Third Time’s a Charm for ARM PCs? My hands-on first impressions.

Microsoft and its partners have started shipping CoPilot+ PCs equipped with the new Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite ARM processors. Microsoft and Qualcomm claim that these new chips are finally comparable to the ARM-based Apple silicon processors found in Macs. This is promising since, to date, the best-performing ARM-based Windows PCs in my experience are Macs!

I attended a Lenovo press event in New York City yesterday and got some hands on time with two of their new devices: the Yoga Slim 7x and the new ThinkPad T14s Gen 6. The Yoga is pictured below:

In addition to the battery longevity benefits ARM processors have always brought to Windows, these new PCs promise to add some limited on-device generative AI functionality – most of it centered around image generation.

One demo involved a new feature being added to Microsoft Paint that allows the user to draw a rudimentary image and then have the on-board AI generate a much nicer looking version in a number of different styles.

The user still has to enter a text prompt although the AI will take into account the placement of objects in the original image. The photo above doesn’t show that happening, but I did see it correctly place the tree and sun in subsequent image generations. The Windows image viewer also brings similar generative features to images and photos.

Co-pilot+ PCs will get additional OS-level webcam controls that allow for adding realtime filters and a few other neat effects not found on other PCs.

According to a Microsoft blog post, additional on-device AI features are available from third party developers including some generative text capabilties. I did find it odd that Microsoft did not include any generative text features at the OS level like Google and Apple recently announced in their operating systems.

I also saw a short demo of the now infamous Microsoft Recall feature that takes snapshots of user activity and provides the ability to quickly go back to documents, applications and websites with a simple plain english query. Clearly this was going to be the centerpiece of the new embedded AI features but security concerns forced Microsoft to hold off on its release for now.

Without Recall the AI features are a bit underwhelming and currently limited only to these new Snapdragon Elite X PCs. Intel and AMD both have embedded NPUs on their new processors so over time Copilot+ features will likely make their way across the Windows ecosystem which will be necessary for widespread developer adoption.

While these AI features will all execute on device, user queries do apparently get sent to Microsoft to prevent inappropriate use. When I get these machines in for review I plan to explore exactly what type of monitoring will be going on with them.

From a performance perspective the new Snapdragon X Elite feels like a nice step up from the ARM PCs I’ve looked at previously. While the prior attempts delivered great battery life, performance was lackluster especially for applications that were not specifically written for the ARM architecture. This will be another area we’ll explore in my upcoming reviews.

You can see a lineup of CoPilot+ PCs at Best Buy (compensated affiliate link). Most are selling at or above $1,000. Both HP and Lenovo are sending me loaner units to play with. Stay tuned!

ATSC 3.0 Emergency Alerts Stalled?

AWARN, an organization dedicated to standardizing television emergency alerts, has been instrumental in developing parts of the ATSC 3.0 standard. Their goal is to ensure that emergency alerts are consistent nationwide, allowing people to receive critical information in times of crisis. Improved emergency alerts has been one of the key selling points the industry is making in favor of adoption.

Like everything related to the ATSC 3.0 rollout, not much progress has been made in actually getting these these alerts to work. While the industry worked quickly to encrypt their signals to protect revenues, everything else appears to be falling by the wayside. This is the subject of my latest video.

John Lawson, AWARN’s executive director, told me that both broadcasters and the FCC need to provide some leadership to get this superior alert technology ready for the transition:

“Several major broadcast companies highlighted advanced alerting as the key benefit of NextGen TV when they filed comments requesting that the Commission approve voluntary transmission in ATSC 3.0. Chairman Pai thanked me personally for the role of AWARN in getting him to three votes for approval. But Sinclair and Capitol Broadcasting are really the only two broadcast companies making investments in advanced alerting since then. This inertia is exacerbated by a lack of leadership on the issue from the FCC.”

-Statement from John Lawson

Currently, emergency alerts are not being transmitted via ATSC 3.0 in most if not all markets, as demoed by WNY Weather on YouTube. This could pose a significant risk during emergencies when cellular networks are often the first to fail.

In a recent FCC Filing, AWARN showed examples of widespread cell tower outages during hurricanes in Florida and Louisiana but very few TV stations getting knocked off the air.

ATSC 3.0 promises enhanced alert features like geo-targeting to prevent “over alerting,” rich media content, device wakeup capabilities and more, which are crucial for effective emergency communication. These features can provide detailed information, such as evacuation routes and shelter locations, directly to affected individuals. Despite this potential, the lack of a standardized approach means these capabilities remain underutilized.

AWARN’s presentation to the FCC included practical suggestions, such as the use of battery-powered receivers for low-income households that might not have access to other forms of media. These receivers could ensure that everyone receives emergency alerts, regardless of their financial situation. They also pointed out that current set-top boxes like the ADTH and Zinwell devices could support these alerts, though no broadcasters are transmitting them yet.

The promise of ATSC 3.0 in improving emergency alerts remains unfulfilled due to a combination of industry priorities and a lack of interest by regulators for any part of the ATSC 3.0 rollout. The technology is available, but without a coordinated effort, its life-saving potential will not be realized.

Retrobat : One Click Retro Emulation on Windows – Even Works on USB Drives!

After hearing from viewers about Retrobat, I decided to explore this one-click installer for retro game emulators. Retrobat supports a vast array of systems and offers a simple installation process, making it easy to organize and manage games with just a game controller. You can see it in action in my latest video.

One appealing feature is its portability; by installing it on an external hard drive, I can carry my configurations, save games, and save states between different computers seamlessly.

I started by downloading Retrobat from its website and proceeded with the installation, opting to place it on an external drive for portability. The installation was straightforward, involving a typical Windows setup process. Once installed, the software created essential folders like BIOS and ROMs on my drive. I began by adding some Sega Genesis games, as they do not require BIOS files to run. After copying the ROM files to the appropriate folder, I launched Retrobat.

The initial boot of Retrobat was smooth, and my games appeared in the menu without any additional configuration. The interface even applied a CRT-like curvature to the display, which can be customized or disabled based on preference. Using the scraper feature, I quickly matched metadata and box art to my games. Game manuals were also added to the interface thanks to the Screenscraper database.

For systems requiring BIOS files, like the 3DO, Retrobat provided clear instructions on obtaining and placing these files in the correct directory. Once the BIOS was added, games from that system ran without issue.

Retrobat also manages controller profiles so no up-front configuration is required in almost every instance. Even hot keys like save states tend to work the same no matter which emulator Retrobat summons to play a game.

The best part is that when I moved my USB SSD to another computer everything picked up right where I left off. All of the meta data, interface preferences and even save states carried over seamlessly.

Retrobat simplifies the emulation experience on Windows PCs, offering an easy-to-use interface and extensive customization options. Its portability makes it an excellent choice for those who want to enjoy retro gaming across multiple devices without repeatedly configuring settings.

Google Adds HDMI/DisplayPort Output on Pixel 8 Series Phones

For a long time, Google’s Pixel phones, including the flagship models, lacked the ability to connect directly to an external display via their USB-C ports. Users had to rely on Chromecast for screen mirroring.

That all changed this week with a new “feature drop” for the new Pixel 8, 8a, and 8 Pro phones which can now output video directly through a USB-C to HDMI or DisplayPort adapter. You can see it in action in my latest video.

The setup process is straightforward: connect a USB-C to HDMI adapter to the phone, then link it to a display. I also found docking stations and USB-C hubs with video output work well too. Once connected, the phone displays a message indicating that it’s ready to mirror to an external display.

In practical use, I found it to work well but with some limitations. When using Google Photos, for example, the Pixel does not adjust the external display to the proper aspect ratio resulting in photos and videos not filling the external screen.

I also tested latency using a Sega Genesis emulator. The experience was decent, with some minor input lag typical of Bluetooth controllers connected to Android devices. Like the Google Photos example there are aspect ratio issues that result in a much smaller play area.

In a followup YouTube Short, I answered a viewer’s question about apps that support controlling the external display independently using the video camera app Filmic Pro. Filmic Pro supports a “clean” output over HDMI while still having control overlays, monitors, etc. on the phone display. These features worked fine on the Pixel 8a phone tested.

There are rumors that Google might introduce a desktop mode similar to Samsung’s DeX, which offers a more desktop-like experience when connected to an external display. Some beta versions reportedly include this feature, though it is not yet available in the current release. As it stands, the feature is purely mirroring with no additional desktop interface.

Overall, this update marks a positive step for Pixel phones, particularly for the Pixel 8 series users. The ability to mirror the phone’s display directly to an external monitor via a USB-C to HDMI adapter adds versatility to the devices, especially useful for presentations, video playback, and casual gaming. However, this feature is currently limited to the Pixel 8, 8A, and 8 Pro, with no indications that it will be rolled out to older models.

Check out my Pixel 8a review here!

Disclosure: the Google Pixel 8a phone featured in this video was provided free of charge by Google. No other compensation was received and no one has reviewed or approved this content before it was uploaded.

HP Chromebook Plus 14 Review (14a-nf0050nr)

In my latest video, I take a look at HP’s Chromebook Plus 14. It is basic computing transportation but it’s decent basic computing transportation.

The laptop is priced at $529 (compensated affiliate link) and comes equipped with features that distinguish it from standard Chromebooks, including AI writing tools and advanced webcam controls. I covered those features in my prior Chromebook Plus videos.

A notable addition to Chromebook Plus is a one-year subscription to Google’s Gemini Advanced AI service, which typically costs $20 per month. This subscription includes two terabytes of cloud storage that works across any devices connected to the user’s Google account. This Chromebook will receive updates through June 2033, and should receive many new Chromebook Plus software features as they are developed.

Under the hood, the HP Chromebook Plus 14 is powered by an Intel i3-N305 processor, part of the Alder Lake lineup, which is known for its balance of performance and power efficiency. Paired with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of UFS storage, this configuration provided good performance for typical Chromebook tasks such as web browsing, word processing, and media consumption. The 14-inch display, while not suited for professional creative work due to its limited color gamut, offers sharp and readable text with a resolution of 1080p.

The device also includes a 1080p webcam, featuring a manual shutter for privacy and OS-level controls for background blurring and lighting adjustments. While the speakers provide adequate sound for conference calls, they may not satisfy audiophiles seeking high-quality music playback. The build quality, predominantly plastic, does not feel cheap and maintains a balance between durability and weight. It weights 3.2 pounds or 1.45 kg.

Connectivity options are good, with two full-service USB-C ports supporting display output, data transfer and power input, alongside a headphone/microphone jack and a USB-A port.

During my tests, the Chromebook Plus 14 managed tasks efficiently without significant issues. However, I recommend using web browsers for streaming services like Netflix and Disney Plus to ensure optimal resolution, as the Android apps for these services may not support full display resolution on Chromebooks.

Benchmark tests reinforced the Chromebook’s capabilities, with the device scoring well in web-based performance assessments. It also handled Android games and game streaming services like GeForce Now effectively, though it may struggle with titles designed for ARM processors. I was unable to get Genshin Impact to install, for example.

For those interested in running Linux applications, the Chromebook Plus 14 supports a variety of Linux apps, including LibreOffice, which operates smoothly on the device.

All in the “Plus” in Chromebook Plus does not add a price premium, but it is a good indication of a better performing Chromebook. The performance on this HP is excellent and its free year of cloud storage makes it a decent value for those looking for a no frills laptop.

Disclosure: The HP Chromebook was provided on loan. No compensation was received for this review nor did anyone review or approve this before it was uploaded.

New Google Chromebook Plus Features

Google recently announced the addition of new features to their Chromebook Plus devices, a tier that was introduced a few months ago. In my latest video, I take these new features out for a spin and demo them.

Many existing Chromebooks meet the minimum specifications for this “Plus” category and have been upgraded with additional capabilities not available on lower-end models. If you are curious whether your device qualifies, a previous video from October provides detailed information. So far the “Plus” designation has not resulted in a price premium for midrange Chromebooks – pricing is still very competitive vs. comparable Windows laptops.

Among the new features is the Gemini Advanced subscription service, offered for free for one year to those purchasing a new Chromebook Plus. Typically priced at $20 per month, this subscription includes access to an advanced chatbot, which is competitive with ChatGPT for data analysis and large file summarization. Gemini Advanced features will also be available in Google Workspace apps. Additionally, the subscription provides two terabytes of Google Cloud Storage, benefiting users across all devices linked to their Google account.

One of the standout features is the “Help Me Write” tool that is now integrated into the OS. This AI-powered assistant can rewrite text fields on any website, offering improvements for SEO or adding playful elements like emojis.

The Magic Photo Editor has also been enhanced, borrowing features from Google’s Pixel phones. Users can now remove background elements or repositioning subjects within a photo and have the effected areas rendered with generative AI. While this feature sometimes struggles with complex environments, it generally performs well in simpler scenarios.

Another addition is the live caption feature, previously seen on Pixel devices. This tool transcribes audio in real-time from any source running through the Chromebook’s audio system, though it currently only supports English. It proves useful for capturing spoken content across different applications.

For gamers, the new Game Dashboard allows for keyboard mapping of touchscreen controls across all Chromebooks. This feature, however, does not support game controllers. Additionally, Chromebook Plus users can now record gameplay sessions or create GIFs from screen captures, making it easier to share content online.

The update also introduces dynamic AI-generated backgrounds and wallpapers. While the options are somewhat limited, they provide unique, visually appealing customization for the device.

The overall approach to these updates reflects Google’s strategy to integrate subtle, useful AI features into the operating system. More enhancements are expected for the Chromebook Plus tier, promising continual improvement for Chromebook Plus users.

Short WhatNot Mini PC Auction Wednesday, June 12th

I will be hosting a short live Mini PC auction this Wednesday, June 12th at 12:30 p.m. eastern time on WhatNot! Four mini PCs will be listed at $1 starts and you do not need to be present to get the winning bid. If you don’t already have a WhatNot account, click here to get $15 off your first order (affiliate link).  

You can find the auction on Whatnot by clicking here. If you are using their mobile app you can pre-bid ahead of the auction. If your pre-bid remains the high bid you’ll win it. I have also posted the current retail prices of these Mini PCs. Here’s what will be available:

Beelink SER7 Ryzen Mini PC
Minix NEO Z100-0db Mini PC
Kamrui Mini PC
GMKTec M5 Mini PC (affiliate link)

There will also be a few giveaway items for those tuning in. 

I’m going to do shorter but more frequent shows rolling forward each based on a specific type of product vertical (e.g. mini PCs, video production, etc). Weekend shows will be a little longer with more items when I have time. 

As always there are other items available at my store too for immediate purchase. I just added a Blue Sona microphone and HP Sprocket Select printer. 

Wrenching on my old Apple IIe! Adding an FPGA HDMI and sound card

I am a sucker for new hardware for old bits of tech. I’ve covered a number of flash cartridges over the years for old game consoles that add new functionality like save states, integrated cheat devices, audio expansion and more. My Apple II collection also has a bunch of new, modern hardware installed. You can see what my Apple IIgs has inside here.

In my latest video I detail a new piece of Apple II hardware called the A2FPGA. This card, featuring a built-in FPGA, initially allows for a clean 480p HDMI video output with audio and simulates the old “Mockingboard” sound card. I say initially because the FPGA on the card is programmable and it will likely be able to replicate the logic of many other expansion cards with future firmware updates. The card is an open source design but can be purchased fully assembled at ReactiveMicro for $199.

The card comes with the most recent firmware preinstalled so it’s mostly plug-and-play. There are a few dip switches on the front of the card which I left mostly in their default settings, although I did disable the option for scanlines to appear in the HDMI output.

On first boot everything worked great – the video output was the cleanest I’ve ever seen out of this computer as before our only option was a composite output. The first game I booted up was my old copy of Skyfox that has support for the Mockingboard audio capabilities. It was really cool to hear the enhanced stereo soundtrack that was locked away on the floppy disk for decades!

The only other hardware modification I made was to unplug the Apple //e’s built in speaker. It will output simultaneously with the HDMI and there is no way to disable the internal speaker short of unplugging it from the mainboard.

I tested out a few other things too like 80 column text mode, and a game called the Halley Project that made creative use of the native Apple II sound system to play around 20 seconds of digitized audio. Everything worked flawlessly.

I am excited to see what new capabilities will be added to this card in the future! If you are curious about what an FPGA is, Bob from RetroRGB and I did a fun explainer at Retro World Expo a few years ago. You can see it here.

Amazon Gadget Haul #6! Hits and Misses

In my latest Amazon gadget haul, I explored a variety of lesser known tech products to see which ones (if any) stood out.

  • Wavlink Thunderbolt NVMe Hard Drive Enclosure: Unfortunately, this product had a lot of potential but simply did not work. Despite trying multiple drives and configurations, it couldn’t be made to work on any device, so I suggest skipping this one.
  • Budget-Friendly 4K 60fps Video Capture Card: Although it claimed high performance at a low price, it dropped a significant number of frames when capturing at 4k60. This makes it unsuitable for professional use, but it might suffice for non-critical applications where frame drops are less concerning.
  • CZUR Touchboard Pro Keyboard: Despite its promising design, it fell short in build quality and usability. The keyboard’s plastic feel and imprecise trackpad made it less appealing compared to other portable keyboards.
  • Minix Wireless HDMI Video Dongles: These dongles can transmit 1080p HDMI video wirelessly, making them handy for presentations or extending displays without cables. There was some noticeable latency, but they worked well for non-gaming applications.
  • Minix GaN 67 Watt Power Strip: Featuring multiple USB-C ports and AC outlets, this compact charger can handle multiple devices simultaneously, making it a decent travel companion. I compared it to another favorite charger of mine from Oraimo, which offers more power and has become my go-to for travel. Unfortunately the Oraimo one is not currently available.
  • Suideck 10-Device USB Charger: This is ideal for environments like schools or YouTube production lairs where many devices need charging or topping off. While not the fastest charger, its ability to handle multiple devices overnight makes it practical for many use cases.
  • Carplay / Android Audio Portable Vehicle Display: For those needing CarPlay or Android Auto in their vehicles, this compact display was easy to transport and set up, offering a functional solution for rental cars or older vehicles without built-in support for these features.
  • RGB Mousepad with Built-in Qi Charger: While it added a cool aesthetic with its lighting options, the uneven application of the Qi charging area detracted from its overall quality.
  • Two Apple Chargers : There are lots of low cost Apple magsafe chargers on Amazon. I found two that cover the Apple trifecta, charging a magsafe equipped iPhone, watch, and Airpods wirelessly. One is great for nightstands while the other folds up neatly for travel.

Overall, this haul had a mix of hits and misses. While not all the products met expectations some were pretty useful. I’ll be back with another one of these soon!

Using the Wyze Battery Cam Pro with a Solar Panel

A few weeks ago, I reviewed the Wyze Battery Cam Pro, a notification camera that runs on a replaceable lithium-ion battery. One item I covered in the review was the camera’s USB-C port that can be used for plugging in external power sources including solar panels.

In my latest video, we take a look and see if Wyze’s solar panel can provide enough juice to allow the camera to continually record 24/7 and keep its battery topped off during the daylight hours.

The Wyze solar panel is reasonably priced and is rated at 2.5 watts when it gets full sunlight. The panel comes with a long USB Type-C cable, allowing you to plug other devices into it, although they won’t charge quickly at only 2.5 watts.

A common mistake is placing these panels in areas with shade, which reduces their generation capacity. In my testing I placed it on top of my wife’s garden that gets full sunlight throughout the morning and afternoon.

Since I started using the panel about a month ago, I’ve noticed that the battery stays at 100% all the time when not continuously recording, even with many events triggering the camera throughout the day. This is because the camera doesn’t consume much power, and its built in battery provides enough energy to get through the night. With the solar panel attached, you shouldn’t have to swap out the battery, even though it’s super simple to do so.

But continuous recording is another story. Starting out at around noon on a beautifully sunny day, I was able to continuously record for almost exactly 24 hours – far exceeding the 10 hours Wyze says the battery can handle when continuously recording without the solar panel. I think I would have seen more longevity had the following morning been as sunny as the previous afternoon, but unfortunately it was a dark and rainy day that was not good for solar generation.

In the end, while the Wyze solar panel does a good job of keeping the battery charged, it falls short of enabling continuous recording on the Battery Cam Pro. On Amazon there are a number of low cost 10 watt panels with USB-C outputs that can charge the battery more quickly during the day and perhaps capture more solar radiation on cloudy days to allow for longer recording. We will find out!

Disclosure: Wyze provided the camera and solar panel to the channel free of charge. They did not review or approve this post before it was uploaded and all opinions are my own.

EmuDeck Comes to Windows – One Click Install of Retro Game Emulators

I’ve been using a Steam Deck for over a year and a half. While I bought it for taking PC games on the road, I find myself using it now primarily for emulating older games. A standout tool for this purpose is EmuDeck, which simplifies the installation of major emulators on SteamOS.

EmuDeck is now available on Windows which is the subject of my latest video.

Like the Steam Deck version it offers a one click install and simple maintenance of just about every popular game emulator out there. It also automatically maps controls across all of the major emulators requiring practically zero configuration of settings to get going. Because it relies on Steam for the controller mapping you’ll need to make sure you have Steam installed on your system first.

For this video, I used a low-cost Intel N100-based mini PC from GMKtec I reviewed recently. The installation begins with downloading a simple command line script from EmuDeck’s website. Because this process involves running a batch file that installs necessary software, users should be cautious about installing it on mission-critical systems due to the level of control it is granted.

Once EmuDeck is set up, users must manually copy ROMs and BIOS files into designated folders that the script sets up. EmuDeck simplifies this by providing a BIOS checker tool that verifies the necessary files are correctly named and placed. After setting up the games and BIOS files, launching them is straightforward through interfaces like EmulationStation or Pegasus, which EmuDeck will install and integrate with Steam.

Testing different emulators, such as those for Sega CD and PlayStation 2, demonstrated EmuDeck’s capability to handle various systems effectively. Performance adjustments, like changing resolution settings, can be done through the EmuDeck interface on a per-console basis. In the video you’ll see me doing a single click resolution adjustment to optimize PS2 performance on the N100 Mini PC.

EmuDeck will also managing version updates for the installed emulators and also offers custom configurations for a variety of Windows handhelds to optimize visuals and perofrmance. While some advanced features like save game syncing require a Patreon subscription, the free version offers most of the functionality of their platform.

EmuDeck on Windows provides a powerful and user-friendly platform for retro gaming, bringing the convenience and capabilities previously enjoyed on the Steam Deck to a wider range of devices.

A number of viewers wrote in to tell me about Retrobat, which offers a similar experience and adds the ability to make the entire installation “portable” so it can be brought to multiple PCs via an external hard drive. I’ll take a look at that one next!