10 top gadgets of 2018

Technology advances quickly, and it can be hard to keep up on which gadgets and gizmos made the biggest splash. Fortunately, looking back on 2018, a few big themes developed — televisions became smarter, speakers responded to voice commands. Another interesting trend? Prices became a bit more reasonable for gadgets like the Apple iPhone XR. … Continue reading “10 top gadgets of 2018”

Technology advances quickly, and it can be hard to keep up on which gadgets and gizmos made the biggest splash. Fortunately, looking back on 2018, a few big themes developed — televisions became smarter, speakers responded to voice commands. Another interesting trend? Prices became a bit more reasonable for gadgets like the Apple iPhone XR. Here are the top picks in several categories.

1. Phone: Apple iPhone XR ($749)

Apple made waves this year by releasing three different phones (including the iPhone XS and CS Max with an OLED display), but the iPhone XR with an LCD display is arguably the best option. At $749, it still has an extremely fast A12 Bionic processor and a high-end camera.

2. TV: Samsung Q9FN 65-inch ($2,999)

Televisions are smarter than ever. The Samsung Q9FN can read your Wi-Fi settings and password from your Android phone, and it senses when you have an Xbox One connected and can adjust the display for 4K resolution and the best gaming color mode.

3. Tablet: Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch display ($999)

The big news with the Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch released this fall is that it uses a processor that is more powerful than some laptops, including Apple’s own MacBook line. Apps like Adobe Lightroom CC for iPad and Affinity Photo handle high-res images with ease.

4. Laptop: Dell XPS 13 ($850)

At just 2.67 pounds, the Dell XPS 13 is lighter than many tablets (including the Microsoft Surface line) but runs on a screaming fast Intel Core i7 processor. The claim to fame? Dell has figured out how to make the display run all the way to the edges.

5. Desktop: HP EliteOne 1000 G2 34-in Curved All-in-One ($1,794)

For productivity gurus, a curved wide screen like the HP Elite means you have more room for tabs in a browser, and more screen real estate for your apps. It’s also a brilliant gaming desktop and ideal for Skype sessions with a pop-up high-res webcam.

6. Earbuds: Jabra Evolve 65t ($329)

For those who have not quite accepted the reality of using wireless earbuds yet and prefer a wired connection, it’s time to reconsider. The Jabra Evolve 65t sound as good if not better, and have the added benefit of one-touch access to a voice assistant.

7. Drone: DJI Mavic Pro ($999)

Drones with fold-up arms became the norm in 2018, and the DJI Mavic Pro is the best of the bunch. It’s also much quieter and smoother during flight. The Mavic captures in 4K video resolution and doesn’t require a complicated setup.

8. Robot: Neato Botvac D7 Connected ($699.99)

The smartest robots let you leave them alone all day for weeks at a time, and they merrily go about their business. Set on a cleaning schedule, the Neato robotic vacuum will do its work without getting stuck or falling down a staircase.

9. Speaker: Sonos Beam ($399)

Speakers finally embraced the concept of voice control in 2018. The Sonos Beam lets you ask Amazon Alexa questions about the weather, but also syncs to the DISH Hopper 3 receiver for changing channels, finding shows, and raising the TV volume.

10. Camera: Nikon Z7 ($3,400)

A great camera, the Nikon Z7 snaps photos lightning fast, even at an athletics event. It uses a new mirrorless technology to capture stunningly crisp photos at 45.7-megapixels, letting in more light than a traditional DSLR.

Tumblr’s iOS app returns to App Store as porn ban looms

Tumblr's iOS app has returned to Apple's App Store following the platform's pledge to ban pornographic content starting Dec. 17.

The app was back on Apple's App Store on Wednesday evening. But when you open it up, the software now includes a notice about the upcoming adult content ban.

It isn't clear what other changes were made, but Tumblr appears to have removed an option that let you toggle on or off whether "Not Safe for Work" content can appear in your search results.

The option was probably scrubbed, given that Tumblr has already been cracking down on all NSFW material. For instance, searches for "porn," "hentai," and "boob" return nothing over the iOS app.

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  • So far, Tumblr and company parent Oath haven't commented on the app's return to the App Store. But it was originally taken down in mid-November over the presence of online child pornography.

    In trying to address the problem, Tumblr began purging pages belonging to erotic artists, sparking a flood of complaints. Then this month, the platform announced a ban on adult content, saying it was necessary to make the online service a "safe place" for all users. To filter out the porn, Tumblr will rely on automated tools.

    Erotic artists and sex workers argue that Tumblr is their go-to platform to promote their projects. Many have also noticed Tumblr's current porn-detecting algorithms are flagging innocent posts as explicit material.

    "Indeed, the Internet is full of porn, the overwhelming majority of which caters to heterosexual men," said the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "But on Tumblr, people created sex-positive spaces on Tumblr that don't exist elsewhere. People created portfolios of their work, all of it, on the platform. Those spaces are going to vanish."

    As of today, you can still find porn and erotic art on the iOS app. But presumably, Tumblr will begin filtering out the content from public view on Dec. 17 when the adult content goes into effect.

    Whether users will care to continue using the iOS app is another matter; one study published in 2016 estimated that close to a quarter of people who visited Tumblr were there to consume porn. Many content creators affected by the ban are now looking to migrate to other platforms.

    This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.

    Apple plans to resolve China iPhone ban with a software update

    Apple and Qualcomm are not the best of friends at the moment, and the relationship breakdown is playing out in the courts. Earlier this week, Qualcomm saw some success in the Chinese courts and got most iPhones banned from sale and import into China due to patent infringement. However, Apple believes it can overcome the ban with a software update.

    As Reuters reports, Apple intends to release a software update in China early next week that will address "the minor functionality of the two patents at issue in the case." In so doing, Apple could render the ban void before it even starts to have an impact on iPhone shipments and sales.

    The ban as it currently stands means the iPhone X , iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone 6s Plus, and iPhone 6s can't be sold in China. The two patents these smartphones infringe cover how users adjust and reformat photos and how apps are managed using a phone's touch screen.

    It's important to note that the infringement only applies to handsets running iOS 11 and not the more recent iOS 12. The software update next week will therefore be targeted specifically at iOS 11 users. At the same time, Apple filed a request for reconsideration with the court which invoked the preliminary injunction.

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  • For now, Qualcomm believes the ban is already in force, but all models of iPhone remain available to purchase in China. By next week, the ban could be irrelevant, but that doesn't mean it will be removed immediately. As part of the reconsideration request, Apple offered to pay a "counter security" of roughly $87 million to get the ban lifted.

    This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.

    Apple announces $1B Austin campus

    Today Apple announced a major expansion of its operations within the US which includes one brand new campus, three new sites, and a larger presence across several cities.

    Apple announced back in January that it intended to create 20,000 new jobs for the American workforce by 2023. In 2018 alone, 6,000 of those new jobs have already been created, which takes Apple's employee count to 90,000 people with the company employing over 1,000 people in 16 different states.

    The major expansion announced today comes in several parts, the biggest of which is a new 133-acre campus in Austin with an investment of $1 billion. Initially the new campus will have 5,000 employees, but the design allows for an expansion of up to 15,000 people. The jobs created are spread across engineering, R&D, operations, finance, sales, and customer support. The campus will run on 100 percent renewable energy and 50 acres will be designated "preserved open space."

    Outside of Austin, Apple intends to grow at several different locations. Seattle, San Diego, and Culver City will all expand to over 1,000 employees each within the next three years. Hundreds of new jobs will also be created at Pittsburgh, New York, Boulder, Boston and Portland, Oregon. The Miami office will double in size, and a new Nashville, Tennessee office just opened.

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  • The other sector where Apple is planning to grow substantially is in data centers. Over a five year period Apple will invest $10 billion in US data centers, with North Carolina, Arizona, and Nevada sites all expected to expand. A brand new $1.3 billion data center in Waukee, Iowa is also about to be built.

    This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.

    How to stop Apple and Google from tracking you

    Apple and Google can track your every move. But there are ways to mitigate this or shut it down.

    The tracking and snooping that Apple and Google do isn’t necessarily a nefarious plot to spy on you. It can make apps more useful. For example, data used by Google Maps can be helpful in getting directions.

    That said, it’s not always clear how app providers harvest and use this data. There's no telling, for example, how a shopping or dating app may use your data.

    The New York Times reported this week that a variety of companies use location data when users enable location services.

    Set against this backdrop, users need to think about privacy. “Companies use IP addresses, advertising IDs, and cookies to track users and store details about their online behaviors, browsing history, searches, purchases, viewing habits, and more,” Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate at Comparitech.com, told Fox News.

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    “The resulting ‘profiles’ sold to third parties might not have names attached, but they can be so specific as to only belong to a single person or small group of people,” he added.

    Generally, disable your phone's location services when not in use, Bischoff said.

    iPhone / iOS: turn off tracking

    In iOS go to “Settings” then select “Privacy” and turn off the “Location Services.” You can also turn off tracking for individual apps on the list that appears below Location Services. Apple, however, warns on its support page that these actions will "limit the performance of various Apple and third-party apps."

    Even if you don't turn off Location features, Apple will give you reminders about apps using location data in the background. For example, a screen may pop up and say, “’Weather’ has been using your location in the background. Do you want to continue allowing this?”

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    And if you want to do something less drastic such as curb ad tracking, on the Privacy page under “Advertising” you can turn on “Limit Ad Tracking.”

    Google/Android: turn off tracking

    With Google, it can be a little more involved because Google is not only in charge of Android but its reach extends to the popular Chrome browser and to Google Search.

    On Android, go to the Settings icon on your phone and then tap “Security & location.” Then under “Privacy” tap "Location" then tap “Use Location” and turn that off.  Or below Use Location on “App-level permissions” you can turn off the location permissions for individual apps.

    But you may want to go a step further. Go to your Google My Account page and turn off “Location History.” Then, if you have more serious privacy concerns, you can opt to turn off “Web & App Activity.”

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    “Remember that Google is a bit sneaky in this regard, as some apps collect location data even if your location history is disabled. You'll have to turn off all tracking of web and app activity, which may impact how other Google apps function,” Compareitech’s Bischoff said.

    And some more tips about app tracking from Marco DeMello, CEO of app security specialist PSafe.

    “When the product is free you are the product,” DeMello said, citing a widely-used axiom of the Internet. “Consider going for a premium or, at a minimum, an ads-free version of an app/game you're using or interested in. When you pay for services there's no incentive to sell your data,” DeMello said.

    “Keep your phone like you keep your house – clean. Don’t keep around apps and/or games you no longer need or use. [It will] reduce the chance of these apps and/or games capturing and profiting from your data,” DeMello added.

    Apple did not respond to a request for comment for comment on this story. Google provided pages (linked to above) that explain how to manage your location data on Android devices and in apps.

    Apple’s $29 iPhone battery offer ends Dec. 31

    This time last year, Apple was preparing to offer out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacements for just $29 compared to the usual price of $79. The offer would last a year and applies to the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, SE, 7, or 7 Plus models. We're now almost a year on from that date, which means there's just three weeks left to take advantage of the offer.

    Apple would love for you to buy an iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, or an iPhone XR instead of replacing your existing iPhone battery. There's even an incentive to do so in the form of up to an extra $100 for trading in your old iPhone. But it's nearly Christmas and money needs to be spent on other things, so a battery replacement makes more sense for a lot of people.

    There's two ways to get your iPhone battery replaced: visit an Apple Store or mail in your iPhone. The Apple Store visit is the quicker of the two options, simply make an appointment at a Genius Bar via Apple's website or support app and then visit for a same-day repair. Alternatively, visit Apple's website and get a mail-order box for your iPhone. This method means you'll be without a smartphone for 3-5 business days and costs an extra $6.95 for shipping.

    Apple officially states that 80 percent battery degradation is required for the $29 replacement to be carried out. However, as Business Insider points out, if you're close to that, for example, 83 percent, then the Genius Bar will likely still offer to do the replacement. If you aren't sure, make the appointment and see what happens. You'll probably leave the store with a new battery.

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  • If you have an iPhone that's an older model than the iPhone 6, don't worry, it's still possible to get a $29 battery replacement through iFixit. You'll have to carry out the battery replacement yourself, but the models included in the offer extend to the iPhone 4s, 5, 5s, and 5c.

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    Struggling Apple is slashing the price of the new iPhone XR

    Apple is pulling out all the stops as it scrambles to prop up sputtering sales of its new iPhone XR.

    The Silicon Valley giant on Tuesday took the unprecedented step of advertising a trade-in deal on its website that gives the new iPhone XR an effective price as low as $449.

    That’s despite the fact that the XR hit the market just five weeks ago, and its retail markup of $749 makes it by far the cheapest of this year’s stratospherically priced iPhone lineup — $250 less than the next cheapest model.

    Separately on Tuesday, Apple launched a dedicated online portal for active duty military and veterans, with popular gadgets including iPhones and iPads getting a 10 percent discount. It will work much the same way as Apple’s student and corporate shopping portals do.

    The Cupertino, Calif.-based company said in a statement that the veterans discounts are its way of expressing “our gratitude for their brave service.”

    Nevertheless, Apple watchers took it as another signal that Apple may have miscalculated consumers’ willingness to pay increasingly jacked-up prices for iPhones.

    Indeed, the new marketing gimmicks surrounding the iPhone XR have been described by one Apple insider as a “fire drill,” according to a Tuesday Bloomberg report, as the company grapples with middling sales.

    Apple has assigned members of its marketing team to work full-time on boosting sales, and has upped the amount it is willing to pay for devices traded in towards the purchase of a new iPhone, according to the report.

    The discounting follows weeks of reports of Apple suppliers slashing sales forecasts. Most recently, Cirrus Logic, which makes audio chips for the iPhone, cut its sales forecast by 16 percent, citing “recent weakness in the smartphone market.” Apple accounts for just over 80 percent of Cirrus’ revenue, according to its most recent 10-K filing.

    Apple’s iPhone XR, which boasts the edge-to-edge display, albeit using older LCD pixels instead of the X’s high-resolution OLED screen, was widely expected to fuel a massive wave of upgrades from users of the iPhone 6S or earlier models.

    Apple also stoked iPhone sales worries last month when it told analysts and investors that it will no longer break down unit sales for iPhones, iPads and Macs.

    Shares of Apple finished the day down 4.4 percent, at $176.69.

    This story originally appeared in the New York Post.

    Apple’s Tim Cook: Violence, hate and division have ‘no place’ on his platform

    Apple CEO Tim Cook said his company is no place for hate, violence and division during a speech in New York.

    In remarks Monday night at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which honored Cook with its first Courage Against Hate award, the CEO said that technology companies have a mandate to "not be indifferent." He also decried the "stubborn and constant evils of anti-Semitism, violence and hate," referencing the mass shooting at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue that claimed 11 lives.

    "We've only had one message for those who seek to push hate, division and violence," Cook said. "You have no place on our platforms. You have no home here."

    Apple, which Cook said has always prohibited music with a message of white supremacy, was the first tech company to fully banish conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in early September. Although Twitter followed shortly thereafter, it has been criticized for not responding strongly enough to the spread of hate speech. Facebook, where several pages for Jones still exist with links to his podcast, has also been hit for not doing enough to police content that lives on its platform.

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    Cook also seemingly took a swipe at large tech platforms, such as Google's YouTube, Facebook and Twitter without mentioning them by name in his speech.

    "At Apple, we are not afraid to say that our values drive our curation decisions," Cook said. "And why should we be?"

    The 58-year-old, openly gay CEO added: "Doing what's right — creating experiences free from violence and hate, experiences that empower creativity and new ideas — is what our customers want us to do."

    Cook shared the story of Rush Lansing, a 100-year-old woman who witnessed the anti-Semitic violence of Kristallnacht, known as the night when Nazis looted and destroyed Jewish neighborhoods and murdered Jews in Germany. Recently interviewed by the BBC on the 80th anniversary of the attack, Lansing was asked if she had anything to say to the world on her birthday.

    "Yes, I do have a message," Lansing, whose parents and sister perished in Auschwitz, told the BBC. "We only have one life, so why not use it to make the world a better place."

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    Cook said that Apple strives to never forget that its devices and products are "imagined by human minds, built by human hands and are meant to improve human lives."

    "I believe the most sacred thing that each of us is given is our judgment. Our morality. Our own innate desire to separate right from wrong," Cook said. "Choosing to set that responsibility aside at a moment of trial is a sin. We, as individuals, have the power to know and feel and act — and we ought to use it."

    That power to regulate content has troubled tech companies this year, especially Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

    Facebook has touted its use of artificial intelligence, beefed up content moderation and eventually an independent oversight committee, but a report in the Daily Beast claims the social network is allowing users to post about killing migrants and minorities. YouTube, which has been accused of allowing terrorist, hateful and conspiracy-filled videos, pledged to hire up to 10,000 new content moderators this year.

    Twitter has updated its various policies around hateful conduct and abuse over the last year.

    In October, a coalition of civil rights groups released a report recommending a range of changes for tech platforms to adapt in the battle against hateful speech.

    Christopher Carbone covers technology and science for Fox News Digital. Tips or story leads: christopher.carbone@foxnews.com. Follow @christocarbone.

    Apple offers veterans 10 percent discount via new online store

    Apple has launched a new online store for US veterans and active military members that offers a 10 percent discount on company products.

    The special store went online on Monday and contains all of the company's newest gadgets, including the iPhone XS, iPad Pro and Apple Watch Series 4, in addition to Macs.

    "At Apple we are deeply grateful to the men and women of our armed forces," the company told PCMag. "We're proud to offer active military and veterans a new dedicated online store with special pricing as an expression of our gratitude for their brave service."

    Apple had been offering the military discount through the company's federal government purchase program. However, the new store goes beyond offering a 2 percent to 6 percent discount, and raises it to 10 percent. Eligible buyers can now get access to the iPhone XS starting at $899 or the iPhone XR for $674.

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  • The new store is also available to immediate family members of veterans who reside in the same household. Buyers can also get discounts on AppleCare protection plans. However, eligible customers are limited to purchasing up to three unlocked iPhone devices, three iPad devices and three Macs for each calendar year.

    Apple told PCMag that eligible customers who buy from the store must also agree that they are current or past members of the US Military, National Guard or Reserve. What the company will do to stop potential abuse isn't totally clear. But the company can rescind an order if it suspects the buyer is trying to resell the product.

    If you don't qualify for the discount, but want access to cheaper Apple products, you can consider buying a refurbished product from the company. Apple also has a special discount store for college students, but it only offers price cuts for Mac and iPad devices, not the iPhone or the Apple Watch.

    This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.

    New Apple AirPods design expected in 2020, report says

    Well-known Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has some new predictions for what's next for Apple's AirPods wireless earphones, but there's not much to get excited about until 2020 if he's right.

    As AppleInsider reports, we should expect a minor refresh of the AirPods in the first quarter of 2019. Kuo believes AirPods are going to receive a Bluetooth upgrade, which would mean the adoption of Bluetooth 5.0. That would bring them in line with the latest iPhone models and the HomePod. The main advantage of Bluetooth 5.0 for earphones being a higher broadcasting capacity.

    Other expected improvements include a new W-series chip and the introduction of support for wireless charging. That sounds like Apple is going to switch out the existing AirPods charging case (which requires a Lightning cable for recharging) for a wireless version. So rather than plugging it into to charge you can simply place it on a wireless charging pad such as the Belkin Boost Up.

    The update doesn't sound like enough for existing AirPods owners to make the upgrade, but it would be nice to see battery life extended beyond five hours and wireless charging for the case. Will the price increase because of that? Probably. We heard reports of "Hey Siri" AirPods back in February, so that could also be a feature in next year's refresh.

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  • Looking further ahead, Kuo believes Apple is planning an all-new design for the AirPods in 2020. The focus is apparently on producing AirPods that all existing AirPods owners would desire enough to upgrade immediately. How you do that with something as small and simple as the AirPods is unclear. Better battery life, enhanced sound quality, the introduction of many color options, and some kind of new health and fitness features may put in an appearance come 2020. Noise cancellation has also been mentioned in the past.

    Kuo's sales predictions for AirPods seem overly generous. The figures for 2017 and 2018 are 16 million and 28 million respectively. However, for 2019 Kuo sees that jumping to 55 million, then 80 million for 2020, and 110 million for 2021. Kuo's reasoning seems to be that iPhone owners will be upgrading their AirPods much more regularly than their smartphones. Even so, those sales figures seem very high.

    One thing everyone would like to know, and which relates to wireless AirPods, is what happened to the AirPower wireless charging mat? It was meant to launch back in March, then got delayed until September. It still hasn't appeared and there's no sign it ever will. Triple-device charging seems like a step too far for Apple's engineers right now. Meanwhile, Samsung will happily wirelessly charge two devices for you.

    This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.