Thoughts On Apple’s Big Announcement

 

I am a little late to this, but the  September Apple Keynote event, the first ever at the new Steve Jobs Theater, was on my mind all during the week. I couldn’t decide which I was more excited about — the iPhone X or the Apple Watch Series 3.

The iPhone X is certainly the most groundbreaking of the two, but the fact that it won’t be released until early November is a letdown; I thought it would be in my hands by September 22. Still, the wait is probably worth it since the newest higher-end iPhone is the smartphone Apple lovers have wanted for years.

The iPhone X has a 5.8-inch 2436 x 1125 pixel resolution Super Retina OLED display, which is the largest we’ve ever seen on an iPhone. Because it’s an edge-to-edge display without much bezel space, the iPhone X is still close in size to the iPhone 7, which only has a 4.7-inch screen. The iPhone X is powered by a new A11 neural bionic processor. It also has a glass body and is capable of being charged wirelessly.

The problem is that the cheapest version of the iPhone X (with 64GB storage) costs $999. Is it worth it? Probably not. Will people still go out on buy it in droves? Probably so. The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus models, which are being released on September 22, may be average sellers. But at this point, these phones are only bit players in the Apple 2017 show.

The Apple Watch now has cellular capabilities.

The Apple Watch Series 3 was also announced, and I believe that although you won’t see people lining up for the device when it’s released on Sept. 22, the new Watch will become a big hit for Apple. We all knew that there was LTE service coming for the new Watch, but it was rumored that the LTE wouldn’t convert to being able to make phone calls with the Watch. Fortunately, that rumor has been proven false.

Some people don’t realize how much of a difference cellular service makes with the new Watch, especially since it can take the same number as your iPhone. When I check my phone in with security at studios that I work at, I don’t have to worry about missing an important message. Of course, studios will probably soon ban the Apple Watch as well, but they haven’t yet. This will also be great for exercising, and I am so excited about not having to bring my iPhone with me to the gym, where there is always a possibility it could get stolen.

All carriers will charge $10 extra a month for an LTE data plan. T-Mobile originally announced that they would cap the speeds at 512kbps unless the subscriber pays extra, but they walked back on that plan after it caused controversy. Apple claims that the Watch will offer at least 18 hours of battery life, but it will be interesting to see how much a cellular radio affects the battery life.

Despite some usual misgivings (you can never make everybody happy), Apple will likely have the best fourth quarter in the company’s history. People who said just one year ago that Apple was losing its touch have absolutely been proven out of touch themselves.

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Sony WF-1000X Wireless Earbuds: Hands-On Review

A couple weeks back, my mouth watered and my ears sweated over the announcement of the Sony WF-1000X wireless earbuds. Yesterday, I got my hands (and ears) on them, and you’ll be able to do the same next week. I’m impressed with the WF-1000X buds, but I’m not completely blown away.

I was impressed with the rather small packaging they came in, although I should have expected it. I wasn’t so impressed when I saw the charging box, which is a little bulky for the pockets (but still manageable). The first thing I noticed is that the right ear piece didn’t connect. After pressing the button on the right bud long enough to get an updated voice battery indicator, it worked. Hopefully, a software update will take care of this.

The buds themselves look like mini-nuggets, and once you pair them with the correct rubber canals to fit in your ears, they feel okay. Unlike the AirPods, you definitely notice them weighing down on your ears. But it’s not a deal killer. And it’s still quite impressive that Sony could put features found on most higher-end Bluetooth headphones in these little nuggets. Sony has been almost as innovative as Apple, but doesn’t get the credit they deserve.

Speaking of innovative, these earbuds are the first mainstream ones that have active noise cancellation. Surprisingly, the noise cancellation is fantastic despite the fact that these buds are so small. There are several different modes, including an “Adaptive” mode that is supposed to adjust the noise cancellation to whatever activity you are engaged in at the time. I found this worked most of the time, but I still preferred to keep the buds on the regular noise cancellation mode. There is an “Ambient” mode if you want to better hear voices and traffic while you are listening to your music, and it comes in very handy.

By now you are wondering how the WF-1000X actually sound. It’s safe to say that these are the best-sounding wireless buds in existence, and they actually offer high-quality sound that you only get on higher-end headphones. The bass is strong, but not overbearing. Best of all, the bass doesn’t distort when you turn the volume up. The highs are crisp and clear while perfectly complimenting the lows. As usual with Sony headphones, the middle levels are present, but not very strong. The WF-1000X are best for listing to hip-hop, dance, or soft rock.

If you are going to be wearing these buds a lot, you’ll certainly want to be able to make and accept phone calls, correct? Unfortunately, Sony overlooked this part. When I made a call in a quiet room, the other person said they could understand me, but I sounded a little muffled. In a room with a crowd of people, they had a hard time understanding me. Then, when I was walking with the wind blowing, my voice didn’t come through at all.

One might say that I shouldn’t expect high call quality on such small buds, but Apple has proven that notion wrong with the AirPods, which have great voice quality. Then again, Apple’s buds don’t have any noise isolation, so while the other person may say you sound fine, you won’t be able to hear them at times.

Then, there’s battery life. Sony is completely accurate when they give the three hour estimate, but it isn’t as bad as it sounds. With the battery case, you get up to nine hours of use with the buds. If you run out of juice, the case charges the wireless buds really fast. If you put your buds in the case (which you are supposed to do) when you are not using them, you will certainly be able to use the WF-1000X buds whenever you need to.

Despite some minor shortcomings, I would certainly recommend Sony’s WF-1000X wireless earbuds. At the $199 price point, they offer just as good sound and noise isolation as wireless headphones that cost twice as much. The minor connection problems and poor voice call quality may be able to be fixed with a firmware update.

Sony may have not created earbuds that are convenient and as easy to use as Apple’s $159 AirPods, but they are first to create an extremely portable solution for those who want high quality sound, noise cancellation, and a great sleep aid all in one package.

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‘VR Sports’ For HTC Vive Is Worth Far More Than $12.99

Let’s make this clear — I never do advertising on any products for this blog. All the raves I give are from the heart and the mind. I had to say this because I know the title of this article sounds like a paid advert. However, I cannot honestly think of a better summary for my experience with VR Sports.

Since purchasing the HTC Vive last year, I haven’t used it as much as I expected. However, 90 percent of my time is spent playing sports games so I can get a workout. And believe me, you can easily get a workout with the HTC Vive in your own living room. My favorite games have been Holoball and Selfie Tennis. But VR Sports is a package that lets you play baseball, basketball, soccer, bowling, boxing, archery, and table tennis all in one package.

Home Run Derby

Now don’t go in expecting to feel like you are really playing these sports. The graphics are a mixed bag and the game play has room for improvement. For example, in Home Run Derby, you have to hit the ball earlier than you would in real life to get anything other than an out or foul ball. In Soccer, you can’t actually kick the ball; instead, you play a goalie who has to block the ball with your hands (the Vive controllers). Still, it can be challenging.

You want to go play a real game of Basketball? Then get some people together and go to a basketball court. But the VR Sports version lets you get a flavor of the game as you have to make a certain amount of shots in different distances and angles. The game doesn’t get the feeling of shooting a ball from your hands correctly. If you want to make a shot, you usually have to use one of the controllers and throw a basketball like you would a baseball. Perhaps a software update can fix this.

'VR Boxing' offers the best experience in the 'VR Sports' collection.

The best experience in VR Sports is Boxing, a game that puts you in front of a virtual opponent who charges at and punches you. You punch back by swinging your arms at him, and it is pretty realistic. If you fall, you can shake the controllers to try and get yourself up. It’s the most realistic of all the games in VR Sports, even if that isn’t saying much. Still, it’s fun. Most importantly, you get a lot of exercise.

As mentioned, VR Sports is certainly flawed. But the game really brings you into another world all while you are running around in your living room with your Vive headset. You may want to close the windows because you will look really strange. But the sweat you produce and the calories you burn will be real. VR Sports certainly isn’t the best software title available for the Vive, but it may be the most productive and fun.

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Sony’s New WF-1000X Wireless Earbuds Look Like An Audio Lover’s Dream Come True

Sony WF-1000X Wireless Earbuds

Sony really elevated themselves in the bluetooth wireless headphones game last year with the MDR-1000X headphones. They were expensive at $399 (recently, they have come down in price to $299), but the combination of rich sound, fantastic noise cancellation, and groundbreaking features really made the headphones a hit.

Now, it looks like Sony is going to be the first mainstream company to release Bluetooth wireless earbuds. Tech Radar has some early thoughts on the earbuds.

“With everyone rushing to bring out true wireless headphones, Sony has done well to find a unique feature in the form of noise-cancellation. What’s more surprising is that it achieves this so well, without compromising on sound quality or battery life.”

Tech Radar adds that the earbuds cancelled out a lot of sound at a noisy trade show. The problem is that on a single charge, Sony’s buds last only three hours. However, they come with a case that can recharge the buds twice, and a 15 minute charge could add 75 minutes of playback time.

Click to play in YouTube.

The earbuds do look a little large, and some say that they almost feel like a Bluetooth headset sticking out of each ear. And the controls are limited. If you want to turn the volume up or down, you will have to take out your phone. It can be rather annoying.

Currently, Apple’s AirPods are the best wireless buds on the market. They offer decent sound, decent battery life (five hours on a single charge), and are fantastic for making phone calls. However, whenever I’ve used the AirPods, I always wished they had noise cancellation or at least noise isolation. This has especially happened when using them at the gym.

Sony's earbuds may be a wireless dream come true.

If you can deal with the three hours battery life, Sony’s WF-1000X buds may be an audio lover’s dream come true. But Sony’s buds are just the beginning. We will soon see buds that have volume control, heavy bass, and last for seven hours on a single charge. In a year or so, we’ll get to a point where we don’t need to carry a charging case around, although that could make buds easier to lose.

Sony’s WF-1000X wireless buds should arrive in stores by September 18. I can hardly wait to get these in my ears and let you know how I feel about them. Stay tuned!

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The Nintendo Switch Is Still Hard To Find Six Months Later

The Nintendo Switch is the most hyped-up gaming system in years.

When the Nintendo Switch was released on March 3, it was impossible to find. I luckily got my hands on one, used it for a week, and decided it wasn’t a keeper. It’s not because it’s not a good device; I just feel it was a little over-hyped. You have to remember that this comes from somebody who is not a gamer, unless it comes to virtual reality games.

However, I know a lot of people who love the Nintendo Switch.  The device has earned many four-star reviews. One of them is from Tech Radar.

“The Nintendo Switch is probably the most unique console to have ever been released, and it’s genuinely phenomenal that it’s capable of making console-quality gaming experiences portable.”

In another four-star review, Digital Trends claims that living up to promises, the Switch is the most innovative gaming device in recent memory. They believe it may be the best-designed console Nintendo has ever built.

The fact that the device has been selling out ever since the release date is also proof that the Switch has lived up to all of the hype. Or has it? One of the reasons the Switch is selling out so fast is because there aren’t that many being made. The Wall Street Journal has suggested that Nintendo is purposely holding back production to increase hype. Why they would be doing this six months after the initial release remains a mystery.

Did Nintendo purposely hold back production to add hype to the Switch?

Right after the report came out, Nintendo indicated it was ramping up production for the holidays.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure everyone who wants to buy a Nintendo Switch system can do so. We will ramp up production for the holiday period, which has been factored into our forecast” a Nintendo spokesperson said in a statement to WSJ.

It has been reported that people in the supply chain suggest that they have been told to prepare for 18 million units for the holiday season. They also note that Nintendo is currently having to fight for space in factories where nearly all attention has turned to Apple, especially because of the upcoming iPhone 8.

Even though Nintendo has been having trouble meeting demand for its device, the Switch has helped Best Buy’s fiscal 2nd quarter according to CNBC. The smartphone business has certainly helped Best Buy as well, but  Nintendo’s portable game system certainly helped.

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Dell XPS 13 Laptop Gets Another Upgrade

2017 Dell XPS 13

The Dell XPS 13 has been one of the most popular Windows laptops of the past two years, and it is one that I have written about consistently on this blog. The early-2015 release had some quality-control problems including a flickering screen and a poor trackpad, but by late 2015, Dell had created one of the best laptops in recent memory. The XPS 13 is basically a laptop with a 13-inch screen that fits into the chassis of an 11-inch laptop.

Today, it was announced that Dell’s top-selling laptop will soon get a performance upgrade. According to CNET, the new XPS will feature Intel’s new 8th-generation Core i CPUs. Dell claims that the combination of the updated processors and its dynamic power mode result in a multitasking boost of more than 40 percent compared to the current laptops with 7th-generation CPUs.

The design doesn’t change at all. However, there is hope that Dell will upgrade the screen. While the higher-end XPS 13′s 3,200 x 1,800 pixel resolution screen has always been one of the best, it lacks in terms of color saturation and contrast ratio when compared to laptops by Apple or even Microsoft.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 has an improved screen.

When Dell released their XPS 13 2-in-1 last spring, they improved the screen. Unfortunately, the 2-in-1 runs on Microsoft’s mobile processors, which Dell said improved in 2017. However, when I tested the 2-in-1 out, it was very slow and definitely not worth over $1300.

The 13-inch XPS 13 has always been advertised (and rightfully so) as a 13-inch MacBook Pro competitor. However, the Dell is also going for Microsoft’ Surface Pro with the Latitude 7285 that actually has wireless charging capabilities. It’s a 2-in-1 that also provides 8GB RAM, 128GB storage, a 2880 x 1920 display, and an Intel Core i5 7th-generation Kaby Lake processor. The price for this configuration is $1199. The reviews have been good, but not good enough to be considered a Surface Pro replacement.

Like HP, Dell has really strengthened their brand. One decade ago, many people thought of Dell as the McDonalds of PC world. Many complained about their customer service as well. However, Dell has not only produced many top-of-the-line laptops since 2012, but their customer service has been a lot more reliable. Now that we know all about their XPS 13 upgrade, it will be interesting to see what Dell does with the XPS 13′s larger brother, the Dell XPS 15

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Samsung Galaxy Note 8: First Impressions

I was able to spend 15 minutes with the Galaxy Note 8 today, and although I stand by my initial thoughts that the Note 8 launch is boring, the device itself isn’t bad. In fact, it’s a fantastic phone. My very first thought as I handled the Note 8 was that if felt good in my hand, and I liked how the corners are square instead of rounded like they are on the Galaxy S8.

Here are some other initial thoughts.

The S Pen, as usual, is great. But it hasn't changed much.

  • Samsung still has the fingerprint reader by the camera lenses and flash. But the fact it is is slightly farther away than it is on the S8 really makes a difference.
  • The Live Focus mode that is supposed to blur out the background doesn’t work in all situations. Perhaps I need more time to play with it.
  • Samsung’s new camera matches the quality of the iPhone 7 Plus camera, which has been the best on the market for the past year.
  • The return of the S Pen feels good. However, with the exception of a couple gimmicks, I don’t see it as any different from the S Pen on the Galaxy Note 7.
  • OneNote is not pre-installed on the Note 8 — a sin! It is downloadable for free, so it’s not that big of a deal.
  • The Note 8 really feels like the device Samsung always wanted to make — a large-screen phone that can take digital notes and doesn’t feel like a brick. It can easily fit in your pocket.
  • Battery life seems to depreciate faster than it did on the Note 7. This is likely due to a smaller battery, which Samsung has been smart about since they don’t want devices blowing up in people’s faces.
  • Facial recognition still feels like a gimmick.
  • This is the first Note since 2012 that I don’t feel in a rush to buy.

The Note 8 now has a dual-lens camera.

All in all the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is a great device if you don’t own the Galaxy S8 or S8+. Unless you want S Pen capabilities and the dual camera, there is no reason for you to upgrade to Samsung’s latest phablet if you have the S8. The Note 8 really is what many describe as a Galaxy S8 with an stylus. 

Samsung has played it very safe this time; it’s something they had to do. But by playing it too safe, Samsung’s new phone will likely become an afterthought once Apple announces the iPhone 8. 

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iPhone 8 Event Will Likely Happen On September 12

The date for the iPhone 8 announcement was leaked. It appears that the event and the release date of the new iPhone is pretty much on track with previous years.

But first, let’s talk about the elephant in the room — the Galaxy Note 8, which was announced this morning, and not everybody is excited. I don’t want to give any more personal feelings about the device; yesterday’s article dealt with that. But here are what some sites are saying:

Ars Technica
With all the same “pros” and “cons” as the S8, the Note 8 doesn’t offer anything new.

Wired
Samsung’s found that Note users are particularly demanding and high-functioning smartphone owners, so it built every feature it could think of into a single device that can be anything. And it’s not even that huge.

The Independent
The fingerprint scanner was by far the S8’s worst feature, and though the Note 8’s isn’t perfect – it could be larger and is still positioned higher up on the back of the handset than I think it should be – it’s a big improvement.

The Galaxy Note 8 comes in many different colors.

Mashable claims that the Note 8 finally competes with the iPhone “where it counts,” and PC World says the biggest improvement is the camera. On Twitter, the main response seems to be, “What’s the big deal?” This blog will have more on the Galaxy Note 8 later this week with some hands-on time.

It’s no coincidence that the iPhone 8 announcement date leaked on the same day Samsung announced its new device. According to Mac Rumors and other sites, the iPhone 8 will be announced along with the iPhone 7s and 7s Plus. It will be very interesting to see how many people really care about the 7s or 7s Plus, but I could be wrong.

Mac Rumors notes that Apple’s financial quarter ends on Saturday, September 30, so a full week of iPhone sales would help Apple a lot. However, some predict that the iPhone 8 will only be available in limited stock. If this is the case, you can bet there will be nightly lines at the Apple Store in order for people to get the few iPhone 8 devices that trickle in every day. The limited quantity situation could be another PR stunt from Apple, but they are the last company that needs PR stunts at this time.

This is only a mock-up picture of iPhone 8, but the real one is a must-have device.

That said, the iPhone 8 has me excited. I just have to have it the day it comes out, and I didn’t necessarily feel that way about the iPhone 7 and iPhone 6s. I usually get phones through my T-Mobile JUMP plan, but something always goes wrong when I try to order a phone through this plan when online ordering begins for a new largely-hyped smartphone. I may have to pay full price (at least at first), but I will have that phone the second it comes out!

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Initial Excitement Over Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Could Die Down Very Soon

Wednesday is a big day for Samsung. After the botched release of the Note 7 in 2016, Samsung is hoping the reputation for the Galaxy Note line can be rekindled.

It appears that the Note 8 will look just like the Galaxy S8 Plus, except the corners won’t be as round and the phablet will be slightly larger. The back of the phone will have a dual-camera setup with the fingerprint scanner slightly further away from the camera lenses so you don’t smudge them with your finger (one of the big complaints about Galaxy S8). Here are the “official” leaked specs:

  • 6.3-inch Super AMOLED Infinity display with Quad HD resolution
  • Qualcomm MSM8998 Snapdragon 835 (US, China) or Exynos 8895 (ROW)
  • 6GB of LPDDR4 RAM
  • 64/128/256GB of storage
  • microSDXC support
  • IP68 dust- and water-resistance
  • Dual 12-megapixel rear cameras (wide-angle and telephoto)
  • 8-megapixel front-facing camera
  • Android 7.1 Nougat
  • 3,300 mAh battery
  • 162.5 x 74.6 x 8.5 mm
The fact that the Note 8 won’t have a 4K screen is a huge disappointment for me. I was looking forward to using it with the Gear VR, which has become less enjoyable to me because of the screen door effect that Quad HD resolution screens produce when they are close to your face.

According to International Business Times, Samsung is ditching its Chinese partner ATL in terms of battery production for the Note 8. The 3,300mAh batteries will instead come from Samsung SDI and Japan’s Murata Manufacturing. This is certainly a good move, and it will help customers in having confidence that their phones won’t blow up in their faces.

Samsung is hoping to improve its reputation after the Note7 debacle.

There will be a lot of excitement this week for the Note 8, and the phone is set to arrive in customer’s hands by September 15. But once the iPhone 8 is announced, Samsung is in trouble. This is the 10th anniversary of Apple’s iPhone, so you can bet Apple is going to release something really special. When looking at all the leaks, these are some of the  alleged specs we have for the iPhone 8 right now.

  • 5.8-inch OLED edge-to-edge display
  • New design with an ‘all-glass’ construction
  • Wireless charging support
  • Apple A11 chip
  • Advanced face-scanning technology
  • Vertical dual cameras on rear
  • Support for LTE speeds up to 450Mbps

There are many rumors pointing to a major increase in pixel density. While the 1080p 5.5-inch screen on the iPhone 7 Plus displays 401 pixels-per-inch (ppi), it appears that the Quad HD screen on the iPhone 8 will display 521 ppi. This will finally put the iPhone in line with Samsung’s smartphones when it comes to resolution.

The iPhone 8 could look something like this.

But the big win for the iPhone 8 is that it appears that it may be compatible with the Apple Pencil, which is currently the best stylus on the market. Those who buy Galaxy Note devices because of S Pen capabilities will be tempted to move to the iPhone lane now. Then again, at least you can store the S Pen inside Samsung’s device. The oversized Apple Pencil will pretty easy to lose, and owners of the iPad Pro can tell you all about it.

Will the iPhone 8 necessarily be a better device than the Note 8? It’s certainly a possibility. But the problem for Samsung will be that their Note series won’t differentiate itself from other devices like it used to. Apple also sells hype a lot better than Samsung does. It will be interesting to see how these phones compete for business users once they hit the market in September.

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STOP Taking Videos With Smartphone Cameras In Portrait Mode!

What is referred to as “vertical video syndrome” is one of my biggest pet tech peeves, and this syndrome has become mainstream only in the past couple of years. It’s funny because the mainstreaming of cameras being embedded in smartphones happened just before 2010 . Earlier in the decade, I barely saw a video taken by anybody in portrait mode. So why has that changed?

In 2012, Gizmodo warned us.

“Not only are the thick black pillarbox bars on either side of the video extremely annoying, but the human eyes are designed to see the world in widescreen. That’s why they sit side-by-side, and not on top of each other.”

But people haven’t listened. One reason why the portrait mode craze has kicked in within the past few years is because in the past, people used their smartphones as a supplement to their computers. They knew that videos were made for landscape mode. Even pictures were, but you could still get away with taking some pictures in portrait mode.

Now, a smartphone is the main computing device for more people. It’s where they do everything — their phone calls, their social media, their text messaging, their video chatting, etc. Since smartphones have become a lot more capable, people even use their smartphones to type up documents. The lines between a laptop and computer haven’t completely been erased, but we are getting there. Now, people just don’t care as much how their videos are going to look on a computer screen.

However, the emergence of Snapchat is a main factor when discussing the acceptance of vertical videos. After Snapchat went mainstream in 2015, Facebook started airing vertical video ads, which gained more page hits than non-vertical ads. News outlets such as the Washington Post and Vox have now embraced the sin of shooting videos in portrait mode. Yes, vertical videos fill the entire screen of a smartphone instantly, but do companies think users are so dumb that they can’t flip their phone around 90 degrees?

Here’s a hilarious YouTube video that shows why taking vertical videos is downright annoying.

Click to play clip in YouTube.

My Facebook friend Richard Moy, who is a content producer for NBC Universal, recently wrote a post about this topic, which inspired this article. He explained that when people take such videos, especially ones that could go viral and make their way into news segments, they only fill in one-third of the screen. People like him have to “fill” in the space, and that could take a long time.

Perhaps I’m just getting too old to appreciate another “great” thing that millennials started. After all, I still find selfies annoying. But I fear what’s next. Is taking pictures and videos with the lens halfway covered going to be the next “cool” thing?

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