Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Five ways to improve battery life on Windows

Having battery life problems on your Windows 8.1 laptop? These tips will help you squeeze the most juice out of your battery.
You shouldn't have to be tethered to your desk to use your laptop. While battery life is improving, it still isn't perfect. If you've got a Windows 8.1 machine, these tips will help you squeeze the most juice of your computer's battery.

Software updates

Microsoft routinely issues patches and software updates to fix bugs and add new features to Windows. It's always a good idea that you are on the latest version of Windows. Not only will these updates help keep your system more secure, but they can sometimes also improve your battery life.

To check for updates, go to the Charms menu by swiping from right to left on the screen or moving your mouse to the lower right corner of the screen. Then, click on Settings, select the "Change PC settings" option, followed by Updates and Recovery, and click the "Check for updates" box.

Tweak power settings

Microsoft has bundled various power saving options inside of Windows 8.1. These settings can be accessed from the desktop by opening the Control Panel, selecting Hardware and Sound, and clicking on Power options. Here you can choose a power plan from Microsoft or you can create your own.

You can tweak things like brightness, when the display will turn off, and when the computer will go to sleep, among other things. Clicking on the "Change advanced power settings" will open the door to even more customization options.

Dim the display

The display on your laptop uses a ton of energy. When you disconnect the power cord, it's best to dim the brightness down below half or to a level that is suitable for your eyes. This can be done by going to the Charms menu and select Settings. The brightness options are located above the keyboard icon and next to the volume menu.

If your laptop includes it, you should also disable the automatic brightness feature, and dim the keyboard backlight. To do this, go to Settings, click on the "Change PC settings" option, tap on PC and Devices, followed by Display, and turn off the "Adjust my screen brightness automatically" slider.

To dim the keyboard backlight, open the Charms menu, click on Search, type in "mobility," and select Windows Mobility Center.

Turn off Bluetooth

Even if you don't have a wireless mouse or speakers connected, having Bluetooth enabled will still draw power from your computer's battery. To disable the Bluetooth radio, go to Settings, click on the "PC and devices" option, and select Bluetooth.

Having battery life problems on your Windows 8.1 laptop? These tips will help you squeeze the most juice out of your battery.

You shouldn't have to be tethered to your desk to use your laptop. While battery life is improving, it still isn't perfect. If you've got a Windows 8.1 machine, these tips will help you squeeze the most juice of your computer's battery.

Software updates

Microsoft routinely issues patches and software updates to fix bugs and add new features to Windows. It's always a good idea that you are on the latest version of Windows. Not only will these updates help keep your system more secure, but they can sometimes also improve your battery life.

To check for updates, go to the Charms menu by swiping from right to left on the screen or moving your mouse to the lower right corner of the screen. Then, click on Settings, select the "Change PC settings" option, followed by Updates and Recovery, and click the "Check for updates" box.

Tweak power settings

Microsoft has bundled various power saving options inside of Windows 8.1. These settings can be accessed from the desktop by opening the Control Panel, selecting Hardware and Sound, and clicking on Power options. Here you can choose a power plan from Microsoft or you can create your own.

You can tweak things like brightness, when the display will turn off, and when the computer will go to sleep, among other things. Clicking on the "Change advanced power settings" will open the door to even more customization options.

Dim the display

The display on your laptop uses a ton of energy. When you disconnect the power cord, it's best to dim the brightness down below half or to a level that is suitable for your eyes. This can be done by going to the Charms menu and select Settings. The brightness options are located above the keyboard icon and next to the volume menu.

If your laptop includes it, you should also disable the automatic brightness feature, and dim the keyboard backlight. To do this, go to Settings, click on the "Change PC settings" option, tap on PC and Devices, followed by Display, and turn off the "Adjust my screen brightness automatically" slider.

To dim the keyboard backlight, open the Charms menu, click on Search, type in "mobility," and select Windows Mobility Center.

Software updates

Even if you don't have a wireless mouse or speakers connected, having Bluetooth enabled will still draw power from your computer's battery. To disable the Bluetooth radio, go to Settings, click on the "PC and devices" option, and select Bluetooth.

Disconnect any dongles
As is the case with Bluetooth, a USB-connected device (such as a flash drive) will also drain your battery. If you aren't using the dongle or device, you should unplug it to prevent battery drain. If the power cord is unplugged, charging your smartphone or tablet via a USB port will also reduce your battery life.

As is the case with Bluetooth, a USB-connected device (such as a flash drive) will also drain your battery. If you aren't using the dongle or device, you should unplug it to prevent battery drain. If the power cord is unplugged, charging your smartphone or tablet via a USB port will also reduce your battery life.

The ReSound LiNX is the world's first 'Made for iPhone' hearing aid

A hearing aid isn't something I'd normally expect to try out while working for CNET, but in fairness, the ReSound LiNX from GN ReSound isn't your standard hearing aid. Also, it's Hearing Awareness Week here in Australia, so it all sort of makes sense.
First making the news late last year, the LiNX is the world's first Made for iPhone hearing aid, developed in partnership between Apple and the Danish company, ReSound. The hearing aid will pair with an iPhone (or iPad, or iPod) and allow users to access detailed controls, as well as functioning a bit like a pair of Bluetooth headphones.

The concept is apparently designed to help reduce the stigma around hearing aids, making the LiNX feel more like a phone accessory than a medical prosthetic.

But a medical prosthetic it is, so before I can try the LiNX, I need to get my hearing tested. Rashel Abdishoo, audiologist with NS Audiology does the testing for me. She uncovers something I'd long suspected: I do have some hearing issues. Specifically, I have mild sensorineural hearing loss at the 3-4KHz range, occurring bilaterally.

It seems that I have an almost-textbook "4KHz notch" where my hearing drops at those specific sounds. It's commonly caused by exposure to loud noises, which may mean one concert too many in my youth (or, more honestly, one bad goth club too many).

It's not a big problem as hearing loss goes, but I'm assured that I will notice some benefits from a hearing aid, and my results are emailed off so my LiNX can be programmed for me to pick up at the Sydney Apple Store that evening.

The LiNX uses Bluetooth to pair with iOS devices and also to help lower the power consumption. The current compatibility list is iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5, iPad Air, iPad (4th generation), iPad mini with Retina display, iPad mini, and iPod touch (5th generation) with all devices needing to run iOS 7.X or later.

At the Apple Store, Ayrton Hogan from ReSound sets me up with the LiNX. A little bizarrely, he's joined by Todd Hunter from classic Australian Rock band Dragon, who's a bit of a spokesperson for the device.

The hearing aids themselves are as small as would be expected and pretty much invisible once they're in. The over-the-ear portion is small enough that there's no problem getting my glasses on over the top. Apart from a slight weirdness to the way everything sounds, I could easily forget that I'm wearing them.

Hogan says that the weirdness is natural -- there's a period of adjustment for any hearing aid as the senses get used to the new input.

I take some time to explore the app and its this that provides the point of difference for the LiNX. There are some standard controls, such as the ability to adjust the volume, along with the treble and base. The adjustments can me made to the hearing aids either as a pair or individually.

But there's also a lot more. You can add different programs to the app that will adjust the LiNX for optimal use in certain situations, such as driving, or in a restaurant. You can then associate those programs with actual locations. So, for example, when you're in your favourite restaurant, the ReSound app notes your GPS location and automatically switches to the restaurant program.

That GPS connectivity can also be used to track your hearing aids, almost identically to how you can track a lost phone. For when you can find the LiNX but you know it's within Bluetooth range, the app can let you track it down using a directional finder.

But obviously it's the sound connectivity that matters the most. The LiNX will directly play sounds from your Apple device, including any content audio (music, movies etc) as well as phone calls, Skype, Facetime and the like.

I try the music and it's a little reedy and tinny, but Todd Hunter breaks in at this point to assure me that with some adjustments to bass and treble, you can get decent sound. He also says its particular good for sat nav directions while driving. Hunter even uses his to get foldback direct from the mixing desk while in concert.

Because of the Apple partnership, the LiNX has some impressive integration with iOS. A triple press of the iPhone's button at any time -- even from lock screen -- opens up an interface for basic sound adjustments on the hearings aid as well as the option for a 'live sound'. In this mode, the hearing aids directly relay anything coming from the iPhone's mic. Hogan suggests that this is particularly good for lectures and talks where an iPhone could be placed on a lectern and someone wearing the LiNX could get a clear sound even from the back of a noisy conference room.

In the short time I had the LiNX in, it's hard to tell if my hearing was any better -- voices certainly seemed a little clearer -- but the sheer level of control and options, as well as the comfort of the hearing aids themselves, was impressive.

One possible concern would be battery life, however. The LiNX uses Bluetooth LE, but it's a still a big drain on the battery, which is the standard hearing aid size 312. Hogan says that the normal battery life is about a seven to ten days, but that the Bluetooth functions can drop that to just four days.

There's also the price. ReSound don't like to discuss the cost, saying that the company is a wholesaler and it's up to suppliers to set price. Speaking to the people back at NS Audiology, they also don't want to give exact pricing, but they do say that in general a top of the line hearing aid, such as the ReSound LiNX, can run anywhere from $9,000 to $13,000 (£5437 to £7853, AU$9661 to AU$13955). Back in November 2013 when my colleague Dara Kerr reported on the LiNX, the estimated US price was $3,000 (£1817, AU$3220).

So, definably not a cheap option, but the tech savvy (and, obviously, Apple fans) among the hearing impaired might find that the extra features and additional level of control to be well worth the cost.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Google buys Gecko Design for X projects

The product-design firm will be put to work on some of Google's most "cutting edge" projects.

Google is buying product-design firm Gecko to bolster the efforts of Google X, the search giant's experimental division that carries out its most ambitious projects.

Gecko announced the acquisition on its website Friday. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gecko, based in Los Gatos, Calif., has previously helped design products for clients including Fitbit, Hewlett Packard, Dell, and Logitech. Google confirmed the deal, but declined to provide further comment.
"This is an incredible opportunity for everyone at Gecko," wrote Jacques Gagne, design firm's president and owner, on its website. "We are very excited and honored to join Google(x) and work on a variety of cutting edge projects."

Gecko offers several services during the design process, including mechanical design work like assembly layout. The firm, which has been around since 1996, has worked with top industrial design firms like Frog Design and Fuseproject, which was founded by design veteran and Jawbone Chief Creative Officer Yves Behar.

Google's X division is responsible for the company's most out-there projects, which it calls "moon shots." Several of those initiatives have hardware components where Gecko could get involved. The company's head-mounted device, Google Glass, has run into image problems in its current form, now available to the general public. Earlier this month, the company was granted patents that hint a more low-key design, which looks more like ordinary glasses.

The X team has also worked on projects that range from driverless cars to smart contact lenses to high-altitude Wi-Fi balloons that aim to bring connectivity to rural regions.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Four ways Google changed tech IPOs

The technology landscape has changed drastically since Google made its market debut 10 years ago. Google's IPO and its co-founders had a big hand in that evolution.

Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, in a 2004 founders' letter to potential shareholders, said their guiding principle was "Don't be evil."

Ten years ago, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin introduced the world to the search engine's now-famous mantra: Don't be evil.

The three-word vow is a promise to "do good things for the world" -- and was introduced in an unusual 4,000-word treatise Page and Brin wrote to would-be investors in their 2004 founders' letter before the initial public offering. The message was clear: Yes, we're joining the businesses on Wall Street, but this is not business as usual.

"Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one," Page wrote in the opening line of the letter, citing billionaire investor Warren Buffett as a source of inspiration. "But the standard structure of public ownership may jeopardize the independence and focused objectivity that have been most important in Google's past success and that we consider most fundamental for its future. Therefore, we have implemented a corporate structure that is designed to protect Google's ability to innovate and retain its most distinctive characteristics."

Tuesday marks a decade since Google went public. Its path has charted the course for the myriad tech companies that have come after it.

The search engine made its debut on the Nasdaq stock exchange, raising $1.2 billion. The amount seems almost paltry compared to Facebook's $16 billion offering in 2012, and the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba's forthcoming IPO, expected to fetch about $20 billion.

But the world was a very different place in August 2004. Facebook was only a few months old. Apple was still about three years away from releasing the iPhone. And Google was known for search -- and not much more. (Gmail was still in its infancy, launched in April of that year. Google would buy Keyhole, which would become the basis of Google Maps, two months after its IPO.)

Google's IPO changed all that. The company still rules the search world, but now it's also known for its Android mobile software, online video site YouTube, and ambitious, game-changing projects like driverless cars and Wi-Fi equipped balloons. Projected revenue in 2014 is $67 billion (it was $3.18 billion in 2004), and Google's market capitalization is just shy of $400 billion. The stock, which was priced at $85 at its opening and closed at $100.34 that day, traded at $582.16 end of day on Monday.

Google's influence has grown so vast since then that it's run into criticism over its market might. The company clashed with regulators in the United States and Europe over competition issues, and has been the target of privacy advocates who fear Google's power over users' data. (The "Don't be evil" philosophy has been a favorite go-to for critics to cite while protesting Google's policies.)

While it set the stage for the next 10 years, the IPO didn't go off as smoothly as Page and Brin might have liked. At the last minute, the offering price dropped to $85, from the expected range of $108 to $135. And an interview that Page and Brin gave to Playboy drew ire from the Securities and Exchange Commission, who thought the piece put the company in violation of the commission's IPO rules.

All market debuts are seminal moments for the companies, but Google's IPO caused reverberations that would affect not only tech IPOs from there on out, but the landscape of the entire tech world as well. To get a sense of perspective, CNET chatted with Lise Buyer, founder of the IPO strategist Class V Group. Buyer was Google's director of business optimization until 2006 and part of the team that took the company through its IPO. Buyer said she was the most skeptical team member when Page and Brin came up with "weird" ideas for the IPO, but that in the end, she was a believer.

Here are four ways Google's IPO changed the way tech companies take on an IPO and how they run as public firms. Google wouldn't make any of its executives available for this story, but instead pointed to Page and Brin's letter from the's IPO prospectus.

1. Warren's playbook. 

Page and Brin called their message to investors an "Owner's Manual," taking their cue and the name of their letter from Buffett, founder of Berkshire Hathaway, who often wrote essays and letters to his shareholders. Google's version was written mostly by Page.

The practice is more commonplace now. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used his founders' letter to tell potential investors that "Facebook was not originally created to be a company." When Alibaba filed for its IPO in May, it was more of a surprise that the filing did not include a letter from co-founder Jack Ma.

But things were different in 2004, and reading a manifesto that said the company would do no evil and take a long-term approach "even if we forgo some short term gains" was novel, to say the least. "People howled at how ridiculous the idea was," says Buyer.

2. Going Dutch.

Google took an unorthodox approach to its offering. It rounded up investors using a "Dutch" Internet auction where the IPO price is based on bids by investors, making the stock available to a larger pool of people. The degree of success Google had with the Dutch method is debatable. Buyer admits "it wasn't the perfect deal," but argues it was the right choice for the company at the time.

The IPO didn't set off a trend of Dutch offerings, but was emblematic of one thing. It was Page and Brin's attempt at taking a process that was always done one way, and seeing if it could be done in another, more efficient way, said Buyer. It's the same audacious thinking Google has applied to projects since. An example: Google is trying to cut the inefficiencies out of driving with software-powered cars.

"The process was unusual," says Buyer. "But it was a big old clue to the investors that the company would be unusual."

3. In control.

The company also rewrote the rules for tech founders. It created a corporate structure based on "dual-class" stock, which gives the founders outsize voting power. The structure was uncommon for a tech company at the time, but more common for media companies where there's concern over the business side influencing editorial content. In the letter, Page even names The New York Times Company as having a similar structure.

Page and Brin wanted the same principle to apply to Google: not having to worry about investors meddling if they made decisions that favored long-term plans over short-term profits.

Other high-profile tech companies have followed suit. Facebook and LinkedIn -- which went public in May 2011 -- both use dual-class stock.

4. Android makers, moon shot takers.

The IPO paved the way for some of Google's most important projects beyond search. Yes, it brought them cash. Lots of cash. But as important, Page and Brin, feeling less pressure from investors partly due to the dual-class, could devote their time on efforts and experiments that took Google into areas outside of the cash cow search business.

Almost exactly a year after the IPO, Google acquired mobile software maker Android, which now powers the majority of the world's smartphones. "I felt guilty about working on Android when it was starting. It was a little startup we bought," Page said in March. "It wasn't really what we were working on."

"That was stupid, he said. "That was the future." Google has since parleyed Android into the most popular mobile operating system in the world with more than 80 percent market share, according to research firm IDC.

The same idea goes for the company's so-called "moon shots," audacious attempts at technological leaps like driverless cars or the connected headset Glass. "You don't want the company to not have the ability to not make a big investment that might not pay off for awhile," said Buyer.

As for whether Google has lived up to its pledge to don't do evil, that depends on whom you ask. "The idea was that we don't quite know what evil is, but if we have a rule that says 'don't be evil,' then employees can say, I think that's evil," Eric Schmidt, Google's chairman, told NPR last May.

For the founders though, one thing about the idea was simple: Change the world in the best way possible. There's no denying they've delivered change.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Microsoft preps Windows 'Threshold' preview for late September

Microsoft is aiming to make a "technology preview" of Windows 9, aka Threshold, available to anyone interested this fall.
Microsoft is aiming to deliver a "technology preview" of its Windows "Threshold" operating system by late September or early October, according to multiple sources of mine who asked not to be named.

And in a move that signals where Microsoft is heading on the "servicability" front, those who install the tech preview will need to agree to have subsequent monthly updates to it pushed to them automatically, sources added.

Threshold is the next major version of Windows that is expected to be christened "Windows 9" when it is made available in the spring of 2015. Threshold is expected to include a number of new features that are aimed at continuing to improve Windows' usability on non-touch devices and by those using mice and keyboards alongside touch.

Among those features -- according to previous leaks -- are a new "mini" Start Menu; windowed Metro-Style applications that can run on the Desktop; virtual desktops; and the elimination of the Charms bar that debuted as part of Windows 8. Cortana integration with Windows Threshold is looking like it could make it into the OS, as well.

I've asked Microsoft officials for comment. To date, Microsoft execs have declined to comment on what will be in Threshold, when it will be available, how much it will cost, or what it will be named.

When Microsoft was working on Windows 8, the company delivered three external "milestones" before making the operating system generally available in October 2012. First there was a Windows 8 developer preview, which Microsoft released on September 13, 2011, followed by a Windows 8 "consumer" preview on February 29, 2012. The operating system was released to manufacturing on August 1, 2012.

These days, Microsoft's operating system team is on a more rapid release schedule, so I'd think there won't be five or six months between any Threshold milestone builds Microsoft plans to make available externally.

I had heard previously from my contacts that Microsoft was aiming to deliver a public preview of Threshold available to anyone interested toward the end of calendar 2014. I'm not sure if there's still a plan to make a public consumer preview available at that time or if this "technical preview" is the only "preview" Microsoft will release before Threshold is released to manufacturing.

Update: One of my contacts who has provided accurate information on Windows in the past said the Threshold tech preview will be public and available to all those interested.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Lenovo Y50 Touch: A midsize gaming system with style

The Good - The Lenovo Y50 Touch has great style for a gaming laptop, plus a touchscreen, and it balances performance, size, and price to the benefit of mainstream gamers.

The Bad - The display suffers from poor viewing angles and the midlevel graphics card means you can't run newer games at the highest detail settings.

The Bottom Line - With the Y50 Touch, Lenovo has created a reasonably priced, not-too-big gaming laptop that doesn't look like a throwback. But the most serious PC gamers may want to
hold out for a better display and faster GPU.

Lenovo, a brand best known for its conservative ThinkPad laptops and flexible Yoga hybrids, also makes some killer gaming laptops, even if few people are aware of them. That's a shame, because they generally look much nicer than the brick-like boxes from Origin PC, Alienware, and other gaming specialists, and they offer decent enough performance for mainstream gamers who just want to play the latest games away from a living-room console.

The newest entry in Lenovo's gaming lineup is the Y50 Touch, a 15.6-inch laptop that combines a slightly geeky style with decent (but not top-of-the-line) gaming components. First profiled at CES 2014, the Y50 is easily one of the computers I've received the most emails, tweets, and inquiries about from CNET readers. That says to me that there's a real hunger out there for a gaming laptop that can work as a full-time midsize home or work computer, balancing gaming and nongaming tasks equally.

A few different versions of the Y50 are available, with changes to the screen, storage, and other features, but the base configuration, consisting of an Intel Core i7 CPU and Nvidia GeForce 860M graphics card, remains the same.
Our test unit was the Best Buy configuration, combining an Intel Core i7 4700HQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB HDD/8GB SSD storage combo, Nvidia GeForce 860M graphics, and a 1080p touch display, all for $1,149. If you look at the Lenovo website, you'll find several slightly different configurations, most without the touchscreen. The single touch config costs $1,399, while an intriguing option to add a full 4K resolution display starts at $1,299.

In the UK, the Y50 starts at £1,000, but isn't available with a touchscreen. According to Lenovo's website, the Y line is not yet available in Australia.

If you're searching on the (often-confusing) Lenovo site, note that the Y50, Y50 Touch, and Y50 UHD models are all on separate pages, so you'll have to click around a bit to see all the options. Frankly, the Best Buy configuration feels like the best overall value, especially if, like me, you think Windows 8 really needs a touchscreen to work for non-gaming tasks.

Sadly, there's one thing holding this otherwise excellent system back from being close to perfect. The display is clearly not one of the newer IPS (in-plane switching) panels that we're seeing in more and more laptops this year. Off-axis viewing angles are poor, and even dead-on, the display appears more washed-out than the best laptop and tablet screens.

That may be a deal-breaker for some. But the other aspects of the Y50, including the powerful overall performance, excellent design and build quality, touchscreen, and price, all combine to make it a great overall value. It won't compete with $2,000-plus specialty rigs, but instead leads the small field of crossover systems that can satisfy mainstream gamers who want to skip clunky, thick gaming laptops that sacrifice portability.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dell's Inspiron 11 3000 does the 2-in-1 thing on the cheap and does it well

The Good - The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 gives you the flexibility of a laptop and tablet in one ultraportable package at an affordable price. It has a long battery life, it looks good, and feels like it's solidly built. Plus, you can easily open it and upgrade storage and memory.

The Bad - The lower-end components limit performance. There are few configuration options, so if you want more than 4GB of memory or an SSD, you're on your own. The bottom can get uncomfortably hot.

The Bottom Line - With the Inspiron 11 3000, Dell delivers an everyday ultraportable hybrid with an excellent battery life at a good price.

It didn't take long for computer manufacturers to bring the hybrid design of Lenovo's Yoga series down to more affordable prices. The Dell Inspiron 11 3000, for example, takes the nearly $1,200 XPS 11 and strips it back to just essentials for less than $500, but without sacrificing the 360-degree hinges for its laptop-to-tablet-and-back-again design.

Like its competition, the 11 3000 has decidedly entry-level components. In the US, Dell has two configurations: one with a dual-core Intel Celeron N2830 and one with a quad-core Pentium N3530. These basically replace Intel Atom processors in this type of ultraportable and it's for the better, delivering more performance with improved power efficiency.

There is $50 separating their "market value" prices ($450 for the Celeron and $500 for the Pentium), though different deals come and go and at the time of this review the Celeron was $400 and the Pentium was $480 with all other specs -- 4GB of memory, integrated Intel HD graphics, and a 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive -- being the same.

The 11 3000 2-in-1 is currently unavailable on Dell's UK site (there's just the XPS 11 as yet), but in Australia you can pick up the Celeron configuration for AU$599 -- oddly enough, with dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which isn't available in the US version.

Design and features

Considering its price, the 11 3000 is a classy-looking laptop. No, it's not made from aluminum, but the plastic body is made to look like it from afar and it feels solid, not cheap. Though the hinge design adds some thickness to the system, it's still just under an inch thick (21 mm) with the rest of the body measuring 11.8 inches wide by 7.9 inches deep (300 by 202 mm).

At 3.1 pounds (1.4 kg) it's not heavy, but with all that weight packed into a relatively small package, it might feel a little more hefty than you would think. The weight becomes more noticeable when using it as a handheld tablet, so it's really best if you want a full-time laptop and a part-time tablet.

Open the laptop and, well, it looks like a typical clamshell laptop. The 1,366x768-pixel IPS touchscreen gives you wide viewing angles -- pretty important given the two-in-one design -- which the similarly configured HP Pavilion x360 doesn't have. Below the screen is a Windows logo key that can be set to go to Start menu or Desktop.

The keyboard is about as far forward as possible, leaving a fair amount of room below it for resting your palms and the wide touchpad. The keys are just big enough and there are no awkwardly small ones, so typing is accurate and comfortable: it shouldn't take much time, if any, for you to adjust to using it.

Key travel is good, so you won't feel like you're typing on flat board, and the keys are responsive and soft without feeling mushy. There is some flex toward the middle of the keyboard, but unless you're really hammering on it, it shouldn't be an issue.

The touchpad is OK, but you might want to crank up the palm rejection setting to help tame unwanted cursor movement. You may also want to shut off left and/or right-edge swiping and stick to the touchscreen for those. In fact, with the laptop's small size and the keyboard so far forward you may find yourself not using the touchpad as much as you would without a touchscreen anyway.

Since it can be used as a tablet, Dell put the power button and a volume rocker on the right side along with a USB 2.0 port, an SD card reader, and security slot. On the left you'll find the headphone/mic jack; one more USB 2.0 port as well as a USB 3.0 with sleep charging; a full-size HDMI output; and the power input. 

Wireless options include Bluetooth 4.0 and 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi with a single antenna, not the newer 802.11ac and not dual-band.

How to update Windows 8.1

Microsoft rolls out updates the second Tuesday of each month, many of them critical. How can you be sure to catch all these updates?

Like other Windows versions, Windows 8.1 receives its share of periodic updates, some of them critical, others not so much. Either way, it's important to set up Windows 8.1 to make sure you're receiving the necessary updates.

Microsoft typically reserves the second Tuesday of the month, dubbed Patch Tuesday, to roll out the latest updates for its various operating systems and other applications. Most of the updates are designed to patch bugs, shore up security holes, and fine-tune various behind-the-scenes features. The update interface in Windows 8 and 8.1 is a bit different than the one in other versions of Windows. In this article, I'll explain and go through the update process in Windows 8.1 to make sure you're set up properly.

In versions prior to Windows 8, you would access the update screen via Control Panel. Open Control Panel and click on the icon for Windows Update. From the Windows Update screen, you can trigger or set several options. In Windows 8.1, you can still go through Control Panel to get to the Windows Update feature. But the same options are also available via the PC Settings screen, so let's look at that screen.

In Windows 8.1, click on the charms bar and then click on the Settings charm. In the Settings panel, click on the link to Change PC Settings. In the PC Settings screen, click on the last option for Update and recovery. Make sure Windows Update is highlighted.

Let's first look at the setting to "Choose how updates get installed," so click on that link. Click on the drop-down box for Important updates and you'll see four choices: Install updates automatically (recommended), Download updates but let me choose whether to install them, Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them, and Never check for updates (not recommended).

Which one should you choose? Microsoft naturally wants you to pick the first option, and that's usually your best bet as it makes the update process more seamless. There have been instances in the past of a Windows update causing problems, requiring its removal or forcing Microsoft to roll out another update to fix the first one. That's why some people may be more comfortable downloading or checking the updates but not installing them automatically. I keep the first option enabled and still feel that it's the easiest way to go.

Before we move to the next step, it's time to explain the different categories of updates. Microsoft divides its updates into three flavors: Important, Recommended, and Optional. The first two categories include updates that you should install while the third offers updates that may be nice to have but aren't absolutely necessary. For example, a critical update that fixes a security hole or bug would be considered an important update.

By default, important and recommended updates are automatically installed if you choose the option to install updates automatically. However, you can change this behavior. On the screen to "Choose how updates get installed," you can uncheck the check box for Recommended updates, which means only important updates would get installed automatically. However, I advise you to keep that check box checked as you typically want the recommended updates installed automatically.

Updates considered optional must be manually selected to be installed. For example, the Windows 8.1 August update that rolled out on Tuesday must be manually selected if you wish to install it. That update appears in the list of available updates as Update for Windows 8.1 (KB2975719).

At the "Choose how updates get installed" screen, you'll also see an option for Microsoft Update. If you run other Microsoft software, such as Office, make sure this check box is checked so that you can receive updates for those other products.

When you're done choosing how updates get installed, click the Apply button and then click the left arrow at the top to return to the previous screen.

Now it's time to see if any updates are awaiting you. To do that, click the Check now button. If any updates are available, Windows will tell you that it found new updates and will install them for you.

You have a couple of choices. If you want to install the updates right away, click the View details link. Scroll down the list to see all the updates ready for installation. Remember to scroll all the way to the bottom of the list to view any optional updates, such as the Windows 8.1 August update, or Update for Windows 8.1 (KB2975719). Click the check box for that update if you wish to install it.

You can now scroll to the top of the screen and click on the Install button if you wish to install all of the updates now.

Okay, but what if you're in the middle of work and don't want to be interrupted with a string of updates? That's where the automatic process comes into play. You don't have to trigger their installation yourself. Windows will keep track of the updates to be installed and at some point install them automatically.

The next time you restart or shut down Windows, you'll likely see an option to update it at that point. Or the next time you log into Windows, you may be reminded that updates are waiting to be installed. The whole point of the process is not to interrupt your workflow with an annoying and lengthy batch of updates.

This also means that you don't even have to check the PC Settings screen for available updates. Windows will eventually install them automatically for you. In Windows 8 and 8.1, you can restart and update right away or you can postpone the restart and update process for up to three days.

Updating Windows can still be a pain in the neck. But at least in Windows 8 and 8.1, you can control the process so that it's seamless and that it happens on your own time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Sony's PlayStation 4 has sold 10M units worldwide

At Gamescom 2014, Sony reveals that its game console has sold 10 million units to consumers, signifying strong momentum continuing from its last sales update in April.

Sony on Tuesday said that its PlayStation 4 game console has sold more than 10 million units worldwide since its November, 2013 launch.

Jim Ryan, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe president and CEO, announced the news onstage at Gamescom 2014, a video game trade fair held annually in Germany. The sales represent consoles sold through, which means purchased by consumers and not simply shipped to retailers.

The last time Sony shed light on PS4 sales figures was back in April when it revealed that lifetime sales of the console had reached 7 million units worldwide by March 31, 2014.

The figures are important because they represent a stark difference regarding Sony's strength in the console sector between the current generation and the last. Sony launched the PlayStation 3 in November 2006 with a hefty price tag of $600, only to slash it by $100 eight months later after selling barely more than half its projected 6 million-unit goal by March 2007.

The PS3 didn't hit the 10 million unit mark until the end of 2007, while it took Microsoft's Xbox 360 two years from its November 2005 launch to do so. With the PS4, Sony is illustrating the significant momentum of its console three months ahead of its one-year mark.

Microsoft has yet to reveal worldwide sales of its competing Xbox One console beyond revealing in early January of this year that the console had surpassed 3 million units sold through to customers by the end of 2013.

In April, Microsoft announced that it had shipped 5 million units to retailers, but have remained silent on sales figures even after cutting the price of the Xbox One from $499 to $399 by unbundling the Kinect motion camera in May. The lower-cost Xbox One did provide a sales boost in June, Microsoft said at the time, but the company did not disclose figures.

CNET has reached out to Microsoft for comment on updated Xbox One sales figures and will update this story when we hear back.

Yahoo acquires startup Zofari to bolster local search

With its latest purchase, Yahoo looks to strengthen its local-recommendation chops.

Yahoo has acquired the local-search startup Zofari, adding technology that makes local recommendations, as the Internet giant seeks to strengthen its offerings around search.

The deal was announced Friday, but was reported earlier Tuesday by TechCrunch.

Zofari generates recommendations for local haunts like bars and cafes akin to how Pandora, the streaming-music service, creates personalized radio stations. It does that partly by culling information from other local-search services like Foursquare and partly by looking at places that users liked to generate the kind of "if you liked that, you'll like this" recommendations that Pandora and movie-streaming service Netflix are known for. Zofari said it was "inspired" by those services.

"We built (what we think) is a beautiful and powerful recommendation app," Zofari said in a blog post. While we've built an experience we couldn't be more proud of, we're a small company and have always dreamed of reaching users at a greater scale."

The purchase is just one of more than 40 that CEO Marissa Mayer has made since she took the reins at Yahoo more than two years ago, but it's aligned specifically with the company's desire to build out its mobile search offerings. The buy comes at a time when Yahoo's display ad sales -- an important financial metric, though becoming less en vogue as users move to mobile devices -- fell 7 percent last quarter.

"We're thrilled to welcome the team to Yahoo, where they will join our growing Search organization and continue to build amazing discovery experiences," a Yahoo spokesperson said, in a statement.

Yahoo has also been recently tending specifically to its ailing local-search business. In February, the Internet giant announced a partnership with Yelp to display its content, like ratings and reviews, on Yahoo search results pages. The senior director who orchestrated the deal, Anand Chandrasekaran, has since left Yahoo.

At the time the Yelp partnership was announced, a former member of Yahoo's local-search team told CNET the new efforts were overdue. "The platform was just rotting," he said.

He also pointed out that the actual technology around Yahoo's local-search capabilities suffered because of how siloed the company was. Like many of Yahoo's woes, it was mainly a legacy problem: The platform for, say, the Korean market would be different from the platform for the US market because of the way those platforms evolved separately from each other. The inconsistencies made it difficult for Yahoo to execute on plans related to improving the technology.

For now, Zofari will continue to run its services on the Web and on Apple's iOS for the iPhone and iPad and Google's Android mobile operating systems, which power devices from makers including Samsung. But, as with many of Yahoo's recent acquisitions, the company could discontinue the startup's product.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Apple University preaches mantra of simplicity to employees

Three Apple employees spoke to The New York Times about the company's secretive internal training program, revealing some of the lessons the tech firm tries to impart.

In a class called "What Makes Apple, Apple," an instructor shows Apple employees a slide of a 78-button remote control for Google TV. He then shows an Apple TV remote, which has just three buttons.

That story, which illustrates Apple's strive towards simplicity, is part of a rare look inside the company's secretive training program, known as Apple University, written Monday by The New York Times. Three Apple employees who have taken classes described elements of the program to the publication, agreeing to speak about it anonymously.

Apple declined to provide the Times with details about the program or make instructors -- some hailing from Harvard, Yale, and MIT -- available for interview. The Times noted that no pictures of the classes have come out publicly. An Apple representative didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from CNET.

Apple University was established in 2008 by late co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, who hired Joel Podolny, then the dean of Yale School of Management, to head up the new program. The training program followed a similar program for animation studio Pixar, another company Jobs co-founded, called Pixar University. Both are among a handful of company training programs, such as McDonald's Hamburger University.

Apple University could take on new significance in helping maintain Jobs' approach to simplifying products, even as the company grows. The program could also be a useful tool in integrating the hundreds of new employees the company took on when it closed its $3 billion acquisition of headphones company Beats this month, it's biggest deal ever.

The Times story describes one class, "Communicating at Apple," in which the instructor shows 11 pictures from Picasso's "The Bull." Each progressive slide in the series strips away details of the bull until just a stick figure remains.

"You go through more iterations until you can simply deliver your message in a very concise way, and that is true to the Apple brand and everything we do," one person who took the course recalled to the Times.

The concept of simplification is present throughout the company, from Jobs' basic attire to its spartan retail stores to its devices -- with the iPhone and iPad stripping away the keyboard and mouse for one flat touch screen and circular home button.

The classes are taught on Apple's campus in well-lit stadium-seating rooms built in a trapezoid shape, the Times reported. Some courses teach employees about business decisions the company took, such as the choice to make the iPod and iTunes compatible on Windows. That issue was hotly debated issue among executives, with Jobs repellent to the idea of sharing Apple technology with Windows. However, the decision eventually led to the iPod's rapid growth and paved the way for the iPhone's success.

Apple's philosophy of simplicity, now under CEO Tim Cook, hasn't changed much since Jobs' death in 2011, as evidenced by the few drastic changes in the company's products. Apple University may have lent a steadying hand to the corporate culture.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Acer Aspire Switch 10 A unique hybrid with less hassle

The Good - The Acer Aspire Switch 10 has a hybrid mechanism that actually works, and it has a decent keyboard and touchpad for such a small body.
The Bad - The component-filled top half makes the system top heavy and prone to tipping over backwards. Performance feels sluggish for all-day use, and the default 32GB SSD will be too small for many.

The Bottom Line - The Acer Aspire Switch 10 is a budget hybrid that skips the more-common fold-back or button-clasp hinges and instead attaches its screen via a magnetic connection. It shares the same hardware limitations as other small hybrids, but can be easier to use.

There are many 10-inch and 11-inch hybrids to choose from right now if you've got about $400 to spend and realistic expectations of performance and storage capacity. Recent versions from Lenovo, Dell, and HP all offer Atom or Pentium-powered ultraportable bodies that convert to Windows 8 tablets, although none are ready to take the place of your all-day, every day PC.

Acer says its Switch 10 hybrid is especially flexible and built to work in four distinct modes. That may be a somewhat generous description, but it's similar to what other detachable or Yoga-style hybrids can do. There's the traditional clamshell mode, then the screen pops off and can be replaced facing outwards, forming a kind of kiosk mode, which Acer calls "display" mode. The kiosk shape can be flipped upside down to form a table tent, a form commonly cited by PC makers, but one that I've never seen a hybrid owner use in real life. Finally, the screen can detach as a full standalone slate-style tablet.

The 10.1-inch screen attaches via something Acer calls the Snap Hinge. It's essentially the same two-pronged connector found on many detachable hybrids, but instead of snapping together with a physical switch, powerful magnets pull the two halves together and keep them attached, a connection that held even when I picked up the system by the screen and shook it.

Being a smaller hybrid, the Switch 10 has similar components to what we've seen in recent 8-inch and 10-inch Windows 8 tablets. In this case, that's an Intel Atom CPU, 2GB of RAM, and up to a 64GB SSD for storage. For the base price of $380 (also available for about £300, and AU$700), however, you only get a 32GB SSD, and once you account for the actual footprint of Windows 8, that doesn't leave much room for anything else. The 64GB version is listed on Acer's website for $429, but I've seen it, and the 32GB version on sale at $400/$350 respectively.

At $400 for the 64GB version, I'm willing to consider the performance tradeoffs demanded of the Switch 10 and its Atom processor versus the slightly zipper (and more expensive) Yoga 2 11 and HP Pavilion x360 hybrids, in return for what I consider a more functional hybrid design, which kept me coming back to the Switch 10 day after day, even with more powerful hardware at hand.

Design and features

In the hand, the Switch 10 feels solid, with less of the plastic flimsy feel of so many low-cost Windows systems. But its design is also boxy and squared off, and a more tapered shape might help it feel even thinner.

As with nearly all two-in-one systems, what you're getting is a base with a keyboard and touchpad, plus in this case, a single USB 2.0 port; and a tablet screen that packs all the internal components inside. That means the CPU, RAM, SSD, and motherboard are all crammed behind the 10.1-inch screen, which makes it heavier than the base. When connected in clamshell form, it made the entire thing prone to tipping over backward. It's not an uncommon problem with hybrids, but it feels especially unbalanced here.

It's the actual method of connecting the two halves that strikes me as the big talking point of the Switch 10. Some hybrids use Yoga-style fold-back hinges that keep the base and screen permanently connected -- those are generally well-engineered, but you're always stuck with a keyboard behind a bulky tablet. Others have physical switches for releasing a latch holding the two halves together. I've found those models to be clunky, with big, ugly release buttons that are hard to hit cleanly.
In contrast, the Switch 10 uses a powerful magnetic catch that connects two prongs on the top of the hinge to two openings on the bottom edge of the tablet screen. A small connective strip between the prongs forms the electrical connection between the keyboard and the screen -- unlike some hybrids with a Bluetooth connection, the screen and dock need to be physically connected to work together.

I found this method of connecting the two halves of a two-in-one hybrid to be one of my favorites to date, mostly because you're not asked to fumble with a big ugly physical button and hook-style catches that often take two hands and several tries to connect properly. In the case of the Switch 10, I still didn't score a 100-percent success rate, but it was easier, thanks to the magnetic connection. I still needed two hands to pull the halves apart, but replacing the screen usually worked on the first try, except when the very strong magnetic connection pulled the screen down too quickly, missing one of the prongs.

The keyboard feels more cramped than some other small-screen hybrids, because this is a 10.1-inch system, while most of the competition is using 11.6-inch displays. Still, the thick, chunky island-style keys are easy to hit, and important keys such as Enter, Shift, and Tab are large. The touchpad is a good size for an ultraportable, and works well enough with multitouch gestures such as two-finger scrolling, but no one will confuse it with glass-topped models found in more premium laptops.
The 10.1-inch display has a 1,366x768 native resolution. Once the standard on laptops from ultraportable to midsize, it's now mostly restricted to systems that both have smaller screens and budget prices. For the size, it's perfectly usable, but some low-cost tablets running other operating systems (Android, iOS) are getting consumers accustomed to higher resolutions. Off-axis viewing wasn't great, but it was better than the HP x360, an otherwise excellent hybrid held back by a poor display.

Connections, performance, and battery
The Switch 10 offers a fairly minimal set of ports and connections, perhaps because of its diminutive size. Except for connecting an external mouse, these systems are usually very self-contained, but if you do want to use most of the micro-style connections, you'll need an adapter or dongle.

Friday, August 1, 2014

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