TIME Innovation

You Can Unlock This High-Tech Padlock With Your Phone

noke
FUZ

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
FUZ

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.

[OhGizmo!]

 

TIME Gadgets

Wireless Price Wars Continue with Cheaper Verizon, Sprint Plans

Just note the fine print: Limited-time promotions may lead to higher prices around the corner.

We have truly entered the Bizarro World of wireless service, in which carriers keep inventing new ways to slash prices instead of further gouging their customers.

Verizon and Sprint are the latest to retool their plans, with promotional pricing for the former and permanent price changes for the latter.

If you’re a new subscriber to Verizon on an individual plan, you can now get 2 GB of data, unlimited talk and unlimited text for $60 per month. And if you sign up for Verizon Edge, which lets you trade up to a new phone for free once per year, the plan drops to $50 (plus the monthly installments on the phone itself). Either way, the new plan is $30 cheaper than before.

Some caveats apply: Verizon says this pricing is “promotional,” but doesn’t say when the promotion will end. And it’s only good for single-line, 2 GB plans. If you need more data or more lines, you get the same pricing as before. Also, existing subscribers can only get the reduced pricing when they upgrade to a new phone.

As for Sprint, the carrier is offering new shared data plans that are cheaper in many scenarios than plans from AT&T and Verizon. Like its larger rivals, Sprint is offering a single bucket of data shared across all phones and tablets, but the baseline data prices are less expensive.

For instance, Sprint charges $100 per month for 20 GB of shared data, while AT&T and Verizon charge $150 per month for the same data allotment.

On top of that data charge, you also have to pay per line. If you’re going with a standard two-year contract and subsidized phone, Sprint’s per-line prices are the same as its rivals, at $40 per month.

Alternatively, you can pay the full price of the phone in monthly installments. This provides a discount on the per-line fee, and lets you trade up to a new phone for free every 12 months. AT&T and Verizon have an edge here, as they both charge $25 per line for plans with less than 10 GB, and $15 per line for plans with 10 GB or more. Sprint makes the $15/$25 cutoff at 20 GB, so its plans tend to work out best for families who need a lot of data.

To kick off the new family plans, Sprint is offering a promotion that waives all per-line fees “through 2015,” and tacks on another 2 GB for each line. That means you could put a family of five on a 20 GB plan and pay only $100 per month, and you’d actually have 28 GB to play with through next year. But you have to sign up by September 30, and the plan would increase to $175 per month starting in 2016.

If you’re wondering about Sprint’s “Framily” plans, which offered higher discounts as you added more people, Re/code reports that they’ll still be available. It’s just that Sprint won’t market them as much.

Sprint hasn’t been much of a competitor lately, even as T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon all dropped prices to keep up with one another. But after abandoning its attempted T-Mobile takeover and bringing on a new CEO, it seems that Sprint is ready to rejoin the price wars. Things are only going to get weirder from here.

TIME Computers

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

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

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.

Vintage Computer Ads

TIME Gadgets

A Built-In Roku TV Is Coming Soon

The Roku 3 television streaming player menu screen featuring Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, Hulu, and Redbox Instant is shown on a television in Los Angeles on Sept. 12, 2013.
The Roku 3 television streaming player menu screen featuring Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, Hulu, and Redbox Instant is shown on a television in Los Angeles on Sept. 12, 2013. Bloomberg/Getty Images

Available in September

Roku is working to streamline the video streaming process.

While consumers have long been able to use a Roku box to watch streaming internet TV on their screens, the company announced Tuesday that it will bring the screen to the Roku, with its first ever built-in smart television available in stores come September.

The Saratoga, Calif.-based company is working with Hisen and TCL to create a line of Roku-powered TVs that offer streaming options from thousands of apps — including Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, and music sites apps like Pandora — just like the box version. According to Roku’s site, pre-orders are available on Amazon.

The 32-inch to 55-inch TCL Roku televisions will be available for between $230 and $650. Hisense will be offering four different sizes, ranging from 40″ to 55″, although prices have yet to be announced.

TIME Gadgets

First Smartphone Turns 20: Fun Facts About Simon

Simon Smartphone
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 Rob Stothard / Getty Images

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.

TIME Gadgets

Paycheck Friday! 7 Worthy Splurges Based On Your Income Tax Bracket

It's Friday. Maybe you just got paid! You could sock that money away like a sucker, or you could act like a rational human being and blow it on something totally unnecessary and awesome. Here are some ideas for your perusal.

$0 to $9,075: Giant Beer Glass (Price: $10)

beer glass
Amazon

The economy, man. It’s rough! (It’s still rough, right?) You might not be pulling in a handsome chunk of change yet, but that doesn’t mean you should have to make four separate trips to the fridge every time you want to sedate yourself.

This giant 53-ounce beer glass costs a mere 10 bones and holds four 12-ounce bottles of suds with five ounces left over for a nice, frothy head. Or maybe dump some tequila in there instead.

$9,076 to $36,900: Wine Bottle Combo Lock (Price: $22)

wine lock
Franmara

At your salary, sharing wine with people is a luxury you just can’t afford. Wine should be like gas money for you: If someone wants to kick in a finski, then grab another glass. If not, hit the bricks. This $22 combo lock corks your wine with a four-digit passcode to keep freeloaders from wheezing the juice.

“You can afford a wine-bottle lock but you can’t afford to share?” your guests will ask. “I can afford a wine-bottle lock because I don’t share,” you’ll respond. They’ll ironically call you Fun Terry from that point on, by the way.

$36,901 to $89,350: Lawn Chair with Tablet Holder (Price: $60)

iPad Chair
Hammacher Schlemmer

You work hard all day. Okay, most of the day. Okay, you work? “Eh.” You manage to make it into work most days? Yes? Okay. Then why, when you get home at night, should you have to choose between going outside on a beautiful summer night or sitting comfortably inside playing Kim Kardashian: Hollywood on your iPad?

Merge your love of outdoor living and the emptiness of worshiping celebrities with this $60 tablet lawn chair. It’s got a 12-inch steel gooseneck that accommodates 7- to 10-inch tablets. There’s a drink holder, too! And a pouch for snacks and stuff. Go easy on the snacks, though: The chair only supports up to 250 pounds and you don’t want to get your tablet all greasy.

$89,351 to $186,350: Ear-Cleaning Whatsit That Connects to Your Computer (Price: $201)

ear scope
Japan Trend Shop

There’s finally a way to see the gunk in your ears as you’re cleaning them out! The $201 Sugoi Mimikaki Ear Pick connects to your Windows PC or tablet via USB, working as a sort of in-home endoscope.

According to the product description, cleaning your ears out this way is “safer, better and, well, just more interesting!” If I had one complaint about cleaning my ears, it’s that I’ve never really been all that passionate about the entire endeavor. My brain realizes that what I’m doing should be extremely interesting, but I just don’t feel it in my heart. This could change everything!

$186,351 to $405,100: Desktop Jellyfish Tank (Price: $366)

jellyfish tank
ThinkGeek

Listen: I’m in no position to tell a person of your stature what to do, but I can advise you that someone with your many resources should at least think about portraying a certain persona. Not weird, mind you, but eccentric.

The teeming masses are all ordering well drinks? You order top-shelf vodka with coconut water. They take simple smartphone photos? You’ll settle for nothing less than a panorama. Every photo, a panorama! They’re buying goldfish from the pet store? You, my friend, have a jellyfish. Eccentric! This $366 desktop jellyfish kit will set you up with everything you need to get started: The bowl arrives first, and then the jellyfish is overnighted to you once you’re ready to become a proud pet owner.

$405,101 to 406,750: Bulletproof Suit (Price: If you have to ask, you can’t afford it)

bulletproof suit
Garrison

Look at this weird tax bracket. Is this a political thing? It seems political.

Anyway, if you’re important enough to somehow slide into this very narrow bracket, you’re clearly important enough that your life could be in constant danger. Be careful! But that doesn’t mean you need to be walking around in a lumpy bulletproof vest all day.

“Hey, is that guy fat or what?”

“Actually, I think he’s just wealthy.”

Why not try this bulletproof suit instead? It leverages the magic of carbon nanotubes to stave off death at an undisclosed price. It’s worth it, though, right? I mean, how much could a nice suit cost? Like $200? “Try thousands and thousands.” What?! But I buy one and I still get three free, right?

$406,751+: Flying Bicycle (Price: $45,000)

flying bike
Hammacher Schlemmer

“Bike-flying? You’ve nevah beeeen?” Imagine being able to add that phrase to your arsenal.

All it’ll set you back is a cool $45,000 for what Hammacher Schlemmer is calling the “first” flying bike. You have many, many cars in your expansive garage, yes? You probably have a bike or nine as well, no? Why not add this miracle of human ingenuity: “the world’s first bicycle that doubles as a flying ultralight para-trike aircraft,” according to the product description. It cruises at low altitude for up to 75 miles at up to 25 miles per hour, for cracked ice. What are you waiting for?!

TIME Gadgets

Samsung Buys Into Home Automation with SmartThings Acquisition

SmartThings

The reported $200 million deal is a puzzler at first glance, but could make sense if Samsung loops in its appliance business.

Now that nearly every tech company, retail store and hardware chain has its own home automation platform, Samsung doesn’t want to be left out.

The electronics giant has acquired SmartThings, which makes smart home products and apps to control them. Samsung hasn’t disclosed the price, but Re/code claims the company paid roughly $200 million. SmartThings says it will remain an open platform and will operate independently within Samsung’s Open Innovation Center.

Here’s how SmartThings works: First, you buy a $99 hub that allows all your devices and appliances to connect. Then, you tack on whatever other home automation gear you want, such as power outlets, light switches, motion sensors and door locks. The hub then connects to your Internet router, allowing you to control everything via smartphone or tablet whether you’re home or away.

SmartThings got its start as a Kickstarter project in 2012, but over the last couple years, many larger companies have launched similar products with hubs that control an array of other devices. Lowe’s has a smart home system called Iris, while Home Depot has backed Wink, an offshoot of New York-based design shop Quirky. Staples has its own platform, called Connect, and Best Buy is reportedly backing a new effort called Peq.

But there isn’t a huge difference between each of these platforms, and right now the landscape is a bit messy. If you’re in the market for a home automation system, it’s tough to decide which one to pick. And there’s so much expensive, proprietary hardware on each platform that you could easily lock yourself into to one system that doesn’t end up being the best fit.

Perhaps that’s why other tech giants such as Google and Apple are moving more cautiously. Earlier this year, Google acquired Nest, whose only products are a smart thermostat and smoke detector. (Nest itself has since acquired Dropcam, a maker of video-monitoring cameras.) Apple hasn’t yet entered the hardware fray, but the next version of iOS will include HomeKit, a framework for controlling third-party devices. There’s been some speculation that Apple TV could serve as Apple’s hub for home automation in the future.

With that in mind, Samsung’s purchase is a head-scratcher at first glance. SmartThings isn’t much different from all the other systems on the market, and probably won’t get much love at retail, given that every chain now has its own preferred platform.

But Samsung may be able to stand out if it can tie in products from its home appliance business, such as ovens, refrigerators and dishwashers. Although Samsung has dabbled in connected appliances before, until now, it hasn’t had a complete platform that covers things like door locks and light sensors. With SmartThings, Samsung could be buying itself those basic elements. Use cases like “make sure the oven’s off when I leave the house” could be pretty compelling to homeowners, and it’s something other platforms won’t be able to do unless they start partnering with major appliance vendors.

TIME Innovation

Screaming at Your Phone Might Charge It Someday

This experimental smartphone converts background noise to battery power.

Researchers at Nokia and Queen Mary University in London believe they have a novel solution to smartphone battery limitations: Instead of trying to improve the battery itself, they’ve figured out how to keep it charged through sound waves.

The key, according to Gizmag, is the use of zinc oxide, whose piezoelectric properties can generate an electrical current from mechanical stress. The researchers started by spraying zinc oxide onto a plastic sheet and heating it in a chemical mixture, creating an array of zinc oxide “nanorods.”

The nanorod sheet bends in response to sound waves, creating enough mechanical stress to generate electricity. Researchers then sandwiched the sheet between layers of aluminum foil to harvest the voltage.

On a prototype device roughly the size of Nokia’s Lumia 925, the researchers were able to generate up to five volts from background noise such as traffic, music and voices. They claim that’s enough help charge a phone, though it’s not clear to what extent.

It’s easy to get excited about these kinds of developments, but keep mind that success in a university lab is a poor indicator of future products. For years, we’ve been hearing about amazing battery research, from the ability to charge electronics with a heartbeat to instant charging technology to entirely new battery chemistry, but none of these advancements have appeared in actual phones that you can buy today. Many of them must address significant hurdles around design, cost, manufacturing and safety before they become practical for the market.

In other words, you’ll have many more realistic reasons to scream at your phone for the foreseeable future.

TIME Smartphones

Bring On the 5.5-inch iPhone

Left to right: OnePlus One, Apple iPhone (above), LG G3, Nokia Lumia 1520 Jared Newman for TIME

After three months with gigantic smartphones, it's hard to go back.

Though I’ve always understood the appeal of oversized smartphones, I’ve never spent as much time with them as I have over the last three months.

In the course of reviewing Windows Phone 8.1 (on a Nokia Lumia 1520), the OnePlus One and the LG G3, almost all of my smartphone use since mid-May has been on screens measuring 5.5 inches or larger.

The experience has been transformative enough that I’m not looking forward to reactivating my personal handsets, an original HTC One (4.7 inches) and an iPhone 5 (4 inches). Painful as it is to say — mostly because of the grating nomenclature — I’ve become addicted to phablets.

Basically, I’m living the trend in which my smartphone replaces much of what I used to do on a tablet. When I want to glance at my e-mail, scroll through Twitter or look at some funny GIFs on Reddit, it takes less time to pull out my phone than it does to look for my iPad or wake up my Surface Pro 3. And unlike those larger devices, I can use my phone with one hand and stash it back in my pocket to carry around the house.

This isn’t a new trend, or one that’s unique to extra large phones. Studies have shown that most teens and young adults rely largely on their phones for Internet use, and industry sales figures show that tablet sales are stalling while smartphones keep climbing. Meanwhile, as the speed and display technology of smartphones has improved, displacing the tablet has gotten easier. (In an especially prescient piece from 2010, Brian Lam had already ditched his less-than-year-old iPad for the iPhone 4 and its crisp Retina display.)

Oversized phones have amplified this phenomenon, or at least made it more sensible to me. The main reason is obvious: The bigger screen feels like less of a compromise for reading, watching videos and playing games. But just as importantly, nearly every phablet I’ve used has a humongous battery inside, allowing me breeze through a day of heavy use with plenty of juice in the tank. Always having an Internet connection at no extra charge — even if Wi-Fi is unavailable — helps as well.

The biggest drawback with larger phones is that they’re harder to use with one hand, but improvements in hardware and software make this less of a problem than it used to be. The LG G3’s narrow bezels make it easier to reach across the device with your thumb. It also uses on-screen buttons for Home, Back and Recent apps, so your fingers don’t have to travel off the screen. When you’re watching a video or playing a game, these buttons fade out of view until you swipe them onto the screen again. Windows Phone has its own clever trick: Because most apps have all their menu buttons on the bottom of the screen, you rarely have to reach all the way to the top, out of thumb range.

The other issue is that these phones tend to leave a larger impression in your pocket, but I think that’s more of a psychological problem than a practical one. A lot of people have asked me how I could possibly carry an oversized phone like the Lumia 1520, but I’ve yet to wear a pair of jeans in which my phone won’t fit. Most of the time, I don’t even think about it.

All of these factors have in turn primed me for the rumored 5.5-inch iPhone, even with a 4.7-inch iPhone widely expected to launch in September. I don’t know whether it’s going to happen — there’s still a lot of conflicting information on the timing and the specifics — but I’m willing to wait it out.

Now that my iPad is in neglect, an iPhone seems like my most practical point of entry into Apple’s ecosystem and all the interesting features in iOS 8. I want that experience to be as tablet-like as possible.

TIME

Acer’s New Chromebook Goes Where Windows PCs Won’t

acer chromebook 13
Acer

The Tegra-powered Chromebook 13 is another stab at the ideal mid-range Chromebook

If you try to buy a laptop for around $400 these days, something weird happens.

You’ll find lots of lightweight notebooks with 11-inch or smaller screens, and plenty of 15-inch clunkers with terrible battery life. What you won’t get is anything in between, combining decent screen size, power and portability at a reasonable price.

That means Acer’s Chromebook 13 is more unique than it ought to be. At $380 for the most expensive model, it has a 13.3-inch 1080p display, weighs 3.3 pounds, measures 0.71 inches thick and lasts for 11.5 hours on a charge. It also has 4 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage. (You can downgrade to 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB for $300, or get a 1366-by-768 variant with 13 hours of battery for $280.) It’s hard to find a Windows laptop or another Chromebook with the same mix of battery life, performance and screen quality.

The thing that makes Acer’s Chromebook 13 possible is its Nvidia Tegra K1 processor. It’s an ARM-based chip that’s mainly intended for high-end tablets, but in this case it allows for long battery life, high screen resolution and no cooling fans.

Typically, these ARM-based Chromebooks take a performance hit compared to their Intel-powered rivals, but SlashGear notes that Acer’s model outperformed Intel’s Bay Trail chips while juggling multiple browser tabs and playing video. Nvidia also claims that its chip offers three times the graphics performance of Bay Trail and other ARM-based Chromebooks.

The Chromebook 13’s closest competitor is Samsung’s 13-inch Chromebook 2, which also uses an ARM-based processor and has a 1080p display. Samsung’s model is a bit lighter at 3.1 pounds, but it only lasts about eight hours on a charge.

I mostly liked Samsung’s Chromebook, but its viewing angles were terrible and its performance was occasionally sluggish. While I haven’t seen Acer’s Chromebook up close, I’m hoping it can do a little better on those fronts.

In any case, I’m happy to see another shot at a mid-range Chromebook that focuses on portability, because that’s what Google’s browser-based operating system is made for. The $400 laptop market needs devices like the Chromebook 13 more than it needs another wave of 15-inch monstrosities.

The Chromebook 13 is available for pre-sale from Amazon and Best Buy, but there’s no word on an exact release date yet.

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