Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus review: Redemption is here

Last year’s Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge were excellent phones, and so was the Galaxy Note 7… until it started bursting into flames. While some within Samsung were tasked with figuring out what happened and how to prevent it from happening again, others were trying to build a phone that would make people move on. Meet the new Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus.

The Note 7 won’t disappear so easily from our collective memory, but I have to hand it to Samsung: The S8 siblings are impeccably built, thoughtfully designed devices. It’s not hard to look at these smartphones as the first steps on a road to redemption, and after a week of testing, I can confidently say these are two of the best smartphones money can buy. I just wish its virtual assistant wasn’t so half-baked.

Hardware and design

Text and photos don’t do the S8 ($ 750) and S8 Plus ($ 850) justice. They’re beautiful, if not exactly surprising. From their rounded edges to their precisely formed metal-and-glass bodies, they feel like smaller, sleeker versions of the Galaxy Note 7. That’s a hell of a compliment, battery insanity notwithstanding — the Note 7 was a beautiful device and I’m glad that DNA lives on. The S8 and S8 Plus’s rounded Infinity displays — which are 5.8 and 6.2 inches big, respectively — only add to the phones’ appeal. We’ll dig into these curved screens more later, but people seemed to like them enough that it didn’t make sense to have non-curved flagships anymore.

The screens don’t extend any farther down the phones’ sides than the S7 Edge’s display did, but the bezel surrounding them has almost completely disappeared. LG’s G6 packs a similarly long 18:9 screen, but the S8 line’s eye-catching curves and impressive precision give Samsung a distinct advantage. Like the G6, the screens on the S8 and S8 Plus are longer and narrower than usual, helping them fit more snugly in your hand.

This is especially true of the S8. I thought I’d prefer the Plus’s large display, but there’s something reassuring and alluring about this smaller body. For one, my hands never strained while reaching for the screen’s far corners, and I never felt like I’d drop the S8 because my hand wrapped around it so well. (The phones’ backs are made of glass, though, so they still slide around on tabletops.) That’s not to say the S8 Plus feels too big. It’s plenty comfortable to hold, although your thumbs will still get a workout reaching around the display.

Above the screens are improved, 8-megapixel cameras, and a Note 7-style iris scanner for hands-free unlocking. Most of the time the scanner is fast and frictionless. Often it didn’t even show the guide to align your eyes with. Other times I had to open my eyes really wide and move the phone around until I either nailed the alignment or got frustrated and just punched in my PIN.

If PIN codes aren’t your thing, there’s also the fingerprint sensor on S8 line’s back, next to the camera. In prior models, it lived below the screen. I didn’t mind the change conceptually, but the placement needs work. The sensor is off center, and a little too easy to miss — I usually smeared fingerprints all over the camera before finding it. And what of that classic home button? It’s gone — your new home button is a pressure-sensitive spot on the screen that vibrates when you push it.

If you’re not paying attention, you’d easily miss one of the S8 line’s biggest additions: a small button below the volume keys on the phones’ left sides. This is what you’ll use to invoke Bixby, Samsung’s homebrew virtual assistant. The button doesn’t do much yet — you’ll eventually be able to long-press it to speak directly to Bixby, but for now, it just brings up a screen with upcoming appointments, news and such. Even worse, Samsung has blocked attempts to remap the Bixby key for other functions, which has only pissed off potential power users.

There’s a USB-C port on the phones’ bottoms, and next to that? The headphone jack. We’ve seen companies ditching this classic port, claiming that it took up too much space. The S8 and S8 Plus are perfect repudiations of that line of thinking. Oh, and they don’t get in the way of waterproofing, either. Both devices are IP68 dust and water-resistant, which meant they could lounge for up to 30 minutes in the ridiculous wine bath we poured.

The stuff inside the S8 and S8 Plus isn’t exactly a surprise. Both US models pack Qualcomm’s new octa-core Snapdragon 835 chipsets, along with 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM and Adreno 540 GPUs. That horsepower is paired with 64GB of internal storage, and you can add up to 256GB of additional space with a microSD card. In addition to the usual array of LTE and Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac radios, the S8 and S8 Plus also pack support for Bluetooth 5.0, an updated version of the standard that promises faster data speeds and longer range.

As always, the S8 and S8 Plus are more alike than they are different. The biggest difference aside from the screens are the devices’ batteries — the S8 packs a 3,000mAh cell while the Plus contains a 3,500mAh battery. Those of you with keen memories will remember last year’s smaller Galaxy S7 also packed a 3,000mAh battery, and the S7 Edge actually had a slightly larger 3,600mAh — the biggest Samsung had used to date. Given the Note 7’s nightmarish battery failures, it’s no surprise the company didn’t push the envelope on this front.

Samsung did an impeccable job designing and assembling these phones. You’ll find a few touches that don’t feel quite right, like the off-center USB-C ports, but it’s clear countless hours went into making the S8 and S8 Plus feel seamlessly elegant. Sorry Apple, HTC, and the rest: For now, Samsung is the reigning king of smartphone design.

Display and sound

Chris Velazco/Engadget

For the people in search of buying advice, here’s all you need to know about the S8 and S8 Plus’s screens: They’re awesome. Thanks for reading.

But seriously, the Super AMOLED panels here are indeed awesome. Color reproduction on both is excellent and, as always, there are different screen modes in case your tastes are more specific. The screens get bright enough to combat the warm spring sun and viewing angles are excellent, too.

Before anything else though, you’ll notice that the S8 and S8 Plus screens are longer than most. While many other smartphone screens stick to the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio, Samsung built the S8 screens with an 18.5:9 aspect ratio. Why? To squeeze more screen into your hand, for one. Beyond that, the length of the screen makes multi-window multitasking — like the kind Nougat natively supports — a breeze. Don’t worry, though: Your apps will automatically scale to fit the entire screen, and they’ll look damned good in the process. Some videos, meanwhile, will be flanked by black bars since they can’t fill the screen. Samsung isn’t the first to go this route, though. Rival LG had the same thought when building its G6, which uses an ever-so-slightly shorter 18:9 aspect ratio.

Samsung calls these screens “Infinity Displays,” and they run at resolutions as high as 2960×1440 — a little longer than the usual Quad HD. Note that I said, “as high as.” The phones are set to run at “Full HD+” — meaning 2220×1080 — by default. You’ll need to jump into the devices’ settings to coax them into running at full resolution, which is a must when you fire up some Gear VR games. There’s also an option to dial down the screen’s resolution to “HD+,” or 1480×720, in case you need to squeeze as much life out of the battery as possible. The display will set itself to this resolution when you turn on the most aggressive power saving mode, and it’s not too bad, either. Icon edges and text look slightly fuzzier, but it’s not ugly.

The always-on display is back too, but with a twist. You can customize it further with images in addition to the usual clocks and calendars. Always-on widgets are available now too, if you want to see your calendar appointments or media controls without unlocking the S8. The impact on battery life is negligible, and the sheer amount of customization options can help make your device feel, well, like yours.

Meanwhile, each device has one speaker wedged into its bottom edge, and they pump out loud — if thin — audio. They’re good enough for podcasts and YouTube videos, but getting the most out of your tunes requires headphones. Good thing, then, that Samsung included a set of AKG earbuds with each S8, and they’re leagues ahead of most chintzy pack-ins.

Software

The Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus both ship with Android 7.0 Nougat, but you’d be hard-pressed to tell at a glance. Samsung has once again painted over Google’s work. Though, TouchWiz has finally grown up. A lot. Look at the S7’s interface: It’s full of garish icons and brightly colored circles. The S8’s, in contrast, is subtle and thoughtful in its design choices.

For one, the app launcher button is gone — now you just swipe up or down on a homescreen to see everything you’ve installed. Even better, there’s a search bar at the top of the launcher. Managing apps is also easier. Long-pressing an app icon launches a pop-up window with options to add a shortcut to the homescreen, select multiple apps and uninstall or disable the ones you’ve selected. That last bit is crucial when you’re dealing with carrier-mandated bloatware, like the multiple T-Mobile apps on our review unit. In days past, you had to disable uninstallable apps from the device’s settings; now you can do it wherever your app icons live.

The virtual navigation keys also allow me to fix one of my biggest pet peeves. Samsung devices typically have their recent apps key on the left side and the back key on the right — basically every other Android phone has it the other way around. Fortunately, you can swap the order they appear. You can also now swipe down on the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor to open the notifications shade, a neat trick we first saw on Google’s Pixels.

Other flourishes make the S8 line feel like “greatest hits” devices. Since both phones have curved displays, they inherited the Edge line’s special shortcut panels. Tapping the little tab on the right side of the screen reveals panels you can load up with favorite apps and contacts and more. I use these as often as I did on the S7 Edge — which is to say rarely.. One panel, called Smart Select, is an awfully neat Note 7 throwback. Long story short, you can select and record parts of the screen and doodle all over them to create GIFs on the fly. For better or worse, /I can’t stop doing this./

Also returning from the Note 7 is a Game Launcher app and the device optimizer in settings, which lets you quickly close down background apps and delete unneeded files. My personal favorite feature is the Secure Folder, which allows you to hide files and install separate instances of apps away from the rest of your stuff. For example: Photos taken from the camera app within the Secure Folder can only be viewed when you’ve successfully unlocked the folder.

Just remember that not all security features are created equal. Take Samsung’s facial recognition — it’s fast, but it often couldn’t identify me in poorly lit situations. It’s also technically possible to fool this facial lock with a convincing photo, so exercise caution. Samsung concedes that this is one of the less secure ways to lock down your phone, but some people definitely dig convenience over security.

Meet Bixby

Chris Velazco/Engadget

After countless leaks and rumors, Samsung’s virtual assistant is finally here. Say hello to Bixby. Oh, wait, sorry, you can’t. Bixby’s voice interface — the thing people associate most with virtual assistants — doesn’t work yet. Want to know how many ounces in a gallon or to see if there are any decent ramen joints nearby? You’ll have to chat up Google’s preloaded Assistant instead.

Samsung promises you’ll be able to control your S8 with your voice as well as you can by tapping on its screen. That would be huge — neither Siri nor Google Assistant offer that kind of granular control. Sure, you can tell Google’s Assistant to set your screen brightness to 50 percent, but Samsung promises even more. With that kind of complexity involved, maybe it’s no surprise this stuff isn’t done yet.

So, if Voice doesn’t work, what did we get? Well, a homescreen, for one. Once Bixby is enabled, swiping right on the homescreen or mashing the dedicated button brings up the Bixby Home panel. There, you’ll find your calendar appointments, the local weather, your daily activity, reminders and lots of news from Flipboard. Right now there are only a handful of third-party apps that connect to Bixby Home, including CNN, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Spotify and Giphy. It’s a perfectly serviceable alternative to Google Now. My only real gripe is that it sometimes takes longer than expected to launch Bixby Home by tapping the Bixby button — I often had to hit it multiple times (on both devices, even).

Bixby’s other, more interesting half is called Bixby Vision. It’s basically an augmented reality camera that tries to identify what’s in front of you. I’ll admit, my expectations might have been out of whack here. I wanted to use Bixby as the ultimate shopping tool, snapping photos of things I wanted around New York City and buying them from the handy Amazon links served up by Bixby. Alas, it just isn’t smart enough to identify specific brands or makes. At best, Bixby sees “black shoes” or “red backpack,” and the resulting Amazon links aren’t particularly helpful. Still, it’s pretty good at identifying clearly labeled items. I pointed Bixby at a bunch of things in a grocery store. and it properly identified the juices and cheese snacks I bought.

Bixby Vision is for more than just shopping, though. Thanks to a partnership with Vivino, Bixby can identify bottles of wine then display ratings and reviews for what you’re about to crack open. That’s the part of Bixby Vision that worked the most consistently. Although it does seem to think most bottle-shaped things are bottles of wine, so you’ll probably see the Wine option appear at inappropriate times. You can also use Bixby to search for images on Pinterest similar to ones you’ve already taken. It’s a neat touch and good for finding art you might like, but it’s not the most useful feature.

It’s too bad the really useful stuff — visual text extraction and translation — is hit or miss. The problem with both is that Bixby is really bad at understanding what text should be selectable in an image. Let’s say you’re trying to translate a book cover.

In an ideal world, you point Bixby at the book, hit the “Text” button, your phone figures what is actually text, you select it, and out comes a translation. Sometimes, though, Bixby doesn’t know when there’s text you want to translate or extract, so the “Text” button doesn’t appear. And other times, when the button does appear, it doesn’t parse all of the text properly so you can’t translate it. When it works, it works surprisingly well — I translated a handful of Japanese signs just fine when Bixby could tell I was looking at words. Ultimately, Bixby just lacks the sort of speed and consistency that could make this feature a real must-have.

I have high hopes for Bixby. After all, it took years for Siri to become really useful. So expecting Samsung’s assistant to be equally functional in less time isn’t really fair. Still, there’s no question that Bixby is the most half-baked thing you’ll find in these two otherwise excellent smartphones.

Camera

The 12-megapixel sensors on the back haven’t changed much since last year. That’s not a bad thing since they were great cameras to start with; just don’t expect any huge jumps in quality. Photos were uniformly well-exposed with excellent color reproduction. And as always, these dual-pixel cameras focus incredibly fast, and the optical image stabilization does an excellent job keeping subjects crisp and clear. Low-light performance was in line with the S7 cameras, which is no surprise since they both have 1.4µm sensor pixels and f/1.7 apertures. Still, expect to see the occasional fuzzy edge and less-accurate focusing when it gets a little too dark. Samsung says it improved the processing pipeline so there’s no lag between capturing a shot and being ready to snap the next.

The S8 and S8 Plus also double as solid video cameras. They capture quality footage at up to 4K with great colors and minimal jittering. I just wish Samsung offered more flexibility — there’s a record button, and that’s about it.

There is an improved 8-megapixel front camera with a wider field of view for group selfies. It has a f/1.7 aperture too, so it’s decent enough in low light and in general it’s a great performer. Selfies were clean, detailed and nicely colored, especially when viewed on the punchy AMOLED screen. Even better, you can hold up a palm to snap a selfie, no fumbling with buttons required.

Samsung also spent time cleaning up the camera interface, which was already pretty elegant. You switch between the front and rear cameras with a swipe up or down, and the list of usual photo modes — food, selective focus, slow motion and “pro” — is smaller and more streamlined. This time, though, swiping right opens up a list of Instagram-friendly color options to give your photos a little more character. And speaking of character, Samsung took a page from Snapchat’s playbook and added face-tracking filters that are bizarre and fascinating. They range from the cutesy (kawaii cats and rabbits eating carrots) to stranger fare, like a cowboy filter that fires a pistol when you blink. The S8 and S8 Plus come with 31 of these filters, and if nothing else, they’re perfect for amusing toddlers who are otherwise busy getting loaded on Easter candy.

Performance and battery life

I’ll be brief: The S8 and S8 Plus are effortlessly fast machines, and hardly anything I threw at them over a week of testing got them to stutter. This is mostly due to the shiny new Snapdragon 835 and 4GB of RAM onboard. Bixby is often a little slow to launch, but swiping through Samsung’s improved interface and jumping between running apps was painless. If this is what the 835 is capable of, I can’t wait until these things are everywhere. Workday multitasking, games like Hearthstone and Dead Trigger 2, even playing emulated GameCube games — it all ran fabulously. I unconsciously stopped thinking about performance altogether. As you’d expect, the S8s killed it in our usual suite of benchmarks, too — hardly anything came close.

Galaxy S8 Galaxy S8 Plus LG G6 Google Pixel XL Galaxy S7 Edge
AndEBench Pro 15,888 16,064 10,322 16,164 13,030
Vellamo 3.0 5,519 6,930 5,046 5,800 4,152
3DMark IS Unlimited 36,806 35,626 30,346 29,360 26,666
GFXBench 3.0 1080p Manhattan Offscreen (fps) 54 55 42 48 47
CF-Bench 67,307 64,441 29,748 39,918 46,290

Anyway, none of this would matter if the phones had lousy batteries. News flash: They don’t. The smaller S8 routinely lasts between a day and a half and two days of consistent use. The S8 Plus’s bigger battery gets me closer to two full days of use on a single charge. That’s with the screen set to its maximum resolution, too — expect even better battery life if you dial the displays down to Full HD+ or lower.

They also fare well in our standard video rundown test, where we loop an HD video at 50 percent screen brightness while the phones are connected to Wi-Fi. The S8 and its 3,000mAh battery stuck around for 13 hours and 27 minutes — just a hair better than the S7 and the Google Pixel and well ahead of the bigger 3,300mAh battery in the G6. The clear winner, though, is the S8 Plus and its 3,500mAh battery. It clocked in at 15 hours and 8 minutes, longer than the Pixel XL, Note 7 and Moto Z Force.

The competition

We’re not even halfway through 2017, so some of the best smartphones of the year may still be waiting in the wings. For now, though, there aren’t many devices with the chops to stand up to the S8 and S8 Plus. The biggest competitor is probably LG’s G6, a device with a long screen of its own. It’s far more sensible than last year’s G5 and, while it can’t win when it comes to pure power, it’s surprisingly flexible dual camera and great screen make it a solid alternative.

If we’re considering the G6, we might as well throw in the Google Pixel and Pixel XL since they pack the same chipset. Beyond having a choice of device sizes, the Pixels also double as incredible cameras (I think they’re still a little better than the S8’s), and the phones are guaranteed to get updates from Google as quickly as possible. Sure, the S8’s interface has improved dramatically, but some people will always prefer the cleanliness of stock Android.

And in case you haven’t pledged allegiance to a mobile platform yet, there’s also Apple’s iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. I still personally prefer the breadth and quality of Apple’s app ecosystem… though the S8’s impeccable design might get me to switch teams soon.

Wrap-up

The Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus aren’t perfect, but they’re as close as Samsung has ever gotten. That’s a hell of a rebound for a company whose phablets… well, you know. Beyond the gorgeous design and the boost in horsepower, they feel like devices built in response to our preferences and nitpicks. That’s not something you see everyday. Bixby’s limited functionality and lack of consistency is a real bummer, but it’s not a deal-breaker. (We’ll return to this review when Bixby Voice is finally up and running.) In most other areas, Samsung has outdone itself. The year is still young and we’ll certainly see strong responses from Google and Apple. But for now, if you’re looking for a new smartphone, the S8s should be at — or very close to — the top of your list.

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Instagram photos now look better on iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

When Apple announced that it’s latest iPhone would snap brighter, more vivid pictures with its “wide color capture” feature, Instagram was quick to promise an updated app to support that expanded color gamut. Turns out, they were half right: today Instagram co-founder and CTO Mike Krieger announced that Instagram users on iPhone 7 and 7 plus can now take full advantage of their phone’s new camera — and they don’t even need to update the app.

According to a short statement on Krieger’s Twitter, Instagram’s support for wide color capture has been rolled out to almost all users, noting that the feature has slowly been trickling onto user’s phones since the app’s last update. Users of Apple Live Photos will find that those import seamlessly now too — converting into Boomerang photos via Instagram Stories. Small updates, to be sure, but a definite boon for iPhone users. After all, who doesn’t like more vivid photos?

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Twitter

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Apple will fix iPhone 6 Plus ‘touch disease,’ for $149

A number of iPhone 6 owners and independent repair techs have been complaining for months about something called “touch disease” killing their phones, and now Apple is responding. The problem’s symptoms have been described as a flickering gray bar across the top of the screen and problems with the touchscreen responsiveness, which continue to get worse until it’s addressed or the phone is unusable. Repair techs like Jessa Jones have reported seeing multiple devices per day afflicted by the same problem, with no end in sight.

Going by Apple’s description of its “Multi-Touch Repair Program for iPhone 6 Plus,” the problem is really the owner’s fault, caused by “being dropped multiple times on a hard surface and then incurring further stress on the device.” Still, if you have the problem and your screen isn’t cracked, Apple says it will fix the issue for $ 149, and its repair program is available for five years after the original sale date.

That’s less than the usual out of warranty repair price of $ 329, but it’s not free, and it does nothing for people who opted to replace their phone instead of fixing it. Some owners have reportedly filed lawsuits against Apple concerning the issue, and it remains to be seen how this will affect their progress. If you’ve already paid to have an iPhone 6 Plus repaired due to the problem, Apple says it will reimburse the difference between that cost and $ 149, if you used its service or an authorized technician.

While some have reported similar problems with the smaller iPhone 6, there’s no indication of a program for owners of that device. In a blog post on iFixit, Jones noted the larger size of the 6 Plus made it more susceptible to the problem, despite reinforcements implemented to resolve the phone’s tendency to bend. The actual problem seems to come from the touch controller chip separating from the phone’s logic board, which is why twisting the device can sometimes fix it for a short time.

Update: iFixit raised the issue months ago, and tonight issued a statement saying that Apple’s program does not go far enough. According to its CEO Kyle Wiens, Apple’s response confirms “the problem is failed solder joints beneath the touch IC components.” But that falls short, he says, because the problem has also been seen on phones that owners claim have never been dropped. In addition, Wiens says an Apple Genius confirmed the company is not repairing the devices at all but simply swapping them out for refurbished phones.

You can read excerpts from his statement below; we’ve contacted Apple for comment and will update this post if there is a response.


Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit:

“Apple’s statement confirms what the independent repair industry has been saying for a long time: the problem is failed solder joints beneath the touch IC components. Apple is correct that dropping the device onto a hard surface could cause this issue. But that’s not the only cause: we have seen this problem on phones that have never been dropped. The underlying problem is insufficient structural support around the logic board.”

“Apple is calling this the “Multi-Touch Repair Program”, but they’re not actually repairing customer’s phones. An Apple Genius confirmed to us that they are swapping customer phones with a refurbished device. The repair service does not transfer your data over to the new device — customers are left on their own to figure out how to backup their important information.

Apple has had chronic issues with Touch Disease on refurbished devices in the past, and this the limited 90-day warranty on this ‘repair’ does not instill confidence that the repaired units will stay fixed.

We appreciate the effort they’re making, but this program doesn’t go nearly far enough. Apple is still charging a lot of money for the device swap. And they’re only replacing iPhone 6 Pluses, even though many iPhone 6 owners have also been affected.

Apple should come clean, admit the manufacturing deficiency, and extend their warranty on this issue to 24 months (the same warranty that iPhones have in Europe) for both the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus. Lawsuits on the matter are still pending.”

Via: 9to5Mac

Source: Apple

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Apple releases iOS 10.1, adds Portrait mode to the iPhone 7 Plus

The Portrait mode for Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus has been in the works for months, and now it’s ready for the masses… sort of. People with the 7 Plus who are running beta software have been able to shoot photos full of artificial bokeh for over a month now, but Apple just pushed out its iOS 10.1 update, which means Portrait mode is here (along with a bunch of bugfixes and support for transit directions in Japan).

Now, here’s the thing: Even though you don’t need to be enrolled in the iOS beta program to use the feature anymore, the feature itself still isn’t completely done. Once the update is installed, the camera app asks if you’d like to “try the beta” when you swipe into the new Portrait position.

Our professional recommendation? Dive right in. Portrait mode might not be completely complete, but it’s still capable of producing seriously nice headshots. In case you missed it the first time around, the feature uses the iPhone 7 Plus’s two cameras in tandem; the primary 12-megapixel sensor captures the image as normal, but the second, wide-angle sensor is used to determine how far away the subject is.

All of that data gets mashed up into a nine-layer depth map, providing the context needed to artfully blur out backgrounds while keeping faces and subjects closer to the phone remain crisp and intact. Apple’s goal was to build a dead-simple photography experience that yields pictures that look like they were shot on expensive SLR cameras, and for the most part, Apple did an impressive job.

This photo represents well the sort of quality you can expect out of Portrait mode. The focus stays locked on the face and hands, and the windows in the background are blurred pretty dramatically. Thanks to that nine-layer depth map, you can see areas where blurring is very subtle, like the top of the subject’s head and the bottom of her scarf.

You don’t need to take photos of people to get some mileage out of Portrait mode either. Have cats prancing around? Or a sweet new mug you need to share? In my experience, as long as you’re within proper range (the app tells you when you are) and there’s enough contrast between the foreground and background, you’ll get that pleasant background blurring.

It’s when you’re in well-lit environments with lots of similar colors that Portrait mode seems to have trouble — that’s often when you’ll see edges blurred when they shouldn’t be. Just check out this photo of a cactus precariously perched on a railing. The camera didn’t have trouble differentiating between the cool blue of the pot and the trees in the background, but it obviously had some difficulty telling where the cactus ended and the trees began.

These disappointments are rare, though, and will probably become less frequent as people continue to put Portrait mode through its paces. Most of the big problems have been solved — now Apple has to focus on the fine-tuning (which is obviously easier said than done). At this point, Portrait mode is still imperfect, but there’s nonetheless a lot to like about it, starting with how simple it is to use. It’s fast, it’s impressive and it’s only going to get better with time. Interested in taking it for a spin? Jump into your iPhone 7 Plus’s settings and hit that software update button. It’ll show up sooner or later.

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The bottom line: Engadget on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know by now that the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus ditch the headphone jack. And if you’re like some of the readers who’ve been reaching out to us, you might be nervous about upgrading. Take it from us, since we’ve had a chance a to test both devices: Aside from the no-headphone-jack thing, these new phones are less radical than you think. In fact, we’d say Apple made some safe choices here, playing catch-up with other phone makers. These are the first waterproof iPhones, for instance, though Samsung and others have been offering this feature for some time now. Ditto for the iPhone 7 Plus’ dual-lens camera: It’s cool, but hardly the first we’ve seen.

That said, these features will feel new to Apple fans, and also, it’s hard to argue with everything these phones have to offer, including fine build quality, fast performance, long battery life and strong image quality. If you own a recent iPhone like the 6s or 6s Plus, you might not feel compelled to upgrade, but if you have an older model, this is as good a time as any to trade in. As for the headphone jack, you’ll either use the included adapter or switch to the pack-in Lightning EarPods. Just avoid the AirPods for now.

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The Pokémon Go Plus bracelet is great for grinding

My Pokémon Go survival kit keeps growing. It started simply enough, with just my iPhone 6 Plus happily running Pokémon Go, but it quickly became apparent that I would need backup battery power in order to comfortably catch digital monsters for extended periods of time. After all, this is a game that takes players away from their outlets and into the great wilds of the real world, so I shoved a portable power pack and cable into my purse. I happen to live in Arizona, so I soon added an icy water bottle to the mix. Now, with the launch of Pokémon Go Plus, my kit also includes a lanyard bracelet, a plastic vibrating teardrop painted like a Poké Ball and a tiny screwdriver.

I’m starting to suspect Ash Ketchum was hiding more than hair under his iconic hat.

Pokémon Go Plus is a $ 35 accessory that connects to iOS or Android versions of Pokémon Go via Bluetooth. The main gadget is a teardrop-shaped hunk of plastic with an opaque button in the center that glows different colors depending on the feedback it receives from the actual game. The whole device vibrates and lights up when Pokémon or PokéStops are nearby.

The teardrop comes with a clip on the back so you can wear it on a belt, collar or backpack strap, or you can pop it into the included lanyard bracelet. It’s more complicated than just shoving it into the plastic holder, though (as anyone who watched my live unboxing video can attest). You have to unscrew the back of the teardrop with a teensy screwdriver, removing the clip and exposing the battery, and then re-screw it into the bracelet case. The bracelet screw is found under a length of lanyard running under the back of the plastic holder, so you have to move the bracelet itself out of the way before tightening the teardrop into position. It’s not necessarily difficult, but it is delicate work.

With the tools and screws involved in moving the Plus from bracelet to clip, I imagine folks will pick one way of wearing the device and stick with it. Both options are viable, though I personally prefer the bracelet option. However, I’m not wearing a watch today; if I decide to put one on, it’s possible the clip option will be more attractive. Apple did just unveil Pokémon Go support for the Apple Watch, after all. In daily life, it may simply depend on whether I can find my tiny screwdriver.

The bracelet option is my favorite because it’s the most convenient. The teardrop vibrates powerfully enough to feel even if the lanyard isn’t digging into your skin and it’s natural to flick up your wrist to check the notification colors. The button pulses green when you’re near a Pokémon you’ve previously caught, it flashes yellow for new Pokémon and it glows blue for PokéStops.

This is where Pokémon Go Plus is most useful: PokéStops. Once the teardrop flashes blue and vibrates, press the button and viola, a bounty of Poké Balls, potions and miscellany are added to your inventory. That is, unless your inventory is full or you leave the PokéStop’s range before collecting the goodies. The bracelet lets you know if you’re successful by flashing in a rainbow of colors; if it doesn’t work, the device flashes red.

The same goes for catching Pokémon, though there are a few caveats here. The teardrop vibrates and lights up when a Pokémon is near, but there’s no way to tell what kind or what level that Pokémon is. Nor is there a way to change which type of Poké Ball you throw — if you want to use an Ultra Ball or raspberries, you’ll have to pull out your phone. With Pokémon Go Plus, you could unwittingly walk by a 2000 CP Charizard and attempt to catch it with a single standard Poké Ball, which is highly unlikely to work.

It’s crucial to note that with Pokémon Go Plus, you get just one chance to catch each creature; they always run away if you’re not successful on the first throw.

I walked around my neighborhood, which is thankfully littered with PokéStops, and tried the Pokémon Go Plus on my wrist and clipped onto the top of my jeans. Both options worked well, though I happened to be wearing high-waisted jeans and whenever the device activated there, it felt like a fat worm attempting to wriggle across my stomach. Its vibrations are definitely powerful enough get your attention — and maybe the attention of anyone nearby. I entered my building’s elevator with four other people and felt just a little ridiculous as the Plus vibrated and lit up at the top of my jeans. At least on my wrist I can fool strangers into thinking it’s a new kind of fitness tracker, rather than an accessory for a mobile game about trapping exotic fictional monsters in palm-sized prison balls.

Pokémon Go Plus is not a replacement for the game on your phone, but it’s good for the simple stuff, like hitting PokéStops and catching stray Rattatas, Pidgeys and Spearows. It’s a grinding machine. And, in a game where grinding is crucial for anyone who wants to dominate a gym or two, that’s not a terrible thing. Just be prepared to pack a few more items in your Pokémon Go survival bag.

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Here’s how the iPhone 7 Plus’ dual cameras could work

Apple’s 2016 iPhone launch event may be just days away, but that isn’t stemming the tide of leaks and rumors. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (who is frequently, though not always, on the mark with Apple launches) has published a last-minute report claiming very detailed knowledge of Apple’s handset plans, including a few tidbits that have remained unclear. He now says he understands how the larger 5.5-inch model’s (for sake of reference, the iPhone 7 Plus) long-reported dual rear cameras would work. The two 12-megapixel sensors would reportedly be used for both zoom and “light field camera applications” — typically, that means after-shot refocusing. This would be at least somewhat similar to the dual-camera setup on the Huawei P9, where you can play with focal points and simulate different apertures. Huawei doesn’t offer an enhanced zoom, though.

On top of that, Apple would purportedly include higher-quality lenses (with more elements) and extra LED flashes to produce more natural color in low-light photos.

If the report is accurate, you also wouldn’t have to worry quite so much about Apple ditching the headphone jack. Much like Motorola, Apple is supposedly bundling a headphone adapter (in this case, Lightning to 3.5mm) in every iPhone 7 and 7 Plus box on top of native Lightning earbuds. It still wouldn’t be as elegant as a native 3.5mm port (you’d likely have to go wireless to listen to music while you charge), but you wouldn’t have to buy a dongle to keep using your pricey wired headphones.

There’s more. Kuo also hears that the A10 chip powering the new iPhones will run at a much higher 2.4GHz clock speed (the A9 in the iPhone 6s and SE tops out at 1.85GHz). And if you’re the sort who has to get a new color to prove that you have the latest iPhone, it might be your lucky day. The analyst elaborates on a previous rumor by claiming that Apple will replace its seemingly ubiquitous space gray color with “dark black,” and there would even be a glossy “piano black” if you’re feeling ostentatious. Oh, and the purported second speaker grille? That would hold a new sensor to improve Force Touch, though it’s not certain how that would work.

To top it all off, the report also supports a few existing stories. The new iPhones would indeed be water-resistant, surviving depths of 3.3 feet for 30 minutes. And Apple would not only double the base storage, but the mid-tier’s storage as well. You’d be shopping between 32GB, 128GB and 256GB models, much like you do with the iPad Pro. The display resolution won’t be going up, Kuo says (boo!), but you would get the smaller iPad Pro’s wider color range. All told, Apple would be counting on a ton of iterative improvements to get you to upgrade. Even if this isn’t the big redesign you’d hope for, it’d be more than just a modest tune-up.

Source: 9to5Mac

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Moto G4 and G4 Plus review: Bigger and (mostly) better

When it comes to getting the most smartphone for your dollar, the Moto G line has been your best choice for the past few years. We adored the previous model, which came in at a mere $ 180. Now with the Moto G4 and G4 Plus, Motorola is literally aiming to make its budget lineup bigger and better. They’ve got larger and sharper screens, improved cameras and, of course, speedier processors. With those upgrades come compromises, though. For one, they’re more expensive: The G4 starts at $ 200 and the G4 Plus at $ 250. Motorola also made some curious design decisions, which in many ways feel like a step back. Still, they both manage to carry the mantle of Smartphone Value King.

Hardware

You won’t find any premium aluminum or chamfered edges on the G4 and G4 Plus. They’ve got practical and simple plastic cases. Still, they don’t feel like budget phones. Their curved edges make them easy to hold, and the slightly textured rear cover feels a bit luxurious against your palm. Both phones are also noticeably larger than any previous Moto G, thanks to their 5.5-inch 1080p screens. At least they’re thinner than their 11.6mm thick predecessor, clocking in at just 7.9 millimeters to 8.9 millimeters. Strangely enough, they weigh the same 155 grams (0.34 pounds) as before.

The G4 and G4 Plus feel pretty solid for plastic encased phones. There’s little flex or creaking when gripped tightly. Long-term durability might be a concern though — somewhere during my week of testing I nicked the top of the G4 Plus’s plastic edge. I never dropped it, so your guess is as good as mine as to how it got damaged. It does make me worried about how well they’d stand up to months of everyday use.

Both phones sport removable back covers, just like all the previous Moto G models. In addition to the nano-SIM slot, there’s a microSD slot for up to 128GB of additional storage. They pack in 3,000mAh non-removable batteries, a nice bump from the last Moto G’s 2,470 mAh offering. It’s a shame that the battery can’t be swapped out, but it’s also large enough that that shouldn’t be a huge issue. (We didn’t have a problem with it last year, either.)

Powering all of this budget goodness are 1.5GHz Snapdragon 617 octa-core processors. Both phones offer 16GB of storage by default, but you can bump up to 32GB with the G4 (a no-brainer $ 30 premium) or 64GB with the G4 Plus (for another $ 100). They come with 2GB of RAM, though the 64GB G4 Plus gives you a luxurious 4GB of RAM.

Given that they both share so much hardware, you’re probably wondering what makes the G4 Plus, well… Plus? The most obvious difference is the fingerprint sensor on its front, which sits right below the software home button. The G4 Plus also packs in a 16 megapixel rear camera with phase detection and laser autofocus. The G4, on the other hand, has a 13 megapixel shooter without the added niceties.

One unfortunate downgrade from last year: Neither phone is waterproof. Instead, Motorola is calling them “water repellant,” thanks to a “nano-coating” technology that protects them from spills. That means they should be fine during light rain, or if you spill coffee on them. Just don’t go fully submerging them in anything.

Display and sound

There’s nothing budget about the 5.5-inch 1080p displays on the G4 and G4 Plus. They’re not quite as fancy as the quad HD displays we’re seeing in some flagships, but they still pack in 401 pixels per inch, which is plenty sharp for typical usage. Colors were bright and bold, even in direct sunlight, and viewing angles were surprisingly great. I didn’t notice much of a difference between my iPhone 6S while reading long articles from Pocket and the New York Times app. Videos also looked uniformly great. The big downside is that they’re less capable when it comes to mobile VR. It’s no wonder they’re not Google Daydream ready (though nothing is stopping you from plugging them into a Google Cardboard headset).

On the sound front, Motorola made the curious decision of replacing the last Moto G’s solid stereo speakers with a single one. It’s plenty loud, but it doesn’t sound nearly as good as before. Now that Bluetooth speakers are cheap and small, I’d recommend just snagging one as an accessory.

One nice feature that I never thought I’d have to call out in 2016: both phones have headphone jacks! For the uninformed, you use them to connect a wide variety of audio devices, including headphones. Someone should tell Motorola that these audio ports, which have been universally supported for decades, would be a nice addition to their flagship Moto Z lineup. That’s especially true for the Z Force, which is thick enough to fit a headphone jack. (Yes, the Moto Z comes with a dongle, but that comes with plenty of compromises. You won’t be able to charge the phone when the dongle is plugged in, for example.)

Software

Motorola delivered a nearly stock OS on the G4 and G4 Plus, specifically Android 6.0.1. Marshmallow. The phones are devoid of the junkware and sponsored apps you often find on budget devices. None of this is new for Motorola, it’s been trying to deliver vanilla versions of Android since it was under Google. But it’s nice to see the company stick with that philosophy under Lenovo.

Motorola’s unique gestures, which made their debut on the original Moto X, once again make an appearance. Twisting either phone twice, similar to turning a door handle, quickly loads up the camera from anywhere in the OS. Making a double-chopping motion turns their flashlights on and off. What’s particularly nice is that both features work consistently even when the phones are in standby mode.

Camera

This is where the Moto G4 and G4 Plus truly diverge. Should you settle with a 13 megapixel camera, or spend the extra cash for the G4 Plus’s 16 megapixel one loaded with autofocusing upgrades? Based on my testing, the G4’s camera is a bit hit or miss. Sometimes it delivered sharp and vibrant photos, but sometimes its color rendering was all off. It was also a constant disappointment in low light. The G4 Plus was a lot more consistent — it was able to lock onto subjects much more quickly, and it was actually useful in low light. Looking at both phones shows how far we’ve come in the world of mobile cameras. But, if I had to choose, I’d opt for the G4 Plus’s shooter without any hesitation.

While Motorola used a light touch with most of the software, its camera app is a very different experience from Google’s stock entry. There’s a radial exposure meter right next to the focusing ring, which lets you lighten or darken the image by dragging it up or down. Flash, HDR and timer settings are also on the left side of the screen, instead of the top. If you want to take panoramic photos, or simply want manual controls, you’ll have to use a separate app, like ProShot or Open Camera.

Performance

While I was bracing for a slow experience with the Moto G4 and G4 Plus (due to increased rendering demands for 1080p screens, last year’s display was only 720p), both phones surprised me with their relatively smooth performance. Sure, they’re not as instantaneously zippy as expensive flagships, but they also don’t feel like “budget” devices. Browsing around Android Marshmallow, launching multiple hefty apps like Pokemon Go, and juggling through them was relatively painless. There was the occasional slowdown on the G4, but nothing show-stopping. If anything, their performance feels more in line affordable mid-range phones like the Nexus 5X.

And when it came to demanding usage, I was surprised by how well both phones held up. I was able to capture 1080p videos of both phones’ displays using the AZ Screen Recorder app while running Pokemon Go and jumping through several apps. The Moto G4 showed a bit of slowdown, but Pokemon Go was still totally playable. And the resulting video didn’t have any major hiccups or dropped frames. The Moto G4 Plus with 4GB of RAM fared even better, with no slowdown during screen recording.


Moto G4 Moto G4 Plus Moto G (2015) Moto G (2014)
AndEBench 16,159 16,371 4,259 3,929
Vellamo 3.0 2,762 2,819 1,992 1,669
3DMark IS Unlimited 9,841 9,851 4,518 4,679
GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan Offscreen (fps) 6.6 6.6 1.7 N/A
CF-Bench 61,030 60,998 20,999 14,470

The benchmarks for both phones reflect the strong performance I saw. Compared to last year’s Moto G, they scored four times higher in AndEBench, three times faster in CF-Bench and they were more than twice as fast when it came to the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited. Of course, benchmarks aren’t everything, but huge performance bumps like these are noteworthy. I wouldn’t have dared play a complex 3D game on the last Moto G, but the G4 and G4 Plus ran games like Racing Rivals without any issue.

The fingerprint sensor on the G4 Plus was easy to set up, and it had no trouble accurately recognizing my fingers. Its placement on the face of the phone is confounding, though. Motorola would have been better off placing it on the rear of the phone like LG, or making it an actual home button like Samsung and HTC.

As for battery life, neither phone disappointed. Their 3,000mAh offerings had no trouble lasting me throughout a full day, even when I decided to go on some impromptu Pokemon hunts. In our test, which involves looping an HD video at 50 percent brightness, they both lasted around 12 hours and 30 minutes. The previous Moto G, lasted 10 hours and 40 minutes.

The competition

At $ 200 for the Moto G4 and $ 250 for the G4 Plus, both phones are practically in a class of their own. There are cheaper phones out there, including Motorola’s own Moto E and HTC’s $ 179 Desire 530, but they all have significantly worse performance in every respect. If you wanted a big upgrade, you could step up to the Nexus 5X, which currently sells for between $ 280 and $ 350, and remains one of the best Android phones on the market. Beyond that, there are the affordable high-end options like the $ 399 OnePlus 3.

If you’ve only got $ 200 to spend, there’s no better option than the Moto G4 right now. Stepping up to the G4 Plus gets a bit more confusing. If you want the 64GB version with 4GB of RAM, you’d have to shell out $ 300. At that point, the Nexus 5X is more tempting thanks to its faster hardware, though you’d have to live with its smaller 5.2-inch screen.

Wrap-up

Motorola’s big problem with these new phones is that the last Moto G was simply too good. In pushing for larger screens and other upgrades, it also introduced some compromises. Ultimately though, the good outweighs the bad. The Moto G4 and G4 Plus offer plenty of power and versatility without breaking the bank. And they show that, once again, nobody does budget phones better than Motorola.

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