TIME Smartphones

OnePlus One Review: Phone of Dreams

oneplus one
The OnePlus One smartphone features a 5.5-inch screen Jared Newman for TIME

It's hard to imagine a better phone for Android geeks. Too bad you can't get one.

As I walked around Google’s I/O conference last month, my phone seemed to have a mythical status among the Android faithful.

“Is that the OnePlus One?” they’d ask. “How’d you get it? Can I see?” But it wasn’t the phone’s capabilities that made them so curious. It was the fact that the OnePlus One is nearly impossible to buy.

Right now, the only way to purchase a OnePlus One is through an invitation from another owner. And because OnePlus only seeded the phone to a small batch of original owners through a contest and other promotions, there aren’t a lot of Ones to go around. (Mine came direct from the OnePlus PR department, with no invites attached.)

It’s easy to see why Android geeks are clamoring for the OnePlus One. It has all the hallmarks of a high-end Android phone, including a 5.5-inch 1080p display, a 2.5 GHz quad-core processor, 3 GB of RAM, 64 GB of storage, a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front camera.

But at $350 unlocked, it’s roughly half the price of an unlocked iPhone 5s or Samsung Galaxy S5. While you can get subsidized phones for cheaper, an unsubsidized plan from AT&T or T-Mobile would save a lot of money in the long run when paired with a OnePlus One.

Besides, the OnePlus One is a standout phone even without the cost savings.

The funny thing is that when I show this phone to regular people, it draws an entirely different reaction. There’s nothing outwardly impressive or even noteworthy about it, save for the black backing that’s as grippy as ultra-fine sandpaper. (A 16 GB white model has a ground cashew backing that’s supposed to feel like baby skin. I found someone at I/O with this version, and while it felt pretty smooth, I didn’t have my test baby on hand for comparison.)

Still, much of the OnePlus One’s appeal comes from what it doesn’t do. In contrast to so many other Android phones, the One is devoid of questionable gimmicks and flare for flare’s sake. The front of the phone is unadorned with tacky brand names or logos, and there are no dual-lens cameras, finicky fingerprint readers or problematic curved glass. When the screen is off, it’s nothing but a thin silver frame surrounding a panel of black glass. The simplicity is striking.

Jared Newman for TIME

Start it up, and you’ll find something very close to stock Android 4.4, with hardly any unnecessary bloatware. The handful of tweaks that do exist come courtesy of CyanogenMod, a modification of stock Android that many enthusiasts install on their phones anyway. There’s a quick settings bar that appears above your notifications, a set of audio equalizer controls and a store for themes that alter the phone’s look and feel. But none of these additions feel intrusive, and most of them can be modified or removed.

Because the system is unburdened by junk and excessive visual flourishes, the OnePlus One always feels fast. The phone never left me hanging as I switched apps, swiped through homescreens and opened the camera. That’s not always the case with the latest mainstream Android phones.

The camera also lacks frilly features, but it’s dependable all around. Its f/2.0 aperture means it can handle low-light photography about as well as the HTC One (no relation), and while it’s not quite as good as HTC’s phone at fending off shaky hands, it’s capable of snapping much more detailed photos. I had no major issues with responsiveness either, as the phone takes about a second to establish focus and snaps photos instantly thereafter. My sole complaint is that you can’t hold the shutter button down for burst mode like you can on the HTC One and iPhone 5s. (There is a separate burst mode option, but that defeats the purpose when you’re trying to capture the perfect moment.)

Jared Newman for TIME

The other thing you only appreciate with time is the OnePlus One’s battery. I tend to charge my phone every night, but after most days I had well over 50 percent battery life in the tank. That includes days when I was constantly using the phone’s mobile hotspot or watching lots of video. It was nice having a phone where battery life was not a concern at all.

My only problems with the OnePlus One tended not to rise above nitpick status. The display, while clear and crisp enough at 1080p, can be a bit hard to read outdoors on sunny days, and its auto-brightness setting doesn’t always hit the appropriate level. I could also do without some of the software tweaks that OnePlus has added, such as the settings shortcuts that are redundant with Android’s own quick settings panel, and the gesture-based shortcuts that I always seemed to enter accidentally. But as I said above, OnePlus allows you to switch these off.

Most of the time, the OnePlus One just did what it was supposed to do. And outside the geekier climes of Google I/O, it never drew attention to itself by causing headaches or getting in the way, and never felt like it was anything less than a high-end handset.

That’s exactly how a smartphone should be, and it’s sad that so many Android vendors feel the need to distract with flips and cartwheels instead. If OnePlus can actually distribute this phone more broadly–and I’m told an actual pre-order system is coming eventually–its ability to excite people without glitz and gimmickry will be its greatest trick.

TIME Books

The 5 Best Books for Your Kids This Summer (According to Other Kids)

Time for Kids asked its reporters to review new children's book releases. Here's what they had to say

Looking for an engaging summer read for your child? TIME For Kids Magazine asked its kid reporters to review the season’s hottest new books. The result is a list of kid-approved page-turners:

Credit: HMH Books for Young Readers

Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile

By Marcia Wells

Reviewed by TFK Kid Reporter Max Siegel

Genre: Mystery

Number of pages: 240

What’s the basic story line?

Edmund Xavier Lonnrot (Eddie Red) is an average sixth grader. That is, if the average sixth grader has a photographic memory and can draw anything he sees. His whole life, Eddie has used these gifts for fun. But one day, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) seeks his help with a case involving some major art thieves. Eddie finally puts his extraordinary talents to good use.

Are the characters believable?

Although Eddie has some amazing talents, those talents are believable. A person can have photographic memory and great art skills, just as Eddie does. What is unbelievable about this book is the plot. The NYPD hires Eddie to work on a case. Although the police don’t intend this, Eddie faces major danger. I’m not sure about the legality or possibility of the NYPD—or any police force, for that matter—hiring a kid to help with a case.

Who would like this book?

Any kid who likes a good mystery with constant twists and turns—and who feels okay never knowing who’s good and who’s bad—would love this book.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being best), how would you rate this book?

I would give this book an 8. It’s a clever mystery that will keep readers engaged. The huge plot twist at the end is surprising and really elevated the book for me. Plus, Eddie’s situation is compelling. He’s just a regular kid who has extraordinary talents.

Credit: Viking Juvenile

The Glass Sentence

By S.E. Grove

Reviewed by TFK Kid Reporter Kristen Rigsby

Genre: Fantasy

Number of pages: 512

What’s the basic story line?

In 1799, the Great Disruption threw the continents into different time periods. The once-mastered art of mapmaking became a great challenge, one suited for only the most experienced and trained explorers.

Nearly 100 years after the Great Disruption, Sophia Tims and Shadrack Elli, Sophia’s uncle and master cartographer, begin map reading and map writing in an attempt to find Sophia’s missing parents. But when Shadrack is kidnapped by fanatics looking for a memory map of the entire world called the carta mayor, Sophia must set out to find him too. With the help of her newfound friend, Theo Thackary, and a glass map that Shadrack left for her, Sophia ventures into the unknown. Along the way, she encounters a multitude of mysteries, creatures, and hazards.

Are the characters believable?

Some of the characters in The Glass Sentence are believable. Sophia Tims is an inquisitive and audacious 13-year-old who loves to explore, read maps, and draw. Theo Thackary is an adventurous and daring boy who often gets into trouble. Other characters in the book, however, are creatures of fantasy. The Lachrima, for example, is a ghostlike being that haunts people with its cries. Other main characters, such as Varessa and Martin, are part human and part plant.

Who would like this book?

Anybody who loves works of fantasy, especially the Chronicles of Narnia series, the Harry Potter series, or the Lord of the Rings, will enjoy exploring this unique and captivating world with Sophia and Theo.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being best), how would you rate this book?

I would rate The Glass Sentence a 9.5. The alternate world of the Great Disruption is incredibly inventive. Sophia and Theo come to life, venturing through unknown terrain and uncovering the secrets of mapmaking along the way. The plot seamlessly ties the world and the characters together, taking the reader on a fascinating and wild journey. From the moment you pick up this book, you will not be able to put it down.

Credit: HarperCollins

Saving Lucas Biggs

By Marisa de los Santos and David Teague

Reviewed by TFK Kid Reporter Gloria Choi

Genre: Science fiction

Number of pages: 288

What’s the basic story line?

Thirteen-year-old Margaret O’Malley’s life is turned upsidedown when her compassionate father is sentenced to death by the cruel Judge Biggs. Margaret’s father is innocent, and she sets out to prove it. As time ticks by, Margaret makes a devastating choice. She is forced to unravel her family’s deepest secret—a sacred super power. She uses her ability to time-travel to make a daring journey into the past, when Judge Biggs was just a boy. Can she change the course of history and prevent him from growing up to be a corrupt man? Or will she return to the present only to find her father is still destined for disaster? Luckily for Margaret, she has her friends Charlie and Grandpa Josh, who join her in the quest to save the person she loves the most.

Are the characters believable?

Characters like Margaret may not seem believable at first. After all, she has an incredible super power passed down from her ancestors. Super power aside, she is just another girl with a special gift. Everyone can relate to Margaret’s desire to help a loved one no matter how big the obstacles.

Who would like this book?

Anyone who favors a combination of science fiction (especially time travel), adventure, and fantasy will like this book. In particular, fans of the Hunger Games series, the Divergent series, the novel The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells, or even the film Back to the Future will enjoy reading Saving Lucas Biggs.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being best), how would you rate this book?

I would rate Saving Lucas Biggs a 9. The plot and characters are interesting, relatable, and captivating. The story exhibits a wide range of emotions, from sheer excitement to bleak desperation.

Credit: Candlewick

Three Bird Summer

By Sara St. Antoine

Reviewed by TFK Kid Reporter Camryn Garrett

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Number of pages: 256

What’s the basic story line?

For his entire life, 12-year-old Adam has spent summers at his Grandma’s cabin in Minnesota. But this year things are different. His parents have divorced. On top of that, Adam’s cousins won’t be vacationing at the cabin with him. Also, Grandma seems to be acting differently. At first, she’s just a bit more forgetful than usual. But after spending more time with her, Adam realizes Grandma is “slipping.”

There are new neighbors at the cabin this summer, including a girl Adam’s age named Alice. At first, Adam isn’t interested in spending time with her. But as time goes by, their friendship flourishes. Throughout this unusual summer, Adam searches for hidden treasure with his new friend and begins to uncover family secrets as well.

Are the characters believable?
The characters are believable because they don’t have cookie-cutter personalities. Adam is quiet and shy and finds girls difficult to understand. Alice is adventurous and unlike any girl he has ever met. Readers will likely see aspects of their personalities in the characters and recognize their friends too.

Who would like this book?

Anyone who appreciates memories of family vacations or summertime in general will enjoy the vivid imagery that fills Three Bird Summer. Readers will fall into the story, almost as if they’re actually spending the summer exploring Three Bird Lake with Adam and Alice.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being best), how would you rate this book?

I would rate this book an 8, because the imagery is astounding, allowing readers to feel like they are experiencing the story along with the characters. The plot didn’t begin to pick up until the middle of the novel, but the relatable characters create enough interest in the story to compel readers to keep turning the pages.

Credit: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Poached

By: Stuart Gibbs

Reviewed: by TFK Kid Reporter Graham Ross

Genre: Mystery

Number of pages: 336

What’s the basic story line?

Teddy Fitzroy lives at FunJungle, the world’s largest zoo. He has a reputation for being a troublemaker. FunJungle has recently acquired a big moneymaking attraction—a furry koala named Kazoo. Unfortunately, the adored koala goes missing, and all fingers point to Teddy! A security guard nicknamed Large Margeis sure Teddy is guilty, and she will stop at nothing to prove it. Teddy must find the real thief before it is too late. Will he find the real koala-napper, or will he be framed and sent off to juvenile hall?

Are the characters believable?

Some of the descriptions are exaggerated. For example, an eighth grader is described as having “biceps as thick as Burmese pythons.”Other than that, the characters do seem pretty believable. Teddy acts like an average kid who is trying to fit in at a school where he is an outcast. Large Marge acts like a typical person with a grudge. She sees Teddy as a nuisance and is fixated on catching him red-handed.

Who would like this book?

Anyone who enjoys thrilling stories with plot twists on every page would love this book.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being best), how would you rate this book?

Hands down, I would certainly give this book a 9. I appreciated how author Stuart Gibbs made even the tensest parts of the book humorous. I especially enjoyed the suspense created by the twists and turns on every page.

See the full list of book reviews from Time for Kids’ kid reporters here.

TIME Reviews

Surface Pro 3 Review: In Defense of the 2-in-1 PC

Jared Newman for TIME

As soon as Microsoft announced the Surface Pro 3, I kicked myself for being impatient.

Last fall, I bought a Surface Pro 2. The screen was smaller than I’d like, and the tiny, felt-covered trackpad was a detriment to traditional laptop use, but I wanted a light and powerful touchscreen device, and was tired of waiting for the perfect laptop-tablet hybrid.

The Surface Pro 3 tries to fix everything wrong with its predecessor, making fewer overall trade-offs as both a laptop and a tablet.

The screen is larger, and not as cramped for vertical space. The trackpad is roomier and covered in smooth glass. The kickstand adjusts to practically any angle. Yet the tablet is 0.2 inches thinner and a quarter-pound lighter than the Pro 2 — or 0.1 pounds lighter with the Type Cover keyboard attached — without any drop in battery life. It also has a heftier stylus and a dual-magnet keyboard that snaps to the tablet’s bezel for a raised typing surface. (Here’s a spec comparison with the MacBook Air.)

So while it pained me to do so, I dumped my Surface Pro 2 on eBay and bought a 256 GB Surface Pro 3 with an Intel Core i5 processor ($1,429 with the Type Cover keyboard) to replace it. I’ve now been using it for a month — some of that time with a Microsoft review unit before the release date — and it could be my ideal computer, if only the software didn’t have so many little annoyances.

The Surface Pro 3 appeals to me for several reasons. I already use Windows for work, mostly on the desktop in my home office, and I use OneDrive to sync my notes and documents between devices. I also play a decent amount of PC games for leisure, and I’m not allergic to using Windows Store apps for some tasks. I like the idea of a hybrid device for when I’m away from the desktop, since I don’t always a want a full-blown laptop if I’m just playing games or reading. (The stylus is nice to have, but I haven’t found much use for it as someone who doesn’t draw or write things by hand.)

In fact, there’s one scenario that sums up my Surface experience perfectly, pictured below:

Jared Newman for TIME

Most of the screen is running the classic Windows desktop (and the absurdly addictive card game Hearthstone). I also have Tweetium snapped to the side, which is great for killing time between rounds. If I’m on the couch or in bed, I prop up the tablet with a kickstand, fold the Type Cover keyboard underneath and control everything with my fingers. But if I want to do some writing, I can pull out the keyboard and open WritePlus in the main window. Windows automatically saves the app’s .TXT files to OneDrive, so they’re waiting for me when I get back to my desktop.

Being able to do all this on a single device involves some compromises. Juggling the desktop and snapping Windows Store apps is sort of complex, and using touch with desktop apps isn’t always ideal. For writing, the Type Cover keyboard doesn’t have the same spacing and travel as a laptop keyboard, and the trackpad — while much improved over the previous Surface — still has less depth than those of dedicated laptops.

But the Surface Pro 3 also eliminates some complexity by not making me juggle multiple devices. If I’m taking a device up to my bedroom to play Hearthstone, I don’t have to think about whether I’m also going to do some writing or e-mailing before bed.

Granted, I could just use an iPad with a third-party keyboard, but this introduces its own trade-offs. The keyboard would not be full-size like the one on the Surface Type Cover, and all the fully adjustable keyboard cases I’ve seen add a lot of bulk, unlike the Surface tablet’s built-in kickstand. Likewise, I could just use a dedicated laptop, but that’s not as comfy when I’m just trying to relax with some games or watch the Yankees on MLB.tv. I could bring both a laptop and a tablet upstairs with me, but it’s a pain to switch machines for each task.

The Surface Pro 3 becomes the catch-all, and even if it’s not perfect as a laptop or tablet, the improvements in this version make the trade-offs more tolerable. The 12-inch screen with 3:2 aspect ratio runs about as wide as an 11-inch MacBook Air and about as tall as a 13-inch Air, so it actually feels like you’re working on a proper laptop. Being able to fully adjust the kickstand also helps in a lot of situations. For instance, I often use the Pro 3 while reclining knees-up on the couch, and now I can bend the kickstand all the way around so it’s tilting slightly outward from my legs.

Jared Newman for TIME

As for in-lap use, someone with shorter legs might have trouble balancing the kickstand, but it’s never been an issue for me, even with the Pro 2. And while a kickstand isn’t as comfortable on the knees as the flat surface of a laptop, it brings to mind another trade-off: With the Surface, you don’t have any heat dissipating into your lap, because it all comes out the top of the tablet.

The only area where the Surface Pro 3 is a clear step down from its predecessor is gaming. That’s because Microsoft removed a “high performance” power option that unshackles the processor at the expense of battery life. Without this option — apparently removed to make room for Connected Standby — I don’t get the same uninterrupted smoothness in games like Fallout: New Vegas. The 3:2 aspect ratio also seems to create problems for some games. (At least there’s Steam in-home streaming from my desktop, which performed flawlessly and had no formatting issues.)

Overall though, the Surface Pro 3 is a fine piece of hardware. At this point, it’s only the software — and the wide variety of bugs and annoyances within it — that holds Microsoft’s hybrid back.

After two years, Microsoft still hasn’t figured out how to ship a device that isn’t riddled with problems, from obnoxious glitches to system-crippling bugs. At launch, the Surface Pro 3 needed a day-one patch to keep it from not turning on properly. But this patch in turn introduced Wi-Fi problems that persist on some machines, despite a recent firmware update.

Those are only the headline-grabbing bugs, but there are more. Sometimes the Type Cover stops working properly and I have to re-connect it. One time the system stopped fully responding to touch, and I had to restart it. Even an old problem I had on the Pro 2, where programs stopped responding to key presses until I hit “Alt,” reemerged on the Pro 3. I’ve noticed little design flaws as well, like the way Tweetium opens links in a second tab in Internet Explorer, leaving an open blank tab right next to it. There’s also the fact that some desktop programs, such as Google Chrome, still aren’t optimized for the Pro 3’s high pixel density display.

While you may not notice these things at first, over time, they build into a level of frustration unbecoming of a high-end device. And after using a Surface Pro 2 for six months, I’m not totally confident that Microsoft can get its tablet running smoothly through future updates.

Sad as that is, I choose to stick with the Surface Pro 3 because it’s the only two-in-one device that doesn’t feel sorely lacking on the hardware side. The bugs and glitches are a side effect that I can live with.

I do understand why Surface Pro 3 reviews have been mixed so far. If you perform two clinical evaluations of the Pro 3 — first as a laptop, then as a tablet — you’ll find some deficiencies on both ends and conclude that getting two separate devices is better. But there’s also a middle ground where having one device makes life easier, and the Surface Pro 3, in spite of its software woes, covers that ground better than anything else I’ve tried.

TIME Computers

Samsung Chromebook 2 Review: Almost Worth the Price

Jared Newman for TIME

I really thought this would be the one.

When Samsung announced the Chromebook 2 a couple months ago, it seemed to be the mid-range device that we’d been missing since Samsung discontinued its Series 5 550 last year. The 13-inch version is currently the only Chromebook with a 1080p display, and it comes in a slick package that mimics Samsung’s most expensive Windows-based laptops. I was hoping these features would justify the $400 price tag.

After using Samsung’s 13-inch Chromebook 2 for several weeks, I’m conflicted. The Chromebook 2 is a solidly-built machine with an impressive balance of weight and battery life, but it also has a couple of problems that keep me from giving it a wholehearted recommendation.

Let’s start with the display. On paper, the 1920-by-1080 panel should be the Chromebook 2’s strongest selling point. Not only does it make everything sharper, it allows the taskbar and icons to be smaller, leaving more room on the screen for actual webpages.

But like so many other laptops that cut corners on price, the viewing angles on the Chromebook 2 are atrocious. As you shift your position, you have to constantly adjust the screen to avoid having the colors wash out. The screen looks especially bad when watching videos or looking at dark webpages. It’s by far the biggest problem with this laptop, and a huge letdown for what should be a killer feature.

One other minor complaint about the display: By default, the high pixel density made text a little small for my liking, and I have pretty good vision. Increasing page zoom to 125 percent in Chrome settings made things more readable; it should probably be set this way by default.

Aside from the display, the build quality of the Chromebook 2 is superb. The island-style keys have just the right amount of travel and snappiness, and the keyboard hardly flexes at all under heavy pressure.

Below the keyboard is a spacious trackpad that’s smooth to the touch. You can click on the trackpad almost all the way up to the top without having to apply too much pressure, and it supports two-finger scrolling and clicking. (You can also tap the trackpad instead of depressing it.) Overall, it’s fantastic.

The Chromebook 2 is fairly light for a 13-inch laptop, weighing in at 3.1 pounds. That’s 0.2 pounds lighter than Toshiba’s 13-inch Chromebook, though it’s the same weight as Asus’ 13-inch Chromebook that’s due out later this month. (Both of those laptops, however, have 1366-by-768 resolution displays.)

Jared Newman for TIME

Samsung’s Chromebook 2 is also one of the slimmest Chromebooks around, at 0.65 inches, and its bottom half has the same contoured edges found on Samsung’s Ativ Book laptops. Aesthetically, I’m not crazy about the “titan gray” finish–I’d prefer the white or black color options of the 11-inch model–and the faux-stitching makes less sense on a laptop cover than it does on Samsung’s Galaxy phones.

Unlike most other laptops, the Chromebook 2 uses an ARM-based octa-core Exynos processor, a lot like what you’d find in a high-end tablet. This allows it to run quietly with no fan, and despite the high-resolution display it still lasts for more than eight hours on a charge.

That processor does have a downside, in that it’s less powerful than your average laptop. Depending on your needs, this might not be a major issue. I generally didn’t have a problem scrolling through webpages, editing Google Docs or juggling a bunch of browser tabs. But I did notice occasional sluggishness when loading heavy pages and switching between tabs. Compared to Samsung’s original Exynos-based Chromebook, which had a slower processor and just 2 GB of RAM instead of 4 GB, the Chromebook 2 is still a big step up.

For connectivity, the Chromebook 2 has two USB ports–one on each side–along with HDMI output and a headphone jack. There’s also a microSD card slot, though I wish Samsung had included a full-sized SD slot instead. The speakers are loud and clear enough for video, but like most laptops, you won’t get much bass when listening to music.

If Samsung had only shipped a higher-quality display with the Chromebook 2, I could have fallen in love with this laptop. I’m a sucker for build quality, especially when it comes to the keyboard and trackpad, and I could have forgiven the middling performance, given that it’s still good enough for most basic web browsing. Chromebooks can’t do everything that a Windows laptop or MacBook can–you can’t install desktop software, which rules out programs like Office and iTunes–but the simplicity of a browser-based operating system has its own advantages. The Chromebook 2 could have been the perfect machine for users who want to spend a little more.

Instead, I’m wishing Samsung had tried just a little harder to make the ultimate mid-range Chromebook. This one is frustratingly close.

TIME Tablets

This Is What People Are Saying About Samsung’s iPad Killer

Samsung Product Announcement
Steve Sands—WireImage

Very impressive

fortunelogo-blue
This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

You’ve got to give Samsung credit. They are relentless.

In six months, they’ve thrown nine different tablets at the market created by Apple’s iPad. The ninth, unveiled Thursday night at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, is called the Galaxy Tab S.

The tech press posted its reactions overnight. A sampler:

Simon Rockman, The Register: S is for SMACKDOWN. “Samsung has raised the stakes in its battle against Apple’s ever-popular iPad with its newest range of Galaxy fondleslabs, which are both bigger and have higher screen resolutions than those of its fruity rival. The new Galaxy Tab S comes in 8.4-inch and 10.5-inch configurations, both of which are the thickness of a current iPad (6.6mm) and slimmer than previous Samsung slabs. The slimmest of the fondleslab lot, of course, is the Sony Xperia Z2 tablet at 6.4mm – but at this extreme it’s splitting hairs.”

Tim Moynihan, Wired: Samsung’s New Galaxy Tablets Are Razor-Thin and Razor-Sharp. “There’s no mystery as to which tablets they’re meant to compete with. In terms of weight, screen size, pixel density, and slimness, the new tablets compare favorably to Apple’s iPad Air and iPad Mini. The new tablets are also priced the same as Apple’s 16GB/Wi-Fi models of each version: $500 for the 10.5-incher and $400 for the 8.4-incher. At one pound, the larger Tab S weighs the same as the smaller-screened iPad Air, while the smaller Tab S (10 oz.) is both lighter and larger-screened than the iPad Mini (11.6 oz.).

For the rest of the reviews, got to Fortune.com.

TIME Gadgets

Tablets: Hands On with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S

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Samsung's 10.5-inch Galaxy Tab S tablet Stewart Wolpin / Techlicious

You won’t believe the colors you can see with the new Samsung Galaxy Tab S, which Samsung unveiled in New York City last night. Colors on the Tab S, Samsung’s new flagship tablet, are obviously noticeably deeper, brighter and crisper than on an iPad or even Samsung’s own former flagship Galaxy Note Tab tablet.

But the best news about the new two-model Tab S series are the prices: just $499 for the 16 GB 10.5-inch version, $399 for the 16 GB 8.4-inch version. Maybe these price tags aren’t bargain basement, but they compare more favorably with Apple’s iPad ware than in the past, and offer some decidedly higher-value viewing advantages.

The Tab S’ brilliant color display is achieved thanks to its Super AMOLED screen rather than the usual LCD. AMOLED displays have long been known to produce not only brighter, deeper colors but better stand up to sunlight (although, from past smartphone comparative experience, I’ve not been overly impressed with AMOLED’s sunlight reflecting capabilities vs. traditional LCD) and are less power hungry; Samsung claims you’ll be able to watch 11 hours-plus of 1080p video on the Tab S on a single charge.

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Apple iPad Mini (left) and Samsung Galaxy Tab S (right) Stewart Wolpin / Techlicious

Images and video are also startlingly sharper on the Tab S thanks to their 4K 2560 x 1600 displays versus iPad’s Retina 2048 x 1536 screen (although, quite honestly, I’m not sure if Samsung wasn’t using the original non-Retina iPad Mini for comparative purposes).

Adding to the Tab S image/video viewing experience is its adaptive brightness; its sensors sense and adjust white balance to provide just the right amount of brightness depending on not only ambient light – fluorescent, home reading lamp or outdoor sunlight, but to your activity – reading, watching a movie, viewing images, game playing, etc. Unfortunately, there was no sunlight or other variable lighting conditions available to ambiently tax the Tabs.

Samsung also uses a wider 16:10 aspect ratio (your HDTV has a 16:9 width vs. height ratio) than the 4:3 aspect ratio on iPad. As a result, images and especially widescreen video on the 8.4- and 10.5-inch Tab S models look far larger than you’d expect compared to the 7.9-inch iPad Mini and 9.7-inch iPads, which have to letterbox movies.

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Both Samsung Galaxy Tab S models are 6.6mm thin Stewart Wolpin / Techlicious

Both the new Tab S models are also thinner and lighter than their Apple competitors, despite having larger viewing area. Both the Tab S models are 6.6mm thin compared to the 7.5mm thickness of both iPads; the 10.5-inch Tab S weighs in at 465 grams vs. the smaller iPad Air’s 469 grams, while the 8.4-inch Tab S tilts the scales at 294 grams vs. the smaller iPad Mini at 331 grams.

Features and Apps

Aside from advancing the tablet display and thickness state-of-the-art, Samsung is pushing its Paper Garden magazine app. The company unveiled partnerships with Condé Nast (Vogue, Glamour, Vanity Fair, GQ), National Geographic and – geek alert – Marvel Comics, each with specially-designed and some exclusive content.

The Tab S will come with a pile of free short-term and trial music, video and reading subscriptions, including a copy of the movie Gravity.

Samsung also demonstrated a new Content Home widget, which aggregates all your sound and image content sources into single home page.

You’ll also be able to use your Tab S in conjunction with your Galaxy S phone to transfer or make WiFi phone calls or for “mirroring” – seeing the content from your phone on the Tab S screen. Samsung also has ported several features from its pro Galaxy Note tablet series including multi-window for side-by-side app viewing.

Technically, the Tab S seems extra speedy when compared side-by-side with earlier Note tablets. The Tab S brains are “octacore” engines – a 1.9 GHz quad core processor paired with a 1.3 GHz quad core processor, and apps swim in a generous 3 GB of memory. The Tabs will come in 16 GB and 32 GB varieties – no prices for the 32 GB versions were announced. Each can be expanded by 128 GB via a microSD card slot.

samsung-galaxy-tab-s-bt-keyboard-case-400x353px
Bluetooth keyboard case for the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 Stewart Wolpin / Techlicious

Each will be available in bronze or white, each sharing the dimpled rear cosmetics of Samsung’s Galaxy S5 phones, and ringed in gold. Also available will be two types of cases, a simple flap-over or a “book” case that offers three angles for writing or viewing. There’s also be a 7.5mm thin Bluetooth keyboard designed for each.

The Tab S goes on pre-sale today on Samsung.com and Amazon: $399.99 for the 8.4-inch model, $499.99 for the 10.5-inch model. Wi-Fi versions will be available in July; LTE editions will go on sale later this year.

This article was written by Stewart Wolpin and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME movies

When Ghostbusters Came Out 30 Years Ago, Reviews Were Scarily Mixed

Ghostbusters
Archive Photos / Columbia Pictures / Getty Images

Critics couldn't agree on who they were going to call

This weekend, on the 30th anniversary of its June 8, 1984, release, Ghostbusters is a pretty uncontroversial movie to love. It’s got highly recognizable comedians, catchphrases, a theme song, huge amounts of money earned and a 96% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. It’s even getting a theatrical re-release this summer and there’s a third installment in the works.

But when Ghostbusters first materialized into theaters, not everyone could predict that it would have such spooky staying power.

The New York Times was pretty firmly against it:

Put Mr. Murray in any setting where order, tidiness and rationality are taken seriously, and he becomes the consummate anarchic slob; that’s enough to keep ”Ghostbusters” going, like ”Stripes” and ”Meatballs” before it. But Mr. Murray would be even more welcome if his talents were used in the service of something genuinely witty and coherent, rather than as an end in themselves.

Variety didn’t even bother to get the title (one word!) correct:

Ghost Busters is a lavishly produced ($32 million) but only intermittently impressive all-star comedy lampoon of supernatural horror films.

The Globe and Mail was sure it would be forgotten:

As summer twaddle, Ghostbusters is perfectly okay — you may enjoy it and then find you have forgotten it
before your theatre seat has had a chance to snap back into place

The Miami Herald, too:

But Aykroyd and company are now movie stars, so we get a Ghostbusters that is both long and expensive. Actually, it’s no longer than the average movie; it just seems so because it drags until its climactic ectoplasmic confrontation gets rolling. Make no mistake: Ghostbusters is sometimes very funny. You’ll laugh a lot. You’ll also probably find your attention wandering during the slow spots in this strange hybrid of a movie, neither all-out parody nor play-it-straight comedy.

The Washington Post was just plain bored:

Opening today at area theaters, “Ghostbusters” leaves itself at the mercy of far more specialized, lavish pictorial elaboration than one wants in a smartly cast comedy vehicle. The effort to incorporate supernatural spectacles may have lifted the production costs into the stratosphere (I’ve heard an estimate of $35 million), but outside of an omnivorous little green spirit found gorging himself on hotel food and the wonderfully silly specter of a gigantic marshmallow man, it’s debatable if the effects make a difference in the humor. Indeed, in some respects, they’ve grown dreadfully predictable; you feel as if you’ve been watching the same demons and ominous electrical storms rattle around for the past decade, from “The Exorcist” through “Poltergeist.”

But, not to toot our own horns, someone got it right. Here’s what TIME had to say:

Whoever thought of having evil’s final manifestation take the form of a 100-ft. marshmallow deserves the rational mind’s eternal gratitude. But praise is due to everyone connected with Ghostbusters for thinking on a grandly comic scale and delivering the goofy goods, neatly timed and perfectly packaged.

TIME Reviews

Watch Dogs Review: City of Interest

Watch Dogs was supposed to be this grand genre-bending hacking game, but you'll do almost nothing of the sort. And that's a good thing, though what you do instead -- mostly shooting, sneaking and speeding around a fantasy version of Chicago -- dithers between inspired and imitative.

+ READ ARTICLE

There’s the node I’m looking for. Swivel. The smartphone-controlled security camera sights my target across the industrial yard, but can’t quite home in. That target — a hackable security access panel — lies behind corrugated steel sprayed in graffiti, obstructing my view by inches. I’m stuck. But then I notice a security guard with a portable camera patrolling nearby. Lucky!

I aim, tap a button and leap through space, soaring over rusted containers, witchgrass, hunks of concrete, wood-slat pallets, through thrumming rain, nesting at last in the guard’s camera and pivoting to my new vantage — his vantage. He turns and walks a few steps in the direction I need him to. There we go. Swivel. The panel’s now an arm’s length away. Jackpot.

That’s Watch Dogs when it’s in the zone, when I was in the zone playing it, and where Ubisoft’s action-stealth game — starring you as the sort of MacGyver-ish antihero you’d get if you merged Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson’s characters in Person of Interest — starts to feel like it’s firing on balletic cyber-cylinders, delivering on its promise to make me the World’s Coolest Hacker. It does that for maybe two-thirds of its five-act story. And as the song goes, two out of three ain’t bad.

But then it heads in the other direction, the one you see overambitious games sometimes go, backpedaling on its promises and permutations, under-delivering on a story that sparks and fizzles toward its sequel-ready ending, and worse, sacrificing all those tactical gains to the gods of gameplay clichés. Hoo-boy, that ending. If you’re observant, you’ll see it coming a mile away, and I mean that both figuratively and literally.

I don’t want to sound too glum a note, because some of the online stuff’s a hoot, and Ubisoft’s world-building is second to none at a time when the bar’s been set pretty high. So let’s talk about the world-building.

Network-connected cameras glass every inch of this paranoid, scrupulously designed rendition of Chicago: the flat, skyscraper-lined lakeshore metropolis you know, as well as the one you don’t — the one surrounded by forests, cliffs, waterfalls and antigovernment militias. Ubisoft’s imaginary Chicago is the Windy City by way of Portland or Seattle, all its flat suburban sprawl swapped for hilly timberland perimeter — less simulation than homage, and the studio’s way of ensuring its playground’s full of stuff to look at or do, whether you’re rubbernecking the Willis Tower or screwing around miles from downtown.

That includes the city’s cybernetic thoroughfares, every byway, building and mobile device slaved to a single operating system you can hack and manipulate in real time as your skills grow. Sure, the notion’s more the wishful thinking of a Franken-CEO built from the egos of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg. But Watch Dogs isn’t concerned with being politically insightful, and the rare moments it tries feel more like anvils dropped on your head. We get that nothing’s impregnable, don’t we? That whatever we put in the cloud isn’t really secure? Turning control of your city’s infrastructure over to a monolithic operating system would be suicidal…or a necessary gameplay conceit, if you want to give players godlike powers without the pointy hat and staff.

Not that any of those powers resemble actual hacking. Whatever’s been made of Ubisoft working with security outfit Kaspersky to ensure the game’s story was plausible, hacking’s smoke and metaphor here. That’s not criticism. Real-world hacking — the sort companies like Sony, Facebook, Microsoft and most recently eBay have been subject to — is tedious and complex. It has no business being in an open-world action game. Hacks in Watch Dogs are like crossing the finish line without having to run the marathon. They’re just spells from a spell book.

Take hacking cameras, which you do by aiming and tapping a button. That’s all there is to it, which is so you can focus on what Watch Dogs is really about: sneaking around and spooking the bad guys. Cameras are insertion points for tactical tableaus, the contrivance being that you have to be able to see what you want to hack.

You’ll thus spend much of the game disembodied, hopping around the battlefield camera to camera like a cyber-poltergeist, triggering hazards or distractions — like cranking the volume in a guard’s headset to ear-splitting levels or pulling the virtual pin on someone’s belted grenade. It’s combat through a laboratory lens.

You can clear a battlefield without firing a shot, for instance, or prep a battlefield before initiating gunplay, or ignore the battlefield outright in some instances. What happens if you disrupt that guard? Distract another? Can you get two or three to walk under that droppable shipping container? Send the lot off to one side of the field so you can sneak down the other side? And failure’s never a penalty. It’s a reward, an opportunity to poke the beehive with a different stick. Battles — the ones that take place as walled-off tactical vignettes, anyway — are the best parts of Watch Dogs.

The hackable city-scape makes less of an impression. The idea here’s that you’re playing Grand Theft Auto, racing cars, trucks and motorbikes around the city, usually to get away from the cops or enemy fixers (the game’s slang for hackers), only you’re able to hack canal bridges, traffic lights, security gates, helicopters in pursuit, steam pipes, spike strips and “blockers” that erupt from the street like jail bars. It’s cool the first two or three times you confound a scrum of pursuers, but enemies in the game are dogged enough that hacks only slow them down a bit — even at lower notoriety levels, they’re incredibly hard to shake. And once you realize the A.I. can’t swim or do much over water, every chase becomes a beeline to the lake (someone forgot to give the police speedboats).

The rest feels pretty much like any other Ubisoft game, the world filled with optional activities — most of which you’ve seen before — when you’re not working through the story. The obligatory augmented reality and QR code games put in an appearance, the latter one of the Riddler’s line-of-sight matching puzzles lifted from the Batman Arkham series. There’s Assassin’s Creed‘s city tour mini-game as well as the same old towers you’ll have to breach to unlock regional content. You can follow side-investigations down their little rabbit holes, intercept convoys, thwart random crimes, infiltrate gang hideouts, play chess, and of course buy clothes and weapons and crafting supplies that’ll let you jury rig IEDs and grenades or scramble police scans.

But even there, the stuff that sounds cool is just technospeak for old school gameplay shenanigans. Take blackouts, which cut the power to parts of the city and give you a chance to get away from your opponents. Entire skyscrapers go dark when you do this, flickering to blackness for half a minute, which looks cool, but in the end it’s a getaway gimmick. You might as well be tossing a smoke pellet.

That leaves the game’s hybrid online modes, which let you invade other players’ game sessions and try to tail them for a period of time unobserved, or race against them, or play a timed game of hide-and-seek, or compete on teams to find a hidden object. You’ve seen most of that in games before, too, but it’s done unusually well and white-knuckled here, the game wisely forcing you to risk all or nothing: You either have online mode enabled, slowly accruing (or losing) notoriety points that unlock new skills while remaining vulnerable to invasion at any time, or you have it off, which zeroes out your notoriety point tally.

It’s just a shame that so much about Watch Dogs feels like Ubisoft playing catchup to Rockstar — like a cover band with one or two originals. City homage games might as well be their own genre now, but they’ll need more than car chases and gunplay and clothing stores and weapon shops and all their little lookalike diversions if we don’t want “open-world” to become another pejorative term we use to express our boredom with a genre, like “first-person shooter.”

3 out of 5

PlayStation 4

TIME Google

You Can Now Talk to Google on Your Computer—And It’s Pretty Good

Google

Chrome users can now finesse Google-based search navigation without lifting a finger, by simply speaking a two-word phrase.

Need another reason to chat up your computer? Google’s got one for Chrome users courtesy a noteworthy browser update that landed earlier this week. All you need to do is speak a trigger phrase while in Google search and presto, you’re cooking with the spoken word and an automated algorithmic butler. Normal people call that “voice control,” but Google’s marketing-minded Department of Clever Neologisms calls it “hotwording.”

It’s not as simple as downloading the update and squawking away, or at least it wasn’t for me. I didn’t have Chrome installed, so I pulled the full thing down, installed it, then sat in front of the search box for five minutes saying everything from “Okay Google,” rapid-fire, to “OHH-KAAAYYY GOOO-GUULLLL” like I’d just come from the pub. Alas, nothing.

So I restarted the browser (after giving it permission to access my MacBook Pro’s internal audio hardware), brought up Google.com, clicked the microphone icon nestled to the right in the search box, and that, finally, summoned a dialogue box asking if I wanted to “Enable ‘Ok Google’.” Problem solved!

“Search without lifting a finger,” says Google of hotwording’s raison d’être. And that’s pretty much how it works: You do have to lift a finger to bring up Chrome first, of course, but once that’s running and you’re on a new tab page (or cursored to Google.com’s search box), saying “Ok Google” does the same thing as clicking the microphone icon, conjuring a blown-up version of the microphone that blinks red to indicate it’s hearing you.

When I said “cats,” for instance, it brought up cat-related results, then read off a quick summary of the Wikipedia entry, knowingly sourcing it to Wikipedia by prefacing the blurb (the first sentence of each Wiki entry) with the phrase “According to Wikipedia.” When I spelled out the letters “G-E,” it brought up search results for General Electric, said “General Electric is currently trading at,” then spoke the current dollars and cents. There seems to be at least a nominal amount of contextual intelligence, in other words.

That wasn’t the case for all entries, however. A search on “dogs” brought up search results as expected, but my algorithmically-voiced co-pilot blandly said “Here is some information about dog” (without pluralizing). And when I said “Google,” or “Chrome,” it simply gave me search results and said nothing at all.

The service also seems to have some trouble recognizing the phrase “Ok Google” if you speak while it’s speaking to you. If you say “cars” and decide in that split-second you really wanted “automobiles,” you’ll generally have to wait until Chrome’s done articulating its little spoken summary on cars before you’ll get it to register another “Ok Google.”

Otherwise it seems reasonably accurate word-wise, getting everything I threw at it (including “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”), but then most voice recognition programs do these days, so long as what you’re asking about isn’t too linguistically exotic or homophonous with another word.

My only complaint, and it’s aimed more at myself, is that when I actually try to articulate the word Google repeatedly, for whatever neurological reason, it sounds like I’m saying “goo-go.” Try it for yourself and see.

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