Posts with «author_name|nathan ingraham» label

Victrola's Stream Carbon turntable works seamlessly with Sonos, at a price

I am one of those obnoxious people who loves technology, but also occasionally listens to music on large slabs of vinyl. As such, I’m probably the target audience for Victrola’s Stream Carbon turntable. The $800 record player boasts some lovely industrial design and has the expected RCA jacks for connecting to standard speakers – but it can also wirelessly link up and stream music to any Sonos speakers in your house. It’s an unconventional marriage of analog and digital, but one that had me intrigued. And after spending some quality time with the Stream Carbon, I can say it sounds great and works as advertised, though it does feel a tad extravagant – especially at this price.

Visually, I found the Stream Carbon to be pretty striking, mixing mid-century modern minimalism with more recent flourishes. It’s certainly much lighter and less of an imposing presence than my Audio Technica AT-LP120 turntable (which itself closely resembles the classic Technics SL-1200). There’s a large, tactile knob on the front, which adjusts volume for your entire Sonos system. On the top, there’s not much to see besides the platter, a minimally adjustable tonearm, and a 33/45 RPM selector switch. (78 RPM is not an option.) Around back is a power port, Ethernet jack and RCA plugs for using the turntable with non-Sonos speakers.

My only complaint about the Stream Carbon’s design is its somewhat wonky dust cover, an unremarkable piece of plastic that covers the platter and tonearm. It’s not connected to the turntable in any way, and I often found myself wondering what to do with it when I was actually playing records. Not a huge deal, but worth knowing about ahead of time.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Setup was quite simple. The tonearm counterweight has two marks on it, each of which corresponds to the cartridge the Stream Carbon includes; my review unit came with the Ortofon Red 2M. Then it’s just a matter of putting the belt into place and dropping the platter and mat over the top. If I were using standard speakers, I’d just plug them in, but the whole point of testing the Stream Carbon was to get it hooked up to my Sonos network. Fortunately, that too was easy.

After installing the Victrola Stream app on my iPhone, it was just a matter of tapping “add a turntable” and adding it to my WiFi network. You then need to tell the turntable which Sonos speaker or group to use by default; I had set up two Play:1 speakers next to the turntable for this test. At that point, I didn’t need to do anything else in the Victrola app as everything playback related went through my Sonos system.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

I kicked things off with my bright pink Carly Rae Jespen EMOTION record; moving the tonearm automatically started the record spinning, and after a short delay the tunes started coming through my Sonos speakers. From there, I could use the Sonos app to bounce that music anywhere I wanted in my house. I have speakers on each floor of my home and could play all of them at once, or just a single set. It felt pretty weird and rather indulgent to put on a record on the first floor and listen to it up in my third-floor office, but it is definitely something I tried. Putting aside that somewhat odd use case, though, the Stream Carbon reliably worked with any and all Sonos products I have in my house – that includes a pair of older Play:1s, some gen-2 One speakers and the first-gen Beam soundbar.

After getting set up, I realized there was no real need to have a pair of speakers located directly next to the Stream Carbon. That should have been immediately obvious when I started setting things up, but it felt a little weird to have music automatically start playing on the Beam below my TV (the only other Sonos speaker in my living room). But there’s definitely something freeing about being able to place the Stream Carbon anywhere you want without having to worry about the physical proximity of the speakers you’re using. It didn’t make sense to put the turntable anywhere else in my living room, but I’d definitely consider a less traditional placement if I was building my setup from scratch.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

As for audio quality, that depends on your speakers and the condition of your records. When playing my newer vinyl, though, the Stream Carbon sounded great. I jumped between the sparse acoustic tones of Gustavo Santaolalla’s score for The Last of Us Part II and Howard Shores majestic orchestral compositions for the Lord of the Rings films to pop tunes like the aforementioned Carly Rae Jepsen record and a greatest hits compilation from Canadian electro-rock outfit Metric.

I’m no audiophile, but I was consistently impressed with the detailed soundscapes I heard with the combo of my Sonos speakers and the Stream Carbon. Noise from the records themselves was also minimal – my older albums like an original pressing of Metallica’s Master of Puppets and a late ‘70s copy of Pink Floyd’s Animals didn’t sound nearly as pristine, but the crackles and other sounds you hear from well-kept records were barely noticeable.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

One of the more unusual things about sound quality I noticed while using the Stream Carbon was that the Sonos Trueplay speaker tuning applies to record playback. If you haven’t used it before, Trueplay uses the microphone on an iPhone or iPad to listen to how a Sonos speaker sounds and adjust the audio to optimize it for the speaker’s placement in a room. Once you do this, the setting applies to anything being played through the speaker, whether it’s streaming audio through the Sonos app, audio from a connected TV or the Stream Carbon turntable.

While I almost always use Trueplay on my Sonos speakers, having it turned on while using the turntable felt like it further abstracted the concept of “listening to a record.” I was already turning the analog audio into ones and zeros by streaming it to the Sonos, and now I was applying a layer of digital enhancement to that music. At this point, I might as well have just streamed an album directly from Spotify or Apple Music to my speakers.

This gets at the heart of the questions I have about the Stream Carbon. Anyone who’s willing to spend $800 on a turntable is probably pretty serious about playing their record collection, and chances are they already have good speakers dedicated to that pursuit. That said, the Stream Carbon’s RCA outputs can easily be connected to traditional speakers, and the Sonos connectivity could just be a nice-to-have feature that you only occasionally use. But the market for people like that seems pretty small.

The Stream Carbon could also make sense for someone who already has Sonos speakers but wants to get into collecting records. But again, $800 for a turntable is a lot of money when you’re just getting started with a hobby. Then there’s someone like me, who has a bunch of Sonos speakers and a decent stack of records. My turntable and speakers are fine, but nothing to write home about; the combo of the Stream Carbon and my Sonos speakers was definitely an upgrade. But, would I spend $800 of my own money on it? Probably not. Instead, I would probably spend half that and pick up some speakers like the Audioengine A5+ or any number of other quality bookshelf speakers out there and get a comparable audio upgrade.

Even so, there’s a lot to like about Victrola’s Stream Carbon. It’s well-built, easy to set up and sounds great. And for Sonos fans, this is probably the easiest way to play records through the company’s speakers. It’s certainly a better option than shelling out $700 for the Sonos Amp, a component that you can attach to passive speakers to essentially turn them into Sonos-compatible speakers. But the Stream Carbon’s high price means that it’ll remain a niche product that could have a hard time attracting much of an audience – even among people like me, who still love playing records even in a world where listening to digital music is far easier.

'God of War: Ragnarok' is bigger but not massively better

This story contains extensive spoilers for the 2018 game ‘God of War’ and light spoilers for ‘God of War: Ragnarok’.

The God of War series has thrown nearly everything you can imagine at its protagonist Kratos since the first installment arrived way back in 2005. He's ridden giants up Mount Olympus, murdered the pantheon of Greek gods, come back to life from the underworld (several times) and, in 2018's reinvention of the series, dealt with an unruly pre-teen who just learned he was a god. But God of War: Ragnarok, which arrives tomorrow for the PS4 and PS5, manages to add to that impressive list. It throws Kratos and his companions in the middle of a full-on war, the kind of battle that calls to mind epic cinematic showdowns like the climax of Lord of the Rings:Return of the King or Avengers: Endgame.

But I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself. God of War: Ragnarok is the direct sequel to God of War, which saw a semi-reformed Kratos and his son Atreus try to carry out his wife's final wish. Along the way, they inevitably caught the attention of the Norse pantheon of gods, which led to Kratos killing the deity Baldur. Kratos meant to save Baldur's mother Freya from death, but he instead turned Freya into against Kratos and Atreus and also brought about Fimbulwinter, a years-long winter that is the precursor to Ragnarok, which it is said will bring about the end of the nine realms.

Got all that? Clearly, you won't want to play Ragnarok without playing the 2018 God of War first, because you'll be missing a lot of backstory. Assuming you are caught up, you'll feel right at home in Ragnarok. The game quickly and clearly lays out the enemies and the stakes: Odin, leader of the Norse gods, knows Ragnarok is coming, and wants to work with Atreus and Kratos to try to survive it. Kratos, on the other hand, has a more than healthy distrust of Odin, and isn't interested in anything besides staying out of the gods' affairs and helping his son stay safe and prepared for the harsh world they inhabit.

Sony / Santa Monica Studios

Whether by prophecy or their own decisions, Kratos and Atreus unsurprisingly get pulled deeper into the machinations of the gods and begin journeying through the nine realms looking for a solution to the potential world destruction that is now at their doorstep. From a gameplay perspective, that means a lot of the familiar combat that Santa Monica Studio introduced in 2018's God of War. Kratos is again equipped with his Leviathan Axe and Blades of Chaos, and they remain a formidable and extremely fun pair of weapons to use on the many mythical beasts Ragnarok throws at you. Throwing the Leviathan Axe with the PS5's DualSense controller and magically calling it back to you remains one of the most satisfying moves I can think of in all of gaming.

As before, the game starts you out with a powerful but relatively basic set of moves and you can add to that arsenal by upgrading your weapons, finding powerful runic attacks for each weapon, crafting new armor and magical items and unlocking new skills in the game's fairly complicated upgrade trees. As in the 2018 title, there are a dizzying array of moves you can unlock, as well as a treasure trove of armor, all of which affects Kratos' stats. It can be overwhelming, but I also found that I didn't need to think too hard about it, at least on the difficulty level I was playing on. If you play on the harder settings, though, you're going to need to spend a lot of time doing side quests to get the resources you need so you can constantly optimize your gear.

Regardless of the over-abundance of customization, going into battle as Kratos remains extremely satisfying. Whether you're fighting a massive swarm of enemies or focusing your efforts on a massive, ultra-powerful beast, there's a level of fluidity to the combat that makes the player feel, quite simply, god-like. It takes a while to upgrade Kratos and figure out what style of play works best for you, but sometimes you can get into a flow state of total destruction that is a delight.

One of the complaints I had about 2018's God of War was that, while the combat was great, the variety of enemies was lacking compared to earlier games. Santa Monica Studio seems to have taken this to heart and mixed things up significantly in Ragnarok.There are a greater variety of basic enemies, though undead soldiers remain the game's bread and butter. But those armies have some tricky new powers this time, including the ability to hit Kratos with a multi-colored “bifrost” blast — while you're in that state, a single hit explodes that bifrost and significantly reduces your health. There are also new small and agile enemies that I think of as puppet masters; they keep reviving and healing the ordinary soldiers, so unless you track them down and dispose of them quickly, you're in for a rough fight.

Sony / Santa Monica Studios

More significant are the variety of bosses in Ragnarok. In God of War, the larger battles mostly consisted of a few different types of trolls and ogres along with some elemental, but that is most definitely not the case this time. I took down a massive realm-shifting serpent, a building-sized wolf rampaging through Hel, and that's not even mentioning the inevitable battles against the Norse gods.

Once again, the nine realms Kratos and Atreus travel through are simply stunning. Ragnarok, like some other recent PS5 games, has both “favor performance” and “favor visuals” modes. The default performance mode runs at a locked 60 frames per second and scales the resolution between 1440p and 4K. Favor visuals instead locks the frame rate at 30 fps and delivers native 4K graphics. There are also a variety of options if you have a HFR TV; Polygon did a great job of breaking down the technical details here.

Sony / Santa Monica Studios

Whether in performance or fidelity mode, God of War: Ragnarok looks beautiful. The snowy vistas and frozen lake of Midgard put a chill in my bones, and the lush and swampy confines of Vanaheim were real enough to make me want to sweat from the humidity. All of the character models, from Krato and Atreus down to minor characters you only meet a few times, are equally well-rendered — Kratos in particular is more detailed than ever, with his scars, beard, world-weary eyes and callused hands showing the hundreds of years and innumerable trials he's been through.

I would be remiss not to mention the incredible skill and performances from Ragnarok's cast. Returning actors Christopher Judge (Kratos), Sunny Suljic (Atreus) and Alastair Duncan (Mimir) reprise their excellent performances and have a wonderful rapport throughout their extensive time together in this game. Danielle Bisutti, meanwhile, takes her performance as a grief-obsessed, revenge-driven Freya to new levels of desperation in this installment.

A couple of newcomers almost steal the show, however. Ryan Hurst as the overweight, overburdened, often drunk Thor is both comical and terrifying. But Richard Schiff (perhaps best known as Toby from The West Wing) steals the show as the conniving all-father Odin. Schiff perfectly executes the many facets of Odin's character in Ragnarok — he seems to want peace and knowledge, and is almost fatherly at times. But even when he's being kind, Schiff's unsettling performance never lets you forget Odin's long list of cruelties, and the fact that he simply cannot be trusted.

Note: the following section contains light spoilers for God of War: Ragnarok

Despite all this, Ragnarok felt a little too familiar in the first three or four hours, a bit more like an expansion than an entirely new game on a more powerful platform. That all changed at the end of the game's first extended mission, however. God of War: Ragnarok has the same impressive direction as the previous game, where everything is done in a single, hours-long camera shot, without any cuts (aside from when you die, of course). This time, however, the camera panned away from Kratos and slowly, as the cutscene proceeded, settled in behind Atreus. And when the game was back in my control, I was playing as Kratos' son for the first time.

It was a brilliant reveal, and playing as Atreus makes the story far more complex and less linear than it was in the prior game. Atreus naturally has an entirely different combat style, based on more on his bow than hand-to-hand combat. But more than the gameplay, this choice greatly expanded the narrative of the game. It marks the first time the series shifts away from Kratos and gives you a more up-close view of the struggles that persist between father and son as they both try and do the right thing for each other throughout the game.

This also opens up the opportunity for new pairings, as Atreus and Kratos are both accompanied by characters familiar and unknown. These new pairings expand the story far beyond just Kratos and Atreus, showing a variety of different conflicts between parents and children all dealing with generational trauma and trying to simply be better than they were before, with varying results.

End of spoilers

Thanks to the many new characters, the world feels more alive and populated than any other previous God of War game. The dwarven realm of Svartalfheim has a number of settlements along its vast lake, and you meet a number of new allies in Vanaheim, the home realm of Freya and the other Vanir gods. We also get to meet both the human and godly residents of Asgard, Odin’s homeland. It makes sense that in the brutal conditions of Fimbulwinter you don’t run across a lot of ordinary humans, but I do wish that the main area of Midgard did contain at least a few more glimpses of how humans live in this universe.

While I’m a big fan of Ragnarok’s story, the game does occasionally feel overlong. God of War was one of my favorite games of the PS4 generation, alongside The Last of Us and Horizon Zero Dawn. The sequels to those latter two games were both masterfullyexecuted — but also occasionally hampered by the need to make everything bigger and grander than the prior games. The same is true for Ragnarok: it took me about 28 hours to play through the main quest, with very little side questing done. More than just the sheer hours, though, was a simple feeling that the narrative got a little too weighed down at times when I was eager for some momentum to bring through to the game's climax.

But what an ending it was: The last three hours or so of Ragnarok pull together everything God of War does well, from difficult, high stakes combat, majestic and massive set pieces and surprising narrative twists to a satisfying and emotional denouement. I won't say any more, but a little bit of narrative flabbiness was completely forgiven by the breathtaking finale.

It's slightly too much of a good thing, but not enough to keep me thrilled about the idea of playing again at a more leisurely pace, where I can do more exploring. And when you finish up the main story, there's still plenty you can do around the nine realms, including a few side quests that only unlock when the game is complete (I definitely caught a tease of another incredibly difficult battle to come).

While God of War: Ragnarok may have benefitted from a little bit more editing, it's not nearly enough to deter me from recommending it. Anyone who enjoyed God of War should play Ragnarok as soon as possible — and if you never played the first game, give it a shot and then move right along to this brilliant sequel. I don't know if or when we'll see Kratos and Atreus again, but Ragnarok was a fitting conclusion to the Norse saga and one of the best games I've experienced in a long time.

Steam for ChromeOS works on more devices and is easier to install

It's already been almost eight months since Google and Valve announced that they were jointly working on a version of Steam for ChromeOS, something that would greatly expand the gaming options available on Chromebooks. While it was an alpha release, limited to only a handful of devices, I was surprised at how decent the experience was — even the most powerful Chromebooks aren't going to be able to run cutting-edge titles, but there is plenty in the Steam catalog that's worth playing. 

As of today, more people can get in on the fun: Google and Valve have announced that Steam for ChromeOS has graduated to beta. This means a handful of things have changed; one of the most notable updates is that you don't have to switch your Chromebook to run on the experimental and less stable. Dev channel. Instead, you can run your device on the Beta release channel; obviously, that's still not something you might want to do with a computer you rely on for everyday work, but the beta ChromeOS releases are typically pretty stable. 

Another big change is broader hardware support. The beta now works with Chromebooks running AMD Ryzen 5000 C-Series and Intel 12th-gen Core processors; the supported device list now includes 20 models, up from only seven before. In addition to supporting those newer chips, Steam also works with Core i3 and Ryzen 3 processors. Google still warns that an i5 or Ryzen 5 chip with 16GB of RAM is recommended — but eventually opening things up to the many Chromebooks with i3 processors could be good for people playing older or less demanding games.

Google has also made a few user experience changes. One basic one is letting the low battery notification appear when you're playing a full-screen game so your computer doesn't die unexpectedly. A more complicated change involves how Steam manages storage in ChromeOS — previously, games would simply reserve the amount of space needed based on the reported requirement on Steam. But games that needed to download content from outside of Steam were unable to access the storage they need. Google and Valve say they completely reworked how Steam figures out what storage it needs, a process that led to some additional benefits — like improved file access for games that use the Proton compatibility tool. 

Finally, there are a number of noteworthy performance and compatibility updates. Steam for ChromeOS now works with the widely-used DirectX 12 and Vulkan 1.3 graphics libraries, and Google says that battery life when running games has been improved thanks to reduced CPU overhead when running titles using DirectX or Vulkan. Google also fixed some issues with high-resolution displays — even if games were running at a lower resolution, Chromebooks with screens that ran at QHD or UHD resolutions could suffer serious performance hits. Fortunately, that should no longer be the case.

If you're up for running your Chromebook on the beta channel, you can get started with these new Steam features today. Google's Chromium site has everything you'll need to try it out, including a list of the new supported devices, recommended games and known issues to watch out for. 

Apple iPad Pro review (2022): An impressive stopgap

Apple just released two new iPads. One of them, the basic 10th-generation iPad, was rebuilt from the ground up. The new iPad Pro, on the other hand, is a much simpler update. The company took last year’s model, swapped the M1 chip for the M2, made a few other small tweaks, and called it a day. The iPad Pro is still ludicrously fast, and it’s still extremely expensive, starting at $799 for the 11-inch model and $1,099 for the 12.9-inch.

I can’t really fault Apple for this approach, though. Even though the basic design of the iPad Pro was first introduced in 2018, it’s still a marvelously engineered piece of hardware. It features one of the best screens Apple has ever made, and it continues to surprise me that the company can pack so much power into such a compact frame.

While this year’s model closely resembles what Apple was already selling, it does arrive at a significant time for the iPad’s evolution. That is thanks to iPadOS 16, which launched last week. For most iPads, it’s the expected collection of useful improvements — but for the iPad Pro, it offers an entirely new multitasking system called Stage Manager. It’s a clear response to the question we tech reviewers (and many iPad Pro owners) have been asking for years: When will we get software that lets us take advantage of the iPad’s power?

Hardware

First, a quick refresher. The iPad Pro is still available in two sizes: 11 and 12.9 inches. Storage options range from a modest 128GB up to a truly outrageous 2TB, and you can configure it with an optional 5G radio for when there’s no WiFi. And for when you’re at home, it supports the WiFi 6E, whereas last year’s model was limited to WiFi 6. As usual, we reviewers get to play with a near top-of-the-line iPad: the 12.9-inch model with 1TB of storage and 5G service from Verizon. This iPad Pro costs a jaw-dropping $1,999, and that’s before you add on the $129 Apple Pencil and $349 Magic Keyboard. We’re well into MacBook Pro or Mac Studio territory at this point.

At least the iPad Pro still feels like a device worth that kind of money. (Whether it is is a different question.) The fit and finish remains exceptional, and while the 1.5-pound weight makes it a bit more of a burden to hold compared to smaller and lighter iPad models, I’m still impressed at Apple’s ability to cram such performance into a device that’s so compact. There are other well-designed tablets on the market, but I still don’t think anyone has caught up to the iPad Pro.

The 11-inch model still has to make do with the same Liquid Retina LCD display it’s had for a few years now, but the 12.9-inch version has the Liquid Retina XDR panel that was first introduced on the M1 iPad Pro in May of 2021. This screen uses mini-LED backlighting to offer 2,596 local dimming zones to offer a wide dynamic range and a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. It also has up to 1,000 nits of full-screen brightness and 1,600 nits peak brightness when playing back HDR content, which can really make movies pop.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

There’s nothing new about the screen this year, but it’s worth highlighting just how good it is. Both iPad Pro models also have the 120Hz ProMotion refresh rate; support for the P3 wide color gamut; a screen that’s fully laminated to the front glass; and an anti-reflective coating.

Just like last year, the iPad Pro has an ultrawide 12-megapixel front-facing camera that supports Face ID authentication. This wide-angle camera supports Center Stage, which crops and zooms around your face to keep you in the middle of the frame on a video call. That’s all well and good, but unfortunately the iPad Pro still has its front-facing camera on the portrait edge of the screen, which means you’re always going to be somewhat off-center and not looking directly at the screen if your iPad is in a keyboard dock. This has been true of all iPads for years already, but now that the basic model has gotten a landscape-oriented camera, we’re going to be waiting impatiently for Apple to implement that across its entire lineup.

The back cameras are also the same: There are 12-megapixel wide and 10-megapixel ultra wide options, along with a flash and LIDAR scanner. However, the M2 processor unlocks a new video trick, as the iPad Pro can now record video in Apple’s ProRes codec in 4K resolution at 30 frames per second, a feature first introduced in the iPhone 13 Pro. This is admittedly something of a niche feature, but it shows off the M2’s improvements over its predecessor.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Accessories

From an accessories standpoint, the iPad Pro uses the same 2nd-generation Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard that have been available since 2018 and 2020, respectively. The Magic Keyboard still provides the best typing experience you can find on an iPad, though the whole package is pretty heavy. It’s also crazy expensive, as I already mentioned. And now that the basic iPad’s new Magic Keyboard Folio offers a row of function keys and a slightly bigger trackpad, I’m really missing those features here. But if you make your living with words, as I do, it’s still an essential tool.

The Apple Pencil remains a tool that I’m not particularly great at evaluating, because I am sorely lacking in visual arts skills. I sure wish I could sit down and sketch and doodle and make the wonderful creations I’ve seen others do, but that’s not happening. If you’re a visual artist, chances are you already know how well the Pencil works, though.

The M2 on the new iPad Pro also enabled a new trick called Hover. If the Pencil is within 12mm of the screen, icons and interface elements can react to it. The most simple example is how app icons increase in size when you hover the Pencil over, showing you what you're about to tap on. This works system-wide, at least in Apple apps. Third-party developers will have to build Hover features into their apps, but it should be a nice new tool in the Pencil’s arsenal. One place I was able to demo it was in the Notes app; when using the new watercolor brush, you can hover the pencil over the screen to see how the color will react with other elements you’ve already drawn.

I found another cool Hover implementation in the excellent image-editing app Pixelmator Photo. Hovering and moving the Pencil across a strip of different filters at the bottom of the app automatically applies them as a preview. It’s wickedly fast and a fun way to see what your picture will look like. That said, it’s something you could already do with the trackpad and pointer; so far, a lot of Hover actions I’ve seen are straight up clones of what you can do when hovering over an interface element with the trackpad. I’m looking forward to seeing what developers come up with going forward, though.

M2

But let’s get into that M2 processor, shall we? Thanks to our review of the M2 MacBook Air earlier this summer, we had a good idea of what to expect here. And running Geekbench 5 tests confirmed it. The M2 iPad Pro scored 1,888 and 8,419 on single-core and multicore CPU tests, respectively. Those are 12 percent and 42 percent better than the same tests on the M1 iPad Pro, and similar to the 18 percent and 38 percent gains we saw when comparing the M2 MacBook Air to its M1-powered sibling.

I saw similar improvements in the Geekbench 5 Compute test, which measures GPU performance. The M2 iPad Pro scored 32,834 – 52 percent better than the M1 model and a bit higher than the 27,083 we saw in the M2 MacBook Air’s test. Obviously, synthetic benchmarks like this aren’t the be-all and end-all way to judge performance, but it gives you an idea of what to expect. If you regularly push an M1 iPad Pro to its limits and use it in a setting where your time equals money, these improvements might justify upgrading, but unless your workflow is extremely demanding you can probably skip this generation. When you consider the fact that the iPad Pro’s basic design hasn’t changed since 2018, that’s another reason to hold off; it wouldn’t surprise me if Apple released an all-new Pro in the next year or so.

Stage manager

Finally, there’s the not-so-small addition of iPadOS 16, and more specifically Stage Manager. As a reminder, Stage Manager lets you have up to four apps open in one group at once, with overlapping, resizable windows. Four other groups (with up to four apps in each) show up on the left side of the screen, based on how recently you’ve used them. Only a select few iPads can run Stage Manager: The iPad Pro with either an M1 or M2, the M1-powered iPad Air that was released earlier this year, or the 2018 and 2020 iPad Pro models running on the A12X or A12Z chip. (Those older iPad Pro models won’t be able to use Stage Manager on an external display; that’s limited to M1 or M2 devices.)

Ever since Stage Manager arrived in beta versions of iPadOS 16 earlier this year, there’s been a lot of chatter among the iPad faithful about Apple’s execution. On one end of the spectrum you have someone like Federico Viticci over at Macstores.net — he’s well known for being a devout iPad Pro user and writes massive, detailed breakdowns of each iOS and iPadOS release. Viticci, to put it mildly, is not a fan of Stage Manager; he wrote around 10,000 words detailing its inconsistencies and bugs.

On the other hand, I have not run into nearly the same scale of difficulties as Viticci, but I recognize his overall point. There are probably too many different ways to do things in Stage Manager (like adding a new app to a group); window management is more restrictive compared to a Mac (or Windows, or ChromeOS); and the behavior of the Control Strip on the left side of the screen remains confusing. Stage Manager feels like a work in progress — but when it works, I have created app groupings that make me a lot more efficient and productive than I was using the standard two-app Split View multitasking mode with a third app in a small “Slide Over” window.

And while Stage Manager was (and still may be) buggy, I at least have run into a lot fewer problems here on the M2 iPad Pro with the final iPadOS 16.1 release. I’ve been working on this iPad for the entirety of my work day and think I’ve only had one app crash on me (Gmail, which isn’t exactly the best iPad app on its best days). There are some conceptual things about Stage Manager I’m still grappling with, like the best way to add or remove apps from a group, but I think the experience is worth spending a day or two with to see if you can find your flow.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Wrap-up

There’s no question that the new iPad Pro is better than its predecessor. It’s the same price and comes with a more powerful chip as well as a few additional features. That said, I think it’s not as sure a bet as the last iPad Pro was when it came out in early 2021. That’s primarily because of the iPad Pro’s design, which has remained essentially unchanged for the last four years. That’s good news in some ways, because you could have bought an Apple Pencil in 2018 and a Magic Keyboard in 2020 and still use them with the M2 iPad Pro.

But at a certain point, probably not too long from now, Apple will advance the form factor yet again. Not that it necessarily needs to; the iPad Pro remains well designed and continues to be a standout performer, as it should be for the price. But that landscape-edge front camera on the 10th-generation iPad tells me that we’ll see an iPad Pro before long with a more substantial redesign and not just one with a faster chip inside.

Apple iPad Pro review (2022): An impressive stopgap

Apple just released two new iPads. One of them, the basic 10th-generation iPad, was rebuilt from the ground up. The new iPad Pro, on the other hand, is a much simpler update. The company took last year’s model, swapped the M1 chip for the M2, made a few other small tweaks, and called it a day. The iPad Pro is still ludicrously fast, and it’s still extremely expensive, starting at $799 for the 11-inch model and $1,099 for the 12.9-inch.

I can’t really fault Apple for this approach, though. Even though the basic design of the iPad Pro was first introduced in 2018, it’s still a marvelously engineered piece of hardware. It features one of the best screens Apple has ever made, and it continues to surprise me that the company can pack so much power into such a compact frame.

While this year’s model closely resembles what Apple was already selling, it does arrive at a significant time for the iPad’s evolution. That is thanks to iPadOS 16, which launched last week. For most iPads, it’s the expected collection of useful improvements — but for the iPad Pro, it offers an entirely new multitasking system called Stage Manager. It’s a clear response to the question we tech reviewers (and many iPad Pro owners) have been asking for years: When will we get software that lets us take advantage of the iPad’s power?

Hardware

First, a quick refresher. The iPad Pro is still available in two sizes: 11 and 12.9 inches. Storage options range from a modest 128GB up to a truly outrageous 2TB, and you can configure it with an optional 5G radio for when there’s no WiFi. And for when you’re at home, it supports the WiFi 6E, whereas last year’s model was limited to WiFi 6. As usual, we reviewers get to play with a near top-of-the-line iPad: the 12.9-inch model with 1TB of storage and 5G service from Verizon. This iPad Pro costs a jaw-dropping $1,999, and that’s before you add on the $129 Apple Pencil and $349 Magic Keyboard. We’re well into MacBook Pro or Mac Studio territory at this point.

At least the iPad Pro still feels like a device worth that kind of money. (Whether it is is a different question.) The fit and finish remains exceptional, and while the 1.5-pound weight makes it a bit more of a burden to hold compared to smaller and lighter iPad models, I’m still impressed at Apple’s ability to cram such performance into a device that’s so compact. There are other well-designed tablets on the market, but I still don’t think anyone has caught up to the iPad Pro.

The 11-inch model still has to make do with the same Liquid Retina LCD display it’s had for a few years now, but the 12.9-inch version has the Liquid Retina XDR panel that was first introduced on the M1 iPad Pro in May of 2021. This screen uses mini-LED backlighting to offer 2,596 local dimming zones to offer a wide dynamic range and a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. It also has up to 1,000 nits of full-screen brightness and 1,600 nits peak brightness when playing back HDR content, which can really make movies pop.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

There’s nothing new about the screen this year, but it’s worth highlighting just how good it is. Both iPad Pro models also have the 120Hz ProMotion refresh rate; support for the P3 wide color gamut; a screen that’s fully laminated to the front glass; and an anti-reflective coating.

Just like last year, the iPad Pro has an ultrawide 12-megapixel front-facing camera that supports Face ID authentication. This wide-angle camera supports Center Stage, which crops and zooms around your face to keep you in the middle of the frame on a video call. That’s all well and good, but unfortunately the iPad Pro still has its front-facing camera on the portrait edge of the screen, which means you’re always going to be somewhat off-center and not looking directly at the screen if your iPad is in a keyboard dock. This has been true of all iPads for years already, but now that the basic model has gotten a landscape-oriented camera, we’re going to be waiting impatiently for Apple to implement that across its entire lineup.

The back cameras are also the same: There are 12-megapixel wide and 10-megapixel ultra wide options, along with a flash and LIDAR scanner. However, the M2 processor unlocks a new video trick, as the iPad Pro can now record video in Apple’s ProRes codec in 4K resolution at 30 frames per second, a feature first introduced in the iPhone 13 Pro. This is admittedly something of a niche feature, but it shows off the M2’s improvements over its predecessor.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Accessories

From an accessories standpoint, the iPad Pro uses the same 2nd-generation Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard that have been available since 2018 and 2020, respectively. The Magic Keyboard still provides the best typing experience you can find on an iPad, though the whole package is pretty heavy. It’s also crazy expensive, as I already mentioned. And now that the basic iPad’s new Magic Keyboard Folio offers a row of function keys and a slightly bigger trackpad, I’m really missing those features here. But if you make your living with words, as I do, it’s still an essential tool.

The Apple Pencil remains a tool that I’m not particularly great at evaluating, because I am sorely lacking in visual arts skills. I sure wish I could sit down and sketch and doodle and make the wonderful creations I’ve seen others do, but that’s not happening. If you’re a visual artist, chances are you already know how well the Pencil works, though.

The M2 on the new iPad Pro also enabled a new trick called Hover. If the Pencil is within 12mm of the screen, icons and interface elements can react to it. The most simple example is how app icons increase in size when you hover the Pencil over, showing you what you're about to tap on. This works system-wide, at least in Apple apps. Third-party developers will have to build Hover features into their apps, but it should be a nice new tool in the Pencil’s arsenal. One place I was able to demo it was in the Notes app; when using the new watercolor brush, you can hover the pencil over the screen to see how the color will react with other elements you’ve already drawn.

I found another cool Hover implementation in the excellent image-editing app Pixelmator Photo. Hovering and moving the Pencil across a strip of different filters at the bottom of the app automatically applies them as a preview. It’s wickedly fast and a fun way to see what your picture will look like. That said, it’s something you could already do with the trackpad and pointer; so far, a lot of Hover actions I’ve seen are straight up clones of what you can do when hovering over an interface element with the trackpad. I’m looking forward to seeing what developers come up with going forward, though.

M2

But let’s get into that M2 processor, shall we? Thanks to our review of the M2 MacBook Air earlier this summer, we had a good idea of what to expect here. And running Geekbench 5 tests confirmed it. The M2 iPad Pro scored 1,888 and 8,419 on single-core and multicore CPU tests, respectively. Those are 12 percent and 42 percent better than the same tests on the M1 iPad Pro, and similar to the 18 percent and 38 percent gains we saw when comparing the M2 MacBook Air to its M1-powered sibling.

I saw similar improvements in the Geekbench 5 Compute test, which measures GPU performance. The M2 iPad Pro scored 32,834 – 52 percent better than the M1 model and a bit higher than the 27,083 we saw in the M2 MacBook Air’s test. Obviously, synthetic benchmarks like this aren’t the be-all and end-all way to judge performance, but it gives you an idea of what to expect. If you regularly push an M1 iPad Pro to its limits and use it in a setting where your time equals money, these improvements might justify upgrading, but unless your workflow is extremely demanding you can probably skip this generation. When you consider the fact that the iPad Pro’s basic design hasn’t changed since 2018, that’s another reason to hold off; it wouldn’t surprise me if Apple released an all-new Pro in the next year or so.

Stage manager

Finally, there’s the not-so-small addition of iPadOS 16, and more specifically Stage Manager. As a reminder, Stage Manager lets you have up to four apps open in one group at once, with overlapping, resizable windows. Four other groups (with up to four apps in each) show up on the left side of the screen, based on how recently you’ve used them. Only a select few iPads can run Stage Manager: The iPad Pro with either an M1 or M2, the M1-powered iPad Air that was released earlier this year, or the 2018 and 2020 iPad Pro models running on the A12X or A12Z chip. (Those older iPad Pro models won’t be able to use Stage Manager on an external display; that’s limited to M1 or M2 devices.)

Ever since Stage Manager arrived in beta versions of iPadOS 16 earlier this year, there’s been a lot of chatter among the iPad faithful about Apple’s execution. On one end of the spectrum you have someone like Federico Viticci over at Macstores.net — he’s well known for being a devout iPad Pro user and writes massive, detailed breakdowns of each iOS and iPadOS release. Viticci, to put it mildly, is not a fan of Stage Manager; he wrote around 10,000 words detailing its inconsistencies and bugs.

On the other hand, I have not run into nearly the same scale of difficulties as Viticci, but I recognize his overall point. There are probably too many different ways to do things in Stage Manager (like adding a new app to a group); window management is more restrictive compared to a Mac (or Windows, or ChromeOS); and the behavior of the Control Strip on the left side of the screen remains confusing. Stage Manager feels like a work in progress — but when it works, I have created app groupings that make me a lot more efficient and productive than I was using the standard two-app Split View multitasking mode with a third app in a small “Slide Over” window.

And while Stage Manager was (and still may be) buggy, I at least have run into a lot fewer problems here on the M2 iPad Pro with the final iPadOS 16.1 release. I’ve been working on this iPad for the entirety of my work day and think I’ve only had one app crash on me (Gmail, which isn’t exactly the best iPad app on its best days). There are some conceptual things about Stage Manager I’m still grappling with, like the best way to add or remove apps from a group, but I think the experience is worth spending a day or two with to see if you can find your flow.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Wrap-up

There’s no question that the new iPad Pro is better than its predecessor. It’s the same price and comes with a more powerful chip as well as a few additional features. That said, I think it’s not as sure a bet as the last iPad Pro was when it came out in early 2021. That’s primarily because of the iPad Pro’s design, which has remained essentially unchanged for the last four years. That’s good news in some ways, because you could have bought an Apple Pencil in 2018 and a Magic Keyboard in 2020 and still use them with the M2 iPad Pro.

But at a certain point, probably not too long from now, Apple will advance the form factor yet again. Not that it necessarily needs to; the iPad Pro remains well designed and continues to be a standout performer, as it should be for the price. But that landscape-edge front camera on the 10th-generation iPad tells me that we’ll see an iPad Pro before long with a more substantial redesign and not just one with a faster chip inside.

Apple iPad Pro review (2022): An impressive stopgap

Apple just released two new iPads. One of them, the basic 10th-generation iPad, was rebuilt from the ground up. The new iPad Pro, on the other hand, is a much simpler update. The company took last year’s model, swapped the M1 chip for the M2, made a few other small tweaks, and called it a day. The iPad Pro is still ludicrously fast, and it’s still extremely expensive, starting at $799 for the 11-inch model and $1,099 for the 12.9-inch.

I can’t really fault Apple for this approach, though. Even though the basic design of the iPad Pro was first introduced in 2018, it’s still a marvelously engineered piece of hardware. It features one of the best screens Apple has ever made, and it continues to surprise me that the company can pack so much power into such a compact frame.

While this year’s model closely resembles what Apple was already selling, it does arrive at a significant time for the iPad’s evolution. That is thanks to iPadOS 16, which launched last week. For most iPads, it’s the expected collection of useful improvements — but for the iPad Pro, it offers an entirely new multitasking system called Stage Manager. It’s a clear response to the question we tech reviewers (and many iPad Pro owners) have been asking for years: When will we get software that lets us take advantage of the iPad’s power?

Hardware

First, a quick refresher. The iPad Pro is still available in two sizes: 11 and 12.9 inches. Storage options range from a modest 128GB up to a truly outrageous 2TB, and you can configure it with an optional 5G radio for when there’s no WiFi. And for when you’re at home, it supports the WiFi 6E, whereas last year’s model was limited to WiFi 6. As usual, we reviewers get to play with a near top-of-the-line iPad: the 12.9-inch model with 1TB of storage and 5G service from Verizon. This iPad Pro costs a jaw-dropping $1,999, and that’s before you add on the $129 Apple Pencil and $349 Magic Keyboard. We’re well into MacBook Pro or Mac Studio territory at this point.

At least the iPad Pro still feels like a device worth that kind of money. (Whether it is is a different question.) The fit and finish remains exceptional, and while the 1.5-pound weight makes it a bit more of a burden to hold compared to smaller and lighter iPad models, I’m still impressed at Apple’s ability to cram such performance into a device that’s so compact. There are other well-designed tablets on the market, but I still don’t think anyone has caught up to the iPad Pro.

The 11-inch model still has to make do with the same Liquid Retina LCD display it’s had for a few years now, but the 12.9-inch version has the Liquid Retina XDR panel that was first introduced on the M1 iPad Pro in May of 2021. This screen uses mini-LED backlighting to offer 2,596 local dimming zones to offer a wide dynamic range and a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. It also has up to 1,000 nits of full-screen brightness and 1,600 nits peak brightness when playing back HDR content, which can really make movies pop.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

There’s nothing new about the screen this year, but it’s worth highlighting just how good it is. Both iPad Pro models also have the 120Hz ProMotion refresh rate; support for the P3 wide color gamut; a screen that’s fully laminated to the front glass; and an anti-reflective coating.

Just like last year, the iPad Pro has an ultrawide 12-megapixel front-facing camera that supports Face ID authentication. This wide-angle camera supports Center Stage, which crops and zooms around your face to keep you in the middle of the frame on a video call. That’s all well and good, but unfortunately the iPad Pro still has its front-facing camera on the portrait edge of the screen, which means you’re always going to be somewhat off-center and not looking directly at the screen if your iPad is in a keyboard dock. This has been true of all iPads for years already, but now that the basic model has gotten a landscape-oriented camera, we’re going to be waiting impatiently for Apple to implement that across its entire lineup.

The back cameras are also the same: There are 12-megapixel wide and 10-megapixel ultra wide options, along with a flash and LIDAR scanner. However, the M2 processor unlocks a new video trick, as the iPad Pro can now record video in Apple’s ProRes codec in 4K resolution at 30 frames per second, a feature first introduced in the iPhone 13 Pro. This is admittedly something of a niche feature, but it shows off the M2’s improvements over its predecessor.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Accessories

From an accessories standpoint, the iPad Pro uses the same 2nd-generation Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard that have been available since 2018 and 2020, respectively. The Magic Keyboard still provides the best typing experience you can find on an iPad, though the whole package is pretty heavy. It’s also crazy expensive, as I already mentioned. And now that the basic iPad’s new Magic Keyboard Folio offers a row of function keys and a slightly bigger trackpad, I’m really missing those features here. But if you make your living with words, as I do, it’s still an essential tool.

The Apple Pencil remains a tool that I’m not particularly great at evaluating, because I am sorely lacking in visual arts skills. I sure wish I could sit down and sketch and doodle and make the wonderful creations I’ve seen others do, but that’s not happening. If you’re a visual artist, chances are you already know how well the Pencil works, though.

The M2 on the new iPad Pro also enabled a new trick called Hover. If the Pencil is within 12mm of the screen, icons and interface elements can react to it. The most simple example is how app icons increase in size when you hover the Pencil over, showing you what you're about to tap on. This works system-wide, at least in Apple apps. Third-party developers will have to build Hover features into their apps, but it should be a nice new tool in the Pencil’s arsenal. One place I was able to demo it was in the Notes app; when using the new watercolor brush, you can hover the pencil over the screen to see how the color will react with other elements you’ve already drawn.

I found another cool Hover implementation in the excellent image-editing app Pixelmator Photo. Hovering and moving the Pencil across a strip of different filters at the bottom of the app automatically applies them as a preview. It’s wickedly fast and a fun way to see what your picture will look like. That said, it’s something you could already do with the trackpad and pointer; so far, a lot of Hover actions I’ve seen are straight up clones of what you can do when hovering over an interface element with the trackpad. I’m looking forward to seeing what developers come up with going forward, though.

M2

But let’s get into that M2 processor, shall we? Thanks to our review of the M2 MacBook Air earlier this summer, we had a good idea of what to expect here. And running Geekbench 5 tests confirmed it. The M2 iPad Pro scored 1,888 and 8,419 on single-core and multicore CPU tests, respectively. Those are 12 percent and 42 percent better than the same tests on the M1 iPad Pro, and similar to the 18 percent and 38 percent gains we saw when comparing the M2 MacBook Air to its M1-powered sibling.

I saw similar improvements in the Geekbench 5 Compute test, which measures GPU performance. The M2 iPad Pro scored 32,834 – 52 percent better than the M1 model and a bit higher than the 27,083 we saw in the M2 MacBook Air’s test. Obviously, synthetic benchmarks like this aren’t the be-all and end-all way to judge performance, but it gives you an idea of what to expect. If you regularly push an M1 iPad Pro to its limits and use it in a setting where your time equals money, these improvements might justify upgrading, but unless your workflow is extremely demanding you can probably skip this generation. When you consider the fact that the iPad Pro’s basic design hasn’t changed since 2018, that’s another reason to hold off; it wouldn’t surprise me if Apple released an all-new Pro in the next year or so.

Stage manager

Finally, there’s the not-so-small addition of iPadOS 16, and more specifically Stage Manager. As a reminder, Stage Manager lets you have up to four apps open in one group at once, with overlapping, resizable windows. Four other groups (with up to four apps in each) show up on the left side of the screen, based on how recently you’ve used them. Only a select few iPads can run Stage Manager: The iPad Pro with either an M1 or M2, the M1-powered iPad Air that was released earlier this year, or the 2018 and 2020 iPad Pro models running on the A12X or A12Z chip. (Those older iPad Pro models won’t be able to use Stage Manager on an external display; that’s limited to M1 or M2 devices.)

Ever since Stage Manager arrived in beta versions of iPadOS 16 earlier this year, there’s been a lot of chatter among the iPad faithful about Apple’s execution. On one end of the spectrum you have someone like Federico Viticci over at Macstores.net — he’s well known for being a devout iPad Pro user and writes massive, detailed breakdowns of each iOS and iPadOS release. Viticci, to put it mildly, is not a fan of Stage Manager; he wrote around 10,000 words detailing its inconsistencies and bugs.

On the other hand, I have not run into nearly the same scale of difficulties as Viticci, but I recognize his overall point. There are probably too many different ways to do things in Stage Manager (like adding a new app to a group); window management is more restrictive compared to a Mac (or Windows, or ChromeOS); and the behavior of the Control Strip on the left side of the screen remains confusing. Stage Manager feels like a work in progress — but when it works, I have created app groupings that make me a lot more efficient and productive than I was using the standard two-app Split View multitasking mode with a third app in a small “Slide Over” window.

And while Stage Manager was (and still may be) buggy, I at least have run into a lot fewer problems here on the M2 iPad Pro with the final iPadOS 16.1 release. I’ve been working on this iPad for the entirety of my work day and think I’ve only had one app crash on me (Gmail, which isn’t exactly the best iPad app on its best days). There are some conceptual things about Stage Manager I’m still grappling with, like the best way to add or remove apps from a group, but I think the experience is worth spending a day or two with to see if you can find your flow.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Wrap-up

There’s no question that the new iPad Pro is better than its predecessor. It’s the same price and comes with a more powerful chip as well as a few additional features. That said, I think it’s not as sure a bet as the last iPad Pro was when it came out in early 2021. That’s primarily because of the iPad Pro’s design, which has remained essentially unchanged for the last four years. That’s good news in some ways, because you could have bought an Apple Pencil in 2018 and a Magic Keyboard in 2020 and still use them with the M2 iPad Pro.

But at a certain point, probably not too long from now, Apple will advance the form factor yet again. Not that it necessarily needs to; the iPad Pro remains well designed and continues to be a standout performer, as it should be for the price. But that landscape-edge front camera on the 10th-generation iPad tells me that we’ll see an iPad Pro before long with a more substantial redesign and not just one with a faster chip inside.

HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook review: The best of ChromeOS, but not worth the price

Google has been making high-end Chromebooks for almost a decade now, dating back to the $1,300 Chromebook Pixel in 2013. At the time, many people saw it as a beautiful but strange device. In the years that followed, both Google and its hardware partners have made premium Chromebooks more and more commonplace. Though, a still-unconfirmed report earlier this year suggests Google is giving up on making laptop hardware, at least for now. The company hasn’t said anything of the sort yet, but the reality is that Google hasn’t made a new Chromebook since the Pixelbook Go in late 2019.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped other manufacturers from making Chromebooks with gorgeous screens, great industrial design and powerful hardware. But HP’s Elite Dragonfly Chromebook, released earlier this year, might be the nicest I’ve used in a long time. It also has a jaw-dropping price point, starting at well over $1,000. Much like the original Chromebook Pixel, HP’s latest is a joy to use that is very hard to recommend because of that price.

Design

Before we talk about the bummer that is the HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook’s cost, let’s go over the good stuff. The Dragonfly is similar in stature to a MacBook Air, weighing in at about 2.8 pounds and measuring only .65 inches thick. Combined with a fairly spacious 13.5-inch touchscreen display with a 3:2 aspect ratio, the Dragonfly is comfortable to work on and easy to travel with.

Design-wise, it’s a spartan affair, with a dark gray finish and only a few silver accents to be found. But given that HP is primarily targeting this computer at enterprise users, it makes sense that they went with a classic look here. There’s a decent selection of ports, despite the Dragonfly’s rather slim profile: it has two USB-C / Thunderbolt 4 ports, a USB-A connection, a headphone jack, HDMI and a microSD slot. That’s a lot better than you’ll get on a typical ultraportable.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Screen and keyboard

There’s a handful of things that make the Dragonfly really stand out. For starters, it has an excellent display, with a 3:2 aspect ratio that provides a lot more vertical viewing space than your standard 16:9 screen. The configuration I’m testing has a 2,256 x 1,504 resolution, good for about 200 pixels per inch. Sure, there are more pixel-dense displays out there, but this one looks stunning, with sharp text and images and basically no visible pixels. It’s the nicest screen on a Chromebook I’ve seen in a long time. The only minor knock is its unremarkable 60Hz refresh rate, but that shouldn’t be a major issue for most people. Still, HP spared basically no expense on everything else, so it would have been nice to have.

Despite the refresh rate, the Dragonfly’s display is great beyond just the aspect ratio. It’s bright and has nice contrast without things being too over-exaggerated. It’s also rather reflective, which makes it not ideal if there’s a light shining on the display, but the screen is bright enough that it should be usable in all but the harshest of light.

The keyboard and trackpad are also excellent. The keys are firm, but not too firm, and have plenty of travel for a relatively thin laptop. The trackpad, meanwhile, is large and responsive. Nothing quite matches up to the trackpad on a MacBook for me, but this one feels pretty close. HP says it’s a haptic trackpad, with customized vibrations for some specific actions like pinning windows in split screen or switching between virtual desks, but I can’t say I noticed much of anything there.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Good specs (for a Chromebook)

Finally, the Dragonfly mostly has cutting-edge spec options; the model I tested has a 12th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, built-in LTE, 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. LTE isn’t exactly cutting-edge anymore, and 8GB of RAM is a bit stingy on a computer this pricey. But aside from those quibbles, this is plenty of horsepower for basically anything you want to do in ChromeOS; I never experienced any stutters when switching apps or playing back music and video. Despite the high-resolution screen and powerful processor, battery life is solid if not spectacular. I got between six and eight hours of normal usage, which involved a lot of Chrome tabs, Spotify, Todoist, Slack, Google Keep, Trello and the occasional Android app here and there. It managed to play back a movie for 8 hours and 50 minutes in our battery drain test. If battery is your foremost concern, the model with a Core i3 processor or the lower-resolution screen will likely last even longer.

It also does a fine job running the handful of Android apps I tested it with. In the last year or so, you’ve been able to run downloaded apps in tablet, phone or resizable windows, and for the most part I was able to get Todoist, Spotify and Lightroom all working well in resizable windows. Even Instagram finally works properly, although now that the website now allows you to create posts, it’s not really necessary any more. Putting that aside, performance across basically all the Android apps and games I tried was solid. But given how many apps are in the Play Store, there’s still a good chance of running across some that don’t work well.

While Chromebooks aren’t known for gaming, the Dragonfly easily handled some cloud-based play via NVIDIA’s GeForce Now and Xbox Cloud Gaming – not a surprise given the powerful (for a Chromebook, at least) hardware. At this point, ChromeOS has pretty solid game controller support, and it obviously works with external keyboards and mice. So provided the titles you want are available, this is probably the best way to play games on a Chromebook at this point. That said, this hardware should more than meet the cut for installing Steam, once Google and Valve start rolling that out beyond its current limited alpha phase.

The catch

The problem that keeps me from recommending the Dragonfly is easy to explain. The cheapest model of this laptop costs an eye-popping $1,150. And that’s with an i3 processor and only 128GB of storage. As usual, HP has a dizzying array of different configurations, though I don’t think they’re actually selling the model I have through their site right now. But there is an option with an i5 processor that costs more than $1,500. That is crazy money for a Chromebook, no matter how nice it is.

For a comparison, Acer’s Chromebook Spin 714 has essentially the same processor, storage and RAM as the Dragonfly for only $730. The screen and build quality aren’t quite as nice, but we’re talking about a computer that’s essentially just as capable but costs half of what HP is offering. For the cost of the Dragonfly, you could also pick up an extremely capable Windows laptop or MacBook Air. As much as I like using Chrome OS, it’s nearly impossible to recommend anyone spend that kind of cash on a Chromebook.

To be fair to HP, the company isn’t positioning this as a broad consumer device. It falls under their enterprise category, and I could imagine some businesses heavily invested in Google’s ecosystem buying these for executives. But, there’s no denying that, at this price point, ChromeOS is a compromise compared to Windows or macOS.

In this way, HP’s Elite Dragonfly Chromebook is a lot like Google’s Chromebook Pixel: It’s the best Chromebook you can buy, and it shows how good the experience of using ChromeOS can be. But, it’s not so much better than the many other reasonably priced options out there for anyone to seriously consider unless they love ChromeOS and have money to burn.

HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook review: The best of ChromeOS, but not worth the price

Google has been making high-end Chromebooks for almost a decade now, dating back to the $1,300 Chromebook Pixel in 2013. At the time, many people saw it as a beautiful but strange device. In the years that followed, both Google and its hardware partners have made premium Chromebooks more and more commonplace. Though, a still-unconfirmed report earlier this year suggests Google is giving up on making laptop hardware, at least for now. The company hasn’t said anything of the sort yet, but the reality is that Google hasn’t made a new Chromebook since the Pixelbook Go in late 2019.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped other manufacturers from making Chromebooks with gorgeous screens, great industrial design and powerful hardware. But HP’s Elite Dragonfly Chromebook, released earlier this year, might be the nicest I’ve used in a long time. It also has a jaw-dropping price point, starting at well over $1,000. Much like the original Chromebook Pixel, HP’s latest is a joy to use that is very hard to recommend because of that price.

Design

Before we talk about the bummer that is the HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook’s cost, let’s go over the good stuff. The Dragonfly is similar in stature to a MacBook Air, weighing in at about 2.8 pounds and measuring only .65 inches thick. Combined with a fairly spacious 13.5-inch touchscreen display with a 3:2 aspect ratio, the Dragonfly is comfortable to work on and easy to travel with.

Design-wise, it’s a spartan affair, with a dark gray finish and only a few silver accents to be found. But given that HP is primarily targeting this computer at enterprise users, it makes sense that they went with a classic look here. There’s a decent selection of ports, despite the Dragonfly’s rather slim profile: it has two USB-C / Thunderbolt 4 ports, a USB-A connection, a headphone jack, HDMI and a microSD slot. That’s a lot better than you’ll get on a typical ultraportable.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Screen and keyboard

There’s a handful of things that make the Dragonfly really stand out. For starters, it has an excellent display, with a 3:2 aspect ratio that provides a lot more vertical viewing space than your standard 16:9 screen. The configuration I’m testing has a 2,256 x 1,504 resolution, good for about 200 pixels per inch. Sure, there are more pixel-dense displays out there, but this one looks stunning, with sharp text and images and basically no visible pixels. It’s the nicest screen on a Chromebook I’ve seen in a long time. The only minor knock is its unremarkable 60Hz refresh rate, but that shouldn’t be a major issue for most people. Still, HP spared basically no expense on everything else, so it would have been nice to have.

Despite the refresh rate, the Dragonfly’s display is great beyond just the aspect ratio. It’s bright and has nice contrast without things being too over-exaggerated. It’s also rather reflective, which makes it not ideal if there’s a light shining on the display, but the screen is bright enough that it should be usable in all but the harshest of light.

The keyboard and trackpad are also excellent. The keys are firm, but not too firm, and have plenty of travel for a relatively thin laptop. The trackpad, meanwhile, is large and responsive. Nothing quite matches up to the trackpad on a MacBook for me, but this one feels pretty close. HP says it’s a haptic trackpad, with customized vibrations for some specific actions like pinning windows in split screen or switching between virtual desks, but I can’t say I noticed much of anything there.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Good specs (for a Chromebook)

Finally, the Dragonfly mostly has cutting-edge spec options; the model I tested has a 12th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, built-in LTE, 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. LTE isn’t exactly cutting-edge anymore, and 8GB of RAM is a bit stingy on a computer this pricey. But aside from those quibbles, this is plenty of horsepower for basically anything you want to do in ChromeOS; I never experienced any stutters when switching apps or playing back music and video. Despite the high-resolution screen and powerful processor, battery life is solid if not spectacular. I got between six and eight hours of normal usage, which involved a lot of Chrome tabs, Spotify, Todoist, Slack, Google Keep, Trello and the occasional Android app here and there. It managed to play back a movie for 8 hours and 50 minutes in our battery drain test. If battery is your foremost concern, the model with a Core i3 processor or the lower-resolution screen will likely last even longer.

It also does a fine job running the handful of Android apps I tested it with. In the last year or so, you’ve been able to run downloaded apps in tablet, phone or resizable windows, and for the most part I was able to get Todoist, Spotify and Lightroom all working well in resizable windows. Even Instagram finally works properly, although now that the website now allows you to create posts, it’s not really necessary any more. Putting that aside, performance across basically all the Android apps and games I tried was solid. But given how many apps are in the Play Store, there’s still a good chance of running across some that don’t work well.

While Chromebooks aren’t known for gaming, the Dragonfly easily handled some cloud-based play via NVIDIA’s GeForce Now and Xbox Cloud Gaming – not a surprise given the powerful (for a Chromebook, at least) hardware. At this point, ChromeOS has pretty solid game controller support, and it obviously works with external keyboards and mice. So provided the titles you want are available, this is probably the best way to play games on a Chromebook at this point. That said, this hardware should more than meet the cut for installing Steam, once Google and Valve start rolling that out beyond its current limited alpha phase.

The catch

The problem that keeps me from recommending the Dragonfly is easy to explain. The cheapest model of this laptop costs an eye-popping $1,150. And that’s with an i3 processor and only 128GB of storage. As usual, HP has a dizzying array of different configurations, though I don’t think they’re actually selling the model I have through their site right now. But there is an option with an i5 processor that costs more than $1,500. That is crazy money for a Chromebook, no matter how nice it is.

For a comparison, Acer’s Chromebook Spin 714 has essentially the same processor, storage and RAM as the Dragonfly for only $730. The screen and build quality aren’t quite as nice, but we’re talking about a computer that’s essentially just as capable but costs half of what HP is offering. For the cost of the Dragonfly, you could also pick up an extremely capable Windows laptop or MacBook Air. As much as I like using Chrome OS, it’s nearly impossible to recommend anyone spend that kind of cash on a Chromebook.

To be fair to HP, the company isn’t positioning this as a broad consumer device. It falls under their enterprise category, and I could imagine some businesses heavily invested in Google’s ecosystem buying these for executives. But, there’s no denying that, at this price point, ChromeOS is a compromise compared to Windows or macOS.

In this way, HP’s Elite Dragonfly Chromebook is a lot like Google’s Chromebook Pixel: It’s the best Chromebook you can buy, and it shows how good the experience of using ChromeOS can be. But, it’s not so much better than the many other reasonably priced options out there for anyone to seriously consider unless they love ChromeOS and have money to burn.

Apple iPad (2022) review: An expensive facelift

Apple can rarely leave well enough alone. A year ago, I thought each of the four tablets in the iPad lineup was differentiated well from the others, and it was fairly easy to see what features you got as things got more expensive. The new 10th-generation iPad throws a wrench in things, though. It’s a complete redesign from last year’s model that cribs heavily from the iPad Air while also bringing a handful of compromises to upsell potential customers on Apple’s more expensive tablets.

But the new iPad also contains a few puzzling decisions and a $120 price hike — the base model now costs $449. Muddying the waters further, last year’s iPad remains available at $329. And while I think the improvements Apple made to the 10th-generation iPad are significant, I’m not sure how many people in the market for an inexpensive tablet will find these changes worth their cash.

Unlike last year’s iPad, which looked essentially identical to the basic tablet Apple has been selling since 2017, this year’s model has been completely redesigned. The Home button is gone, Touch ID has moved to the lock button, the bezels are smaller, the display is bigger, the edges are squared off and the front-facing camera has been moved to the iPad’s landscape edge. It’s a significant set of changes — but only if you haven’t seen an iPad Pro or Air in recent years. Apple has been making tablets with most of these design elements since 2018, so it’s not exactly a fresh look. While it’s slightly thicker and larger than the iPad Air I reviewed earlier this year, it feels essentially identical in the hand, with the exact same size screen.

A14

Inside the iPad is an A14 Bionic chip (first seen in 2020’s iPhone 12 lineup), a modest update over the A13 in last year’s model. It’s a strong performer, but it wasn’t all that slow to begin with. Of course, if you’re going to raise the price, you had better increase the performance. My modest work needs (Slack, Safari, Google Docs, Todoist, Gmail, etc.) didn’t tax the iPad in the least. Nor did any of the Apple Arcade games I played, and more advanced tasks like editing RAW photos in Lightroom or transcoding and exporting 4K video clips in 1080p were similarly smooth. Sure, the A14 trails the M1 in the iPad Air and the M2 in the new iPad Pro, but the vast majority of iPad buyers will be plenty happy.

There is one catch with the A14: this iPad can’t use the new Stage Manager multitasking and window-management features that are in iPadOS 16, as they’re limited to iPad Pro models from 2018 and later or the M1-powered iPad Air.

As for battery life, Apple continues to meet or exceed its 10-hour estimate it provides for every iPad. This model lasted 11 hours and 45 minutes while playing back a movie purchased from the iTunes Store. I didn’t quite hit 10 hours when using the iPad and its keyboard for work all day long, but it was close enough that I’m not complaining. Of course, more intensive tasks like gaming or editing video will reduce that time significantly.

Screen

Compared to last year’s iPad, the screen here is definitely bigger, but not better in any measurable way. It’s the same 10.9 inches as the iPad Air (up from 10.2 inches), and that does make working with multiple apps feel a bit less cramped. And a bigger screen in a body that’s essentially the same size is always a nice improvement. But, this display still lacks a lot of the niceties you’ll find on the Air. Specifically, the display isn’t laminated to the front glass, it’s missing an anti reflective coating and it doesn’t support the P3 wide color gamut.

These missing features were easier to ignore when it cost $329, but this new iPad only costs $150 less than the Air. That’s not to say this display is bad, but it’s clearly the worst in the iPad lineup — and its deficiencies are a lot more glaring at a higher price. I noticed the air gap between the screen and cover glass less than I expected, but it was a lot more noticeable when I held the iPad in my hands and moved compared to using it with the Magic Keyboard Folio.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Keyboard

Speaking of the keyboard, the new iPad has its own redesigned accessory here. The Magic Keyboard Folio is two separate pieces: a back that magnetically attaches and has a kickstand, and a keyboard that attaches to the side of the iPad. It then uses the Smart Connector located on its edge to sync and power the keyboard.

The folio design has one big deficiency compared to the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Air and Pro. That keyboard is much better for lap typing. The folio, on the other hand, is not nearly as stable on your lap. Fortunately, the typing experience itself is much better than the old Smart Keyboard Cover that works with last year’s iPad. These keys have 1mm of travel, there’s a 14-key function row up top (the first Apple-made iPad keyboard to offer them) and the trackpad is large and responsive. It’s even bigger than the trackpad on the more expensive Magic Keyboard.

While I don’t care to use a folio-style keyboard on my lap, it was totally fine for long typing sessions at my desk. And the bigger trackpad and function keys are major improvements that I hope to see implemented on other iPad keyboards soon.

The elephant in the room is that this keyboard costs a truly painful $250; this means that the basic iPad with 64GB of storage and this Magic Keyboard Folio would cost $700. That’s a wild amount of money, and you could get an iPad Air and the second-generation Apple Pencil for just a little bit more, or pick up a solid Windows laptop if you’re going to be doing a lot of typing.

Cameras

Apple also made some significant improvements to the camera system on the new iPad. It now has the same 12-megapixel back camera as the Air. It’s not the best camera out there; as I always say, chances are good the camera on the phone in your pocket is better. But for anyone who wants to shoot video, it now offers 4K capture while last year’s model maxed out at 1080p.

More significant is the front-facing camera. Oddly enough, it’s exactly the same as last year’s – with one notable exception. Apple finally put the front-facing camera on the landscape edge of the iPad, which means your face will actually be centered if you’re taking a video call with the iPad in its keyboard folio (or just propped up with the kickstand). Amazingly, this iPad is the only one with this feature. The iPad Pro, the best tablet Apple sells, still has its camera on the portrait edge. Basic iPad buyers win out here.

Pencil

As you have already likely noticed, Apple has made some compromises to keep this iPad from infringing too much upon the Air and Pro. Nowhere is that more obvious than the fact that this tablet still uses the first-generation Apple Pencil, introduced way back in 2015. While the original Pencil is still a capable tool for drawing and note-taking, it has a number of issues. It has a built-in Lightning connector on the back; to charge it, you literally plug it into the Lightning port on your iPad (or use a dongle to connect it to a cable). It’s a very awkward setup, compounded by the fact that you can easily lose the cap that covers the charging end of the Pencil. It’s also a perfect circle, which means it rolls away easily, and there’s nowhere to store the Pencil on the iPad itself when you’re not using it.

All these problems persist. But now, the iPad uses USB-C for charging – which means there’s no Lightning port to plug the Pencil in for charging. Instead, you have to attach the Pencil to a new Lightning to USB-C adapter, plug that mess into a USB-C cable, and then plug that into your iPad. It goes without saying, but: this is far from a good experience. Yes, it’s good that people who have an original Apple Pencil can still use it, but the much-improved second-generation model is the future. It has a flat edge that snaps magnetically onto the side of the iPad for charging and storage, solving all the problems I outlined.

Every other iPad Apple sells (besides last year’s budget model) uses this accessory now, making this an obvious case of upsell. The second-generation Pencil is so superior to this setup that I would recommend anyone who is interested in using the Apple Pencil just buy the iPad Air instead. For $150 you get a more powerful processor, a significantly better Pencil experience, and a better screen.

iPadOS 16

iPadOS 16 was just released a few days ago, but I’ve been dabbling with it in beta for months. It’s mostly made of of tweaks that came to iOS 16 a month ago, with features like unsending and editing messages, undo send and scheduling messages in Mail, an iCloud Photo Library you can share with your family members, extensive collaboration features, the ability to copy text straight from a video and a number of other features we’ve covered in the past.

None of these things fundamentally change the experience of using an iPad, but there are still a number of useful features here. Of course, the one thing that does change the iPad experience is Stage Manager, the new multi-tasking and windowing system. But that’s only available on iPads with the M1 or M2 chip (as well as a few older iPad Pro models). As such, this new iPad is limited to the same Split Screen and Slide Over multitasking capabilities Apple has offered for years now. Given the smaller screen and the fact that Stage Manager is going through some growing pains, this likely won’t be a huge loss for most people.

How does it fit?

In a vacuum, the new iPad is an obvious improvement over its predecessor in a number of ways. By that measure, it’s probably worth the extra cash Apple is asking for it. A bigger screen, better cameras, a more powerful chip and a more modern design are all solid, and in some cases badly needed updates.

But putting it in context with the rest of Apple’s iPad lineup makes it a harder sell. If you have an older iPad, you’ll need new accessories, and both the iPad and keyboard folio cost more than older options. And Apple didn’t upgrade the Pencil, which isn’t bad if you already have one — but it’s going to have to cut the cord on the old one at some point, and this would have been a smart time to do so.

If you want the basic iPad experience and don’t want to spend too much money, last year’s model is still easy to recommend. And if you’re an artist who wants to make extensive use of the Apple Pencil, you’re better off saving up for the iPad Air or Pro.

This iPad is more like an “Air lite,” and it’s a common strategy for the company. In 2020, Apple took the iPad Pro design and put it in the iPad Air and subsequently bumped the price. Now Apple is doing that again, taking the Air design, putting it in the base model, and making it more expensive. My hope is that within a year or two, Apple adds support for the second-generation Pencil to this model and cuts the price below $400 again. That would make for an iPad that is easy to recommend. But for now, despite a number of improvements, this iPad is sandwiched between two models that probably make more sense for most buyers.

The new iPad Pro is ludicrously fast (just like last year's model)

Evaluating the new iPad Pro is a simpler task than the basic iPad that Apple announced alongside it last week. That iPad has been completely redesigned. But the 2022 iPad Pro is a minor iteration of the model released in early 2021, which was powered by the M1 chip. Now, with M2 Macs out in the wild, Apple decided its best tablet needed one, too.

That new chip is by far the most notable change here. Otherwise, the design, screen, cameras, storage options, accessories and price are all the same. That’s not a big problem, though, because the iPad Pro was already an outstanding device — and the Liquid Retina XDR display Apple introduced on last year’s 12.9-inch model is still a simply outstanding screen. There are a couple new tricks here, like the Apple Pencil “hover” feature and the ability to shoot video in Apple’s ProRes codec, but by and large this iPad Pro isn’t angled at people who bought that M1 model. Instead, it’s just a case of Apple flexing its muscles by making the most powerful, spare-no-expense tablet that it can.

In the short time that I’ve been testing the latest 12.9-inch iPad Pro, I can say that it’s far more responsive than my personal 11-inch iPad Pro from 2020 as well as the new iPad I’ve also been testing. Those other devices aren’t slow by any stretch of the imagination, but the M2-powered iPad Pro responds to everything almost instantaneously. Of course, the same can be said about the M1 iPad Pro, especially given my modest workflow.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

In a demo last week, Apple showed how the new iPad Pro can chew through apps like the forthcoming DaVinci Resolve and Octane X. The former is an intense video application that combines things like professional-level color correction, color grading, visual effects and much more, while Octane X is meant for 3D rendering. Both apps are pretty far outside things I’d use, but in the demo it was pretty easy to see how responsive the new iPad Pro was scrubbing through and editing frames from an 8K video or applying different effects.

One thing I can tell is that the new Stage Manager multitasking feature in iPadOS 16 is working much better on this new iPad Pro than it did in my testing on last year’s model using various beta releases over the last four months or so. Again, my needs are modest, but I never had any app crashes or moments where the interface just shut down and threw me back to the Home Screen. In a sign of Apple’s confidence, Stage Manager was even enabled out of the box, whereas it was turned off by default when iPadOS 16 was in beta.

Conceptually, I’m still struggling a bit with how Stage Manager decides what apps (or groups of apps) show up on the left-side switcher, and I feel like the experience of using it on any iPad smaller than the 12.9-inch Pro is not going to be much better than just using two apps in Split View, but it does seem a lot more stable now. I don’t know if that’s thanks to software optimizations, the more powerful hardware or some mix of both, but it’s a welcome change.

If you’re an Apple Pencil aficionado, the M2 enables a pretty cool new feature called Hover. As the name suggests, the iPad Pro can detect when the Pencil is within 12mm of the screen, and elements will start to react. For example, if you hold the Pencil over the apps in your dock or on the homescreen, the one that the Pencil is over will zoom in slightly to show you what you’re targeting. It’s similar to what happens when you use the trackpad to move the pointer over apps. It’s not the most essential trick, but it’s a good example of what Hover can do. But this is just a trick that doesn’t really change the iPad experience; developers will need to build Hover functions into their apps for it to be really useful.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

That said, I was able to see a few potential use cases for it. In the Notes app, there’s a new watercolor brush, and when you hover the Pencil over the screen you’ll get a little preview of the color you’ve selected. And when you select a new color, you can hover the Pencil over your existing sketch to see how the watercolor interacts with it before actually drawing. In a demo of the illustration and animation app Procreate, hovering the Pencil over a project brings the animation to life or shows a 3D view of your creation. It’s one of those features that is clever but doesn’t have an essential use case yet, but I’m definitely curious to see how developers implement it.

Otherwise, most of what we said about the iPad Pro in 2021 still applies here. Performance is outstanding, the screen is one of the nicest that we’ve seen on any device, the Pencil and Magic Keyboard are great but expensive add-ons, but iPadOS 16 still feels like it occasionally holds back the hardware here. Over the next few days, I’m going to do more detailed performance testing to see how the M2 compares to the M1, though we already have a good idea of how that’ll play out thanks to how M2-powered Macs stack up to older models. Even after a few days, I’m pretty sure that people who own the M1 iPad Pro don’t need to worry about upgrading. If you really push your iPad Pro to the limit, and it’s a few years old, these new models should offer a pretty significant upgrade.