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Microsoft Weekly: Writers of the lost art, a range of patches, and builds galore
by Florin Bodnarescu
This week brought the usual set of Patch Tuesday updates, a number of Insider previews, and a rather interesting announcement from MachineGames, the previously ZeniMax and now Microsoft / Xbox Game Studios subsidiary. You can find info about that, as well as much more below, in your Microsoft digest for the week of January 10 - 16.
Writers of the lost art
Back in September of last year, Microsoft announced that it was acquiring Bethesda’s parent company, ZeniMax Media in a deal worth $7.5B. As a result, there was an interview with two of the most well-known folks on the Bethesda side, Pete Hines and Todd Howard. What everybody seems to have missed was the range of Indiana Jones-related paraphernalia present behind Todd Howard. As it turns out, this was yet another, pretty clever hint at a game announcement which showed up this week.
Born as a partnership between the newly-(re)announced Lucasfilm Games and Bethesda subsidiary MachineGames is an upcoming “wholly original, standalone title” in the Indiana Jones series. Helmed by Todd Howard as the executive producer, the project is currently in its early stages. Needless to say, this may very well end up being an Xbox and PC platform exclusive, as Microsoft is preparing to close its ZeniMax acquisition this year.
In other gaming news, Dead Rising and Breakdown are now free to get if you have an Xbox Live Gold subscription, and for fans of the red and white combo, there’s now a Pulse Red variant of the latest Xbox Wireless Controller. It’s set to debut February 9 for $64.99. Folks in China however are already able to pick up the controller as of January 12.
A range of patches
Besides being the second full week of January, this week was also host to the second Tuesday of the month, which is usually when Microsoft releases a range of patches for all of its supported operating systems. If you’re on Windows 10, these are:
May 2020 Update / October 2020 Update (2004 / 20H2): KB4598242, builds 19041.746 / 19042.746 – includes a number of security updates for scenarios when you need to use external devices, as well as for basic Windows operations. Known issues: The same user certificate known issue appears in this build, as does a bug with the Japanese IME and Furigana characters. November 2019 Update (1909): KB4598229, build 18363.1316 – very similar changelog to the updates above, with the mention that this also includes security updates for Office products. Another thing worth mentioning is that this update isn’t coming to the May 2019 Update (1903), as support for it ended last month. Known issue: This update only contains the user certificate known issue from the known issues list above. October 2018 Update (1809): KB4598230, build 17763.1697 – supported for Enterprise and Education SKUs. April 2018 Update (1803): KB4598245, build 17134.1967 – supported for Enterprise and Education SKUs. Creators Update (1703): KB4599208, build 15063.2614 – supported for Surface Hub only. Anniversary Update (1607): KB4598243, build 14393.4169 – supported in the Long-Term Servicing Branch. Windows 10 RTM (1507): KB4598231, build 10240.18818 – supported in the Long-Term Servicing Branch. Naturally, as Windows 7 and 8.1 are still supported, those operating systems got updates too. Curious folks, here’s what you need to look out for:
Windows 8.1: KB4598285, KB4598275 (security-only) – the monthly rollup which includes some security enhancements for the Printer RPC authentication, and has the same CSV error that’s been plaguing this OS for a while. Windows 7: KB4598279, KB4598289 (security-only) – very similar changelog to the monthly rollup for Windows 8.1, even down to the known issue. Keep in mind that the Windows 7 updates are only received by business who pay for these extended security updates (ESUs), the price of which is set to double soon.
We obviously couldn’t have ignored the fact that Microsoft also likes to put out Insider builds for just about everything under the sun.
As such, the company released Edge Dev 89.0.760.0, which brings the Password Monitor feature to those on macOS, as well as a Fluent Design icon refresh for Teams Public Preview testers.
Speaking of refreshes, the company is gearing up to release a major UI overhaul of Windows 10, due for release in the second half of 2021. Referred to via the umbrella term Sun Valley, it’ll include changes to the Start Menu, taskbar, Action Center, built-in apps and other features, seeking to add more of those ever-pervasive rounded corners.
We’ve seen some of that with Windows 10X which was revealed in October of 2019. Since then, the company has been radio silent on it, going as far as to just not release the flagship product that would showcase this OS, the Surface Neo. For those curious to see how the operating system functions, a near-final build has leaked online, and we have a hands-on video with it.
Moving on to other bits of software that the company actually wanted to release, build 21292 of Windows 10 made its way to the Dev channel, including fixes for the news and interests feature that debuted in build 21286. There are of course other fixes included, but the known issues list is about as long as the fixes list, so have a gander at it if you’re curious before installing this build.
This same week, Microsoft also released 21292.1010, a cumulative update to the build above that’s meant to test the servicing pipeline. If you use x64 emulation on ARM PCs, the update does break this feature.
Finally, there’s also the Server Insider build 20282, which once again is missing its companion blog post. It’s possible there’s just nothing new in this build, which is why the company didn’t bother releasing a post about it.
Microsoft has released the Surface Pro 7+, with Tiger Lake, 4G LTE, and a removable SSD. More features are now rolling out to Yammer, including the ability to created posts, questions and polls on Yammer directly from SharePoint pages. Planner on the web now allows you to add image backgrounds to each plan. The OneDrive file size limit has now been increased to 250GB. Cloud for Retail, and Dynamics 365 Commerce updates are now available. Microsoft Forms now has features meant to streamline the access to and distribution of forms. An approval request app is now rolling out for Teams. Apple is allegedly testing the Music and Podcasts apps for the Microsoft Store. Logging off
We end the column with a couple of Microsoft departures.
First in line is Brad Anderson, Corporate VP of Commercial Management Experiences. Following a tenure of more than 17 years at the company, the exec will be joining Zig Serafin’s Qualtrics firm as President of Products and Services. Serafin is another 17-year veteran of the Redmond giant, who was joined by former Chief Experience Officer Julie Larson-Green in 2017. As for Anderson, he joined Microsoft back in 2003 from Novell, first as GM of SCCM (System Center Configuration Manager), then as Corporate VP in some capacity since 2007.
The second departure this week is Julia White, who’s been with the company for the last two decades. In her now former role at Microsoft, White was a Corporate VP of Product marketing for Azure, Dev Tools, and Server. She will be joining SAP as Chief Marketing Officer and Solutions Officer. Julia White started as a PM for the Server division in 2001, and has been in the current role for the last five years.
Missed any of the previous columns? Be sure to have a look right here.
By Namerah S
Enacfire E90 Wireless Earbuds review: True bang for your buck
by Namerah Saud Fatmi
We've seen an explosion of new brands and products in the TWS market over the last few years. Enacfire is one such brand that caters to the budget range of audio devices. With most Enacfire devices priced below $50, the Enacfire E90 wireless earbuds are the Shenzen-based company upper-tier offering.
For an inexpensive price tag of about $50, the Enacfire E90 earbuds tout 48 hours of playback, IPX8 water resistance, USB Type-C fast charging and boosted bass to knock the listener's socks off. There's been a good amount of chatter regarding the E90 wireless headphones, so let's find out what all the fuss is about.
Now before I go into further detail, I want you to keep in mind that we're talking about some very affordable wireless earbuds. This is important because of the balance of the price against the value of the Enacfire E90 earphones.
Weight 4.5g Dimensions 2.44 x 0.94 x 2.01 inches Design In-ear Codecs aptX, SBC Speaker 10mm dynamic driver Microphone 2 mics with CVC 8.0 noise cancellation Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0 Battery 8hrs playtime, extended to 48hrs with charging case Charging USB Type-C fast charge | 1.5 to 2hrs Durability IPX8 waterproof rating Design
The Enacfire E90 true wireless earbuds come in a glossy white finish and the material used is plastic. The charging case features the same colours and materials and has a rectangular shape with curved edges. Contrary to what this might indicate, none of the parts look or feel that cheap. The earbuds have a very strange shape and they look very uncomfortable, but once worn they fit in the ears just nice. I think the uniquely shaped heads help the buds to stay in place because these things don't ever fall out.
Each earbud has an LED light and houses one mic each for better audio quality during calls. There are no physical buttons, only touch controls on both earbuds which I found very easy to use. On the front of the carrying case, there are four tiny LED lights to indicate the battery level. Meanwhile, on the back of the case, there's a USB Type-C port for charging.
I was very pleased with how lightweight the headphones were, even when accounting for the wight of the case. They weigh an unbelievably light 4.5 grams which makes it really comfortable to carry and wear them for long hours. Another feature which really sweetened the deal for me was the IPX8 waterproof rating. I live in a country where it rains quite a lot so water resistance is nearly essential.
Moving on to the juicy bits, the Enacfire E90 use the Qualcomm aptX technology to deliver high-quality audio efficiently. It uses low latency which reduces audio delays over Bluetooth connection. Now, this is something I've faced before in some of the lower-tier TWS earphones. To my delight, with the E90 buds, this did not happen.
The Enacfire earbuds have two microphones, one on each bud. This serves two purposes, one is to enhance voice transmission and the other is to enable users to use either bud standalone. The CVC 8.0 noise cancellation feature cuts out background noise while making calls. I used both earbuds together and individually to answer calls and both experiences were good. Nothing extraordinary, but a little above average in the budget range.
I was very satisfied with the overall sound delivery and quality of the E90 headphones. They have boosted bass which is something bass-loving audiophiles will appreciate. I cannot stress this enough, bass is really something on these earbuds.
Let's talk about other aspects of sound quality. I was actually impressed by the audio delivered by the Enacfire E90 buds because they're so cheap. I was happy with the levels of clarity and crispness even on very high volumes which is something budget earphones struggle with. I would describe my listening experience as lush, rich and punchy.
But I must say, at the point when you max out the volume, the audio quality does drop a notch and the sound becomes a bit grainy. This is to be expected, I mean the Enacfire wireless earbuds are less than half the price of premium TWS brands like Apple or Sennheiser.
I did, however, manage to fix this with a dynamic equalizer. Enacfire does not have its own companion app so I used a third-party app. All in all, at the end of the day, they perform satisfactorily and get the job done surprisingly well.
Enacfire states that the E90 earphones offer 8hrs of playback at a time, extended up to a generous 48hrs when taking the charging case into account. I decided to put this to the test, well a crash test to be more accurate, and my results were pleasing.
I started with a full 100% battery and began my day, with very heavy use. Just to see how long it would take to drain completely, I left it on for hours. When I wasn't using them, my brother was or the earbuds were just sitting around blasting music on full volume with no one listening. Almost the whole time they were on, they were playing something or the other.
Taking the case into consideration, the E90 buds gave out after two entire days - 49 hours and 42 minutes later. I probably got over 35 hours of playtime from them collectively, with most of the testing done at max volume.
Now the website does mention that increasing or decreasing the volume will affect the battery life, so I am fully confident if I had not used them constantly like a maniac, I would easily be able to get the official 48hrs of playback Enacfire claims the E90 earbuds can deliver.
Another thing that made me happy was the charge time. The Enacfire E90 true wireless earbuds support USB Type-C fast charge but the compatible wattage has not been disclosed. According to the official specs, the E90 buds take between 1.5 to 2 hours to be charged in full. Once my earbuds were drained, I plugged them in and it took me exactly 1hr 12m.
After many days of hands-on testing and heavy usage, I have some thoughts about the Enacfire E90 TWS headphones. I decided to review the earbuds because of the growing chitter-chatter about the company. It has a pretty dedicated fan base and many claim that these are the best true wireless earbuds they have ever used.
While that last part might be a bit of an exaggeration, I truly feel that the fans or on to something. It all comes together when you factor in the price, which is $49.99 on Amazon or $59.99 on the official Enacfire online store. The features that these earbuds offer at this price point is truly impressive.
You get an outstanding battery life, excellent sound quality, fast charging and a nice, lightweight design which sits tight and doesn't budge or fall out. There's even an IPX8 water resistance rating for better durability in rainy conditions or as a safeguard against clumsy incidents.
I would, however, have really liked it if Enacfire had a companion app for the E90 earbuds which provided a dynamic equalizer. I'm a big fan of customizing and optimizing audio devices to my taste. This isn't that big of an issue because you can always use a third-party app but it would have been nice.
Another area that could use improvement is the audio quality at max volume. While the vocals don't get distorted, the bass tends to sound grainy and woolly at times. This can, however, be fixed to a certain degree by using an equalizer.
So here's my final verdict for the Enacfire E90 wireless earbuds: scout's honour, you can bet your bottom dollar on these earbuds to provide true value for your hard-earned $50. Just don't expect premium sound quality from a budget product.
Get the Enacfire E90 Wireless Earbuds at Amazon for $39.99 (after 20% off coupon) + free shipping
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By Rich Woods
Windows 10 build 21292.1010 breaks x64 emulation on ARM PCs
by Rich Woods
As of mid-December, Windows Insiders with ARM64 PCs were able to run x64 apps in emulation, opening up the PCs to the rest of the Windows ecosystem. Yesterday, however, the team released a cumulative update for the latest Dev channel build, and as it turns out, the update breaks the feature, so you might want to skip it.
The update in question is KB4601937, and the blog post has been updated to day, "After installing Build 21292.1010 (KB4601937), x64 emulation on ARM PCs will not work. There is an issue with the way the update is installed that breaks this functionality. As a workaround, you can uninstall KB4601937 to get x64 emulation working again on your ARM PC."
This cumulative update was introduced as something that includes nothing that's new. According to Microsoft, it only exists to test out the servicing pipeline, meaning that the company just wants to make sure, as it does periodically, that it hasn't broken the ability to ship cumulative updates. But being an update with no features, it would be reasonable to expect that it's low-risk, and that it wouldn't break.
The update should be easy enough to roll back, if you're experiencing issues. From Windows Update, go to 'View update history', and select 'Uninstall updates'.
By Rich Woods
HP Spectre x360 14 review: Finally, 3:2 displays are coming to more devices
by Rich Woods
Back in October, HP announced a refresh for its smaller Spectre x360 PCs, which is typically just the 13.3-inch model. But for the first time, the company introduced the Spectre x360 14. Now, you might be thinking that the '14' indicates that it has a 14-inch display. It doesn't; rather, it indicates that '13' is already taken, as this PC actually has a 13.5-inch screen.
It's not just any 13.5-inch screen though. It's got a 3:2 aspect ratio, something popularized by Microsoft's Surface PCs. In fact, taller screens are becoming more and more common throughout the industry. HP also has an OLED option, a first for a 13.5-inch screen.
Of course, that's not all that's new here. It has Intel's 11th-generation processors with Iris Xe graphics, Thunderbolt 4, and more.
CPU Intel Core i7-1165G7 (up to 4.7 GHz, 12 MB L3 cache, 4 cores) GPU Intel Iris Xe graphics Display 13.5" diagonal, WUXGA+ (1920 x 1280), Touch, IPS, edge-to-edge glass, micro-edge, 400 nits Body 11.75x8.67x0.67in, 2.95lb RAM 16GB Storage 512 GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD Ports (2) Thunderbolt 4
(1) USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A
(1) 3.5mm audio Battery 4-cell, 66 Wh Li-ion polymer Input Full-size island-style backlit keyboard, Precision Touchpad Support Webcam HP True Vision 720p HD IR camera with camera shutter and integrated dual array digital microphones Connectivity Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX 201 (2x2) and Bluetooth 5 combo Audio Audio by Bang & Olufsen; Quad speakers; HP Audio Boost Material Aluminum Color Poseidon Blue Price $1,589.99
I've said this many times before, but HP's Spectre x360 series is the sexiest line of PCs on the market. Honestly, these are great laptops, but the design is absolutely a differentiator. This is the type of PC that if you use it in public, people are going to notice it. It's a long way away from the boring old MacBook clones that we still see a lot of, and it's really impressive how it's evolved over the years.
The color of the model that HP sent me is called Poseidon Blue and it has Pale Bronze accents. This is actually the first time that the company has sent me a Poseidon Blue Spectre, which is pretty cool. It also comes in Nightfall Black with Copper Luxe accents, and that one is also stunning. And finally, there's boring old Natural Silver, a color that HP actually killed off one year and then brought back due to popular demand.
The Pale Bronze accents actually look silver, so it's very pale. You'll notice the chrome-colored HP logo stamped in the lid. You can also see the Pale Bronze hinges in the image above; what you can't really see is that the sides are also this color, along with other parts.
It also has gem-cut edges, adding to the style that you find in the Spectre x360. Note that this design is the same as we saw with the last couple of generations of the Spectre x360 14, just adapted for the larger form factor.
You'll notice on the right side that there's a microSD slot, a 3.5mm audio jack, and one USB Type-C port. That USB Type-C port is Thunderbolt 4, which frankly, isn't all that different from Thunderbolt 3. They both support 40Gbps data transfer speeds, or up to two 4K monitors on a single port. The difference is that Thunderbolt 3 had a minimum spec that used two lanes instead of four, supporting half of that, and there was no easy way to know what you were buying. HP always supported the full spec, so nothing is really changing here. That's a good thing, by the way.
Tucked in the corner there is a second Thunderbolt 4 port. The cool thing about that one is that it's designed to keep the cable out of your way, and you can fold the display back without the cable getting in your way as well.
On the left side, there's a USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A port, which gets speeds of 5Gbps. If you're unfamiliar with USB 3.2 Gen 1, you might know it better as USB 3.1 Gen 1, or USB 3.0, because they're exactly the same and it just keeps getting rebranded. I'd like to have seen USB 3.2 Gen 2 (or USB 3.1 Gen 2) on here. After all, this is a premium laptop and other PCs are getting it, so I'm not sure why we're getting last-gen ports.
Also, notice that while one of the back corners has a USB Type-C port, the other corner is empty. In previous designs, there was a power button here, but this has been moved to the keyboard.
But most importantly, this convertible laptop is sexy. When it comes down to a laptop that I want to carry with me, the Spectre x360 is it, and a big part of that is because of the design.
Display and audio
Like I said earlier, the Spectre x360 14 has a 13.5-inch 3:2 display. If you don't like taller displays, don't worry because the Spectre x360 13 was refreshed alongside this. You can still get a 13.3-inch 16:9 screen if that's what you want. Keep in mind though that this isn't just 0.2 inches larger. Screens are measured diagonally, so the change in aspect ratio means that it's actually a much bigger display, and it's 25.6mm taller.
This is also a better aspect ratio for portrait orientation. The wider screen is great for a laptop use case, but this is a convertible. This is meant to be used as a tablet just as much as a PC. Now, it feels more natural that way.
There's also an app pre-installed called HP Display Control, which has different settings for the display. This something that the company started using when it introduced OLED displays on its Spectre lineup, because while OLED produces vibrant, beautiful colors, they're not necessarily accurate. HP's display calibration software solved that issue, and now it's available for all screens.
The viewing angle is a full 178 degrees, meaning that you can look at it from any angle without any visible distortion. Also, it's worth noting that this display does come in a 4K OLED variant. While we're starting to see more and more 3:2 laptops hit the market, this is the only one I've seen with an OLED option. I believe that HP did send OLED to some reviewers, but not this one. The company did say it was working on getting me one a few weeks ago, but frankly, I couldn't hold back this review any longer.
Also, there's a 1,000-nit Sure View Reflect option. That's HP's privacy screen technology which is designed to prevent people from looking over your shoulder and being able to see what's on your screen.
Once again, HP partnered up with Bang & Olufsen for the speakers, of which where are four. There's a speaker bar right above the keyboard, something that actually went away on the 13.3-inch model thanks to the footprint shrinking so much. But thanks to the taller display on the 13.5-inch version, it's almost like HP can just use the old chassis.
There are also speakers underneath the device. That way no matter what orientation you're using the Spectre x360 in, you have sound firing at you.
The speakers are loud and they're clear, creating a pretty solid media consumption experience. Whether you're listening to music at your desk or you're playing a game, this gets the job done.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard spans edge to edge on the deck, and it's the same as it is on the 16:9 one. Like I said, the key difference is that it once again has the speakers above it. This keyboard has grown into being one of my favorites for a consumer PC. HP had originally produced what I believe to be the best keyboard on a laptop in its EliteBook 1000 series, but now it's bringing it to more devices.
The keys don't feel wobbly at all, and they seem to have the perfect amount of resistance to be comfortable. It's also a particularly quiet keyboard, something that's really nice if you're like me and tend to hit the keys too hard at times.
HP also moved a lot of other parts to the keyboard. There's no switch on the side of the chassis for a physical camera shutter anymore, and like I said above, there's no power button on the corner anymore. The way the camera shutter works has changed too. Previously, HP disconnected it internally, an elegant solution that probably wasn't convincing enough for a feature that's designed out of distrust. Now, it disconnects it internally, but it also shows a physical block over the camera.
The fingerprint sensor is part of the keyboard now too. Previously, it was to the bottom-right of the keyboard. Adding these keys to the keyboard is a design change that we're seeing across HP's lineup.
The touchpad is a Microsoft Precision touchpad, something that HP took longer than its competitors to adopt. That means that it's faster, it's more responsive, and it supports the gestures that you're used to.
Performance and battery life
The Spectre x360 14 that HP sent me includes an Intel Core i7-1165G7 and 16GB RAM. The CPU is a quad-core chip with eight threads from the Tiger Lake family. Tiger Lake is Intel's second-generation 10nm family, the first of which was Ice Lake, so the process has been refined a bit.
But also, it includes new Iris Xe graphics. Last year's Ice Lake chips began a focus from Intel on its integrated graphics, so that's being taken to a new level now. Yes, you can play FHD games on this machine, and it's pretty impressive. I'm doing things on thin and light PCs that I'd previously never have done without dedicated graphics.
And if you do need dedicated graphics, you can use Thunderbolt 4 to plug in an external GPU. That's a major benefit of Thunderbolt, which is more or less exclusive to Intel PCs. You can take this on the go and have the power of Iris Xe graphics, and bring it home to a desktop setup that has two 4K monitors and an external GPU, all running off of the two Thunderbolt 4 ports.
For battery life, that's impressive as well. Doing regular work, I got at least eight hours out of it, although I wasn't able to stretch it to 10 hours. This is with the power slider one notch above battery saver and the display brightness at 50%. Of course, this is the FHD model, so that number will suffer if you get the UHD OLED model or the 1,000-nit Sure View configuration. One thing that I can say about HP is that it absolutely cares about battery life in its products, and it rarely lets me down. This is definitely among the best battery life in its class.
For benchmarks, I used PCMark 8, PCMark 10, and Geekbench 5.
Spectre x360 14
Core i7-1165G7 Spectre x360 13
Core i7-1065G7 Dell XPS 13 2-in-1
Core i7-1165G7 Acer Aspire 7
Ryzen 7 4700U PCMark 8: Home 4,094 3,243 4,344 3,702 PCMark 8: Creative 4,527 3,818 4.560 4,228 PCMark 8: Work 3,896 3,034 3.980 3,689 PCMark 10 4,705 4,147 4,929 4,718 Geekbench 5 1,414 / 4,470 1,526 / 5,623
HP's Spectre x360 is my favorite family of PCs, just because they're so unique and sexy. Now that the smaller model comes with a 3:2 display, I'll tell you what I really want. I want HP to do this with the larger 15-inch model. Give me something with a 45W CPU and dedicated graphics with a bigger 3:2 display, but I digress.
My only complaints are that it's using a last-gen USB Type-A port, and also that there's no cellular option. HP did announce the Spectre x360 5G at the same time that it announced this, but that's still using the 16:9 display. If you want 3:2, there's no cellular option for the first time in years.
But this is an awesome PC, even aside from the design that I can hardly get over. I'm happy to see the speakers return to the keyboard deck, and speaking of the keyboard, this is probably my new favorite on a consumer laptop. It's phenomenal.
Everything about the Spectre x360 14 is phenomenal, and as always, I totally recommend it. You can find it on Hp.com here.
By Rich Woods
Microsoft releases Windows 10 Insider Preview build 21292.1010
by Rich Woods
Earlier this week, Microsoft released Windows 10 Insider Preview build 21292 to the Dev channel. It contained mostly fixes for the news and interests feature that appeared the week before, which basically puts a news feed in the taskbar.
Now, we're getting a cumulative update for the build, bringing the build number to 21292.1010. According to Microsoft, there's nothing new in the update. The company does this periodically, but it's just meant to test out the servicing pipeline. Microsoft has to make sure that it can service builds with cumulative updates from time to time, as that's a very major component to servicing a feature update.
The update is KB4601937, and it should show up automatically. Obviously, you can get it now by checking for updates in Windows Update, although there's really nothing here to test out.
Build 21292 is from the rs_prerelease branch, meaning that it includes features that might show up in some future version of Windows, and might not. It's not tied to any specific feature release though.