Posts Tagged ‘Air’

Sony VAIO Pro review: ‘we’re going to war with the MacBook Air’

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My go-to laptop buying advice has been the same for the last two years, at least for anyone who doesn’t know their PRAM from their Linux kernel. Oh, you’re looking for a new laptop? Buy a MacBook Air. Apple’s cheapest and lightest notebook is the easy choice – it’s fast enough, has a fantastic keyboard and trackpad, has solid battery life, and comes with few of the quirks and issues that plague nearly every Windows device on the market.

This year, every PC manufacturer is determined to change that. Toshiba’s Kirabook offers the specs, size, and even service of Apple’s best; nearly every other manufacturer has renewed its focus on quality as well. Rather than race to the bottom and leave Apple alone at the top, Windows-powered PCs…

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The MacBook Is Dead. Love Live The (New) MacBook Air.

“At this point, I’m thinking Apple should just replace the standard MacBook with the Air.”

Yes, I just quoted myself. But I have a good reason. I wrote that on October 21 of last year, after one day of playing with the just-released new MacBook Air. Today, 9 months later, Apple is listening. The MacBook is dead. Love live the MacBook Air.

The fact of the matter is that this was inevitable. The MacBook started at $ 999. The MacBook Air started at $ 999. I just couldn’t see who would choose the MacBook over the Air. Unless you wanted an optical drive — but the optical disc had just been killed. As I wrote in my full review of the Air a few days later, it even replaced my brand-new MacBook Pro as my main computer. It was that good. And today, it gets even better.

Apple is revamping the MacBook Air lineup, upgrading the device with the new Thunderbolt port, new Intel Core i5 chips, and yes, even a backlit keyboard — finally. The new systems will also be the first built from the ground up to run the new OS X Lion operating system, which is also launching today.

I’ve had the chance to use one of the new systems for the past few days, and it screams. Even the people who thought I was crazy last year to replace my MacBook Pro with the Air may have second thoughts now. Apple is saying the updated devices offer roughly twice the performance of their predecessors in various regular use cases (technically, the 11-inch models should be about 2.5 times faster, while the 13-inch models should be just under 2 times faster). All I know is what I see — it’s really fast and it handles OS X Lion extremely well.

The model I’ve been testing out is a 13.3-inch 1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5. It also has an Intel HD Graphics 3000 chip with 384MB of video memory, and a hefty 256GB Flash storage drive. This is the top-of-the-line stock model. But there will also be an option to swap in a 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 chip (which has 4MB of L3 cache instead of 3MB).

Everything I loved about the last iteration of the Air holds true here as well. The battery life is excellent. Apple says the 13-inch model should last 7 hours during regular web usage, I’ve been seeing just shy of that after heavy usage. (The 11-inch model is said to get the same 5-hour battery life as the previous iteration.) Thanks to the Flash storage drive, the machine boots up in roughly 12 seconds. And it awakens from sleep instantly. Standby mode is still up to 30 days with this battery.

I have not been able to test the Thunderbolt port yet because there simply aren’t enough devices out there on the market yet. But it’s a great addition to have when those peripherals do come. Thunderbolt is 20 times faster than USB 2.0, and it’s even significantly faster than FireWire and USB 3.0. For now, the port works just fine with existing Mini DisplayPort devices.

The dimensions height, width, and depth-wise are the exact same as the last iteration, but the devices are ever-so-slightly heavier. We’re talking 2.96 pounds versus 2.9 ponds for the 13-inch. And 2.38 pounds versus 2.3 pounds for the 11-inch. It’s a difference so small that obviously it’s not noticeable at all.

In fact, the only really noticeable different externally will be the backlit keyboard at night. This is one feature that many users complained was missing in last year’s revamp. That’s because it was previously available on older Air models, and it was the only MacBook model period without the feature.

Those with sharp eyes will notice that not only is the Thunderbolt port now in the place of the Mini DisplayPort, but also that the keyboard itself is ever-so-slightly different. With the move to OS X Lion, gone are the Expose and Dashboard keys, in their place are two new keys for Mission Control and Launchpad, two new OS X Lion features. To the right of those keys, you’ll also find the backlit keyboard brightness keys on the Air now.

The 13-inch model retains the SD card reader slot, while the 11-inch model still does not have it. Both models have two USB 2.0 ports as well.

With this latest iteration, Apple has also given some extra consideration to the high-end range of the 11-inch models, for users interested in that form factor who want more power. For the first time, there will be an option to get up to 256GB of Flash storage. And it too can be upgraded to the 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 chip. The higher end of the 11-inch model also now comes with 4GB of RAM standard (the only model that doesn’t is the $ 999 low-end 11-inch model, which has 2GB).

For the past 9 months, the Air has been the computer I take with me everywhere. I previously didn’t like the Air line because I felt it was underpowered and overpriced — both of those things changed with last year’s revamp. Today’s upgrades should make it even more attractive to would-be purchasers. With just the right combination of portability and power, it is hands-down the best computer I’ve ever owned.

But I recognize that some people do need more power. That’s why Apple still makes the MacBook Pro. But for everyone else, the Air is now the entry-level notebook from Apple. It began outselling the MacBook almost immediately, so this move just made sense. Apple will still sell older MacBooks to K-12 institutions, I’m told. But consumers will no longer be able to buy it.

During their earnings call yesterday, Apple COO Tim Cook noted that two of the reasons why Mac growth was down a bit last quarter (while still up overall) was because consumers were waiting to buy until OS X Lion came out, and because Apple didn’t release a new notebook during the quarter. It looks like they just killed two birds with one stone for next quarter with this device.

The new MacBook Air will be on sale on Apple’s website today, and should be in Apple Stores tomorrow. The price-points will be the same: the two 11-inch models will be $ 999 and $ 1199, respectively (the more expensive one has more RAM, more Flash storage, and more video memory). The two 13-inch models will be $ 1299 and $ 1599, respectively (the more expensive one has more Flash storage).



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Review: This R/C Millennium Falcon Won’t Make the Kessel Run

alt : http://www.wired.com/geekdad/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/MF.movhttp://www.wired.com/geekdad/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/MF.mov

Hasbro's remote control Millennium Falcon

Hasbro's remote control Millennium Falcon

You may remember that GeekDad Dave Giancaspro saw Hasbro’s remote control Millennium Falcon at the Toy Fair earlier this year. I saw it again at Comic-Con this summer, and finally got a chance to give it a spin myself. Turns out “give it a spin” is a pretty apt description—this is one Millennium Falcon that won’t be making the Kessel Run anytime soon.

On paper, it’s a great idea — the shape of the Millennium Falcon is perfect for putting in the twin-rotor mechanism. The body of the ship is made of very lightweight foam, with a small base on the bottom that contains the motor. You charge up the ship with a cable that stores in the remote, which uses four AA batteries. The flight throttle controls the speed of the rotors, and the direction throttle turns the ship left and right. There are also trim buttons to adjust the rotors if the ship rotates to the left or right — the manual notes that “trim will need to be adjusted each time you fly.”

In practice, though, the Falcon can fly for about five minutes after charging for half an hour, during which time you may spend the entire time trying to adjust the trim. What was especially frustrating is that the cockpit, while certainly a nice aesthetic touch, is just enough to unbalance the vehicle. I didn’t always have that much trouble with the ship rotating left or right, but I did have the pretty consistent problem that the Falcon always tipped a little to the right after take-off. If the vehicle is moving fast at take-off, you’ll crash into something well before you’re able to steer it back around. (And my attempts to counterbalance the weight by shoving a few pushpins into the opposite side didn’t appear to work, either—then the ship was simply too heavy to lift off at all.) I’m seriously considering just cutting off everything but the ring with a utility knife — it would completely spoil the look, but maybe I’d be able to actually fly it.

Here’s a little video of me trying to fly it — this is probably the best flying I’ve gotten out of it, but as you can see it starts to lose altitude almost immediately, and this was after a fresh set of batteries and a full charge.

If only it were more like the real thing: “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.” Instead, we’ve got a ship that’s nothing more than a pretty face. I’m disappointed, really—I’ve been thinking about getting a little flying R/C toy for some time and this seemed like it would fit the bill.

The Millennium Falcon retails for $49.99 and is available now. But if you really want a flying Millennium Falcon, you might be better off with a kite (plus it’s cheaper).

Wired: A remote control flying Millennium Falcon is an awesome idea.

Tired: Sadly, awesome ideas can sometimes lead to not-so-awesome reality.

Disclosure: Hasbro provided a unit to review.

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Review: This R/C Millennium Falcon Won’t Make the Kessel Run

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Review: This R/C Millennium Falcon Won’t Make the Kessel Run

alt : http://www.wired.com/geekdad/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/MF.movhttp://www.wired.com/geekdad/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/MF.mov

Hasbro's remote control Millennium Falcon

Hasbro's remote control Millennium Falcon

You may remember that GeekDad Dave Giancaspro saw Hasbro’s remote control Millennium Falcon at the Toy Fair earlier this year. I saw it again at Comic-Con this summer, and finally got a chance to give it a spin myself. Turns out “give it a spin” is a pretty apt description—this is one Millennium Falcon that won’t be making the Kessel Run anytime soon.

On paper, it’s a great idea — the shape of the Millennium Falcon is perfect for putting in the twin-rotor mechanism. The body of the ship is made of very lightweight foam, with a small base on the bottom that contains the motor. You charge up the ship with a cable that stores in the remote, which uses four AA batteries. The flight throttle controls the speed of the rotors, and the direction throttle turns the ship left and right. There are also trim buttons to adjust the rotors if the ship rotates to the left or right — the manual notes that “trim will need to be adjusted each time you fly.”

In practice, though, the Falcon can fly for about five minutes after charging for half an hour, during which time you may spend the entire time trying to adjust the trim. What was especially frustrating is that the cockpit, while certainly a nice aesthetic touch, is just enough to unbalance the vehicle. I didn’t always have that much trouble with the ship rotating left or right, but I did have the pretty consistent problem that the Falcon always tipped a little to the right after take-off. If the vehicle is moving fast at take-off, you’ll crash into something well before you’re able to steer it back around. (And my attempts to counterbalance the weight by shoving a few pushpins into the opposite side didn’t appear to work, either—then the ship was simply too heavy to lift off at all.) I’m seriously considering just cutting off everything but the ring with a utility knife — it would completely spoil the look, but maybe I’d be able to actually fly it.

Here’s a little video of me trying to fly it — this is probably the best flying I’ve gotten out of it, but as you can see it starts to lose altitude almost immediately, and this was after a fresh set of batteries and a full charge.

If only it were more like the real thing: “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.” Instead, we’ve got a ship that’s nothing more than a pretty face. I’m disappointed, really—I’ve been thinking about getting a little flying R/C toy for some time and this seemed like it would fit the bill.

The Millennium Falcon retails for $49.99 and is available now. But if you really want a flying Millennium Falcon, you might be better off with a kite (plus it’s cheaper).

Wired: A remote control flying Millennium Falcon is an awesome idea.

Tired: Sadly, awesome ideas can sometimes lead to not-so-awesome reality.

Disclosure: Hasbro provided a unit to review.

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Review: This R/C Millennium Falcon Won’t Make the Kessel Run

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Winter Is Coming, But New Game Of Thrones Trailers Are Already Here

Last night, before the True Blood season finale, HBO aired some footage from the set of the upcoming Game of Thrones series. They also launched a production blog to keep fans up to date. Unlike the last mysterious tease, there was a lot to be seen in last night’s segment – interviews with some of the stars, producers and – of course – George R.R. Martin himself. The author weighed in with some hefty praise, saying that when he walked on the set, he was glad that they “got it” and that fans of the series will be very happy. Time will tell – the series will begin on HBO next spring. In the meantime, here are a couple of teasers from last night’s preview.

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Disney World As Edutainment

To be honest, when we took the kids for a vacation at Disney World, we were focused on the fun aspect. That the trip might have an educational bent was the last thing on our minds, but there really were a surprising number of teaching situations that crept into the days. Of course, most things have to be taken with a grain of salt, but even with allowances for artistic license, I think we actually learned a few things while having fun.

A replica of Sue the T-Rex at Dinoland. Dinosaurs are educational, right? (Photo by Jody Moon)

Epcot was a treasure trove of cultural discovery. While the kids have been exposed to many different cultures, much of that has come through media. Actually seeing replicas of different building styles, food and manners of dress side by side at the various national pavilions really helped them to gain more of an appreciation for the diversity in the world. Being able to stop at each pavilion and have their name written in the native script was kind of cool too. It wasn’t lost on me that I could sample beers of the world as we wandered through the pavilions (you have to stay hydrated somehow). Until we’d been there for a day, I didn’t realize that Epcot was also home to a very impressive salt water aquarium and once we discovered it, we spent a fair bit of time there investigating the various species exhibits. The Living With The Land Attraction was also very interesting and the idea of turning greenhouses that grow produce to supply park restaurants into a ride was stroke of genius. Mind you, I found that the more “educational” an attraction was, like Living With The Land or Spaceship Earth, the shorter the lineup (so obviously not everyone thinks the same way I do), but that was fine by me.

Can a case be made for blowing stuff up being educational? Indiana Jones gives it a shot. (Photo by Jody Moon)

Does watching Indiana Jones movie stunts recreated on a fake sound stage, complete with fight scenes and explosions count as educational? I think so. It’s good for kids to see how the sequences that look so real in movies are carefully choreographed. We also really enjoyed Disney’s Animal Kingdom. From walking trails to the Kilimanjaro Safari ride, there was plenty of ecological information to take in. All of it may have been simulated in one way or another, but it’s still a welcome break from being passively entertained. The Conservation Station, in particular, was fascinating and offered an inside view on conservation efforts as well as well as information about different animal species. Staff are on hand to explain everything from what food the various species in the park are fed to pointing out when animals will be brought into the open-for-viewing examination room to undergo medical treatment. An animal handler was on duty when we visited as well, showing off an owl to a group of appreciative kids. Other than the occasional appearance by a costumed Disney Character, the Conservation Station could well have been located within a zoo or science center. Of course, if the mood to practice some engineering skills arose, there were always the building stations at the Lego Store in Downtown Disney. Actually, this was the first time I saw the Lego architectural series in person. The kits (including the Frank Lloyd Wright Fallingwater model) were impressive in their detail, although physically smaller than I’d imagined.

The piéce de resistance in this Disney World educational adventure was the Magic Kingdom ride operator who ended our session with a quick motivational speech about how we should enjoy the rest of our day, because he would be driving the same circular route every ten minutes and doing the same schtick over, and over, and over, all day, every day. He capped this off with a hearty “So, stay in school!”

Match the Feces With the Species at the Conservation Station.  That has to be educational, 'cause the entertainment implications are a little distasteful.  (Photo by Jody Moon)

A Conservation Station Exhibit. This better be educational, 'cause any entertainment angle is a little nasty. (Photo by Jody Moon)

There are plenty of other examples throughout the Disney World parks: the Hall of Presidents, the Carousel of Progress and the Universe of Energy to name just a few. All in all, this leaning toward offering up snippets of edutainment goes a long way toward giving a Disney visit a much different vibe than a typical amusement park, and I really think it helps to keep kids engaged instead of zoning into the “oh yay, it’s another ride…” mentality.

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Review: Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

Extra Lives by Tom BissellI like video games; I just don’t play them much. I was the kid who went to the arcade in the mall and watched other kids feed quarters into the slots, mashing the buttons on Street Fighter or trying to time their moves on Dragon’s Lair. I didn’t have the money, which meant I didn’t get the practice and never really got the skills. When a lot of my friends had moved on to the Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo, we were still borrowing old NES cartridges. Even now, I’m behind the curve: I have an Xbox (which I bought used, years ago) but again the next generation has passed me by. In fact, I’m pretty close to being two generations behind.

This explains why, of all the video games Tom Bissell writes about in his recent book, Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, I’ve only played two or three, and none of those to completion. Despite that, I found myself completely drawn in to the world Bissell described, and I can only imagine how much greater the impact of his stories would be for somebody who knows their video games.

Extra Lives is sort of a memoir, sort of a collection of essays. Bissell is not intending the book to be video game criticism, or a history of the gaming industry, or a technical assessment of anything. Rather, as he puts it:

I wrote this book as a writer who plays a lot of games, and in these pages you will find one man’s opinions and thoughts on what playing games feels like, why he plays them, and the questions they make him think about.

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Playing Games at PAX, Part One: Lighter Fare

San Juan

Starting PAX off right: with a game!

As much as I enjoy video games (both consoles and PC), I’ve never been all that good at them, and since having kids I just don’t really play that much—not least because if I don’t let my kids watch violent movies and TV shows, I figure I shouldn’t let them watch me play Halo or Left 4 Dead, either. (But also because I’ve never spent the money on an Xbox 360 or PS3, so I’m stuck with the older titles.)

All that to say that at PAX Prime, I wandered around the exhibit hall a bit and tried a few video games here and there, but what I was really excited about was the tabletop gaming. I didn’t even know until shortly before PAX that they have a huge library of games that you can check out, and rooms full of tables and chairs where you can hang out, play a few rounds, and then swap out for a new game. There were some game publishers there giving demos of new games, there were tournaments (Settlers of Catan, for one) that lasted nearly the entire weekend, and there were plenty of old favorites. And of course I brought a couple of my own. As Girls Are Geeks accurately said, I’m a board-game playing maniac, so I was in my element.

Here, then some of the games I played and saw at PAX last weekend. First up, a mix of lighter fare.

Stay tuned for (coming later this morning) Part Two: Taking Over the World!

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Darth Vader Says “Nooooooooooooooo!” So You Don’t Have To

Instant No! ButtonSometimes the only appropriate response to a situation is to stagger to your feet, raise your fists in the air, and let out a raging “Nooooooooooooooo!” to the heavens. For instance, let’s say you’ve just realized that you’re the main character of a trilogy that completely ruined a universe that millions of fans have loved for decades: this might be an appropriate response to that situation.

Thanks to the magic of the Internets, you can now call upon Darth Vader himself to voice your frustrations for you whenever it’s necessary. Just visit the Instant No! Button and click the big blue button. (Be sure to turn your speakers way up before you do—your co-workers and boss are sure to appreciate it.)

Thanks to Lost at E Minor for the tip!

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E-Books Are Still Waiting for Their Avant-Garde

Photograph of Stéphane Mallarmé's Un Coup de Dés, Public Domain

E-readers have tried to make reading as smooth, natural and comfortable as possible so that the device fades away and immerses you in the imaginative experience of reading. This is a worthy goal, but it also may be a profound mistake.

This is what worries Wired’s Jonah Lehrer about the future of reading. He notes that when “the act of reading seems effortless and easy… [w]e don’t have to think about the words on the page.” If every act of reading becomes divorced from thinking, then the worst fears of “bookservatives” have come true, and we could have an anti-intellectual dystopia ahead of us.

Lehrer cites research by neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene showing that reading works along two pathways in the brain. When we’re reading familiar words laid out in familiar sequences within familiar contexts, our brain just mainlines the data; we can read whole chunks at a time without consciously processing their component parts.

When we read something like James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, on the other hand — long chunks of linguistically playful, conceptually dense, sparsely punctuated text — our brain can’t handle the information the same way. It goes back to the same pathways that we used when we first learned how to read, processing a word, phoneme, or even a letter at a time. Our brain snaps upright to attention; as Lehrer says, “[a]ll the extra work – the slight cognitive frisson of having to decipher the words – wakes us up.”

I think Lehrer makes a few mistakes here. They’re subtle, but decisive. I also think, however, that he’s on to something. I’ll try to lay out both.

First, the mistakes. I think Lehrer overestimates how much the material form of the text — literally, the support — contributes to the activation of the different reading pathways in the brain. This actually deeply pains me to write down, because I firmly believe that the material forms in which we read profoundly affect how we read. As William Morris says, “you can’t have art without resistance in the material.”

But that’s not what Dehaene’s talking about. It’s when we don’t understand the words or syntax in a book that we switch to our unfamiliar-text-processing mode. Smudged ink, rough paper, the interjection of images, even bad light — or, alternatively, gilded pages, lush leather bindings, a gorgeous library — are not relevant here. We work through all of that. It’s the language that makes this part of the brain stop and think, generally not the page or screen.

Second, it’s always important to remember that there are lots of different kinds of reading, and there are no particular reasons to privilege one over the other. When we’re scanning the news or the weather (and sometimes, even reading a blog), we don’t want to be provoked by literary unfamiliarity. We want to use that informational superhighway that our brain evolved and that we have put to such good use processing text.

Reading is, as the philosophers say, a family-resemblance concept; we use the same words to describe different acts that don’t easily fall under a single definition. It’s all textual processing, but when we’re walking down a city street, watching the credits to a television show, analyzing a map, or have our head deeply buried in James Joyce, we’re doing very different things. And in most cases, we need all the cognitive leverage we can get.

Now, here’s where I think Lehrer is right:  Overwhelmingly, e-books and e-readers have emphasized — and maybe over-emphasized — easy reading of prose fiction. All of the rhetoric is about the pure transparency of the reading act, where the device just disappears. Well, with some kinds of reading, we don’t always want the device to disappear. Sometimes we need to use texts to do tough intellectual work. And when we do this, we usually have to stop and think about their materiality.

We care which page a quote appears on, because we need to reference it later. We need to look up words in other languages, not just English. We need displays that can preserve the careful spatial layouts of a modernist poet, rather than smashing it all together as indistinguishable, left-justified text. We need to recognize that using language as a graphic art requires more than a choice of three fonts in a half-dozen sizes. Some text is interchangable, but some of it is through-designed. And for good reason.

This is where we’ve been let down by our reading machines — in the representation of language. It isn’t the low-glare screens, or the crummy imitative page-turn animations. They’ve knocked those out of the park.

In fact, we’ve already faced this problem once. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, book production went into overdrive, while newspapers and advertising were inventing new ways to use words to jostle urban passers-by out of their stupor.

Writers wanted to find a way to borrow the visual vitality of what was thought of as ephemeral writing and put it in the service of the conceptual richness and range of subject matter that had been achieved in the nineteenth-century novel.

That’s where we get literary and artistic modernism — not only Joyce, but Mallarmé, Stein, Apollinaire, Picasso, Duchamp, Dada, Futurism — the whole thing. New lines for a new mind, and new eyes with which to see them.

That’s what e-books need today. Give us the language that uses the machines, and it doesn’t matter if they try to get out of the way.

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