HTC Vive Pro, Mixed Reviews, And The Lack Of Hype

The HTC Vive Pro is coming!

I still think the HTC Vive was a groundbreaking device. I bought it, returned it, missed it, and purchased it again as I realized how much I was missing. But as groundbreaking as the device was in 2o16, it was still only a niche product.

A lot of people I had over to try the HTC Vive were fascinated at first, but the excitement soon wore off once they complained about the wires, the heavy headset, the lack of accurate tracking, etc. Last October, I moved. And I haven’t found time (or at least was excited enough to make time) to set up the HTC Vive in my new place.

The HTC Vive Pro showed some promise when announced in January.

But when the HTC Vive Pro was announced in January, it showed some promise. The new VR device has a sharper lens (2880 x 1600 pixel resolution), built-in headphones, two microphones for noise cancellation, and dual front-facing cameras. But the four star reviews just aren’t coming in.

“If you have both the financial and hardware resources for it, the HTC Vive Pro is a thing of beauty. It offers a higher resolution than the standard Vive and can take games from ‘good looking’ to ‘gorgeous’,” states Tech Radar in a three-and-a-half star review, adding that, however, the Pro doesn’t always work as expected.

PC Mag only gives the Vive Pro three stars.

“The HTC Vive Pro is the most technically impressive tethered VR headset we’ve tested, but it doesn’t offer enough over the standard model to justify the steep increase in price.”

The review notes that the $799 price tag doesn’t include the base stations and motion controllers it requires to function. One can buy a full package for an additional $300. But you’ll also have to own a very powerful PC in order to operate the HTC Vive PRO — one that usually costs around $1000.

One user on Reddit pointed out how he excitingly bought the Vive Pro, but ended up returning it. At first, he was impressed with how comfortable the headset was. He was also happy with how much crisper things looked, although the Pro still has the screen-door effect. However, the honeymoon period soon wore off.

The HTC Vive Pro headset isn't as comfortable as it initially appears to be.

“After about 30 minutes I noticed how although the Pro relieves a lot of pressure on the cheeks, it starts to put a lot of pressure on the top of my forehead. Other things I noticed: the headset felt pretty creaky. When grabbing it to readjust during game I would regularly hear the plastic crack/snap.”

However, the most notable part of the new HTC Vive Pro is the lack of hype. It’s certainly a lot less than the hype for the regular Vive two years ago. It’s true that the Vive Pro hasn’t differentiated itself enough from other VR headsets on the market, including the Samsung Odyssey “Mixed-Reality” headset. But the fact that the release has been pretty much forgotten already spells trouble for the VR industry. Perhaps VR really has become the new 3D.

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Huawei May Be First With Foldable Smartphone

Many thought it was Samsung that would deliver the very first foldable smartphone. There are rumors that Samsung is working on a foldable smartphone that is being referred to as the “Galaxy X.”  However, Samsung may fall behind. According to  Phandroid, Huawei may deliver the very first foldable smartphone by November. And it won’t be available at your local carrier store.

You may have heard the name “Huawei” pop up over and over during the past few years. Unfortunately, carriers  no longer carry their smartphones, but you can certainly get their devices through other retailers. You won’t be able to get any major deals though.

Their most recent smartphone, the Huawei P20 Pro, is seen as the “iPhone X” of Android phones. It has a triple-lens camera that apparently takes amazing 40MP pictures. It has a 6.1-inch 1080 x 2240 pixel resolution screen, runs Androids 8.1 (Oreo), an Octa-core processor, 128GB of internal storage, and 6GB RAM.

Huawei is the first smartphone company to release a phone with a triple-lens camera.

Mashable gave Huawei’s device five stars, and other reviews are quite similar. The consensus seems to be that the phone is definitely on par, or even better, than Samsung’s Galaxy S9 Plus or the iPhone X. So, Huawei has a good reputation even before they (possibly) deliver the first foldable smartphone. However, delivering the first foldable smartphone may not be a blessing either. There’s bound to be bugs with a new type of release, and if the bugs are overwhelming, the Huawei brand name could be tarnished.

Samsung foldable phone concept -- click to play in YouTube.

What would a foldable smartphone be like in the first place? Would it be an ultraportable tablet that you can stick in your pocket? Would two people be able to watch the same video together even while facing each other? Would it make gaming easier by having the controls on one screen and the actual game screen on the other?

But there may be some drawbacks. Will the foldable phones have creases in the middle? Would these new phones be easier to break? Will they have huge bezels? What kind of battery would be required to power this?

Overall, it may be “cooler” than regular smartphones, but that doesn’t mean it will be more useful. Remember the excitement over ultraportable PC devices back in 2006? As was pointed out on IReTron at the end of 2014, those failed miserably. However, they did provide a template for future successful mobile devices.

The big concern is not really who will deliver the first foldable smartphone, but whether or not foldable smartphones become a gimmick. Let’s hope this type of device shows promise. After all, we don’t want to end up with another Google Glass.

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Libratone Zipp: Three Weeks With Excellent Smart Speaker

A couple weeks back, I indicated that the Libratone Zipp looked (and sounded) tempting. I gave into my temptations and purchased the $300 speaker, and I don’t regret it. It has become my go-to device at home and in my car.

Some may think it’s crazy to use a portable AirPlay-enabled speaker (it’s also compatible with Amazon’s Alexa, Spotify Connect, and other services) for my car, especially since the car has decent stereo speakers. But the sound that comes out of the Libratone Zipp travels with me better than the full car stereo system .

In my short time with the speaker in my previous article, I said I was fascinated, but not completely thrilled, with the Zipp’s sound. Using it for three weeks proves that initial impressions are sometimes downright wrong.

While the Zipp doesn’t have as strong bass as some other smart speakers, it has the most natural-sounding bass. The bass kicks in very well and pushes your eardrums, but doesn’t torture them. The best part about it is that there is a noticeable separation between the high, low, and mid ranges. Here’s a clip of me playing Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” with the Zipp. It’s not the best song, but it demonstrates the natural-sounding bass of the speaker.

Click to play in YouTube.

The controls aren’t simple, but they become easier with use. I still don’t like circling a button with my finger to turn the volume up or down since I sometimes turn it up too much and same with the other way around. The Wi-Fi connection (I use my Galaxy Note 8 hotspot) is great and has rarely disconnected. You have to wait about 20 seconds though for the Zipp to make a full connection, and that can be annoying.

I had a very difficult time attaching Libratone’s speaker to my dashboard (I tried all sorts of methods), but at three pounds, it’s just too heavy. So, I leave it on the passenger’s seat, but the sound still fills up the car. I haven’t had a passenger since getting the Zipp, so I don’t know where I’ll put it once I do.

The Libratone Zipp comes in some really exquisite packaging.

I have to charge the Zipp once every two days, but I’m not upset. After all, the Zipp is one of the only rare battery-operated smart speakers available. It’s hard to believe that other manufacturers have not seen a market for a battery-operated speaker, but that will change soon.

I was considering buying another Zipp in a few more months to pair with my current one. This would provide stereo sound. However, I may not actually need it since the sound on just one speaker is more than adequate. It’s a shame more people don’t know more about the Zipp; otherwise, it would sell incredibly well. In terms of value, the Libratone Zipp is the best smart speaker on the market.

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Is Apple Going To Launch An iPhone With Triple-Lens Camera?

A dual-lens camera is still considered pretty cool, but it looks like Apple is going to one-up it with a triple-lens camera by next year. According to MacRumors, the camera would have a 5X zoom lens, but it doesn’t specify if it is an optical zoom lens, a digital zoom lens, or a hybrid one.

It’s likely that adding another lens would produce at least 3X optical zoom.  Currently, the Huawei P20 Pro smartphone is the only one with a three-lens camera, and it shoots 3X optical zoom. The changes likely won’t make it into 2018′s upcoming iPhone, but the current dual-lens camera is still an absolute marvel for a smartphone camera — it takes both fantastic photos and videos.

As I mentioned in an article a few weeks back about a high-end Sony digital camera, I find that in most situations, the pictures from the iPhone X are just as good or even better. Apple has come a long way over the past 10 years. On 2008′s iPhone 3G, the rear camera only took 2MP shots. There was no optical zoom, no auto-focus, or no video recording capabilities. It wasn’t until 2009′s iPhone 3GS that an Apple smartphone could shoot videos, and it was only DVD quality (480p).

Apple has come a long way from 2008's iPhone 3G, which only had a 2MP lens.

It wasn’t until 2010′s iPhone 4 that people could finally start leaving the digital camera at home.  This iPhone included a 5MP camera that had an LED flash. It was also able to take 720p videos, and that was just fine for 2010. 2011′s iPhone 4S had an 8MP camera that was able to take full HD videos.

From 2012 on, the iPhone camera evolved as a digital camera replacement rather than a substitute. The only thing that it’s still lacking is a stereo microphone, which has been on Samsung smartphones since 2011. Still, one can easily buy something like the Sennheiser AMBEO Smart Headset and record 3D stereo sound with their iPhone.

It’s a great thing that Apple never got into the 3D smartphone camera phase like HTC did with the HTC EVO 3D. At the time, people were saying that HTC was ahead of its time, but they were really behind the times with this gimmick camera. There were heavy rumors that by 2012, Apple would release a smartphone with a 3D camera, but we should be thankful they didn’t.

The only scary thing about Apple adding a third lens to its camera by 2019 is that it could bring the cost of the iPhone up significantly. But as Apple has proven time and time again, their products and customer support are second to none.

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New 2018 Dell XPS 15 Looks Like A Winner

Dell XPS 15 (2018)

The Dell XPS 15 has always been advertised as the “larger” version of the groundbreaking Dell XPS 13, but I never fell for the hype. The XPS 15 is thicker (it has to be to fit in the discreet GPU), and although the keyboard with small and minimal-travel keys on the XPS 13 has been excusable since the device is so thin and portable, putting the same exact keyboard in the XPS 15 always felt lazy.

That’s not to say that the Dell XPS 15 is a bad device. It’s always been the PC equivalent of the MacBook Pro, yet cheaper. And it had a beautiful 4K screen before 4K screens became common. Now, after making a significant changes to the 2018 Dell XPS 13 (my current computer), Dell is doing the same to the XPS 15.

According to PCWorld, the new XPS 15 now has a six-core, 120 thread Core i7-8750H processor that is essentially a mobile version of Intel’s ultra-powerful Core i7-8700K chip. Most versions come with a GeForce GTX 1050 Ti GPU. Unlike the new XPS 13, the updated XPS 15 comes with two USB Type A ports (the XPS 13 only has Type C ports). It also has HDMI 2.0, a regular SD card reader, and a USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port. This laptop pretty much has everything.

It’s pretty impressive that Dell is able to fit in all this, as well as a 15.6-inch screen, in a device that only weighs four pounds. CNET claims that it fits the screen in what would normally be a chassis for a 14-inch laptop. Dell claims that you can get 21.5 hours of battery life on a single charge, but that hasn’t been tested yet. Of course, you will be able to get more battery life on the 1080p version than the 4K one.

I am excited about testing out the new version of the Dell XPS 15 sometime this month, and I will certainly report back. Actually, it has become quite exciting to test new versions of Dell’s laptops over the past three years. Honestly, I (as well as many others) though of Dell as a mediocre PC maker with poor customer support just five years ago. I don’t know much about their customer support lately (because Dell products are so well-made, I haven’t had to contact them), but they’ve gone from mediocre to incredible in such a short period of time.

Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

For those who want to use a 15-inch laptop as a tablet, Dell has just made the XPS 15 2-in-1 available. You can also purchase an optional digital pen for inking. The 2-in-1 starts out at $2,199, but it packs a lot of power. Your turn, Apple.

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The Slow And Wrongful Death Of “Stereo”

Remember the old days (in this case, just 10 years ago) when having a stereo speaker system that supplemented your furniture was popular? Remember how great it felt to play a CD and hear a distinction between sound that was meant for the right and left ears? Remember how realistic it felt?  Well, those days are ending — fast.

As CNN noted (and this was in 2013), Alan Penchasky, an audiophile and former columnist for Billboard, said that the days of the old-fashion component stereo system are pretty much over. And this is even more pronounced in 2018 when smartphones, computers, and tablets could produce pretty good  stereo sound for a personal space.

360 degree monaural sound is becoming more popular than stereo sound.

It’s quite possible that the complete notion of “stereo” is going away as well. These days, companies such as Bose, Sonos, Apple, Amazon, Google, etc. are making 360 degree speakers that are (relatively) small but spread sound throughout an entire room. Perhaps the best example of this is the HomePod, which was reviewed at IReTron last month. It’s shocking how much thumping sound that little thing can produce.

The HomePod isn’t a “stereo” speaker though. Neither are the other new speakers. Some companies allow you to pair two 360 degree speakers together, but many people consider this unnecessary. As a stereo traditionalist, this bothers me. But the train of thought is that these single speakers sound so good that stereo sound doesn’t really matter. However, it’s a train of thought that just doesn’t make a lot of sense, except for people who really want to save money.

Nobody really cares that Samsung has added stereo speakers to its latest smartphones.

Judging by the lack of people angry that the latest iPhones only record monaural sound (unless you use a third-party stereo device), that may be true. It’s these same people who don’t really stress that the Samsung Galaxy S9 series now has stereo speakers. When the iPhone 7 added stereo speakers in 2016, people didn’t consider that a major upgrade. At the beginning of this decade, it would have been a huge deal.

But it would be depressing if stereo sound ever went away. Putting music aside, stereo sound is absolutely essential for realistic videos that are professional or homemade. Can you ever imagine watching a movie such as Black Panther without stereo sound? Will stereo headphones soon become irrelevant? I hope not! Let’s hope this new phase of monaural sound is just a passing one.

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Ears On With Sony’s Fantastic SRS-XB41 Bluetooth Speaker

Portable wireless Bluetooth speaker systems with both a right and left speaker seem to be on the wane. Most manufacturers are making 360 degree portable monaural speakers. If you want stereo sound, you have to pair both speakers together in a somewhat complex process.

But sometimes, I don’t need a cylindrical speaker to fill up a whole room with sound. I like listening to stereo sound systems, where you can differentiate between the right and the left. And I like a system with a lot of bass, but not so much that when you turn the volume up, the bass sounds crumbled. I was happy to receive Sony’s brand new SRS-XB41 Bluetooth (and waterproof) speaker, even though I haven’t been absolutely thrilled with Sony’s previous efforts.

The SRS-XB41 is advertised as a “party” speaker, and it certainly lives up to that reputation. It has different lighting styles that can be changed through Sony’s “Music Center”app. And the lightning patterns look really nice on the rectangular speaker that is covered with a sturdy mesh for waterproofing.

Click to play in YouTube.

But what really stands out about the SRS-XB41 is the sound. Sony took the fantastic sound from the WH-1000MX2 headphones and put it into their new “Extra Bass” speaker, which thumps without distorting the sound. The mid ranges and high ranges are also prevalent in the SRS-XB41, but you’ll need to change the equalizer settings if you want them to stand out more.

Sony’s speaker has a “Live Sound” mode to make it sound like you are in the middle of a live concert. This mode is very gimmicky — not only does it fail to sound “live,” but it also deletes many of the details from the overall sound. And speaking of sound, the SRS-XB41 has an AUX input if you, like many audiophiles, prefer wired sound. And even though the Bluetooth sound is great, you will get noticeably more detail in your music by connecting your iPhone or any other device with an audio cable.

The SRS-XB41 sounds better than many car speakers.

The battery life on the SRS-XB41 is correctly rated at 24 hours, which is fantastic for the size of the speaker. There is a USB-A input that allows you to charge your phone or other USB devices. If that’s not enough, there is also a Party Booster feature that turns Sony’s speaker into an instrument when tapping on different places. It’s certainly a gimmick, but a fun one!

It’s pretty obvious that we’re moving toward Wi-Fi speakers instead of Bluetooth. But we’re not there yet. And if you want a powerful portable wireless speaker that doesn’t skip on sound quality, the Sony SRS-XB41 is a great — although pricey — choice.

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Sony’s $950 Cyber-shot RX100 V Doesn’t Make Smartphone Cameras Look Bad

A couple weeks back, I wrote an article about how digital cameras still exist and are the go-to cameras for professionals. One of the cameras I talked about was Sony’s $950 Cyber-shot RX100 V, perhaps the most popular mini digital camera for professionals. It’s technically not a DSLR camera, but most users claim it takes DSLR-quality pictures and videos.

This past week, I was able to get my hands on Sony’s expensive (but really cool-looking) camera and used it for two full days. I really wanted to write an article on how much better this thing was than my iPhone X. I wanted to prove to my readers that the digital camera is not dead. At first glance, this looked like the coolest camera in the world.

Then, reality hit. To be sure, the camera is well-built. But it has a screen in back that looks like it came from 2005 — not only does it scratch easily, but it has backlight bleed. It also is not a touchscreen. When I started taking pictures and videos, the results were mixed.

Sony's Cyber-shot RX100 V does take some nice selfies.

To be certain, I’m not a professional photographer. I like to turn on my camera device (whether it be a smartphone or digital camera) and be able to take pictures right away. I don’t want to have to mess with the settings. Sony’s camera has a lot of settings that professionals would probably love. But I’m not a professional. And neither are 90 percent of digital photographers these days. But we are able to get professional-looking pictures and videos with devices like the iPhone X.

I took some pictures indoors at the Glendale Galleria. Shockingly, many of them came out blurry. When the lighting was better, the pictures were better. When I turned on the flash, there was no blur.

Indoor pictures with the RX100 V leave a lot to be desired.

The outdoor pictures were very nice. And the outdoor 4K videos were okay, until you turned up the sound and heard the wind. If anybody gets the Cyber-shot RX100 V, they certainly will need to get small wind filters for the stereo microphones, which don’t even offer a lot of stereo separation. The main problem is that the RX100 V isn’t compatible with an external micrphone, like the iPhone and several digital cameras are.

Speaking of the iPhone, I didn’t see enough of a quality difference between my photos on the iPhone X and the RX100 V to justify a $950 (!) price tag. In terms of videos, the iPhone takes clearly better 4K videos. In terms of sound, Apple’s mono mic is poor, but I am able to use Sennheiser’s AMBEO Smart headset, which offers 3D mics for virtual reality-like stereo sound, as my mic for the iPhone X.

The iPhone X still takes the best 4K videos. Click to play in YouTube.

The iPhone X still takes the best 4K videos. Click to play in YouTube.

I could have used the RX100 V for more than two days, but was just too frustrated. In the end, I couldn’t believe people were paying that much for a camera that’s not as good (for the casual user) as a high-end smartphone camera like the one on the iPhone X (or even the Galaxy S9+). At least I learned to appreciate my iPhone X camera a lot more, and I have been using it a lot more since I (happily) parted ways with the Cyber-shot RX 100 V. But I hold no anger towards Sony; I still think their audio products are great.

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Libratone ZIPP Portable WiFi + Bluetooth Wireless Speaker Is Tempting

On Wednesday, I met one of my tech savvy friends who I have conversed with through social media for the past two years. It’s interesting when an internet friend actually becomes a real face in front of you (in a good way, Joe, if you read this). He brought with him a bunch of his favorite products. Although I initially had no interest in the Libratone ZIPP speaker since it came out in 2016, Joe proved me wrong.

Since using Apple’s HomePod speaker last month and seeing how easy it was to set up, I’ve been fascinated with WiFi speakers, especially because they produce noticeably better sound than Bluetooth speakers do. However, just about every single WiFi speaker needs to be plugged in. Imagine how incredible it would be to take the HomePod with me outdoors while using my Galaxy Note 8 to set up a WiFi network between my iPhone X and HomePod. The Galaxy Note 8 works great for this; I’ve tried it before.

So, when Joe told me that the Libratone Zipp was not only WiFi and AirPlay enabled, but it could operate with a rechargeable battery, I was interested in trying it out. And, for the most part, I was impressed. I had to download the Libratone app on my iPhone X and setup wasn’t as easy as I would have liked. But once it was set up, it worked. For each video or audio app I used, I had to connect to AirPlay. But the connection worked flawlessly.

Click to play in YouTube.

I am fascinated, but not completely thrilled with the sound from the Libratone Zipp. It’s a portable speaker that sounds better than any Bluetooth wireless speaker when it’s connected through WiFi. The bass is there, but it’s not as prominent as I would like. The middle ranges and high ranges of the sound spectrum are more prominent. Joe thinks I am wrong about the bass and that it’s strong and natural. He thinks I am judging it solely on the comparison to the HomePod, which oozes bass, but doesn’t skip on the high and mid levels.

He may have a point. The HomePod is $360. The 2018 version of the ZIPP, which now features Alexa, is $250. And although it lacks the punch of the HomePod, it still has noticeable punch. And it’s portable. Libratone claims you get 10 hours of use with a charge, but Joe says that he usually gets eight or nine hours, which is still good.

Perhaps if I never heard the HomePod, I would have instantly gone to Amazon to purchase the Zipp. I may have purchased two since you can pair them as left and right speakers. But I did hear the HomePod. And all of this makes me wish Apple would realize that there really is a market for portable and rechargeable WiFi/AirPlay speakers.

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Ears On With Fantastic Jabra Elite 65t Wireless Earbuds

Jabra Elite 65t Earbuds

Finding the perfect pair of wireless earbuds is an impossible task. Apple released the first ones that passed most tests — the AirPods — in late 2016. In the past 16 months, especially recently, you’ve probably seen people on the street or at the gym wearing them.

The AirPods are great, but they are also troublesome. They not only wiggle too much in your ears, but there is absolutely no active or passive noise cancellation. To some, that’s good, especially since they view the AirPods as extensions of their ears. The sound is very good, but not great. Still, for $160, the AirPods are a deal.

However, for just $10 more, the new Jabra Elite 65t are a must-have. To be honest, having owned some Jabra products in the late 2000s, I haven’t had much interest in their products. However, I read about the Elite 65t earbuds, which earned four stars from CNET and have been called a “true AirPod killer” by Tom’s Guide.

The Jabra Elite 65t are the best earbuds on the market.

These Jabra earbuds may actually really be the best on the market right now. The adventure starts when connecting them, which is almost as easy as connecting the AirPods. Since the Elite 65t have Bluetooth 5.0, the connection is very stable when paired with a Bluetooth 5 smartphone such as the the newer iPhones and all Samsung Galaxy products since the Galaxy S8.

The sound quality is great considering how small these things are. Of course, you have to have the right-size eartips to maximize the listening quality, and Jabra includes three different sizes. The bass is prominent, but not overwhelming. The middle ranges are there, but a little bit recessed. The high ranges are just as prominent as the bass. Of course, you can also make changes to the sound with the Jabra Sound+ app, which also offers a “HearThrough” feature to allow for ambient noise to come though.

The push of ambient sound is an important feature with the Elite 65t buds, since the noise isolation is fantastic. Noise isolation is what consumers have been asking for, and Jabra certainly delivers. But what if you want to keep the buds in for several hours (they last five hours per charge in the included charging case), take a walk in a busy area, or even drive with them? The “HearThrough” feature allows this, and even more. It was quite interesting to hear soft rain drops, which I normally wouldn’t hear with my regular ears, falling on my window.

The Jabra Elite 65t still aren’t perfect — I’ve experienced minor connection issues with the left earbud (easily fixed by pressing the Connect button), and at times, the buds fit so tightly that they can hurt your ears. Still, Jabra has delivered the best earbuds on the market. Now, it’s your turn, Apple.


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