Category: Electronic Product Reviews

Pixel Slate hands-on: The keyboard's my favorite part – CNET

Google makes lots of Chromebooks. The Pixel ($379 at Amazon) Slate is an attempt to make a tablet that’s also a Chromebook, something like Microsoft’s Surface. Google wants you to think about the Pixel Slate in terms of its beautiful display, its full Chrome browser, its more tablet-like Chrome OS.

I just think about its keyboard.

I got to spend some time with the 12-inch tablet at Google’s New York event, where new Pixel 3 phones and the Google Home Hub also debuted. The Slate is clearly designed to go up against the Microsoft Surface and its workplace-meets-tablet design, but the Slate also seems to come within striking distance of the iPad Pro, especially in terms of price.

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Last year’s Pixelbook was an excellent but seriously expensive Chromebook. The Pixel Slate follows that familiar pattern, aiming for premium in a tablet-meets-Chromebook design.

The Pixel Slate starts at $599, but that’s only for the tablet, no keyboard or pen stylus included. The keyboard’s an extra $199; the pen, an extra $99. And, the Slate starts with an Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage (non-upgradable). You can pay more for extra storage and faster processors, all the way up to a crazy $1,599 for a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and 256GB storage.

The browser is its best software feature

The Slate seems to shine most when Chrome is open. The Chrome browser, as with any Chromebook, is like a PC, and extremely versatile. New split-screen options open up multiple panes or apps at once, like the iPad ($345 at Amazon Marketplace) or Surface.

The Slate looks pretty, but it’s big for a tablet; with a 12.3-inch screen, this is more like a laptop. The display does look crisp, but the general UI, which aims for a Pixel Android feel, didn’t move all that smoothly at the event’s demo devices. The interface flow just wasn’t as fluid as I expected. Or, just, not iPad-level buttery-smooth. That’s a bit concerning, especially for this price. At a polished product demo event experience, I’d expect the Pixel Slate to be on its best footing. 

Yes, as mentioned above, the Chrome can now do split screen, showing two panes at once. Sometimes it seems helpful. The new Slate pen is pressure sensitive and feels like the Surface Pen, but it sometimes seemed to make digital ink spots on the display when the pen hadn’t even made contact yet.

Sarah Tew/CNET And the keyboard’s the best hardware feature

The keyboard — a separate $200 purchase — feels great, though. The snap-on accessory has solid circular backlit keys with generous spacing, a large clickable trackpad and a rear magnetic stand that can be angled to almost any necessary tilt. The case can fold up while staying attached and double as a folio case. This is pretty ingenious.

Razer Phone 2: Wireless charging, 'waterproofing,' 120Hz screen for $800 – CNET

Razer Phone 2 wants to make gamers green with envy.

Josh Miller/CNET

Looking down at the glowing black box on the conference table in Razer’s San Francisco offices, and one thing is already clear: The Razer Phone 2 is a better device than the gaming phone the company debuted a year ago. Mostly, because the brick I’m looking at isn’t actually the phone itself, but a wireless charging brick outfitted with a bright ring of colorful LEDs.

It’s an answer to one of the original Razer Phone’s shortcomings, and that’s what the Razer Phone 2 seems to be all about — fixing the first model’s mistakes.

Yes, that means its an iterative evolution of an existing phone — but the Razer Phone 2 had a good starting point. The new model keeps the original’s boxy, black design, loud stereo speakers and astounding 120Hz screen (that’s twice as fast as the 60Hz refresh rate on most phones), but kicks things up a notch with improved camera sensors, support for portrait mode (albeit through software), wireless charging and IP67 water-resistance.

It also dives deeper into Razer’s DNA as a gaming lifestyle brand. The original phone’s matte backing has been shined to a bright, reflective, glossy glass — and the Razer LED now glows. By default, it’s green, but that color can be customized to specific alerts via Razer’s Chroma app. Those color settings will extend to the LED strip lining the bottom of that wireless charger I mentioned, too.

These additions mark a step in the right direction for Razer, a company that’s only released one previous phone.

That said, the idea of a “gaming phone” is still a little nebulous. Razer’s 120Hz screen does have the potential to give you an edge in terms of response time, at least in games that support it, and the phone’s speakers are gloriously loud. Even so, it’s still going to play the same games as any other Android phone — and apart from the Razer Phone smooth framerate offered by the aforementioned display, don’t expect better graphics than you would see on the Google Pixel 2 ($649 at Google Store) or the Galaxy S9.

As for the games playing better? Well, at least Razer has a solution to that: the company has announced a wireless controller designed specifically to go with the Razer Phone. The accessory could help the phone stand out to gamers. Don’t expect a Nintendo Switch ($275 at Amazon) like experience, though, this seems to be a retooled Razer Serval gamepad with a few extra buttons and a phone clip.

In a choked phone space dominated by Samsung and Apple, a Razer-branded gamer phone won’t make a pinprick of difference in gobbling up sales. But it does highlight gadget-makers’ continued interest in winning over ultraniche populations such as gamers. Booming video games sales are expected to reach a value of $138 billion dollars by the end of 2018. If Razer can attract hardcore gamers with its smooth graphics and heat management system, it has a

Razer shaves a bit off the price of a Razer Blade 15 – CNET

The Razer Blade 15 was one of our favorite midsize gaming laptops of 2018, thanks to a slim, sturdy design, multicolored backlit keyboard, slim bezel and powerful CPU/GPU combinations, topping out at an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070. It also cost a lot, starting at $1,899 and going up to $2,899, putting it out of the range of many.

A new version, keeping the name but making some hardware and design tweaks, is now available, and at a lower starting price of $1,599. One pleasant surprise is that the new Razer Blade 15 adds support for dual storage drives, both SSD and HDD versions, and it adds Gigabit Ethernet support. Most of the other changes, however, are cost-cutting moves.

Lori Grunin/CNET

The body, while similar, is a hair thicker, at 0.78-inch thick. The cooling system is a simple heat pipe instead of a liquid chamber. The keyboard has a single lighting zone for everything, so while you still get millions of color options, you can only view them one at a time. The biggest hardware cut may be the battery, which goes from an 80Wh capacity to 65Wh.

Now playing: Watch this: Get the Razer Blade look for less

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And if you’re thinking of making this your main gaming rig, note that the graphics card — always the most important part — tops out at an Nvidia 1060 Max-Q, not the 1070 available in the more-expensive Razer Blade 15. The 1060 is actually fine for mainstream PC gaming at 1,920×1,080, but may not be as futureproof as you’d want in a long-term investment.

Similar parts, in a thick, clunky, plastic laptop can be found for $999 or less, so what you’re paying for here is the excellent build quality and design, the slim body, the great screen, the keyboard and lighting features, and the wide storage options. Plus a chance to show off a Razer-branded laptop for less than before.

But if you want to splurge on the “classic” model, which is thinner, has better GPU and screen options, per-key lighting and a better battery, there’s also a new version of that. The hardware is the same, but Razer is now offering the Blade 15 in a Mercury White color, which is a nice break from all that black and green. 

Fastest gaming laptops, ranked: All the most-powerful gaming laptops tested in the CNET Labs.  

Laptops with the best battery life: See the top 25 laptops and 2-in-1 PCs with the longest battery life. 

HP Chromebook x360 14 – CNET

HP

HP has announced the third edition of its Chromebook x360. Like the previous iterations, the new x360 is a two-in-one hybrid — half laptop, half tablet, courtesy of a 360-degree foldable display — that runs Google’s streamlined Chrome operating system. But where the first two x360s were compact, rugged convertibles designed and priced for the classroom, the newest edition steps things up — with a larger display, more stylish design, superior specs and a significantly higher price.

Starting at $500, the new x360 enters a market chock full of competitors — including HP’s own Chromebook x2, announced back in April. (The company hasn’t announced pricing or availability for other regions, but that converts to roughly £380 and AU$700.) On paper, the HP x360 compares favorably, with a strong collection of components including Intel‘s eighth-gen processors. And with a 14-inch touchscreen display (with a 1,920×1,080 resolution), this year’s x360 could find a sweet spot between the legions of 13-inch and 15-inch machines.

Where the x2 features Intel’s 2017-vintage Core CPUs, optimized for performance, the new x360 comes equipped with Intel’s current eighth-gen M series, which is supposed to deliver a balance of speed and long battery life. And HP says the new x360 is rated for up to 13.5 hours — which would place it among the longest-lasting Chromebooks we’ve seen.

HP

HP also makes a line of higher-end convertible and touchscreen-enabled laptops under the Spectre x360 umbrella. Running higher-end components and Windows 10, they’re significantly more expensive; the most affordable model — the 13-inch Spectre x360 13 — starts at $1,150.

With the new Chromebook x360, HP appears to be further exploring the convertible Chromebook midrange landscape — potentially fertile territory. The x360 offers considerably more than other convertibles in the $200 to $400 range and it’s hundreds of dollars less expensive than Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 6 or either of Apple‘s iPad Pros. Stay tuned: We’ll make a more decisive assessment once we spend some time with a review unit.

HP Quick specsIntel Core i3-813OU processor
14-inch 1,920×1,080 touchscreen
Front-facing HD camera
8GB of DDR4 memory
64GB hard drive, microSD reader
Two USB-C connections, two USB connections
Up to 13.5 hours of battery life
Measures 12.8×8.9×0.6 inches (WDH)
3.7 lbs
Available Oct. 21 starting at $500 (converts to £380 and AU$700)

The self-cooling HP Mindframe gaming headset keeps your ears frosty under fire – CNET

Do you ever get a little overheated while PC gaming? I don’t mean getting angry at a close Fortnite loss and throwing a mouse across the room, or shouting obscenities at a spawn-camping teen via Discord. I mean, literally hot. Maybe even hot enough to trigger that terrible condition many are afraid to mention in polite company — sweaty ears. 

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I don’t suffer from that particular affliction myself, but I suppose it must happen, especially after long, intense gaming sessions. That’s the rationale behind the new Omen by HP Mindframe Headset (or, just the Mindframe). It’s a standard 7.1 virtual surround-sound USB gaming headset, for the most part. But it also adds one unique feature. HP calls it FrostCap technology, but it’s a type of thermoelectric cooling, and it starts dropping the temperature of the earcups of the headset as soon as you plug it in. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

This concept behind this isn’t new. The mechanism is sometimes called a Peltier cooler, and it uses an electric current to transfer heat from one side of a surface to another. You may have seen it in novelty USB-powered can coolers, which keep a round metal soda-can-size plate cold. There, it’s not very effective. In this case, it actually works. 

To test the Mindframe, I whipped out my trusty temperature gun. The starting temperature of the metal plate inside the earcups was around 77 degrees (all temperature readings in Fahrenheit). When I plugged the headset into a PC’s USB port, the plate started to get colder almost immediately. 

I put the headset on and cruised around a bit in a few games — Shadow of the Tomb Raider and a new crowd-funded sci-fi RPG I’m quite enjoying called Insomnia: The Ark. I didn’t feel like I was getting too cold, but when I pressed the earcups against my head, I could definitely feel how cold the inner plates were getting when my ears touched them. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

After about 15 minutes, I checked the internal temperature again. This time, it was around 66 degrees in most places, and even down to 63 in some spots — a major drop in a short time. Putting my fingers on the inner plate, I found it felt very cold. At the same time, the outside of the headset, directly on the flip side of the cooling plate, was getting hotter (hey, that heat has to go somewhere). I clocked the hottest part of the outer surface at 93 degrees. 

So yes, the Mindframe really does offer significant on-ear cooling. 

I’m cool, calm and collected enough to not feel like I need to keep my ears or head from perspiring while playing PC games, but I cast no judgement on those who do. If you need to cool off while gaming, your ears can be a frosty

Alienware belatedly delivers a skinnier, Max-Q gaming laptop – CNET

The planets seem to have aligned for Alienware to join the club of gaming laptop manufacturers, embracing Nvidia’s Max-Q low-profile design. While some other manufacturers have moved on to their second-generation models, Alienware is finally getting ready to launch its debut entrant, the Alienware m15.

It’s slated to ship at the end of October starting at $1,300 (directly converted, that’s roughly £1,000 and AU$1,830).

The Max-Q design plus thinner display bezels lets the company shave roughly 0.2 in/4 millimeters off the thickness and about an inch/25mm off the other two dimensions — and a nontrivial 2.8 pounds/1.3 kilograms off the weight — while essentially maintaining the same aesthetic as its big brother, the Alienware 15 R4. It also has an updated cooling design to compensate for the smaller chassis and for the reduced noise required by the Max-Q architecture.

Alienware m15 specifications Display options 15.6-inch 1,920 x 1,080 60Hz IPS, 300 nits 72 percent NTSC; 1,920 x 1,080 144Hz TN with 5ms response time; UHD 3,840 x 2,160 60Hz IPS, 400 nits, 100 percent sRGB Processor options Intel Core i5-8300H, Core i7-8750H GPU options Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (overclocked), GTX 1070 Max-Q Memory Up to 32GB DDR4 2,666 MHz Storage Up to 2TB Networking Killer Networks E2500 Gigabit Ethernet, Dell 802.11ac 2×2 Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0; Killer Wireless 1550 2×2 AC and Bluetooth 5.0 (optional) Connections 2 x USB 3 Type-A, 1 x USB-C/Thunderbolt, HDMI 2.0, Mini DisplayPort 1.2, Alienware Graphics Amplifier, audio out, headphone Battery 60Wh; 90Wh optional Dimensions 0.8 x 14.3 x 10.8 in/21 x 363 x 275mm Weight (est.) 4.8 lbs/2.2kg Price Starts at $1,300

While it offers the same display options as the bigger system, you can’t get them with G-Sync enabled internally. You can still drive an external monitor with G-Sync via the Mini DisplayPort connection, though.

There’s nothing here that screams “worth the wait!” unless it performs better than average. But Alienware fans who’ve been waiting for something lighter and slightly more modern than the standard fare may be intrigued.

Microsoft Surface Studio 2 with brighter display, faster graphics for $3,499 – CNET

Microsoft Surface Studio 2

Sarah Tew/CNET

At Microsoft’s fall event in New York City on Tuesday, it announced the Surface Studio 2, a full refresh of its all-in-one PC that hasn’t been updated since its October 2016 debut. 

The new desktop, available for preorder on Oct. 2 starting at $3,499, is powered by a seventh-gen Intel Core i7-7820HQ processor and either an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (6GB) or 1070 (8GB) graphics card, which is good news for creatives who were holding out for newer, faster components. Microsoft won’t offer hybrid hard drives in it anymore either, just straight-up solid-state drives of 1TB or 2TB. You can get with 16GB or 32GB of memory, too. 

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The 28-inch 4,500×3,000-resolution display is all new with 22 percent more contrast, and it’s 38 percent brighter and has sRGB and DCI-P3 color profiles.  And it still works with the Surface Dial and Surface Pen with with tilt sensibility and 4,096 levels of pressure.

Other new additions include a USB-C port and built-in Xbox Wireless controller support. 

Read about everything Microsoft announced at its fall event