Friday, September 29, 2017

Samsung and LG to Partner with Comcast

Remember when TVs tuned analog cable channels without the need for a set-top box? Comcast’s newly announced deal with LG Electronics and another with Samsung will soon allow those makers’ high-end 4K smart TV sets to pull in pretty much everything digital, high resolution, and even ultra-high definition that Xfinity TV subscribers can currently nab on a Comcast X1 receiver.

Cleaning up the installation of wall-mounted and secondary location sets, a Comcast “gateway” (internet modem/router) will wirelessly zip shows to the TVs with an app, just the way it now serves shows to smartphones, tablets and laptops. The TV’s own remote control will navigate users through an X1-like program guide to live and on-demand programming, including content stored in the customer’s cloud DVR space.

Already available for tuning in “beta” (test) form on tiny Roku streaming TV boxes and plug-in sticks, the Xfinity TV Partners program and app leverages the ability to stream subscription content to TVs using Comcast’s “secure private managed network,” without  counting against any internet service data caps and without the need for customers to use proprietary Comcast devices that come with $9.95 monthly fees.

In the beta phase, Comcast will give customers a $2.50 credit for using a Roku device instead of a primary conventional box, and will do likewise with the compatible smart TVs at launch, though the pricing could change.

Comcast first announced this alternative delivery system in 2016, when the Federal Communications Commission was pressing cable companies to open up the set-top box market. The company responded that box-free reception (which still allows Comcast to maintain control over the program guide and selection) would be an even better way to go.

The technology does require the TV to have a fairly modern, robust and compatibly tuned microprocessor. That’s why it will show up first (later this year) on 2016-and-later Samsung Smart TVs, then on current webOS-running LG Smart TVs  (OLED and  SuperHD) in early 2018.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Apple Chooses Google

Apple is switching the default provider of its web searches from Siri, Search inside iOS (formerly called Spotlight) and Spotlight on the Mac. So, for instance, if Siri falls back to a web search on iOS when you ask it a question, you’re now going to get Google results instead of Bing. Updated below with a statement from Microsoft.

Consistency is Apple’s main motivation given for switching the results from Microsoft’s Bing to Google in these cases. Safari on Mac and iOS already currently use Google search as the default provider, thanks to a deal worth billions to Apple (and Google) over the last decade. This change will now mirror those results when Siri, the iOS Search bar or Spotlight is used.
“Switching to Google as the web search provider for Siri, Search within iOS and Spotlight on Mac will allow these services to have a consistent web search experience with the default in Safari,” reads an Apple statement sent this morning. “We have strong relationships with Google and Microsoft and remain committed to delivering the best user experience possible.”

This will change on iOS for the ‘I don’t know what you’re asking but here are web results’ Siri behavior as well as intentional ‘hey, Siri, search the web for…’ queries.

The search results include regular ‘web links’ as well as video results. Web image results from Siri will still come from Bing, for now. Bing has had more than solid image results for some time now so that makes some sense. If you use Siri to search your own photos, it will, of course, use your own library instead. Interestingly, video results will come directly from YouTube.

All of the search results that you see in these different cases will come directly from the search API, which means you’ll be getting the raw, ranked search results that start below all of the ads and Knowledge Graph stuff that appears on a regular Google home page. Worth noting, of course, that once you’ve clicked on a YouTube video, you’re still going to get served ads, so there is a revenue driver here for Google, even if it’s not direct.

As is expected with Apple now, searches and results are all encrypted and anonymized and cannot be attributed to any individual user. Once you click on the ‘Show Google results’ link, of course, you’re off to Google and its standard tracking will apply. Clicking directly on a website result will take you straight there, not through Google.

The timing of this rollout is interesting, coming after iOS has been released, but makes some sense given that High Sierra is releasing today. Mixing data providers like this is not unprecedented. Maps uses dozens of data providers including Yelp, Foursquare, Garmin and Tripadvisor for different locales and data types.

But, of course, this change has an additional dimension of interest given the years-long saga of Google being default on Apple devices including the iPhone. Google has famously made a bunch of money from iOS because of default search and because its apps and services are popular. At times those figures appeared to even exceed the amount of money that Google had made from Android.

One question that I do not have the answer to is whether this change comes completely from Apple wanting consistent results or whether it is a condition of the ~$3B deal that Google has in place to remain the default search provider on Apple devices. Perhaps a blend of the two.

The changes began rolling out at 9am PT and should roll out to the entire world by this afternoon.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

nextbook Flexx 11A Review

By Chuck Hajdu

Over the years I have been fortunate enough to have had the chance to review quite a few of Nextbook’s tablets and 2-in-1 computers. The Flexx 11A is the latest computer that we’ve had a chance to look at and, within it’s limitations, it’s a Super Star! If you have $179.00 to spare, and who doesn’t, then run to your nearest Walmart and buy one! The Flexx 11A won’t replace your primary computer but it’s a wonderful second unit!

The model we got to review this time was the chrome model, not the black one, and I liked it a lot.You can buy it either way so personal preference has a lot to do with that decision. Try the chrome look, you just may like it.

Here are some of the specs of the Flexx 11A:
  • 11.6", 16:9 aspect ratio, high-resolution 1366x768 resolution (IPS) touchscreen
  • Intel® Atom™ Cherry Trail quad-core processor 1.84GHz (Z8300)
  • 2GB DDR3L system memory
  • 64GB onboard storage; Micro-SD card slot for expansion to 128GB
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0
  • Detachable full-size pogo keyboard
  • Front and back cameras with built-in microphone
  • Up to 8 hours of run time on a full charge

The start up procedure has been greatly cut back thanks to Cortana. Usually when you have to start up a new PC for the first time it’s pure agony. Not so any longer. Thank you MSFT for cutting the time to set up Win 10.

What I liked:
The built in touchpad on the keyboard is huge!! It also works wonderfully!
The elimination of a backlit keyboard turned out to be of no consequence.
Not a lot of crapware, the start screen is nice and uncluttered
We really liked the elimination of the keyboard release button. It was never needed so it won’t be missed.
There are enough connectors on the tablet portion to allow users to do most everything. Most of them are micro so you may need an adapter or two but that’s where comes in, isn’t it?

What I didn’t like:
It takes a long time to boot up, about 15 seconds of holding the power button in.
The non-backlit keyboard is a tad hard to see in poor light.
Both the front and rear cameras are just adequate (if that).
Win 10 pushes their new browser but it was super easy to find Google Chrome and make that the default. But that’s MSFT. not Nextbook.

Buy one now!!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


By Bayle Emlein

BodyGuardz has been a leader and innovator in screen protection since screens went mobile. By the time you read this, the BodyGuardz Trainer Pro will be available for the iPhone X, which you should be able to pre-order by now.

Even if you don’t have the very latest smartphone, it’s irresponsible not to take reasonable precautions with the device that holds your life. While you may, or may not, be able to read your splintered screen after you drop your phone, it is both tacky and unsafe. If a cracked screen does not shatter on impact, it will continue to fracture with use and provide supersharp shards at some point.

Better to be pro-active. The ultrathin glass makes BodyGuardz the most sensitive and invisible screen protectors available. The only disadvantage is that the same features make them highly uninteresting in a photo: just visualize your phone or tablet screen without smudges, bubbles, or lint flecks. The new curved glass application process makes the covers easy to apply and eliminates those pesky air pockets that entertained us a few generations back.

BodyGuardz has so much confidence in their products that they offer free replacements, should you need one. Protect your smartwatch, your phone, your tablet. The Trainer Pro line comes with an armband that attaches securely to your phone, yet releases easily--an obvious solution for athletes who use their phones for music or workout instructions. Like the screens themselves, the armband works so smoothly it's practically invisible.

Monday, September 25, 2017


By Bayle Emlein

Shoebox from Kwilt functions like the shoe boxes where our grandmothers, and maybe parents, stored the photo prints that didn’t make it into the album. Film was expensive, developing pictures was costly and you saved everything, even the negatives. Since “film” is virtually free and waiting a week for your developed pictures to come back is a very dim memory, we now have more photos than we can cope with unless we choose to devote our lives to managing our devices.

Enter the Shoebox. It functions like those cardboard boxes except: it is much smaller; holds a lot more photos, and even videos; and you don’t have to actually crawl to the back of the closet to put pictures in it. It will sell for a single price of $49.99, you download the app–typically to your phone–and either offload or copy your pictures with a few obvious taps.

• Offload phone photos and videos seamlessly on the go
• Enjoy unlimited mobile storage sitting safe at home [limited by the free space on your home device]
• Keep original full resolution photos and videos
• Access your photos and videos from anywhere, on any platform

• Store and access any file type
• Easy photo and video sharing
• Rich mobile photo editing
• Play your photos and videos on your TV (via Kwilt Shoebox HDMI port)
• Directly order custom photo prints from your phone
• Web, Windows and Mac compatibility
• Free Android and iOS apps
• Supports multiple Shoeboxes per account and multiple users per Shoebox

Kwilt offers four intuitive ways to search your photos across all collections and locations to find the picture you are looking for: organize your photos using recent, timeline, place or source filters.

Shoebox is the perfect gift for the person who would otherwise have to buy a new phone for more photo storage. Theoretically one could upload all 6 gazillion photos from the old phone, but none of the phones currently available makes the process quick or easy or fun. One could set up a Shoebox for Great Aunt Alice and connect it to her TV with an HDMI cable so that you can easily keep her up to date with photos of the kids. Shoebox will be on the market well before all those year-end gift-giving opportunities, including my birthday.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Toshiba Sells Chip Unit to Bain

Toshiba Corp.’s board agreed to sell its flash memory chip unit to a group led by Bain Capital for 2 trillion yen ($18 billion), taking an important step toward ending a contentious bidding process that has stretched over eight months.

The Bain consortium includes backing from Japanese and overseas companies, including Toshiba, which will reinvest 350.5 billion yen, the company said in a statement. Apple Inc., Dell Inc., SK Hynix Inc. and Japan’s Hoya Corp., will provide financial support, according to people familiar with the situation. The iPhone maker played a crucial role in swinging momentum in the tumultuous auction to the Bain offer.

Apple is interested in the chip unit because of the strategic importance of flash memory. The compact chips are essential for its iPhones and iPods, storing every photo, video clip and animoji. Only a handful of companies make the highest-end technology and the dominant player is Samsung Electronics Co., the world’s second-largest chipmaker, which controls about 40 percent of the market for flash memory. Investing in the Toshiba unit may help keep the market for the vital chip component competitive, while any further strengthening of Samsung’s position may toughen price negotiations for companies such as Apple, which compete with it in other areas.

Bain, meanwhile, is betting on huge demand and rising prices for memory chips in a market with only a handful of players that can afford to build plants.

Toshiba is selling off its chips business to pay for billions of dollars in losses in its U.S. nuclear business. The company needs to raise the money by March to avoid seeing its shares delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Toshiba expects the deal to close by March 31 and aims to restore a positive net worth by the end of the fiscal year, according to the statement.

The auction has been complicated by legal action from Western Digital Corp., which has argued it should have veto rights in any sale because of its partnership with Toshiba in the chips business. The Japanese company disputes that and sued Western Digital for more than $1 billion for interfering in the auction.

Western Digital has also sued in court and filed for arbitration in California to make its case. As part of Wednesday’s agreement, Bain agreed to complete a deal regardless of the legal challenges. Shares of Western Digital fell 4 percent in the U.S. Wednesday.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Apple Rolls Out iOS 11

In line with plans announced last week at the Apple event introducing iPhone X and other products, the company today began to roll out iOS 11 to iPhone and iPad users.

Developers and members of the public have participated in public betas of the operating system since June, but Apple is now making iOS 11 available to all compatible iPads and iPhones. As Apple begins requiring that apps be compatible with 64-bit processors, most phones or tablets released in recent years will get the update — with the exception of the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5c, as well as the fourth-gen iPad, all released in 2013 or earlier.

The launch of iOS 11 was announced last week at the first-ever event held at the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California. The iPhone X, iPhone 8, and 8 Plus all made debuts at the event, as did Apple TV 4K and Apple Watch Series 3.

To get the update, go to Settings > General > Software Update and follow the instructions.
The new edition of iOS comes with a boatload of new features you should know about, including more personality for Siri, a new App Store, augmented reality games, and emojis that can track your face.

New Siri: In iOS 11, the AI assistant will be able to perform on-the-spot translations, starting with translations from English to Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Italian, French, and German.

Siri’s male and female voices will also be more expressive in iOS 11. Apple has made Siri’s voice sound more natural by using Apple’s algorithms and a process that identifies the particular sounds people make (called phonemes) when they pronounce a word in natural language.

The Sirikit, which developers can use to connect an app with Siri, is also getting upgrades to enable payments and answer questions about your personal finances, interact with productivity apps like Todoist, and scan QR codes using your voice.

Siri will also begin to make recommendations in native Apple applications, like recommending stories to read from News search results in Safari based on your reading habits. Confirm a flight or reservation in Safari and Siri will automatically add the event to your calendar.

Siri also has a mildly refreshed look, now appearing as a floating orb when speaking to you.

Files app: The Files app gives you access to files stored locally on an iPhone or iPad or with cloud services like Microsoft OneNote, Google Drive, or iCloud Drive.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Sprint iPhone Deal

Sprint Corp. came out with the most aggressive offer yet on Apple Inc. iPhone prices by offering a free phone with a trade-in, challenging its larger peers to follow suit or face subscriber losses with bargain-hunting customers.

Starting Monday, new and existing Sprint customers can get an iPhone 8 if they trade in an iPhone 7, Samsung Galaxy S8 or Samsung Note 8. People with older iPhones, and recent models from Samsung, Motorola, Google Inc. and LG Electronics Inc. can qualify for half-off prices on the iPhone 8, according to a Sprint statement.

After vowing to avoid a repeat of the blistering iPhone price war of last year, Sprint set the lowest price yet this time around. Last week, AT&T Inc. started the battle by offering a buy-one-get-one-free iPhone deal for customers who also subscribe to its DirecTV satellite service.

AT&T’s promotion started Friday and applies to the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, among other phones. Neither Sprint nor At&T have said whether their deals will be extended to Apple’s most expensive phone ever -- the $999 iPhone X, aka 10 -- which marks a decade since the company entered the phone business.

With almost every person in the U.S. having at least one phone, the carriers are under pressure to find new customers. Last year, the wireless companies got tangled in cut-throat pricing on the iPhone, an episode the top four carriers didn’t want to repeat. The giveaways took a toll on margins, costing about $200 per subscriber in the second half of 2016, according to Jefferies Group LLC.

“We led the way with free iPhones last year and within a few days, everybody had copied it and we looked at ourselves and said, OK, well, what exactly did that accomplish? Not a lot,” T-Mobile US Inc. Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert said Thursday at an investor conference.
So far this year, T-Mobile has stayed true to its vow and steered clear of giveaways. Instead, the company offers a $300 trade-in credit for customers buying the iPhone X, as well as the new 8 and 8 Plus. The trade-in must be an iPhone 6 or newer.

Sprint fell 1.3 percent to $7.59 at 11:30 a.m. in New York, while T-Mobile slid 0.3 percent to $61.01.

The other top carriers have been relatively restrained so far.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Nintendo Switch Sales

Nintendo had the best-selling console once again last month, according to the industry-tracking firm The NPD Group. The hybrid handheld/home Switch system outsold Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The system has performed better than the competition in recent months likely due to Nintendo’s supply keeping up with demand.

The Switch debuted in March for $300.

“The Nintendo Switch was August’s best-selling hardware platform,” NPD analyst Mat Piscatella said. “The Nintendo Switch has been the best-selling platform in four of the six months since launching in March 2017.”

When Switch hasn’t topped the chart, Sony has stepped up.

“Sony’s PlayStation 4 was the best-selling platform in both May and June,” said Piscatella. “Sony’s PlayStation 4 continues to be the best-selling hardware platform year to date.”

But while the Switch and PlayStation 4 are doing great, hardware sales overall dropped 6 percent year-over-year to $168 million. That’s because the Xbox One and older systems like Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are dragging down sales relative to last August. Sales of the Xbox One are slowing down because Microsoft is preparing to launch the upgraded Xbox One X system November 7, so consumers are likely holding back until that is available. This has not had a significant impact on the overall consumer spending on hardware this year, though.
“Year to date, hardware spending has grown 17 percent versus 2016 to $1.7 billion,” said Piscatella. “Consumer spending on Nintendo Switch and plug-‘n’-play devices, such as the NES Classic, are providing growth.”

That growth should continue moving forward. The aforementioned Xbox One X should give a boost to the revenue Microsoft generates — especially since it is debuting at $500. But Switch should continue to sell at a fast pace as Super Mario Odyssey debuts next month alongside a new hardware bundle that will include the game.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Samsung in Your Car

Samsung has announced a $300 million fund to invest in a range of automotive technologies.

The new Samsung Automotive Innovation Fund will invest in connected car and autonomous driving technologies covering artificial intelligence (AI), machine vision, smart sensors, safety features, cybersecurity, and more. The fund’s first investment will be in Austria’s TTTech, a company specializing in safety, networking, and software integration for ADAS (advanced driver-assistance systems) and automated driving platforms. Samsung revealed it will invest €75 million ($89 million) in the company.

The Korean electronics giant has made no secret of its intentions in the broader automotive realm and has been ramping up efforts in research and development for products relating to transport for a while now.

Samsung has made previous investments in battery technology for electric vehicles, including investments in California-based Seeo, which develops rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, and StoreDot, a company that’s building instant-charging batteries for electric cars. Back in 2015, Samsung went all in on its electric car ambitions when its “materials and energy” subsidiary, Samsung SDI, acquired an entire battery business from Magna International.

Samsung has also filed for patents in both the U.S. and South Korea for technology that can be used in electric vehicles. The plans include “tires, motors, as well as on-board electronics for information sharing between the car and driver.”

The company also invested in startups such as Vinli, which is setting out to create an app ecosystem for cars. And Samsung later launched Samsung Connect Auto, which offers in-car services like Wi-Fi to keep drivers online. If there was any remaining doubt about Samsung’s intentions in the connected car sphere, last November the company announced plans to acquire Harman — which specializes in connected car software and services — in a whopping $8 billion deal.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Acronis True Image 2018

By Robert Sanborn

One of the things I have noticed with computers that as the prices of the boxes comes down, so does the reliability inside. The last time I built myself a machine, I have discovered that (besides the Intel processor) using an Asus mainboard, Antec Case, Crucial Memory, and Western Digital Black hard drive while still costing me nearly $900 I could count on the thing running for several years without any problems. But if you look at the machines available today at the lower cost of $299 and up, you see that you are getting one with a warranty of only 90 days and a year if you are lucky. Low prices also means cheaper components. Which also means a much higher failure rate. I got my first IBM PC in 1981 and I have digital images that started with one of the early cameras in 1997. That is over 20 years of pictures stored away. So you could say I am a bit obsessed about keeping things backed up and the software I am using right now is Acronis True Image 2018.

Acronis has been around for years and is one of the more highly rated backup solutions for personal computers and the new version has some nice new features to not only keep things backed up, but give you better protection as well. Of course every new version has its only look and feel and sometimes that can be good or not but I like the looks of the new version, it is easy to see what the status of your backup is and it clearly tells you what has been done and what will be backed up. Another new feature is Acronis Active Protection which is another means and layer to protect your computer from ransomware attacks. It will prevent ransomware from encrypting your files. The Security Dashboard monitors the number of processes that have been flagged as dangerous to let you know what has been blocked. It will be interesting to see how well this program plays with my current network security program Kaspersky.  Another new feature is that you have the ability to do active cloning which means you can clone a copy of your Windows system to an external device while Windows is running. I also use it to back up to an external network attached storage unit so having the WinPE Media Builder allows me to create the recover disc to connect to the storage unit and recover my data. And finally, there is a component for your Wireless mobile device to automatically back it up to your computer or even an attached storage device.

There is a useful cleanup component of True Image 2018 that is quite useful for cleaning out temp files, history, recycle bin, and a lot of the loose ends that end up on the computer, those things that most of us never get around to doing including the hard disk free space.
Acronis True Image is an annual subscription based purchase product if you want more than the simple backup standard version which is $49. The advanced is $49 per year and the Premium is $99 per year.  Big differences beyond the standard is backing up to network or cloud storage; Blockchain certification and electronic signatures; social media backup; and having up to 1TB of cloud storage; and of course, phone support if you need it.

All in all, I still like what I have seen with Acronis True Image and feel confident that it is backing up my data and I can get to it so it is a definite keeper.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Here Comes Xiaomi

Due to the complicated nature of the Asian smartphone market with each country/region having its own set of preferences, needs and spending power, Chinese tech giants like Xiaomi often have to build region-specific devices. These devices are usually only on sale "officially" at that designated country/region, and as such, the software and telecommunication bands are only optimized for that part of the world.

This is fine to the average consumer, who tend to buy phones that are officially available to them in their city/country anyway. But to tech geeks who often import products, this creates issues. The original Mi Mix is a good example. The device was meant to be released in China only, so it only contained the China version of Xiaomi's MIUI Android skin. Because Google is banned on the mainland, Xiaomi's "China ROM" version of MIUI is not optimized to run its apps. You can still install them if you want, but there's no guarantee they will run optimally. To this day, all the Google apps on my Mi Mix 1 have bugs (it keeps asking me for "body sensor" permission every few days).

The Mi Mix also lacks LTE bands in the U.S, meaning the phone can only get on 3G networks with certain U.S carriers.

Thankfully, with the Mi Mix 2, Xiaomi has opened up the phone for a global audience. The Mi Mix 2, as I reported in my review, will come with the "Global ROM" version of MIUI, which has been fully optimized to work with Google. More important, its modem supports 43 network bands, including "all U.S. LTE bands," according to Xiaomi's product management director Donovan Sung.

"We are launching this phone globally," Sung said to me during our meeting last week, before immediately clarifying that the phone will be on sale "officially" only in markets that Xiaomi already has a presence in (that's 40+ countries). But Sung seems to want me to read between the lines: "Well, it won't be on sale in the U.S., but it supports all U.S. bands, if you know what I mean."

That means American techies who frequently import devices won't have to worry about whether or not the Mi Mix 2 will work on their networks, whether it's T-Mobile, Sprint or whatever.

This is a big step for Xiaomi to grow in the west. As someone who covers Chinese handsets here on Forbes and on YouTube, I know there is quite a bit of interest in these Chinese devices that seem to pack insane specs (the Chinese version of the Galaxy Note 8, for example, will get a RAM upgrade over the vanilla U.S. editions) at jaw-dropping prices. For almost every one of these devices, the question I get most is, "Does this have U.S. LTE bands?"

Usually, my answer is "No." With the Mi Mix 2, finally, techies can import without fear of network compatibility or Google apps crashing. Xiaomi has freed the phone to Americans, so to speak.

This might come in handy in a few hours as some Americans will probably scoff at the $1,000+ price tag of Apple's new bezel-less phone.