All posts in “Microsoft”

Laptops and tablets on sale: Save on Microsoft Surface, Apple iPad, MacBook Air, Asus laptops, and more

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Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and you know what that means: Black Friday is almost here. But before those sweet discounts hit the internet, there are actually plenty of deals this week on laptops or tablets courtesy of Walmart, Amazon, Best Buy, and the Dell Store.

If you need a versatile tablet, the Microsoft Surface Go is $789.99 right now. The Go is like Microsoft’s answer to the iPad Pro, offering similar features, like an external keyboard. But if you’re an Apple diehard, the iPad Pro 10.5-inch 512GB is on sale for $847.95 right now, too.

For anyone who needs a laptop, Asus has an option for most of your needs. The Asus 15.6-inch Vivobook Max Laptop is $269 and is perfect for a simple, affordable laptop to bring to class. But if you need a little extra out of it for the professional space, the ASUS VivoBook Pro 15 is $1299. Even gamers can get in on the deals with the ASUS ROG Zephyrus GX501 for $1799.

There’s plenty more to choose from including Lenovo, HP, Dell, and more. Check out some of this week’s best deals below:

Tablets on sale

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Laptops below $499

Image: Dell

Laptops $500 to $999

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Gaming laptops and more on sale

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Review: The iPad Pro and the power of the Pen(cil)

Laptop users have been focused for a very long time on whether the iPad Pro is going to be forced upon them as a replacement device.

Depending on who you believe, Apple included, it has at one point been considered that, or a pure tablet with functions to be decided completely by the app development community, or something all its own.

But with the iPad Pro, the Smart Keyboard and the new version of Apple’s Pencil, some things are finally starting to become clear.

The new hardware, coupled with the ability and willingness of companies like Adobe to finally ship completely full-featured versions of Photoshop that handle enormous files and all of the tools and brushes of the desktop version, are opening a new door on what could be possible with iPad Pro — if Apple are ready to embrace it.

Pencil

Does the double tap gesture feel natural? Yep. I’ve been using electronic drawing surfaces since the first generation Wacom that had a serial port connector. Many of them over the years have had some sort of ‘action button’ that allowed you to toggle or click to change drawing modes, invoke erasers or pallets and generally save you from having to move away from your drawing surface as much as possible.

That’s the stated and obvious goal of the Apple Pencil’s new double-tap as well. Many of the internal components are very similar to the first generation Pencil, but one of the new ones is a capacitive band that covers the bottom third of the pencil from the tip upwards. This band is what enables the double tap and it is nicely sensitive. It feels organic and smooth to invoke it, and you can adjust the cadence of tap in the Pencil’s control panel.

The panel also allows you to swap from eraser to palate as your alternate, and to turn off the ‘tap to notes’ feature which lets you tap the pencil to you screen to instantly launch the Notes app. When you do this it’s isolated to the current note only, just like photos. One day I’d love to see alternate functions for Pencil tap-to-wake but it makes sense that this is the one they’d start with.

I never once double tapped it accidentally and it felt great to swap to an eraser without lifting out of work mode — the default behavior.

But Apple has also given developers a lot of latitude to offer different behaviors for that double tap. Procreate, one of my favorite drawing apps, offers a bunch of options including radial menus that reflect the current tool or mode and switching between one tool and another directly. Apple’s guidelines instruct developers to be cautions in implementing double tap — but they also encourage them to think about what logical implementations of the tool look like for users.

The new Pencil does not offer any upgrades in tracking accuracy, speed or detection. It works off of essentially the same tracking system as was available to the first Pencil on previous iPad Pros. But, unfortunately, the Pencil models are not cross compatible. The new Pencil will not work on old iPad Pros and the old pencil does not work on the new model. This is due to the pairing and charging process being completely different.

Unlike the first one, though, the new Pencil both pairs and charges wirelessly — a huge improvement. There is no little cap to lose, you don’t have to plug it into the base of the iPad like a rectal thermometer to charge and the pairing happens simultaneously as you charge.

The ‘top’ (for lack of a better term) edge of the iPad Pro in horizontal mode now features a small opaque window. Behind that window are the charging coils for the Pencil. Inside the Pencil itself is a complimentary coil, flanked by two arrays of ferrite magnets. These mate with magnetic Halbach arrays inside the chassis of the iPad. Through the use of shaped magnetic fields, Apple pulls a bit of alignment trickery here, forcing the pencil to snap precisely to the point where the charging coils are aligned perfectly. This enables you to slap the pencil on top quickly, not even thinking about alignment.

The magnetic connection is tough — almost, but not quite, enough to hold the larger iPad Pro in the air by the pencil — and it should hold on well, but it’s fairly easy to knock off if you come at it from the side, as you would when pulling it off from the front.

There’s also a pleasant on screen indicator now that shows charge level.

When the Pencil launched, I brought it to my Dad, a fine artist who sketches more than anyone I know as a part of his creative process. He liked the tracking and the access to digital tools, but specifically called out the glossy finish as being inferior to matte and the fact that there was no flat edge to rest against your finger.

The new Pencil has both a matte finish and a new flat edge. Yes, the edge is there to stop the pencil from rolling and also to allow it to snap to the edge of the iPad for charging, but the ability to register one edge of your drawing instrument against the inside of your control finger is highly under-valued by anyone who isn’t an artist. It’s hugely important in control for sketching. Plenty of pencils are indeed round, but a lot of those are meant to be held in an overhand grip – like a pointing device that you use to shade, for the most part. The standard tripod grip is much better suited to having at least one flat edge.

Your range of motion is limited in tripod but it can provide for more precision, where the overhand grip is more capable and versatile, it’s also harder to use precisely. The new Pencil is now better to use in both of these widely used grips, which should make artists happy.

These fiddly notions of grip may seem minor, but I (and my drawing callous) can tell you that it is much more than it seems. Grip is everything in sketching.

The Pencil is one of the most impressive version 2 devices that Apple has released ever. It scratches off every major issue that users had with the V1. A very impressive bit of execution here that really enhances the iPad Pro’s usability, both for drawing and quick notes and sketches. The only downside is that you have to buy it separately.

Drawing and sketching with the new Pencil is lovely, and remains a completely stand-out experience that blows away even dedicated devices like the Wacom Cintiq and remains a far cut above the stylus experience in the Surface Pro devices.

Beyond that there are some interesting things already happening with the Pencil’s double tap. In Procreate, for instance, you can choose a different double tap action for many different tools and needs. It’s malleable, depending on the situation. It’s linked to the context of what you’re working on, or it’s not, depending on your (and the developer’s) choices.

One minute you’re popping a radial menu that lets you manipulate whole layers, another you’re drawing and swapping to an eraser, and it still feels pretty easy to follow because it’s grounded in the kind of tool that you’re using at the moment.

Especially in vertical mode, it’s easy to see why touch with fingers is not great for laptops or hybrids. The Pencil provides a much needed precision and delicacy of touch that feels a heck of a lot different than pawing at the screen with your snausages trying to tap a small button. Reach, too, can be a problem here and the Pencil solves a lot of the problems in hitting targets that are 10” away from the keyboard or more.

The Pencil is really moving upwards in the hierarchy from a drawing accessory to a really mandatory pointing and manipulation tool for iPad users. It’s not quiiiite there yet, but there’s big potential, as the super flexible options in Procreate display.

There’s an enormous amount of high level execution going on with Pencil, and by extension, iPad. Both the Pencil and the AirPods fly directly in the face of arguments that Apple can’t deliver magical experiences to users built on the backs of its will and ability to own and take responsibility of more of its hardware and software stack than any other manufacturer.

Speakers and microphones

There are now 5 microphones, though the iPad Pro still only records in stereo. They record in pairs, with the mics being dynamically used to noise cancel as needed.

Th speakers are solid, producing some pretty great stereo sound for such a thin device. The speakers are also used more intelligently now, with all 4 active for FaceTime calls, something that wasn’t possible previously without the 5-mic array due to feedback.

Let’s talk about ports, baby/Let’s talk about USB-C

I’m not exactly an enormous fan of USB-C as a format, but it does have some nice structural advantages over earlier USB formats and, yes, even over Lightning. It’s not the ideal, but it’s not bad. So it’s a pleasant surprise to see Apple conceding that people wanting to use an external monitor at high res, charge iPhones and transfer photos at high speed is more important than sticking to Lightning.

The internal and external rhetoric about Lightning has always been that it was compact, useful and perfect for iOS devices. That rhetoric now has an iPad Pro sized hole in it and I’m fine with that. A pro platform that isn’t easily extensible isn’t really a pro platform.

It’s not a coincidence that Apple’s laptops and its iPad Pro devices all now run on USB-C. This trickle down may continue, but for now it stems directly from what Apple believes people will want from these devices. An external monitor was at the top of the list in all of Apple’s messaging on stage and in my discussions afterwards. They believe that there is a certain segment of Pro users that will benefit greatly from running an extended (not just mirrored) display up to 5K resolution.

In addition, there are a bunch of musical instruments and artist’s peripherals that will connect directly now. There’s even a chance (but not an official one) that the port could provide some externally powered accessories with enough juice to function.

The port now serves a full 7.5W to devices plugged in to charge, and you can plug in microphones and other accessories via the USB-C port, though there is no guarantee any of them will get enough power from the port if they previously required external power.

Pretty much all MacBook dongles will work on the iPad Pro by the way. So whatever combos of stuff you’ve come up with will have additional uses here.

The port is USB 3.1 gen 2 capable, making for transfers up to 10GBPS. Practically, what this means for most people is faster transfer from cameras or SD Card readers for photos. Though the iPad Pro does not support mass storage or external hard drive support directly to the Files app, apps that have their own built in browsing can continue to read directly from hard drives and now the transfer speeds will be faster.

There is a USB-C to headphone adapter, for sale separately. It also works with Macs, if that’s something that excites you. The basic answer I got on no headphone jacks, by the way, is that one won’t even fit in the distance from the edge of the screen to the bezel, and that they needed the room for other components anyway.

The new iPad Pro also ships with a new charger brick. It’s a USB-C power adapter that’s brand new to iPad Pro.

A12X and performance

The 1TB model of larger iPad Pro and, I believe, the 1TB version of the smaller iPad Pro, have 6GB of RAM. I believe, according to what I’ve been able to discern, that the models that come with less than 1TB of storage have less than that – around 4GB total. I don’t know how that will affect their performance, because I was not supplied with those models.

The overall performance of the A12X on this iPad Pro though, is top notch. Running many apps at once in split-screen spaces or in slideover mode is no problem, and transitions between apps are incredibly smooth. Drawing and sketching in enormous files in ProCreate was super easy, and I encountered zero chugging across AR applications (buttery smooth), common iPad apps and heavy creative tools. This is going to be very satisfying for people that edit large photos in Lightroom or big video files in iMovie.

The GeekBench benchmarks for this iPad are, predictably, insane. Check out these single-core/multi-core results:

iPad Pro 12.9” 5027 / 18361

MacBook Pro 13” 2018 5137 / 17607

MacBook Pro 15” 2018 6-core  5344 / 22561

iMac 27” 2017 5675 / 19325

As you can see, the era of waiting for desktop class ARM processors to come to the iPad Pro is over. They’re here, and they’re integrated tightly with other Apple designed silicon across the system to achieve Apple’s ends.

There has basically been two prevailing camps on the ARM switch. One side is sure Apple will start slowly, launching one model of MacBook (maybe the literal MacBook) on ARM and dribbling it out to other models. I was solidly in that camp for a long time. After working on the iPad Pro and seeing the performance, both burst and sustained, across many pro applications, I’ve developed doubts.

The results here, and the performance of the iPad Pro really crystalize the fact that Apple can and will ship ARM processors across its whole line as soon as it feels like it wants to.

There are too many times where we have ended up waiting on new Apple hardware due to some vagary of Intel’s supply chain or silicon focus. Apple is sick of it, I’ve heard grumbling for years about this from inside the company, but they’re stuck with Intel as a partner until they make the leap.

At this point, it’s a matter of time, and time is short.

Camera and Face ID

The camera in the iPad Pro is a completely new thing. It uses a new sensor and a new 5 element lens. This new camera had to be built from the ground up because the iPad Pro is too thin to have used the camera from the iPhone XR or XS or even the previous iPads.

This new camera is just fine image quality wise. It offers Smart HDR, which requires support both from the speedy sensor and the Neural Engine in the A12X. It’s interesting that Apple’s camera team decided to do the extra work to provide a decent camera experience, rather than just making the sensor smaller or falling back to an older design that would work with the thickness, or lack thereof.

Interestingly, this new camera system does not deliver portrait mode from the rear camera, like the iPhone XR. It only gives you portrait from the True Depth camera on front.

iPad photography has always gotten a bad rap. It’s been relegated to jokes about dads holding up tablets at soccer games and theme parks. But the fact remains that the iPad Pro’s screen is probably the best viewfinder ever made.

I do hope that some day it gets real feature-for-feature parity with the iPhone, so I have an excuse to go full dad.

Of similar note, both hardware and software updates have been made to the True Depth array on the front of the iPad Pro in order to make it work in the thinner casing. Those changes, along with additional work in neural net training and tweaking, also support Face ID working in all “four” orientations of the iPad Pro. No matter what way is up, it will unlock, and it does so speedily — just as fast as the iPhone XS generation Face ID system, no question.

I also believe that it works at slightly wider angles now, though it may be my imagination. By nature, you’re often further away from the screen on the iPad Pro than you are on your phone, but still, I feel like I can be much more ‘off axis’ to the camera and it still unlocks. This is good news on iPad because you can be in just about any working posture and you’re fine.

Keyboard

Like the Pencil, the Smart Keyboard Folio is an optional accessory. And, like the Pencil, I don’t think you’re really getting the full utility of the iPad Pro without it. There have been times where I’ve written more than 11,000 words at a stretch on iPad for very focused projects, and its ability to be a distraction free word production machine are actually wildly under sung, I feel. There are not many electronic devices better for just crashing out words without much else to get in the way than iPad with a good text editor.

Editing, however, has always been more of a mixed bag. I’m not sure we’re quite there yet with the latest iPad Pro, but it’s a far better scenario for mixed-activity sessions. With the help of the Pencil and the physical keyboard, it is becoming a very livable situation for someone whose work demands rapid context switching and a variety of different activities that require call-and-response feedback.

The keyboard itself is fine. It feels nearly identical to the previous keyboard Apple offered for iPads, and isn’t ideal in terms of key press and pushback, but makes for an ok option that you can get used to.

The design of the folio is something else. It’s very cool, super stable and shows off Apple’s willingness to get good stupid with clever implementation.

A collection of 120 magnets inside the case are arranged in the same Halbach arrays that hold the pencil on. Basically, sets of magnets arranged to point their force outwards. These arrays allow the case to pop on to the iPad Pro with a minimum of fuss and automatically handle the micr-alignment necessary to make sure the the contacts of the smart connector make a good connection to power and communicate with the keyboard.

The grooves that allow for two different positions of upright use are also magnetized, and couple with magnets inside the body of the iPad Pro.

The general effect here is that the Smart Keyboard is much much more stable than previous generations and, I’m happy to report, is approved for lap use. It’s still not going to be quite as stable as a laptop, but you can absolutely slap this on your knees on a train or plane and get work done. That was pretty much impossible with its floppier predecessor.

One big wish for the folio is that it offered an incline that was more friendly to drawing. I know that’s not the purpose of this device specifically, but I found it working so well with Pencil that there was a big hole left by not having an arrangement that would hold the iPad at around the 15-20 degree mark for better leverage and utility while sketching and drawing. I think the addition of another groove and magnet set somewhere on the lower third of the back of the folio would allow for this. I hope to see it appear in the future, though third parties will doubtlessly offer many such cases soon enough for dedicated artists and illustrators.

Design

Though much has been made about the curved corners of the iPad Pro’s casing and the matching curved corners of its screen, the fact is that the device feels much more aggressive in terms of its shape. The edges all fall straight down, instead of back and away, and they’re mated with tight bullnose corners.

The camera bump on the back does not cause the iPad to wobble if you lay it flat on a counter and draw. There’s a basic tripod effect that makes it just fine to scribble on, for those who were worried about that.

The overall aesthetic is much more businesslike and less ‘friendly’ in that very curvy sort of Apple way. I like it, a lot. The flat edges are pretty clearly done that way to let Apple use more of the interior space without having to cede a few millimeters all the way around the edge to unusable space. In every curved iPad, there’s a bit of space all the way around that is pretty much air. Cutting off the chin and forehead of the iPad Pro did a lot to balance the design out and make it more holdable.

There will likely be, and I think justifiably, some comparisons to the design of Microsoft’s Surface Pro and the new blockier design. But the iPads still manage to come in feeling more polished than most of its tablet rivals with details like the matching corner radii, top of the line aluminum finish and super clever use of magnets to keep the exterior free of hooks or latches to attach accessories like the Smart Keyboard.

If you’re debating between the larger and smaller iPad Pro models I can only give you one side of advice here because I was only able to test the new 12.9” model. It absolutely feels better balanced than the previous larger iPad and certainly is smaller than ever for the screen size. It makes the decision about whether to mov e up in size a much closer one than it ever has been before. Handling the smaller Pro in person at the event last week was nice, but I can’t make a call on how it is to live with. This one feels pretty great though, and certainly portable in a way that the last large iPad Pro never did – that thing was a bit of a whale, and made it hard to justify bringing along. This one is smaller than my 13” MacBook Pro and much thinner.

Screen

The iPhone XR’s pixel masking technique is also at work on the iPad Pro’s screen, giving it rounded corners. The LCD screen has also gained tap-to-wake functionality, which is used to great effect by the Pencil, but can also be used with a finger to bring the screen to life. Promotion, Apple’s 120hz refresh technology, is aces here, and works well with the faster processor to keep the touch experience as close to 1:1 as possible.

The color rendition and sharpness of this LCD are beyond great, and its black levels only show poorly against an OLED because of the laws of physics. It also exhibits the issue I first noticed in the iPhone XR, where it darkens ever so slightly at the edges due to the localized dimming effect of the pixel gating Apple is using to get an edge-to-edge LCD. Otherwise this is one of the better LCD screens ever made in my opinion, and now it has less bezel and fun rounded corners — plus no notch. What’s not to like?

Conclusion

In my opinion, if you want an iPad to do light work as a pure touch device, get yourself a regular iPad. The iPad Pro is an excellent tablet, but really shines when it’s paired with a Pencil and/or keyboard. Having the ability to bash out a long passage of text or scribble on the screen is a really nice addition to the iPad’s capabilities.

But the power and utility of the iPad Pro comes into highest relief when you pair it with a Pencil.

There has been endless debate about the role of tablets with keyboards in the pantheon of computing devices. Are they laptop replacements? Are they tablets with dreams of grandiosity? Will anyone ever stop using the phrase 2-in-1 to refer to these things?

And the iPad hasn’t exactly done a lot to dispel the confusion. During different periods of its life cycle it has taken on many of these roles, both through the features it has shipped with and through the messaging of Apple’s marketing arm and well-rehearsed on-stage presentations.

One basic summary of the arena is that Microsoft has been working at making laptops into tablets, Apple has been working on making tablets into laptops and everyone else has been doing weird ass shit.

Microsoft still hasn’t been able (come at me) to ever get it through their heads that they needed to start by cutting the head off of their OS and building tablet first, then walking backwards. I think now Microsoft is probably much more capable than then Microsoft, but that’s probably another whole discussion.

Apple went and cut the head off of OS X at the very beginning, and has been very slowly walking in the other direction ever since. But the fact remains that no Surface Pro has ever offered a tablet experience anywhere near as satisfying as an iPad’s.

Yes, it may offer more flexibility, but it comes at the cost of unity and reliably functionality. Just refrigerator toasters all the way down.

THAT SAID. I still don’t think Apple is doing enough in software to support the speed and versatility that is provided by the hardware in the iPad Pro. While split screening apps and creating ‘spaces’ that remain in place to bounce between has been a nice evolution of the iPad OS, it’s really only a fraction of what is possible.

And I think even more than hardware, Apple’s iPad users are being underestimated here. We’re on 8 years of iPad and 10 years of iPhone. An entire generation of people already uses these devices as their only computers. My wife hasn’t owned a computer outside an iPad and phone for 15 years and she’s not even among the most aggressive adopters of mobile first.

Apple needs to unleash itself from the shackles of a unified iOS. They don’t have to feel exactly the same now, because the user base is not an infantile one. They’ve been weaned on it — now give them solid food.

The Pencil, to me, stands out as the bright spot in all of this. Yes, Apple is starting predictably slow with its options for the double tap gesture. But third party apps like Procreate show that there will be incredible opportunities long term to make the Pencil the mouse for the tablet generation.

I think the stylus was never the right choice for the first near decade of iPad, and it still isn’t mandatory for many of its uses. But the additional power of a context-driven radial menu or right option at the right time means that the Pencil could absolutely be the key to unlocking an interface that somehow blends the specificity of mouse-driven computing with the gestural and fluidity of touch-driven interfaces.

I’m sure there are Surface Pro users out there rolling their eyes while holding their Surface Pens – but, adequate though they are, they are not Pencils. And more importantly, they are not supported by the insane work Apple has done on the iPad to make the Pencil feel more than first party.

And, because of the (sometimes circuitous and languorous) route that Apple took to get here, you can actually still detach the keyboard and set down the Pencil and get an incredible tablet-based experience with the iPad Pro.

If Apple is able to let go a bit and execute better on making sure the software feels as flexible and ‘advanced’ as the hardware, the iPad  Pro has legs. If it isn’t able to do that, then the iPad will remain a dead end. But I have hope. In the shape of an expensive ass pencil.

Tablets and laptops on sale: Save on Microsoft Surface, Apple iPad, HP, Dell, and more

Just to let you know, if you buy something featured here, Mashable might earn an affiliate commission.

Image: Pexels

Black Friday might be a few weeks away, but that isn’t going to stop the deals from rolling in. And if you’re trying to get some early Christmas shopping done, there are plenty of laptops and tablets on sale from Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, and the Dell store.

If you’re looking for a high-quality 2-in-1, you have your pick of Microsoft Surfaces right now. There’s the Microsoft Surface Go for $779.99 if you want a more dedicated tablet. But if you need something more versatile, the Microsoft Surface Book is $1545 that works just as well as a laptop or tablet.

But if you prefer something more traditional, HP has sales on every kind of laptop you could hope for. You can get the HP 15.6-inch HD Laptop PC Computer for $298.99 for simplicity and affordability. But for the gamers, there’s the OMEN HP 15-inch Gaming Laptop for $1799.

Check out this weekend’s best deals below:

Tablets on sale

Image: Apple

Laptops on sale for less than $499

Laptops for $500 to $999

Image: Dell

Laptops for $1,000 and beyond:

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Eaze co-founder Keith McCarty raises $5M for his new B2B cannabis startup

Keith McCarty couldn’t stay out of the booming weed business for long.

The co-founder and former chief executive officer of the well-funded marijuana delivery startup Eaze has launched WAYV, a B2B cannabis logistics and compliance platform that delivers inventory to cannabis retailers. Today, the company is announcing its first round of funding, a $5 million seed round led by David Sacks at Craft Ventures. The round represents the former PayPal executive’s first investment in the cannabis technology sector.

Other investors in the round declined to be named.

McCarty and Sacks previously worked together at Yammer, a private social networking tool used by businesses created by Sacks in 2008. The company sold to Microsoft in 2012 for $1.2 billion, giving McCarty and several others enough cash to experiment. For McCarty, that meant exploring the hazy and uncharted territory that was marijuana delivery.

McCarty, however, mysteriously left Eaze right as the company gained significant traction. Neither the company nor McCarty ever explained the shake-up; McCarty was quickly replaced by another former Yammer employee, Jim Patterson, the founder and former CEO of Zinc. In a conversation with TechCrunch, McCarty didn’t clarify the nature of his exit.

He did say that the idea for WAYV came from observing the difficulties of cannabis supply chain logistics during his time at Eaze .

Headquartered in Los Angeles, WAYV connects licensed cannabis companies to licensed brands and provides next-day delivery of cannabis products — it’s essentially Eaze for the cannabis enterprise not the average cannabis consumer. The startup was founded last year and has so far delivered to retailers in California only.

As a second-time cannabis founder, McCarty said building WAYV has been a lot different than launching Eaze, which was one of the first big-name marijuana tech companies.

“Back in 2014, [Eaze was] one of the first to raise venture capital, it was kind of unheard of,” McCarty told TechCrunch. “Now, the majority of Americans favor legalization. For medical, it’s 90 percent and for adult recreational, it’s more than 60 percent. As we Americans continue to favor legalization and that stigma is removed, not just medical but also adult use, it’s going to draw attention and also investment.”

Venture capital investment in cannabis startups has continued to climb, most notably after the state of California voted to legalize recreational marijuana use in 2016. According to Crunchbase, $700 million has been funneled into the space since 2014.

“The industry is moving at such a fast cadence, it’s really exciting to be a part of,” McCarty added.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 is the best laptop of 2018

Really crisp • bright and responsive touchscreen • Best-in-class keyboard and trackpad • Terrific battery life • Way faster performance compared to old version • Comes in matte black!
Still no USB-C port • Requires proprietary charging connector • Fabric interior can get gross
Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 2 has it all, including a great keyboard, high-res touchscreen, more powerful performance, and battery that’ll last all day.

Mashable Score4.25

Oh, how the tides have turned.

For the last 10 years, I’ve always recommended Apple’s MacBooks to anyone who’s asked me which laptop they should buy. Different operating system preferences aside, Apple’s MacBook Air and MacBook Pros — despite the premium cost — always offered a better experience. 

The laptops were built to last, usually had much longer battery life (especially the Air), and made you one of the cool hipsters at the coffee shop.

Apple’s latest MacBook Pros are still good, but they’re considerably flawed. Notably, the flat keyboards (even with their quieter, third-generation “butterfly switch” keys) and Touch Bar remain the biggest letdowns.

Apple’s fumbling with its MacBooks, however, is an opportunity for manufacturers on the Windows side to step up. But it’s not your usual Dell, HP, or Asus who are making the best laptops that balance design, performance, and usability. Instead, my two favorite laptops of the year are coming from relative newcomers.

Dollar for dollar, Huawei’s MateBook X Pro remains one of my favorite laptops of the year and one of the best values for a clamshell computer if you’re can splurge $1,500 for the version with a 512GB SSD and discrete NVIDIA graphics.

But if that’s punching a bit above your budget, Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 2, which starts at $999, is my pick for best laptop of the year. 

Hardware-wise, it’s the same great laptop (ports and all, for better or worse) as the original Surface Laptop. The biggest upgrade is internal: stepping up to 8th-generation Intel Core processors means up to 85 percent faster performance, according to Microsoft.

If you want a $999 MacBook the only option today is the MacBook Air. You can get by on the Air, but its specs are so outdated I can’t in good faith recommend anyone buy it. Especially not when it’s rumored Apple might be close to announcing a new 13-inch MacBook with updated processors and a sharper Retina display.

Do a quick search online and you can find laptops for the same price, but their specs kinda stink compared to the Surface Laptop 2.

Looking at the whole package, the Laptop 2 comes with an Intel 8th-gen Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. Other $999 laptops usually come with slower processors, less RAM, or less storage — all of which will feel inadequate further down the road of ownership.

I reviewed a $1,299 model with 256GB of SSD storage and matte black finish. Doubling the internal storage costs an extra $200, but it’s worth doing so since you can’t add more later. It’s also the least expensive way to get the matte black version. 

Microsoft sells other configurations with a faster Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD for $1,599; a Core i7 chip, 16GB of RAM, 512GB SSD for $2,199; and a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, 1TB SSD for $2,699 (oddly enough this top-of-the-line model isn’t available in matte black). 

The sweet spot is the model I tested and the one the one with the best bang for buck. 

Performance for the future

The Surface Laptop has a big, bright 13.5-inch touchscreen.

The Surface Laptop has a big, bright 13.5-inch touchscreen.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Besides being a fantastic value, the Laptop 2’s most important change is performance. Microsoft says the Laptop 2 is “up to 85 percent faster” than the previous Surface Laptop. And their claims check out.

To test the Laptop 2’s power, I ran Geekbench 4 to benchmark both the CPU and the GPU performance. 

For the CPU test, the Laptop 2 scored 3,872 on the single-core and 13,120 on multi-core. In comparison, last year’s Laptop with the previous-gen Core i5 model and 8GB of RAM configuration scored 3,615 on single-core and 7,492 on multi-core. That makes the Laptop 7.11 percent faster on single-core operations and 75.12 percent faster on multi-core operations.

It’s no surprise the Laptop 2 is faster since its processor has four cores compared to the Laptop’s dual cores. Apps that take advantage of multiple cores, like Photoshop and Adobe Premiere Pro CC, will benefit the most from the extra processing power. 

In certain light, the matte black Laptop 2 looks kinda silver.

In certain light, the matte black Laptop 2 looks kinda silver.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Graphics performance on the Laptop 2 is also significantly faster compared to the Laptop. Despite having Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics, which is the same integrated graphics as the Intel HD 620 in the Laptop (Intel just rebadged the graphics), my Geekbench 4 GPU test revealed my Laptop 2 was 63.3 percent faster on OpenCL operations (used for tasks like image processing) compared to the Laptop.

The speedier GPU is great, but don’t expect to do any gaming on the Laptop 2. It’s not equipped for such graphics-intensive tasks. Even on lower graphics settings, Fortnite is unplayable. Get a Razer Blade or Acer Predator with a more powerful discrete GPU for that.

Most people typically replace their laptops every 4-5 years. I feel confident the Laptop 2 will hold up until at least year three or four before it starts to choke up as Windows 10 is updated and perhaps your computing needs become more demanding.

Speaking of Windows 10, the Laptop 2 (thankfully) doesn’t ship with the Windows 10 S mode that the original Laptop did. Out of the box, you get Windows 10 Home and not the locked-down 10 S mode, which only lets you install apps from the Windows Store. 

S mode is useful if you’re maybe a parent and want to have more control over what apps your kids use on their computer, but it’s useless you need to use apps like Chrome or Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite. As clean and speedy as Microsoft’s Edge browser is, as a professional, I need Chrome to do my job. So it’s great to see S mode tossed out for Windows 10 Home.

Same great design, but still no USB-C

Value and performance are really the only two things you need to know about the Laptop 2. Everything else is the same.

The Laptop 2’s design is identical to its predecessor. The wedge-shaped aluminum construction is sturdy and doesn’t flex. If you’ve gone into a Microsoft store and seen the original Laptop, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting.

The keyboard is one the comfiest on a laptop. The felt cover is... alright.

The keyboard is one the comfiest on a laptop. The felt cover is… alright.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

The keyboard is the same, with chiclet-style keys that have a good amount of travel. Typing on them is a comfier than the flatter keys on the new MacBooks for sure. And there’s a proper row of function keys above the number keys. 

Complementing the keyboard is the precision trackpad. In my opinion, it’s the best trackpad on any Windows laptop (and I’ve used way too many premium laptops with crappy ones) with a responsiveness second to a MacBook’s. 

Touchscreens are great on laptops and anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

Touchscreens are great on laptops and anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

The 13.5-inch touchscreen is also just as gorgeous as the old version. Microsoft says it has an even better 1,500:1 contrast ratio. Having toured their Surface device labs and seen all the machinery they use to stress-test their devices, I’ll take their word for it. To my eyes, the screen’s just really bright and really sharp and I rarely had to crank it to 100 percent brightness (I left it at 75 percent and it was more than visible indoors).

I’m not even too bothered that Microsoft kept the same ports (USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, headphone jack, and the Surface connector for charging and connecting to docks), though it would have been nice to see at least one USB-C port.

Microsoft’s Chief Product Officer’s Panos Panay’s explanation for the lack of USB-C on the Laptop 2 (and Surface Pro 6) is honest and direct: “It’s not ready.” And he’s not wrong. Even though it’s been years since USB-C launched, the unfortunate reality is that USB-A (that’s the regular full-size USB port if you’re not versed in your USB alphabet) is still more widely available. That applies to accessories and charging ports in places like airports and trains.

No USB-C port... again.

No USB-C port… again.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

That said, it’s somewhat inexcusable to not include USB-C in the Laptop 2. Apple caught flak for ditching every port on its MacBooks for USB-C, but that act of “courage” if you will, has greatly helped accelerate USB-C’s ubiquity. With Microsoft’s Surface device revenue continuing to grow (it grew 14 percent year-over-year in its fiscal quarter for Q1 2019), the company has a responsibility to help speed up USB-C adoption. The sooner we get past the awkward transitional switching from USB-A to USB-C the sooner we can live in the utopian world where one port rules them all. Not including USB-C only delays the inevitable.

The Microsoft Connect port for charging is versatile for charging and connecting the Microsoft Dock.

The Microsoft Connect port for charging is versatile for charging and connecting the Microsoft Dock.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

I want to also complain about the proprietary Surface Connect port, which could have been replaced with USB-C for charging if Microsoft had included it, but I understand why it’s still on the Laptop 2. One, it’s magnetic and awesome just like MagSafe was (RIP) on MacBooks and so if you trip on the cable you won’t risk dragging it along with you. Two, the Connect port is useful if you want to dock it into a Surface Dock (sold separately). And three, the power brick comes with a USB-A port for you to charge up another device like your phone or tablet. I guess the Connect port isn’t so bad then.

Best laptop of the year

Sorry Apple, but Microsoft now makes the best laptop in this class.

Sorry Apple, but Microsoft now makes the best laptop in this class.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

I’ve tested a bunch of laptops this year, running the spectrum of 2-in-1s, Chromebooks, MacBooks, gaming laptops, etc. Everyone’s needs are going to be different, which is why there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all for laptops.

But enthusiasts laptops aside, I strongly feel the Surface Laptop 2 is the best laptop of the year. And by that I mean the best laptop for most folks’ needs. 

The Surface Laptop 2 is beautiful and really well-built, especially the matte black version. But be warned: Like all colored aluminum, the coating will chip or scratch over time and expose the silver aluminum underneath.

It’s nothing to get overly worried about (my unit already has a few light silver scratches), but if you’re thinking of keeping it pristine, you might want to consider applying a skin to it for a little added protection.

It has a keyboard that doesn’t break if you get cheese doodle dust inside of the keys. And of course it’s a great typing experience with keys that have good travel. The trackpad is also excellent. The touchscreen is brilliant corner to corner. It has a USB-A port! 

It’s got a keyboard that doesn’t break if you get cheese doodle dust inside of the keys.

Battery life is also one of the Laptop 2’s strengths. Microsoft claims up to 14.5 hours of battery life for local video playback just like on the first Laptop, but real battery life on a single charge for mixed usage such having lots of Chrome tabs, streaming Spotify and YouTube videos, and writing a couple of documents (like this review) in Google Docs will get you between 5-7 hours, As always, how long the battery lasts also depends on things like your display brightness setting, whether you’re on WiFi or not, and what kinds of apps you’re running.

And it comes with Windows 10 Home and features faster and smoother performance. The cherry on top is the pricing. It’s a better deal than Apple’s $1,299 MacBook Pro and I like it more than and similarly spec’d Dell XPS 13.

The only laptop I think that also checks off all the boxes in a similarly thin and light form factor is Huawei’s MateBook X Pro, but again, as I said earlier, the best option for that is the $1,500 model.

Last year Microsoft offered the Surface Laptop starting at $999 with a measly 4GB of RAM (an option nobody should even consider in 2018), but with Surface Laptop 2, it’s doubled it, making even the entry-level computer a good machine if you can get by with less storage.

It feels like I’m in Bizarro World that Apple no longer makes the best laptop for most people, but Microsoft does. But hey, that’s what happens when you focus on getting all the core laptop features right instead of chasing thinness and lightness.

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