All posts in “Laptop”

Razer’s Blade Pro THX Edition is an epic mobile production powerhouse with noisy fans

W

hen Razer bought THX off of George Lucas’ hands, no one knew what they’d use their new multimedia technology arm for — until they announced the improvements to their most powerful laptop: the Blade Pro. The result is the Blade Pro THX, a new laptop with a color corrected 4K G-Sync display and Dolby 7.1 audio port.

With these improvements, Razer has created a certified production machine. In fact, Razer is so confident the Blade Pro THX can be a production-level rig that they’re bundling FL Studio — the music production suite used in nearly every genre of music, but especially hip-hop.

But is this 17-inch, $4,000 machine — you read that right — what production professionals and gamers looking for in an all-in-one package? Also, is cooling the Blade THX a problem?

Is THX color/sound correction all it’s cracked up to be?

Yes, it is.

Back in June, I began testing Windows gaming machines like the AERO15 that feature color correction as a feature. Why is this important? It means what you see on-screen is accurate and is as “true to color” as possible. If you’re a designer, editor, photographer or just about anyone who cares about the visual representation (and reproduction) of your work, then this matters.

If you’re a Mac user, this has never really been a problem, as Apple tunes their color profiles on top of having great displays.

Recently, Windows 10 manufacturers are starting to really care about reaching that 100 percent Adobe RGB color gamut. The Blade Pro THX covers virtually all colors recognized by Adobe applications — including just keeping an accurate color profile — as a feature. Also, having a THX color profile thanks to their acquisition of the company also gives it an edge when editing or watching video, or just playing games.

When you look across the spectrum of Windows machines, there’s inconsistency in correct color profiles. For example, a tablet computer like the just-reviewed HP Spectre x2 — one of its main features is to serve as an artistic tool — only has a 72 percent color gamut rating; Microsoft’s Surface Pro scores 75 percent. Meanwhile, an older Razer laptop like the 12.5-inch Blade Stealth has maintained a 100 percent rating for the past two hardware generations. But the AERO15 I mentioned earlier? It scored 60 percent. There just isn’t much consistency across brands.

I can’t dismiss the fact that Windows manufacturers are making an effort, but I can say it’s about time.

As for audio, the improvements over the regular Blade 17″ (and most other large laptops) aren’t as dramatic. The Blade THX will definitely fill a room and give you some bass kick, but if you’re trying to become the next Metro Boomin’, then you’ll need to look elsewhere for your audio fidelity needs.

Actually, outputting audio elsewhere is where the THX certification shines. Razer hasn’t only tuned the onboard speakers and drivers, but the 3.5mm audio jack as well. It supports Dolby 7.1 and both input/output via the same port. It’s quite a nice touch.

Here’s what you get for ports: Ethernet, an SDXC slot, three USB 3.0, one HDMI 2.0, Kensington lock, 3.5mm audio jack and a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C).

Gaming on the Blade THX (or listening to jet turbines)

There’s no need to question Razer’s gaming pedigree; the last two generations of Blade machines have always had high-end specs.

Basically, whatever you throw at it, the Blade Pro THX will run at full settings, at 4K resolution. And if by some chance you’re not hitting at least 60 frames-per-second, you can always downscale the in-game screen resolution to compensate. The crispness, use of G-Sync to eliminate screen tearing, and color accuracy definitely helps in fooling your eyes, even if just for a minute.

If it’s somehow not powerful enough for your work, then you’re obviously in need of a real desktop.

To start the show, the Blade Pro THX sports one of the most powerful mobile processors: a quad-core, 7th-generation Core i7 at 2.9GHz (base clock), 3.9GHz (boost clock) and tops out at 4.3GHz (overclock). If it’s somehow not powerful enough for your work, then you’re obviously in need of a real desktop.

For visuals, you get an NVIDIA GTX 1080 graphics card with 8GB GDDR5 memory (again, insane for a laptop), a whopping 32GB RAM and finally, a 512GB solid state drive for storage (with one and two terabyte options).

In the end, the whole package weighs 7.69 pounds and is 0.88-inch thin; by no means a mobile warrior, but it can be carried around.

Of course, there’s a catch (or two). To keep cool and intact, Razer has different fan profiles you can set, but the sound reaches 60 decibels when measured with a phone app.

This laptop has such loud and bombastic fans that I could even hear them over the gameplay on my headphones, set to 50 percent volume. People sitting in my vicinity thought an air conditioner had turned on; this is not a laptop that is kind to shared work spaces.

Furthermore, despite the copper thermal heatsink and jet turbines for fans, the palm rest gets uncomfortably hot. It’s a shame really and is something I’m trying to better understand by talking to Razer engineers.

People sitting in my vicinity thought an air conditioner had turned on; this is not a laptop that is kind to shared work spaces.

For a company that makes gaming peripherals, I wasn’t disappointed in the feedback or key travel of the mechanical keyboard or the unusually positioned touchpad. You’d never use the latter to play games, but it is usable and eventually, you get used to it.

Of course, the Blade Pro THX has a 99Wh battery. Of course, it’s not like you’d notice; the battery drains within two hours when used in High Performance Mode. Longevity is not what Razer designed it for, but technically you should always use this laptop with the power brick.

Bottom Line

This is the most powerful computer that Razer has ever produced, with the highest starting price. $4,000 for a 4K laptop seems uncanny to most, but it’s well worth it when you know what you’re getting. This is a true creative’s desktop in a laptop, without being as thick as a textbook. I give high marks to Razer for accomplishing that feat alone.

Right now, this is the most well-rounded, high-end desktop replacement laptop — at least until NVIDIA’s Max Q is in more gaming laptops by the end of year.

However, it’s also the Blade with the most faults: it runs hot, loud and competes with top-tier desktop pricing. If this is too much for you, most of the Blade THX’s best traits trickle down into their smaller models, which hopefully will also receive THX certification in the future.

Right now, this is the most well-rounded, high-end desktop replacement laptop — at least until NVIDIA’s Max Q is in more gaming laptops by the end of year.

Price as Reviewed: $3,999 at Razer USA

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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Microsoft polishes the Surface Pro to near perfection

I run my finger along the edge and feel a gentle curve. It’s the only way I can tell I’m running the new Surface Pro and not my stalwart Surface Pro 4, the tablet/laptop hybrid I know and love.

Microsoft’s update to the popular and admittedly excellent Surface Pro 4 is called, simply, the Surface Pro. There is no Pro 5. There may never be one, but the Surface Pro is in no way divergent from the path set forth by the Surface Pro 3 and 4 before it.

It’s so similar that I rely primarily on touch to tell the difference. There’s the slight curve along the previously flat, magnesium shell’s outer edge, the slightly narrowed ventilation channel and there’s the place where my palms rest, on the new Alcantera Type Cover Surface. It feels warm and comfortable, like the surface of a thin sweater, and offers just the tinniest bit of cushion without any added friction as my hands slide over it.

In addition to the USB and Mini DisplayPort connectors, you'll notice a little curve on the edge of the Surface Pro. Subtlety, thy name is Microsoft.

In addition to the USB and Mini DisplayPort connectors, you’ll notice a little curve on the edge of the Surface Pro. Subtlety, thy name is Microsoft.

Image: lili sams/mashable

This new Alcantera covering feels quite nice under your palms.

This new Alcantera covering feels quite nice under your palms.

Image: lili sams/mashable

Finally, there are they Type Cover keys themselves. They look the same as the previous keys, but the typing action is noticeably improved. It is a pleasure to type on them.

My point is, the Surface Pro is not a redesign. It’s a polish, and a pretty good one, at that.

Signature change

If you’re unfamiliar with Microsoft’s Surface Pro I reviewed, you need to understand that it’s a product in parts. There’s the 12.3-inch, 2,736 x 1,824 pixel, 1.73-pound tablet. Inside is the latest Intel Core i7 (seventh-generation Core i or “Kaby Lake”) processor with integrated graphics, an accelerometer, gyroscope, 8-megapixel camera on the back and a 5MP camera on the front. That is the actual Surface Pro.

The Type Cover has an updated keyboard and trackpad. They are a pleasure to use and use and use.

The Type Cover has an updated keyboard and trackpad. They are a pleasure to use and use and use.

Image: lili sams/mashable

It attaches with a satisfying magnetic snap to the Type Cover, an ultra-thin full-sized keyboard and screen cover that also includes an expansive touchpad and backlit keys. Technically you don’t have to buy the keyboard — it’s a $129.99 option sold separately from the $799 base system — but I wouldn’t recommend it. To have the full Surface Pro experience and to gain the benefit of ultra-light portable with laptop power, Windows 10 productivity and all-day battery life, you want the keyboard. I’ve never used my Surface Pro without it and I have no plans of using this Surface Pro without the Type Cover.

The third component — also not included — is the Surface Pen. Microsoft originally built the Surface as a Windows 8 touch device. The multi-touch soul remains, but, over the years, it’s been augmented by Bluetooth pen and digital ink input.

This is one of the reasons people love the Surface Pro: You get a full PC in this thin and light package.

This is one of the reasons people love the Surface Pro: You get a full PC in this thin and light package.

Image: lili sams/mashable

Recent Windows 10 updates have put Ink, Microsoft’s digital writing and drawing platform, at the center. For the new Surface Pro, Microsoft updated the Pen to recognize tilt (the angle at which it touches the screen) and to address up to 4,096 levels of pressure (it was previously 1,024). It also added pen-specific hardware to the tablet screen to communicate directly with the Surface Pen, cutting latency down to 20 milliseconds (which happens to be the same as the Apple Pencil on the iPad Pro 10.5).

Microsoft really wants you to use these three pieces of Surface hardware together, even if they do sell them all separately. Going forward, every comment I make about the Surface Pro will be in the context of a bundle that still doesn’t exist (yet).

Component Choices

The Surface Pro starts at $799 with an Intel Core m3 processor and Intel HD 615 integrated graphics. It maintains a fanless design up through the Core i5 model, surprisingly. Sadly, I got the more powerful Core i7 (with Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640), so I did not get to experience a truly fanless design. Even with a fan, which is so quiet I didn’t hear it, the i7 and the back of the Surface Pro can get a little hot.

System startup is fast and the Surface Pro also includes Windows Hello so you can log in with your face. This biometric authentication uses both an infrared sensor and the front-facing camera to identify your face. It works instantly and I think it should be standard on all computers.

Geekbench CPU results for the Surface Pro

Geekbench CPU results for the Surface Pro

Image: geekbench

Benchmarks on my system were impressive. The Surface Pro has always been a full-blown Windows 10 PC that can handle everything from Microsoft Word to Edge or Chrome web browsers, and Adobe Photoshop. Except for the high-end game Forza 6, it never stuttered or stalled. I’m not disappointed about the game. Without discrete graphics, there are always going to be limits to the kinds of games the Surface Pro can handle. If you must have that kind of graphics power, you probably want a Microsoft Surface Book with a discrete Nvidia GPU.

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The 64-bit system also starts with 4GB and a 128GB SSD, though mine was packed with 16GB and a 1TB hard drive. It’s also the rare Windows PC with expandable storage via a micro SD card slot, which is hidden under the kickstand.

Other ports include a 3.5mm headphone jack, Mini DisplayPort, the proprietary data and power Surface Connect port and one USB 3.0 port. I know some will be disappointed that the Surface Pro didn’t start Microsoft down the USB-C port path. I’m not one of those people. I have tons of peripherals and storage drives that require a full-size USB port. I need it and, so far, have just a few USB-C devices. But if USB-C is totally your thing, Microsoft will be selling an adapter for the Surface Pro this Fall.

There is one other significant hardware update. The iconic kickstand, the one that makes it possible for me to balance the Surface Pro on my lap in virtually any situation, is now even more versatile. It smoothly bends almost fully back into what’s called Studio Mode. This folds the kickstand almost completely onto the back of the Surface Pro tablet, raising the screen up just enough that it becomes a near-perfect drawing surface. It’s also strong enough that I could lean on it while I was drawing. 

Pen and drawing

The work Microsoft put into its update Surface Pen and the Pixel Sense display pays off in an excellent digital writing and drawing experience. In Windows Native Sketchpad the digital ink appeared to flow directly out of the pen. No matter how fast I drew, the ink stayed with the tip. At least to the naked eye — capturing the act in ultra-slow-motion 240fps video showed the ink racing to catch up.

I could tilt the pen at extreme angles and see a shading effect onscreen and pressure sensitivity was more precise than ever. Microsoft said the pen only needs 12 milligrams of pressure to start drawing. I don’t have the tools to measure pressure on screen, but the new sensitivity did let me draw some very faint lines.

The pen responsiveness carried through the Sketchable App from Silicon Blenders, but my experience wasn’t as good with ArtRage 5 from Digital Art Software. That app didn’t appear to be tuned for the new silicon. The digital ink visibly lagged behind the physical pen tip.

Microsoft’s Surface Pen also works outside drawing apps for signatures, note-taking and marking up Word Documents. I love that I can simply start writing in a Word doc without selecting a drawing menu option.

Inside this Surface Pen are changes that enable more pressure sensitivity and tilt sensing.

Inside this Surface Pen are changes that enable more pressure sensitivity and tilt sensing.

Image: lili sams/mashable

One of the reasons the Surface Pen feels so good on the screen in the soft tip.

One of the reasons the Surface Pen feels so good on the screen in the soft tip.

Image: lili sams/mashable

Both cameras are unchanged from the Surface Pro 4. There’s an 8-megapixel camera on the back and a 5MP camera on the front, each are capable of 1080p video, as well. It is a little surprising that Microsoft hasn’t even added 4K support to the rear-facing camera.

Most of my time with the Surface Pro is spent getting things done, but it is a solid content consumption and entertainment device. There are tons of fun and useful apps in the Windows Store including Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Groove Music, movies to buy and rent and a wide-selection of games.  

Everything looks great on the tablet’s HD screen and now its backed by a speaker that is a noticeably louder (20% louder, according to Microsoft).

The 8MP camera on the back of the Surface Pro is unchanged from the previous model. It's good, but unremarkable.

The 8MP camera on the back of the Surface Pro is unchanged from the previous model. It’s good, but unremarkable.

Image: lili sams/mashable

Battery life is supposed to be 13.5 hours (for video), but I think that may be a rating for the less intense Intel Core m3 or Core i5 CPU. Using the Core i7 with real-world tasks, I found battery life was more like 7-10 hours. As always, your mileage will likely vary depending on your activity.

Did Microsoft deliver an exciting new Surface product? No. The Surface Pro is an incremental update to an already excellent productivity device. Every change is a welcome one and some are more exciting than others. The Pen is more powerful and useful than ever. The kickstand is a mechanical wonder that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. The Type Cover is a model for ultra-thin input devices, and the Surface Pro PixelSense is a perfect blend of high-resolution, clarity and responsiveness.

The Surface Pro is, ultimately, the Surface ideal fully realized: It’s the best tablet/ultraportable hybrid on the market and I will use it every day. If I have one nit, and it’s a big one, it’s that Microsoft is still not selling a bundle. I don’t expect to get the tablet, pen and keyboard for $799, but a bundle of the three that costs $888 wouldn’t be unreasonable.

Microsoft Surface Pro

The Good

Lightweight Full PC power Excellent design Great pen

The Bad

Battery life in real world not as good as promised Microsoft needs to sell a bundle

The Bottom Line

This is utterly familiar Microsoft Surface Pro is still the best of its genre.

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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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Samsung’s new Notebook 9 Pro laptops will entice creative professionals

Samsung has a new duo of Windows laptops at the top of its lineup: The 13.3-inch and the 15-inch Samsung Notebook 9 Pro, which both feature the 360-degree rotating screen and Samsung’s S Pen. That should make them pretty alluring to professionals, especially those of the creative variety. 

Other than that, these are a pretty straightforward update to the Samsung Notebook 9, which came out a year ago (see our review here). Just like the Notebook 9, Notebook 9 Pro laptops offer full HD screen resolution, Intel’s 7th generation Core i7 processors, 256GB of flash storage, and 8/16GB of storage. Both devices come with Microsoft’s Windows 10 Home operating system. 

The 15-inch Notebook 9 Pro has a Radeon 540 graphics card, compared to the Nvidia GeForce 940MX chip on the Notebook 9. The 13.3-inch variant still has an integrated Intel graphics chip. 

It’s worth noting that the bigger of these laptops may confuse some users, as Samsung already has a laptop called the Notebook 9 pro (note the lowercase “pro” — that one’s more of a business workhorse with a stronger set of specs and a bulkier design). The new 15-inch Notebook 9 Pro appears to have more in common with the 15-inch Notebook 9 than with its namesake.

Users will be relieved to see that the new devices still have a nice assortment of various ports (in contrast to the new MacBook Pros, which only have USB-C connectors): two USB 3.0 ports, one USB-C port, a HDMI connector, and a MicroSD card reader. 

Samsung will show off the new laptops at its Computex booth. There’s no word on pricing or availability at this time. 

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