Addicted To FaceApp

Yes, I know that FaceApp came out a few years back, but I didn’t pay attention to it. I thought that since I am somewhat of a Photoshop expert, there was no need for a smartphone app that manipulates faces to make people look younger, older, or the opposite sex. It can also give you anyone a beard, a different smile, etc.

The fact, as I discovered this week, is that FaceApp does this far better than Photoshop can. It uses a type of artificial intelligence that learns by analyzing up to millions of examples of images with several traits. When I transformed myself to an old man, it not only added red skin blotches to my skin, but gray hair (at least I won’t be bald) and deep wrinkles. It really frightened me. “I want to be dead before I look like this,” I joked. But there was truth to that statement as well. Just look at the picture!

Will I look like this soon?

Once the transformation of myself into several different versions wore off (and that took a couple hours), I decided to try it on others, including my brother or sister.  I didn’t have any vengeful feelings of making my siblings look bad — or at least what they might look like in twenty years. But I soon thought of people I didn’t like — former “friends” who screwed me over, former bosses who didn’t appreciate me, and even some celebrities I wasn’t fond of. And I couldn’t put down my phone.

My favorite was turning Tom Cruise (who I have nothing against) old and wrinkly. I have always been jealous of the way he keeps himself up (of course, Botox and plastic surgery help), so I decided to “unjealous” him. I’m sure Cruise himself would laugh.

Tom Cruise "Before and After"

It’s day three, and I am still having a lot of fun. As a matter of fact, I’m having fun writing this article about all the fun. But is it really healthy fun? For one thing, this app makes me very self-conscious, and I often feel bad about myself using it. It also makes me realize what a fake world we’re living in as I realize a lot of people really use this app to present a completely different version of themselves. Finally, it shows how — especially in the digital age — we’re obsessed with what’s on the outside of the person, not the inside.

And as I type this, I’m thinking of whose face I can next terrorize. You may be laughing, but the next one could be yours!

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Sony Announces New WF-1000XM3 Earbuds

Sony WF-1000XM3 Earbuds

For the most part, Sony’s entry into the earbud era has been a disaster. In 2017, Sony released the WF-1000X earbuds, which I initially posted positive things about. It took me a couple more days to realize what a quality control disaster they were — short battery life, horrible phone calls, and poor connection consistency.

Last year, Sony released the WF-SP700N buds with some minor improvements. The voice call quality was still bad, but worked decently in quiet environments. The battery life remained awful, and the buds still had connection issues. But Sony isn’t known to just lie down and accept its failures; they went back to the drawing board.

2018's WF-SP700N buds were less than satisfactory.

The popular audio and video company has just announced the WF-1000XM3 wireless earbuds, and CNET refers to them as providing “the best-in-class true wireless sound.” At $230, Sony’s new wireless and noise-cancelling earbuds have a new design, new case, newly improved battery life (6-8 hours — incredible if true), and new noise cancelling microphones for phone calls.  They are also Bluetooth 5.0, which helps in terms of connection and, in some cases, sound quality. Basically, they are supposed to represent the fantastic over-the-ear WH-1000XM3 in a much smaller form.

The Verge claims Sony’s new earbuds are its best answer to the AirPods yet, and especially complements the noise cancellation.

“Sony says it has improved the active noise cancellation on the M3s compared to the original WF-1000X, and I can attest to that. Whereas the first model felt like it offered little over the noise isolation you get with a good earbud seal, here the effect is definitely more pronounced and noticeable.”

Click to play in YouTube.

The article notes that thanks to the new Bluetooth 5.0 chipset, each of the two earbuds makes its own connection to your phone without depending on the other. This means you can use one earbud to make a voice call while the other charges in the case. The new buds also cut down audio lag when watching videos — this has been a huge negative for Sony’s past two attempts at earbuds.

The biggest thing missing is some type of waterproofing. As someone who swims a lot these days, I am patiently awaiting for earbuds I can go swimming with. If I can’t go swimming with them, I’d at least like to keep them on in the shower. This blog will have an in-depth review of the WF-1000XM3 earbuds next month.

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Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 Have Comfort Issues

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

I was looking forward to trying the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 for the past month. Since I wasn’t able to get an official review package, I did the next best thing — head over to Best Buy and try them out.

Please note that this is an “ears-on” analysis (like many of the hands-on reviews I’ve been doing here) and not an official in-depth review. Hopefully, that will come at a later date. But for now, I can only talk about my initial thoughts.

For one thing, Bose did change the design. These new headphones sort of remind me of the Parrot Zik 3 wireless cans. The stainless steel headband crunched against my head a little too much, making me feel like these would be uncomfortable to wear after a couple hours, unlike other Bose headphones that have a soft and cushion-like feel.  Bose went out of their way to redesign their headphones, but the old adage is still relevant: If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

Of course, what Bose is known best for is their slightly muddled bass sound, and those who like that won’t be disappointed with their latest. However, despite claiming that there are improved sound drivers in the new headphones, I really couldn’t tell a major difference between the sound on these and the QC 35 II cans. Of course, that’s not a bad thing either. But, like all of Bose’s wireless devices, the Headphones 700 don’t have the aptX codec for better wireless sound that so many Samsung phones are compatible with.

The Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 do have improved noise cancellation, which is hard to believe, especially since the NC on the QC 35 II headphones was almost perfect. There are three levels of noise cancellation, and the highest blocked out just about all the noise at Best Buy. This type of noise cancellation is great for being at a crowded place, but it’s not good for people who jog and encounter traffic.

The call quality, which I was only able to test for a minute, was great. My friend in San Francisco didn’t have to ask me to repeat myself once, even though I was talking to him in a crowded store. He said he couldn’t hear much of the background besides my voice. I could hear him perfectly as well.

All this makes the Headphones 700 very good, but not fantastic. For $399, Bose should have hit a home run. Instead, they hit a triple. Perhaps more time with these will change my opinion, but the excitement levels just didn’t hit me where expected.

 

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RIP The Foldable Smartphone?

Samsung Galaxy Fold

Foldable smartphones have consumed a lot of buzz over the past year, but that seems to be dwindling down. Most of the excitement came when Samsung gave a look at a working new smartphone called the Galaxy Fold. Even before that, people were salivating at all the things a foldable smartphone could do.

“Samsung has built a sturdy backbone to the device, with a hinge system that has multiple interlocking gears. All of these gears are hidden at the rear of the device, and allow the Galaxy Fold to transform from tablet to phone modes,” claimed The Verge in a glowing analysis. Of course, things didn’t actually work out that way.

When Samsung sent the review units out in April, many reviewers complained about screen flickering (or completely blacking out), a bump appearing under the display, screens being easily scratched, and some software issues. It’s true that the scratches appeared after reviewers removed the screen protector, which Samsung says shouldn’t be done. But most phones don’t require you to keep a screen protector on.

Now, the Samsung Galaxy Fold has been delayed — at least twice. The Huawei Mate X has also been delayed. Both companies claim their foldable smartphones need “extra testing.” The companies are doing all they can to fix the physical defects (the software defects can be fixed later with an update), and — in the meantime — people are losing interest in the foldable devices. The tech industry has a short attention span, and people are definitely moving on.

Huawei has delayed their foldable smartphone as well.

According to Gizmodo, Samsung isn’t giving up, and they are trying to fix the problems as soon as possible. Apparently, the Korean company has not only increased the size of the protective film (making it more difficult to peel off), but they are also decreasing the size of the gaps between the Fold’s screen and hinge — this prevents foreign materials from getting inside.

Samsung also appears confident enough to produce more versions of the Galaxy Fold. Some may find this laughable, but perhaps Samsung knows what they are doing. Remember when the Galaxy Note came out in 2011 and didn’t quite excite consumers? When the Note 2 came out in October of 2012, Samsung fixed most of the problems and made a top-selling device. Perhaps it really is too early to dismiss Samsung’s efforts to create a foldable smartphone that actually works.

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Apple Music Climbs to 60 Million Subscribers

Apple Music is catching up to Spotify.

Apple Music started in June of 2015. At the time, this blog praised the integration with Apple devices as well as the great sound. However, we noted that there wasn’t as much of a selection when compared to Spotify (that has changed), and that it didn’t play the correct versions of the songs (sometimes, the music platform played a version by another artist).

However, that was just the beginning, and things have certainly changed. By December of 2015, Apple had 8 million subscribers. Having Apple Music on the iPhone or other iOS devices was absolutely necessary if you wanted Siri to play a certain song.

Four years later, it appears that Apple has surpassed the 60 million subscriber post, even though it still has a way to go to catch up to Spotify’s 100 million. According to The Verge, Apple’s latest milestone adds 10 million subscribers to the 50 million that was claimed in April. When it comes to Apple devices, Apple Music is still the biggest streaming service. Should Spotify be worried?

Spotify is still the best.

When it comes to quality and selection, I still prefer Spotify over Apple Music. And since I moved away from the Apple ecosystem (nothing personal, Apple!), I’ve unsubscribed from Apple Music as I have no need for it. On my Samsung Galaxy S10+, Spotify works faster and offers better integration with Google Assistant than even Apple did with Siri. When I actually download music from Spotify, the speed is faster than Apple Music.

I also think Spotify is more fun to use. I love the dark and light colors, the navigation, and the fact that Spotify is easier to look at lyrics while you’re playing the song. I like the custom equalizer, which I admit could be a problem with people who aren’t familiar with audio sound properties.  I also think my Spotify playlists are far easier to share than they are on Apple Music. Most importantly, Spotify chooses songs for an automatic playlist far more accurate to my tastes than Apple does.

All this may change as Apple Music keeps improving. For now, Spotify remains the winner. Apple Music may have proven its relevancy over the past few years, but Spotify, the original streaming service, is still tops.

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Life Without The Apple And Samsung Galaxy Watches

Samsung Galaxy Watch

I did it folks. I sold my 46mm Samsung Galaxy Watch this past weekend. Not only could I use the money, but I didn’t find myself even using the watch that much. Don’t get me wrong — the Galaxy Watch is a really good device that compares with the Apple Watch Series 4. I sold my Watch 4 last March since I moved back to the Samsung ecosystem.

I’ve always defended smartwatches for their convenience. Whenever I got a message, it was easier to turn my wrist and look at it on my smartwatch rather than dig my phone out. I loved tracking my exercise on the watches (though both Apple and Samsung differ widely in that aspect) and could even do it while I was under water.

Apple Watch Series 4

However, is the convenience really necessary? I wrestled with that question after I misplaced my Galaxy Watch (it actually fell under the car seat cover) and lived without it. As a matter of fact, it felt so good not worrying if yet another device of mine was charged or not. And it was great carrying one less wire and charge port in my bag. I did have to take my phone out more to read messages, but my eyes appreciated not having to squint at the small screen of a smartwatch.

I also thought about other things as my Samsung Galaxy Watch went (temporarily) missing. Did having an exercise tracker really ever help me lose weight? NO! Was the exercise tracker on both watches accurate? NO! Come on, exercise fanatics — when did any smartwatch accurately track exercise? Some are getting better, but they have a long way to go.

Exercise trackers still have a way to go.

I also realized that I didn’t need to measure my heart rate constantly, didn’t need to use my watch as a flashlight, and certainly didn’t need to pay $10 a month for 4G LTE service on a watch when my phone is always around. Then, I searched again desperately for my watch — not because I needed it, but because I needed to sell it. I’m sure the Samsung watch is very useful to its new owner.

I’m not trying to discourage anybody from getting a smartwatch. They are more helpful than hurtful. They look nice and offer a lot more than regular watches. But before you let another device take over your digital dependence, you have to ask if it is really worth it. After four years, I found out the answer by mistake, and I don’t miss my smartwatch one single bit.

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The Nintendo Switch Mini May Be Coming Soon

A smaller version of the Nintendo Switch is coming.

The Nintendo Switch has redefined portable gaming in the past couple years, and is about to get more portable. According to sources such as BGR, Nintendo is preparing to launch a new smaller model. It seems like it’s coming soon, especially considering  that accessories for the smaller gaming device have appeared on a Chinese website.

Countless rumors and reports from credible sources (including The Wall Street Journal) have claimed that Nintendo is preparing to launch at least one new Switch model in the near future, but the Japanese company has refused to make the news official. The cat may finally be out of the bag, though, as a collection of accessories for the “Nintendo Switch Mini” has appeared on a Chinese website.

The regular Nintendo Switch certainly is portable. But it isn’t really pocketable? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a top-notch gaming device that you can fit into a (big) pocket? Smartphones don’t count; there are no games on either the iPhone or Galaxy S 10 that are as powerful as the ones on the Nintendo Switch.

The smaller version of the Switch will likely delete the HDMI connection.

The Nintendo Switch Mini will likely lose the ability to connect to your TV or monitor via HDMI cable, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. The battery life can become an issue as the regular Nintendo Switch doesn’t have the best juice available. But anybody who is buying the Nintendo Switch Mini is doing so for portability. It will replace their Nintendo 3DS.

For those who could care less about a smaller Nintendo Switch and want one with an upgraded screen, there is the alleged Nintendo Switch Pro. The device, which has been rumored for the past eight months, will have an upgraded 1080p OLED screen. It’s important to note that the current Switch, which has a 720p LED screen, can output to a 1080p resolution on a monitor or television set. The Switch Pro certainly isn’t a must-upgrade for people who already have the Switch, but it’s good for the very few who don’t own one.

Speaking of the Nintendo Switch, the Labo VR kit can now be purchased for VR experiences. Having tried it, all I can say is…..stay far away. If you are into mobile VR, please get yourself an Oculus Quest. It’s worth the $399 (64GB version), and you won’t have the resolution limitations and other frustrations that Nintendo’s $39 kit offers. Let’s hope that Nintendo eventually takes the VR world seriously.

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Augmented Reality Is Coming To Your Car, But Will It Be Helpful?

AR is coming to a car near you.

We’re still at the early stages of augmented reality (AR). I reviewed the HoloLens a couple of years back, liked it, but got bored of it very quickly. Since then, different forms of AR have appeared on smartphones and other devices.

It’s important to note, once again, that AR is different from VR in that in the former, objects are put on top of a regular or digital view. In VR, you are in a completely different world. It’s a completely immersive experience. Is one better than the other? That all depends, but both have different purposes.

Is AR distracting? It sure can be. And now, it’s coming to distract you when you drive. CNET has the news

“Augmented reality apps like Pokemon Go and Lego Studios have captured imaginations and headlines, but the really useful role for AR is likely to break out in cars from Mercedes and BMW. It’s a trend that could transform our vision of AR from the goofy to the essential, moving the conversation away from face-worn gear like Magic Leap and Microsoft HoloLens.”

Your GPS will appear on your windshield.

This means that maps, mileage, and other things will appear on your windshield. Perhaps there will be no point in attaching your smartphone to the dashboard since everything on your screen (or at least what you want) will appear on the windshield. There are some cases where you can also view your blind spots through your windshield as well. To some, this sounds like something that could lead to major distractions.

But we live though distractions in our vehicles anyway. Whether we want to admit it or not, we look at our phones while we are driving (some go as far as to actually text). We look at our speedometer, our gas mileage, etc. Wouldn’t it be better if all of this appeared on the windshield in front of us so we don’t take our eyes off of traffic?

Like it or not, it’s gonna go mainstream — and I predict this will happen almost instantly. By 2023, most new cars will have AR features. The quality of the images may not be the best at first, but — like in cell phones — they will improve over time. What will be next for drivers — virtual reality? Now, that could be really scary. Still, it’s impressive to see how far automobile technology has become in the past 10 years.

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HP Spectre x360 13 (2019): Three Months Later

HP Spectre x360 (2019)

The HP Spectre x360 13 has been my go-to laptop for the past three months, and — for the most part — I couldn’t by happier. There are a few things I desire for the 2020 edition of this groundbreaking laptop that will be discussed in a little bit.

When the Spectre x360 13 first became available in 2017, I was blown away at the specs but less impressed when finally testing the device. The biggest problem was that it was a non-premium product disguising itself as a MacBook Pro (or even Surface Pro) alternative. Unfortunately, it had a low-contrast ratio screen, less-than-stellar battery life, and the digital stylus didn’t work as well as expected. Oh, and who could forget that awful trackpad.

The 2017 version of HP's 13-inch flagship device was less than satisfactory.

The trackpad on the 2019 version is still below average, but one can easily fix that by downloading the Windows Precision Touchpad drivers. It makes a world of difference. But besides the trackpad, HP has improved the screen (much better aspect ratio), speakers (HP now includes excellent Bang & Olufsen speakers), design, battery life, etc.

When I first tested the new x360 13 in March, I kept asking myself, “What’s the catch here?” I thought that there was no way HP can deliver a notebook as good as the MacBook Pro that costs several hundred dollars less. Three months later, there has been no screen burn-in, no new backlight bleed, no decrease in battery life, etc. The only thing I did notice was a small scratch on the mid-right of the screen. I should have put on that free screen protector a colleague gave me.

The HP Spectre x360 13 (2019) is very simple to use.

This HP device has been so reliable that I ended up selling my Surface Go. Sometimes, I miss the extra portability of the Surface Go, but the HP’s power makes up for it. And it is still quite portable. The Spectre x360 doesn’t offer its own LTE port, but that barely matters in the year 2019. There are Wi-Fi hotspots almost everywhere, and I can use the hotspot allowance on my Galaxy S10+ when I need to (although it is limited to 10GB).

All this said, the Spectre x360 13 still doesn’t make a great digital writing pad, even though the stylus has improved. There is still some latency when writing, and there is some unnecessary pen jitter as well. Still, the pen experience is far better than it is on other devices, such as the Surface Go. It’s important to note that the new Spectre isn’t really advertised as an inking device. If you really need an inking device on a PC, get a Surface Pro.

Despite some minor flaws, I don’t see myself giving up the HP Spectre x360 anytime soon. It is the best ultraportable laptop ever made. Apple and Microsoft may be able to top HP with their upcoming devices. For now, however, HP is the king (and queen).

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Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 Are Announced

I still can’t get over how much I like the Bose QuietComfort 35 11 headphones, which have the best noise cancellation on any over-the-ear headphones — with the exception of Sony’s WH-1000X3 cans. However, they actually feel more comfortably than Sony’s headphones. If you have an iPhone the Bose headphones are the best. But since Sony has the aptX codec for Android phones (as well as the high-end AAC codec for the iPhone), Samsung Galaxy S or Note users are better off with Sony’s offering.

Unfortunately, the new Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 don’t add the aptX codec, even though they will cost $400. Therefore, they are best used with the iPhone. Still, these headphones have just about everything else.

As CNN describes, the new headphones, which feature 8 different mics, work especially well at letting the listener zero out surrounding noise when listening to music or making phone calls. Bose already has good technology for this on other headphones, but the Headphones 700, which are compatible with Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant, allegedly take this to a completely new level.

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are said to be amazing for making calls in loud surroundings.

The headphones certainly look updated and modern. It’s certainly a branding risk when changing a design that has proven to be successful for several years. However, at least the plush earpads remain. I’m not so sure these would be really comfortable when working out (especially lying down and lifting weights), but we shall see.

The Headphones 700 aren’t the only thing Bose has in line; they will release the Bose Earbuds 500, which replace the successful SoundSport Free buds. These will be smaller and have touch controls that can access Siri, Google Assistant, or even Amazon’s Alexa. However, they won’t have noise cancellation. Apparently, that will come with Bose Noise Cancelling Earbuds 700. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until 2020 for what seems like the ultimate earbuds.

These new headphones and earbuds can give Bose a little bit of a needed boost. While the audio company is still doing well, it doesn’t maintain the top-of-the-line reputation it did at the beginning of the decade. Many consider Sony as the company with the best over-the-ear wireless products, while Sennheiser as well as Bowers & Wilkins have also been seen as Bose alternatives.

It also remains to be seen whether the $400 price tag will be too much to entice listeners, especially since the most expensive wireless headphones cost $350. That said, I can hardly wait to test the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 out.

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