TIME Gadgets

Google Sweetens the Chromebook Deal Ahead of the Holidays

Google Chromebook To Be Available Online On June 15
Google Inc. Chrome and Samsung Electronics Co.'s logos are seen on a Chromebook in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, June 9, 2011. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Free storage promotion runs until the new year

Google is offering a terabyte of free storage with its Chromebook computers for the holiday season, the company announced Friday.

Customers who buy qualifying Chromebooks priced at $199 or more will receive a two-year subscription to Google Drive with a terabyte of free storage space. That amount of space typically costs $9.99 per month, so the deal is worth about $240.

Chromebooks are stripped of many of the programs typically found on PCs, and instead offer apps that are accessed online, like Google Docs. They’ve slowly gained in marketshare since Google first unveiled the barebones laptops in 2011 — Chromebook sales are expected to triple by 2017.

The Google Drive promotion runs through January 1.

TIME Computers

Hands On: Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro and ThinkPad Yoga 14

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro
Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro K.T. Bradford / Techlicious

Two years ago, when Lenovo first debuted the IdeaPad Yoga 13, it was one of the most exciting 2-in-1 hybrids to herald the coming of Windows 8. Though the operating system still has people cringing, the hardware remains innovative and useful and has improved with each generation.

No surprise then that the two new Yogas, the Yoga 3 Pro and the ThinkPad Yoga 14, are pretty impressive. With the Yoga 3 Pro, Lenovo redesigned and improved upon the hinge mechanism. The ThinkPad takes a cue from the Carbon X1 design, fitting a 14-inch screen into a 13-inch body and adds discrete graphics to boot.

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14 K.T. Bradford / Techlicious

When most people think of ThinkPads, they envision boxy business machines that embody durability but don’t always have the most eye-catching designs. Over the past few years, Lenovo has worked to change that perception, and laptops like the Yoga 14 are the result. You’ll still get the durability features such as a magnesium alloy frame, and of course that great ThinkPad keyboard. However, the design is slim, sleek, and attractive. At 4.1 pounds it’s not feather-light, but it’s still light enough for ultra portability.

Another reason to take a look at this model over the Yoga 3 Pro is that the ThinkPad has the Lift and Lock keyboard. As you bend it around past 180 degrees, the keyboard not only shuts off, but the deck of the laptop rises up so the keys are flush with it. This helps to keep the keys from popping off when you’re in tablet mode.

On top of that, this is a very powerful machine for being so thin and light: 4th generation Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, NVIDIA Geforce 840M graphics, and a 1TB hard drive with a 16GB SSD cache for speedier wake and overall performance of the operating system.

The 14-inch touchscreen has a full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution and is bright, colorful, yet not too reflective or prone to glare. Wide viewing angles mean you aren’t confined to one sweet spot for viewing images and video — important for a multi-mode 2-in-1. In my hands-on time, I noted how responsive it is to touch and that there’s not too much bounce in the hinge. The keyboard isn’t as deep as some ThinkPads, but felt great to type on. The large touchpad is also very responsive and didn’t make me feel like I would always need to reach up and touch the screen.

If you need powerful performance as much as you need versatility, this ThinkPad may be the Yoga for you. And at $1,199, the price isn’t bad, either.

However, the 4.1 pound weight is a little above the ultrabook weights that many people are used to. The Yoga 3 Pro ($1,349) is only 2.62 pounds and half an inch thick. That’s not even the best part of the new design.

lenovo-yoga3-pro-hinge
K.T. Bradford / Techlicious

In order to make the laptop thinner, Lenovo redesigned the hinge from the ground up. The inspiration came from watchbands, and it features six points of articulation. Once you put it at an angle, the hinge stays. Yet it’s also just as easy to move the screen and keyboard deck as before.

Check out our hands-on below:

The Yoga 3 Pro doesn’t have the Lift and Lock mechanism that the Thinkpad does, so exposed keys are still a bit of a problem. Other than that, the design looks and feels really good. With convertibles, the large screen size can make using it as a tablet a little unwieldy. That’s less of an issue when the entire machine is this thin and light.

Inside, an Intel Core M-70 processor (made for ultrathin systems) runs the show, backed by 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and integrated graphics to support the 3200 x 1800 resolution touchscreen. This model comes with two USB 3.0 ports and an extra USB 2.0 port that also doubles as the power port. A clever way to include an extra USB slot without adding bulk.

Both of the new Yoga 2-in-1 laptops have several things that make it easy to recommend them, so it mostly comes down to a choice between more power and durability or lighter weight and a higher-resolution display. Either way, both models will be available by the end of October.

This article was written by K.T. Bradford and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Crime

Police Dogs Can Now Uncover Child Porn by Sniffing Out Electronic Devices

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Getty Images

The animals have been trained to identify a chemical common to laptops, flash drives and so on

Two dogs that flunked out of New York City’s Guiding Eyes for the Blind program have found a new job helping police find hidden electronic devices, Bloomberg reports.

The skill is proving useful to investigators looking for devices containing, for instance, child pornography or fraudulent documents.

Black Labrador Selma and golden Labrador Thoreau underwent months of training to be able to sniff out laptops, digital cameras, flash drives and even memory cards. The dogs were trained to detect the scent of a particular chemical common to all these devices on people’s hands, clothes, metal boxes and even concrete blocks.

The chemical, which police have declined to name, was identified by forensic-science veteran Jack Hubball, who in 1986 isolated a flame accelerant present in cases of arson that could be detected by dogs. He later helped train canines to sniff out narcotics and bombs.

In his latest work, Hubball took apart circuit boards, hard disks and flash drives and tested each component individually to pinpoint the chemical they shared.

Detective George Jupin of the Connecticut State Police Computer Crimes Unit, who is Selma’s handler, told Bloomberg that the animal had assisted in over 50 search warrants since starting in October 2013. Selma has found child pornography, falsified documents and stored software that was used to help identify firearms in a homicide case.

Thoreau is doing similar work with the Rhode Island State Police.

[Bloomberg]

TIME Gadgets

The Best Laptop Under $500 for Fall 2014

Acer E5
The Acer E5 offers respectable power for just shy of $500 Acer

With a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 1TB hard drive and full-sized keyboard, the Aspire E 15 has plenty of power.

A search for laptops under $500 turns up a wide range of choices, starting with smaller, netbook-like hybrids and moving up to full-size, mainstream PCs with budget price tags.

Assuming you want a full-featured PC, chances are that you’re looking for either a small, ultra-portable, low-power secondary machine or a full-sized computer that’s basic yet reliable. Since the criteria for each are different, a final choice comes down to one thing: Which laptop is the best value for your money?

To evaluate the best laptops under $500, I didn’t just look at price; I also considered performance, design, brand reliability and reviews from professionals and consumers. A handful of promising contenders emerged, including the Acer Aspire E 15, the Lenovo Yoga 2 11, the Acer Aspire Switch 10 and the Asus Transformer Book T100.

If you’re looking for a laptop to use as a main computer, my top pick is the 15.6-inch Aspire E 15. But if you’re in the market for a small machine, the 10-inch hybrid tablet Acer Aspire Switch 10 gets the nod. Both do well in the areas that matter most: smooth and speedy performance, sturdy and streamlined design, comfortable keyboards and good battery life. However, they are very different machines meant for different workloads.

The Acer Aspire E 15: Best laptop as a main computer

When shopping for a budget 13- to 15-inch laptop to use as your main computer, you’ll have to make some compromises: plastic casing instead of metal, HD displays instead of full HD or Retina-like resolution (often without touchscreens), slightly heavier and thicker designs instead of feather light and sleek. Most of these are acceptable trade-offs for the price; when it comes to internal hardware and performance, you should accept the least compromise possible.

During my initial search for sub-$500 laptops, I found solid models from HP, Dell, Asus and Lenovo that are as easy on the eyes as they are on the wallet. The models with the highest ratings ran on less powerful AMD or Intel processors (Core i3, Celeron, Pentium). Most also offered less RAM than my top pick. While this can be acceptable in a budget laptop, you should always get the most powerful processor and largest amount of RAM you can afford.

Solid power and performance

This is the primary reason why this Acer Aspire E 15 is my pick for top mainstream laptop. The $499 model (E5-571-563B) is powered by a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM, which should keep it speedy for several years, even as programs and websites become more complex and take up more resources. The E 15 also comes with a 1TB hard drive — not an SSD (another compromise), but large enough to hold a sizable media collection as well as all your documents and other files.

The E 15 performed smoothly in my tests, switching between dozens of open tabs in Chrome and Firefox without lag while streaming music in the background. HD videos played without lag or hitching, and the system’s integrated graphics handled less intense games just fine. The E 15 ran spreadsheet macros at a respectable rate for a laptop with a spinning hard drive, opening even large Word documents in seconds.

The E 15 has plenty of ports, including VGA, Ethernet and three USB ports. The only thing you might expect to see that isn’t here on this model is an optical drive.

Full-sized keyboard and energy-saving monitor

Another area where you shouldn’t compromise too much (even on a tight budget) is a laptop’s keyboard. A good external mouse can replace a less than stellar touchpad, but if you need an external keyboard, you lose the point of using a laptop. The Aspire E 15 has a standard Acer keyboard with square, island-style keys that spring up as you type and don’t require heavy fingerfalls to register. Because this is a 15-inch system, you get not only get a full-size keyboard but a full number pad to the right as well.

The comfortable typing experience is matched by a responsive but not overly sensitive touchpad. It’s wide and tall, giving you enough area for executing gestures to bring up Windows charms and making up somewhat for the lack of a touchscreen. If you spend most of your time in desktop mode, you’ll barely miss using touch.

For a laptop with a 15.6-inch display, the E 15 is relatively light (5.5 pounds) and just 1.2 inches thick, so it slides into backpacks and briefcases easily. Most people keep laptops this size on their desks, but the E 15 is not so heavy that it’s a pain to take on trips or to class. When you do, expect to get six to seven hours of normal use. I tested the E 15 on the balanced power setting with the screen at 75% brightness and I didn’t need to plug in until past the six-hour mark. With energy-saving features active, it should last even longer.

The screen is one of the E 15’s weak points. At this price, I don’t expect an extremely high resolution, but 1366 x 768 feels low for a display of this size. Other than that, the colors, saturation and brightness are all eye pleasing and you can set the screen at almost any angle without seeing any distortion of colors or contrast.

Options, options

Acer promised that the Aspire E laptop line would be all about choice, and you’re likely to find several configurations in stores and online. They’re all mostly identical on the outside but give you a choice of different processors (both Intel and AMD), non-touch or touchscreen control, matte or glossy displays and a few different colors. I recommend the Aspire E5-571-563B, currently $499.99 on Amazon, with the best balance between price and performance.

There are a few Aspire E models that cost less and have less powerful hardware. I don’t recommend a model with anything less powerful than an Intel Core i3.

Reviews are limited, but good

The E 15 is new, so there aren’t many reviews out yet. The majority of owners who reviewed it on Amazon left positive feedback, citing its speedy performance, lightweight design and large amount of RAM and hard drive space for the price. The only major gripe is the lack of optical or DVD drive, which came as a surprise to some due to a misleading product shot.

The Acer Aspire E 15 may be a budget laptop, but it is not cheap. Even at $498, you won’t have to compromise on performance or power, nor will you have to settle for a bulky, heavy, ugly machine.

The Acer Aspire Switch 10: Best portable laptop

Aspire Switch
Acer

As light as the Aspire E 15 is for its size, it’s still not the kind of computer you want to carry with you for long periods of time. If you’re looking for an affordable and portable laptop, try the $379 Acer Aspire Switch 10. This 10.1-inch tablet hybrid runs full Windows 8.1 with a keyboard dock that turns it into a laptop with a simple snap.

The hybrid convertible tablet market is full of worthy contenders right now, including the 10-inch Asus Transformer Book T100 for $379 and the 11.6-inch Lenovo Yoga 2 11 for $499. While the Switch 10’s performance is slightly better than both in all but one area, what won me over is the keyboard dock’s versatility and superior typing experience.

As with most hybrids, the Switch 10’s screen/tablet portion attaches to the keyboard dock to make a clamshell laptop. It can also attach backwards for presentation mode or tent mode, similar to the Lenovo Yoga 2, which has a 360-degree hinge. I’m a fan of the Yoga’s design and versatility, but at 11.6 inches, I find it too big to use effectively as a tablet. The Switch 10 detaches from the keyboard to become a true slate.

Comfortable keyboard and robust processing power

Still, you’ll likely spend most of your time using the Switch 10 as a laptop with the dock attached. The keyboard is classic Acer, made small enough to fit with the 10.1-inch display. The square keys are not cramped or undersized, providing enough space between keys to keep you from accidentally hitting two at the same time. That’s the biggest advantage the Switch 10 has over the Transformer Book T100’s surprisingly cramped and uncomfortable keyboard; otherwise, these two hybrids are very similar, both in design and internal hardware.

The Switch 10 has a newer processor and thus earns slightly higher scores in benchmarks, but both perform about the same when executing real-world tasks. The Intel Atom processor is faster than you might expect if you associate this brand with netbooks from three years ago. The Atom doesn’t choke streaming HD video any more, and it handles switching between dozens of tabs and a handful of running programs without becoming sluggish. However, the Atom processor is not designed for intense usage such as graphics-heavy games, compiling code or video editing beyond a quick trim.

Battery life is light

The Switch 10 falls short of the T100 in battery life, lasting about five to six and a half hours on a single charge. The T100 can last up to 12. Acer equipped the Switch 10 with a very lightweight A/C adapter, so carrying it is not a burden; the Transformer T100 can charge off the same micro-USB cord as your phone.

If you’re more interested in the tablet side of the experience and don’t think you’ll use the keyboard much, the T100 is a good pick, but if you’re looking for a laptop first and tablet second, the best keyboard experience matters — so go with the Switch 10.

The Acer Aspire Switch 10 with 32GB of internal storage is available on Amazon for $309. If your budget allows, I suggest the 64GB version, currently $388 on Amazon.

This article was written by K.T. Bradford and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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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.

TIME Computers

Need a Cheap Chromebook? Here’s How to Pick One

Let's make sense of all these sub-$300, browser-based laptops.

If you’re shopping for a cheap laptop, there’s a good chance you’ve crossed paths with a few Chromebooks.

Instead of running Windows, these lightweight, inexpensive notebooks are based entirely on Google’s Chrome web browser. So while you can’t install traditional programs such as Office and Photoshop, you can use web-based substitutes like the free Office Online and Pixlr. In exchange, you’ll get a computer that boots up quickly, is safe from viruses, doesn’t have any obnoxious bloatware and is optimized for browsing the web.

Although inexpensive Chromebooks have been around for a couple years, we’ve seen a lot more of them lately, and from a wider range of vendors. With so much competition among these sub-$300 laptops, here’s some help picking the best one for your needs.

The Cheapest Chromebook: Acer C720 (2 GB RAM)

Acer

This Acer Chromebook originally had a sticker price of $199, but for some reason the price has recently gone up at most stores. Fortunately you can still snag one at Best Buy for $179, which is the cheapest price I’ve seen for any Chromebook.

Compared to other low-cost Chromebooks, the Acer C720 is a bit heavier, and its fan will produce some noise as you work. Its build quality is also on the chintzy side, and the 2 GB of RAM isn’t great for keeping lots of browser tabs open at once. Still, for basic browsing, it gets the job done at a (currently) unbeatable price.

The Prettiest Chromebook: HP Chromebook 11

HP

I called this one a “vanity laptop” when I reviewed it last fall. It has, by far, the most gorgeous display you’ll find on any Chromebook. We’re talking MacBook quality in terms of viewing angles and contrast, while most other Chromebooks wash out when you tilt them just slightly away from you. The keyboard is also solid, the speakers are loud and you’ve got to love the blue accents on the shiny white chassis.

But the HP Chromebook falters on performance, as it can lag when switching between heavy web pages, and it only gets around five hours on a charge. (You can top it up with a MicroUSB cable, which is kind of neat.) If you can deal with those shortcomings and prefer something thin, light and easy to look at, this is your Chromebook. Best Buy has it for $229.

The Best All-Around Chromebooks: Asus C200 and C300

Asus

Asus’ C200 ($229 at Walmart) and C300 ($229 at Amazon) are part of a new wave of Chromebooks hitting the market this summer, with a fanless design made possible by Intel’s latest Bay Trail processors. That means they won’t make any noise as you use them, and they’re both quite light, at 2.5 pounds for the 11-inch C200 and 3.1 pounds for the 13-inch C300. Best of all, both laptops get about 10 hours of battery life on a charge.

As a trade-off, these laptops can’t quite keep up with the processor in the cheaper Acer Chromebook, but it’s probably not something you’d notice in most cases. Asus’ two Chromebooks are solid all-around performers, and your best options if you’re willing to pay more than bottom dollar.

The Sub-$300 Workhorse: Acer C720 (4 GB RAM)

This Chromebook used to be a solid choice at $250, but now I can’t find it anywhere at that price. Still, even at $271 from Newegg, it’s the cheapest Chromebook available with 4 GB of RAM. You’ll want the extra memory if you’re planning to juggle dozens of browser tabs at once. It seems that Acer has discontinued this laptop in favor of a Core i3 model that’s probably overkill for most users, so get it while you can.

Whatever you decide, don’t fret over it too much. I’ve used a lot of Chromebooks over the past few years, and they all offer the same basic benefits in terms of speedy startup times, security and ease of use. As long as you’re not expecting a full-blown operating system like Windows or Mac OSX, chances are you’ll be satisfied with your choice.

These prices and configurations are good as of August 18, 2014.

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.

TIME Gadgets

Top Tech for Back to School

Back to School time is upon us. The yellow buses are all being tuned up and hosed down, the classrooms are getting that final coat of paint and the teachers are finalizing their lesson plans. It’s also the time for you to make sure your kids have all the supplies they need for a successful and happy school year.

These days, though, you need more than just a new pair of jeans, a handful of pencils and a new Trapper Keeper to get your kids ready. Here are our picks for the best – and most affordable – back-to-school tech.

Laptop: Acer Aspire E1

Acer

These days, a sturdy, reliable computer is a must when it comes to homework, research projects or just keeping in touch with friends from school. For these simple tasks, we recommend the budget-friendly Acer Aspire E1 Windows laptop.

Why the Aspire? First of all, we like the 15” size, which has a big enough screen for comfortable viewing, but still lends itself to better battery life, better portability and a lower price tag. We also like the Core i5 processor (for plenty of power), the 4GB of RAM (expandable to 8GB if needed) and the 500GB hard drive. Plus, it gets high marks from reviewers for long battery life and good performance for the price, and a respectable four stars on Amazon.

You can find the Acer Aspire E1 for $466.77 at Amazon.

Travel Mouse: Microsoft Arc Touch

Microsoft

Most laptops come with a capable touchpad, but they can be too touchy when there’s a lot of typing to do. That’s why we recommend the highly portable Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse.

The curious design of the Arc Touch Mouse is actually its best feature. It’s flexible, allowing you to flatten it when not in use for easy storage. Flattening also turns off the mouse, so you won’t waste the battery. The traditional mouse wheel is replaced with a small “touch scroll strip,” while the magnetic Nano transceiver easily stores on the bottom of the mouse when not in use. BlueTrack technology, meanwhile, allows the Arc Touch to work reliably on just about any surface – even carpet or rough wood.

The Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse is available for purchase at Amazon.com for $39.99.

Tablet: Sony Xperia Z2

Sony

Not every student needs a laptop. A tablet can be a better bet if your child needs to take notes or do some word processing and web-basesd research. Plus, a tablet can do double duty as an entertainment device. For a sturdy, solid device that best mixes work with play (and isn’t an iPad), we like the 10.1” Sony Xperia Z2 Android (4.4 Kit Kat) tablet.

The waterproof and dustproof (IP55/58) Xperia Z2 is just 0.24 inches thick and 15.5 ounces, giving it a sleek and easily portable design that’s great for going to class or around the house. It packs a powerful 2.3 GHz quad-core processor and 3GB of RAM for demanding gamers.

Sony.com is currently offering the 16GB version of the Xperia Z2 tablet for $499.99, which includes a free charging dock for a limited time.

Smartphone: Motorola Moto G

Motorola

Here’s a pretty common problem: Your teen is finally the right age for his or her first cellphone, but the thought of a $650 device being stolen from a locker or left on the field after practice has your heart racing with panic. What’s a parent to do?

We like the off-contract Moto G 4G ($99 off-contract at Verizon; $219 unlocked at Amazon) – it’s the perfect nexus of power and value. It’s a full-featured 4G LTE phone that runs the most recent build of Android. The device has Gorilla Glass for scratch resistance, and is water resistant enough to handle a few spills in the cafeteria. Kids, meanwhile, will appreciate the selection of $14.99 OEM shells that allow you to easily and seamlessly change the color of the phone to suit any style.

Portable Charger: myCharge Hub 9000

myCharge

If you send your kids to school armed with a phone “in case of emergency,” then it’s important to make sure his or her phone has enough juice when it really counts. That’s why we like the myCharge Hub 9000, Techlicious’s pick for the best portable battery charger.

The myCharge Hub 9000 has micro USB and Lightning connector jacks built in, so there’s no need to clutter backpacks up with easily tangled cables. The 9000 mAh battery charges in just five hours when plugged in to a standard electrical outlet, storing enough power to recharge most smartphones four to six times.

You can find the myCharge Hub 9000 at Amazon starting at $116.99; 3000 mAh and 6000 mAh versions are also available at a lower cost.

Backpack: Tylt Energi+

Tylt

Obviously, no back-to-school list would be complete without a backpack to haul all those books (and gadgets) to and from class. For tech-focused older students, we like the Tylt Energi+ backpack. It’s an attractive carry-all that doubles as a mobile recharging station.

The key feature of the Tylt Energi+ is its powerful 10,400 mAh lithium-ion battery and two USB ports, which allow your kids to charge their power-hungry devices as they move around from place to place. The backpack has a hard-lined pocket for sunglasses, a specially lined laptop pocket that fits and protects computers up to 15 inches, a side hydration sleeve and plenty of secondary tech pockets for phones and tablets. And yes, the 1,450 cubic inch backpack has plenty of room for books and pencils, too.

The Tylt Energi+ is available at Amazon for $128.99, and direct from Tylt.com for $199.99.

Headphones: UrbanEars Humlan

Urbanears

Most kids are experts when it comes to getting dirty. That means their tech gadgets get dirty, too. And while it’s easy to wipe down a sticky smartphone screen or a set of laptop keys, cleaning a pair of headphones can be incredibly difficult.

Incredibly difficult, that is, unless you own a pair of UrbanEars Humlan over-the-ear headphones. The colorful, stylish Humlans quickly disassemble, allowing you to throw the ear covers and headband in with the laundry. Humlans also come with a “Zoundplug,” which allows a friend to plug their headphones in and share the tunes.

You can find UrbanEars Humlan headphones in a wide variety of bold colors for $45 each at Amazon.com. For younger kids, you may want to check out the Etymotic Research EtyKids Safe Listening in-ear headphones ($39.99), which limit sound volumes to kid-safe levels.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Computers

Apple Updates MacBook Pro Line, Drops Prices for Certain Models

MacBook Pro
Apple

More RAM, friends. That’s the real story here.

Apple has bumped its Retina MacBook Pro line to include eight gigabytes of RAM as the baseline for the 13-inch models. The 15-inch models sport 16 gigabytes of RAM, standard.

Think of RAM like a tool belt: The bigger the tool belt, the more tools you can have readily available when you need to use them. Or think of RAM like a desk: The bigger the desk, the more papers, pencils, tablets and calculators you can have within arm’s reach. This concludes today’s lesson on random access memory.

For those of you who are well-heeled, you’ll be happy to learn that the top-of-the-line 15-incher has gotten a $100 price drop. Its starting price is now $2,499. If you’re poorly-heeled, you’ll be happy to know that the non-Retina 13-incher has dropped $100. Its starting price is now $1099.

Processor speeds have been bumped across the Retina line as well, though the non-Retina version “has not been updated with faster internals and remains the same model introduced in June 2012,” as MacRumors reports.

 

TIME laptops

This Is the Best Budget Laptop You Can Buy

Lenovo

Can you buy a great laptop for under $600? Yes, yes you can

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This post is in partnership with The Wire Cutter. Read the article below originally published at TheWireCutter.com.

After considering all the major laptops in its price range, I decided that if I had to buy a Windows laptop for $600 or less, I’d get the ~$580 version of the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 2 14.

It’s not perfect—because all budget laptops have trade offs—but it’s the best of its kind. And for its price it succeeds in a lot of the most important areas: it’ll easily handle day-to-day tasks, it’s light enough to carry around, and it has enough battery to last you an entire work day.

Our pick

For $580 you get a dual-core Haswell Intel Core i5-4210U processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 500GB hybrid hard drive with 8GB of cache, which is to say that it is fast enough for most tasks that don’t involve gaming or heavy photo or video editing.

As we configured it, the Flex 2 14 also has a 14-inch multitouch panel with a decent 1366×768 resolution, 7.5 hours of battery life, a good enough keyboard and trackpad, and all the ports you’ll want: HDMI, Ethernet, USB 3.0, two USB 2.0 ports, a card reader, and an audio jack. The cache will make it feel a little speedier than a regular hard drive, but not as fast as an computer with a solid state drive (otherwise known as an SSD).

At 0.8 inches thick and 4.4 pounds, it’s lighter and slimmer than most 14-inch laptops in its price range. It’s possible (but not easy) to upgrade the hard drive and RAM (if you’re into that kind of thing) so you can squeeze more life out of the machine later.

It’s a great basic machine that we settled on after a lot of consideration and testing.

What you don’t get with a cheaper laptop

Before you buy this machine, realize that a cheaper laptop always comes with more compromises than a more expensive one. The $580 Flex 2 14 has an i5-4210U processor, 1366×768 screen, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive and weighs 4.4 pounds.

For example, for around $1,000, you could get something like a slim 3 pound Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro with the same processor and wireless card, but a better-looking 3800×1800 screen, twice the RAM at 8GB for better multitasking of many windows at once, and a 256GB solid-state drive. That means you can get a computer that’s faster and all-around better for only a few hundred dollars more, which is a good idea if you can afford it. On the other hand, that’s almost 2x the price.

What happens if you spend even less money than our pick costs? There are smaller laptops with better screens and a little bit of solid-state storage for under $500, like the very popular Asus Transformer T100. But they compromise in other areas, often having less storage space and RAM, slower processors, or cramped keyboards. If this is your only computer, I think you should go for something better.

Who should(n’t) buy this?

If I were to get a budget laptop, I’d get the Lenovo Flex 2. But before I’d buy one, I’d consider whether I needed a full-sized Windows laptop at all. If you have a full Windows or Mac computer already and are looking for a secondary machine for web browsing, email, and basic document editing, we’d actually advise you to consider a $300 Chromebook, which runs Google’s Chrome operating system (but cannot run Windows or Mac software) instead.

Or, if you don’t need to do much writing on your machine, a tablet, like an iPad, is perfect for casual email and browsing. But for an everyday Windows computer, something like the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 2 14 will be just fine.

How we decided on this laptop

After surveying the field, we made a list of the laptops in this price range with the best reviews from the most trusted editorial sources, and tested them side by side. The finalists we tested hands-on are the Lenovo Flex 2 14, the $580 Acer Aspire E1, and the $650 Dell Inspiron 14R.

What to get if you can spend a little bit more and want a faster, sleeker laptop

If you can afford to spend a bit more and want a sleeker laptop with smoother multitasking between many windows and a higher-resolution LCD for fitting more on the screen, you should get the Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch from Best Buy, currently $700. It has the same Core i5-4210U and 500GB hard drive as the $580 Flex 2 14, but it’s lighter (by a touch), slimmer, and has twice as much RAM and a better, higher-resolution screen (1600×900 instead of 1366×768). It has a touchscreen and good battery life, like our top pick, but better build quality overall, too.

The runner up that also costs a bit less

If you don’t have more money to spend, or the Flex 2 14 is sold out or unavailable, the $465 Acer Aspire E1-572-6780 isn’t bad. It’s about the same speed as our pick, but it’s bulkier than the Flex 2 14, and you won’t get the Flex’s hybrid drive, touchscreen, or all-day battery, so we think spending more on the Flex is worth it.

In closing

A great budget laptop is actually a misnomer—there’s really no such thing when you’re forced to make compromises—but the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 2 14 hits the right marks in many areas, and that’s as close to great as you can get in this price range. If you want one Windows laptop for basic windows computing needs, this is the one most people should get.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com

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