TIME Tablets

This Is the Best Tablet You Can Buy Right Now

Apple Unveils New iPad Models
An attendee inspects new iPad Air 2 during an Apple special event on October 16, 2014 in Cupertino, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

It's Apple's iPad Air 2. Here's why.

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

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The new iPad Air 2 is the best overall tablet for most people. Apple’s new iPads are always better than last year’s, and the things that have made all the iPads strong tablets — like unbeatable app choices — are still present in this generation of the tablet. But with the latest update, the iPad Air 2 is thinner, lighter, and faster than the previous version, plus it gained fingerprint identification features, making it an even better user experience. And right now, the iPad (and iOS ecosystem) still offer the best overall customer experience when compared against Android.

Who Should Buy This?

If you bought the 2013 Air and are a heavy user and content-creator, the faster processor and expanded RAM of the iPad Air 2 will help with performance. If you bought the Air and use it for email, web browsing, and lighter tasks, you can hold off. If you have the original iPad Mini, then the Air 2 will be barely larger, but much faster with better Wi-Fi and Apple’s fingerprint authentication feature, TouchID.


Why we like this above all else

The 2014 update has hardware that makes it faster, thinner, and more versatile than last year’s model or the new iPad mini 3. The iPad Air now has fingerprint authentication, and is thin and light enough to hold one-handed as you would a paperback. It has the best selection of tablet-dedicated apps thanks to iOS. If you’re not particularly into Android or tinkering with your setup, there isn’t a better choice.

Why the iPad Air 2 over the updated iPad mini 3? The iPad Air 2 has a higher-quality camera that can do panoramas and burst mode, and it has the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard which allows for faster file transfers and improved range. The iPad mini 3 did not receive the faster processor that was added to the iPad Air 2. For $100 more, you get a lot more features, faster overall performance, and a larger, nicer screen with the Air 2.

But what about other, non-Apple tablets? For service and support, it’s difficult to beat Apple today. Their Apple Stores and Genius Bars are equipped to handle almost all tablet repairs on the same day. Our own experiences with the Genius Bar have seen my iPhone screen and a MacBook Air battery replaced within 30 minutes. Other companies might have as long a warranty, but they cannot do the instant turnaround that Apple can.

Most importantly, though, is Apple’s iOS ecosystem. Though the Android (Google Play) ecosystem is catching up, Apple continues to offer the largest selection of high-quality, dedicated tablet apps. While the selection of tablet-designed apps is constantly growing, that ecosystem and extremely clean user experience is still behind what iOS offers to its users.

Flaws (but not dealbreakers)

The iPad Air 2 is more expensive than its closest competition. The closest non-iPad competition is probably the $400 16GB Nexus 9. The iPad Air 2 starts at $500 for the Wi-Fi 16GB version, but 16GB is barely enough for most people and makes installing updates harder down the road, so you should probably get the the 64GB version at $600. Siri is still not as good as some Android voice control systems, and Google Now (which gives you an overview of your day and things you care about) is great if you use Android. But these are just nits to pick.

In Closing

The iPad Air 2 is the best tablet because choosing it means you’re not compromising on anything. The hardware is fast, thin, and light, it has a great, upgraded camera with useful video capabilities, TouchID, and the best tablet software ecosystem on the market today.

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

MONEY Amazon

Amazon Launches a New Service to Take On Yelp and Angie’s List

handyman in moody lighting
Monty Rakusen—Getty Images/Cultura

The retail giant's latest product aims to match shoppers with service professionals.

Amazon has launched a new service to connect consumers with handymen, installation technicians, and other professionals.

The new product, called Amazon Services, was originally reported on by Reuters in June, but appears to have only recently made its public debut.

Services works by monitoring certain search terms, such as “Television,” and then prompting users to shop for “a top rated technician” using a Services interface that looks a lot what you see when shopping for any Amazon product. Customers can then pick from a range of TV installation businesses, add a particular business’s service to their cart, and checkout as normal.

According to Amazon’s website, businesses wishing to participate in Services must pay for a background check, and give the online retailer a cut of all services sold. Amazon gets 20% of services priced more than $1,000, and 15% of any less expensive offerings. A monthly subscription fee will also be introduced, but is being waived by Amazon until July of 2015.

All services sold through the site are backed by Amazon’s “Happiness Guarantee,” which promises a full refund if customers are unsatisfied with their purchase.

While Services appears to be currently limited to installations, the Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon hopes to expand their product to cover fitness instructors, music teachers, and a wide variety of other service providers.

Following initial reports on Amazon Services, there was speculation as to whether Services would hurt existing review platforms like Yelp and Angie’s List. In the latter case, the unveiling of Amazon’s product could not have come at a worse time. Angie’s List stock has lost over 30% of its value since late October, following a slowdown in paid memberships and missed profit expectations. As of press time, shares of Angie’s List were down 5% for the day.

In Yelp’s case, however, Amazon Services may have chosen to co-exist rather than compete. Amazon includes Yelp reviews of all services offered through the site, in addition to reviews by Amazon users.

This integration could give Yelp a boost in its ongoing battle with Angie’s List, especially in the services sector, where many industry watchers consider Yelp to be weaker. Of course, Amazon could opt to remove Yelp reviews once it builds a sufficiently large review archive of its own.

Services is currently operating in 15 cities across nine states. According to Reuters, the company plans to gradually expand the program as it measures demand and tests logistics; a strategy similar to how the company launched its grocery delivery service, Amazon Fresh.

The review platform is just the latest instance of Amazon taking on a new market. In the last year, the company has entered the mobile industry with the Amazon Fire smartphone, challenged Square with its own credit card reader, taken on Roko and Google with the Amazon Fire TV Stick, and released Alexa, a voice-based digital assistant and clear competitor to Apple’s Siri.

On Tuesday, Skift reported that Amazon plans to announce a travel service that would compete with Expedia. Amazon did respond to Skift’s request for comment. Amazon has now debunked the report (“We have no intent to launch a travel site,” an Amazon spokesperson told MONEY), but the rumor’s pervasiveness shows how the company’s willingness to go after new markets has infiltrated the public consciousness.

This article has been updated with a statement from Amazon.

 

TIME Video Games

Far Cry 4 Review: The Best Far Cry Yet

Ubisoft

Ubisoft's latest offers gorgeous Himalayan views, immaculately well-balanced gameplay and cathartic pandemonium

This is how crazy Far Cry 4 can get: I’m droning just above the treetops in a ramshackle gyrocopter, scouting for macaques, when I spy a trio of the pale-furred primates loping near the edge of a precipice. I descend slowly through stands of firs, my rotors audibly clipping branches, preparing to leap out, when I hear the telltale tattoo of machine guns talking—the country’s militia trading gunfire with insurgents.

Bullets suddenly smack into my body, thump-thump-thump. My vision narrows. I jab a greenish syringe into my arm and bail out of the copter—still hovering at the lip of the cliff—spreading my arms and legs and arcing in a wingsuit toward the terrain below like a fired missile. With seconds to land, I deploy my parachute and tumble into more trees, rocks, snarled undergrowth…and the sights of one pissed honey badger, which growls like it definitely cares, then leaps at me, cobra-like, to eat my face off.

Surviving Far Cry 4 often feels like that, abrupt and slightly mad and sequentially unhinged. It’s you in a jam band, an improvisatory celebration of net-less oneupmanship (versus your own best performances) as you vector from mission to mission. The experience is somewhat like being a pinball, lured off course by too-cool-to-ignore distractions, bounding into bedlam with the fleet-footedness of a huntsman by way of an exuberant toddler.

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And lo, what distractions in this brave new world of drivable elephants, scalable summits, sartorial safaris and literal B-movie stunt quests. As named, the Far Cry games are about hurling you into slight caricatures of otherworldly milieus full of both serious and utterly frivolous things to do. The first and third entries in the series were staged in sultry equatorial spaces (the former eventually turning full-on Island of Dr. Moreau), while the second channeled Kurtzian jungles and savannah through a lens Anton Chigurah. Think part first-person shooter, part Lonely Planet, part Tarantino abattoir.

Far Cry 4 sculpts its vamp on that equation out of Nepalese remoteness and Himalayan verticality, and the results are predictably head-turning. Look out from any point in Kyrat, Ubisoft’s fictional Nepal, and you’ll note the sunlight glinting naturally off ornate bronze prayer wheels, throngs of thousand-leafed autumnal trees and undulating highways of calligraphic prayer flags fluttering in the wind.

Look further and you’ll spy plumes of distant smoke drifting stratospherically, blinking radio towers on miles-away hilltops and the intricately scalloped terraces of far-flung vertical farms. Then look up to where the horizon line should be to find the Himalayas towering like upthrust fangs, each snowy crag or escarpment crisply articulated, every draped and drifting cloud bank ethereal. There’s a sense of visual continuity here that seems only matched, in hindsight, in Bethesda’s 2011 hit Skyrim.

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Set the game’s new look aside, and you could argue Far Cry 4 hasn’t changed much since players strained to salvage Jason Brody’s Pacific vacation. Kyrati-American Ajay Ghale wages a parallel, accidental campaign against a maniacal (but endlessly amusing) despot. He’s returned to scatter his mother’s ashes but then, whoops, he’s wrestling tigers, scaling mountains and squaring off with a megalomaniacal fashionista! But that’s an oversimplification. This is both the game Far Cry 3 was and wasn’t.

Ubisoft

You still play a stereotypically displaced Westerner (Kyrati-American or no) in a freely explorable danger-scape, leveling up superhuman abilities and weapons as you fight to liberate thug-filled outposts. And you still do so by glassing enemies with binoculars, mulling over different attack approaches, hypothesizing ideal takedown scenarios and tripping auxiliary triggers like freeing lethal animals in cages, or lobbing “bait” to summon others.

Those animals still haunt regions of the world map, and you still hunt them to craft upgrades that pad out your ability to schlep stuff. And overlying that, you’ll still have to scale and sabotage nearly two dozen towers (here broadcasting propaganda) to de-fog swathes of the map and spotlight new activities. These are what Ubisoft’s taken to calling “pillars” in its primary franchises, and you’re either into the idea or not.

MORE: This Is How Insanely Beautiful the New Halo on Xbox One Is

But Far Cry 4 also builds gainfully on what Ubisoft’s learned about crafting freeform microcosms. Take your guides through the game’s main story: two parental sides of a Kyrati rebel force (after Nepal’s maoist insurgency) calling itself The Golden Path. The friction between their prosecutorial styles unlocks unique missions and rival story paths, some of which culminate in extremely discomfiting moments as you’re dressed down by the game’s incisive writers and get-under-your-skin voice actors, the strategist you shunned arguing the other’s illogic witheringly. As usual, there are no right or wrong choices here, only more or less relatable ones.

Ubisoft

The rest comes down to well-executed fan service. You can zip to almost anywhere now in the handy gyrocopter, or survive impossible falls and cobble together breathtaking impromptu maneuvers with the wingsuit. The new “hunter” class enemy basically has thousand-yard x-ray vision, can nail you from as far off and, in a bit of inspired insidiousness, turns animals against you. All of this adds delightful emergent wrinkles to combat scrums.

The most difficult outposts are now called fortresses, and they’re so brutally and brilliantly difficult the game actually recommends performing other tasks to “weaken” them before you muster and assault (but you’re always welcome to try sooner). Vehicles now have an auto-drive feature that turns control over to the A.I. so you can focus on shooting, solving an ages-old problem. (Expect this one to be emulated in other games.) And cooperative play now happens in the main world, not adjunct to it, so while friends can’t co-play story missions, they can drop in or out at will to tackle anything else in your version of Kyrat, or vice versa.

MORE: Assassin’s Creed Unity Review: Not Quite the Revolution We Were Promised

That the war’s progress still comes to a standstill as you gallivant around the countryside is no more a problem here than any of the game’s other non sequiturs: hundreds of loot chests that lie in the open waiting just for you; that you groan with disgust as you gut animals but make not a sound when head-popping thousands of enemy soldiers; your ability to wield non-metaphorical superpowers for goodness sake; and the idea that everyone else prattles on while you say almost nothing. (Though, it’s perhaps the better compromise if you’re not a manic quipster.) You could pretentiously call any of that ludonarrative dissonance, or just settle for “game design circa 2014.”

Ubisoft

But my favorite parts of Far Cry 4 lie in its quieter, unscripted moments, ones where I’d notice an inconspicuous grapple point glinting at me from high above, only to climb thousands of feet and find myself swinging between precarious protrusions toward terra incognita, inching up or down my grapple rope and angling to land just so on a silver of ledge-space.

There’s another kind of game that lives inside Far Cry 4, one that’s not about the hails of bullets or checking off victory points or slicing open a stockade’s worth of wildlife. You can play that game for hours here if you like, exploring Ubisoft’s Kyrat in trancelike quietude, but the gameplay rewards are marginal–exploration for its own sake has to suffice. How much longer before someone offers a viably nonviolent parallel path through one of these games? One that involves playing not as the guns-a-blazin’ savior, but a character more like the war correspondent in David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks—the person whose perilous job it is to chronicle the war instead of waging it, and perhaps bring a sense of accountability to the chaos and madness.

5 out of 5

Reviewed using the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

Read next: Everything You Need to Know About World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

TIME Reviews

This Is the Best Cheap Wi-Fi Router You Can Buy

TP-Link TL-WDR3600 TP-Link

The TP-Link TL-WDR3600 is your best low-budget option.

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the original full article below at TheWirecutter.com.

If I wanted the cheapest good Wi-Fi router I could get, I would buy the TP-Link TL-WDR3600. It’s a wireless-N router that costs $60 but outperforms some routers that cost twice as much. It took more than 150 hours of research and testing to find our pick. Of the 29 routers we looked at and the seven we tested, the TL-WDR3600 had the best performance for the lowest price.

Our Pick

The TP-Link TL-WDR3600 is a dual-band, two-stream router that’s faster, more consistent, and has better range than other routers near its price range. Unlike many cheap routers, it supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, and it has Gigabit Ethernet ports and two USB 2.0 ports for sharing printers and storage with your network. It’s a great upgrade from your ISP-provided router, and it supports a connection type that’s six times as fast as wireless-g (the previous standard found in routers from 2007 or earlier).

Since the TL-WDR3600 is a wireless-N router, wireless-AC devices won’t be as fast as they could be on a wireless-AC router. We don’t think that’s a dealbreaker yet. Wireless-AC only started showing up in high-end laptops, smartphones, and tablets in 2013. Wireless-N devices are still much more common. Wireless-AC devices work just fine with a wireless-N router, though. In our tests, the TL-WDR3600 even outperformed some more expensive wireless-AC routers at long range.

The TL-WDR3600 is easy to set up, but beyond that its user interface is complex and unintuitive. This is a common problem with TP-Link routers, but we think this router’s performance and low price make it worth the hassle. At this price, performance is more important than an interface with which you’ll rarely have to deal. And if you can manage the interface, you’ll find features common in more expensive routers, like parental controls, guest networks, and a DLNA server for streaming media.

 

Other Options

If the TL-WDR3600 is not available, consider the Edimax BR-6478AC ($70). It’s a dual-band, dual-stream wireless-AC router with an interface that’s much easier to use than the TP-Link’s (which solves our two biggest complaints about our main pick). Unfortunately, its range isn’t quite as good as the TP-Link’s. If you have wireless-AC devices and spend a lot of time on high-bandwidth tasks — like backing up your entire laptop to a network drive — you’ll want the Edimax’s speed. If you just surf the Web a lot, you’ll want the TP-Link’s extra range—wireless-AC speeds don’t really matter unless you have a very fast Internet connection to begin with.

If you can afford to spend $100 on a router, get the TP-Link Archer C7, our favorite router. It has the same complex, unintuitive interface as the TL-WDR3600, but it supports three-stream wireless-AC devices and its speed and range are incredible. It’s more than twice as fast as the TL-WDR3600 and the Edimax on most of our tests, and it’s even faster than some $200 routers. Just make sure you’re getting the v2 version.

In closing

For the devices you’re most likely to own, TP-Link’s inexpensive TL-WDR3600 delivers great performance at the longest distances. It’s the best cheap router for most people. If you have lots of wireless-AC devices but are still on a budget, check out Edimax’s $70 BR-6478AC. Neither router is as good as our favorite router, the $100 TP-Link Archer C7 v2, but you’ll pay more for the extra performance.

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

TIME Video Games

Dragon Age Inquisition Review: This Is the One You’ve Been Waiting For

Bioware / EA

BioWare's latest RPG is a grand romp through a breath-taking fantasy setting. And it features some of the most interesting characters we've yet seen in a Dragon Age title

Scouting the rain-hammered shoreline of a coastal region in Dragon Age: Inquisition, one of my companions spies a giant with tusks thick as logs trading blows with a dragon. “Badass,” he says, chuckling. And I stop to watch, because it is badass, like so much else in this alien otherworld: the sun flaring like a UFO in a forest of trees tall as redwoods; skies that look by turns cerulean or bloomy or haunted or storm-wracked; phantasmagoric landscapes with deranged rock cities and archetypal motifs out of a Jungian nightmare; dragons spitting fireballs like meteors.

Which is strange, because you could argue the Dragon Age games up to now have been the opposite of impressive, with pedestrian visuals, anticlimactic battles, fiddly interfaces and narrative non sequiturs. Theirs were societies saved not by long-slogging armies or international diplomacy, but scrappy squads of godlike activists.

Bioware’s best known for the latter, devotedly tilling ground popularized by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in the 1970s. The Canadian studio’s second game in the late 1990s was a licensed Dungeons & Dragons homage, which begat a minor renaissance in computerized D&D-play. But the studio slaved itself to that system’s ideas, and when Dragon Age: Origins arrived over a decade later, we were still, in essence, replaying Baldur’s Gate: a choose-your-own-adventure bricked together by peripatetic exploration, reductive arithmetic and relentless conflict resolution.

Bioware / EA

Dragon Age: Inquisition, the latest installment for game consoles and Windows, isn’t a seas-parting rethink–it’s invested in the same basic ideas about roleplaying as its predecessors. But here it employs them on a scale we haven’t seen since a meme about career-ending missiles graced one of the most popular shows on TV.

This, finally, is Bioware world-building with the mythic sweep of a Peter Jackson or Todd Howard, cultivating a sleek, reimagined, wildly blown up rendition of writer David Gaider’s fantasy preserve that feels at once grander and more holistic, a world whose craftsmanship you can admire and at points obsess over and occasionally even gawp at. If Dragon Age II was a weird, turtling retreat to button-mashy, bam-pow brawls in a village-sized city patched together from generic, recycled components, Dragon Age: Inquisition feels like the yang to its yin. On an epic scale.

Some may worry, hearing the setup, that it borrows too much from Bethesda’s Oblivion. As in that game, breaches in space-time have appeared around the world from which demons pour forth. Your job, as the amnesiac leader of a group that calls itself an “inquisition” but behaves more like a magnanimous oligarchy, is to go around sealing the holes and righting wrongs.

But The Elder Scrolls games take fewer risks, and though the writing isn’t appreciably better here, Inquisition engages edgier concerns: religious belief (or lack thereof), same-sex relationships, the psychological horrors of war, racial bigotry and economic classism to name a few. Yes, you’re still obliged to de-villain caves and dungeons, and there’s still too much errand-running, but you’ll also get to wrestle weightier subject matter. So for instance: the fractious relationship between a father and, in the series’ first treatment of an openly gay character, his son. If the writing in the end hews nearer Tolkien than Peake when it’s trying to subvert cliché, at least it’s trying.

Bioware / EA

For all its Game of Thrones flavoring, you’re either fighting stuff or getting ready to fight stuff between Inquisition‘s story beats, and combat hasn’t been a series strong point. Dragon Age: Origins, the first game, saddled an already fiddly battle system with a laborious interface, while Dragon Age II dispensed with tactical nuance and went for mediocre leap-and-dodge combat instead.

Stumble into a clutch of bad guys in Inquisition, by contrast, and yes, you can still hammer buttons to conjure ability flourishes or batter opponents, but you’ll get better results if you pace yourself in the rejiggered tactical view. Tap a button and the game freezes, letting you glide over the battlefield like a steadicam operator, inspecting friend or foe at leisure, finessing melee or distance attacks and coordinating flanking maneuvers. Once you’ve finished, you can hold another button to roll the clock forward or shift back to real-time mode. It’s a remarkably elegant system that’s both lively and nuanced, scalable complexity on a gamepad that works.

Eventually the game you thought you were playing–the one where you pingpong from quest to quest and battle to battle–becomes a game within a game, as you’re asked to deploy allies to complete timed missions to gain power or influence, which you then spend at a home base “war table,” unlocking new areas or increasing the rank of the inquisition or selecting perks with effects that ripple through the other gameplay systems. Without spoiling plot points, I can say that what starts as a thing about making do with what’s at hand eventually becomes a thing about building bigger and better. Home improvement in a game is nothing new, but it’s handled competently here, and has its own satisfying wrinkles.

Bioware / EA

A few problems remain: Why can you “rest” and refresh your party just a few yards from attacking enemies? Why place lengthy background text on ephemeral loading screens that vanish after a few seconds? Why can’t I follow more precisely the impact of my dialogue choices? Why are folks still leaving treasure-filled chests in the middle of nowhere? Must so many quests still depend on the quest-givers being fundamentally lazy? And why, in a story about an inter-dimensional apocalypse, would anyone ask a bunch of super-beings to slaughter a dozen rams to load up on ram meat?

Dragon Age: Inquisition didn’t work for me at first, but then I realized I’d been playing it too much like Dragon Age II, mashing through battles and racing between to-dos and ignoring the filler because why would Bioware know anything about riveting world design? Then I slowed down, and in slowing down discovered how wrong I’d been–how much more the design team managed to fill this iteration with. Sometimes gaming’s as much about the caught-you-off-guard zen moments as the lunatic action ones, and sometimes the workmanship’s enough.

4.5 out of 5

Reviewed using the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

TIME Google

Google’s Amazing New Email App Is Missing This 1 Feature

It doesn't yet work with Google for Work

Learning how to use Inbox, Google’s new algorithm-based email app, is like learning how to drive stick: It’s intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s hard to imagine going back.

I’ve been using Inbox for about a week now as my only means of checking my personal Gmail account, and what I like most is that it treats your email as what email has essentially become: a to-do list. Instead of marking messages as “read,” Inbox lets you cross off items once you’ve accomplished whatever task was asked of you in them:, be it paying a bill, calling your mom, RSVPing for an event. Building an entire email app around that basic concept is not only wise, it also hints at the future of your inbox in a pretty profound way.

Probably my favorite smaller feature is Inbox’s habit of pulling relevant information out of your email and getting it right in your inbox’s home screen. This is particularly handy for things like purchases and flights, where you’ll see data like tracking numbers, expected delivery dates and departure times without even having to open the related email. It’s a similar concept to Google Now, a Google app designed to predict and display information you’ll want at a given point in space and time without you ever having to request it, thanks to an intimate knowledge of your search history and other data.

Inbox also nicely sorts your messages into categories like “Finance,” (read: bills) “Purchases” (receipts) and “Low-Priority” (newsletters). Low-Priority reminds me of another service I’ve used and loved for a few months, Unroll.Me, which takes all the newsletters and daily deal emails that have a nasty habit of languishing in your inbox and collects them into an easy-to-consume daily digest. So far, I’ve been using Unroll.Me in tandem with Inbox, but Inbox is good enough that I might turn Unroll.Me off completely.

What’s wrong with Inbox? Well, for starters, it’s a little hard to learn, mostly because it looks so different than other email software you’ve used before. But really the one thing holding Inbox back is that it doesn’t yet work with Google for Work apps—meaning, if your office is Gmail-based, you can’t use Inbox for your work email yet. That’s a shame, because most of my personal email isn’t actionable, whereas the vast majority of my work email is. Google is considering expanding Inbox to play ball with Google for Work, but a company spokesperson wasn’t able to shed light on when that might happen.

Google Inbox is currently available only by invite on desktop, iOS and Android. It works nicely on both desktop and mobile, but it really shines on phones. Learn more and request your invitation here. Invites were scarce at first, but the word on the street is Google’s been sending more as Inbox interest builds. Google doesn’t have a timeline for when Inbox will go fully public.

 

TIME Reviews

Apple’s New iPads Are Great, But Not Essential

Apple Unveils New iPad Models
The new iPad Air 2 (R) and iPad Mini 3 are displayed during an Apple special event on October 16, 2014 in Cupertino, California. Apple unveiled the new iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 tablets and the iMac with 5K retina display. The Asahi Shimbun—2014 The Asahi Shimbun

You may be better off seeking last year's cheaper models

Apple’s latest iPads, the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3, are being released to relatively muted fanfare compared to the excitement that surrounded the launch of the company’s latest iPhones. It makes sense—while the latest iPhones sported larger screens, much-improved cameras and the ability to be used as mobile wallets in stores, the improvements to the iPad line are subtle by comparison.

The new iPads are great, reviewers say, but they may not warrant running out for an immediate upgrade. Here’s a rundown:

Over at The Verge, Nilay Patel praises the iPad Air 2’s unprecedented thinness (6.1 millimeters), improved A8X processor, TouchID fingerprint scanner and battery life. However, at $499 for the cheapest model with 16 GB of storage, he says the product doesn’t differentiate itself enough from the slightly smaller iPhone 6 Plus or a full-fledged Macbook:

iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite are designed to make the transition from iPhone to Mac easier than ever with features like Handoff and Continuity; there’s hardly any reason to take a pitstop at the iPad along the way . . . For better or worse, Apple’s allowed the iPad to become the giant iPhone its critics have always insisted that it is, and in a world with giant iPhones that’s a tough spot to be in.


The iPad Air 2 is “pretty close to perfection,” according to CNET, but it also “doesn’t do anything startling or new.” As Scott Stein explains:

The iPad Air 2 is undoubtedly better than any other current iPad, but its advantages might matter less than last year’s dramatically-redesigned iPad Air: screen quality, size, and battery life are close enough, effectively, to feel the same. Processor power and camera quality — and Touch ID — are welcome additions, but not needle-movers for the typical iPad user. Year-old iPads have never seemed like better bets.

The original iPad Air is now retailing for $399 for its cheapest model. Critics say that may be a better choice for iPad newcomers or those with even older tablets looking for an upgrade.

Apple’s new pint-sized tablet, the iPad Mini 3, probably isn’t worth its price, according to the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo. It doesn’t sport the super-fast processor in the iPad Air 2 and it has the same weight and dimensions as its predecessor, the iPad Mini 2. The newly-added Touch ID is the main differentiating factor, along with a new gold model, but Manjoo says that’s not enough. “Unless you’re going to be doing a lot of Apple Pay shopping or you’re gaga for gold, it’s best to save the $100 and go with the Mini 2,” he writes.

The final verdict: Apple’s latest products are well-designed and probably the most advanced in their respective markets, but they still don’t quite warrant their high price tags, especially if you’re looking for more storage than the basic models provide.

 

TIME medicine

Look Up Your Meds On This Massive New Drug Database

Iodine

The Yelp of medicine is here

Iodine, a new health start-up from a former Wired editor and Google engineer offers an easy-to-use database of drug information.

The database, which launched on Wednesday, uses Google surveys to get consumer information on a wide variety of both over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Users can search a specific drug from Aleve to Xanax and see how people generally feel about its efficacy, about the side effects from actual users, tradeoffs, comments from users, warnings, costs, and a readable versions of the drug’s package insert.

And the database will continue to grow. According to the New York Times, Iodine uses Google Consumer Surveys, of which they have 100,000 ones completed, and they add to their website every day. Iodine also uses data from clinical research, pharmacist surveys, adverse event reports made to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Average Drug Acquisition Cost (NADAC)–which reports the average wholesale price pharmacies pay for over 20,000 drugs.

Thomas Goetz, the former Wired editor and co-founder of Iodine told the Times that Iodine is developing the largest survey of American’s drug use and experiences which could not just help consumers but help impact policy.

The folks behind Iodine may have actually succeeded in making Big Data useable—and helpful.

MONEY Tech

New Law Bans Companies From Punishing Online Critics

Yelp review sticker on window
Reviewers in California need not fear retribution if they disagree with this sign. Scott Eells—Bloomberg via Getty Images

A new California law will outlaw "non-disparagement" clauses that prevent customers from posting negative reviews online.

Writing a Yelp review just got a whole lot safer thanks to a new law, signed by California governor Jerry Brown, which prohibits companies from going after customers who write negative reviews of their services.

The law, which appears to be the first of its kind in the United States, prevents companies from including “non-disparagement” clauses in their contracts with customers. The L.A. Times explains these clauses are often hidden in long user agreements that many consumers unwittingly agree to when using a service.

From now on, California businesses that try to enforce such a provision will face a civil penalty of $2,500 for their first offense, $5,000 for each repeated infraction, and an additional $10,000 fine for “a willful, intentional, or reckless violation” of the statute.

This type of legislation might seem unnecessary since forcefully silencing one’s customers seems to be a clear violation of the First Amendment. However, that hasn’t stopped a number of American companies from trying to mute criticism using just the type of contracts this bill seeks to outlaw.

MONEY’s Brad Tuttle previously reported on a series of businesses that shake down their dissatisfied clients. One upstate New York inn threatened to bill customers $500 per negative review if they hosted an event at the location and any guests took their grievances online. Another couple was pursued by a collection agency after violating an (arguably non-existent) non-disparagement clause by slamming the online retailer KlearGear on RipoffReport.com. Thankfully, a federal judge ruled in the customers’ favor.

While American courts have generally protected citizen reviewers against retribution from businesses, with or without a specific legislative mandate, that hasn’t always been the case internationally. Earlier this year, a French court fined one food blogger a total of €2,500 (about $3,200 at today’s exchange rate) after the blogger’s negative review of a restaurant appeared near the top of Google’s search results.

At least in California, online critics need not fear a similar fate.

TIME Computers

Acer Chromebook 13 Impresses with Long Battery, Spacious Screen

Acer’s Chromebook 13 is arguably the best Chromebook for the money right now.

For $300, you get a 13-inch high-resolution screen — it’s 1080p in a sea of Chromebooks with 720p screens — and battery life that can hit 10 hours before needing to be recharged. Those are the two biggest selling points.

Battery life is real-deal here. I’ve been using the Chromebook 13 off and on as a secondary machine for the past week and have recharged it twice. I even took it with me on a four-day weekend and left the charger at home. The feeling was equal parts exhilarating and anxious, like riding an edible roller coaster made largely of ice cream sandwiches. If you’re doing basic stuff, you’ll probably be able to squeeze 10 hours out of this thing. If you’re hammering on it, expect about eight. Acer promises up to 11 hours, so hitting anywhere in the 8-10 range is pretty good.

The 1920×1080 screen is uncommon in a $300 machine and it’s a big selling point on its own, but don’t expect to be blown away. Viewing angles leave a bit to be desired and the matte panel — though pretty good outdoors — makes everything look somewhat lifeless. I kept wanting the screen to be great, but that burning desire kept getting quietly and fairly snuffed out by the $300 price tag.

What you’re getting from the screen, basically, is more space on the dance floor. Here’s a 72op Chromebook (on the left) up against the Chromebook 13’s 1080p screen:

720vs1080
Doug Aamoth / TIME

The trackpad and keyboard are both hits in their own right, too. The trackpad especially: it’s buttery-smooth for two-finger scrolling, rivaling the gold-standard MacBook trackpads. The island keyboard is plenty spacious, with the keys having Goldilocks-like travel: not too shallow, not too deep. Each keypress elicits a satisfying thump.

Under the hood, Acer’s installed a mobile-ish Nvidia Tegra chip, the first of its kind in this type of machine. The promise is great horsepower with minimal tradeoff to the battery. Battery life is a definite win here, though I’d say horsepower merely falls into the “good enough” to “pretty good” range depending what you’re trying to do. Chromebooks are appealing as secondary computers for people who use computers a lot or as basic computers for people who need something for browsing the web. If you’re looking for either of those things with this machine, you won’t be disappointed; if you want to use this as your primary computer and you’re going to load up a bunch of browser tabs, you might want to consider dropping an extra $80 for the next model up — which features double the RAM and double the storage — or spend a bit more for a mid-range PC.

And like any $300 computer, build quality isn’t going to be anything spectacular. The Chromebook 13 is Acer’s most solidly-built and best-looking Chromebook yet, though it’s still ensconced in white, smudge-magnet plastic and there’s a meaningful bezel surrounding the screen. The machine travels light, though, at 3.3 pounds and shares a similar length-and-width profile as a 13-inch MacBook Air, with a thickness of 0.7 inches:

CB13vsMBA
Doug Aamoth / TIME

Various quibbles aside, Acer’s Chromebook 13 has it where it counts: long battery, high-resolution screen, great trackpad, great keyboard and a very manageable travel size. The processor holds it back ever so slightly, but the day-long battery life should easily counterbalance that for most people.

Couple quick notes before we wrap up:

  • Toshiba’s got an impressive 13-incher launching in early October. For $30 more, you get an Intel processor, double the RAM and a 1080p IPS screen that ought to look better than the Acer’s matte display. Battery life for the Toshiba will be shorter though, with the company promising up to nine hours — which will likely mean around 7-8 hours in the real world. And Acer’s known to cut prices pretty aggressively when needed. The Chromebook 13 is still a safe buy right now, but if you’re looking for a little more horsepower, a better screen and are willing to give up a few hours of battery, it might be worth it to wait to compare the two once they’re both on the market.
  • There’s a $280 version of this Acer Chromebook that features a 720p screen and up to 13 hours of battery life. I’d argue that the extra $20 for the 1080p screen is absolutely worth it, but if you’re looking to squeeze every last minute out of your laptop battery, the $280 model is worth a look.
  • There’s a $300 version with 4GB of RAM (the regular version has 2GB) available at select retailers. That should be a no-brainer if you frequent one of the establishments listed at the bottom of the product page.

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