Given the pandemic, we are likely to have a new record for online shopping this year. The combination of concerns about COVID-19 and the continued shut down of brick and mortar stores, particularly big-box stores, will push a record number of us to shop online.
In anticipation of this move, Microsoft has aggressively updated its new Chromium version of the Edge browser with several features that should help you find gifts and save money while remaining far safer while on the web.
Let’s talk about these improvements to Edge this week, and we’ll close with a new notebook computer from Gateway, which appears to have the near-perfect blend of size, price, and performance for our new COVID-19 normal.
I tend to live on Amazon, but even during Prime days I’m never sure if I’m honestly getting a great deal or not. But comparison shopping is a pain in the butt as you have to juggle several tabs and make sure the products are the same.
For instance, I bought a TV a few months back that I thought was a good deal, but it had been created specifically for the retailer to get a lower price, and one of the features I wanted, HDR support across all the HDMI links, had been deleted. Now I get an alert every time I watch TV that the TV doesn’t support this feature. It feels like the TV is continuously rubbing in my mistake, and it has become annoying enough that I’m tempted to replace the TV again.
This month, Microsoft is rolling out price comparison, which should help you find a better price while shopping online. You should be able to try this out today, if you have the new Chromium Edge browser, by adding a product to a collection and then click on the option “compare price to other retailers.” This feature should then generate a list of prices of that item across retailers and links to the pages that allow you to complete the purchase.
I currently use Rakuten (my wife turned me onto this utility), which gives you rebates when you buy online unless you are using a site like Amazon Smile, which instead shifts that money to a charity (mine is the Humane Society).
Bing Rebates work in a similar way to Rakuten, but it is built into the browsers and is more automatic. When you search for products, brands, or categories, you’ll see Bing Rebates right in the search results. You do have to sign up for Microsoft Rewards first; then, on a 90-day cadence, you’ll automatically get the rebate in your PayPal account. In contrast, Ruketen sends you a check — which isn’t ideal given the state of the U.S. Postal Service right now.
This month, with Bing Rebates you can get cash back from fashion, electronics, groceries, travel, games, entertainment, and books.
Collections + Pinterest
My wife uses Pinterest far more than I do, and I’ve never used it for shopping though I know many do. Collecting gift ideas into Pinterest has always been pretty handy, but now you can integrate that feature with Edge Collections.
You take your ideas, and instead of putting them in Pinterest, you place them into an Edge collection (use the pin symbol on the top right of the browser or right-click on the page and choose “add the page to collections”). By the way, if you haven’t used collections yet, they are convenient. I use the feature mostly to collect e-books I may want to buy and read later.
Pinterest integration with Edge will look at your collection and show suggestions from Pinterest at the bottom of your collection page. This feature should help you identify potential gifts for others — or yourself — that you may not have discovered otherwise.
Give With Bing
This feature was enabled earlier this year, but somehow I missed the announcement. This capability allows you to use your Microsoft Rewards points (which you also accumulate just by searching on Bing) to one of 1.4 million non-profit organizations all over the world.
This feature is kind of like Amazon Smile but with far greater reach and the potential for earning more money to give. According to Microsoft, people have donated over one million dollars to worthy organizations using this feature thus far.
Last week Microsoft expanded this feature from U.S.-only, to the UK, Canada, Australia, France, Italy, Germany and Spain. You can find the dashboard to sign up here. I’ve already signed up myself and according to the dashboard I’m giving 365 points to the Humane Society of Central Oregon SPCA so far this month. That’s about 36 cents, though I typically get to a couple of bucks by month or something like $24 a year, but if everyone did this, the amount generated could be huge, and it doesn’t cost you anything but the time you are already spending to search and shop.
Now we move from gifts and giving to surviving the pandemic, and one of the things I miss is doing things with friends. Teleparty (formerly Netflix Party) allows you to watch a video with your remote friend and video conference at the same time. When I downloaded this feature, it was still only working with Netflix, but shortly it should also work with Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Go, and Disney+, along with Netflix. It has integrated chat if you want to go to full screen. According to Microsoft, theirs is the only service that allows 4K streaming, which likely means I need a new 4K monitor for Christmas.
The holidays are coming, and under the pandemic they’ll likely be a ton different for many of us. We should be in the midst (thanks to being forced indoors) of a second COVID-19 wave and stuck at home. But with these new browser features, we should be able to save money. We can simultaneously go shopping, help our favorite charity, create wish lists for ourselves and others, hang out virtually with our friends, and watch movies (given that our local theaters just closed again, that maybe our only choice).
Microsoft launched several other exciting features as well. These include improved InPrivate browsing — in case you go places online that you don’t want people to know about; a Wonder Woman 1984 theme (for whenever that movie shows up); an Esports hub that consolidates news, game streams, matches, tournaments, and team info from multiple platforms — Twitch and YouTube are both supported; and some enhancements to the Apple version of the Edge browser for iOS.
Given the Edge browser is free, this is an early present from Microsoft — and not a bad one. I guess Christmas came early this year.
The Gateway Creator Series 15.6″ With AMD Ryzen
I’m continuing my search for the perfect pandemic notebook, and my latest candidate is the AMD powered Gateway Creator Series 15.6″ offering. With an aggressive price at Walmart (they appear to have an exclusive at the moment) of $799, this is a genuinely decent value.
My view of a pandemic laptop is you don’t need battery life, nor do you need high portability because you aren’t going anyplace. What you need is a big screen (15.6″ is pretty big), decent power (this laptop has both AMD’s Ryzen 5 and NVIDIA’s GTX 1650 graphics system), decent sound (THX 7.1 Spatial Audio tuning), movie capability (THX display calibration), and decent video game support because, as I pointed out, you aren’t going anyplace for a while.
This laptop isn’t the thinnest, nor the lightest, nor the best-looking laptop. But this thing screams value. If you want something affordable to get you through being stuck at home, this could be the perfect laptop for you.
The blend of AMD and Nvidia technology has always been one of the little-understood synergies in this market. Intel and Nvidia don’t get along well, but the processor side of AMD and the graphics side of Nvidia seem to have some weird Romeo and Juliette lovefest going on, because they get along just fine. The result is that you tend to get more synergy between AMD and Nvidia than you do between Nvidia and Intel, particularly now that intel is rolling out their high-performance graphics and their EVO platform that is Intel-only.
Now, battery life on this Gateway kind of sucks at 5 hours, but that isn’t uncommon for a high-performance laptop, and again, where are you going where you need the battery now anyway? It is too big for a coach seat on a plane. Still, I’ll bet you aren’t flying for the foreseeable future any more than I am — and who cares about pretty if no one sees you in person anyway? It isn’t bad looking, but it doesn’t have carbon fiber, aluminum, or leather. (I mean, seriously, many of us spend our days not wearing pants, who cares what your laptop looks like?)
This laptop emphasizes performance, screen size, and affordability, and I think that’s where it should be during a pandemic. Most of the companies I’m talking to say working from home will continue indefinitely. Many are now reporting productivity increases, higher worker engagement and satisfaction; and executives are telling me that they are okay with giving up travel altogether. So this new normal is likely to be the norm for some time.
If you want a laptop that is perfect for the world as it exists for most of us stuck at home, the Gateway Creator Series 15.6″ FHD Performance Notebook may be your best choice — and it is my product of the week.