Samsung Galaxy S8+: My First Two Full Days

I was glad to be working Wednesday on a film (with Denzel Washington!), but couldn’t wait till the night ended so I could get home to my new Samsung Galaxy S8+, which had been delivered earlier in the day. I finally got home at 10:00 p.m. an opened up my new toy.

I had played with the Galaxy S8+ late last month and was impressed, but wasn’t sure mine would last beyond the two weeks return period. I recently wrote about how disappointed I was at the single-lens camera (apparently Samsung originally intended to have a dual-lens camera), which is inferior to that on the iPhone 7 Plus. I’m still disappointed, but in some tests, found that the Galaxy S8+ camera is slightly improved from the Galaxy Note 7 and Galaxy S7 Edge from last year.

The Samsung Galaxy S8+ has a beautiful screen.

Overall, I am leaning on keeping the Galaxy S8+ and using my T-Mobile “JUMP” plan to exchange it for the Galaxy Note 8 when that comes out. In fact, I have to say that the most disappointing thing about the S8+ is that I wish it had a pen to go with it’s mammoth screen.

Here are some of my first-day use observations:

  • The screen is a beauty. There is no reason Samsung should have gone with a 4K screen; the battery life would have been dismal.
  • This is the most premium-feeling phone I’ve ever used. It also feels like if I dropped it, it would break in pieces.
  • Android Nougat is an improvement, but Apple’s iOS still remains the best mobile operating system.

    The Galaxy 8+ screen curves, but not too much.

  • I love that the screen curves, but not too much. The Galaxy S7 Edge was sometimes hard to operate because my fingers would accidentally hit part of the screen that curves over.
  • I am disappointed that there are no stereo speakers, but the mono speaker on the S8+ is the best mono speaker I’ve heard.
  • I only used the iris scanner for a half day; it’s too buggy to be reliable — at least for now.
  • Putting the fingerprint scanner right next to the camera lens in the back was not a good idea.
  • For the very first time, I can say that Bluetooth audio from a Samsung device sounds just as good as it does on the iPhone.
  • The phone quality is excellent and the HD calls sound even better than calls do on a landline phone.
  • The blue light filter is helpful and certainly reduces eye strain.
That’s all for now. The Galaxy S8+ includes everything but the kitchen sink…and a pen stylus. It will be interesting to see how Samsung improves on their latest smartphone when the Galaxy Note 8 is released late this summer. 
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Can The Samsung Galaxy Book Challenge The Surface Pro 4?

Samsung Galaxy Book

The Surface Pro 4, despite its initial shortcomings (battery life, faulty trackpad driver, etc.) has become the ultimate hybrid laptop. It’s so successful that Microsoft doesn’t have to worry about delaying the Surface Pro 5; the Surface Pro 4 is still a big hit, and sales will continue while Microsoft takes their time on their next Surface Pro.

Within the past couple of years, there have been several Surface Pro clones. The only one that personally fascinated me was the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S, which was a 12-inch Windows 10 tablet that came with a keyboard. For $899 (the price has gone down considerably the past year), the TabPro S had 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD (with a microSD expansion slot for more storage), and a beautiful Super AMOLED display, which is still very rare for a Windows 10 device.

Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro S

The TabPro S actually felt more like a tablet than the Surface Pro 4 as it was skinnier and had more rounded edges. It would have been the perfect Surface Pro 4 replacement if it didn’t have Intel’s turtle-slow Core M processor. I found that doing office tasks were fine, but once I opened Photoshop, things got a lot more trickly. At the time, I wished that Samsung would release an AMOLED Windows 10 tablet with at least an Intel Core i5 processor, and it looks like my wishes came true.

Click to play on YouTube.

The upgrade to the TabPro S is called the Surface Book, and the high-end version comes with a 3.1GHz “Kaby Lake” Core i5 dual-core CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256SSD, and the same Quad-HD 12-inch screen our eyes watered over in the previous iteration. Unlike the Surface Pro 4, it actually comes with a keyboard cover. And it also comes with a bigger version of Samsung’s S-Pen. Though it was announced by Samsung in February, the hybrid device still doesn’t have an official release date.

It’s been a busy month for Samsung, who also just released the Galaxy Tab S3, an Android tablet that competes with the the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. The Galaxy S8 and S8+ smartphones, as mentioned in an iReTron a few days back, are shipping to new owners this week. Samsung is hoping to turn things around after the brand-crushing Galaxy Note 7 debacle.

Despite several efforts, Samsung has never made much of a dent in the tablet or PC market. However, the release of the Galaxy Book could certainly change that. Let’s hope Samsung stops teasing the device and releases it before it gets too late.

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Samsung Galaxy S8 Units With Disappointing Camera Start Shipping Early

If you are on T-Mobile and pre-ordered the new Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8+ within a couple days after it officially launched for pre-sale, then you likely got a message from T-Mobile indicating that your order is on  your way. I received an email about my Galaxy S8+ on Friday morning. However, it doesn’t mean the device is actually on the plane right now. However, it’s likely that I should receive mine by Tuesday — three days before the actual release date.

My Samsung Galaxy S8+ is on its way.

Am I excited? Am I jumping for joy and wishing I could somehow skip through a couple days of my life in order to start playing with it? Unfortunately, the answer is “no.” It’s not that the Galaxy S8+ isn’t a great phone; it is. I’ve played with it at Best Buy a lot, which diminishes some of the excitement since it won’t be brand new experience. But there’s another thing that’s been bugging me lately — the Galaxy S8+ camera.

Samsung Galaxy S8 only has a solo lens.

From what I’ve seen, it’s a great camera. BGR, known as the Apple fanboy website, is highly impressed with Samsung’s latest smartphone camera. But it’s disappointing that Samsung couldn’t put a dual-lens camera on their phone this time around. According to CNET, there have been prototypes of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ that have dual-lens cameras. However, it is believed that Samsung didn’t have enough time to put the fingerprint scanner under the screen, so they had to put it on the back, which made the dual-lens camera not fit.

According to insiders, Samsung thought the dual-lens camera didn’t make that big of a difference. However, anybody who uses the iPhone 7 Plus will tell you differently. The fact that the iPhone camera has 2X optical zoom (a dual-lens camera allows this) makes a huge difference. Without a 2X optical lens, images often look further than they really are. The iPhone 7 Plus truly makes a digital camera irrelevant. It’s hard to say the same thing about the Galaxy S8+, though it at least has stereo mics for shooting 4K videos.

The good news is that Samsung will have enough time to work on the under-the-screen fingerprint scanner in order to deliver the dual-lens camera for the Galaxy Note 8. The only problem is that the Galaxy Note 8 isn’t expected to be released until August or September of 2017, with hopefully no explosions this time around.

I still may end up liking my Galaxy S8+ a lot, despite the camera. If not, there’s always the (thank God) two week return period. Still, the smartphone I’m looking forward to the most in 2017 is definitely the Galaxy Note 8.

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All Laptops Should Have A Screen Protector Or Keyboard Cover

Don’t let the manufacturers fool you; your laptop screen is not protected. It doesn’t matter if the screen is made of “Gorilla Glass” or not; it is still prone to scratches. However, the fact that the screen is prone to marks from the keyboard when the laptop is closed is something that has rarely been discussed.

A perfect example is the MacBook Pro Retina. My 2013 version, which I sold in order to get the 2016 version, had key imprints that weren’t outright visible, but definitely let themselves known in sunlight. The protective coating that Apple uses on their MacBook Pro screens, despite some customers paying over $2000 for their notebooks, isn’t very protective.

Most people will not get keyboard imprints on their MacBook Pros just by closing their laptops. The imprints happen when the MacBook Pro is put in a bag with other items that are pushing heavily against it. Perhaps using the material that covered your keyboard when you first opened up the box is what you should use every time you close your MacBook Pro. I have been using the following fiber on mine as you can see in the picture below, although several others I know prefer a very thin cloth cover.

A simple fiber or cloth keyboard cover will prevent the keys from imprinting marks on the screen.

As Heavy.com noted a few years back, there is another reason to cover your MacBook Pro keyboard — the coating on the keys disappears with heavy use. There are several different keyboard covers available on Amazon and though they cost a little, they will certainly save you money in the long run since your MacBook Pro resale value goes way down when the screen is scratched.

Microsoft’s groundbreaking Surface Pro is another example of a device that’s not exactly scratch-proof. As a Reddit post notes, a lot of people have been putting screen protectors on their Surface Pro 4 devices. While the pen scratching the screen isn’t as common as it was with the first Surface Pro, it is still a possibility. When this happens, a sharp piece of dust or something else attaches to the Surface Pen — sometimes you don’t even notice it. This is why it doesn’t hurt to put a screen protector on.

It’s quite bothersome that people still don’t put screen protectors on their $500-$1000 smartphones. The fact that even less put screen protectors on their $1000 to $2000 laptops is beyond crazy. When you spend that much money on a laptop, $10 to $20 extra to protect its screen shouldn’t even be considered an extra expense.

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Will Consumer 360-Degree Cameras Finally Take Off In 2017?

The updated Gear 360 camera from Samsung will be available this month.

I was an audience member in a future game show for CBS the other day, and I noticed how they had a 360-degree camera rig with about twenty cameras. The device, which was remotely controlled, slithered around the stage like a robot. Since the show is for CBS, they are likely shooting footage for VR devices.

I was thinking about when 360-degree cameras will take off on a commercial (and affordable) level. Last year, I reviewed the Samsung Gear 360 camera, which was a noble but ultimately failed effort by Samsung. The spherical camera that came with an attachment that looked like robot legs took had too many quirks. Not only was the battery life poor, but the camera inaccurately stitched photos and videos together. The photos and videos looked decent on laptop or computer screens, but looked like artifacts from the VHS days when watched on a virtual reality device such as the Gear VR.

The 2016 Gear 360 was a failure for Samsung.

It’s great that Samsung isn’t giving up on 360-degree cameras and will release the updated Gear 360 camera very soon. The device is smaller, gets rid of the robot legs (you can use a tripod if you want), shoots 4K videos, and allows you to shoot real-time 360-degree broadcasts. Instead of just being compatible with Samsung devices, the new Gear 360 can now be used with other Android smartphones and the iPhone as well.

Click to play in YouTube.

Trusted Reviews says that although the Gear 360 is still a niche product, it’s cute and — most importantly — powerful. Even though it’s unlikely to attract a huge audience at first, the new Gear 360 looks like the type of 360-degree device that can help mainstream consumer 360-degree cameras.

Another camera consumers may want to take a look at is the 360fly 4K, which Mike Prospero of Tom’s Guide calls the 360-degree camera to beat. The original 360fly was one of the first consumer 360-degree cameras released in 2015. It received mixed reviews. I was so unimpressed with the camera that I didn’t even want to waste my time giving it a bad review.

Since the release of the 360fly camera, others cameras  from Ricoh, Kodak, and LG, and Samsung have been released. None of the cameras have been able to capture even a niche audience. Those who use these cameras for VR videos have been very disappointed. Even if a camera shoots in 4K, the highest resolution a VR device can display now is 2K video, and even that looks pixelated in a VR headset. When 4K VR devices finally come out (hopefully within the next year), things will be different.

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Samsung Gear S3 Frontier Makes Me Miss Apple Watch

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier

I have been using the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier for the past couple of days (paired with Galaxy Note 5), and needless to say — I can’t wait to put the Apple Watch back on. The 4G LTE model of the Frontier is clunky, feels incomplete, and has horrible health tracking capabilities.

To be fair, the Gear S3 Frontier is solidly built. It feels refined, well planned, and the bezel moves around flawlessly. But the 46mm face is clunky and it almost feels like your wearing what an egg would feel like if you could flatten it without breaking it.

Then, there is the operating system — Tizen. It was excusable on the Gear S2 since it was a brand new operating system. However, you would think Samsung would improve the operating system within a year, but that didn’t happen. Finding your way around the settings and apps on the Gear S3 feels clumsy — it works, but it should be a lot more simple and intuitive.

According to the Gear S3 Frontier, you can burn more calories in your sleep than actually exercising.

One of the main reasons I use a smartwatch is for fitness tracking capabilities. The Apple Watch Series 2 isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely workable. Now, you don’t even have to choose a program when you want to track a 10 minute walk; it accurately tracks it automatically. One can’t say the same thing about the Gear S3 Frontier.

The biggest frustration is that despite many complaints, Samsung still hasn’t fixed a bug where one can burn 800 calories a night just by sleeping. In some cases, according to the Gear S3, one can burn more calories sleeping than actually exercising. Perhaps Samsung assumes that people are dreaming of their exercise and counting that. There also aren’t any readily available watch faces that display the amount of calories burned.

The screen itself is crystal clear thanks to the AMOLED display. But it’s supposed to turn on every time you raise the watch towards your face — that  works about 80 percent of the time. And the battery life is great; most people can get at least two days of use. However, if one relies simply on the 4G LTE radio, the battery life is a lot shorter.

I suppose the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is good for people who just want to get accurate notifications and would like to respond to them directly from their watch. It’s also good for people who want a standalone watch that doesn’t have to depend on a Bluetooth connection to a Samsung phone. However, for $400, the Gear S3 Frontier should offer a lot more than that.

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‘Racket NX’ Is Another Winner For The HTC Vive

Racket NX for the HTC Vive offers a lot of excitement….and exercise too.

Racket NX has been in demo mode for the past several months. Recently, a full and more polished version was released. I fully admit to not trying the full version yet, but will as soon as I get better at the demo version. But the consensus is that Racket NX is worth the $19.99 that is charged for it.

Racket NX has become my favorite game, along with Holoball, VR Baseball, and #SelfieTennis in that it provides measurable exercise and doesn’t take days to understand how to play. You basically have to keep hitting a ball to a moving green area target before your time goes out. It sounds easy, but the ball can come at you from all directions — behind, to the right, to the left, and in front. And the green area keeps changing as well. The game can make you dizzy, but I find myself getting more sweaty.

Click to play on YouTube.

There are things that you can hit to give you more life, and you can even press a button to make the ball come back to you in the same way you hit it. This all may sound easy, but my tired arms will tell you differently. And this is only from playing the demo version.

In January, the early access version of Racket NX was released. This new version allows multiple players, so you can play with your uncle in Alaska or Australia if you like. I haven’t tried this mode, but several on Reddit will attest that it is pretty amazing and adds a lot to the game.

The HTC Vive currently only offers a handful of great exercise experiences.

The HTC Vive needs more simple but effective games like Racket NX. Many current HTC Vive games and experiences turn people off from VR. Companies need to learn that it’s not about the graphics or the music; it’s about the gameplay. And it’s not about making the gameplay difficult; it’s about making it immersive. I don’t want to spend three hours trying to learn how to play a game; I would rather start it and get immediately immersed.

There will soon be more updates to Racket NX that will make it even more exciting than it currently is. If you get an HTC Vive in the near future, this should be one of the first experiences you download.

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Samsung Galaxy S8: It’s Make-It-Or-Break-It Time For Samsung

On Wednesday, March 29, Samsung will announce the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ smartphones. The Galaxy S8 will be a 5.9-inch phone, while the Galaxy S8 Plus will be a 6.2-inch device. Both screens will have a 2960 x 1440 pixel resolution. Both phones will also sport a 12MP rear camera and an 8MP front-facing camera.

As the Verge notes, the Galaxy S8 devices will have a very different design that doesn’t feature a home button. The front of the smartphones appears to be all screen and no bezel. The screen is also curved at both ends. The device looks like a real treat.

Samsung Galaxy S8

Samsung really needs to deliver with the Galaxy S8, especially after the whole Note 7 debacle.  I owned the device when it came out in August of last year. The Note 7 did get really warm, but never blew up in my face. My replacement unit, which I got at the end of September, was fine too. Still, Samsung had a recall for the recalled devices, and your device was practically bricked through a software update if you still kept it. It was enough for me to never want to buy anything from Samsung again.

You know that if just one new Galaxy S8 device catches fire, the media will be all over it. As a matter of fact, in this age of “fake news,” I’d be surprised if some media outlet doesn’t purposely blow up a Galaxy S8 in order to create a story that will create a lot of clicks. At the same time, you can bet that Samsung’s quality control was intensive this time around.

Along with the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, Samsung will also be launching a new Gear VR. According to Droid Life, the new Gear VR, which is officially called the Gear VR with Controller, comes with, guess what — a controller! The field of view has also been increased to 101 degrees to provide a more immersive experience.

Since the Galaxy S8 (at least the regular version) will have an increased pixel density, the Gear VR will offer the highest resolution in VR to date. The experience will still make it look like you are looking through a screen door, but the effect will be minimized.

As angry as I was with Samsung last year, I am willing to give them another chance. It’ll be tough deciding between the Galaxy S8 and the S8+, since I do use the Gear VR. I just hope Samsung succeeds this time. When Samsung succeeds, the whole smartphone industry succeeds.

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Apple PowerBeats3: Initial Thoughts

I’ve had hands ears-on experience with the Apple’s PowerBeats3 headphones, which were actually released a few months back. The PowerBeats3 was the first headphone set to be compatible with Apple’s new W1 chip. As soon as you turn the PowerBeats3 on, you get a screen indicator on your iPhone to make a connection. That’s all there is to it.

Two years ago, I reviewed the PowerBeats2 and said they were style over substance. After using the PowerBeats3 for one day, I can safely say that they combine both style and substance to deliver a very good and comfortable listening experience. Here are some more specific observations:

  • These things are stylish. Beats headphones have never had a problem with their looks.
  • The PowerBeats3, as expected, offer a lot of bass. Unlike the PowerBeats2, they also offer decent mid-ranges and very good highs on the sound spectrum. However, the buds that fit me the best had bass that slighly overwhelmed the highs and mid-ranges.

The PowerBeats3 are comfortable.

  • The cord on the PowerBeats3 sometimes gets stuck on my neck. However, for the most part, the headphones are comfortable to wear. And because of the ear rings, you don’t have to worry about them falling out of your ears.
  • The PowerBeats3 offer some sound isolation that will be enough for most. Those who thought the BeatsX sound isolation was too encompassing will appreciate these.
  • Battery life is outstanding. The 12-hour battery life Apple claims on the marketing materials is absolutely correct. Best of all, the PowerBeats3 charge really fast.
  • Phone quality is above average but not excellent. One person I talked to while walking outside said they could hear me, but not all the wind noise was cancelled out.

The PowerBeats3 come with different sized earbuds so one can find the perfect fit.

  • Why do these require a Micro-USB port for charging when they are an Apple product? (Apple purchased Beats in 2014.) This makes certain that iPhone owners will have to carry two different types of cables with them.
  • The case that comes with these is perfect so you can put the PowerBeats3 in your pocket all of the time. However, they can comfortably be worn around your neck with the buds hanging under your shirt when you’re not wearing them.
Beats has certainly improved their headphones over the past four years to offer a more balanced sound quality. The PowerBeats3 aren’t perfect, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. 

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Klipsch Reference X12i Wireless Headphones: Look And Sound Is Pure Class

Klipsch is a lesser-known brand name than Bose, Beats, or Sennheiser, but they make products with comparable sound quality. The case in point is the Reference X12i Bluetooth headphones, which are actually two earbuds that dangle from a neckband made of leather. Although the neckband is heaver than that of the recent Bose QuietControl 30, it is far more comfortable — it’s as if you don’t notice anything is on your neck unless you lean far back.

The X12i Wireless headphones are expensive, but worth the price.

It’s important to note that these headphones, at the price of $399 to $299 (If you can find them at Fry’s now, they are $349 without tax for some reason) will take a bite out of your wallet. But that bite may be worth it if you take your wireless listening needs seriously.

The X12i fit is not only comfortable on your neck, but the buds are comfortable in your ears as well. At first, the included rubber buds may be a little uncomfortable — but that goes away once you get used to them. Besides, Klipsch also includes two foam earbuds, which are like memory foam for your ears. These provide the most comfortable and best listening experience, but they also fall out of their narrow slots easily and you may lose them.

The Klipsch headphones have a very balanced sound.

Although wireless headphones and earbuds are becoming the norm now, the fact is that wireless sound quality still isn’t the same as wired sound. However, it has become very close, and the Kipsch Reference X12i headphones are up there with Sennheiser Momentum 2 Wireless set in providing accurate close-to-audiophile balance and sound quality. The X12i concentrates on the mid-level of the sound spectrum. The highs are there, but not overly powerful. The bass kicks in at the lower spectrum, but doesn’t shake your eardrums.

As with all earbuds, to get the best sound, you need to have the best fit in your ears. The second largest rubber buds did the job for me, but the foam buds were, by far, the most comfortable and provided the best sound.

I haven’t had the chance to test these out with making phone calls enough (I will update once I do), but on the two calls I made, listeners could tell I was on a wireless set, but said that they could still hear me. The phone quality appears to be about as good as the revised Bose QuietControl 30s, which are more than adequate.

I’ve never tested a product by Klipsch before, and really never had the desire to. After using the Reference X12i headphones, I can hardly wait to hear what Klipsch comes up with next.

 

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