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PIXEL SLATE’S $200 PROBLEM: ITS ‘MUST-HAVE’ KEYBOARD IS SOLD SEPARATELY

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I watched Google’s reveal of the much-leaked Pixel Slate with great interest. This was a sharp-looking Chrome OS device, with a great screen and the promise of excellent front-firing speakers. Sure, $599 felt like a lot for a quasi-Chromebook (unless you’re the even-more-expensive PixelBook), especially one that starts with an Intel Celeron processor — but I firmly believe Chrome OS can be premium and doesn’t have to be restricted to only budget PCs.

Almost every shot of the Pixel Slate showed it connected to its folio keyboard, itself a great example of high-end design with its round keys and big touchpad. It was not until the very end of Google’s Pixel Slate announcement that the ugly truth was revealed. That $599-and-up price didn’t include the keyboard, which runs an extra $199 (or a 33 percent premium).

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The new Pixel Slate and its keyboard.Sarah Tew/CNET

And if you want a stylus, that’s an extra hundred bucks on top of that. All-in, for just the lowest-end configuration, it’s a minimum of $899. That’s dangerously close to premium Windows laptop territory, where you could swing a MacBook Air or Dell XPS 13. Want to go to the top-end Core i7 model? That will take you to $1,599 before you add those accessories, per Google’s extended price list:

  •  $599 (4GB RAM, 32GB SSD, 8th Gen Intel® Celeron processor)
  •  $699 (8GB RAM, 64GB SSD, 8th Gen Intel® Celeron processor)
  •  $799 (8GB RAM, 64GB SSD, 8th Gen Intel® CoreTM m3 processor)
  •  $999 (8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, 8th Gen Intel® CoreTM i5 processor)
  •  $1,599 (16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 8th Gen Intel® CoreTM i7 processor)

But Google isn’t the only offender padding your bill with sold-separately keyboards. I’ve reviewed nearly every Surface tablet Microsoft has ever released, and like a broken record, I bemoan the $129-and-up clip-on keyboard, which is even more of a must-have. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Surface Pro in the wild without a keyboard.

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Trust me, the Surface Pro works much better with its keyboard cover.Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple is another habitual offender. If there’s any doubt that the iPad Pro is primarily pitched as a screen-and-keyboard laptop replacement, just recall the company’s own “What’s a Computer?” TV spot.

 

The Smart Keyboard for the current iPad Pro is $159, plus $99 for the Pencil stylus, making the full package price just north of $900. Having used iPads of various types for productivity and content creation tasks many times previously, I can safely say a keyboard is a must-have for anything more involved than Tweeting.

I’ll even give all these companies a break on the stylus issue. Not everyone needs or uses one, and even though they shouldn’t be $100 a pop, it’s one place where you can cut a corner and still feel like you’ve got an all-day, every-day machine.

The end result is an online or real-life shopping trip that can end up being a lot more expensive than you bargained for after falling in love with an advertisement for one of these two-in-one devices. Until these companies wise up and put their keyboard accessories (often the most impressively designed part of the ecosystem) in the box with the product itself, we should all look at these starting prices as having a huge asterisk next to them.

 

Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL: What you need to know about Google’s new smartphones

Google’s Oct. 9 event: Pixel 3, new Chromecast, Pixel Slate and more

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THE NEW PIXEL 3’S CAMERA WILL LET AI PICK OUT THE BEST PHOTOS FOR YOU

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Google’s Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL smartphones were just unveiled this morning at an event in New York City. As expected, both phones are coming with a near-identical set of front-facing and rear-facing cameras that are powered by artificial intelligence. That allows them to do all sorts of algorithmic work behind the scenes, all powered by what Google calls its new Pixel Visual Core chip.

Among the new AI features built into the Pixel 3 camera are two new shooting modes called Top Shot and Photobooth. Top Shot uses Google’s work in image and object recognition and computer vision to analyze photos and pick the best shots in a given batch. With Top Shot, you’ll be able to capture a number of photos before and after the moment you press the virtual shutter button, while the software will pick out the best shot.

Image: Google

It’s similar to Google’s Motion Photos feature that creates GIFs from short snippets of video. You can still browse through the alternates to pick out others, Google says. Photobooth, on the other hand, takes a bunch of photos of you or your friends using the front-facing camera, but only when it recognizes that the subjects of the photo are making a funny face or smiling. You don’t need to even press the shutter.

Google also announced a feature called Super Res Zoom, which uses a burst of photos to amp resolution when you zoom into a subject, and Night Sight, which uses machine learning to artificially brighten dark spots in photos. For Pixel 3 XL owners, you’ll be able to access a wide-angle lens for a feature Google is calling Group Selfie Cam.

Some of the AI-powered software here, specifically a feature like Photobooth, was built initially for Google Clips, the company’s square-shaped photo and video capturing device that automatically operates on its own to let parents capture moments of their kids. Now, it appears that Google has taken a lot of the knowledge there and integrated it into its Pixel devices to help ease the pain of picking a photo or tinkering with all the settings to capture the perfect shot.

Since the original Pixel, the defining feature of the device line has not been its design or the relatively spartan stock Android it runs, but the camera. Using its advancements in artificial intelligence, Google was able to achieve a staggeringly capable camera that has only improved with last year’s Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. So it makes sense that Google has put more resources toward improving the Pixel 3 camera and positioning it as one of, if not the most important, reason why you’d pick its device over an iPhone XS or a Samsung Galaxy S9 / Note 9.

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APPLE IS RETHINKING THE HEARING AID — AND NOW ANDROID IS, TOO

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Google is making life a bit easier for people affected by hearing loss — with official hearing aid support in Android.

On Thursday, the company announced that it’s working with GN Hearing to bring low-power hearing aid streaming support to future versions of Android. This means people will be able to connect, pair and monitor their hearing aids from their Android device.

This follows Apple’s Made for iPhone hearing aid program, which allows people to connect and control their hearing aids from iOS devices. You can read more in CNET’s feature on the Apple program here.

Although Apple was first, Google’s move has potentially bigger impact since 85 percent of the world’s smartphones run Android (compared to 14.7 percent for iOS).

A World Health Organization statistic from March says that around 466 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss, meaning a lot of people could potentially benefit from Android’s support.

Apple and Android aren’t alone in bringing cutting-edge tech to hearing aids. Manufacturers like Bose, Oticon and Harman are also working to make hearing aids smarter with app support, built-in sensors and communication between connected smart devices.

Android’s hearing aid support is designed to have a low impact on battery life while keeping audio quality high. The nitty-gritty details about the hearing aid support can be read on Android’s spec page here.

 

 

 

Source: https://www.cnet.com/news/apple-is-rethinking-the-hearing-aid-and-now-android-is-too/

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CHEAP GAMING LAPTOPS NOW HAVE HIGH-END PERFORMANCE

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PC gaming is the hardest gaming ecosystem to join since a decent gaming PC, be it a desktop or laptop, can easily run for $2,000 or more. But the Acer Predator Helios 300 laptop disrupts that trend: this $1,199 laptop is fully capable of high-end gaming and VR. If you’re in the market for a gaming laptop but you have a limited budget, you should be excited because, until now, your options have been far more limited.

The Helios 300 is a true-to-form gaming laptop with a 15.6-inch 144Hz screen, GTX 1060 graphics, and an Intel Core i7 chip. Specs like these are usually reserved for laptops in the $2,000 range, yet the Helios 300 offers all of them for a fraction of the usual cost.

While it seems like the Helios 300 is a too-good-to-be-true laptop, it does come with some caveats, namely in design and keyboard quality. But even with those compromises, the Helios 300 is a precursor of a trend in cheaper but still-capable gaming laptops.

At the very least, I can say Acer designed a gaming laptop that looks the part: bright red accents, chunky corners, and thick bezels with plastic and metal that equal six pounds in weight. The Helios 300’s 1.05-inch chassis isn’t the thinnest, and it doesn’t have the highest quality build I’ve seen in a laptop for this price, but it does well to mask most of my fingerprints, despite its dark metal palm rest.

he Helios 300 reminds me of gaming laptops from two years ago when tasteful styling was unheard of and a gaming laptop that could double as a productivity machine was equally unheard of. I cannot say this design language has aged well — it hasn’t — but the real worth of the Helios 300 is in how well it can play games.

A “gaming” laptop, no matter its price, should be able to deliver high-end performance through a decent GPU and CPU and have the bare essentials to take advantage of that performance, such as a high refresh rate screen and reliable cooling. To this point, the Acer Helios 300 delivers a little bit of everything and then some.

The first spec an affordable gaming laptop should focus on is a good screen. Acer used a 144Hz IPS screen on the Helios 300. High refresh rate screens are important in PC gaming because the higher the rate, the smoother your gameplay experience will be. 144Hz is the current standard for high-end desktops and laptops, and it’s a welcome addition to a $1,200 laptop, which are usually equipped with slower, 60Hz screens.

There’s a lot I can say about the Helios 300’s gaming and productivity performance. Prior to the Helios 300, I haven’t tested a sub-$2,000 laptop that can play Rainbow Six: Siege and League of Legends, at a consistent 144 frames per second. Overwatch also runs at ultra settings, but it dips to the 80 fps mark in intense firefights. Destiny 2 also runs comfortably at around 100 fps with settings on ultra.

The gist of it is that you’ll be able to play most current-generation PC games on high (or the highest) settings, well past the 60 fps mark needed for smooth gameplay, and sometimes you’ll even reach the native 144 fps target.

Compared to pricier gaming laptops, the Helios 300 actually fares pretty well. The $2,399 Razer Blade 15 that I reviewed in June got similar frame rates playing the same games. Most other high-end gaming laptops, like the MSI GS65, operate in the same ballpark, with the only major differences between them and the Helios 300 being the thinner and lighter frames.

Because of its chunky profile, cooling is something the Helios 300 excels at — as any gaming laptop should — despite only having one open vent at the back. If thinness in gaming laptops is correlated with an increase in price (due to unique cooling solutions, Max Q GPUs, etc.), then I’d welcome a wave of cheaper, chunkier, but still svelte laptops, like the Helios 300. Under strain, the hottest areas of the Helios 300 include right above the function keys and the fan vents. The rest of the Helios 300 remains cool, which isn’t always the case with more expensive gaming laptops. (I’m looking at you, Razer.)

Here’s another surprise feature you wouldn’t expect on a budget gaming laptop: the ability to overclock the GTX 1060 to boost its performance. Within the PredatorSense app, you can control the Helios 300’s fan modes (auto, max, or a custom speed) as well as overclocking the GPU’s clock speed (when plugged in). Pushing the GPU to max overclock got me anywhere between 10-15 fps boost in the games that I tested.

The Helios 300 has a decent port selection, but it strangely omits a DisplayPort entirely. Obviously, you have to sacrifice some features for an affordable price, and being able to connect the Helios 300 to multiple monitors via DisplayPort is one of those axed features. Otherwise, you get one USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, an HDMI, Ethernet, and a USB 3.1 Gen 1 (but not Thunderbolt 3) Type-C port.

At this point, it’s clear Acer accomplished a lot of the things that would make more affordable gaming laptops great. Where Acer hasn’t done such a good job is with the keyboard. I’m much happier typing on my desktop mechanical keyboard, or even the oddly configured Razer Blade 15, than the Helios’ mushy keyboard. Acer went with an all-red backlight for the keys, which are shallow, soft, and don’t feel very tactile.

The layout is fine for a 15.6-inch chassis, but typing out long documents and emails is my least favorite thing about using the Helios 300. Hopefully, competing (affordable) gaming laptops will do a better job with the keyboard.

The touchpad isn’t something to get excited about, either. The best part about it is that it’s a Precision touchpad, so tracking is reliable and smooth and all of Windows 10’s multifinger gestures are supported. However, the touchpad feels very one-dimensional when clicked, it flexes at every corner, and it shares the same slick texture as the metal palm rest.

By now, you might be wondering how the battery life of a chunky, six-pound laptop fares with a discrete GPU and a six-core processor. Not well, I’m afraid: Acer advertises around seven hours of usage on the Helios 300, but using it conservatively with the brightness turned down and keyboard backlit on, I could only squeeze out around five hours of usage of standard, non-gaming productivity work.

Honestly, I didn’t expect the Helios 300 to do well with battery life anyway. However, most high-end gaming laptops rarely reach more than six hours away from an outlet, so the Helios isn’t too far off from them.

The Acer Predator Helios 300 is an exercise in frugality without too much compromise. It doesn’t have the longest-lasting battery, the most appealing design, or the best keyboard. While these shortcomings might be deal-breakers for the kind of enthusiast who wants a do-it-all laptop, it’s perfectly fine for the beginning PC gamer.

The Helios 300 excels at gaming performance for hundreds less than the laptops MSi, Asus, or Razer have on the market. After all, $1,200 isn’t exactly cheap — that’s about what you’ll pay for a premium productivity laptop — but prior to this, you had to pay a lot more to get this kind of performance. You’ll be able to play all the games you want, with high settings, and your eyes will be able to keep up with all that action on the 144Hz screen. Acer won’t be the only player in this space for long. It’s entirely likely that Asus, MSi, Alienware, and others will have similarly priced and specced laptops out before long.

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