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The best ultraportable laptops you can buy

A decade ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find a laptop weighing less than three pounds with a profile slimmer than a paperback book. Now every manufacturer has at least one, making even some of the most jaded tech reviewers exclaim “how did they do this?”

But, even with the ubiquity of ultraportable laptops, some continue to stand out for their ability to balance sleek designs with powerful performance. As with any else, though, the best ultraportable laptops still demand some sacrifices. We’re here to help you decide which ones are worth making.

What to expect

The first thing to remember is that the term “ultraportable” is subjective. There aren’t any hard-and-fast rules governing the weight and thickness. We at Engadget define an ultraportable laptop as one that weighs less than three pounds and measures less than 0.75 inch thick at its widest point. Usually that means you’re talking about 13-inch and 14-inch laptops, though occasionally a 15-inch device hits the mark too.

Most ultraportables have high-end design touches like ultra-slim bezels, gem-cut edges, and premium materials because they tend to sit at the top of the line. Companies spend a lot of time and money engineering them to be as thin and light as possible without sacrificing too much on power and battery life. They tend to be made from metal, carbon fiber or a mix of the two, and their enclosures are usually just thick enough to include the latest Intel or Ryzen processors, large batteries and enough RAM and storage for most people’s needs.

Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

What you won’t find in most ultraportables are high-powered GPUs or loads of ports. Most have integrated graphics chips (think: Intel UHD) because anything more powerful would take up space and pose heat-management problems. When it comes to ports, the edges of these laptops simply don’t have a lot of free space. You’re almost guaranteed to get a couple Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C ports on the newest notebooks, but some have already abandoned the USB-A standard, which is a shame.

Also, due to the flagship caliber of most ultraportables, you can expect to pay top dollar for these. Most start at $1,000, gradually increasing in price as you bump up the specs. However, there are a few we’d recommend that often come in below the $1,000 mark, either thanks to slightly lower starting prices or frequent sales. We’ve included a “budget” pick in this guide, but just know that “budget” in this case doesn’t mean cheap; it means relatively affordable.

One other thing that’s important to consider is battery life. Manufacturers have gotten better at eking out more juice from their devices. We recommend buying one rated for at least eight to 10 hours.

You can take all of that advice and wade through the plethora of product pages on the Internet to find the best ultraportable laptop for you. But if you don’t have that kind of time or patience, we’ve compiled a list of the devices that we consider to be the best options available right now.

Engadget picks

Best overall: Dell XPS 13

Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

Dell didn’t overhaul the XPS 13 for 2021, because why fix what isn’t broken? Instead, the company brought in more optional add-ons so customers could make its flagship laptop as personalized as possible — as long as they have the cash to do so.

The XPS 13 has been one of our favorite laptops for years thanks to its slim, attractive design, powerful performance and solid battery life. In 2020, we saw Dell remove the excessive chin bezel below the screen, letting the 13.4-inch display extend from corner to corner. It now has a 16:10 aspect ratio, which is better than before but not quite as good as a 3:2 ratio. We prefer taller screens because they reduce the amount of scrolling necessary to browse web pages and review documents comfortably. The XPS 13’s display continues to support HDR and Dolby Vision, so you’ll get top-notch video quality whenever you stream. New for 2021 is the optional 3,456 x 2,160 OLED display, which you can add to the XPS 13 for about $300 extra.

The XPS 13 remains just as thin and light as it has been for the past couple of years. It weighs only 2.64 pounds and measures just over a half-inch thick at its widest point. We also like its spacious trackpad and comfortable, scissor-switch keyboard. It may not be the flashiest ultraportable on our list, but honestly we kinda dig the XPS’ subtle design. It looks and feels like a flagship device, but it never feels ostentatious.

Those set on the XPS 13 in 2021 will find Tiger Lake processors powering the laptop, and the option to trick it out with up to 32GB of RAM and 2TB of storage. Notably, the base model includes 8GB of RAM much better than the 4GB minimum on past models. Four gigs is rarely enough for a daily driver (unless you’re looking at a Chromebook), and it’s reassuring to see Dell finally came around on that. If you’re going to upgrade anything when ordering directly from Dell, we recommend springing for the Core i5 processor instead of sticking with the base Core i3.

Buy Dell XPS 13 starting at $999

Best for Apple fans: MacBook Air M1

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Apple continues to make the MacBook Air a compelling option for most people thanks to the M1 chipset in the latest model. And that’s really the star of the show here — the MacBook Air M1 is blazing fast, running native apps like Safari and GarageBand without breaking a sweat. The laptop wakes almost instantly when you open its lid, sites load swiftly and scrolling is seamless. And because M1 is ARM-based, you’ll be able to run iOS apps on the Air, too.

While the MacBook Air M1 looks familiar on the outside, a big difference under the hood is that there’s no fan. Although you sacrifice a bit in the way of heat management, it means the laptop runs more quietly than before. And just because its appearance hasn’t changed, doesn’t mean it looks dated. It still has an attractive 2.8-pound unibody enclosure, a gorgeous 13.3-inch Retina Display, a TouchID fingerprint sensor and a comfortable keyboard with springy buttons (no problematic butterfly keys to be found here).

Along with the M1 processor, the latest MacBook Air comes most readily with 8GB of RAM and either 256GB or 512GB of storage. If you order directly from Apple, you can increase the RAM to 16GB and get as much as 2TB of internal storage. A fully specced-out model will set you back $1,800, but most people will find that their needs are met by the 256GB base model.

Buy MacBook Air M1 at Amazon starting at $999

Best convertible: HP Spectre x360 13

Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

The Spectre x360 13 is the culmination of years of improvements on HP’s part. It combines most of the things we’d want in a laptop, including a versatile convertible design. Old-school 2-in-1s had a tendency to be wobbly and unstable, but this is anything but. Its metallic hinges provide a sturdy structure for the machine when in laptop mode and spin smoothly whenever you need to work in tent or tablet mode.

The model we reviewed in 2019 had a 1080p touchscreen, but HP gives you the option to outfit the Spectre x360 13 with a 4K AMOLED panel — a good choice for creatives and streaming aficionados (just be prepared for shorter battery life). By no means is a 4K display necessary on a 13-inch machine, but companies have been adding them as options on flagships to satisfy all the display nerds out there. Regardless of the screen you choose, the laptop’s 90-percent screen-to-body ratio will provide an immersive experience when you’re watching movies on Netflix. The keyboard is also quite comfortable and we particularly like that HP made the buttons as large as possible, stretching them all the way to the edges of the chassis.

In addition, HP included an IR camera for Windows Hello, a Precision touchpad and a few more ports than you’d expect to see on an ultraportable of this size. Its edges hold two USB-C ports for charging and data, a USB-A port and a microSD slot. The machine’s 14.5-hour battery life makes it even more versatile, as it lasts an entire work or school day with juice left to spare.

The worst thing we can say about the Spectre x360 13 is that its webcam produces grainy video and HP includes a bit more bloatware than other OEMs. Also, the machine's jewelry-like design may not be to some shoppers’ tastes, but it’s not garish enough for us to knock it either. It also helps that the base model now includes an 11th-gen Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and an FHD touchscreen for just over $1,000. What’s more, HP is one of the few companies to include a stylus with its flagship convertible at no extra cost, meaning you can use it as a digital notebook straight out of the box.

Buy Spectre x360 13 at HP starting at $1,109

Best budget option: HP Pavilion Aero 13

Daniel Cooper / Engadget

In order to appeal to Gen-Z users, HP made its Pavilion Aero 13 laptop as thin and light as possible while keeping it at a relatively affordable price. Starting at $749, the laptop weighs only 2.2 pounds and takes some design notes from the company's Spectre and Elitebook lines. That makes it a pretty attractive machine, and that's not something we take for granted at this price range.

While its keyboard is not backlit by default, it is comfortable to type on even if the layout is slightly more cramped than usual thanks to the page up/down key column on the right side. You also get a big trackpad and a 13.3-inch 1,920 x 1,200 display on the base model, plus the option to upgrade to a 2,560 x 1,600 display if you like. We also appreciate the port variety on this machine: two USB-A ports, one HDMI connector, one USB-C port and a 3.5mm audio jack. HP has generally done a good job keeping as many connectors as possible on even its flagship laptops, and it's nice to see that its budget notebooks received the same treatment.

We reviewed the top-tier model that costs $999, but the base model isn't anything to scoff at. It includes a Ryzen 5 5600U processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, which is impressive when you consider other flagship laptops with similar RAM and storage amounts cost $250 more to start. While it does force some sacrifices, the Pavilion Aero 13 is not one to overlook if you want a good value laptop.

Buy Pavilion Aero 13 at HP starting at $749

The best wireless earbuds you can buy right now

In the last two years, true wireless earbuds have made quite the leap. There’s no doubt the popularity of Apple’s AirPods helped make these headphones a mainstay, but companies’ ability to offer reliable connectivity, great sound and active noise cancellation (ANC) in an increasingly smaller form factor has hastened widespread adoption. You can also get features that used to be reserved for premium models on mid-range devices. Of course, the popularity means that new earbuds are popping up all the time and the list of options is longer than ever. To help, we’ve compiled the best wireless earbuds you can buy right now, including noteworthy features for each selection.

Best overall: Sony WF-1000XM4

Billy Steele/Engadget

No one comes close to Sony’s true wireless earbuds with its overall mix of sound and features. That was true of the WF-1000XM3 in 2019 and the company distanced itself even further from the competition earlier this year with the WF-1000XM4. A smaller design offers a better fit, but Sony still packed in the features — from adaptive ANC and wireless charging to 360 and high-res audio support. The company’s app gives you the ability to let the M4s do a lot of the adjustments for you based on activity and location. What’s more, tools like speak-to-chat, although imperfect, are handy when you need to have a quick conversation.

I’m not a huge fan of the new foam ear tips, but based on other reviews, I’m in the minority there. Still, it’s easy enough to find alternatives, and those tips shouldn’t deter you from an otherwise excellent set of buds.

Buy WF-1000XM4 at Amazon - $278Buy WF-1000XM4 at Best Buy - $280


Runner up: Master & Dynamic MW08

Billy Steele/Engadget

Master & Dynamic typically stands out from other audio brands due its attention to detail when it comes to design. When most companies are using spruced-up plastic, M&D chooses aluminum, ceramic and leather — even for its true wireless earbuds. The leather is reserved for its headphones, but Master & Dynamic still pairs premium elements with a stellar set of features on the MW08. 12-hour battery life, improved noise cancellation and excellent sound quality are the highlights, plus the company reduced the overall size of the earbuds for a better fit.

Buy MW08 at Amazon - $349Buy MW08 at Master and Dynamic - $349


Best budget: Anker Soundcore Spirit Dot 2

Engadget

Sure, there are cheaper options, but for $80, it’s hard to beat the Anker Soundcore Spirit Dot 2. These true wireless earbuds are smaller than a lot of the competition which makes them more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. Anker also delivers ample bass, which means they can handle hip-hop, electronic and other genres better than many budget buds. They’re also IPX7 rated, so they’ll easily double as your new workout partner.

Buy Soundcore Spirit Dot 2 at Amazon - $80


Best for iOS: AirPods Pro

Billy Steele / Engadget

There’s no denying that AirPods are extremely popular among iPhone owners. And there’s a good reason. The earbuds integrate seamlessly with iOS. Plus, the more recent models offer hands-free access to Siri, on top of core features like quick pairing. In addition to active noise cancellation, the AirPods Pro have one very important thing the “regular” AirPods don’t: comfort. And when you factor in the spatial audio improvements in iOS 14, the Pro model is well worth the extra investment at this point.

Buy AirPods Pro at Amazon - $250


Best for Android: Pixel Buds A-Series

Engadget

In 2020, Google debuted redesigned true wireless Pixel Buds. They were a massive improvement over the original model, but they were also far from perfect. Instead of issuing a minor update in 2021, the company took nearly all of the best features and put them in the more affordable Pixel Buds A-Series. Hands-free access to Google Assistant, handy language translation and actionable notifications will help with tasks and productivity while improved sound quality makes the A-Series a better option for music than its predecessor.

Buy Pixel Buds A-Series at Best Buy - $100


Best overall sound quality: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2

Engadget

Sennheiser made quite the leap from its first true wireless earbuds to version 2.0. The company figured out the touch controls, extended the battery life and added active noise cancellation. The Momentum True Wireless 2 is also the best sounding set of true wireless earbuds we’ve tested. As we noted during our review, Sennheiser consistently creates an audio profile that highlights minute details of songs, from the subtle attack of acoustic guitar strumming to the deep sub of synths and drum machines. The company’s trademark tone is warm, pleasant and inviting. The downside is these are pricey at around $300 and you can find better battery life (and wireless charging) elsewhere. In terms of pure audio quality though, this is the clear top pick.

Buy Momentum True Wireless 2 at Amazon - $300Buy Momentum True Wireless 2 at Best Buy - $300


Best overall noise cancellation: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds

Engadget

It’s no surprise Bose built a set of true wireless earbuds with impressive active noise cancellation. The company has spent years perfecting its QuietComfort technology to block out the world around you. Most of the time, that’s easier said than done with true wireless, but Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds stand above the rest in the ANC department. The company allows you to select one of 11 levels of noise cancellation in its app and you can assign three of those to the on-board controls for quick access. It doesn’t match the isolation of its over-ear headphones, but Bose is clearly ahead of the true wireless competition when it comes to blocking unwanted noise.

Buy QuietComfort Earbuds at Amazon - $279Buy QuietComfort Earbuds at Best Buy - $279


Best mid-range: Samsung Galaxy Buds 2

Billy Steele/Engadget

Samsung’s recent Galaxy Buds have all been well-designed — perhaps with the exception of the Galaxy Buds Live — and offer a comfy fit due to their small size. The company merged its noise-cancelling Galaxy Buds Pro with the more affordable Galaxy Buds+ to create the Galaxy Buds 2. At $150, this true wireless model remains tiny and comfortable with improved audio quality, adjustable ambient sound and wireless charging. That combination of features makes the Galaxy Buds 2 a solid option for the Android faithful that won’t break the bank.

Buy Galaxy Buds 2 at Amazon - $150Buy Galaxy Buds 2 at Best Buy - $150


Honorable mention: Beats Studio Buds

Billy Steele/Engadget

Beats is no stranger to true wireless earbuds, but until recently, the only option was its over-the-ear hook design that isn’t for everyone. With the Studio Buds, the company offers a more “traditional” true wireless fit and surprisingly balanced sound. Plus, the small size keeps things comfortable, even during extended listening sessions. iOS users get hands-free access to Siri and the company offers Android users a similar quick-pairing experience iPhone owners have enjoyed on previous Beats headphones.

Buy Studio Buds at Amazon - $150


Honorable mention: Jabra Elite 75t

Billy Steele / Engadget

Jabra’s true wireless earbuds are always a solid option, offering a lot of features for less than the typical premium flagship prices. The company made an impression with its Elite 65t earbuds in 2018 and followed up in late 2019 with the new-and-improved Elite 75t. Jabra redesigned nearly everything, offering smaller buds with a better fit, in addition to improved sound quality, longer battery life and optional wireless charging. The company also added ANC via a firmware update in 2020, so these don’t seem outdated by any means.

Buy Jabra Elite 75t at Amazon - $150Buy Jabra Elite 75t at Best Buy - $150

The best student discounts we found for 2021

They say your college years are the best of your life. But they tend to leave out the part where you’re scrounging every dollar for textbooks, food and (if you’re lucky) the occasional weekend outing with friends. Money is tight when you’re a student, and that financial stress can be compounded by the reality of having to stay on top of your studies.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s student discounts. Many companies offer their products and services for less to those struggling through lectures, writing research papers and studying for finals. We’ve compiled a list of the best student discounts you can get on useful services, along with some things you’ll enjoy in your down time. Just keep in mind that most of these deals require you to prove your status as a student either by signing up with your .edu email address or providing some form of student identification.

Shopping

Amazon Prime Student

If you’re not piggy-backing off of your parents’ Amazon Prime account, you can have the subscription for less while you’re in school. College students can get Prime Student for $6.50 per month or $60 per year, and it includes the same perks as a standard Prime membership including free two-day shipping, free same-day delivery in select areas, and access to the entire Prime Video library. Amazon also currently offers a six-month free trial, so you’ll pay even less during your first year.

Buy Prime Student at Amazon - $60/year

Best Buy

While it doesn’t offer a specific student discount, Best Buy has Student Deals that you can sign up to receive. Aside from proving your student status, the only requirement is for you to be a My Best Buy member and that program is free to sign up for. We actually recommend that most people sign up for My Best Buy because some items, especially during site-wide sales, will be even cheaper for members. All student deals will appear in the Member Offers page in your account.

Sign up for Student Deals at Best Buy

Apple

Apple offers some deals to students and educators. This year in particular, Apple is throwing in a free pair of AirPods when you buy select Macs or iPads for college. You’ll get AirPods with the regular wired charging case free, or you can upgrade to AirPods with the wireless charging case for $40 more. Alternatively, you can get the AirPods Pro for $90 more. Apple knows how popular AirPods are and it clearly wants to sweeten the deal for students who have been thinking about getting a new computer before heading off to college.

The AirPods promotion also includes Apple education pricing on Macs and iPads. There isn’t a flat percentage rate across all products; the discounts are device dependent. For example, right now students can get a new MacBook Air M1 starting at $899, which is $100 less than the normal starting price (Amazon's matching this price, too). The 13-inch MacBook Pro also starts off $100 cheaper and the new iPad Pros start at $749, or $50 cheaper than normal. These are decent savings if you must have a brand new Apple product, but those with tighter budgets should also consider Apple’s refurbishment program.

Shop Apple’s back-to-school promos

Samsung

Samsung offers up to 10 percent off most of its products to students and educators. The Galaxy manufacturer also has some decent offers like a "speed and storage" bundle that includes two Samsung drives for under $300. We’d recommend stretching that 10 percent discount as much as possible by using it on big-ticket items like a Samsung laptop or a Galaxy smartphone if you need one. Otherwise, Samsung has solid accessories like the Galaxy SmartTag and the Galaxy Watch Active 2.

Shop Samsung’s back-to-school promos

Microsoft

Microsoft also provides students and educators with up to 10 percent off its gadgets, including the already affordable Surface Go 2 and the Surface Headphones 2. And Microsoft’s online store doesn’t only sell Surface devices — you can also find Windows PCs from Lenovo, HP, Acer and others there at discounted prices.

Shop Microsoft’s back-to-school promos

Streaming

Spotify

Spotify Premium’s student plan gives you a lot for only $5 per month. Besides access to millions of songs, it also includes Hulu’s ad-supported plan and Showtime’s ad-free service. You’d spend roughly $27 per month if you paid for all three separately at their full prices, making this student offer one of the best you can get.

Buy Spotify Premium Student - $5/month

Pandora

Pandora also offers students its Premium membership for $5 per month. Pandora’s offering doesn’t include any additional services, but you do get an ad-free experience, personalized music, unlimited skips and unlimited offline play.

Buy Pandora Premium Student- $5/month

Apple Music

Apple also slashes 50 percent off its Apple Music subscription for students, bringing it down to $5 per month. The offer is available for up to 48 months so you can enjoy the rate for the entirety of your college experience. What’s more, the company bundles Apple TV+ in this student offer, so you can watch Apple originals like The Morning Show and See.

Buy Apple Music Student membership - $5/month

Tidal

Tidal provides student discounts on both of its streaming services: Premium and Hi-Fi. Premium drops to $5 per month, down from $10, while Hi-Fi costs $10 per month, down from $20. This year, the company is offering a three-month free trial of either of its services to any new user through the end of August. Tidal is still often overshadowed by Spotify and Apple Music, but these discounts are a good way to give it a try without spending too much money.

Buy Tidal Student starting at $10/month

Hulu

College students can sign up for Hulu’s ad-supported plan for only $2 per month. That’s $4 less than the normal price and a great deal considering all of the content that Hulu has to offer (think The Handmaid’s Tale, Grey’s Anatomy, Rick & Morty and more). Sure you have to deal with commercials, but it’s a small price to pay to binge-watch shows like Brooklyn Nine Nine, which can provide a much-needed laugh when you’re drowning in coursework.

Buy Hulu (ad-supported) - $2/month

YouTube

If you’re already spending a lot of time watching YouTube, you may have a better experience with YouTube Premium. The Student plan knocks nearly 50 percent off the price so you’ll pay $7 per month for ad-free video viewing, background play, video downloads and access to YouTube Premium Music. The latter is YouTube’s attempt at a Spotify/Apple Music competitor, but it has a long way to go before it can really hold a candle to those services. However, if you listen to most of your music via YouTube already, Premium could be your one-stop-shop for music and video streaming.

Buy YouTube Premium Student - $7/month

Headspace

Being a student is stressful even in the best of times, but now it’s even more difficult to concentrate and find peace. Headspace is just one of many meditation and mindfulness apps available that can help with that, but it stands apart with a great student discount: $10 for the entire year, or $60 less than a normal annual membership. In addition to a large library of meditation lessons and routines to follow, Headspace recently added SleepCasts, a collection of soothing voices reading bedtime stories to help you fall asleep, as well as “mindful” workout routines.

Buy Headspace Student plan - $10/year

Tools

Adobe Creative Cloud

You’re probably using Adobe products if you’re studying anything to do with digital art or design. Adobe CC is the industry standard in this space but the entire suite of programs is quite expensive at $53 per month. Thankfully, Adobe has education pricing for students that drops the entire creative suite to $20 per month for the first year. That includes the big programs like Photoshop CC and Illustrator CC along with Lightroom CC, Premiere Pro CC, Adobe XD and more.

After your first year, the monthly cost increases to $30 per month. While not ideal, it’s still more affordable for students than it is for industry professionals. If you’re not tied to Adobe programs, you can also consider Affinity Photo, Designer and Publisher apps from Serif ($50 each for the Mac or Windows versions), which compete with Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

Buy Adobe CC - $20/month

Ableton Live

Whether or not you’re studying music production, students can get 40 percent off Ableton Live Standard or Suite for as long as they are enrolled full-time. That brings Live 11 Standard down to $269 and Suite down to $449 — great discounts on some of the best music software available right now.

Buy Ableton Live starting at $269

Microsoft 365

Many students have to use Microsoft 365 tools on a regular basis. If your college or university doesn’t provide you with an account, you can still get Microsoft 365 for free by taking advantage of the company’s student and educator discount. This gives you access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and even Microsoft Teams free of charge, which is a great deal considering an annual subscription costs $100.

Get Microsoft 365

Ulysses

Spending all day and night writing papers is even more frustrating when you don’t have all your writing organized in one place. Ulysses is a popular writing app for mac/iOS that can be used for note taking as well as thesis writing, with features like auto-save and auto-backup, word-count writing goals, markup, plain text support and DropBox integration. Normally, Ulysses costs $40 per year but students can get it for only $11 every six months, or $22 per year. There isn’t a direct alternative for Windows users, but you do have options including Scrivener (a one-time student price of $41.65), IA Writer (a $20 one-time price) and FocusWriter (free and open-source).

Buy Ulysses - $22/year

Evernote

Evernote can be an indispensable tool if you like to keep all of your thoughts in one place — everything from class notes to web clippings to to-do lists. Students can get half off one year of Evernote Premium, which brings the price down to $4 per month or $48 for the year. Premium is the way to go if you’re investing in Evernote because it syncs your notes across unlimited devices, gives you offline access, lets you annotate PDFs and search saved documents.

Buy Evernote Premium (1 year) - $4/month

Squarespace Student plan

Whether you’re itching to get a jump-start on your portfolio or just want an online space for to show off your work, Squarespace is a good option as it gives students a 50 percent discount on any of its annual plans. The most affordable option will cost $72 for the year, which is half the normal yearly price of $144. Squarespace is one of many website builders out there, but it’s particularly popular with creative professionals. Its customizable templates make it easy to build a website and make it look exactly how you want it. Plus, you can upgrade down the line to add things like website analytics, custom JavaScript and CSS and e-commerce.

Buy Squarespace starting at $72/year

News

It’s always been important to keep up with the news, but it’s never been more important than it is now. Yes, it’s daunting sometimes and we don’t expect (or encourage) you to inhale every breaking-news headline as it’s published. However, it’s crucial to know what’s going on in the country and the world as a whole. Here are some reputable news organizations that offer student discounts on their monthly or annual subscription plans.

The Atlantic: Starts at $25 per year for digital-only access.

The New York Times: $4 every four weeks for a base subscription.

The Washington Post: $5 every four weeks for digital-only access.

The Wall Street Journal: Starting at $4 per month for the Student Digital Pack.

The best laptops for college students

We’re all contending with a return to normalcy, and going back to school can feel strange yet exciting. Whether you’re heading to a physical campus, taking classes online or a mix of both, a laptop is likely going to be the control center for your studies.

And things have changed quite a bit over the last year or so. We’ve seen the introduction of Apple’s M1-powered MacBooks and Microsoft just announced Windows 11. With ARM-based computers harkening a future where the line between mobile and desktop computing is blurry and Windows 11 working to bridge that gap by supporting Android apps, the laptop market is the most exciting it’s been in years.

But that might lead to more questions for shoppers. What should you look out for if you want an ARM-based PC? Will they run Windows 11 when that update is available? What are some key specs you should add to your must-have list this year? We compiled this guide to help you make the right choice, alongside a list of this year’s best laptops.

What to look for in a laptop for school (and what to avoid)

First: Windows on ARM still isn’t worth it. Snapdragon laptops may look and feel classy, offer excellent battery life and cellular connections, but they’re typically too expensive, especially considering their limited app compatibility and finicky software. Apple’s M1 MacBooks, on the other hand, are great for almost everyone, barring those who need external GPUs, niche software or more than 16GB of RAM.

Over on the Intel side of things, almost every notebook released this year packs an 11th-generation Core processor. You’ll likely be able to find a cheaper version of a product with a 10th-generation chip, and it should still serve you well. And don’t forget about AMD’s Ryzen, either — they’re plenty powerful and no longer just for the bargain bin. If you're eagerly awaiting the arrival of Windows 11 devices, don't expect to see them before the semester begins. They're more likely to show up in the fall around Microsoft's usual hardware event in October.

Across the industry, companies have shifted to taller aspect ratios for their screens. The Surface Laptops sport 3:2 panels, and many Dell and HP models offer 16:10. While the older 16:9 format is nice for watching videos, you’ll probably appreciate a taller option when you’re writing an essay. Some devices, like Dell’s XPS and Samsung’s Galaxy Book Pro, come with OLED panels, which will be nice for working with photos and videos. They usually cost more and take a toll on battery life, though, so you’ll need to weigh your priorities.

Fortunately, there’s a diverse selection of laptops around, so you should be able to find a suitable one regardless of your preferences. Here are our favorite notebooks for your return to academia.

Apple MacBook Air M1

With its swift performance, slim fanless design and excellent battery life, the MacBook Air M1 is a no-brainer for any Apple user. You’ll appreciate familiar features like the Retina display, solid keyboard and trackpad. Plus thanks to the company’s excellent Rosetta 2 emulator software, you won’t notice a huge performance difference when relying on Intel apps.

The big news though, is the ARM-based M1 allows the laptop to run iPhone and iPad apps too. While not every app will be available on macOS, the potential for more options on your desktop here is great. Now you just have to make sure you can keep the distractions at bay — which should be easy with the upcoming Focus modes on macOS Monterey, which rolls out later this year.

Unfortunately for those looking for more internal storage or something to run their bespoke video streaming setup, the MacBook Air M1 tops out at 256GB storage while both the Air and the Pro only go up to 16GB of RAM. The MacBook Pro M1 also lacks support for multiple monitors and an external GPU. Those with more demanding workflows might need to look to Windows or an Intel-powered MacBook to ensure app compatibility.

Buy MacBook Air M1 at Amazon - $999

Dell XPS 13

Dell’s XPS series has been our favorite for years. Despite a somewhat plain design that some might call “classic,” the XPS 13 still stands out for nailing pretty much everything a laptop should have. Great performance? Check. Gorgeous screen? Check. Comfortable keyboard? Check. Throw in a long-lasting battery and a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports in the latest versions, and you’ve got a powerful workhorse for all your classes (and more).

The company shifted to a 16:10 aspect ratio in 2020, and recently added a 4K OLED option. That means you’ll see greater contrast ratios and deeper blacks for maximum display goodness. The OLED configuration will cost you $300 more than the Full HD LCD option, but those who want the best viewing experience may not mind the premium. We also recommend you spend a little more and get at least the Core i3 model with 8GB of RAM instead of the meager 4GB that the base model offers.

Buy XPS 13 at Dell - $930

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

If you’re looking for an excellent typing experience, look no further than the Surface Laptop 4. Microsoft has killed it with the keyboards on its recent Surface Laptops and this one’s no different. Though they’re not as deep and springy as ThinkPads, the buttons here are deliciously responsive and have ample travel. The roomy trackpad is solid, too.

Of course, it’s important that the Surface Laptop 4 deliver on everything else, or we wouldn’t recommend it. The 15-inch version that we tested offered breezy performance, respectable battery life and a lovely 3:2 Pixelsense screen which supports Microsoft’s Surface Pen input. Though its design is a little staid, the Surface Laptop 4 still has a clean, professional design and a luxurious aluminum case that's sturdy enough to withstand being stuffed in your backpack. Plus, at 3.4 pounds, it won't burden your shoulders too much.

The best thing about the Surface Laptop 4 is that its base model, which comes equipped with AMD’s Ryzen 5 processor and 8GB of RAM, starts at $1,000. That rivals the Dell XPS 13, making it a better buy for the value-conscious: You get more screen, more power and more RAM for the money. Both the Surface and the XPS are great options, but the latter offers an OLED panel and thinner bezels that make it look more modern.

Buy Surface Laptop 4 at Microsoft - $999

Samsung Galaxy Book Pro

For those whose priority is light weight, the Galaxy Book Pro series should be at the top of your list. At just 2.36 pounds for the clamshell and 3.06 pounds for the convertible model, the 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro is one of the lightest 15-inch laptops around. It’s also super thin at 0.46 inches thick, and despite its compact size it manages to house three USB-C ports (one of them supporting Thunderbolt 4), a microSD card reader and a headphone jack.

It also packs an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor and at least 8GB of RAM, along with a 68Whr battery that delivers a similar runtime to the Dell XPS 13 and Surface Laptop 4. That’s particularly impressive given the Galaxy Book Pro has a Super AMOLED screen, which offers sumptuous image quality, high contrast ratio and deep blacks. Unfortunately, Samsung is still stuck on a 16:9 aspect ratio, which will feel outdated in a year or two, but it’s not a deal breaker.

The Galaxy Book Pro’s keyboard isn’t as comfortable as the Surface Laptop 4’s but it’s pleasant enough, and the trackpad is enormous. We’re more concerned about the odd webcam software that makes you look dark and splotchy, so if looking your best on video calls is of concern you might want to consider something else. Plus, the $1,100 base model comes with an Intel Core i5 chip, 8GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage, making it a competitive offering against the Dell and Surface laptops. Awful camera aside, there’s plenty to love about the Galaxy Book Pro, especially for those looking to lighten their loads.

Buy Galaxy Book Pro at Samsung - $999

Acer Chromebook Spin 713

If you’re considering saving a few hundred bucks by opting for Chrome OS, the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 might be the right choice. Sure, there are cheaper Chromebooks out there, but it’s one of few machines with a 3:2 aspect ratio and has a utilitarian design that makes it perfect for butterfingers.

That price also gets you an 11th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and sturdy 360-degree hinge so you can set it up in a variety of modes. The 13.5-inch screen is also more pixel-dense than most 1080p displays of the same size. Though the Spin 713 only clocked about 8 hours on our battery test, that’s enough to get you through a work day. If $700 feels too expensive for a Chromebook, you could also wait till it inevitably goes on sale to save a bit more. There are sleeker, more powerful Chromebooks available, but Acer’s Spin 713 offers a good mix of performance and a modern screen for the money.

Buy Acer Chromebook Spin 713 at Best Buy - $700

Acer Aspire 5

If price is your utmost concern, then we recommend the Acer Aspire 5. It’s a 15-inch Windows laptop with an AMD Ryzen 3 3200U processor with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage that costs between $400 and $450. Yes, that’s less memory than anything else on this list, but it also costs much less than any of our non-Chromebook suggestions.

There’s plenty of ports here — including an Ethernet socket — and the aluminum chassis should make this laptop feel more expensive than it is. You’ll also appreciate its reliable performance, comfortable keyboard and 1080p display. For the price, the Aspire 5 offers everything you need to get through the school day, making it a great bargain.

Buy Aspire 5 at Acer starting at $399

The best accessories for your new iPad

Accessories will be key whether you’re turning your new iPad into a laptop replacement or just trying to protect it against daily-life hazards. It’s tempting to turn to Apple’s own accessories — and in some cases, you should — but there’s a slew of alternatives that work just as well and are often more affordable. We tested out a bunch of cases, keyboards, styli and other miscellany to see which iPad accessories are worth buying.

Cases and stands

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

I’ve always been that person who takes her new smartphone or tablet out of the box and immediately puts it in a case. While some detest hiding the true form of their new gear, it’s undeniable that cases provide protection for probably the most expensive tech you own. Apple’s Smart Covers for its various iPads are fine, but they’re overpriced and most of them don’t give your iPad any edge protection. Similar alternatives abound, some of which do surround the edges of an iPad. I’ve found ProCase and MoKo make some of the best — even better, they cost a fraction of what Apple’s Smart Cover costs.

If you’re willing to spend a bit more on a case, get something that combines protection and style. Otterbox is an expert when it comes to protection, but its Symmetry Series 360 series shows that it also has the design chops. Symmetry cases look similar to the Smart Cover, but the clear, scratch-resistant back is sturdy without adding a lot of weight to the iPad and the edge protection is substantial. I also like the extra flap Otterbox added that keeps the screen cover closed and holds the second-generation Apple Pencil to the side of the iPad Pros. Symmetry Series 360 cases are available for most new iPads, and while they’re expensive at $90, they’re worth it if you want a great balance of protection and style.

Buy Otterbox Symmetry 360 case at Amazon - $55

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

A more affordable alternative is ProCase’s Leather Folio. While ProCase isn’t as well known for protection as Otterbox is, this model has a flexible plastic interior that wraps around most of the iPad’s edges to keep it secure. The lining also surrounds the second-gen Apple Pencil while it magnetically charges against the new iPad Pros, making it one of the more secure cases for those that have the Pencil.

Leather folios will appeal to a certain type of person. I didn’t think I was that person — until I tried this case. Not only is it attractive, but it’s practical. It has a pocket on the front flap, three notches on which to prop up the iPad at different viewing angles and an elastic strap that can either keep the folio closed or hold the front flap against the back of the iPad while you’re using it. It’s definitely worth its $18 list price for those that want a case that’s just as practical as it is professional.

All of the cases we like prop up your iPad in some way, but they aren’t the best if you want the device at a comfortable eye level. You’ll want a dedicated tablet stand for that, and there are several out there that let you adjust height, angle and more. Anozer’s foldable tablet stand is a good option if you’re often on the go. It’s heavier than other stands at one pound and it can be folded (mostly) flat so you can easily throw it in your backpack. While it’s best suited for 7- to 13-inch tablets, it can support certain smartphones, too (or you could get the company’s dedicated smartphone stand instead).

If you’re willing to sacrifice flexibility for something more elegant, Elago’s P2 stand for iPad may be a good fit. It’s made of a single piece of aluminum with a ledge for your iPad and a few well-placed cutouts that you can snake a charging cable through. The ledge is also wide enough to accommodate most iPad cases. It may not be foldable or adjustable, but its minimalist design will make it an attractive addition to your desk.

Buy ProCase Leather Folio at Amazon - $17Buy Anozer tablet stand at Amazon - $15Buy Elago P2 stand at Amazon - $20

Keyboards

There are two types of people that seek out keyboards for their iPads: those who want something more comfortable than the on-screen keyboard for banging out the occasional email, and those that plan to use their iPad as a fully-fledged laptop. If you’re part of the first crowd, there are tons of inexpensive Bluetooth keyboards that will do the trick.

I’m partial to Logitech’s Keys to Go, an ultra-slim keyboard that almost disappears in your bag. It’s without a doubt one of the most portable Bluetooth keyboards you’ll find and it’s fairly comfortable to type on. Yes, the keys have little travel and a bubbly feel to them, but they’ll let you compose a quick email or respond to a message on Facebook much more easily than you could with the touchscreen. I also like that its wipeable fabric prevents spills and dirt from getting inside the keyboard. Plus, at around $60-$70, it won’t break the bank.

If you fall into that second category of shopper, there are even more options for you. The most luxurious comes from Apple itself in the Magic Keyboard. The $300 case magnetically attaches to the new iPad Pros and keeps them “floating” above the keyboard and trackpad. We praised the Magic Keyboard for its typing comfort and precise trackpad, but docked it for its limited range of motion. It’s easily the fanciest keyboard available for the iPad Pros and it’s one to consider if money is no object — or if you want the most stylish (and arguably most comfortable) keyboard money can buy.

Buy Keys to Go at Amazon - $70Buy Magic Keyboard at Amazon - $290

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

But as far as protection goes, the Magic Keyboard provides basically as much as Apple’s Smart Cover (which isn’t much). If you need something a bit more durable (and don’t want to spend $300), Zagg’s $30 Slim Book Go could do the trick. It’ll keep your entire setup pretty sleek as its name suggests, and it’s even thinner than the $130 Logitech Slim Folio Pro. The latter case may be on the thick side, but it has a well laid-out keyboard and a secure flap that holds the Apple Pencil against your tablet.

If you want something that combines durability with style, we like Logitech’s $160 Folio Touch keyboard case. Its exterior is made of a tweed-like fabric, so it will blend in better with your briefcase or work bag. It’s also fairly slim and has a similar Apple Pencil-friendly flap that closes the whole thing shut. Plus, the keyboard is joined by a small yet useful trackpad, so you can truly use your iPad as if it were a laptop.

Buy Zagg Slim Book Go at Amazon - $30Buy Logitech Slim Folio Pro at Amazon - $130Buy Logitech Folio Touch at Amazon - $160

Stylus and screen protectors

This likely won’t come as a surprise, but the Apple Pencil is the best stylus you can get for the iPad. Both the first- and second-generation Pencils are designed to work specifically with iPads and it shows in their seamless writing performance. The second-gen stylus has a double-tap feature that you can customize to a certain degree, and pressure-sensitivity allows you to add as much or as little detail as you want to digital artwork. I highly recommend shelling out $100 or $130 for the Apple Pencil if you’re an artist — you won’t be disappointed.

But there are other options, too. Logitech’s Crayon is more affordable at $70 and it has arguably a better grip than either Apple Pencil. It’s just as good in terms of latency and accuracy — drawing in Procreate was a lag-free experience and my strokes always ended up exactly where I wanted them to be.

Buy Apple Pencil (1st gen) at Amazon - $95Buy Apple Pencil (2nd gen) at Amazon - $125Buy Logitech Crayon at Amazon - $70

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

But as someone who primarily uses an Apple Pencil for digital art, I missed pressure sensitivity when using the Crayon. Aside from that, the other biggest annoyance is that you have to use a Lightning or USB-C cable to charge it (even the newest model for the iPad Pros doesn’t magnetically attach to the tablet for charging). While I wouldn’t recommend the Crayon for serious artists, I would recommend it for anyone who’s on a strict budget, especially digital journal-keepers, hardcore note-takers and the like.

If you’re a heavy user of the Apple Pencil or some other stylus, you should consider getting a screen protector for your iPad. They pull double-duty: not only do they act as a first line of defense if your iPad goes careening onto the concrete, but they can also enhance the digital drawing and writing experience. Using a stylus on an iPad is strange at first because gliding the stylus nib over a glass surface feels nothing like “normal” writing. Matte screen protectors can get closer to replicating the pen-on-paper experience, and they also prevent the stylus nib from wearing down so quickly. Paperlike is the most popular in this space, but Bersem’s screen protectors are a great value at $14 for a pack of two. Not only does the matte finish help when you’re drawing or taking digital notes, but it also reduces screen glare and doesn’t interfere with FaceID on the newest iPads.

Buy Paperlike screen protector starting at $40Buy Bersem screen protectors (2 pack) at Amazon - $14

Hubs and adapters

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

If you plan on pushing your iPad Pro to its limits as a daily driver, you’ll probably need more than the tablet’s single USB-C port. Apple has provided little guidance to which USB-C hubs and adapters work best with the iPad Pros — there’s no MFi certification for accessories like this yet. Some hubs specifically advertise that they work with the newest iPad Pros, and if you want to be extra safe, I recommend buying one of those that comes from a reputable brand.

A newcomer in this space is Satechi’s $100 aluminum stand and hub, a foldable rectangle that cradles your iPad and provides a bunch of useful ports and charging capabilities. The holder itself rotates outward, revealing a hidden, attached USB-C cable and a rubber bumper that keeps the stand in place in your desk. On the back edge are a 4K HDMI socket, one USB-A port, a headphone jack, both SD and microSD card slots and a 60W USB-C connection for charging.

I liked the versatility of Satechi’s hub. I could easily use it when I needed to prop my iPad up to watch a YouTube video, and by just plugging in the attached cable, I could switch to using my iPad as more of a work device with all of the necessary connectors in place. It’s also surprisingly light at 10 ounces. Combine that with its foldable design and you have a full-featured hub that can easily be stuffed in a bag.

Buy Satechi stand and hub at Amazon - $100

Another popular option is HyperDrive’s USB-C adapter. I’ll admit I was skeptical about this one, mostly because so many Amazon reviewers and YouTube personalities have raved about it (and I have a hard time believing a six-port adapter the size of a lighter should cost $90). However, after testing it out, I can say it delivers on its promises: t’s a neat little adapter that’s just large enough to fit an HDMI socket, a USB-C port, a USB-A connection, micro- and regular SD card slots and a headphone jack on its edges. That should cover most things you’d need an adapter for, save for hardwired internet.

However, what sets the HyperDrive USB-C adapter apart is that it comes with a tool kit that gives you more flexibility in how you use it. The default plate that surrounds the USB-C plug fits iPads without screen protectors, but there’s an included plate that accommodates screen protectors. HyperDrive even included a third plate with a dongle-like attachment so the adapter doesn’t have to sit right up against the iPad. All you need to do is use the tiny screwdriver that’s in the box to switch out the plates.

I think that somewhat justifies its $90 asking price. So many adapters that hug the iPad Pro’s edges are slick but they become basically unusable if you have a case, skin or screen protector.

Buy USB-C adapter at HyperDrive - $90

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

But $90 for an adapter is still a lot of money and I’d only recommend spending that much if you plan on using the iPad Pro as your daily driver. A cheaper alternative is Anker’s 5-in-1 USB-C adapter: It works just as well as HyperDrive’s; has most of the same ports, with the exception of an extra USB-C port and a headphone jack; and costs only $26.

You could use any of these adapters to connect an external drive to your iPad for more space. We’re fans of Samsung’s T7 series and SanDisk’s Extreme drives for those that want a good amount of extra storage in a fairly durable yet pocketable gadget. If you’d prefer something even more portable, SanDisk’s Dual Drive Luxe flash drive is a good option because it can plug right into your iPad’s USB-C port, it’s available in up to a 1TB capacity and it’s small enough to attach to your keys.

Buy Anker 5-in-1 adapter at Amazon - $30Buy Samsung T7 drive at Amazon - $80Buy SanDisk Extreme drive at Amazon - $85Buy SanDisk Dual Drive Luxe at Amazon - $50

Chargers and power

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

A battery pack or an extra charger is important to have in your bag regardless of where you’re going. RavPower’s 26,800mAh power bank can charge iPad Pros 1.5 times using its 30W USB-C PD port. It also works with the newest MacBook Pros and other USB-C laptops in addition to the Nintendo Switch — so it can be your one-stop-shop for all your charging needs. I also appreciate that it comes with its own USB-C to C cable, so you don’t need to remember to bring one with you, as well as the micro-USB cable used to charge the power bank itself.

RavPower’s PD charger will set you back $60, but you can opt for the $50 Anker Powercore Essential PD charger if you want to spend a bit less. Its 20,000mAh capacity will provide at least 50 percent more juice to most iPads. It’s not ideal for larger devices like laptops, but it works well with smartphones and tablets.

You also don't want to rely solely on the charging adapter that came with your iPad; it's handy to have a backup. Anker's new line of GaN II chargers has a couple of good options, and arguably the best for most people is the 45W Nano II. It's the midrange adapter in the lineup and it can power up a 2020 11-inch iPad Pro up to 30 percent faster than Apple's default adapter. In just a half hour of charging, I got about a 33 percent boost in battery life on my 11-inch iPad Pro. Anker's device is also smaller than Apple's and it has a foldable design, so it'll fit better in cramped spaces and it'll be easier to throw in a travel bag.

Buy RavPower 26,800 power bank at RavPower - $60Buy Anker 20,000 power bank at Amazon - $50Buy Anker Nano II 45W GaN charger at Amazon - $36

Using an Arduino to Re-Create a Computer’s Keyboard Decoder

[Max Breedon] found an old Apple IIe clone twenty years ago. He recently dug this Epson AP-200 out of the salvage heap and quickly discovered that the keyboard decoder chip was fried. The old chip was way too obscure to source a replacement — and soon this post will be the top Google result for the string, ‘C35224E’ — so he busted out his trusty UNO and created a replacement keyboard decoder.

Unlike the Apple II, where all the keyboard decoding happens on the keyboard, this clone used a dedicated chip on the main board. Although it’s a rare part that’s virtually ungoogleable, this chip’s architecture and pinout can be figured out by testing out every trace for continuity. After locating what looked like four data pins, he had the Arduino send signals onto the clone to see what characters popped up. That didn’t work, but it led him to idea that two of the wires were clock and data, and after a bit of experimenting figured out that the third pin was a latch enable of some sort that sent the character.

So, [Max] created an Arduino rig to do the same thing. The Arduino uses a shift register to interact with the keyboard’s 8×10 matrix, and the sketch translates any serial data it receives into the keypresses the clone is expecting. After prototyping with the UNO, [Max] hardwired an Arduino Nano (as well as the shift register) into a daughter board with pins extending into the old chip’s sockets. A permanent solution!

In addition to a weird keyboard controller that has been lost to the sands of time, this Apple IIe clone features a few more parts that are downright weird. There are two chips that are found in a few other Apple clones labeled STK 65301 and STK 65371, used as ASICs, MMUs, or a 20-IC expression of Wozzian brilliance condensed into custom silicon. There’s another weird chip in this clone, a 27c32 ROM loaded up with repetitive bits. There is no obvious 6502 code or strings in this ROM, so if anyone has an idea what this chip does, send [Max] a note.


Filed under: repair hacks

Strapping an Apple II to Your Body

Now that the Apple wristwatch is on its way, some people are clamoring with excitement and anticipation. Rather than wait around for the commercial product, Instructables user [Aleator777] decided to build his own wearable Apple watch. His is a bit different though. Rather than look sleek with all kinds of modern features, he decided to build a watch based on the 37-year-old Apple II.

The most obvious thing you’ll notice about this creation is the case. It really does look like something that would have been created in the 70’s or 80’s. The rectangular shape combined with the faded beige plastic case really sells the vintage electronic look. It’s only missing wood paneling. The case also includes the old rainbow-colored Apple logo and a huge (by today’s standards) control knob on the side. The case was designed on a computer and 3D printed. The .stl files are available in the Instructable.

This watch runs on a Teensy 3.1, so it’s a bit faster than its 1977 counterpart. The screen is a 1.8″ TFT LCD display that appears to only be using the color green. This gives the vintage monochromatic look and really sells the 70’s vibe. There is also a SOMO II sound module and speaker to allow audio feedback. The watch does tell time but unfortunately does not run BASIC. The project is open source though, so if you’re up to the challenge then by all means add some more functionality.

As silly as this project is, it really helps to show how far technology has come since the Apple II. In 1977 a wristwatch like this one would have been the stuff of science fiction. In 2015 a single person can build this at their kitchen table using parts ordered from the Internet and a 3D printer. We can’t wait to see what kinds of things people will be making in another 35 years.


Filed under: clock hacks, wearable hacks
Hack a Day 09 Apr 00:01

An Apple ][ emulator on an Arduino Uno

April Fools’ Day may have passed, but we really had to check the calendar on this hack. [Damian Peckett] has implemented an Apple ][, its 6502 processor, and a cassette port, all on an Arduino Uno. If that wasn’t enough, he also uses a PS/2 keyboard for input and outputs analog VGA. [Damian] is doing all this with very few additional components. A couple of resistors, a capacitor and some very clever hacking were all [Damian] needed to convince an Arduino Uno that it was an Apple.

Making all this work boiled down to a case of resource management. The original Apple ][ had 4KB of RAM and 8KB of ROM. The ATmega328 has only 2KB of RAM, but 32KB of Flash. The only way to make this hack work would be to keep as much of the emulation and other routines in Flash, using as little RAM as possible.

The core of this hack starts with the MOS 6502, the processor used in the Apple. [Damian] wrote a simple assembler which translates the 6502 opcodes and address modes to instructions which can be executed by the Arduino’s ATmega328. To keep everything in ROM and make the emulator portable, [Damian] used two large switch statements. One for address modes, and a 352 line switch statement for the opcodes themselves.

A CPU alone is not an Apple though. [Damian] still needed input, output, and the ROM which made the Apple so special. Input was through a PS/2 keyboard. The PS/2 synchronous serial clock is easy to interface with an Arduino. Output was through a custom VGA implementation, which is a hack all its own. [Damian] used the lowly ATmega16u2 to generate the video timing. The 16u2 is normally used as the Arduino Uno’s USB interface. The only external hardware needed is a single 120 ohm resistor.

The original Apples had cassette and speaker interfaces. So does this emulated Apple. [Woz’s] original cassette and speaker interface accurate loops to generate and measure frequencies. One of the trade-offs [Damian] accepted in his 6502 was cycle accuracy, so he couldn’t use the original routines. Not a problem though, as he was able to write simple functions to replace these routines and drop them in place of the Apple’s own ROM calls.

The Apple ][ ROM itself is handled as one giant character array. This includes the system monitor, Mini-Assembler, Sweet-16, and [Woz’s] own Integer Basic. [Damian] caps off this incredible project by booting his new computer, loading a  Mandelbrot set program from cassette -or in this case an audio file stored on his cell phone, and running it. The well-known fractal is displayed in all its glory on a modern LCD monitor, driven by a microcontroller, emulating a computer from nearly 40 years ago.

Thanks for the tip [Bill]!

Apple II Image by RAMA, [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


Filed under: Arduino Hacks

Control Anything with an Apple Remote

If you’re like us, you probably have more than one Apple Remote kicking around in a parts drawer, and if you’re even more like us, you’re probably really annoyed at Apple’s tendency to use proprietary hardware and software at every turn (lightning connector, anyone?). But there’s hope for the Apple Remote now: [Sourcery] has completed a project that allows an Apple Remote to control anything you wish.

The idea is fairly straightforward: A device interprets the IR signals from an Apple Remote, and then outputs another IR signal that can do something useful on a non-Apple product. [Sourcery] uses an Arduino to do the IR translation, along with a set of IR emitters and detectors, and now the Apple Remote can control anything, from stereos to TVs to anything you can imagine. It also doesn’t remove the Apple Remote’s capability to control Apple products, in case you need yours to do that as well.

[Sourcery] notes that sometimes working with RAW IR signals can be a little difficult, but the information on their project and in their 25-minute video discusses how to deal with that, so make sure to check that out after the break. Don’t have an Apple Remote? You can do a similar thing with a PS3 controller.


Filed under: wireless hacks

Watch an iPhone sort M&Ms by color

Not everyone has Minecraft-creator Markus "Notch" Persson's money (or candy room) so the rest of us have to devise our own methods of sorting M&Ms by color. The English blogger behind reviewmylife has an idea that combines, among other things, an iPhone 5s, an Arduino and an eBay-sourced 12V 80RPM motor to do the menial task. Oh, and an awful lot of ingenuity, foam-board and hot glue was involved too -- but you kind of figured that already, right? Unlike the Lego-powered contraption we've seen before, this one takes advantage of the Cupertino smartphone lens' color sensor to ID the candy's hue during free-fall after it leaves the hopper. The author has a step-by-step breakdown replete with his or her hardships (apparently finding the right motors and magnets took some experimenting) and photos detailing each part of the process, in case you're curious. Or, because maybe you'd just like to spend Christmas building your own.

Filed under: Cellphones, Apple

Comments

Via: Physorg

Source: reviewmylife

Tags: apple, Arduino, candy, hack, iphone, Iphone5s, maker, mms, mobile

Engadget 24 Dec 07:54
apple  cellphones