Facebook is pushing back on claims that its work with third-party fact-checkers amounts to little more than “crisis PR.”
That’s how one former employee of Snopes, one of the fact-checking websites that works directly with Facebook to debunk misinformation in News Feed, described her previous work with the company.
In a report published in The Guardian, the former Snopes employee says Facebook “essentially used us for crisis PR,” and that “they are more interested in making themselves look good and passing the buck.” The same employee alleged that Facebook had, at times, prioritized “debunking misinformation that affected Facebook advertisers” and had failed to take repeated warnings about the situation in Myanmar seriously.
Another unnamed fact-checker who currently works with Facebook said the company spreads the same kind of misinformation it expects fact-checkers to debunk, citing the social network’s role in promoting anti-George Soros narratives.
In a newsroom post, Facebook disputed many of these claims. “Contrary to a claim in the story, we absolutely do not ask fact-checkers to prioritize debunking content about our advertisers,” the company’s head of news integrity partnerships Meredith Carden wrote.
Facebook has long touted its work with third-party fact-checkers as proof it’s taking the fight against fake news seriously. The company “partners” (or in other words pays) journalists and fact-check organizations around the world to research and debunk all varieties of misinformation that go viral in News Feed. Debunked stories are then down-ranked in News Feed to make them less visible, and repeat offenders may be punished by having all their content made less visible.
The program has been criticized in the past for being understaffed and for the fact that it takes fact-checkers much longer to debunk false stories than it does for them to go viral. But Facebook has repeatedly said it’s gaining ground in the fight against fake news, a claim it reiterated Thursday.
“Fact-checking is highly effective in fighting misinformation,” Carden, wrote.
Fact-checkers have also taken issue with the lack of data about their work as Facebook doesn’t give them enough information for them to judge whether or not their work is actually effective. Now, Facebook plans to change that, Carden said.
“We’re starting to send fact-checkers quarterly reports that include customized statistics that reflect the work and impact of each fact-checker.”
Website building platform provider Wix on Tuesday launched Ascend, a CRM suite.
Ascend consists of 20 products, including tools for site promotion, cross-channel customer interaction management, intuitive search engine optimization, content creation for social media channels, lead capture, and the ability to respond to queries automatically, along with a chat-centric interface that allows real-time interactions with customers.
Ascend incorporates some existing Wix offerings: Chat; a Members Area; Automations, a product that lets business owners set up triggers to automate and manage interactions with customers; Email Marketing; and Forms.
All interactions with a customer are routed into a single in-box, regardless of the channel they came in on, which can be accessed on any device.
Ascend costs US$9 to $45 per month, depending on various factors. It is fully integrated with the Wix platform and does not require any third-party plug-ins.
“With the launch of Ascend, we are expanding our market by offering management tools, marketing and promotion capabilities,” said Wix CEO Avisai Abrahami. “Ascend is the next iteration in a long line of products, informed by our data and designed with our users, and their success, as our inspiration.”
Wix “has always been one of the key ‘starter’ commerce pages,” observed Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research.
“They have made website creation simple and easy,” he told CRM Buyer.
Wix “is the campaign-to-commerce platform for small businesses,” Wang noted, naming Weebly, GoDaddy, Square Space and Jimdo as its key competitors.
Ascend’s features “take Wix closer to the CRM space,” he said. Wix “goes after Zoho and Infusionsoft on CRM, but the reality is, they are moving from website and content to commerce and CRM.”
Focusing on the ‘S’ in SMB
“Cloud applications such as Wix enable SMBs to more effectively compete against later firms by putting more sophisticated marketing, sales and commerce capabilities — and a more professional presence — within their reach, remarked Rebecca Wettemann, VP of research at Nucleus Research.
“We see larger vendors recognizing the SMB opportunity — with Salesforce’s Essentials, for example,” she told CRM Buyer, “but Wix’s focus on the ‘S’ of SMB makes it attractive for entrepreneurs looking for solutions tailored to them.”
Other companies, such as Infusionsoft, “have had considerable success with this approach,” Wettemann said.
Ascend and CRM
Automation, email marketing and forms are the three features of Ascend that will be used most, Consellation’s Wang predicted.
Still, Ascend is “just getting started,” he said. It “barely covers 10 percent of most CRM systems’ features.”
Whether Ascend will succeed at transitioning Wix into the CRM space remains to be seen.
“A key challenge for Wix is going to be to achieve scale in providing not just technologies but a community for users to share best practices, advice, etc.,” Nucleus’ Wettemann pointed out.
Ascend’s strengths are ease of use, and the fact that it offers “natural extensions of products SMBs need,” Constellation’s Wang said.
However, it “needs more flexibility and customization to grow,” he added. “Otherwise, folks will graduate from Wix to other products. They are doing this to keep high-growth customers who need adjacent solutions.”
Bucking the Headless Commerce Trend
Another issue Wix will face is the headless e-commerce trend, which entails decoupling the front end from the back end and using RESTful APIs.
Traditional off-the-shelf e-commerce solutions are mainly full-stack applications with predefined front ends and admin consoles, with the front-end experience and functionality deeply coupled with the back-end code and infrastructure.
An API-based headless architecture offers increased flexibility through its decoupled user interface approach, according to a report by Gartner analysts Jeffery Skowron and Brad Dayley.
“Headless commerce is all about using whatever combination of front-end content — or presentation layer — and back-end commerce [that] is most powerful and preferable for a merchant, regardless of size,” said Travis Balinas, director of product marketing at BigCommerce.
Wix “is making the assumption that it can effectively handle the needs of its customers that scale beyond the capabilities of the core offering, which is not accurate,” he told CRM Buyer. “If Wix truly cared about the success of its customers, it would offer ways that merchants can grow without [tying] them to a single platform.”
Headless commerce is not an option for every platform.
There are two significant barriers” to approaching headless commerce, Balinas said.
First is the extensibility of the overall tech stack of the SaaS platform the vendor is trying to take headless.
The platform must make its various components available in a consumable API or SDK with “substantial throughput and efficiencies,” Balinas noted. The speed of the APIs is “paramount to making sure efficiencies are gained for midmarket and enterprise merchants.”
Second is the balance between flexibility and extensibility on the one hand, and the cost of the solution on the other.
“By their very nature, [API-first commerce platforms] are highly flexible and extensible, but, at the end of the day, businesses are looking to lower their total cost of ownership while reducing the investment costs associated with implementing and maintaining an entirely bespoke commerce experience,” Balinas pointed out.
“The sweet spot we’ve identified falls squarely between a closed SaaS platform and an open-ended, API-first platform,” he said. BigCommerce earlier this month announced global availability of its BigCommerce for WordPress headless commerce integration.
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.
Twitter released its biannual on Thursday outlining current trends in government information requests, content removal requests, and other privacy matters regarding the network.
This year’s report marks the thirteenth time in the company’s history that Twitter has expounded on its privacy practices in such tremendous detail. The new report also expands on the type of data Twitter is making publicly available.
In a published in tandem with the Transparency Report, Twitter explains that for the first time ever, along with government requests for information and content removal, the company has included stats on the enforcement of Twitter’s own policies.
This report covers the first half of 2018, and the last half of the year will be covered in an update at a later time, typically published in the first quarter of the ensuing year. The data in the report includes requests made on Twitter, Periscope, and even the now-defunct Vine.
Perhaps the most shocking detail from all of this is the gigantic uptick in government requests for information.
“Twitter received roughly 80 percent more impacting approximately more than twice as many accounts, compared to the previous reporting period,” according to the report.
However, much like the last reporting period, around 87 percent of those demands came from just two countries: Russia and Turkey. Altogether legal demands to remove content came from 38 different countries for a total of 27,811 Twitter accounts.
When it comes to information requests, Twitter received a 10 percent uptick when compared to the previous reporting period.
The U.S. had the greatest number of with 2,231 demands on a total of 9,226 accounts. This represents around one-third of all Twitter’s demands for the first-half of the year, according to the Transparency Report.
Twitter complied with 76 percent of the U.S. information requests. There were also 99 U.S. removal requests on 228 accounts. Twitter did not comply with those requests.
Over 58,000 were received within the first six months of the year, affecting 197,607 accounts. Twitter removed content in 70 percent of those cases.
Twitter’s report breaks down its inaugural data into 6 categories: abuse, child sexual exploitation, hateful conduct, private information, sensitive media, and violent threats. In total, 6,229,323 accounts were reported for Twitter rule violations. Action, which includes suspension, was taken on 605,794 of those accounts.
In total, Twitter actually suspended a total of 487,363 accounts for child sexual exploitation violations. However, 97 percent of those suspensions were proactively flagged thanks to PhotoDNA and other technologies. Around 91 percent of the 205,156 accounts violating terrorist content policy were also proactively flagged.
Along with Twitter policy violation, data also makes its debut in this Transparency Report. There were 232,453,596 accounts challenged, or proactively detected for possibly being spammy or manipulative, in the first half of 2018 by the company. In addition, there were 4,020,893 spam reports from Twitter users.
When the former CTOs of YouTube, Facebook, and Dropbox seed fund a database startup, you know there’s something special going on under the hood. Jiten Vaidya and Sugu Sougoumarane saved YouTube from a scalability nightmare by inventing and open sourcing Vitess, a brilliant relational data storage system. But in the decade since working there, the pair have been inundated with requests from tech companies desperate for help building the operational scaffolding needed to actually integrate Vitess.
So today the pair are revealing their new startup PlanetScale that makes it easy to build multi-cloud databases that handle enormous amounts of information without locking customers into Amazon, Google, or Microsoft’s infrastructure. Battletested at YouTube, the technology could allow startups to fret less about their backend and focus more on their unique value proposition. “Now they don’t have to reinvent the wheel” Vaidya tells me. “A lot of companies facing this scaling problem end up solving it badly in-house and now there’s a way to solve that problem by using us to help.”
PlanetScale has quietly raised a $3 million seed round in April led by SignalFire and joined by a who’s who of engineering luminaries. They include YouTube co-founder and CTO Steve Chen, Quora CEO and former Facebook CTO Adam D’Angelo, former Dropbox CTO Aditya Agarwal, PayPal and Affirm co-founder Max Levchin, MuleSoft co-founder and CTO Ross Mason, Google director of engineering Parisa Tabriz, and Facebook’s first female engineer and South Park Commons Founder Ruchi Sanghvi. If anyone could foresee the need for Vitess implementation services, it’s these leaders who’ve dealt with scaling headaches at tech’s top companies.
But how can a scrappy startup challenge the tech juggernauts for cloud supremacy? First, by actually working with them. The PlanetScale beta that’s now launching lets companies spin up Vitess clusters on its database-as-a-service, their own through a licensing deal, or on AWS with Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure coming shortly. Once these integrations with the tech giants are established, PlanetScale clients can use it as an interface for a multi-cloud setup where they could keep their data master copies on AWS US-West with replicas on Google Cloud in Ireland and elsewhere. That protects companies from becoming dependent on one provider and then getting stuck with price hikes or service problems.
PlanetScale also promises to uphold the principles that undergirded Vitess. “It’s our valuethat we will keep everything in the query pack completely open source so none of our customers ever have to worry about lock-in” Vaidya says.
PlanetScale co-founders (from left): Jiten Vaidya and Sugu Sougoumarane
Battletested, YouTube Approved
He and Sougoumarane met 25 years ago while at Indian Institute Of Technology Bombay. Back in 1993 they worked at pioneering database company Informix together before it flamed out. Sougoumarane was eventually hired by Elon Musk as an early engineer for X.com before it got acquired by PayPal, and then left for YouTube. Vaidya was working at Google and the pair were reunited when it bought YouTube and Sougoumarane pulled him on to the team.
“YouTube was growing really quickly and the relationship database they were using with MySQL was sort of falling apart at the seams” Vaidya recalls. Adding more CPU and memory to the database infra wasn’t cutting it, so the team created Vitess. The horizontal scaling sharding middleware for MySQL let users segment their database to reduce memory usage while still being able to rapidly run operations. YouTube has smoothly ridden that infrastructure to 1.8 billion users ever since.
“Sugu and Mike Solomon invented and made Vitess open source right from the beginning since 2010 because they knew the scaling problem wasn’t just for YouTube, and they’ll be at other companies 5 or 10 years later trying to solve the same problem” Vaidya explains. That proved true, and now top apps like Square and HubSpot run entirely on Vitess, with Slack now 30 percent onboard.
Vaidya left YouTube in 2012 and became the lead engineer at Endorse, which got acquired by Dropbox where he worked for four years. But in the meantime, the engineering community strayed towards MongoDB-style key-value store databases, which Vaidya considers inferior. He sees indexing issues and says that if the system hiccups during an operation, data can become inconsistent — a big problem for banking and commerce apps. “We think horizontally-scaled relationship databases are more elegant and are something enterprises really need.
Database Legends Reunite
Fed up with the engineering heresy, a year ago Vaidya committed to creating PlanetScale. It’s composed of four core offerings: professional training in Vitess, on-demand support for open source Vitess users, Vitess database-as-a-service on Planetscale’s servers, and software licensing for clients that want to run Vitess on premises or through other cloud providers. It lets companies re-shard their databases on the fly to relocate user data to comply with regulations like GDPR, safely migrate from other systems without major codebase changes, make on-demand changes, and run on Kubernetes.
The PlanetScale team
PlanetScale’s customers now include Indonesian ecommerce giant Bukalapak, and it’s helping Booking.com, GitHub, and New Relic migrate to open source Vitess. Growth is suddenly ramping up due to inbound inquiries. Last month around when Square Cash became the number one app, its engineering team published a blog post extolling the virtues of Vitess. Now everyone’s seeking help with Vitess sharding, and PlanetScale is waiting with open arms. “Jiten and Sugu are legends and know firsthand what companies require to be successful in this booming data landscape” says Ilya Kirnos, founding partner and CTO of SignalFire.
The big cloud providers are trying to adapt to the relational database trend, with Google’s Cloud Spanner and Cloud SQL, and Amazon’s AWS SQL and AWS Aurora. Their huge networks and marketing war chests could pose a threat. But Vaidya insists that while it might be easy to get data into these systems, it can be a pain to get it out. PlanetScale is designed to give them freedom of optionality through its multi-cloud functionality so their eggs aren’t all in one basket.
Finding product market fit is tough enough. Trying to suddenly scale a popular app while also dealing with all the other challenges of growing a company can drive founders crazy. But if it’s good enough for YouTube, startups can trust PlanetScale to make databases one less thing they have to worry about.
Earlier this year, Apple Music launched some of its top charts as playlist series. Today, YouTube is doing something similar. The company announced it’s making its YouTube Charts available as playlists in YouTube Music to users across the 29 markets where the music service is live. Each market will receive five of these “charts playlists” – three specific to their country, and two global lists, the company says.
The Top 100 Songs and the Top 100 Music Videos will be offered both as local and global playlists, while the Top 20 Trending Songs will be offered as a local playlist.
This latter playlist is updated several times per day in order to offer a real-time view into current music trends in a specific country. It’s also the first “dedicated external signal of the country’s most-viewed new music on the YouTube platform,” Google explained in a blog post this afternoon.
The other Top 100 Songs and Music Video charts are calculated differently and updated less often. The Top Songs is based on the overall performance of a song on YouTube by view count, which includes counting all the official versions of a song – meaning, the official music video, the user generated content that uses the official song, and lyric videos.
The Top Songs chart is updated weekly, according to YouTube’s documentation on how the charts are calculated.
The Top 100 Music Videos ranks the official music videos by view count in the previous week. It’s also updated weekly.
By comparison, YouTube Music’s Top Songs and Music Videos charts seem to have the potential to be staler than those on rival services. For example, when Apple announced its Top 100 Songs chart would be available both as global and local playlists, it said it would update them daily at 12 AM PT based on Apple Music streams. Spotify’s top charts are also available both as daily and weekly charts.
“The charts, currently topped globally by Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next,” are the most accurate reflection of what’s happening in music culture and based purely on the number of views from more than 1 billion global music fans on YouTube each month,” noted the post, which does speak to YouTube Music’s strength.
Apple Music and Spotify are both fighting to break into the triple-digit millions in terms of paying customers, while Spotify is nearing 200 million total actives. But YouTube has a billion-plus users to generate its data from. That’s not insignificant.
The new charts-turned-playlists are now available in the YouTube Music app. The playlists will appear on users’ home screens and be surfaced through search, says YouTube.
The simplest needs are often the most vital: power and clean water will get you a long way. But in rural areas of developing countries they can both be hard to come by. OffGridBox is attempting to provide both, sustainably and profitably, while meeting humanitarian and ecological goals at the same time. The company just raised $1.6 million to pursue its lofty agenda.
The idea is fairly simple, though naturally rather difficult to engineer: Use solar power to provide both electricity (in the form of charged batteries) and potable water to a small community. It’s not easy, and it’s not autonomous — but that’s by design.
I met two of the OffGridBox crew, founder and CEO Emiliano Cecchini and U.S. director Troy Billett, much earlier this year at CES in Las Vegas, where they were being honored by Not Impossible, alongside the brilliant BecDot braille learning toy. The team had a lot of irons in the fire, but now are ready to announce their seed round and progress in deploying what could be a life-saving innovation.
They’ve installed 38 boxes so far, some at their own expense and others with the help of backers. Each is about the size of a small shed — a section of a shipping container, with a scaffold on top to attach the solar cells. Inside are the necessary components for storing electricity and distributing it to dozens of rechargeable batteries and lights at a time, plus a water reservoir and purifier.
Water from a nearby unsafe natural (or municipal, really) source is trucked or piped in and replenishes the reservoir. The solar cells run the purifier, providing clean water for cheap — around a third of what a family would normally pay, by the team’s estimate — and potentially with a much shorter trek. Simultaneously, charged batteries and lights are rented out at similarly low rates to people otherwise without electricity. Each box can generate as much as 12 kWh per day, which is split between the two tasks.
The alternatives for these communities would generally be small dedicated solar installations, the upfront cost of which can be unrealistic for them. The average household spend for electricity, Billett told me, is around 43 cents per day; OffGridBox will be offering it for less than half that, about 18 cents.
It doesn’t run itself: The box is administrated by a local merchant, who handles payments and communication with OffGridBox itself. Young women are targeted for this role, as there they are more likely to be long-term residents of the area and members of the community. The box acts as a small business for them, essentially drawing money out of the air.
OffGridBox works with local nonprofits to find likely candidates; the women pictured above were recommended by Women for Women. They in turn will support others who, for example, deliver or resell the water or run side businesses that rely on the electricity provided. There’s even an associated local bottled water brand now — “Amaziyateke,” named after a big leaf that collects rainwater, but in Rwanda is also slang for a beautiful woman.
Some boxes are being set up to offer Wi-Fi as well via a cellular or satellite connection, which has its own obvious benefits. And recently people have been asking for the ability to play music at home, so the company started including portable speakers. This was unexpected but an easy demand to meet, said Billett — “It is critical to listen!”
The company does do some work to keep the tech running efficiently and safely, remotely monitoring for problems and scheduling maintenance calls. So these things aren’t just set down and forgotten. That said, they can and have run for hundreds of thousands of hours — years — without major work being done.
Each box costs about $15K to build, plus roughly another $10K to deliver and install. The business model has an investor or investors cover this initial cost, then receive a share of the revenue for the life of the box. At capacity usage this might take around two years, after which the revenue split shifts (from 80/20 favoring investors to 50/50) and it’s a small, safe source of income for years to come. At around $10K of revenue per year per box with full utilization, the IRR is estimated at 15 percent.
What OffGridBox believes is that this model is better than any other for quick deployment of these boxes. Grants are an option, of course, and they can also be brought in for disaster relief purposes. Originally the idea was to sell these to rich folks who wanted to live off the grid or have a more self-sufficient mountain cabin, but this is definitely better — for a lot of reasons. (You could probably still get one for yourself if you really wanted.)
OffGridBox has been through the Techstars accelerator as part of a 2017 group, and worked through 2018, as I mentioned earlier, to secure funding from a variety of sources. This seed round totaling $1.6M was led by the Doen and Good Energies Foundations; the Banque Populaire du Rwanda is also a partner.
Along with a series A planned for 2019, this money will support the deployment of a total of 42 box installations in Rwandan communities.
“This will help us become a major player in the energy and water markets in Rwanda while empowering women entrepreneurs, fighting biocontamination for improved health, and introducing lighting in rural homes,” said Ceccini in the press release announcing the funding.
Alternative or complementary sources of power, such as wind, are being looked into, and desalination of water (as opposed to just sterilization) is being actively researched. This would increase the range and reliability of the boxes, naturally, and make island communities much more realistic.
Those 42 boxes are just the beginning: the company hopes to deploy as many as a thousand throughout Rwanda, and even then that would only reach a fifth of the country’s off-grid market. By partnering with local energy concerns and banks, OffGridBox hopes to deploy as many as a hundred boxes a year, potentially bringing water and power to as many as a hundred thousand more people.
Are you a Google Assistant user that wants to give your Assistant a slightly more cultured feel? Google has announced that American users who employ the digital helper in English can now set the device to have a British or Australian accent, if they so choose.
According to Google, the new voices were built using Google’s DeepMind speech synthesis model, and it uses neural networks to generate audio waveforms aimed at sounding more realistic and natural. In other words, even with the new accents, Assistant should continue to sound more and more like a human, rather than a robot.
It’s pretty easy to switch to one of the new voices too. To do so, simply head to the settings on your Android smartphone, then hit the “Assistant” tab. From there, select “Assistant voice,” where you’ll be able to switch to a new voice. Instead of simply labeling them “Australian” or “British,” Google has given the voices a name too — select “Sydney Harbour Blue” for the Australian voice, or “British Racing Green” if you want the British voice.
Google has been building a ton of new features into Assistant over the past few months, and that’s likely to continue as time goes on. For Christmas, Google launched a new feature in which users can “call Santa.” Kids who do so will encounter busy elves preparing for Christmas before they finally get on the line with Santa Claus himself.
Google is also constantly working to make Assistant much more natural-sounding. At Google I/O, the company’s annual developer conference, the company unveiled Duplex, which is Google’s name for its initiative to make Assistant sound more like a human, allowing users to talk to the Assistant like they would to any other person. Duplex is still in its early stages, and it’ll likely be a while before it gets a wide rollout, but once it does it could put Google Assistant head and shoulders above any other digital assistant out there. Part of making Assistant better could be making it more personable, which is a good reason to give Assistant other voices and accents.
Netflix has confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that it is testing an “Instant Replay” button. The feature delivers a button prompt to viewers to “replay” what they just watched at the end of a scene, without any rewinding or fast forwarding necessary.
Unfortunately, however, Netflix users just aren’t that into it — some are even calling it an affront to Cinema.
During certain Netflix films like Mowgli and Dumplin’, the LA Times reported that a button that allows an “instant replay” of the scene appears. So without having to rewind frame by frame, viewers can instantly go back to the beginning of scenes.
“We’re trying out a feature which gives Netflix members the ability to rewatch favorite scenes and memorable moments with the click of a button,” a Netflix spokesperson told the LA Times. “Right now we’re just looking to learn from it and may or may not roll it out more broadly in the future.”
Netflix is testing the feature, and it only appears in a select few pieces of content. Users report that it reads “show me that scene again,” and appears in the bottom corner of the screen, where the skip intro button is. One user said it popped up five times during the duration of the Netflix original film Dumplin’.
The feature might be great for sitcoms that deliver fast paced jokes. Or, more traditionally, sports. But on social media and Reddit in particular, Netflix viewers are not stoked about the test.
Watching Dumbling (which is fairly meh) but throughout the movie a popup link of “watch this scene again” will appear. Why does Netflix insist on devaluing film even more than it does with its washdowned color grading and poorly executed original plotpoops?
Other Redditers hopped on the thread with similar thoughts.
“Same, really messed up my immersion,” u/catsinapeoplesuit wrote. “So far it’s happened right after two intense scenes. Really took me out of the moment.”
Viewers also tweeted to share their displeasure.
Hey @netflix, that “watch this scene again” pop-up in the middle of a movie is garbage and you should be ashamed of yourselves.
Hey @netflix instant replay sucks, I dont want your crap jarring me out of my movie, might as well add a commercial. Leave that shit for sports channels. Or at least give us an opt out if you go live with this junk.
Tablets may be fading in popularity, but there are still some great devices out there. If you’re in the market for a new tablet, then we’re here to help you cut down that short list and snag the right one for you.
Apple’s iPad range still dominates the scene, but there are some innovative alternatives running Android and Windows. We also have top picks for the budget-conscious and for kids. These are the best tablets you can buy right now.
At a glance
Apple iPad (2018)
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Why should you buy this? The iPad boasts a vibrant display, silky-smooth performance, and long battery life, all at an affordable price.
The iPad has dominated the tablet scene for years now, and the sixth-generation iPad (2018) is the culmination of all of Apple’s experience. There are no bells and whistles here. If you want innovation, keep looking. This is a solid, accessible all-rounder that delivers a really good tablet experience at a reasonable price. It replaces last year’s iPad at the top of this list, adding support for the Apple Pencil (sold separately for $100) and a newer processor — it’s identical in every other respect.
The bright 9.7-inch display is perfect for watching videos. It feels slim and light to handle, with Apple’s usual high standards shining through in build quality, though the thick bezels are beginning to look dated. Inside, there’s Apple’s A10 processor with an embedded M10 co-processor and 2GB of RAM, but all you really need to know is that it runs smoothly. Whether you’re skipping in and out of apps, browsing the web, watching a movie, or playing the latest games, the iPad delivers lag-free performance.
If you must take photos with your tablet, there’s an excellent 8-megapixel rear camera with an f/2.4 aperture that’s fast and capable of capturing plenty of detail. The 1.2-megapixel selfie camera has an f/2.2 aperture, which is adequate for FaceTime at 720p, but little else.
The battery life is fantastic. You can expect more than 10 hours of HD video playback from a single charge, and with normal use on Wi-Fi, you might reasonably expect to go a week between charges.
If you’re looking for weak spots, then we direct you toward the single bottom-firing speaker. Beyond that, there are no glaring flaws here, and we think it’s the best tablet you can buy without having to spend a lot more money.
Despite some odd design flaws, the Galaxy Tab S4 is a quality gizmo with an absolutely gorgeous display. There is no tablet in the world with a screen capable of rivaling the S4’s 10.5-inch Super AMOLED, and it supports HDR content (which companies like Netflix and YouTube are making increasingly available these days). Even viewing non-HDR content on the S4’s 2,560 x 1,600-pixel display is an absolute joy.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor (the same chip that powered popular flagship smartphones like Google’s Pixel 2 and Samsung’s Galaxy S8) works well, despite its relative age, and 4GB of RAM is more than enough to keep the tablet humming happily. The tablet comes with 64GB or 256GB of internal storage, but it can be expanded via MicroSD card if you’re looking to download lots of stuff.
The tablet’s four speakers are respectably loud, and it has cameras on both the front and back — the rear-facing 13-megapixel camera is capable of recording 4K video at 30 frames per second, while the 8-megapixel front camera is good enough for selfies and video chat.
Samsung has paired its custom Experience interface with Android 8 Oreo, and it works like a charm. Split-screen functionality is better than ever, with lots of neat tricks to learn over time. Despite a bit of bloatware that the tablet won’t let you delete, the software here is generally very good. There is also Samsung’s DeX interface which kicks in when you attach a keyboard dock to give you a desktop feel that works best if you add a Bluetooth mouse, though it does have some odd quirks.
The 7,300mAh battery will easily get you a busy day and beyond and it can be charged up in less than two hours. The included S Pen stylus interacts smoothly with the tablet’s screen and will please note takers and artists. The downside here is the high price and if you’re primarily after a laptop experience, then Samsung’s Chromebook Pro or Microsoft’s Surface Go are both cheaper and might suit you better.
If you’re devoted to Android devices, the Tab S4 is a good choice. It’s a solid step up from the Tab S3, but that high price might give you pause.
It doesn’t quite hit the high notes of Apple’s bigger iPads, but the iPad Mini 4 still benefits from an attractive metal design, a fast processor, and a great app and game library.
You’ll find the 7.9-inch display is a pleasure to read on, and it’s size and weight make it comfortable to hold. It’s good for watching movies or gaming, too, though you’ll probably want headphones to go with it. Battery life is solid, offering a good 10 hours between charges.
Portability is the reason to pick the iPad Mini 4. If you want an iPad and need something smaller in size, then this is it.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the size that has been scaled down here — the iPad Mini 4 is not as lightning fast as its bigger siblings. It’s also expensive, more expensive than the 2017 iPad. But you can’t beat the iPad Mini if it’s a small tablet you want.
With slimmed down bezels and flat edges, Apple’s redesigned iPad Pro is a beautiful device that manages to pack in maximum screen real estate without being too unwieldy. The home button is gone, replaced by Face ID, and Apple’s proprietary Lightning port has finally given way to USB-C, which gives you far more accessory and peripheral options. Although both models feature the same internal components, the iPad Pro comes in two sizes, offering an 11-inch or 12.9-inch display.
Speaking of the screen, it’s hard to beat. The 12.9-inch model sports a 2,732 x 2,048-pixel resolution, while the 11-inch model packs 2,388 x 1,668 pixels. Both benefit greatly from Apple’s ProMotion technology, which boosts the refresh rate to a buttery-smooth 120Hz.
If you need a lot of raw power, then the iPad Pro is the tablet for you. Featuring Apple’s A12X Bionic processor, there are eight cores here and a neural engine for speedy machine learning. The result is unparalleled speed, whether you’re editing images in Photoshop or commanding armies in Civilization VI. Storage goes from 64GB all the way up to 1TB, but the price rises steeply with it.
Just like previous models, Apple suggests you’ll get 10 hours of mixed use from a charge, or nine hours if you opt for the model with cellular connectivity. The Apple Pencil attaches magnetically and charges wirelessly now, but it will cost you an extra $130. That’s on top of an inflated price tag for the iPad Pro itself. The Smart Keyboard has also gone up in price this year, costing $180 for the 11-inch model or $200 for 12.9-inch.
Beyond the steep price and the limitations of iOS for people seeking a desktop replacement, we’re disappointed Apple removed the headphone jack. But even with all that considered, the iPad Pro’s aesthetics, raw power, and long-lasting battery life earn it a place in the pantheon of high-performance tablets. You won’t find anything better.
Amazon’s Fire HD 8 (2018), a refresh of last year’s HD 8, doesn’t bring much new to the table. The front-facing camera has jumped from 0.3 megapixels to 2 megapixels and there’s hands-free support for Alexa now, but it’s the low, low price that earns this tablet a wholehearted recommendation.
The LCD screen, with its 1,280 x 800-pixel resolution is far from the sharpest, and the viewing angles aren’t great, but it’s good enough to watch movies and read on. The fact is that compromises are inevitable to hit this price.
The Fire HD’s all-plastic body is colorful and durable. You’ll also find stereo speakers optimized with Dolby Atmos which deliver reasonably loud, crisp sound on movies, TV shows, and Amazon’s Prime Music streaming service.
Alexa works well on this tablet. Asking questions about popular movies, nearby restaurants, and the weather pulls up visual results on the Fire HD 8’s screen (even when it’s locked). That’s just the tip of the iceberg: Alexa on the Fire HD can also control smart home devices, order pizza, call an Uber, and perform many of the same tasks as Amazon’s Echo speakers or the Echo Show.
Battery life is impressive, too. It lasts for about 10 hours of mixed-use including reading, gaming, and streaming. The Fire HD 8’s Fire OS software, a customized version of Android, isn’t for everyone. But folks immersed in the Amazon ecosystem will appreciate For You, a recommendation engine that puts videos, apps, games, and movies from the retailer’s library on your home screen.
You won’t find a perfect tablet for less than $100, but the Fire HD 8 is an impressive package. Sure, the screen isn’t as sharp or vibrant as we’d like, and the hardware struggles under heavy loads, but there is no better tablet at this price.
Amazon’s refreshed Fire 8 HD Kids Edition (2018) makes its long-running line of kid-friendly tablets even better, though there’s a disappointing lack of strong competition in this category.
An 8-inch, screen with a 1,280 x 800 pixel-resolution delivers bright and vibrant colors, and a thick rubber case around the tablet’s frame cushions against accidental drops. The tablet’s 32GB of internal storage offers enough space for lots of books, games, and other media, and there’s a MicroSD card slot for expansion if you run out.
When it comes to parental controls, the Fire HD 8 Kids Edition is second to none. Its Fire OS software, a customized version of Android, allows you to manage usage limits, set educational goals, and restrict access to age-inappropriate content. The Parent Dashboard also offers insight into what your kids are doing on their tablet and encourages interaction with discussion questions related to the books your kids are reading.
The Fire HD 8 Kids Edition also includes fee-free access to Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited, a library of more than more than 15,000 kid-appropriate games, apps, educational content, books, and videos from PBS Kids, Nickelodeon, Disney, and others. Every purchase is backed by Amazon’s two-year, no-questions-asked replacement policy: If the Fire HD 8 breaks, Amazon will replace it.
Simply put, there is no better tablet for young kids who still need parental supervision. If you want something larger for your kids, there’s also a Fire HD 10 Kids Edition for $150.
The original Surface Pro was flawed, but it had a major impact on the market. Microsoft has refined the design since then, and the Surface Pro 6 is as close as you can get to a hybrid device that serves equally well as a tablet and as a laptop. It is the 2-in-1 to beat.
You’ve got a gorgeous 12.3-inch screen with a resolution of 2,736 x 1,824 pixels, a thoughtful design, and a choice of internal specs that range from basic to lightning fast. It is by far the most configurable device on our list. The pixel-packed display and loud speakers make it a pleasure to watch movies on, but we found it lags way behind the iPad Pro when it comes to gaming.
Microsoft has improved the battery life, which was an issue in past models, so you can expect to get through a full day of mixed use before needing to plug in.
The Type Cover and Surface Pen are excellent accessories and, combined with the full version of Windows 10, help make this a great choice for creative professionals, students, and everyone in between. This is real portable productivity.
On the downside, Windows 10 tablet mode still needs work and the Surface Pro 6 can be eye-wateringly expensive if you opt for top-end specs. Still, it’s our favorite 2-in-1 PC.
The tablets we test serve as our daily drivers, so we use them extensively to put them through their paces. That means watching movies, gaming, testing out lots of apps, reading, working on them, and even taking photos and shooting video with them (which is impossible to do without looking stupid). We love new, innovative features, but we can also appreciate classic design done well. Ultimately, we look for tablets that will fulfill the needs of most people, so their ability to serve up entertainment is paramount.
Which OS is best for you?
If your top consideration is entertainment, and you’re likely to use a lot of apps and games, then we recommend Apple’s iOS as the best platform. There are a lot of polished apps made specifically for the iPad and you have access to all the top subscription services and an extensive content store. It’s also slick and accessible, so anyone can come to grips with it quickly.
Android has a larger selection of free apps and games, though they’re generally less polished, but that might be a tradeoff you’ll accept. Things are a little complicated by manufacturer UIs, or in the case of Amazon, forked versions of the platform. They can delay Android updates and make the user experience quite different. Amazon’s tablets, for example, run a version of Android called Fire OS and they initially only have access to the limited subset of apps and games that are available in the Amazon Appstore, not the full list that you’ll find in Google’s Play Store.
If you like the idea of accessing the same apps you have on your Windows PC, and you want a business device that ties seamlessly into your Microsoft services, then a tablet running Windows 10 is going to be tempting. It’s powerful, but it’s also relatively expensive to get decent hardware for a good user experience. If you’re not a business user, or you don’t need to run Windows-only apps, it may be overkill.