All the New AR Features Coming to iPhones This Fall

Apple’s World Wide Developer conference kicked off on Monday and among the refinements that we’re seeing for iOS is increased support for augmented reality. A brand new ARKit is dropping and along with it some impressive apps and features could make mixed reality more than just a novelty.

We’re still a long way from seeing anything truly mind blowing in AR, but it’s important to keep in mind just how much this subject matters to Apple. CEO Tim Cook has said again and again that he thinks AR is one of the most important developments for Apple’s long-term future. Last year, he told Vogue, “I don’t think there is any sector or industry that will be untouched by AR.”

We’re still just seeing incremental developments right now, but it’s all part of building the software background that will fuel the inevitable AR headset that Apple may or may not release in 2019.

Here’s what the company showed off today:

USDZ File Format

Apple says it worked with Pixar to create a brand new file format for AR. It’s called USDZ and it can be used to share and interact with AR objects across the iOS ecosphere. For instance, you could send your partner a 3D coffee maker object and they could try out how it looks on the kitchen counter.

Above all, the format is designed to streamline AR sharing into a compact format that can be used for whatever million-dollar idea creators can come up with.

One creative partner that Apple has brought on to help build out USDZ’s functionality is Adobe. Adobe is putting native USDZ support into Creative Cloud suite of apps. Designers will be able to natively edit AR objects in the software they’re familiar with—perhaps as easily as if they were throwing a lens flare on a JPEG. With a new iOS app, any element can be pulled from Creative Cloud and viewed in augmented reality. More details on this new app are supposed to come later today.

 

Measure

The sound of a thousand ARKit developers crying out could be heard across the land as Apple introduced its own tape measuring app. The tape measure was a common app we saw developers testing out before the first version of ARKit formally launched. It’s basically the fart app of AR and there are a bunch of them in the app store already. But now Apple’s releasing its official “Measure” app, and no one will even need to turn to a third-party digital ruler again—unless it sucks.

News Integration

One way that Apple wanted to show off USDZ integration across the iOS platform was in how it might integrate with news articles. A magazine article about Japanese gardening was shown on the big screen and when a user scrolled down they could see a 3D rendering of a Koi fish. Tapping on a control maximized the image, it was animated, and a user could pan or zoom around it.

You’ve probably seen some form of interactive video on the occasional New York Times article, but Apple is selling this as a much simpler way of bringing original AR assets into stories. It’s also likely showing off some fancy magazine features as it pushes Texture, the Netflix-for-magazines service it acquired in March. Expect to see that app showing off AR features hard.

ARKit 2.0

Unless your a developer, most of what’s going on under the hood of the new ARKit won’t matter to you. “Better everything” is essentially what it boils down to. But the biggest takeaway should be that it’s bringing in persistent, shared experiences or, you know, multiplayer for AR. Two or more people will be able to log in to an app and see the same AR objects in the same shared space.

One example app was shown off that will be available to developers today. It showed two players facing each other and battling to knock over a bunch of fake wooden blocks on a real table. Each player used their iPad as a slingshot to knock over the wooden shapes, and a third-observer could even watch what the other players were doing from a totally different perspective.

Lego Partnership

To cap off its AR news, Apple brought out some representatives from Lego to show off how the building block giant will use AR to make a sort of Sims-style experience with its play sets. It was by far the most feature-rich demo shown on stage today.

The Lego reps presented a single, hand-built “Assembly Square” Lego set. In the demo, up to four players could open up their iPads and suddenly streets appeared around the building. More Lego buildings, characters, and vehicles were added to fill out the town. Characters were alive inside the buildings and carrying on with their lives and the characters the players controlled could drive the vehicles. Game missions like putting out fires and saving bystanders from a burning building were shown off. And the whole world that gamers created could be saved and returned to at any time.

What Microsoft buying GitHub means to open-source software development

A few years back, the mere idea of Microsoft (Microsoft of all companies!) buying GitHub, the leading open-source development hosting company, would have been seen as nuts. Today, Microsoft is buying GitHub for a cool $7.5-billion in stock. Not a bad price for a company’s that never seen a dime of net revenue.

But, Microsoft isn’t buying GitHub for revenue. It’s buying it because as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella put it: “Microsoft is a developer-first company, and by joining forces with GitHub we strengthen our commitment to developer freedom, openness, and innovation.”

People agree that GitHub is the most popular open-source version control code repository in the world. No other company or group comes close. As of March 2018, GitHub had over 28 million users and 85 million code repositories.

Sacha Labourey, CEO of CloudBees, the enterprise Jenkins continuous integration site “can’t think of a better destination for GitHub than ‘The New Microsoft.’ The New Microsoft totally gets developers. GitHub has built an amazing social network for developers who are likely not going to be in a hurry to leave this buzzing hive anytime soon for some temporary FUD.”

FUD? Former Microsoft CEO Steve “Linux is a cancer” Ballmer may have quit his job in 2014 to be replaced by Satya “Microsoft loves Linux” Nadella, but many open-source developers and supporters still hate Microsoft.

Roy Schestowitz, editor of the anti-Microsoft and software patent site, TechRights tweeted, “Microsoft is a saboteur whose sabotage relies on lies about ‘love.'” He also claims “Git hosts other than #github getting 10 times the usual load (surge) as people migrate away from GitHub.”

Indeed, Gitlab, a leading GitHub competitor, reports: “We’re seeing 10x the normal daily amount of repositories.” This is being driven not just because of old grudges against Microsoft, but because, as one Reddit writer put it, under Microsoft GitHub’s “real future is a buggy and monetized site.

Nadella may say, “We recognize the responsibility we take on with this agreement. We are committed to being stewards of the GitHub community, which will retain its developer-first ethos, operate independently, and remain an open platform.”

But, some very vocal developers don’t buy that for a New York minute. They are certain that Microsoft will “Embrace, extend, and extinguish” the programs of potential rivals. As one put it on a Google+ thread, “What does M$ have to gain from this, other than by either shutting it down in the long term, monetizing it further or by data mining folks? In just a matter of hours, they made GitHub a completely toxic entity.”

Actually, leaving aside Microsoft’s aforementioned reasons to buy GitHub, Microsoft is a huge GitHub user. Microsoft uses the Git protocol — ironically created by Linus Torvalds to manage Linux — in Visual Studio Team ServiceMicrosoft also already uses GitHub for many of its own programs. Indeed, João Pedro Martins, an Azure Architect Manager claims, “Microsoft is already the biggest contributor anyway.”

Microsoft developer, Miguel de Icaza, founder of the open-source programs Mono and GNOME, remarked, “Satya looked at Microsoft’s bill from all the code we host on GitHub and figured it would be cheaper to buy the company.”

Still other developers and companies don’t want their code being hosted on a site that now belongs to a major competitor. In response to de Icaza, Matt Van Horn, wrote, “It’s gonna be so cool that Microsoft will be able to peek into the private repos of people trying to compete with them, won’t it?”

Some open-source developers are sick and tired of treating Microsoft like it hasn’t changed its way over the last few years. Jon Masters, Red Hat‘s chief ARM architect wrote on Google+, “If you’re needlessly hating on Microsoft for buying GitHub, I hate to be the one to have to tell you this, but the world changed. It’s time to move forward with life and accept that in 2018, MSFT isn’t the Great Satan out to destroy all Open Source.”

James Bottomley, a Distinguished Engineer at IBM Research and a leading Linux developer, added in a blog post, “Companies with well established open-source business models and motivations that don’t depend on the whims of VCs are much more trustworthy in open source in the long term. Although it’s a fairly recent convert, Microsoft is now among these because it’s clearly visible how its conversion from desktop to cloud both requires open source and requires Microsoft to play nicely with open source.”

As for Microsoft’s bad track record, Bottomley thinks that’s a “bonus because from the corporate point of view it has to be extra vigilant in maintaining its open source credentials.”

The real battle over GitHub’s future won’t be in social media battles. It will be with GitHub’s users. Will they be moving their code out of GitHub as soon as possible? Are they comfortable with leaving their program in MS-GitHub? Only time, and Microsoft’s actions, will tell.

Bizarre Android bug displays private text messages

Android smartphones are susceptible to a strange glitch that shows recent text messages when a specific malformed web address is entered. If you type “the1975..com” (with two periods) into the Google app, it delivers a summary of recent conversations instead of performing a search or attempting to pull up the eponymous rock band’s website.

Redditor Krizastro accidentally discovered the issue while using Google’s Pixel Launcher. As 9to5Google explains, Android faithfuls can already view an SMS summary when they type “show my text messages” into the Google app. Accessing texts this way is not particularly new — it displays message contents, the sender’s number, and timestamps on a Google card. However, “the1975..com” query performing the same action is new, and rather strange.

Other Reddit users quickly pointed out that “Vizel viagens”, “Izela viagens” and “Zela viagens” produced the same effect, and that the Galaxy S7, S8+, S9+ and HTC U11 weren’t immune to the glitch either.

At any rate, the bug appears to be non-threatening and only affects users who’ve given Google permission to access their device contacts. Without that clearance, the glitch won’t manifest and users instead see an access request prompt. At this stage, Google hasn’t provided official comment, however, the likelihood is high that the glitch will be cleaned up in no time.

Bloomberg: MacBooks and iPads not coming at WWDC, redesigned Apple Watch will work with same bands

Bloomberg has published its roundup of what to expect at WWDC next week, and included are notable details about what not to expect from Apple on Monday. Specifically, new Macs and iPad Pros aren’t expected to debut like last year.

Apple refreshed the MacBook and MacBook Pro while introducing the 10.5-inch iPad Pro and second-gen 12.9 iPad Pro at its developer conference in 2017, but Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman expects Apple to save this year’s revisions for later in the year.

The company is working on refreshes to the MacBook Pro and 12-inch MacBook with new Intel Corp. chips, and is planning a new low-cost laptop to succeed MacBook Air. But those won’t be ready until later this year, according to people familiar with the plans. Apple is also working on a redesigned iPad Pro line with Face ID, but that’s also expected later.

The report also corroborates one of Ming-Chi Kuo’s final analyst notes for KGI Securities before retiring, in which Kuo predicted Apple will release a redesigned Apple Watch this fall. Kuo wrote that Apple Watch will feature a 15% larger display, and Gurman adds new details today:

The company is working on a pair of new Apple Watches that keep the overall size of the current models, but include slightly larger, edge-to-edge screens, according to a person familiar with the product’s development. These changes will be the most notable external enhancements since the Watch launched about three years ago, but the new models will still support watch bands from earlier models, another person said.

With hardware likely not on the table next week, Bloomberg points to new software features in iOS 12 including a new Digital Health initiative, notification management features, ARKit 2.0 with multiplayer gaming capabilities, and potentially bringing iOS apps to the Mac as previously reported.

It’s true: Teens are ditching Facebook

Teens are over Facebook.

A new study has confirmed what we’ve long expected: Facebook is no longer the most popular social media site among teens ages 13 to 17.

The Pew Research Center revealed on Thursday that only 51% of US teens use Facebook. That’s a 20% drop since 2015, the last time the firm surveyed teens’ social media habits.

Now, YouTube is the most popular platform among teens — about 85% say they use it. Not surprisingly, teens are also active on Instagram (72%) and Snapchat (SNAP) (69%). Meanwhile, Twitter (TWTR) followed at 32%, and Tumblr’s popularity (14%) remained the same since the 2015 survey.

When it comes to the platform they access most frequently throughout the day, Snapchat is king.

Although the study was only conducted among nearly 750 teens in a one month period starting this spring, the new numbers might be worrying for Facebook. The company recently rebounded from its first-ever decline in users in the US and Canada. But overall, its global growth has slowed. The two countries account for 185 million daily users.

But Daniel Ives, chief strategy officer and head of technology research at GBH Insights, argues Facebook-owned Instagram-owned is more important to the parent company than Facebook itself when it comes to younger users.

“Instagram has captured that demographic better than anyone could have expected,” Ives said. The numbers highlight “why Instagram is one of the best tech acquisitions done in the past 15 years.”

Facebook didn’t immediately respond for comment.

The survey discovered lower-income teens “are more likely to gravitate toward Facebook than those from higher-income households.” The Pew study also found smartphone growth among teens has jumped significantly since 2015 — 95% of teens say they own one compared to 75% in 2015.

That might explain why 45% of teens said they’re online “almost constantly,” a stat that has nearly doubled since the 2015 survey.

These Are the Five Types of Alexa Users

Ask around, and you’ll find a surprising number of people have a smart speaker in their homes. As of January, 1 in 6 Americans own a voice-activated speaker, but Gartner predicts 75 percent of U.S. households will have one by 2020. With a broad gamut of capabilities—streaming news and music, answering questions, issuing reminders, and controlling connected home products—they can offer a good value proposition, particularly when paired with an attractive price point.

But just because our Echos, Google Homes, and HomePods can do all sorts of things doesn’t mean we’re taking advantage of every single one of their features. Many of us are content to rely on our digital assistants for just one, or a handful, of specific tasks. With that in mind, there seem to be several distinct emerging classes of smart speaker users to which people belong.

The Creeped-Out Owner of an Overpriced Paperweight

For some, particularly those gifted a smart speaker, the first phase of ownership is nonownership. “It didn’t even come out of the box for the first two months,” one Texas-based Echo owner shared. There’s a perception that such devices are always listening to everything you say. While smart speakers may be capable of that, companies such as Amazon assert that they don’t (the “extremely rare occurrence” reported Thursday aside). The speakers use “on-device keyword spotting” to only listen for their wake word, after which they’ll listen and record what you say as a command. Still, adding an always-on listening device in your home is an incredibly personal decision, and if you don’t want to take yours out of the box … well, when the next smart speaker privacy debacle eventually happens, you’ll be the one laughing, not your Alexa.

The Early Adopting Die-Hard

And then you’ve got folks on the opposite end of the spectrum. The people who, on a daily basis, use their voice assistant for everything: for turning on and off the lights, controlling the thermostat, playing music, setting timers, relaying information, shopping, and reading the day’s news headlines. These people would be lost without an Echo or Google Home in their lives (or at least on their phones a whole lot more). Heaven forbid there’s a power outage or their voice-dictated kingdom will crumble.

The Streamer

“I really purchased [an Echo] because we needed something much smaller, with great speakers, to play music on,” Terri Axell of Salem, Oregon, told Slate. “I have to admit that’s what I use it for primarily.”

Data collected by Voicebot.ai shows that listening to streaming music is the most popular thing we task our smart speakers with, narrowly edging out more mundane functions, like asking it the weather. And according to the report “Everybody’s Talkin’—Smart Speakers and Their Impact on Music Consumption,” smart speakers may be driving streaming usage. Thirty-four percent of smart speaker–owning respondents say they listen to music more than four hours a day, compared with 24 percent of the general populace—and many say they listen to more music than they did before their speaker purchase. Before setting it as the default for music, San Francisco–based CNN Tech reporter Heather Kelly used Alexa to play music on Spotify so often that her preschool-age son began adding “on Spotify” to the end of every Alexa request.

The Weather Summoner

Yes, despite the myriad things digital assistants can do, the second-most common thing people rely on them for is embarrassingly simple: the weather forecast. “Alexa at my house is bored. All I ask her is the outside temperature,” one owner recently tweeted. He’s not alone.

“I use it for weather. That’s it,” Redditor Ricoculus Prime said in a thread. “ ‘Alexa Weather’—that’s all I say to it.”

I usually ask Alexa about the weather two or three times a day, certainly more than any other task she does, and I’m well-versed in all the things she’s capable of. I should be ashamed, but I’m not.

The Person Who Really Just Needs a Clock

The kitchen is a popular place for a smart speaker thanks to its counter-friendly size, but regardless of its location, a lot of people use their assistant primarily as a kitchen timer, to set alarms, or simply to get the time without needing to look at a clock or phone screen. Setting a timer or alarm on a smartphone can be a little tedious, and potentially problematic if your hands are covered in flour or chicken grease. If your smart speaker is nothing but a glorified clock, your kitchen (and phone) are likely a more sanitary place.

Most smart speaker owners will fall into only one of those categories of use, but there’s also the question of how they talk to their assistant. And for that, there are really only two camps.

The Alexa Denigrator

Anecdotally, a lot of people love to hate on their smart assistant. “Ours is pretty much just a verbal punch[ing] bag,” one Redditor shared. “We ask it a question, it says ‘I’m not sure I can help you with that’ and then we ask it why it’s so shit.” Others get frustrated, yelling at their smart speaker when it misunderstands a query or plays the wrong genre of music, or barking orders at it. On the more innocuous end of this spectrum, some simply enjoy making her play fart sounds.

The Alexa Apologist

And then there are the folks who are completely appalled by the behavior above. While some just treat their A.I. neutrally—it is a computer, after all—others swing to the opposite extreme. They say please, thank you, and issue apologies to their home assistant when others treat it with disrespect. Amazon clearly embraces this camp, at least for families with kids: Amazon recently introduced Kids editions of some Echo products that reward children for speaking to the bot politely.

Ultimately, how you use your assistant is up to you, but that doesn’t mean that others won’t judge you for your tone or habits. Virtual assistants may not be people, but they’re a household personality—and often a helpful one, regardless of how you use it.

The Luxury Car That Senses Trouble Before You Do

Driving the latest Mercedes S550—the company’s premium flagship sedan and pretty much the entire industry’s standard-bearer of advanced technology—can be a spooky experience. As you drive around, you start tallying all the barely perceptible interventions that the car generates to keep you alive, and quickly realize the car is probably paying more attention to what you’re doing than you are.

If this is the future, it begins with a nudge—a slight vibration when you drift out of your lane without using the turn signal. Then, when cruise control is activated, imperceptible adjustments to your speed to keep you in harmony with traffic. See that speed bump ahead? The car does: its Magic Body Control system will automatically soften the suspension so you float over it without spilling your coffee. Cameras and radar in the front of the car scan for pedestrians and vehicles—even cross-traffic you may not notice. When you start braking, it’ll amp up the energy to ensure you don’t strike any obstacles. If you do nothing, it’ll brake on its own.

The list of safety options alone in the Mercedes S550 is downright dizzying: Pre-Safe Brake with Pedestrian Recognition; BAS Plus with Cross-Traffic Assist; Distronic Plus with Steering Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, an Active Lane-Keeping Assist; Attention Assist; Collission Prevention Assist; Night Vision Assist. I’ve driven cars recently that cost twice as much as the S550—which starts at $95,000, though our optioned-out model hit $138,800—yet don’t have half the technology crammed in this car. While Google works feverishly to get a self-driving car viable, acceptable, and on the road, Mercedes appears to be taking baby-steps toward the same goal, assembling, certifying, and integrating all the tiny safety countermeasures so we adapt to them over time, rather than all at once. I suspect both approaches will probably get us there at precisely the same moment.

Good thing, too, because it seems that over the week I drove this car, it had to deploy a surprising number of these interventions on my behalf. Not the hard-core emergency braking stuff, but enough of those little nudges that I began to notice. I’m an attentive, conscientious, non-texting driver, but even those of us who consider ourselves in that category make a thousand tiny slips every time we get behind the wheel. Cars like this—and their eventual descendents that will inherit the tech—help smooth out all those lapses. Increasingly, they do it less and less noticeably. Credit more finely tunes sensors, faster processors, and more advanced integrations between software and hardware.

It’s a nice experience, driving a car like this—though of course not just because it’s safer. The S550 comes with all the power, smoothness, and mechanical finesse you’d expect at this level. Its 449hp 4.6-liter turbocharged V8 moves it briskly, while it’s seven-speed transmission keeps things smooth and relatively fuel-efficient (19mpg combined). All-wheel-drive and its big 18-inch wheels help the car stay planted in the turns despite the car’s significant heft. Its pleasures are in the finer touches, as well: It also has a sublimely cool Magic Vision Control for wiper blades. This neat trick embeds washer nozzles in the blades themselves, rather than squirting the fluid onto the glass from jet-powered nozzles in the hood. The result is subtle, effective, and, yes, spooky. Suddenly, your windshield is clean, with no fuss.

This, and everything else tucked away inside this machine, is your future.

Razer Blade Stealth (2018) review

The Razer Blade Stealth has always faced an uphill battle. Both gamers and average laptop buyers will make false assumptions about what this laptop is. It looks like a gaming laptop, but it’s not a gaming laptop. At least, not on its own.

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Meant as a complement to Razer’s gaming laptop lineup, the Blade Stealth has much in common with the Dell XPS 13 and MacBook Pro. Its latest update brings 8th-gen Intel processor and an assortment of design refinements, priced at $1,400 and up.

While the Blade Stealth may have a tough fight ahead if it hopes to overturn expectations, once it’s plugged into the Core V2, Razer’s external GPU enclosure, the system comes alive.

Razer knows what it’s doing on the design front. In a market that favors flashing lights and chrome, Razer’s understated use of flat colors and straight lines is refreshing, especially when you compare it to Alienware and Asus’ Republic of Gamers.

The Blade Stealth follows in the legacy of the original Blade, which just happens to be one of the most portable and well-designed gaming laptops ever made. It has a slick, unibody aluminum frame, for sturdy build quality you’d easily confuse with a MacBook Pro. There’s no question the Blade Stealth takes a lot of influence from the designers over at Cupertino. But that’s okay — after all, the idea behind the Blade Stealth is to blend in, not stand out.

There are a few oddities, however. The first are the speaker grills, which have moved to the sides of the keyboard deck — again, like the MacBook Pro. They’re heavily emphasized, making them a bit of an eyesore. Speaking of eyesores, the display bezels aren’t exactly eye candy. For a laptop that’s competing with the Dell XPS 13 and even the MacBook Pro, the thick bezels are hard to overlook.

On the plus side, the Blade Stealth has the custom keyboard lighting Razer is known for. The colorful Chroma lighting is only available in the Black model, but we quite liked the white backlighting that came on our review unit, too. It’s bright, gives you multiple brightness settings, and offers plenty of ways to customize it. The Razer Synapse application lets you reprogram any of the keys to perform different tasks with the function keys. It’s not something a lot of people will use, but it’s a unique way to customize your PC.

Speaking of the keyboard, it’s fantastic. Travel distance is deep enough to be comfortable and much better than the MacBook Pro, without adding any thickness to the overall size of the laptop. The touchpad is another high point. It’s a bit smaller than we’d like due to the larger, spaced out keyboard, but we never felt it wasn’t spacious enough to handle multi-finger gestures. The click action is precise and tracking across the glass surface feels accurate, easily on the level of a Surface, XPS, or Mac device.

The port selection here is solid, offering a Thunderbolt 3 USB-C, an HDMI, and two USB-A ports. It’s a good cocktail of the old and the new, refusing to go all-USB-C like the MacBook Pro, HP Spectre 13, and Dell XPS 13. Charging happens through the Thunderbolt 3 port. It should be noted that the Blade Stealth does not include a microSD slot, which you’ll find on the Dell XPS 13.

GREAT DISPLAY, BIG BEZELS

The Blade Stealth is a high-quality laptop, and that fact was confirmed when we tested the screen. It’s a 13.3-inch, 16:9 display that looks great, whether you’re gaming, watching movies, or plugging your way through spreadsheets. It comes in at a resolution of 3200 x 1800 display, which Razer awkwardly calls QHD+. While the extra resolution is nice to look at, we would have preferred a 1080p option as well. Not only would that have knocked the price down a bit, it’d also extend the battery life, which we’ll touch on later.

Though it’s not the brightest screen in the world, coming at 252 nits, you probably won’t notice unless you try to use the laptop outdoors. It also doesn’t do as well in the AdobeRGB color space as laptops like the Dell XPS 13 or MacBook Pro, though its color accuracy is excellent.

As for speakers, they’re facing up at your instead of pointing down at the desk, which is always nice. Unfortunately, they look like the MacBook Pro’s speakers, but don’t sound anywhere near as good. The same goes for the 720p webcam, which is located above the screen.

THE CORE I7 PACKS A PUNCH

Regardless of which configuration you choose, the Razer Blade Stealth features some high-quality components, both in terms of storage and processor. All configs come with the very capable 8th-gen Intel Core i7-8550U, up to 1TB of speedy Samsung M.2 PCIe solid state storage, and 16GB of dual-channel memory. While it means Razer doesn’t offer anything lower than $1,400, we do appreciate the simplicity of the purchasing experience.

Price-wise, Razer doesn’t seem to be adding a premium for the included 16GB of RAM, which is no doubt there to enhance the gaming experience when plugged into the external GPU (more on that later). Without the Core, 16GB is probably more than you need.

The Blade Stealth handles the CPU well, producing impressive single and multi-core performance. That means you shouldn’t notice Blade Stealth stutter or hiccup when handling a busy workload, including multiple applications, browser tabs, and watching videos simultaneously.

Even in an intensive workload like encoding a 4K video, the Blade Stealth handled it like a champ. It’s not quite as speedy as the Dell XPS 13, which pushes its CPU to the absolute limit, but the Blade Stealth is right in line with what we’d expect from the i7-8550U.

IT CAN GAME, JUST NOT ON ITS OWN

The Razer Blade Stealth can hardly game on its own, which seems contrary to the Razer brand. You’ll be able to manage around 30 FPS in a light game like Rocket League with settings turned down, but that’s about it. It’s what we’d expect from a laptop of this size, though when you see the Razer logo branded on you, you might expect a little more.

Of course, the Blade Stealth was always meant to go hand-in-hand with the Razer Core V2, the company’s external GPU. Using the laptop’s Thunderbolt 3 port, the two products work together nicely, but it’s not fair to count that as part of the overall package because they aren’t sold together.

We did try it out, though, stuffing an Nvidia GTX 1080 into the little, black enclosure. Once we had all the necessary drivers loaded up, we were impressed to see the GPU light up and instantly boost our gaming performance. Compared to just about any other laptop we’ve tested, the combination of the Blade Stealth with the Core V2 stomped the competition by a healthy margin. We saw a solid 62 FPS running Civilization VI in 1440p on Medium settings, which is 20 FPS more than on dedicated gaming laptops with similar hardware.

It’s a neat concept, though we’d like to see Razer bundle the laptop with the eGPU together to show some commitment to the idea. At its current cost, it’ll remain a niche solution. If the eGPU setup is the best fit for your lifestyle, however, this is a winning combination.

BATTERY LIFE

One of the hallmarks of the modern, thin-and-light laptop is battery life. The 1080p version of the Dell XPS 13, for example, enjoys a healthy 13 hours of video playback. The Razer Blade Stealth didn’t excel in this area, unfortunately. While it did well enough on heavier loads in browsing tests, people will no doubt be disappointed by it lasting for just over 8 hours in video playback.

That’s not terrible performance, especially not for a laptop with this high display resolution. We just wish Razer would have offered a 1080p version that could be more competitive for long days on the road.

OUR TAKE

The Razer Blade Stealth does a lot of things right, but without the Razer Core, it feels a bit lost. It’s slightly behind other systems in its price range, and the average laptop buyer won’t be attracted to the Razer brand. It feels designed exclusively for people interested in the Core graphics dock, making it hard to commend on its own.

Is there a better alternative?

Several alternatives outpace the Blade Stealth in terms of quality and value. The Dell XPS 13, for example, is better in nearly every way, whether you’re talking about battery life, performance, or the display. What’s more, you have a large variety of options that let you spec it down to $1,000, or up to almost $2,000.

It’s a bit of a tighter race with the Blade Stealth’s primary competitor, the MacBook Pro. We prefer the overall look and feel of Apple’s laptop, but the Blade Stealth takes a more conservative approach to things like the keyboard and the port selection that many will prefer to what Apple currently offers.

The HP Spectre 13 and Asus ZenBook 3 Deluxe are also good options, especially if you’re looking for something that can be scaled down to a more affordable starting price.

How long will it last?

The Razer Blade Stealth comes with all the latest components, so it should last you at least a few years. RAM is soldered on, though the SSD can be swapped out down the road if you want to upgrade.

Razer systems come with a standard one-year warranty — not great, but what we’ve come to expect from most laptop manufacturers.

Should you buy it?

Not unless you have the money to pair it with the Razer Core V2. On its own, it’s a solid thin-and-light laptop — just not of the best.

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Acer’s Predator Helios 500 gaming laptop is a Core i9 powerhouse

It wouldn’t be an Acer launch event without high-powered gaming PCs in the mix, and this year is no exception. The company is kicking things off with the Predator Helios 500, a 17.3-inch brute of a laptop with up to an overclockable Core i9 chip (with or without speedy Optane memory), overclockable GeForce GTX 1070 graphics and either a 1080p 144Hz screen or a 4K panel. You can load up to 64GB of RAM and either 1TB of SSD storage or a 2TB spinning drive. As always, this kind of portable speed won’t come cheap: the Helios 500 shows up in June starting at $1,999.

A edition of the Helios 300, meanwhile, comes in a “chic” white-and-gold color scheme along with a faster 144Hz display. It’s not as powerful as its bigger sibling with its maximum of a Core i7 chip, GTX 1060 video and 512GB SSD option (or 2TB disk), but this should lower the price — not that Acer has provided launch details just yet.

Desktops are on the way as well. The Predator Orion 3000 and 5000 (below) towers provide more affordable alternatives to the all-out Orion 9000. You can outfit them with up to a Core i7, dual GeForce GTX 1080 Ti cards and 3TB of storage (plus a 512GB SSD), but you can also go for more modest Core i5 chips and graphics as modest as the GTX 1050. And if you only need “casual” gaming, the Nitro 50 maxes out at a Core i7 and GTX 1070 but includes perks like a Qi wireless charging pad.

Both the Orion 5000 and Nitro 50 will reach North America in July with starting prices of $1,499 and $799. If you’re looking for the $999 Orion 3000, you’ll have to wait until October.