All posts by Joe Osborne

HP Spectre x2

Well on a roll with its fresh-looking Spectre line of high-end laptops and tablets, HP has at last given the treatment to the HP Spectre x2 for 2017.

Not only does the tablet come in HP’s now-standard black – sorry, Ash Silver – aluminum frame with copious gold trim, but the firm has naturally upgraded the tablet’s internals. Without much room to refine its product, we see the Spectre x2 become even more like the Surface Pro line that inspired it and so many other 2-in-1 laptops.

Namely, we see the Spectre x2 screen adopt more than a few lessons taught by that of Microsoft’s leading tablet. Mind you, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

When it lands this June, HP will start the pricing at $999 (about £769, AU$1,342). Luckily, that’s just for one available model housing a 7th-generation (Kaby Lake), 2.4GHz Intel Core i7 processor, a 360GB M.2 solid state drive (SSD) and 8GB of RAM. All of that rests behind a 3,000 x 2,000 IPS touchscreen in a 3:2 aspect ratio – sound familiar?

HP Spectre X2 review


If you were to look at an HP Spectre x2 in silhouette, you would find that not much at all has changed. Turn on the lights, though, and you’ll know that HP has, again, brought this Spectre into HP’s new design language.

That means a more matte, Ash Silver aluminum frame is now met with golden chrome accents aplenty, namely that of the kickstand. Speaking of which, HP’s stainless steel hinge design is now improved, making it much easier to open and close through magnets.

HP has given its included keyboard cover a similar visual makeover, changing little else, which isn’t a knock in the slightest. Keyboard travel remains relatively deep and feedback satisfying, with bright backlighting too boot.

Also included is HP’s new, low-fi take on the stylus, simply known as the Active Pen, going off of Microsoft’s design spec and naturally supporting Windows Ink. The stylus is a more generic approach than previous proprietary offerings, but tracks just fine for general use.

The entire Spectre x2 package comes in a slick, 2.49-pound chassis that’s just 0.52 inches thin, making it awfully portable, which should be expected at this point. This year, HP has doubled down on USB 3.1 Type-C with two ports joined by a headphone/mic jack and microSD card slot, letting 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth fill in the rest.

HP Spectre X2 review

Display and battery life

HP has made some significant changes regarding the Spectre x2 display, namely in massively upping its pixel count and adjusting its aspect ratio. This time around, HP has equipped the Spectre x2 with a 3,000 x 2,000 screen at a 3:2 aspect ratio, spec for spec what you’ll find in the Surface Pro 4.

The IPS panel is a delight to look at, embodying all of the benefits of the first-assumed weird aspect ratio and such a drastic increase in pixels from 1080p. HP even managed the shrink down the bezels on the tablet’s left and right side, keen to leave the infrared (IR) webcam where it belongs, above the display.

Being an IR webcam, of course, opens the Spectre x2 up to Windows Hello support.

As for how long the HP Spectre x2 will last you, its maker rates the tablet for up to 8 hours of juice during mixed use and up to 7 hours and 15 minutes during video playback. While we’ll be the final judge of battery life soon enough, HP promises that the Spectre x2 can charge from zero to 50% in just 30 minutes.

HP Spectre X2 review

Early verdict

The refreshed HP Spectre x2 brings the 2-in-1 laptop in closer line with not only the existing offering of Spectre products, but that of the Surface devices that inspired it. While that may make the Spectre x2 a little less unique, the changes no doubt make it a better device than the previous.

That said, 8 hours of battery life is somewhat low for such a thin and light device that’s begging to be brought around all day, especially when it’s safe to expect our own test results to come in below that figure.

All told, the Spectre x2 is a gorgeous sequel that brings the device in line with both HP’s existing products and the company’s inspirations. Knowing its price, the Spectre x2 could very well be a compelling alternative to the Surface Pro devices.


HP Spectre x2 leads refreshed line of high-end HP laptops

Debuting in France at the Cannes Film Festival, HP has pulled the curtain back on not one, but three refreshed lines up laptops and 2-in-1 devices. The goal for these newly upgraded devices is to empower media creators both professional and enthusiast.

Leading the pack is the HP Spectre x2, with just one model asking for $999 (about £769, AU$1,342) this June. The upgraded Spectre x2 adopts much of HP’s new Spectre aesthetic found in its recent high-end laptops, but more importantly an entirely new screen.

This time, the firm has dipped even deeper into Microsoft’s font of inspiration, fitting its latest Spectre x2 with a 3,000 x 2,000-pixel touch display in a 3:2 aspect ratio. That should sound mighty familiar to anyone following Microsoft’s leader in the 2-in-1 space, the Surface Pro 4.

HP also managed to improve the kickstand on this tablet hybrid with magnets, all while housing one of the latest Intel Core i7 processors, 360GB of solid-state drive (SSD) and 8GB of memory. Oh, and HP’s dropped its proprietary stylus, adopting Microsoft’s recommended, more generic solution that’s nevertheless fine for creators.

Finally, HP promises up to 8 hours of juice from a battery that can fast charge from zero to 50% in just 30 minutes.

HP likes a lot of Envy

Also available in June, HP has upgraded both its 13- and- 17-inch Envy laptops with a slightly new design and lots of new internal upgrades. For starters, the two laptops still come in HP’s natural silver color (and now “silk gold!”) aluminum shells, but the firm’s lift hinge takes on a more angular design from last year.

HP’s taking a similarly focused approach in positioning the 13-inch and 17-inch in regards to models available, with just one version of each device. But, before getting into the differences, note that each model comes packing a full HD (1,920 x 1,080) screen with an optional HP Secure Pad that embeds a fingerprint scanner right into the trackpad, powered by Synaptics.

For $1,049 (about £805, AU$1,403), the HP Envy 13 offers the above plus a 128GB M.2 SSD and 8GB of memory powered the one of the latest Intel Core i5 processors. With those parts, HP promises up to 14 hours and 15 minutes of mixed use on a charge. All of that comes within a 2.72-pound frame that’s just 0.55 inches thin housing two USB-C and two USB 3.1 ports.

The 17-inch model goes for a bit cheaper at $999 (about £769, AU$1,342), and offers the above screen (though with multitouch support) with a 1TB, 7,200 rpm spinning hard drive, 16GB of memory powered by one of the latest Intel Core i7 processors and an Nvidia GeForce GRX 940MX graphics chip. With those parts, HP sadly hasn’t made any promises regarding battery life.

Last but not least we have the also June-bound Envy x360 convertible, a newly refreshed 15.6-inch hybrid for the next school season. The new Envy x360 starts at $899 (about £690, AU$1,202), not changing much year over year beyond internals and updating the color choices.

Now available in HP’s newer “Ash Silver” or a natural silver color, the Envy x360 is apparently optimized for inking, including an N-Trig stylus in the box. Behind that full HD touch display is your choice of either the latest Intel or AMD processors (Intel Core i5 and i7 or AMD A9, A12 or FX) 12 to 16GB of memory and a 1TB HDD at 7,200 rpm. One USB-C, two USB 3.1 and an HDMI port round out this laptop’s varied offerings.

HP’s refreshes are smart upgrades that, in some cases, may be a little less inspired, but nevertheless put the firm in an incredibly competitive position with some strong pricing.


iMac 2017 release date, news and rumors

We know they’re coming. Apple recently stated publicly that it will launch new iMac computers this year. But, it’s figuring out what will be different about them inside and out that we can still have fun with.

Before and (especially) since that rare, impromptu meeting Apple held with journalists in April to discuss the future of the Mac, several details regarding the desktop Macs in question have reportedly surfaced.

Of course, we still don’t know the iMac’s 2017 release date, and likely won’t for some time. With that, here’s everything else we know about the 2017 iMac so far.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? The new iMac desktops
  • When is it out? As early as WWDC or as late as this autumn
  • What will it cost? Likely as much as current models

iMac 2017 release date

When Apple first confirmed that new iMacs would arrive in 2017, naturally executives offered nothing as to when these new computers would release. Since that revealing meeting with select press, we’ve developed a better idea of when we’ll see the 2017 iMacs.

A DigitTimes report, citing supply chain sources, alleges that two new iMac models – 21.5- and- 27-inch, of course – will go into production this May targeting a third quarter, or Q3 2017, launch.

Further, the report states that a truly professional-grade iMac will release later this year, so Q4 2017 would be a safe guess there.

iMac 2017 price

Sadly, we’ve heard little to nothing regarding the iMac 2017 price just yet. However, it would be safe to expect them to fall in line with previous price points for iMacs.

For those keeping score, that’s $1,099 (£1,049, AU$1,699) to start for the 21.5-inch iMac and $1,799 ($1,749, AU$2,799) for the 27-inch model to start.

That said, we’ve seen Apple hike prices up a bit for the sake of flashy new features, like the new MacBook Pro Touch Bar. Since rumor has it the next iMac may come with a Touch Bar keyboard accessory, it might be wise to prepare to spend a little more on iMac this time around.

Image credit: Patently Apple

iMac 2017 specs

Unfortunately, we’ve heard nothing regarding the internals of the next iMacs for consumers like us, but lots of beans have reportedly been spilled regarding the pro-grade device. Namely, Apple is expected to put an Intel Xeon chip inside the all-in-one.

Specifically, the Pike’s Universum blog reports that the 2017 iMac will house AMD graphics, Intel Xeon E3-1285 v6 processors, and from 16GB to 64GB of ECC RAM. Furthermore, the device will offer Thunderbolt 3 through USB-C along with a 2TB SSD inside. 

These are likely just a taste of the hardware options that will be available when the pro-grade iMac launches. While we currently don’t know much of what the, say, living room-grade iMac will house inside, we’d be surprised if the offering didn’t include at least Thunderbolt 3 through USB-C and some AMD graphics options.

Finally, again, we should expect to see Apple experiment further with its Touch Bar technology, with reports claiming that the next iMac keyboard will have its very own Touch Bar. 

Bonus round: don’t expect an iMac with a touchscreen. It will never happen.


Three brand new MacBooks expected to debut at WWDC 2017

Fresh, new MacBooks may arrive much sooner than previously expected, according to a new report out of Bloomberg. The outlet reports, citing sources “familiar with the matter,” that Apple looks to use the WWDC 2017 stage this June to debut three refreshed MacBook models.

The models reportedly due for upgrades are, unsurprisingly, the MacBook Pro, 12-inch MacBook and perhaps even the MacBook Air.

Bloomberg’s sources claim that the new MacBook Pro will finally house the latest Intel Core i processor series, 7th generation or Kaby Lake, meanwhile the 12-inch MacBook will receive a similar upgrade – though the report makes no mention of which processor product line. (We wouldn't bet on it being a Core i chip somehow.)

Finally, Apple has apparently considered refreshing the all-but-discontinued MacBook Air, because sales have remained strong since it left the spotlight at Apple’s last Mac-related event.

Apple’s inimitable, impeccable timing

It’s almost like clockwork that Apple is rumored to be rehashing its entire MacBook line at its conference all about developers and designers. In the first week of May, Microsoft unveiled its new Surface Laptop, a machine practically designed to fill a perceived void left by the MacBook Air’s absence.

Used to casting the shadows in the industry, not trying to run out from behind them, this wouldn’t be a particularly surprising move for Apple.

That said, don’t expect major updates to how these laptops function in the same way we saw this past autumn with the debut of the Touch Bar. According to Bloomberg, these refreshes are marked internal upgrades aimed to instill a sense of dedication to the product line on Apple’s part.

And, this is not because Apple makes a particular ton of money on Mac sales, though the firm has enjoyed a recent uptick inexplicably. Rather, the Mac is Apple’s legacy, and many longtime Mac fans have expressed their distaste in how Apple has treated that legacy in recent years before and since the release of the latest MacBook Pro.

The image of the product that Apple’s foundation was built upon is at risk of being tarnished, and that’s something the company is clearly trying to avoid, judging by the recent spate of reports regarding both new MacBooks and Mac desktops.

As for whether Apple can rekindle the flame it held with much of the creative community for so long, we’d say that depends upon what upgrades come to said refreshed products. The latest processor is one thing, but a lot of photographers and videographers sure seem to miss those SD card slots, and a screen at least closer to 4K for the hefty price would keep with today's standards.

At any rate, this would mark the first time for Apple to debut hardware during a WWDC keynote since it revealed the last Mac Pro and an updated MacBook Air in June 2013, so this will no doubt be a keynote worth watching.


macOS Sierra 10.12.5 update makes getting Windows 10 Creators Update on Boot Camp easier

For those that love their Macs but just can’t away from Windows 10 for either work or play reasons, the macOS Sierra 10.12.5 update is for you.

With the fifth major update to macOS Sierra since its release, Apple has at last enabled the Boot Camp version of Windows 10 to more easily receive the Creators Update that started rolling out to Windows 10 PCs in early April.

This means that Boot Camp users can install the Windows 10 Creators Update without the need for physical media (i.e. a USB disk image), as was the case before. If you wanted to get the Creators Update onto your Boot Camp machine before macOS 10.12.5, you’d have to download the update to a disk and install it manually through the Boot Camp Assistant.

The best of the rest

Admittedly, macOS 10.12.5 is a minor update, with the other highlights being more than welcome but honestly small potatoes. For instance, the update fixes reported audio issues for those with USB headphones, and vaguely increases Mac App Store compatibility with “future software updates.”

The latter sounds like Apple is laying the groundwork for the next version of macOS, likely to be unveiled next month at its WWDC event in San Jose, California.

That said, the update brings a litany of security fixes to bear, all of which are detailed on Apple’s support website right here. You can see the rest of the general macOS 10.12.5 update changes right here, too.

Keep your eyes peeled for hints of the next macOS version to be found within this update in the weeks leading up to WWDC 2017.

  • These are the best Macs that (lots of) money can buy


Microsoft Build 2017: the biggest highlights and all the news

The second keynote of Build 2017 didn't disappoint when it came to big announcements, and there were even a few surprises that took everyone in attendance and watching by surprise.

Whether another update coming soon for Windows 10, new features, cross-platform collaborations, a Mixed Reality accessory and a whole new design language, Microsoft gave us plenty to digest as it put a bow on Build. 

Read on for the biggest highlights of Day 2, and jump to the next page to catch up on everything that happened on Day 1.

Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

Microsoft is releasing another update to its Windows 10 operating system later this year, and it's appropriately called the Fall Creators Update

Within the update are several new features, some of which we'll dive into in just a little bit. Much of the update centers around a new design language, a unified and responsive experience for users, new applications, and letting users work quickly and seamlessly from any device, whether Windows, iOS and Android.

A big part of the Fall Creators Update is a new design language for developers, called the Fluent Design System. It will allow for responsive, unified apps, experiences and interactions within Windows 10. Developers can create "more expressive and engaging apps," Microsoft says, and one of its most important features is that it creates a harmonious experience across devices and platforms. 

In other words, no more using an app that looks and responds a certain way on one device only to find it's completely different on another device – a jarring experience, to say the least.

Fluent Design also aims to improve input diversity, letting users interact with their machines using touch, pen, voice, gestures and even eye control.  

The simplest way to think of Fluent Design is that it will allow for harmonious and responsive cross-device experiences, which should be a boon for developers and users alike. 

Fall Creators Update features and the Microsoft Graph

The Timeline feature in the Fall Creators Update will let users retrace their steps to whatever they were doing last, such as recently accessed files, apps and websites they want to pull up again without starting from scratch. A visual timeline lets users see what they've done and select where they want to go. Think of it like macOS' Time Machine, but for hopping back to whatever was last on your desktop.

Along the same lines is the Pick Up Were You Left Off feature (Microsoft may want to shorten the name). Using Cortana, users can move activities across Windows, iOS and Android devices seamlessly, such as starting a doc on a Windows PC and picking it up on their Android phone.

Clipboard elicited a buzz from the Build crowd when announced. It basically lets users copy text from one device and paste it onto a phone, no matter who that phone is made by. Microsoft gave the example of copying the name of a business from a PC and pasting it into Google Maps on a Samsung Galaxy S8, to give you an idea.

Last but not least is OneDrive Files on Demand, a feature that lets you access any file you have stored in the cloud without downloading it. This will be great for saving space on your devices as well as collaborative projects. All changes made in the cloud will appear the next time you pull up a file. OneDrive Files on Demand will head to preview versions of Windows 10 in early summer.

Windows Story Remix

Microsoft announced a brand-new app made for the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, called Windows Story Remix

This a creative app lets users edit their photos and videos, adding everything from filters to music to 3D augmented reality objects. 

Story Remix can stitch together footage from different sources to create one video, and can intelligently identify people in an image or clip. The aim is to help users create shareable moments, tapping into the creative tools provided by Microsoft and others as well as AI and the Microsoft Graph.

iTunes is coming to the Windows Store

If you need to re-read that, we understand. No one in the Build crowd seemed to anticipate that iTunes is coming to Microsoft's digital marketplace, but as Terry Myerson revealed on stage, it's indeed true.

Apple's iTunes will arrive later this year, giving Windows users access to all it has to offer, including Apple Music.

While PC owners could already download iTunes from Apple directly, this marks the first time the service will be available right in the Windows Store. 

This is a huge get for Microsoft's marketplace as it's notorious for having poor app selection. It's also a sign of Microsoft's embrace of competing platforms and services, a big change of course for the company.

Microsoft's Mixed Reality motion controllers

The one bit of new hardware Microsoft unveiled at Build are its own Mixed Reality motion controllers, designed for the suite of Windows Mixed Reality headsets on the way from various partners. 

What really sets the controllers apart is that they don't require trackers positioned throughout a room, as you need with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive controllers to create a sense of room scale.

Instead, Microsoft's controllers rely on sensors inside the Mixed Reality headsets to track motion and pick up commands, meaning not only is there no extra installation, but you don't have to pay for any sensors. 

What's more, this could make the whole system more portable as you don't need sensors set up anyone's house in order to use them.

The best bit of news is how affordable the controllers appear to be: though we don't know how much they cost on their own, Acer's Mixed Reality headset is getting bundled with the controllers for just $399, going on sale this holiday. That's significantly cheaper than what you'll find from Oculus or HTC.

Developers can pre-order Windows Mixed Reality headsets starting today

Microsoft is certainly moving the mixed reality ball forward, and its hardware partners are right along side.

It was revealed today that the developers in the US and Canada can pre-order Acer and HP's Windows Mixed Reality Headset Developer Edition headsets starting today from the Microsoft Store, and the devices will be delivered later this summer. Acer's headset is priced at $299 while HP's design is $329.  

Though a shame you can't buy these headsets yet, it does mean developers get a chance to start working on Mixed Reality applications and other content before the headsets become available to consumers. This is how Oculus Rift released, and it's a smart play by Microsoft. 

Turn to Page 2 for all the Day 1 highlights!

Read on for all the highlights from Day 1 of Build 2017!

It’s that time of the year again, the time when Microsoft sets aside a few days to celebrate its ardent community of web developers and software engineers. While also announcing a few updates for its various services and platforms including Windows 10, Office 365 and the Azure cloud computing platform. 

The Build conference, as it’s called, took place in Seattle, Washington this year and – in an unexpected twist – the company’s day one keynote was all about the devs.

Build 2017 has been a bit of a shakeup in comparison to previous years where the first day was largely dedicated to consumer technology such as updates to Windows 10 and the Surface devices. 

Given that Redmond covered much of that turf in the May 2 #MicrosoftEDU event, it makes sense to kick off Build on the more technically-focused developer side of the fence. Discussions ranged from Microsoft’s efforts in improving artificial intelligence to reflecting on its increasingly growing base of Windows 10 users.

500 million and somehow still counting

The keynote started off with a bang. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella could have dropped the mic when he said that Windows 10 now has 500 million monthly active devices, having grown 25% since last September when the count was 400 million. Although it’s quite the achievement, especially with Windows 10 no longer a free upgrade, it’s a far cry from the one billion Windows 10 users Microsoft hopes to reel in by 2019.

Data on data on data on data

Nadella also disclosed that commercial Office 365 now inhabits 100 million monthly active devices. Back in October of last year, Microsoft confirmed 85 million commercial users, meaning 15 million have since joined the likes of Microsoft’s cloud-based productivity suite.

That number may only increase now that Microsoft has added new functionality to Microsoft Graph, an API that grants developers access to data stemming from Office 365 services and the tools necessary to leverage that data. 

Previously, Graph could only provide user and activity data, but now developers can take advantage of device data as well. Not only that, but Microsoft has also implemented a series of new core capabilities into Graph such as ‘Delta queries’ and ‘custom data’. 

New Insights APIs are on the way as well, at least in their unfinished preview form, designed for developers to collect better data on how users and documents interconnect. Developers, for instance, will be able to use these APIs to gather intel on the most widely shared documents on OneDrive.

Programming made simple, now for macOS

Though it’s been in preview for quite a few months now, Visual Studio is now available to everyone with a Mac. Unlike Microsoft’s programming environment of old, Visual Studio for Mac derives heavily from the cross-platform IDE from Xamarin, which the company acquired last March. 

For this reason, developers will be able to use Visual Studio for Mac to create apps for mobile, Windows and Mac directly from one Apple-branded computer. 

You get an AI! You get an AI! Everyone gets an AI!

The other metrics Microsoft shared with us were of the company’s Cortana virtual assistant being being used across 141 million monthly active devices. But the bigger news here was that the company wants to go way bigger with artificial intelligence (AI) than it has already with Cortana. In fact, the company says it wants to bring AI to all of its products and services including Xbox, Windows, Bing and Office just to name a few. 

Of course, making a statement this bold is easy. Proof of concept is a much tougher egg to crack. That said, Microsoft explained its ideas quite vividly.
In one example, the company showed AI protecting a workspace by verbally cautioning employees of incidents such as spills. 

Alternatively, AI was used to assist workers in finding equipment and communicating more efficiently with teammates. In the future, AI could also be used to track motion for, say, virtual reality gaming and hopefully not a Kinect 3.0.

That’s not where Microsoft’s AI efforts end, however, as the company also revealed the Cortana Skills Kit which we expect to be used in conjunction with the still-unannounced Cortana Invoke speaker said to be made by Harman Kardon. 

Using this kit, developers will be able to create their own skills for Cortana (currently for use on Windows 10, Android and iOS) to compete with Amazon’s Alexa. Of course, the Cortana Skills Kit will also come in handy for HP and Intel who have both signed up to create their own hardware powered by Microsoft’s virtual assistant. 

A data chamber that’s out of this world

Though Azure is widely known as Microsoft’s platform for cloud computing, it’s also the name of an international database that’s an industry-first in that it exhibits “horizontal scale with guaranteed uptime, throughput, consistency and millisecond latency at the 99th percentile.” 

The Azure database, according to Microsoft, was constructed from the ground up to power “planet-scale cloud services.” It even draws its data from the aforementioned Microsoft Graph. Microsoft hopes that the Azure Cosmos database will set the standard for global databases by manifesting the same version of itself everywhere simultaneously, with no regional differences hindering its functionality. 

Here are all our predictions leading up to Build 2017!

Moved temporarily a few months back and physically a few hundred miles north compared to last year, Microsoft’s Build 2017 developer conference is nearly underway.

With the first keynote set to start on May 10 at 8am PT (11am ET / 4pm BST / 1am May 11 AEST) from Seattle, Washington, Microsoft has plenty to chat about this year despite holding a major media event just last week to tout Windows 10 S and the Surface Laptop.

The most notable topics we expect to see detailed are Redstone 3, the codename for Microsoft’s next major Windows 10 update, Project Neon, Microsoft’s visual makeover-in-progress for the operating system (OS), Cortana and even more mixed reality advancements.

With that, here is everything we can bank on seeing during the Build 2017 keynotes starting May 10.

Redstone 3 gets unearthed

Microsoft’s Windows Insider Program members are, technically, already testing out Redstone 3 as you read this. We know this because features that were originally slated for Redstone 2, i.e. the Creators Update, but missed the deadline are now in testing through the latest Insider Preview build of Windows 10 (as of this writing): Build 16188.

Chief among those features left on the Creators Update cutting room floor is My People, a feature that brings your favorite contacts directly into the Windows 10 taskbar for easier file sharing and messaging. Expect to see more of this discussed on stage this week.

Other major expected features to be detailed are PDF editing features in Microsoft Edge (already in the latest Insider Preview build), Power Throttling to reduce apps’ power draw on laptops and tablet PCs and further improvements to more transparent automated OS updates.

We also wouldn’t be surprised to see Redstone 3 get its official name and, at the very least, a release window (if not a hard date) since Microsoft has promised two major updates annually.

Cortana branches out

That Harman Kardon unveiled its Invoke speaker powered by Microsoft’s Cortana just days before Build 2017 is no coincidence. With the long-rumored rival to Amazon Echo and Google Home now out in the open, expect Microsoft to spend some considerable time on this initiative.

In fact, controls for Cortana-powered speakers were already found within the earliest Insider Preview builds for Redstone 3. On that note, expect to hear a lot more about how far the Amazon Alexa-like Cortana Skills and device software developer kits have come since their announcement last year.

However, we find it hard to believe that Microsoft will sit on these tools until Redstone 3 becomes a fancy-named update that hits every Windows 10 device. After all, don’t expect Amazon and Google – or even the rumored Apple Siri Speaker – to slow down over the next five months.

Project Neon ... or Aero Glass 2.0

Microsoft’s fateful fall update should see the oft-teased visual overhaul to the Windows 10 interface known currently as Project Neon. 

In short, the new visuals bring back a lot of the translucent design elements found in the Aero Glass design ID that started in Windows Vista and were found throughout Windows 7 before being dropped for Windows 8.

Furthermore, Project Neon markedly changes how Windows 10 animations in transitioning between apps look and feel. That said, early previews have stated that Neon is aiming for a simple aesthetic, so we’ll see how Microsoft achieves that balance with new animations in the mix.

Mixed reality gets a huge push

Unless Microsoft plans to give them a spotlight during its May 23 Surface event, Build 2017 would be the place to show even more of its partners’ head-mounted displays (HMDs).

Having already shown off Acer’s HMD at length during the Taiwanese firm’s annual New York hardware showcase, it’d be surprising not to see already-teased partners like Lenovo, Dell and HP not take the chance to get the word out regarding their Windows 10 Holographic devices.

Bonus round: maybe we’ll finally hear about price regarding any of Microsoft’s partners’ HMD devices. It’s a crucial point going into the holiday season, especially when it’s highly unlikely that either HTC or Facebook have 2017 hardware that can match that $299 starting price.


Windows 10 HomeHub looks to turn all-in-one PCs into the best smart speakers

Microsoft apparently will confront the rise of smart speakers with a new kind of all-in-one PC, judging from leaked images and details of a Windows 10 HomeHub experience provided to The Verge.

HomeHub, which first leaked late last year, is essentially an enhanced version of the Windows 10 lock screen that allows for deeper voice controls through Cortana and more pertinent information than any Windows lock screen has provided. 

Of course, the idea is for this new HomeHub overlay to be released in tandem with slightly specialized all-in-one computers through its device manufacturing partners, computers deliberately designed to be placed in kitchens and living rooms.

Citing internal sources, The Verge reports that HomeHub will act as an always-on experience for touchscreen all-in-one PCs, with a digital drawing board being one of its primary features. The suspicion is that Microsoft is working with partners on devices comparable to that of the newly-minted Amazon Echo Show.

However, those sources also allegedly say that any device running Windows 10 HomeHub must be a full PC, as that’s to be one of Microsoft’s key advantages over existing and future smart speakers.

Finally, a place for the PC again

Microsoft’s goal here seems to provide a compelling reason to bring all-in-one PCs that were so popular decades ago back into consumers’ houses where laptops, tablets and phones have ruled for years. Further to that point will be features like calendar management, sticky notes and to-do lists as well as voice calls (likely through Skype).

To really cement in whole “HomeHub” idea, the feature is expected to support Hue, Nest, Insteon, Wink and SmartThings devices, with Cortana able to issue commands to said devices. 

According to The Verge’s sources, Microsoft plans for these features to arrive in Windows 10 with the forthcoming autumn update due in September. As a follow-up, Microsoft reportedly expects HP and Lenovo to have such devices ready for the holiday rush.

As for when we’ll officially see Windows 10 HomeHub and the various devices in which it will live, either Microsoft Build 2017 or its May 23 Surface event are fine guesses.

Image Credit: The Verge


Comcast’s xFinity xFi Wi-Fi platform looks to keep up with Google Wifi, Netgear Orbi

Not one to be left in the dust, Comcast has spilled all the beans regarding its multi-faceted retort to the Wi-Fi mesh systems and easy-to-use router management apps of the past year or so: the xFinity xFi app, new coverage-boosting xFi Pods and a new xFi Advanced Wireless Gateway device.

In essence, the xFinity xFi app instantly upgrades millions of existing Comcast customers’ now-renamed xFi Wireless Gateway (previously the Wireless Gateway 3) devices with more control than ever.

The xFi platform is going to touch 10 million homes.

Comcast's Patti Loyack

The free iOS and Android app allows Comcast customers to see all the devices connected to their xFi gateway in real time and pin them with custom user profiles. Then, at any given time, the administrator (i.e. mom or dad) can see which users are on the network and through which devices.

From there, the administrator can choose hours during which the network isn’t accessible to certain users (called BedTime), pause everyone’s internet access at once (which we’re calling DinnerTime) and automatically control the content seen online by users.

Though, xFi parental controls are currently a simple toggle that filters all requests through a partner’s online content mappings to display only content rated appropriate for all ages. There isn't any finer control than that at the moment.

Your network on every screen and in every room

To make access to this information and these controls easier, Comcast has released the app through a web portal as well as to its X1 set-top box with support for voice control through the X1 remote. 

Comcast aims for its Wi-Fi offering to catch up with how integral and pervasive the internet is in its customers’ homes – before those customers stop paying hardware rental fees and pick up a third-party’s Wi-Fi mesh system and fancy app.

“When we think about the xFi platform, it’s going to touch 10 million homes,” Comcast Cable VP of IP Services Patti Loyack tells us. “That’s a tremendous scale as we think about some of the competitors that are out there today. We also differentiate by this experience working across all of our services.”

Unless Google has a surprise for us at this year’s Google IO, the xFi app and gateway will be the only such solution accessible from your TV screen for some time. But, that’s not enough. Solid Wi-Fi coverage for the rest of the home is the other piece of this puzzle.

Ultimately, we want to build that platform that provides that intelligent aggregation and automation, so that [our customers] can go to one place, and that one place is the xFi experience.

Comcast's Patti Loyack

To that end, Comcast has partnered with Plume, a Wi-Fi device maker that has designed Comcast’s forthcoming xFi Pods. These outlet plug devices use a different, proprietary approach to whole-home networking than wireless mesh: auto-channel hopping.

The idea is for every room to be home to an xFi Pod, with the gateway in constant communication with every pod in the house, transmitting data through multiple channels at once rather than just one at a time. 

Comcast hasn’t disclosed when its xFi Pods will be available – just “later this year” – nor whether they’ll come at additional cost to Comcast customers.

“We’re working through some of the technical underpinnings for the solution later this year, and it will be integrated with the xFi experience,” Loyack says. “You’ll be able to onboard those pods very easily. Then, you’ll be able to personalize them through the experience. You’ll be able to qualify a room in the case of a kitchen or a bedroom [for example]. This allows the devices connected to it ensure they’re on the right pod."

Comcast wants to power your future smart home

However, Comcast sees yet another piece of the puzzle that needs fitting: the awfully-named Internet of Things. That’s where Comcast’s brand new xFi Advanced Wireless Gateway comes in.

Available only to customers paying for speeds of 300Mbps or more, this new, squarer device will lay the in-home groundwork for Comcast’s growing gigabit service. But, perhaps more importantly, this new gateway will support communication protocols other than now-standard 802.11ac over 2.4 and 5GHz frequencies.

“The advanced gateway obviously supports higher tiers, but also is a device that supports other protocols for the connected home,” Loyack tells us. “For instance, it will support Zigbee, IoT Thread and Bluetooth LE.”

These are key communication standards for smart home devices, like smart light bulbs, door locks and connected cameras. Clearly, Comcast’s goal is to leverage its already massive presence in customers’ homes to be at the center of their smart home.

“As we think about the millions of devices that will be coming into customers’ homes, we don’t want … every device having an app,” Loyack says, speaking to the sea of smart home apps and protocols already. “You can have about 50 apps if you think about the devices come 2020. Ultimately, we want to build that platform that provides that intelligent aggregation and automation, so that [our customers] can go to one place, and that one place is the xFi experience.”

Naturally, this inspires the concerns of security for both customers’ cloud-stored data and their in-home networks. 

“We’re in the process of evaluating multiple options,” Loyack simply states. “With xFinity Home [Comcast’s rival to security systems like ADT and Vivint], we’re protecting the security of the home, but we know that as more and more devices come in, digital security is equally important.”

This is one piece of the puzzle you might wish had already been filled, with the product so shortly coming to market. However, that’s not to say nothing of the device monitoring tools already available through the xFi app and cloud platform. The latter allows Comcast to detect strange behavior in internet traffic and report that to customers to further investigate potential breaches.

With the release of the xFi app and platform, as well as the new xFi Advanced Wireless Gateway, it’s obvious that Comcast saw what firms like Google and Netgear were up to years ago and is finally responding.

But, with these third parties getting even better at marketing to, and developing intuitive apps and devices for, the general public – for products with a one-time purchase – will xFi be convincing enough for customers to keep paying those hardware rental fees?

Deeper controls and access from the couch via voice should help a long way, but only time will tell whether Comcast’s xFi Pods offer stronger coverage than Wi-Fi mesh. In the meantime, Comcast customers can try out the new xFi app with their newly-named xFi Wireless Gateway (excluding the TC8717 model) here.


Third annual PC Gaming Show returns to shake up E3 2017

Our friends at PC Gamer are at it again, with the announcement of their third annual PC Gaming Show set to take place during the official keynote schedule of E3 2017.

This year, Intel joins PC Gamer as its presenting sponsor, with the show set to begin on 10am PT (1pm ET, 6pm GMT, 3am Friday ACT) on June 12. And, just like last year, famed eSports shoutcaster Sean “Day[9]” Plott will host the proceedings.

Plus, since E3 will be open to the public this year, that means PC gaming fans will get to attend the festivities alongside the press, with tickets available right now at the below link:

As for why you’ll want to grab those tickets ASAP, PC Gamer is focusing more on virtual reality (VR) and eSports in the PC gaming space than ever before.

Expect to see announcements and insights from returning top PC game developers, like Bohemia Interactive and Tripwire Interactive, and some new guests, like Cygames and Nexon. Naturally, expect Intel to have something to show off as well.

Of course, as always, the PC Gaming Show will be streamed live, for free, to PC Gamer’s Twitch channel as well as the Twitch home page. You’ll also be able to watch along for free on Facebook Live, YouTube Gaming and Microsoft Beam.

Organized by PC Gamer and presented by Intel, this year’s PC Gaming Show is set to be the biggest yet, so mark your calendars and set your PCs to stream on June 12 at 10am PT.


Microsoft Surface Laptop

Update: We've recently learned that Windows 10 S, and by proxy the Surface Laptop before an upgrade to Windows 10 Pro, will only support Edge and Bing as its web browser and search engine, respectively.

The one Surface product that fans have been clamoring over for years, a straight up Surface Laptop, is finally here. But, in taking design cues from both the Surface Pro and Surface Book lines, Microsoft has set lofty expectations for its first dedicated laptop device.

Priced at $999 (about £770, AU$1,330), the Surface Laptop clearly aims to chip at the MacBook and MacBook Air models that dominate college campuses practically worldwide. In fact, Microsoft claims that its cheaper (and larger) Surface Laptop can last far longer on a charge than Apple’s 12-inch MacBook: 14.5 hours.

However, every Surface Laptop shipped will come with Windows 10 S installed, Microsoft’s new version of Windows 10 that only accepts app installs downloaded from the Windows Store. 

With the ability to switch from Windows 10 S to the 100% open Windows 10 Pro for $49 if you miss the chance in 2017 for free, should you need an app outside of the Windows Store that badly (spoiler: you probably will).

Regardless, at that price, can Microsoft garner enough interest from college students (or more likely their parents), who are often already strapped from the cost of an education?

The Surface Laptop in traditional 'Platinum'


Clearly, part of Microsoft’s plan is to lure those folks in with an incredibly gorgeous, and potentially trendsetting, design. The 13.5-inch Surface Laptop may very well be Microsoft’s most attractive computing product yet.

And, with four colors to choose from – Burgundy, Platinum, Cobalt Blue and Graphite Gold – there’s bound to be one that appeals to you.

A full aluminum lid and base wrap the laptop in much the same way it does a Surface Book, but ditches the aluminum in the keyboard deck for a Alcantara fabric that surrounds every plastic key and meets with the aluminum base in a seemingly airtight seal.

The fabric, according to Microsoft, is imported from Italy and laser cut to fit every Surface Laptop. Now, while many of the design elements are the same, the 13.5-inch (2,256 x 1,504) PixelSense touch display, the smooth glass-coated Precision touchpad, the chrome logo centered on the aluminum lid, we’re told that very few parts from previous parts are found within the Surface Laptop.

That much is obvious in the nature of the felt used for this keyboard deck compared against that which the Type Covers from Microsoft utilize. It’s smoother and more plush than those Type Covers, and we’re told it’s spill resistant.

The Surface Laptop's keyboard deck is awfully comfortable

Plus, the additional height afforded by this traditional laptop design allowed Microsoft to equip the keyboard with 1.5mm of travel, and the difference in typing between that and the Surface Pro 4 is night and day. Finally, Microsoft devised a speaker system beneath the keyboard that radiates sound through the spaces between the keys and the keyboard deck. 

The result isn’t much better audio than you’d find in a MacBook Air, perhaps a bit fuller, but at least it’s consistently in an uninterrupted position. Naturally, the audio gets a bit muffled when typing, but since the sound radiates throughout the laptop base, there isn’t a major loss in audio detail.

That leaves the side of the laptop base to house Microsoft’s proprietary power and docking port found on other Surface devices, as well as a USB 3.0 and Mini DisplayPort, not to mention an audio jack. If you’re already asking, “where’s the USB-C,” we’ve already been there.

Microsoft tells us that it intends for its own port to handle concerns of connectivity expansion via the Surface Connect port and its Surface Dock, while refraining from alienating customers that have yet to completely update to USB-C. 

A fine explanation, but that doesn’t tell us why USB 3.0 and not USB 3.1 at least, as you’re missing out on some major data transfer speed improvements there.

Those strange strips of plastic on the base? They're Wi-Fi antennae

Performance and battery life

Microsoft can pack the Surface Laptop with the latest Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processors (Kaby Lake), up to 512GB of PCIe solid-state storage (SSD) and as much as 16GB of RAM. 

That’s a mighty powerful laptop on paper, likely stronger than either the MacBook Air or 12-inch MacBook, while rising above even the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro that still utilizes Skylake processors.

(The $999 model comes packing a 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM with the Intel Core i5.)

As for how Microsoft fit that kind of power a laptop just 0.57 inches (14.48mm) thin, a brand new, proprietary vapor chamber cooling system helps a whole lot. The system changes the physical state of the heat as it's taken in through the center of a fan vent in the rear of the laptop base and spits it out of the sides of that same vent.

While we obviously weren’t able to stress-test the Surface Laptop, we were able to test out how it feels to use. For starters, at just 2.76 pounds (1.25kg), this thing is super light, which is all the more impressive considering it’s a 13.5-inch, Gorilla Glass 3 touchscreen you’re looking at.

Note the Surface Connect dock port – Microsoft's answer to USB-C

Microsoft chalks this up to, in part, the thinnest LCD touch module ever used in a laptop design. This, in turn, helps the lid to lift with just one finger. However, perhaps the hinge design needs refinement.

While you can open the display with just a finger, that slightness in the hinge is felt when the screen bounces with every tap of the touchscreen. It’s the very reason we question the inclusion of touchscreens in traditional laptops to begin with. Unfortunately, it seems Microsoft hasn't found a better solution here.

That said, typing on the keyboard is the best time we’ve had doing such on a Surface product yet, and the portability of the whole thing is right there with Apple’s best.

As for battery life, Microsoft is, again, claiming 14.5 hours on a single charge. Microsoft later clarified for us that this number was achieved via local video playback with all radios but Wi-Fi disabled.

That testing environment sounds very similar to how TechRadar tests for battery life, so we might see battery life results in a full review fall much closer to this claim. If so, then Surface Laptop will be very tough to beat in longevity and be a potentially major driver for sales.

This is the Surface Laptop in Cobalt Blue

Early verdict

The fact that the Surface Laptop ships with a limited – sorry, “streamlined” – operating system and costs more than some previous Surface systems that come with full fat Windows 10 cannot go unnoticed – regardless of the free upgrade through this year. Unless Microsoft changes its tune come 2018, folks buying one of these with holiday gift money at the turn of the year would be wise to tack 50 bucks on top of whichever configuration they choose to get Windows 10 Pro.

While this switch will be free for any Surface Laptops bought in the education sector, that won't help the Surface Laptop’s target audience come 2018: late high school and college students.

That said, the Surface Laptop’s incredible, potentially trendsetting design cannot go unnoticed either. Frankly, this is a laptop that appears to outclass the MacBook Air and 12-inch MacBook – and possibly even the 13-inch MacBook Pro – for hundreds less.

Save for a questionable platform versus pricing decision, the Surface Laptop has all the makings of yet another winning piece of hardware from Microsoft.