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Browser review: Microsoft’s new “Edgium” Chromium-based Edge

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Before much longer, every new Windows PC is going to have a new default browser: it will still be named Microsoft Edge, but it’s a completely different browser than the old version. Cue the jokes now about “the new browser everyone uses to download Chrome”—but we’re not sure that so many people will actually bother downloading Chrome anymore.

The old Microsoft Edge was a completely in-house Microsoft design, proprietary from the ground up. It wasn’t necessarily a bad browser, but it never really took off—by the time Edge became a thing, most of the people who cared about their browsers were so sick and tired of Internet Explorer they’d long since moved on to either Firefox or Chrome; and the people who didn’t care much about their browsers frequently ended up finding the old Internet Explorer and setting it as their default when they discovered that “the big blue E” on their taskbar didn’t work with legacy IE-only websites and apps.

The new Edge isn’t entirely—or even mostly, so far—a Microsoft effort, though. Edge is now based on the open source Chromium browser, which is the underpinning of Google Chrome and several other, lesser-known browsers as well. It should seem immediately familiar to seasoned Chrome users—and it even allows installing extensions directly from Chrome’s own Web store. It’s not hard to imagine a lot of Chrome users simply not bothering to replace it when they see how familiar it is.

Edge’s own Web store is pretty sad and underpopulated right now, but we expect that to change rapidly. It’s not hard to imagine little need for an Edge user to bother going to Chrome’s Web store and shopping for extensions in another six months, as necessary as that would likely be right now. In the meantime, while installing Chrome certainly isn’t hard to do—unless you’re seriously short on bandwidth, which many rural users are—it’s even easier to click the single popped-up button in Chrome’s Web store to enable those extensions in Edge.

Saved passwords

For better or for worse, the vast majority of the new Edge doesn’t need much of a review, since it’s effectively the same as Chrome itself. The only parts that really need a review are those that Microsoft has needed to bolt on for itself—such as user login and synchronization of saved credentials between browsers. We tested the login and sync, and they were something of a crapshoot.

The first credentials we used to test were Office 365 credentials from a small business, and while the login itself worked immediately, the actual synchronization was broken. To be fair, the problem could be that this Office 365 account doesn’t have a license associated with it—it’s just used to administer the actual users of a small business’s domain. Still, it should have worked; unlicensed Office 365 accounts are a commonly encountered and perfectly valid condition in the wild for exactly this reason.

With the Office 365 account logged in, local storage of passwords worked perfectly, but sync just didn’t happen. Eventually, we checked the sync settings for the account and saw that they said “setting up sync—you can start browsing while we get this set up.” A week later, the settings still say “setting up sync.” We’re not holding our breath.

Next, we used a personal Windows Live account which long predates Office 365 and has been used solely to log in to a Microsoft Volume License Service Center account until now. The personal account immediately worked flawlessly, both login and sync. When logged in with the personal account, there was no “setting up sync” message—and a newly saved password was instantly available on a second computer logged in with the same account.

Saving credit and debit cards

Edgium—that’s what some industry watchers have been calling the new version of Edge—can autofill credit card details, but doing so works differently than it does in Chrome. If you type a credit card number into a Web form, Google Chrome automatically detects what you’re doing and asks if you want to save it. Edgium, on the other hand, pays no attention to you typing credit card information to a website. To get the browser to save a credit card number, you must go into its Settings and to Profiles / Payment info.

Once you’ve gotten to the Payment info settings dialog, you can click an “Add card” button. Edge does correctly detect credit card entry, and when you have one or more saved cards available, it will prompt you when there’s an opportunity to auto-fill with it. The saved credit card info is, for now at least, purely local—it does not sync from one browser to another when you’re logged in as the same user.

Favorites

Enlarge / Like Chrome, Edgium has a little star in the address bar itself for adding a page to Favorites. Unlike Chrome, it also has a favorites button next to the bar, which will show you your favorites in a drop-down list.

Jim Salter

The one place we outright prefer the new Edge to Google Chrome is in its Favorites management. In both Chrome and Edge, there’s a little star inside the address bar itself to toggle Favorite status for a page. But in Edge, there’s also a little star button beside the bar, which drops down the list of Favorites you’ve already created. We’re fiercely protective of vertical screen real estate and therefore don’t really like enabling the Favorites bar in any browser. But the convenient little drop-down is nice, and we think it makes the Favorites function much more useful.

Favorites synced perfectly and instantly from machine to machine when we tested using our sync-is-working personal Windows Live login.

Microsoft contributions

One of the complaints we’ve frequently heard from readers about rebasing Edge on the Chromium project is that it removes diversity from the Web browser ecosystem. This is obviously true—if Microsoft uses Chromium to build Edge, it doesn’t have to build and maintain the majority of the codebase itself. But it overlooks the strength of open source software development—active cooperation.

Microsoft began contributing code to the Chromium project almost immediately after beginning its first beta builds of Chromium-based Edge. One of its first contributions was to improve battery life in the browser; that contribution is still in development and has not yet been accepted into the Chromium master—but importantly, engineers from Google and Microsoft are cooperating in the testing and implementation here, with a public record for all to see.

Microsoft has also announced its intent to bring browser accessibility, touch optimization, and Arm optimizations from its original Edge into the Chromium project. As CNET reported earlier this week, Microsoft has made nearly 2,000 commits to the Chromium project in the last year. This is an important distinction—the company isn’t merely consuming Chromium, it’s publicly and openly cooperating with Google in ways that any company or even individual can.

Although Microsoft and Google’s collaboration on a unified browser framework does mean less code diversity for the Web, it represents a major improvement in openness and fair access.

Listing image by Mike Mozart / Flickr

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LG enters fray with Google, Amazon, Roku for TV operating system dominance

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LG has announced that it will begin licensing its webOS TV software for use by other TV manufacturers. That will put webOS in direct competition with other platforms in use across TV brands, such as alternatives from Roku, Amazon, and Google.

LG says “over 20 TV manufacturers” have “committed to the webOS partnership” and names RCA, Ayonz, and Konka as examples. They’ll ship the OS in their TVs and, in so doing, gain access to voice control features, LG’s AI algorithms, and a fairly robust library of already built streaming apps like Netflix, YouTube, or Disney+.

For smaller manufacturers, this is more cost-effective than developing these features on their own or lobbying companies like Netflix or Disney to support new platforms.

At the annual Consumer Electronics Show this January, LG announced webOS 6, a major revamp of the interface that adopts a design language that more closely resembles what’s found in most other TV operating systems. However, licensees of webOS will at least for now be limited to an earlier version of webOS which has the old interface.

In addition to any licensing fees, LG will be able to leverage this larger install base to profit from a more robust advertising network and from larger-scale user data collection. The company will also put its LG Channels content operation on more TVs. Further, LG has bigger ambitions for webOS than just TVs, so this move aids the company’s efforts to make webOS more ubiquitous as the software expands into cars, home appliances, and other products.

Users may balk at the advertising and data collection, but there is one upside for them: a larger install base for webOS will likely lead to more frequently updated, higher-quality apps from content companies.

As is the custom, this announcement came with a published statement from a prominent executive at the company—in this case, LG Home Entertainment President Park Hyoung-sei, who said:

The webOS platform is one of the easiest and most convenient way to access millions of hours of movies and TV shows… By welcoming other manufacturers to join the webOS TV ecosystem, we are embarking on a new path that allows many new TV owners to experience the same great UX and features that are available on LG TVs. We look forward to bringing these new customers into the incredible world of webOS TV.

webOS for TVs as we currently know it dates back to 2014, and reviewers and users have admittedly responded well to it because it’s one of the nicer-to-use TV operating systems. Part of its ease of use stems from the Wii remote-like magic remote that comes with LG TVs; LG’s press release says that partners who license webOS will ship TVs with similar remotes.

LG previously released an open source version of webOS in 2018, and Samsung announced plans to make its Tizen TV OS available for licensing by other TV manufacturers back in 2019. But a year and a half later, we haven’t heard anything more concrete about the latter.

Listing image by LG

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Google Maps for Android officially gets dark mode support

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Google Maps has finally decided to support dark mode on Android 539 days after it officially launched Android 10. Google’s latest blog post says that dark mode in Google Maps is “soon expanding to all Android users globally,” making the feature official after lots of public experiments.

Google’s uneven rollout strategy makes it hard to nail down when any feature officially “launches.” Some users have had dark mode for a while, though, through various experiments and early rollouts. Google has been teasing a dark mode for Google Maps since October 2019, and experimental rollouts hit some users in September 2020. Google Maps has also been showing a dark-colored map in navigation mode for some time, but that’s not the same thing as a comprehensive dark mode for all the UI elements.

If Google Maps is following Android’s best practices, the UI should automatically switch over to the dark theme if your system settings have dark mode enabled. Google says you’ll also be able to find a new “theme” section in the Google Maps settings, where you can toggle the feature manually. The Google Maps dark mode that has been floating around for a while has been on a server-side switch. The code is already on your device, so there’s no version we can point to that will enable dark mode; you just have to wait for Google to flag your account.

With Google Maps finally on the dark mode train, that should cover all of Google’s major apps. The Play Store, Gmail, Google Assistant, Chrome, Calendar, Drive, Photos, and YouTube all support dark mode.

Listing image by Google

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Lenovo updates ThinkPad lineup with 16:10 screens and more

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Today, Lenovo announced a broad overhaul of its ThinkPad laptop lineup, led by the popular X13 and X13 Yoga.

Lenovo has added many features previously seen in its X1 Nano model to various other laptops across the ThinkPad line. Among those is a continuing shift to 16:10 displays, which most productivity users will greatly appreciate compared to the more media-focused 16:9 aspect ratio found in recent prior models.

There’s also human-presence detection; the laptops use a radar sensor to detect when you’re sitting down in front of them, and they wake up accordingly. And of course, like so many similar laptops in this day and age, you can get these machines with fingerprint readers built into the power buttons now.

As for specs, CPU options for the X13 and X13 Yoga include Tiger Lake (11th Gen) Intel Core chips with optional vPro, plus AMD Ryzen 5000 options. A big focus of this refresh is bridging the previously existing gap in features between the Intel and AMD configurations, now that interest is particularly high in AMD’s processors. We’re not 100 percent to parity, but we’re closer than before.

The X13 and X13 Yoga have 13.3-inch displays at either 1920×1200 or 2560×1600, Finally, the redesign includes wider touchpads, Wi-Fi 6E, and in the X13 only, optional sub-6 5G support.

Lenovo also overhauled the T-series lineup. The new T-series laptops still have 16:9 displays, though that admittedly makes a bit more sense for laptops that offer 4K Dolby Vision display configurations, discrete graphics, and other specs and features oriented around media consumption.

The T14 and T14s have 14-inch displays, and the 15 has a 15.6-inch display. CPU options offer 11th-Gen Core i7 CPUs (also with vPro options) or, alternatively, AMD Ryzen 5000 Pro. Intel versions of various new Thinkpad laptops have an “i” after the name—as in, Lenovo ThinkPad T14 i. The AMD versions don’t.

Across the T series lineup, you’ll find Wi-Fi 6 or 6E, 4G and 5G configurations, and FullHD webcams—though many features are optional or not default when you configure the devices. Here are the starting prices and availability dates for each of the T and X series laptops:

Model Availability Starting price
ThinkPad T14s i March 2021 $1,499
ThinkPad T14s May 2021 $1,279
ThinkPad T14 i March 2021 $1,379
ThinkPad T14 May 2021 $1,159
ThinkPad T15 March 2021 $1,379
ThinkPad X13 Yoga April 2021 $1,379
ThinkPad X13 i March 2021 $1,299
ThinkPad X13 May 2021 $1,139

Other updated products include the L14, L15, and PL14s, as well as a new monitor carrying the P40w label. If you’re interested in those models, you can learn more at Lenovo’s website.

Listing image by Lenovo

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