Apple reportedly lining up a new “Star” family of devices

Apple is preparing to launch a new family of devices under the “Star” codename, according to a report from 9to5Mac. The secret project apparently involves a line of lightweight Macs running ARM processors, which might combine the best bits of Apple’s laptops and mobile devices in one piece of hardware.

Treat this as speculative for now, even though rumors stretching back to last year have claimed Apple wants to get macOS and iOS merged together in some way. That’s an idea that Apple boss Tim Cook shot down in an interview last month.

Apparently Star prototypes have already been made and feature a touchscreen, a SIM card slot, GPS and a compass. They run the same basic firmware as current Mac devices, according to 9to5Mac’s sources, and that points to them being some kind of ultra-portable MacBook line of devices.

Reach for the Stars

At the same time, the new pieces of kit are also said to run a derivative of iOS, and are labelled as a different family to the iOS devices Apple currently makes – in the same way that the iPhone and the iPad are labelled as different families of devices.

That’s just about all the information we have, and even if this prototypes are real, there is of course no guarantee Apple is going to bring them to the masses. The company is no doubt experimenting with a variety of different ideas for upcoming hardware launches, with plenty of refreshes expected later this year.

What we do know is Apple has been pushing the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement for a while now, and seems to want to redefine what a computer is as we head towards the third decade of the 21st century. If the Star line-up does make it to market, expect to see launches by 2020.

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The Acer Swift 3 thinks a cool look is worth some extra cash

Acer’s Swift 3 thin-and-light consumer laptop could be called a crowd-pleaser, if only because you can currently buy models ranging in price from $650 and up, with abundant in RAM and storage, as well as both AMD and Intel CPUs. With the upgraded unit unveiled Wednesday at Acer’s next@acer event in New York, the company’s raising the bar in all respects: a cooler look—and a higher price ceiling. 

The Swift 3 we saw costs—are you sitting down?—$1,798. But don’t panic: Acer will continue to offer a long list of configuration options that should help you get this laptop down to a range that fits your budget. Whatever the features inside, you’ll enjoy an all-metal chassis with a brushed finish, and colors including gold, silver, blue, and rose. 

Features and specs: Choices galore

acer swift 3 keyboard tray Christopher Hebert/IDG

The Swift 3 sports an all-metal chassis with chiseled edges for a refined look.

CPU: A mix of 7th-gen and 8th-gen parts: 

  • Intel Core i7-8550U
  • Intel Core i5-8250U
  • Intel Core i3-8130U
  • Intel Core i3-7130U
  • Intel Core i7-7020U

The Core i7-8550U and Core i5-8250U are both quad-core parts, while the rest of the CPUs are dual-core. But the only reason to care about quad-core is if you’re working on CPU-intensive tasks like video or content creation. For mainstream applications, dual-core will do just fine. 

Memory: 

  • Up to 16GB of DDR4 RAM, upgradeable to 32GB via two soDIMM modules
  • Up to 16GB of NVMe PCIe Gen3 8Gbps in up to two lanes, supporting Intel Optane Memory. Adding Optane will boost your data drives’ speed significantly. 
acer swift 3 display Christopher Hebert/IDG

Display choices for the Acer Swift 3 include 1920×1080 and 3840×2160 resolutions.

Storage: 

  • Hard drives in 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB capacities
  • Up to 512GB SATA 6Gbps SSD
  • Up to 512GB NVMe PCIe Gen3 8Gbps in up to four lanes

Display: Your choice of 15.6-inch display with IPS technology, one with an FHD resolution (1920×1080), the other with UHD (3840×2160). Note the latter will take a toll on graphics performance and battery life, because it’s pushing four times as many pixels.  

acer swift 3 left ports3 Christopher Hebert/IDG

The Acer Swift 3 has a lock port, a USB-A port, and an SD card slot on its left side.

Graphics: In addition to Intel’s integrated HD 620 and UHD 620, you may also choose Nvidia’s GeForce MX150, which suffices for 720p gaming at medium to high settings.

Acer Swift 3 Hands-on






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How to watch esports on the BBC this weekend: live stream Dota 2 online

The Dota 2 battle arena is coming to the UK this weekend – to the real-world arena of ESL Birmingham, to be exact. And the whole event will be aired on BBC Three.

For the uninitiated, Dota 2 is a multiplayer online game from Valve which is played by teams of between two and five members each defending their own base camps. And the stakes are high.

The prize money for this Dota 2 event is a whopping $1,000,000 in the money pool and this event is all part of getting Pro Dota Circuit Points to get at that cash.

Live stream the Dota 2 semifinals and final

If you can’t make it along to Birmingham then fret not, you can still catch all the button bashing brilliance as BBC Three is covering the Dota 2 action this year.  You can tune in to the semifinals at 2pm BST on Saturday 26 May and the final from 3pm BST on Sunday May 27.

The coverage will be presented by BBC Radio 1 presenter Julia Hardy with Dota 2 pros joining in to guide even newbs through the action. Gareth Bateson and Shane Clarke will be there to explain everything and commentate on the fun.

Alternatively, you can check out the Twitter and Facebook accounts to see the live stream. And if you’re watching from outside the UK then you can still enjoy the action by using a VPN to tune setting your IP address to the UK. 

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How Microsoft Teams is transforming the classroom

To most of us, Microsoft Teams might just seem like another Slack competitor vying for office messaging market share, but in schools it’s proving its to be a revolutionary and transformative tool for classrooms. Those aren’t the words of Microsoft or some Teams spokesperson, but James Yanuzzelli, a social studies teacher hailing from Old Bridge, New Jersey, who is very much on the ground with today’s students.

“I’ve been teaching for almost 15 years now, and this is the greatest product that we’ve started integrating into our classrooms, Yanuzzelli says. “I started a pilot program this year with Microsoft Teams and getting more open education resources into our classrooms, and it’s led to the biggest transformation I’ve seen.”

“We can put assignments through Teams, we can send it out to them where they can receive it and use OneNote in Teams, he says. “I can connect my device to theirs, I can connect my device to a presenter or presentation, and it moves the classroom from me to them.”

In this way, Yanuzzelli feels great about the way Microsoft Teams has shifted the entire classroom from a ‘teacher-centered focus’ to a ‘student-centered focus.’

Microsoft Teams

“Where teaching first started as ‘I’m the teacher, I’m going to stand and deliver you guys sit and learn,’” Yanuzzelli describes. “Now, it’s here’s the Declaration of Independence, let’s break it down [as a group]. They can break it down and put it into subsections, they can work together, and now it’s really an exercise. It’s not just remembering and regurgitating the facts.”

Yanuzzelli also sees his students as being more self-driven then ever and often welcomes students to personalize the curriculum.

“Let’s bring in sports, Minecraft and everyone’s playing Fortnite, so let’s talk about Fortnite,” he says. “Kids can really change the entire lesson, because it’s not just an one-size fits all. It’s now let’s see how we’re doing and how we can relate this to our lives.”

Microsoft Teams

Bird’s eye view

As a teacher, Yanuzzelli says Microsoft Teams lends him more accountability to see how his students are doing and progressing.

“Giving students a voice and choice in what they do is great, but still at the end of the day I still see how they pull it all together,” he says.

“Can they still articulate their thoughts, so once they do cover the declaration?” Yanuzzelli poses the scenario. “Can you explain it in your own way and how can we bring it to present it to me?”

With this sort of bird’s eye view perspective, Yanuzzelli says he really can’t miss anything on his end, as he can literally see everything his students are working on.

“I can pull up every student to see what they’re working on, how they’re working collaboratively and what [each] student posted, he says.”It’s all there and we don’t have to worry about where it went or losing it.”

Sorry kids, the classic ‘my dog ate my homework’ excuse doesn’t work with Microsoft Teams.

Microsoft Teams

Beyond the screen

You might think that, with Microsoft Teams and laptops being introduced into the classroom, students are just looking at a screen all the time, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“You have to balance it out,” Yanuzzelli explains. “I don’t want them to get stuck in screen time.”

Yanuzzelli explains that sometimes he’ll break up the class into an agree or disagree session. In this exercise, the students are separated into two opposing ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’ sides to discuss a question before going back to Teams to put their thoughts together.

“We still need to get our blood flowing, move around, interact and be personable because that’s the skills we have to carry,” he says. “We need to have our 21st century skills, but also the soft skills of talking and working together face-to-face.”

“Just everyday it’s a new experience for me and them – it’s awesome.”

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LG gram 15

When LG first launched its ultra-light LG gram line of laptops back in 2016, we were hugely impressed that the firm had created a 15-inch laptop that was no heavier than a 13-inch model. It was an incredible sight to behold (and hold).

However, in 2018, the value prospect of a featherlight 15-inch laptop with a seriously premium price and few other features has lost of bit of its luster. That is, in the face of laptops that may not be as light, but bring forth far more power and versatility for the same amount of cash or less.

If you truly crave a 15-inch laptop screen experience from a device that you’ll barely feel in your backpack, then the LG gram 15 is an excellent bet. Just know that there are other, more versatile options out there that do more for less.

LG gram 15

Spec Sheet

Here is the LG gram 15 Z980 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:

CPU: 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U (quad-core, 8MB cache, up to 4.0GHz with Turbo Boost)
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620
RAM: 16GB DDR4 (2,400MHz; 8GB x 2)
Screen: 15.6-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) IPS multi-touch LCD
Storage: 1TB SSD (M.2 SATA; 512GB x 2)
Ports: 1 x USB-C; 3 x USB 3.0; 1 x HDMI; RJ-45 Ethernet (via USB-C dongle); microSD slot; headphone jack
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi (2 x 2); Bluetooth 4.1
Camera: HD webcam (720p)
Weight: 2.41 pounds (1kg)
Size: 14.1 x 9 x 0.7 inches (35.8 x 22.9 x 1.8cm)

Price and availability

LG has just one, single configuration of the 15-inch LG gram, which will either please you for its simplicity or infuriate for its lack of choice you may be used to. The laptop goes for $,1999 (about £1,499, AU$2,639) and includes everything seen in the sidebar, plus some features worth digging into.

There is also a 14-inch version of the 2018 LG gram available, which has the same processor and half as much memory and storage inside. Luckily, it retains all other features of the 15-incher, including the fingerprint reader and 1080p touchscreen for 22% less cash at just $1,549 (about £1,159, AU$2,049). (It also has one fewer USB 3.0 port.)

Honestly, the 14-inch version may be a far better deal, losing just 1.6 inches of screen space on the diagonal for still-ample storage and a just-fine amount of memory. However, either price is a lot to ask of a laptop with an only Full HD screen and no dedicated graphics.

Just look at the Huawei MateBook X Pro, a 14-inch laptop with dedicated Nvidia MX150 graphics connected to that very same Intel chip, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD for less than either LG gram model at $1,499 (about £1,119, AU$1,999).

Meanwhile, the latest Dell XPS 15 at $1,499 (about £1,119, AU$1,999) nets you a stronger H-series, 8th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics that outclass either aforementioned laptop. Plus, Dell’s high-end notebook features just as much RAM and an 1TB SSD ends up undercutting the LG gram 15 by 100 bucks or quid.

At that point, whether you should buy the LG gram 15 weighs heavily on how important a mega-light 15-inch laptop is to you, as it’s beset on either side by arguably stronger options.

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Design

Not much has changed about the LG gram 15 design since we’ve last reviewed the laptop. The nano-carbon magnesium frame is still present, albeit now clad in a deeper, tarnished bronze color on the lid and base. 

Of course, the laptop is incredibly light still, otherwise it would have to change its name. There is a lot to be said for having a laptop of this size feel like essentially nothing in your backpack.

The gram’s keyboard remains spacious, punchy and deep in travel – it feels substantial and comfortable despite the lightness you may otherwise associate with weakness. As for the touchpad, it’s just fine. It tracks well and offers a satisfying click when pressed, but perhaps it could be a bit larger.

For such a light device with razor-thin bezels, LG has also managed to include several ports – not to mention a webcam in the space where it should remain on all laptops: above the screen. The webcam is serviceable but rather pixelated for a 720p resolution.

LG gram 15

Display

Naturally, just beneath that tiny webcam is the star of the show: the 15.6-inch, 1080p IPS touchscreen. This display is straight up gorgeous, making all sorts of movies and photos look fantastic.

LG employs incredibly thin bezels to fit such a screen inside a 14-inch wide frame, so it’s laudable that the firm manages the proper webcam position. While the screen isn’t very wide on the horizontal, it’s viewing angles certainly are.

However, the display could be a bit brighter when maxed out – either that or a matte display coating to avoid sun glare. At least the touch response is spot-on, and the single hinge is fantastic for putting up just the right amount of resistance under our fingers.

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Intel’s CPUs with baked-in Spectre defenses could still be haunted by new variant

Remember the Meltdown and Spectre fixes that Intel is baking into its processors to make them bulletproof to these vulnerabilities at a silicon level, and which are expected to be incorporated into new CPUs that ship later this year? Well, it’s allegedly the case that those countermeasures won’t defend these chips against a new freshly-discovered Spectre flaw.

Earlier this week came the official revelation that there is a fresh strain of Spectre – Variant 4, known as Speculative Store Bypass – which leverages similar vulnerabilities to the existing variants, although Intel noted it uses a different method to crack into the sensitive data held in your computer’s memory.

And, according to sources who spoke to Threatpost, the aforementioned safeguards which Intel is implementing may protect against Spectre Variants 2 and 3, but not this fourth incarnation.

There may also be further spins along these sort of speculative execution side channel vulnerabilities in the future, the sources further noted (which is precisely why Microsoft, for one, recently kicked off a major bug bounty program with big rewards for those who flag up these issues).

At any rate, Intel isn’t leaving processors undefended against Variant 4, of course, even if it does turn out to be the case that the new integrated silicon-level countermeasures aren’t able to protect against V4.

Medium risk

As the chip manufacturer said earlier this week, the new bug is ‘medium risk’, and it has “already delivered the microcode update for Variant 4 in beta form to OEM system manufacturers and system software vendors, and we expect it will be released into production BIOS and software updates over the coming weeks.”

The issue with this fix is, unlike baked-in protection, there’s a performance price to pay, just like previous Meltdown and Spectre patches. Intel estimates that to be a slowdown of around 2% to 8% based on SYSmark and other benchmarks, but of course mileage will doubtless vary from system to system.

As has been the case in the past, as well, you may see more of a detrimental effect if you’re running an older version of Windows (i.e. pre-Windows 10).

Interestingly, Intel will be delivering this Variant 4 fix as an optional measure, and it will actually be set to off by default. That means users will need to enable protection if they so wish, or carry on regardless and avoid any performance hit, with the potential risk of being exploited down the line.

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