Oculus Quest: First Impressions

I have been playing with the Oculus Quest for the past day. First, let’s get the negative out of the way. The very first unit that I had barely worked, and I could not get the thing to track properly.

The second unit worked a little better, but was still failed to track some of my movements. Then, I decided to use two Energizer AA batteries I had, which made things work far more smoothly. I can imagine others will be having similar issues and returning their unit, thinking something is defective. This is a major quality control issue that could have easily been avoided by providing something better than cheap batteries.

But now that I have a unit that works and tracks perfectly, here are my first impressions:

The Oculus Quest controllers work very well with good batteries.

  • The fit is comfortable. It’s still a little cumbersome, but Oculus has come a long way.
  • Setup appears to be easy. It wasn’t in my case because of weak batteries, but for anyone else, it should be easy.
  • This is awesome to use at a park. People will think you are a little strange, but you should never care what people think of you!
  • I really like the controls — simple to use with a variety of functions.
  • You don’t need your own headphones, but using them (especially noise-cancelling headphones) will make your experience more immersive.
  • The battery life isn’t that great, but it’s easy to use with an external battery pack if you need to.
  • The Power button is hard to reach when the headset is on. The volume rocker is a little bit easier.
  • Someone commented, “This looks like some type of futuristic sex toy!”
  • The screen door effect is still there — but I do notice an improvement in comparison to the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.
  • Creed: Rise to Glory is my favorite experience so far. It really puts you in the ring. It’s not perfect, but it shows just how far VR has come along. If the Oculus Quest is to succeed, it needs more software experiences like this.

Creed: Rise to Glory

  • The Oculus Quest is a great exercise machine. After playing with it in the park for an hour, I feel like I got an incredible workout. But oooh, my knees!
  • The Oculus Gallery app, where I upload my own videos, is probably what I’ll use the most.
I will be taking the Oculus Quest through many tasks for the next couple days before writing my full review. However, I can definitely say this, at least for now — If you are on the fence about spending $399 for the Quest, get over it. This stand-alone VR headset is well-worth the price. 
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OnePlus 7 Pro Sounds Better On Paper

OnePlus 7 Pro

When I first heard about the OnePlus 7 Pro, which CNET called the best Android phone value of 2019, I was excited. After all, for $700, you get a phone that has a pop-up camera in front, a triple-lens camera in back, and a UHD 6.7-inch screen. Is the excitement worth it? Here are my first-impression thoughts.

  • This thing is heavy. Almost massively so (in terms of the smartphone world).
  • If I had this, I could use it to do some bicep curls (exaggerating just a little bit, of course).
  • Yes, the screen is beautiful. Is it the best display on the smartphone? I don’t think so. The Samsung Galaxy S10+ may not have as many dots per inch, but it’s still more crisp.
  • I really like the idea of the pop-up camera on front. That way, there is no notch or cut-out on the front edge of the screen. Still, this engineering decision might have led to the  extra weight.
  • Typing on the keyboard isn’t exactly that easy. One could probably get used to it, but….
  • The volume rocker is a little bit difficult to press.
  • The design of the screen is cool, but curvy screens often don’t do well outside, since the edges easily reflect sunlight.
  • I like that the screen has a 90Hz display. It really makes things buttery-smooth when scrolling. It reminds me of the iPad Pro.
  • The 90HZ display would be great for gaming, but would anyone really feel comfortable gaming on this device?
  • I wasn’t able to test the fingerprint reader with my own finger. But the guy who showed it to me was able to log on instantly with his fingerprint — faster than I can with my Galaxy S10+.

The OnePlus 7 Pro has a strong build.

  • Though it feels heavy, the OnePlus 7 Pro also feels premium. Just don’t drop it!
  • This phone begs for a digital stylus.
  • The stereo speakers are very good. There isn’t as much sound separation as there is with the Galaxy S10 and S10+, but the sound is still very good.
  • It allegedly records with stereo sound, but I wasn’t able to test it.
  • Videos looked slightly shaky, but that could possibly be changed in the settings.
In general, the OnePlus 7 Pro is a good value. However, it doesn’t quite blow me away like I expected. Unfortunately, I think the weight is the Achilles heel of the smartphone. Still, others may disagree. But to be honest, I really don’t have an interest in pursuing a review unit in order to do a full review. And that should say something. 
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The Foldable Laptop May Be The Notebook Of The Future

Lenovo has a foldable laptop prototype.

Yup, the foldable phone industry isn’t going so well now. But that doesn’t mean that the foldable laptop industry can’t arise. As The Verge explains, Lenovo has being showing off it’s prototype for a foldable laptop that should be out within the first quarter of 2020.

“It’s not just a cool tech demo, either: Lenovo has been developing this for over three years and has plans to launch a finished device in 2020 as part of its premium ThinkPad X1 brand. The goal here is a premium product that will be a laptop-class device, not an accessory or secondary computer like a tablet might be.”

The article adds that the computer has a 13.3-inch 4:3 2K OLED display that can fold up to the size of a hardcover book. When you fold it half open, the lower half can be used as a keyboard, though it appears that using the Bluetooth keyboard works better. Of course, this is only a prototype, so who knows what the final version will look like.

But although I still can’t imagine the majority of people using a foldable phone in the next five years, I’m willing to bet that the foldable laptop will go mainstream. There are just so many uses for this type of device — a laptop, a digital writing pad, an e-reader, a tablet. I can imagine these eventually being used a lot in classrooms.

Click to play in YouTube.

In order to succeed, however, this new foldable device absolutely needs to be a laptop replacement. It can’t be a laptop companion — that’s why the first PC tablets failed,  and that also explains the Ultra-Mobile PC failure of the late 2000′s. The Surface Pro was the first successful Windows PC tablet, and that’s because this tablet also was a powerful laptop. It didn’t make too many compromises as a laptop or tablet.

I have a feeling that we’ll be waiting more than a year for the first foldable laptop to become available, and instead of being by Lenovo, it will be made by Huawei. Soon, we’ll see foldable laptops from Dell, Microsoft, and HP. Apple will be late to join the game, but will delay it’s foldable laptop until they guarantee it works to perfection.

As for now, I am typing this on my HP Spectre x360, and I am thinking that this may be the last laptop of its kind I will own. The next couple years will radically change the laptop world just like MacBook Air did 10 years ago. It’s going to be an interesting ride.

 

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Ears On: Apple’s New PowerBeats Pro

Apple's Power Beats Pro is impossible to find in stores.

Well, I still haven’t received my (hoped-for) review unit for the PowerBeats Pro, but that doesn’t mean I can’t go the Apple Store myself and get some ears-on time with them. My official review will come once I am able to test these for at least a few days. For now, here are my first impressions.

  • They are plastic and rubbery, but sturdy. Black buds look better in ears than white ones.
  • The case is pretty big. Yeah, you can still put it in your pocket, but the “Is that a Beats PowerPro case or are you just…..” question will be inevitable.
  • If you drop the case, the earbuds won’t come flying out. (Yeah, that happened during my time playing with them.)
  • It took a few minutes to connect them to my Galaxy S10+. However, when another person paired them with his iPhone, it connected immediately.
  • I moved my head pretty frantically and felt no indication that the Beats Pro were going to come out.
  • But these are certainly not the type of buds that you can instantly put on for an easy fit. Perhaps I need more time with them.
  • The sound is very “Beats” sculpted — it reminds me of the Beats Studio 3, which is a good thing.
  • The mirrored controls are easy. I always find it frustrating trying to use controls on new earbuds, but the PowerBeats Pro doesn’t present this issue.
  • The phone quality seems decent. I need to test it out in different environments. While at the Apple Store, the person on the end said he could understand me, but that I sounded slightly muffled.

The PowerBeats Pro buds fit very comfortably.

  • Unlike the AirPods, there is passive noise isolation. I’m not sure if the noise isolation is very good, but perhaps it was because I wasn’t using the correct-sized bud tips. There is no Ambient Sound function, so these aren’t really the type of earbuds you would want to drive with.
  • I can definitely imagine working out with these. Perhaps I wouldn’t swim with them, but would do everything else.
  • I didn’t notice any connection issues — that may change when I use them more.
Overall, the short time with the PowerBeats Pro makes me want to play with them some more. But I’m not jealous that there is no way to buy them in stores yet. The PowerBeats Pro are decent, but just don’t scream, “Buy Me!” At least for now. 
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The PowerBeats Pro Early Reactions Are Positive

The ultimate earbuds?

Well, it looks like Apple has another winner on its hands. For those who don’t know, Apple acquired Beats back in 2014, and the brand that was known for more style than substance turned into absolute substance — as well as style.

The PowerBeats Pro  buds are like the AirPods, except they are larger and have ear hooks that will guarantee a more secure fit. They’re water resistant, but not waterproof. So, if one of your hobbies is swimming, it’s best to leave these in your locker.

PC Mag gave the PowerBeats Pro four stars.

“A secure fit, easy operation, and a bass-forward sound signature make the Powerbeats Pro ideal true wireless earphones for Beats fans.”

The review noted that the sound is very sculpted and not for everyone. The $249 price tag also appears to be a point of controversy.

Mac Rumors also like the PowerBeats Pro, noting that they fit on your ears super securely and drown out ambient noise. They work very well with sunglasses and produce full, crisp, and clear audio.

“So are the Powerbeats Pro worth the $250 price tag? We think the answer is yes if you’re looking for a set of earbuds that have a secure, comfortable fit with all of the features offered by the AirPods. They’re perfect if you live an active lifestyle or are looking for a more traditional earbud fit than the AirPods offer,” concludes author Juli Clover.

The PowerBeats Pro charger is quite big.

Lori Gill  from iMore just can’t get over how comfortable the PowerBeats Pro are to wear.

“I’m one of those people that can’t wear AirPods for more than about an hour without feeling significant pain in the cartilage in my ears. The difference from EarPods to AirPods was much better but still hurt my compact ears. By comparison, Powerbeats Pro feels like I’ve got a soft baby’s blanket in my ears.”

It may be a little while before you get to see people in public wearing these. Even though they went on sale today (Friday, May 10), every single store (at least on the West Coast) is sold out and the earliest shipping date is June 12. If you thought the AirPods were a hit, it looks like the PowerBeats Pro are the ultimate home run.

There will hopefully be a review of these on IReTron next week. In the mean time, sell your AirPods!

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Oculus Quest Earns Good Reviews, But…

I really wanted VR to take off. I’ve written about it often on this blog, and still believe the technology is going somewhere. But it’s also taking an extremely slow path, and consumers generally haven’t latched on.

The main reason VR hasn’t taken off comes down to one word: inconvenience. Most headsets are too heavy, the technology can give you headaches, the cost is too high, the resolution isn’t high enough, etc. And then there is the setup, which –at least with the HTC Vive — requires you to place position trackers throughout a room.

Click to play in YouTube.

The Oculus Quest is exciting because it aims to solve some of the inconvenience. It’s a relatively light headset (compared to others) that has inside tracking, so you can move in the virtual reality environment without having to set up outside trackers. The screen resolution has increased, although the screen door effect is still there.

The Oculus Quest is going to be released on May 21. I haven’t received a review unit yet (Come on, Facebook, send me one!), but there are plenty of other reviews available. And they are actually pretty good.

Esquire says that the new Quest will make you care about gaming, while The Verge claims that “this is the VR you’ve been waiting for.”

“All the immersion with none of the wires or setup. Quick and easy setup, with rock-solid tracking. This is the VR you’ve been waiting for.”

The review adds that one of the only downsides is that the wireless headset’s battery only lasts three hours on a single charge. Unfortunately, there are others who say that the it lasts less than three hours.

Will the Oculus Quest become a hit?

Scott Stein of CNET claims that the Oculus Quest is the best thing he’s tried this year.

“The Oculus Quest magically creates really immersive VR on a standalone headset with fantastic controls and full positional tracking. It requires no phone, PC or game console, and costs $400, which isn’t bad. Passthrough cameras allow easy setup of the play area, and a way to check your surroundings without taking off the headset.”

The four-star review also notes that not only are there a limited amount of apps available for launch, but that it’s mobile operating system somewhat limits the experience.

For those looking for a more powerful new VR experience, there is the Oculus Rift S, but that requires a connection to a powerful gaming PC. Still, it’s obvious that Oculus is making its biggest push yet to mainstream VR. Let’s hope they finally succeed.

 

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Samsung Preparing FOUR versions of Galaxy Note 10

Galaxy Note 10 Mock-up

For years, the Galaxy Note has been a larger and slightly improved version of the Galaxy S that was released four months prior. Of course, there’s the added pen support. This necessarily hasn’t been a bad thing, but it looks like things are about to change.

As Mashable explains, the Galaxy Note 10 could come in two display sizes – 6.28-inch and 6.75-inch. One is considered the “small” Note 10, and the other is the big one (Pro). One has to wonder if the 6.75-inch screen is really pushing it. Both phones are said to come in two versions — 5G and LTE.

Meanwhile, BGR has some news about the Note 10 Pro battery.

“According to Twitter leaker Ice Universe, the standard 4G model of the Galaxy Note 10 Pro will ship with a 4,500 mAh battery. This is a 500 mAh upgrade over the battery of 2018’s Galaxy Note 9, and equal to that of the Galaxy S10 5G (which is the highest-specced and most expensive of the current S10 models).”

The article adds that not only is there already a certified battery model number (EB-BN975ABU), but that it happens to line up with the model number of the 4G Note 10 Pro (SM-N975). It repeats the rumor that the the 4G Pro version of the Note 10 won’t have any buttons.

Meanwhile, it’s been revealed that Galaxy S10 sales have been very good — perhaps the best sales Samsung has encountered since the fateful summer of 2016, when the Note 7 was released and recalled. However, the strong sales have not been enough to help revenue declines.

Samsung should combine its Note and S series brand into one.

This is why I would suggest that Samsung combine the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note into one device. The Galaxy S10 and S10+ is practically the Galaxy Note — just without the pen. The combined device, if released in the spring of each upcoming year, could attract double the sales Samsung is used to. It’s also important to note that Samsung wouldn’t have to worry about competing with Apple in the fall. In fact, the next iPhone device is said to have stylus capabilities similar to that of the iPad Pro.

Back to the Note 10 — it’s likely that Samsung leaked the information early in order to take attention away from the Galaxy Fold disaster. It’s an old, but useful, PR tactic. Still, the sooner the Note 10 comes out, the better. And I’m willing to bet all versions will be available before August this year.

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Samsung Galaxy Fold: A Big Failure?

Samsung Galaxy Fold -- folded (left) and extended (right)

The Samsung Galaxy Fold was supposed to be released late last week. However, as some predicted, quality control problems took over. CBS News explains why.

“Samsung is pushing back this week’s planned public launch of its highly anticipated, $2,000 folding phone after reports that some reviewers’ phones were breaking. The company had been planning to release the Galaxy Fold on Friday, but instead it will now run more tests and announce a new launch date in the coming weeks.”

The article adds that several journalists reported that the inside screens were flickering, freezing, and even dying on their test units within the first couple of days. When two reviewers removed a plastic screen cover layer, the screen scratched easily.

The Samsung Galaxy Fold is great for multitasking.

The site iFixit has an explanation for why many Galaxy Fold units aren’t working as promised.

“Traditional slab-style smartphones have their displays bonded to a Gorilla Glass panel, which is then glued onto the front of the phone for a water-tight seal. That doesn’t work for a foldable display that needs to bend and move, so the Galaxy Fold has a plastic display that rests on top of the phone and is held on only with a thin, plastic bezel that is glued along the edge.”

The Huawei Mate X is said to be better than the Samsung Galaxy Fold.

I’d say that I knew the Galaxy Fold was too good to be true, but I wasn’t even that impressed. The foldable phone that really impresses me is the Huawei Mate X. It’s thinner, has a nicer screen, and doesn’t look like it will fall apart when you pick it up. The 5G smartphone looks like it will be shipped in July  It was initially expected to be available earlier, but they are doing what Samsung didn’t — quality control.

In the meantime, as AnandTech points out, Samsung has delayed the Galaxy Fold. They will allegedly announce a new release date in the coming weeks, but it may be too late for a lot of people.

“We recently unveiled a completely new mobile category: a smartphone using multiple new technologies and materials to create a display that is flexible enough to fold. We are encouraged by the excitement around the Galaxy Fold. While many reviewers shared with us the vast potential they see, some also showed us how the device needs further improvements that could ensure the best possible user experience,” reads part of the press release.

Will the Samsung Galaxy Fold become the next Google Glass? Will the backlash against the Fold prevent other foldable smartphones from going mainstream. It’s really too soon to tell, but we’ll find out by the end of 2019.

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Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless Headphones Are Best In Class, But…

Sony WH-1000XM3

Sony has really made a comeback in the audio world. Anyone who lived through the 1980s and 1990s knows that Sony was groundbreaking with devices like the Walkman, the Discman, and even the MiniDisc player. And their headphones were out of this world.

Starting around the mid 1990s, Sony’s brand lost its luster. But when the era of Bluetooth headphones started becoming popular in the middle of this decade, Sony started giving brands such as Bose, Sennheiser, and Beats a run for their money. 2016′s MDR-1000X headphones introduced excellent sound with top-notch noise cancellation. 2017′s WH-1000XM2 made things even better.

Now, (and I know I am late to this since this model came out last year) we have the WH-1000XM3 headphones, which have even better noise cancellation (despite a flaw we’ll talk about in a little bit), slightly more even sound, better phone quality, and (finally) a USB-C port instead of an outdated USB-B one. Even though they still have a plastic build, the new Sony headphones feel more polished with deeper and more comfortable cushions for your ears.

The WH-1000XM3 offer a slightly more balanced sound that reminds me of Sennheiser’s sound spectrum. The bass isn’t as punchy, but it still kicks you. The highs are more prevalent, and the lows are slightly more recessed. But you can manipulate the sound in Sony’s app, though the new equalized sound never sounds as natural.

The phone quality keeps continuing as Sony updates its flagship pair of headphones. People on the other end tell me I sound clear and only slightly robotic. (I was more robotic with the WH-1000XM2 and practically useless with the MDR-1000X.) Sony needs to take the technology they are putting on the microphones for the WH-1000XM3 and add it to their other devices, which have horrible mic quality.

The big star of Sony’s latest earphones should be the noise cancellation. When you first use it, you will be amazed at the fact that you can barely hear anything (unless you choose the Ambient Sound mode). But after a couple hours of use, you will hear static and even some cracking. It almost sounds like you are in a windy forest. Of course, I’m not the only one with this issue. It doesn’t make the WH-1000XM3 unusable, but for $349, it’s a bummer. Especially if you are using the noise cancellation during long study breaks or even to sleep.

To be fair, Sony tells me it’s a hardware issue with my headphones and that they could send me a new pair. I will update this once they do. Still, besides the one major bug, the WH-1000XM3 Wireless are the best sounding and most versatile high-end Bluetooth 5.0 headphones on the market.

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Are Wired Headphones Becoming Extinct Despite Better Sound?

I just noticed something. Of course, only a geek like me can truly notice the fact that no matter where I go, I rarely see somebody using wired headphones these days. I have to say that it’s noticeably different than it was one year ago. Here is what I see people wearing the most, especially at the gym:

AirPods

Say what you want about the AirPods (I still think they’re great), but they are by far the most worn audio device. Everywhere you go, you see those white things hanging out of people’s ears. A couple of years ago, the hanging buds were considered weird. Now, they are the norm.
Bose SoundSport Free

I’m not to0 crazy about these (Sorry, Bose — I love your other products), but other people are. I see people wearing these all the time. While they do generally have better sound than the AirPods, the ease of using them is a whole other ballgame.

PowerBeats3

There are many wireless Beats headphones that I see people wear, but the PowerBeats3 seem to be the most popular among Dr. Dre’s brand, especially since they’re so portable and easy to pair. They seem to be substance over style, but only by a small fraction.

Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless

These are the most popular over-the-ear headphones on the market today — for a great reason. The sound quality is excellent, and the noise cancellation is so good it’s frightening.

Apple EarPods

Apple’s regular wired headphones are still somewhat popular. You still see some people at the gym with them, but you also know they are rapidly becoming outdated.

………………

The fact is that wired earphones still sound better than wireless ones. Think about it: Sound from wired headphones flows without barely (if any) interruption, while sound from Bluetooth headphones needs to be compressed in order to travel — and there is still interruption. There is also a denigration of sound quality, although most of it won’t be detected by the human ear. Codecs such as aptX and AAC are supposed to decrease the denigration of the compressed sound.

Perhaps we need headphones to use the Wi-Fi spectrum instead of the Bluetooth wireless one. However, the battery life of Wi-Fi headphones would be a huge issue. As long as people are happy with their Bluetooth headphones, the industry won’t make any compromises. But audiophiles like me still notice a difference between wired and wireless sound quality.

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