LG V30 Cine Video Mode Review

Outside of going to film school, how can we quickly and easily elevate the production value of videos shot on our smartphones? After all, whether it’s a special moment with the family, or a document of a fun weekend; our videos deserve to be treated with care and attention. We want to watch them again, not delete them without a second thought. The new LG V30 is a videographer’s dream phone. The camera is optimized for video use, with a collection of tools influenced by modern filmmaking that turn a very ordinary video into something more visually exciting, helping tell your story.

Do they work, and are they really simple enough for everyone to use? What’s more, has LG used a light touch, or gone all-out with heavy-handed effects that may do more harm than good. We found out after filming the morning of the V30’s announcement on an LG V30.

Has LG used a light touch, or gone all-out with heavy-handed effects?

The first thing you need to know is that no matter how good the V30 is — and it’s very good — if you don’t put thought and effort into creating a visual story, the end result will still be ordinary. But the V30’s tools are compelling, making you want to experiment, practice, and crucially, learn how to improve. The few hours we had to shoot video with the V30 wasn’t enough. We could have carried on doing so throughout the day, such was the creative drive to have fun with the camera.

LG’s triumph is the Cine Video mode. At first it looks and sounds like a collection of filters, which we’ve seen many times before. However, LG’s Cine Effects go way beyond slapping a Juno filter over a 10-second clip in Instagram, then hoping for the best. The difference is Cine Effects maintain color accuracy, have a wider dynamic range for a smooth transition between light and dark scenes, and more vivid colors. All this adds up to a vastly improved image quality. Any fears of LG’s Cine Video mode being heavy handed are dispelled. It’s easy to dial-down the effect. Used with care, the V30 will make you a Christopher Nolan-like auteur, and not a bombastic Michael Bay. This, by the way, is very good news indeed.

LG V30 Review

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

It’s not just the Cine Effects that make the V30’s camera so good. The 16-megapixel main camera is a strong performer, with an industry-first f/1.6 aperture and a glass lens. This has 4-percent more light transmittance than plastic lenses, which doesn’t sound a lot, but makes a large difference. LG says the dynamic range is 11 stops, rather than 9.5 ISO stops with a plastic lens. More light means better low-light photos and video.

Let’s get filming. There are 15 Cine Effects, all of which are based on styles popular in movie-making. For example, Thriller gives a moody deep blue, nighttime look, and Romantic Comedy adds a dreamy “golden hour” style. Each theme can be adjusted for strength, and a vignette effect added, again with varying strength. To get the right cinematic look for its Cine Effects, LG worked with post-production film experts and colorists, who were able to make the final, crucial  adjustments to the palette. The themes are based on mood, situation, and feeling; not a simple style choice, and the final product is often startling.

The morning sun was blazing in Berlin as we approached the V30’s launch event, and passing along a tree-lined street with the canal off to one side, gave the perfect opportunity to try Romantic Comedy. The look is almost autumnal, with golden brown skies, a haze in the air, and some beautiful lens flare from the sun. The thing is, the V30 and Cine Effect completely changed the atmosphere and feel of the scene. It didn’t look like that in real life. It was a regular street in a bustling city. Thriller mode added another dimension to Berlin’s subway, at once making already dimly lit, graffitied passages more foreboding; but when faced with some bright street art, the colors popped off the screen. A subway station suddenly became an almost hyper-real environment, where anything could happen next.

We recorded without an external microphone, which is likely how most people will use the V30, and the audio has some great moments — the quad microphone setup separates audio into stereo channels very well; but isn’t so good at focusing on its subject. In a noisy room, it recorded everyone speaking around us at the same volume, making the primary voices much less clear.

LG V30 dual camera

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Point Zoom is another video feature that has some interesting uses. Activate it, tap an area on the screen, and the phone will track that spot when zooming in and out. An easy to use slide bar is used for zooming, and the speed can be varied. This, along with the auto tracking, gives a really professional look. However, zoom in really close and quality drops drastically.

Anyone with time and talent could really exploit the V30’s ability.

Shooting our short movie was fun. Swapping Cine Effect themes to see how it altered a scene’s look was addictive and genuinely enjoyable, because it really did change the mood of the scene, and as it dynamically adjusts as you move around, you’re rarely left feeling you choose the wrong setting. The V30’s 6-inch,18:9 aspect ratio screen helps here too; because the live video view isn’t covered in distracting settings, theme adjustments, or other buttons. They’re off to the side, so you can see what’s going on, without the need to dig into menus or hide buttons away.

It’s good news on the battery side too. The 3,300mAh battery, combined with the power efficient Snapdragon 835 processor and OLED screen, didn’t drain away in moments. We shot 44 short videos over a few hours, often leaving the camera paused while changing locations, and there was still 76 percent battery life remaining.

While our own video efforts here won’t be eligible for any Oscars, it’s clear that anyone with time and talent could really exploit the V30’s ability, and produce some amazing movies. Not just “home movies” for showing to friends, but pro-quality, engaging, exciting, and enjoyable movies of which they can be proud. The best thing is, the V30 makes the filming process just as enjoyable as watching and re-watching the end result.

T-Mobile will unveil its next iteration of Un-Carrier on September 6

Why it matters to you

T-Mobile has consistently bucked the status quo for carriers and even if you don’t use T-Mobile, other carriers often follow suit.

Something big seems to be brewing in the T-Mobile camp. The company sent out invitations to its next major Un-Carrier event. Not only that, but the company published a web page with a countdown rolling for September 6 at 8 a.m. (PT) — which we assume is when we will see the next iteration of Un-Carrier.

There is reason to be excited about the event. At its Un-Carrier event in January, the company announced it would offer unlimited data to its customers — and not long afterward, the other major carriers in the U.S. followed suit. We have no idea what we will see but it could have important implications.

t mobile un carrier next september 2017 screen shot 08 31 at 3 12 48 pm

There are rumors about what we could see at the event though. Recently, news broke that the company will be launching a program aimed at reducing the prices of top-tier phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the iPhone 7 — phones that can easily cost $700 or $800. Of course, it won’t end up being a contract — T-Mobile is specifically against contracts. It seems as though the new program is targeted at those who prefer to pay outright for their phone rather than pay on a month-by-month basis.

The program could end up replacing Jump, which is T-Mobile’s early upgrade plan. With Jump, users can replace their phone after 50 percent of the phone’s cost has been paid — provided they pay a fee of between $9 and $12 per month.

On top of that, rumors indicate that T-Mobile could actually end up launching its own flagship phone, which is an interesting move. We will have to wait and see if the phone can actually compete with other flagship devices out there.

The announcement will come at a time of growth for T-Mobile. The company recently acquired low-band spectrum for a $8 billion, which will allow it to seriously expand on its LTE network. Low-band spectrum is favored by carriers because of the fact that it can travel longer distances without weakening — meaning that a carrier might not have to install as many cell towers. Traditionally, low-band spectrum has been used for network television, but the FCC recently sold much of that spectrum to mobile carriers.

Garmin reveals three new wearables, introduces Garmin Pay

Why it matters to you

Garmin is giving you three new options with a bevy of features to help you keep track of your fitness levels.

At IFA 2017, Garmin added three new smartwatches to its Vivo lineup of wearables — taking on both Fitbit’s Ionic smartwatch and the upcoming new Apple Watch. Most noteworthy among the new additions is the Vivoactive 3 equipped with an updated look, NFC payment system, and more.

As a successor to the Vivoactive HR, the Vivoactive 3 has a round-faced Chroma display with a single side-facing button. Built into the device is GPS, along with heart sensors for constant monitoring during workouts. In terms of battery life, the device should be able to last a full week or 13 hours if you have the GPS on.

A new mechanism on the Vivoactive 3 is “Side Swipe,” which comes in handy when your hands are too sweaty to touch the display. You can instead scroll through menus by swiping the side of the watch case.

Similar to Fitbit’s new smartwatch, Garmin introduced contactless payment for the device as well. But rather than building a payment system from the ground up, Garmin Pay is powered by a third-party developer known as FitPay. It works with MasterCard, Visa, and other credit cards with select banks, so you can load your cards onto it and make purchases even if you leave your wallet at home.

There are also 15 different indoor and outdoor sports apps to choose from, as well as support for third-party apps like Uber. Since the Vivoactive 3 is a fitness watch, it also includes VO2 max — to track your body’s ability to import and transport oxygen which produces energy aerobically.

The Vivosport, on the other hand, is the more stripped-down version of the Vivoactive 3. It’s aimed toward those who don’t prefer wearing a smartwatch while working out. It still includes fitness monitoring tools like VO2 max and built-in sports apps but is limited when it comes to other high-end features like Garmin Pay.

As far as customization, you cannot change the bands and will also be stuck with a smaller display. Based on available features, it looks like you won’t be able to download additional apps or watch faces from the Garmin Connect IQ app store either. But one feature that sets it apart from wristbands is the LiveTrack tool which lets you share your location with family and friends while working out.

Last in the lineup is the Vivomove HR — a fashion-forward option amongst all three of the new devices. It still keeps the same sophisticated design and traditional watch face as the Vivomove before it, but now includes a touchscreen. Regardless of the fancier look, the device can still be used as both a smartwatch and an activity tracker.

The “hybrid” device allows you to scroll through information such as steps taken, weather updates, heart rate, and texts or email alerts, among others. With Garmin’s heart-rate monitor built in, you can track anything related to your pulse whether it’s all-day heart rate or VO2 max. Even though there is no GPS, it is also water-resistant and will last you for up to five days when it comes to battery life.

All three of Garmin’s new devices will be available for purchase later this year. The Vivoactive 3 will run you anywhere from $300 to $330 based on the build. The Vivosport comes in at $200, while the Vivomove HR starts at $200 for the Sport version and $300 for the leather-strapped Premium version.

Moto X4 hands-on review

We have seen a lot of phones from Motorola this year. Just in the last few months we’ve had the Moto Z2 Play, the Moto Z2 Force, the Moto E4 and E4 Plus, all coming hot on the heels of the deserved reigning budget champion, the Moto G5 Plus (don’t forget the Moto G5S). Now, Motorola has revived its X range in a totally new form with the Moto X4, which we managed to get our hands on at Lenovo’s IFA event in Berlin.

Motorola’s mastery of the budget Android smartphone market is well established, and the company has pushed the boundaries of what we can expect from a budget phone. The X4 is looking to do the same thing for the mid-range sector, with a dual camera, an aluminum frame sandwiched by glass, and some really nifty software tricks. Are there too many Motos now? Having spent a bit of time with the latest release, we think there’s room for one more in our Moto X4 hands-on review.

Glass front and back

The Moto X4 is a seriously shiny smartphone. The metal and glass blend is a familiar design aesthetic, popularized by high-end phones, but the X4 costs just 400 euros (around $475). The gentle curves in the glass back make it comfortable to hold and the finish comes in a classy black or reflective silver. The trademark round camera module on the back protrudes and it houses a dual camera setup.

The metal frame is solid, blending into the glass front and back. On the front of the X4, you’ll find a recessed fingerprint sensor below the 5.2-inch screen, with a 16-megapixel selfie camera above. The screen is bright and the 1,080p resolution looks sharp. It feels well-made and we like the subtly textured finish on the back, as well as the ribbed design that circles the camera module.

One design trend that Motorola is not yet on board with is the move towards bezel-less design, because the Moto X4 has pretty hefty bezels top and bottom and a frame round the sides of the screen. As a result, the body feels a bit bigger than it really needs to be. Still, this is a mid-range phone, so it’s unfair to compare it with something like the Galaxy S8 or LG V30.

Selective focus with the dual camera

The first feature we really wanted to try out was the dual camera, which is fast-becoming an expectation in new smartphones. The Moto X4 pairs a 12-megapixel sensor with an f/2 aperture and a wide-angle 8-megapixel sensor with an f/2.2 aperture. The selective focus mode allows you to pick a subject to focus on and blur the background or the foreground.

If you’re a fan of bokeh effects, then it’s going to grab your attention. Selective focus seems to work pretty well, provided you take your time and your subject doesn’t move. The Moto X4 is very slow to process shots, though, so be prepared to wait. Having said that, a Motorola spokesperson told us the software isn’t final, so we can expect speedier performance in the release version.

If you’re a fan of bokeh effects, then it’s going to grab your attention.

We also tried out the 16-megapixel selfie cam and the panoramic selfie mode, which prompts you to turn the X4 right and left to fit everyone in for group selfies, or show your surroundings. It stitched together nicely, but it’s a bit fiddly, so we’re not sure it’s something you would use often.

There’s also a Landmark Detection mode in the camera, which we were able to use to identify a photo of the Brandenburg Gate. It took a couple of seconds, then popped up a Google Maps location and some information. It’s a feature we’ve seen before, so it’s hard to get excited about.

Impressive Bluetooth features

Something we did get excited about is the support for multiple Bluetooth devices. You can pair up to four different speakers or headphones and sync a single music stream to them simultaneously. If you tap on the volume you can even get individual volume controls for each device. We tested it out and it worked perfectly. This is a smart feature that could transform your ragtag collection of Bluetooth speakers into a Sonos-style multi-room music system.

Moto X4 Compared To

Inside the Moto X4 beats a Snapdragon 630 processor backed by 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. In our short time with the phone it handled just fine, slipping in and out of apps quickly. There will be a 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage version in some markets. Both versions also have room for a MicroSD card.

The battery is rated at 3,000mAh, which should see you through an average day with change. There’s Turbo Charge to get it juiced quickly – six hours worth of power in just 15 minutes of charging. The Moto X4 is durable, too. It scores an IP68 rating and we dunked it in a pool during our hands-on and found it worked perfectly after fishing it out again.

moto x4 hands on review

The Moto X4 runs Android 7.1.1 out of the box and it’s close to stock, but we really like the additions Motorola has made. Another smart software innovation is the Moto Key, which enables you to use your fingerprint to automatically log into websites. If you already have a Moto you’ll be glad to hear that this feature will be rolling out to older models via a software update.

You’ll find support for Alexa in the Moto X4, as well as Google Assistant. It’s possible to wake Alexa by simply uttering the name, though we had trouble testing it out on the loud show floor.

Availability and pricing

The Moto X4 is available across Europe from September for 399 euros, but it won’t be landing Stateside until the fall. That euro price translates to around $475, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it came in a bit cheaper. We’re not sure whether the X4 will stand out in Motorola’s crowded line-up. It’s wedged somewhere between the budget G5 Plus and the more expensive Z range. If Motorola can improve the camera software a bit before release, we think the Moto X4 is a compelling prospect that offers a lot for the money.

The Apple event invite TOTALLY contains hidden iPhone 8 secrets

Do you see it? Just below the surface, hiding in plain sight?

That’s right: The invitation for the Sept. 12 Apple event contains 100 percent real and genuine clues about what is going to be revealed that day at the Steve Jobs Theater. And, if you only know how to look, it’s beautiful. 

First, let’s cover what we already think we know about the big day. The company will likely unveil three new iPhones, including the much-hyped iPhone 8. Pretty amazing, right? 

OK, now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s time to dive into the kind of super secret shit disguised in the above tricolor Apple logo that only your friends who live and breathe that #AppleLife will have been able to spot.  

Are you ready? Because it’s about to get real. 

First, Wall Street Journal tech columnist Joanna Stern tweeted out what we’re all thinking. Namely, that the red, white, and blue in the logo doesn’t demonstrate a newfound commitment by Apple to manufacture the iPhone 8 in the good ole USA, but rather represents three separate phones.

Whoa, right? Just whoa. But it doesn’t stop there. No, my friends, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

What if, and stay with me here, that white smudge is not in fact a phone? What if, instead, it represents your willingness to shell out tons of money for what is likely to be a $1,000 smartphone? This is not a crazy as it sounds. I mean, just look at this:

That’s clearly a credit card. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. 

Which, hell yeah, now we’re getting somewhere. But even giving this payment Easter egg its proper due, isn’t it likely that there are even more juicy nuggets lounging in those pixels — just ripe for the picking? Of course it is. In fact, you can count on it. 

The above breakdown helps us come to the realization that, in all likelihood, the Apple logo will be on the back on the iPhone 8 — a phone that will have so-called “rounded corners.”

We’re not sure if Apple meant to give all this away in the event invite, but we can’t say we’re upset. And even if this was all we could deduce from the invite, we’d be happy campers. Thankfully, however, there’s so much more. 

The rabbit hole beckons, and we’d never be able to forgive ourselves if we didn’t tumble right down it.  

What if the blurry nature of the (definitely) iPhones hiding in the logo actually prove the iPhone 8 will be flexible? Hey, it’s totally possible. In fact, not only possible, but certain. What’s more, the invite casually lets slip that this is the “first-ever event” to be held at the Steve Jobs Theater. That’s right, ladies and gents, as one insightful tweeter pointed out that means the Sept. 12 presentation will be a “BIG DEAL.”

But push up that dropped jaw, because we’re not done yet. Applying what is surely some Photoshop-filter magic to remove distortion, we’re able to see that the invite also includes a HomePod. And a hand. 

Does this mean that the iPhone 8 will sync with the smart speaker, all with the ease of a simple spank? You better believe it does, and we couldn’t be more here for it. 

Now, we know what you’re thinking: This deep dive into the secrets of Apple’s Sept. 12 event has been wonderful, revealing, and insightful, but you want to know where you can find even more. Thankfully, there’s a subreddit for that. Oh, also, there are plenty of brave publications that have made a name for themselves doing this very thing — hopefully they’ll be back at it in short order. 

Until then, let’s all sit back, loosen our focus, drop a little acid in honor of the late Steve Jobs, and gaze at the invite until we see it for what it really is: a treasure trove of definitely authentic Apple secrets. 

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Twitch’s new extensions let streamers customize their channel, make money from Amazon sales


Twitch today is introducing a suite of tools called Twitch Extensions that will allow its streamers to customize their channel pages with interactive features, including polls, leaderboards, tickers, schedules, overlays and even virtual pets, among other things. Beyond simply personalizing their channel to make it more engaging to fans, the extensions in some cases will help streamers generate additional revenue.

In particular, one extension called “Gear on Amazon” allows Twitch creators to show off their favorite Amazon products. If a viewer clicks through to purchase, the creator will earn a commission through the Amazon Associates program.

This extension will be available to both Twitch Partners and Affiliates, and is the first time that Twitch’s streamers have been invited to join the program, even though Amazon owns Twitch. To create their list of suggested products, streamers will be able to sign up as an Amazon Affiliate, then browse the Amazon catalog and pick their favorite products, right from their Twitch dashboard, the company says.

This follows another recent move from Amazon to help video creators make money by promoting Amazon products, as it turns out. Last week, Amazon opened up its social media “Influencers” program to YouTube stars, allowing video creators to build their own curated shop, with its own short and memorable URL. It only makes sense that Amazon would enable something similar for its Twitch streamers, as well.

“When it comes to helping creators monetize through product recommendations, it’s important
to make these features easy to discover and intuitive to use,” said Piers Heaton-Armstrong, VP
for Affiliate Marketing at Amazon, in a statement. “Gear on Amazon achieves that by simplifying both the process for signing up to be an Amazon Associate and by making it so creators can showcase the actual products they are using and wanting to promote,” he said.

However, the Amazon extension is only one of many that will be available at launch. There are currently over 20 extensions available, including some game-specific ones like OP.gg for
League of Legends by OP.gg, Innkeeper: Interactive Hearth Overlay by Curse, and
MasterOverwatch by Master Network.

Others are designed for more general use, like Streamlabs’ Loyalty, Music, Polls & Games, or Muxy’s Overlay and Leaderboard, for example.

A full list of the new extensions is available on the Twitch blog here. A sample showcase is below.

Twitch is also opening up the extension platform broadly to third-party developers, via its Developer Portal, dev.twtich.tv. Developers will receive free asset hosting and fanout messaging to make it easier to get started, the company says. Completed extensions are then shown to creators in a new Extension Manager.

At launch, extensions will be free, but Twitch tells us that monetization details are soon to come. More information about this will be announced at Twitch’s developer conference, TwitchCon’s Developer Day next month.

Twitch had planned to make the extensions available to streamers tonight, but that’s been pushed back at the last minute. Instead, the company now says the extensions will be “coming soon.”

How Brick-and-Mortar Retailers Can Stand Up to E-Commerce

Brick-and-mortar retailers have been finding it difficult to offer pricing that’s competitive with e-commerce sites, which have the advantage of massive scope and scale, according to a report Frost & Sullivan’s Stratecast service released Wednesday.

E-commerce will account for nearly 18 percent of the total retail market by 2025, the report projects.

B&M retailers have an advantage, though, which lies in their ability to offer customers a personalized experience.

However, given that consumers have so many stores to choose from, retailers should adopt end-to-end solutions that use cutting-edge technology to make personalized service cost-effective, the report recommends.

“Leveraging the personal touch requires a new approach to brick and mortar business; one which emphasizes
service over scale, purpose over place, and a fanatical focus on experience over transactions,” the Frost report says. “Achieving this
cannot be accomplished through point solutions, where diverse technologies are forced to fit together. Only a
well-integrated solution that encompasses all aspects of the shopper continuum can enable the brick and mortar
retailer to compete with and dominate the retail space.”

Building an online presence is a necessity for B&M retailers, but their investments in automation should emphasize improvements in the interactive experience they offer, the report advises.

Tech for the B&M Retailer

Among possible tech approaches: B&M retailers could give sales clerks a mobile point-of-service terminal and deploy POS technology and enterprise resource planning systems that deliver customer-specific information to sales clerks in near-real time.

“It’s important to acquire technology that can augment existing technology,” said report author Michael Jude, a research manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“The new technology should interface with existing solutions until critical mass is achieved,” he told CRM Buyer.

Telemetry that detects shoppers’ real-time preferences — the part of the store they lingered in longest, the items hey looked at, and the items they asked to see, for example — “can be used to optimize the experience of shopping,” Jude noted.

“The key is not so much making sales people mobile,” he said. “It’s making them mobile and armed with information.”

Currently installed POS technology in general is woefully out of date, and “just getting up to the 21st Century would be good,” noted Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at RSR Research.

However, implementing “employee-facing technologies — so they can be as educated as the customers they’re trying to serve — is more important than facial recognition and other really cutting-edge technologies,” she told CRM Buyer.

Training is essential, Rosenblum said, noting that “training for existing store associates is pathetic — less than 10 hours per year.”

Battling the Online Try-Before-You-Buy Buzz

Amazon recently announced Prime Wardrobe, a try-before-you-buy apparel shopping service for Prime members, which gives customers seven days to try items, offers free returns, and gives discounts of up to 20 percent on purchases.

However, “especially with clothing, there’s an instant gratification aspect to shopping that e-commerce can’t duplicate,” Frost’s Jude said.

Further, online shopping is done for utilitarian purposes, not gratification, he maintained.

“Consumers are increasingly selecting activities that emphasize the experience rather than the utility. Online
shopping tends to be more utilitarian and tends to emphasize price; while local retail outlets tend to emphasize
the shopping experience in their advertising,” Jude wrote in the Frost report. “Brick and mortar retailers that wish to thrive need to up the
experience factor; making a store a place to experience products and services in new and innovative ways, while
making the actual mechanics of purchasing easy and practically transparent.”

Prime Wardrobe “is a brute-force tactic to solving the discovery problem faced by online retailers, especially in apparel, because apparel is something that’s very personal to an individual and is less utility based,” observed Matthew Bertulli, CEO of Demac Media and author of Anything, Anywhere: The Future of Retail and How to Build a Digital-First Roadmap to Growth.

This “will be game-changing in the mass market apparel verticals,” he told CRM Buyer, but “it’s just more fun to browse around a physical clothing store and touch and feel things than it is to order 10 items, wait for them to show up, try them on, and then go through the headache of returning what you don’t want.”

Further, “the direct-to-consumer business has always had crazy-high return rates,” RSR’s Rosenblum observed.

The B&M Retail Sky Is Not Falling

“This whole retail apocalypse story is a complete false flag,” Rosenblum said. “The only retail segment that has more stores closing than opening this year are department stores, and that’s a vertical that has a whole lot of problems.”

In fact, more than 4,000 new stores opened in 2017, according to the National Retail Foundation, which found that there were just as many department chains opening new stores as there were closing them.

It’s simply not true that e-commerce has been sucking the profits away from B&M retailers, Rosenblum said, noting that “data from our store survey said the biggest contribution to performance still comes from stores.”


Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.

First impressions of Essential’s 360-degree camera attachment


Essential has a unique port around back on its debut Phone, which can handle data and power transfer, and which attaches to accessories via magnets. The first such accessory is Essential’s own 360 camera, which offers you an easy way to capture immersive images and video in a very small package. The Essential 360 camera is much smaller than most other consumer 360 cameras out there, and aims to be something that’s as easy to take with wherever you go as the phone itself.

I got a chance to take the 360 camera for a spin over the past few days, now that it’s preparing to ship out to early Essential customers. The diminutive camera easily slides into a pocket or bag, and snaps into place on the back of the Essential phone with a satisfying click. The magnetic force also feels strong enough that you can be confident the camera won’t fall off during use, while also keeping the accessory easy enough to remove when you want to.

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Snapping the camera on to the back of the Essential Phone results in the camera app itself launching right into 360-degree capture mode. This was a bit hit or miss for me – the camera app also launched, but sometimes I’d have to exit and relaunch to get the image preview to appear. Removing the camera also automatically quits the app, which is a nice feature.

By default, the app launches in photo capture mode, where you tap the virtual shutter button to grab a still. You can also pan around the image in live preview using your finger to see what the whole scene looks like. Essential stitches the image on the fly, so what you see is what you get when you tap the shutter.

Tapping the red dot next to the shutter will jump right into video recording, so that’s always only one tap away, too. Video capture also lets you pan around to see your surroundings, and again stitches the images from its two 210-degree cameras live to provide you with a real-time preview of what you’re recording.

Both the resulting images and the resulting video are good quality, and perfectly usable for sharing on Facebook and YouTube, as you can see with the examples provided. Stills come in at 12 MP, and the video records at 4K UHD resolution – 3840 x 1920, captured at 30 fps. Audio is recorded from the microphone on the camera, too, not the one on the phone, and that features a 4-mic array that captures 3D audio for more immersive effect.

In the end, Essential’s $50 camera add on is as good, or better, than some third-party mobile 360 camera options that are bulkier and more expensive. Also, this doesn’t really impact any of the video or photo results, but the Essential phone has a tiny fan in it to help with heat management, which I just find incredibly cool. Plus, it satisfies that most important quality for a camera: it’s more likely to be with you and usable, which is the key to making this kind of media more commonplace.

Featured Image: Darrell Etherington

The littleBits Droid Inventor Kit lets you build an R2-D2 of your very own

Ever wanted to build an R2-D2 to call your own?

You could drop a few million dollars to get all the screen-used parts/props…

Or you could spend a few weeks in the shop bangin’ on scrap metal to build one from scratch.

Or you could grab littleBit’s new Droid Inventor Kit and call it a day. It’s pint-sized and not quite as intense as the aforementioned options, but hey — it’s your R2.

Unfamiliar with littleBits? It was founded back in 2011, and focuses on introducing kids to electronics and circuitry by way of modular components that snap together. Want to build a little Taboo-style buzzing button? Grab a battery module, a button module and a speaker module, stick their magnetic ends together and you’re set — no soldering (and thus no soldering iron burns) required.

This Droid Inventor Kit is a pretty sweet concept: one $99 box containing all the motors, speakers, stickers, sensors and Droid body parts you’d need to recreate a bleeping, blorping, rolling R2-D2 of your own. Want to mix things up a bit? You can do that, too:

A companion iOS/Android app gives you the step-by-step breakdown of how to piece things together, along with a series of missions meant to encourage kids to tweak their Droid to their liking. That one above, for example, has a little paper “drill” that spins as it rolls around the room.

This kit should start shipping by September 1st.

This is a pretty huge partnership for littleBits; they joined Disney’s startup accelerator last year, and this is the first new product to hit the shelves as a result. Check it out at around the 2 minute mark in the video below.

Teens, you deserve a life free from phones and social media. Here’s how to get it.

Anyone with a smartphone lives in fear of missing out at some point.  

I’ve personally watched my Boomer parents’ eyes glaze over as they sit at the dinner table and scroll through Facebook. As a Gen X/Millennial Cusper (a Xennial, if you will), I deleted Facebook and Twitter from my phone, but still compulsively update Apple News.  

The truth is, we feel drawn to our mobile devices because they deliver an exciting emotional rush every time we hold those shiny little computers in our hands and reveal what’s new in the world.  

Yet my parents and I — and everyone else who became a teenager before high-speed internet hit most American households — have something that today’s youth don’t: the luxury of knowing what it’s like to be still. 

If you keep a phone or mobile device close by, then you know it’s always beeping, buzzing, or begging for your attention. When new technology comes out (think: radio, television, video games), it tends to draw us away from our innermost selves. But constant access to the internet is something else altogether because it can obliterate the solitude humans have known for millennia — downtime that studies show is essential for thriving.

Now, new research suggests this relentless background noise may take a disturbing toll on teen mental health and emotional well-being. 

This is the upsetting premise of Jean Twenge’s new book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us. Twenge defines iGen, otherwise known as Generation Z, as beginning in 1995 — “the year the internet was born.” That’s when eBay, Amazon, and GeoCities all launched, and when Microsoft released the first version of Internet Explorer. 

Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor, argues that certain studies and large-scale mental health surveys of adolescents and teens indicate their emotional well-being began deteriorating in the last 10 years. The downward trend looks particularly startling in 2012 — the year, Twenge notes, that more than 50 percent of American households owned a smartphone.  

The prevalence of depression for adolescents and teens increased between 2005 and 2014. The suicide rate also rose sharply between 2007 and 2015 while the number of children and teens admitted to hospitals for suicidal thoughts or self-harm doubled during roughly the same time period. Twenge’s analysis of national survey data indicates that teens started feeling more lonely in 2013, after declining modestly in previous years. While historical data show that emotional well-being ebbs and flows from generation to generation, Twenge has been shocked by how abruptly and starkly iGen began showing signs of distress.  

Plenty of teens in the mid-’90s were also struggling, and the stigma surrounding mental health treatment was far greater then. Yet you could often count on moments of silence to provide refuge from the chaos of adolescence. Even on my busiest days, playing in weekend soccer tournaments, trying to catch up on the never-ending homework, and going out with friends, my free time wasn’t broken into a random collection of minutes defined by pings and clicks. 

I could spend hours making mix tapes, listening to Loveline on the radio, watching Buffy, and even going online via a painfully slow dial-up modem. I routinely immersed myself in a single activity without much disruption. And when all of that ceased to entertain, what followed next was often a reverie of daydreaming, overwrought journaling, or jags of creativity. 

To be sure, mine was a privileged existence, even if it didn’t always feel that way in comparison to my wealthy classmates. Many teens — then and now — don’t experience that quiet because they must work, watch siblings, or have no privacy of their own. Those without that calm now also have to contend with the exhausting demands of living a digital life. 

While I may have feared missing out on social outings organized by the cool kids on the weekends, I wouldn’t hear about those till Monday, if ever. I didn’t have to relive the exclusion in perpetuity thanks to social media. And when I was invited to hang out with the cool kids, I never worried about capturing the perfect selfie to share online. 

More importantly, in those moments of boredom, silence, and yes, anxiousness, there were only so many ways I could avoid being alone with myself. Crossing the threshold into your own mind and spirit — getting lost in a world that is of your making — can be a rite of passage for the young. But today’s teens may not understand that experience; they’ve been thrust into the world with social media and a smartphone as their constant companions — for better and worse. 

The adults in their lives may worry about “screen time,” cyberbullying, and porn, but no one is necessarily teaching teens how to be alone with their thoughts, or why that’s important in the first place. Parents probably take that skill and knowledge for granted and may not want to admit that it’s difficult for them to unplug, too. 

 I don’t believe that social media and smartphones are boogeymen that snatch children’s souls.

If this sounds like an Old Person Rant about how the kids today have got it all wrong, rest assured this isn’t a lecture. I know that each generation is successively worried about the next, convinced that technological innovation keeps removing us, inch by inch, from our humanity. 

This isn’t moral panic, either. I don’t believe that social media and smartphones are boogeymen out to snatch children’s souls. Both aspects of technology have transformed our ability to communicate and connect in undeniably positive ways. Still, I’m troubled by the research featured in iGen suggesting that today’s youth are on the brink of an alarming mental health crisis. Numerous signs point to phones and social media as potential culprits. 

“What is most worrying about these trends is how pervasive they are,” Twenge told me. “They show up in the most serious outcomes like suicide, but also in symptoms of depression, anxiety, loneliness, happiness, and life satisfaction.” 

Twenge acknowledges that she can’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship between the widespread use of smartphones and worsening mental health for teens. But she does persuasively argue against possible explanations like homework load and the Great Recession by looking at the onset of mental health trends, the timing of external events, and whether those are linked to negative effects on a person’s well-being.  

Sleep deprivation, which can lead to symptoms related to anxiety, depression, and suicidal behavior, is on the rise. That might explain heightened feelings of despair, but guess why teens may not be sleeping as much? Nighttime use of electronic media looks partly to blame, according to research

Twenge has her share of critics who argue that she’s cherry-picked data to prove her thesis. Some research indicates that social media and smartphones can help people develop positive connections and traits, but other studies reveal a potentially negative effect on mental health and happiness.

It’s essential that future research answer, as conclusively as possible, whether moderate or obsessive social media and smartphone use leads to negative mental health outcomes. In the meantime, we must find a middle ground between condescending to teens about their use of technology and dismissing concern about that trend as alarmist. 

When I recently spoke to Gabby Frost, a 19-year-old who founded the Buddy Project, a suicide and self-harm prevention initiative, about her experience with smartphones and social media, she shared a bittersweet perspective. 

The internet helped a shy and anxious Frost form relationships as an adolescent and teenager. She even founded an influential nonprofit organization that relies on digital technology. But at the same time, she looked back on the years she’s spent tethered to her phone and recalled how it separated her from family, subjected her to painful online harassment, and weakened her attention span. 

“I feel like being alone is definitely a hard thing to kind of grasp.”

“I feel like being alone is definitely a hard thing to kind of grasp,” she said. “We were given technology and grew up with it. We learned the phone culture from our siblings and parents. I feel like we need help from the older generation, or people our age who get it, that we should not be on the phone 24/7.”

Frost makes an effort to put her phone away for long stretches of time so she can paint, craft, or listen to music while traveling. These “tangents” often bring new ideas or revelations, a sensation Frost is still learning to appreciate.  

Teens can come up with their own strategies, but ignoring their phones for a few hours at a time is a good start. Talking to a parent or trusted adult about ways to create and experience solitude is also smart. For some people, especially those coping with anxiety and depression, being alone with your thoughts isn’t always pleasant, so exploring therapy or yoga and meditation practices could help manage those fears. Writing about how you feel on days with and without your phone and social media could help articulate feelings you didn’t even know you had — and provide convincing evidence about the emotional effects of both habits.

Teens have forever to spend on the internet but only a relatively short period during adolescence and young adulthood to be unapologetically immersed in understanding who they are and who they want to become. When they think of FOMO, I hope what comes to mind aren’t the Insta posts, Snapchat stories, and viral Twitter threads. Those have value, but they also produce a never-ending stream of notifications and updates that distract teens from something irreplaceable: the chance to reflect, create, and dream.  

If you take one message from this Old, let it be to never surrender those quiet moments to the banality of the internet. Trust me: That’s a skill you’re going to need for the rest of your life. 

If you want to talk to someone about what you’re feeling, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Here is a list of international resources.

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