Skip to content

Archive for

22
Oct

After Math: The fix is in


It was a difficult week for the truth — and not just how the president coerced a four-star general to lie about the sentiments he made to a grieving war widow. More than half of tech experts now doubt we can fix the “fake news” problem, Congress rolled out a new bill to make online political ads more transparent, Google served “fake ads” to fact-checking news sites, and the NFL teamed up with TicketMaster to take down scalpers. Numbers, because how else will you measure what little integrity you have left?

22
Oct

Fitbit Ionic review: Good fitness tracker, passable smartwatch


Fitbit’s first real smartwatch was the worst kept secret in tech. After months of rumors, leaks and the acquisition of smartwatch pioneer Pebble that all but revealed the company’s intentions, Fitbit presented the Ionic to the world. It was a promising debut, featuring a shiny new operating system built with Pebble’s expertise. The company also unveiled its own contactless payment system meant to make running or working out without a phone feel more feasible.

This is Fitbit’s most ambitious launch in years, which is timely given that 2017 marks the company’s tenth anniversary. But it’s also overdue. The Fitbit Ionic arrives at a time when the definition of a smartwatch is coalescing. The Ionic feels more like a fitness tracker with just enough smartwatch features to justify calling itself one, but doesn’t have the full functionality we’ve come to expect from the category. Still, the Ionic does make some sense, as long as you aren’t expecting a complete suite of smartwatch features.

Hardware

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The Fitbit Ionic looks a lot better in person than it does in pictures. That doesn’t mean it’s pretty, though. The Ionic’s geometric design and squarish face make it hard to dress up, even when I swapped out the default gray strap for Fitbit’s brown leather band. In fact, I find the leather band with “Cognac” finish uglier than the original — its coppery brown tone and perforated texture lack the class of a plain leather band and doesn’t match the gray face. At least it’s easy to switch the straps out for something more attractive.

That said, Fitbit designed the Ionic to fit aesthetically with the rest of its products, and there’s no mistaking this smartwatch for one from any other brand. Like the company’s previous Blaze and Surge watches, the Ionic is a fitness tracker masquerading as a smartwatch, and I’m not just talking about looks. But more on that later.

First, I have to give Fitbit props for improving the Ionic’s overall fit. While the Charge 2, Alta and Flex 2 have cylindrical modules with straight surfaces, the Ionic’s body and screen are subtly curved. Because of this, the watch hugs my wrist better than the company’s other trackers, which helps keep the heart rate sensor in place during workouts and during sleep.

My favorite thing about the Ionic’s hardware, though, is its brilliant display. Like I said before, the 1.42-inch, 348 x 250 screen is sharp, colorful and bright enough to read in direct sunlight, which makes up for my disappointment in the fact that it’s not round. The display is also responsive and doesn’t lag when I swipe through menus and lists of notifications. Overall, the latest Fitbit feels at once familiar and refreshing, thanks to its beautiful screen and premium build quality.

In use

There’s really not much more to go over that I haven’t already covered in my hands-on and 24-hour “first look” pieces. The biggest news is that since my last article was published, Fitbit Pay has gone live. It’s one of a few features Fitbit recently added to the Ionic to ease anxiety about leaving your phone at home while you’re working out.

Now that Pay is live, you can add your debit or credit card via the Fitbit app on your phone. (Visa, Mastercard, Amex and a growing number of major banks are supported.) Fitbit Pay is accepted anywhere that takes NFC transactions. For security, you’ll be asked to set a four-digit PIN that you’ll later use to verify each payment and unlock your watch if you’ve removed it from your wrist.

I loaded a debit card on the watch (you can save up to six and set one as the primary option) and used it to buy sheet protectors at the Staples across the street. It was as easy as using Apple Pay on my phone, except I had to enter the PIN before authorizing the transaction rather than authenticate with Touch ID. Still, that’s a minor inconvenience for the benefit of knowing I can leave my phone behind and not be stranded if I need to buy something.

Another useful addition is the ability to play music from the watch’s 4GB of onboard storage. There are two ways to do this: via the Pandora app (if you have a paid Premium account) or transferring files from your PC. Both methods have their drawbacks and aren’t easy to set up. The Pandora app on the watch takes forever to sync playlists that I select from the phone, causing me to wonder if it was successful. After it syncs, though, Pandora generally works well.

As I described in my preview, Fitbit’s system took an excruciatingly long time for my laptop and Ionic to find each other. You also had to manage your music by using Windows Media or iTunes playlists, which isn’t very intuitive. Since then, the company has updated its Windows app so users can manage individual tracks directly in the app. You can drag and drop music files into the Fitbit window or browse your computer’s storage to add songs. This was a welcome improvement that made it easier to transfer files. Kudos for making this change, Fitbit.

Like any smartwatch worth its salt, the Ionic delivers notifications to your wrist. But unlike many of its rivals, the Ionic doesn’t allow you to reply to them. That’s strange, considering Pebble watches managed to let you reply to messages (even with your voice in some cases) if you’re paired to an Android or an iPhone.

The preview of each alert that comes to your wrist is usually sufficiently long — I always saw all the contents of the tweets or texts I received. For emails, though, the alert is often truncated right after the subject line, which is useless at times.

Then there are the apps (or lack thereof). Fitbit pre-installs about a dozen to start you off, including alarms, weather, music, timers and Today (which shows you a snapshot of your progress toward daily step and calorie goals). Third-party apps available at launch include Pandora, Strava and Starbucks. These are useful, but the relatively sparse offerings makes me feel like I’m in a library where the shelves are mostly empty and all the books I want are missing. I’m still waiting on offerings from Yelp, Uber and Foursquare, which had apps for the Pebble watches back in the day, and were some of the earliest to get on board. Such apps would go a long way in making the Ionic feel more like a real smartwatch.

Smartwatch ambitions aside, the Fitbit Ionic is a capable fitness tracker. I used it to track 20-minute sessions on a stationary bike, during which I compared its readout with the heart rate data on the watch. The Ionic was usually within 2 bpm of the bike, unless I sped up and my pulse jumped drastically. Then, the Ionic would lag the bike in noting the increase. This delay is problematic for people who pay attention to the cardio zone they’re in while working out, since it affects the amount of time you record in each zone, but the Ionic does eventually catch up and the difference often evens out.

I still like the new Coach feature, which guides you through workouts on your wrist. During this round of testing, however, I was frequently interrupted by incoming message alerts. After each set, the Ionic buzzes to let you know that you can stop and move on to the next exercise. But notifications from my chatty friends caused similar buzzes, which led me to think that my set was over when I still had more reps to complete. Although you can turn notifications off manually, it’d be better if Fitbit disabled incoming alerts by default when a workout session was in progress.

The Ionic’s sleep tracking is more reliable than previous Fitbits, thanks to its snugger fit. The data gleaned and presented in the app remains as useful as it was before, which is — not very. What I’ve learned from my days of wearing the Ionic to bed is that I tend to spend more time in the REM stage than other women my age. It took me about an hour of Googling to realize that researchers still don’t necessarily know how much sleep in each stage is ideal. I found out through my own digging that REM sleep is thought to be when the brain heals and forms memories, so I decided (very unscientifically) that my higher-than-normal time in that stage meant I must remember more than others.

The point being, I really shouldn’t need to spend all that time on Google to find out what I did. Fitbit could have easily told me, inside the app, what REM sleep is thought to improve while cautioning that sleep-stage studies have been inconclusive. Instead, it shows me how I performed relative to my previous nights and others my age. That’s still more than the information you can get from competing trackers, though, which at the moment still don’t use the heart rate monitor to understand what stage of sleep you’re in.

Here’s my biggest problem with the Ionic. Trying to get any of the new features to work often involved a frustrating update process. It took hours to complete the firmware update with Fitbit Pay. When I tried to set it up, I was told my WiFi connection (to the watch) was broken so I had to use Bluetooth instead. After agreeing to that, I was warned the update could take up to 10 minutes.

Ten minutes later, I was running late for a meeting and according to the progress bar on the watch, the Ionic was only a third done. I decided to run out mid-update, hoping that the Bluetooth connection wouldn’t be interrupted as I made my commute. No such luck; the update stalled. Two hours later, I had to reset the connection between my phone and the watch to re-initiate the update. Fifteen minutes after that, the Ionic update as finally complete.

Delays like this are less of an issue if the updates are infrequent, but since some of the Ionic’s key features have yet to be released, users are likely to endure this time-consuming process again sometime soon. For example, the watch’s SpO2 blood oxygen monitor isn’t being used at the moment as Fitbit figures out how to implement it, but once that feature is activated, Ionic owners will presumably have to update their firmware.

Then in 2018, the company is launching the Guided Health programs, which will create customized workout and health programs for each user, as well as push audio exercise instructions through the watch to paired earbuds. These sound like compelling features that I’d like to make use of, but I’m already bracing myself for the potentially long wait time to get them working. Fitbit needs to figure out a way to make its device updates less painful if it’s going to keep launching products before all the features are ready.

Ultimately, what’s available now works well, and while Fitbit struggles to get the Ionic’s smartwatch functions right, the company continues to excel at fitness-tracking features. The Ionic’s long-lasting battery, which generally got through five or six days before needing a charge, is perhaps its best feature,and beats basically every other product in the category.

The competition

This is the year every major player in the fitness wearables industry decided to make a $300 smartwatch. Apple, Samsung and Garmin each launched fitness-minded smartwatches this year, and almost all of which support third-party apps, contactless payments and offline music playback.

Unlike the Ionic, the Samsung Gear Sport and Garmin Vivoactive 3 have round faces, while the Apple Watch 3 has a rounded-square shape. If you want something that looks more like a traditional timepiece, Samsung and Garmin’s offerings are better options. iPhone owners will understandably be tempted by the Apple Watch 3, even though it’s slightly more expensive at $329 (and that’s without LTE). The Apple wearable lets iOS users reply to messages, interact with Siri and offers an abundance of useful apps — all things that the Ionic lacks. But if you’re already heavily invested in the Fitbit ecosystem, perhaps from having used an older device, you might prefer the Ionic.

The Gear Sport, on the other hand, is a good option for those who own Samsung’s TVs, phones or a Smartthings hub, as the watch offers additional features when paired with those devices. The Sport is not only waterproof up to 50 meters, but will also withstand immersion in saltwater. It runs the company’s Tizen OS, which now boasts thousands of apps including Spotify, WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.

Like the Ionic, the Gear Sport can also track your swims, but it goes one step further and measures your heart rate even when it’s underwater. Better yet, the Gear Sport works with Samsung’s assistant, Bixby, to answer your questions or help you compose messages, and you can reply to notifications from your wrist. From a brief hands-on in August, the Gear Sport’s screen appears just as bright and crisp as the Ionic’s, but we can’t totally vouch for the Gear Sport since we haven’t fully tested it.

SONY DSC

Runners might prefer the Garmin Vivoactive 3, which uses the company’s own basic smartwatch OS, and it supports more apps than the Ionic does at the moment. Garmin’s device can track more types of exercises and has an established reputation as a leader in GPS technology, so it’s likely to be best at mapping your runs. Plus, its estimated runtime of seven days makes the Garmin watch the only device on this list to outlast the Fitbit. But the Vivoactive 3’s transflective “memory-in-pixel” screen looks more like a color e-Ink display and is less impressive than the Ionic’s LCD panel. To be fair, we haven’t tested the the Vivoactive 3 and can’t vouch for its performance and battery life.

Each of the above options has its own strengths, but if you’re looking for something long-lasting with well-rounded fitness-tracking features, the Ionic is a good option.

Wrap-up

Ultimately, the Ionic is a respectable debut for Fitbit’s first serious attempt at a true smartwatch, and the company continues to excel at fitness-tracking features. But while its new operating system is intuitive and well-designed, overall the device still feels like a placeholder. Fitbit wanted to secure the Ionic’s spot on your wrist this holiday season before it was completely ready.

As it stands, the Ionic is a capable fitness tracker with some passable smartwatch features. It’s clear that Fitbit will continue to improve its software, but the magic it needs for the Ionic to seriously contend real smartwatches is faith. Faith from the app makers who were so enthusiastic about Pebble OS and developed hundreds of offerings that made the pioneer smartwatch not only useful, but a lot of fun. Until that happens, the Ionic is simply functional.

22
Oct

The best tablets you can buy


Tablets may be fading in popularity, but there are still some great devices out there. If you’re in the market for a new tablet, then we’re here to help you cut down that short list and snag the right one for you.

Apple’s iPad range still dominates the scene, but there are some innovative alternatives running Android and Windows. We also have top picks for the budget-conscious and for kids. These are the best tablets you can buy right now.

Our pick

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: The iPad boasts a vibrant display, silky smooth performance, and long battery life, all at an affordable price.

Our Score

The best tablet

Apple iPad 9.7

A great all-rounder that will meet the needs of most people.

$329.00 from Apple

Who’s it for: Everybody who wants a tablet.

How much will it cost: $330

Why we picked the Apple iPad (2017):

The iPad has deservedly dominated the tablet scene for years now, and the fifth-generation iPad (2017) is the culmination of all of Apple’s experience. There are no bells and whistles here. If you want innovation, keep looking. This is a solid, accessible all-rounder that delivers a really good tablet experience at a reasonable price.

The bright, 9.7-inch display is perfect for watching videos. Although it’s slightly thicker than the iPad Air 2, it feels slim and light to handle, with Apple’s usual high standards shining through in build quality. Inside there’s Apple’s A9 processor with an embedded M9 co-processor and 2GB of RAM, but all you really need to know is that it runs smoothly. Whether you’re skipping in and out of apps, browsing the web, watching a movie, or playing the latest games, the iPad delivers lag-free performance.

If you must take photos with your tablet, there’s an excellent 8-megapixel rear camera with an f/2.4 aperture, that’s fast and capable of capturing plenty of detail. The 1.2-megapixel selfie camera has an f/2.2 aperture, which is adequate for Facetime at 720p, but little else.

The battery life is fantastic. The thicker body allowed Apple to pack in a larger 8,610mAh battery and it just goes and goes. You can expect more than 10 hours of HD video playback from a single charge, and with normal use on Wi-Fi you might reasonably expect to go a week between charges.

If you’re looking for weak spots, then we direct you toward the single, bottom-firing speaker. Beyond that there are no glaring flaws here and we think it’s the best tablet you can buy without having to spend a lot more money.

Our full Apple iPad (2017) review

The best Android tablet

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is the closest an Android tablet comes to replicating the iPad Pro, and boasts an absolutely gorgeous display.

Our Score

The best Android tablet

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3

Slim and sleek with a great display and solid battery life.

$599.99 from Samsung

$599.99 from B&H Photo

Who’s it for: Anyone looking for an Android-based iPad alternative.

How much will it cost: $600

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3:

Despite some odd design flaws, the Galaxy Tab S3 is a quality gizmo, with an absolutely gorgeous display. There’s no tablet in the world with a screen capable of rivaling the S3’s 9.7-inch Super AMOLED, and it supports HDR content (which companies like Netflix and YouTube are making increasingly available these days). Even viewing non-HDR content on the S3’s 2,048 × 1,536-pixel display is an absolute joy.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor (the same chip you’ll find in popular flagship smartphones like LG’s G5 and Samsung’s own Galaxy S7 Edge) works fine, despite its relative age, and 4GB of RAM is more than enough to keep the tablet humming happily. The included 32GB of onboard storage is a bit disappointing, but it can be expanded via MicroSD card if you’re looking to download lots of stuff.

The Tab’s speakers are respectably loud, and it’s got cameras on both the front and back — though the rear-facing 13-megapixel camera is capable of recording 4K video at 30 frames per second, while the front camera is good enough for selfies and video chat, but little else.

This time around, Samsung has paired its custom TouchWiz interface with Android 7 Nougat, and it works like a charm. Split-screen functionality is better than ever, with lots of neat tricks to learn over time. Despite a bit of bloatware that the tablet won’t let you delete, the software here is generally very good.

The battery lasts an exceptional 10+ hours, and the included stylus pen interacts smoothly with the tablet’s screen. The downside is the physical design of the Tab S3. Most people use tablets in landscape orientation (read: sideways), but the S3 seems to be designed more for use in portrait. Also, the fingerprint sensor is frustratingly unreliable, and often requires multiple attempts (regardless of how you’re holding the device).

If you’re devoted to Android devices, the Tab S3 is a good choice. Unfortunately, it’s not quite the natural progression we had hoped for from the S2, and there are some annoying issues most people won’t be able to get past. Worth a look, but the price tag is pretty unbecoming.

Our full Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review

The best small tablet

Why should you buy this: The iPad Mini is that perfect meshing of power and portability. You can take it anywhere and read or watch shows on it with ease.

Our Score

The best small tablet

Apple iPad Mini 4

You won’t find a better small tablet available today.

$399.00 from Apple

Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a smaller tablet.

How much will it cost: $400+

Why we picked the iPad Mini 4:

It doesn’t quite hit the high notes of Apple’s bigger iPads, but the iPad Mini 4 still benefits from an attractive metal design, a fast processor, and a great app and game library.

You’ll find the 7.9-inch display is a pleasure to read on and it’s a great size and weight to hold comfortably. It’s good for watching movies or gaming, too, though you’ll probably want headphones to go with it. Battery life is solid, offering a good 10 hours between charges.

Portability is the reason to pick the iPad Mini 4. If you want an iPad and need something smaller in size or price, then this is it.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the size that has been scaled down here — the iPad Mini 4 is not as lightning fast as its bigger siblings. It’s also expensive. However, you can’t beat the iPad Mini if it’s a small tablet you want.

Our full iPad Mini 4 review

The best premium tablet

Why should you buy this: The iPad Pro 10.5, the middle child of Apple’s iPad Pro product family, is a productivity powerhouse.

Our Score

The best

Apple 10.5‑inch iPad Pro

It’s the perfect blend of power and portability.

$649.00 from Apple

$649.00 from Target

Who’s it for: Creatives, tablet enthusiasts, and die-hard stylus users.

How much will it cost: $650

Why we picked the iPad Pro 10.5:

Apple added a wrinkle to prospective iPad buyers’ plans when it launched the iPad Pro 10.5, a midsized bridge between the iPad Pro 12.9 and the iPad Pro 9.7. But the Cupertino, California-based company’s decision turned out to be one of the best it made all year.

The iPad Pro 10.5 is significantly more portable than its 12.9-inch counterpart. Narrower screen edges, lightweight aluminum, and an ultra-thin design contribute to a body that’s about the size of the iPad Pro 9.7.

Speaking of the screen, it is one that’s hard to beat. It’s 2,224 x 1,668 pixels in resolution and benefits from Apple’s ProMotion technology, which boosts the refresh rate to a buttery-smooth 120Hz.

Sluggish performance is a rarity on the iPad Pro 10.5, thanks to its powerful A10X Fusion processor. And the iPad’s 64GB of internal storage (up to 512GB, depending on the model) supplies more than enough room for movies, music, photos, and apps.

Despite all the improvements, the iPad Pro 10.5 doesn’t compromise on battery. It lasts up to 10 hours on charge, and even longer if you turn down the screen brightness.

If there’s a downside, it’s that the iPad Pro 10.5’s accessories aren’t cheap. The Apple Pencil stylus, an arguable selling point, costs $100. The Smart Keyboard, a keyboard case for the iPad Pro 10.5, is $160.

But even still, the iPad Pro 10.5’s aesthetics, raw power, and long-lasting battery life earn it a place in the pantheon of high-performance tablets. For the price, there’s nothing better.

Our full iPad Pro 10.5 review

The best cheap tablet

Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: The Fire HD 10 may be too Amazon-centric for some, but Prime subscribers and Alexa users will appreciate its ease of use.

Our Score

The best cheap tablet

Amazon Fire HD 10 (2017)

These rock bottom prices cannot be beat.

$149.99 from Amazon.com

Who’s it for: Amazon enthusiasts on a budget.

How much will it cost: $150

Why we picked the Fire HD 10:

Amazon’s Fire HD 10 (2017), a refresh of last year’s HD 10, doesn’t bring much new to the table. The improvements that are here, however, are enough to warrant a wholehearted recommendation.

The Fire HD’s all-plastic body belies its impressive speakers. They’re arranged in right-left stereo configuration and optimized with Dolby Atmos to deliver loud, crisp sound in movies, TV shows, and Amazon’s Prime Music streaming service.

But the real star of the show is Alexa. The Fire HD 10 is the first Amazon tablet with hands-free support for the retailer’s voice assistant, and it works spectacularly well. Asking questions about popular movies, nearby restaurants, and the weather pulls up visual results on the Fire HD 10’s screen (even when it’s locked). That’s just the tip of the iceberg: Alexa on the Fire HD can also control smart home devices, order pizza, call an Uber, and perform many of the same tasks as Amazon’s Echo speakers.

Just as impressive as the Fire HD 10’s Alexa integration is its battery life. It lasts about 10 hours of mixed-use involving reading, gaming, and streaming. Switch power-saving features like Smart Suspend on and you can extend it even further. The Fire HD 10’s Fire OS software, a customized version of Android, isn’t for everyone. But folks immersed in the Amazon ecosystem will appreciate For You, a recommendation engine that puts videos, apps, games, and movies from the retailer’s library on your home screen.

Perfect tablets are a rare find at the sub-$200 price point, and the Fire HD 10 isn’t one of them — its screen isn’t as sharp or vibrant as we’d like, and the hardware struggles under heavy load. But you won’t find a better tablet at this price point.

Our full Fire HD 10 review

The best kids tablet

Amazon

Why should you buy this:

The best kids tablet

Fire Kids Edition Tablet

It’s an affordable kid-friendly tablet that makes things easy for parents.

$99.99 from Amazon

Who’s it for: Young kids who need supervision.

How much will it cost: $130

Why we picked the Fire HD 8 Kids Edition:

Amazon’s refreshed Fire 8 HD Kids Edition (2017) makes its long-running line of kid-friendly tablets even better.

An 8-inch, high-resolution screen (1,280 x 800 pixels) delivers bright and vibrant colors, and a thick rubber case around the tablet’s frame cushions against accidental drops. The tablet’s 32GB of internal storage (expandable via MicroSD) offers more than enough storage for books, games, and other media, and the beefy internal battery guarantees 12 hours of charge.

When it comes to parental controls, the Fire HD 8 Kids Edition is second to none. Its Fire OS software, a customized version of Android, lets parents manage usage limits, set educational goals, and restrict access to age-inappropriate content. And the recently launched Parent Dashboard supplies parents with discussion questions related to the books their kids are reading.

The improvements don’t stop there. The Fire HD 8 includes fee-free access to Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited, a library of more than more than 15,000 kid-appropriate games, apps, educational content, books, and videos from PBS Kids, Nickelodeon, Disney, and others. And every purchase is backed with Amazon’s two-year, no-questions-asked replacement policy: If the Fire HD 8 breaks, Amazon will replace it.

Simply put, there’s no better tablet for young kids who still need parental supervision.

The best Windows tablet

Why should you buy this: We don’t love Windows 10 as a pure tablet, but the Surface is a very good laptop replacement that puts touch first.

Our Score

The best Windows tablet

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

This is the best 2-in-1 PC we’ve ever used.

$1,017.00 from Amazon

$1,019.99 from Walmart

Who’s it for: Anyone seeking a Windows tablet that can serve as a laptop.

How much will it cost: $900+

Why we picked the Surface Pro 4:

The original Surface Pro was flawed, but it had a major impact on the market. Microsoft has refined the design since then, and the Surface Pro 4 is as close as you can get to a hybrid device that serves equally well as a tablet and as a laptop.

You’ve got a gorgeous 12.3-inch screen, a thoughtful design, and a choice of internal specs that range from basic to lightning fast. It is by far the most configurable device on our list. The pixel-packed display and loud speakers make it a pleasure to watch movies on. There’s also an 8-megapixel main camera and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera.

The Type Cover and Surface Pen are excellent accessories and, combined with the full version of Windows 10, make this a great choice for creative professionals, students, and everyone in between. This is real portable productivity.

On the downside, battery life is bit disappointing and the Surface Pro 4 can be eye-wateringly expensive if you opt for top end specs.  Still, it’s our favorite 2-in-1 PC.

Our full Surface Pro 4 review

How we test

The tablets we test serve as our daily drivers, so we use them extensively to put them through their paces. That means watching movies, gaming, testing out lots of apps, reading, working on them, and even taking photos and shooting video with them (which is impossible to do without looking stupid). We love new, innovative features, but we can also appreciate classic design done well. Ultimately, we look for tablets that will fulfill the needs of most people, so their ability to serve up entertainment is paramount.

Which OS is best for you?

If your top consideration is entertainment, and you’re likely to use a lot of apps and games, then we recommend Apple’s iOS as the best platform. There are a lot of polished apps made specifically for the iPad and you have access to all the top subscription services and an extensive content store. It’s also slick and accessible, so anyone can get to grips with it quickly.

Android has a larger selection of free apps and games, though they’re generally less polished, but that might be a tradeoff you’ll accept. Things are a little complicated by manufacturer UIs, or in the case of Amazon, forked versions of the platform. They can delay Android updates and make the user experience quite different. Amazon’s tablets, for example, runs a version of Android called Fire OS and out of the box they only have access to the limited subset of apps and games that are available in the Amazon Appstore, not the full list that you’ll find in Google’s Play Store.

If you like the idea of accessing the same apps you have on your Windows PC, and you want a business device that ties seamlessly into your Microsoft services, then a tablet running Windows 10 is going to be tempting. It’s powerful, but it’s also relatively expensive to get decent hardware for a good user experience. If you’re not a business user, or you don’t need to run specific Windows-only apps, it may be overkill.

Editor’s Recommendations

  • Make your iPad friends envious with one of these 5 best Android tablets
  • The best washing machines that make laundry day a little less of a chore
  • The best fitness trackers you can buy
  • Best mobile plans and cell phones for seniors who just want to stay in touch
  • The best smartphone you can buy




22
Oct

The best tablets you can buy


Tablets may be fading in popularity, but there are still some great devices out there. If you’re in the market for a new tablet, then we’re here to help you cut down that short list and snag the right one for you.

Apple’s iPad range still dominates the scene, but there are some innovative alternatives running Android and Windows. We also have top picks for the budget-conscious and for kids. These are the best tablets you can buy right now.

Our pick

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: The iPad boasts a vibrant display, silky smooth performance, and long battery life, all at an affordable price.

Our Score

The best tablet

Apple iPad 9.7

A great all-rounder that will meet the needs of most people.

$329.00 from Apple

Who’s it for: Everybody who wants a tablet.

How much will it cost: $330

Why we picked the Apple iPad (2017):

The iPad has deservedly dominated the tablet scene for years now, and the fifth-generation iPad (2017) is the culmination of all of Apple’s experience. There are no bells and whistles here. If you want innovation, keep looking. This is a solid, accessible all-rounder that delivers a really good tablet experience at a reasonable price.

The bright, 9.7-inch display is perfect for watching videos. Although it’s slightly thicker than the iPad Air 2, it feels slim and light to handle, with Apple’s usual high standards shining through in build quality. Inside there’s Apple’s A9 processor with an embedded M9 co-processor and 2GB of RAM, but all you really need to know is that it runs smoothly. Whether you’re skipping in and out of apps, browsing the web, watching a movie, or playing the latest games, the iPad delivers lag-free performance.

If you must take photos with your tablet, there’s an excellent 8-megapixel rear camera with an f/2.4 aperture, that’s fast and capable of capturing plenty of detail. The 1.2-megapixel selfie camera has an f/2.2 aperture, which is adequate for Facetime at 720p, but little else.

The battery life is fantastic. The thicker body allowed Apple to pack in a larger 8,610mAh battery and it just goes and goes. You can expect more than 10 hours of HD video playback from a single charge, and with normal use on Wi-Fi you might reasonably expect to go a week between charges.

If you’re looking for weak spots, then we direct you toward the single, bottom-firing speaker. Beyond that there are no glaring flaws here and we think it’s the best tablet you can buy without having to spend a lot more money.

Our full Apple iPad (2017) review

The best Android tablet

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is the closest an Android tablet comes to replicating the iPad Pro, and boasts an absolutely gorgeous display.

Our Score

The best Android tablet

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3

Slim and sleek with a great display and solid battery life.

$599.99 from Samsung

$599.99 from B&H Photo

Who’s it for: Anyone looking for an Android-based iPad alternative.

How much will it cost: $600

Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3:

Despite some odd design flaws, the Galaxy Tab S3 is a quality gizmo, with an absolutely gorgeous display. There’s no tablet in the world with a screen capable of rivaling the S3’s 9.7-inch Super AMOLED, and it supports HDR content (which companies like Netflix and YouTube are making increasingly available these days). Even viewing non-HDR content on the S3’s 2,048 × 1,536-pixel display is an absolute joy.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor (the same chip you’ll find in popular flagship smartphones like LG’s G5 and Samsung’s own Galaxy S7 Edge) works fine, despite its relative age, and 4GB of RAM is more than enough to keep the tablet humming happily. The included 32GB of onboard storage is a bit disappointing, but it can be expanded via MicroSD card if you’re looking to download lots of stuff.

The Tab’s speakers are respectably loud, and it’s got cameras on both the front and back — though the rear-facing 13-megapixel camera is capable of recording 4K video at 30 frames per second, while the front camera is good enough for selfies and video chat, but little else.

This time around, Samsung has paired its custom TouchWiz interface with Android 7 Nougat, and it works like a charm. Split-screen functionality is better than ever, with lots of neat tricks to learn over time. Despite a bit of bloatware that the tablet won’t let you delete, the software here is generally very good.

The battery lasts an exceptional 10+ hours, and the included stylus pen interacts smoothly with the tablet’s screen. The downside is the physical design of the Tab S3. Most people use tablets in landscape orientation (read: sideways), but the S3 seems to be designed more for use in portrait. Also, the fingerprint sensor is frustratingly unreliable, and often requires multiple attempts (regardless of how you’re holding the device).

If you’re devoted to Android devices, the Tab S3 is a good choice. Unfortunately, it’s not quite the natural progression we had hoped for from the S2, and there are some annoying issues most people won’t be able to get past. Worth a look, but the price tag is pretty unbecoming.

Our full Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review

The best small tablet

Why should you buy this: The iPad Mini is that perfect meshing of power and portability. You can take it anywhere and read or watch shows on it with ease.

Our Score

The best small tablet

Apple iPad Mini 4

You won’t find a better small tablet available today.

$399.00 from Apple

Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a smaller tablet.

How much will it cost: $400+

Why we picked the iPad Mini 4:

It doesn’t quite hit the high notes of Apple’s bigger iPads, but the iPad Mini 4 still benefits from an attractive metal design, a fast processor, and a great app and game library.

You’ll find the 7.9-inch display is a pleasure to read on and it’s a great size and weight to hold comfortably. It’s good for watching movies or gaming, too, though you’ll probably want headphones to go with it. Battery life is solid, offering a good 10 hours between charges.

Portability is the reason to pick the iPad Mini 4. If you want an iPad and need something smaller in size or price, then this is it.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the size that has been scaled down here — the iPad Mini 4 is not as lightning fast as its bigger siblings. It’s also expensive. However, you can’t beat the iPad Mini if it’s a small tablet you want.

Our full iPad Mini 4 review

The best premium tablet

Why should you buy this: The iPad Pro 10.5, the middle child of Apple’s iPad Pro product family, is a productivity powerhouse.

Our Score

The best

Apple 10.5‑inch iPad Pro

It’s the perfect blend of power and portability.

$649.00 from Apple

$649.00 from Target

Who’s it for: Creatives, tablet enthusiasts, and die-hard stylus users.

How much will it cost: $650

Why we picked the iPad Pro 10.5:

Apple added a wrinkle to prospective iPad buyers’ plans when it launched the iPad Pro 10.5, a midsized bridge between the iPad Pro 12.9 and the iPad Pro 9.7. But the Cupertino, California-based company’s decision turned out to be one of the best it made all year.

The iPad Pro 10.5 is significantly more portable than its 12.9-inch counterpart. Narrower screen edges, lightweight aluminum, and an ultra-thin design contribute to a body that’s about the size of the iPad Pro 9.7.

Speaking of the screen, it is one that’s hard to beat. It’s 2,224 x 1,668 pixels in resolution and benefits from Apple’s ProMotion technology, which boosts the refresh rate to a buttery-smooth 120Hz.

Sluggish performance is a rarity on the iPad Pro 10.5, thanks to its powerful A10X Fusion processor. And the iPad’s 64GB of internal storage (up to 512GB, depending on the model) supplies more than enough room for movies, music, photos, and apps.

Despite all the improvements, the iPad Pro 10.5 doesn’t compromise on battery. It lasts up to 10 hours on charge, and even longer if you turn down the screen brightness.

If there’s a downside, it’s that the iPad Pro 10.5’s accessories aren’t cheap. The Apple Pencil stylus, an arguable selling point, costs $100. The Smart Keyboard, a keyboard case for the iPad Pro 10.5, is $160.

But even still, the iPad Pro 10.5’s aesthetics, raw power, and long-lasting battery life earn it a place in the pantheon of high-performance tablets. For the price, there’s nothing better.

Our full iPad Pro 10.5 review

The best cheap tablet

Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: The Fire HD 10 may be too Amazon-centric for some, but Prime subscribers and Alexa users will appreciate its ease of use.

Our Score

The best cheap tablet

Amazon Fire HD 10 (2017)

These rock bottom prices cannot be beat.

$149.99 from Amazon.com

Who’s it for: Amazon enthusiasts on a budget.

How much will it cost: $150

Why we picked the Fire HD 10:

Amazon’s Fire HD 10 (2017), a refresh of last year’s HD 10, doesn’t bring much new to the table. The improvements that are here, however, are enough to warrant a wholehearted recommendation.

The Fire HD’s all-plastic body belies its impressive speakers. They’re arranged in right-left stereo configuration and optimized with Dolby Atmos to deliver loud, crisp sound in movies, TV shows, and Amazon’s Prime Music streaming service.

But the real star of the show is Alexa. The Fire HD 10 is the first Amazon tablet with hands-free support for the retailer’s voice assistant, and it works spectacularly well. Asking questions about popular movies, nearby restaurants, and the weather pulls up visual results on the Fire HD 10’s screen (even when it’s locked). That’s just the tip of the iceberg: Alexa on the Fire HD can also control smart home devices, order pizza, call an Uber, and perform many of the same tasks as Amazon’s Echo speakers.

Just as impressive as the Fire HD 10’s Alexa integration is its battery life. It lasts about 10 hours of mixed-use involving reading, gaming, and streaming. Switch power-saving features like Smart Suspend on and you can extend it even further. The Fire HD 10’s Fire OS software, a customized version of Android, isn’t for everyone. But folks immersed in the Amazon ecosystem will appreciate For You, a recommendation engine that puts videos, apps, games, and movies from the retailer’s library on your home screen.

Perfect tablets are a rare find at the sub-$200 price point, and the Fire HD 10 isn’t one of them — its screen isn’t as sharp or vibrant as we’d like, and the hardware struggles under heavy load. But you won’t find a better tablet at this price point.

Our full Fire HD 10 review

The best kids tablet

Amazon

Why should you buy this:

The best kids tablet

Fire Kids Edition Tablet

It’s an affordable kid-friendly tablet that makes things easy for parents.

$99.99 from Amazon

Who’s it for: Young kids who need supervision.

How much will it cost: $130

Why we picked the Fire HD 8 Kids Edition:

Amazon’s refreshed Fire 8 HD Kids Edition (2017) makes its long-running line of kid-friendly tablets even better.

An 8-inch, high-resolution screen (1,280 x 800 pixels) delivers bright and vibrant colors, and a thick rubber case around the tablet’s frame cushions against accidental drops. The tablet’s 32GB of internal storage (expandable via MicroSD) offers more than enough storage for books, games, and other media, and the beefy internal battery guarantees 12 hours of charge.

When it comes to parental controls, the Fire HD 8 Kids Edition is second to none. Its Fire OS software, a customized version of Android, lets parents manage usage limits, set educational goals, and restrict access to age-inappropriate content. And the recently launched Parent Dashboard supplies parents with discussion questions related to the books their kids are reading.

The improvements don’t stop there. The Fire HD 8 includes fee-free access to Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited, a library of more than more than 15,000 kid-appropriate games, apps, educational content, books, and videos from PBS Kids, Nickelodeon, Disney, and others. And every purchase is backed with Amazon’s two-year, no-questions-asked replacement policy: If the Fire HD 8 breaks, Amazon will replace it.

Simply put, there’s no better tablet for young kids who still need parental supervision.

The best Windows tablet

Why should you buy this: We don’t love Windows 10 as a pure tablet, but the Surface is a very good laptop replacement that puts touch first.

Our Score

The best Windows tablet

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

This is the best 2-in-1 PC we’ve ever used.

$1,017.00 from Amazon

$1,019.99 from Walmart

Who’s it for: Anyone seeking a Windows tablet that can serve as a laptop.

How much will it cost: $900+

Why we picked the Surface Pro 4:

The original Surface Pro was flawed, but it had a major impact on the market. Microsoft has refined the design since then, and the Surface Pro 4 is as close as you can get to a hybrid device that serves equally well as a tablet and as a laptop.

You’ve got a gorgeous 12.3-inch screen, a thoughtful design, and a choice of internal specs that range from basic to lightning fast. It is by far the most configurable device on our list. The pixel-packed display and loud speakers make it a pleasure to watch movies on. There’s also an 8-megapixel main camera and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera.

The Type Cover and Surface Pen are excellent accessories and, combined with the full version of Windows 10, make this a great choice for creative professionals, students, and everyone in between. This is real portable productivity.

On the downside, battery life is bit disappointing and the Surface Pro 4 can be eye-wateringly expensive if you opt for top end specs.  Still, it’s our favorite 2-in-1 PC.

Our full Surface Pro 4 review

How we test

The tablets we test serve as our daily drivers, so we use them extensively to put them through their paces. That means watching movies, gaming, testing out lots of apps, reading, working on them, and even taking photos and shooting video with them (which is impossible to do without looking stupid). We love new, innovative features, but we can also appreciate classic design done well. Ultimately, we look for tablets that will fulfill the needs of most people, so their ability to serve up entertainment is paramount.

Which OS is best for you?

If your top consideration is entertainment, and you’re likely to use a lot of apps and games, then we recommend Apple’s iOS as the best platform. There are a lot of polished apps made specifically for the iPad and you have access to all the top subscription services and an extensive content store. It’s also slick and accessible, so anyone can get to grips with it quickly.

Android has a larger selection of free apps and games, though they’re generally less polished, but that might be a tradeoff you’ll accept. Things are a little complicated by manufacturer UIs, or in the case of Amazon, forked versions of the platform. They can delay Android updates and make the user experience quite different. Amazon’s tablets, for example, runs a version of Android called Fire OS and out of the box they only have access to the limited subset of apps and games that are available in the Amazon Appstore, not the full list that you’ll find in Google’s Play Store.

If you like the idea of accessing the same apps you have on your Windows PC, and you want a business device that ties seamlessly into your Microsoft services, then a tablet running Windows 10 is going to be tempting. It’s powerful, but it’s also relatively expensive to get decent hardware for a good user experience. If you’re not a business user, or you don’t need to run specific Windows-only apps, it may be overkill.

Editor’s Recommendations

  • Make your iPad friends envious with one of these 5 best Android tablets
  • The best washing machines that make laundry day a little less of a chore
  • The best fitness trackers you can buy
  • Best mobile plans and cell phones for seniors who just want to stay in touch
  • The best smartphone you can buy




22
Oct

Top Amazon exec Morgan Wandell jumps over to Apple Video


Why it matters to you

Apple is entering the realm of streaming original series, which could lead developers to increase quality of programming to compete.

Morgan Wandell, a top executive at Amazon since 2013, has been lured away by Apple as part of its bid to increase scripted programming in the streaming market. With Apple ready to drop as much as $1 billion to develop original programming, according to Business Insider, they hope to become a major player in the industry.

Wandell arrived at Amazon from ABC Studios, and he has an impressive resume. He helped develop such series as The Man in the High Castle, Jack Ryan, Sneaky Pete, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. While at ABC, he worked on such TV series as Gray’s Anatomy, Lost, Desperate Housewives, Private Practice, Criminal Minds, and Ghost Whisperer.

The Hollywood Reporter notes that Wandell joins a team that includes co-heads of video programming Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, who were recently poached from Sony Pictures Television

Apple’s first few attempts at original programming, such as Carpool Karaoke and Planet of the Apps, were underwhelming, to put it mildly. It recently scrapped plans for an Elvis Presley miniseries produced by the Weinstein Company, amid the fallout from sexual harassment allegations.

New moves at the executive level, however, indicate that Apple wants to position itself as a serious contender in streaming original series as part of an effort to make Apple Video a destination for documentaries and shows. According to the Wall Street Journal, they’ve partnered with Stephen Spielberg’s Amblin Studios for a reboot of the anthology series Amazing Stories.

Although the hire has been in the works for months, it’s still a blow to Amazon, who Jeff Bezos wants to come up with “the next Game of Thrones.” Other tech companies want a piece of the pie as well — Facebook may be dropping a wad of cash to develop its own scripted series.

For comparison, HBO spends about $2 billion per year on original programming, Amazon spends approximately $4.5 billion, and Netflix around $7 billion. Apple’s $1 billion could fund as many as 10 television shows, with Erlicht and Van Amburg overseeing a cohesive strategy that the company has lacked thus far.

Will all these new moves pay off with the next House of Cards or The Handmaid’s Tale? We’ll have to watch and see.

Editor’s Recommendations

  • Apple original programming gets $1B boost in bid to take on streaming giants
  • Facebook original programming may be coming soon, according to a new report
  • Amazon wants the next ‘Game of Thrones’ says CEO Jeff Bezos
  • Amazon acquires rights to James Gunn’s ‘Starsky and Hutch’ TV reboot
  • ‘Scandal’ creator Shonda Rhimes ditches ABC for Netflix in new multi-year deal




22
Oct

From the Editor’s Desk: Android 8.1 and Oreo’s AI future


google-pixel-2-xl-black-on-table.jpg?ito

Pixel Visual Core and Mate 10 event offer clues about what’s next for Android and AI.

Google hasn’t yet (explicitly) announced Android 8.1 Oreo. But reading between the lines of two recent Android announcements, it gives us a small glimpse of the first Oreo maintenance release. Most significantly, expect a major focus on AI APIs that could bring exciting new features for Google Pixel 2 and Huawei Mate 10 owners.

For starters, we’re about due an Android maintenance release before the end of the year. Just as Android 7.1 landed (for non-Pixels) in December of 2016, an 8.1 launch before the holidays would see Google maintaining the cadence of quarterly MRs that has been established through 2017.

The first Oreo MR will be an 8.1 (as opposed to 8.0.1) mainly because of new the new APIs it’ll bring. Historically, a new API level almost always brings a 0.1 version bump for Android, for versions that aren’t also a whole new ‘dessert’ release.

How do we know there are new APIs coming? A Googler stood up on stage in Germany last Monday and said so. At the Huawei Mate 10 launch event in Munich, Jamie Rosenberg, VP of Android and Google Play, said:

“The Android neural network API will be coming to the Mate 10 in a software update early next year, and I can’t wait to see what developers do with this technology.”

New APIs? That’ll be a new Android MR, then, with a 0.1 version bump.

And for the Mate 10 series, that’ll be a very important update indeed, connecting the power of Huawei’s neural processing unit (NPU) to OS-level AI support in Android. (Currently, the company supports its own Kirin NN API, as well as Caffe2 and TensorFlow Lite.)

More: Huawei Mate 10 + Mate 10 Pro hands-on

As Google finalizes Android 8.1, expect to see new versions of some of its own apps, updated to take advantage of the neural networking APIs in the new maintenance release. Obvious candidates include Google Lens, when that eventually grows beyond the current Pixel-only preview release, as well as natural language recognition in voice search, and translation through Google Translate.

That’s all well and good for the Mate 10, which has its all-singing, all-dancing NPU to handle AI tasks such as complex image recognition around 20 times faster than a general purpose SoC. But what about Google, whose Pixel 2 phones use off-the-shield Snapdragon 835s with no such integrated AI hardware?

Well, Google’s secret weapon here could be the Pixel Visual Core. The company’s first foray into the world of custom silicon wasn’t mentioned at the launch event for the Pixel 2 phones, instead only revealed this past week as the review embargo lifted.

The chip isn’t enabled yet, but will be activated in a future software update for Pixel 2 owners. (Again, expect that to be Android 8.1.) First and foremost, it’ll enable faster HDR+ image processing in the Pixel camera app, thanks to Google’s custom silicon.

As Jerry Hildenbrand explains:

We don’t have all the details; Google isn’t ready to share them and maybe isn’t even aware of just what this custom chip is capable of yet. What we do know is that the Pixel Visual Core is built around a Google-designed eight-core Image Processing Unit. This IPU can run three trillion operations each second while running from the tiny battery inside a mobile phone.

Rather than use standard methods of writing code, building it into a finished product and then trying to manage everything after all the work is finished, Google has turned to machine learning coding languages. Using Halide for the actual image processing and TensorFlow for the machine learning components themselves, Google has built its own software compiler that can optimize the finished production code into software built specifically for the hardware involved.

The mention of machine learning and TensorFlow there is significant. As much as image processing is the focus for this chip initially, Google will almost certainly be using Android 8.1’s neural networking APIs to hook the Pixel Visual Core into the camera app. That being the case, it raises the prospect of the PVC being usable for other AI-related tasks, both visual and non-visual, in the coming year.

And this could be what sets the Pixel 2 phones apart from other Snapdragon 835 devices over the next year. Android’s AI APIs will likely work on phones without dedicated neural networking hardware, but AI apps like Google Lens should be much quicker on phones like the Pixel 2 and Mate 10, which have the hardware to back it up.

None of this is confirmed yet, so the usual pinch of salt should be applied. But Google’s announcements this past week, both direct and indirect, have given us a tantalizing first look at Android’s AI future.

Other morsels from a very busy couple of weeks in tech:

  • The Huawei Mate 10 Pro is a very nice phone with an extremely good camera. I’m not the biggest DxOMark fan in the world, but I generally agree with them that it’s a close runner-up to the Pixel 2 in general photo performance. (Video, not so much.) Low-light in particular is enormously improved compared to the Mate 9 and P10.
    We’ll get to this in more detail next week, but there are still a few software quirks in the build I’m using right now. EMUI 8 isn’t as big a visual refresh as I’d have liked, and Huawei’s skin still feels a little behind the times — especially next to Samsung and Google.
  • Biggest thing that surprised me about the regular (non-Pro) Huawei Mate 10, as I started using it some more these past few days? How hard it is to hold onto. This phone is slippery af. Between the wider proportions, lack of chamfers and oleophobic-coated glass on both sides, this thing is a bar of soap in your hand. Same great hardware and experience as the Pro, for the most part, but it’s plain to see why the U.S. and most of Europe is getting the Pro — unless you’re in love with 16:9, it’s just a better phone.
  • I’m continuing to enjoy the Pixel 2 phones, and I’ve switched to the XL as my daily driver, despite the weird screen which I still think is this phone’s biggest weakness. The latest alarming development there for me: some really brutal screen burn-in that raises questions about how well the phone will age.
  • That said, as I mentioned on this week’s podcast, this is going to play out as follows: Google will release a patch restoring a more saturated default color setting (as opposed to sRGB), people will think it’s a “display fix” update, and will forget about the other issues like blue color shift and shadow detail crushing. And that’ll basically be the end of it.
  • Going to be interesting to see what HTC can bring to the table in a potential U11 Plus. The phone looks solid, but given HTC’s shaky carrier support, can a mid-cycle like this really move the needle?

That’s it for this week. We’ll have more Pixel goodness next week, along with our Mate 10 Pro review, and some surprises.

-Alex

22
Oct

Ben Heck’s oscilloscope throwdown


59e84d0bf7766f2800c53be1_o_F_v0.jpg

Let’s get started reviewing oscilloscopes! In the world of electronics engineering, an oscilloscope is crucial to helping diagnose problems with noise and data communications. Each of the five oscilloscopes reviewed in this episode, from Tektronix, Keysight and Rohde and Schwarz, have their own set of features and trade-offs. Which one do you prefer? Or are you still figuring out how to use one? Let the team know over on the element14 Community.

22
Oct

Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: Ultra-grippy Socks and Dirt-cheap 3D Printers


At any given moment, there are approximately a zillion different crowdfunding campaigns happening on the Web. Take a stroll through Kickstarter or Indiegogo and you’ll find no shortage of weird, useless, and downright stupid projects out there – alongside some real gems. We’ve cut through the Pebble clones and janky iPhone cases to round up the most unusual, ambitious, and exciting new crowdfunding projects out there this week. That said, keep in mind that any crowdfunding project — even the best intentioned — can fail, so do your homework before cutting a check for the gadget of your dreams.

Wiral — cable slider for GoPro

Cable cam systems are awesome. When used properly, they allow filmmakers to capture jaw-dropping shots that would otherwise be impossible. The only problem is that, more often than not, these rigs are cumbersome, complex, and extremely expensive, so they’re generally out of reach for amateurs and casual videographers. But thanks to a startup called Wiral, that might soon change. The California-based company has recently taken to Kickstarter to crowdfund the development of an affordable, compact, and simple-to-use cable cam system designed for compact cameras.

Wiral Lite, as it’s called, is a complete cable cam rig that fits in a backpack, sets up in three minutes, and accommodates a number of different lightweight cameras, including GoPros and smartphones. Oh, and did we mention it’s motorized? Once you’ve set the cable and pulled it taut, Wiral Lite allows filmmakers to drive the dolly from a snail’s pace 0.006 mph all the way up to 28 mph, shooting for up to three hours on the built-in battery. A time-lapse mode also allows for moving time-lapses at three different speeds. If you’re looking to take your GoPro footage to the next level, look no further.

NewMatter Mod-t 2.0 — affordable 3D printer

Back in 2014, there weren’t many sub-$500 3D printers floating around — but then NewMatter burst onto the scene with the Mod-t, a unique new printer with a simple design and an affordable ($399) price tag. The machine was a resounding success on Indiegogo, but like many first-generation products that are brought to life via crowdfuding, it had some problems that needed to be fixed. Fast forward to the present, and NewMatter is finally back with the new-and-improved version that addresses those issues: the Mod-t 2.0.

In place of belts and gears, the Mod-t uses a toothed build plate placed atop two perpendicular pinion rods. As these grooved rods spin, they catch the teeth on the bottom of the build plate and move it in a given direction. This configuration doesn’t boost accuracy or precision in any major way, but what it does do is simplify the overall design of the printer. Because the pinion rod setup combines the driving force of one axis with the guiding force of another, the Mod-t requires far fewer parts than it otherwise would. This makes it cheaper and easier to manufacture than most other 3D printers, and allows NewMatter to sell the printer for such a low price. You can get one one Kickstarter right now for less than $200!

SpeedGrip Socks — high-traction athletic socks

Ever since the dawn of athletic footwear, shoe manufacturers have been trying to out-do each other. If it seems like shoes get more and more advanced with each passing year, its because they do. Just take a stroll through the nearest Nike outlet and you’ll encounter everything from shock-absorbing foam to 3D printed insoles. But while the footwear industry has been so fixated on shoes, the other side of the equation — namely, socks — has largely been left behind. But NY-based upstart Storelli Sports has a plan to change that.

The company’s latest product — SpeedGrip Socks — are a clever new take on athletic socks. When paired with a set of specialized insoles (which Storelli crowdfunded on Kickstarter earlier this year), SpeedGrip socks provide outrageous amounts of traction — not between your foot and the ground, but between your foot and your shoe. This, in turn, translates to better traction, more reliable grip, and better overall performance, since your foot doesn’t slide around as much inside your footwear. Why aren’t more companies doing this?

I’m Back — digital upgrade for analog cameras

As you may or may not have noticed, film photography has enjoyed a resurgence as of late, and as it continues to claw back some of its former popularity, inventors are finding more ways to blend classic photography with digital convenience. I’m Back is the latest such invention to hit the crowdfunding scene. After finding success with a 3D printed, Raspberry Pi-powered film camera, the creators of the device are back with a clever new gizmo that transforms old film cameras into digital shooters.

Here’s how it works. Instead of popping a roll of 35mm film into your old camera, you open up the back and attach the camera to I’m Back. The device’s 16 megapixel sensor will then pick up light that passes through the cameras lens, and save it to an SD card. If you’d like you see the photo afterward, you can even connect your smartphone and use it as a display screen.

The Universe in a Sphere — Glorious desk ornament

Remember that scene from Men In Black? The one that zooms out to reveal that our entire galaxy sits inside the marble on a cat’s leash? Well if that scene stuck with you, there’s a good chance you’ll appreciate this new desktop trinket that recently popped up on Kickstarter. The Universe in a Sphere is exactly what it sounds like: a desk ornament that contains a tiny scale model of the cosmic neighborhood that we live in.

“What I did was is to take a catalog of galaxies, including our home supercluster called Laniakea, converted the XYZ coordinates and selected all of the 675,758 galaxies in a radius of 125 megaparsecs,” creator Clemens Steffin told Digital Trends in an interview. “One megaparsec stands for about 3.2616 million light years, so the cloud in my glass sphere represents a diameter of 815,400,000 light years.” Steffin next searched for (and found) a company capable of lasering in each one of these 380,000 dots, each representing an entire galaxy, into a glass sphere. After that, he launched his Kickstarter.

Editor’s Recommendations

  • SpeedGrip Socks create better traction for improved speed and control
  • Allbirds’ cozy and sustainable wool shoes are taking the world by storm
  • Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: Treepods, robot cutters, Firefly flints
  • The new-and-improved Mod-T 3D printer isn’t just better — it’s cheaper, too
  • Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: Smart soccer balls, vibro razors, drum rings




22
Oct

Air traffic controllers may get a break from non-stop drone reports


Air traffic controllers have it bad enough managing full-size aircraft, but they face an extra headache when you throw drones in the mix. You see, controllers get calls when drone pilots want approval to fly within 5 miles of an airport — and with an average of 250 reported close encounters per month, it’s clear that some aren’t even bothering with the formalities. The FAA has clearly had enough of this, as it recently made an emergency request to bypass the usual regulations and use an automate system to approve drone flights in restricted airspace. Instead of waiting 2-3 months for clearance (or calling in at the last possible moment), you could get the A-OK within 5 minutes.

There’s no certainty that the FAA will get what it wants, but it does make a convincing case. The administration had a backlog of 6,000 pending approvals as of its request, and it expected that queue to grow to 25,000 approvals in as little as 6 months. Mate that with a drone collision in September (one of the robotic fliers struck an Army helicopter near Staten Island) and it’s a recipe for danger. Pilots frustrated with a lack of progress may be more and more likely to ignore approvals, causing chaos both for air traffic control and conventional aircraft crews.

At the same time, the streamlined process could prove a boon to not just overworked controllers, but drone operators of all stripes. Businesses that absolutely need drones won’t have to wait ages to get the green light, and individual drone owners would get the opportunity to report their flights. The main challenge is ensuring that malicious and careless drone owners don’t slip through the cracks. The last thing the FAA wants is to approve someone hellbent on flying into harm’s way, and it may be difficult to completely prevent that kind of aerial assault.

Via: Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal

Source: Federal Register

22
Oct

Fiber optic lines can double as earthquake detectors


You might not need an extensive sensor network or a host of volunteers to detect earthquakes in the future — in fact, the lines supplying your internet access might do the trick. Researchers have developed technology that detects seismic activity through jiggling in fiber optic lines. Laser interrogators watch for disturbances in the fiber and send information about the magnitude and direction of tremors. The system can not only detect different types of seismic waves (and thus determine the seriousness of the threat), but spot very minor or localized quakes that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Fiber-based detection isn’t strictly new, but it previously centered around acoustic sensing that required wrapping them in cement, sticking them to a surface or otherwise making sure they contact the ground (to make it easier to spot impurities in the signal). That’s not necessary with the new method — you can use existing fiber lines housed in plastic pipes. It should be considerably easier and cheaper to implement these detectors.

There are plenty of challenges to making this a reality. It’s limited by the size of the fiber network, so it could miss rural areas that don’t have much if any fiber. And the current proof of concept is a relatively modest 3-mile loop around Stanford University. It could be a much more daunting prospect to run a sensor network across an entire city, let alone cross-country. This could still be far more affordable than rolling out dedicated sensors, however, and the sheer precision of using fiber (every part of the line counts) could provide earthquake data that hasn’t been an option before.

Source: Stanford

%d bloggers like this: