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17
Feb

NBA’s Google Daydream app to launch with VR series featuring basketball greats


Why it matters to you

Millions of fans may not yet be clamoring for NBA games in VR, but the league is preparing for that day by expanding its virtual reality offerings.

The NBA on Friday launched its own virtual reality app on the Google Daydream. As part of the launch, the NBA will debut its first-ever episodic VR series, House of Legends, featuring NBA Hall of Famers and other greats.

Hosted by comedian Chris Distefano, House of Legends will be an immersive interview series where former NBA athletes discuss their careers and a bit of pop culture. The first episode will feature one of the most-clutch NBA players ever, seven-time NBA champion Robert Horry. Future episodes will include more NBA greats like James Worthy, Bruce Bowen, John Starks, John Salley, and Chauncey Billups. No schedule for the episodes has been announced yet.

More: Courtside cameras weren’t enough. This year, the NBA is doing VR right

The new NBA VR app will feature a virtual sports lounge where you can catch Steph Curry splashes, Lebron James passes, and many other NBA highlights. The app was built by visual effects company Digital Domain, which also produced the House of Legends series, as well as designed and created the 3D sports lounge.

The NBA has been holding court in the VR realm so far this year. The league and premier virtual reality production company NextVR recently announced plans to offer free on-demand highlights from all of the 2017 NBA All Star Game festivities in virtual reality for the first time ever. Anyone with the NextVR app and a Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream headset will be able to enjoy the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, JBL Three-Point Contest. and Verizon Slam Dunk Contest this weekend in virtual reality.

For the 2016-2017 NBA season, one game a week has been live-streamed in virtual reality on the NextVR app for those with NBA League Pass subscriptions. Starting February 23, anyone can now pay to watch single games through NBA League Pass for $6.99 per game.

The NBA is taking an “if you build it, they will come” approach with virtual reality. “There aren’t millions upon millions of people clamoring to watch NBA in VR, just yet,” Jeff Marsillo, vice president of global media for the NBA, told Digital Trends in the press room at Madison Square Garden last November. “When that does arrive, we want to be ready.”

The NBA VR app is available in the Google Play Store.

17
Feb

Yes, you can run Windows 10 on Microsoft’s original Surface coffee table


Why it matters to you

It’s really just a curiosity but seeing Windows 10 running on a Microsoft Surface coffee table might make you interested in owning one.

Long before there was Microsoft Surface Pro, Book, and Studio, there was Microsoft Surface, the coffee table. That product was mainly a proof of concept and it never did become a significant product for the company, but it was important in the ultimate development of what is now a successful line of hardware products for Microsoft.

Flash forward to Friday and the industrious folks at Windows Central were able to get Windows 10 installed and running. As you can see from the video, the Surface coffee table runs Microsoft’s latest and greatest operating system as if the two were made for each other — almost, that is.

More: Beneath the Surface: How Microsoft is missing the boat on tabletop computing

Of course, the original Surface came with the Windows Vista operating system and a custom user interface shell that enabled a number of features that Windows 10 doesn’t support. Originally, the Surface coffee table was meant to be shared by multiple users, with an interface that was able to work at any angle and allow multiple people to grab objects and flip them around the screen. None of that functionality is supported by Windows 10.

The Surface, originally introduced in 2007, was renamed as PixelSense in 2012, likely to make room for the impending Surface brand that has spawned today’s highly successful Windows 10 2-in-1s and the latest Surface Studio all-in-one creativity workstation. PixelSense essentially referred to sensors built between individual pixels on the display panel that allowed it to receive both visible and infrared lights and thereby “sense” input.

Microsoft didn’t do away with the confusion, however, because PixelSense is also the name it gave to the touchscreen displays used on contemporary Surface products. Confused yet? If you are, it really doesn’t matter — the original Surface was priced at more than $7,500 in all of its incarnations and so really was a novelty product. The following video shows the Surface coffee table running in its original configuration.

Today, the Surface coffee table is more of a curiosity, and seeing it run Windows 10 mainly serves as a tease of what such devices could look like one day. If you want to install Windows 10 on your own old-school Surface device, then go search the web and see if you can find one for sale. Otherwise, you can hold out hope that Microsoft will bring its Surface line full circle and release a new Surface coffee table again one day.

17
Feb

Time to start stockpiling RAM as shortages might cause PC prices to spike


Why it matters to you

The PC market is facing some rocky weather. Despite buyers being willing to spend more on premium rigs, component shortages are set to drive up costs for manufacturers and prices for end users.

There might be more budget PCs on the market than ever before, but in 2016 we saw overall prices go up and sales go down — a trend that’s unlikely to change in 2017.

Prices fluctuate for a number of reasons, but component shortages will reportedly play a key role in the overall price hikes we’re already starting to see. According to CIO, shortages of RAM, SSDs, batteries, and LCD panels have already started driving up manufacturing costs.

More: Samsung Group chairman arrested on charges of bribery and corruption

During an earnings call, Lenovo’s chief operating officer, Gianfranco Lanci, confirmed that prices would continue to rise for manufacturers, as sourcing components becomes more difficult and expensive. Those increased manufacturing costs are already trickling down to customers, particularly users in the market for individual components.

According to PC Part Picker, RAM prices have gone up significantly since last year. Average prices remained relatively consistent in 2016, dipping down to about $40 for 4GB in May, but as of January 2017, the average price of 4GB is around $65.

Luckily SSD prices have remained relatively consistent so far, with no major upward spikes, but according to Lanci, the price hikes are very likely to be coming soon.

Component shortages are driving costs up at a peculiar time for the PC industry. According to CIO, millennials and gamers are more willing than ever to buy expensive, high-end notebooks and desktops, even as the overall PC market continues to fall short of sales expectations.

More: Disgruntled cafe owner bills customers extra if they charge their phones on-site

According to CIO, Intel’s chip prices increased by about 7 percent in 2016, but the popularity of VR-capable PCs kept them flying off the shelves, despite the price hike.

So, not only are component shortages driving costs up for manufacturers and customers, but the overall PC buyer profile is changing. It’s a volatile time for the PC market, and it remains to be seen how that will affect marketing strategies and sales numbers going forward.

Still, it might be a good time to stock up on those SSDs.

17
Feb

Apple’s patented cracked screen sensors could lead to more durable iPhones


Why it matters to you

Work is always being done to make smartphones stronger but data gathered from sensors could help Apple make your future iPhone more durable.

Try as we might to stop it, dropping our smartphones is an inevitability. In spite of manufacturers’ greatest efforts to design more durable devices with materials like Gorilla Glass and aluminum, there is always the potential for a shattered screen — which is precisely why Apple filed a patent to make diagnosing and repairing a busted phone easier.

Patently Apple caught wind of a proposal from mid-2015 that uses sensors to characterize a crack and identify its location on a phone’s cover glass. As always, patents do not guarantee features, but they do serve as clues to what is being considered for future products.

More: Got a broken iPhone screen? Here’s how to fix or replace it

There are multiple potential benefits to this idea. First, it would help Apple gain insight as to the circumstances in which its devices break. But, more valuable to the customer, the technology could relay information to the user about how the damage has specifically impacted their phone’s systems.

According to the filing, there are several ways Apple might achieve this. The first involves a sensor grid packed tightly against the cover glass. Once the phone is dropped, data from the accelerometer will detect the shock, triggering analysis of the grid. If a gap is detected, the phone could ask the user to draw a circle around the damage to aid in location. Ideally, however, the system would also be sensitive enough to detect hairline cracks the user couldn’t see.

The second approach involves the distribution of “contact points” across the front of the device, both covering the touchscreen and the non-interactive surface area around it. A change in electrical resistance between those connected points would be characterized as a crack. The system could then refine the location by triangulation. The more contact points, the greater the accuracy.

Many companies, like Motorola and Samsung, responded to the fragility of smartphones by making them stronger through research and development. While continued innovation in building more rugged devices is happening all the time, it may also be helpful, as Apple has suggested, to gather insight regarding the nature of these incidents and when and where they happen. Technology like this could give the user some peace of mind after destroying an expensive smartphone, give technicians critical information that could aid in repair, and ultimately help Apple design more durable products.

17
Feb

Corel VideoStudio raises the bar with 360 compatibility and mask tools


Why it matters to you

Corel’s VideoStudio allows even novice editors to tweak their videos, and now the program includes more features than ever.

Corel’s advanced video editor is getting even more, well, advanced — VideoStudio Ultimate X10, announced earlier this week, now includes 360 video support as well as masks for objects (even if they are moving), along with several other enhancements.


Corel

Corel says that the new features build on the program designed to offer creative video edits to all skill levels. The program is the firm’s most advanced editor, and is offered alongside the slightly less featured VideoStudio Pro X10. The X10 version is set to launch next Tuesday from retailers but is already available to download directly from Corel.

More: Hilarious video perfectly captures love/hate relationship editors have with videos

“VideoStudio stands out in consumer video editing because we’ve created an environment that offers high-end features while remaining surprisingly simple to use. Users choose VideoStudio because it lets them tell their stories in a personalized way, whether they’re capturing family memories, an exciting event, or reaching viewers online. With VideoStudio X10, we’re giving you powerful new options to make a movie that’s truly unique,” said Senior Director of Product Management for Corel’s video products Michel Yavercovski.

With the update, the program now accepts video from 360 cameras. Along with working with the 360 footage using the suite of tools, the program also allows users to edit it down to a traditional screen, choosing where the viewer looks and when.


Corel

Single objects within the footage can now also be selected — even if they are moving. The new mask tool allows editors to use brush and shape tools to select a portion of the shot to then adjust only that object — or, on the flipside, adjust everything else while leaving the mask untouched.

While stop motion and other time adjustment features were part of earlier versions, in X10, users now have access to a simpler control scheme for freezing, speeding up, slowing down, or reversing the action.

The latest version also builds on the multi-camera editing and other favorite features from previous versions to add custom transparencies for fade effects, three new premium effect collections and an overall update for a simpler, faster workflow. Video templates, for exporting to a disc with a full menu, are now also included with the program.

The VideoStudio Ultimate X10 joins a recently updated Video Studio Pro, which, for $10 less, skips out on the masks and special effects templates, and only syncs multi-camera footage from four sources instead of six. The VideoStudio Ultimate X10 retails for $99.99, with a 30-day free trial.

17
Feb

The MacBook Pro’s battery life is better, but it’s still not the best


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Read:

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar Review

The release of Apple’s latest MacBook Pro line was controversial for several reasons, one of which was the battery. Reducing the laptop’s size apparently forced the company to do the same to the battery. The previous MacBook Pro 13 had a 74.9 watt-hour battery, but the new MacBook Pro 13 with Touch Bar has a much smaller 49.2 watt-hour battery.

That’s still not bad, but it’s less than some competitors like the Dell XPS 13, which has a 60 watt-hour battery. Apple also pairs the battery with a slightly more power-hungry processor. Logically, that would suggest a hit to battery life compared to previous models. Our review showed exactly that.

Apple responded first by disabling battery life estimates in MacOS, a move that the company said was due to the estimate’s lack of reliability. Then in January, Apple responded to a Consumer Reports review that found highly variable battery life. The company said it had discovered a GPU bug that could increase battery draw by failing to turn off the GPU when it’s not needed. Consumer Reports confirmed the fix did extend life, and gave the MacBook Pro line a recommendation afterwards.

A lot has happened since our initial review. We wanted to see if the changes impact our results, now that we’ve updated to MacOS 10.12.3, which Apple says includes the battery-changing bug fix.

How we test

Before we get to the results, let’s go through a tour of our tests.

The Peacekeeper test loops the Peacekeeper web browsing benchmark until the battery dies. On the Mac, we perform this test in Safari. Though this benchmark is defunct as a performance test, we’re not interested in it for that. Instead, we like it because it constantly loops demanding web browser scenarios. We feel it represents the shortest life a user can expect in normal use. You might do something even more demanding — but at that point, you can’t really expect decent battery life.

The Mac simply has less power to work with.

Next up is our video loop. We always use the same 1080p video, a clip from Marvel’s The Avengers, and always use a laptop’s default video player. The clip loops until the battery dies. While you might think video a demanding task, it’s not — even less so then browsing mostly-text websites — and thus represents the maximum life you can expect in normal use.

We’re also careful to calibrate the display to 100 lux with a light meter. This is an important step, because display brightness has a huge effect on battery life. And laptops represent brightness in very different ways. For example, the MacBook Pro seems to handle brightness on a curve. Moving brightness from 80 to 100 percent increases the display’s measured output far more than moving it from 20 to 40 percent.

Finally, we make sure to turn off any sleep, adaptive brightness, and adaptive performance modes which might throw off the results.

And now, the big moment

With the technical details out of the way, let’s talk about our results. It’s time for a bar graph!

Okay then. A bar graph is worth at least half as many words as a picture, so it speaks for itself. Does the latest version of MacOS improve battery life?

Yes, though only somewhat.

We saw a slight improvement of 21 minutes in Peacekeeper. That’s an increase from four hours and 42 minutes, to five hours and three minutes.

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That fits with the idea a bug might’ve been squashed, since we run that test in Safari. Or perhaps it’s not the bug at all, but instead some general enhancements. The video loop test, not performed in Safari, saw essentially no change. Our video tests under MacOS 10.12.3 lasted seven minutes less on average than before, which is insignificant.

The extra 21 minutes of endurance is good to have. Adding it means the laptop is now competitive with the Dell XPS 13 with Core i7-7500U processor (though not the Core i5 model, which still lasts an hour longer). It also now defeats the HP Spectre x360, where it’d be a bit behind before. The improvement is enough for us to feel more respect for the MacBook Pro 13’s battery life.

Conclusion

In our review, we described the MacBook Pro 13’s endurance as “adequate.” It might be more fair to describe it as “average.” There’s a chance that the MacBook Pro 13 with Touch Bar will get you through a workday — if you’re not a heavy user. Most people don’t use a laptop on battery for a full eight-hour span.

On the other hand, the new Pro 13’s battery remains decidedly mid-pack, even with the latest full release of MacOS. The Mac’s results are a long way from the worst, but an equally long way from the best. Past Apple laptops soundly defeated Windows competitors in battery life. That’s no longer the case.

Indeed, we don’t expect to see notable improvement from software updates. The life of Apple’s latest laptop is good relative to the size of its battery. MacOS is clearly more efficient than Windows, as the MacBook Pro 13 with Touch Bar is squeezing more life out of each watt-hour than any of its competitors.

The Mac simply has less power to work with. Only so much can be done to get around that disadvantage. We hope the mid-cycle refresh, rumored to bring seventh-generation Intel Core processors, will also add a slightly larger battery. We don’t expect to see the MacBook Pro take back its battery life crown until then, at the soonest.

17
Feb

Gingerbread is officially dead as it loses Google Play Services support


It’s time to throw out the Gingerbread, it’s finally gone stale.

Android Gingerbread and Android Honeycomb are over six years old — in fact, Android Honeycomb turns 7 next week — and they are finally losing support from the Google Play Services framework. Google Developers announced back in November that 10.0 would be the last SDK version to support to support them, and with this week’s Google Play Services 10.2, they have officially been left behind.

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What does this mean?

Well, the apps that Gingerbread users already have will still be there for them, but once developers start using the newest SDK and targeting Ice Cream Sandwich as the minimum API level, developers have to start building multiple APKs for their app in order to support the older devices or drop support for these really, really old versions of Android that is only being used by about 1% of the Android market.

Android Nougat

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  • All Android Nougat news
  • How to manually update your Nexus or Pixel
  • Join the Discussion

Don’t expect to see the app compatibility for Gingerbread drop off a cliff overnight, but as more and more developers migrate to the 10.2 SDK and beyond, you will start to see things dry up over the coming months. And considering that Gingerbread is old enough to be in grade school, it’s time to upgrade to something a little newer.

17
Feb

Sprint’s own pricing chart makes the case for T-Mobile’s unlimited plan


Sprint’s own chart undermines its latest promotion, which shows the real strength of T-Mobile right now.

I’m Canadian; I have no skin in this game. Up here, we pay far more than anyone in the U.S. for far less. In Canada, the closest we come to ‘unlimited’ is bottomless breadsticks at Olive Garden.

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We’re now in this strange situation where T-Mobile is setting the tone and pace for the rest of the industry.

Which is why it’s been fascinating watching the disruptive T-Mobile, which has double the subscribers of the entire population of Canada, almost singlehandedly upend the U.S. wireless industry, causing monumental shifts in the way customers use and consume wireless data.

On the one hand, the push to unlimited is a good thing; customers don’t have to think about policing themselves — the vast majority of people can just pick up and use a phone without distinguishing whether it’s on LTE or Wi-Fi. The downside there, though, is that unlimited comes at the expense of additional fine print; while one can technically continue slurping up as much data as he or she wants, after a predetermined amount — between 22GB and 28GB, depending on the carrier — traffic gets “deprioritized.”

T-Mobile began this trend two and a half years ago (simpler times, simpler times) with Music Freedom, which, for Simple Choice customers on particular plans, didn’t count a number of music streaming services towards one’s data bucket. Back then, unlimited was just a glint in T-Mobile’s eye, its network not yet able to keep up with the growing demand of a hungry population. But by the end of 2015, T-Mobile’s network, having launched 700Mhz service and refarmed enough of MetroPCS’s own spectrum, felt ready to move to video, launching Binge On.

In the proceeding months, Binge On was met with enormous amounts of criticism from all sides: net neutrality defenders believed it was contravening the very ideals of treating all internet traffic the same; consumer protection groups like the EFF were upset that T-Mobile was throttling all video traffic, not just services signed up for Binge On; and consumers themselves found the service confusing and difficult to disable. These issues were all addressed in due time, with John Legere himself bearing the brunt of the concern, but in the ensuing 18 months saw T-Mobile steal millions of customers from Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, leading to some of the best metrics we’ve seen from a U.S. carrier in years.

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So now we’re in this strange situation where T-Mobile, the third-largest carrier in the U.S., is setting the tone and pace for the rest of the industry, genuinely affecting the bottom lines of the incumbents, AT&T and Verizon. What was a single fly buzzing around making noise just a couple of years ago is now a swarm that the top carriers can no longer ignore.

Which brings us to this chart. Sprint, the embattled fourth carrier, is still making amends for its decision to invest in WiMax all those years ago, and has neither the coverage nor the balance sheet to make a run for T-Mobile. Its latest act of desperation is a salvo worthy of a surrounded army: offer five lines for the cost of two in the hopes that entire families — the true money makers — will switch over. But Sprint’s deal is hobbled by the fact that it’s for new customers only, and that the promotional price will revert to its far more expensive regular cost in just over a year.

This isn’t to say that Sprint’s deal is a bad one; unlike AT&T’s newly-expanded unlimited plan, it does include tethering and HD video streaming, but Sprint’s network is neither as robust nor its devices as transferrable as T-Mobile’s.

At the end of the day, though, unlimited is just another buzzword for a handful of networks that are now technically able to eke sizeable profits without crumbling under the weight of America’s lust for video. And that’s a good thing for everyone.

Which unlimited plan should you buy: T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon?

17
Feb

Huawei Mate 9 vs. LG V20: As good as it gets


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Two completely different phones with very similar outcomes.

I have a problem. See, there are two phones in front of me, and they’re both very good. I’ve literally been switching between them every day to get a sense of their strengths and weaknesses, and have been assiduously noting the differences to get a sense of what a large “phablet” flagship should and shouldn’t do.

These two phones are the Huawei Mate 9, which recently arrived in the U.S., and the LG V20, which debuted at the tail end of 2016. Despite the obvious similarities — they’re both big phones with great specs, etc. — I have been left with a strangely bitter taste in my mouth, as I can’t decide which one I like better.

Specs

Operating System Android 7.0 Nougat Android 7.0 with EMUI 5.0
Display 5.7-inch IPS Quantum Display2560x1440 (513 ppi)Second Screen 160x1040Gorilla Glass 4 5.9-inch 1920×1080 (373ppi) IPS LCD 2.5D glass
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 8202.15GHz + 1.6GHz quad-core Huawei Kirin 960 4x A73 @ 2.4Ghz, 4x A53 @ 1.8Ghz Mali-G71 MP8 GPU i6 co-processor
Storage 64GB 64GB
Expandable microSD up to 2TB microSD up to 2TB
RAM 4GB LPDDR4 4GB LPDDR4
Rear Cameras Main: 16MP f/1.8, OISSecond: 8MP f/2.4 wide-angleLaser AF, Phase-detect AF, Contrast AF 20MP (monochrome) + 12MP (color) f/2.2 OIS
Front Camera 5MP f/1.9 wide-angle 8MP, f/1.9
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2LE, USB 2.0, NFC Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2LE, USB 2.0, NFC
Audio 32-bit Quad DAC
Battery 3200 mAhRemovable 4000 mAh Non-removable
Charging USB-CQuick Charge 3.0 USB-C Huawei proprietary quick charge
Water resistance No No
Security Rear fingerprint sensor Rear fingerprint sensor
Dimensions 159.7 x 78.1 x 7.7 mm 156.9 x 78.9 x 7.9 mm
Weight 173 grams 190 grams

Hardware

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The differences between these two devices couldn’t be more stark. The LG V20 is taller and narrower, with slightly larger bezels and a more streamlined appearance. It’s not what I would call an attractive phone, but in its quirks there are hints of beauty. The Huawei Mate 9 is far more imposing and, for better or worse, considerably more stately — like an old schooner. Much of that grandiosity is thanks to its 190 gram weight, which is nicely spread through its all-metal chassis. The metal on the Mate 9 feels more substantial — thicker — than the V20, but at the end of the day they’re made of aluminum and glass, and are alike in many ways.

To me, despite the Mate 9 feeling more solid, it’s also more generic.

Perhaps the most interesting design decision on the V20 is the removable back plate which, while metal, still lends the phone a slightly more DIY look and feel. The plate latches with a satisfying click, but on my two units actually getting it to do so takes a bit of finagling. And while removing the rear is not going to be too common — the battery is replaceable, and you need to remove it to get to the SIM card — it’s still a design issue that, over time, may be exacerbated.

Still on the back, both phones have two camera sensors, though the Mate 9’s is arrayed vertically and the V20’s stays horizontal — and as we’ll see later, their purposes are quite different.

To me, despite the Mate 9 feeling more solid, it’s also more generic — the V20 has an awkward style, and I enjoy its dual-toned color scheme a bit more than Huawei’s uniformity. It’s also slightly narrower than then Mate 9, which makes it easier to use with one hand in spite of it being slightly taller. I also prefer a few minor things about the phone: the placement of its volume buttons on the left, separate from the power button (which is on the back in this case); and the headphone jack on the bottom.

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The screen on the V20 is also better, not just owing to its higher QHD resolution but its color reproduction and overall calibration, though the Mate 9’s 1080p display is comparable in those areas.

Audio is another area the two phones differ: the V20’s single downward-facing speaker is softer but comparatively full compared to the much-louder but thinner, sibilant profile of the Mate 9. Audio from the V20’s headphone jack is also slightly cleaner — an obvious benefit of the Quad DAC — though I’d have to defer to our resident audiophile for line-out testing.

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Obviously, the biggest aesthetic difference between the two phones, at least up front, is the V20’s Second Screen, a sliver of additional screen real estate just above the main display and to the right of the selfie camera. In my time with the V20, I’ve learned to appreciate, if not love, the extra functionality, though in the course of a day I’ll probably only interact with it a handful of times.

The screen on the V20 is also better, not just owing to its higher QHD resolution but its color reproduction and overall calibration.

That it’s there to show notifications and provide quick access to favorite contacts, apps and shortcuts is a nice bonus, but it’s not an essential feature. Instead, the Mate 9’s slimmer bezels allow for a physically larger screen — a 5.9-inch display fits into a smaller space — which many people will prefer. Your mileage may vary.

Software

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My brief love affair with Huawei’s EMUI 5.0 didn’t last long. Based on Android 7.0, I came to it immediately after using a Google Pixel for a few weeks, and though there are similarities, Huawei’s tendency to mess with fundamental aspects of Android — like notifications — still grates.

LG, on the other hand, uses a much lighter hand with its changes to Android 7.0 Nougat, and I’ve grown to appreciate most of what the company has tried to do — with one exception. See, I love Huawei’s fingerprint gestures: in particular, the ability to swipe down on the sensor to bring down the notification shade. While there are apps that can imitate this feature for devices like the V20, it doesn’t come close to matching the real-time nature of Huawei’s implementation.

LG uses a much lighter hand with its changes to Android 7.0, and I’ve grown to appreciate most of what the company has tried to do.

Elsewhere, the two are comparable once you overcome their rather luckluster launchers — I really recommend switching to something like Nova Launcher or Action Launcher as soon as possible. They’re not unusably bad, and both have options to enable app drawers (though they’re not on by default), but I increasingly find that even the free versions of the aforementioned third-party alternatives do a lot better.

Performance on both devices is stellar. While the V20 sports a Snapdragon 820 and 4GB of RAM, and the Mate 9 the technically more powerful Kirin 960 and 4GB of RAM, both devices have no problems keeping up with the minutiae of day-to-day work. There is an argument to be made that the Kirin 960 will enjoy greater longevity in terms of performance by virtue of its more powerful GPU — it’s the same one rumored to be in international versions of the Galaxy S8 — but right now it’s a wash.

The reason I continue to prefer the V20’s software is that Huawei makes seemingly-arbitrary changes to the way notifications function on the device. Lock screen notifications, for example, are disabled by default, and you have to go in and enable them individually per app. While our own Jerry Hildenbrand, chief bouncer and head of security for Mobile Nations, loves this idea, I don’t, and think it runs counter to the way Android was built. I also know that I’m not alone in this, since I’ve heard from many Mate 9 owners that the extra step seems unnecessary and awkward. Also awkward is the fact that, by default, EMUI calls out what it considers “power-intensive” applications, something that, again, I believe Android should take care of itself.

Overall, though, I really like the software on both of these phones, and think they represent a more restrained and careful approach to Google’s Android, which I think is best for all OEMs in the long run.

Camera

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Both the Mate 9 and V20 have excellent rear cameras — two excellent cameras, to be specific — in distinct formats. The former has a combination of 12MP color and 20MP monochrome sensors in order to eke more detail from shots in addition to facilitating artificial “portrait” bokeh effects, while the latter has a 16MP “regular” shooter and an 8MP wide-angle option for improved landscapes.

Let’s first talk interface. Both LG’s and Huawei’s interfaces are very easy to use and hide a number of powerful modes and features a few swipes or taps away. In particular, Huawei’s use of a slider to access the camera’s manual mode is a thing of brilliance, but I have to say I’m disappointed in the lack of automatic HDR. And while both phones support RAW capture, only the V20 has peaking abilities that I absolutely adore. Peaking is an overlay that shows where in the viewfinder is in focus, and it’s done so well on the V20 it’s like I’m using my Sony RX-100IV.

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Huawei’s use of a slider to access the camera’s manual mode is a thing of brilliance.

And while the Mate 9 has so many modes including things like Light Painting and Watermarking, at the end of the day it comes down to photo and video quality, stabilization, audio capture and other fundamentals, and here’s where things get a bit tricky. While the Mate 9 defaults to 12MP shots — the same size as the color sensor — it can capture more detail at 20MP, though the differences are negligible. Colors on the V20 are slightly more saturated, though the Mate 9 uses additional post-processing to make the finished product more contrasty.

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Huawei Mate 9 (left) | LG V20 (right)

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I capture amazing photos with both phones’ rear cameras, especially in daylight. While the Mate 9’s main 12MP sensor has comparatively larger individual pixels, the V20 has a wider f/1.8 aperture, which lets in more light in darker situations. The V20 wins here, hands down: while it’s possible to eke a decent low-light shot from the Mate 9, more often than not it comes out blurry, grainy and unpleasant. At the same time, the V20’s secondary wide-angle sensor is more useful, at least for me, than the Mate 9’s artificial-looking background blur, which operates from a farcical f/0.95 all the way up to f/16.

On the video side, the V20 has a distinct advantage: this thing was built to capture great video. The company made a huge splash about the camera’s excellent manual video controls, and they bear fruit here: the footage is even and smooth, and the controls are easy to use, though powerful once mastered. Audio capture, too, is superior on the LG phone, and can be adjusted in real time.

Battery

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If the V20 wins in the camera department, the Mate 9 wipes the floor with LG in the battery department. Despite the 25% larger cell — 4000mAh to the V20’s 3200mAh — battery life is often double on the Mate 9, with a day and a half of near-constant usage (in between sleep, of course), compared to just under 16 hours on the V20.

Yes, it’s great that the V20 has a removable battery, but like most people I would prefer a larger enclosed cell — and it appears that from the LG G6 rumors, the South Korean company agrees.

Which should you buy? Either one

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I love both of these phones. This is the first comparison I’ve done that has been difficult for me to come up with an outright winner. On one hand, the V20 is, in opinion, better and more originally designed, with a superior camera experience and more thoroughly-regarded software. But the Mate 9 is more robust, with a superior fingerprint sensor, better daylight photos and significantly better battery life.

See Huawei Mate 9 at Jet

Here’s the thing about the Mate 9: it’s not available on any U.S. carriers, so you’re forced to buy it outright for $599. That’s actually much cheaper than the $700-ish V20, but you can find LG’s flagship at any of the four major U.S. carriers, and unlocked at places like B&H — though at a much less palatable $799.

See at LG V20 at B&H Photo Video

17
Feb

GIF your way through American Sign Language with Giphy


Gifs — they’re for more than reactions and shade.

As a millennial, I tend to punctuate a lot of my tweets and personal communication with gifs. I often turn to Giphy when I need to say something with a short repeating video, and with their latest featured collection, I can say things in a new language with it — American Sign Language. Giphy has teamed with Sign With Robert to help teach people ASL using the power of repetitive, silent video.

That’s right, we can learn with gifs now.

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Sign With Robert’s director/producer Hilari Scarl told Mashable that “GIFs, as a visual format untethered from audio, makes them a perfect medium for sign language.” Giphy reached out to Sign With Robert while looking for ways to help educate using gifs, and ASL gifs seems like a no-brainer, and one that can help thousands learn at least a little ASL.

If you think this sounds like nothing but a novelty, consider that there are first responders, medical professionals, and civil servants who could benefit themselves and their communities by being able to recognize some basic signs like “allergic” or “fire extinguisher”. In fact, we could all benefit from recognizing a few of these, so head over to Giphy’s gallery and try to memorize a few. And if you work in an area where sign language could help your job, consider taking advantage of Giphy’s download functions to save some on your phone for easy access.

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