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26
Oct

Blizzard Launches New Apple TV App for Streaming Video During BlizzCon 2018


Blizzard this week introduced an all-new Apple TV app that will allow fans to stream content from BlizzCon 2018 on their 4th or 5th generation Apple TV. For those who can’t make it to the Anaheim, California event in person, Blizzard has always provided numerous ways for users to watch panels and videos live (on mobile and BlizzCon.com), but this marks the first year the company has built an app specifically for Apple TV.

While the app and some of its content are free, to get the most out of BlizzCon TV [Direct Link] you’ll need to purchase a $49.99 “Virtual Ticket” from Blizzard. This allows you to unlock all of the content to stream on BlizzCon TV, including original BlizzCon video content, a Community Night, the BlizzCon 2017 video archive, and live panel coverage. The Virtual Ticket also unlocks access to in-game items for Overwatch, World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, StarCraft II, StarCraft: Remastered, Heroes of the Storm, and Diablo III.


The BlizzCon TV home screen on Apple TV shows upcoming events, live and on-demand videos, content broken down by various Blizzard games, and more. There’s a dedicated e-sports tab, which has already kicked off with content for Heroes of the Storm and StarCraft II, and will see World of Warcraft and Overwatch tournaments begin next week. Blizzard has the full BlizzCon 2018 schedule on its website, and viewers can prepare for opening ceremony events to kick off on Friday, November 2.

Besides the introduction of an Apple TV app, Blizzard is supporting AirPlay and Chromecast streaming from the BlizzCon mobile app to compatible devices for the first time in 2018. Fans will also be able to watch portions of the show live through the Blizzard Battle.net desktop app, so they can chat with friends as the event happens. There’s also a BlizzCon TV app for Amazon Fire TV users.


This marks the first Apple TV app developed by Blizzard. The company has created plenty of iOS apps, including a port for Hearthstone, a companion app for World of Warcraft, and an app for the Overwatch League. In 2017, there were numerous rumors surrounding the potential launch of Overwatch on macOS, but they were tenuous and it’s now been nearly a year since one of Blizzard’s engineers said there are “no plans” for the launch.

You can download BlizzCon TV for Apple TV today by searching for the app on the tvOS App Store, or using the Siri Remote.

Related Roundups: Apple TV, tvOS 12Tag: BlizzardBuyer’s Guide: Apple TV (Caution)
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26
Oct

AT&T and WarnerMedia Announce Closure of Classic Movie Streaming Service ‘FilmStruck’


It’s now been just over four months since AT&T completed its acquisition of Time Warner, and today AT&T has made a move to streamline WarnerMedia assets with the discontinuation of classic film streaming service FilmStruck. The service is now warning visitors to its website that it will be shutting down on November 29, 2018, and as of today is no longer enrolling new subscribers (via Variety).

FilmStruck was available on iOS and tvOS, but it appears that the app has been removed from both App Stores. On iOS, a search for “FilmStruck” guides users to TCM’s new streaming app Watch TCM.

All current FilmStruck subscribers will receive an email with more details, including potential refunds, and the company put together a list of FAQs for more information. FilmStruck will remain in operation for the next month, and in a tweet the company said, “It has been our pleasure bringing FilmStruck to you and we thank you for your support.”

FilmStruck debuted in November 2016, offering a lineup of nearly 2,000 classic, indie, foreign, and cult films, as well as acting as the streaming home to the Criterion Collection. Subscribers paid $6.99/month for the service, or $10.99/month for the service with access to the Criterion Collection. Films available on FilmStruck include the original “A Star is Born”, “Casablanca”, “The Music Man,” and many more.

According to a statement provided by Turner and WB Digital Networks, FilmStruck remained a niche service for its entire lifetime, leading to the discontinuation.

“We’re incredibly proud of the creativity and innovations produced by the talented and dedicated teams who worked on FilmStruck over the past two years. While FilmStruck has a very loyal fanbase, it remains largely a niche service. We plan to take key learnings from FilmStruck to help shape future business decisions in the direct-to-consumer space and redirect this investment back into our collective portfolios.”

A few other WarnerMedia digital services have been shut down following the AT&T acquisition, including the Korean drama-focused DramaFever and digital content TV studio Super Deluxe. According to a source familiar with AT&T’s strategy, “They felt Time Warner overall had too many initiatives,” leading to the pruning of services that lack broad appeal.

Turner Classic Movies offers an alternative for Apple TV owners with the recently launched “Watch TCM” tvOS app. Unlike FilmStruck’s separate monthly streaming service cost, Watch TCM is an app that users can connect to their cable subscriptions to watch “nearly every title playing on TCM.”

Before FilmStruck goes away for good, the Criterion Collection promises that it will keep subscribers informed about the programming they can watch on the service before it shuts down in late November. Looking forward, the company will be trying to find ways to “bring our library and original content back to the digital space as soon as possible.”

Tags: AT&T, Time Warner
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26
Oct

HP Envy x2 review



Research Center:

HP Envy x2

When Microsoft released Windows 8, it hoped to launch a new class of computer capable of serving both as a laptop and a tablet. The company even went so far as to hire an engineering team and develop its own products. There’s just one problem: many of these new devices aren’t good. Windows RT was barely breathing on arrival and just 400,000 Surface Pros sold in the first month, which sounds like a lot until you hear that Apple sells 1.7 million iPads every week.

The problem is the product. Consumers say they’d like a tablet/laptop combo, but no computer has been good enough to fulfill this desire so far. HP’s ElitePad 900 seemed like the solution, yet a botched keyboard dock made it hard to recommend as a laptop replacement.

Surprisingly, HP itself has devised the answer: the $599 Envy x2. Unlike the 900, which focuses on durability (hence the bulky keyboard), this device is sleeker, more refined, and ships with a keyboard dock that’s bundled rather than an added-cost extra. Let’s see if this device is a true jack-of-all-trades.

Featherweight

At first glance, the Envy x2 seems identical to its enterprise cousin. HP altered the look a bit – this device prefers masses of silver metal to the 900’s more diverse black-on-silver design – but the basic elements are similar: both have a silver frame around a black glossy display bezel, both use silver metal along the rear of the display, and both have rounded corners which make holding the tablet comfortable.

There is a significant difference, however: aspect ratio. While the 900 has a 16:10 screen measuring 10 inches, the Envy x2 offers the more common 16:9 format. This expands diagonal screen size to 11.6 inches and changes the tablet’s proportions for the worse. There’s no problem when using the device as a laptop, but the x2 feels a bit narrow and awkward to browse the Web when used as a tablet. Most 16:9 Android tablets suffer from the same issue.

Changing the screen hasn’t added bulk, however, so the device remains remarkably easy to handle when used as either a laptop or tablet. An iPad feels heavier in hand because, though slightly lighter, it’s denser. Most users will have no problem holding the x2 for long periods of time.

The tablet’s ergonomics are further enhanced by clever power/volume button design. Instead of protruding, the buttons are inlaid into the chassis, which makes accidental activation unlikely. However, the same can’t be said for the Windows button, which is less of a button and more of a touch-sensitive area on the tablet’s bezel. We accidentally triggered it multiple times during our evaluation.

HP Envy x2 Compared To

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme

Microsoft Surface Book 2 15-inch

HP Spectre x360 15 (2018)

Lenovo Miix 630

Asus ZenBook UX305

Samsung ATIV Book 9 12.2-inch

Toshiba Kirabook (2014)

Asus Zenbook UX301LA

Dell XPS 13

Dell XPS 12

Sony Vaio S Premium 13.3-inch

Asus U36Jc

Lenovo IdeaPad U110

Sharp M4000

Toshiba Dynabook SX

Permission to dock

The difference in quality between the ElitePad 900’s keyboard dock and the Envy x2’s couldn’t be wider, creating a rare case where the consumer wins over enterprise customers. This dock is everything the 900’s dock is not: light, thin, attractive, and pleasing to use.

In fact, this might be the best keyboard dock on the market today. The keyboard uses almost every centimeter of available width to offer a spacious typing surface. Good key feel is just the cherry on top. The hinge, which inclines the keyboard and limits the tilt angle of the display, is the only problem. Some people prefer an inclined keyboard, while others don’t; and those in the latter group may find the Envy x2 uncomfortable.

The touchpad also emulates a traditional laptop with impeccable accuracy. The surface is large, responsive, and offers clearly defined borders. Even the physical left/right buttons integrated into the surface have some tactile feel. Multi-touch gestures work nearly as well on the touchpad as they do on the touchscreen.

Slapping on the keyboard adds ports as well. The keyboard is a much-needed addition since the tablet has nothing but a MicroSD card reader. The keyboard dock adds two USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI port, and a combo headphone/microphone jack. Not a bad selection for a tablet/laptop hybrid, though not exceptional either.

Too many pixels stretched too thin

Though light and well-built, the Envy x2 is relatively affordable. One gift HP handed over (we’re assuming begrudgingly) to the Gods of Value is the display’s meager 1366 x 768 resolution.

A 1366 x 768 resolution is fine for an 11.6-inch laptop, but not great for an 11.6-inch tablet; and visible pixilation is the result. Web pages and fine text lack the crisp, sharp look users have come to expect from using smartphones and tablets.

Chalk this up as another reason we think hybrids will eventually threaten stand-alone tablets.

Otherwise, the display is distinctly average. Color gamut testing pegged the display at 68 percent of sRGB, and black level benchmarks returned middling results. Maximum brightness registered at just over 300 nits, which is enough to make the glossy display usable even in a sunlit room. Viewing angles are also good.

Unfortunately, audio is a low point. The speakers are muffled by the keyboard dock, making laptop audio quiet even at maximum volume. Removing the tablet from the dock will pump up the jam, but doesn’t improve quality.

Audiophiles aren’t completely out of luck, however, as the Envy x2 ships with Beats audio. This allows some customization of the audio experience not normally found on a Windows device, but you’ll need to plug in a pair of headphones to enjoy it.

One for the road

As thin as this device is, HP somehow still found room to cram modest batteries into both the tablet and the keyboard dock. This, combined with the power-sipping Atom processor, makes for good battery life.

How good? With the dock attached, we got almost seven hours of endurance from our Web-browsing test, and the figure was boosted to 12 hours during our light-load reading test (which doesn’t use Wi-Fi). Even our Battery Eater load test needed six hours to chew through both batteries.

Detaching the tablet from the dock reduces Web browsing time to about five hours, which sets no records but is average for a Windows tablet. The Envy x2 probably won’t outlast an iPad or a Nexus 10 (though it theoretically could, in certain situations), but it will easily last you through a cross-country flight.

Atomic performance

Our review unit arrived with an Atom Z2760 dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 64GB solid-state drive. These specifications are typical for current Windows tablet/laptop hybrids but result in uninspiring performance. SiSoft Sandra’s Processor Arithmetic benchmark reported a score of 8.26 GOPS, and 7-Zip returned a result of 2,719 MIPS. These figures are three to four times below current Core i5 dual-core processors.

PCMark, a general test that benchmarks the processor, hard drive, and graphics card simultaneously, returned an abysmally low score of 1,431. If not for the ElitePad 900, which scored even lower, this would be the worst result we’ve recorded.

There’s no good news from graphics either. The standard version of 3DMark we use to test other recent systems wouldn’t work because the Atom’s integrated graphics processor doesn’t support some required features. We, instead, used 3DMark 06, a benchmark that’s now eight years old and reported a score of 454. This is, once again, among the worst results we’ve recorded.

Storage is also a problem. A 64GB solid-state drive is standard, and an optional 128GB drive available, but that’s not a lot of space for a Windows device. HP pointed out that the MicroSD card slot could also be used, which is fair; but memory cards are slower than solid-state hard drives, and aren’t the ideal solution.

All of this adds up to a system that’s slow, yet also usable. We had no problem watching video on YouTube and editing documents in a browser. Performance only becomes a drawback when more demanding work is required. In some tasks, such as converting a video from one format to another, the Atom processor can be over five times slower than a Core i5 dual-core.

Nary a word

Users will never have to worry about fan noise because this device has no fan. That’s one of Atom’s advantages: it can be passively cooled. A lack of fan and mechanical hard drive guarantees silence.

And think again if you’re worried that ditching the fan will result in unpleasant heat. Temperatures at idle hover just above average room temperature, and load only pushes heat to just over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the lowest load temperature we’ve seen from a tablet.

Conclusion

Current technology just doesn’t allow for a powerful Windows PC at an affordable price in a slim chassis. What separates today’s best and worst hybrid PCs is the way they manage their inevitable flaws and compensate for them in other areas.

The Envy x2 is the best balancing act we’ve seen thus far. Unlike most competitors, this device is truly useful as a laptop (we wrote most of this review on the Envy x2 without any complaint or discomfort). And as if that wasn’t enough, the tablet experience is also good. The tablet alone weighs just 1.5 pounds and the Atom processor, though slow, is more than capable of tackling Web-browsing and 720p video.

And here’s the kicker: HP has priced this device at $599 with the dock. You can buy this computer, with dock and a 64GB drive, for the same price as a 32GB iPad. Chalk this up as another reason we think hybrids will eventually threaten stand-alone tablets. Who’s going to buy a tablet when one comes with your laptop?

But we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. The Envy x2 isn’t perfect, and there’s no doubt an iPad or Nexus 10 is a better tablet. This device only offers a good compromise rather than the best of both worlds.

Highs:

  • Attractive design
  • Thin and light
  • Great keyboard dock
  • Average battery life as tablet; excellent life with dock
  • Good value

Lows:

  • Low display resolution
  • Poor performance
26
Oct

Key settings you need to change on your brand-new iPhone XR


Julian Chokkattu./Digital Trends

If you managed to get your hands on the iPhone XR, you’ll want to get the most out of it. That’s why we’ve rounded up a variety of settings we think you should turn on or change that will allow you to use your new iPhone to the best of its abilities.

For in-depth impressions of Apple’s latest release, be sure to check out our iPhone XR review, and to make sure it stays gorgeous, snag yourself one of the best iPhone XR cases.

Schedule night shift

Night shift automatically changes the color of your display to a warmer tone in order to filter out blue light. This can help to put less of a strain on your eyes while staring at your screen, especially before bed time. You can schedule it to turn on either from sunrise to sunset, or customize it to turn on and off between whichever times you’d like. Go to Settings > Display & Brightness > Night Shift. From there, you can toggle on Scheduled and then choose when you’d like it set for.

Back up memories with iCloud Photos

Since the iPhone XR comes with some new camera features, you probably don’t want to risk losing any of your photos. To prevent this, go to Settings > Photos and toggle on iCloud Photo Library. That way, all of your memories will be stored in the cloud and you’ll be able to view them from any of your devices.

Set up Auto-Lock

To help preserve the battery on your iPhone, be sure to adjust the Auto-Lock as low as possible. It’s set to one minute by default, but you can set it to lock after as little as 30 seconds or even never. To adjust it, go to Settings > Display & brightness and tap on Auto-Lock. From there you can choose from the options provided.

Customize control center

To access the Control Center on the iPhone XR, you have to swipe down on the right-hand side of the notch. While it provides you with shortcuts like the ability to toggle Airplane mode, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi on and off, you can also customize additional ones you’d like to add. Go to Settings > Control Center > Customize Controls and choose which ones you’d like to add by tapping the green plus sign icon. In addition, you can also customize the order you’d like them to appear in the Control Center by dragging each tile wherever you’d like using the icon to the right of the shortcut.

Schedule Do Not Disturb

With iOS 12, Do Not Disturb received an overhaul — you now have the ability to schedule when you’d like the feature to be turned on and off, rather than having to do it manually. Go to Settings > Do Not Disturb > Scheduled and choose which times you’d like to set it for.

There’s also a Bedtime mode that you can toggle on and set times for instead. That way, from night to morning all of your notifications will be silenced. The screen will dim and only display the date and time — it will also let you know that it’s set to that mode.

Turn on reachability

With the iPhone XR’s 6.1-inch display, it might be harder for those with smaller hands to reach certain apps or parts of the display — especially one-handed. With the reachability feature turned on, all of your content can be brought down on the display whenever you’d like. To turn it on, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Reachability and toggle it on. Swipe down on the bottom edge of the screen to bring the top into reach. To set everything back into its place, swipe back up about an inch above the bar or tap anywhere on the display.

Turn off keyboard clicks

Let’s be honest, no one can actually stand the sound of the keyboard clicks when typing on the iPhone. The clicks automatically begin to work whenever you turn your ringer on. But since it’s on by default, you’ll have to turn the setting off manually. Go to Settings > Sounds & Haptics > Keyboard Clicks and scroll towards the bottom to toggle Keyboard Clicks off.

Set up Face ID

Aside from a physical passcode, Face ID is the safest form of security you’ll get on your iPhone. When you first set up your iPhone, be sure not to skip over this process. If you do, you can always go into Settings > Face ID & Passcode and tap Set up Face ID. You’ll then be taken through the process of capturing your features with the iPhone’s camera. You can also set up a second Face ID by tapping on Set Up an Alternate Appearance.

Adjust 3D Touch Sensitivity

Using 3D Touch allows you to long press on the screen in order to see additional options for a specific app or to access shortcuts. To make sure it’s at a comfortable level of pressure, you can choose between Light, Medium, and Firm. Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > 3D Touch — to make it easier, there’s also the option to test out each level of sensitivity on the image provided.

Create your email signature

When sending emails on your iPhone, the default signature on every email is “Sent from my iPhone.” If you want to change it, go to Settings > Mail > Signature, erase the phrase and type in whatever you’d like, or choose to not have a signature at all. You can also create one signature for all your accounts or create separate ones for each email address.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Key settings you need to change on your brand-new Galaxy Note 9
  • Key settings you need to change on your brand-new Google Pixel 3 or 3 XL phone
  • Master your iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max with our favorite tips and tricks
  • How to make calls on the HomePod
  • Key settings you need to change on your Sony Xperia XZ3



26
Oct

Google’s Upcoming ‘Night Sight’ Mode for Pixel Phones Captures Remarkable Low-Light Photos


At a media event in New York City earlier this month, Google previewed a new low-light camera feature called “Night Sight” that uses machine learning to choose the right colors based on the content of the image. The result is much brighter photos in low-light conditions, without having to use flash.

Google showed a side-by-side comparison of two unedited photos shot in low light with an iPhone XS and its latest Pixel 3 smartphone with Night Sight, and the photo shot on the latter device is much brighter.

Google said Night Sight will be available next month for its Pixel smartphones, but an XDA Developers forum member managed to get the feature to work ahead of time, and The Verge’s Vlad Savov tested out the pre-release software on a Pixel 3 XL. The results, pictured below, are simply remarkable.

Without Night Sight
With Night Sight

Without Night Sight
With Night Sight

Without Night Sight
With Night Sight
Google and Apple are both heavily invested in computational photography. On the latest iPhones, for example, Smart HDR results in photos with more highlight and shadow detail, while Depth Control significantly improves Portrait Mode. But, Night Sight takes low-light smartphone photography to a whole new level.

Tags: Google, Google Pixel
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26
Oct

How to Migrate Your Notes From Evernote to Apple Notes


Apple’s stock Notes app has come a long way since it first appeared on Mac, with password protection, tables, and document scanning being just a few of the top features it has gained in recent years. These and other improvements offer compelling reasons to migrate from a rival note-taking platform, especially if you’ve been paying for the privilege.

Evernote users in particular may feel they now have extra motivation to make the switch. Last month, rumors that Evernote was struggling to keep afloat were bolstered by reports of a flurry of key departures at the startup, with one source even claiming the company was in a “death spiral” because of its inability to attract new users.

Whatever your reasons for migrating platforms, you can do so by following these simple steps. Note that the export file that Evernote spits out will also work with other note-taking apps like OneNote and Bear, which offer similar import options to the Apple Notes method described below.

How to Migrate From Evernote to Apple Notes

Launch Evernote on your Mac.
In the sidebar, click All Notes.

Select Edit -> Select All from the menu bar.
Select File -> Export Notes… from the menu bar.
In the Save dialog, make sure Evernote XML (.enex) is selected in the Format dropdown and give the export file an identifiable name.

Click Save.
Launch Apple’s Notes app.
Select File -> Import to Notes from the menu bar.
Navigate to the .enex file that you just exported from Evernote.

Check the box next to Preserve folder structure on import if needed, and then click Import.
Click Import Notes.

Tags: Evernote, Apple Notes
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26
Oct

iPhone XR Launch Day Continues Around the World


Following the first deliveries to customers in Australia and New Zealand, iPhone XR launch day continues around the world.

Apple CEO Tim Cook visited the company’s Piazza Liberty store in Milan today to celebrate the iPhone XR release, posing for pictures with customers and employees, which he later shared on Twitter.

Buongiorno Piazza Liberty! Milan is one of my favorite cities and I am very happy to be here with you today. Around the world, we hope everyone is enjoying the new iPhone XR! pic.twitter.com/hmJb8yrNCM

— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) October 26, 2018

While the iPhone XR is available for walk-in purchase at Apple Stores, many locations have few customers waiting in line. At Apple Walden Galleria in Buffalo, New York, for example, VentureBeat reporter Jeremy Horwitz tweeted that he was the only person lined up just minutes before the store opened.

iPhone XR line status 10 minutes ahead of launch: literally no one (except me). Advance-reserved phones apparently are the way former line-waiters went this year. pic.twitter.com/XFyAbDja4r

— Jeremy Horwitz (@horwitz) October 26, 2018

As more customers lean towards online pre-orders, the iconic iPhone launch day lines of the past have dwindled over the years.

Retail employees cheered as the first customers entered Apple’s temporary Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan this morning, as recorded by Apple analyst Walt Piecyk, but lines are typically much longer at this flagship location on iPhone launch days. Apple is still renovating its iconic glass cube location nearby.

“Wooohooooo” – $AAPL employees pic.twitter.com/858EL40inE

— Walt Piecyk (@WaltBTIG) October 26, 2018

There are a few exceptions, as hundreds of customers lined up for iPhone XR launch day at Apple Shibuya in Tokyo, Japan. It was also the grand reopening of the store following several months of renovations, however, so many of those customers may have lined up to check out the new design and score a free shirt.

Apple Shibuya on iPhone XR launch day via ASCII
As usual on an iPhone launch day, most Apple Stores are opening early at 8:00 a.m. local time, with display models now available.

MacRumors traveled to New York City this week to spend some time with the iPhone XR ahead of its release. While there, we spent the day unboxing the device and testing its camera with help from volunteer New Yorkers. We also hosted Q&As on Reddit and through our Twitter account @MacRumors.


If you were or will be at an Apple Store for the iPhone XR launch today, be sure to tweet @MacRumors with a photo of your store and device.

Related Roundups: Apple Stores, iPhone XRBuyer’s Guide: iPhone XR (Buy Now)
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26
Oct

Google Maps will now tell you about special offers from your favorite places


Google seems to have been extra busy this year rolling out new features for its Maps app, and on Thursday it offered up a couple more.

Initially for Android users, the first one lets you follow places such as your favorite stores and restaurants, ensuring you’ll be among the first to know about special offers, upcoming events, and any other updates that the business thinks you might like to hear about.

To follow a business you’re interested in, simply hit the new “follow” button on its profile page. After that, relevant news and updates will show up in the app’s “For You” tab.

And that’s not all. To ensure you’re not the last to know about the next cool opening in town, Google Maps will soon start showing business profiles for up to three months before they open. Simply look out for the opening date — shown in orange text — and then make your plans to go along.

Businesses that are yet to add a listing to Google Maps can do so here, and that includes any new ones that want to offer up information ahead of opening.

Announcing the new features, Paul Cole, product manager at Google Maps, wrote in a post: “Ever wandered by your favorite store just to find out you missed a great sale? Or maybe you’re always the last of your friends to find out about the new hot spots opening in town.

“With more than 150 million places on Google Maps and millions of people looking for places to go, we made two updates so it’s even easier for you to keep up with the places you care about and find out about places coming soon.”

It’s been a busy ol’ time for Google Maps. In the last month alone, it’s rolled out a slew of new features, including real-time journey tracking for iPhone, improved navigation for less stressful commutes, group polling to help you and your buddies decide where to eat, and locations for EV charging stations

If you’re a light user of Google Maps but want to learn more about the huge range of features that it offers, then check out Digital Trends’ recent guide to getting the most out of this very powerful app.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Amazon Echo Show (1st gen) review
  • How to turn off Safe Mode in Tumblr
  • What is YouTube TV? Here’s everything you need to know
  • OnePlus 6: Everything you need to know
  • Android 9.0 Pie: Everything you need to know



26
Oct

Want the best low-light portraits? Save some cash and buy the iPhone XR


Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Portrait Mode has become a staple feature in almost every single smartphone camera — from budget to expensive flagship devices. It’s when a blur (or bokeh) effect is added behind a subject to deliver a portrait that looks as though it was captured by a DSLR camera. It’s one of the main purposes for having a dual-lens camera system, though other benefits include 2x optical zoom (depending on the phone).

But not all phones use two lenses to create a Portrait Mode effect. Google’s Pixel phones are the best example of what a single-lens camera can do with computing power. Instead of relying on a secondary lens for depth information, Google relies on a neural network algorithm to identify the subject from the background. In a similar manner, Apple is taking a page out of Google’s book with the iPhone XR. It’s the cheapest iPhone available from the 2018 trio, and it’s the only one without a dual-lens camera. Instead of removing Portrait Mode entirely — like Apple has done with the iPhone 8 or iPhone 7 — there’s now a Portrait Mode powered completely through artificial intelligence and neural nets.

How good is it, especially compared to the iPhone XS? We put the Pixel 3, iPhone XR, and iPhone XS to the test in a Portrait Mode shootout. A note before we start comparing photos: We tried to stay at the same distance from the subject for most of the photographs here, to highlight the differences in how each phone handles Portrait Mode. For example, the iPhone XS uses a secondary telephoto lens, so it zooms in a lot more than the Pixel 3 or the iPhone XR. The XR goes much wider than we expected. We did adjust distance for a few photos, so keep that in mind. Also, you may prefer a different photo over our favorite. There are some technical reasons why a photograph may be better than another, but a lot depends on personal preference, and it’s okay to come to a different conclusion.

Daylight

From left: iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and Pixel 3. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

There’s a lot that can go wrong with Portrait Mode on smartphones, but most don’t have much of a problem in broad daylight. In the first set of photos, all three phones do a good job of accurately identifying the subject. There aren’t any errors, but you can see the Pixel 3 tends to keep the subjects body in focus, whereas the iPhone XS and XR opt for a radial blur that keeps the face in focus more than anything else (the iPhone XR’s radial blur isn’t as strong).

Either the iPhone XR or XS could win here, but we’re giving it to the XR because the subject’s face isn’t as bright as the XS photo. The Pixel 3 photo is good, but it lands last because it’s far too dark, despite being sharp with an accurate cutout.

Winner: iPhone XR

From left: iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and Pixel 3. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Here’s one that’s a bit tricky, because the light is shining straight into the camera. All three of these aren’t perfect, but the iPhone XS comes out on top. It retains the best colors (though the subject is still a bit too yellow), whereas the iPhone XR and Pixel 3 photos look more muted. The XS does lose points for messing up the left earring, and it does quite a poor job with the sky in the background, overexposing it too much.  The iPhone XR is a close second this time. The subject’s face is grainier than the iPhone XS photo, and the colors are dull. The right shoulder is also a little blurred. It has the best HDR, though.

While the Pixel 3 overall does the best job of identifying the edges of the subject, you’ll find the subject’s face is extremely grainy. The colors are also off throughout the photo. It does a solid job of not overexposing the sky too much, unlike the iPhone XS, but that’s not enough to scrape a win here.

Winner: iPhone XS

Evening

From left: iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and Pixel 3. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

These photos highlight how close the iPhone XS zooms into the subject for Portrait Mode, and how much wider a shot the iPhone XR takes. They were all captured standing in the same spot. All three phones do an excellent job identifying the edges of the subject, and detail is impeccable. We’d say the iPhone XS has the best blur, capturing the highly-sought bokeh effect with the lights in the background. The Pixel 3 photo wins for the best skin tone, which looks the most natural. It loses points for the background color tone, which is a little too red.

It’s a close call, but the iPhone XS wins again.

Winner: iPhone XS

From left: iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and Pixel 3. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

This one’s easier to judge. The Pixel 3 comes last again for messing up the blur. The subject is fine, but look to the right side! It keeps some of the windows in focus, though they were further away from the subject. A branch of the tree also doesn’t look as blurred as it should be, and the photo’s background has a reddish hue.

We like both the iPhone XS and XR photos, with the former having a stronger blur effect. But zoom into the subject’s face again, and the iPhone XR photo has less grain. For that, we’re giving the XR the win.

Winner: iPhone XR

From left: iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and Pixel 3. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The iPhone XR’s shot clearly has the least amount of grain. It also has a nice blur on the left wall before the subject’s face, unlike the Pixel 3 photo, which doesn’t blur that area at all. Color tones are great all around, but the XR loses points for messing up the edges of the glasses. The Pixel 3 comes second. It does the best job identifying the edges of the subject, but the background hue is a little too yellow, and the subject is a tad grainy. The iPhone XS photo comes last. It’s not bad, but it’s too grainy and dark, despite good use of blur around the subject.

Winner: iPhone XR

Night and indoors

From left: iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and Pixel 3. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Like the last photos, there are two standouts here. The Pixel 3 and the iPhone XR. Both are sharp, detailed photos with accurate blur around the edges of the subject. The Pixel 3 goes a step further to catch all the hairs well, and it has a stronger blur than the iPhone XR photo. It does mess up, however, as the lights at the top right of the photo aren’t as blurry as they should be, and the iPhone XR takes the win for that reason alone.

The iPhone XS is decent thanks to the great blur, but it’s grainy, and some edges show inaccurate blur.

Winner: iPhone XR

From left: iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and Pixel 3. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

We were surprised by the difficulty the iPhone XR and the iPhone XS had in dealing with the blue light hitting the subject’s face in this photo. It looks quite natural, and in reality it was closer to the Pixel 3 photo, which we love. You can guess who’s taking the win here, but it’s worth mentioning that the iPhone XR photo maintains the best blur accuracy. The Pixel 3 messes up the hair a little, and so does the XS. All three have great background blur, but the Pixel 3 photo is the one we’d share.

Winner: Pixel 3

This is another easy one to judge. The iPhone XS photo is far too blurred across the entire shot, and the iPhone XR isn’t the sharpest, either. The Pixel 3 photo has the best detail, and it has the most accurate skin tone, which looks incredibly natural. It’s excellent.

Winner: Pixel 3

From left: iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and Pixel 3. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

From left: iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and Pixel 3. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

It’s a close call between the Pixel 3 and the iPhone XR. Both have good detail and accurate edges. The iPhone XR doesn’t have as strong of a blur, but it has better noise reduction, so we’re giving it the edge. The iPhone XS messes up the blur around the hair, but it’s far darker than the other two, putting it last.

Winner: iPhone XR

Selfies

From left: iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and Pixel 3. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Portrait Mode works on the front-facing selfie camera on all these phones, and in this test, we think the Pixel 3 easily wins. It’s the brightest, has the most detail, and it’s the one we’d share. The iPhone XS photo is too fuzzy and dark, but the iPhone XR does an admirable job with great background color. It’s not as detailed as the Pixel 3 photo, though. Technically, the iPhone XR and XS photos should look exactly the same because they have the same TrueDepth camera system on the front. We think there might have been some subtle traffic light changes here that altered the end result.

Winner: Pixel 3

From left: iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and Pixel 3. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Pixel 3 is the most detailed here, but that’s sometimes not what we want from a selfie. The skin tone is a little too cold, which doesn’t make this a selfie we’d want to share. The iPhone XS and XR photos are nearly identical, which makes sense, because they have the same camera. The iPhones make the subject’s skin a bit more vibrant, and the background has better color. They win out over the Pixel.

Winner: iPhone XS and iPhone XR

Other subjects

The biggest weakness the iPhone XR’s Portrait Mode is that it only works with humans. Apple has trained the camera to identify faces, so when it doesn’t find a face, it will say “no person detected.” That means you can’t experiment with using the mode on other objects, but you can on the iPhone XS and the Pixel 3. Sure, “Portrait Mode” should ideally be used for portraits of people, but it adds more versatility to the mode when you can use it on almost anything.

From left: iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and Pixel 3. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The iPhone XR photo is great but, of course, there’s no bokeh. This is basically a normal photo taken without Portrait Mode. The iPhone XS does detect the object, but it’s far too dark and the blur on the tip of the glass is a little off. The Pixel 3 photo is the one we’d share, because it’s bright enough and there’s a lot of good color and detail, even if it messes up part of the glass.

Winner: Pixel 3

From left: iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and Pixel 3. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Pixel 3 quite easily wins out here again. It has the best color, the most accurate cutout around the edges of the subject, and the sharpest detail. The iPhone XS asked us repeatedly to keep moving further away from the figurine, so it’s a little more limited if you wanted to get a close up shot. But at least it works. The iPhone XR again didn’t apply a blur at all.

Winner: Pixel 3

The iPhone XR takes a surprise win

It looks like Apple may have caught up — and perhaps even surpassed — Google’s computational photography prowess for Portrait Mode. The Pixel 3’s Portrait Mode is more versatile, and it’s very close with five wins, but the iPhone XR edges out with six wins.

The iPhone XR is much better at low-light Portrait Mode photos compared to the iPhone XS, which uses the secondary lens that doesn’t have as wide an aperture to let more light in. That’s a surprise given the higher price of the iPhone XS, and shows how fancy software can sometimes beat superior hardware.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • iPhone XR review
  • Apple iPhone XS: News, release, specs, and more
  • iPhone XS review
  • Is the iPhone XS camera really that much better? Definitely. See for yourself
  • iPhone XS Max review



26
Oct

WhatsApp Announces Support for Sticker Packs


WhatsApp is about to introduce support for stickers in the massively popular chat app, an official blog post revealed today.

Stickers have been available on rival messaging platforms including Apple’s iMessages and Telegram for some time, so today’s announcement isn’t a surprise as WhatsApp tries to cement its position as the most popular messenger app globally.

To begin with, WhatsApp is launching sticker packs created by its own in-house designers, along with a selection of stickers from other artists.

However, users can also expect third-party sticker packs further down the line, as WhatsApp is also releasing a set of APIs and interfaces that will allow anyone “minimal development or coding experience” to build their own sticker packs and publish them on the App Store.

WhatsApp users can post stickers in chat threads via a new sticker button, and add new sticker packs by tapping the plus icon, once they become available on iOS and Android over the coming weeks.

Tag: WhatsApp
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