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Thursday, May 6, 2021

YouTube announces a new originals series with Will Smith and Alicia Keys

YouTube announced a new slate of original series today that includes some huge stars at the top of the lineup. Will Smith will star in a six-part reality series about fitness and “returning his body into the best shape of his life,” and a four-part series will go behind the scenes with Alicia Keys as she records a new album.

YouTube Originals

The new lineup of originals also includes a third season of Liza Koshy’s Liza on Demand; a new special focused on Asian American chefs, celebrities, activists, and creators that counts LeBron James and Michelle Kwan as executive producers; and a new special called Barbershop Medicine that explores the intersection of race and socioeconomic status that came out of the #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund that was announced last year.

YouTube has regularly changed up its approach to original content since it started making originals about five years ago. They started out as subscriber-only shows centered around creators, pivoted to ad-supported shows featuring mainstream stars like Kevin Hart and Will Smith (making this his second YouTube original), and more recently have delivered more of a mix of the two, with most shows being largely available to anyone who visits YouTube.

Still, big names like Will Smith and Alicia Keys guarantee views, and they provide credibility to YouTube and comfort for advertisers who may be worried about some of the platform’s wilder content. These series were, not coincidentally, announced in the middle of a YouTube presentation for advertisers.

Will Smith’s new series will debut next year; Alicia Keys’ arrives this summer.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Neuralink President leaves the company. Reasons not known yet

Neuralink President Max Hodak tweeted Saturday that he has left the company he co-founded with Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk xxx. Hodak didn’t elaborate on why he left the company or elaborate on the circumstance for his departure. “I am no longer at Neuralink (as of a few weeks ago),” he tweeted. “I learned a ton there and remain a huge cheerleader for the company! Onward to new things.”

Neuralink

Neuralink is focused on developing brain-machine interfaces. Last month, the company posted a video to YouTube that appeared to show a monkey with a Neuralink implant in its brain moving a cursor on a computer screen using only its mind.

Musk and Hodak founded Neuralink along with several other people in 2016, and Musk has invested millions of dollars of his own money into the venture. Last year, Stat News reported that some former employees described a chaotic internal culture at Neuralink, saying that its scientists weren’t always given enough time to complete projects.

While Neuralink didn’t invent brain-machine interfaces, its technology includes thin, flexible wires and more electrodes than other devices, potentially providing more data. Musk has stated that Neuralink’s technology could one day be used to allow paraplegics to walk again and allow humans to achieve “AI symbiosis,” merging the human brain with an artificial intelligence.

But some in the scientific and medical communities have criticized Neuralink and are skeptical of its scientific claims; after an August 2020 demonstration of a pig that had a Neuralink device implanted in its brain, MIT Technology Review called the company “neuroscience theater,” and said “most of the company’s medical claims remain highly speculative.”


Saturday, May 1, 2021

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro available at their lowest price

The excellent $250 deal on the Apple Watch Series 6 has completely sold out, unfortunately, but there are some other stellar sales happening. Woot is having a one-day sale on the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro wireless earbuds, the company’s latest, most feature-packed model. These keep dropping in price, though this deal is the best yet by a wide margin. If you use the Woot mobile app (iOS, Android) to buy them and have Amazon Prime, you’ll get 10 percent off the order. So, instead of paying $170 (which matches the lowest price we’d seen up to this point), you’ll pay just $153 before tax.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro

If you don’t want to jump through those hoops, here’s the link to its site where you can get them for $170.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Motorola brings out a new budget G20

Motorola has announced several low-cost devices with big batteries and fast-refreshing displays this year, and now it’s offering its least expensive model yet: the Moto G20. Launching in Europe this week for €149 (about $180), it includes a 6.5-inch 720p LCD with a 90Hz refresh rate and a 5,000mAh battery. It’s the latest in a series of budget devices from Motorola targeting slightly different price points in the budget range, and it would likely have a place in the US market if the company chose to offer it in the States.

Motorola G20

The G20 features a 48-megapixel main camera, 8-megapixel ultrawide, 2-megapixel macro and depth-sensing cameras, and a 13-megapixel selfie camera. Unlike other Moto G-series phones launched this year, the G20 does not use a Snapdragon chipset, offering instead a Unisoc T700 processor with 4GB of RAM. The device’s built-in storage of 64GB or 128GB can be expanded via microSD, and it will ship with Android 11.

There’s no indication whether the G20 will be sold in the US — the G100, G50, and G30 introduced earlier this year haven’t been offered stateside as of yet either. Motorola’s current US offerings are largely situated above the $200 mark, and there are rumblings that high-end Edge devices may be coming next. But with the void LG is leaving at the budget end of the market, Motorola certainly has a full portfolio of devices it could offer if it wanted to try to fill the gap.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

How to preorder the new iPad Pro with M1

Apple announced a 2021 refresh to its iPad Pro lineup, which now includes the same powerful and efficient M1 processor that’s in its MacBook Air, Pro, and Mac mini computers. Both the new 11-inch and 12.9-inch models will feature the chip, as well as a Thunderbolt port and optional 5G support. The display on the larger tablet has received a particularly big boost, jumping to a Liquid Retina XDR Mini LED screen. I’m just here to tell you when you’ll be able to buy them and how much it might cost.

Apple iPad Pro with M1 

Before the pandemic, it was common for preorders to begin shortly after a product’s announcement. Alas, things have changed. If you have your eye on the new iPad Pro, you’ll need to come back on Friday, April 30th, to place your order. (The links below currently lead to the correct pages on Apple’s site, but there won’t be any “buy” buttons available.) The 11-inch iPad Pro starts at $799 for 128GB of storage and Wi-Fi connectivity. The model with LTE and 5G support costs $200 more. If you want the big 12.9-inch iPad Pro, that model starts at $1,099 and comes with 128GB of storage.

Your purchase won’t ship until the second half of May. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a gander at Apple’s site right now to see all of the specs and configure the iPad Pro of your dreams. We’ll update this post once the buying links are live.

Apple unveils new iPad Pro with M1 chip and stunning Liquid Retina XDR display - Apple

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Amazon's Lord of the rings has a BIG budget for their series

The first season of Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings TV show is reported to cost the retail giant a frankly difficult to imagine $465 million to produce. Just to save you from having to re-read that, this price tag is for just one season, and that there is not a missing decimal in the above number. “This will be the largest television series ever made,” New Zealand’s Minister for Economic Development and Tourism said.

Lord Of The Rings

But this honor was already something of a known quantity, after Amazon spent $250 million to secure the rights to the franchise in 2017, kicking off a round of stories declaring the not-yet-produced show “the most expensive” television production in history, with the big B number circulating its rumored five-season run. This is perhaps fitting, since another episodic Lord of the Rings-adjacent production — Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy — currently holds the record for the most expensive movie production in history, at some $623 million (after tax credits).

To make more comparison, here are some other Big Numbers:

  • The final and most expensive season of that other fantasy TV series, Game of Thrones, cost just $90 million, or $15 million per episode.
  • Disney spent “around 100 million” on the first season of The Mandalorian.
  • Disney’s Marvel series are reported to cost as much as $25 million per episode which, considering there are nine episodes of WandaVision, would max out at $225 million. Chump change!
  • Adjusted for inflation, it cost Kevin Costner roughly $300 million in 1995 to build an entire island off the coast of Hawaii for Waterworld.
  • The US government plans to spend $451 million in 2021 on lunar exploration, or about one The Lord of the Rings season.

Of course, being a new show and all, there are some up-front costs to be expected in this first season, like sets and costumes, which may take some of the sting out of future seasons. But that’s really only a concern if you’re thinking as a not-billionaire. With a net worth of $193 billion, Amazon’s (outgoing) CEO Jeff Bezos can personally ensure the series goes there and back again (and again and again and again) for some 400 seasons before things start to get a little tight.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

TCL's Fold n Roll puts three screens into a phone

 TCL is once again teasing a foldable phone concept — and it’s a Frankenstein’s monster of some previously showcased flexible concepts. Called Fold ‘n Roll, it combines the company’s “dragonhinge” technology with an extendable display panel. The result is a 6.87-inch phone that can expand to an 8.85-inch phablet size or fully extend to a 10-inch tablet. Outside of that, the company isn’t offering any other detailed information.

TCL's foldable phone

TCL says it’s “still exploring the technical specifications” of this type of device, which doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence that the Fold n’ Roll will hit the market anytime soon. But TCL did say it plans to launch some kind of foldable phone before the end of 2021. The company has offered no shortage of foldable display concepts; most recently, it had several to show off at this year’s virtual CES. But there’s a long distance between creating concepts and turning them into mass-market products.

Still, TCL might be in a good position to address a gap in the rollable market: affordable devices. Flexing, rolling phones are mostly reserved for the high end of the market right now, and TCL may be well-positioned to offer a less costly option. Samsung has hinted at a lower-cost flexible device coming soon, but until then, its current Galaxy Z Flip and Z Fold 2 options are still very pricey.

LG’s rollable concept may have been destined for a flagship device, but with the manufacturer’s exit from the smartphone business, we’ll never know if that tech might have trickled down to a midrange device. If it is TCL’s intention to offer something more affordable in the space, then there’s certainly some room to jump in.

Fitbit's new fitness tracker looks Luxe

Fitbit may be ready to launch a new fitness tracker soon, if images published by WinFuture are to be believed. The new tracker is apparently named Luxe and features a more fashion-centric design than Fitbit’s existing Inspire 2. It’s not clear when the Luxe will be released or how much it will cost, but I would not be surprised if it has a higher price tag than the $100 Inspire 2.

Fitbit Luxe

The big upgrade for the Luxe is a new stainless steel body, which will be available in silver, gold, or black finishes. It also has a color OLED touchscreen, though WinFuture didn’t provide specs or detailed information about it. Both the stainless steel body and the color screen are upgrades over the plastic and monochrome options on the Inspire 2.

The Luxe is expected to have a heart rate monitor, sleep tracking, and all of the activity tracking features that Fitbit’s other wearables support. It’s not likely to have a GPS radio of its own, however — you’ll probably need to have your phone with you for accurate mapping of your runs. In addition to the body colors, WinFuture’s images show various strap color options, so it’s likely Fitbit will position this as much of a fashion accessory as a fitness device.

Fitbit, which is now owned by Google, built its brand on wrist-worn fitness trackers, and it looks like the Luxe is very much in that vein. The company has had less success producing a competent smartwatch, but perhaps it can inject some life into Google’s flailing smartwatch platform once the companies fully merge their resources.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Audi's Q4 E-Tron could be their best Electric Car

 The new electric SUVs also represent a strategic shift of sorts because they’re the first models Audi will build on the modular electric vehicle platform designed by parent company Volkswagen. This architecture, which Volkswagen refers to as the MEB platform, is powering everything from the entire VW ID lineup of electric cars and SUVs, to EVs from sub-brands like ┼ákoda and Seat, and even a Europe-focused SUV from Ford that’s part of an alliance the created in 2019.

Audi Q4 E-Tron

The new Q4 E-Tron will start at €41,900 and the Q4 Sportback E-Tron at €43,900 when they go on sale in Germany in June, with sales spreading wider into Europe after that and to the US before the end of the year. That timing may just be perfect. The original E-Tron (and its own Sportback variant) were struggling mightily near the end of 2020 in the US, but sales have shot up dramatically despite the higher price tag. President Biden is making a big push to encourage electric vehicles, including potentially extending or expanding the $7,500 federal tax credit.

Audi’s actually spent about two years teasing electric versions of its popular Q-series SUVs, and one of the more remarkable things about the Q4 EVs announced Wednesday is just how much they resemble the concepts the German automaker revealed in 2019 and 2020. They both retained the same large faux front grille and aggressive body work that the concepts featured, which should help them stand apart from competing electric SUVs that are more likely to blend in — like the original E-Tron, the Mercedes-Benz EQC, or even to some extent the VW ID 4.

Audi says the Q4 E-Tron measures 4,588mm (about 15 feet) long, 1,865mm (about 6 feet) wide, and 1,632mm (about 5.4 feet) tall. While the company calls it a “compact SUV,” it has a wheelbase that’s more comparable to a midsize SUV and interior space on par with a full-size SUV, which is thanks to all of the EV tech being moved to the underlying MEB platform. It’s a bit smaller overall than the original E-Tron and the Tesla Model Y.

The base models are built on a 55 kWh version of the MEB battery pack (with 52 kWh of usable energy), and Audi says they’ll get about 341 kilometers (212 miles) and 349 kilometers (217 miles) on a full charge, respectively. While that’s a healthy chunk of range for the size of the battery pack, those estimates are based on the less stringent European WLTP test cycle, meaning their EPA range estimates will likely be a bit lower.

Buyers who want to take their Q4 E-Tron farther (or drive them longer between charges) will have to pony up for one of the more expensive configurations, all of which are built on an 82 kWh battery pack (with 77 kWh of usable energy).

The midrange Q4 E-Tron will travel the farthest, offering 520 kilometers (323 miles) of range. (There is no midrange Sportback.) Then there’s the top-of-the-line Q4 E-Tron and Sportback E-Tron, which can respectively travel 488 kilometers (303 miles) and 497 kilometers (309 miles) on a full charge. The VW ID 4 also uses an 82 kWh battery (and even has the same amount of modules — 12 — in its pack), and it just got rated for 260 miles by the EPA.

One of the reasons the top models don’t get quite as much out of that larger battery pack as the midrange Q4 E-Tron is that they come with all-wheel drive powered by a pair of electric motors, one on each axle. This setup makes these most expensive models the quickest, but that extra weight — the top-line Q4 E-Tron weighs 2,135kg (4,707 pounds), versus 1,890kg (4,167 pounds) for the base model, and the Sportbacks are five kilograms heavier — means they won’t be lightning-quick. They can make the run from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour) in 6.2 seconds, which is about three seconds faster than the base models but still slower than some of Audi’s competition.

While the starting price is lower, buyers will have to pay extra if they want the most fanciful tech features that Audi is promising in the new Q4 electrics. The headliner is an augmented reality heads-up display system that Audi first showed off in March, which has a larger viewing area and more advanced (and animated) overlays than the typically static options found on many modern cars — including navigation markers that “float” on the road ahead of the Q4.

Audi has, for now, abandoned plans to roll out a hands-free driving feature like GM’s Super Cruise or Ford’s BlueCruise, but the Q4 E-Trons will have a suite of optional driver assistance features that leverage three radar sensors (one in front, two in back), eight ultrasonic sensors, and five cameras.

Those who don’t want to pay extra will still get features like a wireless charging pad for their smartphones, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Audi has also revamped the steering wheel in the new Q4s to include backlit touch surfaces and flat buttons for a sleeker look.

But the Q4 E-Tron and Q4 Sportback E-Tron are the German automaker’s best chance yet at going truly big in the electric vehicle space. By leveraging Volkswagen’s more efficient and more cost-effective MEB platform, Audi is ready to make a far more compelling pitch with these new EVs — one that will look all the more attractive as governments around the world continue to emphasize and incentivize a consumer shift to electric vehicles. It may still be far behind Tesla when it comes to total EV sales, but Audi’s not in bad shape to capitalize on the rise of electric vehicles considering its role at the heart of the Dieselgate scandal just a few short years ago.

Monday, April 12, 2021

French lawmakers vote to ban a few domestic airlines to reduce carbon emissions

French lawmakers have voted to ban domestic flights on routes that could be taken in a train ride in less than two-and-a-half hours, Reuters reported. The vote late Saturday comes as part of France’s larger climate bill, which seeks to reduce its 1990-level carbon emissions by 40 percent over the next decade.

Air France-KLM

Last week, France’s government said it would contribute 4 billion euros ($4.7 billion) to recapitalize airline Air France-KLM. The airline warned it is expecting an operating loss of 1.3 billion euros when it reports its first-quarter earnings next month. The airline industry is reeling with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to a sharp reduction in global travel over the past year.

“We know that aviation is a contributor of carbon dioxide and that because of climate change we must reduce emissions,” France’s Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runachershe told Europe 1 radio. “Equally, we must support our companies and not let them fall by the wayside.”

McKinsey & Co. analysts estimate the airline industry will continue to feel the effects of the coronavirus pandemic for several years, predicting that air traffic won’t get back to 2019 levels until 2024.

The bill to cut back domestic flights goes next to France’s Senate for a vote.


Friday, April 9, 2021

Firefox would not support Amazon Fire TV or Echo Show from April 30th

Firefox will no longer support Amazon Fire TV or Echo Show devices starting April 30th, Mozilla announced on Friday (via Android Police).

Amazon Echo Show

“You will no longer be able to install [Firefox] on FireTV, receive security updates, or be able to reinstall the app if you uninstall it starting on April 30, 2021,” Mozilla said in a support document. “If you have Firefox set as your default browser on Echo Show, you will be redirected to Amazon Silk for web browsing starting April 30, 2021.”

Mozilla first brought Firefox to Fire TV devices in December 2017, giving Fire TV owners a way to watch YouTube in the midst of a bitter feud between Google and Amazon. In July 2019, however, Google brought the YouTube app back to the Fire TV, giving users one less reason to use Firefox.

The Mozilla-made browser first came to Echo Show devices alongside Amazon’s Silk browser with the introduction Echo Show 10 in September 2018. There’s still no YouTube app for Echo Show, so the two browsers have offered a way to watch YouTube on the Amazon-made smart displays.

Mozilla now suggests using Silk to browse the web on Fire TV and Echo show devices.

Samsung reportedly strikes a deal with competitor LG for Oled displays

Samsung Electronics is close to ordering millions of OLED TV panels from LG Display, according to new reports from MTN, ETNewsand Seoul Economic Daily. Officials reportedly met recently to agree to the deal, which would see 1 million panels supplied to Samsung in the second half of this year, rising to 4 million panels next year. If the deal is finalized, it would be the first time Samsung has bought OLED panels from its South Korean rival and market leader. TVs with LG’s OLED panels consistently rate amongst the best in professional reviews.

LG Oled

Samsung exited the OLED TV market over half a decade ago. Today, LG Display supplies OLED panels to a variety of TV manufacturers including Sony, Vizio, and Hisense, as well as LG Electronics. Last year LG Display announced an expansion of its OLED production lines, and market research firm TrendForce says its production capacity is due to further increase in the second quarter of this year. MTN reports that LG Display’s total OLED TV panel production capacity is around 8 million units this year.

Today’s reports are the latest indication of Samsung’s shift away from LCD panels, which it currently uses across its television lineup. Even its QLED TVs still use LCD panels behind that quantum dot layer. Last year Samsung Display announced it would stop producing LCD panels in the face of stiff price competition from Chinese competitors, however it reportedly postponed this shutdown after the pandemic led to a rise in demand.

While falling LCD panel prices were believed to be behind last year’s move, MTN reports that the trend is reversing this year. LCD panels are reportedly growing more expensive, prompting Samsung to explore alternatives.

While Samsung Electronics plans to buy panels from LG Display, its own display division is believed to be working on Quantum Dot OLED (QD-OLED) TV panels. A report from South Korean publication The Elec this week says Samsung Display is currently working on a prototype TV using the technology, which will be sent to potential customers like Samsung Electronics after it’s produced in June. However, QD-OLED panel samples sent to Samsung Electronics in January was reportedly criticized for their low brightness.


QD-OLED isn’t the only new display technology on Samsung’s horizon. It recently commercialized a new display type called Micro LED, which uses an array of tiny self-emissive LEDs to produce an image. Although Samsung has released the technology in a series of ultra-high end TVs, it’s believed to be years away from being affordable enough for mass-market sets. There are also reports that the company is working on self-emissive quantum-dot TVs.

When asked about the potential deal in an interview, Samsung Electronics Jong-Hee Han, who oversees the company’s display division, dismissed the reports as rumors.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Samsung's Galaxy SmartTag Plus with AR would be out on April 16th

Samsung’s Galaxy SmartTag Plus, the souped-up version of the company’s Tile-like SmartTag Bluetooth tracker (which was released earlier this year), now has a release date: it’ll be out on April 16th for $39.99.

Samsung SmartTag Plus

That’s a $10 price increase over the standard SmartTag, which runs for $29.99 — but the SmartTag Plus has one notable improvement. It features an ultra-wideband (UWB) radio, allowing users to track it more accurately when it’s nearby than the standard Bluetooth setup. The UWB radio actually enables a new AR mode, which can help show users exactly where their missing tag is.

To use the new UWB mode, you’ll need both a Galaxy SmartTag Plus and a compatible UWB-equipped Galaxy phone, a list that currently includes the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, Galaxy S21 Plus, Galaxy S21 Ultra, and the Galaxy Z Fold 2.

Aside from the fancy new UWB features, though, the SmartTag Plus still works just like the regular SmartTag, leveraging Samsung’s vast Bluetooth network of Galaxy devices to help track missing objects. It’s similar to Apple’s Find My network, which uses iPhones and iPads to create a Bluetooth network (and, thanks to a recent expansion to third-party devices, will soon offer a Find My-compatible tracker from Chipolo).

The upcoming release of the Galaxy SmartTag Plus means that Samsung — and not Apple’s long-rumored AirTags — will be the first major AR-compatible UWB tracking accessory to hit the market. Apple has been reportedly working on a similar UWB-based AR feature for its upcoming tracker, but despite plenty of leaks and rumors, there’s still no word on a release date.

Now you can say "Hey Spotify" to control your music

If you want to pull up your favorite Spotify track or playlist without pressing buttons, there is no shortage of voice assistants to help you get those jams, including Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana, and even Bixby. But now, Spotify has its own hands-free wake word: “Hey Spotify” appears to be rolling out on Android and iOS, as tested by GSM Arena9to5Mac

Spotify

Frankly, it’s a little less handy than some of the native voice assistants built into your phone because you need to leave the app open for it to work — it’s not something you’ll launch with your phone asleep or with Spotify simply running in the background.

But if you have the app open, you can just say “Hey Spotify” and ask it to play a song; pull up a playlist; launch a radio station; and skip, pause, or play. We also found the “Play something I like” command would pull up a random one of our Daily Mix playlists.

Frankly, it’s a little less handy than some of the native voice assistants built into your phone because you need to leave the app open for it to work — it’s not something you’ll launch with your phone asleep or with Spotify simply running in the background.

But if you have the app open, you can just say “Hey Spotify” and ask it to play a song; pull up a playlist; launch a radio station; and skip, pause, or play. We also found the “Play something I like” command would pull up a random one of our Daily Mix playlists.

Having the same voice command on your phone makes sense; users might get used to it, and start looking for it, after they exit their vehicles. And while they’re at it, I also wouldn’t be surprised if we see some “Hey Spotify” headphones or earbuds sometime in the next year.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Steam survey shows Nvidia RTX 3070 is gradually coming in the hands of gamers

Now that the street price of an Nvidia RTX 3070 is over $1,200, it’s temping to think scalpers, bots and cryptocurrency miners got them all — but the latest Steam Hardware Survey suggests at least some of them are making their way into gaming PCs, too. As TechSpot reports, the 3070 in particular appears to have become Steam’s fastest growing GPU, and the 17th-most popular graphics accelerator on Steam with a 1.29 percent share overall.

Nvidia RTX 3070

The RTX 3080 also commands 0.87 percent, the RTX 3060 Ti has 0.39 percent, and the pricey RTX 3090 claims 0.34 percent of the market — for a total of 2.89 percent Ampere cards.

That not bad, especially considering AMD’s rival RX 6000 series doesn’t have a single spot on the entire 95-GPU leaderboard. Apparently, more gamers are using the 2011 Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 Ti (0.16 percent) than any of AMD’s latest cards.

More than a quarter of Steam PC gamers are now using AMD CPUs instead of Intel, though, so that’s probably some consolation.

If secondhand sales numbers are anything to go by, I would expect the newer RTX 3060 to contribute to Nvidia’s tally next month.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

LG's newest LG Gram 17 makes competition tough for other laptops

The Gram 17 has a grandiose 17-inch display, yet it’s only three pounds, which is light enough for me to carry around one-handed. Its keyboard is a joy to type on with a surprising amount of tactility and travel in the keys, and the battery life outlasts a whole day of work, even much of a second one, too. It’s a quiet laptop, and even under pressure, its fans weren’t loud enough for me to hear once.

LG Gram 17

The Gram communicates its biggest selling points — lightness and longevity — so effectively that it outshines some persisting minor problems. Those include a keyboard layout that can be difficult to adjust to. For instance, the num lock is too easy to press accidentally, being right next to backspace, and the only function key is located too far away from the most essential function row buttons, making it a stretch to adjust the volume one-handed. Lastly, the large trackpad isn’t always good at palm rejection. These are important things for any laptop to get right, let alone one that has a bunch of extra real estate that should be used to avoid flaws like these.

This new model for 2021 is mostly a spec update, not a design overhaul compared to the 2020 version. But it’s a good update, at that. Inside of LG’s sole $1,799 Gram 17 configuration (it’s been available for $1,699 since late March), there’s now an 11th Gen Intel Core i7 quad-core processor that promises — and actually delivers — better performance and longer battery life than the 2020 model my colleague Monica Chin reviewed. Additionally, this model’s faster 4,266MHz LPDDR4X RAM, of which it has 16GB, likely plays a role in that speed boost. It’s not a drastically different computer to use than before, but it can hold its own more reliably this time around.

Last year’s model took 30 minutes to do this, but this one gets it done in around 11 minutes. That doesn’t hold a candle to laptops that put more of an emphasis on power usually at the expense of heft, but it’s enough of an improvement to make the Gram 17’s price a little easier to justify. Razer’s Book 13 with the same processor fared just about a minute faster with this test, but the Gram is on par with the latest Dell XPS 13 and Asus ZenBook 14

The battery is also mystifyingly good — and better than before. With that same batch of apps I mentioned earlier, the Gram 17 lasted an entire workday and well into the next, around 12 or so hours later. If you’re looking for a laptop that can go a full day of work without its charger, whether you have video calls or not, this is one for your shortlist. It features the same 80Wh battery as last year’s model, which is still impressive considering the Gram 17’s lightweight profile.

Also similar to the 2020 version is its USB-C charging. LG now includes a 65W USB-C power adapter instead of the 48W charger that shipped with the previous model. It can more quickly recharge with the included brick (which is no bigger than a compact power bank), but it still takes a few hours to refill it completely.

That sums up the biggest changes to this year’s Gram 17. There are a few smaller tweaks I liked, too. The arrangement of ports has been shifted around in a more logical layout. On the left side, there’s a Thunderbolt 4 port (it can be used for charging, data, or connecting to a display), one USB-C 4.0 Gen 3 port, a headphone combo jack, and an HDMI port. Over on the right is where you’ll find two USB Type-A 3.2 Gen 2 ports next to a microSD card slot and a Kensington lock.

If you’re shopping around for 17-inch laptops, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything lighter than the Gram. It’s 2.98 pounds, which is just a little heavier than the 13-inch MacBook Air. The Dell XPS 17 is one of LG’s main competitors in this space, yet its baseline model weighs over a pound and a half more. If you get an XPS 17 model like the one we reviewed in July 2020, it’ll weigh almost as much as two Gram 17s at 5.53 pounds. That added weight does bring more power and a dedicated GPU in the Dell, but if you just want a big, portable screen for productivity, the Gram is more than capable.

YouTube announces a new originals series with Will Smith and Alicia Keys

YouTube announced a new slate of original series today that includes some huge stars at the top of the lineup. Will Smith will star in a six...

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