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Now there’s an Alexa skill to help out Raspberry Pi tinkerers

Now there’s an Alexa skill to help out Raspberry Pi tinkerers

Alexa is constantly getting new functionality via third-party skills, and a fresh one will likely be of interest to Raspberry Pi owners, as it allows for clarifying certain details while working with the compact computer board.The idea of the Pi Spy skill is that you can ask Alexa about any of the pins on the Pi’s GPIO header and their respective functions, or their location.So for example, you can say: “Alexa, ask Pi Spy what is Pin 2.”Or: “Alexa, ask Pi Spy where is GPIO 16.”As Matt Hawkins, who developed the skill, explains, this sort of GPIO information can easily be looked up elsewhere, but by using a voice assistant, you can check things while you’re absorbed in the process of soldering, or when your hands aren’t otherwise free.
Project and enunciate
As ever when talking to Alexa on whatever device you have, you should speak reasonably slowly and clearly, and Hawkins further notes that you should also pronounce GPIO as ‘gee-pee-eye-oh’ (and hope that Alexa doesn’t fire up ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’ from Prime Music).The Pi Spy skill can also inform you regarding basic details of when a particular model of the Pi was released.It’s a free skill which you’ll find here, although note that it’s only available in the UK for the time being. Hawkins is hopeful that Amazon will draft it across for US users, and he’s currently adding support for an American English version in anticipation of that happening sooner rather than later.Meanwhile, yesterday, we heard that Alexa is heading for a lot more Windows laptops than we initially figured, later on this year.Image credit: Raspberrypi-spy.co.uk
We’ve rounded up the best Alexa skills and commands right here

Samsung trademarks new material – but Galaxy S9 fans shouldn’t get excited

Samsung trademarks new material – but Galaxy S9 fans shouldn’t get excited

Samsung has trademarked a new material called ‘Metal 12’ which will make its devices lighter while still maintaining strength.The new material – which was used on the new Notebook 9 2018 – offers strength while allowing the devices to be lighter than previously.Samsung says this is made possible through a Micro Arc Oxidation process that gives the surface an oxide coating – a process that was used on the beautifully-designed HTC One S from years ago.That’s something that would be a big win in both smartphones and smartwatches – and interestingly both are listed in the trademark application.In fact, everything from ‘3D Active Glasses’ to ‘leather cases for smart phones’ are listed as possible uses for the material, suggesting Samsung has found something it believes could be used to improve the quality and feel of a number of devices.
(Non) heavy metal
The fact Metal 12 has been used on a notebook already hints that it could be used in the Samsung Galaxy S9, but in reality it’s likely to need more development to be used in something so small.That does mean something like the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 or the possible Samsung Gear S4 could be prime candidates for the new material.Then again, Apple’s been trying to use the ‘future material’ LiquidMetal for many, many years now and it’s never been used in great quantities for its smartphones, so this could be the last time we ever talk about Metal 12 too.From TMDN via GalaxyClub
The Notebook 9 was the only awesome thing at CES 2018 – here’s the full story

Chrome OS is about to borrow another feature from Android

Chrome OS is about to borrow another feature from Android

Chrome OS and Android are closer than ever before – many Chromebooks, including the Google Pixelbook – can run Android apps just as well as a phone or tablet, and it looks like the desktop OS is about to borrow another feature from its mobile sibling.Chrome Story spotted that notification badges are on their way to Chrome OS in the near future, based on some hunting around in recent code updates. The tiny badges were introduced in Android 8.0 Oreo as a way of showing which apps had pending notifications (something iOS has had for many years).Chromebooks and Chromeboxes already feature an Android-style app drawer, so presumably these little dots will soon start showing up in there. The indication is that the badges would work for both Android apps and web apps inside Chrome OS.
A tale of two OSes
Further code comments indicate Chrome OS could also soon feature those shortcut menus that pop up when you long-press on an app icon in Android – so a list of frequently used contacts on the Messages app for example – although that’s less definite.While it’s true that Android app integration on Chromebooks has come a long way in terms of usability in recent months, it’s still clunky in parts, such as when you’re trying to open a Play Store link and the OS isn’t sure if you want to see it in the Play Store app or on the Play Store website.Still, it’s clear that Google isn’t finished combining these two OSes yet, even if they’ll never fully merge into one coherent whole. It’s possible that the mysterious Fuchsia OS will end up replacing both of them in the years to come.
After a Chromebook? These are the very best of them, rankedVia Android Central

Best Mac apps: the best macOS apps for your Apple computer

Best Mac apps: the best macOS apps for your Apple computer

The best Mac apps are here to make your macOS High Sierra experience better than that of someone using Windows or Linux. After all, it’s the Mac software that keeps us brand loyalists coming back to the Jony Ive-designed catalog of expensive goodies. While Apple packs plenty of useful apps pre-installed on every Mac, there’s a lot more out there than immediately meets the eye.The best Mac apps span a number of different categories, so admittedly not everything on this list is going to tickle your fancy. There’s Atom, a text editor designed for coders, which is obviously going to appeal to a limited audience compared to something like Evernote – the best note-taking app, hands down. They aren’t all available on the Mac App Store, but they are all worth your consideration. Without further ado, keep reading to the next slide for the best Mac apps you can download today. From freebies to costlies, these are the applications that will breathe new life into your MacBook or Mac desktop in 2018.
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article
Get it from: App StorePrice: FreeNo brand of computer is without its annoyances. For so long now, it’s been impossible to use our MacBooks – unbound by the chains of a power adapter – while video outputs to an external monitor. As we all know here at TechRadar, Apple’s laptops automatically enter sleep mode whenever the lid is closed. For the lot of us, this can be a huge inconvenience should you prefer the sheer magnitude of a monitor as opposed to a 12- or 13- or 15-inch laptop screen.Luckily, Amphetamine makes it possible to continue using your MacBook while closed. Previously you could accomplish this using a similar application called Caffeine, but we prefer the UI features you get with this freebie. In addition to fitting in naturally with the rest of your Menu Bar items, Amphetamine also supports hotkey commands as well as deactivation reminders, not to mention there are no pesky advertisements in sight. 
Get it from: App StorePrice: $9.99 (£7.99 or around AUS$14)While Windows has been able to snap programs to the edge of the screen since version 7, Apple’s solution didn’t arrive until OS X El Capitan. What’s more, even then it lacked some of the comprehensiveness of Microsoft’s alternative. Fortunately, HyperDock gives us that full-fledged functionality we so desperately crave, allowing anyone with a Mac to administer to the app Dock and windows all the same.For windows, you can drag an app to the left or right edges of the screen (or the corners) and it’ll automatically fill that space. This makes it much easier to be productive on the desktop without wasting time dragging windows from the corners. For the Dock, hovering over apps activates something similar to Windows 7’s thumbnail previews, providing overviews of windows that can be accessed by a click or closed directly from the preview. Handy.
Get it from: ParallelsPrice: $79.99/year (Home & Student) Around £60 or AUS$100)If you’ve bought a Mac and miss some of your old Windows programs, don’t worry – Parallels Desktop 13 can bring them back. Instead of having to dual-boot your Mac into a Windows partition, Parallels Desktop 13 allows Windows and macOS Sierra to co-exist side-by-side, and you can even run Microsoft-only programs such as Visual Studio 2015, or the Windows versions of the company’s Office 365 apps, alongside your native macOS ones.All you need is a Windows 10 license – so prepare to buy one if you haven’t already. Or, alternatively, you can use Parallels to try a handful of free operating systems including Chromium (a free distribution of Chrome OS) or Linux Debian. The latest version of Parallels in particular has seen improvements such as Touch Bar support, better resolution scaling for Retina displays and picture-in-picture for using other operating systems in conjunction with macOS.
Get it from: App StorePrice: £14.99 (around $20 or AUS$25)If you’re anything like us, you’ll hate working with one monitor or screen. Portable monitors are still fairly expensive (and not to mention bulky), and luckily you can use an iPad instead using a nifty app called Duet. Developed by ex-Apple engineers, it works by tethering your iPad to your Mac using one of Apple’s Lightning cables and firing up the app on both devices.You can then drag windows and apps onto your iPad’s display just like you can a second monitor, and if you have a more recent iPad with a Retina display then you’ll get the full benefit of all those pixels. Just know that the bandwidth isn’t quite what you would get with a proper monitor, so it can be a bit laggy when you notch the quality up. But it’s still more than usable for reading websites, typing up documents and watching videos.
Get it from: AtomPrice: FreeAtom is a text editor that’s primarily designed for coders, but its flexibility and customization options make it a viable option for many different types of users. That’s because of two reasons: first, you can download a number of different Packages – effectively plug-ins – to make it bend to your will. It can be transformed into a Markdown editor for writing blog posts, for example, or you can hook it up to Evernote for storing notes in the cloud.There’s at least 10 different word counters out there, and you can even add typewriter sound effects as you hammer out your delicious prose. Atom is also infinitely customizable on the visual side thanks to an editable back-end, allowing you to do anything from changing the font size, line height and colors to giving the caret Word 2016-like elasticity.
Get it from: App StorePrice: £149.99 (around $195 or AUS$255)Whether you’re an aspiring rockstar or superstar DJ, Logic Pro X is one of the best music creation apps on the Mac. Developed by Apple itself,76 its accessible interface hides a ton of advanced functionality. The latest version comes with a slick new design, 64-bit architecture and new session drummer that will save you having to shell out for a drum machine.It also works in natural harmony with iPads, providing a touch-based alternative method of creating song structures to dragging and dropping blocks in the main visual editor. Whether you’re a seasoned producer already (Sia used the app to record her hit song ‘Chandelier’) or are looking to upgrade from Garageband, Logic Pro X likely has what you need.
Get it from: App StorePrice: FreeA simple app but an important one, to-do app Wunderlist’s strength lies in its cross-device functionality. It’s available on Mac, PC and Android and iOS, allowing you to pick up where you left off wherever you are using macOS’s Handoff feature.Once you’ve created a list you can schedule reminders, add notes and embed it into the macOS Notification Centre using a widget. Team-based features are unlocked by signing up to Wunderlist’s Pro option for a yearly fee, and you can add files of any size without running into limits.
Get it from: App StorePrice: FreeEvernote has morphed into a mighty note-taking app over the years. While some people will say that it’s too bloated, the sheer number of things that you can do with it still makes it best-in-class. You can type up notes, obviously, organizing them using a combination of folders and tags. You can even embed Google Drive documents, which are accessible in a click.There’s also the ability to set reminders, share notes with friends, find information related to notes using Evernote’s ‘Context’ feature, create lists, and favorite notes that you frequently return to. Better yet, all of your notes are synchronized using the company’s servers, making them accessible on nearly any PC (through a browser or the native Evernote app) or mobile device in the world. The paid version lets you use Evernote with more than two devices while upping the amount of data you can sync each month.
Get it from: WebsitePrice: FreeGIMP (standing for GNU Image Manipulation) is one of the best free image editing apps out there. It’s a great alternative to Adobe Photoshop and comes with a massive array of professional-quality functions that let you tweak existing images saved in a range of formats or create fresh ones from scratch. Features include layers, highly customizable brushes, automatic image-enhancing tools and filters. You can do even more with it using plug-ins, which are available to download from the GIMP Plugin Registry.
Get it from: App StorePrice: £34.99 (around $45/AUS$60)Ulysses is one of the best “distraction-free” markdown editors out there today, balancing features with simplicity and beautiful design. Unlike Word 2016, or even Apple’s own Pages, Ulysses hardly features an interface at all. This allows you to get on with writing without being distracted by superfluous buttons and menus. The app uses its own brand of Markdown — a type of text formatting engine — that lets you highlight your writing in a way that makes organizing it simpler, and a vast number of export styles formats it in an attractive way once you’re finished.There’s a handy attachments bar on the right-hand side that features an attractive word counter and lets you write notes to assist you in your writing. Notes can be accessed anywhere thanks to iCloud support, so you can pick up your iPad and carry on where you left off using macOS’s Handoff feature.
Get it from: WebsitePrice: FreeIf you’re a gamer who takes pride in the fact that you use a Mac, whether for work, school or leisure, Nvidia GeForce Now will silence your biggest critics. Since the dawn of time itself, it’s seemed as though PC gamers have shut down the prospect of using a Mac to play triple-A video games. The graphics weren’t there, and neither was the library. Nowadays, we live in the era of streaming. You don’t have to download your TVs and movies – you can stream them on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Why should games be any different? Well, with GeForce Now, they’re not. You can stream PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Overwatch and more at the highest settings from the comfort of your MacBook or Mac computer.

The best laptops of 2018: top laptops ranked

The best laptops of 2018: top laptops ranked

The PC industry has often argued that notebooks in general are headed towards extinction, but they seem to be holding on with each passing year. In fact, with more powerful laptops being added to the market, it’s likely that these devices are nearing a golden age. Ultrabooks are still popular and mainstream laptops still do draw some interest.
With hybrids, Ultrabooks, traditional clamshells and more portable than ever gaming laptops in tow, these are the best laptops you can buy.
Dell XPS 13 (2017)Asus Zenbook UX310UAApple Macbook Pro with Touch BarApple MacBook 12-inch (2016)Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501Dell Inspiron 15 7000 GamingMicrosoft Surface Pro 4HP Spectre x360Samsung Notebook 7 Spin
Slim, light, powerful and majestic, Dell’s 2017 flagship XPS 13 is one of the best laptops today. The company introduced a new Alpine White model recently, but the version we’ve reviewed ought to satisfy anyone looking for a top-notch Windows Ultrabook in the meantime. Whether for its powerful Intel Kaby Lake processors or for its bezel-less ‘Infinity Edge’ display, which shoves a 13.3-inch screen into an 11-inch frame, the Dell XPS 13 makes a significant impression. Not only that, the port selection is on point too. Compared to Apple’s USB-C exclusive approach, Dell’s flagship notebook impresses with – in addition to USB-C – USB 3.0 and an SD card slot. Bearing in mind those facets alone, it’s no wonder the Dell XPS 13 is amongst the most popular WIndows laptops in the world. And it gets better. You also get a choice of a super high-res and multi-touch screens, as well as a breadth of options for storage and memory. Or you can save on cash and opt for more conservative specs.Read the full review: Dell XPS 13

With Lenovo’s Thinkpad X1 Carbon 2017 update, the company has redefined the benchmark for business notebooks. This year’s edition of the Thinkpad X1 Carbon compromises nothing, be it portability or performance.It’s smaller and lighter, has a compact profile reinforced with carbon fibre, which means it is as tough as they come, has all the I/O ports you will need and bits like touchpad improvements backed by Microsoft Precision Touchpad program.

The Asus ZenBook UX310UA is the perfect replacement for the more expensive Dell XPS 13 without big compromises. Well, it doesn’t look as nice as the XPS 13, also, the battery isn’t as great too. It’s not that the notebook is ugly, as you get an all aluminium frame, and fast performance using a Intel’s 7th-generation Kaby Lake processor.Additionally, you can choose between a full HD and an immersive QHD+ screen. No matter what model you go for, this laptop is a solid choice. Read the full review: Asus Zenbook UX310UA

If you’re after the latest laptop from Apple, we suggest you welcome the 13-inch Macbook Pro with Touch Bar. Microsoft claims the Surface Book 2 is twice as powerful, but it’s not available in India. Of course, the headline feature is the Touch Bar – a thin OLED display above the keyboard that can be used for various applications. If you’re a fan of the Macbook Pro 2017, you’ll be happy with this model but there are some serious reasons why you should consider one of the Windows alternatives too. The Macbook Pro isn’t as powerful, has a lower resolution display and has no touchscreen support. Plus, its battery is a tad disappointing, too. We’d recommend this only to diehard Apple fans and those who are already invested in the ecosystem.Read the full review: Apple Macbook with Touch Bar (2017) 

Apple doesn’t seem very interested in the Macbook Air nowadays, but it’s only the beginning for the new MacBook. Not only is it the slimmest, sleekest and best-looking Macbook Apple ever built, it’s one of the most popular and best-selling laptops on the planet as well. Yet, it may not serve as a primary productivity machine – it’s a lot less powerful than the Macbook Pro and has only one USB Type-C port for all you IO needs. If those compromises don’t bother you, the Macbook is a super slim and light laptop meant for those who’re looking for portability.Read the full review: Apple Macbook 

Part of Asus’ new generation of Max-Q gaming laptops, the Asus ROG Zephyrus is both ridiculously powerful and astonishingly thin and light. Make no mistake, this thing is large compared to a Macbook Pro or Dell XPS 13, but compared to gaming laptops of the past, this is certainly an achievement. Your expectations of a 15-inch gaming laptop will never be the same after seeing the Zephyrus in action. It’s expensive of course, but with powerful Core i7 CPU and GTX 1080 graphics, it’ll be easily powerful enough to play the best games for many years to come. It’s an ideal top-end desktop replacement for gamers and other heavy users.Read the full review: Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 

If it’s a new gaming laptop you want, and can’t afford the Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 above, the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming is your best option. It costs about half of what the Zephyrus does and offers good value for money. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti graphics chip is reasonably powerful and there’s a 1080p display on this laptop as well. The laptop provides 8 hours of battery life, which means the Inspiron 15 7000 is somewhat portable too. Also, a gaming session playing Tom Clancy’s The Division for two hours on medium settings uses about 66% battery.Read the full review: Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming 

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is the best laptop for those looking for the perfect blend between a nimble Windows tablet and a fully functional laptop. The base version of the Surface Pro 4 is just a tablet and the Surface Pen or Type Cover keyboard are sold separately. And we’d recommend springing for the keyboard case. The Surface Pro, alongside the also-excellent Surface Book laptop, is to Windows what the Pixel is to Google’s Android. It’s the benchmark Windows device, with software and hardware working together in perfect harmony.Read the full review: Microsoft Surface Pro 4 

The 13.3-inch version of the HP Spectre x360 may not have a SD card slot like its 15.6-inch sibling, but it packs the same hardy internal components in a more portable physique. Then there’s the keyboard, which with 1.3mm of travel, feels like a significant improvement. Despite having a dependable 8 hours and 45 minutes long battery life, the HP Spectre x360 weighs just about 1.2 kg. Just when we thought there wasn’t a laptop that’s cutting-edge in every category, the HP Spectre x360 proved us wrong.Read the full review: HP Spectre x360

If you’ve ever wanted a MacBook Pro without breaking the bank, the Samsung Notebook 7 Spin not only delivers the style and glitz of Apple’s pro laptops, but it  adds a touchscreen to the mix at an approachable starting price. For a hefty 2-in-1 with a Core i7 CPU, 12GB of RAM and even a discrete Nvidia GPU, the Samsung Notebook 7 provides top of the line specs. But, as Samsung probably asked while devising this hybrid notebook, why stop there? The company even went put an HDR screen on the Notebook 7 Spin, and although it’s a feature that isn’t widely supported, the deeper blacks and more vibrant colours can never go to waste.Read the full review: Samsung Notebook 7 Spin

Reinventing an icon: Behind the redesign of Origin’s towers of power

Reinventing an icon: Behind the redesign of Origin’s towers of power

Origin has always been one of our favorite custom system builders and, at CES 2018, the company has unveiled a dramatic redesign of its main PC chassis – we’re of course talking about the company’s full-tower Genesis and mid-tower Millennium. Previously these two chassis were made primarily out of plastic, but now they’ve gotten full-metal makeovers with a touch of tempered glass and improved RBG lighting to completely modernize their designs.During CES 2018, we got a chance to catch up with Eddy Piedra, Marketing Manager at Origin to get the inside story behind the redesign.“Since early last year we have been working closely with our lead engineers to meticulously design our case to not only have improved materials, but also to have a more streamlined appearance without any compromises,” Piedra began. “We wanted to stay true to our high-quality standards of PC design, all while to continuing to offer easy customization and upgradability.
The first thing you might notice about the new Genesis and Millennium, is that they’re both much more streamlined than the bold curves and angles seen on past iterations. That was entirely Origin’s intent for the redesign.With the addition of tempered glass panels, there is no longer a need for exaggerated side panels to hold acrylic panels in place. Instead, the entire side is a clear window for you to show off all your high-end components and the tidy cable work within.While it might seem like Origin came late to the game with tempered glass, the company took its time to develop a solution without thumbscrews that the user had to manually remove.“The idea was to create a pin system hinge that allows the door to be easily removed and reattached and grants the user to easily open the side panels for easier access to the components,” Piedra said. “We then decided to use low-powered magnets to eliminate the need for latches.”
But beyond aesthetics, Origin had to strike a balance to ensure its new design was just as flexible and customizable for its users.“With plastic materials in our original case, we had more flexibility,” Piedra added, noting how easy it to mold plastic over casting metal. “However, the advantages of going with aluminum was gaining enhanced durability and a creating more premium look and feel with our case.”And going with an almost entirely metal build has yielded some other benefits for Origin’s design.“Thanks to the sleek design and swappable side panels, there’s even more customization options when it comes to painting, hydro-dipping and laser etching,” Piedra tallied. “The original case was also already tool-less, but this time we improved on it by reducing the number of components to access the internals.”
Last but not least, Origin improved the customizable lighting, which it began including in its cases long before the RGB frenzy began.“Over time, we noticed that more motherboard manufacturers began to add a large amount of built-in lighting options to the motherboards themselves and we did not like the idea of having multiple software fighting for control of the lighting, so we embraced the motherboard”The newly redesigned Genesis and Millennium aren’t just gorgeous, they’re shaping up to be some of the best PC cases of the new year, and you can expect a review from yours truly in the coming weeks.
New year, new tech – check out all our coverage of CES 2018 straight from Las Vegas, the greatest gadget show on Earth!

Acer and Asus are courting Alexa – does this mean Cortana’s dumped?

Acer and Asus are courting Alexa – does this mean Cortana’s dumped?

Oh, Cortana, will you ever be truly loved? Microsoft really did try, naming you after a character in its (once popular, now less so) Halo series, and embedding you so deeply into Windows 10, that yours is the first voice we hear when we install the operating system (which can be a little frightening if you’re reinstalling and forget that your PC speakers are turned up to full volume).Microsoft saw what Apple was doing with Siri, and put its considerable talents and expertise in voice recognition software to create Cortana and fully integrate its voice assistant into Windows PCs. However, with two of the biggest laptop makers, Acer and Asus, announcing that they are adding Amazon’s younger, and more popular, Alexa voice assistant into their laptops, could the end be nigh for Cortana?Things aren’t looking especially good, and it doesn’t help that while Microsoft does still appear to support Cortana, removing features like music recognition and simply leaving an ugly error message in its place makes it feel like Microsoft itself is beginning to lose faith. The relative failure of Microsoft’s smartphone ambitions will also have dulled Cortana’s appeal.
Speak to me
To be honest, while voice assistants on smartphones, and screen-less devices like smart speakers, make sense, I’ve never seen the appeal of a voice assistant on a laptop or PC.Now, I’m not talking about voice control for accessibility – those features definitely have a use for people who cannot use other input methods. What I mean is those chirpy voice assistants like Cortana, Siri and Alexa, who have been programmed to have a bit of personality alongside their cutesy names (which usually involves programming in some groan-worthy ‘humorous’ replies to certain questions).I’m one of those weird creatures that prefers using a desktop PC, and with no built-in microphone in my rig, Cortana is the first thing I disable. When I do work on a laptop, I’m usually on a train or busy office, so don’t want to yell at my computer to create a reminder to pick up more toilet roll on the way home. In fact, when I’m using my PC, I’m pretty much always sat right in front of it, so I never really need to shout at it from across the room unless YouTube accidentally begins to play a PewDiePie video.So, while I’m no big fan of Cortana, Alexa coming to my laptop isn’t too exciting either. What Alexa on a laptop does have going for it is that Alexa is a pretty embedded presence in my house already. This is thanks to a number of Amazon Echos dotted around the place, and I’ve got it connected to my smart lights, thermostat and more. So I could possibly see myself using it if I wanted to turn on the lights and there wasn’t an Amazon Echo device nearby. Remember, I have issues using a light switch.
Well, this was a failureGoodbye Cortana?
So, is this the beginning of the end for Cortana? Maybe, but maybe not. Last year it was reported that Amazon and Microsoft were working together to allow Alexa and Cortana to also work alongside each other.Now, this may be evidence that Cortana still has life in it yet, and that the two voice assistants can coexist peacefully, but it could also be seen as Microsoft laying the groundwork for Cortana to be replaced, much like a parasite gradually leeches off the life-force of its host. This is an image that I’m sure the marketing departments of both Microsoft and Amazon will be keen to use.So, is Cortana getting dumped? It’s not looking all that positive at the moment, but it will make little difference to me, as I’ll still be giving my PC the silent treatment no matter which voice assistant it uses.
New year, new tech – check out all our coverage of CES 2018 straight from Las Vegas, the greatest gadget show on Earth

Intel unveils its new processors with AMD Radeon RX Vega M graphics

Intel unveils its new processors with AMD Radeon RX Vega M graphics

Intel has shown off its new collection of 8th-generation Core processors, and these CPUs are particularly notable because they feature discrete graphics technology by AMD, Intel’s longstanding rival.While this rare collaboration between Intel and AMD piqued our interest when it was revealed last year, the new information provided by Intel shows just how exciting these new processors could be.The new Core processors are Intel’s first CPU with discrete graphics included in a single package, allowing for incredibly thin and light laptops and PCs that are able to provide impressive gaming performance and 4K media streaming.These chips also contain a number of other firsts. According to Intel, they will be the first example of power sharing across CPU and GPU, the first consumer mobile chips to use HBM2 (the second-generation high bandwidth memory, a faster type of graphics memory), and the first consumer solution to use Intel EMIB.

Bridging the gap
EMIB stands for Embedded Multi-die Interconnect Bridge, which combines several separate components onto a single package (such as CPU and GPU), and allows for high-speed communication between the two.According to Intel, it also reduces the silicon footprint by over 50%, allowing it to be used in much thinner and lighter devices. The CPU and GPU are now just 1.7mm thin, and when compared to previous chips, which had discrete chips for CPU, GPU and memory, the new EMIB takes up far less room on the motherboard.This also means the chips are more power efficient as well, resulting in less heat generated and longer battery life, and includes new Intel Dynamic Tuning features.
Layout of the new chipIn the breakdown of the chip (seen above) you can see where each component resides, with the 4GB of HBM2 sitting next to the custom Radeon RX Vega M graphics chip, and the 8th generation Intel Core processor sitting slightly further away, connected to the GPU via eight lanes of PCIe 3.0.
The processors
The new processors are all quad-core chips with eight threads, support for two channels of DDR4-2400 memory and Intel HD 630 graphics (for less intensive graphical tasks).The Intel Core i7-8809G is the top-of-the-range edition, and features a base clock of 3.1GHz which can boost to 4.2GHz. It features Radeon RX Vega M GH discrete graphics with 24 compute units, 1,536 stream processors, 4GB HBM2, 1.6Gbps memory interface data rate, 204.8 GB/s memory bandwidth, a base GPU clock of 1,063 MHz and a boost clock of 1,190 MHz.Next is the Intel Core i7-8709G, which features very similar specs to the 8809G, but has a slightly lower maximum processor frequency (4.1GHz), and does not allow for discrete GPU and HBM overclocking.The Intel Core i7-8706G follows, with the same base and maximum processor frequencies as the 8709G, but this time includes the Radeon RX Vega M GL for discrete graphics. This has 20 compute units, 1,280 stream processors, 1.4Gbps memory interface data rate, 179.2GB/s memory bandwidth, a base clock of 931 MHz and a boost clock of 1,011 MHz.The Intel Core i7-870G is next, and has broadly the same specs as the 8706G, but doesn’t include Intel TSX support or Intel vPro technology, which the 8706G does.Finally, the Intel Core i5-8305G features a maximum frequency of 3.8GHz, with a base clock frequency of 2.8GHz and, unlike the other chips, doesn’t support overclocking in any form.
Graphics
Intel also shared more information on the GPUs, both the discrete Radeon RX Vega M, and the integrated Intel HD 630, as each of the new 8th generation processors contains two graphics subsystems.The discrete Radeon display engine supports up to six displays and 4K resolution, and outputs from a Display Port 1.4 with HDR support, and a HDMI 2.0b with HDR10 support. It has up to 24 compute units, supports Vulkan and DirectX 12 graphics APIs and can encode 4K footage at 60fps (frames per second), along with HEVC and H264 encode and decode.Meanwhile, the integrated Intel Gfx display engine supports three displays, up to 4K resolution, VP9 and HEVC 10b encode and decode, and H264. This lower-powered graphics subsystem is therefore useful for watching media and doing non-demanding graphical tasks, so battery life isn’t depleted as quickly, while gaming and graphic intensive tasks are left to the Radeon subsystem.
Performance
Intel also provided benchmark results to show the performance benefits of the new chips. While we’d rather test the chips ourselves using our own benchmarks, the ones provided by Intel at least give us some idea of what benefits the new chips will bring.First, it showed how an 8th generation Intel Core processor with Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics compared to a three-year-old system with a Core i7-4720HQ CPU and Nvidia GTX 950M GPU. In the 3DMark 11 graphics benchmarks, it performed 2.2 times better, and transcoded video in handbrake 6.7 times faster.The chip was also compared to a system with a Core i7-8550U processor and Nvidia GTX 1050 (4GB) GPU, and it performed 1.3 times better in the 3DMark 11 graphics benchmark, with an average frames per second of 46fps in Hitman (compared to 33fps), and 36fps for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (compared to the GTX 1050 system’s 27fps).An 8th generation Core processor with the Radeon RX Vega GH graphics was also compared to a three-year-old system with a Core i7-4720HQ CPU and Nvidia GTX 960M GPU, with it scoring 2.7 times higher in the 3DMark 11 graphics benchmarks, along with 2.7 times better fps in Hitman, and twice the fps in Total War: Warhammer.So, it looks like the new 8th generation Core processors from Intel could bring better gaming performance to thinner and lighter gaming laptops. This is very exciting stuff, and we’re looking forward to testing out upcoming devices that use the processors soon.
New year, new tech – check out all our coverage of CES 2018 straight from Las Vegas, the greatest gadget show on Earth 

Microsoft in 2017: a sleek, chic and somewhat sobering year

Microsoft in 2017: a sleek, chic and somewhat sobering year

For Microsoft, 2017 was yet another year of soaring highs and steep lows, from a whizbang series of hardware and software releases to some sobering wrinkles in said whizbang releases, not to mention some sobering revelations regarding its data collection. As this whirlwind of a year draws to a close, let’s reflect on the most key moments for Microsoft in 2017 – for both good and ill.Plus, we’ll forecast what you could look forward to from Microsoft in the coming year.
Image Credit: David BreyerThe Surface Phone lives, right?
Microsoft started off 2017 inadvertently strong with newly generated patents for a smaller computing device with two folding screens that could stretch out to become a tablet or phablet. Subsequent rumors and patent illustrations have seldom ceased since that time, most recently inspiring some alluring concept renders.With the sheer amount of patents and rumors swirling around this hopeful Surface Phone, 2018 would be prime time for Microsoft to debut this device. Will it revive Microsoft’s phone business that’s been in a constant state of limbo since the launch of Windows 10? Hopefully we’ll see in 2018. 
WIndows 10 privacy went under the microscope this yearIn the data doldrums
Months later, Microsoft attempted to make amends after a story revealed the amount and quality of the data that it collects. For starters, Microsoft issued one of its more transparent blog posts regarding exactly what it collects and its intentions.Then, Microsoft would follow up on that with the release of the Creators Update in spring of 2017 with a new set of privacy controls that were more upfront about what Microsoft collected, how and why. Granted, the company didn’t do much to change what it collects, but at least we know better of what we’re signing up for than before?
The Windows 10 Creators Update added lots for creative typesCreators Update cometh
Microsoft’s 2017 Build conference in March 2017 rung in the release of the aforementioned Creators Update, which introduced a score of new features for the operating system. Namely, the Creators Update ushered in Paint 3D, a brand new version of the timeless Paint app with 3D modeling tools and support for 3D printer files.Other changes included upgrades to Cortana’s capabilities as well as a full ereader function for the Edge browser, making it a simpler destination for both reading books and PDFs. Not to mention improvements to Microsoft’s Windows Ink platform – an update truly for the creative types.
Acer’s HMD was the first to show itself in 2017Majorly into Mixed Reality
Also landing with the Creators Update was the first-ever Microsoft Mixed Reality headset, made in partnership with Acer. This launched Microsoft’s platform for six-degree-of-field (6DOF) tracking for more affordable headsets, incorporating the necessary tech into the headsets rather than relying additional hardware.Consumer-grade versions of these headsets wouldn’t release until autumn 2017 alongside the Fall Creators Update, of which there were several – and the number is growing. Product maker interest in the platform has been impressive, but we won’t see whether Microsoft’s big bet on VR has paid off until after the turn of the year (and holiday sales).
The brand new Surface Pro landed in June 2017Hot on hardware
Amid all of these major beats, Microsoft enjoyed one of its biggest years in hardware to date. First came the brand new Surface Pro, a numberless sequel to the Surface Pro 4 that improved on it in nearly every way, earning our Recommended award.
It’s easy to anticipate a new Surface Pro and Surface Laptop release, likely to be refreshed with Kaby Lake Refresh processors. Plus, the Surface Studio is well due for an upgrade.However, Microsoft sadly decided to drop the Surface Pen from the product box, selling it separately – an unfortunate business practice that lived through every Surface thus far.Then, the Surface Laptop arrived as the marquee standard-bearer for Windows 10 S and the firm’s attempt to break into classrooms. Outfitted with a more controlled operating system (OS) environment – akin to Windows 8 RT – it shuffled users into its Windows Store as it was the only place to download apps in the OS.Some bugbears with the arguably limited OS aside, we greatly enjoyed the Surface Laptop and its groundbreaking design aesthetic.Finally, Microsoft closed out the year with a truly surprising Surface Book 2 reveal, launching its first sequel to the 2-in-1 laptop in both 15-inch and 13.5-inch varieties, as well as a version of the Surface Pro with an LTE radio inside. The former has hugely wowed us, also earning our Recommended award for its incredible power and longevity.All of this came amidst rumors that Microsoft was secretly considering shuttering several of its Surface product lines in short order, thus putting a stick in the spokes of the rumor mill.
The Fall Creators Update smoothed things out quite a bitIroning out the edges in Fall Creators Update
In autumn 2017, Microsoft released its second major annual OS update, the Fall Creators Update, which – while far from wrinkle-free – brought with it mostly quality-of-life changes. Namely, a ‘Sets’ feature brought a web browser-like tabs approach to organizing windows of the same app, and a new ‘Find My Pen’ feature for those prone to losing their stylus, only enhanced the experience of using the OS.The OS update also brought support for Microsoft’s legion of Mixed Reality headsets made in conjunction with just about every PC maker under the sun. Plus, this is far from the final Windows 10 update, with features like stronger battery preservation already expected for the first 2018 release of the OS.
CEO Satya Nadella and crew are likely already at work on impressing us in 2018What does 2018 have in store for Microsoft?
The next year, while we’ve yet to hear much from the firm beyond rumors, is poised to be another huge year for Microsoft. First off, we can expect at least two major updates to Windows 10, the first likely to land before summer and the second expected to release in autumn.Second, there’s no doubt that Microsoft will release more hardware in 2018. While there’s no way of being certain, it would be easy to anticipate a new Surface Pro and Surface Laptop release, likely to be refreshed with Kaby Lake Refresh processors. Plus, the Surface Studio is well due for an upgrade.But, perhaps the most exciting potential release is what many are calling the Surface Phone, that phone or phablet-sized computing device with two screens that fold into one another. A triumphant return to the phones scene would be exciting to see, and you don’t file for that many patents without intent to do something.Beyond that, we’re likely to see Apple respond to Microsoft’s encroaching on its turf in kind on both hardware and software, which should only make for stronger competition – and the only winner in that is, well, us.
These are the best laptops of the year, most of which run Windows 10

Google is testing the mysterious Fuchsia OS on the Pixelbook

Google is testing the mysterious Fuchsia OS on the Pixelbook

Remember Fuchsia OS? It’s the mysterious operating system about which we know very little, except that Google is actively developing it and has described it as an “experimental project” that isn’t replacing Chrome OS or Android… at least for the time being.Well, we just learned a something new about it – it’s being tested on the Google Pixelbook, the standard bearer for Google’s Chromebooks. As Android Police spotted, the laptop has been added to Fuchsia’s official documentation on the web, which shows that at least some developers are playing around with it on the Pixelbook.Chromebooks in general are flexible devices, and it makes sense for Google’s flagship computer to be used as a testbed for its next-generation operating system, even if it’s not exactly clear what the whole purpose of Fuchsia is at this point.
The future is Fuchsia
Google is keeping its cards close to its chest for the time being as far as Fuchsia is concerned, but from what we’ve been able to put together it sounds like the OS is being written from the ground up with modern-day hardware in mind.That means it doesn’t have to deal with older, legacy devices and software code in the same way that Android and Chrome OS might have to – and that in turn should result in a leaner, more efficient operating system. We’ve already seen some indication of what the finished product might look like.As for whether Google will stick with Fuchsia, nobody knows: the company might decide that the combination of Chrome OS with Android apps, just like on the Pixelbook currently, is enough for users in the future.
Back in 2016 we heard about Fuchsia for the first time