Review / Logitech MX Keys

Logitech’s MX Keys [Amazon] is what it finally took to lure me away from mechanical keyboards. It’s a slim yet solidly-constructed full-size model that's similar to and superior to Apple's Magic Keyboard.

It’s flat, minimalist, heavy, solid and low-profile, with large backlit keys typeset in something similar to Futura Light. The keys are square with subtle circular depressions and no give—a big improvement over the wobbly chicklet keys infesting modern non-mechanical keyboards, not least Logitech’s own cheaper models.

It works with USB-C, Bluetooth or the included unifying receiver. (A tiny dongle; I use it instead of Bluetooth as it works in BIOS and I dual-boot). The function keys are on a shift layer, as is now standard. Modifier keys are labeled for both Windows and MacOS, a nice if slightly cluttering touch. Keys are hard to remove; spudge them from the top. The backlighting works even in wireless mode, but will run down the battery quicker. Recharging is via USB-C; there is no removable battery. It's lasted about 10 days so far on the charge it came with. A Logitech app lets a single keyboard and mouse pair be used with any computer on the network, so long as it's installed on both machines.

The MX Keys is essentially the $200 MX Craft [Amazon] without the dial or the bulky rear panel that accomodates it. At $100, the MX Keys is not cheap, but is also no more expensive than similar models such as Apple's or Microsoft's Designer Desktop.

The extra heft and weight is nice, but it's the extra travel and tactility that puts it in a league of its own. Read the rest

Microsoft to permanently close its retail stores

Microsoft is to shut shop on the high streets and malls of America, permanently closing its 116 retail stores. Only 10 were overseas; flagship stores in New York City, London, Sydney, and Redmond will be remain as showrooms that do not sell the products. There will be no layoffs, Microsoft reports.

Alarm bells rang when Microsoft shied from reopening stores as states gave up on Covid lockdowns, but quitting for good wasn't expected. Chris Welch:

The decision partially explains why Microsoft had yet to reopen a single store after they were all closed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, Microsoft told The Verge that its “approach for re-opening Microsoft Store locations is measured and cautious, guided by monitoring global data, listening to public health and safety experts, and tracking local government restrictions.” The company declined to offer an update on when any stores might open again.

They were nice stores, but I have to admit that being able to check out a Microsoft Surface Studio in person showed how bad its pen latency was compared to iPad Pro and saved me from dropping thousands of dollars. Read the rest

Traintrackr is a light-up circuit-board map of the London Underground or Boston Metro

Traintrackr is a powered circuit board showing a map of the London Underground, lighting up in real time to show train positions on 333 stations on all 12 main lines. It connects to the tube's API for live location data every second. The board is 400mm x 300mm and sells for £249. (There's also the Boston Metro) Read the rest

Apple to switch Mac lineup to its own chips

Apple is to phase out Intel CPUs in favor of its own ARM-based chips, it announced yesterday at the WWDC trade show in California.

ARM designs are more energy-efficient and Apple has shown they can deliver performance with recent models of the iPad Pro, which already uses the company's silicon.

The big challenge will be software, reports the BBC. Apple demonstrated popular apps and a new version of its MacOS operating system at the event, but apps made for current hardware will not run natively.

Apple said it had already developed native versions of several of its own apps, including Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro. iPhone and iPad apps will also be able to be run on the computers.

Apple said that Microsoft was working on an optimised version of Office, and Adobe was developing a version of Photoshop.

Other developers should be able to recompile their apps to get a version running "in just a matter of days," said the company's software chief Craig Federighi. He added that old apps would automatically be translated at point of installation to run, although they would not work as well.

I'm eager to see one of these new models. I love how fast, responsive and straightforward my iPad Pro feels, but iPadOS's sandboxed apps make it so difficult to establish a functional file management workflow that I've never been able to use it as a workhorse.

On the other hand, MacOS on new hardware will still be MacOS, won't it? Read the rest

Tablet with high refresh-rate paperlike display

The video embedded below shows the Hisense Q5, a new tablet that's reportedly coming out in China this week. It has a reflective LCD display, similar to e-ink (in that it looks and feels much more paper-like than a typical screen) but with much faster refresh rate than you'd get from a Kindle. But it also shortcomings of its own, such as a lack of persistence and less efficient energy use.

It clearly handles animated UI elements and videos with ease, and the question is whether it looks better in real life, in the gloom of an unlit room or the glare of midday sun, than the similar but doomed Pixel Qi.

Though it's otherwise an unremarkable $350 Android tablet, it does have a HDMI port, meaning you could use it as a 10.5" display. For comparison, a standalone 13.3" e-Ink display has a four-figure price tag [Amazon]. Read the rest

Unusual dongle adapts life to death

This dongle allegedly converts "household" -- i.e. 110v AC power -- to 3.5mm. It's misdescribed and is for photographic use (if it were intended to be jammed in the mains, the prongs would have holes) but it makes me think a splendid purpose would be for the gadget mafia to use to issue death threats to people. If you find one of these on your doorstep or, God forbid, your pillow, you have displeased them.

Spotted by Chris Satterfield on Twitter: "it adapts camera strobe triggers."

UPDATE: Male to Male power cords are still listed at Amazon, but are out of stock.

Read the rest

iPad looks great in an SE/30 case

At Reddit, mtietje posted this remarkable photo of their lockdown project: an iPad stand made using an old Macintosh SE/30. The display size is perfect for the 9.7" iPad, and now that iPadOS can use mice they work much better as "normal" computers.

Se/30 shells turn up on eBay now and again. One's there now with bidding at $15. Shipping tends to really bloat the price of even a broken model with the bits still inside. I doubt you could reasonably shave down the SE/30 display housing to fit an iPad Pro, unfortunately: you'd lose all the beveling.

Now, the iMac G4 (below) came with a 15" screen that a 12.7" iPad Pro might hack into without looking too small. Maybe you could even just remove the display entirely and magnet the iPad on the arm?

Read the rest

$350 USB stick claiming to block 5G is just a cheap thumbdrive

A $350 USB device claiming to block 5G radio signals is just a cheap unbranded thumbdrive, report security researchers.

The makers of the “5GBioShield” claim their USB stick can block electrical waves through a “proprietary holographic nano-layer catalyst” technology. It purportedly does this by “balancing” all the existing radiations around you to create a protective bubble 8 meters in diameter, even when the USB drive is unplugged.

The website for the product goes on to make dubious references to “quantum oscillation,” “life force frequencies,” and “cardiac coherence” in an attempt to convince consumers the science behind the 5GBioShield is legit. But you’ll be pretty disappointed if you actually buy the product, according to Pen Test Partners.

The device (sold as the 5GBioShield) is aimed at people who believe conspiracy theories about 5G radio waves—a market whose credulity and susceptibility to unproven or pseudoscientific products is already guaranteed.

That it's something you can buy on Amazon for a fraction of the price[Amazon link] just shows how little work went into the wheeze.

The website selling the thumbdrives is based in the UK. Local regulators and fraud police are on the case: "We consider it to be a scam," Stephen Knight, operations director for London Trading Standards, told the BBC. Read the rest

Smartphone video rigs made from random junk

COOPH put together a video featuring DIY smartphone video rigs put together with stuff lying around the house.

Want to make your smartphone footage more creative than ever? In our latest video the COOPH photographers share some of their best hacks on how to create stunning images and videos with your smartphone and everyday tools, no expensive gear required! From smooth time lapses and steady shots to an easy DIY gimbal – this video has it all!

Disposable DIY rigs and jigs are essential for learning what works and what's possible creatively. If I spend money on something I'll be less likely to push it, to risk sacrificing the investment for self-improvement's sake. But if I'm already familiar with what a tool actually gets me, I won't be intimidated or disappointed when I buy a decent one. Read the rest

Design for a portable Commodore 64

There have been modern designs for portable Commodore 64s, and the official portable Commodore 64 you perhaps didn't even know about, but none of them are as handsome as Cem Tezcan's.

The Adafruit Blog:

As a part of my monthly product design practice, I decided to make an handheld Commodore 64 that uses “mini cassettes” to load programs or games.

I inspired by most of the old Commodore electronic products to create this dream device

All it needs is a giant leather holster. Read the rest

The widest screen

LG makes a 86-inch 3840 x 600 display—that's a 58:9 aspect ratio—and you can buy it for abour four grand [Amazon]. I was thinking of having them send one over to do a deadpan serious Gamer Review of it. Imagine this 7ft monster vesa-mounted on a 5ft desk, with little computer speakers stuck awkwardly on arms out to the side. Would many games even run at that resolution? It was suggested to me further that I review it in portrait orientation.

Read the rest

Rave reviews for $280 Lenovo Chromebook Duet

Lenovo's new Chromebook Duet is only $2801, but it's getting excellent reviews from sources that are usually lukewarm on low-end gadgets running Google's operating system. The 10" convertible tablet isn't going to muscle out a Surface Pro or iPad Pro, but it doesn't feel cheap.

The Verge's Monica Chin: "It feels much more like a Surface Go with some concessions than it does an ultra-budget PC. ... Another area where the Duet is punching above its weight class: battery life. Lenovo claims 10 hours; I got close to 11 and a half, running the device through my typical workload of Chrome tabs and apps including Gmail, Twitter, Slack, Asana, Facebook, Docs, and Sheets."

Wired's Scott Gilbertson: "It's plenty fast enough for getting work done in the browser, sending emails, and other communications—even light photo editing (in Gimp, running via the Linux support) and document editing. I only started to see some slowdowns after having 15 to 20 Chrome tabs open with half a dozen Android apps running simultaneously alongside some Linux for Chrome OS apps."

Android Authority's Eric Zeman: "It's practically a steal ... Lenovo's little Chromebook isn't perfect, and in fact has a few significant drawbacks, but almost nothing else competes on value. With a price starting at just $279, few Chromebooks or tablets offer as much flexibility out of the box as the Lenovo Chromebook Duet."

PC Mag's Eric Grevstad: "The Chromebook Duet earns an honorable mention among Chromebooks for consumers and captures our Editors' Choice among Chromebooks for students. Read the rest

A very useful illuminated hand held magnifier for $3

This $3 handheld magnifying glass has two bright LEDs and is powered by 3 AAA cells (not included). The manufacturer says the magnification is 40X. I think it is less than that, but it is still plenty powerful for my needs - mainly, reading the markings on tiny electrical components and checking the layer fusion on 3D printed parts. I have a few different magnifiers, and this one has quickly become my favorite.

It's not like a regular magnifying glass. It's more like a jeweler's loupe. To use it, you hold it up to your eye and move close to the thing you want to look at.

It even comes with a fake leather pouch.

Read the rest

Boston Dynamics robot dog enforces lockdown in Singapore

We used to joke about Boston Dynamics' robot dogs being used to control humans, and now they are: Singapore has deployed one to Bishan-Ang Moh Kio Park to monitor social distancing and blare warnings during the coronavirus pandemic.

South China Morning Post:

"Singapore has unveiled a four-legged robot programmed to keep park visitors tuned in to rules about safe social-distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic. Developed by Boston Dynamics, the robot has been busy during a two-week test run during off peak hours at the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park."

The robot dog is aware that it cannot contract biological viruses. The robot dog is aware of the inherent mutability of animalian life. The robot dog is eager to please.

PREVIOUSLY: Already regretting assigning Cormac McCarthy to report on the video of an entire pack of Boston Dynamics robot dogs Read the rest

19th century mousetrap not messing around

Mouse trap expert Shawn Woods writes that this device is known as "the 1862 Mouse Killer". It is an uncompromising example of the genre. [via Brian Ashcraft]

Read the rest

Custom keyboard replicates Photoshop toolbar

Input Magazine's Mehreen Kasana reports on a Ukrainian designer's custom keyboard, which turns Photoshop's toolbar into a mechanical masterpiece of bland yet slightly weird design.
Playing around with brightness, contrast or any other function is a breeze when you don't have to mess about with on-screen icons. And undoing things with a single button press certainly beats having to hit CTRL + Z. You can also use the number pad to open or save files.Whichever keyboard you choose, you can get it in one of three colors: black, white, or metallic. You'll just need to wait around three weeks for delivery. But considering how much time you'll save in the long-run, that's a small price to pay. Besides, we hear that patience is a virtue.
Yours for $200 at Etsy. Read the rest

New iPhone SE, finally

I still have an iPhone SE, replaced twice in the last four years because I don't fancy any of the gigantic modern models from Apple or leading Android brands. (Anything less is, frankly, impractical1.) While the new iPhone SE is superficially a warmed-over iPhone 8, and so still too big, it is at least smaller than other models and comes with the latest CPU and camera. Best of all, it's cheap for what it is, at $400. It'll do. It comes in black, white and red and preorders start Friday.

1. The 2G networks used by older dumbphones are being turned off and don't carry modern MMS-format text messages. Recent 4G dumbphones generally have poor compatibility with U.S. LTE bands and come with hinky, bloatware-infested KaiOS installations I don't have time to root and santize. Read the rest

More posts