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23
Apr

Why is a celebrity personal finance guru suing Facebook?


Martin Lewis is a British journalist, TV presenter and Ralph Nader-esque campaigner who has announced that he will sue Facebook for defamation. The consumer champion has seen his face co-opted by nefarious types who use his name (and brand) to sell cryptocurrency scams. These get-rich-quick ads are often posted on Facebook, and since the social network doesn’t seem to have a handle on them, Lewis is taking the battle to court.

Lewis is the founder of MoneySavingExpert, a hugely influential UK site that advises people on the cheapest financial and commercial products. If you’ve ever read The Points Guy, then you’ve got a fair idea of what Lewis does, but with a focus on consumer credit and household bills. He regularly appears on Good Morning Britain, one of the UK’s major morning shows and even has his own prime-time broadcast TV show. So, in the UK at least, he has cultivated a brand as an honest and serious champion of consumer rights.

Which explains why so many crypto scams have harnessed his likeness to sell “Bitcoin from home,” and “Increase your income!” scams. Often, as in the example images seen here (taken from Lewis’ own statement), the scammers mock up fake news pages from BBC News and other reputable news websites. You may not be fooled, but others have been, and Lewis says that one individual was duped into spending £100,000 ($140,000) on such scams.

Lewis isn’t the only person to become an unwilling spokesperson for scam adverts, and Richard Branson has also suffered a similar fate. We have seen adverts posted online that feature an image of the Virgin Group billionaire that has been photoshopped to make him look bloody. When you click through, it directs you to a fake-CNN page advertising a way for people to get rich quick with cryptocurrencies or binary trading investments. It is not clear if Branson took his criticism further, or sought to shut down fraudulent uses of his image in another way.

You may, of course, be wondering how these adverts reach the eyeballs of most folks, and it’s mostly down to self-service ad platforms. Essentially, anyone with a credit card can sign up to buy ads on the social network, and can target them to specific groups of people. Put very, very simply, you can upload an image, set a target demographic, and a budget for how much you’re prepared to spend. It probably isn’t hard to use a platform to target, say, vulnerable folks with professional-looking adverts.

Lewis is, however, targeting Facebook rather than the advertising individuals themselves, attempting to hold the social network accountable for what is published on its site. Since there is no telling how many people are behind the numerous scams, many of whom may be outside the UK, going after them all would be difficult. But Facebook, as the guardian of those adverts (and which likely profited from their publication) is potentially a better target for a lawsuit.

He has retained Mark Lewis (no relation), a famous British lawyer who has successfully fought landmark claims concerning phone hacking, as well as statements made on social media. In an interview with The Guardian, the solicitor said that the “adverts are in a lacuna of regulation.” He added that “no newspaper would have run these adverts, and certainly not over 50 times.” This case will, as usual, raise questions about if Facebook is a publisher, rather than a platform, a title it has fought hard to refuse.

In its terms of service, Facebook prohibits ads that infringe on a third party, and those that contain misleading content. But the social network does not specify how it enforces or reviews the ads it broadcasts. The site does say that it reviews the adverts that are reviewed before they appear on the site, but that only raises questions as to what those moderators are looking for. Especially if they are giving ads like this a free pass:

Technology lawyer Neil Brown believes that the Martin Lewis lawsuit, “while not guaranteed to succeed, is not necessarily doomed to fail.” He explained to Engadget that if Martin Lewis is to emerge from this battle victorious, he’s going to have to swim against the generally-accepted legal tides that have existed for years. It’s a common principle that the platform holder, in this case Facebook, isn’t responsible for the things that its users publish on their pages. Certainly, before FOSTA-SESTA, the provisions for publishers and “platform holders,” was seen as inviolate.

And in the UK, 2002’s eCommerce directive essentially gave websites a free pass from civil or criminal liability. The only real exception to this was where the host was actually told about the problematic content it was hosting. In that instance, once it knows about violating media, the website needs to act “expeditiously to remove or disable access to the information.”

These protections don’t extend to companies that intervene in some way with the content that may alter things. Back in 2011, cosmetics brand L’Oreal sued eBay for allowing the sale of counterfeit makeup on its platform. eBay wanted to rely upon those protections, but a European Court found that since eBay had helped promote these listings, they were liable. It added that eBay should have been more proactive in looking to take down content that was potentially infringing.

In court, Facebook will also need to argue that it is not a publisher but a platform, and that it is not necessarily operating within the UK’s jurisdiction. All of which are knotty questions that will likely need to be answered in the country’s superior courts, and may result in a European challenge.

In a statement to Engadget, a Facebook spokesperson said that it “does not allow adverts which are misleading or false.” They added that Lewis “should report any adverts that infringe his rights, and they will be removed.” It goes on to say that Facebook is “in direct contact with his team, offering to help and promptly investigating their requests.” Facebook’s position is entirely legal within the scope of the 2002 directive, but the position my change in the future. After all, putting the onus on Martin Lewis, or any other individual, to monitor every instance that a fake advert uses their name, seems quite unreasonable.

In his statement, Lewis says that Facebook, which is a “leader in face and text recognition,” should easily be able to weed out these scam ads. He added that “it’s time that Facebook was made to take responsibility,” because “nothing else has worked,” and “people need protection.” But if Lewis is hoping that Facebook will be told to clean up its act by monitoring every ad that it hosts, it might have some trouble.

The decision will also have ramifications for other companies that offer self-service ad platforms, like Yahoo*. Which has also been said to have similar issues with potentially questionable adverts, including ones featuring Richard Branson. In a statement, the company told us that it expects its “advertisers to comply with all laws, regulations and policies.” An unnamed spokesperson added that the company “regularly take[s] action to block ads in violation of our policies, as well as bad actors who work to circumvent our human and automated controls.”

Neil Brown explained that the case of Sabam v Netlog effectively lets companies like Facebook off the hook. Essentially, the Belgian musical copyright society wanted an ISP “install a filtering system to weed out electronic files for which the applicant claimed to hold copyright.” But the European court found that to do so would be to impose an unnecessary burden on a company.

Then again, that case took place in 2012, when Facebook wasn’t yet considered the bete noire of the world. The company had just had a blockbuster IPO and had a billion users, but was still seen as a success story. With the increase in the company’s financial and technical clout, plus its currently poor reputation, Facebook may find courts in 2018 aren’t so forgiving.

*Yahoo is now part of Oath, Engadget’s parent company.

Images: Screenshots from Martin Lewis / MoneySavingExpert.

Source: MoneySavingExpert

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23
Apr

Court blocks Trump’s delay of fuel efficiency penalties


The Trump administration’s efforts to undo car efficiency guidelines just hit a major obstacle. A federal court has blocked a White House attempt to delay the implementation of a rule toughening penalties for automakers that don’t meet national fuel efficiency standards. The measure (which was supposed to take effect in July 2017) raises the penalty rate by $8.50 for every tenth of a mile per gallon beyond the minimum fuel standard. The hope, unsurprisingly, was to encourage brands to hit Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) targets through 2025, reducing CO2 emissions and saving drivers money.

It’s not certain what if anything the White House can do next, although EPA chief Scott Pruitt has been pushing to relax the standards and reduce the ability of states to set stricter environmental protection policies. Companies could still be on the hook if they fell short of goals, but the chances of their falling short would be that much lower.

As it stands, the administration’s attempt to roll back penalties may have come too late for both hesitant automakers and the fossil fuel industry. Many major car companies are ramping up their electric vehicle efforts to the point where they’ll have many EV models on the road within the next few years. Average efficiency is likely to climb simply because fewer cars will be using fuel in the first place, and a gas-guzzling SUV may soon become more of a liability than an asset.

Source: New York Attorney General

23
Apr

EU launches anti-trust investigation into Apple’s purchase of Shazam


Late last year, Apple announced that it would be acquiring Shazam. Due to the size of the deal, Apple didn’t have to get clearance from the European Commission (EC) itself, as it would have had to do if the proposed acquisition had been larger. But it did have to seek clearance from Austria. However, in February, the EC announced that upon request from Austria and six other European countries, it would, in fact, be assessing the deal and today the commission said that it’s launching an in-depth investigation into the acquisition.

“The way people listen to music has changed significantly in recent years, with more and more Europeans using music streaming services,” Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. “Our investigation aims to ensure that music fans will continue to enjoy attractive music streaming offers and won’t face less choice as a result of this proposed merger.” The EC will be looking into whether Apple’s purchase of Shazam will give it access to data that would allow it to target and try to attract customers of other streaming services. It will also investigate whether other services would be harmed if Shazam stopping referring users to them after Apple takes over.

The EC has to give a decision by September 4th.

Via: Bloomberg

Source: European Commission

23
Apr

Johns Hopkins performs the first total penis and scrotum transplant


The first US penis transplant was successfully performed in 2016. Last year, a uterus transplant recipient gave birth for the first time in the US, too. Now, doctors at Johns Hopkins University have successfully transplanted an entire penis and scrotum to a young serviceman who sustained injuries in Afghanistan resulting in the loss of his genitals.

“We are hopeful that this transplant will help restore near-normal urinary and sexual functions for this young man,” said Johns Hopkins’ W.P. Andrew Lee, M.D. in a statement. Nine plastic surgeons and two urological specialists took 14 hours to transplant a deceased donor’s entire penis and scrotum (minus testicles), along with a partial abdominal wall, to the young man, who wishes to remain anonymous.

“It’s a real mind-boggling injury to suffer, it is not an easy one to accept,” said the veteran in the statement. “When I first woke up, I felt finally more normal… [with] a level of confidence as well. Confidence… like finally I’m okay now.” This kind of transplant, called vascularized composite allotransplantation, is another alternative to using a patient’s own tissues to reconstruct a penis, which typically needs a prosthetic implant (which can introduce infection) to achieve full function, like erections. The current transplant recipient is on a course of immunosuppressive medication to prevent rejection of the transplanted tissue.

Source: Johns Hopkins

23
Apr

J. Cole Breaks Apple Music First-Day Streaming Record as Apple Plans Country Music Push in Nashville


Apple Music has been the focus of numerous record-breaking reports in recent weeks, and the latest comes from rapper J. Cole after he broke the service’s record for most album streams in the first 24 hours in the United States. In total, subscribers streamed J. Cole’s fifth album “KOD” 64.5 million times on Friday, April 20, surpassing Drake’s “Views” — the previous record holder — by almost 1 million streams.

Apple reported the numbers to The Verge, also stating that seven of the top 10 most streamed songs in a 24-hour period on Apple Music are all from “KOD.” In total, Apple Music represented 66 percent of first-day streams for “KOD” in the U.S. and 60 percent worldwide, edging out streaming competitors like Spotify in terms of streams for J. Cole’s latest album.

Earlier in April, Cardi B broke Apple Music’s record for most first-week streams by a female artist, surpassing 100 million streams. The rapper’s numbers grew so rapidly after “Invasion of Privacy” launched that she beat Taylor Swift’s streaming record, launching the album into Apple Music’s fifth most-streamed album ever.

As Apple Music continues to grow, one analyst predicted that the service will keep up its progress and average 40 percent growth each year for the next three years. Apple Music currently sits at just over 40 million subscribers, so analyst Ben Schachter’s prediction puts the streaming music service at over 100 million paid subscribers sometime in 2021. Given Apple Music’s steady growth, that milestone could happen even sooner.

J. Cole’s success with “KOD” follows Carl Chery’s exit from Apple Music to Spotify. As head of hip-hop programming, Chery was instrumental in garnering success for Apple Music in the hip-hop/rap genres, helping to discover artists like Khalid, 6LACK, and Post Malone. At Spotify, Chery will reportedly work on the service’s RapCaviar playlist and bolster Spotify’s hip-hop presence in much the same way as he did for Apple Music.

In a separate report from Variety this morning, Apple is said to be gearing up for a bigger push into country music by moving Apple Music’s Jay Liepis to Nashville. In the city, Liepis will lead a team “dedicated to being more involved with artists, managers, songwriters and the label community at large.” Later in 2018, Apple will open an office in Nashville with the hopes of keeping “an eye on closer relations” with the country music industry, as well as other genres growing out of Nashville, including rock, pop, Christian/gospel, Americana, and hip-hop.

Tag: Apple Music
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23
Apr

European Regulators Concerned Apple’s Proposed Shazam Acquisition Could Hurt Competitors Like Spotify


The European Commission today announced it has opened an in-depth investigation into Apple’s proposed acquisition of Shazam.

The regulators are concerned that the merger could reduce choice for users of streaming music services in Europe. In particular, they believe that Apple could gain access to sensitive data that could allow Apple to directly target its competitors’ customers and encourage them to switch to Apple Music.

While the European Commission did not name any specific services, Apple Music’s biggest rival in Europe is Spotify, headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden. Other competitors include Deezer, Tidal, and Google Play Music.

European Commission competition chief Margrethe Vestager:

The way people listen to music has changed significantly in recent years, with more and more Europeans using music streaming services. Our investigation aims to ensure that music fans will continue to enjoy attractive music streaming offers and won’t face less choice as a result of this proposed merger.

In addition, the European Commission said it will investigate whether Apple Music’s competitors would be harmed if Apple were to discontinue referrals from the Shazam app to them following the acquisition. Shazam’s app currently integrates with multiple services, including Spotify and Deezer.

The regulators have set a September 4, 2018 deadline to reach a decision, delaying an Apple-Shazam merger for at least 90 days.

Apple announced its plans to acquire Shazam in December, describing the two companies as a “natural fit” with “exciting plans” ahead. In February, the European Commission received requests from Austria, France, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Spain, and Sweden to assess the deal under European merger law.

Shazam is a popular service that can identify the name and lyrics of songs, music videos, TV shows, and more. It has apps across iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, iMessage, and Mac, while the service has been built into Siri since iOS 8.

Tags: European Commission, Shazam
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23
Apr

Survey Finds Early Adopters of iPhone X Very Satisfied With All Features Except Siri


A survey conducted by research firm Creative Strategies last month has found that the iPhone X has a 97 percent customer satisfaction rate, primarily among early adopters of the smartphone in the United States, as noted by John Gruber.

The total includes 85 percent of respondents who said they are “very satisfied” with the iPhone X, which Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin said “is amongst the highest” he has ever seen “in all the customer satisfaction studies we have conducted across a range of technology products.”

12 percent of respondents said they are “satisfied” with the iPhone X, while three percent were unsatisfied to various degrees.

Of course, the higher the “very satisfied” responses, the better a product probably is. For perspective, research firm Wristly conducted a survey in 2015 that found the original Apple Watch also had a 97 percent overall customer satisfaction rate, but a lower 66 percent of respondents were “very satisfied.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook said the iPhone X has a 99 percent customer satisfaction rate on the company’s first quarter earnings call, citing a study by 451 Research, but Creative Strategies said its own survey had a significantly higher number of respondents that led to a more balanced number with room for slight variance.

Creative Strategies surveyed 1,746 respondents to be exact. The research firm informed MacRumors that respondents were profiled as early adopters based on a series of upfront questions about purchasing habits.

On a feature-by-feature basis, the iPhone X saw very high satisfaction rates in all but one area, including Face ID and battery life at above 90 percent. The sole exception was Siri, which scored only a 20 percent satisfaction rate among early adopters, leaving four out of every five respondents unimpressed.


As noted by Creative Strategies, early adopters tend to be more critical than mainstream consumers of technology, but Apple is widely considered to have lost the lead it once had with Siri in the artificial intelligence space.

The Information recently reported that Siri has become a “major problem” within Apple. The report opined that Siri remains “limited compared to the competition,” including Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, and added that the assistant is the main reason the HomePod has “underperformed” so far.

Apple responded to that report with a statement noting Siri is “the world’s most popular voice assistant” and touted “significant advances” to the assistant’s performance, scalability, and reliability.

“We have made significant advances in Siri performance, scalability and reliability and have applied the latest machine learning techniques to create a more natural voice and more proactive features,” Apple wrote in its statement. “We continue to invest deeply in machine learning and artificial intelligence to continually improve the quality of answers Siri provides and the breadth of questions Siri can respond to.”

Bajarin has been a respected technology analyst at Creative Strategies since 2000. For more details from the survey, read Top Takeaways From Studying iPhone X Owners and his paywalled follow-up report iPhone X Study Follow Up on Tech.pinions.

Tags: Siri, Creative Strategies
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23
Apr

HomeKit-Enabled GE Window Air Conditioner Now Available for Purchase


GE has a new HomeKit-enabled single-room air conditioner available for purchase, which is the first HomeKit-compatible GE product that’s launched so far.

The GE Energy Star 115 Volt Electronic Room Air Conditioner (model number AHP08LX) can be purchased exclusively from Lowe’s for $319. Though Lowe’s is charging $319, the GE site says the MSRP for the device is $269, so it may be prudent to wait for a sale.

According to GE, the Window Air Conditioner offers 8,000 BTUs sufficient for cooling medium-sized rooms of 250 to 350 square feet. It comes equipped with a WiFi Connect feature, designed to allow the unit to be controlled via a smartphone.

WiFi Connect supports HomeKit, allowing the device to be monitored and accessed through the dedicated Apple Home app and through Siri commands. HomeKit compatibility also lets it be incorporated into scenes and automations.

There are few HomeKit-enabled air conditioning units on the market at this point in time, with the only other HomeKit air conditioner available from Haier in a limited number of markets.

Tag: HomeKit
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23
Apr

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus Review – Perfected or astray?


Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Last year’s Galaxy S8 and S8+ were excellent but not flawless smartphones. Samsung had molded probably the best-rounded devices, with unrivaled display tech, blazing fast camera performance, and a feature-packed design. However, a couple distinct things were hard to overlook, most notably the terrible fingerprint scanner placement.

The new Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus come out as refreshes to address those imperfections more-so than introduce something new, apparent from their highly recycled designs. There’s more than meets the eye, but it’s a subtle fact. We’ll go over what you can expect.

Design

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+We got our hands on the Galaxy S9 in Coral Blue and S9 Plus in Midnight Black.

Most onlookers won’t tell a difference between a Galaxy S8 and S9. The most obvious differentiation is the change in fingerprint scanner placement. But it’s not exactly the same phone; tweaks are actually aplenty.

For instance, the metal frame is now matte instead of glossy. It’s a visual improvement (to our eyes) but in actuality, of little consequence usability. The finish is very smooth and still slippery. Coupled with the limited grip area due to the curved sides, this still is far from the easiest phone to hang onto. But it’s one of the prettiest, that’s for sure.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Frame comparison between new Galaxy S9 Plus and old Note 8.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

We like the aesthetic tweaks Samsung made.

We noticed quite a bit of heft when picking up the S9 Plus the first time. A spec sheet comparison confirmed that it packed on 16 grams from the S8 Plus. Some of that is probably due to the extra camera sensor on the larger model (the standard S9 is only 8 grams heavier). Digging deeper reveals that the Gorilla Glass 5 panels on the phones are 20% thicker. Samsung probably sought to improve drop impact resistance.

Read more: What are some of the best Samsung Galaxy S9 alternatives?

Additionally, the upgraded main camera module (which we’ll talk in-depth about later) seems to also have a thickness consequence. A camera hump is reintroduced (although, very slight). Mind you, the rear sensors retain their recessed protection.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+The slightest camera hump.

As touched on earlier, the fingerprint scanner can now be reasonably utilized, at an easily reachable location underneath the rear camera. It’s a little too low on the smaller S9 model, but nothing hard to adapt to. Another particularity is the unconventional shape of the scanner. It’s horizontally narrow, resulting in you registering more of your fingertip than an entire finger. But it doesn’t hinder functionality and is quick and reliable. It’s also nice to have the alternate options of IRIS retinal scanning or a combo of IRIS and facial recognition (looking at you, Apple).

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+Whereas last year the two models had the same camera offering, the S9 Plus now has a secondary 2x telephoto lens advantage.

We love Samsung’s maximized but un-notched screen-to-body ratio. The front of the S8 and S9 look the same, so many won’t know that Samsung actually reduced the bezel slightly. The bottom bezel lost roughly 2mm of width. Another fun fact is that the phones are about 1mm shorter. Very small improvements, but we’ll take them.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+Galaxy S9 (left) and S9 Plus (right).

Performance

Suffice to say, the Galaxy S9‘s actions are speedy throughout. Executions and scrolling are all silky smooth and carried out briskly. The common Samsung UI stutter shows up occasionally, but as it’s minimal as it has ever been. You really have to pay attention to catch it. Google, naturally, still technically takes the cake for seamlessness in the software with its Pixel phones.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+The bottom port layout is the same as last year, with a headphone jack, USB-C port, and speaker. And all extra features we love continue: IP68 waterproofing, microSD card slot, and fast wireless charging.

That said, the Snapdragon 845 doesn’t feel like a drastic step-up from the 835. We’re getting very minimal performance gains now. And the extra 2GB of RAM on the S9 Plus (4GB on the S9 vs. 6GB on the S9 Plus) is of little consequence. We wouldn’t know it if we weren’t told.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+A day and night’s battery results on the S9+. Very consistent drain on T-Mobile network and WiFi, and superbly minimal in standby.

Battery life is additionally a similar experience as last year, which is unfortunate. Not that the S8’s battery life was bad. It’s just that since the Note 7 disaster, Samsung has stopped progressing in this area. We think the S9 was the time for the company to move past the mishap, but they didn’t agree. The S9 and S9 Plus have the same capacities as their predecessors, 3,000mAh and 3,500mAh, respectively. And the Snapdragon 845 didn’t bring as big of battery optimizations that the 835 did, so battery life results have been about the same in our experience. The S9 Plus has been consistent in getting us through the day with moderate-to-high usage, but not much more. The S9 trails slightly behind the S9 Plus. It shouldn’t be a struggle to get through the day, you just have to be mindful.

Read more: The five best Android smartphones you can buy right now

One of the big upgrades this year is the additional external speaker. The earpiece now doubles as a loudspeaker, in tandem with the bottom-firing one that we’re used to. And boy, we forget how much of a difference a speaker pointed towards the user makes. It’s not the superior, dual front-facing setup, but it makes a world of difference compared to the previous single, bottom speaker. It makes for a more rounded, immersive and louder video watching experience, especially with Dolby Atmos enabled.

Display

Little has been updated in the S-AMOLED display tech from last year. Proportions like the screens sizes (5.8″ and 6.2″, at an 18.5:9 aspect ratio) and QHD+ resolution (but still set to FHD out of the box) stay the same. And we see an equivalently crisp picture, vibrant but accurate colors, and unfazed viewing angles. This is fine; the display quality is perfect in our eyes. Samsung still is the clear king of smartphone displays.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Galaxy S9 Plus

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Galaxy S9

But we can’t forget about brightness – a tricky subject in mobile displays. In the Note 8, we saw Samsung make a big upgrade in the brightness capacity of its panel, able to shoot up to a whopping 1,200 nits. This feature naturally migrated to the new Galaxy S9’s, though, at a slightly lower 1,130 nits. Close enough. This display can tackle sunlight like no other.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+Size and bezel comparison between S9 Plus (left) and Note 8 (right).

The feel of curved display on the sides remains the same to us, even though Samsung stated that the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus has a slightly steeper curve than their predecessors. There will always be the argument of practically, which we side with. Palm rejection is in place to combat inadvertent touch in handling, but accidentally input is still abound in our experience, especially when trying to get away with only using one hand (even in the smaller model).

Camera

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Camera interface on S9 is slightly tweaked to allow scrolling through modes.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Only way to manually select aperture is through “Pro” mode.

We all know that the camera upgrade is the highlight of the Galaxy S9 refresh. Namely, the neat mechanically variable aperture ability of the primary module – a first in a smartphone. But Samsung set itself up for consumers asking, “How does that benefit me?” More specifically, our immediate question was: Why would you want to shoot at f/2.4 instead of f/1.5 at all? The camera defaults to f/2.4 after all (automatically switching to the wider f/1.5 lens opening only when ambient light drops to 100 lux or lower), so there better be a good reason.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Main camera at f/1.5.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Main camera at f/2.4.

There isn’t. The only difference in f/2.4 from f/1.5 is a slightly deeper depth of field (larger area of sharpness than blur). This is neither an advantage or disadvantage, just a preference. But the opposite does have a clear benefit because f/1.5 can let in a whole lot more light than f/2.4. Hence, we’re left questioning why isn’t the camera just set to f/1.5 for everything. The real answer is probably that the feature is paving the way to the future, but not yet of any use. We can’t imagine Samsung admitting this, though.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Note 8 with f/1.7.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Galaxy S9 at f/1.5 – clearer picture and better colors.

As far as the quality of shots, we see similar characteristics as last year: slightly warm, bright (sometimes too much), fine sharpness, and excellent contrast (great HDR processing for the most part).

Camera Samples

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

However, we noticed at times that f/2.4 shots look slightly over-exposed. Especially comparing side-by-side shots with the Note 8’s f/1.7 sensor, which often had deeper contrast. This is interesting because a lower aperture lets in more light and thus a brighter shot. We think Samsung may be overcompensating in post-processing to make sure there’s no lower-light ill-effect of the narrower f/2.4 opening, but it’s hurting quality.

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S9 rated as best smartphone by Consumer Reports

We’ve always loved Samsung’s blazing fast “Dual Pixel” auto-focus system. It’s now called “Super Speed Dual Pixel”, enhanced by the addition of dedicated RAM to the camera. But we’re told that improvement here is the behind-the-scenes multi-frame capture (the system shoots up to 12 frames in one shot to compile the clearest reproduction), not the AF speed as the name suggests. Another benefit of the upgraded camera is 960 fps slow-mo recording. There’s some compromise to get that incredible frame-rate, in the form of 720P resolution and reduced lighting (pretty terrible indoors), but it’s still neat to have.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Galaxy S9 at f/1.5.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Live Focus shot – more cropped in and more blur than even the lens at f/1.5 can provide.

Software

In usual fashion, the Galaxy S9’s dropped with the latest Android version, while their predecessors are struggling to catch up. Samsung isn’t the best with updating its existing phones. Something to note is that we’re looking at Android 8.0 (Oreo), not the more current 8.1 (at the time of this writing).

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Home screen of the Galaxy S9.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Drop-down panel looks similar but notification “cards” are revamped for Android Oreo.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

App drawer has changed very little. Notice the bug in Samsung’s UI that can’t disable icon frames in some of the Google apps, despite setting it to.

Samsung’s UI is also upped to v9.0. Though, its aesthetics are largely the same as on the S8/Note8. The main updates actually revolve around Oreo’s new features, like Picture-in-Picture (PnP) mode, more efficient and cleaner notification system, and custom long-press app icon shortcuts.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

The Bixby panel can supply useful information/shortcuts, but you can make the dedicated button inactive if desired.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

We love that Samsung kept Google’s new features intact, like the app long-press shortcut menu. Now if only more developers supported it.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

Samsung’s new AR Emoji real-time avatar is a failed (and creepy) attempt to challenge Apple animoji’s.

Samsung is invested in its home-brewed Bixby virtual assistant, so it’s not going anywhere (nor is the dedicated Bixby button). Bixby operation is also the same as before (we won’t see any drastic updates until v2.0, supposedly arriving later in the year). So there’s the panel on the most left that aggregates information from apps of your choice ala “card” style, and long-pressing the Bixby button toggles voice commands. An advantage Bixby has on others is its robust ability to carry out specific actions, even within third-party apps.

Final Thoughts

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+

It’s no doubt that the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus are two of the best smartphones you can buy right now. There isn’t much reason that they shouldn’t be recommended. Price is always a sensitive subject with top-end smartphones, but their prices aren’t unreasonably inflated. Well, that is, until the greedy carriers jacked up the prices.

On the other hand, the S9 and S9 Plus don’t offer a whole lot from their predecessors. It’s the most minimal refresh we’ve seen from Samsung. And when that happens, it muddles the recommendation. Most will probably agree that the S9’s updates aren’t worth hundreds more. And it doesn’t help that its most highlighted feature, the variable aperture camera, doesn’t actually equate to much. The considerable benefits of the S9 are the dual speakers, wide f/1.5 lens, corrected fingerprint scanner location, and brighter screen. It’ll be up to you if that’s worth the extra dough.

Read next: What we know so far: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

The devices for this review were provided by Verizon, provider of the nation’s largest and most reliable 4G LTE network

23
Apr

This exquisite clockwork contraption will sign your name — for $365,000


When the prestigious Swiss watchmaker Jaquet Droz began building its Signing Machine in 2014, perhaps it was thinking it might be perfect for famous folks fed up with having to repeatedly pen their autograph for adoring fans.

But a lot has happened in the last four years, with the once sought-after autograph having given way to the celebrity selfie, where the fan sidles up beside their hero and sticks a smartphone in front of their faces for a quick snap.

Whatever the reason, Jaquet Droz has finally unveiled its exquisite Signing Machine, an astonishing pocket-sized contraption that showcases the company’s mechanical clockwork technology by replicating your signature. It does this via a retractable arm that contains a slot for a pen. The Signing Machine is now available to purchase, with the maker incorporating the owners’s signature into the design when building the device.

As with the very finest of old-school timepieces, the Signing Machine needs to be wound up before it can begin the process of signing merchandise, contracts, checks … well, pretty much anything you like. But keep in mind, this handmade machine comprises 585 different parts, so you’ll only get about two signatures from it before it’ll need winding up again. Saying that, if your name is more “Englebert Humperdinck” than “Bono,” your finger and thumb may have to bounce back into action before the machine even makes it to your family name.

The Signing Machine was unveiled at the recent Baselworld watch extravaganza in Switzerland. The box of tricks, which forms part of the brand’s 280th anniversary celebrations, takes inspiration from The Writer and The Draughtsman, two pen-holding automatons created by company founder Pierre Jaquet Droz and his son, Henri-Louis, in the late 18th century to help promote their timepieces. The two human-like machines, along with another called The Musician, can be seen today at the Neuchâtel Museum of Art and History in Switzerland.

According to the watchmaker, the Signing Machine’s movement has been “reworked for fluidity, carrying out perfect, more consistent signatures” than you can get with The Writer.

To prevent some villainous individual from running off with the machine and signing away the owner’s life, the device can only be activated via a code chosen by the owner.

Anyone ordering The Signing Machine will be able to select most of its decorative elements, “keeping with the philosophy of Jaquet Droz to create truly unique objects of art, executed by hand within its workshops,” which is just as well considering the device will set you back around $365,000.

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