Posts with «author_name|nathan ingraham» label

Nintendo's Switch Online 'Expansion Pack' will cost $50 per year

Nintendo held a Direct video presentation this morning, announcing two major updates for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. One is a free bit of DLC, and the other is a paid, $25 expansion called Happy Home Paradise. Unexpectedly, Nintendo used this announcement to reveal the price of the upcoming Switch Online "expansion pack." The service, which adds classic N64 and Sega Genesis games to the existing Switch Online offerings, will cost $50 per year or $80 for a family plan. This expansion will include access to the $25 Happy Home Paradise DLC — so if you're an Animal Crossing: New Horizons player, it's like getting the rest of the Expansion Pack benefits for $5.

Nintendo didn't say when the Expansion Pack would go live. But, both Happy Home Paradise and the free update for New Horizons are set to arrive on November 5th, so it's safe to say that the new online service should be available then too. The company had previously said it would launch in October, but we haven't heard any details since. There are more details about the expansion pack up on Nintendo's site, but it still just says that it is "coming soon."

[Announcement]
Animal Crossing: New Horizons - Happy Home Paradise will also be included as part of a #NintendoSwitchOnline + Expansion Pass membership!

Learn more; https://t.co/OAQxiyOpj1pic.twitter.com/HSk07X1j6L

— Isabelle (@animalcrossing) October 15, 2021

Acer's new Chromebook Spin 514 features a fanless design and improved webcam

As part of its usual autumn laptop refresh, Acer is announcing a host of new Chromebook today that'll roll out in the coming months. There are four models being refreshed today: the Chromebook Spin 514, Chromebook 515, Chromebook 514, and Chromebook Spin 314. That's a lot of product names, but Spin devices can flip around with a 360-degree hinge, and the last two digits denote the screen size. That should hopefully ground you as we go through these new models.

Most interesting is probably the Spin 514 (pictured above), which combines a 14-inch 1080p touchscreen that has minimal bezels with Intel's 11th-generation Core i3, i5 or i7 processors. This laptop has no fans, which means these probably aren't the highest-powered versions of Intel's chips, but they should still provide solid performance for Chrome OS. Acer also put some focus on the webcam, a wise choice given how we're all still stuck on videos calls for the foreseeable future. It's a 1080p camera with a blue glass filter and new noise-reduction technology to remove things like light flares. We'll have to see how this works in practice, but given how many laptops have entirely mediocre webcams, any improvements here will be welcome.

Other specs include up to 16GB of RAM, up to 512GB of storage, Intel Iris X graphics and 10 hours of battery life. The Spin 514 weighs in at 3 pounds, so it's not going to be the lightest thing to use in tablet mode, but otherwise it sounds like it'll be a very good Chromebook — it also simply looks nice and well-built, at least as far as I can tell from these images. And Acer has a solid track record of making very good Chromebooks, so hopefully that'll continue here. The Spin 514 is expected to arrive in the US in January and starts at $700.

Acer's Chromebook 515 (which comes in consumer and enterprise editions) has similar specs to the Spin 514, though it has a larger 15.6-inch display. Given the large size, this laptop isn't a convertible, which is probably a smart move. For a 15-inch laptop, though, it's pretty light — only 3.75 pounds. It comes with the same 11th-generation processor options as the Spin 514, though it also has a budget Pentium Gold option (paired with Intel's UHD graphics rather than the Iris X). The Chromebook 515 will initially be available in Europe this month for €499; the Enterprise version will come to the US in January 2022 starting at $640.

Acer has a few less expensive Chromebooks coming out, as well. The Chromebook Spin 314 starts at $500 and arrives in the US in November. For that price, you'll get a 14-inch screen with an unfortunate 1,366 x 768 resolution, which is pretty unacceptable in the year 2021. It also features budget processors in the form of Intel's Pentium Gold or two Celeron options and has a 360-degree hinge, as the name implies. More intriguing is the Chromebook 514, which pairs a 14-inch, 1080p display with MediaTek's 8-core Kompanio 828 processor and 8GB of RAM. We haven't tested a MediaTek Chromebook in a while, so we can't say for sure how it'll perform yet. But Acer is promising 15 hours of battery life, and the laptop weighs less than 3 pounds, so it does have some potential as a budget Chromebook (the 514 will cost $400 when it is released in December). 

15 years of Google Docs, and where the next 15 might take us

15 years ago, if you were writing a document, chances are you were doing it in Microsoft Word. Part of the company’s wildly successful Office suite, Word was the de-facto option for drafting text, whether you were an author, an office worker, a student, a teacher… you get the point.

But on October 11th, 2006, Google officially launched Google Docs and Spreadsheets in beta. As with everything Google, Docs and Sheets were cloud-based applications that also let you collaborate with others in real time. It’s easy to forget now, but this was completely different from how most people worked on documents at the time.

I was in a different career 15 years ago, one that required me to work on lots of spreadsheets and Powerpoint presentations that were accessed in a shared network drive. Submitting them to others for edits and notes was a fraught process. Making sure you had the most current version of the document usually involved six-digit numbers representing the last date it was modified, initials to note who had checked it out, and messy notes added to the end until you landed on something insanely convoluted like “April_Report_051504_NI_final_final_reallyfinal.doc.”

15 years later, I’m writing this story in a Google Doc shared with my editors; they can make as many changes as they want to the finished parts of the draft as I keep typing away here and nothing will get lost. Collaborative work is a lot better than it used to be, and Google Docs is a big part of that – but it wasn’t always smooth sailing to get here.

Google Docs began as a “hacked together experiment,” its creator Sam Schillace said in an interview with The Verge in 2013. Eight years earlier, he created a tool called Writely, a web-based text editing platform. Google bought the company in March of 2006. According to Schillace, 90 percent of the company was using Writely only a month later. “When we went to Google, Writely was internally adopted very quickly,” he said. Barely seven months after that, Google officially released Docs and Sheets at the Office 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. As with most Google products at the time, it was released in beta for free.

TechCrunch / Google

Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t quite up to par with what Microsoft was offering with Office. The text editor was, comparatively speaking, very simple. But more importantly, Google Docs only worked when you had an active internet connection. While good broadband was fairly common in workplaces and universities, it was far less easy to find when you ventured out into the world. If you wanted to get some work while traveling, say on an airplane, Google Docs was a non-starter.

It didn’t take Google long to realize it needed to come up with a way to sync documents to a computer for offline access. In May of 2007, at its first “worldwide developer day,” the company introduced Google Gears. Gears was an open-source project and browser extension for Mac, Windows and Linux that would help web apps work with no internet connection. While the project was meant for any developer to use, using it for Google Docs made perfect sense.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the most stable tool. In late 2009, Google stopped development on Gears in favor of using the capabilities afforded by HTML 5. But even though Google continued supporting applications that used Gears, a technology transition probably didn’t do the company any favors in getting Docs and its broader app suite adopted in businesses and education institutions.

Around this time, Google was experimenting with a variety of ways to push collaboration and communication forward — Docs was just one of the success stories. There were failures though, the most high-profile of which was Google Wave — an ambitious combination of instant messaging, email, documents, multimedia and more. It was hyped by the tech press, so much that Google Wave invites were being sold on eBay. But interest dropped off quickly, in large part because it felt like even less of a finished product than most of Google’s “beta” launches.

Google / Engadget

Google didn’t do a great job explaining exactly what problem this new tool was designed to solve, and the company pulled the plug in 2010, after only a year. But many of the things Google experimented with in Wave ended up living on in other places. Indeed, right around the time Google ended development on Wave, the company added chat to Google Docs, letting people who had the same file open discuss what they were working on right alongside the content itself.

Google Docs clearly evolved past its early struggles, though. Google put a somewhat surprising amount of focus on the product over the last decade-plus, incrementally iterating and improving it at a steady pace. That’s the hallmark of products Google seems to really believe in. It’s the same way the company treated Android, Chrome (both the browser and OS), Drive, Photos, and, of course, Search and Gmail.

As internet access has become more and more widespread, the fact that Docs (like most of Google’s products) works best online was less of a hindrance. Not having to worry about saving a document took a while to get used to, but it’s something that we take for granted now — if your browser crashes, whatever you were working on should still be there waiting for you in the cloud.

Perhaps the biggest endorsement of Google’s cloud-first strategy came in 2010, when Microsoft took its first steps towards bringing Office applications online. For a long time, though, Google’s suite of apps were better-suited to the cloud. For example, you couldn’t have multiple people working on the same Office document until late 2013, something that was built into Google Docs from day one. Apple also followed Google’s lead, bringing its iWork apps online in 2013 and eventually enabling simultaneous collaboration as well.

While Office remains dominant in the workplace, it’s fair to say that Google gave Microsoft its first real competition in many years. Google has some giant customers, like Salesforce, Whirlpool, Twitter and Spotify. And Google’s apps, combined with inexpensive Chromebooks and its education platform, have made the company a force in the K-12 space as well as in higher education.

As for the next 15 years, it’s all but assured that collaborative and remote working will continue to be hugely important. That was clear before COVID-19, and the last 18 months have basically blown up the notion that everyone needs to go to an office. For a good idea of where collaborative work is going, consider Microsoft’s open-source Fluid framework. First announced in May of 2019, Fluid is meant to remove the barriers between different file formats and make it easy to pull in content from a wide variety of sources. Microsoft described it as a way to share atomized components of data across multiple files — so if you’re updating a spreadsheet in one document, you can link to that content in another file and it’ll automatically reflect those changes.

Dropbox hasn’t come up with its own “atomized components” of documents, but its Paper app works in a similar fashion. They’re collaborative like Google Docs, but they support a wide range of content plug-ins, so you can embed YouTube videos, Google Calendar elements, Figma documents, to-do lists, Trello lists, and even entire Google Docs.

Microsoft has been deliberate about developing Fluid, taking small steps since its initial release. Earlier this year, the company announced that some Fluid components would work in its communications platform Teams. I think that content moving outside of strict platforms like Google Docs or Microsoft Office into all the other places that we do work is going to be another important step forward.

That’s already happened to some degree. For years now, Dropbox has supported creating, sharing, and editing Microsoft Office documents right inside its own app and website, and it later added similar support for Google Docs as well. And apps like Slack have a host of integrations for things like Google Drive and Trello, though it’s not clear how widely used or essential they are to a Slack workflow. (I mostly just drop links to Google Docs I need edited.)

Somewhat ironically, as the barriers between content and file types fall away and more people do work in virtual spaces like Teams and Slack, Google’s vision for Wave looks to be rather prescient. The notion of a space for a project or team that encompasses all of its important elements, be they written documents, spreadsheets, images, videos or any other kind of content seems to be where we’re headed. But despite the fact that Google (and the rest of the industry) are moving back towards models that remind us of what Wave attempted, there’s still a missing piece in Google’s strategy.

That piece is messaging, something Google has struggled with, well, for about as long as Google has existed. As exhaustively detailed by Ars Technica, Google has never been able to stick with a coherent messaging plan for consumers or businesses. At some point, Google Chat (née Hangouts) could have been a solid Slack competitor, as well as the web that connects all the content people work on, but the company missed the boat as Slack solidified its dominance over the past five years. Even though Google Workspace has a huge user base, it hasn’t made inroads in the messaging side — which is what pulls a modern workplace together.

That said, Google’s Smart Canvas (announced at I/O this year) could be its own version of Fluid, a way to unify disparate forms of content and communication all in one place. From what we’ve seen so far, Smart Canvas has various “building blocks” that you can pull all into a single canvas — like a Meet call alongside a Google Doc for taking notes and a to-do list to assign items to team members. It’s only rolling out on a limited basis to paying Google Workspace customers, but it’s definitely worth watching to see how it evolves.

No one can really say what other cultural workplace shifts, like those brought on by COVID-19, will happen in the next 15 years. And those shifts are probably what will drive the most significant changes in products meant for work.

Spongebob Squarepants is now an Xbox Series X

Gaze, if you will, upon the Xbox Series X. 

Aaron Souppouris / Engadget

It is a black video game console, with aggressively square edges. Its design connotes "serious video gaming." This is a video game console for Gamers, if you'll forgive all the baggage that comes with the word. 

Now, behold this Xbox Series X:

Microsoft

A bit of a different vibe. 

These new, garishly-colored Xbox Series X consoles and matching controllers go alongside the just-released Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, which seems to be a Smash Bros. style multiplayer battle between iconic characters from franchises including, Spongebob Squarepants, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Legend of Korra, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, The Wild Thornberrys, Rugrats and others. 

As is often the case with Microsoft's limited-edition consoles, these aren't actually for sale. To get your hands on the spot-on Spongebob Squareconsole, completely with his bulbous eyes gazing at you from the custom controller, you'll need to enter and win a sweepstakes by retweeting this tweet from the official Xbox account. The contest runs through October 24th.

While the TMNT console looks fine, the Spongebob one is particularly inspired in this writer's eyes. Given the fact that the Xbox Series X has a perfectly square bottom, there are few characters who fit the format better than Spongebob. Microsoft really should have given it a pair of little legs for a stand, though. 

Microsoft Surface Go 3 review: Third time isn't quite the charm

Microsoft has been trying to straddle two different worlds with the Surface Go. When it launched in late 2018, Microsoft positioned it as an inexpensive way to get the 2-in-1 Surface experience. Three years later, that’s still true: The Surface Go 3, which Microsoft unveiled in late September, is an exceedingly well-built tablet, with a lovely screen and strong kickstand. For a device that starts at $400, it feels great.

But the full truth of the Surface Go 3 is a little more complicated. You need to shell out at least another $100 for a keyboard. And, seeing as Windows still doesn’t offer a great tablet experience you need the keyboard. Not to mention the basic $400 Surface Go 3 is underpowered – so by the time you’re buying a keyboard and bumping up the processor, storage and RAM, you’re spending as much money as you might on a full-fledged laptop with a larger display and more powerful internals.

Our review unit came with a 10th-generation Intel Core i3-10100Y processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. But that configuration costs $630, not including the $130 Alcantara-clad Type Cover and $100 Surface pen Microsoft sent along as well. It’s a fairly capable machine despite its tiny size, making it a potentially great travel companion. But if you’re going to spend $860 for the kit that I’m testing, you should know exactly what you want to do with it that you can’t do with a standard laptop.

When we reviewed the Surface Go 2 last spring, we noted that it was nearly identical to the first version, with the notable exception of a larger screen. This time out, I’m pretty sure the external hardware is completely identical. The Surface Go 3 is the exact same size and weight as its predecessor, and the display is the same 10.5-inch, 1,920 x 1,280 touchscreen as before.

That’s not a knock on the hardware, though, as the Surface Go 3 is a wonderfully designed and constructed device. I haven’t used previous Surface devices extensively, but Microsoft’s reputation for thoughtful hardware is well deserved. The screen is bright, sharp and colorful, with great viewing angles. I also very much appreciate the taller 3:2 aspect ratio – a 16:9 panel here would feel very cramped for vertical space.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

I’m also a big fan of the infinitely adjustable kickstand. I’m no visual artist, but the way you can push it nearly all the way around to prop up the tablet for drawing is a brilliant design decision, and the way the Surface Pen magnetically snaps to the side for easy access is very handy. It really makes me wish I could draw, but alas.

As before, the Surface Go 3 only has a few ports and buttons. There’s a USB-C port on one side as well as a headphone jack and Microsoft’s proprietary charging port. The good news is you can use the USB-C port for faster charging (as well as any other peripherals you have) and use the cables you probably already have instead of the slower charger. Up top, there’s a power button and volume rocker; an 8-megapixel camera stares out from the back of the tablet. Two stereo speakers flank the display, and there’s a 5-megapixel front-facing camera with a 1080p resolution for video calls. It also works with Windows Hello for face unlock. Finally, under the kickstand you’ll find a Micro SDXC card reader, but you really have to go searching for it.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Every time Microsoft releases new Surface tablets, questions follow about whether Windows is actually a viable platform for touchscreen use. With Windows 11, the answer is still “not really.” But purely on the strength of its hardware, the Surface Go 3 is a lovely tablet. The 3:2 aspect ratio makes it work well when holding it in either portrait or landscape mode. And at 1.2 pounds it’s a little heavier than an iPad, but not so much so that you’ll get tired of holding it.

We typically recommend Surface buyers use the device with some kind of keyboard, so nearly all my time testing the Go 3 was with Microsoft’s Type Cover attached. It’s unchanged from last year’s version, but that’s OK because Microsoft’s Surface keyboards are surprisingly good. Given the Go’s small size, it felt a bit cramped at first, but after giving my hands a little time to adjust it wasn’t an issue. 

The keys have decent travel and feel very solid, despite the Type Cover’s extremely thin design, and the magnets that attach it to the Go are very strong. The touchpad is fine given its rather small size, but – like the keyboard – it's not something I want to use for hours on end. When I was using the Go 3 at my desk for extended work sessions, I preferred using a Bluetooth mouse.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

The Type Cover weighs just over half a pound, so the tablet plus its keyboard cover is a good bit less than two pounds total. While the overall design hasn’t changed, the Surface Go 3 and its keyboard cover are still a very compact and well-designed set. There aren’t many devices that can provide the full Windows experience in such a portable package.

Unfortunately, as with the prior Surface Go models, you’re trading portability for performance. The Core i3 powering the $630 Go 3 that I’ve been testing is enough for basic tasks, but if you try and push things too much you’re going to be disappointed. My workflow is fairly modest: I mostly live in a browser (I used Edge for this review), and I also run apps including Trello, Slack, Todoist and Spotify. I also wrote this review in Word, to get the full Windows experience. Usually, the Surface Go 3 kept up with these tasks, but I had occasional music stutters and tabs often had to be reloaded if I navigated away from them for more than a minute or two.

Occasionally, things got worse. The Surface Go 3 mostly ran Adobe Lightroom fine, but moving through the interface definitely required patience as UI elements and photos took a while to load. And if I had it open along with any other programs, things slowed down significantly. Browser tabs were more likely to reload, and opening or switching between other apps took a lot longer. Lightroom performance itself was not terrible, though exporting an edited RAW file to a JPG took long enough that I did most of my photo editing and exporting for this review on my MacBook Pro. Exporting a single image probably took about 10 seconds, compared to a second or two on my Mac.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know that being on a video call also led to serious performance issues. When I was on a Google Meet call with some co-workers, switching that and Slack was painfully slow, and Slack had to refresh entirely as if I just opened it. While we’re at it, Slack performance was mediocre on this machine; jumping between different channels and conversations led to noticeable delays. (I’m willing to put some of the blame on Google and particularly Slack, because Slack's Windows app is not good. But not all of it.) That sums up the Surface Go 3 experience pretty well — I often just had to wait a lot for things to catch up.

Running our usual suite of Windows benchmarks confirmed my impressions – indeed, according to Geekbench 5 and PCMark10, the new Core i3 processor is nearly identical to the m3 that it replaces. This just highlights that Intel still doesn’t have a great solution for smaller devices. Apple’s $330 iPad, which I just reviewed, hit 1,336 (single-core) / 3,349 (multi-core) on Geekbench 5, compared to the 859/1,450 I got running it on the Surface Go 3.

GeekBench 5 CPU

PC Mark 10

3DMark (Night Raid)

ATTO (Top reads/writes)

Microsoft Surface Go 3 (Core i3-10100Y, Intel UHD)

859 / 1,450

2,601

2,637

1.65 GB/s / 808 MB/s

Microsoft Surface Go 2 (Core m3-8100Y, Intel UHD)

800 / 1,590

2,737

3,848

1.6 GB/s / 265 MB/s

Acer Aspire 5 (Intel Core i3-1115G4, Intel UHD)

1,316 / 2,583

3,790

6,723

2.26 GB/s / 893 MB/s

Lenovo Flex 5 14 (AMD Ryzen 3 4300U, AMD Radeon)

730 / 1,879

4,186

6,271

1.40 GB/s / 925 MB/s

The battery situation also leaves something to be desired. I got about five hours using the Surface Go 3 during normal use doing my normal work routine — not awful, but given how low-powered the processor is, I expected more. It also makes the Go’s portability less useful, because if you can’t be away from a charger for a full work day, what’s the point of having such a small device? The device did last quite a long time in a lower-power test. The Go 3 lasted almost 11 hours while playing back HD video, which matches up with Microsoft's estimates for 11 hours. 

The Surface Go 3 isn't the fastest to charge, either. I had the device plugged in while running some benchmarks, and it took a whopping three hours to charge from 50 percent to 100 percent using the included charger. I was pushing the system pretty hard during that time, but even when I was doing less intense work, it took a good long while to charge. When the Go 3 was asleep, it still took about two hours to fully charge it up from 20 percent. 

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Benchmarks don’t tell the entire story, but they should give you a good idea of what to expect with the Surface Go 3. I could see the Go 3 making sense as a second computer, a companion to a more powerful Windows desktop for travel. If I was still commuting, I’d be happy to use the Go 3 on my hour-long train ride to go through email, do a little writing and manage all my to-dos. I could also see it being a good companion for running around at events like CES or E3. But I’d probably get tired of writing on that tiny screen.

But $630 plus another $100 minimum for the Type Cover is a lot of money for a device that feels rather slow and rather cramped. For that kind of money you could certainly get a more capable Windows laptop. Apple’s iPad is also a great option for a secondary computing device, and has the benefit of an OS that was built with tablets in mind; it’s also far more responsive than the Surface Go 3, and there are plenty of keyboard covers out there for getting real work done.

The value calculus does change if you’re a visual artist, I think. I have zero drawing ability, so the Surface Pen isn’t terribly useful for me. But it’s a very good stylus, and I could see artists who like to use Windows appreciating the Go 3 as a portable drawing tool that can also be a full-fledged computer when you need it. But once again, an iPad probably has better app support for artists who prefer a stylus.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Probably the biggest issue with the Surface Go 3 is that nothing has significantly changed since Microsoft released the Go 2 almost a year and a half ago. The design is still good, but performance and battery life are essentially unchanged, despite the new chip. I can’t recommend that anyone get a Surface Go 3 with the Pentium Gold processor; it feels like the low-end model exists only so Microsoft can say it sells a $400 tablet.

Just like its predecessors, the Surface Go 3 can be a pretty useful tiny Windows device, though you’re paying a premium for the portability. And the price for performance ration is seriously out of whack. If you’re a Windows fan, it'a decent option as a secondary device for casual work and for when you want something extremely portable. There aren’t a lot of comparable Windows devices out there, and the hardware’s design and built quality remains outstanding. Just make sure you buy the Type Cover, don’t expect much from tablet mode and be patient if you’re running a lot of apps.

NBC Universal's channels are staying on YouTube TV

The YouTube / NBC drama is officially over. After reaching a temporary deal to keep NBC Universal channels on YouTube TV, the companies officially resolved their despite Saturday afternoon. "We’re thrilled to share that we’ve reached a deal to continue carrying the full NBCUniversal portfolio of channels," YouTube wrote on its blog. "That means you won’t lose access to any of their channels, and YouTube TV will continue to offer 85+ networks for $64.99. We appreciate NBCUniversal’s willingness to work toward an agreement, and we also appreciate your patience as we negotiated with them on your behalf."

Disputes between networks and cable providers (or internet TV services like YouTube) are not uncommon, but a few things made this particular spat noteworthy. For starters, YouTube TV would have lost 14 channels, including major ones like NBC, USA Network, Golf Channel, Bravo, CNBC and Telemundo. Because of NBC Universal's reach, it would have been a major blow to YouTube TV. 

It was such a potential problem for YouTube TV that the service said it would cut its price by $10 per month if it wasn't able to reach a deal with NBC Universal. Fortunately for YouTube TV customers, nothing is changing, at least for now. It settled its spat with NBC, but there's always another conglomerate of networks that YouTube will likely need to negotiate with before long.

'Seinfeld' hits Netflix, but some jokes have been cropped out of view

Classic '90s sitcom Seinfeldjust landed on Netflix after a six-year run on Hulu. Given that the show was filmed years before HD was a thing, it was originally displayed in a 4:3 aspect ratio on TV (and the DVD sets that came years later). But on Netflix, the show has been cropped into a 16:9 widescreen format to fit on modern TVs. As noted by Rolling Stone, that means some visual gags have literally been erased. 

to emphasize, the titular pothole from the season 8 episode The Pothole is cropped out on Netflix https://t.co/gH4l5V8HfSpic.twitter.com/6G35eZQymW

— Brandon (spooky version) (@Thatoneguy64) October 1, 2021

Twitter users @boriskarkov and @Thatoneguy64 succinctly pointed out the problem with a specific episode called "The Pothole." In the episode, George Costanza and Jerry Seinfeld are trying to find George's lost keys, which were dropped in a pothole that was then paved over. In a crop where George wildly yells at the pothole, the Netflix crop removes the pothole entirely. The 16:9 aspect ratio probably also cuts out some other gags in the series — or at the very least, it might be a jarring experience for people used to how the show originally looked.

Of course, this isn't a new problem. Crops of Seinfeld have been on cable TV for years, and Hulu also showed the series in 16:9, as well. Given Netflix's popularity, Seinfeld is getting lots of extra attention right now, and thus a bunch of new viewers are probably checking it out who might not have seen it on Hulu. A similar controversy happened in late 2019 when the entire run of The Simpsons hit Disney+. After plenty of complaints about missed visual gags, Disney eventually released the seasons that aired in 4:3 in their original aspect ratio. Hopefully Netflix will do the same thing with Seinfeld — but in the meantime, as with many classic shows, the most authentic way to watch them is probably on DVD. 

Apple is reportedly on track to release its new MacBook Pro this fall

Apple has already updated the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch for the holiday season, but we're still waiting on an update to the Mac lineup. There have been plenty of rumors about a totally redesigned MacBook Pro coming out this fall, and the reliable Mark Gurman at Bloomberg reported in his Power On newsletter that an M1X-powered MacBook Pro will arrive "in the next month." Apple has typically held Mac-focused events in October or early November; the first M1-based Macs were announced in early November of last year.

As noted by 9to5Mac, Gurman predicts that there will be two M1X variants, both 10-core processors with eight high-performance cores and two efficiency cores. The difference between the two chips are in the graphics department — Apple may be offering an M1X with either 16 or 32 graphics cores. As for Apple's other Macs, Gurman says that the company is working on a high-performance chip for a future Mac Pro, and an M2 for the MacBook Air, iMac and lower-end MacBook Pro models. 

Rumors have swirled all year long about Apple's next MacBook Pro revision; the first 13-inch M1 model that was released last fall was essentially identical to the one it replaced, aside from the Apple Silicon inside. And Apple's 16-inch MacBook Pro hasn't been updated since it was released in late 2019, so the whole lineup is due for a refresh. 

Potential changes include new 14- and 16-inch models with a redesigned case that'll bring back more ports like HDMI and an SD card slot. It might also bring back a MagSafe-style power charging port, and Apple is expected to drop the Touch Bar, which was first introduced with the 2016 MacBook Pro revision. 

Apple iPad (2021) review: Another modest update

Apple says the basic iPad is its most popular tablet. And why not? Back in 2017, the company introduced its cheapest-ever iPad as a budget option for schools or people who don't need top-of-the-line specs. This device has always used hardware that’s a few years old — but Apple’s chips are so powerful that this hasn’t been an issue. Now in its ninth generation, though, the form factor is starting to feel stale; it's virtually unchanged from the iPad Air that Apple released back in 2013. Then again, at this price who cares?

It’s not a tablet meant for early adopters like me. It’s for those who want a fast, lightweight tablet with a nice display and tons of apps, without having to spend too much or consider whether a device like the iPad Pro is the future of computing. As such, there are just a few basic questions I want to answer with this review. If you have an old iPad, what’s new and better about this one? And if you don’t have an iPad, is this the one to buy?

What’s new

To make that evaluation, let’s recap what’s new about the ninth-gen iPad. The processor powering it is Apple’s A13 Bionic chip, which first appeared in inside the iPhone 11 from 2019. It’s one year newer than the A12, which powered last year’s iPad, and it’s faster and more efficient than its predecessor. Naturally, it’s slower than the newer chips powering the iPad Air and the just-updated iPad mini, but it still delivers more than enough horsepower for a $330 tablet.

I didn't experience any noticeable slowdowns, whether I was multitasking between Slack, writing this review in Google Docs, juggling various tabs in Safari or playing Apple Arcade games. Since this iPad has less RAM than the iPad Pro I use as my daily driver, I noticed that apps needed to refresh their content more frequently when I was heavily multitasking. But everything was quick to load up and I was back on my way again in no time.

For most people’s “standard iPad” use cases — browsing the web, editing photos, playing games, watching movies, messaging, drawing or taking notes with the Apple Pencil, writing emails or working on documents with the Smart Keyboard folio — the A13 Bionic is more than powerful enough. In fact, in our review of last year’s iPad, we found the device capable of easily transcoding and exporting 4K video into 1080p clips. It wasn’t as fast as the iPad Pro, but it was still faster than we anticipated. The A13 will only help if you’re the kind of person who likes to push their hardware.

Another new thing about the 2021 iPad is you get double the storage for the same amount of money. That means the $329 iPad has 64GB of storage this year, while the $479 comes with a healthy 256GB. As usual, you can also add LTE connectivity to these devices for an additional $130. (I reviewed the 256GB model with LTE, which costs $609.) This change is easy to evaluate: More storage is better, and it was sorely needed, particularly on the base model. 64GB should be enough for most people, but if you want to load up the iPad with games and save a lot of movies and photos to local storage, spring for the 256GB model.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

The iPad’s display is essentially unchanged from the prior two models. It’s a 10.2-inch touchscreen with 2,160-by-1,620 pixel resolution. There is one change to the screen, though: It has Apple’s True Tone technology for the first time, which automatically adjusts the color temperature based on the ambient light in the room around you. Apple has offered this feature on more expensive iPads and all of its iPhones for years now, so it’s nice to see it finally in use at the lower end.

The display otherwise looks good whether you’re watching videos, playing games or browsing the web. It’s not nearly as good as the screens on the other iPads that Apple sells, though. I’m used to my iPad Pro screen, which is laminated directly to the front glass and has a 120Hz refresh rate with support for the wide P3 color gamut. But, after just sitting down and using the new iPad, I mostly didn’t think about these things. For a $330 device, it’s perfectly usable; pleasant, even. I did notice the “air gap” on the new iPad that comes from not having its display bonded to the glass, but I can accept that as a cost-cutting measure.

Finally, Apple put a new front-facing camera on the new iPad. In a somewhat surprising move, it’s the same one used on the iPad Pro (minus all the depth sensors and extra hardware needed for Face ID). It’s also identical to the one inside the new iPad mini. It’s a 12-megapixel shooter with an extremely wide field of view. That wide angle enables a feature Apple calls “Center Stage.” When you’re on a FaceTime call, the camera automatically crops in around you, rather than show the full 122-degree field of view. But since the camera has all that space to work with, it can follow you as you move around the frame. It’s an interesting feature, though usually I’m stationary during video calls. It does do a decent job of making up for the fact that the iPad’s front camera is off-center when you’re using the iPad in landscape mode, though.

I imagine Center Stage is something that will feel handy once you start to use it regularly, and I’m generally glad to see that Apple seems to have recognized that the iPad needed a better front camera. The 1.2-megapixel FaceTime camera on older iPads just doesn’t cut it in this current moment where we're all constantly on video calls.

What’s old

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Everything else about the new iPad remains unchanged. It’s the same size and weight as the last two models and features the same size screen. It has the same sizable bezels, 8-megapixel back camera, Lightning port for charging (not USB-C) and a home button with Touch ID built in. It works with the first-generation Apple Pencil (sold separately for $99), which Apple has offered since late 2015, plus the Smart Keyboard folio ($159) that Apple built for the 10.5-inch iPad Pro back in 2017. There are still two speakers at the bottom when you’re holding it in portrait orientation, which means audio still comes at you from one off-center spot when you’re watching a video. But, there’s a headphone jack!

This means it’s not the most exciting device for someone like me, but there are otherwise a lot of benefits to Apple keeping things unchanged. For one, someone replacing an iPad they bought a few years ago will be able to use the same chargers and accessories as before — something that’s particularly important for education programs and other institutions that bought iPads in bulk.

As always, Apple says the iPad’s battery lasts for 10 hours of browsing the web or watching videos over WiFi. I got a little less than that when using the iPad and its keyboard for a full day of work, but the iPad far surpassed that estimate when I was watching videos. I got closer to 14 hours before the battery finally kicked it. Naturally, you’ll enjoy less runtime when doing more intensive tasks like gaming.

Living with iPadOS 15

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Despite the ho-hum design, the user experience felt fresh, thanks largely to iPadOS 15. I’ve been using the updated software in beta since the summer, and I’m glad to say that the final release is solid. Apple addressed the biggest problems I had with iPadOS 15 (some illogical design changes to Safari), and many of the changes make the iPad experience significantly better.

Quick Notes is a great feature for Apple Pencil users and makes the iPad a much better note-taking device. Obviously, it’s handy to be able to quickly summon a new space to scribble in, but the fact that Notes recognizes when you’re on a website or specific Map location and lets you save them to the note is particularly useful.

Now that Safari has restored a traditional tab view instead of the cramped compact view from iPadOS 15 betas, I can appreciate some of the other changes this year to the browser. Tab Groups are a convenient way to organize things when you want to separate out what you’re browsing by category; I often use it to keep research for stories all in one place. And being able to find links that were shared with me through the Messages app is handy, too.

The variety of new multitasking gestures took a little getting used to, but they make it easier to set up various spaces with the right combination of apps for what you’re trying to do. The iPad’s 10.2-inch screen is almost too small for doing much in multitasking mode, but it’s still useful to have a bunch of my most-used apps a swipe aways in Slide Over. And the new “shelf” that appears when you launch an app to show you other spaces the app is running in is another smart addition I’ve been using a lot.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Other new changes are taking me longer to set up the way I’d like. The notification summary feature, which lets you set up a time for notifications from specific apps to be delivered, is a clever idea in theory. But I haven’t yet figured out which apps I want to relegate to the summary and which ones I'd rather show up immediately. Similarly, the new Focus features let you set up multiple do not disturb scenarios, each of which can have its own schedule, apps or people allowed or blocked and home screens that are hidden or active. It’s extremely flexible, but I haven’t yet figured out how to make the most of it.

The learning curve aside, iPadOS 15 is a solid release, and it runs well on the new iPad. If you buy this tablet now, it should receive similar updates for years to come, which will go a long way toward keeping it fresh even though it was never a cutting-edge device.

Wrap-up

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Coming from the iPad Pro, I was pleasantly surprised at how capable the new iPad is. I’ve gotten used to using the Magic Keyboard and its trackpad for work, so I found the new iPad’s $159 Smart Keyboard folio lacking. Between that and the smaller screen, it’s not my first choice for tasks that require me to keep an eye on multiple things simultaneously.

But it was a great device for drafting this review plus all the “iPad things” I want to do when I’m not working. I found myself using the iPad handheld, with its keyboard tucked away, more often than I expected. Being able to quickly flip back the keyboard t and use the iPad with two hands and then switch to typing when I wanted to bang out an email or reply to a message became a pretty common couch workflow.

Overall, I could do just about everything I can with my iPad Pro on the new iPad. There are a few slight changes and compromises here — but for the consumers Apple is targeting, those things might be moot. The iPad remains a very good tablet at a fair price. If you want something more modern, I don’t blame you, and would instead point you toward the iPad Air, which hits a sweet spot of performance, features and price.

If you’ve bought an iPad in the last two years, there’s no need to upgrade — but people with one older than the fall 2019 iPad will find some significant improvements here. If you’ve never bought one before, the new iPad delivers a surprisingly deep experience, despite its aging design.

Alexa Together turns your loved one's Echo into an emergency support device

Last year, Amazon announced Alexa Care Hub, a free service that uses Alexa to let people check in on family members. The so-called "caregiver" can see notifications and alerts when someone uses Alexa as a way of letting you know that someone they want to keep an eye on is up and about. It also lets the "care receiver" say "Alexa, call for help" and it'll contact the caregiver immediately. Amazon didn't charge for this, but today it's adding a new feature called Alexa Together to the service. It'll be a $20/month service that gives an aging family member 24/7 access to Urgent Response, which Amazon describes as a professional emergency help line. 

Alexa Together will also make caregiving easier to share among multiple family members by letting multiple people be designated as support contacts for a single individual. Other features include support for third-party devices that can detect when someone has fallen at home, the ability to add contacts to an individual's Alexa account so they can make hands-free calls, and set reminders on someone else's device or link up a music service for them to play tunes through. 

At a high level, it sounds like Alexa Together basically makes it easier for other people to manage a family member's Alexa-capable device so they use it more. And if they use it more, the caregiver will see that it's being used and know their family member is going about their normal day. It's a bit convoluted, but the 24/7 access to Urgent Response might be worth the $20 per month cost. Alexa Together will have a free six-month trial period (or one full year if you've been using the Alexa Care Hub already) when it launches later this year.

Alexa Together is designed to help aging family members feel more comfortable and confident living independently, and to give the entire family peace of mind. With Alexa Together, aging loved ones have 24/7 hands-free access to Urgent Response, a professional emergency helpline. pic.twitter.com/WrU1XFOBrQ

— Amazon News (@amazonnews) September 28, 2021

Follow all of the news from Amazon’s fall hardware event right here!