Are Wired Headphones Becoming Extinct Despite Better Sound?

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

AirPods

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

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

PowerBeats3

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

Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless

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

Apple EarPods

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 You still see some people at the gym with them, but you also know they are rapidly becoming outdated.

………………

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

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

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The Days Of Compromised ‘Butterfly’ Keyboards Are Over

The MacBook Pro is desperate for an upgrade.

Trust me, the next MacBook Pro won’t have a Butterfly keyboard. There won’t be much travel to the keys, but there will at least by some. There will be no crunchy clicks. That is so 2017 by now.

For those of you who have been stuck in a coma since 2015, Apple tried to make their notebooks even lighter by compromising their much-loved keyboard. They replaced it with a “Butterfly” keyboard, which has 40 percent smaller keys that are supposedly more accurate. The travel that keyboard warriors are used to is replaced by a crunchy feeling.

There have been problems with Apple’s keyboard since it was introduced in 2015. Many owners complained of small crumbs or dust that would get under the keys and make them inoperable.

As Business Insider explains, Apple has said it is aware there are a “small number” of users having problems with their third-generation butterfly keyboard (as well as previous generations). They have even developed a Keyboard Service Program. In most situations, Apple only needs to replace individual keys. In other cases, they need to replace the entire keyboard.

A lot of people are mocking Apple’s “small number” statement.

“They really tried to downplay the issue by saying ‘small number.’ Most people who have the keyboard seem to have issues. I have a MacBook Air 2018 and the ‘e’ key clicks itself twice sometimes,” says MacRumors forum member Rosegoldoli.

“To show how widespread this problem is, just go to ANY Apple store and try out their laptops with this butterfly keyboard. You’ll find several of them with broken keys,” says Mozumder.

Actually, I’ve gone to the Apple Store in Irvine and Glendale, CA over the past three days. Both stores had at least two MacBook Pro models on display that had defective keys. I’m surprised Apple still keeps their devices with defective keyboards on display. But they won’t have to worry much longer.

If Apple wants to survive in notebook market, the Butterfly keyboard has to go.

The MacBook Pro is expected to be updated this year — possibly by the Christmas season. There are rumors that Apple is releasing a 13-inch and 16-inch version of Apple’s classic notebook. The most important rumor, however, is that Apple will revise the keyboard. This really isn’t a “rumor” as much as it is is given. If Apple doesn’t change the keyboard, they’ll be left in the dust more than they currently are by current PC notebooks.

I would like to see Apple offer OLED screens this time around like Dell and HP are, although Apple’s True-Tone displays are the closest to perfection as LED screens can get. No matter what Apple offers, you can bet that the price tag will be astronomical.

 

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Apple’s Real AirPods Upgrade Is Coming In April

The PowerBeats Pro Earbuds may be Apple's best.

Well, this certainly is a spin on what was a disappointing announcement on the AirPods 2, which are now available. Apparently, Apple’s new groundbreaking earbuds are going to be the PowerBeats Pro. (Remember, Beats is currently owned by Apple.)

According to 9to5Mac, the “true wireless” version of Beats’ PowerBeats earphones arrive in April. They look just like the popular PowerBeats2 headphones, except they don’t have a wire holding them together. They look like fins with round speakers that fit into your ears. That’s a good thing. But even though one may look slightly ridiculous at first, the public could become used to it. Remember when the AirPods first came out and people looked strange with those white things hanging from their ears? Well, now everybody wears them.

There is still some negativity surrounding Beats, a company that once showed far more style than substance. However, things have been much different since Apple took ownership. For example, the Beats Studio3 Wireless headphones are well-built, have excellent sound, and excellent noise cancellation. In some ways, they are more comfortable than competing headphones by Bose and Sony. Beats is the real deal.

Beats has made some excellent wireless headphones lately.

The PowerBeats Pro will have the same H1 chip that the AirPods 2 has. It will also respond to the “Hey, Siri” voice prompt. But how will these work with Android devices? It’s unlikely they’ll have the aptX codec that Samsung smartphones have. And nobody knows if the PowerBeats Pro buds will work with Google Assistant, though it’s very likely. The battery life of the buds also is a mystery, but they should offer at least five hours on a single charge.

The PowerBeats Pro will likely run $199, but nobody knows for sure. From an expert perspective, I would still recommend the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless earbuds. In a previous review, I said they are great but not for everybody. However, with some updates, they have become great….for everybody. $299 is a high price tag, but the Momentum True Wireless have audio codecs for just about every kind of device.

Sennheiser's Momentum True Wireless earbuds are still the best.

I’m still hoping Apple will come up with the “ultimate” earbuds someday. If any company can create hassle-free wireless earbuds with all-day battery life, Apple could. But for now, the PowerBeats Pro buds look like Apple is at least moving things into the right direction.

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Samsung Galaxy S10 Vs. Galaxy S10+


Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10+

My impressions of the Samsung Galaxy S10 were very positive — it’s a top notch phone and portable multimedia machine. I thought I would love the S10+ even more. And I do. But the Galaxy S10 really stands on its own. In any case, here are the differences.

Screen Size

The Galaxy S10 has a 6.1-inch screen, while the Galaxy S10+ has a 6.4-inch screen. In some ways, I liked the smaller screen on the S10 more so I could hold it with one hand. But when I watched movies, I wish I had the Galaxy S10+ in front of my eyes.

Dual Front-Lens Camera

The Galaxy S10+ has a front dual-lens camera.

The Galaxy S10 has a single-lens camera in front, while the S10+ has a double-lens shooter — the extra lens added for depth perception.  Honestly, I can’t tell a difference (yet) in the quality of pictures from the front camera on both devices. The one hole-punch is certainly less annoying than the double one on the S10+.

Battery

The  Galaxy S10 comes with a 3,100mAh battery, while the S10+ has a more powerful 3,400mAh one. The S10 takes up more juice because of the bigger screen. All in all, both take and give the same amount of power as the battery life on both devices is fantastic.

RAM and Storage Options

For those of you who like to brag about RAM and internal storage, Samsung offers a version of the Galaxy S10+ that has 12GB of RAM and 1GB of storage. To most people, both of those numbers are overkill on smartphones. The top S10 model, which has 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, will satisfy even the most ardent smartphone user.

Price

The Galaxy S10 is only $100 less than the S10+

One of the most obvious differences is the price tag. The cheapest S10 unit (8GB RAM, 128GB SSD) is $899, while the entry-level version of the S10+ is $999. For those who want the larger screen, the extra $100 will be worth it. For those who want a more portable phone to put in their pockets, they’ll be happy to pay $100 less.

Tough Choice

The Galaxy S10 just isn’t the middle child of the new Galaxy S family; it could also be considered the worthwhile one. It has all the bells and whistles of Samsung’s flagship model, but trims off a couple of inches.

One thing is for sure — both the Galaxy S10 and S10+ are better — at least in terms of hardware — than any smartphone Apple has come up with (good idea for an upcoming article). You should probably try both out at your carrier’s store before making a final decision.

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Samsung Galaxy Buds: Stay Far Away!

Well, I had a lot of praise for the Samsung Galaxy Buds when discussing Apple’s upgraded AirPods last week. Of course, the praise is just from what I heard. I was really excited to try these things out.  However, they’ve been a disappointment. I’m not convinced one should buy these over the AirPods 2 or any other earbuds.

The packaging — at least — looks great. The Galaxy Buds feel solid, even though they are made of plastic. They remind me of  Bose’s Sleepbuds. And they have plenty of great features, like the ability to be wirelessly charged. The case these buds come in looks like a small pill box. But it is so thin that it easily falls out of your pockets. And when the case does fall out of your pockets, the earbuds eject from the case. I don’t think Samsung thought much about the logistics of this.

The "case" the Galaxy Buds come in is easy to lose.

However, the biggest problem with the Galaxy Buds is quality. I’ve been pairing them (and the pairing is simple) with the Galaxy S10+. Unfortunately, the sound quality is quite mediocre. There is some good bass — even more than there is on the AirPods. There is also a decent amount of treble.

But there’s not much of a separation of the sound spectrum, and you can really notice this when you turn the volume up. The Galaxy Buds end up sounding like cheap headphones from Koss that you would buy at Marshall’s (no offense to anyone who shops there). Nobody expected these to be audiophile quality, but the sound really is shockingly cheap.

Samsung Galaxy Buds look fine but sound bad.

Of course, others don’t agree, and it’s true that I only tested them with one phone. But the Galaxy S10+ is Samsung’s flagship phone, and if it doesn’t sound good on that, I’m betting it’s not better on other smartphones. I have used the buds on two Windows 10 laptops and noticed a lot of latency that I never experienced while using the AirPods.

The Galaxy Buds also fail at making phone calls. The voice quality has been barely passable. Picture yourself talking with someone putting a thick rubber filter in front of your mouth. That’s how you will sound to your listeners, who do sound decent from your end. If your conversations last more than a minute, you’ll end up in deep frustration.

All hope is not lost for Samsung’s latest earbuds. A later update could fix some of the main sound issues. But don’t count on it. Samsung’s Galaxy Buds prove that you get what you pay for. And while the $129 price tag is affordable, the quality is definitely lacking.

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Apple AirPods 2: What A Disappointment!

The AirPods have to be one of the best technical inventions of the decade. They really revolutionized how people listen to music and communicate. If you go to a gym or walk down a city street, you’ll see at least one in ten people with Apple’s white wireless headphones hanging out of their ears. I guess one could say that it’s a good thing they don’t need to upgrade to the new AirPods.

Apple announced the AirPods 2 this week, and Apple is bragging about faster connect times, more talk time, and a hands-free version of Siri. There is a slightly more expensive version that has a wireless charging case. There is no improvement in sound quality (at least from what we know in reports), no noise cancellation options, and no options with different colors. They should be called the AirPods S; this isn’t a “next generation” device.

Apple's AirPods are -- by far -- the best selling buds on the market.

Apple really doesn’t have to worry about a “next generation” device for the AirPods since they are selling so well. But other companies are playing catch-up, and from the looks of it, Samsung has produced their own version of the AirPods that are better than the original, at least according to ZDNet.

“The Galaxy Buds have a minimal level of water resistance, have various wings and tips for a perfect fit, have long battery life, charge wirelessly, look great, and provide touch controls. The $129.99 price is awesome and in some cases people received them for free with a new Samsung Galaxy S10 bundle.”

After many attempts, it looks like Samsung has finally come up with a winner.

The article notes that the Galaxy Buds are $70 less and one should definitely consider these — even if they own an Apple device. Tom’s Guide agrees.

“After some attempts at wireless earbuds with mixed results, it looks like Samsung has finally found the answer to the truly wireless earbud question. The $129.99 Buds offer that same magical instantaneous pairing the AirPods deliver, only for Samsung devices,” claims author Sherri L. Smith, adding that the Galaxy Buds have more important features.

Apple will continue to sell millions of their “updated” AirPods. But as we’ve learned before, the best-selling isn’t always the best quality. Apple really needs to step up its game now that other companies, such as Samsung and Sennheiser, are winning the wireless earbuds race.

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Samsung Galaxy S10 Is An Android Marvel

I thought I would get the Galaxy S10+ to review, but instead, I was sent the Galaxy S10. This is a good thing, because it’s slightly smaller than the S10 but just as capable. It feels good to have a phone that doesn’t feel like it’s going to rip out my pockets or feel too heavy.

I don’t feel I’m missing much by not having the Galaxy S10+, which isn’t significantly bigger and doesn’t have significantly more power. The S10+ does have a 4,100 mAh battery, while the S10 has a 3,500 mAh one. But the battery life is so good on the S10 that I don’t feel shorthanded. As a power user, it can get me through the whole day (but definitely needs recharging at night). The battery life is noticeably better than it is on the iPhone XS Max, which has been praised for its battery juice.

The S10 is fantastic for watching videos.

There’s also a lot more to like about the Galaxy S10, even if I’m not in love with the Android operating system. I think the thing that hits me the most is the screen. Yeah, the iPhone has an OLED screen as well, but there’s something more lifelike about the colors and images on the S10. The screen resolution is certainly higher, though the naked eye can barely notice it. Perhaps because the bezels are even thinner than they are on the iPhone XS Max, the screen stands out a little more.

Of course, the extra thin bezels aren’t always good. I have accidentally touched the screen on more than one occasion (try 15 or 20). Using a crystal clear body case has helped me keep my hands on something else besides the screen, so it hasn’t been that much of a disability.

The Galaxy S10 is incredibly thin.

Then, there’s the much looked-forward-to under-the-screen fingerprint reader. It works but really takes a lot of getting used to. Unfortunately, it fails to sign in once in a while. Perhaps this is why Apple is holding off on their scanner — they want to perfect it before it’s brought to market. Like the iPhone, the S10 has a face scanner as well — but it doesn’t work as well.

This isn’t to say that you’ll be struggling all day to log into your phone. In fact, it’s generally not a problem. Complaining about the login options is nitpicking right now, because I love everything else about this phone so much. I love the feel, the screen, the integration of software, and the sound.

Speaking of sound, Samsung has has outdone Apple in this category. When using the Dolby Atmos software, you can make the sound seem like it is coming from all around you. In fact, I preferred playing Spotify through the S10 speakers rather than my car stereo speakers, which I admit aren’t so great. I could feel the bass and treble in equal doses. You really have to listen to the S10 stereo speakers to understand how good they are.

The Galaxy S10 takes great pictures in low-lit situations.

Then, there is the triple-lens camera. Of course, it’s great to have three lenses, but it doesn’t necessarily make the pictures better than the iPhone XS Max’s two lenses, except in low-lit situations. But the videos come more alive than the do in the iPhone due to the fantastic stereo mics. Of course, Apple has finally included stereo mics on their upper-end devices, but there’s not much stereo separation. Samsung’s videos sound completely lifelike.

Then there’s the phone quality. I found that, at least from my end, I could hear speakers a little more clearly on the S10 than any device I have tested over the past year or so. To make things even better, I never hear anybody ask me to repeat myself when using the speakerphone feature.

Unless you are absolutely stuck on Apple’s ecosystem, you may want to give the Galaxy S10 a try. While Samsung’s software isn’t as good as Apple’s, the hardware is clearly ahead. It’s going to be really hard to give the Galaxy S10 back.

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First Impressions: HP Spectre x360 13 2019

The version of the HP Spectre 13 talked about in this article is the one with a 4K screen, Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM, and a 512 GB SSD. 

Well, HP has certainly come a long way. The Spectre x360 13 (2019 version) has come across my desk, and I am more impressed than I ever thought I would be. Of course, more use will reveal some faults. But for now, here are my initial impressions:

  • The thought that was put into building this thing is amazing.
  • Top and bottom bezels are huge (sort of a turnoff). However, the side bezels are very small (sort of a turn-on).
  • This thing is so thin — almost scarily so.

The HP Spectre x360 has a very premium build.

  • I love the cut corners on the bottom, especially one where you plug in the AC Adapter.
  • The touchpad is not a Microsoft Precision touchpad. However, there are drivers you can download. It’s worth it as it makes the Spectre X360 much easier to navigate.
  • The screen is great, especially for a HP, a company not previously known for excellent contrast ratios. However, the contract ratio on this is almost as good as it is on the MacBook Pro.
  • There is no backlight bleed whatsoever when testing a black screen in complete darkness.

The Spectre x360 screen is very crisp.

  • I really like the keyboard. Not a lot of travel to the keys, but they still feel very comfortable and you can feel the tactile feedback.
  • The bottom of the device gets pretty warm. But overall, the thermals are great for such a razor-thin device.
  • The speakers are great — equal to the latest on the MacBook Pro 13. Dell could learn from HP on how to put great speakers on such a small device.
  • The Spectre x360 can be used as a tablet, but isn’t the most comfortable to use as this way. That’s okay, since HP doesn’t advertise it as a tablet.
  • I miss the Wacom pen of previous HP devices. The N-Trig is good, but produces some pen jitter like the pen on the Surface Go LTE does.
  • I love the leather case that HP includes with the Spectre x360. All companies should include a case.
  • Even though this is a hybrid device, the screen is still pretty sturdy — not a lot of shaking when typing in regular mode.
  • Photoshop on this works very well. In my full review, I will test Adobe Premiere Pro.
  • Battery life is great for a 13-inch 4K laptop.
I will have a full review of the Spectre X360 13 soon. This could be the best ultraportable laptop I’ve tested in years. We’ll see if things hold up past the honeymoon period. 
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Nintendo Switch Pro Controller Is Worth $60

The Nintendo Switch is an incredible portable gaming machine, and the Joy-Con controllers that come with it are very good. But once you try the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, you probably won’t want to go back to the Joy-Cons.

Sure, $60 is a lot when compared to other controllers. But you pay for what you get, and you get a lot with the Pro. It makes even the most boring games on the Nintendo Switch more exciting. And it makes several games that were ported to the Switch (Atari Flashback Classics, for example) playable. I wasn’t able to play Centipede with the Joy-Cons; the movements were too sensitive. That’s not an issue with the Pro controller.

The Pro Controller really fits my hands like a glove. And the buttons are much bigger than the tiny Joy-Con buttons. There is also more of a cushy feeling when you press the buttons. After using the Pro for an hour, I didn’t feel any noticeable discomfort in my hands like I do with the Joy-Cons. Don’t get my wrong; the Joy-Cons are good too. It’s just that you start to dislike them once you use the Pro Controller.

The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller has incredible battery life.

The battery life, which is listed at 40 hours, is pretty incredible. There’s no real way to completely turn the power off on the Pro Controller, but you don’t need to. Even with a 15 minute charge, you are pretty much good to go all day. Battery power will run down, however, if any button is pressed while the Pro is not connected to the Switch.

Of course, the Pro Controller isn’t just good for the Switch; it’s a fantastic controlling device for the PC as well. It makes games played on ColecoVison, Atari, SNES, and arcade emulators more enjoyable to play. There is confusion in setting up the device through Bluetooth in Windows 10. However, all you need to do is power off the Nintendo Switch to make things work smoothly.

The Pro Controller is definitely portable. However, I wish it could be a little bit smaller. Then again, someone might say that you have the Joy-Cons for portability, and the Pro Controller is for the expert gamers who want to get the most out of their gaming — no matter what size. They are the ones that will attach the Nintendo Switch to their television set anyway, so having extra portable controllers don’t matter.

Even though I’m not one of those “expert gamers,” the Pro Controller is still worth every penny of the $60 I spent. And I don’t worry about a better controller coming out either.

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Huawei Mate X Challenges Samsung Galaxy Fold

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

The Samsung Galaxy Fold won’t be the only new foldable smartphone on the market. Huawei has just announced the Mate X, and it is very different. While the Galaxy X Fold appears like a book with one screen as a cover, the the Mate X is just one screen that can act like three different ones, depending on how you fold it out.

Tech Crunch is pretty impressed.

“The device was pretty responsive in a less controlled environment than we’d previously seen it — or, for that matter, the Fold…All of which is to say the Mate X is real. I’ve seen it, and am so far pretty impressed with the execution.”

The article adds that Huawei’s latest smartphone has a nice design and a nice screen. However, crinkles in the display are made noticeable by an overhead light. The only thing that the author wasn’t really impressed with was the $2,600 price.

Chris Smith from BGR believes the Mate X is the best foldable smartphone he’s seen.

“In tablet mode, the gorgeous display looks amazing. It’s an all-screen device with no notch and no camera hole, just 8 inches of edge-to-edge display. It’s a tablet you can pocket that can run between two and four apps side-by-side. And Google, I was told, is also involved in optimizing the multi-app experience,” Smith notes, adding that the aspect ratio of the smartphone is a little bit unusual.

Click to play in YouTube.

Vlad Savov of The Verge says the Mate X has the best first draft for a foldable smartphone.

“This is the most refined design, the slickest and thinnest form factor, and the most sensible use of space that any manufacturer has yet shown.”

Savov adds that in order for the phone to be able to fold, the screen is made of plastic. Huawei’s other phones have a  glass front and rear glass back. He also likes the way Huawei places the cameras on the device. So far, nobody has been able to test out the camera quality of the multiple front and rear cameras on the Mate X.

What’s really interesting about the latest foldable phones from Samsung and Huawei is that it used to be Apple that was first with groundbreaking innovations. That’s no longer the case. Though, you can bet — just as you read this — that Apple is working on their version of the foldable phone. Will it be called the iFold?

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