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JA N UA RY 2017

Ryzen How AMD’s

new chip could change everything

INSIDE:

What to do about Yahoo’s billion-account breach


Be the breakthrough. Breakthroughs are the patients participating in clinical trials, the scientists and doctors working together to advance the ďŹ ght against cancer, and the brave survivors like Tonya who never give up. Let’s be the breakthrough. To learn about appropriate screenings and clinical trials or to help someone with cancer, go to su2c.org/breakthrough. #cancerbreakthrough

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JANUARY 2017

» DEPARTMENTS

TABLE OF CONTENTS

» FEATURES

7 News

155 Surface Book i7 vs. MacBook Pro: Fight!

57 Reviews & Ratings

187 Here’s How

173 The iPhone switcher’s guide: Move from iOS to Android

» COLUMNS 209 Hassle-Free PC 211 Answer Line 41 Consumer Watch

214 Tech Spotlight 


About Us

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9

AMD shows how Zen— now renamed Ryzen— is its best chip family

18 What we know about AMD’s Ryzen so far

29 Microsoft: Don’t worry, MS-DOS will live on after all 31 New Synaptics fingerprint sensor sits under glass

24 How much will AMD’s Zen cost? Here’s what we think

33 Google may partner with auto makers

27 Samsung to brick remaining Galaxy Note7s

35 The new Apple TV update is no friend to cord cutters


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Tech and trends that will affect you today and beyond.

NEWS

AMD shows how Zen—now renamed Ryzen—is its best chip family in a decade BY MARK HACHMAN

AMD'S ZEN IS finally here. In August, AMD stunned the hardware

industry by showing that its Zen architecture could compete with Intel’s best. Now AMD has revealed more details about what executives call its most exciting processor in 20 years, including its brand name, its clock speed, and the five underlying “SenseMI” technologies that make the chip so efficient. 


What AMD has previously referred to as its Zen architecture now has a formal brand name: Ryzen, which unfortunately sounds like the title of a bargain-bin videogame. The first chip in the desktop family, codenamed Summit Ridge, will be AMD’s focus for 2017. Using Handbrake and ZBrush benchmarks, AMD recently demonstrated that its 8-core Summit Ridge chip can keep up with, or even potentially exceed, Intel’s 8-core, 3.2GHz Core i7-6900K that launched this past May. That’s due in part to the Summit Ridge chip’s higher 3.4GHz clock speed, according to AMD. The story behind the story: AMD declined to disclose two key Summit Ridge details: the chip’s “boost” speed, or maximum potential, and its price. In doing so, AMD avoids revealing too much to Intel’s marketing team, said analysts. Keep in mind, although it didn’t attract much attention at the time, Intel executives said in August they hadn’t ruled out increasing the core count of its Core i7-6900K—just as it did with the10-core Core i7-6950X (go.pcworld.com/10corei76950X). That could help Intel maintain its performance edge over any upcoming Zen chips. All these machinations are to the consumers’ benefit, of course—this is the essence of competition!



Lisa Su oversees a Blender benchmark test; AMD’s new Ryzen chip is rendering on the left screen, while Intel’s Core i7-6900K is to the right. Both completed in about the same time.


NEWS

More Ryzen benchmarks fuel anticipation for 2017 Here’s where we stand right now: Intel has begun shipping its first dualcore Kaby Lake chips—a third-generation 14nm chip, and for the time being, strictly for notebooks (go.pcworld.com/kabylakerv). In January, Intel is expected to release its quad-core H-series processors, kicking off the desktop PC race in earnest. AMD, meanwhile, has slated its 14nm Summit Ridge chip for the first quarter, its 32-core Naples server processor for the second quarter, and what it now calls its Raven Ridge notebook chip for the second half of 2017. Remember, you’ll need Windows 10 to run all of them. Despite some analyst speculation that the PC market is slowing, AMD is aiming Ryzen at three markets that seem poised for growth: PC gaming, which some analysts say could see 35 percent growth from 2015 through 2020; virtual-reality PCs, with expected 10X growth by 2020; and e-sports, which is experiencing a strong uptick in audience. “If you look at 2017, I don’t think we’ve seen anything this exciting since, honestly, back towards the 90’s,” said Jim Anderson, senior vice president and general manager of AMD’s Computing and Graphics business, hearkening back to the AMD K6 series. AMD set out four years ago to design a “clean sheet” processor architecture that could deliver 40 percent more instructions per clock




than the previous generation. It seems that AMD has achieved that goal. Previous AMD architectures were optimized for multicore performance. “That just didn’t work out because there’s a lot of stuff that needs single-threaded performance, “ said Kevin Krewell, principal analyst with Tirias Research. “They had functional units that were split between two different cores... With Zen, you get this very wide execution engine, and then when you want to run an extra thread on it, you share components, but you also have all the functional units at Summit Ridge’s basics: Eight cores at 3.4GHz-plus, 20MB of combined L2+L3 cache, and SenseMI underneath it all. the bequest of that one thread. In a sense, they went back to square one, with the original Hammer processor.” In three demonstrations— using processor-intensive Handbrake, Blender, and ZBrush (zbrushcore.com) benchmarks—the 3.4GHz Summit Ridge (with boosting turned off) either met or exceeded Intel’s 3.2GHz Yes, you’ll need a new motherboard to use Zen, but here’s 6900K, which can boost to what it gets you. 3.7GHz. In Blender, AMD’s chip consumed 187.6W under load, while the Core i7 consumed 191.8W. Update: The 8-core, 16 thread Ryzen chip will also pack a far lower TDP than Intel's 8-core, 16 thread chip, at 95 watts versus 140 watts, CEO Lisa Su said during AMD's New Horizon event.




NEWS

A closer look at Zen’s gaming performance For further convincing, we were shown Ryzen’s performance running DICE’s shooter hit Battlefield 1—and Ryzen still held up, big time. The 3.4GHz Ryzen system we saw contained a custom AM4 motherboard that probably will never see the light of day, plus 16GB of RAM and a pair of Nvidia Titan X cards. Yes, Nvidia cards—AMD representatives explained that they wanted to show how AMD and Nvidia technology could be mixed and matched, and that Ryzen could handle any gaming configuration you threw at it. On the other side was the same Intel Core i7-6900K AMD used for the Blender demo, with an Asus ROG X99 board, and 32GB of quad-channel memory, just to avoid claims that it was running with a subpar memory configuration. We were allowed to try a head-to-head playthrough of the first chapter of Battlefield 1, comparing the two machines. The catch: There was no on-screen overlay with frame rates. Instead, we had to go on what AMD product manager Jim Prior told us: Both systems were running at between 100 and 130 frames per second, at 4K resolution



AMD’s Ryzen went head-tohead with an Intel Core i7-6900K and came out unscathed.


under DirectX 11, using ultra settings. AMD turned off the overlay because DICE has been frequently patching the game, and the hard performance numbers could change between our hands-on and AMD’s livestream of the Ryzen announcement (go.pcworld.com/ newhorizon), Prior said. Our conclusion? There were no functional or visible differences between the Ryzen and Intel systems. Both felt and looked exactly the same, whether actually playing on the PCs or peering over the shoulder of another player to watch the action side-by-side. In premium gaming, Ryzen hung like a boss. By contrast, AMD’s current FX-6xxx/8xxx chips are notably slower than comparable Intel budget parts in gaming, depending on the specifics.

Under the hood: How SenseMI changes the game In a way, AMD’s Ryzen opens up another vector of consideration when buying a chip: efficiency. Most PC enthusiasts consider price, core count, the speed of the chip, and the power each chip consumes before buying. Chip manufacturers, meanwhile, talk about the instructions per clock (IPC) as a way to measure effectiveness. Ryzen, though, proposes a new approach. According to Mark Papermaster, AMD’s chief technology officer, 

AMD’s latest processor generations have increasingly emphasized efficiency, the company says.


NEWS

AMD set out to ensure that Ryzen had what he called the best “intelligent performance,” an adaptive technology that continually assesses the processor to deliver the best performance at a given power level. AMD calls this “SenseMI.” SenseMI consists of five different technologies: Pure Power, Precision Boost, Extended Frequency Range (XFR), Neural Net Prediction, and Smart Prefetch. The technologies all work together, using what AMD calls its Infinity Fabric—an on-chip network of connections—to constantly loop back and reassess how they’re doing. Pure Power and Precision Boost, for example, are like two sides of the same coin. Pure Power monitors the chip’s temperature using hundreds of temperature sensors embedded in the chip and fabric, constantly seeking to bump down the power by milliwatts at a time while maintaining the same level of performance. On the other hand, Precision Boost is a fine-grained frequency control that can nudge performance up by 25MHz increments (versus 100MHz for Intel) to boost performance without consuming more power. And if a user has a cooler installed—using air, water, or liquid nitrogen—the chip can sense it, via Extended Frequency Range (XFR), a fancy name for auto detection that allows the Ryzen chip to run at a 

Here’s one of the secrets to Ryzen’s higher performance: fine-grained clock control.


higher frequency than normally permitted. If designing a chip was like training a football player, than the first three SenseMI technologies would be like hitting the gym: improving speed, power, and endurance. Think of the latter two, Neural Net Prediction and Smart Prefetch, as the mental aspects of the game: anticipation and awareness. Papermaster described AMD’s Neural Net Prediction capabilities as “scary smart” branch prediction, intended to remove pipeline stalls. A microprocessor’s instructions typically work on conditions: if this, then that. But executing those instructions, then waiting for the next one, can take several clock cycles where the chip is essentially doing nothing. To compensate, modern processors “cheat” by trying to guess the way the conditional jump will go. If it’s right, then the processor can save time and improve the overall performance. If it’s wrong, then everything stalls while a new instruction is fetched. AMD’s technology uses a “massive amount of data” to retrain AMD’s branch predictor on the fly, minimizing those pipeline stalls, Papermaster said. Likewise, Smart Prefetch makes that same bet, but in a different manner—it tries to guess what data Ryzen will need next, then grab it 

AMD’s Ryzen dynamically examines its power usage and makes adjustments on the fly.


NEWS

before the chip can act upon it. “That’s what we live for,” Papermaster said. “This inspires every designer.”

What’s next? A glorious battle for your wallet After years of scratching and clawing to stay afloat—restructuring debt; leasing and then moving its headquarters from Sunnyvale, CA, to Santa Clara; layoffs—AMD is smartly doubling down on what it sees as a winning hand. Naples is just the first step toward a push back into the enterprise market, where higher margins can help fund future growth. What isn’t clear, though, is how AMD will price its first Ryzen chip, Summit Ridge. Typically, Intel has applied the screws, forcing AMD to lower prices to gain market share. In August, Intel executives predicted that more than 350 new PC designs would be predicated on the various versions of Kaby Lake, beginning in January. For AMD’s part, Chief Executive Lisa Su predicted a “very, very strong lineup” of motherboards, hardware partners, and system builders, but didn’t disclose any numbers. (Want to learn more? AMD’s special Ryzen livestream: go. pcworld.com/newhorizon) is just for enthusiasts.) Will Intel up its core count? Drop prices? Offer to assist with the marketing costs of hardware partners who sell Kaby Lake? And what’s the boost speed of AMD’s Summit Ridge? Will AMD be able to satisfy its customer demand? Will there be (gulp) bugs? All these questions remain unanswered. One thing is clear, however: AMD’s back at the table, and it finally has a good hand to play. “2016 was a very strong year; we’re very pleased with all the progress that we’ve made,” Su said. “But with 2017, the best is truly yet to come.”



Intel is waiting in the wings with Kaby Lake.


What we know about AMD's Ryzen so far BY GORDON MAH UNG

CREDIT: AMD

EVEN AMD FANBOYS have to admit that the company's CPUs haven’t been competitive with Intel’s chips in a decade. With AMD finally unveiling its official CPU brand, Ryzen, as well as the first chip’s base clock speed, there are signs Intel might actually have a fight on its hands. Here’s every single thing we know about AMD’s Ryzen CPU so far.

Your conspiracy theory? Wrong AMD shocked the PC world in August by showing its 8-core Summit Ridge CPU (featuring Zen architecture) matching the performance of 


NEWS

an 8-core Intel chip in the open-source Blender application. The internet, of course, immediately spawned conspiracy theories that AMD “probably” used Blender because it could recompile the open-source program to run better on the Zen architecture. Wrong. PCWorld asked AMD officials if this was true. We were told that all of the demos were done using the compiled binary file from the Blender website. Recently, AMD doubled down on its performance claims by running not only the Blender test, but also additional demos of a Handbrake encode and Pixologic’s ZBrushCore benchmark. All highly multithreaded applications. And, yes, all performed using the binary downloads sans any alterations, the company insists.

Make

Intel

AMD

Model

Core i7-6900K

Ryzen

Process

14nm

14nm

Cores

8

8

Threads

16

16

Base frequency

3.2GHz

3.4GHz

Turbo Boost

3.7GHz

Unknown

Turbo Boost Max

4GHz

Unknown

Cache

20MB

20MB

TDP

140 W

Unknown

Memory Type

DDR4

DDR4

Memory Channels

4

2

Socket

LGA-2011 V3

AM4

TDP

140 watts

95 watts

Price

$1,100

Unknown

Here are all the specs we know about AMD's upcoming Ryzen CPU next to its counterpart: the Broadwell-E Core i7-6900K.

Performance matches or exceeds Intel’s 8-core CPU In the fall Blender demo, AMD showed that Zen could go toe-to-toe with its Intel counterpart when clock speeds were exactly the same—3GHz in that instance. That raised the question of whether AMD could actually meet Intel’s maximum speed. The answer is yes. AMD says it expects the Ryzen CPU to have a base clock of at least 3.4GHz, which is about 5 percent higher than its Intel counterpart, the 8-core Broadwell-E 3.2GHz Core i7-6900K CPU. That same Intel chip, however, will boost to 3.7GHz, and even hit 4GHz under singlethreaded loads. AMD hasn’t divulged Ryzen’s boost speed, so how do we know it will 


Cinebench R15 Single-Thread all CPUs @ 2.5GHz Core i7-6700K/ Skylake/ 14nm

106

Core i7-5775C/ Broadwell/ 14nm

105

Core i7-4790K/ Haswell/ 22nmt

101

Core i7-2600K/ Sandy Bridge/ 32nm

89 0

25

50

75

100

125

LONGER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE

be as fast, or possibly even faster, than Intel’s Broadwell-E? For starters, in AMD’s demos, Ryzen at 3.4GHz (with boosting turned off) ran every bit as fast as the Core i7-6900K in Blender, Handbrake, and ZBrushCore—and that was with the Core i7-6900K’s boost mode on. If we believe AMD’s tests so far, and that Ryzen is the equal of Intel’s Broadwell-E, then it comes down to clock speeds that primarily separate these chips. Given AMD’s statement that Ryzen will be at least 3.4GHz, it seems that its CPU will have a slight edge over Intel’s.

Ryzen vs. Skylake vs. Kaby Lake Okay, so Ryzen looks good, but it’s being matched against Intel’s 5th-gen Broadwell core. What about Intel’s 6th-gen Skylake and the soon-to-arrive 7th-gen Kaby Lake desktop chip? In pure efficiency, Skylake should have a small advantage over Ryzen. Kaby Lake, which is mostly a clock bump from what we’ve seen in laptops, builds on that lead. The problem, for Intel, is that the efficiency advantage isn’t that substantial at equal clock speeds. As I noted in my review of Skylake (go.pcworld.com/skylakechips), when I set four generations of Intel chips to the same clock speed and disabled any boost advantage, the 

Intel’s 6th-gen, 5th-gen, 4th-gen, and 3rd-gen CPUs compared.


NEWS

differences were pretty incremental (see chart). Of course, these parts don’t all run at the same speed. Skylake has a base clock speed of 4GHz. Kaby Lake, which is mostly a refined Skylake core, should have a little more speed still. The first problem for Skylake (and probably Kaby Lake) is the ability of the 8-core chips to also run at pretty high speeds on light loads. My review of the 10-core Broadwell-E (go.pcworld.com/10corei76950X) shows how that chip’s Turbo Max feature can mostly nullify any clock-speed advantage the Core i7-6700K chip has in light loads. If AMD can do the same with its boost modes, the base-clock differences between Ryzen and Skylake could be too minimal to matter. The second problem with Skylake and Kaby Lake is that both are only quad-core parts with no ability to add more cores. This isn’t the last word on performance, but the general upshot—if you accept AMD’s demonstrations at face value—is that Ryzen looks poised to put the company back into the ballpark for the first time in a long, long time.



This AMD reference board for Ryzen from the unveil in the fall had four DIMM slots and that’s because Ryzen is a dualchannel-memory CPU.


AMD demonstrated its new 8-core Ryzen CPU running a Handbrake encode and slightly outpacing an Intel 8-core Core i7-6900K CPU.

It’s dual-channel One thing we haven’t been sure about up until now is whether Ryzen would be a quad-channel-memory CPU like its Intel counterpart. Today, I can say for certain that it’s a dual-channel configuration. That’s because the demo we witnessed was equipped with a pair of 8GB DDR4 DIMMs, versus the Intel box with four 8GB DDR4 DIMMs. AMD’s recently announced Bristol Ridge chips are also dual-channel and use the same AM4 socket, and compatibility with Zen cores has been touted as a feature. Afraid that’ll hobble Ryzen’s performance? My own testing (go. pcworld.com/dualchannelram) last year shows the impact to be mostly minimal. The one negative to a dual-channel configuration is the limited amount of RAM you can pack into a system (128GB on Intel versus 64GB with Ryzen). Intel might have a slight price advantage here as well since smaller DIMMs are usually cheaper. AMD has the possible advantage of cheaper motherboard construction. Adding more memory channels to a motherboard means running more wires or traces and also more layers. More layers means more cost. 


NEWS

Motherboard, cooler, and power consumption For many technical reasons, Ryzen just won’t work in older AMD FX motherboards. A new mounting system means you’ll need a new cooler too, or at least an adapter to make your existing cooler fit. AMD’s most recent CPUs have a reputation for running hotter than their Intel equivalents but that doesn’t look to be true anymore. The company showed Ryzen running ZBrushCore while consuming slightly less power than the Intel Core i7-6900K running the same workload. AMD hasn’t actually disclosed the amount of heat, or TDP, the chip generates but did say people would be “surprised.” UPDATE: AMD said during its New Horizon livestream that the 8-core Ryzen chip will have a 95W TDP, far less than the Core i7-6900K's 140W.

Yes, SLI works AMD knows that people who buy 8-core CPUs tend to like cranking their systems to 11. In a nod to enthusiasts, the company demonstrated a Ryzen PC using a pair of Nvidia Titan X cards in SLI to run Battlefield 1 against a similarly configured Core i7-6900K PC. AMD said it wanted to prove that even with high-end configurations, Ryzen won’t be a bottleneck. The other good news for enthusiasts is the assurance that we won’t see some walled-off AMD motherboard that forces you to run Radeon for multicard configurations. This isn’t without precedent. Most highend AMD motherboards support Nvidia SLI.

It’s not really a CPU AMD actually considers Ryzen to be an SoC, or system on a chip, because each chip will have some south bridge functions such as USB, PCI-E, and SATA. You can read more about the reasons (go.pcworld. com/zensoc), but the gist is it was made to scale from laptops to servers so, please, dude, proper nomenclature.




Watch the video at go.pcworld. com/pwfull nerd7

How much will AMD's Zen cost? Here's what we think BY GORDON MAH UNG

YOU KNOW HOW many cores it has (eight). You know what motherboard socket it will fit in (AM4). But one tantalizing thing you don’t know about AMD’s much-hyped and highly-anticipated Zen CPU is just how much it’ll cost. All the benchmarks and all the talk of a clean-sheet design and 40 percent IPC increase, be damned. You just want to know if Zen (aka Summit Ridge) will be affordable. 


NEWS

AMD isn’t doing this just to play with your emotions, though. The company is currently engaged in a high-stakes poker game with Intel, the all-time reigning world-champion of CPU pricing, so this isn’t the time to act like a shirtless drunk in a Reno casino with the hole card. The good news is AMD's reluctance doesn’t stop us from making guesses as to just where the 8-core Zen chip will be priced. Rumors have put it as low as $300 but I wouldn’t put too much faith in that number at this point.

One shot

Core/Thread

Volume

Count Pricing Frankly, AMD has one shot to get Core i7-6950X 10/20 $1,723 this right and I’d expect it to shoot to be as disruptive as Core i7-6900K 8/16 $1,089 possible. That means getting Zen 8/16 Unknown the 8-core Zen as comfortably Core i7-6850K 6/12 $617 close to the Intel 6-core CPUs as Core i7-6800K 6/12 $434 it can. That forces Intel to lower Core i7-6700K 4/8 $339 the price of the 6-core chips to Core i5-6600K 4/4 $242 be competitive with Zen but which means Intel must then also cut the price of its quad-core chips too. If an 8-core Zen came in at $500 as some leaks would suggest, Intel really would have very little maneuvering room. And if that happens, does Intel actually chase Zen on price and cut the price of its own $1,100 8-core CPU too? Even worse for Intel (potentially), Internet rumors say AMD is also working on a quad-core chip that somewhat competes with Intel’s $340 Core i7-6700K—but at the unbelievable price of $150. Imagine an incredible CPU price war that would leave the balance sheets sloshing with blood-red ink.

Or maybe not An entirely plausible alternative scenario could also see Zen slot in right where there’s a hole: $800. At that price, Zen wouldn’t mess 

Street Price $1,650 $1,050 $610 $440 $340 $230

So just where will AMD price Zen against Intel’s lineup?


with Intel’s lower core count lineup and Intel might feel comfortable enough to just let AMD take some well deserved profit for once. Intel could continue to make bank on its CPUs, perhaps trimming its 8-core core offering to $900, and both would happily watch the cash registers ringing. Yes, the collective Internet of gamers and enthusiasts would groan in disappointment but such a scenario is also entirely possible too. Why? Between of Win32 on ARM (go.pcworld.com/w10arm) and its new found love of self-driving cars and the Internet of Things, Intel may no longer have the stomach for a CPU war in computers, too.

So what's the likely scenario? My gut tells me old habits die hard and Intel, like AMD, is a competitive company—which means an 8-core Zen at a disruptive place is a likely course (though maybe not as low as some of the rumors suggest). Witness the aggressive $200 MSRP of the Radeon RX 480 (go.pcworld. com/radeonrx480rev) as AMD battles Nvidia for graphical supremacy for precedent. So brace yourselves. I think we're in for a price war sure to make the PC stronger in the end.




NEWS

Samsung to brick Galaxy Note7s through software BY MICHAEL SIMON THE DAYS ARE numbered for the last remaining Galaxy Note7 holdouts. In an effort to safeguard any devices that are still in circulation, Samsung announced it will be pushing out a software update that will prevent charging, effectively bricking the beleaguered handset. In a press release, Samsung said that while it has had “overwhelming participation” in the Note7 U.S. recall program, some 7 percent of devices remain in customers’ hands. Starting Dec. 19 and continuing over the following 30 days, the company will be working with carriers to ensure any outstanding devices are rendered inoperable and returned, though it remains to be seen how smoothly the rollout will go. In a statement released shortly after Samsung’s announcement, Verizon initially said it would not be taking part in the update 


“because of the added risk this could pose to Galaxy Note7 users that do not have another device to switch to..” However, the company has since changed its tune, announcing that the update will indeed be delivered to customers on Jan. 5. Additionally, CNet reports that all other major carriers are participating in the update, with T-Mobile’s update landing Dec. 27, AT&T’s coming on Jan. 5, and Sprint delivering its update on Jan. 8. The update coincides with a move by Samsung to place “functional limitations” on battery charging, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth in Canada, as well as restrict access to any Canadian cellular network. After Samsung’s own voluntary recall of the device failed to stop the phones from catching fire and exploding, the U.S. government issued an official recall of the Note7 in September to prevent further incidents. Samsung has been mum on what caused the issue, but signs point to a case that was too thin for the battery. Samsung also plans to disseminate updates to the remaining Note7 users in the UK and Australia as it continues to tie up any loose ends. Beginning on Dec, 15, the company says that all UK devices “will receive a new battery software update that will limit the maximum charging capacity to 30 percent,” while Samsung Australia is “working with local telecommunications operators to discontinue Australian network services for Galaxy Note7 devices that are still being used.” The impact on you at home: If you are one of the people still clinging to your Galaxy Note7, give it up. This is an issue of safety, and Samsung is doing the right thing to make sure all Note7s are safely returned. Those who still have one can find Samsung’s guidelines for returning it.




NEWS

Microsoft: Don't worry, MS-DOS will live on after all BY STEVEN J. VAUGHAN-NICHOLS IT SURE LOOKED like Microsoft was putting MS-DOS out to pasture.

Now it’s saying that the MS-DOS command prompt cmd will continue to live on. According to a Microsoft spokesperson, “Microsoft is not removing Cmd from Windows, but rather changing the default shell, launched via File Explorer and the [Win] + [X] power-user menu, from Cmd to PowerShell. Users can opt to change the default shell back to Cmd via Settings and can continue to launch whichever shell they prefer, be it Cmd, PowerShell, or Bash (if enabled) via the Start menu. The Windows Cmd shell has a long heritage and is an essential tool used by millions of businesses, users, and developers every day. It remains an integral part of Windows.” Microsoft may be making this move because, while to most of us the last pieces of MS-DOS hidden within Windows 10 are a historical curiosity, others still use them. These people were not happy about 


cmd being replaced by PowerShell. One Computerworld reader explained, “I use command prompt almost every day for small stuff. PowerShell does a lot more but for some reason every time I try to do some easy stuff with the old commands I know it doesn’t always work out and I end up in a long internet search about how to just get it to work.” Some system administrators still like it as well. One wrote, “I have 5+ CMD windows open all the time. I’m hitting remote systems across the country with ease. No need to learn a bloated PS if I already have all the tools I need at my finger tips.” On Reddit, a reader added, “the convenience of a .BAT [MS-DOS Batch file] is unparalleled by a PS1 {PowerShell Script]. Not in functionality, but in usability and ‘quick and dirty is fine — just do it’ kind of way. Kind of like how inherently glue is more diverse, more rugged, more specialized than duct tape.” Another Computerworld reader added, “If they don’t implement some kind of emulation environment they are going to really tick off businesses with DOS based software; backwards compatability (or lack of it) is why so many still use Windows XP. XP? Yes, XP is still alive, albeit sickly, in China, the U.S. Navy and healthcare. XP, however, really is heading out the door. But MS-DOS, or its final bits, will still be living on. They won’t be as easy to get to, but cmd will live on. If you really, really love MS-DOS and still want to run WordStar (wordstar.org), the first popular PC word processor, or play Doom, the first great first-person shooter game, you may want to look to FreeDOS (freedos.org). This is an open-source version of DOS. It’s compatible with most MS-DOS programs. So, while Microsoft is keeping cmd around, albeit on the back burner, if you still must have the full MS-DOS and your floppy disks have long since given up their magnetic ghosts, FreeDOS will let you keep running your DOS programs for years, maybe decades, to come. If, however, you want to manage modern Windows systems, it’s well past time that you picked up PowerShell. Sooner or later, cmd.exe is going to disappear into that great bit-farm in the sky. 


NEWS

New Synaptics fingerprint sensor sits under glass for smoother phone screens BY MARTYN WILLIAMS

C R E D I T : SY N A PT I CS

A SILICON VALLEY biometrics company says it has developed a

fingerprint sensor that can sit under glass so smartphone screens don’t need a cutout or extra button to accommodate the sensor. The Synaptics FS9100 sensor can sit under a millimeter of glass and still provide accurate fingerprint readings, so it should be easier to integrate one under a display. At present, most fingerprint sensors have to sit above the glass, necessitating a cutout in the face of the phone or a dedicated button 


that houses the sensor. That’s the case on market-leading handsets like the iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S7. And while there are some fingerprint sensors that work under glass, that glass needs to be thinner than 1mm, so the glass needs to be shaved in the area of the sensor. Eliminating cutouts and shaving won’t just mean cleaner industrial design but should also reduce the amount of glass wasted due to cracking during production. Synaptics is already showing the sensor to smartphone manufacturers in the hope of getting orders. It will begin offering samples in the first quarter of next year and will be able to begin mass production as soon as the second quarter.




NEWS

Google may slam the brakes on its self-driving car to partner with auto makers BY PETER SAYER

CREDIT: GOOGLE

GOOGLE’S PARENT COMPANY does not yet have the courage to build

a car with no steering wheel or pedals, preferring to put its self-driving technology into existing cars from traditional auto manufacturers. That is the conclusion of news site The Information in a report published recently citing people close to Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle project. The technology is moving closer to market, and the company no longer considers it a “moonshot,” the head of its “X” research lab Astro Teller told The Wall Street Journal in October. 


It’s over a year since it appointed former head of Hyundai U.S. John Krafcik to oversee its autonomous driving activities, which it began accounting for as a separate business on Jan. 1, 2016. But now, The Information said, the company is moving away from plans to build and sell cars itself, preferring to partner with existing auto manufacturers to put its technology in their cars alongside traditional driver controls. Apple’s secretive self-driving car efforts have followed a similar wavering course between full-on construction and add-on smarts. In October reports emerged that it was scaling back its plans for a car of its own, instead looking to develop its own autonomous driving system and partner with manufacturers to get it on the road. Auto manufacturers including Audi (go.pcworld.com/selfdriveaudi), Volvo (go.pcworld.com/selfdrivevolvo) and Tesla are working on selfdriving cars of their own, but there are other companies—besides Google and Apple—that want a share of that market. Auto equipment maker Delphi (go.pcworld.com/selfdrivedelphi) has a self-driving car platform on the road, and even Intel (go.pcworld.com/selfdriveintel) is investing in the market.




NEWS

The new Apple TV update is no friend to cord cutters BY JARED NEWMAN

APPLE TV RECEIVED a major update recently, but cord cutters aren’t its target audience. The latest version of tvOS includes a new “TV” app that pulls together videos from across dozens of other video apps, including Hulu, ABC, and Comedy Central. Think of it as a modern take on the TV guide, letting you browse through movies and TV shows without having to bounce between apps. Apple clearly sees the TV app as the interface of the future for Apple TV. But right now, it doesn’t support enough video sources, especially if you don’t have a cable TV login. 


No free ride With the new version of tvOS, Apple has changed the default behavior of the Siri remote. Pressing the home button now takes you straight into the TV app—from now on I’ll just call it “TV”—and you must press the button a second time to reach the old home screen. (You can make the home button go back to the home screen by visiting Settings > Remotes and Devices, and clicking Home Button to switch from TV App to Home Screen.) The new behavior can be jarring, because TV doesn’t initially display any content or apps on its main screen. To set things up, you must install an app that supports TV, then log into that app, then return to TV, where you must approve of connecting the app you just installed. The connection step is supposed to be a privacy measure—Apple wants your explicit permission to study your viewing habits—but having to repeat this step for every app seems like overkill. Once you’ve approved some apps, the TV menu will populate with recommendations. You can browse through shows by genre, see what’s popular, and add your favorites to a watchlist, called “Up Next,” that helps you pick up where you left off.

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Apple errs on the side of extreme caution with permission to access your viewing habits.


NEWS

You’ll still need the old home screen to access many streaming apps.

It’s a pretty slick system, but cord cutters will quickly notice the problem: Of the 37 streaming apps that support TV, 26 of them are “TV Everywhere” apps that require a pay-TV login to watch all of their content. As I’ve written before, TV Everywhere apps aren’t just for cable subscribers (go.pcworld.com/freetvapps). Many of them—including ABC, NBC, Watch Food Network, Watch HGTV, Discovery Go, and Animal Planet Go—offer plenty of TV episodes without a login. But that notion seems lost on Apple, which will not connect any of these apps to TV unless you enter some pay-TV credentials. If you’re a PlayStation Vue subscriber, you might still get some utility out of this system, because many TV Everywhere apps support authentication with a Vue account. Even so, not all TV Everywhere apps work with TV yet (HBO Go, Showtime Anytime, and Disney Channel are a few examples), and Vue doesn’t support Apple TV’s new single sign-in (go.pcworld.com/atvsso) feature, so you must re-enter your credentials for every app you install.




Where’s the love for cord cutters? As for standalone subscription services, TV currently works with nine of them: HBO Now, Hulu, Starz, Showtime, CBS All Access, Tribeca Shortlist, Mubi, Crunchyroll, and CuriosityStream. Netflix is a major omission from TV app right now, and Amazon doesn’t support Apple TV at all. Free streaming services are another weak point, with TV only supporting CW and CW Seed at launch. It doesn’t pull in content from Crackle, PBS, PBS Kids, Tubi TV, or Shout! Factory TV. Over-the-air DVR users are also out of luck, as TV won’t pull in show recordings from Tablo or anything in your Plex library. Streaming-bundle subscribers won’t get much use from TV either. The app doesn’t include any content—either on-demand or live— from Sling TV, DirecTV Now, or PlayStation Vue. (Again, Vue subscribers can access dozens of individual TV Everywhere apps, but support from Sling TV and DirecTV Now is much more limited.) I did discover one workaround that makes TV a bit more useful: If you

You can add shows from supported sources (such as HBO Go) to the TV app’s “Up Next” list, but they’ll only take you as far as Apple’s info page.


NEWS

search for a show through Siri, you can add it to the “Up Next” watchlist even if that show isn’t available directly through TV. When you select that show from the watchlist, you’ll return to Apple’s info page, where you can jump into any source that surfaces content through Siri search—including Netflix, HBO Go, and PBS. But even this trick has downsides. Unless the content source supports TV, you can’t automatically pick up where you left off, and just getting to the next episodes requires clicking through a couple extra menu prompts.

The future of “TV” Although Apple’s TV app isn’t that helpful to cord cutters today, it does have some potential. Perhaps in the future, Apple could cut out the cable-TV middleman and bundle TV Everywhere access on its own, turning the TV app into the primary destination for traditional cable channels. Apple could also bundle standalone streaming services such as Netflix—on the condition that they supported the TV app in full. The TV app lays a foundation for bigger plans, but until Apple starts making moves—or puts some public pressure on the streaming services that don’t want to participate—cord cutters are better off avoiding the new app and sticking to the standard the Apple TV home screen. Sign up for Jared’s Cord Cutter Weekly newsletter (go.pcworld.com/ cordcutweekly) to get this and other cord-cutting news, insights, and deals delivered to your inbox.




Welcome to Greenbot, a website for Android enthusiasts.

We’ve got the ’droid info you’re looking for. Helpful tips, critical reviews, and expert analysis for passionate Android users of every experience level. www.greenbot.com


CONSUMER WATCH

Make smart purchases, stay safe online.

Yahoo’s billion account breach: 5 things you should do to stay safe The massive data breach can be an opportunity to do some cleanup and implement security recommendations BY LUCIAN CONSTANTIN

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I

NTERNET GIANT YAHOO announced a massive data breach

recently that affected over one billion accounts, making it by far the largest data breach in history. This follows the disclosure in September of a different breach that affected more than 500 million of the company’s customers. What stands out with this new security compromise is that it occurred over three years ago, in August 2013, and that hackers walked away with password hashes that can be easily cracked. If you’re a Yahoo user you should consider your password compromised and should take all the necessary steps to secure your account. You should follow all of Yahoo’s recommendations (go. pcworld.com/yahooacctsecurityfaq), but here are a few more that you should have in mind:

If you’re a Yahoo user you should consider your password compromised and should take all the necessary steps to secure your account.

1. Don’t save emails you don’t need Because space is no longer a problem with most email services, users tend to never delete emails. While that’s extremely convenient, it’s not a very good idea, because it allows hackers to easily discover what other online accounts are tied to that address by searching for sign-up or notification emails from various online service providers. Aside from exposing the link between your email address and accounts on other websites, sign-up and notification emails can also expose specific account names that you’ve chosen and are different from the email address. You might want to consider cleaning your mailbox of welcome emails, password reset notifications, and other such communications. Sure, there might be other ways for hackers to find out if you have an account on a certain website, or even a number of websites, but why make it easier for them to compile a full list?

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CONSUMER WATCH 2. Check your email forwarding and reply-to settings Email forwarding is one of those “set it and forget it” features. The option is buried somewhere in the email account settings and if it’s turned on there’s little to no indication that it’s active. Hackers know this. They only need to gain access to your email account once, set up a rule to receive copies of all your emails and never log back in again. This also prevents the service from sending you notifications about repeated suspicious log-ins from unrecognized devices or IP addresses. Another technique that attackers might use to get a copy of your emails is to change the reply-to address in your email settings, although this is noisier and can be spotted more easily than a forwarding rule. The reply-to field is included in every email message that you send and allows the recipient’s email client to automatically populate the To field with an address you chose when they hit reply. If a hacker changes the reply-to value with an address that they control, they will receive all email replies intended for you and these typically include the original emails that you sent. In order to ensure that you also get those replies, the attacker can set up a forwarding rule in their own email account and automatically forward those replies to your address.

3. Two-factor authentication everywhere Turn on two-factor authentication—this is sometimes called two-step verification—for any account that supports it, including Yahoo (go.pcworld. com/yahoo2step). This will prompt the online service to ask for a one-time-use code sent via text message, phone call,

Turn on two-factor authentication— this is sometimes called two-step verification—for any account that supports it, including Yahoo. 


email or generated by a smartphone app when you try to access the account from a new device. This code is required in addition to your regular password, but Yahoo also has a feature called Account Key (go. pcworld.com/yahooacctkey) that does away with regular passwords completely and instead requires sign-in approval via phone notifications. Two-factor authentication is an important security feature that could keep your account secure even if hackers steal your password.

4. Never reuse passwords

There’s really no excuse for not having unique, complex passwords for every single account that you own.

There are many secure password management solutions (go.pcworld. com/4passwmanagers) available today that work across different platforms. There’s really no excuse for not having unique, complex passwords for every single account that you own. If you do want memorable passwords for a few critical accounts, use passphrases instead: sentences made up of words, numbers and even punctuation marks. According to Yahoo, this breach happened in August 2013, at a time when the company hadn’t yet switched to the more secure bcrypt password hashing algorithm. As a result, most passwords that were stolen are in the form of MD5 hashes, which are highly vulnerable to cracking. If you made the mistake of using your Yahoo password elsewhere and haven’t changed it yet, you should do so immediately and review the security settings of those accounts too. It’s very likely that hackers have already cracked your password and had three years to abuse it.

5. Phishing follows breaches Large data breaches are typically followed by email phishing attempts, as cybercriminals try to take advantage of the public interest in such incidents. These emails can masquerade as security notifications, can contain instructions to download malicious programs that are passed off as security tools, or can direct users to websites that ask for 


CONSUMER WATCH additional information under the guise of “verifying” accounts. Be on the lookout for such emails and make sure that any instructions you decide to follow in response to a security incident came from the affected service provider or a trusted source. Official Yahoo emails are easily recognizable in the Yahoo Mail interface because they are marked with a purple Y icon. In the future, be selective in what personal information you choose to share and which websites you choose to share it with, even when those websites are legitimate. There’s no guarantee that they won’t be hacked in the future and you simply don’t know how securely they store your details. In Yahoo’s case, the compromised account information includes names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth and, in some cases, unencrypted security questions and answers. These details can be used to impersonate you or to authenticate you on other websites. Don’t provide real answers to security questions, if you can avoid it. Make something up that you can remember and use that as an answer. In fact, Yahoo doesn’t even recommend using security questions anymore, so you can go into your account’s security settings and delete them.

Don’t provide real answers to security questions, if you can avoid it.




How to replace 5 major Yahoo services and delete your Yahoo account BY IAN PAUL OH, YAHOO. It was bad enough that the company already announced a breach exposing 500 million user accounts two years after it happened. Then late one recent night Yahoo revealed that it had uncovered another unrelated hack exposing the account details of one billion users. It’s not clear how much of that is overlap, but at this point does it really matter? I don’t know about you, but I’m done. I wasn’t much of a Yahoo user to begin with but the uses I do have for the company are over. I know that’s easy for me to say. I have a single account that I only use to play fantasy football. But what about those of you who are more fully invested in Yahoo? Here’s a guide to replacing Yahoo’s




CONSUMER WATCH

major services with alternative options, then deleting your Yahoo account.

Yahoo the Portal Yahoo’s an old-school Internet portal from the days when everyone set a default homepage in their browser. If the most important thing from a new service is that you have a jumping off point from which to access news, weather, stock information, and email then there are two other big-name options. Yahoo’s closest clone is Microsoft’s MSN.com. It’s packed with news, stocks, and weather. At the top you have easy access to everything available in Microsoft’s world, including Outlook.com, Skype, Office Online, OneDrive, as well as Facebook and Twitter. Anyone looking for a more Spartan look to their homepage should 

MSN


check out AOL—the original Internet portal. Here you’ll get almost everything you get with MSN and Yahoo, just with a more stripped down aesthetic.

Mail The options for switching away from Yahoo are limitless. The more recognizable names include Gmail, Outlook.com, AOL Mail, GMX, and Proton Mail. Really it all comes down to which interface you prefer and whether you’re more tied to a specific online ecosystem like Google’s or Microsoft’s. Check out our earlier tutorials on how to make the switch (go. pcworld.com/switchemail) to a new email account (go.pcworld.com/ newemailacct) if you want to make the transition as seamless as possible.

Weather You’ll find tons of places with weather updates. They’re built into the aforementioned portal sites, but there’s also weather.com, Weather Windows 10 weather.




CONSUMER WATCH Underground (wunderground.com), and Forecast.io. If you’d rather use an app there are a number of them in the Windows Store for Windows 10 users, including AccuWeather, The Weather Channel, and Microsoft’s own built-in Weather app. Anyone already using Outlook 2016 can have weather appear at the top of their calendar by going to File > Options > Calendar > Weather > Show Weather on the calendar.

Stocks and finance Windows 10 users also have a built-in Money app for tracking stocks and getting financial news. If web-based stock updates are more your thing, consider MSN Money (msn.com/money), Google Finance (google.com/finance), and Seeking Alpha (seekingalpha.com), to name just a few.

Fantasy football For those of you into fantasy sports, there are many Yahoo Sports rivals to choose from. ESPN (espn.com/fantasy) is the obvious choice

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ESPN fantasy football.


since it’s already a large fantasy site and covers pretty much every sport, not just football. The NFL (nfl.com/fantasyfootball) has its own fantasy football offering, and CBS Sports (cbssports.com/fantasy) is also a good fantasy destination.

Delete your account Now that you know how to replace Yahoo, here’s how you delete your Yahoo account. First, go to Yahoo’s specialized account cancellation page, which is not accessible through your account settings. Once you’re there, confirm the name of the account you’re deleting, read the fine print warning, enter your password, and then fill out the captcha. Once that’s done, click Terminate This Account. After that, Yahoo will confirm that your account termination was successful. You’ll now be locked out of your account, but Yahoo says it will take about 90 days to purge your account data from the system.



Delete your Yahoo account.


CONSUMER WATCH

Hacker shows how easy it is to take over a city’s public Wi-Fi network BY LUCIAN CONSTANTIN IN A PERFECT example of how public wireless networks can be

dangerous for privacy and security, an Israeli hacker showed that he could have taken over the free Wi-Fi network of an entire city. On his way home from work one day, Amihai Neiderman, the head of research at Israeli cybersecurity firm Equus Technologies, spotted a wireless hotspot that he hadn’t seen before. What made it unusual was that it was in an area with no buildings. It turned out that the hotspot he saw, advertised as “FREE_TLV,” was part of the citywide free Wi-Fi network set up by the local administration of Tel Aviv, Israel. This made Neiderman wonder: How secure is it? For the next few weeks, finding a way to compromise this network became a side project to do in his free time. First he connected to the network through one of the access points spread around the city and 


checked what his new IP (Internet Protocol) address was. This is usually the public address assigned to the router through which all Wi-Fi clients access the Internet. He then disconnected and scanned that IP address from the Internet for open ports. He found that the device was serving a webbased login interface over port 443 (HTTPS). This interface displayed the manufacturer’s name—Peplink—but not other information about the device type or model. An analysis of the web interface didn’t reveal any basic vulnerabilities either, such as SQL injection, default or weak log-in credentials, or authentication bypass flaws. He realized that a more thorough analysis of the device’s actual firmware was required. Identifying the device and finding the exact firmware to download from the manufacturer’s website was not easy, because Peplink creates and sells many types of networking devices for various industries. However, he eventually pinned it down to firmware version 5 for Peplink’s Balance 380 high-end load balancing router. The firmware used basic XOR-based encryption to make it harder for thirdparties to reverse-engineer the firmware’s file system, but this was relatively easy to bypass. Once everything was unpacked and loaded into an emulator, Neiderman was able to access the CGI (Common Gateway Interface) scripts that made up the router’s web interface. It didn’t take long until the researcher found a buffer overflow vulnerability in the CGI script that handled the log-out process. The flaw could be exploited by sending a very long session cookie to the script and successful exploitation resulted in arbitrary code execution and full control over the device. Neiderman presented his findings and reverse-engineering efforts at the DefCamp security conference in Bucharest, Romania. He

The flaw could be exploited by sending a very long session cookie to the script and successful exploitation resulted in arbitrary code execution and full control over the device.

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CONSUMER WATCH

While finding vulnerabilities in routers is not uncommon, this case stands out because it shows that skilled hackers could potentially attack thousands or tens of thousands of users by compromising large public Wi-Fi networks like those run by municipalities.

declined to say whether he actually tested his exploit on the live Peplink Balance routers used to operate Tel Aviv’s free Wi-Fi network, because that could land him in legal trouble. However, when he reported the flaw to Peplink the company confirmed and patched it in a subsequent firmware update, so the firmware on FREE_TLV’s routers was certainly vulnerable when Neiderman found the flaw. While finding vulnerabilities in routers is not uncommon, this case stands out because it shows that skilled hackers could potentially attack thousands or tens of thousands of users by compromising large public Wi-Fi networks like those run by municipalities. By controlling a router, attackers can snoop on all unencrypted user traffic that passes through it and capture sensitive information. They can also launch active attacks, like redirecting users to rogue web servers when they’re trying to access legitimate websites or injecting malicious code into non-HTTPS web pages. Large networks are typically standardized and use the same type of equipment throughout to allow for easier management. A vulnerability that allows a compromise of one of the network’s access points is likely to allow the compromise of all of them. Attacks like these are why users are strongly encouraged to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service (go.pcworld.com/5thingsvpn) when they’re accessing the Internet over public or untrusted Wi-Fi networks. Neiderman said that he was impressed with how Peplink responded to his report and how the company handled the vulnerability. He stressed that this attack was also possible because of the insecure way in which the network’s routers had been deployed. Their administration interfaces shouldn’t have been exposed to the Internet. 


Google brands malicious websites with ‘repeat offender’ warnings BY IAN PAUL GOOGLE’S ADDING A new weapon to its Safe Browsing arsenal (go. pcworld.com/safebrowse) to fight back against dodgy websites. Sites now can be labeled as “repeat offenders ” (go.pcworld.com/ggl protect) if they repeatedly switch between operating a clean site and one filled with malware or unwanted software. Why would a website do that? Simple. Unscrupulous sites can make money with deceptive practices such as forcing unsuspecting downloads on users. Eventually Google flags these sites as unsafe, which reduces site traffic since users see giant red warning signs in their browsers with no obvious way to continue. To get around that problem, sites clean up their act, apply to Google to get the site 


CONSUMER WATCH warning lifted, and then—once the warning is gone—the malware or unwanted software returns. Google didn’t say how often sites use this strategy, but it must be often enough that the search giant felt compelled to take action. From now on, if a site gets caught reintroducing unsafe elements Google will flag it as a repeat offender. Once that happens, the sites will be flagged with the big red warning screen once again. On top of that, the site owners will not be able to apply for a repeal of the harmful site warning for 30 days. During that time, the large red warning screen will remain. It’s a response that will hopefully deter some sites from continuing their shady behavior. Google also says the new measures won’t affect sites that have been hacked. The new measures are only for “sites that purposefully post harmful content.” The story behind the story: Google’s harsh stand on harmful sites will undoubtedly protect many people from being unwitting victims to malicious software. But I wonder if it’s an approach that is truly fair. It’s one thing to enforce a thirty-day waiting period for sites that deserve it, but what if a second offence is explicable? Perhaps it’s too little too late for those sites, but a 30-day sentence to purgatory without any chance of appeal seems almost guaranteed to ensnare sites that don’t deserve it.

Google’s harsh stand on harmful sites will undoubtedly protect many people from being unwitting victims to malicious software.

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The Hunger Is campaign is a collaboration between The Safeway Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation to raise awareness and improve the health of hungry children. The Safeway Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation are 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations. Photo by: Nigel Parry


REVIEWS & RATINGS 59 Google Wifi: Mesh networking made easy 67 Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake: Yes, this is the best one so far 77 HP Spectre x360: Faster, smaller, and better than before 90 Acer Swift 7: The world’s thinnest laptop is starving for power 101 Amazon Echo Dot (2nd generation) : This is the Echo most people should buy

108 LG V20: The Android phone for hardcore enthusiasts 123 Brix Gaming UHD (GB-BNi7HG4-950) : A lot of performance in a little PC 137 Tyranny: Obsidian’s RPG ponders the nature of evil 145 Daydream View: Sparse content is all that stands between Google and VR greatness

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News, tips, and reviews about smart homes, home security, and home entertainment.

TechHive helps you find your tech sweet spot. We steer you to smart-home tech products you’ll love and show you how to get the most out of them. www.techhive.com | Follow us


REVIEWS & RATINGS

TESTED IN PCWORLD LABS In this section, hardware & software go through rigorous testing.

Google Wifi: Mesh networking made easy BY MICHAEL BROWN

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G

oogle delivers much more router than you’d expect for $129, but just one Google Wifi won’t be enough for most people. Unless you live in a studio apartment, you’ll want to avail yourself of two or three of these devices so you can deploy a mesh network. The master router and a single node probably would be adequate for the 2800-square-foot home we tested in, but adding a third node delivered a significant boost to the farthest corners of the house. Google encourages this approach by offering a substantial per-unit discount when you order a three-pack for $299. The Google Wifi is a dual-band router, of course, operating on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands. Google describes it as an “AC1200 2x2 Wave 2” device, which means it supports two spatial streams simultaneously, and that it delivers maximum theoretical throughput of 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 867Mbps on the 5GHz band.

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Each Google Wifi node has two gigabit ethernet ports. When configured as a router, one port is used to connect to your broadband gateway and the other is available for connecting to a switch.


REVIEWS & RATINGS

Google Wifi TCP throughput with one, two, and then three nodes. Client: HP Envy x360 with 2x2 Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265 Linksys EA9500 router as baseline 500

447.0 375.7

300

355.3

350

401.3

400

443.7

450

250 200

Bedroom (client 9 feet from router) Linksys EA9500

Great Room (client 33 feet from router)

Google Wifi (one)

Google Wifi (two)

Home Theater (client 35 feet from router)

39.0

11.1

64.1

0

67.3

88.5

92.8

13.3

5.1

50

99.3

100

114.7

129.0

150

Sun Room (client 65 feet from router)

Google Wifi (three)

This chart shows how the Google Wifi performs when operating with one, two, and three mesh nodes, respectively.

Unfortunately, the Google Wifi does not currently support one important 802.11ac Wave 2 feature: MU-MIMO (you can read about multi-user MIMO in this story go.pcworld.com/mumimo). Google tells me a firmware update will enable MU-MIMO down the road, but it doesn’t work now. That won’t be a big deal for most people, because there are so few MU-MIMO client devices on the market, and the ones that are available are limited to 1x1 spatial streams. In any event, your wireless devices will see just one SSID, and the router will automatically choose which Wi-Fi channels it will occupy 


and which network your wireless clients should join. As with Google’s FBSMJFS0O)VCSPVUFS (go.pcworld.com/onhubrev)—which can act as a node on this mesh network—the router will send statistics to the cloud TPUIBU(PPHMFTTFÉ€WFSTDBOBOBMZ[FZPVSOFUXPSLTQFÉ€GPSNBODF*GUIF cloud determines that your network would perform better by utilizing a dierent channel, it will send a command back to the router to change channels. Google Wifi The router itself uses band steering to suggest that AT A GLANCE DMJFOUEFWJDFTNPWFCFUXFFOJUT()[BOE()[ The Google WiFi’s mesh networks, and client steering to suggest to the client network should eliminate when a better mesh point (node) becomes available as the dead spots in your ZPVNPWFBSPVOEUIFIPVTF)BOEPćTCFUXFFOOPEFT home, but it only BSFDPNQMFUFMZUÉ€BOTQBSFOU BOE*OFWFSOPUJDFEBOZ scratches the surface of IJDDVQTBT*NPWFEGSPNPOFMPDBUJPOUPBOPUIFSJOTJEF smart-home control. my home while streaming video to my smartphone. As is common with mesh routers, the Google WiďŹ is much smaller than a conventional router. The round device—it looks like a miniature layer cake—measures just four inches in diameter and is about three inches UBMM*UTQPXFSFECZBXBMMXBÉ€UXJUIBTJYGPPUMPOH 64#$DBCMF BOEMJLFUIF0O)VCSPVUFSCFGPSFJU JU has just two ethernet ports. When used as a router, one port is used to connect to your broadband gateway and the other can be DPOOFDUFEUPBTXJUDI BOFUIFSOFU/"4CPY PSXIBU have you. Deploy the Google WiďŹ as a node, and either ethernet port can be used for anything: wired backhaul, if you have hardwired ethernet in your walls; network storage; and so on. You can also use the node as a wireless bridge for client devices that otherwise XPVMEOUCFBCMFUPKPJOZPVS8J'JOFUXPSL"64# port is notably absent. Most competing mesh routers IBWFBUMFBTUPOF64#QPÉ€U CVUOPOFPGUIFPOFT we’ve seen so far have been usable. ď˜žď˜ş

PROS t&YUSFNFMZXFMMQSJDFE  given its performance and feature set t7FÉ€ZFBTZUPTFUVQBOE install t'MFYJCMFDPOČźJHVÉ€BUJPOT CONS t3FMBUJWFMZXFBLTNBÉ€U home support t/P64#QPÉ€UGPSTUPÉ€BHF or printer support t4UJMMXBJUJOHGPS .6.*.0TVQQPÉ€U $129


REVIEWS & RATINGS

Mesh Wi-Fi router comparison Three paired computers performing TCP throughput tests while a Roku Ultra streams 4K UHD video from the Internet. Client computers located in the Great Room, Linksys EA9500 router as baseline.

230.9

250

200

Windows PC (1x1 Linksys WUSB6100M) Linksys EA9500

Eero WiFi System (three)

Windows PC (2x2 Intel AC-7265) Google Wifi (three)

91.3

MacBook Pro (3x3 Broadcom BCM4360) Luma Surround WiFi (three)

Securifi Almond 3 (three)

You’ll need an Android or iOS device with a camera to install a Google Wifi as either a router or a node. The app scans a QR code printed on the bottom of the router to identify it. The next step is to assign a location-based name for the router (Office, Kitchen, Den, and so on), so you can identify it later. The final steps in the process are to give your new Wi-Fi network a name and create a password for it. If your ISP gave you a broadband gateway/router, as is common these days, the app will helpfully inform you that the new router is now behind another router, which might adversely impact its performance. Google’s suggestion to remove the other router isn’t going to work in most scenarios. And Google’s other suggestion, to put the Google Wifi into bridge mode, comes with a “not 

67.7

27.9

27.9

54.8

37.1

34.4

0

34.5

14.8

18.4

47.9

50

12.4

104.3

100

82.6

150

In this stress test, we performed TCP throughput tests between three paired computers while simultaneously streaming 4K video from the Internet.


recommended” footnote. Personally, I get around the double-NAT situation by configuring my ISP’s gateway to pass the public IP address through to my main router, so that it can handle network address translation.

Mesh Wi-Fi router comparison TCP throughput, with each mesh router using three nodes. Client: Late 2013 MacBook Pro with 3x3 Broadcom BCM4360. Apple Airport Time Capsule and Linksys EA9500 routers as baselines.

800 700

822.4 802.6

900

600

0.0 40.5

119.3 103.8 71.9 88.6

31.4 19.1 19.5 44.5 17.5 34.3

100

159.0 135.8 125.2 169.1

200

293.6 315.6

300

380.9

400

471.7 446.8 378.3

500

Windows PC (1x1 Linksys WUSB6100M)

Windows PC (1x1 Linksys WUSB6100M)

Windows PC (1x1 Linksys WUSB6100M)

0 Windows PC (1x1 Linksys WUSB6100M) Linksys EA9500

Eero WiFi System (three)

Google Wifi (three)

Luma Surround WiFi (three)

Securifi Almond 3 (three)

Securifi Almond 3 (three)

The Google Wifi was able to provide more than 100Mbps of throughput to a room that was 65 feet away from the router, a distance an Apple AirPort Time Capsule couldn’t reach at all. 


REVIEWS & RATINGS The installation process takes just a few minutes and you don’t really need to know anything about how networks operate to get it done quickly. The router will even automatically download and install the latest available firmware, so that you’re protected from whatever exploits might be out there. Once your router is set up, you can perform an Internet speed test to make sure you’re getting the upload and download speeds you’re paying your ISP for. You can also test your local network itself, but where the first test yields actual numbers, the second one just characterizes your network speed as “good” or what have you. Expanding the size of your mesh network with additional nodes is just as easy. Google’s focus is clearly on everyday folk, not router enthusiasts, but it did leave some doors open for tweaking. You can create rules for port forwarding, make DHCP reservations, and choose which DNS servers are to be used, for example. And there are a number of features that both classes of users will appreciate, including the ability to assign specific network clients higher priority than others, so that you can ensure your Roku box gets all the resources it needs while streaming 4K UHD video. Creating a guest network is as easy as pushing a button, and you can display your Wi-Fi network’s password on your phone or even text it to friends right from the app. You can manage your Google Wifi network from anywhere you have Internet access, and you can assign other users to be managers as well.

Google’s focus is clearly on everyday folk, not router enthusiasts, but it did leave some doors open for tweaking.

Performance A single Google Wifi was nearly as fast as the more conventional Linksys EA9500 we compared it to—at least when the client was in the same room as the router. That Linksys router costs about as much as three Google Wifi’s. Throughput dropped considerably when the client was moved further away, but adding nodes consistently yielded higher performance at the more distant locations. The Linksys could 


not deliver acceptable performance in the home theater and the sun room, for example, but the network of three Google Wifi’s made it possible to wirelessly stream HD video into those rooms. If you’re looking to get rid of dead spots in your home, this should do the trick.

Who’s it for? The Google Wifi is for people who don’t want to fiddle with a router. It’s super-easy to install and it delivers very good performance across the board. You might have heard that the Google Wifi can control Philips Hue smart bulbs, too—it can—but if you’re looking for a router that can pull double-duty as a smart-home controller, you should take a long look at Securifi’s Almond 3 (securifi.com/almond3) before you buy anything else. It is much more sophisticated in that respect than what Google is offering here. The Google Wifi will warn you if you fall into a double-NAT situation.




REVIEWS & RATINGS

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake: Yes, this is the best one so far BY GORDON UNG

WE CAN ALL agree that Dell’s latest XPS 13 with Kaby Lake (go. pcworld.com/dellxps13kaby) is an incremental update. But when your ultrabook is the one that’s being copied by everyone, that’s not such a bad thing, is it? Externally, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the latest XPS 13 and its direct predecessor. You still get that beautiful InfinityEdge, nigh-zero bezel that lets Dell put the guts of a 13-inch laptop into the body of an 11-incher. The outside is still brushed




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REVIEWS & RATINGS 3.1 (10Gbps) Type A ports. There’s also a cowardly (go.pcworld.com/ nojacks) headphone jack and SD card reader too. Like the previous version, charging is done via the legacy Dell barrel charger or by using a USB-C Dell charger. Our unit came with the legacy barrel charger, but I’ve tested the XPS 13 with USB-C chargers from Dell, HP, Google, and Innergie with no issues. It’ll also work with Dell’s own USB-C external battery pack brick. What this really comes down to is Intel’s Kaby Lake so let’s get on to it. The review model here was equipped with an Intel Core i5-7200U, 8GB of LPDDR3/1866 in dual-channel mode, and a 256GB M.2 NVMe PCIe drive. The screen is a 1920x1080 IPS non-touch panel with a light anti-reflective coating. Dell offers touch and 4K display options, but they cost more money and eat the battery, too.



The trackpad on the latest XPS 13 has less friction than more rubberyfeeling predecessors. I think the keyboard is still a tad small, though.


Cinebench R15 Performance Our first test is Cinebench R15, a 3D rendering benchmark using the same engine that Maxon uses in its Cine4D application. For comparison, we have a Broadwell Core i5, a Skylake Core i5, and finally, I threw in the Gold XPS 13 with Intel’s higher-performance Skylake Core i7 and Iris graphics aboard. The Kaby Lake is based on the same 14nm process as the Broadwell and Skylake—Intel’s backup plan when it couldn’t move to a smaller process as planned. Intel took its experience making the Broadwell and Skylake and squeezed higher clock speeds out of the chip while using nearly the same amount of power. As Cinebench R15 is a CPU benchmark, all the performance gains you’re seeing come from the higher megahertz of the Kaby Lake— about 10 percent more clock speed and performance over the Skylake. Here’s a bonus: The Core i7 Skylake, with its fancy eDRAM cache, can’t pull away from the Kaby Lake chip either.

HandBrake performance Cinebench R15 takes just a few minutes to run. To see how laptops fare under a longer load, we use the free and popular encoder HandBrake to convert a 30GB high-resolution MKV video file using the Android Tablet preset. The entire process can take up to two hours on a dual-core Core i5 or Core i7 CPU. On a desktop or larger laptop, cooling generally is not an issue. On tiny little laptops, this test can function as a performance test or an 

The newest XPS 13 (top) has the same ports as the previous iteration (middle) and lets you charge via USB-C. The oldest XPS 13 (bottom) has a miniDisplayPort.


REVIEWS & RATINGS indicator of how well the laptop handles heat. Some laptop makers will opt to reduce performance to keep the laptop cooler and the fan noise down. Dell, generally, favors performance. That pattern doesn’t change here, as the Kaby Lake–based XPS 13 comes in well ahead of its siblings and again bests even the pricier Core i7/Iris-based XPS 13.

Cinebench R15 Multi-Threaded Performance Dell XPS Broadwell (Core i5-5200U/HD 5500)

259

Dell XPS 13 Skylake (Core i5-6200U / HD 520)

286

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake (Core i5-7200U / HD 620)

320

Dell XPS 13 Skylake w/ eDRAM (Core i7-6560U / Iris 540)

307 0

50

100

150

200

250

300

350

LONGER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE

The 7th-gen Kaby Lake in the latest XPS 13 comes out on top in the Cinebench R15 CPU test.

HandBrake 0.9.9 1080p encode (sec) Dell XPS Broadwell (Core i5-5200U/HD 5500)

7,952

Dell XPS 13 Skylake (Core i5-6200U / HD 520)

6,827

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake (Core i5-7200U / HD 620)

6,231

Dell XPS 13 Skylake w/ eDRAM (Core i7-6560U / Iris 540)

6,402 0

1,000

2,000

3,000

4,000

5,000

6,000

7,000

SHORTER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE

The Kaby Lake outpaces even the Core i7–based Skylake chip with its fancy-pants Iris graphics and eDRAM. 

8,000


3DMark Cloud Gate Dell XPS Broadwell (Core i5-5200U / HD 5500)

5,024

Dell XPS 13 Skylake (Core i5-6200U / HD 520)

5,811

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake (Core i5-7200U / HD 620)

6,250

Dell XPS 13 Skylake w/ eDRAM (Core i7-6560U / Iris 540)

6,397 0

1,000

2,000

3,000

4,000

5,000

6,000

7,000

LONGER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE

The Iris graphics and eDRAM don’t give the Core i7 much of an advantage in Cloud Gate.

3DMark Cloud Gate Graphics Dell XPS Broadwell (Core i5-5200U / HD 5500)

6,351

Dell XPS 13 Skylake (Core i5-6200U / HD 520)

7,752

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake (Core i5-7200U / HD 620)

8,295

Dell XPS 13 Skylake w/ eDRAM (Core i7-6560U / Iris 540)

9,251 0

1,000

2,000

3,000

4,000

5,000

6,000

7,000

8,000

9,000 10,000

LONGER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE

Cloud Gate favors the XPS 13 with 6th-gen Core i7 when only graphics is factored in.

3DMark Cloud Gate performance For graphics performance, I tested all four units using Futuremark’s synthetic gaming test, 3DMark Cloud Gate. It’s a test made for lowerambition laptops that lack discrete graphics—all models tested here rely on the graphics integrated directly into their Intel CPUs. 


REVIEWS & RATINGS The Kaby Lake chip comes out well ahead of the 5th-gen Broadwell and 6th-gen Skylake. I’d say it does pretty well against the Dell XPS 13 with its fancy 6th-gen Core i7 and Iris graphics, too. To be fair to Iris graphics, the overall Cloud Gate performance score does factor CPU performance into its final score. When you look at only the graphics performance, the Iris graphics and the 64MB of eDRAM used as a buffer give it a respectable 10-percent advantage.

Battery life I expected to get pretty good run time out of the slightly larger battery on this laptop, and I did. Our test loops a 4K video file in Airplane mode with sound enabled (using ear buds). The screen is set to a fairly bright 250 to 260 nits, which is a good setting for watching a movie in a typical office or home. While you might look at the results and decide Kaby Lake gives you

Battery life 4K video playback (minutes) Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake (Core i5-7200U / HD 620 / 59 WHr)

681

Dell XPS 13 Broadwell FHD (Core i5-5200U / HD 5500 /54 WHr)

644

HP Spectre X360 (Core i5-5200U / HD 5500U / 55 WHr)

544

Asus Zenbook 3 (Core i7-7500U / HD 620 /39 WHr)

529

Dell XPS 13 Skylake QHD -T (Core i7-6560U /Iris 540 / 56 WHr)

486

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 OLED (Core i7-6600U / HD 520 / 57 WHr)

464 0

60

120

180

240

300

360

420

480

540

LONGER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE

The Kaby Lake XPS 13 has pretty great battery life while playing video. 

600

660


The 7th-gen Kaby Lake CPU in the latest Dell XPS 13 can play 10-bit color video files without breaking a sweat.

more battery life over Skylake, there are differences between the two Core i5 XPS 13 units in SSD power consumption. The Lite-On SSD in the Kaby Lake XPS 13 is far more power-efficient than the one in the Skylake XPS 13. SSD performance may also play into the battery life of the 5th-gen Broadwell: That particular generation of XPS 13 used an M.2 SATA drive rather than the more power-hungry NVMe PCIe drives of the newer models. If you’re wondering just how much of a power hit you can take from a higher-resolution screen with touch, just look at the loser in all this: the gold XPS 13, which gives you about six hours of video versus the 11 hours of the Kaby Lake XPS 13.

One more thing Perhaps the most significant improvement with the 7th-gen Kaby Lake chip is the video engine. Intel basically added hardware support for 10-bit HEVC video, and a boatload of other encoding and decoding features. Of course, 10-bit HEVC and other support (go.pcworld.com/ kbylk4k) doesn’t yet matter for most of us, but it’s something to keep in mind. The practical upshot is you can actually play video encoded using 10-bit color on the Kaby Lake, while a Skylake or a Broadwell machine would just spit fur balls. Here’s the proof in pictures: Playing a 


REVIEWS & RATINGS 1080p file encoded with 10-bit color saw the Kaby Lake XPS 13 basically at idle. Without the hardware support in the GPU, that means the CPU is doing all the work. Decoding that Tears of Steel video file with 10-bit color depth isn’t easy, either. It took battery life on the Skylake-based XPS 13 to a dismal three hours. That higher clock speed means more power consumption, which means less battery life. The Kaby Lake XPS 13, though, took a minimal hit and could loop the video for 10.5 hours.

Should you upgrade? If you’re already aboard the Dell XPS 13 train, you don’t need to be told how great of a laptop it is. The question you’re probably asking is whether you should upgrade. I’d say it depends. If you own a 6th-gen Skylake-based XPS 13, I’d say no. The performance bump you’re getting is maybe 10 percent or so. Because that revision of the XPS 13 already has Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C charging and NVMe drive support, upgrading just doesn’t make sense for anyone who isn’t made of stacks of $100 bills.



Skylake can’t handle video files encoded at 10-bit color depth without cranking up the CPU and even then will drop a massive amount of frames.


When you step back one more generation to a 5th-gen Broadwellbased XPS 13, then it starts to get interesting. You get roughly a 20 percent or more performance increase, a much faster NVMe drive and Thunderbolt 3, plus the ability to do USB-C charging. Coming from that generation of XPS 13, it’s a very decent upgrade, especially if you can sell your older unit to a friend or family member.

Conclusion In the end, you can look at Dell’s latest XPS 13 as a “if nothing’s broken, don’t fix it” moment. It’s arguably one of the best laptops, if not the best laptop, that’s available. You get that beautiful InfinityEdge display, a super-compact body, and oodles of performance. Not that Dell should rest on its laurels, because the competition isn’t going to sit still for much longer. For now, though, it would be hard to beat the XPS 13.



Some may ding the XPS 13 for not changing much, but it’s clear the latest one is the best.


REVIEWS & RATINGS

HP Spectre x360: Faster, smaller, and better than before BY GORDON MAH UNG

COMPUTER MAKERS, MUCH LIKE Hollywood filmmakers, love sequels.

But just as with movies, there’s always a risk with sequels. Will it be a franchise-killing dud like Ghostbusters II or a modern masterpiece like The Godfather Part II? The good news, folks, is that the next-gen HP Spectre x360 13 (go. pcworld.com/hpspectrex36013) leans toward the latter, and is arguably even superior to the original. That’s not to say the original Spectre wasn’t a great convertible 


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Spectre x360 13

It’s smaller and lighter

CONS

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REVIEWS & RATINGS This time around, HP nearly eliminates the screen’s side bezel, cutting the width down to 12 inches. Even better, the weight is reduced to 2 pounds, 13.2 ounces. You might think seven ounces isn’t much, but it’s quite noticeable. In fact, the Spectre x360 13 is so small and light now, it’s practically on a par with the diminutive Dell XPS 13, which clocks in at 2 pounds, 11.3 ounces. The Spectre x360’s extra couple ounces is likely due to its touchscreen, something the Dell XPS 13 in question lacks. The Spectre x360 is thinner than before too, at just about 13.5mm at its hind end. While we don’t think the pursuit of thinness is worth The new Spectre x360 gives up HDMI and DisplayPort for the newfangled Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports. You can see just how much HP chopped off the original’s size. Despite the screen being the same size, it’s down almost 7.5 ounces in weight.




sacrificing all else (see Apple corporate policy), the proportions feel just right on the new HP.

Ports The original Spectre x360 was very generous with ports, offering fullsize HDMI and DisplayPort plus three USB Type A ports. With the move to USB-C and Thunderbolt 3, the new Spectre x360 is far stingier. You get two Thunderbolt 3 ports that take over for HDMI and DisplayPort duties. They also double as USB-C ports with 10Gbps transfer rates. On the opposite side, you get a single USB Type A 5Gbps port. Gone from the Spectre x360 is the integrated SD card reader—but, hell, Apple even left that off its “pro” laptops, so why shouldn’t everyone else?

What’s inside Inside the Spectre x360 you get top-of-the-line parts. Our $1,300 review sample includes Intel’s newest 7th-generation Core i7-7500U. It’s roughly 10 to 15 percent faster, depending on workload, than its predecessor and includes Intel HD620 integrated graphics with an updated video engine, which destroys older chips playing video with 10-bit color depth. It’s a good chip and you can read more about it in my review of the Kaby Lake laptop chips. 

The bezel is almost gone on the sides, but the top leaves room for an infrared camera that works with Windows Hello.


REVIEWS & RATINGS The CPU is paired with 16GB of LPDDR3/1866 in dual-channel mode and a Samsung 512GB PM951 NVME M.2 drive. A spot-check with Crystal Disk Mark 5.02 put the drive’s performance at 1.7GBps read and 581MBps write for sequential loads. Not bad, but not class-leading.

No pen, but Windows Hello The screen on our review sample is a 1920x1080 IPS panel with 10-point touch. Its backlighting is fairly even, and I measured its maximum brightness at about 350 nits. HP says the initial version of the updated Spectre x360 won’t support pen input. It’s not just a matter of a pen not being included either—HP decided against adding a digitizer for any pen support in this model. Future versions of the laptop with different screens may have pen support, however. As a consolation prize, you get an integrated IR camera that supports Windows Hello facial recognition. If you haven’t used a laptop with Windows Hello, you should. It’s a far better experience than biometric fingerprint readers. We also like that the web camera, in addition to the Windows Hello camera, is placed at the top of the bezel rather than down in a corner where it could get continually fingered—*cough* XPS 13.

Like the original Spectre x360 13 (right), the new x360 (left) has an excellent keyboard.


Keyboard, trackpad, and speakers The original keyboard was always excellent and I have no complaints here either. The wide-aspect-ratio piano-hinge-style trackpad is by Synaptics and also pretty good. It’s very smooth (which I prefer) and I didn’t have many problems with palm rejection once I became accustomed to the wider format. I should note that I couldn’t find anywhere to tune the palm rejection in the Synaptics driver, but maybe that’s just me. The speakers in the original Spectre x360 13 were excellent and continue to be in the update. Up against Dell’s XPS 13, I’d give the Spectre x360 a slight edge in audio for having a little more presence. For ultrabooks, both are still quite good, provided you expect small laptop sound from a small laptop.

USB-C charging too This review wouldn’t be complete without touching on USB-C charging. Laptops, if you don’t know, are slowly moving away from proprietary chargers to “universal” USB-C chargers. While Dell supports both USB-C and the typical barrel charger, its laptops continue to ship with the latter. HP The Spectre x360 will warn you if you use a non-HP finally dumps the barrel charger and charger and then it charges anyway. ships a small 45-watt USB-C charger. The problem with HP has been its conservative approach to USB-C charging, which you can read about here. HP still says it only trusts its own chargers not to blow up its laptops, but it no longer shuts out third-party chargers like it did in the past. In my tests, the Spectre x360 kinda supported both a Dell USB-C charger and an Innergie USB-C charger. I say kinda because plugging in a non-HP charger pops up a warning, but the laptop charged anyway. What would be cool in the future—especially with these smarter chargers—is to provide information on the charge rate and what voltage rail it’s pulling from for a particular power brick. Too nerdy? For 


REVIEWS & RATINGS most users, probably, but as we sort out the mess of “universal” USB-C charging over the next two years, it would help isolate the problems.

Performance As much as people say performance doesn’t matter anymore, it does. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t be paying $1,300 for a laptop, you’d be paying $300. So let’s find out how the new Spectre x360 does.

PCMark 8 Work Conventional Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / GTX 960M)

3,394

HP Spectre x360 13 2016 (Core i7-7500U)

3,330

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5-7200U /HD620)

3,161

HP Spectre 13.3 (Core i7-6500U / HD520)

3,056

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5-6200U / HD520)

2,887

Surface Book i7 (Core i7-6600U / GeForce GTX 965M)

2,857

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5-6560U / Iris 540)

2,744

Surface Book (Core i7-6600U /GeForce)

2,744

Surface Pro 4 (Core i5-6300U / HD520)

2,651

Razer Blade Stealth (Core i7-6500U / HD520)

2,426

Surface 3 (Atom X7-8700 / HD)

1,717 0

500

1,000

1,500

2,000

2,500

LONGER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE

In office tasks, there is little variance among most laptops. 

3,000


3DMark Sky Driver Overall Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / GTX 960M)

13,142

Microsoft Surface Book i7 (Core i7-6600U / GTX 965M)

11,314

Microsoft Surface Book (Core i7-6600U /GeForce)

6,220

Dell XPS 13 (Core i7-6560U / Iris 540)

4,427

HP Spectre X360 (Core i7-7500U /HD620)

4,129

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5-7200U /HD620)

3,808

Toshiba Radius 12 (Core i7-6500U / HD520)

3,801

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5-6200U / HD520)

3,679

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5-5200U / HD5500)

2,791 0

2,000

4,000

6,000

8,000

10,000

12,000

LONGER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE

No other 13-inch Ultrabook can touch the Surface Book i7. But is it still an Ultrabook?

PCMark 8 Work Conventional performance First up is PCMark 8 Work Conventional. This synthetic test simulates how “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” with office document chores, browsing, and video conferencing. With modern hardware, even ultra-tiny laptops, there’s not much of a difference among competitors in these tests, as the neck-and-neck results indicate. There are still some good signs for the Spectre x360 though. Its Core i7 Kaby Lake chip hangs right in line with a quad-core Skylake chip in this office drone test. And yes, that 1,717 score for the Surface 3 and its Atom X7 is right about where a system starts to feel less responsive. 

14,000


REVIEWS & RATINGS Sky Diver performance Performance muscle might not matter much for office drone tasks, but it matters in other areas. To measure it, we run Futuremark’s 3DMark Sky Diver test, which isolates the GPU. You can see from our chart that laptops with discrete graphics all rule here, but the Spectre x360 represents well. Among the integrated-graphics laptops, it’s the second fastest behind the Dell XPS 13 with fancy Iris 540 graphics. Will you be playing Rise of the Tomb Raider at 1920x1080 and Very High settings? No. But Minecraft, League of Legends, and other less taxing games at lower resolutions and lower image-quality settings should be tolerable.

HandBrake performance While most people with ultraportable laptops don’t encode video for a living, we like to run this heavy-duty task to see how a laptop performs under a worst-case-scenario load. To do that, we turn to the free and popular HandBrake program, which we use to encode a 30GB MKV file using the Android Tablet preset. That can take two hours or more on a typical dualcore laptop. For context, I include a quadcore Dell XPS 15 and an Atom X7–powered Surface 3 tablet. A shorter bar shows better performance, and the quad-core wins hands down. You may be surprised to see the Dell XPS 13 with its 7th-gen Kaby Lake chip as the first dual-core laptop to cross the finish line, but I’m not. Dell tends to run the fans faster if the laptop gets hotter, while other PC makers favor keeping the noise low and slowing performance accordingly. As this test takes two hours or more to run on a dual-core laptop, the performance advantage of the Core i7 in shorter burst workloads usually doesn’t matter as much either. As for the HP Spectre x360, it’s not bad when you consider that it’s thinner than the XPS 13 and is a convertible form factor. Convertible

Convertible laptops, like hybrid tablet-laptops, typically give up some performance because they can be held like a tablet and PC makers don’t want them to get too scorching hot.




HandBrake 0.9.9 1080p encode (sec) Surface (Atom X7-8700 / HD)

10,906

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5-6200 / HD 520)

6,839

HP Spectre 13.3 (Core i7-6500U /HD520)

6,750

HP Spectre x360 (Core i7-7500U)

6,539

Surface Pro 4 (Core i5-6300U / HD520)

6,428

Dell XPS 13 (Core i7-6560U / Iris 540)

6,402

Surface Book (Core i7-6600U / GeForce)

6,360

Surface Book i7 (Core i7-6600U / GeForce GTX 965M)

6,295

Razer Blade Stealth ( Core i7-6500U / HD 520)

6,255

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5-7200U / HD620)

6,231

Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-6700 / GTX 950M)

3,226 0

2,000

4,000

6,000

8,000

10,000

12,000

SHORTER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE

A dual-core CPU is pretty much a dual-core CPU on our lengthy HandBrake encode test.

laptops, like hybrid tablet-laptops, typically give up some performance because they can be held like a tablet and PC makers don’t want them to get too scorching hot.

Cinebench R15 single-threaded performance One last performance test worth nothing is Cinebench R15, set to test just a single CPU thread. It gives you an idea of how well a laptop will do 


REVIEWS & RATINGS in workloads that don’t tax all of the CPU cores. This is valid because the vast majority of tasks we do on the PC don’t actually push it that hard. The winner? The HP Spectre x360 with its 7th-gen Core i7 chip. That score is slightly better than the larger and heavier Dell XPS 15 as well as Apple’s new MacBook Pro 15. It’s also faster than the exorbitantly priced Microsoft Surface Book i7. The pair of MacBook Pro’s were run with macOS Sierra, not Windows 10, in the interest of full disclosure.

Battery performance Our last test is perhaps the most important in an ultraportable laptop: battery life. For that, we loop the open-source 4K-resolution movie Tears of Steel with the screen brightness set to 250 to 260 nits. That’s a setting that would be used in a typical office in the daytime. All of the laptops have wireless turned off and audio is on but we use earbuds to minimize

Cinebench R15 CPU Single-threaded CPU performance HP Spectre X360 13 (Core i7-7500U / HD620)

146

Microsoft Surface Book i7 (Core i7-6600U / GRX 965M)

142

MacBook Pro 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / Radeon 450)

142

Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / GTX 960M)

137

Dell XPS 13 (Core i7-6560U / Iris 540)

127

MacBook Pro 13 (Core i5-6600U / Iris 540)

125

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5-7200U / HD620)

122 0

20

40

60

80

100

120

140

160

Under loads that don’t stress all of the CPU cores, the Spectre x360 surprisingly leads the pack. 


Battery Life 4K Video Playback (minutes) Surface Book i7 (Core i7-6600U / GeForce GTX 965M / HD520 / 81 Whr)

786

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake FHD (Core i5-7200U / HD620 / 59Whr)

681

Dell XPS 13 Broadwell FHD (Core i5-5200U / HD5500 / 54 Whr)

644

Surface Book (Core i7-6600U / GeForce / HD520 / 68 Whr)

605

HP Spectre X360 (Core i5-5200U / HD5500U / 55Whr)

544

MacBook Pro 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / Radeon 450 / 76 Whr)

536

MacBook Pro 13 (Core i5-6360U / HD Iris 540 / 54 Whr)

532

Dell XPS 13 Skylake FHD (Core i5-6200U / HD520 / 57Whr)

529

Asus Zenbook 3 (Core i7-7500U / HD 620 /39 Whr)

486

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 OLED (Core i7-6600U / HD 520/ 57 Whr)

464

Dell XPS 13 Skyake QHD-T (Core i7-6560U / Iris 540 / 56 Whr)

361

Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-6700HW / GeForce GTX 960M / 56 Whr)

312

MSI GS3VR (Core i7-6700HW / GeForece GTX 1060 / 64Whr)

238 0

60

120 180 240 300 360 420 480 540 600 660 720 780 840 LONGER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE

Battery life on the MacBook Pro 13 and MacBook Pro 15 is respectable when you consider their high-resolution panels, and the quad-core in the MacBook Pro 15. However, the Dell, HP, and Microsoft Surface Book i7 are the winners.

the sound system’s drain on the battery. For Windows 10, we use Microsoft’s Movies & TV player and on macOS Sierra we used QuickTime. 


REVIEWS & RATINGS A lot of different factors come into play for battery life, such as the efficiency of the display, the resolution of the screen, whether there is a touchscreen digitizer, and the battery’s size. Driver hardware optimizations by each vendor can also come into play somewhat. If we look at the results for just the Spectre x360, it’s pretty damned good. It’s not as good as the newest Dell XPS 13, but the Spectre x360 has a touchscreen. The most impressive score is the Microsoft Surface Book i7 with its high-res panel, pen support, and touch. But it also has a giant battery and weighs quite a bit more too.

Performance and battery life are excellent and the form factor makes it truly competitive with its arch-nemesis, Dell’s XPS 13.

Conclusion

The real question we have about HP’s Spectre x360 isn’t whether it’s the best convertible laptop out there—we’re wondering if it’s the best ultrabook laptop period. With its reduced weight and size, it’s a vast improvement on the original Spectre x360. Performance and battery life are excellent and the form factor makes it truly competitive with its archnemesis, Dell’s XPS 13. If we had to pick two things to complain about, the first would be the wide-aspect-ratio trackpad. Again, I think I could get used to it, but that large trackpad increases the chances of phantom palm taps. The other niggle is the ports. Yes, USB-C is great and wonderful and all, but the previous Spectre x360 had six ports that allowed to you charge with three USB devices plugged in, plus two monitors. With the updated Spectre x360, once you have a charger plugged in, you really only have two ports left. If one of those is connected to a monitor, you have one left. To be fair to HP, fewer ports are really the future, but that doesn’t mean we have to be happy with it. Still, it’s hard to argue with the new Spectre x360. It’s clearly the convertible to be beat today and possibly the laptop to beat as well.




Watch the video at go.pcworld. com/acer swiftrevvid

Acer Swift 7: The world’s thinnest laptop is starving for power BY ALAINA YEE

ACER BOASTS THAT its Swift 7 is the “world’s thinnest notebook PC.”

While technically true, that marketing angle sells only one aspect of the machine—and it’s not the most important one. PC vendors love to sell the idea of thin, and for good reason. Thin implies light, portable, and attractive. But a notebook can end up spreading outward (making it larger and more difficult to pack) or sacrificing performance in the quest to be the thinnest. The Acer Swift 7 does both. 


REVIEWS & RATINGS So while this $1,100 13-inch notebook (available at Amazon, HP pcworld.com/swift7amz JTTMFOEFSBOERVJFU JUTCJHHFSBOETMPXFSUIBO similarly priced ultrabooks. Rivals like the barely thicker HP Spectre 13.3 and smaller-but-heftier Dell XPS 13 easily outpace the Swift 7. *UJTBHPPEMPPLJOHMBQUPQ UIPVHI

Measurements and ports At 12.8 x 9 x 0.4 inches, the Swift 7 is virtually the same size as the HP Spectre 13.3 (12.8 x 9 x 0.41 inches) and almost an inch wider and deeper than the Dell XPS 13 (11.98 Swift 7 YYJODIFT *UXFJHITBCPVUUIFTBNFBTJUT DMPTFTUDPNQFUJUJPO UIPVHI UJQQJOHPVSTDBMFTBU AT A GLANCE 2 pounds, 8 ounces. The Spectre 13.3 is 2 pounds, A slender laptop certainly turns PVODFTXIJMFUIFOPOUPVDI,BCZ-BLF%FMM914 heads—but with an MSRP of 13 is 2 pounds, 11.5 ounces. $1,100, the Swift 7’s *WFMJTUFEUIF4XJGUTPĈDJBMQVCMJTIFE constrained performance and measurements to show how this notebook lack of Thunderbolt 3 make BTTVNFTUIFiUIJOOFTUOPUFCPPL1$wUJUMFCZVTJOH HP’s Spectre 13.3 (which is BUFDIOJDBMJUZ1VMMJOHPVUPVSEJHJUBMDBMJQFSZJFMEFE almost equally thin) seem like a BɀBOHFPGNFBTVSFNFOUTGPSUIF4XJGU"UJUT better deal. Three laptops are in this stack, but because the Swift 7 (middle) is all but the exact size of the Spectre 13.3 (bottom), you can’t see the Spectre. On top is Dell’s XPS 13.

PROS t2VJFUBUBMMUJNFT t)BOEMFTCBTJDUBTLTXJUIFBTF t5IJOGÉ€BNFJTBVOJRVFMPPL CONS t-BDLT5IVOEFSCPMU t"CJMJUZUPIBOEMFNPSF intensive tasks is constrained t*UTUIJOyCVUJUTBMTPMBSHF $1,100

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thinnest point, which was the hinge at the back of the laptop, it’s 9.9mm. At its thickest point (the center of the chassis), it’s 10.9mm. None of that equals Acer’s given measurement of 0.4 inches (10.16mm), by the way. That said, the Swift 7 is slimmer than the Spectre 13.3, which has a thinnest point of 10.4mm and a thickest point of 12mm. But that margin is pretty narrow. We’re talking tenths of a millimeter. As for ports, you don’t get many because this notebook is so thin. You’ll find all the Swift 7’s inputs on its right side: two USB 3.1 Type C Gen 1 (5Gbps) and a headset jack. One of the Type C ports supports DisplayPort over USB-C in addition to data and power, while the other supports just data and power. In a very nice touch, Acer provides two dongles with the Swift 7: one USB-C to USB-A, and one USB-C to ethernet.

Display, keyboard, and trackpad The 13.3-inch display is a non-touch IPS panel with a native resolution of 1920x1080 and a Gorilla Glass 4 layer. Images look sharp and crisp, and aside from the general complaints I have about glossy or glass screens, the Swift 7’s is pleasant to use. Just be aware that you’ll encounter some glare. The Chiclet-style keyboard feels responsive and satisfying when touch-typing, providing adequate key travel and a discrete sensation when you press down. It does lack crispness in its feedback, but the sensation is more soft than mushy. That said, for my personal taste, I 

Unlike the HP Spectre 13.3 (bottom), which has two Thunderbolt 3 ports in addition to a USB-C port, the Acer Swift 7 (middle) has just those two USB-C ports.


REVIEWS & RATINGS

prefer the Spectre 13.3’s keyboard, which has a similar layout but with a firmer key press when typing. I liked the Swift 7’s trackpad a little less. It’s impressively huge (5.5 inches wide, a full inch more than the XPS 13’s trackpad and 1.5 inches more than the Spectre 13.3’s), and it offers decent palm rejection and tactile feedback. It can be frustratingly sensitive on default settings, though, and traditional right-clicking doesn’t always register. You can adapt to both situations by fiddling with settings and using a doublefinger tap, but it’s still a little annoying.

Specs Powering the Swift 7 is a brand-new 7th-generation Kaby Lake Intel Core i5-7Y54 processor that runs at a stock clock speed of 1.2GHz, boostable to 3.2GHz. Its equivalents in previous generations were part of Intel’s Core M (Broadwell) and Core m (Skylake) lines, but Intel’s done away with that naming for these successors to its Skylake m5 and m7 chips. Instead, the company calls this a Core i5 part, with the stance that the performance has improved enough to warrant that designation. 


Paired with that processor are 8GB of LPDDR3/1866 RAM and a 256GB Kingston SATA 6Gbps solid-state drive. Running AS SSD’s storage benchmark showed sequential read speeds of 418.12MBps and sequential write speeds of 372.05MBps.

Performance The CPU inside the Swift 7 might be brand-new, but this particular laptop doesn’t showcase any of Kaby Lake’s modest gains (go.pcworld. com/kbylkrev). Older machines running its previous generation equivalent, the Core m5-6Y54, outperformed it.

PCMark 8 Work Conventional Asus Zenbook 3 (Core i7-7500U)

3,273

Acer Swift 7 (Core i5-7Y54)

2,719

Dell Kaby Lake XPS 13 (Core i5-7200U)

3,161

HP Elite X2 (Core m5-6Y54)

2,722

HP Spectre 13.3 (Core i7-6500U)

3,056

HP Spectre x2 (Core m7-6Y75)

2,795

Lenovo LaVie Z (Core i7-5500U)

3,044

LG Gram 15 (Core i5-6200U)

2,847

Samsung Notebook 9 (Core i5-6200U)

2,859

Surface Pro 4 (Core i5-6300U)

2,613 0

500

1,000

1,500

2,000

2,500

LONGER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE



3,000

3,500


REVIEWS & RATINGS

Cinebench R15 (All Threads) Asus Zenbook 3 (Core i7-7500U)

329

Acer Swift 7 ( Core i5-7Y54)

206

Dell Kaby Lake XPS 13 (Core i5-7200U)

320

HP Elite X2 (Core m5-6Y54)

260

HP Spectre 13.3 (Core i7-6500U)

295

HP Spectre x2 (Core m7-6Y75)

195

Lenovo LaVie Z (Core i7-5500U)

283

Samsung Notebook 9 (Core i5-6200U)

275

Surface Pro 4 (Core i5-6300U)

307 0

50

100

150

200

250

300

LONGER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE

For the most part, though, that gap in performance extends to more intensive tasks. The Swift 7 is still fast enough for basic office work. In PCMark 8’s Work Conventional benchmark, which simulates tasks like word processing, web browsing, light spreadsheet editing, and video conferencing, the Swift 7 scored a 2,719. If you look at the numbers, you can see that you’re getting the same level of performance as the HP Elite x2’s m5-6Y54. The Swift 7 also manages to edge out the higher-wattage Core i5-6300U in the Surface Pro 4 by a hair, which is interesting given the results in our more intensive benchmarks. (More on those in just a moment.) In real-world terms, though, these tiny differences in results don’t mean much. Any score above 2,000 in Work Conventional means the machine will handle basic everyday 

350


tasks just fine. You might feel a minor difference in snappiness between this i5-7Y54 and faster CPUs, but not enough to warrant a complaint. The difference in performance begins to open up as we move to testing pure CPU performance with Maxon’s Cinebench R15 benchmark. This test involves rendering a 3D scene, but because it only takes a few minutes, it’s a good way to see how a laptop will handle short, CPU-intensive tasks. The i5-7Y54 begins to fall more dramatically behind the HP Elite x2, with a performance drop of about 20 percent. The combination of tight spacing and a fanless processor puts higher constraints on how fast the Swift 7 can perform as the CPU’s core temperatures begin to rise. The HP Spectre x2 also seems to suffer from these limitations.

HandBrake Encode 0.9.9 (sec) Asus Zenbook 3 (Core i7-7500U)

6,633

Acer Swift 7 ( Core i5-7Y54)

9,935

Dell Kaby Lake XPS 13 (Core i5-7200U)

6,231

HP Elite X2 (Core m5-6Y54)

7,839

HP Spectre 13.3 (Core i7-6500U)

6,750

HP Spectre x2 (Core m7-6Y75)

9,898

Lenovo LaVie Z (Core i7-5500U)

7,748

Samsung Notebook 9 (Core i5-6200U)

11,818

Surface Pro 4 (Core i5-6300U)

6,428 0

2,000

4,000

6,000

8,000

10,000

12,000

LONGER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE



14,000


REVIEWS & RATINGS

3DMark Cloud Gate Overall Asus Zenbook 3 (Core i7-7500U / HD620)

6,795

Acer Swift 7 (Core i5-7Y54/ HD615)

4,409

Dell Kaby Lake XPS 13 (Core i5-7200U/ HD620)

6,250

HP Elite X2 (Core m5-6Y54/ HD515)

5,210

HP Spectre 13.3 (Core i7-6500U/ HD520)

6,112

HP Spectre x2 (Core m7-6Y75/ HD515)

4,507

Lenovo LaVie Z (Core i7-5500U/ HD5500)

5,393

Samsung Notebook 9 (Core i5-6200U/ HD520)

5,658

Surface Pro 4 (Core i5-6300U/ HD520)

5,868 0

1,000

2,000

3,000

4,000

5,000

6,000

7,000

LONGER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE

Despite being a step up from the Elite x2’s m5, its m7-6Y75 processor performs even more slowly during this rendering test than the Swift 7. That same pattern plays out again in our HandBrake benchmark. This encoding test involves converting a 30GB MKV file into a smaller MP4 using HandBrake’s Android Tablet preset, and it hammers hard on a CPU. For thin-and-light laptops, HandBrake is a torture test—one that reveals whether a machine will maintain similar performance under extended stress as during short bursts of intense activity, or if the vendor has decided to throttle back clock speed as the notebook heats up. The Swift 7 throttles back pretty hard. When we fired up Intel’s XTU software to look at the clock speed during HandBrake, the Core i5-7Y54 inside the notebook only managed to hit around 2.1GHz 


before almost immediately throttling down to about 1.83GHz. It held steady there for the rest of the test. In contrast, the Elite x2 didn’t throttle at all during the HandBrake test, and the results show the difference: The Elite x2 finished its task about 35 minutes faster. On the other end of the spectrum, you have Samsung’s Notebook 9, which has a more powerful dual-core processor but throttles the CPU’s clock speed so hard that it finishes slower than its Core m siblings. Gaming performance is also fairly modest. In 3DMark’s Cloud Gate benchmark, which simulates playing games at 720p, the Swift 7 scored 4,409 overall. The breakdown of its graphics score showed frame rates of 27.94 fps during the first graphics test and 23.76 fps during its

Battery Life (Minutes) Asus Zenbook 3 (40 Whr Battery / 1920x1080)

486

Acer Swift 7 (42.7 Whr Battery / 1920x1080)

436

Dell Kaby Lake XPS 13 (60 Whr Battery / 1920x1080)

681

HP Elite X2 (37.6 Whr Battery / 1920x1080)

424

HP Spectre 13.3 (37.6 Whr Battery / 1920x1080)

439

HP Spectre x2 (41 Whr Battery / 1920x1080)

375

Lenovo LaVie Z (44 Whr Whr Battery / 2560x1440)

365

Samsung Notebook 9 (30.4 Whr Battery / 1920x1080)

300

Surface Pro 4 (38 Whr Battery / 2736x1824)

386 0

100

200

300

400

500

600

LONGER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE



700


REVIEWS & RATINGS

The Swift 7 has a premium feel, with a sturdy frame, a decent and enormous trackpad, a pleasant keyboard, and a black-and-gold finish.

second graphics test. The short summary is that you can try to play very lightweight titles on the Swift 7, but don’t aim much higher. As for battery life, the Swift 7 managed about 7 hours and 20 minutes during our video rundown test, in which we play a 4K video file on repeat using Windows 10’s native Movies & TV app. (The sound is left on, with earbuds plugged in.) For transcontinental and shorter international flights, that’s more than enough time to get work done and binge-watch movies. Still, given that the Swift 7 has a bigger battery and a less powerhungry processor than the Spectre 13.3, I would have expected a slightly longer runtime. Instead, these two ultra-thin machines are neckand-neck with each other. It speaks well of HP’s engineering.

Conclusion Thin might not be a substitute for portability or performance, but it does turn heads. Acer goes beyond that gimmick, though: The Swift 7 has a premium feel, with a sturdy frame, a decent and enormous trackpad, a pleasant keyboard, and a black-and-gold finish. (Of course, tastes vary, so that inner coat of gold could be viewed as either elegant or gaudy.) However, the Swift 7’s design means that it best serves people who care about looks and silence more than performance. Your workload will need to fall within the usual, everyday range that includes web browsing, YouTube videos, and light photo editing for the trade-off to seem worthwhile. Even then, though, I’d be hard-pressed to pick this laptop over the Spectre 13.3, its most obvious competition, and that’s even with the older processor in the HP rival. It’s hard to ignore a beefier chip and Thunderbolt 3 when you can get it in a notebook the same size, weight, and price as the Swift 7. You get more performance and features in exchange for a tolerable amount of fan noise. Thin would be a lot more impressive (and the lower performance more understandable) if the Acer had kept the Swift 7’s weight but matched the XPS 13’s width and depth. 


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REVIEWS & RATINGS

Amazon Echo Dot: This is the Echo most people should buy BY MICHAEL BROWN

WHEN I REVIEWED the Amazon Echo 13 (go.pcworld.com/ azechodot2) months ago, I predicted that people would want one in every room. The Echo can control your home’s lighting, play music, estimate your commute time, operate a timer, answer trivia questions, read books and news bulletins to you, tell you which movies are at your local theater, and so much more. You can order a pizza from Dominoes, a ride from Uber, or virtually anything from Amazon. You’d want one in every room so you didn’t need to walk to the room it was in to use it, or yell “Alexa!” from across the house to get its attention. I’m sure Amazon loved my idea, but it was never going to happen on a broad scale at $180 a pop. So Amazon got wise and iterated on the concept, introducing the batterypowered Echo Tap and the pucksized Echo Dot in March 2016. But the Dot still cost $90, and the $130 Tap lacked the voice activation that made the Echo so useful. It was easy to take the Tap from room to room, but needing to push a button to 


HFU"MFYBTBUUFOUJPOTQPJMFEUIFNBHJD The second-generation Echo Dot reviewed here is the best of them BMM‰FWFOJGZPVCVZPOMZPOF"NB[POSFNPWFEUIFPSJHJOBM&DIPT MBSHFTQFBLFSBOEWPMVNFDPOUSPMEJBM SFQMBDFEUIFNXJUIBDIJOU[Z speaker and a pair of buttons, and sliced the price to $50. It costs even MFTTJGZPVPSEFSTJYBUPODF ZPVHFUPOFGSFF CSJOHJOH UIFQFSVOJUDPTUUPBCPVU 4PGPS‰ Amazon Echo Dot percent more than the cost of a single Echo—you can (2nd generation) QVU"MFYBJOKVTUBCPVUFWFÉ€ZSPPN5IBUTFYBDUMZ AT A GLANCE what I’ve done. It’s a win-win: The leastThe Dot has the same far-ďŹ eld voice recognition expensive digital voice assistant technology, supported by seven microphones on top you can put in your smart home TJYJOBDJSDMF POFJOUIFDFOUFS BTUIFPSJHJOBM&DIP is also one of the best. But add *GNPSFUIBOPOF%PUIFBSTZPVTBZUIF"MFYBXBLF a speaker if you want it to play word, they’ll all wake up, but only the one closest to music. you will respond. That prevents simple problems, such BTIBWJOHBDBDPQIPOZPG"MFYBTBMMUBMLJOHBUPODF BT XFMMBTCJHHFSPOFT MJLFPSEFSJOHPOFQJ[[BBOE getting six delivered. One shortcoming I’ve discovered with the Echos’ mics—I’ve tested the original and the Dot—is that UIFZIBWFEJĈDVMUZIFBSJOHZPVXIFOUIF57JTMPVE PSXIFOMPVENVTJDJTQMBZJOH POFJUIFSUIF&DIP JUTFMGPSGSPNPUIFSTQFBLFSTJOUIFSPPN 8IFO &EJUPSJO$IJFG+PO1IJMJQTDPNQBSFEUIFPSJHJOBM Echo’s microphone performance to that of the new Google Home, he found that Google’s product was much better at ďŹ ltering out ambient noise. He also reported that Google Home’s microphones delivered much better range. Deploying Echo Dots ďŹ xes the second problem, but it won’t address the ďŹ rst. I IBOEMFUIFQSPCMFNCZFJUIFSQBVTJOHUIF57PSUIF NVTJD PSKVTUHFUUJOHDMPTFSUPUIF&DIP*XBOUUPVTF Neither is a terrible inconvenience. ď›œď˜šď˜ş

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$50


REVIEWS & RATINGS

The Echo Dot like the original Echo with most of its bottom sliced off.

Music options

You can stream music to any Echo from services such as Spotify, but we recommend connecting an external speaker to an Echo Dot.

So the Echo Dot can do anything its more-expensive siblings can do for much less money. But there’s one thing you won’t want it to do: play music—at least not on its own low-end speaker. It’s just fine for playing Alexa’s voice or even listening to weather forecasts or news bulletins, but it doesn’t have the dynamic range to reproduce music with any kind of fidelity. There’s an easy fix for that: Pair it with a self-amplified speaker or an A/V receiver using either a cable or Bluetooth. A home full of Echo Dots is no substitute for a genuine multi-room audio system, however, because you can’t play the same 


music in sync on multiple Echos of any type. Each one plays music independently. And while you can connect your Spotify Premium account to Amazon and play music on an Echo, Spotify will only stream music to one device at a time. That’s a restriction imposed by Spotify. With more sophisticated speaker systems—Sonos is a good example— you can group speakers together to play the same music. You can’t do that with any of Amazon’s Echos. Certain other applications are synchronized. You can verbally add appointments to your calendar and items to your shopping list and to-do lists on any of your Echos, and they’ll all be combined on one list. You’ll see the aggregate results in the Alexa app on your phone. Adult members of your household can create their own profiles and maintain their own calendars and lists, but each person will need to have their own Amazon account. This is one of the reasons that children can’t have profiles—they can’t have Amazon accounts. I imagine there’s a legal thicket of other reasons for Amazon’s policy to not allow children to have profiles. Meanwhile, managing multiple profiles for adults sounds like it would be a pain in the neck, because you’d need to ask Alexa which profile is active each time you want to manage your lists, use a connected service like Spotify, or order something.

Multiple adults can have discrete shopping and to-do lists, but each person must have their own Amazon profile. 


REVIEWS & RATINGS The Echo Dot is a fraction of the height of the original Echo, so it’s much less likely to get tipped over.

The Echo ecosystem Amazon has been aggressively building an expansive Echo ecosystem by encouraging third parties to develop “skills” that enable the Echo family to work with their products. Amazon doesn’t make thermostats, for example, but any of the Echos can control Nest, Ecobee, Honeywell, and other brands of smart thermostats. Amazon doesn’t make smart lighting products, but any of the Echos can control Philips Hue (go. pcworld.com/phillipshuerv), Lutron Caseta Wireless (go.pcworld.com/ casetahub), and other brands of smart lighting. I’ve linked the Echo to my Logitech Harmony Elite universal remote control (go.pcworld.com/ eliteremote) and can control all the gear in my entertainment system. Install a smart-home hub—either a DIY solution (Samsung SmartThings, Wink, Iris by Lowe’s, and others) or a professionally installed one (Vivint, Alarm.com, etc.)—and the number of products you can control with your voice expands to include pretty much every 


category of smart-home product you can think of, from door locks, to irrigation systems, to garage-door openers, and more. I built my own smart home about 10 years ago and had the contractor install Z-Wave lighting controls and smart plugs throughout, including in the garage. The devices cost more than twice as much as their dumb counterparts at the time, but it wasn’t a huge expense in the grand scheme of things and it didn’t cost any more to have them installed; they were no different to the electricians. I replaced most of these with Leviton products a few years later, after a new and better generation of Z-Wave chips came to market. Today, I have 32 smart dimmers and switches, 11 smart AC receptacles, three smart ceiling fan controllers, three smart entry locks, a smart thermostat, and a smart garage door opener. These are all tied into my Vivint smart-home system, and I can control each of them—or predefined groups of them—with a voice command from my kitchen, master bedroom, great room, home theater, enclosed patio, and yes, even the garage. Actually, putting an Echo Dot in the garage solved a big problem for me. The architect I hired goofed when he laid out my home’s electrical plans: He neglected to put a switch to control the interior garage light next to the door leading to my front porch. I’ve had to stumble through the garage in the dark ever since we moved in to reach the door going into the laundry room, where there is a switch). Now that I have an Echo Dot in the garage, I can just ask Alexa to turn on the light (she can close the garage door for me, too, via my Vivint system). Spending $50 for an Echo Dot was a lot cheaper than hiring an electrician to change the wiring in the garage. Wisely, Alexa can’t unlock any of my smart locks or open the garage door, or disarm my security system. I wouldn’t want a burglar to yell “Alexa, unlock the front door,” gain entry to my house, and then tell her to disarm my security system.

Spending $50 for an Echo Dot was a lot cheaper than hiring an electrician to change the wiring in the garage.

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REVIEWS & RATINGS The digital-assistant horse race I predict that Google Home will be the better digital assistant for the smart home—eventually. Google has better speech recognition and a stronger AI effort. And you can ask contextual follow-up questions without having to say “Okay Google” again. But Amazon has a tremendous lead when it comes to linking third-party products to the Echo series; Google didn’t even have third-party developer tools for its Google Assistant (go.pcworld.com/gglasstdev) until December. Viewed another way, Amazon has a less than 18-month lead on Google, but I can’t imagine that Amazon will simply stand still and wait for the competition to catch up. Let’s not forget how inexpensive the Echo Dot is, whether you deploy one or many. One Echo Dot is plenty useful on its own, but you’ll want one in several rooms—especially if you have a lot of smart devices that you want to control. It’s a great product and a solid value.

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LG V20: The Android phone for hard-core enthusiasts BY JON PHILLIPS

LG HIRED JOSEPH GORDONLEVITT

to market its V20 phablet, but I think a better pitchman would have been Stefon from Saturday Night Live: “2016’s hottest phone is the LG V20 (lg.com/us/mobilephones/v20). It’s got everything. A removable battery, two displays, three microphones, knock knock codes, and don’t worry about shooting videos, because with a wide-angle lens and electronic image stabilization, you can capture an entire breakdance crew of Shetland ponies wearing hazmat suits.” OK, I kid the V20. But the phone is packed with a ridiculous amount of features, the bulk of which are focused on content creation. LG promises pixel-perfect photos, action videos free of camera shake, and music recordings with pristine sound. It sounds awesome on paper, but I’ve been testing the V20 for several weeks, and found the phone falls short in some key content-creation areas. 


REVIEWS & RATINGS #VUNBLFOPNJTUBLF UIF7JTTUJMMBHSFBUBMMBSPVOEQIPOFGPS "OESPJEGBOTXIPOFFEBMBSHFIBOETFU BOEXBOUBLJUDIFOTJOLGVMMPG GFBUVSFT*XPVMEOUDIPPTFUIF7PWFSUIF1JYFM9- CVUJUTTUJMMB DPNQFMMJOHQIBCMFU BOEEPFTBMPUPGUIJOHTUIF1JYFMDBOU 5IF7BMTPIFMQTmMMUIFMBSHFIPMFMFGUCZUIF EJTHɀBDFE/PUF"UGPSB(#VOMPDLFEWFSTJPO  LG V20 JUDPTUTNPSFUIBOUIF(#1JYFM9- CVUZPVHFUUIF AT A GLANCE FYUɀB(#PGTUPɀBHFBOEBSFNPWBCMFCBUUFɀZ4P  The V20 is packed with TFSJPVTMZ JG-(DBOUmOBMMZɀBUUMFDPOTVNFSTJOUP interesting features for hardDBSJOHBCPVUJUTQIPOFT JUTIPVMEKVTUHJWFVQBOE core enthusiasts, but the user focus on TVs and refrigerators. experience feels stale, and *GZPVSFQSJNBSJMZJOUFSFTUFEJOQIPUP WJEFP BOE camera performance doesn’t audio recording performance, jump to the section meet LG’s claims. titled “Content creation: Features galore.� (Spoiler: 5IF7UBLFTSFBTPOBCMZHPPEQIPUPT BOEJUTBVEJP SFDPSEJOHJTCFTUPGDMBTT CVUWJEFPJNBHF TUBCJMJ[BUJPOJTBDUVBMMZQSFUUZCBE 'PSOPX *NHPJOH UPKVNQSJHIUJOUPUIFFWFɀZEBZ7FYQFSJFODF

PROS t1BDLFEXJUIJOUFSFTUJOH features. The perfect phone for nerds.

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The V20 (left) is just about as wide as the Pixel XL, but stands a bit taller.

Industrial design, ergonomics, and battery system The V20 is slightly longer than the Pixel XL, but I find it easier to hold. Perhaps LG’s aluminum rear panel has just a bit more “tooth” to it. Regardless, the V20 cradles nicely in my hand, while the Pixel XL always feels too slippery. I’m bummed that LG ditched the grippy, textured polycarbonate backing of the V10, but the new design looks more up-market, and the plastic chins at the top and bottom of LG’s packaging don’t detract from a generally premium appearance. You’ll find thinner bezels compared to the Pixel, but if you think camera bumps are ugly, you’ll hate the big, oval projection that surrounds the V20’s considerable camera apparatus (two rear cameras, dual flash, and a laser autofocus sensor). The bump makes the V20 look more like a piece of “equipment” than a fetish-worthy object d’art like the Pixel XL or iPhone 7 Plus. LG has a combination power button/fingerprint sensor on the rear panel. This rear placement makes it impossible to use the button as an 


REVIEWS & RATINGS unlocking trigger when the phone is lying flat on a table, but that’s OK because the V20 implements LG’s excellent “knock knock” feature: From a completely dark screen, you tap a personalized, six-part pattern onto the display, and the phone unlocks. It’s an awesome quality-of-life feature that other manufacturers should steal. Like so many previous LG phones, the V20 has an SD card slot behind a removable battery (3200 mAh). The battery-swapping scheme is better than the G5’s—which required a violent snap to separate the battery from its chin—but still presents challenges. In the new scheme, you press a button on the side of the phone, then pry the aluminum back panel off the chassis. It’s difficult to tell when the two pieces disengage, and I frequently had to press the button multiple times before the phone would separate. On a positive note, when the V20 is assembled the seam between the two pieces of the body is virtually imperceptible to the touch. For a phone with so many body panels of varying materials, the V20 is built to very tight tolerances.

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The knock knock code invites you to tap a specific six-part pattern to unlock the phone.


Press this button, and the V20’s back panel will disengage. From there you can fiddle off the panel to eventually remove the phone’s battery.

An interesting take on dual displays With a 5.7-inch display, the V20 delivers the biggest screen size among contending flagship phones now that the Note7 is dead. Pixel density is a whopping 513 pixels per inch, care of a 2560x1440 resolution, and the display is bright with a white balance that errs on the cool side. The phone runs Android 7.0, so it doesn’t yet have the Night Mode feature built into Android 7.1. Nonetheless, LG provides a Comfort View feature that warms up the display’s color temperature at the push of a button. Comfort View even has three intensity settings so you can customize the look for eye-soothing reading before going to bed. All in all, the display is great if unremarkable. Pretty much all flagship phone displays are great nowadays. Some phones (like the V20 and iPhone) use IPS LCD technology, while others (like the Pixel and all of Comfort Mode replicates the Night Light feature built into Android 7.1, and even adds three steps of blue light filtering.

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REVIEWS & RATINGS Samsung’s phones) use AMOLED. The user-experience differences between the two technologies are negligible for most people, which may explain why LG distinguished the V20 with a 1040x160, always-on Second Screen right above the main display. Think of the Second Screen as a helpful little control panel that stays active and actionable whether your main display is on or off. For example, when the phone is dark and locked, you can still swipe around the 2.1-inch strip to see icons of your most recent notifications; the date and time; and controls for the music player if you’re currently listening to a song. I think the Second Screen’s quicklaunch buttons for the flashlight and camera may be particularly useful for some, as these features can sometimes take a bit too long to access from a locked screen. When your main display is on, the Second Screen adds a bit more functionality. You can set the display to show the content of recent notifications; details of upcoming calendar events; shortcuts to recent The Second Screen above the main display may come in handy—if you can train yourself to use it.

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Yep, that’s a camera bump. LG clearly had to make some design compromises in order to add dual flash, two rear cameras, and a laser autofocus sensor.

apps; and even shortcuts to call or text up to five different contacts. The text and icons are small (though larger than in LG’s V10 model), but the Second Screen is still a useful value-add. It’s not a reason to buy the phone, but if you can remember to actually use the Second Screen, it comes in handy.

Content creation: Features galore Content creation—gah, where to begin? The V20 is packed with so many damn cameras, microphones, and fancy-sounding multimedia algorithms, I could spend 5,000 words just describing it all. But you don’t want that, and I don’t want that, so here are the top-line details. On the back of the phone, you’ll find two cameras: a 16-megapixel standard-angle lens that has a 75-degree field-of-view and f/1.8 aperture; and an 8-megapixel, f/2.4 aperture wide-angle lens that increases field-of-view to 135 degrees. A 5-megapixel, f/1.9 selfie cam rounds out the camera offerings. Unlike Google or Apple, LG provides a full suite of DSLR-style manual controls for still images (though for comparative testing 

It wouldn’t be an LG phone without a full suite of DSLRstyle manual controls in the camera app.


REVIEWS & RATINGS purposes, we shot all photos in LG’s auto mode.) On the video side, the V20 taps into Steady Record 2.0, an electronic image stabilization technology that enlists the phone’s gyroscope to smooth out videos taken with a shaky hand. LG also put a lot of thought into the V20’s sound-recording capabilities. The phone boasts three high AOP microphones for highfidelity audio pickup, and both the video camera interface and an HD Recorder App offer deep controls to fine-tune audio capture. In the video camera alone, you can adjust the directivity of the mics fore and aft; toggle on a Wind Noise Filter; and move sliders for Gain, a Low Cut Filter (to reduce background noise), and LMT (a filter that determines the loudest volumes the mics will record).

Still image performance It all sounds wonderful, but real-world testing doesn’t bear out all of LG’s content-creation promises. Pitting the V20 against the Pixel XL, iPhone 7 Plus, and Samsung Galaxy 7, we found that LG’s phone does indeed offer the best sound recording, but falls short of the Pixel XL in still image capture, and really falls down in video image stabilization. Check out youtu.be/pBEQEKlgXNU for the full test results, or just keep reading for a bit more detail. First up: still images in daylight. Using the V20’s standard-angle lens in auto mode, we found that the phone delivered solid color reproduction V20 PIXEL XL and dynamic 

These are crops of much larger images. The cross is 103 feet tall, and I was shooting about 40 feet from its base. Notice how much more detail we see in the striations on the cross in the Pixel’s image.


range, but really fell apart when we looked at definition and image Below: These are clarity. Just look at how the V20 compares to the Pixel XL in this shot crops of much larger of the cross on the top of Mount Davidson in San Francisco. The images shot about striations on the cross are sharp and defined in the Pixel’s photo, but six feet away. I was appear blurry and impressionistic in the V20’s image. shocked by the V20’s The following shots of succulents really drive home how much lack of sharpness. clarity the V20 gives up to the Pixel XL when shooting under brighter morning sunlight. We’re getting sharper detail and more vivid colors from Google’s camera. I was actually pretty happy with how the V20 captured sunbeams peeking through the fog on V20 PIXEL XL the top of Mount Davidson. I was focusing both cameras on the sunbeams, and not the trees in the foreground. The Pixel certainly created a Right: These images are more of a toss-up. I think the Pixel XL delivers a more dramatic image, while the V20 erred toward greater dynamic range.

V20

PIXEL XL 


REVIEWS & RATINGS Right: The V20 matched the Pixel XL in terms of sharpness and clarity, but its color accuracy is off in this low-light scenario. Below: The V20’s wide-angle lens has a 135-degree field-of-view and captures dramatic colors, but I don’t like the barrel distortion.

more atmospheric V20 PIXEL XL shot, but the V20 retained more dynamic range across the entire scene. Finally, I shot an abstract painting under extremely low light conditions in my living room. Both phones were locked down on a tripod to eliminate variables under very challenging circumstances. By and large, the V20 delivered strong clarity and definition, and retained more information in the darkest areas of the image, but was off on color accuracy. The blues in the Pixel XL photo, for example, are much more true to life. If we look at all my photos, and add in the tests conducted by our video team, we find that the V20’s camera isn’t bad it’s just that the 


Pixel XL’s images are better. And that’s relevant because LG has positioned the V20 as the go-to phone for content creators. All that said, the V20 does have a second wide-angle lens, which none of the other manufacturers offer. It’s arguably useful for taking sweeping environmental panorama shots, but images will suffer barrel distortion on the edges, and when you zoom into fine detail, you’ll find a disturbing lack of clarity. That edge distortion looks particularly bad when shooting group photos up close. I’d rather ask people to squeeze in tightly instead of using this lower-spec’d, 8-megapixel sensor. On the plus side, LG still includes a full suite of DSLR-style manual controls for both of its rear-facing cameras, and they help cement the V20 as the perfect phone for tinkerers who really want explore their tech toys. I love the ability to manually control focal length, and set a 30-second shutter speed for night-time shots on a tripod.

Video and audio recording During my hands-on with the V20, LG talked up Steady Record 2.0, an electronic image stabilization technology that uses the phone’s gyro sensor to make shaky videos appear smooth and fluid. Steady Record 2.0 also uses digital “image stream analysis,” in which “objects are adjusted to appear in the same position between each frame by When in manual video mode, you get access to a generous suite of audio controls. You can even adjust whether your mics pick up more sound in front of the camera, or behind the camera.

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REVIEWS & RATINGS The built-in HD Audio Recorder app lets you finetune your recordings— legal or otherwise.

analyzing 15-20 frames.” LG put on an impressive presentation, but multiple weeks of testing showed me that LG’s video image stabilization can’t touch Google’s or Apple’s. Check out the video embedded at the top of the previous section. Our video stabilization testing begins at the 11:40 mark. The V20 demonstrated some of the worst camera shake of all four cameras tested, pretty much debunking LG’s claims. What’s more, I found the You’ll need wired earphones to use the Hi-Fi Quad DAC.

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Viewed from behind, you may not guess the V20 has a removable back panel.

same poor performance during my own anecdotal testing: The V20’s video was prone to a fair amount of stutter and jelly effects. On the other hand, LG’s claims of superior audio recording are completely legit. Videos shot with the V20 sounded markedly louder, richer and altogether better than content shot with all the other phones we tested. And with the V20’s extensive audio recording controls—available to video recording in the camera’s manual video mode—you can really drill down and fine tune your recordings (assuming you know what you’re doing). Check out our audio recording results in this video (youtu.be/ uftLRwisqbs). The irony, of course, is that if you’re really serious about content creation, you’ll be using discrete microphones, and not rely on the mics on a smartphone. Still, it’s nice that LG adds these recording controls to the V20’s extensive toolkit. The phone also comes with an HD Audio Recorder app that records in stereo, just like in the camera app. There are audio profile presets for “normal” and “concert,” or you can opt to adjust the Gain, LCF and LMT sliders yourself. The bottom line is there’s not a better phone for capturing bootleg concert recordings. Not that you’d ever do that. 


REVIEWS & RATINGS Rounding out the audio story is Hi-Fi Quad DAC. Obviously, the DAC—literally, a digital-to-analog converter—won’t work with Bluetooth earburds, but if you still have wired earphones, you can toggle it on for potentially better sound. I only tested the feature with Spotify and Google Play Music playback, and couldn’t hear much improvement in audio quality. Nonetheless, I love the DAC’s volume controller, which lets you fine-tune 75 steps of loudness.

OS experience, performance, and the bottom line Unfortunately, the V20 failed to run our standard PCMark battery benchmark. I gave up after three attempts, so I don’t have a specific battery score to share with you. I can tell you, however, that the phone’s battery lasted relatively long, even during extended video recording tests. So, anecdotally, I was quite happy with battery life. The V20 runs a skinned version of Android 7.0, making it the only phone other than the two Pixels to run a version of Nougat, Google’s latest operating system. In terms of core silicon, the V20 includes Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM, and either 32GB or 64GB of storage. All of this would pretty much be state-of-the-art

LG V20 vs. Pixel XL 1,654 LG V20

5,064 2,775 1,687 4,654

Pixel XL

2,988 0

1,000

2,000

Geekbench 4 single-core

3,000

4,000

PCMark Work 2.0

5,000

6,000

3DMark Sling Shot ES 3.0

We run 11 different performance tests, and they all tell the same story: In terms of raw benchmarks, the V20 and Pixel XL run neck and neck. 


for Android phones, if not for the fact that the Pixels run a slightly more advanced Snapdragon 821 chip, as well as Android 7.1. The Pixel XL feels palpably zippier than the V20, and this is a major reason why I prefer Google’s phone in a two-way battle. The Pixel’s OS and app behaviors just feel quicker and more fluid than the V20’s, perhaps due to system tuning on Google’s part. Our benchmarks didn’t expose dramatic performance deltas between the two phones, but everything about the Pixel XL feels faster, cleaner, and more modern— and that includes the vibe of the system software. LG deserves kudos for not junking up its UX 5.0 skin with a bunch of unnecessary apps and annoying interface decisions. Nonetheless, the V20’s system experience is simultaneously busy and clinical, at least relative to the Pixel, where Google has made strides toward simplicity and whimsy. From its app icons to its wallpapers to its weather widget, the V20 experience simply feels older—and that matters a lot when you’re using your phone multiple times an hour, every day. The V20 also lacks Google Assistant. So while it’s an awesome Android phone, it’s just not the most advanced expression of an Android phone, and all its sundry content-creation tools and extra little doodads can’t push past the Pixel on that score.

From its app icons to its wallpapers to its weather widget, the V20 experience simply feels older—and that matters a lot when you’re using your phone multiple times an hour, every day.

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REVIEWS & RATINGS

Brix Gaming UHD (GBBNi7HG4-950): A lot of performance in a little PC BY ALAINA YEE

BELIEVE IT OR not, the gamer who buys Gigabyte’s latest Brix Gaming mini-PC (go.pcworld.com/brixgaminguhd) has a lot in common with the gamer who rolls a full-sized tower stuffed with overclocked parts. Both have the same hunger for power. It’s a quest to maximize what you can get out of the space available, and given just how small this ultra-compact tower is, the Brix Gaming

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6)%EPFTBQSFUUZCBOHVQKPC*UMPPLTHPPEPOBTIFMGPSBEFTL JU isn’t too loud, and it offers better performance than a traditional gaming console (while having a much smaller footprint). That said, the Gaming UHD adds to the solid options for tiny gaming 1$TɀBUIFSUIBOPWFɀUISPXJOHUIFFYJTUJOHUPQEPHT0UIFSTZTUFNT might have slightly better graphics or be more compact, but this one’s a well-balanced experience across the board.

Specs and Cost A $1,000 ante gets you the bare-bones system, which TQPÉ€UTBRVBEDPSF4LZMBLF$PSFJ)2QSPDFTTPS BOEBO/WJEJB(59EFTLUPQQBÉ€UXJUI(#PG3". "$PSFJWFSTJPOPGUIF#SJY6)%FYJTUT CVU(JHBCZUF says it has no current plans to sell it in North America. 5IBUJOJUJBMPVUMBZBMTPOFUTZPVBO*OUFM8JSFMFTT"$ DBSEGFBUVSJOHBDY8J'JBOE#MVFUPPUI  BOEBTFUPGQPÉ€UTUIBUJODMVEFUISFFNJOJ The Brix Gaming 6)% UPQMFGU XJUIUIF"MJFOXBSF"MQIB3 UPQSJHIU BOEUIF*OUFM4LVMM$BOZPO/6$ CPUUPN 

Gigabyte Brix Gaming UHD AT A GLANCE Gigabyte’s Brix Gaming UHD has an elegant design and is powerful for its size, but it may soon have to compete with rivals featuring newer hardware. PROS t4PMJEQFɀGPSNBODF t'BOOPJTFJTNPEFɀBUFBOE low-pitched t(PPEMPPLTBOETNBMM footprint CONS t$PVMECFTPPOTVQFSTFEFE by competition with newer components $1,000

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REVIEWS & RATINGS

DisplayPort, gigabit ethernet, full-sized HDMI, two USB 3.0 Type A, two USB 3.1 10Gbps ports (one Type A, the other Type C), separate headphone and microphone jacks, and a Kensington lock slot. Both the HDMI port and all three of the mini DisplayPorts support up to 4K resolution (hence the “UHD” reference in this Brix’s name) at 60Hz. Of course, you’ll spend more than that, since you still have to add your own storage and memory. Our review unit, which arrived equipped with a Transcend 128GB SATA III M.2 SSD, Western Digital Blue 1TB 2.5-inch HDD, and 8GB of DDR4/2133MHz RAM, runs about $1,165 at current street prices. Expect to shell out about $1,285 if you plan to run a retail copy of Windows. You can pony up even more cash, though, if you really want to go all out. The Brix Gaming UHD has four slots for storage: two PCIe-NVMe M.2 (one also supports SATA 6Gbps), and two 2.5-inch SATA 6Gbps. There are also two SO-DIMM slots that can take up to 32GB of DDR4/2133 RAM. So, for example, if you wanted to put in a 512GB PCIe-NVMe SSD and 


16GB of DDR4/2133 RAM to match the same configuration as the Intel Skull Canyon NUC we reviewed in mid-2016, the Brix Gaming UHD would be about $1,400. Max out the RAM at 32GB and toss in two 1TB 2.5-inch hard drives (because why let that space go to waste?), and you’re looking at $1,615.

Performance Price isn’t the whole story, of course. Sure, that Skull Canyon NUC starts at $650 for the bare-bones system and is a lot more portable, but it also lacks discrete graphics. You can (in theory) add an external video card to the system using a Thunderbolt 3 cabinet like the Razer Core, but that’ll start running you as much as a Brix with a lot of storage. Plus, you know, you’ll actually have to get your hands on such a dock. Then there’s the $950 Core i7 version of the Alienware Alpha R2, which offers better gaming performance for about $200 less than this Brix. However, it gets pretty loud. As in, “put on 


REVIEWS & RATINGS

some headphones to drown out those shrill fans” loud. That alone can be a deal-breaker for some people. Also, with its wider footprint, the R2 is also more of an ultra small-form-factor PC than a mini-PC. The Brix Gaming UHD experience falls between those two, but not exactly in the middle. On the one hand, its discrete GTX 950 creamed the Skull Canyon’s integrated Iris Pro 580 by as much as 227 percent in our gaming benchmarks. On the other, that same GPU has a 10- to 18-percent drop in gaming performance relative to the Alpha R2’s GTX 960. The Brix UHD’s fan noise is softer and lower-pitched than the R2’s, though. Let’s dig into the numbers:

3DMark Fire Strike 3DMark’s Fire Strike benchmark simulates DirectX 11 gaming on ultrahigh settings at 1080p. These numbers primarily reflect GPU performance, so the CPU in each system doesn’t have as much effect as it might in real-world games. I’ve included results from our PCWorld Zero Point desktop (which runs a GTX 980) to show a fuller range, but the key data points are those of the Alienware X51, Alienware Alpha R2, and the Brix Gaming UHD. The X51 runs a full desktop version of the GTX 960, while the 

From top to bottom (zigzag): The Alienware X51, Gigabyte Brix Gaming UHD, Intel Skull Canyon NUC, Alienware Alpha R2, and Gigabyte Brix BXA8-5557.


Alpha R2 sports a custom GTX 960—both belong to the grade above the Brix Gaming UHD’s GTX 950 in the Nvidia GTX 9-series lineup. The X51 does only a bit better than the R2 here, which you’ll see repeated again to varying degrees in the next set of benchmarks. The real comparison here, however, is between the R2 and the Gaming UHD, because the X51 is not a mini-PC. (Plus, it’s discontinued.) Opting for the Brix Gaming UHD instead of the Alpha R2 means a drop of about 14.6 percent in performance. As you’ll see below, that usually works out to about 10 frames per second or so in actual games. If you’re curious about how the Brix Gaming UHD’s GTX 950 would do against the desktop counterpart, I unfortunately didn’t have one on hand during testing. All I can share is that Gigabyte has said this GTX 950 is a custom part, and its specs look very similar to that of the GTX 965M. (For reference, the desktop GTX 950 has 768 CUDA cores with a base clock of 1,024MHz and a boost clock of 1,188MHz, while the Gaming UHD’s 950 has 1,024 CUDA cores with a slower base clock of 935MHz and a boost clock of 1,150MHz.)

3DMark Fire Strike 1.1 Overall Alienware Alpha R2 (Core i7-6700T / Nvidia GTX 960)

6,076

Alienware X51 (Core i7-6700K / Nvidia GTX 960)

6,458

Brix Gaming UHD (Core i7-6700HQ / Nvidia GTX 950)

5,184

Intel NUC6i7KYK Skull Canyon (Core i7-6700HW / Iris Pro Graphics 580)

1,933

PC World Zero Point desktop (Core i7-4770K / Nvidia GTX 980)

10,878 0

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Tomb Raider Ultimate 1920x1080 (fps) Alienware Alpha R2 (Core i7-6700T / Nvidia GTX 960)

54.9

Alienware X51 (Core i7-6700K / Nvidia GTX 960)

55.9

Brix Gaming UHD (Core i7-6700HQ / Nvidia GTX 950)

46.7

Intel NUC6i7KYK Skull Canyon (Core i7-6770HW / Iris Pro Graphics 580)

16.5

PC World Zero Point desktop (Core i7-4770K / Nvidia GTX 980)

101.8 0

20

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It’s pretty much a given, though, that the desktop GTX 950 will outperform the Brix. Larger parts in bigger chassis can run hotter, so thermal constraints on performance won’t be as severe. You can look at the difference between the X51 and the Alpha R2 for a very rough idea of what that delta would be.

Tomb Raider At this point, Tomb Raider is an aging game, but all the better to see how the Brix Gaming UHD will handle a backlog of older titles purchased during Steam sales. This particular game leans a bit more on the CPU, so if you somehow get your hands on the Core i5 version of the Brix UHD, performance won’t be exactly the same as with this model. With the settings cranked to Ultimate, the Brix Gaming UHD falls under the golden minimum of 60 fps, though 46.7 fps is still fairly playable. If you don’t mind dropping down to Ultra, the framerate jumps up to about 68 fps. The Alpha R2 also can’t quite make it to 60 fps on Ultimate, but it’s much closer at 54.9 fps. 

120


BioShock Infinite This three-year-old game can still give the GTX 950 and GTX 960 a run for their money on Ultra settings with DDoF turned on. The Alpha R2 just manages to hit over 60 fps, while the Brix Gaming UHD manages a little over 50 fps. While that extra 10 frames per second might sound like the better deal, don’t forget about the piercing sound of the Alpha R2’s fans under load. For its part, the Skull Canyon NUC gives an old college try with 16.4 fps. We still have to wait before integrated graphics can manage even 30 fps in three-year-old games with everything cranked up. It’ll be interesting to see how AMD’s Zen APUs manage.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Here we begin to see the limits of the GTX 950 and GTX 960. With the 4K texture pack installed, this newer title can ask a fair amount of a GPU. What’s most surprising is that the Skull Canyon NUC’s Iris Pro manages about the same level of performance here as in BioShock

BioShock Infinite Ultra DDoF 1920x1080 (fps) Alienware Alpha R2 (Core i7-6700T / Nvidia GTX 960)

65.39

Aliebware X51 (Core i7-6700K / Nvidia GTX 960)

72.9

Brix Gaming UHD (Core i7-6700HQ / Nvidia GTX 950)

53.7

Intel NUC6i7KYK Skull Canyon (Core i7-6700HW / Iris Pro Graphics 580)

16.4

PC World Zero Point desktop (Core i7-4770K / Nvidia GTX 980)

116.3 0

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120

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Shadow of Mordor Ultra w 4K textures 1920x1200 Alienware Alpha R2 (Core i7-6700T / Nvidia GTX 960)

45.57

Alienware X51 (Core i7-6700K / Nvidia GTX 960)

47.35

Brix Gaming UHD (Core i7-6700HQ / Nvidia GTX 950)

39.22

Intel NUC6i7KYK Skull Canyon (Core i7-6700HW / Iris Pro Graphics 580)

16.64 0

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Grand Theft Auto V Normal, No AA 1920x1080 (fps) Alienware Alpha R2 (Core i7-6700T / Nvidia GTX 960)

115.75

Brix Gaming UHD (Core i7-6700HQ / Nvidia GTX 950)

104.15

Intel NUC6i7KYK Skull Canyon (Core i7-6700HQ / Iris Pro Graphics 580)

50.79 19.58

Intell NUC6i7RYH (Core i7-557U / Iris Graphics 6100) 0

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Infinite and Tomb Raider. The step down for the Alpha R2 to the mid40-fps range, and the Brix Gaming UHD to just under 40 fps, is less startling, but it does begin to show the trade-off of performance for size. The newer the game, the more you’ll have to dial down graphics settings to get smooth gameplay at tolerable framerates. 

120

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REVIEWS & RATINGS Grand Theft Auto V That trend is clearest in Grand Theft Auto V. For this benchmark, I cranked down all the settings, then used FRAPS to capture the framerate as I played the first mission. It’s not the prettiest, but it’s playable. The Skull Canyon NUC manages 50 fps, while the Brix Gaming UHD steams along at over 100 fps. However, if you step up the graphics one notch on all settings and turn on MSAA to a factor of x2, the Brix Gaming UHD’s framerate drops in half to an average of about 52 fps. That’s not bad at all, but I’d be a lot more enthusiastic if I weren’t spending so much time with the new mobile versions of Nvidia’s 10-series parts. This system could pack a much stronger punch with a GTX 1050 or even 1050 Ti—if Nvidia ever makes mobile equivalents of those parts.

General Performance You won’t find any surprises on the CPU side of performance. The Brix Gaming UHD’s Core i7-6700HQ spars comfortably with the socketed

PCMark 8 Work Conventional Alienware Alpha R2 (Core i7-6700T / Nvidia GTX 960)

3,204

Alienware X51 (Core i7-6700K / Nvidia GTX 960)

3,487

Brix Gaming UHD (Core i7-6700HQ / Nvidia GTX 950)

3,357

Intel NUC6i7KYK Skull Canyon (Core i7-6770HW / Iris Pro Graphics 580)

3,458

PC World Zero Point desktop (Core i7-4770K / Nvidia GTX 980)

3,349 0

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Cinebench R15 (All Threads) Alienware Alpha R2 (Core i7-6700T / Nvidia GTX 960)

682

Alienware X51 (Core i7-6700K / Nvidia GTX 960)

879

Brix Gaming UHD (Core i7-6700HQ / Nvidia GTX 950)

677

Intel NUC6i7KYK Skull Canyon (Core i7-6770HW / Iris Pro Graphics 580)

709 0

100

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LONGER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE

35W Core i7-6700T in the Alpha R2 as well as with the Core i7-6770HQ in the Skull Canyon, which is almost the same chip but with better integrated graphics along with a large embedded DRAM cache. In PCMark 8’s Work Conventional benchmark, which simulates everyday tasks like web browsing, video chat, word processing, and light spreadsheet use, the Brix Gaming UHD fell slightly below the Skull Canyon NUC and the X51 (the latter of which uses a socketed Core i7-6700K processor), and slightly edged out the Alpha R2’s 6700T. With about 100 points between the UHD and its competitors, it’s too small of a difference to matter much. All of these systems will feel snappy during basic work. The gulf widens predictably when you lean more on the CPU. In Cinebench R15’s 3D rendering test, which takes just a few minutes, the 91-watt Core i7-6700K in the X51 takes a clear, dominating lead over the lower-watt parts. Here, the Brix slips slightly behind the Alpha R2, which is likely due to its lower clock speeds. The 6700T has a base speed of 2.8GHz and a Turbo speed of 3.6GHz, while the 6700HQ has a base speed of 2.6GHz and a Turbo speed of 3.5GHz. Under longer CPU loads, though, things flip. In our HandBrake 

900

1,000


benchmark, which involves converting a 30GB MKV file into a smaller MP4 using the Android Tablet preset, the Brix repeatedly edged out the Alpha R2. It’s a small margin—barely a minute—so it implies that the 6700T’s higher clock speeds count more only during short bursts of intense activity. Unfortunately, I sent the Brix back to Gigabyte before I had a chance to look at the clock speeds under load and how long they held. I’ll hazard a guess that the 6700T might not hold that peak of 3.6GHz for long before dropping down to just a hair below the Brix’s 6700HQ. Finally, to round out our benchmarks, I looked at the maximum power draw. One of the appeals of having a mini-PC instead of a larger system is the lower power consumption. That may be of no concern to someone whose rig could function as a boat in the event of a cataclysmic flood, but it does matter to those of us who like to plug everything in the house into a Watts Up meter and make a spreadsheet

HandBrake Encode 09.9 (sec) Alienware Alpha R2 (Core i7-6700T / Nvidia GTX 960)

3,069

Alienware X51 (Core i7-6700K / Nvidia GTX 960)

2,325

Brix Gaming UHD (Core i7-6700HQ / Nvidia GTX 950)

3,010

Intel NUC6i7KYK Skull Canyon (Core i7-6770HW / Iris Pro Graphics 580)

2,882

PC World Zero Point desktop (Core i7-4770K / Nvidia GTX 980)

3,059 2,750

Velocity Micro (Core i7-6700)

0

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Max Power Draw (Watts) Alienware Alpha R2 (Core i7-6700T / Nvidia GTX 960)

190

Alienware X51 (Core i7-6700K / Nvidia GTX 960)

202

Brix Gaming UHD (Core i7-6700HQ / Nvidia GTX 950)

124

Intel NUC6i7KYK Skull Canyon (Core i7-6770HW / Iris Pro Graphics 580)

95 0

50

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SHORTER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE

of the resulting data. (Ahem.) Measuring max power draw is an inexact science. To get these results, I ran two different torture tests: Furmark, which pounds on the GPU, and Prime95, which hammers on the CPU. For the systems with discrete GPUs, running Furmark drew the most power, but the Skull Canyon NUC was the opposite. Its result in the chart is from running Prime95. It’s impressive that the Brix Gaming UHD consumes just 30 watts more than the Skull Canyon NUC but can push out so many more frames while gaming. Thing is, newer parts could probably do better. The GTX 1050 desktop part is rated at 75W, which is already lower than the 950, which was rated at 90W. A custom 1050 likely would have a lower TDP than the GTX 950 as well.

If you’ve picked up on a recurring comment—that this mini-PC could be more amazing with an Nvidia 10-series GPU—then you already know the lone thing I could point to as an issue.




Final thoughts If you’ve picked up on a recurring comment—that this mini-PC could be more amazing with an Nvidia 10-series GPU—then you already know the lone thing I could point to as an issue. Buying the Brix Gaming UHD now might not give you the most bang for your buck. For example, if you’re willing to go bigger, Zotac has launched GTX 1060 and 1070 versions of E series bare-bones systems, with a GTX 1080 model on the way. Granted, the GTX 1060 and 1070 Zotac machines are only equipped with Core i5 processors, and all of them are about the size of the Alienware Alpha. Still, those systems reinforce the idea that newer components are already available to make a just-right mix of performance, size, and acoustics even better. Hopefully, Gigabyte will release a successor to this Brix Gaming UHD sooner rather than later— with a Kaby Lake processor and a GTX 1050.

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REVIEWS & RATINGS

Tyranny: Obsidian’s RPG ponders the nature of evil BY HAYDEN DINGMAN

IMAGINE A WORLD in peril. Kyros, the overlord, dominates everything in the known world—except for one tiny realm, that is. Known as the Tiers, this last bastion of goodness, of freedom, holds out in the face of impossible odds. Armies clash, and Kyros’s overwhelming forces handily dispatching the desperate populace until all hope seems lost. In a normal video game, this would be the point where your untrained, unskilled, and unknown Joe Nobody enters the picture to save the day, to beat back the tides of darkness, confront Kyros, and eventually defeat him. Not in Tyranny (tyrannygame.com), though. 


Sympathy for the devil In Tyranny, the latest isometric CRPG from Obsidian (following Pillars of Eternity), you work for Kyros. You are the bad guy, or at least one of his many servants. You play as a Fatebinder, an enforcer of the empire’s (often heinous) laws. Obsidian Tyranny likened the Fatebinders to Judge Dredd the ďŹ rst time they showed us the game, and I’m going to AT A GLANCE stick with that. It’s an apt description—police force Tyranny is flawed, but more in for a brutal and absolutist regime. the vein of a future cult classic How brutal? Well, you start the game by going than a failure. It’s got great ideas, just not the depth to let through the brief “Conquestâ€? section. It’s essentially them shine. a Choose Your Own Adventure where you make key decisions about the invasion of the Tiers—what PROS cities did you visit, which tactics did you use, that ti&WJMwQBUIJTNPSFDPNQMFY sort of thing. Two purposes are served here: 1) You’re and fleshed-out than in most setting up the state of the actual world you’re about games to play in and 2) It gives you an idea of the stakes t#SPO[F"HFoTUZMFEXPSMEJTB involved. nice break from rote medieval One place you could potentially visit is the proud fantasy realm of Stalwart, ruled by a group of Regents. t$PNQBOJPODIBÉ€BDUFSTIBWF Annoyed that those regents are holed up in a castle interesting backgrounds and refuse to ďŹ ght, Kyros sends you to proclaim an Edict, a powerful piece of magic that in this case CONS summons a storm. And “stormâ€? is putting it lightly. t4UPÉ€ZFOETPOCMBUBOUTFRVFM The maelstrom sweeps up entire armies in a whirlbait wind, vaporizing the soldiers and leaving only their t%FTQJUFNVMUJQMFGBDUJPOT  weapons and armor behind, half-buried in the dirt. story seems strangely linear at Proud Stalwart becomes known as “The Blade times Grave.â€? What’s more, the storm still rages. It’s t$PNCBUDBOHFUBCJU perpetual, unending. Only when the last Regent dies cumbersome and repetitive will the terms of the Edict be satisďŹ ed and the storm die down. So yeah, pretty brutal. But it’s an interesting sort of evil. What drew me to Tyranny in the months ď›œď˜ťď™€

$45


REVIEWS & RATINGS

before release was the idea that evil can be complex, can be more than just the saint-or-devil moral paradigm we see in so many games. I gave up long ago on playing the “Evil” character in most BioWareesque games—not because of some moral aversion, but because it was boring. The “Good” characters always got long and engaging quests, full of dialogue and skill checks and intrigue. The bad guys usually got…well, to kill people. That’s it, really. But Tyranny promised something more. Here in this world you would navigate between different evil factions, some chaotic, some merely tools of the bureaucracy, some overtly evil, some more insidious. And to some extent that’s what Tyranny delivers. Especially in the first few hours. Oh, those first few hours are wonderful. Once you’ve made your choices in the Conquest you’re kicked into the world your actions created. Out of six cities you’re allowed to visit three during the Conquest, and your actions in each city can be either merciful or murderous. In Stalwart, for instance, you can either read the Edict and summon the storm immediately or give the population three days to evacuate ahead of time. Any city you don’t visit? Assume the most murderous, horrible thing happened to those three by default. That’s not your concern yet though. You’re sent to Apex, where a few 


last bands of resistance have risen up in revolt. Immediately, your Conquest actions come into play. I’d managed to negotiate a surrender in Apex in my Conquest, so the rebels called me “Peacebinder” and were generally more willing to talk, while my own soldiers were annoyed with me—“If you hadn’t spared them two years ago, we wouldn’t have to fight them again.” But they’re not doing much fighting anyway. Kyros’s armies are in disarray, thanks to a conflict between the two main factions—the organized, Roman-esque legions of the Disfavored and the chaotic horde of the Scarlet Chorus. Kyros sends you to read another Edict to the leaders of these two armies: “Defeat the rebels in eight days or everyone in the whole region, friend or foe, will die.” The ensuing hours, which constitute the game’s first act, are masterful. Not since Fallout: New Vegas has faction warfare been handled so skillfully, with you inevitably drawn into the machinations of both the Disfavored and the Scarlet Chorus’s leaders and forced to somehow rise above it, force the two to work together, and play the factions off each other. It’s a complicated balancing act, and one I really enjoyed for five or




REVIEWS & RATINGS

six hours. But Tyranny is less Fallout: New Vegas as far as I can tell and more like The Witcher 2. Rather than letting you continue to play factions off each other for the rest of the campaign, Tyranny soon forces you (as far as I can tell) into choosing a side. From there, it’s all a bit downhill for me. I sided with the Disfavored, given that the Scarlet Chorus seem like an unholy nightmare. But the Disfavored have their own problems—think Lawful Evil to the Chorus’s Chaotic Evil. There were times the Disfavored asked me to do something so heinous that I would’ve gladly defected, and yet the opportunity doesn’t present itself. The Chorus would attack on sight, as well as any Rebel factions, leaving me to either finish the Disfavored’s quest as asked or…quit the game, I guess? That’s not necessarily a bad thing—I rather like that The Witcher 2 put a hard lock on its story, saying “Regardless of how you make this choice, you won’t see half the game.” And I am looking forward to replaying Tyranny at some point. It does feel somewhat artificial though, in this case. Maybe I just didn’t figure out a way to get the two factions to work together for a longer period of time, but if I’m indeed not missing something (and I don’t think I am) the game forces your hand really early. You’re often not even allowed subtle ways to undermine your 


faction. A late-game Disfavored quest told me I needed to fight off some foes and then repair the damage they’d done for a spell to complete. “Ah,” I thought, “a chance for me to do purposefully-shoddy repairs and foil the Disfavored’s plan.” But no, there’s no moral salvation. Clicking on the device in question, I could either fix it and finish the quest or not. Again, it felt artificial. There’s just not enough depth to Tyranny at times, and the remaining 10 to 15 hours felt a bit like being railroaded to an inevitable conclusion—one dependent on which of the three main factions I sided with, sure, but still inevitable. This review is perhaps overly negative, in that I still enjoyed Tyranny quite a bit. The dialogue is excellent. There’s still a lot to digest, but it’s overall less cumbersome than Pillars of Eternity. The fact you can mouse over key terms in the dialogue to see background info? Brilliant. Plus the world and the locales are often creative as hell, though the maps themselves are a bit empty at times. And I came to love the new Skill system. While some abilities are gained in the usual manner, by leveling, you attain some depending on




REVIEWS & RATINGS

your standing with various factions. Getting the Disfavored to like you, for instance, might grant a spell that protects a party member from damage. This system also means there can even be a benefit to a faction disliking you, which is interesting. Oh, and the companions. I’m disappointed there aren’t specific sidequests for each, but they’re some of Obsidian’s best work even as-is. My favorite is Barik, a man caught up in the storm at Stalwart who awoke to find out he’d basically been fused with his armor forever, but all six made a compelling argument for me to take them along on adventures. There’s a lot of potential in Tyranny. A lot. I just don’t think all of it is fulfilled. Great premise, great world, great characters, but it feels like there needed to be twice as much inter-faction politicking in the latter half to keep the story lively. And it doesn’t help that the ending is blatant sequel-bait, dangling a bunch of loose threads right when it feels like you’re getting a glimpse of the overarching plot. It felt to me like the story needed maybe one more standout scene to wrap up properly.

Bottom line There’s a lot to love here, though. Tyranny is flawed, but I suspect it’s flawed in the manner of Alpha Protocol, to cite another Obsidian 


project—a game that garners a cult following despite some clear issues, a game that’s later hailed as an “important” experience. Because I keep coming back to those initial few hours: A game where you’re the villain, but not in the usual mustache-twirling cartoon way we see so often. There is gray, here. This is a world where evil is the norm, where you’re the villain in an objective sense but not in the context of the world itself.

Those are ideas worth exploring, just as we might ponder the plight of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. Is Tyranny on that level? Nah. But games owe evil—if players choose to take that path—a depiction of that caliber. Not just “The Guy Who Wears Black And Kills Puppies.” Tyranny, in that regard, is a step in the right direction.

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REVIEWS & RATINGS

Daydream View: Sparse content is all that stands between Google and VR greatness BY JASON CROSS

VIRTUAL REALITY ISN’T yet a mainstream phenomenon. Sure, Samsung has sold (and given away) a lot of Gear VR (go.pcworld.com/ gearvrapps) headsets. The Oculus Rift (go.pcworld.com/oculusriftrev) HTC Vive (go.pcworld.com/htcviverv) are building momentum, and Playstation VR is off to a strong start. It’s all good news for VR fans, but we’re still a long way from hundreds of millions of daily users. 


Daydream View’s soft, pliable build is extremely light and comfortable, but a bit of light leaks in.

Google thinks it has a solution: Daydream VR (go. pcworld.com/daydreamview). It’s not a single product, but rather a set of requirements and standards. Phones that meet the right specs (high-end GPUs, accurate and speedy sensors) and run the right software (Android 7.1 with Google’s services) can be labeled “Daydream ready.” Any of these phones can be used in any Daydream VR headset. Over the next few years, the ecosystem could encompass dozens of phone models and hundreds of millions of users. But none of that will happen if Google’s vision doesn’t get off to a good start. Fortunately, the first Daydream ready phone we tested (the Pixel XL, go.pcworld.com/pixelxlrv) is great. Now the first Daydream headset has landed. Is Daydream View good enough to kick off an Android VR revolution?

Daydream View

Plastic is out, fabric is in

$79

A VR headset isn’t worth much if it’s a pain to use, 

AT A GLANCE Google’s Daydream VR platform is off to a good start, but quality content will have to pour in rapidly. PROS t-JHIUXFJHIU t$PNGPɀUBCMF t*OFYQFOTJWF CONS t0OMZXPSLTXJUI1JYFMQIPOFT at launch t5JOZJOJUJBMTPGUXBSFMJCɀBɀZ


REVIEWS & RATINGS

literally and figuratively. But Daydream View is one of the most comfortable VR headsets I’ve used, thanks in part to its fabric enclosure. It’s soft and pliable, and incredibly lightweight. The face mask is comfortable, and easily removed to wash. Sure, it’s not exactly fashion-forward. I mean, if you’re strapping a phone to your face, you’re going to look kind of goofy. Still, it’s less embarrassing than the Gear VR’s big plastic chunk, or even the sleek and deliberate Oculus Rift. The Pixel XL is a fairly large and heavy phone, and weighs down the front of the headset. I often found myself adjusting the headset’s position on my face, trying to find the perfect focus. Some of this is due to the fact that, like Gear VR, there’s no way to adjust the interpupillary distance, or IPD. This terms refers to how far apart the lenses are from each other, and adjustment helps the lenses conform to those with wider or narrower set eyes. I have a small and narrow head with a small IPD, and find that most VR headsets are a bit of a struggle to adjust. I can get Daydream View to fit right and look clear, but just like with Gear VR, I have to fiddle with it a bit. Once it’s in place, though, Daydream View is the most comfortable phone-based VR headset I’ve used. There’s a bit of a gap along the sides, at least on my narrow head, 

Google’s VR headset looks quite small next to a Gear VR.


which is good news for those that wear glasses but bad news for everyone else. As light leaks in through the gap, it creates noticeable reflections on the lenses. If you’ve got a bright lamp or window in the room, you’ll notice it as you turn your head around. It may be less of a problem for those with larger or wider heads, but I found myself looking for a darker environment to really immerse myself.

Incredibly easy to use If Google is going to get hundreds of millions of phone users to become VR fans, it needs to make everything easy as possible. In this regard, Daydream View is leaps and bounds over Gear VR and other VR headsets. This is how you use it: You put your phone the face flap, and then you close it with the little elastic loop latch. That’s it. You’re done. No plugging anything in. No making sure you have the version of the headset with the right USB connector. No plastic spring-loaded



Lay your phone on the door, close it, and go. No plugs, ports, springs, or latches.


REVIEWS & RATINGS latches. Just lay it on the flap, close the flap, and stick it on your face. Even the head band is easy to adjust when you’re all strapped in. The Daydream system software takes care of everything, including rendering the VR display on your phone at just the right spot, and adjusting for different phone sizes. A simple intro tutorial steps you through the basics of operation—adjusting the fit to get a clear view, using the controller, and re-centering your view. Then you find yourself in a stylized cartoon forest, staring at the VR menu.

The magic wand If there’s a problem with phone-based VR solutions, it’s the limited way in which you interact with the environment. Google Cardboard has essentially one button, and all interaction demands you press it while you look at something. Gear VR has a touch-sensitive pad and a back button, but you have to hold your hand up to the side of the headset to use it. Some Gear VR apps support gamepads, but now you’re talking about a separate purchase, Bluetooth pairing, and hitor-miss app support. The Daydream approach is a big step up. You hold a small remote with a concave circular click-pad at the top, a single button beneath that (usually used to get to an app’s menu), and a system menu button down a little further (press to return to Daydream menu, or hold to re-center view). Volume buttons sit along the right edge. The controller isn’t precisely tracked in 3D space the way HTC Vive’s controllers or Oculus Touch are. Rather, it relies on motion sensing, sort of like a Wii controller. As a result, it’s accurate enough to point at 

The controller has nothing on Oculus Touch or Vive, but it’s light years ahead of other mobile-based VR.


and select items, swing around like a sword or magic wand, or tip and tilt. It’s a great and inexpensive way to interact with VR apps and games—highly intuitive, small, simple, and light. I found it to be just a little laggy, though. The movement of the controller in my VR view was just a split-second behind my movement in the real world. This, along with the fact that it’s precise position isn’t tracked, is enough to break the immersive feeling of directly manipulating the virtual world. It also has a tendency to drift a bit, slowly going off-center as you use the system. Re-centering is trivial (just hold the home button), but it’s a problem I’d rather not deal with. I’d love a highly accurate, latency-free, position-tracked motion control solution, but that’s just not possible with today’s phone-based VR technology. While Google’s solution has its drawbacks, it’s leaps and bounds ahead of the interaction model for Gear VR and similar headsets.



There’s even a little divot and band to store the controller inside the headset.


REVIEWS & RATINGS

VR quality on par with Gear VR Getting into VR with the Daydream View is easy, the headset is comfortable, and the motion-sensitive remote is the best phone-based control method yet. None of that matters if the VR experience itself is sup-par. Fortunately, Google absolutely nailed this crucial criterion. In order for VR to make you feel like you really are in a virtual place, it needs to meet certain minimum performance standards. Chief among these is motion-to-photon latency—the time it takes to go from moving your head to showing your eyes a new view of the world. This needs to be combined with a very high, very stable frame rate, and a low-persistence display that won’t blur or smear your view. Fail at any of this, and you’ll be pulled out of the VR experience, or worse, get sick. This is one reason why I maintain that Google Cardboard—while interesting, cheap, and fun—isn’t real VR. It doesn’t achieve that sense of “presence” that really makes you feel like you’re in another place. I’ve often had to explain that Gear VR isn’t just a fancy Google Cardboard, but instead meets minimum “real VR” standards. With Daydream, Google has achieved a similar level of performance. The graphics rendering is just as immediate and responsive to your head movements, and the visual quality and field of view is quite similar. All phone-based solutions are currently a big step behind the Rift, Vive, and Playstation VR. The inability to track head and controller 

VR performance and visual quality is as good as any I’ve seen from a mobile VR solution. Right up there with Gear VR.


position, rather than just movement, is a big issue. This won’t be solved until someone figures out how to reliably do “inside out” position tracking on phone hardware. Daydream VR is still real VR, though, and can provide great experiences. It’s just necessarily more limited than the “full” VR experiences of the more expensive, high-end setups. If there’s a real problem with Daydream VR, it’s the lack of content. The launch selection is extremely limited, with half of the Day One apps coming from Google itself. Yes, Google photos, YouTube, and Street View are really slick in VR, but there are only about five nonGoogle apps and games ready at launch. Luckily, there’s plenty more on the way. Must-have video services like Netflix, HBO Go, and Hulu should land in the next few weeks. Bigbrand apps like LEGO are mixed in with nearly 20 other less-wellknown titles, all promised by the end of the year. The launch software is slim pickings, but early adopters shouldn’t have to wait too long for a more robust selection. The offerings on tap for Gear VR are certainly more extensive, if not higher quality.

At this price, it’s a no-brainer Daydream View is $79. That undercuts the price of Gear VR ($99), while offering generally superior quality and ease-of-use, though with a



The app selection at launch is pretty thin. Half of what you see here is not yet available.


REVIEWS & RATINGS

much smaller content library. Given that the only phones to currently support Daydream are the Pixel and Pixel XL, which cost $650 or more, you’d be crazy not to drop another $80 on such a fun accessory. In time, there should be more Daydream-compatible gear: more headsets to choose from, and more Daydream-ready phones at a range of prices. For now, it’s hard to view Daydream View as anything other than a great accessory for the Pixel phones. In that capacity, the headset is is quite good, with the potential for greatness if the apps really start flowing. The long-term prospects of the Daydream VR platform, however, are hard to predict. There are lots of variables: How many Pixel phones will Google sell? How quickly will other Daydream-ready phones hit the market? What about other compatible viewers? Can developers expect to ever make money on this stuff, or will this particular VR platform fizzle before it has a chance to expand? Google is going to have to stick with it for some time, investing in content while continually making hardware and software improvements. If they do, it has the potential to be a great smartphone-based VR platform. All the pieces are there.



Do I want to play with LEGO in VR? You bet I do! It’s a shame it’s not yet available.


IWitnessBullying.org


vs.

FIGHT! ALI VS. FRAZIER, RED SOX VS. YANKEES, KIRK

VS. KHAN. AND OF COURSE, MAC VS. PC. B Y

G O R D O N 

M A H

U N G


FEATURE SURFACE BOOK i7 VS. MACBOOK PRO

Now that Apple’s introduced the first major update to its MacBook Pro lineup (go.pcworld.com/ mbp2016lineup) in years, it’s time to square off the best of the best in Mac and PC laptops to see who currently prevails in this age-old rivalry.

The contenders For this comparison I reached for the newest Surface Book (go.pcworld. com/sbooki7rv). It’s a top-of-the-line model with a Core i7-6600U, a GeForce GTX 965M, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. The updated product line varies from $2,400 to $3,300 (our model) in price. All three net you a 6th-gen Skylake dual-core Core i7 chip, and all three get you the same Performance Base with a GeForce GTX 965M. From what I can tell, the only differences are in the size of the SSD and how much RAM you get. Only the SSD would affect performance significantly. 

It’s benchmarks at dawn between the new MacBooks, the new Surface Book i7, and a posse of other Windows laptops.


FEATURE

On the Apple side, I turned to a $2,400 MacBook Pro 15 with a quad-core Core i7-6700HQ, 16GB of LPDDR/2133, and a 256GB SSD. I also had partial access to two MacBook Pro 13’s. The first was the nontouch bar model with a Core i5-6360U, 8GB of LPDDR/1866, and a 256GB SSD ($1,500). The second was the Touch Bar version (go. pcworld.com/mbptouchrv) with a Core i5-6267U, 8GB of LPDDR/2133, and a 256GB SSD ($1,800). I used the performance results from our sister site Macworld’s review for this article.

Why this contest isn’t rigged Let’s make it clear from the outset: This isn’t a direct comparison of the laptops based on cost, but an attempt to compare the performance of the new MacBook Pros to that of similar PC laptops. For those who’ve noticed the considerable price delta between the Surface Book i7 and the 15-inch MacBook Pro, the stack of other PCs used in this comparison will help smooth out that line. You might argue that it’s silly to compare a $3,300 Surface Book i7 against an



That Surfaced Book cleaned the clock of the MacBook Pro 13 last year. Can it do the same again?


FEATURE SURFACE BOOK i7 VS. MACBOOK PRO

We opted to test on the operating system that people will run on the computer they buy.

$1,800 MacBook Pro 13, or a $1,100 Dell XPS 13 against an $1,800 MacBook Pro 13, or a $1,400 Dell XPS 15 against a $2,400 MacBook Pro 15. But these are all real-world models that you’ll find in a store, rather than configurations contrived to hit a number. Price differences are just part of the comparison puzzle. For the same reason, we’re not loading the same OS on all the laptops—no OSX on PCs, no Windows on Macs. Real people wouldn’t do that, and neither will we.

Cinebench R multi-threaded performance Our first test is Cinebench R15. This is a 3D rendering test based on Maxon’s Cinema4D engine. The test is heavily multi-threaded, and the more cores or threads you can throw at it, the better the performance. The test is is a pretty harsh reminder that if your tasks demand a quad-core, listen to them. Between the two quad-cores, the Dell XPS 15 crosses the finish line first—but not by much. Let’s just call it mostly a tie. 


Cinebench R15 CPU Multi-threaded CPU Performance Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / GTX 960M)

681

Macbook Pro 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / Radeon 450)

668

HP Spectre x360 13 (Core i7-7500U / HD 620)

324

Microsoft Surface Book i7 (Core i7-6600U / GTX 965M)

321

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5-7200U / HD 620)

320

Dell XPS 13 (Core i7-6560U / Iris 540)

307

MacBook Pro 13 (Core i5-6600U / Iris 540)

306 0

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Among the dual-cores, the Core i5-based MacBook Pro 13 is last, but not by much. It’s basically the same as the last-gen XPS 13 with a similar Core i7-6560U. The surprise is where the Surface Book i7 finishes. Its 6th-gen CPU is hanging right with the 7th-generation Kaby Lake CPUs in the new HP Spectre x360 13 and the new Dell XPS 13.

Cinebench R single-threaded performance Cinebench R15 has an optional test that lets you measure the singlethreaded performance. It’s a valuable way to gauge how fast a laptop will be in applications or tasks that don’t use all the cores available. The surprise to many will be the result from the Dell XPS 13. Its 7th-generation Core i5 CPU could hang with the Core i7 chips on heavier loads, but on lighter loads, it ends up being last. That’s because Core i7 chips in laptops excel at short, “bursty” loads. Once you heat them up, the clock speeds crank back. When running a test in single-threaded mode, the Core i7’s advantage with short burst loads shows up big-time. 

Cinebench R15’s multi-threaded benchmark shows you the clear difference between quadcore and dualcore CPUs. Longer bars indicate better performance.


FEATURE SURFACE BOOK i7 VS. MACBOOK PRO

Cinebench R15 CPU Single-threaded CPU Performance HP Spectre x360 13 (Core i7-7500U / HD 620)

146

Microsoft Surface Book i7 (Core i7-6600U / GTX 965M)

142

Macbook Pro 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / Radeon 450)

142

Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / GTX 960M)

137

Dell XPS 13 (Core i7-6560U / Iris 540)

127

MacBook Pro 13 (Core i5-6600U / Iris 540)

125

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5-7200U / HD 620)

122 0

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The real shocker is how the HP Spectre x360 with a 7th-gen CPU comes out the clear winner. I would’ve expected the quad-core MacBook Pro 15 or Dell XPS 15 to lead the pack, but nope. That Kaby Lake CPU is indeed pulling its weight.

Cinebench R OpenGL performance Our last Cinebench R15 test measures performance with OpenGL, a popular graphics API used for rendering professional CAD/CAM applications and a few games. The results here break down into three bands. At the bottom is the new MacBook Pro 13 and an older Dell XPS 13 model. Both use Intel’s Skylake CPU and include “faster” Iris 540 graphics with 64MB of embedded DRAM inside the CPU. Both are nearly dead-even, which validates this test for comparing OSX to Windows 10 performance. The second band up is a shocker to me. The pair of 7th-gen Kaby Lake laptops from Dell and HP are a good 25 percent faster than the 6th-gen Skylake laptops in OpenGL. I really expected the Iris 540 laptops to come 

We switched Cinebench R15 into a mode where it measures singlethreaded CPU performance. Overall, there’s little difference in single-threaded loads.


Maxon’s Cinebench R15 can also measure OpenGL performance. The MacBook Pro 15’s Radeon Pro 450 is competent, but the Surface Book i7 and XPS prevail.

Cinebench R15 OpenGL Performance (fps) Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / GTX 960M)

89.7

Microsoft Surface Book i7 (Core i7-6600U / GTX 965M)

85.6

Macbook Pro 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / Radeon 450)

71.6

HP Spectre x360 13 (Core i7-7500U / HD 620)

45.7

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5-7200U / HD 620)

45.7

Dell XPS 13 (Core i7-6560U / Iris 540)

36.5

MacBook Pro 13 (Core i5-6600U / Iris 540)

35.5 0

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out in front. The results make me wonder whether this isn’t some driver optimization that Intel put into Kaby Lake but not Skylake. The last band is the graphics performance of the discrete-GPU laptops. Unexpectedly, the GeForce GTX 960M in the XPS 15 finishes just ahead of the GTX 965M in the Surface Book i7. The MacBook Pro 15, with its Radeon Pro 450, finishes in a firm third place. Some MacBook Pro reviews have said the graphics don’t measure up in games, while in “work”-related tasks, they rules. So far, I’ve not seen that to be true.

GeekBench . multi-threaded performance Another popular cross-platform benchmark is Primate Lab’s GeekBench. Experts may disdain its cross-platform results between ARM and x86. Within the same micro-architecture, however, I think it’s pretty kosher, especially when running the newest 4.01 version of the popular test. I also have a score to report for the MacBook Pro 13 with Touch Bar, as I cribbed the performance of the version with Core 


FEATURE SURFACE BOOK i7 VS. MACBOOK PRO

The PC laptops win a moral victory in GeekBench 4.01, but they virtually tie with the MacBook Pros.

GeekBench 4.01 Multi-Threaded Performance Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / GTX 960M)

12,850

Macbook Pro 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / Radeon 450)

12,689

HP Spectre x360 13 (Core i7-7500U / HD 620)

8,100

Dell XPS 13 (Core i7-6560U / Iris 540)

7,574

MacBook Pro 13 Touch Bar (Core i5-6267U / Iris 550)

7,541

Microsoft Surface Book i7 (Core i7-6600U / GTX 965M)

7,467

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5-7200U / HD 620)

7,341

MacBook Pro 13 (Core i5-6600U / Iris 540)

7,294 0

2,000

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14,000

L O N G E R B A R S I N D I C AT E B E T T E R P E R F O R M A N C E

i5-6267U and Iris 550 from Macworld’s review. The first result we’ll look at is the multi-threaded performance. Like Cinebench R15, you can see the quad-core XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 15 step away from the dual-core laptops. It’s just more proof that if your tasks really need a quad-core chip, pay for it. On the dual-cores, the redesigned HP Spectre x360 13 again shows the newest 7th-gen Core i7’s clock speed advantage over the Skylake models. The Surface Book i7 and MacBook Pro are pretty much dead-even. For MacBook Pro 13 fans that might be something to crow about, because we’re talking about a Core i5 MacBook Pro 13 vs. a Core i7 Surface Book.

GeekBench . single-threaded performance Moving on to the single-threaded performance in GeekBench 4.01, there are a few patterns we can discern. First, that 7th-gen Core i7 in the HP 


GeekBench 4.01 Single-Threaded Performance Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / GTX 960M)

4,193

Macbook Pro 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / Radeon 450)

4,143

HP Spectre x360 13 (Core i7-7500U / HD 620)

4,138

Microsoft Surface Book i7 (Core i7-6600U / GTX 965M)

3,992

MacBook Pro 13 Touch Bar (Core i5-6267U / Iris 550)

3,946

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5-7200U / HD 620)

3,816

MacBook Pro 13 (Core i5-6600U / Iris 540)

3,786

Dell XPS 13 (Core i7-6560U / Iris 540)

3,786 0

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1,000

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L O N G E R B A R S I N D I C AT E B E T T E R P E R F O R M A N C E

Spectre x360 13 is indeed faster in lighter loads, outpacing the Surface Book i7 and the Core i5-equipped MacBook Pro 13 with Touch Bar. The Dell XPS 15 inches over the MacBook Pro 15, but the real takeaway is this: If you don’t do many multi-threaded tasks on your laptop, you don’t need a quad-core CPU.

GeekBench . OpenCL performance GeekBench also has an OpenCL test that simulates popular Computer Language tasks on a GPU that would normally be handled by the CPU. The first takeaway: Unlike in the OpenGL performance tests, the older Iris 540 in the Skylake dual-cores is faster than the Kaby Lake integrated graphics for whatever tasks Prime Labs thinks best represent OpenCL. The second takeaway: OpenCL loves fast GPUs. The Surface Book i7 and its GTX 965M run away with this test, and trash the MacBook Pro 13. For those who didn’t pony up for the MacBook Pro’s faster Radeon 

When we used Geek Bench 4.01 to measure singlethreaded performance, there was scant difference between dual-core and quad-core laptops in lighter loads.


FEATURE SURFACE BOOK i7 VS. MACBOOK PRO

Geek Bench 4.01 can also be used to measure OpenCL, which uses the GPU to perform tasks typically done on a CPU.

GeekBench 4.01 OpenCL Performance Microsoft Surface Book i7 (Core i7-6600U / GTX 965M)

64,323

Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / GTX 960M)

49,363

Macbook Pro 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / Radeon 450)

41,559

MacBook Pro 13 Touch Bar (Core i5-6267U / Iris 550)

30,263

MacBook Pro 13 (Core i5-6600U / Iris 540)

28,064

Dell XPS 13 (Core i7-6560U / Iris 540)

26,114

HP Spectre x360 13 (Core i7-7500U / HD 620)

19,577

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5-7200U / HD 620)

19,214 0

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Pro 455 or 460 GPU, it’s hard to watch how thoroughly the the Surface Book i7 smokes the 450-equipped MacBook Pro. The Surface Book’s GTX 965M even makes a mockery of the GTX 960M in the XPS 15.

LuxMark . OpenCL GPU Render Performance When you play the benchmarketing game, one truth that's often overlooked is that no one test defines the entire category. You can’t take the results from Geek Bench 4.01 OpenCL and declare it representative of all OpenCL performance. To balance Geek Bench 4.01, I also ran the free LuxMark 3.1 OpenCL test. This takes a scene and renders it using the LuxRender engine on the GPU (or CPU if you ask it to.) I decided to skip the integratedgraphics laptops because I couldn’t wait days for them to render (kidding) and focused solely on the laptops with discrete graphics. 


LuxMark 3.1 LuxBall OpenCL GPU Render (sec) Macbook Pro 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / Radeon 450)

4,001

Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / GTX 960M)

4,479

Microsoft Surface Book i7 (Core i7-6600U / GTX 965M)

4,873 0

1,000

2,000

3,000

4,000

5,000

We used LuxMark 3.1 to measure the OpenCL performance of the graphics chips. The higher the score, the better the performance. In this one test, the MacBook Pro 15 is at least competitive.

The results put these GPUs a lot closer than the OpenCL numbers from Geek Bench 4.01 would have you believe. In the end, both the XPS 15 and Surface Book i7 again both clearly win. But would this be true if it were a Radeon 460 in the MacBook Pro 15? Probably not.

Blender . Performance The last “work”-related graphics test we’ll run is Blender 2.78. This a free rendering application popular in a lot of indie movies. For a test render file, I used Mike Pan’s BMW Benchmark (go.pcworld.com/bmwbench) and set Blender to ray-trace the scene on the GPU rather than the CPU.

Blender 2.78a BMW Benchmark GPU (sec) Microsoft Surface Book i7 (Core i7-6600U / GTX 965M)

483.2

Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / GTX 960M)

592.1

Macbook Pro 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / Radeon 450)

3,660.5 0

1,000

2,000

3,000

4,000

S H O R T E R B A R S I N D I C AT E B E T T E R P E R F O R M A N C E



5,000

Something isn’t right on the MacBook Pro 15 because while the Surface Book i7 took eight minutes to render a scene, the MacBook Pro 15 struggled for an hour. An hour.


FEATURE SURFACE BOOK i7 VS. MACBOOK PRO

The result is, frankly, beyond ugly. The Surface Book i7 finished in about eight minutes, and the XPS 15 took another two more minutes. The MacBook Pro 15 took more than an hour to complete the task. The GPU performance of the MacBook Pro 15 fared better in OpenGL tests. In Tomb Raider, it’s far, far behind the Surface Book i7 and XPS 15.

Tomb Raider 16x10 Normal (fps) Microsoft Surface Book i7 (Core i7-6600U / GTX 965M)

126.0

Dell XPS 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / GTX 960M)

118.0

Macbook Pro 15 (Core i7-6700HQ / Radeon 450)

55.8

Dell XPS 13 (Core i7-6560U / Iris 540)

37.6

MacBook Pro 13 (Core i5-6360U / Iris 540)

32.0

Dell XPS 13 (Core i5-7200U / HD 620)

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This doesn’t mean the MacBook Pro 15’s Radeon Pro 450 is a dog. The other benchmarks should tell you that the Apple isn’t that bad in some tasks. Still, this kind of performance disparity indicates a serious problem at the OS or driver level, or something with this compile of Blender. Unless or until that mystery is solved, you’ll want to do your Blender renders on a PC laptop.

Tomb Raider performance The last graphics test I ran is Tomb Raider. It’s an older game available in both OSX and Windows and includes a built-in benchmark. While I could set the graphics settings the same on both platforms, I couldn’t quite sync the resolutions. Depending on the laptop, I could set the horizontal resolution at 1680-, 1650-, or 1600x1050 (the latter, for the Macs). The graphics setting on all of the laptops was Normal. If you can’t bear to look, don’t: The Surface Book i7 and XPS 15 soundly thrashed the MacBook Pro 15. I don’t think the Radeon Pro 


460 would make a difference here, either. If you want gaming performance at any decent levels, no surprise—buy a PC.

Battery life The final test is for all-important battery life. I used the same 4K-resolution, open-source Tears of Steel short video, looping continuously. On the Windows laptops, I used the Movies & TV player, and on OSX Sierra, I used QuickTime. I wanted to use iTunes, as Apple The Surface book i7 sets the bar with 13 hours of battery life, compared to nine hours or so for the MacBook Pros.

Battery life: 4k video playback Microsoft Surface Book i7

786

Core i7-6600U / GTX 965M / HD 520 / 81Whr

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake FHD

681

Core i5-7200U / HD 620 / 59W hr

Dell XPS 13 Broadwell FHD

644

Core i5-5200U / HD 5500 / 54Whr

Microsoft Surface Book

605

Core i7-6600U / HD 520 / 68Whr

HP Spectre X360

544

Core i5-5200U / HD 5500U / 55Whr

MacBook Pro 13

536

Core i5-6360U / Iris 540 / 54.5Whr

MacBook Pro 15

532

Core i7-6700HQ / Radeon Pro 450 / 76Whr

Dell XPS 13 Skylake FHD

529

Core i5-6200U / HD 520 / 57Whr

Asus Zenbook 3

486

Core i7-7500U / HD 620 / 39Whr

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 OLED

464

Core i7-6600U / HD 520 / 57Whr

Dell XPS 13 Skylake QHD-T

361

Core i7-6560U / Iris 540 / 56Whr

Dell XPS 15

312

Core i7-6700HQ / GTX 960M / 56Whr

Samsung Book 9 Pro 4K

260

Core i7-6700HQ / GTX 950M / 56Whr

0

120

240

360

480

600

720

L O N G E R B A R S I N D I C AT E B E T T E R P E R F O R M A N C E



840


FEATURE SURFACE BOOK i7 VS. MACBOOK PRO

does, but there appears to be no way to loop video in iTunes. All of the laptops had their screens set at 250 to 260 nits in brightness. All laptops had the adaptive brightness setting turned off. All were tested with Wi-Fi disabled and with earbuds plugged into the analog ports. One thing to note: The Windows laptops are left in their default power settings, which means they use their last bits of battery life to shut off unused apps and slightly dim the screen. OSX was set not to dim the display on battery—otherwise, it immediately dims the screen once unplugged. My results on the pair of MacBook Pros were amazingly similar. I started both early in the morning and watched until they died in the early evening. Both were minutes apart. Apple claims about 10 hours of run time in iTunes. We were pretty close in QuickTime at nearly 9 hours. The variance can be attributed to the video file and the settings the company uses. For the MacBook Pro 15, I’m going to say that’s pretty impressive. The battery life for 15-inch laptops with quad-core CPUs, discrete graphics, and high-resolution screens tends to be mediocre. For example, look at the XPS 15 and its six hours of run time. (Dell offers an XPS 15 battery with about 50 percent more capacity—but it’s also heavier.) Even worse is the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro, another quad-core laptop with the addition of a 4K screen. Ouch. Overall, I’d say the MacBook Pro 15 has decent battery life for a quad-core. Moving to the MacBook Pro 13, the result is a little more nuanced. With roughly nine hours of run time, it compares well to some laptops, such as the XPS 13 with a QHD+ touchscreen. But there are a lot more PCs ahead of it. You know, like the Surface Book i7, which sets the bar at an amazing 13 hours of video run time. Other laptops with better video stamina include the newest XPS 13, HP’s redesigned Spectre x360 13, and even the older Surface Book. When you consider that all three are also generally faster, it’s not good.

The cost equation The most important question for users isn’t related to an obscure OpenCL benchmark but to how much these laptops cost. To help you 


How much do they cost? MacBook Pro 15

$4,300

Core i7-6820HQ / 16GB Ram / 2TB / Retina

Microsoft Surface Book i7

$3,300

Core i7-6600U / 16GB Ram / 1TB SSD / Pen

MacBook Pro 15

$3,200

Core i7-6700HQ / 16GB Ram / 1TB / Retina

MacBook Pro 13 Touch Bar

$2,900

Core i7-6567U / 16GB Ram / 1TB SSD / Retina

Dell XPS 15

$2,600

Core i7-6700HQ / 32GB Ram / 1TB SSD / Touch

MacBook Pro 15

$2,400

Core i7-6700HQ / 16GB Ram / 256GB / Retina

MacBook Pro 13 Touch Bar

$1,800

Core i5-6267U / 8GB Ram / 256GB SSD / Retina

Dell XPS 13 Core i7-6560U / 8GB Ram / 256GB SSD / Touch

MacBook Pro 13

$1,750 $1,500

Core i5-6600U / 16GB Ram / 256GB / Retina

Dell XPS 15

$1,400

Core i7-6700HQ / 8GB Ram / 256GB SSD / FHD

HP Spectre x360 13 Core i7-7500U / 8GB Ram / 256GB SSD / Touch

Dell XPS 13

$1,160 $1,150

Core i5-7200U / 8GB Ram / 256GB SSD / FHD

0

$1,000

$2,000

$3,000

$4,000

$5,000

understand just how much of a premium Apple and Microsoft are charging, I mapped out the cost of most of the laptops that appeared here, along with other configurations worth highlighting. That top-spec Surface Book i7, formally known as Surface Book with Performance Base, really pushes the boundaries of what people will pay for a dual-core laptop. To be fair, this is no ordinary laptop. It has a 1TB SSD and 16GB of RAM, plus pen support, a tablet mode, and probably class-leading GPU performance. But umm, yeah, 3,300 bucks. Apple is no stranger to nose-bleed altitudes. When you throw a Core i7, 1TB SSD, and 16GB of RAM into the MacBook Pro 13 with Touch Bar, you’re looking at $2,900. And you don’t even get the 


FEATURE SURFACE BOOK i7 VS. MACBOOK PRO

discrete GPU, touch, and tablet or pen support of the Surface Book. Apple’s most powerful MacBook Pro 15 tilts the meter all the way to $4,300. Granted, that’s with one of Intel’s priciest mobile CPUs and a whopping 2TB SSD, but that’s also the price of a modest used car. Compared to a “normal” PC, both Microsoft and Apple give you a lot less performance for your cash. The Dell XPS 15, which pretty much aces the new MacBook Pro 15 except in battery life, is $1,400. Take that Dell XPS 15 and load it up with a 1TB M.2 SSD, 32GB of RAM (which isn’t available on the MacBook Pro 15), a GTX 960M, 4K touchscreen, and a larger battery: $2,600. That’s only $200 more than what Apple charges for a machine with 16GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and the slowest Radeon Pro GPU. You can do the same with the new HP Spectre x360 or Dell’s current XPS 13. Both give you a lot more value than either the MacBook Pro 13 or the MacBook Pro 13 Touch Bar. Numbers don’t lie. Apple’s MacBooks are overpriced, and so are Microsoft’s premium Surface Book devices. The PC OEMs give you a lot more for your money.

Conclusion Ten tests and one price comparison later, the PC wins. Again. That’s no surprise. The MacBooks are caught in a tough spot—even if they were running higher-performance configurations. They’re both ultraexpensive compared to most PCs, and at the top-end, outclassed in GPU performance by Microsoft’s comparably expensive Surface Book i7. It’s not all bad news for the Mac, though. The MacBook Pro 15’s battery life is impressive for a 15-inch laptop with a quad-core CPU and discrete GPU. Comparably powerful quad-core laptops we’ve seen can’t touch it in battery life. Even the MacBook Pro 13s do relatively well in battery life compared to a similar PC. The problem for Apple and Mac fans is PC makers just don’t ever stand still. And as we know, Apple seemingly does that now with its Macs.




SHELTER PET & LIFE OF P HAMILTON 75K+ Instagram Followers


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FEATURE

The iPhone switcher’s guide: Move from iOS to Android and keep all your stuff

We can help move your photos, contacts, calendars, mail, music, and messages over to their new home. BY MICHAEL SIMON

I M AG E CO U RT ESY O F G O O G L E

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FEATURE

The iPhone Switcher’s Guide

So you’ve decided to switch to Android. We can’t say we blame you—as you’ll see, the grass over here is pretty green—but we know that starting from scratch can be scary. There’s all sorts of information on your old iPhone that you’re going to want to transfer to your new phone, and let’s face it, Apple isn’t exactly going out of its way to help. But we are! Whatever your reason for getting your head out of the iClouds, we’re here to support you through this difficult breakup. And before you can say “no headphone jack” we’ll have your new phone up, running, and packed with all the stuff you were afraid you’d have to leave behind.

Getting ready Before your new phone even arrives, there are things you can do to prepare. Just as your iTunes and iCloud accounts are the keys to keeping your iOS devices humming in unison, a Google account is Before you even turn on your new phone, make sure you have a Google account.

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necessary on your new Android phone. You probably already have a Gmail account, but if you don’t, go get one (accounts.google.com/ SignUp?hl=en). While you’re at it, you should enable 2-step verification (go.pcworld.com/2stepggl). Your Google account will hold all your personal information, including contacts, calendars, and Chrome passwords, so the more protection you can add to it the better off you’ll be. And we’re sorry to say but you’re going to need to turn off iMessage. If your contacts send you an iMessage instead of an SMS text, and you don’t have an iPhone to receive it, it will get lost in the ether. So you’re going to want to tell Apple to stop trying to send them. (You can find the toggle inside the Messages tab in the Settings app on your iPhone.) And besides, you don’t want people to think you’re ignoring them when their lonely message is really just sitting unread on Apple’s servers. And finally, it’ll also be helpful to sign up for a Dropbox account (dropbox.com), if you don’t already have one. There are a number of cross-platform apps that use Dropbox rather than Google Drive as their syncing engine, and one of your old apps will likely need it to transfer your data.

Use your Google Drive While your iCloud Drive will pretty much be useless the minute you turn off your iPhone, Google Drive can actually help with the transition process. Not only will it be useful in storing and transferring documents, but

It’s not comprehensive, but there’s a backup system built right into Google Drive. 


FEATURE

The iPhone Switcher’s Guide

while we were preparing this guide, Google unveiled (go.pcworld.com/ gdriveupdate) a simple backup system right inside its Google Drive iOS app. It won’t bring over everything (and we still recommend following the steps in this guide to ensure a seamless transfer), but if you’re happy with just grabbing contacts, calendar entries, and photos, it’s worth a try. To get started, download the Google Drive app on your iOS device and head into Settings (inside the hamburger-menu button). Select Backups and you’ll be taken to a screen where you can choose whether you want to save your contacts, calendar events, or photos. Tap Start Backup and it’ll begin running, though you’ll need to keep your phone on and the app open, so it’s best to do it overnight with your phone plugged in. The Google Drive method works well, but it’s an all-or-nothing situation, so if you don’t want every single calendar entry and contact coming over to your new phone, you’ll need to trim them down in their respective apps first. And as we describe later, you’ll still want to change the defaults on your old iPhone to keep everything up to date. But it will get some of the data onto your new phone quickly so you can start using it.

Pixel power If your new phone happens to be a Pixel or Pixel XL, moving in is easier than it is with any other phone. That’s because of Google’s included Quick Switch Adapter, a simple, speedy method for pulling your data over to your new phone. During the setup of your Pixel, you’ll be 

Google’s new Pixel is the best way to transfer your information from your old iPhone.


given an option to copy your data from your iPhone. Dig through your Pixel box to find the tiny USB-C adapter, attach your Lightening cable to it, and plug the appropriate ends into each phone. Then, after you log in to your Google account, the Pixel will search your iPhone for any contacts, calendar events, photos, videos, non-DRM-protected music, texts, and even iMessages, and bring them all safely over to their new home. (One thing, though: If you use an iTunes backup instead of iCloud, Google recommends that it is an unencrypted one. To check, open iTunes on your computer, plug in your iPhone, go to the Summary tab, and make sure the Encrypt iTunes Backup option is unchecked. If it was turned on, you’ll need to run it again.) It’s all pretty magical, and the process is much easier than Apple’s Move To iOS (go.pcworld.com/moveiosapp) app. And it’ll save you a whole lot of time by skipping most of the steps you’ll need to take with just about every other phone.

Calendar When you open your calendar app for the first time on your Android device and sign in to your new Google account, it’s probably going to be empty. But moving all your appointments from your Apple calendar to your Google one is easier than you think. If you have a Mac, the first thing you’ll need to do is open the 

You can export all of your calendar entries by taking a trip to iCloud.com.


FEATURE

The iPhone Switcher’s Guide

Calendar app on your computer. Select the calendar you want to export, head to the File menu, and click Export to create an ICS file. (Repeat if you have more than one calendar to copy over.) If you’re using a PC, however, you’ll need to jump through a few small hoops. First, log in to iCloud.com (iCloud.com) and open the calendar app. Select the calendar you want to share and click the broadcast icon to the right. In the accompanying dialog box, select Public Calendar and copy the address that appears. (The address will be too long to view, so you’ll need to click the email link button to copy the whole thing.) Paste the entire link into a new tab, change webcal at the front to http, and press Enter. That will download the ICS file you need. Finally, go back to your iCloud Calendar and uncheck Public Calendar, then repeat the process for any other calendars you want to copy over. Then log in to your Google calendar (go.pcworld.com/gglcal) on the web and import the file you downloaded by clicking on the gear icon in the top right corner of the screen. Go down to Settings, click Calendars, and find the Import Calendar button. Then all you need to do is find the file you exported and your iPhone’s dates will show up on your Android phone. Just don’t forget that you’ll need to do this for each of the calendars you’ve exported (Home, Work, Birthdays, etc.). When all that’s done, the last thing you need to do is change the default calendar account on your Apple devices (including 

Make sure you select all of the contacts you want to bring over before you hit the Export button.


your old iPhone) from iCloud to Google. On iOS, you can switch it in the Calendars tab inside the Settings app, while on OS X you’ll find it inside the app’s preferences. From there, you can simply log in to your Google account and your events will forever remain perfectly in sync. Don’t be alarmed— before you can import your contacts, Google will send you back to the old version of Contacts.

Contacts Now that you’ve got your appointments in order, you’re going to need some people to communicate with. And since you’re already an expert in importing calendar files, you’ll just need to do the same with your contacts. Once again, you’re going to start with your computer, but things are a little different. On your Mac, jump into the Contacts app, and choose Select All so you make sure to grab all the names in your address book (or go through and select the ones you want). Then navigate over to File > Export, and select Export vCard. Check to make sure the file reads something like “Amy Andrews and 200 others,” choose where you want it to go, and hit the Save button. It’s just as easy on your PC. Go back to iCloud.com and this time select the Contacts app. Select all of your contacts, click the gear icon at the bottom left of the screen, and find the Export Vcard option. Then go back to your Google account on the web, but this time you’re going to open Contacts (it’s in the second batch of icons). Click 


FEATURE

The iPhone Switcher’s Guide

Gmail doesn’t include a dedicated iCloud tab, but you can still use to set up your iCloud account.

on the More option under your account icon on the left, scroll down to the Import button, and select the CSV or vCard File option. However, since Google is currently in the process of redesigning Contacts, you can’t actually complete the import here. Instead, it will prompt you to go back to the old app where you can click on the Import Contacts button at the bottom of the left-hand column. Once the box opens, choose the vCard file, and your Google address book will instantly populate with all of the names from your iOS one.

Mail Of course, if you’re already using a Gmail account as your main email address, you can skip right to the next section. When you sign in to your new Android phone with your Google account, all your mail will be there. But setting up your iCloud account isn’t too much more difficult. And even though you won’t see an option for iCloud when you go to add a 


new account, you can still use the Gmail app to manage your Apple mail. To get started, open the Gmail app on your new phone, go to Settings (at the bottom of the sidebar), and tap Add account. On the Set Up Email screen, select Other, and follow the prompts to enter your iCloud email address and password. (If you have 2-step or 2-factor authentication enabled for your iCloud account, you’ll need to create an app-specific password first on your Apple ID account page.) That should be enough to get your account up and running, but if you’re still getting error messages, you might need to tweak the server settings. You can find the incoming IMAP and outgoing SMTP server settings on Apple’s website (support.apple.com/en-us/ HT202304). And if you don’t want to use the Gmail app that came with your phone, you can download any number of great ones from the Play Store, including Alto (go.pcworld. com/altoapp), Newton (go.pcworld.com/ newton), Outlook (go.pcworld.com/ outlookplay), and others that you may be familiar with on iOS.

Messages Here’s the only real stumbling block with switching between iOS and Android: Your messages don’t play nice between the two operating systems. Even if you’re moving between Android phones, the system is less than ideal, mostly relying on thirdparty solutions that may or may not work. As we already discussed, Google offers an excellent solution baked into the Pixel, and Samsung offers something similar with its Smart Switch (go.pcworld.com/smrtswtch) app, but otherwise there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to bring your messages over. The most popular tool is iSMS2droid 

Don’t forget to turn off iMessage!


FEATURE

The iPhone Switcher’s Guide

(go.pcworld.com/isms2droid), but it relies on making an unencrypted iTunes backup (isms2droid.com), digging into your drive to find the SMS database file, and renaming it and converting it. Not exactly the easiest of solutions. So, unless you use WhatsApp (go.pcworld.com/whtapp), Facebook Messenger (go.pcworld.com/fbmessenger), or some other over-thetop service, your iMessages will likely be forever locked on your old iPhone. But a clean slate might be for the best anyway since you’re going to be a green bubble from here on out. Because you’ve already turned off iMessage, right?

Photos Now that the important information is all ported over, it’s time to get into the fun stuff. We know you’re going to be using your new phone to Your Android photo library will look just practically the same as the one on your old iPhone.




take tons of photos and videos, but all the ones you took with your old iPhone can come along too. And you won’t need to attach any cables to transfer them. All you need to do is download and run Google Photos on your old iPhone. Really, that’s it. Once you log in to your Google account, the app will do all the heavy lifting for you, scanning the entire contents of your photo library and dutifully copying everything that’s inside (including any photos and videos that reside on your iCloud Drive). And that’s not even the best part. Google Photos won’t even count the space it uses against your Google Drive storage limit, so long as you opt to store High Quality shots rather than full-size ones. If you used the Google Drive transfer process mentioned earlier in this article, Google already put all your photos and videos in Google Photos, so you’re all set. It might take a few hours for larger libraries to upload, but once it’s finished, you’ll never be more than a tap away from a lifetime of memories. So whether it’s your next Android phone, a new iPad, or the web, you need only sign in to the Google Photos app to access every picture and screenshot you’ve ever taken, no matter how or where they were shot.

Music Just like your photos, getting the tunes from your old iPhone onto your Android phone is quick and easy. Of course, if you subscribe to a streaming service, it won’t take any time at all—just download your app of choice, sign in, and start

Google Play Music will store 50,000 tracks for you, all for free. 


FEATURE

The iPhone Switcher’s Guide

rocking out. And if you’re using a service that supports uploads (including Apple Music go.pcworld.com/aplmusic), your entire library will be at your disposal. But even if you have a ton of ripped tracks on an external drive, Google has you covered. You don’t have to be a subscriber to Google Play Music (play.google.com/music) to take advantage of its best feature—storing up to 50,000 of your own tracks. And it won’t cost you a dime. Just log in to Google Play Music web app (play.google.com/ music), go to the menu in the upper left, and select Upload Music. Your entire collection will be ready to stream in minutes (or hours, depending on the size) on any and all of your devices.

Anything else For the rest of the apps you use on your phone, you’ll need to hit up the Play Store to find replacements or Android counterparts. All the major apps are represented, of course—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.—and you’ll need only sign in to your account to pick up where you left off. And of course, if your favorite game uses Facebook or some other cloud platform to sync, your progress will be restored Once you meld Safari with Chrome, all of your bookmarks will be available on your new phone.




once you log in (so don’t freak out, Candy Crush addicts). If you were already using Chrome on your old iPhone, your bookmarks, open tabs, and search history will all be synced to your new device, along with any passwords you’ve stored as soon as you sign in. And if you were using one of the main password managers (1Password, LastPass, or Dashlane), you’ll be able to grab a copy in the Play Store. To get your Safari bookmarks into Chrome on your new phone, you’ll need to download the iCloud app for Windows (go.pcworld.com/ icloudwin). Once it’s all set up and you’re signed in, click the Options button next to Bookmarks and select Chrome. Press Apply, and select Merge in the pop-up dialog box. (If prompted, allow Chrome to install the iCloud Bookmarks extension.) Once it’s done, all of your Safari bookmarks will appear in Chrome’s Bookmark’s tab on your Android phone (and everywhere else). You can do that right in Chrome on a Mac. Launch Chrome, open the menu at the top right, and click Bookmarks. Select Import Bookmarks and Settings, choose Safari, and press Import. And that should be it. Other than a stray document or file that you can just toss in your Google Drive, your new phone will be all ready to go. And we don’t think you’ll miss it all.




digital edition

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Get it here: go.pcworld.com/digital


HERE’S HOW 188 Everything you need to know about Windows 10 recovery drives 192 8 Android gestures that speed up everyday tasks 198 How to use Skype without an account

201 9 free ways to get the most out of Google’s Play Music app 209 Hassle-Free PC Google Drive dumps Windows XP and Vista, now what? 211 Answer Line How to reinstall Windows 10 without any bloatware

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HERE’S HOW

How to build, maintain, and fix your tech gear.

Everything you need to know about Windows 10 recovery drives BY JOSH NOREM

YOU NEVER KNOW when you’ll need a Windows recovery drive, so the time to make one is now—and it’s very easy to do. A recovery drive is similar to the media you’d receive if you bought a pre-built system. Back in the day, PCs would ship with a CD or DVD that included an image of the system as it left the factory. If your PC’s OS went sideways, you could easily revert to the way things were on day one (though you’d lose all of your subsequently created data and 


applications, obviously). Nowadays manufacturers usually just put an image of the system as it left the factory on a hidden partition of your main drive. A Windows recovery disk builds on this idea. In addition to letting you reinstall Windows, it includes several troubleshooting tools, which can be a lifesaver if your system won’t boot. Some of these tools used to be part of the OS. If your PC failed to boot you were presented with a menu allowing you to try and boot into Safe Mode, or use “last known good configuration.” That’s no longer the case with Windows 10. Now you need these tools to reside on a separate, bootable USB key, and every person running Windows should keep one in a safe place with the label “in You can easily create a recovery drive using Windows 10’s case of emergency.” built-in tool. Here’s how you create one and what it can do for you. First, obtain an 8GB to 16GB USB key (go.pcworld.com/w10usbkey). Next, go into Windows’ Control panel (right-clicking the Windows icon is the easiest way) and type create a recovery drive into the search bar. The manual method would be to go to System & Security > Security 


& Maintenance > Recovery. You may need to enter your admin password to go further. In the resulting dialog box, check the box labeled Back up system files to the recovery drive. With your recovery drive created, you’ll have to boot from it in order to use it. How your PC boots from USB (go.pcworld.com/ usbboot) varies according What you’ll see when you boot from the Recovery Drive, to your PC’s age and allowing you to either fix Windows or reinstall it completely. motherboard, but typically you can press one of the F-keys during boot to arrive at a boot selection window. From there you select the USB key you're using, and it should proceed to boot from the recovery drive. When you successfully boot from it you’ll see the following options. Here’s what each of them does: The first window gives you essentially two options: The Advanced Options offer quite a few useful troubleshooting and PC repair tools. Recover from a drive, and Advanced options. The first option lets you re-install Windows. Note that it says you will lose all your data and installed applications. This is a clean installation of Windows, not a restore from backup or something along those lines. This is the nuclear option, in other words. 


HERE’S HOW

The second option, which is labeled Advanced Options, lets you fix your Windows installation in several ways, and brings you to the following menu: The Advanced Options menu allows you to do the following: System Restore: Use this to revert your PC to a happier time, when things were working normally. This does not affect your data, but it does affect installed programs as it replaces the registry with an earlier version. System Image Recovery: If you’ve used the image backup tool in Windows 10 (go.pcworld.com/w10backup), this would be where it would come in handy. You can restore the image of your PC at the time you created the image, which includes all your data and installed programs at that time. Startup Repair: This is sort of a “black box” in that it tries to fix whatever issue is preventing the system from booting, but it doesn’t tell you what it’s doing or, if successful, what the problem was. This is the first thing you should try, as it’s the quickest and least invasive. Command Prompt: This can be useful for a wide array of tricks and tactics, most especially running the SFC /Scannow command to scan and fix corrupted system files. We all know the command prompt is a wizard’s toolbox, and if you know what you’re doing the possibilities are almost endless. Go Back to the Previous Build: Though worded a bit cryptically, this lets you revert your PC to the previous build of Windows, meaning the one before whatever update turned everything pear-shaped. As you can see, it’s quite useful to have one of these recovery drives handy. Do yourself a favor and make one now.




You can quickly delete large swaths of text on your Android handset by swiping left from the backspace key.

8 Android gestures that speed up everyday tasks BY BEN PATTERSON

NAVIGATING YOUR WAY around a new Android device will get a lot easier once you’ve mastered a few handy touchscreen gestures. For example, you can switch between Chrome tabs with a single swipe, while a two-finger swipe will add a whole new perspective to Google Maps. No sign of the virtual Home button? There’s a gesture that’ll bring it back.




HERE’S HOW

A quicker way to get to your Quick Settings When you swipe down from the top of the screen on your unlocked Android device, you’ll see a small row of buttons sitting at the top of your various notifications (or in the very top corner of the screen, on pre-Nougat handsets). These are your so-called “quick settings”—a series of one-tap buttons that’ll let you do things like turn Wi-Fi on and off, switch on your phone’s flashlight mode, or toggle Airplane Mode. Swipe down again and you’ll see even more quick settings, such as (depending on your setup) the screen’s auto-rotate setting, Bluetooth, and your device’s hotspot feature. If you’d rather jump directly to all your quick settings rather than having to swipe once and then again, try this: Swipe down from the top of the screen with two fingertips instead of just one. When you do, you’ll reveal an expanded view of your various quick settings.

Swipe to get the Home button back It can be a little disconcerting when you’re viewing a video or doing another full-screen activity on your Android device, and the virtual Home button goes AWOL. 

Swipe down with two fingers to reveal all your Quick Settings on an unlocked Android device.


In many cases, the Home button will reappear by simply tapping the screen. But that doesn’t always work, depending on the app you’re using. With YouTube, for example, tapping the screen while watching a video in fullscreen mode only pauses the clip, leaving the Home button hidden. If your Android device’s Home button has deserted you, try this: Swipe down from the top of the display. The three main navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen—including the Home button—will slide back into view.

Missing Home key? You can get it back with a simple swipe.

Double-click for the camera Whether clicking a physical button on your Android phone counts as a gesture may be a matter of debate, but this particular shortcut is so handy it’s worth mentioning here. Basically, you can jump to the Android camera app anytime— even when your phone is unlocked and you’re deep within an app—by You can quickly delete large swaths of text on your double-clicking the power button Android handset by swiping left from the backspace key. (assuming your Android device is running on Lollipop or better). That’s in stark contrast to iOS, which lacks a camera shortcut in its unlocked state—meaning you’ll need to scramble to the Camera app if that Kodak moment arises while actively using your phone. 


HERE’S HOW

Get a new perspective in Maps The Maps app for Android offers such an eyeful of information that it’s easy to forget the whole different way of looking at the world—or at least, the world according to Maps. Just drag two fingertips down the screen to make the view in Maps tilt for a 3D perspective, complete with 3D buildings (depending on the city). To go back to a flat view, slide two fingertips back up the screen.

Give Google Maps a little depth by swiping down with two fingers.

Refresh Chrome with a pull There’s no obvious way to refresh a page when you’re browsing in Chrome for Android—or at least, not unless you open the main menu by tapping the button in the top-right corner of the screen. Tugging down on a webpage in Chrome for Android for That said, there’s an easy way to a quick refresh. refresh a Chrome webpage in a flash: Just pull down on the page with your fingertip. Bonus: If you’re holding your phone with your right hand, you can quickly open the main Chrome menu by swiping down in an arc with your thumb, starting from the top-right corner of the display.




Swipe address bar to change Chrome tabs Unlike the missing refresh button in Chrome, there is a small Tabs button at the top of the screen, but there’s an easier way to switch tabs than trying to tap that tiny target. Just swipe one way or another across the Chrome address bar. When you do, the next tab will slide onto the screen. Keep swiping to cycle through all your open tabs.

You can cycle through all your open tabs in Chrome for Android by repeatedly swiping the address bar.

Slide across space bar to move the cursor When I was initially writing about my own recent switch (go.pcworld. com/missios) from iOS to Android, I complained about missing the magnifying glass that appears when you tap and hold a word you want to edit. Well, turns out Android has its Editing text on your Android device will get a lot easier own answer to iOS’s magnifying once you start swiping the space bar to move the cursor. glass. With the stock Android keyboard, you can move the cursor by sliding your finger back and forth across the space bar. It’s not quite as elegant as Apple’s magnifying glass, but it’s far easier than trying to move the cursor with your fingertip. If you want to try Android’s space bar trick, you’ll need to have the right setting enabled. Tap Settings > Languages & input > Virtual keyboard > Google Keyboard > Gesture typing, then make sure the Enable gesture cursor control setting is toggled on. 


HERE’S HOW

Slide left from the delete key to delete words If tapping the Android backspace key or selecting passages of text to delete feels almost as tedious as dealing with the cursor, there’s another keypad gesture that might make your day. Tap the backspace key and then start swiping to the left. As you do, Android will start selecting more and more text from the left of the cursor. When you’re ready to delete, just release the keypad. To change your mind, slide your finger back to the right before releasing.




How to use Skype without an account BY IAN PAUL

C R E D I T : M I C ROS O F T

SKYPE RECENTLY ADDED an interesting new feature that allows

anyone to use the free version of the messaging app without an account. To use it without an account, you must use Skype for Web; however, account holders can still join in using a regular Skype client. This is an extension of a feature Skype rolled out in October 2015, which allowed Skype users to add non-Skype users (go.pcworld.com/ skypeallchat) to their conversations. When you use Skype’s account-free options, you’re considered a guest. All conversations are based on a unique link that you can share 


HERE’S HOW

Get started on Skype’s website.

with anyone you want to talk to over Skype. Guest conversation links last for 24 hours and allow up to 300 people to have a text chat, or up to 25 people to participate in a voice or video call. Guest conversations have most of the features you get with a free account such as screen and file sharing. Skype Translator (the service’s real-time translation tool) is out, as are paid-account features such as phone calls to landlines or mobile phones.

Getting started with account-free Skype Since this is a web-based service, you start on Skype (skype.com). When you land on the webpage you’ll see a button labeled Start a conversation. Click that and a small window will pop up asking you to enter your name. Since this is not tied to an account you can use any name you like. I wouldn’t necessarily count on Skype as a way to have a sensitive, anonymous conversation. Just don’t sweat it if you’d rather use a pseudonym.

Pick the username you’d like to use for the conversation.

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Once your name is entered, click the Start a conversation button again. Once that’s done, you’ll eventually see a Skype loading screen as Microsoft prepares the account-free conversation. When everything is ready, a Skype for Web conversation window appears. To get other people to join, you have to share the unique web address created for your conversation. You can either copy the link in the left-hand panel or from the big blue box in the main part of the screen. Now share that link as you would any other—via email, Facebook, Twitter, SMS, WhatsApp, etc. If you’re sending the link to someone on a PC, when they click the conversation link they will have an option to open the Skype app on their PC. If they’d rather not use their account for the conversation, they can just click the Join conversation button to use Skype for Web as a guest. Mobile users can also use the Skype URL to join the conversation from their smartphone or tablet using Skype’s mobile apps. Enjoy your account-free Skype chats.



Skype for Web without an account.


HERE’S HOW

9 free ways to get the most out of Google's Play Music app

CREDIT: GOOGLE

BY BEN PATTERSON “SUBSCRIBE NOW!” BLARES the banner at the bottom of Google’s Play Music control panel, and indeed, everything about the justrevamped app seems to be shilling for its subscription streaming service, particularly the new auto-generated radio stations that sit (quite stubbornly) in Play Music’s Home tab. But even if you don’t want to cough up $10 a month to play a streaming shuffle on your phone, there’s still plenty of free stuff to like in Google’s Play Music app for Android and iOS. 


For example, you can bring pretty much your entire music collection wherever you go once you upload your tunes and create and save “instant mixes” based on any of your songs. There’s also an offline mode and bandwidth settings to keep you from blowing through your mobile data, an equalizer for teasing the best sound out of your headset, and even a sleep timer so you can doze off to your most soothing playlist.

Upload your music collection One of the most powerful features of Play Music—namely, its ability to stream your music collection to your Android or iOS device— demands a lengthy, tedious chore on your desktop PC, but the results are worth the time and effort. Google offers a downloadable ”Music Manager” tool (go.pcworld. com/gmusictool) that’ll upload music from your PC or Mac to your Play Music account, or you can simply drag and drop music files into the Upload window of Play Music for Chrome. Google’s Music Manager tool does its best to “scan and match” your tunes with existing tracks in the cloud, but it’ll end up uploading many of your songs, a process that could take hours or even days depending on the speed of your broadband connection and the size of your music collection.

You can upload up to 50,000 tracks to Google Play Music for free. 


HERE’S HOW

Once you’re done with all the uploads, though, your tunes will be available for streaming or download in the Play Music app for iOS and Android, and even on Play Music in a web browser—and best of all, Google will let you upload up to 50,000 tracks for free. Note: Any music you’ve previously purchased from the Google Play Music store will already be sitting in your online music library, and they won’t count against your free 50,000 song uploads.

Create and save an 'instant mix' Sure, the free version of Google Play Music will let you listen to streaming radio stations, but you’ll have to deal with some ads and limits to how often you can skip, and downloading a station for offline listening is out of the question. If you’ve got your music collection sitting in the cloud, though, you can create “instant mixes” of your tracks based on your favorite songs, albums, and artists, and then save and download those mixes to your Android or iOS device. Just go to any song, album, or artist in your music library, tap the three-dot menu button and, and select Start instant mix; when you do, Play Music will generate a mix and start playing the first tune. Tap the mini-player at the bottom of the screen, tap the three-dot menu button again, tap Save queue, then save the songs in the queue to a new playlist.

Just tap “Start instant mix” to create a mix of tunes based on a specific song, album, or artist. 


Now, navigate back to the main Music Library screen, tap the Playlists tab, tap the three-dot menu button on the playlist you just created, then tap Download to save your mix for offline listening.

Switch to offline mode Once you’ve saved a few instant mixes to your device, you’ll be ready to tee them up wherever you are, even if you’re offline—and indeed, if you’re intent on burning as little mobile data as possible while listening to your tunes on the go, your best bet is to switch the Play Music app to offline mode. Tap the main menu button in the top-left corner of the screen, then toggle on the Downloaded only setting. Once you do, Play Music will only drop the needle on tracks that are already downloaded on your Android or iOS device, perfect for listening on the subway or keeping your mobile data use in check.

Google Play Music’s offline mode lets you listen to downloaded tracks when you’re out of range of cellular or Wi-Fi, or simply to cut down on your mobile data use.

Use as little mobile data as possible Say you’re out and about and you’re itching to play an album that you never bothered to download in advance. With the right settings enabled, you can still stream your music without taking too big a bite out of your mobile data allowance. Tap the main menu button in the top-left corner of the screen, tap 


HERE’S HOW

Settings, then scroll down and tap Mobile networks stream quality. Now, pick a setting. Low uses the least amount of cellular bandwidth but leaves your music sounding muddier than you might like. Normal strikes a decent balance between sound quality and mobile data use, while High spares no expense when it comes to delivering crystal-clear sound quality.

If you don’t mind losing a little audio quality, you can set Google Play Music to stream your tunes at a lower bit rate.

Tweak your equalizer settings (Android only) Speaking of audio quality, you can make your own adjustment to how your tracks sound by fiddling with Play Music’s equalizer levels. On an Android device, tap the main menu button, then tap Settings > Equalizer, and toggle on the main Equalizer switch. The drop-down

You can get your music to sound just right with a little help from Play Music’s equalizer settings. 


menu in the top corner of the screen lets you choose from 11 equalizer presets, ranging from Normal and Classical to Hip-Hop and Jazz, or you can pick User to mess with the quintet of EQ sliders. Below the main equalizer settings are a couple more audio settings: one for Bass Boost and another for Surround sound, handy for giving Play Music’s audio some extra punch and presence. (Note: If the Bass Boost and Surround sound sliders are grayed out, try plugging in a pair of headphones.)

Fall asleep to your tunes There’s nothing like a mix of mellow tunes to help you doze off, and Play Music has a feature that’ll help you get some shut-eye without playing your music on all night.

Google Play Music’s sleep timer can help you snooze to your most soothing tunes.

Tap the main menu button, tap Settings > Sleep Timer, then select how many hours and minutes you’d like to snooze to.

Tinker with your music queue Just like the Music app on iOS (go.pcworld.com/iosmusic), Play Music has a queue of “up next” songs—in other words, a list of all the songs that are queued up depending on the album, playlist or artist you’re playing. As you’re playing a track, tap the mini-player at the bottom of the display to zoom it to full-screen view, then tap the queue button (the 


HERE’S HOW

You can change the order of songs in your music queue by dragging the little handles to the left, or just swipe a track away to take it off the list.

one with three lines and a little music note icon) in the top-right corner of the screen. Now that you can see your music queue, time to tinker. First, tap and drag a handle next to a song to shuffle its position in the queue, or swipe away the song to nix it from the queue. To jump any song, album, or artist in your music library to the front of the queue, tap the three-dot menu button next to its title and tap Play next—or, if you want your selection to play after everything else in your queue, tap Add to queue instead.

Check out your 'cached' music One of the tricks that Play Music has up its sleeves is the ability to automatically download a playlist of your recently played songs. If you ever get caught offline without having downloaded any music manually, you can count on your cached music to tide you over. First, make sure you’re in offline mode: Tap the main menu button, then toggle on the Downloads only switch. Back on the main menu, tap Home—and when you do, you’ll find a “cached music” playlist, all downloaded and waiting for you. If you’re short on storage space and you actually don’t want Play Music automatically downloading any music, tap the main menu button, tap Settings, then toggle off the Cache music while streaming setting (or Cache during playback on iOS). You’ll lose your cached


You’ll never be caught without something to listen to thanks to Play Music’s “cached music” playlist.

music playlist, but at least you’ll conserve precious storage space on your handset.

Clear out old cached data and downloads Running out of storage space? There’s an easy way to instantly zap all of Play Music’s downloaded tunes, along with any auto-downloaded “cached” music. Head for the main menu, then tap Settings > Clear cache. That’s a move that could instantly free up hundreds of megabytes of storage, depending on the size of your “cached music” playlist. Next, tap Manage downloads. You’ll jump to a screen that shows all the downloaded music and podcasts on your device. Just tap the little orange buttons next to each track, album, or artist to instantly wipe them.




HASSLE-FREE PC

HERE’S HOW

BY IAN PAUL

Google Drive dumps Windows XP and Vista, now what? STRIKE ANOTHER PROGRAM down for Windows XP (and Vista) fans.

Google recently announced that the Google Drive desktop utility (go. pcworld.com/gdrutility) would cease support for Windows XP, Vista, and Server 2003 beginning January 1, 2017. This is the second major desktop-cloud sync program to dump older versions of Windows after Dropbox did so in April (go.pcworld.com/dropbwinxp). With Google Drive going away, what’s an XP (or Vista) fan to do? Here are some solutions. 


Just keep on, keepin’ on Unlike Dropbox, Google isn’t turning off Google Drive for the desktop. As long as you have the utility up and running on an XP and Vista computer before January 1, 2017 you can continue to use it. Even though it will continue to work, Google says the program “will not be actively tested and maintained.” That means if a serious security flaw is discovered the XP- and Vistasupporting versions of Google Drive will not be patched, leaving you at risk of being hacked. Of course, if you’re still running Windows XP, which also isn’t being updated, then the threat of another critical flaw running on your system probably isn’t worrying you—even though it should.

Even though it will continue to work, Google says the program “will not be actively tested and maintained.”

Use the website As with Dropbox, you can continue using the website version of Google Drive. As long as your browser continues to support the technology and features that Google uses on its website, you should be good to go. Google Drive began as a web-only service with no desktop component (that came along in 2012, go.pcworld.com/ gdrwebonly), so in some ways it will be like going back in time—kind of like running an XP machine. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Find another service or upgrade to Windows 10 If using a desktop-cloud sync program integrated with Windows Explorer is a must, then XP and Vista users will have to look elsewhere, such as the paid service Sugar Sync. The reality, however, is that other sync services will eventually cease support for Windows XP, too. Like it or not, if you want to continue using modern versions of cloud sync you’ll have to upgrade to a Windows 10 machine at some point. 


ANSWER LINE

HERE’S HOW

BY JOSH NOREM

How to reinstall Windows 10 without any bloatware PATRICK SCOTT BOUGHT some laptops for his kids, but they were so

slow the kids stopped using them. This is a common issue with bloatware-laden consumer laptops, sadly. He performed a “factory reset,” with the hopes of reinstalling the OS without all the crap that was preinstalled. To his horror he discovered the factory reset reinstalled all the bloatware, leaving him back where he started. Luckily for Patrick, there’s a way to get a clean installation of Windows 10, without all the apps that came with your PC. Here’s how it works.




1. From Windows 10’s Start menu, go to Settings > Update & security > Recovery. You can also get there from the traditional Control Panel by clicking Recovery. At the bottom of that window, click the long hyperlink that reads, “If you’re having problems with your PC, go to Settings...” Windows 10 has what we used to call a “repair install” built-in, also known as an in-place installation.

2. Either way, you end up in the Recovery section of Settings. Under More recovery options you’ll see a long hyperlink that reads, “Learn how to start fresh with a clean installation of Windows.” Click that and this web page (go.pcworld.com/ w10startfresh) will open. 3. That webpage has a tool you can download which will “...install a clean copy of the most recent version of Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro, and remove apps that you installed or came preinstalled on your PC.” Let’s be completely clear here, as Microsoft is in the further explanation: “Using this tool will remove all apps that don’t come standard with Windows, including other Microsoft apps such as Office. It will also remove most pre-installed apps, including manufacturer apps, support apps, and drivers.” Don’t use this tool unless you’re ready 

This text will take you to a webpage that lets you download the tool you need.


HERE’S HOW

Here is Windows 10 “fresh start” reset tool - it’s free and works beautifully.

to let go of everything. 4. Run the tool, and get some coffee or go for a walk. When it completes you’ll have a fresh installation of Windows 10, sans bloatware (or anything else).




Tech Spotlight A video showcase of the latest trends

Watch the video at go.pcworld. com/2016 dronesvid

8 drones that delighted » us in 2016

Drones are still getting into dumb and dangerous situations, but others are moving in better directions. There’s a drone that can avoid crashing into things, for one, but also check out the DHL drone that’s already making deliveries, the small army of Intel drones that can light up the night, and more.

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