Here are the best Moto E4 Plus cases to keep your phone blemish-free

If you followed the advice of our Moto E4 review, you’re either buying a Moto E4 or getting ready to grab to the E4 Plus when it’s out later this summer. It can be tricky to find the right accessories, especially ones that that are worth the money. Sometimes there aren’t many to choose from, or there are only a few that suit your specific preferences. If you’re dealing with this particular dilemma, don’t fret — we’re here to make your life easier.

Compared to Moto Z Force cases, there’s a relatively small selection right now, but there’s bound to be something for you, whether you’re a fan of wallet style cases, ones with a snug fit, or those that let you to stand the phone up.

C&U Ultra Slim TPU Bumper ($8)

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C&U’s case is of a simple design that’s best enjoyed by Moto E4 Plus owners who want a case that offers standard protection without covering up the phone’s aesthetic; the back of the case is completely clear to show off the E4 Plus’ design. If going completely transparent isn’t your style, you can add a bit of color to the surrounding edges if you get the black bumper variant. Accurate cut-outs for various ports, buttons, and the camera are present, and it’s at an affordable asking price for a case from a manufacturer that may not be as well known as brands like Spigen and OtterBox.

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J&D Shock Resistant TPU Slim Case ($8)

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J&D has made cases for other smartphones in the past that are cheap, minimalist, and effective, and their TPU slim case for the Moto E4 Plus has those same qualities. Unlike C&U’s case above, this case only comes in black, and is meant to shield your phone from the outside world. As the name implies, it’s made using a TPU material, resulting in a comfortable-feeling case that provides a little more grip during use, and is capable of handling your everyday drops and minor impacts. The case will only fit the Moto E4 Plus, so expect all cut-outs to be exactly where they’re supposed to be.

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Circlemall Hybrid Shockproof Case ($9)

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The main reason a lot of people buy protective cases is so they don’t have to deal with their phone being permanently damaged until it’s repaired or replaced. E4 Plus owners who have this fear should look no further than this hybrid case from Circlemall, which comes ready and willing to defend your investment from just about anything that could harm it. Judging by the look alone, you can tell this case is equipped to take on impacts with stairs, pavement, or hardwood floors, due to the combination of a hard outer shell and a soft silicone inner bumper. The assembled case forms a tight fit around the phone preventing it from moving around or flying out upon impact. Cut-outs keep the ports and camera far away from any surface it comes into contact with, and buttons are covered by the same silicone protecting the rest of the case, so you’ll never have to worry about them being chipped or dented. Lastly, the package comes with a tempered glass screen protector.

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NagaBee Heavy Duty Defender Case ($9)

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NagaBee has taken the same approach as Circlemall when it comes to creating cases that focus on protection, using a hybrid design composed of a hard outer shell that fits onto the back of a softer rubber case. The smooth outer shell reduces scratching and chipping, and the flexible inner layer absorbs shock. The buttons are also covered by the aforementioned inner rubber layer, and they’re labeled so you’ll always know which buttons you’re pushing. Available in both rose gold and black, you can apply this case knowing it won’t make your slim smartphone uncomfortably large, and it comes with a 7-day money back guarantee on top of a 30-day warranty.

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Wellci Folio Flip Cover Case ($9)

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Flip cover cases may not be as popular as other cases that emphasize style, heavy-duty protection, or slim form factors, but they have their uses, especially if you’re trying to cut down on the number of things you need to carry in your pocket. When it comes to the storage capacity of Wellci’s flip cover case, you can carry a couple of debit or credit cards within the inner pocket found on the inside of the cover. When closed, only the side buttons and connector ports are accessible, while the rest of the phone is well protected. Unfortunately, the cover itself doesn’t magnetically close or have a strap, but this shouldn’t be a huge issue if your phone is usually in your hand, pocket, or bag. Being a flip cover case, you may expect it to add to the overall bulk of your smartphone, and while it does, it’s not an obscene amount that will be hard to live with. If you’re at all familiar with these kinds of cases, you’ll know that you can also use the cover as a kickstand to prop the phone up, in the event there’s a video you want to watch hands-free.

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New workflow app Twist is like Slack, with an eye for organization

Why it matters to you

Twist is a fresh take on an age-old problem that could be better suited for your team than the communication apps already out there.

Slack is the go-to communication app for many teams — though as anyone who has used it will tell you, it’s hardly perfect. Doist, the company behind to-do app Todoist, has attempted to address some of those shortcomings with a new communications app called Twist.

In Slack, Conversations take place in traditional, linear chat feeds, though users have the option of creating threads in response to individual comments. But digging through chat histories to find what you’re looking for isn’t ideal — especially if you’re part of a team that moves quickly, with lots of back-and-forth between co-workers.

As a result, things can get out of hand pretty quickly. To make matters worse, some of Slack’s more useful features, like marking messages read or unread and creating snippets, are hidden away under a sea of shortcuts the average user probably isn’t aware of.

What all this means is although Slack may function well enough depending on your workflow, it’s not a perfect solution. While Twist surely isn’t the panacea to your productivity woes either, it operates in a fundamentally different way that could better serve your needs compared to what the competition is offering.

Whereas Slack recently gave users the ability to carry threaded conversations, everything in Twist is threaded right from the start. You still have your channels, but inside each channel are threaded conversations — much like a typical online forum. Composing a new thread looks and feels much like writing an email, except any user in your channel can initiate in-line conversations in response to your original post.

When you need to direct message a colleague, Twist gives you the power to do that as well. And, as in Slack, everything is searchable, with customizable filters to help you drill down and really find what you’re looking for.

Outside of conversations, there are a couple useful additions to Twist your team might appreciate. You can set a vacation status, as TechCrunch points out, which will provide a return date on your profile for your coworkers to see and mute notifications until then. Doist also promises integration with third-party services like automation tool Zapier and software development platform GitHub in the future.

Those interested can begin using Twist for free, though the free version doesn’t preserve all your conversations and files. A paid version, running $5 per user, per month, will maintain records of everything you share in the app. There are iOS and Android versions for mobile, Windows and MacOS support for PC users, and a web interface as well.

Wisconsinites can now (legally) get 20 pounds of cheese and beer delivered by robot

The Starship Technologies delivery robot goes through its paces during a demonstration at the Capitol in Richmond, Va.
The Starship Technologies delivery robot goes through its paces during a demonstration at the Capitol in Richmond, Va.

Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

Wisconsin has joined the land of autonomous delivery. If you live in the Badger State, you can now legally have your award-winning cheeses delivered to you 20 pounds at a time inside Starship Technologies’ delivery bots. 

The state is the third in the United States to legalize sidewalk delivery by wheeled drones. The only stipulation is that the bots weigh 80 pounds or less, and a human must be in position to take control of the machine in case the six-wheeled pods try to steal a customer’s cheese and/or beer. 

Starship bots weigh 40 pounds on their own and can carry 20 pounds of supplies, about the equivalent of 20 bricks of Widmer’s 10-year aged cheddar cheese. Or four six-packs of Brenner Brewing’s bacon bomb rauchbier, because even though I’m not sure about bacon-tasting beer, I’m pretty sure it would go well with cheese. Or maybe you should get two six-packs and 10 pounds of cheese, and then just not move for a while. 

If three’s a trend, then Starship delivery bots are now on a literal roll. Virginia was the first to allow them, followed by Idaho. It remains unclear, however, when those robots might first appear walking alongside people. As long as they have beer and cheese, we welcome them. 

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Facebook has new safeguards for profile pictures, but it’s just a first step

Facebook is revamping profile pictures to make them safer, starting with India.

The company has launched two new features in India to reduce misuse of profile photos, announced on Thursday. Though the issue is not limited to that region of the world, the problem is prevalent in the country, according to Facebook.

The features include “profile picture guard” and “profile picture design.” The guard takes away some of the obvious ways of copying the photo; for example, people will no longer be able to download, share or send the profile picture as a message on Facebook.

The company also says the new upgrades will prevent people from taking a screenshot of profile photos, though that protection will be available only on Android devices, at least to start.

The second feature is a visual emblem — an type of outline or icon that signifies to the viewer that the profile pic is protected. Facebook found that using a design overlay on the photo made other people “at least 75% less likely to copy that picture.”

Image: facebook

If users find that their profile picture is being misused, they can report it. In that case, the design will be used along with other signals to verify that the picture has been copied or misused. 

There are several issues related to profile picture abuse — including scams, abuse, sexual harassment and spammy fake profiles. Facebook-based scams are one such issue. In September 2016, The Hindustan Times reported on “cloning” on social media, wherein scammers will impersonate users and befriend people they may know on Facebook, with the goal of ultimately extorting money. 

“Every sixth social media user in India is a victim of online fraud, and 16% of online frauds are social media scams,” Alok Mittal, inspector general at National Investigation Agency (NIA) told the Times

Profile picture theft is particularly a concern for women on the site, who may find their photos stolen and used in catfishing attempts or on “hot singles near you” style ads.

Aarati Soman, a product manager at Facebook who worked on the feature, is part of a larger team that works on products for women in emerging markets. Soman’s team found that “some women choose not to share profile pictures that include their faces anywhere on the internet because they’re concerned about what may happen to their photos.”

Soman noted that the profile picture emblem, while mainly a visual cue, helps users and their loved ones feel safer. It’s something that “women can be able to show that they have this,” Soman said on a call. In India, many women have families who are concerned about their photos being misused, and the guard can serve as a sort of reassurance that their photos are safe.

What is not obvious from such a guard is that the photos can still be misused quite easily. Screen captures, for example, are virtually impossible to fully prevent on desktop or the mobile web.

To promote the feature, Soman said Facebook will be using video ads as well as translate the instructions for the feature in every local language in the country.

The new features, particularly the emblem that signifies your profile pic is protected, may strike some as more “security theater” than a truly impactful change. It’s not clear whether the tools will make Facebook a truly safer experience for women in India. However, they are designed to make it feel that way. The profile picture guard or design may deter some people, but a motivated abuser has to do very little to get around it.

A more impactful feature might be allowing profile pictures to have the same visibility controls as other photos, i.e. the show up just for your friends or friends of friends, with an anonymous pic showing up publicly.

While these features are small, this is the beginning of the team’s dedicated efforts that they hope to expand based on lessons learned with this tool, Soman said. That being said, the issue is a complicated one and it’s good to Facebook addressing it. The country is Facebook’s largest growing market and will be a key driver as it speeds toward the 2-billion-user mark. eef6 2df9%2fthumb%2f00001

Blink and you’ll miss these sumo robots fighting

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Seriously, don’t flinch. Canadian VR developer Robert McGregor has put together six years of Japanese sumo robots fighting each other in a single video. 

The robots are programmed to push their opponents out of the ring, like regular sumos, but they barely take a minute to pause, going right into the action: 

Naturally, these heartless robots don’t seem to care about whether their opponents are utterly wrecked.

There’s even a tiny femto-class of sumo robot fighting:

McGregor told Mashable that the video has a mixture of remote-controlled robots and autonomous robots battling one another.

Remote-controlled robots would usually have an antenna. “Occasionally brave RC pilots will take on autonomous opponents,” McGregor said. 

Some of the autonomous robots appear to use range-finding by shining a red laser dot on their opponents, McGregor added.

People were instantly amazed.

McGregor, who compiled the footage from 2011 to 2017, told Mashable that he’s seen a “sharp inflection” in the speed of the autonomous sumo robots, as processing power and motor speeds improve.

“The speeds at which the autonomous bots react is now well beyond what can be reasonably expected of even a very skilled human RC controller,” he added. “It is getting very affordable to pack some impressive levels of processing power into a bot.” 

“The future is autonomous.” 

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Periscope vows fix for broadcasters mad that they forfeit tips by deleting replays

Periscope’s new Super Hearts tipping feature that launched yesterday quickly sparked a backlash from the creators it was designed to help earn money.

Broadcasters discovered that if they deleted the replay of one of their live videos before cashing out their tips at the end of the month, they’d lose any tips received during the stream. That meant if a video was overly personal or sensitive, unflattering or a creator otherwise didn’t want the replay on the internet, they’d be forced to forfeit money they’d earned. Twitter already takes a 30 percent cut of tips after the app store’s tax and payment processing fees are removed.

TechCrunch heard about the issue this morning and asked Twitter for an explanation of why it would need to delete people’s tips if they deleted their replays. Initially a spokesperson merely replied that broadcasters can delete replays after they cash out their tips at the end of the month, and pointed to the broadcaster guidelines.

But after the outrage from broadcasters snowballed, Periscope tweeted that it’s working on a way for broadcasters to hide replays from the public without technically deleting them. Then Periscope followed up with me, noting that the rule against deletion was designed “to ensure all content that’s has been monetized complies with our community guidelines.” It presumably wanted to avoid paying people for tips they earned through nudity or scams, but went too far.

The situation proves how tricky it is to expand from an advertising business model with professional clients to sharing revenue with finicky independent content creators. One broadcaster told TechCrunch that Super Hearts tipping is “a great first step, but realistically this is going to provide pocket change for broadcasters. This isn’t going to be a monetization feature that will allow people to make big bucks, so I think they have to manage expectations with that.”

In-app tipping for live streamers was pioneered and popularized in China, but recently American apps like YouTube and Twitch have adopted the trend. Apps that built creator monetization in from the start are thriving, with having paid out over $3.5 million to broadcasters in less than a year. Bolting on tipping years after launch means Periscope will have to alter ingrained user behavior and educate people about the confusing design of its buy-virtual-coins-to-buy-hearts-to-send-hearts-that-are-converted-to-stars-that-are-redeemed-for-cash system.

But if Periscope users can get the hang of it, parent company Twitter could adopt the system, too, to simultaneously attract higher-quality content, compensate creators and earn money for itself.

Make your Airbnb rental stand out with these photo tips from the pros

When it comes to listing a property on Airbnb, HomeAway, or whichever property rental site, a picture might just mean the difference between booking and sitting empty. Between two similar properties, photographs are often a deciding factor, says Sara Gates, the marketing manager for Vacasa, an agency that handles vacation rentals for property owners. Listings with better photographs tend to book more often and even appear higher in the search results — which is why Airbnb photography is important.

But what, exactly, makes a good photograph for a vacation rental? Kimberly Stevenson, Vacasa’s lead photographer, shared a few dos – and a few don’ts – when it comes to Airbnb photography.

Recognize the difference between real estate photography and Airbnb photography

Sure, both real estate photography and vacation rental photography have several similarities like general tricks for photographing interiors, but there are a few important differences, Stevenson points out. For vacation rentals, it’s all about the experience, not just the home and its features. Don’t try to hide flaws, or listings will be left with bad reviews by disappointed visitors. Instead, shoot a realistic overview of the property that doesn’t oversell.

Highlight the home’s best features – and number of beds

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When photographing a vacation rental, always show off the home’s biggest features. If there’s a fireplace, build a fire before shooting, if there’s a hot tub, take the cover off and turn the jets on. Make sure that the biggest perks to staying in that property are highlighted, whether that’s a spectacular view or a closet full of board games.

Be sure to include a photograph of every sleeping space, Stevenson suggests, including pulling out sofa beds. Showing all the sleeping areas keeps people from guessing just how that “sleeps eight” line plays out, and whether or not grandma will end up sleeping in a bunk bed.

Use a tripod and set the self-timer

Using a tripod goes a long way for sharper photos with more detail. With a tripod — and a Wi-Fi remote app or the self timer to avoid physically pressing the shutter release, which can add camera shake — photos are significantly sharper and more detailed. When the camera is completely stationary, you can use a low ISO for the best quality and a narrow aperture for sharper shots. Try using aperture priority mode, set at f/8 or higher and the lowest ISO setting your camera offers.

Open all the blinds and turn on all the lights

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Unless you are actually renting out the Bat Cave, showing a dark interior isn’t a plus. Before shooting, turn on all the lights and open up all the blinds to let the most light into the room. Flipping a switch and pulling open curtains is a very simple yet dramatic way to improve even amateur Airbnb photography.

Plan to use 25 pictures

More pictures give guests a better idea of what to expect when they arrive, and properties with more photographs tend to show up higher in the search results. Stevenson suggests using about 25 pictures for the property – the limit on many vacation rental platforms – but don’t organize them by room. The first five should highlight the home’s best features. Then, use one-to-two more photos of each room; that way, potential guests don’t see a dozen photos of the living room before they ever see that winning view from the back porch or the incredible kitchen. Listings should also always include a photo of the outside, which helps guests find the property when they arrive.

Small props go a long way

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Remember, vacation rental photography is all about the experience of staying there, and small props can really help highlight that. Setting out a cup of coffee with a local travel book on the porch swing, Stevenson suggests, can go a long way. Simple things like setting the table or adding a book to a cozy reading nook help draw potential viewers in among hundreds of other listings.

Don’t use an ultra-wide angle lens or low-resolution camera

If you have a DSLR, now is the time to dig it out, and if you don’t have a camera with decent resolution, renting or buying a DSLR or mirrorless camera might be a good idea (check with your tax consultant, but you could possibly write it off as an Airbnb business expense). While some smartphone cameras will do the job in a pinch, Airbnb recommends using photos with a resolution at least 1,024 pixels wide — and more is better.

Be careful, however, with wide-angle lenses. While wider angles can capture an entire room, they also tend to distort straight lines and make them curve, which could make it appear like the walls of your property are bowing in. Stay away from fisheye lenses altogether, and look into buying or renting a high-end wide-angle lens that doesn’t have the same line distortion as a cheaper kit lens. If you can’t pick up a lens without that distortion, correct those lines using an editing program, like Photoshop’s perspective crop tool or perspective warp tool.

Don’t forget to put the toilet seat down

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Little details go a long way, Stevenson says. Make sure that the toilet seats are down and that beds are made. Refill empty toilet paper rolls and hang fresh towels in the bathroom. Clear up any clutter and give the room a once-over before photographing. Watch out for reflective surfaces to make sure you’re not in the photographs either.

Don’t forget to shoot photos in all seasons

A home in Denver may be excellent for ski trips in the winter and hiking trips in the summer. Photographing the property’s exterior in multiple seasons helps show that. While that may not be possible if you want to list right away, updating the post later – showing the home nestled in fresh snow, or against a backdrop of brightly colored autumn leaves – is always a good idea, particularly for properties that are available for rental during more than one season out of the year.

Getting great property photos is key to improving a listing on Airbnb, Home Away, and other property rental platforms. “Compared to a home of a similar location and size, photography makes all the difference in the world,” Stevenson said.

Airbnb reportedly launching a premium tier to compete with hotels

Airbnb is getting ready to launch a new premium service meant to attract higher-paying travelers, according to Bloomberg. This tier will try to lure new customers who have yet to try the platform because they prefer the amenities that come with upscale hotels.

This is the first time upscale properties will be segmented into their own category, and Bloomberg’s sources say the included listings will be officially inspected by Airbnb to make sure the homes meet designated standards and will offer incentives for participants — like a consultation with an Airbnb-provided interior decorator. Requirements for the program include new and matching bedding, single-use toiletries, available bottled water, tea, and coffee, and other amenities generally found at hotels. It is unofficially being referred to as “Select,” but a formal name has not been chosen.

Select could help Airbnb gain customers who believe home-sharing is inferior to booking a hotel room. The company is pursuing “older and wealthier travelers” with the new effort, Bloomberg claims. The news comes on the heels of Airbnb streamlining their check-in process and confirming it is testing split payments.

The pilot for Select is expected to launch this week, and the full rollout could come by end of 2017.

HEBI is trying to make building custom robots as easy as playing with LEGO

The X-Series Actuator doesn’t look like much. Actually, if I’m being honest, it kind of looks like a red metal scotch tape dispenser with ribbed sides and a couple of ethernet ports. The product is scattered all over HEBI’s one-room Pittsburgh office in various states of disarray. The palm-sized metal component is the startup’s primary product — its entire reason for existing, really. The actuator’s unassuming profile hides a lot of impressive technology that has helped make the three-year-old company a rising star in the city’s bustling robotics startup community.

Its capabilities come into clearer focus as you look around the room at a number of wildly diverse robots that use the little red actuator as a sort of connective tissue — a sort of robotic knee or elbow joint. There’s a grasping arm, a milling machine and a few other half-concocted builds that look like robotic rejects from the Island of Misfit Toys.

Co-founder Dave Rollinson introduces us to Igor, a strange and skinny robot that balances on two wheels like a Segway. On top of its square frame are a pair of long arms that arc down in an L-shape, each with a circular paddle for hands. With very light controls, the robot can clasp and pick up objects. It’s not the most graceful robot we’ve seen on our three-day trip to the City of Bridges, but it’s a perfect example of how the company’s product can be used to quickly piece together a complex robotic prototype. It’s kind of like an Erector Set for grownups with computer science degrees.

“A lot people think that it’s just motors and gears,” says Rollinson. “But there’s a lot more required to do it. There are a lot of sensors and a lot of embedded control to make the joint go where you want it to. The key thing that we build into all of our parts is the ability to control force.”

The company, like most of Pittsburgh’s thriving robotics community, began life at nearby Carnegie Mellon. The actuator has its origins in CMU’s snake robot, a modular mechanical serpent that’s proven to be one of the school’s most enduring projects. In fact, we first looked at the ‘bot back in 2008, when it was still in its earliest stages.

Since then, it’s proven a diverse and robust project — though, even with the university’s aggressive approach to spinning off startups, it hasn’t been easy to monetize. The nascent company flirted with the idea of positioning it as a search and rescue robot, touting its ability to squeeze into pipes and other tight spaces. Ultimately, however, it was the snake’s parts that gave rise to HEBI.

“We were making these snakes that were made up of a bunch of different modules that were chained up together,” says Rollinson, who, along with the rest of the founding team was a member of the school’s Biorobotics lab. “We realized what we had was the building blocks of a custom system. We decided to make a company dedicated to making building these custom robots as easy as playing with LEGO.”

The modules are assembled and tested by HEBI’s eight-person staff. Demand is still manageable, but the company’s LEGO-like approach to robot building has made it a hit in Pittsburgh’s tight-knit robotics community. The sophisticated underlying technologies could eventually wind up in industrial robots, which would benefit from their ability to control force, making it safer for them to interact with factory workers. In the meantime, however, the X-Series is primarily finding success as a prototyping tool.

For now, the company’s model is still pretty limited. The company’s limited online distribution model is primarily aimed at startups, universities and research facilities. As cool as it would be to build your own robot at home, you’re not going to be able to go and pick up the actuator at a Best Buy like a Arduino board any time soon. The company’s still limited by size and the product is probably cost prohibitive for your run of the mill maker. If you’re looking to mock up a prototype of a robot for future product, HEBI’s offering may be right up your alley.

“If someone is trying to make a robot to walk old people through a nursing home or something, they may build prototype systems and get things up and running real quickly,” says Rollinson. “We’re creating the tools that people will build on top of. So if there is an application that really slots on top of our focus and vision, we will pursue an actual system, but right now we’re focused on giving the right set of tools to help other people level up.”

Asus’ new Vivobook S has slim bezels, a 7th-generation processor, and only costs $700

Asus launched a new VivoBook S, the S510, today that features a seventh-generation Intel Core i7 processor, runs Windows 10, and is designed to look nearly identical to the MacBook Air. The laptop weighs only 3.3 pounds and has 7.8mm-thick bezel.

Here are the specs:

  • 15.6-inch Full HD, 1920 x 1280 display
  • Either Intel Core i7-7500U or i7-7200U processor (depending on model)
  • 8GB of RAM
  • Ports: USB-C, USB Type-A, USB 2.0, HDMI, headphone jack
  • Up to 1TB of storage (depending on model)
  • Windows 10 Home
  • Included SD card reader

It starts at $699 and goes up to $799 for a better processor and more storage. It’s available through Asus’ online store, ABT, B&H, Computer Upgrade King, and Newegg.

Asus debuted its VivoBook S line at Computex this year. We had some hands-on time with one model and found that the screen didn’t look great, but for the price, it seemed okay. More than anything else, the weight and price will probably be what gets people interested, so maybe a less-than-stellar display is fine.