large but powerful. But after using the iPhone 12 Pro Max for the past three days, I realize that the “Max” is in the name for a reason: It offers a better camera and much better battery life.

Camera

The 12 Pro Max, like the 12 Pro, offers a 12MP main camera, a 12MP ultra-wide camera, and a 12MP telephoto camera. But there are some differences here. First, the telephoto lens is capable of 2.5x zoom, slightly more than the 2x Zoom on the 12 Pro. However, the lens is larger, and it allows in more light. The main camera has sensor shift stabilization, which makes it easier to focus in on a variety of situations.

All three lenses are only slightly larger, but this makes a noticeable difference in picture quality. You will notice this the most in Night Mode, which works ridiculously well on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Here’s a picture taken in a very dark hotel room this past weekend.

The Night Mode on the iPhone 12 Pro Max is amazing.

The camera I’ve used the most over the past year has been the one on the Samsung Galaxy S20+, which is also great. However, I’ve had some issues with the auto-focus that I don’t have on the. iPhone 12 Pro Max. Apple’s camera system is really a point-and-shoot system that works.

Perhaps some people may not like the fact that that pictures aren’t an exact replica of what you are seeing at certain times. By this, I mean that you can take a picture in the early night, and it looks like it was taken during daytime. Here is a picture that was taken in Santa Clarita, CA, an hour after sunset.

This picture looks like it was taken a couple hours earlier than it actually was.

Battery Life

The iPhone 12 Pro Max feels heavier than just about any smartphone I’ve ever used, but the extra bulk, which doesn’t prevent it from being portable, is worth it for one main reason — the batter life. It is simply spectacular. On a full power charge, I was able to get at least 12 hours of very heavy use. In other words, most people, who don’t test phones, will only have to charge their phones every other day.

Perhaps the achilles heal, for some, on the iPhone 12 Pro is the battery life. However, many would say that the lighter and smaller phone is worth the extra depletion of power. I strongly disagree. Even without the improved camera system, I would recommend the 12 Pro Max over the 12 Pro just based on the battery life. The $100 difference is worth it.

What’s Missing…

As I mentioned in my review of the iPhone 12 Pro, the 120Hz refresh rate, which would make scrolling a lot smoother, is missing in Apple’s latest series of iPhones. It was a minor issue on the 12 Pro since the screen is only 6.1 inches (compared to the 6.7-inch screen of the Pro Max), but the archaic refresh rate is more noticeable on a larger screen.

This won’t bother anyone unless they are used to using a smartphone with a 120Hz refresh rate, and Apple claims that they kept the refresh rate at 60Hz in order to save battery life. Even with this minor flaw, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the best smartphone one can get now.

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Bose Sleepbuds II Are A Dream Come True

Bose Sleepbuds II

The first Bose Sleepbuds, released in June of 2018, changed my life. I originally gave them a rave review, and by the end of 2018, I named them the Audio Product of the Year. They really helped me sleep.

Far from being noise-cancelling, they were noise masking instead. Some wanted noise cancellation, but that would have made the battery life unbearable. As a very light sleeper, these really helped me end my sleepless nights. It’s unfortunate that they had to be recalled. People, including myself, rant into problems when it came to decreasing battery life, magnets becoming detached, etc. Bose honorably refunded those who had troubles, which is just about everybody.

Bose's new buds come with a small charging case.

The Sleepbuds II have fixed the issues with the initial buds. For one thing, they easily snap in the case when you want to charge them. The magnets are stronger, and they won’t break. You won’t have to constantly fiddle the sleepbuds to make sure they are being charged. And this time, they will actually charge — what more can we ask for?

Well, we could ask that our smartphone connects to these without trouble, unlike 2018′s buds. Thankfully, the connection works 100 percent of the time, and even setting up the new sleepbuds is flawless. Beyond the connection, there are plenty of sounds to choose from, even more than there were in 2018. My favorites are “Boardwalk,” “Window Seat,” and “Songbirds.” There is a sound for everybody, and even if the sound isn’t in your library, you can download it.

The buds are even more comfortable than the first ones as there isn’t as much friction with the pillow. This makes turning over and rubbing against your pillow a lot easier. There are three different sized fittings for the buds, so you will likely find one that will fit your ears perfectly. You better find the right fit, otherwise, the buds can fall out, and they are sometimes are to find.

Bose Sleepbuds II are extremely comfortable.

The Sleepbuds II run for 10 hours without interruption. Some remember that the original Sleepbuds were supposed to last 16 hours uninterrupted, but that just wasn’t the case in the real world. The 10-hour time will be frustrating for those who sleep more than that — something that’s not recommended in the first place. But each to their own.

For those worried about n0t waking up at a desired time, these buds do have an alarm. Whatever sound you are playing stops so the bells can ring. It’s quite effective and doesn’t shock you awake from your sleep, unless you are having a nightmare.

The new Sleepbuds are easily worth $249. New users may be frustrated at first, but these take a little getting used to. Once you do adjust, you’ll never want to sleep again without the Bose Sleepbuds II.

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Oculus Quest 2: It’s A Keeper

I purchased the Oculus Quest 2 ($299 version) last month with the intention of returning it. I’ve had the first Oculus Quest a couple times, and ended up returning it because it just wasn’t worth $399. It was short-term fun that never lasted.

What’s changed? Well, besides the price, a lot. First of all, the Quest 2 provides a more comfortable fit. Some people have complained about the cheap head strap, but it works a lot better than many say it does. Of course, you can also buy the Elite Strap but may not find a need for it.

The biggest change, as mentioned in my first impressions review, is the (1832×1920 pixel resolution per eye) screen resolution. Many of the experiences look so much better without the screen door effect. Now that many software titles have upgraded to the hardware-capable 90Hz refresh rate, there is less motion sickness.

Some have criticized the controllers, but I think they are just about perfect.  They are somewhat larger, but this is great for people whose hands are larger than average since the grip becomes tighter and easier. The AA batteries seem to last a lot longer than they did in the original Quest.

Using the Quest 2 for cardio workouts is what has really pushed the device over to the “worth-it” meter for myself. The gyms in Los Angeles are still closed, and playing Beat Saber, perhaps the most popular VR game out right now, has been a great substitute. Best of all, there is now a Multiplayer mode.

Beat Saber provides a great cardio workout.

I’ve lost five pounds in the past two weeks, and I can guarantee you that most of that is because of this simple but extremely exciting game. But it’s not the only one. Holopoint is another great game that has been carried over to the Quest 2 from the early VR days. Like Beat Saber, it’s not visually stunning, but it’s dizzying and a lot of fun.

Holopoint looks elementary but is very exciting.

The ultimate reason for keeping the Quest 2 comes down to watching movies using Netflix or Bigscreen VR. With the new screen resolution, one doesn’t need a big screen 4K television anymore. The Quest 2 now provides a viewing experience that’s the closest to a theater substitute that you can get. And from the looks of things, it doesn’t look like movie theaters will open in masse anytime soon.

The Oculus Quest proved that VR is not over. The Oculus Quest 2 now proves that instead of being over, VR is now mainstream.

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iPhone 12 Pro: The Fascinating And The Frustrating

The iPhone 12 Pro is now available.

I’ve spent four days with the iPhone 12 Pro, and although I’m not going to be depressed giving it back, I can’t deny that I’ve really liked using it. For reference, I have mostly been using the Samsung Galaxy S20+ for the past seven months, and it has been mostly a great experience.

I know some iPhone fanatics are going for the iPhone 12 Pro Max, but I have to say that it feels good to have a phone in my hands rather than a mini tablet. Don’t get me wrong; I love looking at a 6.7-inch screen, but it’s hard to use a 6.7-inch device with one hand. It’s also more difficult to fit a 6.7-inch device in your pocket. The 6.1-inch iPhone 12 Pro is the perfect size.

The size of the iPhone 12 Pro (6.1 inches) is perfect.

The new iPhone feels great in your hands. The new squarish design really feels premium and expensive. It makes the phone feel a little thick, but it’s actually thinner than the iPhone 11. The new iPhone also feels like it’s going to break in pieces if you drop it, but it won’t. Apple has covered the front in what is known as “ceramic shield,” which gives it four times better drop performance. I’m not going to test that out. And as always, I suggest that you get a sleeve and screen protector for your phone.

I was disappointed that Apple didn’t put a 120Hz refresh rate on the 12 Pro’s screen, but it really doesn’t end up being a deal killer. The contrast ratio of the OLED screen is so good that you really enjoy content, no matter how slow it refreshes. Apple kept the 60Hz refresh rate to save the battery life, and it may pay off.

The iPhone 12 Pro has an excellent camera system.

The real star of the iPhone 12 Pro is the camera system. This time, all four cameras (the one on the front and the three on the back) get Night Mode, and it works even better than it did on the iPhone 11 Pro. I have also noticed that the HDR mode works better on still pictures and videos. Auto focus works incredibly well, perhaps better than on any phone I’ve ever tested.

The only downside of the 12 Pro camera is it that it still only features a 2x optical zoom lens, unlike the 2.5x zoom lens of the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Still, most people will be able to use this camera for most of their professional photography needs. It’s the best camera system on a smartphone available right now — at least until the 12 Pro Max arrives on November 13.

The main marketing point of the iPhone 12 Pro is that it offers 5G — something Samsung phones have done for the past two years. I’ve tested Verizon’s newly expanded 5G network out in Los Angeles and Orange County, CA, and speed tests show an improvement over 4G LTE speeds, but not much. While seeing a “5G” symbol on the upper-right hand corner looks good, the extra speed really won’t make a difference for most people — at least in 2020.

The new iPhone has 5G.

The most frustrating aspect of the iPhone 12 Pro is its battery life. In extensive use, the 12 Pro never lasted more than 10 hours on a single charge. Most users will be able to easily get a full day’s use of the phone. But this is 2020, and a phone that costs $999 should give most users at least two days of battery life on a single charge.

I’m going to do more tests, but I’m not sure the iPhone 12 Pro is a better product than the Samsung Galaxy S20+ (a comparable phone in the Android family), which was released seven months ago. Apple is usually ahead of the curve, but this time they are just riding riding the crest.

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