Windows 11 was released last year, and now Microsoft has pushed out the first somewhat sizable update for the desktop operating system. The upgrades are helpful yet relatively small compared to some of the big OS changes Microsoft has made in the past. It seems Microsoft didn’t feel like it had all that much to improve on, considering that chief product officer Panos Panay called Windows 11 “the most used and most loved version of Windows ever” in this week’s announcement.
Microsoft highlighted new accessibility and security tweaks to the desktop OS. New accessibility enhancements make live captions more prominent and add more “natural” sounding automated text-to-speech narrators. A new Focus mode works like a do-not-disturb feature on your smartphone, blocking all onscreen notifications for a set amount of time.
On the security side, Microsoft says it will soon be adding identity-theft alerts to Windows Defender (if you subscribe to the Microsoft 365 office suite). Microsoft Defender SmartScreen tells you if you’re putting login info into a website that is known to be malicious or has suffered a data breach.
There are also some layout and usability changes like improved window snapping, which lets you snap individual browser tabs to different parts of the screen. (Hooray, places for even more browser tabs to go.) There are some new updates to Photos as well. Some are focused on creating more pleasant visual arrangements, and others find new ways to display old photos of memorable events, even if sometimes you may not want the reminder.
Microsoft also played up its environmental efforts, saying that it can now schedule power-hungry system updates at a certain time of day in specific locations so they’ll put less strain on electrical systems. Sleep and screen-off settings have also been tweaked to use a little less power.
Here’s some more news from the world of consumer tech.
A More Hackable Chromebook
Framework, a company that designs gadgets with repairability in mind, has a new laptop coming out. It’s a Chromebook—the result of an official partnership with Google—that’s built to be ultra customizable. Like Framework’s more traditional laptop PCs, the Chromebook features four port slots that can be customized with a combination of connectors. There are options for USB-C ports, HDMI connectors, Micro SD slots, and even 1-terabyte storage options. The pieces that slot in are hot-swappable, which means you can swap your ports or storage on the fly if you need a different connector. (Don’t worry, there’s a headphone jack built in.)
And since Framework is big on repairability, the Chromebook is also built to be taken apart. It ships with a screwdriver that can be used to disassemble just about any part of the machine, and you can swap out internal parts, or even the keyboard and screen bezel. For the privacy-minded, it has a physical switch that instantly shuts off the mic and camera.
The Framework Chromebook is available for preorder now starting at $999. The company says it will start shipping in early December.
Google’s Cheaper Chromecast
Google’s plug-n-watch Chromecast is a handy little puck that you can slug into the side of a TV to stream movies and shows from all sorts of services. Google’s got a new Chromecast now, and at only $30 it’s a simple, cheap option for running streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Max on just about any screen or monitor.
It’s definitely a budget option. The resolution on the $30 dongle maxes out at 1080p; it doesn’t support 4K like Google’s $50 Chromecast, which is still available. Both come with a remote that accepts input from both your hands and your voice, and both work with Google’s Stadia cloud gaming platform.
Amazon Reignites the Fire
Amazon recently updated its cheapest Kindle, and now it’s sprucing up its Fire HD tablets. Sure, these cheap Android tablets are not iPads. They can’t even run the full range of Android apps. But if you or your kids have used and liked Fire HD tablets, or if your household gets most of its content from Amazon, this is a spiffy upgrade.
The two new Fire HD 8 tablet models get a claimed 30 percent speed boost according to Amazon. Both feature claimed 13 hours of battery life too. The base model starts at $100 and comes with 32 or 64 GB of storage. There’s also a Plus version, of course. The new Fire HD Plus gets an extra gigabyte of RAM (3 GB) and costs $120. Both tablets can accept microSD cards up to 1 TB if you want more storage.