Bose SoundLink Revolve+ First Impressions

The Bose Revolve+ is relatively small.

Earlier this week, I talked about Bose’s fascinating new Bluetooth Speakers, the Revolve and the Revolve+. After writing the article, I just knew I had to get my hands on one of these units. If I didn’t like my purchase, I still have the 14 day return policy.

I went to the Bose retail store at the Glendale Galleria on Thursday and tested out both the regular Revolve ($199) and the Revolve+ ($299). Truthfully, they both look smaller than they do in pictures. It was hard to get a completely accurate sound test since there was other noise at the store. My first impression was that both of the speakers sounded fascinating, but the Revolve+ had a little more “oomph” to it, even at the same volume. I ended up taking this one home.

The Bose Revolve+ costs $299, but may be worth the price.

When using the Revolve+ at my apartment, I immediately noticed it had more clarity than Bose’s highly-praised SoundLink III, which came out in 2014. And although it is suggested that one put the Revolve+ in the middle of the room, it actually sounds better closer to the wall since it reflects more bass. In any case, it became quite clear that even though the Bose Revolve+ looks like a lantern or a huge coffee cup, its sound is no joke.

The Revolve+ has an audiophile sound quality.

At times, I wish that the Revolve+ had a tiny bit more bass, but the highs, mids, and lows are all so distinct that it’s not all that noticeable. Bose has never been known as an audiophile’s best friend, but the Revolve+ has a natural sound that audiophiles will appreciate if they can just get past the brand name. The Revolve+ produces a natural dance club feeling when playing The Weeknds “Starboy,” and an arena sound for Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.”  Distinct guitar sounds that I haven’t noticed before come out in Gloria Estefan’s “Anything for You.”

Unlike the SoundLink III, the Bose Revolve+ has a speakerphone function that works well for the most part. When I was closer to the speaker, people said I was clear, although with a slight echo. If I got too far away, the listener couldn’t hear me. Overall, the speakerphone feature is good for conference calls.

The Revolve+ doesn’t have the aptX codec for (allegedly) better sound with Android devices that support the codec. However, if the codec did make a difference, one can’t notice it unless the speaker is right against their ears. Whatever codecs Bose’s new Bluetooth speaker lacks, it certainly makes up for it with great sound reproduction.

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Is Samsung’s ‘Bixby’ Really An Alternative to Apple’s ‘Siri’?

Samsung’s new voice assistant, Bixby, is being advertised as Samsung’s answer to Siri, Alexa, or even Google Assistant. In a recent press release, Samsung explained the reasoning behind Bixby.

“Samsung has a conceptually new philosophy to the problem:  instead of humans learning how the machine interacts with the world (a reflection of the abilities of designers), it is the machine that needs to learn and adapt to us.”

Samsung goes on to explain that the interface must be natural and intuitive enough to ease the learning curve regardless of all the functions added. Bixby is the result of this approach, but it is not complete — not even close.

The Galaxy S8 has a button for Bixby, which doesn't work yet.

Samsung designed the Galaxy S8 and S8+ with a special button for Bixby, thinking the new assistant would be ready in time for the final release of the smartphones. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Pressing the “Bixby” button launches an assistant that can’t do anything yet. In fact, according to Gizmodo, people have been mapping the Bixby button to other things that are far more useful.

Earlier in the week, there were apps such as Bixby Button RemapperBixRemapGoodbye Bixby, and Bixby Remap that helped do this. Samsung keeps trying to block the apps, but new ones keep coming up. Perhaps Samsung would do a better job if they concentrated on making Bixby at least somewhat useful.

According to PC World, when Bixby becomes ready, it will allow you to be able to do everything you can with your voice that you can with your fingers. Bixby will also allow for advanced image recognition. For example, if you take a picture of the Los Angeles Coliseum, Bixby can give you a history of the place, from the 1984 Olympics to popular concerts by acts such as Bruce Springsteen that played there.

Bixby also will support language translation, but Samsung hasn’t demonstrated how it will do anything more advanced than Google does on that front. Google Translate has become the go-to app for language translation, though things could certainly improve.

The most important thing Bixby will be able to do is “get to know” the user, or even several users. For example, if you constantly use Uber in the morning, Bixby could automatically pull the app up for you. It may even suggest news sites based on topics your interested in. In other words, Bixby could be your personal secretary.

It was a mistake for Samsung to roll out the Galaxy S8 and S8+ with an uncooked version of Bixby. However, judging by sales of both smartphones over the past week, customers won’t be too upset. Perhaps the first useable version of Bixby will be worth the wait.

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Bose Introduces SoundLink Revolve and Revolve+ Bluetooth Speaker Series

Bose Revolve+ and Bose Revolve

In 2011, Bose made technology history with their first SoundLink Bluetooth speaker, which was the first full-sized Bluetooth speaker with good full sound. Since then, they have released two new versions of the speaker, with the SoundLink III being named as one of the best tech products of 2014 by this blog.

The Bose SoundLink III, released in 2014, has been a groundbreaking product.

Bose has finally released the follow-up to the SoundLink III — the SoundLink Revolve+ –for $299. For those who just want to upgrade their SoundLink Mini speaker, there is the regular SoundLink Revolve for s$199. Both have received excellent reviews from early users.

Both speakers offer 360 degree sound, meaning that if you put the speaker in the middle of the room, you will hear the same sound quality from all directions. Bose claims they have efficient transducers and dual passive radiators that ensure deep, vibration-free bass. Both of the units also have speakerphone capabilities.

The early reviews on Best Buy and Bose’s site have been outstanding. However, it is well known that companies plant user reviews on retail websites, so there’s always Reddit. User Fortag says the sound quality on the regular Revolve is better than the SoundLink III.

The Bose Revolve costs $199.

“The sound is just way better. More of a HiFi sound. Much more open and spacious and very room filling due to the new design,” the commenter claims.

It appears that others on Reddit who own the Revolve or Revolve+ agree that Bose has, once again, created another groundbreaking speaker series. There is debate on whether or not one should spend $100 more on the Revolve+ since the Revolve can easily fill a room. Perhaps a good idea would be to buy two Revolves, pair them, and have one act as the left stereo speaker and the other as the right one. This is the first time Bose has allowed for this type of pairing.

One thing that people may not like is that it appears that the high quality AAC (iPhone) or aptX (Android smartphone) codecs are not used. However, this certainly wasn’t an issue with the Soundlink III Bluetooth speaker, which didn’t have any of the codecs either. One could only really hear the advantages of both codecs when the sound is right against your ear, as with headphones. Bose has included the AAC codec with its recent Bluetooth headphones, but they have never included the more popular aptX one.

There are very few professional reviews on the Bose Revolve or Revolve+. Hopefully, one will be posted on this blog very soon.

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Unboxing The 2017 Gear VR With Controller

I received the Gear VR yesterday as a free promotional item with the purchase of my Samsung Galaxy S8+, which I may not end up keeping (that’s for another article). I was looking forward to trying the new Gear VR, especially because it now comes with a controller that will remind you of an awkwardly bent spoon. The whole package will cost you $129.

The first thing I realized is that I’m not as excited by the prospect of mobile VR as I was when I first started wriitng this column for iReTron at the end of 2014. Part of this is due to the release of the HTC Vive in 2016, which runs on a desktop PC and offers an experience far more advanced. I understand mobile VR still has its purpose, but it really hasn’t advanced much, and the new Gear VR shows that.

The most important aspect of the Gear VR, however, is the phone it is used with. The Samsung Galaxy S8+ offers a noticeably smoother performance than previous Galaxy smartphones. The Galaxy S8+ has a display that offers 529 PPI — far more than enough for a 6.2-inch screen, but still not enough to avoid a screen door pixel effect in the VR world. Perhaps the regular Galaxy S8, which has 571 PPI, will offer a slightly more vivid VR experience. However,  I have yet to test the smaller version of Samsung’s new smartphone series.

To make things more complicated, the new Gear VR with Controller wasn’t the type of device I was able to take out of the box and start using right away. I understood I had to download the new Oculus VR software, which is improved from previous versions, but connecting my S8+ to the Gear VR was a huge hassle. I not only had a difficult time locking it in place, but the adapter used to connect the USB-C port on the S8+ kept falling out. Popping it back in was a little more difficult than I would have liked. Still, each time I completed the attachment process, it felt like the back of my S8+ would crack.

When the hardware and software finally clicked together, I was able to appreciate the improved experience with the controller. It felt good not having to reach to the side of the headset anymore. Admittedly, I didn’t try out any of the software titles that were specifically made for the controller, but concentrated on apps such as Netflix, Hulu, and the Oculus Theater. These were all exciting at first, but didn’t keep me interested. Perhaps when a 4K screen appears on a mobile VR set, that will be different.

I’m not knocking the new Gear VR. In fact, if you have a recent Samsung Galaxy smartphone (most that have come out since 2015) that’s listed at the bottom of the new Gear VR page, I would easily recommend it. But if Samsung wants to make mobile VR a mainstream consumer technology in the future, they will have to do better.

 

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Samsung Galaxy S8+: My First Two Full Days

I was glad to be working Wednesday on a film (with Denzel Washington!), but couldn’t wait till the night ended so I could get home to my new Samsung Galaxy S8+, which had been delivered earlier in the day. I finally got home at 10:00 p.m. an opened up my new toy.

I had played with the Galaxy S8+ late last month and was impressed, but wasn’t sure mine would last beyond the two weeks return period. I recently wrote about how disappointed I was at the single-lens camera (apparently Samsung originally intended to have a dual-lens camera), which is inferior to that on the iPhone 7 Plus. I’m still disappointed, but in some tests, found that the Galaxy S8+ camera is slightly improved from the Galaxy Note 7 and Galaxy S7 Edge from last year.

The Samsung Galaxy S8+ has a beautiful screen.

Overall, I am leaning on keeping the Galaxy S8+ and using my T-Mobile “JUMP” plan to exchange it for the Galaxy Note 8 when that comes out. In fact, I have to say that the most disappointing thing about the S8+ is that I wish it had a pen to go with it’s mammoth screen.

Here are some of my first-day use observations:

  • The screen is a beauty. There is no reason Samsung should have gone with a 4K screen; the battery life would have been dismal.
  • This is the most premium-feeling phone I’ve ever used. It also feels like if I dropped it, it would break in pieces.
  • Android Nougat is an improvement, but Apple’s iOS still remains the best mobile operating system.

    The Galaxy 8+ screen curves, but not too much.

  • I love that the screen curves, but not too much. The Galaxy S7 Edge was sometimes hard to operate because my fingers would accidentally hit part of the screen that curves over.
  • I am disappointed that there are no stereo speakers, but the mono speaker on the S8+ is the best mono speaker I’ve heard.
  • I only used the iris scanner for a half day; it’s too buggy to be reliable — at least for now.
  • Putting the fingerprint scanner right next to the camera lens in the back was not a good idea.
  • For the very first time, I can say that Bluetooth audio from a Samsung device sounds just as good as it does on the iPhone.
  • The phone quality is excellent and the HD calls sound even better than calls do on a landline phone.
  • The blue light filter is helpful and certainly reduces eye strain.
That’s all for now. The Galaxy S8+ includes everything but the kitchen sink…and a pen stylus. It will be interesting to see how Samsung improves on their latest smartphone when the Galaxy Note 8 is released late this summer. 
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Can The Samsung Galaxy Book Challenge The Surface Pro 4?

Samsung Galaxy Book

The Surface Pro 4, despite its initial shortcomings (battery life, faulty trackpad driver, etc.) has become the ultimate hybrid laptop. It’s so successful that Microsoft doesn’t have to worry about delaying the Surface Pro 5; the Surface Pro 4 is still a big hit, and sales will continue while Microsoft takes their time on their next Surface Pro.

Within the past couple of years, there have been several Surface Pro clones. The only one that personally fascinated me was the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S, which was a 12-inch Windows 10 tablet that came with a keyboard. For $899 (the price has gone down considerably the past year), the TabPro S had 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD (with a microSD expansion slot for more storage), and a beautiful Super AMOLED display, which is still very rare for a Windows 10 device.

Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro S

The TabPro S actually felt more like a tablet than the Surface Pro 4 as it was skinnier and had more rounded edges. It would have been the perfect Surface Pro 4 replacement if it didn’t have Intel’s turtle-slow Core M processor. I found that doing office tasks were fine, but once I opened Photoshop, things got a lot more trickly. At the time, I wished that Samsung would release an AMOLED Windows 10 tablet with at least an Intel Core i5 processor, and it looks like my wishes came true.

Click to play on YouTube.

The upgrade to the TabPro S is called the Surface Book, and the high-end version comes with a 3.1GHz “Kaby Lake” Core i5 dual-core CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256SSD, and the same Quad-HD 12-inch screen our eyes watered over in the previous iteration. Unlike the Surface Pro 4, it actually comes with a keyboard cover. And it also comes with a bigger version of Samsung’s S-Pen. Though it was announced by Samsung in February, the hybrid device still doesn’t have an official release date.

It’s been a busy month for Samsung, who also just released the Galaxy Tab S3, an Android tablet that competes with the the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. The Galaxy S8 and S8+ smartphones, as mentioned in an iReTron a few days back, are shipping to new owners this week. Samsung is hoping to turn things around after the brand-crushing Galaxy Note 7 debacle.

Despite several efforts, Samsung has never made much of a dent in the tablet or PC market. However, the release of the Galaxy Book could certainly change that. Let’s hope Samsung stops teasing the device and releases it before it gets too late.

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Samsung Galaxy S8 Units With Disappointing Camera Start Shipping Early

If you are on T-Mobile and pre-ordered the new Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8+ within a couple days after it officially launched for pre-sale, then you likely got a message from T-Mobile indicating that your order is on  your way. I received an email about my Galaxy S8+ on Friday morning. However, it doesn’t mean the device is actually on the plane right now. However, it’s likely that I should receive mine by Tuesday — three days before the actual release date.

My Samsung Galaxy S8+ is on its way.

Am I excited? Am I jumping for joy and wishing I could somehow skip through a couple days of my life in order to start playing with it? Unfortunately, the answer is “no.” It’s not that the Galaxy S8+ isn’t a great phone; it is. I’ve played with it at Best Buy a lot, which diminishes some of the excitement since it won’t be brand new experience. But there’s another thing that’s been bugging me lately — the Galaxy S8+ camera.

Samsung Galaxy S8 only has a solo lens.

From what I’ve seen, it’s a great camera. BGR, known as the Apple fanboy website, is highly impressed with Samsung’s latest smartphone camera. But it’s disappointing that Samsung couldn’t put a dual-lens camera on their phone this time around. According to CNET, there have been prototypes of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ that have dual-lens cameras. However, it is believed that Samsung didn’t have enough time to put the fingerprint scanner under the screen, so they had to put it on the back, which made the dual-lens camera not fit.

According to insiders, Samsung thought the dual-lens camera didn’t make that big of a difference. However, anybody who uses the iPhone 7 Plus will tell you differently. The fact that the iPhone camera has 2X optical zoom (a dual-lens camera allows this) makes a huge difference. Without a 2X optical lens, images often look further than they really are. The iPhone 7 Plus truly makes a digital camera irrelevant. It’s hard to say the same thing about the Galaxy S8+, though it at least has stereo mics for shooting 4K videos.

The good news is that Samsung will have enough time to work on the under-the-screen fingerprint scanner in order to deliver the dual-lens camera for the Galaxy Note 8. The only problem is that the Galaxy Note 8 isn’t expected to be released until August or September of 2017, with hopefully no explosions this time around.

I still may end up liking my Galaxy S8+ a lot, despite the camera. If not, there’s always the (thank God) two week return period. Still, the smartphone I’m looking forward to the most in 2017 is definitely the Galaxy Note 8.

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All Laptops Should Have A Screen Protector Or Keyboard Cover

Don’t let the manufacturers fool you; your laptop screen is not protected. It doesn’t matter if the screen is made of “Gorilla Glass” or not; it is still prone to scratches. However, the fact that the screen is prone to marks from the keyboard when the laptop is closed is something that has rarely been discussed.

A perfect example is the MacBook Pro Retina. My 2013 version, which I sold in order to get the 2016 version, had key imprints that weren’t outright visible, but definitely let themselves known in sunlight. The protective coating that Apple uses on their MacBook Pro screens, despite some customers paying over $2000 for their notebooks, isn’t very protective.

Most people will not get keyboard imprints on their MacBook Pros just by closing their laptops. The imprints happen when the MacBook Pro is put in a bag with other items that are pushing heavily against it. Perhaps using the material that covered your keyboard when you first opened up the box is what you should use every time you close your MacBook Pro. I have been using the following fiber on mine as you can see in the picture below, although several others I know prefer a very thin cloth cover.

A simple fiber or cloth keyboard cover will prevent the keys from imprinting marks on the screen.

As Heavy.com noted a few years back, there is another reason to cover your MacBook Pro keyboard — the coating on the keys disappears with heavy use. There are several different keyboard covers available on Amazon and though they cost a little, they will certainly save you money in the long run since your MacBook Pro resale value goes way down when the screen is scratched.

Microsoft’s groundbreaking Surface Pro is another example of a device that’s not exactly scratch-proof. As a Reddit post notes, a lot of people have been putting screen protectors on their Surface Pro 4 devices. While the pen scratching the screen isn’t as common as it was with the first Surface Pro, it is still a possibility. When this happens, a sharp piece of dust or something else attaches to the Surface Pen — sometimes you don’t even notice it. This is why it doesn’t hurt to put a screen protector on.

It’s quite bothersome that people still don’t put screen protectors on their $500-$1000 smartphones. The fact that even less put screen protectors on their $1000 to $2000 laptops is beyond crazy. When you spend that much money on a laptop, $10 to $20 extra to protect its screen shouldn’t even be considered an extra expense.

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Will Consumer 360-Degree Cameras Finally Take Off In 2017?

The updated Gear 360 camera from Samsung will be available this month.

I was an audience member in a future game show for CBS the other day, and I noticed how they had a 360-degree camera rig with about twenty cameras. The device, which was remotely controlled, slithered around the stage like a robot. Since the show is for CBS, they are likely shooting footage for VR devices.

I was thinking about when 360-degree cameras will take off on a commercial (and affordable) level. Last year, I reviewed the Samsung Gear 360 camera, which was a noble but ultimately failed effort by Samsung. The spherical camera that came with an attachment that looked like robot legs took had too many quirks. Not only was the battery life poor, but the camera inaccurately stitched photos and videos together. The photos and videos looked decent on laptop or computer screens, but looked like artifacts from the VHS days when watched on a virtual reality device such as the Gear VR.

The 2016 Gear 360 was a failure for Samsung.

It’s great that Samsung isn’t giving up on 360-degree cameras and will release the updated Gear 360 camera very soon. The device is smaller, gets rid of the robot legs (you can use a tripod if you want), shoots 4K videos, and allows you to shoot real-time 360-degree broadcasts. Instead of just being compatible with Samsung devices, the new Gear 360 can now be used with other Android smartphones and the iPhone as well.

Click to play in YouTube.

Trusted Reviews says that although the Gear 360 is still a niche product, it’s cute and — most importantly — powerful. Even though it’s unlikely to attract a huge audience at first, the new Gear 360 looks like the type of 360-degree device that can help mainstream consumer 360-degree cameras.

Another camera consumers may want to take a look at is the 360fly 4K, which Mike Prospero of Tom’s Guide calls the 360-degree camera to beat. The original 360fly was one of the first consumer 360-degree cameras released in 2015. It received mixed reviews. I was so unimpressed with the camera that I didn’t even want to waste my time giving it a bad review.

Since the release of the 360fly camera, others cameras  from Ricoh, Kodak, and LG, and Samsung have been released. None of the cameras have been able to capture even a niche audience. Those who use these cameras for VR videos have been very disappointed. Even if a camera shoots in 4K, the highest resolution a VR device can display now is 2K video, and even that looks pixelated in a VR headset. When 4K VR devices finally come out (hopefully within the next year), things will be different.

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Samsung Gear S3 Frontier Makes Me Miss Apple Watch

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier

I have been using the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier for the past couple of days (paired with Galaxy Note 5), and needless to say — I can’t wait to put the Apple Watch back on. The 4G LTE model of the Frontier is clunky, feels incomplete, and has horrible health tracking capabilities.

To be fair, the Gear S3 Frontier is solidly built. It feels refined, well planned, and the bezel moves around flawlessly. But the 46mm face is clunky and it almost feels like your wearing what an egg would feel like if you could flatten it without breaking it.

Then, there is the operating system — Tizen. It was excusable on the Gear S2 since it was a brand new operating system. However, you would think Samsung would improve the operating system within a year, but that didn’t happen. Finding your way around the settings and apps on the Gear S3 feels clumsy — it works, but it should be a lot more simple and intuitive.

According to the Gear S3 Frontier, you can burn more calories in your sleep than actually exercising.

One of the main reasons I use a smartwatch is for fitness tracking capabilities. The Apple Watch Series 2 isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely workable. Now, you don’t even have to choose a program when you want to track a 10 minute walk; it accurately tracks it automatically. One can’t say the same thing about the Gear S3 Frontier.

The biggest frustration is that despite many complaints, Samsung still hasn’t fixed a bug where one can burn 800 calories a night just by sleeping. In some cases, according to the Gear S3, one can burn more calories sleeping than actually exercising. Perhaps Samsung assumes that people are dreaming of their exercise and counting that. There also aren’t any readily available watch faces that display the amount of calories burned.

The screen itself is crystal clear thanks to the AMOLED display. But it’s supposed to turn on every time you raise the watch towards your face — that  works about 80 percent of the time. And the battery life is great; most people can get at least two days of use. However, if one relies simply on the 4G LTE radio, the battery life is a lot shorter.

I suppose the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is good for people who just want to get accurate notifications and would like to respond to them directly from their watch. It’s also good for people who want a standalone watch that doesn’t have to depend on a Bluetooth connection to a Samsung phone. However, for $400, the Gear S3 Frontier should offer a lot more than that.

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