But we’re back for a few short weeks before year’s end, and I’ve returned to my weekly news-gathering duties despite suffering from some rather severe senioritis. This week, a look at Destiny 2’s new Season of Dawn, a sequel to Pathfinder: Kingmaker, our first fight scene from The Witcher, Human Head controversy, and more.
Choosing a gaming keyboard is a matter of personal taste. To that point, there are a plethora of options, with a dizzying mix of features. One person could be into Cherry Browns and white backlighting. Another might favor Razer Greens and a rippling RGB glow. Gigantic wrist pads, compact shapes, numeric keypads, macro keys, volume controls.... You get the picture
To help you sort through the many options, we’ve rounded up a large number of planks, putting them through their paces, to come up with our top recommendations. All of these are mechanical keyboards, and for good reason—they’re simply more comfortable to use over the long haul. But we’re open-minded, so if we encounter an alternative that works well, you may see it appear on this list. We’ll keep updating it periodically as we test new keyboards.
A year ago, I wrote these words: “Epic Games is creating a Steam rival and Valve should be scared.” And for good reason: The Epic Games Store debuted December 6, 2018 and upended the PC gaming market. Valve, once unassailable, suddenly seemed very vulnerable. Flush with Fortnite money, Epic provided the first real competition to Steam since its inception 15 years prior. What company wouldn’t worry?
If I could amend that headline now though, I’d instead write “Epic Games is creating a Steam rival and Valve should be grateful.”
Grateful, not because Valve fended off the newcomer and solidified its own position, but because Epic spurred Valve out of complacency. The Epic Games Store is better now—but so is Steam. As we look back on the past year, that might be Epic’s most valuable contribution to the PC thus far.
A short history: When Google Assistant launched back in 2016, it offered the ability to create lists in Google Keep. It was quickly moved into the Home app as part of Google Express, which wasn’t ideal but kind of made sense since it’s a shopping thing. Then Google teased full Keep integration in 2018 as part of its “proactive” push, and again earlier this year, and now finally it appears to be rolling out.
About a year ago we reviewed the Razer Huntsman Elite, arguably the first mainstream foray into optical keyboard switches. And uh...the only one, really. Optical switches still haven’t made much headway against traditional mechanical keyboards.
Razer is doubling down though, introducing the Huntsman Tournament Edition for 2019. Like the rest of Razer’s Tournament Edition boards, the Huntsman TE ditches the numpad—and a lot of the Huntsman Elite’s personality, in the process. But if you’re looking for a simple keyboard with some enthusiast-grade influences, the Huntsman TE is a pretty interesting proposition.
Let’s be honest: We’re a bit skeptical of the new Snapdragon 7c and 8c story, Qualcomm’s latest expansion of its Snapdragon Compute lineup into cheaper markets. But we had a chance to play around with them, and they’re...fine?
At the Qualcomm Snapdragon Technology Summit in Maui, Hawaii, the company offered reporters a chance to try out a pair of 7c and 8c demo machines. Both of the units we saw were reference designs, with pre-production hardware.
Miguel Nunes, senior director of product management for compute products, supplied us with a few more details about each chip. The 7c includes a pair of ARM Cortex-A76 “performance” cores, with six Cortex-A55 cores serving as the low-power “efficiency” cores. There’s an X15 LTE modem, too.
They sound pretty good. They have active noise reduction. They let you summon a digital assistant hands-free. They are relatively comfortable and not too big. And the Echo Buds true wireless earbuds from Amazon only cost $129. What’s the catch?
The catch, besides an obvious and expected bent toward Alexa and Amazon services, is that these earbuds annoy you with a series of small aggravations that make them feel like the economical choice, not the best choice.
My time with the Echo Buds alternated between being surprised at what you get for “only” $130 and frustrated that Amazon didn’t put more care into their design, craftsmanship, and quality. Echo Buds are a good value, especially if you’re already all-in with Alexa, but those who don’t care about hands-free Alexa integration should probably consider other options.
The XFX Radeon RX 5700 XT Thicc III Ultra takes the delicious muscle car-evoking design of its namesake and tunes it into something even more kick-ass.
We enjoyed the original XFX Radeon RX 5700 XT Thicc II Ultra, which only launched in September. But while XFX’s throwback Double Dissipation aesthetic was alluring, the graphics card wasn’t perfect. “It’s high-performing, a little loud, extremely impressive, and in need of some slight tinkering for peak performance,” we said, continuing the hot-rod theme this hardware begs for. Fan control bugs common to third-party Radeon RX 5700 models dragged it down, requiring a BIOS update out of the box, and the fans roared to tame the card’s power-pushing clock speeds.
Choosing the best Android phone for you is a big decision. The Android universe is teeming with options, from super-expensive flagship phones to more affordable models that make a few calculated compromises, to models expressly designed for, say, great photography.
Chances are that whichever phone you buy, you’ll keep it for at least two years. So we’ve made picks for the best Android phone in key categories. Check out our summary Cheat Sheet, or keep reading for details on each pick and the runners-up. At the bottom of this article, we link to all our recent Android phone reviews—in case you have your eye on a model that didn’t make our cut.
Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 7c and 8c at its Snapdragon Technology Summit in Maui, Hawaii. The chips, two derivatives of the Snapdragon 8cx, will provide opportunities for cheaper PCs to take advantage of the Snapdragon 8cx’s advantages: fanless platforms, long battery life and constant connectivity.
It's a gutsy move. Qualcomm's premium Snapdragon 8cx PC processor has arguably struggled to compete with Intel’s Core and AMD’s Ryzen, at least from a performance standpoint.. Nevertheless, the company’s decided that cheaper, presumably less powerful Snapdragon chips for PCs are the way forward.
Qualcomm will use its newly announced Snapdragon chips to take another swing at the mixed reality market, adding 5G to the mix with the Snapdragon XR2 platform.
Announced at its Snapdragon Technology Summit in Maui, Hawaii, Qualcomm said it believes that the on-device horsepower of the recent Snapdragon chips, combined with the “edge cloud” capabilities of the 5G connection, should be enough for true mixed reality: augmented reality in one context, and virtual reality in another.
Niantic, the developer behind the popular Pokemon Go game, even announced a multi-year partnership to develop AR glasses based on the platform.
At the Snapdragon Technology Summit in Maui, Hawaii, Qualcomm set up a demo room where we could go hands-on with some of the features. We took the opportunity to shoot some short videos to go with our descriptions, and you can see them all below.
Single-camera video bokeh
We’ve all probably used “portrait mode” on a smartphone camera—that’s the feature that blurs the background to create the “bokeh” effect of a traditional lensed camera. It’s a nifty way to make the eye zero in on the subject of the image. Smartphone cameras use AI to distinguish the subject from the background, which usually works pretty well.
Every year about this time, Qualcomm trots out its newest flagship processor and we all ooh and aah over the potential. Speed boosts! Battery efficiencies! Graphics boosts!
I expected this year to bring more of the same, and for the most part, it does. The Snapdragon 865 is a predictable upgrade over the 855, bringing 25-percent faster performance, a 20-percent graphics boost, and “unbelievable battery life,” according to Qualcomm. In fact, the company says its new chip represents “the culmination of Qualcomm’s more than 30 years of wireless leadership and innovation.”
HP’s latest Spectre x360 13t has something to say to other thin-and-light laptops, which, it seems, are all about taking good things away from you. Keyboards with travel, USB Type-A ports, and even the opportunity to replace your SSD are features that have all gone by the wayside in some of Dell and Apple’s newest and thinnest laptops.
In the face of all that No, the HP Spectre x360 13t simply says Yes. You want a standard M.2 SSD? Got it, the Spectre x360 13t says. NBA-level of travel in your keys? Sure thing. USB Type-A port?! Of course the Spectre x360 13t has that, too.
When you’re looking for a good, cheap laptop, knowledge is power. Every budget machine (which we’re defining as Windows laptops costing $500 or less) is the product of compromise—corners carefully cut here and there to hit a price point.
Your job is to find the one that checks off the most boxes for your needs—and doesn’t saddle you with features (or lack thereof) that you’ll regret in a year. We’ll show you what to look for by highlighting which budget laptops among the best-sellers currently listed at Amazon and Best Buy are worth buying. We haven’t necessarily tested these specific machines (we’ll let you know if we have), but we’ve seen enough similar ones to have a good idea of the pros and cons. We’re also focusing on 14-inch and larger laptops, because part of the great deal should be getting a decent-sized display.
Qualcomm’s next-gen Snapdragon 865 smartphone chip will support 5G, certainly. But more practical features will probably affect phone users in more immediate ways, such as 200 megapixel still photos, 4K HDR/8K video capture with optional portrait mode and Dolby Vision support, dynamic lighting options for mobile gaming, and real-time audio translation.
Qualcomm unveiled the Snapdragon 855 a year ago, and unveiled its successors—the Snapdragon 865, the Snapdragon 765, and the Snapdragon 765G—on Tuesday at the company's Snapdragon Technology Summit in Maui, Hawaii. On Wednesday, Qualcomm dove deep into what phone makers and end users can expect from its new processors. Improvements to each of its cores—the new Kryo 585 CPU, the Adreno 650 GPU, the Spectra 480 image signal processor, the Sensing Hub, and the X55 5G modem—will all add new capabilities to phones.
The original plan, if I recall correctly, was to have the entire Halo: The Master Chief Collection on PC by the end of 2019. Alas, that’s not going to happen. But 343 Industries did manage to get Halo: Reach out before the end of the year, the first Halo game to hit PC since Microsoft’s ill-fated attempt to use Halo 2 to sell copies of Windows Vista back in 2007.
So how is it? I won’t lie, it’s kind of janky. Given how many rounds of testing Reach went through this year, I expected a more exhaustive PC version. But it works! If that’s all you care about, if you simply need to satiate your nostalgia...well, you’re probably already playing. After all, Halo: Reach “reached” the top of the Steam sales charts on release day.
Intel’s redesign of the thin-and-light notebook, known as Project Athena, may have struggled to be more than a name to most consumers. But Intel claims that its design partnership with PC makers has paid off in a way you might not think about: battery-powered performance.
“Performance” is usually synonymous with plugging a laptop in. Unplugging a laptop usually translates to long battery life at the expense of a slower clock speed. But Intel unveiled battery-powered performance numbers alongside the Qualcomm Snapdragon Technology Conference to bolster its design chops.
Lost amid the 5G phone hype, analysts say, is a little-known fact: None of the high-priced 5G phones currently being sold in carrier stores can access both 5G mmWave and sub-6GHz networks. It’s one of the main reasons why you shouldn't jump on the 5G hype train too early. But that will change during the first quarter of 2020, Qualcomm senior executives said during the company's Snapdragon Technology Summit in Maui, Hawaii.
As it stands now, 5G is basically an either-or proposition. The OnePlus 7T Pro 5G McLaren Edition that T-Mobile announced as it “turns on” its 5G network on December 6 is a “lowband” phone, capable of accessing T-Mobile’s 600MHz 5G network. But it won’t be able to access the short-range, high-bandwidth, and extremely fast mmWave spectrum that Verizon is rolling out, and that T-Mobile has deployed in a handful of cities. On the other hand, phones like the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G for Verizon are optimized for high-speed mmWave communication, which yield the sort of eye-popping gigabit downloads that dominate headlines, but can't access sub-6GHz frequencies.
When Google first introduced Chromebooks in 2011, it seemed like a ridiculous idea. A laptop that can only run a browser? Who wants that? But over time, web apps slowly became more powerful and capable, while Google steadily improved the Chrome OS experience. Then, Google went even further and added the ability to run Android apps, and still further with Linux desktop apps.
All of this means the Chromebooks of 2019 and 2020 are nothing like that original experience. Today, Chrome OS feels like a modern operating system that offers a first-class web browser, the flexibility of mobile apps, and a desktop experience in one box. It can satisfy the needs of almost every user, with the notable exception of those who need video or advanced image editing.
Stay on top of the latest tech with PCWorld’s Digital Magazine. Available as single copies or as a monthly subscription, it highlights the best content from PCWorld.com—the most important news, the key product reviews, and the most useful features and how-to stories—in a curated Digital Magazine for Android and iOS, as well for the desktop and other tablet readers.
In the December issue
The December issue has reviews of the new Google Pixel 4 XL and Pixelbook Go. We have details on AMD’s 32-core Threadripper 3970X and 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X. Plus, we review the HP Omen 17 and the new Brave 1.0 browser.
Other highlights include:
News: Microsoft's 10 biggest Ignite reveals include the new Edge, and more ways to tie Office to the web
GPUs: Nvidia reveals faster GeForce GTX 1660 Super, GTX 1650 Super GPUs boosted by GDDR6 memory
Hands-on with Microsoft's Project xCloud: Putting cellular cloud gaming to the test
Lenovo IdeaPad S340-15IWL review: Peppy quad-core performance, but a cheap display
Tall phones trend: If 2020 will be the year of the tall phone, I want no part of it
HDMI vs. DisplayPort: Which display interface reigns supreme?
Here's How: How to use Windows' Your Phone app to connect your phone to your PC
Watch: Google Nest Wifi is the second generation of the Google hub, now rebranded with Nest and incorporating the Nest smart home hub. The satellites now have Google Assistant built-in, too. Mike Simon goes hands-on at Google's hardware event in New York.
Qualcomm uncorked this year’s version of its Snapdragon Technology Summit in Maui, Hawaii, by announcing the names of its two new upcoming Snapdragon chips, the Snapdragon 865 and the Snapdragon 765/765G. Not surprisingly, the emphasis this year is on 5G, and the “AI” those chips will apply for software enhancements.
Because this is the Snapdragon Technology Summit, we expect to hear more details of each of these chips in the coming days. For now, however, Qualcomm is just teasing the names and their basic capabilities.
Qualcomm opened its keynote by talking about the potential of 5G.
"One year ago, we were talking 5G future. In 2019, we'll be talking about 5G," said Cristiano Amon, Qualcomm's president. Forty operators and forty OEMs across the world are investing in 5G, he said. By 2021, there will be more than 2.8 billion subscribers, with more to come.
OK, I know what you’re thinking—the last thing we need is another messaging service from Google. But this one might actually be good.
Instead of a whole new app, Google is building its new messaging service right into the Photos app. It’s basically Google Photos DM, as it only works if the person you’re sending a pic to has the Google Photos app installed, like Twitter’s or Instagram’s DM. Then when you share a message via Photos, you’ll be starting a conversation just like if you sent a MMS through Android Messages.
If the recipient doesn’t have messages, sharing will work like before—creating a dedicated album and then sharing that via a Google Photos link. But the new service definitely seems designed to keep people inside the app, despite Google’s claim that “this feature isn’t designed to replace the chat apps you already use.” As described, users can “like photos or comment in the conversation, and you can easily save these photos or videos to your own gallery.”