Sunday, 3 July 2016

The best laptops of 2016: Budget PCs, 2-in-1s, Ultrabooks and more

Laptops had a banner year in 2015, and all signs keep pointing to an even better selection in 2016. It’s still confusing out there, though: The number of choices to navigate just continues to grow. Picking a form factor (traditional, 2-in-1, or convertible) only begins your run through a gauntlet of decisions.But whether you’re choosing between the new crop of incredibly sleek 15-inch ultrabooks, hunting for a worthwhile luxury laptop, or finding the convertible that has the most value, it’s been a great year so far for anyone buying a new system, and will only get better.To help you with your decision, we’ve been hard at work evaluating more laptops—our latest reviews include the HP Spectre X360 15TDell XPS 15Samsung Galaxy TabPro S, and LG Gram 15. Though our existing winners hung on to their crowns, competition was fierce enough that we’ve added runners-up to our Best Ultrabook (Razer Blade Stealth), Best Convertible (Samsung Galaxy TabPro S), and Best Gaming Laptop (Origin EON-17) categories.

Best Ultrabook: Dell XPS 13 (2016)

Dell’s 2016 XPS 13 keeps the same big display and small form factor that helped make last year's model the best Ultrabook of 2015.
When Dell's XPS 13 launched last year, it got a well-deserved nod as our pick for best Ultrabook. Its aluminum exterior and carbon fiber top exuded quality; its nearly bezel-free 13" screen resulted in a laptop body that wasn't much bigger than a typical 11-inch notebook.The 2016 version of the XPS 13 keeps its predecessor's excellent chassis, while including a USB Type-C port that serves as an alternative charging port and offering upgrades to the processor and storage types. Battery life takes a small hit with the move to Intel's newer Skylake CPUs, but the difference is minor enough that it's worth having the option of either NVMe or PCIe M.2 drives.The only complaints that remain are the small keyboard, and the lack of auto updates for driver and BIOS updates. They're far from being deal-breakers, but slightly bigger keys and an easy way to update system software would be welcome.
RUNNER-UP: Razer Blade Stealth
If you’re bored by the standard look of ultrabooks, the Razer Blade Stealth certainly has a flashiness to it. Besides featuring the same sleek, black MacBook Pro-esque design of Razer’s gaming laptops, the Blade Stealth also sports a beautiful keyboard with customizable per-key RGB backlighting.Inside is a Core i7-6500U Skylake processor along with 8GB LPDDR3/1866MHz RAM, and anywhere from 128GB-512GB of storage space. Overall, performance stays competitive with rivals in the Blade Stealth’s price range, but a small performance drop in low-intensity tasks keeps it out of our winner’s circle.

iPhone 7 rumors: Say goodbye to space gray and hello to space black

The new iPhone doesn't come out until September, but that won't stop the rumor mill from churning at a furious pace.
Now that WWDC is over, the iPhone 7 rumors are getting even louder, since its expected unveiling in September is probably the next time we’ll see Tim Cook on stage. Yes, that’s still a good while from now. To help keep track of all the scuttlebutt, we’re collecting every rumor we’ve heard so far—and every new one that crops up between now and the day Tim pulls the new iPhone out of his pocket. 

The rumor: It’s not easy being green, and iPhone owners might be starting to get envious of how many colors you can get an Android phone in. iPhones used to be pretty monochromatic, until Apple added gold and then an even brighter splash of color with last year’s rose gold hue (OK, OK, it’s pink). Japanese blog Macotakara and 9to5Mac are both reporting that Apple plans to switch it up this year, swapping the space gray color for space black, which will look more like the Apple Watch’s version of space gray (a much darker hue than the iPhone uses). The Japanese site first said a deep navy was in the cards for this year’s iPhone, but has since changed its tune.

Headphone jack after all?

The rumor: Via Engadget comes some component photos from Rock Fix, a smartphone repair shop in China. They allegedly show a dual-SIM tray, another shows a dual-lens camera for the larger Plus model, and curiously, there’s even an Lightning assembly that still has the headphone jack attached. People who need a lot of storage will be pleased to hear another photo shows SanDisk memory ships up to 256GB, which would be the most storage Apple’s ever offered in an iPhone.

Plausible? It’s hard to give much weight to photos of components, and as reported in the same Engadget article, conflicting rumors about the dual-lens camera surfaced within days. But it is plausible that these components could be for the iPhone 7—and we know plenty of people who would be thrilled if the new phone had a headphone jack after all.

You have a deadline: Windows 10's free upgrade ends July 29

Here's what to expect and how to get ready for it.

The Windows 10 free upgrade ends July 29. We’ve known that for a long time, but now the deadline is looming. You have just 31 days from today to do the deed. 
Or not. In the past month, Microsoft’s strategies for getting people to upgrade have swung from deceptive back to friendly, making it hard to know what the company will pull next as the pressure mounts. You see, Microsoft has a goal: It wants Windows 10 on 1 billion devices by 2018. It just hit 300 million in May, so there’s still a long way to go. 

We’ll be with you for Windows 10

Even if you’re turned off by Microsoft’s tactics, don’t endanger your PC by turning off updates. Microsoft has its own FAQ and advice pages for the upgrade, and we’ll be posting stories all month about managing the process and troubleshooting problems. 
Look for our Windows 10 banner to find all of our stories about the upgrade, the Anniversary Update (coming August 2!) and more. 
win10 minibanner

1. Confirm your system is ready for Windows 10

Like any operating system, Windows 10 has system requirements. Microsoft has ahelpful page on this topic, but here’s the gist:  
  • CPU: 1GHz
  • Graphics: Must support DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver
  • Display resolution: 800x600
  • RAM: 1GB for 32-bit systems, 2GB for 64-bit
  • Free storage: 16GB for 32-bit systems, 20GB for 64-bit
While it’s possible your older system could run Windows 10, it may not be pretty. Microsoft even has special error codes to signal when your system falls short of the requirements. 
For most people, however, the upgrade should go smoothly. Use these preparation tips to maximize your chances for success. 

2. Brace yourself for error codes

Nothing ever goes wrong in an upgrade, right? Right. Microsoft has an entire page devoted to upgrade issues, and over the coming weeks we’ll alert you to the most common errors and problems and tell you what to do about them.
One problem that might crop up immediately is a botched download—corrupted or missing files. We’ve looked into that and have some workarounds for you. 
Another unpleasant surprise would be running out of storage space for the installation process. We have some guidance for squeezing more capacity out of your drive. 

Which browser is best for battery life: We test Edge vs. Chrome vs. Opera vs. Firefox

In this power struggle, the answer is not what you'd think.
Lots of claims are made about which browser is better or worse for a device’s battery life. Can a browser really make that much of a difference? Yes indeed, but determining just how much of a difference and whether it even matters to your individual use case is the difficult part.
I began testing the question of different web browsers’ impact on battery life about two months ago, and what I’ve concluded is that there’s a lot of work to be done here.

What’s generally wrong with browsing tests

I’ve read about people using browsing as a rundown test for laptops but I have concerns about how that’s done. As you know, the internet is a dynamic living organism. What I get when I point my browser at at 2:14 a.m. EDT on August 29, is going to be different than what I get on 8 a.m. on January 1.
Even trying to browse with the same laptop just minutes apart could yield quite a different experience in terms of Flash ads, embedded videos, and other dynamic elements.