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Friday, May 22, 2015

22 Fitness Bands and the Battle for Your Wrist by David Pogue

The industry has spoken: Your wrist is the new lap. It’s where computers are going next.
It’s a bold ambition. Your wrist is personal. Anything you put there has to be strapped on all day — and operated one-handed, for seconds at a time. There’s no room for a mouse or keyboard, let alone niceties like jacks, hard drives, or big screens.

And there aren’t tons of reasons why you’d want a computer on your wrist. Text messages, email, GPS, alarms — all of these things are better and easier to manage on your phone. There is one huge exception, though: health tracking.

Since the dawn of humanity, the goings-on inside your body have been pretty much invisible. When do you get insight into your body mechanisms? Maybe ten minutes, once a year, in a doctor’s office.
No wonder we’re an overweight nation. We know we’re supposed to eat better and move more — but how can we do that, when we can’t see how much we’re eating and moving?

A watch or a band is pressed against your skin all day. So if that band is a wrist computer with sensors, it should be able to get some pretty decent measurements — exercise, sleep, heart rate, sun exposure, skin temperature, for starters — and make visible what’s usually invisible. 

I’ve tested dozens of these wrist gadgets, but I’ve never bought one for myself. Now, I think, it’s time. But which one? The Apple Watch? A Fitbit thing? 

I decided to conduct a little reality-show competition on my arm. I resolved to take the winner of this competition and buy it, with my own money, and commit to wearing it. 
Welcome to the Quest for Pogue’s Wrist.
22 Fitness Bands and the Battle for Your Wrist

What We Want in a Wrist Gadget

I’m not especially picky. There are only a few things I really want in a wrist device:

1. Small. Lots of these things are big like watches, or even bigger; some feel like a bathroom scale strapped to your wrist. I’d rather have a band — something so slim and lightweight, you forget it’s on you.

2. Long battery life. A health monitor can’t do its job if you’re not wearing it. If you have to charge the darned thing every day, you’re taking it off a lot.

3. Good looks. Most people decide what to wear based on what it looks like—both clothes and jewelry. You’re going to be wearing this thing on your body. Looks matter.

4. Waterproof. Taking these things off every time you shower or swim is a pain.

5. Superb app. Fitness bands communicate with your phone wirelessly, by Bluetooth. In a companion phone app, you get the full readout of your progress, in graphs and numbers. If the app’s not easy to use and nice to spend time with, you won’t use it.

6. A screen. Even though your phone is the primary health dashboard, it’s nice to have a screen on the band itself — for when you’re away from your phone, you don’t feel like hauling the phone out of your pocket, or you want to see what time it is. 

7. A community. If you want to get fit, it helps a lot if your efforts are exposed to other people — friends, spouse, family. Camaraderie and friendly competition inevitably result. It’s health through humiliation. 

8. Food tracking. If a fitness tracker tracks your activity but not your food intake, it’s doing only half the job. Tragically, there’s no magical, automatic way to log what you eat, so you have to do that manually after everything you wolf down. But good software can make that easy, reducing the job to a quick bar-code scan or typing a few letters.

9. Heart monitor. Until recently, you wouldn’t have called those Fitbits and Up bands medical devices. They’re not scientific instruments; they’re accurate enough only to serve as motivational devices. 

But that’s changing fast. One big reason: the debut of real-time, continuous heart-rate monitoring.

Your heart rate is important for many reasons. First, a wristband that sees your pulse can do a far more accurate job of tracking your sleep, compared with one that sees only the motion of your arm at night. Because when you’re asleep, your heart slows down.

Second, your heart rate is an important indicator of your overall metabolism. A tracker that knows how hard your heart is pounding can do a much more accurate job of tracking the calories you’re burning.

Third, if you exercise, a real-time heart-rate display is extremely important. You want to push your heart so that it works harder — you want it in the “cardio zone,” where the heart itself is getting a workout — but nothing dangerous.

Fourth, your resting heart rate is an important indicator of your heart’s overall efficiency. In general, the lower, the better. 

10. Smartwatch features. It’d be nice if the band did smartwatchy things, like showing you who’s calling or texting you. That’s the other thing 
smartwatches are really good for: Letting you screen incoming notifications subtly, by glancing at your wrist, rather than hauling out your phone.

11. Silent alarm. As long as you’re wearing a band on your wrist, how about letting it wake you with a vibration, so you don’t wake up your sleeping partner?

12. Automatic sleep detection. Most of these trackers can track your sleep patterns — if you bother to tell them, by pressing a button, every time you go to bed and later wake up. But come on: If they’re so smart, why can’t they detect that automatically? The best trackers log your sleep automatically, so you can forget all about it.

OK, that’s it. A dozen feature requests. Is that so much to ask?
Let the competition begin!

The $50 step-and-sleep counters

In the beginning, fitness bands contained nothing but accelerometers — that is, motion sensors. These were the Nike band, original Up and Fitbit, and so on. Their software analyzes the motion of your wrist, and from that determines how many steps you’re taking. Most also analyze your sleep: 

How many times did you wake up? How long did you sleep? What portions of the night were you in deep versus light sleep? (Sleep scientists will tell you that trying to figure out your brain’s stage of sleep by studying the movements of your hand is a bit of a stretch. But it’s something.)

These gadgets used to cost $150 or more; now they’re dirt-cheap. All of the following models, for example, cost only $50.
  • Jawbone Up Move. A plastic disk. Clips to your clothes or pops into a wristband (sold separately for $15). Six-month disposable battery. Really great app. Showerproof, but not swimproof. Includes features 1, 2, 5, 7, 8.
  • Misfit Flash. Another plastic disk. Twelve pinpoint lights illuminate to show your progress, or what time it is. Clips to your clothes or pops into a wristband. Six-month disposable battery. Waterproof. Features 1, 2, 4, 5, 7.
  • Nabu X. Silicone band. One-week battery life. Shake hands with another Nabu owner to wirelessly become “friends.” Lights up when your phone has a notification. Features 1, 2, 4, 7.
  • Fitbug Orb. Clips to your clothes or pops into a wristband. Six-month disposable battery. Web-based interface (in addition to phone app) for more generous graphs and the ability to log food. Features 1, 2, 8.
  • Fitbit Zip. Clips to your clothes; no wristband, no sleep tracking. Six-month disposable battery. Web-based interface (in addition to phone app) for more generous graphs. Features 1, 2, 5, 6, 7.
  • Pivotal Living Tracker 1. This astonishingly cheap tracker is only $12 —but that’s per year. If you don’t renew, it still counts steps, but the app stops working. Six-day battery. Features 1, 2, 6, 7, 11.
The winner: The Up Move’s infinitely more sophisticated, polished phone app includes food tracking and community rivalry features. It’s by far the best bet.

The $100 trackers

The next category of trackers offer nearly the same features as the $50 versions — except that they’re made of nicer materials and they look better. For example:
  • Jawbone Up2. Great-looking silicone wristband. One-week battery. A couple of status lights. Idle alert (vibrates when you’ve been sitting motionless for too long — an extremely important feature). Smart alarm (tries to wake you at the lightest part of your sleep cycle, to avoid grogginess — even if it’s a little before your scheduled alarm time). Features 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 11.
  • Misfit Shine. A great-looking metal disc — clips to your clothes or pops into a wristband. Twelve pinpoint lights illuminate to show your progress, or what time it is. Disposable battery lasts up to six months. Waterproof. Features 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7.
  • Fitbit Flex. Sleek-looking silicone band. Five bright indicator LED lights. Week-long battery. Web-based interface (in addition to phone app) for more generous graphs. Features 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8.
  • Garmin Vivofit 2. One-year disposable battery — amazing. A screen. Inactivity alarm. Features 1, 2, 3, 5, 6. (Here’s my full review.) 
  • Garmin Vivosmart ($150). Extremely slim, but with a screen that appears when you tap it; it shows incoming texts and calls from your phone Waterproof. Inactivity alarm. One-week battery. Features 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10.
The winners: The Up Move’s phone app offers useful tips based on observations it makes about your behavior; the Fitbit Flex’s indicator lights are a lot better than no progress indicators at all; the Vivofit and Vivosmart have actual screens. All three come with terrific apps.

The fitness watches

If you’re a hardcore athlete, an actual watch (as opposed to a band) can contain a lot more sensors, and their screens can tell you a lot more about how you’re doing. Some even have built-in GPS — a killer feature if you’re a runner because you can leave your phone at home and still see where you ran (and how far).

But these watches are also usually expensive, huge, and not especially stylish. Some examples:
  • Mio Alpha 2, $200. Chunky. Color-coded LEDs to show you your current cardio zone. No GPS. Three-month battery (or less if you work out often). Features 2, 6, 9.
  • Mio Fuse, $150. Waterproof, fat band with heart monitor. Week-long battery life. Doesn’t track sleep or stair climbing. Features 2, 4, 6, 9.
  • TomTom Runner Cardio, $270. Rather huge, with heart tracking and GPS. Eight-hour life using GPS. Primarily for runners. Features 2, 6, 9.
  • Basis Peak, $200. Big but amazingly proficient body-tracking device, with sensors for motion, heart rate, skin temperature, and sweat. Magnetic charger. Waterproof. Four-day battery life. Touchscreen. Features 4, 6, 9, 10, 11.
  • Polar M400, $200. Thin but gigantic. GPS. Standard micro-USB jack for charging — all other products here require a proprietary USB charging cord, which is easy to lose. Waterproof. Three-week battery (much shorter with GPS on). Features 2, 4, 5, 6.
  • Fitbit Surge, $250. GPS and heart-rate monitoring. Detects sleep automatically. Touchscreen. One-week battery (GPS eats it much faster.) Features 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.
  • Garmin Vivoactive, $250. Amazingly slim for a GPS watch (but no built-in heart monitor). Color screen — and it’s always on, so it makes a good watch. Three-week battery (less with GPS use). Inactivity alerts. Waterproof. Features 2, 3, 4, 6, 12.
  • Apple Watch, $350 and up. Well, you know about the Apple Watch (here’s my review). Despite the cluster of sensors on the back and the polished fitness software, the Apple Watch isn’t the greatest health tracker; the one-day battery life wrecks it. You have to take it off and charge it every night, so it can’t track your sleep or wake you with a silent alarm. The heart-rate monitor samples you only once every ten minutes (except during a workout). No food tracking or community features. Features 3, 5, 6, 9, 10.
The winners: The Fitbit Surge packs the most into the smallest package—GPS without the bulk. The Garmin’s color screen and GPS are very attractive. And if you don’t need GPS, the Basis Peak is in a body-measuring class by itself.

Heart-tracking bands

As you’re starting to figure out, the low-end bands are glorified pedometers; they’re great as gifts and inconspicuous to wear. Then there are big, high-end watches with specialized features for athletes.

In the Quest for Pogue’s Wrist, though, it became clear that I needed something in between. What I crave is something small and subtle — a band, not a full-size watch. But I want something with a heart-rate sensor.
A year ago, there was no such thing. Today, there are at least three available—and one of them won my heart.
  • Microsoft Band ($200). This is one astonishing piece of technology. (Here’s my full review.) Contains ten sensors, including GPS and a heart-rate monitor — remarkable features in a wristband. Unfortunately, its battery life is very short — two days — and the Band is thick, chunky, hard and, because the screen isn’t curved to your wrist, uncomfortable. Features: 1, 5, 6, 9, 10.
  • Up3 Band ($180). This baby would be jaw-dropping if it did what it says it does. It’s a very thin, elegant band — with heart tracking.

    Jawbone pulled that off by devising a new way to check your pulse. Most bands contain optical sensors, which shine light through your skin and measure the reflection; the Up3 band has, instead, electrodes that send an infinitesimal current through your skin.

    Yet incredibly, you can’t monitor your heart on demand — say, during a workout or even during the day. The Up3 takes exactly one sample each day: when you wake up. This is a device for checking your resting heart rate once a day, nothing more.

    Jawbone says that it intends to add more frequent heart tracking in a software update. (But what will that do to the band’s one-week battery life?) It says it also plans to activate the skin-temperature and ambient-temperature sensors advertised to be in the band, which currently do nothing.

    In other words, Jawbone is selling you a Tesla car at full price without its engine or tires. They’ll ship those to you when they’re ready. For now, all you can do is sit in its seats and make “Vroom, vroom!” noises with your mouths.

    Features: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 11. And feature 9 if you’re feeling generous. Our full review is here.
  • Fitbit Charge HR ($150). This band is wider than the Up3, but not nearly as massive as a watch. Yet it has a screen, which is fantastically useful. With repeated presses of the button on the side, the display cycles through the current time (yes, it’s a watch), your current steps, heart rate, distance walked, calories burned, and how many sets of stairs you’ve taken (yes, it contains an altimeter, too).

The Charge in depth 

Thanks to the continuous heart monitor, the Charge HR is much more accurate in tracking sleep than other bands; in its ability to know when you are sleeping, and know when you’re awake, it’s almost Santa-like.

But the app — oh wow, the app. It’s terrific. It’s a simple dashboard, showing everything about your body that the band can tell you right now:
This dashboard updates in real time: As you walk along, you see the step tally increment and the heartbeat speed up. Tap one of the data rows to see graphs of that data over time.
Like the Up products, the Charge HR lets you record what you eat, either by scanning a package’s barcode or by typing a few letters and choosing from the list of results:
Now, I’ve always considered it ridiculous that anyone would bother entering each meal manually into such an app. I mean, I get that there’s no automatic way to measure what you eat, as there is with sleep and activity. But manually recording every bun and banana?

But having actually tried it, I’ll admit my foolishness. First of all, recording your intake kind of fun — and enlightening. Second, it’s very quick.

But above all, an amazing thing happens once the app knows how much you’re taking in.

It turns out that losing weight isn’t easy, but it is straightforward: Burn more calories than you eat, and you’ll lose weight.

I won’t exactly win the Nobel for that insight. But here’s the thing: The millions of people who are trying to lose weight are operating blind. They don’t know how many calories they’re taking in or how many they’re burning up! How can they possibly adjust their behavior without that information?
That’s the magnificence of this simple Fitbit display, continually updated all day:
The front bar for each day show how many calories you’ve taken in; the back (gray) bars are how many you’ve burned. Keep the colored bars shorter than the gray ones, and you will lose weight. Period.

Pardon my stop here in Too Much Information Land: I’ve always been a skinny dude. But when I hit 50, my metabolism slowed way down — and my traditionally svelte figure started to swell in the middle, as middle-aged men do. In two weeks of letting the Fitbit monitor my human energy equation, I’ve lost four pounds. It wasn’t a surprise; it was inevitable. 

There are some shortcomings. The Charge HR lets you share your step counts with friends and rivals — but not any other data. (On the Up band, your fellow fitness buffs can see each other’s sleep and workout data, too.) And it seems like a missed opportunity that after recording all that food data, the only nutritional information the app shows about your diet is calories consumed —not sugar, fat, protein, and so on.

Furthermore, the Fitbit can share your health data with at least a dozen other fitness apps, like Lose It, MyFitnessPal, Microsoft HealthVault, MapMyRun — and, as of last week, Strava (hurray!). Weirdly, though, it can’t share its data with Apple’s HealthKit app, and the company says it has no plans to enable it to.

Finally, note that my colleague Alyssa Bereznak tried out the Fitbit Charge —same thing, but without the heart monitor; she’s one of the unfortunate few who gets skin irritation from its band. (I had no problems.)
No tracker is perfect. This one, though, is the smallest continuous-pulse tracker on the market. Its battery goes for five days on a charge. It notifies you (on its screen) of incoming calls. It has Fitbit’s helpful Web interface, which gives you a bigger, richer dashboard for your progress:
And this band offers more of the key features than any other product: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12.

The Charge HR, as you’ve probably figured out, is the tracker I finally bought for myself. Two years from now, it will look fat and underpowered — they all will. But for now, this is the best computer I’ve found to strap onto my wrist.

These movies and shows are being removed from Netflix in June – watch them while you can! by Jacob Siegal

Every month, at least a few of the contracts between Netflix and its content providers expire, which means that some of your favorite shows and movies will vanish from the streaming service. Want to know what’s being removed in June? Read on to find out.

MORE NETFLIX: Netflix is testing a redesign that users are going to love – see it first right here

Keep in mind, the list is subject to change as Netflix renegotiates its deals, but here is the current list of removals scheduled for June:

June 1st

  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
  • City of Ghosts (2003)
  • Dance with Me (1998)
  • Deep Blue Sea (1999)
  • DeRay Davis: Power Play (2010)
  • Dream Lover (1994)
  • Drugs, Inc. (Season 2-3)
  • Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)
  • Frankie and Johnny (1991)
  • G.I. Jane (1997)
  • Garfield and Friends (Vol. 1-2)
  • Hatchet II (2010)
  • I Escaped A Cult (2014)
  • Ink Master (Season 1)
  • Inside Combat Rescue (Season 1)
  • Last Action Hero (1993)
  • Picture Perfect (1997)
  • Platoon Leader (1988)
  • Rain Man (1988)
  • Reign Over Me (2007)
  • Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  • Snatch (2000)
  • Soul Survivors (2001)
  • Swept Away (2002)
  • Syriana (2005)
  • Tank Girl (1995)
  • The Great Queen Seondeok (2009)
  • The Perfect Husband: The Laci Peterson Story (2004)
  • The Phantom of the Opera: Special Edition (2004)
  • The Rocketeer (1991)
  • The Triplets of Belleville (2003)
  • Waking Life (2001)

June 6th

  • Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away (2012)
  • Crash (2004)

June 15th

  • Space: Unraveling the Cosmos (2014)
  • The River Why (2010)
  • Tin Man (2007)

June 17th

  • Dummy (2002)

June 20th

  • Amadeus (1984)
  • Collateral Damage (2002)
  • Lonesome Dove (1989)
  • Practical Magic (1998)
  • The Guilt Trip (2012)

June 22nd

  • Madonna: The MDNA Tour (2013)
  • Stand Up Guys (2012)

June 28th

  • Biutiful (2010)

June 29th

  • Iron Man: Armored Adventures (Season 1-2)
  • Texas Chainsaw (2013)

June 30th

  • Donnie Brasco (1997)
  • Godzilla (1998)
  • Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)
  • Jack Reacher (2012)
  • National Security (2003)
  • Steel Magnolias (1989)
  • Taxi Driver (1976)
  • The Baby-Sitters Club (Season 1)

Every new movie and TV show you’ll be able to stream on Netflix in June by Jacob Siegal

Summer has finally arrived, and along with it comes a whole new slate of shows and movies streaming on Netflix. Some of the highlights this June include The Aviator, The Butler, Nightcrawler and Transformers: Age of Extinction (if you’re into that sort of thing).

A few Netflix originals are either returning or debuting on the service this month as well, most notably Orange is the New Black and the new show from the Wachowskis, Sense8.

Here is the complete list of additions to Netflix in June:

June 1st

  • The Aviator (2004)
  • Employee of the Month (2006)
  • Hidden Kingdoms (2014)
  • The High and the Mighty (1954)
  • La Dictadura Perfecta (2014)
  • The Magdalene Sisters (2002)
  • R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour: Don’t Think About It (2007)
  • R.L. Stine’s Mostly Ghostly (2008)
  • Sex Ed (2014)
  • Shaquille O’Neal Presents: All Star Comedy Jam: Live from Atlanta (2013)
  • Shaquille O’Neal Presents: All Star Comedy Jam: Live from Las Vegas (2014)
  • Shaquille O’Neal Presents: All Star Comedy Jam: Live from Orlando (2012)

June 3rd

  • The Best of Me (2014)
  • Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014)

June 5th

  • Sense8 (Season 1)

June 6th

  • On the Road (2012)
  • Scandal (Season 4)

June 7th

  • Words and Pictures (2013)

June 8th

  • Grace of Monaco (2014)

June 9th

  • Free the Nipple (2014)
  • It’s Tough Being Loved by Jerks (2008)

June 10th

  • Nightcrawler (2014)
  • Pretty Little Liars (Season 5)
  • Rosewater (2014)

June 11th

  • The Legend (1993)
  • The Legend 2 (1993)
  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Season 2)

June 12th

  • Champs (2015)
  • The Cobbler (2014)
  • Life of Crime (2013)
  • Orange Is the New Black (Season 3)

June 13th

  • Antarctica: A Year on Ice (2013)
  • Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

June 15th

  • Bindi’s Bootcamp (Season 1)
  • Danger Mouse (Seasons 1-10)
  • Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (2013)
  • Really Me (Seasons 1 & 2)
  • Rodney Carrington: Laughter’s Good (2014)
  • Team Toon (Season 1)
  • Wizards vs. Aliens (Seasons 1-3)

June 16th

  • Backstreet Boys: Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of (2015)
  • Curious George (2006)
  • Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)
  • Two Days, One Night (2014)

June 17th

  • Heartland (Season 6)
  • Point and Shoot (2014)

June 19th

  • A Most Wanted Man (2014)
  • Some Assembly Required (2012)

June 20th

  • Cake (2014)

June 23rd

  • Advantageous (2015)

June 24th

  • Beyond the Lights (2014)

June 25th

  • Ballet 422 (2014)

June 26th

  • Dragons: Race to the Edge (Season 2)
  • Katy Perry: The Prismatic World Tour (2015)
  • What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
  • Young & Hungry (Season 2)

June 27th

  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Free Upgrade to Windows 10 When it Comes Out?!

Here is the fine print regarding the Free Windows 10 Upgrade from Microsoft.

This is purely opinion on my part:

  1. Any computer that was running Win XP originally would be a poor candidate for this upgrade. A computer of that era will not have enough memory or CPU speed.
  2. Any computer running Vista originally, see above statement.
  3. I would wait 3-6 months after the upgrade is made available before I would attempt the upgrade. I think a much more stable and available release should be available in that time frame.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

You'll never guess which is fastest, or where the U.S. is by Kim Komando

 The U.S. is the best country in the world for a lot of reasons, but Internet access isn't one of them. Our average broadband speeds lag behind a lot of other countries, and we pay more for it than most.
Every year, a company called Akamai Technologies ranks the average Internet speed of countries around the world. So, which countries made the top 10 this year?

Before I tell you that, I should get the bad news out of the way. The U.S. wasn't in the top 10. In fact, we came in at just number 17.

Part of the reason for our poor showing is just geographical. In the Mountain and Central regions of the U.S., we have tons of little communities surrounded by dozens of miles of wide open space. Running the cable or fiber needed for fast Internet is a major undertaking. That's why many have slower satellite connectors or even dial up.

You'll notice that most of the countries on the top 10 list are smaller or the population is very concentrated.

When you're looking at the list, it's interesting to think about not just the speeds, but how fast the Internet speed is improving. *Note that the measurements are in Megabits per second.

Global Internet - 4.5 Mbps. It improved 20% over last year.
10. Finland - 12.2 Mbps. It improved 33% over last year.
9. Czech Republic - 12.3 Mbps. It improved 8.4% over last year.
8. Ireland - 12.7 Mbps. It improved 24% over last year.
7. Latvia - 13.0 Mbps. It improved 25% over last year.
6. Netherlands - 14.2 Mbps. It improved 15% over last year.
5. Switzerland - 14.5 Mbps. It improved 21% over last year.
4. Sweden - 14.6 Mbps. It improved 34% over last year.
3. Japan - 15.2 Mbps. It improved 16% over last year.
2. Hong Kong - 16.8 Mbps. It improved 37% over last year.

And the winner...
1. South Korea - 22.2 Mbps. It improved 1.6% over last year.
South Korea is once again at the top, but you can see its rate of improvement has slowed. That's because it's reaching the point where almost all of its population that can buy fast Internet has fast Internet. In fact, between the third quarter of 2014 and the fourth quarter, it saw a drop of 12%, presumably as new users got online at lower Internet speeds.

Apple rolls out cheaper Retina iMac, 15-inch MacBook Pro with Force Touch by Jered Newman

Apple is upgrading its 15-inch MacBook Pro, while offering a cheaper downgrade for its 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display.

The new 15-inch MacBook Pro has a pressure-sensitive Force Touch trackpad, following the footsteps of the 13-inch MacBook Pro and the new 12-inch MacBook. Users can press hard on the trackpad to perform special commands, such as previewing links, editing file names, exposing an app’s open windows, and dropping a pin in Maps.

Apple is also using a new type of flash storage that is 2.5 times faster than the previous model, and is improving battery life by an hour, bringing it up to 9 hours of web browsing or movie playback. The base model starts at $1,999 with a 2.2 GHz Intel Core i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of storage.

The other big change to the MacBook Pro is optional: Users can get a discrete AMD Radeon R9 M370X graphics card, for when Intel’s integrated Iris Pro graphics fall short. It’ll cost you though, as it’s only available with the $2,499 model that also has 512 GB of storage and a 2.5 GHz Intel Core i7 processor.
imacretina Apple
As for the Retina display iMac, Apple is adding a cheaper $1,999 variant with a 3.3 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, AMD Radeon R9 M290 graphics, and a 1 TB hard drive. The existing model, which has a 3.5 GHz processor, AMD Radeon R9 M290X graphics, and a 1 TB fusion drive, is getting a $200 price drop to $2,299.

Why this matters: While these aren’t major product launches for Apple, they do spread some of the company’s big technologies to across more of the product line. Force Touch is now standard on every MacBook except the MacBook Air (and is reportedly on the way to the iPhone), and the Retina display iMac is just a $200 upgrade over the regular 27-inch model. It’s not hard to imagine both technologies being standard across Apple’s lineup in a year or two.

Three questions to ask before buying a Surface 3 by Ed Bott

Microsoft's Surface 3, which went on sale this week, is a delightful device, with the build quality and attention to detail that has been the hallmark of every member of the Surface family so far. It is remarkably mobile and comfortable to carry. After using a review unit for the past month, any misgivings I had over the Atom processor have been dispelled: It's been a snappy performer at basic work tasks (running Office 2013, primarily) and a stellar entertainment device as well.

I already covered the specs in my first look last month, so I won't repeat those here. Unlike its Windows RT-based forebears, this is a real PC, running real Windows, which means I can take it anywhere and get work done without fear that I'll hit a compatibility roadblock.
But one question has nagged at me for the past month.

The Surface 3 is a curious addition to the Microsoft hardware family, arriving in the market at an awkward time. Windows 10 is due to launch in just a few months, with features tailor-made for a tablet-PC hybrid like the Surface 3. So why release this device now, with Windows 8.1 installed?

The obvious reason is right there in the name. Or, to be more precise, it's in the word that's missing from the name: Pro.

Taking away the Pro label makes it clear that the Surface 3 is intended for a different, much more value-conscious market than the Surface Pro 3.
When Microsoft launches Windows 10 this summer, it's a very good bet that it will also unveil a new member of the Surface Pro family, with biometric hardware, the latest Intel processors, a killer graphics subsystem, and a premium price tag.

The Surface 3 doesn't have any of those things. It will work fine with Windows 10, when that new OS is ready this summer, but it's not designed with cutting-edge Pro features. And the difference in price is especially obvious.

The most expensive Surface 3 configuration, with Type Cover and Surface Pen, costs $780 (Costco has that bundle on sale for $700 right now). That maxed-out price is less than the starting price of the least expensive Surface Pro 3, equipped with an i3 processor and 64 GB of storage. A midrange configuration of the Surface Pro 3 costs well over $1000, and you can spend more than $2000 for the top-of-the-line model, with an i7 and 512 GB of solid-state storage.

But aside from the price and some significant spec differences, the Surface 3 has a great deal in common with its larger, more expensive Pro sibling. Those features are either tremendous advantages or dealbreakers, depending on your point of view.

The best way--really, the only way--to evaluate the Surface 3 is to start with three basic questions:

Am I comfortable with the Type Cover?
The click-to-connect Type Cover is the signature feature of the Surface family (the weird Touch Cover, with its flat pseudo-keys, was retired long ago). The Surface 3 Type Cover is slightly smaller than the Pro equivalent, reflecting the smaller size of the tablet it connects to, but otherwise it's the same. Over the past three years the design of this essential peripheral has improved dramatically. It's now backlit, the keys have a solid feel and good travel, and it's more rigid than its predecessors.

But it's not rigid enough for everyone. My colleague Mary-Jo Foley says this "lack of lapability" was a big drawback for her. On the other hand, I had no problems using the smaller Type Cover at home and on the road. My wife, who has used a Surface Pro 3 regularly for the past six months, also has no complaints about the Type Cover and prefers it to the clamshell laptop she used previously.

For entertainment while traveling, I like the option to fold the Type Cover under the kickstand and watch a movie on an airplane tray table. With a clamshell laptop, that's not an option.

In short, it's a matter of intensely personal preference. If you can't get comfortable with the Type Cover, and you anticipate you'll spend a lot of time typing, it's not for you. If you appreciate its unique design and you normally use it on a flat surface, it's a big plus for mobility.

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Will I use the touchscreen?
The Surface 3 is a tablet that can act as a laptop, and vice-versa. If you're looking at it, exclusively as a laptop replacement and you don't plan to use it with a touchscreen, the Surface 3 is probably not for you.

In my month with the Surface 3, I used it extensively in portrait mode for reading magazines and books. The lighter weight and more compact package, compared to the Surface Pro 3, made it a real winner in this configuration. In fact, it's completely taken over the role that my Kindle Fire HDX used to play.

Do I need a pen?
The other signature feature of the Surface line is the pen, which is an extra-cost option with the Surface 3. The killer pen-enabled app, of course, is Microsoft's OneNote, which is now free.
For sketching and note-taking, the Surface 3 is a superb choice. I regularly use it in this mode and find it to be one of the biggest strengths of the platform. Here, too, the smaller size of the Surface 3 compared to the Pro model makes it easier to use as a virtual legal pad for extended periods of time.

The active digitizer and palm rejection features of the Surface 3 make using a pen extremely comfortable and frustration-free. Although you can buy styluses for use with other tablets, the precision of the Surface Pen sets it apart. If you regularly use a pad and pen, this is a huge plus.
If you answer no to all of those questions, then look for a laptop. The Surface 3 isn't right for you. But its strengths genuinely set it apart from a field of mostly cookie-cutter options in the $500-800 price range.

I didn't do formal battery life tests, but I found the Surface 3's battery life more than acceptable. In normal use, I never ran out of battery before the end of the day, and the convenience of the micro-USB charger means you can carry an external battery pack to extend its life by hours, something that's literally impossible with a conventional laptop.

I haven't tried installing the Windows 10 preview on the Surface 3, and I wouldn't recommend that option for anyone buying it today. The Windows 10 tablet experience still needs a bit more refinement, and Windows 8.1 is good enough for now.

Could the Surface 3 be my everyday PC? Absolutely not. I'm squarely in the Pro camp. I spend most of my working day sitting at a desk, so a powerful desktop PC with multiple monitors and a full-sized keyboard is what I need. But as a mobile device, for productivity and entertainment when I'm away from the desk, the Surface 3 is unbeatable, especially at the price.

For students, small business owners, and mobile professionals whose computing needs are modest, the Surface 3 is an excellent option. Just make sure you ask the right questions first.

The Real Reason Why Micro SD Card Slots Are Disappearing from Smartphones by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Remember when we started carrying more data on our smartphones, and manufacturers gave us the ability to supplement the internal storage by popping in a cheap micro SD card? However, those days are coming to an end as manufacturers decided to put profits ahead of end user convenience.

There’s a piece over on tech news site Engadget on the Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi and how it was decided that the flagship handsets shouldn’t make use of micro SD cards. It’s clear from the piece that Xiaomi’s VP Hugo Barra thinks that having micro SD cards slots in smartphones is a bad idea.
Barra: “For high performance devices, we are fundamentally against an SD card slot.”

Barra: “You think you’re buying like a Kingston or a SanDisk but you’re actually not, and they’re extremely poor quality, they’re slow, they sometimes just stop working, and it gives people huge number of issues, apps crashing all the time, users losing data, a lot of basically complaints and customer frustration.”

Matías Duarte, Google’s VP of design, is also quoted as saying that “in reality it’s just confusing for users.”

Now, as someone who’s used micro SD cards in a variety of devices, I’ve not seen them cause crashing and instabilities, and having used them in a variety of applications, I would dispute the claim that SD cards from Kingston or SanDisk are “extremely poor quality.” I can also honestly say that I’ve never found micro SD cards confusing.

The reason that smartphone manufacturers are ditching micro SD card slots in their devices, especially at the high end, is money. Manufacturers can’t charge a premium for an SD card slot, but they can charge a $100 for a few extra gigabytes of flash storage. 

What Apple began with the iPhone, other manufacturers are now doing with their smartphones. And from a making money point of view, it makes good sense. A 128GB iPhone 6 costs the consumer $200 more than the 16GB version, but adding that extra storage costs Apple less than $50.

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For the consumer, this means having to decide up front how much storage they plan to need over the lifespan of the device, and a lot of hassle or even early obsolescence if space becomes an issue. 

If there’s an SD card slot on the device, then many users would buy the lowest-cost (and lowest margin) device, and boost that with a cheap micro SD card. I agree that it won’t be as fast as internal storage, but for music, video, or apps that don’t demand a high level or performance, it’s going to be more than adequate.

On budget devices this is not so much the case, because the consumer base won’t support paying a premium for a storage boost. This is why you continue to find micro SD card slots on lower-cost smartphones.

If you like removable batteries and micro SD card slots in your devices, you’re going to find this need harder and harder to satisfy over the coming years.