Verizon will fix your smartphone’s screen for $29

It happens to the best of us. You buy a new mobile phone, you get a case, you try to be extra careful, but you drop it. Cracked screens happen often enough that most major carriers and device manufacturers have a separate section in their mobile protection plans just for replacing a broken display. According to a report on Phandroid, Verizon has just added the repair type to it’s own mobile insurance plans with an affordable $ 30 deductible, down $ 20 from the previous $ 50 amount.

Verizon’s Total Mobile Protection Plan will run you $ 11 per month for a smartphone, $ 9 per month for a basic phone or tablet, and you can pay $ 33 per month to insure multiple devices. If you crack your screen, says Verizon, you may be able to get it repaired that same day, provided you live in “select markets” and have “certain devices.” The company also says a technician can meet you at your home, office, school or wherever you are while traveling.

Verizon isn’t the only carrier with this sort of plan. AT&T has three plans for $ 9, $ 12 or $ 35 a month each of which includes potential same-day cracked screen repair, though the deductible here is $ 90. Sprint’s Total Equipment Protection plan has five tiers (starting at $ 9 per month), which also includes cracked screen repairs for a variable rate, $ 50 for Tier one customers and $ 100 for Tier two folks. Apple Care Plus gets you an iPhone screen repair for $ 30, which is now a $ 170 service if you didn’t purchase Apple’s extended warranty plan. Complicated? Yes. Useful? Probably.

Source: Phandroid

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The best phones under $250

The iPhone X: $ 999. The Galaxy Note 8: $ 930. Even the more affordable Google Pixel 2 commands a significant investment of $ 650. Today’s flagship phones are expensive enough that spending a significant chunk of your rent on a handset is seemingly the norm. You can opt for an installment plan to pay it off more easily, and for some people it’s worth paying a service provider for two years to own one of the best devices available. But many other people can’t afford, or would prefer not, to spend that much money on something they’ll replace in two years (or less). Fortunately for the budget-conscious, you can find a better selection of phones for $ 250 than you could even a few years ago.

What to expect

Before we get into the best phones at this price, let’s talk expectations. First off, many of the devices we’re discussing come unlocked, so it’s imperative that you check to see if they’ll work on your carrier before you buy one. Many unlocked handsets are only GSM-compatible, so they’ll support only AT&T, T-Mobile and their subsidiaries. Sprint and Verizon customers should be especially careful when making their selections.

At this price, you’re not going to get high-end features like face-recognition cameras, curved screens or high-res, edge-to-edge displays. Most of these phones use older chipsets and often run Android 6 Marshmallow instead of the newer Android 7 Nougat (which itself is no longer the latest OS).

For daily use, you won’t really notice a difference in speed with these phones, but don’t expect much if you’re using these for heavy-duty gaming or intensive multitasking. If that’s going to be a problem, you’re better off getting a flagship phone on an equipment installment plan (EIP) instead.

Flagships on a budget

You can still get a premium phone for cheap if you have the time and patience to monitor deal listings. Some carriers and websites slash prices for older (but still perfectly respectable) phones in anticipation of new launches or when approaching the holiday season. If you can wait till Black Friday, you’ll probably find plenty of deals bringing down the cost of usually expensive phones. In 2016, T-Mobile offered the iPhone 7, the Galaxy S7 and the LG V20 for free to people who traded in eligible smartphones, while Huawei’s Honor 8 dropped that year from $ 400 to $ 300. Right now, you can even find an iPhone SE ($ 399 at launch) for less than $ 250, or the older (but still good) HTC One M8 for $ 160. A Google search for “iPhone SE” returns options as low as $ 150 at Target for an AT&T version in space gray with 16GB of storage.

Affordable by design

If you weren’t fast enough to snag one of those deals, you still have decent options. Bright, crisp screens with full HD (1080p) displays are common at this price, so don’t fall for cheap phones with piddly 720p panels. Sub-$ 250 phones run the gamut when it comes to size, too, so you can pick from a big 5.5-inch screen down to a more compact 4.7-inch option. Many budget handsets also pack fingerprint sensors, long-lasting batteries, and dual cameras for special effects in portrait photography (although these tend to pale in comparison with iPhones and Samsung phones when it comes to quality).

The best budget phones

Motorola Moto G5S Plus

smartphone affordable budget

One of the best offerings is the $ 230 Moto G5S Plus. It’s the successor to the Moto G5 Plus, which was already our favorite budget phone. The new handset features a 5.5-inch 1080p display, dual rear 13-megapixel cameras and a generous 3,000mAh battery, all wrapped in a body that feels more expensive than it actually is. The phone uses an octa-core Snapdragon 625 chip that can go up to 2.0GHz, which is powerful enough for the average person and quite good for the price. It also runs the relatively new Android 7.1 Nougat and works on all four major US carriers. The main downside is the absence of NFC support, so if you like using your phone for contactless payments, this isn’t going to work for you.

Nokia 6

In that case, you can consider the $ 230 Nokia 6, which has NFC and runs the same version of Android as the G5S Plus. It features dual front-facing speakers with a “smart amplifier” and Dolby audio enhancements for louder sound. The Nokia 6 sports a single 16-megapixel camera on its rear, though, and uses a slower Snapdragon 430 processor. Also, it’s unfortunately stuck in the past with its micro-USB charging port. That’s a minor complaint, but when the rest of the world has already moved on to USB-C, it feels like an antiquated feature. Still, the Nokia 6 offers newish components for a reasonable price, and if you don’t mind getting Amazon ads on your lock screen, the Prime exclusive version of the phone is even cheaper, at $ 180.

Alcatel Idol 5s

Also available as a Prime exclusive is the Alcatel Idol 5s ($ 200 with ads; $ 280 without), which has a vibrant 5.2-inch, a 1080p screen and a USB-C port and runs Android 7. Like the Nokia 6, the Idol 5s has only a single 12-megapixel rear camera, but it uses the faster Snapdragon 625 processor (the same chip used in the Moto G5S Plus). Alcatel’s handset has a smaller battery than the Nokia 6 and the G5S Plus, though, so you might need to charge it more often. The Idol 5s looks and feels like a lot of Alcatel’s previous handsets, with a rounded silhouette, chrome edges and a glass rear. Despite a slightly dated design, the Idol line is known for its good quality and affordable prices. Plus, this is one of the few budget phones to support all four major US carriers while packing a well-rounded feature set.

ZTE Blade V8 Pro

The ZTE Blade V8 Pro is a compelling option. It sports a 5.5-inch 1080p display and dual 13-megapixel rear cameras that enable Portrait mode for bokeh on your photos, although you won’t get iPhone-quality images here. The Blade V8 Pro isn’t as adept at detecting outlines when applying the blur, but in ideal conditions it pulls off the effect well. I liked the phone’s sturdy build when I tried it out in January, but it’s not as pretty as the other options on this list. The V8 Pro is equipped with the same Snapdragon 625 chip as the Moto G5S Plus and the Idol 5s, but it runs the older Android 6 Marshmallow instead. It does support NFC, though, making it one of the few on this list to do so and a good option for people who don’t want to give up Android Pay.

Runners-up

Huawei Honor 6x

There are several other options in this space, but we’ll cap off this roundup with two quick mentions. Huawei’s Honor 6x is very similar to the ZTE Blade V8 Pro: It has dual cameras, runs Android 6.0 and features a 5.5-inch full HD display. But it doesn’t support NFC and it costs $ 20 more. Also, Huawei’s EMUI Android skin makes the software look cartoonish, despite adding useful fingerprint sensor shortcuts. The main reason to spend more for this phone over the Blade V8 Pro would be the Honor’s more elegant metal body.

ZTE Blade ZMax

Finally, those who want a big screen at this price should consider ZTE’s Blade line of affordable large phones. In particular, the Blade ZMax sports a 6-inch full HD display, dual cameras and a large 4,080mAh battery for $ 129. It’s also impressively slim for such a large phone and was easy to use with one hand during a brief demo. Some caveats: It uses a relatively slower octa-core Snapdragon 435 CPU and is available only via MetroPCS for now, but we expect it to be sold unlocked soon as well.

Final thoughts

With all the improvements trickling down from high-end flagships to today’s budget phones, shopping for a sub-$ 250 device no longer feels like digging through a bargain bin of iPhone rejects. They won’t be the fastest or have the best cameras, but the options in this category are respectable handsets with relatively modern features. If you have a bit more cash to spare, you’ll find even better phones in the sub-$ 500 category that are nearly on par with flagships in terms of performance. We’ll be putting together those recommendations soon, so stay tuned.

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Apple responds to Sen. Al Franken’s Face ID concerns in letter

Apple has responded to Senator Al Franken’s concerns over the privacy implications of its Face ID feature, which is set to debut on the iPhone X next month. In his letter to Tim Cook, Franken asked about customer security, third-party access to data (including requests by law enforcement), and whether the tech could recognize a diverse set of faces.

In its response, Apple indicates that it’s already detailed the tech in a white paper and Knowledge Base article — which provides answers to “all of the questions you raise”. But, it also offers a recap of the feature regardless (a TL:DR, if you will). Apple reiterates that the chance of a random person unlocking your phone is one in a million (in comparison to one in 500,000 for Touch ID). And, it claims that after five unsuccessful scans, a passcode is required to access your iPhone.

More significantly, Apple provides a summary on how it stores Face ID biometrics, which gets to the heart of the privacy concerns. “Face ID data, including mathematical representations of your face, is encrypted and only available to the Secure Enclave. This data never leaves the device. It is not sent to Apple, nor is it included in device backups. Face images captured during normal unlock operations aren’t saved, but are instead immediately discarded once the mathematical representation is calculated for comparison to the enrolled Face ID data.”

On the topic of data-sharing, it writes: “Third-party apps can use system provided APIs to ask the user to authenticate using Face ID or a passcode, and apps that support Touch ID automatically support Face ID without any changes.” It continues: “When using Face ID, the app is notified only as to whether the authentication was successful; it cannot access Face ID or the data associated with the enrolled face.”

Interestingly, the company dodges the Senator’s question about data requests from law enforcement. But, by indicating that data lives inside a “secure enclave” that it can’t access, it’s suggesting that it won’t be able to handover info that it doesn’t possess. It could also be holding back in light of its scrap with the Department of Justice last year, which saw it refuse to unlock an iPhone 5C owned by the San Bernardino shooters.

As Sen. Franken noted in his letter, Apple trained its Face ID neural network on a billion images. But, that’s not to say the photographs were of a billion different faces. For its part, Apple claims it looked at a “representative group of people” — although it’s still silent about exact numbers. It adds: “We worked with participants from around the world to include a representative group of people accounting for gender, age, ethnicity and other factors. We augmented the studies as needed to provide a high degree of accuracy for a diverse range of users.” Of course, we’ll get to see how accurate Apple’s tech is when the new iPhone makes its way into more hands next month.

For now, it seems the Senator is satisfied with the company’s initial response, which he plans to extend into a conversation about data protection. You can read his full statement below:

“As the top Democrat on the Privacy Subcommittee, I strongly believe that all Americans have a fundamental right to privacy. All the time, we learn about and actually experience new technologies and innovations that, just a few years back, were difficult to even imagine. While these developments are often great for families, businesses, and our economy, they also raise important questions about how we protect what I believe are among the most pressing issues facing consumers: privacy and security. I appreciate Apple’s willingness to engage with my office on these issues, and I’m glad to see the steps that the company has taken to address consumer privacy and security concerns. I plan to follow up with the Apple to find out more about how it plans to protect the data of customers who decide to use the latest generation of iPhone’s facial recognition technology.”

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Snapchat has cute AR foam fingers for you to wave at NBA games

With its 2017-2018 season getting ready to tip off tomorrow, the NBA’s been quite busy making tech announcements ahead of it. Not only did it reveal an augmented reality app for the iPhone yesterday, but now it’s teaming up with Snap Inc. on a brand new Lens experience for Snapchat. Fans who are at or near an NBA arena this coming year will get access to special Lenses, which let you place a digital foam finger in a physical area around you. As you can see above, the cute character wears team jerseys and can show different emotions that you can share when you send snaps to your friends.

The Lens partnership with the NBA is similar to what Snapchat showed earlier this month, when it collaborated with artist Jeff Koons on giant augmented-reality installations. That said, this is the first time the company has opened geo-specific world Lenses to a sports league; Snap said it could not comment on whether we can expect others to take advantage of the feature later on. For now, it looks like NBA fans have dibs on the jersey-clad AR foam fingers.

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Can an iPad Pro replace your PC?

In 2016, Apple believed its professional-grade tablet, the iPad Pro, was ready for the big time. Phil Schiller even described the machine as “the ultimate PC replacement” when describing the product onstage. The company’s own advertisements claimed that the device could do everything a desktop or laptop could do. But that wasn’t really true until the launch of iOS 11, when the company really let the iPad off the leash.

One of the headline features is that iOS 11 enabled truer multitasking than was available before. In fact, most of the commentary about the new operating system is about features, like the dock, that are at the heart of macOS. When a tablet gets the famous Mac dock, you know it’s time to consider it as a genuine PC replacement. Which is why I’ve spent a couple of days working (almost) exclusively from one in order to see if I’d be tempted to switch.

I’m a particularly good candidate for the experiment, since I’m such a slavish desktop aficionado that I even resent using a laptop. Unless it’s got dual displays, keyboard and mouse, not to mention the ability to run 10 programs at a time, I’m not happy.

In the service of the experiment, I borrowed the latest 10.5-inch iPad Pro from Apple, complete with a Smart Keyboard and Pencil. I also begged a friend to let me play with his 12.9-inch iPad Pro, similarly with a Smart Keyboard, to compare and contrast. My challenge was to try and do my job at Engadget using just the smaller iPad to write, edit and upload images.

The first thing you notice about working from an iPad is just how much more productive it makes you, because the iPad is the enemy of distraction. On my desktop, I normally work with two Chrome windows, iTunes and a couple of Pages documents on my primary display. The second monitor is dedicated to Slack, ensuring that I’m always on hand to respond to messages.

On the iPad, it’s far harder to succumb to the ravages of multiple-window syndrome. In fact, for all of Apple’s trumpeting about the iPad’s improved multitasking, the device is built to do one thing at a time. Part of it is a result of the limitations of the iPad itself: with only 10.5 or 12.9 inches of real estate to play with, you always need to be conscious about how much screen you’re using.

I spent most of my working days with Pages occupying about five-fifths of the display, with either a web browser or Slack on the right. Not that I really needed to, because iOS also has enabled fast switching, either by control-tabbing around your open apps or with the dock. The dock, obviously, was cribbed from macOS, and it’s one of the best tweaks available here.

When I work from a touchscreen Windows laptop, I’m always leery about not having a mouse alongside, because there’s that disconnect when you need to go from keyboard to display. Not only is it a real break with what you’re doing, but there’s the fact that your screen can get pretty greasy, pretty quickly.

Apple has, thankfully, solved the first half of that equation, because iOS’ gestures are more natural and intuitive. Pull your fingers in to close an app, swipe left or right to switch apps, tap the screen to highlight something. It makes a lot more sense, so you experience less of that break in your mind between using a keyboard and touching a screen. You still need a cloth at hand, unfortunately. When I went back to using a desktop, I found that I missed that sense of connection with the display that allowed me to quickly brush my finger against the screen to move the cursor.

Then there’s the iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard, which filled me with dread when I thought I had to deal with it for a week-plus. It does, after all, look like the sort of rubber, industrial keyboard I thought I left behind when I stopped working in factories. At first blush, it looks stiff, uncomfortable, with little to no travel — a retrograde step toward the days of the ZX Spectrum.

I needed not have worried, since the Smart Keyboard has plenty of travel and is almost as comfortable as a laptop keyboard. Sure, it’s never going to match up to the sort of professional-grade mechanical keyboards I use on the desktop, or even the Apple-bundled chiclet keyboard. But it’s comfortable enough to use for long periods, and I’d happily use it as my primary input mechanism. Although I’d prefer the 12.9-inch version to its smaller sibling, because I’m a big guy with very big hands.

Oh, one thing: The angle of the iPad on its stand and my very large fingers mean that it’s far too easy to unintentionally brush the screen. It’s not a big issue, and I was able to learn to avoid it over time, but having keyboard controls at the bottom of the screen can sometimes be problematic.

I also want to talk about the Pencil, which I didn’t have much cause to use, since I’m not a very talented illustrator. However, I found out that, on top of being used for artistic purposes, the (don’t call it a) stylus pulls double duty as a mouse pointer.

For me — and I’d assume a large proportion of the people who work at Engadget — replacing our computers with iPads would be out of the question. Our CMS, the platform on which this site hangs, was designed more than a decade ago to work with keyboards and mice. Using it on phones and tablets, with their finger- and gesture-based interaction metaphors, is possible, but hellish. Not to mention that plenty of the apps that we need to work aren’t really designed to be used on tablets.

And yet, once I’d settled into a groove, I found it reasonably easy to do the bulk of my work on the iPad without interruption. The Apple Pencil is smart enough to let me use it in place of my finger in our CMS, and you can even shoot and edit photos on the device. Using Lightroom, it’s possible to shoot RAW images from the iPad’s 12-megapixel camera. I was able to produce some excellent imagery that, unless you’re looking hard, you’d assume came from a dedicated camera.

Thankfully, iOS 11’s Files app also means that I can actually just push the edited files into Google Drive and back again without any fuss.

Daniel Cooper

There are some issues that are specific to me, like the fact that I can’t yet find a batch resizing and watermarking app that suits our system. That’s not an issue that’s going to affect the majority of folks who will use the device. The muscle memory for pretty much everything else still works, and, after a few days, I didn’t even notice that I wasn’t using a desktop — except for the fact that you need to pull into Control Center to change music tracks, which is a total productivity killer.

One big trade-off between a personal computer and the iPad Pro is that the latter can’t really be the center of your digital universe. An iPad can’t host the sum of your iTunes media library, and you can’t sync devices with it. If you’re a fully paid-up member of the iCloud ecosystem, then that’s less of an issue. But if you’re still attached to physical media, you’re not going to be able to make that split so easily.

Another criticism, and one that’s often lobbed toward Apple, is that the iPhone and iPad are “closed” devices, hampering you from doing some of the things you would do on a desktop. Now, some of those things may not be on the right side of legality, but it may be something that you do anyway. Let’s imagine, for instance, that you enjoy watching controversial condiment-based cartoon Rick and Morty.

Here in the UK, Rick and Morty is available to view on Netflix seven days after its initial US broadcast. That’s easy to circumvent, however, since YouTube (and every other video hosting site on the internet) has streams of it available minutes after it airs. Now, on a desktop or laptop, you could simply visit one of the thousands of illegal streams on YouTube or elsewhere, save it to your hard drive and watch it at your leisure later. Or perhaps save it to a USB stick and then transfer it to a media player downstairs for family viewing.

You’ll get no prizes for guessing that such a job is difficult and very fiddly to implement on an iPad without plenty of help. Because you can’t simply save the file that’s being played in Safari, you need to use some creative workarounds. A service such as KeepVid, for instance, will paste the purloined files to your Dropbox account, from which you can then move them on. For all of Apple’s claims that iOS 11 will free your iPad from the tyranny of sandboxing, there’s still plenty of incentive for you to keep to your lane.

iPads, for all of their compactness, aren’t always the ideal machine for road warriors. On field trips, I use my MacBook Air’s two USB ports to charge all of my digital devices, from my iPhone and headphones to my Kindle. That way, all I need to do is carry the charging cables, rather than the wall plugs, and I can charge up to three devices at a time.

An iPad, on the other hand, can share its battery only with the Pencil, and so is useless for power sharing. Whatever bag weight you’ve saved by not toting around a hefty laptop and its power adapter, you’ll make back by bringing USB plugs for all of your various devices.

On the upside, the iPad Pro occupies a lot less horizontal space than a laptop, making it better-suited for working on a train or airplane. You’ll never entirely eliminate the stresses of crunching elbows with your neighbor when typing, but it does help to mitigate the problem. And there are plenty of scenarios when the iPad’s speed enables you to get short bursts of work done much faster.

I often think that iOS will always be relatively hampered because macOS exists. The former is a sleek, stripped-down race car designed for speed and getting people to their destination in record time. The latter, however, is a pickup truck, useful and slow and versatile in all the ways its sibling is not.

It’s with that in mind that you should approach the notion of whether you could live your life with the iPad Pro as your primary — nay, only — machine. For the electronic minimalist in us all, the device can do plenty of the usual things you’d use a desktop for. But you’ll always find that you can very easily butt up against the limits of what the iPad, and iOS 11, can do.

On the plus side, I love how focused the iPad Pro made me, and how comfortable the keyboard is to use. The screen, packing 120Hz ProMotion and True Tone display technology, is beautiful, and I actually really enjoyed spending time with it to work and read. Not to mention that, because it’s so fast, light and portable, it’s far easier to work with in places other than your office. You can prop it up beside you at breakfast or on the couch late at night, and it’s much easier to use where space is at a premium than a laptop.

What you’re giving up, however, is that sense of control and the ability to do what you want to do, how you want to do it. Because Apple has a very ingrained sense of how computing is done, and its devices are built to enforce that sense at all times. If you feel that you can cope with the rigidity, then you will probably have no qualms about making the switch.

It’s weird, because on one hand, I feel like I could do 90 percent of my job with an iPad Pro and eliminate so much stuff from my office overnight. But that in doing so, I’d have to always have a laptop on standby for when I needed to do things that Apple doesn’t want you to do. The biggest drawback to recommending one, right now, is that the iPad Pro is this useful only because of its Smart Keyboard, and the price for the two together is $ 968 for the base model 12.9-incher. This is an awful lot of money to spend on a very beautiful device that can’t save a video straight from Safari or efficiently batch-resize camera images suitable for publishing.

Can an iPad Pro replace a personal computer? No, and it’s likely that it won’t be able to for some time. But do you really need a personal computer for the majority of the things you do each day?

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Oculus’ standalone headsets point to a changing VR landscape

2016 was the year that VR went mainstream. The Oculus Rift finally shipped to consumers, as did the HTC Vive and the PS VR. But even as the VR industry is finally starting to take off, it’s already beginning to splinter. Before, we had phone-based VR the likes of Samsung’s Gear VR and Google’s Daydream, and then higher-end PC models like the Rift and the Vive. Now, the standalone VR headset is emerging as a category unto itself. And it stands to make the VR landscape a lot more accessible — and possibly more divisive — than ever before.

The idea of standalone VR headsets is not a new one. Intel explored the field with Project Alloy for a while before killing it earlier this year, Alcatel made one that didn’t quite take off and Google announced it’s working with standalone Daydream headsets from HTC and Lenovo too. But it’s Oculus — the pioneer of modern VR — that is the first to come out swinging with two different kinds of standalone VR headsets, one of which will be available to consumers early next year.

The latter is the Oculus Go, and it was the highlight of this year’s keynote at Oculus Connect 4. It’s attractively priced at $ 199 and shares the same DNA as the Gear VR — apps for the Gear VR should be compatible with the Go. The Go features a “fast-switch LCD” with WQHD 2560×1440 resolution that’s apparently better than OLEDs. It also has built-in audio so you don’t need headphones.

Will Smith, the CEO and founder of FOO VR — a company that builds talk shows in VR — was enthusiastic about the Go’s price. “$ 200 is fantastic. It makes VR so much more accessible and so much more compelling.” Also, as an iPhone user, he says the idea of a standalone headset is much more attractive than having to buy a Samsung phone on top of the Gear VR.

Sam Watts, a director of immersive technologies for MakeReal, a VR company based in the UK, was equally positive. “The price is just about an impulse buy,” he said. “You don’t need to buy a phone to use it, and as a developer, it’s nice to not have to worry about the ‘phone parts’ of the phone interfering with the experience.”

“An all-in-one, untethered, headset like this is the future,” Watts continued. “It’s a good step to wider adoption.” He also likes that the Gear VR and the Go will be software-compatible — Oculus has said the Go is also powered by Android — so it’s much easier for the same apps to work on both headsets.

Yet, the Go isn’t the only standalone headset that Oculus is working on. It’s also developing Project Santa Cruz, which is much more powerful than the Go. We had a chance to try it out at Oculus Connect 4, and the experience is much more akin to the Rift — with 6DOF (degrees of freedom) controllers and full positional tracking. The Go, by contrast, only has a 3DOF controller and orientation tracking like the Gear VR.

It seems that standalone headsets like Santa Cruz are the future of VR; untethered yet powerful. And while Go is less capable, having a cheap VR option is good too. Phone-based and PC-tethered VR already seem like they could get outdated in the next few years. Suddenly, though, it seems that Oculus has a divisive product portfolio on its hands.

But it’s early days still for VR. “Mobile drop-in, phone-based VR is going to be persistent,” said John Carmack, Oculus’ CTO, on the Oculus Connect 4 stage. “Standalone will probably take over and be a dominant form, but cell phone based VR will still have the largest number of users.” This, he said, is because phones will improve exponentially over time, and will probably drop in price. The Galaxy Note 8 of today will probably be very affordable in the future. “A cheap phone playing VR applications will still have significant value to users […] I don’t expect Go to do Samsung-like [sales] numbers.”

Watts remains enthusiastic too. “It’s great to have options,” he said. “These headsets have the same ecosystem, really. The cheap option lets you take a small bite of VR, and if you like it, you can upgrade, and still keep all your apps.”

“My guess is that the Go and the Santa Cruz will be one headset eventually,” said Smith, adding that Oculus will probably have just one standalone option in the future. Carmack seems to hint at the same, saying on stage that he thinks the two products will converge some day. Still, that’ll likely take a few years. While Santa Cruz is much more capable, the cost of making it right now is just too high. “$ 199 is a super power for Go,” Carmack continued. “It’s unlikely that we can throw all the other [high-end features] in at once.”

Besides, Carmack thinks, there’s still room for low-end VR. “You don’t need 6DOF for watching 360-degree videos,” he said, adding that Go and GearVR are for much more passive VR experiences.

Oculus won’t be the only one offering all-in-one headsets. As mentioned earlier, Google is working on standalone Daydream devices with the help of HTC and Lenovo. There’s room for independent companies to come forward with their own solutions too. Yes, the VR landscape will shift and split. But that could be a good thing.

“As with all tech, good things come to those who wait,” said Watts. “You just have to sit and be patient.”

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Jaybird Run review: The perfect truly wireless earbuds for workouts

Completely wireless earbuds are everywhere this year. Call it the Apple AirPods effect, or perhaps it’s just a matter of the right components being available at the right time. But now that completely cordless designs are less novel than they used to be, companies have to work harder to stand out. Jaybird, which has had years of experience in wireless audio, is taking a stab at the increasingly crowded field with its $ 180 Run earbuds. They’re comfortable, sound great for their size, and offer solid reception (for the most part).

Hardware

The Jaybird Run don’t look particularly distinctive, aside from a small logo on the outside. At this point, most companies seem to be settling on a similar style for fully wireless earbuds. They generally try to make them as small as possible — a departure from the clunky Bluetooth headsets you might be used to. One unique element here is the metal ring around the outer edges of the Run serves as the antenna, which should technically give it a leg-up on reception over competitors with internal antennas. They’re about as subtle as the earbuds from Her — noticeable, but they don’t call attention to themselves either.

The differences between wireless buds really come down to the earpiece design. They need to stay in your ears reliably — there’s no cord to save them from falling on the ground, after all — and ideally, they should be comfortable enough to wear for hours at a time. This is one area where the Jaybird Run excels: It features the “fin” typically found on the brand’s headphones, which fits into the upper groove of your ear to hold them in place. Once you get them in, it’s hard to notice you’re wearing them.

Jaybird gives you four sets of silicone tips: small and large round options, as well as two different oval-shaped tips. There are also three different types of fin accessories, along with a finless one if you have very small ears. And, as you’d imagine, the Run are both sweatproof and water resistant. Jaybird says they feature a “double hydrophobic nano coating” to deal with sweat, which is much tougher on gadgets than plain water.

The Jaybird Run also comes with a chunky carrying case, which adds another eight hours to their advertised four-hour battery life. The case is too large to fit comfortably in your pocket, but it’s easy to chuck into a messenger bag or backpack. It can also give the Run earbuds one hour of juice with just a five-minute charge. The case could use a more secure latch, though. It popped open in my bag on several occasions, which made my iPhone automatically connect to them. That was particularly annoying when it was causing my phone to de-prioritize my other devices.

In use

Setting up the Run earbuds was a cinch. Within 30 seconds of tearing open the packaging, I had them securely in my ears and paired with my iPhone 6S. I was lucky enough to have a perfect fit with the default buds. It was definitely the fastest setup period I’ve seen with any pair of wireless headphones, even my BeatsX.

The right Run earbud handles all of the connectivity with your phone. You can choose to wear it by itself if you’d rather keep one ear open (which is how I typically walk around New York City). The left earbud automatically connects to the right one over Bluetooth when you turn it on, and the sound carries over without any interruption. Everything sounds a bit compressed when you’re just using the right earbud, but the audio field expands seamlessly once you turn on the left bud.

You don’t have many options for controlling the Run. Each earbud has just one button. Powering them on and off takes one long press, but you can also skip forward to the next track by double-clicking them. The buttons are easy enough to find, but they’re difficult to press. Pushing them simply felt painful, since doing so also jams the Run deeper into your ear. Because of that, I avoided the buttons entirely while wearing the earbuds.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

When it comes to sound quality, the Run delivers far more than you’d expect, given its tiny frame. My usual round of test music tracks, including “Like A Dog Chasing Cars” from the Dark Knight soundtrack, and Little Dragon’s “Klapp Klapp,” all sounded great, with a healthy amount of detail and a surprising bass. The JayBird Run unfortunately had trouble with complex high notes; cymbals sometimes sounded like a distorted mess. They certainly didn’t sound as good as the BeatsX or the Jaybird Freedom, though, both of which deliver quality that’s almost on par with wired headphones.

The Jaybird Run were especially great for podcasts. Dialog sounded rich and natural, with none of the tinniness you get from some wireless headphones. And since podcasts are usually recorded at a much lower fidelity than music, they ended up being ideal for the Run’s more limited audio range. I caught up on a big chunk of my podcast backlog while testing them, simply because they were so convenient to wear.

If you like to customize your audio experience, you can also use Jaybird’s mobile app to tweak the Run’s sound profile. It’s flat by default, but the company provides a variety of options like “Bring the bass,” which boosts the low-end, or “Extended listening,” which cuts down harsh high notes. There are also custom profiles from athletes like Nick Rimando and Kerri Walsh Jennings, and you can find profiles from other Jaybird users as well. If you want, you can also adjust your levels manually. (I opted for the “Signature” settings, which boosts bass and high notes a bit.) The app changes the Run’s sound at the firmware level, so any tweaks will apply no matter what you’re listening to. If you need help finding exercise tunes, there’s also a curated selection of Spotify playlists within the app.

With no wires in the way, the Jaybird Run made listening to just about anything feel completely seamless. It takes just a few seconds to pop it out of the case, and they paired with my phone quickly too. Since they’re so comfortable, I occasionally forgot I was even wearing them. At times, too, it felt like they were simply an extension of my hearing. They didn’t fall out of my ears once after hours of testing, and after a while my low-level anxiety about dropping them on a New York City sidewalk evaporated.

My honeymoon with the Jaybird Run almost ended abruptly during my first jogging session. They simply couldn’t stay synchronized in stereo mode while I was moving, a problem multiple reviewers have brought up over the past few weeks. When I asked Jaybird for comment, a spokesperson said that the unit I was testing were pre-production, and not the final hardware consumers would get. Typically I’d find that answer suspicious, but since the Run aren’t actually shipping to customers until later this month, all I can do for now is take the company at their word.

So that’s the story of how I received a second Jaybird Run pair to review. I immediately took them out for a two-mile run around Brooklyn’s Prospect Park , and thankfully didn’t experience any further synchronization issues. My podcasts and exercise playlist all played without incident. Compared to the Jaybird Freedom, which are wirelessly connected to your phone, but still have a thin cable attaching the earbuds, the Run offered a completely different experience.

It’s one thing not to have to worry about managing a headphone cable, but running through the park unencumbered by any cables felt truly liberating. I still experienced minor synchronization issues when walking around Manhattan, but that’s something I’ve also noticed with other wireless buds. Extreme radio interference is part of the cost of living in a dense urban environment.

Jaybird’s four-hour battery life claim for the Run was close to what I actually saw. The buds would typically last for around three hours and 45 minutes during my testing. As you’d expect, that timing changed a bit if I was listening to quiet podcasts, or loud music most of the time. Together with the battery case, the Run typically lasted around two to three days, depending on if I could fit in a jogging session. As our resident marathoner, Engadget’s executive editor Dana Wollman notes that the Run’s battery life should be fine for most runners. But you’d probably want a wired pair if you’re hitting the pavement beyond four hours.

Pricing and the competition

At $ 180, the Jaybird Run are slightly more expensive than competing wireless earbuds. Apple’s AirPods go for $ 159, while Bragi’s “The Headphone” comes in at $ 149. If you want to cut the cord mainly for exercise, though, the added cost will likely be worth it for the Run’s sweat and water resistance. Jabra’s Elite Sport are another solid workout alternative, but they’re a lot pricier at $ 250.

If you’re considering wireless headphones, it’s worth taking a step back and considering how you plan to use them. If you’re a fitness fanatic, it makes more sense to forgo wires entirely with the Jaybird Run. But if you care more about having higher audio quality, and only need headphones for occasional exercise, you might be better off with something like Jaybird Freedom or BeatsX, which still have short cables.

Wrap-up

Jaybird didn’t disappoint with the Run. They’re everything I’d want in a pair of truly cord-free headphones. While they still require sacrificing a bit of audio quality, that’s true of everything else in this category. Losing a bit of fidelity is worth it, though, if you’ve ever dreamt of going for a run while losing yourself to music and not worrying about any annoying cords.

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Samsung’s latest imaging sensors may rid smartphones of camera bumps

As Apple, Samsung and (perhaps, surprisingly) Google battle to claim the top spot in smartphone imaging, we’ve been left with lenses jutting out of the device, or in the case of the Note 8, a thicker phone. The iPhone 8 and Pixel 2 may be the latest offenders, but Samsung thinks its latest imaging sensor can keep things slim with its duo of new ISOCELL sensors: two different components with different selling points.

Its 12-megapixel Fast 2L9 sensor uses “Dual Pixel” tech to speed up its auto-focus, shrinking pixels to 1.28μm, down from 1.4μm in its predecessor. And what the heck does that mean? It should improve improve the speed it takes for future smartphones to focus, as well as the ability for the camera to keep locked-on and track moving objects. Samsung promises this is all possible in low light too, vowing that it’ll keep your next (presumably Galaxy-branded) smartphone bump-free, while also delivering ‘bokeh’ depth of focus effects with just a single lens.

The ISOCELL Slim 2X7, like its name suggests, will be able to slide itself into even more slender smartphone designs, despite its meatier 24-megapixel spec. It’s the first mobile image sensor to have a pixel size below 1.0μm — 0.9μm apparently, helping shrink that sensor size, but keeping color fidelity and low noise thanks to Samsung’s improvements with its ISOCELL tech and pixel isolation.The Slim is also built for improved low-light photography. It does so by combining four neighbouring pixels to work as one, increasing light sensitivity. It’ll still be able to tap into all 24 megapixels when lighting conditions are better. Samsung pitches it as a sensor that works at its best, regardless of how much light’s around.

Ben K. Hur, Vice President of System LSI Marketing at Samsung Electronics says in the release that the sensors are “highly versatile as they can be placed in both front and rear of a smartphone.” Better selfies too, then.

Source: Samsung

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Pretend you still need film with Yashica’s digital camera

Yashica has unveiled a new camera on Kickstarter that seems to offer the worst parts of both film and digital cameras. The digiFilm camera forces you to load a film-like cartridge that sets the look of your images to match real analog film. For instance, the 1,600 ISO cartridge lets you shoot in low light with high contrast, while the ISO 400 black and white applies a filter that removes all colors. You even have to “wind” the camera before each usage.

The idea is to provide an analog experience with digital tech — once you load the ISO 400 B&W cartridge, you can’t shoot in color, for instance. And the winding forces you to slow down and perhaps concentrate harder on each shot, hopefully yielding better pictures at the end.

The camera otherwise seems, and looks, pretty cheap and plasticky compared to iconic Yashica cameras of yore (the trademark was purchased by Hong Kong’s Jebsen Group). It has a tiny-ish 1/3.2-inch sensor, 35mm equivalent f/2.8 lens, and minimum focus distance of about a meter (3.2 feet). On top of the two mentioned, you can also get ISO 200 ultra fine and old-school square 120 format cartridges. Oddly, they don’t store the digital photos — you still need an SD card for that.

The price is 1,108 HK$ ($ 142) with two cartridges, or 1,248 HK$ ($ 160) with all four. The closest thing I can think of to the Yashica model is the Gudak app for the iPhone that makes you wait three days before you can “develop” your digital photos.

In other words, it’s a pretty gimmicky way of recreating the analog experience. But what do I know? The Yashica digiFilm has already quintupled its Kickstarter goal, earning over $ 650,000 to date, with 39 days still left in the campaign. If you’re interested, remember that Kickstarter projects don’t always pan out.

Via: Design Taxi

Source: Yashica (Kickstarter)

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Pizza Hut Parka keeps you as warm as a pizza

Pizza Hut has a history of weird new “products” that are tragically just concepts announced as a stunt (sorry, no pie-ordering hi-top sneakers for you). As we stare down the barrel of another impending winter, it’s only fitting that the ‘za king introduces a parka made of the insulating material it knows best: The lining on its delivery pouches.

As with all our fast food gear, we have ultra-serious questions about this apparel. Will the iPhone X’s Face ID work through the clear smartphone case on the left wrist, ostensibly there to let you order pizza in the cold? For that matter, which of our smart devices can even fit in the triangular pocket on the inside of the parka, save for a pizza-shaped device case? Und so weiter.

Yeah, you’ll never get your hands on one, but at least it’s not like Pizza Hut’s other promotions that only give away zany items outside the US. Not that it’s alone in committing this sin, as sister brand KFC is infamous for its non-American stunts.

Source: Pizza Hut (YouTube)

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