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31
Dec

Experts hope high-tech 3D image analysis will help save deteriorating paintings


Georgia O’Keefe was an American artist whose career spanned six decades and more than 800 paintings. Her painting Jimson Weed was sold in 2014 for more than $44 million, a record for a female artist.

But the vibrant colors of the Southwest landscapes and New York skylines in her paintings have been deteriorating, and the Associated Press reports that researchers are hoping some 21st-century technology can help them find out why.

Partly funded by a grant from the National Endowment for Humanities, art preservationists plan to use 3D imaging to assess destructive chemical buildups in paintings by O’Keefe and eventually in collections from other artists in museums around the globe.

Rather than clip a postage-stamp-sized sample from the painting for analysis, researchers want to use high-grade images from various sources of light to assess chemical reactions that occur as paintings get older. Dale Kronkright of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe said the project began in 2011. “It now gives us a way to analyze the entire painting without taking any destructive samples whatsoever,” Kronkright said. “That’s a really big deal.”

Small blisters caused by soap can form when the fats in the original oil paints interact with the drying agents contained in many of the canvases used by 20th-century artists. Thousands of them can alter the colors of the painting, making it appear darker. “They’re a little bit bigger than human hair, and you can see them with the naked eye,” Kronkright said.

O’Keefe’s work presents a unique opportunity to study the chemical reactions in oil paintings, as the techniques and materials she used over her career are well-documented. Art preservationists still don’t know why the soap formation speeds up at certain times, although things like temperature and humidity changes are likely culprits.

The scientific studies will take place in Santa Fe and Chicago over a two-year period. Conservationists will likely study paintings under various environmental conditions, including non-visible light frequencies, to assess what triggers the soap-causing reactions and how to stop or slow them.

“Left unchecked, they will continue to grow, both grow in number and grow in size — and in damaging effect,” said Kronkright.

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31
Dec

Iran blocks internet services in bid to quash protests


It’s a busy weekend for oppressive governments trying to suppress digital communication. Iran has blocked mobile access to at least Telegram and Instagram as it tries to thwart protests that started over economic concerns (particularly inflation), but have extended into broader resistance to the government and clerical rule. Officials claim the censorship is meant to “maintain peace,” but the argument doesn’t hold water. Telegram founder Pavel Durov noted that his company refused to shut down “peacefully protesting channels,” and Instagram is primarily being used to document protests — Iran clearly doesn’t want to reveal the extent of the demonstrations.

There are also numerous reports of Iran blocking mobile internet access in several cities, although the full extent isn’t clear. The Iran Student News Agency noted that desktop access to Telegram was working, so this appears to be more of an attempt to disrupt on-the-ground protest coordination and citizen journalism than a blanket ban.

Officials have claimed that the blocks are ‘temporary’ measures, but it’s safe to say they’ll continue for as long as the Iranian government believes the protests pose a mounting threat to its authority. The country has a history of blocking Instagram, VPNs and other services that help residents access the uncensored internet. The question is whether or not this will be effective. As Egypt learned early this decade, a sufficiently motivated public isn’t going to stay off the streets just because they can’t get online. There are frequently ways to get around censorship, too. In short: blocking like this is more of a momentary roadblock than anything else.

Iranian authorities are blocking access to Telegram for the majority of Iranians after our public refusal to shut down https://t.co/9E4kXZYcP9 and other peacefully protesting channels.

— Pavel Durov (@durov) December 31, 2017

Via: Washington Post, CNN

Source: Pavel Durov (Twitter), Al Arabiya

31
Dec

The best wireless workout headphones


By Lauren Dragan

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter, reviews for the real world. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After testing 136 sets of headphones and considering an additional 90, we are yet again convinced that the JLab Epic2 is the best pair of wireless workout headphones for most people, because they sound good, fit comfortably, and stay out of your way during rigorous workouts. Our testing showed that these earbuds should withstand abuse, sweat, and moisture when used properly, plus they’re backed by a one-year warranty and responsive customer service.

Who should get this

Wireless workout headphones are for people who want to block out external distractions and don’t need to hear their surroundings during a workout. You’ll need to charge them from time to time, and they’re not meant for swimming. If either of those factors are a dealbreaker for you, check out our guide to wired exercise headphones instead. And if you’re a biker or runner who needs to be aware of traffic to stay safe, you’d be better off with one of our unsealed picks from the best running headphones guide.

How we picked and tested

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

When researching the best workout headphones, we sifted through the offerings of more than 100 headphone companies, and consulted editorial reviews from a number of publications. We also looked at customer reviews from a handful of major retailers. We eventually settled on this list of crucial features for wireless workout headphones:

  • Sweat and water resistant
  • Comfortable to wear and don’t easily fall out
  • An intuitive remote
  • Relatively inexpensive price
  • Noise isolation, with solid audio quality
  • Brand reliability and warranty

We called in every model that met these criteria (and either had positive reviews or was too new to have any feedback) for our expert panel to evaluate. We asked each panelist to consider fit, comfort, ease of use, and sound quality of each set of headphones and to rank their top picks. Then, we brought our favorite pairs along for a workout to test how well they performed in the real world. Finally, we tested for durability by yanking the cords and exposing the headphones to water and sweat. To learn about our testing process in detail, please see our full guide to wireless workout headphones.

Our pick: JLab Epic2

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

The JLab Epic2 is our top pick yet again because these earbuds fit most people comfortably and stay firmly in place during rigorous workouts. They’re also easy to use, affordable, and very durable with proper care. And they sound great too. We tested dozens of new headphones in this category, and none of them were as pleasant to use on a regular basis. Many had huge Bluetooth transmitters that slammed against the neck when we bounced, long cables that snagged and made noise, or sound quality so terrible we literally couldn’t hear parts of our music. Once we saw just how much junk was out there, the many attributes of the Epic2 became even more appealing.

The Epic2 excels when it comes to durability: Sweat, water, and dirt are no match for these earbuds. We were also impressed with their sound quality. It had a little extra bass, but not so much that it muffled other frequency ranges; the effect was just enough that songs with a solid bassline had a little more oomph. Overall, nothing else available is as well-rounded as the Epic2. These headphones are tough, great sounding, and comfortable, so your focus will stay on completing your workout, not on fiddling with your earbuds.

Runner-up: Jaybird X3

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

If our pick is sold out, or if durability is your top priority, consider the Jaybird X3. With a unique charging system that has no battery door, plus an extra-thick connector cord between the earbuds and a two-year warranty against sweat damage, the X3 is made to take a beating. This set comes with a wide variety of both silicone and Comply memory-foam tips, as well as stabilizing wings, so you can customize your fit. Once in place, the X3 will stay put through high-impact workouts. Plus, you can wear the X3 with the cable threaded over your ear or hanging down, further adapting it to your personal preferences. And in our tests, the sound quality was very good, with a slight sibilance to consonants and a little extra bass.

Although the X3 has a ton of great features, it’s the downsides of those features that kept this set from being our top pick. For example, the unique charging system that prevents water from getting inside the battery requires a special adapter that’s really small and easy to lose. Additionally, there’s a bit of a learning curve involved when figuring out which wings and tips will fit your ears the best.

Budget pick: Aukey Latitude EP-B40

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

If you’re looking to spend as little as possible without buyer’s remorse, the Aukey Latitude EP-B40 is the way to go. Comfortable for most people, durable, and backed with a two-year warranty, the Latitude bests everything else in its price range. Why? These earbuds stay in place, they’re easy to use, and they sound decent. In our tests, so many other workout headphones under $50 were uncomfortable, poorly built, or marred by piercing high-frequency ranges that made turning the volume up past 40 percent literally painful.

The main downfall of the Latitude is the cable length. Although the coating on the cord that connects the two earbuds is textured in a way to make it less likely to snag, it still catches on occasion, and when it does, one of your earbuds will tug loose. Additionally, the cable bounces annoyingly when you run on a treadmill.

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

Note from Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

31
Dec

Explore a galaxy of S8 accessories for your Samsung smartphone


Your smartphone is probably the star of your devices, so you’ll want a decent supporting cast to ensure that you get the most from it. We’ve already looked at the best Galaxy S8 cases, the best Galaxy S8 Plus cases, and the best S8 and S8 Plus screen protectors, but there are some nifty alternative S8 accessories that are worth checking out. We’ve got docks, headphones, cameras, and more to add useful functionality to your S8 or S8 Plus.

Gear VR Headset and Controller ($130)

If you haven’t dipped a toe into the waters of virtual reality yet, then this is a great place to start. The latest version of the Gear VR works with the Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus to take to you to new worlds. It’s the most comfortable design yet, and Samsung has added a handy controller into the mix to make navigation easier and bring new control options to games. There are more than 600 different apps, games, and experiences that will immerse you in all kinds of virtual realities.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Samsung

Samsung Wireless Charger Convertible ($90)

Although it’s pricey compared to some of the other wireless chargers on the market, Samsung’s Wireless Charger is probably worth springing for because it supports the fast wireless charging capability in the S8 and S8 Plus. It’s a stylish-looking pad, finished in a leather-like material that comes in black or tan. Unusually, it can be adjusted to prop your S8 up, which is ideal if you want to use your phone while it charges. It comes with a Samsung Fast Charge wall charger in the box. There are lots of other great wireless chargers out there if you don’t fancy this one.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Samsung

Anker PowerCore Speed Battery Pack ($36)

Offering a whopping 10,000mAh of power, this is one of our favorite portable battery chargers. It’s fairly compact, so you can sling it into your bag and forget about it until you need it. You can expect around two full charges for your Galaxy S8, maybe a little less for the S8 Plus. It also supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0, so it will fill your S8 battery quickly. You will have to snag a USB-to-USB-Type-C cable, because it ships with a Micro USB cable.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

Maxboost Type-C Car Charger ($22)

If you’re using your Galaxy S8 to navigate or you just want to charge it up while you drive, this car charger is ideal. No need to fiddle with cables because it has a USB Type-C cable built-in. There’s also an additional USB port in case you want to charge another device, or use a longer cable, and a clever, soft-glow LED ring, making it easy to use, even in the dark. It supports QC 3.0 for fast charging.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

Samsung Gear 360 ($230)

Les Shu/Digital Trends

The 2017 version of the Gear 360 enables you to capture 4K 360 degree videos and photos with your Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus. You can capture footage and shots, then review and share them via the app on your S8. You can even stream live from the dual-cameras in real-time. It’s a lightweight device with a handy grip that doubles as a stand and it can be mounted on tripods easily. The MicroSD card slot takes cards up to 256GB in capacity.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Samsung

Samsung DeX Station ($150)

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

If you liked the look of Microsoft’s Continuum, which enables you to use your smartphone as a desktop PC, then you’re going to love the DeX Station for the Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus because it does something similar. The adjustable dock looks like Samsung’s Wireless Charger, but it allows you to connect a monitor, mouse, keyboard, and Ethernet cable to your phone. Optimized app support is limited right now, but you can use it to work with Microsoft’s Office suite, and some Adobe and Samsung apps.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Samsung

Samsung Gear S3 ($300)

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The beautifully designed Samsung Gear S3 smartwatch, with its clever rotating bezel is the best smartwatch you can currently buy to pair with your Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus. It runs Tizen, which is fast and accessible, and it’s packed with Samsung services like Samsung Pay, S Voice, and S Health. There isn’t an overabundance of apps, but you’ll find things like Uber, Nest, and Nike+ Running. It also offers more than a day of battery life, it’s water resistant, and the 22mm bands are very easy to switch.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

Samsung Pro Plus 64GB MicroSDXC Card ($54)

We’re pleased to see that Samsung has bumped the base level of internal storage up to 64GB with the S8 and S8 Plus, but some of you will still need more space. There are definitely cheaper MicroSD cards out there, but we’re recommending this one because it offers high performance for 4K video recording and it’s extremely reliable. If you’re willing to wait a little longer, then keep an eye out for the new A1 spec MicroSD cards which are specifically designed to work as adoptable storage in Android phones.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 ($200)

You get a decent set of AKG earbuds worth $100 in the box with your S8 or S8 Plus, but if you want a proper set of headphones, then you might consider the Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2. You can pair with your S8 or S8 Plus via Bluetooth (Samsung’s new smartphones can actually stream to two sets of Bluetooth headphones at once) and there’s a mic for calls and a button to trigger Google Assistant on the right earcup. You’ll find controls for music and volume on the left. They also produce a decent sound with support for noise cancellation and solid battery life.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Plantronics

Samsung USB-C to HDMI Adapter ($50)

We can’t help feeling this is overpriced, but if you want to be able to play 4K videos from your Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus on your big TV smoothly and easily, it’s going to be worth the investment. Plug the USB-C end into your phone and plug an HDMI cable into the other end to connect with your TV, projector, or monitor. Whether you want to play video from your vacation, watch a movie, or play a game on the big screen, this adapter lets you do it lag-free and without the need for Wi-Fi.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Mobile Fun

Anker Bluetooth Selfie Stick ($16)

Samsung’s smartphones tend to have great cameras and the S8 and S8 Plus are no exceptions. If you want to capture really great selfies with your S8, then you’ll need to buy a selfie stick and this offering from Anker is ideal. This selfie stick connects to your phone easily via Bluetooth. It has a nice sturdy grip with a shutter button. It extends telescopically up to 32 inches in length end to end, and folds down to 7 inches. It comes with a Micro USB charging cable and you can expect to get around 20 hours of use from a single charge. It’s great value and it will work with virtually any smartphone, including the S8, S8 Plus, and the Galaxy Note 8.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

iOttie Car Mount Holder ($25)

It’s useful to have a cradle for your car that will hug your Galaxy S8 securely. This offering from iOttie has a strong, sticky, gel suction cup that will attach to your dashboard or windshield. When you press your S8 into it, the trigger panel at the back automatically closes the arms and there’s a button for quick release. You can adjust the angle through 225 degrees and there’s a telescopic arm that extends several inches, so you can find the most comfortable placement for your S8. There’s room between the feet at the bottom to plug in your charging cable.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

Update: Added the Anker selfie stick and iOttie car mount, and updated prices.

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31
Dec

That phone game you’re playing while watching TV may be secretly tracking you


The next time you’re lying on the couch and fiddling with your phone while streaming Stranger Things or watching Mr. Robot, be aware — an app could be recording and tracking your viewing habits, and using the information in conjunction with your location to target you with ads during your next browsing session.

A recent story in the New York Times highlights a data firm called Alphonso that collects television viewing information through a smartphone’s microphone and sells that data to advertisers. The tracking software is piggybacked onto free games and apps such as Beer Pong: Trickshot and Pool 3D. Even when the app is not in use, it can listen for audio cues from TV shows and commercials to monitor what you’re watching.

Although the company claims it doesn’t listen to conversations, according to its website, it uses “advanced fingerprinting technology to identify ads and programming airing on TV in a fraction of a second, in a completely anonymous fashion.” The site calls it a TV Data Cloud and boasts that “40 million smart TVs, set-top boxes, mobile and living room devices with embedded Alphonso technology report viewership data in real time.”

The Times notes that more than 250 games that use Alphonso software can be downloaded from the Google Play store, many of them targeted to children. The CEO maintains that it’s all perfectly legal and consumers can opt out at any time.

Justin Brookman, of the advocacy group Consumers Union, told the Times that the nebulous nature of the opt-in notice doesn’t provide enough detail. “When you see ‘permission for microphone access for ads,’ it may not be clear to a user that, Oh, this means it’s going to be listening to what I do all the time to see if I’m watching Monday Night Football,” he said.

Alphonso relies on the content-recognition company Shazam to identify the excerpts contained in its data cloud, and Shazam then sells the information back to Alphonso, which packages it and sells it to advertisers.

The company said its software is running on about a thousand different apps and games, so it’s quite possible you have one or more of them in your library. To check, go into Settings on your phone and then review the permissions of the app in question. If it has microphone access and the game doesn’t need it, toggle the mic permission off.

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31
Dec

That phone game you’re playing while watching TV may be secretly tracking you


The next time you’re lying on the couch and fiddling with your phone while streaming Stranger Things or watching Mr. Robot, be aware — an app could be recording and tracking your viewing habits, and using the information in conjunction with your location to target you with ads during your next browsing session.

A recent story in the New York Times highlights a data firm called Alphonso that collects television viewing information through a smartphone’s microphone and sells that data to advertisers. The tracking software is piggybacked onto free games and apps such as Beer Pong: Trickshot and Pool 3D. Even when the app is not in use, it can listen for audio cues from TV shows and commercials to monitor what you’re watching.

Although the company claims it doesn’t listen to conversations, according to its website, it uses “advanced fingerprinting technology to identify ads and programming airing on TV in a fraction of a second, in a completely anonymous fashion.” The site calls it a TV Data Cloud and boasts that “40 million smart TVs, set-top boxes, mobile and living room devices with embedded Alphonso technology report viewership data in real time.”

The Times notes that more than 250 games that use Alphonso software can be downloaded from the Google Play store, many of them targeted to children. The CEO maintains that it’s all perfectly legal and consumers can opt out at any time.

Justin Brookman, of the advocacy group Consumers Union, told the Times that the nebulous nature of the opt-in notice doesn’t provide enough detail. “When you see ‘permission for microphone access for ads,’ it may not be clear to a user that, Oh, this means it’s going to be listening to what I do all the time to see if I’m watching Monday Night Football,” he said.

Alphonso relies on the content-recognition company Shazam to identify the excerpts contained in its data cloud, and Shazam then sells the information back to Alphonso, which packages it and sells it to advertisers.

The company said its software is running on about a thousand different apps and games, so it’s quite possible you have one or more of them in your library. To check, go into Settings on your phone and then review the permissions of the app in question. If it has microphone access and the game doesn’t need it, toggle the mic permission off.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Find out how to track a phone with these helpful tracking tips
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  • Selling your phone or tablet? Here’s how to wipe your Android phone




31
Dec

England plans to map the entire country in 3D using planes equipped with lasers


The Environment Agency of England has announced an ambitious plan to map the entirety of the country, which encompasses some 130,000 square kilometers (about 50,000 square miles). This will be donw using aircraft equipped with laser scanners, Sky News reports.

Within the next three years, England will use light detection and ranging (LIDAR) to survey the entirety of the country at one-meter resolution. LIDAR imaging has been an ongoing process for nearly 20 years in an effort to reduce flood risk. At present, about 75 percent of the country has been mapped, but the coverage is sparse in unpopulated areas and national parks.

All the data will also be available free to the public, as is the case with the current LIDAR data. In the past two years, users made more than a half-million LIDAR downloads from the Survey Open Data site.

“I’m pleased we are able to gather, use and share such valuable data to contribute to environmental improvements and conservation,” said Sir James Beven, chief executive of the agency. “It’s just one of the many ways the Environment Agency is using technology to help people and wildlife.”

In addition to urban planners and environmentalists assessing impacts of weather, the data can also be used in a variety of ways, such as game developers wishing to make accurate models of the countryside, or creating a 3D sculpture of the city of London. In 2016, for example, archaeologists used the LIDAR images to discover ancient Roman roads that had been “lost” for centuries.

The survey maps are created by planes equipped with laser scanners, which measure the distance between the aircraft and the ground. At present, about 40 percent of the country is either not surveyed, or has only been mapped at two meters resolution, or the survey is more than 10 years old.

The newer LIDAR technology allows planes to fly at a higher altitude, which covers larger areas more consistently and results in a higher quality digital terrain model. Most of the surveying will be done during wintertime, when the lack of tree leaves means the laser pulses can reach the ground.

Beven says the project has many benefits. “This ambitious project will enhance our understanding of England’s unique natural features and landscape, helping us to better understand flood risk, plan effective defenses and fight waste crime.”

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31
Dec

3 awesome things you get with your PlayStation Plus subscription


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PlayStation Plus is a lot more than a subscription service. It’s an essential part of the PS4 experience.

It seems that nearly every video game console developer has some version of a premium online subscription service. Nintendo will soon be launching a premium online subscription service, Microsoft has had Xbox Live Gold for quite some time now, and of course Sony has PlayStation Plus.

Each platform offers various services and perks to their subscribers. Have you been kicking around the idea of pulling the trigger on a PlayStation Plus subscription but you’re not entirely sure what you will be getting in exchange for your hard earned dollars? Let’s take a look at three things you will get with your PS Plus subscription

Online play

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With the exception of free to play or subscription based games a PlayStation Plus account is required to play multiplayer games online. So that means if you are picking up a copy of Destiny 2 and you expect to jump online and start leveling up your character right away, then you had better keep in mind that a PS Plus subscription is going to end up being part of your total cost.

Unfortunately, there are some games that are almost entirely online and without a PS Plus subscription there won’t be much you can do with your game other than using it as a sixty dollar coaster. You PlayStation Plus subscription ensures that you will be able to hop online and start killing stuff with your friends.

Deals, Deals, Deals!

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I would have to imagine that there were a few years there while Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo watched as gamers sacrificed their wallets and the altar of Steam sales. After seeing the sheer volume of product moved by steam they had no choice but to join them rather than try to beat them.

With your PlayStation Plus subscription, you will be privy to multitudes of sales and discounts. The common rabble will be stuck paying full price while you will be getting discounts that will occasionally dive as deep as 80%. If you are money conscience then you can rest easy knowing you are getting deals that you can’t always get elsewhere.

Free games!

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One of the most appealing features of a PlayStation Plus account is what sometimes referred to as the Instant Game Collection. Every month PS Plus subscribers will get access to two select games for absolutely free. That means that by the end of one year of subscription you could have 24 games. Instant Game Collection! Something else that should be mentioned is that there are two free selected games on PS4, Vita, AND PS3. If you have all three consoles that’s a pretty smoking deal.
Another important thing to note is that if you cancel your PlayStation Plus account you will lose access to the games that you received for free. You only have those free games while your account is active.

If your interest has been piqued and you would like to give PS Plus a spin then you have an option to give it a chance for free. Sony offers a 14-day free trial which will give you the opportunity to get that beak wet without spending any money. If you decide that you love it you essentially have 3 options. You can pay $9.99 a month, $24.99 every three months or you can drop $59.99 and you will be set for the whole year. If you don’t feel like handing your credit card info over to Sony then you can also pick up a PlayStation Plus subscription card at applicable brick and mortar retailers or you can just snag one off of Amazon.

Personally, I really dig PlayStation Plus. I have had a subscription since I first picked up my PS4 and I have been happy with it the whole time. As far as I am concerned, the free games alone make it worth the price of admission. If I have to have the subscription to play games online with my friends anyway, it’s nice to have the addition of free games and discounts.

Why are we reviewing PlayStation 4 games on Android Central? Let us explain.

PlayStation 4

ps4-controllers.jpg

  • PS4 vs. PS4 Slim vs. PS4 Pro: Which should you buy?
  • PlayStation VR Review
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Amazon

31
Dec

5 easy ways to get the most out of your Android phone’s camera


There are a few tricks you can use to get the most out of any phone’s camera.

With a smartphone in every pocket, taking photos has become one of the most-used features of these powerful little computers. But there’s more to it than just hardware and software — you need to know how to use it all! That’s why we’re continuing our 12 days of tech tips with a super-useful one: taking better photos.

You may know how this stuff works, but your friends and family may only be novices when it comes to photography. You can always hand off some of these powerful and simple tips to them!

Clean the lens

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Yes, really. It feels like the simplest possible thing, because it is! And that’s why we forget about it. Our phones come with us everywhere and that means the camera lenses are far more susceptible to getting covered in fingerprints and dirt and all kinds of other things. You may not notice when you’re taking photos that there’s a smudge on your camera lens, but trust us: take a second to wipe off your lens before you take your next important photo, and it can make a world of difference in the end product.

This is actually even more important for selfies, because the camera lens often has no physical separation from the main glass covering the screen and is far more likely to have smudges on it from using your phone every day. Front-facing cameras are typically lower resolution and quality to begin with as well, making them less likely to overcome a smudge on the lens glass. Give the top bit of your phone screen a good wipe down before taking a selfie — you’ll be impressed by the difference it makes.

Turn on viewfinder grid lines

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Most camera apps offer some sort of grid line option, but it’s almost never turned on by default. If your phone offers grid lines, turning them on will help a ton with your photo composition. It may seem annoying to have all of these lines across the viewfinder at first, but you need to realize how important it is to have good visual separation and proportions in your photos.

The typical lines you’ll find in most camera apps will be a simple 3×3 grid, which helps you follow the tried-and-true “rule of thirds” method of framing scenes. The flat lines will also help you set up flat horizons on longer photos (like sunsets) or make sure that you don’t get your phone angled so far that it throws off the perspective of the shot you’re trying to take.

Use your flash as a last resort

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It’s often said that photography is just the mastery of light. That’s even truer on smartphones with tiny camera sensors that struggle to take in available light. In a dark or mixed lighting scene, it may be enticing to turn on your camera’s flash — but resist the temptation! The flash is typically too bright and too direct to be used anytime you have a subject close to you, completely washing out everything with bright white light. At the same time, it’s not strong enough to work properly to fill a larger space.

Instead, move around your phone or your subject (when possible) to adjust the light instead of relying on the flash — you’ll take better photos every time. Also keep in mind you can use tap-to-focus in most cameras to reset the exposure on a specific point — often times that’s all it takes to get the lighting right on your subject instead of the background that you don’t really care about.

Consider a mini tripod

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You’ll notice that I’m not mentioning a selfie stick. Show yourself some respect and get a tripod with a smartphone holder instead. There are great cheap models all over the place, ranging from simple stiff-legged models up to ones with flexible legs and magnets in the feet. Pair it up with a smartphone clamp and you’ll be set up to take all kinds of photos.

Tripods are useful for self-portraits without having to resort to a selfie stick, but can also seriously improve your low-light shots and of course long exposure or timelapse photos just by propping up your phone for a few seconds or a minute. A tiny tripod that folds up and fits in a pocket can widen the range of your photography capabilities.

Use a photo backup service

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None of these tips help you in any way unless you’re backing up your photos so they’re safely copied off of your phone. You can take a fantastic photo, and even share it out on social networks, but you really should have a backup of that original.

Google Photos is a fantastic choice with both free and paid backup tiers, as is Dropbox. The best services are ones that will back up regularly and automatically — you don’t want to leave backing up to your ability to remember to do it manually!

Go take some great photos

With these tips in mind, and a little preparation with a new app or maybe an accessory like a tripod, you’ll be taking better photos and backing them up to enjoy for years to come!

31
Dec

Make the jump to 4K and HDR in 2018


After years of hype, 4K video finally became something that mattered to consumers in 2017. But it wasn’t just the pixel bump from HD video that made the difference. HDR, or high dynamic range video, along with support for a wider range of colors, ushered in some massive visual upgrades. Altogether, they add up to the home theater evolution we’ve been waiting for since the dawn of the high-definition era. And in 2018, it’ll be something everyone can enjoy.

4K is the most straightforward step forward: It offers four times as many pixels as 1080p. But while that might sound exciting, it’s not a noticeable leap unless you’re sitting very close to a large TV set. HDR, on the other hand, is an upgrade you definitely can’t miss. It lets you see both brighter and darker elements in an image. Shots of the sun or huge explosions end up looking almost as vibrant as they do in real life. (In fact, on high-end TVs the brightness can sometimes make you squint your eyes.) And while being able to see darker images might not sound exciting, it’s a big help for things like Daredevil’s nighttime fight scenes.

The benefit of wide color gamut support, or WCG, is immediately noticeably when you’re watching something like Planet Earth 2, which shows off seemingly every naturally occurring shade. Until now, home video formats could only display a limited amount of colors. But with WCG, all of the primary pigments — red, green and blue — are bolder and more realistic than ever.

So what makes things better for 4K and HDR next year? The most obvious answer: The TVs supporting those new formats will come even further down in price. Previously, you’d have to spend close to $1,000 to get a decent 50-inch TV. But today, one of the most widely recommended 55-inch models, TCL’s P series, goes for just $650. And if you don’t mind skimping a bit on picture quality, you can find already similarly sized sets for even less.

That also means that large TVs are becoming more affordable. Vizio’s mid-range M series line starts at $1,000 for the 65-inch model, and you can go all the way up to 75 inches for $2,000. That’s the sort of TV you previously could only dream of — not something normal people could buy. By next year, many consumers might consider a 65-inch set as their default upgrade, and I wouldn’t be surprised if TVs beyond 70-inches become more popular.

And even if you’re not just trying to stuff the biggest screen possible into your home, once high-end technology, like OLED, is also becoming more affordable. Not surprisingly, OLED is the upgrade videophiles are really excited about. It offers more contrast than LCD sets and better black levels, plus it doesn’t suffer from motion blurring. And if you care about home decor, OLED sets can be shockingly thin. LG’s new W series are as thick as two quarters stacked on top of each other — something that also requires them to be wall mounted, since it’s physically impossible to balance them with a traditional table-mounted stand.

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Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

While OLED TVs are still significantly more expensive than LCDs (LG’s cheapest 55-inch model goes for $1,500 now, compared to $650 for TCL’s set), the gap between the two is diminishing quickly. And if you’re looking for an upgrade that’ll completely blow you away, it’s worth splurging on an OLED. Naturally, they’ll get even cheaper next year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if LG had a few surprises in store for CES. LCDs are catching up in terms of quality, so they’ll have to make it even clearer why OLEDs are worth the premium.

It’s also worth noting that we’re currently in the second generation of 4K sets. The first crop, which came out starting in 2014, didn’t have the benefit of HDR or much content to justify upgrading from a decent 1080p TV. Today, just about every new show from Netflix and Amazon supports 4K, and most also offer HDR. And since streaming sites are rushing to produce their own original show and films, that means we’re going to see a bounty of new 4K content to keep us glued to the couch in 2018.

Apple also finally dipped its toes into ultra-high definition video this year with the Apple TV 4K. It’s a decent set-top box, but what’s really significant is that Apple chose not to increase pricing for 4K movies on iTunes, making them available for between $15 and $20. Previously, Vudu and Amazon typically charged $30 for a 4K film. It was a move that made buying and renting 4K content much more palatable. And, not surprisingly, the competition has now fallen in line with Apple and lowered their pricing.

So if you ever find a good deal on a 4K movie to stream, you have Apple to thank, regardless of which service you’re using. Apple still has one big advantage, though: It automatically upgrades any of your iTunes movie purchases to 4K, assuming they support the new format. For now, that includes most recent big budget releases, but we’re starting to see older films get bumped up to 4K as well.

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Michele Tantussi/Getty Images

So why does any of this matter? Basically, we now have the ability to watch movies at home at the same quality they’re projected in theaters. In fact, most cinemas don’t even support HDR yet, so in some respects you’re getting a better image in your living room. If you’re streaming 4K, you still have to deal with occasional artifacts and buffering. But if you jump aboard the 4K Blu-ray bandwagon, you’ll be able to see films at their most pristine. Just be ready to buy a new player, or an Xbox One X or One S to view those discs. And of course, with the rise of streaming video, the days of physical media are arguably over. As I noted last year, 4K Blu-ray was practically dead before it launched. But as a cinephile, I plan to take full advantage of the format until it’s officially retired.

Another reason 2018 will be the best year to upgrade your TV? The 4K format likely won’t change much over for a while. The world of HDR is still in flux, but even that’s beginning to settle. Dolby Vision and HDR10 are the two competing formats, and they’re both getting steady improvements. Specifically, the new HDR10+ will bring in some features from Dolby Vision. 8K video is on the horizon as well, but you can ignore that for the next few years. It’s going to take a long while before 8K TVs and content are ready, and even when they are, it might not be a huge leap over 4K.

The big takeaway: It’s never been a better time to invest in your home theater. (Check out our TV buying primer for some help.) While 4K and HDR has been a tough sell for a while, they’ve matured to a point where it’ll finally be safe to upgrade in 2018.

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