Last week, NBA Digital announced it was going to stream one live game per week in a VR-optimized experience. That sounds cool and exotic, but there’s also another new way you’ll be able to stream live basketball games this season. This one doesn’t require any special equipment.
When the NBA season tips off tomorrow, subscribers to NBA League Pass, Team Pass, and single-game streamers will see a feature called “Mobile View” for each game. The premise is simple: Mobile View provides a tighter zoom on the action and makes it look better on phones and tablets.
Starting this season, entire games will be shot with a separate camera crew to optimize it for your smartphone.
The same wide-angle shots you see on TV aren’t exactly great when you’re watching the game on a phone. It’s hard to see a player’s face, read the name on the back of a jersey, or see the intricacies of a crossover dribble on a five-inch screen. Mobile View makes the mobile experience much more detailed.
It’s not just some kind of digital-zoom trickery, either. Starting this season, entire games will be shot with a separate camera in each NBA arena to optimize them for your smartphone. The sample footage provided by the NBA shows a tighter zoom on the player with the ball. And the Mobile View camera crew must be chugging Red Bull, because the camera sticks to the ball-handler like glue.
NBA Digital says more than 70 percent of its streamed games are accessed via mobile devices, and the NBA League Pass service just launched in China for this upcoming season. That expansion into China represents hundreds of millions of potential new streamers, many of which will do it on computers and mobile devices.
So for many League Pass subscribers, the TV has become a “second screen” behind smartphones, laptops, and tablets. With that in mind, it makes sense for NBA Digital to invest in optimizing live coverage for smaller devices rather than just shoehorn its TV broadcast onto all screen sizes. Like it’s doing with multi-camera VR shoots, the NBA going beyond embracing technology here. It’s inventing new stuff for the rest of the pack to follow.
There is a certain market segment that gravitates to the tablet keyboard. I don’t think my father knows how to use his iPad without the keyboard attached to it. It’s hard to blame him. The experience of tapping on a screen pales next to even the lousiest of physical keyboards—not to mention it makes you cover up half the screen with your sweaty meat paws. To date, those who gravitate to tablet keyboards generally pick a model that doubles as a protective case. This makes logical sense, but it isn’t for everyone—especially if you only need the keyboard once and awhile, and/or if you agree that most keyboard-laden cases are unflatteringly corporate and heinously ugly.
Enter Logitech’s Keys-To-Go, a simple slab of a keyboard, case excluded, that might just be the ticket for those with occasional keyboard needs.
Measuring 9.5 inches by 5.4 inches, the size is in between that of the iPad Air and the iPad mini. But at 6mm thick weighing just 6.3 ounces, it’s so slight that it can ride alongside either of those in your purse (or man-purse) and you’ll never know it’s there.
The Bluetooth keyboard is covered with a rubbery membrane called FabricSkin, which isn’t exactly great for typing feel but which does make it waterproof and invulnerable to crumbs. Somehow, Logitech has squeezed a battery into the thing that is spec’d to last for some 350-plus hours; at two hours of use a day that’ll take you three months between charges (though I didn’t test this claim). $70 isn’t cheap, but it also doesn’t feel exorbitant. As a bonus, it’s loaded up with a row of iOS shortcut keys that minimize the need to keep jumping from keyboard to screen and back.
The Keys-To-Go experience is a decidedly portable one, to the point where it feels a bit flimsy. The scant millimeter of key travel and squished-together keys aren’t going to cut it for writing the Great American Novel, but it’ll manage for your two weeks’ notice.
This model of the Keys-To-Go is designed for all iOS devices (a separate model covers Android and Windows portables), and it also includes a plastic widget that slips onto the back of the keyboard and works as a crude stand. Most tablet users will probably have a stand setup that works already, making this piece unnecessary, but you may want to use it with your iPhone (where stands are much less common). Here the widget isn’t a great solution. Even the slim case on my iPhone made it too obese to fit comfortably into the stand’s slot. Fortunately, this piece isn’t necessary, and alternative options abound.
It’s a ritual as old as civilization: hunt and gather, cook, masticate, repeat. Like everything else, though, the primal act of eating real food is under siege. Celebrity cyborgs dismiss traditional meals as a wasteful indulgence, and dream of a dystopian diet that’s as grim as it is efficient. Legions of likeminded techies—toiling away at startups from Mumbai to Silicon Beach—can’t wait for the day when autonomous vehicles drive us down the road to gastronomic ruin. These are the people who would gladly spend all their waking hours coding or chasing VC checks instead of visiting a produce market or whipping up a tomato ragù.
Unlike other meal-in-a-pouch products, Ambronite is made from real food instead of processed supplements. Almost semi-palatable if gulped quickly. 500 calories (and 30 grams of protein) per bag is almost enough to keep you from reaching for the trail mix.
Priced not to move. Seriously, it’s expensive. Despite the all the organic ingredients and feel-good vibes, this vegan-friendly shake is still joyless sustenance.
How We Rate
1/10A complete failure in every way
3/10Serious flaws; proceed with caution
4/10Downsides outweigh upsides
5/10Recommended with reservations
6/10Solid with some issues
7/10Very good, but not quite great
8/10Excellent, with room to kvetch
To appease the slow food hater demo, dozens of calorie-dense products promising maximum nutrition with minimal effort have flooded the marketplace. Blendrunner, a clearinghouse for this emerging cottage industry, lists 47 different Soylent clones that target customers ranging from pot smokers (Stoner Shake) to chemists (Joule Fuel) to Hasidic Jews (Schmilk), each one with a convenient carb/protein/fat pie chart. For those who prefer the lifehack approach, DIY Soylent offers hundreds of free open source recipes like Superfood For Fat Guy In His 30s and Trader Joe’s Soy + Whey. Just plug in your own bio/lifestyle data points, and an algorithm will adjust the formulas accordingly.
It may sound easy on a Reddit forum, but making powdered meals from scratch is a tough nut. In fact, just clearing the water-solubility hurdle and minimizing the flatulence-factor (tip: easy on the sulfur) is a time-consuming process. Which is precisely what the sci-fi trope of nutrients-on-demand is not supposed to be. That’s why most bootstrap office drones purchase their instant kilocalories on Amazon. But what if you want a healthy Soylent that’s more Whole Foods than faux foods? Say no more.
Ambronite markets itself as “the world’s first Real Food Drinkable Supermeal.” Like all drinkable supermeals, Ambro R&D regularly tweaks its formula. The company just launched a new recipe that features several improvements. In addition to being easier to mix and yielding a smoother texture, the new stuff is supposed to taste better. Bold statement. Is Ambro v5 the answer to Elon Musk’s prayers, or just more PR malarkey?
Cash for Cache
Ambronite is god-awful expensive. Five packets (five meals) will set you back $59. A 10-packet box is a bit cheaper per ounce: $99. To put those numbers in perspective, consider that seven bags of Soylent (28 meals) are only $54. Huel, another player in the powdered supermeal category, has a similar price-point: $55.09 for two bags (28 meals). Some brands charge more, some less. But they’re all roughly in the same range: about two bucks for a single 500 kcal serving. Why is Ambronite more than four times the cost of the competition? To start with, this stuff is made in Finland. The average hourly wage for industrial workers there is €14 an hour ($15.50). Throw in fancy organic ingredients, pretty packaging, marketing, shipping, a lot of unbridled greed, and presto: 59 bucks.
In 2014, Finnish sailor Ari Huusela completed a trans-Atlantic solo boat race. His diet during that arduous competition consisted partly of Ambronite. Here’s what Mr. Huusela told the International Business Times about the powdered meal-in-a-bottle invented in his native land: “Ambronite is rich in energy, healthy and feels good. As nutrition it works well.” Just as I cannot block that glowing endurance athlete endorsement from my memory, neither can I un-see the heroic video of Ari lustily chugging a bottle of Ambro at sea. Now that’s product placement: Man pitted against the elements in a life-and-death struggle, fueled only by the sheer will to survive, and the occasional Ambronite shake. Must not allow Finnish Aquaman to cloud my judgement!
It’s In There
The Ambronite hook is that it’s made of real food that’s been pulverized into a fine dust. Unlike other sludge shakes on the market, there are no ultra-processed supplements in this stuff to sully the ingredient list. Those ingredients, limited to just 20 (some organic and “wild grown”), tread the fine line between health food store and Chez Panisse menu.
There is nettle leaf, sea buckthorn, bilberries and black currants. Every line item sounds like something healthy. There’s no artificial anything. That deep green hue, which conjures images of fern-covered Nordic forests, comes not from Green Dye No. 1, but instead a generous portion of spinach, chlorella and spirulina. The two main ingredients are oats and almonds. Ambro is also vegan, non-GMO, and contains no additives or preservatives.
The nutrient pie chart is pretty standard: carbohydrates (40 percent), fat (36 percent), protein (24 percent). One bag is 500 calories and offers 30 grams of protein. Based on the USDA’s recommended 2,000 calorie per diem, four Ambronite bags is a daily allowance. All of the nutrient metadata can be found on Ambronite’s website.
If you buy a 10-pack box, you get a flip-top bottle made of food-safe plastic that looks like a skinny cocktail shaker. Rip open a packet, toss in the Ambro, add H20 (20 ounces) and shake vigorously, like a barkeep preparing a martini. Ambro claims a 2-minute prep time, but I made a mockery of that benchmark. My green goop was ready in 25 seconds flat. Those who have been around the Blendrunner block will marvel at this product’s impressive dissolve-factor and low-grit texture. When reconstituted, most powdered meals resemble grainy pancake batter. Clumping, particularly at the bottom of the glass, is a common problem. That rapid water solubility is a proprietary secret. The smoother texture is supposedly due to the addition of “Nordic oat protein.” Good luck finding that sold in bulk on Alibaba.
Although the new formula was engineered to taste better, Team Ambro doesn’t want to raise expectations on the flavor front. This caveat, sent via email by a PR person, stresses convenience over palatability: “I want to make it clear, one does not drink Ambronite for the taste. One drinks Ambronite to free themselves from the tyranny of cooking food!” Yes, but what about the tyranny of taste? Are coders and trans-Atlantic boat racers doomed to a life of sucking hideous-tasting green sludge from a tube?
Pouch-food people know hunger pangs the way Stephen Hawking knows black holes.
So here we go. Ambronite v5 tastes like an oatmeal Slurpee. Ambro’s party line is that the flavor uptick came about because some genius calculated the perfect cranberry-to-billberry ratio. Oddly, though, there is no discernable berry taste. The flavor profile is predominantly vanilla, with faint banana and cocoa notes. A generous amount of agave syrup imparts a honey-like sweetness. Not cloying, but not particularly pleasant either. Foodies who insist on slumming may experience a gag reflex. To be fair, Ambro does taste better than Soylent. In fact, Ambronite v5 might be the best supermeal shake money can buy. Still, that’s cold consolation. The tyranny of taste endures.
One of the problems with a protein shake diet is satiety, or the lack thereof. Pouch-food people know hunger pangs the way Stephen Hawking knows black holes. That’s because chewing is an important part of the digestive process, signaling to the brain that the stomach is filling up. It also helps if the food stays in your stomach for a while. Ambro, for instance, contains plenty of fiber. But that powdered roughage has been ground so fine that it requires far less energy to digest. The green slurry passes through the alimentary canal like a greased eel. When it comes to “feeling full,” there’s nothing like a steak, a potato, and plenty of jawbone action. Ambronite ignores the laws of physiology. Satiety happens to be part of the sales pitch. One serving is supposed to stave off hunger for five hours. That was true for me, but I’m shackled to my desk like Bartleby the scrivener. Those who embrace a CrossFit regimen and Parkour to work every day might be famished three hours after taking an Ambro break.
Manna Or Junk?
Unless you have a medical condition or suffer from anhedonia, eating meals through a straw is a bad idea. Like celibacy, it runs counter to human nature. Evolutionary psychologists believe eating solid food is vital to humans because it permits the release of “dental aggressive urges.” Give up solid food, the theory goes, and you deny yourself an important outlet for tension. Stay on the Ambronite diet long enough, and you could end up bludgeoning your boss to death with a keyboard.
According to Sharon R. Akabas, the director of the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University, Ambro isn’t a “supermeal with 100 percent of everything” either, as the website propaganda insists. “The idea that this company has created the perfect food formula is ridiculous,” Akabas says. “You would need hundreds of ingredients, and hundreds more that we don’t even know about yet.” What about using Ambro as emergency meal, like on a long flight that serves terrible food? “A couple Snickers bars is cheaper. These people are great at marketing, but terrible at science.”
We haven’t seen it yet, but here’s a scene that could play out soon: During halftime at an NFL game, the stadium floodlights dim and tens of thousands of fans hold their phones aloft. The devices’ screens begin to sputter with colors. Seconds later, a choreographed light show begins to play out around the whole stadium as everyone’s phones work as one big screen, creating a giant, stadium-sized animation.
Such an experience is possible with so-called gameday apps, the category of mobile apps designed to be used by fans inside their hometown stadiums and arenas. When they first showed up a few years ago, these apps were only capable of novel things like providing seat maps or letting you order a plate of nachos without leaving your seat. Now, gameday apps are branching out to incorporate an array of new services—particularly those by NFL teams, who are working to grow engagement with fans.
They’re Ready for Some Football
VenueNext is the company behind the gameday apps for the NFL’s two newest venues for the San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings, and for the league’s largest stadium where the Dallas Cowboys play. The company is trying new features, from in-app deals to coordinated light shows, that it hopes will help teams improve the fan experience while also gaining information about who the fans are.
John Paul, CEO and founder of VenueNext, says the top use for gameday apps among the teams in its client base is mobile ticketing.
“They want to know who is in the stadium, how many games did you come to and if we should sell you a ticket package,” Paul says. “The problem with a paper ticket is it is an anonymizer. If we get you to use the gameday app (we can learn).”
To encourage the mobile ticketing use in Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium, all of this year’s 49ers season ticket holders received a QR code and badge giving them 10 percent of all services in the stadium. They can redeem it at the concession counter or by ordering from within the app. Another new feature, smart notifications, allows teams to target specific ticket holders or even seating sections with information, whether a commerce deal (a sale on jerseys in the team store behind their section, for example) or updates on new videos.
But with only about half of all fans using the app on any given Sunday in Levi’s Stadium, the 49ers developed a new way to create awareness of it by tying the app into the big screen. Now twice during the game fans can use the app to dictate entertainment, with a trivia question in the second quarter—in-app voting appears in real-time on the big board. Then, in the third quarter, fans can vote on which song will lead them into the fourth quarter. The 49ers received 60,000 in-app votes in the first 12 seconds the first time they rolled out the fresh feature.
“It is fun to feel like you have control over the experience of the game,” Paul says.
Then there’s the light show, built into the app for the 49ers and Vikings. “I can’t tell you an immediate plan to use it, but during the season it will get used for the fans to hold up their phones and we can program all the phones in the stadium to do something,” Paul says. “Let’s make this purple, white, random, flash on the camera for half a quarter of a second. We can have a pre-recorded light show. We try to make it fun to be at the game and create an awareness the app does more than just two things.”
Other 2016 upgrades include the app tying with the concession screens for real-time updating of available items at each stand, changing both the menu boards behind the stand and within the app. Beyond ticketing, using the app to order food from seats stands as the next most common app usage, so keeping information in real-time staves off frustration and wasted time. From there, wayfinding helps fans explore the stadium, find express food pickup locations, or simply navigate the best way in or out of the venue.
“The app is the key that unlocks the enhanced fan experience that we want to provide every guest we welcome to Levi’s Stadium,” says 49ers team president Al Guido. “Fans have demands for consistent Wi-Fi connectivity and access to amenities like they have at home that they didn’t have 10 years ago. In another decade, those demands will be far greater, putting the responsibility on us to keep the app dynamic and responsive to the features our guests will be demanding in the future.”
Video, while still not has heavily used as the ticketing, food, and wayfinding components, provides fans four different camera angles for replays of every play within four seconds of the play ending.
“The fan has the ability to go in and decide which angles they want to look at,” Paul says. As VenueNext works to make video more compelling, expect more exclusive content coming to each venue. Of course, the option to watch the NFL’s RedZone within the app remains a compelling draw.
“This is a digital experience when they come in,” says Vikings executive vice president Steve LaCroix. “It is a bit of a cultural change in behavior, but it is more of just how we all like to get into a game.”
This week, television. What we watch, what we watch it on, and what we do while we watch it. Not only is the technology of TV changing, but the content is morphing in a way that alters what we think of as “television.” Is a YouTube video TV? Sure, right. What about a Snapchat story, or a local city council meeting on Twitter? Yes—why not. The hosts discuss these changes in light of YouTube’s new app, Twitter’s new strategy, Snap’s new hardware, and Roku’s new future-proofed players.
There are as many types of Nerf darts as there are arrows in Hawkeye’s quiver. There are darts for distance and darts for quick-loading. There are suction darts and darts that glow in the dark. There’s even a dart that whistles, for when you want your opponent to both feel and hear their fate. Now, the iconic toy company has developed a dart that does perhaps the very most important thing: Go where you want it to.
That’s the idea behind the new Accustrike line, which comprises four new blasters and, more importantly, a dart that’s been totally redesigned from tip to tail. The result, as you may have surmised, is the most accurate Nerf dart to date.
If that seems like an overdue point of focus, Nerf’s customers would agree. A deadeye dart has been at the top of their wish list for a long time, says Nerf marketing VP Michael Ritchie.
“One [consumer demand] that’s come up over the last couple of years was that they wanted more precision,” says Ritchie. “There’s sometimes a perception that when you fire the dart, because it’s foam, and because of the years and years of what we’ve created, that it’s maybe not as accurate or precise as they would want it to be,” Ritchie says.
Work on Accustrike began in earnest roughly two years ago—the darts and blasters go on sale next spring—during which time the design team considered over 10 different models for the dart tip alone.
The process of going from concept to projectile isn’t all that different from any other consumer product, although bringing a Nerf dart to life does involve quite a bit more target process. Before that fun can start, though, computers have their say.
“We would start by building a better understanding of influencing factors on dart flight and built prototypes for testing,” say Nerf’s John Lallier and John Falkowski in an email to WIRED. “Then we further revised designs and used 3-D modeling to perform fluid flow analysis and wind tunnel testing on the darts.”
The most important factors to consider in an accurate dart, the team says, are altered airflow and weight distribution. That, and making sure that added stability didn’t result in a dramatic loss of distance.
“We evaluated several different dart tip designs to identify the best performance, and utilized computer dart simulation throughout the design process,” write Lallier and Falkowski. “Modeling and testing were done concurrently throughout the design process.”
The real fun starts with the real-world testing. The team fired over 3,000 darts under controlled conditions, at targets 30 feet away, and used a wind tunnel to asses in-flight performance. The end result? A Nerf dart that fills out your arsenal for when you’re in a close-quarters situation and can’t risk a miss.
It’s also helpful for helping Nerf live up to the aspirations of its current audience.
“Hitting your target, especially with the YouTube videos and the trick shot mentality, it’s even more important than ever,” says Ritchie. We have 180,000 videos that are Nerf-related, and over 95 percent of those are consumer-generated. A lot of that is inspiring kids to make their own content, which leads to an emphasis on hitting your target.”
And, if you’re at the wrong end of an Accustrike, an emphasis on perfecting your evasive maneuvers.
There are some among us who truly want a tablet to replace their laptop—by actually turning it into one, thanks to a keyboard attached to it, clamshell style. Zagg has been making tablet keyboards and cases since the beginning, and with its latest release the transformation is near completion. This iteration on the Zagg Slim Book—the Slim Book Pro—sees a number of incremental changes, the most notable of which is that the keyboard is now detachable, magnetically connecting to the case unit when you want it. As with most tablet keyboard cases, you jimmy your iPad into the backing shell component of the Slim Book Pro. The keyboard then attaches to an elongated bit that juts out of the bottom.
In keyboard mode, the Slim Book Pro is at its best. The keys are tiny, but this is an unfortunate reality when you have only the real estate of a 9.7-inch iPad to work with. The key action is nothing special, but as a typing experience it gets the job done. A row of shortcut keys across the top help with productivity, as otherwise you have to reach up to the screen to launch apps and select items. The keyboard can be paired to three different devices (a simple button press lets you pick your poison), and there’s even a little loop on the back where you can store either your Apple Pencil or a goth eyeliner.
A detachable keyboard adds flexibility, but it introduces a big drawback to the case design, the problem being that without a built-in, sturdy hinge, the screen can’t hold itself upright. Zagg’s solution for this isn’t the most elegant design decision ever: A huge metal flap on the back of the outer shell folds down flat against the table to hold the tablet screen erect. While this lets you meticulously adjust the angle of the screen, in practice it introduces more problems than it solves. The flap is very stiff and difficult to retrieve, forcing you to hook a fingernail between it and the case itself in order to pry it out. While a pair of rubber feet are installed to cushion the blow, I wouldn’t trust the sharpish edges of the flap against any decent piece of furniture in the house, for fear of utterly disrespecting the wood. The overall look is wholly utilitarian, and the metal flap is downright homely. For $150, I expect a bit more elegance in design and a more thoughtful choice of materials.
As well, when using my iPad disconnected from the keyboard, I just wasn’t in love with tactile feel of the case material. The rubbery surface is slick—nay, dolphin-like—and doesn’t instill confidence in a one-handed grasp. With keyboard attached, the whole shebang is also incredibly heavy, turning a sub-one-pound iPad Air 2 or iPad Pro into a monstrous 2.3 pounds all together. That’s only half a pound lighter than my laptop, although, admittedly, the latter doesn’t include a pencil holder.
The popularity of mirrorless cameras has been exploding ever since Panasonic and Olympus trotted out their first Micro Four Thirds system cameras in 2008. As compact cameras have gotten more fashionable, companies like Sony and FujiFilm have spun up their own entries and heated up the market. Meanwhile, traditional DSLR makers like Canon and Nikon were slow to hop on the mirrorless bandwagon, and their first attempts to make small and powerful interchangeable-lens cameras were a little disappointing.
But Canon’s latest mirror-free model shows it’s ready to compete. The Canon EOS M5 is tiny, but not so tiny as to drop all the knobs and buttons that make DSLRs so wonderful to control. Still, with a slim 22mm f/2.0 EF-M mount lens attached to it, the M5 is almost pocketable.
There’s a sizeable grip on the right side, along with easy-to-access physical controls for shooting modes, exposure compensation, and a jog wheel for user-selected manual settings. Packed inside it is a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor, the same size imager you’ll find in Canon’s consumer-friendly DSLRs.
Most importantly, this camera has the blazing-fast Dual Pixel autofocus tech built into higher-end DSLRs such as the EOS 70D, EOS 80D, and EOS 5D IV. If you know about the iPhone’s “Focus Pixels” and the superfast autofocus on the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Google Pixel, this is the same kind of near-instantaneous phase-detection AF in a camera with a much bigger sensor, better lenses, better low-light performance, and deeper controls. The EOS M5 can capture 7 shots per second with autofocus adjusting from shot to shot.
The ISO dials up to 25,600, and like most modern cameras, the M5 finds room in its 2.4-inch-deep body for Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth features. In addition to a 2.3-million-dot OLED eye-level viewfinder, there’s a 3.2-inch adjustable touchscreen around the back that flips all the way down for selfies.
Like many of the latest mirrorless cameras, a five-axis stabilization system is also built into the body. It’s designed to provide ultimate steadiness when used with an optically stabilized Canon M-mount lens.
There are a few tradeoffs compared to the very best interchangeable-lens cameras. The EOS M5 doesn’t shoot 4K video, topping out at 1080p at 60 frames per second. And as is the norm with an APS-C sensor, there’s a 1.6x focal length multiplier/crop factor to think about with EF-M lenses.
The EOS M5 was announced last month, but the pint-size powerhouse will finally be available in a few weeks. Shipping in early November, it’ll cost $980 for the body only, or up to $1,480 with a stabilized 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3 zoom lens.
If you want a slim machine you can slip inside your messenger bag, tote to the coffee shop, and peck out a few emails on, there are plenty of those. Go ahead and get an iPad and a keyboard cover. Maybe even a MacBook or a Surface Pro if you can handle the extra ounces.
But if you want the kind of high-octane monster that can power a frickin’ Oculus headset, weighs as much as a child’s bowling ball, and is the laptop version the guitar riff in Ain’t Talkin Bout Love, here comes the damn business.
The 2016 version of the Razer Blade Pro laptop is here. And it vapes.
The new Razer Blade Pro does not seem like a real laptop. It seems like an April Fools’ gag from Power Computing Magazine circa 2003. While Razer has been making high-performance gaming laptops with shockingly slim frames since 2011, none of them have been as over-the-top loaded as the new Blade Pro. The laptop’s tagline is “The desktop in your laptop,” and it’s an understatement.
Where’s the Beef?
It all starts with a 2.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU that overclocks to 3.5GHz, which is easily the most modest thing about the laptop. After all, there are newer and more expensive Core i7 processors available, and everything else about the Razer Blade Pro screams MORE THINGS FASTER THINGS STRONGER THINGS.
This kind of power doesn’t come cheap. The Razer Blade Pro starts at $3,700.
For example, it has 32 gigs of 2133MHz DDR4 RAM. Its 17.3-inch IZGO touchscreen is a 4K display that can handle the full Adobe RGB colorspace. On its sides you’ll find three USB 3.0 ports, a card reader, and a Thunderbolt/USB-C jack. Its 99-watt-hour battery is the largest-capacity battery that’s legally allowed on an airplane. Storage space is flexible: there’s a configuration with a 2TB PCIe SSD packed into it. And of course, it’s the company’s latest machine with “Razer Chroma” mood lighting, which means the keyboard backlight system can be configured as a user-customizable rainbow light show.
Arguably, we haven’t even gotten to the really good stuff yet. While the Razer Blade Pro is insanely thin for the amount of power packed into it—it’s just 0.88 inches deep—it has a low-profile mechanical keyboard. Razer makes its own switches, and it’s used the same low-travel but highly enjoyable switch in the Blade Pro as it did in its excellent mechanical keyboard case for the iPad Pro.
Another unique feature is the placement and design of the laptop’s touchpad. Unlike your average boring-ass laptop, it’s super big and set to the right of its super-clicky set of keys. And even though it feels like a bigger version of the glass-topped touchpad on a MacBook Pro, there are some extra navigation options right above it: A scrollwheel that clicks down for your selection needs, as well as media keys for playing and navigating music.
But here’s the really cool part. Well, two really cool parts. One, this is the thinnest laptop out there with a desktop-class Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU, which is bolstered by 8 gigs of GDDR5X VRAM, and two, Razer had to design a thermal-management system from scratch to cool it. Packing so much power into a machined-aluminum frame less than an inch thick required Razer to use a vapor-chamber cooling system to keep its internals chill.
Vapor-chamber cooling in a laptop isn’t unique: Razer is calling it the world’s thinnest such system rather than the first. Last year’s G752 gaming laptop from Asus had a similar system, but that laptop was nowhere near this svelte. And a vapor-based system also doesn’t mean you’ll see vapor wafting out of the back of the laptop: The vapor chamber is an enclosed system in which coolant fluid inside reaches a boiling point, then vaporizes. All of that action moves heat away from the components and into the laptop’s exhaust system.
A pair of internal fans help route heat out of the back of the laptop and away from places like the wrist rest. There’s a third fan on the underside of the motherboard that doesn’t feed hot air into the vent system; it’s just there to keep things circulating and eliminate wrist-singing hot spots.
While the Razer Blade Pro is crazy-thin, it certainly isn’t a featherweight laptop. It clocks in at nearly 8 pounds, but it’s powerful enough to be VR-ready for both the Oculus and HTC Vive. Razer says that’s important, as VR game developers are looking for a single portable powerhouse they can develop and play games on. The company also hopes the laptop appeals to more than gamers, as it has the horsepower and screen resolution to appeal to hard-core video and photo editors.
This kind of power doesn’t come cheap. The Razer Blade Pro starts at $3,700, and that’s for the piddly 512GB SSD configuration. Ramping up to 1TB will run you $4,000, and the top-of-the-line 2TB model sets you back $4,500. Other than the storage space, all those other bad-ass components are the same, and they’ll all be available in November.
Streaming sticks make it hard to justify buying a set-top box. Unless you want 4K video and CPU-intensive games, a dongle should do. With ample processing power, dual-band Wi-Fi, affordable prices, and grab-and-go portability, you’ll see a lot of HDMI streaming sticks stuffing stockings this year.
You press the mic button on the remote and speak into the top of it to summon Amazon’s popular voice assistant.
Add the updated Amazon Fire TV Stick to the list. It features beefed-up internals like a quad-core processor and support for faster 2×2 MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi. But the big draw at its crazy low $40 price is Alexa. It’s the cheapest way to get the voice assistant, which makes navigating a landscape of 7,000 apps (or even just Netflix) way easier.
The remote is still plasticky, but heftier, and the bigger, thicker clicker sports a built-in microphone. Press the mic button on the remote and summon Amazon’s popular voice assistant by speaking into the top of it. Simply say things like “Play Vernon, Florida” to auto-launch Netflix and start streaming or “Find TV shows with Norm MacDonald” to search across several services. Ask Alexa to play a movie you’ve already started and it picks up where you left off.
Amazon says the voice-search commands will bring up content from Netflix, HBO Now, and Hulu in addition to Amazon Video. Search for a title that may appear on many of those services and it will showcase the content offered free as part of your subscription or tell you if it’s available as part of a free sign-up trial on those services.
However, the voice controls offer a little something extra with Amazon’s own content. You can use voice commands to fast forward or rewind a designated amount of time (“Rewind two minutes.” “Fast forward 10 minutes.”), and to play and pause. The new Stick also supports voice-controlled music requests from Amazon Music Unlimited, Amazon Prime Music, Pandora, and iHeart Radio. There’s a Spotify app for Fire TV, but you’ll need to fire up tracks and playlists the old-fashioned way.
But this is full-service Alexa, not just a voice-controlled TV remote. You can do all the other stuff Alexa can do on the Echo and other devices: Make and display to-do lists, order an Uber or a pizza, get a weather forecast or a news brief, or just ask it things like “Alexa, what’s the difference between ‘Under Pressure’ and ‘Ice Ice Baby?’” for a quick chortle.
Another major change will be available for all Fire TV devices when it rolls out as a firmware update later this year. The new Fire TV OS is more colorful and vibrant, but the most important change involves surfacing recommendations from third-party services on the homescreen. Along with the Alexa integration, it helps make the experience content-first rather than app-first: You can find and watch a show without knowing what service offers it.
It’s similar to how smartphones unlock information from within apps and put deep-linked data in notifications and search results. You don’t have to open Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu, and other apps to get a queue of personalized recommended content. Deep-linked content from those services is right there on the homescreen.
If $40 for an Alexa-enabled TV Stick doesn’t sound like a screaming deal, Amazon includes a month of Sling TV for free (it’s usually $20), two months of Hulu with limited commercials ($16), and $10 of content on Amazon Video if you buy and activate a new Stick by October 31. That’s $46 in free stuff on a $40 streaming stick.