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29
Oct

Six amazing uses for the wonder material graphene


By Cat DiStasio

Graphene is a super-strong, ultra-lightweight material that’s led to scores of technological innovations in recent years. It consists of bonded carbon atoms formed into sheets that measure just one atom thick. The material’s strength to weight ratio makes it ideal for all sorts of applications ranging from desalination filters that produce clean drinking water to batteries that charge up in seconds, and even next-gen LED bulbs. Graphene is even being used to make solar cells produce electricity in the rain, leading us to believe the most amazing graphene-based gadgets have yet to come.

Making seawater drinkable

Around the world, there’s a major push for developing more efficient ways to turn saltwater into clean drinking water. Enter this atom-thick graphene filter, which Lockheed Martin found could reduce the amount of energy needed for the desalination process. The filtering material, dubbed Perforene, was originally patented for cleaning up oil spills. However, the company realized it could also serve other purposes. Because the filter is only one atom thick, saltwater flows through it without excess pressure – and since the holes in the filter are just 100 nanometers in diameter, they’re just large enough for water molecules to squeeze through, but too small to allow salt particles to pass. This results in a desalination filter that cuts energy usage by 20 percent, making it more environmentally friendly and better suited for use in regions where electricity is as scarce as clean water.

Super fast-charging batteries

Today’s rechargeable batteries tend to lose charge capacity over time – however, researcher Han Lin at Australia’s Swinburne University created a battery with a graphene supercapacitor that can be used time and time again without any loss in performance — and it charges up in mere seconds. Lin used a 3D printer to build sheets of graphene for his energy storage device, which could one day replace the lithium-based batteries in smartphones, tablets and even electric cars. Graphene gives this new battery a major edge, beating out traditional batteries in charging time, lifespan and also environmental impact.

Solar power in the rain

Scientists from Yunnan Normal University and the Ocean University of China used graphene to develop a novel solar panel that is able to generate electricity in the rain. A layer of graphene over the top of the solar cells generates energy as it reacts with naturally occurring salts in rainwater. The solar cells have an efficiency rate of around 6.5 percent, which isn’t much, but with improved efficiency, rain power could become a real thing in places where the weather isn’t exactly ripe for traditional solar cells.

Super efficient lightbulbs

The University of Manchester touts itself as the “Home of Graphene,” because it was the first place to create graphene sheets back in 2004. Fast-forward to 2015 and a research team at the university created a dimmable, filament-shaped LED coated in graphene that uses 10 percent less energy than existing LED bulbs. The newer, better, longer-lasting LED went on sale in the United Kingdom shortly after, selling at a lower price than many competing products. The graphene bulb also made history as the first commercially available product containing the now-famous carbon allotrope.

The world’s lightest material

Scientists are forever working to develop materials that are even more lightweight than ever, and in 2013, a team of Chinese researchers created a sponge-like material using graphene that earned the title of world’s lightest material. Fusing freeze-dried carbon with graphene oxide, the Zhejiang University team produced what they dubbed Graphene Aerogel, a spongy solid material that weighs just .16 milligrams per cubic centimeter. The carbon-based sponge is incredibly flexible and is also capable of absorbing oil by impressive quantities. The team reports that the sponge can soak up 900 times its own weight, which means it could be used in the future to clean up oil spills. Best of all, due to the sponge’s flexibility, both the oil and the sponge could be recycled, making it a sustainable solution to a practical problem.

Paper 10 times stronger than steel

Paper is notoriously fragile, especially in sheet form. It tears easily and even just a few drops of water can render it essentially useless for its intended purposes. Five years ago, a team of researchers at the University of Technology in Sydney developed a graphene-based paper than is 10 times stronger than steel. The durable nano paper, composed of processed and pressed graphite is flexible, 100% recyclable, conductive and durable and thin enough to be used in countless industries.

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29
Oct

Jabra’s Sport Coach headphones count my reps so I don’t have to


Whenever I go to the gym, I immediately plug in my headphones. Last year, I graduated to wireless headphones, and while I’m happy with my current Bluetooth buds (more on those later), I was intrigued by Jabra’s latest refresh of its Sports Coach series, which promises to gauge and coach not only your running (I don’t do that), but also cross-training style bodyweight and dumbbell-based exercises, counting reps using built-in movement sensors so that you can concentrate on your form — and then crank out even more.

Jabra’s Sports Coach Special Edition ($120) counts your reps through the company’s TrackFit motion sensor embedded in the left ear piece. (You’ll find the micro-USB charging port on the right side.) Your movements are then sent to the companion iOS/Android app. Unlike Jabra’s most recent headphones, these Bluetooth-connected earbuds are still wired together, with an inline remote and a button on the left earpiece to launch the sports app and move between exercises.

As you’d expect from fitness headphones, the Sports Coach Special Editions are IP55-rated for dust and water resistance. As a bonus, they come with a three-year extended warranty for additional peace of mind.

The earphones ship with in-ear tips and gels, in three sizes to ensure they fit most ears. Those gels are soft plastic protrusions that wedge in against the inside of your ear. Thanks to those, the headphones are light, comfortable and secure. I currently use JLab’s Epic2 Bluetooth headphones (as recommended here) for my sweaty music-listening needs.

While the JLab model uses an over-ear hook, I prefer Jabra’s internal solution, which makes it easier to remove while still allowing for a snug fit. The Sports Coach pair also formed a tighter seal on my ear, but your experience may differ.

Of course, sound quality is important, but I find comfort is just as critical with headphones meant for exercise. These feel great and sound just as good as my Epic2s, with the addition of passive noise cancellation. The Sports Coach only comes in one color option, but it’s a reassuringly sporty combination of grey and cyan — pretty inoffensive.

The in-line controller includes a mic for mid-gym phone calls (rude!). Next to that, there are volume controls (a long press will skip tracks) and a multi-function button that pauses music, answers calls and powers the whole thing down. The left earphone also houses a “Sport” button on the side; this launches the companion fitness tracking app on your phone and is also used for progressing and finishing your workout — no need to tap your phone until you’re done. Holding the button will also mute the audio coaching and updates.

The Sports Life app is necessary for all the tracking features though if you’re just looking for comfortable wireless headphones, you can pair the fitness earbuds to your phone and sweat away. Jabra has also ensured that the app plays its coaching narration on top of either iTunes music or any audio source currently playing.

Fortunately, the app is easy to set up. First it shows you how to fit the headphones and uses a sound test to make sure you have the right sized buds. You can then choose the type of exercise you’re planning to do. For automatic repetition counting, the compatible workouts are all found under cross-training, with several of them already programmed, offering a mix of exercises.

You can also make your own, choosing from just under 60 different exercises that are a mix of weight and calisthenic movements. Like the previous-gen version, you can use the headphones to simply track your movement and time your runs. When it comes to running, distance, pace, steps and cadence are all measured by the sensor, but I have glasses for that. And I still hate running.

The rep counter sounded like it was made for me, as I regularly zone out while working out. For me, counting in the midst of push-ups goes something like: “1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 7, 8, 7.” Some kind of robotic unbiased tracking would be pretty useful then. Indeed, for many exercises the rep detection works exactly as promised.

But, not all of my exercises were detected. Push-ups are the worst: While my demonstration made for a great gif, when it came to shooting that clip, the sensor only picked up two reps out of 10. Another time, it detected all of them. The app (or the sensor) is frustratingly erratic. Squats and other exercises requiring vertical head movements are where the earphones works best. You can leave your phone to the side as the audio narration notifies you when you’re done with your rep numbers. One tap of the Sports button on the side moves the app on to your next exercise.

For me, counting in the midst of push-ups goes something like: “1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 7, 8, 7.”

When it does screw up, the headphones are kind enough to tell you it’s not detecting any movement. But that’s often around 10 seconds in, and I’ve already done nine push-ups by then. (Roughly. I zone out, remember?) Conversely, I try to be meticulous in logging what I do at the gym (my current app of choice is Fitocracy), making this mixed performance is just as frustrating as my own estimates.

You’re also stuck with Jabra’s mediocre fitness app, and this is where the system falls short for me. It’s a common drawback with fitness gadgets — they’re typically tied to a specific app built by the same company. You’re buying into their proprietary software, even if you have better options elsewhere.

Although you can custom-build circuits of squats, crunches and what-have-you, automatic rep counting only works for 10 exercises: back extensions, crunches, dips, burpees, kettlebell swings, lunges, pull-ups, push-ups, squats and thrusters. (I had to look up the last one: It’s a combination squat and shoulder press. It looks hard.)

Jabra says that the number of detectable exercises will increase with future updates — but those are the options if you buy the device now. You’re also constrained to that current list of exercises (auto rep-counting or not) if you’re looking to record your full workout… and it’s not an exhaustive list. This is because Jabra’s headphones can only detect movements related to your head and due to that, there’s a limit as to how much a gadget can track when it comes to weight training. I guess one solution is to move the tracker into the weights themselves — but then, I’d still need a pair of headphones.

29
Oct

7 unexpected places you can hide a spare key – CNET


It’s always a good idea to have a spare key for your home. While it poses an obvious security threat, it can also help you gain entry to your home should you misplace your primary key. Not to mention, it can save you a costly locksmith call.

A spare key is of no use if you can’t get to it, however. And placing it somewhere too obvious — like under a plant, doormat or false rock — is almost like leaving your doors unlocked to begin with. As a general rule of thumb, you want to avoid storing a spare key too close to a main entry point of the house and all the common places people tend to hide spare keys.

It takes just a small amount of creativity and time to come up with a few good hiding places for spare keys around your home. Below are seven unusual places you can use for inspiration for hiding your spare key.

hitch-vault.jpg Taylor Martin/CNET

  • The fake rock hide-a-key may be played out, but a fake sprinkler isn’t quite as obvious. Bury it in the ground, leaving just the top exposed, and it looks like the real deal. But instead of watering your lawn, this is just a container that hold your keys. It’s both affordable and inconspicuous … if you actually have sprinklers. If you don’t, this will look out of place.
  • It’s not difficult to find a place inside vinyl siding to hide a key. You can attach a piece of hook and loop fastener to the key and attach another piece inside the lip of the bottom-most piece of siding in a location you can remember, like near a window or the air conditioner unit. Alternatively, you can attach a paper clip or short piece of string to the key and slide it in one of the seams, leaving a very small portion of the wire or string exposed — enough to grab, but not enough to where it’s too obvious.
  • Nailing a spare key to a tree probably sounds strange. But if you live in a house with a lot of tree coverage, most people wouldn’t think to check the trees for a key. Pick a tree far from your house and drive a nail into it on the side facing away from your house and hang the key on the nail.
  • For extra security, apply any of the above methods and store your spare key at your neighbor’s house — that is, if you trust your neighbors. If someone were to find the key, they probably wouldn’t think to consider that it goes to the house next door.
  • To take it one step further, try hiding a key down the street or even a few blocks away. As long as you’re not trespassing, have permission, and can remember where you stashed the key, you don’t have to worry about someone finding it and knowing where to use it.
  • Magnetic hide-a-keys are fairly common, meaning they’re not exactly the most secure hiding spot for a spare key. However, if you’re not at home, that means your spare key isn’t either. It’s just wise to secure the lid with tape so your key doesn’t fly out while cruising down the highway.
  • A similar, yet more secure option is a hitch receiver lock box. Obviously, it only works if your car has a hitch receiver, but it’s significantly more secure as it locks the contents behind a four-digit combination. You can also store a spare key for your car in a hitch safe without the fear of someone driving off with your vehicle.

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Wherever you decide to hide your spare, just try to avoid anything too obvious. And if you end up needing to use your spare often, avoid keeping it stashed in the same place. Change hiding spots any time you use it, and try replacing it only after sundown.

Also, consider using a separate lock for the one entry point to the home, such as a side door, and only storing a spare key for it, not the main entry point.

If you have a habit of losing your keys, you may want to consider upgrading to a deadbolt with a number pad or even a smart lock, which you can unlock with your smartphone. This would remove the need for a spare key altogether.

29
Oct

Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 review – CNET


The Good The Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 sounds very good for a Bluetooth headphone, is comfortable to wear and offers decent noise cancellation and strong battery life. It performs very well as headset for making cell phone calls, includes a carrying pouch, and is an overall excellent value.

The Bad While the design has been improved, the headphone is still a little heavy and its aesthetics may not appeal to everyone; noise-canceling isn’t quite as effective as Bose’s.

The Bottom Line The BackBeat Pro 2 is an excellent full-size wireless noise-cancelling headphone that costs nearly half as much as comparable models from Bose, Sony or Sennheiser.

In the realm of headphones, noise-canceling models — those battery-powered ones that filter out unwanted external sounds like traffic din or jet-engine noise — represent the cream of the crop. And the best wireless noise-cancelling headphones from Bose, Sony, Sennheiser, Parrot and others tend to cost at least $350 (about £290 or AU$460). But not everybody wants to pay that much for a headphone, which is where Plantronics’ BackBeat Pro 2 comes in.

Priced at $200, £230 or AU$250, the BackBeat Pro 2 is being positioned as a premium headphone for less. The original BackBeat Pro was, too — and it was a good headphone for the money, despite being pretty bulky and not all that stylish. Nevertheless, it had a strong following among techie types who cared more about how it performed than how it looked.

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What you get in the box.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With this new model Plantronics has slimmed the headphone down by about 35 percent, reduced its weight by about 15 percent, and made it more attractive. It also sounds very good for a Bluetooth headphone, with relatively clean, dynamic, well-balanced sound that rivals the quality of its higher-priced competitors. And it worked nearly flawlessly for me, with minimal Bluetooth hiccups.

It’s comfortable, too, and has sensors that pause and resume your music when you take the headphones off or put them on (you can also answer a call by simply putting them on your ears). And while the noise-canceling isn’t as effective as that of the Bose QuietComfort 35, it does a decent job muffling ambient noise without creating an audible hiss.

I’ve been using it in the office for the past few days and haven’t suffered any listening fatigue — from either the sound or the fit. It’s definitely a good work headphone and is ideal for an open-office environment if you want to shut out noisy co-workers. And it also played well outside — in the streets of New York in my case — though it will make your ears steamy on warmer days.

29
Oct

LG LFXC24796D InstaView Door-in-Door Counter-Depth Refrigerator review – CNET


The Good The LG LFXC24796D is a great-looking, high-end fridge that offers consistent performance and a good mix of features, including the unique and eye-catching InstaView window.

The Bad The Door-in-Door compartment offers questionable utility at best, and it ran warm throughout all of our tests.

The Bottom Line This is a decent fridge, but the knock-to-see-inside novelty wears off fast, and it comes at an awfully high premium.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

Another day, another “Door-in-Door” refrigerator from LG. With Door-in-Door, you can push a button on the handle of the fridge to open the front panel of the right door — this lets you grab the butter or a bottle of beer out of the in-door shelves without opening the refrigerator itself.

Now, the Door-in-Door compartment in LG’s latest refrigerators comes with an “InstaView” window. Give it a double knock, and the fridge’s interior lights will come on, illuminating your groceries inside. That lets you browse for a snack or a beverage without opening anything at all. It’s an interesting feature, but a niche convenience at best.

LG’s Door-in-Door fridge comes with a magic…
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Still, as niche conveniences go, InstaView is admittedly nifty, and it makes LG’s Door-in-Door feature more visible than ever. That, more than anything else, is what LG is probably going for here. The Korean manufacturer has made Door-in-Door a keystone feature of its fridge lineup; it needs people to know about it, and to want it. InstaView isn’t about seeing your groceries — it’s about seeing Door-in-Door.

All of which brings us to the LG LFXC24796D. It’s a counter-depth French door model in an attractive black stainless steel finish, and the InstaView window is its marquee feature. The price: $4,400 — or $600 more than a nearly identical counter-depth Door-in-Door model without the InstaView window. That’s a very steep premium for the trivial privilege of peeking at your groceries, and it makes the otherwise decent LFXC24796D a poor value.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

This fridge is a looker

The rise of black stainless steel offered LG a fresh coat of paint for its high-end fridges. It’s an aesthetic that makes everything feel more modern, and it looks great on the LFXC24796D. Add the InstaView window, and you’re looking at a distinctive French door model that your house guests will be sure to “ooh” and “aah” over (they’ll probably want to knock on it, too).

Size-wise, this counter-depth model offers 23.5 cubic feet of total storage space, 15.6 of which get allocated to the fridge compartment. It’s a decent number for a counter-depth refrigerator like this one that’s designed to fit flush with the front of your cabinets and countertops. But keep in mind that counter-depth models offer less depth than their full-size siblings. Try to stuff an extra-large pizza box inside, and the doors won’t close.

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The fridge compartment offers 15.6 cubic feet of storage space.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Still, I had no trouble fitting our full load of test groceries inside, and, pizza box aside, I fit our large stress test items in, too. My only quibble was that there wasn’t a good spot for 2-liter bottles. The Door-in-Door shelves would be the optimal place for them, but none of those shelves are tall enough to fit one, and none of them are adjustable. You can slide one of the main body shelves toward the back of the fridge to make room for tall items below it, but it only slides back so far. Our test 2-liter sat awkwardly over the edge of the shelf below as a result.

As for features, there’s some good stuff going on inside of this fridge. My favorite is the SlimSpace ice maker, which packs the entirety of the ice maker into the left door. It saves space inside of the fridge and keeps the interior of the door perfectly flat, which makes it easier to fit things into the in-door shelves. You’ve also got a temperature-adjustable pantry drawer that runs the width of the bottom of the fridge — a nice feature, but one that didn’t prove all that useful when we tested it (more on that in just a bit.)

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Door-in-Door: What is it good for?

It’s an honest question. What’s the point? LG pitches it as both a convenience and an energy saver, but I don’t see it as either. On the convenience front, you’re still opening a door and grabbing your bottle of beer — it’s just a different door than before. As far as energy goes, we’ve yet to see a Door-in-Door compartment have any appreciable impact on performance, and we’ve tested several of them.

29
Oct

Xiaomi Mi MIX Hands on – the future of smartphones?


While everyone was privy to the launch to the Xiaomi Mi Note 2, Xiaomi took everyone by surprise at their press event in Beijing a few days ago with the introduction of a near bezel-less smartphone. Granted, this isn’t the first of its kind that we’ve seen, but Xiaomi has definitely improved on what was available before with devices like the Sharp Aquos Crystal, in terms of design, aesthetics, specifications, and features. We go hands on with the Xiaomi Mi MIX!

There being practically no bezels on three sides of the display including above it brings up some interesting questions with regards to the proximity sensor and the speaker to listen to calls. Xiaomi has managed to circumvent their need by using a sonar-based sensor and by placing the speaker below the display and using ceramic vibrations to allow for the audio from a call to be heard. Everything else has been placed below the display, including the front-facing camera, resulting in a more upward facing perspective when using it because of its placement.

Of course, it’s all about the screen with this device, with the Mi MIX featuring a 91.3% screen to body ratio. The device comes with a 6.4-inch IPS LCD display with a 2048 x 1080 resolution, and anyone looking for additional screen real estate for work or play will have no complaints with this phone. The display and the phone are truly a sight to behold, and is certainly going to garner a lot of attention.

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The Mi MIX is built with ceramic, which gives it a very elegant and shiny look. The phone is a touch unwieldy however, not only due to its size, which actually isn’t all that bigger than other smartphones that feature much smaller 5.5-inch displays, but because the ceramic makes the phone very slippery. Xiaomi has included a high quality soft leather case in the box that helps provide a lot more grip.

Under the hood, the Mi MIX packs what you would expect from any current generation flagship smartphone, including the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, backed by the Adreno 530 GPU and 4 GB or 6 GB of RAM depending on which version you opt for. The premium version visually differs from the standard iteration by featuring 18k rings around the camera unit and the fingerprint scanner on the back.

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The former also comes with 256 GB of internal storage, compared to the 128 GB that is available with the latter. Regardless of which version you pick, performance should not be an issue with either, and the storage in both cases should be more than enough to store all your apps, files, photos, and videos. The device doesn’t come with expandable storage capabilities, but very few people, if any, will miss this feature.

The Mi MIX comes with a 16 MP rear camera and a 5 MP front-facing unit, and keeping everything running is a large 4,000 mAh battery. We can’t wait to put this device through its paces, and luckily, we do have a review unit already, so you can expect a comprehensive review to be available shortly.

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The Xiaomi Mi MIX will be available in China from November 4, priced at RMB 3,499 (~$519) for the 4 GB of RAM and RMB 3,999 (~$593) for the 6 GB of RAM iteration. However, with this device being a concept phone, it will be manufactured in limited quantities, and it is unfortunately quite unlikely to make its way to other markets around the world. You may still be able to import it, but you will have to make sure of network connectivity before doing so.

While its lack of availability is unfortunate, Xiaomi is certainly paving the way for what the future hopefully holds, and in a year where smartphone design hasn’t caused much excitement, the Xiaomi Mi MIX is a breathe of fresh air. Stay tuned with Android Authority for the in-depth review of the Xiaomi Mi MIX, and more on the company’s other big launch at the event, the Mi Note 2!

29
Oct

Camera comparison: Google Pixel XL vs. LG V20


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The Pixel XL is the new hot camera on the block, but we can’t forget about LG.

The latest phones from Google and LG don’t look very similar and take different approaches to the user experience, but one thing that’s constant is the focus on camera quality. Google has talked a big game with the launch of the Pixels, and so far it seems to have held up unlike previous generations. At the same time, LG has been shipping phones with excellent cameras the past few years, easily landing near the top in overall quality and experience. The new LG V20 is no exception, offering not only high-quality but also unique photography possibilities.

When you put the Pixel XL and LG V20’s cameras head-to-head, though, which one comes out on top? We’re here to answer that question.

Performance and interface

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Pixel XL (left) / LG V20 (right)

Google has made improvements to its camera interface over the past couple of years, but if you’re looking for a raw number of features, modes and options you’re going to be a bit disappointed. The Google Camera app is still all about simplicity, giving you access to just a couple of toggles and the choice to switch to Panorama, Photo Sphere and Lens Blur. Yes there are a few additional tweaks, but it’s nothing like what LG offers.

The V20 is billed as being for “content creation,” and naturally that lines up with a far more powerful camera app as well. You get all of the basics in a simple interface, plus live filters and lots of great shooting modes for things like time lapses built right in. Not only do average users have extra options in the viewfinder, pro-level users can also toggle into a Manual shooting mode and tweak any possible setting they could think of. That may not be your thing right now, but not having to download a different camera app to get those advanced features is a huge plus. Oddly enough, though, you have to hop into the settings just to toggle the HDR mode.

LG offers more shooting options; it’s not even close.

Though the V20 leads in terms of the interface if you want tweaking options, the Pixel XL is ahead in speed and overall performance. Google has made massive improvements to the speed of its camera compared to the Nexus 6P, and now the PIxels are at the top of the heap. The V20 can launch as fast as the Pixel XL through a double press of the volume down key, but in my time using it there was an inconsistency about it where you’d sometimes launch the camera with hesitation and some lag before you could take your first shot. The Pixel XL has never failed to launch immediately and be ready to take a photo.

But those speed differences are really minor in the grand scheme of things, and you’re easily going to be able to look beyond them if you want to have the option to tweak your shots with the V20. The average person who just wants to pull out their phone, snap a shot and share it on social media will be well-served by either camera app — the big difference is how much you value the customizability.

Camera quality

The Pixel XL offers a lower 12MP resolution and slower f/2.0 lens to the V20’s 16MP and f/1.8 — but both offer very fast laser auto focusing. The Pixel XL’s one big trump card is the combination of very big individual pixels and outstanding software processing, which it has shown to use to great effect. So how does that all combine in terms of photo quality? I took both phones out and snapped pictures just how anyone else would: lift up the phone, snap a picture, lift up the other phone, snap a picture. No post-processing or tweaks. Here are the shots.

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Pixel XL (left) / LG V20 (right) — click images to view larger

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Much like I found in my comparison of the Pixel XL and Galaxy S7 edge, the Pixel XL lines up closely in quality with the LG V20. The Pixel XL consistently took a bit cooler and more natural-looking photos, while the LG V20 was a tad warmer and often took brighter photos. Those brighter images — partially due to the f/1.8 lens — are definitely more appealing to the eye, even if they aren’t actually true to the scene.

When you zoom in and check things out closely, the Pixel XL offers sharper details, but that’s hardly noticeable when viewed full-size. Both phones did an excellent job using HDR to simply take balanced and good-looking photos, rather than blowing out the colors. The one big difference, for me, is how it was very clear when the V20’s auto-HDR didn’t kick in, leaving you with a comparatively dull shot from the single exposure. Taking that into consideration, I’d lean toward just recommending leaving HDR on 100% of the time on the V20.

The V20 can match the Pixel XL’s quality, and has the second camera to play with.

When it comes to low light shots, the differences are still narrow between the two, though I can give the nod to the Pixel XL here thanks to its wonderful sharpening and managing of noise in dark scenes. The LG V20 is still extremely capable in light in a more “traditional” sense with its f/1.8 lens, but the Pixel XL captures more fine detail in low light scenes (mostly noticeable when you zoom in on images), and better manages dark portions of mixed scenes with its HDR+ processing. Again, realistically the differences are slight — but if you want to get critical, you give Pixel XL the higher praise.

Something that makes this comparison a bit tougher is the V20’s inclusion of a secondary super wide-angle camera. As you can see from the comparison shots above I focused on the V20’s main 16MP camera, and though the secondary 8MP shooter isn’t as high of quality (especially in low light) it offers extremely unique shooting opportunities that can really set it apart. Having the choice of toggling to the wide-angle lens with a tap on the screen can be a difference maker, and I loved using it throughout my review.

Bottom line

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I’m so happy to see that we have multiple phones giving us fantastic cameras in 2016, and after comparing it to the Pixel XL the LG V20 is definitely one of the top-tier group. My enjoyment of shooting with the Pixel XL is well known at this point, but the LG V20 offers a unique set of features and possibilities that make it more fun to take pictures with, even if the quality isn’t particularly better in any given situation.

The choices of shooting in a full manual mode, or with the secondary wide-angle camera, definitely tip the scales in LG’s favor when you compare it to the more bare-bones Pixel XL. Not everyone is going to care about the extra complication of those other features, though, and in that case either one of these phones will absolutely impress you with their photos.

Google Pixel + Pixel XL

  • Google Pixel and Pixel XL review
  • Google Pixel XL review: A U.S. perspective
  • Google Pixel FAQ: Should you upgrade?
  • Pixel + Pixel XL specs
  • Understanding Android 7.1 Nougat
  • Join the discussion in the forums!

Google Store
Verizon

LG V20

  • LG V20 review: Built for power users
  • LG V20 specs
  • All LG V20 news
  • LG V20 vs. Galaxy Note 7
  • Discuss the V20 in the forums!

AT&T
T-Mobile
Sprint
B&H

29
Oct

ICYMI: Halloween Spooktacular 2; The CGI reckoning


ICYMI: Halloween Spooktacular 2; The CGI reckoning
Today on In Case You Missed It: Disney figured out a way to make digitally generated faces in a fraction of the time it used to take with a head-worn camera rig. Designers in the Netherlands created a stilt-like elevator that relies on human power to get a person to climb up, though they say it requires very little effort to do it.

In TL;DR, we break down some of this week’s biggest headlines. Sadly we’d recorded before the Vine closure news broke so we’ll just express our collective sadness this way. Other notable headlines include Google firing Fiber employees and halting expansion of the internet service, and the AT&T customer data news.

If you’re looking for holiday inspiration, the thundercloud costume is here. Just a quick personal note: This is our second Halloween show and it was nearly as much fun for us as making the first. We’d love to see your holiday costumes and any interesting tech or science videos you might find by using the #ICYMI hashtag on Twitter for @mskerryd.

29
Oct

Unboxing and playing the ‘League of Legends’ board game


Mechs vs Minions is League of Legends fanfiction presented in the style of Dungeons & Dragons or Descent, with just a hint of Fireball Island thrown in for good measure. It’s a cooperative, programmable, card-wielding board game set in the League universe, starring League characters, but nothing about it feels shoehorned into a tabletop format. This could easily be a standalone game on the shelf at Target, no outside video game connection required.

That said, the aspects of Mechs vs Minions that reference League make the game exponentially more special for fans of the video game — and, let’s face it, there are a lot of League fans. More than 100 million people around the world play the game every month and SuperData Research estimates that its studio, Riot Games, will pull in revenue of nearly $1.8 billion in 2016. Part of that cash influx comes from Riot’s eSports efforts, which are in full swing this weekend: The League of Legends World Championship concludes on Saturday at the Los Angeles Staples Center, which has sold out (again) for the final global showdown.

But, that’s all just background information for the board game, which we unboxed live on Facebook on Friday. Mechs vs Minions is a cooperative tabletop experience designed for two to four players, who all work together to defeat hordes of minions and complete dangerous missions. The stars are Tristana, Corki, Ziggs and Heimerdinger, all of whom are yordles (short, furry, cartoonish creatures) plucked directly from League.

The map comes in five pieces to accommodate a plethora of mission designs, and players move around by slotting cards into their command lines — basically, these are long boards with six card-shaped slots. Each player gets her own command line and is able to customize it to make the associated character move, attack and transport packages across the map. It’s like programming; once the cards are slotted in, each player has to execute the entire line, in order, on each turn. Figuring out where to put action cards in relation to movement cards is half of the battle (and the fun).

However, minions and other hazards can make the command line messy. Players take damage when they’re next to minions and other explosive objects, which means they pick up a damage card. These cards are either placed on top of a slot in a player’s command line, mucking up the program until the player uses a turn to get rid of it, or they’re used right away, forcing players to move cards around their command line and generally throwing off their groove.

These are just the basics of Mechs vs Minions gameplay. The full game is $75 and it comes with 100 minions, four yordles, a large boss statue, five map pieces, nearly 200 cards, a tiny bomb figurine, and 10 mission envelopes, each offering a different way to play and new foes to defeat, and of course a dense rulebook and tutorial guide. This isn’t exactly a pick-up-and-play kind of tabletop game — it takes a little bit of studying and at least one practice round to get fully acquainted with its rhythms, but it’s absolutely worthwhile for League fans (and their long-suffering friends).

29
Oct

The Morning After Weekend Edition: Happy Halloween!


Letter from the Editor

Change is life. It’s what keeps things interesting. It’s also what keeps the cauldron of commerce at a full boil. And in the technology industry, change is constant. This week, Apple and Microsoft revealed new computers that’ll tempt many — particularly folks working in the creative arts — even if they come with eye-watering price tags.

Change can also be cause for consternation. Apple decided to eliminate the headphone jack from its phones a month ago, and yesterday it banished everything without a USB-C or Thunderbolt connector from its laptops. This is the pain of progress. Given enough time, the benefits received will, we hope, be a good bargain. It often is.

In other instances, change comes slowly. Jess Conditt wrote about how powerful video games have become as a medium for cultural and social commentary. Yet respect and investment for such projects trail more “traditional” arts, despite games’ arguably wider potential impact. And finally, Edgar Alvarez explained Amazon’s difficulties in becoming a purveyor of luxury fashion items. It seems that scale and quality can’t mix — at least in the minds of those running haute couture.

Hey, artists use Windows too!They’re used to paying Apple prices, right?

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Microsoft wants to be the company for creative types. Like in the worst way possible. The company’s big Surface event this week was all about creating, building and drawing. There was even a little 3D printing thrown in for good measure. Of course, the biggest news was the launch of the Surface Studio all-in-one PC, but we’d be lying if we said MS Paint 3D didn’t kinda steal the show.

Apple wants your fingers to caress its new laptopAll in the name of stimulating your artistic sensibilities

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Apple couldn’t let Microsoft hog the spotlight, though. The Cupertino crew held their own big event this week, and the focus was all on the MacBook Pro. The most exciting news was the addition of the Touch Bar on the high-end models — an OLED touchscreen strip in place of those anachronistic function keys. The less exciting news was that Apple ditched basically all the ports except for USB-C. At least they didn’t ax the headphone jack.

Shhh … you hear something?That’s the sound of sick video game sound effects, y’all

Microsoft went all out for the sound on “Gears of War 4.” Most games treat the audio like a second-class citizen, but developer the Coalition fired up some elaborate software that simulates how sound reacts in different environments and how it interacts with different materials to make “Gears 4” seem ultra-realistic. Or as realistic as a game set in the future on an alien world can seem.

R.I.P. VineWe (most of us) hardly knew ye

Twitter announced that it was going to be laying off more than 350 people, and now, it seems, we know where at least some of those cuts are coming from. Vine is coming to an end, and with it the art of six-second video loops. Some Engadget editors will miss it more than others.

What are pro designers saying about Microsoft’s Surface Dial?No thanks, mostly.

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We talked to a host of illustrators, designers and other creative types to see what they think of Microsoft’s newest devices. The Surface Studio seems to have piqued their interest. The Dial, on the other hand…

Please don’t do this. Seriously.11 super-sexy Hallow-meme costumes

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Look, sexy nurse and policeman are passé. If you’re really looking to leave an impression, you need to blend your love of popular internet culture with your normal raw sexual energy.

Bokeh everywhereiOS 10.1 brings a new photo feature to the iPhone 7 Plus

If you have an iPhone 7 Plus, you don’t need beta software to try out its new “portrait mode” shots. Environments where the background is a similar color to your subject can confuse the camera, but in most situations it did the job of making phone pictures look like they came from a high-end SLR camera.

But wait, there’s more…

  • The FBI isn’t done with Hillary’s emails yet?
  • I have the power! … of two first-gen Tesla battery packs
  • Sony is working on new PS4 controllers for pro gamers (just don’t call them Elite)
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