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Now this is 5G worth paying for

July 10, 2020, 1:31 PM UTC

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The wireless industry’s usual case for why you should upgrade to a 5G phone lacks a certain oomph today.

After we’ve all switched to streaming music and video apps like Spotify and Netflix, we don’t have to download big music and video files to our phones anymore. So the super-fast download speeds on 5G seem kind of beside the point. And we like to use our mobile phones on the go, in line at the supermarket, waiting for a subway, wherever (prior to the pandemic, at least). So 5G’s super-limited availability seems like a big drawback.

At this point, it’s pretty hard to make the argument that many people should shell out $1,000 or more just to get a 5G phone.

But today’s Data Sheet comes courtesy of a new laptop I’m trying out from Lenovo called the Flex 5G. It’s a pretty standard business PC in many respects, though with a Qualcomm CPU instead of one from Intel or AMD. That means insanely great battery life, but not all Windows apps are compatible. You can read about the Flex 5G’s performance and other features in my review.

It’s also, as the name suggests, the first laptop to hit the market with built-in 5G wireless support (Dell, HP, and others have rival offerings coming soon). And it’s a game changer.

Suddenly, having a super-fast connection is really useful. When you can find an area covered by Verizon’s 5G service, it’s so fast it not only leaves every other mobile connection in the dust, but it’s also even faster than the fastest home Internet speeds. Like twice as fast.

Need to grab a big PowerPoint deck from the office server? Bam, you got it. Want to download a bunch of high-resolution photos from your cloud service? It’s done in seconds. Working with cloud applications is also smoother. I’m not a gamer but I’d have to think that online gaming is another great use case.

Finally, since I’m rarely walking around while working on my laptop, the coverage gaps in 5G don’t matter as much. I can plant myself on a bench in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood with Verizon’s 5G coverage and I’m in business (in our post-COVID future, I’ll be able to plant myself in the Starbucks down the street, too). There’s still not enough coverage, but it’s expanding regularly.

Someday, there will probably be amazing 5G apps for your phone, maybe offering virtual reality or real-time control of robot butlers or something. But for now, the 5G laptop makes a lot more sense. Enjoy your weekend.

Aaron Pressman



Someone's banging on the keyboard. Speaking of laptops, the pandemic has been good for sales, with so many people around the world now forced to work from home. PC shipments jumped 11% in the second quarter, according to IDC, which includes Chromebooks in its calculations. And speaking of laptops that forgo Intel processors, Apple's shift to its own "Apple silicon" will start with 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models later this year, with more fully redesigned 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros coming in 2021, according to usually reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.

Life can only be understood backward. What, Intel is facing some challenges? You don't say. This week, the unthinkable happened when the rally in rival chipmaker Nvidia's stock price pushed its stock market value past Intel's for the first time ever. Nvidia closed on Thursday valued at $259 billion versus $247 billion for Intel, according to Koyfin data. If you include debt and subtract cash and calculate what's called enterprise value, Intel is still ahead $266 billion to $250 billion. But it reminded me of the moment 10 years ago when Apple's stock market value pushed ahead of Microsoft's for the first time. As was the case then, the up and coming rival still trailed way behind in financial results. Intel is expected to have five times more revenue and eight times more cash flow than Nvidia this year, so the market is looking pretty far into the future, as it often does.

But it must be lived forwards. Just like we'd hoped, the travails of Quibi are a never-ending font of material. A day after an outside report said only a tiny fraction of free trial users were converting to paying subscriptions, Kberg and the Whit struck back. The report from market tracker Sensor Tower is “incorrect by an order of magnitude" and the service is “seeing excellent conversion to paid subscribers,” Quibi said on Thursday.

You kids get off my home screen. The teen activists of TikTok, dubbed the TikTok-tivists, are again trying to disrupt the Trump campaign. After flooding a campaign rally with fake ticket requests, now they are flooding the campaign's iPhone app with negative reviews. The President has mused about banning the app, but that's apparently not an easy case to make legally. Still, to fight criticism in the U.S., TikTok owner Bytedance is considering making changes to further distance itself from China, like establishing a separate headquarters in another country.

Ba-Bawk-Bawk-Bawk. The pandemic has spread wildly in meat-packing plants and the big meat processors have a new idea to get people off the line: robots. Tyson Foods has spent $500 million to develop a robot that can debone and cut up chickens at high speed. “We are on the cusp of a significant rollout,” director of manufacturing technology Doug Foreman tells the Wall Street Journal.

All quiet on the western front. There's apparently a bit of an outage of some top mobile apps today. Spotify, Pinterest, and Tinder are offline for many users. Maybe it's time to read a book?


The new Bourne Collection has nothing to do with Robert Ludlum's fictional action hero. Rather, it's the personal papers of computer search expert Charlie Bourne put together by the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. As curator Marc Weber explains, Bourne invented one of the first search engines.

Charlie wrote the specification for perhaps the earliest example of modern online search, where you search the full text of documents on a remote computer. Lynn Chaitin did the programming. The remote computer was one of the behemoths custom-built for the SAGE nuclear warning system. Engelbart had arranged to use it through his funder, computing giant J.C.R. Licklider at ARPA.

The test worked perfectly, even allowing Boolean qualifiers like "and" and "or." Licklider himself was researching what would become his 1965 book Libraries of the Future, which predicted that by the year 2000 all literature would be online, and searchable, with the massive task of cataloguing eased by weak AI.


A few long reads I came across this week:

Why the NSA Called Me After Midnight and Requested My Source Code (Data Driven Investor)
The story behind my top secret coffee cup.

How 'Have I Been Pwned' became the keeper of the Internet’s biggest data breaches (TechCrunch)
When Troy Hunt launched Have I Been Pwned in late 2013, he wanted it to answer a simple question: Have you fallen victim to a data breach?

A 28-Year-Old With No Degree Becomes a Must-Read on the Economy (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Subscribers to Nathan Tankus’s newsletter, Notes on the Crises, aren’t bothered by his lack of diplomas.

The remote British village that built one of the UK’s fastest Internet networks (Ars Technica)
The serene, postcard-perfect village of Clapham is becoming known for more than its views.


How TikTok became a geopolitical flashpoint By Naomi Xu Elegant

What is Dogecoin? By Robert Hackett

Professors and universities find creative solutions to keep international students from getting deported By Michal Lev-Ram

Why you shouldn’t completely shrug off those millennial trends By Lucinda Shen

Uncle Sam wants you! To report stimulus fraud By Anne Sraders

Gold is booming during Covid-19. Smuggling is too. By Jeremy Kahn

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)


Usually you have to travel to San Diego and pay for airfare and hotels and tickets and stuff to attend the annual Comic-Con show (and dressing as a favorite superhero is encouraged though not mandatory). This year, the show is all online and completely free. It starts July 23 with panels on shows including the upcoming HBO adaptation of His Dark Materials, CBS's Star Trek: Picard, and the new Amazon series Utopia starring John Cusack, Rainn Wilson, and Ashleigh LaThrop.

In need of a more immediate diversion this weekend? The new Charlize Theron thriller The Old Guard is out on Netflix and getting great reviews, while Tom Hanks' latest World War II flick Greyhound is on Apple TV+.