JBL Launches E55BT Quincy Edition Wireless Headphones In Los Angeles

I have been a Quincy Jones fan since being obsessed with the Sanford and Son theme in the 1970s. I was happy to be invited to the launch of his new wireless headphone, the JBL E55BT on Friday evening at the Village Recorder Studio in West LA. I didn’t expect I would have a chance to meet Quincy and talk with him, but I was fortunately proven wrong.

Quincy told me that three artists he wished to have worked with in the past are Marvin Gaye, Bobby McFerrin, and one of my favorites, Whitney Houston. Quincy was going to work on Houston’s debut album, but there were scheduling conflicts at the time. I felt that I should have asked him a question about the headphones, but after trying so many Bluetooth headphones this year, I have to be honest and say that I didn’t care much. That is, until I tried the headphones.

Meeting Quincy Jones

I would not choose the E55BT over my current favorites, the Sony MDR1000X, the Bose QC30s, or the Bowers & Wilkins P7 Wireless as my go-to pair, but those headphones, which run from $350 to $400, are far more expensive than the E55BTs, which only cost $199 and give you every bit of a bang for your buck. When I heard Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” at the event with the headphones, I thought the E55BTs were good. But it wasn’t until I took them home and put on EDM songs such as “On My Mind” by the Disciples and “Stay” by Zedd that I was really impressed.

The E55BTs offer ear-rattling bass with strong highs while only slightly overwhelming the mids. I wore them to the gym and even though they didn’t offer the sound isolation (more on that very soon) of my favorites from Sony and Bose, they were still very comfortable to wear — probably the most comfortable set of Bluetooth headphones I have worn. The cloth-lined headband and soft, imitation leather earpads are meant to be long-lasting. And unlike the Bose headphones, these don’t start creaking when you turn your head.

The Quincy Jones-approved JBL E55BT headphones are very comfortable.

The only thing I don’t like is the lack of sound isolation. I’m not disappointed that there isn’t any active noise cancellation on these new Quincy Jones-approved headphones. At times, noise cancellation can hurt the sound quality and can also get you killed if you are not careful. But it’s also great to physically block some sound, which the Bowers & Wilkins gets just right with P7 Wireless. However, the E55BTs remind me of the AirPods in that they barely block out any noise. However, they certainly do block out more than Apple’s wireless earbuds.

I have to use the JBLs a little bit more before I can make a final conclusion, but my initial impression is that they are definitely worth $199 and give $400 headphones competition when it comes to sound quality. And it’s also a pleasure hearing Quincy Jones give you voice prompts.

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iPhone 8 Plus Could Cost You As Much As A High-End Laptop

iPhone 8 mockup

Are you looking forward to the iPhone 8 series? After all, it’s the 10th anniversary of the first iPhone, so you know Apple is cooking something special.

According to MacRumors and other sites, the higher-end version of Apple’s next iPhone could have a 5.8-inch AMOLED edge-to-edge display (shorter than the 6.2-inch display on S8+), a glass body, and a fingerprint scanner under the screen. The iPhone already runs faster than any Android smartphone, but the new high-end version, in particular, is said to run Apple’s faster A11 chip. The highest-end version of the iPhone 8 could have some augmented reality features as well.

If that makes you excited, there may be just one problem. As MacRumors points out, reliable analysts believe that the cheapest version of the 64GB OLED version of the iPhone 8 Plus will cost about $1000, and the 128GB one will cost $1199. It is believed that there won’t be a 32GB version of the iPhone this time around.  To date, Apple’s most costly smartphone is the $969 iPhone 7 Plus with 256GB storage.

For some, that may not matter. If you are on a monthly plan, you’ll pay slightly more than you did with the previous iPhone. If you are on T-Mobile’s JUMP plan, one which allows you to upgrade your phone at least twice a year, you may pay more for taxes at the beginning and have slightly higher monthly costs, but that can change once you trade it in six months later. The cost most likely won’t be a disability to Apple.

The cost of the current iPhone 7 Plus is already very high.

As difficult as it is to say, the increased $100 to $150 price tag for the OLED iPhone might be reasonable. Not only do OLED screens cost more to make, but the camera, which is said to be even better than that on the iPhone 7 Plus (that one is already perfect), will cost more to produce as well. In addition, Apple is adding wireless charging features. Then, there will hopefully be Apple Pencil support, but don’t expect Apple to include their stylus in the package.

It’s quite possible that prices in the secondary market will be even more astronomical. According to sources such as 9To5Mac, Apple has experienced many delays and production difficulties with the new iPhone. Because of this, consumers may have to wait until November or December to purchase the phone, which will likely have a limited release. You can bet some people will be buying the new iPhone just so they can sell it on eBay.

If all of this is a turnoff to you, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ with 64GB storage has a price tag of $850. Then again, if you are interested in Samsung’s latest smartphone, you may want to wait a couple more months until the Note 8 is released. We will have more on that very soon!

 

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What’s Up With The Microsoft Surface Phone?

Samsung and Apple have made huge advancements in smartphone technology, but there still isn’t any smartphone that I could get professional work and photo editing done on, at least in a very short period of time. That’s because mobile phones run mobile operating systems, as they should. As we learned with Microsoft Ultra Mobile PCs last decade, a desktop operating system isn’t meant for very small devices, especially because of the short battery life.

The Surface Phone could change all of that. Many rumors have Microsoft’s upcoming smartphone running a version of Windows 10 that would be compatible with Windows desktop apps. It won’t substitute your regular PC, but if you need to use Photoshop on the go or do a fast design with Adobe Illustrator, this could be the smartphone of your dreams.

So far, it will just be in your dreams. However, as Tech Times points out, the new Surface Phone could be announced at a new Surface event in Shanghai on May 23. Microsoft hasn’t given any direct hints that the phone will be announced, but Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently talked about Microsoft’s continued plans to make smartphones that won’t look anything like current devices that we are familiar with.

Microsoft's Lumia 950 was a flop.

Microsoft’s recent smartphones, the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL,  ran Microsoft’s latest version of Windows 10 Mobile and were major flops. The Surface Phone will likely be a make-it-or-break-it product for Microsoft, who doesn’t want to give up on the smartphone business. Microsoft will likely aim the Surface Phone at corporate users instead of regular smartphone users — this is a good thing that will help them differentiate the product.

The Surface Phone is likely to run using Microsoft’s mobile ARM processor, which Microsoft just demonstrated running desktop apps on. This will make using apps such as Photoshop painfully slow, but it’s doubtful that anyone will be purchasing a Surface Phone to use specifically at a photo editing device.

The “Surface” branding certainly won’t hurt Microsoft. The Surface products have gone from being a joke in 2013 to being a major success in 2017. Although Microsoft failed with the regular Surface tablet, the Surface Pro 3 and Surface Pro 4 have been incredibly successful. In fact, the Surface Pro 4 is such a big success for Microsoft that they don’t have to worry about taking their time on the Surface Pro 5.

Samsung fascinated everybody recently with the release of the Galaxy S8 and S8+, and Apple is getting ready to release their latest iPhone. Add the Microsoft Surface Phone to the list, and 2017 is shaping up to be the best year ever for smartphones.

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2017 Is The Year Of The OLED Display

4K TVs are now mainstream due to prices coming way down, even though there is still a lack of 4K content. The next big thing is television screens with OLED technology. As CNET describes, OLED stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode. Each individual pixel in an OLED display is composed of a material that glows when you jab it with electricity.

You’ve seen the OLED display on Samsung smartphones such as the amazing display on the new Galaxy S8+. Compared to the LED screen on the iPhone 7, the colors are sharper, and the contrast ratio is much better. When an OLED screen turns black, it appears that the device you are using is actually off.

So, if you think your 6-inch OLED screen (Samsung refers to it as a “Super AMOLED” screen) on your Galaxy S8+ looks good, wait to you see an OLED screen that is 10X larger. Stores such as Fry’s Electronics and Best Buy have OLED TVs on display, although the cost is astronomically high. The cheapest OLED TV at Best Buy is a 55-inch one from LG, which costs $2,299.99. Seeing it in person will make you wish you were rich enough to take it home.

One of the main misconceptions about OLED televisions is that they don’t have dead pixels. That is completely untrue, but there is less of a chance your OLED TV will have a dead pixel than your LCD television will. However, image burn-in — where a ghost image of a picture stays long after the content changes — has been an issue. There have been a lot of complaints on Reddit concerning OLED burn-in on both phones and television screens.

OLED displays can produce ghosting images like computer monitors in the 1990s did.

The type of burn-in is similar to the old computer monitors used in the 1990s. Remember when you needed a screen saver to prevent this? Keeping one picture on a screen would cause, at times, a permanent ghosting image of that picture. Just as the screen saver helped with the monitor, changing images on an OLED screen will help as well. In other words, don’t leave the Home screen on when charging your Galaxy S8 or other smartphone that uses OLED technology. You’re better off making sure the settings allow the display to be turned off after two (or even five) minutes.

OLED screens aren’t only taking over television sets and smartphones, they are taking over laptops as well. Samsung’s answer to the Surface Pro 4, the Galaxy Book, has a 12-inch OLED (Super AMOLED) screen. The popular (and mighty expensive) Lenovo ThinkPad X1 has an OLED screen as well. Within the next couple of years, it’s possible that LCD and LED screens will all be replaced with OLED screens. Just be prepared to pay the extra price tag.

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BlackBerry Tries Another Comeback With KeyOne, And They May Succeed

The BlackBerry KeyOne could be a hit.

The BlackBerry smartphone will always be a classic. Too many times, Apple is credited for creating the smartphone as we know it. But Blackberry deserves just as much credit. They were an innovative company until they tried to copy the iPhone with the BlackBerry Storm in 2008.

Things got much worse in 2011 when the Blackberry Playbook was released without the software being ready.  The product was enthusiastically introduced at CES 2011.

Press to play in YouTube.

Hardware wise, the Playbook was ahead of its time, but it was inoperable in terms of software. It was RIM’s last chance to prove they could go beyond smartphones, but they failed and eventually sold the Blackberry brand in 2013. Since then, new Blackberry smartphones, released in at least four different versions, have failed. But that may change with the KeyOne, which boasts a 4.5-inch 1620 x 1080 pixel resolution screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 chip with a separate graphics processor, a 12MP rear camera supplied by Sony, and an 8MP front-facing camera.

The most important part of the new KeyOne is the retro Blackberry keyboard that everybody loved in the 2000s. Sometimes, I find myself missing a physical thumb keyboard, and I know I am not the only one. So far, the reviews have been very positive.

The BlackBerry KeyOne has been getting great reviews.

The Verge likes how the BlackBerry KeyOne is both productive and nostalgic.

 ”I appreciate the KeyOne’s focus: it’s a no-frills productivity machine that targets people still addicted to email and addresses their needs one by one. Its design, keyboard, software, and battery life all work together toward that focus, and it doesn’t even attempt to appeal to a broader audience or try to be a jack-of-all-trades.”

Engadget gives the KeyOne a score of 83, which is equivalent to four stars. They also explain how traditional BlackBerry users will love the design and keyboard. Edward C. Baig of USA Today feels the same way, even though he wouldn’t give it up for an iPhone 7 or Samsung Galaxy S8. Then again, Blackberry is targeting a different market other than those who must have Apple or Samsung’s latest smartphone.

The BlackBerry KeyOne runs Android’s Nougat rather than a separate BlackBerry operating system — definitely a good decision here. So far, the only downsides are the 4.5-inch screen, which was okay five years ago but too small for many now. And there’s also the fact that the 4.5-inch screen isn’t a full 1080p HD screen. Despite some of its flaws, it looks like BlackBerry has finally released a device that will at least make some dent in the marketplace.

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Thoughts On Microsoft Surface Laptop

Microsoft’s newest device

People have been really excited about Microsoft announcing the Surface Pro 5. However, they announced the Surface Laptop instead. The device starts off at $999 for one that includes an Intel Core i5 processor (7th generation), 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. The highest-end version, which has in Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM, and a 512GB SSD, costs $2199.

The laptop appears to be overpriced, especially due to the fact it doesn’t come with a regular version of Windows 10. Instead, it is outfitted with Windows 10 S, Microsoft’s cloud operating system. This means that unless you upgrade to the regular version of Windows 10, you can only use applications that are in the Microsoft Store.

There has been a largely negative response to Microsoft’s new laptop. Curtis Silver from Forbes thinks Microsoft is trying to force the device into the educational market when there are many cheaper laptops that come with a full version of Windows 10. The responses at Reddit aren’t much better.

The Surface Laptop may be overpriced for its market.

“1k for 128gb ssd and 4gb ram. Sorry but no. I would rather buy a Dell XPS or another laptop for the price and also this doesn’t even run Windows 10 out of the box. Just a gimped version,” says Random Cheesecake.

“I’m pretty puzzled, it’s clearly their attempt a MacBook Air but even as someone who prefers Windows 10 over Sierra currently I would rather have a MacBook Air with Windows on it,” says Appleanche.

However, there are some things to appreciate about the Microsoft Laptop. First of all, the design is beautiful. The 13-inch 2256×1504 pixel resolution screen is said to look beautiful, although its 201 PPI is less than the Surface Pro 4′s 267 PPI. It comes with a keyboard covered in cloth, is only 14.55 mm thick, and weighs only 2.76 pounds. And one has to remember that they can upgrade to regular Windows 10 for free in 2017, even though it’s still somewhat of a hassle.

The Surface Laptop supports pen input, but the Surface Pen, which is included with the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book, won’t be included. That’s an extra $60 to add to an already overpriced device. But Microsoft will include a full year’s subscription to Office 365 in the package.

In order for this device to become a hit, Microsoft really needs to differentiate it between devices such as its own Surface Pro, the Dell XPS 13, the MacBook, and the MacBook Pro. Even if the device isn’t a huge hit, the Surface Pro 5 and Surface Book 2 will be right around the corner.

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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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