All posts in “Gadgets”

Essential Phone gets a $200 price drop, existing customers get credit


Essential has an offer that’s honestly very hard to refuse: The price of the Essential Phone (PH-1, going by technical model number), is now $200 cheaper, so $499 off-contract and unlocked. That’s an amazing price for their debut smartphone, which remains my favorite in terms of straight up industrial design (and it has one of the best color-tuned displays in devices right now in my opinion).

The Essential Phone went on sale just a few months ago, but the company believes that as a young startup just getting out therein a market where incumbents like Apple and Samsung basically take up all the available space, there’s a lot of value in word of mouth and perceived value. That’s why it’s making this price change, Essential tells me – though you have to also wonder whether the company’s not seeing the numbers it was hoping for in terms of initial sales, which is what some early third-party sales estimates have suggested.

Regardless of the reason, the price drop makes Essential arguably the best value smartphone on the market, and definitely the best Android device in that range. It’s one major failing has been its camera, which launched as a slow and buggy feature compared to most out there, but the subsequent camera software updates have improved its speed and reliability a lot, and more updates are promised in the future, too.

Lest Essential’s earliest customers feel slighted, it has a deal for early buyers, too – they’ll receive a $200 ‘friends and family’ credit they can use to further discount (valid through December 15, 2017) a device for a loved one (or another for themselves, if they maybe also want the just-released white Essential Phone, for instance), or to buy the 360-camera attachment. Customers will be able to sign up to redeem the $200 credit on the Essential page, using their phone’s IMEI and serial numbers, along with the email address they used to purchase.

In a time when the price of flagship smartphones in both iOS and Android worlds are ballooning, this is a very welcome nod to affordability. Without question, if you want an amazing phone at a killer price, the now $499 Essential Phone is the one to get.

Also, this is U.S. only for now – details on a program for Canadian device followers will follow, per Essential.

Featured Image: Darrell Etherington

Jaybird’s Run totally wireless earbuds are wire-free wonders for everyone


The market for totally wireless earbuds is really maturing fast, with many entries from both new and established companies. Jaybird recently joined the crowd, with its own Run earbuds. The Logitech-owned company has long been a really solid competitor when it comes to Bluetooth headphones, and its Freedom and X-line, and in fact made some of the very first wireless sport earbuds that proved you could also get good sound with Bluetooth.

Now, the Run proves that Jaybird can play well in the totally wire-free market, too. It’s the company’s first attempt at the category popularized by Apple’s AirPods, but it’s a strong first effort: The Run come with sound that’s on par with Jaybird’s other headsets, and they also benefit from the company’s ample experience helping to provide the right fit for a variety of ear shapes and sizes.

Jaybird also gave the Run four hours of battery life under normal conditions, along with and additional 8 hours of charge built into the battery case they ship with. The header’s also sweat-proof and water-resistant for workouts in all conditions, and you can alter the sound with the companion Jaybird app for mobile devices, or use the ‘Find My Buds’ feature to locate them if you happen to misplace one or both (this comes in very handy, I can tell you from personal experience).

The best thing about the Jaybird Run, however, is how quickly you’ll forget you’re wearing them. They’re incredibly comfortable (especially if you spring for the Comply foam tips that are available as an aftermarket add-on), and they produce a pleasing, full sound that’s suited both to music and to spoken work playback including podcasts and audiobooks. And Jaybird also does what the company does best, engineer these for use in sweat-heavy conditions including outdoor runs, which is how I used them for the bulk of my testing.

Jaybird also put button controls on the Run, with each earbuds’s primary surface acting as a pressable physical control. You can use the left bud to activate either Siri or Google Assistant with a single press, and you can also play and pause music or podcasts with a button press of the right. This will also allow you to accept a call, and you can double press to skip to the next track on the right bud.

If there’s one thing I would’ve liked to see Jaybird add, it’s volume control via some means of additional button presses. You can tweak settings for the buttons in the companion app to change a single press on the right to be volume up, and a single post on the left to be volume down, but that means sacrificing the play/pause and Siri/Assistant features, which isn’t ideal.

Otherwise, these are a great offering in the totally wireless earbud category. They’re flexible, produce good sound, are as durable as the rest of Jaybird’s lineup and maintain a good solid connection with your Bluetooth smartphone or other device. And at $179, they’re not all that expensive when compared to other headphones in this segment. Jaybird definitely isn’t first in with this emerging space, but they took the time and made a good product that you’ll almost certainly enjoy using.

BlackBerry’s KEYone ‘Black Edition’ offers more than just good looks


BlackBerry’s most interesting phone in years – if not an entire decade – is the KEYone, an Android device with a classic BlackBerry hardware keyboard that finally answers the needs of truly dedicated thumb typists with a modern mobile OS. Now, the KEYone ‘Black Edition’ has arrived, and it’s more than just a fresh coat of paint on an older gadget.

In fact, the ‘Black Edition’ doubles the internal storage of the KEYone, from 32GB up to 64GB (and it retains its expandable memory capability via microSD) – plus, it boosts RAM up to 4GB, which is a very welcome change from the 3GB on the original, if only because the one complaint I had about the original KEYone was that it could feel a bit pokey in places in terms of the speed of elements of the OS and some aspects of a few applications.

The ‘Black Edition’ feels speedier in all regards, after a few days of testing, and still retains all the charm of the original. The all-black design feels a bit less retro, but on the whole is probably a more appealing look for a larger segment of the population vs. the dual-tone silver and black of the original. And the phone benefits from months of production of the KEYone by TCL, which should mean it’s got less in the way of manufacturing quirks.

Basically, this is the current best BlackBerry you can buy, and it’s actually up there in terms of the top Android device options – for a certain type of buyer. That is, if you value the physical keyboard, and the convenience that comes with having a whole lot of hardware shortcuts for apps and actions at your fingertips, and you’re not as concerned about having a large, generous display for watching videos or other content, this is probably right up your alley.

The ‘Black Edition’ KEYone also has that assignable dedicated hardware button on the side, which is far more useful than the Note 8’s Bixby button, and the keyboard doubles as a trackpad for scrolling and other features which keep the display free of obfuscation while browsing Twitter and reading documents.

BlackBerry’s ‘Black Edition’ KEYone went on sale this week in Canada at Amazon, Telus and Walmart for $799.99 off contract.

Apple reportedly isn’t producing enough iPhone X units for first weekend sales


According to a new report from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple is still facing supply chain constraints for the upcoming iPhone X. The company will have around 2 to 3 million units before the launch on November 3rd, which shouldn’t be enough to meet demand.

While Apple didn’t disclose exact numbers for first weekend sales last year, the company sold 13 million iPhone 6s units during the first weekend, 10 million iPhone 6 units and 9 million iPhone 5s/5c units. The iPhone 8 is already available, which could mitigate demand for the iPhone X, but it sounds like many buyers will be disappointed by Apple’s initial stock.

In many ways, the iPhone X packs more innovative components than your average new iPhone. Apple usually adds cutting-edge components when its suppliers can produce tens of millions of them. But multiple parts of the iPhone X are generating supply chain issues.

According to KGI Securities, Apple now uses a flexible printed circuit board for the antenna. This is not your average circuit board, so Apple has had issues finding suppliers that can produce those components at scale. Murata was supposed to be the main supplier for this part, but it sounds like the company can’t meet Apple’s strong requirements. Since then, Apple has found a new supplier, which created some delays.

On the camera front, Apple is using a different circuit board for each sensor. Other phone makers only use one circuit board. This custom design has also been a challenge.

Finally, the iPhone X features a ton of sensors on the front of device. Apple has packed a tiny Kinect in the notch of the device. One component in particular projects a network of infrared dots to create a 3D map of your face based on the reflection of those dots on your face. Apple has had issues finding a supplier that can produce enough dot projectors for the iPhone X.

iPhone X pre-orders start on Friday, October 27th at midnight Pacific time. If you plan on getting the new phone, you shouldn’t delay your pre-order. Chances are that shipping estimations are going to slip to multiple weeks after just a few minutes.

Production should ramp up in the coming weeks, but it sounds like it could take months before you can just walk in an Apple store and buy a new iPhone X. It’s going to be interesting to hear Tim Cook’s comments on those supply chain issues when Apple announces its quarterly earnings in a couple of weeks.

Mac mini is not dead, sayeth Tim Cook

You thought that just because Apple hasn’t updated it in over three years, the Mac mini is dead? We don’t blame you, but according to Apple CEO Tim Cook, there’s still hope for Apple’s tiny desktop computer. 

The news comes via Cook’s somewhat surprising response to a customer’s letter, unearthed by MacRumors

“I’m glad you love Mac mini,” wrote Cook. “We love it too. Our customers have found so many creative and interesting users for Mac mini. While it is not time to share any details, we do plan for Mac mini to be an important part of our product line going forward.”

Cook’s letter echoes Phil Schiller’s statement from April 2017, when he said that the mini is “still a product in (Apple’s) lineup.”

Six months later, it still doesn’t appear like a new mini is right around the corner, but at least we know Apple hasn’t completely forgotten about it. 

Combined with previous news, this vague update on the Mac mini spells an interesting near-future for fans of Apple desktop computers. The iMac Pro is launching in December,  and a completely revamped Mac Pro is coming sometime next year. 

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