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18
Mar

Apple iPad Air 3 vs iPad Air 2: What’s the rumoured difference?


Apple has confirmed it is holding an event on 21 March where it is thought it will unveil several new devices, one of which is rumoured to be an update to the iPad Air 2.

The company chose not to succeed the iPad Air 2 during its September 2015 event when it revealed the iPad mini 4 and the iPad Pro, which led many to wonder where it was and when it would arrive. Reports suggest it will be coming in a few days though so all eyes are on what the third-generation of Air, or smaller model of the Pro will bring to the iPad table.

We have put the rumoured specs of the iPad Air 3 against the iPad Air 2 to see what the differences could be and what changes we might see.

Apple iPad Air 3 vs iPad Air 2: Design

The Apple iPad Air 2 measures 240 x 169.5 x 6.1mm and weighs 437g. It comes in three colours and it features Touch ID within the home button.

The Apple iPad Air 3 is said to be coming with a similar design to the iPad Pro including a four-speaker setup, a Smart Connector and compatibility with the Apple Pencil. This is why some rumours are suggesting the new 9.7-inch iPad will fall within the Pro family rather than the Air.

The device is reported to measure 240 x 169.6 x 6.15mm, which if true, would make it almost identical in size to the iPad Air 2.

Apple iPad Air 3 vs iPad Air 2: Display

The Apple iPad Air sits in the middle of the iPad line up when it comes to size. It has a 9.7-inch display in comparison to the 7.9-inch screen of the iPad mini and the 12.9-inch size of the iPad Pro.

The iPad Air 2 has a resolution of 2048 x 1536, which means it offers a pixel density of 264ppi. The iPad Air 3 is said to be keeping the same 9.7-inch size but upping the resolution to 3112 x 2334, which would mean a pixel density of 401ppi.

If this is the case, sharper and clearer images will be present on the new model, although you probably wouldn’t notice unless you looked very closely and had the two devices side-by-side. What you will notice is the pressure-sensitive display which is also said to be coming to the iPad Air 3, or smaller iPad Pro, allowing for the Apple Pencil compatibility. It’s all speculation for now though.

Apple iPad Air 3 vs iPad Air 2: Camera

The Apple iPad Air 2 features a 1.2-megapixel front camera, coupled with an 8-megapixel rear camera. As tablets aren’t as commonly used for taking shots as smartphones, this is more than adequate.

The iPad Air 3 is rumoured to be upping the game in terms of camera however, with reports suggesting it will arrive with a rear LED flash. It would make it the first iPad to offer this feature if it does arrive, which could mean a bump in megapixels too. Rumour has it that we will see a 12-megapixel rear camera capable of 4K video recording on the new iPad, which would be a nice jump from the iPad Air 2.

Apple iPad Air 3 vs iPad Air 2: Hardware

The Apple iPad Air 2 comes with the A8X chip and the M8 motion co-processor. This is supported by 2GB of RAM and there are internal storage options of 16GB, 64GB and 128GB with no microSD support, as is the way with all Apple devices.

The iPad Air 3 will include a faster and newer processor as updates tend to do, but whether that will be the A9X like in the iPad Pro, or an entirely new chip, which will probably be called A10 is unknown. Most reports are suggesting the A9X but either way, you should see an improvement in performance compared to the iPad Air 2.

It has been said that Apple will also increase the RAM for the iPad Air 3, with reports suggesting we will see 3GB as well as 4GB, the latter of which would be the same as the iPad Pro. Storage and battery haven’t been rumoured as yet.

Apple iPad Air 3 vs iPad Air 2: Software

The Apple iPad Air 2 runs on iOS 9, which is the latest version of Apple’s software. If the iPad Air 3 is released on 21 March, it will probably also run on iOS 9 as a new build isn’t normally announced until June at WWDC.

This means the experience on the iPad Air 2 and iPad Air 3 is likely to be very similar, unless a pressure sensitive display does arrive, in which case the new model will offer a couple of extra features, many of which can be found on the iPad Pro.

Apple iPad Air 3 vs iPad Air 2: Conclusion

For now, this feature is based on rumours and reports, with nothing official. That makes it difficult to determine how much better the iPad Air 3, or smaller iPad Pro will be over the iPad Air 2, but you can count on a few improvements for sure.

If the rumours are anything to go by, the iPad Air 3 will be the same size as the iPad Air 2 but it will bring many of the characteristics found on the iPad Pro, along with a better resolution displayed a better camera. You will also undoubtedly see an increase in performance and perhaps in price too with rumours claiming the iPad Air 3 will start at $100 more than the iPad Air 2.

It might be a guessing game for now but we will be updating this feature as soon as more leaks appear, as well as when the official specs are announced so keep checking back. If you want to read more about the rumours on the iPad Air 3, you can read our separate feature.

18
Mar

Capture video of your stunt flying fun with SKEYE Nano camera drone


The world’s smallest quadcopter just received a landmark upgrade. We’re excited to introduce the SKEYE Nano Drone with Camera, letting you capture and share exhilarating footage of your aerial acrobatics!

At 27 per cent off from Pocket-lint Deals, your opportunity to take to the skies has never been more affordable.

Ready to fly straight out of the box, this high-thrust lightweight drone is perfect for stunt flying, with a 6-axis flight control system enabling banked turns, flips and figure eights – quick adaptations even for rookie pilots. Beginner, intermediate and advanced flight modes assure a confident flying experience through the 7-10 minute total flight time per charge. At night, the LED lights are great for a little UFO speculation among friends, while crash landings are a bit less scary with 4x spare rotors included.

If you’ve never flown a drone before, the learning curve couldn’t be easier with the SKEYE Nano. And while flying is a blast in itself, there’s endless replay value to the great videos you’ll record with the built-in camera, serving a perfect hybridization of video tech and innovative flight-stunt fun. You’ll record great aerial video as you utilize the quadcopter’s impressive control system, which allows the drone to flip four ways in acrobatic style.

Take to the skies today for just £35.33 ($49.99) on Pocket-lint Deals.

18
Mar

The ultimate photography giveaway: Win a Canon EOS 7D Mark II and accessories!


Sure, phone cameras have made some incredible leaps in recent years, but all the Instagram filters in the world don’t hold a candle to the depth and beauty you can capture through the lens of a powerful DSLR camera.

For a limited time on Pocket-lint Deals, you can get in on a chance to win a Canon EOS 7D Mark II camera and the accessories you need to get the most out of it as part of our Ultimate Photography Giveaway. All you have to do is enter to win!

The Canon DSLR is the industry standard, producing professional-grade, gorgeous images, and with this prize pack you’ll learn the ropes of how true professional photographers operate them. Included in the giveaway is a Canon Speedlight Flash so every scene is perfectly lit, day or night. Lastly, you’ll get a one-year subscription to the industry-standard photo editing suites, Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, to give your photos the professional touch they deserve.

Entering is simple – Pocket-lint readers can just head to the contest page and fill out the online entry form with a valid email address, and you’re automatically entered. Share the giveaway on Twitter, and once you get some friends to enter, you’ll receive additional entries to win.

One registration per person please!

Prize details:

  • Canon EOS 7D Mark II with Lens Kit
  • Canon Speedlite 430EX II (Flash)
  • Adobe Photo (Photoshop and Lightroom): 1-yr subscription
18
Mar

The best wireless home theater headphones


By Lauren Dragan

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. Read the full article here.

After spending dozens of hours researching every radio frequency (RF) headphone system we could find, considering 32 of them, and testing 14 pairs over two years, we found that the Power Acoustik Farenheit HP-902 RFT headphones are the best to use while listening to television and music in your home. They sound decent, offer useful features such as a mute switch and the ability to switch between sources, and give you the best value for your money of anything that’s currently available.

Who is this for?

Maybe you live in an apartment with thin walls, or perhaps you have kids and could use a break from the sounds of video games blasting through the house. You could also be hard of hearing (or living with someone who is), with a need to crank up the volume in order to understand dialogue. Whatever the reason, you need headphones that allow you to listen to what’s coming out of the entertainment center without being attached to a cord. But if none of the above scenarios apply to you, you could save a lot of money and hear audio just as well with our corded over-ear options.

Why not Bluetooth?

While Bluetooth headphones solve the cord problem, many have noticeable latency—a small delay between what you see on the screen and what you hear. This can get annoying. Also, many Bluetooth headphones are meant to be used only a short distance from a device, so their signal strength isn’t as robust as that of the RF headphones made for home theater use.

How we picked and tested

Some of the other models we tested for this year’s update

For this year’s update, we combed through the offerings at Amazon, Best Buy, B&H, Crutchfield, and the like to see what new products shoppers liked or didn’t like. Generally speaking, we didn’t find a whole lot to go on research-wise with these new models. From there, we brought the top seven new models in for testing with our panel.

The panelists used a variety of material that they were very familiar with, including music, movies, and TV shows, and compared all seven new headphone models back to back. After we talked about our favorites in terms of sound and fit, we factored in price and overall value to come up with our final pick.

Our pick

The Power Acoustik Farenheit HP-902 RFT: They aren’t pretty, but they get the job done.

We recommend the HP-902 RFT, which you can find under both the Power Acoustik and Farenheit brands. These headphones do the job well for the least amount of money, and with the least number of drawbacks. Yes, we know—that isn’t a ringing endorsement. But with the discontinuation of our previous pick, the Sennheiser RS 160 (which is more expensive, and we like that model less), we didn’t have many fantastic or affordable options. However, we know that home theater headphones are a must for certain situations, and we think that the HP-902 RFT package is the best option out there for now.

If money isn’t an issue

The RS 165 is much better sounding than our top pick but way overpriced for what it gives you.

If you’re planning on using your headphones for watching TV frequently, and you’re willing to spend around $200 on a pair of wireless headphones, we recommend the Sennheiser RS 165, which is that company’s current base wireless model. The RS 165 sounds much better than our current top pick, the HP-902 RFT headphones, but no one on our panel was thrilled with its sound in light of its higher price tag. We preferred our previous pick, Sennheiser’s cheaper, more-balanced-sounding, and now-discontinued RS 160. If you use this kind of headphones only occasionally, spending $200 or more on a pair is likely not a worthwhile investment.

How to hook these headphones up to your TV

TVs connect to your other audio gear in many different ways, depending on brand, model, year of manufacture, and so forth. So before you buy a pair of home theater headphones, you should look at the side or back of your TV. What kinds of audio ports does it have? Look for a label that says “Out” or “Output,” and refer to our full guide for further instructions on how and what you’ll need to set up your headphones.

Wrapping up

If you truly need to get wireless headphones for watching TV or movies and playing games, the Power Acoustik Farenheit HP-902 RFT package is the best choice available. The headphones sound pretty good, the set is affordable, and the transmitter isn’t massive. Although you can find better-sounding options out there, you’ll typically need to pay more than two times the cost of the HP-902 RFT set—and that’s just to buy one pair of headphones. So unless money is no object, we’d say to stick with the affordable HP-902 RFT package.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

18
Mar

Ralph Lauren made a great fitness shirt that also happens to be ‘smart’


Ralph Lauren’s PoloTech shirt is smarter than it looks. It’s also more expensive. The tee combines the fashion label’s preppy aesthetic with the ability to deliver live metrics (heart rate, breathing and steps) from the shirt to your iPhone. The tech built into it isn’t completely new, but Polo has added extra value through a companion app that offers workouts tailor-made to how your body is reacting. Basically, then, your effort informs the workout. Recently, I fell out of love with wrist-based fitness trackers, but the eventual goal of those gadgets is to become something akin to Ralph Lauren’s shirt: sportswear that you would have worn anyway, but smarter. There are some big caveats, but just as Nike’s Fuelband helped catalyze the whole fitness tracker thing, the PoloTech shirt could be the start of yet another generation of fitness tech.

The shirt

The PoloTech shirt is a compression top, meaning it hugs and pulls at your body to promote circulation and make you look ripped — if you’re actually ripped in real life, at least. Because of that,
the shirt is a combination of 70 percent polyester, 21 percent nylon and nine percent spandex. Spandex! Yes, you need that elasticity when it’s this… form-fitting. I was excited to test RL’s foray into wearables, but I forgot that it would entail something that’s, well, if not unflattering, then at least very unforgiving. (We should have learned this lesson by now.)

Fortunately, compared to other smart shirts I’ve tried, the cut and design has passed by several pairs of fashionable eyes: It’s a crew-neck tee, with flattened seams that don’t chafe and a cut that somehow made me look more athletic. Maybe because I’m typically found in a baggy cotton t-shirt when I have to sweat, but yeah, I didn’t look awful.

There are thinner mesh patches at the sleeves and underarms to ensure that all that compression and Spandex doesn’t get uncomfortable, but it did take some getting used to. The company said that it’s important that the sensors are kept so close to the body to ensure accurate metrics. The company is even considering other athletic clothes (even suits, ties and dresses) if it gets it right. Women’s smart shirts are also on the way, but for now this shirt is the only option: a men’s cut in sizes small to extra-large.

I didn’t look awful.

After the initial awkwardness of my first gym session, I start to feel OK in it. I definitely wasn’t the only one there wearing a compression shirt. Yellow emblems and print make it look more like a workout top or sports jersey. (I think it also looks like I’m sponsored by the company, and going to offer other gym-goers a spritz of the latest Polo Sport fragrance.) My point is, it doesn’t look like a janky piece of clothing made by an electronics company — and there are even subtler designs launching soon.

The tech

Beneath that figure-hugging fabric is a large silver strip that goes around your lower ribcage. This is what delivers your biometrics to the attached module: The conductive silver fabric also connects sensors to detect your heart rate, breathing and exertion. The shirt’s material feels slightly stiffer along the band, but due to the snug fit of the shirt, I didn’t notice it much as I wore it. As I mentioned earlier, the technology isn’t new; it comes from OMsignal, which is already making its own smart clothing, including this smart vest which uses the same module as Ralph Lauren’s smart shirt. In addition to the Bluetooth radio, the module also packs a gyroscope and accelerometer.

The small Bluetooth module is an entirely OMSignal design: a slightly curved mess of polygons connects to the shirt with five snap fasteners like those found on heavier sports jackets. In short, the module isn’t going to fall off, and it follows the contour of your torso. I actually tended to forget it was there. It charges through a micro-USB port, although there’s no on or off button. You can sync it with your iPhone through a PIN code printed on the back of the module, at which point it’ll auto-connect once you’ve enabled Bluetooth on your phone.

The app

The PoloTech shirt’s metrics (and OMSignal’s tech) mostly focuses on heart rate, breathing rate and calorie expenditure. All three are featured on readout “bubbles” once you launch the app. However, the real meat (and the best reason for spending $300 on a tee) can be found in the “train” and “track” tabs at the bottom.

It looks like I’m going to offer other gym-goers a spritz of the latest Polo Sport fragrance.

“Train” separates out into My Workout (you do what you normally do at the gym) and PoloTech Training, which includes three goal-specific workouts whose intensity auto-adjusts based on your biometric data. Basically, then, the shirt knows if you’re phoning it in. The video tutorials are run by Chris Ryan, who’s a famous trainer or something, and require nothing more than dumbbells and a towel. Because of the sweating and such.

These workouts are actually really good. Each entails a series of movements and stretches that reassesses what exercise to throw at you next. If your heart rate is dropping, it goes for something a little more intense. When the inverse is happening, it takes things a little slower. Say, jogging on the spot compared to prisoner squats with a dumbbell.

Propping my phone up on a shelf, it feels like a personalized aerobics class, but once you have an exercise down pat, you can throw your phone into your pocket and follow the commands by audio only. It’s all done in an interval training rhythm, with periods of rest between exercises where you’ll hear a tutorial for the next one. When it’s time to start sweating, the video shrinks to a thumbnail so you can better see your metrics on the screen, which update in real time as you go.

Even within your own gym routine, you can get the shirt to work for you to help accomplish your goals — or at least monitor them. You choose a target heart rate zone (fat burning, endurance, performance) and specify how long you hope to stay in that zone. That said, I didn’t notice the app spouting any advice to stop stretching so much and move on to the bench press. The onus is on you to pay attention to what the app’s showing you — and get back to it.

Once you’ve finished sweating, the PoloTech app will tell you how it went, using a bunch of scrollable graphs and numbers that you can share to social media if you’re feeling particularly fit. (I didn’t share.) To be honest I didn’t derive much from the data — possibly due to the same issues I’ve had with other fitness wearables. With PoloTech’s app in particular, there’s too much to take in; I’ve just got to make these numbers bigger right? Thanks for helping.

The data includes a particularly strange metric called “push.” The Push score is a vague, Nike Fuel-ish metric that attempts to quantity how much you’ve put into weightlifting exercises based on the rise and fall of your heartrate. I like the idea of the measuring this kind of effor, but it presents similar issues as other wearable-specific nonsense metrics: How do you compare it? Aside from whatever you scored last time you worked out, that is.

The issues

It’s difficult to take the shirt off. It isn’t undressing; it’s more like some sort of elaborate yoga stretch. You’ll want to do it while no one’s around, if possible. Worse than that, the module is downright temperamental. Despite being fully charged, the black box would fail to connect properly with alarming regularity. My makeshift solution involved taking a battery pack and cable, and jumping the module into vibrating to life, but it reduced my enthusiasm for it; I was really getting into the PoloTech training sessions. A spokesperson told me the company hadn’t heard of this issue before, but that it will be looking into my particular module. Real-world buyers don’t get that luxury, which makes it a concern.

Wrap-up

Ralph Lauren’s debut smart shirt is expensive, and currently for just men and iPhone users. That’s three big deal-breakers for a lot of you. Another issue: You need to wear the shirt every time you want to use the app and module. If you exercise several times a week (or daily!), then you have to be very meticulous with your laundry, although the garment is at least machine-washable. This isn’t a problem for watch-like fitness wearables and yet, at this price, having two shirts is untenable for most. It’s the coolest-looking smart shirt yet, even if your body is a work in progress, but the biggest selling point here is the adaptive workouts. You can lie to a personal trainer, but how about your own biometrics?

Source: Ralph Lauren

18
Mar

Uber adds one-way trips from San Diego to Mexico


If you find yourself in need of transportation to Tijuana while you’re in San Diego, Uber now has an option with its Passport service. The ride-hailing app will arrange transportation for a one-way trip across the border, all you have to do is select the Passport MX option with the mobile software. Getting back is a little more complicated, though.

Uber operates locally in Tijuana and you can hail a car through the app that will take to you to the border. When you get there, you’ll have to walk across and call for another ride in order to complete the rest of the trip. In terms of cost, depending on where the service picks you up in San Diego, you’ll pay between $90 and $160 for up to 4 passengers.

Source: Uber

18
Mar

Twitter is keeping its 140-character limit


Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey appeared on The Today Show on Friday to celebrate the company’s 10 anniversary. While there, Dorsey confirmed to host Matt Lauer that Twitter’s 140-character limit will not be expanded to 10,000 characters, as some rumors had previously suggested. “It’s staying. It’s a good constraint for us,” Dorsey said. “It allows for of-the-moment brevity.”

Dorsey also reiterated the company’s position on balancing users’ First Amendment rights with controlling harassment, something for which Twitter has long been criticized. “Twitter’s always been about controls. People can follow whoever they want. And it’s our job to make sure they see the most important things and the things that matter to them,” Dorsey told Lauer. “There are tweets that promote violence, which is against our terms of service, so people have controls to block and people have controls to mute.”

18
Mar

Apple surprised at DoJ’s request to cross-examine witnesses


On Wednesday the Department of Justice asked that its hearing with Apple on March 22 concerning the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter, Syed Farook be an evidentiary hearing. What that means is that both sides will be able to cross-examine witnesses that have made declarations to the courts. During a conference call with reporters, Apple attorneys said they were surprised by the last-minute request and said that this is something that should been asked for weeks ago.

The Apple attorneys then speculated that the DoJ made the request because the government isn’t comfortable with relying only on its legal arguments in the case.

Apple will be bringing its cryptography expert and product security and privacy manager Erik Neuenschwander and manager of Apple’s global privacy and law enforcement compliance team, Lisa Ollie. The FBI will be bringing the two agents that filed declarations about the case.

The way the questioning will work is that witnesses will be brought up for cross-examination based on their declarations to the courts. When that is done, the side that brought the individual will then have an opportunity to question their own witness.

The hearing will begin at 1pm on March 22 (the day after the big Apple event) with Magistrate Judge Pym kicking off the proceedings with her own comments.

18
Mar

With Alta, Fitbit finally made a stylish fitness band


The Fitbit Alta is what happens when Fitbit sits down and decides to make a fitness tracker that isn’t ugly. After all, the novelty of fitness trackers is wearing thin, so the company needs a new strategy to take on increasingly flashy competitors. We saw hints of a new design direction with the Surge in 2015, but it really came into focus this year with the debut of the Blaze smartwatch and Alta band. They’re not as stylish as other fitness gadgets from the likes of Jawbone and Misfit, but they’re a start. The Alta in particular is Fitbit’s most fashion-forward device — something you could wear either on a run or a date. That’s the hope, at least.

Hardware

The best thing about the Alta is that it doesn’t look anything like Fitbit’s last few generations of wristbands. Gone are the wide straps, chunky builds and thin displays (the Flex couldn’t even display text, just dots). Instead, the Alta is dominated by a large, touch-sensitive OLED screen. It has a sleek metallic core unit and its straps are all much thinner. It’s still obvious you’re wearing a fitness band, but at least it doesn’t look like a low-budget, sci-fi movie prop.

Surprisingly, there aren’t any buttons on the Alta. That’s because you don’t really need them; it automatically tracks your activities and sleep. You interact with it by raising your wrist, or by double-tapping the display. Tapping on the bottom of the screen cycles through your basic fitness stats, including your steps, distance traveled, calories burned and active time.

The Alta ships with either small or large standard bands, which are built out of the same elastomer material as Fitbit’s other straps. They’re rubbery and somewhat stiff — the sort of thing you won’t have to fuss with if they get wet or sweaty. Appearance-wise, the bands are just OK. They don’t call much attention to themselves, but they’re not exactly elegant (though I’m really digging the plum one).

Fitbit also has a slew of accessories on hand this time around, including pink and graphite leather bands for $60 and a stainless steel one for $100. You can also pick up additional standard straps in black, blue, plum and teal for $30. The idea is that you’ll be able to customize your Alta and dress it up and down as necessary. Swapping the bands is fairly easy, as well: You just need to hold down two buttons on the Alta’s underside and slide in the replacement straps.

There’s no heart rate monitor on the Alta, which speaks to how Fitbit is positioning it. Most people don’t actually need that functionality and for many, having a slightly sleeker device is more important.

Software

If you’ve seen the Fitbit Charge in action, the Alta isn’t much different. In addition to displaying the fitness stats I mentioned earlier, its screen will also alert you to incoming calls and texts. You can swap between vertical and horizontal text display from the Fitbit app, which also has a few different watch faces to choose from. All of those watch faces basically look the same, though; you can only expect so much from a monochrome screen.

Beyond that, there’s not much to customize with the Alta. You can choose to turn off certain stats from the device’s screen, or rearrange the order they appear. But that’s about it.

Naturally, you’ll be relying on Fitbit’s mobile apps most of the time for detailed information about your fitness stats. The Alta automatically syncs with those apps throughout the day, or you can initiate manual syncs on your own. It’s been a few years since I’ve reviewed a Fitbit wearable, so its colorful, more user-friendly apps were a welcome sight (they used to be excessively dull).

In use

The Alta makes a good first impression when you see it, though putting it on is another story. Even after using it for weeks now, it still takes far more effort than I’d like with the bundled strap. The big issue is Fitbit’s clasp implementation, which relies on getting two prongs to fit into two holes, all while balancing the Alta and making sure it fits tightly enough. Whenever I try to put it on, the Alta’s standard strap inevitably slips out of my hands or I have trouble getting those prongs into the holes. Inevitably, I’m left frustrated and with a slightly bruised wrist. (It was much easier to put the Alta on with the leather band.)

Once it was on, the Alta worked as promised. It accurately counted my steps and distance, as Fitbits have done for years (unfortunately, it doesn’t count stairs like the Charge did). And I was surprised that it didn’t have any trouble automatically tracking my activities, be it a 30-minute run or a long walk. Once it starts tracking an activity, the Alta also announced things like my pace and timing out loud (you can disable those notifications in the app). Similarly, it was able to track my sleep habits without any additional prodding, though I often had to go in and delete some entries where it mistook my late night/early morning writing as more sleep time. (We tech writers live sedentary lives.)

Automatic activity tracking isn’t anything new for Fitbit, but the Alta’s implementation adds another layer of refinement. Fitness gadgets are known for having a very low retention rate; plenty of consumers have tried them only to give up after a few weeks or months. Automating the most rote tasks is one way to potentially help users get over that hump. They just have to put the Alta on, without worrying about pressing buttons or fiddling with settings.

I’ve worn plenty of fitness trackers over the years, and the Alta is one of the most comfortable (aside from the frustration of actually putting it on). The standard wrist band isn’t anything special, but I was able to wear it for days without any issues. The Alta’s leather strap is even better: It’s as soft and smooth as you’d expect a premium band to be. It ended up becoming my go-to, though I had to be a bit more careful since Fitbit recommends keeping it away from water, oils and anything that could potentially damage it. The big takeaway: If you’re getting an Alta, you should definitely plan on picking up a leather band.

Fitbit claims that the Alta should last around five days on a charge, and that’s pretty close to what I saw in practice. Sometimes I’d have to charge it on the fourth day if I exercised a lot, but for the most part it reached five days without issue. That’s on par with the battery life you’ll get from Fitbit’s Charge HR band, though the plain Charge can last seven to ten days.

While it’s comfortable and easy to use overall, the Alta doesn’t go far beyond the basic capabilities of a fitness tracker. It does exactly what you’d expect, and nothing more. Honestly, though, that just might be a sign of the fitness gadget market stabilizing a bit. Sure, it doesn’t have a heart rate monitor, but that’s something only hardcore gym rats need anyway. Most wrist-based innovation these days is focused on smartwatches, so it makes sense for Fitbit to focus more on design with the Alta. (Though our review of the Fitbit Blaze shows, it still has a lot to learn in the smartwatch realm.)

The competition

At $130, the Alta is the same price as last year’s Charge, which has a much clunkier design but also has the added benefit of stair tracking. (I expect the Charge to get a price cut soon.) If you’re more of a fitness hound, you can get the Charge HR with heart-rate tracking for $150, or step up to the Blaze for $200.

The Alta’s closest competition is other design-focused fitness bands like the Jawbone Up3 ($100) and the Misfit Ray ($100). While cheaper, neither of those alternatives have screens of their own, instead they rely on their mobile apps to display stats. We found the Up3 to be incredibly problematic when it launched, but it’s worth noting that Jawbone was able to include a basic heart-rate monitor. The Up3 is also much cheaper now than its original $180 price, which partially factored into our review when it came out.

Wrap-up

In the end, the Alta is a big leap forward for Fitbit in terms of design, yet it’s in some ways a step back in functionality. But for a company that’s mostly been focused on technology over looks for the past few years, that’s probably a wise compromise.

Fitness trackers are no longer the hot new thing: You need a bit of flash to stay in the race. It’s also a reminder that most consumers might not need the features gadget companies have been pushing on us. When it comes to something I wear all day, I’ll always take a slim and attractive fitness tracker over a bulky one that just happens to track my heart rate.

18
Mar

My love affair with PlayStation Vue: a cautionary tale


You have to appreciate the irony: I’d intended to write this as a ringing endorsement of PlayStation Vue, Sony’s cable-like streaming TV alternative. The service, available on PS4, PS3 and iOS, did just launch nationwide earlier this week after a year of select market testing, of which I was a part. But when I got home from the gym a few nights ago, ready to watch a DVR’d episode of The Real O’Neals (any opportunity to watch Martha Plimpton in prime time is a good opportunity, okay?), the service shit the proverbial bed. It could just have been a case of launch week jitters, the sudden influx of PS Vue subscriptions stressing Sony’s servers. But, for me, the timing couldn’t have been worse.

Here’s how it all fell apart. Initially, the PS Vue app wouldn’t launch at all on my PS4. Then, when it did finally load, it was as if I’d never used the service before — all of my personal settings were gone. None of my favorite shows were listed; I couldn’t access the program guide — it kept telling me I needed to add channels — and, without that, I had no way of changing to another channel. My screen was frozen on a comically unflattering shot of Lisa Vanderpump, the perpetually pink-clad proprietress of Vanderpump Rules on Bravo, as error message after error message filled with nonsense strings of letters, numbers and underscores popped up. It was as if I’d just discovered a faithful lover had cheated on me for the first time. I was angry, but I wasn’t entirely ready to give up.

I took a breath and closed the app from the system settings, hoping a reboot would change things. It didn’t do much, but at least now, after a minute or two of impatiently waiting, my DVR’d shows appeared. So I selected the new episode of The Real O’Neals, opened a bottle of ginger-lemon kombucha, and sat back to enjoy an episode of… Fresh Off the Boat? One of these things is not like the other. One of these things does not star Martha Plimpton.

In frustration, I turned to Hulu for my TV fix and, finding no new episodes of The Real O’Neals, resorted to sampling that new JLo cop drama Shades of Blue. Which, by the way, is a much darker show than I expected.

To be clear, this had never happened before. PS Vue has been pretty much rock solid for the entire year I’ve been using it. In fact, out of all the streaming services I subscribe to (i.e., ad-free Hulu, Netflix, Amazon), the only one I ever rely on anymore is PS Vue. Exclusive original content like House of Cards aside, Sony’s streaming service gives you access to pretty much everything you can find on those other standalones. The channel offering is now robust enough to rival cable or satellite offerings, as it includes live broadcast (in select markets) and premium cable networks like Showtime. There’s still no HBO, but eh, who doesn’t have a login for that?

The tiered packages — Access, Core and Elite — are all reasonably affordable at $40, $45 and $50, respectively, thanks to a recent price cut. Plus, there’s that unlimited cloud DVR which stores every aired episode of a favorite program. And scrubbing, the ability to fast forward or rewind, has been beefed up, so you can zip past ads at 32x speed.

PS Vue’s the reason why I’ve altogether abandoned my DualShock 4 controller in favor of the PS4’s Universal Media Remote (apart from the occasional bout with Bloodborne, I don’t really game on the system). It’s a great service, but like everything connected to the internet, it’s bound to fail. And fail it did… hard.

The service has since bounced back to normal — it pretty much resolved itself overnight — but the sting of that interruption, albeit brief, still lingers.

Before this hiccup, I only ever encountered an issue with PS Vue once. It was last April, just one month after PS Vue’s soft launch and I’d been away from home at the time, so I wasn’t aware of the service interruption. What tipped me off was an email from Sony apologizing for an outage and a $10 billing credit. I thought nothing of it until I went to watch my DVR’d episodes of Will and Grace — nearly an entire season was unwatchable. Nothing had been recorded. I shrugged it off at the time as an early launch bug. I’m an early adopter, after all, so this sort of thing is par for the course.

But it’s not so forgivable when the general public cuts the cord and climbs on board.

Image credits: Sony PlayStation

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