A closer look at Windows 10 S, Windows 10 on ARM and Windows 10 IoT

Windows RT, Microsoft’s ill-fated attempt to rival the iPad with a version of Windows that ran on ARM chips, made a lot of changes to the familiar OS to move it to a new processor and make the apps that run on it more efficient and secure.

Now Microsoft is coming out with two new versions of Windows and dividing those changes between them: Windows 10 S and Windows 10 on ARM. This isn’t about the limitations of using ARM processors – it’s about crafting versions of Windows that solve very specific problems.

So let’s look in depth at these fresh operating systems, also comparing them to that other spin on Microsoft’s OS, Windows 10 IoT, which is aimed at the likes of smart home gadgets and much more. How do all these different flavours stack up and compare to each other – and to Windows 10 itself – in the overall picture?

It’s Windows 10 on ARM but Microsoft and Qualcomm often just call it Windows 10

Windows 10 on ARM

Windows 10 running on ARM processors will be very much like Windows 10 itself, with only one main restriction. You’ll be able to run apps from the Windows Store on Windows on ARM, but you’ll also be able to run Win32 apps – whether they come from the Windows Store because they’ve been packaged with the Desktop Bridge tool, or whether you download them from the web at large and install them as normal desktop apps.

Windows on ARM has a built-in emulator for 32-bit apps that’s based on the Windows on Windows (WOW) technology that Windows 10 uses to run 32-bit (x86) software on 64-bit (x64) PCs. The real-time ‘Just-In-Time’ transcoding emulation that converts x86 instructions to ARM is done the first time you run the software, and then it’s cached by Windows – so the next time you run the software, you’re running the ARM64 version of the code that was created on-the-fly the first time, making it run without significant lag or delay.

Windows on ARM looks like Windows 10, has the Windows 10 desktop and runs Windows software like 7-Zip

The aim with Windows 10 on ARM isn’t to get a super-secure system – that’s what Windows 10 S is for. Rather, it’s to let OEMs build PCs with the long battery life and built-in connectivity of ARM solutions like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835. Many of these ARM devices will be ‘Always Connected’ PCs with embedded SIMs (eSIMs) that let you switch carriers without plugging in a physical SIM, but there will be Always Connected PCs with eSIMs that have Intel rather than ARM processors as well. (Always Connected is really the latest version of Connected Standby, a feature introduced in Windows 8.) 

Confusingly, Microsoft and Qualcomm are simply calling this ‘Windows 10’. What you get is Windows 10, with the Windows 10 desktop, but it’s Windows 10 running on ARM rather than on an Intel or AMD CPU. In practice, the only difference will be that 64-bit desktop software won’t run on these devices.

How Windows 10 on ARM runs desktop software

That’s not a technical limitation – ARM64 chips could run emulated x64 instructions as easily as x86 instructions, although x64 has more registers which the emulation would have to cope with.

Microsoft hasn’t been able to give us a reason why x64 isn’t supported, and it may simply be that it’s reusing the WOW 32-bit emulation it already had for running x86 code on x64 systems, and that rewriting that to run x64 code as well would be a lot of work. (Many app installers are 64-bit even when the apps they install are 32-bit, so it will be interesting to see how this 32-bit restriction works in practice).

Similarly, when Microsoft talks about ‘Windows 10 on cellular PCs’ that’s more likely to mean PCs with LTE and eSIMs than phones that run desktop apps, even though the latter is technically possible.

Windows 10 S

Designed for schools – and to compete with Chromebooks – Windows 10 S is far more restricted than Windows on ARM, even though the first systems will have x86 processors inside (and schools can put Windows 10 S onto their existing Windows Pro PCs). It’s these restrictions that give Windows 10 S faster boot times and better battery life than Windows 10 on the same hardware; there are no startup applications or background tasks slowing down boot or using up battery.

Windows 10 S only runs apps that come from the Windows Store, and you can’t sideload UWP apps from other sources. Those apps can be desktop apps like Evernote and Slack, Spotify and iTunes, which have been converted for the Store using the Desktop Bridge – that’s how Microsoft will get Office 2016 onto Windows 10 S.

This is the one place where Windows 10 S is potentially less locked down than Windows 10 on ARM – it’s possible to convert 64-bit desktop apps to Store apps and those converted apps should run on Windows 10 S.

That’s not going to include Firefox or Chrome though, because the Windows Store policies only allow browsers that use the Edge and Chakra HTML and JavaScript engines included in Windows. If Chromium was wrapped as a Store app, it would get the virtualised registry and redirected file system of a UWP app, but converted apps have the ‘runFullTrust’ capability that lets them perform operations outside the app sandbox. And that would make a Store version of Chrome no more secure than a desktop version.

“Just because an ‘app’ comes from the Windows Store does not automatically mean it’s safe and suitable for running on Windows 10 S,” explained senior program manager Rich Turner. Similarly, converted apps that generate code and write it to disk “won’t run properly on systems running Windows 10 S”. So Minecraft will work, but a developer tool like Visual Studio won’t.

Remote tools like Citrix Receiver will be the only way to get apps that don’t come from the Windows Store ‘running’ on Windows 10 S

You will be able to run desktop apps – including Chrome – remotely, using Citrix Receiver (but you must have a XenDesktop environment to remote those apps from). That works because any security or power impact from the desktop apps happens on the remote server, not on the Windows 10 S device.

Windows 10 S has no command line or console, so it doesn’t include the Windows Subsystem for Linux (even though that’s now distributed through the Windows Store), or even PowerShell. That means that malware which uses scripts, PowerShell or macros to attack Windows just won’t work on Windows 10 S. (And having no command line stops users sideloading apps that don’t come from the Store).

It also means that while Windows 10 S PCs can be set up using a USB stick produced with a special setup tool, they have to be managed using the built-in MDM client, via Microsoft’s Intune service. That has controls for networking and browser settings, and can even turn off the camera on the device during school hours, but it doesn’t slow the system down the way group policies do. 

Windows 10 S works with Windows Update for Business, which lets admins choose when the twice-a-year feature updates and monthly quality updates get installed, including setting the time of day and deferring them by up to 30 days – but not blocking them altogether.

Windows 10

If the restrictions in Windows 10 S stop you running software that you need, or you want more control over updates, you can upgrade those systems to Windows 10 Pro – not Windows 10 Home (and for a short time, that upgrade will be free). It’s tempting to think that this might make Windows 10 S a replacement for Windows Home in the future: users who want simplicity, security, superior performance, a streamlined experience or whatever else the ‘S’ stands for could pick Windows 10 S, and power users could pay extra for Windows 10 Pro. 

That probably depends on just how many of the apps mainstream users want arrive in the Windows Store. If there are enough, businesses might also pick Windows 10 S for users who don’t need the extra power, and the security risks that come with it. But Windows 10 will still be there for developers, gamers and power users who want all the options.

The three versions of Windows 10 IoT

Windows 10 IoT

There’s another version of Windows that runs on both ARM and Intel processors – Windows 10 IoT – which comes in three flavours. Windows 10 IoT Core is a cut-down version for specialised ARM or x86 devices that may or may not have a screen but can still run a single UWP app or Windows features like Cortana (as long as the device has a screen in the latter case), but not the Windows Shell. 

Windows 10 IoT Enterprise is a full version of Windows 10 Enterprise for building embedded devices like ATMs and thin clients on x86 systems, and Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise is for building embedded systems on ARM, for handheld devices like scanners and industrial PDAs.

  • We’ve highlighted all the best deals on Windows 10 this month

The best cheap Dell laptop deals in June 2017

Update: We’ve verified these deals for the month of June, so save away!

We’re all aware that Dell makes some of the best laptops around, but did you know they could be cheap, too? Well, as long as you know where to search, there are plenty of Dell laptop deals floating around the web.

However, there are several types of laptops to choose from when browsing around for a new Dell. This Inspiron line ranges from entry- to mid-range computers, while the XPS is all about delivering high-end power in the most portable form factor.

Then, there’s Alienware, a Dell company that focuses on gaming laptops – those with discrete graphics chips and usually backlit keyboards to boot. For that reason, it can be tough to figure out all the best Dell laptop deals in each of these categories and product lines.

That’s why we’ve decided to take care of the dirty work for you, cataloging all of the best Dell laptop deals onto a single page. Just remember that these deals are available as of last writing, so note the article’s time stamp.

The best Dell XPS 13 deals

As does any other laptop maker with its leading product, Dell actually runs deals on its XPS 13 rather frequently … just not as big of ones or as often as, say, its mid-range Inspiron lineup. Being Dell’s most wanted laptop, it makes sense. 

With up to a 13.3-inch, 3K IPS touchscreen inside an 11-inch aluminum frame, Intel’s latest Core i processors as well as Thunderbolt 3 and an SD card slot, the XPS 13 is ready for all sorts of users for work and play.

Below you’ll find the best deals we could find on the XPS 13 in the UK, US and Australia. Just note that most XPS 13 deals listed are with entry-level specs, so check to make sure whether the version you want has the hardware you want inside, too.

Read the full review: Dell XPS 13 

The best Dell XPS 15 deals

The XPS 15 is, frankly, a bigger XPS 13. However, that extra space inside the 14-inch frame (fitting a 15.6-inch version of that beautiful screen) allows for Nvidia’s GTX 960M mobile graphics chip.

All else equal, this makes the XPS 15 even more suitable for professionals and players alike, though considerably less mobile. And, of course, a bigger screen asks for a bigger price tag.

Below are the best deals we could muster on the XPS 15 in the UK, US and Australia. We’ll say it again: note that most XPS 15 deals listed are with entry-level specs, so check to make sure whether the version you want has the hardware you want inside, too.

Read the full review: Dell XPS 15 

The best Dell Inspiron 11 deals

Dell’s best Windows-based answer to the Chromebook army is the Inspiron 11. A tiny bit of power to accommodate such a tiny price, this laptop is ideal for students of basically all ages, but not for those in computing intense fields (i.e. animation, media editing, etc), and anyone seeking a cheap way to get online.

Since this is nearly the least expensive laptop money can buy, deals on these are sparse. 

Below are the best deals we could muster on the Inspiron 11 in the UK, US and Australia. Note that most Inspiron 11 deals listed are with entry-level specs, so check to make sure whether the version you want has the hardware you want inside, too.

The best Dell Inspiron 14 deals

This is one of Dell’s most entry-level laptops, but has recently managed to make it feel anything but. With expandable storage and an HD webcam, you’re looking at a solid college companion for the liberal arts student or a fine laptop for mom and dad now that you’ve left the nest. 

It won’t do much of any gaming, but its processor should stream Netflix at 720p just fine. As a family photo repository and keeping in touch with the kids – or heck, write that thesis – device, the Inspiron 14 is a fine Chromebook challenger.

Below are the best deals we could muster on the Inspiron 14 in the UK, US and Australia. Note that most Inspiron 14 deals listed are with entry-level specs, so check to make sure whether the version you want has the hardware you want inside, too.

The best Dell Inspiron 15 deals

For whatever reason, we’ve been told by Dell and other computer makers that you folks really dig gigantic laptops with legacy features. Hence, the Inspiron 15 5000 is among Dell’s most popular, so much so that two great deals are currently available for the device that clings onto what Apple has long abandoned: SD cards and DVDs.

Of course, don’t go expecting MacBook-like levels of performance here – not even close. But, if you still have a dear DVD collection, this may be the 15-inch laptop for you.

Below are the best deals we could muster on the Inspiron 15 in the UK, US and Australia. Note that most Inspiron 15 deals listed are with entry-level specs, so check to make sure whether the version you want has the hardware you want inside, too. 

Read the full review: Dell Inspiron 15 7000

The best Dell Inspiron 13 2-in-1 deals

Perhaps you want a smaller, lighter and more versatile experience – like we would. In that case, this version of the Inspiron might be your bag.

It’s slick, lightweight and offers several ways to use it – just like the XPS 13 2-in-1. Well, save for the insanely powerful hardware and beautiful screen. Though, for most folks, what’s inside this hybrid laptop is just fine.

Below are the best deals we could muster on the Inspiron 13 2-in-1 in the UK, US and Australia. Note that most Inspiron 13 2-in-1 deals listed are with entry-level specs, so check to make sure whether the version you want has the hardware you want inside, too.

Read the full review: Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 

The best Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming deals

For those seeking a gaming laptop without dipping into their life savings, the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming might be your bag. It’s essentially a souped-up version of the standard 15-incher with far stronger graphics.

Of course, don’t go expecting Alienware 15-level performance here. But, what this Inspiron offers should be enough for smooth 1080p gaming at moderate settings. So, no wonder why folks are interested in saving even more on it.

Below are the best deals we could muster on the Inspiron 15 Gaming in the UK, US and Australia. Note that most Inspiron 15 Gaming deals listed are with entry-level specs, so check to make sure whether the version you want has the hardware you want inside, too.

Read the hands-on review: Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming

The best Alienware 13 deals

Dell’s Alienware brand of gaming laptops looks better than ever these days, though sadly it seems to be pricier than ever as well. For instance, the starting Alienware 13 model comes with an HD screen at 1,366 x 768 resolution.

Luckily the component options quickly ramp up from there, but of course so does the pricing. With an absolutely beautiful OLED display on the table, we’ll take whatever deal we can get.

Below are the best deals we could muster on the Alienware 13 in the UK, US and Australia. Note that most Alienware 13 deals listed are with entry-level specs, so check to make sure whether the version you want has the hardware you want inside, too.

The best Alienware 15 deals

Those seeking the newest Nvidia graphics behind screens fine-tuned for gaming are well-served by Dell’s Alienware brand. Notoriously expensive, any deal you can get on Alienware hardware is worth consideration if you want a gaming laptop not just with powerful components but strong style and support.

The Alienware 15 simply expands upon Dell’s fresh new design, bringing with it access to Nvidia’s mid-tier GTX 1070 mobile graphics for even better power. This model also comes starting with an FHD (1,920 x 1,080) screen – phew!

Below are the best deals we could muster on the Alienware 15 in the UK, US and Australia. Note that most Alienware 15 deals listed are with entry-level specs, so check to make sure whether the version you want has the hardware you want inside, too. 

  • Now, these are the best laptops – bar none

The best cheap Chromebook deals in June 2017

Update: These deals have been verified for the month of June, so save away!

If you don’t want to shell out hundreds for an Ultrabook or MacBook and an under-powered, cheap Windows laptop is not an option, a Chromebook is the cheapest way to buy a laptop. That said, scoring deals on already frugal laptops can be quite the challenge.

Even so, dig deep enough, and you’ll find Chromebooks from Acer, Asus, Dell and other big name device makers discounted drastically for the month of May. Below, we’ve listed the top deals on our favorite Chromebooks across the board. Just keep in mind that some of these deals may expire before our next update, so pay attention to the date published.

This is where you should begin your quest for a Chromebook. At 14 inches in screen size and inside a cute frame, the HP Chromebook 14 offers a decent middle ground for the indecisive shopper. With standardized parts inside, this Chromebook can do essentially everything its closest rivals can and then some, with its microSD card reader and slew of ports – unlike similarly-priced, tinier Chromebooks.

Read our full review: HP Chromebook 14

It’s almost as if Dell hand-crafted this Chromebook to work done in the classroom. It’s got an indicator light on the lid that teachers can use as if the student raised his or her hand to answer a question. And, it’s rubberized in many places to better survive drops and dents. It’s an awfully mobile laptop, too, making it ideal for work at almost any class level, or if you just want a lightweight web browser and email machine.

Read our full review: Dell Chromebook 11

If you’re seeking a large laptop but don’t want to pay the premium, Chromebook deals are the right ones to hunt. Acer’s crafted a powerful, 15.6-inch Chrome machine that can house plenty of stronger components than most other laptops at its price range. It doesn’t do much that’s unique to its larger size so much that it simply does those things more. For many, that’s a value proposition worth trying to find the best deal over, and this just so happens to be the best one.

Read our full review: Acer Chromebook 15

The R11’s subtle design may not win any awards, but behind that white shell is a surprisingly fit notebook destined to last an entire day’s work. It’s even among the first Chromebooks to support Android apps by way of the Google Play Store. So, if you’ve ever wanted to use Firefox on a Chromebook, now you can. The R11 packs day-long longevity, snappy performance and a 360-degree hinge with touchscreen. It won’t burn your wallet, thereby making cons, like an iffy trackpad and barely-HD screen, a little easier to take.

Read the full review: Acer Chromebook R11

Acer tends to run the roost of our Chromebook roundups, and for good reason: it makes great Chromebooks. If you want the look and near-feel of a MacBook Air, despite it getting practically cut off, Acer makes a Chromebook for that. Its Chromebook 14 looks and feels like Apple’s famous notebook on the outside, but of course can’t feel like using one with how little it costs. Still, a full HD screen is one thing this super-cheap laptop has and the MacBook Air doesn’t, so there’s that.

Read our full review: Acer Chromebook 14 

  • Now, here are the best Chromebooks we’ve reviewed – bar none

The best Dell XPS 13 & 15 deals in June 2017

Update: These deals have been verified for the month of June, so save away!

As Dell’s flagship notebooks, the XPS 13 and its larger sibling, the XPS 15, are not only among the top critiqued laptops, but they’re also in such high demand that finding a deal is like tripping over a unicorn.

Dell’s slick, sharp and strong XPS laptops aren’t cheap. In fact, the XPS moniker is supposed to be indicative of a top-end, premium-level PC. But, when a laptop costs more than some mortgages, buying a Dell XPS 13 or 15 at full price is often not an option.

Though you may be ready to scoop up any Dell XPS 13 deals or Dell XPS 15 deals that come your way, chances are you probably should pump the brakes. As such, follow along as we sift through the muck and mire of the web for you, in turn (hopefully) saving you from digging too deep in your pockets for this duo of trendy notebooks.

The best Dell XPS 13 deals

As does any other laptop maker with its leading machine, Dell actually runs deals on its XPS 13 rather often … just not as large of ones or as frequently as, say, its mid-range Inspiron lineup.

Being Dell’s most lusted-after laptop, it makes sense. With up to a 13.3-inch, 3K IPS touchscreen inside an 11-inch aluminum frame, Intel’s latest Core i processors as well as Thunderbolt 3 and an SD card slot, the XPS 13 is ready for all sorts of use in work and play.

Below you’ll find the best deals we could find on the XPS 13 in the UK, US and Australia. Just note that most XPS 13 deals listed are with entry-level specs, so check to make sure whether the model you want has the parts you want inside, too.

Read the full review: Dell XPS 13 

The best Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 deals

For those who crave the unwavering versatility of a 2-in-1 notebook, turn your head to the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1. This is a laptop that, although it bears the limitations of a 1.3GHz Y-series Intel Core i7 processor, is quite stunning in its look and its feel. 

For starters, the backlit keyboard and glass-coated trackpad are natural to the touch. And don’t let the 1,920 x 1,080 FHD screen resolution bring you down; this InfinityEdge display might not seem like much on paper, but in person, it’s exquisite. That goes without mentioning the webcam, which is now centered as opposed to being offset to the left.

Below are the best deals we could muster on the XPS 13 2-in-1 in the UK, US and Australia. We’ll say it again: note that most XPS 13 2-in-1 deals listed are with entry-level specs, so check to make sure whether the version you want has the hardware you want inside, too.

Read the full review: Dell XPS 13 2-in-1

The best Dell XPS 15 deals

The XPS 15 is, frankly, a simply larger XPS 13. However, that extra space inside the 14-inch frame (fitting a 15.6-inch version of that beautiful screen) allows for Nvidia’s GTX 960M mobile graphics processor.

All else equal, this makes the XPS 15 even more suitable for professionals and players alike, though only considerably less portable. And, of course, a bigger screen asks for a heftier price tag.

Below are the best deals we could muster on the XPS 13 in the UK, US and Australia. We’ll say it again: note that most XPS 15 deals listed are with entry-level specs, so check to make sure whether the version you want has the hardware you want inside, too.

Read the full review: Dell XPS 15

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Broadband deal of the week: £150 reward card with BT Infinity fibre

Call it a reward, call it an incentive, call it a bribe. To be honest, you can call it what you like – all we know is that if you sign up for BT Infinity fibre broadband by midnight on Thursday June 8, you’ll be sent a £150 Reward Card.

It only takes a quick perusal of our broadband deal comparison chart to see that this deal makes BT Infinity effectively the cheapest way to get high-speed broadband right now. Once you’ve paid the £59.99 activation and Smart Hub delivery fee, monthly payments for BT Unlimited Infinity 1 are only £28.99. Once you take the £150 bonus into account, that means you’ll pay just a tad more than £250 over the course of the one-year contract. That’s exceptional, considering that BT Infinity runs speeds of 52Mb – equivalent to around 6.5MB per second. Rapid.

If you need even more speed, then the £150 Reward Card is also available on BT Unlimited Infinity 2, which delivers speeds of up to 76Mb. The tariff rises to £41.99 a month, with a reduced upfront set-up charge of £19.99. And don’t fear if fibre isn’t yet available in your area… BT hasn’t forgotten about you. You’ll receive a £100 Reward Card with the 17Mb BT Unlimited Broadband, for which you’ll pay £23.99 a month after a £9.99 router delivery charge.

What is a BT Reward Card?

The Reward Card that BT sends out is a pre-paid credit card that you can use anywhere that accepts Mastercard. In short, that’s around a million shops, cafes and restaurants around the world, so you shouldn’t find it difficult to find places to spend, spend, spend.

It’s an old-fashioned chip and pin card, rather than contactless. But do make sure that you claim your Reward Card within three months of signing up to BT, otherwise you’ll lose out on all that cash.

Best broadband deals

If you’re still um-ing and ah-ing over whether to go for one of these BT broadband offers, or if you want to see what other TV or phone options there are, then check out our dedicated BT broadband comparison chart below. And if you want still more internet alternatives, then head on over to our main broadband deals comparison page.

What I learned running a marathon with no tech

Let’s get something out of the way right now: if you’re someone who doesn’t like to run with a watch or music, a running purist, then you won’t like this recollection of my Liverpool Rock’n’Roll Marathon.

But if you’re like 99% of the people that I was rubbing shoulders with at the balmy start, then you’ll shudder at the thought of running any race without something on your wrist monitoring what’s happening.

Maybe you’ve not gone ‘full watch’ yet, preferring a phone with your favorite app, but whichever method you use nearly every runner wants to look back at specific highs and lows of any run, and especially in a marathon.

Last week I said I wanted to run the Liverpool Rock’n’Roll Marathon without a watch, but I shoved in loads of caveats. My plan was merely to not look at my watch during the race, but as I was preparing my race kit the night before I realised I should do it properly.

This marathon was a ‘freebie’. I’d signed up on a whim last week, wondering if there was any pace left in my legs after my heavy training for the London Marathon last month.

  • How a running watch saved my London Marathon

In the time that had elapsed, I’d basically not run any distance over 10k, preferring to get back to enjoying speed work and setting some delightful personal bests. I’d even had a week off running, ending a 608 day streak of lacing up my trainers every day and panting around town.

I’d eaten all the cake and burgers. I’d made friends with alcohol again after a six-month sojourn. I’d run a very fast 10K on the Thursday… and then gone out and drunk a LOT of beer, champagne and prosecco the next day, getting to bed tremendously late and waking up far too early just a couple of days out from the race.

I was reminded of a quote from ‘Keep On Running’ by Phil Hewitt, the diaries of a serial marathoner: ‘You need everything to come right if you are to run a good race. Absolutely everything.’

I had done everything I could to make sure nothing was going to come right.

The sad, exposed moment the flesh was stripped of its power

So, back to the night before: I decided that if I was to really experiment with my free marathon, I should learn something about myself. How do I really do in a long race without being battered by data the whole time? Do I really need music? Could I actually enjoy something like this?

I resolved to do it. I put away the Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR watch I had primed, I turned off the Apple Watch 2, and I tidied away my headphones. On the day it would just be me and a pair of trainers… nothing else.

(Well, apart from shorts and a t-shirt and socks obviously. I was pretty sure they were mandatory.)

Thanks to my immense hangover from the day before, I actually slept for about nine hours before the race, my body desperately trying to rebuild itself from the destruction I’d put it through… before a marathon. Before trying to run 26.2 miles.

It was amazing sleeping through the whole night before such a big race – I knew I had done everything I could to ruin my chances, so I was fully relaxed. I awoke  like a lazy cheetah having a nap in the sun, munched on some porridge, toilet’ed a couple of times and ambled down to the start.

But even that slow jog was a struggle… and I realised that I didn’t actually know the time without a watch. I started trying to work out the hour by the height of the sun, but I realised I didn’t know how to do this (and it was cloudy).

Alone with no tech

Thankfully, I made it with plenty of time to spare, pitching up at the start and slipped into my ‘corral’. (Not pens… the Rock’n’Roll Marathon Series is an American concept, so that took a moment to work out).

I looked around – everyone had a watch or a phone. Everyone. Admittedly I was starting fairly far forward as I hoped to do the race in under three and a half hours (the humility radiates off me, I know) but I suddenly got nervous, realising I was about to leap into the unknown without any idea how I was going to do.

There would be no music to lift my spirits when things got tough. There would be no rise in emotion when I saw that I was ahead of pace… but then again, no despondent feeling when I was behind.

The issue here was my goal – you need to have an idea of what you’re intending to do so when your brain starts to melt out of your ear through tiredness, you’ve got a plan to fall back on. 

I knew I was in bad shape, but at the same time my mind had crafted a lot of reasons that I would shatter my personal best because…well, I’m a deluded idiot (AKA, a runner).

I’d rested so well the last few weeks. That had to be worth a few minutes. The London training wouldn’t have left me. My speed was increasing in shorter races. I wouldn’t have the pressure of having to keep checking my watch to know how I was doing. 

I would float around on a nirvanic cloud, enjoying the feeling of listening to my body, and I would turn the last corner to see the clock only just having clicked past three hours and I’d get my Good for Age time to get me a spot in the London Marathon next year.

The Beatles did some stuff 50 years ago. The city was proud.

The klaxon sounded. We were off. And as I crossed the line my hand twitched to my wrist to start the timer, only to semi-erotically caress naked flesh.

I was in, and there was nothing to do but run for the next three to four hours.

Well, actually after about 200 meters, there was something to do: spill around a slow woman playing on her phone. She was dawdling along and fiddling with an app, seemingly unaware of the fast runners (again, humble, I know) having to break and spill around her like a rock in a stream.

I still can’t work out whether she was a late-starter from the half marathon that began an hour ago, or just someone who didn’t realise how important it was to start in the right pen…corral. Either way, it was a narrow miss.

After that, it was just enjoying the city, Liverpool putting on its best front for the runners. At each mile was live music, the crowds were thin but lively, and the course excellent.

I was having a great time – I managed to miss the first two mile markers and realized that I had no idea if I’d set off too fast. I was sweating a bit, despite the thankfully cooler conditions, so all I had to do was sip on my water bottle or, well, run.

(One other thing I’d tried with this race was taking on more gels. I always wondered if I under-fuelled during long runs, so I packed as many as I could into my fashionable bum bag / fanny pack and went for it. This was bouncing around hard behind me, but I figured it would get better as I sucked through my sugary harlots).

When I got to three miles, I instinctively looked down to see how I was doing for the 5 kilometer distance. My assortment of thin arm hair just stared back at me quizzically, essentially saying ‘I don’t know. 24 minutes? What do you want me to do? I’m just follicles.’

What was interesting (to me, anyway) was that I kept passing, then getting re-passed, by the same people over and over. The course was a touch hilly in the first half, and I’m pretty good up the inclines, but terrible down them.

I mean, who can’t harness gravity? What’s wrong with me?

It got to the point where I was passing the same chap up each hill and he’d steam past me afterwards – after the third time of this happening, we got chatting as I pointed out between us we had the undulations sorted. 

We laughed in a very British way and then had to deal with the awkwardness of panting next to each other without saying anything for a while.

The course, however, was a visual treat, dragging away from the inner city out to the stadia of Everton and Liverpool football clubs, through the cramped housing and dilapidated but beautiful buildings. 

There was a boarded up street where a single sign hung, heralding the demise of the Liverpool Red Triangle Karate Club. I wished I could have been there in the heyday.

(Update: I’ve had a browse and it may actually still be open. I’m signing up if I can work out how I can actually get into the building…)

Credit: John Bradley, Wikipedia (cropped)

At about 10K we started to hit more parks, and my spirits were still lifting. I had no idea how fast I was going, but people around me were starting to breathe more heavily – thanks to my lack of headphones, I had nothing to concentrate on but my form and breathing and I was happy mine was seeming OK. 

I guessed my heart rate was nice and low, as I didn’t feel sick, I’d had a couple of gels and things were going well. My senses felt slightly heightened through the lack of music, taking in far more of what was going on.

Case in point: a man ran past me coming out of one of the parks, and he smelled amazing. I briefly thought about speeding up to tell him, but then decided that might have been a bit weird.

Or would it? Surely everyone likes compliments? No, it would be. Best leave it.

Eight miles popped its head up. I was heading downhill, still feeling good… but something happened. People started to stream past me and disappear. I didn’t want to speed up any more than I had to, as I knew that I was going to suffer at some point with my lack of training.

Even when we hit flat and uphill areas, I didn’t catch them. I started to worry. Was I out of gas already or were they speeding up? With no watch on, I had no idea, so just kept going and dancing like a freakin’ idiot past every band to keep me occupied.

At 10 miles, I passed a clock and accidentally looked at it. Dammit, now I had an idea of how long I’d taken and an idea of my time… except I read it wrong and spent three minutes trying to do incorrect calculations. I’d either run it in a personal best or the slowest 10 miles of my life.

As we passed 11 miles, I saw my father, who shouted out ‘YOU’RE ON FOR 3:05!’.

Goddammit Dad, were you not listening to me at all at dinner last night? I didn’t want to know this!

But something must have clicked subconsciously, as all of a sudden I was picking off everyone in front of me with zero feeling that I’d changed pace. And I mean I was flying past, easily clearing all those that got me a few miles ago and then some more.

I decided that now was the time to tune into the body, monitoring my pace through nothing but my breath and how rhythmically I could move my legs. It was tough to do, but it must have worked in some way, as I don’t really remember what happened between then and 19 miles.

I hooked up with a few other runners going at a similar pace, and started chatting to them to keep me occupied, trying to switch between keeping an eye on my breathing and having a lovely time with my new chums.

Russ was trying to go all out to break his time of 3:23 from the year before. Bryan was angry that he ‘messed up’ London, going from a sub-3 attempt to a 3:20 with a last 6 miles collapse. And Matt just wanted to do the same as me: see how well he could do after London, albeit with better training and diet.

They also discussed pace – we were still on for around 3:06 after 14 miles. This didn’t lift my spirits as I knew I was going to fall apart at some point, so I just hung onto them and hoped for the best.

We must have set some cracking mile times then though, as the pace between us definitely ramped up. Bryan suddenly bolted into the distance and I never saw him again, and at about 16 miles Russ gave in and stopped for a breather. 

(I still don’t know which Russ it was, but sadly nobody with that name finished faster than 3:27, according to the results).

But me and Matt forged on. We pushed and pushed, running together until a hilly section at 18 miles and I started to get worried. We weren’t doing a silly pace at all, but I knew I was probably going a touch fast, and in a marathon five seconds per mile can make all the difference.

I slowed. I slurped more gels, starting to really loathe the feeling of my rhythm being broken to achieve this. Then the 19 mile mark popped up, and the anchor was thrown out behind me. I was struggling hard, and I had no music to switch on to distract and lift my spirits.

The only thing of note was that I suddenly caught Matt up again, and asked him how he was. ‘Terrible,’ he breathed. ‘You?’ 

I resisted the urge to ask my pace, but I knew it was terrible. ‘Yeah, getting chewed up now,’ I said, which looking back was probably a bit cryptic. ‘Promise to get each other to mile 20 before we walk?’

I offered my hand, and Matt shook it. We were two warriors together, ploughing past some fancy houses in Liverpool, and we were going to make it as a pair. 

I knew that we would get to 20 miles and then push on to 21. Then the 22 mile mark would roll around and we’d realize it was so close to the end that we were going to mak…

‘Sorry mate, I’m going to have to walk,’ wheezed Matt a minute or two later. I nodded and shook his hand again, running on but reduced to a lovely shuffle by this point.

After that, the run to the end became nothing but a grind. Going down a main road and under a tunnel was dull and difficult, every change of direction torture on my hips.

At mile 22, the pacer running to finish in three hours and 15 minutes whizzed past me, his time flag whipping proudly in the wind.

That was it. My race was done – I wasn’t going to get a good time. At least I was in a nice park by this point, and heading downhill. But there was no point in pushing any more, as it didn’t matter what time I recorded.

The painful finish

After that, it was a long, drawn out run along the river for the final three-and-a-half miles, punctuated by me deciding to walk a bit for every mile. I took on some caffeine to perk me up, and then counted to 50 before going again.

I’m not sure if the caffeine helped, but I started talking to the first person I could find at around my pace, and we ran the next couple of miles together without walking. 

Then I saw one of my good friends from my running club at mile 24, who had done the half marathon together, and while him running too fast and chatting alongside me was torture, at least I could leave all the pace to him and just try and drag myself along too.

But while it was a lovely thing to see him, this was the first time in the entire race that I’d been glad of not wearing a jot of technology. I knew I was reduced to a shuffle, but I didn’t need my watch pinging up telling me just how far my pace had fallen. 

I was so tired that there was no way it would be motivating, just a club to the face reminding me that usually I can run this pace with my eyes closed.

Eventually, the turning for the line came into sight, a muted affair but one with a big crowd. My friend turned off and I was left with a slingshot to the line.

Then came the best part of the marathon – any race, in fact – and one that gives me goosebumps still to think about it. The point when the finishing line is in sight, the time is ticking away ahead of me on the big yellow clock, and the crowd is at its greatest.

While you spend any marathon mostly running ‘easily’ you’re largely using your aerobic systems, where your body is using oxygen to fuel your muscles. This means that your sprinting, anaerobic, system is largely left untroubled and oddly intact after three and a bit hours of running.

I’m an attention seeker. The crowd is usually so entranced by politely clapping runners in that all it takes is one fist pump and a huge cry of ‘COME ON!’ to get  the place to erupt.

That’s precisely what happened here, and it was magical. The roar of the watching hoards still makes the hairs on my neck rise, remembering the sensation of lifting my tired legs to a sprint.

I could feel every muscle straining, and I was keeping a few brain cells locked to making sure nothing went ping, given I’d just lifted these legs 50,000 times.

Like Maximus, raising the gladiatorial crowds. But with scary-faced sprinting.

But the rest of me was flying, sprinting with every sinew to catch the guy in front. The commentator was screaming ‘Look at Spider-Man go! He’s sprinting!’ And the crowd was roaring me on.

I crossed the line just under 3:17… my official time clocking in at 3:17:45. 

I was jubilant. Seven minutes lost? I’ll absolutely take that. I probably made up about 30 seconds just sprinting at the end, which I didn’t do at all in London, but overall that wasn’t a fall as large as I was expecting.

A few days on, and reflecting back on the tech-less marathon, I’m not sure how I feel. There was certainly no pressure, and not having anything to think about other than running was lovely and, well, pure.

I also loved not having to be repeatedly told that my pace was falling to terrible levels towards the end, not seeing a virtual pace disappear into the distance.

But I missed my watch terribly. Today’s running tech is so slick that there’s no worry about getting set up at the start – GPS lock is rapid and it’s just a simple tap to get going, not messing about with phones and cables and tiny displays.

The best thing about the Liverpool marathon was the lack of pressure. I had no time in mind. If I’d stopped, I wouldn’t have cared, no training to have wasted, no effort I should have put in unused. It was me against me, and the satisfaction of being able to run that quickly while almost purposely trying to scupper myself felt fantastic.

I feel like I’ve learned another few bits about what makes up my marathon puzzle, knowing what I need to do to enjoy the race rather than feel like it’s a demon to be thwarted. And that feels ace.

(Although, I still slightly hate them. Marathons are still really, really far and no technology can change that).

  • Gareth Beavis is TechRadar’s Running Man of Tech, testing the latest in fitness technology in a never-ending quest to run further and faster and bringing you the results in this column.
  • If you want to say hi, he’s @superbeav on Twitter
  • You can see his stumblings on Strava
  • And for more data, follow him on Smashrun
  • And if you want to get the full lowdown on the latest and greatest running tech, read the rest of the Running Man of Tech story here

Snap’s Spectacles have launched in the UK – so why aren’t people snapping them up?

Snapchat Spectacles are now available in Europe, which means a bevy of ‘Snapbot’ vending machines have popped up – much like the one that appeared in San Francisco at the US launch. 

You know, the one where demand was so high, people were limited to two pairs each and were queuing round-the-block for their chance to get some Snap Spectacles, only for the booth to sell out of the device.

TechRadar went to visit the Snapbot vending machine outside the London Eye in the capital to see who was getting their hands on Snap’s Spectacles on their first day of being available in the UK, hoping to see the same bout of enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the same excitement and queues seen at the US launch were sorely missing in London. 

For the hour we spent by the vending machine, there were only eight purchases made, and only two of those were solely for personal use.

We interviewed some of those who did (and didn’t) buy the Spectacles to find out what was happening.

Cheerful, not so cheap

Pretty much everyone that we interviewed worked in advertising, media, or tech, and was looking to utilize this new technology for their company. One person that we spoke to who worked in advertising was very upfront about her intentions: “I’m going to be really honest with you, I work in advertising and I want to put them in my creative’s hands.”

Sean Tracey from the Labs department of the Financial Times had similar intentions: “We quite like the idea of trying to engage people in new mediums with news media… especially younger millennial audiences.” 

This feels significant. The marketing for Spectacles definitely feels millennial focused but is the price millennial friendly?

This was the longest the queue got

At one point while we were waiting, a mother and teenage son came and looked at the Snapbot. The son was clearly very interested but the mother seemed less convinced. When asked why they weren’t buying a pair, the mother Kayla said: “He is interested, it just depends how much he’s got in the bank. 

“It is a lot of money in my eyes for a pair of sunglasses with a camera on it, when you can pick your phone up and film.”

Tom, who bought a pair for himself and a pair for his office had this to say about the price: “You’d spend the same amount of money or higher on Ray Bans or Oakleys, so the fact that you can use these to record and take pictures straight away it’s probably about right.” 

There is always the possibility that the lack of queues are down to the fact that the Spectacles are also available online. 

In the US, the vending machines were the only place you could get them when they first launched. 

The Spectacles are definitely a talking point but it will be interesting to see how many pairs we’ll see on people’s faces over the coming summer. 

If our ‘snapshot’ of launch is anything to go by, then they’ll be rarer than spotting an Apple AirPod in the wild.

  • If you want to learn all about the Snap Spectacles, check out our review.

Samsung is about to launch a mesh Wi-Fi system of its own

For those looking for a little home project this summer, Samsung has announced pricing and availability details for its new smart Wi-Fi hub system.

The Samsung Connect Home goes on sale in the US on July 16, with pre-orders available exclusively from Best Buy starting June 5. You can choose to purchase the Connect Home either solo for $170 or in a three-pack for $380.

For those looking to step things up, Samsung will also be offering the Samsung Connect Home Pro for $250 a pop. Designed for homes or offices that stream a lot of data across multiple devices, the Connect Home Pro offers twice the speed while keeping the effective range of 1,500 sq. ft. the same.

 No place like (smart) home 

Combination router and smart home hub, up to five Connect Homes can connect together to provide both Wi-Fi coverage to a home and connectivity with Samsung’s SmartThings system.

This means that not only can Samsung’s internet-enabled puck get you online, but you can also monitor your network access, adjust lights and temperature, or even limit usage on certain devices right from your smartphone screen.

Smart router systems are nothing new, most notably with Google Wifi offering similar features down to its own monitoring app. 

That said, Samsung Connect Home is the first of its kind to sync up internet coverage with the tech giant’s suite of home automation services, so those willing to go all in on SmartThings may be interested in doing a little shopping this coming July.

  • Automated homes are tricky, but they’re getting better

Google is adding an ad blocker to Chrome in 2018

Google will stop showing all ads on offending websites in its Chrome browser starting next year, the search giant announced today.

Weeks of speculation that Google planned to introduce its own ad blocker for Chrome led to today’s official announcement, with Senior Vice President, Ads & Commerce Sridhar Ramaswamy outlining the company’s reasoning to block all ads for publishers that don’t get in line. 

While acknowledging, “the vast majority of online content creators fund their work with advertising,” Ramaswamy also noted that “annoying, intrusive ads” have led users to block advertisements altogether via extensions and other tools.  

Google’s approach is to encourage better advertisements that both publishers and visitors can live with. The search giant has joined the Coalition for Better Ads and will use its Better Ads Standards as a guideline for best advertising practices.  

“In a dialogue with the Coalition and other industry groups, we plan to have Chrome stop showing ads (including those owned or served by Google) on websites that are not compliant with the Better Ads Standards starting in early 2018,” Ramaswamy said. 

What are bad ads?

According to the Better Ads Standards, examples of bad desktop ads include pop ups, auto-playing video ads with sound, “presitial” ads with countdowns (ads that don’t let you onto a page until a timer runs out) and large sticky ads. 

On mobile, examples of offending ads include many of the same as well as ads with a density higher than 30%, full-screen scrollover ads and flashing animated ads. Google’s ad blocker is said to work on both desktop and mobile devices.

Google is giving publishers at least half a year months to ready themselves for the ad blocker tool roll out, according to sources speaking with the Wall Street Journal.

The publication reports ad blocking will be on by default, and will stop all ads from appearing on websites that have too many that result in a negative user experience.

Google is treating the new tool more like a filter than a proper ad blocker, the Wall Street Journal says. 

Comply or…

Google is also providing resources for publishers so they don’t suddenly lose all their advertising (and associated revenue). 

The company has published an Ad Experience Report to help website owners identify whether ads they serve violate the Better Ads Standards. Google provides examples with screenshots and videos of annoying ad experiences as well as a best practices guide for what constitutes acceptable ads. 

Another tool Google is introducing is called Funding Choices. This lets publishers post a customized message to users coming to their site with an ad blocker turned on. Users will have the option to either allow ads or make a payment to bypass all ads. Transactions will be completed through another new tool called Google Contributor. 

Funding Choices is already available in North America, the UK, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, Ramaswamy said, with a roll out in more countries planned for later this year.  

It’s no surprise Google is introducing this ad “filter” as it ensures some ads are served up rather than no ads at all. 

However, there’s sure to be push back as publishers rely on ad revenue in order to show their content for free. What’s more, with Google the ultimate arbiter of good and bad ads, the search giant may be seen as wielding too much power – more so than it does now – in the online advertising game. 

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Plex adds live TV streaming to its box of tricks

If the ideal cable-cutting software had a face and a name, it’d be Plex. Plex, a service known for its ability to send TV shows and movies from your PC to any device running it has always excelled streaming stored content, but soon it will have the ability to stream live content, too. 

Plex’s plan allows you to grab live over-the-air channels via a TV tuner connected to a PC and stream them to your tablet – imagine Sling TV or YouTube TV but without an expensive bill at the end of the month. 

The play into the live TV space comes after Plex announced the ability to record live TV content from an over-the-air tuner in September, and now goes one step further by allowing you to watch content as it happens instead of waiting for it to be transcoded and stored on your PC. 

While Plex’s move to allow live TV streaming will be appreciated by the horde of cable-cutters out there, there are two caveats here worth pointing out: 

First, Plex can only transmit data it collected from a TV tuner – that means it’s limited to stations like ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS, CW, Univision, etc… 

Second, in order to use either the live TV streaming or live TV DVR options, you’ll need to be a Plex Pass which sets you back $4.99 per month (or $39.99 per year or $119.99 for a lifetime subscription).

Is this the future of local TV? Find out at 11…

So why is this a big deal? Considering other live TV services might never get the rights to stream local channels (Sling TV, PlayStation Vue and YouTube TV need to negotiate streaming rights with every single local station to stream those channels), Plex might be the only way you can stream those channels to your mobile devices. 

Adding this live streaming functionality to a service like Plex that already catalogs downloaded content and can send it to nearly any device? Well, that’s just icing on the cake.

To supplement today’s announcement, Plex also said that it would support several new TV tuners – including ones made by Hauppauge, AVerMedia, DVBLogic and others – and a complete list can be found on Plex’s website.

The live TV streaming feature rolls out today on Plex on any iOS or Android TV platform, including the Nvidia Shield, with Android mobile and Apple TV to follow. Expect support for other platforms to follow soon after.

  • More of a Kodi person? Here’s a list of the best Kodi/XBMC boxes in 2017