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How to create a smart living room for under $250

Smart home technology is more than just a buzzword these days. With our lives increasingly transformed by the internet of things (IoT), it seems everything from our light bulbs to our thermostat is becoming connected. For consumers, this means that almost every new product boasts some kind of smart technology that promises to make our lives faster, simpler, and better with home automation.

As anyone who’s recently thought about renovating their home knows, the costs of implementing smart home technology can quickly add up. However, by being shrewd about which brands and products you invest in, you can quickly and easily make your home “smart,” even if you’re starting from scratch.

Getting started with smart home automation

Are you thinking about bringing your home out of the dark ages with smart home devices? Trying to get things started with home automation can be intimidating, but a smart home doesn’t have to be filled with crazy gadgets and robot devices. It’s as simple as swapping out everyday products with devices that fulfill the same role, but are connected to each other in order to improve home automation. By setting up a system of triggers and responses that accomplish smalls tasks, you can save yourself time, energy, effort, and even increase home security.

Choosing a Hub

The first step when automating your home is to choose your smart home hub or platform. The most popular ones include Amazon Alexa, Google Home Assistant, and Apple HomeKit. When deciding which one to use as the base for your smart home, consider things like whether you prefer one system over the others, what technology you already own, and what activities you want to automate. For instance, if you’re an Amazon Prime member and listen to Amazon Music regularly, you may find more value with Alexa. Or, if you want to sync your Google activity including Gmail and Chrome, then Google Assistant may be the right ecosystem for you.

All three are compatible with a huge host of devices, so you won’t be starved of good options. For this roundup, we’ve decided to focus on Alexa-enabled devices, as they’re relatively inexpensive and there are a multitude of options for each product category.

The Beginner’s Kit

Ready to dip your toe into the world of smart home automation? Below are the essential Alexa-enabled smart home products that will help you take your home from a sorry state to state-of-the-art.

+ Customize Your Bundle

Echo Dot


Mini Smart Plug (2-Pack)


Fire TV Stick


Smart Security Camera


Smart Bulb Starter Kit



Echo Dot smart speaker (2nd-gen) – $39

A wireless smart speaker is the absolute first investment you should make when transforming your digs into a smart dwelling. A speaker is the hub through which you can play music, ask questions, set alarms, and control all your other compatible smart home devices. One of the most popular voice-controlled speakers around is the Echo Dot, created by Amazon for use with virtual assistant Alexa. It’s compatible with over 10,000 smart home devices, including smart lighting, door locks, doorbell, smart thermostat, garage door, home entertainment systems, and even your home security cameras. Blending decent sound quality with minimalist design, the Echo Dot is available in black or white.

While the full lineup of Amazon Echo products is vast, the Dot is by far the most affordable option and can accomplish everything you need for basic home automation. Plus, it’s currently on sale for $39, regular $49.

Buy Separately

TECKIN Smart Plugs – $19

This is an easy upgrade for someone who doesn’t want to overhaul their home’s hardware, but still wants to add smart wireless functionality. Simply insert the TECKIN Smart Plug in a wall outlet and plug in your devices. Just like that, you’ll be able to control your electronics remotely by asking Alexa to turn the plug on or off. Similar to the Wemo Light Switch, you can even schedule the plugs to activate at certain times of the day, for example to start any appliance in the morning. An inexpensive (if somewhat simplistic) automation solution, the two-pack is available on Amazon for just $19.

It should also be noted that these third-party smart plugs will work without a hub, assuming you have a smart mobile device, so they can be sold as a stand-alone option if you don’t want to buy an Echo.

Buy Separately

Philips Hue Smart Bulbs – $89

When you begin investing in your smart home, it’s the little things that make all the difference. Take the Philips Hue Smart Bulbs, for example. This product enables you to control the amount of light in your home automation directly at the source. Dim the bulbs with a word for a beautiful soft white lighting experience or program them to brighten as you wake up in the morning. These bulbs are compatible with Amazon Alexa for voice control, though they can be controlled remotely using the Philips Hue App on your smartphone as well, making it an ideal way of adding extra security to your smart home while you’re away. 

Philips claims that its bulbs will last up to 15 years or 15,000 hours, whichever comes first, so there’s no need to worry about replacing them in the near future. If you like the Philips line of products, you can also expand your home lighting system with accessories like the Hue Dimmer Switch, Hue Tap, or Hue Motion Sensor. A 4-pack of Philips Hue Smart Bulbs will cost you $89 on Amazon, and are regularly $99.

Buy Separately

Fire TV Stick for media streaming – $39

Movie buffs, this one’s for you. Access over 500,000 movies and TV episodes at the click of a USB drive with the top-rated Amazon Fire TV Stick. Though the picture quality isn’t as advanced as that of the Fire TV, the Stick is a more affordable option that provides all the substance (with a little less style). Though this streaming smart device does not connect directly to your smart home hub, it’s still an essential part of any connected home.

Use the compatible wireless Alexa Voice Remote to search for and find content, play music — even order a pizza. The Fire TV Stick is also portable, meaning you can keep bingeing on your favorite shows when you travel.

Buy Separately

EZViz Mini O 1080p – $39

One of the things that draws us to the idea of smart home automation is the desire to keep tabs on things while we’re away. However, security ecosystems like Blink or Ring Video doorbell camera can cost upwards of $400 to set up. For the beginner smart home investor, a product like the EZViz Mini O 1080p, priced at just $39, will suit you just fine. Controlled by Alexa, IFTTT, or Google Assistant, this Wi-Fi security camera shows you real-time video of what’s happening at your home via the EZViz app. If the dogwalker or delivery man knocks on your door while you’re out, you can still communicate with them remotely using the built-in speaker and mic designed for two-way communication. The app also sends push notifications to your phone when the camera senses motion, ensuring you’re always in the know about the security of your home.

Buy Separately

Looking for more great device deals? Find Amazon coupons, Roomba Deals, and more from our curated deals page, or follow us on our Deals Twitter for daily savings.

We strive to help our readers find the best deals on quality products and services, and choose what we cover carefully and independently. If you find a better price for a product listed here, or want to suggest one of your own, email us at Trends may earn commission on products purchased through our links, which supports the work we do for our readers.

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Sony Xperia XZ3 tips and tricks

With one of the best displays around, stereo speakers, and a slick design, Sony’s Xperia XZ3 is a stunning smartphone. We delve into some of the most useful and less obvious features and options here, some of which are standard features that appear on many Android phones and some that are specific to Sony’s flagship. These are our top Sony Xperia XZ3 tips.

How to use split screen

You have a gorgeous 6-inch OLED screen to play with, which means there’s plenty of room for two apps to be open at once. The easiest way to trigger split screen is to tap the on-screen Recents button – the square icon at the bottom right – and then tap and hold on one of the apps you want open and drag it up to the top where it says Drag here to use split screen. You can then pick your app for the bottom half of the screen.

If you want to resize, simply tap, hold, and drag the rectangle in the middle. To go full screen again, with either app, simply drag the divider all the way to the top or all the way to the bottom.

How to get Adaptive brightness right

A lot of people seem to dislike auto brightness, which automatically adjusts the brightness of your display based on the amount of light in your environment. Adaptive brightness in Android 9 Pie also uses machine learning to learn your habits when it comes to increasing and decreasing brightness, and it’s far more useful.

Go to Settings > Display > Adaptive brightness to toggle it on. Now, if you go into a dark room and find that the brightness drops too low, simply swipe down from the top with two fingers and adjust the brightness slider to your comfortable minimum level. Reset the brightness to your tastes when it doesn’t look right, and the system should learn your preferences and start to adjust to the desired level automatically.

How to adjust the display

We think the Xperia XZ3 display is stunning, but if it isn’t meeting your expectations, then you should dig into the settings and make some tweaks. If you don’t feel the colors are natural enough or perhaps your display looks a touch too blue, you can tweak the settings to adjust it.

Go to Settings > Display > Advanced and you can tweak the Color gamut and Contrast or the White balance to get the look you want. You’ll also find the Video image enhancement toggle in here, which we recommend leaving on for sharper video.

How to free up space

Once you’ve been using your Xperia XZ3 for a while, it will begin to fill up and you might want to free up some space. Go to Settings > Storage and tap Free up space. If there’s anything you can get rid of, it will be highlighted here. You can also tap on the individual categories to see what they contain.

How to pair a Dualshock PS4 controller

Sony has made it easy to pair a PlayStation 4 Dualshock controller with your Xperia XZ3 for an even better gaming experience. Go to Settings > Device connection > Connection preferences and scroll down to Game controller to select Dualshock 4. You can then tap Pair controller to use a controller with your Xperia XZ3.

How to take a screenshot

Sometimes you want to capture a conversation to share or record a high score for posterity, and you need to take a screenshot. The traditional Android method works just fine with the Xperia XZ3: Hold down the Volume down and Power buttons simultaneously and you should see a capture animation and hear the screenshot sound.

In Android 9 Pie, there’s now a handy screenshot shortcut that works especially well when you’re using the Xperia XZ3 one-handed. Hold down the Power button and you’ll see a Screenshot option as part of the Power off menu. All screenshots appear in the notification shade, where you can edit them, and you can also find them later in the Photos and Album apps in a folder called Screenshots.

How to quick launch the camera

The Sony Xperia XZ3 has a dedicated camera button on the right spine, which is in the perfect position for snapping a shot when you hold the phone in landscape. If you hold down that button, then you can launch straight into the camera.

How to use hardware keys with camera

Open the camera app and tap the gear icon at the top left, then scroll down to find your hardware key options. You can set Use Volume key as to Zoom or Shutter and you can set the dedicated camera key to Launch only or Launch and capture.

There’s also a Smart launch option that triggers the camera automatically when you hold the Xperia XZ3 up in landscape as though you’re going to snap a photo. We found this slightly annoying, as it triggered a lot of photos by accident, but you might find it handy.

Both these options can be turned on or off in the camera app by tapping the gear icon to open the settings and then scrolling down to Smart launch and Launch with camera key. Both can also be configured to open and immediately snap a shot if you prefer, something that could prove handy for capturing those spontaneous moments where you must be quick.

How to customize audio settings

Look in Settings > Sound > Audio settings for a wealth of options related to the Xperia XZ3’s audio output. Some of these settings are just for headphones, but you’ll also find an equalizer, some surround sound settings, and the Dynamic normalizer, which is great for preventing suddenly loud advertisements or switches in music volume.

When you’re watching a movie on the Xperia XZ3 using the stereo speakers, make sure you go into the Audio settings > Sound effects and turn S-Force Front Surround on.

How to use One-handed mode

The Sony Xperia XZ3 is a very tall smartphone indeed, and it can be tricky to manage one-handed, so Sony has built in a special one-handed mode that allows you to reduce the screen size and drag it down to the left or right corner. You’ll find it in Settings > Display > Advanced > One-handed mode. To activate it, simply swipe right to left or left to right along the bottom edge of the screen. You can drag the corner to resize and tap on any black space to go full-screen again.

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Enjoy the internet anywhere with LTE on the new Samsung Chromebook Plus v2

Rumors have long hinted that Always-Connected Chromebooks were in the works, and Samsung put things to rest on Friday, October 12, by revealing the LTE connected Chromebook Plus V2. Available on November 2 for $600, this 2-in-1 addresses the need Chromebook owners have shown for staying connected, no matter where they are located.

Per Samsung, the specs and design on the new Chromebook Plus V2 have otherwise unchanged from the Wi-Fi version. For the price, you’re still getting a 12.2-inch IPS display, a Celeron 3965Y processor, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of eMMC storage. Specs aside, the device is more about showcasing Samsung’s partnership with Google to bring an Always-On Chromebook to the market.

“We built Chrome OS to provide faster, simpler and more secure computing for everyone. With the Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 (LTE), users have one device they can use for work and play, wherever they are,” Kan Liu, Senior Director of Product, Chrome OS, said in a statement.

Along with Google, Samsung also partnered with Intel to deliver the Chromebook Plus V2. Considering Microsoft has been working with Qualcomm on similar Windows 10 Always Connected PCs, that is a rather interesting feat that brings some more competition to the market.

“People demand their devices match their level of always-on performance in order to achieve, contribute and be their best … Samsung’s new Chromebook Plus V2 (LTE) device meets this expectation with style by fusing Samsung design ingenuity and Google’s beloved OS with Intel processors and Intel LTE connectivity,” Josh Newman, general manager of Mobile PC Segments, Intel Client Computing Group, said in a statement.

We reviewed the Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 a few days ago, finding that it fails to live up to the Chromebook Pro. Still, the Samsung device features a solid metal and plastic build quality, all-day battery life, and a very good display for any productivity and media needs.

With the new addition of LTE, the Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 should now more enticing for consumers who just want a device for travel and enjoying the internet wherever they go. Considering that even Google’s new Pixel Slate doesn’t have LTE, it will be interesting to see if other Chromebook manufacturers will later follow to come onboard with the “Always-On” platform.

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Arizona-Intel partnership aims to advance self-driving tech, safety standards

Stepping up with a public, private, and academic collaboration to advance autonomous driving, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced the Institute for Automated Mobility (IAM). Ducey named Intel the first private-sector founding partner of the new institute.

“The Institute for Automated Mobility will bring together global industry leaders, a public sector team, and the brightest minds in academia, focused on advancing all aspects of automated vehicle science, safety, and policy,” Ducey said. “Arizona is committed to providing the leadership and knowledge necessary to integrate these technologies into the world’s transportation systems.”

Administered by the Arizona Commerce Authority, the group’s members, including the Arizona Department Transportation, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Arizona State University (ASU), the University of Arizona, and Northern Arizona University, will work with Intel to advance automated driving technologies and safety standards. Other companies and organizations interested in joining the collaboration can contact IAM.

“Automated vehicle technologies have incredible potential to improve transportation safety and efficiency, saving lives, time and money,” said Arizona Commerce Authority president and CEO Sandra Watson. “IAM will conduct groundbreaking industry-led research and development supporting the establishment of uniform standards and smart policy around these technologies.”

The IAM’s scope includes liability, regulatory, and safety aspects of self-driving vehicles. The goal is to develop autonomous mobility standards and best practices for industry adoption and state-of-the-art facilities for that purpose.

Institute members are already at work creating plans for a simulation lab, and technology-neutral infrastructure with a 2.1-mile test track with multiple route configurations including intersections, signage, and traffic signals. The Arizona Department of Transportation and the Department of Safety will incorporate first responder emergency services and law enforcement in the facility, a first in the U.S. according to the Commerce Authority.

Arizona’s focus on automated vehicle technology extends back to 2015 when Ducey issued an executive order supporting self-driving technology and formed the Self-Driving Oversight Committee. The following year, Intel formed its Automated Driving Division in Arizona, while Google launched Waymo in Chandler, Ford ran self-driving vehicle trials, Uber relocated its autonomous fleet, and GM’s Cruise unit moved its testing to the state.

In 2017, Waymo named Arizona its global testing location and Intel named Arizona as a testing location and began collaborating with ASU. That same year, Intel’s Mobileye division introduced the Responsibility, Sensitivity, and Safety (RSS) model.

“The Institute for Automated Mobility is the culmination of many months of groundbreaking collaboration between Intel, ASU, and public agencies in Arizona,” said Intel senior vice president Doug Davis. “We look forward to working with industry partners, the state, and the universities on safety technologies, standards, and policies — such as responsibility sensitive safety (RSS) — as we collectively aim for autonomous transportation solutions that are safe and impactful.”

Earlier this year when a self-driving Uber car in autonomous mode fatally struck pedestrian Elaine Herzberg, Arizona’s focus on autonomous transportation came to the forefront. Following that tragedy, Intel published a blog post calling for collaborative discussions by automakers, tech companies, regulators, and other groups to focus on self-driving vehicle safety.

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The best horror games for Oculus Go 😈

Horror games are always a fan favorite, no matter what device you’re playing them on. Nothing brings a thrill to gaming quite like fighting for your life, and nothing makes that feel more real than VR. These are the best Oculus Go games to make your skin crawl!

Truly mind-blowing

Doors of Silence


Doors of Silence is a horror game that won’t just get you with jump scares. This title will also have you questioning your sanity. You’ll go through an abandoned, haunted insane asylum. So, what’s the best way to learn of your insane patients than to live our their horrors?

$3 at Oculus Store

Silence doesn’t kill in this title

The Vault


This game breaks the mold for the more traditional horror games. It tasks you with being quiet. The goal is to appease your jerk of a boss who cares more about the materials on the ship than he does your own life. So much so, he’s willing to risk you for them. You’ll have to sneak your way around the ship, collect the resources, and then escape. By the way, there are zombies. Lots of zombies.

$2 at Oculus Store

Hold your breath

Buried Alive


Take a deep breath. Where are you? Looks like some psychopath put you in a coffin and then under about six feet of dirt. This maniac wants to watch you struggle and you’re just a source of entertainment. In this psychological horror, you are faced with puzzles and tasks to keep yourself alive. With each puzzle that you complete you will be given the key to the next puzzle. Can you escape this serial killer’s clutches?

$1 at Oculus Store

Outrun the static

Nightmare: The Escape


Slenderman is back and once again you’ve got to complete his sadistic puzzle in order to escape him. Can you collect all the papers in time? Can you outrun the static? Test your ability to remain calm and focused during a life-or-death situation to see if you can beat Slenderman.

$3 at Oculus Store

Out of all of these titles, I would highly recommend dipping into Doors of Silence. For such a low price you can give yourself the psychological horror you’ve been looking for in a scary game. Between the puzzles and the stories, you might just find yourself captured in more ways than one!


Should you get the 2nd Gen Amazon Echo or upgrade to the Plus?

We’re a virtual company made up of tech experts from across the globe. We live and breathe smart home technology, so if you’re just stepping into this exciting new tech space we’re here to help set you in the right direction.

Echo Plus (2nd gen)

Our Pick


$150 at Amazon


  • Matches the size of standard Echo.
  • Fresh redesign with a fabric finish.
  • Built-in Zigbee hub.
  • Bluetooth and line-out for external speakers.


  • More expensive.

The new Echo Plus is essentially the same size as the standard Echo but somehow manages to pack in the all-important Zigbee hub that makes it the best starting point for converting your house into a smart home. Definitely worth the extra price if you’re interested in smart home products.

Echo (2nd Gen)

Your standard model


$100 at Amazon


  • Great room-filling sound.
  • Six fashionable finishes to choose between.
  • Line-out with 3.5mm cable or Bluetooth.


  • Doesn’t double as a smart home hub.

The second generation of the Amazon Echo was the first Alexa speaker to ditch the black obelisk design style in favor of a more friendly fabric finish. The physical size was also nearly cut in half, making the Echo a more side-table friendly option for your living room space. It’s a great option for anyone living in a bachelor apartment or other small space.

Worth spending a bit more for the Plus


Both the Amazon Echo and Echo Plus are great smart home speakers and offer significant aesthetic improvements over Amazon’s first generation. The newer speakers are shorter and less intimidating to look at on a shelf or end table, so if you opted for the less intimidating Echo Dot your first go around, you’ll probably enjoy adding one of these to your home.

In terms of specs, the two speakers are extremely similar. The Plus is appropriately a little larger with a slightly bigger woofer that’ll give your music some extra “oomph”. But the biggest differentiator — and the spec that will likely determine which you buy — is the ZigBee smart home hub built into the Echo Plus.

Size 5.8″ x 3.4″ x 3.4″ 5.8″ x 3.9″ x 3.9″
Weight 29oz 27.5oz
Microphones 7 7
Speakers 2.5″ woofer and 0.6″ tweeter 3″ woofer and 0.8″ tweeter
Smart hub No Yes
Bluetooth Yes Yes
3.5mm audio output Yes Yes

If you’re choosing between the Echo or Echo Plus, your decision should be determined by the following: your existing smart home setup and/or whether that’s something you’re interested in. If you’ve already bought something like a Philips Hue Starter Kit, Samsung SmartThings kit, or have otherwise setup some connected bulbs, plugs, sensors, or cameras around your home, you should be able to connect and control everything with Alexa on a standard Amazon Echo. There’s incredible support for all brands of smart home gadgets and accessories, so chances are if you’re already controlling it with your phone, Alexa will let you control it with your voice.

But let’s say you don’t own any smart bulbs, switches, or plugs — but you’re interested in changing that. The Amazon Echo Plus is going to be the better investment thanks to the ZigBee hub built right in that lets you connect and control hundreds of products without having to deal with a myriad of clunky apps or installing an extra hub somewhere. In fact, Amazon is bundling the Echo Plus with a free Philips Hue smart bulb, so that’s a great place to start.

Amazon Echo Plus (2nd gen)

Our Pick


$150 at Amazon

The best option for smart speaker newcomers

The Amazon Echo Plus is our recommendation for anyone. It’s the biggest and best-sounding Echo speaker (ignoring the Echo Sub) and comes ready out of the box to connect to the most popular smart home products. Getting it with a free Philips Hue bulb thrown in is just icing on the cake.

Amazon Echo (2nd Gen)

Alexa for less


Refined design at a slightly lower price

$100 at Amazon

The mid-range Echo speaker is a great product but pales when compared to the slightly better sound quality and added functionality found in the Echo Plus. At $100, it’s probably worth spending the extra $50 for the Echo Plus, although snagging a Certified Refurbished Echo (2nd Gen) for just $80 makes for a tempting deal on a great smart speaker.


Are you getting the Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL?

The regular Pixel 3 appears to have the popular vote so far.

Google’s new Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are both available for pre-order right now, and considering the many similarities between the two phones, it’s shaping up to be a difficult decision to decide which one is worth buying over the other.


On one hand, the regular Pixel 3 doesn’t have an unsightly notch but does have a smaller display and battery. The Pixel 3 XL increases the screen size and battery capacity, but you’re then left looking at that huge display cutout.

Our form users are already going back and forth debating which is the better phone, and this is what they’ve said so far.

10-10-2018 08:52 PM

P3 has enough improvements for me to stick with the smaller one. Last years P2 had a 2700 mAh battery and a 5 in. Display. The P3 has 2900+ battery and a 5.5 in. display (w/o notch). For me 5.5 could work


10-10-2018 09:31 PM

This will be my 3rd regular sized Pixel. I prefer that size because they are more pocketable. The way my tech is set up, I only use phones for “on the move” information and communication. More than that and I’m on a tablet or laptop.


10-11-2018 12:20 AM

For me, I’ve always preferred phones that I can use one handed. With the XLs, I can’t do that. The Pixel 3 has quite a bit more screen real estate than the Pixel 2 and stays that same size so that’s a win for me.


10-11-2018 09:18 AM

I preferred the bigger screen and would rather have the end to sorta end display; notch and all.


What say you? Are you getting the Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL?

Join the conversation in the forums!

Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL

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Project Fi


Samsung Galaxy Note 9 vs. iPhone XS Max: Which should you buy?

We’re a virtual company made up of tech experts from across the globe. We live and breathe Android phones, and use nearly every one of them. We also use iPhones — so we can offer you the best buying advice possible.

Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Our pick


$980 at Amazon


  • Big, beautiful screen.
  • Samsung’s software is nicely optimized for both two- and one-handed use.
  • Great dual camera.
  • Awesome battery life.
  • S Pen improvements are meaningful and practical.
  • Headphone jack and other useful amenities.


  • Expensive.
  • Bixby and its button are industrial bloatware.
  • Camera struggles in low light.

Right now, the Galaxy Note 9 is probably the best Android phone in the world. It’s got everything you need to get work done, play games for hours, and do a bit of creative writing or drawing with the S Pen. The camera is awesome, battery life is insanely good, and there’s a headphone jack.

iPhone XS Max

The biggest iPhone


$1,099 at Apple


  • Huge, awesome OLED display.
  • Face ID is fantastic and secure.
  • iOS is just plain fast.
  • App quality still better on iPhones.
  • Battery life is fantastic.
  • Enormous variety of cases and accessories.
  • Software updates are fast af.


  • The extra width (and lack of software optimization) make this a two-handed phone.
  • Camera isn’t great in low light.
  • Siri is still just bad most of the time.
  • Really expensive.

The iPhone XS Max has the biggest screen on an iPhone yet, and while that may please people looking for a big iPhone, iOS 12 doesn’t take advantage of that extra real estate.

Both of these phones are at the top of their categories — they’re arguably after the same customers — but the Note 9 seems better optimized for its larger size, whereas the iPhone XS Max just feels like a bigger iPhone XS. Without rewarding its customers with any meaningful new features, buyers of the Note 9 get a bigger screen and an S Pen, a huge battery, and proper OS optimizations that allow for split-screen apps, picture-in-picture video, and more.

What’s the big deal between the Note 9 and the iPhone XS Max?


Apple vs. Samsung. iOS vs. Android. The debate is older than time itself — if time began around 10 years ago. The reality is that you’re likely already entrenched in one camp or another.

Comparing iPhones to Galaxy phones, from a spec perspective, is also a bit of an apples to oranges spec battle — excuse the pun — because Apple optimizes its software to work with hardware it develops largely on its own, negating the need for lots of RAM, or for oversized batteries.


At the same time, the iPhone XS Max does push the spec boundaries a little bit, at least by iPhone standards, bringing the phone to a 6.5-inch 2688×1242 pixel OLED display, 4GB of RAM and a 3174mAh battery. Compare that to the Note 9’s 2960×1440 pixel OLED display, 6GB of RAM, and 4000mAh battery.

Of course, the specs don’t mean much unless they also come with a great experience, and both phones deliver that. Exceptional touch responsiveness, great color reproduction and viewing angles, awesome dual speakers, and basically every amenity you could imagine — wireless charging, IP68 water and dust resistance, and great build quality.



What’s left are the cameras which, again, on paper looks quite similar: a main 12MP wide-angle sensor and a secondary telephoto lens, both equipped with optical image stabilization. Apple claims that the iPhone’s camera is significantly improved this year, but its physical size is now identical to the Note 9’s — 1.4 micron pixels.

The Note’s f/1.5 lens is a bit wider, but that only kicks in under low-light situations — daytime photos are shot at f/2.4 with a dynamic aperture. Both phones support portrait mode and a wealth of other photo and video features like super slow motion (though the Note takes the edge with 960fps slo-mo) and 4K video capture (both can do 4K@60, too).

Operating system iOS 12 Android 8.1 OreoSamsung Experience 9.5
Display 6.5-inch OLED2688x1242 (19.5:9) 6.4-inch AMOLED2960x1440 (18.5:9)Gorilla Glass 5
Processor Apple A12 Bionic Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Storage 64/256GB/512GB 64/128/256GB
Expandable No microSD
Rear camera 1 12MP, 1.4-micron, PDAFf/1.8, OIS 12MP Dual Pixel f/1.5 or f/2.4, OIS
Rear camera 2 12MP, 1-micron, telephoto, OIS 12MPf/2.4, OIS
Front camera 1 7MP, auto focusf/2.2 8MP, auto focusf/1.7
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11ac 2×2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0 LE, NFC, GPS Wi-Fi 802.11ac 2×2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0 LENFC, GPS
Audio Stereo speakersUSB-C Stereo speakers3.5mm headphone jack
Battery 3174mAhNon-removable 4000mAhNon-removable
Charging 18W Lightning Fast ChargeQi wireless Quick Charge 2.0Qi wireless
Water resistance IP68 IP68
Security Face ID Fingerprint sensorIris scanner
Dimensions 157.5 x 77.4 x 7.7 mm208 g 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8 mm201 g
Colors Space Gray, Silver, Gold Midnight Black, Lavender Purple, Ocean Blue, Cloud Silver

When you look at these two phones side by side, you can tell that the industrial design differs in so many ways — Apple has embraced the edge-to-edge display with the notch in order to faciliate its Face ID biometrics, eschewing fingerprint unlocking entirely.

Samsung, instead of going edge-to-edge vertically, decided to differentiate itself by curvinig the horizontal edge of its phones, keepinig the front relatively symmetrical. I think it looks better, but the iPhone XS Max does offer ever-so-slightly more usable screen real estate. Well, technicially, sinice Apple doesn’t make use of the space with additional content.

What about the cameras?


Here’s where thinigs get tricky. Both phones have pretty much the same camera hardware on paper, though Apple makes more of its use of “computational photography” than Samsung does — at least right now.

In practice, photos taken during the day are basically a wash — while they have slightly different color profiiles, and tend to expose the same scene in different ways, both the iPhone XS Max and Galaxy Note 9 take amazing shots in good lighting. I did find that the iPhone tended to favor faster shutter speeds (there’s good science about why it does that) darkening some scenes that don’t really need to be (like the leaf below) but overall it’s difficult to complain about either one.

The Galaxy Note 9 camera samples

In low light, it’s a different story. I far prefer the slightly more colorful, detailed, and ultimately more noisy photos taken by the Note 9 than the muted, smoother images captured by the iPhone XS Max.

One could argue that the iPhone’s photos are more true to life, and were you to take RAW photos from either one the iPhone would be in a more neutral starting point for editing, but the vast majority of photos I take on my phone are only lightly edited and shared straight to social media or with family members. In those situations, I’d much rather see my subject with a bit of noise than have a cleaner, darker shot. Your mileage may vary, though.

The iPhone XS Max camera samples

On the other hand, Apple’s portrait mode features are much more mature than Samsung’s Live Focus. Not only does the iPhone offer better edge detection, but the finished product almost always looks more pleasing and better framed. Samsung’s Live Focus is often so bad that it’s almost not worth using — which is usually fine because the f/1.5 aperture of the standard lens captures some great depth of field without resorting to any trickery.

Which one should you buy?


My goal isn’t to convince you to buy one of these phones over the other. In fact, you probably don’t need anyone to tell you which to consider — you likely made up your mind a lot time ago. The point of this comparison is to prove that the differences between the best iPhones and Androids, at least from a hardware perspective, are dwindling year over year, and the software is largely what separates them.

To that end, if you are wondering which one wins, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is a better phone. Its software is highly optimized for the enormous 6.4-inch OLED display, and the oversized form factor gives it an S Pen, a bigger battery, and a headphone jack.

Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Our pick


$980 at Amazon

The $1000 phone that justifies its price

The Galaxy Note 9 is probably the best phone you can buy. Awesome hardware, reliable software, and so many features. It’s just a fantastic product.

iPhone XS Max

The big, bad iPhone


More expensive without more features

$1,099 at Apple

The iPhone XS Max is a bigger iPhone XS, which happens to be the best iPhone ever. But the Max is ungainly and doesn’t offer any features to justify its higher price, size, and weight.


Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 is getting an LTE model

The new version goes on sale November 2 for $599.

This past June, Samsung released an upgraded version of its excellent Chromebook Plus in the form of the Chromebook Plus V2. On November 2, you’ll be able to purchase a version of the V2 that’s outfitted with LTE.


With that LTE connectivity, you can send emails, access Twitter, play online games and more without having to worry about whether or not you’re near a Wi-Fi network. You’ll need to pay an additional monthly fee with your carrier for that privilege, but if you’re constantly on the go, this is a welcome upgrade.

Everything else about the Chromebook V2 remains the same, including its Intel Celeron processor, 4GB RAM, Intel HD Graphics, and 32GB of internal storage that can be expanded up to 400GB.

If you’re interested, the Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 (LTE) will be available for purchase starting November 2 at, Best Buy, and Verizon for a starting price of $599.99 ($100 more than the Wi-Fi only model).

Samsung Chromebook Plus (V2) review: Everything you need


How to make a GIF from a PlayStation 4 video


Here we will show you a very simple way to make your gameplay video clips from your PlayStation 4 into awesome GIFs to share on your social media. The process is pretty painless and takes less than 5 minutes to do and you can create multiple GIFs from one video as easily as making one.

Products used in this guide

  • Amazon: PlayStation 4 Pro ($510)
  • Amazon: 16GB Memory Stick ($8)

How to make a GIF on PlayStation 4

Choose the capture gallery app from the PlayStation 4 menu.
Press the options button on your controller to open the menu.

Select copy to USB storage to save the selected video clip.


Remove the USB memory stick from the PlayStation 4 and plug into your PC.

Go to the imgflip website and select Create GIF in the drop-down menu.


Click on the Upload Video button to select your video from the USB memory stick.

Use the slider below the video preview to set the position in the video you want to make into a GIF.


Check the Private box if you want to stop imgflip adding your GIF to its library.
Click the generate GIF Button to open the save screen.

Click the download GIF button or share to the social media sit of your choice.


And there you have it, you have made your first GIF using imgflip and your PS4 gameplay footage. There are other ways to get your gameplay footage as well, you don’t have to get it from your console.

If you live stream, you can take the video from Twitch or YouTube and copy and paste the URL into the imgflip website. This will buffer the video into the GIF editing software for you to clip down and make into GIFs. You may have trouble making GIFs from Twitch if your stream is too long, so make highlights of your videos before to shorten the length.

There are of course many other websites you can use to convert GIFs, but I have found imgflip to have the best free tools, as well as an excellent Pro version if you are going to be making a lot of GIFs as I do. The imgflip watermark does appear on the GIFs you make unless you go Pro, but it is much smaller than most watermarks I have seen.

What you will need to make this work

The Big Stuff

PlayStation 4 Pro


$510 at Amazon

The most powerful PlayStation yet

The PlayStation 4 Pro is the pinnacle of Sony’s PlayStation line and is worth every penny to play high-quality games with

While it is not fully mandatory to have the PlayStation Pro, you will need to have a PlayStation 4 to make this guide work. As the PS4 Pro is the current best PlayStation console, it seems silly to recommend anything else.

The small stuff

SanDisk Ultra Flair Memory Stick


$8 at Amazon

This 16GB memory stick is large enough to store all the gameplay videos you will need.

As mentioned above, there are other ways to get gameplay footage off of your PlayStation 4 and made into a GIF, but having a memory stick is by far the easiest.

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