All posts in “Gadgets”

Samsung Galaxy S9 might be announced in February

Samsung Galaxy S8
Samsung Galaxy S8

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

Ready or not, Samsung’s Galaxy S9 is coming.

The Korean electronics giant’s next flagship Android phone might be announced in February, according to a report from Bloomberg.

There were murmurs that Samsung would switch things up this year and reveal the Galaxy S9 at CES in January, instead of at its own “Unpacked” event a few months later. But it appears that may not happen. Samsung could still unveil another phone — perhaps the long-rumored foldable “Galaxy X” — at CES, though.

The Bloomberg report claims Samsung is expected to unveil two versions of the Galaxy S9 — a regular S9 and larger S9+, which sounds about right considering the company did the same for the last two years running with the S7 and S8. 

The phones will reportedly come with “upgraded camera systems” and could launch as early as March.

Though there haven’t been any substantially damning leaks of the S9, there has been a good amount of smoke recently.

Rumors suggest the new phones will look very similar to the S8 and S8+, so those looking for a complete redesign may be let down. Earlier rumors hinted at the possibility of a screen that stretches to the bottom of the phone, like the iPhone X, but with a narrow bezel on the top for the front-facing camera, IR sensor, iris scanner and other sensors.

Prominent phone leaker and 3D concept artist Benjamin Geskin mocked up what such a phone could look like:

Last month, a 3D CAD file of a device labeled as the Galaxy S9 allegedly leaked online. The image shows a phone with vertically-aligned dual cameras and a fingerprint sensor below them, instead of next to them. Of course, there’s also the possibility it won’t even have a fingerprint sensor.

Other rumored features we’re hearing across the web:

It’s still anyone’s guess as to what the S9 will look like or what features it’ll support. However, we’d bet on a device that’s competitive with the iPhone X. 

It may even cost $1,000. Yeah, it’d be insane, but the iPhone X and Galaxy Note 8 have already proven that a $1,000 phone offers a lot of value. It’s really not as crazy as it sounds, especially if you buy them with an installment plan.

Regardless, get hyped for the Galaxy S9. It’s likely to be the first 2018 flagship that’ll matter.

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Finnish autonomous car goes for a leisurely cruise in the driving snow


It’s one thing for an autonomous car to strut its stuff on smooth, warm California tarmac, and quite another to do so on the frozen winter mix of northern Finland. Martti, a self-driving vehicle system homegrown in Finland, demonstrated just this in a record-setting drive along a treacherous (to normal drivers) Laplandish road.

Martti is one of two cars designed by VTT Technical Research Center; it’s designed to handle rough and icy conditions, while it’s “spouse” Marilyn is made for more ordinary urban drives. Different situations call for different sensors and strategies — for instance, plain optical cameras perform poorly on snowy roads, and lidar is less effective, so Martti will rely more on radar. But Marilyn has a rear-mounted lidar for better situational awareness in traffic.

Recently Martti accomplished what the researchers claim is a world first: driving fully autonomously on a real snow-covered road (and hitting 25 MPH at that). Others from Yandex to Waymo have tested cars in snow, but from their reports these seem to have been more controlled conditions. Martti’s drive took place in Muonio on a public road almost totally obscured by snow.

It probably also made a new world record in fully automated driving, making 40 km/h in a snowfall on snow-covered terrain without lane markings,” said project manager Matti Kutila in a VTT news release. “It could have had even more speed, but in test driving it is programmed not to exceed the limit of 40 km/h.”

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I’m not sure going any faster would be wise even on straightaways. But winter driving isn’t my specialty.

The point isn’t to make a perfect consumer car for snowy weather, but to tackle the unique technical problems pertaining to it. For instance, can Martti’s optical instruments tweak the wavelength they use depending on conditions in order to gain a small but significant increase in accuracy? What about detecting icy conditions and traction problems ahead of time — how should the car collect this data, and how should it act until it’s sure what to do?

Inter-car networks may be critical for this, the researchers suggested, including both other autonomous cars on the road and specialty vehicles that can test for and broadcast information like snow pack, traction, road temperature, and so on.

Ultimately this intelligence could prove highly useful for applications like self-driving tractors, logging trucks, or emergency vehicles.

Soon the team will be going even deeper into the Nordic environment: “Next spring one of our vehicles can also be spotted in forest environments, when Marilyn and Martti get a new friend capable of tackling all terrains.”

Featured Image: VTT

A week on the wrist with the Alpina Startimer


It’s refreshing to wear a mechanical watch. The soft sweep of the seconds hand reminds us of the fleeting nature of time while the endless ticking in a dark room is a comfort and a spur to action. Add in a little limited edition provenance with big face and crown and you’ve got a stew going.

This particular stew is called the Alpina Startimer. It is a pilot’s watch, a watch with a large face and huge numerals used by old-timey fighter pilots during World War II. Designed with a huge crown which, as William Gibson wrote, “is rather more than usually prominent, so that you can do it without removing your whacking great RAF pilot’s gloves,” the pilot’s watch is the ultimate in utilitarian wrist-wear. You don’t admire a pilot’s watch, you address it for a split second while preparing to take Gs in a barrel roll.

This particular model is made by Alpina, a smaller Swiss manufacturer that has long specialized in a larger, bolder watch. The $1,150 piece runs a AL-525 movement which is based on the Sellita SW200. This is a Swiss movement that is, to a degree, mass-produced and is considered a workhorse in the watch world. It is part of their Startimer line but features special design cues and a limited edition engraving.

This piece is a commemorates Michael Goulian Aerosports, a stunt aerosports team that, we learn, straps these things to their wrists and whizzes around obstacles. The watch “is presented in a special edition box alongside a miniature model of Michael Goulian’s Red Bull Air Race World Championship competition airplane” and is aimed at fans of little planes that go really fast.

What’s special about this watch? Well, it’s a nicely made automatic watch at a price point that is on par with other entry-level pieces in the space. It has great lume – the numerals and hands glow in the dark making it very readable – and the band is a little thin but well-made. If you particularly like this mix of red, black, and titanium it’s a definite keeper.

I, for one, prefer either a steel or dark PVD pilot’s watch. All the bright metal on this piece is a bit distracting and takes away from the utilitarian nature of the original pilot’s watches. The traditional pilots watch also has broadarrow hands – IWC makes one that is a good example of the standard design – and the decision to add thinner hands to this piece is a bit incongruous.

I wore it off and on for a week and found it to be very readable and very precise. Watches slow down over time but this one managed to keep solid time over seven days with an average loss of a few minutes by the time my test was over. Again, you don’t buy these sorts of things to maintain atomic accuracy, you buy them to be reminded of a simpler time in aviation history.

Ultimately when it comes to a piece like this you’re buying quality and then design. The quality is there as Alpina has been making solid, dependable watches for decades. The design is subjective and if you’re into a “rather more than usually prominent” crown with a bold, handsome face then you could do worse for yourself. Now all you have to do is buy yourself some whacking great RAF pilot’s gloves and you’ll be set to take to the skies.

Apple’s iMac Pro is a love letter to developers

T

he iMac Pro exists because it turns out that there is a lot of air underneath the aging Mac Pro and above the incredibly popular MacBook Pro. A single-digit percentage of Mac customers buy the Mac Pro and, in recent years, Apple had been seeing a major rise in “pro” customers of all shades purchasing iMacs because of their incredible screens, all-in-one form factor and overall ease of deployment.

Given that there was such an appetite for a beefier computer in this pocket of hardware, and given that it was already in motion to re-think the Mac Pro entirely, Apple decided to see exactly how ridiculous it could get with iMac performance inside what is essentially the exact same shell as the current machines — with a nice coat of color treatment and a few additional cosmetic differences.

Mac Pro Reset

You may recall that back in April of this year, Apple was abnormally candid about its failures with the Mac Pro. It had painted itself into a corner with that design, and needed to go back to one to re-think its approach. During that session, Apple executives told a roundtable that they were also rethinking what it meant to be a professional customer of Macs.

“First of all, when we talk about pro customers, it’s important to be clear that there isn’t one prototypical pro customer. Pro is such a broad term, and it covers many many categories of customers. And we care about all of these categories, and there’s a variety of different products those customers want,” says Schiller. 

Apple iMac Pro

Apple iMac Pro

“There’s music creators, there’s video editors, there’s graphic designers — a really great segment with the Mac. There’s scientists, engineers, architects, software programmers — increasingly growing, particularly our App development in the app store. So there are many many things and people called pros, Pro workflows, so we should be careful not to over simplify and say ‘Pros want this’ or ‘don’t want that’ — it’s much more complex than that.“

Schiller said that 15% of Mac customers use professional apps multiple times a week and 30% use them in some manner. And the large majority of those pros use MacBooks. However, the iMac was beginning to be disproportionately used by pros who either found the screens or form factor compelling or found the pace of updates of the Mac Pro stagnant.

“So many of our customers were moving to iMac that we saw a path to address many, many more of those that were finding themselves limited by Mac Pro through a next generation iMac,” said Apple’s Craig Federighi, “And [we] really put a lot of our energy behind that. [But,] while that [upgraded iMac] system is going to be fantastic for a huge number of customers — we want to do more.”

That more will be the upcoming Mac Pro. But the now is the iMac Pro — a machine that will hold an allure for pros looking for a beefy piece of hardware that can handle demanding tasks from rendering to medical imaging to VR — but that also holds some clues for the future of all of Apple’s Macs.

iMac Pro

I was able to see the iMac Pro and its new space grey accessories in New York yesterday, along with a series of demos from pros that Apple seeded with the machines for a few days to allow them to get a feel for what kinds of gains they would see from it.

The machine itself is physical a near match for the current iMac, aside from the dark grey finish.

The rear ports are definitely different, of course. You have 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports, which run on two separate controllers, 2 ports each. So you should get blazing speeds on those whether they’re used for e-GPUs or storage or displays. There are 4 USB 3.0 A ports and SD slot and, for the first time ever, a 10 Gigabit ethernet port right on the back.

The 5k display is the same as the one that ships with current iMacs. You can order 1, 2 and 4 Terabyte SSD options with the new machine for storage.

Another change is the fact that you can now remove the stand from the iMac entirely and VESA mount it. Previously, you had to either use an after-market solution to mount an iMac or order it specially from the factory with the stand deleted, allowing for mounting.

Apple iMac Pro back

Apple iMac Pro back

 

Configurations

Not every configuration of the iMac Pro will be available to order today online and in stores next week. You’ll be able to get the 8 and 10-core Intel Xeon W versions of the machine with any other memory, graphics or storage options you like, but the 14 and 18-core editions are just orderable now for delivery in January. Those new core configurations are previously unannounced options. Each has 1MB of L2 and 1.365MB of L3 cache.

To be clear: you can order any options the iMac offers today, except for the two higher-core processors. This, it turns out, is not that big of a limitation as the 10-core should really be the sweet spot anyway. The 10-core model offers the highest turbo speeds at 4.5GHz for single threaded performance and supports hyper threading, allowing 20 threads at a time to operate on tasks. This is enough to enable real-time playback on an 8k Red Weapon footage file in ProRes 4×4, for instance – or a 140 track Logic file.

The higher-core options are really best suited for applications that take full advantage of so many lower frequency cores. Machine learning or AI applications that use the multiple CPU cores to schedule jobs for the GPUs, for instance, or rendering pipelines for external GPUs now supported by iMac.

Apple iMac Pro camera

Apple iMac Pro camera

If you’re not sure what to order, go 10-core. You’ll be able to jack the memory up to 128GB (non upgradeable by users, but upgradeable at a service center or store) and get the beefier Vega 64 graphics cards offered to end up with an incredibly impressive machine.

The Vega 56 and 64 options are absolutely the most powerful graphics cards that have ever been included in a Mac and I was able to see demanding VR applications, rendering tasks and real-time manipulation of 3D and video that would be completely impossible on any other iMac hardware — and would chug on the relatively beefy PC I use for VR currently.

These new processors support AVX-512 instructions as well, which will give developer users of multi-core iMac Pros a nice “free” performance bump if they’re using Apple libraries (or manually calling the instructions themselves).

The most interesting piece of hardware from an overall perspective, however, isn’t the more exotic graphics or processor options, but a system controller chip called the T2.

T2 and security

The T2 is an iteration of the T1 chips that are in current MacBooks, but it brings more functions of the machine into the fold. It controls the ISP that runs the 1080p camera, the audio controller including the 4 microphones and the louder speakers, the SSD controller and, importantly, the Secure Enclave that’s included in the iMac Pro.

The SE handles real-time automatic encryption for the SSD. This means hardware-based encryption with zero hit on the CPU, something that was always a compromise of FileVault. If your SSD is separated from the SE it cannot be read. If you want an additional layer of protection, you can also still use FileVault to inject your user key into the mix, preventing target disk access.

The T2 also validates the entire boot process (an option that can be disabled) from start to finish, preventing injection attacks at a physical access level.

The T2’s additional layers of security are absolutely coming to the rest of the Mac line. That’s a personal prediction, btw, Apple wouldn’t say. But duh. It struck me, though, that this beefier security which has built-in protections against sophisticated attackers, would be very popular in government or research applications. If I’m a buyer with security heightened needs, issa bulk buy, imo.

Which brings us to the real question.

Who is the customer?

The demos that Apple had lined up tell the tale of who they’re pitching this machine to. Four different VR applications, several render-heavy workflows that were upgraded from minutes or hours of waiting to real-time on the iMac Pr and a session with a bunch of simultaneous multi-device simulators running on top of browser tests running in emulators of Windows and OS X machines all while compiling Linux from source – and nary a fan was heard spinning up.

Survios showed off Electronauts, its music creation/rhythm game hybrid on a Vive, which added support via steam earlier this year. Using a full-fledged VR application from one of the best developers in the field on a Mac was a treat. I’ve run VR systems on my iMac and it has never been a pleasant experience. Sitting at my desk now I have an entire PC tower just to the right of my legs almost solely to support the multiple headsets I run. It will be great to be able to move back to a single machine for gaming and VR for me. But, more importantly, the iMac Pro is now suddenly a viable option for VR developers.

This becomes important in mixed-pipeline environments, pointed out Oluwaseyi Sosanya of 3D design tool Gravity Sketch. Because they’re super focused on supporting the automotive industry, they’re used to designers having to leave the Mac to jump to their modeling tools and then back to the Mac where they love to design. The iMac Pro plugs that gap and makes it easier for designers to adopt digital modeling tools that would normally have relied on a PC workflow being inserted into the process.

Some folks from Cinema 4D were on hand to talk about stacking external GPUs onto the Thunderbolt arrays, ramping up and down on the complexity of a scene, enabling them to work in real rendered viewports which took only a few seconds to get a usable frame and a few minutes to display at production quality — something that would normally require shipping off to a render farm and waiting.

Real-time or near-real-time rendering of architectural scenes, medical imaging and digital compositing also showed off the machine’s power.

OsiriX MD

The messaging was interesting to me. It was absolutely, clearly, a love letter to developers. Most of the Mac and iOS developers I know use iMacs or MacBook Pro machines – especially given the limited nature of the Mac Pro as it exists now. And given that Apple says the Mac Pro will focus on ‘modularity’, I think that the iMac Pro is going to be one of the most powerful integrated machines of its generation.

There’s nothing here that recommends waiting for a software developer. I really believe that the Mac Pro will fall much more on the industrialized spectrum than in previous generations. The pricing is comparable to build-your-own options, and you don’t get Apple’s all-in-one system tricks like the T2. And while the price tag is nothing to joke about — $4,999 to start — it’s a drop in the bucket for the medical and professional industries. A $700 seat of OsiriX and an iMac Pro to stack slices of a CAT scan into a real-time 3D model of a vascular system in distress is nothing to a surgeon looking for more precision.

And, of course, Apple’s own data supports that there was a chunk of open air underneath the Mac Pro, even at its newest.

All of the benchmarks and, hopefully, real-world stress tests, will follow to tell us exactly how well the iMac Pro pays off on its promises, but so far it’s looking like Apple has a powerful new machine to plug its leaky pro hole.

Why spending $1,000+ on a phone isn’t as crazy as it sounds

On Oct. 27, I joined millions of people worldwide in pre-ordering the iPhone X in the middle of the night. I went back to sleep after spending exactly $1,250.97 for the fully-loaded version, and I woke up the next day feeling completely unfazed by my purchase.

A thousand dollars is a lot of f*cking money to spend on a phone that will eventually get banged up and slow down after software updates. For most people, blowing that kind of money on a gadget is reckless and stupid. The money is better spent elsewhere.

But when you break down the value proposition the iPhone X and other $1,000 phones like it, including the Samsung Galaxy Note 8  — and you consider how important these phones are to our everyday lives — the price is suddenly not so ridiculous. I’m serious!

Price is all relative

The original iPhone was considered too expensive at $399 in 2007. Now, $400 is considered cheap.

The original iPhone was considered too expensive at $399 in 2007. Now, $400 is considered cheap.

Image: dustin drankoski/mashable

Before launching into my list of reasons, I want to remind everyone that the best phones with cutting-edge features have never been cheap. Never.

There’s always been a premium price tag attached to the most high-tech phones. It was the case for the BlackBerry 8900, Palm Treo, Motorola RAZR, Sony Ericsson K800i, the original iPhone, and most of the other legendary phones you can name.

Adjusted for inflation, $1,000 is par for the course for what a phone with vastly advanced features should cost. Who remembers how expensive the original iPhone was? Steve Jobs revealed it’d cost $399 (4GB) and $599 (8GB), and everyone flipped out. It was too much money! Apple lowered the price a few months after its launch, but only because wireless carriers helped subsidize the cost.

They masked the lower buy-in price for the device by overcharging customers with higher rates on their phone bills, charging for minutes, text messages, and data plans. Most people, particularly Americans, still don’t understand how much phones really cost. The dismantling of phone contracts helped educate consumers on the true price, but many people are still as confused or ignorant as ever.

My point is, $399 was considered expensive when the original iPhone launched, and now it’s practically considered budget or mid-range pricing. A thousand dollars for a phone sounds insane now, but it’ll be normal when newer phones push into the $1,500 price range. Just you wait.

Besides, $1,000 for a phone is easier to stomach if you buy it with a monthly installment plan that splits the full cost into smaller payments.

Luxury feels

Image: lili sams/mashable

Beautiful as every 2017 flagship phone is — I’ve tried pretty much all of them this year — they don’t compare to the glass and metal sandwich designs of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 or iPhone X.

They remind me of the iPhone 4. These new $1,000 phones feel expensive when you hold them. There’s nothing wrong with a metal phone, but now that everyone’s figured out the metal unibody phone, it’s lost all of its pizazz. It’s generic and common.

When you hold and touch your phone all day long (anywhere between 150 to 3,000 times, according to some studies), it should feel nice.

I’m not expecting everyone to agree with me, I appreciate the iPhone X and Note 8 more than I have with any other phone because they’re both so delicate. It’s like wearing a luxury mechanical watch or driving an exotic car. It costs a fortune to purchase and repair, but you love it more and more every day because you respect the craftsmanship that went into building it.

Since I’ve bought my iPhone X, I haven’t thrown it on my sofa so that it could bounce onto the floor. I respect and care for it like I would a diamond ring because I understand it’s monetary value. 

Cutting-edge tech before everyone else

Image: lili sams/mashable

Arguably, the biggest reason why phones became boring in the last few years was because the key technologies that were revolutionary when they launched (i.e fingerprint sensors, dual cameras, etc.)  trickled down to cheaper devices so quickly.

That’s just how technology works. Someone releases a breakthrough new feature and the rest of the industry copies it overnight.

Buying the iPhone X or Note 8 means you get first dibs on the latest state-of-the-art technologies. You get the brightest and clearest OLED displays. You get facial recognition and iris scanning that’s faster and more secure than cheaper phones because they leverage sophisticated cameras and sensors and artificial intelligence that smaller companies don’t have the resources for. 

You get the best dual camera setups that shoot professional-quality photos and videos — stuff that’s so good that most people really don’t need to own a standalone camera anymore.

The features in these phones aren’t merely good enough. They’re so far ahead of phones that don’t have them or have inferior implementations that it’s not even funny.

Convenience is everything

At the end of the day, your phone is a tool. And for a digital journalist like myself, I need a tool that lasts all day and is reliable in all situations.

I’d rather carry a phone with the best cameras to a work event than lug around a DSLR. I appreciate a phone with a big screen that I can actually hold and use with one hand. I love that they’re powerhouses for shooting and editing 4K video. And yes, I even like having the S Pen stylus on the Galaxy Note 8 because it’s so damn precise.

And though it’s completely unnecessary, I love being able to drop my phone on a wireless charger at work or at home instead of needing to plug fiddle with a cable and plug it in.

Yes, there are cheaper phones that do some of these things, but I’ve found them to usually come with compromised experiences. Maybe it’s just me, but I look at all the little things, like how the volume of your alarm clock lowers when you look at it on the iPhone X, and I see delightful value that add up into an experience that’s worth my money.

With such frequent release cycles for phones nowadays, it’s easy to get caught up chasing the next model. 

Buying an iPhone X or Note 8 makes you understand the value of your device every single time you pick it up.

You just spent a boatload of money on your phone so maybe start using it to its fullest capabilities instead of just for Instagram and Twitter. Once you do, you’ll understand why $1,000 isn’t as crazy as it sounds.

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