Joe Wilcox

If you haven't taken our Apple Watch buying poll...

Apple Watch

There is still time, and we need more responses to get a representative sample of BetaNews readers. The question is easy: Will you buy Apple Watch? Preorders begin April 10 and sales start on April 24. Prices range from $349—please excuse my spitting out coffee—to $17,000.

As I post, the majority of respondents, 46 percent, don't plan to buy any smartwatch. About that finding, I am not the least surprised, given limitations like battery life, smartphone tethering, and functional overlap. Twenty-four percent plan to buy another smartwatch, while 14 percent say no for other reasons. That works out to 84 percent in the No category. The remaining 16 percent is no smaller number, assuming intentions materialize into purchases, particularly considering how costly is Apple Watch.

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13 things you should know about Chromebook Pixel 2015

Chromebook Pixel

The second of three Friday 13ths was definitely a lucky day. Near Noon, FedEx delivered the Chromebox Pixel 2015, which I set up late afternoon. Nearly 24 hours later, time is right for some immediate reactions before my eventual full review. My perspective presented here is two-fold: General first impressions for anyone combined with what are the benefits for existing Pixel owners. For many of the latter group, I say this: Consider your budget and needs wisely. What you've got may be more than good enough.

For everyone else, I will contradict the majority of reviewers, and even Google. Pixel is not a computer for developers or limited number of laptop users. Anyone shopping for a quality notebook that will last years should consider the new Chromebook, most certainly if looking at any MacBook model or Windows PC, such as Surface Pro 3. Everyone living the Google lifestyle who can afford a laptop in this price range should consider nothing else. Now let's get to the drill down, point by point. There are 13, for no other reason than my receiving the laptop on the unluckiest day.

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Apple's HBO NOW exclusive is the real Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones

As the dust settles from this week's big Apple reveal, one question lingers: Who gains more from exclusive distribution of new streaming service HBO NOW? I don't know what the device maker paid for the privilege, but big benefits belong to it. I wonder: What were HBO executives thinking by tying the service's early destiny to a single platform during telecast of the popular Game of Thrones series?

Particularly for cord-cutters who don't have Apple TV, iPad, iPhone, or iPod and want GoT Season 5 the choice is simple: Buy ATV for 69 bucks or spend more on another device capable of running HBO's iOS app—or steal! Three days ago my colleague Alan Buckingham, who owns no fruit-logo products and cord-cuts, wrote that he might get the streaming box. Today I asked if he really plans to buy Aople TV. "I haven't yet, but I likely will", he says.

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Did Google taint 12-inch MacBook news coverage?

nerd tablet geek surprise shock disbelief

Bias in the media is inevitable, and any news gatherer who denies this fact is a liar. Companies seek favor or to influence in countless ways. It's the nature of the beast, which cannot be tamed. So I wonder how Chromebook Pixel embargoes impacted reporting about Apple's newest laptop. If so, Google pulled off one hell of a marketing coup.

The search and information giant provided many tech blogs and news sites with the new Pixel about a week before the laptop launched yesterday and the first reviews posted—that was also days before Apple's well-publicized media event where a new MacBook was rumored. Both computers share something in common: USB Type-C, which is bleeding-edge tech. The connector received much media attention on Monday and Tuesday two ways: Buzz about it being the next great thing, and MacBook having but one port (Pixel has two, and others).

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Apple MacBook vs Google Chromebook Pixel

fight fighters boxing kick

Two new laptops launched this week, both pioneering USB-C and packing 12-inch displays. The likenesses stop there, and the distinctions can't be overstated. One computer you can buy now, the other comes next month. Should you consider either? My primer will help you decide.

Apple unveiled the new MacBook, which measures 1.31 centimeters at its thickest and weighs less than a kilogram, two days ago. Sales start April 10. This morning, Google launched the second-generation Chromebook Pixel, which is immediately available for purchase. Both laptops adopt USB Type-C for power and, using adapters, hooking up to other devices. USB-C puts both computers at the bleeding edge for charging and connectivity, But their approach to ports couldn't be more different.

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New MacBook's single port isn't the problem

12-inch MacBook

Across tech sites and forums there are rumbling complaints about Apple choosing to provide just one port on the 12-inch MacBook and the compromises the design presents. The flawed approach is much bigger, and the laptop line has been this way before—where thinning down means giving up something many users want, which is why I am so surprised that little of the discussion focuses on the original MacBook Air.

Stated simply before the long explanation: If you don't mind paying $1,299 or $1,599 for the performance equivalent of a souped-up tablet, running OS X but lacking touchscreen, Apple's tiny laptop is a good choice. Otherwise, stop whining and buy something else. There is no shortage of choices in the slim-and-portable category.

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Apple returns to its core

Talking apples

Today's splashy media event takes Apple back to its roots (no pun intended). For example, the new MacBook, which weighs less than a kilogram (2.2 pounds) and is 1.31 centimeters at its thickest, reminds of the design and engineering qualities that made iPod nano so breathtaking and innovative 10 years ago in September. Apple CEO Tim Cook paid a little homage to predecessor Steve Jobs when remarking about the laptop: "Can you even see it?" Small size mattered when Jobs unveiled the nano, too.

Innovation—and nothing resembling the cliché overuse of the word today—went into iPod nano and was demonstrated this morning in the new MacBook, which goes on sale April 10, starting at $1,299. Lust-worthy design is an Apple prerogative that is core to today's crop. But there is much more: Real cohesion around an Apple vision long lost in the distraction of Steve Jobs' illness and death and the transition that followed.

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Will you buy Apple Watch -- yours from $349 to $10K-plus?

Apple Watch

The long-hyped smartwatch from the maker of iPhone is now official. Apple takes preorders from April 10, and sales start 14 days later. For all the hype, the price is what really distinguishes the device, which will be available in aluminum, stainless steel, and solid gold—with the latter selling for minimum $10,000.

Apple Watch Sport is the lower-cost option in 38mm and 42mm cases, starting at $349 and $399, respectively. Apple Watch ranges from $549 to $1,049. Apple Watch Edition is the pricey one starting at $10K. At launch, the wristwear will be available in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, United Kingdom, and the United States. Today's big question: Will you buy one? And which?

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Google responds to Apple Watch

Android Wear Ad

The newest Android "be together. not the same." commercial posted to YouTube today ahead of Apple's big smartwatch launch. The video series focuses on individuality and choice, which packs a little more punch for a wearable where one size likely won't fit all.

I like the background music, "On the Regular" by SHAMIR, in an advert by every measure focused on Apple Watch's presumed young and hipster crowd. You can be square, round, or whatever you want with Android Wear.

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Mom's Nokia Lumia Icon is gone -- she has a vintage Moto X now

Moto X

I can attest firsthand to the rising health-care costs everyone talks about. My mom went to hospital on January 30th for outpatient surgery. Still woozy from anesthesia, she left her Nokia Lumia Icon Windows Phone in the bed's blankets. The hospital ships the linens to Canada for cleaning, and, well—cue the violins—that handset is gone to cellphone heaven or into someone's greedy, grubby hands. Wouldn't you know, Medicare won't cover the cost of replacing the phone.

Neither will Asurion pay up. The nerve. When reporting the phone lost, Verizon suggested adding insurance to the phone line and later filing a claim. The Lumia could be replaced for $99 deductible. I must admit to a little apprehension, but, hey, cost was just 10 bucks. Damn, three attempts to file a claim all failed, with Asurion insisting that the phone was lost before insurance was applied. Either these insurers are smartypants, or this is a popular scam. Whichever, mom's hospital visit was an unexpected, health-care cost.

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Of course, Chromebooks matter

Dell-Chromebook-in-School

Yesterday, commentary "Do Chromebooks matter anymore?" popped up in my social network feeds. Preston Gralla rightly wonders, when looking at how the laptops have fallen off Amazon's top-seller lists, IDC shipment forecasts, and what happened with netbooks. While being a Chromebook fan, I must admit to similar misgivings.

So today, I emailed Stephen Baker, NPD's vice president of industry analysis: "Are Chromebooks just the next netbook wave? Low-cost, lean configurations, and education adoption all look similar to me. Do you see any parallels to suggest Chromebook is little more than the next netbook and it's headed for the same destination: Short-term appeal that vanishes? Or is there longevity here, based on sales numbers?" His answer is reason for this post.

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There's something HTC should learn from the M9 launch

HTC One M9_Silver_Left

Some advice for HTC and other mobile device makers: You need to adapt your PR strategy to the modern web. Seeding devices to so-called professional reviewers is a lose-lose strategy. There you should take cues from Motorola, which marketing strategy, while by no means perfect, depends more on the many rather than the few.

Today, as expected, the HTC One M9 launched on Mobile World Congress Day 0. I am struck by two early reviews, which couldn't be more different in their assessment—and one surely is quite damaging to perceptions about the smartphone: "HTC One M9 hands-on: Improved craftsmanship, camera, and HTC Sense are compelling" by Matthew Miller for ZDNet and "HTC’s One M9 is the world’s most beautiful disappointment" by Vlad Savov for The Verge. Miller had the device for a day and Savov for a week. Neither narrative is ideal for HTC, although ZDNet's is closer to identifying benefits that matter, as opposed to The Verge highlighting features that aren't.

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2015 is year of the Chromebook

Chromebook Pixel keyboard

Last year, I disputed ridiculous assertions, based on widely misquoted NPD data, that 2014 would be "year of the Chromebook". It wasn't. But that designation does belong to 2015—at least in the United States. Measures: Number of new models; adoption by K-12 schools; and overall sales, which are surprisingly strong. Read carefully the next paragraph.

Through U.S. commercial channels and retail, Chromebooks accounted for 14 percent of laptop sales last year, according to NPD, which released data at my request. That's up from 8 percent in 2013. Commercial channels, largely to educational institutions, accounted for about two-thirds of 2014 Chromebook sold. Year over year, sales soared by 85 percent, and the trajectory continues to climb.

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Choosing a streaming stick -- Chromecast, Roku, or Fire TV? [review]

Streaming Sticks

My household cut the cord in July 2014; the cable box is gone. In the process, I have been testing various streaming set-tops and sticks, and the latter is today's topic. Google opened up the category with $35 Chromecast in July 2013, and the device gets better with age. Roku Streaming Stick, at $49.99, is priciest choice, while Amazon Fire TV Stick is the $39 in-betweener.

Briefly, before deep diving, Chromecast is easiest to use and offers more commercial programming support. Roku delivers broadest streaming channel selection. Fire TV fits tightly into the broader Amazon Prime ecosystem, while offering satisfying, but incomplete, content options compared to either of the other devices.

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I was wrong about the smartwatch being a dumb idea

Moto 360

Over the holiday weekend, I started using the Moto 360, which user experience is way better than anticipated. For all the nutcases calling Apple Watch innovative and revolutionary—without there even being a device for them to test—Android Wear is, ah, timely. Google gives great utility that will be difficult for the fruit-logo company to match. Reasons are simple: Context, search, sync, UI design, and Google Now.

I resisted the smartwatch concept for having been there before. Few of the gadget geeks gushing about wearables are old enough to remember Microsoft SPOT. Mid-last decade, the company partnered with real watchmakers (Fossil, Suunto, and Swatch); the devices were as much jewelry as functional timepieces; FM radio delivered appointments, news, weather, and other alerts independent of cell phones; and battery life lasted three days or more (which wasn't enough). By these measures, SPOT watches were so much more and still failed. Hence, these are reasons why in past analyses I called the decade-later attempt dumb. But I was wrong.

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