Mophie’s cases add wireless charging to iPhone 7 and Galaxy S8

Mophie’s cases provide a quick way to add wireless charging capabilities to iPhones and Samsung Galaxy S devices, and now they’re available for the models’ latest iterations. The accessories maker has released charge force cases for the iPhone 7, 7 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus. These leather-wrapped cases are compatible not only with any Mophie wireless charger, but also with Qi and other wireless charging systems. Just put one on your phone if you don’t feel like messing with wires, though note that it still leaves access to your device’s charging port.

Mophie has also released a mini charge force powerstation, which is essentially a wireless power bank. It’s a 3,000 mAh battery unit that sticks to a charge force case using magnets, so you can replenish your phone’s battery anywhere. Since it’s slim and wireless, it doesn’t add much bulk to your phone — you can still slip the whole thing into your pocket or a small purse.

The iPhone 7 cases are now available in black, tan, brown, blue and (PRODUCT)RED, but you can unfortunately only get black if you have a Galaxy S8 or an S8 Plus. You can get any of the cases and the powerstation mini from Mophie’s website.

Source: Mophie

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The new iPad Pro packs a bigger screen into a familiar body

The tablet market isn’t in great shape, but Apple is still convinced that the iPad represents the future of mobile computing. That’s where the Pro models come in: They’re designed to bring serious horsepower to everyday tasks in hopes that people could use them to replace traditional computers. Now we’ve got a new one, the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which replaces the 9.7-inch model we reviewed last year. After a bit of hands-on time, one thing is clear: If you’re looking for a premium tablet, this is one slate you can’t ignore.

The Pro 10.5 (which I’m now calling it, for brevity’s sake) is basically the same size and weight as older 9.7-inch Pro, which is no longer for sale. That Apple was able to squeeze a bigger screen into the same trim body is fantastic; the bezels flanking the left and right sides of the screen are dramatically smaller, which means there’s less stuff to get in between you and the glories of the internet. I was concerned that those smaller bezels around this bigger screen would make the iPad awkward to hold. After all, where are my thumbs supposed to go? Well, it’s not really a problem. The combination of a sleek body and minimal, one-pound weight means the new Pro is just as easily to grasp as older models.

Apple refined the display, too. Beyond the bigger size, it packs familiar True Tone tech that tweaks the screen’s color temperature depending on your surroundings, and refreshes at 120Hz. It was tough to see the difference in action (especially in Apple’s dimly lit demo room), but scrolling and writing on the Pro with an Apple Pencil was remarkably smooth. Don’t worry, we’ll compare it more thoroughly to the other Pros when we get one in for review.

Dana Wollman/Engadget

Now, there’s more to that sense of smoothness than just an improved screen. The Pro 10.5 uses a new A10X Fusion chipset; it’s a more powerful version of the chip we got in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, though it’s not clear how much RAM there is inside. Older iPad Pros had already reached the point where everything felt seamlessly smooth, so you might not notice a difference just swiping around and launching apps. Where all that extra horsepower should shine is when it’s applied to graphically intense games, not to mention the forthcoming iOS 11 update.

These Pros were running an early version of iOS 11, as you could probably tell by the dock at the bottom of the homescreen. To be clear, you are definitely not getting features like that when the 10.5-inch Pro launches next week. It’s still iOS 10 all the way. The wait may be a tough one, though: Apple showed off a load of new features that should make iPads more capable across the board. You’ll be able to access the dock while using apps to launch other ones, and even drag them into the two-paned multi-window mode. You can now drag content back and forth between apps, too, a handy touch for multitaskers. And some other features, like swiping up with four fingers to see all your running apps, feel a lot like ones already baked into macOS.

In other words, the line between iPads and Macs is blurring.

With a blend of improved hardware and a smarter OS, the new iPad Pro seems poised to shine when it starts shipping next week — stick around for a full review shortly.

Get all the latest news from WWDC 2017 here!

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Apple brings mulitroom speaker support to HomeKit with AirPlay 2

Apple’s HomeKit has provided iPhone and iPad users with a simple platform to connect multiple smart home devices, but it’s shied away from one of the most important gadgets: speakers. While we’re yet to see the rumored Siri speaker, the company announced today that it’s expanding its smart home hub to support a large number of third-party audio hardware.

Many of the brands you’d expect to be on board are, including Bang & Olufsen, Bose, Denon, Bowers & Wilkins, Libratone and, of course, Beats. However, Sonos isn’t on the list, at least at the moment. If you happen to own a connected speaker made by one of Apple’s listed partners, expect them to introduce new speakers that integrate with the HomeKit app, allowing you to control your multi-room setup and enjoy collaborative Apple Music playlists that you’ve curated with friends.

The functionality comes as a result of AirPlay 2, an updated version of Apple’s wireless AV technology. The company hasn’t clarified if older AirPlay-enabled speakers can be updated to support the new platform — we’ve contacted Apple for more information and will update you once we hear back.

Get all the latest news from WWDC 2017 here!

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Computex was a reminder that the age of the eSIM is upon us

Nestled inside your cellphone is a teensy sliver of plastic you almost certainly never think about. That’s your SIM card — the bit that basically stores your phone’s identity and passes it along to whatever wireless carrier network you pay for. It’s absolutely crucial to the way your phone operates, but wireless carriers and network companies have been plotting its demise for years. As far as they’re all concerned, the future belongs to what’s called an eSIM — short for “embedded SIM” — woven directly into the silicon fabric of a device’s modem. Now, thanks to some crucial announcements made at Computex, we’re getting a better sense of just how pervasive these things are going to be.

Before we go any further, you should know that eSIMs have been the works for years, mostly with smartphones, the Internet of Things and wearables in mind. Got a 3G Gear S2 or a Gear S3 Frontier on your wrist? They’re among the first commercially available gadgets you could buy with an embedded SIM, allowing you to make calls and access data connections for apps without the need of a connected smartphone.

Anyway, Microsoft used its time in Taipei to push for “always connected” PCs: computers that, thanks to built-in eSIMs and ever-improving data connections, could function just as well out in a cornfield as it could in a coffee shop brimming with WiFi. Again, not a new concept, but one that’s more feasible and effective than ever with innovative modems and the promise of true gigabit data connections.

Richard Lai/Engadget

Even now, the list of partners backing Microsoft in this effort is no joke: ASUS, Dell, HP, Huawei, Lenovo, VAIO and Xiaomi are all committed to building Windows machines with embedded SIMs for high-speed connections anywhere. For those not up on the PC market, that means the four biggest PC sellers in the world are down with the eSIM revolution, along with two very prominent Chinese players… and VAIO. Most of the companies on this list also make smartphones, so the importance of more capable, more ubiquitous connections is not lost on them. So, how is this going to work?

With a lot of help from chip makers, basically. Three of the companies listed above — ASUS, HP and Lenovo — have committed to releasing Windows machines running on Qualcomm’s high-powered Snapdragon 835 chipset. (You might know it as the chip that helps the Galaxy S8 pull double duty as a smartphone and a desktop.) Snapdragons already come with radios for LTE data, but eSIM support means persistent connections and the possibility of buying your data in chunks straight from the Windows Store.

And then there’s Intel. The California-based chip maker is working to ensure its future mobile modems are compatible with eSIMs. Without getting into unwieldy model numbers, Intel is already testing and validating eSIMs in one existing modem and one not yet released — the latter is the more interesting, as it technically supports gigabit data speeds over LTE. As PC makers begin to adopt these modems into their devices, the eSIM revolution should help ensure that people can bring their notebooks and convertibles just about anywhere and still get stuff done.

Now, you don’t need me to tell you Qualcomm is the dominant force in mobile chips — there’s probably some Qualcomm silicon in your pocket right now. Before Computex, the company had never said anything about eSIM support for the Snapdragon 835, the marquee mobile processor in its lineup. Going forward, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Qualcomm doesn’t try squeezing an eSIM into its smartphone chips. Once that transition happens, good luck trying to find an Android phone without an eSIM.

Ditto for Intel, which, despite failing pretty hard at mobile over the years, has at least one huge company using its mobile modems. Certain flavors of the iPhone 7 use an Intel modem instead of the usual Qualcomm one, and rumors suggest Apple will soon lean even more heavily on Intel’s networking prowess soon. I don’t seriously expect Apple to reveal the iPhone 7s or iPhone 8 or whatever without a physical SIM slot — the timing doesn’t seem quite right — but there’s a real possibility we’ll see eSIMs take hold in iPhones next year. If a company like Apple can ditch a classic interface like the headphone jack stick to the decision, what hope does the traditional SIM card have?

Long story short, eSIMs are already in our wearables, and they’ll wind up in our phones and PCs before too long. Don’t get too nostalgic just yet, though: While the big eSIM shift could begin as early as next year, don’t forget that millions and millions of devices out there still have those tiny slivers of plastic inside them — carriers will have to support them for years to come. Like it or not though, the changeover is coming, and the days of swapping SIM cards are numbered. Then again, when you can jump on an incredibly fast data connection on your phone or your laptop or your watch without even thinking about it, will you really miss the old days?

Click here to catch up on the latest news from Computex 2017!

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Verizon beefs up its prepaid plans’ data allowance

Verizon’s prepaid plans will look a lot more enticing come June 6th: the mobile carrier has tweaked its current offerings, giving each tier a bigger data allowance. You’ll now get 3GB of data instead of 2GB for $ 40 and 7GB instead of 5GB for $ 50. The 10GB tier will stay, but it will now cost you $ 60 rather than $ 70 — makes sense, considering Big Red recently introduced an unlimited tier for $ 80. Like the new unlimited plan, though, these revamped options come with a downside. You won’t be able to stream videos in their full glory and will be limited to 480p, no matter which tier you choose.

In addition, the company says it “may prioritize your data behind other customers” in case of network congestion. Not to mention, your speeds will be throttled to 128kbps once you’ve used up your data allowance for the month, unless you’re on the unlimited plan. (The good news is that if you still have some unused data left by the end of a billing period, it will carry over.)

If those “gotchas” don’t faze you one bit, you can use any Verizon-compatible smartphone with the plans, including top-of-the-line choices like the latest iPhone and the Galaxy S8. The company is also giving away a $ 100 store credit if you sign up, but only for a limited time.

Source: Verizon

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What to expect from Apple at WWDC 2017

As a rule, Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference is predictable: New versions of iOS, macOS and watchOS are the stars of the show, and anything else is gravy. WWDC 2017, however, is shaping up to be different. Although there hasn’t been much talk about what the new software will entail, the rumor mill has kicked into high gear with word of new Macs, new iPads and even a smart speaker. All told, operating systems may actually be the least exciting part of Apple’s keynote. But which products are likely to steal the spotlight, and which ones are just wishful thinking? That’s what we’re here to sort out.

A Siri speaker in your living room

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Here’s something you haven’t seen in a while: the prospect of Apple introducing a completely new device at its developer conference. Rumors are swirling of that the company will unveil a Siri-controlled speaker at WWDC, overshadowing virtually anything else Apple would otherwise discuss at the keynote. It might not ship until sometime later in the year (likely to give developers time to support it), but production may have already started.

As you might expect, the speaker would represent Apple’s answer to the Amazon Echo and Google Home. It would likely handle many of the tasks that Siri already does on your iPhone, such as checking the weather, playing music and controlling HomeKit gear — you just wouldn’t have to pick up a gadget to listen to songs or turn on your lights. The speaker could be particularly important if you want to control your household when you’re away because you currently need to use an Apple TV or iPad as a hub to control your HomeKit-compatible devices remotely.

There hasn’t been much discussion of the speaker’s design, but Bloomberg believes it would stand out from the pack by focusing on audio quality. You’d enjoy louder, crisper sound than what you typically get from rivals like Echo or Home. It might also incorporate virtual surround sound that would provide a more immersive experience. There has even been talk of Apple including ambient noise sensors to adjust the volume when you’re talking, but it’s not clear that this feature made the cut before production began.

New MacBooks

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A speaker might not be the only hardware introduced on stage. Apple is rumored to be updating its laptop line at WWDC, possibly in an attempt to underscore its renewed support for the Mac. The most credible rumors, again from Bloomberg, suggest that these would mostly be under-the-hood updates. Both the MacBook Pro and 12-inch MacBook would jump to seventh-generation Intel Core (aka Kaby Lake) processors that promise both faster performance and longer battery life. They might support more memory, too. Customers have complained that the MacBook Pro’s maximum 16GB of RAM isn’t enough to handle heavy workloads, and there have been hints that the laptop will support as much as 32GB with its next refresh. The more diminutive MacBook might also support as much as 16GB, although that’s clearly not as vital an upgrade given that it’s only designed for basic tasks.

There’s some tangible evidence to back up these claims. Apple recently delayed shipping times for 15-inch MacBook Pro orders, pushing their delivery to the day after the WWDC keynote. The Cupertino firm frequently stalls orders like this when it’s clearing out inventory for an outgoing device, so that’s as strong a sign as any that something is afoot.

Don’t get your hopes up for a MacBook Air update, though. Although the same Bloomberg rumor had Apple considering an Air refresh, neither the filings nor other clues point to an imminent upgrade. If there is one, we’d expect it to fly under the radar. This would be a maintenance update that does just enough to keep Apple’s most affordable system relevant in 2017 — hardly something you’d want to crow about in a keynote. You might see a switch to seventh-gen Core processors but not much more than that.

A 10.5-inch iPad

While Apple’s mainstream iPad just received an update in March, the iPad Pro is more than a little overdue. Neither Pro model has been touched for more than a year, and they’re based on a design that hasn’t changed much since the original iPad Air in 2013. Where’s a truly new iPad, one that pushes the concept forward? Thankfully, it sounds like you might get it at WWDC — there’s mounting buzz that an update is right around the corner.

If you believe Bloomberg, it’s the long-rumored 10.5-inch iPad Pro that many expect to replace the 9.7-inch edition. This would be more than just an upsized version of the slate you see today. Slimmer bezels would give it a footprint roughly comparable to its smaller sibling, so you wouldn’t have to give up portability for the sake of a larger screen. The 10.5-inch tablet is likely to pack a faster processor (a souped-up version of the iPhone 7’s chip, possibly called the “A10X”), and it might have a higher-resolution display to match. One IHS Markit analyst believes it could have a 2,224 x 1,668 LCD that slots in neatly between existing 9.7-inch iPads (2,048 x 1,536) and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2,732 x 2,048).

There isn’t much else to know about the specs at this point, but we have found a few clues. Case leaks from Twitter’s @ShaiMizrachi point to a familiar layout for the 10.5-inch iPad, including the stereo speakers you’ve seen on all Pro models so far. Also, Consomac has found Eurasian Economic Commission filings for four previously unknown iPad models split into two families. It’s easy to guess that these may be WiFi and cellular versions of both the 10.5-inch Pro and another iPad, possibly a refreshed 12.9-inch model.

Just don’t expect the iPad mini to get any attention at the same time. Apple only recently doubled the storage for the iPad mini 4, so it’s doubtful that you’ll see a more substantial upgrade a few months later. In fact, a BGR rumor claims that Apple might drop the mini in the long run. This tiniest of iPads reportedly doesn’t sell well compared to its larger counterparts, and the iPhone 7 Plus is close enough for some buyers. Bigger iPads are the future, and WWDC could reflect that.

Software: iOS, macOS and Siri’s future

Apple’s software plans would normally take center stage in one of our WWDC previews. This is a developer conference, after all. But thus far, there have been precious few credible hints as to what Apple will announce. This isn’t to say that this year’s updates will be low-key — it’s just that Apple may be keeping a lid on secrets this year.

In a Bloomberg interview, Apple’s Jimmy Iovine mentioned that iOS 11 would include a new Music app that does a better job with videos. Projects like Carpool Karaoke might fit better into the app, something that’ll help Apple push more exclusive video content going forward. Also, there are longstanding rumors of improved iPad support across all of iOS. You could use the Pencil to annotate all kinds of content, such as websites or email messages. This certainly makes sense if there’s a 10.5-inch iPad in the works, since Apple has been keen to demonstrate that iPads can serve as PC replacements.

When it comes to the Mac, there’s even less to say — we’re practically limited to speculation. One theory is plausible, though: Given that Apple File System launched on mobile devices with iOS 10.3, it stands to reason that macOS is next in line. If so, you could expect speedier, more secure storage that’s better-optimized for Macs with solid-state drives.

We haven’t heard anything about new versions of watchOS or tvOS, so any big features will come as surprises.

Instead, the greater focus might be on a common thread for all of Apple’s software: AI. It’s no secret that Apple has been making heavy investments in AI, and WWDC could be an ideal venue to showcase improvements, whether they apply to Siri or individual apps. Some of Apple’s acquisitions may indicate what’s on deck. Turi, for example, helps detect patterns and personalize content. Siri might be better at understanding your requests by recognizing what you tend to look for while iOS might be more proactive when suggesting photos or music.

Improvements to Siri could be particularly crucial this year. If there really is a Siri speaker, its success could hinge on high-quality AI; it has to answer common requests as well as an Echo or Home. And few would doubt that rivals like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Microsoft Cortana have distinct advantages over Siri on any device, such as Google’s access to its powerful search engine. Although we wouldn’t expect a total revolution in Siri’s abilities, it probably can’t remain as-is for much longer.

Wildcards: Mac Pros and iMacs

Apple Unveils New Versions Of Popular iPad

You can never completely rule out surprises at Apple events, even if WWDC’s focus limits the kind of introductions you’re likely to see. And there are certainly a few candidates this year.

One such possibility is a very early preview of the redesigned Mac Pro. Apple revealed the current workstation’s design at WWDC 2013, months ahead of its release, and it wouldn’t be shocking if there were a repeat showing as the company reassures developers worried about the fate of pro Mac desktops. But the new Mac Pro is still a long ways away (it’s not expected until sometime in 2018), and there may not be much point to showing it off if Apple isn’t ready to provide the finished specs.

Augmented reality might also show up, since Apple has been very open about its interest in AR technology. With that said, there aren’t any believable rumors of Apple having something it can show at WWDC. We’ve heard that it could be testing AR glasses, but they might not ship until 2018, if not later. At best, you’ll get a sneak peek.

If there’s a relatively realistic wild card, it might be the pro iMacs that Apple confirmed back in April. The company was only willing to commit to a “later in 2017” release at the time, but some of the hardware needed to make this all-in-one is available now. Notice how Intel’s new Core i9 chips have the abundance of cores that pros crave? No, they’re not Xeons, but they could easily fit the bill if you need to compile code or edit 4K videos. It may just be a matter of whether or not Apple is willing and able to use these parts quickly. We wouldn’t be surprised if these high-performance iMacs weren’t unveiled until the fall.

Image credits: Reuters/Stephen Lam; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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The best Z-Wave in-wall dimmer

By Rachel Cericola

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After spending more than 25 hours swapping out receptacles, flipping switches, programming timers, and talking to home-automation experts, we’ve determined that the HomeSeer HS-WD100+ is the best Z-Wave in-wall dimmer for smart-home systems. Like the other six units we tested, it features straightforward remote operation, as well as easy dimming and scheduling. It’s the only model we tested that supports multi-tap features, so you can sync a single switch with multiple lights and appliances around your house, and it works with all Z-Wave–certified smart-home hubs.

Who should get this

The advantages of smart lighting are pretty easy to grasp. We’ve all left lights on when we haven’t meant to, or forgotten to do the same when we’d wanted to, leaving us returning home at the end of the day to a completely dark house. Smart lighting lets you schedule it all automatically or control everything remotely.

You can find many smart-lighting devices, including bulbs, switches, and dimmers. Some work alone using Wi-Fi, others connect to a smart-home hub using wireless technologies such as Z-Wave or ZigBee. A Wi-Fi–enabled smart bulb is easy to get up and running, but if you want to automate a lot of lights in the home—and especially if you’ve already invested in other smart-home gear and you’re using a smart-home hub—you’ll want to get a smart switch.

We specifically picked Z-Wave in-wall dimmers, versus regular on-off switches, because they offer dimming, which can add ambiance and save electricity. We went with Z-Wave over ZigBee because there are currently more in-wall dimmer and smart-home hub options for the DIY crowd with this technology.

It’s important to note that swapping out light switches isn’t for everyone—in fact, doing so is dangerous. If you aren’t comfortable with turning off the power and poking around inside the wall, please hire a licensed electrician to do the job.

How we picked and tested

Photo: Rachel Cericola

In order to find out what makes a good Z-Wave in-wall dimmer, we talked to Mitch Klein, executive director of the Z-Wave Alliance. He said to look for products that are Z-Wave certified, which ensures they will be compatible with other Z-Wave devices, as well as UL compliant. A good in-wall dimmer should allow you to customize the dimming levels, as well as to create scenes, which enable you to bring up a group of lights at set dimming levels at a single touch of a button. Also, you should look for dimmers that are “all-load” compatible, which means they’ll work with a variety of bulbs, including CFL, LED, incandescent, fluorescent, and halogen.

Next, we compiled a list of available dimmers by searching Google, the Z-Wave Alliance website, and Amazon. To be considered, a device needed to be a dimmer, Z-Wave compatible, and designed for installation inside the wall. It also needed to be Z-Wave certified. We avoided those that were proprietary to one specific platform.

My licensed-electrician husband installed the dimmers to be tested, and we connected each dimmer to hubs from SmartThings and Wink, currently two of the most popular options available. All of the dimmers worked, allowing us to turn lights on and off with the hubs’ apps, to dim the lighting on a scale from 1 to 99 percent, and to set timers that would trigger the applicable light to go on and off (and even dim) at a certain time of day. For each of our tests, we used apps on an iPhone 5, an iPad, and a Samsung Galaxy S6. To learn more about the installation and testing process, please see our full guide.

Our Pick

We especially liked the customizable LED indicator lights on the HomeSeer dimmer. Photo: Rachel Cericola

The HomeSeer HS-WD100+ is a reliable Z-Wave in-wall dimmer that provides remote on-off, dimming, and scheduling, similar to its competition. However, it also adds multi-tap features that allow you to set up certain rules, triggers, and dimming levels, based on how you tap the actual switch. This is a really cool feature that no other Z-Wave in-wall dimmer currently offers, which allows you to assign specific tasks to tapping or holding the on or off position on the rocker: For instance, we had the HomeSeer dimmer installed in our living room, but we set it so that tapping the on position twice would trigger a different Z-Wave dimmer in the dining room to turn on.

Although the HS-WD100+ was designed to work with one of HomeSeer’s controllers, it is Z-Wave certified, so it will work with any Z-Wave–certified hub. In fact, it is Z-Wave Plus certified (the only switch we’ve found with this certification), which promises better compatibility and an easier setup.

This is also the only switch in our test group that supports the Z-Wave scene and central scene classes (the latter only when you use it with the HomeSeer hub). This may not be a big deal if you’re controlling only one light switch; however, if you plan to install Z-Wave switches throughout the house, this feature might be important because the scene modes can make for faster transition times with large setups.

Without a HomeSeer-branded hub, you won’t have instant access to the extra features of the HS-WD100+. If you use a SmartThings Hub, you will need to enable the tap features yourself. For anyone with a fear of code, this may be a turnoff, but adding these functions is as easy as a quick copy-and-paste into a browser tool. Once you do that, you will have access to all of this dimmer’s perks. If you have the Wink Hub, the HS-WD100+ is just another dimmer, which could make our runner-up pick a better choice.

Runner-up

The GE dimmer doesn’t look any different from a conventional dimmer, which might make it appealing to some people. Photo: Rachel Cericola

The GE Z-Wave In-Wall Smart Dimmer (model number 12724) is a great choice for anyone who doesn’t have a need for bells and whistles. It works with all sorts of Z-Wave smart-home hubs to provide remote control and dimming from anywhere, as well as all of the standard Z-Wave in-wall dimmer features, such as scenes and customized scheduling so you can turn the lights on and off at specific times of day. The drawbacks? It doesn’t doesn’t allow upgrades (the company plans to release another model down the line that will).

In our tests, once connected to each smart-home hub, the GE 12724 performed similarly to every other switch on our list. It reacted quickly and reliably, and was smooth and sturdy in operation, delivering a nice “click” when pushed. It’s very plain looking and doesn’t have an LED indicator, though it does include a tiny light at its base that you can customize to go on or off depending on the status of the dimmer switch.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from The Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

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Samsung Galaxy Book review: You’re better off with a Surface Pro

It took a few years, but Microsoft’s Surface Pro line is an undeniable hit. It also popularized the convertible tablet category: touchscreen-driven devices you can hold in your hands that also have power and attachable keyboards for getting “real work” done. The Surface Pro’s success means it has its fair share of imitators, from Apple, Google and the swath of Windows PC makers out there.

Naturally, Samsung produced its own, last year’s Galaxy TabPro S. That device features a great screen and solid battery life but was hurt by a terrible keyboard and slow performance. With the new Galaxy Book, Samsung appears to have fixed those issues — this convertible has a more spacious keyboard and Intel’s seventh-generation Core i5 processor on board. But all that power introduces some unfortunate trade-offs.

Hardware

Probably the most important part of a tablet is its screen, and the Galaxy Book is no letdown here. The 12-inch display is of the Super AMOLED+ variety, with rich colors and inky dark blacks. The screen is running at a 2,160 x 1,440 resolution though it’s also set to scale text and UI elements up to 150 percent so everything isn’t completely illegible. Regardless, the workspace feels sufficiently spacious for a 12-inch screen and text is razor-sharp.

I can only think of one problem with the display: Its wide 16:10.7 aspect ratio makes holding the Galaxy Book in portrait an awkward experience. Since this tablet was designed to be docked into a keyboard, it’s not surprising that its size was optimized for landscape use, but I generally prefer the proportions of Apple’s iPad Pro (4:3) and Microsoft’s Surface Pro (3:2); those devices feel equally suited to portrait and landscape usage.

Even if it did have different proportions, the Galaxy Book isn’t really made to be held for long periods of time. It weighs in 1.66 pounds — light for a computer with a Core i5 processor but quite heavy for a tablet. That’s the problem with most larger convertibles in general. Sure, you can use them as standalone tablets, but you probably won’t want to.

Overall, the Galaxy Book is a relatively plain, spartan device. Two speaker grilles can be found on the left and right edges; they produce surprisingly decent audio. There’s a fan vent up top, along with a power switch and volume rocker. The right side also houses two USB-C connections and a headphone jack, the only ports to be found here. The back of the Galaxy Tab is pretty plain, with a Samsung logo, small camera bump and a few ridiculous Intel stickers. If you opt for the model featuring built-in Verizon LTE, your device will also be graced with a giant Verizon logo on the back. Oh goody.

The back camera comes in at 13-megapixels and is paired with a 5-megapixel front-facing shooter. They’re both… fine. The front-facing camera is arguably much more important on a device like this, and it worked well in video chat, which is all most will rely on it for.

The Galaxy Book hardware gets the job done, but lacks the refinement and class of the iPad Pro or the Surface Pro’s unique design and adjustable hinge. It doesn’t do anything wrong, but it also doesn’t push the tablet form factor forward in any notable way.

Typing experience

Samsung makes it clear that the Galaxy Book is meant for getting things done by including a keyboard cover, just as it did last year with the TabPro S. It’s a smart move — looking at the marketing for the Surface Pro, you’d be forgiven for assuming the keyboard comes with it — it doesn’t. The other bit of good news is that the Galaxy Book’s keyboard is a big improvement over the one that came with the TabPro S.

It’s basically a full-size keyboard with the same layout found on most Windows 10 laptops. The keys in the function row are small, but the others are full size. So, there’s basically no adjustment period or learning curve, which can’t be said for the iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard. Still, it’s not an especially good keyboard. The key travel is naturally shallow to make it work in such a thin device. That said, it’s comfortable enough that I generally didn’t think about it. Samsung even made it backlit — something I did not expect.

Unfortunately, the experience falls apart when you’re not typing on a desk, table or some other flat surface. Most convertibles still have compromised experiences when you use them in your lap, and the Galaxy Book is no exception. The keyboard cover is thin and light, which is good for not adding a lot of bulk — but it’s also extremely bendy and flimsy feeling. When resting my palms on either side of the trackpad and typing away, I could bend the keyboard so much that I’d accidentally “click” the trackpad, which is very distracting. It’s even easier to do this if you rest a single hand on a palm rest; the unbalanced weight clicks the trackpad immediately. Once I figured out what was happening, I could go out of my way to avoid it, but this just goes to show how tough it is to get the typing experience right on a device with this form factor.

The Galaxy Book’s keyboard cover also functions as a stand. It can be propped up at three different angles and also can be laid down at a slight angle with the keyboard hidden (for drawing with the S Pen). These angles work pretty well, but the flexibility of the Surface Pro’s hinge is hard to ignore. Microsoft’s convertible hasn’t always worked great in the lap, but the company has made big improvements over the years. Samsung still has a lot of work to do here. That’s primarily because the combination of the full-size keyboard plus the “wedge” holding the screen up makes the Galaxy Book pretty big in the lap. Fortunately, the magnetic connection between the stand and the tablet itself is pretty strong.

Samsung’s software

While the Galaxy Book runs a mostly unmodified version of Windows 10, Samsung did include a few extra apps here to help users take advantage of its S Pen, which comes in the box alongside the keyboard. Again, I have to give Samsung props for including this accessory for free, something neither Microsoft nor Apple are doing.

One of the extra apps is Samsung Notes, which functions as a digital canvas that can sync between your Galaxy Book and a Samsung smartphone. Oddly, Samsung notes isn’t a complete note-taking solution. Although you can jot down text, draw images and attach photos to your notes, the only place you can do keyboard text entry is the “title” field. That means if you also want to take text notes (as most of us do), you’ll need to use another app. That’s enough to make Samsung Notes useless for me.

Another app, Samsung Flow, could be a big deal if you own a Samsung smartphone. Once set up, the app uses your smartphone as an authenticator to unlock your Galaxy Book. More importantly, it pushes notifications from your phone and lets you respond to incoming messages. I didn’t get a chance to test this out, as I didn’t have a compatible phone handy — but if it works as promised, it could be a useful addition for those invested in the Samsung ecosystem. (Are there really people invested in the Samsung ecosystem?)

Otherwise, there’s not a lot to differentiate the Galaxy Book from other Windows 10 devices. The S Pen works just fine with Windows Ink apps like Sticky Notes and Sketchpad, and the lack of latency is truly impressive — it’s one of the more responsive stylus experiences I’ve had. But it’s not so much better than the Surface Pro that it should be a major consideration if you’re deciding between the two devices.

Performance and battery life

The Galaxy Book I’ve been testing includes a dual-core, seventh-generation Core i5 processor running at 3.1 GHz; it’s paired with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB hard drive for a whopping $ 1,330. I thought that was expensive for a tablet, but it’s in the same realm of pricing as a similarly configured Surface Pro, once you include a stylus and keyboard.

This was more than enough power to meet my needs. My usual workflow includes several Chrome windows loaded up with around a dozen tabs as well as Slack, Todoist, Twitter, Microsoft’s Groove Music (I figured I’d try the first-party option this time out) and Word. That all ran with nary a hiccup. I had also tried out a configuration of the Galaxy Book with only 4GB of RAM; unsurprisingly, that version didn’t run nearly as well. I ran into pretty frequent Chrome tab refreshes, and music skipped from time to time. It still feels a bit cheap to offer only 4GB of RAM on a computer priced over $ 1,000 — but Microsoft also only includes 4GB in the lower-end Surface Pro configurations, so at least Samsung isn’t a total outlier here.

Benchmarks confirmed the unsurprising but welcome news that the Galaxy Book far outperforms last year’s TabPro S. That should be obvious given the major chip upgrade here, but it’s welcome news for people who may have enjoyed Samsung’s form factor but not the somewhat sluggish performance.


PCMark 7 PCMark 8 (Creative Accelerated) 3DMark 11 3DMark (Sky Diver) ATTO (top reads/writes)
Galaxy Book (3.1GHz Core i5-7200U, Intel HD620) 5,548 4,249 E2,563 / P1,527 / X420 3,612 554 MB/s / 531 MB/s
Galaxy TabPro S (1.51GHz Core M3-6Y30, Intel HD 515) 4,309 2,986 E1,609 / P944 / X291 2,119 550 MB/s / 184 MB/s
Surface Book (2016, 2.6GHz Core i7-6600U, 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M) 5,452 4,041 E8,083 / P5,980 / X2,228 11,362 1.71 GB/s / 1.26 GB/s
HP Spectre x360 (2016, 2.7GHz Core i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,515 4,354 E2,656 / P1,720 / X444 3,743 1.76 GB/s / 579 MB/s
Surface Book (2.4GHz Core i5-6300U, Intel HD 520) 5,412 3,610

E2,758 / P1,578 / X429

3,623 1.6 GB/s / 571 MB/s
Surface Book (2.6GHz Core i7-6600U, 1GB NVIDIA GeForce graphics) 5,740 3,850

E4,122 / P2,696

6,191 1.55 GB/s / 608 MB/s
ASUS ZenBook 3 (2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,448 3,911 E2,791 / P1,560 3,013 1.67 GB/s / 1.44 GB/s
HP Spectre 13 (2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520) 5,046 3,747 E2,790 / P1,630 / X375 3,810 1.61 GB/s / 307 MB/s
Dell XPS 13 (2.3GHz Core i5-6200U, Intel Graphics 520) 4,954 3,499 E2,610 / P1,531 3,335 1.6GB/s / 307 MB/s
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (2.4GHz Core i5-6300U, Intel HD 520) 5,403 3,602

E2,697/ P1,556/ X422

3,614 1.6 GB/s / 529 MB/s

Overall, throwing more horsepower into the Galaxy Book definitely fixed the performance issues we saw with last year’s TabPro S. Unfortunately, this also introduced a new problem of its own: battery life. The amount of useable time I got from the Galaxy Book was simply all over the place. The first model I tested was simply pathetic, with the computer regularly dying after less than three hours. It also took more than four hours to charge while in use. Both of these numbers seemed so bad that Samsung thought there was something wrong and sent me a replacement device.

Initially, I had the same poor battery life with my replacement. But, after a few days, things seemed to normalize, and now I can get between five and six hours of work out of this computer. I don’t know what changed, but things definitely improved after I ran our battery test. That test loops an HD video with the screen set to 66 percent brightness, and the Galaxy Book managed just over eight hours before it shut down. That’s not terribly inspiring (Samsung promises 11 hours of video playback, a number I couldn’t come close to), but it’s not the total disaster I experienced the first few times I used the Galaxy Book.


Battery life

Samsung Galaxy Book 8:08
Surface Book with Performance Base (2016) 16:15
Surface Book (Core i5, integrated graphics) 13:54 / 3:20 (tablet only)
Surface Book (Core i7, discrete graphics) 11:31 / 3:02 (tablet only)
iPad Pro (12.9-inch, 2015) 10:47
Galaxy TabPro S 10:43
HP Spectre x360 15t 10:17
HP Spectre x360 (13-inch, 2016) 10:03
ASUS ZenBook 3 9:45
Apple MacBook (2016) 8:45
Samsung Notebook 9 8:16
Dell XPS 13 (2015) 7:36
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 7:15
HP Spectre 13 7:07
Huawei MateBook 6:35

This is partially a matter of physics: A very thin body combined with a powerful processor like the Core i5 is going to be problematic. But devices like this are meant to be portable first and foremost, and I never felt all that comfortable leaving a charger behind. That’s a big knock against what Samsung’s trying to do here.

Samsung describes the Galaxy Book as a “fast-charging” device, but that’s only true if you’re not using it. If the Surface Book is powered off, it does charge relatively fast, but if you’re trying to do work and charge it, expect to wait three to four hours for a full battery. If you’re out and about and want to just top the machine off, you had better be prepared to take a full break from your work.

Configurations and the competition

There are a host of different Galaxy Book configurations. As tested, the 12-inch model I used includes a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, and that costs a whopping $ 1,330, with keyboard and S Pen included. Samsung also sells a model with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage for $ 1,130; you can add Verizon LTE to that model for an additional $ 170.

If you’ve been paying attention, it should be clear that the Surface Pro is the most direct competitor to the Galaxy Book. That device was just refreshed with seventh-generation Core m3, i5 and i7 processors. While the Surface Pro is cheaper off the bat, Microsoft doesn’t include a pen or keyboard — once you add in those accessories, a comparable Surface Pro will cost

But the Surface Pro features a few advantages. Its screen is slightly bigger and runs at a higher resolution (2,736 x 1,824), and its built-in hinge is more flexible than Samsung’s keyboard cover. Speaking of the keyboard, Microsoft’s keyboard cover is far superior to Samsung’s, as well. Naturally, the Surface Pro doesn’t work with Samsung’s Flow software that links the Galaxy Book to a Samsung smartphone, but that won’t be a dealbreaker for many potential buyers. If you’re deep in Samsung’s ecosystem, you could make an argument for the Galaxy Book — but most people will probably be happier with Microsoft’s convertible. We’ll need to fully review the new Surface Pro before we can say for sure, but Microsoft’s track record here means it’ll likely deliver.

If you’re not interested in buying from Microsoft, Lenovo’s Thinkpad X1 tablet is another option — but much like the Galaxy Book, there aren’t a lot of compelling reasons for recommending it over a Surface Pro. Huawei’s Matebook is another convertible with a similar design, but it has a terrible keyboard cover that makes it a complete non-starter.

And while most people looking at the Galaxy Book probably need Windows 10 over iOS, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. It’s not cheap, but its screen is top rate, there are tons of apps that take great advantage of Apple’s Pencil stylus and its battery life is superb. If you’re an iPhone user, you’ll appreciate the tight integration between your phone and tablet, as well. Just know that multitasking on iOS falls far short of Windows.

Wrap-up

Samsung’s Galaxy Book doesn’t get anything totally wrong. And if it were a few hundred dollars cheaper than the Surface Pro, it could find an audience. But as it is, the good things about the Galaxy Book (its display and overall performance) are come with some big tradeoffs. Battery life in particular has been a big letdown, and though the keyboard cover is better than it was last year, it’s still not as good as what Microsoft offers.

Battery life and a good typing experience are essentials, particularly on a mobile device like the Galaxy Book. Given the compromises, it’s hard to recommend Samsung’s latest over the Surface Pro. For its price, the Galaxy Book needs to be near-flawless. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reach that lofty goal.

Photographs by Evan Rodgers and Nathan Ingraham

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Google Sheets uses machine learning to build you better charts

Google spent plenty of time at its I/O developer conference earlier this month talking about how we’re entering the age of AI. Today, the company’s humble spreadsheet app Sheets is getting an upgrade thanks to Google’s machine learning smarts. Sheets has long had an “explore” tool that analyzes your spreadsheets and builds charts automatically, but as of today you’ll be able to ask for charts using natural language.

Hitting the “explore” button brings up some default charts based on your particular spreadsheet. But if you want to get custom, you can just type things like “histogram of 2017 customer ratings” or “bar chart for ice cream sales” (two examples Google provided).

Another handy new feature closely links Sheets with Google’s presentation app Slides. Last year, Google added the ability to automatically update data from Docs into Slides with one click. Now, Google’s adding similar syncing features that go from Sheets into both Docs and Slides. That is, if you’re using the same table for data between these apps, you can just click an “update’ button to pull in the latest information from the master source.

Google also added a bunch of new functions to Sheets, bringing the total to more than 400. There’s also a new chart editor sidebar that should make building the right graph a little bit easier; this will also be available on Sheets for iPad and iPhone today as well. And for those of you who still need to put your spreadsheets on dead trees, there are a few new tools that make it easier to print your document. If you want to give these new features a shot, Google says they’re live today.

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President’s confusing ‘covfefe’ tweet remains live for hours

Rambling late night tweets from the President of the United States have been a part of our reality for several months now, but the latest one has gone to a new level. At 12:06AM ET the @RealDonaldTrump account posted a message saying that “Despite the constant negative press covfefe” — and that was it. Covfefe is already a meme with a Twitter Moment, however so far there’s no word from the White House about what it was supposed to say, or if the president just got an important call from Justin Trudeau on his iPhone in mid-tweet.


Whatever the intended meaning behind the tweet, it comes at an interesting time, within a day of White House communications director Mike Dubke announcing his resignation. It’s also closely trailing a report by the Wall Street Journal indicating the White House is considering a plan to have a team of lawyers vet Trump’s social media posts before they go out.


Two hours after the covfefe tweet went out it’s still up (judging by a letter from the National Archives (PDF), it is legal for the President to delete tweets, however it has advised the White House to “capture and preserve all tweets” including deleted ones), and even the dictionary doesn’t know quite what to say about it. Of course, covfefe might really mean “Twitter finally adds an editing feature,” but that seems like a long shot.

The mystery of Trump’s ‘covfefe’

Source: Covfefe Twitter Moment, Donald Trump (Twitter)

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