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Smashed phone screens could soon be a thing of the past, T-Mobile’s free data now covers the planet, Microsoft’s trying to get us excited about tablets again, and Apple updates the Macbook Pro.
It’s time for the news!
No More Cracked Phone Screens? We’re Getting Closer
Have you ever broken your phone screen? I did it a few months ago, so badly that nothing would show on the display at all. It took two months, and a few hundred bucks, to get a working phone again. Not ideal.
News broke recently about two different approaches to solving this problem, one from a major manufacturer, the other from an unknown German design student. At this point, I’d happily take either.
Corning makes the glass used in most smartphone screens today, and while it’s fairly tough, there’s clearly still work to be done. Announcing its latest product, Gorilla Glass 6, the company says it has twice the drop protection of the current version.
As well as surviving drops from greather heights, the new version of this chemically strengthened, compressed glass can better handle repeated falls, surviving an average of 15 drops from one metre (3.3 feet) onto rough surfaces in lab tests.
When it starts appearing in smartphones towards the end of this year, the end result should be screens that break less often. One can only hope.
For an alternative approach, check out the above video. A design student named Philip Frenzel dreamed up a case with plastic bumpers that automatically deploy as your phone plummets towards the ground. Sensors detect the fall, and flexible arms spring out from each corner to absorb the damage before the glass meets the pavement.
It’s a great concept, and to prove it, the unique design recently received a German industry award. There’s talk of a Kickstarter campaign coming very shortly, and I have a feeling it’s going to be rather successful…
T-Mobile Now Offers Free, Slow Data Basically Everywhere
Cell carrier T-Mobile has long been by far the best option for US customers traveling overseas, offering free texting and data in 140 countries around the world on its One plans. Not content to sit on its laurels, the company recently added 70 extra countries into the mix, meaning you’re now covered pretty much anywhere on the planet.
That’s a hell of a deal, but of course, there’s a caveat: in most places, you’re not guaranteed anything better than 2G speeds on the base plan. That’s fine for calling an Uber from the airport, or getting directions to your hotel when you first arrive, but don’t expect much more than that.
The more expensive versions of the plan are better (at least double the speed), but if that’s not enough, or you’re on the standard One plan, you can also buy passes that give free calls and 500GB of LTE data for $5/day. That’s still cheaper than AT&T and Verizon, although that’s hardly a high bar. If you want faster speeds and are staying in a country for more than a few days, you’ll still be better off with a local SIM.
That said, we’ll be the last people to complain about free data all over the world, however slow it might be. Nice work, T-Mobile.
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Is Microsoft’s New Tablet an iPad Killer? Well, Maybe
The tablet computing market has been pretty unexciting lately, but a recent announcement from Microsoft is hoping to change that. The company just announced a new model in its Surface Range, and it’s something quite different that could make a lot of sense for travelers.
The 10″ Surface Go starts at $399 and runs Windows 10, which opens up a wide range of apps including Office and other real productivity tools. You’ll have to pay another $99 for the case, which has both keyboard and touchpad built in, but you’re still looking at under five hundred bucks for a lightweight computer you can get work done on.
Speeds aren’t going to blow you away — the CPU isn’t particularly impressive for a Windows machine, and neither is the RAM on the base model — and most people will probably end up adding a micro-SD card to bump up the inbuilt storage as well. It’ll be interesting, too, to see what real-world battery life looks like, beyond the always-optimistic nine hours listed in the marketing blurb.
Ten years ago I used to travel with a netbook, and this sort of looks like an attempt to bring the idea of a small, inexpensive, Windows-based laptop back around in 2018. Being able to use it as a tablet definitely makes it more useful, however, especially with the integrated kickstand for watching movies on the go.
The Surface Go starts shipping today, so expect to see some early reviews coming out very shortly.
Updated Macbooks are Faster, and Maybe Even Have a Decent Keyboard
It’s fair to say that Apple’s most recent Macbook Pro models weren’t the company’s finest. Despite the “Pro” in the name, professional users were getting increasingly frustrated by a lack of high end CPU, RAM, storage, and port options, not to mention a keyboard that was noisy as hell and broke at the first sign of a speck of dust.
The company quietly updated the range last month, and it was largely good news for those looking to upgrade. Macbook Pros now finally use the current generation of Intel processors, with the 15″ model gaining an i9 CPU option that wasn’t previously available, up to 32GB of RAM, a dedicated graphics card, and up to 4TB of storage.
The 13″ version that most travelers prefer isn’t quite as impressive, sadly — it’s still limited to 16GB of RAM, but at least now has up to 2TB of storage, and the latest i5 or i7 processor options. The cheapest Macbook Pro without touchbar hasn’t been updated at all, so it seems that Apple’s leaving that to quietly wither and die, just like the Macbook Air before it.
The best news of all, however, may be the changes Apple’s made to the keyboard. While the company only said it had redesigned it to make it quieter — which it absolutely needed to do — a teardown by iFixit suggests it might end up being more reliable as well.
A new silicone membrane covering the inside of each key looks for all the world like it’s designed to keep dust out, and Apple even has a patent for exactly this approach. Will it work? Only time will tell, but at this point, any improvement is a welcome one.
None of these upgrades come cheap — the minimum price for any of the updated machines is $1799, and you could buy a decent secondhand car for less than the $6669 a top spec 15″ Macbook Pro will set you back. Still, if you need the power, it’s now available… and if the keyboard really does end up being more reliable, that alone will make these new models a damn sight better than the last ones.