Category: Electronic Product Reviews

Razer modernizes its 2019 13-inch Blade Stealth for both work and play – CNET

It’s still got game.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Razer’s late-year update to its 13-inch Blade Stealth ultraportable laptop makes it a little smaller, a little lighter and a little more powerful. 

Smaller monitor bezels and a bigger touchpad bring the Stealth up to date in both look and feel, and allow Razer to shrink the laptop’s footprint. The keyboard now uses rubber dome switches, and no longer offers per-key RGB lighting, only a single zone. Razer steps up the stealthiness by toning down the glowing green three-headed snake logo, instead sticking with an unobtrusive basic black that won’t stand out in meetings. 

Now playing: Watch this: Razer Blade Stealth sneaks in an end-of-year update

1:47

The new Blade Stealth comes in three configurations, starting at $1,399 (£1,300), all of which use a quad-core Intel i7-8565U processor. The base model has 8GB RAM, a 256GB SSD, a 1,920×1,080-pixel full HD display and integrated graphics. 

The middle model adds a discrete Nvidia MX150 GPU and ups to 16GB RAM, while the top configuration incorporates a 4K touchscreen and increases storage to 512GB.

A more subtle snake.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Both displays are factory calibrated to 100 percent sRGB, and the Blade Stealth uses the higher power version of the MX150 with 4GB VRAM. An updated version of Razer’s Synapse software works with Nvidia’s Optimus technology to provide control over performance, and in turn, fan noise. 

Razer claims 13 hours of battery life, a little better than before thanks to lower-power display panels.

It does preserve its portitude relative to other ultraportables, with two USB-A ports and two USB-C connections, one of which supports Thunderbolt. You’ll still need to dongle it for HDMI and Ethernet, which dulls the luster a tiny bit for business use.

HP Spectre Folio review: Get your hands on this luxury leather laptop – CNET

The problem with laptops in general is that even the high-end premium ones all tend to look and feel the same after a while. It’s clear when a laptop is trying to be a MacBook Pro or an XPS 13. In a world of copycat laptops, almost all of which seem to want to be just like something else, the new leather-covered HP Spectre Folio at the very least offers a different approach to design. 

No, it’s not Corinthian leather, but it’s still pretty nice. And I’d be the first to admit I’m having fun using it, despite a few design and usability frustrations. 

The leather cover is not just bolted on top of a standard laptop body. Instead, a magnesium frame is paired with a leather outer shell that covers just about everything except for the keyboard and screen. HP says that cuts down on weight and thickness, although this still feels hefty for a 13-inch laptop, at 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg).

View full gallery

Sarah Tew/CNET

We rarely see them now, but this isn’t the first leather-shelled laptop I’ve tested. About 10 years ago, it was briefly in vogue, like this Asus U6S I reviewed back in 2008. But this example makes the leather more a part of the overall design, rather than just gluing it onto the back of a standard laptop body.

It’s called the Folio because, when closed, it looks like a leather folio. So much so, that when I took it for a test drive to the new coffee shop on the corner, I just tucked it under my arm and went, no bag.

View full gallery

Sarah Tew/CNET Flipping the script

That part of the design is certainly clever, but other parts feel a bit too clever. The hybrid hinge, which folds the 13-inch screen into different modes, is complicated, with the entire screen flipping out from the middle of the rear panel.

The screen can swoop down in front of the keyboard, creating a kind of kiosk. That’s great for video playback, but it only hits one angle, and it may not a particularly useful one unless you’re slightly above the laptop, looking down.

Acer Spin 3 (2018) review: Acer’s 2-in-1 has a great screen but not much else – CNET

In 2018, a thousand bucks will get you an excellent laptop. Cut that budget in half and you’ll need to make some compromises. And yet there are plenty of very solid options in the $500 range (roughly £380 or AU$700) — including several from Acer — that deliver a better overall value than the unexceptional Spin 3.  

Sarah Tew/CNET

Like every model in Acer’s series of Spin laptops, our $500 test unit has a 360-degree hinge that lets you tuck the keyboard behind the display, making the transformation from laptop to tablet. The Spin family comes in a wide (and confusing) array of size options and configurations that includes Chromebooks, Windows machines and even entry-level gaming models. Earlier this year, we reviewed the higher-end, all-metal 13.3-inch Acer Spin 5, which starts at $700 and found it to be a good value.

The less expensive Acer Spin 3 also looks good — but feels cheap. From a distance, it appears to be made of the same textured, brushed aluminum as the Spin 5, but a closer inspection reveals a plastic design. It’s just under 1 inch thick and weighs about 3.8 pounds — about average for a 14-inch laptop in this price range. The keyboard isn’t great — I found myself making more typos than usual — and the touchpad felt particularly flimsy, responding consistently only when I clicked the lower-right corner.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Acer Spin 3’s 14-inch HD display is a highlight. It’s not the brightest screen, but the 1,900×1,080 resolution is crisp and the 16:9 aspect ratio is well-suited to watching videos and reading in portrait mode. And after working primarily on Macs for so many years, I am always impressed by the versatility of convertibles; it’s a joy to poke at the touchscreen in laptop and tablet mode. 

Apple MacBook Air (2018) review: The new MacBook Air trades ports for pixels – CNET

Apple’s MacBook Air has gotten a much-needed reboot, keeping the name, but changing just about everything else, both outside and in. And while it’s still called the MacBook Air, this new version might as well be called the “MacBook Pro Lite,” because that’s essentially what it is.

For most of its 10-plus year life, the classic MacBook Air was the default laptop for pretty much everyone, from college students to creative types to startup entrepreneurs. For many years, I called it the single most universally useful laptop you could buy.

But over the years, the competition moved to higher-res displays, thin screen bezels, bigger touchpads, regular component upgrades, and thinner and lighter bodies.

View full gallery

Sarah Tew/CNET

While this reimagined MacBook Air fixes almost all of the previous design’s issues, it adds a couple of its own. It’s a much better fit with the rest of the current Mac design sensibility: larger than the 12-inch MacBook, smaller than the 13-inch Pro, and much different from the classic Air, which Apple is still selling, at least for now.

That means the long-standing design, with its thick screen bezels, smallish touchpad, deep keys and multiple ports is gone. If anything, the new Air looks and feels like a half-step between the 12-inch MacBook and the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Its price has jumped up to join the rest of the MacBooks as well. For most of its life, the Air was $999. Not cheap, but a reasonably achievable luxury, especially for a rock-solid laptop that could last years.

View full gallery

Sarah Tew/CNET

The new starting price is $1,199 (£1,199, AU$1,849), which is a tough blow for generations raised on the idea of getting that first MacBook for under a grand. Right now, it’s only $100 less than the 12-inch MacBook or 13-inch basic MacBook Pro, so there’s some price-versus-features math to do.

My cheat sheet for that is as follows. Compared to the new MacBook Air:

The MacBook Pro is more expensive, more powerful and less portable.
The 12-inch MacBook is more expensive, less powerful and more portable.

With each laptop excelling in a different area, and only $100 separating their base models, there won’t be one correct answer for everyone. That said, this new Air is the safe middle ground between the two extremes.

Editors’ note: We are currently benchmark testing the MacBook Air, including battery life tests. Some initial performance results are below, and we’ll update this review with more benchmarks and a final rating when testing is complete. 

Body double

Picking one up, it immediately feels lighter and smaller than the current Air, which I’m intimately familiar with. At 2.7 pounds (1.25 kilograms) and about 15 millimeters thick, it’s actually fairly average when it comes to 13-inch laptops. Some similar systems get down under 10mm, but at the expense of battery, features and processing power. As it is, the new MacBook Air is firmly in the mainstream of slim laptops, but not leading the pack.

One bit of catch-up is in

iPad Pro (2018) review: Big beautiful tablet? Yes. Flexible computer? TBD – CNET

Traveling with an iPad Pro isn’t new to me. I’ve used the previous iPad Pro as my main commuter computer and, before that, other iPads. They’re great for quick reading, communicating, writing on a keyboard, and… for me, that’s about it.

Keep in mind, I’m on a New Jersey Transit train for at least 45 minutes each way. (With recent construction hold-ups, it’s closer to an hour and a half.) On my ride, I’m trying to get work done. To date, there have been limits to the iPad’s productivity and multitasking workflow that made it a difficult device, for me, to replace my laptop. But I muddled through on my commute, choosing its portability over a laptop.

Now I’m commuting with the 2018 12.9-inch iPad Pro. I’m writing this review on it. It’s got a great keyboard case, though it could use a trackpad. It’s got a big, laptop-like screen. It’s more portable than the last version. But it doesn’t solve the final few things I need to make it a true laptop. Does that matter? Is it close enough? And if I’m not sketching or editing photos, is this product even meant for me?

Welcome to the 2018 iPad Pro.

View full gallery

Sarah Tew/CNET

Editors’ note: This is a review in progress, focusing on our impressions of the new iPad Pro after just a few days of use. Ratings will be added after additional battery testing, benchmarking and USB-C accessory testing has been completed.

An artist’s tool that needs more software upgrades

The new iPad Pro definitely bags some huge wins over its predecessor: It’s shockingly fast, has USB-C, a far better Pencil design, easy login with Face ID and there’s more screen real estate crammed into a more compact design. From a pure hardware perspective, it’s a knockout — and drop-dead gorgeous, to boot.

But the iPad Pro just isn’t flexible enough, yet. The browser is not the same as a desktop-level experience, which can make it hard to work with web tools. No trackpad on the optional keyboard and no support for mice makes text editing cumbersome. Furthermore, iOS hasn’t changed enough. It’s way too much like an evolution of the iPhone, instead of a fully evolved computer desktop. And the current crop of available apps don’t yet exploit this awesome new hardware. A true version of Photoshop is on deck from Adobe, for instance, but it won’t be available until 2019. (I got an early peek and it looks great, but it’s not here yet.)

View full gallery

Sarah Tew/CNET

Those drawbacks notwithstanding, this new hardware is going to cost you — a lot. The iPad’s price has gone up, to $799 for the 11-inch version with 64GB compared with $649 last year for the 10.5 inch. The 12.9-inch version costs $999 for 64GB of storage. My top-of-the-line review unit, with a crazy 1TB SSD and cellular, is $1,899. Add in the new and improved Apple Pencil (increased in price from $99 to $129), that new fancy Smart Folio keyboard case ($179

Lenovo Legion Y730 (15-inch) review: Good gaming extras without the budget-busting price – CNET

Lenovo’s 2018 Legion Y530 and Y730 gaming laptops are like mash-ups between its last-gen Legion systems, which had more typical “gamer” styling, and one of the PC maker’s ThinkPad workstation notebooks. 

There are no big stylized fan vents or angular edges with color highlights. They’re just black and gray and even the Legion logo on the lid is reasonably discreet. The most striking thing about the design is that the display hinge on both is shifted forward, which allows for better cooling with rear and side air vents. It also gave Lenovo space to move power and a majority of its ports to the back, so you don’t have a tangle of cords coming from the sides. 

However, while the Y530 and Y730 look alike at first glance, there are some meaningful differences. The Y530 is mostly plastic and has white lights for the keyboard backlight. The higher-end Y730 has an all-aluminum chassis and is fitted with RGB lighting for the keyboard, fan vents, side ports and lid emblem. The lighting is all programmable, too, right down to individual key colors with included software from gaming hardware and peripheral company Corsair. The Y730 also adds an extra row of keys on the left side of the keyboard for custom macros. 

View full gallery

Sarah Tew/CNET

While the Y730 also has slightly better memory and storage options as well as a better display than the Y530 we reviewed, the system processor and graphics options are the same: An eighth-gen Intel Core i7-8750H or i5-8300H and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 or GTX 1050 Ti. 

Pricing for the Legion Y730 starts at $907.49 and £1,200 in the UK. It currently isn’t available in Australia, but the Y530 is and it’s available with a GTX 1060 card starting at AU$1,511.10. As reviewed here, the price is $1,549, but after discounts it’s $1,162.49. It’s also currently listed as sold out on Lenovo’s site. You’ll have to keep checking with Lenovo for this configuration, go with this $1,100 configuration (it just has less storage than my review system) or pick one up from a retailer like Best Buy.   

If having good gaming performance now and well into the future is crucial, you’ll want to get a laptop with at least a GTX 1060 graphics card. That’s not offered on the Y730, but is on the Y530. If you don’t mind dialing back your video settings to save some money however, the Legion Y730 is an excellent choice for the money.   

Lenovo Legion Y730-15ICH Geekbox Lenovo Legion Y730-15ICH Price as reviewed $1,549 Display size/resolution 15.6-inch 1,920 x 1,080 display CPU 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H Memory 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz Graphics 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti Storage 2TB HDD + 256GB SSD Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.1 Operating system Window 10 Home (64-bit) The keyboard is key

The aluminum body

The new Apple MacBook Air: Hands-on – CNET

Sarah Tew/CNET

It’s called the MacBook Air, but it’s an Air in name only. This new version of the popular laptop might as well be called the MacBook Pro Lite, because that’s essentially what it is.

The long-standing tapered Air design, with its thick screen bezels, smallish touchpad, deep keys and multiple types of ports is gone, replaced by the familiar design cues of the post-2016 MacBook ($1,279 at Amazon Marketplace) and MacBook Pro. If anything, the new Air looks and feels like a half-step between the 12-inch MacBook and the 13-inch MacBook Pro, rather than an evolution of the classic Air. 

The new MacBook Air comes in space gray, silver and gold. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

In person, as seen during a hands-on demo session following Apple’s Oct. 30 event, it was hard to distinguish this new Air from Apple’s other laptops at first glance. (One Apple rep misidentified a nearby new Air as a Pro to us.) Picking up the new Air, it immediately felt lighter and smaller than the current Air, which — having had the same basic design since 2010 — many of us are intimately familiar with.

You get more screen and less body, thanks to a display that cuts the thick bezel border by half and adds edge-to-edge glass over it. Now the Air display looks much like the one on the MacBook Pro, with the same True Tone color shifting and wider color range.

At 2.7 pounds (1.25 kg) and about 15mm thick, its size and weight is actually very middle-of-the-road when it comes to 13-inch laptops. The slimmest systems get down under 10mm, but at the expense of battery, features and processing power. If you want super thin and light, step up to that aforementioned 12-inch MacBook for just $100 more — but know you’ll be losing considerable features and power.

Now playing: Watch this: MacBook Air 2018 now has a Retina display

5:09

While size and weight aren’t particularly unusual versus other laptops in this price class, the new MacBook Air does feel substantially more solidly constructed than most of the competition. Like the current Pro and 12-inch MacBook, the new Air still feels as tough as a tank, with its one-piece aluminum construction (now 100-percent recycled aluminum, according to Apple). That’s one of the reasons MacBooks, both Air and Pro, have been able to command premium prices for so long — because you’re making an investment in a product that will hopefully last for several years, which has often been the case for the traditional MacBook Air.

It’s all about the keyboard

As the only MacBook with a traditional island-style keyboard, the MacBook Air was the one refuge for those who disliked the super-flat butterfly mechanism keyboards in newer MacBooks. Now the new Air is firmly in the same camp as the other models. 

Some may lament the loss of the

Apple's newest iPad Pros hands-on: The iPad X we expected – CNET

Sarah Tew/CNET

I couldn’t tell if I was looking at the 12.9-inch iPad Pro or the 11-inch one. That’s a testament to how Apple has shrunken down the Pro lineup, and seems to have delivered on a more portable high-octane iPad this year. But can it get any closer to replacing my laptop?

The new iPad Pros announced at Apple’s October event in New York are pretty big changes, if you’re looking to maximize display in a metal frame. Both new versions fit larger displays in smaller, thinner bodies. Face ID has been added nearly invisibly, built into the thinner bezel via a depth-sensing TrueDepth camera, just like the iPhone X has. But there’s no notch, which makes it seem a lot more subtle.

That also means no home button. It’s more like a big, magic window now. But with a display and a beefed-up A12X processor inside that are promising this much, it seems like it’s time for the iPad to unleash even more inputs and accessories. Apple has delivered on some, and not on others.

Now playing: Watch this: Apple’s iPad Pro gets a giant makeover

3:40

Lighter, more screen and Face ID hides away

I held both new iPad Pro sizes for a little while in Apple’s demo room, and they’re sometimes hard to tell apart. The 12.9-inch version is lighter, and finally feels one-handable, provided you’re OK with keeping a sheet of metal and glass in one hand. I had an urge to coddle these tablets more than ever. The bit of bezel around the edge of both helps give a hand-grip zone, but I really wanted these iPads in protective cases.

It seems like the 12.9-inch version is the most impressive change this time around. The new 12.9-inch version has a smaller footprint than last year’s model, while the 11-inch Pro fits a larger display into a size very similar to last year’s 10.5-inch Pro.

The iPad Pro’s displays now have slightly curved corners like the iPhone X and Apple Watch, but it has an LCD screen Apple has called “Liquid Retina” that should be similar or better to the iPhone XR display. Display resolutions this time around are 2,388×1,668 for the 11-inch, and 2,732×2,048 for the 12.9-inch, both 264 ppi (the entry-level iPad has a 9.7-inch 2,048×1,536 display, by comparison, with the same pixel density).

For me, smaller is better. The difference between iPads feels a lot subtler, though, similar to the bump-up between the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. The 12.9-inch version costs an extra $200 per storage configuration. For a full comparison of specs and what’s new, read our breakdown.

USB-C, with a few caveats

USB-C replaces Lightning on the new iPad Pro, which sounds exciting, but doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it does. The new Pros will support USB accessories and export video to monitors, but last year’s Pros could do that too, with dongles. More