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ASUS Zephyrus Duo 15 price confirmed: Weird comes at a cost
The ASUS Republic of Gamers Zephyrus Duo 15 has two displays. There’s the standard display in the lid of the laptop, then there’s another display (another touchscreen display) just above the keyboard. Both displays work with the same operating system, and both operate together. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a similar sort of machine, but it is definitely the most elegant execution of a dual-screen laptop such as this.
At the head of the ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 is a 15.6-inch PANTONE Validated non-touchscreen display panel. There are two options for this device: one, a 4K UHD IPS Adobe 100% panel with 60Hz image refresh rate. The other is a FHD IPS panel wit 300Hz sRGB 100% 3ms – also non-touch.
SEE TOO: ASUS new dual-screen laptop is pretty weird – and that’s just what we need
It’s the secondary display (called ScreenPad Plus, much like the ASUS ZenBook Pro Duo) that’s always a touchscreen. That’s in place instead of your standard touchpad. If you’re gaming, there’s a good chance you’re already using a USB or Bluetooth mouse to control what’s on your screen, so ASUS (safely) assumes you’ll be OK with your keyboard being in the lower half of the base of the laptop.
The part of the base that’s closer to the main display has the secondary display. That section rises up out of the base of the laptop when the laptop’s lid is opened. That secondary display is a touchscreen panel, and ASUS includes software that makes use of the panel in a number of unique ways.
– Processor: Intel 10th Gen Comet Lake i7-10875H OR Intel 10th Gen Comet Lake i9-10980HK
– Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 SUPER or 2070 SUPER with 8GB GDDR6 VRAM
– 1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C™, DisplayPort 1.4, TBT, PD input 20 V/3A；output 5 V/3A
– 2 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A (right)
– 1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (Bottom)
– 1 x HDMI (HDMI 2.0b support)
– 2 x audio jack: mic-in & headphone, plus mic-in
– 1 x RJ45 LAN
– 16 GB DDR4 3200 MHz onboard, plus 1 x SODIMM slot up to 32 GB (supports up to 48 GB total)
– Backlit chiclet keyboard, supports n-key, per-key with 1.4 mm key travel
– 2 x speakers, ESS + Hi-Res Audio (HRA) certification, supports smart amplifier, Nahimic Sonic Studio + ISST
– Microsoft Cortana (far-field mic array)
– Wi-Fi: 2×2 multi-atenna WiFi 6 (802.11ax)
– Size: 36 x 26.8 x 2.1 cm
– Weight: 5.29 lb
The secondary panel is the “largest second panel ever put in a production gaming laptop.” This panel rises up to a 13-degree angle for “comfortable viewing and touchscreen interaction.” This panel doesn’t just POP up, it works with smooth motion. “The custom hinge staggers the rise of the display to prevent damage and incorporates curved sliders that delay the deployment of the secondary screen.”
This panel rolls with IPS tech and 3840 x 1100 pixel resolution and 60Hz image refresh rate. This touchscreen also supports ASUS Pen active stylus. Users will find unique interaction with games like Dying Light 2 which “moves co-op chats to ScreenPad Plus for easy viewing, and adds touchscreen controls for easy switching between inventory items and quests.”
This laptop is available in three configurations from Amazon, Newegg, ExcaliberPC, HID Evolution, Xoticpc, and the ASUS Store online. You’ll find the least expensive version of the laptop with code GX550LWS-XS79 for approximately $3000. The version with code GX550LXS-XS96 will run closer to $3500, and the most high-end version GX550LXS-XS99 will cost you around $3700 USD.
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With a 2-in-1 design and a stunning 4K display, there’s a lot to love about Asus ZenBook Flip 15 UX563FD – especially if you’re in the creative industry. That said, the unreliable ScreenPad and position of speakers could be improved, considering the price of this laptop.
The Asus ZenBook Flip 15 UX563FD is primarily geared towards creatives, with an enviable display, a versatile design and a powerful processor – though all these elements could also be great for somebody looking for a high-end all-rounder.
Nonetheless, this laptop isn’t without its faults – which considering the premium price tag is a little frustrating.Price and availability
The Flip 15 sits at the higher end for laptops in its class, retailing at £1499.99/US$1549.99. Though the Asus website does list another model, there’s only the higher-spec 4K SKU on sale in the country right now. In the UK you can currently buy it from Asus directly, Amazon UK and John Lewis, along with Best Buy, if you’re in the US.
This is quite a big investment, so you’ll want to be certain that you’ll get use out of all the features that this device boasts. Other 2-in-1 laptops that sit in the same price range include the HP Spectre Folio and the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (7390).
If all you’re looking for is a 2-in-1 without the need of a powerful processor or a 4K screen – and would like to save a few quid – take a look at the other laptops that made our list of the best 2-in-1s out there.Design and build
Versatility is key with the ZenBook Flip 15, with a 360° hinge that allows you to use the device in multiple ways. From the traditional laptop mode, to tablet style (both vertical and horizontal), to propping the laptop upside down for things like watching Netflix. The hinge is smooth and not at all janky; the whole thing feels secure when moving it into different positions.
As this 2-in-1 boasts high specs, it isn’t a particularly portable laptop – weighing 1.9kg – so it’s not really one that can slip into your bag easily. The same logic applies to using it as a tablet – whilst the transformation is extremely handy, this doesn’t necessarily turn it into a device that you can use on the go or while standing.
This is more suited as a laptop for productivity – particularly for the likes of designers who’ll be using the tablet mode and stylus for creative work. For this review, I also tested the stylus from the Asus Collection, which comes included with the laptop.
The build of the stylus isn’t as premium as that of rivals like the Apple Pencil – it’s feather-light and feels a little flimsy – but this could come down to personal preference. Performance-wise, the stylus does have a bit of latency – something to be expected on a bog-standard accompanying accessory.
You can alter the touchpad to one of three modes: completely off, in traditional mode or use it as what Asus calls the ‘ScreenPad’, which turns it into a second mini-screen. On this you have a number of apps like Spotify, as well as creative tools like handwriting.
Some may enjoy the novelty of having a smaller screen on the bottom half of a laptop, but personally I found myself always wanting it turned off, mainly because it didn’t always work as expected. For example, turning off the ScreenPad mode and then trying to exit this via touchscreen didn’t always work – it would only close by using the keyboard button.
Other than the hinge and ScreenPad, there’s nothing particularly flashy or groundbreaking about the machine’s styling. The laptop only comes in one colour (Slate Grey) and one display size (15.6in), which is most likely to fit in with its target audience.
Though the foldable design makes the screen great for watching the likes of Netflix, depending on where you position the laptop, the speakers become slightly muffled, with the keyboard flipped back and rested on a surface – something quite annoying considering that otherwise, the 4K screen would make this a great streaming companion.
Ports-wise, you get a whole range: USB-C, two USB-A, HDMI, a headphone jack, a DC-jack and a microSD card reader.Specs and performance
The screen is the crown jewel on the ZenBook Flip 15, with a 4K UHD Pantone-validated touchscreen display and a 90% screen-to-body ratio. Colours contrast extremely well, and the quality is clear and vivid. It’s truly a pleasure to watch TV programmes and high-performance gaming videos on the 4K setting – made even more impressive by the slim bezels. Working on creative software like Adobe Photoshop is also especially pleasing.
When testing gamut coverage, the Flip managed 99% across sRGB and 77% across AdobeRGB with a colour accuracy average of 1.33. Overall these are pretty good scores, though the AdobeRGB score isn’t quite as high as other rivals. Therefore, if you’re an experienced graphic designer working on extremely detailed projects, you may want to consider something like the Dell XPS 15. If, however, you’re looking for something more broad (and less expensive), this is still a compelling choice.
As for the main systems, the ZenBook Flip 15 runs on a 10th-gen Intel Core i7, and comes with 16GB RAM and 1TB worth of storage; this is the only version that is on sale in the UK. It’s extremely quick and responsive to everyday tasks, even when running numerous programmes and apps at once. It comes pre-installed with Windows 10 Home.
Battery life on this laptop is pretty good, lasting most of the day, even when running high-performance programmes. It also managed nearly 14 hours in our internal battery stress test and charges very fast, with the included 120W power adapter – getting up to 47% in just 30 minutes from flat and turned off.
The PC comes equipped with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Max-Q GPU – which is a pretty decent graphics card. Combined with the processor and a whole bag of storage, you’ll be able to undertake creative tasks quickly and easily with this device. Of course, if you wanted to play the odd game as well, this laptop is more than capable of running most with these specs.
The built-in HD webcam on the top of the display is also infra-red-capable, meaning that if you want to turn on facial recognition to unlock the laptop using Windows Hello, you can.
Under our internal tests, the ZenBook Flip 15 performed well across the board – you can find out more in our benchmarking results below:Verdict
There’s a lot to love about the Asus ZenBook Flip 15. The large 4K display, durable hinge and powerful processor and graphics really make this a laptop that’s extremely tempting for designers, creatives and those who are guaranteed to use it for a combination of business and personal use.
However the ScreenPad is a bit glitchy and considering that this feature will have likely bumped up the price of the design, it’s annoying that it doesn’t work seamlessly. The speaker volume could also do with a boost or an adjustment to placement.
Nonetheless, the overall design and performance still overpower these niggles, so we’d still be happy to recommend the ZenBook Flip 15.Specs Asus ZenBook Flip 15 (UX563FD): Specs
Windows 10 Home
15-inch 4K (3840×2160) display
10th Generation Intel Core i7 10510U Processor
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Max-Q
8 -Cell 71 Wh lithium-polymer battery Battery
2x USB-A 3.1
1x USB-C 3.1
1x 3.5mm headphone jack
microSD card reader
Full size, backlit chiclet keyboard
Supports Windows 10 Cortana
Integrated Wi-Fi 6
356 x 229 x 19.9mm
Leaked last week, Microsoft has just officially confirmed the upcoming Xbox 360 4GB, the replacement to the 360 Arcade. Priced at $199.99 and set to begin shipping on August 3rd 2010 in the US, the new Xbox 360 4GB will also be offered as a bundle with the Kinect sensor for $299.99 this holiday season.
The Kinect sensor itself, meanwhile, will be $149.99 when that launches during the holidays, and of course it will work with both the refreshed Xbox 360 and the previous-gen model. There will be more than 15 games available at Kinect’s launch, including “Kinectimals,” “Kinect Sports,” “Kinect Joy Ride” and “Dance Central”, retailing for $49.99.
The Xbox 360 4GB, as the name suggests, lacks the 250GB internal hard-drive of the existing slimmed-down Xbox 360, having instead just 4GB of flash storage. It has built in WiFi b/g/n, touch-sensitive controls and a DVD drive.
New Xbox 360, Kinect Sensor and “Kinect Adventures” — Get All Your Controller-Free Entertainment in One Complete Package
Microsoft announces pricing for Kinect and a new Xbox 360 4GB console.
In addition, the new Xbox 360 4GB console, which begins shipping on Aug. 3 in the U.S., will be available for $199.99 (U.S. ERP). With a sleek new design, the Xbox 360 4GB console looks great and includes built-in Wi-Fi N, 4GB of internal flash memory, touch-sensitive buttons and a black matte finish. (2)
“Kinect for Xbox 360 offers tremendous entertainment value for the whole family,” said Dennis Durkin, Xbox 360 chief operating officer. “With full body, voice and the ability to play games with your friends right out of the box, Kinect is the most unique, complete and affordable way for everyone to enjoy controller-free fun and entertainment.”
With more than 15 games available at launch, living rooms will become fitness rooms, dance clubs and sports stadiums. Kinect games, including “Kinectimals,” “Kinect Sports,” “Kinect Joy Ride” and MTV Games’ and Harmonix’s “Dance Central” will retail for $49.99 (U.S. ERP). In addition to games, Kinect changes the way you experience entertainment by putting your favorite movies, TV programs, music and live sports from ESPN all in one place. Begin a movie by simply saying, “Xbox, play,” or browse through a music list with the wave of a hand. Kinect also creates new ways for friends and family to have fun together. With Video Kinect,(3) share a smile with friends and family, as you open a window into living rooms around the world.
“I think Kinect is a major leap forward in the gaming experience that will appeal to both mainstream and casual gamers,” said Michael Gartenberg, partner, Altimeter Group, and author of the Engadget Entelligence column.
About Xbox 360
Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.
(1)175 MB of memory required.
(2)It also has a one-year limited warranty on the console.
(3)Xbox LIVE Gold membership required for Video Kinect.
(4)Download tokens included in marked packages at launch, at participating retailers, while supplies last. 80 MB required to download from Xbox LIVE.
Lots of connectivity
Strong CPU and GPU performanceCons
Heavy and bulky
Short battery lifeOur Verdict
Lenovo’s Legion 5 Pro is a homebody, but strong performance and competitive pricing make it an excellent choice for gamers.
Lenovo’s Legion brand has established itself as a go-to option for gamers who want solid performance at a reasonable price. The new Legion 5 Pro looks to reinforce this with the latest Intel 13th-Gen processors and Nvidia RTX 4060 graphics. They provide a notable boost over last year’s model and maintain the Legion 5 Pro’s position as a go-to gaming laptop for those looking to spend less than $2,000.
Looking for more options? If so, check out our roundup of the best gaming laptops available right now.Lenovo Legion 5 Pro: Specs and features
CPU: Intel Core i7-13700HX
Memory: 16GB LPDDR5
Graphics/GPU: Nvidia RTX 4060 (140-watt TGP)
Display: 16-inch 2,560 x 1,600 165Hz IPS
Storage: 512GB PCIe Gen4 SSD
Webcam: 1080p with electronic privacy shutter
Connectivity: 1x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 with DisplayPort 1.4 and 140 watts Power Delivery, 1x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 with DisplayPort 1.4, 3x USB-A 3.2 Gen 1,1x HDMI 2.1, 1x Ethernet, 1x 3.5mm combo audio
Networking: WiFi 6E, Bluetooth
Battery capacity: 80 watt-hours
Dimensions: 14.3 x 10.25 x 1.05 inches
Weight: 5.51 pounds
MSRP: $1,699.99 MSRP, $1,449.99 retailLenovo Legion 5 Pro: Design and build quality
IDG / Matthew Smith
The Lenovo Legion Pro 5 is cloaked in a reserved navy-blue and black chassis. It uses simple, mostly untextured plastics that don’t look or feel remarkable but manages a more polished, professional vibe than alternatives such as the Acer Predator Helios, Asus TUF Gaming A16, and Dell Inspiron Gaming. It’s clearly a laptop designed for performance yet won’t attract unwanted attention in a meeting.
It won’t take up the entire table, either. Measuring at 14.3 inches wide and 10.25 inches deep, the Lenovo Legion Pro 5 is reasonably compact for a 16-inch gaming laptop, though it will still feel most laptop bags to capacity. Its size is most noticeable in profile, as the Legion Pro 5 measures a tad over an inch thick—a trait you’ll certainly notice while handling the machine. It also tips the scales at 5.6 pounds, which is similar to competitive laptops but rather noticeable when placed in a backpack or messenger bag.
Lenovo’s build quality doesn’t disappoint. The chassis is solid and uncomplaining, with no creaks or groans to betray its plastic origins. There’s some give here and there, most notably in the display lid when you’re opening and closing it, but nothing to sound alarm bells. In fact, it’s right up there with the competition, offering a similar degree of rigidity and durability.Lenovo Legion 5 Pro: Keyboard, trackpad
IDG / Matthew Smith
The Lenovo Legion Pro 5 has an excellent keyboard with plenty of key travel and a snappy, decisive bottoming action that rewards each keystroke with firm tactile feedback. It beats peers such as the Acer Predator Helios 300 and MSI Katana/Sword, which, while not terrible, feel lackluster in comparison. The Legion Pro 5 even has an edge over most professional laptops including the MacBook Pro 16 and Dell XPS 15.
A numpad is included and shifts the keyboard off-center, a layout decision I dislike. The touchpad follows suit, also veering off-center to align with the keyboard, which eats into the palmrest space on the laptop’s left side.
The keyboard is backlit and offers RGB color customization across 4 zones, which is par for the course in this category. The software might throw users for a loop, as it’s tucked away in Lenovo’s Vantage software that has grown bloated over the last few years. Still, the backlight does its job and can look as reserved or garish as you’d like.Lenovo Legion 5 Pro: Display, audio
IDG / Matthew Smith
The Lenovo Legion 5 Pro sports a 2560×1600 IPS display that refreshes at a brisk 165Hz. These are common specifications in the mid-range gaming laptop arena, and it’s rare to see any gaming laptop below $2,000 with a significantly higher resolution or refresh rate. More expensive gaming laptops, like the Razer Blade, put their increased budget to good use with OLED or Mini-LED panels.
Bright, colorful games fare better. The display’s color gamut spans 99 percent of sRGB and 79 percent of DCI-P3. These results are behind the best laptops: Razer’s Blade 16 with Mini-LED display, for example, can achieve 100 percent of both color gamuts. However, the Legion 5 Pro’s results greatly exceed budget alternatives like the MSI Sword, which only managed 70 percent of the sRGB color gamut. The Legion 5 Pro is remarkably accurate, too. Color accuracy, color temperature, and gamma results are spot-on their targets, which means games look as their creators intended.
The 165Hz refresh rate ensures fluid, clear motion and provides a responsive gaming experience. However, the Legion 5 Pro doesn’t gain any ground here, as displays with similar refresh rates are the norm across budget and mid-range gaming laptops.
The Legion 5 Pro’s downward-firing speakers produce decent audio, though their location means audio can be muffled depending on the surface the laptop is placed on. The speakers strike a balance between lows and highs and rarely sound muddy. Maximum volume is a bit low, however, so the speakers are most enjoyable in a quiet room.Lenovo Legion 5 Pro: Webcam, microphone, biometrics
The Lenovo Legion 5 Pro has a 1080p webcam. It’s a nice upgrade over the 720p webcams that are more common in modern gaming laptops. The image looks sharp in good lighting and provides a pleasant, colorful look. Significant noise creeps into the video and introduces a grainy, soft look in poorly lit rooms, but the problem is less noticeable than with most laptops. An electronic privacy shutter with a physical switch is included, too.
A dual-array microphone handles the laptop’s audio capture. It works as expected, providing strong, clear audio capture with good noise cancellation, but captured audio sounds hollow and distant when played back through a decent pair of headphones. This is typical for a laptop and shouldn’t cause a problem in video calls.
Biometric login is not supported, which is typical for a gaming laptop. Even the most expensive laptops sometimes omit this feature, though it can be found on alternatives like the Razer Blade 16.Lenovo Legion 5 Pro: Connectivity
IDG / Matthew Smith
Lenovo’s Legion 5 Pro scores high marks in connectivity. The highlight is a USB-C port with DisplayPort Alternate Mode and up to 140 watts of Power Delivery. This is not enough to fully power the laptop at maximum load, as it ships with a 300 watt power adapter, but enough to power and charge the laptop in less demanding tasks. Owners have the option of leaving the 300 watt power brick at home when the Legion 5 Pro’s maximum performance potential isn’t required.
Additional USB connectivity spans a second USB-C port, which supports DisplayPort but not Power Delivery, and three USB-A ports. That’s a total of five USB ports, which is excellent for any laptop sold in 2023. They’re joined by an HDMI 2.1 port, Ethernet port, and 3.5mm combo audio jack. Most ports are on the rear of the laptop, instead of the sides, which makes for easy cable management when the laptop is on a desk.
Wireless connectivity includes Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.1, which is standard for most modern gaming laptops. Wi-Fi performance is quite good when connected to a Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6E router and will leave many gamers without a need to connect to wired Ethernet, though it’s there if you want it.Lenovo Legion 5 Pro: Performance
The Lenovo Legion 5 Pro has muscular mid-range specifications which include an Intel Core i7-13700HX processor with a total of 16 processor cores (eight Performance-cores and eight Efficient-cores) and a maximum clock speed of 5GHz. It’s paired with 16GB of DDR5 memory and a 512GB solid state drive. The Core i7-13700HX is the quickest processor available in the Legion 5 Pro, but Lenovo offers RAM upgrades up to 32GB and storage upgrades up to 1TB.
IDG / Matthew Smith
Lenovo starts off strong with a PCMark 10 score of 7349. Though hardly record-setting, it’s a respectable score that is towards the top end of mid-range gaming laptops, and it represents a system that is capable of strong overall performance.
IDG / Matthew Smith
Cinebench R15 paints the Legion 5 Pro in an even better light with a score of 3213. This is a big improvement over last year’s Legion 5 with Intel Core i7-12700H, and extremely competitive with other performance laptops. Asus’ ROG Strix G18 is the only machine that leaps ahead, which is to be expected, as it equips a much more powerful Core i9-13980HX processor.
IDG / Matthew Smith
Handbrake removes any shadow of doubt about the Legion 5 Pro’s processor performance. It once again achieves the second-best score and provides a major lift over last year’s model. Those who depend on apps that require significant CPU horsepower will be extremely pleased.
This is a gaming laptop, however, and excellent processor results don’t always translate to great game performance. There’s reason to be suspicious, too, as the laptop I tested had Nvidia RTX 4060 mobile graphics. It’s a respectable budget option, but can it really deliver in the most demanding 3D games?
IDG / Matthew Smith
3DMark’s Time Spy benchmark is good news for the Legion 5 Pro, hitting a combined score of 8967. That’s extremely competitive with similarly priced laptops and indicates that the Legion 5 Pro can handle most modern 3D titles. However, the new Legion 5 Pro with RTX 4060 is only a tad quicker than the old model with RTX 3060.
IDG / Matthew Smith
Shadow of the Tomb Raider hits an impressive average of 130 frames per second. That’s a solid score for a mid-range gaming laptop and marks a more significant improvement over the older Legion model with RTX 3060.
IDG / Matthew Smith
Metro Exodus, on the other hand, averaged a disappointing 37 frames per second. That’s not an unusual score for laptops in this price range (in fact, it’s rather strong), but it basically ties the old Legion with RTX 3060. This would seem to suggest the RTX 3060 and RTX 4060 face a similar performance bottleneck in this game.
I used Cyberpunk 2077 to judge the Legion 5 Pro’s ray tracing performance. The game averaged 80 frames per second at 1080p and Ultra detail. That plummeted to just 26 FPS with ray-tracing on and set to Ultra. Fortunately, Nvidia’s DLSS with DLSS 3 Frame Generation restored most of that loss, kicking the average back up to a highly playable 74 FPS. Even Cyberpunk 2077’s new Overdrive mode is playable, averaging 44 FPS when DLSS is on.Lenovo Legion 5 Pro: Battery life
The Lenovo Legion 5 Pro is a powerful mid-range gaming laptop—and while this is good for performance, it can be a negative for battery life. Lenovo’s modest 80 watt-hour battery doesn’t inspire confidence, either, and ultimately fails to deliver.
IDG / Matthew Smith
I measured four hours and 12 minutes of battery life in our standard video test loop, which repeats a 4K file of the short film Tears of Steel. Web browsing extended the battery life by a hair to four hours and 19 minutes, which remains unremarkable.Lenovo Legion 5 Pro: Should you buy it?
Lenovo’s Legion 5 Pro remains an easy recommendation. Its robust build, professional exterior, and excellent keyboard set it apart from rivals, and it delivers solid performance for both productivity and gaming. The Legion 5 Pro is a large, heavy laptop, and mediocre battery life makes it a poor travel companion. Still, it’s a great choice for gamers who need a fast laptop at a reasonable price.
A Great Actress Comes Home CFA alum stars in Huntington’s Before I Leave You
For Karen MacDonald, working on Huntington Theatre Company productions the past few seasons has been a homecoming of sorts. As a senior at BU 40 years ago, MacDonald appeared on the BU Theatre stage in a student production of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes and in an experimental play called Brain. “We were all the inside of someone’s head,” MacDonald recalls, laughing.
“When I was at BU, this was our theater,” says MacDonald (CFA’72). “Being here brings back really great memories of school. Some terrifying but mostly good, because it was a great place to be and a great place to be on stage.”
MacDonald, who appeared in the Huntington’s revival of William Inge’s Bus Stop two years ago at the BU Theatre, starred in November in the world premiere of Before I Leave You, by Cambridge playwright Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro, Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, where the Huntington stages a play from each year’s lineup.
Over the course of a career that has seen her play everything from Shakespeare and Chekhov to Beckett and Neil Simon, MacDonald has become one of Boston’s most renowned thespians. In 2010, she won the Boston theater community’s highest honor, the Elliot Norton Award for Sustained Excellence.
“Karen’s one of the most versatile actresses I know of,” says Boston drama critic Ed Siegel, who now reviews theater for WBUR. “Whether it’s Brecht’s Mother Courage or the diner owner in William Inge’s Bus Stop, she fully inhabits her characters. It’s almost frightening how she captures each character.”
Anyone needing proof of MacDonald’s range has only to look a the 2010 season’s work. In addition to Bus Stop, she played a middle-aged Rose Kennedy in The Color of Rose, a divorcee in the drama Two Wives of India, the title role in the musical The Drowsy Chaperone, and finally, the Countess in the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s production of the Bard’s All’s Well That Ends Well.
Now MacDonald finds herself playing a middle-aged out of work realtor in Before I Leave You, a play billed as a “love story for grown-ups.” She says she was immediately drawn to Alfaro’s play about two “60-something” Cambridge couples: a husband and wife, their best friend—a novelist—and his sister, Trish (MacDonald’s role). “When I read it, I thought, wow—I hadn’t read a play about grown-up people in a while—people of a certain age.”
Trish has recently moved to Cambridge to take care of her ailing brother. “She’s not in the same league as the others intellectually,” says MacDonald. “When she feels left out, or they’re talking over her head, she tries her best to just chime in, but often, chiming in is exactly the wrong thing. She’s not a person who thinks a lot before she speaks.”
MacDonald fell in love with acting at the age of nine, she says, after landing the title role in a children’s theater production of Pinocchio. “When I did that first play, something just felt right. It felt like I was home,” she says. “My interest never flagged. It was always what I wanted to do.”
When it came time to choose an acting school, MacDonald surprised herself by picking BU. The Milton, Mass., native had imagined herself studying in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, but at the callback for her BU audition, she says, “there was something about the atmosphere, the people I encountered, the teachers, and I thought, this is the place for me to go.”
Just before graduation, MacDonald landed a job with a now-defunct improvisational theater company, the Proposition, in Cambridge’s Inman Square. She recalls having to make up songs on the spot, creating rhymes, verses, and a chorus. Sometimes, actors would ask the audience to name a place and an object, and with just a minute to confer with one another, they’d start a scene. That proved to be great training for a career on stage, she says.
When legendary director and acting teacher Robert Brustein founded the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge in 1980, MacDonald was cast as Celia in a production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, playing opposite Tony-winning actress Cherry Jones as Rosalind. MacDonald remained with the company for four seasons, returning again in 1995. By her own estimate, she has played more than 70 roles there, including Arkadina in Chekhov’s The Seagull and the title role in Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage.
Like most Boston area actors, MacDonald augments her income by teaching. Currently a lecturer in dramatic arts at Harvard, she was the Rev. J. Donald Monan, S.J., Professor in Theatre Arts at Boston College last year and has also taught at the New England Conservatory. “When you teach, you go back to how you were taught, what you were taught,” she says. “I learned a lot from my teachers at BU. I hope that I can take what I’ve learned and turn that around and give it to a younger generation.”
When she finishes her run in Before I Leave You in mid-November, MacDonald will appear in Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts’ Superior Donuts for the Lyric Stage. She will then tackle one of the greatest parts written for an actress by an American playwright: the drug-addicted mother, Mary Tyrone, in Eugene O’Neill’s autobiographical play, Long Day’s Journey into Night, for the New Repertory Theatre. MacDonald admits to being slightly terrified by the challenge, but thrilled to be offered the role. “It’s a play where you kind of have to lay yourself bare. But you get to a certain age when you feel like, I’m so glad I’m going to get to play this part, because pretty soon, it might be too late.”
Asked if there’s a role she’s always wanted to play, MacDonald turns philosophical. “I figure there’s plenty of stuff still to do, plenty left to play. That’s kind of the way it’s worked for me, that a role has come along and turned out to be the right thing at the right time.”
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On April 19, 2023, a little more than a century after the Wright Brothers’ first test flight on Earth, humans managed to zoom a helicopter around on another planet. The four-pound aircraft, known as Ingenuity, is part of NASA’s Mars2024 exploration program, along with the Perseverance rover.
The dynamic duo made history again this month, as Ingenuity celebrated its landmark 50th flight. The small aircraft was built to fly only five times—as a demonstration of avionics customized for the thin Mars air, not a key part of the science mission—but it has surpassed that goal 10 times over with no signs of slowing down.
[Related: InSight says goodbye with what may be its last wistful image of Mars]
“Ingenuity has changed the way that we think about Mars exploration,” says Håvard Grip, NASA engineer and former chief pilot of Ingenuity. Although the helicopter started as a tech demo, proving that humans could make an aircraft capable of navigating the thin Martian atmosphere, it has become a useful partner to Percy. Ingenuity can zip up to 39 feet into the sky, scout the landscape, and inform the rover’s next moves through the Red Planet’s rocky terrain.
In the past months, Perseverance has been wrapping up its main science mission in Jezero Crater, a dried-up delta that could give astronomers insight on Mars’ possibly watery past and ancient microbial life. Ingenuity has been leap-frogging along with the rover, taking aerial shots of its robotic bestie and getting glimpses into the path ahead. This recon helps scientists determine their priorities for exploration, and helps NASA’s planning team prepare for unexpected hazards and terrain.
This animation shows the progress of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover and its Ingenuity Mars Helicopter as they make the climb up Jezero Crater’s delta toward ancient river deposits. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Unfortunately, the narrow channels in the delta are causing difficulties for the helicopter’s communications with the rover, forcing them to stay close together for fear of being irreparably separated. Ingenuity also can’t fall behind the rover, because its limited stamina (up to 3-minute-long flights at time) means it might not be able to catch up. Over the past month, the team shepherded the pair through a particularly treacherous stretch of the drive, though, and they’re still going strong—even setting flight speed and frequency records at the same time. Meanwhile, Percy has been investigating some crater walls and funky-colored rocks, of which scientists are trying to figure out the origins.
Ingenuity has certainly proven the value of helicopters in planetary exploration, and each flight adds to the pile of data engineers have at their disposal for planning the next generation of aerial robots. “When we look ahead to potential future missions, helicopters are an inevitable part of the equation,” says Grip.
Got a closer look at the #MarsHelicopter than I’ve had in quite a while. Ingenuity is a little dustier since its first flight two years ago today (!!) – but it’s looking mighty good after 50 flights! chúng tôi NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) April 19, 2023
What exactly comes next for Ingenuity itself, though, is anyone’s guess. “Every sol [Martian day] that Ingenuity survives on Mars is one step further into uncharted territory,” Grip adds. And while the team will certainly feel a loss when the helicopter finally goes out, they’ve already completed their main mission of demonstrating that the avionics can work. All the extra scouting and data collection is a reward for building something so sturdy.
[Related: Two NASA missions combined forces to analyze a new kind of marsquake]
They’re now continuing to push the craft to its limits, testing out how far they can take this technology. For those at home who want to follow along, the mission actually provides flight previews on Ingenuity’s status updates page.
“It may all be over tomorrow,” says Grip. “But one thing we’ve learned over the last two years is not to underestimate Ingenuity’s ability to hang on.”
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