Super Retina

I thought adding prefixes like Super to a sub-brand like Retina to a piece of technology to make it sound more awesome was something companies like Samsung did. Here is an hideous example: HD Super AMOLED Plus.

Unfortunately Apple is doing it too. I should have known this would happen eventually. The writing on the wall was when Apple added the Plus suffix to its larger-sized iPhone, in addition to the ‘s’ (to denote speed). Here: iPhone 6s Plus. Ugh.

If (when?) Apple introduces a larger iPhone X, and based on the company’s nomenclature up until this point, the larger iPhone X would probably be called iPhone X Plus. And, it would feature a Super Retina display.

“iPhone X Plus with Super Retina display.” Sounds uncomfortably similar to how Samsung marketing folks might go about naming their stuff.

Update 2017.09.16 10:50: It’s actually worse. I forgot the HD part. Apple calls the new OLED display in the iPhone X “Super Retina HD”. Terrible.

Symantec Norton Core

When I first heard of Norton Core, a secure wireless router from Symantec, I brushed it off: another boring router. But when I bumped into it again and saw what it looked like, I did a double take. The design caught my attention: “An anti-virus company made this?” Apparently yes.

Norton Core is a secure wireless router making use of machine learning and Symantec’s global intelligence network to defend your home WiFi and all the devices connected to it against malware, viruses, and hackers.

With 4×4 MU-MIMO and 802.11ac, Symantec claims a maximum throughput of 2.5Gbps. Range is extended by incorporating phased-array antenna design and beamforming.
Symantec Core’s security measures starts at the network level through deep packet inspection, intrusion prevention, in addition to comprehensive data encryption, and real-time software updates.

You can preorder the Core for US$200 (a discount from $280, limited to US customers), which includes a one-year complimentary subscription to Norton Core Security Plus that provides security protection for up to 20 PCs, Macs, smartphones and tablets, protection for unlimited IoT devices, and comprehensive parental controls.

I think the Symantec Norton Core will have a warm welcome. Many of the new wireless routers focus on ease of use and configuration with extended ranges, but none has touted security as its number one feature like the Norton Core. And it’s gorgeous too. I just hope it’s not made of cheap plastic. Expected shipping is Summer 2017.

Source: Symantec

LG Gram 14

The LG Gram 14 blends ultra-thin design with high-end performance. Weighing in at just 2.16 pounds (980 grams) the Gram 14 keeps the lead for lightest laptop for its size class based on diagonal screen size.

But LG didn’t sacrifice battery life to get thin, the company claims 21 hours on a single charge according to The Verge. (Others are reporting a more conservative 17 hours.) Considering the prior model had poor battery life of around 5-6 hours, a claim of 21 hours is remarkable. Even if real world tests come out at 33% less we are looking at 14 hours, which is still impressive.

The Gram 14 sports a full metal body, constructed out of a nano carbon magnesium alloy, a first for a LG product. A thinner yet durable casing would have allowed LG to squeeze in a larger battery.

LG Display’s new display technology enables the IPS LCD to achieve higher brightness and resolution while reducing component weight. The small bezels around the display enable a 14-inch LCD in a typical 13.3-inch chassis. (I’m looking at you Apple, with those chubby bezels.) But there are compromises: the webcam is located on the bottom of the screen, instead of on top.

A fingerprint sensor is built into the touchpad, and the full-sized keyboard is backlit. The fingerprint sensor-integrated touchpad is the type of technology advancement that makes sense to me. Instead of developing an entire TouchBar iOS system to get TouchID working on a MacBook Pro, the more simple and seamless approach resulting in a more unified user experience would have been to do what LG did here. (Yes, there’s more to the TouchBar than TouchID, but the other buttons are just glorified touch buttons that already exist on the screen that are easily accessible with the mouse pointer.)

Technical specification:

  • Display: 14-inch 1920×1080 IPS LCD
  • CPU: Core i5-5200
  • RAM: 8GB DDR3L 1600MHz
  • Storage: 128GB SSD
  • Ports: USB-C, USB-A 3.0, HDMI

Another power-saving move might have been to keep the 14-inch display’s pixel format at 1920×1080. More pixels do have a material impact on the visual experience, but at the cost of battery life. I would have preferred a pixel-doubled retina display and given up on a few hours on battery life, but the battery life LG is claiming is quite impressive for such a thin laptop. Pricing is expected to start at US$850.

Sources: The Verge, TechRadar, Liliputing

HP Envy Curved AIO 34

HP ENVY Curved AIO 34

The HP Envy Curved AIO 34 sports a 34-inch curved IPS LCD with a 3440×1440 pixel format. Unlike previous versions of the Envy AIO and Apple’s iMac AIOs the Envy 34 puts the guts of the computer into a rectangular base, like Microsoft’s Surface Studio. This change in design makes for a neater experience without having to endure a mess of cables dangling from the monitor.

The 34-inch display sports thin bezels and is only 16.9-mm thick. There’s also a pop-up webcam. I particularly like that the webcam pops up when you need it and is hidden when you don’t. The built-in IR camera and microphone turn on and off with the camera. We live in a world where our own governments will at times for good reasons and at other times for no good reason at all turn on our webcams without letting us know and take a look.

The rectangular base looks like a soundbar, because there’s an integrated Bang & Olufsen-branded soundbar with directional audio and a built-in audio dial. I’m all for mechanical switches and dials, but with direct access to audio controls on the keyboard — which looks very nice by the way — I’m not sure how much we’ll get out of the integrated volume dial. Also integrated into the base is Qi wireless charging, which can come in quite handy and can help to keep your desk nice and tidy.

Hardware specifications:

  • Display: Curved 34-inch 21:9 3440×1440 IPS LCD, Technicolor Color Certified
  • CPU: 7th-gen Kaby Lake quad core Core i5 or i7
  • GPU: NVIDIA GTX 950M 4GB VRAM or AMD RX 460 4GB VRAM (optional)
  • RAM: 8GB or 16GB DDR4
  • Storage: 256GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD with 1TB 7200RPM HDD
  • Ports: 4x USB-A 3.0, USB-C (USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 3), HDMI in/out

Price starts at US$1730 and will be available January 11, 2017 on The more powerful model with a Core i7, 16GB RAM, and 256GB SSD/1TB HDD will be priced at $1999 and be available in February.

Sources: PCWorld, SlashGear, TechRadar

Rumor: Apple Watch Series 3 – Battery

[ MacRumors ] Tim Hardwick:

On Tuesday, the Chinese-language Economic Daily News (EDN) claimed the next iteration of the wearable device will be manufactured by Taiwan-based Quanta, which was also responsible for the production of Apple’s first and second-generation smartwatch.

Citing market watchers with knowledge of Quanta’s plans, the paper said improving battery life is the manufacturer’s “main task”, but beside general performance improvements, the device’s other hardware would not see much change.

The new Series 2 Apple Watch with WatchOS 3.1 gets up to about two days without a charge according to John Gruber. That’s a 100% improvement over the original. Another leap like that could happen with the Series 3 with improvements in battery technology, processor miniaturization, OLED display power consumption, etc.

Extending the battery life on the Apple Watch is probably priority one at Apple, and for good reason, but I’d like to see more attention given to sunlight readability of the display. Sure upping the brightness to 1000 nits helps, but there are less brute force ways to make it easier to see what’s on the Apple Watch when the sun is out. It will also help with battery life.

I’m glad Apple isn’t changing the exterior design; classic watch designs should stand the test of time.

Lenovo Smart Assistant

Lenovo Smart Assistant - Harmon Kardon

The Lenovo Smart Assistant resembles Amazon’s Echo in more than looks: it’s a tall cylindrical shaped bluetooth speaker, and is powered by Amazon’s very own Alexa. The Smart Assistant is skinnier and taller than the Echo. Lenovo priced the Smart Assistant at US$129, which is $50 lower than the $179 Amazon Echo. Lenovo also softened up the bottom a bit with textile-like visual appearance that comes in soft gray, green, and orange (more like salmon). The Smart Assistant will fit more snugly into home interiors.

The top half is all business with eight 360-degree far-field microphone with acoustic echo cancellation and noise suppression. The Smart Assistant can hear you summon it from 16 feet away. The speaker combines a 5-watt tweeter and a 10-watt woofer. But Lenovo’s offering a special version with Harmon Kardon premium audio for $50 more, in all black.

The top outer ring rotates, which is how you control the volume. And from initial reports on the net the Smart Assistant can pump out enough decibels for everyone in the room to hear, unless you live in an absurdly large mansion in which case you’ll have a real human assistant at your beck and call.

Is the Lenovo Smart Assistant going to make my life better? My life is stuffed with complications; that’s why I look for high-quality dependable devices that combine important functions. Combining a portable bluetooth speaker and digital assistant seems like a good idea, especially if you don’t have to take out your smartphone.

But do you really need one? If so, is the Lenovo Smart Assistant of high quality? Let’s tackle the first question. If you already have a modern smartphone you most likely already have a digital assistant. Have an iPhone? Go to Settings –> Siri –> Allow “Hey Siri”. Just make sure your iPhone is plugged in, a requirement Apple should get rid of. And if you’re on Android, it’s a bit more complicated but you can go to Settings –> Language and Input –> Voice Input –> Enhanced Google Services (enable and then click on the settings button to the right) –> “OK Google” Detection –> and then enable “From Google Search App”, “From Any Screen”, and “When Locked”. There, you have your own Alexa-like digital assistant right in the palm of your hand. Say “Hey Siri” or “OK Google” and ask away.

The second question. I like — no need — high-quality products. I do my research and get the highest quality product I can afford, or if there is something so much better but I can’t afford it I’ll save up for it for as long as I need to. That high-quality thing whatever it is will last a long time and will be out of the growing landfills.

I also don’t like shopping; if I had it my way I would shop for something once in my life. Take socks for instance. During the summer I wear Darn Tough socks, which come with a lifetime warranty. If these socks tear I just send them in and they’ll fix them or replace them. I don’t shop for summer socks anymore. Same goes for my backpack. I know it’s a lot tougher with high-tech gadgets, but I’m back to using my 2009 17-inch MacBook Pro as my daily go-to computer. I’ll just need to do a bit of upgrading (RAM and SSD). So is the Lenovo Smart Assistant high quality?

While I was watching some videos online I took a close look at that chrome-like outer ring on the Smart Assistant and noticed some rough spots. The chrome layer doesn’t look like a thick layer, but a thin layer covering cheap plastic. I’m fairly sure that ring isn’t going to feel anything like the ring on the Nest Thermostat. (The special Harmon Kardon edition might have better materials, and the sound should be better.) That’s just one little thing, but I think it’s the little things that count. If you can’t get the little things right then what does that tell you about the whole thing?

The Lenovo Smart Assistant at $129 looks like a bargain at first glance, but take a good look at the materials, how they feel. How does it sound? How well does it work? I recommend sticking to the digital assistant already on your smartphone. But if you really want a standalone digital assistant check out the special Harmon Kardon edition or the original: Amazon’s Echo.

Sources: Engadget, c|net, Ars Technica

Goal Zero 32005 Lighthouse Micro Flash Lantern

Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro Lantern

[ Goal Zero ] Goal Zero’s 32005 Lighthouse Micro Flash Lantern is tiny, but bright. The four-LED lantern outputs up to 150 lumens on the highest setting lasting 7 hours, and 170 hours on the lowest setting. No cables are required for charging; just plug in the convenient pop-out USB plug. This IPX6-rated weatherproof lantern can also be used as a 120-lumen flashlight.

Technical specifications:

  • Max Brightness: 150 lumens, 3800K, 7 hours
  • Charge Times: 3.5 hours on USB
  • USB: 5V up to 1A
  • Battery: 9.62 Wh (3.7V, 2600mAh) Li-On NMC 18650 by LG/Samsung
  • Weight: 2.4 oz / 68g
  • Dimensions: 3.66×1.5-inch / 93×37.75mm
  • Warranty: 12 months

The Goal Zero 32005 Lighthouse Micro Flash Lantern is small enough to take it everywhere you go. US$24.99

Samsung CH711 Quantum Dot Curved Monitor

[ Samsung ] The Samsung CH711 quantum dot curved monitor uses quantum dots to enhance color purity. Samsung has been incorporating quantum dots in lieu of LEDs in its high-end TVs and now the company is bringing quantum dots to its high-end monitors. Technical specifications of the CH711 quantum dot curved monitor are as follows:

  • Size: 27-inch and 31.5-inch
  • Pixel Format: 2560×1440
  • Viewing Angle: 178/178
  • Curvature: 1800R
  • Color Gamut: ~125% sRGB

Expected to be showcased during CES with availability in early 2017.

Apple’s Search for iPhone OLED Screens

[ Bloomberg ] Pavel Alpeyev and Takashi Amano:

Now OLED is the big goal. The technology has been included on top-end smartphones for years, including almost all of Samsung Electronics Co.’s high-end phones. While LCDs rely on a backlight panel, OLED pixels can glow on their own, resulting in thinner displays, better battery life and improved contrast. OLED screens can also be made on flexible plastic, allowing for a wider variety of shapes and applications.

Better battery life. Let’s talk about that for a minute. Yes, OLED displays can get battery life if the content is on the darker side, things like videos. But if you like white backgrounds on your phone and you’re mostly on non-video apps, then no, OLED displays will get worse battery life than LCDs. Aside from that caveat OLED technology is superior.

John Gruber mentions OLED display’s poor color reproduction:

[…] the thing about this story that has never sat right with me is that OLED displays reproduce colors poorly. Colors look terrible on my Google Pixel, and I don’t think they look good on Apple Watch, either. I’d hate to see a Pixel-caliber display on an iPhone.

Yes, getting colors right on OLED smartphones has been a tricky thing to master for Samsung. But in the last couple of years Samsung has achieved better color accuracy than even the best LCDs. DisplayMate president Raymond Soniera:

The Galaxy S7 matches or breaks new records in smartphone display performance for: Highest Absolute Color Accuracy […]

My guess is Apple’s going OLED for the next iPhone; OLED is superior to LCD in every way. Apple, just make sure to darken the UI a bit.

TouchBar-equipped 2016 MacBook Pro, a Mixed Message

Apple likes to simplify things. And to do that Apple gets rid of the old for the new. Look at the connectivity options on the new MacBook Pro’s: you don’t have any. USB-C is it. Apple is embracing simplicity and throwing out the old: SD slot, USB-A, DisplayPort, HDMI. Some of these ports are not old per se, but USB-C is the new kid on the block and it can do power, data, and video, all in a small, reversible connection.

I understand what Apple is doing. I also understand that our world, our minds, have a tendency to want familiarity. We don’t like change. We want our USB-A ports, because we have a lot of external peripherals that use that connection: USB hard drives, USB flash drives, USB keyboards and mice, etc. In order to use what we already have with the new USB-C-only MacBook Pro we need to spend our hard earned money on dongles or USB hubs. Apple’s goal of simplicity in the design of the MacBook Pro will result in a convoluted mess of dongles and cables for those who buy the new simplified MacBook Pro. It’s quite ironic. But when the dust settles. When peripheral companies come out with USB-A hard drives, USB-A monitors, flash drives, keyboards, mice, etc. our cables will be more unified and interchangeable. But it would have required a lot of our money, a lot of complexity, a lot of time (researching what to buy, buying, and returning stuff that didn’t work, etc.), a lot of patience, a lot of getting rid of old peripherals, etc. Apple is pushing against our desire to sit still and getting us closer to simpler future where we only have one type of cable for power, data, and video: USB-C. It’s uncomfortable now, but I understand Apple’s desire to simplify and take us closer to a simpler future even if that means a little discomfort and a big mess of cables and dongles for the time being.

But here’s what I don’t understand. Apple is willing to pull us kicking and screaming into a simpler future, but at the same time introduce complications into our user experience of Apple products. Before there was a singular MacBook experience for the most part, now there are two distinct MacBook Pro experiences: one with and one without the TouchBar. You’ll need a lot of money to afford and experience the MacBook Pro with the TouchBar. For the rest of us without that kind of disposable income our user experience will remain the same: keyboard including function keys and a trackpad.

One great user experience on the Mac has been consistency. The user interface and the user experience was consistent across all Macs: iMacs, MacBooks, Mac minis, Mac Pros, etc. All the input devices — keyboards, trackpads, mice — worked on all of them. What you saw on the screen were all consistent too. Just because the Mac mini was cheaper didn’t mean you had a different UI/UX experience than on a much more expensive Mac Pro. Of course, user experience has always been a little different from Mac to Mac: a SSD-equipped Mac with maxed our RAM will run much faster and more smoothly than a hard drive-based Mac with minimal RAM. But even then all Macs had the same user interface and if similarly equipped with CPU, GPU, RAM, storage, etc. would essentially be the same user experience. Not anymore: richer people will get to experience a different, better user experience. You won’t be able to add a TouchBar to your iMac or your Mac Pro or your older MacBook Pros. Or your new 2016 13-inch TouchBar-less MacBook Pro.

For all the work done to simplify our cable future toward USB-C, Apple has fragmented the user experience of the Mac with the addition of the more expensive 2016 MacBook Pro with TouchBar. Mixed messages from Apple is rare, but the 2016 MacBook Pro with TouchBar is an oxymoronic message.