The Galaxy S9 And S9+ Have Been Announced, And There Should Be More Excitement

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

On Sunday, the Galaxy S9 and S9+ were announced. The S9 has a 5.8-inch screen, runs the latest version of Android Oreo, and has a camera designed to maximize low-light photos. Unfortunately, the S9 still has one lens, but at least the fingerprint reader has been moved underneath.

The Galaxy S9+ has the same-size screen (6.2-inches) as the S8+ from last year, and also gets a dual-lens camera, which some say is even better than the one on the iPhone X. It really does look like the Galaxy Note 8 but without a stylus.

The comments coming from most people seem to be that these upgrades are boring.

“I’ve just live-blogged my way through the Samsung Galaxy S9 launch, and the one thing that struck me was… well, how little struck me,” says Gareth Beavis of Tech Radar, who admits that some of it has to do with how often the Galaxy S9 features were leaked.

The most exciting thing about both the Galaxy S9 and S9+ appears to be the camera.

Samsung has added a dual-lens camera to the S9 Plus.

“When you take a picture with the S9, you actually capture 12 images simultaneously. The phone then compares all exposures to create a single shot that includes all the detail you want, but with as little grain and noise as possible,” says Nate Lanxton of Bloomberg Technology

But the one feature that everybody isn’t talking about is the fact that both the S9 and S9+ will now have stereo speakers. When Apple added stereo speakers to the iPhone 7, that was an underrated feature as well. But once consumers got their hands on Apple’s new device, there was nothing but praise for Apple being able to fit great-sounding stereo speakers in such a small device.

Zach Epstein of BGR says that despite the lack of hype, he found both the S9 and S9+ to be mind-blowing. He notes that not only have the bezels around the screen been reduced, but that the glass is more durable, the casing is stronger, and the models are slightly smaller (although thicker). He says that the significant improvements happen inside.

Samsung’s big upgrade with the Galaxy S8 series happened last year, and they succeeded where they needed to after the disastrous release of the Galaxy Note 7 in 2016. Perhaps Samsung is being right by playing it safe. It’s also possible — as others have noted — that Samsung is getting ready to release the foldable Galaxy smartphone. Though the Galaxy S9 and S9+ may not be exciting to most people, Samsung may just surprise everybody by the end of 2018.

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Dell XPS 13 9370 Now Available In White, And It Looks Beautiful

I gave my first impressions of the new Dell XPS 13 9370 earlier this month, and I was — for the most part — impressed. I didn’t think that the white version of the device (with rose gold badk) would make a difference, but it does.

This version of the XPS 13 makes the screen look even better. The colors stand out more, and that may be hard to understand since there is more contrast with a darker border and a bright screen. But the border on the XPS 13 (possibly because it’s so small) just accentuates even more how great this 4K screen is.

The palm rest now has a slighly-textured woven glass palm rest, and it feels great. Supposedly, the titanium oxide coating helps keep stains off the laptop. I wish the same thing can be said about the touchscreen, but when you touch it with greasy fingers, you know what you are getting into. I think the Windows 10 gestures and excellent trackpad make touching the screen unnecessary, but everybody does things differently. It’s important to note that even though the Dell XPS 13 has a touchscreen, it’s not made for digital inking.

The Dell XPS 13 9370 is thin and powerful.

After extensively using both the dark gray and white versions of the new XPS 13 (8th-gen Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD), I do notice that the device is a little slower that one would expect. After all, the 7th gen Intel Core i5 processor on the MacBook Pro moves most tasks along faster than the better processor on the XPS 13. But when editing 4K videos, the XPS 13 did so noticeably better without any hiccups.

The keyboard feels slightly different on the white version of the XPS 13 than the dark gray one. The keys still have only a small amount of travel, but have more of a “click” feeling to them. It really makes me appreciate how Dell could fit in a regular keyboard on this device instead of completely flattening the keys like Apple has done with their latest laptops. I can type fast on both, but it’s easier to make a mistake on the MacBook Pro than it is with the XPS 13.

I am really in awe of this laptop, and I may actually sell my Surface Book 2 to get it. After all, the Microsoft Store has it for just $1,399, and I am able to get an educator’s discount. A comparable version of the MacBook Pro (when ordered with the i7 processor) costs almost $200.

The XPS 13 9370 provides a great keyboard experience.

It’s interesting to point out that after using two different new XPS 13 devices, neither show extensive light bleed. I can’t say the same about recently using PC laptop devices from Lenovo, Microsoft, or even HP. Most people don’t care because they don’t actually see the light bleed unless they are actually in a very dark room.

Dell has become the new “Apple” in terms of making top-quality laptops. Now, if Dell can improve their marketing and customer service the same way they have done with quality control, the company can become the hottest PC laptop maker in the world.

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Apple’s New HomePod Sounds REALLY Good

The HomePod is an amazing-sounding device.

The HomePod has its share of mixed reviews. The problem seems to be with Siri, which allegedly works just over half the time on the HomePod. That said, this is just about the best sounding device I have ever heard. Of course, you can’t fully appreciate the sound unless you are in front of the HomePod, but here is a clip I took of the device at Best Buy this past weekend.

Click to play in YouTube.

“Animals” by Martin Garrix usually shows off bass more than any other song on a portable speaker. Unfortunately, this video doesn’t get to the “meat” of the first verse where the bass is absolutely pumping. It’s almost more of a pleasure listening to music on the HomePod than it is listening on a stereo system.

I heard that the HomePod sounded good from peers who tried out the device. However, I wasn’t prepared for just how good it sounded. The bass was rich with absolutely no distortion, and the treble was very well balanced. I actually would have purchased the HomePod instantly if it were a wireless speaker that didn’t need to be plugged in all the time. I, as well as others watching, were absolutely fascinated by how the sound filled up the huge space by all the Apple products. Perhaps some Best Buy workers, however, were a little annoyed with me. So, I went back again Monday morning. This next clip was recorded in stereo.

Click to play in YouTube.

According to Ars Technica, Reddit audiophiles say that the HomePod sounds better than some $1000 speakers. For example, after a series of tests with a calibrated microphone in an untreated room, one user found the HomePod to sound better than the KEF X300A, a well-liked bookshelf speaker that costs $999. However, the writer of the article, Jeff Dunn, admits that he is in the process of reviewing the HomePod, and his tests aren’t as positive.

I’m not a staunch audiophile, and I believe that’s a good thing for reviewing several audio products for this blog. I listen as a consumer would, even though I have a lot more knowledge than the average consumer when it comes to different aspects of audio products. I also don’t work for Apple, which is obvious since I sometimes criticize their products. But I highly suggest that if you have some free time this week, get yourself over to a Best Buy or Apple Store and listen to the HomePod. The sound will absolutely blow you away.


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The Case For A Traditional Laptop Like The MacBook Pro

Some may think Apple is behind the times by not making a laptop/tablet hybrid (no, the iPad Pro doesn’t count as one!), but it’s possible that Apple knows what it’s doing. The MacBook Pro, though overpriced, is still the ultimate laptop. Unlike many of Microsoft’s new devices (though I love the Surface Book 2), the MacBook Pro doesn’t make any concessions.

Let’s take the Surface Book 2: In December, I said it “easily replaces the MacBook Pro.” I’d like to take back that statement. It may be a better deal than the MacBook Pro. It may be a more powerful device than the MacBook Pro. But it isn’t a replacement. It’s certainly a different device.

A hybrid device, such as the Surface Book 2, makes compromises.

The MacBook Pro doesn’t need another layer in its screen since it doesn’t have a touchscreen. Therefore, the Pro screen is less reflective and easier to use in the sunlight than touchscreen laptops or hybrids. The MacBook Pro screen also bends a lot; it isn’t held on a fulcrum hinge like the Surface Book’s screen is. You don’t have to worry about getting scratch marks on the screen since it isn’t compatible with a digital pen.

It would be great if you could detach the screen from the MacBook Pro, but it would make somewhat of an awkward tablet. Even people who use the Surface Book 2 screen as a tablet admit it’s awkward, but it’s still a cool option to have. Because the MacBook Pro is a laptop, it feels great on your lap. A hybrid device such as the Surface Book 2 places too much weight on the screen part, making it feel a little awkward on the lap.

The Dell XPS 13 is another device that succeeds as a traditional laptop.

Even the Dell XPS 13 feels decent on the lap since it’s a traditional laptop. You do have to worry about laptops getting somewhat hot since the CPU and GPU on traditional ones are all on the base of the unit. However, you have rarely heard of a laptop getting so hot that it burns the lap.

Don’t get me wrong — I have often said that in order to get with the times, Apple needs to build a “MacBook Touch” device. But my expectations have recently become more realistic. If Apple is going to put out a touchscreen macOS device, they need to perfect it first so they don’t make any compromises. Until then, the MacBook Pro is just fine. But let’s hope 2018′s MacBook Pro (at least the 13-inch version) has a lot more power.

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Bose SoundSport Free Earbuds Sale Is A Sign Of Defeat

Bose SoundSport Free

Just yesterday, Tom’s Guide noted that Bose’s “AirPod Killers” are “finally” on sale. This means that instead of the ridiculous price of $249, they are now at an overpriced $199. The fact that Bose has put these “on sale” most likely means they aren’t selling as well as expected. And there is a reason for that.

In a hands-on review last October, this blog said they may be the best wireless standalone earbuds out there now.  They still may be — in terms of sound — but that’s really not saying much. After using them a lot more, I’ve noticed a couple flaws. First, for voice calls, you can only use one earbud. And even in one earbud, the voice calls don’t sound that great. Then, there are also connection issues at times. The connection issues aren’t as bad as they are with Sony’s flawed WF-1000X earbuds.

The point is that there are still no earbuds on the market that hit all the right spots. There are no earbuds that offer noise isolation options along with rich sound, great battery life, and great phone quality. The AirPods, however, come close. They have great sound (depending on how deep you can fit them in your ear), good battery life, and good phone quality (except when you are in a very busy place).

The AirPods are still the best wireless earbuds on the market, but that's not saying much.

Apple’s buds do not, however, have any type of noise isolation. This is good for those who want to keep them in their ears all day and still be able to hear everything around them. But it would also be great if they had an option to bury other sound. When you use the AirPods on a train, you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about.

I honestly thought Bose would be the first company to hit all the right boxes with their earbuds. As a matter of fact, I’m told that Bose initially wanted to have the SoundSport Free buds released during the summer, but they held them back so they could perfect some issues. I wish they would have held them back longer. It’s so frustrating using them, because they sound really good, but make you want more than just the good sound. You want the SoundSport Free to be the only audio product for your ears, but they just can’t be.

So, Bose has done what Sony has just done — reduced the price and disguise it as a “sale.” Will this attract buyers? I certainly don’t think so. But I’m confident that Bose will hit all the right spots with the next version of the SoundSport Free.

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Dell XPS 13 9370: First Impressions

Dell's 2018 XPS 13 isn't just an "incremental" upgrade.

For the purposes of this article, the XPS 13 with the Intel Core i7 processor, 4K screen, 8GB RAM, and 256GB SSD is used.

The Dell XPS 13 has been one of  the most acclaimed laptops this decade, and the 2018 Dell XPS 13 is the first (sort of) big redesign of the product. I have my hands on a Dell XPS 13 9370, and though it isn’t the one with the rose gold cover and white keyboard, I’m still impressed.

The screen is the most impressive aspect of the XPS 13, which has always had a nice QHD+ screen. However, after using the MacBook, MacBook Pro, and Surface Pro, I’ve found the contrast ratio on past versions disappointing and the colors not vibrant enough. That all changes with the updated XPS 13. Here are some of my other initial impressions:

  • This thing is small, small, small. I don’t know how they can fit all that power in a 2.7 pound computer.
  • After working with the Surface Book 2 for so long, the keyboard is a bit annoying. The keys are smaller and the travel is less. But the keyboard is still useful for anyone.
  • There is practically no bezel! This is the Galaxy S8 of the laptop world!
  • So far, no coil whine. But I’m not holding my breath.
  • The battery lasted me 6 hours on one charge. But the brightness level was high and I did a lot of streaming. The average person will get 7 to 8 hours of use on the XPS 13 per charge. That’s really good considering the 4K screen eats up a lot of juice.
  • I don’t miss the USB-A ports. Samsung has provided an adapter if you need one, but more devices are turning into USB-C ones.

The XPS 13 is incredibly thin.

  • The included charger is rather small, but still good. The USB-C ports make the XPS 13 compatible with many different chargers and battery packs that are normally used for tablets or high-end smartphones.
  • The trackpad feels slightly improved from an already top-notch trackpad.
  • The stereo speakers aren’t perfect, but are good for such a small device.
  • Yes, the XPS 13 has a touchscreen, but you won’t want to get smudges on such a beautiful screen.
  • Dell has improved the cooling system. The unit gets warm, but not hot like previous XPS 13 laptops did.
  • Yeah, it’s 2018 and the screen doesn’t bend back all the way. It’s not such a big deal though.
I still have to put the XPS 13 9370 through tests this weekend, but I would say that Dell has another winner. It appears that they have fixed the minor flaws on previous versions of the XPS 13. It may be safe to declare that the XPS 13 is the best ultraportable power laptop on the market today.
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Facial Recognition Technology Is Becoming Frighteningly Good

Yours truly will be one of the stars of a photo campaign for a company that provides facial recognition hardware and software for security. I play a security guard at a basketball game, where a wanted criminal enters the building and instantly gets recognized by the software. Then, my partner’s phone buzzes. The app says this guy is a criminal, so we arrest him and drag him out of the building.

It was one of the most entertaining things I’ve worked on in the past year. But it’s also sort of scary. This company (I can’t name them yet since I signed a certain form) is obviously doing more good than harm. After all, they are helping to keep things safe and sound. But I can’t stop thinking of the book 1984 by George Orwell, where “Big Brother” is always watching you. The cameras these days can actually accurately identify you from a distance. Even if you aren’t a criminal, this still should sound a little scary.

Fascinating or scary?

According to a 2015 article (and things might have changed since then) from the Telegraph, legal protection in regards to facial recognition is stronger in Europe than it is in the United States since companies are obligated to ask permission before using facial recognition systems for commercial purposes. But in the United States, there isn’t much protection, and your face can easily be “recognized” without your permission for legal and commercial reasons.

Facial recognition is undoubtedly more convenient and helpful. The iPhone X is a recent example, and it includes a facial recognition system that is accurate and convenient. A perfect example is when I was in line recently at Starbucks and needed to add money to my card. I launched the Starbucks app, clicked “reload,” looked into the camera, and I was ready to go in less than half of a minute. There was no need to put in some special password or touch some scanner that doesn’t always work.

And pretty soon, you will be able to easily enter apartment buildings, lock and unlock your gym locker, and even enter secured parking structures or neighborhoods with just your face. You will even be able to walk into a fast food restaurant, choose your meal on a screen, and have it instantly paid for. Yes it all sounds incredibly futuristic and exciting. But it should also make you feel very uncomfortable as well.

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The MP3 Is Officially Out, But Not Completely Dead

Creative Lab's Nomad Jukebox was one of the first high-storage MP3 players.

Remember, during the 2000′s, how popular the MP3 player was? In late 2000, I purchased the Creative Labs Nomad Jukebox, which had 6GB of internal storage. It looked like a portable CD player, except you didn’t need any CDs. You had to be there in 2000 to understand how cool it was.

Then, the first iPod came out in late 2001, but it didn’t take off immediately. It was supposedly only compatible with Apple computers, but there was a fix to load music on through your PC. By the end of 2002, the iPod was compatible with all computers, and it took off in a big way.

The iPod was the most popular music player of the 2000s.

MP3 technology was originally condemned by record companies, but they eventually had to give in. By the mid-2000s, everybody had an MP3 player. Then, smartphones became MP3 players. Who would have ever thought that one day, the MP3 file would become irrelevant?

Part of the reason why the popularity of MP3s is going down is because of streaming services, such as Spotify, Tidal, or Apple Music. Currently, the AAC format, which allows a higher quality listening experience, is the most popular. In fact, AAC is the format that is used to bring files into iTunes now. It’s the best format for streaming, and even television and radio broadcasts use it today as the standard.

In May of 2017, Gizmodo reported that the developer of the format announced that is has officially terminated its licensing program. So, does that mean all of your MP3 files will go to waste? Not at all, at least not in the near future.

The iPhone still supports MP3 files.

There isn’t a smartphone or computer that doesn’t support the MP3 file, and it’s not likely to lose support anytime soon. But it might be a waste of time to convert all your files to MP3s these days. Then again, it may be a waste to have files at all. Streaming is the way most people listen to their music these days. If you have Spotify or Apple Music, you can have streaming access to most songs or albums.

Even though the MP3 file is something of the past, the format is historical in that it was the first that allowed listeners to “obtain” high quality music without going to the record store (which is mostly extinct now). Don’t throw out your old MP3 players; they will become expensive souvenirs in the future.

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Samsung Galaxy S9 Camera May Shoot Super Slow-Motion Videos

Samsung prepares new Galaxy S9 and S9+.

The Samsung Galaxy S9 will be announced next month, and new information about the device is leaking out each day. It was already known that at least one of the new Galaxy S9 devices would be getting a dual-lens camera. However, its camera may have more capabilities than originally thought.

As CNET reports, Samsung’s semiconductor branch has published a webpage that deals with at least one camera sensor that allows super slow-motion videos to be filmed. The Galaxy S8 and Note 8 devices already feature slow motion recording at 720p with 240fps. This new lens could possibly allow slow motion clips at 1080p or even 4K. While most people don’t have use for slow-motion videos, a lot of professionals do.

Meanwhile, pictures of the Galaxy S9 and S9+ have leaked. The phones look very much like the S8 and S8+, but with even smaller bezels. The S9 is expected to include a 5.8-inch display with 4GB of RAM and 64GB internal storage. The Galaxy S9+ is said to have a 6.2-inch display, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB storage. Both phones are set to use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 processor.

There are some who think that Samsung is making a mistake by only releasing slightly-updated devices, but perhaps the Korean company knows what they are doing. After the Galaxy Note 7 disaster, Samsung has come back strong with the Galaxy S8, S8+, and Galaxy Note 8. Still, Samsung can’t be overconfident, realizing they have to play it safe. However, like usual, Samsung has something else cooking.

As TechRadar reports, Samsung has been preparing a foldable phone for years, and it could finally show up at the end of the year. The Galaxy X (which some are referring to it as) has experienced technological issues with the bending, but is allegedly almost ready to go. There are rumors that it could have a 4K display. However, there hasn’t been talk of how large the screen would be. After all, it could be the size of a laptop screen that folds into the size of a phone. Even if Samsung doesn’t put out a foldable phone this year, you can bet we will at least see one within the next five years.

Samsung is certainly not afraid to take risks, and usually those risks pay off. After all, Samsung was the first to release a mobile VR headset back in 2014. And despite all the talk that nobody wants a stylus, Samsung released the first Galaxy Note in 2011 — a device other companies have tried to copy. Apple should certainly take some notes (no pun intended).

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GPS Technology Can Still Put You Under Water (Literally)

I often hear younger adults talk about how much they love Waze, a navigation app that combines turn-by-turn GPS directions with user reports of accidents, heavy traffic, and even police traps. The popular app is supposed to give you the best routes to take in order to avoid heavy traffic.

I’ve also found Waze to be inaccurate more than other GPS apps, and my criticism isn’t totally unfounded. After all, this past weekend, the app navigated three friends straight to the bottom of Lake Champlain. USA Today has the news.

“When Tara Guertin lent her Jeep to three friends from Connecticut who were doing some sight-seeing in Burlington, she did not expect the car to end up at the bottom of Lake Champlain.”

Thankfully, the driver and passengers are okay. One would think that, perhaps, the driver was drunk and common sense could have helped him avoid the situation. But according to the article, the driver had a single beer nearby and passed field sobriety exercises. There was allegedly heavy fog and slight rain at the time of the incident.

Garmin made popular (but not always safe) GPS systems in the 2000s.

But from my experiences, this isn’t an isolated experience with GPS software. It used to be a lot worse. I’ll never forget driving my brother’s family in their van into head-on traffic in New Jersey when using Garmin’s GPS system in 2007. I avoided a crash, but it was one of the most scary experiences of my life. Things have improved since the initial GPS systems released in the 2000s, especially due to cellular technology updating map apps constantly. But the technology still isn’t perfect.

Ranker lists some of the most notable accidents caused by GPS apps. Some include Japanese tourists ending up in a bay and a large bus getting wedged underneath a bridge. It’s easy to call the drivers stupid, but this isn’t really the case. Part of the “pleasure” of using a GPS app is not having to think or stress about directions. So, you give up all of your brain power to following the app, which — at least 99 percent of the time — has made your life easier.

And getting turn-by-turn voice-guided directions while your phone’s map app is (hopefully) being displayed on your dashboard is far safer than taking your attention off the road to look up Mapquest directions printed on your HP printer (don’t you miss the 1990s!). So, while these GPS apps have occasionally created accidents, they have also saved lives. But if you want your life to be saved, be sure to use common sense as well.

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