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Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ review

It’s true, you’ve got the Galaxy Note to thank for your big phone. When the device hit the scene at IFA 2011, large screens were still a punchline. That same year, Steve Jobs famously joked about phones with screens larger than four inches, telling a crowd of reporters, “nobody’s going to buy that.”

In 2019, the average screen size hovers around 5.5 inches. That’s a touch larger than the original Note’s 5.3 inches — a size that was pretty widely mocked by much of the industry press at the time. Of course, much of the mainstreaming of larger phones comes courtesy of a much improved screen to body ratio, another place where Samsung has continued to lead the way.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

In some sense, the Note has been doomed by its own success. As the rest of the industry caught up, the line blended into the background. Samsung didn’t do the product any favors by dropping the pretense of distinction between the Note and its Galaxy S line.

Ultimately, the two products served as an opportunity to have a six-month refresh cycle for its flagships. Samsung, of course, has been hit with the same sort of malaise as the rest of the industry. The smartphone market isn’t the unstoppable machine it appeared to be two or three years back.

Like the rest of the industry, the company painted itself into a corner with the smartphone race, creating flagships good enough to convince users to hold onto them for an extra year or two, greatly slowing the upgrade cycle in the process. Ever-inflating prices have also been a part of smartphone sales stagnation — something Samsung and the Note are as guilty of as any.

So what’s a poor smartphone manufacturer to do? The Note 10 represents baby steps. As it did with the S line recently, Samsung is now offering two models. The base Note 10 represents a rare step backward in terms of screen size, shrinking down slightly from 6.4 to 6.3 inches, while reducing resolution from Quad HD to Full HD.

The seemingly regressive step lets Samsung come in a bit under last year’s jaw dropping $1,000. The new Note is only $50 cheaper, but moving from four to three figures may have a positive psychological effect for wary buyers. While the slightly smaller screen coupled with a better screen to body ratio means a device that’s surprisingly slim.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

If anything, the Note 10+ feels like the true successor to the Note line. The baseline device could have just as well been labeled the Note 10 Lite. That’s something Samsung is keenly aware of, as it targets first-time Note users with the 10 and true believers with the 10+. In both cases, Samsung is faced with the same task as the rest of the industry: offering a compelling reason for users to upgrade.

Earlier this week, a Note 9 owner asked me whether the new device warrants an upgrade. The answer is, of course, no. The pace of smartphone innovation has slowed, even as prices have risen. Honestly, the 10 doesn’t really offer that many compelling reasons to upgrade from the Note 8.

That’s not a slight against Samsung or the Note, per se. If anything, it’s a reflection on the fact that these phones are quite good — and have been for a while. Anecdotally, industry excitement around these devices has been tapering for a while now, and the device’s launch in the midst of the doldrums of August likely didn’t help much.

The past few years have seen smartphones transform from coveted, bleeding-edge luxury to necessity. The good news to that end, however, is that the Note continues to be among the best devices out there.

The common refrain in the earliest days of the phablet was the inability to wrap one’s fingers around the device. It’s a pragmatic issue. Certainly you don’t want to use a phone day to day that’s impossible to hold. But Samsung’s remarkable job of improving screen to body ratio continues here. In fact, the 6.8-inch Note 10+ has roughly the same footprint as the 6.4-inch Note 9.

The issue will still persist for those with smaller hands — though thankfully Samsung’s got a solution for them in the Note 10. For the rest of us, the Note 10+ is easily held in one hand and slipped in and out of pants pockets. I realize these seem like weird things to say at this point, but I assure you they were legitimate concerns in the earliest days of the phablet, when these things were giant hunks of plastic and glass.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Samsung’s curved display once again does much of the heavy lifting here, allowing the screen to stretch nearly from side to side with only a little bezel at the edge. Up top is a hole-punch camera — that’s “Infinity O” to you. Those with keen eyes no doubt immediately noticed that Samsung has dropped the dual selfie camera here, moving toward the more popular hole-punch camera.

The company’s reasoning for this was both aesthetic and, apparently, practical. The company moved back down to a single camera for the front (10 megapixel), using similar reasoning as Google’s single rear-facing camera on the Pixel: software has greatly improved what companies can do with a single lens. That’s certainly the case to a degree, and a strong case can be made for the selfie camera, which we generally require less of than the rear-facing array.

The company’s gone increasingly minimalist with the design language — something I appreciate. Over the years, as the smartphone has increasingly become a day to day utility, the product’s design has increasingly gotten out of its own way. The front and back are both made of a curved Gorilla Glass that butts up against a thin metal form with a total thickness of 7.9 millimeters.

On certain smooth surfaces like glass, you’ll occasionally find the device gliding slightly. I’d say the chances of dropping it are pretty decent with its frictionless design language, so you’re going to want to get a case for your $1,000 phone. Before you do, admire that color scheme on the back. There are four choices in all. Like the rest of the press, we ended up with Aura Glow.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

It features a lovely, prismatic effect when light hits it. It’s proven a bit tricky to photograph, honestly. It’s also a fingerprint magnet, but these are the prices we pay to have the prettiest phone on the block.

One of the interesting footnotes here is how much the design of the 10 will be defined by what the device lost. There are two missing pieces here — both of which are a kind of concession from Samsung for different reasons. And for different reasons, both feel inevitable.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

The headphone jack is, of course, the biggie. Samsung kicked and screamed on that one, holding onto the 3.5mm with dear life and roundly mocking the competition (read: Apple) at every turn. The company must have known it was a matter of time, even before the iPhone dropped the port three years ago.

Courage.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Samsung glossed over the end of the jack (and apparently unlisted its Apple-mocking ads in the process) during the Note’s launch event. It was a stark contrast from a briefing we got around the device’s announcement, where the company’s reps spent significantly more time justifying the move. They know us well enough to know that we’d spend a little time taking the piss out of the company after three years of it making the once ubiquitous port a feature. All’s fair in love and port. And honestly, it was mostly just some good-natured ribbing. Welcome to the club, Samsung.

As for why Samsung did it now, the answer seems to be two-fold. The first is a kind of critical mass in Bluetooth headset usage. Allow me to quote myself from a few weeks back:

The tipping point, it says, came when its internal metrics showed that a majority of users on its flagship devices (the S and Note lines) moved to Bluetooth streaming. The company says the number is now in excess of 70% of users.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Also, as we’re all abundantly aware, the company put its big battery ambitions on hold for a bit, as it dealt with…more burning problems. A couple of recalls, a humble press release and an eight-point battery check later, and batteries are getting bigger again. There’s a 3,500mAh on the Note 10 and a 4,300mAh on the 10+. I’m happy to report that the latter got me through a full day plus three hours on a charge. Not bad, given all of the music and videos I subjected it to in that time.

There’s no USB-C dongle in-box. The rumors got that one wrong. You can pick up a Samsung-branded adapter for $15, or get one for much cheaper elsewhere. There is, however, a pair of AKG USB-C headphones in-box. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Samsung doesn’t get enough credit for its free headphones. I’ve been known to use the pairs with other devices. They’re not the greatest the world, but they’re better sounding and more comfortable than what a lot of other companies offer in-box.

Obviously the standard no headphone jack things apply here. You can’t use the wired headphones and charge at the same time (unless you go wireless). You know the deal.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

The other missing piece here is the Bixby button. I’m sure there are a handful of folks out there who will bemoan its loss, but that’s almost certainly a minority of the minority here. Since the button was first introduced, folks were asking for the ability to remap it. Samsung finally relented on that front, and with the Note 10, it drops the button altogether.

Thus far the smart assistant has been a disappointment. That’s due in no small part to a late launch compared to the likes of Siri, Alexa and Assistant, coupled with a general lack of capability at launch. In Samsung’s defense, the company’s been working to fix that with some pretty massive investment and a big push to court developers. There’s hope for Bixby yet, but a majority of users weren’t eager to have the assistant thrust upon them.

Instead, the power button has been shifted to the left of the device, just under the volume rocker. I preferred having it on the other side, especially for certain functions like screenshotting (something, granted, I do much more than the average user when reviewing a phone). That’s a pretty small quibble, of course.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Bixby can now be quickly accessed by holding down the power button. Handily, Samsung still lets you reassign the function there, if you really want Bixby out of your life. You can also hold down to get the power off menu or double press to launch Bixby or a third-party app (I opted for Spotify, probably my most used these days), though not a different assistant.

Imaging, meanwhile, is something Samsung’s been doing for a long time. The past several generations of S and Note devices have had great camera systems, and it continues to be the main point of improvement. It’s also one of few points of distinction between the 10 and 10+, aside from size.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

The Note 10+ has four, count ’em, four rear-facing cameras. They are as follows:

  • Ultra Wide: 16 megapixel
  • Wide: 12 megapixel
  • Telephoto: 12 megapixel
  • DepthVision

Samsung Galaxy Note10

That last one is only on the plus. It’s comprised of two little circles to the right of the primary camera array and just below the flash. We’ll get to that in a second.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

The main camera array continues to be one of the best in mobile. The inclusion of telephoto and ultra-wide lenses allow for a wide range of different shots, and the hardware coupled with machine learning makes it a lot more difficult to take a bad photo (though believe me, it’s still possible).

The live focus feature (Portrait mode, essentially) comes to video, with four different filters, including Color Point, which makes everything but the subject black and white.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Samsung’s also brought a very simple video editor into the mix here, which is nice on the fly. You can edit the length of clips, splice in other clips, add subtitles and captions and add filters and music. It’s pretty beefy for something baked directly into the camera app, and one of the better uses I’ve found for the S Pen.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Note 10+ with Super Steady (left), iPhone XS (right)

Ditto for the improved Super Steady offering, which smooths out shaky video, including Hyperlapse mode, where handshakes are a big issue. It works well, but you do lose access to other features, including zoom. For that reason, it’s off by default and should be used relatively sparingly.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Note 10+ (left), iPhone XS (right)

Zoom-on Mic is a clever addition, as well. While shooting video, pinch-zooming on something will amplify the noise from that area. I’ve been playing around with it in this cafe. It’s interesting, but less than perfect.

Zooming into something doesn’t exactly cancel out ambient noise from outside of the frame. Everything still gets amplified in the process and, like digital picture zoom, a lot of noise gets added in the process. Those hoping for a kind of spy microphone, I’m sorry/happy to report that this definitely is not that.

Screen Shot 2019 08 16 at 5.43.43 PM 2

The DepthVision Camera is also pretty limited as I write this. If anything, it’s Samsung’s attempt to brace for a future when things like augmented reality will (theoretically) play a much larger role in our mobile computing. In a conversation I had with the company ahead of launch, they suggested that a lot of the camera’s AR functions will fall in the hands of developers.

For now, Quick Measure is the one practical use. The app is a lot like Apple’s more simply titled Measure. Fire it up, move the camera around to get a lay of the land and it will measure nearby objects for you. An interesting showcase for AR potential? Sure. Earth shattering? Naw. It also seems to be a bit of a battery drain, sucking up the last few bits of juice as I was running it down.

3D Scanner, on the other hand, got by far the biggest applause line of the Note event. And, indeed, it’s impressive. In the stage demo, a Samsung employee scanned a stuffed pink beaver (I’m not making this up), created a 3D image and animated it using an associate’ movements. Practical? Not really. Cool? Definitely.

It was, however, not available at press time. Hopefully it proves to be more than vaporware, especially if that demo helped push some viewers over to the 10+. Without it, there’s just not a lot of use for the depth camera at the moment.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

There’s also AR Doodle, which fills a similar spot as much of the company’s AR offerings. It’s kind of fun, but again, not particularly useful. You’ll likely end up playing with it for a few minutes and forget about it entirely. Such is life.

The feature is built into the camera app, using depth sensing to orient live drawings. With the stylus you can draw in space or doodle on people’s faces. It’s neat, the AR works okay and I was bored with it in about three minutes. Like Quick Measure, the feature is as much a proof of concept as anything. But that’s always been a part of Samsung’s kitchen-sink approach — some combination of useful and silly.

ezgif 1 f1b04b8e2ef9

That said, points to Samsung for continuing to de-creepify AR Emojis. Those have moved firmly away from the uncanny valley into something more cartoony/adorable. Less ironic usage will surely follow.

Asked about the key differences between the S and Note lines, Samsung’s response was simple: the S Pen. Otherwise, the lines are relatively interchangeable.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Samsung’s return of the stylus didn’t catch on for handsets quite like the phablet form factor. They’ve made a pretty significant comeback for tablets, but the Note remains fairly singular when it comes to the S Pen. I’ve never been a big user myself, but those who like it swear by it. It’s one of those things like the ThinkPad pointing stick or BlackBerry scroll wheel.

Like the phone itself, the peripheral has been streamlined with a unibody design. Samsung also continues to add capabilities. It can be used to control music, advance slideshows and snap photos. None of that is likely to convince S Pen skeptics (I prefer using the buttons on the included headphones for music control, for example), but more versatility is generally a good thing.

If anything is going to convince people to pick up the S Pen this time out, it’s the improved handwriting recognition. That’s pretty impressive. It was even able to decipher my awful chicken scratch.

Note 10

You get the same sort of bleeding-edge specs here you’ve come to expect from Samsung’s flagships. The 10+ gets you a baseline 256GB of storage (upgradable to 512), coupled with a beefy 12GB of RAM (the regular Note is a still good 8GB/256GB). The 5G version sports the same numbers and battery (likely making its total life a bit shorter per charge). That’s a shift from the S10, whose 5G version was specced out like crazy. Likely Samsung is bracing for 5G to become less of a novelty in the next year or so.

The new Note also benefits from other recent additions, like the in-display fingerprint reader and wireless power sharing. Both are nice additions, but neither is likely enough to warrant an immediate upgrade.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Once again, that’s not an indictment of Samsung, so much as a reflection of where we are in the life cycle of a mature smartphone industry. The Note 10+ is another good addition to one of the leading smartphone lines. It succeeds as both a productivity device (thanks to additions like DeX and added cross-platform functionality with Windows 10) and an everyday handset.

There’s not enough on-board to really recommend an upgrade from the Note 8 or 9 — especially at that $1,099 price. People are holding onto their devices for longer, and for good reason (as detailed above). But if you need a new phone, are looking for something big and flashy and are willing to splurge, the Note continues to be the one to beat.

Fake Amazon reviews surge around Prime Day

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As products jockey for your attention on Prime Day, some of them will be playing dirty.

Fake reviews on Amazon tend to surge around Prime Day, according to an analysis by the free review integrity analytics service Fakespot. This year’s Prime Day is right around the corner, spanning two days, July 15 and 16.

Fake reviews are always out in force in the world of e-commerce, not just on Amazon. But on Prime Day, when shoppers flock to the retailer, there’s an even larger push by companies seeking to feature their products to deploy fake reviews that boost ratings and visibility. 

“Companies publish fake reviews ahead of Prime Day because it helps move their products up the product ranking page,” a Fakespot representative said. “If anyone is searching for alternatives to Prime Day deals, they will see their products.” Read more…

More about Amazon, Reviews, Prime Day, Prime Day 2019, and Tech

Marshall’s Kilburn II is a ruggedly handsome bluetooth speaker

Marshall hasn’t been been shy about capitalizing on its legacy. The legendary English amplifier company has plastered its name on cans of beer and a line of refrigerators. It’s not the most crass branding we’ve seen, but it’s pretty damn silly.

At first glance, the same can be said for its line of bluetooth speakers and headphones, save for one important thing: they’re actually quite good. It’s been several years since the company branched out into consumer electronics, and along the way, it’s been remarkably consistent with the products that bear its iconic cursive logo.

Announced this summer at IFA, the Kilburn II doesn’t stray far from the familiar Marshall amplifier style. In fact, you’d be forgiven if you mistook the thing for a practice amp. Instead, it’s just a solidly built bluetooth speaker with a rubberized faux leather design that can take some serious bumps. It’s further ruggedized by way of a chainlink metallic grille up front.

The speaker is water resistant, so you can take it outside without much concern. That said, if you need a true all-weather speaker, I’d recommend looking at something from JBL. The Kilburn isn’t going to go swimming with you, but it’ll withstand a little spilt whiskey.

The sound quality is decent for speaker of this size. It’s not the best sound I’ve heard out of a bluetooth speaker, but if you’re looking for something portable to fill up a small room, it’s a pretty solid choice, and the treble and bass knobs up top will help you find find the perfect medium.

Unlike most bluetooth speakers, the Kilburn requires a proprietary plug for charging. That means no microUSB/USB-C. That’s understandable though, given the massive on-board battery, which should give more than 20 hours of life on a charge, watching the series of red bars creep down in the meantime.

At $299, it’s not a cheap bluetooth speaker, but it’s solid as far as the price point goes. It’s not going to replace your audiophile sound system any time soon, but at least it will look nice sitting next to your vinyl collection.

OnePlus 6 review: Flagship Killer

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There are no shortcuts to greatness and no smartphone maker knows this more than Chinese startup OnePlus.

To fully understand and appreciate the company’s new OnePlus 6 Android smartphone, we need to take a brief trip back a couple of years.

In 2014, the company nobody had heard of had, against all odds, successfully launched its first phone, the OnePlus One.

The sales pitch was remarkably simple: The best Android hardware paired with virtually unmodified (aka “stock”) Android software with prices that’d cost hundreds less than premium phones from Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony, or whoever.

Android diehards flocked to OnePlus. Through word of mouth and gimmicky “invite-to-buy” tactics, the company delivered what Samsung and Google’s Nexus devices couldn’t. Read more…

More about Mobile, Gadgets, Android, Smartphones, and Reviews

Worried about Wi-Fi security? This is the router you need.

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BitDefender Box 2
$249.99
The Good

Monitors your internet traffic and provides security alerts • Friendly design • Easy-to-use app • Doesn’t slow down your internet

The Bad

Security features cost $99 a year • More notifications • No guest network feature

The Bottom Line

While owning the BitDefender Box 2 means paying more for internet and dealing with some extra notifications, its user-friendly security features bestow something priceless: peace of mind.

Mashable Score4.0
Cool Factor4.0
Learning Curve4.0
Performance4.0
Bang for the Buck4.0

Read more…More about Reviews, Wi Fi, Mashable Choice, Router, and Bitdefender

Is the world ready for the return of the PDA?

I want to live in the Gemini’s universe. It’s one where the promise of on-demand hardware has been fulfilled. Where crowfunding, rapid prototyping, scalable manufacturing all of those good things have improved our lives by giving us the devices we both want and need. It’s the utopian dream of 2011, fully realized.

In the Gemini universe, the PDA never went away. It simply adapted. All of those irritated anti-touch typers had nothing to complain about. Sure, the iPhone still moved a billion units, because Apple, but the physical keyboard simply evolved alongside it, because tech should adapt to people and not the other way around.

Of course, the realities of technological Darwinism are much darker, and every half decade or so, there’s an extinction-level event, and Apple’s smartphone hit the earth like football field-sized asteroid covered in the bubonic plague. Over the past 10 years, many have and tried and all have failed to address the shrinking, but vocal niche of consumers bemoaning the death of the physical keyboard.

Many of us, myself included, fell in love with the Gemini at first sight when we spotted it across the room at CES. It wasn’t the hardware or the execution, so much as the idea. And, of course, we weren’t alone. When an astonishing 6,200 people came together to pledge $2.2 million on Indiegogo to help bring it to life, it was clear London-based Planet Computers had struck a chord.

And with both Nokia and BlackBerry having waged comebacks of sorts (albeit through licensing deals), it seems the iPhone’s 10th anniversary has been the perfect time to revel in a bit of mobile nostalgia. People have gone utterly gaga over the 3310 — clearly there must also be space in amongst this smartphone fatigue where a PDA can positively flourish.

In one sense, it almost didn’t matter what the final hardware looked like, this felt like a kind of bellwether. But in a larger and more important sense, of course it did. When it comes to consumer electronics, people don’t buy ideas, they by hardware. And in the cold, harsh light of day, the Gemini is a far more exciting concept that it is an actual product.

The product is a return of sorts for the Psion 5, with some of that clamshell’s designs back on board. And indeed, the device takes more than a few design cues from that 20-plus-year-old piece of hardware. The build itself is a bit of a mixed bag, here. It’s solid, but the clamshell ensures that it’s big and bulky, compared to standard smartphones with similarly sized screens (5.9-inch).

It’s not much to look at from the outside, with a plain metal casing, through there are some innovative touches here, including a break in the top that can be plied open to access the device’s innards, using compatible tools. The lid flips open, with a nice, satisfying motion, but screen’s hinge feels loose, moving each time you interact with the touchscreen. It would have also been nice to have the display open at different angles, but there are only two positions here: opened and closed.

As for typing, well, if you’re among the vast majority of mobile users have made the leap to touchscreen typing, you’re going to have to unlearn those skills. My own typing on the keyboard is nowhere close to what I’m able to achieve on a touchscreen these days. For a few fleeting moments, I entertained the idea of writing this review on the thing, but almost immediately backed down, when I found it difficult to type even a sentence right the first time.

The device’s size makes for an extremely cramped keyboard, in which many of the keys have to do double duty. But the width and girth of the device itself means there aren’t too many scenarios in which using the keyboard make a whole lot of sense. Attempting to type while holding it feels like an almost acrobatic feat. Really, a flat surface, like a desk, is your best bet, at which point you’re left wondering why you didn’t simply shell out the money for a real laptop. The ability to dual-boot Linux and the inclusion of a healthy 64GB of storage are interesting cases for the product as more of a small computer than a massive phone, that, of course, is ultimately hampered by the small display with smartphone dimensions.

That gets at what is perhaps a larger issue here. It’s unclear which problems the device is looking to solve in a world of ubiquitous slate phones and low-cost laptops and tablets. There aren’t ultimately all that many scenarios in which the throwback makes more sense than the hundreds of other available options, so it’s hard to recommend this as either a primary phone or laptop in 2018.

Perhaps many of its issues can be chalked up to first-generation hardware issues. There’s a lot to be said for the mere fact that the company was able to deliver a product in the first place. The Gemini certainly works as a compelling niche device, and it would be great to see Planet explore this idea further.

Anything that frees us from the oppression of nearly identical handsets is a victory in and of itself. As I said earlier, I want to live a world where devices like the Gemini can peacefully coexist with more mainstream devices. I just won’t be using it as my phone any time soon.

Is the world ready for the return of the PDA?

I want to live in the Gemini’s universe. It’s one where the promise of on-demand hardware has been fulfilled. Where crowfunding, rapid prototyping, scalable manufacturing all of those good things have improved our lives by giving us the devices we both want and need. It’s the utopian dream of 2011, fully realized.

In the Gemini universe, the PDA never went away. It simply adapted. All of those irritated anti-touch typers had nothing to complain about. Sure, the iPhone still moved a billion units, because Apple, but the physical keyboard simply evolved alongside it, because tech should adapt to people and not the other way around.

Of course, the realities of technological Darwinism are much darker, and every half decade or so, there’s an extinction-level event, and Apple’s smartphone hit the earth like football field-sized asteroid covered in the bubonic plague. Over the past 10 years, many have and tried and all have failed to address the shrinking, but vocal niche of consumers bemoaning the death of the physical keyboard.

Many of us, myself included, fell in love with the Gemini at first sight when we spotted it across the room at CES. It wasn’t the hardware or the execution, so much as the idea. And, of course, we weren’t alone. When an astonishing 6,200 people came together to pledge $2.2 million on Indiegogo to help bring it to life, it was clear London-based Planet Computers had struck a chord.

And with both Nokia and BlackBerry having waged comebacks of sorts (albeit through licensing deals), it seems the iPhone’s 10th anniversary has been the perfect time to revel in a bit of mobile nostalgia. People have gone utterly gaga over the 3310 — clearly there must also be space in amongst this smartphone fatigue where a PDA can positively flourish.

In one sense, it almost didn’t matter what the final hardware looked like, this felt like a kind of bellwether. But in a larger and more important sense, of course it did. When it comes to consumer electronics, people don’t buy ideas, they by hardware. And in the cold, harsh light of day, the Gemini is a far more exciting concept that it is an actual product.

The product is a return of sorts for the Psion 5, with some of that clamshell’s designs back on board. And indeed, the device takes more than a few design cues from that 20-plus-year-old piece of hardware. The build itself is a bit of a mixed bag, here. It’s solid, but the clamshell ensures that it’s big and bulky, compared to standard smartphones with similarly sized screens (5.9-inch).

It’s not much to look at from the outside, with a plain metal casing, through there are some innovative touches here, including a break in the top that can be plied open to access the device’s innards, using compatible tools. The lid flips open, with a nice, satisfying motion, but screen’s hinge feels loose, moving each time you interact with the touchscreen. It would have also been nice to have the display open at different angles, but there are only two positions here: opened and closed.

As for typing, well, if you’re among the vast majority of mobile users have made the leap to touchscreen typing, you’re going to have to unlearn those skills. My own typing on the keyboard is nowhere close to what I’m able to achieve on a touchscreen these days. For a few fleeting moments, I entertained the idea of writing this review on the thing, but almost immediately backed down, when I found it difficult to type even a sentence right the first time.

The device’s size makes for an extremely cramped keyboard, in which many of the keys have to do double duty. But the width and girth of the device itself means there aren’t too many scenarios in which using the keyboard make a whole lot of sense. Attempting to type while holding it feels like an almost acrobatic feat. Really, a flat surface, like a desk, is your best bet, at which point you’re left wondering why you didn’t simply shell out the money for a real laptop. The ability to dual-boot Linux and the inclusion of a healthy 64GB of storage are interesting cases for the product as more of a small computer than a massive phone, that, of course, is ultimately hampered by the small display with smartphone dimensions.

That gets at what is perhaps a larger issue here. It’s unclear which problems the device is looking to solve in a world of ubiquitous slate phones and low-cost laptops and tablets. There aren’t ultimately all that many scenarios in which the throwback makes more sense than the hundreds of other available options, so it’s hard to recommend this as either a primary phone or laptop in 2018.

Perhaps many of its issues can be chalked up to first-generation hardware issues. There’s a lot to be said for the mere fact that the company was able to deliver a product in the first place. The Gemini certainly works as a compelling niche device, and it would be great to see Planet explore this idea further.

Anything that frees us from the oppression of nearly identical handsets is a victory in and of itself. As I said earlier, I want to live a world where devices like the Gemini can peacefully coexist with more mainstream devices. I just won’t be using it as my phone any time soon.

‘The Last Jedi’ first premiere reactions are here and – you guessed it – the Force is strong

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi held its star-studded world premiere at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Saturday night, and the credits had barely finished rolling before attendees hit Twitter to share their first reactions to Rian Johnson’s take on the Skywalker saga.

While spoilers and plot details are under strict embargo until Dec. 12 at 9 a.m. PT, that didn’t stop fans from weighing in on the tone of the movie, which has drawn inevitable comparisons to the second (and most critically acclaimed) film in George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back.

More about Reviews, Star Wars, Star Wars Episode 8, Reactions, and Star Wars The Last Jedi

TripAdvisor will mark pages for businesses where violent incidents, including rape, have been reported

 TripAdvisor will place warning badges on the pages of businesses where safety issues, including violent incidents like assault and rape, have been reported. The travel review and booking site was criticized earlier this month for removing a 2010 review of Iberosar Paraiso Maya in which the writer, Kristie Love, described being raped by a security guard at the Mexican resort. Read More

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Sonos One and Alexa is an audio marriage made in heaven

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This sounds amazing.

That’s what I thought when I got all my Sonos speakers playing the late Tom Petty’s Won’t Back Down and the first floor of my home filled with his distinct, Gainesville, Florida, twang. 

I chose that song with my voice and not by speaking to the first-generation Amazon Echo I have in my home, but by speaking directly to the brand new Sonos One smart speaker.

Sonos is just one of an increasing number of third-party partners integrating Amazon’s soon-to-be ubiquitous digital voice assistant Alexa. On the one hand, this seems redundant. Why do I need a Sonos Alexa-enabled speaker when I already have the Amazon Echo to drive what was my two-speaker Sonos system? Read more…

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Petcube Bites is a capable canine companion for when you’re not home

 Keep your dogs close but your kitties closer, is I think the expression. Maybe. Whatever it is, pets are important to people. And keeping a close watch on them even when you’re not located in the same place has become increasingly possible thanks to the broad proliferation of tech like Wi-Fi connected cameras. Petcube Bites is one of those cameras, but it’s also a treat… Read More

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Rudy Rucker on Walkaway

Walkaway is my first novel for adults since 2009 and I had extremely high hopes (and not a little anxiety) for it as it entered the world, back in April. Since then, I’ve been gratified by the kind words of many of my literary heroes, from William Gibson to Bruce Sterling to the kind cover quotes from Edward Snowden, Neal Stephenson and Kim Stanley Robinson.
(more…)

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Don't buy the crappy TruTemp digital thermometer

It’s invariably the cheapest on the shelf, but the Taylor/TruTemp 3516 I got at Target fell apart the first time I pushed the button. It’s the shabbiest piece of electronic tat I’ve bought from a major U.S. retailer. Don’t buy it! A different brand is only $4 at Amazon, has good reviews, and isn’t held together by the clasping pressure of a plastic cap that will obviously expand when pushed.

I even tried gluing it on with superglue. Then it stopped working altogether. Then I threw it in the trash.

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In 1956, Hugh Heffner gave MAD's founding editor an unlimited budget for a new satire magazine called “TRUMP”

Harvey Kurtzman is a hero of satire, the guy who convinced Bill Gaines’s mother to bankroll a comic book called MAD, then doubled down by turning MAD into a magazine — only to jump ship five issues later after a bizarre fight with the Gaineses, finding refuge with Playboy founder Hugh Heffner who gave him an unlimited budget to start an all-star, high-quality satire magazine called TRUMP, which lasted for two legendary, prized issues, now collected in a gorgeous hardcover from Dark Horse.
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Review: High-Rise (2016)

High-Rise, directed by Ben Wheatley, brings J.G. Ballard’s classic novel to the screen after a long wait.

It’s set almost entirely in a residential tower, a massive brutalist edifice inhabited by thousands of early-1970s Britons eager for a new life. The ultimate product of mid-century urban planning, the concrete building is designed to take care of all its occupants’ needs: there’s a supermarket, a swimming pool, even a primary school, all tucked away deep within its forty stories.

Robert Laing, an introverted young doctor, moves in hoping to become an anonymous nobody amid this monument to the bland excellence of modern life. But he commits the critical error of making friends, and is slowly consumed by the building’s odd psychic character, its microcosmic reflection of the divisions in society at large.

He notices that the lower levels are first to suffer when the power fails; then that the higher echelons enjoy special amenities of their own. And then, when the lights go out, everything goes to hell.

A little awareness of British life in the 1970s helps contextualise details that might otherwise baffle—in particular, skyscraper-happy Americans should know that residential towers there were always a controversial novelty, that garbage collecters were perpetually on strike, and that in British engineering, corners are always cut. But Ballard’s sinister geometry of modernity, hiding an emotional suppression ready to explode into violence, is a language universal to all employed westerners.

It’s an intriguing, sophisticated and handsome movie made excellent by Wheatley’s skill and its cast: Tom Hiddleston as the skeptical middle-class everyman driven to madness by his environment’s awful sanity, Jeremy Irons as the tower’s vicious yet uncannily humanist architect, Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men, The Handmaid’s Tale) as society’s hope, and Luke Evans (Bard from The Hobbit) as the agent of chaos.

But there are some conceptual misteps, I think, that garble Ballard’s anxieties—and the power of his storytelling.

In particular, the movie counterposes superficial social realism against dreamy surrealism in an attempt to triangulate the novel’s hyperreal quality with its period setting and the presumed ironic sensibilities of a contemporary audience. Clever as this is, the result has a weird 1980s artsy zaniness to it, as if directed by Peter Greenaway or Ken Russell or (sorry) whoever did the Pet Shop Boys movie. Ballard is about games that turn deadly serious, but this is just a deadly game. Among other things, it makes its cruelties (which often involve animals) seem self-satisfied and spiteful.

Wheatley also tries to achieve too much though implication; even as a fan of the novel, I felt a little lost and could have done with an establishing vignette to establish the scenario. Motivations are often unclear, too. Though this is rather the point, the depraved psychic hygiene of the tower’s world is only lightly sketched before it erupts. It’s as if the movie is only interested in people who already understand its message.

Ballard’s writing is cold and sharp, yet lurid in how it draws out the entrails of our discomfort. This movie’s script is just drawn out. I like the film, and it’s full of arresting images. It is a tribute, a floating world of its own, but a metaphor too distant and too arch to draw much blood.

Thumbs up, ish.

High-Rise (2016) [Amazon]

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'Serial' team's new podcast is a murder mystery ripe for bingeing

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Remember that magical fall of 2014 when all everyone could talk about was Serial? The murder mystery podcast from This American Life happened to be serialized — a new episode every week — but their latest endeavor, S-Town just dropped in full.

S-Town is about a lot of things, with a voice distinct from Serial and production quality of equal caliber. John, a This American Life listener, asks producer Brian Reed and the investigative team to come to his “pathetic little Baptist shit town” and explore a murder and a sexual assault allegation.

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Nomos Glashütte’s Metro Neomatik is modern, slim and sophisticated watch

 The smartwatch era has done nothing so much as renew my interest in real watches, which have their own type of special intelligence, albeit laid out in intricate arrays of gears and springs rather than written in silicon. Few watchmakers express this intelligence site so wonderfully as Nomos Glashütte, the German manufactory that produces exquisite timepieces with house made movements in… Read More

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The 'Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillian' series

“Your first doomsday machine is a malevolent, inscrutable wristwatch.”


The Please Don’t Tell My Parents series, by Richard Roberts, is a wonderful young adult series of novels about Penelope Akk and her two friends Claire and Ray. They are normal middle school kids just hoping their superpowers will kick in soon. (more…)

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HP’s Spectre 15 makes 4K on a laptop a livable experience

cma_1520 What makes it better than other 4K laptops is its decent battery life and healthy selection of ports. If Windows is your jam and you need full-size screen, this is the notebook to get. The latest edition of the 15-inch Spectre x360 is only offered with a 4k (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) screen. HP is that committed to providing an ultra-high res experience. But having a 4K display on a 15-inch… Read More

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HP’s Spectre 15 makes 4K on a laptop a livable experience

cma_1520 What makes it better than other 4K laptops is its decent battery life and healthy selection of ports. If Windows is your jam and you need full-size screen, this is the notebook to get. The latest edition of the 15-inch Spectre x360 is only offered with a 4k (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) screen. HP is that committed to providing an ultra-high res experience. But having a 4K display on a 15-inch… Read More

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HP’s Spectre 15 makes 4K on a laptop a livable experience

cma_1520 What makes it better than other 4K laptops is its decent battery life and healthy selection of ports. If Windows is your jam and you need full-size screen, this is the notebook to get. The latest edition of the 15-inch Spectre x360 is only offered with a 4k (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) screen. HP is that committed to providing an ultra-high res experience. But having a 4K display on a 15-inch… Read More

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Review: Lenovo Yoga Book

Lenovo’s Yoga Book is the most striking personal computer I’ve seen in years. More than the original iPhone, or Sony’s X505, or the Messagepad, here’s technology that seems a few years ahead of schedule. It’s compact, attractive and thinner than anything else that might be called a laptop. Imagine two hinged pieces of black glass, one of which glows with the internet and the other with Okudagrams, and you have the Yoga Book. (more…)

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Team BlackSheep’s Vendetta is a fast racing drone with a high learning curve

l1000549 Drone racing as a sport is taking off, with teams, sponsors and television networks all getting in on the action of this developing scene. There’s a professional drone racing league, live streaming and even drone-racing simulators, where drone-pilot hopefuls can try emulating the real thing. But what if you want to actually take to the skies with a racing drone? Team… Read More

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Review round-up: Here's what people are saying about 'The Young Pope'

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The Young Pope is not for everyone, though maybe that’s exactly how he likes it.

Paolo Sorrentino’s upcoming series stars Jude Law as Pope Pius XIII (born Lenny Belardo), a newly elected, intimidating pope. 

The mere concept of the show — about about a pope who has been alive for fewer years than other popes — inspired tons of memes on Twitter. 

But critics’  were not as amused as the meme creators.

Here’s what some critics had to say about the show, which debuts on HBO on Jan. 15.

The New York Times

Image: hbo

“Beautiful and ridiculous.” Read more…

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