This Prime Day MacBook Air deal is already great, but spending more makes it an even better value

Update, July 18: Amazon has dropped the $50 on-screen coupon for this product since Prime Day ended, but it's still considerably cheaper there versus shopping at the Apple Store and elsewhere.

Next to Black Friday, Prime Day is a great time to buy hardware from Amazon and Apple. On the latter brand, we’re seeing some of the best prices to date for the latest models of iPads, AirPods and AirTags, to name a few. And if you’re in the market for a new laptop, it’s also a great time to buy a MacBook, with prices starting at a record low $849 for the latest MacBook Air. It's currently Engadget's top pick on our best laptop list.

But I’m here to argue that you should spend $1,249 for that MacBook Air instead.

Here’s why: They get you in the door for that sub-$1,000 price, which is an enticing $250 less than you’d spend at the Apple Store. But Apple is notoriously stingy on memory and storage for its devices: The baseline model only has 8GB of RAM and a 256GB drive. That’s fine if you’re only using your laptop for the basics – say, social media, streaming video and light document creation. But even with cloud storage, that SSD will fill up very quickly with photos, audio and video if you’re doing anything creative. (Yes, you can get external USB drives, but they're slower and ruin the lines of Apple’s sleek laptop.) And while Apple does a great job of managing software resources on the Mac, that 8GB of memory feels like a low ceiling.

So here’s what I did when Amazon ran a version of this same deal a few months ago: I paid to double both specs. For $1,249 (after clipping that same $50 on-screen coupon), you get 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. Yes, a terabyte or more would be even better, but you pick your battles. And this configuration still saves you a cool $250 off the Apple Store price for the same configuration, while being a lot more future-proofed. For instance, if you’re laptop shopping for a high school or college student, this stepped-up model will survive a 4-year academic stint with more comfort than that $849 version.

If that’s still too steep, you can split the difference with the 512GB MacBook Air M2. It doesn’t have the extra RAM, but the otherwise identical slightly older model still gets you a very capable, modern Apple laptop with decent storage for just $999. But don’t wait: these laptop deals end today, and we don’t know if we’ll be seeing them again before Black Friday.

Your Prime Day Shopping Guide: See all of our Prime Day coverage. Shop the best Prime Day deals on Yahoo Life. Follow Engadget for Prime Day tech deals. Hear from Autoblog’s experts on the best Amazon Prime Day deals for your car, garage, and home, and find Prime Day sales to shop on AOL, handpicked just for you.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/this-prime-day-macbook-air-deal-is-already-great-but-spending-more-makes-it-an-even-better-value-154304978.html?src=rss

The OmniBook Ultra 14 is HP’s first AMD-powered next-gen AI PC

Windows laptops are in a bit of transition thanks to the recent introduction of Microsoft’s Copilot+ PCs. However, that designation currently only applies to systems featuring Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite and X Plus chips. But now, with some help from AMD, HP’s OmniBook Ultra 14 is packing even better AI performance in a thin and light chassis.

Powered by AMD’s Ryzen AI 300 series chips, the OmniBook UItra 14 is said to deliver up to 55 TOPS of AI performance, which is more than the 45 TOPS you get from the Snapdragon X Elite and X Plus’ Hexagon NPU. HP claims this will support a range of new features including faster AI image generation, improved camera effects in video calls and more. Meanwhile for non-machine learning-related tasks, the OmniBook Ultra also sports an integrated Radeon 980 GPU. But perhaps most importantly, because AMD’s Ryzen AI 300 silicon is based on x86 architecture, you won’t run into app compatibility issues as you do with the existing crop of Arm-based Copilot+ PCs. That means you can play games like Fortnite and League of Legends whose anti-cheat systems have not yet been updated to work on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X chips.

To help expand the OmniBook UItra’s AI abilities, HP also created its own AI Companion app, which includes the company’s Wolf Security system, an improved version of its Smart Sense performance optimization tool, support for Windows Studio Effects and Poly Camera Pro and more. Notably, HP says the laptop will also get a free update that will unlock all of Windows 11’s current AI features like Image Creator and real-time transcription, which will make the OmniBook Ultra 14 an official Copilot+ PC. That said, there’s no official timetable for when that patch will be available.

As for the rest of the system, careful observers may have already noticed that the OmniBook Ultra sports a very familiar design. That’s because unlike HP’s Qualcomm-powered OmniBook X which was built using a brand new chassis, for its latest AI PC, HP reused the frame from one of its Spectre laptops for the Ultra. This is why the notebook features those distinctive angled corners. 

The OmniBook Ultra also has two Thunderbolt 4 ports (a first for any AMD-powered HP laptop), one USB Type-A slot and a 3.5mm audio jack. And while both the OmniBook X and OmniBook Ultra are 14-inch systems, the latter features a larger 68 Wh battery (versus 59 Wh for the OmniBook X), resulting in a slightly bulkier device that weighs 3.5 pounds and measures 0.65 inches thick (compared to 2.98 pounds and 0.57 inches for the X).

Unfortunately, at this point, it remains to be seen if AMD’s new AI-focused chip can deliver the same level of longevity we’ve gotten from current Copilot+ PCs, though HP is touting around 13 hours of life in Mobile Mark and up to 21 hours of continuous video playback.

The HP Omnibook Ultra is slated to go on sale sometime in August starting at $1,450.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-omnibook-ultra-14-is-hps-first-amd-powered-next-gen-ai-pc-143126124.html?src=rss

The best laptop power banks for 2024

Taking care of business doesn’t always happen within range of an outlet. Traveling, working off-site and decamping to a coffee shop are all situations where a laptop power bank could come in handy. These high-capacity batteries can recharge your devices — from tiny earbuds to power-hungry laptops — and can even top off more than one at a time. There aren’t quite as many laptop power banks on the market as there are standard portable chargers, but you’ll still find a fair number to consider. I tested out a handful and can recommend three that cover different needs when you’re far from an outlet but still need extra power.

If you just need to keep a smartphone from dying before you can make it home, just about any power bank will do. But if you need to revive multiple devices or the substantial battery of a laptop, you’ll want something with a high milliamp-hour​​ (mAh) capacity. A power bank capable of delivering a meaningful charge to a laptop will have a capacity between 20,000 and 27,000 mAh.

Go higher than 27K mAh and you won’t be able to take it on an airplane, which is why most portable chargers top out around that number. Since the voltage for most portable power banks is around 3.7 volts, a 27,000mAh battery translates to 99.9 watt hours — which is the maximum capacity the TSA will allow for carry-on luggage. (And note that these batteries can’t be checked, regardless of size).

If you want something even bigger than a laptop power bank, and don’t need to fly with it, you’ll likely want to look into portable power stations. These can be the size of a car battery or larger and can potentially fuel an entire weekend away.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the capacity listed on a power bank is not what will be delivered to your devices. As I mentioned, the voltage of most of these batteries is 3.7 volts. Most devices prefer their juice in a 5-volt flavor, so internal mechanisms convert the charge. That conversion lowers the deliverable capacity (it also dissipates some energy, as all conversions do). You can think about it like water in a bucket: water will stream out of a small (3.7 volt) hose for an hour, but that same amount of water will only pour out of a larger (5 volt) hose for 45 minutes. Just looking at conversion rates, a 20,000mAh battery should deliver around 14,000mAh to your various devices, but other factors like energy dissipation bring it down further. In my tests, I’ve averaged about a 60-percent efficiency rate between listed mAh capacity and actual charge delivered.

Every large power bank I’ve tested has at least three USB ports, with a mix of USB-C and USB-A, which should cover nearly any portable device you need to recharge — earbuds, phones, tablets, laptops, you name it. In addition to the different plug formats, some ports supply power at different wattages. For example, one USB-C port might be rated for 60 watts, while the one next to it is rated for 100 watts. So if you’ve got a device that’s capable of 70W fast charging, such as the new MacBook Air, you’d want to opt for the 100W port to get the best charging speeds possible. Note that devices with a smaller wattage draw won’t be negatively affected by connecting to ports with high ratings. For example, a Galaxy S24 Ultra, capable of 45W super fast charging, can happily plug into the 100W port. A device will only draw what it can take, regardless of what a port can supply. Just remember that the port, device and cable need to be at or above the desired wattage rating to achieve maximum charging rates.

Some of these larger batteries also have AC ports. It might seem like a natural fit to plug in your laptop’s power adapter for a recharge. But really, the AC port should only be for devices that can’t use USB — such as a lamp or a printer. Plugging a power adapter into the AC port only wastes energy through conversion. First, the battery converts its DC power to supply the port with AC power, then the power adapter converts that AC power back to DC so your laptop can take it in. And as you’ll remember from physics class, each time energy is converted, some is lost to heat and other dissipations. Better to cut out the middleman and just send that DC power straight from the battery to the device.

Also, you can use more than one port at a time with these devices; just remember that the speed of whatever you’re charging will likely go down, and of course, the battery is going to drain proportionally to what you’re refilling.

Just in the last year and a half that I’ve been testing portable power banks, wireless charging capabilities have noticeably improved. The first few I tried were painfully slow and not worth recommending. Now the wireless pads built into power banks are impressively fast — particularly, in my experience, when charging Samsung Galaxy phones (though the lack of a stabilizing magnetic connection like Apple’s MagSafe means they only work when rested flat on a pad). Most wireless charging connections can be used while other ports are also being employed, making them convenient for some mobile battlestation setups.

Of course, wireless charging is always less efficient than wired, and recharging from a portable battery is less efficient in general. If you want to waste as little energy as possible, you’re better off sticking to wired connections.

All power banks are designed to be portable, but there’s a big difference between a pocket-friendly 5,000mAh battery and one of these laptop-compatible bruisers. Most of the latter weigh between a pound and a half to two pounds, which is a considerable addition to a backpack. Many of the options listed here have a display to tell you how much charge remains in the battery, which is helpful when you’re trying to judiciously meet out charges to your devices. If a bank has a wireless connection, the pad is usually on the flat top and any available AC connection is usually at one end. Both may require you to engage those charging methods. Don’t be like me and grumble loudly that you got a bum unit without pressing (and sometimes double pressing) all the buttons first.

For the past year and a half, I’ve been testing and using dozens of portable batteries for our other battery guide. Some of those batteries include the higher-capacity laptop power banks you see here. I also got a hold of a few extra banks just for this guide to make sure we covered what’s available. I went for brands I’m already familiar with, as well as battery packs from well-received manufacturers I hadn’t tried before (like UGREEN and Lion Energy). I only considered banks with at least a 20,000mAh capacity and mostly stuck with those that rated 25,000mAh and higher.

Here’s everything we tested:

Due to shipping and travel issues, I wasn’t able to test two of the batteries I had slated: the HyperJuice 245W and the UGREEN Power Bank 25,000mAh. Once I’ve had a chance to see how these two perform — as well as any new worthy contenders that hit the market — I’ll update this guide accordingly.

I tested each power bank with an iPhone 15, a Galaxy S23 Ultra, an iPad Air (M1) and a 16-inch MacBook Pro with the M1 Pro chip. Even though these banks can charge multiple devices at once, I refilled one at a time, to make side-by-side comparisons more straightforward. I drained the batteries of the phones and tablets to between zero and five percent and then didn’t use any device as it refilled.

For the MacBook, I let it run down to 10 percent (which is when it gives you the “connect to power” warning) before plugging in the power bank. I then used it as one might in a mobile office, with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, while connected to Wi-Fi and a VPN.

For each test, I noted how long a completely charged battery took to get a device back to full and how much of the battery’s capacity was used up in one charge. I also noted things like portability, apparent durability, helpful features and overall design.

For reference, here are the battery capacities of the devices I used:

  • iPhone 15: 3,349mAh

  • Galaxy S23 Ultra: 4,855mAh

  • iPad Air (5th gen): 7,729mAh

  • 16-inch M1 Pro MacBook Pro: 27,027mAh

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-laptop-power-bank-120040388.html?src=rss

Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 review: Success at last

Ever since Apple’s MacBooks switched to the company’s homegrown M-series chips, Windows users have wondered when a similar revolution would happen to their machines. To Microsoft’s credit, it hasn’t been for a lack of trying. Way back in 2012, the company released the Surface RT with an Arm-based processor, which is the same architecture used in Apple’s silicon. Unfortunately, a tiny app library, sluggish performance and limited software compatibility made using one full-time kind of frustrating. Then in 2017, Microsoft renewed its efforts with Windows on Snapdragon. This led to systems like the Surface Pro X, which sported gorgeous hardware that was once again marred by lackluster processing power and spotty software support.

But as the old adage goes: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And after more than a decade of starts and stumbles, Microsoft has done it. By combining the powerful Oryon cores in Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite and X Plus chips with its new Prism emulator, Microsoft has turned the Surface Laptop 7 (and its sibling, the Surface Pro 11) into a nearly ideal productivity machine.

While the Surface Laptop 7 (or 7th Edition as Microsoft likes to call it) features fancy new silicon inside, not much has changed on the outside. But I’m not complaining. It has a sleek all-aluminum chassis with clean, minimalist lines, but doesn’t look like a MacBook. Microsoft has also made a few small tweaks like the addition of rounded corners on its display, a new haptic touchpad (similar to what’s on the Surface Laptop Studio 2) and a dedicated key for Copilot (more on that later).

Like before, the Surface Laptop 7 is available in two sizes. The smaller one features a slightly larger 13.8-inch display than before (up from 13.5) while the bigger model has stayed pat at 15 inches. There are also two USB 4 Type-C slots, one USB-A 3.1 jack, a microSD card reader and Microsoft’s magnetic Surface Connect port. So nothing unusual, but more than enough connectivity to handle most situations. And with the 13-inch model weighing just under three pounds (2.96 lb) and the 15-inch option coming in at 3.6 pounds, both versions won’t add much extra heft to your bag.

Between Qualcomm's Snapdragon X Elite chip and Microsoft's Prism emulator, the Surface Laptop 7 represents a major breakthrough for Arm-based Windows laptops.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

As for the display itself, the 15-inch PixelSense LCD display on our Surface Laptop 7 review unit is top-notch. On top of its 120Hz refresh rate, it’s been color-calibrated to deliver accurate hues while also offering great brightness (over 600 nits on a full white screen) and 10-point touch support. It’s even covered by Gorilla Glass 5 to prevent scratches and abrasion. I just wish there was the option to upgrade to an OLED panel like you can on the Surface Pro 11.

The most impressive thing about the Surface Laptop 7 is just how normal it feels. It’s super responsive, has instant wake times and just generally feels extremely speedy. But the best part is that you often can’t even tell the difference between running native Arm software or when the laptop is using Microsoft’s Prism emulator in the background to seamlessly translate apps originally designed for x86 chips. It’s really that smooth.

In benchmarks, the Snapdragon X Elite chip delivers on Qualcomm’s lofty performance claims. For example, in Geekbench 6, the Surface Laptop 7 posted multicore scores of 14,400, which is higher than a similarly equipped Dell XPS 14 with an Intel Core Ultra 7 155H chip (11,920). In fact, the X Elite in the Surface even managed to top the Core Ultra 9 CPU inside an ASUS ROG Zephyrus G16, which maxed out at 12,798.

The right side of the Surface Laptop 7 features Microsoft's magnetic Surface Connect port and a microSD card reader.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

However, it's important to note that the performance of the X Elite chip is based on how much juice it gets. On the 15-inch Surface Laptop 7, Microsoft allocates up to 30 watts to the processor. But on the smaller 13-inch model, it caps out at 20 watts, so while it should still be pretty fast, you will get better performance on the larger option. And though the Surface Laptop 7 isn’t fanless like a MacBook Air, even under load the notebook rarely got above a whisper quiet.

Finally, while most tools and apps just kind of work regardless of what architecture they were designed for, with Windows PCs still relatively early in the transition (at least this go around) to Arm-based systems, there are a handful of major apps that need a bit more time. Some of the big ones are Adobe products like Illustrator and InDesign, which won’t be available on Copilot+ PCs until sometime in July, while updated versions of After Effects and Premier Pro might not arrive until closer to the end of 2024.

The Surface Laptop 7 features a new haptic touchpad that's very accurate and responsive.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Microsoft has never said that the Surface Laptop 7 is a gaming machine. But given numbers from the ESA (Electronics Software Association) showing that 65 percent of Americans play some form of video game on a weekly basis, the laptop’s fragging abilities are probably worth a mention. Unfortunately, while the Snapdragon X Elite chip boasts decent benchmarks, a lot of titles that might otherwise be good fits for the Laptop 7 simply don’t run. A number of these are competitive games like Fortnite and League of Legends, which feature anti-cheat protocols that haven’t been updated to work on Arm-based chips. It’s doubly frustrating because in the case of LoL, the game installs normally and doesn’t display any warnings aside from Riot’s Vanguard system asking you to reboot your system before launching the game. But no matter how many times you do, the game never boots up.

That said, it’s not a completely lost cause. I’ve found that casual 2D titles like Into the Breach and Vampire Survivor run smoothly, so you still have some options. And if you want to play more demanding titles, there’s always streaming services like Xbox Cloud Gaming and NVIDIA GeForce Now, which by nature aren’t affected by architecture or OS limitations.

One of the big selling points for this new breed of Copilot+ PCs was supposed to be Microsoft’s built-in AI features. But in reality, they're more like occasionally useful bonuses. The tool with the most potential is Recall, which takes screenshots of your desktop so that AI can help you find things later. Unfortunately, due to concerns about its security, the feature will initially only be available to Windows Insiders before it’s officially released sometime in the future.

The Image Creator tool in the Photos app is one of Microsoft's new AI-powered Copilot+ features.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Meanwhile, other Copilot+ AI tools feel rather limited in scope. The Image Creator button in the Photos app lets you generate pictures based on word prompts and it largely delivers. But results still aren’t as detailed or realistic as what you get from more powerful cloud-based services like Midjourney. But hey, it’s free. To make things more confusing, in Paint, there’s another button also labeled Image Creator, but it’s actually an entirely different feature with a limited number of uses and results that aren’t quite as good as the similarly named option in Photos.

Ultimately, the most useful AI features are Live Captions and the Restyle Image tool in Photos. The former uses AI to creatively edit or transform existing shots, allowing you to change the style of a picture into something that looks like anime or an impressionistic painting, while the letter provides real-time translation for videos, podcasts and more. And even though Microsoft’s captions could be a touch more accurate, it’s generally good enough for you to get the gist of whatever you’re watching or listening to.

The left side of the Surface Laptop 7 features two USB4 ports (which also support charging) and a single USB-A 3.1 slot and a 3.5mm audio jack.
In case you don't feel like using's Microsoft's included power adapter, the Surface Laptop 7's USB4 ports also support charging. 
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Even though emulating apps meant for x86 processors might use a little more juice, the Surface Laptop 7 has more than enough battery life to go around. Though our usual rundown test hasn’t been updated for Arm-based chips yet, when I streamed a 1080p video over Wi-Fi, the device lasted 17 hours and 38 minutes, which is several hours more than I typically get from some similarly equipped Intel and AMD-powered rivals. And in general use, it often felt like the Laptop 7 fared even better, frequently finishing a day with around 50 percent charge.

Another advantage of the Snapdragon X chips is that there’s almost zero battery drain when the system is asleep, which I attribute to Qualcomm’s experience in making efficient smartphone processors. I noticed that the Surface Laptop 7 would lose just one or two percent of battery overnight, which gives you the confidence to leave it unplugged for days at a time.

For charging, you can either use the magnetic Surface Connect port with the included power brick. But another bonus is that the Surface Laptop 7 also supports charging via USB-C, so if you want to travel light and use a universal adapter to keep this and a bunch of other gadgets topped up, you totally can.

The Surface Laptop 7 features a sleek chassis made from recycled aluminum.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

While the road here was beset with bumps and potholes, the Surface Laptop 7 has arrived ready to compete. And it isn’t just a great rival to the MacBook Air, it’s paving a new road ahead for Windows PCs. It’s fast, quiet, has excellent battery life and plays nicely with most of your apps. Sure, a few major programs still need additional support and you may run into issues when trying to play games or installing niche software. And when you spec it up, it can get a bit pricey too. The 15-inch model starts at $1,300, but our review unit with a Snapdragon X Elite chip, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD goes for $2,100. Still, for general productivity, the Surface Laptop 7 and its Snapdragon X Elite chip are a revelation and a revolutionary step forward for Windows as we know it.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/microsoft-surface-laptop-7-review-success-at-last-120056125.html?src=rss

Surface Pro Copilot+ review: The best Surface tablet ever made, no thanks to AI

It's taken 12 years, but Microsoft has finally made an Arm-powered Surface tablet that I don't want to toss out of a window. The new Surface Pro, one of the company's first Copilot+ AI PCs, is astoundingly fast and power-efficient, thanks to Qualcomm's new Snapdragon X Elite chip. It can run native Arm apps well — but even better, it can also emulate older apps without much fuss. Basically, Microsoft has finally managed to do what Apple did with its M-series chips four years ago: Deliver killer laptops with power-sipping mobile chips.

Ironically, though, the Surface Pro's much-hyped AI features are far less compelling than the one-two punch of speed and solid battery life. At launch, the Surface Pro and other Copilot+ PCs can use the Cocreator in Paint to generate AI images alongside text prompts and doodles. They can also translate over 40 languages into English using Windows 11's Live Captions feature. The controversial Recall capability, however, is nowhere to be seen (Windows Insiders will be able to test it in the coming weeks, according to Microsoft, but there's no official public release date yet.)

Announced ahead of its Build developer conference last month, Copilot+ is Microsoft’s latest initiative aimed at getting consumers and device makers excited about AI PCs. Similar to Intel’s Evo PCs, Copilot+ systems need to meet a minimum range of specifications: They have to include a neural processing unit (NPU) with at least 40 TOPs (trillions of operations per second) of AI performance, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. While both Intel and AMD have tried to hype up the idea of an “AI PC” over the past year, there wasn’t much to actually do with them aside from using Windows Studio Effects in video chats.

To power the initial Copilot+ systems, Microsoft is partnering with Qualcomm to optimize Windows 11 for the chip maker's new Snapdragon X Elite and Plus models. Those processors are based on mobile Arm technology, instead of the x86 and x64 chips produced by Intel and AMD. Arm designs have typically led to poor performance and software incompatibility on Windows (see our reviews of the Surface Pro 9 5G and Surface Pro X as a refresher), but Microsoft says it’s finally optimized its OS to work better with the mobile architecture, and its new Prism emulator can also run older software far better than earlier solutions.

Recall is a clear example of Microsoft's reach exceeding its grasp. It was meant to help you find anything you were doing on your computer through a natural conversation with the Copilot AI assistant. But to do so, Recall continuously takes screenshots of your system, which are then stored on your hard drive. It didn’t take researchers long to find some obvious security gaps: it wasn’t tough for other accounts to get to your Recall data, and it was also easy pickings for remote hackers. Microsoft responded to the criticism by saying it would make Recall an opt-in feature, making it only accessible with biometric Windows Hello authentication and encrypting your database by default.

The lesson for Microsoft (and every other AI-hungry company) is that you have to build trust, ideally by prioritizing privacy and security, before forcing overbearing AI features onto your customers. The backlash against Recall comes from the company being blissfully unaware of how little people trusted it.

Surface Pro Copilot+ power connector
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

We’ve had many issues with the Surface lineup over the last few years, but the hardware has always been a step above typical PC laptops and tablets. That holds true for the new Surface Pro: It’s surprisingly thin and light, measuring 9.3 millimeters thick and weighing 1.97 pounds. Its recycled aluminum case makes it feel like a truly premium device, and the Surface Pro remains one of the most unique-looking devices on the market. I noticed plenty of furtive glances and curious faces as I tested it out in public — people were clearly intrigued by the way it looked. (Or perhaps they were just surprised to see one for the first time.)

As much as I like the Surface aesthetic, though, it’s hard to deny that Apple is bringing more significant stylistic breakthroughs with the iPad Pro. The new 13-inch model weighs just 1.28 pounds and is a mere 5.1mm thin — almost half as thick as the Surface Pro. From the start, Apple has had the advantage of designing the iPad Pro around efficient mobile chips, whereas the Surface Pro previously had to squeeze in laptop-grade Intel CPUs. Microsoft may be able to slim down the Surface Pro in the future, thanks to the advent of Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon chips, but for now buyers will have to live with new chips in familiar cases.

Surface Pro Copilot+ USB-C ports
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

And when I say familiar, I’m mainly referring to the Surface Pro’s built-in kickstand. It lets you prop up the tablet however you’d like, from a laptop-like angle to a nearly easel-like position when it’s completely opened. While it still gets the job done (and is something the iPad Pro and most other tablets don’t have), it also limits how you can use the Surface Pro. While you could always use it on a table, I’ve grown weary of balancing the metallic kickstand on my legs when working on the couch, hanging out in my backyard, or watching videos in bed.

Microsoft hasn’t updated the Surface Pro’s ports either: You’ve still got the magnetic Surface Connector for power, as well as two USB-C USB 4 connections on the opposite side. Sure, that’s more than you’d get on an iPad Pro, but that device isn’t being marketed as a full-fledged computer. There’s also no wired headphone jack on the Surface Pro, either, even though its case clearly has room for one. I’ve come to understand why some PC makers would rather have thin devices instead of a 3.5mm connection, but that reasoning doesn’t apply at all in this case.

Under the hood, the Surface Pro comes equipped with either the 10-core Snapdragon X Plus chip or the 12-core Snapdragon X Elite. The base $1,000 model comes with 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, but you can upgrade that to a 1TB SSD and up to 32GB of RAM. Microsoft also made the Surface Pro’s SSD easily accessible under the kickstand, so it’s a cinch to upgrade storage on your own down the line. (I’d still like to see an SD or microSD card slot, though.)

The Surface Slim Pen 2 ($130) remains the go-to stylus for Microsoft's tablets, and it's still a great device for doodling or jotting down notes. I don't think it's nearly as essential to the Surface experience as Microsoft used to claim, but for some users it can be helpful. It's well-balanced and easy to hold, and it charges easily as long as you get a keyboard with a Slim Pen slot.

Surface Pro Flex Keyboard
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Since the Surface is just a tablet, Microsoft doesn’t offer any of its keyboards in the box. So if you’re considering the Surface Pro, be sure to set aside at least $140 for the Pro Keyboard. If you’re interested in the Surface Slim Pen ($130 on its own), you can also get it bundled with the Surface Pro keyboard for $280. The new Surface Flex keyboard – which can still work when it’s detached from the tablet – is a whopping $350, or $450 together with the Slim Pen 2. That’s a hard price to stomach, admittedly, but I’ll explain later why the Flex may be worth it.

Surface Pro Copilot+
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The PixelSense screens on all of Microsoft’s Surface PCs have always impressed us – but in the end, they were just finely polished LCDs. The Surface Pro marks the first time Microsoft has offered OLED, which delivers better contrast, bolder colors and inky dark blacks. You’ll have to pay at least $1,500 to get the OLED screen, but in my testing it’s well worth the premium, since it makes everything on the Surface Pro look incredible.

The benefits of OLED were particularly noticeable when I watched The Acolyte, a Star Wars show that features plenty of bright colors alongside dark backgrounds. I’ll never stop being impressed by seeing truly pitch black scenes on OLED – on an LCD, they typically look more dark gray due to their backlights. The new display tech also impressed me while I was streaming Forza Horizon 5 or simply browsing websites, since it made text a bit easier to read and also made colors pop off the screen. The downside of living with OLED? It will quickly make every LCD in your life seem woefully outdated.

PCMark 10

Geekbench 6 CPU

3DMark Wildlife Extreme

Cinebench 2024

Microsoft Surface Pro (2024, Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite)

12,615

2,769/13,842

6,430

120/770

Microsoft Surface Pro 10 for Business (Intel Core Ultra 5 135U, Intel graphics)

5,772

2,085/8,827

2,546

90/524

Dell XPS 13 (Intel Core Ultra 7 155H, Intel Arc)

6,806

2,276/11,490

4,579

90/453

Apple MacBook Air (M3)

N/A

3,190/12,102

8,310

141/490

It’s not too often that I’m genuinely shocked while testing a device – chalk that up to writing about technology for 15 years and working in IT for eight years. But I’ll admit, I was blown away by the Surface Pro the instant I started using it. As soon as I opened it up, it was ready to set up Windows and get to work. I didn’t notice any of the usual slowdown or app incompatibilities I previously encountered on Arm-based Surfaces. Everything simply felt zippy. It was the same feeling I got when testing the M-series MacBooks: The Surface Pro is so fast and responsive I forgot it was using a mobile processor.

Then I started running benchmarks, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Our review unit with the Snapdragon X Elite scored 12,615 points in PCMark 10 — the highest we’ve ever seen on a laptop. In comparison, the next fastest PCMark 10 result we saw this year was the Framework Laptop 16, which reached 8,129 points with its beefy Ryzen 7840HS chip. The Surface Pro was also more than twice as fast as the Surface Pro 10 for Business (now it’s clear why Microsoft didn’t want to push that model on consumers).

Surface Pro Copilot+ kickstand view
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Now benchmarks aren’t everything, but the Surface Pro’s PCMark 10 score mirrored everything I was seeing during my usual workflow, which involves running dozens of tabs across Chrome and Edge, sending notes in Slack, editing images in Photoshop Elements 2022 and writing in Evernote. Most of the apps I used, including Slack, Spotify and Chrome, ran natively on the Surface Pro’s Arm chip, but I didn’t notice any hiccups on emulated apps like Evernote and Photoshop Elements.

Surface Pro Copilot+ AI features
The error message that appears when launching Fortnite on the Surface Pro.
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Ideally, most users shouldn’t have to worry about the type of app they’re running – it should all just work, much like Apple Silicon Macs. Unfortunately, there are still some Arm issues on Windows. Both Fortnite (above) and League of Legends refuse to launch because they rely on kernel-level anti-cheat solutions, and Samsung has also warned its Copilot+ customers about issues with some Adobe Creative apps. It’s up to developers to update their apps for Arm hardware, so these issues aren’t entirely a knock against Microsoft. But if you’re interested in any Copilot+ system, make sure all of your commonly used apps are supported. (Or you could also wait for future Intel and AMD Copilot+ PCs, which won’t run on Arm.)

While nobody will confuse the Surface Pro with a gaming PC, I was able to play the indie adventure title 1000xRESIST smoothly with a paired Xbox controller. For more demanding titles, though, you’re better off streaming. The Surface Pro was able to launch Forza Horizon 5 on Game Pass streaming in 15 seconds, and it looked almost indistinguishable from having the game run locally. (The only thing you lose with Xbox streaming is HDR support, which offers a wider range of colors and brightness levels.)

Surface Pro Copilot+ with Surface Flex Keyboard
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

I won’t make any excuses for the Surface Pro Flex keyboard’s exorbitant $350 price. It’s $50 more than the latest iPad Pro Magic Keyboard, and its cloth-like covering doesn’t feel nearly as luxurious as Apple’s smooth metal case. But, I’ve grown to love yanking off the Flex Keyboard and typing my heart away. Instead of precariously balancing the Surface Pro on my lap, like I have for the past 12 years, I can just prop the screen up on a table and keep the Flex keyboard in my lap.

I wrote most of this review while reclining on my deck, with only the weight of the keyboard’s 0.75 pound frame on my lap. Honestly, I’m not looking forward to going back to a traditional laptop. The Flex keyboard also let me work in spaces where the Surface’s kickstand got in the way, like a cramped cafe table. I could easily see it being useful on planes too, where you could easily keep the Flex keyboard on your lap while the Surface sits on your tray table. (It would also be ideal for newer planes that don’t have any built-in screens and expect you to hang your own tablet on the back of the seat in front.)

Surface Flex Keyboard
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

While I’d still love to see Microsoft rework the Surface Pro’s kickstand, I’ll admit the Flex keyboard has opened up more ways for me to use the tablet. Instead of craning down at the Surface Pro’s screen on my kitchen counter, I can place it atop a few boxes and keep the keyboard lower for more ergonomic typing. Thanks to the Flex keyboard’s wireless versatility, I can be productive almost anywhere with the Surface Pro. The keyboard is also great for lengthy writing sessions, with a satisfying amount of key travel and a large haptic trackpad.

Surface Pro Copilot+ AI features
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

As I mentioned at the start of this review, none of the Surface Pro's AI capabilities are compelling on their own. It was fun doodling with Paint's Cocreator, but I found the resulting AI images (a combination of your drawings, text input and generative AI engines) to be far less compelling than asking Copilot to generate DALL-E 3 pictures. Copilot+ PCs can also make AI images from the Photos app, which also offers a slightly better interface for controlling the AI's creativity level and stylistic keywords.

It's still unclear what most people would do with these images, outside of sending them to friends or plugging them into boring presentations. Apple's upcoming Genmoji feature, which lets you create custom emojis with AI, seems far more useful in comparison.

Similarly, Microsoft's Live Captions feature seems like something people would actually want to use. Any Windows 11 PC running the 22H2 update (released in late 2022) can tap into its basic ability to subtitle video, but Copilot+ PCs can also automatically translate 44 languages into English. I tested it across a few anime shows and Spanish films, and the resulting captions were understandable but not as precise as properly translated subtitles. I could see these translations being useful in a pinch though, and they also work across video chats, so it may be helpful while working across language barriers.

Copilot+ PCs can also tap into a few new Windows Studio Effects, including a Portrait Light for brightening up your face and creative filters for illustrated, animated and watercolor effects. I found the latter filters to be fairly useless and a bit ugly, but the Portrait Light helped during video calls in my dark basement office. The existing Studio Effects, like automatic framing, eye contact adjustment and background blur options, will continue to work on older Windows 11 AI PCs as well as Copilot+ systems.

Surface Pro Copilot+
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The Surface Pro lasted 12 hours and 15 minutes in the PCMark 10 Applications battery benchmark, which is a bit less than we've seen on comparable systems. The Surface Pro 10 for Business eked out a bit longer, 12 hours and 20 minutes, on the Modern Office benchmark, while the Dell XPS 13 hit 13 hours and 15 minutes. It's worth noting that PCMark 10 was being emulated on the Surface Pro, though its script launches native applications like the Office suite.

During my typical usage, I noticed that the battery life held strong for most of my workday. After eight hours of on-and-off work, it typically had around 40 percent of its charge left. Clearly, there's still room for optimization with the new Snapdragon processors, and Surface Pro owners will likely see better battery life as more apps gain native Arm support.

Unlike the recent MacBook Air models, the Surface Pro still has fans. And based on my testing, you'll hear them once you start downloading large files or running anything that taps into the GPU. The whirring noise isn't loud, exactly, but it's a noticeable in a quiet room. The Surface Pro also gets fairly warm during light gaming and software downloads — it's not enough to burn you, but it's not something you'd want on your lap during a hot day.

Surface Pro Copilot+
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

I’ll give Microsoft some credit for finally giving its base Surface Pro model 16GB of RAM. $1,000 is a surprisingly affordable entry point for the Surface Pro lineup, just remember you’ll have to spend at least $140 more for the companion keyboard. If you’re considering it as your primary computer, it’s worth spending $200 more for 512GB of storage. You could also jump straight to the $1,500 Surface Pro with the Snapdragon X Elite chip, OLED screen, 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD.

Our review unit, which included the OLED screen and Flex keyboard, would cost $1,950 altogether. That’s more than I’d want to spend for an ultraportable, so if you’re pinching pennies, the new Surface Laptop is a far better deal. It also starts at $999, but that includes a keyboard and a slightly larger screen than the Surface Pro. Sure, it won’t function as a tablet, but you could even buy an iPad or Android slate and still end up spending far less than $1,950.

At the moment, there aren’t any other Copilot+ PC-branded hybrid tablets on the market, but if you’re just looking for a new laptop, the ASUS Vivobook S 15, Dell XPS 13 (with Snapdragon) and HP Omnibook X 15 all seem to be solid options. We haven’t tested those Copilot+ systems yet, but we’re planning to get our hands on many of them soon.

Surface Pro Copilot+ kickstand view
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The Surface Pro is fast, stylish and, together with the Flex keyboard, lets me work comfortably almost anywhere. While I'd love to see a different kickstand design eventually, and I think the keyboards should definitely be cheaper, Microsoft has done the impossible with the Surface Pro Copilot+ PC: It's created an Arm-based Surface I don't hate. I dare say, I love it.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/surface-pro-copilot-review-the-best-surface-tablet-ever-made-no-thanks-to-ai-160039966.html?src=rss

ChatGPT for macOS no longer requires a subscription

The macOS ChatGPT desktop app is now available to everyone. That is, provided you’re running an Apple Silicon Mac (sorry, Intel users) and your computer is on macOS Sonoma or higher. OpenAI rolled out the app gradually, starting with Plus subscribers last month.

ChatGPT now has an official macOS client before it has a Windows one. (In case you haven’t heard, Microsoft is its most crucial partner.) Of course, Windows 11 has the OpenAI-powered Microsoft CoPilot baked into its OS, which likely explains the omission. OpenAI and Apple are also teaming up on Apple Intelligence, which arrives later this year (unless you’re in Europe).

The Mac app includes a keyboard shortcut (option-space by default, but it’s customizable) for typing chatbot queries from anywhere in macOS. Otherwise, the app mirrors the ChatGPT website’s appearance and functionality (including custom GPTs), except in native app form. You can also upload files, photos and screenshots.

You can download and install ChatGPT for macOS from OpenAI.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/chatgpt-for-macos-no-longer-requires-a-subscription-204959264.html?src=rss

The latest MacBook Pro beats my high-end PC for content creation

I’ve always been a PC guy, even when other content creators were waving MacBooks around. I’ll state up front that I don’t game, so everything I do on a laptop revolves around video editing. To handle that, I use a high-end desktop Windows machine at home and up till recently had a Gigabyte Aero 15X laptop for video editing on the go.

Then, the Aero 15X died. The keyboard stopped working and the Thunderbolt 3 port failed. I didn’t even really mourn the loss — it was always noisy and hot. Battery life was never great, and to do any serious video work, I had to plug it in with a comically large and heavy power brick.

It was time for a new laptop, but I had no intention of reliving my Gigabyte experience. Instead, I wanted to find the best laptop for image and video editing — a lightweight, powerful and cool computer with long battery life. I needed to edit 4K video on DaVinci Resolve while doing color correction, as well as adding effects and titles. I also do RAW photo editing, so I’d be using Photoshop and Lightroom regularly, too.

I eyed a MacBook Pro M3, but figured it would be too expensive. After checking, I was surprised to find that the gap between the price of a new MacBook Pro and a Windows laptop with similar performance has been less since Apple started using its own Silicon.

So I made the leap and purchased a 16-inch MacBook Pro with an M3 Pro chip (12-core CPU and 18-core GPU), 36GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. From what I’d read, that would be enough to handle challenging edits. I paid $3,100 in Canada including taxes, with the same machine selling for about $200 less in the US.

I bought: A MacBook Pro M3 beats high-end PCs for content creation
Steve Dent for Engadget

I put my new MacBook to work right away when I created a video review of the Nikon Z8 while in Vancouver. Later, I edited a review of the Fujifilm X100 VI in London and did a hands-on video for Panasonic’s S9 camera from Japan. Those projects gave me a good feel for the MacBook’s performance, battery life and usability while on the road.

Back at home, I was curious to compare the MacBook to my desktop PC. While not state-of-the-art, the latter still has impressive specs with an AMD Ryzen 9 5900 12-core CPU, NVIDIA RTX 3080 Ti GPU and 64GB of RAM. To that end, I expected the two machines to be relatively competitive, performance-wise.

I use mirrorless cameras like the Canon EOS R6 II and Panasonic’s S5 II, which output up to 6K 10-bit 4:2:2 Log H.264 or H.265 Quicktime files. Those formats usually tax a computer’s processor and GPU, so I wasn’t expecting real-time playback.

However, I noticed that I could smoothly play those video files in DaVinci Resolve on my MacBook Pro with no rendering or conversion required. I can’t do that on my well-specced desktop PC, so what was going on?

It turns out that even recent NVIDIA and AMD GPUs can’t decode many of those commonly used formats in real time, as systems integrator and benchmark specialist Puget Systems revealed recently. It is doable with some of the formats (not H.264) on newer Intel CPUs with Quick Sync tech on DaVinci Resolve 18 Studio or later.

I bought: A MacBook Pro M3 beats high-end PCs for content creation
Real-time playback of 8K H.265 files with multiple color correction nodes? No problem.
Steve Dent for Engadget

The ability to edit these files straight out of the camera was a major quality-of-life improvement, as it eliminated a time- and storage-wasting step.

I also saw real-time playback on my Mac in most circumstances with no rendering. That includes sequences with 6K and 8K video, color correction on most clips, titles, multiple layers, optical-flow time-warping and stabilization.

In contrast, my high-end desktop PC not only requires me to convert my video files but also to enable timeline rendering, particularly with 6K or 8K video. Both of those things take up time and can consume hundreds of gigabytes of disc space.

While the MacBook felt fast, I also wanted to see how it compared to my Windows machine more objectively. I used the PugetBench Creator benchmark suite, which compares performance between machines on commonly used creator apps like Photoshop, Premiere Pro and Davinci Resolve.

Considering my PC didn’t perform as well for video-editing, the results surprised me. The MacBook Pro M3 did come out on top in Photoshop tests, garnering an overall score of 10,076 compared to 7,599 for my desktop PC. That’s largely due to the superior M3 processor.

I bought: A MacBook Pro M3 beats high-end PCs for content creation
Steve Dent for Engadget

However, my PC out-benchmarked the MacBook Pro for video-editing by a pretty wide margin, thanks to its faster GPU. The Apple machine saw an overall score of 4,754 on the Premiere Pro PugetBench tests in high power mode, while my PC hit 8,763.

There are no public PugetBench tests yet for DaVinci Resolve, but Puget Systems’ own scores show that high-end PCs handily outperform high-end MacBook Pro models on that app. The PC is generally better when working with RAW formats and easily beats the MacBook Pro for GPU effects, AI features and encoding to H.264 and H.265 formats.

These results show that benchmarks don't paint a full picture. The relative power of a computer depends on what you’re doing with it, and in my case, the ability to edit certain video formats without rendering outweighed pure speed. However, people who use more effects or work with ProRes or RAW formats may be better off with a powerful PC.

All that said, a lot of the stuff I hated about my Windows laptop had nothing to do with performance. I was often annoyed by my Aero 15X’s weight (if you include the power brick), heat, noise, build quality and relatively useless trackpad.

Since I bought the MacBook Pro 16, I’ve never felt it get overly hot and the fans rarely kick in, even while editing video. By contrast, there’s not a single Windows creator PC I’ve heard of that doesn’t generate excessive heat and fan noise under intensive loads.

I bought: A MacBook Pro M3 beats high-end PCs for content creation
Add a second display like this Ricoh portable 150BW model
Steve Dent for Engadget

Another major bonus with the MacBook is that it offers the same performance whether plugged in or not, but the same can’t be said for most PCs. Many throttle down when unplugged, substantially reducing performance.

If you need to edit on the go and don’t have access to AC power, the MacBook wins here as well. While editing on DaVinci Resolve, it can go three to four hours on battery power alone, triple what my Gigabyte laptop could do. And it takes the MacBook Pro just 1.5 hours to get to a full charge, compared to around 2 hours minimum for Dell’s XPS 17 9730. It charges considerably faster, as well.

It’s also less of a grunt to lug than my Aero was, as it weighs a less and the charger is much lighter, too. Finally, the trackpad is much better, to the point that I can even edit videos without a mouse, something I could never say with the Aero or any other PC laptop I’ve owned.

While I have my quibbles — I dislike the webcam notch, for instance — I've otherwise found the MacBook Pro 16 M3 to be nearly perfect. As it stands now, Windows laptops using Intel and AMD silicon might be able to match it in performance, but they lag far behind in efficiency. That may change with the new Qualcomm laptops or NVIDIA’s upcoming 5000-series GPUs, but for now, Apple’s products are hard to beat for traveling content creators like me.

Update June 24, 2023: The article has been corrected to state that the Gigabyte Aero 15x has a Thunderbolt 3 port, not a Lightning port. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-latest-macbook-pro-beats-my-high-end-pc-for-content-creation-130053351.html?src=rss

The best portable SSDs for 2024

Whether you want to back up the data on your PC, transfer videos from your Mac or offload a few games from your PlayStation 5, a portable SSD is an easy way to expand your storage. These little bricks may cost more than traditional external hard drives, but they’re significantly faster, lighter and more reliable. But figuring out the best portable SSD for you isn’t as simple as just picking the one with the lowest price or the most space. (Well, it can be, but that wouldn’t be very efficient.) To help, we’ve spent the last few months weeding through the portable SSD market, testing a bunch of contenders and sorting out which ones provide the most value. You can find our top picks, plus an overview of what to know before buying, below.

The first thing to figure out before buying a portable SSD is just how much storage space you need. Most of the drives we considered for this guide are available in capacities ranging from 1TB to 4TB, though plenty of smaller and larger options exist.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule for which size is “best” — that’ll ultimately depend on your budget and what exactly you’re looking to stash. But in general, it’s better to overcompensate than underdo it. Nobody wants to be forced into buying a second drive because they filled the first one up too quickly. If you’re backing up a PC, a good rule of thumb is to buy a portable SSD with twice as much space as your computer’s internal storage. This way, you can save at least one full backup while also having room for additional data. If you want to store a bunch of PlayStation or Xbox games with huge install sizes, you may need more space. If you just want to back up a small collection of files, you may be better off saving your cash and just getting a smaller USB flash drive instead, which aren’t quite the same as the portable SSDs we tested for this guide.

In general, you get a better price-per-gigabyte ratio the further you go up the capacity ladder. As of this writing, the 1TB Samsung T9 is priced at $135, or $0.14 per gigabyte (GB), while the 4TB version is available for $360, or $0.09 per GB. That technically makes the larger model a better “value,” but not everyone needs to pay that much more upfront.

SSDs in the same speed class tend to not vary too wildly in terms of performance, so part of our decision-making for this guide came down to which ones are often the cheapest. But prices can fluctuate over time; if you see that one of our top picks is priced way higher than a comparable honorable mention, feel free to get the latter. At this point in time, costs are broadly trending upwards.

A portable SSD plugs into the side of a MacBook Pro on a brown wooden table.
Photo by Jeff Dunn / Engadget

Just about all portable SSDs are significantly faster than mechanical hard drives, so you’ll save time waiting for files to transfer and games to load no matter what. Within the market, however, there are distinct performance tiers. These are defined in large part by the USB interface a drive supports. While all of the SSDs we considered for this guide can connect over USB-C, some USB-C connections can supply faster transfer speeds than others. Sorting through this can get real confusing real fast, so we’ll try to put it in simple terms.

Essentially, you can divide today’s crop of portable SSDs into five segments. At the top are drives that utilize Thunderbolt 3 or 4 or the more recent USB4 spec, which have a theoretical maximum transfer rate of 40 gigabits per second (Gbps). Note that USB4 comes in two different variants, though, one of which is limited to 20 Gbps. Below that is USB 3.2 Gen 2x2, which also tops out at 20 Gbps. (Getting confused yet?) Then you have USB 3.2 Gen 2, which maxes at 10 Gbps. Next is USB 3.2 Gen 1, which is capped at 5 Gbps. Lastly, we’ll bundle together SSDs that use older standards and aren’t worth considering here.

For everyday folks, a good USB 3.2 Gen 2 drive is the sweet spot between fast enough performance and a cheap enough price, so those make up our chief recommendations below. If you work in a creative field or don’t mind paying extra to shave seconds off your large file transfers, though, a “higher-tier” model would make sense. However, note that systems that utilize USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 aren’t super common — no Mac supports it, for one — and the interface is effectively being replaced by USB4. 

In general, your chain is only as strong as its weakest link: If your computer only has USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports, for example, you could still use a Thunderbolt SSD, but you won’t get beyond Gen 2 speeds. Make sure you know what you’re working with before you buy.

As a refresher, storage devices are broadly measured in terms of read and write speeds. The former refers to how long it takes to access something from the drive; the latter, how long it takes to save something to it. From there, you can break these metrics into sequential and random performance. Sequential speeds tend to matter more with portable SSDs, since most people use them to save or access long, constant streams of data such as a bunch of high-res photos. Random speeds would be important if you want to run video games off the drive, since that’d involve reading and writing smaller, more scattered files. Either way, how well an SSD can sustain its performance with extended use is also critical.

A modern portable SSD’s speeds aren’t just about its USB interface, though. Its performance can also depend on how advanced its controller is, whether it has a native USB flash controller or a separate bridge chip to communicate with a host device, the kind and quality of NAND flash memory it uses, whether it has a DRAM cache or it’s DRAM-less, and more.

We’re simplifying things, but here are some quick tips: Drives with triple-level cell (TLC) memory aren’t as cheap as quad-level cell (QLC) SSDs, but they’re generally more reliable and they offer better write performance. Having a dedicated DRAM cache helps if you plan to hit your drive with more intense, sustained workloads, but may not be worth the extra cost for most people. Some models with native flash controllers may not perform as well as those with a bridging chip, depending on the SSD inside, but they typically draw less heat and are physically smaller. All of this is to say that a portable SSD’s speeds aren’t quite as straightforward as what the manufacturer chooses to advertise on the box.

It’s also worth remembering that you can turn an “internal” SSD into a portable solution with a good enclosure. If you have a spare drive and don’t mind going the DIY route, this can be a cheaper and more flexible solution, though we’ve stuck to pre-built models for this guide for the sake of simplicity.

A set of objects rest in a line on a brown wooden table from smallest to largest, showcasing the size differences between them. Left to right: the Crucial X9 Pro, the Kingston XS1000, a library card, the ADATA SE920, an Apple TV 4K remote, the OWC Express 1M2 and a 500mL Poland Spring water bottle.
Photo by Jeff Dunn / Engadget

Most portable SSDs are impressively small and light, so they won’t be difficult to tuck in a bag (or even a pocket) and take on the go. We note below if any drive is bulkier than usual.

Nothing we’re talking about matters if your drive can’t last in the long term. It’s hard to definitively say which portable SSDs are the most reliable, but we scoured through user reviews and feedback while researching this guide to ensure none of our picks show a pattern of catastrophic errors. If there was too much smoke around a particular model, we steered clear. We ruled out certain drives from SanDisk and WD, for instance, after reports from Ars Technica and The Verge noted an issue that led to data loss (and lawsuits) in 2023.

That said, one of the big reasons you’d buy an SSD in general is its superior durability. Because it has no moving mechanical parts inside, a portable SSD has far fewer avenues to failure than an external hard drive. You still don’t want to be careless with them, but an accidental drop shouldn’t be the end of the world.

Some portable SSDs build on this inherent ruggedness with plastic or rubberized casings and more robust waterproofing. These aren’t necessary for everyone, but if you’re a frequent traveler or someone who often works outdoors, there are options for you.

Still, all drives can fail. If you have any sort of data you’d be distraught to lose, you should back it up regularly, then make a second backup, ideally with a cloud service. Along those protective lines, we also took note of the warranty policy for each drive we tested. Just about all of them are backed for either three or five years; of course, longer is better.

It’s not uncommon to store sensitive data on a portable SSD, so some models offer extra security features like hardware-based encryption — i.e., direct scrambling of data stored on the drive itself — built-in keypads and fingerprint readers to protect against unauthorized access if the drive is lost or stolen. While not top requirements, perks like these are certainly good to have. Some SSDs also come with companion software to further manage the drive. The best of those can be handy to have around, but we wouldn’t call them essential.

Unfortunately, we did not have access to a device that can make full use of USB 3.2 Gen 2, USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 and Thunderbolt 4/USB4 speeds interchangeably, so we had to split our testing across multiple devices, including an M1 Pro MacBook Pro and an Alienware gaming PC running Windows 11. Because of this, we primarily compared the portable SSDs within each “class” against one another. Before switching OSes, we reformatted each drive to each platform’s standard file system format: APFS for macOS and NTFS for Windows.

After researching which SSDs had enough positive feedback to be worth testing in the first place, we put 13 drives through a range of synthetic and “real-world” benchmark tests. On Windows, these included CrystalDiskMark, PCMark 10’s Data Drive Benchmark and 3DMark’s gaming-focused Storage Benchmark. On macOS, we used AmorphousDiskMark (effectively a Mac version of CrystalDiskMark), BlackMagic Disk Speed Test and ATTO Disk Benchmark.

We also timed how long it took for each drive to read and write a custom 70GB folder filled with roughly 11,500 different files, including photos, videos, music files, PDFs and other large and small data types scattered across numerous subfolders. We performed multiple passes for each test to avoid irregularities, and we kept track of each SSD’s heat levels over the course of the whole suite. Our process wasn't a perfect science, but it gave us a general sense of how each drive compares to other models in its price and performance range.

The pre-built OWC Express 1M2 is a premium-feeling USB4 SSD that’s roughly as fast as the ADATA SE920, but it’s larger and significantly more expensive as of this writing.

If you’re in the relatively small group with a PC that supports USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 but not Thunderbolt or USB4, the Crucial X10 Pro is essentially a faster version of our top pick. The Lexar SL600 is a larger but slightly quicker option, while the Lexar SL500, Kingston XS2000 or Samsung T9 could also work if you see them on discount. As a reminder, though, drives like these are aimed primarily at content creators and other professionals, and you have to make sure you won’t upgrade to a device with a faster USB interface anytime soon.

The Samsung T7 Shield has a conveniently rugged design with a rubberized, IP65-rated shell. It also comes with both USB-C and USB-A cables. But it was consistently slower than the X9 Pro and XS1000 in our benchmark tests, plus it has a shorter three-year warranty.

The Silicon Power PX10 is an especially affordable USB 3.2 Gen 2 model. Its peak speeds weren’t too far off the X9 Pro or XS1000 in synthetic benchmarks, but it can get distractingly hot and its sustained writes are markedly worse. It took 50 seconds longer to move our 70GB custom test folder to this drive compared to the X9 Pro, for example.

The Crucial X6 is another low-cost option that’s a good bit slower than our top picks. It’s limited to a three-year warranty and lacks an IP rating as well. It’s not a terrible option for the basics, but there’s little reason to get it over the XS1000 when their prices are similar.

The OWC Envoy Pro FX is well-built and supports Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.2 Gen 2, but it’s a smidge slower than the SE920 and Express 1M2, and it’s much pricier than the former.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-portable-ssd-120043652.html?src=rss

Apple Intelligence AI, iOS 18 and the biggest announcements at WWDC 2024

Yesterday's Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference keynote teased a lot of what users can expect this fall when big iOS, iPadOS, macOS and watchOS updates hit their devices. Changes coming include RCS support in Messages, a new Passwords app, a revamped Calculator app for iPhone and iPad and a bunch of artificial intelligence (AI) infusions across the board with the new "Apple Intelligence" system. The latter will bring some of the biggest updates to Apple devices in years, including generative AI image creation, "Genmoji" custom emojis, text summarization and even some ChatGPT integration as well. If you weren't able to catch the news live, here's a rundown of everything announced at WWDC 2024.

Apple Intelligence
Apple

Apple revealed its plans to incorporate AI into its operating systems at WWDC this year. Dubbed "Apple Intelligence," this new generative AI system will appear in iOS and iPad 18 and macOS Sequoia in the form of (what Apple believes to be) practical tools that most people can use regularly. Those features include new writing tools that can help you rewrite, proofread and summarize things like emails and other messages, original emoji and image creation and more. Going hand-in-hand with original image generation is a new feature called Genmoji, which allows users to create their own unique emojis by typing in descriptions and requirements like "T-rex wearing a tutu on a surfboard."

Siri is getting an AI infusion, now that it will be powered in part by large language models. In addition to asking Siri to delete an email or edit a photo, users will also be able to ask the virtual assistant to summarize articles and webpages in Safari and even extract personal information from a picture of an ID so it can fill out an online form for them. The company emphasized the importance of "personal context" with Apple Intelligence, which will enable things like using natural language to search for photos that contain only specific family members or friends.

Apple highlighted how most Apple Intelligence actions will be done on-device to make the system as privacy-focused as possible. For queries that cannot be done locally, the work will be sent to Apple's processing centers. The company also created Private Cloud Compute, a feature that's supposed to utilize the cloud for more advanced AI processing while also making sure your data remains secure.

OpenAI's ChatGPT is also integrated into Apple Intelligence, allowing users to give Apple permission to share their queries with ChatGPT "when it might be helpful." Examples provided include asking for menu ideas that incorporate specific ingredients, or asking for decor advice while providing a photo of a space that needs sprucing up. ChatGPT will also work with the AI writing tools coming to iOS and iPadOS 18 in a new Compose feature. ChatGPT integration with iOS 18, iPadOS 18 and macOS Sequoia will roll out later this year, and apparently Apple intends to add support for other AI models in the future — meaning its partnership with OpenAI isn't a long-term exclusive.

iOS 18
Apple

The next iPhone software update will roll out to users in the fall and, as expected, one of the biggest changes is support for Rich Communication Service, or RCS. The messaging protocol offers many improvements over SMS including end-to-end encryption, better media sharing and support for proper group chats. Apple previously stated it would adopt support for RCS in 2024 to comply with EU regulations, so it's unsurprising to see it mentioned in iOS 18's forthcoming features. Also new to Messages will be the ability to "tapback" reply using emojis and stickers, text formatting and effects and the ability to send messages via satellite.

iPhone users will have more control over their home screens in iOS 18 thanks to the fact that it will not be a locked grid system anymore. Users will be able to move app icons more freely, plus they'll be able to change app icon colors as well use a tint color picker. In terms of design and layout, this is one of the biggest changes to come to the iPhone's home screen in years and it gives iOS users similar features to those Android users have had for a long time. In the same vein, Control Center will be updated in iOS 18 to include more customization options, and will allow users to program quick controls from third-party apps in addition to the native options.

The Photos app is getting a big redesign in iOS 18, putting an emphasis on intelligently organized groups of photos that revolve around memories, trips and other big events. The new design ditches the old tabbed layout and will usher in a one-page design when you can view all of your photos individually, or view them by Collections. Users will also be able to filter out things like screenshots and receipts that would show up in a chronological format, but would otherwise mess up a tightly curated group of vacation photos.

A couple of new privacy features stand out in iOS 18, namely the ability to lock and hide apps. For the former, users can lock an app so sensitive information stays behind a Face-ID or Touch-ID wall, preventing those who you casually hand your iPhone to from seeing that information. Hiding an app, on the other hand, does exactly what you think: hides a program in a special hidden folder that others won't be able to see.

The Calculator app is getting a big overhaul in iOS 18, including improved unit conversions, a sidebar showing recent activity and integration with the Notes app. But what might be even more notable is the fact that the revamped Calculator app will not only be available on iPhones and Macs — it's coming to iPads for the first time as part of the iPadOS 18 update. Embedded within the iPadOS Calculator app is a new feature called Math Notes, which lets users write out math equations with the Apple Pencil and the app will solve many of them instantly.

iPadOS 18 will also feature a new Tab Bar, which looks similar to the Dynamic Island on iPhones. This bar makes it easier to access essential controls even when you're in apps, and depending on what you're doing, it can show up at the top of the screen or as a sidebar of sorts on the left of the display. The Notes app in iPadOS is getting another new feature called Smart Script, which will make users' handwriting more legible automatically.

macOS Sequoia
Apple

The next iteration of Apple's computer software will be called macOS Sequoia. In addition to many of the AI features also coming to iOS and iPadOS 18 as part of Apple Intelligence, the next macOS update will include iPhone mirroring, which lets users see and control their iPhone screen on a Mac screen. They'll be able to use their keyboard and trackpad to intact with the iPhone screen on their laptop, and they can even open iOS apps directly on their computers without picking up their iPhone at all.

A new Passwords app builds upon the technology of iCloud Keychain to save all of users' passwords and login credentials across devices and platforms (it will be available on Windows in addition to iOS and iPadOS). Along with standard passwords, the new app can save passkeys, verification codes and more, and give users the ability to securely share passwords with others.

Other updates coming in macOS Sequoia include a snap window arrangement tool with accompanying keyboard and menu shortcuts, Presenter Preview, which lets you see what you're about to share with call partners before they see it, and gaming upgrades like improved Windows porting capabilities using Gameporting Toolkit 2. Users will also get access to Image Playground in macOS Sequoia, Apple's AI image generator built into Apple Intelligence. It provides the ability to create AI-generated images in different styles, including animation, illustration and sketch.

watchOS 11
Apple

The next software update for the Apple Watch includes two big changes: Training Load and a new Vitals app. Training Load in watchOS 11 essentially uses many of the health and fitness metrics collected during workout tracking to estimate your effort level each time. Each workout will receive a rating from one (easy) to 10 (all out) that estimates how hard the user worked during that particular session.

The new Vitals app will show Apple Watch users how their captured health data, including heart rate, compares to baseline measurements. This will hopefully allow users to better understand when something might be off and outside the "normal" range.

The Activity app on iPhone is also getting an update to accompany watchOS 11, and will allow users to customize the data they see on the homepage so they can put their most important stats front and center. Cycle Tracking will also get an update to include more detailed pregnancy insights, including gestational age and information about the user's health metrics that may related to pregnancy (like heart rate fluctuations). 

visionOS 2
Apple

Until now, Apple's Vision Pro headset has only been available in the US. That's changing soon as the company announced the device's rollout in additional countries including Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Singapore and the UK in the coming months. As far as the headset's software (visionOS) goes, Apple announced that visionOS 2 will add spatial photos, which adds depth to images in the Photos app, new UI gesture controls and improved Mac screen mirroring with support for higher resolutions and display sizes.

AirPods Pro
Apple

Apple briefly mentioned some software updates coming to AirPods Pro, including improved Voice Isolation, which should help the buds better pick up a user’s voice in noise environments. A new Siri Interaction is coming to AirPods Pro as well: a silent head-nod will allow users to answer an incoming call without saying a word out loud to Siri, and contrast, a shake of the head will decline a call. These silent interactions will also be applicable to messages and notifications.

Catch up here for all the news out of Apple's WWDC 2024.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/apple-intelligence-ai-ios-18-and-the-biggest-announcements-at-wwdc-2024-184422501.html?src=rss

Apple’s MacBook Air M3 drops to an all-time low of $899

There's a bit of an Apple price war happening between Amazon and B&H Photo, which is good news for buyers. The 13-inch MacBook Air M3 with 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM just hit its lowest price yet at both Amazon and B&H, falling to just $899 or $200 (18 percent) off the retail price. In addition, the 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M3 Pro chip (18GB of RAM, 512GB storage) is on sale for $1,699, or 15 percent ($300) off at Amazon and B&H — another all-time low.

We think the 13-inch MacBook Air with the M3 chip is the best laptop for most people and, unsurprisingly, it's also our top pick for the best MacBook you can buy. Engadget's Devindra Hardawar gave it a score of 90 in his review when the computer came out last month. It's slim and light yet sturdy, and the keyboard and trackpad are comfortable to use.

The bright display is accurate and the battery will far outlast a typical workday. The new chip gives the notebook a performance boost according to our benchmark testing, which should help power users but may not be noticed as much for productivity chores. The only potential drawback is USB-C ports located only on one side, but otherwise this is a fantastic laptop, especially at that price. Again, you can purchase it either at Amazon or B&H Photo Video in multiple colorways. Note that other configurations (more RAM and storage) are also on sale, though with lesser discounts.

If extra performance is required, the 14-inch MacBook Pro with 18GB or RAM and 512GB storage is on sale for $1,699 — again, at both B&H and Amazon. Apple released the new 2023 MacBook Pro last November with three different M3 chips: the standard, M3 Pro and M3 Max. The mid-range model is what's currently on sale and offers a 14.2-inch screen, a Liquid Retina XDR display and a magic keyboard with touch ID. It has 18GB of RAM, a 14-core GPU and 512GB of SSD storage. Plus, it has 18 hours of battery life.

This is a solid model for creators as the M3 Pro has power to burn and it's very connection-friendly with three Thunderbolt 4 ports, an HDMI port, a headphone jack, a MagSafe charging port and even an SDXC card slot. If you've been looking to buy, it's best to act soon before the deal ends or stock runs out.

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This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/apples-macbook-air-m3-drops-to-an-all-time-low-of-899-124519802.html?src=rss