All posts in “Consumer Tech”

Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 855 Plus chip will give mobile gamers a boost

Qualcomm’s got a new flagship chip for phones, and it’s not your typical Snapdragon release. 

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus is a (somewhat surprising) mid-year upgrade to the company’s flagship chip, the Snapdragon 855. The performance improvements aren’t huge, and where they do exist, they’ll mostly be of interest to mobile gamers. 

The new chip consists of a slightly overclocked Kryo 485 CPU Prime core, which runs at 2.96GHz — a 4 percent increase over the same chip’s 2.84GHz clock speed in the Snapdragon 855. 

The new Snapdragon 855 Plus chip also has an overclocked Adreno 640 GPU, which, according to Qualcomm, runs 15 percent faster than the one in the Snapdragon 855. 

Finally, the new chip should be better at handling 5G, both in terms of performance and preserving battery life — though I’ve found no difference in specs between the Snapdragon 855 and the 855 Plus. 

The improvements are quite mild and can probably be ignored by most users. They might make a difference in certain type of games which are always hungry for a faster processor. 

In the past year (or two) we’ve seen a rising number of gaming-oriented phones, and the new Snapdragon chip will likely satisfy the demands of that market. For a proper upgrade of the Snapdragon 855, we’ll likely have to wait until the end of the year, which is when Qualcomm typically launches new flagship silicon. 

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AT&T to start automatically blocking fraud calls

Image: Getty Images


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Good news, AT&T customers: The carrier on Tuesday announced plans to start automatically blocking fraud calls for free.

The move comes after the FCC last month voted to let carriers block robocalls by default. AT&T is now the first of the big four U.S. carriers to commit to do that.

“The Commission’s recent action builds on a years-long effort to enable broader adoption of call-blocking tools and allow providers to better protect their customers and networks,” AT&T Communications Executive Vice President of Regulatory and State External Affairs Joan Marsh said in a statement. “AT&T remains committed to working with our government and industry partners in the ongoing battle against unwanted and illegal robocalls.”

AT&T says it plans to automatically add its Call Protect service to existing customers’ lines “over the coming months.” New lines will also come with the anti-robocall service, which blocks known spam calls and displays an alert for suspected ones.

The company said it will notify customers via text once it has added the service to their line. If you don’t want to wait, you can download the Call Protect app or turn it on via your myAT&T account settings.

T-Mobile, meanwhile, has been automatically flagging known scam calls for its users since 2017, but subscribers have to opt into its Scam Block service. Verizon in March introduced a free version of its Call Filter spam detection and blocking service, but users must enable it manually. Sprint charges $2.99 a month for a Premium Caller ID service with similar features.

“AT&T has been working hard to reduce unwanted robocalls,” the company wrote in its news release. “We will continue the fight through call authentication – verifying that callers are not faking their phone numbers – and many other tools. Look for more details and announcements in coming months.”

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Killing the 12-inch MacBook is Apple’s big chance to hit reset on its laptops

Change is in the air at Apple.

The big MacBook refresh this morning is great for anyone shopping for a new Apple laptop. 

The MacBook Air has an improved screen, the supposedly more reliable keyboard first introduced with the new MacBook Pros in May, and now starts at $1,099 (or $999 for students). Meanwhile, the new entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro now has faster performance, a Touch Bar (love it or hate it) with T2 security chip for fast data encryption, Touch ID, and improved speakers for the same $1,299  price ($1,199 for students).

But the real news is that the 12-inch MacBook is officially dead. Four years after its introduction, Apple has discontinued the 2-pound laptop. Its death is a significant turning point for the company as it marches into the future without Jony Ive’s stewardship.

The 12-inch MacBook was controversial from the start. Launched in 2015, the MacBook felt like a laptop from the future.

At two pounds, the MacBook was impossibly light. Its single USB-C port ushered in the dongle era. The 480p resolution FaceTime camera was frustratingly low res. The fan-less design — quiet as it was — didn’t allow for much performance. And, oh my god, typing on the flat-ass “butterfly keyboard” was not fun.

I was arguably one of the harshest critics of the MacBook, and yet I am extremely sad it’s going to gadget graveyard. 

After trashing the MacBook for all of its aforementioned flaws, I ended up buying one at a huge discount a year after launch, and it’s been my trusty travel laptop ever since.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with my MacBook. On the one hand, I love that it’s so friggin’ thin and light. A 2-pound laptop seems unnecessarily light, but I appreciate it the most when I’m traveling or covering big events like CES or MWC.

Back in the day, I used to have to drag a 5-pound MacBook and a 2-pound DSLR (with lens) around the sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center halls to cover CES. Since buying the MacBook in 2016, that backpack weight has dropped to about 4-pounds: 2 pounds for the laptop and 2 pounds for a compact mirrorless camera. I can’t stress how great the MacBook has been on my back these past few years.

While every tech journalist is hauling around their heavy gear, I’ve been able to fly freely without the same physical burden.

The MacBook gave birth to the dreaded "butterfly" keyboard.

The MacBook gave birth to the dreaded “butterfly” keyboard.

Image: luke leonard / mashable

That said, using the MacBook has been a real learning experience. Instead of complaining about what the laptop couldn’t do, I adapted to its limitations. For example, I learned that pressing lightly on the keys is more effective than pounding on them. (For what it’s worth, my MacBook’s keyboard has never suffered from any of the reported issues.)

Similarly, because the screen is smaller than on a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, I started using macOS’s multiple desktop spaces to better manage windows and apps. Doing so also reduced a lot of the bottlenecking from the underpowered processor.

And as for the single USB-C port? It grew on me. It’s still the laptop’s greatest weakness — you can’t charge and connect another accessory at the same time — but being able to quickly charge up via a battery pack has been a godsend. Furthermore, the MacBook helped me lean into AirDrop with my iPhone.

The MacBook was Apple's first laptop to come in gold.

The MacBook was Apple’s first laptop to come in gold.

Image: luke leonard / mashable

Killing the MacBook is almost a quiet admission that Apple went too far. Now, it’s time to correct course. With Ive leaving at the end of this year, Apple’s industrial designers can start to undo his extremes.

Word on the street from the well-connected Ming-Chi Kuo suggests Apple will release future MacBooks with keyboards based on a traditional scissor mechanism instead of the butterfly switches. That’s really promising news.

I’m hopeful future MacBooks will emphasize more function over form. Instead of shaving a few millimeters off the chassis, I’d love to see up-to-date performance with Windows laptops with improved thermals, or – gasp — the return of beloved features like MagSafe and a memory card slot

Moreover, Apple’s MacBook lineup is now way less confusing. Instead of Apple’s sub-15-inch lineup that prior to today looked like this:

  • $1,299: 12-inch MacBook

  • $1,199: 13-inch MacBook Air

  • $1,299: 13-inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar

  • $1,799: 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

It’s now more streamlined:

  • $1,099: 13-inch MacBook Air

  • $1,299: 13-inch MacBook Pro (two USB-C ports)

  • $1,799: 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (four USB-C ports)

Get a MacBook Air if you want the cheapest and lightest Apple laptop. Go for a MacBook Pro if you need more power. It’s as simple as at that. 

I know I’m in the minority of people who grew to love the MacBook (RIP lil guy!). But while I mourn its death, I know it’s for the best. Out with the old and in with the new.

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Apple launches $1,099 MacBook Air, gives cheapest MacBook Pro a Touch Bar

Apple is reshuffling its MacBook Pro and Air lineup, and changes are significant. 

The company has reduced the price of the entry-level MacBook Air to $1,099 ($999 for students), and given the cheapest, $1,299 13-inch MacBook Pro a Touch Bar, effectively killing the “escape edition” of the MacBook Pro, which no longer exists in the lineup. 

The MacBook Air now comes in two flavors: the $1,099 variant and the $1,299 variant. 

Both have a 1.6GHz, dual-core, 8th-gen Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM memory and Intel’s UHD Graphics 617. The cheaper version has 128GB of storage, while the other has 256GB of storage. Both have a new 13-inch Retina display with True Tone support, a first for the Air. 

As for the 13-inch MacBook Pro, it’s now available in three basic flavors, all of which have a Touch Bar. This means that the MacBook Pro without a Touch Bar — often dubbed escape edition(because of the inclusion of a hardware escape key — is no more. 

The cheapest variant costs $1,299 and has a 1.4GHz, quad-core, 8th-gen Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645, 128GB of storage, a Touch Bar and Touch ID, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports. 

The $1,499 variant is the same, only with 256GB of storage, whereas the $1,799 variant has a 2.4GHz, quad-core, 8th-gen Intel Core i5 processor, and four Thunderbolt 3 ports. 

Oh, and there’s one more important bit of news: The 12-inch MacBook no longer exists in Apple’s lineup. 

Developing…

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