The Pixel 2 proves headphone jacks are truly doomed

As usual, Apple started a trend. Last year, it dropped the standard 3.5 millimeter headphone jack from the iPhone. The industry was quick to respond. Motorola, even before the iPhone 7 was announced, also removed the port from the Moto Z (though curiously, it remained on the cheaper Z Play). HTC followed suit with the U Ultra this year, as did the geek-friendly Essential phone. Now that Google’s Pixel 2 is confirmed to be headphone jack-less, it seems as if the port’s survival, at least in the mobile world, is a lost cause.

The truly sad thing? A year after this trend began, we still don’t have a good explanation of why we’re better off without headphone jacks. Removing the port opens up a bit of precious internal space, which allowed Apple to stuff in a bigger 3D Touch module in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. But did that actually help make 3D Touch more useful? And what have other phone makers gained, exactly, by jumping on this bandwagon? The additional room isn’t enough to significantly improve battery life, and aside from the Moto Z, it hasn’t led to an influx of ultra-thin designs either.

With the Pixel 2 and its larger companion, in particular, we’ve gained very little by losing the headphone jack. Sure, they’re much more water and dust resistant than the last models. But the Pixel 2’s IP67 certification is something several Android phones have offered for years — and they didn’t need to lose the port to achieve it. Typically when we move away from legacy hardware, we’re headed to something better. But in the case of the 3.5mm headphone port, the tech world seems to have forgotten that. Apple’s joking explanation — “courage” — isn’t enough.

I’m not blind to the benefits of wireless. My trusty BeatsX earbuds are the first pair I’ve used that sound almost as good as great corded headphones. And I truly appreciate being able to use them on the subway without getting tangled up in cables. But here’s the thing: You don’t need to remove the 3.5mm port to enjoy the benefits of Bluetooth headphones. In fact, I’m running my BeatsX on an iPhone 6S — the last iPhone to include the 3.5mm jack. I just like having the flexibility to freely connect my phone to auxiliary cables in cars and corded headphones without carrying around any dongles. It’s 2017, that doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

And not to be too cynical, but it’s hard not to view the move away headphone jacks as a way for companies to push their own expensive wireless headphones. It’s no coincidence that Apple’s $ 150 AirPod’s debuted alongside the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus (as did the BeatsX). Today, Google also showed off its own offering, the aptly named Pixel Buds. It’s almost as if tech companies realize consumers would shell out a bit extra for wireless headphone, rather than live the dongle life.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

As someone who’s chosen this hill to die on, the future looks bleak. Some manufacturers, like Samsung and LG, stuck with the 3.5mm port with their latest devices. Indeed, the the LG V30 appears to be the ideal new phone for audio fanatics, thanks to its powerful HiFi DAC. A headphone jack could just end up being a niche feature that some manufacturers use to entice geeks. But that doesn’t help iPhone users who want to upgrade this year, or Android fans who want the purest experience possible with Google’s Pixel phones.

It was easy for me to skip the iPhone 7 last year, as it was only a minor improvement over the 6S. But with the new design of the iPhone X, as well as its improved cameras, it’ll be hard for me to stay away. And even if I were to make the leap to Android, I’m just as tempted by the Pixel 2 as I am by the Galaxy S8. As much as I’d like to stick with the headphone jack, it’s only a matter of time until I’m tempted away. I just wish we had a good reason for moving away from the most widely supported port ever. No dongle will stop me from being resentful over that.

Follow all the latest news from Google’s Pixel 2 event here!

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Hobbyist gives iPhone 7 the headphone jack we’ve always wanted

For those of you who miss the iPhone headphone jack, you’re definitely not alone. But Strange Parts creator Scotty Allen missed it so much that he decided to add one to his iPhone 7. He just posted a video of the project’s entire saga, with all of its many ups and downs, and in the end he holds what he set out to create – a current generation iPhone with a fully functional headphone jack. It turns out, real courage is adding the headphone jack back to the iPhone.

The project took around 17 weeks to complete and throughout it Allen spent thousands of dollars on parts including multiple iPhones and screens and handfuls of lightning to headphone adaptors. Along the way, Allen bought a printer, a nice microscope and fancy tweezers. He had to design his own circuit boards, have a company manufacture multiple iterations of flexible circuit boards and at one point early on had to consult with a chip dealer that a friend hooked him up with, because who doesn’t have a chip guy these days?

Towards the end, after breaking lots and I mean lots of parts, Allen gets a little down on the project and says he wants to give up. But he doesn’t and it all works out. The final product works by using a lightning to headphone adaptor that’s incorporated into the internal structure of the phone. However, because the headphone jack is powered via the phone’s lightning jack with a circuit board switching between the two depending on whether headphones or a charger are plugged into the phone, you can’t actually listen to music and charge the phone at the same time.

Aside from that caveat, the iPhone jack works normally in every other way. You can watch the video of the project below and you can watch Allen’s video of how he made an iPhone 6S from parts he bought in public markets here. For those who want to add their own headphone jack to their iPhone 7, Allen has made the steps publicly available on Github.

Source: Strange Parts (1), (2)

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Samsung’s Galaxy S8 may ditch the headphone jack

With Apple, Motorola and others releasing phones without 3.5mm headphone jacks this year, there’s been a looming question: will Samsung follow suit? Like it or not, SamMobile sources claim the answer is yes. Reportedly, the Galaxy S8 will rely solely on its USB-C port for sound — if you want to use your own headphones, you’ll likely either need to use an adapter (no guarantee that you’ll get one in the box) or go wireless. But why make the move, outside of being trendy?

The tipsters don’t have an official explanation, but there are a few advantages that might come with ditching the legacy port. It would create more room for a larger battery, more sensors, stereo speakers and other upgrades that aren’t as practical right now. Alternately, it could let Samsung slim the S8 without having to make significant compromises on other features. That’s not much consolation if you like to listen to music while you charge your phone, but you may well get something in return for this sacrifice.

You might not have too much longer to learn whether or not the rumor is true. In recent years, Samsung has introduced new Galaxy S models at or near the Mobile World Congress trade show, which kicks off February 27th in 2017. SamMobile is confident that the S8 will show up there, although it’s not an absolute lock given the possibility of delays. Whenever it arrives, it’s safe to say there will be an uproar if there’s no 3.5mm jack. Some people swore off the iPhone 7 precisely because it didn’t have a native headphone port — what happens if their main alternative doesn’t have that hole, either? They may have to either buy from brands they previously hadn’t considered, or accept that conventional audio jacks are a dying breed in mobile.

Via: The Verge

Source: SamMobile

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Bragi’s ‘Headphone’ takes on Apple’s AirPods

Almost three years ago, Bragi left an indelible mark on the headphone universe. The then-unknown company launched a pair of “truly” wireless headphones on Kickstarter that not only cut every wire, but boasted a slew of fitness-tracking features, all wrapped in a superslick design.

Bragi delivered on its promise, releasing the Dash this summer, but with a few compromises. The fitness features weren’t comprehensive enough to be valuable, the microphone wasn’t great, and even basic connectivity with phones wasn’t very stable. You can’t have bleeding edge without a few cuts, though, right?

Enter “the Headphone.” These $ 149 buds look a lot like the Dash, but are a much simpler proposition. The Headphone drops nearly all the smart features, and the result is arguably the product Bragi should have launched originally: a solid pair of truly wireless headphones. The Dash was definitely an impressive opening act, though, and perhaps necessary to earn the company the gravitas to be taken seriously.

The very first thing I noticed about the Headphone is that the build feels cheap compared to the Dash. The Headphone comes in a light plastic case — not a cold, weighty metal one this time. There’s no battery in that case either; it just serves as a charging cradle (and case, obviously). The Dash’s smooth, touch-sensitive controls have been replaced by physical buttons on the right bud. There’s also no app connectivity with the Headphone, and no onboard storage for music. So why bother? Well, there’s at least three very good reasons: connectivity, battery life and price.

Bragi defined the truly wireless headphones category, and many competitors soon emerged. Remarkably, all of them — almost without exception — suffered some form of connectivity hiccup. This could be between the buds themselves, or between the headphones and your phone when outside (an issue with the Dash). Some cheaper products presented both problems.

With the Headphone, connectivity issues have vanished — even outside walking with your phone deep in your pocket. The Dash is very sensitive, and if you have your phone in the wrong pocket, music would suffer dropouts. With the Headphone, I’ve had the odd minor glitch while turning my head to look for traffic crossing a road, with the phone in the opposite pocket.

The audio connectivity isn’t just better than the Dash; it’s better than any “truly” wireless buds I’ve tried (Erato’s Apollo 7 and Earin, to name a few). Importantly, the Headphone’s buds never lost connection with each other either — a common problem with these products. Best of all, unlike similar headsets, Bragi didn’t use a design with something hanging out of your ears (looking at you, AirPods) to help ensure good connectivity. Like the Dash, the Headphone sits flush in your ear, making them much more inconspicuous.

One downside to the physical buttons is that they require quite a push to register a click, so you’re basically mashing the earbud into your ear each time, which can feel uncomfortable. This mashing effect happens with all three buttons on the right bud. It’s a relatively minor annoyance, as you can always use your phone to control the volume, but it’s something to get used to.

The lack of fitness features on the Headphone isn’t a problem, as there are many other ways to track activity. But I did love the ability to load music onto the Dash and leave my phone at home when going for a run. Not many truly wireless buds offer this — Samsung’s Iconx is one of the others — but it’s a feature that elevates the usefulness of wireless earbuds, especially when music streaming might not be convenient.

A feature the Headphone does have is the “transparency” mode that Bragi helped pioneer. Transparency uses the microphone to blend ambient noise around you (traffic, people talking, etc.) with your music. Handy when you don’t want to stop your music, say when buying a coffee. But also a potential lifesaver for cyclists who gotta have their tunes on the ride to work.

It’s definitely a welcome addition to the Headphone’s relatively basic feature set, but for some reason, the ambient noise doesn’t seem to be quite as audible as it is on the Dash in the same conditions. My doorbell pierces through much less on the Headphone while listening at moderate volume, and sometimes I had to remove a bud to engage in conversation, which is less common with the Dash. Perhaps Bragi reconfigured it the second time around.

More important, music sounds pretty good on the Headphone, but a caveat: Bragi’s press materials told me this might not be the audio profile that will be on retail units. The profile on the model I’m wearing right now is fairly neutral. That’s to say, it’s sounds like there’s less emphasis on the bass and the high midrange frequencies (vocals, melodies, etc.), which are commonly ramped up in consumer headphones.

Again, if we’re comparing to the Dash, I actually prefer the Dash’s audio profile. It feels a little thicker, and has more impact (and a fair bit louder). The Headphone is still a very good listen, and probably more suitable to those who listen to live/acoustic music. My noisy brand of angry dance music just doesn’t feel quite as thumping this time around, though.

The microphone, on the other hand, is less impressive. I rang a number of friends and family and didn’t tell them I was using a hands-free, and nearly everyone asked me where I was calling from in that “you-sound-different” kinda way. I recorded a few tests on my MacBook using the mic on the Headphone, and they ranged from poor to inaudible. You’ll be able to use these to make calls, but it’s not a strong suit.

It might seem like there’s a lot of things lacking in the Headphone, and to a large degree that’s true … if you compare it to the Dash. Pit the Headphone against most of the competition, and suddenly things look rosier. The general connectivity situation is a great step forward for the category. The audio quality is solid (even if the mic is lacking), and the six or so hours of battery life is pretty decent (though a shame there’s no battery in the case).

At $ 149, the price undercuts Earin’s lightweight buds by some $ 50, and is (no doubt deliberate) $ 10 less than Apple’s AirPods, which is perhaps the competition Bragi’s really setting its sights on. With a better battery life, decent audio and enough change to buy yourself lunch, the Headphone should appeal to those iPhone 7 owners shopping around for a wireless set. Especially if Bragi can deliver on it’s “November” ship date and beat Apple to market.

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USB-C’s new audio spec could rid of your headphone jack

Like it or not, the effort to get rid of the headphone jack is well underway. The USB Implementers Forum has published its long-expected Audio Device Class 3.0 specification, giving device makers the standard they need to pipe sound through USB-C ports on everything from phones to PCs. And the organization isn’t shy about its goals, either — this is mainly about letting companies removing the ages-old 3.5mm port, according to the Forum. In theory, that means slimmer devices, better water resistance and opening the “door to innovation” through room for other features.

We’re not sure everyone will buy that last argument, but there are some advantages to the spec that are worthwhile even if the headphone jack is here to stay. Aside from offering better digital audio support (such as headphones with custom audio processing), the USB-C sound spec improves on earlier USB approaches with power-saving measures and keyword detection. In other words: a company could take advantage of USB audio without hurting your battery life as much as before, and it should be easier to implement voice recognition.

This doesn’t mean that every company will embrace 3.5mm-free hardware with the same enthusiasm as Apple or Motorola. After all, Samsung used its Galaxy Note 7 introduction to make a not-so-subtle dig at Apple’s then-rumored decision to drop the headphone jack on the iPhone 7. However, the USB-C spec may nudge vendors who were thinking about ditching the conventional audio socket and were just waiting for official support to make their move.

Via: AnandTech

Source: USB Implementers Forum (PDF)

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Bloomberg: iPhone 7 gets new home button, drops headphone port

Another report has suggested that Apple is taking a different tack with this year’s iPhone. Bloomberg reporter and renowned Apple scooper Mark Gurman has published a story claiming that the new handset will have a design “similar to the 6 and 6s.” We’ve heard this before — it suggests that Apple is holding back on a big aesthetic change until next year, when the iPhone celebrates its 10th birthday. Gurman is also reporting that the next iPhone will ditch the headphone jack — again, something that’s been rumored for some time — switching instead to “connectivity via Bluetooth and the charging port.” (Get ready for lots of Lightning headphones.)

The iPhone is known for its sublime photo-taking capabilities, however recently Android manufacturers — particularly Samsung — have managed to close the gap, if not create leads of their own. Apple is reportedly working on a dual-camera setup for this year’s model which will produce “brighter photos with more detail” by merging separate images shot with each sensor. The configuration will also help to sharpen photos captured in dark conditions, as well as retain image quality as the user zooms in.

Finally, Bloomberg is reporting that the new iPhone will have an updated home button similar to the MacBook’s Force Touch trackpad. Instead of a physical click, the new button will trigger a series of vibrations under the surface. The reasons for this are a little unclear — it could provide new functionality, or simply serve to save some space under the hood.

We’ve heard these rumors before, but Gurman’s story gives them greater weight. If they prove accurate, this year’s iPhone launch will be quite unusual. We’re used to a “tick-tock” release cycle — a numbered iPhone, followed by an iterative “s” model — which would make this year the iPhone 7. A largely unchanged design, similar to an “s” phone, would buck this trend, raising expectations for a more dramatic handset in 2017.

Source: Bloomberg

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iPhone 7 may keep the headphone jack and support dual SIMs

One of the most intriguing rumors about the upcoming iPhone 7 is that it’ll ditch the 3.5mm headphone jack, meaning users will have to get audio output via Lightning or Bluetooth. But according to a leakster, this may no longer be the case. Rock Fix, a smartphone repair shop based in China’s Ganzhou, has recently been posting photos of alleged iPhone 7 components. One of these is apparently the 4.7-inch model’s Lightning cable assembly which, contrary to what we’ve been hearing before, still has a headphone jack attached to it. And more recently, the shop shared photos of what it claims to be the next iPhone’s dual-SIM trays, which will be a first for Apple if true.

Other parts shown off by Rock Fix include some screen panels in the usual two sizes, some SanDisk memory chips of up to a whopping 256GB, plus a dual-lens camera for the larger model (hello, Huawei!). The shop owner also told us that there will be some changes to the antenna design, though he clarified that this won’t get rid of those antenna bands on the back of the phone; maybe it’s more to do with the rumored switch to Intel’s modem for the GSM models.

Despite such recent leaks, there’s still some uncertainty regarding the iPhone 7’s features. For one, just three days ago, an industry insider claimed he heard from a Foxconn source saying Apple had canned the dual-lens camera because the technology wasn’t ready, but the following day another insider shot this rumor down, as he had heard from multiple suppliers saying the tooling was already made and that it’d be too late to change it (a self-proclaimed Foxconn employee commented below this Weibo post to say mass production started last month). He added that Samsung, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi are also exploring dual-lens cameras for their upcoming smartphones, so it’ll be interesting to see what the mobile industry will offer in the coming months.

Source: Rock Fix (1), (2)

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