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December 12, 2018
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Google Pixel Slate review

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First, a dirty little secret about product reviews: You’d love to integrate every product into your daily use, but it just isn’t possible. Especially when you’re dealing with the volumes we deal with here. Every so often, however, the stars align. You find yourself days from a two-week trip through Asia, when Google overnights you the Pixel Slate.

That, ultimately, is the best way to put a product through its paces, finding yourself a stranger in a strange land, forced to grapple with an unfamiliar product. Google’s new convertible hitched a ride through two countries and an autonomous territory, from the neon-lit, Mario Kart racing streets of Akihabara to the gadget markets of Shenzhen to the densely packed hostels of Hong Kong’s Chunking Mansions, where the showers are the toilets and the landlord bangs on your door after midnight, demanding payment.

It’s not the sort of experiment for which I would have volunteered to play guinea pig a few short years back. Google’s operating systems are often slow out of the gate, and Chrome OS is certainly no exception. The earliest Chromebooks were, at best, novelties, underpowered machines with little to differentiate themselves from the previous generation’s netbooks. Aside, of course, from an operating system that barely functioned offline.

But even while the mere existence of the category was (rightfully) questioned by pundits, Google kept plugging away. The company continued adding features to Chrome, turning the browser-based OS into something approaching a full desktop operating system. In 2013, the company unveiled the Chromebook Pixel, a premium notebook designed to show what Google, “could do if we really wanted to design the best computer possible at the best price possible,” according to then-SVP Sundar Pichai.

Even while the Chromebook came to dominate the classroom in subsequent years, Google still had something to prove. The company was never content to have its operating system relegated to the bargain bins. All of that came to a head with last year’s Pixelbook. The apex of Chrome features and proprietary design, the device pushed the boundaries of what a Chromebook can do.

Last December, Google quietly retired the Pixel C. Google acknowledged the move and managed to get a plug in for its new device, telling TechCrunch, “Our newly launched Google Pixelbook combines the best parts of a laptop and a tablet for those looking for a versatile device.”

Back in March, however, the company partnered with Acer to launch an education-focused Chrome tablet, just ahead of Apple’s big education event. And then, last month, it launched the Pixel Slate. More than anything, the Slate feels like a sister device to the Pixelbook. In fact, from a pure spec standpoint, you’d be pretty hard pressed to distinguish the devices.

The lack of distinction between the products really stood out during my time with the device. Detachables are great from the standpoint of versatility, but how often do you really end up taking advantage of the feature? After nearly two weeks spent traveling with the Slate, I can’t think of a single occasion that warranted removing it from the keyboard dock. Hell, the dock’s even better for watching videos — I’d much rather use a built-in stand than be forced to hold it for the duration of a film.

It’s just a fact of life that you’re going to sacrifice some features when opting for a convertible instead of a devoted laptop. The gulf between the two does seem to get smaller with each passing generation, but it continues to be the case with the Slate. The Pixelbook is simply the better typing experience of the two devices. That said, the Slate is easily one of the best typing experiences I’ve had on a keyboard case.

As someone whose job is like 90 percent typing, keyboards have long been the largest thing keeping me from seriously considering a hybrid tablet as a daily driver. The Slate case’s round keys are perfectly responsive, and it didn’t take me too long to get into the rhythm. Halfway into my first story, I could fully imagine myself doing all of my filing on the Slate.

Chrome OS has also improved by leaps and bounds in the last few years. Way back in 2016, Google announced a clever fix to Google’s app problem. The company would bring the Play Store to the operating system. At the time, the company told TechCrunch it was a “powerful way of bringing those two worlds together.” More than anything, however, it’s a clever workaround.

I found myself downloading a number of different apps from the Play Store, and in a number of cases ran into the same complaint I had on the Pixelbook. Try downloading and loading a less common app, and it will open with smartphone dimensions on your display. Try making it full size and you’ll see the following pop-up: “This application needs to restart to resize and may not work well when resized.”

Oof.

Another app gave me the more straightforward (and honest), “Sorry! This device is not supported.”

Double oof.

I’d run into a lot of this the last time I went to China with the Pixelbook in tow. I’d had some grand ambition to edit my podcast on the 14-hour plane ride, but ultimately gave up looking for a decent Audacity replacement after downloading and installing a half dozen or so different apps. These issues are understandable for a new operating system, but Chrome OS has been kicking for around seven years now. It can still feel like a frustrating mix of fully fledged operating system and undercooked user experience.

Like the iPad Pro, the Pixel Slate’s software shortcomings can be particularly frustrating when coupled with premium hardware. I could still do most of what I needed on the Slate, but the inability to fully connect some of the dots left me wondering why I wouldn’t just opt for a full laptop, nine times out of 10.

Price is one factor, certainly. The Slate starts at $599, which puts the 12.3-inch device well below the 11-inch iPad’s $799 entry (though the latter, admittedly, comes with 64GB of storage to the former’s 32GB). That price includes a stunning 3000 x 2000 pixel display, besting the Pixelbook’s 2400 x 1600.

Customization is really the name of the game here. The Slate has more configurations than the Pixelbook, letting you max out the specs at $1,599 for a model with 16GB of RAM, 256GB of storage (half the Pixelbook’s max) and a Core i7 processor. Of course, if you want the keyboard and pen, that’s going to cost you too — $199 and $99, respectively. The keyboard, it should be noted, brings the device’s total weight up to 2.7 pounds — more than both the Pixelbook (2.6 pounds) and 12-inch MacBook (2.03 pounds).

The keyboard is really a must have, snapping the OS into Desktop UI mode as soon as it’s docked. Of course, you also can still swipe up from the bottom to bring up the app tray. As someone who continues to use a Mac as my daily driver, it boggles the mind that Apple hasn’t brought full touchscreen functionality to the desktop. The touch bar is really no replacement for the feature, and having used the Pixel Slate for a few days now, I still find myself reaching out to touch the screen. “Some day,” I whisper softly to myself, before returning to the task at hand.

Other small touches like Split Screen and tabs that can be dragged into their own windows are nice touches, as well, which lend the device a bit more credence as a work machine. The pen is a nice add-on, as well, though I found a lot fewer uses for it during my day to day.

Ultimately, I would probably opt out of that additional $99 — especially with no easy way to store it à la the iPad Pro. Rather than a rechargeable battery, it takes the fairly uncommon AAAA — a shorter, thinner take on the AAA. They’re around if you look — I was actually a bit surprised to see them stocked at my local Walgreen’s.

The Pixel Imprint combo power button/fingerprint reader is a nice touch. The loss of the headphone jack, meanwhile, is a bit of a blow. I found myself all dongled up when using my headphones. It’s just an inevitability in 2018, I suppose. I also appreciate the fact that Google’s gone with one USB-C slot on either side, rather than sticking them both on the same edge like the MacBook Air. That gives you a little more wiggle room on the accessories front.

I don’t regret packing the Pixel Slate. I’ve had far worse travel companions, both human and gadget. Like the Pixelbook, the tablet is intended to be a showcase for what Chrome can do on a solid piece of hardware. And once again, it’s a case of the hardware outshining the software, even as it muddies the waters around Google’s Chromebook strategy. 

As an operating system, Chrome has made leaps and bounds in recent years, and it’s no wonder that it’s become a mainstay in classrooms. When it comes to being a serious desktop operating system for business, however, there’s still some work to be done.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Google Maps biz reviews can now include hashtags

in Apps/Delhi/Google-Maps/hashtags/India/Politics/Reviews by

Google Maps has quietly rolled out a new feature aimed at helping users discover places others have recommended: it now supports hashtags in reviews. For example, if you’re reviewing a restaurant that would make an excellent #datenight spot, you can simply add the appropriate hashtag. Or if the business is #familyfriendly or #wheelchairaccessible, you can note those sorts of things, too.

Google suggests that users add up to five hashtags per review, and place them at the end of the review to make the text easier to read.

The company confirmed to TechCrunch support for hashtags rolled out globally just over a week ago on Android devices. So far, it had only been announced to members of Google Maps’ Local Guides program – the program that rewards its members for sharing their reviews, photos and knowledge about businesses and other places they visit.

Guides were told they can go back and add hashtags to their old reviews, as well as include them on new ones.

In addition to helping people find restaurants by cuisine or dietary needs (e.g. #vegetarian), hashtags can also highlight local attractions as #goodforselfies or a great place for #sunsetviews, Google suggested. The tags can note the accessibility features offered, too – like if there’s a wheelchair ramp or an audio menu available.

But unlike on Instagram and other social apps, the hashtags in reviews need to be specific to be useful. Google says that general terms like #love or #food won’t be helpful. 

The feature on its own may seem like a minor, if handy, addition to Google Maps. However, it arrives at a time when Google Maps has been getting upgraded to better challenge Facebook’s Pages platform.

For example, Maps in October added a new “follow” feature,, which allows users to track businesses in order to hear about their news, sales, deals, events, and more. This month, Google rolled out a revamped My Business app so business owners could easily update their Maps profile page with new content – including the news they wanted to share with followers. They can also use the app to view and respond to reviews and messages.

With the addition of hashtags in reviews, Google Maps could become a better discovery platform for businesses and other places, and possibly even a social recommendations platform. Google Guides were told to use the hashtag #LetsGuide to point users to their own personal recommendations of favorite places. To what extent they’ll adopt that tag, of course, still remains to be seen.

To use the new hashtags feature, you just tap the blue link when you see one listed in a review to be taken to a list of the other nearby places that have the same tag, Google says. The company didn’t say when the feature would make its way to iOS or the web.

News Source = techcrunch.com

How issues of microtransit, congestion and parking are closing in on cities

in Book Review/buses/cities/ClearRoad/congestion/Coord/Delhi/Government/GreenTech/India/parking/Policy/Politics/Real estate/Reviews/smart cities/TC/transit/Transportation/Urban Tech by

Earlier this week in a new experimental newsletter I’ve been helping Danny Crichton on, we briefly discussed transit pundit Jarrett Walker’s article in The Atlantic arguing against the view that ridesharing and microtransit will be the future of mass transit. Instead, his thesis is that a properly operated and well-resourced bus system is much more efficient from a coverage, cost, space, and equality perspective.

Consider this an ongoing discussion about Urban Tech, its intersection with regulation, issues of public service, and other complexities that people have full PHDs on.  I’m just a bitter, born-and-bred New Yorker trying to figure out why I’ve been stuck in between subway stops for the last 15 minutes, so please reach out with your take on any of these thoughts: @Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com.

From an output perspective, Walker argues that by operating along variable routes based on at-your-door pick ups, microtransit actually takes more time to pick up fewer people on average. Walker also gives buses the edge from a cost and input perspective, since labor makes up 70% of transit operating costs in a pre-autonomous world and buses allow you to service more customers for the price of one driver.

“The driver’s time is far more expensive than maintenance, fuel, and all the other costs involved.  In almost every public meeting I attend, citizens complain about seeing buses with empty seats, lecturing me about how smaller vehicles would be less wasteful. But that’s not the case. Because the cost is in the driver, a wise transit agency runs the largest bus it will ever need during the course of a shift. In an outer suburb, that empty big bus makes perfect sense if it will be mobbed by schoolchildren or commuters twice a day.”

But transit is not solely an issue of volume and unit economics, but one of managing public space. Walker explains that to ensure citizens don’t use more than their fair share of space, cities can either provide vehicles that are only marginally bigger than a human body, i.e. bikes and scooters, or have many people share large-scale vehicles, i.e. mass transit. Doing the latter through a mass fleet of on-demand microtransit solutions, Walker argues, increases congestion and makes it harder to manage scheduling and allocate infrastructure.

While the article offers an effective comparison of unit economics and acts as a useful primer on the various considerations for city transit agencies, some of the conclusions are a bit binary.  The discussion is a bit singular in its focus of microtransit as a replacement of public transit rather than an additive service and doesn’t give much credit to the trip planning and space management capabilities of many microtransit services, nor changes in consumer expectations towards transportation.

But despite some of the gaps in the piece, Walker highlights two ideas that spill over to some broad areas that have caught my interest lately: Tolls and Parking.

Tolls

Photo by Michael H via Getty Images

“To succeed, microtransit would have to help people get around cities better, not just make them feel good about hailing a ride on a phone. Full automation of vehicles, if indeed it ever arrives, might solve the labor problem—although it would put thousands of drivers out of work. But the congestion problem will remain.”

Like many, Walker argues that ridesharing aggravates city traffic rather than alleviates it.  Even though ridesharing’s long-term impact on traffic is widely contested, nearly everyone agrees that a solution to urban congestion is desperately needed.

What’s interesting is that regardless of the discourse that surrounds them, trends in US tolling mechanisms seem to suggest American cities may be moving closer to congestion pricing methods.

As an example, solutions to congestion are top of mind behind the New York state election that saw Democrats taking control of both state legislative houses. Though it seems like the argument resurfaces every few years, the elections have brought renewed debate over the possible implementation of congestion pricing in New York City.  In essence, congestion pricing is a system where drivers would pay higher prices for using high-traffic streets or entering high-traffic zones, allowing cities to better dictate the flow of drivers and reduce congestion.   

Outside of the obvious political tension created by effectively implementing a new tax, some lawmakers have pushed back on the effectiveness of a congestion pricing policy, with some arguing that it can aggravate income inequality or that a policy addressing construction and pedestrians, rather than vehicles, would have a bigger impact on traffic.

However, over the past year or so, an increasing number of states have been rolling out highway tolls that are priced dynamically, instead of using traditional fixed-price tolls. The exact drivers behind the toll prices vary, with some cities charging prices based on traffic conditions and others charging varying prices for the use of express and HOV lanes.

Several new technologies and companies have also made it easier for local governments to implement more sophisticated, adjustable toll pricing or congestion fees at a much lower cost. In the past, congestion pricing systems around the world have required physical detection systems that can be extremely costly to implement.

Now, companies like ClearRoad are helping governments use a wide range of connected vehicle technologies to establish and collect road usage pricing from any location without the need for physical infrastructure. Oregon is one geography working with ClearRoad to manage its new opt-in road usage program where the state is able to calculate drivers’ usage of certain roads and their gas consumption, and then reimburse them for gas taxes they’re paying.

So even though people are still screaming at each other in state capitols, it seems like we may be closer to seeing congestion pricing in major cities than we think. And while executing these programs can be difficult and painfully slow (often needing to satisfy city regulations and tax laws forty layers deep), if these smaller-scale programs we’re seeing in the US are actually effective, congestion pricing may be a solution to plug chunky budget gaps, better finance infrastructure projects and replace lost gas tax revenue in an electric vehicle future.

Parking

In his piece, Walker goes back to some basic principles of urban design, highlighting that at their core, functioning cities come down to how millions of people share a comparatively tiny amount of space.  

Walker explains that city dwellers that travel with cars and solo rideshare trips rather than with large-scale shared transit are effectively taking up more than their fair share of public space.  While the argument is made in the context of ridesharing and congestion, the same idea applies to the less-discussed impact mass-transit ridesharing can have on city parking.

At least in the near-term, certain cities have seen ridesharing actually increase vehicle usage rather than reduce it (a claim rideshare companies dispute), resulting in an even wider gap between the supply and demand for available parking spots.  And if people are using ridesharing but still choosing to own cars regardless, in an indirect fashion, they are similarly reducing the stock of available parking space by more than their fair share.

And while it makes sense that rideshare vehicles should receive a larger portion of the parking stock, given that it serves more passengers, the use of available parking by these vehicles can and has caused tension with local residents that have to store their cars further away.

There are companies like the mobility-focused data platform, Coord, that are working on tools geared towards helping cities and citizens more effectively allocate and plan parking strategies for the future multi-modal transportation network. And theoretically, ridesharing should reduce the number of vehicles in search of parking in the long-term. But at least for now, the impact on parking congestion is just another unintended consequence that weakens the argument for ridesharing as mass transit.

And lastly, some reading while in transit:

News Source = techcrunch.com

Facebook Portal+ review

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The Portal is a head scratcher. It’s a chat app that manifested itself into a hardware through sheer force of will. The first commercially available product from Building 8 isn’t as instantly iconic a piece of hardware as Snap’s Spectacles. In fact, at first glance, the device seems like little more than an Echo Show/Google Home Hub competitor.

And then there’s the matter of timing. In a meeting with TechCrunch ahead of launch, Facebook’s hardware team was quick to list the various ways the company is proactively protecting user privacy, from a camera button to a physical lens cap. The social media giant has always been a lighting rod for these issues, but 2018 has been particularly tough, for reasons summed up well in Taylor’s simply titled post, “Facebook, are you kidding?

What’s most peculiar, however, is in this age of multi-tasking devices, the Facebook Portal and Portal+ are devices that are designed to do one thing really well. Rather than pushing to develop a true Echo competitor, Facebook’s first ground-up piece of hardware is essentially a teleconferencing device for friends and family.

It is, in the product’s defense, one wrapped in solid hardware design with some clever choices throughout. If the Portal ultimately winds up lining the thrift store shelves of history, it won’t be due to choices Facebook made to serve its core competency.

Rather, it will be due to the fact that the product team has neglected some other features in the name of focusing on video chat — a feature that’s got no shortage of delivery devices. Facebook told me that Portal’s other features will be updated based on user feedback — almost as if the company is unsure what, precisely, customers would want from such a device outside of video chat.

The timing of the device is certainly telling. Facebook is clearly banking on selling a lot of Portals for the holidays. You can practically see the ads playing out, as some melancholy voice sings the beginning strains of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” The first spot isn’t as on the nose, but similar heart-strings are tugged, as evidenced by the “Feel There” title. That’s Facebook’s pitch in a nutshell: We know it sucks you can’t be with your nieces and nephews or elderly parents right now, but hopefully this screen will do the trick.

From a hardware design perspective standpoint, I’m on board. The smaller Portal looks quite a bit like Lenovo’s Google Assistant-powered Smart Display, albeit with the different speaker placement. I’m into it. Lenovo’s device is probably the best-looking smart screen around, and the Portal is an identical cousin with a slightly different haircut.

The Portal+ — the model that’s been hanging on my office desk for a few days now — is the more innovative of the two products from an industrial design perspective. It is, essentially, an ultra-wide 15.6-inch tablet mounted atop a tall, thin base. The display is connected to the base via a joint that allows it to swivel smoothly between portrait and landscape mode.

The screen is 1080p — plenty good for video chat, and a big step up from the Echo Show and (especially) Google Home Hub. Of course, the large footprint means it’s going to be tough for those in smaller spaces to find an ideal spot (says the guy living in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City). At present, it’s sitting atop my AirPort router.

The all-important camera is positioned an inch above the screen, like an unblinking eye of Sauron. The 12-megapixel camera can do 5x zoom and capture movement within a 140-degree range. The four-mic array flanks the lens on either side, doing double duty of listening to commands and noise canceling during chats.

Along the narrow top ridge are three inductive buttons — two volume, one to turn off the camera and mic. When you hit that last one, a notification will pop up on screen, and a small red light will illuminate just to the right of the camera, for added assurance. As an extra measure, Facebook also tossed in a plastic clip to physically cover the camera.

I found myself making a point to keep the lens cap on the majority of the time when I wasn’t using the device to chat. When I was talking to someone, I slipped it to the side, but kept it clipped on the base. The little piece of plastic is pretty easily lost. If Facebook does end up making another one of these, a mechanical lens cap like the kind you find on a point and shoot camera is probably the way to go.

The button placement is a bit of a shit show. The way I have the Portal+ set up on my desk, the buttons are above eye-level. Makes sense, you want the display right around your face, you know, to look at it. This means when I want to, say, change the volume, I find myself fiddling in the dark for them. Given that they’ve got no tactility, I invariably end up hitting the wrong one, more often than not jacking up the volume in the process.

Similarly, I often end up hitting a button or two when attempting to clip on the lens cap. Next time out, Facebook needs to either go with physical buttons or find a better spot to place them — tough, I know, given the odd shape of the thing.

The screen placement ensures that the display doesn’t obscure the camera in either portrait or landscape — though when swiveling, the corners do eclipse the shot. When in portrait, the bottom of the display does block roughly half of the bottom speaker. This is a bit of a design flaw, though surprisingly, it doesn’t dampen the sound as much as I’d initially expected. That said, when you’re using the device to listen to music, keep it in landscape mode. In fact, I found myself keeping it that way the majority of the time I was using it, regardless.

The sound quality on the thing is decent. I haven’t had a chance to put it up against the standard Portal, but the deluxe version sports a more complex speaker array — 20w (2 tweeters, single 4-inch bass) versus 10w (2 full-range drivers). Like all of these smart displays, I’m not going to recommend this as your default home stereo, but I’ve been using it to listen to Spotify all day, and have been largely enjoying the experience.

The Portal’s interface is an extremely bare-bones experience. The UI flips between two primary cards. The primary is, naturally, a list of your Facebook contacts. Up top are the six you most regularly chat with, and below are your hand-picked favorites. One of the nice bits here is that the people you speak with don’t actually need a Portal to talk. They can chat with you on their phone or computer.

Swipe left and you get a screen full of large icons. From here you can click into Facebook videos or pick from your Portal apps — Food Network, iHeartRadio, Newsy, Pandora and Spotify by default.

Click into the apps icon and you’ll find that that’s really all there is for Portal apps at the moment. Thin soup doesn’t really begin to describe it. It’s a decent enough starting point, but honestly, Facebook doesn’t seem particularly interested in courting more developers or opening up the API to all comers. Again, the company is taking a very wait and see approach to just about everything here.

Still, Portal does bring some interesting innovation to video chat. To trigger the function, say “Hey Portal” and then “call [enter name here].” Simple enough. Though the actual “Hey Portal” features are essentially limited to things like making calls and putting the unit to sleep. Anything beyond that and poor Portal gets confused. Even something like “Hey Portal, turn off camera” is met with an “I can’t do that yet” in Portal’s uneven speech pattern.

For everything else, Portal defaults to Alexa — functionality you can add during the setup process. That the system relies on Amazon’s smart assistant to do much of the heavy lifting here further makes one wonder why Facebook expects users to adopt its product over the Echo.

Portal’s greatest trick is its automatic zooming and panning. Using built-in AI, the system automatically tracks users and follows them around the frame. So you can, say, cook dinner while chatting and Portal will be with you the whole way. The camera will also pan in and out as additional people enter and leave the room, keeping them all in frame. While chatting with Sarah Perez (who was using the standard Portal on the other end), the camera even zoomed in on her dog when she left the room for a moment.

The zooming is smooth and the effect is impressive, owing in part to the fact that the team worked with a Hollywood cinematographer to help polish its execution. By default it moves a bit too much for my liking, slowly zooming in and out in a way that can may you low-level seasick — though you can adjust the sensitivity in settings.

My second favorite part in video chat is the ability to share songs via Spotify, Pandora and iHeartMusic. When I start playing something on my end, Sarah hears it, too. And we can both adjust our individual volumes. You can also pair the system to Bluetooth speakers or headphones, if that’s more to your liking.

This being Facebook, the system comes equipped with AR-style photo filters — 15 in all (with more coming, no doubt). You can turn yourself into a werewolf, add a disco ball — you know, the usual. They do a good job tracking your movements and add an extra little dimension of fun to the system.

Story time is another fun feature for those Portaling with young children. On your side, you’ll see a teleprompter with a story — on theirs, it’s you embedded inside an AR storybook like the Three Pigs. There are only a few stories at launch, but then most kids enjoy repetition, right?

Like the Home Hub, Portal defaults to a makeshift digital picture frame when not in use. Naturally, it defaults to photos and videos from your Facebook feed. As someone who doesn’t really use Facebook to put my life on display, the Superframe feature wasn’t really by bag, though the ability to display info like the weather and reminders of things like friends’ birthdays was nice.

Above all, Portal is a bit of a one-hit wonder. Admittedly, it does that one thing (video chat) fairly well, and at $200 for the Portal and $349 for the Portal+, it’s certainly priced competitively (and in spite of Facebook’s insistence otherwise, may be a bit of a loss leader). But it’s a hard sell compared to more well-rounded devices like the Echo Show and Google Home Hub.

And, of course, there’s all the privacy baggage that inviting Facebook into your home entails. Between the camera/speaker disabling button, lens cap, localized AI and the promise not to eavesdrop or spy, Facebook has gone out of its way to ensure users that it’s not using the device as a portal into your own privacy. But given the kind of year the company’s been having, for many potential buyers not even all of that is likely to be enough.

There’s a default screen saver on the device that asks “Hey Portal, what can you do?” It’s meant, of course, to prompt you to click through and discover new features. But it’s an important question — and in its current iteration, it’s not one for which Portal is able to offer a particularly compelling answer.

News Source = techcrunch.com

MacBook Air review

in Apple/Delhi/Hardware/India/macbook air/Politics/Reviews by

For three years, the MacBook Air was conspicuously absent. The ultraportable never left Apple’s site, of course, but we finished keynote after keynote wondering why Apple continued to neglect one of its most popular products, all while overhauling the rest of the MacBook line.

At an event last month in Brooklyn, however, Apple finally acquiesced, delivering the largest single update since the product was introduced ten and a half years prior. In an event stuffed to the gills with an enthusiastic audience, the Air got what was easily the biggest applause break — more than the iPad Pro and certainly more than the Mac Mini.

The fan base was clearly ready for a new Air.

Getting the Air right is a tricky proposition. Not only is it the slimmest model in the line, it’s also the cheapest, a combination that’s made it a popular selection for frequent travelers and those just looking for the least expensive route into the MacOS ecosystem. Every hardware addition to the line comes with a potential price increase — something we saw play out with the evolution of the Mini, which jumped from $499 to $799, removing some of the device’s entry-level appeal.

The Air has also seen a price increase, though Apple was able to rein things in a bit more here, in terms of both overall and relative price. At $1,199, the low-end version of the laptop remains the least pricey entry point into the Mac ecosystem (excluding the older Air, which is still available for $999).

This latest update finds the Air finally assuming its place in the current MacBook line, whose current iteration began life with a major overhaul in 2015. Becoming part of the club means an aesthetic upgrade, a move to USB-C, souped up internals and, of course, the long-awaited addition of a Retina Display.

The device arrives amid a shift for the company, as it once again embraces creative professionals with both MacOS devices and iOS through the addition of the iPad Pro. The latter continues to blur the line between Apple’s operating systems, with computation power rivaling — and in some cases outperforming — some of its MacOS models.

Currently, the Air sits between the iPad Pro and low-end MacBook — though given the $100 price difference between it and the former, I don’t know that anyone would be entirely shocked to see Apple quietly sunset the baseline product in favor of the reborn Air. There simply aren’t enough compelling reasons to keep that model around in its current configuration, especially given the Air’s enduring popularity.

Certain sacrifices were made in favor of keeping the Air’s price down — most notably the Touch Bar. There was some speculation that Apple’s decision to drop the technology on this device was some clear sign that the company was moving away from the touchscreen-adjacent tech, but the reason is likely far more simple: Adding it would have further driven up the entry-level price — and eclipsed the MacBook in the process.

Instead, the company did something even better, breaking out Touch ID from the bar. After a couple of years with a Touch Bar on both my work and personal machines, the fingerprint scanner remains the one feature (outside of the standard function keys like volume) that I use on a daily basis. In the long run, the company may have done the Touch Bar a bit of a disservice by consciously uncoupling Touch ID, but for the Air, it was the ideal decision, bringing its most useful feature without driving up the price in the process.

The keyboard is the same found on the most recent MacBook Pros, as well. That, along with other shifts, is bound to be polarizing among longtime Air users. I will say this, however, if you haven’t tried a MacBook keyboard since the infamous butterfly switch overhaul of 2015, visit your local Apple store to give them another shot. It’s true that they’re still a fair bit shallower than the previous model, but things have been improved in the past three years, courtesy of two major updates.

This latest generation is quieter, has a better feel and has the added benefit of a new rubberized bladder, which should protect from spills, along with particulate matter, which has become a bane of everyone with an earlier model’s existence. Seriously, I once found myself roaming around Seattle desperately trying to find a can of compressed air before an Amazon event.

Those who’ve been holding out to upgrade from an earlier Air model will likely have a bit of an adjustment period, but it’s a much easier transition that it was on those initial 2015 MacBooks. The track pad, too, is now in line with its MacBook brethren. It’s 20 percent larger than the previous Air and utilizes Force Touch for a more uniform response across the surface, welcome changes the both of them.

The new Air’s internals are, naturally, an upgrade across the board over the 2015 model, but it’s more of a mixed bag when compared to the MacBook. In fact, the concurrent existence of the two products is likely to cause confusion among buyers — and understandably so. If you’ve been having trouble deciding between MacBooks, Apple’s made that task even more complex.

RAM is the same on both systems at either 8 or 16GB. No surprise there — that’s pretty consistent across the entire MacBook line. The base-level storage configuration, on the other hand, starts lower but goes higher than the MacBook, with an entry of 128GB (to the MacBook’s 256), all the way up to 1.5TB. Of course, storage upgrades are always costly, and if you max this one out, it’s going to run you another $1,000.

Given that it’s a newer model, the processor is an upgrade over the pricier MacBook on the baseline, from a 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core i3 to a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor. That said, there’s only one configuration here, at present, so if you want more power, seriously consider upgrading to the Pro. Our model, the Core i5 coupled with 8GB (standard on everything but storage) scored a 4,297 and 7,723 on Geekbench’s single and multi-core tests, respectively.

A quick glance at the above graphic really highlights the gulf between the Air and Pro, though the new chips do mark an upgrade over the 2017 MacBook’s single- and multi-core scores of 3,527 and 6,654. The new silicon is plenty zippy for most users’ daily tasks, but if you need more out of your system — be it for gaming or resource-intensive tasks like video edit — it’s worth the jump to the Pro.

Battery, meanwhile, is a pretty sizable bump over the MacBook, owing to the larger footprint on the Air’s 13.3-inch frame (versus the 12-inch MacBook), with a stated “up to 12 hours” on a charge to the MacBook’s 10. I found that to be pretty on the money, in my own testing. I was able to stream video for just a hair under 12 hours — plenty enough to get you through most flights.

Of course, the larger screen and battery also mean a heftier laptop. The Air’s 2.75 pounds is around 3/4 of a pound more than the MacBook. In spite of retaining the iconic beveled design, it’s also a bit thicker than the 12-inch model. That said, the company’s managed to both shrink the footprint and reduce the weight from the older Air, which weighed in at 2.96 pounds.

The display is, as advertised, a massive upgrade over the last model. If you’ve spent any time with a Retina display, you know the deal. It’s big and bright, with a nice color balance. In terms of sheer numbers, we’re talking about a bump from 1440 x 900 to 2560 x 1600 pixels. That amounts to 227 PPI, compared to the old model’s 128. It’s an immediately apparent upgrade — there’s a reason so many Air owners have been holding out for the addition. The multimedia experience is rounded out by upgraded speakers that are capable of getting LOUD, in spite of taking up very little real estate on either side of the keyboard.

The design language was overdue for an update, and now the system looks nearly identical to the 13-inch Pro at first glance, aside from the familiar tapered design. And, of course, you can pick it up in Gold, keeping with Apple’s theme of more colorful options on lower-cost devices like the iPhone XR.

The most polarizing aspect on the frame is no doubt the continued shift to all Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C). No surprise there, of course. Get ready to lead the #donglelife until time comes to upgrade all of your accessories. The two USB-C ports are located on the same side, which means a bit more maneuvering when charging — though the new ports are much more diverse than the old power model. It’s the same set up you’ll find on the MacBook. Upgrade to the Pro, meanwhile, and you’ll get twice the number.

There’s no doubt the new Air marks a sizable update. It’s pricier, too, though Apple’s kept things more in check here than with the Mac Mini. With all of its upgrades and lower price point to boot, the Air is the clear pick over the 12-inch MacBook in practically every way.

As a matter of fact, barring some major future upgrade, the 12-inch likely isn’t long for this world. And that’s perfectly fine. The new Air is very clearly the better buy.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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