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Wizards Unite is a sorcerous smorgasbord for the Pokémon GO generation – TechCrunch

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Niantic’s follow-up to the absurdly popular Pokémon GO, the long-awaited Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, has one major drawback: unlike its predecessor, you can’t explain it in a single sentence. There’s so much to do in this game that it may repel some casual players — but while its depths of systems and collectibles may be nigh endless, don’t worry: you still basically just walk around doing wizard and witch stuff.

We first reported the news that this was coming back in 2017. Last week I got to spend a short time playing the game at Niantic’s office in San Francisco, and while they didn’t reveal all their secrets, I saw enough to convince me that HP:WU (I await a catchier nickname, like PoGO) will be a huge time sink for any Harry Potter fan and will probably convert or cannibalize many players from GO.

If you were worried this would be a slapdash cash-in effort like some of the HP tie-ins we’ve seen… don’t be. This is legit. Rowling isn’t involved, and the voice actors are sound-alikes, but still legit.

And just to get some of the major facts out of the way before we move on: it’s coming out sometime in 2019 (I’d guess before Summer but they wouldn’t say), in 17 languages (listed at bottom; actual countries where it’ll be offered unknown), there’s no wand accessory yet (I asked and they all looked nervous), minimum specs are reasonable and AR is optional, and it’s free but there are in-app purchases.

So what is this game? While it would be misleading to say it’s just HP:GO, the similarities are deep. But there’s a lot more going on. Perhaps I’d best summarize it in bullet point form before I embark on the many details. In HP:WU you:

  • Walk around a wizarding-themed version of the real world looking for locations at which to resupply and “foundables” to encounter
  • Dispel, battle, or otherwise deal with the “confoundable” associated with these
  • Earn reward items from encounters and for entering foundables in your registry
  • Use reward items to level up in various professions, brew potions, and battle alongside others at “fortresses”
  • Find rare foundables that advance the overall plot of why this is all happening anyway

So let’s take that piece by piece.

(By the way: The few images I have here were provided by Niantic and Portkey Games, the studio under WB Games who co-developed the game; I actually saw much more than what the shots show, so if something I describe isn’t illustrated directly, don’t worry — it’s in there.)

Walkable Wizarding World

Yes, this was the only image of the map we got.

“For Harry Potter fans, the line between the real world and the wizarding world is paper thin,” said WB Games’s Jonathan Knight. So they wanted to make it seem like, as with the pervasive hidden nooks and secrets of the HP world, “magic is all around you.”

The plot that enables all this is that, in a post-Deathly Hallows HP world, a macguffin event has caused magical items and creatures to appear all over the muggle world, threatening to expose the existence of magic; Witches and wizards are being recruited to track these things down and deal with them.

Conveniently, the event snatched these things and people from all throughout history and the world, laying them down willy-nilly — so you’re just as likely to find Fleur Delacoeur as Hermione Granger, or a young Dumbledore as an old one.

As a member of the SOS squad (enforcing the “Statute Of Secrecy” mandating separation between the magic and muggle worlds, you know), you’re tasked with tracking down these various things wherever they appear and reporting back to the ministry.

The map is, like in Pokémon GO, where you’ll be spending most of your time.

As before, it reflects the streets and features nearby: streets, parks, landmarks, and so on. It’s decidedly busier this time, however, both with gameplay elements and set dressing. Brooms and owls zip overhead, potion ingredients clutter the ground around you, and locations to visit sprinkle every block. (Although I’d hoped they’d use the Marauder’s Map aesthetic, they were probably right not to: it would probably get old fast.)

You interact with these locations as you would spin Pokéstops in GO, with “inns” and “greenhouses” giving you a semi-randomized reward every time (and starting a 5-minute cooldown). Encounters and ingredients pop up like Pokémon did, appearing semi-randomly but with some tendencies or affinities — for example, you’re more likely to find school-related foundables by actual schools, and so on. These places are helpfully noted by a little flag that highlights the affected area, such as: “Golden Gate Park – you’ll encounter more magical creatures here.”

The equivalent to lures are “dark detectors,” which will cause encounters to pop up with more frequency around the location you attach it to — and you can stack them! These will no doubt be a popular purchase.

One nice touch: when you move quickly, your character flies on a broom. No more “running” along the highway. That always did bug me.

Of course you’ll also be able to customize your appearance, and you even get to make a (non-public) “wizarding passport” complete with a moving photo you can outfit with various AR props. Your Hogwarts house is just something you select and which has no gameplay effect — for now.

Swish and flick

When you tap an encounter, you enter an AR minigame where you may, for instance, have to cast a spell to free Buckbeak the gryphon from a magical ball and chain, or defeat a monster threatening a character from the books.

You do this generally by tracing a shape with your finger on the screen to cast a spell. You don’t get to choose the spell, unfortunately, it’s built into the encounter. The more accurate and quick your trace is, the better the power of the spell — a bit like throw quality in Pokémon.

It’s similar in combat except you’ll also have to quickly cast protego when the enemy attacks you. That’s right, there are hostiles in this game! And although you can’t “die,” running out of stamina will fail the encounter or mission. More combat options open up later, though, as you’ll see. Encounters also vary in difficulty, which can be determined from the map or within the encounter — you may find some foes or rescues are beyond your power until you pump up a bit (or quaff a potion).

There are other little twists on the formula, though — the team said they have over 100 unique encounters, all fully realized in AR. And although you can only interact with them from a sweet spot that appears on the ground in AR, you can take your time to walk around or closely inspect the scene.

Foundables and confoundables and the other 20 things

There are a ton of these little pages.

Everything you’ll encounter is a foundable, and falls under one of numerous categories: magic zoology, dark arts, oddities, magical games and sports, Hogwarts, and so on.

And every foundable is listed in a sort of sticker book you’ll fill in bit by bit as you encounter them. Free Buckbeak however many times and it’ll be fully filled in, giving you various bonuses and, perhaps more importantly, the ability to take AR photos with the creature or character in question.

The creatures and characters range from common to very rare, of course, and you’ll need to get dozens of the former to fill in the book, but only one or a handful for certain plot-related items. They only shared the bare bones of the story, which will be revealed through in-game text and events, but a “deep, multi-year narrative arc” is promised. You can probably expect new foundables and ingredients and such to be added regularly.

One detail I found highly compelling was that weather, time of day, and even astral phenomena like moon phase will affect what you encounter. So for instance, werewolves may only come out on the full moon, while certain potion ingredients only appear (or appear more) when it’s raining, or in the evening. This kind of real-world involvement is something I’ve always appreciated and one that Niantic’s games are uniquely suited to take advantage of.

Potions will be necessary for healing and buffing yourself and others, so you’ll want to collect ingredients all the time; you mix them in a sub-screen, and can follow recipes or try your luck making something new.

One very cool thing they showed off that doesn’t really show well in images is a Portkey — you know, the objects in HP that transport you from here to there. It’s not exactly a canon treatment in the game, as they create portals instead, but it makes for a great AR experience. You put the portal down and literally step through it, then look around at a new scene (for instance, Ollivander’s shop or Dumbledore’s office) in which you can find items or presumably encounter monsters and other stuff. Portkey “Portmanteaus” are a bit like egg incubators in that you charge them up by walking, and can find or buy more powerful ones.

Min-maxing managed

What perhaps surprised me most in the team’s presentation of the various systems of the game was the extent of the stats and professions. There are three “professions,” they explained: auror, magical zoologist, and professor (“if you’re a bit of a goody-goody” — I resent that).

I figured these would be a bit like a play style bonus — one gives you more combat prowess, another is better for taming creatures, and so on. Boy, is there a lot more to it than that!

First of all, you should know that you have stats in this game. And not weird hidden ones or a relatively meaningless one like your trainer level in Pokémon GO. No, you have a straight-up stat screen filled with all kinds of stuff.

And your profession isn’t just a bonus or special ability — it’s a whole skill tree, and one to rival those of many a “serious” RPG.

As in many other games, some nodes are simple things like an increase in stamina or spell power — some you can even upgrade several times to increase the effect. But others are entirely new abilities you’ll be able to use in various circumstances. I probed through a bunch in my limited time and found things that, for instance, healed allies, debuffed enemies, improved potion effectiveness, etc. These are definitely going to have a significant effect on gameplay.

You can advance in any of the professions you want, however you want, though of course the further you progress down a tree, the more powerful abilities you unlock. You do this with tokens you earn from encounters, leveling, and challenges, so you get a steady trickle. It should take a good while to fill these out, though no doubt we’ll have some real tiresome types who’ll do it in a week.

Fortress of Jollitude

(It’s a portmanteau of solitude and jolly cooperation, because this is the teamplay part… let me have my fun.)

The last major aspect of the game is Fortresses. These are a bit like Gyms from Pokémon GO, in that they are multiplayer focused, but for now they’re strictly player vs enemy.

Fortresses are large, obvious locations on the map where you and up to four other players can join battle against a host of enemies in order to receive rare foundables and other rewards. How it works is that you and whoever else wants to play get within range of the Fortress and tap it. (They didn’t provide any images of one, inside or out, but you can see the roof of one just at the top left of the paw circle in the map image above.)

You’ll then have a chance to join up with others by presenting a special item called a runestone. You’ll be getting these from normal encounters now and then or a few other sources, and there are 10 different kinds with multiple rarities — and depending on which you use, or which combination your team presents, the Fortress will have any of a variety of challenges and encounter types. (I only saw combat.)

This is where the combat complexity comes in, because all the enemies are presented to all the players at once, and you can take on whichever you choose. Have you leveled your magical creature taming? You better take on that hippogriff. Do extra damage against human foes? You’re on Death Eater duty. Stocked up on spells that hinder opponents or heal allies? You can use them from the select screen in real time, for instance if your friend is about to be knocked flat by a high-level Dementor and needs a hand.

I only got to test a small amount of this, but the possibilities for actual strategy and team synergy were very exciting, especially compared to the extended slugfests of Pokémon GO raids.

“Your forever Harry Potter game”

That’s how the team described Wizards Unite, and although a small-screen experience will never equal the immersion or magic (so to speak) of the cinema or the richness of the books, this does look like a dandy game and it will certainly be a heck of a time sink for countless players worldwide.

I only got to see a few minutes of the game in person, so there are parts I missed and parts that weren’t being shown; for instance, your Hogwarts house will likely figure later in multiplayer games, and more abilities are on the way.

I worry a bit that the simplicity and casual serendipity that defined Pokémon GO have been abandoned for a level of complexity that may be daunting for some. Yet at the same time I worry that the grind of collecting however many Buckbeaks you need to complete a page of the registry isn’t as satisfying as catching (and grinding up) a dozen Charmanders to power up your favorite ‘mon. And the AR experiences so far exhibit much visual variety but (that I saw) didn’t differ much from one another except in the trace you had to draw.

But there’s a great deal here and a great deal to like. It’s new, it’s fun, and it’s HP. I know I’m going to be playing.

(Lastly, the game will be released in the following languages: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Brazilian and European Portuguese, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, Danish, Turkish, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Japenese, Korean, and Latin American Spanish.)

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The 5 Best Black Friday Apple Deals: MacBooks, AirPods, Apple Watch, iPad, and More.

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Andrew Cunningham

Black Friday is in full swing, and that’s great news if you’ve had your eyes on an Apple device but have been waiting for a solid discount to pull the trigger. Apple devices are notoriously expensive, and you typically don’t see many discounts throughout the year. Fortunately, Black Friday brings notable Apple deals not only from retailers, but Apple itself. Just as we do every year, we’re cutting through the noise to bring you the best Black Friday Apple deals we can find.

Below are a few of the most worthwhile Apple deals we’re seeing as of this writing. As always, we’re focusing on products we’d actually recommend based on our time reviewing them and excluding any we don’t think are worth your money. Lastly: there haven’t been any huge iPhone deals we think are worth your time, so the focus here is on other products.

Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

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The 2022 iPad Air.
Enlarge / The 2022 iPad Air.

Samuel Axon

Apple iPad Air 2022 10.9-inch for $500 ($560) at Amazon (discount at checkout)

Also at Apple for $680 with a $50 Apple gift card

These days, it’s not hard to make the case that Apple makes <em>too</em><em> many</em> iPad models. The lineup has gotten convoluted and confusing, and some models offer better value than others. Fortunately, if you can afford it, there’s one clear recommendation for the significant majority of would-be tablet owners: the iPad Air.

The iPad Pro’s 120Hz display, Face ID authentication, and other bells and whistles are all nice-to-haves, but they’re not essential. And on the other end of the lineup, the new 2022 iPad sacrifices a bit too much compared to the Air, given the price difference.

The Air doesn’t skimp on anything essential: it has the fast M1 chip, second-generation Apple Pencil support, a great screen, and strong accessory support. It’s currently on sale at Amazon for $500 ($60 off typical street price), but Apple’s also offering it for full retail at $680 with a $50 Apple gift card incentive.

For scale, here are the brick and cable next to the laptop.
Enlarge / For scale, here are the brick and cable next to the laptop.

Samuel Axon

MacBook Air 2022 for $1,050 ($1,200) at Amazon

The Mac has been through many permutations (and ups and downs) over the years, but the recent transition away from Intel processors to Apple’s own custom-designed silicon has made clear that this is as good a time to go Mac as any there ever was.

While many of Apple’s Macs (like the MacBook Pro or the Mac Studio) are specialized products for certain audiences, the 2022 MacBook Air is the Mac that makes the most sense for the most people. Its M2 processor is frankly faster than most desktop processors, and a recent redesign modernized a classic laptop—even if it did so at the cost of some its unique identity.

You can buy the Air at a $150 discount from Amazon ($1,050 for 256GB or $1,350 for 512GB) or you can buy it directly from Apple and get a $150 gift card.

If you need more power or a bigger screen, check out our Best Black Friday Laptop Deals post, where we have discounts on the well-equipped, multi-port-toting 14-inch MacBook Pro on sale for $1,600 ($400 off) and the most powerful Apple laptop, the 16-inch MacBook Pro for $2,000 ($500 off).

Jeff Dunn

Apple AirPods Pro (second generation) for $249 with a $75 Apple gift card from Apple

Also at Amazon for $199 and first generation for $159 at Walmart

AirPods are more convenient than any other wireless headphones we’ve used, they offer essential features like spatial audio and transparency mode, and the sound quality isn’t generally too bad for the price, either. You can absolutely find other headphones that beat any of Apple’s comparably priced AirPods models in either sound quality or noise cancellation (though you’d be hard pressed to find anything that’s as easy to use wirelessly) but as a complete package, let’s just say that AirPods are wildly popular for a reason. Just don’t bother if you don’t have an Apple device to pair them with.

The best AirPods for most people are the AirPods Pro; they strike a perfect balance between price and performance. Both the first- and second-generation AirPods Pro are on sale right now. While both deals offer solid value, the second-generation is an objectively better pair of headphones in all relevant ways, as you might expect. If you can find use for a $75 Apple gift card, then we’d recommend grabbing Apple’s deal for the second-gen AirPods Pro.

Noise cancellation is improved, as is spatial audio performance, lending to a more immersive sound experience. The second-gen also improves listening time from four and a half hours on the first-gen to six on the latest-gen, while adding goodies like a MagSafe charging case with a built-in speaker and chip for new Find My capabilities, in case your AirPods ever go missing. The first-generation AirPods still sound very good, and noise cancelation is on the higher end of the spectrum compared to most earbuds. So, again, if you have no uses for a $75 Apple gift card, we can’t fault you for saving a few bucks and getting the first-generation Pros instead.

The Apple TV 4K with Apple's improved Siri Remote.
Enlarge / The Apple TV 4K with Apple’s improved Siri Remote.

Jeff Dunn

Apple TV 4K 2021 64GB for $100 ($130) at Amazon

Apple TV HD 2021 32GB $59 ($99) at Walmart

Apple just recently released a new revision of its Apple TV 4K streaming box, but it wasn’t a huge upgrade over the prior model unless you are using a TV that only supports HDR10+ instead of Dolby Vision. With the new one on the market, though, last year’s mostly-the-same model is steeply discounted, making it the best deal out there for a streaming TV platform. As always, its appeal compared to offerings from Roku and others is lessened if you’re not already living in Apple’s ecosystem, but if you have an iPhone or AirPods, the current discount is a steal.

If you don’t need 4K quality, the Apple TV HD is also on steep discount for the lowest price we’ve ever seen on a new Apple TV at $69.

The Apple Watch SE.
Enlarge / The Apple Watch SE.

Samuel Axon

Apple Watch SE second generation (40 mm) for $229 ($270) Amazon

Apple offers a plethora of Watch models now, including the new flashy, outdoorsy Apple Watch Ultra. But truth be told, the entry-level Apple Watch SE (available at 40mm or 44mm) includes most of the features most people would care to have. We’re not knocking the Series 8 or the Ultra—they have a lot to offer. If you want the most health-feature heavy device, the Apple Watch Series 8 is the way to go, and it’s on sale for $350 ($50 off) right now. But if you’re just looking for something to help you track your workouts and stay connected, the SE will do the job for a lot less money.

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14 Best Black Friday Laptop Deals: Apple MacBooks, Microsoft Surface, Dell, HP, And More

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Enlarge / Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8.

Andrew Cunningham

Black Friday laptop deals are as American as pumpkin pie. But tracking down worthwhile options can be tricky. Each model has variants, each of those variants have configurations with too many sound-alike model numbers (thank you, Intel), and many of the model names are unmemorable names.

We spend a lot of time looking at laptops and writing about them at Ars, so we’ve gone through the deals and highlighted the most noteworthy options, based on the laptops we’ve reviewed and know. Here are some laptop computer deals we think are worth knowing about.

Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

The 2022 MacBook Air.
Enlarge / The 2022 MacBook Air.

Samuel Axon

MacBook Air 2022 for $1,050 ($1,200) at Amazon

It’s not a mandatory upgrade over its M1-based predecessor, but the M2-powered MacBook Air is the best laptop for most kinds of Mac users. Thanks Apple’s impressive M2 processor, this entry-level model can do a lot with just 8GB of RAM, though the 256GB storage might push storage-hungry types to the Pro (also on sale right now).

Best Buy has a matching deal on the same model, and Apple’s offering a $150 gift card if you buy the newest MacBook Air at their store. You can also nab a 512GB MacBook Air for $1,299 at Best Buy and $1,499 at Apple (with the $150 gift card).

Two 2021 MacBook Pro models side-by-side.
Enlarge / Two 2021 MacBook Pro models side-by-side.

Samuel Axon

14-inch MacBook Pro 2021 for $1,600 ($2,000) at Amazon

The 2021 MacBook Pro is the hardware hard fork we’d been waiting for, a return to usable ports, reasonable keyboards, and function keys, largely powered by the advent of Apple’s own silicon. Ars’ Samuel Axon dubbed it “the best laptop money can buy for many use cases, provided you have a lot of money.” For a brief period, it’s a good bit less money at Amazon. A 14-inch model with an M1 Pro chip, 16GB RAM, and 512GB storage is $1,599 ($400 off). The same deal is available at Best Buy.

Want two more CPU and GPU cores each and twice the storage? That model’s currently on sale for $2,000 at Amazon, down $500 off the typical price. A 2022 model, with a slightly faster M2 chip and 8GB RAM, is $1,350 at Amazon ($150 off). Apple isn’t offering a discount, but buying a MacBook Pro qualifies you for an Apple gift card worth up to a $250.

16-inch MacBook Pro 2021 for $2,000 ($2,500) at Amazon

Everything about the 14-inch MacBook Pro applies to the 16-inch model—just with a bigger screen, and a price to match. This week, Amazon has a model with 16GB memory, 512GB storage, and a 16-core M1 Pro processor for $2,000 ($500 off). Best Buy has the same deal.

If you want the most powerful Apple laptop, a model with a 32-core M1 Max chip, 32GB RAM, and 1TB storage is $3,049 at Best Buy, $450 less than retail. Or you can pay full retail price through Apple and get a $250 gift card.

Microsoft's Surface Pro 9.
Enlarge / Microsoft’s Surface Pro 9.

Andrew Cunningham

Surface Pro 9 with keyboard cover for $1,100 ($1,300) at Costco

If you want a Windows device that can be both a tablet and laptop, the Surface Pro 9 is the best to do that job, after more than nine hardware revisions and spin-offs. The crisp 13-inch screen, 12th-generation U-series Intel processor, and the nice feel of the keyboard cover (included with this deal) keep the Surface as the archetype of the portable-but-still-type-friendly laptop computer.

It’s pretty hard to beat this keyboard-included deal on a brand-new device. But if you’re not a Costco member, Best Buy offers the same model Surface Pro 9, sans keyboard, for $1,000 ($100 off) and an upgraded i7/16GB model for $1,400 ($200 off). Amazon also has an i7/16GB model with 256GB storage for $1,349, about $250 off retail.

Surface Pro 8 with keyboard cover for $900 ($1,350) at Best Buy

Not a whole bunch changed between the Surface Pro 8 and 9, minus a processor upgrade. If you’re looking for a more affordable entry point into Microsoft’s hybrid, we liked the Pro 8 one year ago, and it’s still a worthy purchase, especially at this discount with a keyboard cover included. Best Buy has the i5 8GB RAM 256GB storage model on sale for $900 with a graphite-colored keyboard cover and 15 months of Microsoft 365 to sweeten the deal.

The Surface Laptop Go 2.
Enlarge / The Surface Laptop Go 2.

Andrew Cunningham

Surface Laptop Go 2 for $600 ($700) at Best Buy

One of the biggest problems we had with the Surface Laptop Go 2 was that its base model with 4GB RAM isn’t useful for anybody. The other was that the $700 model, with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage, cost too much. But as we noted in our review, “if you can find it on sale … the Laptop Go 2 is a no-fuss budget laptop that’s worth considering if you can live with its flaws.”

Well, here you go. The 8GB RAM, 128GB model is on sale for $600 at Best Buy ($100 off). If you need a portable mouse to go with it, and like the idea of a 3-year protection plan, Microsoft is offering all that for the price of $655.

That's not just a spacious deck; it's a massive touchpad.
Enlarge / That’s not just a spacious deck; it’s a massive touchpad.

Scharon Harding

Dell XPS 13 Plus for $1,500 ($1,850) at Best Buy

This revamped version of Dell’s long-running ultrabook series made “wild design choices” to support a more powerful 12th-generation Intel CPU. If the most important thing for you in a laptop is performance, this laptop can really cook, and it looks and feels slim and classy. But it gets hot, its keys are tightly spaced, and its port selection is limited.

Best Buy has three variants of the XPS 13 Plus on sale: one with 32 GB RAM and 1 TB SSD for $1,700 ($400 off), 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD (as we reviewed) for $1,500 ($350 off), and if you want to sacrifice an OLED display, an FHD+ model for $1,350 ($300 off).

HP's 13.5-inch Spectre x360.
Enlarge / HP’s 13.5-inch Spectre x360.

Scharon Harding

HP Spectre x360 13.5” for $900 ($1,250) at HP

The 13.5-inch Spectre x360 has “a little something for almost everyone,” we wrote in August. It “gets an A+ in looks and scores high (but not perfectly) in design details.” It wasn’t top of its class when compared to other ultralights in its price range, but at this price the Spectre is earning better grades against the curve.

HP has a model with an i5-1235U processor, 8GB RAM, 512GB NVMe SSD, and a 1920×1280 IPS screen for $900 ($350 off). You can tweak some of those elements, including doubling the RAM for just $60 more, at HP’s site.

System76 Lemur Pro.
Enlarge / System76 Lemur Pro.

System76 Lemur Pro 14-inch for $1,150 ($1,200 at System76

Linux-focused laptop vendors don’t bust out huge sales around Black Friday, or generally much at all. They’ve got other things to focus on than container-ship-scale volume. So when System76 knocks $50 off its redesigned 14” Lemur Pro, the one with the touted 14-hour battery life, it’s worth taking note. You can choose between Pop! OS and Ubuntu 22.04 pre-installed, a whole lot of storage and RAM options, and certain configurations will get free shipping.

Other laptop deals we like

  • Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 15-inch laptop PC (2496×1664, Core i7-1185G7, 32GB RAM, 1TB SSD) for $1,900 ($2,400) at Amazon
  • Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 13.3” (1920×1080, Core i3-10110U, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD) for $549 ($699) at Best Buy
  • Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 from $899 up to $300 off at Microsoft
  • Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio from $1,400 up to $400 off at Microsoft
  • Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i 13-inch Chromebook ‎(1920×1080, Intel Core i3-1115G4, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD) for $300 ($420) at Amazon

Listing image by Samuel Axon

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Windows Subsystem for Linux with GUI apps launches for Windows 10

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Enlarge / The latest Microsoft Store version of the Windows Subsystem for Linux allows for graphical apps, systemd support, multiple distributions, and a lot of questions about whether you have three different options enabled on your Windows 10 system.

Kevin Purdy

The Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), one of the best reasons to run Windows 11, is now available to Windows 10 users, in the latest version and with all its features. WSL dropped its “preview” label with this 1.0 release, and aims to simplify its installation from here on out.

Getting the best version of WSL used to mean installing big, system-level Windows updates (including 11 itself). As part of its broader moving of key apps into its Store, Microsoft now offers the most feature-rich version of WSL there. “The in-Windows version of WSL will still receive critical bug fixes, but the Store version of WSL is where new features and functionality will be added,” Windows Developer Platform Program Manager Craig Loewen noted in a blog post.

Loewen noted that the “WSL community’s requests” drove Microsoft to make the latest, GUI-ready framework version available to Windows 10 users. Now a Store installation is the default, even if you use the command line (PowerShell) to install and update WSL. Now anyone whose system is capable of running WSL has access to graphical apps and (optional) systemd support, and can hopefully spend less time wondering which WSL version they have, what they need, and what the differences are.

And yet even Microsoft understands this leaves a lot of versions of WSL in existence. There’s WSL 1 and WSL 2, and Linux distributions for both of them. There’s the in-Windows version of WSL—enabled as an “optional component” in Windows—and the Store version. This update, Loewen writes, should “simplify our versioning story.” WSL 2 is the default distro version and Store install. It’s how you run Linux with direct integration into Windows.

I got the Store version of WSL running on my Windows 10 desktop, but only after five restarts and quite a bit of support forum wandering. This might have been due to having previously tinkered with WSL on the system.

I installed every system update waiting for me, but that wasn’t the cause of the “incompatible version” errors I was receiving. I visited “Turn Windows features on or off” from the Start menu (separate from “Manage optional features”) multiple times to check and ensure that “Virtual Machine Platform,” “Windows Hypervisor Platform,” and “Windows Subsystem for Linux” were all enabled. I checked my BIOS for hypervisor support (enabled), double-checked that I had WSL 2 set as my default (it was), and installed Ubuntu two or three times from the command line until it actually happened.

Once installed, it was rather impressive to have Linux apps up and running in Windows (even if they complained quite a bit about various dependencies and warnings). For someone who needs that one specific utility not offered on Windows, or is just Linux-curious without wanting to go the full partition-and-dual-boot route, it should be an easier on-ramp now that it’s in the Microsoft Store.

Listing image by Microsoft

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