Google sells restaurant review service Zagat

Google bought Zagat in 2011 with hopes of offering definitive restaurant reviews in its search results, but that dream is ending quietly. True to the rumors, Google has sold Zagat to The Infatuation, a restaurant discovery platform. The new owner will keep Zagat as a separate brand and increase its exposure while helping it with a “tech-driven platform” that provides a “more meaningful alternative” to crowdsourced review sites like Yelp. The terms of the deal aren’t public, although Google bought Zagat for $151 million.

Google hasn’t said why it’s selling Zagat, but the review brand hasn’t had an easy time. Its listings were quickly integrated into Maps and other Google services, but it was virtually silent from 2013 until the release of a reworked Zagat app and website in 2016. Google even started prioritizing its own user reviews over Zagat’s. Simply speaking, Zagat stopped growing while its rivals were on the rise.

In that regard, the sale might be beneficial. Google doesn’t need the cash, but there’s also no point to holding on to a brand when it’s no longer serving its original purpose. And for Zagat, this is a chance to regain its stature and adapt to the modern era.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon review (2018): The best business laptop returns

Lenovo’s ThinkPad lineup has always been focused on balancing tradition with modernity. It carries the legacy of IBM’s iconic laptop brand, but the company also has to make sure it keeps up with the competition. That’s truer than ever with the new X1 Carbon, Lenovo’s flagship ultraportable, which packs in Intel’s latest chips and a few nifty upgrades. It doesn’t have a folding screen, and it can’t be turned into a slate like the X1 Yoga and the Tablet can. It’s simply a laptop — but it’s one that’s polished enough to compete with the likes of Dell’s XPS 13 and Apple’s MacBook Air.

Pros
  • Durable build quality
  • Thin and light design
  • Best in class keyboard
  • Fast and reliable performance
Cons
  • More expensive than standard ultraportables
  • HDR screen costs extra
  • No major design changes since last year

Summary

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon has everything we’d want in a business ultraportable. It’s sturdy, fast and light. You’ll just have to pay a bit extra to get the best display and newest features.

Hardware

Now in its sixth generation, the X1 Carbon retains everything that’s made the line an ideal productivity machine over the past few years. It starts out at just 2.5 pounds and measures 16 millimeters thick. It’s noticeably lighter than the 2.7-pound XPS 13, so much so that it’s hard to tell that it’s actually a bit thicker. The X1 Carbon’s sturdy carbon-fiber case returns, as does the soft-touch coating, which makes it feel surprisingly luxurious, especially on your wrists.

Aside from some branding tweaks, nothing has changed design-wise. You’ll be able to tell it’s a Thinkpad from across the room. For some users, though, that’s more a feature than a compromise. There’s something comforting about the clean lines of the traditional ThinkPad. Lenovo has modernized the Carbon line over the years, of course — the bezels around the screen got thinner, for example — but not so much as to hide its heritage.

Lenovo also brought back the touchscreen option in the Carbon’s 14-inch display, which was missing in the last generation. It’s a nice thing to have, especially when browsing around the web, but the laptop’s matte finish makes the touch experience a bit rough as compared with mobile glass screens. Our review unit came with a standard 1080p display, but you can also upgrade to a higher-resolution 1440p model that packs in Dolby Vision HDR.

Despite the lower resolution, the screen looks great when browsing the web and watching movies. But if you plan to watch a lot of movies, or you just want the latest tech, it’s worth springing for the HDR option, which will deliver deeper blacks and brighter highlights. The slight jump beyond 1080p will also make text and photos a bit sharper.

If you’re privacy conscious, you’ll definitely appreciate the physical shutter that can be used to block the webcam. It’s a better option than tape, but it would’ve been nice if it were easier to switch on and off. It requires a decent amount of force to be moved, and you might lose a bit of fingernail in the process.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Unfortunately, there’s no Windows Hello support in the webcam unless you upgrade to the higher-resolution monitor. It’s unclear why that is, but it might be due to the size of the 1080p panel. At least the fingerprint reader is more secure than before. The sensor can authenticate your identity entirely on its own, without sharing any data with the computer. The laptop also features two far-field array microphones, which can be useful when you’re shouting commands at Cortana from across the room.

As for connectivity, the Carbon X1 features two Thunderbolt 3–compatible USB-C ports, which can also charge the laptop, as well as two USB Type A connections and an HDMI port. There are also micro-SIM and micro-SD card slots tucked away in the back.

Performance and battery life

PCMARK 7 PCMARK 8 (CREATIVE ACCELERATED) 3DMARK 11 3DMARK (SKY DIVER) ATTO (TOP READS/WRITES)
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2018, Core i5-8250U, Intel HD 620) 6,298 5,002 E3,701 / P2,062 / X493 4,706 2.96 GB/s / 1.97 GB/s
Dell XPS 13 (2018, Core i7-8550U, Intel UHD 620) 6,438 4,918 E3,875 / P2,166 / X526 4,901 3.1 GB/s / 527 MB/s
Surface Book 2 (15-inch, 1.9Ghz – 4.2Ghz Core i7-8650U, 6GB NVIDIA GTX 1060) 6,195 4,882 E14,611 / P11,246 / X4,380 15,385 2.25 GB/s / 1.26 GB/s
Surface Book(2016, 2.6GHz Core i7-6600U, 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M) 5,452 4,041 E8,083 / P5,980 / X2,228 11,362 1.71 GB/s / 1.26 GB/s
Surface Pro(2017, Core i5, Intel HD 620) 5,731 4,475 E2,782 / P1,666 / X431 4,260 1.6 GB/s / 817 MB/s
Surface Laptop (Core i5, Intel HD 620) 5,075 4,279 E2,974 / P1,702 / X429 3,630 658 MB/s / 238 MB/s
ASUS ROG Zephyrus(2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ, NVIDIA GTX 1080) 6,030 7,137 E20,000 / P17,017 / X7,793 31,624 3.4 GB/s / 1.64 GB/s
Alienware 15(2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ, NVIDIA GTX 1070) 6,847 7,100 E17,041 / P16,365 20,812 2.9 GB/s / 0.9 GB/s
Alienware 13(2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ, NVIDIA GTX 1060) 4,692 4,583 E16,703 / P12,776 24,460 1.78 GB/s / 1.04 GB/s
Razer Blade Pro 2016 (2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ, NVIDIA GTX 1080) 6,884 6,995 E18,231 / P16,346 27,034 2.75 GB/s / 1.1 GB/s
ASUS ROG Strix GL502VS(2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ , NVIDIA GTX 1070) 5,132 6,757 E15,335 / P13,985 25,976 2.14 GB/s / 1.2 GB/s
HP Spectre x360 (2016, 2.7GHz Core i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,515 4,354 E2,656 / P1,720 / X444 3,743 1.76 GB/s / 579 MB/s
Lenovo Yoga 910 (2.7GHz Core i7-7500U, 8GB, Intel HD 620) 5,822 4,108 E2,927 / P1,651 / X438 3,869 1.59 GB/s / 313 MB/s
Razer Blade(Fall 2016) (2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,462 3,889 E3,022 / P1,768 4,008 1.05 GB/s / 281 MB/s
Razer Blade (Fall 2016) + Razer Core(2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, NVIDIA GTX 1080) 5,415 4,335 E11,513 / P11,490 16,763 1.05 GB/s / 281 MB/s
ASUS ZenBook 3(2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,448 3,911 E2,791 / P1,560 3,013 1.67 GB/s / 1.44 GB/s
Razer Blade Stealth(2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520) 5,131 3,445 E2,788 / P1,599 / X426 3,442 1.5 GB/s / 307 MB/s

The Carbon X1 isn’t exactly a surprising machine — it’s a rock-solid, ultralight business laptop. It sports the same killer keyboard found on all of Lenovo’s professional machines, with a liberal 1.8 millimeters of travel. Typing on it felt better than many desktop keyboards I’ve used, and it certainly blows away Apple’s disastrous flat MacBook options. The touchpad is smooth and accurate, and I’ve got to give Lenovo credit for sticking with the iconic red ThinkPad nub. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s a great way to maneuver through Windows in cramped environments.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The Carbon X1 is powerful enough to handle most productivity tasks, thanks to Intel’s 8th-gen processors. Since there’s no dedicated graphics, it’s not a great option for playing games or 3D rendering, but that won’t matter to business users. For the most part, what struck me about the Carbon X1 was just how much it felt like those old ThinkPads I used to adore in the Windows XP era. Of course, it’s a lot lighter and thinner, but it felt just as reliable and empowering. It booted up quickly, launched everything I needed without skipping a beat and, most important, never left me wanting for more power.

In our battery test, which involves looping an HD video, the laptop lasted for 15 and a half hours. That’s among the best we’ve seen in ultraportables. While using it a bit more realistically throughout the day, it typically lasted for eight hours.

ThinkPad Carbon X1 (2018) 15:30
Dell XPS 13 (2018) 9:50
Surface Book 2 15-inch 20:50
Surface Book with Performance Base (2016) 16:15
Surface Laptop 14:49
Surface Pro 13:40
ASUS ROG Zephyrus 1:50
Surface Book with Performance Base (2016) 16:15
Apple MacBook Pro 2016 (13-inch, no Touch Bar) 11:42
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display (13-inch, 2015) 11:23
Apple MacBook Pro 2016 (15-inch) 11:00
HP Spectre x360 15t 10:17
Apple MacBook Pro 2016 (13-inch, Touch Bar) 9:55
ASUS ZenBook 3 9:45
Apple MacBook (2016) 8:45
Samsung Notebook 9 8:16
Alienware 13 7:32
HP Spectre 13 7:07
Razer Blade Stealth (Spring 2016) 5:48
Razer Blade Stealth (Fall 2016) 5:36
Dell XPS 15 (2016) 5:25 (7:40 with the mobile charger)
Alienware 15 4:31
Razer Blade Pro (2016) 3:48
ASUS ROG Strix GL502VS 3:03

Pricing and the competition

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon starts at $1,519 with a Core i5 8th-generation processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB M.2 SSD. Personally, I’d spend the extra $180 to add the HDR 1440p screen. As usual, you can customize just about every component of the machine on Lenovo’s website, so you’re not just stuck with preconfigured systems that might include features you don’t want.

Not surprisingly, being a business-class machine, it’s more expensive than typical ultraportables. The XPS 13 starts at $999, and you can even get a MacBook Pro cheaper than the Carbon X1 with similar specs and an older 7th-generation Intel CPU. Basically, you’re not buying a ThinkPad if you’re trying to save money.

Wrap-up

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

While the ThinkPad Carbon X1 isn’t a huge evolution over last year’s model, Lenovo packed in enough upgrades to keep the line in step with modern ultraportables. Unfortunately, you’ll have to go beyond the entry-level model to see the best new features, like the HDR display. Perhaps next year we’ll see a major design leap for the Carbon line — but, knowing the rabid ThinkPad fans out there, Lenovo will have to tread carefully. Bold new ideas are what the X1 Yoga and Tablet models are for. The Carbon, meanwhile, remains the most refined business laptop around.

Fitbit Versa review: A stylish smartwatch at the right price

When Fitbit launched its first true smartwatch last year, it had something to prove. The company had just bought beloved smartwatch pioneer Pebble, and up till then had struggled to produce a wearable with a proper operating system. So it’s no surprise that the Ionic was stuffed full of features. It not only tracks a comprehensive range of fitness metrics and provides onscreen workout tutorials, but also stores your music, streams to Bluetooth headphones, runs third-party apps and makes contactless payments. It even has a blood-oxygen sensor just waiting for the company to turn it on (but right now is completely useless).It’s also not a surprise, then, that the Ionic wasn’t cheap. While $300 isn’t much compared to the Apple Watch and Samsung’s Gear Sport, it might put off people who are fitness novices looking for a simpler device. The Ionic also didn’t look like a regular watch, thanks to its hexagonal design that screams “Fitbit.”

The company addresses all that with its second smartwatch, the Versa. For starters, it will cost just $200, and comes with a simplified operating system that reduces the swipes you need to see your daily info. Most important, the Versa is the best-looking Fitbit yet.

Pros

  • Best-looking Fitbit yet
  • Bright colorful screen
  • Affordable for what it offers
  • Long-lasting battery
Cons
  • No GPS built in
  • Lacks NFC payments

Summary

The Fitbit Versa is a prettier, cheaper version of the company’s first true smartwatch, the Ionic. It lacks built-in GPS and NFC payments, but you’ll save $100 if you opt for the new watch over the original. The Versa still boasts four-day battery life and a comprehensive range of health-tracking features, making it a strong fitness-centric smartwatch.

Gallery: Fitbit Versa review | 16 Photos

Yes, the Versa looks like a slightly wider Apple Watch, rounded square face and all. But compared to the awkwardly geometric Fitbits of the past, the Versa blends in nicely. People have gotten used to the way an Apple Watch looks, so the Versa’s resemblance to that is an asset. In fact, with the right band-and-case combination, like, say, the rose-gold face with a blue leather strap, you may even find the Fitbit prettier than the Apple Watch.

Aesthetics aside, much of the hardware here is similar to the Ionic’s. The Versa’s 1:1 screen aspect ratio is slightly wider, but both displays are crisp and bright. The images in the background of the Coach app still look vibrant and clear on the Versa’s 1.34-inch face. With the new display dimensions, apps that worked on the Ionic will need to be tweaked to fit on the Versa, but we’ll get to that later.

Meanwhile, the Versa has the same heart-rate sensor and water resistance rating (up to 50 meters) as the Ionic, making it a great device for tracking your swims. It even has the same inactive blood-oxygen sensor onboard, just sitting around waiting for Fitbit to do something with it.

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

But there are a few key differences. The Versa doesn’t have GPS built in — you’ll have to use your phone if you want to track your running route. Also, in the US, the basic version of the Versa is missing NFC for Fitbit Pay. You’ll have to shell out an extra $30 for the special edition to get that function.

These are the tradeoffs you’ll have to accept for the $100 drop in price. If you think you’ll want to run outside without bringing your phone, you should probably pick the Ionic.

In use

As for the Versa’s actual performance — again, there are no surprises here. The watch does a good job of noticing when I’ve started any activity, as long as I’ve been at it for about 10 minutes. I wore it to a boxing class, and the Versa accurately recognized, thanks to my elevated heart rate, that I worked out for about 45 minutes. If I wanted to capture more information from that session, like calories burned and cardio performance, I could also launch Workout mode from the watch’s Exercise app. Otherwise, it just logs those 45 minutes as “active time.”

When I went out for a run, it took the Versa about 10 seconds to connect to my phone so I could use the GPS. On the Ionic, you won’t have to wait as long before you can start running, but it still needs a moment to find your location.

One of the main differences between the Versa and the Ionic is the updated operating system. The Versa will ship with Fitbit OS 2.0, which the Ionic will get later this year. The new software places a dashboard under the Home screen, so you can see your day’s stats just by swiping up. To do that on the Ionic you had to swipe to the left to pull up your apps, then launch the Today app. OS 2.0 just reduces the steps to one. This actually encouraged me to check my daily progress more often, and motivated me to stay on target.

Notifications also got an overhaul. You can swipe down from the home screen or long press the top right physical button to pull down a list of your notifications. When an alert comes in, it peeks down from the top, and you can flick it away. But if you’re paired to an Android, you’ll be able to reply to messages from your wrist with one of five customizable templates. Too bad quick replies isn’t live yet and won’t roll out until May.

Another feature that won’t arrive till May is “female health tracking” — as in, tracking your menstrual cycle so you can look out for symptoms or when you’re ovulating. You can already download apps on your phone that do this, but it’ll be nice to see this on your wrist and integrated with the rest of the information Fitbit already has.

In addition to the built-in fitness-tracking features, you can also make the Versa more useful by installing third-party apps. Since the Ionic launched, Fitbit has grown its app store, although it’s not clear how many of these have been tweaked to fit the Versa’s wider face. You’ll find nifty options like Yelp, Nest, Philips Hue for smart light control and The New York Timesfor news updates. I particularly enjoyed playing 2048, even on the Versa’s teeny screen.

I also appreciate the Versa’s relatively long battery life. Fitbit promises you’ll get “four-plus” days out of it, and indeed the watch conked out after close to five days of use, during which I tracked at least two workouts and four nights of sleep. The Ionic lasts slightly longer, but the difference is not significant.

Competition

For the price, the Versa’s primary competition are the Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro and the Apple Watch Series 1 (which costs $250). While both offer similarly robust fitness-tracking tools, the Versa has the edge on battery life — it’s the longest-lasting of the lot.

Those who must have built-in GPS should consider the Gear Fit 2 Pro. It looks nothing like a watch, but has almost all the features the Versa does with a bigger, brilliant display. You can play Spotify tracks offline, monitor your swims and map your runs phone-free. We haven’t reviewed it yet, so we can’t vouch for the battery life, but Samsung promises it will last three to four days.

Owners of iPhones may prefer an Apple Watch, although the Series is getting old. It lags behind the Fitbit in battery life and probably won’t be available for that much longer. If you’re after an Apple Watch and its superior compatibility with iOS, you’re better off shelling out the $80 extra it’ll cost to get a Series 3 model with GPS.

Wrap-up

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Ultimately, the things that stand out about the Fitbit Versa are its sub-$200 price and attractive design — this is a Fitbit that finally looks more like a smartwatch than a fitness tracker. With the addition of female health tracking in May, the Versa could be even more helpful to women. It’s disappointing that GPS isn’t built in and NFC is missing, but those tradeoffs may help Fitbit reach a bigger audience.

Gemini PDA review: We’ve come a long way since keyboards

 

The sun may have set on the phone-with-a-keyboard phenomenon, but there are still people who pine for physical keys. Armed with a deca-core processor, Android, all the wireless connections you need and slots for SIM and microSD cards, the Gemini ($599, by Planet Computers) is a refreshing proposition to those frustrated with the port-less, key-less mobiles of today. (And yes, it even has a headphone jack.) But I’ll warn you now, the touchscreen world has come a long way in recent years — so much so that you might find a keyboard isn’t as helpful as you hoped and can even be a hindrance.The Gemini is a device that will endear a few and frustrate the many. Using this as your primary mobile device soon becomes impractical if you rely on easy access to your phone’s homescreen. However, if you just want a connected, highly portable device to type on in short bursts, that’s ripe for customization, the Gemini could be for you.

When the Gemini was shown off at CES earlier this year, team Engadget was divided. Most saw it as a novelty at best. A handful of us (myself included) thought it was exciting. The idea of laptop productivity on a device that fits in your pocket roused my inner Tolstoy. No more wasted time on municipal transport! I’d finally write that novella while languishing at the coffee shop! Little did I know that the reality was I’d be pecking out emails hunched over my lap, or lamenting the absence of Swiftkey like a long-lost friend.

But first, what exactly is the Gemini? In short, it’s a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) modeled on the classic Psion series, but with some 2018 twists. Or, you might argue that it’s a mid-range Android phone with a keyboard attached. Both definitions are accurate. Which one is apt for you will depend on your needs. I’ll explain why later.

Before we get to that, though, let’s talk about the hardware. The Gemini casts a silhouette that’s slightly bigger than an iPhone 8 Plus or a Pixel 2 XL. Held in portrait mode, it’s about half an inch taller, and about twice as thick. It’s chunky, but not unmanageable for most pockets. The screen is hidden away until you open the clamshell device, so if you intend on using this as a phone (it’s available with or without a SIM slot), know that this means there’s no home screen, no clock to glance at and no way to glance at notifications (though there is a notification LED). In short, when the Gemini is closed, it’s more like a sleeping laptop than a phone on standby. Which if you’re buying this soley as a PDA is obviously less of an issue.

Open the Gemini up, though, and everything changes. The 6-inch (FHD) display isn’t mindblowing, but it’s on par with most mid-range Androids out there. Below that is the all-important keyboard.

As I rested my fingers on it, I noticed something strange: My thumbs were touching together. Not surprising, I guess (given the size of the Gemini), but for someone who spends a large part of the day touch-typing, it felt unnatural. I opened a browser from the touchscreen and started to type “engadget,” but found myself feeling flummoxed trying to hit the right keys. This isn’t an indictment of the keyboard, yet. I have a few different PCs I switch between regularly, and all their layouts are slightly different; it often takes me a few minutes to adapt. But the early signs weren’t promising.

The keys themselves feel steady under your fingertips. The travel as you type is similar to that of a larger non-chiclet laptop, just much closer together. All the essentials, like Esc, Tab and Shift are where they should be, albeit a little cramped. Many of the keys serve double duty via a “function” option, allowing you to adjust the volume, screen brightness and so on. Confusingly (for me) the @ sign isn’t Shift+2 like you might be used to, but Fn+K. With Android there are ways to change this, but that means the symbols printed on the keys will no longer be accurate.

“When the Gemini is closed, it’s more like a sleeping laptop than a phone on standby.”

There’s a bigger drawback to typing on the Gemini, which isn’t directly related to the keyboard itself. I found that if I set the device on a surface, I can type at a decent clip after a few minutes. But if you’re lying back on a couch, or resting it on your lap, it becomes near impossible to get comfortable. This is one of the factors that will likely move you from camp “PDA” to camp “phone with a keyboard” pretty quickly.

I am willing to persist with quirky technology if I find the idea endearing enough. When it comes to email, I found the keyboard useful. I wouldn’t want to spend my morning responding to messages with the Gemini, but it’s practical enough in short bursts. Keyboard shortcuts for reply/archive, etc. work, and you can navigate messages with the arrow keys as you’d hope (at least, in the Gmail app you can).

Planet Computers clearly had productivity in mind when it designed the Gemini. To that end, it pre-loaded a menu dock with apps like Word and Excel, though you can add whatever you like there — even if it does just pop up over the Android home screen (where you could also have those same apps).

It’s worth mentioning that as you’re mostly going to be using the Gemini open like a laptop (i.e., in landscape), apps that are portrait-centric (like Instagram) don’t format quite as well. (You can lock it to portrait, and wield the Gemini like an open book as a workaround.)

I’m guessing that if you’re in the market for a PDA in 2018, Instagram might not be at the top of your list for apps. When I used Microsoft Word, there were occasions where I thought, “This isn’t bad, actually.” For a crazy moment, I even thought about writing this whole review on the Gemini, but that soon passed after typing a few lines. Despite gaining some aptitude with the keyboard, I never achieved the comfort and speed I needed to convince me I could work on this for extended periods of time.

I can probably type faster with a touchscreen than with the Gemini’s keyboard, and given that you need optimal conditions to really type anything (a desk/table, etc.), it became clear this wasn’t designed to replace your phone (not that Planet Computers are claiming as such). There is a WiFi-only Gemini ($499), which might be a better option if you’re not looking to use it as a phone much or at all.

There was one problem, in particular, that persisted: The space bar kept missing strokes and I read other reports online with similar complaints. Even after I was more comfortable with the keyboard, I still found myself having to hit backspace (or use the touchscreen to place the cursor) so that I could add in missing spaces. So any progress in my typing speed was always impaired by having to make corrections.

What if you do want to use it as a phone replacement? Remember, you pretty much have to open the Gemini to do anything, so while you can place calls with it, you need to open it, peck in the number (or just use the touchscreen anyway). You can summon Google Assistant to make calls, but that comes with its own issues. Answering calls is possible while closed, but of course, you won’t know who’s calling you.

There are other minor annoyances, too. The internal speakers aren’t very good. I played a YouTube music video, and recognizing the song was almost impossible until the vocals kicked in. (Sidenote: The space bar doesn’t pause videos by default like it does on the desktop either.) There is a camera, but you’ll only ever want to use it for Skype/Hangouts, etc., and using it to take photos of anything is one step goofier than using an iPad (pointing an open PDA at something without being able to see the screen).

So, it’s a mid-range Android phone with a keyboard attached? Well… yes. But, and here’s the part where your proclivities come in: Maybe you want something that has all the apps you are used to on your touchscreen phone, but absolutely want a keyboard, too. I briefly used to work as a systems administrator, and the Gemini would have been perfect for restarting servers, working on the command line and other such tasks without having to take my laptop out.

The Gemini can dual-boot into Linux (or other operating systems), meaning if you want to bring Android and Linux along with you in the same device and don’t care about the whole phone thing, then the Gemini (with its 64GB of expandable storage and dual USB-C ports) is quite a flexible workhorse.

Thankfully, my days as an on-call sysadmin are over, but I can see how the Gemini might resonate with developers or a certain tinkerer crowd as a second or even third portable device. The quirks of the keyboard are potentially surmountable when you have the convenience and connectivity that this thing offers. As a bonus, the 4220 mAh battery is pretty longevous, especially if this is not your primary device.

For me, I think my nostalgia clouded my better judgment. As excited as I was for the Gemini, it turned out not to be the device for me. Whether I like it or not, my computing habits have moved on, and I’m happy with my phone/laptop combo. But I do hope that the Gemini finds its audience, and that the company continues to release new versions. Maybe one with a second screen on the outside to enhance the phone features or allow for more convenient touchscreen access. It’s a lot to ask for a company just shipping its first product, but if it can balance mainstream needs with the demands of hardcore fans, it might carve out a little space in the market for itself.

Uber’s Southeast Asia merger delayed pending reviews

Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images

Uber is normally glad when its service keeps running in a given country, but not this time around. The Philippines has ordered Uber to keep its local service active while antitrust investigators review the merger with Grab’s Southeast Asia business. The ridesharing outfit had already agreed to delay its shutdown in Singapore, regulators said, so it would be feasible to ask for a similar move in the Philippines.

It’s a last-minute move: the shutdown was supposed to take place April 8th. If and when Uber can close up shop will depend on the review, and there’s no guarantee it will work in the company’s favor when competition officials are concerned that Grab might “harm the riding public” with a monopoly.

Uber has declined to comment. We’d expect it to push hard for the merger, though. As in China and Russia, the company is backing out to save money and guarantee revenue in regions where a rival dominates. While this would give Grab an even larger slice of the market, there might not be much point to fighting what could be a losing battle.

Cadillac goes green with the CT6 Plug-In hybrid

More and more luxury automobile owners want to go green. Sure, there’s a chance they’re looking to save a few bucks on gas, but you rarely find people who buy feature-filled powerful sedans and then worry about the prices at the pump. For the automakers, some of that desire to be more eco-conscious is government-mandated. As in the growing Chinese market, where hybrids and EVs will soon be the norm as the country tackles its pollution problem.The CT6 Plug-In is built in that country to capture that market. But it’s also here in the US and it’s a worth a look.

Pros
  • Tons of features
  • Impressive EV-only range
  • Smooth and quiet in EV mode
  • Fast in a straight line
Cons
  • Once the battery is depleted the MPG is atrocious
  • Tiny trunk thanks to battery pack
  • Battery pack weight kills handling around tight corners
  • No Super Cruise option

Summary

A plug-in hybrid Cadillac that delivers on features and EV-only range, but falls short when pushed to the cornering limits. Prepare yourself for the smallish trunk.

Whatever a person’s reason for wanting a hybrid or EV, the $74,000 Cadillac CT6 Plug-In offers a compelling, feature-rich package for fans of American luxury. While it’s quick in a straight line, the weight of the added battery makes it less nimble in corners than its gas-powered counterpart.

With an EV range of 31 miles, the CT6 Plug-In could potentially go for weeks (or even months) without hitting up the pumps if you live within 10 to 15-miles of work and charge it every night. The car’s total range (gas and electric combined) is 430 miles. So, if the EV-only mode doesn’t keep you from the pump, those visits will still be few and far between.

With a charged battery — and while driving around town — the CT6 is rated at 62 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent). But once you hit the freeway (which always obliterates any hybrid mileage), the efficiency tumbles to 25 miles per gallon. That’s a huge drop and should make potential purchasers pause if they typically do a lot of high-speed highway driving and want an eco-friendly car.

If the car’s not bombing down the freeway, the impressive EV range is accomplished thanks to an 18.4kWh battery sandwiched between the back seats and trunk. Unfortunately, this creates some issues.

First off, it reduces the size of the trunk enough that I was surprised by the lack of space when I initially opened the cargo area. It’s enough for about two to three medium-size pieces of luggage. Anything more than that and you begin to encroach on the passenger area.

The battery also adds weight because that’s what batteries do. But on the CT6 Plug-In, because the power pack is placed vertically in the car, it reduces the cornering prowess of the vehicle. The car feels heavy going around sharp turns. Because of this, I wasn’t surprised when the wheels squealed in protest during maneuvers that a regular CT6 would have no problem accomplishing.

2018 Cadillac CT6 Plug-In Hybrid

Putting the car in Sport mode, with its tightening of the steering wheel, doesn’t help all that much either. What it does do is make the Cadillac quick in a straight line. With a zero to 60 time of 5.2 seconds (thanks to 335 horsepower and 432 pounds of torque), I nearly forgot all about the corners I had tackled earlier in the day.

While I’m a fan of going fast in a straight line, the CT6 Plug-In shines in its default Tour mode. It keeps the Cadillac in electric mode until the battery is depleted. When the car is running on electrons, the vehicle is in its element as a luxury cruiser. It’s quieter, accelerates smoother and feels more like a Cadillac. But the car still suffers some of the issues other hybrids encounter.

Like a lot of hybrids, there were occasional hiccups as the car transitioned from gas to electric or vice versa. Usually, these happened during slow speeds and were most pronounced if I was driving in Sport mode.

Still, it looks like GM (the parent company of Cadillac) has taken what it’s learned from the Chevy Bolt and Volt and placed it in the CT6 Plug-In. It’ll be interesting to see how the automaker’s learnings translate into a potentially fully electric future Cadillac. If it’s as smooth as this car when it’s rolling on electrons, Caddy fans should be pleased.

Green Cadillac drivers will also be happy to know that the automaker has shoved nearly all the options into the CT6 Plug-In which only has a single trim level. It ships standard with a ton of features like a review-mirror camera, Android Auto and CarPlay support, 360-degree camera, four USB ports, two more USB ports for video along with HDMI, rear monitors, a 110 volt outlet, heads-up display, the ability to record video of a drive, and Night Vision (which finds pedestrians at night and highlights them). A helpful feature in San Francisco while it’s raining since everyone who lives here owns a black hoodie which makes us low-level ninjas that are hard for drivers to see.

The CT6 Plug-In also has adaptive cruise control which works great. It’s not quite as nice as offerings from Tesla, Mercedes, BMW and Nissan, but it’s close. The lane-keep assistant, on the other hand, is less impressive. It barely nudges you back into your lane. Sadly, you can’t outfit the vehicle with Cadillac’s impressive Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving tech. Hopefully, that’ll be rectified in future versions of the car.

Looking a few years or even decades down the road is important for Cadillac as it and other automakers try to figure out what the future holds for the automotive world. The CT6 Plug-In is a step in the right direction. The company is moving towards an electric vehicle while making sure it can compete in China’s growing market where EVs and hybrids are pretty much going to be mandatory.

On the road, if you treat the CT6 Plug-In like a cruiser and keep it charged up, it’ll deliver the Cadillac luxury you’d expect. Push it, and the car tries its best to keep up, but for enthusiasts of luxury sport vehicles, it’ll fall short. Those folks should check out the incredible CTS-V for now. For the eco-conscious person looking for a ton of features in a luxury car that’s smooth on the road, the Caddy is ready to be plugged into your home.

How to turn off Bixby on the Samsung Galaxy S9, S8, and Note 8

The Galaxy S9 has arrived in the United States and around the world. After unboxing Samsung’s latest flagship phone and fawning over its sleek design (and the inclusion of an actual headphone jack), it probably won’t be long before you find yourself hitting the dedicated Bixby button. If you’re a fan of the assistant and its powerful ability to control apps and change settings, maybe you’ll be doing so intentionally.

But a lot of you will inevitably bring up Bixby when you mean to change the volume; the buttons are a little too close together to avoid the occasional mistake. If you find it happening often, you’ve got the option of disabling Bixby entirely. That way, accidental presses of the button will have no effect. Bixby won’t interrupt what you’re doing, and you won’t have to waste time dismissing it.

To stop the Bixby button from doing anything:

From the home screen, hit the Bixby button to bring up the main Bixby app. (You can also get here by holding down the button and saying “Bixby settings.”) At the top right, you should see three icons: a globe, a gear, and the traditional three-dot hamburger menu. Tap the gear icon, and then turn off the “Bixby key” option. There. You’re done.

To turn off Bixby entirely:

The above steps will stop the Bixby button from performing any corresponding action; it’s now a dead button. If you’re the fidgety type, press it to your heart’s content. Nothing will happen. At this point, Samsung’s assistant remains fully functional, and you can still trigger Bixby either by using your voice or by swiping over to Bixby Home to the left of your main home screen. Again, it’s worth at least giving Bixby a trial run to see how you like it. Some people like having both it and Google Assistant at the ready.

For those who want to shut it off completely, you need to disable both Bixby Voice and Bixby Home. Both are very simple to do. To shut down the voice hot phrase, hit the three-dot icon mentioned earlier. Inside that settings menu is a simple toggle for whether you want your Samsung phone listening for Bixby requests. Once you turn it off, you’ve eliminated another way of bringing up Bixby.

The last step is getting rid of the Bixby Home side screen. Tap and hold on an empty section of your home screen, and then swipe right to reach the leftmost panel, which is Bixby Home. To get rid of it, toggle the button up top to the off position.

Ecobee’s new Switch+ puts Alexa in your light switch

The future of the voice-controlled home isn’t in putting Echo Dots or Google Home Minis all over your house, it’s in integrating voice assistants into the appliances and electronics you already need. That means putting Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana, or whatever comes next into your thermostat, oven, microwave, TV, or even a light switch.

The company that’s at the forefront of this tighter integration with your home is Ecobee, which already has integrated a full Alexa-enabled speaker and voice control system into its flagship thermostat, giving you another voice access point wherever your thermostat is installed. Now Ecobee is branching out into light switches, and its new Switch+ similarly includes a full smart speaker and voice control access point. The Switch+ sells for $99.99 and is available for preorder starting today, with in-store availability starting on March 26th.

Like the Ecobee4 thermostat, which combines a connected, smart thermostat with Alexa, the Switch+ combines a smart, internet-connected light switch that can be controlled with an app with a full Alexa speaker. Just like an Amazon Echo speaker, you can talk to the Switch+ and have responses spoken back to you, to confirm your request, tell you the weather, read news headlines, play music, or whatever else Alexa is capable of at the current moment.

The Switch+ will allow you to control whatever light fixtures are controlled by the dumb switch you replace with it. (Installation note: it’s very easy to install the Switch+ if you’ve ever installed an outlet or light switch before, but it does require a neutral wire, which older homes may not have.) It can then turn the lights on or off via the Ecobee app, or whenever it detects motion in the room. It has smart features like an integrated nightlight, auto off after 15 minutes of no motion, automatic on and off at sunset and sunrise when used with outdoor lighting, and ambient light detection to turn on only when the room is dark enough to warrant light.

There’s also a basic button on the front to manually turn the lights on or off from the switch itself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t allow for dimming of lights, which seems like an obvious thing you’d want a $100 connected light switch to do. (Ecobee says you can use smart bulbs in the fixtures that the Switch+ controls to gain dimming features, but that sort of defeats the purpose of putting the smarts in the wall switch.) The Switch+ can be voice-controlled by Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri via its HomeKit support. It also integrates with SmartThings and IFTTT for more advanced smart home integration.

Those are all fairly common features for connected light switches, which can be easily found for less than $50 each, so what sets the Switch+ apart is its smart speaker. Like the Echo Dot, the Switch+ has microphones and a speaker built right into it, so you can bark “Alexa” from across the room to wake it up and issue a command. The speaker is surprisingly loud for its size, and while it’s rather terrible for listening to music, it is clear and crisp for Alexa’s responses or hearing spoken word content. An LED light glows the familiar blue when Alexa is listening or responding to a command, and then glows red when its mics are disabled (which can be done via a button on top of the switch itself).

The Switch+ does support Alexa features like Echo Spatial Perception (ESP), which allows it to work in rooms or areas that have multiple Alexa speakers without triggering all of them at once. But like many other third-party Alexa devices, it doesn’t support Alexa calls or messaging. It also doesn’t yet support Spotify, though you can use it to listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks from Amazon Music, Audible, Pandora, and others.

Ecobee says that other features, such as a vacation mode to automatically randomize your lights when you’re not home and temperature sensing support that integrates with the Ecobee smart thermostats are planned for release later this summer. It’s possible that other features could be added to the Switch+ via software updates, as well, as Ecobee has improved the Ecobee4 theremostat’s feature set and performance considerably since it launched.

The Switch+ is an interesting product, and a harbinger of things to come, when all of our powered devices also include a smart assistant ready to listen to our commands. If you’re considering putting an Echo Dot in a room that already has a wall switch, and you don’t mind not having the ability to dim your lights, the Switch+ is a compelling alternative that doesn’t require you to give up a power outlet. The Switch+ isn’t perfect, but using it makes it feel like the truly connected home isn’t far off.

Apple AirPods: the audiophile review

As The Verge’s resident headphones obsessive, I’m not supposed to like the AirPods. My initial reaction upon first seeing them many months ago was to pour scorn on Apple’s designers for crafting a pair of expensive and easy-to-lose cigarette butts. The AirPods were the resurrection of the awful Bluetooth headsets of years past, I thought. But this year, I finally got around to testing a pair of the AirPods for myself, and I finally understand why everyone who owns them loves them.

Taking the AirPods seriously hasn’t been easy for me. I spend my days attached to large and pricey headphones like the exceptional Audeze MX4 because my priorities are heavily skewed in favor of maximizing sound quality over convenience. Convenience for audiophiles is a pair of cans that don’t require a toaster-sized amplifier. So when I first cast eyes on the AirPods, all glossy, frail, and vanishingly small, I had no faith that they’d sound good enough to justify their $159 price. Hearing they were just like the EarPods didn’t fill me with confidence either.

But here’s the thing: using the AirPods isn’t merely a “wireless EarPods” experience. Or rather, there are surprising aspects to making the EarPods wireless that I didn’t appreciate until I used the AirPods. My impression of the EarPods has always been colored by how loosely they sat in my ears. The merest tug or tension on their wire would unseat them. Well, without a wire, that entire issue is obviated, and moreover, the stem of the AirPods sits flush with the side of my face and helps to anchor them in place. I have run with the AirPods, I’ve done push-ups, lifted weights, and moved around vigorously without either one coming close to falling out. Your mileage will, of course, vary, but I can’t say the same about Google’s Pixel Buds or the majority of other earbuds on the market, wired or wireless.

Because the AirPods are so much more comfortable for me, I find their sound is also more dynamic and emotive than anything I’ve heard from the EarPods. Apple isn’t threatening any hi-fi audio companies (yet), but I think that both it and Google have figured out a new class of high-enough-fi for audio products that appeal with strengths other than sound quality. The Google Home Mini and Pixel Buds also sound extremely decent for their compact dimensions.

The AirPods convey a full sense of the mood and intent of the music I listen to. By that, I mean that they’re not technically spectacular. They don’t fill my world with a sparkling shimmer when listening to “Rachel’s Song” on the Vangelis Blade Runner soundtrack, but they still put me in that longing, wistful mood. Similarly, the AirPods’ bass doesn’t make my world shake, but it still hits with surprising impact on songs like Woodkid’s “Iron.” There’s enough of everything — bass and treble extension, soundstage, clarity, and detail — in Apple’s tuning to render a convincing reproduction of most genres of music.

I say the AirPods aren’t technically amazing, but that’s only when comparing against existing standards for sound quality. In the category of truly wireless earbuds, the AirPods are the best I’ve yet heard. Bragi’s The Headphone and Dash Pro left me underwhelmed, with the latter being especially bloated and disfigured by an overabundance of bass. At CES this year, Jabra introduced the Elite 65t, which sound good, but I can’t listen to them for longer than 15 seconds without the wireless connection dropping out.

Apple’s AirPods design, which I initially ridiculed, is actually the best and most functional one available for truly wireless buds today. Because Apple moved the Bluetooth electronics and batteries to the stem, it was able to use the full cavity of each bud for sound reproduction. That’s how the AirPods reproduce a wider soundstage than most Bluetooth earbuds without being any thicker or protruding from the ear. For a counterexample, you can try listening to the Jaybird X3s, which are very well tuned, but everything inside them sounds condensed like a closed accordion because of how close the sound driver is to the listener’s ear. Apple’s design compromise, extending that stem down toward the face, is simply the most optimal one we have at the present time. Yes, the AirPods are designed for function first, in spite of their stylized appearance.

I started testing the AirPods alongside the iPhone X a few weeks ago, and the seamless pairing between the two is just as wonderful as advertised. But I’ve now spent the last two weeks using the AirPods with a Google Pixel 2, and that’s been entirely unproblematic, too. The only missing features on Android are the auto-pause and the battery life indicator on the phone — neither of which I miss. Maintaining a consistent and reliable Bluetooth connection, the thing I actually care about, is still sadly uncommon among truly wireless buds, so Apple’s wireless earphones are easy to recommend even to Android phone users.

My wireless-doom scenario is walking into my kitchen, which is so full of metal things that it’s like a Faraday cage, while leaving my music source device in the bedroom: every non-Apple pair of wireless headphones I test becomes unusable in that situation. With the AirPods (and the Beats Solo and Studio 3, which have the same W1 wireless chip) connected to my MacBook Pro, I maintained a pretty decent connection with only minor dropouts in the kitchen.

The design of the AirPods case is a total masterpiece. It’s tiny but holds multiple extra charges for the earphones, and the rounded sides make them irresistible fidget toys. The tension of the case lid is perfect, delivering a satisfying snap when it opens and closes. When I was trying out the Elite 65t, by contrast, I managed to chip a nail trying to open their (similarly shaped, but infinitely more finicky) case. Anyone who’s used the AirPods will know the experience of absent-mindedly opening and closing their case for minutes at a time. It’s subtly great design, where both form and function are served to the utmost degree.

The AirPods still come with substantial compromises. They don’t isolate external sound at all, and so you can carry on a conversation with someone next to you without ever taking them out. That renders the AirPods difficult to use for noisy urban commutes (where you’re likely crank up the volume to unsafe levels to compensate), and it also leads to people just leaving them in at all times, which is irritating to others. The four-hour battery life on a single charge isn’t great. The $159 price is higher than most people are happy to spend on earphones for uncritical daily listening. And that Lightning charger totally spoils the USB-C hegemony of my current tech loadout.

But when I look at the limits of what’s possible today — in terms of miniaturization of audio and wireless components — I can’t see a better combination of price, features, and performance than what’s offered by the AirPods. The price is fair and the compromises are acceptable. I make it my job to review (and enjoy) super heavy and expensive headphones that do amazing things with music, recreating and illuminating every minute detail of a recording. That makes me extremely picky about any products I listen to, and the thing the AirPods share with the giant cans built by the likes of Audeze and Focal is that they convey the sense and intent of the music. And the reason I now reach for the AirPods even when I’m at home, the unique thing that delights all their users, is their unrivalled ease of use.

The EVGA X299 FTW K Motherboard Review: Dual U.2 Ports

The EVGA X299 FTW K is our first X299 motherboard from EVGA. The FTW K aims to bring users a solid power delivery, three-way multi-GPU capabilities, two M.2 slots, and a unique feature so far on our X299 coverage: two U.2 ports. The X299 FTW K looks to fit into the crowded mid-range segment for X299 motherboards at its price point. We will put it on the test bed and gave it a thorough inspection.

EVGA is a bit unique when it comes to their motherboard product stack. Unlike the four major motherboard companies that have almost a dozen options apiece, EVGA usually has only three boards in the market for a given chipset. This time around, the EVGA boards consist of the X299 Micro (a MicroATX offering), the X299 FTW K (this review), and the X299 Dark (a flagship X299). While a ‘gaming’ or ‘professional’ designation is missing, the fundamental requirements for a good X299 board are still the same. The X299 FTW K attempts to hit the mainstream of X299 users, without going above and beyond like the Dark or for small-form-factor builds like the Micro.

One of the more unique items to crop up in our X299 coverage comes from the X299 FTW K: here there are the two U.2 ports on the board. Only a select handful of X299 motherboards on the market have one, let alone two. Not that it is a hugely popular item, but if you are looking for the performance of the top M.2 PCIe x4 NVMe based drives without the potential hassle of cooling them, U.2 and standard sized drives may be your answer. Be aware that in order to use both the U.2 ports, a 44-lane CPU (a Core i7-7900X or higher) is required.

EVGA X299 FTW K
On Newegg

Regarding storage options on the X299 FTW K, aside from the dual U.2 ports, there are also eight SATA ports and two M.2 slots. One of the M.2 slots is directly connected to the CPU while the other sources its lanes through the chipset. The board supports up to 3-way SLI and 3-way Crossfire using three of its four full-length slots, despite supporting x8/x8/x8/x8 which would allow 4-way with single-slot or thin liquid cooled GPUs. With it being called the ‘FTW K’, the K in this case stands for Killer, and one of the gigabit Ethernet ports is powered by an E2500 controller.

Our performance results for the FTW K were mostly found to be average with it doing very well in power use.  From long idle power testing to our load testing, it used less power than all of the previous X299 boards tested so far because the load voltage was a low, due to the CPU dropping to its base clocks to run. This motherboard, with the latest BIOS we used for testing, automatically applies an AVX offset of -300 MHz no matter if the cores are set to Auto or either of the manual overclocking options. Because of this, and no other board we’ve tested so far behaves this way, we see a lower power use stock settings. Outside of this, the rest of the results have the FTW K an average performer sitting in the middle of the pack in most other tests. For overclocking, we managed to hit 4.5 GHz on our i9-7900X and ran into our temperature limit. The voltage required to reach this clock speed was on par with the other boards.


Manual overclocking results

The EVGA X299 FTW K is currently priced at $330 on Newegg US. This places the board, by price, squarely in the crosshairs of other boards like the MSI X299 Gaming Pro Carbon AC at $330, the ASRock X299 Taichi XE at $323, and the Gigabyte X299 AORUS Ultra Gaming Pro at $350. There is a lot of competition around this price range so it will come down to included features and use to pick between them.

EVGA X299 Strategy

EVGA’s X299 strategy has three motherboards, competing against the other major manufacturers that have 10 or more boards filling out many of the niches of the market.

EVGA’s X299 Motherboard Lineup (11/28)
AnandTech
Review
Amazon Newegg
X299 Dark requested
X299 FTW K this review $330
X299 Micro upcoming $290 $290

The least expensive board is the X299 Micro which as its name implies, is a MicroATX size motherboard. Next up the stack is the product we are reviewing here in the FTW-K. This board will compete with other mid-range offerings through its feature set and price. Finally, the flagship of the EVGA X299 stack is the X299 Dark which will match up with other board partner’s flagship offerings.

Information on Intel’s X299 and our other Reviews

With Intel’s release of the Basin Falls platform, encompassing the new X299 chipset and LGA2066 socket, a new generation of CPUs called Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X were also released. The Skylake-X CPUs range from the 7800X, a hex-core part, all the way up to an 18-core 7980XE multitasking behemoth. Between the bookend CPUs are five others increasing in core count, as in the table below. The latter HCC models are set to be launched over 2H of 2017.

Skylake-X Processors
7800X 7820X 7900X 7920X 7940X 7960X 7980XE
Silicon LCC HCC
Cores / Threads 6/12 8/16 10/20 12/24 14/28 16/32 18/36
Base Clock / GHz 3.5 3.6 3.3 2.9 3.1 2.8 2.6
Turbo Clock / GHz 4.0 4.3 4.3 4.3 4.3 4.3 4.2
Turbo Max Clock N/A 4.5 4.5 4.4 4.4 4.4 4.4
L3 1.375 MB/core 1.375 MB/core
PCIe Lanes 28 44 44
Memory Channels 4 4
Memory Freq DDR4 2400 2666 2666
TDP 140W 140W 165W
Price $389 $599 $999 $1199 $1399 $1699 $1999

Board partners have launched dozens of motherboards on this platform already, several of which we will have an opportunity to look over in the coming weeks and months. This specific review will cover the MSI X299 SLI Plus.