Samsung Prepares Galaxy Z Flip 3

Galaxy Z Flip 3 render courtesy of 'Let's Go Digital'

Even though the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 (sometimes referred to as the Galaxy Z Fold3) is the star of Samsung’s upcoming August 11 event, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 clamshell foldable will also be announced.

Samsung’s most recent Galaxy Z Flip 5G was released earlier in the year to excellent reviews. Tom’s Guide noted that the second time around proved to be a charm for Samsung.

“It didn’t take long a lot of testing for our Samsung Galaxy Z Flip review to realize that Samsung had built the most polished foldable phone yet — at least until the Galaxy Z Fold 2′s subsequent release. Even though the new Fold now sets the standard for foldable devices, the Galaxy Z Flip remains a well-built phone that provides a big, colorful screen still capable of folding into a device that fits neatly into your pocket. ”

The Galaxy Z Flip 3 has won many raves for Samsung.

Laptop Mag gave the foldable phone four stars. Critic Sean Riley praised the phone for its unique form factor, vivid and bright display, excellent camera, and great software support. However, he criticized the lack of a 120Hz display and poor battery life. Still, he ended up calling the phone a “blueprint” for its type. A lot 0f other websites agree.

The Galaxy Z Flip 3 will be slimmer than the most recent Z Flip, which is already slim. The Flip 3 will have a 6.7-inch screen (when folded out) that operates more smoothly at 120Hz. It will use ultra-thin glass for the display while being protected by Gorilla Glass Victus on its back.

The clamshell phone may also include a more durable material referred to as “Armor Frame.” It will help make the phone lighter and more durable than it was with aluminum. While the Z Flip 5G came in a few different colors, it’s possible that the new Flip will come in eight colors.

Recently, Phone Arena published leaked high resolution photos of the actual Samsung Z Flip 3, and this should excite many smartphone users. While the Galaxy Z Fold series is the most popular due to its size, power, and “cool” factor,  the Galaxy Z Flip 3 certainly fits its own niche for those who want a foldable phone that doesn’t add too much weight to their pockets. August 11 can’t come fast enough!

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Apple’s MagSafe Battery Pack Is Cute But Useless

Apple's new MagSafe Battery Pack should be avoided.

Apple has finally released its MagSafe Battery Pack, and — like a lot of Apple products — it has received a lot of hype. But unlike most Apple products, including the recent AirTag, it doesn’t live up to the hype. It’s far below Apple’s usual high standards.

First off, the white rectangular shape of the Pack looks very “Apple” and sculpted. The magnet is very strong, and you’ll have a great time connecting and disconnecting it to the back of your iPhone. It even connects if you have a thin sleeve on your phone but may slip off with pressure.  This product somewhat resembles an iPod from the mid 2000s. You may even enjoy putting it in and out of its packaging. But that’s about it.

One has to remember that a decent magnetic charger for an iPhone would be a lot larger and wouldn’t easily stick to the back of the phone. Some people buying this already understand that. They think that despite the lack of power, the MagSafe Battery Pack will still be convenient. They believe it may not charge the iPhone a lot, but it will keep the charge. But my tests show that simply isn’t true.

The MagSafe Battery Pack just doesn't have enough juice.

As an example, I put the Battery Pack on my iPhone 12 Pro, which was charged 40 percent. I used the GPS to drive around. I expected that after my 20 minute ride, I would possibly have at least a 5 percent increase in power. But my battery was left at 32 percent. I tried to see if I had something running in the background that would eat up battery life like a monster, but there was no such thing. It was so disappointing, because I really wanted to like this product.

I would like to say that if — perhaps — the MagSafe Battery Pack were cheaper, it would be worth the price. But that’s not even the case here. I am assuming Apple rushed these to the market without completely testing them. It’s possible that they work better with less power-hungry versions of the iPhone, such as the regular iPhone 12 or even the iPhone 12 mini. In fact, the Pack fits perfectly on the iPhone mini. But those who have Pro models (11 or 12) should stay as far away from the MagSafe Battery Pack as possible.

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Three Days With Apple’s AirTag

Apple's AirTag is easily worth the $30 price tag.

I wrote about Apple’s new AirTag last month and finally got my hands on one this week. I paid $30 for it. I had the chance to buy the four-pack bundle for $100, but I didn’t want to waste money just in case I wasn’t satisfied. What was I thinking? I am more than satisfied with the AirTag. For someone who has ADHD and often leaves things in crazy places, it’s a very important product.

The setup wasn’t as simple as I would have liked it to be, but that’s on me. Once I took the tape off of  the small circular device, my iPhone 12 Pro recognized it. I named it “Yoshi” after my favorite video game character, and then things turned frustrating. I put Yoshi in my bag and tried to track it by going to Settings and then “Find My.” I couldn’t find a thing.

What I didn’t realize is that I needed the actual Find My app in order to track Yoshi. Once I found that, I saw all of my devices listed (iPhone, Apple Watch, AirPods Pro) along with Yoshi. I moved my bag to another room, and the AirTag was easily tracked on my iPhone.  I was also able to make the tag ring just loud enough to hear. This is convenient for when you drop something in a pile of clothes or in your car somewhere.

The AirTag can be tracked at it's exact location.

The AirTag came into real world use when I left my bag (with Yoshi in its pocket) on my chair while on a film set. When I went back, my chair and the bag were missing. Normally, I’d start having a nervous breakdown. But I looked in the Find My app and saw it was still nearby. Then, I was able to track the bag to its exact location, which was in a nearby room. I clicked to play a sound and heard it under a chair in the room. Security had moved it there to keep it safe but forgot to tell me. All is forgiven!

I plan to get at least two more AirTags — one to put on my keys. Instead of paying $35 for Apple’s AirTag keychain (AirTag not included), I’ll look on Amazon for much cheaper alternatives. The only real frustrating thing about getting an AirTag is that you’ll look back on the many times your life would have been easier if the AirTag had been invented earlier. Apple’s new location device may be just a simple and cheaper Apple product, but it’s the most important one they’ve released this year.

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A Week With iPhone 12 Pro and Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra definitely wins in the hardware department.

I own an iPhone Pro. I’ve been interested in the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G ever since spending time with and reviewing it in early February. Now, I have another S21 Ultra 5G in my hands, and I’m going to be upset — not devastated — about giving it back in a week. As a piece of hardware, it’s better than the iPhone Pro. But I’m still most comfortable with iOS rather than Android.

Note that this article talks about the iPhone Pro, not the Pro Max, the Apple phone usually compared directly to the 5G Ultra. Besides the size and camera (to a certain extent), the Pro isn’t much different than the Max.

Size and Display

The Ultra 5G has a 6.8-inch screen, and just like the 6.7-inch iPhone Pro Max, it feels too big to be used as a phone. Of course, others disagree. The extra-large devices are good for people whose eyes aren’t all quite there. However, I think the 6.1-inch iPhone Pro is the perfect size — not too big or not too small. It fits in your pocket without someone saying, “Is that a smartphone in your pocket, or are you just happy……”

The iPhone 12 Pro is more compact than the S21 Ultra.

Both have ultra high-res screens. The 12 Pro has a 460 ppi OLED screen, and the S21 Ultra’s screen displays 515 ppi. The human eye can’t really tell the difference with the resolution, but it can easily see that at the default level, Samsung’s screen is more vivid. You can mess with the Accessibility settings in iOS to make the iPhone’s colors more vivid, but they end up feeling less natural than Samsung’s.

Camera

On paper, the Ultra 5G’s camera looks much better with a 108MP wide-lens camera. The Ultra 5G also has a 12MP ultra-wide lens and a 10MP telephoto lens. The 12 Pro has 12MP ultra-wide, telephoto, and wide lenses. Both take excellent pictures. 

The Ultra 5G, however, offers 10x optical zoom (with up to 100x “space zoom”), while the iPhone 12 Pro only has 2x optical zoom. For some, that makes the Ultra 5G an automatic win, but it’s not that simple. In non-zoomed shots, the iPhone 12 Pro takes clearer pics that have more details and better focus.

Operating System

Wouldn’t it be amazing if Samsung Galaxy devices ran iOS? They don’t. And this is what makes the iPhone 12 Pro a better overall phone than the Galaxy S21 Plus. The iPhone 12 Pro is just a lot smoother: The apps launch faster; there is better collaboration with your Apple devices; and no matter how much you play with equalizers, the iPhone 12 Pro sounds better with a variety of different Bluetooth headsets.

If you are a photographer who lives and breathes in the Samsung ecosystem, the S21 Ultra should be your pick. For the rest of us, the iPhone 12 Pro will provide an overall more robust experience.

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Why The Nintendo Switch OLED Is Exciting

The Nintendo Switch OLED, available on October 8, will cost $349.99.

Last week, Nintendo announced an OLED model of the Nintendo Switch that includes a larger 7-inch screen. It also features an adjustable stand (Thank God!), a wired LAN port, 64GB of internal storage, and enhanced audio. It is available starting October 8 for $349.

Many who expected a completely new Nintendo Switch model aren’t excited since they were expecting a Nintendo Switch Pro announcement. Slate‘s Allegra Frank claims the Nintendo Switch OLED could be 2021′s biggest gaming disappointment.

“This all sounds well and good, if irrelevant to most of us who already own a functioning Nintendo Switch. These improvements are not particularly exciting to anyone but the most completist of Nintendo hardware lovers, given that, as Nintendo confirmed to the Verge, the system itself has no other spec changes.”

Frank is especially critical of the fact that the new Nintendo Switch won’t be able to display 4K content and has no internal graphics improvements. However, Frank doesn’t seem to understand that Nintendo has never been really known for their graphics. After all, if graphics are your main concern, there is always the PS5.

This isn’t all to say that Nintendo has bad graphics; it’s actually quite the opposite. The graphics on the Nintendo Switch are crisp, fun, and appealing to the eyes. However, Nintendo’s major area of expertise has always been gameplay. Both adults and kids can have loads of fun on the Switch, and the games are even better after you beat the final boss. The replay value of Nintendo games is second to none.

The current Nintendo Switch screen looks somewhat washed out.

An OLED screen will certainly increase the fun of the games. The current Switch has an LED screen that looked good in 2016 but is washed out now. A perfect contrast ratio, which an OLED screen offers, has brought out the best in tablets, smartphones, and other devices. It will certainly do the same thing for the Switch. Mario and Yoshi will never be the same.

A Nintendo Switch Pro will certainly be released in the next year or so, and disappointed gamers will have to wait. But the OLED screen really turns the Switch into a much better device whether or not there are major changes on the inside. For many of us, October 8 can’t come soon enough.

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Samsung Prepares The Galaxy Z Fold3

Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold3 will be similar in size to the Fold2.

The Galaxy Z Fold2 was one of the most innovative smartphones produced in the past decade. It was the first foldable phone that wasn’t just a novelty; it was futuristic, didn’t break easily, and offered a tablet-like experience on something that could fit into your pocket (although it was heavy).

However, there were some major drawbacks that prevented some from making this their permanent smartphone. Perhaps the biggest obstacle was the $2,000 price tag ($1,700 in some places now). Then, there is the fact that the cameras were compromised — they were okay but not outstanding like the cameras in the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra or the Galaxy S21 Ultra

The Z Fold2 earned raves, but some aspects of the phone bothered owners.

The Z Fold2 screams the need for the S Pen, and it looks like Samsung will include it with the Galaxy Z Fold3. According to Phone Arena, the phone will also have an under-the-panel camera, a 7.56-inch main display, and a 6.23-inch outer panel. SamMobile has even more information.

“First, Samsung may switch screen technologies from electromagnetic resonance (EMR) to active electrostatic solution (AES) to better register stylus input; and second, that the ultra thin glass (UTG) may be twice as thick as on the Z Fold 2, from 30 micrometers to 60 micrometers.”

The article adds that the rear camera set won’t be quite groundbreaking with a 12MP main camera, a 12MP ultra-wide, and a 12MP telephoto offering only 2x optical zoom. This is very similar to the camera set that’s currently on the Z Fold2, which has been criticized by some of its owners. It is believed that the folded sides of the smartphone simply aren’t thick enough for a more advanced camera set.

Not everybody is excited about Samsung’s new foldable. In fact, an editorial on Phone Arena claims the new foldable is doomed to flop. Author Martin Filipov thinks the (still) very high price, the public not embracing foldable phones, and the fact that a 7.5-inch screen really isn’t that big will hurt sales of the Fold3.

We’ll find out more about the Fold3 in early August, and it looks like the specialty smartphone should be available before Labor Day. For the first time in several years, Samsung has no plans to launch a new Galaxy Note, and that could mean that they are pretty confident about their upcoming flagship foldable.

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HP Spectre x360 14 Is Best Windows 2-in-1 Available

Last year, I reviewed the HP Spectre x360 with OLED screen, and the unit wasn’t as groundbreaking as I expected. The OLED screen looked great for movies, but was too contrasty for regular web viewing. The battery life was dismal, even for an OLED device. Then, there was the outdated 16:9 aspect ratio.

HP improved all these aspects with the HP Spectre x360 14 and has produced the best 2-in-1 laptop of the market today. You get plenty of bang for your buck at $1519 (Best Buy current sale). But if you were looking for a device that also replaces your tablet, you may want to look elsewhere.

Design/Build

The latest Spectre x360 may be the best designed laptop you’ll ever see. It oozes high quality from the gold-cut edges, the classy hinge, and the beautiful keyboard, which is one of the best I’ve tested on a laptop. The keys don’t travel much, but they have perfect tactile feedback. You’ll be able to type as fast on this as you can with any other laptop.

The speaker grilles fire up from the bottom and are, perhaps, the only disappointing thing about this fantastic laptop.  The sound is tinny and gets worse when you turn the volume up. However, they are fine for Zoom calls and even some light music listening.

The HP Spectre x360 is incredibly thin.

Screen

I was afraid that the OLED screen would be too strong on my eyes, but HP has improved the screen for viewing non-video related content. HP has different screen modes that will satisfy a lot of different viewers. As with most Windows devices, you can also manually set contrast, saturation, and tint levels.

The 3:2 aspect ratio is a great size for those who want to view the screen horizontally when watching videos (there’s not too much black bar space above and below content) while also viewing content vertically in tablet mode. It’s the same aspect ratio as Microsoft’s Surface devices.

Performance

The new Spectre makes great use out of Intel’s latest 11th generation quad-core i7 processor and 16GB RAM. I easily able to edit pictures in Photoshop while watching Friends on HBO Max. It feels more like I am using an HP desktop PC, and the laptop doesn’t get as hot as HP’s other ones often do.

The Spectre 14 is fast but not "Apple" fast.

That said, after using the M1 processor on the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, using the Spectre 14 (let alone any PC) feels slow. If you are switching to the Spectre 14 from a recent M1 MacBook device, you’ll notice — at least with processor-heavy apps — that the HP notebook moves painfully slow. This certainly isn’t a big deal for those who use their computers for office work, web browsing, and streaming videos.

Multimedia

You most likely aren’t buying the Spectre 14 to use as a gaming machine, but it does some light gaming pretty well. What it really excels at is playing videos, which look like HDR videos even if they’re not. Color really pop when watching BoJack Horseman on Netflix or Friends on HBO Max.

As mentioned earlier, the speakers are mediocre. Many always listen to videos or music on their computers with earbuds or headphones, but it always helps to have a great set of stereo speakers when headphones aren’t readily available. Dell knows this and has improved their speakers on the latest XPS 13 and XPS 15 models. Apple’s latest MacBook Air, though it weighs less, provides much better sound fidelity than the HP Spectre x360 14.

Battery Life

Last year’s Spectre x360 lasted a measly 5 hours and 40 minutes while streaming Netflix at brightness levels between 50 and 75. This year’s Spectre makes the jump to 7 hours and 10 minutes. Some may scowl at these recent numbers, but it’s quite satisfactory since an OLED screen, let alone a 13.5-inch one, take up a lot of battery life.

Conclusion

HP has certainly come a long way, and the Spectre x360 makes major improvements each year. The Spectre x360 14 is almost the perfect 2-in-1. If HP can put better speakers on next year’s model while adding more battery life, Apple will be very nervous.

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MacBook Air (2020, M1) Feels Like A Pro

The latest MacBook Air comes in gold, silver, or space gray.

Apple’s MacBook Air has traditionally been a lighter and more watered-down version of the MacBook Pro, but the lines are really blurred this time. I’m testing out the latest version of the MacBook Air, which is being sold for only $849 ($250 less than the MacBook Pro, which is also on sale) at MicroCenter. It’s the best deal I’ve seen on a laptop in years.

This latest MacBook Air has an M1 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD drive. There are different configurations, but this appears to be the most popular one. As I noted in my review of the latest MacBook Pro, 8GB of RAM with the M1 chip is the equivalent of 16GB of RAM with the Intel chip. And in terms of speed, there’s no comparison since the MacBook Air far outpaces any machine with an Intel or AMD chip.

The design is similar to the most recent MacBook Pro: It has two two USB-4 ports (Thunderbolt 3 compatible) on the left side and a headphone jack on the right. It feels slightly lighter than the MacBook Pro, and it doesn’t — thank God — have the useless Touch Bar. In fact, the Touch Bar has been such an utter failure that it likely won’t even be on the next Pro models, which are expected later this year.

The MacBook Air design is slightly outdated.

The (relatively) thick bezels are straight out of 2017, but they aren’t too much of a disability since everything about this laptop is fantastic. I even enjoy using it more than the MacBook Pro since it is lighter and more slick. There are some differences between the notebooks, but most would still find the Air to be a better value than the Pro. Let’s take a closer look.

Speakers

The 16-inch Pro’s speakers are incredible, and the 13-inch M1 Pro’s are excellent. The Air’s speakers are very good but not enough to make you want to put away your high quality earbuds or headphones. They are missing the “oomph” of the Pros but are still better than almost any speakers you get on a PC.

Microphones

Apple claims that the microphones on both the 13 and 16-inch Pros are “studio quality,” and they’re definitely right about the latter. The mics on the 13-inch aren’t studio quality, but they’re slightly better than those on the Air. However, the slightly better audio quality on the 13 Pro doesn’t matter since it’s not good enough to substitute for mics in the AirPods or other high quality headphones. If you are a professional recording artist, you’ll most likely buy a professional mic.

Battery Life

The battery life on the Air is unbelievable.

Since the MacBook Pro has more space for a larger battery, the 13-inch Pro allows 15 hours of wireless web browsing. The Air gives you 13. Even though the battery life is slightly lower, it is still fantastic in every sense of the word. Power users can easily leave their Air home for the day without a charger, and they’ll never miss it.

Conclusion

The MacBook Air gives you more bang for your buck than any other laptop available right now. It’s shocking what a difference the M1 chip makes. Even if you spend hours editing 4K videos, you’ll save a lot of money and time with the late-2020 MacBook Air.

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Sony WF-1000XM4 Wireless Earbuds Are Great And Slightly Flawed

In 2019, Sony offered its first wireless earbuds that were somewhat useful: The WF-1000XM3 Buds had excellent sound, good battery life, and they were passable at making phone calls. The hype was short lived since Apple released the amazing AirPods Pro about a month later. Within the next year, companies such as Sennheiser and Bowers & Wilkins also gave Sony a run for their money.

This week, Sony has released the WF-1000XM4 wireless noise cancelling earbuds, and the reviews have been outstanding. WhatHiFi gives the buds five stars, complimenting their clear and detailed bass performance. PCMag gives Sony’s latest buds 4.5 stars, claiming that the noise cancellation is the best they’ve tested on earbuds.

The WF-1000XM4 buds fit in your ears easily.

The noise cancellation on the WF-1000XM4 is outstanding and almost as good as Sony’s flagship WH-1000XM4 over-the-ear headphones. They’re fantastic to sleep with, even though they feel slightly heavy in the ears after a few hours. In a crowded Starbucks, Sony’s buds cut out 80 percent of the noise, especially sound from blenders, clinging cups, etc.

Of course, you’re not going to always want noise cancellation, especially when you are driving or need to talk to somebody, and that’s where Ambient mode comes in. Sony’s Ambient mode has improved throughout the years, but it still isn’t up to par with the AirPods Pro. You can always tell that you have the buds in your ears, but that shouldn’t bother most people.  You can set the buds to automatically turn to Ambient mode when you talk or someone else talks close to you, but it doesn’t always work correctly.

The sound is as good as the reviews have described – warm, full of deep bass, and clear highs. When listening to ambient music, the full atmosphere is audible, including the deep bass thumps and the high-pitched cymbals. Sony does provide an equalizer in its Music Center app, but chances are you’ve already set an equalizer if you listen to Spotify or Apple Music.

The voice quality is average but definitely still usable.

Sony’s earbuds have never been known for their voice quality, and they are still behind with their latest buds — at least when compared to the AirPods Pro or even the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. They sound good in non-noisy environments, but once you get into crowded places, the buds make your voice sound unclear and robotic. But this time, the voice quality isn’t the Achilles heel; but it could be better.

Perhaps the best thing about the WF-1000XM4 buds is the battery life. Using noise cancellation, one can get a little more than eight hours of use. This, for some people, amounts to a full night of sleep. Without noise cancellation, you can get almost 12 hours. And a fully-charged case can give the XM4s up to four charges.

If you want high-end earbuds with high audio quality and great noise cancellation, the Sony WF-1000XM4s should be at the top of your list. However, if you want the all-around best buds that include great sound quality, great noise cancellation, great voice quality, and multi-point connections, the AirPod Pros still are the best.

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Consensus: Apple’s AirTag Is A Hit

Do you keep losing your wallet and wish you could track it with your iPhone? Do you work on a film set, where you have to bring a laptop you are afraid of being stolen? Do you want to track your dog? (Oh, wait, Apple doesn’t want you to do that.)

Apple’s long-awaited AirTag appears to be hitting all the right notes by being relatively inexpensive and helping people save money and curb the frustration of losing something. You can buy a single AirTag for $29 or a pack of four for $99. CNN says the price is worth it.

“Overall, the tags’ integration within Apple’s Find My network delivers a wide coverage map, and their location accuracy is impressive. Combined with turn-by-turn directions to lost items, this makes them highly valuable for Apple users who misplace their belongings.”

The article adds that one should invest in an accessory or two since you can’t attach the AirTag to any item (or pet) out of the box. Macworld says the AirTag is a classic Apple product.

“The AirTag is an excellent entry to the Bluetooth tracker market, with simple set-up, easy tracking, and good privacy—but it could be even better,” says author Michael Simon, who adds that it is also slightly flawed since you can’t track it with the Apple Watch and it doesn’t include something to hold the tag.

As CNET explains, the AirTag can be tracked through Apple’s Find My network.

Click to play in YouTube.

As expected, there have been some privacy concerns with the new AirTag. As the Washington Post explains, Apple can find your device with accuracy that’s “frightening.” If someone wants to stalk you, all they have to do is slip an AirTag into your bag. It’s true that Apple has implemented what it calls “unwanted tracking” to warn potential victims with audible alarms and messages regarding suspicious AirTags popping up on iPhones. However, many say that this isn’t a complete privacy solution.

The AirTag doesn't come with a key chain.

Just as this article was about to be published, Apple announced they are refining privacy improvements. According to 9to5Mac, the firmware update will have the AirTag now play a sound after it has been separated from its owner at a random time within an interval of 8 and 24 hours. This is different from the three days it took for the AirTag to play a sound prior to the upgrade.

Apple also announced that an Android app will be coming sometime this year. Android users can currently use the AirTag with a separate page popping up with location information. It sounds like no matter what phone you use, the AirTag will prove to be a very capable device.

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