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Sep

Moto Z2 Force review: A force to be reckoned with?


Last year Lenovo and Motorola introduced two flagship phones with Moto Z and Moto Z Force, but this year they’ve consolidated their lineup. There’s no Moto Z2, and instead we only have the Z2 Force as their main 2017 flagship. The Moto Z2 Force brings back the shatterproof display and some key changes that include a thinner body, dual cameras, new Moto Mod accessories and availability on all U.S. carriers in order to better compete with the likes of Samsung and LG.

However, not all of these changes are without compromises and the thinner body means the Z2 Force has a significantly smaller battery than last year’s model. Does Lenovo’s choice of form over function shatter the experience, or is the Z2 Force still a force to be reckoned with? Find out in our full Moto Z2 Force review!

Design

Due to compatibility with the Moto Mods, it’s no surprise that the overall design and shape of the Z2 Force has remained the same, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any notable changes. Motorola’s gotten rid of the rear glass inserts of last year’s Z Force in favor of an all metal unibody design that’s made from 7,000-series aluminum for extra toughness and durability. The rear panel has a hairline finish which doesn’t add any texture to the device, but it is an attractive look and a big improvement over the rear panel of the original Z Force.

The thinner body gives it a much sleeker feel in the hand but it doesn’t come without sacrifice.

The most significant change to the Z2 Force’s design is that it’s roughly one millimeter thinner than its predecessor. If this story sounds familiar it’s because Lenovo did the same thing with the Z2 Play. The thinner body gives it a much sleeker feel in the hand but it doesn’t come without a sacrifice. That sacrifice, of course, is the battery, which we will get into, and we have to question if Lenovo’s obsession with making their devices thinner is a decision of form over function or if it’s merely just a ploy to sell more Moto Mods.

The release of the Z2 Force has also brought along some new Moto Mod accessories, with a new 360 degree camera and a gamepad that will add physical controls and buttons to your mobile gaming experience. Like all Moto Mods, these will fit Moto Z devices old and new for at least a few years, and the previous generation of Moto Mods are perfectly compatible with the Z2 Force.

Display

On the front, the Z2 Force comes with a 5.5-inch AMOLED display boasting a resolution of 2560 x 1440 that results in a pixel density of 535 ppi. The AMOLED screen brings all of the usual characteristics that you would expect like vibrant colors, deep dark blacks, and excellent contrast. The display works wonderfully for browsing the web, playing games, and watching videos. In most situations it looks fantastic, but it does become tough to read under direct sunlight.

In comparison to screens from the Galaxy S8 or LG G6, the Z2 Force’s display may not be nearly as eye catching, being surrounded by thicker bezels all around, but what makes this screen special is the Shattershield technology. This makes the screen completely shatterproof, which is great, but the technology behind it isn’t exactly as magically as you would hope.

The biggest downside to the shatterproof screen is it’s no longer user replaceable.

The screen is essentially protected by a thick layer, or “lens” as Motorola likes to call it, of plastic. While it does do its job of preventing the screen from shattering, it’s much more prone to scratches, nicks, and dents, and during the week that I’ve had the Z2 Force the screen has already become filled with scratches. It’s not noticeable when the display is on but it’s fairly easy to see every little imperfection when the screen is turned off. The biggest downside to the shatterproof screen is it’s no longer user replaceable. You’ll either have to live with the scratches or resort to adding a screen protector since Motorola has discontinued the replacement service

.

Performance

Inside, the Z2 Force is powered by your typical set of 2017 flagship specs. You’ll find the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 running the show along with the Adreno 540 GPU, and four gigabytes of RAM.

Everyday performance is nothing short of expectation. The Z2 Force is fluid and responsive with fast app load times, smooth scrolling, and a seamless multitasking experience. Checking emails, browsing the web, and watching videos are all handled with ease and graphic intensive gaming is also an enjoyably smooth experience. Much of the phone’s snappiness and fluidity can be attributed to a combination of the fast processor and Motorola’s close to stock experience. The true test will be how the phone performs months down the road but for now the Z2 Force operates without any noticeable stutters or slowdowns.

Hardware

The Z2 Force comes in only one storage option at 64 GB but a microSD slot is available with support of up to 2 TB in case you need more than what the phone is able to offer internally. 4×4 MIMO is also on board for faster gigabit LTE speeds across carriers.

With such a hefty price tag and no official IP certification, it’s only going to make it harder for the Z2 Force to compete.

Water and dust resistance has become a fairly common feature on flagship phones but that is one thing you will not find on the Z2 Force. It does however carry a water-repellent nano coating that makes the phone resistant to the occasional splash without being designed to survive submersion. With such a hefty price tag and no official IP certification, it’s only going to make it harder for the Z2 Force to compete.

As far as audio is concerned, the Z2 Force only comes with a single speaker embedded in the ear piece. The fact that it’s a front facing speaker is certainly a positive and the audio quality sounds good without any distortion even at max volume. However, due to there only being one speaker the audio experience sounds just as lopsided as it did on the Z2 Play, which featured the same speaker setup. Of course this is one of the Z2 Force’s shortcomings that could easily be remedied by using the JBL SoundBoost Moto Mod.

One problem that a Moto Mod can not solve (at least for now) is the Z2 Force’s lack of a headphone jack, which most people might still find annoying. There is a USB type C adapter to 3.5 mm jack included in the box of the Z2 Force so at the very least you are still able to use your favorite pair of earbuds or over the ear cans.

On the bottom chin or directly below the display is where Motorola typically likes to place their fingerprint sensors and the Z2 Force is no exception. Just like the G5 Plus or Z2 Play the fingerprint sensor features the same redesigned oval shape that better matches the design aesthetics of the Moto lineup over the previous squared shape sensor. The fingerprint sensor works well, with great accuracy and speed, and it’s fantastic that it can also be used to put the phone back to sleep. In addition to that, the fingerprint sensor can be used for all of your Android navigation needs in place of the Android soft keys, through various different gestures. This was first introduced on the G5 Plus and it’s a great way to maximize the entire screen of the Z2 Force but using one button for all navigation can take some getting used to.

With the Z2 Force being thinner than its predecessor, this resulted in a significantly smaller battery which has been a big point of concern since the phone’s announcement. It’s a move by Lenovo that is quite the head-scratcher, as the drop in battery capacity is drastic. The Z2 Force features a 2,730 mAh battery which is a 22% decrease over the 3,500 mAh cell of last year’s Z Force.

This smaller battery has resulted in less than desirable battery life especially for a flagship. Getting through a full day on the Z2 Force is certainly possible with light usage, but moderate to heavy use will definitely require at least one charge up midway through the day. Screen on-time never went beyond four hours regardless of how heavy or light my usage was and that’s just well below average when compared to most current flagships. Of course the battery pack Moto Mod could make this a non-issue but you shouldn’t have to rely on an extra accessory in order to get great battery life.

Camera

Dual cameras on flagships are becoming the norm and Motorola has become the latest OEM to join the club. The Z2 Force features two 12 megapixel cameras with PDAF and f/2.0 aperture. The main sensor is your standard RGB, while the secondary lens shoots monochrome and this provides the Z2 Force with a few new tricks.

These two cameras combine to create better quality images and the monochrome sensor allows you to take true black and white photos. Motorola also leverages the second sensor with a new depth effect or portrait mode for a blurred background effect similar to the iPhone 7 Plus, OnePlus 5 or Huawei P10.

The camera app is largely unchanged from previous Moto devices. The only difference is you now have options for a black and white mode and the new depth effect. For video recording, the Z2 Force can record up to 4K at 30 fps and 1080p slow motion video at 120 fps. Unfortunately, without optical image stabilization video footage isn’t very smooth and shakes and jitters can be easily noticed even from the casual walk.

Black and white photography doesn’t necessarily appeal to me, but in the right situation in can make your shot look more dramatic. The depth effect or portrait mode on the other hand is no better or worse than what we’ve seen from other smartphones that can do the same thing. It can look convincing in some cases but when the subject has more complex edges, like in the case of flowers or a person’s hair, that’s when it starts to look artificial.

General picture quality on the Z2 Force has been pleasant. Color reproduction is nice and accurate with just a tad amount of saturation to make the images pop. There’s plenty of detail in daytime photography and the camera handles shadows and highlights fairly well leading to overall good dynamic range. In low light is where the camera struggles the most. The lack of OIS means the camera is much slower to capture, resulting in a lot of out of focus shots and a noticeable lack of sharpness and detail.

The front facing camera is a 5 megapixel shooter at f/2.2 with a front facing LED flash that’s sufficient for taking selfies. The LED flash is great for illuminating your face in dark situations without being overly harsh but it has a tendency to crush details in the background that you may prefer the results with it turned off.

Software

Motorola’s software experience has always been one of the best in Android and the story is no different on the Z2 Force. It’s running Android 7.1.1 and of course what makes the experience so great is how close it is to stock Android. Motorola’s usual suite of useful software additions are also on board, which includes the double chop for turning on the flashlight, wrist twist to launch the camera, and battery friendly notifications with Moto display just to name a few.

It’s the cleanest software experience you’ll find outside of a Pixel or a OnePlus 5 but carrier versions inevitably come with pre-installed bloatware. The amount of bloatware will vary from carrier to carrier but the Verizon version that I’ve been using comes with Verizon’s entire suite of applications and other third party apps like Slacker Radio and NFL Mobile. An unlocked version was briefly available during the phone’s launch, which most likely would have been free of carrier bloat, but that since has been given the axe, and you’re now forced to pick a carrier when buying it direct from Motorola.

Specifications

Display 5.5-inch POLED ShatterShield
2560 x 1440 resolution
535 ppi
Processor 2.35 GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Mobile Platform
GPU Adreno 540
RAM 4 GB (U.S.)
6 GB (Rest of world)
Storage 64 GB (U.S.)
128 GB (China)
MicroSD Yes, up to 2 TB
Cameras Rear camera 1: 12 MP IMX 386 color sensor with 1.25µm pixels, f/2.0 aperture, PDAF, laser-assisted autofocus
Rear camera 2: 12 MP IMX 386 monochrome sensor with 1.25µm pixels, f/2.0 aperture, PDAF, laser-assisted autofocus

Front: 5 MP sensor with an f/2.2 aperture, 85-degree wide-angle lens, dual-tone flash

SIM Nano-SIM
Dual-SIM available in certain countries
Networks US Verizon+USC:
4G LTE (B1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 20, 25, 26, 28, 66)
CDMA (BC0, 1)
GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
UMTS/HSPA+ (B1, 2, 5, 8)

US Sprint:
4G LTE (B1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 12, 13, 17, 20, 25, 26, 41)
CDMA (BC0, 1, 10)
GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
UMTS/HSPA+ (B1, 2, 4, 5, 8)

US GSM Unlocked (ATT+TMO):
GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
UMTS/HSPA+ (B1, 2, 4, 5, 8)
4G LTE (B1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 17, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 38, 40, 41-Japan & China, 66, 252, 255)

Connectivity Bluetooth 4.2, upgrade to Bluetooth 5.0 after Android O update
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2.4 GHz + 5 GHz with MIMO
NFC
Moto Mods connector
USB Type-C port
3.5 mm to USB Type-C headphone port adapter included
Sensors Fingerprint
Accelerometer
Ambient Light
Gyroscope
Magnetometer
Barometer
Proximity
Ultrasonic
Audio monitor
Battery 2,730 mAh
Non-removable
15W TurboPower
Water resistance Water-repellent nano-coating
Software Android 7.1.1 Nougat
Colors Super Black, Fine Gold, Lunar Grey (T-Mobile only)
Dimensions and weight 155.8 x 76 x 6.1 mm
143 g

Gallery

Pricing and final thoughts

The Moto Z2 Force is available now directly from Motorola and through all U.S. carriers, and for a limited time you can get last year’s Moto Insta-share projector mod included for free. Pricing will vary from carrier to carrier, but directly from Motorola the phone will run you $720 which is already down 80 bucks from the initially announced release price.

With the Z2 Force’s availability on all major U.S. carriers, it’s clear that Motorola/Lenovo is making a big attempt in competing with other big name flagships and it certainly has all the raw power and specs in order to do so. But, in 2017, it takes more than a great spec sheet to grab consumers’ attention. Motorola made a few steps forward in differentiating their product by adding dual cameras and more unique Moto Mods, but they arguably took many more steps back.

There’s still no headphone jack despite the more mid-range Z2 Play carrying one, the Z2 Force is not water resistant like most flagships, and Motorola sacrificed the phone’s once hefty battery in favor of a thinner design. All of these are questionable decisions that prevents the Z2 Force from being an even better phone. There’s no doubt that the Z2 Force is a good phone, but it had the potential to be a great phone and when you’re pricing your phone to compete with the best, “good” just isn’t enough.

1
Sep

Sony Xperia XA1 Plus hands on


Sony took the wraps off of a slew of new smartphone offerings here at IFA 2017, and while the flagship Xperia XZ1 and Xperia XZ1 Compact definitely stole the limelight, the new addition to their mid-range line is definitely deserving of some attention as well. We go hands on and take a quick look at the Sony Xperia XA1 Plus!

Sony launched the Xperia XA1 and Xperia XA1 Ultra back during MWC earlier this year, and as far as specifications and features go, the new Xperia XA1 Plus falls right in the middle of the two. Sony’s signature design returns here, with the XA1 Plus featuring a metal build with rounded corners and a flat top and bottom.



The bezels are impressively thin along the sides of the display, but the top and bottom chin are really thick and feel almost unnecessarily at this point. While Sony may be keeping them in order to maintain its signature design, at a time when the industry as a whole is moving on to higher and higher screen-to-body ratios they look incredibly dated. At the very least, the extra space isn’t entirely a waste and is home to a dual front-facing speaker setup.

As mentioned, the XA1 Plus falls smack in the middle of its older siblings, and that starts with the size. While the XA1 and XA1 Ultra featured 5-inch and 6-inch displays respectively, the XA1 Plus comes with a 5.5-inch IPS LCD screen with a Full HD resolution. As was the case with the other two, this display also hits 100% of the sRGB color gamut.

Like the other two devices in the series, the XA1 Plus is also powered by a Mediatek Helio P20 processor, and comes with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of built-in storage that is further expandable via microSD card up to an additional 256 GB. As has always been the case with Sony’s smartphones, the US version of the XA1 Plus will not feature a fingerprint scanner, but it will be available in the European edition of the phone. You do get to take advantage of an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance however.



Things also remain identical in the camera department, with the XA1 Plus featuring a 23 MP rear shooter with a f/2.0 aperture. Up front is an 8 MP shooter though, which is better than what was available with the XA1, but not as good as the one found with the XA1 Ultra. Given that the main camera is the same, the camera performance of the XA1 Plus should impress the same way the others did, but we’ll definitely need to test it more before drawing any conclusions.

The one department that has received a much needed boost is in the battery, with the XA1 Plus packing in a battery that is larger than both of its siblings with its 3,430 mAh unit. With Qnovo Adaptive Charging and the Pump Express 2.0 fast charging technology on-board, you shouldn’t have a lot of trouble getting that large battery back to a full charge either.



On the software side of things, the Xperia XA1 Plus is running Android 7.1.2 Nougat, with Sony’s minimalistic UI on top. Sony has always done a great job of keeping the software experience as close to and as fast as stock Android, while still being aesthetically different enough to be its own thing. And of course, you do get Sony’s own set of apps on-board that help further enhance the experience.

So, there you have it for this quick hands on with the Sony Xperia XA1 Plus! While there are minor differences between the three smartphones in the XA1 series, what it essentially boils down to is your size preference. If you found the 5-inch XA1 to be too small and the 6-inch XA1 Ultra to be too big, the middle of the ground XA1 Plus may be the one that is best suited for you.

1
Sep

Microsoft pegs Windows 10 Fall Creators Update release for October 17


Why it matters to you

You can finalize your plans for updating all of your Windows 10 PCs to Fall Creators Update, now that Microsoft has officially announced its release date.

Windows 10 Fall Creators Update won’t be much of a surprise when it arrives, given months of Windows Insider previews unveiling its major features and functionality since it was announced earlier this year. The only real news that’s been awaiting its revelation is a released date, and today Microsoft announced that Fall Creators Update will arrive on October 17.

That’s a bit later than the September release that many Microsoft watchers expected. But it is definitely the fall, and so at least the title remains valid, if perhaps a bit boring. While the update itself isn’t as major as some of Windows 10’s earlier versions, it’s nevertheless full of some features that will make both creative types and regulars users happy.

As a recap, here are some of the new and enhanced features arriving with Windows 10 Fall Creators Update:

  • Enhanced Windows inking: Support for inking in PDFs. Smart Ink with artificial intelligence to automatically create shapes and turn simple shapes into complex objects.
  • Fluent design: Windows 10 will get better looking and better optimized for specific types of machines with the introduction of the new Fluent Design system.
  • Reimagined photos app: The Story Remix app and its features are being rolled into the Windows 10 Photos app, and not all of the features announced at Microsoft’s Build 2017 event will arrive by Fall Creators Update. But new ways to remix experiences with photos, video, music, 3D, and inking will make their way into the app with the update’s release.
  • OneDrive files on demand: One of the most-requested features of Microsoft’s cloud storage service, the ability see all OneDrive files while only downloading the files you need, will finally arrive via the new Files On-Demand feature.
  • Gaming enhancements: Microsoft continues to improve the Game Mode feature, focusing on improving gaming performance in Windows 10.
  • Improved security: Windows Defender is being made smarter and more effective in Fall Creators Update.
  • Accessibility advancements: Microsoft just introduced Windows 10 Eye Control, which uses eye tracker hardware to let users who can’t use a keyboard or mouse control Windows 10 and get real work done. The company is targeting those suffering from conditions like Lou Gehrig’s disease with the new feature, and in our testing, it held real promise for anyone with accessibility requirements.
  • Windows Mixed Reality: Technically speaking, the software foundation for Windows Mixed Reality arrived in Creators Update in the spring. However, Microsoft’s OEM partners are delivering the required low-cost headsets in October, marketing Fall Creators Update as the first where users will be able to experience Microsoft’s vision of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) at lower prices than ever.

Friday’s news comes at a great time, as the Windows 10 ecosystem has received a real boost with some excellent new machines and accessories introduced at IFA 2017. If you’ve been waiting patiently for Fall Creators Update to help take advantage of all the hardware that will be rolling out soon, at least now you know how much longer you’ll need to wait.




1
Sep

Here are all the announcements we expect to see at Apple’s September 12 event


It’s that time of year again. Apple will hold a press conference on September 12 to announce the new iPhone. The Cupertino, California-based company is no stranger to fall launch events. But rumor has it that the iPhone won’t be the only product on stage.

Here’s everything we expect to see at Apple’s September 12 event, which takes place at the company’s new Apple Park campus.

New iPhones: iPhone 8, iPhone 7S, and iPhone 7

iPhone 8 graphic found in HomePod software

If you’ve been waiting with baited breath for the next iPhone, you may have several to choose from. Apple’s expected to announce no more than three different iPhone models at its September 12 event: The iPhone 7S, iPhone 7S Plus, and iPhone 8.

The iPhone 8 may have a different name, such as the “iPhone X” or “iPhone: Decade Edition,” but it will be the headliner as it’s meant to pay tribute to the iPhone’s 10th anniversary. Expect a top-to-bottom redesign of the iPhone 7.

It might ditch its predecessor’s unibody for glass, ceramic, plastic, stainless steel, or a combination of the four. That’s  to accommodate a wireless charging feature that’ll recharge the iPhone 8 when it’s situated on a compatible pad, and to improve the phone’s overall water and dust resistance.

The iPhone 8 is also said to have an OLED (organic light-emitting diode) edge-to-edge screen that boasts deeper blacks, richer colors, and higher contrast than the iPhone 7’s LCD screen. A cutout near the top fits an earpiece, a front camera, proximity sensors — similarly to the Essential Phone — and a touchscreen “function area” replaces the iPhone’s physical home button with a virtual one. Gone is TouchID on the iPhone 8, replaced with a sophisticated facial recognition system that authenticates Apple Pay purchases, unlocks the iPhone, and mutes notifications when you’re gazing at the screen. The rear cameras have reportedly gotten an upgrade too — they’ll be vertically oriented on the iPhone 8’s rear instead of horizontally as they are now.

But all that technology won’t be cheap. The iPhone 8 is expected to retail for $1,000 for the lowest-end storage configuration, 64GB, and may go up to $1,400.

If that’s too rich for your blood, the iPhone 7S and iPhone 7S Plus are shaping up to be an attractive alternative. They’re rumored to retain the same design, dimensions, and screen size (4.7 inches and 5.5 inches), but sport glass backs compatible with the same wireless charging standard as the iPhone 8.

In any case, pricing of the iPhone 7 and 7S Plus is expected to start at $650 and $750, respectively — in line with the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus’s MSRP.

New Apple Watch: Apple Watch Series 3

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

New iPhones might not be the only thing Apple has up its sleeve — or its wrist. Apple’s expected to take the wraps off the next generation Apple Watch, tentatively called the Apple Watch Series 3. It reportedly won’t look all that different from the Apple Watch Series 2 or Apple Watch Series 1, but the devil’s in the details.

Cellular connectivity might be in tow, meaning you may find support for 4G LTE to at least one Apple Watch Series 3 model. This which would let wearers upload fitness data to the cloud1, stream tunes from Apple Music, and place and receive calls without the need for a tethered iPhone. It’s a feature that has already been available on several Android Wear smartwatches.

Modular wrist straps are another possibility. Along with an ultra-bright “micro-LED” display and longer-lasting battery, the Apple Watch Series 3 is said to support interchangeable bands with biometric sensors. One such prototype is a noninvasive blood glucose monitor that Apple CEO Tim Cook has tested personally, reportedly.

Pricing of the new Apple Watch isn’t rumored to change dramatically, but the LTE-enabled models could cost slightly more. We expect to see watches starting at $270.

4K Apple TV

The Apple TV, Apple’s Siri-touting set-top entertainment box, is getting a little old in the tooth. It’s not surprising the company is readying a follow-up.

The new Apple TV may be the first to support 4K and high-dynamic range (HDR) and the first with tvOS 11.0, the next major version of Apple’s TV-centric operating system. On a technological level, those are major leaps forward. 4K video is four times the resolution of 1080p, the current-gen Apple TV’s cap. HDR standards like Dolby Vision and HDR10, which the new Apple TV is rumored to support, meanwhile, are capable of delivering significantly more vivid, vibrant colors.

There might be more to the new Apple TV than support for 4K and HDR. It might have a larger hard drive, which seems especially likely given the size of 4K video files. A faster processor is a given too — the current-gen Apple TV uses the A8 chip, which launched on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus way back in 2014.

iOS 11

It’s pretty much a given we’ll see iOS 11, the newest version of Apple’s iPhone and iPad operating system, officially released at the September event. After all, it’s been available in beta since early summer — but Apple’s likely to highlight iPhone 8-specific features.

One of the most notable is the “function area,” the bottom-center region of the touchscreen that replaces the iPhone 8’s physical home button. The latest rumblings suggest it’ll disappear from view when you’re not using it, expanding the screen’s height. When you pull it up by dragging from the bottom of the screen, you’ll get contextually-dependent buttons a la the Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro.

Other changes have to do with iOS’ status bar. On the iPhone 8, where it’s cut off in the middle by the phone’s “notch,” Apple has reportedly moved the Wi-Fi, cellular, Bluetooth, time, and battery indicators to the  right or left of either side.

iOS 11 has other tweaks reportedly designed to take advantage of the iPhone 8’s hardware. A redesigned video player shifts the position of the volume, exit, and size controls to the upper left and right corners, slightly inset from the edges so as to avoid intersecting with the iPhone 8 screen’s cutout. And a new calculator with a darker interface seems to be optimized for the iPhone 8’s rumored high-contrast OLED display.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Among iOS’s other headliners is Apple’s augmented reality (AR) platform, ARKit; a redesigned App Store; the ability to send payments to friends via iMessage; a new Apple Files app that ties into third-party services like Dropbox, Google Drive, and Box; and new multitasking features for the iPad.

Expect Apple to announce the official launch of iOS 11 on September 12, if not sooner.

HomePod

Jeremy Kaplan/Digital Trends

Apple gave the world a glimpse of the HomePod, its Siri-equipped answer to Google Home and the Amazon Echo, at its WorldWide Developer Conference (WWDC) in June. It promised more to come in December, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see the HomePod make another appearance at the September event.

We don’t know much about the HomePod yet, here’s what we do know: It’s 7 inches tall and covered in acoustically treated mesh, and houses a 360-degree array of seven tweeters and a 4-inch, upward-facing woofer. An A8 processor powers its spacial awareness feature, which lets the HomePod automatically tune itself to any room. And if two HomePods are connected to the same Wi-Fi network, they’ll work together via Apple’s new multi-room AirPlay 2 standard.

Siri on the HomePod works just like it does on the iPhone and iPad. Six microphones pick up the wake phrase, “Hey Siri,” from anywhere in a room, and native HomeKit integration lets you turn on lights and trigger scenes with simple voice commands.

The HomePod starts at $350, and it isn’t expected to ship until the fourth quarter of this year. But Apple might announce pre-order availability during the event.

AirPods 2

When Apple did away with the 3.5mm headphone jack in the iPhone 7, it positioned its Bluetooth-enabled AirPods as an alternative to wired adapters. They might not be perfect, but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming some of the most popular wireless headphones on the market.

Apple could announce a follow-up to the AirPods during its September event, and if it does, they might have built-in biometric sensors. An Apple patent granted in July describes earbuds with EKG, impedance, and heart rate rate monitors.

The new AirPods might also improve on its predecessor’s sound quality. Another recent Apple patent shows a technique for minimizing occlusion, the booming echo effect you sometimes get when talking while wearing noise-canceling earbuds.

The jury’s out on whether or not Apple will unleash revamped earbuds on the world in September. But you can bet that when the second-gen Airpods eventually hit the market, they’ll sound better and do more than the current generation.




1
Sep

Best iOS app deals of the day! 6 paid iPhone apps for free for a limited time


Everyone likes Apple apps, but sometimes the best ones are a bit expensive. Now and then, developers put paid apps on sale for free for a limited time, but you have to snatch them up while you have the chance. Here are the latest and greatest iOS app deals available from the iOS App Store.

These apps normally cost money and this sale lasts for a limited time only. If you go to the App Store and it says the app costs money, that means the deal has expired and you will be charged. 

Stress Guide

Developed by stress experts, this app is made to help you quantifying your level of psychological or physical stress with the iPhone camera. The app also gives you personalized tips on how to cope with stress.

Available on:

iOS

C-Time

Your time is precious. C-Time is the app that helps you see how much of your valuable time you spend at certain places, or doing certain things.

Available on:

iOS

BlackCam

BlackCam helps you to take stunning black-and-white photographs with live preview. The app features live contrast, brightness, and exposure sliders.

Available on:

iOS

NiteFan

This app will allow you to choose between the sounds of four different fans to help you fall asleep when your head hits the pillow. Play one type of fan or mix them together to create your own custom fan sound.

Available on:

iOS

Sketch Me

Turn your photos into drawings, cartoons, or sketch images in one click, creating instant works of art. The app features 19 effects that promise to be easy to use.

Available on:

iOS

Relax Rain

Designed with simplicity in mind, Relax Rain is the simplest way to enjoy the relaxing and soothing sound of rain falling. Open up the app and sounds start playing automatically so you can relax and unwind.

Available on:

iOS




1
Sep

State-of-the-art scanning technique digitizes humans, sticks them in VR


Why it matters to you

The new technique may make virtual worlds even more immersive with lifelike human models.

Using an array of high-resolution cameras, scientists at Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute (HHI) in Berlin, Germany have developed a state-of-the-art scanning technique to capture realistic images of a person and transmit them to a virtual reality environment. The technology, which will be on display at IFA 2017 in Berlin, may make human actors in virtual and augmented reality experiences even more lifelike.

“Today you usually use animated avatars to model a person,” Ingo Feldmann, head of the Immersive Media and Communication group at Fraunhofer HHI, told Digital Trends. “So you create a model of a person in a 3D map and somehow capture the motion from a real actor and then you try to animate this model.”

The method developed by Feldmann and his team instead record high-resolution video using industrial stereo cameras, which capture an image with two lenses, much like a pair of human eyes. The array is made up of 32 of these cameras (Feldmann was tight-lipped about about the camera models) allowing it to record a subject’s movements in 360 degrees, creating a detailed and dynamic representation.

“We film the person directly in 3D,” Feldmann said, “in what we call volumetric video. There are cameras arranged around this actor … and these cameras create 2D images. From these images we create a 3D structure or model that looks completely natural. There are no animations, it’s the real person, and they can be inserted into a VR or AR experience.”

Of course, there’s a lot that goes into inserting the recorded video into a virtual world but, to make the task easier, the researchers created algorithms that can quickly extract the video’s depth data to calculate how the 3D figure should appear. Feldmann said the camera array is capable of capturing some 300 million triangles per person — far too many for a VR device to accommodate — so they must also reduce the complexity of the model.

“We have to adapt the resolution to the device,” he said.

The scientists have now opened a studio at Fraunhofer HHI where people can come to record models for VR and AR.

IFA 2016 was host to another state-of-the-art scanner, Botscan, which used 70 high-resolution DSLRs to capture an incredibly detailed, albeit static, 360-degree image.




1
Sep

Google Play Music and YouTube Red are the best deal in streaming right now


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You get a lot of video and music subscriptions vying for your money.

From music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music to video services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video, there’s more and more subscriptions anxious to get your money every month, but one of the best values in subscription streaming isn’t one subscription, it’s three.

It’s Google Play Music All Access! It’s YouTube Red! It’s YouTube Music! It’s all three in one!

Three services, one goal

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The oldest service in this little subscription pack is Google Play Music All Access, which launched back in 2013 with the service’s last major overhaul. Google Play Music All Access gives allows you to mix your free personal library of 50,000 songs with Google’s subscription library of 40 million songs. You can store your music offline for convenient playback without blowing your data cap, and you can use Play Music on up to 10 devices.

If you can get it, YouTube Red is a must-have subscription.

YouTube Red was the next addition in 2015, allowing you to ditch the ads on YouTube as well as view YouTube Red-only Originals programming. While Red’s original programming has been expanding and improving, it’s still safe to say that the best two features of YouTube Red are the three features you can use with regular YouTube videos: ditching ads, saving videos offline for playback later, and background play — the ability to listen to YouTube videos while you do something else on your phone. For people who use YouTube to listen to music, this feature was crucial.

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For music-listening YouTubers, there was another addition a few months after YouTube Red: YouTube Music, a dedicated Android and iOS app for browsing and listening to eligible musical YouTube videos. While YouTube Music is technically available for free users, there’s not much to do in the app unless you’re a YouTube Red subscriber. YouTube Music’s app has a more immersive UI, and more importantly, a dark UI. The stations in YouTube Music are also more customizable than the ones in the main YouTube app.

Standout features, overlooked services

youtube-music-offline-songs-hero-red.jpg This app is practically invisible.

While YouTube remains one of the most popular video sites in the world, Google Play Music is to most an afterthought behind Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. Even among YouTube users, YouTube Music is seldom used, if users remember it exists at all. Each of Google’s services on their own doesn’t always live up to a $10/month price tag, but when combined, they earn their keep and then some.

For instance, even if you run out of devices for Google Play Music, YouTube Red and YouTube Music don’t have device limits, ensuring that you’ll still have some music capabilities. YouTube Red allows you to make and download playlists almost as easily as Google Play Music does, and the playlists containing compatible videos appear in both YouTube Red and YouTube Music, allowing you to make playlists on YouTube’s desktop app and listen on the YouTube Music Android app.

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Then, of course, there’s Google Play Music All Access’s Family subscription, which allows users to pay $16/month for up to six users instead of $10 for one. In addition to sharing access to the All Access subscription, the other members of your Family Library also get YouTube Music and YouTube Red, eliminating their ads and enabling offline/background playback. Even though my family doesn’t use Google Play Music as frequently as I do, they’re more than happy to be rid of YouTube’s ads and take advantage of offline playback.

Merger on the horizon

Google having this ill-advertised three-for-one subscription isn’t exactly helping subscription numbers, and of course having to support three separate apps with different libraries, capabilities, and UIs divides Google’s efforts and keeps users from having a unified library. There’s been talk in the past of Google merging the services into one, and earlier this summer, Google confirmed its intentions to merge the services. In fact, the music teams for Play Music and YouTube were merged early this year, but for now the user face three separate but linked services with their own perks and pitfalls.

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Regardless of the confusion surrounding Google’s Play Music All Access/YouTube Red subscription, it’s hard to deny the benefits of the bundle when you see them all together:

  • Access to 40 million songs in Google Play Music All Access, as well as up to 50,000 personal uploaded songs from up to 10 devices and from most internet browsers
  • Combine personal, uploaded music with All access tracks in playlists and personalized radio stations
  • Download all your favorite music for offline playback
  • Watch billions of hours of videos on YouTube from creators big and small around the world without ads on your phone, computer, or TV
  • Listen to YouTube videos while completing other tasks on your phone, or with the screen off, with background playback
  • Save YouTube videos locally to play offline
  • Watch YouTube-original shows and movies
  • Listen to or watch millions of musical YouTube videos
  • Explore new music through customizable radio stations
  • Take your favorite musical YouTube videos offline with Offline mixtape and offline playlists

Really, if you live in a country that offers Google Play Music and YouTube Red, you’d be crazy not to subscribe to all that. Even Netflix doesn’t offer that much for $10/month, and we all know you can find way more stuff to watch on YouTube.

See at Google Play

1
Sep

R2-D2 and BB-9E are available now, Same Day Prime delivery in some areas


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Everyone’s favorite robot, and a sneak peek at something new.

Force Friday came with a special surprise from the folks at Sphero. Last time we were all amazed and excited by a Droid we could drive with our phone. This year for Force Friday, we got two new droids to play with. One is the eternally iconic R2-D2, and the other is an evil “upgrade” of the BB-8 we fell in love with during The Force Awakens. While we can speculate on how big a roll this BB-9E is going to play in The Last Jedi, we know for sure that it’s too cool to not own one.

And that’s the good news! Not only can you order R2-D2 and BB-9E from a bunch of different retailers right now, but Amazon is offering Same-Day Delivery in a lot of areas!

Each of these droids are available for $179, and the included app lets you do everything from drive around and pester your cat to watch your favorite Star Wars movies with your Droid and enjoy live reactions during the best scenes. Amazon’s Same-Day Delivery usually has a cut-off at noon, so if you’re looking to get these robots you better get on it now!

See R2-D2 at Amazon

See BB-9E at Amazon

1
Sep

Best Force Friday deals


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Force Friday has returned with more deals than you can shake a lightsaber at.

Last year we saw Force Friday on September 1, a day filled with tons of great deals on Star Wars merchandise. It’s returning this year with tons of great new deals from retailers you already know and love. We took the time to find you the best deals out there, so you can snag the items you want without trying to find the best place to do it.

Keep reading for all the details!

Star Wars Boba Fett helmet backpack

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Boba Fett is one of the best bounty hunters in the galaxy, and now you can carry him around with you where ever you go. This backpack weighs about two pounds, and has adjustable straps so that you can get the perfect fit. Best of all it’s available for $59.99 which is $40 cheaper than it usually is.

See at Kohl’s

Star Wars Tie Advanced X-1 1/72 scale

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When it comes to models, there are plenty of awesome Star Wars fighters and ships that you can choose from. Few are quite as memorable as the Tie fighter though, and on Force Friday, it’s more affordable than ever. This 1/72 scale model is available for $24.99 instead of its regular $29.99 price tag.

See at Gamestop

Star Wars alarm clock

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Not everyone has an easy time waking up for work, or an early morning run. If you’re not an early riser, or you’re in the market for a new alarm clock, then feast your eyes on this glorious BB-8 droid built to make sure you aren’t late for work. It’s usually $29.99, but you can pick it up on Force Friday for $7.99

See at Best Buy

Black Series Imperial Stormtrooper Voice Changer Helmet

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Plenty of folks have dreamed of being in the action of Star Wars, running from enemies, shooting back at your foes, and dressing up as storm troopers. If you’ve been looking for an amazing helmet for your collection, now is definitely the time. The Black Series Imperial Stormtrooper helmet is a replica of the Storm Trooper helmets from Rogue One, and it includes a voice changer that will let you sound like one of those troopers. Usually available for $79.99, you can pick it up for $43.99

See at Best Buy

Mr. Potato Head Star Wars Darth Vader

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Mr. Potato head is easily one of the most recognizable toys on the market, and just about everyone has played with one at one point or another. Now you can snag a special Darth Vader potato head, complete with a full Vader get up and a light saber. Generally, this toy runs for $19.99, but you can pick it up Friday for $9.99

See at Best Buy

Star Wars cordless wall clock

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While wall clocks are certainly not as popular as they once were, having one that shows off your favorite movie series is easier to rationalize. This wall clock is 13.5 inches and features artwork from the original trilogy featuring many fan favorite characters. It’s available for $7.99 which is a drop from the usual price of $20.99.

See at Best Buy

Kylo Ren ultimate FX lightsaber

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Plenty of Star Wars fans have spent years wishing they had a lightsaber of their very own, and now they’re in the unique position of raising a new generation of Star Wars fans who want the same thing. Those kids are in luck though, because you can snag Kylo Ren’s lightsaber on sale. It lights up, makes lightsaber noises, and is built to look just like Kylo Ren’s own lightsaber. Usually available for $59.99 you can pick it up on Force Friday for $29.99

See at ToysRUs

Kylo Ren 17-inch Animatronic figurine

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Kylo Ren is currently the villain that is most recognizable for Star Wars in the new trilogy. This Animatronic figure brings the character to life, with 31 points of articulation, and a motion activated lightsaber. Generally, you’d have to shell out $99.99 for this figure, but this Friday you can snag one for just $49.99.

See at ToysRUs

Air Hogs XL Millenium Falcon drone

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Drones are awesome, and nobody can deny that the Millenium Falcon is epic as well. Now the two of them come together with the XL Millenium Falcon drone. It features light up Chewie and Han Solo figurines in the cockpit can be controlled up to 250 feet away, and a 6-axis gyro. Usually you’d be looking at spending $299.99, but on Force Friday it’s available for just $108.28.

See at Walmart,cta.shop

Air Hogs remote control X-Wing

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Some of the most exciting scenes in the Star Wars franchise come when X-Wings are diving through canyons, and dog fighting against imperial enemies. The Airhogs remote control X-Wing lets you bring those scenes to life, with an X-Wing drone of your very own. It’s got a foam padded body to help shield it from tough landings, ducted fans embedded in the wings to let it fly, and a 250 foot range. You can snag it for $21.48 instead of it’s usual price of $59.86.

See at Walmart

Air Hogs Star Wars Speeder Bike

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Zooming through the forests of Endor on a Speeder Bike, this RC Speeder Bike drone will allow you to pivot through the air. Built to look like the Speeder Bikes from the movies, this drone features a sturdy build to help protect it from crash landings, an adjustable height-lock technology to give it a stable flight, and a 200ft range. You can snag it for $39.31 instead of it’s usual price of $84.48.

See at Walmart

Air Hogs Star Wars Star Destroyer drone

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Of the many ships featured in Star Wars, some of the most awe inspiring are the massive Star Destroyers. This drone brings them to life, with a Star Destroyer drone of your very own. Built to look just like the Destroyers from the franchise, and is built to be sturdy in case of any accidental crash landings. It features 2.4GHz remote control up to 250ft, LED thrusters, and gyro stabilization to keep it steady. It’s available for $22.97 instead of the normal $109.97.

See at Walmart

1
Sep

Force Friday II: Find the Force with the help of the Star Wars app


Force Friday is even bigger this year than the last time. Use the Star Wars app to find all the cool stuff near you!

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Force Friday is a special merchandising event that signifies the official launch of a new line of official Star Wars themed goodies. The first one took place in August of 2015, leading up to the release of Star Wars: A Force Awakens. This year, Disney is going all out with dozens of sponsored events, incredible licensed merchandise, and even a treasure hunt wherein fans can seek out their favorite characters in augmented reality (AR) at participating retailers. It’s called Find the Force and it runs Sept. 1 – 3.

The official Star Wars app is your go-to place for finding everything you need for a day of AR character hunting fun. Sure, there are some amazing toys and swag releasing throughout the weekend, but the real fun is in finding the Force around you.

If you already have the official Star Wars app make sure it is updated to the latest version so you can use the newly added Find the Force augmented reality feature. Once updated, you’ll see Find the Force on the Home page. Tap it to find out more about it.

What is Find the Force?

It’s a treasure hunt in AR. When you visit a participating retailer and scan the Find the Force QR code, a Star Wars character will appear in the camera’s viewfinder. You can have your friend stand next to the AR character for pictures and videos, or just take a snapshot without real-life friends.

When you Find the Force using AR, you’ll collect data chips, which are basically achievements for finding the characters. There are 15 Star Wars characters to collect. You don’t have to find 15 different QR codes though. Different characters are unlocked every day. So you can visit the same location across all three days to unlock a different one each time. Though, you’ll probably have to visit a few different locations across all three days in order to find all 15 characters (at least five locations).

Where can I find Find the Force QR logos?

Some codes can be found at physical locations, while others are available online. Different locations will unlock different characters. That’s the fun of a treasure hunt!

Find the Force takes place all over the world at Disney stores, Toys “R” Us, Best Buy, LEGO stores, and many more. Disney has an official list of participating retailers and websites you can check to see which locations in your area have the Find the Force logo. Across the U.S., the most notable stores that are participating in the campaign are Disney Store, Best Buy, Target, Walmart, Toys “R” Us, Staples, Petco, JC Penny, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Gamestop, but there are dozens more that will feature Force Friday events and merchandise.

If you aren’t going to be able to make it out of the house for the entire weekend, you can also try to hunt down all 15 characters online. These websites have Find the Force QR logos on their Star Wars pages. Hold your phone up to the logo and scan it to see what new character you’ve unlocked. Remember to visit every day over the weekend to see new characters.

  • Walmart
  • ThinkGeek
  • The Northwest
  • The Exchange
  • Tee Turtle
  • Staples
  • Selk’Bag
  • RoomMates Décor
  • Regal Robot
  • Pottery Barn Kids
  • NEX, Navy Exchange
  • Marvel Comics
  • Mattel/Hot Wheels
  • IDW Publishing
  • Hot Topic
  • Her Universe
  • Hasbro
  • Gamestop
  • FYE
  • Fantasy Flight Games
  • Fanatics
  • Entertainment Earth
  • Cufflinks
  • Brookstone
  • Boxlunch
  • Best Buy
  • Bed, Bath, and Beyond

How else can the Star Wars app help me Find the Force?

Your treasure hunt isn’t over just because you’ve found all 15 characters. There’s actually one more special AR event that you might be able to check out if you live close enough. There are 20 iconic locations around the world that will unveil a unique Star Wars scene when you visit one.

If you are within a mile of one of the geographic landmarks, you can point your phone at the sky to see the scene play out. The special scenes are available until September 3. Time to plan a road trip!

Here’s a list of the landmarks and their map coordinates.

  • Central Park | USA | 40.781,-73.966

  • CN Tower | Canada | 40.781,-73.966

  • Coca-Cola London Eye | UK | 51.501,-0.124

  • Copacabana Beach | Brazil | -22.973,-43.185

  • Eiffel Tower | France | 48.862,2.288

  • Gamla Stan | Sweden | 59.325,18.071

  • Golden Gate Bridge | USA | 37.807,-122.469

  • Gran Via | Spain | 40.420,-3.706

  • Grand Canyon | USA | 36.061,-112.109

  • Ha’Penney Bridge | Ireland | 53.346,-6.263

  • Hollywood Sign | USA | 34.127,-118.326

  • Lumpini Park | Thailand | 13.729,100.542

  • Memorial de America Latina | Brazil | -23.527,-46.663

  • Merlion Park | Singapore | 1.286,103.854

  • Niagara Falls | Canada | 43.083,-79.078

  • Piazza del Duomo | Italy | 43.773,11.255

  • Schloss Charlottenburg | Germany | 52.520, 13.295

  • Sydney Harbour Bridge | Australia | -33.861,151.221

  • Victoria Harbour | Hong Kong | 22.294,114.169

  • Yoyogi Park | Japan | 35.672,139.694

Looking for more Force Friday II info?

All the new Star Wars toys announced on Force Friday II

These are the Star Wars drones you’re looking for

Close up with Lenovo’s Star Wars Jedi Challenges

How are you spending Force Friday II?

Are you visiting any Star Wars themed events? Did you stay up late to grab the new toys? Will you travel around your city to collect all the Find the Force characters? Let us know your Force Friday plans.

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