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Google Pixel, Apple iPhone, OnePlus, and More

These days, high-quality photography is no longer the preserve of those with expensive DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. With a combination of smart software and the latest hardware, smartphones can now give the traditional cameras a run for their money.

If you love taking pictures, here are the best smartphones with great cameras that you can buy right now.



Google Pixel 3


Google Pixel 3

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$698.99

Since their initial launch, it has been widely acknowledged that Google’s Pixel range of Android smartphones has some of the best cameras around. The Google Pixel 3 is no different. However, on paper, it might not seem like it. The Pixel 3 has a single 12MP, f/1.8 aperture camera.

But coupled with Google’s software, that mid-range hardware turns into something spectacular. This is particularly evident when using the HDR+ mode. It gives the Pixel 3 photos an incredible dynamic range that makes them pop, while still retaining their natural colors. This mode technically takes multiple photos and then blends them to create the optimum exposure level.

The Pixel’s Night Sight mode lets you take well-lit night time photos without using the flash. The difference between a regular picture and a Night Sight picture is striking. It captures and enhances details that other cameras wouldn’t even pick up.



iPhone XS


iPhone XS

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$999.99

The iPhone XS has a dual camera system; one wide-angle and one telephoto lens. Apple has also included a Smart HDR mode, similar to Google’s HDR+ on the Pixel.

The smartphone maintains the iPhone’s reputation as the best point-and-shoot camera. It sticks to Apple’s it-just-works design philosophy, so taking a photo is as simple as tapping the shutter button.

The iPhone XS takes reasonable shots in portrait mode, though it can struggle in low-lighting conditions. But give it enough natural light, and your photos will shine.



OnePlus 6T


OnePlus 6T

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$637.95

If you’re a camera enthusiast with a mid-range budget, the OnePlus 6T is a good option for you. It sports a 16MP primary sensor and a 20MP secondary camera for digital zooming along with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) and Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS). Just like with the Pixel, the 6T uses software to enhance photos taken in portrait mode.

The camera opens without delay and has similarly fast autofocus as well. The HDR mode isn’t comparable to the Google Pixel, or even the iPhone XS, but it still represents colors well and has a wide dynamic range.

The OnePlus 6T’s low-light performance is quite good and certainly better than the iPhone XS. Outdoor scenes are balanced. But outdoor and zoomed-in shots can be noisy. You can capture 4K video at 60 fps. The 6T also comes with a Pro camera mode. If you’re familiar with manual controls, there are options for ISO, focus, and exposure.



iPhone XR


iPhone XR

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$749.00

The wide-angle camera in the iPhone XR is similar to that found in the iPhone XS. Where the two devices differ is in their implementation of portrait mode and optical zoom. However, the iPhone XR is substantially cheaper than the XS. So, if you can get by without those features, then you could save yourself money.

The 12MP wide-angle camera supports Apple’s Smart HDR mode. Plus, it simulates portrait mode shots using a single camera, in a similar way to Google’s Pixel phones. However good the implementation is, though, it’ll never quite reach the same standard found on the XS.

That said, the iPhone XR is a good value device that shares image quality, photo-taking experience, and 4K video recording with its more expensive sibling.



Huawei Mate 20 Pro


Huawei Mate 20 Pro

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$790.00

Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro packs a three camera configuration on the rear; a primary 40MP wide-angle lens at f/1.8, a 20MP ultra-wide lens at f/2.2 aperture, and an 8MP telephoto lens at f/2.4. Plus, it comes with Huawei’s AI image stabilization and 4K video recording at 30 fps.

The Mate 20 Pro performs well in daylight conditions, but despite its 40MP sensor, it struggles to compare to the Pixel and Google’s camera software experience.

The camera is quite versatile; the images are rich in detail, and the photos are well exposed. Thanks to the high-resolution sensors, the Mate 20 Pro captures more details in high-contrast settings. If taking photos in low light is a constant struggle for you, then you’ll be pleased by the camera’s Night Mode.



Moto G6 Plus


Moto G6 Plus

Buy Now On Amazon
$233.54

A high-performance smartphone camera usually comes at a cost, but not with the Moto G6 Plus. This budget-friendly device features an octa-core processor, full HD screen, 4GB of RAM, and a surprisingly good camera.

The phone has a 12MP primary lens, along with a 5MP depth sensor. Photos taken outdoors are reasonable, even if the dynamic range is a bit limited. Compared to the crisp, detailed images you’ll get from many of the phones above, the Moto G6 Plus does occasionally allow noise to slip into your photos.

However. the G6 Plus is substantially cheaper than the others in this list too. Given that, its performance actually exceeds expectations at this price point. The low-light photos come out well, and HDR mode helps adjust the contrast and makes the colors pop.

The Best Smartphone Camera for You

The smartphones included on this list range from flagship devices, all the way to budget phones. In many cases, the more expensive devices do indeed perform the best and will result in the best looking, highest quality images. However, many regard the Google Pixel 3 as the best smartphone camera you can buy today.

Most flagship devices now come equipped with multiple cameras. Whether you’re interested in a smartphone that has two, three, or even four cameras, you may be wondering why your phone needs more than one camera


Why Does My Phone Need More Than One Camera?




Why Does My Phone Need More Than One Camera?

Does your smartphone have multiple camera lenses? Here’s why, and how, multiple lenses can enhance smartphone photography.
Read More

. Ultimately, the best smartphone camera for you will be the one that suits your needs and budget.

Explore more about: Buying Tips, Digital Camera, Google Pixel, iPhone X, Smartphone Camera, Smartphone Photography.



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Microsoft Windows 10 Review & Rating

Best of the year 2018 logo smallWindows is pushing the boundaries of what’s possible on a personal computer, with capabilities like touch input, a voice-based virtual assistant, face login, and mixed reality. The latest released version of Windows 10, called October 2018 Update (or version 1809), continues Microsoft’s goal of enabling interactivity between the PC and smartphones. The marquee feature of the update is Your Phone, an app that syncs photos and SMS messages from Android phones. The October update added a lot of goodies to an already-impressive assortment, including Cloud Clipboard for pasting between devices, a better screenshot tool, dark mode for more system dialogs, and new gaming features.

The previous Windows 10 April 2018 (aka 1803) update added some major features of its own, including Timeline, Focus Assist, Nearby Sharing, new parental controls, and an updated News app. Your Phone and Cloud Clipboard are just the latest unique features to join the voice-based digital assistant Cortana, Windows Hello face login, and the other Windows trademarks. Even with all its forward-looking features, however, the OS remains familiar to longtime Windows users.

Rolling out software to hundreds of millions of users doesn’t happen in an instant, so you’re likely still running the April 2018 Update. A handful of users who installed the OS before the October 2018 rollout had a file-deletion issue if they’d enabled a Known Folder Redirection (KFR) feature but left files in the old folder location. The issue only affected one one-hundredth of one percent of installations, at a time when only a small percentage of users had updated, but Microsoft held up the rollout to address this edge case.

In fact, 1809 has the lowest incident rate since Windows 10 first released. I installed version 1809 the first day it was available and it has worked perfectly ever since. The next version, called 19H1 (for the first half of 2019) should drop early this April, and includes mostly tweaks and redesigns of existing features, rather than completely new big features. (See What’s Next for Windows 10, below.) Microsoft only offers updates automatically through Windows Update after verifying that the hardware supports it; consequently, in previous versions I’ve waited months to be offered an update for some PCs, so be patient!

Microsoft Windows 10 April 2018 Update -Desktop

What’s New in Windows 10?

For those familiar with Windows 10, below is a quick rundown of the latest features. For a visual walk-through, read Windows 10 October 2018 Update: The Best New Features.

  • Your Phone: Work with photos and text messages from an Android phone in this new included app on your PC.
  • Cloud Clipboard: The clipboard finally gets reusability, with both a history list for later use and roaming to other PCs you’ve signed into. Look for this feature to jump to smartphones in future updates.
  • New Search Panel: You now see tiles offering Apps, Settings, Documents, Photos, and Web options for search, and the result page offers action like opening a file or folder location.
  • New Screenshot Tool: Screenshot capability is improving on Windows, just as it recently did on macOS in Mojave.
  • Dark Mode for File Explorer: Windows’ dark mode is less consistent than Mojave’s, but adding it to this frequently used utility is a big step in the right direction.
  • Swipe Text Entry for On-Screen Keyboard: Microsoft is bringing its SwiftKey acquisition to Windows. The keyboard, which is already available as an add-in for Android and iOS, uses AI to learn your typing style and vocabulary.
  • Edge Can Stop Autoplay: A new setting in the Edge browser prevents web videos and sound from playing automatically—and often annoyingly. Chrome used to offer this option, but now the search and ad giant decides for you. The no-autoplay option joins Chrome’s recently added tab silencer.
  • Gaming Features: The Game Bar has been updated and is now a full-fledged app. Added are audio controls, and the ability to suppress Windows updates during gaming. The OS now supports DirectX ray tracing, supported by new Nvidia graphics cards.
  • Ease of Access: There are several improvements like letting you enlarge all text easily in Setting. There are also tweaks to Magnifier and Narrator.
  • More Useful Sticky Notes: The old Sticky Notes were gone forever when you closed them, these new improved ones not only are saved in a history list, but sync between multiple PCs.
  • Security: Windows Defender Security Center is now called Windows Security. It offers a clear report on device, virus, browser, network, ransomware, and account protections. The ransomware protection has been updated to let you allow apps to access controlled folders.

And here’s a recap of major new features that arrived with the April 2018 Update:

  • Timeline: See what you’ve been doing on your PC over the past month and quickly get back on track.
  • Focus Assist: An enhancement of Quiet Hours that is accessible by right-clicking the Action Center icon, Focus Assist adds options to set rules for when you don’t want to be disturbed by notifications and lets you specify contacts that can break through.
  • Nearby Sharing: Like Apple’s AirDrop feature, this lets you send photos, documents, and websites to a nearby PC.
  • Dictation From Anywhere: You can now use your voice to enter text in any text box.
  • Cortana Smart Home Control: The voice-based digital assistant can control smart home devices from ecobee, Honeywell, Nest, and Philips, among many others. You can also now use Cortana to play music on Spotify.
  • Steam VR and 3D Support: You can add 3D models to photos and videos, PowerPoint presentations. Mixed Reality for Steam VR is fully released.

Windows 10: A Success Story

With over 800 million installations (according to Microsoft), Windows 10 now claims over 54 percent of the Windows market (StatCounter), and Windows as a whole has 87 percent of the desktop OS market worldwide (NetMarketShare). By comparison, all versions of Apple’s macOS account for less than 20 percent of U.S. computers and less than half that worldwide. Linux as a whole gets less than 2 percent, and Ubuntu and Chrome OS both sit below 1 percent, whether you look at StatCounter or NetMarketShare numbers.

The newest Windows still runs the vast majority of the millions of existing desktop programs, something competing desktop operating systems can’t boast. Yes, that means it still uses the much-derided Registry to maintain configuration settings, but on today’s fast hardware, that’s no longer much of an issue. Microsoft now recommends against using any third-party registry-optimizing software for Windows 10.

How to Get Windows 10

If you’re running Windows 10, getting the latest is a simple matter of running Windows Update, accessible from the Settings app. You should see the text “Feature Update to Windows 10, version 1809.” For more detailed setup info, read How to Download the Windows 10 October 2018 Update Now. The update interface lets you choose when it’s performed, so it’s less likely to interrupt you while you need the PC.

Windows 10 October 2018 Update is a free upgrade for current Windows 10 PC owners. It’s also preinstalled on all new Windows PCs, but if you’re coming from Windows 7 or earlier and didn’t take advantage of the entire year it was a free upgrade, you can get the software via download or on USB sticks for $139.99 list for Home and $199.99 for Pro. Your data and programs come along for the ride when you update from previous versions, though it’s always a good idea to back up your data before an OS upgrade.

Windows 10’s minimum system requirements are surprisingly low: a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of hard drive space. The 64-bit version of Windows 10 increases the RAM requirement to 2GB and the disk space to 20GB. You’ll also need a DirectX 9-capable graphics card and a display with at least 800-by-600 resolution. You can find out whether your system is up to snuff by reading Can My PC Run Windows 10?

Windows 10 is available to most users in just two editions: Home and Pro (with 32-bit and 64-bit options for each), but all of the major features appear in both versions. Pro adds business-y things like network domain joining, Hyper-V virtualization, group policy management, and BitLocker encryption. That last one may be of interest to security-conscious personal users, too. Unsurprisingly, if you upgrade from Home levels of Windows 7 or 8, you get Windows 10 Home, and if you update from the professional versions of 7 or 8, you get Pro.

There are, of course, other editions of Windows 10 for special use cases: The Enterprise version of Windows 10 is still an option for large organizations that want bulk licensing deals. Two Education versions target K-12 institutions: Windows 10 Pro Education and Windows 10 Education. And let’s not forget the lightweight edition that powers Internet of Things devices and the Raspberry Pi: Windows 10 IoT Core.

Interface

Windows 10 presents almost no learning curve for longtime Windows users, while managing to incorporate many of the advances of Windows 8—faster startup, tablet capability, better notifications, and an app store. Its windowing prowess remains unmatched, letting you easily show the desktop and snap windows to the sides and corner quadrants of the screen.

The Start menu is a differentiator from both macOS and Ubuntu, which have no centralized place for the user to start working with apps, files, search, and settings. Chrome OS has a Launcher tool, but that’s not as far-reaching as Windows’ Start menu. Another is that programs have their own menus, rather than using the operating system menus along the top of the screen as macOS and Ubuntu do.

Fluent Design, Microsoft’s new design language that uses translucency, blurring, and animation to give helpful visual cues, asserts itself more with each update. One fun Fluent effect is called Acrylic Material, which gives elements like menu bars a semi-transparent look and the appearance of depth when the mouse is over them. It now extends to the Start menu, Settings dialog, and Action Center.

Windows 10 Interface

It’s still worth calling out a feature that appeared in 2017’s Creators Update: Night Light. This works similarly to Apple products’ Night Shift, adjusting the colors displayed to reduce the blue part of the spectrum, which has been found to interfere with getting a good night’s sleep. When you turn on Night Light in Settings, it’s enabled from sunset to sunrise by default, but you can change it to hours you specify, or turn it on immediately. Apple Night Shift only offers the last two options. You can even adjust the warmth of the spectrum Night Light uses (see the nearby screenshot).

Another eye-saving feature is Windows 10’s Dark theme, which changes built-in apps’ presentation to a black background with white text. It’s still not quite as all-encompassing as the dark mode in Apple macOS Mojave, but the Windows dark theme now applies to the frequently used File Explorer, as of the October 2018 Update. Windows dark theme also takes effect in the Start menu, Taskbar, as well as 23 included apps. Oddly, Edge has its own separate setting for light and dark modes.

Microsoft Windows 10

The Start menu shows the All Apps list without a second button press, and it also shows most used and newly installed apps. I appreciate that you can also set basic folder icons to appear, or not, as you choose. So, for example, you can have icons for File Explorer, Downloads, Documents, and so on appear right above the start button.

Another interface feature I’ve come to cherish is File Explorer’s Quick Access section. This lets you easily find whatever file you were last working on regardless of the application you were using. So, if you edit an image and want to add it to another app, it’s right at the top of the Quick Access list. You never have to remember where you just saved a file to find it quickly. One thing File Explorer lacks is tabbed windows, which both macOS and Linux have.

Unfortunately, design differences between the Settings App and Control Panel still remain. For simple system settings you use the Settings app, but for deep, technical system options, you go to the Control Panel. Though you can get to deeper settingsStorage Sense in Windows 10 like Device Manager and Disk Management by right-clicking the Start button, Control Panel’s no longer an option there. Instead, you see it when you perform certain actions like trying to uninstall a legacy program. You can still open it by simply typing “Control” in the Start menu search bar. At this point, most settings that most users will need are in the newer Settings app, but techies still see the old-design control panels.

One feature that uses the older interface language, Disk Cleanup, is being replaced by Storage Sense in the new Settings interface. This feature automatically removes temp files and downloaded installers. You can run it on-demand using the Clean Now button, have it run automatically when your storage gets low, or set it to run on a schedule.

Timeline

This feature takes over the Task View, adding the elements of time, showing your activities over the past 30 days. It could indeed save time if you’ve been working in Office 365 or browsing in Edge, but it’s mostly for use with UWP and Microsoft apps at this point. A plus is that, if you using the Microsoft Launcher on your Android phone, you also see activity from that. (Timeline viewing on the iOS version of Edge is in beta.)

At first, I objected to the feature’s combining with the Task View for multiple virtual displays, but have come to the conclusion that it’s clearly designed and well implemented. You can see currently running tasks at the top, and the Timeline entries below that. You can even search for your earlier activity. Recently, Microsoft released a Chrome extension that adds activity from Google’s browser to your Windows 10 Timeline. I’ve been using a Firefox extension that does the same thing for several months.

Cloud Clipboard

The revamped Windows clipboard lets you access several previously copied items—a convenience that’s long overdue on all computing platforms. You access the list of copied items using Windows Key-V instead of Ctrl-V. Syncing the cloud clipboard means that they’re accessible on other PCs you’re signed in to, and later this will extend to phones via the SwiftKey add-in keyboard. You turn on Cloud Clipboard in a new Settings option. Note that according to Microsoft, “currently, the clipboard history supports plain text, HTML and images less than 1MB.”

New Screenshot Tools

Related to the clipboard are new screenshot capabilities. You can now hit Windows key-Shift-S to select a section of the screen that will be sent to the clipboard. Your selection can be a rectangle, a freeform shape, or the full screen. When you snap a screenshot this way, a panel appears in the lower-right corner of the screen offering the option to mark up and crop the image.

The new Snip & Sketch tool lets you mark up and share your snipping—it even lets you clip a non-rectangular shape and draw circle sections with a protractor.

Another very useful screenshot feature ties in with OneDrive, which you can set to store images when you tap the PrintScreen key for full screen capture or Alt-PrintScreen for the window in focus. This saves you the steps of going from the clipboard to image file saving in some image editor, such as Paint.

The Mobile Connection

The Settings app includes a Phone section, which lets you integrate your Android or iOS device with your PC. The Continue on PC app lets any browser on iOS or Android open a webpage immediately on a Windows 10 PC, or to create a notification in the Action Center with the link. For tips on how to get started with this feature, read Sync Your Smartphone to Windows 10 With Continue on PC.

And that’s just the start. Using the iOS or Android version of the Edge browser and the Cortana app provides even more integration. The next step, Your Phone, is the topic of my next section.

Your Phone App and Mobile

The biggest news for the October 2018 Update is the Your Phone app. This lets you see and even drag-and-drop photos from your phone, and engage in SMS text messaging on a connected phone from the PC. You enable these by installing the Your Phone Companion app on the mobile. The catch is that this only works with Android, for now. Microsoft is working with Apple to try to get the same integration on iPhones, but I wouldn’t hold my breath, given the tight grip Apple keeps on its platforms.

Next up is access to your Timeline from the phone. This is available in preview, which you can enable on the Play Store’s entry for the Microsoft Launcher. Microsoft’s goal with all this is to make your mobile devices smarter by tapping into its cloud services, using what the company calls the Microsoft Graph. This includes data from Office 365, LinkedIn, and that gathered by its Bing search service, which crawls the entire web.

Mobile-connected PCs are also an option, with new models powered by Qualcomm CPUs as the latest examples. For these, Windows includes Messaging and Mobile Plans apps.

More for Photos

The included Photos app is not only a decent photo editor, but it also edits videos and supports mixed reality objects. It’s dressed in the slick Fluent Design System look, with a translucent window. It also has an AI-powered search function, which means you can type things like “dog” or “mountain” and see results containing those items in your photo collection.

Windows 10 Photos App - April 2018 Update

Photos lets you import media from any device or folder, and can display raw camera files from popular formats like Canon’s .CR2, Nikon’s .NEF, and Sony’s .ARW. You can organize your photos into albums, apply automatic photo editing fixes like red-eye correction, lighting, and color, as well as add Instagram-like filters. The app’s interface uses slider bars for easy touch input, and lets you draw on photos and videos.

Photos creates automatic galleries for you based on photos taken at a similar time and place, picking the best of similar photos to include. Its face-recognition and can group all the shots of one person, and finally lets you associate names with the faces.

Video Editing in the Photos App

You get different choices for video creation depending on whether you’re at the app’s home screen or viewing an individual photo or video. To automatically create a video with the option to Remix it, tap the Create button and then choose Automatic video with music. From an individual image’s Edit & Create button, you can choose Create a video with music. This lets you select two or more photos or clips and join them, apply titles, crops, filter effects and add fitting background music and titles. When I created a movie based on a recent weekend trip, the video’s recipients were impressed with the results.

Video Editing in Windows 10

The video editing interface is storyboard based, meaning it doesn’t use timeline tracks. You can drag the thumbnails back and forward in the sequence to reorder them, and you can trim individual video clips. A very cool extra is that you can apply 3D effects, and even anchor them to an object in your video with motion tracking. You can use the included mood music or your own tracks. If you choose the former, transitions are timed to the beats.

In the automatic video choice, you can designate someone in your video as the Star. The program identifies faces in the video clips and photos, and it lets you choose one to highlight. It then creates a video in which that person is the most important element.

Video Remix in Windows 10

My People

The My People feature lets you pin contacts to the Taskbar for easy communication via email, Skype, or whatever communication apps later support it. You can drag files to the friend’s icon to share files with them, read or send email or Skype messages without opening separate apps. But the most fun part of it happens when you send an emoticon in a Skype chat: The smiley pops up from the user icon and animates with a large winking character, for example, or whatever emotion is being shared.

In the April 2018 Update, My People got some Fluent design, and now lets you add more contacts than the first release—now you can add up to 10.

My People in Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

Cortana Tricks

Cortana, Windows’ voice-responsive AI digital assistant, is one of Windows 10’s highest-profile features. The intelligent voice assistant predates Apple’s Siri on the Mac by over a year. You can even turn off, restart, lock, or log out of your PC using your voice. There’s a confirmation step, so don’t worry about shutting down unexpectedly. I find this a great convenience at the end of the day, when I just want to tell the computer to shut down, rather than tap more keys.

Cortana April 2018 Update

Tap the circle next to the Start button to use the system’s search, which covers local documents, apps, settings, photos, and web. In the October 2018 Update, the panel that pops up when you hit the Cortana button is expanded with tiles for each of those search types.

Cortana’s Notebook, which is where you specify your interests so that you’ll be notified about what matters to you, has added a few more categories, including On the Go, which pops up suggestions for when you arrive at work or home. Unlike Siri or Google Now, Cortana lets you specify exactly what the assistant knows about you—interests, important people, locations—and you choose whether to have her respond to your spoken “Hey Cortana,” or whether you want to use the feature at all.

Cortana Reminders can be based on Place, Person, or Time, but they don’t have to be. Sometimes you just want to be reminded of something without having to specify any of those. That kind of reminder shows up in Cortana’s Whenever group.

You can use Cortana from the lock screen—useful for things like playing a music playlist, asking about the weather, or asking for points of information. Speaking of music, the Cortana panel has a musical note button that serves a Shazam-like function to identify songs in range of your PC’s mic. Intel also has wake-on-voice technology that means you could say “Hey Cortana!” and have the PC respond even if it’s in sleep mode.

It’s sort of like an Amazon Echo, without the need for a separate device. Dedicated Cortana speakers like the Harman Kardon Invoke let you use Microsoft’s assistant without a PC. An icon in the Cortana sidebar, that looks like the Invoke speaker itself, makes setting up such devices a snap. It also lets you set up an Amazon Alexa-based smart speaker. Cortana has skills that let you control smart home devices like Philips Hue lightbulbs.

More smart home integrations come to Cortana all the time: ecobee, Honeywell, Nest, and Wink are now supported. To access these, go to Cortana’s Notebook, choose the Manage Skills tab, and click Connected Home. And Microsoft previously added support for IFTTT, which lets it tie into even more smart home devices and web services using what it now calls applets formerly called (recipes).

Cortana Reminders is also a share target, accessible from the share button in a Universal Windows app. For example, if you’re in the Edge web browser, you can hit the Share button, choose Cortana Reminders, and attach the site URL to the reminder. If you do this from the Photos app, the picture is included in the reminder.

Cortana can scan your Outlook.com or Office 365 email for phrases like “I’ll get you the report by the end of the day,” and suggest a reminder. It’s a completely opt-in feature, and you have to add Outlook.com or Office 365 as a connected service in Cortana’s Notebook. Another capability is Pick Up Where I Left Off, in which Cortana offers to resume all the activities from your last session, such as websites open and documents you’re working on.

Microsoft has moved some info that used to live in the Cortana panel over to the Action Center. I’m not really a fan of this, since I can’t quickly check my sports and stocks with Cortana anymore. Instead I have to wait for them to appear in the Action Center.

Windows Ink

Touch and pen input support is a major differentiator between Windows 10 and Apple’s macOS. Apple sticks with Steve Job’s edict that touch screens don’t make sense on laptops and desktops, but a touch screen is the most intuitive interface type possible. You see something you want to interact with, such as a button, and you can press it with your finger. Chrome OS supports both touch and stylus input, though that support is not as far-reaching through the operating system as it is in Windows 10.

In using a Surface Book and an Asus Zen AiO Pro Z240IC all-in-one PC (both of which have touch screens) for the past year or so, I’ve gotten to the point of trying to tap buttons on computers with non-touch screens out of habit. Ubuntu offers some touch support, but it can be hit-or-miss based on the computer you’re running.

Windows’ digital ink capabilities allow stylus input to work just like a pen or pencil, converting it to text. This is a technologically cool feature, but it will only be of interest to owners of tablets and convertibles like the Surface Pro, the Surface Book, or the Surface Go. The Windows Ink Workspace offers sticky notes (with extra smarts), as well as Sketchpad and Screen Sketch options. It also shows recent apps you’ve penned in and suggests pen-friendly apps in the Store. As mentioned, the April 2018 Update added a Tap to Ink feature that lets you instantly start writing in any text field. It also reduces inking latency by 30 to 50 percent. You can turn off the feature’s icon if you don’t expect to use it.

Windows Ink Workspace

The Ink Workspace can be summoned by clicking a stylus button. You can also take advantage of some Cortana smarts in Sticky Notes. For example, if you write “Wednesday,” the text is turned to a blue link, and clicking this gives you the option to set a Cortana reminder. I actually had better luck getting Cortana to notice flight information when I typed it in the note, rather than penning it, however. Info on flight status for such notes appears at the bottom of the sticky. New for Sticky Note is a web view, at onenote.com/stickynotes.

Sketchpad offers ballpoint pen, pencil, highlighter, eraser, ruler, and touch writing tools. Sketchpad resembles the whiteboard app on the Surface Hub. It also lets you crop the image, copy it, and share it to any Universal Windows app in the share sidebar. A ruler tool lets you draw perfectly straight lines, and even includes a compass. Double-clicking the pen button or choosing Screen Sketch from the Ink Workspace snaps a screenshot of your desktop and opens it in Sketchpad so you can annotate and draw on top of it with any of the aforementioned tools.

One of the coolest inking capabilities is the pen keyboard. You switch to this mode from the standard on-screen keyboard (or by tapping in a text box with the stylus point). Start writing on the line there, and text predictions show up. Hit Enter, and your writing turns into text in whatever text area you’re writing in. It does surprisingly well with even poor penmanship, and striking through your writing deletes it easily.

On-Screen Keyboard

Aside from pen input in the on-screen keyboard, new for October 2018 is the ability to swipe text on touch-screen PCs, a la the mobile SwiftKey keyboard. In fact, the same machine-learning SwiftKey technology appears in the Windows version of the on-screen touch keyboard, meaning it can learn your writing style and vocabulary.

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If you want to type without touching anything, the on-screen keyboard shows a microphone, meaning you can use voice dictation in anything on your PC that accepts text input. You can also hit Windows Key-H to have your PC automatically transcribe your spoken words. Another new keyboard capability is mobile-style shape writing, where you swipe a finger around a standard keyboard to produce words.

Nearby Sharing in Windows 10

Nearby Sharing

Apple has long offered a way to get photos and other content to a nearby iPhone or Mac, with AirDrop. Now Windows 10’s Nearby Sharing feature lets us Windows users do the same. The feature uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and you have to enable it. That’s easy, since the option to do so appears the first time you use any app’s Share button. As with AirPlay, when you send something, a notification pops up on the recipient’s device.

Edge Web Browser Gets Sharper

The Edge web browser that comes with Windows 10 is fast and standards-compatible, and it offers unique tools like Set Aside Tabs, Web Notes (for marking up and sharing webpages), a clean (ad-free) Reading mode, ebook support, and a built-in Cortana search sidebar via right-click.

The browser will continue to offer these features, but Microsoft announced that Edge will move from the EdgeHTML page-rendering engine to Chromium’s Blink engine (the same one Google Chrome uses) in 2019. This should result in more site compatibility, but I’m concerned that it will further consolidate Google’s dominance of the Internet, since the search ad giant controls the open-source project. Several tech news sites have implied that Microsoft is “killing” Edge, but that’s no more true than saying Opera killed its browser when it moved to the Chromium page rendering code. Opera is alive and well, and continues to add excellent features like an integrated VPN. One side-benefit to Microsoft’s move is that it plans to offer Edge for macOS and older Windows versions as well as Windows 10.

Extension support came to Edge with the Anniversary Update, but now its extensions are more capable and somewhat more abundant. Ebook support came in Creators Update, as did tab organization and preview tools, payment options, and 4K support for Netflix.

Edge Browser

The April 2018 update added the ability to silence noisy tabs with a click on the speaker icon that appears in any tab issuing sound. And the October 2018 Update lets you silence auto-play videos and music. Edge can autofill online payment forms with secure information, print webpages without all the unessential clutter, and display PDFs and ebooks in full screen.

The October 2018 Update also confers on the browser a redesigned Settings panel that’s clearer and more closely resembles the main OS Settings design, complete with Fluent design transparency. Tab design has been tweaked to make which tab is active clearer. You can also now customize toolbar icons.

Edge’s Extensions menu option links to the Windows app store, from which you can get Edge extensions. I tested by installing one I consider essential—LastPass. There are also extensions for Amazon, Evernote, Microsoft Translator, OneNote, Pinterest, Pocket, and more. These should make the browser appealing to more demanding users. There are now over 200 extensions as I write this, though Firefox and Chrome offer thousands. Happily, some strong privacy and ad-blocking extensions are available, including AdGuard and uBlock Origin. (AdBlock and Adblock Plus are also in the store, but I find those less effective.)

Microsoft representatives told me that the reason for the smaller selection is that the Edge team is being very careful in vetting extensions, not wanting another ActiveX-type security nightmare. Coding for IE’s extensions uses the same web technologies as Chrome does (HTML and JavaScript), however, and Microsoft says converting existing Chrome extensions is trivial for developers. What’s more, the W3C is coming out with a Browser Extension standard, which Microsoft plans to support.

Unlike most browsers’ extensions, Edge’s appear by default in the overflow menu rather than next to the address bar, but you can add their icons to the toolbar with a Settings option. The LastPass extension worked just as in other browsers. LastPass’s on-page features, such as automatic password fill-in, also worked well via the extension.

Edge now gets 492 out of a possible 555 points in my testing on the HTML5Test.com site, up from 478 in Fall Creators, and making it highly compatible with modern web standards compared with IE, which scores 312. For the first time in my memory, Edge now tops Firefox, which scores 489, but Chrome still leads with 528, Opera duplicates that as does Vivaldi, both of which use Chrome’s rendering engine.

Tablet and touch-screen users will appreciate Edge’s swipe gestures, which let you go back and forth in history, and desktop users will appreciate that right-clicking the back button drops down tab history, as most browsers do. I also appreciate that Edge, like other browsers, offers a Paste-and-go option and the ability to pin tabs. You can also pin webpages to the Taskbar or Start menu. But you still can’t set a web image as your desktop background from the browser, as you can in Firefox.

Microsoft has done quite a bit with tabs in Edge, particularly helpful to those who keep lots of tabs open. The browser already showed thumbnail previews of your site tabs when you hover over them with the mouse, but a down-caret button lets you show all the preview thumbs at once for easy skim-ability. I do wish that you could turn off the hover-over thumbnails, though, since they sometimes get in the way of browser control buttons.

The Set Aside icon at top left lets you send the currently open group of tabs to the background. Just tap the window icon to its left to reopen the set, favorite them, or share them. The tab groups you’ve set aside remain available even after you shut down and restart Edge.

Ebooks in Edge

Edge serves as the reader for Microsoft’s ebook initiative. The browser already can display PDFs, but you can also buy (or get for free) ebooks in the Windows Store. There’s already a decent selection, with a good library of free classics. I downloaded Dickens’ Great Expectations, and it looked great on the high-res Surface Book display. You access your bookshelf via the same icon that drops down Favorite, Reading List, History, and Downloads. (One remaining peeve about the browser’s History list is that it’s not searchable, though Timeline covers for this now.) Just like any other ebook reader, it lets you choose fonts (including publisher defaults), set bookmarks, view the table of contents, and search. You can also look up words with Cortana via right-click or tap-and-hold options.

e-books in edge in windows 10

One very cool option is to have the book read to you by a selection of voice types, with adjustable speed. For standard reading, you can swipe back and forth through pages or tap the left or right side of the screen. But in a way, I still prefer a separate app for book-reading. For example, the Nook app that I use shows the exact page numbers, while in Edge (and Kindle) you only see a percent read. It’s also preferable to have the bookstore in the same app as the reader. You can finally set Edge to full screen view, which makes for a better reading experience.

Action Center

A Windows 10 feature with roots in mobile operating systems is the Action Center. While previous versions of Windows included something also called Action Center, this one is more like a smartphone’s notifications plus quick action features. In fact, that’s exactly what it is.

Windows 10 Action Center

The Windows 10 Action Center, similar to Apple macOS’s Notification Center, keeps those messages available in a right-side panel. You open Windows 10’s Action Center panel from a taskbar button, or on touch screens with a swipe in from the right edge of the screen.

The panel also offers frequently needed functions like power, settings, networking, and screen brightness and rotation. One of these actions, Connect, is pretty neat, in that it lets you project your screen onto another one on your Wi-Fi network. I was able to display my Surface Pro’s screen on a big Samsung TV with no setup aside from choosing OK on the TV—pretty nifty.

Focus Assist

You get to Focus Assist by right-clicking on the Action Center’s icon, where the choice appears, or by using its Quick Action button in Action Center. You can set it to allow Priority contacts to get through to you, or to only let alarms work. In the Settings app, you designate who can break through and specify times you want focus. You can even enable the feature while you’re gaming on your PC.

Store and Universal Windows Apps

Why do you need an app store on your PC? Mac users have had one for several years, and it offers the advantages of automatic updating and a single source for finding programs you need. It gives you access on all your PCs to apps you’ve bought. Acceptance to the Windows Store also means an app has been vetted by Microsoft for security. You can even install apps to external memory—something tablet users will appreciate.

For Windows 10, there are even more advantages for these modern apps: They can tie in with the notifications and share panels. For example, if you use the Facebook app rather than going to the Facebook website, you can see notifications for new messages and you can send shareable content via the app.

The Microsoft Store

Windows 10 Store apps are called Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps, meaning they can run on desktops, tablets, phones, the Surface Hub, and eventually on the Xbox and Microsoft HoloLens 3D augmented-reality headset. Modern Microsoft Store apps (aka UWP—Universal Windows Apps) don’t come with any Registry baggage.

That’s partly why Microsoft delivered Windows 10 S (now considered a Mode rather than an separate OS version), which only runs Windows Store apps. According to the official Windows Blog, going forward, “customers can choose to buy a new Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro PC with S mode enabled, and commercial customers will be able to deploy Windows 10 Enterprise with S mode enabled.”

Underneath these apps is Windows 10’s OneCore platform, a common base that underlies all these device types and allows not only apps, but also device drivers to work with them. UWP apps have one final benefit: They run within containers so that they don’t mess with the rest of your system.

Tablet Mode

Tablet mode is a trimmed down, more touch-friendly version of the OS, with a full-screen tile-based Start screen. After you pull off the keyboard from a tablet, such as the Surface Pro, or convert a convertible laptop to tablet mode (often by bending the screen backwards), Windows pops up a message asking if you want to switch to Tablet mode, in which the Start menu and modern apps become full-screen. Touch gestures like closing an app by swiping down from the top of the screen work in this mode, and the All Apps view stretches across the screen with large tiles so it’s easier to get to any app.

Included Apps—Office Mobile, Mail, Calendar

You get a surprisingly full kit of apps with Windows 10. Utilities like Calculator, Camera, Paint 3D, and Voice Recorder are joined by information apps like Maps, News, and Weather. In all, I counted 23 such stock apps and utilities. News in particular has been updated with a clean design, customizable topics and sources, and a nifty dark view. The Windows app also syncs with matching mobile versions for iOS and Android.

Windows 10 News App

The version of Office you get with Windows 10 is equivalent to the iPad version of Office, called Office Mobile. It’s capable of most word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation needs, but pros who need to dig into Excel pivot tables and Word advanced formatting will want the Office 365 version.

The included Mail app is getting smarter, with things like Focused Inbox. This is a great feature that’s already implemented in the Outlook for iPhone and Android apps. It filters out all the newsletters and promotions, and only shows you mail from those with whom you regularly correspond, or that is in some other way deemed important by the service. You can of course still see everything else at the tap of a tab, and turn off this focusing for mail you don’t want it. You can also use @ signs in an email body to add them to the conversation. Still, the app isn’t as powerful as the Office 365 desktop version and still has some quirks, though I must admit that it’s now good enough to be my everyday work email client.

The Mail app is integrated with Calendar and Contact apps, available from buttons along the bottom of Mail. Calendar does a presentable job of handling multiple calendars, appointments, and views. The Calendar includes color-coding for event categories, public calendar subscriptions for shows and sports, and cards for deliveries and travel reservations. The cards for travel reservations even have links to online check-in services. Unfortunately, you still cannot create mailing groups in Mail or People and cannot export contacts from the People app.

Focused Inbox in Windows Mail

The Groove Music app can play music sitting on your hard drive or in your OneDrive cloud storage. And at year’s end, that’s all it will do, since Microsoft has discontinued the excellent Groove Music Pass streaming subscription, pushing users to the capable Spotify service, which offers Store apps for Windows 10 and Xbox. Impressively, the app can even play FLAC lossless audio, and even includes an equalizer.

Another included app is Movies & TV, which also offers a content store as well as the ability to play your own videos. The Compact Overlay option lets you have a small, always-on-top window showing video while you do other things on your PC.

You still get lots of utility-type apps, too, including a scanner app, alarms, and a voice recorder.

Windows 10 Maps

The impressive Maps app lets you use Windows Ink to mark up a map using a stylus or your finger on a touch-screen PC. But that’s not all: You can calculate the distance of a line you draw on a map and get directions for any two points you tap. If you don’t have a touch screen, the same functionality is possible with a mouse. You can also use a virtual on-screen ruler to make your lines straight.

Paint 3D with Mixed Reality

For basic image editing, that old standby, Paint, moves to the Windows Store. Its replacement, the Paint 3D, is the default. Not only does it let you create, customize, and decorate 3D objects, but you can also share them with the Remix3D.com online community. You can even show your 3D creations mixed with real-world backgrounds using the PC’s camera.

The Mixed Reality Viewer is an included app that will play a central role in Microsoft’s VR strategy along with HoloLens and lower-cost headsets. Along with that, the Mixed Reality viewer app can show your 3D creations as part of the real world, using your webcam. You can even anchor an object to a surface, such as your shoulder!

Mixed Reality in Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

OneDrive and Skype

Two of Microsoft’s cloud services—OneDrive for online storage and syncing and Skype for communication—play an increasingly prominent role in Windows 10. There’s an important distinction between these and Apple’s analogous iCloud for macOS: They can be used on any platform. There are Skype and OneDrive apps for Macs, Androids, and iOS devices, as well as for Windows devices.

OneDrive Files On-Demand spares you from downloading everything to all PCs in your account; instead, the OneDrive folder shows everything, but files that are only in the cloud show a cloud icon in the status column in File Explorer. While OneDrive does a great job syncing Office documents and personalization settings, and Skype is a very rich communication tool, there’s still some work for Microsoft to do in integrating them with Windows 10. You can finally share from Photos to OneDrive, but only if you install the OneDrive UWP app. OneDrive still boasts the very useful Fetch capability: If you enable this, you can browse any folders remotely form OneDrive’s web interface.

Though you can still download an old-school Skype desktop app, the UWP Skype app is finally fully baked. You can directly reply to Skype messages inside Action Center, which happily saves you from opening yet another app. Windows has the potential for parity with macOS’s Messaging and Facetime apps, but it’s not there yet. The Mac solution is still more seamless, but Windows 10 is getting closer, with an SMS relay option for Android via the Cortana app. Also keep in mind that Skype is a full, standalone VoIP solution that can call standard phones, while the Mac is just hooking into the iPhone’s mobile connection and requires proximity of the phone. Like OneDrive, Skype works on all major platforms, not just one.

Gaming in Windows 10

Gaming is one area where Windows is miles ahead of macOS or Ubuntu. And Microsoft continues to make the Window 10 proposition sweeter for gamers. The Xbox app for Windows 10 not only lets them see an activity feed, but it also includes game DVR and can even stream games from an Xbox One to the PC. You can also stream games publicly on Microsoft’s Twitch competitor, Mixer.com.

The Xbox and Windows 10 Stores have been unified, and the Play Anywhere initiative means you can buy games for one platform and play them either on the console or the PC. Game progress stays in sync between platforms. Play Anywhere games have begun to appear, and the list has grown since I last checked, now at 44 titles with 5 more “coming soon.” Notable entries are Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 4, Killer Instinct, ReCore, and Resident Evil. You can keep up with the list on the Xbox Play Anywhere page.

If you’re more of a VR and Steam person, Mixed Reality for Steam VR is now fully released. You now have two home bases for your Mixed Reality virtual environments: SkyLoft joins Cliff House as an option. There are more than 2,000 VR titles in the Steam VR library, and you now have a half dozen mixed reality headsets to choose from, from the likes of Samsung, Acer, and Dell.

Xbox (for PC)

Beyond the Xbox app, Windows 10’s 3D video engine is DirectX 12, which, according to some game developers, could open up a whole new level of realism to games. And Windows 10 lets you turn off VSync and instead enable AMD’s Freesync and Nvidia’s G-Sync in Universal Windows Platform (UWP) games and apps. The same update also unlocked frame rates for UWP games. You can read more about what Freesync, G-Sync and unlocked frame rates mean for Windows 10 on our sister site, Extreme Tech.

The October 2018 Windows update adds support for DirectX ray tracing, a capability found in recent Nvidia graphics cards. This allows for real-time calculation of shadows and reflections, for more performant and realistic game scenes.

The Windows 10 Game Bar (invoked with Windows key-G) lets you enter Game Mode on demand, start streaming to Mixer.com, and DVR recording. It’s been redesigned in the October 2018 update: now it’s a full-fledged app that you can also launch from the Start menu. The Update also adds audio controls.

The OS’s Game Mode moves system resources away from background tasks towards the game you’re playing. You can also control this and other gaming features in the dedicated Gaming section of Settings. The game-broadcasting capability of Mixer.com boasts sub-1-second latency, for much tighter communication with your audience. It also lets users create their own Arena gamer tournaments on Xbox Live, in support of the burgeoning esports craze.

Not sure which game to play? Choose some from the group of first-rate titles in our Best PC Games feature.

Security and Privacy

When setting up a Windows 10 account, you can set up a local account without the need for a Microsoft account, but you lose many of the OS’s best features if you do so. Many critics have nevertheless called out Microsoft for harvesting usage data by default, so the company has clarified privacy choices at setup. Moreover, a Privacy Dashboard lets you see and manage any data saved in your Microsoft account. For details, read Windows 10: How to Protect Your Privacy.

The October 2018 Update renames the Windows Defender Security Center to simply Windows Security. It also gets an added page showing third-party security software you’ve installed, made the Current Threats section more accessible, and lets you allow apps to access controlled folders (part of the system’s ransomware protection).

IT staff can benefit from Windows 10’s enhanced Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection (Windows Defender ATP), which prevents and monitors new indicators of attacks. For consumers, the Defender Settings panel offers an option for protection against ransomware, with the Controlled folder access option. Windows Defender Application Guard protection is available to Windows 10 Pro users; this can stave off even sophisticated browser attacks. Windows Defender can schedule regular system scans and shows notifications about threats. As of the latest update, right-clicking Defender’s system tray icon offers options to scan for viruses, update virus definitions, and more.

The Dynamic Lock feature lets you log off based on the proximity of your Bluetooth-paired smartphone, using Dynamic Lock. I tried this with a Surface Book and my iPhone X (yes—you don’t need a Windows Phone!). After I walked about 50 paces away, sure enough, the Surface switched to lock-screen mode. This is a security feature, since it only logs you off when you’re away, not on when you come near. The April update improves on this feature, notifying you when your phone’s Bluetooth is switched off.

Windows Hello biometric authentication is supported on PCs equipped with a 3D and IR camera like the Intel RealSense devices. You can also use third-party biometric login devices, such as the Eidon Mini fingerprint reader, and a wristband from Nymi that identifies you by your unique heartbeat signature. One device I’ve had excellent Hello success with is the Logitech Brio 4K webcam. With the latest update, you can set up Hello from the lock screen.

On the software side, Windows Universal Apps and websites you browse in Edge can also use Hello for authentication, similar to identifying yourself on an iPhone or Apple Watch with Apple’s TouchID. Apps that support Hello include Dropbox and iHeartRadio.

Like Firefox, Edge now blocks Flash from running unless you green-light it by tapping a puzzle-piece icon. You can choose to always allow Flash, too, but why not take advantage of that extra measure of protection?

The built-in antivirus in Windows 10 have greatly improved over the last few versions, but PCMag’s security guru, Neil J. Rubenking, still recommends third-party security software for optimal protection.

You can also enhance your privacy by installing VPN software. This encrypts your data and hides your IP address from intruders. It also prevents your own internet service provider from collecting your browsing data to profile you. For instructions on how to set up a VPN, see How to Set Up and Use a VPN.

WIndows Hello in Dropbox

In addition to its privacy and security enhancements, parental control in Windows 10 benefits from recent updates. Family settings like site blocking now take effect across Windows, Xbox, and mobile Microsoft apps such as its Android Launcher and Edge browser. The tools also let parents limit spending on the Xbox and Windows stores, as well as restrict and monitor screen time.

What’s Next for Windows 10?

Those interested in what the future holds for the OS are more privileged than fans of just about any other software: They can join the Windows Insider Program and experience the features coming to future updates months before they’re released. You can sign up for Fast or Slow preview release channels, with the first option being less stable that the latter. This Flight Hub page tells you exactly what features are included in each channel.

The latest preview features are a simplified default Start menu (with just one column of tiles), a Sandbox for testing risky applications (Windows 10 Pro only), a revamped Protection History interface in Security settings, and password-less account setup using mobile numbers. Also new is integration between Cortana, ToDo, and Outlook, to streamline task creation and visibility. Speaking of Cortana, she will be separated from the system search box, so when you tap the circular icon, the voice assistant will start listening. Cortana will also provide Windows support when you say something like “Cortana, show me how to change my display settings.”

One of the hottest announced features was Sets, which lets you run multiple applications in a single tabbed window. This makes sense for a project you might be working on that requires a web browser, word processor, and PowerPoint. Microsoft pulled this feature from Preview versions prior to the 1809 release, and the project seems on hold for now. We may see the feature reappear at some point, at least for some users.

Windows 10 Light Mode Desktop Background

A recent preview update gives some love to light mode—in contrast with all the emphasis on dark modes of late. There’s even a new, lighter default desktop background (see screenshot). The default Print window is getting Fluent design and a light mode, as well. There’s also a new Pause option in Windows Update. Narrator and Braille reader improvements continue apace, as Microsoft continues to advance Accessibility in its OS. A new Focus Assist option can turn on the feature whenever you run an app full screen. A nice tweak to the Action Center will let you use a slider to adjust brightness.

Because of Windows 10’s software-as-a-service approach, new features occasionally show up in between the major updates, so features can show up when they’re ready, even if it’s between major releases. Good examples include Fluent Design’s appearance in several stock apps, updated Family controls, and new Photos app features.

Windows of Opportunity

Whether you’re using your voice with Cortana, gesturing on a touch screen, writing with a digital pen, building a 3D model, or playing a PC game, Windows 10 offers a wealth of choices. The platform offers the most choice in form factors, too, from the tiny Raspberry Pi to massive gaming PCs to the large Surface Studio to the giant Surface Hub. Add to those completely new Windows devices like HoloLens, Mixed Reality headsets, and the Harman/Kardon Invoke smart speaker. Windows 10’s only device weakness is the nearly defunct Windows Mobile ecosystem, though there are more and more integrations available for iOS and Android devices, including the new Your Phone app, along with Cortana, Edge, OneDrive, and Skype mobile apps.

Windows 10 is familiar, innovative, and adaptable to the size and capabilities of the hardware on which it’s running. Because it manages to include so much exciting new technology while remaining familiar and intuitive, Windows 10 earns PCMag’s Editors’ Choice endorsement, an honor it shares with the polished and impressive macOS. For a comparison of the two, you can read macOS vs. Windows: Which OS Is Best?



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20 Freshest Web Designs, March 2019

Welcome to our roundup of the best websites launched (or relaunched with major updates) in the last four weeks.

This month’s offering sees the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring, and many sites this month reflect that change with rich colors. To counter that, there’s some high-contrast black and white work on show. You’ll also find innovative uses of images and video. Enjoy!

 

Takahisa Mitsumori

A leading exponent of digital music, Takahisa Mitsumori is a Japanese musician now based in Berlin. His simple site blends minimalist Japanese graphic design, with a Swiss Design approach to create an intriguing visual interpretation of his sounds.

takahisa

 

Rejina Pyo

A lot of designers acknowledge the merits of negative space, but how many truly embrace the concept? Rejina Pyo’s site is an exemplary example of how to use white space to frame images, giving the whole site a modern, sophisticated look.

rejina

 

The Nue Co.

With so much color on the web in recent months, its startling when you encounter a black and white, high-contrast approach. The Nue Co. uses a little subtle color in its product images, but the whole site is mostly black and white, and all the more impactful for it.

nue

 

Zhee-Shee Production

Illustration is a huge trend for 2019, but so many designers are following the same patterns, resulting in derivative work. But not Zhee-Shee Production, whose charming, witty illustrations manage to straddle corporate interests, and pop culture.

zhee-shee

 

Lune Croissanterie

Some people take themselves far too seriously, and Lune Croissanterie may fall into that trap. The Melbourne-based company isn’t a shop, or a factory, it’s an experience dedicated to the perfection of the croissant. It’s the most committed pastry site I’ve ever seen.

lune

 

Bruegel: Once in a Lifetime

This magnificently animated site for an exhibition of works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, takes enormous liberties with the Flemish master’s artwork, but wonderfully captures the spirit of his anarchic, surprising, and honest depictions of everyday life.

bruegel

 

Uenoland

Uenoland is a design conference taking place in Brooklyn from the 2nd to the 4th of May. Its one-page site has a design-centric Medium feel, with on-trend illustrations, and a clear type hierarchy. One of the few times when over-indulging design trends is an appropriate approach.

uenoland

 

Fluff

Fluff Casual Cosmetics are on a mission to make you, look like you. Its daring approach is designed to appeal to a much younger audience than many cosmetics companies, and its use of programmatic animation, and moving videos perfectly target that demographic.

fluff

 

66 Nord

Take a trip to the poles with 66 Nord, a travel company specializing in trips to the arctic and antarctic circles. There are options from Russia to Alaska, and the site’s incredible photography does an outstanding job of selling these awe-inspiring vacations.

66nord

 

Oficina Penadés

Brutalism has been hanging around for a while now, and as design trends go, it’s a little hard to swallow. The industrial quality of the style can be jarring and inaccessible. However in the case of Oficina Penadés’ site, it perfectly encapsulates the work on show.

oficina

 

Tuesday Bassen

Sometimes what a site needs to lift it out of the ordinary and into the realms of greatness, is a bold choice of typeface. Tuesday Bassen is one such site; the simple Shopify-powered store for the LA-based brand is delightful thanks to some great art direction, and that beautiful branding.

tuesday

 

Stardust

Stardust uses a carefully considered gradient to mimic the look of the sky at dawn. The positive visual reinforcement of its message plays out beautifully as you scroll. And check out that clever, animated hamburger menu—it’s explained, and then tucked away.

stardust

 

Hachem

We’ve been living in a white and grey, with a touch of blue, world for so long that when we see color it hits us right between the eyes. Hachem is an art supplies store, so you’d expect some creative daring, and the hues and lettering on display deliver exactly that.

hachem

 

German Shible Tattooing

The exciting thing about web design right now, is that we’re leaving behind the era of cold, minimal design, and infusing our work with personality. I love the bold, some might say eclectic, font pairings on German Shible Tattooing. Don’t forget to tap that tiger’s nose.

germanshible

 

Hinderer & Wolff

Designers often make the mistake of thinking that effective UX means eschewing fancy 3D effects, but not so! Simple to understand products, and especially luxury products, benefit from some bells and whistles. Hinderer & Wolff’s impressive site is a joy to explore.

hinderer-wolff

 

Goodwell Co.

Goodwell Co. is dedicated to replacing the plastic dental care products that fill landfill sites, with sustainable products that are good for the environment. Its site is simple, to convey its simple message, and the positivity of the message is reinforced with color.

goodwell

 

London Terrariums

Brilliantly employing the split screen trend, the site for London Terrariums scrolls through text on the right of the screen, while fading images in and out on the left side. It’s a simple and effective approach to presenting a minimal amount of content engagingly.

london-terrariums

 

Jinn & Co.

The fullscreen macroscopic video of Jin & Co.’s artisanal confections is more than enough to sell the desirable candy. The inclusion of broad spectrum hemp oil explains the purse-busting price tag, but they sure do look good, especially the mango-guava and lychee jellies.

jinn

 

Les Animals: 2019 Wishes

This site is a lovingly created set of wishes illustrated and animated for 2019. Alongside the charming visuals, you’ll also find the sort of careful interaction design that you would expect from a digital agency of this calibre. It’s a joy to use.

wishes-2019

 

Aida

Just because you’ve reached the age where nibbles are more common at your parties than shots, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t party hard. Aida is a NY-based party food and accessories company with a fun, morning-after style of art direction.

aida



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Improve Your Mornings With Alexa Routines

An Echo and Echo button on a nightstand near cellphone, books, and a plant.
Josh Hendrickson

Waking up can be hard, but Alexa can make it easier. Alexa won’t make you any less sleepy or drag you out of bed, but it can make your morning routine much more efficient.

Routines For Weather, Traffic, Lights, and Snoozing

If you’re like a lot of people, you wake up (eventually), try to catch some news, check your email, get dressed, figure out weather and traffic conditions, and get coffee (maybe even breakfast!) before leaving for work. It’s a lot to get done, and it probably doesn’t help that you hit the snooze button three or four times—even though you swore yesterday was the last time you would ever do that again.

What if you could at least make your mornings more productive? Instead of having to pull out your phone to check news, then weather, and then traffic, you could have a routine take care of all of that. If you have smarthome tech, you could even consider rolling in routines to bring up the lights, turn on the coffee maker, and warm up (or cool down) the house. With a few delayed routines, you can even bring up lights slowly, like a sunrise clock.

If you want to take things a step further, you could add Echo buttons to your routines and give you a physical object to slap that will snooze Alexa, like alarm clocks of old. We’ll show you how to put together some morning routines to make getting out of bed more bearable—or at least save yourself some time in the morning.

Putting the Routine Together

Creating morning routines will follow similar steps to any other routines you’ve created. Open the Alexa app, and then tap the hamburger menu.

Alexa app with arrow pointing to hamburger menu in upper left corner.

Tap “Routines.”

Alexa submenu with box around Routines option.

Tap the Plus (+) button in the upper right-hand corner to create a new routine.

Alexa Routines Menu with arrow pointing to Plus in upper right hand corner.

Tap on the plus symbol to the right of “When this happens.”

Tap “Schedule.”

When this happens dialog with Schedule boxed.

Tap “Select” to the right of “At Time.”

Set Time dialog with Select boxed.

Choose your desired starting time. In this case, even though we want to wake up fully at 6:30 a.m., we’re going to choose 6:00 so we can bring up the lights slowly. Tap “Select” to the right of “Repeat.”

Set time dialog with box around Select.

Pick the days you want the routine to fire. If you work Monday to Friday, you can select Weekdays. Then tap “Done.”

Select days dialog with arrows pointing to weekdays and then done.

Tap “Next” in the upper right-hand corner.

Set Time dialog with arrow pointing to Next

Tap the plus symbol to the right of “Add action.”

New routine dialog with arrow pointing to add action plus

Tap “Smart Home” to control smarthome devices. We’ll be demonstrating how to turn on smart lights like Philips Hue or LIFX bulbs.

Add new dialog with box around smart home option

Tap “Control Device” to turn on a single light bulb or tap “Control Group” to turn on a group of lights you’ve set up in your bedroom.

Tap the name of the smart light or group you want to turn on.

Tap “Brightness” and lower the slider to 5%. This turns on your light at 5% brightness at first, and we’ll gradually increase its brightness from there. Then tap “Next” in the upper right-hand corner.

Tap “Add Action.”

New routine dialog with arrow pointing to add action plus

Tap “Wait.”

Change the duration to six minutes then tap “Next.” Alexa will wait this many minutes before executing the next action you configure.

Repeat these steps to add the same smart light and wait actions, increasing your smart light brightness in increments of 20% every time until you reach 6:30 a.m. and 100% brightness.

A routine with commands to raise lights by 5%, wait 6 minutes and repeat.

Tap “Add Action.”

Routine dialog with add action callout.

Tap “Alexa Says.” This category also includes actions like singing a song or telling me a fun fact. We’re going to use a morning greeting.

Routine add new dialog with box around Alexa says option.

Tap “Good Morning.” This action causes Alexa to greet you in the morning and Amazon says it should offer a fun fact—but we’ve never heard one yet.

Routine action dialog with box around Good Morning option.

Tap “Next” in the upper right-hand corner.

Good morning confirm dialog with arrow pointing to next button.

Tap “Add Action.”

Routine dialog with add action callout.

Tap “Weather” to hear a weather report for your local area.

Routine add new dialog with box around Weather option.

Tap “Next” in the upper right-hand corner.

Weather confirm option with arrow pointing to next button.

Tap “Add Action.”

Routine dialog with add action callout.

Tap “Traffic.” If you haven’t set traffic options yet, you should do that too.

Routine add new dialog with box around Traffic option.

Tap “Next” in the upper right-hand corner.

Traffic confirm option with arrow pointing to next button.

Tap “Add Action.”

Routine dialog with add action callout.

Tap “Music” to have Alexa play music from a service like Pandora or Amazon Music.

Routine add new dialog with box around Music option.

Type in the name of a song or playlist you prefer, then tap “Select Provider” and choose a provider like Spotify or Amazon Music. Then tap the timer option to set a time limit (if you chose a playlist). Alexa will stop playing music after whatever time limits you select. Otherwise, it will play until the end of the playlist, or you turn it off.

Music & Media dialog with arrows pointing to Play, Provider, and Timer options.

Tap “Next” in the upper right-hand corner.

Music & Media with arrow pointing to Next

Check that all your routine actions are ordered correctly, they’ll run one after the other. If anything is in the wrong place, tap and hold on the two lines at the right side of the action then drag it up or down. When everything is correct, tap “Save” to complete the routine creation.

And now you have a routine that will raise the lights slowly, give you weather, traffic information, and play music to start your day. You can change out individual details, adding other smarthome options, or playing news instead of weather. But what about when you need to snooze? If you have an Amazon Echo Button, you can create a routine that turns it into a snooze button.

Setting Up An Echo Snooze Button

Next, we’ll set up a snooze button. This can technically work with any routine that plays audio but works well with your morning routines that blast out news, or music. This guide assumes you’ve already paired your Echo buttons. If you haven’t, we have a handy guide that takes you through the process.

Create a new routine just like before. After you tap the plus symbol to the right of “When this happens” you will choose Echo button.

When this happens dialog with call out around Echo Button

When prompted, press on the physical Echo button you want to use, then tap “Add.”

Select Echo Button dialog with box around Add button.

Tap the plus symbol to the right of Add action.

New routine dialog with arrow pointing to plus button.

Choose “Device Settings.”

Add new dialog with box around Device settings option.

Choose “Stop Volume.”

Device settings with Stop Audio option.

If the button is paired to the Echo that you are using for morning routines, leave “Associated Device” checked. Otherwise, check the correct Echo. Then tap “Next.”

Stop Audio dialog with arrows pointing to echo checkmark and next.

Tap “Next.”

We need music play again though, so we’ll add a delayed action to play music. Tap “Add Action.”

Choose the “Wait” option.

Choose a time you’d like to snooze for, like 10 minutes. Then tap “Next” in the upper right-hand corner.

Set time dialog with arrows pointing to chosen time and Next button

Now that we have a wait delay, we need to restart the music. Tap “Add Action.”

New routine dialog with arrow pointed to Add action.

Choose the “Music” option.

Routine add new dialog with box around Music option.

Use the same music, provider, and timer options you chose for your morning routine.

Music & Media dialog with arrows pointing to Play, Provider, and Timer options.

Then tap “Next” in the upper-right corner.

Music & Media with arrow pointing to Next

If you want to limit the ability to snooze over and over, here’s an optional step to only let this work once. Tap the “Change” option to the right of Anytime.

New routine dialog with arrow pointing to change option to the right of anytime text.

Expand the “Suppress For” section and choose “1 hour.” Then tap “Next.”

Set condition dialog with arrows pointing to down arrow, time, and next.

Now tap “Save” to finish creating this routine. Now in the morning if you slap the snooze button, it will pause the music for ten minutes and then restart it.

New routine dialog with arrow pointing to save button.

You can change up some of these variables to suit your needs, but using routines will make the mornings easier—if not happy.





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Merci, pero nie, dziękuję | Computerworld

It’s the days of the dot-com boom, and pilot fish has gotten accustomed to receiving five or six calls a day from headhunters, and just as accustomed to responding, “Thank you very much, but no thank you.” And he keeps on saying it, even when the headhunters get creative, and more than a little desperate, offering things like tickets to baseball games and signing bonuses that will come out of their own commissions.

Desperate though they may be, most of the headhunters seem to realize that when even inducements like the use of a very expensive sports car can’t entice the techie on the line, it’s time to graciously thank him for his time and make yet another call.

One of these calls is progressing pretty much as all of them do. Fish asks what, where and how much, and interspersed with the answers is the comment that fish speaks excellent English. Fish finds that a bit odd, but he moves right along, concluding with a “no, thank you; the money you’re offering is considerably less than I currently make.”

And then things turn ugly.

Headhunter: If you know what’s good for you, you’ll take the position. We have friends in immigration who will see that you’re deported immediately.

Fish: You mean that I’ll be sent back to where I was born?

Headhunter: Yes.

Fish: Oh, God! They’re going to send me back to New Jersey!

Headhunter: Yes … uh, wait, what?

The headhunter apparently jumped to a wrong conclusion upon seeing fish’s name, which fish himself calls “a bit of a mutt,” with a French first name and a Slavic last name.

Fish is less polite than before when he informs the headhunter that he’s a second-generation American — and one who knows how to get in touch with his state’s attorney general.

And that’s the last he hears from that particular headhunter.

Sharky wants your true tales of IT life, be they from New Jersey or the old country. Send them to me at [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.



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Canon Reveals IVY CLIQ+ and CLIQ Instant-Print Cameras

Canon has just unveiled two new instant digital cameras, the CLIQ and CLIQ+, which goes along with the trend of instant-print digital cameras making a comeback.

The company’s take on instant cameras seems quite cool, and both models have some solid features that make them stand out in the crowded instant camera space. They also come in with very reasonable price tags, making them accessible for anyone.

The two cameras are Canon’s followup to the IVY printer, which had similar printing features but lacked the ability to take photos directly on the device.

Canon IVY CLIQ and CLIQ+ Features

Both cameras feature relatively low resolutions in terms of megapixels, which makes sense, as they’re targeted at buyers looking for quick prints, not high-resolution digital photos. The CLIQ features a five-megapixel lens, while the more expensive CLIQ+ comes with an eight-megapixel camera.

Using the Ivy application, photographers can add borders, filters, and text to their images before they print them. However, only the CLIQ+ has support for Bluetooth, so you’ll need to get the more expensive camera if you want to take advantage of this feature.

Canon Reveals IVY CLIQ+ and CLIQ Instant-Print Cameras ivy cliq plus loRes

Another characteristic of the CLIQ+ is a selfie mirror with LED lights that’ll help create the best selfie photos possible. The cheaper CLIQ also features a selfie mirror, but it lacks the built-in LED lights.

Both cameras are able to print either 2×2 or 2×3 photos using ZINK Zero Ink Technology. With this type of printer, the ink is actually in the paper, meaning there’s no need to install and change ink cartridges on the camera/printer.

An important thing to note is that neither camera features a screen for reviewing images, so with the CLIQ, you’ll be printing them blindly unless you use the SD card to transfer them to a PC before printing.

Canon IVY Devices Price and Release Date

Canon intends to release both cameras sometime in April of this year. The company says the suggested retail price of the CLIQ will be $99.99, and the CLIQ+ will sell for $159.99. Both models include 10 sheets of 2×3 photo paper to get you started.

Of course, an instant camera isn’t for everyone, which is why you should check out our article on why you should go with a mirrorless camera over a DSLR


Why Mirrorless Cameras Are Better Than DSLRs for Hobbyists & Travelers




Why Mirrorless Cameras Are Better Than DSLRs for Hobbyists & Travelers

Whether you’re a hobbyist, a keen travel shooter, new to photography, or even a pro, it’s time to switch from DSLR to mirrorless.
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Alienware Area-51m Review & Rating

Alienware’s thoroughly redesigned Area-51m is a big, bold gaming rig. With a 17-inch screen and a thickness of 1.2 inches, the new flagship of Dell’s premium gaming division tips the scales at nearly 9 pounds. Inside, our test model (starts at $2,106.99; $4,409.99 as tested) boasts two of the most powerful components you can find on any consumer PC: an overclockable Intel Core i9-9900K CPU (yes, the desktop version!) and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 graphics chip. The engineers at Alienware also managed to make the exterior distinctive, futuristic, and yet understated. This Editors’ Choice gaming laptop is far from portable, and it’s wildly expensive, but we can’t think of a more remarkable feat of laptop engineering that results in this much computing power.


Clock This Alien Up…

It’s not hard to find a 17-inch laptop with a powerful CPU and a GeForce RTX 2080 GPU that’s much slimmer and lighter than the Area-51m. The 17-inch version of the Lenovo Legion Y740, for instance, is 1 by 16.2 by 12 inches (HWD) and just over 6 pounds. You can even find a Core i9 and an RTX 2080 in 15-inch models like the Gigabyte Aero 15, which measures 0.74 by 14 by 9.8 inches and tips the scales at 4.4 pounds. So why would you even consider a megalith like the Area-51m?

Because not all Core i9s and RTX 2080s are created equal. The most powerful require elaborate cooling setups to ensure they don’t overheat when you’re playing. So manufacturers have opted for modified “Max-Q” versions of Nvidia’s graphics chips that limit their performance to accommodate the cramped, hot interiors of a thin laptop. The Area-51m, by contrast, has two air intakes, two exhaust outlets, a giant fan that can push air at velocities rivaling a desktop cooler, and an array of copper fins and pipes that distributes heat evenly throughout the chassis.

The result is not only an RTX 2080 unencumbered by Max-Q limitations, but also a laptop with the ability to accommodate a desktop-class processor with eight cores, 16 threads, and a maximum boost clock speed of 5GHz. The Core i9-9900K is Intel’s flagship mainstream CPU, used in desktops like the very newest Apple iMac, as well as tricked-out, tower-style gaming rigs. If you were building your own desktop PC around this chip, which alone costs around $500, you would have to buy a robust cooler to take advantage of its full potential.

So Alienware has accomplished a difficult feat by stuffing it into a laptop. Buying the Area-51m would give you immense bragging rights, assuming your friends and frenemies have their knowledge of high-end laptop specs down pat. Dell is willing to take a gamble on enough of the buying public appreciating the difference between a mobile CPU and a desktop one of similar name. For those who “get” it, the Area-51m is like a supercar that’s just restrained enough to be road-legal.


Store, and Store Some More

The CPU and GPU are the Alienware Area-51m’s main attractions, and there’s little reason why you would want to configure it with lesser options, considering that you’ll be toting the same bulk either way. (Apart from your budget, of course; say, you love the chassis but don’t have the bucks for the deluxe loadout.) If you do want to downgrade, though, Alienware offers two Core i7-based configurations, as well as options for a GeForce RTX 2060 and a GeForce RTX 2070. The base model comes with an Intel Core i7-8700, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060, 16GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD. These are less expensive, to be sure, but run a bit counter to the purpose and point of opting for a gaming machine in such a beastly chassis.

A dizzying array of storage options is available. You can equip an Area-51m with as many as three separate drives, choosing among PCI Express M.2 SSDs, hybrid SSD/hard drives, and Intel Optane Memory storage modules. Depending on which configuration you choose, you can opt for the drives arranged in a RAID 0 setup, in which data is mirrored across the disks, or a setup where they are mounted as individual storage volumes. Our review unit comes with two 512GB SSDs in RAID 0, plus a single 1TB hybrid drive, for a total of 2TB of storage.

Memory options range up to a whopping 64GB, which is likely overkill for most gamers. Even the 32GB memory complement of our review unit is beyond the needs of much of today’s software and most games, but if you know you need the extra RAM for future-proofing or running special apps, Alienware is happy to oblige.

You can upgrade the memory and storage yourself easily enough by removing the laptop’s back cover, which matches the Lunar Light—i.e. white—color of the rest of our review unit. (You can also order an Area-51m in Dark Side of the Moon—a.k.a. black.) The bottom removal is an easy process, with just six screws to loosen, and once the cover’s off you have access to the memory SO-DIMM slots, the M.2 connectors and a 2.5-inch drive bay, and the battery. This is a throwback to the user-serviceable laptops of old that I definitely appreciate in an era when most new laptops aren’t intended to be easily upgraded after purchase. Indeed, many are tricky to crack open at all.

Alienware Area-51m

In contrast to the plethora of memory and storage options, the display situation is somewhat static. Just a single screen size and native resolution is available: a 1,920-by-1,080-pixel, 17-inch display. But you can configure several of the screen’s other attributes. You can choose between matte and anti-glare finishes, as well as refresh rates of either 60Hz or 144Hz. You can also add Nvidia’s G-Sync frame-rate-synchronization tech. The matte screen of our review unit has both G-Sync and a 144Hz refresh rate, making it the best possible setup for competitive, hardcore gamers and esports hounds who aver that maximizing frame rates on a high-refresh-rate panel gives them an edge.

A different school of gamers might prefer bumping up the resolution to 1440p or 4K, which the Area-51m’s GPU could certainly accommodate. But Alienware isn’t offering 1440p or 4K screens, which seems like a missed opportunity, especially given the generous customization options for the rest of the laptop.

Our Area-51m also comes with built-in eye-tracking, backed by the familiar Tobii technology. Eye tracking is not new (nor even new to high-end Alienware machines), but it’s been slow to catch on. It’s available as a supplementary means of control for some games, and Microsoft recently added an experimental feature that lets you control basic Windows functions with your eyes, such as opening the Start menu and even typing on an onscreen keyboard with glances. These features did not work very well on the Area-51m, with the system rarely detecting where I was looking. Still, I appreciate that the latest-generation Tobii sensors (located below the display) don’t emit annoyingly visible infrared light like some other integrated sensors I’ve tested, such as those on the Acer Aspire V17 Nitro.


Solid Input, Serious Power Delivery

The Area-51m’s keyboard is excellent, if a bit old-fashioned. It’s not an island-style board, which means there’s very little space between the keys, resulting in a stodgy look. But that also means there’s room for an additional column of customizable macro keys on the left side, a common feature on high-end standalone gaming keyboards.

The keys themselves are sturdy, and I didn’t detect any flex in the middle of the board when I struck forcefully. You can control macros and per-key lighting effects using the Alienware Command Center app, from where you can also toggle N-key rollover on or off. The app also lets you adjust the color of the backlight for the Alienware logo on the display lid.

Alienware Command Center

The pleasingly accurate touchpad, which also includes adjustable backlighting, is on the small side. It’s not clickable, which means you’ll need to use the physical buttons below it for left- and right-clicking. That’s probably not much of a drawback for most prospective owners, who will likely use the Area-51m on their desk plugged into an external gaming mouse much of the time. In that case, the touchpad is merely ornamental.

Port options pepper three of the edges: a single USB Type-C port that supports Thunderbolt 3, an Ethernet port capable of speeds up to 2.5Gbps, three USB 3.1 ports, an HDMI output, a mini-DisplayPort 1.4 output, audio-out and headset jacks, and a proprietary connector for the optional Alienware external GPU enclosure. Just one USB Type-C port is a bit stingy on an expensive laptop, especially one with as much real estate as the Area-51m. On the other hand, you probably won’t need a spare USB Type-C port for display output, since there are plenty of dedicated display output ports.

Beyond those ports, the chassis has two separate, identical power ports. To run at full power, the Area-51m requires a giant 330-watt power adapter and a smaller 180-watt one. This limits its ability to function as a portable PC even more. You can use just a single power brick, but you’ll get a warning message before booting into Windows that the system requires a second adapter to function at full capacity. Some configurations with less powerful graphics chips and CPUs require two 180-watt adapters, instead of one 180-watt and one 330-watt.

Wireless connections include 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0. A 720p webcam is located above the display, lacking the infrared sensors some other machines have that let you log in to Windows using face recognition. Sound quality from the dual speakers is adequate for a laptop, though not remarkable. It’s clear that the Area-51m’s real estate is devoted to processing power, not tweeters or woofers.

The laptop lacks an optical drive (not a big deal—few games come on DVDs anymore) or an SD card slot. That’s not a ding, just an observation given that machines this size often have one or both.


The Core Componentry: A Speed Monster

We updated our PC benchmark testing process last year, so our database of results isn’t as large as it normally is, but the Area-51m is unquestionably the best-performing laptop we’ve seen on nearly every one of these tests. That’s certainly an achievement, but it’s also somewhat of a requirement. A laptop-in-name this large, heavy, and expensive, and packed with this many desktop-class components, should be the best-performing in order to justify its superlatives.

What’s significant about the Area-51m is that its performance advantage applies across the board. It’s equally proficient at editing images in Adobe Photoshop (a punishing task for the CPU) as it is rendering frames in a video game.

For the purposes of comparison, I selected a few other recent laptops with Nvidia’s GeForce RTX graphics chips to go head-to-head with the Area-51m on our performance benchmarks, as well as another recent Alienware laptop (the Alienware 17 R5) equipped with Nvidia’s previous GTX 1080 flagship graphics processor. Below is a summary of their specs…

There are only a few systems here, but rest assured that I could have chosen any laptop in our database and the Area-51m would still come out on top.

Graphics Tests

Freed from the constraints of Nvidia Max-Q in its big, bold chassis, the GeForce RTX 2080 turned in impressive results on our 3D graphics benchmark tests. The 3DMark Fire Strike test is a grueling gaming simulation that taxes a laptop’s graphics muscle, and it’s no suprise that the Area-51m offered a roughly 25 percent perfomance improvement over the machines equipped with GeForce GTX and RTX Max-Q silicon.

It offered an even bigger advantage on the less-demanding Sky Diver test. This ordinarily wouldn’t matter much, since you’re likely not buying an Area-51m to run Minecraft or Doom. Still, it’s interesting to note the jaw-dropping potential of the Alienware’s graphics subsystem, which seems to defy limits that the CPU power and cooling abilities would pose to lesser laptops.

The Superposition benchmark, a similar test broken into demanding (1080p High) and easier (720p Low) portions, mirrors the 3DMark results…

…but it gives you an idea of the actual frame rates you can expect.

Real-World Gaming Tests

The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. So I also ran a few in-game benchmarks as a check on these numbers.

Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world video games at various settings. These are run on both the moderate and maximum graphics-quality presets (Normal and Ultra for Far Cry 5, Medium and Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider) at 1080p and at the laptop’s native resolution (if different) to judge performance for a given system.

Alienware Area-15m Gaming Performance

On Rise of the Tomb Raider, the Area-51m achieved an average 151 frames per second (fps) on the in-game benchmark at 1080p and maximum graphics quality. This is especially noteworthy because it’s above the maximum 144Hz that the screen can display and thus, in this game at least, fully leverages the lofty refresh rate.

Results on the Far Cry 5 benchmark were slightly lower, at 124fps on the maximum graphics quality setting, but that is still excellent. These two tests, indeed, are the clearest real-world illustration yet how when the RTX 2080 is unleashed (i.e., not constrained by Max-Q), what a raw-performance difference it can make with the same GPU.

A Side Note About the Future

Neither of these games above has built-in support for ray tracing or AI-assisted graphics rendering, two of the main advantages of opting for a GeForce RTX GPU over a GeForce GTX one. If you own any games that do, you can expect even an even better gaming experience.

To estimate the improvement, I used the new 3DMark Port Royal benchmark test from UL. It works similarly to the Fire Strike and Cloud Gate tests, except that it calculates performance both with and without Nvidia’s AI-assisted graphics rendering, known as DLSS. The benchmark employs the same sort of real-time ray-tracing seen in the handful of leading-edge ray-tracing-enabled titles like Battlefield V and Metro Exodus.

On the Port Royal benchmark at a 1080p resolution, the Area-51m recorded 41fps with DLSS turned on, and 57fps with it off. This 39 percent gain is significant, though in line with what you can expect from other GeForce RTX-based laptops. For example, the 2019 Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model performs a similar 43 percent better on the Port Royal test with DLSS turned on (28fps vs. 40fps).

Productivity and Media Creation Tests

Given numbers like those above, you might want to play games every waking hour with the Area-51m, but don’t forget that it’s also superb at performing everyday tasks like web browsing and spreadsheet jockeying, as the results of the holistic PCMark 10 test demonstrate. Any result above 5,000 on this test suggests excellent performance, but it’s nice to see that the Area-51m has enough headrooom for marathon browsing sessions with a dozen or more browser tabs open at once. I confirmed this in real life, experiencing no lag or slowdown in Microsoft Edge.

Alienware Area-51m Performance Chart

Storage performance as measured by the PCMark 8 Storage subtest is the only area in which the Area-51m isn’t noticeably better than its competitors. This is because laptops equipped with boot-drive SSDs all perform roughly the same on this test, and nearly all high-end laptops nowadays are equipped with PCI Express SSDs as their boot drives, not hard drives with relatively sluggish moving drive heads.

Finally, should you need to perform non-gaming, processor-intensive workloads such as video transcoding, the Area-51m is still as able a laptop for the job as you’ll find. It’s the quickest of this lot at rendering a complex 3D image, as measured by Maxon’s Cinebench test, as well as the fastest to finish applying a series of 10 filters to a test image in PCMag’s custom Adobe Photoshop CC test.

Related Story See How We Test Laptops

One thing to note: In the course of these performance tests, the Area-51m’s cooling system made itself forcefully known. This is a loud machine when the fans are spooled up to full capacity. But it’s very quiet when you’re not performing resource-intensive workloads.

Video Playback Battery Rundown

An example of one of these low-impact tasks is our battery rundown trial. For the battery test, we switch laptops to the “Balanced” energy-management setting (or the closest equivalent), and this resulted in the fans spooling down to a near-silent level. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in Airplane mode.)

In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation’s short film Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.

Even among other gaming laptops, which often have very short battery life, the Area-51m’s result of just over two hours is noticeably short. I’m not counting this too heavily against the Area-51m, though, because even if it had better battery life, its dual power bricks and 9-pound heft for the laptop alone make it an unlikely candidate for straying far from a power outlet.

The Area-51m gets warm, but it’s not uncomfortably hot to the touch anywhere on the body. This would matter more if you actually planned to use it resting on your lap. But given its heft, you probably won’t be doing that for long, if you value, oh, blood circulating in your thighs.


The Area-51m: Oh, You Magnificent Beast

An Area-51m like the one I tested has components powerful enough to justify its heft and its extreme expense. But don’t forget that it’s not very good at one of a laptop’s main jobs: being portable enough for you to carry around.

For a more affordable and balanced blend of performance and portability, you can select among a growing class of thin-and-light gaming laptops that still offer an eminently enjoyable gaming experience, especially at the 1080p resolution to which the Area-51m limits you. Our current top pick of this set is the Razer Blade 15, a sleek laptop that’s a better choice for all but the most discerning and deep-pocketed gamers.

That said, being big comes with the territory when you’re looking at extreme power laptops like these. And within that niche, the Area-51m is a fantastic piece of engineering and a superbly capable PC. It’s simply the most powerful mainstream gaming laptop we’ve tested, which earns it an Editors’ Choice award on sheer muscle and presence. If maximizing gaming performance is your goal, you’d be hard-pressed to do better in anything short of a desktop. (And even most of them will come up short.) It will wow everyone in your gaming sight lines—and in your blast radius.



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In Defense of the Word “User”

Recently-ish, there has been a small but noticeable backlash to the word “user”. Yeah, the word for people who do, in fact, use our websites, web apps, and products.

Now, the word isn’t going anywhere, and if you like the word, no one’s saying you must stop using it. I mean, some people are saying that, but you have no obligation to actually do what they say.

So why does it matter? Why would I die on this hill? Because I think this discussion perfectly outlines the fraught relationship our industry has with words and buzzwords. Designers struggle to the complex emotional interactions between human being and interface. Developers struggle to convey math and layers upon layers of abstract-seeming logic. And don’t get me started on what happens when we try to take these concepts and reduce them to job titles…

We change job titles almost as fast as we change JavaScript Frameworks

So what’s going on with “user”? Some people consider the word outdated, which is a fair opinion to have. Some go so far as to call the current use of the word unethical, which I think might be a bit much. Some think it’s not nearly specific enough a word to use in your code, which I think is exactly right.

Now, our language does need to change and evolve with the times. That’s a part of life, and there’s no getting away from it. However at times our industry can get a little too eager to jump from one bandwagon or trend to the next without seriously considering the consequences. We change job titles almost as fast as we change JavaScript Frameworks. We tire of a buzzword, and so we start hunting for a new one, often without seriously asking ourselves these important questions:

  1. Why would we really make this change?
  2. What do we stand to lose?
  3. What do we stand to gain?

 

Why Would We Really Make This Change?

Taking “user” for an example: arguments against the word range from “it doesn’t reflect the relationship we have with our customers”, to “Saying ‘user’ strips a person of their circumstances…”. Then there was a mention of how the term “drug user” comes with negative connotations, and the insinuation that the negativity of that use of the word could leak into our use of the word.

I’m not going to argue these points individually, because some of them are definitely subjective and personal. If anyone thinks changing the word is going to make them a better designer, there’s no reason they shouldn’t give it a try. Heck, get back to me with the results!

If you think that being called a “user” is inherently a bad thing, maybe the problem isn’t entirely about the word

And if you feel the word doesn’t reflect your values and attitude, that’s fair too. Just don’t make the mistake of changing the word in the hopes of changing people’s attitudes. The great comedian Doug Stanhope made a fantastic point about this:

Basically he noted that back in the day, doctors would refer to developmentally disabled people as “imbeciles” or “morons”, so that’s what Doug and his friends called each other when they did something stupid. People got offended, so doctors started saying “mentally retarded”, so that’s what Doug and his friends started calling each other when they did something stupid. People now get offended at the word “retarded”, so doctors started saying…

You get the idea. If you think that being called a “user” is inherently a bad thing, maybe the problem isn’t entirely about the word. How do you feel about being called a “consumer”? There’s nothing wrong with consuming stuff, and spending money to support the people who made it, but some may find it offensive to be called by that word.

If you change the word without changing the attitude first, if you start calling users your “dear special bestest friends” in the hopes that a change in terminology alone will make for better design, you may be very disappointed. And people might start using “dear special bestest friends” as a low-key insult.

 

What Do We Stand to Lose?

I contend that to lose the word “user” is to lose a perfectly normal, non-insulting word that is intentionally vague and all-encompassing. Rather than stripping people of their circumstances, I rather feel it includes people regardless of circumstance.

There are certainly times when it’s far too vague, and you might want a term based on the way in which people interact with your site or app. Sure, that’s fine. But we need room for general, catch-all terms when discussing concepts at an abstract level.

I also contend that we’d be losing a well-known, mostly self-explanatory word that can help us quickly impart information to people who are new to the industry. You yourself may have no use for “user”, but it’s a great word for communicating with clients, as well as newbie designers and devs.

Seriously, every time we change the word we use for a single concept, the more confusing talking to designers gets.

 

What Do We Stand to Gain?

I guess if we ditch the word “user”, there might be an increased focus on specificity. A blog would have “readers”, a store could have “customers”, and so on. Being that specific and accurate all the time could certainly have its benefits.

But then what about those times when we want to be vague?

You could also argue that picking a different word might help to remind us that users aren’t just numbers, that they’re human. A different word might help you better place them in context. But then, if you need to use a different word to help you remember that users are human, with their own circumstances and contexts, perhaps the word being used is the least of your problems.

 

In The End:

It’s like I said: “user” is (currently) not going anywhere. The point of this article is not to alarm, or to provoke anything but thought. At this point, I think the word is like underlining hyperlinks; were we to suddenly stop, we’d just confuse a whole lot of people to no real benefit.

And yet, there’s nothing to stop you from trying something new, and switching up your vocabulary a bit. I could be wrong, and ditching the word “user” will finally get us all those jetpacks and flying cars. I have my doubts, though.

 

Featured image via DepositPhotos



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Welp, Apple Just Canceled AirPower – Review Geek

Apple first announced AirPower in 2017 with a projected release in 2018. But that time came and went with nary a word from Apple. Now, despite several reports and rumors to the contrary, the project has been canceled.

In a statement to TechCrunch, Apple Senior VP of Hardware Engineering Dan Riccio cited the inability to meet Apple’s strict standards the reason for the cancelation.

After much effort, we’ve concluded AirPower will not achieve our high standards and we have cancelled the project. We apologize to those customers who were looking forward to this launch. We continue to believe that the future is wireless and are committed to push the wireless experience forward.

The timing on this is pretty wild because just two weeks ago speculation was running wild about when—not if—Apple would finally announce its release. Some sites even went as far as to speculate that it would be released on March 21st or 22nd, at the end of a long week of Apple announcements.

It’s clear that Apple had every intention of releasing the product because it was referenced on product packaging as late as the newly-updated AirPods, which were released just last week. Crazy.





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With its Apple Card, Apple edges further into financial services

Apple’s Monday announcement of a credit card – the Apple Card – represented a natural progression of the company’s journey into financial services that began with the Apple Wallet app and its contactless digital payment service, Apple Pay.

apple card iphonexs entertainment 032519 carousel.jpg.medium 2x Apple

The Apple Card, as described by the company this week, will offer users some attractive features: up to 3% cash back on daily purchases, no late or international transaction fees, and a physical chipped card make of titanium (sans any credit card numbers – just your name and an Apple symbol).

Additionally, Apple is using machine learning algorithms to offer card users a real-time view of purchases, along with spending trend information.

Essentially, though, the Apple Card is just another payment option in Apple Pay. Customers will sign up for the card using the Apple Wallet app on their iPhone.

So why would Apple want to create its own credit card instead of using existing ones as a payment option? Simply put: to snare more revenue for itself because it doesn’t have to share fees with credit card issuers.

Everybody wants to be in the payment clearing business as it’s a lucrative way to earn money, according to Jack Gold, founder and principal analyst at J.Gold Associates, LLC. “They already sell many things, so if they can get a return on the payment processing, it’s gravy for them,” Gold said.

Controlling payments also offers insights into what cjustomers are buying, as well as when and where they’re making purchases. Add to that data mining and a company has valuable insight for directing targeted adds and services.

Avivah Litan, a Gartner research vice president, said what Apple is doing is not a radical change to how it’s business model; it’s an incremental, evoluctionary change to payments.

“What Facebook is doing is much more revolutionary. They’re creating new payment rails. They’re going to be linking to [cryptocurrency] exchanges.”

Facebook is exploring the use of blockchain, purportedly for the purpose of creating its own digital currency – a stable coin backed by fiat money such as U.S. dollars – that would use distributed ledger technology for clearance and settlement.

In other words, Facebook would cut out the middleman – the banks – and allow Facebook users to purchase advertised products using its own digital token. The Apple Card is still tied to a bank.

“Apple does what it can to lock in users to their ecosystem,” Gold said. “So it’s logical that Wallet is the underpinnings of the financial transaction model for them. Blockchain doesn’t really give them any advantage, and it may also carry some bad connotations based on some very public breaches. So staying with a technology they know, and own, makes sense.”

apple card balance Apple

You balance and due date are front and center when you launch the Apple Card tab inside the Wallet app.

For Apple, the hard part in establishing Apple Pay was getting the infrastructure in place for it – the banks and credit card issuers to back it, and the merchants who had to roll out NFC terminals to accept contactless payments. For the financial services and retail industry, Apple had power because of its enormous smartphone user base. The banks and retailers didn’t want to miss out on the potential for more business, so they lowered fees charged to Apple for transactions.

Once that infrastructure was in place, Apple was able to essentially eliminate the need for credit card issuers for Apple Pay – allowing it to create its own credit card. Since  Apple is not a bank (yet), Goldman Sachs will be the issuer behind the “white labeled” Apple Card and Mastercard will provide the infrastructure to settle the transactions.

So how will the Apple Card work when it comes out sometime this summer?

Just like any other credit card, a user must first be approved. That process will likely involve a combination of Goldman Sachs reviewing a person’s credit history and financial information and Apple using iPhone use to determine credit worthiness.

apple card spending Apple

You’ll be able to get a clear overview of your spending inside the Wallet app on your iPhone.

In fact, Apple’s support page explains that it “may” consider whether certain device settings are enabled, and device use patterns – such as the percent of time the device is in motion and the approximate number of calls you make per week – to determine eligibility. That may be one way it’s able to provide Apple Card users a fee-less experience, because it no longer has to rely on multiple credit card issuers, Litan said.

“They have a lot of information on you to determine if you’re a good customer,” she said.

Is it more secure?

In theory, the Apple Card is more secure than a conventional credit card in several ways. For one, the physical card Apple will send in the mail contains no credit card number, which could otherwise be stolen.

Additionally, the virtual Apple Card doesn’t contain a visible credit card number. The only entities aware of that number is the credit card issuer and the card holder. The credit card number is encrypted and a key is used to create an alias account on the  iPhone.

“It’s device specific,” Litan said. “They tie this alias account number … back to your mobile device. So, now that’s my wallet, my special account number on my device. It’s a very secure method.”

Gold agreed, saying that while “everything can get hacked,” using the iPhone with biometrics or PIN code as a mechanism for identifying the purchaser has proven “pretty safe so far.

“[It’s] much harder to clone a phone than to clone a credit card, as many banks and card issuers know,” Gold said.

apple card pay Apple

The Apple Card can be used anywhere, but the best benefits are for purchases made using Apple Pay; customers who purchase Apple products get 3% cash back (2% for other purchases).

The credit card number is isolated from the mobile operating system and is never backed up to the cloud. Even if a hacker did break into and steal the credit card number, they couldn’t necessarily use it unless they got the key related to the mobile device.

“There’s a device account number that’s encrypted and then a key is also sent back from the card issuer that generates a unique security code for each transaction you make,” Litan said “It’s a unique code every time.”

So, each time you make a purchase with Apple Pay using your Apple Card, the device account number with the unique security code is communicated to the NFC terminal from the credit card issuer.

In the future, Apple may could decide to cut out the bank and credit card company and become its own bank. In the meantime, the Apple Card offers a user friendly interface and attractive benefits that are likely to spur adoption.

“It hasn’t changed at all in terms of the banking system,” Litan said. “The only thing that has changed is the user interface and Apple is getting a bigger piece of the action for owning the customer user interface.”



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