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19
Sep

24 hours with Fitbit’s first smartwatch


The holiday season is almost upon us, but as you fantasize about the mouthwatering delicacies you’re going to put in your bellies, some of you may already be getting ready to shed a few pounds. A new and improved crop of fitness-centric smartwatches will be arriving soon to make staying in shape easier, and the Fitbit Ionic may be one to consider. It’s the company’s first full-fledged smartwatch, and the device packs a slew of new features designed to help people follow through on their workout plans. Well, that’s the promise, anyway. As the Ionic’s October arrival approaches, the company has pushed out software updates to early reviewers, but the device still feels unfinished.

I’ve had the Ionic for a few weeks now, but for most of that time I was making do with early software. You can read my preliminary impressions here. Last week, the company issued an update, but it hasn’t appeared to do very much other than add a music app for transferring and managing onboard songs and rearranging the order of apps in the gallery. The rest of the company’s debut smartwatch platform, Fitbit OS, needs some serious fine-tuning.

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First of all, there still aren’t many apps available for download, and all 13 of them are installed on your watch by default. To remove them, you’ll have to go to the Fitbit app on your phone, navigate to the Apps section and uncheck each one. Rearranging them is easier — you can do so from your wrist by holding down on the app you want to move and then dragging it elsewhere.

These apps mostly work as promised. The Today app tells me my daily progress toward my step and calorie goals, while Alarm and Timer are serviceable. After setting a default location via my phone, the Weather app now shows the daily temperature range and sunset times.

One of the best apps is Coach. It offers the same three short workout guides it did before (albeit with different graphics): 10-minute abs, a 7-minute workout and “Treasure Chest” (set of chest-centric exercises). To get more options, you’ll have to sign up for the premium Coach service, which costs $8 a month. That’s the same price as a Netflix or Hulu subscription, both of which offer workout videos in addition to award-winning TV shows and movies.

I kicked off my morning with a 10-minute ab session, which was thankfully easy to follow and well-paced. A lot of the suggested exercises were familiar: a 30-second set of bicycle kicks followed by 45 seconds holding a plank stance. Whenever each set was up, the watch would vibrate so I knew to stop. There aren’t audio cues for now, those will come with the premium version later. I also enjoyed learning new moves (to me, anyway) like something called “Windshield Wipers,” which involved sticking my legs straight up while lying down, and then swinging them from side to side. The in-app animations made it easy to follow along.

As someone who strings together random Instagram-inspired exercises at the gym, I appreciate having something else tell me what to do. I only wish there were a way to customize the intensity of each workout, but that appears to be a feature available to paid Coach users. In fact, the Guided Health Program service learns your fitness habits over time and tailors workouts to you. It will even recommend that you go to bed at certain times to optimize recovery, or suggest a so-called Relax session to bring down your heart rate. As useful as the three free guides are, I wish Ionic owners could get more options built in instead of having to pay an extra fee each month. The premium service launches this winter, and Fitbit says it will continue to add programs like audio coaching through 2018.

Still, despite its limits, Coach is a useful tool that sets the Ionic apart. Unfortunately, a lot of the other features Fitbit promised are either buggy or not yet ready. I spent a frustrating hour trying to transfer music to the watch’s local storage to no avail. There are two ways to play music from the watch: via the Pandora app (which requires a Pandora Premium account) or Fitbit’s Music app.

After I signed up for a Pandora Premium trial, I selected the Dance Workout station in the Fitbit app’s settings on my phone, which is then supposed to send that playlist to the Ionic. But when I looked at the Pandora app on my wrist, nothing happened. The next morning, the playlist finally showed up on the watch. Fitbit said the delay might have been caused by the watch having too little battery at the time I initiated the transfer or possible WiFi issues.

After my initial failed attempt with Pandora, I tried to load my own music onto the watch, which requires you to use the Fitbit app on your PC. Not only that, it also asks that your music be in either Windows Media or iTunes playlist formats. So I went through the rigmarole of putting my individual tracks in a Windows Media playlist and then setting the source folder for my music, only to be told at the final step that my music files weren’t found. My songs were in .WAV and .MP3, two of the most common music formats, so I was puzzled.

After a 48-minute-long call with several Fitbit reps, we finally figured out that the files I had been trying to sync may have had conversion issues — a different MP3 file eventually made the journey from my PC to my watch successfully.

Fitbit also said it understands that not everyone organizes music on their PCs in playlists, and is working on allowing Windows users to manage and organize tracks directly within its desktop app. When this rolls out in October, you’ll be able to add individual songs to the Fitbit app on Windows without having to first set up a playlist.

Another feature that’s not live yet is Fitbit Pay. For now, this is limited to specific MasterCard gift cards that Fitbit had issued for testing and worked when I tried it out at the company’s launch event last month. When the Ionic arrives in stores in October, though, Fitbit Pay should be up and running with other (real) MasterCards, as well as eligible Visa and American Express cards. But since I wasn’t able to test this out myself, I’m not sure how well it will work outside of a controlled test scenario.

Those are my major complaints about the Ionic so far; hopefully they’ll be addressed by the time the watch comes out next month. Meanwhile, the rest of the Ionic works as smoothly as it did when I first checked it out — you can read previews of notifications from your phone (but you can’t reply), install pretty watch faces and control music playback. Fitbit said this software is close to final, in that it will mostly look the same, but that there could be further updates before launch to address bugs.

What won’t be changing is the hardware. I have to admit I’ve come to terms with the way Fitbit’s wearables look. If this were any other brand, I’d hate on the Ionic’s blockish aesthetic. But not only is this one of those devices that looks better in person than it does in pictures, it’s also a Fitbit. People who are considering the Ionic are likely to already be fans of the brand’s distinctive design language or are at least willing to make do with the tracker’s unexciting appearance for its fitness features.

All told, there is still too much pending or buggy about the Ionic’s software for me to get a real feel for its prowess as a smartwatch. I was only able to try out the new features that were activated with the update, but there are plenty more to test, and I’ll be doing a deeper dive when those are ready. I also want to know how the Ionic compares to the Apple Watch Series 3 (or at least watchOS 4) and the Samsung Gear Sport, too. Since the Ionic doesn’t actually arrive until October and as so much of it feels unfinished, I’d strongly recommend waiting until we have a final version tested before you order one.

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19
Sep

Here’s everything from Playstation Japan’s 2017 press event!


As is tradition, PlayStation kicked off Tokyo Game Show by showcasing most of its announcements days before the full show actually starts. Besides a bunch of limited-edition PS4 and PS4 Pros of varying levels of desirability, we had some remakes, a new game or two, and more Monster Hunter. Of course. Here’s the best trailers from the showcase earlier today.

19
Sep

iPhone 8 and 8 Plus Review Roundup: Powerful Devices With Great Cameras Set Stage for iPhone X


iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus reviews are out, providing us with a closer look at two of Apple’s latest smartphones ahead of their Friday launch.

iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus via The Verge
The devices represent Apple’s first glass-backed iPhones since the iPhone 4s in 2011. Most reviews complimented the glossier design, although there were naturally some concerns about glass being more prone to shattering.

And not everyone was sold on the new look.

The Wall Street Journal’s Geoffrey A. Fowler:

The glass might remind you of the iPhone 4, one of the most iconic Apple designs. But I’m not sold. The iPhone 7’s glossy black finish gives it a contiguous surface, like a pebble smoothed by the ocean. The iPhone 8 shows seams where the glass touches the aluminum band, making it feel a little like a knockoff. And there’s no denying it looks dated compared with the curved glass on rival Samsung’s Galaxy S8, which takes the screen all the way to the edge.

Apple stressed that the glass on iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus has a strengthening layer that is 50 percent deeper, but we’ll have to wait for drop tests to see how the devices hold up from both ordinary and extreme heights.


The switch away from aluminum was necessary to facilitate wireless charging, an overdue feature many Android smartphones have had for years.

Wired senior writer David Pierce:

Wireless charging makes the iPhone feel less like a Tamagotchi needing constant feeding, and more like a digital sidekick that’s always ready to go. Pick it up when you need it, put it down when you don’t; whenever you’re not using your phone, it’s charging. Android users have known this feeling for years, but a lot of iPhone users are going to love it now.

TechCrunch editor-in-chief Matthew Panzarino focused on the new cameras, which he said are “killer” and the best reason to upgrade this year yet again. He was particularly impressed with Apple’s new Portrait Lighting effects, which he described as the marquee feature of the iPhone 8 Plus.

The studio and contour options are going to be flooding social networks and phones internet-wide as soon as people get their hands on their iPhone 8 Pluses. The stage lighting takes a bit more effort, but when you nail it and the software is able to do its job by accurately detecting hair and head shapes, it really stuns. It can produce images that feel professional and would take dozens of lights and pieces of equipment to pull off.

One of the new Portrait Lighting effects is called Stage Light, which spotlights the subject’s face against a deep black background.

Original photo on left with Stage Light on right via TechCrunch
CNET photographer James Martin tested the iPhone 8 Plus camera by shooting more than 2,000 photos in San Francisco, and he was thoroughly impressed with everything from detailed textures to low-light performance.

With the new sensor, HDR delivered better details in highlights and shadows. HDR is always on, signaling Apple’s deeper commitment to computational photography with the iPhone 8 Plus. That’s different than the iPhone 7 Plus, which gave you the option to set HDR to auto, off or on.

Martin added that even his high-end DSLR can’t achieve the kind of exposure he achieved with the iPhone 8 Plus.


Mashable editor-at-large Lance Ulanoff ran Geekbench 4 on the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, and Apple’s new A11 Bionic chip delivered. The smaller iPhone 8 in particular more than doubles the single-core performance, and more than triples the multi-core score, of the A10 Fusion chip in iPhone 7.


The Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel, however, said the increased performance “feels like headroom for the future,” and not something you immediately notice compared to the iPhone 7 in particular.

I didn’t notice a huge performance boost over the iPhone 7 while doing basic things like browsing the web, watching videos, and taking photos. I played a few games and everything seemed fast and fluid, of course. Apple sells iPhones for years after they’re released — the iPhone 6S is still in the lineup! — so a lot of this extra power just feels like headroom for the future, not something you immediately sense when upgrading from a previous model.

Should You Upgrade?

It depends on who you ask.

While most reviews recommend waiting for the iPhone X, particularly if you currently own an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus, the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are still respectable and more affordable updates with faster A11 Bionic chips, True Tone displays, improved cameras, wireless charging, and more.

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber said the devices are “excellent year-over-year upgrades” compared to their iPhone 7 counterparts.

These are solid year-over-year updates — at least as impressive as the iPhone 7 was over the iPhone 6S. If they hadn’t debuted alongside the iPhone X we’d be arguing about whether these are the most impressive new iPhone models since the iPhone 6.

The Verge’s Nilay Patel was much less impressed, noting that he “can’t think of a single compelling reason to upgrade from an iPhone 7.”

After spending a week with the 8, I can’t think of a single compelling reason to upgrade from an iPhone 7. The 7 is still extremely fast, offers virtually the same design in a lighter package with a bigger battery, and will get almost every feature of the 8 with iOS 11. If you really want Qi wireless charging, you can get a slim $15 case that supports it. And if you’re dying for Portrait Lighting, there are tons of photo apps in the App Store that offer similar effects. Of course, if you’re upgrading from anything older than an iPhone 7, the improvements in the camera and the overall speed of the phone are going to really impress you.

Engadget’s Chris Velazco:

The iPhone X will continue to suck the air out of the room for the foreseeable future, but one thing has become clear after my week of testing: They might not have the X’s style, but the 8 and 8 Plus are truly excellent phones that won’t let Apple die-hards and new customers down.

Business Insider’s Steve Kovach:

My advice is to ask yourself how much you’re willing to pay. If you don’t mind giving up some of the futuristic features in the iPhone X, then the iPhone 8 models will give you the same power and performance and most of the same features of iOS 11 for hundreds of dollars less.

The Wall Street Journal’s Geoffrey A. Fowler:

That is what is frustrating about the iPhone 8: In the past, Apple rarely raised prices when it made a better phone with more storage. This time, it releases an incremental update and charges $50 more. It’s the first time the most basic new iPhone costs $700.

The virtues I see in the iPhone 8 are niche: I’m glad you don’t have to spend $1,000 to get an improved camera and processor and even wireless charging, if that matters to you. But Apple’s confusing iPhone family now includes three pairs of practically identical phones: the regular and Plus versions of the iPhone 8, 7 and 6s. Don’t buy the spendiest one.

More Reviews: The Loop, iNews, Financial Post, The Independent, The Washington Post, 9to5Mac, Associated Press, and BuzzFeed News

Related Roundup: iPhone 8
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Buyer’s Guide: iPhone (Buy Now)
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19
Sep

iOS 11 review


Even though the changes are minor, iOS 11 transforms how we rely on the iPhone and iPad.

After a months-long beta program, the official iOS 11 is finally available. Since June, we’ve been trying out the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system through both public and developer betas. In our iOS 11 review, we’ve found the update adds a little more customizability, with a redesigned control center, new App Store design, along with more accessibility options.

iOS 11 has a lot to do with attention to small details. In iOS 10, many of the improvements were more visual, such as animations through iMessage, improved 3D Touch, a more organized Photos app, and more. It completely re-invented the way we not only saw, but also interacted through our devices. iOS 11 is more about streamlining the user experience.

Revamped, customizable Control Center

Brenda Stolyar/Digital Trends

One of the biggest makeovers in iOS 11 is the control center. In iOS 10 and earlier, the control center only included the basics — toggles for the flashlight, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, camera, calculator, along with brightness adjustments. The new interface, which you still access by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, includes the same toggles, but with the option to add more.

You can now add quick access toggles for Notes, Apple TV Remote, Stopwatch, Text Size, and Wallet, among others. The most helpful of all is the option to add Lower Power Mode, which used to require multiple steps to simply toggle it on. Now, you can swipe up to the control center and click the low battery icon whenever your phone is running low on juice.

The new Control Center looks a lot more modern, and the toggles are compactly organized. In the Control Center’s settings, you can easily move the specific widgets up or down to line them up however you like for easy memory. Having useful apps available to you in one swift motion makes us wish we could add others. Since the feature is new with iOS 11, we hope future updates will be less restrictive with what you can add. We also would have liked to see some more improved functionality, such as the ability to choose a Wi-Fi network to connect to from the Control Center.

A confusing lockscreen and notification center

Brenda Stolyar/Digital Trends

The notification center was tweaked several times during the beta period, and the final version is far better than the first iteration in iOS 11. But it’s still going to take some time getting used to it.

In iOS 10 and before, unlocking your phone and then swiping down would reveal another page with your notifications. In iOS 11, the notification center and lock screen have fused to become one. Swiping down will always bring you back to your lock screen, but with your notifications. You can clear or view them by swiping a notification to the left, and a swipe to the right will open it.

For past notifications you haven’t gotten to yet, swiping up will reveal them separated by day. Each day will have an “x” symbol next to it so you can clear notifications, but if you press and hold on the “x” (via 3D Touch), you can clear everything. You can also press and hold notifications to interact with them, such as replying to messages.

It will take some time getting used to the new format. Especially opening your phone and pulling down what was once the original notification center, only to find your lock screen staring back at you after you already unlocked it. What may confuse you even more is when you pull down the notifications after unlocking the iPhone, swiping the screen to the left will open the camera, and swiping to the right will open the Today View.

We don’t think the new system is any better than the old one. It’s a minor update to a part of the operating system that really didn’t need tweaking.

More useful photo effects and editing options

Brenda Stolyar/Digital Trends

One of our favorite features added to iOS 11 are the new camera effects in the Photos app. Instead of using third-party apps like Boomerang to create loops and other fun animations to ordinary photos, there’s now three effects native in the Photos app: Loop, Bounce, and Long-exposure.

Live Photos will need to be on, as it takes several photos when you tap the shutter icon. The Loop function will play all these captured photos repeatedly, creating a never-ending loop of the photo. Bounce will pick the best start and end points to play it forward and then in reverse. Long-exposure combines all the photos to create a stunning effect, though it’s best if you use a tripod.

As far as editing goes, you can trim your Live Photos if there’s a clip you don’t like. You can change the “Key photo” or default frame of the Live Photo as well when tapping on the edit tool.

Each of these are extremely simple to add to your photos, and they’re fun. There’s still one majorly glaring issue — you still can’t upload them to all major social media platforms. Facebook and Tumblr work, but we weren’t able to share Bounces or Loops to Twitter or Instagram (Instagram considers it a video that needs to be 3 seconds long). You’ll still have to use a third-party app. Having the tools are useful, but don’t uninstall those third-party apps just yet.

For those who refuse to spend any more money on iCloud storage, you’ll be happy to know iOS 11 will help save space with its new camera formats. For photos, there’s HEIF (High Efficiency Image Format), which Apple claims offers twice the compression effectiveness of JPEG. For those who take more video, your files now use HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding), which is helpful for the high-resolution 4K videos the iPhone shoots.

Under both formats, you’ll have more storage and data available without sacrificing the quality of your footage. To set your iPhone to High Efficiency, go to Settings > Camera > Formats and check off High Efficiency. Images will then automatically be saved as HEIC and movies as an HEVC .mov file. If you check off the other option – Most Compatible – images will save as JPEGs and movies will save as an h.264 .mov file, which will likely be more helpful until more services support these formats.

An App Store to keep you up-to-date

The App Store is completely different in iOS 11. It’s redesigned to focus more on your interests. The interface is not only light and airy, but also divided neatly into specific sections. Past experiences felt bland and boring — it was a place not for exploration, but simply to download or update an app and leave. The new App Store makes us want to keep scrolling, and keep coming back every day to see what’s new.

The new store is easy to navigate, but doesn’t stray completely far from the previous design. The menu still lives on the bottom of the screen, making it easy to skip from tab to tab. The main difference is the layout: Photo galleries showing off featured apps are larger and more prominent, making it clear which category a specific app is under. The product page after clicking on an app also got a facelift, with more important information in the center of the description to help you decide whether you want to download it or not.

We were particularly interested in the new “Today” tab which acts as the homepage for all the latest app news along with feature stories.  With new content added on a daily basis, the Today tab provides you with timely “Apps of the Day” depending on relevancy. For example, after Labor day we noticed the App of the Day was the Starbucks app — just in time for fall and those Pumpkin Spice lattes.

With so many apps on the App Store, it can become overwhelming to find exactly what you’re looking for. The new redesign does the searching for you, with sections like “Try Something New” or “Editor’s Choice.” Even if you’re not looking for a specific app, it’s still fun to scroll through and find ones you might not have known about before. The idea of incorporating discovery into apps has become common, with Instagram and Snapchat dedicating sections to help users find content outside of their interests. The new App Store is no different and aims to push different types of apps on your radar within one view of the main page.

With “behind-the-scenes” features and interviews from app developers themselves, Apple is creating a more personal bond between people and apps.

Take notes the way you want

One of our favorite improvements is the Notes app. Before, we were limited in ways we could organize or edit notes, but in iOS 11 there’s now the option to add tables, the ability to create inline drawings, and new title formats. Formatting tools, such as bold and italicize, now have their own easy-to-access section.

We never relied on Notes before due to its basic capabilities, but we’ve found ourselves using it more in iOS 11. The new options make your notes easy to digest and follow.

You can also now easily scan any piece of paper and convert it into a PDF to markup afterwards. Documents are simple to scan, just point the camera and shoot. Notes does a great job of organizing all your scanned documents into one file which you can then email or message. It’s wonderful to have when you’re in a time-crunch and really need to have those papers signed.

As for the iPad Pro, Notes can now be accessed from the lock screen with a simple tap of the Apple Pencil.

Completing tasks is easier

Files is a new app you’ll find in iOS 11. It’s a file management system, which is something iOS has sorely needed for a long time. With the new app, you no longer have to remember to upload your files elsewhere.  As long as you’re signed into iCloud, all the files from your Macbook will automatically be accessible on your iPhone or iPad, and vice versa. For those dependent on Google Drive, Dropbox, or Box, these services are integrated into the app so you can access files in the same app. It’s a great app for those who love to keep everything organized, especially since you can sort by name, date, size, and tags. The interface is similar to Finder on Mac, so it’s easy to get the hang of if you’re a Mac user. You can also markup PDFs and images uploaded to Files within the app.

If you love to multitask, iOS 11 provides you with a better version of Slide Over and Split View on your iPad. For Split View, all you need to do is open an app and pull up the dock by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. Then, you can drag your preferred app to the left or right of the screen. You’ll then see a Slide Over window with the new app on top of the one that’s open.

You also no longer have to open and quit the Slide Over interface to add an app. By toggling on Gestures in the Multitasking section within your Settings, being able to focus on multiple apps at once is not longer a chore. The drag and drop feature that’s heavily prominent in iOS 11, makes it easier to choose and access all apps with a few gestures.

Old habits die hard with Do Not Disturb While Driving

The Do Not Disturb While Driving feature turns on automatically when your iPhone senses the acceleration of your vehicle. Your notifications will still be able to reach your phone, but they’re muted – meaning they won’t show up on your lock screen. You can turn it on and off manually by accessing it through the control center. If you have Bluetooth enabled in your vehicle, then it’ll turn on as soon as it’s connected.

If you receive a text while driving, they’ll receive an automatic response which can be customized through settings. But it will only send if you have the text message window open. Otherwise, any other text messages or notifications can be seen after your turn off the feature. If you’re sitting in the passenger’s seat, you can also tap on the notification and select the “I’m Not Driving” option to disable the feature.

It used to be that texting while driving was the biggest issue, but horror stories have expanded to social media platforms as well. Even though third-party apps for this exact scenario have been around for a while, it’s convenient to have it built into iOS. When we tried it out, the feature connected as soon as the car was in motion. The phone was locked but we left a text message window open and received a message. The feature then sent an automatic response letting them know we were driving. Within the message is also an option to text ‘urgent’ if there’s an emergency. It’ll then allow it to show up as a notification on your phone even if you’re still driving.

Do Not Disturb While Driving does work seamlessly. The only issue that might get in the way is your habit to pick up your phone while behind the wheel. But with muted notifications, you’ll no longer have the distraction of your phone vibrating or going off. Since it’s so quiet, you’ll actually find yourself forgetting to check it too.

iOS 11 brings refinements

Overall, iOS 11 isn’t entertaining and fun when it comes to its major features. It has instead made significant improvements on the everyday user experience. Even though the changes are minor, it transforms how we rely on the iPhone and iPad by extending all the ways we can use these devices.

There are a few Apple iPhone X-specific features in iOS 11, and some camera improvements as well on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. We’ll update this review when we’ve played around with the new features after the devices have been released.

To download iOS 11 on your device on September 19, simply go to Settings > General > Software Update. You may have to clear out some data first to allow it to download the update. Don’t forget to back up to the cloud, and make sure your device is compatible.




19
Sep

The iPhone X is hurting Apple’s iPhone 8 pre-orders, analysts say


Why it matters to you

If you’re holding out for an iPhone X, you may not be alone, meaning the device is likely to be in high demand at the end of October.

Pre-orders for the new Apple iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are underway, and unusually, even now you can still order one and receive it on release day. Analysts examining the data related to those orders say many people are holding back, and haven’t decided to grab Apple’s latest hardware yet. The reason? The iPhone 8 will only be Apple’s latest device for about a month, at which time the iPhone X will be released, and it’s a very different beast. The consensus is, Apple fans are waiting for the X, which means the real iPhone rush will start at the end of October.

Data published by analyst Gene Munster shows the new iPhone models had a one- to two-week delivery time over the first weekend after pre-orders went live, while some models still have a September 22 release day delivery date attached. It’s noted that compared to previous years, the more expensive but better-equipped 8 Plus also has a shorter lead time, suggesting either supplies are greater or that people are saving their money.

The evidence of a less-than-enthused response to the iPhone 8 continues. In previous years, some desirable new iPhone models have had a three- to six-week wait attached by this point, analysts at KGI Securities say. It believes the iPhone X is a prime reason why the iPhone 8 is so readily available. Pre-orders are traditionally placed by early adopters and hardcore Apple fans, who are more likely to be attracted to the iPhone X than the mildly updated iPhone 8.

A Twitter poll we took shortly after Apple’s September event also showed the general feeling towards the iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and iPhone X. We asked which new iPhone model they were most likely to buy, and out of the more than 1,300 people responded, 72 percent chose the iPhone X.

Ahead of the iPhone X announcement, there were concerns the device would be in very short supply. Apple hasn’t restricted the iPhone X’s release, and will have the new phone available to order in 55 countries on October 27, so clearly doesn’t anticipate extremely tight supplies. Has it instead underestimated how many people would be willing to pay $1,000 or more for the phone?

If more people are waiting to buy the iPhone X, as analysts are suggesting, then don’t expect shipping times to reflect those of the iPhone 8 during the first week of pre-orders. If you want one, and aren’t quick off the mark, you should be prepared for a long wait.




19
Sep

Gmail now converts addresses and phone numbers to actionable links


Gmail finally auto-converts addresses and phone numbers to links.

Google is adding a new feature to Gmail and Inbox that brings a much-needed feature to the mail clients. Starting today, addresses, emails, and phone numbers on Gmail and Inbox will be automatically converted to interactive hyperlinks.

gmail-addresses.jpg?itok=GLrCYmuG

For instance, an address link in Gmail automatically opens Google Maps, clicking on a phone number will take you to your dialer of choice on your phone, and selecting an email address within Gmail will open the compose window in your default mail app.

Google mentions that the update is now rolling out to all Gmail and Inbox users on Android and iOS globally, with the rollout set to be complete in three days’ time.

19
Sep

The Morning After: Tuesday, September 19th 2017


Hey, good morning! You look fabulous.

We have some bad news from Toys ‘R’ Us, CCleaner and Equifax, but at least Galaxy S8 owners can disable the Bixby button, and Jerry Seinfeld’s latest stand-up is available on Netflix.

The internet claims another victim.Toys ‘R’ Us files Chapter 11

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Between the rise of internet shopping and a crushing debt load, Toys ‘R’ Us is struggling. The company announced it’s filing for bankruptcy protection in the US and Canada but says all of its stores will continue to operate as normal. The Wall Street Journal reports some “underperforming” stores may shut down, while others are revamped to focus on experiences like in-store play areas.

0 to 60 in less than 3.5 seconds.Porsche’s Mission E will be priced to challenge Tesla

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Porsche is still a couple of years away from releasing the production version of its Mission E speedster, but Chairman Oliver Blume revealed some key details about the project. When it arrives before the end of 2019, it should have a price similar to the Panamera (between $80,000 and $90,000), which makes it a competitor for the Tesla Model S 100D and could make it cheaper than the $135,000 Ludicrous Mode-equipped P100D. Porsche is also planning for 350kW fast-charging that can give 250 miles of range (out of a possible 300 miles) in just 15 minutes.

Good news, bad news.Galaxy S8 owners can finally disable the Bixby button

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They just can’t do anything else with it.

Somehow this keeps getting worseEquifax stock sales prompt DOJ investigation for insider trading

You probably already knew that three Equifax officials sold $1.8 million in shares after the company learned of the security breach. The DOJ is investigating that, and while the company says those execs were not aware of this breach when they sold their shares, the story is complicated further now that Bloomberg reports Equifax suffered a separate breach even earlier, in March.

Stop worrying.August’s latest smart locks let you know if you left the door open

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August is introducing two new locks, the $150 August Smart Lock and the $280 August Smart Lock Pro, that both include a sensor to determine whether or not the door is really closed. If it’s ajar, the lock can let you know on your phone, so you never have to wonder again. Oh, and there’s a new doorbell camera that buffers its recordings to capture the seconds leading up to a button press.

That’s how you get ants.Hackers slipped malware into popular PC software CCleaner

Piriform’s CCleaner utility, owned by antivirus provider Avast, was found to be hosting a “multi-stage malware payload” that could install ransomware or keyloggers and further infect targeted computers on command. The company says this backdoor has been removed, and it already forced updates to push some two million users off of the affected version. Still, it may be worthwhile to clear your own cookies in the future.

Will you sign up for CBS All Access?What’s on TV this week

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CBS is ready to premiere its new Star Trek series on broadcast television before pushing Discovery as a streaming exclusive, while Netflix brings Jerry Seinfeld (plus Jaden Smith in Neo Yokio) and Amazon drops in a new season of Transparent. Movie fans can choose Wonder Woman, Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Starship Troopers on Ultra HD Blu-ray, while gamers have Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite and Project Cars 2 incoming.

How was this not already a feature?Gmail finally turns addresses and phone numbers into links

Google has rolled out an update that gives its mail apps the power to turn addresses, phone numbers and email addresses into hyperlinks.

But wait, there’s more…

  • Kevin Hart made a family-friendly mobile game
  • Apple’s iPhone screen repair prices are now $20 higher
  • ‘Half-Life 2’ mod puts the sequel inside of the original
  • ‘Minecraft’ adds ‘Oregon Trail’ to teach kids about frontier life

The Morning After is a new daily newsletter from Engadget designed to help you fight off FOMO. Who knows what you’ll miss if you don’t subscribe.

19
Sep

View Strava workout maps in 3D thanks to Apple’s ARKit


Strava has long been a popular choice for running and cycling enthusiasts to track and share their workouts. The service and app can be found on quite a few devices, including Apple Watch, Garmin fitness trackers and Peloton’s stationary bikes for spin classes. The company is now moving into augmented reality (AR) with Fitness AR, an app that takes your running, cycling and hiking workout data and puts it onto a 3D map that you can view with an iOS device.

The app will pull in your Strava data and place it on a 3D map that you can then “place” in the real world via Apple’s ARKit and Mapbox tech. You can then see the route you ran or biked from all angles, moving your iOS device viewer to get a better view of your workout. The app even includes a bunch of featured activities that other folks have completed in locations like the Tour de France’s Alpe D’Huez cycling route and various spots in Yosemite Valley. You can also take screenshots and capture video of your AR maps to share with friends.

Source: Fitness AR

19
Sep

iPhone 8 and 8 Plus review: Change in small doses


It’s no secret that smartphones have tended to get sleeker and less obtrusive over time. Screens are growing, but bezels are shrinking. In a very real way, the boundaries between us and our information — our apps, our contacts, our very desires reproduced in pixels — are melting away. Apple has sensed the industry shifting around it, and it made the iPhone X in response to that. But, in a bid to make the transition less jarring, Apple also made the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.

They’re familiar-looking phones that mostly operate the way people expect them to. They’re conventional. But that doesn’t mean they’re inherently lacking — far from it, in fact. While I suspect all iPhones will look like the iPhone X soon enough, the 8 and 8 Plus are expertly built, high-performance devices for people who want to ease into Apple’s vision of the future. And who knows? These just might be the last conventional iPhones Apple makes.

Hardware

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

Like it or not, the iPhone X has dramatically changed Apple’s approach to smartphones. Apple has painted us a picture of what its mobile future looks like, so is it any surprise the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus seem dull by comparison? To be clear, it’s not that they’re poorly designed. It’s just that the iPhone’s aesthetic hasn’t changed much since the debut of the 6 and 6 Plus three years ago.

Rounded edges, camera humps, Lightning ports, volume buttons — they’re all exactly where they’ve always been. More recent carryovers include IP67 water resistance, capacitive home buttons, stereo speakers and a distinct lack of headphone jacks. The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are nothing if not familiar — whether that’s a bad thing is really a matter of taste, but I would’ve preferred a new look.

That’s not to say the iPhone formula hasn’t changed at all, though. The 8 and 8 Plus come in a trio of updated color options, and both have bodies made of steel wrapped up in a 7000-series aluminum band. Most notably, they both have glass backs — the better to inductively charge through, my dears. Some have expressed concern about Apple’s shift away from mostly metal bodies, and they’re right to be. Who hasn’t seen someone still using an iPhone with a cracked screen? Apple claims to have sidestepped those issues by using the “most durable glass ever in a smartphone” to build the 8 and 8 Plus, and they’ve held up well over a week of sometimes careless testing. I managed to accidentally gouge the Jet Black iPhone 7 within the first 24 hours, but these glossier, glassier 8s are still nick-free after a week of being tossed into the hellscape that is my backpack.

Another benefit of glass over metal is that radio signals can careen right through it. As a result, the subtle antenna bands we saw wrapped around the 7 and 7 Plus are totally gone. When you’re looking at the phone from behind, all you get is a glimpse at the camera, the shiny Apple logo and the “iPhone” branding; even the “Designed by Apple” text has been excised. The result is the cleanest iPhone I’ve ever seen. It might just be me, but I also prefer the way these glass backs feel. They’re a little grippier and warmer than bare metal, though they’re just as prone to sliding around on tables.

All of these elements come together in bodies that are longer, thicker and weightier than before. For those keeping track, the 8 is as thick as the 7 Plus, and the 8 Plus is the heaviest of them all. You wouldn’t think half an ounce would make a difference, but it does: The smaller 8 is still comfortable to use for long periods of time, but the combination of its weight and bezels make the 8 Plus one of the more uncomfortable big smartphones I’ve tested lately. Consider the rest of the field: The Galaxy S8 Plus and the LG V30 both have bigger screens, and they both feel much nicer.

Thankfully, there’s a lot to like about what’s inside these phones. Apple finally dropped the 32GB storage tier, leaving 64GB at the low end and 256GB on the high-end models. This is also the first year Apple has designed its own GPU to work alongside the new A11 Bionic chipset, and — surprise, surprise — both phones run very well. As usual, though, the bigger battery and improved dual camera make the 8 Plus the more tantalizing option if you can deal with the increased size.

Display and sound

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The iPhone 8 uses a 4.7-inch IPS LCD screen running at 1,334 x 750, while the 8 Plus has a 5.5-inch, 1080p display. Those are exactly the same sizes and resolutions we’ve seen in earlier models, and the similarities don’t stop there. Both of these new screens adhere to the wide, DCI-P3 color gamut like the iPhone 7 did, and neither of the iPhone 8 displays are brighter or higher-contrast than last year’s versions. In other words, the screens used in the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are mostly the same as the ones they were meant to replace.

Apple transplanted one of the iPad Pro’s most helpful features into its new phones. It’s called True Tone, and it uses an ambient light sensor to interpret your current lighting conditions and tweak the display’s color temperatures to keep whites and colors looking balanced no matter where you are. You’re encouraged to turn the feature on during initial setup, and I’m with Apple on this one: You should have it on. Sure, objectively speaking, the feature makes the display less accurate — as I write this, I’m in our dim studio and the iPhone 8 has adjusted its display to be a little warmer than normal. The flip side is that the colors I see now seem a little more accurate in this context, and everything is generally easier on the eyes too.

While we’re on the subject of colors, I can’t help but be disappointed that neither of these new phones supports HDR content. Services like Amazon Prime and Netflix have slowly been making these extra-punchy videos more accessible, and I’ve recently been spoiled by screens in devices like the Galaxy Note 8 and the LG V30. The iPhone X will pack full HDR support when it goes on sale later this year, but for now we’re stuck with the iPhone 8’s wide color gamut. As with last year’s models, this expanded color space gives certain visuals (like photos taken with these updated cameras) a little extra oomph and liveliness. In particular, reds and yellows tend to pop a little more dramatically, while blues appear smoother and deeper. Landscape shots benefit most from this expanded color space, but no one could blame you if you found some of these changes hard to notice.

You’ll definitely notice a difference in sound quality, though. The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus use a louder, more powerful set of stereo speakers than the ones we got last year. Apple says they’re around 25 percent louder than before, and honestly, there’s no way my ears are ever going to be that discerning. Still, louder is always better in my book, and my podcasts and music came through with more volume and a little more clarity. It would’ve been nice if these new iPhones packed a more immersive speaker setup (e.g., like the four-driver array used in the iPad Pros), but at least the speaker in the earpiece is better able to keep up with the main speaker on the phones’ bottom edges.

Software

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

If you’re reading this review the day it was published, iOS 11 will have just been released to the world. There’s obviously a lot to unpack in Apple’s new update, and since I’m writing this prior to the official launch, there are a few key features we haven’t been able to test yet — I’m looking at you, AirPlay 2 and peer-to-peer Apple Pay transactions. We’re working on a full review that’ll represent our definitive opinion on the matter, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at how the update’s biggest changes work on the 8 and 8 Plus.

First off, yeah, it still looks like classic iOS at first glance. That illusion shatters as soon as you start to poke around: The emphasis on bolder text that began with Apple Music last year has rapidly spread, so you’ll see big, punchy headers in Messages, Photos and beyond.

iOS’s Control Center also looks nothing like it used to — what once was a simple panel of options has evolved into a cluster of customizable controls that offer toggles for new features like the True Tone display and Do Not Disturb for Driving. That latter toggle is going to come in especially handy; in theory, the feature does a good job of blocking notifications from rolling in when you’re in a moving car, but there’s no way for the phone to tell if you’re the driver or just cruising along as a passenger. Control Center’s new look hasn’t rubbed everyone the right way, especially since it’s still easy to accidentally fiddle with screen brightness or device volume when you’re trying to close the panel itself. Fortunately, it doesn’t take that long to get used to.

Meanwhile, the classic notification center doesn’t really exist anymore — swiping down from the top of the screen basically just shows off notification on the lock screen. Sorry, the “cover sheet.” You can still 3D Touch notifications to get an expanded view, but I was hoping an update as big as iOS 11 would bring with it a smarter way to handle notifications en masse. Clearing all of them in one shot is simple (if not immediately obvious), but would it have killed Apple to include an option to group notifications by app?

Apple’s virtual assistant has received some major upgrades, too. For one, she or he (depending on your preference) sounds a hell of a lot more natural than before — Siri never sounded terrible, per se, but it finally feels like you’re talking to a person instead of a simulacrum made of algorithms running on a remote server. Siri’s smarter now too — I’ve been trying (and failing) to learn Mandarin for a while, so its multi-language translations and replayable pronunciations have been awfully helpful. Siri is also better at more abstract requests like “Play me some sad music,” which I’ve been asking for more frequently now that summer is basically over.

It’s worth noting that you can type out queries for Siri now too, but that doesn’t mean you should. The option is tucked away in the Accessibility settings, and pecking out commands almost always takes longer than just asking Siri directly. I wish there was an easier way to switch between these interaction modes, or even a way for them to coexist in the Siri interface, but I’m not holding my breath.

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

As we’ve discussed in our iOS 11 preview, the App Store has also been massively overhauled, with a bigger focus on video in app listings and daily editorial posts about upcoming apps and the culture surrounding them. Don’t expect Apple’s internal journalists to break any news, though; this space is less about PSAs and more about general software cheerleading. And now that we have more storage space for our stuff, Apple’s new Files app should come in handy, right? Well, it’s a start — I don’t think most people think of iPhones as devices that need a whole lot of in-depth file management, but it’s been nice to drag and drop files around in my iCloud Drive. The app also supports external storage services like Dropbox and Google Drive, but you can’t manipulate them much right now.

iOS 11 also has its share of small, helpful flourishes. Holding down the volume-down key and power button doesn’t force a reset anymore for instance — it now brings up a version of the shutdown screen with an Emergency SOS option that also forces you to use the passcode to unlock the phone.

It’s a very handy addition for unfortunate situations, but the replacement force-reset process is pretty ridiculous: You have to hit the volume-up and -down keys in quick succession, then hold the power button down for about 10 seconds. This won’t matter for everyone, but I’m the kind of person who occasionally just resets my phone when things aren’t working correctly, and I can see this button combo getting annoying after a while. Oh, and there’s now an option to shut down the phone from inside the device settings, and I have no clue why.

Camera

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

For their main cameras, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus share a 12-megapixel sensor. It’s faster, the company claims, and they have deeper pixels (you know, for greater clarity and color accuracy). Though I had my doubts, Apple’s big talk seems mostly warranted. These are excellent cameras, especially if all you care about is shooting from the hip and getting attractive shots.

My test shots came through with more impactful colors and slightly more detail than the same photos taken with a 7 Plus. Nuances that the iPhone 7 Plus’s camera smoothed a little too much appeared more crisp with Apple’s new cameras. In most daylight shots, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus captured more detailed photos than Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8. The differences were subtle, but definitely there.

That said, the different ways these phones handle colors are interesting: The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus consistently churned out photos that looked more true to life, but the Note 8’s shots looked a little brighter and more… idealized. They seemed to reflect the world the way I wished it appeared, rather than the way it did. Bear in mind, that’s with HDR enabled on both cameras — the 8 and 8 Plus now shoot HDR by default, though you can turn it off if you really want to. In low light, the Note 8 churned out photos that were marginally brighter without a flash, but Apple also built in an improved quad-LED flash that very quickly flashes after a longer exposure. I generally don’t love shooting with the flash, but Apple’s approach helped change that for me. Given Samsung’s excellent work with its cameras, the fact that Apple’s camera is just as good — if not a little better in some ways — is something to behold.

Of course, the iPhone 8 Plus has a second 12-megapixel telephoto camera, and it’s a touch less impressive. It’s not quite as good in low light, because it has an f/2.8 aperture, as compared with the wider f/1.8 aperture seen in the wide-angle camera. Still, having both cameras here allows for some extra tricks. Portrait mode is back, and it’s much improved over the version we first tested last year. This time, your subject can be within eight feet of your camera, and the 8 Plus does a better job of figuring out where the edges are blurring out the background behind them. Apple’s original portrait mode also suffered from poor performance in low light, and thankfully that’s less of an issue with the 8 and 8 Plus; it helps that you can now use the flash for these portraits.

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And then there’s Portrait Lighting. This feature is exclusive to the 8 Plus and X, and make no mistake: It’s very much still in beta. That becomes almost painfully obvious after a few minutes playing with it. Natural Light offers the standard portrait photos I’ve described. Studio Light does a good job brightening up the subject’s face. The next three modes can be more problematic. Contour Light is meant to make faces pop with more dramatic lighting, but it typically just made me — a brown-skinned man — look even darker and more ominous than before. (In an informal poll of co-workers I’ve shot in this mode, nearly all of them said it accentuated features they wished hadn’t been.) Stage Light and Stage Light Mono both black out everything behind a subject, and they really just highlight how difficult it can be to separate what’s in the foreground and background. A lot of my photos shot with these modes just look awkward, and I hope they get much better soon.

Anyway, the 8 and 8 Plus also have considerably upgraded video chops. In addition to shooting 4K video at 60 frames per second, they can now record super-slow 240fps video at 1080p. When the conditions are just right, it’s almost surprising how crisp and impressive fluid 4K footage can look on these screens. I’m generally not much of a slow-motion shooter, but Apple has done some very good work here — it’s nice to be able to pick out minute details in the frame right when things start to slow down.

Performance and battery life

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

We can keep this part relatively short: Thanks to Apple’s new hexa-core A11 Bionic chipset (side note: how silly is this name?), the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus run very smoothly. Fine, that’s generally the case for most iPhones at launch. What’s more impressive is how the architecture of this new chipset helps ramp up performance when it’s really needed. If you’re coming from an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, don’t expect to see any differences when you’re just swiping through home screens or launching apps; there really aren’t any.

That’s by design, though. There are certain situations, like the one I’ve described, where the 8 and 8 Plus simply cruise along on some combination of its four “efficiency” cores. When things get more intense, like when playing games or during some furious multi-tasking, the A11’s two “performance” cores start to light up. At any given time, the 8 and 8 Plus are likely running a combination of performance and efficiency cores, and the result is essentially seamless speed all around. As usual, though, the 8 Plus seems better equipped to handle high-intensity tasks, because it packs 3GB of RAM, as compared with the 8’s 2GB.

All that extra horsepower really comes in handy when you’re trying to augment reality. I got to test two non-final AR apps — Ikea Place and the Machines game demoed at the launch event — and both ran almost surprisingly well. I’ve been curious about how well Apple’s ARKit apps would run, compared with software designed for Google’s Tango and all its additional hardware. At this very early stage, I’m quite impressed. The 8 and 8 Plus seemed to do just as well (if not a little better) at rendering virtual objects onto physical planes, and those objects tended to “stick” to surfaces better than similar simulacra in Tango apps. Granted, two unfinished apps can’t accurately foretell the future of Apple’s AR endeavors, but they’re enough to make me more than cautiously excited.

3DMark IS Unlimited 63,413 63,144 37,663 37,784
Geekbench 3 (multi-core) 10,250 10,391 5,544 5,660
Geekbench 3 (single-core) 4.227 4,245 3,295 3,306
AnTuTu Benchmark 202,920 193,297 165,269 170,650

I was more concerned about battery life, especially since some internet sleuthing suggests the 8 and 8 Plus use smaller batteries than their immediate predecessors. Apple declined to confirm this, but it doesn’t really matter: As advertised, I squeezed just about the same amount of life out of these phones as I did with last year’s 7 and 7 Plus. In our usual video stress test, where the phones loop an HD movie at 50 percent brightness, the 8 managed to stick around for 12 hours and two minutes — that’s just minutes shy of what the 7 did last year. Meanwhile, the 8 Plus hung in there for 14 hours and 26 minutes, which is actually a little more than what the 7 Plus was capable of. In day-to-day use, I could count on the 8 to last through a full workday and have a little juice left over the next morning. The 8 Plus’s larger battery helped it stick around even longer; in general, I could get nearly a day and a half of use if I was careful, and it could potentially come close to two days when things are quiet.

Unfortunately, the 8 and 8 Plus don’t come with Apple’s high-speed chargers, but I’m glad the company finally jumped on the Qi wireless charging bandwagon. Oh, and in case you were wondering, you can indeed wirelessly charge these iPhones while they’re wearing cases. The 8 and 8 Plus don’t seem to charge any slower while inside the cases Apple gave us, and they should — should — work with any Qi-compatible charging pad you’ll find out there.

The competition

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

We can’t talk about the competition without bringing up Samsung’s 2017 lineup: the S8, S8 Plus and Note 8. All of them pack gorgeous, nearly bezel-less “Infinity” displays, great cameras (or dual cameras, in the Note’s case) and some of the best performance you’ll find on an Android device. Of course, there’s a decent chance that if you’re reading this, you’ve already decided on an iPhone. That’s fine — just know that Samsung is Apple’s biggest competitor for a reason.

The Essential PH-1 is also an option if you want to see what a truly bezel-free phone looks like. Essential and Android founder Andy Rubin specifically built his new phone with Apple’s iPhone business model in mind, and it shows: It’s a beautifully crafted machine that just oozes style. It’s a reliable performer, too, though the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus definitely have the edge when it comes to cameras.

While we’re talking about cameras, I have to bring up the LG V30. It’s by far the most attractive phone the company has made in a long time, and though it packs a bigger screen than the 8 Plus, it still manages to feel sleek and light. Most important is the dual camera; while I think the iPhones are still better all-around shooters, the V30’s camera interface is second to none, especially if you’re trying to shoot video on the go.

And then there’s the iPhone X. A $999 phone is a tough sell by any stretch, but it’s barely more expensive than a top-of-the-line iPhone 8 Plus. It’s also a physically smaller machine than the 8 Plus, but it still packs the same impressive camera and A11 chipset. That said, you’re getting only 64GB of storage for that price, while the $949 8 Plus nets you 256GB of storage and many of the same features. Oh, and you won’t have to wait around for your new iPhone either — according to the Apple Store at the time of this writing, there are still plenty of 8 Pluses in stock for launch day, but demand for the X is crazy right now.

Wrap-up

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Chris Velazco/Engadget

When I first picked up the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, I immediately decided they were actually just the iPhone 7s and 7s Plus. I was wrong: They’re definitely much more than that. They’re just saddled with a less exciting design. If you subscribe to the maxim that it’s what’s inside that really counts, the 8 and 8 Plus are big improvements. They pack more storage, great cameras, improved software and absolutely first-rate performance into some highly familiar packages. The iPhone X will continue to suck the air out of the room for the foreseeable future, but one thing has become clear after my week of testing: They might not have the X’s style, but the 8 and 8 Plus are truly excellent phones that won’t let Apple die-hards and new customers down.

19
Sep

BioLite’s FirePit goes beyond the camping grill


Relaxing and staring at fire is a primordial pleasure, but one that’s often isolated to camping trips. It also inevitably leads to burger and hot dog cravings. While your average campfire — a flaming stack of logs surrounded by rocks or rusty metal — can be a challenge to cook on, BioLite’s new FirePit provides a best-of-both-worlds solution. It’s a portable grill station that doubles as a warming and hypnotic flame source, opening up opportunities beyond the campsite.

The product is an 18-pound fire pit with folding legs and perforated “X-Ray Mesh” sides for heat distribution and flame visibility. There’s also a Bluetooth-controllable fan attachment that helps expedite and regulate combustion, which is excellent for getting charcoal to red-hot ember status quickly. BioLite is introducing the $200 device on Kickstarter today with a May 2018 ship date, but I recently had a chance to check out one of the prototypes and eat a few tasty burgers along the way.

One of the most notable things about this BioLite product is the omission of a thermoelectric generator, something that’s become a staple for the company’s product line. It was left off for the sake of affordability and also probably contributes to its relatively lightweight build. Don’t worry, it’s still a viable off-the-grid product if you consider the solar-panel-emblazoned carrying case which is being sold as an optional $60 accessory. Whether or not you opt to charge by the sun, it’s still a handy way to carry the FirePit around, so the case is worth considering. It’s also free if you pre-order on Kickstarter.

Charging with the solar case alone would probably require a few days of sitting in the sun, but the FirePit is being positioned as more of a home, beach or car-camping type of product and when the 9,000mAh battery is fully charged you get up to 30 hours of fan time. You can also charge up devices from the battery’s USB port or connect one of BioLite’s gooseneck FlexLights for improved visibility. Just like the smaller CampStove and CookStove, this battery and fan unit is easily removable, so you can take it inside when you want to charge it.

The BioLite app (Android / iOS), which was originally developed to control the BaseLantern XL, will now also include FirePit controls. You’ll be able to adjust the fan speed and monitor exactly how long the battery is expected to last. It supports Bluetooth LE, so you should be able to power on/off remotely using the app, but with the increased temperature shielding, expected range should be about 30 feet. It’s easy to adjust fan speed from the FirePit’s control panel, but why interrupt your reverie by getting up.

The fan drives airflow through three vented metal tubes: two running along the top and one centered at the bottom. The 51 “air jet” openings help to create convection and, when burning wood, also help keep smoke to a minimum. A higher fan setting keeps flames relatively low with heat distributed to the sides (for cozying up to) while a lower setting interfere’s less with the flames, letting them reach higher. Controlling that airflow also helped our charcoal get up to temp quickly, so we could get cooking faster.

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The interior has a fuel rack that can be hung close to the cooking surface, which is ideal for hibachi-style grilling, and lowered to accommodate cord wood. (Pro tip: use the remaining briquettes as starter.) With the addition of an air injection system to this fire pit setup, there’s less need for crouching and nursing flames beyond the initial lighting, plus it emits far less smoke than standard campsite fires.

I was able to carry the FirePit around with cord wood in it for several blocks and didn’t feel like it was too much effort. However, for longer distances, you’ll want to drive this around or use a cart. Cleaning out the ash once cooled is also easy. There’s a small trap door on the bottom at one end. If there’s an ash bucket, you could easily just sit this on top and brush it out. Burger grease and any other potential goop from cooking didn’t seem to cause a mess and most likely just burned off once we transitioned from charcoal grilling to fire pit mode.

If you’re considering a casual grill, the BioLite FirePit is a great option to expand your possibilities from grilling to flames and chilling. Keep in mind though, it’s only an 18-inch high cooking surface. While there’s a minimum amount of tech involved here, the app-controlled fan helps get things up to temp quickly and lets you sculpt the flame output to some degree. The X-Ray Mesh exterior is great for a combination of safety and visibility, while the overall package is easy to lug about. The price for the BioLite FirePit is $200 and while we don’t know the exact retail launch date, Kickstarter orders are expected to ship in May 2018. If you pick one up now through the campaign, you can even score a free solar carrying case.

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