Samsung might launch its first quad-camera phone on October 11

It seems that Samsung is set to push the limits in photography with mid-range phones. According to a leak from SamsungMobile.News, Samsung will be launching its first phone with four rear cameras – Galaxy A9 Star Pro (2018) – on October 11.

The cameras will be placed vertically on the left with LED flash underneath them on the back of the phone. Samsung earlier teased a possible quad-camera phone with an invite which said ‘4X Fun’.

The phone will supposedly launch with black, blue gradient and pink gradient colorways, and a $580 price tag.

Rumors suggest that the company will launch another phone named Galaxy A7 (2018) with three cameras and a side-mounted fingerprint sensor at the same event. The phone will likely get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 or Snapdragon 710 processor with 4GB RAM, which means this will be a mid-range affair.

Samsungmobile.News| Galaxy A7 (2018)

There have been reports of Samsung killing off the budget J-series and merging it into the A-series as well. If all the leaks are correct, this will mark the first time when a mid-range phone will sport more than two cameras – setting the bar high for upcoming phones.

Smartphone companies are trying to put more and more camera sensors in a phone to compete with DSLR cameras. With Huawei’s three-camera P20 pro wowing the customers in recent months. and rumors of a five camera Nokia phone floating around, these are exciting times for mobile photography enthusiasts.

Published September 19, 2018 — 05:46 UTC

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The Punkt MP02 inches closer to what a minimalist phone ought to be

There’s an empty space in my heart for a minimalist phone with only the most basic functions. Bad for my heart, but good for a handful of companies putting out devices aiming to fill it. Punkt’s latest, the MP02, goes a little ways to making the device I desire, but it isn’t quite there yet.

Punkt’s first device included just texting and calling, which would likely have worked as intended if not for the inconvenient choice to have it connect only to 2G networks. These networks are being shut down and replaced all over the world, so you would have ended up with a phone that was even more limited than you expected.

The MP02 is the sequel, and it adds a couple useful features. It runs on 4G LTE networks, which should keep it connected for years to come, and it has gained both threaded texting (rather than a single inbox and outbox — remember those?) and Blackberry encryption for those sensitive communications.

It has nice physical buttons you can press multiple times to select a letter in ye olde T9 fashion, and also lets you take notes, consult a calendar, and calculate things. The battery has 12 days of standby, and with its tiny monochrome display and limited data options, it’ll probably stay alive for nearly that even with regular use.

Its most immediate competition is probably the Light Phone, which also has a second iteration underway that, if I’m honest, looks considerably more practical.

Now, I like the MP02. I like its chunky design (though it is perhaps a mite too thick), I like its round buttons and layout, I like its deliberate limitations. But it and other would-be minimal phones, in my opinion, are too slavish in their imitations of devices from years past. What we want is minimalism, not (just) nostalgia. We want the most basic useful features of a phone without all the junk that comes with them.

The Light Phone 2 and its nice e-ink screen.

For me, that means including a couple things that these devices tend to eschew.

One is modern messaging. SMS is bad for a lot of reasons. Why not include a thin client to pass text to a messaging service like WhatsApp or Messenger? Of course iMessage is off limits — thanks, Apple — but we could at least get a couple of the cross-platform apps on board. It doesn’t hurt the minimalist nature of the phone, in my opinion, if it connects to a modern messaging infrastructure. No need for images or gifs or anything — just text is fine.

Two is maps. We sure as hell didn’t have maps on our featurephones back in the day, but you better believe we wanted them. Basic mapping is one of the things we rely on our phones for every day. Whatever’s on this minimal phone doesn’t have to be a full-stack affair with recommendations, live traffic, and so on — just location and streets, and maybe an address or lat/long lookup, like you’d see on an old monochrome GPS unit. I don’t need my phone to tell me where to eat — just keep me from getting lost.

Three, and this is just me, I’d like some kind of synchronizing note app or the ability to put articles from Pocket or whatever on there. The e-ink screen on the Light Phone is a great opportunity for this very specific type of consumption. Neither of the companies here seems likely to add this feature, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the few things I regularly use my phone for.

Light Phone 2 is possibly getting music, weather, and voice commands, none of which really screams “minimal” to me, nor do they seem trivial to add. Ride-share stuff is a maybe, but it’d probably be a pain.

I have no problem with my phone doing just what a pocketable device needs to do and leaving the more sophisticated stuff to another device. But that pocketable device can’t be that dumb. Fortunately I do believe we’re moving closer to days when there will be meaningfully different choices available to weird people like myself. We’re not there yet, but I can wait.

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Don't be afraid to upgrade your old iPhone to iOS 12


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Apple was still selling 2015’s iPhone 6s until last week. Then it announced three new phones and made the iPhone 7 its entry-level mobile device. There are likely tens of millions of iPhone 6s devices out there still, but last year’s buggy iOS 11 update made the device, as well as other older iPhones, start showing their age.

Fortunately, relief is here in the form of iOS 12. In years past, software updates on older devices were something to be wary of. But at WWDC this year, Apple said iOS 12 would deliver improved performance on devices as old as 2013’s iPhone 5s. After spending the last day or so playing with iOS 12 on my iPhone 6s, I can say that Apple has definitely breathed new life into the device.

One of the most notable changes comes before you even set up iOS 12: Installing the update feels much faster this time around. I didn’t time it, but installing iOS 12 didn’t take much longer than it did to update my iPhone 8 Plus. Sure, it’s not exactly a speedy process, but if you’ve ever done a major iOS update before, you’ll be pleased that things don’t seem to take quite as long this time.

Once my phone was up and running, I started poking around, looking for signs of the promised speediness. It didn’t take long to find a major change: opening the camera, whether from the home or lock screen, was impressively fast. In fact, some unscientific comparing the 6s with the 8 Plus showed that both phones launched the camera in essentially the same amount of time. Given that a few seconds can be the difference between nailing and missing a photo, this is a valuable change.

Without even diving into more apps, the entire experience of navigating through the iPhone’s UI felt much better. The animation for opening and closing apps felt pleasingly smooth, and common actions like unlocking the phone with Touch ID, pulling down Notification Center, swiping right to get to widgets and swiping up for the control center felt extra fluid. The entirety of the UI feels almost as smooth as it does on a new phone. Or on a year-old phone, at worst.

Messaging remains one of the most frequent things we do with our phones, so Apple’s promise of making the keyboard pop up faster was something to look forward to. And while Ars Technica didn’t see any changes on their devices, my impression was that the keyboard did seem to pop up with less of a delay. It’s possible that things aren’t actually faster; more fluid animations can do a lot to hide delays. Either way, my iPhone 6s feels a lot more responsive right now.

Earlier this decade, smartphones significantly improved every 12 months; certainly after two years it was worth upgrading a device you use every single day. But today, hardware is becoming powerful enough that it can easily last three or four years — and with iOS 12, those older phones should feel a lot fresher going forward. If you have an iPhone 6s or an even older device, don’t hesitate to upgrade to iOS 12 this fall. It could be enough of an improvement to keep you happy with your phone for another year or more.

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Kayak’s new AR feature will tell you if your carry-on bag fits the overhead bin

Popular travel app Kayak has put augmented reality to clever use with a new feature that lets you measure the size of your carry-on bag using just your smartphone. Its updated iOS app now takes advantage of Apple’s ARKit technology to introduce a new Bag Measurement tool that will help you calculate your bag’s size so you can find out if it fits in the overhead bin – you know, before your trip.

The tool is handy because the dimensions of permitted carry-on luggage can differ from airline to airline, Kayak explains, so it’s not as simple these days to figure out if your bag will fit.

In the new Kayak iOS app, you can access the measurement tool through the Flight Search feature.

The app will first prompt you to scan the floor in order to calibrate the measurements. You then move your phone around the bag to capture its size. Kayak’s app will do the math and return the bag’s size, in terms of length, width, and height.

And it will tell you if the bag “looks good” or not to meet the carry-on size requirements.

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Plus, the company says it compares all the airlines’ baggage size requirements in one place, so you’ll know for sure if it will be allowed by the airline you’re flying.

Augmented reality applications, so far, have been a mixed bag. (Sorry).

Some applications can be fairly useful  – like visualizing furniture placed in a room or trying on new makeup colors. (Yes, really. I’m serious). But others are more questionable – like some AR gaming apps, perhaps. (For example, how long would you play that AR slingshot game?)

But one area where AR has held up better is in helping you measure stuff with your phone – so much so that even Apple threw in its own AR measuring tape with iOS 12.

Kayak’s tool, also timed with the release of iOS 12, is among those more practical applications.

The company says the AR feature is currently only live on updated iOS devices.

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iPhone XS and XS Max, Day 1: A clear step forward

Last year was a big one for Apple — with the launch of the iPhone X, the company redefined what it meant to be iPhone. This year, Apple’s job wasn’t any easier. It had to figure out what worked, what didn’t, and put that knowledge to use building a trio of new smartphones that would make its new vision more accessible. And now that the iPhone XS and XS Max are finally here, we’re getting to see if Apple actually achieved those feats.

The thing is, we’re still in the middle of testing our iPhone XS and XS Max — you can expect our full, detailed review soon. In the meantime, we’ve picked up on a few things that you should definitely keep in mind before these new flagship phones go on sale.


Chris Velazco/Engadget

Living the Max life

The iPhone XS is an incredibly fast, highly polished machine, but let’s face it — everyone wants to talk about the iPhone XS Max. I can’t blame them, either: making big versions of phones isn’t new for Apple, but cramming an 6.5-inch Retina display into a phone sure is. This is the largest screen the company has ever squeezed into an iPhone, and much like last year’s iPhone X, it’s absolutely lovely to look at.

Actually using it, however, can be a different story. For people with massive hands, the Max is a no-brainer. Everyone else should be prepared to shimmy their hands up and down the phone a lot. Even though the Max is roughly the same size as the iPhone Plus models we’ve seen over the years, the lack of bezels around the screen mean you’ll actually have to stretch your thumb a little more to reach items at the top of the display. I strongly, strongly prefer phones that don’t force to you use them with two hands, but the iPhone XS Max often left me with no choice.

People without the same hang-ups will probably find a lot of pleasure in watching HDR movies (with improved stereo sound, no less) on this huge display, and using certain apps in a multi-paned landscape mode is genuinely helpful sometimes. Still, if you’ve ever looked at a big, older iPhone and felt an anticipatory cramp in your wrist, you’re better off buying an iPhone XS… or waiting for the less expensive iPhone XR.

Performance

The iPhone XS and XS Max both use Apple’s new 7nm A12 Bionic chipset, and it’s definitely a powerhouse — the company says the A12’s twin “performance” cores are up to 15 percent faster than last year’s A11, and the built-in GPU is nearly 50 percent faster compared to the original iPhone X. That means snappier all-around performance (especially in graphically intense games), though you might be hard-pressed to spot the difference if you splurged on an iPhone X last year. I didn’t notice a huge leap in performance when launching apps and zipping through iOS 12 on the iPhone XS, but it’s there if you’re willing to look for it. Of course, that was entirely by design.

The chipset was designed with a more pronounced focus on graphical performance and machine learning, so gorgeous games and apps that need to run complex ML algorithms on the phone stand to benefit the most. (Obviously, we’ll dig deeper into how the A12 Bionic handles those in our full review.) There’s no question that the XS and XS Max are the fastest phones Apple has ever made, but you’ll really notice those performance gains in specific situations.


Chris Velazco/Engadget

Improved cameras

I’m still testing the iPhone XS’s improved dual camera against the rest of the year’s flagships, but one thing is clear right off the bat: the XS takes much better photos than last year’s iPhone X. That’s largely due to Apple’s new Smart HDR feature, which is on by default and stitches together four exposures of the same moment to give the final photo more nuance and better dynamic range. If this all sounds familiar, well, you’d be right: Apple’s approach here largely sticks to the same computational photography principles that made Google’s Pixel 2s so incredible.

You should check back once our full review is live for all the juicy camera details, but I’ll leave you with an anecdote. I’ve been using the iPhone X as my daily driver (you know, when not reviewing other phones) for nearly a year now, and over the last few months, I’ve started to find its camera rather depressing — especially when hanging out with other tech blogger friends. That’s not because it was particularly deficient in any way; it’s more that devices like Huawei’s P20 Pro and Samsung’s S9 Plus and Note 9 just took more pleasing photos without any extra work on my part. The gulf in image quality seemed so vast that I was this close to giving up on iOS entirely and switching to the Note 9 full-time, but the iPhone XS and XS Max just might be enough to keep me on iOS for another year. We’ll see.


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Face ID is (slightly) better

With two — soon to be three — new iPhone Xs on the market, it’s clear that the idea of using your face to unlock your phone isn’t going anywhere. If you’re coming from an older iPhone, the transition is going to be an odd one, but it’ll be slightly easier to get used to this year. That’s mostly because Face ID on the iPhone XS is just a little faster at recognizing faces. When swiping up on the screen to unlock last year’s model, there was actually a beat before the phone recognized you and let you in. With the iPhone Xs, that slight lag occasionally disappears entirely.

There’s still a lot of work to be done before the full review is done, but even now, I’m wondering if either of these devices is a must-buy. My gut says no, if only for the moment. If you dropped $1,000 on an iPhone X last year, the improvements here, while notable and valuable, don’t seem like enough to justify splurging two years in a row. If you’re still rocking an older iPhone, either of these would be phenomenal upgrades, but the colorful, fascinating iPhone XR is right around the corner and might be a better bang for your buck. None of this is meant to suggest that the XS and XS Max are lacking, because (so far at least) they aren’t. I’ll need time to fully sort out my thoughts, though, so stick around for the full review coming soon.

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Instagram uses Stories to encourage voter registration


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The US midterm election is right around the corner, and Instagram is doing its part to encourage as many people as possible to register to vote. It launched a registration push Tuesday, helping ‘Grammers get the information they need to sign up to vote using ads in feeds and stories.

The platform and partner TurboVote are hoping to make the registration process as simple as they can. The ads will give you current information on topics including how to access your state’s voting rules, how to update your registration and, of course, how to register in the first place.

On Election Day, you’ll be able to slap an I Voted sticker on your stories; it links to Get to the Polls, a site that can tell others where their polling location is. Instagram says that it will reveal more details of its get out the vote efforts over the next few weeks, in the lead up to November 6th.

Instagram is one of several services that have helped voters sign up or even assist them in figuring out their preferred candidate based on their platforms. For the upcoming election, for instance, Lyft is offering free and discounted rides to polling stations.

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Answering its critics, Google loosens reins on AMP project

Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, has been a controversial project since its debut. The need for the framework has been clear: the payloads of mobile pages can be just insane, what with layers and layers of images, Javascript, ad networks, and more slowing down page rendering time and costing users serious bandwidth on metered plans.

Yet, the framework has been aggressively foisted on the community by Google, which has backed the project not just with technical talent, but also by making algorithmic changes to its search results that have essentially mandated that pages comply with the AMP project’s terms — or else lose their ranking on mobile searches.

Even more controversially, as part of making pages faster, the AMP project uses caches of pages on CDNs — which are hosted by Google (and also Cloudflare now). That meant that Google’s search results would direct a user to an AMP page hosted by Google, effectively cutting out the owner of the content in the process.

The project has been led by Malte Ubl, a senior staff engineer working on Google’s Javascript infrastructure projects, who has until now held effective unilateral control over the project.

In the wake of all of this criticism, the AMP project announced today that it would reform its governance, replacing Ubl as the exclusive tech lead with a technical steering committee comprised of companies invested in the success in the project. Notably, the project’s intention has an “…end goal of not having any company sit on more than a third of the seats.” In addition, the project will create an advisory board and working groups to shepherd the project’s work.

The project is also expected to move to a foundation in the future. These days, there are a number of places such a project could potentially reside, including the Apache Software Foundation and the Mozilla Foundation.

While the project has clearly had its detractors, the performance improvements that AMP has been fighting for are certainly meritorious. With this more open governance model, the project may get deeper support from other browser makers like Apple, Mozilla, and Microsoft, as well as the broader open source community.

And while Google has certainly been the major force behind the project, it has also been popular among open source software developers. Since the project’s launch, there have been 710 contributors to the project according to its statistics, and the project (attempting to empathize its non-Google monopoly) notes that more than three quarters of those contributors don’t work at Google.

Nonetheless, more transparency and community involvement should help to accelerate Accelerated Mobile Pages. The project will host its contributor summit next week at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, where these governance changes as well as the technical and design roadmaps for the project will be top of mind for attendees.

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YouTube's revamped gaming hub offers faster access to top streams


YouTube

YouTube is as determined as ever to compete with Twitch, and it’s giving its dedicated gaming portal a makeover to make sure that happens. The new YouTube Gaming hub borrows key features from the mobile app, including faster access to top live streams, pages for specific games and a new “On the Rise” section that highlights up-and-coming creators. You’ll also find entire “shelves” for both live streams and trending videos on top of personalized content that reflects your tastes and subscriptions.

The revamp won’t come without its casualties. YouTube is axing the mobile Gaming app on March 2019 due to its limited reach. YouTube can cater to a “far bigger” number of gamers through its main portal, the company said. To put it another way, most people were content to visit YouTube proper on their phones than checking out a curated gaming experience.

YouTube has become more of a force in the gaming world thanks to record-setting streams and overall familiarity. Over 200 million gamers visit every day, it said, and they’ve watched 50 billion hours of gaming-related material in the past year. However, there’s little doubt that Twitch remains the giant in the livestreaming world with 15 million daily visitors (as of the end of 2017) who are largely there to watch live feeds, not pre-recorded clips. The redesign could draw more attention to YouTube’s live efforts and give you a reason to visit YouTube beyond the latest Let’s Play video.

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Daily Burn plans a new line of fitness apps, starting with HIIT Workouts

Daily Burn, the online fitness brand owned by IAC, launched a new iPhone app today devoted to the popular workout style known as HIIT (high-intensity interval training).

Daily Burn already offers a general training app, but the company says it’s planning a whole series of vertical workout apps, starting with HIIT Workouts. They are “bringing personalized workout training to every member tailored to their interests.”

If you’re wondering exactly what HIIT is, the individual exercises may be familiar, but as a Daily Burn article puts it, it’s all combined into “quick, intense bursts of exercise, followed by short, sometimes active, recovery periods.”

There’s no shortage of HIIT workout apps, or HIIT workouts in broader fitness apps (for example, I’ve tried out several through my Fitbit Coach subscription). But Daily Burn points to the combination of guided video workouts (so you’re less likely to mess things up) with a specific focus on HIIT. Plus, the workouts are tailored to your goals and endurance levels.

“We spent months researching how people interact with their phones, and combined it with Daily Burn’s world-class fitness and streaming expertise to create a best in class HIIT app that is effective and fun,” said Daily Burn CEO Tricia Han in the announcement. “With personalized workouts led by expert trainers and optimized for mobile, members have access to top instructors, progress reports and a supportive community in the palm of their hand.”

HIIT Workouts by Daily Burn offers a free seven-day trial; it then costs $9.99 per month.

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Making the most of iOS 12's Siri Shortcuts

iOS 12 is here, and while many of the improvements focus on processing and performance, there are a few notable features you shouldn’t ignore. Shortcuts is definitely one of the biggest — not only will it use notifications to suggest actions you can take, such as returning a missed FaceTime call or turning on Do Not Disturb before a meeting on your calendar, but you can also use the brand new Shortcuts app to create your own customized Siri-based triggers for third-party apps.

For built-in iOS apps, shortcuts are suggestions that try to make your life a little easier; third-party apps also can monitor your activity and suggest actions based on repeated behavior, but not all of them will. Did you miss a phone call? Siri will suggest calling that person back; a simple tap on the shortcut brings up the option to FaceTime or place a phone call. Do you have a meeting you need to call into on your calendar? Siri will suggest the phone number as a shortcut, rather than forcing you to open the calendar app and find the appointment to dial the number. The idea is to make Siri more useful in your daily life by minimizing the number of steps you need to take to accomplish things.

The really exciting thing, though, is that Apple has opened up Shortcuts to third-parties. Many major apps have already incorporated Shortcuts into their iOS 12 updates. Popular to-do list app Things is using Shortcuts to learn your routines. If it notices you’re checking in to look over your to-do list at the same time each day, it will push a Siri shortcut to your lock screen at the appropriate time. A quick tap will pull up the app.

You can also pre-fill Quick Entries with tags, dates and lists to make creating new tasks more seamless than ever. Rather than manually typing something in when it occurs to you, you can just add a Siri voice shortcut for a particular type of to-do (say, groceries), and assign it a custom phrase. Then, when you use said phrase to add items to your to-do list, they’re automatically categorized and tagged. You can also pull up lists you use regularly, as well as add repeated to-do lists in a template-like fashion, such as a packing list. While some of these features have been available through third-party apps like IFTTT and Google Assistant, Apple has now integrated them directly into the iOS.

Music app Pandora is also taking advantage of Shortcuts at iOS 12’s launch. Siri can learn your music preferences and suggest your most-listened to Pandora stations, but you also can take the reins and add a custom Siri phrase to listen to your favorite artist, album or playlist.

Productivity and note-taking app Evernote is also taking advantage. If there’s a specific notebook or note you pull up often, now you can create a custom Siri command to make the process seamless. You can also see a saved search, create a new camera or audio note, copy a note link to the clipboard and print a note, all through Shortcuts.

Even Google News is getting in on the action, making it easy for users to navigate to the news sources and stories they want to read. And Ulysses, the popular writing app, now allows users to add voice commands to complete recurring actions. You can open a new sheet, view a group of sheets or see a single sheet using a custom Siri command.

Taking a stroll through Apple’s Shortcuts app presents all kinds of new possibilities. “Open in Chrome,” which opens a link in Google Chrome, is certain to be useful to people trying to break their phone’s dependence on Safari. Another useful shortcut is “Add iBook to wishlist,” which will allow you to add a book’s title and price to a Reminders list so you don’t forget about it later.

As more apps take advantage of Shortcuts, it will quickly be an indispensable part of the iOS experience. It may even finally make Siri play nicely with Spotify, for example. Additionally, it may help Apple’s larger push to reduce screen time by minimizing the number of taps and swipes we need to get the basics done, maybe the most effective feature to get us looking our phones less.

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