MONEY Smart Shopping

4 Great Laptops Under $1,000

Whatever your computing needs, there’s an affordable machine that’s right for you.

  • Lenovo Flex 2 15

    Scott M. Lacey

    Price: $530 | Size: 15.6″ | Battery life: 6 hrs. | Weight: 5.1 lbs.

    The highlights: Real computing power at a rock-bottom price.
    The details: For the typical laptop user, the Lenovo is a serious bargain. The machine comes loaded with Windows 8.1, an Intel processor, quality speakers, and a backlit keyboard—everything you need to work, browse the web, and watch video. You can also pivot the touchscreen backward and use it as a stand-up tablet.
    Best for: All-around use

  • HP Chromebook 14

    Scott M. Lacey

    Price: $300 |Size: 14″ | Battery life: 9½ hrs. | Weight: 4 lbs.

    The highlights: Boots up instantly, automatically backs up your data, and never gets viruses.
    The details: This laptop runs Google’s Chrome operating system, which consists mostly of a web browser and apps. You’ll need a web connection to get the most out of the HP, but you can edit spreadsheets and other docs when you’re offline. Plus, if the machine crashes, log on to your Google account, and your stuff will be there.
    Best for: Light use

  • Apple Macbook Air

    Scott M. lacey

    Price: $999 |Size: 13″ | Battery life: 12 hrs. | Weight: 3 lbs.

    The highlights: A lightweight machine with impressive battery life, this Mac is easy to tote around all day long.
    The details: This super-portable laptop combines an efficient processor with a wedgelike body that measures just 0.11 inches at its thinnest point. The machine comes loaded with a variety of Mac apps, such as iPhoto and iMovie, but perhaps its best attribute is the battery. Apple promises up to 12 hours of web surfing.
    Best for: Travel

  • Asus Q502LA

    Scott M. Lacey

    Price: $800 |Size: 15.6″ | Battery life: 6 hrs. | Weight: 4.9 lbs.

    The highlights: Torn between a laptop and a tablet? The Asus is a bit of both.
    The details: This Windows laptop is powerful enough to use as a work machine. It even includes software that allows you to dictate aloud to the computer when you need a typing break. Yet the Asus is also great for fun stuff. Flip the super-high-resolution touch screen around, fold it flat, and voilà!—a tablet.
    Best for: Watching movies, playing games.

TIME Gadgets

New $50 TiVo Box Targets Cord Cutters and Aereo Refugees

TiVo TiVo's new Roamio OTA box costs $50 and pulls in free over-the-air broadcasts

The convenience of TiVo without the high monthly cost of a cable subscription

TiVo’s new Roamio OTA box will be available September 14 for $50. It’s being sold exclusively at Best Buy.

Like other TiVo boxes, this one sports an easy-to-use programming guide, you can set it to automatically record your favorite shows whenever they air and it hooks into online services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Spotify and YouTube. You’ll also need to pony up $15 per month to access program listings, which are refreshed via a connection from the box to your home network.

The difference here is that the Roamio OTA only works with an over-the-air antenna, pulling in your free local broadcast stations. Aside from the $15-per-month TiVo fee, there’s no need to subscribe to Comcast or FiOS, in other words. You can record up to four shows at once, and the hard drive can store up to 75 hours of high-definition video footage.

Obviously, the sticking point for most people is going to be the monthly charge. But f you’re big on being able to record broadcast shows — complete with all the multi-show recording and commercial-skipping goodness that entails — you’re looking at shelling out less than $200 per year for the privilege of doing so.

Roamio OTA comes at an opportune time, with online TV service Aereo being run out of town by the entertainment industry. I recently rounded up a few ways to roll your own Aereo-like service, but most options were cumbersome and expensive. This new TiVo box could be the ticket, though.

[Fast Company]

TIME Gadgets

5 Unique Kitchen Gadgets for Under $100

Come on, you're making some decent money now. Live a little! Consider blowing your paycheck on these worthy splurges.

Paper Towel Holder with 4 USB Ports ($50)


This is the Towlhub, an ordinary-looking paper towel holder with a missing vowel. Look closer, and you’ll notice four USB ports you can use to charge your gadgets. Be careful! Gadgets and water generally don’t mix, so watch those wet hands when you’re reaching for a paper towel.

An extra $40 gets you a version that packs two Bluetooth speakers. Oh, and the topper for both versions doubles as a wine stopper. As far as kitchen-based convergence devices go, this one’s got a lot of the bases covered.


Two-in-One Tablet Mount/Stand ($29)

tablet holder
CTA Digital

Tablet holders are everywhere, but this $29 jobber from CTA Digital is unique in that it sports an under-cabinet mount configuration that easily transforms into a counter-top stand configuration in a flash.

The neck rotates and pivots up, down, left and right, and is made of aluminum. The clamp doohickey adjusts from 6 to 8.5 inches in width, which should accommodate most 7- to 10-inch tablet models (7- to 10-inch tablets are measured diagonally, remember).


Kickball Ice Cream Maker ($35)

ice cream kickball
Hammacher Schlemmer

You ever try to make your own ice cream? Too much stirring. It’s all stirring. Stir, stir, stir, until now I don’t even want ice cream anymore.

You can take the stirring part out of the equation with this $35 kickball that you fill with ice cream ingredients. Once everything’s packed in, lace up your cleats, head out to the yard and kick the ball around. After about 20 minutes of family fun, you’ll have a pint of ice cream to stuff into your gullet. Best of all, you won’t feel guilty — a fair to middling amount of exercise went into making desert, no?

[Hammacher Schlemmer]

Selfie Toaster ($75)

Selfie Toaster
Vermont Novelty Toaster

You could make boring old toast in a boring old toaster or you could make toast with your face on it. Why would you choose the first option?

Sure, this toaster on its own probably isn’t worth $75. But remember the part about your face getting burnt into every piece of toast consumed in your house for as long as the toaster lasts. That’s the gift that keeps on giving — wholeheartedly at first, with the euphoria gradually diminishing with each subsequent conversion from bread to hot, face-burned bread.

[Burnt Impressions]

Touch-Free Faucet Kit ($48)


This thing isn’t much to look at — unless you’re into lumpy, bulky faucet accessories — but for less than $50, it’ll let your ordinary faucet work like one of those fancy, expensive, touch-free faucets you always see on those home renovation shows.

A sensor on the kit detects when your hands are present, letting water flow out until you remove them. There’s also a manual override feature that’ll let you run water for up to three minutes, at which point it’ll shift back to automatic mode. The kit uses four AAA batteries and attaches to most standard faucet heads that sport removable aerators.


TIME apps

Good Idea: Dock a Tiny Netflix Window in Your Browser While You Work

Behold Netflix Mini in all its glory.

The idea was spawned from one of Netflix’s hack days. That’s the bad news: Netflix Mini is still just an idea at this point.

It would ostensibly be an extension for Google’s Chrome web browser that would dock a tiny window in the lower-right corner, allowing you to work on whatever you’re working on while catching up on whatever show you’re binge-watching. A similar extension called PIP Video already exists, but I couldn’t get it working with Netflix videos. YouTube videos worked fine, however.

While Netflix Mini may or may not become real someday, can we all agree that it probably should? Yes? Handshake?

Check out Netflix’s writeup of its summer hack day for other ideas that were presented.


TIME Innovation

You Can Unlock This High-Tech Padlock With Your Phone


We’re almost to the point, technologically, where you won’t have to remember a single thing.

This newfangled padlock — called Noke — has no keys, keyhole or combination for you to remember, instead relying on your iOS or Android device to unlock it via Bluetooth. Get within 10 feet of the thing, keep your phone in your pocket and you’ll be able to unlock it. You can share access with other people as well, turn off the auto-unlock-within-10-feet feature and receive alerts whenever Noke is unlocked by someone else.

“But what if I lose my phone?!” you bellow, your face red with Internet nerd rage, your hammy fists pounding against your desk until they leave C-shaped sweat rings. You can unlock the lock by pumping the doohickies in a Morse code-like fashion you set in advance, like so:

noke code

The padlock has a battery, which lasts a year and can only be removed when the padlock’s unlocked. If you manage to run it dry, there’s an emergency backup feature as well. It’s water resistant, and there’s a special bike cable available for $20.

This is a Kickstarter project that’s been fully funded, with the promise of the padlocks being shipped out early next year. Early backers can get a padlock for $59; the final retail price is set to be around $89.



TIME Google

YouTube Videos Playing Automatically? Sit Tight

Well, that's annoying.

All the livelong day, YouTube videos have been autoplaying in my web browser (I’m using Google Chrome). I just opened 19 tabs at once, and my computer basically threatened to walk off the job. My other browsers aren’t affected, so this appears to be a Chrome-YouTube joint.

A fix is coming. It’s apparently a problem on YouTube’s end, and the team is aware of it. Check out this Google thread for updates.

[Android Police]

TIME Computers

(Not Very) Bold Prediction: $200 Laptops Aplenty for the Holidays

Inside a Best Buy Store Ahead of Earnings
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg / Getty Images Customers look at laptop computers at a Best Buy store.

For years — years! — we’ve been waiting for the $200 laptop.

Sure, laptops dip down to the $200 during super sales like Black Friday. And snagging a $179 Chromebook — Chromebooks are laptops too, you know — is now a relatively easy feat to achieve. Remember netbooks? Those things were known to flirt with the $200 price point toward the end of their collective lifespan, occasionally breaking through it entirely.

But the holidays this year will look different. Instead of searching, waiting, hoping — stampeding! — for a $200 computer, you’ll actually have a fair amount to choose from, and they’ll likely be in stock and regularly priced around $200 or less.

Over at GigaOM, Kevin Tofel passes along news of the so-called HP Stream 14, which was supposedly leaked to German blog Mobile Geeks. The Stream is apparently a 14-inch Windows laptop with very Chromebook-like innards that comes with 100 gigabytes of storage for two years, just like Chromebooks.

Microsoft doesn’t want to see Chromebooks continue to erode its share of low-end laptop sales. That’s straight from the horse’s mouth: As the Verge reports, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner recently said, “We’ve got a great value proposition against Chromebooks, we are not ceding the market to anyone.”

If that sounds aggressive, get this: Turner alluded to 7- and 8-inch models in this HP Stream line going for around $100 during the holidays. Aggressive indeed.

While ever-falling component costs lead to cheaper and cheaper computers, Bloomberg reported earlier this year that the licensing fee Microsoft charges hardware makers to use Windows on their machines has reportedly dropped exponentially for systems in the sub-$250 price range. It apparently dropped from $50 down to just $15, which of course paves the way for lower retail prices as well.

It’s the perfect storm: Chromebooks are popular low-end machines, and Microsoft wants to stem the tide. These aren’t going to be the most powerful computers in the history of computing, but if you’re looking for something that can handle simple tasks like email and web surfing on the cheap, you’ll have plenty of options later this year.

TIME Gadgets

First Smartphone Turns 20: Fun Facts About Simon

Simon Smartphone
Rob Stothard / Getty Images An original IBM Simon Personal Communicator is placed next to an Apple iPhone 4S at the Science Museum on August 15, 2014 in London, England

A tip of the hat to Simon, long referenced as the first smartphone. It went on sale to the public on August 16, 1994 and packed a touchscreen, email capability and more, paving the way for our modern-day wondergadgets.

Here’s a look at some of Simon’s history.

IBM and BellSouth first showed Simon off in late 1992.

It was code-named “Angler” and was unveiled at the fall COMDEX convention in Vegas, but wouldn’t be available to purchase by consumers until August 16, 1994. In 1995, the great Computer Chronicles TV show led its “Year of the Portable” episode with Simon.

Here’s the brief segment:

“I am totally computer-functional!”

The phone had no web browser — heck, computers were just getting decent browsers back then — but email access was a big selling point. It could send faxes, too, which is a technology people haven’t been able to completely kill off yet despite decades of trying.

It was big and expensive, but not insanely so.

By today’s standards, of course, Simon was clunky and outrageously priced. But for a do-it-all gizmo in the mid-’90s, its $1,100 price tag should elicit a mere shrug from most of us nowadays. And if you signed a two-year contract with BellSouth, you could get it for $900; that subsidized price eventually dropped to $600.

The phone itself measured 8 inches long by 2.5 inches wide by 1.5 inches thick, and weighed two ounces north of a pound. That’d be pretty clunky today, but we’re talking about the ’90s here. Everyone was wearing Hammer pants and Zubaz, so pocket space wasn’t much of an issue, right? As you can see in the above photo — where it’s placed next to an iPhone 4S — it’s big but not monstrous.

It had a touchscreen and apps.

Touchscreens weren’t exactly nonexistent back in the early ’90s, but they weren’t super common, either. Simon is believed to be the first commercially available phone with a touchscreen, though earlier PDA devices had showcased various portable touchscreen technologies. Simon’s interface could be navigated with an included stylus, and somewhat less easily with a finger.

These were the early days of mobile touchscreens, mind you. Take a look at Simon’s interface in this fascinating TekGadg video from 2011:

Best line: “I don’t think it does multi-touch, Winston.” That parting jab at Android was uncalled for, fellas.

There was no app store, of course, but the phone came preloaded with several apps. You can take a look at Simon’s user manual, which is not only chock full of wonderfully nostalgic technobabble from back in the day, but also lists the following apps:

  • Address Book
  • Calculator
  • Calendar
  • Fax
  • Filer
  • Mail
  • Note Pad
  • Sketch Pad
  • Time
  • To Do

These things weren’t called “apps” back then. They were generally referred to as “features” found in the “Mobile Office” section of the phone. Here’s a look at the alarm clock:

Email was no picnic to set up, either. It used Lotus’ cc:Mail offering, which required you to dial in to a computer running cc:Mail software that housed all your messages — the “post office,” as it were. How would you set up this post office? You wouldn’t: According to Simon’s manual, “You don’t have to worry about how to set up a post office, because your E-mail administrator or service does that.”

It had predictive typing.

The feature was called the “PredictaKey” keyboard and, according to the user manual, “always shows the six most-likely letters that you need, depending on the characters you’ve just typed.

BellSouth had apparently also been working with Apple to develop a cellular connection for the Newton PDA at the time.

An early profile of Simon alludes to a BellSouth-Apple partnership for Apple’s Newton PDA wherein BellSouth was “working with Apple to integrate cellular into the device.” The piece quoted BellSouth’s then-product-manager Rich Guidotti assuaging concerns that the two devices would compete:

BellSouth’s work with Apple is not affected by the new Simon, Guidotti said. Referring to the Newton as an electronic organizer and the Simon as a personal communicator, Guidotti added: “No one product fits everyone’s needs.”

A cellular connection for the Newton wouldn’t materialize from the BellSouth-Apple partnership, however. Built-in cellular features for the Newton were apparently nixed altogether.

Simon made an appearance in The Net.

The movie, according to Frank Costanza, is “called The Net, with that girl from The Bus.”

You could plug it into a regular phone jack.

Though Simon was targeted at deep-pocketed business people, cell service was still spotty and expensive back in the mid-’90s. An optional cable allowed Simon’s owner to plug it into a standard phone jack (remember those?) to make calls via more reliable and less expensive land-line systems.

Simon lived fast and died young.

Despite its features, IBM and BellSouth didn’t exactly have a hit on their hands. Simon spent a mere six months on the market, with around 50,000 units sold. Businessweek’s profile of the device cites Simon’s weak battery — it lasted around an hour — and the cool factor of svelter and svelter flip phones as contributing to Simon’s demise. It sounds like IBM and BellSouth kind of lost interest in the project as well, with IBM in the middle of downsizing endeavors and BellSouth pumping resources into bolstering its cell network.

Simon, we hardly knew ye. But your ghost lingers on in our modern-day communicators.

Further Reading

Microsoft’s Bill Buxton has a great info page with links to a bunch of old Simon-related material. Check out Businessweek and Wikipedia for related material as well.

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