All posts in “Computer”

This bamboo keyboard combo adds a touch of tranquility to your workspace

Image: smart tech

Looking to add a touch of tranquility to your workspace? Your boss might not support the purchase of a full-sized bamboo water fountain for the office, but she ought to be OK with this natural bamboo keyboard-and-mouse combo. 

The duo, from Smart Tech, are handcrafted from natural bamboo — a soothing earth-tone alternative to the glaring white or matte black of most computer gear.

Panda not included

Panda not included

Image: smart tech

This one works with just about any Windows operating system, and works wirelessly from up to ten meters. All you need to do is plug the USB nano-receiver into your device and get some AAA batteries (which are not included).

A desk-sized Zen rock garden is not required… but it couldn’t hurt!

The mouse and keyboard set are usually $59.99 but are currently on sale for just $45.99—a discount of 30 percent. Buy now, and they’ll throw in a free Smart Tech touch pen.

Buy them here.

Microsoft’s hardware boss explains the strangest thing about the Surface Pro

Panos Panay, Microsoft’s Windows device lead, is not just the face of the Surface brand. He’s essentially its father, too.

Panay, who joined Microsoft 13 years ago to work on the Device Group (which was mainly keyboards and mice at the time) was part of the initial team tasked with building a Surface Tablet for Windows 8.

The Surface brand predates Microsoft’s first tablet. It already existed as a giant tabletop touchscreen, meant primarily as a kind of interactive kiosk for retail businesses, restaurants, and hotels. It was the opposite of a mobile device.

During this week’s MashTalk podcast, Panay recounted how he and his team spent years in, essentially, a bunker-like existence, unable to tell even their families what they were working on.

The real relief came not so much during the surprise 2012 unveiling in California, and afterward Panay and his team were able to go home to their families and finally reveal what they’d been working on for two years.

Many Surfaces

Panay has also overseen the transformation of the Surface product line: It began as a tablet that lived somewhere between Windows and Android (remember Windows RT?) and has become the sharp point at the tip of an aggressive hardware strategy — to make Surface one of the premier consumer-technology brands in the world.

That’s been done through a steady refinement of the product and a broadening of the Surface ideal into all-in-ones, performance convertibles and now traditional laptops. On Thursday, Microsoft’s latest Surface devices, the Surface Pro and the Surface Laptop, launch to the public. 

The Surface has also been supported by the opening and expansion of Microsoft Stores, where Surface products own the prime real estate.

Panay told Mashable that those stores serve an important purpose. 

Surface devices feature prominently in Microsoft Stores.

Surface devices feature prominently in Microsoft Stores.

Image: Jhila Farzaneh/Mashable

“They’re critical,” he said. Panay explained that in a world that values stories and storytellers, having stores with smart sales people who care about the product makes the story of the Surface “more functional, emotional, relatable. You can talk to someone who really cares about the product, understands what it’s there for.”

Now, with five different Surfaces to choose from (including the gigantic Surface Hub digital “whiteboard”), this kind of in-person guidance, and the ability to touch and try the products, can make all the difference.

“So that point where you walk in and, ‘Hey, which one do you want, which laptop? The versatile one, the performant, or the personal one?’ and they can sit there and tell you a story for each one.”

“In the element of our brand-building across Microsoft, it’s where you will see all the hardware and software come together and somebody able to put it together for you,” said Panay.

The high end

In those stores, though, Surface customers may notice that most of Microsoft’s tablet and touch computers are more expensive that third-party Windows 10 counterparts. For this, Panay is unapologetic. He acknowledges that, much as Apple has done, Microsoft is building a premium brand.

“It is about pride and craftsmanship. It is about premium fit and finish,” said Panay.

The new Microsoft Surface Pro has an improved hinge capable of "studio" mode, which puts the screen almost flat.

The new Microsoft Surface Pro has an improved hinge capable of “studio” mode, which puts the screen almost flat.

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

Essentially, Surface products are now intended to reflect the apex of what’s possible with Windows 10 products and to sell millions of those products direct to customers.

“We’re not here to make tradeoffs to hold costs down,” he added.

There are, though, issues to deal with on the pricing and packaging front. Right now, a Surface Pro sells for $799 without the Type Cover ($129.99) and the Surface Pen ($59.99).  Buy them all and you pay full price. For consumers, there are no bundle pricing options.

Panay attributes the lack of bundle options to the need to maintain as much choice (color options, basically) as possible across the keyboard and pen lines.

However, Microsoft rarely refers to the Surface Pro as a tablet. “We believe you need a keyboard with this product, believe you should use a pen with this product,” he told us.

When we suggest that there could be a $100 discount for buying all three, Panay called it “good feedback.”

The newest Surface

We also talked about recent criticism of the new Surface Laptop, which ships with Windows 10 S, a restricted version of Windows that will only run apps from the Windows Store (that’s right, no Google Chrome). Microsoft says this is to protect users (primarily students) from malware and to ensure the maximum possible battery life (Microsoft claims up to 14.5 hours for video playback).

The new Microsoft Surface Laptop, in burgundy.

The new Microsoft Surface Laptop, in burgundy.

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

As for those who want a more unfettered experience, they can upgrade, at no cost until the end of the year (and for $50 afterward), the Surface Laptop to Windows 10 Pro, but can never go back to 10 S.

Panay is not concerned about the reception to this restriction.

“It’s a little different than anything we’ve talked about in the past, where it’s like, ‘Here it is, and we know it’s good for you, so, enjoy’ and then it’s not. In this case, if you don’t think it is, you just switch out and you move to Pro.”

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Sweet Jesus, the new 21.5-inch iMac has a removable processor and memory

We knew that Apple’s new iMacs would be disassembled and examined in every possible way shortly after launch. What we didn’t expect, however, was for the smaller model to be modular — to a degree, at least. 

After iFixit’s experts tore down the new 21.5-inch, 4K Retina model to bits, they discovered that both the device’s processor and memory aren’t soldered to the logic board, and can be replaced, though doing so won’t be easy. 

This is notable as the 21.5-inch iMac had RAM modules and the CPU soldered to the logic board in the last couple of years, making it next-to-impossible for a non-professional to replace them. 

“[The CPU] isn’t the most accessible thing in the world—it’s flipped onto the backside of the logic board, trapped behind a lot of other components, and buried under a glued-down pane of glass—but for the first time in years it’s possible to replace or upgrade the CPU without a reflow station, and that’s a big win,” iFixit said

Removable RAM! If you can get to it, that is.

Removable RAM! If you can get to it, that is.

Image: iFixit

This means that a capable enthusiast can, in theory, buy the cheapest new 21.5-inch iMac and upgrade it to be a far more powerful machine. This could save hundreds of dollars compared to buying a model with a more powerful CPU and more memory from Apple. 

Prying the iMac open will void your warranty, though. As we said, this is only for enthusiasts who know what they’re doing. 

This is also interesting in light of Apple’s upcoming iMac Pro. Apple said that that device’s CPU and RAM would not be user replaceable, but there’s a big difference between hard to replace — as is the case with this 21.5-inch iMac — and impossible to replace. Truth be told, though, the 27-inch iMac has had a removable RAM and CPU for quite some time now, so we’d expect the Pro variant to follow suit. 

In any case, the 21.5-inch iMac with a removable RAM and CPU is far more upgradeable than the 2015 model, which scored the lowest possible repairability score on iFixit: 1/10. The new model is not easy to repair or upgrade by any means, but it’s doable, and thus it earned a score of 3/10. 

Check out iFixit full teardown here

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First look: Apple’s new 27-inch iMac is finally a formidable system

A 27-inch iMac is one overwhelming piece of digital machinery. Sit close enough to it and there’s only screen, and the iconic aluminum chin and polished chrome Apple logo below.

It’s always been a good system, the kind that your co-workers lust after, even if they didn’t know that under the hood were relatively mid-level components. The iMac is easily Apple’s most popular desktop and, even though it lacks the performance of a Mac Pro, it’s been the choice of many professionals for years. Of course, if you use a non-pro-system for pro-level tasks, you may be frustrated. Apple heard the complaints and decided to give these hard workers what they always wanted: more powerful components in the same stunning profile.

The new iMac 27-inch Retina 5K at rest.

The new iMac 27-inch Retina 5K at rest.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Ports-a-plenty.

Ports-a-plenty.

Image: Lance ulanoff/mashable

This is not, though, Apple’s ultimate solution to the iMac vs. pro-use problem. That comes later this year in the form of the iMac Pro. That space-gray system will offer up to 18 cores of performance, insane graphics and, at $4,999, it’s probably not going to be the iMac for everyone.

This is not Apple’s ultimate solution to the iMac vs. pro-use problem.

Thankfully, Apple did not forget the middle-to-high ground. It’s upped the components on the entire iMac line to Intel’s more powerful and efficient 7th-generation Core i CPUs (AKA Kaby Lake) and now offers powerful discrete graphics.

I’m using one of these new systems right now, a 27-inch 5K Retina iMac running a 3.4GHz Intel Core i5 chip, 8GB of DDR4 RAM, a 1TB Fusion hard drive, and AMD’s Radeon Pro 570 GPU with 4GB of VRAM. It lists for a more reasonable $1,799.

It also now has two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C posts, along with four USB 3.0 ports, and a Gigabit Ethernet port. The iMac is not yet loaded with the upcoming version of macOS, High Sierra, which, with its Metal 2 graphics engine, might take better advantage of the new CPU, but it’s still a fast and powerful system.

It’s also easy to set up. The all-in-one 27-inch iMac is a solid 20 pounds, but once I unboxed it and put it on a desk, I only needed a fingertip to adjust the giant screen on its L-shaped aluminum base. There’s a single power cord and a large power button on the back that I can reach without craning my head around the display, and both the rechargeable mouse and keyboard auto-connect via Bluetooth. After that, I followed the brief setup routine, signed into my iCloud account (which includes using iCloud to store documents and everything that’s on my desktop) and the system was ready to go.

The new Magic Keyboard (sold separately) is on top. The smaller, original version (below) ships with the iMac.

The new Magic Keyboard (sold separately) is on top. The smaller, original version (below) ships with the iMac.

Image: lance Ulanoff/mashable

Apple also provided me with a brand-new Magic Keyboard ($129, not included), which looks a lot like the keyboard that ships with the iMac, except that it adds direction and function keys as well as a full numeric keypad. Physically, it’s the most distinctly different thing about my setup.

I like the Magic Keyboard. The keys have good travel and response, and I don’t even mind that the tilt — which brings the rear keys a little closer to my fingers — is not as extreme on this keyboard.

To get these extra keys...

To get these extra keys…

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

You have to give up  something. The Magic Keyboard (top) has a smaller Shift key.

You have to give up  something. The Magic Keyboard (top) has a smaller Shift key.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

What I don’t like, though, is that the left Shift key has shrunk, which meant I sometimes missed it and hit the relocated single quote instead. On the right, the return key has a little cutout to accommodate the back slash. Essentially, Apple added so much to this keyboard that, to keep it from getting too wide, they apparently squished a couple of keys. It’s not a big deal, but will take some getting used to.

Screen dream and performance

I was already a big fan of Apple’s 5,120 x 2,880 5K Retina display, but with the added brightness (500 nits) and richer colors, images move a giant step closer to reality. Not only do photos look amazing, but the clarity of every app screen and icon is as sharp as can be. Apple says the display can show a billion colors. It’s not exactly something I can verify, but based on the image quality the count is definitely up there.

This 4K image uses almost all of the 5K Retina screen's resolution. It has a window-like quality.

This 4K image uses almost all of the 5K Retina screen’s resolution. It has a window-like quality.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Since virtually all the changes on the latest iMac are at a component level, I decided to run a few benchmarks.

I started with GeekBench 4. The single-core numbers and multi-core numbers were among the highest I’ve seen for an Intel Core i5 running on an iMac, but not by a wide margin. The system’s read and write speeds on the AJA test suite blew away those on my 2.4GHz Core i5-running Microsoft Surface Pro 4. 

I also ran Cinebench’s 3D graphics test where I got a pleasing 87.54 frames per second (fps) on the OpenGL test. 

The 27-inch iMac runs a Intel Kabey Lake Core i5 running at 3.4 GHz, which delivers these strong benchmark numbers.

The 27-inch iMac runs a Intel Kabey Lake Core i5 running at 3.4 GHz, which delivers these strong benchmark numbers.

Image: Geekbench

Finally, I ran a little file-copy test where I created a 1GB file, made 16 copies, and then duplicated the entire folder. That folder duplication took almost 8 minutes. I’d call that impressive.

These  data read/write  numbers were also excellent.

These  data read/write  numbers were also excellent.

Image: Aja

In general, though, benchmarks are like Little League participation trophies. They don’t really mean anything. What matters is day-to-day performance on critical tasks in demanding apps like Photoshop, AutoCAD, and Strata 3D. Based on the numbers I saw and even my minute-to-minute experiences with the 27-inch iMac, I’d say it will handle all those jobs with ease.

I did a bunch of other, more mundane tasks on the system, like Safari browsing, email, photo manipulation, and uploading. There were no issues and everything worked as it did before. I’m honestly eager to try macOS High Sierra on this big rig.

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Am I a little sad that Apple didn’t change a single bit of the iMac chassis design? Yes, but when I try to think of what they should change, I’m stumped. It’s already one of the most elegant all-in-ones on the market. I could ask for a touchscreen, especially because I love Microsoft’s equally giant Surface Studio, but Apple has already made it crystal-clear to me that that is never happening.

I hesitate to make an overall assessment of Apple’s latest iMac in just 24 hours. To really know a desktop computer, you have to live a while with it. I would say, though, this machine is worthy of a trial cohabitation.

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Here’s your first look at Apple’s minor, but useful, MacBook update

When everyone is demanding excitement and change, it takes discipline to not mess with a good thing. That’s why I applaud Apple‘s decision not to unduly alter the 12-inch, ultra-thin (0.14-inch thick), 2-pound MacBook.

The latest update to the laptop has the specs I want in an ultraportable Mac, with almost day-long battery life. Any major design change would run the risk of altering that balance, and the aesthetic.

That even goes for the single USB-C power/data port which, in a year of use, has not caused me any significant issues. When I use a MacBook, I do sometimes need a dongle (or two), but most of the time it fits my cordless, wireless lifestyle. (I am surprised that the 3.5mm audio jack has survived yet another iteration on the MacBook. The iPhone must be like, “But how?”)

So much the same. Can you tell which MacBook is the new one?

So much the same. Can you tell which MacBook is the new one?

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

As Apple announced at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on Monday, it didn’t leave the MacBook completely alone. The laptop, like virtually every other system Apple produces, got a component update. All the MacBooks now run Intel’s 7th-gen Kaby Lake CPUs.

The MacBook now also reaches higher. The base model, which I tested, is still running a Core m3 processor and has just 8GB of RAM. It also costs $1,299. Now, though, you can configure the tiny MacBook all the way up to 16GB of RAM and a zippy Core i7 CPU running with a turbo boost up to 3.6 GHz. I am very curious to see how that tiny aluminum chassis handles all that power.

The new MacBook, with the slightly upgraded keyboard, is on the left (or is it right?).

The new MacBook, with the slightly upgraded keyboard, is on the left (or is it right?).

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

However, my system, which packs a 3GHz Core m3, is no slouch. I’m betting battery life will be a bit better on my system than on the Core i7 model.

Aside from faster and more battery-efficient components, Apple made one important external change. It took the second-generation butterfly keyboard from the new MacBook Pro and put it into the MacBook.

Visually, you can barely tell the difference. Running my hands over the large chiclet keys, I noticed how little they rose above the chassis surface. The typing experience is, however, noticeably better than on the original MacBook. The softness of the original keystrokes is replaced by a much firmer response. It makes typing on it more satisfying and sure.

The back of the MacBook offers zero clues into the component upgrades you'll find inside.

The back of the MacBook offers zero clues into the component upgrades you’ll find inside.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

In addition, the Force Touch trackpad offers a sharper response than the original. It’s not a lot, but enough to be noticeable and, for a device that relies on a tiny motor to create the sensation of movement, this is important.

I never had a complaint with the performance of my MacBook, which runs a 6th-generation Core m5. However, according to the my GeekBench results, the new m3-based base model now easily beats 6th-gen Core m5 scores. 

How this impacts real-world performance, I’m not sure yet. I will need to spend more time with the MacBook running more apps. 

But the benchmark numbers tell the story.

But the benchmark numbers tell the story.

Image: Geekbench

Aside from components and the keyboard, everything else about the MacBook, including its sharp retina screen (2,304 x 1,440), is the same. Content and apps look good and sound good on the MacBook. 

As for battery life, I’ll need more time with that, too. 

My conclusion? The latest MacBook is a worthy update to an excellent ultraportable laptop, and now it has far more versatility — if you’re willing to pay almost $500 more (for both the CPU and memory upgrade). None of that will get you discrete graphics and, if you need that, you don’t want the MacBook. You’ll want to invest in the MacBook Pro.

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