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Microsoft enters the laptop market with a bang, and our favourite Android smartphone returns. Facebook speeds up its news feed for those on slow connections, and inflight Wi-fi is about to get a whole lot faster.
That’s all in this, the October 2015 edition of Travel Tech News.
Microsoft’s New Surface Book Looks Kinda Great
For years, Microsoft just didn’t do hardware. When it finally got into the game, well, it kinda sucked at it (does anyone else remember the poop-brown Zune?).
Since Satya Nadella became CEO last year, however, Microsoft has been quickly transforming itself into a different company. That apparently includes making physical products you’d actually want to buy. Never has this been clearer than at a launch event last week, when the company announced a brand new product: the Surface Book laptop.
This is the first laptop the company has ever built. Billed as being ‘twice as fast as the Macbook Pro’, it’s sleek and attractive, weighs just 1.6lbs and is around half an inch high at its thinnest point.
The specs are impressive. There’s a high-resolution, touch-sensitive 13.5″ screen, up to 1TB of storage and 16GB of RAM, dedicated graphics card and up to twelve hours of battery life. Even so, they only tell part of the story.
The Surface Book also converts into a tablet, in two different ways. You can clip it out of its hinge to leave the keyboard (along with the ports, dedicated graphics card and main battery) behind. This lets you sacrifice power and battery life for a lightweight, highly-portable device.
If you need the ports, battery and grunt, you can flip the screen 180 degrees instead, using it in touch-screen mode with or without the included stylus.
Like anything this flexible and powerful, it’s not especially cheap. Prices start at $1499 for the base model, and you can more than double that by maxing out all the specifications. You can pre-order now, but I’d wait for the first crop of reviews to surface when the Surface Book is released in a couple of weeks.
Assuming it lives up to the hype, for those looking for a single lightweight travel device that can do anything you ask it to, the Surface Book may well be the most exciting laptop or tablet we’ve seen this year.
And most important of all? It doesn’t come in brown.
Hooray, the Nexus 5 Is Back!
Before it was discontinued, we really liked Google’s Nexus 5 smartphone. In fact, it’s what I’ve been carrying around the world with me for the last 18 months. It was a bargain at around $400 unlocked, had high-end specs for its time, and fitted perfectly in almost any pocket.
It wasn’t flawless — battery life could have been better, and the camera was only ever ‘good enough’ rather than great — but for the money, it was hard to go past for most travellers.
The Nexus 6 that replaced it was too big and expensive to get excited about. There’s been a gap in the market ever since for a smaller unlocked smartphone with top specifications for under $500. Google apparently realised this as well, last week announcing the return of the Nexus 5 to great rejoicing among geeks like me.
The new Nexus 5X will have a slightly larger 5.2″ screen, with a thinner, taller and wider body. The two downsides mentioned above have both been greatly improved. There’s a 15% larger battery, and a vastly superior camera that focuses more quickly, performs better in low light and can shoot 4K video.
There’s a fingerprint sensor on the rear of the phone that works in little over half a second, and it uses the new USB-C standard for charging and data transfer.
Speaking of charging, the introduction of fast-charge technology will be very welcome on long travel days. Google suggests you’ll get nearly four hours of use with just ten minutes of charge.
One thing to note is that like many new phone models this year, it uses nano SIMs rather the the micro SIM of the previous model.
You can pre-order the 16GB model for $379 in the US, but I wouldn’t bother. Spend the extra fifty bucks for the 32GB version instead. The Nexus 5X will come in three colours, and start shipping on October 22. Availability in a few dozen other countries will be announced in the next few days.
Update: I reviewed the Nexus 5x here.
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Facebook Admits Its New Feed Is a Slug, Does Something About It
Ever tried using Facebook on a slow connection? You’ll be well used to seeing the spinning wheel of boredom rolling round… and round… and round.
Especially on mobile, the main News Feed chokes on the endless deluge of auto-playing videos, perfect selfies and baby photos. After a couple of minutes of frustration, you’re much more likely to give up than persevere.
While that’s probably a good thing for many of us, Facebook itself would prefer you spend as long as possible using its service. How are you going to see all those adverts for wedding dresses otherwise?
To that end, the company recently announced a new version of the feed, aimed at those in developing countries on 2G and other slow connections. The mobile app now checks the connection speed, and makes several changes if it detects that it’s particularly bad.
You’ll see more text updates, and fewer videos. Updates you’ve already loaded will be cached for next time you visit, new updates will load in the background as you scroll through an existing one.
The story you’re looking at right now will load fully before the others in your feed. Lower-quality versions of an image will be shown as the full-size picture downloads.
Long story short, using Facebook on the kind of slow connections you often find in hotels and developing countries should now be a little less painful. Yay.
In-Flight Wi-fi Is About to Get a Whole Lot Faster
In-flight Wi-fi is an interesting beast. While it’s been getting incrementally faster over the years, if everyone on a decent-sized plane actually tried to connect at once, it’d still be pretty much unusable.
There just isn’t the bandwidth to handle hundreds of users at once, or even a few dozen of them. That’s one of the reasons why most airlines set the prices so high. It’s not just to gouge you, it’s also to discourage casual web surfers from using up all the capacity.
Gogo, the largest provider of in-flight Internet, recently announced a plan to change all that. Its new 2Ku satellite-based service has just received FAA approval, offering peak speeds of 70Mbps to carriers around the world. Over 100Mbps is expected in the future.
That’s several times faster than what most planes currently offer, and it works internationally and over water as well.
Commercial rollout is expected to start next year. Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic, Aeromexico and a few other airlines have already signed up for a trial or full deployment of the new service.
You’ll soon be able to upload photos of your mediocre airline meal to Instagram faster than ever before. That’s technology working for you, right there…