Want an Apple laptop? Here are the best and cheapest you can buy

If you’re looking for the best Apple laptop, the company currently offers three kinds: MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro. For now, the cheapest one is the older 2017 MacBook Air, which starts at $999. The newer overhauled version packs an integrated Touch ID sensor and a starting price of $1,199.

If you need additional meat in an Apple laptop, the 15-inch MacBook Pro includes discrete AMD graphics and options for six-core Intel Core i7 and Core i9 processors. The smaller 13-inch model doesn’t have discrete graphics, but you’ll find Apple’s innovative Touch Bar on both. If you’re feeling cash-strapped, Apple sells a 13-inch MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar too for an even happier wallet.

Okay, let’s jump in and look at the best Apple laptops you can buy right now. 

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch)

Apple laptop

Apple’s largest MacBook Pro to date features a 15.4-inch IPS screen with a 2,880 x 1,800 resolution. From here the configurations are somewhat tricky to read, since Apple throws three different processors, four separate discrete graphics chips, and two starting points into the MacBook Pro menu.

The first configuration starts at $2,399 with the eighth-generation Core i7-8750H six-core processor, which is upgradable to the Core i9-8950HK for a higher price. The base configuration also includes AMD’s Radeon Pro 555X discrete graphics processor you can swap for the pricier Radeon Pro 560X. It ships with 256GB of storage but can be configured with larger a 512GB, 1TB, 2TB, or 4TB SSD. Memory starts at 16GB (DDR4 at 2,400MHz) with an option for 32GB.

The maximum price you can pay for this model, just in hardware alone (no extra software) is $6,299.

The second configuration has a $2,799 starting price. It includes the Core i7-8850H six-core chip with the same Core i9-8950HK upgrade option. For graphics, the base configuration includes the Radeon Pro 560X discrete chip with upgrade options for the meatier Radeon Pro Vega 16 or Radeon Pro Vega GPUs at a higher cost. You have the same memory and storage options as the $2,399 version, though this configuration doesn’t offer the 256GB SSD.

The maximum price you can pay for this model, just in hardware alone is $7,049.

Outside those four major differences, the overall design is the same. Both include Wireless AC and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, the coveted Touch Bar with Touch ID, four Thunderbolt 3 ports, a 3.5mm audio jack, and a 720p camera. Powering this MacBook Pro is an 83.6WHr battery promising up to 10 hours of video playback or web surfing.

Finally, Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro measures 0.61 inches thick and weighs 4.02 pounds. You can configure this Apple laptop in the typical silver or Space Gray.

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (13-inch)

Apple laptop

Here we jump down to Apple’s MacBook Pro sporting a 13.3-inch IPS screen and a 2,560 x 1,800 resolution. It’s powered by Intel’s Core i5-8259U four-core processor and integrated graphics with an upgrade option for the Core i7-8559U at a higher price. The base model also includes 8GB of system memory (LPDDR3 at 2,133MHz) and a 256GB SSD for a starting price of $1,799. You can upgrade the memory to 16GB while storage options include 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB.

In addition to the Touch Bar, you’ll find four Thunderbolt 3 ports, a 3.5mm audio jack, a 720p webcam, Wireless AC and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, and a 58WHr battery promising up to 10 hours of video playback or web browsing. It measures 0.59 inches thick, weighs 3.02 pounds, and ships in silver or Space Gray.

Unlike the 15-inch version, this model does not provide options for discrete Radeon graphics or Intel’s six-core processors. Note that the $1,999 price point starts you off with a 512GB SSD.

MacBook Pro without Touch Bar (13-inch)

Apple laptop

The hardware is slightly different inside the 13-inch model without Apple’s Touch Bar. This version has the same IPS screen with the 2,560 x 1,600 resolution. By default it is powered by an older seventh-generation Core i5-7360U two-core processor, with a Core i7-7660U upgrade option. The storage options are also slightly different: the base configuration relies on a 128GB SSD and removes the 2TB model, providing only the 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB SSD.

This model only has two Thunderbolt 3 ports, one 3.5mm audio jack, Wireless AC and Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity, 8GB of system memory upgradable to 16GB before checkout, a 720p webcam, and a 54.5WHr battery promising up to 10 hours of video playback or web browsing. It measures 0.59 inches thick, weighs 3.02 pounds, and ships in silver or Space Gray.

Prices start at $1,299 for 128GB of storage and $1,499 with 256GB of storage.

MacBook Air “Retina” 2018 (13-inch)

Apple laptop

This is Apple’s latest MacBook Air refreshed with a newer processor. Currently it relies on a single eighth-generation Core i5-8210Y two-core CPU option and integrated graphics powering a 13.3-inch IPS screen with a 2,560 x 1,600 resolution. The starting configuration includes 128GB of storage and 8GB of system memory (LPDDR3 at 1,866MHz) for $1,199 while the second starting point includes a 256GB SSD and 8GB of memory for $1,399.

In both cases, you can upgrade to 16GB of memory before checkout and ramp up the storage to 512GB or 1.5TB. Meanwhile, the set specifications include two Thunderbolt 3 ports, one 3.5mm audio jack, a 720p webcam, Wireless AC and Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity, and a 50.3WHr battery promising up to 13 hours of video playback and up to 12 hours of web surfing.

This updated model comes in gold, silver, and Space Gray, along with an integrated Touch ID sensor. It measures 0.61 inches thin and weighs 2.75 pounds.

MacBook Air 2017 (13-inch)

Apple laptop

This Apple laptop arrived in mid-2017 packing fifth-generation Intel CPUs. The $999 default configuration relies on an Intel Core i5-5350U two-core processor with an upgrade option for Intel’s Core i7-5650U chip. This unit remains locked in memory at 8GB (LPDDR3 at 1,600MHz) while storage includes 128GB by default with 256GB and 512GB SSD upgrade options.

This model pack a 13.3-inch TN display with a 1,440 x 900 resolution. It’s complemented by two USB-A ports at 5Gbps each, one Thunderbolt 2 port, a 3.5mm audio jack, and an SD card reader. Other ingredients include Wireless AC and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity, a 720p camera, a 54WHr battery promising up to 12 hours of video playback or web browsing, and a silver exterior. It measures 0.68 inches thick and weighs 2.96 pounds.

MacBook (12-inch)

Apple laptop

Finally, we have Apple’s 12-inch MacBook, which sports an IPS screen with a 2,304 x 1,440 resolution. You can get this notebook with Intel’s seventh-generation Core m3-7Y32 two-core processor, 8GB of system memory, and 256GB of storage for a starting price of $1,299. You can also start with the $1,599 price point offering Intel’s Core i5-7Y54 two-core chip, 8GB of memory and 512GB of storage. In both cases, you can upgrade to the Core i7-7Y75 two-core processor and 16GB of system memory prior to shipping.

The latest 12-inch MacBook includes a 480p webcam, Wireless AC and Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity, one USB-C port at 5Gbps, one 3.5mm audio jack, and a 41.1WHr battery promising up to 12 hours of video playback and up to 10 hours of web browsing, It measures 0.52 inches thin, weighs 2.03 pounds, and ships in gold, silver, and Space Gray.

 
So that’s it for our look at the best Apple laptops. While the Pro may technically be the very best Apple laptop, really all comes down to your needs. 

Apple might make its own modems, cutting reliance on Intel (and Qualcomm)

  • Apple could be making big moves to start creating its own mobile modems.
  • If true, this would mean the company is looking to end its reliance on Intel.
  • Apple creating its own modems will cost the company a lot up front, but likely save it money overall.

A new report from Reuters suggests that Apple might be making serious moves to develop its own in-house smartphone modems. If this is true, it would be bad news for Intel, which currently makes iPhone modems.

The sources of the report are two anonymous people familiar with the inner workings of Apple.

According to the sources, Apple has shifted engineering staff who currently work on modem technology in the supply chain division to the in-house hardware technology division. While this isn’t the largest of changes, it does represent that Apple is being proactive about creating its own modems.

Additionally, Johny Srouji, Apple’s senior vice president of hardware technologies, took over the company’s modem design efforts in January. This wasn’t previously reported.

The modem is one of the most important parts of the inner workings of a smartphone, as it establishes connections with wireless network towers. For years, Apple used Qualcomm modems in the iPhone but then shifted to using Intel modems when Apple’s relationship with Qualcomm started to sour.

Editor’s Pick

Apple already creates its own processor chipsets for the iPhone and iPad, so creating its own modems makes perfect sense.

However, this would be bad news for Intel. Rumor has it that when Apple shifted to using Intel modems it was dissatisfied with the company’s output. There are even allegations that Apple stole technology secrets from Qualcomm in order to help get Intel closer to being a real competitor.

If Apple is serious about making its own modems, that would mean that Intel still isn’t measuring up. It would also mean a large financial loss for the company when Apple stops buying its chips.

It’s likely that Apple would have to invest millions into the research and development of these modems. However, that upfront cost would likely pay off in the long run, as developing modems in-house would eventually save the company money. It would also save space inside the iPhone as Apple would likely combine the modem with its own chipset, which is how most Android devices work.

Apple’s most current mobile chipset — the A12 Bionic — was the first to market featuring 7nm technology and handily beats most other mobile chipsets in multiple tests. If Apple can achieve such heights with modems, it could give the iPhone a big edge over many Android devices.

NEXT: Apple’s next iPhones tipped to embrace triple cameras, 3D sensors

Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch Series 4: Which smartwatch is right for you?

Two of the most popular smartwatches on the market are the Apple Watch and Fitbit Versa. While Apple has been making smartwatches for years, Fitbit is still relatively new to the space. Even so, the Fitbit Versa was one of the sleeper hits of 2018.

Can Fitbit really compete with the new Series 4 Apple Watch? Which is best for you? Find out in our Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch comparison.

About this comparison: I’ve been using the Fitbit Versa on and off since it launched in 2018, and it’s recently been paired with my Google Pixel 3. It’s also running the latest Fitbit OS 3.0 (version 32.33.1.30) software. I’ve been using the Apple Watch Series 4, paired with an iPhone X, for roughly two weeks. My Apple Watch has been running watchOS version 5.1.3 (16S535).

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Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch: Design and hardware

Both the Apple Watch and Fitbit Versa have very approachable designs that will appeal to a lot of people. 

The Apple Watch features a more rectangular case with rounded corners, with a digital crown and a single physical button on the right side. The Versa has more of a squircle-shaped case, with a square display and three physical buttons.

They don’t exactly look like each other, but it’s hard not to notice a few Apple Watch-esque design cues in the Versa. It wouldn’t be too farfetched to call the Versa sort of an Apple Watch Lite.

The Apple Watch comes in two sizes — 40 and 44mm — and comes with the appropriate sized strap to fit your wrist. The Versa has one sizing option, but ships with both small and large bands in the box. The Versa is a bit thinner than the latest Apple Watch, though — it’s just 11.2mm. Apple claims the Series 4’s thickness is 10.7mm, but I don’t think it includes the heart rate sensor in that measurement. My Versa is overall thinner than my Apple Watch, despite Apple claiming otherwise.

Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch

As mentioned, both support interchangeable straps, though both implementations are proprietary. Apple has a slew of different styles of watch bands, including silicone, nylon, stainless steel, and more. Fitbit has many of these options too, but not nearly as many color or material choices as Apple.

Also, it’s a small thing, but changing Apple Watch straps is a breeze — the company’s proprietary locking mechanism is really well thought out. Changing straps on the Versa is actually really frustrating. Have fun getting the leather straps attached without throwing it across the room.

Fitbit Versa step counter

Now is as good a time as ever to mention overall build quality. While both watches have their similarities, the Apple Watch feels extremely well built compared to the Versa. It might cost a few hundred dollars ($400 to be exact), but Apple clearly does something with that money. Literally every part of the watch — the aluminum case, the OLED display, the rotating crown, and especially the haptics — feels great.

The Fitbit Versa feels great, as long as you don’t compare it side by side, which is understandable. This is about half the price as the Apple Watch after all. One can’t expect the same build quality. It’s not bad, just not in the same league.

Apple Watch notifications

Don’t miss

That level of quality extends to the displays as well. The OLED Retina screen on the Apple Watch is fantastic. You’ll get deep blacks and vibrant colors, and the panel also supports Force Touch. The large and small screens also have a higher resolution — 368 x 448 or 324 x 394 — than the Fitbit’s 300 x 300 screen. Again, the 1.34-inch LCD screen on the Versa isn’t bad, but you’ll notice a big difference between the two if you put them side by side.

Despite the battery-saving properties OLED has over LCD, battery life is where things take a turn. The Apple Watch lasts around a day on a single charge, maybe a day and a half. You might even have to top it up sometime during the day if you want it for sleep tracking. That’s probably why Apple doesn’t even bother with developing sleep tracking tech — the Apple Watch won’t track sleep out of the box, but some third-party apps will do the trick.

The Versa lasts a bit over four days on a single charge, and that’s with activity tracking, sleep tracking, and the heart rate sensor activated at all times. I can’t wait until all smartwatches last this long.

Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch: Smartwatch features

Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch

Apple’s and Fitbit’s approaches to software are entirely different. Again, that has a lot to do with how much experience company has in the smartwatch space.

The Apple Watch’s software is clean and fast, though it’s nearly too complex (more on that later). One press on the digital crown will bring you to the honeycomb (all apps) screen, while a long press will activate Siri. For as much as people like to hate on Siri, it’s way faster than Google Assistant on any Wear OS watch I’ve tried.

Apple Watch siri

Apple’s voice assistant has come a long way over the years. It’s definitely good enough to answer questions and perform simple requests with smart home devices, though its ecosystem notably lacks the breadth of smart home device support of Google and Amazon. It’s more than what the Versa offers, though. There’s no voice assistant baked into the Fitbit smartwatch, so you’ll have to do everything the old-fashioned way: by swiping and tapping.

To a point, that’s to be expected. Fitbit OS is only a few years old. While it has vastly improved from the version that launched on the Ionic in 2017, it’s not perfect. Even the latest Fitbit OS 3 lags while swiping through menus and pulling down the notification shade. It is an overall simpler OS though, so if you don’t need everything available to you right on your wrist, the Versa should fulfill your smartwatch needs just fine.

One good example of Apple going a bit overboard with this is the much-criticized honeycomb screen, its confusing version of an all-apps page. It displays all your apps in a honeycomb-style grid. You’re supposed to scroll around and tap the app icon you’d like. It’s not nearly as fast at finding apps in a list view, but luckily you can switch to list view pretty easily.

If your smartwatch use revolves around third-party applications and services, the Apple Watch is by far your best option. Popular apps like Audible and Runkeeper, as well as third-party weather apps like Dark Sky are all available on watchOS, but not on Fitbit OS. Fitbit’s app ecosystem is growing, but it’s still far behind what Apple offers now. Hopefully that will change soon — Fitbit recently gave developers access to two new APIs, which should allow them to more easily create higher quality applications.

Also read: Fitbit Versa vs Ionic: What’s the best Fitbit smartwatch?

Both smartwatches have music storage built in, as well as support for a handful of music streaming apps. The Apple Watch has about 2GB of space for local music storage, and you can also listen to Apple Music and Apple Podcasts from the watch.

The Versa has about 2.5GB of local music storage, as well as support for Pandora and Deezer playlists. There’s no streaming option though — you’ll have to download the playlists before you go out for your workout. That’s about it for music options, but Fitbit of course says more music partners will be added in the future.

fitbit versa quick replies

Google Allo Smart Replies on the Versa

Both smartwatches allow you to receive and respond to messages from your smartphone, but there are some limitations. While the Fitbit Versa is compatible with both iOS and Android, you can only respond to messages when paired with an Android phone. The Apple Watch has the advantage of a built-in microphone, so you can respond to messages with your voice, which is handy sometimes.

Read more: How to use quick replies on the Fitbit Versa and Ionic

Both smartwatches connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth, and both support Wi-Fi. The Apple Watch is also available in a cellular variant, which is great news for those who want to leave their phone at home and still receive calls and messages.

Finally, we have mobile payments. Each company has its own contactless payment service. Apple Pay is obviously available on the Apple Watch, while Fitbit Pay is, you know, on the Fitbit. Apple Pay has been around for a long time now, and it shows — a ton of banks and card companies support it. Fitbit Pay’s list of supported banks and card companies is growing by the week, but as I mentioned previously, it’s a work in progress.

Fitbit Pay is only available on the special edition model here in the U.S., which costs $30 more than the standard model. I’m really hoping there’s just one all-encompassing model with the Versa 2, because it sort of feels like a cash grab to make people spend extra for this feature. The special edition Versa is still $170 less than the cheapest Series 4 Apple Watch, so I suppose that’s a win for Fitbit!

Fitbit Versa

It shouldn’t be surprising Apple still doesn’t allow third-party watch faces, so you get what Apple gives you. That’s not horrible though — especially with the Series 4, Apple includes plenty of great, customizable watch faces. My favorites are the Infograph Modular and Fire/Water faces. It’s also super easy to switch between watch faces. Just swipe left or right to select your favorites, or you can customize your own on the watch or in the Apple Watch app.

Fitbit offers a small set of its own watch faces, which are okay. They’re certainly not as well thought out or frankly as cool as anything on the Apple Watch. However, Fitbit lets third-party developers make their own watch faces, so the options are seemingly endless.

The only downside here is the Versa can’t load more than one watch face at a time, so you have to select a new one in the app and wait for it to transfer to your watch (which can take a long time). Even worse, you can’t choose from a “favorites” or “recents” section, so you actually have to go hunting for a watch face and customize it all over again if you want to go back to a previous watch face. As someone who changes watch faces all the time, this is a big headache.

Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch: Fitness tracking

Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch - displays

Fitbit is one of the biggest names in fitness tracking devices, so it’s no surprise the Versa is a perfectly capable fitness tracker. Apple has also made strides in fitness and health tracking over the last few years, and it shows with the Series 4 Apple Watch.

Both devices will track your steps, calories burned, heart rate, and active minutes. Both can also track your sleep, but you’ll have to download a third-party app for the Apple Watch for sleep tracking.. Alternatively, the Versa is one of the best sleep trackers out there. Feel free to read about the specifics in our full review.

Both watches will also track a wide variety of different sport profiles. There are some differences, but both at least track basics like running, biking, treadmill, yoga, elliptical, and walking. They both track pool swimming too (thanks to their 5ATM water resistance ratings), but the Apple Watch can also track open-water swims. There are far too many sport profiles to list here, so you can check out the full list of Versa sport profiles here and Apple Watch sport profiles here.

I tested both smartwatches during a 48-minute cardio exercise (an Insanity video that was way too difficult), which you can see below. I also tested the watches against my Polar H10 heart rate strap as a control for the heart rate readings.

fitbit versa vs apple watch vs polar h10 heart rate screenshots
fitbit versa vs apple watch vs polar h10 heart rate screenshots
fitbit versa vs apple watch vs polar h10 heart rate screenshots
fitbit versa vs apple watch vs polar h10 heart rate screenshots

Overall, the Versa and Apple Watch’s heart rate sensors picked up on most of the big trends throughout the workout. A few minutes in, my heart rate shot up quite a bit — the H10 reported this spike at a max of 160bpm. The Apple Watch recorded it to be ~175bpm, while the Versa recorded it as a high 189bpm (my max is 193). Later on, the watches showed another heart rate peak topping out at around 170bpm, even though the H10 recorded it at 163bpm. The smartwatches were much more accurate when my heart rate wasn’t nearing peak. The H10 reported my average heart rate to be 133bpm, while the Apple Watch’s was 137 and the Versa’s was 136.

As we’ve reported previously, wrist-based heart rate sensors aren’t going to be as accurate as chest heart rate sensors. Too many factors can throw the numbers off, whether that be skin tone, body hair, or how tight the device is around your wrist. The important thing is they both picked up on the major trends.

For those wondering, calorie burn was also in the same ballpark for each device. I burned 549 calories according to the Apple Watch, 534 according to the Versa, and 571 according to the Polar H10.

If you’re unsatisfied with those heart rate numbers, you can pair a third-party heart rate sensor with the Apple Watch to get more accurate readings. The Fitbit unfortunately doesn’t have this feature.

Related

The Apple Watch is probably the better option for runners, as all models (after Series 1) come with a built-in GPS. The Fitbit Versa only has Connected GPS, so you’ll have to bring your phone on a run if you want accurate distance and pace metrics.

If you need to keep an eye on your heart health, the Apple Watch is, again, probably your best option. It has an FDA-approved electrocardiogram, and it’s one of the few consumer devices to have one built-in. ECGs can help users detect serious heart problems like atrial fibrillation (AFib), and warn you when you’re experiencing heart palpitations. Traditionally, ECGs are quite expensive at the doctor’s office, which of course makes it harder for people without insurance to get. By no means should this be a replacement for attending regular doctor visits if you do have heart problems, but it is still a nice feature to help keep an eye on things.

Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch: Which is the better buy?

Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch side by side

Buying one smartwatch over the other, at least for this comparison, depends on one major factor: what smartphone you own. If you have an Android phone and aren’t keen on buying anything powered by Wear OS or the latest Samsung watch, buy the Fitbit Versa, or the Fitbit Ionic if you need something more powerful. The Apple Watch won’t work with your phone, so you’ll have to look elsewhere.

There’s no question: The Apple Watch is the clear winner. But at what cost?

Things become more difficult if you own an iPhone. Buy the Apple Watch if you want the best of the best. If your budget is $200 and not a penny more, the Versa is an incredible option. Just remember iOS users can’t respond to notifications from the Versa.

I can’t say which is the better smartwatch. Both are really great in their respective areas. The Fitbit Versa is a fantastic value for around $200, and the Apple Watch Series 4 is a fantastic all-around smartwatch if you don’t mind the cost. For you phone nerds, this is like comparing the Pocophone F1 against the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 — you can do it, but there are a lot of things you need to consider before claiming one is better than the other.

That’s it for our Fitbit Versa vs Apple Watch comparison. Do you own either of these smartwatches? If so, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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Pixel 3 Night Sight compared to iPhone XS: it’s not really close (Update: Video)

 

Update, February 4, 2019 (5:32 PM ET): Google just published a brief behind-the-scenes video detailing its method for obtaining the low-light photographs discussed in the article below.

The video is reposted above if you want to check it out.

The video shows how Google mounted the Google Pixel 3 next to an iPhone XS so the camera lenses of each device were as close together as possible. It then shows how the photographers took every photo at the exact same time. The video also displays text that promises “no retouching, no filters,” which seems legit when you look at the screenshot below:

Google’s Night Sight — and the Pixel 3’s camera in general — continues to be one of the biggest selling points of the company’s latest smartphone.


Original Article, January 28, 2019 (01:28 AM ET): Night modes are all the rage in the smartphone industry, with Huawei, Google, OnePlus, and Xiaomi offering the option on their devices. Now, Google has compared the Pixel 3’s Night Sight mode to the iPhone XS in a low-light situation (seen above), and there’s a stark difference between the two.

Google’s Night Sight

Google marketing executive Marvin Chow posted the comparison on Twitter, showing “Phone X” on the left, and the Google Pixel 3 with Night Sight on the right. The tiny text on the left tells us that “Phone X” is actually the iPhone XS.

The scene, which shows a model standing in front of a neon-lit scene at night, seems ideal for the Night Sight mode. The Pixel 3 managed to deliver a brighter overall scene, clearly showing the woman’s face, clothing, and other elements. But the buildings in the background were also brighter and more detailed in Google’s photo, save for some blown-out lighting. Heck, you can even see a brighter (but not too noisy) sky in the Pixel 3 snap.

How did the iPhone fare?

Meanwhile, Apple’s phone was much darker overall, as the model seems silhouetted against the neon environment. The woman’s face is almost completely dark, and her clothing doesn’t retain the same rich color as Google’s effort.  The iPhone XS photo managed to tame the lighting in the background though, while Google prioritized the model instead. But based on the fact that we have an obvious subject in the viewfinder, I’d say Google’s phone certainly made the right decision.

Editor’s Pick

Still, I wonder whether the iPhone XS truly is that bad, almost as if the photographer adjusted exposure on the background instead (or simply didn’t tap on the subject’s face). But if there’s no foul play here, then it’s clearly a big win for Google.

Night mode is becoming one of the most important weapons in a smartphone camera’s arsenal these days, combining multiple exposures with smart algorithms. Apple’s iPhones lack this feature right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a future version of iOS offers this functionality. This could be a boon for older iPhones too, giving Apple’s legacy devices a welcome boost in low-light situations. But until then, the Pixel 3 seems to reign supreme when the sun goes down.

NEXT: Why Google bans ad-blockers, but is actually fine with ad-blocking browsers

Portless phones: Dumb gimmick or inevitable future?

Meizu

Meizu and Vivo, both of which recently announced phones with no ports, are seeking the answer to an age-old question: do people prefer function or form? The answer, as always, is “it depends,” but in this case Meizu and Vivo are asking consumers to vote with their wallets. Should they?

In September 2016, Apple removed the headphone jack from the iPhone and the internet lost its mind. A number of scathing editorials burned red hot across the web, with the move called “user-hostile and stupid.”

The trusty headphone jack has been a staple in consumer electronics since it was designed in the 1950s. The standard 3.5mm jack got its start with transistor radios, and it later showed up in nearly every type of media device over a six-decade span, including WalkMan radios, cassette and CD players, laptops and PCs, mobile phones and tablets, gaming consoles, and much more. The jack is functional across devices and form factors, making it a must-have. Apple disagrees.

“Maintaining an ancient, single-purpose, analog, big connector doesn’t make sense because that space is at a premium,” said Phil Schiller, Apple COO, at the iPhone 7’s launch. Schiller claimed Apple needed to lose the headphone jack in order to waterproof the iPhone 7, and even said it took “courage” to be among the first phone makers to take this step. The company continues to sell lots of iPhones.

USB-C, headphone jack: Samsung S9 lilac and Google Pixel 3 with bases showing to reveal headphone jack and lack thereof.

Any port in a storm

Like it or not, Apple set a precedent and other phone makers followed. Google ditched the headphone jack in favor of USB-C audio, as did Motorola, Huawei, and OnePlus, among others. In each case, the phone maker provided a pair of USB-C headphones or a 3.5mm-to-USB-C adapter. The trend is slowly catching on, but that doesn’t mean people are happy about it.

What Meizu and Vivo are doing is next-level user hostility.

The front and back of the Meizu Zero. Meizu

The Meizu Zero has absolutely no ports. None. It drops the headphone jack, the USB-C port, the SIM card slot, the memory card slot. Need to power up your phone? The Zero sports wireless charging. Want to listen to music? Bluetooth, my friend. What about transferring files? Use the cloud! Need wireless service? An eSIM is inside. While Meizu has an answer to all these nagging everyday needs, you shouldn’t be convinced of Meizu’s logic. At least, not yet.

“Designers dream of clean, port-free lines, but smartphones need to live in the real world, where consumers cannot always expect wireless connections,” quipped Avi Greengart, research director, consumer platforms & devices at GlobalData, to Android Authority. “The loss of the headphone jack at least can be countered by dongles, but until wireless charging spots are ubiquitous, asking consumers to go without a charging cable — which is also used for data transfer and other purposes — simply is not practical.”

Mainstream, here we come?

Charging pads may be available at some Starbucks locations and in some cars, but wireless power is still a niche technology that has yet to be widely adopted. Until every phone ships with a wireless charger by default, consumers will continue to expect to plug their phones in for charging purposes. Moreover, wired charging is still faster than wireless charging.

The idea of phones without physical SIM cards is also problematic. The promise of eSIM, wherein an electronic SIM card can be programmed for network access, has yet to be fully realized. It should be easy, but apparently it’s not.

Apple’s rollout of eSIM in the iPhone Xs and Xs Max, for example, was slow to be adopted by carriers in the U.S. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless added support for the tech months after the phones reached store shelves. Sprint still doesn’t support Apple’s eSIM. Multiply this by hundreds of carriers around the world and you see where this is going.

Then there’s the Meizu Zero’s lack of physical buttons. The Zero features pressure-sensitive edges that are used to manage functions such as adjusting the volume. HTC’s U12 flagship phone was largely panned by reviewers due to its incredibly frustrating pressure-sensitive buttons. Can Meizu succeed where HTC failed? Hard to say.

Like it or not, phone makers are headed in this direction.

“Apple designers eventually hope to remove most of the external ports and buttons on the iPhone, including the charger,” reported Bloomberg last year. Apple weighed making this radical move while developing the 2017 iPhone X. It later scaled back those ambitions due to the cost of wireless charging. That means we’ll see an iPhone with no ports or buttons at some point, and we can expect the same from Apple’s competitors.

Meizu and Vivo are clearly way ahead of the curve, dancing on the bleeding edge for the spectacle alone. Will people buy these portless phones? Sure. Should they? Probably not yet, but we all will at some point down the road.

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post’s poll.

Everyone seems to be making high-end headphones except Google

Microsoft Surface Headphones Microsoft

  • Microsoft released a set of high-end wireless headphones at the end of 2018.
  • Now, both Apple and Sonos are reportedly also making premium over-ear headphones.
  • Why don’t high-end headphones made by Google exist?

In October last year, we found out that Microsoft had secretly developed a set of high-end over-the-ear headphones which eventually hit the market as Microsoft Surface Headphones. The noise-canceling cans are intended to directly compete with the industry-standards of the Bose QC35 and Sony WH-1000XM3.

Today, we’ve heard two new rumors regarding high-end headphones from major tech companies. The first is not-so-surprising, which is that premium speaker manufacturer Sonos is planning to release a set of headphones that will also likely compete with Bose’s and Sony’s flagships. Those could launch sometime in 2020.

Second, we heard a more surprising rumor, which is that Apple might be dipping its hat into the premium headphone market by releasing a pair of Apple-branded cans. This is surprising because Apple paid $3 billion for Beats in 2014 and has sold that brand’s products in its own stores and elsewhere ever since. In essence, a set of Apple headphones would place the company in competition with itself.

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Microsoft entered the ring last year, and now Sonos and Apple are likely getting into the premium headphones game, too. Meanwhile, general electronics companies like TCL are branching out into the budget and mid-tier market.

This all begets the question: where’s Google?

Granted, there are already two sets of Google headphones: the Google Pixel Buds and the Google Pixel USB-C earbuds. However, neither of these products would be considered high-end and neither have the premium aura that only over-ear, noise-canceling, totally wireless headphones can give. It also should be said that the Google Pixel Buds, in particular, didn’t get the greatest reviews.

The headphone market is crowded, yes, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping Apple. So why would it stop Google?

Google might not see any reason to get into the already-crowded premium headphone market, but this news from Apple and Sonos might force its hand, so to speak. After all, Apple’s iPhone revenue isn’t where the company would want it to be, so it needs new products to bring in new cash. If Apple makes a big push with a set of headphones that carry the Apple name, Google might have no choice but to respond if only to keep parity with the world’s most successful company.

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When you think about it, though, a set of premium Google headphones would likely do very well, especially if Google baked-in Google Assistant. And I’m not talking about having fast-access to Assistant on your phone through the headphones — I’m talking about Google Assistant working with the headphones even if your phone isn’t connected. Over-ear headphones would likely be big enough that Google could feasibly put enough hardware inside to make them kind of like a smart speaker you wear on your head.

That’s just an idea, but it does show that just because the premium headphone market is crowded doesn’t mean Google couldn’t offer something truly enticing.

What do you think? Would you buy a pair of Google-branded over-ear ‘phones if they were similarly priced to something like the Bose QC35? Let us know in the comments.

NEXT: USB-C audio is dead

US Court: Police can’t force people to unlock their phone with biometrics

More U.S. judges are siding with citizens’ privacy rights when it comes to mobile device searches.

A judge for the U.S District Court for the Northern District of California recently ruled that U.S. law enforcement cannot force people to use their face, finger, or other biometric method to unlock their device. This remains true even in instances when a warrant gives law enforcement the right to search the device. The order, first reported by Forbes, is seen as a win for citizens.

Before this order, law enforcement could wrangle people into pressing their thumb on a fingerprint reader or looking at their phone to unlock it. For example, in October 2018 the FBI forced a suspected child abuser to use his face to unlock his phone. At the same time, however, the law does not allow police to force suspects to provide a PIN, password, or passcode. This new ruling puts all unlocking methods in the same playing field, protecting people’s privacy.

At issue are rights guaranteed in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments concerning searches, privacy, and self incrimination.

“If a person cannot be compelled to provide a passcode because it is a testimonial communication, a person cannot be compelled to provide one’s finger, thumb, iris, face, or other biometric feature to unlock that same device,” said the judge.

The relevant case involves an extortion crime tied to Facebook wherein the suspects allegedly demanded payment lest they release “embarrassing” photos of the victim to social media contacts. Law enforcement was granted a warrant to search the suspects’ phones. The police attempted to have the suspects unlock their devices with fingerprint and face identification, but the suspects refused.

While this ruling doesn’t instantly mean every such case in the country should be overturned, it may be used to set precedent in future cases. Moving forward, law enforcement will need to be more careful about privacy and how suspect devices are unlocked.

Of course, police use of GrayKey’s makes this ruling somewhat irrelevant. The GrayKey is a device available to law enforcement that can beat the passcode on iPhones. Officers need only connect the iPhone to the device via Lightning cable and the box does the rest.

Apple responded by adding a function to iOS 12 that defeats this tool by locking out the Lightning port for any purpose other than charging with the phone is secured. It’s not clear if or how the GrayKey handles Android devices.

Apple wanted Qualcomm chips in iPhone XS/XR, but Qualcomm refused

iPhone XS Max in man's hand against a white backdrop.

  • An antitrust trial against Qualcomm is happening now in California.
  • During the trial, Apple’s COO claimed that Qualcomm refused to supply modem chips for the latest round of iPhones.
  • Qualcomm’s CEO also claims that it paid $1 billion to Apple to be the sole modem supplier for iPhones.

An antitrust trial between the United States Federal Trade Commission and chipset manufacturer Qualcomm is currently in session in San Jose, California. During the proceedings, Apple Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams took the stand and dished out some notable information regarding the company’s strained relationship with Qualcomm.

According to a tweet from reporter Shara Tibken, Williams testified that Apple sought the use of Qualcomm chips (specifically modems) for use in the Apple iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR. However, Qualcomm refused the request due to the ongoing legal troubles between the two companies.

The tweet is below:

If this is true, Qualcomm likely pushed away billions of dollars with the loss of this potential sale of its modems to Apple, one of the world’s largest producers of smartphones.

However, Qualcomm likely made the decision based on the allegations that Apple doesn’t keep up with its licensing payments to Qualcomm. Recently, iPhones have had to be pulled from store shelves in various countries due to the ongoing legal fights between the two companies, as Qualcomm attempts to force Apple to pay back payments on those fees.

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Apple ended up using Intel modems instead for its latest batch of iPhones.

During the same FTC trial, according to Reuters, Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf stated that his company paid Apple $1 billion to become the sole supplier of modem chips for Apple. This 2011 deal is part of the reason Qualcomm is fighting Apple so hard on getting licensing fee payments. Under the deal, Qualcomm fronted $1 billion in cash to Apple and gave the company a per-unit discount. In return, Apple gave Qualcomm exclusive rights to supplying iPhone modems.

The FTC, however, is arguing that Qualcomm engages in anti-competitive behavior to keep other chipmakers from supplying to Apple. Qualcomm denies this.

The trial is expected to end sometime this week, although it could go for much longer.

NEXT: Apple pulls iPhone 7 and 8 models from stores in Germany, thanks to Qualcomm

Apple pulls iPhone 7 and 8 from store shelves in Germany, thanks to Qualcomm

A photograph of the iPhone 8 Plus.

  • The iPhone 7, 7 Plus, 8, and 8 Plus are no longer for sale in Germany.
  • The devices have been pulled from Apple.com as well as the 15 official Apple stores in Germany.
  • The sales ban is in response to legal troubles the company faces with chipset-maker Qualcomm.

Towards the end of December, a German court determined that Apple infringed on chipset-maker Qualcomm’s intellectual property for power savings in smartphones. In response to this, the District Court of Munich ordered Apple to pull iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models from its store shelves in Germany.

Today, Apple did just that. As of now, the iPhone 7 and 8, as well as the iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus, are no longer for sale at official Apple storefronts, including the German version of Apple.com. Apple has 15 physical stores in Germany, all of which no longer sell the allegedly infringing devices.

Here is an image of how Apple’s German site looked before and after the ban, via MacRumors:

The ban also forces Apple to pull the infringing iPhone models from third-party German stores. However, this is a huge undertaking and, as one would expect, the iPhone models in question are still available at plenty of German retailers both online and physical.

In order to ensure the ban took place, Qualcomm had to pony up 1.34 billion euros (~$1.5 billion) worth of security bonds. This huge backing of cash proves Qualcomm is serious about fighting hard to win this case against Apple. The money is being kept aside in case Apple’s appeal of the verdict ends up in its favor.

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Apple and Qualcomm are engaged in tough legal battles throughout the world. Although each one is a little different, they all are based on the idea that Apple is using various Qualcomm patents in iPhones and not paying Qualcomm the proper licensing fees. Apple accuses Qualcomm of abusing the patent system, while Qualcomm accuses Apple of taking advantage of its property rights.

Recently, Qualcomm earned a big win in China against Apple, and this German case looks to be going well for the chipset-maker, too. However, similar cases in the United States — the home turf of both companies — ended in Apple’s favor, and Qualcomm has been accused of playing dirty in some of the cases.

Apple also recently became mired in controversy after CEO Tim Cook published a letter to investors revealing iPhone sales are not as good as originally anticipated. You can read more about that — and how it affects the smartphone industry at large — by clicking the link below.

NEXT: Yes, Apple, the slowing smartphone market affects you, too

Apple will update China iPhones to prevent ban, but Qualcomm still fighting

  • Apple will send software updates to several iPhone models in China to remove features disputed by Qualcomm as illegal. This will, hopefully, avoid a Chinese iPhone sales ban.
  • However, Qualcomm is at the same time fighting for the potential sales ban to cover even more iPhone models.
  • Apple admitted that if it cannot avoid the Chinese sales ban, it will be forced to settle with Qualcomm.

Earlier this week, a Chinese court issued a set of preliminary injunctions in the patent fight between Apple and Qualcomm. The injunctions — which heavily favor Qualcomm — essentially put a Chinese sales ban into effect for the Apple iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X.

Apple revealed today, via Reuters, that it will push a software update to the Chinese iPhones in question next week. This software update will change and/or remove the disputed Qualcomm technology, which Apple hopes will allow the company to avoid the sales ban.

“Early next week we will deliver a software update for iPhone users in China addressing the minor functionality of the two patents at issue in the case,” Apple said. “Based on the iPhone models we offer today in China, we believe we are in compliance.”

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Originally, Apple claimed the sales ban was irrelevant because the iPhone models in question all run iOS 12, which the company argues fixes the issues revolving around the case. However, Apple must have changed its mind, as now it is pushing an update.

Ultimately, it will be up to the Chinese courts to decide if this future software update will be enough to avoid the sales ban.

Meanwhile, Qualcomm is pushing even harder on Apple, apparently emblazoned by the preliminary injunctions win this week. According to The Financial Times (via Engadget), Qualcomm is now pushing for the sales ban to also include the Apple iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR.

Should the Chinese courts deem the software update to not be enough to avoid the ban, Apple concedes it would have no other option but to settle with Qualcomm. If this comes to pass, it would be an enormous win for Qualcomm in its years-long fight with Apple over alleged patent licensing infringement.

However, Apple does not mince words when describing how destructive an Apple sales ban in China would be. Apple had this to say in a December 10 filing, via The South China Morning Post:

“Apple will be forced to settle with the Respondent, causing all mobile phone manufacturers to relapse into the previous unreasonable charging mode and pay high licensing fees, resulting in unrecoverable losses in the downstream market of mobile phones. Apple, many other companies, and consumers … will suffer truly irreparable harm, [and the Chinese government] may suffer hundreds of thousands of tax losses.”

We can only assume that next week we will learn whether the Chinese courts will grant Apple some leniency in this case.

NEXT: Apple tipped to be working on own modem for iPhones, but don’t expect it soon