Is a gamepad worth $150? That’s the question Microsoft is asking with the Xbox One Elite controller, a revamp of its almost two-year-old paddle that shipped with the Xbox One. The company isn’t targeting this as a device for the mainstream, though. Rather, the Elite is instead for highly competitive gamers — the type that’d mod their controllers with third-party accessories for greater precision. The customization it offers comes at a steep price, costing over twice as much as the standard $60 controller.
Why should you care? Because the vanilla Xbox One controller feels like a cheap knock-off of the vaunted Xbox 360 pad that came before it. Microsoft said it spent over $100 million designing it, considering smell-o-vision and even a built-in projector for the gamepad, only to wind up with a mostly inferior clone. It has too many sharp edges, feels incredibly hollow and seems, well, cheap. Honestly, one of the biggest reasons I don’t play my Xbox One much as my PlayStation 4 is because I prefer the latter’s DualShock 4 controller. Keep all that in mind when you consider the following statement: I’ve been using the Elite controller for almost a week and I haven’t wanted to put it down; this is the Xbox One gamepad we should’ve had from the outset.
Xbox One Elite wireless controller
Feels great in-hand; very grippy finish throughout
Loads of customization options
Mature, understated design
Improves on the standard Xbox One gamepad in every way
Bumper buttons are finally, actually usable
Levers and faceted d-pad don’t feel secure
Feels heavy at first
Clamshell case doesn’t keep everything in place
Customization options could be overwhelming for some
The Elite controller is the best Xbox gamepad Microsoft has ever made, but it doesn’t come cheap. At $150, your best bet is waiting for a price drop or a bundle deal unless you’re dead-set on getting a leg up against folks online.
Out of the box, the Elite looks like a superficial upgrade. Aside from the 3.5mm headphone jack up front and the new slider control underneath and equidistant from the Menu and Options buttons, you’d be forgiven for confusing the Elite pad with the standard one. It’s when you start futzing around with the different thumbstick options or snapping metal levers into the underside that the gamepad starts looking unique.
The Elite comes with a clamshell case that has a molded space for the controller, a cargo pouch for spare earbuds, batteries and the pack-in, braided micro-USB cable (a requirement for most tournaments) that will tether the pad to a console. There’s also a molded rubber holder that keeps the four control levers, two sets of thumbsticks and spare directional pad in place. The idea behind the latter is that it’ll keep your extra parts secure during travel so they don’t fall out after unzipping the case. In practice, everything stayed in place for me aside from the faceted directional pad — its section is too loose to keep that from bouncing around. On the flip side, the cross-style option fit incredibly snugly.
The first thing I noticed when I picked up the controller to pair it with my console was how heavy it was compared to the standard gamepad. Microsoft says that with all four levers attached, a pair of included Duracell AAs and standard thumbsticks, the Elite weighs 348 grams, give or take 15. That’s 12.3 ounces compared to its predecessor’s 9.9 ounces. Honestly, though, the only time I noticed was when I picked it up since more often than not, when I’m gaming, my hands rest in my lap.
That heft likely comes from the Elite’s revamped innards. The thumbsticks feel incredibly springy and precise, thanks to their metal construction. I’ve never been a fan of the sticks on the Xbox One pad. They’ve always felt rough and just weren’t comfortable to me. With the Elite, I had the option of choosing among three different sets (standard, tall and a pair of convex heads) and changing them on the fly, but most of the time I was perfectly happy with the standard set. All are incredibly comfortable, though, and have the same premium feel as the rest of the controller.
Depending on the game, I opted for different configurations. For Halo 5: Guardians, I stuck a standard stick on the left and one of the twice-as-tall options on the right. With Forza Motorsport 6, I reversed that. Why? With shooters, the extra height gave me more leverage and ensured I wouldn’t hit a face button by accident while aiming my assault rifle at my quarry. In a racing game, the added height made steering a lot easier.
Not only have the thumbsticks gotten an overhaul, but also the pots they sit in did too. Microsoft added a low-friction ring to where the stick makes contact with the faceplate and the result is pretty dramatic. Movement just feels smoother because the metal shafts glide effortlessly around when you’re pushing them toward the edges. It makes using the controller a bit quieter, too.
The sync button’s now sharing a lime green hue with the d-pad socket, hair-trigger locks and contact points for the control levers. What are those? Metal pieces between an inch and an inch and a half long that act as secondary inputs for any button on the controller. There are four total (two angled, two straight) and you can arrange them in a number of different ways, some correct and others less so. It’s possible, for example, to arrange them in a way where they’ll overlap. Like the rest of the custom options, these hold in place magnetically and if you’d rather not use them, that’s entirely up to you.
One of my biggest complaints about the standard controller is how stiff the right and left shoulder buttons are. They have an incredibly narrow sweet spot to register a depression and using them has always felt really hit or miss to me, with the innermost edge being damn near impossible to press in. With the Elite, that gripe’s been eliminated. Here, they’re a little easier to press at their outermost edges, but even at the opposite end (where the actuators reside) it takes dramatically less effort and is more even all the way across. Both the shoulder buttons and the triggers below feature a matte silver finish versus the standard’s slippery black gloss, and the latter’s throw is about 3/16 of an inch shorter. And rather than the standard triggers’ squishy feel, these make a firm click when you bottom out.
The battery tray is in the same place as before, but now it has markers indicating what position the hair-trigger locks are in. Immediately on either side are the recessed metal knobs that take the analog triggers and dramatically reduce the distance you need to pull before your on-screen gun fires.
I couldn’t find a use for the faceted d-pad during my review, but supposedly it’s better for pulling combos in fighting games. As a button masher (rest assured I’m not quitting my day job for eSports) it felt like the magnet was barely able to hold the concave piece of metal in place. Sure, it looks cool, but once I installed the metallic cross d-pad, I never took it out. The A, B, X and Y buttons changed from green, red, blue and yellow, respectively, to all black. And the aforementioned standard headphone jack rests off to the side of where the previously required headset adapter did on the standard controller, while a legacy connection for purpose-built headsets like the Astro A40 Xbox One Edition sits next to it. It’s a smart move because it doesn’t alienate anyone who bought a specific headset previously.
To me, the standard controller has always felt like a prototype rather than a final product — with its rough edges and other questionable design choices. That isn’t the case here. The Elite features a soft rubber finish on a majority of its surface, with a more aggressive diamond-pattern grip where your palms rest underneath. The DualShock 4 has a textured underside too, but it can’t hold a candle to this. For example, sliding the Elite across the glass desk in my home office proved pretty difficult. I might as well have been dragging a pencil eraser across it. Even after a four-hour Halo 5 session, the controller didn’t feel like it’d slip out of my moist palms.
The customization options don’t stop with the hardware — there’s an app that gives you the chance to completely rebind every button’s function (aside from Menu and Options) to a different one. Want the digital shoulder buttons to perform the trigger duties? I can’t recommend that, but go right ahead. How about adjusting the A, B, X and Y buttons so they mimic Nintendo’s non-standard layout? Have at it. Effectively, this gives you complete control of how your gamepad works, without being subject to the tyranny of pre-defined control schemes on a game-by-game basis.
Beyond that there’s a raft of other custom settings. The new slider button allows for swapping between two onboard control schemes, but you can create and save as many as you want to your system profile and access them from anywhere with an internet connection. There are independent adjustments for thumbstick sensitivity (slow start, fast start, instant, default) that govern how much distance the sticks need to travel before in-game movement registers. An option for adjusting trigger sensitivity and dead-zone is here too. Also, if you’ve ever wanted to turn down the haptic feedback, or turn it off completely, there’s an option for that as well. Really, all that’s missing is the ability to turn the guide button’s light off completely and the option to permanently invert the right stick’s Y-axis. The latter’s especially puzzling considering you can swap left and right thumbstick assignments (so movement maps to the right stick and aiming goes to the left) within the app.
Let’s say you’re like me and are incredibly overwhelmed by the complexity of remapping every button on the controller. That’s where game developer-made presets come into play. There are only a handful available right now and they’re all for first-party games like Halo, Forza 6 and Gears of War, but Microsoft promises more are en route for Star Wars: Battlefront III and Call of Duty: Black Ops III. The Halo 5 preset tailored to campaign mode, for instance, liberates squad commands and waypoint location from their cumbersome position on the d-pad to the control levers. Reaching down to the d-pad to tell Team Osiris to attack an enemy is awkward, but assigning that task to the levers makes perfect sense because it’s always within reach.
More dramatic is the difference the levers make in Forza6, where they serve as paddle shifters and a clutch for manual transmissions. They’re really useful; I’ve never been comfortable using a stick shift with a gamepad, but since I don’t have the space in my apartment, a racing wheel isn’t feasible. That isn’t the case anymore. But, having all four levers in place (manual requires two; manual with clutch doubles that) clutters things up a bit. Anytime I put all four on regardless of the game, I ran the risk of accidentally pressing a few simultaneously. What’s more, of everything on the controller, the levers feel most likely to fall off while playing because the magnets don’t seem as strong as elsewhere on the gamepad.
The previous controller’s battery life is incredible, and after roughly 15 hours during my review, the fresh set of standard AAs had only worn down to 75 percent capacity. I have no doubt that the Elite will match or best its forebearer’s battery lifespan, especially considering the options for adjusting haptic motor intensity.
Again, is all of this worth $150? That answer depends on how much and what you play on Xbox One — regardless of your pro-gaming aspirations. Even disregarding the hardware customization options, there are considerable improvements. Were the Elite a $30 premium over the standard controller instead of $90, my recommendation would be a lot easier. Instead I’m hesitant: One of the controllers will set you back almost half of what the console you’d use it with costs. Sure, the Elite doesn’t feel like a cheap toy, but everyone else might want to hold out for a price drop considering that the customization app is coming for the standard controller too, and the rubber handgrips I’m so fond of exist on another official gamepad. If you’ve been waiting to buy an Xbox One, go for the upcoming Elite bundle that packs the controller and a console sporting a 1TB hybrid drive for $499 because for now the controller’s price is too hard to justify on its own.
With the Surface Pro 4, Microsoft’s surprising hybrid tablet journey finally makes sense. It’s as if Microsoft was laser-focused on fixing the issues we had with the Surface Pro 3. We liked that device quite a bit, but its Type Cover was endlessly frustrating, with a sloppy keyboard and wonky trackpad. The new keyboard, on the other hand, is far sturdier and more laptop-like, and its trackpad is no longer a thing of nightmares. It’s taken a while, but the Surface Pro 4 shows Microsoft has finally accomplished everything it set out to do when it unveiled its crazy hybrid tablet concept three years ago (which makes the announcement of the Surface Book even more curious). Aside from improving the battery life and bundling in the Type Cover (just do it, already), it’s hard to imagine how much better the Surface Pro line can get.
New Type Cover and Surface Pen are massive improvements
Still pretty thin and light for the equivalent of an ultraportable
Mediocre battery life
Type Cover is an additional $130
The Surface Pro 4 builds on the best parts of the Surface Pro 3, and it finally delivers a solid typing experience with the revamped Type Cover (which is unfortunately sold separately). It’s the ideal hybrid tablet in practically every way — it’s as light as a tablet, but as productive as any laptop. The only problem is you’re stuck with so-so battery life.
The biggest knock against the Surface Pro 4 is that it looks just like the Surface Pro 3. But honestly, that’s not a huge complaint since the Pro 3 still feels like a marvel of engineering today. Their frames are similarly thick (9.1mm on the Pro 3 versus 8.45mm on the Pro 4) and weigh at or near 800 grams (the entry-level Core M3 Surface Pro 4 weighs 766 grams or 1.69 pounds), making them a tad heavier and thicker than most large tablets. They also share the same magnesium case and adjustable kickstand, which can fold out almost completely flat to 150 degrees. The dimensions might not sound very exciting when compared to the ultra-thin tablets we’re seeing these days, but they’re particularly impressive when you consider that Microsoft is able to fit in modern Intel desktop chips, and not just slower mobile processors.
Look a bit closer at the front of the Surface Pro 4, however, and you’ll quickly notice some differences versus its predecessor. The screen is ever so slightly larger at 12.3 inches, for one. Microsoft chipped away at the bezel around the screen to make that possible, and it also removed the capacitive Windows button on the bezel (which is less necessary with Windows 10). The volume rocker has also been moved from the left side of the case to the top, right beside the power button. (It’s also a bit more confusing this time, since tapping left on the rocker increases the volume, while tapping right decreases it.)
Unfortunately, Microsoft didn’t add much in the way of ports. There’s still just one USB 3.0 socket and a Mini DisplayPort, which might pose a problem for road warriors with lots of peripherals. (If you’re in that boat, though, you’re probably also traveling with a USB hub.) Once again, there’s a microSD card slot under the kickstand, which lets you add up to 128GB of additional storage. Microsoft is also sticking with its proprietary power connector, which is a shame — it still feels a bit awkward and insecure when it’s connected. I’d love to see Microsoft make the move to USB Type-C next year (which would also be an easy way to include more USB connections). On the plus side, there’s still an extra USB charging port on the Surface Pro 4’s power adapter. You can never really have enough of those.
The Surface Pro 4 has a new 5-megapixel front-facing shooter that’s also compatible with Windows Hello, the company’s biometric authentication technology. Sadly, I wasn’t able to test it out in time for this review (Microsoft says it’ll be enabled with a software update), but from demonstrations I’ve seen, it typically logs you in within a few seconds. Windows Hello has the potential to completely change the way we interact with our computers, so I’ll definitely follow up once it’s working. On the rear, there’s an 8-megapixel camera with 1080p video support.
As a tablet, the Surface feels heftier than most, but it’s still easy enough to hold in one hand while browsing the web or hopping through Windows apps. The magnesium case gives it a premium feel and the kickstand is as sturdy as ever. It requires a bit of work to open up, but at least you don’t have to worry about it losing its position easily.
Display and pen input
The Surface Pro 4’s display is not only slightly bigger, but also sharper than last year’s model, with 2,736 by 1,824 resolution (around 267 pixels per inch). It packs in even more pixels than Apple’s 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, which sports a resolution of 2,560 by 1,600. It’s not even worth comparing the Surface Pro 4 to the 13-inch MacBook Air, whose screen tops out at a comparatively low-res 1,440 by 900.
All of those pixels make for incredibly crisp text, razor-sharp photos and a great movie-viewing experience. You won’t see any individual pixels here, unless you’ve got a magnifying glass handy. For the most part, the Surface Pro 4 also delivered accurate colors, no matter what I was looking at. It’s plenty bright, too, even in direct sunlight. As with any glass-covered display (Gorilla Glass 4, in this case), there’s some reflection from light sources, but it otherwise does a good job of minimizing glare.
Microsoft has always managed to cram in great screens in the Surface line — this one just happens to be exceptional. It’s also dubbed this a “PixelSense” display, which is just a fancy marketing term for its incredibly thin stack of optical and pen-input components.
Speaking of pen input, Microsoft also made some significant changes to the Surface Pen this time around. It offers 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity now (compared to 256 levels from before); there’s an eraser at the top that actually works as you’d expect; and it also magnetically attaches to the side of the Surface. That’s a big step beyond just holstering it in the Type Cover. Most importantly, though, it simply feels great. Using the Surface Pen is almost as good as putting a pencil to paper. That’s due to a combination of new pen tip and input technology. You’ll also be able to swap out the Surface Pen tips in the future, which will let you tweak its performance to better suit handwriting or drawing.
Admittedly, I’m not much of an artist. But the Surface Pro 4 and the new Surface Pen did a better job of capturing my scribbles than past Surface models, not to mention other devices, like Samsung’s Note phones and tablets. Taking handwritten notes felt natural and fluid — I can imagine it being particularly useful for instances where you need to draw diagrams more than jot down text. Just like with the Surface Pro 3, clicking the top of the pen almost instantly opens up a blank OneNote file. Tap it again and it gets sent off to your OneDrive. You can also access Cortana by holding down the top button, or take a screenshot by double-clicking it.
Microsoft’s new Type Cover is simply a revelation: It finally brings a killer keyboard to the Surface lineup. It’s a tad heavier than the last Type Cover (0.68 pound compared to 0.65 pound), but it offers an experience that’s just as good as most high-end laptops. The keys stick out slightly from the cover now, rather than being uniformly flat, which gives them more feedback than before. The new Type Cover is also far stiffer — it stays flat even when confronted with heavy typers like myself. (There’s also another version of the new Type Cover coming that includes a fingerprint reader for around $150.)
So how good is it, really? I was able to transcribe a 30-minute interview while sitting on a park bench, with the Surface Pro 4 in my lap, in about the same amount of time it would take me on my 13-inch MacBook Air. I’m a pretty fast touch-typer, and I never felt like I had to slow my pace while jotting down that interview. That’s particularly impressive since past Surface models, even on a completely flat table, always required some sort of compromise when typing. I’ll admit, getting used to balancing the kickstand on your leg takes a bit of time, but once you find the right position, it’s just as “lappable” as a typical laptop. As you can see in the video above, the Type Cover also makes a solid connection to the Surface, so much so that you can lift the tablet just by lifting up the cover.
Not only has the typing experience been improved, but also the Type Cover finally delivers a decent trackpad. It’s 40 percent larger than the previous model, but most importantly, it’s smooth (finally, it’s made of glass!) and accurate. When it came to scrolling and using multi-finger gestures, it felt almost as good as my MacBook Air. The last Type Cover’s trackpad was so infuriating, with a general lack of accuracy and a tendency to misread swipes and clicks, that I avoided using it at all costs. Back in our Surface Pro 3 review, we even suggested that power users would be better off with a wireless mouse. That’s not the case here.
One of the best things about the new Type Cover: It’s also compatible with the Surface Pro 3. Credit to Microsoft for taking care of its existing customers.
Performance and battery life
PCMark8 (Creative Accelerated)
3DMark (Sky Diver)
ATTO (top reads/writes)
Surface Pro 4 (2.4GHz Core i5-6300U, Intel HD 520)
E2,697/ P1,556/ X422
1.6 GB/s / 529 MB/s
Surface Pro 3 (1.9GHz Core i5-4300U, Intel HD 4400)
E1,313 / P984
555 MB/s / 252 MB/s
Surface Book (2.4GHz Core i5-6300U, Intel HD 520)
E2758 / P1578 / X429
1.6 GB/s / 571 MB/s
Surface Book (2.6GHz Core i7-6600U, 1GB NVIDIA GeForce graphics)
When it comes down to pure computational performance, I didn’t feel a huge difference between the Surface Pro 4 and the Pro 3. I’m testing a Core i5 model running at 2.4GHz with 8GB of RAM, so sure, it’s technically zippier than the Core i5 I tested last year. It’s a particularly big jump if you’re dealing with media editing, where the significantly faster disk speeds will be very noticeable. Really, though, it’s more useful to look at the productivity benefits the Surface Pro 4 delivers with the new Surface Pen and Type Cover. And in that respect, it’s a night-and-day difference from its predecessor.
Transcribing isn’t fun, folks — the fact that I was able to jot down a lengthy and dense interview with the new Type Cover in a less-than-ideal seating situation, with the Surface balanced on my lap, is worth praising. I also didn’t have any trouble fitting the Surface Pro 4 into my daily workflow, which is something the Pro 3 never quite achieved. Microsoft has finally managed to build a Surface that can keep up with me productivity-wise. That’s a huge win.
Surface Pro 4
Surface Book (Core i5, integrated graphics)
13:54 / 3:20 (tablet only)
Surface Book (Core i7, discrete graphics)
11:31 / 3:02 (tablet only)
MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013)
HP Spectre x360
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display (13-inch, 2015)
Chromebook Pixel (2015)
Microsoft Surface 3
Apple MacBook (2015)
Dell XPS 13 (2015)
Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro
Lenovo LaVie Z
Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Lenovo LaVie Z 360
Despite being a huge leap forward in many ways, the Surface Pro 4 still falters in one critical area: battery life. In typical daily usage, which mostly consists of lots of web browsing, some image editing, constant Spotify streaming and a bunch of Slack messaging, it usually lasted me between five and seven hours. In our standard rundown test (looping a video until the battery dies), it lasted around seven hours and 15 minutes. That’s pretty disappointing for a flagship device in 2015 — especially when the MacBook Air has been getting almost double that amount for a few years now (it’s worth noting that the super-thin MacBook clocks only 7:47 in our test). Of course, the Surface Pro 4’s svelte design limits the size of the battery Microsoft can actually fit in, but it’s still a shame that it won’t last a full workday.
Configuration options and the competition
While the Surface Pro 4 starts at $899 for the Core M3 version, we’d really recommend spending the extra $100 to step up to the Core i5 model with 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD, at the bare minimum. If you want something more, it’s worth shelling out for the $1,299 Core i5 model with 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD. And if you’re particularly power hungry, you can nab the Core i7 Surface Pro 4 starting at $1,599 with 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD.
Of course, you’ll also have to add another $130 to your total for the Type Cover, which is once again sold separately. I’m not sure why Microsoft still thinks anyone would buy a Surface Pro without a keyboard, especially when it’s positioning it as a device that can replace your existing laptop. You wouldn’t expect a MacBook or an HP laptop to show up at your door without a keyboard, would you? It’s worth noting that all of the Surface competitors we mention below come with keyboards. And while Apple’s new Surface-inspired iPad Pro also has a separate keyboard accessory, Apple has been very careful to position that device as mainly a tablet.
Even with the lowly Core M3 processor, an entry-level Surface Pro 4 will end up costing you around $1,030 once you add in the Type Cover. And if you want something decently powerful with a Core i5 chip, you’re looking at a $1,130 layout. I’m not pushing for Microsoft to offer the Type Cover for free (although it’s not as if it can’t absorb that loss to make the Surface successful), but it would be nice if it were more transparent with its advertised pricing.
Every time I bring up this issue with Microsoft reps, they repeat the same pre-programmed mantra: “We believe we’re delivering significant value with the Surface.” That may be technically true, but I don’t think most consumers would call the Surface’s semi-hidden fees a “significant value.”
When it comes to the competition, this year is looking far more interesting than the last few. We’re now seeing Surface-like devices all over the place: HP has the Spectre x2; Lenovo has the Miix 700; and Dell has the revamped XPS 12. And of course, there’s the iPad Pro on the horizon, which starts at $799 and has the aforementioned keyboard accessory and a stylus of its own, the $99 Apple Pencil (sold separately). If you’re looking for something with a bit more horsepower, it’s also hard to ignore Microsoft’s other hybrid laptop, the Surface Book ($1,499 … with a keyboard).
The Surface Pro 3 was a sign that Microsoft’s crazy hybrid tablet experiment might actually have legs. The Surface Pro 4, on the other hand, is the company’s Surface dream made real. Everything Microsoft promised at that surprise Surface unveiling in 2012 is here today with the Pro 4. Future models might eventually fix the battery life issue and add faster hardware, but we’ll likely remember the Surface Pro 4 as the turning point for Microsoft.
If anything, Microsoft’s big problem now isn’t with building a killer device; it’s with public perception. It took several failed Surface models to get to this point, and the company might have a hard time convincing consumers that it’s finally cracked the code. But who knows — maybe a free Type Cover would help.
For the most part, consumer drone videos are without narrative; beautiful sweeping views of the world. That’s no bad thing, but 3D Robotics thinks we’re missing the full potential that quadcopters have to offer. When it revealed its Solo “smart drone” earlier this year, it gave special attention to the camera-specific features — such as a virtual cable cam, orbit mode and other cinematic options. In case you weren’t convinced, 3D Robotics is driving the point home with an original sci-fi mini-series called Life after Gravity shot entirely with the Solo (and a GoPro, naturally). Each episode is accompanied by a blog post that talks you through the production, and details on how key shots were achieved. We’re exclusively revealing the first episode right here.
If you didn’t watch the video yet, then be warned this paragraph contains spoilers. Episode one opens with a shot that reveals (we assume) our protagonist, Henry Tran. Tran goes by the web moniker “ichingbot32,” we also learn he has no “Zero ID” — the purpose of which we are yet to learn. In true dystopian sci-fi tradition, we’re also introduced to the enemy — a faceless global tech corporation called Eon Space Agency. Eon’s futuristic HQ (actually the Soumaya Museum in Mexico City) is also a suspected Thorium reactor — info which becomes relevant later in the jungle. The episode goes on to lay the foundations for the rest of series, raising questions about what has happened to Earth (or “Earth 2”)?, who is now in control? Where are the people? And what is the 6th Cycle?
With the accompanying blog posts that 3D Robotics will publish, we’re given a refreshingly detailed account of how every shot in the episode was achieved — including the Solo smart modes used. We’re aware this is about showing off how capable the company’s own product is, but there’s some good info for all aspiring aerial videographers here. Examples being how you can use a quadcopter’s built in stabilizer, or video transmitting features as creative production tools, even when you’re filming on the ground.
About that. You may have spotted a few scenes which seem impossible for a quadcopter to achieve. There’s one shot in particular where we see the drone’s controller in someone’s hands — but look closely at the reflection on the screen, you can clearly make out the Solo’s legs. No one said the drone had to be flying, the team rested the quadcopter on the actor’s arms.
“There are, of course, constraints to shooting exclusively with a drone. Lighting is tricky. On screen dialogue is tricky.” Adam Schlender, Creative Director of 3D Robotics told Engadget. “Part of the challenge (and reward) in working this way is that you plan to improvise, to be creative on the spot. Almost without fail, one location will look different from the air than it did on Google Earth, while another will immediately spark shots you didn’t [initially] imagine.” The opening scene being one such example, which wasn’t part of the original plan, but the crew was en route to another location, and decided it’d make a great shot to lift the curtain to.
Episodes of Life after gravity will be published bi-weekly via 3D Robotic’s YouTube channel.
For years, Microsoft has been telling us that the future of PCs was actually the tablet. The Surface Pro in particular is powerful enough that it could truly keep pace with your laptop, and Microsoft hasn’t been shy about comparing it to the MacBook Air. The message seemed clear: The Surface Pro was like a notebook, only better.
And yet, immediately after unveiling the Surface Pro 4 at a keynote earlier this month, Microsoft unleashed one last surprise: the Surface Book. At first glance, it’s a traditional 13-inch notebook, with a premium design, long battery life and the sort of performance you’ll find in only a handful of other laptops, like the MacBook Pro. Unlike a Mac, though, you can remove the screen, turning it into a shockingly light, 1.6-pound tablet — one that happens to pack a notebook-grade Intel Core processor.
This, according to Microsoft, is the “ultimate laptop.”
Distinctive, well-constructed design
Impressively light as a tablet
Pen input works well
Best-in-class battery life in laptop mode
Lots of configurations to choose from
Short battery life for just the tablet
High cost of entry
"Fulcrum" hinge makes the laptop appear fatter when shut
Feels heavy compared to some other flagship laptops
Screen wobbles a bit it in laptop mode
Microsoft’s first laptop raises the bar for other notebooks, with fast performance, best-in-class battery life and a design that manages to be both premium and unforgettable. The detachable screen is also comfortable to use as a tablet, thanks to both its light 1.6-pound design, accurate pen input and some well-thought-out dimensions. Overall, we recommend it, especially to people who value performance, design and battery life above all else, and are willing to pay dearly for it. We just hope that next year’s model is a little lighter and that it offers longer battery life in tablet mode.
I was sitting in the auditorium where Microsoft unveiled the Surface Book. And a good few minutes passed before I or anybody else in the audience realized the device had a detachable screen. Until you hold down a button to release the display, the Surface Book looks just like any other clamshell laptop, with a spacious keyboard and an apparently fixed screen. That’s the whole point, really: If all you cared about were feeds and speeds, you could buy yourself a Surface Pro 4 with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD, and run Photoshop to your heart’s content. But after years of trying to convince consumers that the Surface Pro could replace a laptop, Microsoft seems to have realized that some people don’t want that; they just want a laptop. The Surface Book is for people who were never open to the idea of balancing a Surface tablet in their laps or typing on a thin Type Cover keyboard. The Surface Book is for people who demand a proper notebook — one that can suffice as a tablet when the occasion calls for it.
A gorgeous, distinctive status symbol.
And what a beautiful laptop it is. Its magnesium casing and blunt, chiseled edges help it look the part of a $1,499 notebook, with details like a chrome Windows logo also serving to remind you just how expensive it is. Far from being just another MacBook Pro, though, the Surface Book has a style unto its own, marked by a funky-looking hinge mechanism that Microsoft calls the Fulcrum. The best way I can describe it is that it looks like a snake folded into itself. Whereas a snake can elongate its body, and in some cases even stand up, the Fulcrum has the same range of motion as a traditional laptop; it’s not like you can flip the screen around 360 degrees into tablet mode. Also, though I never worried the screen would suddenly detach, it wobbles a bit in laptop mode, especially when you tap at the touchscreen. In that sense, then, the Fulcrum was an impractical design choice: It makes the laptop appear needlessly fat when shut, so much so that the lid can’t lie totally flat.
If nothing else, the Fulcrum hinge is interesting looking. Beautiful, even — depending on your taste. As I worked on this review, using the laptop around the office, multiple people stopped me to ask if this was the famous Surface Book. They all wanted to look at it; watch me slide the screen out. Even my mom did a double-take when she saw me using it at her house. “That looks like a nice laptop,” she said. And let me be clear: My mom otherwise doesn’t give a shit about the gadgets I cover. I could go on, but I think you get the point: As gimmicky as that snake-hinge might seem, it does what it’s supposed to. Which is to say, it turns the Surface Book into a status symbol. A gorgeous, distinctive status symbol.
As a notebook
With the screen attached, the Surface Book feels heavy, at least compared to other flagship Windows laptops. Then again — and I can’t stress this enough — the Surface Book isn’t like most of the other premium notebooks that cross my desk. Whereas most of those trade on a thin and light design, Microsoft’s laptop is all about horsepower: fast performance, robust graphics and unmatched battery life. You can’t get that in a sub-three-pound laptop, at least not right now. Instead, the Surface Book comes in at 3.34 pounds, or 3.48 with a dedicated GPU. For comparison’s sake, the 13-inch Retina display MacBook Pro also weighs 3.48 pounds, except it doesn’t have a touchscreen, and isn’t offered with discrete graphics. For what it is, the Surface could have been even heavier.
As you take a tour of the device, you’ll find two full-sized USB 3.0 ports on the left side, along with a full-sized SDXC card reader. On the opposite edge is a Mini DisplayPort, along with the same shallow charging connector found on the Surface Pro. As I said in my review of last year’s Pro model (and the one before that), the charging connector can be awkward to insert, and doesn’t always stay put. Finishing up our tour, the power button and volume rocker are both located on the top of the screen, so that you can use them in either laptop or tablet mode. Makes sense to me, though it was mighty confusing the first time I unboxed the Surface and couldn’t initially figure out how to turn the damn thing on.
Finishing up the show-and-tell portion of this presentation, there are speakers built into either edge of the screen, and though the grilles aren’t easy to spot, the sound they produce is louder than you might expect. Sitting alone in a quiet room, a volume level of around 30 out of 100 was more than enough for streaming Spotify; it was rare I even broke the halfway mark. Additionally, the Surface Book includes dual cameras: an 8-megapixel rear-facing unit and a 5MP one up front that supports the Windows Hello facial-recognition option in Windows 10. Both cameras shoot 1080p video, and are helped by two mics, one on each side of the tablet.
As a tablet
If the Surface Book feels slightly heavy, that’s because most of what makes it great — the optional GPU, the larger of the two batteries — is squeezed inside the keyboard. Hold down the button next to the Delete key; wait till it glows green; lift the screen away from the dock; and you’ll be left with a shockingly thin and light tablet. To echo what I said in my initial hands-on, I’ve been reviewing gadgets for eight and a half years now. I’m not easily impressed anymore. Even so, it’s hard not to feel awed by what Microsoft’s done here: cram a fully functioning Core i7 computer into a slab weighing just 1.6 pounds and measuring 7.7mm (0.3 inch). I’d even go so far as to say that the Surface Book does a better job doubling as a tablet than the Surface Pro does as a laptop. Again, though, the question of which you should buy ultimately comes down to what sort of device you’ll use most.
What’s nice about the Surface Book’s screen-detaching mechanism is that it uses software-based controls to make sure you remove the display safely. So, if you’re running a program using the GPU in the keyboard dock, the Surface Book will prompt you to close out of the app; otherwise you won’t be able to remove the screen. When it comes time to reattach the display, you can put it back the way you found it, or you can flip it around with the screen facing away from the keyboard. This is great for presentations, but I don’t recommend pushing the display all the way back into tablet mode — why settle for a three-and-a-half pound tablet when you can have a 1.6-pound one? If you’re wondering, this is also why the Surface Book lacks the sort of 360-degree hinge made popular by Lenovo’s Yoga line: It would solve a problem that doesn’t actually exist on this device.
Reattaching the screen isn’t hard, exactly: Just place the tablet over a few guides sticking up from the keyboard dock. I stumbled my first few times doing it, but it’s since become second nature. The only thing I miss is the satisfying click of snapping a Surface into its keyboard cover, but even then, the Surface Book makes a neat little sound to indicate you’ve reattached the screen correctly.
Keyboard and trackpad
I typed most of this review on the Surface Book. In between, when I wasn’t concentrating so much on the task at hand, I used the laptop as my primary machine for email, web surfing, Facebook, Twitter, Google spreadsheets, Slack and every other app I use every day. I think it’s a testament to the Surface Book that I was so willing to make it my daily driver, and the keyboard layout here is definitely a big part of that. The buttons are well-spaced and cushy, with a generous 1.6mm of travel and a sturdy panel that stands up well to vigorous typing. I worried, when I saw the device for the first time, that the keys weren’t springy enough; that they didn’t bounce back much, and might be prone to missing button presses. As it turns out, that hasn’t been an issue — I barely make typos on this thing.
If anything, I wish the keys were quieter. I type quickly, especially once I’ve found my writer’s mojo, and when that happened this week, my typing on the Surface Book got a little clacky. To be fair, it’s no louder than the MacBook, which can also get noisy when I’m on a roll. And not all of my coworkers at Engadget even agree with me: Terrence, a longtime ThinkPad user, says the buttons are actually quieter than what he’s used to. In any case, then, you might not be bothered by the sound at all. And even if you are, it’s no worse than what you’d experience on the MacBook Pro.
As you’d expect of a laptop made by Microsoft, the Surface Book uses one of the company’s own “Precision” touchpads, which you can already find in notebooks made by other manufacturers, like Dell. It’s already the best Windows trackpad, and it mostly works well here, with smooth two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom for things like maps and fine-print pages. As a warning, there were a few times when I booted up the system only to find the touchpad was unresponsive. In each case, a restart did the trick, but a Microsoft rep said the company is aware of the problem and is planning to release a fix through a firmware update. Indeed, I was testing pre-production-level hardware, so there’s a good chance you won’t encounter this issue at all.
The Surface Book has an unusual screen size: 13.5 inches, with an equally odd resolution of 3,000 x 2,000. Microsoft could have easily gone with a more standard cut, like 13.3 inches, but it chose a slightly larger panel so that it could achieve the same 3:2 aspect ratio as its other Surface devices — the idea being that in tablet mode the screen would have the same shape as a pad of paper or a clipboard. In fact, that’s what Microsoft calls the detached screen: not a tablet, but a “clipboard.” Excuse me, but I’ll just call it a tablet anyway if you don’t mind.
Marketing speak aside, that aspect ratio is one of the things that makes the Surface Book so comfortable to use as a standalone slate: It’s not as long in either portrait or landscape mode. If you like, you can also draw on it, using the included pen, which attaches magnetically to the side of the device. (Don’t worry, I keep the pen there regularly and haven’t lost it yet.) The pen now recognizes 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity and has an eraser at the top, both of which should serve you well in everything from drawing apps to the markup feature in Windows Edge. In OneNote, pen input felt smooth and controlled, with just enough resistance to make it feel sort of like I was writing on paper. (Nothing can fully replicate the real deal, but this was close.) I found that the screen picked up even faint lines without me having to go back and re-trace my marks, and yet it was smart enough to ignore my fingers when I was just picking up the device in my hand.
As a laptop screen, it’s a little taller than other 13-inch notebook displays. As it happens, I’ve spent months using the Chromebook Pixel, which also has a 3:2 panel, so I tend to notice the odd screen shape less than perhaps some casual users might. In any case, even if it looks slightly strange at first, you won’t notice any meaningful difference in the way you use Windows. Yes, if you had a standard 3,200 x 1,800 screen, you’d have 200 extra horizontal pixels for viewing apps side by side. That said, I had no problem multitasking in a split-screen layout, even with slightly fewer pixels from left to right. Conversely, the extra 200 vertical pixels on the Surface Book meant I could technically see just a little bit more of webpages before having to scroll, but it’s not something I ever noticed in practice.
Whether you use it as a laptop or tablet, the display is as gorgeous as you’d expect on something billed as the ultimate laptop. With a pixel density of 267 ppi, it’s even crisper than both the Chromebook Pixel (239 ppi) and the 13-inch Retina display MacBook Pro (227 ppi), and even those make it hard to pick out individual pixels. Aside from the resolution, you’re looking at some rich, but not overbearing colors, with a wide palette that covers 100 percent of the sRGB spectrum. And though the glossy screen finish wasn’t immune to sun glare, I found it mostly stayed readable in different conditions, including my office, where I sit next to an east-facing window that lets in lots of light every morning.
Performance and battery life
PCMark8 (Creative Accelerated)
3DMark (Sky Diver)
ATTO (top reads/writes)
Surface Book (2.4GHz Core i5-6300U, Intel HD 520)
E2,758 / P1,578 / X429
1.6 GB/s / 571 MB/s
Surface Book (2.6GHz Core i7-6600U, 1GB NVIDIA GeForce graphics)
Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to test not one, but two Surface Book configurations: one with a dual-core Core i5-6300U CPU, 8GB of RAM and integrated Intel HD 520 graphics, and another with a Core i7-6600U processor, 16GB of RAM and a custom 1GB GPU based on NVIDIA’s Maxwell architecture. The two machines delivered similar scores in CPU-oriented tests like PCMark, with disk speeds matching as well: top read speeds of about 1.6GB per second, and max reads of around 600 MB/s. Startup is similar across different configurations too: between 10 and 15 seconds to the login screen, which is fast, but also fairly standard for a flagship laptop with an SSD.
But, as you’d expect, the GPU-enabled model soared in graphics tests, sometimes delivering as much as a 70 percent improvement. Clearly, it’s unlike almost any other thin-and-light Windows flagship laptop on the market, and if you intend to use apps like Photoshop or a video editor, you’ll appreciate the added clout. That said, the Surface Book’s results in more gaming-focused tests like 3DMark’s “Sky Driver” benchmark suggest that although the machine has plenty of graphics power, it wasn’t built for gamers. Maybe it was the relatively modest 1GB of VRAM, or maybe this just isn’t the best GPU NVIDIA has to offer, but in Sky Driver’s gaming simulations, titles ran at an average of around 30 frames per second. That’s playable, but it was slow enough that I decided against running additional benchmarks that simulated an even more graphically intensive game.
Also, games were one of the few things to really make the fans start whining. For the most part, during my two weeks of testing, I enjoyed quiet performance, with a chassis that didn’t stay cool, exactly, but never burned my hands or legs either. Get a game going, though, and the fans will get quite loud. To Microsoft’s credit, at least, the noise pipes down quickly — in some cases a few seconds after you close the offending app.
Surface Book (Core i5, integrated graphics)
13:54 / 3:20 (tablet only)
Surface Book (Core i7, discrete graphics)
11:31 / 3:02 (tablet only)
MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013)
HP Spectre x360
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display (13-inch, 2015)
Chromebook Pixel (2015)
Microsoft Surface 3
Apple MacBook (2015)
Dell XPS 13 (2015)
Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro
Lenovo LaVie Z
Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Lenovo LaVie Z 360
Microsoft rates the Surface Book for up to 12 hours of battery life with the keyboard dock attached. I’d say that’s a conservative estimate: I logged nearly 14 hours on the integrated-graphics model, and that was with a 1080p video looping and the brightness fixed at a punishing 65 percent. Even the configuration with a Core i7 CPU and discrete graphics managed 11 and a half hours in the same test, and that’s on par with the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which doesn’t have discrete graphics. Either way, I have no doubt that with a dimmer setting (not to mention the ambient brightness sensor enabled), you could squeeze out even more runtime.
The catch is that most of that battery capacity lives inside the keyboard dock, meaning you won’t be able to use the Surface Book for more than a few hours in tablet mode before needing a trip back to the charger. With a Core i5 processor, the tablet lasted a brief three hours and 20 minutes; with a more power-hungry i7 chip, that number dropped to three hours.
In any case, I suppose none of this is surprising: It’s a 1.6-pound tablet with a Core processor and a 3,000 x 2,000 screen. Something has to give, and that something is battery life. I won’t knock the Surface Book too much for that, but I would remind you to see this for what it is: a laptop that can be used as a tablet. If what you really want is a tablet that can replace your laptop, you’d be better served by the Surface Pro.
The two Surface Book configurations I tested represent two extremes: the entry-level model and the most tricked-out SKU Microsoft has to offer. Separating them is $1,700 — and a potentially big performance gap. So let’s break down what you can get as you move up in price. Starting at $1,499 you get a Core i5 CPU with 8GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and integrated graphics. For $200 more ($1,699) you can double the storage to 256GB. Microsoft also recently added a new option at that $1,699 price point. Essentially, you have your choice of either doubling the storage to 256GB or adding in discrete graphics to the Core i5/128GB model.
If you want both discrete graphics and more storage, the least expensive model is the $1,899 configuration, which also has a Core i5, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage space. From there, you can get a Core i7 machine with the same NVIDIA GPU and 256GB of storage with 8GB of RAM ($2,099), or a 512GB SSD with 16 gigs of memory ($2,699). Finally, that brings us to the big kahuna: a $3,199 beast of a system with a Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, discrete graphics and a full terabyte of solid-state storage. Basically: the one we all want, but few of us can afford.
When Microsoft unveiled the Surface Book, I was just one of many who said that other PC makers should be worried. Still, that doesn’t mean they’re doomed. Although the Dells, HPs and Samsungs of the world sell flagship laptops, most of them are in a different category than the Surface Book. Which is to say, they tend to be thinner and lighter, but their specs aren’t as robust and they aren’t quite as comfortable to use in tablet mode. If you’re looking for a machine with discrete graphics, and maybe 16GB of RAM and a full terabyte of solid-state storage, you wouldn’t have been satisfied with the likes of the Dell XPS 13 ($800-plus) or HP Spectre x360 ($900-plus). Likewise, if you don’t require that level of performance — or if you don’t care about using your PC as a tablet — you might indeed prefer one of those other models, both of which weigh less than the Surface Book.
Also, most competing Windows laptops start somewhere below $1,499 — often well below. So, you know, they have that going for them too.
That said, there are a couple Windows models that come a little closer to competing with the Surface Book. One is Dell’s redesigned XPS 15. Yes, it’s bigger than the Surface Book, and has a fixed screen, which means you can’t use it as a tablet. But at 3.9 pounds, it’s in the same ballpark as Microsoft’s laptop, and with a compact footprint more in line with 14-inch notebooks, it’s not that much bigger than the 13.5-inch Surface Book. Also, it has the potential to perform like the Surface. Although the entry-level $1,000 model has plain ol’ integrated graphics, the top-end configuration packs a sixth-gen Core i7 processor, color-accurate 4K screen, 16GB of RAM, a 2GB NVIDIA 960M GPU and a 1TB PCIe SSD. Battery life there is rated at up to 17 hours with a lower-res 1080p screen, but even with that top-end SKU, you’re still looking at around 11 hours, according to Dell.
You also might want to consider Lenovo’s just-announced Yoga 900 ($1,200 and up), which replaces last year’s Yoga 3 Pro. At 2.8 pounds, it’s considerably lighter than the Surface Book, and can also be used in tablet mode, but it, too, is offered with sixth-gen Core i5 and i7 processors, a similar 3,200 x 1,800 screen and up to 512GB of storage. The trade-off seems to be that in exchange for a thinner and lighter design, you get shorter battery life (up to nine hours, says Lenovo) and no discrete graphics.
And, of course, there’s the machine against which Microsoft itself is comparing the Surface Book: the MacBook Pro. Let’s stick with the 13-inch Retina display MBP, which starts at $1,299 and weighs a similar 3.48 pounds. At that price, it comes with a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, Intel Iris 6100 graphics and a 12-hour battery, although you can also configure it with a 1TB solid-state drive. Other than that, though, Apple has saved its best specs for the 15-inch MacBook Pro, including discrete graphics and a quad-core Core i7 option. There’s nothing wrong with the larger model, except at 4.49 pounds it’s far heavier than the Surface Book. Either way, it has no touchscreen and can’t be used as anything other than a clamshell laptop. Similar to what I said earlier, if you want something that can double as a tablet, you’re likely to ignore the MacBook Pro, regardless of the size.
The Surface Book isn’t perfect — no product is. But if “the ultimate laptop” merely means it raises the bar for other laptops, then it mostly lives up to that promise. I would recommend it based on its long battery life alone — 11 hours at a minimum. Even if you consider the detachable screen little more than a party trick, you still get a well-built laptop with unmatched runtime and performance options that most other 13-inch systems simply don’t offer. Because the screen is detachable, too, it’s more comfortable to use as a 1.6-pound tablet than all of those Yoga-like PCs are with their screens flipped back. It’s just a shame about the Surface Book’s battery life in tablet mode — it’s comfortable to use, but you won’t last long without a power cord.
There will, naturally, be people who don’t need the option of discrete graphics or 16GB of RAM, and there will also be folks who just want a traditional laptop, and not necessarily a laptop/tablet mashup. For those people, there are other PCs that are lighter, cheaper or both. Machines like the Dell XPS 13, which is still one of my favorites. Otherwise, I highly recommend the Surface Book, especially to people who value performance, battery life and design above all else, even if it means you don’t get the lightest-possible machine. You’ll pay dearly for such a machine, of course, but that will be true of any halo product.
Ultimately, though, I wonder if Microsoft’s true no-compromise device is yet to come. The original promise of the Surface has always been to combine the best of a tablet and laptop. Both the Surface Book and the Surface Pro attempt to do that: While the former is surprisingly comfortable to use as a tablet, the latter has gotten steadily more powerful over the years, not to mention easier to type with or use in the lap. As it stands, the two devices serve different purposes, but they also appear to be moving in a similar direction. I would one day like to see a laptop with the Surface Book’s build quality, battery life and performance, just a little lighter and with better endurance as a standalone tablet. For now, the Surface Book is at its best as a laptop, which really is the whole point.
Update: We’ve updated the “Configuration options” section to include a new $1,699 model with a discrete GPU.
Bad Password is a hacking and security column by Violet Blue. Every week she’ll be exploring the trendy new cyberhysteria, the state of the infosec community and the ever-eroding thing that used to be called “privacy.” Bad Password cuts through the greed, fear mongering and jargon with expertise, a friendly voice and a little levelheaded perspective.
When asked, “Why give a vulnerability a website, logo and brand image?” many infosec professionals will confidently answer that flamboyant bugs raise awareness toward fixes. Fixing and patching, we’re led to believe, is almost as fun as a trip to the dentist. Which is true. Heartbleed, Shellshock, Stagefright, Sandworm, Rootpipe, Winshock and the truly terror-inducing nom-de-sploit POODLE are not, in fact, a list of situational phobias. These were named with intent to become PR markers — although looking at the way some of these vulns (vulnerabilities) got their names and brands, it seems like the focus was more on the credit for naming them, rather than the actual usefulness of trying to “pumpkin spice” a bug.
The problem is, it’s widely understood that a seasonally branded latte is a simple sugary gimmick that the public finds both irresistible and strangely offensive. Heartbleed — birth name CVE-2014-0160 — was the first seriously branded bug. It was not the worst of all those other names I rattled off in the previous paragraph. It was also not in any way widely understood. While everyone heard of it, few outside infosec could really explain what it was. Mostly, the media didn’t really know what Heartbleed was either, but its logo was on major news outlets spanning local to global in a matter of days after the bug’s… launch
Heartbleed was branded like an overpriced startup on purpose, and its branding was as divisive within infosec communities as pumpkin pie spice Pringles are to normal people. Many information security professionals were above-normal suspicious about the intentions behind giving the vuln a branding package and website before most affected companies had even heard of it. And for infosec, where paranoia is more than just a way of life, that’s saying something. The CEO of Codenomicon, Heartbleed’s branding origin, told The Guardian, “I think that the fact that it had a name, had a catchy logo that people remember, really helped fuel the speed with which people became aware of this.”
This being true, then so was the inverse: Heartbleed’s viral branding most likely helped fuel the speed in which attackers learned about it, too. Heartbleed attacks appeared within days.
My first trip down the infosec rabbit hole of naming conventions came from endpoint security firm CrowdStrike’s 2014 Global Threat Intel Report. I had pitched a piece on the report for an enterprise security news outlet, and it seemed like a really good idea at the time. The report was my first real experience with the practice of information security companies “discovering” things that were already there, and naming each discovery to assert ownership — the infosec version of manifest destiny, but as I was about to discover, way weirder.
No one had warned me that CrowdStrike named its discoveries, in this instance, criminal attack groups, in such a manic way as to suggest someone there is desperately trying to fight the advance of Alzheimer’s. Or perhaps they just have better drug connections than me. Possibly both. I found myself totally freaked out by Goblin Panda, CrowdStrike’s name for a cyberattack group primarily targeting Vietnam. The visuals I got from seeing Vixen Panda and Deep Panda’s names together put me on an internet porn fast for about a week. Predator Panda was surely going to hunt me for sport in the jungles of Guatemala. Pale Panda may have appeared in a nightmare after reading the report, telling me to put the lotion on its skin. Keyhole Panda didn’t help my standard level of hacker-grade paranoia.
All of these names had me wondering if someone somewhere wasn’t telegraphing a tortured cry for help from the same basement (painted over to hide the bloodstains) in which seasonally branded lattes are created.
I didn’t end up filing my analysis of the CrowdStrike report, and I never got behind all the reporting on Heartbleed. It all felt too much like I’d be selling some company’s product. And I worried that the cutesy, bizarre little names are only raising public awareness of my infosec colleagues’ prurient interest in its situational phobias. I mean, what kind of anxious pervert names a privilege escalation “Rootpipe”?
Facebook users on iOS have had a sneaking suspicion that the app was starting to misbehave, to the detriment of their phone’s battery life. After saying it was looking into the issue, Facebook has now confirmed the problem and pushed out an update to the iOS app to help offer some relief. Facebook engineering manager Ari Grant said as much in a post today on (where else) Facebook, saying that the company “found a few key issues and have identified additional improvements, some of which are in the version of the app that was released today.” While there’s more Facebook says it can do to lessen battery draing, updating the app today should provide some immediate relief.
So far, Facebook has identified and fixed two issues. One was what Grant called a “CPU spin” that kept the app pushing out network queries without any response; Grant compared it to a child asking “are we there yet?” repeatedly in the car, something that doesn’t do any good in getting you closer to the destination. The other problem occured when users watched a video and then left the app: sometimes an “audio session” would stay open and use background processing power even though nothing was actually playing.
Both of those issues have been corrected, and Grant was quick to point out that none of the issues Facebook identified were related to location services or the optional location history feature in the app. As for when more improvements might roll out, Facebook has kept to a pretty strict biweekly app update schedule, so hopefully things will get even better in a few more weeks.
We recently heard reports of some people experiencing battery issues with the Facebook iOS app and have been looking…
After being teased last week by Google engineer Kirill Grouchnikov, the redesigned Play store has apparently started showing up on some Android devices. Android Central says the new mobile shop for apps, books, music, movies and more, which features a simplified tab-based interface, hit one of its smartphones last night. We checked ours to no avail, so you shouldn’t freak out if it’s not on yours either. Now that it’s out there for certain people, it won’t be too long before everyone can begin using it. Patience is a virtue.
In an unexpected, but interesting partnership, General Motors and LG today revealed they’re working together on the development of the Chevy Bolt. This electric vehicle, which will reportedly launch in 2017 for $30,000, is expected to last over 200 miles on a single charge — a lot more than the 2016 Volt hybrid. GM says LG’s expertise in battery technology was a key factor to deem it a worthy associate, having previously worked with the South Korean company on the original Chevy Volt. As a result, LG is going to provide a number of components for the upcoming Bolt, including the onboard charger, battery cells and pack, battery heater and infotainment system.
“By taking the best of our in-house engineering prowess established with the Chevrolet Volt and Spark EV, and combining the experience of the LG Group, we’re able to transform the concept of the industry’s first long range, affordable EV into reality,” Mark Reuss, GM executive vice president of Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain, said in a press release. LG, for its part, added that helping GM with the Chevy Bolt is “indicative of exactly the type of contributions that traditional tech companies can make in the automotive space.”
Google is now Alphabet, but the company has one more quarter of results to report under its old business structure. As usual, Google’s advertising business made up the lion’s share of the company’s revenue, totaling 89.9 percent of the money Google pulled in. And this was another quarter in which the company’s strong mobile advertising and YouTube advertising units led the way — Google’s recently-apopinted CEO Sundar Pichai continually referred to the strength and potential of mobile throughout his remarks on today’s investor call, saying “internally all of our objectives are focused on mobile.” He also said that mobile search now outstrips desktop — more than 50 percent of Google searches come from mobile phones.
Pichai also announced Google Play as the company’s sixth product with more than one billion users, joining stalwarts like Android, Chrome, YouTube, Maps and Search. Given how tightly integrated those six products are, it’s not a big surprise — but the company hitting a billion Google Play users without it being available in China is an impressive achievement.
Google Play revenue is bundled under the company’s “other revenue” category which also tracks hardware sales for products like the Nexus line and its Chromecast devices. Google said that revenues from its hardware dropped this quarter as both the Nexus and Chromecast lines were nearing end of line — but with new products fresh in the pipeline, we should get a different update next quarter.
Most of the rest of Google’s remarks focused on the complexities of its ad business, but the fact that YouTube is such a big contributor to its bottom line makes yesterday’s announcement of YouTube Red particularly interesting. The lion’s share of YouTube users will surely remain on the service’s free tier for the time being, but we’ll be watching to see if the move towards ad-free YouTube subscriptions has an effect on Google’s advertising business.
[Image credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images]
Google Proceeds With Implementation of New Operating Structure
Google Inc. announced today that, pursuant to its previously announced plans to create a new public holding company, Alphabet Inc. (“Alphabet”), by implementing a holding company reorganization (the “Alphabet Merger”), it expects that the Alphabet Merger will close after the close of business on October 2, 2015. Google anticipates that shares of Google Class C Capital Stock and shares of Google Class A Common Stock will begin trading as Alphabet Class C Capital Stock and Alphabet Class A Common Stock, respectively, on the NASDAQ Global Select Market on October 5, 2015. Shares of Alphabet Class C Capital Stock and shares of Alphabet Class A Common Stock will continue to be traded under the same ticker symbols under GOOG and GOOGL, respectively.
Update: The Alphabet merger is now effective. For more information on the merger, please see Alphabet’s Form 8-K filed on October 2, 2015.