Hands On With iPad Pro 10.5

When I found out that Apple was actually planning to upgrade their increasingly irrelevant iPad line with the 10.5 and 12.9-inch versions of the iPad Pro, I thought Apple was making a huge mistake. Then, it was revealed that the screen would have a 120Hz refresh rate, and Apple won me over.

You have to see the screen and interact with it in person in order to understand how truly great it is. Interacting with the icons is incredibly smooth and the upgraded refresh rate makes writing with the Apple Pencil feel as if you are using an art board.

Using the Apple Pencil in OneNote is also a great experience that outdoes the same using the S Pen on the Galaxy Note 7 or the Surface Pen on Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4. It really mimics writing on paper and makes the new iPad an excellent option for college students. While you can use other tablets to take notes, none of them offer a guaranteed 10 hours of battery life while doing so.

The iPad Pro 10.5 and the Apple Pencil provide an outstanding drawing experience...if you are a good artist.

For some, it may be difficult to justify the price. The cheapest Wi-Fi model of the iPad Pro (64GB) costs $649. Then, there is the optional Apple Pencil ($99) and Smart Keyboard cover ($159). You’ll be spending as much money as you will on most laptops, especially if you opt for higher-end versions of the new iPad.

After all, why not just get a Surface Pro? There’s also Samsung’s Galaxy Book, which has an OLED screen and an outstanding S Pen. Those who need a tablet as a powerful laptop replacement should consider the others. However, there are some reasons students, bloggers and journalists may consider the iPad Pro instead.

The previous iPad Pro Smart Keyboard  was awful and made typing on screen more preferable. One can’t say the same about the new Smart Keyboard, which makes typing feel smooth and easy. You can attach the Smart Cover keyboard to the iPad and use it comfortably on your lap — something that’s not really possible with the Surface Pro or Galaxy Book.

The new iPad Pro is the ultimate consumption device.

Using Microsoft Word on the iPad is just as easy as it is on any other device. You’ll find yourself touching the screen more since the iPad Pro doesn’t have a touchpad, but the iPad is made for your fingers. You can easily save your work on OneDrive or Dropbox and access it on any device. With cloud storage, physical storage certainly doesn’t matter as much as it used to.

As an entertainment consumption device, the iPad is supreme. Playing videos is both a visual and aural pleasure, especially with four speakers that give the iPad Pro a lot of “oomph.” The sounds brought out while playing Jurassic World on the Pro make the movie even more compelling, despite the elementary plot.

It may take iOS 11, scheduled for release this fall, to bring out the true laptop capabilities of the iPad Pro. But Apple’s dream of a laptop replacement is almost becoming a reality — at least for some people.


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Review: Samsung Gear 360 (2017) Camera

I talked about the new Samsung Gear 360 camera receiving mixed reviews earlier this week, and after using it extensively for three days, I feel that the reviews should be better. The Gear 360 may not be the ultimate 360 degree camera, and it might not take pictures and videos that completely immerse you when playing them in VR headsets. But it comes closer to almost anything in the market.

Last year’s Gear 360 was a hot mess at $349. Its alien-like legs, poor battery life, and poor video quality made the device a rip-off. Not only has Samsung reduced the price by $230 dollars, but they made a 360 camera that’s more pocketable, takes better videos, and stitches 360 degree media better than the previous version. Unfortunately, Samsung reduced the 30MP picture resolution to 15MP, and one can see a slight difference. But it’s not enough to make the device a deal breaker. The 360 photos still look great on smartphones, laptop screens, and especially VR headsets.

Press to play video, and use touchpad or mouse to change 360 view.

The (almost) big winner on the new Gear 360 is the video quality. Last year’s  3840 x 1920 video resolution has been upped a little bit to 4096 x 2048. It’s doesn’t seem like a lot on paper, but it’s noticeable when you look at the videos on Samsung’s Gear VR. Instead of looking like you are in the middle of a VHS tape, this year’s Gear 360 is acceptable. However, one still will wish that the videos could be more clear — perhaps we’ll get that in the 2018 version.

Controlling the Gear 360 from the Samsung Galaxy S8+ is intuitive and easy, though I’ve run into some troubles when trying to save videos from the Gear 360, which takes a microSD card, to my S8+. The Gear 360 will also work with the iPhone or any other iOS device. However, the experience is rather clumsy. As of right now, you won’t be able to see videos on your iOS device as you shoot them. You may even have some initial trouble connecting the Gear 360 through Bluetooth.

Click picture to play, and use touchpad or mouse to rotate.

Last year’s Gear 360 looked like an eyeball with tripod legs sticking out. It was a messy design that many users disliked. However, as I described to a friend, this year’s version looks sort of like an “alien dildo.” It’s a ball with two fisheye lenses held together by a sturdy grey handle — this makes it more pocketable and even has a tripod attachment on the bottom if one needs it.

If you have a Samsung smartphone and a Gear VR, the purchase of the new Gear 360 should be a no-brainer. If you don’t have a Samsung smartphone, you may find the experience too clumsy to justify the purchase. Either way, Samsung’s Gear 360 is on the right track, and it makes taking consumer 360 photos and videos easy and a lot of fun.

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New iPad Pro May Be A Shocking Game Changer For One Reason

Most people yawned when Apple announced that they were coming out with an updated version of the iPad Pro. After all, tablet sales have been steadily decreasing over the years for Apple. This is because people have embraced the laptop/tablet hybrid, thanks to the Surface Pro. But it’s also because Apple now offers 5.5-inch versions of the iPhone. Starting in 2014, the iPhone 6 Plus took away  needs for some people to get a tablet.

This isn’t to say that Apple has ignored their tablets. Last year, Apple released the 9.7-inch version of the iPad Pro, and this blog referred to its Apple Pencil accessory as the best stylus on the market. The 2016 iPad Pro was the ultimate media machine. The main problem with the iPad Pro is that it still isn’t the laptop replacement Apple makes it out to be. If you are a heavy blogger, try replacing your laptop with the iPad Pro for a couple days and you’ll understand why.

The 2017 iPad Pro (which comes in 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch versions) supposedly blurs the lines between the tablet and laptop world. With iOS 11, the iPad now has file folders and a macOS style dock at the bottom. Multitasking is now easier as well. Now, all you have to do to get the best use out of the new iPad Pro is buy the new Smart Keyboard for $159 (last year’s was horrible) and an Apple Pencil for $100.

It’s hard to blame you if you are thinking about a Surface Pro or Samsung Galaxy Book at this point reading this article. But there is one feature of the new iPad Pro that might blow you away — its Retina screen has a 120Hz refresh rate. Just about every other tablet, smartphone, and laptop in existence has a 60Hz refresh rate. You’ll notice the difference when scrolling; it looks buttery smooth. The difference between 120Hz and 60Hz is comparable to the difference of 30fps and 60fps video, the latter being noticeably smoother.

Click to play video.

The new updated refresh rate is said to be most noticeable when using the Apple Pencil, and those who’ve tried it says it makes the note-taking experience feel more real than ever. Since the Apple Pencil experience on 2016′s iPad Pro is already just about perfect, it will be interesting to see how it works with the new iPad Pro in person.

So far, there hasn’t been any information on how the new refresh rate affects Netflix or Hulu videos, but the new iPad Pro could provide for an unparalleled media experience. The new iPad Pro doesn’t come out until Tuesday, and I can hardly wait to write a first impressions review.

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2017 Samsung Gear 360 Camera Receives Mixed Reviews

I haven’t been able to get my hands on the new Gear 360 camera from Samsung, and judging from some of the reviews, I may not be missing much.

“The 2017 Gear 360 feels more like a new shell around the original device than a fully-baked next-gen product,” says Stephan S. of Phone Arena, who adds that even though he got some satisfaction out of using the camera, he couldn’t help wonder about the possibility of better images, less restrictive compatibility with non-Samsung Android devices, and waterproofing.

Cameron Faulkner from TechRadar claims the Gear 360 isn’t the evolutionary 360 degree camera his team was hoping for.

“Like it did last year with the original Gear 360, Samsung is treading forward in making 360-degree videos more accessible than ever. Adding in iOS compatibility for its latest model will certainly help to boost viewership and adoption of the medium, but the Gear 360 2017 will only get so far as it falls back on some familiar hardships, namely its rather lousy video quality. ”

Last year's Gear 360 was underwhelming.

The part about the video quality is important, because that’s what made last year’s Gear 360 a terrible buy for $349. I originally bought the Gear 360 to film “immersive” videos for my Gear VR headset, but the 3840×1920 pixel video resolution made it feel as if you were lost in the middle of 1980s VH1 land. The resolution has improved to 3840 x 2160 on the new Gear 360. This should make a noticeable but not significant improvement.

There have been some positive reviews for the Gear 360, although none are 4-star raves. Les Shu of Digital Trends gives the device three-and-a-half stars and notes that the new 360 camera is a significant improvement from Samsung’s 2016 effort.

“The Gear 360 is unashamedly targeted as a consumer product. No high-flying pro-sumer technical specifications here, and none should be expected from a device which must aim for a price point attractive to casual users. Nevertheless, the spherical 360 camera packs quite a punch for a device so small.”

It’s important to note the new Gear 360 is a lot cheaper than last year’s version. If you buy a Galaxy S8 or an S8 Plus up until June 19, you can get the camera for $49 extra. Otherwise, one can buy it for as low as $209.98 at Amazon. The Gear 360 may not be the perfect 360 degree camera on the market today, but it could be the best for it’s price. I will hopefully be able to review Samsung’s camera on this blog later in the week.

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New Bamboo Ink Smart Stylus Is A Must-Have For Microsoft Surface Pro Owners

Ah, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. It’s such an iconic device — beautiful screen, outstanding keyboard, excellent hybrid of laptop and tablet features, and improved battery life from when it first came out. Then, there is the Surface Pen — an absolute disappointment that doesn’t bother most people since they never use it.

The truth is that the Wacom Pen on the Surface Pro 1 and 2 was better, especially for people who take handwritten notes. As mentioned in a recent post here, the N-Trig Surface Pen writing comes out jittery and squiggly. It doesn’t feel like you are writing on paper like it does with the S Pen on Samsung’s Galaxy Book. Fortunately, Bamboo just released a new Windows 1o stylus that will work with devices made for either Wacom or N-Trig writing. And although spending an additional $69 on a stylus is a lot to ask for after already spending over $1000 on the Surface Pro, it is worth every penny.

In the picture below, I wrote very slowly with the Surface Pen in blue ink. Then, I wrote with the same thickness  in red ink using the Bamboo stylus. At first glance, you might say that both lines look squiggly, but there is noticeably less squiggle using the Bamboo.

The truth is that the faster you write with both, the smoother your handwriting will come out. But while the Bamboo pen approaches Wacom levels of smoothness, the Surface Pen still feels uncomfortable — at least for those who have been taking handwritten digital notes for years.

There is no eraser on the Bamboo pen; you need to press a button on the side in order to activate the eraser capabilities. Still, it’s only a very minor fault, and it can’t even be considered a flaw. The pressure-sensitive Bamboo ink makes up for anything else the pen lacks.

This isn’t to say that the Bamboo Ink Smart Stylus makes the perfect digital writing device. I still think the S Pen and the Apple Pencil provide a more realistic inking experience. But after you spend several frustrating hours using the Surface Pen, using the Bamboo Ink Smart Stylus feels like you won the lottery. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft’s new Surface Pen, which will sell as an optional purchase (unlike previous pens that were included with the Surface Pro), can finally make the Surface Pro the ultimate inking device.

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The Samsung Galaxy Book Is Perfect Note-Taking Device

Samsung Galaxy Book

I have been playing with the Samsung Galaxy Book (Kaby Lake, Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256SSD) and like the device a lot more than some critics do. The Verge thinks Samsung made “one step forward and one step back,” while Ars Technica believes that the Galaxy Book is a poor laptop replacement. There are some good reviews out there, but most seem to think the new Galaxy Book can’t match the Surface Pro 4. I disagree.

The Galaxy Book may not be as comfortable as the Surface Pro 4 is to use as a laptop, but it stresses the “tablet” more than the Surface Pro 4 could ever dream of. It really feels like you are using an iPad Pro, except one that runs a full desktop operating system. And it has desktop power — a Kaby Lake Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, and a 256GB SSD. The best part about the Surface Book, which is priced at $1329 for this configuration, is that it’s Wacom-enabled S Pen offers a near perfect note-taking experience.

Microsoft’s N-Trig Surface Pen is a sore foot in an otherwise great device. Taking notes feels far from smooth, and those who don’t write fast will find that the pen makes their handwriting jittery. The S Pen, unlike the Surface Pen, works very well in OneNote, but it truly excels in Samsung’s desktop S Note App. The stylus has a smooth rubbery feeling, unlike the glass feeling of the Surface Pen.

You can take smooth notes on Samsung's new Windows 10 Tablet.

Samsung has been an expert in the note-taking digital age since they first introduced the Galaxy Note in 2011. Many thought that the stylus was outdated, but Samsung proved that a stylus can be helpful if it actually feels like a pen. Samsung didn’t perfect their S Pen until the third generation of the Galaxy Note in 2013. In the unfortunately recalled Galaxy Note 7, the S Pen felt like a pen, marker, pencil, or whatever drawing utility you wanted. It will be interesting to see how Samsung can improve a stylus that is already just about perfect with the upcoming Galaxy Note 8.

Perhaps the Apple Pencil is even better than the S Pen, but it is also a lot larger. Unfortunately, Apple hasn’t made a device, besides the iPad Pro, that is compatible with the Pencil. Perhaps the iPhone 8 will change that. In any case, 2017 is certainly looking to become the year of the digital stylus.

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First Look At New Microsoft Surface Pro

The new Surface Pro

On Wednesday, Microsoft announced its new Surface Pro 5 Surface Pro. Microsoft’s Panos Panay was right when he claimed there was no such thing as the Surface Pro 5, but that’s because Microsoft took the number off. The new device is certainly an upgrade from the Surface Pro 4, even though you wouldn’t be able to tell from just looking at the new Pro.

As Forbes notes, there have been key improvements under the hood. The most important one is that the new Surface Pro now runs a 7th generation Kaby Lake processor. One can purchase higher-end units running either an Intel i5 or Intel i7 processor. Surprisingly, the i5 version, likely to be the most popular, will be without a fan, leading many to believe that the unit could get scorching hot.

The biggest improvement, allegedly, is the battery life. Microsoft claims you’ll be able to get up to 50 percent more battery life with the new Surface Pro units, but those have yet to be tested. Even if battery life improves by 20 percent, Microsoft has a winner on their hands. The one major flaw with the Surface Pro 4 was the battery life, which gave power users only 4 to 5 hours of use per charge.

Note-taking on the new Surface Pro is a little smoother.

Another minor flaw with the Surface Pro 4 (and 3) is the Surface Pen, which creates jittery writing. Microsoft moved to N-Trig technology that allows them to prevent adding an extra layer to the screen that the Surface Pro 1 and 2 had. The main problem is that note-taking and drawing doesn’t feel natural, especially if you move the pen slowly.

I tested the new Surface Pro at the Microsoft Store with the SP4 pen (the new Surface Pen, which will be an optional purchase, isn’t on display at any stores yet). Surprisingly, the pen has less jitter than it did on the Pro 4, and that’s likely because Microsoft improved the digitizer. It will be interesting to see how the new Surface Pen works. Let’s hope it provides smooth writing and drawing that Surface Pro users have been asking for.

I barely noticed a difference between the new Surface Pro and the Surface Pro 4 just looking at the device and screen. There were a couple minor ones — the corners are more rounded and the screen displays colors slightly better. The contrast ratio, which is already good on the SP4, is also slightly better.

Microsoft claims that the new Surface Pro is an actual laptop replacement, but unlike Samsung, they still won’t include the new cloth keyboard cover. Unlike Samsung, they also don’t include the new pen, which is supposed to offer better speed and more pressure. However, those who own the Surface Pro 4 can still purchase those. The new Surface Pro will arrive in stores on June 7.

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JBL Launches E55BT Quincy Edition Wireless Headphones In Los Angeles

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

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

Meeting Quincy Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

iPhone 8 mockup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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What’s Up With The Microsoft Surface Phone?

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

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

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

Microsoft's Lumia 950 was a flop.

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

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

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

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

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