All posts by Valentina Palladino

Huawei Matebook X review: The cost of a Windows PC with a MacBook design

Video shot/edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

Huawei has been slowly pushing its way into the PC market. Its first attempt came in the $699 Matebook, a two-in-one device that couldn't stand up to similar devices due to its lackluster performance, bad battery life, and tendency to overheat.

While in the same device family, the new Matebook X is very different from the original Matebook. It's a true Windows ultrabook whose design inspiration borrows heavily from Apple. With its super-thin frame, brushed metal finish, and overall minimalistic construction, the Matebook is challenging Apple's MacBook not only in design, but in performance as well. The Matebook supports up to a Core i7 processor, up to 8GB of RAM, and up to 512GB SSD. But Huawei has to prove that all the power it has packed into the tiny laptop can make the Matebook X a better option than other competing Windows notebooks.

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Alienware has new mice, keyboards, and monitors, plus a Threadripper Area 51

Enlarge / Alienware Area 51. (credit: Dell)

At E3 this year, Dell announced updates and changes to the Alienware line. The massive Alienware Area 51 gaming desktop is getting a refresh to include AMD's new Threadripper CPUs, and Alienware is getting its own gaming mice, mechanical keyboards, and monitors.

Until now, the Alienware family consisted of just laptops, desktops, and consoles, so gamers had to look elsewhere for peripherals to pair with their Alienware devices. According to Dell, customers told the company they wanted mice, keyboards, and other gaming accessories so they could build an entire gaming ecosystem out of Alienware products. Dell listened, and the result of that customer research are the new Alienware gaming mice, mechanical keyboards, and monitors.

The two new Alienware corded gaming mice both have on-the-fly DPI switching between precision and speed so they can match the tempo of the gaming they're playing; the $49 Advanced Gaming Mouse has three configurable levels of DPI switching, while the $89 Elite Gaming Mouse has five. Both have a swappable side grip so the user can adjust the ergonomics best for their hand, and the Elite Gaming Mouse has a three-position palm rest as well. Inside the Elite Gaming Mouse are four weights the user can adjust depending on how heavy they like their mouse to be. Both mice have 13 customizable buttons and RGB lighting, too, so users can change the lighting to match the rest of their system.

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HTC U11 review: A fragile, squeezable flagship

Video shot/edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

HTC introduced the "U" smartphone line back in January with the U Ultra and U Play handsets, and those were just a taste of what the company had coming. The U11 is HTC's newest flagship and follow-up to last year's HTC 10, and it looks significantly different from last year's device. With an all-glass back and no headphone jack, the U11 chooses which of the typical flagship design choices it wanted to keep and forgoes others. It supports Google Assistant as well as HTC's own Sense Companion AI, with Amazon Alexa support coming soon after it ships in the US on June 9. The HTC 10 was one of our favorite flagship smartphones last year, and the U11 is a thoughtful upgrade from that, even if its design is polarizing.

Design

The U11 smartphone looks and feels flashier than the HTC 10, but that doesn't mean it's better. Ars' Ron Amadeo appreciated the simple yet solid metal design of HTC's 2016 flagship, but the company certainly deviated from that blueprint with this device. The U11 has an all-glass back that makes it strikingly shiny but also a wild collector of fingerprints. That shine complements the bold colors it comes in (red, sapphire, silver, and black), but every time it catches your eye, you'll be compelled to wipe down the phone.

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HP grows Omen line with new gaming laptops, VR backpack PC, and more

Enlarge (credit: Hewlett-Packard)

HP is stepping up its Omen gaming line ahead of E3 next week with a slew of updates and additions. The company left no stone unturned this year, updating its 15- and 17-inch Omen laptops, introducing a new Omen desktop and updated peripherals, and debuting a new GPU accelerator and a ready-to-go model of its prototype VR backpack PC. All the new devices have a consistent aesthetic that isn't just eye-catching, but also practical for gamers, and the devices that are upgrades have tried to fix the pain-points of previous models.

Updating Omen for 2017

HP's first 15-inch Omen laptop debuted in 2014, and, over time, customers have told the company what they want. For this particular upgrade, HP users told the company they wanted more ports, expansion options, and VR capabilities. The new 15-inch and 17-inch Omen laptops do what they can to address these issues. Both of them have been slightly redesigned with an edgier look and an expanded keyboard to include full-sized arrow keys, and both have a single-access bottom panel that lifts off the underside of the chassis. This gives users access to the HDD, SSD, and RAM so they can expand and upgrade as they please; the 17-inch has an optical drive option as well. The new laptops have a number of storage options from the start, including PCIe SSD, HDD plus SSD, and HDD, and the 15-inch model supports up to 16GB of RAM, while the 17-inch model supports up to 32GB of RAM.

Both models also have larger fans inside, allowing for better airflow throughout the chassis so the device can perform more efficiently. The laptops are also getting a GPU bump, with the 15-inch model supporting up to a Nvidia GTX 960 or an AMD RX500 GPU, and the 17-inch model supporting up to a Nvidia GTX 1070 or an AMD RX580 GPU. They'll both have the latest Intel processors, but there are no Ryzen CPUs included in the model options. HP didn't rule out the inclusion of Ryzen CPUs in the future, but if you want one immediately, you won't find it in the Omen notebooks.

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iOS 11 will bring big updates to Siri, iMessages, Apple Pay, and more

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SAN JOSE—Apple announced iOS 11 at its annual developers conference today, revealing details on what changes will come to your iPhone or iPad in the near future. Some of the updates include a new app drawer for finding iMessage apps and stickers, new integrations for Apple Pay, a Siri translation beta, and more.

Apple's Craig Federighi dove into the software update at the conference keynote, demoing a bunch of new features coming in iOS11. There's a redesigned app drawer for iMessage apps and stickers. The current drawer is pretty sparse, so the company redesigned it to make compatible apps and sticker packs more discoverable in iMessage. All your messages will also be automatically synced to iCloud to optimize storage on each of your iOS devices.

iMessages is also getting Apple Pay in a new way: the contactless payment system will have its own iMessage app in iOS11 so you can pay people directly within your messages. You can use TouchID to authenticate payments and money transfers, and any money you receive through Apple Pay in iMessage will go to your Apple Pay cash card.

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Apple introduces watchOS 4 at WWDC with new Siri-powered watch face

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SAN JOSE—Apple announced the next iteration of its wearable software at its annual developers conference today: watchOS 4. One of the new features will be a Siri-powered watch face with "proactive" information that changes using Siri's intelligence. It will also include updates to the Activity and Workout apps, new integrations for the Music app, as well as minor updates to the smartwatch's UI.

New watch faces

There are a couple new watch faces available in watchOS 4, but the most in-depth one is the Siri-powered watch face. Glanceable information on the watch face isn't a new concept—plenty of Apple Watch faces include information like date, time, and calendar events. But this watch face will use Siri and your information preferences to automatically show you information directly on the watch face. You'll need to choose the information you want to receive from Siri based on time, location, and your routines. With the Siri watch face on, you can raise your wrist throughout the day to receive dynamic information, such as traffic information if you're about to leave work and sunset times in the evening.

Apple also announced a couple of fun watch faces, including a "Kaleidoscope" face that focuses more on pretty graphics rather than information. The Mickey and Minnie Mouse watch faces were some of the most popular and talked-out designs when the Apple Watch first debuted, and now they have company in Woody, Jessie, and Buzz from Toy Story, which have new watch faces in watchOS 4.

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Apple’s Siri-controlled smart speaker could be revealed at WWDC next week

Enlarge / $159/£159 Apple AirPods.

Ahead of Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference next week, a report from Bloomberg suggest the company could announce a long-rumored, Siri-controlled smart speaker. "People familiar with the matter" told Bloomberg that the device could be revealed as early as WWDC, but likely would not ship until later this year.

Details about the speaker are slim, but the report states the Siri-controlled smart speaker will have "virtual surround sound technology" and integration with Apple's existing product lineup. This would be Apple's first device to compete with Amazon's Echo and Google's Home, both of which are vessels for each company's virtual assistant. Sources say Apple has been developing the speaker to be louder than its competition and to produce crisper sound overall. The device may also include "sensors that measure a room’s acoustics and automatically adjust audio levels during use."

In addition to keeping up with Amazon and Google, a Siri-controlled speaker would also likely serve as a smart home hub for Apple HomeKit products. Currently only Apple TVs and iPads can fully control HomeKit lights, door locks, and other devices, so a home-based speaker would be a logical addition to a household already equipped with HomeKit products.

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Got an antenna and a tuner? You can now stream live TV with Plex

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A new streaming company is getting in on the live TV action. Today Plex announced live TV streaming support for its Plex Pass members. The streaming content service will now be able to stream live TV from over-the-air (OTA) providers directly through the Plex app. Supported networks include major broadcast channels like ABC and CBS, giving subscribers one place where most of their streamable content can live.

Plex's new live TV beta will be available for all users with a Plex Pass. As long as you have an antenna and a digital tuner, you can stream HD digital broadcast channels, including local news and sports, from directly within the Plex app. Any digital antenna will work with Plex, and the company is continuously working to add more tuner support. Currently, all HDHomeRun models are compatible with Windows, Linux, Nvidia Shield, OS X, and NAS systems in the US, Europe, Australia, Africa, and Asia, while other tuner compatibility varies depending on platform. Plex Pass users don't pay extra for live TV streaming—it's bundled into the subscription just like other features, like DVR and cloud syncing. However, time-shifting features for live TV—including rewind and fast-forward—will not be available at launch, but they'll come at a later date.

Until now, Plex only offered TV content through its DVR service, which is also coming out of beta today. While it wasn't live TV, the service allowed Plex Pass holders to record free OTA broadcasts using SiliconDust HDHomeRun devices. Those DVR recordings were available across all Plex Pass holders' devices. Now with live TV integration, you can set which shows to record directly within any Plex app (previously, recorded shows had to be set through the Web app only) and watch them on any device associated with your Plex account.

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Carpool Karaoke series rolls into Apple Music on August 8

Enlarge (credit: Apple)

After announcing the show last summer, Apple has finally given a release date to its Carpool Karaoke series. The show, with half-hour long episodes, will debut on Apple Music on August 8, with new episodes coming every Tuesday.

Carpool Karaoke: The Series is a spinoff of James Corden's popular segment on The Late Late Show with James Corden. According to Apple's statement, each episode will feature a new group of celebrities singing their favorite songs together in different situations. Released images show John Legend, Alicia Keys, Michael Strahan, Jeff Gordon, LeBron James, and James Corden making appearances, while Apple revealed Taraji P. Henson, Queen Latifah, Miley Cyrus and the entire Cyrus family, and Game of Thrones' Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams will also be on the show.

James Corden is the show's creator and executive producer, but it doesn't appear he'll be joining every group of celebrities in every episode. The show was supposed to debut back in April, but Apple pushed the release back for undisclosed reasons. There's no word yet on how many episodes are in the first season, nor how many more seasons could come in the future.

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Casual gamers who want an affordable desktop now have an option from Dell

Enlarge (credit: Dell)

Most companies that make gaming PCs and laptops are trying to snag the attentions of new "casual" gamers. These customers either can't afford to spend thousands of dollars on a high-end gaming device—or they don't want to. However, they still want a machine that can handle their regular bouts of gaming.

Dell's current answer for these customers has been its Inspiron 15 gaming laptop, but now it's adding its first desktop PC to the Inspiron Gaming line. Today, the company announced the Inspiron Gaming Desktop, which it hopes will attract casual gamers who don't need to bring their gaming endeavors outside their home.

Dell's Inspiron Gaming Desktop looks like a standard tower, but with a cross-hatched, semi-open design on its bottom-left side. This design has practical and aesthetic purposes: it provides better ventilation for the PC's internals while also giving the tower an edgy look that most customers associate with gaming devices. The center Dell logo and the inside of the PC emit an electric-blue light, which also fits with the gaming-device style (if you're not into the blue light, there's also a model with basic white light).

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