Category Archives: Gadgetology

Mini-review: The 2017 MacBook could actually be your everyday laptop

Andrew Cunningham

The MacBook Air has been one of Apple's most popular, most enduring laptop designs, but that wasn't always the case. When the first version of the laptop was released back in 2008, you had to pay too high a price for its thinness and lightness. And I'm not just talking about the literal price of the thing, either, although its $1,799 starting price was steep by any standard.

No, the main problems were that its anemic port selection made it annoying to use with the accessories of the day, while the available processors and hard drives made for a really slow, frustrating computer. It was way thinner and lighter than anything else you could get at the time, but most of the compromises weren't worth it.

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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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Surface Pro review: Incremental improvement isn’t enough

Enlarge / Surface Pro with a Cobalt Blue Type Cover.

Every new Surface Pro has been the best Surface Pro yet. The new fifth-generation Surface Pro—unnumbered, Microsoft having dropped numeric suffixes—continues that trend. It is as good as or better than its predecessor, the Surface Pro 4, in every way.

And yet, the new machine strikes me as unambitious in a way that older models weren't.

The 2017 Surface Pro is an extremely incremental update. What was once a Skylake processor is now a Kaby Lake chip, which brings a healthy improvement in battery life and additional GPU features such as accelerated 4K HEVC video decoding. Overall, the new Surface Pro runs a bit faster and lasts longer away from the wall socket. The screen size and resolution remain the same (a beautiful 12.3" display with a strange 2736×1824 resolution), pen latency is lower, and parallax error seems improved. The pen itself is better.

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Mini-review: How much faster have high-end iMacs gotten in the last 5 years?

Andrew Cunningham

Apple seems committed to the Mac Pro and iMac Pro for now, but the company says that its most popular desktops with pro users remains the 27-inch iMac.

Unlike phones and tablets, which can still post big performance gains from year to year, desktops age more slowly and gracefully. A typical replacement cycle in many businesses and schools is three or four years, and, as long as they don’t break, you can easily keep using them for years after that.

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Review: 10.5-inch iPad Pro is “pro” hardware waiting for pro software

Andrew Cunningham

Nothing Apple has done in the last three years has reversed the iPad’s sales decline, or stopped it, or even really slowed it down all that much. But 2017 has made clear that if the iPad keeps falling, it won’t be for lack of trying.

On the software side, you’ve got iOS 11, an update that makes iOS 9’s multitasking additions look rudimentary and quaint. It adds a distinctly Mac-like application dock and dramatically changes how the device runs and interacts with multiple apps at the same time. The changes allow for much-improved "window" and file management, and you can easily drag-and-drop content between apps.

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VPC’s MongoosT-50 joystick: A rare Russian-style controller for skies or space

Enlarge / The MongoosT-50 stick in a Warthog base, left, compared to a standard Thrustmaster Warthog stick at right. (credit: Lee Hutchinson)

I had an epiphany when Ars Senior Technology Editor Lee Hutchinson asked me to review the VPC MongoosT-50 flight stick grip, which he had sitting on his desk awaiting its turn at the front of the review queue. As I removed the mounting plate of my Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog from its place on the right side of my VolaireSim cockpit, I looked over at the empty space it had occupied, then at the handmade Eastern European MFG Crosswind rudder pedals nestled at the base of my cockpit, and then to the HTC Vive and its now-dusty Oculus DK2 predecessor hanging off the side of my nearby desk.

The epiphany was this: Lee had pulled me down into his special crazy place where dropping hundreds of dollars on flight sim accessories, all to play a single game, seemed like a totally normal and sane thing to do.

This time around, the newest shiny in my office isn’t shiny at all, it's rather a svelte matte black: the VPC MongoosT-50 BE Grip, the Black Edition of the new company’s freshman-effort flight sim controller. Unlike most flight sticks for sale on the US market, which tend to be based with varying levels of verisimilitude on US fighter aircraft control columns, the MongoosT-50 is built to mirror the control stick on Russian aircraft—specifically, the fifth-generation Russian Sukhoi Su-35 and PAK FA (T-50). Few existing peripheral manufacturers offer Eastern-style controls, so this stick from Belarus-based VirPil Controls (VPC) is a bit of a rarity.

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Samsung Galaxy Book review: A better TabPro S, but not a laptop replacement

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

Samsung revamped one of its 2016 hybrids while simultaneously creating a challenger to Microsoft's Surface family. Last year's Galaxy TabPro S was a thin-and-light tablet powered by a Skylake Core M processor and featuring an OLED display. While stunning, the OLED display raised questions about the longevity of the device, and the tablet itself was lacking in connectivity options.

The new Galaxy Book tries to fix some of that while keeping the good parts intact: it's a slim Windows tablet, accompanied by a folio keyboard case and S Pen stylus, that's vying to replace your regular laptop by enticing you with Ultrabook-grade internals. The Galaxy Book comes in 10- and 12-inch models, but both are very different, not just in their screen size, but in internal quality as well. While Samsung managed to right some of the wrongs of the TabPro S, it's hard to make a case for the Galaxy Book replacing your everyday work device.

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Nokia 3310 review: No matter how much you think you want it, you don’t want it

Enlarge (credit: Mark Walton)

While this phone is not currently scheduled for release in the US, we thought you would be interested in this review from our colleagues in the UK.

SCREEN 2.4-inch QVGA LCD (167ppi)
OS Nokia Series 30+
STORAGE 16MB (plus microSD expansion)
PORTS Micro USB, 3.5mm headphone jack
CAMERA 2MP rear camera
SIZE 115.6mm x 51mm x 12.8mm
STARTING PRICE £50 (buy here)
OTHER PERKS A really bad version of Snake

That the new HMD-made Nokia 3310 was the star of this year's Mobile World Congress says more about how dull smartphones have become than it does about the appeal of Nokia's chintzy slab of noughties nostalgia.

Despite the retro appeal, the Nokia 3310 (buy here) is little more than a Nokia 150 (a basic feature phone that sells for a mere £20) wrapped up in a curved glossy shell and sold for a millennial-gouging £50. It is, for all intents and purposes, a fashion statement—a phone for the beard-grooming, braces-wearing festival set that think tapping out texts on a T9 keyboard is the ultimate irony.

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LG Gram review: Amazingly light laptop either needs to be cheaper or better

Andrew Cunningham

We live in uncertain times, but when it comes to laptops, we’re actually pretty spoiled these days. The low-end still has plenty of junky machines, but buying good, thoughtfully designed computers for $700 and up is also easier than ever.

That means that sweating the details is more important than ever. A thin-and-light design, a nice IPS screen, a non-terrible keyboard and trackpad, and a good (and/or forward-looking) port selection can all be expected from a high-end laptop these days. So purchasing decisions and recommendations increasingly come down to the little things.

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Xiaomi Air 12 laptop review: Like a MacBook, but a third of the price


Specs at a glance: Xiaomi Air 12
Screen 12.5-inch 1080p IPS
OS Windows 10 Home (Chinese Edition)
CPU Intel Core m3-6Y30 dual-core @ 900MHz (2.2GHz Turbo)
RAM 4GB LPDDR3 (non-upgradeable)
GPU Intel HD Graphics 515
HDD 128GB SATA SSD (M.2 slot available)
Networking Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
Ports 1x USB 3.0 Type-C, USB 3.0 Type-A, HDMI, headphone jack
Size 11.5" x 7.95" x 0.51" (292mm x 202mm x 12.9mm)
Weight 2.36 lbs (1.07kg)
Battery 5000mAh
Price £400/$490 (price varies)
Other perks 720p webcam, backlit keyboard
Notes You cannot directly buy the Xiaomi Air 12 in the UK, US, or indeed many markets outside China. Instead, you will most likely have to import it. As such, you will likely receive less customer support if things go wrong.

If you're in the market for a compact laptop and have an eye on style there's one obvious choice: the Apple MacBook. Unfortunately, while the MacBook is a desirable piece of kit, its starting price of £1,250 for a mere Core m3 processor and 8GB of memory is hardly what you'd call good value.

While there are Windows alternatives to the MacBook—Microsoft's Surface and Dell's XPS 12 spring to mind—few are based on the same compact 12-inch laptop form factor, or cost substantially less money. Chinese gadget maker Xiaomi wants to change all that with the Xiaomi Air 12, a MacBook-style laptop that retails for a third of the price. Not only does the Air 12 feature a remarkably similar industrial design to Cupertino's offering, it boasts similar specs too. It's almost too good to be true.

Buying an Air 12 is not a wholly risk-free undertaking. Xiaomi hasn't officially released the Air 12 (or its 13-inch big brother the Air 13) in the UK, US, or other western markets. Buying one means dealing with grey importers and sucking up the associated ramifications regarding import duties and after-sales support, or lack thereof. My review sample came from Chinese reseller GearBest, which, at the time of writing, wants just under £400 ($490 in the US) for an Air 12. Unfortunately, DHL charged another £19 of import duty before delivery, bringing the total cost to just shy of £420.

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