Get Ready: The Sexbots Are Coming

It was just a matter of time. Technology has given us many things but hasn’t yet provided us with full-fledged robotical lovers. But that is about to change .

A new report published by The Foundation for Responsible Robotics  argues that within the next 10 years, the marketplace could be flooded with sexbots. The report goes a little further:

“It is clear overall that men are keener on sex with robots than women. There are different opinions between scholars about the moral issues of using robots for intimate relations. We have also heard the manufacturers put forward a positive case for robots that certainly aligns with some of the public views and points to groups that could benefit from robot intimacy.”

I wasn’t aware of any computerized sex toys until I spent time in AltspaceVR last year, where on guy told me he had a computerized girlfriend.  I thought he was joking at first, but he went on to describe how he takes her to the beach, talks to her and — of course — does other things. I didn’t want him to get into more details because even though I’m not a moralist, I was slightly disturbed.

Technology has taken over almost every single aspect of life. Kids no longer go out and play on their bicycles after school. Instead, they spend time on their computers, where they can interact with all their friends from all over the world. Now, true intimacy is being threatened. However, some would argue that this line of thought just isn’t true.

“What about people who are handicapped. What about extremely obese people or others who have obstacles to finding someone to be intimate with?” someone asked me in a discussion group. And she did make some sense. Our discussion made me think about how even though the discussion has usually been about female sexbots, male ones will be necessary as well.

Click to play in YouTube.

Remember Gigolo Joe from A.I.? The best quote was when he said, “Patricia, once you’ve had a lover robot, you’ll never want a real man… again.” Of course people laughed then, but did this movie predict the future?

No doubt, there will be some who will argue that this new technology will increase rape and other deviant activities. The manufacturers will argue that rape, assault, etc. existed before sexbots and will continue afterwards. Of course, the question you may be embarrassingly asking yourself now is, “How much will they cost?”

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Consumer Reports Now Targets Microsoft Surface Devices

Late last year, Consumer Reports delivered a major blow to Apple by not recommending their latest MacBook Pro notebooks due to battery issues. Apple fixed the issue and all was forgotten. But things may be even worse for Microsoft based on the latest “findings” by Consumer Reports.

“Consumer Reports is removing its ‘recommended’ designation from four Microsoft laptops and cannot recommend any other Microsoft laptops or tablets because of poor predicted reliability in comparison with most other brands.”

The article adds that new studies conducted by the Consumer Reports National Center estimate that 25 percent of Microsoft laptops and tablets will present their owners with problems by the end of the second year of ownership. Now, I have never owned a Surface device for more than a year; I keep selling them so I can get an updated Surface Pro. I can say that there were issues at the beginning of the ownership of the devices, but they have always been fixed with software updates.

The worst Surface product I owned was the Surface Book, and I can’t believe I spent over $2,000 on a device that was practically bricked for six months. Not only were there problems with the keyboard and screen attachment, but the touchpad was inconsistent and practically unusable. However, by the time I sold my device, the problems were fixed. Of course, Microsoft isn’t the only company that has rollout issues; Apple and Samsung do as well. But Microsoft’s roll-out issues are usually more extreme.

In terms of hardware, Micros0ft has shown an issue with backlight bleed, which has been written about extensively. Some backlight bleed on edges is normal for touchscreen devices, but Microsoft really took this to the extreme in their latest Surface Pro, and previous Surface Pro generations were problematic with this issue as well.

Picture of Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 backlight bleed

Of course, a picture of the screen exaggerates the backlight bleed. But this photo shows that the backlight bleed extends beyond the edges. My 2017 Surface Pro has more backlight bleed than I prefer, but it’s only noticeable in very low-lit situations and doesn’t affect the screen.

But there has been a bigger problem with the new Surface Pro. And if I had known about this problem, I would have saved money purchasing the iPad Pro instead since I like taking notes with a stylus. The new Surface Pen, which Microsoft charges $100 for, is almost unusable. The pen was supposed to fix the jittery writing from previous Surface Pen devices, but it has only become worse.

The new Microsoft Surface Pro hasn't been tested by Consumer Reports.

Despite all this, I’m not sure how accurate Consumer Reports is, especially since, as PC World notes, the data isn’t based on the updated Surface Pro 4, 2017 Surface Pro, or the new Surface Laptop. Microsoft is trying to defend themselves from the current debacle, and it’s not known the damage that this report will have on their brand. Still, something tells me that we’ll see a new Consumer Reports article in another couple months claiming that the problems have been fixed and they can once again recommend Surface products.

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Is T-Mobile Changing The Game Again With 30-Day ‘JUMP On Demand’ Plan?

I have to admit that five years ago, I thought I’d rather be dead than be a T-Mobile subscriber. But things changed — their network became faster, they offered better phones, and they have the best deals out of all the carriers.

One thing in particular that made me decide to switch was a new plan called “JUMP on Demand,” which, back in 2013, allowed you to make monthly payments on a phone, exchange your phone for a new one at any time, and keep making payments on the new phone. Of course, there were some downsides to this as most JUMP contracts required that you had paid at least $400 on your current phone before you exchange it.

But there is a catch to this; you still have to pay full taxes and make a down payment on a new smartphone. For example, let’s say you exchange your iPhone 7 for a Galaxy s8+. Since the full price of the phone is $840, you could have to pay $84 right away, depending on where you live. Then, there are other “charges.” One year ago, when I “jumped” from my Galaxy Note 5 to the Galaxy Note 7, I had to pay $218 off the bat. I sent my Galaxy Note 5 back in a package.

No matter what phone you choose in JUMP plan, you still have to make a pre-determined down payment.

The truth is that the JUMP plan is worth it for people who like to have the latest and the greatest, but it’s not as good as it sounds. Still, T-Mobile will no doubt be racking in the new customers now that they have upgraded their JUMP plan to include exchanged as soon as 30 days.

The new plan requires you to sign an 18-month agreement with T-Mobile. And this JUMP plan, unlike previous ones, doesn’t include insurance, which can be added within 14 days of signing up for the plan.

There seems to be some confusion with the reps that were checked with for this article. Some are saying that the plan is for low-end phones (not iPhone, Galaxy S8, etc.), but others are saying it can be any phone. However, even though you can change within 30 days, you can still only “jump” three times a year. Of course, it’s hard to figure out why anybody would want to change phones over three times a year.

If you are the type that can never decide whether you want to keep your new phone or not, you can always keep buying a new phone from T-Mobile and exchange it within 15 days. Of course, you will have to pay a restocking fee each time. And this method may take a little too much time, given that you have to erase your old phone and restore all of your apps on your new phone.

I’ve contacted T-Mobile to see if they can finalize  exactly what this plan entitles you to, and will update the article. It will be interesting to see how the other carriers follow T-Mobile with this new plan.

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Samsung (Almost) Has A Hit With Notebook 9 Pro

Samsung hasn’t made much of a dent in the PC industry, despite their best efforts. However, the new Notebook 9 Pro may change that. Samsung’s latest (and greatest) 15-inch notebook has the latest Intel Core i7 processor,  a Radeon™ 540 graphics card, a 15-inch LED touchscreen display, 16GB of RAM, and a 256 SSD. It sells for the great price (for what you get) of $1299.99.

In person, the notebook looks basic but striking. It has earned some great reviews as well. CNET gives the 9 Pro four stars and says it’s a pro-level laptop without the pro-level price.

“Quirks aside, I’d rate this as an excellent value if you’re looking for a big screen that plays well with a stylus, but don’t want to spend a fortune,” says reviewer Dan Ackerman, who especially praises the fast performance and stylus capabilities.

Click to play in YouTube.

Laptop Mag also gives the Notebook 9 Pro four stars.

“The Samsung Notebook 9 Pro is a sleek, powerful 15-inch laptop with the best built-in stylus on the market, but we wish it lasted longer on a charge.”

Of course, that’s not the only complaint about the battery life.

“The Notebook 9 Pro has a short battery life, with about 260 minutes of video playback. That’s probably the lowest we’ve seen out of a laptop, but we didn’t expect a long run with this much hardware,” says Gordon Mah Ung of PC World.

Indeed, Samsung has run into the same problems as Dell when it comes to 15-inch notebooks. They are usually so powerful that battery life becomes secondary. The only 15-inch notebook that I’ve used that has an average of five hours of battery life or more with heavy use is the MacBook Pro 15-inch (Touch Bar). But for some people, the lower battery life is a trade-off for a portable machine that can play a lot of graphic-intense games.

Samsung's latest power notebook has a relatively low resolution screen.

There is one huge flaw with the Notebook 9 Pro: It’s 15-inch screen only has a 1080p resolution. Ten years ago, a 15-inch laptop with a 1080p screen was considered a luxury. Today, it’s way behind the times. Although some people may not mind.

In terms of gaming, some may prefer the 1080p screen because it allows more frames-per-second on various games. However, others who like to play back 4K videos obviously won’t see the deep details in the videos. Pictures won’t show deep details either. Why does it always seem like whenever Samsung is about to hit a home run with a product, there is always one main shortcoming?

 

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Motorola’s New Moto Z2 Force Shows Early Screen Problems

Moto Z2 Force

Motorola isn’t as successful of a smartphone company as they used to be. Still, when the new Z2 Force screen was announced, there was some excitement. Tech Radar‘s  hands-on review was positive. They were complimentary of the 360 degree camera, the design, and, especially, the new “thinner and shatter-proof” glass on the screen.

Unfortunately, making the glass thinner might have not been a good idea. Phandroid has the news.

“Now reports of reviewers being able to scratch the screen with just a fingernail are surfacing as tech reviewers get to spend more time with the phone.”

Of course, Motorola instantly released a statement that Phandroid has posted.

“Shatterproof does not mean scratchproof, and scratches can be subjective. Motorola encourages the use of a third-party screen protector for added scratch resistance. Over the three generations of ShatterShield, we’ve continued to evolve the design.”

The fact that they have to encourage people to use a third-party screen protector is telling. It would have been okay five years ago. However, most phones, such as the iPhone and all of Samsung’s Galaxy S devices, use Gorilla Glass. And although this type of glass can’t fully protect screens from getting scratched, they make it so a screen protector really isn’t necessary. One thing is for sure — Gorilla Glass certainly protects screens from fingernail scratches.

Click to play on YouTube.

Motorola adds in their statement that this year, they have switched to a 3D design, which makes it more competitive with other flagship smartphones. Motorola promises they will continue to evolve the design for continuous improvement, and customers should see (and feel?) the improvement once the Z2 Force is officially released on August. 10.

The statement is clearly designed to walk around the fact that their new screen is indeed faulty or at least low quality. As Android Police notes, the key to Motorola’s “unbreakable” displays is that they are composed of plastic rather than glass. The reviewer on their site has been with the phone for a week and has noticed several visible scratches on the display. Several others who claim to have a pre-release of the phone claim the same thing on Twitter.

At this point, perhaps Motorola would be better off pushing the release date of the phone back to make sure the screens are perfected. This issue should not have gone past quality control tests in the first place. Motorola certainly has yet another problem on their hands (and fingernails).

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AltspaceVR Gets Ready To Shut Down

AltspaceVR

This is bad news for the virtual reality industry. More than any app, AltSpaceVR demonstrated the best aspect of VR — bringing people together in virtual environments. I have used AltspaceVR far more than any other app available for my HTC Vive.

With AltspaceVR, people could spend time in different environments with each other using their avatars. I remember being dizzy using AltSpace VR with Samsung’s Gear VR. In order to move around, I had to use the controllers. However, when I purchased the HTC Vive, which had motion sensors, I was able to walk around in the VR world as I was walking around in my apartment space.

Click to play in YouTube.

AltspaceVR allowed me to meet people from all over the world who I could share videos with. It allowed me to hang out by the ocean and other exotic spots with virtual friends. It’s quite sad that I hung out with more virtual friends than real friends these past couple of months, but I’ve been quite a busy person.

Well, there’s bad news from a recent blog post from AltspaceVR titled ” A Very Sad Goodbye.”

“It is with a tremendously heavy heart that we let you all know that we are closing down AltspaceVR on August 3rd, 7PM PDT. The company has run into unforeseen financial difficulty and we can’t afford to keep the virtual lights on anymore.”

The post adds that they were a venture-backed startup. They had a supportive group of investors that gave them money in 2015 but don’t do so anymore. The next round of funding unfortunately fell through. A lot of this has to do with the slowing down of VR market growth.

The virtual reality industry is slowing down. As the Wall Street Journal noted earlier this year, VR headsets like Sony’s PlayStation VR, Facbook’s Oculus Rift, and the HTC Vive haven’t exactly lived up to the hype. Perhaps one issue is that although the virtual reality world feels amazing at first, it’s like a piece of candy in that the rush doesn’t last long.

Using the HTC Vive can be an inconvenience.

The HTC Vive, for example, becomes somewhat of a hassle to use because of the wires. The base stations are also inconsistent as I find myself having to go though the setup process in order to make sure that I don’t crash into the television set when I’m in my virtual reality world.

It’s still too early to say that the VR world is dead. Perhaps once headsets become wireless and are capable of displaying 4K images without a screen door effect, virtual reality will become more “real.” Perhaps augmented reality will become more mainstream than virtual reality.

 

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HP Sprocket Photo Printer Proves Printed Photos Are Still In Style

HP Sprocket Photo Printer

I haven’t paid attention to printers in years. Everything I want or need is usually in a digital format and can display on my computer or smartphone with beautiful clarity and resolution. But I admit to being impressed with a device that I saw on a film set recently that was pocket-sized and printed out pocket-sized photos. It’s called the HP Sprocket Photo Printer. It sells for about $129, and looks to be pretty much worth the cost.

While the printed pictures aren’t the highest quality, they’re not bad either. And there is something still riveting about looking at a printed photo rather than one on a screen. The printer also easily integrates with your social media accounts such as Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr.

The device has garnered some great reviews. PC Mag gave it four stars.

“If you want to print small snapshots exclusively from your phone or tablet—whether from its photo albums or your social media accounts—the HP Sprocket is a convenient and appealing choice.”

The article adds that there are small printers that have better quality output, but that the HP Sprocket still printed good enough pocket snapshots to instantly hand out to your friends. Trusted Reviews gave it three-and-a-half stars.

“There have been numerous attempts at this sort of printer over the past decade or so, but very few can still be found today. The Sprocket, then, is perhaps a second (or third) coming of instant photography, and it’s a charming blend between the ease and permanence of digital shots and the physicality of pinning a photo up on your wall,” says reviewer Simon Williams, who adds that there may be better small photo printers out there, but none are as convenient as HP’s.

Canon SELPHY CP1200

One of those is the Canon SELPHY CP1200 portable wireless printer. The pictures come out better on this, but it’s also not something you can easily put in your pocket. However, it will easily fit in your bag. If you want a portable battery, prepare to pay an extra $89 on top of the $100 to $110 you’ll pay for the actual device. The pictures are bigger as well. The Canon device is something one would bring to a trade show or a professional conference.

If I had to choose between the two, I would go with the HP Sprocket for its portability and ease-of-use. Then again, I still believe smartphone screens have replaced the need for printed pictures. However, the HP Sprocket, at times, makes me want to change my mind.

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Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC Review: Solid Sound, Cheap Build

The same day I posted the article about the Sennheiser HD-1 In-Ear Wireless headphones being my favorite wireless headset, a review package with the Sennheiser 4.50 BTNC over-the ear headphones arrived. And the HD-1 In-Ear Wireless, which cost $20 less, are still my favorite.

The HD 4.50 BTNC headphones are for those who want the high-quality sound of wireless headsets like the far more expensive Bose QC35s, the Sony MDR-1000x headphones, and Sennheiser’s own PXC 550 headphones, but don’t want to pay the full price. In terms of sound quality, the HD 4.50 BTNC headphones succeed, at least for the most part.

Sennheiser's HD 4.50 BTNC headphones sound great.

These Bluetooth headphones offer strong (but not overpowering) bass and good highs. The mid-levels seem to take over the sound range somewhat at times, and this is especially noticeable when listening to songs that don’t have a lot of bass. You’ll notice the exaggerated mid-ranges if you listen to adult contemporary music. However, those who listen to mostly dance or hip-hop will really enjoy the soundstage.

The HD 4.50 headphones do have active noise cancellation, and it works well. You aren’t going to get the same noise cancellation that you do on the Sony MDR-1000x headphones or the Bose QC35s, but you are paying far less. Unlike Bose, Sennheiser allows you to turn the noise cancellation off when you don’t want to use it, and that’s a good thing since the technology slightly affects the audio quality.

The HD 4.50 BTNCs don't have an exquisite build quality.

The HD 4.50 BTNC wireless headphones are operated by cheap-feeling buttons on the side — one to power the device on, another to forward, pause, or skip, and another for volume, which also turns the noise cancellation on or off. Sennheiser does offer a 3.5mm audio cable for wired listening, but there is no inline remote.

Sennheiser’s headphones have a matte finish with light padding, and the pads force against your ears a little too much. If you exercise with these headphones, prepare for drips of sweat from the headphones when you take them off. The headband feels comfortable at first, but can make itself noticeable after these headphones are worn for a long time.

In order to offer great sound and noise cancellation, Sennheiser had to cut expenses somewhere, and the design isn’t as classy as Sennheiser’s headphones are used to being. Instead of getting the luxury leather case that is included with other headphones, Sennheiser offers a zip-up pouch. In a way, I like the pouch better because it doesn’t weigh as much as a leather cases that adds a lot of bulk to your backpack if you carry one around.

Although this review mentions some faults, it should be noted that the HD 4.50 BTNC headphones are the best over-the-ear headphones in the under $200 price range. If you were looking at headphones from Bose, Sennheiser, Bowers & Wilkins, or others that cost from $300 to $400 but have a wallet that can’t cooperate, the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTCN wireless headphones should be at the top of your list.

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Sennheiser HD 1 In-Ear Wireless Headphones Are My Current Favorite

In 2015, Sennheiser released the most loved over-the-air Bluetooth wireless headphones to date, the Momentum 2 Wireless. These headphones feels outdated now, especially since the updated model, the PXC 550, is cheaper and has a better highs and more defined mid- level sounds. Still, PXC 550 headphones cost nearly $400.

Sennheiser has recently released the HD 1 In-Ear Wireless headphones that cost $199. They are not only aptX compatible, but AAC (iPhone) as well. The sound isn’t as full as that on the PXC 550 headphones, but it’s as close to sound bliss as one can get. The HD 1 buds can actually fit in your pocket, although you’ll have to do a little bit of bending.

The HD 1 headphones are certainly a better buy than the Bose QuietControl 30 Wireless in-ears, which don’t sound as good, even though they are decent headphones as well. Bose headphones offer a warmer sound, with bass containing sonic feet that kick you in the ears but feel like they are covered with socks. The bass on the HD 1 headphones takes off the socks and the kick has more impact — and this is usually a good thing, especially when listening to EDM or dance music.

The QC30 in-ears offer something that the HD 1 in-ears don’t–active noise cancellation. However, the HD 1s fill your ears so much that the passive noise isolation is better than the active noise cancellation on the Bose model.

The Sennheiser HD 1 Wireless in-ear headphones are very stylish.

In terms of design, the HD 1s look stylish, and the leather band feels nice on your neck. The buttons on the right side are easy to press, and you will never accidentally rewind or pause your song when you don’t intend to. Unfortunately, like the Bose QC30s, the band has a habit of twisting to one side or the other, especially when exercising, which these were made for.

As with other in-ear headphones, you will need to select the right buds (HD 1 comes with three pairs) in order to get the perfect fit, which will give you the perfect sound. The buds may hurt your ears during the first day of use, but your ears will certainly adjust to them.

In terms of phone quality, these Sennheiser in-ears don’t match the quality of the Bose QC30s, which offer the most clear calls out of any in-ear headphones available on the market. When using the HD 1s, people I talk to say that although I sound decent, they can definitely tell that I’m on a headset and can hear background noise. The quality for phone calls is still acceptable and shouldn’t be a deal killer if you are considering the HD 1s.

The battery life on the HD 1s is impressive and will give you at least 10 hours of use between charges, which is more than the Bose QC30s. Unfortunately, if your battery runs out, charging them takes more time than it does for other similar headphones. The HD 1s, like other in-ear wireless headphones, do not work without the battery.

When Apple announced that they were getting rid of the headphone jack in 2016, many people became angry for the right reason — Bluetooth wireless sound still isn’t as good as wired sound. But with the Sennheiser HD 1 Wireless in-ear headphones, wireless audio comes as close to perfection as it can — at least for now.

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The New Surface Pro And Backlight Bleed

Backlight bleed is nothing new when it comes to LCD screens. For years, most manufactures would tell customers that it’s natural. However, most manufacturers, especially Apple, have been able to reduce the amount of backlight bleed on their smartphones, laptops, tablets, televisions, etc. Microsoft, however, is falling behind.

As fantastic as the new Surface Pro is, you better get the “right one” if you are shopping for it. As Windows Central notes, many have been complaining about units that have excessive backlight. They get more specific about what causes it.

Many of the new Surface Pro units have backlight bleed issues.

“The issue is caused by the backlight behind the screen not being completely blocked by the other components on top of it. The problem is compounded by touch displays that have an additional digitizer layer that can cause more spacing and issues with bonding.”

You usually won’t notice backlight bleed unless you are in a very dark-lit room and have a black screen, which you do when you first turn on a device or reset it. Therefore, it usually isn’t a big problem. However, when there is excessive backlight bleed, you will notice it when playing videos.

Excessive backlight bleed has been an issue for Microsoft since the very first Surface Pro. I remember having to return two units before getting one that was acceptable. And when I say acceptable, I’m talking about noticeable light in all corners that was annoying, but not disastrous since it didn’t leak in to the majority of the screen. This issue continued on the Surface Pro 2, 3, and–especially–the Surface Pro 4.

YouTube has some good backlight bleed tests. Press picture to play on YouTube.

Right when the Surface Pro 4 was released in October of 2015, backlight bleed threads flooded Reddit. Many of the commenters understood that minimal light bleed exists, but thought the Pro 4 bleed was brutal. Luckily, Microsoft is easy-going about returns. However, they may tell you that they don’t notice any backlight bleed. Of course they don’t, especially if they are looking at the device in a lit room!

I only once had a backlight bleed problem with Apple, and that was the third-generation iPad in 2012. With the lights off, you could see a yellow glow from the right center to the edge of the screen. Apple returned it with no questions asked, and that’s the last time I ever saw a backlight bleed problem with an Apple device. That’s because they spend more time in the quality control process to assure they deliver the  highest-quality products possible.

This isn’t to say that Microsoft produces low-quality products, because the new Surface Pro is anything but that. But after five generations, you would think that the backlight bleed problem would have been solved. Get with the times, Microsoft!

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